I met Ralph when we were seventeen, in a church. At a word from my mother I shifted and looked back to see him at the head of the aisle; his head was turned. He had a long lean body and tousled red hair and thrillingly alternative sideburns and he was easily handsome. He had expressive hands; he was a drummer. It’s rather incredible I can remember this to the day, how I felt.
We are in for several months of absolutely stunning, perfect weather. We’ve had nothing but sunshine and warmth, and delicious soft rains. The daylight lasts well past nine PM and I’m taken back to my childhood and how much I loved those late twilights. During the blue and white, perfect daylight the life springs from the soil and everywhere the scent of green grass and blooms; the peonies we brought in to fill a vase are startlingly redolent with a heady scent. Everything is in bloom and the hot earth is panting and giving forth greenery. It’s beautiful here; I live by the mountains and by the sea. I may travel but I would have such a difficult time living anywhere else.
My youngest son has become irascible and peevish in this last half a year. I’ve parented long enough to not worry too much, But I don’t ignore those kinds of things either: children need interventions when things aren’t going well, when they are struggling. Tonight I made an offhand comment and he took offense; this is happening with relative frequency of late. He comes in the bedroom and lays down next to me I do not say all the things the adults in my life used to say to me. I don’t tell him he has a bad attitude or he’s snotty or selfish. I do not make condescending remarks about puberty or “teen attitude”. It’s a little damned depressing these thoughts even come to mind but, that’s how I was raised. Still, It is ending with me, I won’t parent that way. I won’t treat mine the way I myself was treated. My son holds me and I put my head on his chest. Both kids’ voices are deepening, and they are getting broader through the shoulders and they are taller than I and although we laugh about it, it puts me off track a bit. Impending old age and death, a ways off perhaps but sometimes it doesn’t seem so.
The older child soon creeps in and I hold him a while too. The two children seek me out several times a day. This is why, exciting as my career is, I can’t and won’t work fulltime as long as there are kids that need this. All kids need this. To think when I was pregnant with my first, I worried I wouldn’t have enough love, wouldn’t have what it takes. Well. I have what it takes. Turns out. What surprises me is that every day I can return to that intention, that not one day goes by I’m on autopilot all day. Sometimes I think parenting taught me mindfulness more than any other practice, or tradition, or lecture, or book.
The windows are open and I can feel the sea air and I can hear the trainyard; a sole candle burns on the dresser. The house is quieting although the younglings stay up late; they too are comforted by the long summer evenings, I think. Children of their mother.
We are travelling in the Jimmy, east on the rain-soaked little highway into Olympia, to the community college where Beeps takes their German class. Ralph quizzes our oldest child and they do some verb conjugation together; they are taking the class together two nights a week. Nels is cheerful as well; he is planning on hitting the Mario Odyssey demo at Target. He worked for, saved up for, and pre-ordered the game as soon as it was available; these last few weeks he has been reading up and watching videos and is quite the expert.
My children are still so incredibly demonstrative and sweet (I get to define the word “demonstrative” to one of them, today at lunch). Phoenix seeks me out and gently hugs me and kisses me every day first thing. Today they say, their voice muffled in my hair as they hold me close: “You smell good. Like a jellybean.” Interestingly Nels is a bit more standoffish than he has been as a child but please understand Nels’ “standoffish” is another child’s “wildly and intensely clingy”, as every day he hugs, kisses, asks brazenly for snuggles, holds my hand and kisses my face in public. I didn’t think I’d have children that were so lovely and kind to me and so touchy-feely, but I am not complaining at all.
Nels and I share a dish at the Thai restaurant while Ralph and Phoenix sit in on their test; sticky rice and golden sesame tofu and fragrant vegetables in a lemongrass and ginger reduction. Nels is absolutely the kindest and sweetest boy and he is a pleasure to spend time with. As night is falling outside I feel that inexplicable sense of panic; I have lived with it for more years than I can remember, I can’t remember a time I didn’t live with it. Today I manage through prayer and meditation and, instead of drugs or alcohol, the anesthetizing effects of a parlor room mystery on telly.
After finding Nels a demo at the local game shop – with an enthusiastic and sweet employee chatting through the experience – the drive home is cozy. We are loaded up with special and nutritious snacks for Phee’s class trip to Mt. St. Helens tomorrow, for Geology. My spirits have lifted just a bit; the thought of our home, my bed, our kitties waiting for us. And my son’s happy chatter, “I am so excited!” and “I am so happy!” he keeps telling us. Truly a gift, to know your child is well and happy, especially a gift in the dark evenings like this.
