a stutter step that you hear when you’re falling down

The onset of the colder weather is a very odd and precious time for us because, like I imagine in days of Yore, it usually involves a period of compromised resources and more meager habits, an odd preciousness of more carefully-selected enterprises and purchases and a more dear experience of daily life.

Case in point: car troubles could be a source of anxiety if I let them. We already only have one car working and it’s not working well. The worst problem (of a handful), the most serious that I can tell, is a leaking of at least two seals which lends itself to an extremely wet interior now that the rain has set in (we’re talking squishy sounds when you step in, they’d be satisfying if they didn’t herald a fall-apart we can’t afford) which means children who have to hold groceries and my purse and their books on their lap (for fear of water damage), and even rusty bits beginning to fall off the car (frowny-face). We do not have a Plan at this point, or rather we could have lots of Plans if we had a bit more funds. Fine, whatever. We will survive. In fact I look forward to whatever future we have – as far as a car goes – as the current one is not sustainable.

Today I worked extra-hard, despite a lack of sleep and that nagging irritation I was seriously behind on sewing work (which I am), to put the house in order and love up the kids and make a lovely, nourishing dinner for my husband when he arrived home from his late-night class. I haven’t really mentioned this much but Ralph Hogaboom is being rode hard and put away wet at work since the very busy summer, without abatement so far. Ralph is a stellar man and as you might expect a heroic Systems Analyst (or twatever they’re calling them these days). His job is kind of both of ours in the sense I can listen and advise and think about his position and be entirely impressed with what he delivers. It’s not that I couldn’t respect (or sleep with) a man who did only his lukewarm-best in the nine daily hours he’s ransomed to Strangers… it’s just, knowing about his work reminds me of why I like him so much. Enough to breed with him, as it turns out.

In addition (today) I kept getting distracted by our children, so funny and alive and particular. Nels bobs around playing his various games and requires my participation at times; he delivers kisses and hugs and tells me how Pretty I look today. I take my daughter, after soccer (practice goes an extra half-hour because they are enjoying themselves) and we get some milkshakes. Her body is wiry and cold and she comes to the grocery store with me and pushes the cart and is the Best Company Ever. My last $50 of the week, gone, parts of it spent to make her suggested dinner (spinach and bacon quiche, served alongside a multicolored salad and some rich red chianti for Ralph and I). After dinner, at home, a hot bath for both of us.

Of note: today I also wrote a small magnum opus: “part 2 (.Tenderness.)” at Underbellie (a follow-up for “Hi, my name is Kelly. I’m a recovering Good Parent (Part 1)“, penned about three weeks ago). Response has been wonderful including a specific and incredible Thank You email that reminds me why I write.

Sometimes I write a rather polished post and other times, like tonight, I write until I’m about to collapse into a hot bath and then bed. What are you gonna do.

rapscallion kitchen

Tonight was Phoenix’s first soccer practice this season.

The Team

Field

(Here’s our daughter her first year (2008) and then last year. She is looking more like a young lady every day.)

While watching I leaned on my bike and talked to J., a winsome and buxom freckled mother I knew from homeschool circles (our daughters were also in the same public kindergarten class two years ago). I spent even more conversation with new acquaintance N., a small woman with beautiful skin and a soft girlish voice who had much poorer English than my Spanish (a rare event as most native Spanish speakers I meet have better English than I have of their language), and I was pleased to have got along fine with her in conversation although I kicked myself for not knowing some of the verbs crucial to our conversation (juegan, which rang a bell but I couldn’t place it and she couldn’t elaborate; I looked up when I got home). I self-identified as having meager Spanish but she told me she could understand me: “Entiendo tu español”, actually I think she said “se entiende” which was a bit more encouraging even, and I am pleased enough with all this. She asks about uniforms and I tell her I don’t know what’s in store – la año pasado no numeros, pero todos son del mismo color; I introduce her and her daughter to another mother. I’m pleased with myself for (possibly) socially lubricating things to positive effect and not screwing anything up.  I am talkative and social anyway, and I work hard with my little brain to intuit whether someone wants to speak with me or not, which is not something I can always say with confidence I get right.

Nels and I biked back home and left our girl to come home when she was done playing afterward. It wasn’t that much longer I heard the door close and her satisfied voice saying, “I’m home!” tromp tromp tromp, shedding soccer accoutrement on the kitchen floor. “Phoenix, will you please put your soccer stuff away?” “Yes Mama.” Ha!

