friday journey into hyper(link)space

“Faces of War” at
An incredibly sad, touching, and interesting story, including photos and video almost a century old.

Human Rights
“Spanking Traumatizes Children” by Laurie Couture
If there’s any link here I’m hoping my readers read, it’s this one. Whether you have a growing child, a grown child, or you do not have children, it is deeply relevant to our human condition. Moreover, it is probably the best piece I’ve read regarding spanking (and our concepts of “abuse” vs. socially-supported oppressive tactics on children). In fact it’s so good I’ve been intentionally curating this Friday links post to be more brief than usual, in hopes readers give this particular entry the consideration it deserves.

“Child Abuse is Not Funny & Cartoons Are Violent” by Wendy Priesnitz
I’d read many snarky opinions on the supposedly worthless venture of changing one’s Facebook profile pic to raise awareness of child abuse. Wendy’s piece is excellent, inclusive, intelligent, and doesn’t snark for snark’s sake. It’s perfect.

“The Disservice of a ‘Rigorous’ Education” by Steve Nelson at HuffPo
“At each end of the economic spectrum, we are pressing children harder and harder in the service of a ‘rigorous’ education […] Mariposa is not simply 37 pounds of raw material that wants a certain processing and finishing before she can be shipped to market and considered to have value. She is of value now, and if she dies of a disease or accident when she is 12 years old, the sixth year of her life will not as a result be robbed of meaning.”

Pop Culture
quick hit: how to meet ‘girls” IE respect the cock at Underbellie
I totally wrote this!

Soul-Sucking Science “Study” of the Week
“Pop psych mag cites evolutionary evidence for female fickleness”; Twisty has a great response to the recent Psychology Today piece “The Double Life of Women”. Still, as brilliant as Twisty is and as much as her words are like soothing nectar to my parched women’s lib pinko throat – I must offer a trigger warning with regards to the cited article: misogyny and rape-apologism; warnings also for unabashed oppositional sexism, mansplaining, and evo-psyche inanity.

“Here at Spinster HQ we were unable to locate any research on, for example, the fickleness of female flatworms. Maybe they like to sport around in spandex when it’s that time of the month, but published studies omit to mention it. So this guy, in his attempt to science-ize an enormously detrimental sexist stereotype, grossly mischaracterizes the scope of the planet’s animalian diversity to further his own anthrocentric worldview.”

Stick Weaving at Craft
Why is it I can picture so many of my crafty readers making some lovely stuff? I think this would be particularly pretty to have a group get together and adorn a tree thusly!

The Pocket Tissue Pack tutorial posted at Sew Mama Sew looked rather fun – quick, attractive, yes hardly a “must-have” needed item in one’s life but that’s okay too. Using two pieces of 6″ by 7″ fabric scraps is just my speed as, given how much I sew, I often have a lot of scraps. I donate many to a local charity shop at a low-income apartment complex, but I have a fair bit in my own supplies.

Food Dresses! ’nuff said.

Tweet of the Week
From @micwatt:
“I bet a duck could outrun me if I was chasing it, but I also think that if a duck was chasing me I could outrun the duck. Isn’t that wild?”

My brother explains: “It’s not just casually philosophical.  I think this is a very logical assumption.  It’s a psychology thing.  If you’re being chased by something you suspect wants to eat you, but they don’t really, you’ll try harder to escape than they will to catch. If you’re being chased by something you suspect wants to eat your soul, but they don’t really, you’ll try harder to escape than they will to catch and use their little bill to suck out your essence through your ear.”


For those of us who celebrate this time of year, I wish you peace and joy. Well, I wish that for those who aren’t celebrating too. My family celebrates Christmas / yuletide. It’s a wonderful time of planning and lots of creating (less buying). I can’t post much of anything because of prying eyes. This picture should suffice!

Editor note: Lately after I put tonnes* of work into the Friday links it seems readers have been coming along and posting a brief (or not) completely- or mostly-argumentative point to just ONE aspect of ONE of the articles without even a friendly handshake or reference to points of agreement, or other links. No one’s getting spanked and it’s just a whiff of a trend I’ve observed. I don’t want to turn off the comments on my Friday link posts. So as a measure to prevent that, may I suggest that if there’s something about an article that sticks in your craw and the only thing you can think to write here is a rebuttal to a specific aspect of one of these many articles I did not write, you can post your points in a separate blogpost of your own (which I will happily link to) and/or comment at the source instead (you can send me your comment link and I’ll post it here too). I’d like to keep the conversation interesting here and less niggle-y.

