& sometimes the bear eats you

Today my son was slapped, in the face, by a stranger.

You can read about it here

– because I’m just too tired and discouraged to write it all out again.

I am angry with this woman, and her full-grown companion who apparently backed up her lie. I guess I should have known this was a possibility. I can understand someone having a bad day and making a mistake, and I have empathy for such a scenario. But clearly this is a sick couple of individuals and it really saddens me that they displayed cowardice in response to a child brave enough to make a report. My son not only was brave enough to tell me – he was clearly afraid to do so, worried the woman might get “in trouble” – but he also conducted himself at the police station admirably even though he had his worries.

I am angry with the police, too. The officer who took our report saw the mark on my son’s cheek (we went straight to the station afterward), and admitted my son had no reason to make up such a story. At the same time, he told me that since there was a “witness” backing up this woman’s story, that no criminal charge could be filed. Affter I expressed my concerns about the dangerousness of an adult who would assault a child, then when confronted, deny the assault – the officer speaking with me said she “wasn’t dangerous” and cited her age as proof of this.

After this officer told me a criminal charge wasn’t possible, and I asked him for advice, he told me, “Don’t let your son walk alone in that area.”

I will just give you a minute to think about that one.

I am angry – and sad – because besides the woefully callous regard for my own child’s experience of assault, what is this saying for the other children in the neighborhood? Who is protecting them? Are we waiting for another incident before we take this woman’s actions seriously?

When I told Nels the woman denied hitting him, his face registered total, bald shock and he said, “What? … How is that possible?” I hugged him and I told him sometimes grownups lied. I told him I believed him, and that I love him. He put his arms around me and melted against me.

Nels and I did our part by filing a report. I have to tell myself that. Whatever this woman’s actions, we did our part by taking action. My son – my son is very brave and today was a day for him to demonstrate this.

I am discouraged, angry, and feeling that whole stew of ick one feels when their family is threatened.

My kiddo seems okay, and for that – I am very grateful.

Not Sure If They

desperate housewife

So I got stuck in Olympia with the kids at a late hour. Don’t ask me to tell you why or how, it’s a dull and yet painful story. I thought we’d have to stay (overnight or at least a long long time) and I was kind of panicked. I called people we knew in Oly but couldn’t get a ride. I kind of agonized and wondered around and bought things at Target and got the kids food while I went totally Flyhead about my predicament and couldn’t think straight. Let me tell you, those who know me probably perceive me as level-headed in person most the time, even when things are intense or when people around me are falling apart, but when it’s down to just me and the kids are involved in some way that seems unsafe or weird there can become a point where I get Crazy-Eye and my brain stutters and shudders. I’m surprised I wasn’t arrested on suspicion of shoplifting, I mean I was twitchy as hell checking out (with, I’ll point out, a credit card I wasn’t entirely sure would go through). Kids and I ended up boarding the last bus downtown because, where Target is, there’s nothing there you’d want to spend time with.

Lakefair downtown, things were a bit intense. The bus flew down the hill and I perceived the wondrous lights of a large carnival (large by my bumpkin standards anyway) so I knew where to take the three of us, for the Now anyway. I had only a few dollars cash – otherwise I would have dropped my rent money on two bracelets so they could go on every ride they qualified for. As it was they still had fun; watching a breakdance group and running about while I phoned some more. I sat by the lakeside vicariously enjoying their fierce little lives.

After finally getting ahold of Ralph and arranging a meetup I had enough cash for one carnival “ride” for the kids. Understand this was like, seven dollars I think, for the kids to go in this kiddo funhouse (their choice). The local who’d been hired on was amiable enough to conversation, or was rather a captive audience, to be more accurate. Turns out he’s a musician and living like a sardine can in a rental with others, trying to get by, thinking about going to school, not sure what he’ll do next week for employment. We talked music for some time and my feelers went up, as Ralph is still trying to get connected with Oly musicians and the fellow sounded talented or at least versed in many interesting instruments.

