I’ve been singing “Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa” over the last day, to myself. The Dusty Springfield version, of course; there is no other version. While I’m sewing or working her voice pierces my heart. I can sing as dramatically as I like, in front of my children. In front of no one else, in fact. Maybe I’ll grow a little less shy, or perhaps my children are just the most special people in my heart, and who can know the unvarnished Me.
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.
I often think I somehow had more energy when I was drinking. It seemed I could get up in the morning, take quantities of coffee, and put to use intense reserves of power – cleaning, cooking (a great deal of cooking, wonderful dishes), writing, sewing, active parenting, and constantly hatching up those plans and dreams – taking future trips into all the great things I’d do or become.
I haven’t had a drink in almost three years and in that time I’ve stepped on a path of spiritual practice. I’m sober which is a rare way of life, at least in the country I’ve been raised in. For me, it’s a life more vibrant, more unexpected, and altogether more wonderful than I could have dreamed Life to be.
Still – now it seems I get less done, I have less to show for myself, my parenting is no longer “supermom” and is instead much more the role of a mentor, much more about unconditional love and steadfast faith. Admittedly the house is still relatively tidy and the meals are delicious but a great deal of that is courtesy of my partner – who has more strength and joyous energy than any person I know. You ever watch our big dog Hutch running, bounding with his big muscles and exuberant body language? That’s Ralph. He can run and run and run – figuratively, and literally.
I have changed, though. It is said alcohol numbs us somehow. I think that is true, and I’ve spent years now studying, and I try to observe rather than analyze. I see the end results of the drinking lifestyle in those who’ve come to see they have a problem, and want to recover – those like me. I see the desire for “numb” in the social media posts and the casual conversations of those who still drink – they drink to relax, to feel better, to “reward” themselves after a hard day, to believe they are enjoying themselves. I don’t know who’s really enjoying themselves and who has that deep pit of awful in their belly, and a head full of angry scribbles. It’s not my job to know, it’s their job. Here’s what I know: many never figure it out in this lifetime. All I can do is be here for those who want help, and love all people unconditionally. That job keeps me busy enough.
Leaving drinking behind changed my life – second only to having children. I would have told you the quantity and frequency of my alcohol consumption didn’t have a significant effect on me – but I would have been wrong. This is the great mystery of living in denial. We believe we are okay. We believe other people have the problems. We are blind to our own selfishness.
Now that I’m not taking alcohol or mind-altering substances, I sure get to experience more reality! This reality keeps unfolding before me and it’s amazing, exhilarating – and often, exhausting. My feelings are stronger than I knew; my body aches here and there and I seek to “fix” it but my doctor says it’s because I’m getting older. Even my kidney disorder, one I was born with – this mysteriously had a near-complete “remission” from symptoms from about age 17 to age 34 – which corresponds to when I was actively drinking.
This morning I put together a cake for friends; I cuddle my at-home child when he wakes, briefly, from a distressing dream. I’m folding up tattered towels and washing dishes in soapy hot water. I am writing emails to a few dear friends who are struggling. In a few moments we are going for a swim, and then taking lunch. I am traveling out to Wishkah to cook alphabet soup with a classroom of sixth grade children. I’m letting my dog in the car although my daughter groans and rolls her eyes when she has to share a seat with him. I am meeting up with a friend in the evening; I am holding space for her. Tonight I hope to put my arms around my husband, and pet the cat who jumps on my lap the moment I sit down.
My life changed because over time I began to Want What I Have. Even now my feelings and my aches and pains, I get a little friendlier every day, a little more peace, a little more clarity.
It took a long time getting here and I hope I can stay here a bit longer.
A few months ago Ralph emulated this really terrible voice, saying really awful things, by way of demonstrating our rabbit’s internal monologue. What Ralph said – in an awful, high-pitched scream-voice – was so foul that I will not write it here.
And of course, the children heard. And of course, one of the children, I’m not saying who, let’s just say this child’s name is “Nels H.”… no wait, that’s too obvious – “N. Hogaboom” – anyway, ONE of these children delights in how incredibly naughty Ralph was with his Bun-Bun impression so this child has been parroting this shrill, mean voice and repeating this really rude thing. And – well, I mean, I try not to laugh. Because when you look at our rabbit – who helped me knock out a mango and a blaxploitation reboot yesterday evening – and how he hunches down with this serene but hostile expression like he might straight up CUT you, then we’re like, Yeah, that’s what he sounds like alright.
