of melancholy and patchouli

Happy Father's Day, Dad

Aw, I miss my dad so much. There’s so much in my life I didn’t get to share with him. He didn’t get to share the journey we’ve had in not-schooling our kids. He’s missed my sobriety in adulthood. He’s missed knowing my kids at an older age – and they’ve missed knowing him. He and my husband had a wonderful, wonderful friendship. Now that I think on it I’m not sure Ralph has had a friendship like it before or since.

I have a lot of my father’s nature. I am intelligent and I have a good memory. I have his beaky nose and tiny angry eyes. I have his suspicion of human authority and for many years I had his slightly pessimistic agnosticism coupled with a rather sedate moral code. I have his confidence; a confidence in my ability to do things well, if I want to do them. I have his knowledge of Choice, which lends me to playing the victim a little less than I might otherwise. Things are changing within me lately – and I am becoming calmer and less afraid – traits I associate with him. He was pretty calm. And he was pretty gentle in most all the ways that mattered. I’m not sure how many people have grown up with a gentle father.

I also, sometimes, display the dark and nasty sense of humor he had. A few weeks back my mom and I were in Olympia looking for a park for the kids (which they’d mowed down for office buildings, I think, bravo!). Mom and I saw this little wine shop she instantly adored. My mom exclaimed, “Oh look, that place looks very cool!” and I said without skipping a beat, “It’s probably full of baby boomer douchebags.” She laughed and swatted at me and said, “Okay, David!” It’s true, I’ll occasionally hear something come out of my mouth like that. My husband comments too. It’s pretty funny really.

Dad, I really, really miss you. We had so many laughs, seriously (seriously!). I remember I’d walk over and you’d be in the yard pulling a weed and you’d leave the weed where it was and come inside to sit with coffee, because you didn’t give a fuck much about weeding. You’d sit at the kitchen table and play solitaire with cards so soft and old and rounded-edged that new cards have always looked obscene to me.

By the way you were someone who gave me the right advice, and I haven’t found someone else to replace that relationship. That sucks.

I’ll love you fiercely until the day I die at the very least.

I Was Nine Months Old

Nine months old.

Mothers & Others

There has been nothing in my life like my work caring for another human being properly – with nurture, love, compassion, usually lots of time chopping and cooking food and wiping counters and pulling laundry and that small and essential stuff, for instance holding a wee hand so a little one can stomp in a puddle with great relish and efficacy. Time, years measured in joy and laughter but also blood, sweat, and tears, and I do mean tears, mistakes you know you made that eat you up inside and no amount of condescending There, there, everyone has bad days from others means jack shit, and why should it?

Many people don’t know much about it. They either haven’t had the responsibility, or they shirked the responsibility horribly. I’ve met a lot of fathers (and a few mothers) who consider themselves having “raised x-number-of kids” who perhaps made wage but did very little otherwise, and/or did it poorly. Fortunately – for the men and women and children in their lives, as well as themselves – most parents I personally know wouldn’t fall under this description.

But I’ll never get over the capacity people have to care for one another, I mean consistently day in day out even when that shit is hard, sometimes when they can barely figure out how to keep the bills paid and groceries coming. And of course, not all of those people I admire are parents. Example: the young man who financially and emotionally and while running a home and working in low-wage work supports a mother who is underemployed and who didn’t much raise him when he grew. Example: the neighbor who never had children, in his fifties now, who has consistently kept his mother’s house and looked after her, even before her widowhood. Example: my aunt who looks after my grandfather’s every medical and emotional need and runs his household and gets him his favorite foods, a person who will care for him until his dying day. Those who cook and deliver food to those who need to eat and don’t know how to cook, or can’t, or are stressed and heaped with struggle.

But most people I know who’ve cared for human beings with body work and constancy and day-in-day-out are mothers (like the above-mentioned aunt, and of course if you read here you know I cook for many outside my family). These mothers care for children and perhaps through the crucible of that experience, I don’t know, they expand and later (or sooner) we find them caring for siblings or aging loved ones or other people’s kids, and if they have men in their life they’re often doing the lion’s share of caring for him too. My own mother and I share this experience, many years of other-care, and even though I could list a hundred and five ways I think she fucked up while I was growing up, list them on-point, perhaps the reason we share a close friendship today is I never gave up on her, nor she me. I know that sounds a bit grim but let me tell you, there’s a lot of work women do, a lot of time in the foxholes being shelled from all sides, and we never forget those years. And lots of times not only do we not get the help we need but no one nearby seems to throw us a give a fuck, so if you think that doesn’t make us angry or wary or (lots of times) not even bothering to speak out about people’s ignorance regarding general matters, well, sometimes we canna be fucked. But my mother and I, we have a connection made deep not just because of the love we have for one another, but because of, maybe mostly due to, the work we’ve put in.

