the needle that knows how to mend

I’m working on a small pile of mending for a client, and watching “Tennison” on the laptop. Repairs to an overcoat, damage from a cat’s ardent claws. Next re-twisting and looping yarns from a cotton crocheted overblouse, in a deep teal. Then: a thin acetate lining shredding at the underarm, in a heathered winter coat. For tomorrow: two pair of trousers with blind hems, a waist seam coming loose, a zipper top popped, and a sleeve unraveling.

I enjoy mending. I know many seamstresses complain they are expected to mend for their friends, but I am clever. I charge for my efforts and besides, I do enjoy giving clothes longer life. I dislike waste and we are particularly greedy and wasteful about clothes. So: repairs, then. Every project is it’s own challenge and this pleases me. The teal crocheted blouse, for instance: I mend the pull so well that when I move it to the ironing board to steam it one last time I can’t find where I’d fixed it.

I enjoy hand-work, besides. My mother was my first sewing teacher and one strength she had, and has to this day, is strong and consistent – if indelicate and highly-visible – handwork. Her handwork instilled in me the confidence to work at my own. My work is finer and more delicate but not always as confident and sturdy.

Later in the evening, after my volunteer work, I stop by a friend’s to pick up buttons. These she has had for years on a mostly-completed coat project. I will install these three – as a favor, sure, but also because the though of these lonesome buttons, waiting for installation for years, touches me in this small way. Tomorrow they will be united with their intended purpose. I am careful as I walk down the stone steps to my car, the buttons on a card nestled in my purse. It is very cold and very dark and I don’t need a fall.

The studio is still cold but I have music and my hot coffee and I remember to take breaks, to care for my home and my children. My children! Tonight my 13 year old asks to get into bed and he holds me against his chest and for the first time I feel smaller than he; whisper thin he may be but he is growing taller than I now. And we talk and I can hear and feel his heart thump under the clean white cotton of his t-shirt. Soon our children have birthdays; Ralph and I discuss how to pull together what resources we have and to make something very special for each of them. We have poured out ourselves for these children and it was such an intelligent parenting strategy! They are vibrant, and happy, and well-rested, and fierce. And I remain unmoored, now that they are so independent. Things are as they should be and I am semi-wrecked.

Yoga practice; my hips are opening up, and I am comfortable in a deep seated twist, cow-faced legs, my head rests over my shoulder. My yoga teacher, her online presence, has become so valuable to me for the postures she leads me through yes, but also for her humor and her invitations to gentleness, to patience. She gives me permission to let things go, things that hurt or “no longer serve”. After practice I take a hot shower and slip into my pajamas to join my husband in the kitchen. I finish a slip-stitch while we talk and he prepares dinner: a large green salad, spaghetti with a homemade long-simmering red sauce and lemon-roasted garbanzo beans. And garlic bread! A hot, delicious winter meal.

The oldest child sets the table and I put out mixers for mimosas (of sorts): lime seltzer water and a delicious ice cold orange juice. The children tell us stories and tease me while their father smiles at their jokes. I put my hand on his knee to ask him something, I can’t remember what but even now I can feel his warm thigh through the denim of his jeans. And I’m thinking while I sit there that I have got to keep focused on these things, these little bits of work and home and love and my avocation, my volunteer work. And daily keep writing my gratitude list and performing my practice. On my desk rest little notes on scrap of movie posterback and little bits of graph paper, notes that I need to put into the calendar or into my accounting system and then recycle these paper bits and there will be more notes soon. A woman’s work like the Updike novel, always moving matter from one place to another.

A bit of loveliness: knit chiffon painstakingly formed into small pintucks, an impossibly insubstantial garment that can barely be called one at all: 

 

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my heart going boom, boom, boom!

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I spent my forty-first birthday exactly as I wanted: sleeping in, then rising up for leisurely coffee with Ralph. After my morning practice the four of us set to a deep clean of the house. The kind of deep clean where we pulled down every curtain, shampooed the (single) rug (we own), dusted, mopped, and cleaned the bathroom. My bedroom bureau was scrubbed and my little shelf for my Buddha wiped down with a soft, damp rag – in fact, each Buddha on my main floor got a cleaning as well. I lit charcoal in the brazier and burned resin incense; we put the cats out and aired out the quilts and washed all the bedding. We opened up gifts, each tenderly wrapped and with handwritten salutations and well-wishes.