* see, in the metric system. That means it’s even MORE work that you might be thinking!

something needs to be done he said, as he looked about angrily

Today it’s caught up to me again, this ugly malaise, despite a day where a fair amount got accomplished and the sun shone (which always helps me); I had the honor to host a few extra kids in and out during the day and then watch my daughter play soccer while basting zippers into a particularly lovely sewing creation I’m now almost finished with. My husband had a hard day at work but he had a good time talking to me about it. He leaned against the fence and looked handsome but tired and Nels climbed all over him loving him up. Ralph and I approach our ninth marriage anniversary (one week from today) and are in the thick of our thirteenth year together. Our companionship and sense of humor and sense of purpose and connection and our love for our kids – there is so much goodness between us even though when we fight it is very ugly indeed.

Ralph and I don’t fight today, and the kids and I don’t fight, but something hurts and someting feels off. Little disappointments trickle in: a fabric delivery that will be late; late enough I have to push back a deadline perhaps – to talk to my client or hope for the best? Two packages I sent out got returned and needed to be re-delivered; my fault, I didn’t double-check addresses (Even then though, not all has been glum today as something wonderful arrived via post today which I will be sharing about shortly!). The house seems dirty and I lack the energy to clean (this is very rare). The washing machine still sits broken, half full of water which I need to do something about. My clothes are threadbare and our towels too, and I know I’ll prioritize Ralph’s workpants and towels over my own fare, and that’s fine but I hate it when it seems “everything” is wearing out at once (an illusion, I tell myself).

I deliver pickles about the neighborhood to stave off the gloom, pickles to neighbors and acquaintances, hoping to spread good cheer, I swear food helps people, I was sad last night my slow-cooked lovely fare was not eaten by my rather frail grandfather who is visiting, I remember the panic I felt two years ago when I could no longer cook for my dad because he no longer ate, the pain of not being able to gift this thing. So: pickles. If I can’t find the root of my odd feelings at least I can bestow kindness, something small but colorful and beautiful and zing! flavor.

My mother and I trade phone calls and favors and she takes the little ones out for a burger. Upon their return Phoenix’s soccer-mate I. comes over for a few hours and the girls enjoy the kitties and the chickens; neighborhood boys come and go to get an education on Nels’ impressive PvZ skills. For a boy so intent on and in love with the game he is most lovingly generous at showing other children the works, allowing them use of his netbook and his strategies, exhibiting none of the dull-eyed and single-syllable gruntings one might think would be the result of such saturation.

So the children at least live freely and happily. It would seem the neighborhood gang is attempting to suck the last few days out of their summer (school starts next Tuesday for Hoquiam kids); there is an air of desperation as they get up to malarkey (two older boys were BB-gunning the chickens today – tells me pop-eyed J. when I get home) and run about shouting and ride their bikes in circles long after the customary neighborhood sunset curfew.

Tonight I turn off the sewing machine and close up “shop” and check my salt brine crock (looking good and smelling lovely), wash my hands and sit at the table with my family and the lovely fare my husband has prepared. I’m tired, which makes no sense, but there it is.

Perhaps tomorrow things will be better.

dominator lite – it’s TEH LOGIKAL

Today I get this automated newsletter in my inbox:

Dear Kelly,

I can still remember how I felt as a child upon seeing the very first “back-to-school” advertisement on TV. While a bit sad over the fact that summer vacation was almost over, I always felt a strange sort of relief knowing that before long I’d be doing something more exciting.

Summer was fun at first, then it got really boring. Only as an adult have I learned that my parents actually planned it that way. Their idea was to create a two-part summer: Part one was filled with fun: fun that helped us recharge our batteries after a long, hard school year. Part two was filled with a good amount of boredom and plenty of chores: dull duties that helped us really look forward to being able to escape to school in the fall.

On the first day of school will your kids go into shock when they are expected to sit at their desks, listen to their teachers, and complete assignments? Or, will they experience a sense of relief, thinking, “Wow! This sure is easier and more fun than being at home!”

