the point of pain, perhaps there is no point

I am packing up to head into town with the children. My daughter takes the recycling out, headphones in her little jewel-like ears, as per usual. I hear a small commotion and look outside to see the blonde head of my youngest – he’s racing through the yard. My first thought when I see my kids outside is such gladness they get to be here, not in school. My second thought is usually an intense surge of love so deep it is like a drug hit.

I hear my son crying now. I have a hundred and one things I’m (trying not to be) thinking about, but when Nels comes inside I know something is up, the intensity. “Pip!” he cries out, tears streaming down his cheeks, naming our youngest cat. “He had a rat in his mouth and I tried to get it away from him and he bit down and I heard it squeaking!” Hot tears brimming in his eyes, his face flushed. I bring him on my knee and he curls in close as if he was still a young child. I feel grim about this all, because I can just hear the squeaking, too. I also know in just a moment of my care he’ll calm down. And he does.

My kidney pain is horrid. It comes and goes. Last night in yoga class I panted and closed my eyes and tried not to throw up. Coughing weakly a bit. I’m feeling angry as I stretch up, arms reaching up up up, then fold, and then lift, then plant hands, then plank. Angry. Angry at whom? No one did this to me. Or if they did, why anger? What is the point? My shoulder twinges. I move back into Child’s Pose prematurely, my forehead on the grimy mat. My mind on the palm of my hands, the deep stretch in my hips, which feels divine.

I suppose I’ll never really figure it out.

ok, so here’s the plan –

When I arrive home from work, my son walks down the path to my little BMW, engine just off. He’s in his favorite play jacket – a puffy navy blue hooded car coat – and his little red canvas shoes and busted jeans. I can tell from his gait that he is sad. A friend took him to a homeschool gathering today, and all did not go well. Perhaps his sister has been unkind, in my absence.

My son is sad, and as I step up the path to meet me he says, “Mom… I had a rough day today -“.  But even as he mugs for some pity and some tenderness, he begins to smile. He is confused because his heart is breaking over the events of today, but he is so glad to see me because I make it all so much better. I can see it in his face, plain as day. I rarely think much on how much I mean to these children, but I think I have never meant so much to anyone else in my life.

Ralph and I made this huge commitment so many years ago, to be with our kids 24/7 until the day they chose to leave us, and we didn’t think so much of just how many wonderful benedictions this would bring. But in my son’s step down the rain-drenched walk, the spring earth warm and fecund and with a promise – crocuses and primroses already! – I can see my time is worth something, my every moment, just someone he can hang his hopes on when the day goes awry. And today? He hurt his foot. He wasn’t feeling well. He was snubbed by a peer. 

He was lonely, because I wasn’t home.

Tonight I give my husband a break from making dinner. While Phoenix studies for a biology test, Nels and I make first a salad (broccoli, basil, pecans, grapes, a lemon dressing), then a lasagna and garlic bread. At first my son is upset – he wants to be outside playing with friends. He doesn’t really want to help me cook. Soon he is wailing – hungry, angry that dinner is an hour out. But I have patience today, as a mother. I am kind and purposeful that dinner must be made. And I let him come to me. As I wash dishes I give him the territory of the sauce preparation, from chopping and sauteeing garlic, to mixing in fragrant spices. Soon he is a happy little chef, if a bit untidy. The sauce is quite good. I’ve taught him just a little about cooking. Life goes like that. A little at a time.

Parenthood has come, parts of it, come and gone so quickly. I’ve learned to slow down and really enjoy the moment instead of worrying too much. Yesterday, in a dark theatre, both kids. One kid paying attention, the other bored and doing little to conceal it. For the first blessed hour, contentment. My arms around one, then the other. My cheek in sweet, hay-smelling hair. Holding one another close. It’s not something I got to do as a teen, with my parents. It feels so special to get to have it in my life after all.

hurtling toward another muffled week of winter

Work has been hard, as I’ve been feeling ill. Pain comes and goes; today it didn’t start until the afternoon. But it must be taking its toll all day, as I’m considerably less energetic than I’ve come to count on. Now: lying on my back, temples feeling squeezed, lower back a dull ache and fire.

So today I fought to keep it together and to run the household. I’m only half-assing that for the most part. I can’t pay bills right now, so into the little wire basket they go. Sewing up my latest online tutorial, and the low-light in my basement studio and the deep cold (even though I wear a coat) is a deterrent. My kids ask for food and we put something together. My son hugs me – he’s over five foot tall now and will soon be reaching for things on the shelf that I can’t get. His hair still smells like sweet straw. His nose and cheeks still look like boyhood, when I watch him sleeping. Blond hair, caramel skin, against the white of the pillow.

