Me, A While Back

reservations

small stone #26
I did not look up
once today.

Today I wasn’t so hot. I got up, stretched and worked through my yoga, sat meditation, prepared my shrine and took refuge in the Three Jewels. Then I got on my knees and made a private and earnest prayer, all of my own. I made up my medicinal herbal remedy for my kidney. I spoke with civility to my children (mostly) and I brought my husband coffee. I pet the animals in my home. I put forth some correspondence, writing the ones I love.

My mind raced most of the day and I had to breathe deep many times to return to myself.

Ralph, the children and I visited the newest restaurant in Aberdeen where, as promised, we selected from a very limited opening-night menu. I was very tired and my daughter, across from me, seemed the same. Tall and willowy and her coarse-honey hair in two sprigs of pigtail.

My son sat next to me, smiling up at me, smelling good and warm in his flannel shirt. He chattered along near-incessantly, cupping a ludicrously-blue beverage in a white wine glass and freely discussing the food. He looks a lot like I did at his age. But he smiles more than I did. He’s tough. He has this wolfpup-thin little body but he’s tough.

And it feels like a long time ago I was his age. A lifetime ago.

Me, A While Back

tired tired tired

small stone #27
fresh bread
a plate, with olives

For my daughter, on her 9th birthday

Dear Phoenix Fire,

Today at 5:57 PM I’d just stepped outside the diner Forever The Oriole for data reception. I was acutely aware of your voice behind me at the counter, giggling delightedly with Grandma. I was thinking of you, of course, because you were born at precisely 5:56 PM nine years ago this evening, after a protracted and medically-interventionist labor of about eighteen (very rough) hours.

Obviously I loved you at first sight; I write “obviously” not because that’s the way it always goes but because I’ve directly told you this so many times I don’t need to tell it again. But I want to. I can still see your flushed skin and feel your softly fluttering heart. I can still remember how exactly you smelled because you smell the same way today!  I used to lie next to you in bed in those first days of knowing you and I’d tell you with a frank devastating simplicity, “There’s everyone else in the world, and then there’s you.” Your dad didn’t have everything I had for you, every bit of my fiber and bloodstream and physicality we shared, but he caught up fast. Who wouldn’t? You inspire love wherever you are.

Today as we walked together your hand sought mine and I felt as gleeful and amazed and happy you wanted me and we could be together a while, the same specific joy I felt nine years ago when I held you in my arms.

I’ve written before how much knowing you has shaped me as a person. Mostly you’re just such an at-ease being it’s often guaranteed I am improved by your presence. Your integrity, your compassion, your sedate intelligence and your good-hearted nature are unparalleled in anyone I’ve yet met. It’s not just me who feels that way – every week people are telling me in new ways what a delight you are. I see life through your experience and I see a happy girl who knows she is loved. This is quite a gift for me to witness, as when I was your age I’m not sure I felt so good.

A friend this week said you seemed like an “adult” to her in every way. Yes, I can see what she means, but of course you are very silly and I’ve been meaning to talk to you about this quite sternly. For instance at the restaurant today what was with you and Grandma’s jokes about “King Tut grows butts”? And when I told you to stop wrestling with my mother because these very sour-faced patrons were glaring at me and I was tired of it, you said, “Glare back,” and you did just that. I don’t have the guts you do but I aspire to. Someday.

Of course, you are the funniest person I know even if no, I don’t much go for “butt” jokes. You can screw up your face into any expression and you cast your voice like a spell. When you make jokes I invariably laugh because they’re funny as hell. I can tell when you’re happy and well-cared for when you are quick to laugh at mine. I can tell something is amiss when you scowl at me, although you don’t do much of that lately.

I don’t know how much time we have together but I do know I like drinking up every drop. Thank you for sharing your life with me. Stay as long as you like, leave when you’re ready. Let me know how I can support you in everything you need.

Much love,

Mama

Cobra

Pleased

The other night while we watched a cartoon movie you said, “That’s what I want for my birthday – a giant mechanical wolf!” Well, I’m not sure if that’s in the cards, but we were gratified to see how much you like the scary-looking robotic LEGO cobra Grandma got you. Thanks for not holding it against me that the wolf is not immediately forthcoming.

Sunset on the Hoquiam River #1

I forgot to mention, it’s so beautiful here

Itsy Bitsy

Today’s trip back to the park yielded no key; this included lots of traipsing and my mother’s extra set of eyes searching. She brought her dog along and he enjoyed running about; it seems to me he’s been feeling better since he was x-rayed and diagnosed and given a daily dosage of pain medication.

Afterwards we met up with Ralph and did a little shopping at the Christian health food store then the five of us went out to dinner together. Even with my exercise and walks and sewing projects and snuggling and film it’s hard not to let depression sweep over me (this is because depression is not circumstantial but an internal struggle one can’t always bootstrap out of). A warm meal with family sometimes can make a great deal of difference.

