but they would if they could

When I leave yoga class I pop on the phone and see a series of messages. “Mom… MOM… Mom it’s urgent please come pick me up… MOM help”. I know my son is smart enough to get professional assistance in case of emergency, but.

(Nels has always had panache when reporting traumatic events. A few weeks ago while tucking into some ramen I got a call: “Mom. I just fell off a cliff. I’m covered in cuts and bruises. … well. You can’t see them, though.”)

Home and Nels shakes his head at me, silently. For some reason he doesn’t want me to tell his father what the emergency was: some older high school boys, threatening Nels and his friends, and using horrible language. Nels wants to know if people can tell he’s different, because he’s homeschooled. Based on the homophobic and misogynistic slurs these boys were using, I can confidently tell my son he wasn’t targeted by any fault of his own.

It’s gorgeous out. Hot. My mother-in-law sent us artichokes; those have to go from their pots to the garden soon. My hosta is looking wonderful; a new hydrangea has popped up in the back corner. The mint plant is looking well, and my succulents need transport and cutting. Last year’s strawberries are looking spry, and the pumpkin bed is ready for this year’s crop – potatoes. I picked up two bales of sweetgrass today, to seed them. Phoenix and I backed down my way-too-narrow driveway today, and pulled the bales out for readiness. That’s about as butch as I get around these parts.

We’ve been down to one car for almost seven months. Today we limped the other to the shop. The fellow there grimaced and waved his hands, preparing us for the worst. Well. Our surviving car needs quite a bit of work, at that. I’m down in that studio stitching and cutting and ironing and getting things out the door, and getting paid. Supporting teenagers and all that: today Nels tells me: “I can’t *believe* how hungry I am!” as he steps into the living room with a sandwich, piping bowl of soup, and cut-up fruit.

A candle, incense, a hot shower. Night falls once again, in our warm and safe home.

of maples y madres

My children smelled extra-good today because on our trip out to the nursery in Satsop (and our stop in Montesano for Phoenix’s name change form) they climbed several trees. And yes, I can smell bark. The smell clung to them in fact for the rest of the day. That and even despite our overcast weather of late they’re starting to get their sun-kissed look. They’re everything green and growing, infusing my existence with their beauty.

Juel’s Unique Nursery is a pretty fabulous place. Today was warm and wet but not muggy. Growing weather. It’s a wonderful peaceful place, quirky and very full of life.

Juel's, Wagons

Juel's, Japanese Maples

My mother was there for basil; she hadn’t made a good start on the herb and was hoping to find some. She did.

The kids played and ran the entire time we were there, followed by a young black lab/mutt who adored them.

Teeter Totter Pt. 1

Teeter Totter Pt. 2

Teeter Totter Pt. 3

Nels rather unfairly douched his sister out about the above escapade where he went flying off the kiddie teeter-totter. He is hard on his sister, given that she is a sensitive type who has never enjoyed being yelled at (who does) and gets her feelings hurt every time. I am proud of myself that I never tell her she’s being too sensitive. She has a right to her feelings. I try to hold her and hug her and when I do this she recovers immediately.

The trip today was my mother’s idea; she first took us out to lunch (the kids eat astronomical amounts of food these days) and dessert and coffee (decaf these days) for me. The drive was lovely as my mom is one of my most sought-after conversationalists. I am so fortunate to have her a regular in our lives. She and the children are fortunate to have one another, too.

We miss my dad. But we have one another.

“he called me ‘sir’, without adding, “you’re making a scene”

I think my favorite moment today was when I biked on errands with Nels and halfway through my business I realized I was very hungry (I feed my kids first, when I remember to feed us at all), and I saw a sign advertising our own 8th Street Ale House’s vegetarian lunch special, and I decided to leave my son outside the bar while I popped in (JUST for the food to go, honest), and while I waited our police chief entered, and I half-expected to have my ass busted for the winsome little boy gamboling around outside the tavern and peeping in windows and hopefully not getting in the lawman’s cruiser.  (Previous sentence note: I am lousy with commas!) Our police chief is a very nice person and respected in his job capacity.  He is also intimidating, because A. he’s a policeman, hello (I have no bad experiences with police officers personally; there are just some types of Authority I feel a stilted relationship with, and they include teachers and doctors, whom I have been friends with but always call them Ms. or Miss or Mr. or Dr. Last-Name), and B. he is very tall (and handsome) – easily 6′ 5″ if not more, and in his uniform he looks even taller.  I just smiled at him and figured if he mentioned the kid running wild outside a drinking establishment it would be a good segue into something I want to ask about, namely having a mini field-trip for my kidlets to the police station, the kind of thing they miss out on since they are not in school.