Today I’m thinking a lot about the work we’ve done.

My mother, and myself. My grandmother. We birthed babies. Out our vaginas. Under our own power. That shit’s awesome. Not a day goes by I don’t think about my births. People inadvertently or purposefully try to strip me of dignity or agency or worth, or look past or over or through me sometimes, or maybe they try to put me in my place by flirting with me in that way I decidedly don’t dig and my every fiber of being signals “no thanks” (hey lady, you’re looking fine), and people are all the time measuring me up and deciding my worth or lack thereof, but they can never take my experience of childbirth away, I am marked until my grave with that.

My mother, myself, my grandmother. We cared for little beings twenty-four-seven, I’m talking do you even know how vulnerable an infant is? I used to cry while giving my firstborn a bath, it wouldn’t even take me holding her down in the water, if I merely walked away she would drown. She was that vulnerable, that fragile, and she was mine to care for every second of the day, and I can’t describe the love I felt and how deep it went, like nothing else I’d ever known. Do you even know what my babies’ cries would to my body, and mind, and heart? I have never felt so triggered, so pulled at. I’d walk through a grocery store and the sound of someone’s baby or the thought of one of my own, I’d have to apply pressure to my breasts, otherwise milk would flow. I have felt waves of nausea, love, fierce protectiveness. I’ve felt my hands shake and my head pound. I’ve felt more at-peace and found more humor in life than ever before. Something stirred when I became a mother and has grown and grown monstrous with love ever since.

Predictably I suppose, although I never thought about it until now, it was my mother and I who were with my father, nursing him in every physical and emotional way, through his death at home. I will never forget how much I appreciated even the smallest gesture of care, the couple who brought groceries, the friend who watched my young children once in one of my final nursing shifts when I was wearing down. I’ll never forget how they helped me, like I never can forget the women with me when I gave birth, tears spring to my eyes when I remember the space they held for me. I’ll never forget how much it hurt to hold my father while he died but how Right that hurt was, and how much effort and care I took into serving him as best as I was able, and in a way those small gestures and assistances of others, they were under my feet and flowing through my fingertips, and they sustained me through thirsty work.

But you know what’s funny, until this very second I never have thought much about how much my care might mean to other people. It’s not that I’m a “selfless” mother, and I hate that whole package as it’s sold and marketed.  It’s that the minute the business was before me it opened my eyes and I saw good work that could be done. I’ve been shit on, pissed on, puked on. I’ve been disrespected and overlooked and pedestaled and condescended to. I’ve been told I was worth less than other people, sure… but I’ve been told I was the one person who matters most. One thing I’ve never been is bored.

I’d like to extend a thanks to my children, but of course it was kind of an accident they’ve ended up being such an incredible experience, not at all some favor they extended or the center of their interests. If you read here you know I like to write out my thoughts and feelings but I can’t encompass what it’s meant to me to care for my little Nels and Phoenix, and for the many, many ways they’ve opened up a caring and a strength that lay dormant within. All I can say is: I feel incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity, and it’s better than anything I could have guessed at or built on my own with clumsy hands and vain hopes.

I love you m’ijos.

Kelly, 2004

***

Here are a few of my writings, not the best or the most instructive or anything, I’ve found to share today.

Caring for other people is not like any other job. And I have had other jobs.

In which I behave like an ass-hat, and how my family responds.

Of maples & madres

An apologist for lurve

A mother, and her mother.

“I forgot to mention, it’s so beautiful here.”

also, when good actors work in regrettable films

My husband tells me there’s another something wrong with the running car, and you can tell he doesn’t want to upset me in the way he breaks it to me, as today was the last day before payday and we spent our last few dollars on tofu and broccoli to top our sticky rice with, and we already have a $200 repair pending on this car for a deal-breaker issue (broken headlight switch), plus the tires and brakes are bad (as in, we’ve been warned not to drive by a trusted source), and since I lost the key to the trunk we can’t repair the back taillight (it just went out two days ago) without some serious tomfoolery. In case I haven’t spelled it out, our car went from get-home-before-dusk to now being street illegal, and rather unsafe to boot with this whole brake thing (repair to the tune of $1200 not counting the tires).

In case you’re curious, that thing Ralph mentioned today so cautiously? An increasingly sluggish start (which I already knew was going down), not just a cold start, I’m thinking glow plugs.

