sticky like syrup

Last night Nels rolls around in bed on top of me in the bed, then off to grab a few bites of late-night spaghetti, then a glass of water, then to wash his hands and back to slip into the blanket-envelope alongside me. His soft blonde hair falls over his eyes as he pulls me toward him. “Kiss attack,” he smile-whispers, then when this is over, many sweet kisses later: “Snuggle-trance!” (Yes, these are real things in our household.) He smells and feels wonderful. Come to think of it I love the smells and skin and hair of each member of my family; tears well in my eyes when I pull my daughter to me in the morning, her head only a short bend to kiss the top; both kids getting so tall. Even our cats, I am not ashamed to admit, I will put my faces in their soft tummies and enjoy the warmth and the wonderful smell and feel fierce at the thought of the tiny lives beneath my fingertips (the chickens get a pass on all this lovin’, from me anyway).

Nels is just about asleep when he whispers he wants an Alien Pancake, a gimmicky little kids’ menu item at Denny’s (here’s a home version – very sweet!). My heart swells because I think of course I will make this a priority; I have grocery money tomorrow and I am completely going to take my kids out to this diner that they so love (my feelings for the chain are decidedly less enthusiastic). In the morning I call my mother and ask if she wants to go with us and she says Yes; she has an impulsive streak just like me and loves to go out to eat – just like me. The same part of her that will say Yes to a date with her daughter and grandkids even knowing she has a busy schedule of yardwork ahead of her is the same part that asked for roses being beheaded at the Lutheran church today and thus they now lay on a large sheet in her living room, filling her house with their fragrance. Something about she and I similar; we reach and pluck those lovely things when we see them, impetuous decisions more from the heart and less from the mind.

My mom is a wonderful lunch date and joins me in my passionate subjects of conversation of which you dear reader can likely imagine as I often give you a taste. She shares her excitement over her own current projects: the final mural for the 8th Street Ale House (she wants to buy vegetables for her still life painting and then donate the produce to yours truly), hanging doors on her greenhouse. Then tells me, “Well I made another friend.” I ask, “What’s his name?” She says, “It’s the worst name. Think of the worst name you can.” I think. Then I say, “Dwayne.” She laughs and says OK, mine is the worst, but this fellow?  “Clyde.” I turn to my daughter and say, “You’re going to get another step-grandpa again. Grandma’s looking for a boyfriend.” “No I’m not!” My mother huffs. “Yes you are,” Phoenix smiles back immediately with her perfect wide and crooked smile. My daughter is getting quite the mouth on her, and I mean this in an absolutely stunningly positive way; she is learning she has every right to her observances and to be a part of the conversation as worthwhile as anyone else, and she’s right. She is one of the most Present people I’ve met.

Tomorrow on the recommendation of a friend we’re going to hike at Friends Landing. Tonight we’re up late baking bread and cookies and making snacks for the trip. As I wait for the oatmeal peanut butter cookies to cool my daughter IMs me under my husband’s account. She types so readily and conversationally at first I am very confused, thinking it’s my husband but knowing he’s on the road buying late-night last-minute groceries (milk, cream, chocolate syrup, mixer for tonight’s gin and tonics). Sitting on the computer and laughing at her IM-expression, these tiny moments where there is a disconnect, or sometimes some of the larger periods of separation, I have a brief preview of what it’s going to be like to have my babies one day distant from my body. I feel no fear nor sorrow, just a deep and abiding sweetness at my love for them and my pride in their personhood. In our as-yet brief life together they’ve already given me the gift of Humanity in a way I could not have perceived a decade ago. Something like that, when you really consider all I’ve been given, it’s no wonder I’m up late cookie-baking and packing for a hike and feeling only grateful to tumble into bed with their sweet-smelling bodies.

goddamnit, learn how to use the pickle-fork!; or, “socialization” isn’t always so awesome

How then will a child learn social manners? Can we trust the child to develop and mature in her own time, the way we trusted her to learn to walk and to talk? Why are we in a rush to have children behave like adults before they are adults? – from “How Children Learn Manners”, c. Naomi Aldort at naomialdort.com

Recently at a Yahoo group I’m a member of the discussion turned to children and our efforts to teach them “manners”. A group member posted an anecdote that was instantly familiar:

I think our responses to our children often frame how people view them. I went out for a meal with some friends and relatives. We had our 2 children, ages 3 and 6. Another woman had hers, ages 8 and 4.