As the school year looms large, might it be wise to begin making your home more boring and more chore-laden? Wise teachers know that kids who are used to doing plenty of chores at home are far more likely to excel at doing plenty of work at school.

In his CD, Didn’t I Tell You To Take Out the Trash?!, my father, Jim Fay, teaches simple techniques for getting kids to do their chores without reminders and without pay. If you want a happier home, and happier, more responsible kids, this CD is a must.

Thanks for reading! Our goal is to help as many families as possible. If this is a benefit, forward it to a friend or visit to sign up.

Dr. Charles Fay

If you’ve read here long enough you might be able to predict a bit about how our autodidactic principles inform my response to such an email. My first thought was Wow, that’s a lot of work. “Let” your kids have a bunch of fun at the beginning of summer, but make sure toward the end to set the thumbscrews with “boredom” and “plenty of work” as to make enforced schooling look better. This is all so the kid will go to school with a willing heart and mind, not because they wholly look forward to school and want it with every fiber of their integrity, body and soul, but because you’ve made the environment in their own home an unappealing one. Bonus, you got them to do a bunch of the dreaded WORK around the house while you did it! Yessiree, it’s a lot to be the Grand Poobah Manipulator but as you can see, it pays off, especially how it can create a teetering facade of having “good” kids who are Hard Workers, a family that’s “in it together”, etc. etc.

My second series of thoughts and feelings involved my gratitude for the life my family leads; my kids get to daily “recharge their batteries” in the methods they chose which they themselves are most primed to intuit as necessary. Their education is self-obtained with my assistance and loving help (when it is needed). Summer is just as much fun as fall and learning happens willingly and all the time. These days work (not “chores”) are done with a deep sense of personal commitment and gladness and no small amount of humor at the everlasting natures of our Work*.

I’m glad I still get these email updates. The institution that sends them out and writes the books and sells the CDs and gives the talks and events and all that is very popular in my peer group. Not that long ago my husband and I sat in a class facilitated by this Parenting Expert school of thought and a lot of it made sense to us. There seemed so much right with what we were hearing at the time: kids shouldn’t be coddled; there are too many kids who don’t “grow up right” because their parents “do too much for them”. Children shouldn’t be allowed to be sneaky or rude or shirk on chores without consequence. You should be the boss (a loving boss, but still the boss), and maybe most selling to my vulnerable heart, making your kids do work in the home is the only way to prepare them for the Real World.

I am hardly the first person to expose in any way some of the underpinnings of yet another school of parenting strategies to provide simple, clear techniques for getting compliance from our children – while relying on dominating techniques to do so. Many leaders, child workers, psychologists, and qualified smarter-than-I individuals far more experienced than I have weighed in on the phenomenon. Writer Alfie Kohn calls such schools of thought with regards to education “Assertive Discipline, […] essentially a collection of bribes and threats whose purpose is to enforce rules that the teacher alone devises and imposes.”

When it comes to similar parenting techniques, here’s what Kohn has to say in Chapter Four of his book Unconditional Parenting:

A number of consultants, meanwhile, have responded to the understandable reluctance of many parents to use punitive tactics by repackaging them as “consequences.” In some cases, the change is purely semantic, the implication being that a friendlier name will make the same practices less offensive. But sometimes we’re told that if the punishments are less severe, or “logically” related to the misbehavior, or clearly spelled out in advance, then they’re okay to use-and, indeed, shouldn’t be considered punishments at all.

Kohn talks further about such techniques – which can have slippery names and terminology – and their listed principles and consequences in Chapter 4 of his book Beyond Discipline, a chapter called “Punishment Lite: ‘Consequences’ and Pseudochoice.”

Most parents I personally know employ various forms of Assertive Discipline.

I wish I could render artfully, dear reader, how carefully almost everyone I’ve talked to dances around the subjects of the domination and subjugation of children. It’s something I’ve only recently begun to notice. Since many American adults in my peer groups are squeamish about hitting children they have a separate category called “spanking”; it is elementally different, see, and apparently the ONLY way to make sure a toddler won’t run in front of an oncoming truck (much like the “ZOMG noisy children in restaurantz!!11!” example, this is often trotted out with no imagination or variance and often entirely hypothetical – very Weak Sauce, people). Parents who don’t spank and literally never hit or grab or forcibly pick up their children with semi- and unapologetic regularity employ more fascinating methods of manipulation and coercion. Immediately recognizable versions are “time outs” and “natural consequences” and stickers and rewards and charts* and “I’d love to help you but, sad, bummer – I can’t because blah-blah-blah” (my husband and I still employ this bit of douchery now and then – it’s hard to shake).

