balls. part deux. (also: trolls)

I got my first anonymous hater today:

Wow. So artfully self-aggrandizing and self-effacing, yet so ANGRY, defensive. Root emotion: anger = FEAR. What are you so afraid of? Your smart readers must do so only to shake their heads. So sad. I’ll be looking for your caustic, derisive response.

The person who wrote this formspring query had emailed me previously – a much more level-headed criticism – but apparently didn’t like my response. Instead of moving herself on to read other blogs, she felt she’d take me down a peg.

Not to be a downer on formspring, but I thought I would post this to let people know that anonymity can often foster hateful language. Those of us who write online – and attach our own names to our writing – get this sort of thing now and then.

Anecdotally: I’ve always thought the root emotion of anger is hurt, not fear. But I’m open to other opinions!

OK, of course, I know what several of you smarties are thinking: “That doesn’t deserve a response!” And goddamn it, you’re probably right!  And yet, this formspring flame is a timely one for me and is touching on something that’s been on my mind:

In the handful of months since I’ve opened comments on my blog, I have been receiving good comments fostering lively discussion – and, behind the scenes: private picking-at-me emails and, now, my first anonymous hate-mail (um, yay?).

This is truly incredible and I’d like to give you a minute to think about this.

People have been reaching out to talk to me since I’ve been blogging – six years.  Before I opened comments I received DMs, IMs, emails, Facebook responses, snail mail letters, people stopping me in the street and phone calls from across the country.  These communications have often been supportive, grateful, and complimentary;  many asked for my advice or my perspective.  Occasionally these communications directly challenged my assertions or writings (this is a sensitive-New-Age way of saying: people would argue with me).  And always, always these experiences have been worthwhile to engage in.  Every single one.

Things have changed.

Yes, I know who wrote the formspring snark*; if I chose, could email this person and say, “Hey dude, not cool”, or ignore this person or write them and their opinions off, or whatever (I do think a focused post about my ANGRY would be good – although of course, I pretty much happily trot the subject out often enough).  But let me stay on point for now:

I have a lot of readers at this point, a number that has grown over the years. I have many lurkers – that is, people who read and never comment, never email, never let me know they’re there (or who perhaps eventually reveal they’ve been there, for years). I figure it makes sense that eventually I’d get a couple readers who read me and discover they don’t like me, yet – and this is the icky part – keep reading.  I know this could be true, in part because I myself have hate-lurked on a blog, chewing myself up inside about someone whose life, for whatever reason, got on my tits because it was too preachy or too consumerist or too slutty or whatever.  I’m not proud that I did this or that I had these feelings.  I’ve moved on from reading specific publications because I realized it was toxic for me to stay; I was unable to engage the author in a productive, dialogue-inducing way and keep my mind open to who they are; I was both intolerant of and tormented by our differences.  Until I self-corrected I would hate, obsess, chew over why the person or author was wrong or gross or whatever.  I’ve never made a secret out of my own Hater tendencies, because they are a part of me.

What sucks for me is that I don’t publicize my blog as a prescriptive worldview nor a direct communication to specific parties. This is my journal.

So, for instance, my recent personal litany on what people so often say to me about having kids out of school was not a dogmatic denouncement of public or private schools for all parties; the social construction of education is one I am not well-versed in – yet – and I have not been asked to weigh in on by anyone, ever. (If you do wonder what I believe about the vast majority of standard education, and how my life fits into the world at large, I’d direct you to this jaw-droppingly amazing article by Eva Swindler; she’s an actual authority writing professional copy by the way).  I am a human being and you are seeing me in all my humanness; I keep very little private from this journal.

Yeah, I’m aware my thought processes challenge people.  Maybe, reader, you don’t feel particularly challenged, but I want to tell you I get told this all the time; in fact, I’ve often been told this is one of the best things about knowing me (other reasons: my compassion, my cooking, my breasts).  Seriously, in the last week this is what I’ve heard about my writing from about a half dozen parties: “amazing writer”, “on another level”, “hard to follow”, “witty and fast”, “jumps around a lot”, “perfection” (ego-zing! on that last one). Even being handed the shit-sandwich from formspring I know, in theory anyway, that someone who makes character attacks and says I’m “so sad” is, in fact, likely very threatened by what I say, which means hey, maybe I’m saying something worth saying.

Yet, of course, if anyone out there sets me up as Enlightened (or, alternatively, SO SAD AND ANGRY), they are using my very human expression against me to insist I’m not fully human.  This feels like infringement – in both cases.

Because I am not at some “level” of awesome (holy shit, do you even READ here?) or, alternatively, someone who is JUST a sad, frightened, judgy person (duh).  I am just as insecure and brittle and flawed and shitty as the next person.  Writing has been the sole tool I’ve used to know myself.