The Hoga-critters are settling down a little bit now that foster-kitty Peppy has gone off to be spayed and returned to her mama. I’m kicking at the grass a little, because “losing” a foster placement is weirdly tough. You wouldn’t think so, and yet – there it is. It’s like I keep thinking how I’ll never see the wee girl again. But the whole point of helping I guess, is to help, and then let people (and animals) off on their way, wherever they need to go. There’s no real payoff, anyway, or at least not in this lifetime. It’s just a practice, like everything we do, whether we think of it as practice or not.
This week sort of gradually slid into the toilet. I tried to avert this a time or two but finally, I just kind of let it happen. Yesterday I was obliged to cancel my afternoon cooking session with Phee’s class; I ran out of gas (or more specifically, gas money), and I was ill-prepared to buy food for the session. A sunny day Friday gave way to a fierce, soggy, surly one today. Our venus fly trap caught a moth and it took the insect a full twenty four hours to die a gasping, vampire-death.
Misread cues. Physical pain. Fear. A friend injures himself, goes into hiding. The painful, pinched twinge returns to my right knee – even after all the care and TLC I’ve afforded it. My pajamas are falling into shreds at the heel; my underthings aren’t much better off. The car’s brakes can’t be put off much longer. The pantry is downtrodden and uninspiring.
Still, there are bright spots. I find a recipe for a Victoria Sandwich, and buy butter with small change; the confectionary is put together, it rests overnight, and is devoured with delight by the family. My mother buys Nels lunch a few times, which keeps him in happy spirits and hearty nosh. On one such outing I tell my mother a story and I laugh so hard tears stream down my face; she is confused, but after a bit she begins to laugh as well.
In bed, and Ralph turns aside to set his alarm. I take this cue to silently and fiercely tickle-attack our son, who has snuggled between us. Nels ripples out in laughter – his particular musical, effervescent laughter – and he tries to yell for his father. Ralph turns around – slowly (he already knows what I’m about), and as he turns I pull away from our son and I affect an innocent air. “Dad! Dad! She attacked me!” Nels is twisting, rolling about, grasping at me with fists, giggling helplessly. “What?” Ralph asks. “What are you talking about?” Nels is delighted and exasperated. He loves games like these.
We continue in similar fashion, a few more rounds of stealth-tickling (by me) while Ralph finds a pretense to look away. Eventually, things wind down. I’m tired from wrestling my son – who grows stronger and stronger each day. I roll back to my side of the bed to journal; Ralph returns to his work online.
It is silent a beat, then Nels says, “Dad. Dad. Turn around again.”
From an essay Phoenix penned this year:
What is a hero? A hero is a girl or boy, straight or gay, who has done something good for themselves or others. No doubt heroes are all over the planet. Heroes range from a fearless gladiator to bees who bake Japanese Sparrow Wasps to death. A lone wasp first visits the honeybee’s hive and attacks a few bees, then smears the hive with a chemical stored in the Sparrow Wasp’s body. That signals the wasps to attack. Almost all of them come at once and prepare to slaughter the honeybees, but the bees come out and start flapping their wings to create an intense heat. A couple degrees more and the bees can die. In fact, some bees die in the process but the others just push them aside and keep going.
Our next paycheck arrives paid Monday, the 10th. I am so close to meeting my somewhat ambitious goal: to enter the next pay period without debts (this means: bad checks floating around out there, or bills we were supposed to pay last pay cycle but pushed up to the present one).
I am so close. About $100 off. But, who knows? It might happen. I am patient. Ralph is owed reimbursement for some services; perhaps that money will come in before Monday. Donations come in here and there from readers and friends online. Sometimes I get an Etsy sale or some goofy thing.
I’ve learned that managing the family’s money is exciting – it really is.
These last two weeks I have been exacting and working very hard to accomplish my goal – employing some goofy and some practical measures (we decreased our energy bill by $75 this month), selling a thing or two, performing the kind of small but meaningful money-saving operations that are my calling as the at-home worker [Queen] bee – and lastly, benefitting from a few donations from readers. Bless you, readers.