But lo, as it turned out he was there on other business and did not cast his eye about the pub and bellow out Who was the Mother of this Poor (alternatively, Naughty) Child?, which is pretty much my internal fear any time I am ever anywhere with Nels (in some ways I cannot wait until this boy emancipates!).  It’s funny because whether my kids or myself are being Good, Bad, or Ugly do you realize I worry all the time I’m going to get busted for something?  Something, I have no idea what, as I am no law-breaker.  I don’t even smoke pot (borrring!) and imagine myself so Upright that if I ever get too much change back I always correct the cashier’s mistake (double borrring!).  Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough and I’ll get Busted for whatever and I’ll realize I had nothing to fear all along.

The barkeep is one of those guys that calls women insulting pet names, like today “Dear”.  This is how I feel about that sort of thing: [ here ] (I used to get it all the time when I was in the Engineering profession – snore!).  Anyway, after I tipped the fellow and loaded up my lunch (a Greek salad) I retrieved Nels (who had behaved himself well) and we hit the supermarket and bought the food for dinner tonight and tomorrow.  It was sunny today but a bit cold; I however am not complaining because as long as it isn’t wet my bike errands are relatively joyous to experience.  Yes, even when I realized I hadn’t brought payment and had to run to my bank to take out cash, then return to retrieve our sundries.  All Mayberry-like my bank is only a couple blocks from the supermarket.  My son wrapped his arms around me and we experienced the companionable silence on the bike that has served so many wonderful memories already.  We eventually got home and Nels was off the bike like a shot, playing with his sister outside where my husband found them when he returned from work.  Ralph also came home to a couple loaves of fresh-baked bread, a whole wheat loaf that I’d been working on since yesterday, lovely and fragrant fare.  If I was smart I’d bake bread every day because I can’t remember a time I made it that it didn’t make everyone in my family happy, and I am completely serious about that.

It is wonderful to have Ralph home for the weekend.  Even though what he does when he’s at home is work work work, it seems he is happiest when here.  He tells me this weekend he’s going to give me the Lawn of My Dreams, although I’m not sure what that is.  I do think the fact he dug up a huge pile of garbage (previous tenants) and is installing garden beds is a good start.  The chickens absolutely love the temporary pile of dirt and sod.  They  pick through it triumphantly; they come running when anyone enters the lawn, anticipating more grub-revealing shovelwork, or perhaps the leftover chocolate chip pancakes from the morning’s repast.  They are happy birds indeed and reward us with their eggs – five from four hens the other day, wow! – which they leave in secret little roosts they choose about the premises.

being the ghoul i’m not afraid of after all

More strawberries. I’m standing at the kitchen sink going through the latest large colander full from my husband’s efforts. I’d left them covered on my counter (instead of in the fridge) for two days and so a few of them have gone bad, a few of them have gone too soft or have mold. I think of myself as the kind of flibbertigibbet who’d just debate for a minute and then throw the whole batch in the trash. As my husband says, Kelly, it’s fine, we have so many more. But my actions sometimes show me different than how I imagine myself, because instead I stand there and pick through them, carefully winnowing the bad from the good, taking tiny nicks out of tender berries to remove the soft spots. I think how amazing it is, while alive the ability we have to know with the merest touch of our thumb the difference from a perfectly ripe berry, to one that has gone over to the decaying process; perhaps not something I could write a standard operating procedure for here, but if you stood with me at my sink you’d see what I mean immediately and you’d take your own small knife up and we’d talk about other things while we did the bowl full.