Phoenix, she asks me about when she was born. I hold up my hands and remember how small she was. I remember holding her close. Funny, as the kids still put their arms around me and put their head to my breast. They will never not-remember how that feels, I suppose. I somehow lost that experience with my own parents. I have no memory of seeking them out in that way. Something got broken along the way, I suppose. But I always knew they loved me dearly.

The car has a light on, some kind of engine problem. We had a lovely, lovely person donate Phee’s tuition for this quarter – but soon I will need tuition for Spring. I am frustrated because I can’t seem to get the house in order. But – why should I? We have been down for the count. Ralph has been ill – he is also only a few classes away from earning his Bachelor’s Degree, which is kind of amazing, but it also means he’s working hard. In fact it seems everyone in the family is working hard on their projects. Family life seems never to stay in one spot for long. I am a veteran in that I don’t fear the future like I used to. But the present, the right-now, it seems to slip through my grasp as soon as I try to cling to it.

tryna catch a woman that’s weak

Shortly after I arrive home, the pain begins. It starts as a bit of a pinch, a bit breathless, and as usual I don’t really notice for a bit. But after about a half hour I come into awareness. So now: fright. The pain is rising, clashing, a small crescendo in my lower back – this time, on the left. The pain isn’t the hardest part. It’s the fear. I know how much worse the pain can get. I know it won’t kill me, but pain is my master. Pain like that, anyway.

By the time I am stepping into a hot shower – a futile distraction, a bit of comfort to my bones while my body runs riot and S-H-O-U-T-S! at me from the very within – by that time my hands are trembling. I am in a state of heightened awareness, of stillness. It has been about fifteen months since I’ve entered the hospital. I hope to stay out, tonight.

Out of the shower and I shakily dress myself. A hot pad for my lower back. I am shaking too much to type or text. I lie in the bed and gently rock back and forth, and shake. But maybe it won’t get worse. 

And this time, it doesn’t.

Today some good things happened.

– watching my son shoot baskets, dribble the basketball, his lanky frame looking more and more like his father, the man I met when he was a boy

– sitting next to my mom on the bleachers and trying to tell her about a film I recently watched. And singing, “Across 110th Street” to remind her

– my daughter showing me things that make her laugh, and make her angry, on her phone. My daughter climbing into bed with me tonight while I suffered, and telling me she wouldn’t leave my side until the pain was gone

– my husband at the oven, baking hot pita bread, and washing his hands then coming close to hold me

– the moon tonight on a drive on the beach Highway… lonesome and cold and bright as a beacon

it’s like falling in love

My son is tall; his coat from last year, a favorite, reaches the top of his hips and the sleeves end above the wrist. His hair is growing out from a short cut; in the morning, there is invariably a disturbed cowlick on the left side. I’ve taken to calling him “Tufty” and when he comes in close to hug  me, he is fast approaching my height.

He calls my mother this evening and – although I can’t hear her end of the conversation – it is obvious she is asking him on a date. Good; as Phoenix will enjoy undisturbed study time. She has a very hefty Biology book  – the sucker must weigh several pounds! – and today we discussed isotopes, radioactive decay, covalent and ionic bonds. The material is familiar to me but the last time I studied it was two decades ago! The rhythm of s and p orbitals, however arcane and antiquated in my memory, is nevertheless a familiar one because that long ago, that was my world.

So strange to be discussing quantum physics with my “little” girl.

I enjoy a walk with a mama and her young son; he is happy and scampers about, mindless and with a runny nose. Then he falls and cries; inconsolable. No one can carry him except his mother, who is heavy with another child. Eventually he calms and he carries his little stuffed bear in a blanket; we retire to his home and he shows me how he puts the bear down for a nap. I’m unsure if there is anything more beautiful than listening to a two year old putting together sentences – crude but, if listened to, easily understood.

The day draws colder; now, with my family and another neighborhood moppet in tow, we head for a lunch of hot noodles and then ice cream for the younger children. Home and Phee and I will hit the books; Ralph will eventually make dinner.

And to bed anon.

