Today Ralph and Phee took the day off to hit Olympia, so Nels and I got up, had breakfast, donned as few clothes as possible, lathered up with sunscreen, and biked an eight-mile trip in the heatwave to pick up groceries. I biked slowly, for me, as I have something wrong with my knees – especially the left one. I remind myself: I don’t have to have knees that work or get my exercise or go to the doctor or take medicine or get an xray, all I have to do is be here right now and ride the bike with care and take the time I need. I’m not doing anything else right now, just This.
On our trip – against the wind on the way there, bolstered by it on the way back, thank Jeebus – my son clings to me and talks mostly about his exploits outdoors and I enjoy the sights of the sidestreets of Aberdeen. I pass a man nodding out in the alley in a not-insubstantial pile of fast food wrappers. At first I think he is a pile of refuse until he moves in a very human way, which spooks me. A moment later I am thinking of the addicts and alcoholics who perish from exposure during extreme weather. I pass a group of brown-skinned children playing with a hose; five boys taunting a girl who with seriousness chases them down to spray them. Nels and I smile and laugh and are both secretly delighted when we get a few drops from a dashed water balloon.
At home I rest with a root beer float and then a tomato sandwich. I bake a Brooklyn-style pizza for dinner and make Ralph a Vietnamese coffee. The extreme heats of oven temperature and olive oil and kalamata olives curiously satisfy me in my kitchenspace, which I’ve learned to keep cool, or at least cooler than the out-of-doors. Despite my precautions, I am a bit sun-fazed, tired from my ride (and my knee did get worse, despite the care I took in not straining it), a little scattered. At nine o’clock we take a walk out by the bay and I limp along and our dog, happy with not one not two but three long walks today, smiles alongside our conversation, padding in the deep grass in the dark, a gliding white shape accompanying our travels to nowhere in particular.
“In a child’s eyes, a mother is a goddess. She can be glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath, but she commands love either way. I am convinced that this is the greatest power in the universe.”
A little after four AM I hear my son’s voice like a pebble tossed in a still pool. “Mama. Would you be willing to comfort me in some way?” His voice is calm but sad. I realize, surfacing from sleep, he’s been under the covers, shifting silently, his body giving off heat like fresh-baked bread, frightened and trying to cope on his own for several hours. I hold him close and as I wake up more I collect myself to care for him. First I bring him to the bathroom to pee, then wash his hands and have a drink of cool water and then I feed him a little cereal. His body in his little underpants reminds me of my childhood books, Mowgli the “little brown frog”, legs and arms and a little fragile neck. His hair is long and tangled and every color of blonde, the smell of a dusty sunshine, a special heaven made just for me.
We return to bed and like a stone sinking in a pond he sinks into sleep, gradually over minutes but the minutes feel like much longer, laying beside him and in a state of half-sleep as I’m ready and willing to rise with him again should he need it; should his sleeplessness be the beginnings of a flu or fever. I stroke his back; smooth as velvet, living ribs rise and fall beneath my hand. It is quiet and the earth is spinning and soon I spin down to join him.
In the morning I hear my son telling Ralph about his restless night. He tells his father I’d held him, and got up with him. “And I got a glass of lemonade and I didn’t even have to rush because she was waiting for me. She was very kind.” I am tired, but I am content with being tired. I am learning how to rest, sometimes. And now I hold his hair gently off his neck and kiss him at the nape of his neck; his body folds up against me and his dusky little voice tells us both about his plans for the day, which include swimming and showing off his “fort” (at the bay side) to his father.
Later in the day my daughter arrives home from a beach trip and does not go in the house, but instead finds Ralph and I in the garage where we are doing the dusty work of cleaning. “Mom, a little assistance?” she asks now, unwilling to track sand through the house. Good, my four hundred thousand exasperated remonstrations over the years have made some effect. I gently whack the sand off her as best I can and with her cooperation tug off one of her t-shirts; we travel into the shower where she stands while I bag up her sand-laden clothes. I leave her there, treading to the laundry room to wash her things, and she turns on the tap. I remember how good a shower feels after a beach date.
My children show the evidence of the season’s change; they are outside immediately when the weather improves and they stay out for months. It is a cheerful ritual I have almost nothing to do with, but that helps me immensely. Even cooking hot meals in the kitchen while the family is out, even pouring scalding water and suds into the sink, there is a privacy I experience in keeping the home while they are out, that is much-appreciated after the winter months being cooped-up. I cook beans with chiles and pour strawberry lemonade for my husband; before I go out in the evening I change into a thin white shirt and step out into the sunshine, a bit cooled from earlier in the day.
