and is the heart of youth so light /
its step so firm, its eye so bright

Phoenix graduates with their Associate of Arts degree from Grays Harbor, with Honors, on Friday June 22nd.

They are the youngest graduate from Grays Harbor College, and the youngest inductee into the Beta Iota Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa.

Ralph and I are kind of a mess about it all. It seemed to happen so fast. I mean – it did happen fast. They are such a young person and so incredibly strong.

And first, a personal entreaty.

Phoenix got into college at age thirteen. We couldn’t get funding for that first year. I looked everywhere. They were too young for any financial aid or scholarship and we were told (erroneously as it turned out) they would not be eligible for state-sponsored dual-enrollment.

We put the whole first year on credit. It was the only way we could do it. It is my hope that we can apply graduation gift funds to this balance – a hulking debt that still lurks out there amassing interest. Like (almost) all college graduates, Phoenix has future plans and at age sixteen, Ralph and I are the primary resource to help them with their next steps. We would like to pay off this first year college debt so we can meaningfully contribute to our child’s future. If you see fit to make any graduation gift to our family, we will be so grateful. You can earmark any funds if you’d like them for Phoenix’s discretion only; there is also an option to purchase an item from their wishlist.

If you cannot contribute, please do sign Phoenix’s guestbook with any congratulations, wisdom, or advice you’d like to share.

Because I’m a writer, I have to say more. I’ll keep this as brief as I can.

To this very moment I still haven’t fully processed what my child has accomplished. There were so many quarters I was simply aghast at the work Phoenix had to do. The effort was massive, and at times my child seemed miserable. I spoke with grown men who were reduced to tears, dropping out of courses my then-13 year old stuck through. I watched my child drag themselves out of bed early to get to class; I watched them leave off evening activities so they could get enough sleep. Phoenix has a near-perfect attendance record for their eight quarters’ worth of college, which is something I respect deeply as I saw what it took. Their attendance was better than I ever accomplished at university – and they graduate with a higher GPA than either parent (and hey, we weren’t slouches either!).

Phoenix got through their degree being the youngest in their class. Every class. Phoenix got through college while transitioning. I can’t overstate how alienating these experiences could be at times. We received such a tremendous amount of support on social media, and I could never fully describe how deeply meaningful that has been to me. But on campus things weren’t easy. Phee’s adult deportment masked just how young they were – which suited them just fine, but meant they didn’t get the outreach every academically-advanced outlier should receive. It is my tremendous desire that if any of my friends or blog readers have children who go to college (very) early, or trans children who come out in their teens, that I can in any way be a resource or a supportive party. These unique aspects to Phee’s college experience were more impactful than I anticipated and they have forever changed my perception of “differentness” significantly.

I can never fully convey my gratitude, to my friends all around the world and to my little community. I want to tell you that without your love and support I would have faltered and let my child down; with your support, I was able to hold them up. With your support, I could watch them struggle and succeed and know my role. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

You have blessed our family.

the warmth of the sun in my hair

For St. Patrick’s Day I spent two days in preparation: a soda bread with caraway seed, corned beef, roasted cabbage and butter carrots – all vegan. I have a very pragmatic attitude toward cooking: I do my best, but I also know it doesn’t always work out. In this case, my efforts paid off. It’s funny I make traditional Irish fare as I don’t even care for it. I guess I love these small rituals, these observances. I also enjoy cooking – now that I don’t have to do it every day, three times a day.

I drive the two boys to the pizza parlour and hand my son my debit card. Despite the fact my children are old enough to walk here and there I have a fear of them being struck by a car – either while they are in a car themselves, or while they are walking. I tell them, “be careful”, and maybe I shouldn’t but I can’t help myself. When they were very small, I worried about drowning. I’d walk over a bridge carrying one baby and holding the hand of the older and I’d have horrible visions.