A good Sunday.

deschooling: not an all-or-nothing experience

[Ed note on terminology: Let us not pretend I oppose the existence of institutions of learning that employ knowledgable instructors providing course material either voluntarily or for a wage. This is absurd. What I mean by “school” for all my alt education writings is the following: a state-run institutional edifice where children are required to attend; also, the resultant culture that has sprung up in and supporting such institutions.]
Untitled

I’ve recently had the good fortune of receiving a moderate volume of calls, emails, and texts from parents who are curious about homeschooling and unschooling for their children. Part of the increased activity may be the small community ripple our thirteen-year old daughter made this fall when she tested into, and enrolled at, our local community college. Regardless of the factors behind this increased interest, I love the subjects of homeschooling, unschooling, parenting, and living with children. I am honored when adults and children alike trust me enough to share their concerns.

Today I’ve fielded texts from a mother to six who is trying to navigate her family’s first year of home- and unschooling. She tells me her family spent a year deschooling – living without books and curriculum – and now she’s worried, because they’re “behind”. She was feeling upset because in an online unschooling community she brought up these concerns and was told by members of the group that she “hadn’t deschooled yet”. This kind of thing can be unschooling-speak for: “you’re still part of The System! Bad unschooler, bad!” (Meanwhile those unfamiliar with unschooling are probably scratching their heads thinking – “What in the WORLD is ‘deschooling’?”)
 
Let’s think about my friend’s position for a moment.

Mani-Pedi

joyeux noel

The stress and pain of the last few days since last Wednesday’s unpleasantness are still with me. I can be patient; I can wait for the hurt to pass. And I usually find myself rather rueful at just how much I take things to heart. If anything, I am more sensitive as I age – even if I behave better than I used to. I have more self-discipline, I don’t say things I regret later. I behave appropriately in the moment. I am grateful for this.

And – I suffer. I suffer even when it seems everyone else is fine. I suffer even if I’m doing the right thing, and putting one foot in front of the other. This is just how it is. I pray. I meditate. I try to look deeply.

But – I am human.

Friday: I blow the last of our grocery money on a spa date with the kids. My son is ecstatic – he can’t believe the lushness of the services offered. My daughter – well, sometimes it seems she is more than two years older than her brother.

Mani-Pedi
Today the cold and damp weather did not deter us; Phoenix’s beau has joined us for the day and the two of them huddle together in comfortable companionship in the back of my little BMW as we motor through town. Christmas shopping – on a credit card – finding the last little bits and bobs for our gifts this year. The children are happy and they are loud; they are now near adult-sized so after a bit, Ralph and I send them away in the shop so he and I can have some peace.

Downstairs and the wrapping paper stacks, and gifts, and tags – Christmas cards to send out, and so many homemade concoctions simmering on the stove. Shea butter and goats’ milk soaps, and a syrup made with citrus zest, spices, fruit. Candies cooked up on the stove; I show my daughter how I do it, without quite instructing her or making her learn. No, just preparing the ground (as I’ve always done with her!), so that one day if she ever wants to do the same, the rhythm will be in her blood, and her fingertips will have confidence, if not practice.

My husband and son take the dog out for his last walk of the day. A hot shower, pajamas. Maybe one last sliver of sharp cheese, and crackers. It is gorgeous to have days off, now that I work again. Several in a row. Gift-wrapping and tidying the house, and soon the celebration with the family.

or, an encounter with another human being

Tonight I sit in a room sparsely-decorated, save for one white-flocked artificial Christmas tree. A woman plugs it in and the meager, tinny lights spring to life. Somehow a few dollars of cheap electronics, and I can feel my heart cheer, just a little.

The book in front of us, and the topic at hand, concerns the St. Francis Prayer. It is read aloud, and I listen as I have before.

A version:

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace!
That where there is hatred, I may bring love.
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness.
That where there is discord, I may bring harmony.
That where there is error, I may bring truth.
That where there is doubt, I may bring faith.
That where there is despair, I may bring hope.
That where there are shadows, I may bring light.
That where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort, than to be comforted.
To understand, than to be understood.
To love, than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.

A man in the room shares how he interprets the prayer. He’s an alcoholic, sober a month. He says to imagine the words like a fire on a cold night, warming the body. He enlivens the analogy and as he speaks, I discover I like that way of seeing it. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with anxiety, with anger or hurt. Times like this I can’t think my way out of the pain and suffering. But prayers, Buddhist texts – they help me a great deal. They are like that fire, warming me when I have little left to give.

The group disbands for the evening. Outside it is cold, damp – the beginning of a long winter. This man who’d shared so eloquently, he wraps himself up in his best winter clothes and sets off to wherever he lives, wherever he sleeps, on his bike.

