a third the size of us

First, one of our favorite bits of dialogue from one of our favorite comedies:

http://www.moviesoundclips.net/movies1/anchorman/brawn.wav

I wish you had the visual for the look on Burgundy’s face (as played by Will Ferrell) when he says, “It’s science.” Blustery, nostril-flaring contempt. And swimming in his eyes: fear. Deep fear.

Our daughter has been interested in “science” lately – leaning toward chemistry – and has been mixing bathroom supplies to make various lotions, soaps, and hair products. Last night she asked me for advice in making a more successful shampoo. I explained emulsions to her and told her since we didn’t have access to nor wanted to use some of the typical synthetics in storebought products (even the organic/Trader Joe’s shampoo that had been gifted to us contained a huge host of massively-long chemical names), our shampoo might look a little different than the creamy samples she was used to seeing on the shelves. I found her a recipe online that involved only a few simple ingredients and we made note of these.

Here’s the thing: Phoenix is subtle. She isn’t like her brother who will tell me he wants a unicycle and if I don’t pay attention he’ll be out in the garage firing up a jigsaw to do some surgery on his bike. There are aspects of my two children’s personalities that make it easier and harder for me to do right by them; in Phoenix’s case, if I don’t take her up on her interests she lets them go by the wayside. And often they do because like in many families the squeaky wheel gets the grease. I’m trying to pay more attention but I don’t always do well with subtlety.

She is also only too conscious of our family’s financial resources and is quick to defer on what she wants if it costs more than a few dollars. So in today’s purchases of castille soap, lemon essential oil, and a pump dispenser (we had the rosemary and sweet almond oil at home already) my daughter’s eyes took in the costs and flickered up to me in doubt. I purchased them, firmly. A commitment to her ideas.

Tonight she did the math to made a quadruple batch and we steeped the rosemary while she and Nels ate strawberries and bananas over pound cake and doused in whipped cream.  We measured the shampoo ingredients one-by-one into the dispenser; a lovely, fragrant mixture now adorns the side of our bathtub.  Her hair smells like lemons and lavendar and is squeaky-clean and shiny.

My husband tells the children I used to be a scientist. That’s right, a Woman Scientist. Of course I was more accurately an engineer – a chemical engineer to be precise. Much of my education involved heavy-duty math, chemistry, and lab work. This stuff was “difficult” but it was also simple, looking back. In school you did what people told you to and got what you were supposed to and if you didn’t you tried to write out why, to scurry for a grade. It felt pressured at the time but also weirdly dissatisfying and dull; there was no “discovery” or true originality in the schoolwork and there was little meaningful person-to-person interfacing (most of my fellow students seemed primarily interested in long-term goals of scoring high-paying jobs and owning a home and a new fast car, fer realz). School was a bit alienating, although I performed well enough.

It’s no wonder I liked the world of Work much more. Work was messy and involved people who could be assholes or ineffective (or both) and scary creaky equipment and old pumps that didn’t quite work and antiquated systems and old codgers and occasionally snooty college-educated white collar folk who thought they were smarter (better) than everyone else (I think the fact I wasn’t an arrogant ass in this regard went a long way towards my acceptance and success in the field).  I did love the world of Work and if I hadn’t started a family I’d likely be still involved in something very similar and I’d probably be kicking ass at it. It’s funny to think about.

I’m not sure if my own children will ever know what it meant to me that I was a SCIENTIST and a good one. They certainly believe I’m capable of just about anything. That’s probably pretty good for them. For me their love is like being a small God. Powerful, beautiful, but also a bit scary and Omniscient.

I can live with that.

of maples y madres

My children smelled extra-good today because on our trip out to the nursery in Satsop (and our stop in Montesano for Phoenix’s name change form) they climbed several trees. And yes, I can smell bark. The smell clung to them in fact for the rest of the day. That and even despite our overcast weather of late they’re starting to get their sun-kissed look. They’re everything green and growing, infusing my existence with their beauty.

Juel’s Unique Nursery is a pretty fabulous place. Today was warm and wet but not muggy. Growing weather. It’s a wonderful peaceful place, quirky and very full of life.

Juel's, Wagons

Juel's, Japanese Maples

My mother was there for basil; she hadn’t made a good start on the herb and was hoping to find some. She did.

The kids played and ran the entire time we were there, followed by a young black lab/mutt who adored them.

Teeter Totter Pt. 1

Teeter Totter Pt. 2

Teeter Totter Pt. 3

Nels rather unfairly douched his sister out about the above escapade where he went flying off the kiddie teeter-totter. He is hard on his sister, given that she is a sensitive type who has never enjoyed being yelled at (who does) and gets her feelings hurt every time. I am proud of myself that I never tell her she’s being too sensitive. She has a right to her feelings. I try to hold her and hug her and when I do this she recovers immediately.

The trip today was my mother’s idea; she first took us out to lunch (the kids eat astronomical amounts of food these days) and dessert and coffee (decaf these days) for me. The drive was lovely as my mom is one of my most sought-after conversationalists. I am so fortunate to have her a regular in our lives. She and the children are fortunate to have one another, too.