I am thinking of one of my character flaws, something so innate it’s like an ego-twin whose shadowy form has followed me most of my adult life. In comparison, giving up smoking or cursing would be much easier*; it’s almost hard to isolate or describe this thing I’m rolling about in my mind, and it’s certainly a bit humbling when I get my hands around it and begin to see it’s shape. I’m thinking of my tendency in my close relationships to account actions vs. words and, if I find them not in accord, to judge or resent these offenders for this “sin”.

The friend who airily maintains he only has a beer now and then but is clearly an alcoholic. The acquaintance who says over and over she’d love to see more of me but does not make the time and effort to do so. My mother who insists she’s independent and enjoys being alone, but who has been so quick upon widowhood to begin thinking about and searching for a new man (incidentally, I meet her boyfriend this afternoon). The friend who goes on soliloquies about punctuality and integrity, but has last-minute canceled on many of our plans together.

It is so very important I pause here and clarify, because the “sin” I respond to is nuanced. It’s not that I am lacking in quality friendships or obsess on those that are less quality. I do not judge my mother for dating on her own schedule (in fact, I have not once teased her in any way about it – which for me indicates a good deal of restraint!). I am realizing when I write this that my character flaw, as I call it, only rears it’s head when I am close to someone. It’s as if after giving myself in some way to someone the disconnect between their actions, their behaviors, and their words will begin to seem like a personal affront. They are asking me to listen to them, to care about them, to pay attention to who they are, and to bring my own integrity to the table – then asking me to look the other way when their repeated real-life actions contradict their heartfelt words. The words say, “I am like this, I care about that,” but their behavior belies this. They are my friend and want my friendship to include my honesty and intelligence, but then they want me to suspend these qualities so they can spin out their more comfortable concepts of themselves.

And yes. I know “they” are asking none of this. This is just how it feels.

As I write this I realize how very incorrect I am to allow myself to feel slighted by someone else’s difficulties or personal disconnects. Because no one who “sins” in my scenario is beyond my understanding when I focus and consider the individuals who offend me in this particular way. The women who say they want friendship but repeatedly do not nourish it – and there have been many – are often just very busy people. This is such a typically-voiced mantra in so many of the friendships I’ve had in the last decade (“Oh, I’d love to sew, I’d love to learn yoga, I’d love to spend more time such-and-such“) that I have at least learned to notice especially those who put time in to what they say they value – including Me. As for my mother, she is to some degree independent – everyone is – but more importantly, I would guess she does not give herself permission to self-identify as lonely (many people eschew that word or concept quite vigorously, especially when it’s true). Alcoholism? I am still sorting that one out.

As for the tacit agreement my friends and family at times seem to require – the requirement I do not speak up and say, “Yeah, you say that, but I notice this” – even behaving as my best self I am unsure what to do here. I love my friends all the more knowing in the particular ways they are human, they have flaws – but I also feel clumsy when I am honest with them, and I worry that I have hurt feelings when I’ve done thus. Sometimes I wonder if this is a part of being female; there are many unspoken codes about what you’re allowed to say, what you should say, the quid pro quo of you stroke me, I’ll stroke you (I believe women do this very much with regard to things moral!). I wonder if loving someone deeply, being interested and courageous enough to truly know them, and being able to understand down at the depths of my gut what it’s like to be human may not make up for when I unwittingly or deliberately break these rules.

Maybe people are more rugged than I give them credit. I myself have not yet encountered that person, that “monster” who says the things about me I want no one to voice aloud. There is no nemesis out there I will avoid because they love me and see keenly into me and “out” me for my unfavorable traits. My favorite and best-held friends have been those who have had the courage to speak out and tell me what they notice about me – even if it’s not praise. Those people are rare, I confess. Either it is something about me in particular that is intimidating – or uninteresting! – or many people truly do see it as a gaffe or impermissible to say, “I see this about you, do you see it too?” and merely wait for the response.