Tonight Ralph is in Portland at a Neutral Uke Hotel concert with friends and I’m making headway on a wonderful little sewn item, yet another surprise I cannot yet share, and I’m cutting many pieces and measuring carefully with only the smallest bits of yardage that go in the bin, the remainder of the fabric either folded (if large enough) or wrapped for donation to the local senior center which seems to love my donations and indeed I observe they sell. Sewing often means I am so incredibly not-wasteful in my remainder supplies, that I can move through yardage and thread carefully, putting up needles with remaining thread on a strip of cloth tacked to my wall, taking an inventory of fusible interfacing or half-inch elastic or needles (I wish I could buy sewing needles in bulk as I change them so often), leaving the project ready for the next day’s work, very satisfying until I see the kitten Hammy clusterfucking my serger threading which as you know, is such a joy to re-do.

While I am thus employed my son comes in the back room and tells me he’s hungry. I move about the sewing room and suggest dishes I could make for him (since Ralph isn’t here and I wanted to sew sew sew I didn’t prepare a sit-down meal). Nels asks me in the kitchen and I step in our little pantry and say, “How about a sandwich and some peaches?” selecting a can of my mother’s home-canned stuff, delicious they are, but the old lady did not clean the jars and the sugary goodness makes it stick to the shelf, and in freeing it my hand fumbles –

and in the split second before the crash registers my son says, “No peaches,” cheerfully. Then we stand there in ruin and I realize I’ve wasted the food and made a mess besides and of course miscalculated what The Boy wanted anyway! I’m completely pissed (not at anyone, just the Universe) and Nels looks at me with widened eyes and then without removing his gaze slowly reaches to his immediate right and selects the broom off the wall. “No baby, that won’t work, there’s syrup on the floor and we’d gum the broom up.”

The thing is, I could have closed the door to the pantry and left the whole mess for Ralph, and he wouldn’t have begrudged me one bit, because if there’s one person who understands how much work housework really is, it’s that man, and he would have been happy to clean it for me, to do his part. But I’m thinking of him and how hard he’s working and I clean it myself, a total mess best done carefully with wet rags, the hefty weight of syrup and laden beaches having caused the jar to break into many rough pea-sized components, many I’m leaning on with my bare palm as I assiduously wipe the mess (later as a total coincidence my Maytag washer will choke, smoke, and die while rinsing out the mircoscopic glass shards from these very rags), and eventually the job is done.

There were a half-dozen other little things, and doing the dishes and getting the new batch of pickling business ready and sewing a button on Ralph’s shirt and washing the kids’ hair and my son cleaned up the bath toys and said with a sweep of his hand and his little gap-toothed smile, “Voila!”

Oh yeah because Nels lost his first tooth last night, I forgot to mention, while entertaining a group of kids and while houseguests and my mom were over, and he was a little celebrity for a minute (today he told me while eating the cookie last night at first he thought, “There’s an almond in here!” yet it was his tooth) and there was enough chaos I could put my head against his chest and shed quick tears. First haircut, first tooth loss: these milestones change the look of a child, makes you realize how fast it all goes, makes you realize how little you really are needed for things to progress as they do.

Grass & Co.

Self-titled by Slowreader

Perfect at most social gatherings of no more than ten
Perfectly groomed people keeping tabs on what they spend
Dear, I looked and looked for days
Only arrows pointing straight between my ears
And I could almost say a sound
But I’d rather sit and stare with you my dear

i tried looking up quotes about failure but they were all depressingly bootstrappy

Today my many failures smirk from the corner of my ill-lit kitchen, leaned against the wall with arms crossed, sarcastically raising their eyebrows at my futile attempts to simply keep going. I’d been ignoring them for some time, primly folding fabric and wiping down counters and using my cheerful voice and washing and cutting up vegetables and all those typical things I do. I’d been thinking if I just kept working then pretty soon the failures wouldn’t seem so bad, and I’d have my little proofs at my competence and goodness and merit, and I’ll sweep these narratives out the gap like the dust from the back porch, close my door/mind and they will be gone.

Yet the failures stack up perfectly and make an airtight case. Many are small, incidental; some are large, oppressive. Perhaps no one wants to hear them enumerated here but I need them out of my mind, their crushing and entirely accurate little proclamations about my character and failings, their circular arguments that get louder and more tangled and mar my speech and thoughts while others around me have simply no idea how much I am preyed upon.