In writing here I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad for how shitty they’re parenting.*** I am so NOT wanting to do that I’m going to leave these two sentences all by themselves.

I write because I’m sorting through this stuff – me. It’s my journey. I am not putting down parents. I am a parent! I am doing this work! I am failing, daily, in eschewing limited and harmful practices! I have at times resorted to every type of strategy I just wrote about – and a garden variety of other shittery I often detail here in this journal!

But I am in the position to improve and to do better; to resist the passed-down traditional tropes most people I know adhere to. I know some parents who are part-dead inside; that is, parenting is for them exhausting and kind of humorless and at times scary and “thankless”. But all parents I know, as far as I can tell, love their children deeply.  They are doing the best they know how, and they make mistakes, then they get back on the horse. Mistakes don’t concern me; we all make them. It’s the traditional parenting schemas that I question and anaylze – the secondary reason I write is to provide exposure to better ideas than the ones I (we) had the day before (the primary reason I write is to keep a personal journal).

And these traditional parenting/teaching strategies, most parents and carers literally think there is no better way, that any other approach is Impossible or Impractical or will result in the Village of the Damned Children. Sure, maybe some of the manipulations and hand-holding and Requisite Omnipresence and punitive measures don’t sit right or don’t feel quite right, and certainly with some parent-child combos the problems get worse and the punishments (whatever you choose to call them) become increasingly convoluted or tricky to employ or downright scarily-received, and sure your “well-behaved” child exhibits deep rages or sorrows and you wonder Where did this come from? But… these other ways this Kelly Hogaboom or whomever talks about, these are Silly or Hippie or Trashy or Elitist or Too Complex or Too Simplified or Too Lazy or Too Work-Intensive.

But: really? These ideas I’ve been studying and employing? They really have made things better in our family – in so many ways. And I write because I know I help make other people’s lives better.

And by the way? I always have to epilogue this: my kids are great. Not stellar human beings that make people fall to their knees weeping: just garden-variety Great Kids. They are not lazy. They are full of life, not cynicism and subtle cruelties. They so rarely say they are bored (I don’t know if Nels has ever said it). They are not unprepared. They handle the Real World better than many (adults and children) I meet. They are not more rude or Lord of the Flies or more “disrespectful” or “selfish” than other kids (in fact I frequently get compliments on their behavior).

Finally: get this. The book I cited, Beyond Discipline, was written in 1996. Six years before I squatted out my first child. And Kohn is talking to teachers – you know, people who have to round up a classroom full of all sorts of kids from all sorts of backgrounds, professionals who have many obstacles stacked against them to do their job (I think the teaching environment is harder than ever). Kohn is tackling ALL that, tackled it years ago – and here I am struggling with my little family, just getting up on the learning curve.

I feel humbled. And assy. Here I am just getting started on doing things a better way. For my own two kids.

What am I doing typing away here? Time to head to the library.

H/T to Scott Noelle for his phrase, “Dominator Lite”.

* I am still struggling with the nature of “chores” and will soon write about it.

** Note: having stickers in your home does not make you a jerk.

*** Hello! Yesterday I leaned down and whispered very mean words to my son – well I said I was very angry and he was being totally rude – at which point he curled up inside himself and stifled tears and started “behaving” better, and I immediately felt bad, but fortunately we both knew this, and he put his arms up and I held him and I said I’m sorry. I let myself and my kids down often, and I always apologize and, sadly, that’s my “good enough” some days, so don’t be coming to me claiming I think I’m some Awesome parent who’s “evolved” past whatever). Parents already feel shitty enough and beleaguered enough and I’m not setting myself up as Best Mom Ever, and never have.

a third the size of us

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

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.

Unschooling: How do I provide my kids the rich environment they need?

