different outlooks different hopes

friday, friday, so good to me

Taking a break from my latest Netflix obsession (don’t worry, my obsessive-television watching is usually in short-lived bouts) I bring you: FRIDAY LINKAGE.

Film
Bollywood for Beginners Index at Filmi Girl

“Worst Movie of the ’00s?” at PostBourgie. Great piece and excellent comments.

There are no words for the excellence:

(thanks, Steev!)

Society
“Smiling Indians and Edward S. Curtis” by @NativeApprops. Definately check out the galleries, & the video.

“Guest Post: Reactions to the Case of Lara Logan” by Matt Cornell; also, Bill Maher makes LOUD NOISES about how U.S. is just SO MUCH BETTER TO WOMEN THAN MUSLIMS: “Bill Maher Pronounces Sexism in The Middle East, Worse Than In America” from womanist-musings. Finally, a succinct summation of some of those others who stand to lose with these narratives: Laura with “On Feminism, Religion, Superiority, Kyriarchy and Women’s Rights”.

“CNN buys into homeschooling stereotypes in child abduction case, blames victims”. Just add another nugget to the pile of deplorable turdburger that “Nancy Grace” (the show, not the person).

“Covering Up is a Feminist Issue” via PhD in Parenting, fertilefeminism; great video and a good 101!

“Class warfare” at globalsociology

“Just a Parent” by Ouyang Dan on Random Babble

Health
Planned Parenthood at PostBourgie

“Dear Michele Bachmann, et. al: Please Shut Up and Sit Down” at parenting.com

Gym Class by Michelle Allison. If there was a BINGO card about lots of awesome shit Kelly cares about (abolishing adultist thoughts, freeing children from forced institutionalism and segregation, HAES/FA etc.) I’d be shouting “LOTERIA!”

Parenting
“The best parenting book you will ever read.” – some thoughts on a fictional hero of mine – and many others’ (note: spoilers, link concerns the book To Kill A Mockingbird).

“Five Questions for Laurie A. Couture by E. Christopher Clark of Geek Force Five”. Ms. Couture is becoming one of the items in my feed reader I look forward to most. Her thoughts on the third question – C. – I’ve found most relevant as she’s discussing teens, and I’ve had the opportunity to spend more time around teens lately and I’m loving it!

Make/Craft
Awesome Godzilla Quilt, courtesy of the East Bay Heritage Quilters

“Coke Bottle Watering “Globes” at RadMegan

Hand-painted  B-movie purses? I had to write this lady a stalky email because. Come on. How awesome!

How to cook perfect rice – in a frying pan at Just Bento

Quotable
‎”Free children are not easily influenced; the absence of fear accounts for this phenomenon. Indeed, the absence of fear is the finest thing that can happen to a child.” ~ A. S. Neil

Random Awesomeness
Promtacular – ZOMG, who’s ready to dig up prom pictures? 100 to YES.

“Mad, Mod & Macabre – The Ronald Stein Collection” – I. Want. This.

different outlooks different hopes

"Wisdom Teeth" at xkcd

hey yo it’s pink Friday

This morning when I woke up I observed my daughter had found a discarded t-shirt of mine and slipped it on and slept in it all night.

Which I love, more than anything.

OK so, aw hells yes! Another Friday and I am scaling back my linkage, or trying to, still. And what-do-you-know, I’m still on some very similar topics. Well OH WELL, what can I say, I am just very excited about them all!

Parenting
“I don’t love you enough” by Jeff Sabo. This piece is a worthwhile refution of the “tough love” sentiment and just how bad things have gotten if you’re proud of “stalking” your child.

P.S. I emailed Jeff and he told me his blog should be up and for public viewing (earlier there were problems).

On the please-do-not-do-it-this-way parenting bit, here are some “treasures” from Love & Logic (a parenting/teaching philosophy fairly popular in my peer set which demonstrates the phenomenal and deep-level breakdown of trust that many mainstream parenting strategies perpetrate). Here’s their most recent update, on some “tough love” (same ol’ same ol’, although L&L seems to hold itself as something different than typical old-school punishment techniques) regarding shoplifting; then follow this with this delightful screed comparing children to “growling and foaming at the mouth” “rabid dogs”. Fun!

Sandra Dodd: Unschooling & Real Learning, a six and a half minute clip of a Sandra Dodd interview that I like (what she says between 0:50 and 1:01 gives me the shudders… because I have seen and experienced this firsthand). I like the word “unschooling” less and less – not that I have any problem with others using it. Maybe I’ll write more about that soon.

Health
“Iron-deficiency is not something you get just for being a lady” by Dr. Kathryn Clancy. Consider your blog FOLLOWED, Doctor-Woman!

“Lactate Your Ass Off (Or Not)”; JJ Keith drops some realities regarding breastfeeding and “baby weight”. I notice people brag about losing their baby weight (which helps other people feel terrible about themselves for this or that reason). What I know now is, that’s a pretty individualistic thing and people should consider STFU on the whole thing.

Michelle Allison asked her readers what questions they’d have for her regarding food, nutrition, and eating competence: “how to eat in front of other people” was number one (this is quite sobering and sad). The pdf material she provided in response is incredible. Even if one doesn’t think they have any issues with disordered eating, a read-through is highly recommended.

“Real Quick: Actresses who eat things are FASCINATING” by Lesley Kinzel. Ha! Nail, hit on the head. Also, “fatassery” is the best word I’ve heard this week.

Make/Craft
Fringey streamers at Oh Happy Day

Guess what’s gonna be happening in our house this next week. KOREAN COOKERY!

