The pandemic and resultant quarantine – as Washington state residents, we’re early adopters – would be scary enough in any case, but it sucks when you’ve got children, even presumably healthy ones. Small children always seem so vulnerable; my teenagers, however, can have grownup-sized anxieties with a tad bit less historical perspective than might otherwise give them comfort.
Today, coincidentally, was the first day of the year I felt the heat of spring when I opened the door. My first thought: the planet will survive. We human beings have made some big messes and stand to make more. The planet utterly doesn’t give a fuck.
Phoenix and I went on a neighborhood walk, carefully observing distancing practices of course. Just a simple walk – after only a week of quarantine – felt invigorating, sacred. I asked how his friends were doing. I asked how he was holding up. In is social circle, Phoenix occupies a similar role as I do in mine – expected to support, expected to listen and empathize, expected to be that emotional buffer for others. I tell him to be cautious about this. I tell him, “the day before yesterday I fielded a lot of calls. I felt just fine all day long, listening to others and helping them. But then that night I was beset by anxiety and couldn’t fall asleep until six A.M.”
There is a perfectly lovely woman at a local shop who always greets me warmly, and makes genuine, caring conversation with my husband and I when she sees us. She is a homeschooler and so that, I feel, is why she reaches out to connect. But she is a very different type of homeschooler than we: she uses a strict curriculum (for her several children), and the family is an evangelical Christian. Today I got to have that conversation I’ve had so many times in the last few years:
Her: “‘Boys’? I thought you had a boy and a girl?”
Me, smiling: “We thought so too! But we were wrong.”
I wait a beat. It takes most people a second to process what I might be saying.
Beeps and I are about to cross from Hoquiam to Aberdeen when we hear a strange beeping. We slow up on pedaling and coast; moments later a tall, silver-bearded white man slowly crosses a block ahead of us on a segway. Slowwllly he crosses as his siren sententiously announces his passage.
A beat, and then I say to my oldest: “Being on the bike, you are thrown into humanity a bit more,” and halfway through the sentence they are nodding already. We’ve come across a rude cashier, teens cutting eyes at us as they walk home from school, and two young men who pulled over and asked us to buy them beer. And then there’s the distraction of people just doing their thing: mowing lawns or taking out the glass bottles. These few days on the bikes have been incredible for my mood; the sunny days are ecstatic, and the rain and the cold – well, those days I’m glad to get home to the heat and my pantry and my kettle.
I finished two dresses today, and washed and dried a gorgeous two-tone linen for a pair of trousers. My stockpile of fabrics for upcoming projects is, incredibly, slowly dwindling. Another great thing about the bike is it forces me to stop working, and to an extent stop thinking about work. I’ll take what I can get!
Working for myself means I work all hours and each day unless I tell myself I’m not going to. It’s surprisingly easy to work every day. I get to remember and take time off, for my sake – for my family’s sake.
This morning’s roster involved a cancellation, a challenging client, and a do-over. By about four PM I was ready for a rest. I tied my hair back up and slipped into first some loungewear and then into bed with a good murder mystery. Ralph made a fresh pot of coffee and I recovered after a fashion.
About six Nels comes back inside, breathless, smelling of black powder and ozone. “What have you been up to?” I ask. I’m thinking of all those years the children needed so much supervision – gone, poof! – and they are young adults now. As evidenced by the next thing my son says: “I’ve been lighting fireworks – and cleaning up after people,” he tells me as he holds aloft a garbage bag full of the miscellany of this most litter-prone holiday.
While I rest, Ralph packs up a picnic dinner. We pull out a quilt and grab coats, and drive down to the river. I suppose I love small-town life as we can park only a few feet away from the shore, and walk to find a comfortable spot on the green grass. I can smell sugar in the air from cotton candy, heavy marijuana smoke. Talk is pleasant, no fighting, no loud drunken brawling. My body feels chill and even in a coat I sidle up to the warm chest of my husband, holding myself close to his familiar form. His strong arms and the way he smells, clean like fresh-cut grass and so comforting. I can’t hold anyone in my family for long without my 13 year old slipping in between us. The whole evening the children are holding me close or holding my hand. They are a great comfort to me even as old as they are, they seek out touch as much as they did when they were small.
