of a morning

Last night Sophie and I stayed up so very late talking. And about a half hour after her brother had fallen asleep next to her, he reached over and with the softest, softest hands he pulled himself to her. She shrugged her shoulder away and giggled a bit at his somnolent embrace. His hand gently reached out again, seeking beyond her to touch me. For a few minutes of the nicest possible dance my boy moved close to my girl and put his hand out to us both and so clearly sought us in his sleep.

I wish my husband would come take a picture of us in the morning. By “us”, I mean those who don’t get up as early as he, the remaining three Hogabooms who share the king-sized mattress in the master bedroom (our modest little rental doesn’t really have a “master” anything, but by this phrase I mean, technically, the room with the parents’ bed, not the kids’ bed). Actually, while I’m at it, maybe part of my point is there isn’t a master bedroom, because most every single night the kids sleep with us or halfway through the night come from the couch or the bunkbed and crawl right in with us. I can’t remember the last time I woke in a bed alone.

Speaking of which – back when my kids were babies I wish I’d have not wasted time and effort and thought on the whole, Is it okay to sleep with your kids debate. No really, there is an actual debate about this stuff, at least in the middle upper class obsessive parenting bullshit circles I’ve found myself in, and no I won’t link to countless examples of the intricacies of this worthless conversation but suffice to say: it exists, and many very good people are caught up in needless worry and self-judgment on all sides of the arguments. The main gist of so many proponents of de rigeur nighttime separation seems to be that there are “boundaries” in life and your kids need to learn to respect these, and if they don’t sleep alone at a certain (very young: in terms of months) age then they won’t grow to be independent.* Which is so completely, completely ridiculous, inasmuch that one aspect of familial habit could so hugely influence something as complex as a child’s independence. But I won’t go into that whole “making your kid independent” thing that so many parents, sadly, believe is their weighted and mighty task. I will merely say I have loved, loved sharing sleep time with all the members of the family – it is seriously years and years (so far) of wonderful, tender memories for me (the only exception to family-sleeping bliss: the cat(s) when they are exceptionally farty, Mable, everyone’s looking at you!).

So what I wanted to say originally: in the morning by the time I’m about to wake up (often around nine AM) I am at the east side of the bed and the kids are smashed, absolutely smashed, against me. In sleep they have chased me across the berth for my warmth, or the comfort of their mother (because I’m the cloth-wrapped one, not the wire one), or whatever it is they seek. Often Nels has pulled some sneaky-ass move where he’s shoehorned himself in between myself and whoever is next to me – Ralph, Sophie – and is occupying that space whether the other party has shoved over or no. Since we have a rather large bed the kids’ nocturnal gravitation towards me means that to the left of the terminal child there is a good six feet or so of empty bed. Which a cat (or two) has often decided to take advantage of.

Each weekday morning after Ralph has left for work I escape this embrace and slip out of bed. I love getting my coffee, taking a shower, washing the dishes, starting some food (today: chocolate fudge cookies, a homemade cream of tomato soup with fresh tomatoes, tuna fish sandwiches), knitting or reading a bit, then looking in on my sleeping children. They are truly lovely, and peaceful and having those few moments to see them safe and cared for is like a deep draught of a lovely drug. Watching them sleep and thinking of how wonderful and free and amazing their lives are, or at least have been to this point, and in those moments I feel incredibly fulfilled.

* Fairness compels me to add: I have heard many claim that parents who choose not to sleep with their young child(ren) are committing an injury tantamount to a profound abandonment; as if a child cannot suffer some sorrow and loneliness (indeed, as humans it is our lot to have an awful big portion of both at times), or perhaps as if parenthood is some sort of massive undertaking where every damn decision counts so very much for your child’s sense of self-worth – and you’d better make the right one or risk their entire future!

feeling healthy

I’m a bad mom, and here’s some anecdotal proof in case you’re new here: since moving into this house, I smoke. Every day. And I allow the kids around when I do so if they want to be. Sure, I tell them to stand back and I tell them why; I fully disclose that smoking is bad for their little lungs, that it’s a terrible habit.  But this morning Nels sniffed the air and said, “I love that smell!” and I accepted this with an only slight air of I-suck finality that settles on most parents at some point or another.  I’m smoking a vanilla Djarum black clove – a sort of silly-fancy little lung-snack to be sure, but one that does have a rather nice fragrance – as far as cigarettes go.

