our dance card

During our new swim session a few of the homeschool parents descend on me at poolside – almost ravenously. It had been a couple years since I connected with the group. Touchingly, even though I have been absent for a while, and I don’t remember their names nor their children’s, a few ask about my daughter. I tell them about Phoenix enrolling in school, and how she’s doing. There is a bit of a flutter as a few of them seem to be deciphering that in some way. One woman says, “You can write on your blog about how you can go from unschooling, to [successful] schooling. Most people I talk to think unschooling won’t work.”

Why YES I CAN! And what a great idea that is! And – you are right! And – thank you for the reminder! I am a little delighted. My brain is all rusty and cobwebby.

I only discovered there was a six-week class an hour before the class, so I’m just glad we made it here on time. I’m not quite ready to publicly interface in a graceful way. I have a pen in my hand and I’m meeting a friend and I’m watching my son in the pool – I’m watching him learn a bit more about proper swimming technique. I’m so glad the sun is shining through the windows and I’m so glad to be here with him.

I am not used to getting invasive questions but today I am not minding much. I am mellow like Ben Murphy. Since I don’t feel I owe anyone an explanation sometimes I just let the questions or assumptions roll over me like water.

And hell sometimes, I think directness (in the form of, “Why are you doing this? Why do you do that?”) can be refreshing. Because let me tell you, I have encountered some weird behaviors in my day. People who hint so many layers deep I know they’re fucking with me but I can’t figure out exactly why. People who aggressively compliment. Can’t figure that one out either. People who, like today, corner me and start telling me very detailed stories about a specific cultural aspect of their home – even though I am sitting with a workbook on my lap and I was busy writing in it when they approached. I am not here to socialize – not today, at least.

Nels is the last out of the pool; it is so warm out I simply wrap him in his towel and hold his clothing under my arm. Home for a bath and then to enjoy the sun. It’s a good day to walk this Earth.

synchronicities

The man swimming in the lane adjacent to mine has beautiful thighs.  They are a comfort as they flash in strobe against his small dark Speedo suit. He and I keep the same clip for a few laps. I don’t know about him, but I’m not trying to go faster or go slower; I definitely have too far to swim to mess about. “You do you and I’ll do me,” as the adage says.

That said, it’s hard not to speed up or slow down when someone adjacent makes pace.

Outside it’s balmy and warm. Spring it starting to flicker at the edges. The blossoms are out and the pavement smarts from the sun’s sincere warmth.

Winter habits are hard to break. Last night, on the agenda: Ralph and I watched Shark Attack III: Megalodon. Yeah that’s right, I watch terrible movies, on purpose, and I can’t seem to stop. SEND HELP because two weeks ago I cockily made a bet Ralph couldn’t stay up to watch all of Snowbeast (2011) with me. I was begging for death by the end. As for Megalodon – and unlike Snowbeast – the film is definitely in the, “so bad it’s good” category; the poor dubbing in particular makes it a surreal, cheese-tastic experience all the way through. The film weasels around for a full hour by trying to sell a regular-style shark before it finally heaves a big sigh and pulls some crumpled-up special effects from a dirty trouser pocket: the so-called “megalodon” – which is kind of like, the icing on the ass-cake.

Watching the film Ralph is like: “What’s with that guy? Is he drunk?” Me: “I don’t think the character is drunk if that’s what you’re asking.”

creeper peeper

Nels lays on the bed, eyes fixed, body still. He’s pretending to be a lifeless, motionless doll – for as long as he can. I lay my body on top of his to see if he’ll giggle. He’s silent. My right ear on his chest; his birdlike ribcage, his heartbeat – so strong! After a few moments I find a peace, feeling the life of my boy, but I’ve enough of our game’s concept in mind that when he suddenly and silently cranes his head to bite my neck I am half-convinced this eerie doll is coming to life and I am freaked out. He starts laughing, and his arms grasp me as he tries to play-bite in earnest – and now I’m scrambling off in equal alacrity. From a loving stillness to a froth of action! Phoenix, hearing the commotion, flits in the room and tries to fight him off. We’re all tense and electrified by our creepy little preternaturally-undead talisman!