Oh my god, that reminds me: writing.  When some people say “such-and-such has saved my life”?  This is writing, for me.  And not writing some nicey-pants stuff nor trying-to-say-the-least-(or most!)-offensive-thing. Or like, “I saw my kids playing by the pond today and I realized, this is Life, like seeing a newborn kitten in a sunset” stuff.  I have been trying to say the Me, trying to express myself and I am getting pretty good at it.  Expressing myself.  My best ever writing is when I feel I have really told you who I am, what I think, how I behaved. And I know it’s not always pretty (although sometimes, it’s sublime).  In fact, I love keeping my journal so much I will never stop as long as I’m able.

So getting another I think you should be careful with your language because you are saying things I don’t like email, then a few “I don’t always agree with everything you say” prefaces (from people who asked me to open comments, but have never used the comment function), then “you’re sad, caustic, derisive” – well, it just starts feeling a bit frustrating.  And assy.  Because, you know, fuck off.  This is my diary.  It really is.  I am terribly sorry if at any point I gave the impression this is Life Lessons from Kelly Who-Gives-An-Arse Hogaboom (incidentally: this site is not my diary and would likely be the closest I’d come to claiming “professional” copy, although P.S., I don’t get paid for shit, ever).  Because, you know, it isn’t.

So, yeah, comments.  I know if I close comments things will shift back to where they are more comfortable for me; indeed, my closest loved ones have suggested this.  But the majority of the comments here on my blog have been edifying and delightful.  And I’m not sure I should do things to make myself more comfortable (although yes, I hear you – this really is my space to do whatever I want).

Oh and! Because seriously, everyone tells me I’m smart and intimidating and “rock-solid” and it seems nothing hurts me?  (No seriously, I have been told this three times by three different women this week).  Just to be clear: anonymous hate and snark directed at me, personally?

Yes, it hurts.  Like, upon reading the words on the screen my chest constricted and I felt flushed and Terrible as a Person and like I wanted to Make It Go Away, for several minutes.  I felt Wrong in everything I said and Hated and so pathetic and somehow it’s right I should be hated on, because I have a public blog and write about my life (of course, as a lady I really do “deserve it”), and I have opinions and show my ass and stuff.

Funny thing.  Writing this all out helped.  Huh.

* I’m not sure why people don’t know that first of all they use some of the same phraseology, grammatical errors, figures of speech, and the same tone; secondly, I can “see” people when they are online so thus when a query or comment pops up it isn’t as if I hadn’t seen their recent tweet, or IM status, or whatever; thirdly, that as popular as I am to read it is rare the EXACT ONE SUBJECT gets up the ass of two separate people in the same exact way, so if someone already emailed me then followed up with an anonymous formspring post, well. Yeah.  I know it’s you.

i’m an expert on stuff

I’m not an expert on anything. But I have a very busy brain (note I did not say “smart”, “productive”, or omit “frenetic”) and love writing! I love it so much! Today I am going public with my little co-op site Underbellie, which my girl Jasie and I are trying out. What you can expect: a focus on pointed rants rather than personal anecdotes and a Twitter feed that updates infrequently. And most importantly, more Kelly Hogaboom.

I am proud of today’s bit: a rejoinder to the recent Details magazine article, “Are You Raising a Douchebag?” (their answer: here’s some fun hate for hipster parents!). Daniel Bigler wrote a more culturally-informed (not to mention brief) response over at his blog. He’s a good egg, that Daniel.

I also have started a Formspring account. I asked my husband why it seemed it wasn’t catching on for more people. He said, “it seems kind of vain to me.” It’s true! Who gives a shit about anything I have to say, ever? And yet, if thee wish to ask me a question anon, have at it, I say.

yet another reason not to shop there; also perhaps, not to breed

Last night was one of those real Dark Night of the Soul type deals.  It started out innocently enough – fun, really.  We had our chores done and our dinner in our bellies and decided to take a brief trip to Walmart for cheap costume supplies.  You know how it is when you’re working on a creative project: it takes a little energy and a little focus: Should we head to housewares and look for cable ties?  Oh – maybe they have a curtain we could cut up for a cape! or should we go look in the fabric yardage? That kind of thing.

So in between finding some 2X pantyhose and shiny ladies briefs for my husband (you heard) and just before we headed to the toy section for some plastic sea animals – my son Nels started doing his, dart-and-run act and then, actually ran.

Now I generally let my kids go here or there.  I almost always know where they’re going (hello, Saturday’s Portland airport escalator fetishist!).  But in this case, the “there” for Nels was a particularly douchey combination of scrabbling around under the clothes racks and staying out of grownups’ eyesight.