We miss my dad. But we have one another.
IMG_5114

ISO a starfish

Ruby Beach, today

My son’s been obsessed with sea life lately; twice in the last week he’s taken me to the Swansons boat launch in HQX to find a “fish skeleton” he saw there once with his father. Ralph later told me this incident was over a year ago. After yesterday’s most recent failed search Nels suggested we go to a “real beach” and find a starfish. So we decided to make that our mission today.

All four of us love roadtrips; the children always request we parents get up early and “snuffle them out to the car”. This means as they sleep we pack up the food and clothes and supplies and then slip our (still-sleeping) babies in blankets out to the warm car, with breakfast on the road. I literally do not know who likes this ritual more, the children or Ralph and I.
Footwear For The Damp

Roadtrip Toes

Breakfast On The Road

It’s been a year since our last trip to Ruby Beach but the weather is similar: warm and lovely with some soft rain. Once again we have the dog and once again we do our best not to get wet but get wet anyway. Ralph builds a massive driftwood bridge over a freshwater outlet that would otherwise not be crossable unless you’re able to wade knee-deep.
Ralph's Damn Bridge

Patch

While Ralph and Phoenix build the bridge (with fake-shivery dog in tow) Nels and I search for our starfish; we nearly get beached on a few seastacks (I can’t tell if the tide is going out or coming in which compounds this issue). Nels seriously loves nothing more than to get “caught” along with me. He knows it’s dangerous but since I’m with him he’s happy to do it anyway.

Nels Runs

My son and I find mussels and barnacles and limpets and kelp and a neon-orange sea snail – but no starfish. I remember toward the end of our searchings that he’d found last year’s starfish in the open water (likely dead or injured although it had been impossible to tell). We play and play and play, spending over two hours in the warmth and damp. The ocean is gentle and tender but ferocious and unrelenting. My son talks to me joyously and musically and almost non-stop, but listens to every rejoinder I make. Alone with my children I am often prone to silence, rather like my departed father (this is odd becasue with grownups I am quite talkative).

Phoenix is a stormy presence, alternatively cheerful and open and then snapping at Ralph or I. She wades through the warm water and stirs it with sticks; she tenderly shepherds the dog and in her ministrations calms his decrepit timidity.

Nels says: “I want to live here!”

Back at the car we get the kids into dry clothes* and feed them from the large basket of food Ralph had prepared. Driving home they both fall asleep, their sea-kissed faces flushed and happy. At home I knead dough and wash dishes; I launder our wet clothes and wash the dog and clip him and dry him and clean out the tub. Ralph spirits off to band practice, afterward bringing home bandmate and friend F. We drink red table wine and eat homemade pizza and smoke on the porch and F. and I talk circles around Ralph about our favorite movies and a variety of hodgepodge subjects and before we know it it’s 10:30 and another wonderful weekend draws to a close.
Oregon Trail

Crossing

Carried Away

* We got wet and no other beachgoers did: seriously? Every. Single. Other. Beachcomber was all decked out in REI and North Face wicking-gear and driving newer Hondas, VWs, Subarus; most carried huge, expensive cameras (and only one other group had kids!). We four were trudging in our soaking-wet cotton and Ralph had split the ass out of his pants (for reals). And yes, people were giving us side-eye.

heartstrings and spoke lights

Today my son swam back and forth in the deep end of the recreational pool, over and over and with a smile on his face. He flipped over on his back and swam, and stuck his thumbs-up out of the water and winked at me.

Then he took me over to the lap pool and swam the length of that. Three times.

I’d love to write a little essay on the YMCA and their berjillion weird and contradictory pool rules, including and not limited to: children are the responsibility of the lifeguard, NO WAIT they’re the responsibility of the parents’/carers’; If the kids can swim they’re allowed in the deep end of the rec pool, NO THEY’RE TOTALLY NOT unless they’re at least eight!; you can swim in the lazy river if you’re taller than the water level, NO YOU CAN’T YOU MUST WEAR A LIFEJACKET, then No you’re NOT allowed to wear a lifejacket in the lazy river EVAR. And my personal favorite duo: small children must be within five feet of a grownup at all times; a grownup may supervise up to ten children at a time (the mental picture of the supreme unfunness in one adult with ten small children within arms’ reach, moving through the pool like so many cilia attached to a central grownup protista, is a hilarious and untenable one).

There’s also this whole “swim test” proposition posted everywhere which somehow involves testing and receiving a bracelet and getting more swim rights (I can’t even snark on the standards of this “testing” in any way because I don’t see any bracelets on kids, ever, so I have no idea if these systems are even in effect).

Given all this and the many times some lifeguard would tell my son “You can’t do that until you can ‘swim’ [meaning their version of swimming] across the pool” (I hasten to add most lifeguards recognize his swim-competence and let him do what he knows he can) Nels did what was logical: he taught himself to swim and today he took on their test. Given their inconsistent rules and spotty enforcements I don’t think the issue of Nels’ swim freedoms is as settled as he thinks it is.  I really do mean to talk to the director of the pool scene (a rather grumpy person who is clearly managing a very large program) and try to figure this crap out.  But in the meantime we are having about 99.9% fun on our swim dates and Nels’ and Phoenix’s pleasure in the over two hours of swim time we had today was pure joy.

Another first: in the course of the day we took the bikes out all around town and to East Side HQX which meant riding up then down a bridge that is very steep and has an icky re-entry to road traffic at the bottom. Naturally I was worried because Nels is not only a Speed Demon he’s a (calculated) Risk Taker in general, and the bridge path was made perfectly slick by today’s on-and-off rain. Riding behind Nels on the steep grade I held in my mind two truths that formed my amazing reality: A. the worst that could happen to him would be a broken wrist or busted-out teeth and B. I was actually okay with this because I know Nels is doing exactly what he should be doing: stretching his abilities (within his supreme self-knowledge of them) to accomplish something he wants to master.* Don’t get me wrong, crash injuries are terrible to imagine like any injury to one’s child (Phoenix’s horror-crash happened exactly a year ago!).  This is why as I was behind  him my chest fluttered and I felt supremely alive.  As we sped down the thoroughway I talked him through trying out his brakes on the slick surface and he tested these with an expert handling of the resultant slight fishtail.  At the bottom of the bridge he firmly stopped in the exact correct spot.

It’s funny because a very short time ago I was helping my little duckling daughter travel on the same bridge and now she’s so bike competent I can focus entirely on talking Nels through our ride, knowing she is behind me as well-furnished a rider as I (given much of our ride is on a highway with log trucks and a small but unpleasant selection of asshole drivers I really do appreciate being able to focus on my son). Halfway through our ride Nels began hand signals before turns, cautiously lifting his arm and shoulder-checking and discussing strategies for stop signs (which can be treated as yield signs by cyclists). He was so engaged and having such a wonderful time it was almost possible for me to not have my mind blown at how effortlessly, joyously, and willingly kids learn a whole passel of fucking awesome skills if you merely help in the ways they request help.

When we got home Ralph was already here and he got started on the meal I’d planned – fried chicken, peas, and German potato salad. He also brought me home a bottle of Jack which verily I shall be making into ye olde toddies anon. And just now I get a phone call: Phoenix has spent the afternoon and evening with a friend who now wants to stay the night, so: Sleepover! (which you simply must imagine me saying in the tone of Orange Mocha Frappucino!”)

It’s been a good day times one hundred.

* He’s also gotta lose those teeth soon anyway.

a bedtime story from me to you

I’m laying next to Sophie in her room, holding her close. This weekend she had lots of kid company and a busy day so thus a hard time calming after bath. I hold her and soothe her and soon she is curled up, legs intertwined, peaceful. We breathe together for a while and my mind wanders. Then:

Sophie: “Mama, you know what crab’s mouths look like?”

Me: “What?”

Sophie: “Crab’s mouths. You know what crab’s mouths look like?”

Me: “Um…”

Sophie: “They look like pinchers. Like this.” [Soft, clopping sounds as she snaps in the dark. I am speechless.] “I’m going to have a bad dream where I’m on the beach and I’m barefoot, and I’m running and there are crabs buried with only their mouths out and they bite me on my feet.”

[Silence]

Me: “Sophie, that’s really scary.”

Sophie: “Yeah well, I guess I’m going to have that dream.”

happy weaning

Make Way For Duckling

Just like that, you are weaned. Like the three years that prefaced the last morning you nursed, breastfeeding evolved beautifully to meet both our needs. This morning, instead of watching you nurse, I hold you in my arms and you quietly stroke my face. Later that evening at your request we hide ourselves in the bathroom and I paint your nails a bright red in honor of your third birthday. I hold your tiny toes and you look me in the eyes and say, “I love you so much, Mama.”

With pure dumb luck I fell into the category who finds breastfeeding deeply satisfying on physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual levels. So to move away from this relationship feels major; I sometimes feel we’ve known one another forever. And for as long as I’ve known you, nursing has been so instrumental in the way we connect.

Little girl, I am so blessed as your mother. You above all taught me what it means to nurture. We nursed through two pregnancies and one miscarriage. We nursed in the evenings, mornings, at restaurants, in church, and in the bath. You nursed the morning of the arrival of your baby brother and shared the breast willingly with him. We nursed through the scary illness you had at 14 months when you couldn’t even keep water down; nursing saved you from many other would-be illnesses and eased many transitions. Nursing kept me laughing and let me put my feet up more often than I would have without it.

Now at this milestone you emerge confident, and I have the deep satisfaction of knowing I didn’t rush your babyhood for either of us. Yesterday you climbed into bed with me and after a few quiet moments you looked up at me and said, “I used to nurse with you in the morning. Do you remember this?” as if it were ages ago, not a few days. You were obviously so comfortable with this change, while I got one of the first of many moments to come where I act casual and give a quick hug; tears well up and I blink them away. I am so happy to see you confident and growing. But just yesterday you were still my baby at my breast.

Happy weaning, Sophie. My little Beak.

3rd Birthday, Sophie / Phoenix

Fort Warden

Kiki!

Hysterical, 1

Hysterical, 2