The cold outside seemed all the more cruel after the evening’s swim; a pristine sky and harsh, cold stars – a bite to the air. My time in the water tonight was rough – I had to work too hard to get my requisite number of laps in, and this work left me nauseated. My husband’s car; no heater. Brakes so bad they grind. My car is in the shop as of this afternoon on the forth iteration of a door handle repair – our previous garage bungled the job three times in a row. I’m upset as this car repair means we won’t be able to afford taking Phoenix and a friend for a zoo trip for her 12th birthday, Sunday. I haven’t told her yet, but I know she’ll be okay. I just have to wait until I’m okay. I need a night’s sleep on the disappointment of today.

My son, and Emily – our sunny afternoon lunch at Thai Smiles. I dunno. I think you can tell that they like one another.

Nels + Emily

Nels + Emily

Nels + Emily

TIME FOR GO TO BED

Today I swam a long swim, hustled money from one old rotten tree stump to another (to cover bills about to post), did the housework, got my kiddos where they needed to be, took an alcoholic and an addict sans vehicle to two back-to-back meetings, and swooped in to pick up and foster a kitten displaced by an evacuation in Hoquiam.

Beyond tired. No quips here; and I lack the stamina to write a bit more about it, really.

Crashing into bed in 3, 2, 1…

Wanna put on some Q Lazzarus and check out my moth collection?

Today something clicked during my swim, and everything was measurably easier than even yesterday. I told myself I needed to practice often, and practice slowly enough, that I would come to feel entirely relaxed in the water. Today, I was a lot closer to that. A rolling motion with the shoulders, head only rotating during the breath. Kicking enough to stay up and moving but not so hard I am inordinately winded by the end of a length. No longer thinking about my inhale, no longer thinking about much at all. A brief rest in between lengths.

This kicks in about lap three. I pull up to the edge of the pool and tug my goggles up. “Did I beat you this time?” I ask Phoenix, who is splashing in next to me.

“No,” she says. Then wipes a hand over her face. “Well, yes.”

I silently dance a few body rolls, holding onto the edge. It feels good.

Then, to get the point home I say, “That’s my swim-taunt.”

“I know,” she says, gravely.

Swimming with Phoenix has been wonderful. I have already caught up to her so we are swimming peers. She catches her breath back more quickly than I, though.

Out of the pool and on the road to pick up Nels at the art gallery; then to guest-assist in a kindergarten class. I’m nearly faint from hunger after this last, but I have only a slim $23 for the day. I can afford to get my also-hungry kids a sandwich and soup to share, and pick up dinner supplies. That’s it.

The hunger keeps me a bit off my game. At self-checkout, a young man bags his own groceries, leaving his cart in the thoroughfare and seemingly entirely oblivious as we wait to pass. “Excuse me,” I say, and he jerks the cart out of the way. We walk past and I think, Where do I know him? A few beats later and I remember him as a two-time client (at least twice) at the treatment center; I remember his name, and I regret not greeting him. I can tell by his expression, his lack of eye contact, and his skin, that he is likely back on his drug of choice – and might feel lukewarm about a greeting. And already: the moment has passed. Like at least once or twice in my day – sometimes more – I get to silently say goodbye, and move on.

Music in the car. The kids are helpful; they know I’m hungry and tired. I am irritable and angry; earlier in the day I dealt with an institution I find incredibly challenging to negotiate with. I still have an emotional hangover from this experience; what’s more, it doesn’t feel like that mood is going to lift.

Patience, prayer, persistence, and practice. What else can I do?

yet nothing can resist it

My daughter and I hop into the pool a mere forty minutes before it’s set to close. Swim team, classes, and other lap swimmers have kept it busy, so the water has churned itself up into being cold and inhospitable. Unpleasant; but, I know after only half a length I’ll feel just fine.

