The fall is suddenly upon us, and it is indescribably wonderful. I’ve felt this exact autumn in my bones most of my forty-one years and I could recognize it with only a handful of my senses. I remember the last ninety-plus degree day, just a short few weeks ago, and then suddenly the temperature dropped. It is still warm enough, with rich rains, sometimes violent ones. My husband kept watering our sparse tomato plants right up until last week, although I told him there was not enough summer warmth left to coax the green fruits into ripeness.
There is a perfectly lovely woman at a local shop who always greets me warmly, and makes genuine, caring conversation with my husband and I when she sees us. She is a homeschooler and so that, I feel, is why she reaches out to connect. But she is a very different type of homeschooler than we: she uses a strict curriculum (for her several children), and the family is an evangelical Christian. Today I got to have that conversation I’ve had so many times in the last few years:
Her: “‘Boys’? I thought you had a boy and a girl?”
Me, smiling: “We thought so too! But we were wrong.”
I wait a beat. It takes most people a second to process what I might be saying.
It’s 11 PM but my husband makes me blueberry pancakes from scratch. They are perfect: three identical, steaming hot and delectable confections. Vegan butter and hot maple syrup. There is a little extra batter so he makes a few more, doling out between each teen. Hot food; sleepy belly.
I have been craving the comfort of foods off and on lately. I am in a constant state of creativity and mourning. My marriage is, for me, opening into a beautiful phase and I love spending time with my husband, I love how he smells, I love how he feels, I love hearing about his day.
I am still rather gutted my children are growing up. They are never again going to be the small children I cared for, for so many years. They are still so sweet, funny, and affectionate – and for this I am glad. Beeps had a wretched cold for a day; during that time they asked me pointedly for more attention and more TLC, and this is something I could grant. We put on the 1978 classic animated film Watership Down and felt the powerful, dramatic score clutch at our hearts. Nels, who was not exposed to the film or music as a young one, scoffed at us and we shouted him away.
Today, a footnote: we drove out to Westport into a gloomy, oppressive cloud cover, to meet with a friend and secure a small kitten for babysitting. Our friend is out of the country for about eight days and during this time we are stewards to this very tiny, very fluffy grey kitten who is now attempting to run our household. We introduce him to so many firsts: hot pancakes, and four stodgy adults kitties, and of course the best kitten-minder of all: Hutch.
And maybe – well there’s no “maybe” about it – my desire to secure a little kitten ward for a few days is that desire to do something fun for the children, something rather superfluous and silly, something that brings us together. Much like the foster kittens of (exactly) two years ago, little J. here will sneak behind the stove and into the warming pan – there’s just something about that spot.
I’ve got a volunteer gig chairing recovery meetings and most the attendees of the meetings are men. I wouldn’t say they scare me so much as, I am wary. Two weeks ago one of them waited until I was distracted, came up behind me and grabbed a book I was using, flinging my phone to the floor. “Thanks, darlin’,” he stage-whispers, clutching my shoulder. I think to myself if I was to say, “Don’t touch me,” the reprisal I might get from him, or others. The thing is, men will touch or grab you when you are distracted. Like my dog who only tries to sneak outside when company comes over.
I do have boundaries and I do speak up. Last night another attendee kept pestering me, asking the same question over and over. I looked right at them and said, “I will tell you in a moment, M__”. Because I’m relatively direct I get treated in a more circumspect manner than I might otherwise be. I still hate those moments, though. I don’t like hurting someone’s feelings. No matter how often I remind myself they put themselves in that position.
Last night’s particular gentleman was missing a part of his body that makes speech possible; he could however whisper and he talked at me incessantly as I attempted to get the admin done for the meeting. I eventually looked at him directly and asked for him to let me be for a minute. That pause and looking right at someone – they get the message. Generally.
I have never wished I was a man in my life. But sometimes I wonder what it would be like if people respected my personal space, and if people – especially men – didn’t launch into conversation and attempt to monopolize my attention. Enough of this happens in one day and I start to shrink and disappear and feel like nothing but a receptacle. Every day I pray for strength but also gentleness, because as is evident from just these handful of anecdota, one could easily see how I could harden into anger and my words could shift from directness to cruelty.
I’ve had the middling misfortune of two very troublesome projects in my studio, and these set me back. I am very particular in my work and I rarely have a total loss but in one case I attempted a dress and only realized late into the project that it was unsalvagable. I took the thing apart (to re-use the fabric) but I am crushed at having sliced up yardage. I don’t know why I think everything I make should turn out perfectly: unreasonable. The project after this was a struggle too, but at least the end result is gorgeous.