Our children played with their food, put vinegar on their pizza, got down from their places and went round talking to other members of the group, blew bubbles in their drinks and played with the balloons. None of their behaviour was loud or wild and they were certainly keeping themselves from being bored. I was relaxed with it. No-one from other tables even seemed to notice.

The other mum was feeling much more agitated and insisted on eating “correctly”, not leaving the table, and saying please and thank you. She was quite loud and vocal in telling them off for misbehaving. She obviously wanted people to know that she was trying to discipline her children and teach them right from wrong. Unfortunately all I could see happening was her drawing attention to her kids’ behaviour and framing it as bad. Consequently people were tutting and rolling their eyes and her children became more and more irritable and squirmy.

We were seated quite far apart and I’m not sure she noticed what was going on with mine but I certainly did with hers. I didn’t feel judgmental but it really brought home to me that often people see our children through our reaction to them; yet often we respond to our children out of fear of how others will respond to them.

This brief story resonated strongly with me. Recently I was in a similar setting when several friends and our children met at a restaurant to eat together.  I was struck by a difference between two families, an experience similar to the example above.  One family did not restrict their children: the kids crawled on the floor, got up from the table, climbed around and laughed and played.  The other family required their children to sit still, keep voices low, speak in a “mannered” tone, engage in adult table manners, and refrain from play.  The children were all about the same ages, five to eight.

From my end of the table, the family engaged in a high degree of “socializing” efforts looked miserable.  The parents were tense and busy, scarcely having time to enjoy the delicious food.  Their children’s eyes were downcast and muted and there was an air of strain about the group.  In contrast, the children who were running around had a fine time, one which was incidentally non-disruptive.  They did not once break anything, get in anyone’s way, or fight.  Their parents kept an eye on them in a relaxed fashion but ate their meal and took part in adult conversation.  The free children enjoyed themselves immensely.  People often tend to think of children as “loud” but I observed the active children’s voices, raised in laughter and imaginative play, had no more actual volume than a neighboring male diner on a cell phone.

The differences between families and experiences was quite striking.  I know which parental model I want to model myself on, even if I don’t always live up to my standards.

Of course, it’s not just a matter of personal resources and know-how in raising children without the fearful cling to tight constraints.  It is brave of my friends who allow their child the freedom to, you know, be childlike, because since becoming a parent I’ve found many in my peer group (middle-class white Americans) discourage children’s expression, bodily autonomy, authenticity, interests, and activity.  In fact children who aren’t behaving according to the soul of adult decorum often get glared at, spoken to rudely, or – even more commonly – silently resented.

The internet age assists us in painting things in black and white.  People resent different parenting styles (or their interpretations of them, often erroneous) and quickly want to blame a host of society’s ills on these perceptions of difference and wrongness.  People direct their fears, angers, and frustrations in snarky or mean-spirited internet comments or incensed letters to the newspaper editor about “kids today” and their horrid parents.  What a loss, since if and when we choose to open discussion with those around us we stand to learn so much from one another.  Rarely in public have I seen one adult say to another openly, “I’m uncomfortable with how much your children are climbing around! ” or, “Your parenting techniques are challenging me! We really do things differently!” and then – important! – allowing the other adult an opportunity to respond (your particular language and conversational ice breaker may vary). The few times I have seen an adult brave and open enough to initiate this conversation a wonderful conversation often ensues.  These dialogues have the power to instruct, inspire, empower, challenge, and unite us in community and commonality of goals and needs.  Most parents love their children very much and want to do what’s right for their family and the larger society as well.

Sadly, these conversations are often avoided.  In a seemingly “civil” society where such things are often not discussed instead I feel the “vibe” (yes, this is a real thing), see the glares, hear the passive-aggressive comments.  I do not always run across this unpleasantness when we go out in the world, but it is a constant drumbeat nevertheless – displayed not that long ago when my son spontaneously engaged in some athleticism on top of our family car.  Conversely, when my kids are “good” I am treated to the compliments and erroneous assumptions I’m raising my kids “right” – i.e. with authoritarian discipline.  When my kid are “good” and their behavior commented on (as it often is) I find it funny.  I can honestly say we are not an autocratic household and we move further from authoritarian discipline every day.  My children are not punished nor badgered by coercive techniques disguised as “loving discipline”.  Yet they are turning out well-behaved enough, considerate, direct, and they function well in society.  And despite our “radical” parenting they are very normal; in fact they are more likely to be cited as standing out for their directness and competence than anything else.  And perhaps most importantly for many parents who are afraid to lift restrictions, they are not the chandelier-swinging, sociopathic Lord of the Flies monkey-children so many believe – and want to believe – is the inevitable result of what is sneered at as “permissiveness” or “unparenting”.