My son and his best friend are so happy together. They spend about twenty hours immersed in their own word – mostly gaming and eating and laughing – before the lad’s mother texts and asks us to send him home. My son comes and finds me shortly after and wants solace. He is a young man now but he still seeks me out. Both children do so I am surprised to think, perhaps it will always be like this.

Both Ralph and I have a weekend full of volunteer work: cooking for others and hosting events, answering phone calls and texts and email: he as an eSports advisor, me in the Recovery community. I am vaguely sensing I need some down time, a break; I am also uncertain when I will take one. I love my work (paid and volunteer) so much that in the morning I almost spring awake – but I also know I am out of balance, overworked, stretched thin.

On that account my child has finished their last paper of their community college career; they study for two more finals and are finished in a couple days. The entire family is getting used to the idea of them being finished; I know that we will then be onto driving school, and trying to fund a car, and trying to set up a (quasi-)business for this child.

Years ago when I got sober people in Recovery used to tell me about a life “beyond one’s wildest dreams”. I am experiencing that now and it is very funny. It seems to take as much focus and mindfulness as anything else, and it seems to be entirely out of my control. I do pray daily and lately I have felt so much gratitude for our health and safety. These things will be threatened in time, but every day we have them is very precious indeed.

KP

KP

Living with teenagers is about five thousand percent more peaceful than all the jokes and nasty comments led me to believe; and it’s sure been a sight more fun than my own teen years. Both children, unschooled and with only my direction on housework, have a sense of purpose and relatively companionable demeanor every day. I can’t remember hearing either say they are bored, ever. Boredom isn’t really a thing in our home. Not yet. I sometimes wonder when they leave, how I will do with that. They have been the drumbeat, everything to me, going on sixteen years.

Beeps started a new quarter at college this week; their last full quarter, as in spring they will only require ten credits. My stomach clenches a bit as there was so much I’d wanted to do for Phoenix for their sixteenth birthday in March; for their graduation from college in June, and there is little I can afford. I’d like to secure them a car, I’d like to throw them a party or two, and I’d like to buy them a few lavish gifts. As it is, we are down to one car in this family – which is less than ideal, leaving me stranded at home most days – and the car we do have has engine and brake problems.

I have learned how to discipline myself and calm my thoughts, when these kinds of difficulties arise. I know my children are perfectly happy and healthy and my hopes for them might be too specific or might not come to fruition in any case. It takes discipline for me to accurately assess our lives and make a plan. It takes even more discipline not to beat myself up, for being unrealistic, for thinking I could have done something spectacular for this spectacular child.

Nels cut all his hair off except a long topknot and today he confidently forwarded me a video tutorial for me to twist his blonde waves up into a bun. He is building a Minecraft mod and learning coding, stealing any bit of time he can from his father. Ralph comes home tired at the end of the day and I’m tired from working in the cold and I’m a bit stir-crazy from being cooped up and I put my arms around my husband and kiss him and feel how every part of his body feels good against mine. And I then count backwards on my fingers, I ask myself if I balanced everything just right: if I took care of my social life and my creative life and my physical life (daily yoga!) and my household and each child and my marriage and maybe even the pets or paid a bill or two. And most days I come out okay.

I was thinking about how I’ve poured so much into these kids and how I don’t regret it at all. And that’s another thing I count at the end of the day and look deeply, thumbing through the pages and knowing that’s still how I want to do it.

For tomorrow, then: finishing a pair of trousers and cooking up lunch and making a dinner for guests, and then wrestling into the arms of my husband where I can let my hair loose and lay on his shoulder and take respite and then it’s another weekend.

 

a stuttering, a restart

Tonight my oldest child is finishing up their art final and submitting it. This is one of three classes for the quarter finished; they have two more winding up here over the next couple weeks and then – summer break.

It’s incredible to me this time next year my child will have an Associate of Arts degree from a community college – at age 16. I’d love to tell you all that we meant it to go this way or, even more importantly, that we have some great master plan for what we’ll do when they graduate. Well, I could say either of those things but they would be false.