So today Ralph and I tidied my workspace – it needs constant maintenance – and I cut some simple knitwear projects, including a shirt for my youngest son and a pair of loungewear pants for my own use. I too often go to bed in huge flannel pajamas and perhaps that wouldn’t be so bad but they are also quite shabby at the hems. I put the rest of the family’s clothing purchases ahead of my own most times but it makes sense, really. Ralph requires a professional wardrobe, and the kid are growing – so fast. Nels in particular is shooting up, his shoulders are broadening; stretch marks dance across his lower back and his knees. They children are so hungry all the time they scarcely say no to anything we offer to cook; I heard Nels acquiesce in delight to an offer of oatmeal, a dish which used to inspire the most tepid enthusiasm.
Every day after coffee with my husband, I take a shower, tie my hair up and put on my little zip-up hoodie and get to work. I would work all day if I didn’t have other responsibilities; children, mostly, and volunteer work. And feeding myself so I don’t collapse. Lately I’ve been out of balance: too much work, too much time on other people. I need more rest; I want to take more care of my home. I scooted past a young man today at a recovery meeting, a young man with a broken face who had just a couple days clean. Mistaking my passing for affection, he gave me this little sideways hug. My heart breaks in these little ways when these moments happen; there is no point trying to express what I’m feeling so I don’t try. But I look at him and ask if he’s staying for the meeting, and I remember his name and I know it means something to me.
Back home and my children come by and pull me in for a hug (if I’m standing); they prostrate themselves across my body (if I’m laying down). The college quarter is over and my oldest child has, as a birthday present, a new computer. Both kids shout and laugh from their little basement gaming room; supremely happy. They need this time, and time with friends and food and sleep and affection and those are most of their needs. The house is only tidied when I can yell at the kids to do some work, and when my husband puts his incredibly efficient housework into effect. His body is strong and so is his mind and both rarely slip.
I am sewing on a buttery-soft jersey ITY; I am hanging up dresses on the dress form. I am hemming a little black dress and shortening sexy spaghetti straps. I am work, work, working to keep food in the refrigerator and try to stay on top of these bills. I am busy with the seam ripper with a little heater at my feet and the sunshine of Martina Topely Bird falling on my ears. And I suddenly realize in all our time together, Ralph never put his job before the family. He did his job but he stood his ground. And I think to myself what that shows our children about their value. I see so many straight couples where mother works her ass off and father has (or thinks he has) the big important job and is away from home or too tired when he gets home because he has Bills to Pay and I think it’s so often unfair, so often shit.
I stand up; stretch. My daily yoga practice is sluggish because I am tired in some way that defies explanation; still, my efforts keep those little kinks out of my neck, my shoulders, my hips. But yes I am exhausted, beyond tired. I have a call into a physician because I can tell something is wrong. Some nights by the time I’m in bed, I’m in a fog. I came out about this fatigue recently and as expected people shout explanations, solutions at me. These things can take time. I only hope I have the persistence to see it through, and that I am assisted by a pair of skilled hands and a good mind.
For St. Patrick’s Day I spent two days in preparation: a soda bread with caraway seed, corned beef, roasted cabbage and butter carrots – all vegan. I have a very pragmatic attitude toward cooking: I do my best, but I also know it doesn’t always work out. In this case, my efforts paid off. It’s funny I make traditional Irish fare as I don’t even care for it. I guess I love these small rituals, these observances. I also enjoy cooking – now that I don’t have to do it every day, three times a day.
I drive the two boys to the pizza parlour and hand my son my debit card. Despite the fact my children are old enough to walk here and there I have a fear of them being struck by a car – either while they are in a car themselves, or while they are walking. I tell them, “be careful”, and maybe I shouldn’t but I can’t help myself. When they were very small, I worried about drowning. I’d walk over a bridge carrying one baby and holding the hand of the older and I’d have horrible visions.
My son and his best friend are so happy together. They spend about twenty hours immersed in their own word – mostly gaming and eating and laughing – before the lad’s mother texts and asks us to send him home. My son comes and finds me shortly after and wants solace. He is a young man now but he still seeks me out. Both children do so I am surprised to think, perhaps it will always be like this.