The kids played and played (bless this young man for not being a dick) but soon it was time to go. I sat my bundles of Target Fuckery and a McDonalds bag and my purse and whatever in the grass, and took out my card and wrote down my husband’s name and circled a number and wrote “Music / Helsing” (the latter re: the K Records festival each year). By this time two huffy carnival pros – that is, the fellows who travel with the outfit, not spareboard – were all over the young fellow and hustling him to close up. One of them was yelling into a walkie talkie, “I have some real important stuff going on,” and then proceeded to shout-command the young man in a brusque and not-entirely-thorough way. And shit, I get it, these people work hard, I’ve worked in that kind of scene, so I just slipped the card into the young man’s pocket (unobtrusively enough, or so I thought) and said, “Good luck,” (meaning, with everything) and then –

the guy who’d been yelling into the walkie talkie jerked his head at me and said, “Jesus,” with all the disgust you can manage mustered in a voice. I seriously wish you could have heard it. You’d think I’d taken a shit on the green. I am not sure what he meant but, I haven’t been addressed with that much vitriol and hate for quite some time. It was pretty busy and I had no immediate response to being perceived as A Piece Of Shit For Reasons Mysterious so I merely bundled up the kids and the bags and gently floated across the grass, trailing the final partiers fleeing off to bars (Oly was rowdy tonight, for reals).

Our rendezvous was with Ralph was scheduled for Sizizis (which, I found out, is closing down Sunday – boo!). Walking up 4th it was so many people and shouting and cutting eyes and the smell of booze and cigarettes and weed and all kinds of amorous behavior and fights and weird energy. And yes. A few people who returned my smile. The kids were great, of course, because they are tiger cubs running on sidewalks. We got to our coffee shop eventually (it really was a nice night for a walk). While I waited in line for my drink the kids got something cold from the cooler, grabbed a table, and set up chess. I stared a bit and wondered where they’d learned to play. I was feeling more collected, or so I thought. So I’m standing there and an amiable large man turns around and says to me, “Hey, do you remember the name of the boat from Moby Dick?” and I respond, “Uh, the Minnow… the S.S. Minnow.” then to my horror I realize my mistake and shout, “No! The Pequod!”

Oh good sweet baby Jesus in his golden fleece diapers.

At about 11:40 PM Ralph rescued me and I gave him the americano I’d purchased him and I got my ass out of Dodge. –

but, the kids had a glorious time.

Not Sure If They're Having Fun

Mr. Shit-n-Spray

“Adults do liquor, even toke. *EVERYBODY* does it!”

“Everybody who’s anybody!”*

Friday linkage!

Nigella Love-in-a-Mist by local Mickey Thurman. Love-in-a-mist was one of the first flowers Nels grew, years and years ago.

The Kindness of Strangers by Kate. Nothing earth-shattering. Except – actually, it kind of is. What a lovely piece.

Feminazi Propaganda: “Women’s Work” via Political Remix Video. Trigger warning for intense violence (often eroticized) rendered graphically against women. REGULARLY SEEN ON TELEVISION I might add (although this concerns the show “Supernatural”) – and here’s a longer analysis should you want one. Yeah. So, this kind of stuff is why I’ve had to stop watching shows I otherwise would have enjoyed or at least found consumable (“Law & Order”, thanks for keeping me from my daily D’Onofrio! You fucks.).

In wonderful news: Michelle Alison offers a great course. I want to take this pretty badly. I don’t have the scratch, because of recent purchases. I do promote Alison because she and her mentor Satter seem to know their shit, in a land of lots of weight and diet “experts” who sure don’t.

Reviewing highlights of an actresses celebrated career – and you know, this is uncannily like my experiences with alcohol and drug, back in school:

That actress playing the “young high school counselor” – where do I know her from? It’s something kind of tampon-ad ish.

“The World Is Full Of Bullies… So Conform! And Quick!” by Laura at Authentic Parenting:

“Children who have not been forced into acting or looking like something they’re not, who have had the freedom to explore their bodies and their minds, within the safety and unconditionality of their homes are not insecure. They may make different choices than the average kid, they may look differently, but they do it because they are true to themselves, not to fit in or fit out, so they are generally able to take the consequences. Yes, they may get negative reactions. But if they are not even safe to express themselves and find themselves at home, where do you suggest they will? In therapy when they are in their thirties?”


Consumerism: I need to buy this… and tix to see this. Ralph wants me to buy him this (but seriously? I bought him some big fancy pedal this time last year. I think I’ll take a year off). Apparently Ralph is going to give me our tax return as my own “fun money”, I’ll try not to spend it all on makeup and my usual diversions.

Make: How-To: Plush Alien Facehugger Pillow Set via Instructables for a little girl. Perfect. PERFECT.

Make: hand stitched card at New House Project. I’ve enjoyed using a sewing machine to punch holes or stitch paper for quite some time. It dulls the needle, sure – but what fun!