I suppose it’s time to admit defeat and trudge our way to a used car lot, where on some kind of credit (maybe) we can get something financed, and let me tell you just how entirely distasteful that whole event is to comtemplate. I’d sooner go carfree entirely, which in a food desert is unwise, but while I’m willing to step off this cliff (and may indeed have to) it is a very difficult prospect for my husband, a bike ride of 6 1/2 miles one-way which isn’t too bad, but in my estimation is dangerous (and y’all know I’m balls-out about this personally but not when it comes to ten rainy long rides per week on a highway), bus rides with hour-long gaps if he could handle the other problems associated – ask him if you want to get a rant (people around here who never, ever have to ride the bus? Say we have a “great transit system”. They can bugger directly off).

So my point is, I was sort of thinking about some of this while I opened the fridge to get my son a drink tonight and I saw my husband had yesterday as per usual purchased organic milk (about $5 per gallon as compared to the best-scenario gas-station-special of $2), because for various reasons and regardless of where anyone reading places themselves on the debate (which will not be engaged in my commentspace), my husband has always given a damn what the kids eat and drink more than just about anything and, kind of even more tenderly, to me at least, how cows and farmers are faring as well. So maybe other people reading don’t get it, but lifting the jug out and then getting down a mason jar I squared my shoulders and felt better about the whole thing, not because we had good milk, but because I have a good man.

A little while back I decided the best thing for my constitution is that I no longer allow stress to prematurely age me and cause me ill health. This is a great mandate but a little tricker to practice, more or less specifically during certain patterns of weather (today applies) and at certain times of day. Already at 11 PM I feel the familiar stranglehold and my mind and body grasp at patterns of the not-really-soothing enterprises of additional eat and drink, instead of (a smarter solution) the much less glamorous vocation of taking a deep breath and patiently turning my face to the wall to wait it out. Best thing I have going for me, besides Ralph who at some earlier hour than I retires to sleep, are the kiddos and their infinite sweetness and their good smells and their soft skin and their loving hands.

In other news, I love Twitter, love it like deep-fried pickles, enough today it often served as a balm for all sorts of ills and kept me not only informed and enthralled (for instance, after much discussion next week’s broadcast is shaping up with more focus and some lovely new topics) but also the kind of senseless exploits I find so delightful. Example: tonight I amused myself (and a few others) live-tweeting the cheesetacular 1983 film-spectacle of Assery, The Keep (directed by an at-least demonstrably talented Michael Mann, even if this film was a bust). That was some Good Times to be had. Tomorrow, maybe it’ll be nice enough to get outside, and I refuse to look at a weather forecast for the bad news that surely lurks in my future.

***

It’s late so I don’t have the finesse to be delicate: but, car/financial/milk/etc. advice? Oh so not wanted. kthx

“A child’s hand in yours – what tenderness it arouses, what power it conjures…”


Happy Birthday!

To my son, on the eve of his seventh birthday,

Nels, I keep forgetting just how small you and your sister are, until you display such an incredible openness as you observe something new: you ask if only the government can print money, or you demonstrate impeccable penny-candy math with the jar of coin and cash in hand before cheerfully marching to the store. “Is that right?” you ask often, tossing your hair out of your eyes and looking up, pronouncing the final word, mmmright?

I’m not having an easy time with you lately. You shout a lot. You shout when you’re happy, you shout when you’re upset, you shout when a new thought or construct occurs to you. You run everywhere, you can climb and navigate and weave your way through trailside and across streets and on your bike and you are confidence, personified. It isn’t that the shouting or the running is a problem it’s that I have this tissue-thin sensitivity and I am so scared, deep down, that something might happen, a car usually is my terrified fear, watching you setting down the sidewalk with the satchel across your shoulders, going to grandma’s to check your sprouting corn, you can seriously grow anything even from very old seeds rattling in the junk drawer for a couple years.

And I forget sometimes, it’s shameful but I really do, that my job is to help you. Mama, I need some milk. And I’m irritated at you that the cupboards are too high for you without some gymnastics. Can you please help me put on my shoes? (Guess what, one way I have pretty much routinely screwed up as a parent, is not to have every pair of my kids’ shoes, ever, slip-on). It just kills me I’m such a shit about it, because you are growing up and up and up and I will miss you when you’ve up and gone.