Phoenix hits the water ahead of me, striking out for the other side and the shadow of the diving board. Experiencing what can only be described as a sense of bemused dismay I am stunned at how quickly she can swim, a full year since she quit swim team. She is completely confident and displays correct, if a bit choppy, technique: swinging her head to take that breath, her arms golden and sleek churning the water. Her energy makes me feel tired, but – give me a break, I still have a head cold. I follow behind and make it there, eventually. She remarks on my speed. “Give me a break,” I tell her. “I’m just learning.” Re-learning, really. But it’s been about twenty years.

We finish my half-mile at my pace, and in between my lengths she darts back and forth, easily outstripping me and the other two adults in the pool. Every now and then she pulls herself up to the side of the pool, arms folded across her long and lean belly. Her eyes like tiger stripes, long inked hair framing her serene but savage beauty.

I feel this helpless sense of something after our half hour is up, when we finally emerge from the now-empty lap pool and head for a few minutes in the hot tub. I’m thinking she won’t want to come along next time, especially with me swimming as slowly as I am (still learning to breathe properly and it’s a slog). But instead of trying to beg or hint or anything I simply lean in and tell her, “Thank you for coming with me. You are an inspiration to me as a swimmer.” She replies, “Thank you.” Fifteen minutes later in the car – hair washed, lights spangling against the windshield’s rain – she says, “I want to come with you next time.”

It has been wonderful having her home – no school this week. She is resting, drawing, helping with housework, and in general being a lovely presence. The additional sleep, and the lack of a grueling school schedule, provides her with more patience for her brother than she has shown this school year. This morning: when I wake, I find her curled up in my new oversized chair, drawing quietly and waiting for our day to start. An hour later she dresses for errands including deep plum eyeshadow and her coat with a fur-lined hood; she joins Nels and I for lunch out – and takes to a hot cup of soup with precision and hunger, like a lady.

She is nearly silent when she’s not giggling at video games or a goofy cartoon movie of her brother’s choosing. She is a flower in my home. With her blue-black hair, sharp hips, and long legs, she is a reedy and dangerous exotic orchid twining up the furniture, growing before my very eyes! I have to grab her belly or pull her down on top of me on the couch to get her to giggle helplessly and then I can see it: that brief glimpse of babyhood, the only softness left to her – a gentleness under her chin, a tender oasis hiding above her slim neck.

Rain outside; but the storm, for now, has passed. A soft bed and a warm room; cats, dogs, even the rabbit sleeping now. A bit of bread and olives; a glass of hot water and Chinese herbs.

Sleep.

like a firefly without the light

This morning: I arrive home after swim class to an empty house – Ralph and the kids heading up to Olympia. A day to myself – truly, a gift, and a rarity. I am recovering from a sore throat and head cold which just hit yesterday. With patience, rest, and raw garlic and honey I hope to be restored to full health soon.

Swimming. I only started two weeks ago and already I am respectably pulling laps. Hard to be patient and rest – swim less than I want – when I’m just becoming exhilarated with the acquisition of new skills. Yet I know if I don’t rest, I will get sick in earnest. I am determined to take care of my body – and thus avoid unnecessary stress.

Tonight. My son. Tall, and blonde, and full of Plans. “Mom? Here are the foods I want you to pack for my trip tomorrow. A couple hardboiled eggs, and some pancakes – and a food of your choice. Like maybe a sandwich.”

No one says “sandwich” better than my children. Also: no one is more grateful for the simple gift of food. Tonight: rolling meatballs and cooking them up so we can cool them down and reheat for tomorrow’s dinner. Slicing pear, ripened on the windowsill. Hot black tea with cream and sugar.

Tonight: fatigue. Braved the rainstorm to get to a Recovery commitment, “only” a few souls there to help, but it matters. The beat goes on, day in and day out, doing what I’m supposed to do, one foot in front of the other whether I feel much like it or not. Most days I like it a great deal, indeed.