OK: it’s time to separate us all into two discrete columns. Those who find this picture, as I do, completely disgusting. And those who through some sickness that is probably not their fault, find it mouth-watering. GO!

Tweet of the week. Hey, I can blow my own horn like no-one’s business.

And finally – enjoy our beaches!

Mr. Shit-n-Spray

*Note: please do not take my post tagline as any kind of prescriptive advice on how one should celebrate their weekend. But in the meantime: whoo-hooo it’s Friday!!!

the daily grind

A couple weeks ago my son looked directly at me and said, “I’m going to go over across the street and meet the neighbors.” This didn’t surprise me: other neighbors have been telling me how impressed they were with my children’s friendliness and directness. Our neighborhood has turned out lovely for kid-play because, quite simply, there are a lot of kids running about and our yard abuts several houses of (so far) chicken-friendly and (as far as I can tell) perfectly lovely people happy to have a chat. Many of the neighborhood kids end up at my house, some of them over and over during the day, and I’m not exactly sure why as we lack so many of the things I’ve heard today’s kids can’t do without, like television and Wiis and junk food and whatever. I’m not exactly a doting hostess either as I wander my way through writing and cleaning and cooking and sewing and grabbing a half-clove cigarette on the deck. The kids come and go and I guess I’m just kind of used to having kids around and I seem to suit this life (very funny as I grew into a decidedly anti-kid young adult, before I embarked on the adventure of having my own).

A couple days after Nels’ announcement I was walking through my living room when a small closely-shorn boychild popped out from under the table in the dining nook, grinning at me largely and wordlessly, then climbed on my couch and began to execute mid-air flips. Very nice, I told him. Soon his brothers were in and out of my house and after about an hour their uncle I. came over and asked if they’d been any trouble. Not at all. Today halfway through laundry I found myself amidst all four of these siblings running about and peering through the house. I figured a walk was in order so I asked them if they wanted me to take them out to ice cream. They said Yes but I had to spend a good deal more time rounding up their shoes and my son (who by then had climbed fences and picked apples and gone next door while I did the shoe-thing). I met the children’s parents and, wonder of wonders, retained all six new names – I am terrible with names (this family of six lives in Tacoma but visits often, as the grandmother, uncle, and a few others live here on first street). “Can you handle them?” their mother asked smiling; I noticed her hair was pulled into an elaborate coiffure with purple glitter strewn through it. I wasn’t sure if I could handle four kids I didn’t know well on a walk along a highway but I said Yes and it turns out I could.

Off & Away

We ended up taking quite the circuitous route through train tracks and back paths even I had never crawled over as a child. Kids loving climbing on abandoned trains and I figure it’s a birthright. The elder kids helped the littler ones (the age range was three to eight) and it was an amiable and energetic journey. As we left Adams street for the houses and trailers tucked in back lots I heard suddenly bright and vibrant yelling; a woman thirty feet away was calling to the children and so was her brilliant, preternaturally blue macaw – the animal’s voice very, very eerily like a human being’s. As one pack the children streamed over the tracks to sway, entranced, and observe the birds.


M. & Her Birds


I introduced myself and she told me her name was M. I don’t know if she lived in the trailer (I think it was for the birds) but as we talked her elderly mother drove up and parked and smiled and went inside the house. I asked M. if I could take a picture of her and the birds. I could barely get a word in edgewise and you know I’m a pretty talkative person.

M. Tells Me A Story

The birds were rescue animals and she told me a bit about how to know if a bird had been captured in the wild or bred in captivity. She was pleased when I recited I’d read 75% of wild birds caught died; she was clearly passionate about these animals.  I wished I’d been less occupied with the children and I was less photo-shy because I would have loved to focus on a better portrait of she and her birds to print out and bring back to her. Maybe I’ll do it all the same.

We thanked her and went on our way; a half a field later we came across a friend’s mother L. with her dogs and I caught up with her, sliding right into conversation as I helped children up and then off the railcars as they requested it. By the time I said goodbye to L. the children were clustered near one of the old Lamb’s buildings and expertly knocking out windows with satisfying splashes. I made them stop although it must be confessed I would have liked to do one in myself. Little by little and through a bramble patch we made it to the hamburger stand for hard ice cream. Three bubble gum, two rainbow sherbert, and chocolate brownie. The children didn’t mind at all sitting next to the dusty highway to eat.

Spoils Of War

The four neighbor children flagged a little on the walk back but we made it home okay.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I feel a little tired here in the summer with the extra responsibility of other people’s kids, a responsibility I take on willingly enough but is a different pace from even a month ago before the weather turned. In addition Ralph’s schedule is such he works longer days (ameliorated by a short Friday) and with only one car between us he’s either kept away from home for a period extended by bus schedules, or I’m at home on foot or bike with the kids.  Breaks for me feel few and far between. I’ve learned to be patient and wait; soon the perfect moment will come of calm and peace and only a few dishes before I can sew for even a few moments in the quiet.  Maybe one day we’ll even have both cars running or some extra cash. I’d love to buy the kids some more books and a couple of small desks or maybe curtain rods for our austere little Hotel de Hogaboom staying cool from the sun.

este día en la carretera hace mucho calor

Nels is looking different today from yesterday as about thirty minutes into our biking adventures he biked right into a car (while vying for the attention of children outside in a daycare yard). The daycare employee who witnessed this (I only heard the thunk! behind me) ran inside to get Nels first an icepack then an Otter Pop for good measure. She was a beautiful, beautiful girl with deep tanned cleavage and long shiny black-brown hair and I’ll bet she even smelled nice (I didn’t lean in to check) and with her sympathy and the ice pack and the ice cream, well, Nels didn’t seem to mind being hurt so much. My son spent the next half hour wearing the pack, and as a result his black eye is slightly less gruesome than it otherwise might have been.

Ice Pack

Today started out with our typical feral rituals: the kids went outside and ate (for breakfast) marshmallows, bananas, and special dark chocolate. In the yard, half clothed. By then I’d finished my morning writings (here’s some of that) and housework so I asked them inside where they each took a big drink of milk before we biked our errands, ending up at the Central Playfield park where now no longer do we have shade-trees (cut down by the City) so the sun bakes us all and the adults who wish to talk have to shout over the sound of two highways (the trees helped absorb that too). The bathrooms are also closed down as well (Honey Buckets in the summer sun, kids – and grownups – love that sort of thing) but the pool is open from noon for a few hours and the kids? They love it. My kids were in their underwear as I hadn’t brought the suits. You know, I don’t often use the term “ghetto” but, well.

Suits Not Required

Central Playfield in Hoquiam

I ended up scrunching under a pitiful amount of briefly-supplied tent shade and talked to a father there with four of his seven kids, a handsome, deep brownish/red-skinned man who could balance with me on the proverbial non-native language teeter totter, meaning he had about as much inglés as I have español (the vast majority of native-Spanish-speakers here usually have very good English although I do meet those que no entienden). One example: he told me he and his wife were “broke” so I asked ¿Tienes el trabajo? then he managed to convey he meant, he and his wife were broke from relationship with one another and I said “Oh! Divorced. Separated. I thought you meant no tienes dinero.” Then after we’d shared where we lived and how long we’d lived there I told him, “Mi esposo trabaja en el colegio” in case he got some ideas I was a scheming single mama looking to juggle a family of nine kiddos (instead I’m rather a scheming conversationalist who loves talking to strangers like a Huge Nerd) or in case he had similar ideas (seriously? A mama out with kids in Grays Harbor is not immune from flirtations from random strangers). He had the most beautiful one year old clambering around on him, a boy with shoulder-length locks and deliciously plump limbs who took interest in my bike wheels. “Fue agradable hablar con usted,” I said to this father as we biked out, my kids soaked and newly cooled down and me as hot as ever as we headed to our little grocery store for dinner provisions.

It’s no wonder to me my kids are getting a great education as letting them out and running and biking and playing and eating and drinking means when we get home they absolutely want to read an encyclopedia or give themselves spelling/English work or learn times tables or teach themselves history (or even clean their room, as my daughter is doing at this moment). And another thing, I never hear my kids say they are “bored” – ever, which is something to ponder given we have no television or video game system! (In full disclosure, we do have a computer which they are allowed to use if I am not using it). (Also, now that I have had the hubris to even slightly brag or more accurately, take joy in a facet of our little fringe lifestyle, the children are going to immediately come inside and chant in demon-voice how bored they are).

Tomorrow our day will consist of 100% beach time out in Ocean Shores with my mother and a picnic basket and sunscreen. And that’s going to be pretty goddamned awesome.