I don’t know this because I saw him do it (obviously).  No, the second I realized Nels had ran off we abandoned our crafting and went looking.  And looking. In a couple minutes I walked smack into three female Walmart employees talking about my son.  They were loud, they weren’t doing work – or helping wrangle the runaway – and they were speaking in one hundred percent bitch-off voices, all three of them snide and judgy-like.  “Well at first I thought it was a girl but I guess it was a boy,” one of the women sneered. “He’s going to get hurt,” a second one chimed in  – and let me tell you, the amount of concern for a child getting hurt was at about a negative twelve hundred percent. “Out of control.” the first woman shook her head, turning back to installing child-labor goodies on the racks.

I am used to now and then having a grownup get all pissy about my kids being in public and having the audacity to, you know, be children (it’s odd how one can live on the planet several decades and still think that holding a five year old accountable to Emily Post standards is logical or realistic).  I’m usually calm and friendly when this happens.  I make eye contact and let the grownup know I’m there, watching, or on my way to correct the child, and of course sometimes I emphatically defend the child’s right to do their thing:  Excuse me – what’s the problem, again? And this works pretty well for us almost 100% of the time.

Now let me take a break from my story to say that this “a kid could get hurt” / safety thing makes me totally insane.  First of all, if there is one goddamned person on this planet that knows if my son is going to get hurt running under clothing racks (P.S. he’s not!), it’s me.  My son uses real knives and saws and drills and he rides other people’s too-large bikes and crouches on my stove and cooks his own breakfast.  The amount of times he’s been seriously injured in his life? Once, when he was 2 1/2 – and by the way under the watchful eye of both my parents and Ralph – after he toddled right into the corner of a very sharply-mitered pedestal.  And by the way and somewhat anecdotally, in this Mama’s opinion “getting hurt” is a great way, within reason, for a child to discover without whinging and nagging from an adult why not to do something (no, I do not mean the aforementioned pedestal case nor allowing one-year old children on the freeway, et cetera). And let me educate you on my favorite point: in general, I’ve observed people who claim children shouldn’t be allowed to do this-or-that for safety or just in case or liability reasons are A. people who don’t know shit about kids or who are terribly authoritarian, small-minded parents themselves and/or B. people who are continuing the status quo of ridiculous, over the top “solutions” resulting in a culture that, if parents such as myself didn’t speak up against it, helps conspire to eunuch our children’s abilities to actually grow up, go out, and be part of the world.  Safety. My. Ass. (Hey hand-wringers, do you really care about kids’ safety? Have you considered driving less? Volunteering to teach swim lessons?  Or maybe taking a less selfish point of view?)

I argued with one of the Walmart employees for a bit, then asked to speak to a manager (who was a lot easier to talk to).  I gave this woman my name and phone number and urged her to give me a call if my son made any messes, and we would come back to the store and remedy things (the first loud employee could basically cite no other reason for my son’s behavior being “a problem”).  Eventually I joined Ralph in looking for my son.  I was shaking and shaken. I mean I genuinely thought I was going to lose my shit.

But was I mad at Nels?  It didn’t really make sense to be.  I wasn’t worried for his safety: consider for instance that I am no longer a fear-mongering Mama who thinks at any moment if I let my wee one out of my sight the very worst thing ever will happen to him and thus, to me.  I wasn’t worried he’d cause much trouble, even.  I was mildly annoyed he’d put our shopping trip out of sorts, yeah – but of course, if you go anywhere with a grownup sometimes they can wander off to a different section of the store and you look for one another and eventually find one another and just laugh about it if you address it at all.

But I was angry. Angry with the Walmart Haters and their lack of dignity and compassion and customer service, angry at myself although I know this didn’t make much sense (because, you know, somehow it’s my problem that my kids aren’t “perfectly trained”).  I was angry with my husband over this last weekend when he’d handled Nels poorly on our Portland trip – and this was still fresh in my heart, maybe a larger factor than I credit.  And yes, I was tired – yes, tired of my son being the kid he is, even though I know it’s just him, and that’s OK, and that when I found him he’d be remorseful about running off and we’d have a talk and he wouldn’t do it again (I believe this, with all my heart).

But at this moment I was worn out.  And I was at my worst as I wandered through Walmart, being careful not to betray my internal insanity to the innocent public (I’d already allowed a little steam to escape in front of the employees; thank Goodness my husband was now patrolling that area of the store), gripping my fabric supplies so tightly my hands hurt.  I wanted to put down my purchases and just walk out of the store, just leave and not even tell my husband where I was going and disappear until Everybody was ready to give me a Break.  I knew we’d find our son soon and that for Nels, and for myself, there was nothing to be gained for me speaking in my Terrible Voice or grabbing his arm or calling him “selfish” or telling him he wouldn’t be allowed to watch Blue’s Clues when we got home.  I knew that as tempting as it felt to unleash on my son it would have been every other issue in my noisy mind I’d be venting about and he’d merely serve as whipping boy.

