the warmth of the sun in my hair

For St. Patrick’s Day I spent two days in preparation: a soda bread with caraway seed, corned beef, roasted cabbage and butter carrots – all vegan. I have a very pragmatic attitude toward cooking: I do my best, but I also know it doesn’t always work out. In this case, my efforts paid off. It’s funny I make traditional Irish fare as I don’t even care for it. I guess I love these small rituals, these observances. I also enjoy cooking – now that I don’t have to do it every day, three times a day.

I drive the two boys to the pizza parlour and hand my son my debit card. Despite the fact my children are old enough to walk here and there I have a fear of them being struck by a car – either while they are in a car themselves, or while they are walking. I tell them, “be careful”, and maybe I shouldn’t but I can’t help myself. When they were very small, I worried about drowning. I’d walk over a bridge carrying one baby and holding the hand of the older and I’d have horrible visions.

My son and his best friend are so happy together. They spend about twenty hours immersed in their own word – mostly gaming and eating and laughing – before the lad’s mother texts and asks us to send him home. My son comes and finds me shortly after and wants solace. He is a young man now but he still seeks me out. Both children do so I am surprised to think, perhaps it will always be like this.

Both Ralph and I have a weekend full of volunteer work: cooking for others and hosting events, answering phone calls and texts and email: he as an eSports advisor, me in the Recovery community. I am vaguely sensing I need some down time, a break; I am also uncertain when I will take one. I love my work (paid and volunteer) so much that in the morning I almost spring awake – but I also know I am out of balance, overworked, stretched thin.

On that account my child has finished their last paper of their community college career; they study for two more finals and are finished in a couple days. The entire family is getting used to the idea of them being finished; I know that we will then be onto driving school, and trying to fund a car, and trying to set up a (quasi-)business for this child.

Years ago when I got sober people in Recovery used to tell me about a life “beyond one’s wildest dreams”. I am experiencing that now and it is very funny. It seems to take as much focus and mindfulness as anything else, and it seems to be entirely out of my control. I do pray daily and lately I have felt so much gratitude for our health and safety. These things will be threatened in time, but every day we have them is very precious indeed.

his name was always “Buddy”!

I am exhausted. I’ve been working hard. I’ve been helping others. I’m right at that point where I might have to rest a bit more. Just for a while.

I’ve moved to veganism. My body – about a year into vegetarianism – is once again making a shift, an adjustment. I feel – as I have before – sluggish, slow. I take a great comfort in the friends who are supportive and loving, and who understand that for me this is a big life change.

I try not to talk overmuch about the change – but think on the reciprocal, as I am constantly surrounded by people talking about and consuming meat and dairy, and often offering it to me as well. As when a co-worker said to me on Friday: “Chicken pot pie – doesn’t that sound good?” I smiled and answered, “Not to me!” because that seemed the most honest. I swear the foods we eat can be as divisive as the religious rituals we practice or forgo.

Tonight – my son is crying, upset at something I said. I coax him down the stairs, promising an apology and a hug. He has never in his life been able to resist these things, I suspect because he so earnestly wants peace between us restored. But he is angry, so: he backs down the steps. When I hold him in my arms he tells me he loves me so much. I feel the same. He is getting taller.

Will he still hold me close even when he’s larger than I?

My daughter and I are up nights studying her large textbook. She seems thrilled to acquire formal knowledge; the first time we’ve openly shared this love between us. I am brought back to my early years myself, although of course her class materials are much more dense than they were when I was her age. We make little jokes and we watch YouTube films helping us with the concepts: protein transport and tagging in the Golgi Apparatus; ribosomal synthesis; microtubule components of the cytoskeleton. Her body slides close to me and we study together. Several pages a night; likely part of my exhaustion.

Tonight after a shower the house is settling; the pets have had their last meal. A few cookies and some almond milk and then together making a night as a family.

i got a man to stick it out, & make a home from a rental house

At the oddest times I suddenly feel like I’m living in a dream. I am loading the washing machine and I suddenly wonder: maybe I will wake up, and our lovely new home will be gone. We will be back in our rental. Nothing was particularly missing, or awry in our old place. But our new home is very, very special to us, and has felt like home from the very beginning.

Now that I’m working for the county a little over half-time, life has a tendency to fly by pretty fast. Today my supervisor asks me to stay late tomorrow, on Election Day – and I tell him, I have to go home and ask the family. It’s unreal to suddenly be working for pay, where there are a hundred (figurative) fires to put out, and not enough time, and every now and then you hear someone say something catty about someone else, which is seriously not something I’ve been around regularly as a homeschooling parent and artisan. And the public comes in and either tries to engage me in idle chit-chat while I’m obviously very busy – or maybe they say something really out of left-field. Or report a changing circumstance in their lives – something heartbreaking or just kind of unimaginable or different than anything I’ve thought about. And there is one issue after another, bam-bam-bam. The hours fly by, and then it’s time to go home!

The cold weather hasn’t set in yet, but the rains have. Yesterday while talking with a friend over coffee, a violent hailstorm of about three minutes’ duration shocked us all. My new house is on a hill, the living room window facing north to my neighbors at a higher elevation. It isn’t exactly an expansive plot of land, and the combination of this closeness and the trees in our neighborhood, help me feel safe, and secure.

Nights, Ralph and the children take our dog for a walk. Tonight three cats followed along. A few moments of quiet, and some time for me to journal. My daughter sits at the kitchen table and completes her homework – now that she’s in college, she’s completing a year of high school math in a quarter’s time. Somehow she’s adjusted to this as smoothly as the rest of us have adjusted. It’s going to take a bit for it to feel real, to feel like a new rhythm – although the old one feels so long ago.

Being Assholes

Not Back To School, reason #1

Being Assholes
It’s that time of year – my social media stream is full of parents and teachers making jokes (?) at the expense of children. Teachers groan about having to return to their jobs. Parents are glad they get a break – finally! We’re all in agreement: caring for children is really exhausting and annoying and teachers should be sainted for having to put up with it!

Yeah. It’s kinda ugly.

Lest you think I’m a humorless scold (um… do you even read here?) let me acknowledge a few truths. First, I think very loving grownups can make jokes like this. Whether they should, well, let’s talk about this.

Second: I don’t deny, everyone needs to blow off some steam. As a parent for over thirteen years, I can attest there is a dark side to the hard work of being a parent. Sometimes we just need to vent. In fact, older entries of this very blog reveal that edge. Go ahead and look, if you like. It’s not pretty, although a lot of people seem to think it’s funny.

I am not writing this piece for those who’d read and feel offended, flustered. “How dare she pick on how I talk about my kids!” Or: “Well I don’t like kids. That’s just my preference.” (Not even touching this one, today!)

Yeah, yeah. I’m not trying to pick on you. I’m not even writing for you.

I’m writing for the children, teens, and adults, who see these “jokes”, and feel uneasy. If you do, please read on:

The problem with public venting is: children hear it. And it is damaging. There is no question about either of these things.

So then it becomes time for us truly to earn that title of GROWN UP. Because we are grown. We have rights, freedoms, protection under the law, and access to support – at least, far more than children as a class do.

So – are we going to act grown, or not? Is our right to vent more important than the collective self-esteem of our new generation? Does our right to vent trump our responsibility to weigh our words, while we steward this world and show, by example, how best to care for it? Are snark, memes, and barbed anecdotes – about our children or others’ – our only avenues to vent? Is it possible there are ways to get our needs met, that aren’t destructive to others?

Children read this stuff. They see it. Children get the gist. Teenagers especially learn that: we think they’re silly, dramatic, stupid, and annoying. And look – here’s another article proving how “teenage brain” is totally different than – *cough cough inferior to* – the grownup brain. Ouch!

Is it possible for children to fully understand these memes and snark are “just jokes”? Studies say, not so much. Empirical evidence and anecdotes reveal: not so much.

Even as adults: we all have a person or two in our lives, who seems to pick on us, although we can’t absolutely prove it. How does that feel?

Yeah, not too great.

Children are human beings, and they deserve respect – as individuals, and as a class. Our pastors, close and trusted friends, counselors, and the supportive family members who can keep a confidence? These fine personages are who we should vent to.

And when we’ve had enough support from these professionals and loved ones, we can better clarify what, if anything, we need to change. We can speak to our children in a constructive manner. We can dance that special dance – of self-care, while discharging our responsibilities.

It’s never too early, or too late to start.

I’m looking forward to these “Not Back To School” months with my kids in my home. I can truthfully say: these ten plus years of immersion have been the experience of a lifetime. I am so glad I did it, and so glad we continue. I am so glad I took the plunge, even after so many told me it wasn’t possible. That only a certain class of (unambitious, unintelligent, lifeless, and financially-privileged) women could do it, and stay happy.

Nah, son. If you want to do it – you can. Prepare to learn a little – or a lot!

And – I’m here to help.

Last Day Of School 2015

what air is to the lungs; or, how suddenly summer is upon us again

Last Day Of School 2015
My children’s first year at school together, come and gone. Not much fanfare after all; I brought out some homemade food on the last day of class – simply to be relevant, to impress upon the children there that their time is honored, that we do indeed see them and love them. And yes, I am glad to be there if only for this brief hour. The food in hand: deviled eggs and pretzel sticks, the eggs created in my kitchen only the half hour before. I carry the parcel to a few other classrooms, teachers. My footfalls are weary but I’m glad to ghost about the hall and experience the privacy of my thoughts. 

The edifice, the institution, the classroom, is as it always has been now that I’m an adult: a bit dirty, small-minded, housing implausibly-cheerful young citizens and adults paid a wage for honorable work. My throat constricts and my heart thunders with hope, and despair. My children are happy – everyone seems to be! – but I am ambivalent, an experience that will follow me the rest of the day.

And I am distracted. Our grocery reserves are limited to a bit of folding money in my pocket, and we are paid Thursday next. But even this is familiar, an adventure. Only distressing if I decide it is. Instead: it just means on our last school roadtrip I text my husband to send me coupons for take-and-bake pizza; I think of what we have in the fridge, and of when in the next week or so I can reasonably set up something special for the kids. They have, after all, completed a year on their own steam.

Driving home I know the car full of children – four in all – are feeling joy, and sadness, and a since of pulsing life. Even now today’s memories are blooming in their chest, to be touched upon lightly in years to come. Music and singing, the wind through our hair, the sunshine painting the winding road flanking the Wishkah river. They can afford to let the moment come and pass, while it lives wretched and sublime through my body, manifested in my fingers resting on the steering wheel, tapping out a rhythm more cheerful than I feel.

Summer, then. And already my son is half-feral: he has plans to do his banking – he packs his stamped-leather piggy bank in my car and is querulous I don’t make the time to stop at his branch. He tells me he will stay a week at a friends’, someone he hardly knows. His summer tan returns seemingly overnight, his hair lightens from honey into an earnest, bedeviled blonde. He is outside and running the neighborhood as much as we let him; home, he cooks meals at late hours, and tries to take a bowl of soup to eat in his bed, although perhaps I have scolded the children for this kind of thing hundreds of times. He painstakingly arranges his most treasured effects in the many small wooden boxes and metal-clasped receptacles he’s squirreled away over the years. In one such repository: miniature Lego pieces, a geode, a key, foreign currency, fossilized sharks’ teeth, and nondescript rocks imbuing a meaning known only to he. “I wish I could keep your heart inside,” he says – then, with a quick glance lest I misunderstand, amends his statement to mean my soul, my spirit, not my anatomical heart.

He tells me he will forgo school next year – but who can tell? This time last year, we had no hint he’d want to attend, and we wouldn’t have predicted how that would go in any case.

I have a leadership role in my household. This is evident to anyone who knows our family. This is something we four know. Yet in so many ways I am blind and striking out, making way in hostile, confusing terrain so the family can grow into themselves. They thrive in confidence in this shadow, lush and verdant greenery twining in the loamy darkness, growing strong. They fall asleep easily while at night I am prone to anxiety.

And tonight – as evening falls, sitting on our couch with my legs folded underneath my body – I talk with my husband. I speak of the disappointment and sadness I feel to watch so many I know, falter in their spiritual path. I speak of Doubt, which is so much harder for me than Fear. A mirage of illusion. “There are a small number of people I have found to be faithful,” I tell him. “You’re one of those people -” I say, and turn my head strategically for just a beat, to let this pass, before I complete my thought.

I am glad of their faith because, if I cannot always be happy, be sure, they are still the best thing to have come along, to awaken me to something beyond my own machinations and limited understanding.

paradise is you

The kids are out of school for Spring Break. Don’t think I even get how I’m supposed to be this schooling parent. In fact I think I have given up trying. I am often at a loss as to schedules. I don’t fit in with the culture. My kids had conferences last week and it seemed like for all the haranguing about standardized tests and attendance, the school staff and admins are lost and jumbled about it all. One of my children had a low (for the child, anyway) grade in a class. Now last week the child and Ralph tried to get to the bottom of it, and the teacher had a bunch of assignments incorrectly allocated. But here we’d confronted the child the night before – and the child had cried – over this mess. I don’t know if I’m supposed to not give much of a shit, or if I’m supposed to bust in there and straighten everyone out. And it’s hard to get too excited about something, grades and such, that seem entirely meaningless.