Here in Hoquiam we are having that lovely cold weather with clear sky and crystalline air that’s like a drink of cold water. It’s hard to feel too bad when you’re outside.

Sunset on the Hoquiam River #2“Sunset on the Hoquiam River #2” by Mickey Thurman on Flickr

Phoenix
(Small Stone #23*)

It’s morning. My daughter says “Mom,” from the bed, then nothing else.
I climb under the covers and we put our arms around one another.
Her hair feels dry and smells delicious,
a fragrance I’ve known since the moment I first held her close.

Small stone project

from the inside looking out, you can’t explain it

Today thanks to the invitation of my friend J. I find myself swimming with the children this afternoon. I’d woken an hour before, ran about doing laundry, packing swim bags, and finishing up a million dishes and packing a snack before bringing both kids out from a truncated sleep (Phoenix in particular was still up and texting at nine AM). It was hard going for her at first but by the time we pulled into the Y parking lot she had striped tiger eyes. She loves the water. (It’s a little after midnight and she’s remained equitable and loving all day, except for a brief episode with her brother fighting over rights to a kitten.)

In the pool a ponytailed man with his young daughter (or, possibly, granddaughter) compliments J. and I – in a way – saying it’s so nice to see parents actually playing with their children. I know what he means, but as I tread water across the depths I spend a few moments reflecting that I am not the most playful adult. Maybe that’s one reason why my kids are so delighted when I do engage in these ways. A few minutes later I float past them in the “river” while they “fish” with those float-noodles and I pretend to be, in succession, an alligator, an octopus, a great white shark, a blowfish (their idea), then finally a Tired Out Lady. I get all the kids laughing, even rather stoic T.

Ralph spent most of today and the day before recording a musician – efforts which were unfortunately partially sabotaged by rather inconsiderate grownups interrupting their rehearsal (many different people, many times). After my husband and I finally had our house and one another to ourselves, he and I took a date at our familiar and beloved Casa Mia and reflected on the last few days. Ralph and I have been, in final estimation, overhelping other people – not resting and helping one another nor ourselves enough. Some rest, respite, and dare I say genuine pampering is in order. If you think that means I’m going to finally treat myself to those octopus earrings, cherry read patent leather docs (okay, hell, also the teal pair), and that Pendleton blanket, you’re totally right. (EXCEPT I’m not, but let me just pretend I’m going to because it makes me feel badass. I’ll probably end up getting a big bulk scoop of Walmart cotton panties.)

***

Suprasternal Notch
(Small Stone #17*)

I’m transfixed by the water beaded on your flawless skin.
We hold one another very close, and for a long time.
You say:
“I should remember to listen every time you tell me about your love.”

A Visitor
(Small Stone #18*)

Linda’s voice is rich and deep,
Her laugh musical like a girls’.
She has dark skin and even deeper freckles
And large, brown, beautiful eyes.

Small stone project

al comedor

Drawing, As Per Usual
Phoenix wears the thrifted merino wool sweater I found her and it keeps her warm. Thank goodness for that. Here she draws, as we usually find her. She swings her legs and proprietress Kathi notices her dress and compliments it; later, as we are readying to go, she asks I can sew her an apron (with some very specific requests as to length, style, and fabric). Funny as I was just thinking how much I wanted to sew something for this same woman!

It was very cold today, but we all managed to keep warm. My mother came over for coffee and a long chat. That was fun.

Grave Responsibility
(Small Stone #4*)

Your hand trembles
But you pour my tea from the heavy pot
Taking care of your mama, as you say, “like a gentleman”

Small stone project

of a weekend

Friday night – dinner out with Steev and Kit; our kids stayed home so it was a grownup thing. Sheesh, it’s become a distant memory, the wretched aspect of small-childville when the only people who would help look after your little ones were other (very frazzled) mamas with young babies or people you had to call and arrange and Pay and sometimes they cancelled etc. What a bunch of bullshit. Anyone reading here who might breed: please consider either being able to afford regular babysitting (in addition to the expense of the meal/moviedate/whatevs) or, if you’re like Ralph and I – scrabbling to pay the bills At All – just be really pissed and resentful, for years, at the lack of village life in our culture. Anyone reading here considering not breeding, make friends with a family and get comfy with their kids so maybe you can help them out a little.

But anyway. Dinner was very lovely even though the restaurant was busy and we waited and waited for our meal. I don’t mind when it’s good conversation.

Amore In Aberdeen

Lunch: a noodle and tofu soup with veggies, onigiri. My family loves onigiri but Ralph and Phoenix prefer not to have any nori. With the home-canned tuna canned right of the docks in Westport, it’s a delicious meal indeed. & yeah, here comes the Rooster.

