Early FallWe’re crossing F street and Phoenix asks me for the difference between empathy and sympathy. And this leads to a discussion on two tangential experiences: commiseration and understanding. Watching my children grasp new concepts so swiftly, it’s still breathtaking all these years in. I don’t know what brought these emotional-relations topics on but I can think of some salient, personal examples in our lives, and I share them with my oldest as I feel the steering wheel hot under my hand. I glance across the street at a carved wooden structure; the sun is hitting the swollen river and I’d planned to let my oldest drive us down to class today but we were feeling rushed. Phoenix has his new learner’s permit folded up in his wallet, which he’s learning to take everywhere with him.

Earlier in the day we’d sat together on rigid bleachers and watched Nels play in Homeschool Gym & Swim – first, basketball drills and then, lessons in the pool. Forward crawl, breast stroke, butterfly, backstroke, diving practice. The homeschool group is small and Nels is one of the oldest, and tallest, of the attendees. He’s right at the cusp of finding it an utterly valueless experience, but I’ve convinced him the exercise will do him good. He’s a cheerful sort and so he applies himself and his swim stroke especially has already improved. I’m sitting with my coffee and my other child at my elbow and I can feel myself slipping into an irrelevancy, but it’s week two or month eight and I’ve been stuck here a while.

The other homeschool parents know one another better than they know me. They are to a soul Christian evangelicals, which I don’t mind at all but my difference hasn’t helped me fit in much either. I am determined during this tenancy in this athletic program, however, to start to know these families’ names at least. After a session I pop any intel into my phone; I can’t remember names unless I write them down and refer to them again, at least a time or two. How much my mind has changed; I used to have no trouble with this sort of thing at all!

Back home and after I’ve worked, and practiced yoga, and met a volunteer commitment and helped with dinner – I rest a bit and then carefully craft a pate brisee and chill it, slice apples and mix almond meal and apply brown sugar and vegan butter (a homemade mix we craft up once a week) and assemble a galette for the family. If I am lucky the children will have once slice apiece this evening so there is enough for their breakfast tomorrow morning. Their appetites are simply bottomless, Nels’ being most alarming of the two. They laugh at me now that I am shorter, now that they eat more, now that their energies have swollen like a harvest moon and while I am still here but somehow diminished, valiantly soap-sudsed to my elbow and the Queen of my castle but somehow for all of that a lesser presence than I once was.