I’ve spent the last better part of a year ruminating on a particular encounter and unsatisfying and distressing conclusion with an acquaintance-friend. I have not given myself license to write about this freely here for fear of causing someone else pain or risking a reader taking my very vulnerable thoughts and using them against me with gossip and speculation. It is not that I assume the worst about people, it is that when I write or speak vulnerable words I do not wish to be re-traumatized by those who receive them. These are the very, very brief times I wish I had a private journal – the times I cannot synthesize my painful thoughts and speak in ways I that feel safe enough.

Yet the interaction is like a sore tooth, prodded, acutely painful, even months later. Before the final sundering took place I’d created a gift for this person. For months after dissolution I carried the gift and willed myself to send it – I believed like Thich Nhat Hanh instructs that when one is angry, one should give a (non-creepy or passive-aggressive) gift to this person, and the anger will dissolve and forgiveness ensue (this has worked for my relationships in the past), but I couldn’t bring myself to do this. I simply could not. I realized after a time I wasn’t Angry; I was (and am) Hurt.

I am hurt because at the close of our arrangement this person was a complete bully, yelling over my attempts to restore balance and discussion, bringing forth wrongs I’d committed that I’d had no concept were being experienced as such. Many of these sins brought against me were both unfair and inaccurate and at the end of this conversation the person admitted this (although did not offer apology nor attempt amends), but the words rang in my ears and are still rattling around all this time later. During our acquaintanceship this person had conducted themselves with a quiet uncomfortable evasion when I’d tried with every fiber of my being to be clear; in fact the exact misunderstanding I hoped to avoid is exactly what exploded forth in the end. This haunts me. I am not scared of bullies as a rule but when the person chooses to abuse me over the very thing I was scared might happen, my strength leaves my body and I have nothing, I am completely cowed and hurt and Done. They have Won in every sense of the word.

I know someone who must resort to bullying is a fearful person; either entirely damaged (as I do not believe in this case) or simply adhering to needs of Control and little depth of compassion. I know this. But it does not make me feel better.

Smaller and more exacting nonfulfillment on my part stares at me apace, even today while my hands busily handle my duties in false confidence.  I spent much of my Friday making foodstuffs for company (and many for storage, as we have quite the farm bounty) and in the end analysis I feel I first of all did not impress anyone unduly with my cuisine, and secondly although in my mind I realize my efforts to cook for family and friends and prepare good, whole food, these are wonderful exploits, I cannot stop the cynical voice in my ear saying I’m a silly person, a self-demeaned woman for standing at the sink and scrubbing and peeling and slicing and then sautéing and mixing and straining and gently stirring and setting aside and doing the little math in my head about feeding Ralph this or that or the children or family or company this exact thing I think they’ll love. And even though I know I feed not only my family but others, and so often (not always) my food is experienced as delicious and healing and restorative and nourishing, there’s this terrible voice telling me what I do is Nothing, it is Drudgery, it is unpaid and unmerited and not cared for. This voice makes little sense to me from a logical perspective but it has been powerful these last eight years I’ve been home doing the Work I do.

And this morning I’ve spent quite some time feeling terrible because I was requisitioned to do a sewing project and I failed. I did my best and worked hard and thought I’d done well but it turns out I’d done a few things wrong. While I tell myself Anyone Can Make Mistakes it would seem my mistakes are so much worse than others, the pain I cause others seems so much larger than I would ordinarily assume, I begin to wish I had not Tried at all, had not said Yes I Can Do This For You, had not tried something that wasn’t a guaranteed success, and I am reminded of how little my skills really are, in every way, and anything I’ve done before I was proud of recedes into a pathetically small pile, it is actually not real but rather Wishful Thinking, and every compliment others have delivered were only false platitudes, and I was a fool to enjoy them.

My previous experience of relatively rugged self-esteem was rather an attempt on my part to think I’m someone I’m Not.

I sat down to write this precisely after cooking breakfast for my daughter and before writing an overdue email to a friend. The breakfast preparations were necessary because no, not ONE MORE thing could I do incorrectly, I could do one thing right, if I was struck dead on the way back to my bedroom I would at least have fed my daughter.

The breakfast and the email are not much. But they are things I want to do, things I can do.