Today I spent some time in an in-depth mentoring session, then gave blood, then ran my mom over across town for errands, then got my ass to yoga, then went to a meeting. On top of the kidcare and housecare and petcare. I’m beat.
It’s been a very busy summer. But a beautiful one.
We are back to what seems, to me, one of the more idyllic ways to live – my husband off to work early in the morning, and I about my house, making coffee while the kids sleep. They sleep for hours and hours, unfettered by school’s schedule.
Busy as I am – currently making a video tutorial on a silk dress – when I hear them stirring I go sit on their bed, or crawl in for a bit.
This morning: “What was the deal…” my son asks, his brown body curled up with his back to me, “with witches?”
I ask him what he means.
“Why did people put them to death?” I can see he is troubled. I breathe. It hurts to think about.
I tell him what I know: men are afraid of women. So women with power affect them most of all. .”Witches” were independents: midwives, women who worked on their own or in some way did not meet cultural standards. So it wasn’t right, but some of these women were persecuted, tortured, and killed.
He asks if witches are real, though. I’m like – I don’t know. But my friend N____ is a witch. He asks, “How does that work?”
“It’s like religion. It’s very personal. So you can’t always go up to someone and ask them ‘how it works’.”
As we talk I feel his body, which had been curled up defensively, possibly a bad dream – I feel his body soften. He turns his cheek under my arm, and pulls me close. “You are so nice,” he says. “So lovely!” Because it’s not that children can’t handle harsh reality. It’s that they aren’t meant to handle adults who don’t give shit, or adults who don’t commit to being the one to make it better.
I’m thinking how powerful it is to be a parent. I am almost never prepared for the responsibility.
My children’s first year at school together, come and gone. Not much fanfare after all; I brought out some homemade food on the last day of class – simply to be relevant, to impress upon the children there that their time is honored, that we do indeed see them and love them. And yes, I am glad to be there if only for this brief hour. The food in hand: deviled eggs and pretzel sticks, the eggs created in my kitchen only the half hour before. I carry the parcel to a few other classrooms, teachers. My footfalls are weary but I’m glad to ghost about the hall and experience the privacy of my thoughts.
The edifice, the institution, the classroom, is as it always has been now that I’m an adult: a bit dirty, small-minded, housing implausibly-cheerful young citizens and adults paid a wage for honorable work. My throat constricts and my heart thunders with hope, and despair. My children are happy – everyone seems to be! – but I am ambivalent, an experience that will follow me the rest of the day.
And I am distracted. Our grocery reserves are limited to a bit of folding money in my pocket, and we are paid Thursday next. But even this is familiar, an adventure. Only distressing if I decide it is. Instead: it just means on our last school roadtrip I text my husband to send me coupons for take-and-bake pizza; I think of what we have in the fridge, and of when in the next week or so I can reasonably set up something special for the kids. They have, after all, completed a year on their own steam.
Driving home I know the car full of children – four in all – are feeling joy, and sadness, and a since of pulsing life. Even now today’s memories are blooming in their chest, to be touched upon lightly in years to come. Music and singing, the wind through our hair, the sunshine painting the winding road flanking the Wishkah river. They can afford to let the moment come and pass, while it lives wretched and sublime through my body, manifested in my fingers resting on the steering wheel, tapping out a rhythm more cheerful than I feel.
Summer, then. And already my son is half-feral: he has plans to do his banking – he packs his stamped-leather piggy bank in my car and is querulous I don’t make the time to stop at his branch. He tells me he will stay a week at a friends’, someone he hardly knows. His summer tan returns seemingly overnight, his hair lightens from honey into an earnest, bedeviled blonde. He is outside and running the neighborhood as much as we let him; home, he cooks meals at late hours, and tries to take a bowl of soup to eat in his bed, although perhaps I have scolded the children for this kind of thing hundreds of times. He painstakingly arranges his most treasured effects in the many small wooden boxes and metal-clasped receptacles he’s squirreled away over the years. In one such repository: miniature Lego pieces, a geode, a key, foreign currency, fossilized sharks’ teeth, and nondescript rocks imbuing a meaning known only to he. “I wish I could keep your heart inside,” he says – then, with a quick glance lest I misunderstand, amends his statement to mean my soul, my spirit, not my anatomical heart.
He tells me he will forgo school next year – but who can tell? This time last year, we had no hint he’d want to attend, and we wouldn’t have predicted how that would go in any case.
