bunch of scalliwags

The neighborhood is one of the more kid-friendly I’ve known but that can always change. There are some new kids in the neighborhood and some of them are rather unprincipled with regards to other people’s property. Example: one or more culprits wrote, in mud, on the next door neighbor’s car, “I like poop and farts.” OK… you know… on one level we have to agree, that’s just funny. I am glad the mud-hazing was done on what the neighbors consider their “lesser” car. They have several shinier/newer/more expensive vehicles and they expressed repeatedly how upset they’d be had any of those received such a hazing.

So now all neighborhood kids are banned from that particular driveway (I’m not sure if they have any kind of enforcement plan). I talked to my kids about it (they weren’t a part of it and only hear rumors who did it). Nels made the tough decision to walk next door and tell the grownups he’d commit to helping keep kids out of the driveway, as a good faith neighborly effort. Ralph and I both talked to the parents there. Better still, Phoenix and I had a long talk about why she felt she couldn’t walk next door and discuss the incident, and my daughter and I had a long talk about this and I gained some wisdom regarding parental mistakes I’ve made (more I will not share, not now).

A few of the kids are just wild in general, and I mean very wild; several are medicated. A few more (most depressing to me) are servile and smiling and butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-their-mouth when they think they’re being watched by a grownup, yet liable to get up to anything when they believe they are not observed (hence the f-bomb incident between two such children yesterday).

My kids cope like you might expect. Nels with righteous anger, Phoenix with more politic and developed stratagems. That said, she is still a human being, and delivered a different kind of f-bomb today when the one child – who sprays other kids with our pool hose, deliberately and without regard to whether the other participant is agreeable, because he loves being the one-up in a bully scenario – kept doing so after my daughter asked him to stop. By the way, the hose-sprayer is also the kid who threw one of our cats in the pool. My mom has described this child as having “no moral compass”. You know personally, I think this is exactly the kind of risk one runs when practicing authoritarian parenting (whether involving hollow threats or ones delivered on). But I suppose parents feel good when they yell real loud at the kid to let us know they’re Taking Care Of It.

I guess writing here the summer kid scene sounds unpleasant to your average tight-ass but to be fair, here we have kids getting some freedom, fresh air, exercise, sunshine, and having a mostly fun time playing together. And in any case, it’s incredible to me how many grownups want kids to be “good” – or completely nonexistent – and how yet few grownups seem to know how to effect “good” kids without yelling, making many rules (involving segregation, lock-down, or punishment, none of which serve well for critical thinking coupled with spiritual wholeness), lecture, boring boring boring.

I enjoy the neighborhood kids but I wish they had more contact with grownups who provided gentle guidance. This isn’t because their “bad” behavior annoys me (although I hate to see our animals treated poorly), but because I think they’d be happier kids in general. They just don’t think they have many rights or that there’s much reason, besides the fear of getting caught, in respecting others’. When my husband told one child that “fatty” wasn’t welcome in our yard or in our home, because it was hate speech built on a principle that being fat was a shameful thing, the child in question just goggled at him. I think of the playground and classroom mentality many kids are regularly exposed to and what they learn as “normal” (i.e., all sorts of bullying and kyriarchal systems), often reinforced in the home, and I wonder how much it means to them to have a different place to be. Neither Ralph or I labor under illusions we can make much a difference, but we’d like the kids in our yard and home free from “faggot”, “retard”, “n**ger”, “fatty”, etc. – and not yelled or sent home with an earful of shame when they make mistakes.

Addendum: I must say that for now I’m totally fine with, in general, the kind of oath-swearing the nine year old, the freckled little beauty in my home, can deliver. She is the toughest little thing with a whip-smart sense of humor. Which reminds me: I gotta get cuddling her starting five minutes ago.

feeling healthy

I’m a bad mom, and here’s some anecdotal proof in case you’re new here: since moving into this house, I smoke. Every day. And I allow the kids around when I do so if they want to be. Sure, I tell them to stand back and I tell them why; I fully disclose that smoking is bad for their little lungs, that it’s a terrible habit.  But this morning Nels sniffed the air and said, “I love that smell!” and I accepted this with an only slight air of I-suck finality that settles on most parents at some point or another.  I’m smoking a vanilla Djarum black clove – a sort of silly-fancy little lung-snack to be sure, but one that does have a rather nice fragrance – as far as cigarettes go.

