a life in the day

Swim Date, Goggles At The Ready

The sun comes out again today but I’m still managing to have a frustrating morning. Things haven’t been going my way just lately, as I mentioned. So now at 11:30 I’m trying to make lunch for the kids. I haven’t eaten yet and I’m going to be late to my meeting. I’m in the middle of shouting instructions to the children (set the table, et cetera) and then my mom walks in my house. Uninvited. I’m terse with her and she leaves, then I snap at my son, who is wailing about something or other not going his way. After I snap at him he really sets up protesting.

I calm down.

I go to the living room, hug my son, apologize. I take a deep breath and call my mom up and she apologizes for walking in, says she knows I don’t like that. She and I talk over some details with some kid-date stuff and I hang up. At this point I’m resigned to being late to my meeting – it’s only a little late, anyway, and I could benefit if I’d get over being tense about this kind of thing, especially as long as I have dependents in the home who have needs too (after ten years you’d think I’d have learned this!). So I relax, set the food out, ask the kids if they want to come with me or stay home. They elect to stay, and while I’m gone they clean up the living room, sweep, put away the dishes, and pack their swim gear. Seriously. What the hell was I tense about?

I make my meeting and sit sipping coffee, grateful for the sunshine and an hour’s respite. Back home I grab a coffee the kids jump in the car, off for swimming after a quick cupcake snack (above). I run my errands and finally get my own lunch before heading back to the pool. Even though they’ve been there a while and I’m worried they’re very hungry, they’re not ready to get out. My daughter thinks I’m making them disembark and she’s sore at me. She lets me take a picture of her.

Swimming. Also, @phoenixhogaboom Is Pissed At Me

So I let the kids be and Ralph brings them home on his way for work. The children are (finally) famished. Grandma buys them a hamburger and they drink the last of the orange soda Emily brought the other day, reading their comics at the dining room table. Then the friends start over, the friends who’d been knocking all afternoon as soon as they were out of school. The kids, finished with dinner, hop up and they’ve grabbed the Flip camera and they’re filming, culminating in a trip to the train tracks to play a version of Bloody Mary. I finish a sewing project and put my feet up as dusk falls. I feel the end-of-day endorphins, or whatever, start to flow through  my body. A long day of yoga, housework, kidcare, writing, a meeting, helping friends, phone calls, haciendo planes, crafting. Now my bones ache for a hot bath and clean pajamas and snuggling up to the kids before bedtime.

Yeah. It ended up being a pretty good day.

Ribbons

your one & only

Gifts: Flowers, Plant, Señor Mysterioso

Left to right: the plant was a recent gift from a woman in Recovery.
The grape hyacinths a gift from my son.
Señor Mysterioso was a present for my 30th birthday from one of my friends in Port Townsend –
(he has faithfully watched over my kitchen ever since).

***

A few words on a subject. We live next door to my mother now, and that probably wouldn’t have gone so well a few years ago – especially given she is sort of the de-facto property manager, as my aunt owns the house. Yeah I KNOW! Who gets themselves into such a situation?

Well, I feel pretty good about the whole business. We’ve had a few key learning experiences over the years, especially since we moved back to Grays Harbor in 2007 and my parents and the kids began to experience each other more. Both households have put a lot of good-faith effort into the relationship, and that has yielded a strong and loving family experience.

I remember at first my mom could barely handle watching the kids for the hour and a half it would take Ralph and I to go out to a movie. When she did watch them, she’d talk about the event like it was kind of a big hassle. Not the kids, but the work of watching them. Do you know how much this bugged me, my mind the way it was, also the fact I was like OH REALLY IT’S HARD WORK, FUNNY I DIDN’T NOTICE THAT DOING IT EVERY DAY LIKE I DO YOU COLOSSAL ASS, NO ONE GIVES ME A BREAK!!! Yeah… that was me, alright. (#LOLsob) I know she didn’t mean to speak in a way to cause me anxiety and irritation; she was a stressed-out kitten. And so was I!

Then there was just the occasional invasive weirdness. She’d do stuff like offer to take the kids on a walk, citing – aloud – the suggestion Ralph and I could use that time to have sex (um… Ew, mom. Also? Not always my first priority when I have a little time without responsibilities. Probably more like a distant sixth priority. And may I reiterate? Ew, mom.).

So, I wasn’t especially grateful for my mother’s help, conditional as it was. Like a laser-beam I focussed on her limitations, instead of acknowledging several facts. One, no one owes me SHIT. *ahem*. Two, my mom always had trouble with kids including her own, back in the day (hell, she has trouble with Responsibility, period, often feeling claustrophobic). I’m not proud to admit this – but I was judging her the way so many others judge mothers. Three, my dad was sick with cancer and dying, and during this I knew better than most, many of the ways this affected her. You’d think I’d have more sympathy. Finally, although it would be nice if the world assisted parents/carers of children more, especially in those early years, at least where I’ve lived they kinda don’t. Again, I was aware of this by the time we moved here. So why I thought my mom “owed” me more than what anyone else was giving, is beyond me (well wait, I know why – childhood resentments! More in a minute).