I’ve spent so much of the last dozen years in near-constant company of children you’d think I find them quite unremarkable as companions; but in fact, they are a special type of experience to me, still. I often feel uncertain, and think I am supposed to be providing them more food, more cuddles, more baby-talk. However I have very little to offer on all these accounts – sometimes not much for my own little ones.
The girls visiting tonight are, as per usual, excited about our life and they explore it frankly. They are enamored of our home; they enjoy my mother’s property next door, with the witchy garden and koi pool and fire pit. They are excited our children do not go to school and they are enthusiastic about Nels’ lemonade stand (he spent all day out there; cheerfully greeting, pouring, mixing – and when alone, singing songs and saying, “I’m a winner!” to himself).
In the evening Ralph leaves for a meeting and the four children and I venture out to our favorite little walk along the harbor. Within a few moments the younger sister N. sits behind me on my bike, completely at-ease with a grownup she’s never met before. She has a wicked sense of humor, very dry – a lot like my daughter. She is pretty in a winsome, Scout-from-To-Kill-A-Mockingbird type of way. Her sister is a real beauty, clouded blue eyes and long lashes and dark hair falling across her clear brow. They are very composed little girls and quite game to shift bikes back and forth when we are joined by another child on foot, woefully protesting the unfairness of not owning a bike. Phoenix, for the first time, rides my X with Nels on the back while I carry N. I feel a sting of pride. A little later my daughter rounds a corner too fast and ditches the bike too, falls right over although she and Nels are very good at dumping bikes without being hurt. Phoenix gets up and dusts off. “It’s not a maiden voyage of an Xtracycle if you don’t fall,” I tell her cheerfully; she brightens up.
The children know where to look for animals hidden here and there in the hot, muggy wetland – we find all sorts of creatures, including many centipedes criss-crossing our path, a long-toed salamander (rare for our area of Washington), and a small nest of nubbly purple-pink rodents. The children entreat me to take photos with my phone although in the case of the little baby nest, I don’t want to get too close.
Back at home the visiting girls stay until the last possible moment before they’ll be late getting home. They keep asking about my sewing and my sewing room. Finally it occurs to me they might like some of Phee’s hand-me-downs. I step into the closet and begin pulling out this and that, garments my daughter has grown out of that haven’t found a new child. I hand over a few things then start straightening the hangers, lost a bit in preoccupied tallying of my children’s clothing needs. A moment later I turn to find one of the girls still standing, expectant, hoping for more magic to be pulled out of this dark and dusty little closet. The girls try on the garments and one of them, the older one, brightens up considerably at Phee’s leopard-print-and-lilac-rose dress. She changes into the frock then skates into the kitchen and twirls; the dress suits her even more than it did my daughter.
Giving clothes to children is funny. The kids have to like the clothes and then who knows if the parents will let them wear them. And then there are the unintentionally-comic requests; a friend of my daughter asked me to make her a Justin Bieber t-shirt. As if you can’t find one of those for $5 at Walmart! Still, I am gratified to think these particular garments will find another happy home. All told, the girls left with the Blue Dragon Egg Jacket, the Bleeding Heart Dress, the Rayon Tiered Leopard Dress, and Blue Goth.
First, my daughter’s Scootaloo hoodie (you can look at the Flickr tagset, which includes some construction discussion).
I’m seriously proud of my rendition of the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ badge.
Next up: Nels’ hooded linen coat. My design, Franken-patterned from previous designs. A fully-lined and underlined jacket in a linen/rayon blend. Square pockets, pointed pieced hood. Hand-knit i-cord drawstring. A hood with axotl external gills. YOU HEARD
Ah, yeah… I made the pants too. Super-fun. I think I shall be sewing with linen ALL SUMMER LONG
Yes, those are bound buttonholes. Want a closeup?
Two days ago my little Toddler Travelling Suits found a home – with baby Julian! Who was in an awesome mood, playing with both a cat toy (ball), and a dog toy (ball). And he said, “Ball!” a lot.
My daughter, my mother, my dog, and I walk together along the moss-rich gravel road. My son and his friend trail us, deep in conversation. Suddenly that blood-chilling cry echoes out, a sound every mother knows. A scream of pain tore from the depths. I turn and my son is running towards me at speed. “Mama, Mama I’m hurt! I fell! I tripped! My hand is hurt!” Nels is eight now, but his cries have the same element of rawness I recognize from my first days of knowing him.