Soup With Sesame, Tofu, & Somen; Onigiri; Fresh Orange

Last night the kids pulled an overnighter gaming with people from all over the planet; I awoke to their laughter at 6 AM and found them tucked in their bedroom at their netbooks, chatting and playing with those little cartoon bubbles and birds over their heads – entirely blissed out. I put them to bed where they fell asleep promptly and slept in. When they awoke we were socked in with snow. They ran outside all bundled up, having snowball fights and introducing the kittens to their first snow and whatnot, while Ralph and I cooked up their very late breakfast.

It’s the earliest snow most folks ’round here can remember. It was here and gone but I think we’re going to get more.

Tonight we gassed up at the Y then headed to Aberdeen for groceries and some crafting supplies. The town was quiet; not many people out. It was nice.
Gassing Up @ 7-11 & First Snow

Gassing Up @ 7-11 & First Snow

Gassing Up @ 7-11 & First Snow

Gassing Up @ 7-11 & First Snow

The snow (such as it is, which isn’t much) shut down Ralph’s campus until 10 AM tomorrow; he’s happily staying up and working on a side project while I bake rugelach in preparation for Thanksgiving (tomorrow: a deep-dish apple pie and securing beef and lamb from Western Meats).

For now: some hot water with lemon and knitting… still trying, and failing a bit, to rest up and recover from this cold.

goddamnit, learn how to use the pickle-fork!; or, “socialization” isn’t always so awesome

How then will a child learn social manners? Can we trust the child to develop and mature in her own time, the way we trusted her to learn to walk and to talk? Why are we in a rush to have children behave like adults before they are adults? – from “How Children Learn Manners”, c. Naomi Aldort at naomialdort.com

Recently at a Yahoo group I’m a member of the discussion turned to children and our efforts to teach them “manners”. A group member posted an anecdote that was instantly familiar:

I think our responses to our children often frame how people view them. I went out for a meal with some friends and relatives. We had our 2 children, ages 3 and 6. Another woman had hers, ages 8 and 4.

Our children played with their food, put vinegar on their pizza, got down from their places and went round talking to other members of the group, blew bubbles in their drinks and played with the balloons. None of their behaviour was loud or wild and they were certainly keeping themselves from being bored. I was relaxed with it. No-one from other tables even seemed to notice.

The other mum was feeling much more agitated and insisted on eating “correctly”, not leaving the table, and saying please and thank you. She was quite loud and vocal in telling them off for misbehaving. She obviously wanted people to know that she was trying to discipline her children and teach them right from wrong. Unfortunately all I could see happening was her drawing attention to her kids’ behaviour and framing it as bad. Consequently people were tutting and rolling their eyes and her children became more and more irritable and squirmy.

We were seated quite far apart and I’m not sure she noticed what was going on with mine but I certainly did with hers. I didn’t feel judgmental but it really brought home to me that often people see our children through our reaction to them; yet often we respond to our children out of fear of how others will respond to them.

This brief story resonated strongly with me. Recently I was in a similar setting when several friends and our children met at a restaurant to eat together.  I was struck by a difference between two families, an experience similar to the example above.  One family did not restrict their children: the kids crawled on the floor, got up from the table, climbed around and laughed and played.  The other family required their children to sit still, keep voices low, speak in a “mannered” tone, engage in adult table manners, and refrain from play.  The children were all about the same ages, five to eight.

From my end of the table, the family engaged in a high degree of “socializing” efforts looked miserable.  The parents were tense and busy, scarcely having time to enjoy the delicious food.  Their children’s eyes were downcast and muted and there was an air of strain about the group.  In contrast, the children who were running around had a fine time, one which was incidentally non-disruptive.  They did not once break anything, get in anyone’s way, or fight.  Their parents kept an eye on them in a relaxed fashion but ate their meal and took part in adult conversation.  The free children enjoyed themselves immensely.  People often tend to think of children as “loud” but I observed the active children’s voices, raised in laughter and imaginative play, had no more actual volume than a neighboring male diner on a cell phone.

The differences between families and experiences was quite striking.  I know which parental model I want to model myself on, even if I don’t always live up to my standards.

Of course, it’s not just a matter of personal resources and know-how in raising children without the fearful cling to tight constraints.  It is brave of my friends who allow their child the freedom to, you know, be childlike, because since becoming a parent I’ve found many in my peer group (middle-class white Americans) discourage children’s expression, bodily autonomy, authenticity, interests, and activity.  In fact children who aren’t behaving according to the soul of adult decorum often get glared at, spoken to rudely, or – even more commonly – silently resented.