Eventually – it felt like a half hour, but it was probably about seven minutes – I was paged to the front of the store.  My husband and I arrived at the same time to see Nels sitting by the door greeter – an employee who was, thank Goodness, smiling (I think I would have shit my pants and punched someone in the face had I heard one more assy word out of anyone*).  And Nels was composed on a stool talking to this woman and friendly but also looking a little wary and the first thing he did when he saw my face was put his arms up and say, very sincerely, “I’m sorry I ran away.”

I handed Ralph our supplies and took my son out to the car and got in the passenger seat and just cried.  And cried and cried and cried.

* Rage much? Yeah, I know.

in which i introduce my first EXTENSIVE DRAMATIC CAPS LOCK USAGE

I was thinking a lot about my kids today.  I let them do most of the chores needed to get ready for our weekend.  This meant instead of me feeling stressed out and hustling my sweet ass on tons of work while the kids aimlessly tore through the house playing, we all pitched in – and I even got to play a bit myself afterward (sewinz).  Together the kids and I cleaned the bathroom, the front porch, the guest rooms, and the kitchen; Sophie, as per usual, did laundry, and Nels vacuumed the living room (for about an hour – he likes to do the whole floor with the long, skinny attachment).  Later in the day we ran to the grocery store real quick-like in between errands and getting Sophie to swim team practice.  My kids darted through the grocery store and I observed and was once again impressed with their boundless energy. It seems ideal for them to have some real work during the day and then get to do whatever else they want to do – within reason – and most of all, be allowed to run, run, run.

And speaking of that: in the parking lot as I put the groceries in the backseat my five year old somehow – like the T-1000 – vaulted up on the back trunk of my car and ran up the canopy, down the windshield, and back to the trunk. He might have done it about eight times as I opened the driver’s-side back door and closed it again, he was moving so fast. Keep in mind, I don’t mind this “abuse” of our car at all.  Probably persons shouldn’t run on windshields, I think (I will have to look into that), but otherwise I was rather impressed with his athleticism and coordination.  My good mood was cut short, abruptly, as I looked up and saw not one, but at least two parties including three people giving my son THE GLARE.  Big, sour-faced, head-shaking stink-eye.  And here I’d been expecting smiles!  Silly me.

OH EXCUSE ME DO YOU NOT LIKE MY KID RUNNING ON TOP OF – WAIT, WHOSE CAR IS THIS / OH YEAH, IT’S MINE!

AND WHOSE BUSINESS IS THIS?  OH I FORGOT NOT YOURS SO ARSE OFF

It’s kind of crazy just how extensive the cultural expectations are that kids are not allowed to do this, that, this and that – usually things they know full well they can handle and there is no good reason not to allow them to do so.  Often things adults no longer have the desire or balls to try themselves (and this is kind of sad in and of itself).  It’s a separate kind of crazy that most people I know pretty steadily participate in this kind of suppression without much of a thought.  And it’s my unique brand of Kelly-fail that for many years I assumed there was a reason my kid was not allowed to pick up something in the shop, or run along the sidewalk, or speak up in a mixed group, or whatever thing [everyone else is allowed to do yet] they roundly get public disfavor for doing – I more often than not defaulted there was a reason my child wasn’t allowed to walk barefoot in town or pick up a lightbulb in the hardware store or as in this case climb on top of their own family car.

And now I’m seeing that the sort of objections that are cited as “safety” objections (like some apologists in response to this little story) have nothing to do with safety and everything to do with, if I may take a guess, fear and resentment. Yes, fear when beholding the nature of a child – a nature open, and daring, and able to accurately and often loudly voice feelings, and almost always completely aware of their own limitations and completely aware of the risks they run.  How is it a creature is allowed to have such boundless energy and at any moment see material objects differently than the way everyone else (besides those brilliantly gifted) sees them?  Because, see, this is where the resentment comes in – deep-seated resentment. Resentment because that’s just Not The Way Things Are Done and if we were all allowed to jump on top of our own car, well…  some kind of Bad Thing would happen.

It makes me sad, really.  It makes me sad I am 32 years old and just now seeing through the eyes of a child – and there is much we adults could learn from this view.  It’s my thought that all adults – not just parents – would do well to examine the squelching they received as children, to mourn this unnecessary and sad series of events, leave it behind forever, and to spend more time with children – advocating for the children themselves and re-learning their own authentic natures.  I have no doubt we could all reclaim some of the joy, energy, and wonder that our young ones so effortlessly exhibit (until we vigorously and with small or large abuses train it out of them as much as possible). I know that for me I have benefited in many ways by being brave enough to believe in my kids.