We must be doing something right because you’re so often helping us. Can I get you something to drink? Mama, do you need anything? Or how every time you visit the shop you think of the rest of us; a daffodil for your father or Phoenix’s favorite sucker (you know the flavors she likes) or without fail offering me a drink of your juice or a bite of your Hershey’s bar (“Harshey’s”, you say). At night: stroking your father or I as we lie in bed, loving and giving always, when you’re not sleeping or it must be confessed, fighting with your sister or running rather wild and feral with confident plans of your own.

Yes, I forget how little you are, when we watch the silliest old B-movie and you’re terrified of the most remedial film artifice, creepy dry-ice effects around a biology-sample skull. “I’m scared alone,” you say – now and then, at night, not a frightened bone in your sister’s body but you are a different child. I’m rather exhausted and anxious at night but I respect you for speaking out, every time, about what you need, maybe someday I can do the same, and in final estimation it makes it a lot easier to do right by you.

Nels, you are little, but after I think about it a bit, you’re pretty big too.

I love you times one million as we like to say.

Nels, Satisfied

Little Chef

 

I’d go to any country, anywhere, any snakes, not a problem

Today? Was big-ass snake day.

Phoenie Smiled All Day

Mystery-Snake

Phoenix & The Albino Monocled Cobra

Baby Gator With My Baby

Cloudy Eye

Lurve My Anaconda Don't Want None

Goofing Off With The Anaconda

Black Mamba

Two Headed Red-Eared Slider

Osage Copperhead

Emerald Tree Boa

Even the finest photography (of I we cannot boast) is nothing compared to seeing these animals in the flesh. Truly incredible. I took about a zillion pictures (specifically, Phoenix took a picture of each and every animal, but I didn’t upload them all), and captioned with commentary.

Worth the cost (gas + admission etc. was about a week’s worth of groceries). Every penny. My daughter was delighted times one hundred. The employee there complimented her snake knowledge, dedication, and technique in handling the animals. It was a magical day, even with five hours ass-drive, hydroplaning on very wet freeways.

Your moment of Zen:

Thirsty Eastern Diamondback

we will know won’t we / the stars will explode in the sky

It’s quiet in our living room while my husband rests his head in my lap; the kids are in the newly-appointed craft studio in the back of the house. A hot cup of herbal tea freshly brewed sits on the coffee table, forgotten (I’d made it thinking Ralph might find it relaxing). My husband falls in and out of sleep and then after a bit wakes and asks, “Are you bored?”

“No,” I tell him. “I’m thinking. I’m hoping to live a long life with you.”

Ralph is tired. Over-tired. We both are. Tonight the four of us attended a lovely and lively show – the Handsome Little Devils, hosted at the college (talented, hilarious, and so kid-inclusive and wonderful). The show I wouldn’t have missed, but this was after a long day: in my case, running errands and visiting a potential studio locale; then cooking from-scratch cabbage rolls and Guinness Stout cake (for the Conch Shell tomorrow); freezing an apple pie and homemade Hostess cupcakes (for company coming Thursday). And of course, all the requisite cleaning and kid-wrangling (mine and others’) I get to do. Tomorrow, in the cooking sphere: garlic mashed potatoes, chocolate ganache, winter fruit salad with lemon poppyseed dressing.

And yes, since you asked, I’m doing about five thousand percent more dishes now that we’re running our “restaurant”.

Sometimes I think Ralph and I overwork and I wonder if we’ll ever be able to get out of that habit. It makes me sad at times to hold the man who was the boy I knew who didn’t have shit to worry about. But at the end of the day, we’re together and I have time to reflect how much this means to me. Holding his hand, I study it and I tell him I like being with you. He says, “It’s pretty great being with you too, you know.”

And so it goes.

a busy life, a just mind, a timely death

Cooking. Writing. Cooking. Cleaning. Groceries. Cooking. Cuddling. Mediating (fights between the children; today, over a pack of Magic cards). Another grocery run. I’d have worked even harder except someone else made us dinner tonight (Nels and I brought our from-scratch french silk pie).

You’ll forgive me if I don’t have much of an update. Except for a few pictures from our day.

Breakfast – oeuf en cocotte:
Oeuf En Cocotte

Nels, at his grandmother’s (corned beef with horseradish, potatoes and onions, steamed cabbage, fresh strawberries, and french silk pie). He wears his father’s hat. He loves how it smells just like Ralph.
In Grandma's Kitchen

Nels was full of so. much. energy today. He just about destroyed me. Here he takes a rest.
Atop

a pleasure as well as a necessity

The Conch Shell Deli

So, I know what you’re going to think: our new enterprise is fabulous. No, but seriously. Check out that menu. For realz. All that home-cooked fare? I am telling you it’s going to be good.