Both Ralph and I have a weekend full of volunteer work: cooking for others and hosting events, answering phone calls and texts and email: he as an eSports advisor, me in the Recovery community. I am vaguely sensing I need some down time, a break; I am also uncertain when I will take one. I love my work (paid and volunteer) so much that in the morning I almost spring awake – but I also know I am out of balance, overworked, stretched thin.
On that account my child has finished their last paper of their community college career; they study for two more finals and are finished in a couple days. The entire family is getting used to the idea of them being finished; I know that we will then be onto driving school, and trying to fund a car, and trying to set up a (quasi-)business for this child.
Years ago when I got sober people in Recovery used to tell me about a life “beyond one’s wildest dreams”. I am experiencing that now and it is very funny. It seems to take as much focus and mindfulness as anything else, and it seems to be entirely out of my control. I do pray daily and lately I have felt so much gratitude for our health and safety. These things will be threatened in time, but every day we have them is very precious indeed.
My son tells me he may have a girlfriend; a young lady from Canada he met on a Minecraft server he frequents. The two of them chat all day long in a Discord channel and are just beginning to exchange photographs. He has mentioned this young lass a few times over the last week and during this time I slowly came to attention, realizing this is a very important milestone in his life. He’s had many girls interested in him in the past, since he was very little. This is the first relationship that has been reciprocal, although of course it is a very sweet and very simple one so far.
My children’s relationships with romantic partners I can chalk up to good parenting, or at least decent enough parenting. My experience was decidedly less wholesome. By the time I was thirteen I’d had boys at me, and spent far too much unsupervised time with a few of them (thanks to public school and semi-neglectful Baby Boomer parenting). My bisexuality quickly became a tidily kept secret after humiliating and scathing accusations; also, too, meanspirited shrieks of “dyke!” as I embraced a beau in the hallway. Into the closet I went! Safer (so I thought, incorrectly as it turned out) to stick with boys. Unfortunately the boys I found had horrible idea about girls.
You know the story. Unutterably wearying to me, today.
I count it as a success that Phoenix’s first beau is still friends with the family – friends with Phoenix but also with me! – and is the sweetest young man. Phee’s second beau came from a stricter family so we saw her far less, and haven’t seen her since we stopped having meetups at the rural school she attends. The last two years have been awkward as Phoenix attempts to avoid attention from the students in their college classes – all too old (another example of an intelligent boundary held by my progeny). Phoenix, like Nels, has several deep (and occasionally romantic or at least not entirely platonic) friendships online. Another difference from my own upbringing. The internet wasn’t a thing then! Hard to comprehend.
Parenting teenagers takes more finesse than parenting young ones. Parenting young ones is like molding hot clay in the hand; teenagers, like folding an origami boat for turbulent waters. Only a little here and there to be done, but with great care indeed, pressing the creases and then setting this delicate craft on turbulent waters. All that work you put in when they were younger, it comes to pay off – or comes to plague you – and if you are intelligent you will simply recognize this and back up just a half a step, ready to help when asked and hoping your child comes to you from their best self, not from a desire to please you or to receive approval.
It snows again; I sew up a little linen dress. I cut the exact and pleasing curved shapes for swimwear, in a severe black and white 30s style geometric print. I come upstairs for more coffee during the day, as much to warm my hands as anything else. My oldest tosses themselves across my lap and asks for me to stroke their hair; anytime I sit down it is a child, or a cat – and occasionally a husband – who lays across my body and asks for attention.
Today I wrapped up the revamp on my B-movie site; I am mighty darn pleased with the whole business tbh. Website design is one of those little side hustles I get up to – earning a bit of cash sure, and also doing a few favors. In the case of B-movie BFFs! the only favor I am doing is for myself, on and did I casually mention MY NEW CO-COLLABORATOR, the illustrious E. Young, whomst I successfully courted into writing for the site. E.’s first post just hit the press and opens with an ardent declaration of love for Billy Zane.
So as far as collaborators go:
Besides web design – which is time consuming! – I’ve finished with a large bit of mending, ordered and waded through a whole heck of a lot of samples for a client’s capsule wardrobe, and designed and begun construction on two costumes for an upcoming twin birthday. As wonderful as these occupations are, I have also repeatedly set them aside to tend to my teenagers. My children are able to care for themselves but they still absolutely need my care: today, Tylenol and a smoothie for one child who woke with a painful throat. Then: helping the other child with their testosterone shot. The latter child has wanted more time together so we’ve been on the couch watching a Victorian-era science fiction horror on telly and generally just being next to one another. Teenagers are like great big rechargeable batteries and they benefit from a lot of nutritious food, a lot of rest, and a lot of love. Too many teenagers don’t get enough of all the above.