Later, on our way to our film, Sophie rides ahead on her bike and Nels runs, as swiftly as he can, along the sidewalk.  They stop at road-crossings and wait for my friend Cynthia and I to catch up.  Nels’ breakneck speed on the sidewalks unnerves me.  But when examined I find my feelings are not because I fear an injury to him – he runs full-tilt as much as possible, despite banged-up knees and spilled ice cream and all the accidents running has afforded him in his young life.  No: I’m afraid, I’m tense, because I know I myself could not today, at 32, run that fast in the gloaming; I watch his fierce, brave, strong little body and I feel it as my own – yet with my adult fears and limitations. I am astounded by him, and surprised at myself. Maybe some day I’ll join him in the run.

raising some sort of sasquatch-like creatures

I admit I find a lot of people guilty of idiotic statements that for some reason I allow to deeply annoy me.  One high on my list is: “blah blah blah see how boys are different than girls because blah blah blah“.  About a third of the time I’ll be telling a story about my son and how Hell On Wheels he is in some particular situation the person I’m talking to – without being asked, and for no reason relevant to the conversation – will offer up, “Well he’s a boy, and boys blah blah blah” or some such drivel.  I never know exactly how to respond to this, because it’s annoying, and usually this person has selectively ignored the myriad of “girl” that my son exhibits (examples below), and bottom line, I think gender stereotyping in social conversation is just plain lazy (interesting: I have never heard the converse – someone attributing an aspect of my daughter’s more compliant persona to femaleness).  There’s probably some really snappy phrase describing the phenomena of someone wanting to see a certain connection and lo and behold finding “examples” everywhere. Maybe I need to look that one up and arm myself with it.

In any case, speaking for our family, “boy” vs. “girl” seems to be most obviously delineated by genitalia differences and chromosomal count, less descriptive regarding my children’s preferences, affinities, or temperaments.  For instance it is my son who loves pink, passionately enjoys gardening, cooking, and washing dishes, has a more forgiving nature, wears his blonde hair long by choice, adores playing with Barbies and watching Disney Princess films, and on lunch dates likes to eat a small salad and order Diet Coke and then for dessert a big piece of cheesecake because he’s been so good all day.

So understand the reason I was surprised that it was Sophie, and not Nels, who dropped trousers to piss in the small hedged-in hilled area behind the Hoquiam Transit station today is not because I think it is more “boy” to urinate in public places but because one thing about Nels is he has generally been rather free in general to mark territory with his urine. And why not?  We’re an outdoor, active family. Kind of difficult to instruct a small child in the finessey differences when semi-public urination is a perfectly good solution (like a camping trip or long highway trip “bathroom break”) versus when it’s a kind of regrettable idea.

I think Sophie could have known better though, especially given there are perfectly normal actual bathroom facilities on the premises.  In any case, I have no idea if the kids had ever previously peed back in this miniature no-mans-land, so in a way I’m glad the kiosk Transit employee caught my daughter red-handed.

The woman’s reaction, however, is near apopolectic.

I look up as she’s striding toward the kids and yelling, “No, NO! No!”  In fact her voice is raised so angrily that for a moment I feel a stab of fear that something terrible has happened.  Then I hear the woman continue in a thundering lecture: “You don’t do that back here!” as my children obediantly and with open, agreeable faces trot out from the shrubbery, my daughter re-seating her linen pants and heading towards the bathroom.

Witnessing this interaction I feel sadness, disappointment, and anger.  A month ago this same woman had spoken nearly as harshly to my son for the grevious sins of attempting to make a call on the public phone (which was in fact out of order), and a few minutes later, not sitting in one spot on the cold metal bench I was located (adults are, of course, allowed to roam freely).  In the case before I’d disliked how rude this woman was to my son but I’d figured hey, she was having a bad day or whatever. Even now as she stomps behind my children I’m thinking I’ll just file away her behavior and give her another chance next time because of course my kids are doing something “naughty” that to those without small children could seem shocking.

But no, even as the kids have obeyed and are on their way back towards me she’s still angrily lecturing on the point that they need to use the bathroom and not the bushes (I counted, and she literally repeated this four times).  Sophie and Nels are now of their own volition in the restroom washing their hands (see? their manners are actually quite Fancy) as she barks at them from a few feet away.

So I step forth and say, “Ma’am.  Ma’am. I’m sorry, I can see you’re upset.  But you really don’t need to use that tone.”

She’s angry but is attempting to avoid eye contact.  She starts in, for the fifth time, to explain to me the problem.  I hear her out for a minute and say, “I completely understand.  I will talk to them,” I promise, “but this is the second time we’ve been here you’ve spoken to them in that tone, and I can assure you it isn’t necessary.”

This brings her up short.  Someone has actually watched and noted how she treats the public?  Who’d have thought? “Well good then, okay, fine,” she says, stomping off, admitting a kind of defeat: upset I’d confronted her (as anyone might be) but grudgingly convinced in my overall Decency because I had not defended my child’s right to soil the public facilities willy-nilly.