The internet age assists us in painting things in black and white.  People resent different parenting styles (or their interpretations of them, often erroneous) and quickly want to blame a host of society’s ills on these perceptions of difference and wrongness.  People direct their fears, angers, and frustrations in snarky or mean-spirited internet comments or incensed letters to the newspaper editor about “kids today” and their horrid parents.  What a loss, since if and when we choose to open discussion with those around us we stand to learn so much from one another.  Rarely in public have I seen one adult say to another openly, “I’m uncomfortable with how much your children are climbing around! ” or, “Your parenting techniques are challenging me! We really do things differently!” and then – important! – allowing the other adult an opportunity to respond (your particular language and conversational ice breaker may vary). The few times I have seen an adult brave and open enough to initiate this conversation a wonderful conversation often ensues.  These dialogues have the power to instruct, inspire, empower, challenge, and unite us in community and commonality of goals and needs.  Most parents love their children very much and want to do what’s right for their family and the larger society as well.

Sadly, these conversations are often avoided.  In a seemingly “civil” society where such things are often not discussed instead I feel the “vibe” (yes, this is a real thing), see the glares, hear the passive-aggressive comments.  I do not always run across this unpleasantness when we go out in the world, but it is a constant drumbeat nevertheless – displayed not that long ago when my son spontaneously engaged in some athleticism on top of our family car.  Conversely, when my kids are “good” I am treated to the compliments and erroneous assumptions I’m raising my kids “right” – i.e. with authoritarian discipline.  When my kid are “good” and their behavior commented on (as it often is) I find it funny.  I can honestly say we are not an autocratic household and we move further from authoritarian discipline every day.  My children are not punished nor badgered by coercive techniques disguised as “loving discipline”.  Yet they are turning out well-behaved enough, considerate, direct, and they function well in society.  And despite our “radical” parenting they are very normal; in fact they are more likely to be cited as standing out for their directness and competence than anything else.  And perhaps most importantly for many parents who are afraid to lift restrictions, they are not the chandelier-swinging, sociopathic Lord of the Flies monkey-children so many believe – and want to believe – is the inevitable result of what is sneered at as “permissiveness” or “unparenting”.

I am glad to have seen the errors of my previous ways.  When my children were younger I worried very much about “manners”.  I prompted them (“Say ‘please’,” or “Say ‘thank you’!”) and I felt embarassed when they did something socially-deemed as rude or naughty – like yell, or grab a toy from another child, or…  hell, that’s about it.  I mean how much trouble can a two-year old get up to? Fer crying out loud.

It was a false construct and a rather tribally-defined one.  If everyone else is fretting over their toddler’s need to learn to share, then it’s easy to follow suit.  It’s also easy to exert your will on a small child (at first). In a way my dependence on focussing my children’s behavior on “manners” was an attempt at control (of course!), an addiction to the ego-boost when said child was praised, genuine worry for their future happiness and function in society (understandable), and, sadly, the deep-down buried resentments from my own upbringing – at home and in society at large.  Children are treated as second-class citizens, I see this clearly now. Whatever we consider our spiritual and intellectual leanings regarding peace and force, in our homes so many of us really do behave as if Might Equals Right, and in public other adults – childfree and parents alike – support this concept.

At some point a couple years ago I discovered Naomi Aldort’s article, “How Children Learn Manners” (from which my introductory excerpt hails) and it was one of those brief but life-changing episodes.  In this essay Aldort gently but with rapier-sharp awareness deconstructs what we’re really teaching children when we enforce social niceties both in response to social pressure and in lieu of pursuing authenticity. I can imagine some responses of many who are used to treating children more or less as they were raised (that is, using punishments, lectures in favor of example, and coercion).  Aldort’s writings may bring feelings of amazement, cynicism, beleaguered perceptions of nit-picking (“OK, now I’m not even supposed to tell my kids to say please? What, is parenting totally hands-off?”), irritation, and of course, deep-down fear and resentment.  Yet I am fortunate that when I read this article I saw the wisdom in every point she made, even if at the time I had no idea how I could apply such concepts into practice.

As I alluded to earlier, I was also informed by my own memories of childhood.  I remember resenting the concept one should “make nice” rather than be truthful, that there was a hierarchy of needs that put me – as a child – dead last except where it was convenient for the adults in the room, and that really, some people count less than others.  I remember being shocked and angry that adults would speak to children using words and a tone of voice that most adults would find infuriating or humiliating.  This sense of injustice and injury serves me well now as I have children of my own.  I can learn to do things a new way and watch as joy, authenticity, and yes, consensual living, flows through our home. And I can breathe a teeny sigh of relief to see such changes do not bring end-times chaos, knife-fights, or arson.

It’s no surprise, of course, that the family I mentioned above – with the free-range children – is one I want to spend more time with.  In our culture, it is hard to find an oasis of awareness and respect afforded to all human beings in the room and in the family.  I am comforted to know most families love their children very much, even if their strategies are poor ones.  Surrounding myself with mentors who know another way has become a new organizing principle of my life.