If I was a “good mom” I wouldn’t smoke at all, of course (and I wouldn’t occasionally swear, or ignore them when they’re talking to me, or start a project then interrupt myself, or tell them I’d be off the computer in “just a minute” and then it’s more like five minutes, or I wouldn’t keep them out of school, or let them order whatever they want in restaurants, or whatever the hell thing you’re all happy to read about and judge my ass for: Affording my blog readers a sense of superiority, just another service I offer). As a nominally “good mom” even if I did smoke, I’d do it closeted where they couldn’t see. Certainly I wouldn’t sit here french-inhaling and chatting with them while emitting the breath of Lucifer past their winsome, innocent little blonde heads.

The truth is, I’m even glad for their company out here on the porch, because sitting and [smoking and] talking with them is one of my favorite things to do during our day. I am not really a “sit and relax” type of person – I can sit sometimes, sure, but I’m usually thinking about all sorts of stuff: grocery lists, internet drama (and not even my own!), my current sewing difficulty (I seem to be always having these), the latest bit of proof I’m parenting correctly or proof I’m not – that kind of thing. But sitting out here on the front porch (one of my favorite places in the house) I love listening to them and talking with them and everything about them. I love that we teach one another about the world. I love that Nels is lying across from me on the windowseat in his little undershirt and boxers and he’s blowing soap bubbles and his hair is falling across the cushion like so much golden silk and we have the whole day for one another.

Today I’m trying to offering a rare unrequested lecture on a subject: what “retaliation” means.  When Sophie joins us a bit later, she adds to the conversation as well.  Nels is so surprised at having an open-ended discussion of what you could do when someone hurts or angers you that he can’t come up with the sort of typically vicious solutions I might credit him for.  The discussion of retaliation / revenge is inspired in part because I’m thinking of the latest nasty fight I’ve read about on the Internetz and part because Nels has a problem hitting and since bribery and scolding and punishment hasn’t worked much I’d like him to begin to grasp just why he does it (often out of anger toward some sneaky, low-down – but often not physically violent – thing his sister has done).

And maybe because I understand retaliation, myself, and it’s closer to my heart that others might realize.  Just these past few days I’ve been thinking a lot about how careful and relatively well-trained I am in not yelling or cursing in anger during adult conversations; I’ve thought in the past I was a basically decent, respectful person who might get angry but wouldn’t let anger get the best of me. Wrong, really.  In fact I like so many people can keep a civil tongue in my head while harboring deep, resentful anger in my heart; the kind of venomous thoughts that find me wishing Ill upon my enemies to an extent they might never imagine.  It’s funny, because although I pride myself on doing the Right Thing so very often – even when I’ve been Wronged – when it comes down to it the little black, spoiled bruise on my heart means I’m just not any better of a person than anyone else.

But my foursome offers a peace from the outside world, and often, yes, from my inner demons.  The rest of our afternoon spills out before us and by day’s end I’ve been a gentle Mama and a content person and the day has gone beautifully; the children took themselves out into the world (library, drugstore) and filled my house with happiness.  I am not a Good Mom, but the kids and I still have such open-ended trust towards one another; and despite the hard words and difficult times Ralph and I have had we retain a deep connection, comradery and love that is also a respite in itself – every night, every day, rinse and repeat.  As I type tonight the kids are sharing a noisy, splashy shower with my husband and our (recently-spayed) kitten has just successfully caught, then noisily devoured, a crane-fly plaguing the floor at my feet.  Family Life is very good to me, even when it’s mundane.  Tonight we spent an hour and a half out at a playground; first, watching Sophie’s soccer practice and then afterwards allowing the kids some play time on the playground (something parents never seem to want to do when school-year evenings can get so busy) and walking about the skate park.  There is something together the four of us have that I could never have imagined before.  It isn’t any better than what anyone else has, probably; it just runs Deep for me, deeper than anything I’ve ever known.

are you human / or a dud?