(Incidentally, as we waited for the bus we did see the Transit’s Code of Conduct posted on the wall.  Rule #3 reads “No spitting, urinating, or defecating.”  I guess they do have to spell it out, even to some grownups. By the way, I heard later from a friend this exact woman had had the unfortunate circumstance of discovering a grown man’s bowel movement back in the bushes, on an earlier occasion.  Once bitten, twice shy I suppose).

Sitting with the kids and I make sure they understand the decorum I expect of them at the transit station.  I’m a little irritated, rubbed raw in the way I get when I feel the world is unfair to my kids. “I’m sorry she spoke so rudely to you,” I wind up.

“I didn’t mind,” Sophie says. Yeah, and I get it, because I know I raise my voice in a similar assy fashion to them, they’ve heard it before – and some days more than once.  But perhaps even more striking, I’ve observed children seem to have a more rugged Ego when it comes to being corrected in public.  It’s like they hear what the person is saying and aren’t as angry or defensive as an adult might be.  This is a humbling thought; and a great trait I’d like to have myself.

But when it comes down to it, my kids don’t have to mind one way or another, and I’m not one to swoop them up in big, protective arms each time the world is a shit to them.  But every now and then I do say something to adults who think it’s perfectly permissible to speak to children as if they were second-class citizens.

We continue on our way, loading the Xtracycle up on the bus and venturing out for Sophie’s soccer gear and some groceries.  We arrive back home at four o’clock, a day without driving, a beautiful sunny one at that.

a violent streak

This weekend included an incredible amount of activity: volunteer work, a bit of waitressing, a four-day visit from company, a birthday party, gardening, cooking like mad, a sleepover guest, and lots of garden work. I was too busy to even blog some of the witty and urbane observations running through my mind (observations like, “Good damn I need another cup of coffee to cope”).

Tonight Nels drags his feet along a DVD against our hardwood floor – an annoying habit of his I cannot seem to talk him out of. My solution lately has been to, as much as possible, keep this kind of media away from him. Tonight he has one in his possession again, somehow, and he’s abusing it. I warn him if he puts it on the floor I will remove and discard the DVD. A few minutes later and he’s spinning on it with one foot. Half judiciously as a parent, half in irritation, I remove the DVD and – instead of merely removing it, as I should – snap it in half. Or rather, attempt to – it’s rather difficult to do as it turns out. It bends, irrevocably (although it was scratched beyond repair as it is), and now rocks on the desk, a sad and wonky proof of my failure. Nels is unhinged and cries – of course. I am not even mad enough to feel remorse; I realize the split-second after I did this that I should not have done it. My son races downstairs to cry injustice to his father, who of course is an amazing and sympathetic listener.

After a while the boy is back. He runs about the room half-crying and I’m half-listening. In a couple minutes I finish my email and turn to apologize to him. He collapses, ready to accept my love, and puts his tear-stained face against my chest. He is in mourning more than angry with me; he knows I was wrong and that I am sorry. He starts crying and clutching at me and yammering and I hear something about a jump rope and tripping. I realize that behind my computer chair he had placed a “booby trap” of a stretched-out jump rope – to trip and murder me, no doubt. Half there to forgiveness, now, he tells me when I succumb that he’ll protect my head with his hands, so only my body gets hurt. “I don’t really like you but I don’t want you to fall down the stairs”, he says, the look in his eyes showing me even this isn’t true, and he no longer wishes me any harm at all, and that he likes me very much. As I hold him and wipe away his tears his words lose their violence and become only tender expressions of love and howls of sadness. His movement through hurt, anger, unconditional love and sadness could not be expressed more clearly.

I can’t be angry or shocked that he would set up a vicious trap because I am only too familiar with my own murderous nature. I should be a better mom, it’s true. But I am glad in this moment, for at least tonight, that I’m smart enough to know when I’ve made a mistake, that my son can express his feelings so clearly, and that I can minister to him and give him comfort when he hurts. The goal tomorrow will be not to cause him undue distress – to offer him gentleness only and instead.

i’m guessing their world is kind of like being on a hallucinogen

Ralph’s made a pile of 11″ by 17″ paper for the kids to draw on. It’s allowed them to expand their art to the edges of the paper. Nels draws elaborate botanical gardens and tall, thin houses with many vertical-lined fixtures; Sophie illustrates mermaid families, dragons, and some kind of a spiky weapon hurling above us all like a vicious sun.

Yesterday one of her many mermaid family drawings had been amended. Above the four of us it now read: “Chart of mean People” and then below that, “X’s are mean”). Ralph and I had two big X’s drawn through our faces. I’m not sure what we’d done to offend, but I do like our daughter was ready with an infographic regarding the character of our family.

We were a topless mermaid family, of course. My breasts looked like two adjoined capital “Y”s. Ralph sported an arrow over his right shoulder pointing to “nipls” (just in case you weren’t sure what those two milk-dud sized dots on his chest were); he was also annotated “(with a sweet stash)”, the “w” in the word “stash” (which meant mustache, of course) sporting it’s own mustache like a tilde.