The big fireworks display, when it launches, regales us with a half hour of successive incredible pyrotechnics. My favorites are the waterfall-like gentle rains, and the little after-crackles of some of the larger multistage blooms. As a family we are held together in complete comfort and intimacy, safe on our little quilt, a soft cotton island in a sea of green grass.
The drive home is a cautious one, but passes without incident. The celebrations have kicked up in our neighborhood; my cats and dog, however, are calm. The house begins to settle; I can only hear the washing machine and the pop-pop-pop and the pleasant music from my son’s Minecraft game. Time for a hot shower and time to rest, and tomorrow to take up work again, to what end I’m never entirely sure.
This morning, a moment after my husband left the bed, I sensed our son climbing in beside me, under our comforter and quilt. He came in close to me and, half asleep, I put my arms around him as I’ve done thousands of times. We held one another close for a while, then we turned away from one another and fell back into our own kingdoms, our own sleep sanctuaries. For all the years we’ve known one another we’ve shared sleep, every night.
I think this is so incredibly special.
My son turns twelve today. I used to think of twelve as the “age of accountability”, the age of reason according to Scriptural sources. Later I discovered there was no such age set-upon in the Bible. But the impression has stayed with me. At twelve I remember coming to believe I was more a citizen of the world. I remember feeling by turns fierce and gentle, elated and despondent. I talked back to my teachers and was reprimanded. Twelve was the age where I began to sense this was bullshit. I also began to experience depression. This is The Way Things Are?
My children are given more freedom than most, at least in this country. I am glad of this. It hasn’t always been easy to live so differently, but it has been the right thing for us. All of this experience is showing, coming to fruition, as they near adulthood. It has helped heal me, as well.
This time last year my son was in his first year of public school – his only, so far. This morning as I stroked his hair – right before or after I took the above picture – I told him, “I’m glad you’re not in school this year.” He asked, “Really?” and I responded, “Yes, because I missed you.” Then thought a beat, and added: “and you seem happier now.” And he said, “Oh, yes.” without hesitation.
It came to me that his choice to stay enrolled for a full year was a fair-minded one on his part. He stuck with it and gave it a shot. He has learned more through that process than I could.
Today as I type this, and my son finishes sleeping, I am doorman to a host of boys in the neighborhood – three, one of them twice. They all want him to play. They want to tell him happy birthday.
Perhaps the most precious thing to me about Nels this last year concerns these boys. When we first moved in, several of them were throwing rocks, catching voles and cutting their heads off, smashing insects. That sort of thing. I felt a reflexive anger at these boys but then tried to soften. After all, it was their fathers who hadn’t been teaching them better.
From the beginning, my son was a model of different behavior. I remember early on in our tenure here, he rounded up a few boys in our backyard raking leaves. As they unearthed humus they came across large soft caterpillars, and the boys began destroying them. Nels intervened, told the boys not to harm them. He made a little hut out of twigs, with a hydrangea roof and a small square of dried moss as a welcome mat. He relocated every grub there and within only minutes the boys did the same.
Several months later these same boys are kinder. One of them today, as I talk to him in the doorway, spies a spider dangling from the doorknob. I tell the boy to relocate the spider to the nearby bush. “Spiders like bushes,” I tell him, and the boy does so, without hesitation. These children have learned our cats’ names and are very tender to them, instead of chasing them or grabbing them.
It occurs to me that children are quicker than adults to want to do better, to leave off old harmful habits. They just need to be shown, with love, another way to do it.
Now my son showers, and watches a bit of Minecraft on YouTube. He makes some breakfast and walks the dog as he waits for the dishes to finish their cycle. I know that after he finishes his morning routine, he’ll be outside all day playing. I know even if I catch him up and apply sunscreen that in a couple weeks he’ll be brown as a nut. This time next year he will be taller than I, if not sooner.
I would cry a little bit and sometime today I expect I will.