The simple but kinda flooring fact is: my mother was the ONLY person in our lives who offered this kind of help with any regularity – even the ladies in Port Townsend were more like, “LET’S TRADE” – and my father, loving a grandfather as he was, seemed happy to have the kids over but didn’t actively try to help my mother much. He let her do most of the worrying, feeding, et cetera.

But from the beginning my parents respected Ralph and I were adults with kids of our own. They honored or even celebrated our journey caring for children they loved so very much, just like we loved the children. That was pretty damned cool and not something everyone has. My parents were also willing to hear how Ralph and I did things differently than they themselves had. I think that takes a lot of strength, or faith. When all is said and done, I consider my parents and my brother three of my biggest EVER supporters. I am really fortunate in this regard.

My father died before I got sober, but things improved between my mother even more when this happened for me. The resentments I’d long held, some subtle, some festering and large, those all went away. This has made a tremendous difference in my life, one I cannot overstate. When it comes down to it, it matters little if the wrongs done to me as a child and teen were real or imagined. I had held them too long and let them operate on me, to the detriment of all I came into contact with. I gave myself the gift of forgiveness. and it’s made me a better daughter, sister, friend, wife, and mother.

Living next door to one another, today we have a few courtesy traditions. We are clear – so far (grin) – on whose house is whose. Everyone knocks or rings doorbells, no one just enters. In fact, today after my mom invited me in for coffee, my son came over and even though he knew I was there, he still observed the doorbell-ringing. Class act.

Most days the kids are back and forth, either helping Grandma with her projects – like working on planting or building a greenhouse, or cleaning the fish pond – or just goofing off on errands. My mom helps take care of the kids, something she does with regularity. We can ask one another for favors, and, as far as I can tell, we give and take with willing spirits. The kids are getting some fine treatment. Once a day my mom takes them out for a burger or shake, or chocolate milk, feeds them steak for breakfast, or invites them over for a smoothie and cartoons. Ralph brings dinner over to her house, something he did at the old house but is even easier now. I make coffee when she comes over, stopping my work if necessary. She’s my mom, and I’m fortunate to still have her around.

From the very beginning I let my kids have their own relationship with most people, but yes, even my parents. I’m really glad I did this – it was really a deep-rooted choice for me that at times seemed contraindicated by others I saw around me. I guess when it comes down to it, even back in the day I trusted everyone to be themselves – and I really trusted my kids to form their own thought-life and relationships.

It’s good stuff.

respite, almost finit

Two days ago as I made the bed and negotiated with Nels about making his breakfast and creating a fort (he wanted me to do both, simultanously) my mother’s boyfriend D. walked in the house (like he will) and asked if he could use the phone (like he does). I said, “Absolutely,” and got back to my one hundred million things I was trying to get done (on the list: make kids’ haircut appointments, pick up the silk dress with its $5 repair, drop off organized fabric scraps to the Senior Center thrift shop, pick up tracing medium, get groceries, fuck around in the hardware store for way too long looking for 8/32 bolts and appropriate t-nuts and then miss the consignment shop’s closing time by a few minutes and get all cranky). D. beeped away for a while and finally talked with my mom about something or other and loudly ended the conversation with, “I love you too, sweetie-pie,” and then he drove away and once again I had the house to myself.

I felt a small hit in my gut. Our peaceful past month is about to transform into, once again, the challenge of living with my mother and her goings-on and her boyfriend whom I have mixed feelings for which I address by being polite as I can, inclusive (even when I don’t feel like it), and allowing myself space from the situation. For all I know the guy walks into the house and thinks it is my family that intrudes – intrudes on time with his ladyfriend, or the big warm house with plumbing and electricity (and a phone) and comforts he’d otherwise have a more free enjoyment of. Forgive me, but my time spent in a certain seaport town and watching aged Peter Pan types live off the comfort and material possessions of their paramours while they self-report a more idyllic, simpler lifestyle has made me a bit of a suspicious asshole.

And anyway, I go back and forth on the “shoulds” of our living situation.  My mother should have privacy and a place all to herself, right? No wait, this is a 2500 sq. ft. house and it should be lived in by many people who fill it up and love it and clean it and care for it.  And the truth is, I really don’t know.  In a lot of ways it’s easier (if more expensive) to carve out one’s own space, to live in such a way you can instantly flee when you arent’ getting along – instead of being forced to keep the peace and make the effort.  Despite ups and downs living here in the Family Home, the last time my mother and I talked about it she asked us to stay.  For now, we’re staying.

