blah blah blah, but there are two kissing bunnies at the end, promise

Daily I pore through several feed reader subscriptions, online community discussions, and email newsletters that come my way. Ralph joked the other day sometimes my posted links seem like a lot of work. I have to laugh because of course I never expect any particular reader to read through everything I post (although I am always, always gratified to hear someone tell me my output has supported, engaged, and/or challenged them). But I should mention the links and works I post here or write about in my impeccably-annotated Underbellie articles are a mere fraction of what I often digest – including those things I consume with regularity and hardly ever write about here – like the Mr. X Stitch blog, married to the sea comic, and my Yahoo groups including OttobreLost Skeleton of Cadavra, about four or five various unschooling lists, and a few more.

I am ambivalent about the amount of material I ingest. One one hand this is my brain food which I then process and mess about with through reflection, conversation, and writing (in about that order). On the other hand I wonder if I am synthesizing or consuming this sheer number of things in the most effective way and if this is a smart way to live my life. I guess it’s time for me to dust off that Magic 8 Ball and ask.

Still, this all seems my speed (for now). I don’t much worry about the time these materials take from my daily work. As anyone who reads here knows I do indeed have “a life” outside the internetz* which involves a lot of social time and cooking and family time and friends and neighbor kids and running and other fun fuckeries (the bodywork of running is very helpful for the active brain). And no matter how much I output, it’s very much at speed there too: my buzzing little brain and my 90 wpm typinz (& talking) skills keep me in a state of Flow.

So out of all I read and shared today, for some reason this tag-end of a parenting mini-digest struck a chord with me:

“Paradoxically, when you don’t ‘need’ your child to be happy to prove you’re succeeding, your child will eventually be much happier!”

This might sound paradoxial, or alternatively to some people Boring, but it has absolutely borne itself out in our life with our children and I take a moment to express my gratitude for this.

I used to manage my kids’ feelings quite a bit. I’ve always known this wasn’t probably the right thing to do; breaking the habit is hard. I used to get irritated with their “whining” or their lack of enthusiasm for Household Chores or what I perceived as a lack of “team” effort (such “team efforts” were usually things Ralph and I had decided and apparently expected them to get right on board with, Borg-like rather than being their own people). I admit I still get triggered by my son’s now-relatively rare verbal and loud protestations. I believe I am triggered not because he is especially loud or “unreasonable” (as people like to call children) but because I am still coming off a worldview I used to live by – that my children’s behavior was a direct reflection of my competence as a mother (not just a parent, a mother) or my worth as a person (not just a person, a woman). So Nels complaining or yelling wasn’t just a bit rattling or inconvenient, it was a referendum on my Worth that induced deep-level panic and anxiety (no matter how well or poorly I might have seemed to perform in the moment). I’m sure many parents reading here get what I mean.

Still, I have improved.  I can’t speak enough to the freedom and livelihood and ease of living we four have been experiencing together increasingly over the last – I don’t know, six months or a bit more. As might surprise exactly no one, my kids’ “whining” has gone down about tenfold since we started practicing a different lifestyle and their expressed contentment and happiness (and therefore “helpfulness”) has increased proportionately.

Today I got in a brief discussion with a Smarty McPhd-pants regarding parenting. He told me there were all these studies about “strict” vs. “permissive” parenting and my kids might benefit from “permissive” parenting but other kids needed “strict” parenting (so HANDS OFF discussing the subject, as the “well there are all sorts of ways to parent” phraseology is often used). For the record, I believe the “strict” vs. “permissive” parenting is false rhetoric predicated on the concepts there is no third way, that parents are the Authority and any strategy resulting should come from the Top-down and be managed or enacted in a sort of God-like fashion.

I am so, so glad for our sake we started finding that third way (or whatever you’d call it). It’s for that reason I love writing about it so much (sorry if it’s boring!); nothing thrills me more than to think other families might begin to experience what we have.

Before I get too New Agey or touchy-feely on this subject I will just say our household experiences more peace, joy, and liveliness than it did even a year before (and we have always rather enjoyed one another). So today when I read this parenting digest quote I see the truth. That in freeing up narratives and expectations about providing my kids with everything, including Moral Conduct Prescriptives and management for their daily lives/schedules – and in having the resources to feed and house our foursome, a position I strenuously note not every family, sadly, finds themselves – we have indeed released ourselves of quite a bit of stress and our children seem much happier.