Last week we hit the induction ceremony to Phi Theta Kappa; Phoenix is now the youngest-ever member of this chapter. I was working all day and changed out of workwear to something suitable for the event; I rounded up the kids and met Ralph on campus (he was onstage helping, as staff),¬†walking in late and taking a back-row seat. Phee remained close to me and tried not to give into nerves; they weren’t sure if they were going to have to speak in front of everyone, or what. My other child sat next to me and at one point was jokingly harassed by a neighbor sitting a few chairs over; tender as Nels is, he took the teasing to heart. I sat there with my two teenage children who both needed my reassurance and softness just as they’ve needed it their whole lives.

The ceremony, although short and to the point, was nevertheless a bit soothing, a bit special. I am still salty AF over how hard it’s been to get Phee the support they need, being academically-advanced and relatively introverted. I keep thinking I could help so many other parents if I got my act together and wrote about our experiences, or especially if I educated myself more as to resources. But the truth is this year¬†so far work has been exhausting me. I’m in this goofy race at the moment, trying to get my work done so I can have a breather and put some time in elsewhere.

“Elsewhere” meaning, probably, seeking out more money or scholarships or fellowships, really. I want to get this kid the tablet they would find so helpful and, in terms of drive and focus and hard work, they so clearly deserve. I’ve been trying to save up money – a huge wad of cash in a special place – but family ish keeps coming up. The car is in the shop and the bill for that drops in a couple days. Just tonight while Ralph did the dishes an ominous gurgling emanated from the bathroom – diced up salad and sink water began spurting from the tub drain. So tomorrow: a plumber. My pile of cash is not safe, not ever. I’m not angry or worried, it’s just how it is.

I’m thankful that with my relatively punishing schedule lately, I haven’t fallen ill. My son woke up with a headache and sore throat last week; I ran him a bath, got him something to drink and a couple Tylenol. We fall ill so rarely and it is a great opportunity to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n.

Tonight my body aches; Ralph is asleep and the children awake. I journal, yoga, meditate. Then time for bed, after watching of course a punishingly-horrid supernatural documentary. I’ve logged many hours on the laptop while I doze in and out, my mind perhaps being populated by cryptids and lake monsters I have no conscious awareness of, or belief in.

his name was always “Buddy”!

I am exhausted. I’ve been working hard. I’ve been helping others. I’m right at that point where I might have to rest a bit more. Just for a while.

I’ve moved to veganism. My body – about a year into vegetarianism – is once again making a shift, an adjustment. I feel – as I have before – sluggish, slow. I take a great comfort in the friends who are supportive and loving, and who understand that for me this is a big life change.

I try not to talk overmuch about the change – but think on the reciprocal, as I am constantly surrounded by people talking about and consuming meat and dairy, and often offering it to me as well. As when a co-worker said to me on Friday: “Chicken pot pie – doesn’t that sound good?” I smiled and answered, “Not to me!” because that seemed the most honest. I swear the foods we eat can be as divisive as the religious rituals we practice or forgo.

Tonight – my son is crying, upset at something I said. I coax him down the stairs, promising an apology and a hug. He has never in his life been able to resist these things, I suspect because he so earnestly wants peace between us restored. But he is angry, so: he backs down the steps. When I hold him in my arms he tells me he loves me so much. I feel the same. He is getting taller.

Will he still hold me close even when he’s larger than I?

My daughter and I are up nights studying her large textbook. She seems thrilled to acquire formal knowledge; the first time we’ve openly shared this love between us. I am brought back to my early years myself, although of course her class materials are much more dense than they were when I was her age. We make little jokes and we watch YouTube films helping us with the concepts: protein transport and tagging in the Golgi Apparatus; ribosomal synthesis; microtubule components of the cytoskeleton. Her body slides close to me and we study together. Several pages a night; likely part of my exhaustion.