I don’t run to him or even move; I wait and collect myself. It never doesn’t hurt, witnessing the pain of one’s child. I wait in this cold sunshine, next to my own mother, and my son runs for me. I hold Nels close when he arrives into my arms. I inspect his hand; it is raw and bruised, and looks as if it has encountered a nasty sharp rock. I brush off his hand carefully, and I tell him that his hand saved his face from being cut. I wipe his tears and kiss him.
Instantly, he has stopped crying. Only a moment before he was wailing aloud. Now he’s thinking about his hand and his scuffed knee and how they protected him. He calms and his hazel eyes are deep in the storm of thought. He is now calm because he ran to me in distress, trusting I would save him, and I saved him.
This sort of thing happens everywhere, everyday, in a myriad of ways, with children and their mothers all over the world. Why do we not acknowledge what a miracle it is, and how deeply we needed, or still need, this mother?
I step out onto the sidewalk where my son holds our dog and I see Nels has been crying. He throws his head back and howls in utter remorse for the joke he’d made a few seconds before I’d disappeared into the shop. The witticism wasn’t an especially good one (it involved a naughty pun on the word “cock”) and I’d frowned. Apparently my son was stricken after having a few moments alone with his thoughts while I took care of some business. Now, reunited, he cries. Hot tears flow down his cheeks and he tells me he embarrassed and ashamed and he vows to never go to a certain website again.
I hold his hand and we cross the street. I ask him, “Why do you need me to like all the things you like?” and he cries some more, says something muffled. I realize he’s probably hungry and I say, “Can we talk about it more over lunch honey?” His tears dry up, but his face bears the indelible marks of weeping in cold weather.
He is the very very center of my heart.
Indoors; cold outside.
I bend to Phoenix’s ear at the fabric cutting counter and say, sotto voce: “Your hair looks greasy.”
“Who cares,” she airily replies, leaning forward on her elbows. “Certainly not me.”
My daughter is incredible. She’s like that friend you loved dearly, that girl you wanted to be. She’s smart and kind and beautiful and has a distinctive style of her own. Her toes are dirty at the end of the day but she is circumspect and loving. She makes her brother chocolate milk and she fetches me coffee if she sees my cup is empty.
She draws ferocious monsters, pages and pages and notebooks full of them, not a one alike, but then she gives me a backrub while we’re driving. She stays up late with me and looks into domestic foxes so we can have one who sleeps on her bed. She pulls her brother and the neighborhood boy D. in a giant wagon but when they horse around too much for her taste she says, “Sit. Down.” in this sharp voice mama-familiar that causes Ralph and I to look at one another, side-eye.
She takes the last bit of cash on her today and buys me fancy cookies.
Home and she takes her pumpkin up on the table and gets modelling clay and makes an “evilly-smiling” face, with a huge wound exposing his brain and a knife sticking out the other side. She makes this up in about five minutes. I’ll post a picture tomorrow. It’s awesome.
She puts on a horrible documentary about vicious parasites that wreak havoc on human beings. She says, “I’ll bet the next stage in the parasite’s life cycle is a snail.” To my minor astonishment this is true. I say, “How did you know that?” And she says, flatly, almost – almost – rudely, “Research.”
Like, how the fuck you think I know that.
These are all just like, a few things I remember over the last few days.
She heals up every way I wasn’t raised right.
I stop and stare down at the trail. “What kind of ass leaves a cigarette butt on the ground in a public park?”
“A Deluxe Premium Ass?” my daughter suggests helpfully.
You know, in case I’d forgotten I was walking with the most AWESOME AND FUNNY PERSON ON THE PLANET.
It is not possible for me to accurately photograph, describe, or render in poetry and prose how wonderful, green, and alive it is here – year round. Our weather is perfect. Amazing. It is wet and grey and cold a lot for a big part of the year. But even that is incredibly cozy and alive and real. And all around the calendar, it is so crisp and beautiful and green. Just: greener than life.
On the trail, some signs of human interference. “Courtney [heart]’Z Penis”:
My daughter manages a small trickle of a stream:
Hutch waits patiently. He ran a lot today. He loved being in the woods with us.
Later: my friend C. has a big milestone today. I love her very much. I reflected for a couple days on what kind of thing I could buy her, or write for her, or make. Today I fashioned a loaf of the challah I knew she enjoyed and wrapped it fresh out of the oven, with a homemade card and my blessing.
Tomorrow: yoga, a visit to a museum. Maybe. We will see! Let not our plans get in the way of our life.