In the late afternoon I traveled to a studio and held a yoga class, as I’ve done years in a row now on my birthday. I felt so alive on the mat tonight; our instructor led us through deep twists and triumphant standing postures and one-legged forward folds. My toes tapped through the music I’d set – a playlists of songs from 1977, the year of my birth.

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I changed into my jeans and hoodie and slouchy cap straight from yoga; Ralph and the kids picked me up and we drove straight to Olympia, to a little Chinese restaurant with the best vegan entrees, comfort food. Almond chick’n, smothered in gravy and alongside steamed vegetables. And crisp lemonade – I was so thirsty after working out.

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We shopped at Target and Nels and I sang on the way home – my thirteen year old son loves Lana Del Rey and has memorized every lyric and vocal flutter and soar.

Home and after a shower, chocolate cake in bed. My body feels indescribably good this evening and the comfort of my home is like a soft blanket I fold over my body, close. I do not like solitude so much, per se, but I do love having time for introspection and respite.

My little family cares for me so very well. I only hope they’d say the same of me.

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sitting backstage / someone’s plus one

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In a few hours I turn 41. Of note: my mother brought me over a large floral arrangement today, along with a deep chocolate cake and three small houseplants each set in a simple copper tureen. Ralph and the children have been out on secret errands, happily procuring gifts. I am grateful to be loved so dearly by my little family.

I’ve spent the last two days practicing yoga, caring for family errands, volunteering, and doing those little business admin bits like invoicing and recording receipts and ordering and collating patterns. It is cold – cold in my studio, cold outside. Emerging from the bedroom this morning I find my husband stepping inside after the dog’s morning walk; Ralph is so cold he looks almost shocked. I pour him hot coffee and convince him to come to bed, where I hold him close. I steel myself as he slides his cold hands up my shirt, against the smooth skin over my ribs. The only one who’s touched me like this for two decades.

I’ve tried to stop judging myself how much it hurts my children are growing, are so independent. Every day they seek me out and hold me, and I am grateful for that. Every day they share with me. They can even be coerced to go on errands and I can always buy them a tea latte or lunch. What may be less obvious to my readers, unless you’ve been with me a long time indeed, is that at one time and for many years their company, their needs and laughter and tears and their words and smells and their hair against my cheek, always the sweetest straw-smelling against my skin, this was my world for fifteen plus years and even though things are as they should be I am bereft. For Ralph life is much as before; he’s had their lifetime away at his job, to come home in the evenings. For the children they have the security of their parents, as they rush off and bury themselves in work and play of their own.

All my life I remember people pityingly speaking of women who were too invested in their children, as if this were some mark of a pathetic, cramped nature, of an unimaginative woman to allow such a thing. One secret I have discovered: you can have a full life, you can have all these interests and a gorgeous career and a wonderful marriage and good friends and a meaningful avocation and a spiritual walk and a self-care regimen: and it can still hurt so damn much when your kids grow up.

 

 

mint, turmeric, saffron, cardamon, ginger, garlic…

Today when I wake I know I’m going to do my yoga, drink my coffee. Hem a linen dress with a blind stitch. Press the dress and hang it up, to deliver to a client in a couple days. Wait for my children to wake and then take them out to pizza.

It’s my oldest’s sixteenth birthday.

In the evening we travel to an event, the LGBTQ+ safe space, a crafting night. I bring embroidery supplies and work on a small project. Many other young people are there. Beeps doesn’t always fit in; they are friendly, intelligent, and well-spoken but they have a preternatural calm and a presence that others find intimidating. I am not nearly as calm as Beeps but I know what it’s like to be considered intimidating. People assume you don’t need the kind of care, the kind of asking-after. They assume you don’t need them to walk over and say Hello.

But someone does walk over and sit with us and we do handwork and we talk. I am embroidering a little goth skull for a friend in Tennessee. Deep deep deep purple, and a silvery-blue, and a lavender. Cotton floss.

And when I get home I will be making chick’n biryani, because I know (even though I haven’t made it before), it will be loved by my children. Earlier in the day I spent the last 19 dollars to my name this week on the supplies – well 12 dollars on the vegetables and herbs as I had to spend seven on medicine for my mother, who called from her house and asked. I have gas in my car and dried beans and rice at home and a day or two to hopefully get paid by a client and so I’m cheerful enough.