Just Awesomeness

National Geographic‘s Photo of the Day, won’t you?

Minecraft + pharmaceutical humor! (WIN) (& – thanks, Ryan!)
"Wisdom Teeth" at xkcd

Three years ago, Valentine by yours truly (and yes, this still happens to me)

Back to the future by photographer Irina Werning. ZOMG do I love this times one hundred.

Action Figure Slow Motion Punches:

***

Of winter’s lifeless world each tree
Now seems a perfect part;
Yet each one holds summer’s secret
Deep down within its heart.
– Charles G. Stater

a far green country

I’m going to pretend my self-diagnosis isn’t entirely half-assed or unqualified and mention I’d put my seasonal depressive disorder business just a tick up from “moderate” and toward the “nearly debilitating” category. I continue to find evidence of this, such as: today was warm, spring-like, crystal clear, there was even a fellow across the street mowing his lawn. My response was visceral and immediate and profoundly joyous: “the grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then I see it”: fuckin’ SUNSHINE.

I opened the blinds and scrubbed the bathroom clean and washed the laundry room shelves and started a tub of bleach water for my bar cloths and wiped down counters and blinds and motherfuckin’ vacuumed (I never, ever do this) and shook out blankets and laundered throws and washed the dishes and sorted and rinsed and soaked beans and did some lovely and exhilarating yoga and knew I’d even finish my dress (and I did, and: Yay!). All fantastic and all before my daughter woke and her friend came over and I sent them out for the remainder of dinner groceries with a pocketful of cash.

While Phoenix was out, and after my victorious morning, Nels became quite sad. I asked him how I could help, and he requested breakfast cereal. He asked me to give him more milk in the bowl, and happily drank it up, and lo and behold, this was what he needed. After his cereal he washed his hands and face and I picked him up, and I don’t know how I did this but I held him and danced with him for several songs, and I’m not sure if I can convey how much he loved this. He buried his face in my neck and then he’d pull his head back and smile deeply into my eyes. He kissed me dozens of times. He said, “you’re making me sleepy!”, but I don’t think he felt exactly sleepy, more protected and nurtured and loved. And so did I. And for some reason my body and arms felt strong and I could hold him and hold him and we sang and held one another until our (second set of) guests arrived.

The light faded all-too-soon and our dinner and dinner guest visit was broken up by an odd phone call BUT! even after all that Ralph and I got so much work done at home. It’s like the sunshine gave me everything I’ve been missing. It’s dark now, and it’s late, so late in fact it’s early; and I’ll have a hot bath and a cold beer and snuggle between the kiddos and laugh and tickle and kiss and hug.

Today you can’t take away the things we had.

***

I put a lot of effort into my relationships… consciously, sure – but often not even so. I’d like to let you know what I mean. The way my mind works, my friends and loved ones are always with me, waking and sleeping (I’ve been known to dream of someone I haven’t spoken to in months, then track them down to see how they are). When I see a news article or a blog post or hear a song or see a video I think of these people and am likely as not to bake them some bread or send them an email, even a brief one, or make them a mix tape, or send them a homemade Valentine. I send these blog posts or articles or emails not just because I know they will resonate (I rarely miss my mark), but as a symptom that my friends and loved ones are with me, all the time; I gift food not because I have some extra on hand but because I cooked something (hopefully) delicious, often planned for that exact person, but in any case I know homemade fare crafted with panache and willing love is a very wonderful gift indeed.

Sometimes these many presences are draining, actually. Maybe this is part and parcel with how I often feel so tired. I’ve long said I have an active mind – not a particularly intelligent one or productive one.

Someday I’m going to have to figure out if holding someone in my heart is good enough; if I can let them slip my mind.

But in the meantime, I want to take a moment here and thank a few people who I’ve experienced as restorative. This list will not take the place of personal communication. It will also not be exhaustive. I’m tired, and my mind is often more dull than people credit, and I will surely forget someone who’s given me something amazing lately.

But I’ll do my best.

I’d like to thank my readers for their presence. I’d like to thank those who write and comment because it touches me they take the time to read, and to communicate, and to offer themselves. I make my best effort to respond and to thank them, and I mean every word when I do so.

I’d like to thank this random Facebooker for a very nice comment on a recent article I wrote, a comment praising my writing but also one sharing news of a lovely and joyous birth. I’m grateful she took the time to speak her piece.

I’d like to thank Cynthia, Abi, Jasie, and Jodi, for taking time to see me last weekend, and for letting me eavesdrop on their lives and enjoy their smiles and laughter and uncommon beauty.

I’d like to thank Shannon for mentioning (long ago) the particular yoga host I put on for this morning’s practice. I’d also like to thank her that while I was trying to relax and concentrate on my breath I could remember all the sexual comments she’d made about him in his tiny little briefs with his amazing body etc., because I kept huffing little bits of laughter while doing sun salutations, etc.

I’d like to thank Christina for remembering my birthday (which is coming up on the 11th of this month), as well as her chats and emails which are always deeply thoughtful and interesting. I also will never forget when she called me in 2007 after I’d had a horrific personal blow.

I’d like to thank Kate for taking time to write back and forth with me about alcoholism, recovery, addiction, anxiety, and family. This conversation is the beginnings of one I needed deeply – I thank her for her expertise and her enormous depths of compassion and intelligence.

I want to thank Amore for her part in a more or less constant friendship I have treasured deeply since we were young girls, and for a new chapter in this friendship. I think anyone she is intimate with is a deeply fortunate person. And I don’t mean that in a pervy way or anything. This time.