Our dog’s medical expenses – severe salmon poisoning and hospitalization last summer – have been significant in this last six months’ 20-30% shortfall. Hutch’s standing debt is intense, equal to that of the four human Hogabooms. But his debt, unlike ours, could be catastrophic. As of the end of this month, if we don’t pay the remaining $1600 balance, we will receive the sum total of deferred interest in one fell swoop and then begin getting charges on that amount – the typical Damoclean-assery of credit card companies.
This is distressing – but, what can I do? Hell, I am impressed we’ve paid down the additional $900 that was involved in the experience. I don’t regret caring for our dog and keeping him from a grisly death. I am proud of how we care for our animals, even if the learning curve can be a bit distressing at times!
I took over our family’s accounting and finances a few months ago. It turns out, I love it. It is difficult to do the family thing on one income; it seems it is harder even than it was predicted to be, twelve years ago when we made our decision to live as a single-income family (I even remember where I was when Ralph and I did decide!). Not only do I have no regrets, but it seems the experience keeps teaching me more about gratitude, about planning – and about laughing a little when plans go awry (as they usually do!)
Today, life is exciting. It’s not scary, it’s an adventure. Now and then anxiety gets the better of me; but there again, too, I am patient. Patience pays off where almost nothing else does.
I think that’s a bit heroic – don’t you?
small stone #28
And a head-scarf
Big hoop earrings.
small stone #29
Down to a simple shift and briefs.
Rounded thighs, a little bowl-belly
Little cactus flower.
small stone #30
got swallowed up
I have four singles in my purse, and one week until payday. Oddly though, I am not panicking. I have paid almost every bill we owe – well anyway, I have paid all I could. If we can keep gas in the car and food in the fridge we’ll make it to another check.
Another check. Yes sometimes the whole thing seems pointless. I hear you. I hear you.
So of course a feast is in order, a feast with friends – tomorrow. I juggle three separate cards with meager balances and buy: flour, dried beans, oranges, two kinds of pepper, zucchini, milk, eggs. Home and I bring out the elk burger T. brought me; thawing for tomorrow’s tacos. I knead up a double-batch of pan de los muertos. Making bread for my friends, for my children. My son zests and juices oranges, then eats the messy remains, sighing with pleasure. Baking feels very good. I cannot do all things but I can soak yeast in sugar and milk and need in anise and make an orange glaze and little tiny bone-shapes on top of delicious round loaves.
Small blessings, luxuries more meaningful than the ones people chase. The glittering sun outside and our pristine fall weather. A box of fabrics for clients’ projects; delicious yardages I now pretreat and hang, ready for sewing. My children remove the dog to the bedroom so we can give our little bunny a run in the living room. He is oddly handsome and I wonder, Is Bun Bun especially cute or are all rabbits beautiful? This little rabbit, five months old and the prettiest snowiest white and dusted grey, he has a new home now and is warmer and fed fresh things – broccoli, today, and carrots. He chomps down his fresh vegetables with a gusto you wouldn’t think a rabbit would have. He saucily lopes through my living room like a BOSS.
The kids bash the porch’s pumpkin to bits; home from a walk and the dog steals a bite, quickly. Nels makes himself a salad with romaine leaves and roasted pumpkin seeds (a simple recipe and the best I’ve had – butter and salt only). Going through the kids’ clothes and sorting, the children growing so fast: homesewn hand-me-downs off to friends, less well-made clothes off to the Salvation Army, a few things tattered enough to be thrown out. My daughter reads through her book again lazing on the couch, long legs in jeans and tennis shoes up on the coffee table, frank brown eyes following along in her quietude. I read a lot as a child but now it is my turn to wash the dishes, fold the towels, rinse the tub.
Practice, practice, practice.
Small Stone #1
White rag polishes the soft wood
Scent of fir
All these years later
I’d walked out with dinner plates still dirty and left it all behind. My husband either would do the washing up or he wouldn’t but I couldn’t spend another minute in the house for this or that reason. I’d spent a large part of the day cooking: homemade rolls and slow-roasted orange pulled pork; a coleslaw with green apple and a pineapple marmalade upside down cake with cold cream to pour on top, and that was just dinner, not even what I made for breakfast and lunch.
The bread: satisfying. Handling dough, the mixing and oiling and steam-bath and fashioning and glazing and baking, wiping down traces of flour off the counter and the mixer. A lot of love into a simple food that many take for granted.