Every year I post Nels’ birth story on this date. Several families have told me the story has influenced their birth choices; several women that it was the (beginning) inspiration for their home birth! Thank you to all who read. Much love, to you all.
Nels David Hogaboom a birth story
Born at home to mom Kelly, dad Ralph, and sister Sophia [/Phoenix] 1:20 AM Wednesday April 7, 2004 8 pounds 7 ounces 21 inches long
April 6th, 9 AM – is it or isn’t it?
A couple hours after I wake up on Tuesday I’m having mild contractions that are only a tiny bit more intense than the Braxton Hicks contractions I’d had throughout the last half of my pregnancy. These contractions are only slightly painful and certainly not too intense. Nevertheless, they are somewhat distracting and never truly subside, coming anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes apart. Ralph senses things are going to go into motion and comes home at noon, starting his two weeks off of work. He calls my mom at about 3 PM and tells her to head up to see us (she leaves about 5 PM). At this point I am hopeful of labor but also feeling somewhat silly at the thought I might be treating everyone to a false alarm. My mom arrives at about 9 PM time and she and Ralph start writing down my contractions, calling midwives, and cleaning the house up a bit.
April 6th, 10 PM – the real thing
My mom and I are watching a movie together and my contractions are still coming about 10 minutes apart. I still claim I am unsure if labor is going someplace. But everyone is noticing I pause the movie during each contraction so I can concentrate on getting though it. I’m undecided if I should walk around to “get things moving” or lie down and rest in between contractions. I’m trying not to be too fearful of another long labor like I had with my first child. Suddenly at about 10:30 PM I hop up from the bed and turn off the movie, since contractions have sped up to about 4 minutes apart. Naturally my mom and Ralph are very excited and go about making phone calls and preparations while I pace the floor and cope with each contraction. It is going quite well but I keep telling myself these are the “easy” contractions and I try not to worry about what’s to come.
Around 10:30 my midwives and my doula start arriving and I am focusing inward in the classic “Laborland” manner. I notice peripherally how efficient and friendly everyone is, setting up the bed, laying out blankets and birth supplies and getting snacks. Everyone is wonderful to me and provides me with water and encouragement between contractions, respectful silence and privacy during. I feel very protected and honored and so it is easy not to be fearful. My doula Elizabeth arrives and strokes my back and speaks softly to me. She puts me nearly to sleep in between contractions. I am feeling so grateful for the love and encouragement I am getting. I know I am coping very well and in fact since I am doing so well I don’t think I am very far along.
April 7th, Midnight – silliest labor quote
Things are intense but I don’t want a check to see how far I’ve dilated. I am somewhat afraid to discover all the work I am doing hasn’t gotten me anywhere. Laura (one of the midwives) suggests I get into the tub. I’d always thought of the tub as what you use as a last resort toward the end of labor so I tell her I can wait. After a few more contractions I decide to get in, hoping for some pain relief. I spend about 40 minutes in the tub with contractions edging up their intensity. Everyone is around me encouraging me and vocalizing though my contractions. Elizabeth holds my hands and breathes with me through the contractions, then puts a cold cloth on my head and neck in between. Everyone helps keep me calm and focused, as does the knowledge I have to take each contraction one at a time. Close to 1 AM I feel the urge to have Ralph hold and kiss me while I rest, and help talk me through contractions (he’s repeating something I read from Birthing From Within: “Labor is hard work, it hurts, and you can do it”). I don’t realize at the time but I am going through transition. After a few contractions I start to feel a little of that, well — grunting urge. I know it is perfectly okay to grunt and push a little to help with the pain and I instinctively do so. The midwives clue into what I am doing and are back in the room. Laura says, “Gee Kelly, it sounds like you’re pushing” and I reply (idiotically) “I’m not really pushing, it just feels good to bear down a little bit”. These contractions are pretty rough but everyone is helping me so much it is still very manageable.
April 7th, 1:10 AM – OUCH, OUCH, OUCH!