As with most large-scale positive improvements there have been adjustments I could not have foreseen and some have not been easy. I need to write about them soon because I have not, not yet. But at this point today I’m feeling very grateful for happier children; a gift I did not anticipate entirely nor could have predicted how exactly I would have manifested. I could write many examples in how this has been lived and experienced, and maybe I will soon.

In other, even more boring Kelly Hogaboom ramblings, I am currently working on a sewing project with a very challenging fabric. It is eating away at my patience and, it must be said, my self esteem. It reminds me a bit – just a bit – of the tough work of baby-birthin’. If you get too worried about the pain of having your body contort through birth you could get scared and unable to manage the Now (I said this project reminded me of birth a little bit, remember?). I am trying to stay focused and move carefully and steadily through the challenges even though I am not happy with them.  Soon I will be working on another project, with another fabric – and I’ll feel less crabby.

I’m also going to make a request of any who might comment here.  It is not easy for me to say but I am going to anyway.  I feel a sense of overwhelm at the moment very much related to A. my difficulty in adjusting to less sunshine (I have learned over the years this really does affect me) and B. issues going on with loved ones in my life. While I am happy to keep comments on my blog open, I’m hoping for gentleness and support in any who choose to comment over the next day or so. Not-commenting is fine too – or even just sharing rather trite, winning stuff – like kittens etc. Because you know what? Kittens Etc. are important. Maybe even essential for some of us. Maybe this is why I have four goddamned cats. Who are seriously a source of joy and silliness and simple, uncomplicated rituals of mutual contentedness.

* Although it always vaguely irritates me when people pick on those whose social lives are very internet-based, as if certain kinds of friendships and social interactions are inescapably less “real” than others – bullshit.

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.

an apologist for lurve

I have to be so careful not to sound like I’m fetishizing the child-raising and family experience because, to tell the truth, it often seems to sound like I am.

What’s cool is that I do not promote my writings for readership nor take ad money or try to get picked up or join a web ring or in any way try to make a cash living out of the whole bit. It’s not that I have a judgment on those courses of action, it’s that I don’t want to do things that way with my writing (it is, um, mine after all). What the purity of my desire to merely communicate boils down to for me is a certain lack of pressure on my writings, whether they be Good or Ass. I can know that truly if I am boring anyone reading it’s not like I have in any way tried to say this journal is worthy of large readership or Everyone Should Listen. I talk so much on familiar subjects I’m sure I’ve scared may off, yawning. Secretly I’m happy to kind of Not Really Know About the many who’ve found me distasteful and fled. I am happy when I hear my writings mean something to others, I am. I am sad when my writings cause others distress, although I can’t always know when, how, or why this happens. I endeavor to communicate my experiences as clearly as I can, with little other goal.

Writing about my family and children is really writing about my expansion of experience. I find myself daily amazed at the lessons I learned in childhood and how I merely assimilated them even when they were hurtful or twisted. My life with kids and family has been quite healing as there are so many things I suffered as a kid, not huge travesties of justice mind you, but a series of Wrongs so subtle yet linked together such that my worldview used to be a sadder, more cramped one. For years I was angry or depressed that that world was The Way It Was and there was Nothing One Could Do About It. Today I know neither of those things are completely true; it is my children who’ve been my greatest teachers in this regard.

My family continues to afford me the opportunity to not only provide them with a gentleness and respect I was not always afforded, but to provide it to others as well. Today while my husband and I had breakfast out an older couple with their two young grandchildren shuffled in and sat behind us. The kids were enthusiastic about the venue (an airport cafe) and talked and babbled excitedly. Two things occurred to me: one that I was glad my husband and I were alone and did not have to “mind” squirrelly kids who get glares from grownups, and two that their voices, “raised” as they were, were so much sweeter and smaller than their carers likely heard them.

In another moment this observation was tested. The older child, a boy of four or so, became angry with his grandmother. He put his hands on her face and shouted to get her attention: “Grandma, you need to stop! You were wiggling! You are not supposed to wiggle!” Ralph and I carefully and successfully managed not to laugh aloud. The two adults at the table responded with a muffled and unified fury. I heard the grandfather (sitting so close to me our backs were almost touching) speak very sternly and angrily to the children: that was enough of that or they’d have to go home. The “disruptive” child seemed to have already lost focus in the moment, likely as he had assured his grandmother’s full attention on the grievance he wanted aired. The tiny ruckus had passed, leaving a slight air of tension in their corner of the diner.

