My son and I sit in the car. Ralph is off visiting a friend; our daughter is inside the house.
Nels is upset. Today three people in the neighborhood were rude to him; uncharacteristic, a bit rough today. The first: the parent of a neighborhood bully. This parent yelled at my son not to pet their dog; retaliation for Nels’ boundary-setting with this child, the latter having defaced our property. The second: two kids in the neighborhood, taunting Nels for being vegan – caprice and cowardice, as these young people mind their p’s and q’s when an adult is around. “I’m in the dead pig club. I love to eat dead pigs!” they shout at one another, smirking his way.
My son takes this stuff to heart. He doesn’t know what to do. I feel him on this. It’s the confusion and hurt when someone is cruel, vindictive. Even knowing why people are like this – it can hurt.
So we talk about those incidents, but briefly. In both cases, my son did not respond in kind. I am quite impressed with him for that. And I tell him. It’s character that matters here. You can have all the feelings you want. I get it. But character is important. You can’t retaliate in kind. If something has to be done, we have to be thoughtful about it. We can’t lash out, just because someone was rude. Cruel. Spiteful.
But then – we talk about other things. A catch-up, on how he’s been this week. He’s feeling the influence of the pack of boys he plays with. They cuss (when not around adults, that is), and this last week he’s cussed a few times. He is teary-eyed. “I feel like I let you down,” he tells me now, his voice breaking. I remind him that although I love it that Nels doesn’t curse; his sister does (like a sailor!). “You don’t think I judge her, do you?” I ask. He calms in a moment, then says, No. I hold him close in the front seat, smelling his straw-sweet hair.
We talk about harder times, and what he learned from those times. And what he’s learned to leave behind.
When we’ve talked it all through he is much more cheerful.
I remember when my children were very small, and I felt overwhelmed and exhausted. Their physical needs seemed constant; I had so little help, and my resources were less than they are today. And I remember thinking that older kids, kids who could clean up after themselves and shower and dress and do housework and feed themselves, how surely that must be easier.
But I think it never gets easier to have a child. It is incredible though, to watch them become strong, to navigate emotional maturity. These teenage years, there is so much treachery! Their father and I are good influences, but we aren’t their only influences.
Sometimes I feel as if I’ve folded a sweet little paper boat, and set it on a windy lake. It sails off but totters and with it, my heart in my throat.
When I was thirteen, one evening during a week-long family reunion we went out as a crew to a drive-in theater. I remember what was showing – Bird on a Wire and Arachnophobia. (Great drive-in fare – and not films I’ve felt compelled to revisit later, either!)
The adults in the family smuggled us in. My brother, sister, a few cousins – we hid in the back of a pickup. The adults were probably half-lit, or at least they hadn’t thought it through. We underpaid, pulled into our spot, and everyone tumbled out. At that point the wary drive-in employees – probably teenagers themselves – came over and required payment for all attendees. I seem to remember it was a very near thing – we almost didn’t have enough. I remember we weren’t able to get snacks for the films. I remember worrying about this. Because I was a kid, and the adults in my life didn’t have their act together.
Today I wonder at my parents, aunts, uncles – that they could be okay with this sort of behavior. It isn’t that they were full of avarice or greed. My family was always the generous sort, and very kind. But I suppose like most other families, their morality was relative. They didn’t care too much about other people, when they wanted what they wanted. Most people behave like that at one time or another.
I’ve tried to raise my children differently. I never wanted them to see me take advantage. I didn’t want them to learn that way of life. Not just because it isn’t kind, it isn’t right, it isn’t fair to others. But because it’s a scraping way to live – always thinking of the next grift, hoping for a rescue, hoping to not have to be responsible for one’s share. Hoping things go my way. Feeling “cheated” when Life Happens. An acquaintance the other day – who found a large amount of currency but didn’t get to keep it – because someone else saw them pick it up. And the thing is, for just one moment (or maybe longer) this person thought that money SHOULD be theirs. Because they live life thinking they don’t have enough. Scarcity. It becomes a way of life if you’re not careful.
I don’t want to have that mind. I don’t want to grasp. I don’t want to live in a fearful state, if I can help it.