As I type the kids run off with the various and sundry neighbors catching the ice cream truck (the frosty treat-bait has caught some full-grown, some still children); my husband on his way home is picking up fresh mozzarella for insalata caprese and tahini for tomorrow’s hummus and also – very important – a pool for our front yard. Because like many PNw’ers we don’t have air conditioning and employ the strategies of lowered blinds and open windows or fresh cooling water.

Phoenix Attempts To Rejoin Her Mistress, The Sea

OMG Kids running in parking lots!

A reader writes me an email, May 2010.


Somehow I got off on a tangent when replying to your post and typed out what you see below. I felt like I was hijacking your post, so I pulled it and decided to email it to you instead:

This is merely an observation about kids and parenting in general, so please don’t take it the wrong way (I know you won’t). I’m trying to point out the thought process that many parents must go through when they witness things outside of their comfort zone.

When I see these pictures[1. These.], I put [my child] K. in Nels’ place. I see my daughter sitting precariously on the edge of a table with some large scissors that are most likely hella sharp. Because I know K., my fear is that she may leap (or fall) from the table with these sharp blades or might cut herself while using them. This is because she is almost always in motion and isn’t very good with scissors yet.

Now, some parents take the next step and assume (subconsciously or not) that Nels may meet similar consequences by projecting their own child’s abilities onto him. In my case, I am aware that Nels is most likely around hella sharp scissors all the time and probably uses them relatively skillfully as well, so I can let go of my anxiety. If I had witnessed this in person and didn’t know anything about Kelly and Nels I might ask a question that would direct Kelly’s attention to Nels. If Kelly shows no indication of danger, I would assume that Nels is capable of handling the scissors safely, again letting go of my anxiety.

Time and again I see this from the other side when we visit “the Walmart”. We typically walk down the sidewalk between parked cars toward the store. As we approach the crosswalk that crosses the main drag of the parking lot in front of the store, K. breaks into a sprint. Here’s the problem, I know that she will stop before reaching the crosswalk because we have gone over it many times and she always stops, but the people driving by don’t know this. Often, they freak out and slam on their brakes, then direct their anger toward K. and me. At no time was she in danger, but because they assumed she would run into the street, they respond with their own anxiety about the situation. In fact, I think they are actually angrier because she stopped. They feel stupid for overreacting, but somehow it’s still my fault.

Here is how I handle this differently. If I am driving and I see a kid running toward the street (even if it’s at the last moment and I slam on my brakes), I don’t get angry or think the kid is dumb or the parent is neglectful. I just stop and wait for the road to be clear. I don’t see the point in getting all worked up over something that ended well. How is me honking or yelling going to make the situation better? I’m not saying that I’m always Mr. Cool. If I’m having a bad day I may overreact, but that’s my own deal, not theirs.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I wish people could calm down and consider situations before reacting. Whether it’s in traffic, or while witnessing a child being disciplined in public, or whatever, consider the fact that you don’t know the whole story and leave room for the possibility that although it may not be “ideal” behavior, there may be a reason for it that you don’t understand.

I can’t remember what book it’s from (probably a Malcolm Gladwell book), but I can try to paraphrase the story.

The writer described a scene on a subway train where a father was letting his kids run wild. They were climbing on the seats, bumping into people, making a lot of noise…being kids. The writer could see the other passengers getting more and more irritated, so he decided to say something to the father. I can’t remember what he said, but the father responded with, “Yes, you’re right. I suppose I should be doing something. They lost their mother this morning and we’re still in shock about the whole thing.” The writer of course felt like crap and offered to help if he could.

Obviously, this extreme example isn’t always the case. But whether the person is dealing with a crisis or is simply being a jerk, how does getting angry about it help anyone?

Ok…that was kinda convoluted and irrelevant. Sorry about that. I’ve just been getting fed up with people passing judgement and getting angry for no reason lately.

Hello R.,

I’m sorry it took a while for me to email back. I have been swamped with correspondance and writing and emails!

I think your assessment is spot-on. Some people live with these assumptions (usually to the lowest common denominator of “You can’t/shouldn’t trust kids to do anything, because they can’t/shouldn’t”) and this becomes a toxic element. Instead of opening their minds or asking questions or taking a lighter touch in these situations, they assume the worst (about kids and parents) and operate from there.

Your experience with K. in parking lots is a precise experience I’ve had myself with my children. I recently had another parent write who’d had an identical issue in a parking lot in DC. Here’s the funny thing. Parking lots are a place where cars, pedestrians, people in wheelchairs and scooters, those with carts, and bicycles all negotiate space. In these stories with children, space was successfully negotiated. Why then the hate?[2. Because in America, cars are blameless, holy creatures and the rest shall scurry and scatter like chaff from golden wheat.]