Tonight after a shower the house is settling; the pets have had their last meal. A few cookies and some almond milk and then together making a night as a family.

i got a man to stick it out, & make a home from a rental house

At the oddest times I suddenly feel like I’m living in a dream. I am loading the washing machine and I suddenly wonder: maybe I will wake up, and our lovely new home will be gone. We will be back in our rental. Nothing was particularly missing, or awry in our old place. But our new home is very, very special to us, and has felt like home from the very beginning.

Now that I’m working for the county a little over half-time, life has a tendency to fly by pretty fast. Today my supervisor asks me to stay late tomorrow, on Election Day – and I tell him, I have to go home and ask the family. It’s unreal to suddenly be working for pay, where there are a hundred (figurative) fires to put out, and not enough time, and every now and then you hear someone say something catty about someone else, which is seriously not something I’ve been around regularly as a homeschooling parent and artisan. And the public comes in and either tries to engage me in idle chit-chat while I’m obviously very busy – or maybe they say something really out of left-field. Or report a changing circumstance in their lives – something heartbreaking or just kind of unimaginable or different than anything I’ve thought about. And there is one issue after another, bam-bam-bam. The hours fly by, and then it’s time to go home!

The cold weather hasn’t set in yet, but the rains have. Yesterday while talking with a friend over coffee, a violent hailstorm of about three minutes’ duration shocked us all. My new house is on a hill, the living room window facing north to my neighbors at a higher elevation. It isn’t exactly an expansive plot of land, and the combination of this closeness and the trees in our neighborhood, help me feel safe, and secure.

Nights, Ralph and the children take our dog for a walk. Tonight three cats followed along. A few moments of quiet, and some time for me to journal. My daughter sits at the kitchen table and completes her homework – now that she’s in college, she’s completing a year of high school math in a quarter’s time. Somehow she’s adjusted to this as smoothly as the rest of us have adjusted. It’s going to take a bit for it to feel real, to feel like a new rhythm – although the old one feels so long ago.

PLOP!

I guess I’m trying to catch up with my life. Because it seems I am constantly surprised with my children; finding them amazing, surprising, and touching – daily so. My son in the bath this afternoon, carefully laying back to rinse his hair. He has up until recently been afraid to do this; without our prompting he has challenged himself. His body is so long in the tub. He is no longer a baby.

He’s developed this sigh – a sort of Napolean Dynamite, drawn-out half-groan. This sigh is an awesome thing because he does it when he doesn’t get his way. “Mom, can you come cuddle me?” he’ll ask, and as I’m telling him to wait one more minute, I’m doing the dishes – I hear him belt this sigh out. It’s like, “OK, damnit, fine.” Instead of months previous: crying or yelling. I am watching a child learn to cope with the minor (and sometimes not-so-minor) annoyances of life.

My daughter with her jokes. Last night’s bath (I guess we spend a lot of time in the bath, okay?) she noticed our bodies were entirely submerged except my breasts. She started in on scenarios in which my busom was basically flying out of my top when inconvenient. “Like you’d go skydiving, and then plop!” she gestures with her hands. I’m not really that into jokes about my boobs but she caught me off guard so I laughed. And my kids like nothing more than to make me laugh, so: “Plop!” she’d say every now and then that night, leaning in conspiratorily, opening her eyes wide and wrinkling her nose in a way that gets me every time. She has this extra-special new trick when she tells a joke – she crosses her eyes gracefully – I’m not kidding, in a way that is one hundred percent funny and goofy-beautiful. Perfect comedic timing.

My children both, after the class I taught last night at our community college, asked how many students I had – and then were particular about memorizing their names. “You are the best sew-er ever, Mom,” they tell me. They could not have been more supportive and interested in what I was doing. Sometimes I think people spend their lives in search of validation; and sort of as a side-effect of caring for children I have two humans who consistently support and love me of their own volition.

I’m not sure how I deserve such a family; sometimes it kind of seems like it happened overnight and with little intentions of my own.