That will, in the end analysis, have to be good enough. Because it’s all there is.

este día en la carretera hace mucho calor

Nels is looking different today from yesterday as about thirty minutes into our biking adventures he biked right into a car (while vying for the attention of children outside in a daycare yard). The daycare employee who witnessed this (I only heard the thunk! behind me) ran inside to get Nels first an icepack then an Otter Pop for good measure. She was a beautiful, beautiful girl with deep tanned cleavage and long shiny black-brown hair and I’ll bet she even smelled nice (I didn’t lean in to check) and with her sympathy and the ice pack and the ice cream, well, Nels didn’t seem to mind being hurt so much. My son spent the next half hour wearing the pack, and as a result his black eye is slightly less gruesome than it otherwise might have been.

Ice Pack

Today started out with our typical feral rituals: the kids went outside and ate (for breakfast) marshmallows, bananas, and special dark chocolate. In the yard, half clothed. By then I’d finished my morning writings (here’s some of that) and housework so I asked them inside where they each took a big drink of milk before we biked our errands, ending up at the Central Playfield park where now no longer do we have shade-trees (cut down by the City) so the sun bakes us all and the adults who wish to talk have to shout over the sound of two highways (the trees helped absorb that too). The bathrooms are also closed down as well (Honey Buckets in the summer sun, kids – and grownups – love that sort of thing) but the pool is open from noon for a few hours and the kids? They love it. My kids were in their underwear as I hadn’t brought the suits. You know, I don’t often use the term “ghetto” but, well.

Suits Not Required

Central Playfield in Hoquiam

I ended up scrunching under a pitiful amount of briefly-supplied tent shade and talked to a father there with four of his seven kids, a handsome, deep brownish/red-skinned man who could balance with me on the proverbial non-native language teeter totter, meaning he had about as much inglés as I have español (the vast majority of native-Spanish-speakers here usually have very good English although I do meet those que no entienden). One example: he told me he and his wife were “broke” so I asked ¿Tienes el trabajo? then he managed to convey he meant, he and his wife were broke from relationship with one another and I said “Oh! Divorced. Separated. I thought you meant no tienes dinero.” Then after we’d shared where we lived and how long we’d lived there I told him, “Mi esposo trabaja en el colegio” in case he got some ideas I was a scheming single mama looking to juggle a family of nine kiddos (instead I’m rather a scheming conversationalist who loves talking to strangers like a Huge Nerd) or in case he had similar ideas (seriously? A mama out with kids in Grays Harbor is not immune from flirtations from random strangers). He had the most beautiful one year old clambering around on him, a boy with shoulder-length locks and deliciously plump limbs who took interest in my bike wheels. “Fue agradable hablar con usted,” I said to this father as we biked out, my kids soaked and newly cooled down and me as hot as ever as we headed to our little grocery store for dinner provisions.

It’s no wonder to me my kids are getting a great education as letting them out and running and biking and playing and eating and drinking means when we get home they absolutely want to read an encyclopedia or give themselves spelling/English work or learn times tables or teach themselves history (or even clean their room, as my daughter is doing at this moment). And another thing, I never hear my kids say they are “bored” – ever, which is something to ponder given we have no television or video game system! (In full disclosure, we do have a computer which they are allowed to use if I am not using it). (Also, now that I have had the hubris to even slightly brag or more accurately, take joy in a facet of our little fringe lifestyle, the children are going to immediately come inside and chant in demon-voice how bored they are).

Tomorrow our day will consist of 100% beach time out in Ocean Shores with my mother and a picnic basket and sunscreen. And that’s going to be pretty goddamned awesome.

As I type the kids run off with the various and sundry neighbors catching the ice cream truck (the frosty treat-bait has caught some full-grown, some still children); my husband on his way home is picking up fresh mozzarella for insalata caprese and tahini for tomorrow’s hummus and also – very important – a pool for our front yard. Because like many PNw’ers we don’t have air conditioning and employ the strategies of lowered blinds and open windows or fresh cooling water.

Phoenix Attempts To Rejoin Her Mistress, The Sea

From the vault: Thank you

A reader writes me an email on May 3, 2010.