I’d like to thank Ryan (in AZ) for being one of my faithful and vocal male readers and someone I can talk to who really puts his all into his consideration and response to me. His is a deeply compelling friendship. I wish there were a lot more men like him who would make themselves known.

I want to thank Tamara for writing me recently for advice on something very close to her heart and on her mind. I hope in any way I can help her. I appreciate hearing from her.

I’d like to thank Wendy for being a real, true-life, living and breathing mentor I can correspond with. This is an incredibly fortunate thing to have. One day I hope to meet her in person.

I’d like to thank Jeanne for friendship, for fellowship – spending time together, one of the most uncommon gifts – and having the kind of mind and spirit I find entirely edifying. If the world had more citizens like her it would be a much better place. Think all the awesomeness of Sesame Street with no downside.

I’d like to thank Jasmine and Amber, because when we’re together talking I truly feel an electric exchange of ideas and they give me hope, since they are leaders today and will be leaders tomorrow. They also make me laugh that way where my eyes fill with tears and my face gets red and also we’re usually smoking which is to their credit, even though I’m told this filthy habit is on the way out, and aren’t we gauche.

I’d like to thank Mickey for being one of those people who brightens this little sleepy town and provides Ralph and I opportunities to volunteer for a wonderful and worthy cause. I’d like to thank her too for talking recipes and for giving us with fresh bay leaves when we need them.

I’d like to thank JJ for writing bravely and often about her life.

I’d like to thank anyone who likes hearing about or talking about or watching my cats or who loves cats. I self-identify as Crazy on the subject.

I want to thank Sarah who sent my son a sticker swap letter a while back; I immediately lost her envelope and don’t know which Sarah she is – her last name or address. I’d like to thank her properly – if she’s still reading.

I’d like to thank Elizabeth, Samantha, & Michelle for being these incredibly whip-smart lovelies on Twitter at all hours of the day and night. They lift me up and are forces for the Good.

I’d like to thank Paige that I can send her a handful of words through DM and she totally knows what the hell I’m talking about, every time.

I want to thank Kat because she’s one of a small number of people in my life who sends me the emails, articles, and blog posts – all of which evidences that I am in her mind and her heart. This means a great deal to me. I am looking forward to seeing her this next weekend.

I’d like to thank Karen for daily being someone to share a bone-deep love of sewing and creativity that is difficult to explain to anyone is not swimming right with us. Karen is an incredibly talented person, and the fact she is following her dreams and desires even despite opposition – when so few do or can – gives me a thrilling sense of hope. She is an inspiration and her friendship is a rock.

I’d like to thank my mother for beginning to hear me talk about my damaging experiences in childhood and really listen – instead of being defensive. Oddly, I think she is beginning to trust me more where she didn’t before. I’d also like to thank her for making time daily to tell me what’s going on in her life and what’s important to her. I realize now if she didn’t volunteer this information regularly I would be left wondering, and I would seek it out earnestly.

I’d like to thank my husband and partner Ralph. I’m trying to narrow down what to thank him for, today, so I’ll just say the first thing that comes to awareness for me. His continued praises for the food I cook and the house I keep fill give me a calm joy, because I too care about these things and not everyone would appreciate me as much as he does. I also appreciate his friendship which is the deepest and most constant of any I have known.

I’d like to thank my children for filling up my days and nights with not only physical love and incredible tenderness, but their unique brands of humor that make me laugh in delight more than anyone else. I’d like to thank Nels today for sitting at the computer and beginning to hum one of our songs from earlier and then thinking of how much he loved me, because he then said, “Mama, can I get you something? Tea, perhaps?” then went in the kitchen and made me a plate of food quite studiously. As for my daughter, I’d like to thank Phoenix for acquiescing to get groceries for me today, and for finding everything I wrote down, exactly, and for her role in inspiring new dishes as we continue to cook vegetarian. It is my earnest desire to accommodate her wishes.

And finally: it should be rather obvious that by reflecting on ones gratitude list, or the ones that come to mind anyway, life seems a lot lovelier than it did before. I hope others reading here consider doing the same.

Owning it; opening up

Since the gradual but steady and rather linear movement of my partner and I in exploring different ways of parenting and living together – frankly, radical lifestyles in the context of USian family life, and I take no particular pleasure nor displeasure in that particular label – I have often been reluctant to publicly vocalize in a pointed way how the drama, stress, illness, and disharmony in our household has gone down drastically – something like 400% (that is a real quantitative estimate, as best as I can make one).

Why shy? Well, I think for a while I was afraid things were only temporarily better. Then as it began to dawn on me this was no fluke, I still felt oddly gun-shy; perhaps publicly announcing definitive improvements would jinx them (I am occasionally superstitious like that). There was a third reason, the one I struggle with even today: considering how fraught with ugliness the public conversation on Parenting can be (usually levied most viscously against women and children: examples, the false rhetoric of the “mommy wars”, also contemporary feminist and mainstream science purporting concepts of children and teens as “little sociopaths”, inherently flawed, or less-than-human) it sometimes seems like any personal discussion of success is constrained to being misinterpreted out of the gate. A frank discussion of successful alternatives to dominatorstyle adult strategies runs the real risk of a reader – especially a parent/carer – interpreting my experience as a referendum on their failures, worldviews, or character – this referendum is so agonizing for some their ability to listen is thwarted. I’ve seen many grownups shut down instantly, unable to entertain theories or even digest others’ lived experiences, swallowed up by knee-jerk reactions brought upon by years of accepting the child class’ oppression (not just parents, either).

But there are two compelling reasons to be honest and to not worry about appearing a blowhard or creep or worse. Maybe three reasons. The first is, I have a right to my experience and my online journal has been where I’ve recorded many of my experiences, for years now – and no one is required to read nor endorse. The second is, JEEBUS, I am not selling something and have no sinister agenda in writing boldly in defense of Love. I don’t do much of anything but write, write, write, (often) devoting my heart and guts and brains to helping families and children and grownups. All of this is pretty goddamned brave of me and I know it. Why not be braver still, and claim a victory when I experience one?

Because – and here’s that third aspect – I know how inspirational and helpful my writings have been to so many. Over the years I’ve experienced hundreds of emails, texts, IMs, tweets, phone calls, physical letters, and personal conversations – from all quarters of the world – attesting to this. It has been an honor to be brought into discussion and occasionally claimed as a mentor to others. Thing is: if I didn’t write, I couldn’t help. And reflecting on this I often feel sad for the parent I started out as, because I was not exposed much to dominator- and fear-free models of parenting for several years (and what I was exposed to, I probably missed). I myself could have used a hefty dose of wisdom eschewing the zero-sum game of life with children – long, long before I started a family of my own.

So let me tell you a bit about how it is for us. Let me be clear.

These days our household is such a peaceful one and my children are such strong individuals that the stress involved in parenting is almost entirely reduced to matters of paying bills and affording clothes, food, and the pursuit of creative exploits for the members in our one-income family. These are not necessarily small matters, but the agony and work and tension of life-caring-for-children has plummeted by virtue of what I have left behind. Every day I peel back the culturally-reified illusion of righteous control in their little lives and as a result my ability to be Present, aware, nurturing, and loving is increased all the more. The relief of leaving behind the contemporary small-minded and culturally-prescribed pressures of parenthood is glorious. I’d like to believe every day I heal a little more.

Time slips by quickly as most parents have had reason to observe. Last night while we four sat talking and laughing in the low light of our living room my husband said to my daughter in a voice I’d never heard before, “When did you get so big? It’s breaking my heart.” And I’d just been looking at her thinking the same thing; she’s tall as my shoulder now and she’s tough and tender and whip-smart and brave and scrappy and deeply empathetic and present. She is, in a word, (relatively) Undamaged. I can’t think of a word that fits better. Raising children in a consensual manner is an experience, perhaps like a happy, healthy, and supported drug-free childbirth – that is best experienced for its potential to be fully or partially understood. Today while I gave blood the phlebotomist asked me the ages of my children. It amazed me to reflect and name them as eight and six. Their moral development, their life skills, and their vocabulary and ethics are more fully-endowed than many grownups I know. These children are not experienced as burdens to me (well, not usually) so much as people I thank daily I have the gift of experiencing in my life. They are my favorite people to be with, and besides the deep-experienced protectiveness and crazy-in-love Mama-identifiers I’ve been overcome with many times, these days it seems more and more we are fellow travellers and friends. They inspire me more than anyone else I  know.

My children’s (relative) wholeness is no credit to my partner and I, really, any more than by providing fertile ground, planting a seed, and weeding and watering we could claim it was us, not the earth and lifeforce itself, that brought the green and vibrant vine springing to fruition. Indeed, I often feel aggrieved at my many, many mistakes I’ve made; I don’t get a do-over. I can have the knowledge my mistakes are in large part because I myself was damaged as a child, through many means and measures large and small, and I remain broken still – but it is frustrating to be so limited in my responsibilities as a parent. I sometimes feel so deeply sad because I don’t believe I’ll ever be whole again; I feel sad less for myself, but for what I’ve wreaked on my family. I sometimes think if I’d have known how much I would screw up, I would not have chosen to bear children.

All the same, children are incredibly resilient and thrive despite poor or abusive or anemic circumstances. And make no mistake, despite their wholeness and strength, I do believe our children still need Ralph and I. They need us for food, clothing, support, nurture, and love. The chillingly dismissive child-hate linked to above at least alludes to vital clues about our role in caring for children; there is evidence human brains continue to crucially develop well into our twenties or beyond; if this is true this means so many of us should be helping younger ones instead of hand-wringing, pearl-clutching, and stridently complaining about “bad” kids and their inept (or worse) carers (which usually means blighting under-supported women and alloparents, and the child class).

I hope I’ve been clear that things have improved for us; not that we have attained some kind of perfection impervious to sorrow and anger and suffering. Relative privilege has allowed us the space to heal. And disaster, despair, setbacks, drama – all of it is around the corner, or may be at least. One illness or death or devastating disability; the free will of other human beings who can choose to victimize any one of us, a day or week where the limitations of my partner and I keep us from meeting our still-growing children’s needs, one ugly fight where destructive words are spat out. Parental methods and spiritual concepts aside, I cannot offer immunity for suffering and I don’t try to. I can say suffering has diminished and the daily language and experience of love has swelled in recent years. It strengthens all of us and it makes life even more worth living, more deeply enjoyed; whatever time we have left together is savored like that delicious strawberry on the vine.

so ready for us, the creature fear

One nice thing about having inexpensive things is nothing is worth much except the use we get out of it. So this afternoon when I take up the purchased-from-Ross bowl I’m washing, near clean, and lift my hands and smash it into the sink with all my might, well, even given the impulsivity of the moment I know I’m not breaking anything dear. It’s a cheap outburst. Practical, really.

Sadly, my plans are foiled. The thing rather stubbornly breaks cleanly in half with an astonishingly muffled percussive noise – considering I’d aimed it at a stainless steel sink – and gently both pieces bounce and roll across the counter, not at all the shattered disorder I’d hoped to grimly and uselessly clean up piece by tiny piece. It only takes one second to put each half in the trash and then it’s all over. I’m tidy like that.