In the evening Ralph and Beeps are off at German class; my studio is so impossibly cold lately so with my son’s help I haul a few bits of equipment and the right threads and scissors and pins and pattern pieces upstairs and I construct a belted tunic, a pair of leggings, and a tissue-knit sweater – all for little babies, absolutely delicate and wonderful work. Ralph brings home takeout and I finish my yoga practice and take a hot shower and slip into pajamas. Tomorrow I get to make a goldenrod linen dress and I am sure this will cheer me immensely.
I’m working on a small pile of mending for a client, and watching “Tennison” on the laptop. Repairs to an overcoat, damage from a cat’s ardent claws. Next re-twisting and looping yarns from a cotton crocheted overblouse, in a deep teal. Then: a thin acetate lining shredding at the underarm, in a heathered winter coat. For tomorrow: two pair of trousers with blind hems, a waist seam coming loose, a zipper top popped, and a sleeve unraveling.
I enjoy mending. I know many seamstresses complain they are expected to mend for their friends, but I am clever. I charge for my efforts and besides, I do enjoy giving clothes longer life. I dislike waste and we are particularly greedy and wasteful about clothes. So: repairs, then. Every project is it’s own challenge and this pleases me. The teal crocheted blouse, for instance: I mend the pull so well that when I move it to the ironing board to steam it one last time I can’t find where I’d fixed it.
I enjoy hand-work, besides. My mother was my first sewing teacher and one strength she had, and has to this day, is strong and consistent – if indelicate and highly-visible – handwork. Her handwork instilled in me the confidence to work at my own. My work is finer and more delicate but not always as confident and sturdy.
Later in the evening, after my volunteer work, I stop by a friend’s to pick up buttons. These she has had for years on a mostly-completed coat project. I will install these three – as a favor, sure, but also because the though of these lonesome buttons, waiting for installation for years, touches me in this small way. Tomorrow they will be united with their intended purpose. I am careful as I walk down the stone steps to my car, the buttons on a card nestled in my purse. It is very cold and very dark and I don’t need a fall.
The studio is still cold but I have music and my hot coffee and I remember to take breaks, to care for my home and my children. My children! Tonight my 13 year old asks to get into bed and he holds me against his chest and for the first time I feel smaller than he; whisper thin he may be but he is growing taller than I now. And we talk and I can hear and feel his heart thump under the clean white cotton of his t-shirt. Soon our children have birthdays; Ralph and I discuss how to pull together what resources we have and to make something very special for each of them. We have poured out ourselves for these children and it was such an intelligent parenting strategy! They are vibrant, and happy, and well-rested, and fierce. And I remain unmoored, now that they are so independent. Things are as they should be and I am semi-wrecked.
Yoga practice; my hips are opening up, and I am comfortable in a deep seated twist, cow-faced legs, my head rests over my shoulder. My yoga teacher, her online presence, has become so valuable to me for the postures she leads me through yes, but also for her humor and her invitations to gentleness, to patience. She gives me permission to let things go, things that hurt or “no longer serve”. After practice I take a hot shower and slip into my pajamas to join my husband in the kitchen. I finish a slip-stitch while we talk and he prepares dinner: a large green salad, spaghetti with a homemade long-simmering red sauce and lemon-roasted garbanzo beans. And garlic bread! A hot, delicious winter meal.
The oldest child sets the table and I put out mixers for mimosas (of sorts): lime seltzer water and a delicious ice cold orange juice. The children tell us stories and tease me while their father smiles at their jokes. I put my hand on his knee to ask him something, I can’t remember what but even now I can feel his warm thigh through the denim of his jeans. And I’m thinking while I sit there that I have got to keep focused on these things, these little bits of work and home and love and my avocation, my volunteer work. And daily keep writing my gratitude list and performing my practice. On my desk rest little notes on scrap of movie posterback and little bits of graph paper, notes that I need to put into the calendar or into my accounting system and then recycle these paper bits and there will be more notes soon. A woman’s work like the Updike novel, always moving matter from one place to another.
A bit of loveliness: knit chiffon painstakingly formed into small pintucks, an impossibly insubstantial garment that can barely be called one at all: