small wolves

Tonight I’m watching my friend Shannon’s two small boys as she, her eldest daughter, my husband Ralph and my daughter Sophie go join the City Council meeting to speak their minds.  Tonight the Council is voting on a proposed limit of chicken ownership in town.

The three young boys (ages 5, 5, and 2) and I are outside behind the house, finding slugs and tossing fish food to the large koi in my mom’s pond.  It’s one of those warm summer nights and people are out and about and playing in their yards, for all the world looking like the evening is for relaxing and that’s the way everyone does it.  Eventually my little foursome ends up at the driveway where Nels wants to try F.’s bicycle out – a too-large bike stabilized by the addition of training wheels.  By way of demonstration F. climbs on like one would mount a tractor, then huffs and puffs but can’t quite get the velocity to summit the slope of the driveway.

And now Nels, who doesn’t yet own a rideable bike, runs up and takes the handlebars.  He wants to ride the bike back down the little hill.

Sometimes I just can’t bring myself to be the right kind of mom.  In this moment I’m thinking if I were a Better Mom I would have financed or finangled Nels a bike of his own, then perhaps made a few dates to help him gain accumen, and I wouldn’t have to sit here knowing my son is going to crash, and feeling like an ass because he can’t ride.  I decide to just be honest with him and say:

“Nels, if you ride down that hill, you’ll probably crash.”

“No I won’t,” he argues, flinging his hair out of his eyes and clambering up to the seat.  His arms are long and wiry.  Just this morning I’d noted with a kind of resigned dismay and bittersweet, deep love that when he made his breakfast (scrambled eggs in a cast-iron skillet) he wasn’t a precocious little tot on a stool; he stood at his full height and managed it, reading the burner setting by sight at “Medium Low”.  So, you know, great.  He can read, and cook, and he’s like a little guy with a mind of his own, and he doesn’t need me any more.  And now he wants to hurtle down this hill and bust his head and it’s my fault it’s going to happen because I didn’t try harder to get him a bike.

All of this has gone through my head but Nels is still arguing his point.  So I say, “If you crash, do you want me to hug you, or pick you up, or…?”

“Hug me,” he says. “But watch, I won’t crash.”

I don’t want to watch (I’m still a little sick over bike crashes) but in some twisted way I believe it is my duty as his mother to witness whatever happens, so I don’t turn aside. Sure enough the little vehicle goes faster than he’d anticipated, and I watch his body tense and then react accordingly as my gut clenches slightly in that oh-so-familiar way. He holds him self up, even steering deftly past the helmet on the concrete that the bike has treacherously careened towards.  Just as the bike tips (it really is too large even for Nels who is an inch or more taller than F.) he leans dangerously and balances one toe and wills the bike aside and slides all the way off and then he spins around with a flourish and his hair flies out of his eyes and he happily yells, “See mom! I didn’t crash!”

My son and I are perfectly matched in a wild, feral joy.  All over this tiny little driveway that no one would even notice.

I join the boys at the lower level of the driveway; F. has graciously allowed his friend these of his bicycle and has sagely watched my son’s hijinx for his own reference.

Steering the bike back up the slope Nels turns to me, laughing, and says: “It’s a full moon out, so are we going to turn into werewolves or what?”

Shannon and Ralph come home at about nine o’clock.  Apparently the meeting was a “madhouse” with chicken-ownership being a hotly disputed issue (emotions run high when it comes to domestic fowl!).  But the resolution to limit chicken ownership in the City failed.  By the narrowest of possible margins: yet it still failed.


of urban woodlands and werewolves

Tonight the kids and I head out on an evening bike ride while Ralph mops the hardwood floors (a ritual required more regularly due to the summer shedding of our two lazy felines). Usually when the children and I go out for a ride it starts out cranky, or boring, or whatever, but soon we’ve established a rhythm of conversation that feels more comfortable than just about anywhere else.

Our destination: the West End playfield, about 1.5 miles away. The children may be looking forward to playing but I could never get tired of the neighborhood: all the different houses and gardens, the people, teenagers free for the summer playing at a volleyball game in the front yard at the housing projects, and yes, even the methy-looking people striding purposely here or there, their clothes flapping open and their faces set and grim.

Just before passing into Aberdeen we come alongside a man filleting a large fish on the tailgate of his battered pickup truck. He’s about fifty: tall, dark, handsome, long black hair pulled back under a banana. A song by Cream is playing on the radio and he’s busy slicing into the beautiful, shiny fish. Sophie and Nels want to look at the fish so I ask him about it. He pulls up the halibut by its tail, then a type of bass (I think): both gifts his cousin, a commercial fisherman, brought him earlier. He’s smiling at us, a few teeth missing, but mostly he’s concentrating on preparing the fish. The kids hover closer and closer as he expertly fillets away the flesh of the animal, almost no blood. “Have a nice dinner,” I say, the kids tell him goodbye! in that open, sweet way that only children can, and even strangers find themselves responding to, then Nels jumps up behind me and we’re back on our way.

At the park after playing a bit (the children enjoy being chased but have specific and capricious “rules” for when I’m allowed to terrorize them and how) we end up beyond the athletic fields, behind the cyclone fence in a little makeshift trail alongside some kind of runoff ditch. This is the sort of place I loved exploring while a child, a secret hideout framed by greenery, a stretch small and of no notice to an adult yet huge and massive with possibility for children. I have turned away for only a moment to hang our helmets up on the fence before joining the kids, who have already pulled their knickers back up after each taking a discreet pee just off the trail. They hustle along the path, calling back to me, swinging walking sticks: independent, “raising themselves” as I’ve heard it said – and often it seems so true I experience the dizzying sense of both life’s preciousness and my relative unimportance: Why do I worry so much?

It’s not a long trail but it likely seems so for the littlest one. “This is assing me out,” Nels presently says, of the nettles and grasses whipping against his five year old legs (which are finally catching up in the horrific bruise / scratch quantity that his older sister has long inhabited). He picks me a flower – a striking yellow tri-lobed bloom on a common weed, I don’t know what it is – and seems betrayed upon our return trip to see that it had fallen out of my buttonhole alongside the trail. He returns it to me and I put it in my coat pocket.

We are still behind the fence and on the trail when we see from way down Oak Street the flashing light of another bike: Ralph riding to join us. Sophie pulls him back along the little makeshift trail hidden by blackberry and assorted other six-foot-high bushes. “Oh, what a lovely river!” my husband says, tongue firmly planted in cheek. “It’s a culvert,” Sophie corrects him.

Home as the sun is setting, the only condition I don’t enjoy biking in: darkness in city streets. The weather is beautiful, people are out everywhere, we’re back on the familiar street of Cherry to get home. The kids and Ralph have developed another scheme: tonight is a full moon and Ralph has been bitten by something. “My arms feel itchy,” he tells them. Home and there’s a bath, much scrambling about the house as the children arm themselves with sliver bullet for the eventual betrayal and denouement of their lycanthropic father.

P.S., if it was you Ms. Pop Tart, you don’t have much to educate me on nutrition for children!

Today was an odd, ephemeral and lovely day for the most part, consisting of an enjoyable afternoon out first on the bike, then to lunch and grocery shopping with my parents and my children. I can usually only hope to steal my mother away for daily errands in between the events in her busy schedule (said “busyness” sometimes consisting of just being around the house for my dad – it’s very sweet, they like hanging out with each other and almost no one else). And of the four members of my FOO I’m the only one who likes going out to eat (not strictly true: my brother likes eating out but is so tight-fisted with cash he simultaneously judges others or feels guilty himself upon indulging), so it’s rare I have enthusiastic partners in this endeavor.

I may sound like I’m poking fun of my family but the truth is I enjoy spending time with them near as much as my own wee foursome. One of the chief good trappings of this day was that my father came along with us. He has been feeling better, despite new tumor growths in his lungs and bones. His good spirits seem largely due to the fact he’s had more than two months off chemo (his choice). It’s sad to see him off chemo because chemo keeps him alive (albeit tortured and sick). It’s almost, in its way, even sadder to see his hair thicken and his skintone liven and his skinny 6′ 3″ frame gain a few pounds. He starts to look startlingly good. I look at him and think to myself, imagine how healthy and hale he would be now without cancer treatment these last eight years. This is almost the worst kind of thought to think because it takes me back to What Could Have Been, a place I for the most part abandoned and don’t often glance at.

I feel oddly exhausted to recount a strange episode from this morning that almost ruined my day: we were visited by a gentleman from DSHS on an issue of child welfare – in fact my child, Nels. On Saturday afternoon my son had ventured out (in the nintey-plus degree heat making him restless, I suppose) two blocks afield and was asking neighbors for food and drink. A neighbor brought him back straight away (after feeding him bottled water and Pop Tart) and spoke to Ralph, who apologized for the trouble and thanked the neighbor for bringing our son home. My husband was pissed – cranky from the heat, angry at Nels for wandering off, irritated at me for – I’m not sure what. Because I know Nels and know there’s little we can do except to talk to him about what he shouldn’t do and why. But anyone suggesting we “make” him forgo venturing off on his own on some too-grown, precocious endeavor (harmless or otherwise)? Bitch, you don’t know my son!

So imagine my mild surprise, then shock, then bemusement, offense, and small dark cloud of rage forming between my eyes when a stranger showed up and wanted to look at the state of my housekeeping, the food in my fridge, and the nurturing conditions and mental stimulus afforded my children (all of which were running smoothly, of course). Here’s the weird thing: of course I support these programs and am glad to see what I saw operating in Grays Harbor County this morning. And in theory I tell myself I wouldn’t judge nor place myself above the parent who would benefit from these services. But I found out today it’s another thing entirely to have them at my own doorstep.