Posted on an online forum June 5th, 2010:
So I have a 3yr old boy and a 1yr old boy. I am in the midst of researching all the various educational avenues for my 3 year old. I know a few homeschoolers nearby and have been inspired by their experiences to the point where I feel like sending my 3 year old to a regular school would be just SUCH a disservice to him. And now in discovering the concept of unschooling, I am even further intrigued. It makes a lot of sense and fits my philosophy well… BUT… I am torn.

I feel like I can’t give my older boy the attention I would need to give him when I am with the baby… and I’m even thinking of having another baby next year if I can. I feel like there are a million things I’d love to do with my son in theory, but then I have so little energy and attention to give him during the day around it. (Especially when baby isn’t sleeping through the night…and I feel like a zombie….) I am not a single mom, but I live sort of like one, as my husband travels and is gone about 90% of the time.

I am seriously wondering how I could have another baby and still give my oldest son a “rich” experience here at home. In exploring all my options, I found a local montessori school that seemed WAY more interesting than what I can provide for him right now. Or at least, what I *think* I can provide for him. Also, he is a pretty sociable little guy, and we don’t have any neighbors with kids… so that too is a concern – how do I make sure he meets friends? Maybe I could have him go to Montessori til the babies are no longer babies?

So…my questions for you guys are… how do you give your older kids the sort of “educational attention” they need when you’re dealing with a baby or babies?

I read on here that one woman unschooled all her children, and I think she said she had 7 kids…. That sounds verrry interesting. But it has me wondering how she did it with babies and all… How do you have the energy for creative projects with a 5 year old if you’re sleep deprived from dealing with a newborn?

Trying to wrap my brain around all this… so any advice is greatly appreciated!

Many unschoolers hold the theory you don’t need to “provide” arts and crafts and science and writing lessons and all that to a passive student (as school does). Most children, given a supportive environment, take on their own interests (which include these subjects and more). They come to you with what they want or need (or you intuit it) and so unschool “planning” is not much of an issue. My children in this last week have been reading National Geographic and a set of encyclopedias, learning to skateboard, teaching themselves chess, and working on math problems of their own volition. My youngest is becoming an experienced street biker (my older already is one), and tonight my oldest helped me patch a dress of hers with bright fabrics. They love going to the library and while we’re there they pick out their own books and read, read, read at the library. I have to tear them away and they bring home books and DVDs which in turn spark more art projects and fields of “study”. In fact my kids are so independent I am often thrilled when they do come to me for something. This independence began in earnest when we began unschooling.

There’s a concept that if you don’t give your kids the “rich” environment all kids will sit on the couch and eat Chee-tohs and play video games. That just hasn’t been my experience.

Some aspects of our family life have made my kids’ autodidactic interests easier. For instance we don’t have a television set (I know many U/Sers are not at all opposed to TV but it’s not a good fit for our family; I grew up without one and loved it). We also bike a lot and being out and about on our bikes, running errands and visiting people always delivers a wonderful series of lessons and rich experiences. At home I’m mostly working on my own things (writing and sewing) as well as doing the cooking and cleaning and my children are hardly what I’d call underfoot.

As for a social life, this varies according to your values, your locale, and your willingness to organize or drive/walk/bike/bus to events. In our case our kids see tons of other children because they’re in sports programs and also the neighborhood kids are over at our house every day of the week; also many of my friends’ children come here for sleepovers because we’re so kid-friendly and my children are well-liked. I don’t know what we’d be doing if we were more isolated in our neighborhood, but given all four of us are so social I have a feeling we’d be finding those avenues.

I do not mean to sound completely clueless about how difficult life is with young children who are still in diapers and/or nursing and still need so much of us physically – I’ve been there and I too thought I’d “need” school to give myself some respite and give my children what they need (like a social life, etc). Your children are still very young and mostly just need lots of love, good food if you have it, TLC, and patience. Soon enough they will be out the door and running to the park or the corner grocery store or visiting friends on their own. I know with young children it can feel overwhelming but you will sleep again someday! (And by the way, the unschooling life is wonderful when it comes to sleep!) Find the things you love to do and try to be present with your children; that sets the best foundation for unschooling I can think of.

you and whose army?