As a first time reader who found your blog via a link from two Facebook friends, I just wanted to say an enormous thank you for your post written on March 5th 2010 about the devaluation of domestic work.[1. found at Underbellie]

I’ve been an at-home mom for nearly 13 years, raising three amazing boys. I love what I do, believe passionately in what I do, and feel strongly that it provides my family and myself (as a woman and writer) a better life than we would have as a dual-income family. Yet, lately, I’ve been feeling a little edgy about being at home, like maybe I don’t really need to be here anymore, that I “should” be doing something else. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, but I think what it really comes down to is that I’m struggling against an undercurrent of devaluation. I’ve had 33 years of people telling me that a good education and a good career define me, and yet I have neither of those things. After over a decade of doing “lesser work,” that undercurrent is starting to hurt.

But when I cook – oh goodness, when I cook! – or declutter a closet, or sort everyone’s laundry, or go on my son’s field trip without a second thought… Nothing compares to that. And I’ve come to know myself without all the smokescreens I could easily hide behind in the world of paid work. At home I’m just A., and A. loves her life and her family, and doesn’t need anything else to make her happy.

Anyway, that’s the a-ha moment your blog post reminded me of. I really, really thank you for that. I’m feeling rejuvenated and proud of what I do tonight. You rock.

Thanks 🙂
A.

recipe for better: cooking with beef, garlic, and wine

Today started out ass, I’ll just say it.  My head cold kept me up until very late and nearly debilitated come morning, at which point I was roused by the knock of a government official at my door.  Later my husband and I had a very tense and wasteful argument revolving around a bag of potato chips (yes, really).  Outside the wind kicked up to buffet us between bouts of sour, pissing rain.

The upswing was a while coming but once it did it kept improving.  The sun came out.  I rested, began to feel better, and went to bellydancing class.  Ralph and the kids took a long swimming date.  While out I grabbed groceries for Julia Child’s recipe for boeuf bourgingnon (the laborious, steady, soothing preparations would cheer any cook up).  In making the dish my prized stoneware roaster finally succumbed to the hairline crack it had threatened, so Sophie and I went out and bought a new enameled cast iron pot for the kitchen (this cheered me up immensely) and a Space Police Lego set and strawberry bubble tea for Sophie (this cheered her up immensely). I love my one-on-one time with the kids.  They are seriously fucking awesome.  This is when I find how much they have learned and discovered, their hopes and plans and passions and dreams.  Sophie sat next to me on the bench seat and leaned her head on my shoulder and we were fine, fine, fine.

Upon our return we invited my mother over for dinner (which included the beouf along with butter noodles and cucumber salad – delicious!) after which Ralph let our chicks out for a run in the living room.  They have gained immense stature and are lovely from the neck down with their beautiful, proud new feathers (and yet their heads are unappealing, vulture-y, and scrappy-yet-fluffy). In their aimless and semi-alarmed bobbing about they terrified my mom’s terrier so much he moved behind my legs.  He is a dear old pup.  He’s going blind and becoming fearful.  My mom is considering either springing the hefty expense of having one of his eyes operated on (to restore sight, if not depth perception) OR having him put down.  I find it hilarious she hasn’t decided which.  Of course I’m going to pressure her to do the former.

Because my children had spent much of the day playing with their father they seemed almost wild to me by days’ end, small unknown forces who kept their own counsel.  Only a few hours away from my care and my son looked taller, older, absorbed in his play.  His plans and schemes all his own.  It’s funny because in only the space of half a day I can miss them, not at all a pining feeling, more like an awareness of their absence.

it’s the mark of a Good Man to like, pick up his own socks and shit

One of the reasons I left Facebook this last summer – one of about a half-dozen not-that-big-a-deal yet cumulatively significant factors – was the depressing reflection of modern married live vis-a-vis housework and gender-substantiated parenting roles.  Case in point, status messages like: “My husband is doing the dishes tonight, I’m the LUCKIEST WOMAN ALIVE!!1!”  Oh how I wish I was joking and oh how I wish this was just a singular event.  But I’m not, and it wasn’t, and although my friends and acquaintances are free to their relationships I wanted to experience Facebook as lighthearted entertainment, not teeth-gnashing reminders of realities I occasionally need a break from.  Facebook had to go, and I don’t miss it – and yes, since you ask, I’ve found another social media service by which to fritter away my time.

So, me.  I grew up in a household where really, to keep a dude you (Lady) did the chores. Both things were equally important: having a man, that is, and doing the work around the house to make sure he stayed happy.*  Oh and by the way, I have heard every excuse in the book as to why in general, heterosexually-partnered men do roughly half the work at home of their female counterparts** (unless the female is employed out of the home and the male is not, the one exclusion): from the (supposedly) individualized “Oh but t-hee!, he just likes it messy and I like it clean!” (heard this one many times) to evo-psychology drivel: you know, Guys are meant to hunt mammoths and Laydeez weave baskets.  So if you have some of those arguments, please don’t bother.  Heard ’em all.

If I sound a little harpy-like now and then (I do!) please know that although my logical mind knows fairness in the home makes sense and should be strived for – and I am fortunate to have a partner who believes the same – in some way my emotional sense is still reeling from the training I received growing up (see above) and the crushing amounts of depressing bullshit perpetuated ad nauseam in the world around me.  And I’m still kind of pissed, and kind of looking around like, Am I taking crazy pills? Why should we give a dude a lot of praise for doing his own damn laundry?

In a way I lucked out I didn’t marry an entitled little prince when it comes to chores, housework, and parenting; but also it wasn’t just luck, of course.  Some deep part of my nature loves work, and loves keeping house – taking care of myself and my own – and bridles at the thought that I should shoulder this burden alone.  When Ralph and I began dating we had separate apartments and neither of us were particularly neat, tidy, nor even cooked or cleaned much at all (this has changed, very much, obviously).  We dated for three and a half years before marrying; and he and I may have thought we would work well together but in a very real way we were so untested for just how much work we would find in growing (and feeding! Jeebus!) a family.  You know that idea that you and your Intended are supposed to sit and chat and discuss hopes, dreams, the future, and all the values you each have and make sure in every way you are completely and totally compatible?  Yeah, whatever. Good luck with that, because at least in my life I’ve had so many things thrown at me I just had no way of predicting, and I’m not sure my husband fared better in that foresight.

Over the years I’ve observed my husband is drawn to family life innately.  There is no other way to describe it.  I mean, he regularly goes above and beyond to do everything he can for us to the point of feeling guilt when he’s away –  yes, even at worky-work (I’m not going to go into the great length I could in describing the many comments, praises, and “Superdad” monikers he’s received over the years).  This isn’t his journal, so I can’t (or won’t) speak for him; I will only say it took me a while to figure out he didn’t long for freedom from the oppressive reality of family life.  At first I thought his compulsion to be home and Parenting and Husbanding hearkened back to the days of early parenthood, when I was completely overwhelmed by my newborn and really, really needed his involvement.  I’d be like, If you say you’re going to be home a 4:45, it better not be 4:47 motherfucker, and I really meant it.  This lasted some time and was not easy on either of us (although it was, oddly, very joyful and exhilarating; I honestly think breastfeeding hormones made me a kind of Superwoman).  One benefit of our lifestyle is I remember the years with infants as being entirely resentment-free on my part; I was proud of my husband’s work and grateful I’d required his invovlement and thus didn’t, you know, secretly hate his ass in any way.

I’ve discovered though, that as motherhood became a learned skill, Ralph’s devotion did not decrease.  Inasmuch as I’ve found myself able, willing, and more or less happy to cope in the home (“with some complaints”) including tons of time with my own children – Hello! Homeschooling here! – my husband’s sense of responsibility is strong enough that it seems hardly related to me and my difficulties or successes whatsoever.  It’s a touchy thing, because it’s not my place to talk him out of his feelings, and I don’t want to be the kind of spouse who caretakes my partner’s every emotional need.  That said, I have tried to help him more of late than I did for years – help him, I suppose, in shedding his guilt when he can’t be here, or can’t do his best, or do five things at once.  Because honestly, I may be tired and underslept and never get quite get enough Me-Time and every other thing but really, it’s okay that he’s human, or has a job, or wants to do something of his own.

So today it took a lot of encouragement to get him out the door to record some music.  He was making up for my inefficiencies: I was tired from the twin strains of entertaining company and sleeping poorly (sadly, the second element made me rather lousy at the first, although I did my best) and dragging in a way worse than I can remember for past years.  This morning he mentioned four separate times he could just forget recording today, and stay home, and hang out with the kids, and all that, so I could rest. I wasn’t having it.  A few minutes later he posited he could take a kid with him to record (which has, truthfully, yielded some awesomeness before).  And I kept ushering him away: it was fine, yeah, I was tired, and I wanted to rest a bit, but it would be a good thing for him to go.  And go he finally did.