So anyway, school is whack and I am amazed they like the good parts – of which there are many, they’re called “other children” – enough to tolerate the rest. But they are enjoying themselves and this gives me immense pleasure. I know they appreciate that we support their rights to do what they want.

So I figure my job is to keep them in school clothes, and try my reasonable best to support them in their extracurricular activities and social lives, and feed them, and provide a safe, loving home for them to rest and recover in.

My son’s birthday is tomorrow – he turns eleven. I am hardly prepared – mentally, emotionally, or any other way, really. I sound a mess and maybe I am.

This afternoon I picked up my car from the shop. Gotta rob some rent to pay for that. But that said the kids and I were grinning like fools to have the car back.

And we were driving home and laughing with my mom, talking about our cat, trying frantically to bury a slimy mushroom on the floor. And I realize that with the little ones by my side, I’m really at my best somehow. I don’t know I’ll ever do much better. It’s like a really small, ignoble little victory in my heart, that I’m really okay with this.

“and I am bored to death with it.”

I think now that both children are in school I feel more anger, more muffled, and less energetic. Lost, purposeless even, at times. I am reminded – and reminded yet again – of how unfriendly the world is to children. How much we like to cram them in supervised, dull spaces. Worse than that: how little others seem to care. Children are institutionalized and herded and everyone seems to feel just fine about this. Last week my son was bullied by a school authority to get in the car with an adult he didn’t trust; this week, he is booted out of community classes that are apparently not-so-open to all, after all.

Not so long ago I was writing for unschooling publications – and putting forth my own perspectives, here, when asked. In 2014 I garnered a paying writing arrangement with a homeschooling magazine that, before one piece was written, was mutually abandoned by both parties when my second child enrolled in the public system.

So now, it seems like we’re just like “everyone else”. I’m living a life I don’t feel too enthused about – that of a schooling family – meanwhile knowing my job, right now, is (as ever!) to support my children in the exploits they seek for themselves.

In that respect, anyway, Ralph and I really are different than most families: our children have the choice, and they know it, and this is backed up by our past actions – not just words. I can feel a lot of comfort in that. I know that by doing that, we are indeed doing something special.

Of the children, only our oldest likes school unequivocally: she pursues extracurricular activities of band, of sport, of academia, of creative writing and art, and of social-spiritual community. She enjoys herself and succeeds in an even-keeled way, earning straight-As and never once asking for help with homework. She puts herself to bed on time and wakes herself in the morning. At the end of the day, on the drive home, she shares her concerns and gives me reasonable lead-times on deadlines. I could serve her up to another family, a boarding school, and she’d be nothing but an asset.

Our son is fitting in far better than I thought he would. Like his sister, he excels academically without much effort. However he is far more interested in recess (and the never-ending schoolwide game of kickball), gym, and lunch – in that order. He is vocal about his displeasures: classroom struggles, the social hypocrisy he has found in the institution, and of course the early-morning schedule (you and me both, little guy!).

All that said, by any measure both my children are a tremendous success in school. Exactly no one is surprised by this, of course.

School works for them, then, but it doesn’t particularly work for me. Deep this evening as a wet darkness sets in, I’m standing in my living room thinking of all this, my minor grudges, the dissatisfaction of institutionalization and segregation. My son is perched on the edge of the couch, dressed in his down coat; the front door is wide open, and my husband gathers up the dog for a late-night walk. I think of how it’s unfair to ask my children to fight my battles, to wrestle with my inner demons, or even to care about what I care about. They are satisfied – why am I not? How rubbish the whole business is, really, I’m thinking.

But school, at least, provides me plenty of time to rest – handy when I am ill, or injured, or as is the case now: both – and plenty of time to myself. School allows me time to reflect and meditate on how quickly children grow, and how much more freedom I have now that they’re older.

So I tell myself – like tonight, when I’m angry with the latest (hardly-a-)setback, that since that is What Is In Fact Happening, it must be What’s Supposed To Be Happening. My mind wanders: possibilities. Perhaps this is the time for me to deepen my practice of yoga and Buddhism. Perhaps this is my time to reflect and rest more. Perhaps this is my time to study my marriage, or to strengthen my friendships.