I have a leadership role in my household. This is evident to anyone who knows our family. This is something we four know. Yet in so many ways I am blind and striking out, making way in hostile, confusing terrain so the family can grow into themselves. They thrive in confidence in this shadow, lush and verdant greenery twining in the loamy darkness, growing strong. They fall asleep easily while at night I am prone to anxiety.
And tonight – as evening falls, sitting on our couch with my legs folded underneath my body – I talk with my husband. I speak of the disappointment and sadness I feel to watch so many I know, falter in their spiritual path. I speak of Doubt, which is so much harder for me than Fear. A mirage of illusion. “There are a small number of people I have found to be faithful,” I tell him. “You’re one of those people -” I say, and turn my head strategically for just a beat, to let this pass, before I complete my thought.
I am glad of their faith because, if I cannot always be happy, be sure, they are still the best thing to have come along, to awaken me to something beyond my own machinations and limited understanding.
My son is a unique vexation to me. He can out-argue anyone. Don’t even try. I am warning you. You think I’m kidding.
And of course, this morning he woke up ready to fight. Telling me he wants this and doesn’t want that, because it’s his birthday. His blonde hair is a tuft, his eyes wide and cross, his body warm and lean like a long cat. Sounds pretty cute, except every morning he is just as apt to wake up telling me he wants this, and doesn’t want that. Either that or he wakes with the most loving entreaties, asking me into bed. Twining his arms around me and he tells me in his low husky voice (which he inherited from his mama) about some delicious dream, as he swims to the surface amidst his soft, soft quilts…
He’s adventurous. That sounds lovely, right? But not everyone’s ready for his adventure. We’ve had dealings with authorities twice – because he ran off. Once, at least, barefoot. Now, he wasn’t running off because he was unhappy or confused – he had an agenda, and that was to see the world. He tried to ride the bus to see his papa. He tried to visit neighbors. He still, to this day, is apt to do something like this. Something others view as inappropriate in some way, but then I’m the one who has to tell him Why he can’t do this or that, and it never really makes sense.
I got mixed feelings that he’s learning to reel himself in a bit. Yesterday, we saw a friend, a lovely young woman, passing in the sunlight. I said, “Nels, why didn’t you give J. a hug?” He blushes and says, “She didn’t put her arms up – like this – when she wants one.” I’m like, you’re right, okay. And mourning for when he was a little smaller and would just smack right into people because he loved them so.
I remember a few years ago, my mother took up with a man named D., just a few months after she was widowed. The man definitely came from the, “kids should listen to and respect their elders” camp. (You know, that camp rarely thinks about what elders owe li’l ‘uns, just the reciprocal!) So anyway, the man was chastizing Nels for something, and Nels – who must’ve been all of five – was trying to explain his side of the story. D. just rolls right over him, keeps talking at him. Nels tells me later, recounting the event, his voice in a bloom of righteous anger. “And then – and then – I didn’t listen to him any more!” He shakes his head, his eyes a gathering storm. And I’m thinking, No shit.
And now, my son is growing into a young man. He’s up to my shoulder – I no longer need to stoop to kiss his hair, which smells sweet as straw as it ever has. He can’t win me at wrestling yet, but it won’t be long. There are mornings he heads off to school where he doesn’t even kiss me goodbye. At night he reads his adventure novels and comics and falls asleep with the light on, and a cat curled up under his arm. I turn the light down and kiss him goodnight and my heart breaks a thousand times.
And then he wakes up and it’s like, I want to go here, I want to do that, why can’t we go here, why can’t we do this, when I grow up I’m moving to Massachusetts and I will buy you a plane ticket to come see me, can you be my girlfriend.
It’s almost like I want to say Nels is a child of a different era, an era that suits children when they could be children, adventuring on railroad tracks and off wooded trails. But really, Nels suits any era fortunate enough to receive him.
Happy birthday, li’l Boo. I love you until forever.
I gave birth to my son eleven years ago today. Every year I post his birth story on this date. Several families have told me the story has influenced their birth choices; several women that it was the (beginning) inspiration for their home birth! I am humbled – and, as always, grateful.
Nels David Hogaboom
a birth story
Born at home to mom Kelly, dad Ralph, and sister Sophia [/Phoenix]1:20 AM Wednesday April 7, 2004
8 pounds 7 ounces
21 inches long
April 6th, 9 AM – is it or isn’t it?