Silly Facebook. I posted this list last night and have received several interesting and heartfelt responses – including gratitude (I also likely made a few people feel smug at how un-awesome I am). I was encouraged to share here. So I will!

I was debating compiling a list of, “25 Things That Make Me Feel Like a Bad Parent”. But it’s different to be “mom”. WAY more judgment entailed in the label / identity of “mom”, so when that word is leveled against me it’s nuanced differently than “parent” – most moms understand what I’m saying here. I do hope some dads fill this out as I’d love to see their lists.

So, I am going to write things I feel bad about. Some, pretty bad. Some, only 1% bad. Don’t be reading into how “bad” I feel because maybe it’s not all that much. Or maybe it’s WAY more than you’d think. Oh, and I’m not going to write anything that sounds “bad” that I am secretly smug about, because that is gross.

25 Things That Make Me Feel Like a Bad Mom

1. Pretty much any time my kids talk to me I respond with, “What? No, pick that up.” or “Wash your hands”. I am truly inspired by gentle parents who listen to their kids fully first, instead of barking out orders at them all the time.

2. I completely expect (and receive) full household support from my partner. You know, I think other mamas have been threatened by, jealous of, or annoyed by my egalitarian household and the lip service I sometimes devote to it. Suddenly I’ll feel like I *expect too much* out of my man, which makes me sometimes feel more like a bad wife than a mom. But you know what, fuck it, this is how I roll.

3. I let my kids dress themselves and sometimes they look tres-shabby AND I allow this to make me wish I’d dressed them in tidy clothes – despite the fact I want to feel groovy with their autonomy.

4. Sometimes I think a good portion of the reason I’m a stay-at-home-mom is because I’m so irritated with how many people demean it and put it down.

5. I give my kids so very much freedom in so many ways, especially their manners. In public sometimes they will be running down the aisle, or talking loudly in a restaurant. Half of me thinks, Oh shit my kids should behave better, but the predominant part of me is completely content to talk to them about their behavior later, and suffer the glares from grownups in the moment.

6. At home when they are driving me crazy, I yell at and spank my kids.

7. My kids have cavities and I can’t figure it out. The dentist says we’re doing everything right (but then I am so guilt-laden I will think he and the staff are being pantywaisted or lying to make me feel better!). I vacillate between knowing it’s awesome I take them to a good pediatric dentist, and “knowing” somehow I am the World’s Shittiest Mother for having kids with cavities.

8. I can get annoyed easily with other people’s kids.

9. Out of every family I have ever met, my kids have the absolute fewest toys. OK, on one hand I know this is the right choice for me. On the other hand sometimes I feel like other mommies judge my ass (which means on some level I must feel guilty?)!

10. I don’t advocate for fairness for my kids if they get in some scrap. They can handle it.

11. Even though I am creative and sew, bake, etc, I do not put together cute little crafty shit with my kids. Why, I don’t know. I do know, because in the thirty minutes it takes to put it all together they’d have torn apart some OTHER thing I’d have to clean up. Jeez I am getting pissed just writing this out.

12. My kids run around outside in their underwear (we live along a highway) and I truly just think the world should deal with it.

13. When my first child was young I was competitive and judgy about her clothes / manners / development level as compared to other babies. It was like a (thankfully temporary) insanity. I hate to remember what it felt like in my head.