Home and my partner has chopped up the herbs and spices and peeled the potatoes. This is what I love – alchemy, he and I together. I have the confidence the dish will taste perfect – and it does.

My children lay on me when they can – on the couch, in my bed before I sleep. They still need so much attention; they still crave touch. It can be comedic; if either child sees Ralph and I embrace, they move into the middle. They’ve done this since they were very little and they do it now. I am pleased because I am a special person in their hearts; they also need these kinds of things from their father but from no one else, do they trust like this. I am so glad every day we get to earn their trust again, and again.

We have a special birthday cake and a few gifts, lined up for Sunday when my mother comes over. I ordered a cake in a cheerful blue; I will make another special meal. Another trip around the sun, for my glorious firstborn!

aching knees / do as I please

My little tuxedo kitty Herbert Pocket is a shy, self-contained thing; now and then, however, she decides she needs affection. She is suddenly relentless, stropping at the ankles while I cook, or – as in this morning – swarming about me as I am deep in yoga practice. She purrs and takes menacingly little chomps with her perfect white teeth and pink tongue, her eyes directly looking into mine. This morning during savasana I pull her onto my chest and she purrs and kneads and I breathe quietly.

I have taken to more yoga practice as it has helped me with the overwhelming quantity of anger I’ve been experiencing; with the furious thoughts banging around in my braincase. Somehow it is far easier to engage myself in yoga and get a respite, than any other activity save binge-watching murder shows late at night while others sleep. And don’t be a fool and tell me the murder shows could possibly exacerbate my anger; that’s not how late night murder show marathons work!

There are other wonderful distractions. Today I sat in a salon chair and talked with a friend while she meticulously stripped the virgin color out of my long tresses, washed, dried, and applied a delicious mint green. She takes a photo and then I tuck my hair back up into a cap; it flows freely only at home. I arrive back in the late evening and when Phoenix sees me they say, pleased; “My little sea-witch!”

Ralph is making up tacos and I’m dying for a shower; it’s cold out, the kind that gets deep in your bones and only hot water can salve.

that it’s just what we needed / you decided this

My son climbs in the bed and flips his hair, which is soaking wet from the shower. Even a few moments on my pillow will leave it wet the rest of the night, as much hair as he has and how well the tangles hold moisture. “I will love you forever,” he tells me as he settles into my arms. It’s late and he’s exhausted but he wants to fall asleep here with me. I hold him for a while but send him to his own bed. I fear tonight he may have night terrors; he used to get them so often when he was much younger. Now we see them about once a year. Frightening and brutal, but for all that I am glad for their infrequency.

I slept well last night and indeed have been sleeping well lately, and I am grateful for this. I am struggling with so much anger of late. My little family gives me so much solace and joy; so does my volunteer work. So too, does my yoga. Maybe it is just that I am so faithful in all of these and it’s my faithfulness that sustains me.

I set forth in my studio and work on a pair of velveteen trousers with gathered knees, and double-welt slash front pockets, and flower-shaped fell-stitched back pockets, a jaunty little pair of luxe knickerbockers for a small child. The velveteen is gorgeous but dot not perform well when cut, shifting irritating bits of fluff all about my clothing and sewing machine table. For all that I persist – building and constructing a half-lining similar to a pair of men’s dress trousers. Grosgrain ribbon for the inner waistline. When finished they are a delight; I set them aside as I will be adding more pieces soon, for this same child.

Part of my irritation may be the cold in my studio; I think it fatigues me to work there. My hands are cold when I come upstairs and I heat them by washing them, or pouring another cup of hot coffee. Last week I put together the hummingbird feeders again as a solitary soldier was visiting now and then; so I can look out the window while cupping my mug, and watch the alacrity of the birds, the sun and rain outside on the fierce and fine weather we are having.

 

it’s not a sprint, it’s a sojourn

My children are teens now and as I could have expected, this stage in our lives is absolutely as wonderful and dynamic as every stage before. The oldest child is the most mercurial of the family at the moment, swinging from open hostility when things are not going well, to a very intense emotional and physical desire to be close – to me. The intensity sometimes means that, instead of getting my own work done during the afternoon, I instead sit on the couch to watch something silly, or hold my child in my arms, or take them out for lunch. This desire to be close, it astonishes me at how intense and everyday it is.