A couple hours after I wake up on Tuesday I’m having mild contractions that are only a tiny bit more intense than the Braxton Hicks contractions I’d had throughout the last half of my pregnancy. These contractions are only slightly painful and certainly not too intense. Nevertheless, they are somewhat distracting and never truly subside, coming anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes apart. Ralph senses things are going to go into motion and comes home at noon, starting his two weeks off of work. He calls my mom at about 3 PM and tells her to head up to see us (she leaves about 5 PM). At this point I am hopeful of labor but also feeling somewhat silly at the thought I might be treating everyone to a false alarm. My mom arrives at about 9 PM time and she and Ralph start writing down my contractions, calling midwives, and cleaning the house up a bit.
April 6th, 10 PM – the real thing
My mom and I are watching a movie together and my contractions are still coming about 10 minutes apart. I still claim I am unsure if labor is going someplace. But everyone is noticing I pause the movie during each contraction so I can concentrate on getting though it. I’m undecided if I should walk around to “get things moving” or lie down and rest in between contractions. I’m trying not to be too fearful of another long labor like I had with my first child. Suddenly at about 10:30 PM I hop up from the bed and turn off the movie, since contractions have sped up to about 4 minutes apart. Naturally my mom and Ralph are very excited and go about making phone calls and preparations while I pace the floor and cope with each contraction. It is going quite well but I keep telling myself these are the “easy” contractions and I try not to worry about what’s to come.
Around 10:30 my midwives and my doula start arriving and I am focusing inward in the classic “Laborland” manner. I notice peripherally how efficient and friendly everyone is, setting up the bed, laying out blankets and birth supplies and getting snacks. Everyone is wonderful to me and provides me with water and encouragement between contractions, respectful silence and privacy during. I feel very protected and honored and so it is easy not to be fearful. My doula Elizabeth arrives and strokes my back and speaks softly to me. She puts me nearly to sleep in between contractions. I am feeling so grateful for the love and encouragement I am getting. I know I am coping very well and in fact since I am doing so well I don’t think I am very far along.
April 7th, Midnight – silliest labor quote
Things are intense but I don’t want a check to see how far I’ve dilated. I am somewhat afraid to discover all the work I am doing hasn’t gotten me anywhere. Laura (one of the midwives) suggests I get into the tub. I’d always thought of the tub as what you use as a last resort toward the end of labor so I tell her I can wait. After a few more contractions I decide to get in, hoping for some pain relief. I spend about 40 minutes in the tub with contractions edging up their intensity. Everyone is around me encouraging me and vocalizing though my contractions. Elizabeth holds my hands and breathes with me through the contractions, then puts a cold cloth on my head and neck in between. Everyone helps keep me calm and focused, as does the knowledge I have to take each contraction one at a time. Close to 1 AM I feel the urge to have Ralph hold and kiss me while I rest, and help talk me through contractions (he’s repeating something I read from Birthing From Within: “Labor is hard work, it hurts, and you can do it”). I don’t realize at the time but I am going through transition. After a few contractions I start to feel a little of that, well — grunting urge. I know it is perfectly okay to grunt and push a little to help with the pain and I instinctively do so. The midwives clue into what I am doing and are back in the room. Laura says, “Gee Kelly, it sounds like you’re pushing” and I reply (idiotically) “I’m not really pushing, it just feels good to bear down a little bit”. These contractions are pretty rough but everyone is helping me so much it is still very manageable.
April 7th, 1:10 AM – OUCH, OUCH, OUCH!
Kathy convinces me to let her check me and informs me not only am I completely dilated, but that the baby’s head has descended quite a bit. I am completely amazed at this (despite knowing I am feeling the urge to push) and even accuse everyone of just saying that to make me feel better! (I feel a little silly about this later). During each contraction I am feeling the pain in my hips, all the way to the bone, which my midwives tell me is a sign the baby is moving. Kathy tells me later I comment that it is like a crowbar prying my pelvis apart. Despite the pain I am coping well and in between the contractions I am still calm. I comment that I am not feeling any pressure in my bottom yet and I think to myself this means I have a ways to go. Oops, I speak too soon — with the next contraction I feel the baby AT THE DOOR, so to speak. This takes me by surprise and my labor sounds change from low and powerful to very alarmed and – well – a little screechy. Everyone is talking to me and trying to help me calm down and focus. I am amazed at the pain and pressure and overcome with an almost frantic need to push. I am pushing, pushing, pushing, before I can tune into my midwives telling me to ease off. I do the best I can and manage to ease off a bit and direct my energies more constructively. Despite the pain I am overjoyed to know I am so close and my baby will be here any minute. “I know I will feel so good when I see my baby”, I tell myself and this helps me. Kathy tells me to reach down and feel the head and after an initial hesitation I do, surprised again at how soft and smooth it is. I can feel each part of the child’s head I deliver. It hurts! But I know I am close. The head is out and then I am surprised by the fullness and difficulty of the shoulders, which I do not remember from my first birth.