The gentleman interrupted the kids and I as we were studying world atlases and preparing dough for chocolate croissants (the food tying into the geography lessons: croissants from France, as pointed out on the map, and chocolate from – usually – South America). The social worker – who was completely professional, matter-of-fact, and friendly, none of which made the incident less unpleasant – told me the call was from someone (maybe the neighbors who’d returned Nels, maybe not – who knows?) who had reported this was a “drug-addled” neighborhood (WTF?). The sole purpose of his visit seemed to be – besides “checking us out”, which had included a call to law enforcement – informing us of services we could take advantage of. In fact at no point did I hear an admonishment or feel chastised in any way; rather, I’d seen a window into institutional procedure based around helping people help themselves. This was an odd relief and in accordance with what I would want from social work at large. Still, I couldn’t help wonder: what if my fridge had been empty? What if my house was a pit, or I had a sick kid, or what if Nels runs off again?

Before the social worker left I sat my son on my lap and explained briefly that it’s a lot of trouble (for me), drama (for me), and paperwork (for Mr. DSHS) brought down on us for a four-year old to venture off like that, even once. I don’t think we made it too heavy-handed.

I know Nels couldn’t have known that for me the incident sparked this terrifying, irrational, yet nevertheless thoroughly soul-sickening feeling of the loss of one’s child, a fear that lives in the bottom third of my heart no matter waking or sleeping and pumps a noxious cold blood-substitute whenever circumstances hint toward anything of the kind.

Apocalypse Now.

Tonight, oddly, our power went out. Middle of the evening. I was perplexed. At the moment it went out, my son woke up from a late nap and cried out; even the lawnmower outside halted.

I was disoriented. I went outside. Ralph was excited. I hung out in the living room with the kids as he finished the lawn. The power was out for about thirty minutes and abruptly came back on while people were still sort of “neighborhooding” it up. Just three minutes after our power came up as I stood outside my house I saw rolling billows of smoke, nasty smoke. People were once again stirring, talking in their lawns. I told Ralph to ride the bike and suss it out; in fact I begged him to remove his bike helmet, his shirt, and grow a mustache first, if he could (he declined).

I only heard one siren, and the smoke died out after about twenty minutes. It was an odd evening, for sure.

all’s well that ends well – ouch!

I have been dying to make my own laundry soap. Because I get ideas like that and they are like a fevered, psychotic brain-termite and my poor family has to deal with it.

So with this project in mind after swim lessons we rode the bus to Aberdeen. The bus driver dropped us off over a block early, a long city block. I got burnt to a crisp and had to carry Nels far further than I should have, and in bad shoes. I honestly did not realize how far this walk would be, because I am used to it by vehicle. Anyway, after one hundred million steps I fell inside my bank (instead of ATM, for a brief respite of air conditioning) to get cash out, and while there asked for water for my children – the teller said ‘no’. We finally got to Rite Aid and they had ZERO supplies! I now have blisters and if it weren’t for getting sunblock at Rite Aid, we’d all be burnt very badly.

I love that I totally tortured myself for a couple hot hours today by trying to be all low-cost and environmentally friendly – riding the bus and making my own soap. I am dumb.

I’m calling it my eco self-fuck.

On the other hand, on our final, last-leg-of-journey approach I finally got to meet the Queen of the Neighborhood. I’ve been seeing this large, kind of sassy-looking woman in an old bathrobe and dirty braids walking her dog. I’m not sure if she smokes but in my mind she’s smoking and in the middle of the street, like she owns it. Not unfriendly or anything, just present.

She also has this fabulous lawn. Flowers and blooms at random intervals and mini-beds, well-maintained and luxurious, in the front yard. The backyard has a decrepit-looking set of laundry lines that almost look neglected but every day, there’s something different hanging there – a series of windsocks, a large old cotton throw. The house and lawn look so lived in, cluttered but in a very non-stagnant way that shows pride of ownership and a love of life.

So today as we passed her house I noticed she’d set up a large kiddie-pool with a floating blow-up armchair. I was thinking, “Cool”, but also preoccupied because Nels was yelling and crying. He’d been disciplined two minutes earlier after the bus driver snapped at me for allowing him to pull the stop requested cord (he has only got away with this twice; I try my best to help him not be naughty on the bus). So Nels is mad and ashamed and crying and I’m talking to him calmly as we walk down the block (hot, hot, hot). Then I hear a voice saying, “Need a sprinkle?” and it’s the Queen, talking to my son. My children look in the direction of this seemingly mysterious voice speaking out of the hedge. Their eyes are wide, Nels quiets, and they drift toward her property, which smells like good flowers and I can hear some classic rock and roll playing. She tells me she just set up her pool; there’s a hose mister on. The kids and I put our hands under. Nels’ foul mood is cured. We thank her and move on.

I’m going to make this woman a pie and bring it to her. She is exactly the kind of neighbor I want to know.

My feet still hurt, damn.