Last night my mom took Sophie to pick up her van at the shop. While they waited they shopped at the Dollar Tree and my mother bought Sophie a tube of plastic lizards. My kids love plastic animals, Sophie most of all – especially dragons and reptiles. By that evening in the bath the kids had named the lizards:

Roadkill
Flattop
Paul
Paula
Blackie
Finny
Schuck
Flower

In the bath with my daughter I spent several minutes committing each lizard’s color and name to memory; this morning while putting away clothes I noticed she’d put each of the eight to bed in these wee baskets, each with their own pillow (cut from fabric scraps).

Very, very sweet. Until one of the lizards offends my daughter and she writes up a blistering exposé.

my children are not jumpy mice, a mantra

Today as I awaited my young daughter’s exodus from the hot showers post-swimming lesson I saw another woman in a an angry tableau with her daughter while the grandmother watched. The little girl had done something – I don’t know what – and was receiving a lengthy scolding, right there in her bathing suit. The mother and the grandmother’s faces were molded in lines of intense displeasure. The object of their ire was avoiding eye contact while making angry grunts. “Look at me. Look at me,” the mother fumed, gripping her daughter’s upper arms. At this the grandmother marched over from a few feet of observational distance, grasped the young girl’s head, and forcefully turned it. “Look at your mother,” she grimly intoned. I lost track of the conversation as my daughter skirted past the trio, giving them a curious glance, and into my waiting towel. A few minutes later, out of eyesight at the locker bank, I heard the sound of a slap and the mother’s voice again, angrily: “Behave.” I thought, impossible. If the little girl was weak-natured, she would be terrified and ashamed. If she was strong-willed, she would be angry and ashamed. At best, she’d be cowed into submission. Adults can win this sort of conflict because they are larger, meaner, and scarier. And the worst thing is adults who behave like this often never reflect on doing things a different way; never learn to take care of their anger, only to unleash it at the expense of their dependents.

I remember episodes like this in my childhood (I was of the strong-willed variety, in case you hadn’t guessed), the full (if momentary) anger and shaming language directed at me by the supposedly loving figures in my life. These incidents were awful, simply awful, and when I see a child treated in this way I remember it like it was yesterday. Only slightly less uncomfortable than witnessing tonight’s unpleasantness was the knowledge that I have myself talked to my child this way, have felt that angry at my child – although I know I have never permitted adults to gang up on my children in any way (at least, not as long as I’ve been present to stop it). It was so easy for me to see, looking in on someone else’s child, that no matter what this girl did she in no way deserved this browbeating. It was so easy for me to imagine this grandmother treated her daughter this way and the cycle continued – at least in this moment there was no growth, no healing.

Alone on our locker room bench, I gather my daughter in my arms, towel and all. She permits the embrace and I have a few blissful seconds of her warmth and dearness. She is tough and smart and almost the age she could physically forage for herself in the world. But in the moment she feels like a tiny bird, all fluttering heart and fragile wings. Gentle, gentle, I think to myself. Can I return to being gentle to my children? I know today’s example will stay with me. I also know I’m not being so gentle to myself lately. Take a breath; tomorrow is a new day. I can do it.

that’s what I hear in these sounds

Today, with two clicks on my Google Calendar, my life suddenly freed up as the three days a week of Sophie’s preschool vanished. Some people look forward to school time so their own grownup schedules may take precedence. I can understand this. I however can say I’m looking forward to the summer break just as I enjoyed it last year. With the Siamese-twin-like psychic synchronicity my two children have (desiring to spend every waking, sleeping, and bathing moment together with an astonishing low proportionality of fighting, considering) taking the two of them out – especially now, as they can dress themselves, walk long distances, take care of their bodily functions, and are joyous to take almost any outing – is actually slightly easier than having one of them along.

I haven’t set foot in a car since Friday. I continue my no-driving experiment and today my goals were modest: get to downtown Aberdeen, take the kids thrifting (I’m looking for a sheet to sew pajamas for myself; also clothes for Ralph and a pair of pants for re-vamp), hit the taqueria (sauce a la diabla!), go home. (all of this, after I’d planned out our budget and assigned various bill paying and errands for Ralph and I – also feed, clean, help dress the kids, etc, blah blah).

So at about 10:45 we walk the eight blocks to the station, first stopping at the ATM and then purchasing a monthly pass (cheap – only $18). The good news about our bus system is that people actually put it to use here. The bad news is they aren’t PT-ecocute – most of them are dirty, half-crazy, and / or poor (or any combo) and a few of them are smelly. Actually – this isn’t bad news at all since my children and I are pretty OK in new situations (and the situation won’t be ‘new’ for very much longer as we use the transit regularly). But our bus riding today underscored a truth for me: it’s hard here to ride the bus and walk. People here use their cars to insulate themselves from the harsher neighborhoods of Aberdeen and, to a lesser extent, Hoquiam; insulating themselves also from the poverty and hard-living so many do here. I get off and on the bus and don’t see anyone “like me”. Those “like me” are driving by in their cars listening to XM radio. Those I sit with on the bus go to and from sub-standard apartments and sometimes run-down hotels and their teeth are bad and faces hard-worn.