14. I bake with white flour and sugar and yes my family loves it.

15. Sometimes I get this glimmer and feel glad my children are so slim (and not “fat”). I almost hate to write this, because I know this is so wrong of me. I am actively working on it though (thank you Kate Harding and co. at Shapely Prose…)

16. I smoke.

17. I get annoyed with bathroom talk / fart talk (theirs) even though I know I shouldn’t.

18. I still sometimes do Time Outs. Although I think they are dumb, and I am just being lazy when I do it.

19. I am sweeter to my youngest than my oldest. Working on it, people! As I type this I realize I am a crappy excuse for a human being.

20. I let my kids flat-out ask for things (sleepover at Grandma’s, a quarter from strangers, etc.) without “managing” them or stopping them. Again, usually I just talk to them about it later.

21. I don’t care if my kids eat one hundred million cookies, or a full pint of ice cream (as long as they eat some dinner first).

22. I let my kids watch scary movies with me. They can handle it.

23. I send my kids out with my husband to do errands so I can have some time to myself. Yes, I know this is not “wrong” – but I still feel like a “bad mom” when I do this. That is f*sked up!

24. When we go to a park I don’t play with them, not much anyway. Hey, I’m awesome that I took them to a park!

25. I honestly, when it comes down to it, am completely not offended if my kids swear.

i thought about it, because i really want to practice that rendition of "Islands In the Stream"

My husband is currently enjoying the calls he’s receiving in regard to the craigslist ad put up re: our green Astro van, which we are now ready to move on elsewhere. Many calls with schemes or, can-we-just-give-you-only-this-much (1/2 the price listed) and will you drive it to where we are (hours away). One lady called offering some combination of cash and barter concerning another used car, a brand-new Janome embroidery machine, and a karaoke set (seriously though – this was kind of tempting!). Anecdotally the (many!) Latino callers we’ve had have been the most courteous and have not tried anything funny.

So far 1 1/2 clients have actually looked at the van, and no sale. We are supposed to unload it tomorrow in Olympia. Fingers crossed!

Tonight upon returning from a bike ride (delivering fresh pita to a friend who loves it) we throw the kids in the bath and listen to their very rowdy shenanigans. It’s that feeling where you kind of expect any minute a child will get soap in the eye and start screaming, or you anticipate more water on the floor than was even put into the bathtub in the first place. My husband has purchased clove cigarettes which in the evening are a proven vice for me. I shall smoke half and then feel worse than I should over such a tiny amount of vile tobacco. I’m getting old.

a town with wings and no feet

My trip to Port Townsend, taken almost a year after we moved to HQX, has come and gone. I enjoyed myself doing what I like to do; taking a leisurely schedule and breaking bread with a handful of dear friends. I was oddly relieved to see that very little felt different; the town was just as it was, warts and loveliness both. Business owners will still doing their thing and restaurant menus and offerings remained the same. The weather competed for Grays Harbor in terms of winter blah (although my logical mind knows this was only a kindness bestowed on me by the weathergods to soften the soaked mossy reality of my new home). My friends’ lives hadn’t suddenly taken wing without me. The children I’d so missed hadn’t changed so much as inserted about 6″ in their middle somewhere. Port Townsend itself did not evoke wistfulness or sadness so much as seemed a comfortable, parallel dimension of home.

There were cosmetic differences. Ladies seem to have traded in their Danskos for Merrells. An acquaintance’s art shop had moved downtown and Swain’s checkout counter had moved up in the store. On Saturday I went to a yoga class and re-connected with that aspect of the community, which I discovered I’d missed very much. In both Friday and Saturday night’s gatherings I was inspired by the community I’d known with their impulsive creativity, a bubble that expects, experiences, and serves itself a high quality of life indeed.