The winter is dark, and damp, and uncomfortable; my mind runs to these currents as well. My children are happy, and safe, and loved – and excelling in what they want to do. Really, a mother has no other vocation where her dependents are concerned.

Fall Projects

that will probably become clear later, like the French Revolution

Fall Projects

The summer weather turned so fast I’m still reeling. We are amidst autumn traditions now: baking pumpkin bread, knitting, sewing up wool garments. I’m keeping busy in Halloween sewing (ONE more day. Well, one-and-a-half), rehearsals for Jesus Christ Superstar (I got my apostle name today! #w00t), and of course – raising my kids, caring for the home and five pets, and putting the time into my Recovery life. Kidney stones got the better of me a few days ago for a couple days but I hung in there. I’m still watching and reviewing vampire films like a menace. What can I say? Life carries on.

JCS, Keeping WarmKeeping warm in a chilly theatre.
Sequin Removal

This was my life before I knew anything different than the removal of sequins. Don’t worry, I got a lot faster at taking them out. I have removed one hundred billion sequins. The results are going to be amazing, but mostly the results are going to mean I am no longer cutting sequins, which is something I keep thinking I’m doing, because it’s the only thing I’ve been doing, ab aeterno.

Punkin

A little punkin’ & a big punkin’. Which is which?

My little ones had their school counseling sessions today with their father. I couldn’t be more proud of them. They are performing well, and better than that, they love school. I still miss them terribly during the day but the satisfaction I get knowing they are where they want to be (for now) is worth my occasional restlessness.

Nights I find myself having trouble falling asleep. But I have a warm bed, and loved ones, and (for now) some health. Life is very special. It is a miracle!

Wishkah

hollow (wo)man

Wishkah

This last week I’ve had three members of the community ask for a private conference for the following: putting homeschooled kids into school, and taking schooled children out of school. I guess now I’ve got enough experience on both. I’m honored to be trusted, and I hope my listening ear, and my shared experience, helped these concerned folk.

The thing is, with any life change a parent has the opportunity to examine the agenda they’ve crafted for their child. And I mean, deeply examine it. If they’re not willing to do that, then little I say makes a difference much.

This of course brings a preternatural calm to all such conferences. It’s easy to be calm. Who is going to see their agendas, let alone set them aside? My children’s own attendance on a daily basis at a little rural school miles (and miles!) away from home life is, I’d like to think, a bit of a referendum on that concept of I just want what’s best for my child. (because: what parent doesn’t?) Their internment in the walls of a brick and mortar school for me means: I trust. The school? I dunno. The kids themselves? Yeah. Yeah, I really do.

Wishkah

Wishkah

Today I spent several hours at this very school, my first volunteer gig of the year.I first directed one class in a small activity – some cooking and crafting – and then watched both my kids in their respective Physical Education classes.

It was a surreal, exhausting experience. I don’t know how kids get through it and have energy left over to play sports. Or as my daughter did – go to soccer practice, come home and do chores, go for a run with her father – and then finish up her homework.

Beat, querulous, confused, tonight I attend the last of my yoga series. Half the class of twelve has dropped out. I open up to the possibility of gratitude – for myself, my practice. Come home and put kids into the shower and put away laundry and take a hot shower.

But I’m unearthed; sands have shifted.

People act like when your kids grow up, you’re sad because you’re this empty husk that has no meaning to life now that you aren’t meeting their needs. But it’s not like that. It’s exactly like realizing every moment is one you’re probably squandering, wishing for things to get better or easier. Then one day they’re easier (in those particular respects) and you realize the groundlessness was your own thing, had nothing to do with circumstance. And the thing you perhaps squandered entirely, was that precious time with those children, which is the best thing life’s going to offer. That potential for perfect intimacy with another human being.

You throw away, that Best Thing. 

Why am I willing to live like the walking dead? And so many others, they do the same. So then: the fear. A haunting thought: What will keep me from forgetting again?

Late night: the dryer hums, the dog and kitties and rabbit are settling in. My husband’s movements in the bedroom: small, sedate. Tattered pajamas and a cool, peaceful bedroom.

And then tomorrow. Tomorrow can I live it? Instead of fleeing the moment, running and running to some destination that is less real than the illusion I create it from.

Wishkah