I read the most wonderful articles referring to “adult privilege” today. I share them here and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

“Mothers to BHG Author – Thou Shalt Not Tell Us You Hate Our Kids” at lactivistleanings.com

“My Child Takes Up Space at womanist-musings.com

Thank you again for writing, as always!

where we meet a tasseomancer

At 4:30 the kids and I are running about catching chickens and securing carafes of coffee and starting the car and hopping in and putting some Old Time Mystery Radio on the iPod. We have to be in the sewing shop before 6 PM to pick up my little Juki machine after its repair. I think Ralph and the kids and I love roadtrips quite a bit: especially when there’s an element of hurry, dashing along on some errand and a bit of shopping (more on this later) and for just a brief evening we can escape the clutches of the house and buy something or eat something that feeds my joie de vivre, an experience of vitality I can’t always summon with my hands in dishwater. OK, at this point, I realize I am talking about me entirely and I’m not sure how much the others like the whole thing, after all.

Despite missing the closing time of the shop by a handful of minutes, the proprietor (who’s owned the business for a long time; hanging above the counter is an old smudgy picture of him from back when he was thinner and had hair) has waited for us. Thank goodness. Downtown and Nels wakes up from his impromptu car nap and he’s hungry and just yelling and wailing and I have that flash of brilliance in knowing he won’t stop doing so until he has food in his face (and I’m right!). And the kids are cold because they didn’t bring coats and Olympia is chillier than Hoquiam was and Ralph strips off his coat and his outer shirt and wraps each kid and the kids walk through the streets, their eyes bright and everything about them perfect and precise in their self-ness.  We are on our way to the beauty shop where I buy my current hair color (since I went yellow people are often asking me the name of this color, I don’t remember these queries when my color’s name did not involve an expletive) which again, I can’t find in my little HQX. The woman at the counter gives it to me gratis as the concoction has sat on the shelf for a while and she can’t vouch for its quality.  And that’s nice, because free stuff is nice!  And we’re still hungry and Nels is still loud but things are OK, Ralph and I are functioning well. And as he orders hot dogs at his favorite downtown stand and Sophie and I move off to find our favorite downtown pizza place.

And in between the hot dogs and the restaurant Ralph and I start on an Upsetting Conversation that is destined to go on for much of the evening. As these things happen the conversation has parts that are relevant and must be discussed, and parts that seem like so many tired and angry words thrown about, nothing permanently damaging but portions of bitterness and virtriol and hopelessness. As this unfolds I’m sitting in a restaurant I rather like, smashing pizza into my face because I’ve barely eaten and I’m shaky with hunger, yet I can hardly taste the stuff even though I love it, and at the end of the business I feel like my husband actually ruined my meal by being someone I don’t like very much. Except it was me that ruined it, because after all these years of being a person I often don’t know how to sequence, to push my physical hunger and mundane irritations aside and apologize to my husband about something (which I did, but not as quickly as I’d have liked) and be present and focused for him and for the time it takes then slide my pizza slice back toward me and enjoy my repast, because I love food and I hate to waste good food, which I just did.

After our dinner we visit our current favorite little Oly coffee shop and while I order drinks a strange (as in, not known to me previously) woman gently places her hand on my shoulder and says, “May I…?”, gesturing to my children. I say Yes, having no idea what she’s talking about, but hey, I’m quick to volunteer up my babies for whatever.  I observe she’s set up a table in the corner of the shop: incense (actually expensive-smelling and richly appealing, not dusty and assy), a carafe of water, a deck of cards – and tea cups and saucers.  Vaguely I remember I’d seen a flyer about the place, advertising tea leaf reading (yes! This is tasseomancy, as my post title alludes) and it clicks. Here is, then, a Fortune Teller.