I am totally fine with walking and riding the bus today for errands, or maybe more accurately, I need a few moments to be fine with it as it was kind of sprung on me, a funny-silly car becoming a likely-tragically-not-running car, pushing our vehicular repair plans and expected expense up a notch quite suddenly (please do not make one helpful suggestion regarding the use of cars. We have a car plan. It’s just taking a while. Because of stuff like rent and food. But you should see our plan! It’s totally all awesome and on the level and going to work out just great. *shifty eyes* ), and I have all these groceries I’ve gotta get because one-day grocery shopping is not so fun with our local transit, and I’m already feeling the dark closing in on me tonight, and I’m feeding the kids but they don’t want to eat the chicken noodle casserole my mom brought over that is totally fine and they need it in their tummies because it’s going to be a long trip, and if you’ve ever gone somewhere with small children and they’re hungry and you can’t get them food yet you might understand how my anxiety ramps up at the very thought, and I’m intuiting somehow GHTransit will fuck me over (and I’m right as you will see).

Today in a moment of weakness I tell Nels I think I have to put him in school. He says, “Never”, and there is a storm in his eyes. I tell him I can’t take care of him. It’s not him. He is doing great. He’s a champion. He’s fucking stellar. It’s me. I can’t take care of him right. I keep missing what it is I’m doing wrong and he seems Unknowable but deeply-experienced (to me and by me) and feral and sweet and complicated but totally fine. You should see him. I make him food and he doesn’t want it but later he mixes up banana and milk and happily munches carrot sticks and forks up bowls of meatballs, pushing his hair out of his eyes and fastidiously wiping his hands (usually on his shirt, which he then changes after washing his hands). I give him hand-knit fingerless gloves for Christmas and he says they don’t feel right, they are scratchy. I hate myself because I actually knew he was sensitive to wool and I just didn’t think ahead.

When I can’t hit the right note with him I begin to see him as Wild, and I recognize he’s doing great, but I just feel so bad sometimes, so guilty, I’ve raised him well enough he sometimes seems not to need me, I’ve done a job many parents are afraid to do, and sometimes it hurts. Today he puts his arms around me and tells me he’ll be okay, he can take care of himself. His body is all bones under smooth skin and his hair smells so sweet and he says, “Mama, you know I can find myself something to eat,” (explaining the aversion to the casserole) and when I get home later in the evening he has the bowl in his room and runs out and says, “I changed my mind, I ate the whole thing and it was delicious!” and he’s a happy clam in the sand, and there’s not one thing I did right by him today, but he’s still going to love me and put his arms around me and beg to bathe and sleep together as if I’m someone who’s worth it.

Late afternoon: waiting for the bus takes forever. Because the 3:50 came and left early so we have to wait for the 4:30 and it’s cold and the shelter has busted-out windows and the bench is damp (but speckled with a pretty and brilliant orange fungus). Phoenie and I look up information on tornadoes on the new phone and I mess about with my camera. It’s a good time, really. She is cheerful but she is eventually cold. Avoiding the wet bench she lays on a section ofdry sidewalk for a while.

Coldkin

Finally the bus comes and we get out on errands and get hot coffee and hot chocolate. Every word that comes out of my daughter’s mouth is wonderful, like music. Phoenix and I wander around the Dollar Tree and I think about all the different people there, those who shop there by necessity (make no mistake, there are lots of them) and those who get to pick and choose when they can “slum it” and when they can get exactly what they want, and I’m kind of not even sure which world I inhabit, which confuses me for some reason. The thought of so many people worse off than I, in need, struggling, it depresses me, because sometimes it seems no one cares.

Phoenix is a ray of light and confidently grips her hot chocolate in her wool-encased paws and when I mutter I need pot holders and then lip balm* she knows exactly where these things are and after helping me a bit she tells me she’ll be in the toy section. Ralph meets us there and we take our groceries home and I make a lovely Mexican Chicken Soup and quesadillas and homemade refried beans and all that chopping and stirring and mixing and correcting seasoning, okay, I’m doing a little better.

December 29, 2010

My mom visits and stays until near-midnight. Ralph eventually goes to bed. Giving up on sleep at a mortal hour, I cut a dress for Phoenix from sale yardage that is pleasingly leaf-green and I hope I don’t fuck it up, I mark carefully with chalk and set aside pieces and imagine the finished dress (maybe the imagining is my favorite part of all), and I just tell myself to get through each day and each night of this winter, I know I can survive it, even though it stretches out ahead of me like an unknowable abyss.

* Just as I post this my daughter wanders over to my desk, un-caps the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Scented I came away with and puts her freckled nose to it, then pronounces: “Hm… smells creepy.” EXACTLY!

the living messages we send to a time we will not see

Ralph comes home and tells me, “I’m so glad I’m married – to you.” His tone of voice, I can tell he means something different than the other times he’s said it. He’s just returned from a quick trip to the kids’ friend T.’s house to check her in with her family. And now, the three kids out of earshot, he describes the fight he’d witnessed at the house (a place with a revolving set of grownups at all hours, noticeable substance abuse, and from what I’ve witnessed a running litany of distrust directed toward T. which is, of course, self-fulfilling) – involving grownups. The fight was bad, like bad-Scorsese-movie levels of verbal vitriol. F-bombs and gendered insults all in the living room in view of my husband while T. stared and waited and felt embarrassed. She didn’t need to feel this way, that Ralph or I would be scared off by what goes on in her home, but of course she did. On the way back to our house Ralph said to her, “It sounds like it’s not a happy house tonight,” and she acknowledged this. I am impressed with my husband as he relates this to me, his compassion and tact.

T. stares a lot. She starts a lot. She lies a bit, or more accurately, is duplicitous quite fluidly, over even minor things (I see this in many children I know). When she first visited, I’d walk in a room and she’d back away from whatever she was near, her big beautiful eyes flying up to my face. She behaves butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth polite around me, but I know she behaves differently when around other children and unobserved (or thinking herself unobserved) by grownups. One time she destroyed a little something in my house (deliberately but in that half-assed no-plan ways kids can evidence) and I was busy and I asked Phoenix if she’d be willing to send her friend home; Phoenix said yes and was quite grave about the whole thing. So was Nels. Both kids were firm in their conviction our possessions should not be broken deliberately. We didn’t see T. for over a week at which point I came across her in town and bade her a warm welcome; she was at our door not fifteen minutes later. That afternoon she explained she’d been sick.

She hadn’t been sick. She’d been ashamed; she’d been afraid.

Having so many children in and out of my life and hosting them at our house is a window to their precious and amazing lives. Their parents might voice aloud their kids’ Reputations or Characters, assign them and label them, but children have a life outside of parents and very much a life if they think they’re outside adult supervision. Given our circumstances and our lifestyle, I am able to let children Be as much as possible, and it works – even with the more troubled children who come around. Their behaviors are difficult at times but I recognize the occasionally angry reactions within me are directed by an old, old script authored by stale Fear. If I don’t “control” these children in my house, these children my children spend time with, Something Terrible will happen… I must take charge, make them see who’s Boss!

It’s a script I’m proud to say I can usually think past.

The sad thing is I suspect many, many parents would get a whiff of a child demonstrating T.’s problematic behaviors (which are pretty mild as long as one is paying attention to what’s going on in one’s house) or her family scene and these parents would just work, outright or insidiously, to keep T. away from their children and vice versa. People in my peer group, or families a bit higher up on the socioeconomic totem pole, working to keep T. and her family with “their own kind”. No one says it like that of course (gauche!). But it’s so easy for most adults to decide who their kids keep company with – at this young age. It’s easy because most kids are long-trained to not feel personal empowerment nor the rights to their own life, and most young children are happy enough to be around most any other kids, really. Deterring them from a few choice families is no major task.

T. loves my children, especially Phoenix, quite dearly. While she is here she draws pictures and drafts love letters that profess this; she brings them to me and I hang them up or put them on the fridge. In the last months she has calmed around me considerably and trusts me in some new way, but she is still quite nervous and agitated when my husband is home (another young lady who visits, who lives with a violent male in her home, is much the same). My calmness seems to have begat increasingly “good conduct” and a more settled mien from T., although I still observe troubling and occasionally heartbreaking behaviors; for instance, T. never asks for food unless she sees me preparing it and even then, she hints obliquely (which I am ashamed to say I sometimes find irritating). Tonight at dinner she gulps pasta and meatballs and waits inertly after finishing until I directly tell her she is welcome to seconds, whereupon she jumps up to get some. I remind myself, I have to do better, I have to offer her food often instead of waiting for her to hint.

Despite the fact T. often wants to be with our daughter and/or the family as much as she can, Phoenix hasn’t wanted to be at T.’s house for quite some time and now firmly resists sleepovers (unless they’re at our house) and even car rides from T.’s folk. She says T.’s family is “mean to T.” and they keep the television on loud all the time. I am again reminded integrity is not something we instill into children by regulating their actions and every move and social experience, but something we allow to develop. At age eight, so far, Phoenix is on-course in that regard.

Tonight when T. leaves she does not want a ride or an escort home. But it is dark, and Ralph and I like to take children home when it’s dark, especially if they’re on bikes and the weather is poor. Complicating this further is the fact T. has found herself in trouble for simliar conditions – her folks told us months ago they’re not the type to let their girl wander the streets at dark. So even though T. is adamant she doesn’t want Ralph to take her, my husband suggests a compromise: he will escort her but will not come inside the house.

I don’t know how long my kids’ friendship with T. will last, but the girl is welcome in my home for a variety of reasons, mostly:

She is a friend to our family.

stuck in the moment

Ralph might have started the game of Blanket Monster, but Phoenix Fire ended it. By clocking her father in the face with the rather rugged and heavy phony-Christmas-tree cardboard box. The way Ralph tells it Phoenix rather reluctantly gave up her hopes and dreams of a normal life, but with a practicality and thoroughness that is so trademark to her sensible nature. “Well, I used to have a daddy, but now he’s a relentless Blanket Monster, so I’d better kill the sonovabitch.” Ralph describes “blinding white light” and staggering to the bathroom where he staunched the flow of bloody nose while our daughter apologized with sincere but pragmatic gravitas. Fucker was pulling them under the blankets by their legs, afterall. “Tickle torture isn’t funny,” she tells me later standing with a towel wrapped around her reedlike body, her freckles standing at attention under a seal-wet post-bath noggin.

Later as we left for a date our daughter calls, “Take care of your nose, daddy!” She means it in a cheerful and loving way but it kinda sounds like a veiled threat.

We got home and later discovered a bunch of items on my Mac. Some intentional video – (I think Flickr cut out some of the artistic differences our children discuss at the end of the film)…

and some unintentional (Ding Dong!):

why don’t you come up sometime and see me

Christmas has in the past been a happy season for me but so far this year it’s all going pear-shaped. My daily life feels overwhelming right now. I tell myself it’s unnecessary to feel pinched or out-of-depth because all things are temporary. And when I tell myself that, I feel better.

Still, it’s a struggle. In the cold and wet and living in an almost comically walk-bus-&-bike-FAIL of a burg, the accumulation of increasingly significant car problems are a serious impediment. My clothes are shabby and I don’t have quite enough of them and they’re not warm enough. Our blankets are falling apart and our kitchen water pressure is out and the CLOWDER keep dismantling the yule tree and we spent Christmas money on the veterinarian bills for a sick kitty and Ralph worries about the chickens in the cold weather and most my time is spent in a rather seemingly endless loop of laundry, dishes, cooking and feeding and it’s dark what seems like all the time, to the point where I remind myself out loud that after the solstice I’ll see the sun again, a little bit more.

Tonight as we head to the grocery store I ask the kids if we should use the side-money their father is working on procuring for Christmas presents for them, or for fixing our car. The kids think about it and said, “Car”, because they’re fucking smart and they’ve got pretty awesome priorities. In fact if it weren’t for my kids I’d probably be living in a state of bona fide Depression rather than the small-d-depression I’m grappling with. Well, if it weren’t for my kids there’d by another salary and two fewer mouths to support and something tells me that might make a difference in my anxieties – but let’s not quibble about details.

The kids aren’t just intelligent and helpful they are completely hilarious and refreshing and entirely exactly who I want to spend much of my time with. Case in point: today over lunch Nels tells me he’s worried for his friend P. because he doesn’t think P.’s parents treat him well. “They don’t let him sleep with them,” he adds quite solemnly (except he says “wif dem”, be still my heart!), then takes a bite of a sandwich and fixes me with a clear-eyed gaze.  Phoenix nods sagely and cocks her head to me, asks, “Why don’t parents let their kids sleep with them?”

A difficult and multifaceted question and I’m thinking of answering the whole, well-every-family-is-different, but also acknowledging some of the lack of nurture our larger culture supports, and the fact lots of people fill their lives up so much they feel strangled by the very wonderful people they are fortunate to have for a few moments on this earth, oh and then there’s parental squeamishness about sex matters, and so I start to respond, slowly: “Well some parents want their kids to…” –

and Phoenix supplies helpfully, “Cower in fear?”

Ha. Cower in fear. I completely love the way she expresses herself because it is entirely precise as to her intended meaning.

The other morning after sleepless night I watched, on a friend’s recommendation, my first Mae West film: She Done Him Wrong (1933) (featuring a VERY young Cary Grant as well). This same friend had told me I reminded her of West and really, I do like to get myself a remedial classic film education when I can make the time. As it turns out, a Mae West comparison is just about the most flattering thing ever. The movie was not very good but she sure was!

And in other news, my husband is pretty much the awesomest guy, kind of ever. As I type and fold laundry and marinate tri-tip and soak almonds and chop veggies for dinner I’m thinking of him across down, working late teaching his class. He’ll be home soon and then it will be the four of us together again and at least that’s something I can bank on.

lizard hell valley

day late and a dollar short

Oops, Friday links!

Best parenting culture article I’ve read in a long time: Alfie Kohn “Spoiled Rotten: A Timeless Complaint”

“Scholars have no idea how many parents these days are permissive, or punitive, or responsive to their children’s needs without being permissive or punitive. (The tendency to overlook that third possibility is a troubling and enduring trend in its own right.) … [N]either logic nor evidence seems to support the widely accepted charge that we’re too easy on our children.  Yet that assumption continues to find favor across the political spectrum.  It seems, then, that we’ve finally found something to bring the left and the right together:  an unsubstantiated critique of parents, an unflattering view of kids, and a dubious belief that the two are connected.”

“Unjob Yourself! A New Paradigm for Work and Life” by Wendy Priesnitz

women and girls in mainstream media (video)

My Son is Not a Poodle Hey, are you a white lady? (probably, if you’re reading here) Are you a white lady walking around THIS close to totally misbehaving? Read this.

I’m more like my kids than I’m like adults at the Enjoy Unschooling Project (I relate – having met exactly zero non-schoolers around these parts)

“How to Tour in a Band or Whatever” by Thor Harris; a polemic of nuance and relevancy for our times

“Unlimited Sweets Project” at tranquilparent

“An Immodest Proposal” at Scarleteen
“By all means, not a one of us can somehow erase or alter all of the barriers we have right now when it comes to real sexual agency for all women. But there are no barriers beyond the limitations of our own imagination when it comes to rewriting the scripts of our sexual ideals, our individual sexual lives, and what we present to ourselves, our sisters and our daughters.” Yeah. I hope my daughter (and son) have far better “first times” than I did – and lots more awesome times beyond.

Golden Age of the Moustache, another excellent Flickr group (and YEAH, I’m a member)

"Heeellllllll naw!"

In this moment: we had a few dinner guests tonight and two of them are staying late with their new video game system (a Wii, if you must know). The game played now is loud and intense and highly active and imaginative. I’ve never been very good at video games and the noise-intensity of the game and the fervent self-competition my children are evidencing is a bit off-putting. Quick blog-post them I’m going back to the living room to see if I can learn something new.

i’ve found there are some things you can’t take away

I hate to talk about the inter-netz, because it’s boring, but I had kind of a shitty day online, overdosing on content by people whose work – I realize today – is ultimately not contributing to my mental and emotional health nor my growth as a strong, compassionate and wise person. It sucks to realize I need to cull, to change, to edit a bit of my consumption, because I feel like I’m cutting loose those who in many ways I admire. Still, having subjected myself today I now suffer a hangover but not from anything corporeal; rather, a spiritual malaise from words ingested, words bereft of deeper meaning but rehearsed hurts and seemingly cyclical suffering and other-centered blaming.