I spent almost no time alone this weekend which was highlighted by a little incident on Sunday afternoon. Two o’clock found me outside the Model T Pub and Eatery in Hoodsport with my vinyl green suitcase and my sock knitting (Nels’ Christmas socks, still unfinished). It’s cold – very cold, but brilliant and sunny. I don’t want to go inside the pub (a pleasant place) because I want to see my family when they arrive. As I knit away, yarn ball tucked in my pocket, a man emerges from the restaurant and into the sunshine to smoke. He looks like Grays Harbor stock – handsome but weathered, black jeans, cowboy hat, and biker jacket. “Knitting!” he drawls, surprised. “You making gloves or socks? Whyn’tcha make me a pair?” I show him my son’s socks and he replies, “Well, I can’t wear wool. And I can’t wear colored clothes, you know, dye. If I wear dye, it soaks into my skin and makes me sick. Of course, I’m sixty-five now, so maybe something’s changed…” He goes on to talk about his truck – a Mazda like mine that’s just had repairs – and his son who happens to be a mechanic in Port Townsend. He talks about himself and his life as if I’d been standing there waiting to hear, which in a way I had.

Our discussion is interrupted by the arrival of my family. By the time I’ve put my suitcase in the car he’s stepped back inside for another beer or coffee. I wish I would have said, “Nice talking to you!” because I like those interactions. I like having a break from thinking about my own life’s plans and experiencing the realities of others, of strangers.

On the drive home my husband queries me about my trip; he asks after our friends, what the surprises were. My kids insist I reach back and hold their hands. They’ve missed me. When we get home Nels, still feverish and strange from his Saturday illness, directs me under the covers of my bed to “cuttle” as he calls it – folds his hot little arms around my neck and kisses, kisses, kisses me. I can wrap my hand almost all the way around his upper arm. The house is messy and tomorrow we have to travel again but for the moment I feel great being home.

listen up, listen up, listen up, voices scatter

Early this morning our daughter woke us with crying in her sleep. This interrupted a dream I was having; a dream that we’d moved to a new house. The house was nice, but larger than our current house. We had no furniture. Everything was just a little threadbare but it was a good home. We were sitting in our bare living room wondering what we were going to do next.

Then this morning I got up, made my daughter’s breakfast, lunch, and got her to school, fed my son breakfast and began to clean my kitchen. I scrubbed and scrubbed the eighteen layers of paint on the walls and cupboards. I wondered if my family was losing ground. For the first time I wondered if we were headed towards, not away from, poverty. I thought about how we aren’t gaining any of the material items of the American Dream in our lives. At all. We aren’t putting money toward equity. We have no college fund for our children. We are paying off on a family vehicle that is fast deteriorating and the one that’s paid isn’t any better off. We have no financial assets whatsoever besides my husband’s kernel of retirement and social security. I don’t think I’d be thinking about our lives in this way this except I’d listened to an excellent program on our local indie radio recently. I’d heard that families were saving less and owing more; they were working more in two incomes but hating it. I’d heard it was near-impossible to survive on one.

I am grateful not to be one of the “two income trap” families referred to in the radio program. This primarily means our lives have non-material assets instead of quantifiable ones. We live and thrive in creativity, something I wouldn’t have guessed would be such a large part of family life. We help others and give to the community of our time – a lot of our time. We have a warm home that we enjoy and feel secure in. We have excellent health insurance that we don’t use because we have excellent health. We are feeding, raising, clothing, and loving our children about 89% right (this is a lot, lot of work). We don’t have credit cards. We are OK walking or biking where we need to go. We have family nearby that we see often. We are adventurous, purposeful, and try not to be wasteful. We take good care of and treasure the things we do own. Even if I have dreams that hurt, or moments that break my heart, I want to always maintain perspective on what I do have.

As of now it’s 11:30 and I haven’t yet had a shower. An hour ago I finished deep cleaning the kitchen and I’m currently working on a handful of Christmas CDs for friends. Nels hangs out, decorating and re-decorating our tinsel tree while wearing Sophie’s swimsuit and demanding his favorite song (currently Peaches’ “Boys Wanna Be Her”). I’m sitting here wondering why I want a smoke; it’s been since Amore’s last visit months ago. Luckily it’s easy to stave off the craving; remembering my son last summer pawing at my smokes really turns me off. I guess I do need a bad habit though; ideas, anyone?