I am glad to have seen the errors of my previous ways.  When my children were younger I worried very much about “manners”.  I prompted them (“Say ‘please’,” or “Say ‘thank you’!”) and I felt embarassed when they did something socially-deemed as rude or naughty – like yell, or grab a toy from another child, or…  hell, that’s about it.  I mean how much trouble can a two-year old get up to? Fer crying out loud.

It was a false construct and a rather tribally-defined one.  If everyone else is fretting over their toddler’s need to learn to share, then it’s easy to follow suit.  It’s also easy to exert your will on a small child (at first). In a way my dependence on focussing my children’s behavior on “manners” was an attempt at control (of course!), an addiction to the ego-boost when said child was praised, genuine worry for their future happiness and function in society (understandable), and, sadly, the deep-down buried resentments from my own upbringing – at home and in society at large.  Children are treated as second-class citizens, I see this clearly now. Whatever we consider our spiritual and intellectual leanings regarding peace and force, in our homes so many of us really do behave as if Might Equals Right, and in public other adults – childfree and parents alike – support this concept.

At some point a couple years ago I discovered Naomi Aldort’s article, “How Children Learn Manners” (from which my introductory excerpt hails) and it was one of those brief but life-changing episodes.  In this essay Aldort gently but with rapier-sharp awareness deconstructs what we’re really teaching children when we enforce social niceties both in response to social pressure and in lieu of pursuing authenticity. I can imagine some responses of many who are used to treating children more or less as they were raised (that is, using punishments, lectures in favor of example, and coercion).  Aldort’s writings may bring feelings of amazement, cynicism, beleaguered perceptions of nit-picking (“OK, now I’m not even supposed to tell my kids to say please? What, is parenting totally hands-off?”), irritation, and of course, deep-down fear and resentment.  Yet I am fortunate that when I read this article I saw the wisdom in every point she made, even if at the time I had no idea how I could apply such concepts into practice.

As I alluded to earlier, I was also informed by my own memories of childhood.  I remember resenting the concept one should “make nice” rather than be truthful, that there was a hierarchy of needs that put me – as a child – dead last except where it was convenient for the adults in the room, and that really, some people count less than others.  I remember being shocked and angry that adults would speak to children using words and a tone of voice that most adults would find infuriating or humiliating.  This sense of injustice and injury serves me well now as I have children of my own.  I can learn to do things a new way and watch as joy, authenticity, and yes, consensual living, flows through our home. And I can breathe a teeny sigh of relief to see such changes do not bring end-times chaos, knife-fights, or arson.

It’s no surprise, of course, that the family I mentioned above – with the free-range children – is one I want to spend more time with.  In our culture, it is hard to find an oasis of awareness and respect afforded to all human beings in the room and in the family.  I am comforted to know most families love their children very much, even if their strategies are poor ones.  Surrounding myself with mentors who know another way has become a new organizing principle of my life.

ringing out 2009 with a half-hearted “whee!”

My kids enjoy going to the sixties-style Chinese American restaurant in town; they in particular love C., the friendly and very beautiful Korean American server who is almost always working. Nels in particular talks to her constantly; asking for more tea, fortune cookies, telling her very long and elaborate stories about every part of his life. Tonight over his barbecue pork he wishes C. a Happy New Year and asks what her plans are for the evening. She responds, “I’m working, then I’m going to go upstairs and watch a video, then I’m going to bed.” “That’s not partying,” he frowns, his voice 70% observational, 20% disappointed, and 10% disapproval.

And boy, do my kids feel the festive vibe of the evening. They definitely have brought more “party” to the equation than we parents this year; continuing in the vein of this recent Christmas I – to use a bit of Scottish phraseology I read somewhere – “couldna be fucked” over the whole business. Maybe next year, if I’m still living. 2010? I don’t feel the need to write a respective or resolutions; I don’t want to go out, shout and cheer, or clink champagne glasses (although I do want a kiss from my husband).