I am a dismantler. This afternoon Nels brings home all the odds and ends from his year at preschool including an autograph book, an academic workbook compilation, he and Sophie’s pottery work, and several pieces of art. In a few minutes I’ve taken his Emergency Pack apart, the snacks returned to the cupboard, the small stuffed animal returned to his home in the kids’ room, the large ziploc bag in the sewing room stuffed with cotton scraps for donation to the local trinkets shop – where I will stop on the bike, on errands this afternoon. Nels’ art is hanging on little clips in our kitchen, the end-of-year picnic notice recycled and the date put on my Google calendar.

A few minutes later at the kitchen table I’m helping the kids learn to operate a toy bow and arrow (Sophie’s choice of toy while visiting the local dollar store) and finishing the final details on two cotton dresses: a bubble dress (self-drafted), and the slip from Folkwear’s intimacies. Within a few minutes after setting the garments to washing and air-drying I am dusting and sweeping my sewing room, moving on to the next project (finishing corset #2 – my grommets arrived via mail yesterday).

Tonight I’ve organized a small craft event at the local deli; a series of modest art projects for our community’s children. The last day I’ve been assembling a few crafts revolving around the natural world: clouds, leaves, flowers. The supplies sit in a basket waiting to be loaded on the bike. Sophie’s swim team gear hangs in a duffel bag on the porch, where she knows she can grab it as she runs out the door.

I have to make something clear – I do not really get a high from operating an efficent house, if that’s what it sometimes sounds like. It’s much more like I can’t stand to let our busy life spill into chaos. And sometimes, weirdly, all my tidying and cleaning leaves me to feeling like I have nothing in my hands, get nothing done; our house often looks to me almost bare, despite the fact there is a very active family living here. The rooms are full of music and laughter, or bath water running and arguments; only the most recent artwork, no messy history except maybe two days worth of cat hair clumps. No history, no cumulative work. I don’t find clutter comforting and I don’t find myself attached much to any given house or piece of furniture.

What do I find joyful? Yesterday, in the car, rolling back the sunroof as the music came on and the sun spilled over the bare shoulders of my daughter, tall and willowy and strong. Today, apologizing to her and having her accept me, her body close as I leaned down for a kiss and smelled her hair, her body, one of the most delicious experiences I have to me. Flipping through my son’s yearbook and seeing, “What Makes Me Smile?” and his response: “Good Food.” Today upon showing him remedial archery principles; on the first try he sent an arrow flying across the kitchen, and looked up at me, eyes wide and his little body jerking in shock at his unexpected success. My husband and his small but many kindnesses, turning the bed down and pouring me a glass of wine, every single day he asks me how my day has been.

This evening is also the Relay For Life, a very popular event in these parts (I believe Hoquiam’s relay ranks in the nation’s top ten per capita “earnings”). Last year my parents walked the first lap together: this lap reserved for those who’ve had cancer and lived to tell about it. I’ve never given much of a damn for a defiance with regard to the personalization of the disease, “Cancer Sucks”, etc. etc. It’s almost as if I’m too tired and heartbroken to make an imaginary person, a foe, of something that is just another version of death. The more I think about the Relay the less I want to go. Instead: crawl into bed tonight and wake early for a train trip with my children and my mother.

of school efforts and sci-fi

Nels. Hogaboom!” Mrs. Lenss says from her position in front of the stage. It’s the end-of-the-year graduation performance at my son’s preschool. Three different classes perform songs and receive their “diplomas”. The room is crammed with family and friends – and my son is the one child the entire night to be chastised during the proceedings. At this, in the very back of the room my mother, husband and I snicker. Nels is telling a story to C., the beautiful, near-silent girl with long dark hair and big blue eyes. I can’t tell if she’s listening attentively or not. Nels’ arms move out from his shoulders and we see he’s saying something is “this big“. His face glows as as he leans toward her smiling, he tosses the hair out of his eyes and confidently fiddles with his cap. It’s hard to believe only thirty minutes ago he and I were in the bathroom in the sundappled tub, and he was naked, sleepy, and yawning. He has his second wind.