Once I got my bearings it became very easy (well, most of the time!) to parent appropriately. When the child is angry and hostile, I leave the child alone (except for some overtures – asking if they want me to make them tea, that sort of thing). When they are needing intense physical comfort and time together, I have been putting aside what I can to provide this.

My younger child is going through something similar. Surprisingly he is curt and rude at times, new behaviors, but I can adjust. However after an outburst he is quick to come back and apologize, something my oldest either cannot or will not try except on rare occasions. My younger child is more frustrated with my limitations and shortcomings, or at least is more vocal about them, than anyone else in the family. For New Years he suggested as a resolution – politely of course – that I put away my phone more often. He has been criticizing me of late I do not cuddle him enough, and I am not a good enough listener.

We drove to Beeps’ college course the other night as a family; Ralph and Phoenix went in for class, Nels and I ran arond the town and had the most amazing night out together, getting dinner and coffee. On the lines of what I write about above, it wasn’t an easy night on this car trip from Aberdeen to Olympia. Phoenix was unhappy and did not respond to careful overtures. I remembered my own upbringing where my parents would have sharp words about my “attitude”. I let those memories wash over and pass, and I didn’t have to act on them. I wasn’t thinking about it much but hours later when I pulled the car around to pick my child up, even in the streetlamp I could see my oldest child’s strong, elvish features crease into recognition, gladness at seeing me. I realized that I am a drumbeat in this child’s life and every day I parent with gentleness and mindfulness is a day that opens my child’s future into something unimaginably wonderful.

Änderungen

Yesterday my eldest child had their first shot of testosterone, administered by a long needle with a physician’s expertise. In two weeks we’ll return and I will watch my child learn to do this by themselves.

I am not nearly as nervous about testosterone as I was even a year ago, when I had just started educating myself more seriously about being a parent to a trans child. In some ways those early days were a little dream-like; I have a very close friend who is trans and had cheerfully thought that would be my most intimate experience – and I was grateful to be included in her life, and in her journey. When Beeps came out about thirteen months ago I am sad to say I did not realize just how much this would change our lives. It hasn’t all gone as expected, at all. We’ve had disappointments (unsupportive family with poor behaviors), elation (supportive family with awesome behaviors), a lot of great support (thank Jeebus for the internetz), and a huge learning curve. To this day, as much as I’ve read and studied, I haven’t seen anyone as eloquent, well-educated, and kind as my own child on the topic of gender issues. There’s a career in it for them if they so choose.

This child has been noticeably happier since the week dawned when they’d get their first shot; time will tell, but of course as has been my experience these sixteen years of parenting, it really is okay to trust our children. Watching my child bloom into joy, (more) affection, and a great deal more playfulness, has been both wonderful and a bit sobering. It is so easy, when a child is “well-behaved” intelligent, and (seems to be) doing so well, to ignore things rather than pay them heed. Important things.

I forgot to tell you but I am determined, by the way, on a new New Year resolution: to stop criticizing myself. It might seem entirely silly or perhaps even a vague or even unattainable goal but I absolutely know it’s important, and it’s possible. I have been practicing simply moving away from those thoughts that are repetitive criticism (or even obsessive criticism), simply stopping them. This is, I am surprised to find, entirely possible to do. Not that many years ago, I couldn’t have succeeded, and sadly I doubt I would have had an awareness of how self-critical I was. I am finding compassion to be as much a daily, nuanced, complex and fruitful practice as my daily yoga. This gives me a tremendous sense of optimism and gladness – joy, even.

Ralph and Beeps are in their last quarter of German together; “Du hast Hausaufgaben?” my husband asks our child, from the hallway through bathroom door. For their part, Phoenix has been tutoring me a bit. Today while they swept the kitchen floor they sat me down and lectured me on numbers, and how to count according to the German language. I laughed and repeated the word for “fifty-five” several times and Phoenix praised my pronunciation and my handle on their numeric system, although I felt I barely had a grasp on it all.

Also: happy vegan anniversary to me (yesterday)! 

A wonderful, rich life, if the rain still pisses down and all that. Hell, it’s January. We got a ways to go.

