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.

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.

Seitan

for tomorrow’s repast

Seitan

Today in the kitchen: making up a batch of seitan. Blending spices and miso and tofu and vital wheat gluten; kneading and pressing. Baking while heating the spicy, redolent broth to simmer with. Vegan cooking somehow makes me so profoundly happy it is almost impossible to describe. It seems we spend less, eat better, and enjoy everything so much more.

Upon waking, my 13 year old son opens his eyes and says, “What is that unbelievably good smell?” I am transported back to the days when the children were littles and I wasn’t sewing as much (and certainly not as a business owner) and I cooked so much more than I do today. Today, these days I am overworked and jumpy and not quite as able to walk through my kitchen chopping and sauteing and washing up with fragrant, thick soap suds.

In the studio I watch a lesson on sewing with organdy and organza, slowly adding to my repertoire of skills. I print out a template for costume sewing. Answer an email and snap a photo for a potential client. Upstairs again and switch off the hot broth pot and set aside; making a plan for tomorrow. To the grocery store for seltzer water, celery and an onion, for kombucha for Ralph and gallon ziploc bags for freezing. Another fall day with those quiet responsibilities wherein life passes in measured tread.

I have stopped saying I was consumed, I have been saying “I was almost consumed”

With an absolute force of will, I remove a slice of pizza from the wrapped parcel, and place it on the cutting board. This will be the first meal I’ve had in about thirty six hours. For the last several hours the thought I should eat, was met with a rising nausea as well as awareness of my aching body: my entire abdomen a turgid, throbbing knot of pain.

My mind is being pulled into two different worlds, and the pain of this is excruciating. It hurts my head; it hurts my body.

In one world, I am a success. My life is a success. My partner and I have raised two wonderful children to teenagehood; they are both doing extraordinarily well despite trials and a few extraordinary circumstances. In this world I am creative, and kind. In this world I am learning to be kinder, and (slowly) trying to be stronger. In this world, I am strong enough to rise to a challenge. I am fierce. I would do anything possible to protect my children and protect my marriage – I would rise to any calamity. I have been a faithful and loving wife, giving every ounce of my passion and loyalty to a man who is the best I’ve met. I have withstood enormous pressures: the trail of abuse and dysfunction as a child, of more abuse in my early adulthood. The devastation of addiction. Sexual abuse. For years: denial. Then fear, anger, sadness. Some forgiveness, this tiny teacup-full. In this world, I have committed to a high standard of behavior for myself. I commit to this standard, fail, and try again and I move on. In this world, I am taking care of my lovely home. I am developing my career, while caring for my family and friends.

In this world, I stand in the kitchen and prepare a breakfast for my child before I take them to campus. They are graduating college at 16; I have helped them just the right amount. In this world, I parcel my focus to all these things – my husband, each child. My home, my career. My husband’s career. My recovery. My friends, my faith tradition. I put together the list of things I hope to do, to take care of the people I need to. In this world, on a daily basis, I do not neglect my responsibilities.

In this world I am a strong and loving person, but really: just a human being. I am a beautiful, loved, human being who helps make the world a better place.

This is a wonderful world and I have spent many days there.

But there is another world, too.

In this other world, I have failed utterly. My career is a joke; it can and will take too much of my focus to be a serious thing to commit to. In this world, my husband is deeply dissatisfied with me, and it is only a matter of time before he leaves. Every plan I’ve made and every thing I’ve cared for, is utter trash – not because the goals and the lovely things I care about are not wonderful – they are the most wonderful things on earth! – but because I could not possibly have been expected to succeed. In this world, my shitty childhood, the sexual abuse I endured, the terrorizing I endured, and my drinking: those things won after all. In the end, I was not strong enough to do any good; tread water though I tried.

In this world, no matter the kind words and tender acts of care I give my husband and children, it is too little and too late. There have been too many misbehaviors on my part. There have been too many times I was torn in two and could not focus. I could not check in. There have been too many hours – hours that have swelled into weeks or months or years in the aggregate – where I was attempting to escape. And even though it is understandable a person would do this, and we nod with empathy and say, “Oh that is so sad, but don’t you see why you did it?” in the end after all, I will not be permitted to fail without punishment. We understand why you did this, but it cannot be forgiven. It was not enough that I was there in body and that I was there in deed. In my mind I was trying to escape. And so: I failed. No points. I did my best but I will soon be summarily dismissed, and it was very foolish of me to put so much faith in my actions.

I am being pulled between these worlds.

Today I realized neither world is true, as powerful an illusion as they may be.

Today, I live in today’s world.

So: I begin to eat, and my body reminds itself this is a good thing. I relax; I will be able to finish this meal.

I can now do the next thing.

Today I can do the things I am supposed to do. I can communicate with kindness and directness. I can meet my responsibilities to family, to self-care, to my larger community. I can do the laundry and wash the dishes and drive my mother where she needs to go and meet with a friend who could use my help. I can pray; I can meditate. I can talk to my sponsor. If I have time I can pick up and sew this dress, that rests behind me on the studio table. I can talk to my husband about his day. I can hold him. I can make him a cup of coffee. I can bring my body to nurture: making food, hugging and kissing my husband and my children.