Kathy convinces me to let her check me and informs me not only am I completely dilated, but that the baby’s head has descended quite a bit. I am completely amazed at this (despite knowing I am feeling the urge to push) and even accuse everyone of just saying that to make me feel better! (I feel a little silly about this later). During each contraction I am feeling the pain in my hips, all the way to the bone, which my midwives tell me is a sign the baby is moving. Kathy tells me later I comment that it is like a crowbar prying my pelvis apart. Despite the pain I am coping well and in between the contractions I am still calm. I comment that I am not feeling any pressure in my bottom yet and I think to myself this means I have a ways to go. Oops, I speak too soon — with the next contraction I feel the baby AT THE DOOR, so to speak. This takes me by surprise and my labor sounds change from low and powerful to very alarmed and – well – a little screechy. Everyone is talking to me and trying to help me calm down and focus. I am amazed at the pain and pressure and overcome with an almost frantic need to push. I am pushing, pushing, pushing, before I can tune into my midwives telling me to ease off. I do the best I can and manage to ease off a bit and direct my energies more constructively. Despite the pain I am overjoyed to know I am so close and my baby will be here any minute. “I know I will feel so good when I see my baby”, I tell myself and this helps me. Kathy tells me to reach down and feel the head and after an initial hesitation I do, surprised again at how soft and smooth it is. I can feel each part of the child’s head I deliver. It hurts! But I know I am close. The head is out and then I am surprised by the fullness and difficulty of the shoulders, which I do not remember from my first birth.
April 7th, 1:20 AM – Nels is born
With one final push I feel my baby being delivered and I am surprised it is already over. I have been kneeling in the tub and so immediately turn around and Ralph tells me later I am saying, “Give me my baby! I want to hold my baby!” to the midwives who are doing their thing. I have a vision of my baby’s long, smooth body floating in the water, the room lit by candlelight in a soft glow. Within seconds he is in my arms and I am crying and Ralph is crying and the whole room is full of a collective soft and surprised murmur. I am holding my child to my chest and saying, “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it” over and over, feeling so filled with surprise and happiness. The child is perfect and so soft and I feel wonderful. I realize I have done it, I have given birth to a healthy baby in my own home, with my own power.
April 7th, early morning – getting to know you
I stay in the water crying and holding my baby for several minutes before anyone thinks to discover the baby’s sex. I hold my newborn away from my chest and in between squirming legs and the umbilical cord I see we have a boy! Of course, this is perfect. Everything feels perfect! After a few more minutes I am ready to get out of the water and get cleaned up, but I know we have to wait for the delivery of the placenta. I feel like this takes forever but it probably is only a fifteen minute wait. Another surprising feeling of fullness and then the placenta is delivered. Kathy has to pull the cord a bit and gently massage my tummy to get the whole thing in one piece. My mom is on the phone with my dad and has to pass the phone around so she can cut the cord. I am ready to get out and dry off and nurse my second child.
I am helped out of the tub and into some dry clothes. I am so happy to have so much loving help. I prop myself up on the bed and hold my son to my breast. He latches almost immediately like a pro. I keep asking my husband, “Is this really happening?” because it has gone like a dream and I am so happy. After some time of nursing the midwife eventually takes my son to the foot of the bed to weigh him and check his limbs and reflexes. Elizabeth brings me food — cheese, bread, apples and oranges. My pulse is checked and found to be high (100) so I am encouraged to drink a huge glass of water (this happened with my first child, too). My afterpains are intense, more so than with my daughter’s birth, but I know this to be normal. I breathe through them. My daughter Sophie wakes up and is brought into the room, looking cranky and confused. I kiss her and introduce her to her brother (she is unimpressed) and Ralph takes her back to the bedroom to settle her back to sleep. Kathy checks my bottom out and finds only two tiny tears, no need for sutures. The energy of the house is settling, people are packing things, Elizabeth says goodbye. Laura leaves too and I take a shower with Kathy’s help. She stays long enough to give postpartum instructions and asks me to page her when I can pee. I am a little anxious about this myself, for vague fear of a catheter. Kathy leaves about 3:20 and as her car is pulling out I am able to pee, feeling now finally that everything is alright.