I did my best at trying with a bit of cleaning and sewing and cooking and in between I rested and watched a couple films (Mamet’s The Edge – which I enjoyed – and Heist, which I found a bit dull).  Nels fell asleep at my feet, huddled oddly under a blanket on the floor and blissfully giving me a break from his Nels-ness.  Sophie cuddled me on the couch and the first movie made an impression on her; throughout the rest of the day she would chant – in a tiny, but fierce voice – “What one man can do, another can do!” and “I’m going to kill the bear! I’m going to kill the bear!” And we made it through okay.

Ralph came home a few hours later with his “new” studio set up (a generous donation from a friend), a third song recorded (coincidentally, this year’s numerical song 2000), and his spirits a bit higher than before; and we all survived just fine, and the day slowly sort of settled like a falling leaf in the gentle autumn breeze, and here we are, just the four of us, like so many nights before and I earnestly hope so many more.

And I’m grateful for the family; for a husband who, I guess for lack of a better phrase, knows his place. Ha.

* And provided sex, and dieted to look your best: all messages my mother taught me through her actions.

** Gay couples, incidentally, have more egalitarian division of work in their household; don’t think it hasn’t occured to me that if, God forbid, really I mean God forbid, I should end up an early widow I’m not going to be dipping generously from the female dating pool.

wash, dry, rinse, repeat. try not to drink too much.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that when I can articulate a problem – often here in this journal in writing, but sometimes in person to another live human being or several live persons – the problem is almost always facilitated, solved, or changed in terms of importance and urgency.  And I do mean pretty much every time. So let’s be honest, I need to own a problem I’m having which is:

I’ve been feeling utterly defeated by my responsibilities in life. Very suppressed.

Because the fact is my kids need me right now (and so do, to varying degrees, my husband, my cats, my chickens, and my mother’s dog who is our ward at the moment and also ill from a possible allergy and confirmed infection). They need me and for about a week I’ve been suffering, because I haven’t wanted to give what they need. Reluctantly, reality has won out, and I’ve shifted. The last several days my sewing room lay fallow as I’ve spent my days looking to all our needs – the care for, feeding of, cleaning, administration of medicine and attention and affection. This has always been a lot of work – and it is necessary work. Right now my family is relatively high-need, as far as my family goes. I wish I would have tuned into their needs a wee bit sooner as the last week or so I’ve suffered a lot as I’ve tried to avoid my small dilemma.

Honestly?  With two children aged five and seven, there was a part of me that had been behaving as if life should be easier than when they were, say, one and three. I should have been considering the time I had to myself in my sewing room as blessed, fortunate, wonderful, and definitely not a given – not any more than anything else in life. I should not have allowed myself the envy and despair that reading the handful of craft and sew-blogs I do inspired in me. These assholes with their one-to-one income ratio! Their lack of mouths to feed! Their ability to buy fabric and go into a room and listen to music – not listen to their kids tear apart the house! Yes, these last few weeks I’ve been pining to sew; yet in the few minutes I’ve had to do so I’ve felt crushed with the sense of responsibilities elsewhere: I need to spend more “quality time” with the kids, wash the dishes, put away the laundry, plan for, shop for, prepare the meals – but especially, spend time with the kids.

What I know about my family life is things change, evolve. There have always been times of sweet solace and rest since I’ve had my children. In fact, since we’ve become a family on one income, I would venture to say rest and respite have been there for us – albeit in unexpected ways – more than when Ralph and I both worked. But there have been times like now: where the needs of my children are pressing and it is foolish to pretend otherwise or to spend time wishing it wasn’t so. As babies, their needs were physical and intimate. Breastfeed a baby and you are more or less forced to sit or lay down; you cannot also scrub the bathtub or drive to the store while changing a diaper (even if, sadly, you allow yourself to feel intense pressure to somehow have resources you do not). These physical needs were so intense in my childrens infancies. I have come to believe these requirements were both a boot camp-style lesson in the rigor and hard work I would find inherent in caring for my children – but also, they were opportunities for me to see my life changed for a number of years. I know it was wrong and foolish for me to expect my children not to need so much from me – just because they are toilet-trained and can read and take walks to the grocery store. I stand corrected, and now that I’ve altered my perception, I expect to suffer less; I also expect that soon enough time will open up, and I will be back in my little sewing room crafting from wool and cotton and lovingly folding yardage. As it was, so it shall be, all in good time.