Heck, it’s kind of hard to bike around here too. There are no bike lanes in either Hoquiam or Aberdeen. None. People drive aggressively as well. Not everyone thinks biking is a good thing: Ralph was heckled as a “loser” and “faggot” the other day – merely for being on his unremarkable Schwinn. He was also wearing a dress and holding a sign that said, “I like balls in my face” but I still don’t get it.

And now: diving into the 39 cent Stretch N Sew pattern I purchased today at the Salvation Army.

love, light, and dancing

Just lately I have struggled with not being harsh with regard to my progeny. I had been on a rather zen, non-harsh Mama roll for months – even during our move and some not getting along with husband! – but lately it’s been a struggle. One can say it was the kid doing this-or-that but I believe real harshness resides within the parent and each of us knows if we have it in us or not. My body is flirting with anger right now; it’s residing within.

Today seemed to not go well from the get-go. Ralph and I are having a disagreement (ah… how much I’d like to vent, but I won’t). This is aggravation that stays with me, even though mostly I have put it on hold. This morning after busting my ass at home I got the kids et all loaded into bike trailer: shit! tire is flat. OK. I can deal. Drive to the Farmer’s Market for eggs (2 dozen fresh), then I’m going to take the kids to split a steamed milk, then to the park. The kids have been borderline; Nels has been a little naughty. It’s nothing I can’t handle when I’m at my “normal” self but right now I’m at my harsh-on-everybody-mostly-including-myself self.

While at the Market my kids are just looking at the pies – no touching – and an employee I’ve observed before (always, every time I’ve seen her, complaining about or gossiping to someone) with the kind of wrinkles around her mouth that indicate she maintains her puss at a sphincter factor of about 8, 24/7 – passes us by and in a bored, aggressive tone drones, “Don’t touch the pies please!” to my children who are looking at the saran-covered pies with their (clean, as it happens) mitts a full eighteen inches away from said pastry.

Well, she actually corrected the wrong kids today – or the kids of the wrong Mama. Instead of ignoring her rudeness and saying a prayer for her day (my gentlest self), or perhaps saying, “I’m sorry, but I’m watching the children. Don’t worry, they won’t be permitted.” (my more assertive form), I say flatly, “They weren’t. touching. the pies.” At my tone the [ hag ] woman snaps to attention and her attitude becomes more conciliatory to the point where she tries to “friendly”-like interrupt the conversation I’m having the cashier. Get how bitchy I am – I don’t even respond to this implicated olive branch. Fuck her. I continue talking to the cashier, pay for my eggs, and prepare to leave.

Sadly, my children take this exact moment to misbehave. My daughter starts wheedling that I’d pulled her hair (actually the clasp of my purse had snagged it) and my son, oddly, grabs a penny from the penny jar and (more oddly still) won’t put it back! By this time there are three employees sort of watching my scene. My scene isn’t that bad but I want to leave. I am so frustrated and in that moment I am *only* frustrated at the kids (who I know, even in my mind at that moment, aren’t being that bad).

I am outwardly calm and nice to my kids, prying the penny out of Nels’ hand and guiding Sophie out the door verbally. But inside I am so angry. I walk to the van, holding Nels very firmly by the hand and I’m making plans at “disciplining” them in the most assholian sense of the word. I envision putting them in their carseats and delivering each one a slap. Then I will tell them what they did wasn’t cool and why (p.s. – “what they did” includes a bit of other, earlier non-cooperation I haven’t written about). If you haven’t contemplated slapping your kids before, it’s quite a trip. Your rational mind knows, “Not a good plan”. Your body and your emotions say, “Do it! Goddamnit!”

By the time I get to the car, my knowing self has given it up. I am tired and sad, not angry. I put them in their seats. I tell them I won’t take them to the park and get the milk after all. They start crying (predictably), but not hysterically so. Sophie reasons with me, “I’d like one more chance!” she says. I say OK. I outline what this “one chance” will be – namely, they do A, B, and C in the library. If they do, we will go on the rest of our outings as planned. We are all clear-eyed and only slightly weary as we leave the parking lot.

We go to the library and they follow instructions perfectly; I take them for their milk and park visit. Our relating improves and I read to them – our afternoon turns sweetly.

Obviously, I am glad I didn’t slap them or raise my voice or be mean. I am not so sure I shouldn’t have slapped the market lady. Sure, it would have been unwarranted, inappropriate, and wrong. But in that moment it would have felt kind of good, don’t you think?