At midnight a countdown, fireworks, a libation, a serving of homemade apple pie. By 12:05 Nels is staggering around, saying faintly, “Please… I want to party…”, his little face flushed. A few minutes later he has a crying meltdown when he begins to understand our fireworks are gone. It’s an impressive, over-wrought display, eerily reminiscent of the adult male alcohol-infused versions that are no doubt disgracing themselves in a social setting as I type this. And at least Nels won’t be waking up in a strange place or wrapped around a steering column, and no one will be starting the year with a hangover.

“Water is the best of all things” – Pindar

Today my kids came up with a pretty awesome plan for our time together: we rode bikes across town, swam in the pool – for hours! – and then shared some delicious Mexican food at our westside HQX restaurant.* By 5:15 PM when it was time to take Sophie to her soccer game, I was as sleepy and lethargic as if I’d actually ordered the Cadillac Margarita at Los Arcos (which alas, I’d denied myself). It was a good day, and one that I’d already retreated from by 8 PM: face washed, PJs donned, and my mind and body feeling wonderfully stretched.

Nels’ love of and play in water is amazing to me. He cannot swim yet – and I’ve previously detailed the antipathy for swimming that YMCA lessons and my mother’s swim-agenda seem to have helped create. But whatever Nels experiences with anyone else while in the pool, when he and I are together his love of the pool rivals that of his sister’s – a girl who has a huge smile on her face every time she pops up from the water.

Today his body is strong and full of delighted energy. He is attracted to the rapids, the spraying showers; delighted when out of the blue some forty middle schoolers from Olympia descend on the pool during a time of day that usually only holds us and a few mommies and their babies. He is determined to learn how to submerge his head underwater and experiments with this for a while before I notice this is something new. Sophie and I offer instructions on blowing out with the nose, and he willingly attempts this – setting challenges for himself. In the river rapids he sees me a few feet away, wrinkles his nose and seals his lips in preparation, and deliberately ducks underwater to travel to me. My laughter upon holding his strong, wiggling body in my arms is long, loud, and genuine. His body and face are open and smiling.

When they open the larger pool’s diving board up he asks me to take him to that side of the pool. It’s much colder there, and too deep for him to touch bottom, but nevertheless he is excited and completely fearless. His body and voice and expressions are Joy. “I’m becoming interested in this!” he shouts, as we tread water back and forth and watch his sister – who is also, influenced by the older children, taking more daring dives into the deep end.

Moving on from the pool, his next interest is the waterslide. Over and over he climbs the many steps and comes down the slide – shouting, squealing, smiling, the smallest Little Guy in the sea of middle schoolers. He goes down the slide so many times I retrieve a towel to wrap around me so I can wait at the slide’s base, sitting on the edge of the hot tub. And finally, I decide I have to take a turn too – something I haven’t yet tried, nothing like it since I was sixteen. I tell my son I want to try, and he smiles and takes my hand and leads me.  We climb the steps up and up and up –  stairs and stairs and stairs. I am far more nervous than it seems an adult should be, and I feel foolish for this – but it just Is.  Up at the top, finally, and a lifeguard sits next to the relatively nonthreatening liquid maw.  I watch my son fly down the first bend, flopping over like a fish and laughing in the depths. I sit and wait an (interminably long-seeming) ten seconds, the sun on my legs. I think I have pretty legs. It’s peaceful up here in this little tower, looking down at water rushing away from me. The lifeguard says “Go,” and flying through the sun-dappled tube, the warm water, I experience a freedom, a letting-go. I shout at the bend, at a dip, at the speed picking up. A freedom, a joy, a ride – something I wouldn’t have had exactly this way if it weren’t for my babies.

When I get to the bottom of the waterslide I find I was the last person allowed through before it was closed – a rope stretches across the doorway. I also discover my son immediately ran through and ducked under the rope and ran upstairs to ride – one more time. And the lifeguard apparently allowed it, because a few seconds later here was my Boy again, splashing and smiling.

The three of us shower together after over two hours in the water. I wash the kids’ hair and they hide in lockers while I pack up the towels. I buy the kids some fruit snacks and we eventually get back outside to the bikes – it is a beautiful fall day, sunny with a slight chill, my favorite autumn weather.