Today the children and I sat on the floor of their room and played a rather involved game of Legos. I had to accept that sitting on the floor with my kids was good for all of us: it wasn’t “less than” my long chore list in the day. It was so hard not to jump up after a few minutes to do the dishes, or IM my husband, or knit on the hat I’m still making. Over a period of an hour and a half I grew to enjoy our time together; my kids liked it even more still. They are so incredibly creative and clearly loving; I even found myself interested in the construction of a small ship and the character of an Intergalactic Horse Thief. I don’t know if I’ll ever reclaim my long-buried (or lost?) sense of Play; but I know it is in there, somewhere. The important thing for me in sitting on my kids’ room floor and playing wasn’t that I try to be someone I’m not; it’s that I show up for my kids with who I am, and really be that person with them.

“Vagina.”

I probably know more about the human vagina than many of my readers, but I still don’t know all there is to know.  And yes, I do mean vagina, as in the vaginal canal – not the vulva or the entirety of the genitals.  Human bodies are amazing, and the structure and functions of this bit of our anatomy is no exception.*  For instance, did you know the vagina is larger toward the back – the cervix and the uterus – than the opening, and that it “tents” or expands with sexual arousal?  Did you know that most of the nerve endings in a woman’s vagina are in the first third – therefore rendering the idea of penis length being tantamount to penetrative sexual satisfaction rather overrated?  The vaginal organ is a muscle – not a big (or small), empty tube that remains open; it folds in on itself when relaxed or “resting”; it grips what is inside it when something is inside it.  When it isn’t in an accommodating state the insertion of something as small as a finger, speculum, or tampon can feel uncomfortable; yet this amazing organ has the power to expand and deliver 11 pound babies intact and then restore itself to its former condition.

The reason the human vagina was on my mind this morning was not because I was thinking about vaginas per se but because I was thinking about, well, my mind.  Specifically the capacity to be inert, and to expand, and to go back to a relaxed – or, if you will, collapsed state.  I was standing in my kitchen and trying to figure out the ratio of long grain rice to water, because I was going to make fried rice for the family’s lunch.  And I knew the proper amount of water for cooking two cups of dry rice: three cups.  But I also knew I only wanted to cook one and a half cups of dried rice, because that was the right amount for the dish I was making.  And I couldn’t think of how much water to use.  After a beat I knew I would have to either move over and jot the little fraction conversion down on a piece of paper, or clear my mind of the sound of my children (and husband) playing and my mental preoccupations with my online reading that morning and concentrate on doing some math in my head.

The thing is, though, I used to be pretty damned readily good at math.  I did earn a bachelor’s degree that involved the stuff pretty heavily; I used fairly advanced math in paid employment for years.  I still remember vividly the feelings and experience of thinking in and easily speaking relatively high-level math.  Yet I cannot easily do much simple computation these days because I am out of practice, or perhaps distracted by other things.  My fraction-manipulating skills need the use of paper and pencil if I don’t just give up and give it a guess.  That voice echoes in my head; the one that says we need to learn all these subjects in school so we won’t be hampered in doing the things in life we have to do – estimation, arithmetic, perhaps small operations of probability.

And this is a bit confusing too, because I guess I think that voice, ingrained as it is, is bullshit.  Obviously I do not lack the skills to go about doing what I have to do during the day.  In the grocery store I estimate the purchase price of my produce and sundries – while managing my rowdy kids and their questions and talking and clambering on the cart – and I’m always within a dollar of the total price of the goods. And I will point out that my frequent and adroit cooking efforts, along with my knitting and sewing and getting people to where they need to be at the time they’re supposed to be there, actually allows for a whole lot of practical math.  What is, after all, my knowledge that 1 1/2 cups of ingredient rice is the right amount for my foursome except for simple math or, perhaps, intuitive reasoning?

Still, it can feel odd to have lost something that was once mine; in this case, fluency and proficiency in the world of numbers.  I find myself reminded of the transition of life; perhaps later in my short time on this earth when I’m not stooped over picking up towels off the floor and mentally casting my mind over the holes in the elbows of sweatshirts and the leftovers in the fridge and the cat’s vet appointment – perhaps then I’ll have more room for working with and re-familiarizing myself with fractions, friends I used to know so well.

* Scarleteen, a sex website I highly recommend, has one of my favorite reads on vaginas.