I turned around to the subdued table and said quietly, “Grandma, I’m watching you. I saw you wiggling.”

At this the grandfather burst into deep and hearty laughter and the grandmother’s face relaxed. “Yes, I was. I was wiggling while I was moving this chair,” she affirmed. Ralph and I laughed because (we hardly needed to verbally share) the child’s outburst reminded us very much of one of our own. I can’t know if my joshing had any good affect on these fellow-diners (although it seemed to), but I can remember the times a kind stranger has smiled at me to let me know hey, it’s okay, we’re all human, and your children are human too. It has meant so much to me in a microcosm that often seems to wish my children to be silent and required a perfection of mother-care (these “perfections” often at odds with one another) and an unpleasant series of Disapproval hand-slappers. I thought how sad if parents, grandparents and carers can’t hear the “ruckus” of these small children, their voices so much smaller than the adult conversations happening all around the crowded restaurant, without feeling a tension to respond according to the cultural pressures in the room.

My father was a person with a resevoir of memory. He could bring forth a previously-unheard anecdote or Buddhist story or even a (usually funny) joke, always (it seemed to me) in moments when they most applied. I remember a story he told me once or twice. It is a part of the education he gave me that I savor.

One day while walking through the wilderness a man stumbled upon a vicious tiger. He ran but soon came to the edge of a high cliff. Desperate to save himself, he climbed down a vine and dangled over the fatal precipice.

As he hung there, two mice appeared from a hole in the cliff and began gnawing on the vine. His situation was growing more dire.

Suddenly, he noticed on the vine a plump wild strawberry. He stretched his arm out, reached, plucked it and popped it in his mouth. It was incredibly delicious!

Since the day my father told me this story it has meant a great deal to me. It is like something tender that swims in my heart. The slings and arrows of life and the blows and defeats; the inevitability of death and the lack of security in this flesh – none of these things can take away the meaning this story has for me right now.

8 AM
Phoenix, Nels, and Ralph this morning. The children sleep holding hands.

everybody needs a mentor

“Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are” is true enough, but I’d know you better if you told me what you reread.
РFran̤ois Mauriac

Many of my heroes aren’t even real people but perhaps fictional – maybe even ideas of people.  Teachers long dead who weren’t even real in the first place.

Case in point: Sherlock Holmes.  In my mind and my heart – my nose in a book as long as I can remember – he’s never been the tweed-cloaked stodgy Brit with a magnifying glass, all smart and superior.  No, in revisiting his improbable adventures year after year, forward and backwards, he has been someone I know, someone I feel a kinship to, someone more corporeal to me than words on a page.  I own only a handful of books and at present two of them are Sherlock Holmes volumes (one on indefinite loan from Saint Placid’s Priory, the other a free paperback I’d found at the library).

The words of his stories still thrill me in the delicious way I feel when spending time with someone who satisfies me through-and-through; last night I read “The Adventure of The Speckled Band”, and sank my teeth into the passage which introduces the despicable Dr. Roylott – and Holmes’ handling of this villainous personage:

“But what, in the name of the devil!”

The ejaculation had been drawn from my companion by the fact that our door had been suddenly dashed open, and that a huge man framed himself in the aperture.  His costume was a peculiar mixture of the professional and of the agricultural, having a black top-hat, a long frock-coat, and a pair of high gaiters, with a hunting-crop swinging in his hand.  So tall was he that his hat actually brushed the cross bar of the doorway, and his breadth seemed to span it across from side to side.  A large face, seared with a thousand wrinkles, burned yellow with the sun, and marked with every evil passion, was turned from one to the other of us, while his deep-set, bile-shot eyes, and the high thin fleshless nose, gave him somewhat the resemblance to a fierce old bird of prey.

“Which of you is Holmes?” asked this apparition.

“My name, sir, but you have the advantage of me,” said my companion, quietly.

“I am Dr. Grimesby Roylott, of Stoke Moran.”

“Indeed, Doctor,” said Holmes, blandly.  “Pray take a seat.”

“I will do nothing of the kind.  My stepdaughter has been  here.  I have traced her.  What has she been saying to you?”

“It is a little cold for the time of the year,” said Holmes.

“What has she been saying to you?” screamed the old man furiously.

“But I have heard that the crocuses promise well,” continued my companion imperturbably.

“Ha! You put me off, do you?” said our new visitor, taking a step forward, and shaking his hunting-crop.  “I know you, you scoundrel!  I have heard of you before.  You are Holmes the meddler.”