Today my neighbor shouted at me, as I walked to my car. When I went to see what the matter was, they seemed very upset. They told me our cats had been climbing on their (new) car, and had made muddy pawprints and scratched the paint. I listened, and responded with feeling – “Wow – that sucks.” They talked a little longer – angry, but not telling me anything new.
I told them, I am open to your suggestions.
To my surprise, this person had none. They hinted they would “make” me pay for a new paint job on their car, and take pictures of our cats. (I’m not sure why they wanted to do that, except they seemed determined to have a fight.)
They then told me my daughter had been rude.
This, perhaps, is the only moment I felt my own anger rise. My daughter is unfailingly courteous, and conducts herself with a calm that adults sometimes find threatening. My neighbor was obviously upset and resentful, and had allowed adrenaline and rage to get the better of their faculties.
I held my tongue at this slight against Phoenix, though, while I made sure to listen. Not to argue. I thought of the ten cats or so that aren’t ours, who roam the neighborhood. The ones who climb on our cars, and run around under the deck doing cat-things, and scratch up our stairwell, and kill little birds and voles. I thought to myself what my mind would be like, if I were to get angry about all this and try to find these neighbors out and shout at them. I thought of “townie” life – a neighbor on one side with a sad, neglected dog who cries out during the day. A neighbor on the other who lets their dog wander around urinating and defecating in the neighborhood.
I thought, What would it be like if I were angry about all these things?
I thought, What if I cared about something like a car more than my responsibility to all living creatures?
So, yeah. I can’t help my neighbor much. I let them know I would not consider it rude if they were to make their grounds less hospitable – to shoo the cats. In a neighborhood full of cats as ours is, perhaps a car cover or parking in the garage might be an intelligent solution. I did not share this thought, as it seemed my neighbor wasn’t ready to move past their anger, not at this time.
One thing I thought of: we can keep our cats indoors. I wouldn’t do this just based on someone else’s car, but we had been discussing already for other reasons. In fact, Phoenix and I had been talking about it this morning! So, when I went back over to my neighbor’s later in the day, I expressed my desire to have a harmonious relationship while we lived near one another, and my hope an indoor cat solution might work for all of us (note: they hardly seemed mollified at this offering).
But, I said – “I’m not sure that will solve your problem.”
Because I can’t really solve my neighbor’s problem. Not their real problem.
But I am glad I don’t have problems like that, myself.
One of my favorite things about the children is their cheerful and utter confidence they are worthwhile human beings. I call out to Ralph, “I’m going to turn up the heat just until I get into bed – it might get hot in here for a bit.” Before my husband can respond, Nels says, “That’s fine, mama,” placidly – he’s buried under a comforter in my bed, entirely pleased with himself and how the evening is going.
My kids are always assuming I’m addressing them, talking to them like grownups. They make me proud – every single day.
I thought maybe my youngest child would miss public school – after his one-year experiment in the medium last year – but he most certainly does not. The neighbor boys – who first trod on our lawn and then began to peek in at the kitchen door, especially after they were fed well at our Halloween party – now appear here and there, now on the stairs, now on the deck. Nels knows them all, directs them in minor yardwork, and conducts a variety of “Imagination” games in the autumn-soaked greenery. “Just so you know,” one thirteen year old tells me as I walk down the path to the car, past where the boys are sitting: “Nels is awesome.”
My sewing space is getting colder as the temperature falls outside. I find myself without wool and layers to bundle up in, and without a convenient way to heat the space. The occasional massive spider is gone, at least. Just me and my music, and little tiny sweater dresses for an infant, with a cranberry wool caot. Or perhaps a corduroy blazer size 2T in two shades of forest green. Because I just can’t get enough of that sort of thing!
The house quiets; Phoenix, finished with her math homework – which I am kind of amazed she can keep up on – is now drawing a new obsession, a character from one of her beloved cartoon programs. Ralph has made fresh brownies and they cool under a cloth, on the stove. Behind me, the dog groans and stretches, his blanket freshly washed in the morning housework Nels and I conducted.
The summer seems like it was ages ago, but the fall brings comforts. Hasn’t it ever?