Nels is now kindergarten age. And poof, just like that, seven years of co-op school and all it has meant to me is behind me. Sophie was only nine months old, just starting to walk, when we first enrolled (and of course, Nels has attended since birth). I will never forget the experience of co-op school and I will be actively looking for, creating, or pining for the experience for my (now officially school-age) children. I’ve spent long hours and life’s blood helping run these little schools; tonight after the proceedings are over I don’t stay to help, I merely step out the door and into the sunlight, seeing my children off to their grandmother for a sleepover, swinging the old green vinyl case into her pickup. Driving off with my husband who in this moment probably doesn’t know I’m feeling sad in that way we do: my little community lost to me, our children growing up so, so fast.

After dinner with friends Ralph and I attend the new Star Trek movie because, deep in his heart, my husband loves science fiction. He doesn’t follow it nor obsess about it but it captures his interest. At home we’ve been watching the original Star Trek television series on Netflix (which is far better than I’d realized!).

And what can I say, Spock turns me on. It’s not the actors who play him (this current young version nor the iconic Leonard Nimoy); it’s the character itself. His incorruptible nature, a competency in his life’s work, an existance almost entirely self-validated. That’s me in real life, too: attracted to the independent, the hermitty, yes, the nerdy – and virginal, or seemingly so. If I was serving on the Enterprise I’d have it bad – but in my fashion, maintain a well-behaved and completely undetectable crush.

Home and my house seems sedate, well-ordered – and lonely. The sight of Nels’ bath, still undrained, and I feel blue. This morning my children awoke at the same time and came down to the kitchen (I was making bagels) and as one put their arms around me silently. I put my hands on their clean, soft blond heads and marveled at what is mine to love and enjoy, made only the more bittersweet by the knowledge that nothing is permanent. Put together they are lots of kid; their bodies are growing and they gain strength. Their time on earth opens up for them daily; sometimes I feel like mine is only winding down.

the little red schoolhouse

I think I created a tremendous amount of goodwill with my children this weekend. Bolstering myself for two days without Ralph’s strengths, his performance of helpmate, his adult conversation, I made damned sure to focus my energies on the home front. All I did this weekend was cook, clean, and play with my kids. This ended up including a lot of outdoor time in the sun, home cooking, and company to share meals. It also ended up including two days of calm Mama and calm, happy kiddos.

So after Ralph returns to work today the children awake just in love with me. At their request we play a game – that is lasting even now at 9:30 PM, as I clatter out these few words and the children finish their evening bath: the game is School. This is a simple game – I am “teacher”, they “students”. We do schoolwork, sure – but mostly we couch everything in terms as if we were performing a series of ordered tasks. The pets become “school cat” and “school dog”, the children happily clean their room (I am not kidding), Sophie thumbs through a cookbook to chose the “cafeteria” meals, we shop for those meals and we discuss the costs of the ingredients.

The children like the game because we are all in it together. I am not counting on them to play without making messes while I busy myself with this or that. Today I do not snap at them; I speak respectfully, and carefully. They do the same.

3 PM we head back out of the house to the quilt shop in Aberdeen. Nels has opted out of sewing the quilt he is half done with; Sophie volunteers to finish his when hers is done. With the help of the shop owner we decide he will make placemats instead – a more instantaneous gratification for a five year old. While Sophie sews my son joins me at the next door coffee shop and plays chess while I read the paper. Home and we must feed the chickens and pack for Sophie’s swimming class this evening.

It’s almost ten: I am summoned downstairs where my daughter has ordered the kids’ room into a restaurant, complete with a “meal” (actually, gummy candy) in the form of hot dogs, pizza, hamburgers, fries, and coke. Tomorrow Nels goes to one of his last days at his real “school” (the co-op preschool he spends 7.5 hours a week in). I count myself as happy I spent a day without shrieking like a harpy nor seeing my children fight like they are sometimes prone to.

i couldn’t think of a post title, but as i type this my husband is explaining the details of crucifixion to my children

Today I knew something about myself concretely: I will not be the mom who has a hard time with my kids growing up and growing older and getting a life separate from me.

No, but really. And this is a good thing for me to know.