After our dinner at Los Arcos we rest – briefly – before Sophie’s soccer game. Upon arrival on the field we find the girls need to reverse their jerseys; Sophie pops hers off (she’s not wearing an undershirt underneath), which prompts a few other parents to laugh and comment (half-naked little girl, oops!). With a sort of mild surprise I notice the other girls are not encouraged to be barechested for the few seconds it takes to flip the shirts: one girl’s father wraps a blanket around his daughter so she can “change” in privacy (attempting to deter the desires of the many, many pedophiles lurking in Gable Field’s bushes). I feel a little depressed at this display; I’ve never understood why social pressure requires us to cover up the chests of pre-pre-pre-pre-preadolescent girls. “You’re going to eventually grow some Dirty Pillows in this whole area here, about seven years from now, and even though today your beautiful bodies look almost exactly like your male peers, let’s just make sure you know something unspeakable is going to happen we should keep from other people At All Costs.”

Twatever.

* By the way, I’m thinking of the hard time I often give myself vis-a-vis parenting, and I realize I should give myself 99% of the Awesome Points available because I let my kids play all day, expect them to do chores, and feed them well. How much better can you ask for? Well, Nels specifically asks for more time playing with open flames, and I think Sophie wishes she could eat candy and ice cream for every meal, but so far I haven’t yet acquiesced to either of my children’s desires.

squeaky-squeaky demonstrations of love

Today I sit at a table with my kids at our best local eatery; we’ve just ordered our food (Nels and I have a tradition of splitting a salad with bleu cheese, olives, and mozzerella cheese) and I’m sipping some fresh coffee.  I always feel a bit on display around these parts: I have notably school-aged children who accompany me on various efforts and endeavors during times in the day when you see no children, anywhere. Also, believe it or not, my green hair gets a lot of stares around here (yes, I experience my life as a bit provincial) and the kids are often dressed a bit oddly -Sophie has donned her Halloween vampiress cape for the day.

I lean forward to tell our kids some bad or at least not-fun news: our “newest” (as in, most recent to us) car has just been diagnosed with a plethoric and varied list of automotive problems we will need to repair at astronomical prices (hint: four digits).  Ralph and I haven’t decided what we’re going to fix, and in what order, or even how we’re going to come up with the funds for this (goodbye, once again, house downpayment!).  But I enjoy talking to the kids because they are at an age they not only understand some aspects of money but sometimes have impressive ideas about how to manage it.

Just as we’re winding down the discussion I realize we’re being listened to by a man one table over who is waiting for his order.  Wordlessly he brings a bag up from the floor and begins pulling balloons and a pump out and fiddling with them.  Without engaging or looking at my children he begins to blow up the balloons and twist them into scrotal shapes in preparation for some creature or another.  The kids catch on to this quite soon and immediately halt every single thing except watching this man make balloon animals.  The balloon artist creates, in succession, a parrot, teddy bear, poodle (this is for me), and a flower with a bee hovering about it (complete with yellow body and black stinger formed from the same two-toned balloon).  The man himself is shy and soft-spoken but my kids – after their initial awe-struck silence – are not: after they receive the parrot they start in with their own suggestions. “Make a sword,” they suggest.  Then discuss amongst themselves a bit and:  “Make a chicken!” they challenge, as if this were some apex of natural existence.  It’s kind of funny because every other customer in the restaurant is ignoring all this.  But the fellow’s lunch is ready now, and he stands and looks right at us and says, “Have a nice day,” and takes his lunch and his balloons and leaves us with a brightly-colored menegerie and a very sweet episode in my kids’ everyday-extraordinary lives.

We pay for our meal and head into Aberdeen where I need to visit the yarn shop.  Alas as it turns out the shop has changed their hours and I will now have to wait until Thursday to discover if I need to buy a different yarn and / or size up or down for needles – as well as, by the way, how the f*ck to knit gloves, a prospect that terrifies me!  Returning to the car and the kids start crying; they’d fooled around with their parrot and teddy bear and now a talon was missing, a leg had become untwisted from it’s shape into an awkwardly-bent, freakish appendage.  The kids ask me to fix it; “I can’t, I don’t know how,” I tell them.  “A clown knows how to do it,” Nels (the Idea Man) says: soon the kids are asking me to take them to see a clown.

You know.  Because they’re just regular professionals, working in our community.

lunch of a friday

One of my favorite things to do on weekdays is take the kids to a mid-day lunch at a local restaurant.  I must admit, we don’t have a lot of stellar restaurant choices here in Hoquiam, but I make do. My favorite deli is closing in a few days and the family moving out of the area (double sad times) so my choices are further whittled down.