I order the coffee and walk over; Nels, fresh from a car-nap and completely a bundle of energy, has picked up her tea cups and is handling them vigorously, if not ungently.  I know he won’t drop them but, like I explained later to the children, picking up her tea cups is a bit like handling the dentists’ instruments: rude, mostly.  Hang back, Little Guy.  I ask him to read the little cardboard sign she has on the table.  He is so keyed-up he can’t focus on the sign, which is pretty keyed-up for him as he’s an expert reader.  My daughter steps in, saying, “It says ‘Tea Leaf Readings’, Nels.” He pauses and takes that in. “Do you know what that means?” I ask the kids.  Sophie thinks for half a beat and says in her very adult way with her baby-duck voice, “After you drink hot tea there are leavings in the cup, and someone with special skills can interpret them and tell you about your future.”  I am not kidding, this actually came out of my seven year old’s face!  I ask the Fortune Teller if we have to drink our own tea to have our leavings read and she says yes; alas, we are there for coffee only, which is ready now and I walk over to retrieve it.

As I pay for the the drinks, the woman again asks my permission to do something with my children.  I grant it and watch as she takes an Oracle deck (illustrated with very striking art; I discover at the end of the session she’d made the cards herself) and gracefully shuffles it.  She asks each child to close their eyes, make a wish, and tap the deck.  They do so.  Then she deals – if you can call it that – six cards, face down, and tells the children she will give them a reading.  Nels, finally, is still for this.

My daughter is circumspect and attentive.  The Fortune Teller begins to turn the cards over.  Sophie is told that she is a cautious and careful person; the card that led to this diagnosis shows a chess piece.  Then: in the near future my daughter must take care to avoid things with germs on them (I’m thinking the neighbor boy, who comes over often and has some kind of stomach problem and uses our bathroom often and doesn’t wash his hands, but whatever).  Finally the woman reveals the third card, sits, and then tells my daughter, “The Universe is going to present you with opportunities that will benefit you.”  Sophie is straight, her eyes direct, her posture calm and perfect and accepting.  I’m thinking This is crazy, my kids! My children! They are incredible!

Next the Fortune Teller overturns three cards to for Nels’ reading.  And my son is…  I don’t know how to put this, but spiritually cowed.  I have never seen anyone bigger than Nels and this woman, through persistence and calm and direct eye contact, beguiles him into settling.  He leaves the reading impressed and quiet.  She has told him: he must learn to slow down, and listen, because he will hear a still voice inside him: his Intuition.  “This place is in my nightmares,” Nels says to her, but he does not mean this in a fearful or dramatic way.  It is spoken calmly, and indeed the coffee shop – which is beautiful – is dark, and odd, and has crystal doorknobs set in random intervals in the dried-blood red ceiling, and this is what Nels gestures toward when he says “nightmares”.

I appreciate this woman’s work and I ask the children if we should pay her.  We place a bill in a glass jar she has set for the purpose.  The woman bows a bit and says, “Thank you for your generosity,” and perhaps in gratitude for these wages, or because the reading of the children went according to her satisfaction, she presents the children with a gift: a small crystal ball they’d noticed earlier and cited as one looking like those juggled in the 80’s fantasy film Labrynth.  The kids thank her; she instructs them to share with one another (something my children do very well in most cases, being one another’s Evil Twin and loving much of the same things).  Being a parent, I have been witness to my children receiving gifts, and no matter the offered item I am always humbled by the generosity of friends, family, and strangers.  The kids talk to her a bit more about the film and I quip to the Fortune Teller, “Do you have any David Bowies in tight pants in your bag?”* because I Am Immature and seriously why does this film keep coming up? and the woman laughs her low laugh and says, “I wish!”

And I tell her we’ll be back another Tuesday night, and have some tea.  We say farewell and I’m back outside kind of … stunned, again, at life’s tiny meetings that so often make an indelible impression.

*I’m not going to link to that! Neither photos nor the many, many homemade drawings that have been rendered!

nothing feels obligatory about it in the slightest

Just about every year for Thanksgiving we take in a person, or two, or three or four who either doesn’t want to be with their own family for Thanksgiving or doesn’t wanna, and we host them for the big dinner.  So yesterday morning my mom asked about this tradition of ours – if we were going to invite any “orphans” over.  I realized today – picking up the naval orange for one of my two cranberry sauces – that I don’t like the phrase “orphan” because it implies a sort of forlornness or wretchedness on the part of those who aren’t going to be with their relatives, and thus makes normative a certain type of family over other types – the latter chosen by will and intent, say, rather than just biology (to be fair, it was one of our “family-less” – as in, someone who had a family but didn’t want to be with them – guests who initially came up with the phrase “orphan”).