April 7th, 1:20 AM – Nels is born
With one final push I feel my baby being delivered and I am surprised it is already over. I have been kneeling in the tub and so immediately turn around and Ralph tells me later I am saying, “Give me my baby! I want to hold my baby!” to the midwives who are doing their thing. I have a vision of my baby’s long, smooth body floating in the water, the room lit by candlelight in a soft glow. Within seconds he is in my arms and I am crying and Ralph is crying and the whole room is full of a collective soft and surprised murmur. I am holding my child to my chest and saying, “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it” over and over, feeling so filled with surprise and happiness. The child is perfect and so soft and I feel wonderful. I realize I have done it, I have given birth to a healthy baby in my own home, with my own power.
April 7th, early morning – getting to know you
I stay in the water crying and holding my baby for several minutes before anyone thinks to discover the baby’s sex. I hold my newborn away from my chest and in between squirming legs and the umbilical cord I see we have a boy! Of course, this is perfect. Everything feels perfect! After a few more minutes I am ready to get out of the water and get cleaned up, but I know we have to wait for the delivery of the placenta. I feel like this takes forever but it probably is only a fifteen minute wait. Another surprising feeling of fullness and then the placenta is delivered. Kathy has to pull the cord a bit and gently massage my tummy to get the whole thing in one piece. My mom is on the phone with my dad and has to pass the phone around so she can cut the cord. I am ready to get out and dry off and nurse my second child.
I am helped out of the tub and into some dry clothes. I am so happy to have so much loving help. I prop myself up on the bed and hold my son to my breast. He latches almost immediately like a pro. I keep asking my husband, “Is this really happening?” because it has gone like a dream and I am so happy. After some time of nursing the midwife eventually takes my son to the foot of the bed to weigh him and check his limbs and reflexes. Elizabeth brings me food — cheese, bread, apples and oranges. My pulse is checked and found to be high (100) so I am encouraged to drink a huge glass of water (this happened with my first child, too). My afterpains are intense, more so than with my daughter’s birth, but I know this to be normal. I breathe through them. My daughter Sophie wakes up and is brought into the room, looking cranky and confused. I kiss her and introduce her to her brother (she is unimpressed) and Ralph takes her back to the bedroom to settle her back to sleep. Kathy checks my bottom out and finds only two tiny tears, no need for sutures. The energy of the house is settling, people are packing things, Elizabeth says goodbye. Laura leaves too and I take a shower with Kathy’s help. She stays long enough to give postpartum instructions and asks me to page her when I can pee. I am a little anxious about this myself, for vague fear of a catheter. Kathy leaves about 3:20 and as her car is pulling out I am able to pee, feeling now finally that everything is alright.
My husband is looking dead tired. I am wired and unable to sleep. We send my mom off to bed. I hold my son who is still awake! He is drowsy though and wants to snuggle. At about 4:30 AM I finally fall asleep on the bed, Ralph on the couch, holding his son. We are awakened just before 7 AM to the joyful sounds of our firstborn running through the house talking excitedly to Grandma. Grandma looks like she really needs a cup of coffee.
Pip: He is a doll. Truly. He is feeling so much better.
Plants: I set aside a few for a teacher who wanted some for her classroom. And put them in cute little pots. It felt right.
Progress. We are fixing some flooring in need of repair. I’m trying to find some old tongue-in-groove fir, 3 1/4″. This flooring is common as dirt but I haven’t yet found it around these parts!
Plans. Taking a break from an overstuffed schedule of sewing for clients, I… sew for another client. In this case, a project to donate to a local auction.
Perfect. Turns out the kittens are way into Ralph’s beard. Like really into it.
I remember when my husband and I used to fight a lot. In between fights, that tension we tried to ignore. Or at least I did.
Today he makes me my favorite bagels… today I think of anniversary gift after anniversary gift for him.
I’m tired – my feet are tired. My back is tense. The bed calls – cool linens and warm bodies, laughter and inviting arms.