My husband is looking dead tired. I am wired and unable to sleep. We send my mom off to bed. I hold my son who is still awake! He is drowsy though and wants to snuggle. At about 4:30 AM I finally fall asleep on the bed, Ralph on the couch, holding his son. We are awakened just before 7 AM to the joyful sounds of our firstborn running through the house talking excitedly to Grandma. Grandma looks like she really needs a cup of coffee.
This morning on my walk back up the hill, with my faithful dog at my heels, I am suddenly reminded of my father. He ran long-distance, so several times a week he would set out for a few miles by himself. He had such a distinctive gait that, if I ever saw it again, I would be knocked into stillness at the recognition. A stride I don’t see reflected in my brother or I, my father’s two children, but it’s such an indelible memory it is a part of me nevertheless.
My dad would lift his hand in acknowledgment when a car passed, or perhaps another runner headed the other way. I don’t know how many times I saw this hand motion – hundreds. Thousands? Sometimes I was the driver, or passenger – it’s a small town so I saw my father running many times. Such a familiar sight to me too, this movement on his part, this acknowledgment. He would be deep in his meditative space – that’s what running was for him – and he’d lift his hand, that’s all. But I can see it, and see the cast of his head on the path, and his mind was elsewhere. But even now if I close my eyes and try to remember much more than the flow of the gesture, or the feeling it instills within to remember it – it vanishes.
The dog and I arrive home and two of our cats ask to be let in; a third sits placidly on our kitchen table and calmly moves off when he sees me. (Naughty!). The dog has a quick drink of water and pads over expectantly for my praise, and a scritch between the eyes. I settle his blanket over his bed and somewhere in all this I realize that to support our family – our too-young college student, our spirited son, our dog, our five cats – is quite an accomplishment. It is a labor of love and nothing else. I hadn’t quite seen it that way, seen what a good job we do. Not for any other reason in that there’s always that next step. Today, for instance, we will be replacing the light above the sink. I have bills to pay by phone, on my work break. Two packages to mail out, and a final late Christmas present to wrap. We get to plan the evening meal – a little trickier as Ralph and I have both been ill and unable to eat for the last thirty-six hours.
The dog now sleeps on his bed – he is chasing and barking at something in his sleep. All the funnier as he does not bark when awake. I suppose a big part of our life, Ralph and I, is delivering safe dreams to more than few sentient creatures.
Our lifestyle has changed, and abruptly. Shuddered and jerked into a grinding openness – a carnival ride taking us – where? It is easy to feel unmoored – but writing, and caring for the children, and sewing, has anchored me through larger upheavals and, I trust, will carry me through this.
It’s not just that the new home is a lot nicer than the old. Although this change itself is a little odd as it wasn’t entirely planned. In fact it is dawning on my husband and I each day how much an improvement this home is over our previous rentals. The kids, I think, somehow saw this right away – no one is more thrilled than our eleven year old son, who has given many tours and is so very proud of his new homestead.
I am still getting used to: having a large workspace for my sewing room, that includes a utility sink, its own bathroom, and a washer and dryer. I am still getting used to: having a dishwasher, a garage door with automatic opener, air conditioning, and a sink disposal unit. (I was terrified of two of those – I’ll let you guess which ones!). I am still getting used to: having a separate dining area that isn’t doubling for something else. I am still getting used to: rooms with a lot of natural light. Even as we put together our situation – our living room is not yet finished, curtains need to be hung throughout the main level, and my kitchen lacks a table – it is clear this home will suit very well.
It is also completely odd to be thrown into a dwelling we can immediately make improvements to – without asking a landlord, or worrying if they’ll say Yes or No, or wondering if they’ll care for the home we live in. We get to care for our home! It is completely strange to live in rooms without a bunch of chipped cheap paint and wonky floor. It is strange to watch my husband – who has always been such a hard worker – complete projects one right after the other, the only limitation being the funds I allocate and whether or not I will cook dinner and care for children while he works.
If this weren’t change enough, I am discovering the pace of unschooling life, now that both kids are eschewing the school life. Today we traveled out of town for furnishings and lunch. We sang aloud, tried new foods together, and shopped for a few extras for the kids. We are sleeping better, eating well, and enjoying our rhythm together. It is a vast improvement over the schedule of last year.