Today we hop on our bikes for our errands, and end up in a relatively new restaurant (a couple years or less) that embodies a sort of Olive Garden character complete with big band / Italian crooner music (which for me is far more enjoyable than the New Country at my favorite local sushi stop), white wine glasses for water, and lots of silverware rolled up in very thick napkins.  I sip coffee (pretty bad) and ice water (very refreshing).  The lunch takes a bit longer to get to our table but that’s okay because for the most part my kids are behaving and I am not irritable from hunger.  Sophie could care less at the wait; she has her nose in a book and arguably would not notice if I thwacked her on the head with a butter knife.  Nels is eating his weight in the gratis homestyle potato chips. 

The establishment seems to contain mostly local businesspeople or retirees (what is it with the older ladies wearing tapered jeans, no socks, and crocs? Fashion, Harbor-style).  Our lunch is a half order of hand-battered chicken strips and a caesar salad (missing the promised cherry tomatoes, sadly), followed (at the owner’s special favor) by a slab of Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate McFuckery – some sort of horrificly large slab of cake, an experiment the owner says will not be added to the menu.  And it’s good (or at least I think so), but:  “This is too chocloately!” Sophie exclaims (and if Sophie is saying this, we might need to don a hazmat suit before touching the stuff).

At the library I pick up The Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World As Your Child’s Classroom by Mary Griffith and put The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence by Rachel Simmons in my library hold list.  I’m hoping when I get home the kids will off to the park, or outside doing gardening, and I’ll have a few minutes to work on the five dresses I’m sewing for Suse.

you & me and pu pu for three

The restaurant I’ve been looking forward to lunching in opens today at 11 o’clock. By noon the children and I are installed in a booth, our cheeks flushed from the bike ride, hands washed. Nels carefully pours sugar in his tea, all manners and focus in the shimmering green-and-pink of his dragon costume. Sophie reads aloud the paper Chinese Zodiac as I sip the sweetened tea.

I haven’t frequented this place much since my move to Hoquiam. It is one of those Chinese American restaurants, the food as consistent and familiar to a Pacific Northwest child as cheeseburger and fries. It is always precisely clean and you might have stepped into the sixties given the decor: laquered screens, diner-style booths, a formica bar. I always picture the little jukebox machines at each table, but today I realize this memory of mine might be twenty years old.

My parents did not take us out to eat nearly as much as I do my own children now. Still, this was a restaurant I remember well because it was one my father seemed to genuinely enjoy. He always ordered Egg Foo Young – an item loaded with cooked onions and egg (and therefore nauseating to me), but one I nevertheless thought beautiful, a kind of archetectural wonder shimmering in an unnatural, smooth gravy. My family also favored “pork and seeds” – and again, it took me only until recently to realize this dish is more commonly referred to (as in, by everyone else) as “barbecue pork”.

We order the food. I have an almost crazy-like craving for sweet and sour chicken but I haven’t been able to eat chicken much lately. So the kids and I order spicy bean curd with sub gum veggies, steamed rice, barbecue pork, and two kinds of soup: egg flower and chicken with noodles and mushrooms. The kids mow through their pork appetizer and start stealing mine. The restaurant begins to fill in with others: single men, and four-tops of older ladies. Looking around I realize these women aren’t “older” (like my own mother) – they are old. We’re talking mustaches, wattles, tiny perm curls, stooped gait and a rounded back. I don’t find our elderly ugly or unappealing in any way. In fact I think with wonderment on the lives these ladies must have had, the things they’ve seen and lived through. I feel a kind of awe that someday – if I’m lucky – I too will be aged similarly, my girlhood self changed, my body slowly withering. I look at these women and search for the girls they were, maybe young(ish) mothers like myself sitting with two kids in a diner.

After our lunch the extra bean curd, rice, and soup is packed up. We pay our bill (big tip) and step out into the blustery wind to secure leftovers in the bike panniers. We walk the bikes two doors down to the formal gown shop – the silk dress I made Sophie needs a reinforced seam. The proprietress of the shop, a seamstress of decades, never seems too interested in me; but I am fascinated with her and her equipment: stealing my eyes over the industrial machines at the table, covered in transulcent vinyl. I would love to work in clothing manufacture or construction as a respected trade. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to.

Home just in time before it begins to rain in earnest. I put the bikes away while the kids head into the greenhouse to water the tomatoes. I pull out the chicken tractor to a new expanse of backyard; when the rain slows, I’ll put the two girls out their to de-slug and de-bug, making their contented chicken noises.