A couple days ago I got some fabulous news; a client enjoyed the clothes I’d made for her and shipped overseas. This was wonderful; all the more so as the client was a little girl big for her age who wasn’t able to find sturdy and stylish stuff that would fit.
You can see some details of the garments and sewing methods in the Flickr tagset.
I also finished my limÃ³n baby bunting (Flickr tagset):
And finally: I’m only minutes away from finishing my latest project. Consider yourself lucky to get a little preview!
Believe it or not I’ve sewn (and knit) a lot more I haven’t shown. Yes, I am a machine. The only downside is the pain in my right arm. Perhaps I should stop cleaning, doing laundry, cooking, driving. Just sew and knit and watch my current TV crush Goren. Aw yeah.
It’s technically only a Saturday but our weekend has been a busy one already: first, we hosted a family of three for two days and two nights (with the help of my mother). Our guests were the Canfields: family travellers, potential roadschoolers, musicians (Ralph and Joel met through FAWM; Joel penned “Camel Lash/Not Just Believe” that Ralph used in a recent home vid), entrepreneurs, purposeful nomads, Jehovah’s Witnesses who wear (seemingly intentionally, although I didn’t get around to asking) mismatched socks. Their family was a delight to talk to and get to know; their six year old daughter and our two children played seamlessly as if they’d known one another for years (Really. It was almost uncanny.). Joel was a real talker and was full of better ideas than most people. I’m still thinking over our conversations and trying to wrap my mind around them.
Overlapping this visit my mother requested our attendance in a breakfast et cetera with out-of-town relatives who’d stopped over: my aunt, uncle, and two cousins. I last saw this batch of my family almost five years ago on a brief ride back to Port Townsend after my ten-year high school reunion. In our last episode together my cousin K. was a near-silent girl of about fourteen; her brother A. a supremely sarcastic and know-it-all-sounding eleven year old who made me want to ice-pick my ears out. To be perfectly fair though, I have not parented an eleven year-old, especially a schooled one; also and likely most relevant I was extremely milk-sick, that is physically and emotionally and mentally waning from being away from my nursling for 24 hours (I’d love to describe how Eighteen Levels of Horrid this feels but it’s a bit off topic for now). I was also hungover (well – probably, knowing me), I was crowded into their car and feeling like a jerk for taking up every inch of extra space – and frankly, I can be away from my own children and function marvelously but I also miss them so incredibly fiercely and never has that 101 drive taken so long.
Anyway, I do love to see my So. Cal. family because we used to be a part of that scene; we lived in Huntington Beach, where my mother grew up, from about 1979 to 1984. It seemed like a betrayal of sorts to reclaim my great-grandfather’s then-unlivable homestead (where my maternal grandmother grew up) and break from the sunny shores to find these mysterious twin Nowheres of Hoquiam and Aberdeen (the latter where my maternal grandfather grew up). We set off as a foursome in the OOAK homemade bus to come up to the mossy, green, and frankly spooky Northwest (I still remember driving west on Route 12, further West, on and on, and the air was delicious, I almost would give up my native Washingtonian life just to feel and breathe that air again for the first time). At this point I, one of the handful of older cousins, departed from the influences of my larger family and their more tribal lifestyle.
It was nice to see my cousins again (and of course they’d grown into adults, holy cow): I am also especially fond of my marriage-Aunt R., a woman with lovely green eyes who has remained to my memory constant in appearance and demeanor and persona throughout my life. She has a very dry delivery and a wickedly understated sense of humor; my husband and I both like the way she talks, low and quiet, because even though she says perfectly normal things there is this slight threatening sound to the timbre of her voice like a growling cat.
So in this brief reunion I talked to my cousins a bit (not too much; they both seem rather shy), we sent off our guests, walked to the gallery where my children have some art pieces displayed, and then took my cousin K. and Ralph and my children swimming at the Y. Ralph accompanied the kids in the pool while my mother, aunt and I sat on the bleachers and caught up a bit talking about family, death, band camp. The relatives are heading south tomorrow and both my mother and I will have our homes all the way “back”. I am a very social person and my husband is the same in this regard; however I need nest-time to recuperate more than others might realize.
Today on the internetz (readers who want my fluffy-family posts just skip this one; I’ll be in full bucolic-family-life effect in a few hours):
On Free Range Kids a discussion emerges about “stranger danger” being unfairly leveled at all men (which it is). I posted to the effect that yeah, it sucks, but in a blog that is primarily about actively rejecting the harmful effects of mainstream fear culture, perhaps we should support more men committing to proactive action, not just complaining about paranoid women – otherwise they continue in the larger cultural abdication of responsibility for children and child-rearing (deemed: women-only).
Predictably a commentor named Stuart decides to engage primarily with my use of the phrase “nut up or shut up” (which was in poor taste altho’ I note it is used with impunity by men). Stuart asks what would happen if he used sexist langauge toward women (Gee, I wonder what would happen – perhaps we can look in this thread itself and see sexist language levelled at laydeez going entirely unchecked) and then tells me I don’t understand gender-based harassment (ha! hahahahaha!) and implies I ignore sexism in women (nope). But of course Stuart does not put one toe in the water of my charge that it is seriously problematic when men soley blame women for their lack of involvement in the child-village, and perform no other action besides the blameinz (note I am not charging a single individual man of doing so – it’s up to him to self-evaluate here).
Anyone reading here knows, of course, how rubber-meets-the-road my husband is in being one of those men that, you know, actually does speak to other people’s children, waves and smiles at them, picks them up, feeds them, takes them to the park or the bathroom – and doesn’t molest them! (I know! It’s kind of crazy!). So please understand handwringing about how men just can’t do this stuff because of teh wimminz is met with wry cynicism by both of us. For which, here dear reader, I apologize (because truthfully it does suck men get told they’re ALL MOLESTER ASSHOLES). I’ve just heard the lady-blaminz too much and it’s often a smokescreen for a lot of unhelpful action or inaction on the part of a lot of men. Speaking to exactly WHAT a man can do and HOW MUCH he can help/assist/wave at child? Yeah, Ralph Hogaboom wrote the fucking book, why don’t you ask him how it’s going (I did. He said he gets a lot of “Thank yous” and smiles from mothers, and he’d be happy to give advice to men wanting to step up more).
Incidentally the derisive sexism aimed toward men who perform â€œtraditionalâ€ womenâ€™s roles (everything from dishes to pushing a kid on a swing at a park) was experienced by us in a very real way the first year of our daughterâ€™s life while Ralph stayed home with her and I worked-for-pay and has continued full-force since Ralph is so family-and-child active. This sexism was/is levied by both men and women and, like many constrictive gender roles containes an underbelly which is not only reductive to men but also perpetrates oppressive attitudes toward women and short-changes children. But perhaps most surprisingly to those who would lie back, shake their head and bemoan men “can’t” do this-or-that because of the Evil Sexism of Paranoid Women, Ralph experienced Sexism more often in his “favor”; that is, he received and continues to receive fawning attention, compliments, and accolades for being “Superdad” (while performing what he calls the “bare minimum standard” of child-care).
Anyone reading here probably also knows how important it is to my husband and I that more men engage in educating themselves on so-called “Women’s Issues” (which are really Human Rights issues), and yes that includes non-rapists and self-proclaimed “I’m not part of the problem!” men. And hint, fellers: the first step is to read, read, read, read more, and listen, avoid mansplaining, and when you’ve read and read and read you might start talking, and – this part is important, expect to get schooled (and yeah, it hurts sometimes, I’ve been there re: straight-privilege, anti-racism, anti-imperialism, etc). If you’re here and give a damn that my husband and I give a damn about this lady-business, go ahead and read and read and read some more…
Or just Get Off My Lawn! and by that I mean my blog.
In other happy news, the twelfth Carnival of Feminist Parenting has been put up at Mother’s for Women’s Lib. Knowing Anji, it’s going to be chalk-full of awesomeness. I’ve read about a third of the pieces. Here are some that spoke to me:
“Is stay at home motherhood a class issue?” (UK blog)
Short answer: Yes.
“Kids: screw ‘Em” at Pandagon
Money quote: “Needless to say, Robert Rector considers himself ‘pro-life’. Youâ€™re precious to him on a cellular level, but once you start breathing and feeling and eating through anything but an umbilical cord, youâ€™re on your own.”
“Yes, I Am a Feminist Housewife” by Natasha at Offbeat Mama
Dont worry, honey, you’ll grow out of wanting to self-apply that label the more you read feminist blogs who tell you how much you suck. Snark aside? She writes a lovely article.
What does feminism have to do with breastfeeding? at Breastfeeding Medicine.
Breastfeeding: a “choice” (which we can then skewer ALL women with, no matter what they choose) or a reproductive right?
You know what’s funny, I am getting an increasing number of queries seeking advice on parenting, schooling, and family life. Today I had three such requests, two of them quite lengthy in content. I am very happy to help people; it is a calling (among a few others) very dear to me. I am currently worried about my inability to email or responding quickly to all missives and inadvertently hurting feelings. So these days if you put a letter to me and I don’t immediately respond, I do intend to.
It’s funny because my whole life I’ve been asked for advice (to be fair, I also tend to freely give it, a process I am working on doing with respect and a commitment to non-asshattery). I remember once in seventh grade choir a group session where suddenly a girl – whom I did not know – turned to me and tearfully asked if she could talk to me. In a private practice room she laid out agonies in her family life. She needed someone to listen and be present with her pain. I remember even at age thirteen feeling so honored to be trusted in this way. I hope for her, and for the friends and acquaintances and Tweeps and etc. who seek me out, that I did more help than harm.
My own life busies along. Yesterday a feminist blog (I adore) discussed reproductive choice and as a sidebar to the discussion a few people demonstrated a fair bit of birth ignorance. Ah, birth ignorance – a subject that usually has the power to send me into deep personal pain and agony. Rather than arguing what would have been a derail to the main topic, I did my best to turn my feelings into something constructive at my little Underbellie site (the jury’s out on that particular aim).
Today it rained the wet, splashy, delicious-smelling rain that is so entwined within my memory it seems bone-deep. With the spring weather comes a revitalization in my spirit; winter really can seem like a death to me at times. When the sun and spring precipitation re-emerge (often forming spectacular rainbows, as we were treated to today) I feel like the clouds are clearing.
Today was my daughter’s 8th birthday. I snapped a picture of her right when she woke up; then crawled in bed with her and we talked. She was in wonderful spirits. Like most mornings, she immediately rose to tend to her gecko and to play with the kitties.
Before we left for lunch we harvested the lemons on our lemon tree, a plant we ordered by mail last summer. It had only four blooms when we received it and two were destroyed in its early weeks – thus, only two lemons grew. My lemon tree is one of my favorite material posessions, and is also the result of a two-year-old running Hogaboom inside joke – if you know the story, you are indeed in our circle of trusted friends. If you don’t know it, let me tell you sometime in person – it’s not such a good one for the writingz.
This next lemon harvest is looking impressive; there are hundreds of blooms bursting out of the tree! Guess the diet of menstrual blood and cigarette ash has boded well.
There were no takers on our proposed lunch date in Olympia, and my daughter decided she’d rather not go. So instead we visited Sophie’s second choice of venue, My Sisters Bakery here in Aberdeen. After getting home she spent the afternoon and into dusk outside playing with the neighborhood pack of kids – no seriously, they are riding bikes and climbing trees and building a tree fort by the train tracks! – and then we went to dinner with friends at Alexander’s in Hoquiam. Which was also funny because my son was being what many would consider Rude, and the proprietor was clearly annoyed, but deliberately put a “polite” face on things. And I did thank the proprietor for his patience and we did tip well, but it kind of made me laugh to see him stand at attention with his hands behind his back, giving Nels the polite attention he so clearly felt the child did not deserve.
So, I want to talk about Sophie a bit.
I remember so much about my pregnancy – which over the last nine years has been rendered into fragments, impressions, and sometimes vivid experience. My reaction upon taking the pregnancy test: stunned, from across the little studio apartment I could see the little double-line result and it was like a scene in a movie where the camera pulls back and zooms at the same time – actually kind of like alot of this imagery and terrifying orchestration, not necessarily a positive reaction at all, and I would not be able to cook the dish I’d been preparing that day, ever again; and I remember getting a second test at the Health Department (recount: whaddya know! Comes up pregnant again!) and later that day Ralph’s reaction (amazing, so sweet, so tender, so excited)…
My pregnancy went very well. I was praised by coworkers for working as shift foreman, working as hard as a man even while carrying my spawn (now I know to say “FUCK off, seriously, I do love you guys but I do not work nor pregnate for your approval”*, but I didn’t know this at the time and I lapped up the “Good Girl” compliments). Pregnancy and, later, pregnancy while nursing and then, nursing two, was awesome – I felt physically amazing and had the appetite of a linebacker. Yet with Sophie’s pregnancy I was nervous and tried to “do things right” during the duration (again, learning a little FUCK OFF is a lesson I’d love to impart to today’s breeding families) but I suffered no ill effects and, after a rough birth, took to breastfeeding and baby-loving with a wonderment and energy that has never subsided since.
Ah, Sophie. Has any baby been more loved than our baby girl? Her second year of life I quit my “Good Girl” job and we received unemployment benefits (due to a big OOPS on the part of my former employer) and this was life-changing and instrumental to our family life and what it was to become. Ralph built his computer business up enough that it changed everything; during this year he was home so much and although work-from-home and no-one’s-really-employed wasn’t easy (thank you so much, State medical, which covered my child and myself for one year), it was like a respite and a deep dive into family life, and it was incredible. This was Ralph before he grew to hate me for various and sundry, before our second child seriously challenged our worldview of PARENT IS BOSS AND IN CONTROL, before we had four mouths to feed and the high cost of living in Port Townsend caught up with us (NSF, sorry, no groceries, hungry lady-with-two-hungry-babies!).
But these idyllic memories are concomitant with so much baggage and weird shit I believed, like my baby should behave well and look cute and that other restaurant patrons have the right to never once have the experience of Children foisted on them (this is a big one for me, as I’ve always enjoyed eating in restaurants) and perhaps more importantly, this is before I knew that children grow so fast, and that it doesn’t make sense to do anything but enjoy every minute you have with them, truly, even if that means you don’t get the shit done you want to, or they splash in the tub and you have to clean the bathroom; and please, cleaning the bathroom floor while your baby / child laughs and watches you and loves you so much, is there any reason this isn’t just as amazing and wonderful experience as anything else? Fuck-yeah! to being happy to be alive and to have those we love beside us?
My daughter is cited as the “easier” child in the minds and mouths of those who know us and who hear us talk about our son – but of course, she is not “easy” because to the extent she is a more convenient child she is one we can wound, suppress, and over-socialize. We can so easily teach her – and when parents do this is it almost always, always inadvertently – that her compliance and Good Grades and Good Behavior are necessary for her to upkeep to receive our love. She is strong yet (usually) defers to authority; she is rugged yet impressionable. She sees deeply into the truth of things, probably in part because I do as well, and I’ve passed this on to her – but also, of course, this is her nature. I asked a lot of her as an older sibling, and I still do, and maybe one thing incredible to me is she knows this and accepts this most of the time; yesterday in my mother’s old truck as we drove home in the sunshine she said, “Being older is better, but it means we have to do more work.”
It was funny because the other day I was taking a bath and my girl came in the room to join me. She was carrying some sci-fi fantasy paperback she’s been reading, and she asked if she could get in the bath. I was thinking how when my daughter was born I would have wanted all the things I currently have (“have”): a smart, intelligent, well-read, well-adjusted, polite, slim and beautiful little girl. But I would have wanted these things for many wrong reasons: to glory in my “accomplishment” of this child and to be assured I wasn’t screwing up in some way, and in some way to prove to everyone Look, I Can Do It, or maybe more accurately, to ensure I would never receive criticisms for making Huge Mistakes in my role as parent, because holy damn, making mistakes as a parent really, really sucks, bad, it hurts worse than any mistake I’ve made in any other way – jobs, relationships, anything.
I’ve since released myself from believing my children’s behavior and choices are direct reflections on me and my worth, my work ethic, or my intelligence. I’ve since rejected the concept that my children’s lives should be used as sole measure to justify or denigrate my parenting STRATEGIES, my personal strengths or weaknesses, or my savvyness at making-sure-I-get-my-way and kids-need-to-know-their-place,-see?-mine-sure-do; likewise, I release my friends and neighbors from these same dogmatic correlations and when my Judgment wells up I gently address it.
And in releasing those who judge based on my children and their accomplishments or good behavior – or lack thereof – I have in the meantime been delivered the most glorious and amazing children. They couldn’t please me more, simply put, although when I am complimented on their manners or intelligence or forthrightness I do not feel smug or Right in how they are; I feel grateful and humbled and joyous, and more than this I feel so excited because they are doing this all themselves, I am only their love and a bit of guidance and I feed them and care for them, but I do not hold it as my job to mold them – not anymore. I am still reeling from a change in worldview, that it is not solely my efforts that make amazing children – or my lapses that create conflict and fights – and I’m still so excited when I talk and it spills over sometimes I worry it sounds like bragging when it Just. Isn’t.
Today my daughter, I couldn’t be more proud of her, but I am not proud in the way I thought this meant so many years ago. I am proud of her in that I cannot believe my good fortune, and the miracle that may occasionally move through me, but really isn’t about me at all.
* “pregnate” = Not A Real Word
Today it’s like gritting my teeth to take a day off; but we do, because I’d promised the kids a return to Lake Sylvia. This is a beautiful but not oft-visited location for us. We’d stopped there on Wednesday on our way home from Olympia; the city was too hot, and the lake a perfect respite. As we were making way to get going I saw my doula, her husband, and their child pull into the parking lot, on the last leg of a roadtrip. Small world, I suppose; they live hours away. Yet the sight of her was familiar and welcome to me and we caught up for a few minutes before parting ways. Nels was in the backseat, tossing his hair out of his eyes and viewing this woman with quiet speculation – she’d been at his birth! – his long brown torso and his bright white underwear (the “swim gear” my children had employed; keeping them out of water is never an option) completing the picture. Beautiful and fierce, the same child he was the day he was born.
So here we are again, at this lake, having this time packed a sizable lunch (grapes and dolmas with chard – delicious! Also, tomato sandwiches from the tomato abundance that is our greenhouse) and coffee for Ralph and I. The kids play, and play, and play. And play. I almost convince Ralph to leave them to their swimming and come on a short hike. Instead he and I play some frisbee in the water (I do rather impressive catches and the occasional comically poor throw) then go for a short walk across the bridge. Talk to some tweens fishing off the dock (“Caught anything?” In unison: “No.” “What are you using?” “Worms,” and so on. The boys friendly, but muted). Sophie catches a salamander and enjoys a brief bit of celebrity status among the children. The kids perform coordinated stunt-dives off the old dock platform – the dock disappeared sometime in the last decade or so since I’d been out here.
Home from the trip and I’m already cooking and sewing like a madwoman. A grape and goat cheese tart and some homemade bagels to bring to a yoga retreat tomorrow. For our dinner: paneer fried in niter kibbeh, beet salad with ranch dressing, roasted garbanzo beans, and marinated kale. Ralph takes the kids out – again – to a park, and I retreat to my sewing studio to trace the many pieces of a fitted coat pattern for Sophie. The comforting space is now framed with long lengths of scarlet batiste and Bemberg rayon, awaiting cutting – the breeze ripples the lovely layers of fabric and a little kitten keeps me company.
Grandma has been watching the kids here or there; taking them out to her boyfriend’s place in the sticks, having them for the occasional sleepover:
Two years ago when we first moved here we threw our kids right into swimming lessons (after my mother repeatedly hounded us to join our Y; she even said she’d pay our monthly fee if necessary, although we did not take her up on this). At first our daughter was only a wee bit more proficient than our son, but that has changed over time. This seemed in large part due to a setback for Nels: the ritual for kid water-readiness in the early swimming program is to dunk the kids (involuntarily and repeatedly). I don’t have much of an opinion on dunking except to say it seemed to work well enough for 80% of children, who got over the surprise and accepted the new sensation. The other 20% or so, like my son, disliked it very much. Nels cried and protested intensely. I felt for him. We didn’t return him to lessons at his vociferous request. He has been water-clingy ever since, and only reluctantly tolerates his face being wet in the bath.
My mother has always been earnest in the endeavor to teach my children to swim. Nothing makes her happier where her grandchildren are concerned than to see them make headway in this. I wish she could have seen Sophie’s recent foray across the pool; however, my daughter will be an expert when my mom returns in two months time and I know that old lady will just about burst with excitement. I’ve watched my mom with my kids and, like many other things, she is a “pusher” – often coaching or bribing the children to do the thing she imagines she must “teach”. This is just Grandma’s way and the kids seem to be fine with that.
I love swimming with the kids because our schedule (or non-schedule, as homeschoolers) means we often have the pool almost entirely to ourselves. This creates a very peaceful, serene experience. In swimming with Nels today (Sophie is off on her own, diving, hand-standing, cannonballing) I listen to what he wants to do. I notice he already grips me less than he grips his father. I don’t know if it’s the more peaceful swim hour or something unique between my son and I.
Something magical begins to happen. Nels begins to enjoy the water, rather than enjoy it reservedly. He begins to tell me to go here, or there, or leave him along the side to hand-walk his way around the pool. He lets me put him on his back to float. He requests water-wings and delights in being able to “stand” in the water, his legs free floating. Within about a half hour his hands are touching mine only lightly (as opposed to his arms around my neck). I move him over on tummy, or back, holding him only lightly. I repeat to him I will not let him go unless he wants me to. Soon, he wants me to.
But his face – it’s hard to describe. His face simply opens up, his chin the bottom of a happy triangle, his mouth open and laughing, snub nose, his eyes wide and smiling. It’s an expression I often see when he tells a “joke” and makes me laugh unexpectedly. He is the master and author of the swimming experience. We’d had good times in the pool before today, but even I am surprised with how wonderful this feels.
About halfway through our (almost two-hour) swimming adventure I start to feel very emotional and out of time. I realize I am having a visceral body flashback to my son’s waterbirth. The way his body stretches out before me, the gentleness of the experience, his arms are just so, and of course although he had no voice those years ago, it was still him. “Mama,” he says, peering at my face. “You have a little red in your eyes.” “Nels, I’m crying,” I tell him. In the small benched water oasis in the center of the current river the two kids move close to me, their hands gently encircling me, and ask me why. “I’m remembering Nels, when he was born in the water.” This is a story the kids know very well, so they nod. It makes sense.
Nels and I move back out, he updating his waterwings to include two on his shins. “My foot is being carried!” he smiles. Thirty minutes of doing this and the lifeguard staff changes; the next lifeguard tells us the water floats aren’t allowed on kids’ legs. By the time we are done swimming he is no longer gripping me and his body is relaxed. He has put on the new goggles I bought him and used them to look underwater a few times. And bittersweet for me: he looks older somehow, unfolding like a bloom. We leave the pool early again while his sister enjoys more time in the pool; we shower together and he washes his own hair. I move slowly, enjoying the rhythm of our conversation, watching him carefully dress in his methodical way. I was a good enough mother to babies and toddlers but I always felt I was bending over and helping them along. Today feels more like a dance.
Keep fighting the good fight.
Last night we’re sitting in our favorite pizza parlor. It’s so nice to have Ralph home and know he’s home for the weekend. I’m feeling very proud of him as he’s been riding his bike to and from work every day. In the Hogaboom driveway days go by while both our cars lay fallow as my husband, children and I use public transit and our own human power to get around. It feels liberating.
Tonight in the pizza place I can’t hear it, but on the television propped up by the kitchen I see an amusing commerical featuring a duck. First the duck somehow gets its bill stuck in a mail slot. Then the duck runs inside a barber shop and stands in front of a poster such that it appears to have a professionally-coiffed head of hair. Then the duck gets surprised about something and opens its bill really wide. I don’t know what the commercial is about but I like it better not knowing what I’m supposed to buy, and just watching the duck.
A party of four adults toting one baby come in. The baby is about six months old, a girl, bald, and dressed only in a little red polka dot romper. No fuss, no huge carseat caddy or special sippy cup or pre-packed little baby food containers. I like that. The adults are young and boisterous – one calls the other “retard” as the shuffle the tables around. The baby turns around to look at us often as we eat. When the baby drops her toy Nels picks it up. He keeps an eye on the baby.
A couple comes in, a few years younger than my parents. He is huge, massive, wearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt, long silver-streaked ponytail, and full-arm tattoos. I actually feel very comfortable around men who look like this. They are usually very friendly, engaging guys. Sure enough, a few minutes later and he’s making goo-goo eyes across the room at the aforementioned baby. I notice he and the infant have the same shade of large, blue-grey eyes.
The pizza, pasta, fresh coffee arrive and my family digs in.