The holidays can be pretty damn painful for people.  Even when they’re mostly okay and things go pretty well, I know people sometimes feel deep pockets of sadness or lonesomeness or a descent into nightmarish familial patterns or a sense of wrongness.  Even if it is only an urban legend that suicide and depression rates are higher during holidays, it can sure feel the case (just today I received a message online looking for a man who’d driven away on Friday and who had friends were worried about him).

See, I know my mother pretty well, and I think her Thanksgiving isn’t turning out too awesome – yet.  Two of her three children aren’t coming up for it.  And although my mom is awesome in that she would never hint or guilt-trip them or even in the smallest corner of her heart think that her children “should” come up to see her (and neither do I), I also know that nothing pleases her more than when everyone does.  A thing to remember about my mother, sadly, is that even when she wants something it is very unlikely she would actually ask for it.  It’s taken me many, many years to really listen to what my mom really wants.  And to be honest, I don’t always listen, because sometimes I’m busy being directly asked for shit by my kids and husband, who are less likely to play the coquette.

Back to Thursday: my mother is not going to have dinner with her boyfriend in attendance, either.  They are still very much a couple (and are playing annoying hippie folk music upstairs as I write).  But he’s going to a place and she’s not going with him.  So, OK.

And all of this is okay, and no great tragedy.  And in the way of the suffering of many, many women I know, my mom’s little sadnesses generally don’t inconvenience anyone (ladies are good that way!) or even make themselves known to others.  In my mom’s coping and rarely-if-ever-asking-for-things-she-wants and always being so “laid back” (or at least, wanting to convey this appearance) one could forget she’s only been a widow for a little over a year.  You know, after being with my father for over 35 years.

I don’t really know the heart of my mother – although I suspect now that my dad is gone I’m the closest person who does.  For my part I plan to do my own, deliberate little bit to help her keep from a case of the Holiday Sadkins.  This morning I told her I’d like to cook all the food, if she would only buy the turkey.  She agreed to this with such alacrity I was immediately glad I suggested it.  (Let me tell you, this offer of mine did not come from an obligatory sense of rescue or my role as the matriarch to the family here at 6th and M.  It’s about 85% caring deeply for her emotional well-being and 15% because every goddamned year she annoys the ass off of me by saying, “And this year let’s make it a simple kind of thing, you know, not so arduous for us both.”  This makes me angry like a poo-flinging monkey because in no way do I find cooking a big meal arduous, I completely enjoy it! In fact no one has any evidence, anywhere, that I don’t really, really like to cook)*.

“Family” is a funny thing; we choose to be with those who comfort us, or feed us, or those we genuinely love. And before I was an actual mother to my biological children I thought a lot about myself and what I wanted. And now I think a lot about what other people want (even if I miss the mark a lot too – and I do).  I am not at all saying this post-natal experience of other-care is Natural or Universal (in fact, I think neither).  It’s just my experience.

Today at the store I stood in line behind a handsome man about my age dressed in fancy-looking tennis shoes, new jeans, and a North Face jacket.  He was well-groomed and quiet – his voice so low that when he turned and smiled and said something to my daughter I didn’t hear what he said.  I noticed we were fixing to have the same meal – spaghetti – for dinner tonight.  He was having a simple version – a small parcel of pasta, canned pasta sauce, and a loaf of bakery bread – while I had a basket full of parsley, baguette for toasting the bread crumbs in the meatballs, organic beef and pork, Parmesan cheese, crushed tomatoes, romaine lettuce, and butter.  In noticing his groceries I noticed he didn’t have a wedding band.  And I almost – almost – asked if he had a Thanksgiving plan, and if he’d like to come to our place to join us.

But I didn’t.

Who knows.  Maybe the guy isn’t single, just not wearing a wedding ring, and neither he nor his partner care to cook.  Maybe he’s happily single and that’s his favorite meal.  Maybe (likely!) he has somewhere totally awesome to be on Thursday.  Maybe he doesn’t give a fiddler’s fuck about the holiday.

Or maybe like so many other strangers I’ve offered a meal or a kindness to, it would have made his night just a little more pleasant to be asked, let alone attend in two days.  I will never know because didn’t get the ovaries up to check.

I hope at least he felt my friendliness behind him in the checkout line.

* No, really.  This is insane. Every year she talks like we’ll have a SMALL meal (we never do), and that whew-won’t-that-be-a-relief, when in actuality I look forward to cooking the meal.  Something I hate: when someone tells me how I feel – instead of listening to how I’m telling them I feel. Especially when they get it completely wrong. Especically when they’ve known me since I was born!