And – I start a job on Monday. A job! This job was phoned TO me, delivered on my doorstep as it were. It has been over a dozen years since I’ve worked for someone besides the family, or myself.
A lot of changes. I don’t at all feel over-excited. But – it is a lot. I have to take it one day, one bit of work, at a time.
Today marked our fourteenth wedding anniversary. And it was a beautiful, lush day, as September often is here. It’s also a busy time of year – and busier than typical, for us.
I had wondered – as it became obvious our house-buy and move would be right on top of both “the first day of school” (irrelevant, as homeschoolers) and our anniversary – if our day would get swallowed up. Would we be too tired, or angry with one another, or embroiled in detail, to spend a few hours in appreciation? (No.) Would we make time to gift one another (Yes!) Would we have a lovely evening together (Yes!).
Dinner was lovely – but the drive, and the beach view, were sublime. I am fortunate to live in an absolutely beautiful, remote, idyllic corner of the world. I don’t regret it, not for a moment.
And here’s hoping for many, many more years together as a couple.
The day before the move: packed up, and (mostly) ready to go:
Annnd… we are homeowners!
A friend asked for a ride on our big day. And like – of course! So she got to share in my little photoblog:
So… is anything more heartrending than recycling pounds and pounds of paperwork – lovely drawings, journals, and the like? I try to enjoy those moments because – whether you cram all this stuff in a drawer or closet for someone else to deal with, or not – we can’t take any of it with us.
I wish I liked anything as much as Nels likes our new house. In fact, this morning he told me he thinks he likes it “too much”. Yeah. Yeah, I hear you kid! It was a beautiful day. Rain-drenched greenery.
Stacking random packages, teenagers:
The first residents: my plants. <3 Feeling left out: Queen Josie:
Phee texting. And being ethereally beautiful. I forgot to budget for curtains, and the house came with only Walmart bare-bones versions. Thinking these will be our “real” curtains a loonnnnng time! We took the jars of coin we’ve saved in the old house, converted to cash, and will now be donating to a homeless project. I’ll keep you updated!
A simple dinner with the two men who helped us move. Some candelight. xxx ooo Cats came over later. Pip was a little clingy. It’s been a great deal of work, but it has gone well so far. With some weirdness – I was charged for, and delivered, TWO king-size mattresses. AND I had a fraudulent charge – almost $600 – on our main checking card! I caught that, and corrected it, right away. But it has been a juggle outfitting the new home and keeping our financial picture afloat.
We are having a great time. We are out of funds. I am almost out of energy, for a thousand and one reasons.
But we’re still laughing, and enjoying this time special together.
The last few days have been growth days. Doing new things. New, often scary things. Being very busy; busier than I am normally.
For instance I am hustling to finish up my projects from the Bundle Up! boys’ blog tour. Typically in my tailoring work I stroll with my head back, cockily finishing up before deadlines, like a Boss. However this time around my fabric order was freakishly late – the fabrics arrived last Thursday. And even then I might have had time but a medical project reared its head. Thursday afternoon I prepped for, and Friday I underwent – a colonoscopy.
Pre-procedure: tired, tired, at the tail end of a thirty-six hour fast, and ready for my Twilight Sleep:
Saturday, feeling quite amazing and energetic, I got to sewing as quick as I could. But of course: kids, housework. A long-lost friend resurfaced and needed some time. And of course – before I forget: we put together the Event Page on Facebook, printed the tickets, and rolled out the poster for our upcoming benefit for a local animal rescue:
I didn’t mean to have such a busy week, but when things get busy I get very “one thing at a time” – and sometimes I don’t notice how many “things” I strung together.
I guess out of everything… I mean I am proud of myself for stretching, for reaching out and doing things scary. But the auditions? That is huge for me. Not that long ago the only people who’d heard me sing were my children.
I’ve had a lot of adventures the last few days. I’m ready for a little rest.
Some people in the home, however, continue on much as before. So after a very busy last five days, I leave you with some precious Cat Serenity.