My car is cold and the heater only works part of the time, so it’s pretty damp inside. A friend’s yearly Christmas CD – populated by irreverent parodies, horror movie dialogue clips, and Motown Christmas standards – provides me sustenance in the dark and cold. In some small way I am comforted by the modesty of my surroundings; the car barely working. The yard bedraggled in winter sogginess. The humble but absolutely blessed rite of making dinner. A late meal, curled up by our own fireside – not a figurative fire, either.

Tomorrow is the last day of work for a while. A weekend to recover the slings and arrows of the week.

And comfort? It dwells within; but we find bits without, too. Like a spark, to find its twin flaring to life in our own breast.

thus he does it of a winter night

When I was a young girl – I couldn’t have been older than eight, as we still lived in our bus – I received a pair of Smurf pajamas for a Christmas gift. I loved them – unequivocally. I don’t remember caring much about the Smurfs one way or another, as we didn’t have television and I rarely saw the program. No, what I loved were the colors, and the design: a graphic-printed white torso, cerulean blue leggings and sleeves, and crimson cuffs at wrist and ankle. Today I know the material was probably that horrible polyester that cheap kids’ sleepwear is made of. But then? They were my favorite garment. We were staying at some sort of RV park or camping site when we opened gifts, and Christmas morning I remember petitioning my parents to let me wear the pajamas throughout the day. They, being relatively loving hippie ilk, let me be. There’s a picture somewhere of me standing in front of a camper, hip cocked. Pleased as punch!

I remembered these pajamas quite suddenly tonight, as I stitch up the cuffs for a pair for my son. The pajamas I’m making tonight will be homemade, not storebought; the fabric, an expensive cotton custom print in one of his most dear video game universes. Most of the gifts we’ve slated for the holiday have been homemade – put into the works months ago, in some cases. We are making food delectables from scratch, and I am designing (and hiding!) something special for each child, and my husband. Ralph and I once again put together a special Christmas card; the cards and the selected deep teal envelopes sit downstairs at our crafting bench. Tonight, my husband and I will sit together by our fireside and wind balls of yarn to make – but, well, you never know who might read here.

Remembering my modest childhood, and the relative comforts we have today, I am reminded to slow down for the holidays. There are so many loved ones to thank, to gift, to shower with affection and recognition. It can be very tempting to try to rush through it all – to hop online and search for sales, or run to the mall in desperation. But instead, I refer back to my lists. I try to be cautious. I put aside tonight’s sewing – I’m feeling tired, and my eyes are fatigued from working so intensely at home and in my job. I take an early shower, and a late dinner, with my family – who are more dear to me than life itself.

It’s a time for introspection, and gratitude. A time not to let the house be cluttered but rather to keep it ordered and clean. A time to cherish the season, because we never know if we shall get another.

these precious days

One of my favorite things about the children is their cheerful and utter confidence they are worthwhile human beings. I call out to Ralph, “I’m going to turn up the heat just until I get into bed – it might get hot in here for a bit.” Before my husband can respond, Nels says, “That’s fine, mama,” placidly – he’s buried under a comforter in my bed, entirely pleased with himself and how the evening is going.

My kids are always assuming I’m addressing them, talking to them like grownups. They make me proud – every single day.

I thought maybe my youngest child would miss public school – after his one-year experiment in the medium last year – but he most certainly does not. The neighbor boys – who first trod on our lawn and then began to peek in at the kitchen door, especially after they were fed well at our Halloween party – now appear here and there, now on the stairs, now on the deck. Nels knows them all, directs them in minor yardwork, and conducts a variety of “Imagination” games in the autumn-soaked greenery. “Just so you know,” one thirteen year old tells me as I walk down the path to the car, past where the boys are sitting: “Nels is awesome.”

My sewing space is getting colder as the temperature falls outside. I find myself without wool and layers to bundle up in, and without a convenient way to heat the space. The occasional massive spider is gone, at least. Just me and my music, and little tiny sweater dresses for an infant, with a cranberry wool caot. Or perhaps a corduroy blazer size 2T in two shades of forest green. Because I just can’t get enough of that sort of thing!

The house quiets; Phoenix, finished with her math homework – which I am kind of amazed she can keep up on – is now drawing a new obsession, a character from one of her beloved cartoon programs. Ralph has made fresh brownies and they cool under a cloth, on the stove. Behind me, the dog groans and stretches, his blanket freshly washed in the morning housework Nels and I conducted.

The summer seems like it was ages ago, but the fall brings comforts. Hasn’t it ever?