My friend smiled.

“Holmes the busybody!”

His smile broadened.

“Holmes the Scotland Yard jack-in-office.”

Holmes chuckled heartily.  “Your conversation is most entertaining,” said he.  “When you go out close the door, for there is a decided draught.”

“I will go when I have had my say.  Don’t you dare to meddle with my affairs.  I know that Miss Stoner has been here – I traced her!  I am a dangerous man to fall foul of.  See here.” He stepped swiftly forward, seized the poker, and bent it into a curve with his huge brown hands.

“See that you keep yourself out of my grip,” he snarled, and hurling the twisted poker into the fireplace, he strode out of the room.

“He seems a very amiable person,” said Holmes, laughing.  “I am not quite so bulky, but if he had remained I might have shown him that my grip was not much more feeble than his own.” As he spoke he picked up the steel poker, and with a sudden effort straightened it out again.

Ah, how this account struck terror, adventure, admiration, a kind of glowing pride to read it!

Holmes wasn’t smart, not really.  He had a good memory but was – rather than the deductive reasoner he is renowned for being – above all things: intuitive.  He was by turns anti-social and deeply amused by the company of the unwashed masses (or uptight nobility), living a life completely his own outside a society obsessed with social niceties.  He was a poor housekeeper, a smoker, and an occasional cocaine fiend, by turns energetic and lazy.  He didn’t work for money but for the work itself, and he allowed clients to pay him what they could afford.  He was at ease undercover in an opium den or in rooms of State, with palpitating damsels or remorseless thugs.  He loved his friend and partner Watson – deeply – but he was not demonstrative or given to emotional outbursts (FTW and totally relatable! Because as my friend Abi likes to say, I am “not a hugger”).  He was strong but not a bully.  He was brave but had nothing to prove to anyone.  He was a bright star but he was Human, and human in way I could relate to even as a young girl.  And he was Free.

How I wanted to be Holmes, as a child. It almost seems in some way I did live his life – in between building forts behind the train tracks with my brother, swinging on the tire swing in our aged and venerable willow tree, the life I lived free when I wasn’t preoccupied by Doing Well in School, which was apparently my job and since I did that, people were more or less happy with me (what shit rewards that all turned out to be!).  Holmes was a part of me that wanted to follow my own lights.

I wonder if I still have time to do so.

Oh yeah, and since you asked? Yeah, I saw the recent movie version. And I didn’t like it much. It wasn’t my Holmes at all.

“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.

to never grow old

Tonight while tracing patterns (I’m making my children winter coats for Christmas) I caught sight of my high school yearbook.  I only own one from 1995, my senior year.  It’s a rather underwhelming object and one day I will likely chuck it altogether.  I can’t own the ideas in books – why own the books?  I experienced high school – what does this tome do for me at all?  As it is, the number of books we own is just a handful.  Each month it gets easier to own fewer (hello, awesome library system!) and this makes me feel like I have less baggage, less to grip onto that I can’t really hold.

But tonight I remembered a young woman I went to school with, because if I had my facts correct she was brutally murdered a few years after graduation.  Yeah, not just murdered, but tortured and beaten and half-drowned and worse.  And I somehow knew this although – if I remember correctly – it barely made news up here and I don’t remember anyone I know talking about it.  So tonight I found her name in the yearbook then I went online and found one pathetic article about her murder.  One little article that talked about her death, and gave Hoquiam as her hometown, and mostly made a point about how soulless and terrible her killers were.  And I couldn’t find anything else about this girl or who she was or who her family was / is.  To all the rest of the world online at least – she never existed.

She was murdered the year I was first dating Ralph; a year I experienced as the start of so much in my life in so many ways.  And what really haunts me about this girl is that I knew her, or knew of her, and she was kind of one of those people you don’t pay attention to very much because she was in a pretty low social class.  Someone with little advantages and even though you (I) would never be as cruel as to look down on her for this, in some way I did let her get labeled as sort of less-than, and I didn’t give her much thought, not more than anyone else.  And I think about how when she died she was truly all alone – okay, so we all will be, really – but I never took the opportunity to know her, or (in my memory at least) to look at her once and she could know, I see you, and we could see eachother, before we never had the chance again.

Usually we’re allowed to pass through life and our lack of kindness or notice – well, we never really know how it affects others, or conversely how its offering would have improved their lot.  And I wonder how many other times I’ve failed to give anyone kindness or even my presence. What a gift it would be – maybe the only gift I really have – if I did so, more often.