Let me explain. Today’s trip to downtown HQX ended in a rather frustrated attempt at the bike shop: intending to order both riding gloves and a new helmet for my daughter, I had to leave after not being waited on for several minutes (this happens sometimes and I do not hold it against the oft-busy shop owner) and experiencing a exponential increase in douchey behavior from my secondborn. So fine: bike errands another day. Not a half hour after we return home I hear the children talking outside to some grownups and join them to see my daughter talking with our friends and sporting a new helmet. I am completely amazed at this and thinking – I did not even update my Facebook status to indicate helmet shopping. I didn’t even tell my husband! No: it turns out earlier today my daughter had called a friend of the family’s to invite him on a bike trip. Apparently they got chatting on this and that and Sophie revealed that A. she needed a new helmet, but B. she was sad to see her old one go as these friends had adorned it with a sticker she loved. So here our friends are, providing her with a lovely helmet with a second charming sticker – and she’s wheeling around in it, having manifested a own solution nicely.

I might not be able to explain this to the childfree – and perhaps even some fathers I know. But my life often revolves around the constant assessment of my children’s needs and acquisition of said sundries or provisions. Just before the cold weather set in this year I remember trying to explain to my mother how small I felt that most of my waking thoughts were on boots, coats, and gear for my kids to keep warm. She thought I was saying something I wasn’t (I think about feeling inferior in some way), becaus what I wanted to convey was a constant running preoccupation that borders on obsessive thought.

I cannot be alone in this. Everytime I pull a load of clothes out of the dryer I note the wear on the pant hems, the elastic popping out of the underwear’s waistline. Every time I open the fridge: how much milk is left? This is not because I am particularly fastidious, controlling, or even that excited about the mundane details of running the household. This is because seven years ago I hit the ground running with a newborn, the experience like a sledgehammer to the chest and suddenly altering my adult life of, Ho hum what’s my schedule today? into a sprint where you are required, at first, and for years, to meet every single need of a living, growing, high-energy lifeform – who by the way, makes your heart leap and your breath catch in your throat on a regular basis, running the gamut from an almost oppressive experience of deep love to the worst kind of worry a human being could feel – and one never knows when these staggering emotions may be invoked.

The acquisition of a helmet is of course, no big thing. But watching my children figure out their own goals and priorities and make these things happen is a pride and a privilege – and only a bit disorienting in that I’m hardly needed.

Next week we are considering sending the kids to a five day sports camp at the YMCA. The seven-hour-a-day program includes lots of sports activities, a field trip to a bowling alley, a day at camp, and roller skating (although I hope not at our local rollerskating rink where they’re likely to get knifed by a gang of mangy ten year old boys with shiv-sharpened peppermint sticks). If we put the kids in the program the amount of time I’ll have to myself will likely feel at first startling, then quickly be frittered away in my fashion. The camp is also $120 per child: no mean sum, even with my little paycheck as a sewing teacher at the college. I think it’s funny that many people use daycare or school to allow them to earn a second income; I decline such convenience, and here I am on spring break considering blowing $240 on my kids so they can have a great time. By “funny” I mean, occasionally I think I am completely stupid not to do things the way most people seem to, because by the dollars and cents, I don’t make sense.

More biking today. Cycling with my daughter is a delight. I realized today that it’s not just the lack of fifty-something pounds on the bike that makes our trips so much easier – it’s the fact she and her brother aren’t being annoying together on the snap deck (where about one trip out of five they piss me off so badly I finally “pull the car over” and chew them out, humiliating for us all since unlike a car anyone can hear me bicker). Nels’ persona on the bike is different now that he’s alone; he clings like a spider monkey, rubs his cheek against me, kisses me, watches for traffic, and sings songs of his own authorship. It’s lovely, really. I think if everyone spent more time on a bicycle they’d probably get along better, with everyone else.

pure MAGIC!

Sophie biked with me seven miles today, starting out by riding into Aberdeen to drop her brother at his preschool. We left the house at 11:30 AM and returned (after live music and lunch at the Deli) at 2 PM. What was amazing is the little psycho wanted to bike more when we arrived home – I insisted she rest fifteen minutes before we traveled again – and then wanted to bike back to Aberdeen, too! I guess she’s not satisfied unless her legs whittle off into bloody stumps.

In other news, we watched 1.5 films today via my well-loved Netflix instant view – the end of To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, and Red (and no, I did not let my kids watch the second film – disturbing it was but mostly too boring for them to follow. Drag queens and nut-grabbing jokes are fine, though). The back-to-back viewing of such disparate cinema gave me a kind of viewer’s whiplash.

Nels is into magic these days.