* Nothing would be harder than giving up coffee, however.

this garden is raising my progeny

This morning finds Sophie sleeping downstairs and Nels facedown across our bed as I do yoga in our large, open bedroom upstairs. As I relax into child’s pose I hear my son whisper “Mama”; he’s awake, his body assuming the identical posture – one that looks very natural indeed for a child. He’s half hidden by blankets, his hair over his face and his eyes and mouth smiling.

For a while he’s content to watch me. Eventually he slides out of bed and pads over just as I’m rolling into the plow position. I unfold my body to the mat to perform a bridge and he lies directly on top of me, and suddenly the warmth and delicious smell of his skin meld into my senses. I allow the heat from my body’s work to dissipate and relax into something that is barely exercise, a playful gentleness as I hold him and rock from pose to pose: reclined butterfly, a spinal twist. Like a little monkey he moves with me, his gentle strength matching mine. “Next is kiss pose,” he whispers. My face is buried in his neck, in his hair. The yoga session I’d been following guaranteed “clarity”; indeed I am feeling it.

My morning continues with both children in a gentle, open fashion. My daughter awakens, eats breakfast, and returns to her bedroom to clean it as I’d asked. We are packing up library books washing faces and hands, making ready for the day. Sitting on the couch with my son’s head in my lap, I’m brushing his teeth and I start talking to him about school next year, but he whispers to me instead Sophie broke a toy, the one she got from the pet store… I realize most of the time I want to talk to the children about something of import in their lives they are not ready or particularly interested in hearing it. I’m learning to wait. It occurs to me today that adults are like this too; how much more graceful it would be to know the right moment when it comes and not push otherwise. I must remember this.

In the afternoon after a lunch date (Ralph took Nels; I took Sophie) the kids and I return home. My children keep drifting back outside as I move about the kitchen; taking the ends off green beans, sauteing garlic and washing herbs, chopping apples and squeezing lemons, kneading bread and kneading and rising and forming and rising. I have given up on constant companionship from my ever-growing children, who never tire of things to do without aid of television or video games. No, my favorite afternoons are in the kitchen, cooking, fixing a new pot of coffee, as the kids come and go and, come look Mama, today’s distractions are a orb weaver, the very first lupine to bloom, new peonies.

this evening’s quotables

6 PM Sophie, after mourning (and I mean mourning, lots and lots of weeping even whilst biking) the loss of tonight’s swim team practice*:

“To help myself feel better, I planted one of Nels’ nasturtiums. I named it Big Babie.”

She later went on to make a special half-gallon jar labeled such, for watering that flower only.

8 PM Sign in my children’s “restaurant”, name of Punkin Jack’s:

Attengon, song singers! This week on Tusday is:
Sing your onw song by Tusday

New menu, ibid:

PIZZA *ceese *peperoni *pepers *mushrooms
STIR FRY (prans, boccoi, staek, pork, musrooms, & snow peas)
COMING SOON birthday cacke

(Seriously, with the spelling! You are seven and five! Don’t make me put you in school!)

10 PM Nels, standing on kitchen counter in undies-only, every rib and muscle visible in his long torso, hunting for the many pints of freshly-canned strawberry jam my mom brought us today:

“Jam with… butter… jam… um… urgh…” (swaying and rubbing eyes)

Nels actually spent all day eating, including homemade scones with whipped cream; pizza; most of my salad (iceberg lettuce, mozzarella cheese, black olives, bleu cheese dressing); an abomination of a sundae that included bubble gum and cotton candy ice creams, chopped up bananas, white chocolate chips, strawberry and chocolate toppings, and sprinkles; fresh broccoli and carrot sticks with ranch; a Rice Krispie treat; quiche with basil, spinach, oven-dried tomatoes; cucumbers; milk; and garden asparagus and strawberries. It’s only natural he’d end up staggering on my kitchen counter rummaging for jam like a drunk bear.

* Story to follow.

a berry bacchanal

Last night at a party a fascinating gentleman and I got to talking. Among other things, he told me a visit to a Childrens Hospital will make one an atheist, then and there.