This morning Nels is thinking about nothing except his sister’s arrival, imminent.  Last night he made Sophie an elaborate “track” out of labeled popsicle sticks leading through the house and to a little offering on the table:  a bowl of nuts he painstakingly opened himself, a spooky Halloween ghost craft, a new coffee cup, and a handmade flower card.  I am proud of myself I made it two weeks without Sophie and without crying and even while enjoying myself a lot.  This weekend the family is reunited for a trip to Port Townsend where Ralph and co. will play a show and an acoustic set at the local record shop; we’ll be joined by many friends, eat great food, dance, and have little time to adjust to our to any kind of foursome normalcy until Sunday.

it takes a big man to cry, but it takes an even bigger man to laugh at that man

Today my mother, when pressed, apologized for not honoring my conditions of friendship. I’ve grown up knowing my whole life I was Me, myself, but not being able to express that Self in my family without being punished, lashed out at, vilified, or ultimately labelled in some very unflattering way (“difficult”, “selfish”, “uncivil” – a series of adjectives most people I know are always surprised to hear was part of my family’s lexicon). I’ve found living in her house again that although I can in private articulate something I want for myself, or something I feel, it has been hard for me to bring these to her attention.

For instance when I confronted her a couple weeks ago about continuing to come in, unnannounced and unwelcome into the two rooms my family has to ourselves – after she’d promised to stop two weeks before that – she immediately grew angry (but underneath, I think, frightened and embarrassed) and defensive. The first thing out of her mouth was, “Why do you have to make this so hard?” For the past month or so she has decided I diskile her boyfriend (which is true) because of reasons linked to my father (which is not). In fact to hear my mom’s reports about my feelings (which she gives me when I confront her about something I’d like different in our household) she has guessed at and clung to all sorts of things about why I feel the way I do – without ever asking me how I in fact feel.

This gives me great pain because, as I told her this morning in our kitchen over a cup of coffee, I want her to know me. You’d think she would, as I grew up in her household; but in many ways I remain guessed at. When she has (correctly) assessed I am angry or tense she has imagined the reason why, avoided at all costs a discussion around my anger or upset, and then taken people aside to either talk about her distress or my feelings – all of which not only dismays me deeply but must be very hard on her as well.

This morning’s conversation went far better than the one from two weeks ago. Toward the end of our talk I told her I wanted both of us to be able to make requests of the other, knowing that at first it will be hard for both of us (both to say, and to respond to). In fact when I think about it, my family of orgin was so unbelievably nonconfrontational it is a wonder I have made my way in the world to the extent I have. Even today after my mom apologized (something she has a very hard time with) it was so overwhelmingly reflexive for me to dismiss my initial request – by saying, “It’s OK,” – in other words, quickly “saving” the Apologizer from the pain of being wrong and acknowledging it. Instead I said, “Thank you”, and swallowed hard, and didn’t say another word.

It was almost excrutiating for an apology to pass between us. But I know it was right.

Yup, Pretty Much My Life

a chapter in my life which i will call “barely parenting”

I have a mental image of my kids our first few days in our new place: I walk through the kitchen or the laundry room and my kids are cutting things with knives and twisting baling wire and firing up blowtorches. I mean they love it here. And why not? I sure did, growing up – and so did many of my friends.  There is an endless amount of “junk drawers” and art supplies – so many art supplies – as well as two other adults, my mom and the tenant Jasmine, in their living quarters upstairs, where my children (who are instructed to call first) vanish to draw or read or play or, as in the case with Nels a few days ago, help houseclean. Outside the children tumble about in a huge yard full of overgrown flowers and vegetables and wooden fences and little yard statuary stuff and a koi pond and, as it happens, a construction crew out back tearing apart the deck and making it into a greenhouse.  The cats are similarly enthralled, finding new places to stalk and new hidey-holes to sleep in and an endless supply of kitchen scraps and soft piles of clean towels to lie on (until Sophie, employing some Cat Psychology she’s learned from the library books she’s been checking out, covered our towels with a large piece of aluminum foil).

This large house went from two inhabitants to six; add Jasmine and my mother’s boyfriends, and there are a lot of people coming and going. I cook and clean during the day and try to get back into the swing of sewing. Sophie is learning to run errands around the neighborhood. It is her responsibility to pick up the mail from our Post Office box and to take my mother’s dog for walks. Yesterday she took her first solo trip to the bike shop. Being on the west side of Hoquiam allows for a lot more neighborhood exploration and errands for my children; we also have a deli, a hardware store, the library, a handful of thrift stores, and a drug store within very close range.

We’re still sorting our last bit of moving (the landlords of the previous place called and requested a move-up of our last day from next Monday to tomorrow). It’s hard to know what “normal life” will look like when Ralph can come home from work and get back to what he wants to do, and I won’t have such long days in the house. Ralph and I are faring well but the kids are doing fabulously. I managed to forget for days and days that sometimes kids don’t like to move. I’m not sure if it’s that we have been moving to more and more interesting digs or if my kids are just getting more and more empowered to mess about in exciting kidlet ways; my sense is it’s both.

Shopping in the run-down district. Which is a large district, around here.

Shopping in the run-down district. Which is a large district, around here.

Photo courtesy of Kahuku Photography.