I get so depressed with how the American mainstream conversation – everywhere I go – frames children (when it deigns to consider them at all). Sometimes it seems as I’m one of the few parents who truly enjoys most every moment with my children and truly has almost every moment with them (waking and sleeping). I’m going on a decade now of living life with them! I don’t make jokes (not sure if I ever did) about shitty teen years or when I’ll be “free again” when they’ve moved out. If I ever felt that way before I don’t now.

What’s wrong with me? Everywhere I look kids are either dismissed, dehumanized, sentimentalized (the latter is really a combination for the former two for our own convenience) – or erased. Parents act like it’s so much work and drama to orchestrate their kids’ lives (and it is!), but I don’t relate because I don’t do this anymore. Fathers absent themselves from nurture; we modern ladies are told we’re supposed to aspire to such separation from progeny, grab at “me time”. Work in-home is worth than far less than a paid and status-y career (middle class conversations don’t much concern themselves with jobs that aren’t terribly thrilling, jobs many Americans work), that if we take care of children we necessarily won’t have time to do more important stuff: earning, activism, brain-learninz (so I guess: so much for the idea women are strong and multitasking superheroes). “Mommy bloggers” are mocked or dismissed (and I guess, as someone who’s loved publishing my journal online for eight or so years to much personal reward and thanks from readers, I qualify as such), our concerns trivialized and sneered at.

So today I’m realizing the activist circles I glean my readings from are too narrow: depressingly bereft of anything but cosmetic cares for children for all their lip service to “intersectionality”. I’m gradually weaning off those who don’t take child rights and child stewardship seriously when it’s brought up (as many, many don’t) because you know what? –  There are those who do. Few and far between, perhaps, but when I find them how wise, wonderful, and inspiring they are.

***

Many countries have outlawed discrimination based on gender and race, but still allow discrimination based on age. What justification is there for the assumption that anyone older than a teenager knows best what is good for those who are younger? Our adult grasp of life makes us feel superior to young people, and we use that to justify the substitution of our priorities for theirs. – October 31st, Wendy Priesnitz on Twitter (here, and so on…).

***

If any sensible person thinks deeply, he will respect justice. There is an inborn appreciation and respect for justice within our human body. In children, we find what is natural to be human character. But as they grow up, they develop a lot of conditioning and wrong attitudes. I often feel there is more truthfulness in a small child and I find reasons to have confidence in human courage and human nature. – His Holiness the Dalai Lama

***

Here’s some more from my life:

Last night my son was up late whispering in my ear. He kept telling me how much he loved me, and that he couldn’t wait to take me on “a date” (in our house a “date” refers anything one-on-one). He told me what restaurant he wanted to take me to. He asked me what I’d order. He told me what he’d order. It was his big Plan. I held him and felt him entirely bony and warm and not like anything else I could hold in my arms. So: a date tomorrow then.

I had nineteen dollars in my wallet. But I figured I’d have to make it work.

During the night he’d say in his sleep, “Is it time for our date?” He’d put his hands on me and drift back to Slumbertown, Population Nels.

This morning I was fortunate to have the car while Ralph bussed to work. After getting showered and dressed and putting some work in and some sewing done and spending too much time reading online and cooking up and putting aside breakfast for Phoenix and hemming some pants and sending birthday post, I was pretty excited to go out with with my son. At some point he popped straight of out bed, jumped up and dressed, brushed his teeth and hair and put on his newest homesewn coat and we stepped out into the sunshine. And I was treated to quite the conversational stream, Nels prattling along about pirates and parrots (the latter apparently serve as translator between the former and the ship’s crew, since pirates only say “Arrr!”), Minecraft, weather, animal husbandry, and parenting.

“Daddy told me he posted on Facebook you shouldn’t hit kids, and some people posted and said you SHOULD hit kids,” he told me (referring to Ralph’s anti-spanking linked article and polemic some time ago).

“Oh,” I said, surprised he was thinking of this now. “And what you you think?”

“Grownups shouldn’t hit kids,” he replied. I looked in the rearview mirror to see his brow a small thundercloud under his blonde hair. Consternation.

“What happens when they hit kids?” I asked. “Do you think kids get scared or angry?”

“They get angry,” he said emphatically. Then: “Angry enough they might kill themselves. Because they just want it to stop.”

So.

At the restaurant Nels was the soul of courtesy, including gently reminding me to keep my elbows off the table, which I found hilarious considering here is a child who will slither to the floor now and then out of his seat (from boredom). He ordered pink lemonade and a personal pizza, asking for half the pizza in a box to take home to his father. I ordered fettucine and a salad. He said “please and thank you” to the waiter (without prompting of course). He asked if fingernails were bones. I told him about keratin, amazed I had one fact in my head that could be of use to him. He asked me about nutrition for dental health. We talked about green leafy vegetables. Just when I thought I couldn’t be having a better time he carefully pushed his lemonade close to me, then his plate – and came over to my side of the booth. “I love you,” he said, simply. A serenity beyond space and time.

He paid (with my cash), walking the leather billfold to the server, smiling, laughing. I slipped to the restroom while he settled the bill and while away the phone rang and he answered. “Is Mama there?” my husband asks. “Yes,” says Nels. “Who’s dis?”

Then: my son and I step out into the sunshine to head back home to my daughter, stopping at the Post Office for mail and City Hall to pay the water bill. I peel off twenties and remember my father, who paid most things in a huge bundle of cash.

Another day and another chance to appreciate those things deeply meaningful; trivial and sublime. Living and breathing.