KP

KP

Living with teenagers is about five thousand percent more peaceful than all the jokes and nasty comments led me to believe; and it’s sure been a sight more fun than my own teen years. Both children, unschooled and with only my direction on housework, have a sense of purpose and relatively companionable demeanor every day. I can’t remember hearing either say they are bored, ever. Boredom isn’t really a thing in our home. Not yet. I sometimes wonder when they leave, how I will do with that. They have been the drumbeat, everything to me, going on sixteen years.

Beeps started a new quarter at college this week; their last full quarter, as in spring they will only require ten credits. My stomach clenches a bit as there was so much I’d wanted to do for Phoenix for their sixteenth birthday in March; for their graduation from college in June, and there is little I can afford. I’d like to secure them a car, I’d like to throw them a party or two, and I’d like to buy them a few lavish gifts. As it is, we are down to one car in this family – which is less than ideal, leaving me stranded at home most days – and the car we do have has engine and brake problems.

I have learned how to discipline myself and calm my thoughts, when these kinds of difficulties arise. I know my children are perfectly happy and healthy and my hopes for them might be too specific or might not come to fruition in any case. It takes discipline for me to accurately assess our lives and make a plan. It takes even more discipline not to beat myself up, for being unrealistic, for thinking I could have done something spectacular for this spectacular child.

Nels cut all his hair off except a long topknot and today he confidently forwarded me a video tutorial for me to twist his blonde waves up into a bun. He is building a Minecraft mod and learning coding, stealing any bit of time he can from his father. Ralph comes home tired at the end of the day and I’m tired from working in the cold and I’m a bit stir-crazy from being cooped up and I put my arms around my husband and kiss him and feel how every part of his body feels good against mine. And I then count backwards on my fingers, I ask myself if I balanced everything just right: if I took care of my social life and my creative life and my physical life (daily yoga!) and my household and each child and my marriage and maybe even the pets or paid a bill or two. And most days I come out okay.

I was thinking about how I’ve poured so much into these kids and how I don’t regret it at all. And that’s another thing I count at the end of the day and look deeply, thumbing through the pages and knowing that’s still how I want to do it.

For tomorrow, then: finishing a pair of trousers and cooking up lunch and making a dinner for guests, and then wrestling into the arms of my husband where I can let my hair loose and lay on his shoulder and take respite and then it’s another weekend.

 

2018 New Year

new year, new me, same me

2018 New Year
I am holding my oldest child close in our bed while my husband sleeps just a foot away. Beeps smells like roses and their hair is damp; they are warm and soft and even let me put my arms around their little tummy. I hold them close and I tell them, we make a plan. On Friday I will take them to the new LGBTQ+ teen center in Hoquiam. Beeps is socially shy, at least IRL if not so much online (where they exhibit dry humor and a quick wit). I tell them they can tag along and I will make up a reason to be there. “Why?” my child asks. I say, truthfully, “to find out more about volunteering there.” And my kid sighs a little gladly and says, “oh,” and I can tell they are glad their mother is the type of mother to put time into such a venture.

My first project of the year in my studio was to craft a wheelchair cozy for a child who is very sick, who last I heard only has a few weeks to live. It’s not quite possible for me to wrap my mind around this, although I’ve been trying, but it is possible for me to make this cozy little bundle for this child, a hack that circulated online and involves sewing two cheerfully-lovely puffer coats together at the hem, and the installation of four locations for straps. And I find a little patch, the same as the child’s nickname, and I sew it on patiently today in the kitchen while I listen to my own children talk; Nels is learning coding from Ralph, working on Minecraft mod. My kids are like my cats – they want to be in the same room as me, so when I hand-sew anything I try to let them know and soon enough, there they are

It’s been incredibly cold but today we were blessed with sunshine and, in the evening, a stunningly large full moon on the rise. Last night just after midnight, while neighbors were still launching fireworks, the children and I wrapped up in blankets and spent a few moments on the back deck, marveling at the light from the moon and the passage of another year. My twentieth New Years’ Eve with Ralph; and sometimes time is spinning spinning spinning and my children aren’t yet grown but I can reach my hand out and touch this future, and I think to myself There is absolutely nothing to stop this time from spilling out, so I have to take that deep breath and feel the enormity of the moment.

The oldest child is upstairs drawing; my younger child joins me in bed for just a moment now, before rushing back to his coding work. He is cold as his computer is down in the very basement I toil in; cold AF so he’s cold and we have a standing agreement in the family that we can come to one another for warmth but no pranking anyone by laying ice-cold hands on the warm flesh of the other family member.