Now, though, it’s cold outside and I’m glad I don’t have to wait for the bus more than about eight minutes. I buy a punch pass from the driver as soon as I step on board, before I can think about it being twenty dollars and we have four more days until payday. The pass has a gold-leaf little bit embossed so people can’t fraud one. I zip up my coat and sit mid-way back. Riding the bus in the later hours is quite pleasant , although I need to really know when to catch one though, as they are few and far between and I don’t want to get stuck in Crackton, Aberdeen in this kind of cold. The interior lights are red and low and there are only a few passengers and they’re not rowdy. Like I said, quite pleasant, not as loud or as odorous as day trips.
I look up at the signs I’ve seen most my life up above the windows. “If You’ve Found This Number, Give Yourself A Break And Call”, followed by the phone contact for Narcotics Anonymous. I feel this little thrill sitting there, wondering how many people have happened on that sign and felt the familiar flutter in their gut and an accusatory jab, then cut their eyes away and tried to blot out their intolerable reality a bit longer.
We head up the hill to the hospital and back down with no one getting off or on. I was up at the hospital earlier; a friend gave me a ride to see another friend who was suffering internal bleeding. I flick my eyes up to the second floor and say a little prayer. Later in the afternoon, after our visit, I’d gone out with the ill friend’s wife and we ran our dogs at the bay. Two Bassett hounds and my Hutch, two hundred pounds of dog, and Hutch was in the lead being awesome!
I’m thinking though while I text and wait for my stop, I want for nothing. Both cars broke but one’s in the shop at least and hopefully it’s something we can fix, and the fact my husband isn’t upset about any of this helps me a great deal. I don’t want anything, not really, I am content with things the way they are. I’m happy to get more blessings but I’m okay if for a day or two things are tough. I was thinking maybe I’d want to take the family on a sunny vacation somewhere and you could even get a credit card for that sort of thing maybe? Even this option is something open to me, something we probably won’t do, but who knows, maybe we could do it. I’m okay with my thoughts accompanying me against the damp, cold glass, and my mind doesn’t hang on or cling or run neither.
[ my son makes memes. like no one’s business. ]
Fall seems to be an incredibly creative time of year for me, and others in my life notice. I get a lot of compliments on my purple hair. In fact in Grays Harbor I’ve heard nothing but compliments. Children are the most openly admiring. But not a day goes by grownups don’t say a few nice things as well. Women tend to compliment; men say something flirty and sometimes even touch me without permission (boo).
But in the car on our way to deliver a pie, my daughter tells me I look gorgeous. It’s pretty wonderful to be loved the way they love me. I know I’m one of my children’s heroes. I know they think I am beautiful and amazing. It’s quite humbling. It makes me feel less self-conscious and it sets a place for me in the world.
Just before I leave for my volunteer concierge shift at the Gallery I hear the stomping of feet and sense that kind of bundled-up energy children bring in the new rains. Wrapping myself in my scarf I step into the kitchen and I shit thee not, seven “extra” kids in my house, all boys. All rowdy, but completely obliging to my eldest child’s commands (wash hands, set the table, et cetera). All of them there for a fête Nels has planned: the celebration of Harris’ birthday. My son has made tea and set out cups and made cards. The children all sing the cat “Happy Birthday”. Phoenix kicks them out after I leave; we have a whitelist of children allowed inside while Ralph and I are gone.
Today in the kitchen: steakhouse bread (sort of like pumpernickel but without caraway, and made up WITH eggs and coffee), two layered chocolate and roasted coconut cream pies with Mexican vanilla. Then a soup the kids cook up while Ralph’s in Olympia: ham, chickpeas, spinach noodles, and fresh peas. Cherry tomatoes on the side and a big glass of milk for each kiddo. They eat sitting with me in my sewing room while I hum through one hundred and sixty-five half-square triangles on my old Singer.
Quilting and gallery sitting, and a few minutes talking with friends. It rained today but I thought ahead and I have proper raingear for the season – boots and coat anyway – and I’ve got proper raingear for the kids too. Food security, and clothing security, and shelter. A fortunate family.
Home now and it’s late; four cats slumber in four chairs. The house is full of the smell of baked bread and the flickering of candles.