“I didn’t say it would be a GOOD story”

“Daddy Daddy DADDY!” My son, abruptly, screams from the bathtub.  This is normal: the kids have baths every night, a nighttime ritual.  Nels will play for the better part of an hour by himself and then suddenly be overcome with either fear or imperious need for my husband.  His scream makes me want to hammer my own skull in.

I’m tidying up in the bedroom and I watch Ralph pause in the living room.  My husband has his back turned to me so it’s impossible to tell if he’s irritated or resigned or perfectly happy to enter the bathroom.  Nels’ demanding scream is a near-nightly occurrence.  He doesn’t do it to me, oddly, which is just as well.  Tonight Ralph waits a few beats then travels to the bathroom and addresses whatever it is our son needs.

A few minutes later while Ralph vacuums the living room (a near-daily necessity for a wife who spends a lot of time on the sewing machine) the kids find an online video game, something based on the old Space Invaders (or perhaps Asteroids) and called, unbelievably, Arse Race – including floating human posteriors that need some sort of rescue (the game is perfectly PG, just asinine).  I get praise from my friends and family for my mothering, but truth be told I am often rather torn.  Sometimes I feel like kids “should” be doing chores, “earning their keep”, washing dishes or sweeping if we’re doing the same.  Other times I think, fuck it, why not let them play Arse Race?  My brother and I did very, very little in terms of housework growing up.  I remember feeling a vague disapproval from my parents – sometimes a sarcastic remark from my father or a wheedling plea to do a chore from my mother.  And really, what of it?  We grew up, learned what it was like to keep our own lives, and we both do fine.

So when I think of it that way I often come to the conclusion the best thing we can do as parents is model cheerful, hard work when it comes to the house.  The kids can partake or not; if they don’t want to help in the evening, when they’re tired, they must also wait for the nighttime snack of homemade applesauce – or get it themselves – and know we won’t be snuggling up with a story or a B-movie until our work is done.  For the most part, cheerful, hard work isn’t hard for me during the day because I enjoy keeping house; especially when it’s part of my daily rhythm, of running, sewing, swimming, cooking, running errands, reading, cuddling with the kids.

It seems it’s the evening that housework can be the hardest; Ralph and I are tired but committed to order.  One day – and honestly, it will come so soon – our children will be out of our house and we will likely have all the freedom we occaisonally pine for now.  This is something I should try harder to keep in mind.

of "fight or flight", the former

Recently I watched what seemed like an alpha-contest between two or three women in one of the institutions I volunteer with. As a voting member on the team I was involved in meetings and lengthy discussions around courses of action: calls for policy decisions that seemed necessary to several. I tried my best to be fair and to not allow the strong opinions those involved – some I was close to, others less so – sway me in what I thought were right actions for the group.

The conflict resolved, as these things often do, by fairly drastic action: the resignation of one of the long-standing members. In my contact with the individuals involved I inferred a strong sense of “winning” from the parties who went head-to-head the most – they each had their stories, their versions; they were supremely justified in their actions toward the other and in some cases held excellently-rendered character attacks in place (which for some reason give me pain to hear).

What I’ve been thinking about lately is not this particular group, the members of which seem to all be moving on. It’s the subject of how we handle conflict, the desire to wrestle control. In these interactions I recognize within myself the impulses and behaviors that later I have come to regret – but sadly, have a hard time growing out of.

I have come to wonder if domination, or the instinct to dominate, is born out of two impulses: hurt or fear. When I am hurt I will throw out my best defense, my logical precepts, my “if-you-put-it-down-in-writing-it-is-true” arguments – rather than take the time to find the deeper truth, not the words being said, but what is really happening between us. In my experience when I find this deeper truth there is, really, nothing so hurtful after all. A mortal enemy can turn into a friend (this has happened to me many times). And yes, thank goodness, I find my desire, or my needs, which can always be communicated gently and firmly. I am not a doormat; hardly. I am someone who will get my needs met because I no longer require validation from others before I set off to do so.

As I type this I try to feel fear again so I can describe it here. Fear has a different shape than hurt; fear dwells within me, not always known consciously, and therefore treacherously easy to activate. When someone taps it, an ugly force takes over and I am off to the races with a well-defined object in my rifle scope. How often do I suddenly realize I am lashing out against my husband, or my family, and that although I am mostly right there is a tiny part of me that is horribly, horribly wrong? In these cases I have let my own emotional self lie dormant and misshapen, and now I’m inflicting her wounds on others. How often in the middle of such a fight do I sense my own character flaws? Am I willing to halt, to stop, to pull back – or will I go on carrying the argument out to the bitter, “triumphant” end?