The reverse concept occurs to me as I’m at my kitchen sink topping and washing the huge bowl full of strawberries my husband has brought in from our garden: I could become a believer based on this fruit. These berries are amazing. They are almost a pornographic depiction of the word “strawberry”, the word “fruit”. So tender it seems ludicrous they could stand their own weight in the bowl, yet they do. They are each perfect, not a blemish, rounded and shining, glossy. So fragrant it’s almost overpowering, yet one does not tire of them. Biting into one and I do not encounter the wooden stem and the flavorless sadness of the berries that ship to our stores; these melt in my mouth, they redefine the word red with their taste, they dissolve in a joyous surrender to being eaten. They grew just a few steps away from where I’m now washing and cutting them.

My mother will be picking up most of this to begin canning. Everyone is getting a good deal here; I insist I don’t like to garden – but I love the food that comes out of the garden, and I love to cook. My mother similarly loves to prepare food, especially in large batches. The only one that grumbles a bit is Ralph, who gets a workout on his back picking the fruit.

I cut and cut and cut the tops off, honing my ability to save as much as possible of the prized flesh. A selection of perfectly glossly dark red berries go in a bowl for tonight’s dessert (including shortcake made with eggs from our hens, yay!), the rest in a large bag in the fridge, added to the ones frozen previously; “putting food by”, experiencing the earth’s bounty.

the little red schoolhouse

I think I created a tremendous amount of goodwill with my children this weekend. Bolstering myself for two days without Ralph’s strengths, his performance of helpmate, his adult conversation, I made damned sure to focus my energies on the home front. All I did this weekend was cook, clean, and play with my kids. This ended up including a lot of outdoor time in the sun, home cooking, and company to share meals. It also ended up including two days of calm Mama and calm, happy kiddos.

So after Ralph returns to work today the children awake just in love with me. At their request we play a game – that is lasting even now at 9:30 PM, as I clatter out these few words and the children finish their evening bath: the game is School. This is a simple game – I am “teacher”, they “students”. We do schoolwork, sure – but mostly we couch everything in terms as if we were performing a series of ordered tasks. The pets become “school cat” and “school dog”, the children happily clean their room (I am not kidding), Sophie thumbs through a cookbook to chose the “cafeteria” meals, we shop for those meals and we discuss the costs of the ingredients.

The children like the game because we are all in it together. I am not counting on them to play without making messes while I busy myself with this or that. Today I do not snap at them; I speak respectfully, and carefully. They do the same.

3 PM we head back out of the house to the quilt shop in Aberdeen. Nels has opted out of sewing the quilt he is half done with; Sophie volunteers to finish his when hers is done. With the help of the shop owner we decide he will make placemats instead – a more instantaneous gratification for a five year old. While Sophie sews my son joins me at the next door coffee shop and plays chess while I read the paper. Home and we must feed the chickens and pack for Sophie’s swimming class this evening.

It’s almost ten: I am summoned downstairs where my daughter has ordered the kids’ room into a restaurant, complete with a “meal” (actually, gummy candy) in the form of hot dogs, pizza, hamburgers, fries, and coke. Tomorrow Nels goes to one of his last days at his real “school” (the co-op preschool he spends 7.5 hours a week in). I count myself as happy I spent a day without shrieking like a harpy nor seeing my children fight like they are sometimes prone to.

the butterfly effect

Last night as we slept I was vaguely aware of my son rolling and moaning in his sleep. In the morning he arises crying with a fever (101), his body hot to the touch, cheeks flushed, a very sad little guy.

I am grounded at home. My plans canceled, priorities shifted.

My husband removed pizza dough from the freezer last night to thaw. After Nels falls back into a fitful sleep in the early afternoon, I decide to use the dough to make a veggie calzone. Sophie grates cheese and cuts broccoli; I blanch the latter with the handful of green beans Nels chose at the market the other day.

My daughter ventures out into the sunlight to choose the herbs for the pastry. As she snips with kitchen scissors she gets very excited about herbs – specifically, gifting and selling them. She begins to cut them (we have a lot) and arrange beautiful bouquets in canning jars and glass dishes. I tell her to stop, wait – we have to figure out who these will go to. She decides to give them, along with tender broccoli shoots, to my mother (who will visit later in the day) and our friends who live a few blocks away. The rest she will put in packets to sell at the Public Market.