Kids are in and out, here and there, eating the pancakes I cook on the stove and then later out in my yard digging a “mine” (in other words, a giant muddy hole). From the latter they extract old rusted hooks and fittings and large nails, glass, “obsidian” (according to Nels), and “rocks that we THOUGHT were ore” (Nels, again). Nels is trying to find treasure so he can afford a video game system, the Wii U, which he’s wanted for many many months if not longer.
At the table having lunch and the kids are talking about a local boy they all know; they’re telling me this boy is a bully. I’m trying to figure out who they’re talking about so I ask for a physical description. They begin to describe him hesitantly (but tactfully) and I realize he’s the boy I’m thinking of. Then one of the girls at the table says, “He looks… kind of like… a mean elf.”
At this I shut my mouth, swiftly drift into the kitchen, and near-double over in silent laughter. Because that. Is. Exactly. What he looks like. I couldn’t have said it better.
In a few minutes I’m off to help host a Halloween dance. Here’s a few pictures of our early evening before music, dancing, trick-or-treating, shenanigans, and probably one really shitty B-movie.
Phoenix designed everything about her costume. I helped a little, although I should point out she made her entire mask.
Nels was originally going to be “a tornado”. He’d figured out the whole thing. Then after Hurricane Sandy the costume was deemed insensitive. I made the Pikachu costume last night. My fastest work ever. 4:30 PM to 7 PM and I was pretty tuckered out making it. Here’s the back, and never let it be said I don’t do bush league work when I have to.
I told you my daughter did a great pumpkin.
Phee draws while Nels & friends get an early start on the T-or-T. Daughter pretty much always, always draws whenever she gets a chance.
Yesterday a man shows up at my door and tells me he’d seen my babies walking, and he wanted me to know there was a registered sex offender in our neighborhood. A new one. He showed me a picture. I told him Yeah, you could look that stuff up online and all the local crime too, which I had done. He was surprised (OUT-SAFETY’D, SUCKA!!!) but then returned to talking about this guy. He kept reiterating he saw my babies walking and he thought he’d talk to me. My babies. I wonder how he knows where we live. Then he says he was trying to get the sex offender OUT of our neighborhood. He says, “Why don’t they knock on doors and ask around, ‘Do you have kids?’, and ask if it’s okay if a sex offender moves in?” I have no words. Just, no words.
I thanked the man for his concern. I closed the door. I feel oddly depressed. Later the kids and I had a little talk about strangers and walking about.
Life goes on.
Now this evening it’s dark out and I know where my kids are, but I’m a wee bit uneasy. It’s not related to the guy who showed up yesterday but he didn’t help or anything. It’s as if, at a certain point I have this tingling sixth sense. I walk outside with the dog and see my kids across the street, returning home in the company of an extra kid (who is now here and staying the night). It’s like I don’t rest easy until once again I see my children safe. The kids, all three, run up and inside and make up bowls of dinner (pork fried rice and green beans) and get to some cleaning up: vacuuming and doing the dishes. Phee is soon on her laptop and giggling, playing online with friends.
I wonder when I’ll get used to how sufficient, how competent, my children are. Today they packed up their swimsuits and towels and went out with my mother to the lake. Before they left I asked them to do some housework, and they cheerfully obliged and got the kitchen cleaner than Ralph or I generally do it, talking the whole while to one another in meme-speak, almost unintelligible. At a certain point I just kept adding on suggestions, feeding the cats and sweeping, and can you put this away, and that, and they did these cheerfully enough, since they knew they were off to the lake as soon as I was off to my volunteer shift at the gallery. It’s like I worried all these years about teaching my kids life skills and I have some kind of anxiety hangover.
Sometimes besides feeding and snuggling and taking the kids where they want to go, I don’t know what else I’m supposed to be doing for them. They are exceedingly happy and well-balanced and perfectly okay asking me for whatever they want, which means each day is an opportunity in trusting in something greater than myself. My ability to plan, manipulate, execute.
Family life is a lot easier than I used to make it.
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.
“Hi, I’m a cuddly living nightmare that seems almost adorable if you look at me while in repose, but then when I move I instantly remind you of all that is horrid in the Universe. BLARGH BLARGH BLARGH”
It’s 10:30 PM and I’ve been balls-to-the-wall most the day. Normally I live a joyous life and I can handle my responsibilities. But today I found myself behind the eight-ball on a deadline. I made my deadline, and for that I am grateful. But I worked myself pretty hard today.