On the drive home from the college the black sky opens up and a torrential rain hits the streets. We who live here know it is the season: many months of darkness and rain. The earth here absolutely loves it; drinks in enough nourishment to stay green all through the year, while wildfires rage and the country burns. Here we hurry from our cars inside the café for a hot cup of coffee; we connect by eye contact with friend and stranger alike. The rain hammers the windows while I slice an apple for my son, who will soon be up and, as is his 13-year old wont, hungry.

I am not a single mom

I am not a “single mom” when Ralph leaves for a weekend or a week, on a conference or business trip. A single mom has to do all this shit without support on the daily. Me, I have a few days of focus and a bit of adrenaline and anyway, I could put a thing or two on the back burner if I need to.

That said, I do have to focus as it’s all on me. Up in the morning and the kitties need to be fed; Herbert Pocket does this adorable thing where when we take the lid of the cat food bin, she pops her little paws on the ledge and inspects the level of cat food inside. I get to take the dog outside on his walks, and make sure he’s fed and has enough water. I scritch him a little extra besides; as hard as I worked on washing him yesterday his fur is so thick and he could use another combing and bath! Maybe in a day or two.

Phoenix tells me tonight, after I paint their nails (black, for Halloween!) – “Thank you for getting me pizza this morning. That was the sweetest thing to wake up to.” While it is certainly true that teens can fend or even cook for themselves, I still feel it’s my responsibility as a parent to try to do a little of that work for them. 

Today also I took a bit of cake down to the recovery Club I frequent, right before I pick up the pizza. I slice the slab into two-bite size morsels and arranged them on a large platter. When I cook at the Club, or prep food, men swarm around. Attention; they need attention. “I’ll have a hot dog,” a young man toting a toddler instructs me – mistaking me for the kitchen worker that’s there during limited hours. I explain the situation to him: I’m not a member of the Club and the kitchen isn’t open at th emoment. Other fellows mill around, wanting to tell me about their job (or lack thereof) or just say Hi or whatever. But this is one place that’s good to leave food, because people are always coming through hungry, some off the street. When I first got sober I cooked on the regular because I felt desperate, and grateful, and wanted to give something to the group. And one day a fellow called me, “That chick that always brings food,” and I thought, Well that’s enough of that for now. That particular fellow is very very ill now and every time I see him I am not sure if I’ll see him again.

Tonight, incredibly, for dinner I decide to give a brown rice recipe a try: a (vegan) cheesy broccoli brown rice bake. I had enough brown rice growing up in the bus, I took a solid thirty-year hiatus, but I’m ready to try again. This evening I just know it will turn out wonderfully, and it does – accompanying the bean burritos and the cole slaw Ralph provides. I love peeling off the foil from a hot casserole and letting it sit just five minutes before spooning it out. I love watching how happy people are for hot food – my family yes, and a guest over for dinner.

Ralph is home and after my shower he comes to bed and I put my head on his chest and can feel my hair, down and brushed out, spill across his shoulder. He is warm and strong and feels exactly like home to me. And I know he’s too tired to pay me much mind by now, but my own mind is still a ways from being sleepy. I have had three days’ of hard work and I have some things to worry about besides. So after we say goodnight the pets gather round; two kitties flank me in the bed and I am still up just a little longer, a little deeper into the night before I sink back to sleep.

under bridges of what’s to come

My kids’ shoes end up: in my bedroom, on the bathroom floor. As relatively tidy and supremely well-behaved as my children are, they are nevertheless creatures of comfort: discarding clothes before taking a luxurious hot shower, or slipping off shoes before crawling in bed next to me to cuddle. They leave off on their errands to game – I hear shouts! of laughter from downstairs – and leave their clothes here and there. If they were adults I was forced to room with, I would find it all very irritating. As it is, these mundane remembrances are a comfort to me. I know when they leave my home I will miss them so.

“Are you okay?” my son says, at dinner. We are the only two left at the table and he is helping himself to a third serving of pasta. I tell him Yes, I am just tired and he says, “Put your hand here,” indicating the table between us. His long hand rests on mine – preternaturally beautiful fingers, and long nails. Then, shortly: “I need this to eat,” he smiles, removing his hand and crossing his right over so he can still comfort me.

I am okay, sure – but I am mentally very tired. I am meeting once a week with a small business consultant. I am in couples counseling every two weeks; I take one of my children to therapy every other week from that. It isn’t as if I’m particularly worried in all these concerns, but they very much require a special focus on my part. I am still reeling from the kids’ transition into their teenage years – which is absolutely nothing like the dour, cynical predictions would have had me believe, but is nevertheless a sea change – and I am experiencing the sadness of finally, finally no longer having a family bed. My husband’s car is once again tits-up – and mine is on the last legs for its brakes. My mother is selling her home, after five generations of lives passing through the old Victorian. A family friend dies young and this brings up, for me, horrible memories.

Challenging? Absolutely.

There are many glimmers of goodness in this time. My older child is happier, a brief calm sea. They hold and hug and kiss me several times a day. The younger is a bit more volatile – a surprise, given his sweet nature – but I am gentle with him and he is good at coming to his sense and apologizing. And so, for that matter, am I. I put no small amount of concentration onto helping their father connect with them. He is gone for hours each day, after all, and misses the many opportunities I have.

On the turn of the dime it is absolutely fall, no longer summer. Even the warm days have a dampness and chill in the air. It’s incredible to me, as it was so very hot just before the break. Ralph finished painting the house during our driest spell. In a week or so I’ll pull all the summer clothes for storage and bring out my winter coats in preparing for the long, dark winter to come. As it will, whether we are ready or no.