A homemade Valentine; my children heap more than one card upon us. Their demonstrative nature is an immensely cheering force in what otherwise might be a drab, wet, hopeless-feeling day.

setting the pace

I have like, ten minutes to myself. Ten minutes since Ralph and the kids went off somewhere, before I have to hop in my own car and head to a meeting.

Second day in a row swimming a mile (or near-mile) and the swimming doesn’t make me tired, at least not while I’m doing it, which is kind of thrilling. I just keep going. And going and going. An endurance feat for me – not a sprint. My breathing is now intuitive and I do not gasp for breath. This is fast improvement since about ten days ago when I (re-)started swimming.

Hot shower; body oil, clean clothes. Feeling wonderful.

Back in the car; hot coffee in the thermos. It’s sunny out and I’m cheerful. My son and I head to my volunteer shift, music loud. Coming up on three years of this volunteer work. A good day today, like it usually is. Leaving a week bit early to take the kids to the dentist. Flowers for a very dear friend, today. Home to bake banh mi for dinner, wash dishes, put away laundry. Back in the car. Taking a homemade cake along to a meeting.

I like giving gifts on my birthday.

Body tired, mind at ease. Works well.

But something is on my mind. Some little thing… anxiety. But regarding what? Financial problems? I don’t think so. My children? Possibly. Just: how much work Life is, in general? Yeah, probably.

The anxiety… I wait for it to pass. Sometimes I find the root of these things – often, I don’t. I merely keep breathing, and keep my mind focussed. Today: on the nose of a blue kickboard. This evening: on the next bit of housework, or cooking, or bill-paying, or correspondence.

Whatever is next.

splish splash

Swimming, today. Below: Nels is a “shark”, scooting along his bum with a (hand-) fin out the water, to get me. I waited until he got close enough I could kiss him.

Nels, "Shark"

A new suit. I started it yesterday and finished it up this morning; I am featuring a few tips on sewing swimsuits in my next zine (February 2013). So I won’t chat much about methodology here.

Racerback Suit In Blue Leopard & Stripe

I am pretty pleased with how this garment turned out. I got to make length alterations for my daughter’s very tall, weasel-belly body. As you can see here, making length alterations is not super-straightforward with all those curves in there.

But far better than my relative success at a challenging project – my daughter loved the suit and praised it vociferously. She put it on immediately and I grabbed a photo. She wore it around the house all morning.

Phee, Catbird Seat

When we went swimming she showed it to the lifeguard, telling the woman her mother made it.

Racerback Suit In Blue Leopard & Stripe

EAGLE-EYED VIEWERS WILL NOTE I lined those stripes up LIKE A SIR

Racerback Suit In Blue Leopard & Stripe

The suit is fully-lined. I sewed via a narrow zig-zag and finished on my serger:

Racerback Suit In Blue Leopard & Stripe

After this garment with its fussy little pieces, typical – and simpler – suit designs will be easy! I’m offering custom builds of the suit on Etsy, tailored especially for those who need a performance suit and don’t want off-the-rack sameness. At any rate I’ll offer them there until my mind feels bored at the thought of sewing another one. However at this point? I’m wanting to make another one right away!

Racerback Suit In Blue Leopard & Stripe

This was the second project I finished on my Pfaff. I found this machine in a new sewing shop in Mason County this summer. I purchased it via layaway for about half the going price and it feels like forever I’ve waited to bring it home! There were a few hiccups in the aquisition of the machine, once because I couldn’t make a payment, around Christmastime, and then due to tech problems in the shop – the shopkeep is new to selling older equipment. However, I am grateful to be able to use a layaway program as, let’s face it, otherwise I wouldn’t be bringing home anything at all. And so far, I am very pleased with the machine’s performance and all its cool bells and whistles!