I tell her I can’t go with her to distribute greenery while Nels sleeps – but I ask if she thinks she can walk down to our friends’ house on her own. She thinks she can. I know Sophie, and I know she is the perfect authority on her own limitations. So we talk a bit about the trip – she tells me to come looking for her in ten minutes if she’s not back, which I find very sensible. She runs off and emerges dressed in her new robot t-shirt and an old-fashioned ankle-length skirt, both items I’ve sewn for her on a whim. I feel a moment of gladness she still loves the clothes I make for her. She leaves, glancing at the meter-reader as she floats down the walk, her braid down the back of her shirt, the herbs bursting out of the glass. I wash dishes for a bit, half-lazily, then take a fresh glass of water upstairs for my son who will wake soon. I watch out the window down the alley my oldest has ventured upon and I wonder at how quickly things change – the asparagus in full stalks out of the bed in the garden, the azalea in full bloom. A child who goes off on her own with confidence and gladness.

Being a parent sometimes means, for me, watching my job description change – and ultimately vanish. My daughter embarked on a series of projects with confidence; not needing me, getting phone calls, making phone calls, going on walks, commerce, setting up a sleepover with my mom and walking out the door all packed with nary a look over her shoulder. This means I’m doing my duty right, I suppose. It half feels like pride in a job well done, half feels like vanishing.

So later today I don’t mind to spend a good part of the day holding my son’s hot, dry little body in our sun-washed loft.

blessed be the ties that bind generations

Yesterday afternoon my mother returned from her two-month visit with family in southern California. She called from a few minutes away, intending to drive straight to my house. I know she loves me and all, but she really loves my kids. Not to put too fine a point on it, but she is bat-shit crazy about them. When she called we were on our way out to the Deli for Nels’ birthday breakfast, so I asked if we could meet her there.

The sentiments are definitely returned: upon hearing she was in town the kids brushed their teeth in record time and bundled themselves into the car. We pulled up to the restaurant and my mom came outside; my kids and my mother snapped together like magnets, like gravitational pull itself. My mom had tears in her eyes and all through breakfast the children couldn’t stop beaming into her face and moving as close as she’d let them. I had to look away, it was oddly dazzling and crazy. I took pictures but the g-d camera card wasn’t loaded. It doesn’t matter, because we all hold these moments in our hearts.

My mother’s return established not only the immediate ebb and flow of dinner invitations, excited talk, and dates, but was kicked off with a breathless exchange of gifts – by “exchange” I mean, she had a lot of gifts for us. New toys, new clothes, gourmet chocolates, and – my favorite, of course – several yards of luscious barkcloth. I extended a dinner invitation for later in the evening (Nels’ home birthday dinner) and my son begged to stay at her house for the afternoon. Her arrival, the sunny weather, it was like a holiday. Oddly, living closer to my parents has made our time apart even richer. I am confident our move was a good thing in this regard.

Dinner Awaits
Last night’s dinner preparations: Chinese cold asparagus salad, butter fried tofu, chickpea flour pizza, cucumber salad, and sticky rice with tamari, peanut sauce, and sweet chili sauce. In the morning I gave Nels a little questionaire regarding his cake: he got to choose the shape, flavor, and frosting (round, Devils’ Food, and chocolate, resp.). I baked the cake with Sophie and her friend Lily while Nels spent the afternoon with his grandma. The kids resumed their swimming lessons this evening (Nels after a hiatus of almost two years). And for dinner we had my mother as well as our friends Mickey and Jasmine over.

Rock Cress, Trilliums, Tomato Starts, Daffodils, Silk Dress
We hit the HQX Public Market today. The selection was so lovely I spent the remainder of my waitress earnings, allowing Nels to load a cardboard box with cut and live plants to give his grandma. I also bought two soaps (Garden Carrot and Honey) and lime body lotion from my friend Sara’s lovely repetoire, six tomato starts, and some trilliums for our living room.

Spring feels good.