So yes, Nels and I are going to run a restaurant for a while. Well, it’s a “restaurant” anyway. Nels named it (I made the logo) and designed the scheme (when Ralph and I finished the website he was very impressed) and was quite opinionated about the selected dishes as well. Every Wednesday we’re making food (a fully-rendered dinner, paired dessert, and drink of choice), and packing it in reusable takeout for friends and family to opt-in. Yes, we came up with a market-value donation equivalent to, you know, if this were an actual business. Yes, we have one “customer” confirmed (my mom), and color all three of us food-geeks excited!

And while I’m at it, if it isn’t clear already, let me tell you something: EVERY aspect of this venture has my son in the driver’s seat. He’s emphatic we get paid (more in a bit). He’s also emphatic we freely share, too, though:

Sour Cream Banana Cake

Nels’ second part of our business plan: he wants our food to be free for those who can’t afford it – the “homeless” and “poor” (his words). And don’t think I’m not totally impressed he put forth this construct. He’s awesome.

So today we did just that with the above-shown cake – after errands Nels hopped out at the bus station with a colander full of wrapped sour cream banana cake parcels and handed them out; the kiddos walked the remainder through the front door of the Mission. Both Nels and Phoenix were very interested in all this and Nels talked, all the way home, about being happy he helped, and how he wanted to help more.

So I’m sure you’re thinking Wow that’s really cool, Kelly’s such a good / supportive / creative / talented mom, and That Nels is so sweet and bright etc. etc. But you don’t know the whole story.

I mean I’m not sure if I’ve rendered, fully, how fucking tenacious this child is. I mean I’ve talked about it here and there. Until recently he had the video game Minecraft occupying his body, mind, and soul. Now that he’s off the video games (for now) he has his 110% energy up to cooking, making menus, and heckling. Dear god the heckling. Let’s make this, let’s make that, put spaghetti and meatballs on the menu, also that Vietnamese dish, with the noonles (not a typo), and let’s test out dough for bread.

And the questions. I mean even as we’re making the goddamned bread at 1 AM. The questions, Great Balls. Why can’t we have an actual business and make money? Why would we have to pay to do that? Why do we have to have licensure, insurance, and cook in a different kitchen? I like cooking in our kitchen. Why can’t we just tell people about it, make ads and flyers? Can we serve breakfast, lunch and dinner? Can we share just dessert? Should dessert be ten dollars?

Who is homeless? How can you tell? Is a homeless person dirty with a cardboard sign? Why can’t I ask someone if they’re poor? Why does ______ keep saying they’re poor when they have a bigger house than us and two nice cars? Why did the city of Aberdeen post signs that tell people they shouldn’t help people? Is what we made healthy enough? Could we make something different tomorrow?

Can I give homeless people clothes?* Can I give them a computer? Would they like this palm pilot? Can I give them my money? I’m going to invite a homeless person to sleep at my house. I’m going to grow up and build a house with four extra bedrooms for people to sleep in. I’m going to have a hostel. People care too much about money. People should help.

It’s not just that eventually I’m at the point of “Mama why is the sky blue?” “Just shut up and eat your french fries”, it’s that rather early on I realize Nels is just right about everything, and I get tired thinking of how the world kinda sucks a lot of the time, and I’m pissed and tired I have to defend or explain. Any of it. Oh and I don’t want him to change, to lose this compassion and this intelligence and this love, and I’m scared one day he will, but I feel powerless to do anything. Except stay up all night baking bread while he pours in every cup (of eleven) of flour and says, “I love you, Mama.”

They’re exhausting. The kids. But it’s the right kind of exhaustion, I guess. Truthfully, I have no idea how long my six-year old will remain interested in this project, but I can say I’ve been enjoying the last few days immensely. Besides the menu and web design we’ve been testing recipes: three-bean chili with shredded pork, honey white bread, bún thịt bò xào, jalapeño jack cornbread, and sour cream banana cake. Tomorrow: yeasted Tabasco-cheddar biscuits, sesame slaw, and coconut muffins.

Yeah, it feels right.

Oh, and this Wednesday evening? Palak Panner, Vegetarian Korma with Carrots, Potatoes, and Cauliflower; Basmati Rice in Ghee with Cardmom and Cinnamon, Fresh-Squeezed Lemonade with Mint, and Coconut Cupcakes for dessert.

(The Mission, & a Grays Harbor Black Dog:)

Grays Harbor Black Dog

* Yes, I’ve explained how my extremely careful tending of clothing, including last week at the Aberdeen Clothing Bank, is in fact donating clothes, although Nels has a point about just going up to someone and offering them something.