A bit about my equipment while I am on the subject. This Pfaff is the first sewing machine I’ve purchased that wasn’t under $20 from a thrift store (I have had my go-arounds with thrift store machines and, now, I am quite wary). It is an early-80s machine. My other two working machines were gifted to me; one, the Singer 15-91, was built in 1950 and originally belonged to my grandmother. The second, a Juki, came to me as a birthday present from my mother five years ago. So if you’ve lost count, I can tell you I am doing my work on three sewing machines and one serger (a White 534 superlock I purchased on eBay for $100); I also have two machines I don’t work with, both 1950s Singers, one a treadle. They each need a tune-up so they’re waiting until I can afford one. I am actually willing to give up the treadle, but haven’t put any time and effort into finding it a good home.

My long-winded point is: if you’re a new crafter or want to learn to sew, you do not need a $2K (or more!) machine nor a bunch of fancy shit to sew amazing stuff. But the truth is, time and experience provide the right equipment; so does community and family support. Many years’ at this craft has yielded friends and family who provide encouragement, equipment, and materials –

And for those parties, I am so grateful.

Phee

UNSCHOOLING PRODUCES UNNATURAL CHILDREN

one plus one. really?

Thanksgiving, we had our four family members and one lovely dinner guest. Ralph and I made – all from scratch:

A Michigander-style 16 pound turkey
Mashed potatoes & gravy
Sauteed green beans
Roasted lemon asparagus
Crescent rolls
Celery & butter stuffing
Fresh cranberry-orange sauce
Waldorf salad (with pears, apples, sour cherries and spiced pecans)
A pumpkin pie (from fresh-roasted pumpkin)
A dark chocolate / coconut custard cream pie w/organic whipped cream

The grocery bill for all of this, including the dinner and foodstuffs from the day before, came to a little over ninety bucks. That is PRETTY GOOD shopping considering I am not much of a Financial Panther. I was pretty relaxed and had a great time doing the shopping – and yes, it was during one of those intense shopping-mart rushes, and I had both kids, and had to park a full block away. And I was just, enjoying myself. In fact it was one of those wonderful, so-glad-to-be-alive and in-the-moment experiences. And I was also thinking of all the women I saw in their hustling-ass for their families. We need to give women more credit.

(I wrote it in the comments for a previous post, but I gotta write more about it here):

Yesterday, after swim team practice, my daughter is approached by a girl about thirteen. The girl asks,

“Do you go to school?”

“No,” Phoenix answers.

“What is one plus one?” the kid challenges.

“Stop bothering me with silly questions,” Phoenix retorts.*

I DIE A THOUSAND DEATHS AT HOW AWESOME MY DAUGHTER IS. I just… I can’t tell you. When I was my daughter’s age I was guarded about everything. I vacillated between being authentic and badass and brash – then shrinking up out of fear. I had no method of coping for condescension – let alone something as elegant as Phoenix’s straight-forward call-out. I wanted to be good at everything and I wanted to be liked, and I was easily shamed, especially by someone bigger than me or with more authority. If it were me I would have probably answered, “Two,” and felt humiliated, and that humiliation would have turned to anger, and I wouldn’t have known what to do different next time. Phoenix is the calmest and most centered girl. I take virtually no credit except I continue to learn to get out of the way, and listen deeply and give her the nurture she needs.

What is it with unschooling coming up more lately? I trust it will die down again. It goes in spurts. You know, spurts where we get to live our life without being commented upon or outright harassed. I am not complaining. No really! It is just odd it’s been coming up. Like while this thing was happening to my daughter, someone was telling her father how good it is Phee is on the swim team: “Oh that’s good, get her out of the house. Get her some socialization!”

No, really.

UNSCHOOLING PRODUCES UNNATURAL CHILDREN

 

Anyway so last night my daughter and I watch one of our favorite shows, “River Monsters” from Animal Planet (we are both HUGE Jeremy Wade fans). My kids are expert movie riffers.

“In order to catch this monster sting ray, I was going to have to do something I’d never done before -”

” – dress as a Sexy Lady Ray!”

then

“The residents were finding enormous bullsharks in the place they least expected -”

“a HOT DOG CART!”

… and so on. Many giggles into the night until we got too sleepy to watch and fell asleep all cuddled-up like.

***

* my daughter tells me she and this girl are now friends.