So anyway here’s one thing we got up to today I’m not too tired to post briefly about, my kids ran home cradling a “cute” neighborhood tarantula named… well, you can watch the video if you like.
This week we’re back to making food for our friends and neighbors! Seriously, it’s going to be delicious. If you are interested, please read or re-read this post. You need to contact me via phone (text preferred) or email if you’d like to get food or if you’d like to help with grocery money and donate food to someone else! kelly AT hogaboom DOT org or 5003287 area code 360.
The neighborhood is one of the more kid-friendly I’ve known but that can always change. There are some new kids in the neighborhood and some of them are rather unprincipled with regards to other people’s property. Example: one or more culprits wrote, in mud, on the next door neighbor’s car, “I like poop and farts.” OK… you know… on one level we have to agree, that’s just funny. I am glad the mud-hazing was done on what the neighbors consider their “lesser” car. They have several shinier/newer/more expensive vehicles and they expressed repeatedly how upset they’d be had any of those received such a hazing.
So now all neighborhood kids are banned from that particular driveway (I’m not sure if they have any kind of enforcement plan). I talked to my kids about it (they weren’t a part of it and only hear rumors who did it). Nels made the tough decision to walk next door and tell the grownups he’d commit to helping keep kids out of the driveway, as a good faith neighborly effort. Ralph and I both talked to the parents there. Better still, Phoenix and I had a long talk about why she felt she couldn’t walk next door and discuss the incident, and my daughter and I had a long talk about this and I gained some wisdom regarding parental mistakes I’ve made (more I will not share, not now).
A few of the kids are just wild in general, and I mean very wild; several are medicated. A few more (most depressing to me) are servile and smiling and butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-their-mouth when they think they’re being watched by a grownup, yet liable to get up to anything when they believe they are not observed (hence the f-bomb incident between two such children yesterday).
My kids cope like you might expect. Nels with righteous anger, Phoenix with more politic and developed stratagems. That said, she is still a human being, and delivered a different kind of f-bomb today when the one child – who sprays other kids with our pool hose, deliberately and without regard to whether the other participant is agreeable, because he loves being the one-up in a bully scenario – kept doing so after my daughter asked him to stop. By the way, the hose-sprayer is also the kid who threw one of our cats in the pool. My mom has described this child as having “no moral compass”. You know personally, I think this is exactly the kind of risk one runs when practicing authoritarian parenting (whether involving hollow threats or ones delivered on). But I suppose parents feel good when they yell real loud at the kid to let us know they’re Taking Care Of It.
I guess writing here the summer kid scene sounds unpleasant to your average tight-ass but to be fair, here we have kids getting some freedom, fresh air, exercise, sunshine, and having a mostly fun time playing together. And in any case, it’s incredible to me how many grownups want kids to be “good” – or completely nonexistent – and how yet few grownups seem to know how to effect “good” kids without yelling, making many rules (involving segregation, lock-down, or punishment, none of which serve well for critical thinking coupled with spiritual wholeness), lecture, boring boring boring.
I enjoy the neighborhood kids but I wish they had more contact with grownups who provided gentle guidance. This isn’t because their “bad” behavior annoys me (although I hate to see our animals treated poorly), but because I think they’d be happier kids in general. They just don’t think they have many rights or that there’s much reason, besides the fear of getting caught, in respecting others’. When my husband told one child that “fatty” wasn’t welcome in our yard or in our home, because it was hate speech built on a principle that being fat was a shameful thing, the child in question just goggled at him. I think of the playground and classroom mentality many kids are regularly exposed to and what they learn as “normal” (i.e., all sorts of bullying and kyriarchal systems), often reinforced in the home, and I wonder how much it means to them to have a different place to be. Neither Ralph or I labor under illusions we can make much a difference, but we’d like the kids in our yard and home free from “faggot”, “retard”, “n**ger”, “fatty”, etc. – and not yelled or sent home with an earful of shame when they make mistakes.
Addendum: I must say that for now I’m totally fine with, in general, the kind of oath-swearing the nine year old, the freckled little beauty in my home, can deliver. She is the toughest little thing with a whip-smart sense of humor. Which reminds me: I gotta get cuddling her starting five minutes ago.