Just yesterday I allowed myself to participate in this kind of fear – the strenuous arguments, the desire to resolve, to squash, to finalize, to finish a discussion so I would never have to go through it again. “I’d had enough”. I was going to make a stand. This was, of course, with my husband, and in this case involved an issue of money.

Today I realize, with sadness, that for one thing I talked too much. Every point I made yesterday could have been simplified and could have been stated with dignity. “Talking too much” might not seem that bad at first; but wait. It is not that I said anything I regret, or that I don’t believe today in what I did yesterday. It is that I allowed myself too much verbiage, that in my hurt and irritation I threw out so much verbal flak it could easily be experienced as an offensive, as anger, as a series of specific slights on him (this pains me to think about). My behavior yesterday could not be experienced by my husband as I experience myself now, the morning after: a stronger sense of self, a knowledge of criticisms I am surprisingly vulnerable to.

My husband has sometimes accused me of saying something but behaving a different way. Of course; why wouldn’t this be true? The bottom line is boy, I sure like to talk. Can I back up all I am saying?

Words have consequences; and as someone who loves to use them I hope I can incorporate more self-knowledge and more wisdom about when to slow down.

"the name for God in the lips and hearts of children"

Yesterday afternoon I held my son down for several moments as a nurse injected his legs four times with needles: vaccines to protect him – and other children – from nasty infectious diseases. It was an overt betrayal, the type I’ve rarely participated in against my children. Nels cried and yelled: “OK, OK, OK! I’m done! That’s enough!” I could see his suffering, smell his hot little head, hear his panic; I was with him while he was crystallized in pain and fear.

I am a Big Girl as a mama now and don’t always feel the sting of tears when my children are hurt or maligned; not because I don’t ache for them but because I want to be present for them during these moments, not distracted by my mixed emotions. In these moments holding Nels I was thinking, though, about how many of our decisions as parents are, well, arbitrary. We hope for and thrive off the support and likeminded choices of our peer group, our families, our heroes, and if or when this kind of herd mentality is nonexistent, we can suffer very much indeed.

Vaccinations, for me, represent this truth – the fact we are, in the final analysis, alone in our choices as parents. In the case of inoculations there are so many wildly disparate, vociferous opinions, backed with empirical evidence, science or pseudo-science on both sides. I am helpless now, in the doctor’s examination room, my husband and I having made our decision based on what information we trust, and our choices being played out in such a stark way – our child howling and crying.

This afternoon my son removed his four bandages on his own in the bathroom – one bloody, presumably from his first shot where his wiry body convulsed and threw the nurse half across the room (I felt a kind of twisted maternal satisfaction at her grunt of “Jesus Christ!” or some other expletive, surprised by his strength). Bloody bandage cast aside, Nels has moved on. He is either safer or less safe based on our decision (although he obviously did not have a negative reaction from the vaccines) and in any case, remains completely trusting in me for the care of his person.

A gift, an amazing responsibility, a truth that plays out daily.

Suse, Self-Portrait

"we did it and you know it!"

One of the things I like about living “back home” (that is to say, the hometown of my formative years) are the many, many memories I have when I bike, walk, or drive around the neighborhoods. It seems like I’d run out of old memories but I just don’t and they pop up unbidden: I remember going to a party at that house and this guy answered without his shirt on and I felt weirdly uncomfortable; hey, we watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre there and it scared me out of my wits; I was once invited to a pool date at the house of a higher social status peer – only once invited; oh, we smoked pot in that house; I once got sick doing Robitussin in the driveway of that house; I used to climb out of my bedroom window to see a boy there; I was friends briefly with a preacher’s daughter that lived there. Memories all reduced to just that, memory – in most cases not a single tenant remains, the houses have changed or atrophied; nor is there necessarily anyone else who thinks on these things at all.

Last night I helped a young mother during our weekly sewing date (she’s sewing pajamas for her oldest as a learning project) and she told me she always thought of her grandmother when she snipped and threw out threads, because her grandmother saved them all. I asked why, wondering if there was a seamstress’ trick in there and my friend answered, “Oh, she had heard that when you die, if you go to Hell, the Devil ties your wasted threads to you and sets fire to them.”

Yeesh.