If I was a “good mom” I wouldn’t smoke at all, of course (and I wouldn’t occasionally swear, or ignore them when they’re talking to me, or start a project then interrupt myself, or tell them I’d be off the computer in “just a minute” and then it’s more like five minutes, or I wouldn’t keep them out of school, or let them order whatever they want in restaurants, or whatever the hell thing you’re all happy to read about and judge my ass for: Affording my blog readers a sense of superiority, just another service I offer). As a nominally “good mom” even if I did smoke, I’d do it closeted where they couldn’t see. Certainly I wouldn’t sit here french-inhaling and chatting with them while emitting the breath of Lucifer past their winsome, innocent little blonde heads.

The truth is, I’m even glad for their company out here on the porch, because sitting and [smoking and] talking with them is one of my favorite things to do during our day. I am not really a “sit and relax” type of person – I can sit sometimes, sure, but I’m usually thinking about all sorts of stuff: grocery lists, internet drama (and not even my own!), my current sewing difficulty (I seem to be always having these), the latest bit of proof I’m parenting correctly or proof I’m not – that kind of thing. But sitting out here on the front porch (one of my favorite places in the house) I love listening to them and talking with them and everything about them. I love that we teach one another about the world. I love that Nels is lying across from me on the windowseat in his little undershirt and boxers and he’s blowing soap bubbles and his hair is falling across the cushion like so much golden silk and we have the whole day for one another.

Today I’m trying to offering a rare unrequested lecture on a subject: what “retaliation” means.  When Sophie joins us a bit later, she adds to the conversation as well.  Nels is so surprised at having an open-ended discussion of what you could do when someone hurts or angers you that he can’t come up with the sort of typically vicious solutions I might credit him for.  The discussion of retaliation / revenge is inspired in part because I’m thinking of the latest nasty fight I’ve read about on the Internetz and part because Nels has a problem hitting and since bribery and scolding and punishment hasn’t worked much I’d like him to begin to grasp just why he does it (often out of anger toward some sneaky, low-down – but often not physically violent – thing his sister has done).

And maybe because I understand retaliation, myself, and it’s closer to my heart that others might realize.  Just these past few days I’ve been thinking a lot about how careful and relatively well-trained I am in not yelling or cursing in anger during adult conversations; I’ve thought in the past I was a basically decent, respectful person who might get angry but wouldn’t let anger get the best of me. Wrong, really.  In fact I like so many people can keep a civil tongue in my head while harboring deep, resentful anger in my heart; the kind of venomous thoughts that find me wishing Ill upon my enemies to an extent they might never imagine.  It’s funny, because although I pride myself on doing the Right Thing so very often – even when I’ve been Wronged – when it comes down to it the little black, spoiled bruise on my heart means I’m just not any better of a person than anyone else.

But my foursome offers a peace from the outside world, and often, yes, from my inner demons.  The rest of our afternoon spills out before us and by day’s end I’ve been a gentle Mama and a content person and the day has gone beautifully; the children took themselves out into the world (library, drugstore) and filled my house with happiness.  I am not a Good Mom, but the kids and I still have such open-ended trust towards one another; and despite the hard words and difficult times Ralph and I have had we retain a deep connection, comradery and love that is also a respite in itself – every night, every day, rinse and repeat.  As I type tonight the kids are sharing a noisy, splashy shower with my husband and our (recently-spayed) kitten has just successfully caught, then noisily devoured, a crane-fly plaguing the floor at my feet.  Family Life is very good to me, even when it’s mundane.  Tonight we spent an hour and a half out at a playground; first, watching Sophie’s soccer practice and then afterwards allowing the kids some play time on the playground (something parents never seem to want to do when school-year evenings can get so busy) and walking about the skate park.  There is something together the four of us have that I could never have imagined before.  It isn’t any better than what anyone else has, probably; it just runs Deep for me, deeper than anything I’ve ever known.

how we touched and went our separate ways

If there’s been one surprise in having my eldest away from home it’s how much I enjoy the days alone with The Boy.  This morning he’d printed out a list of new instruments to make – a washtub bass, a trumpet, and a tom tom drum.  He got busy on this, collecting clothespins and sawing plastic jugs in half – the kitchen floor was littered with lethal-looking knives.  He cut himself, just once.  He spent a good few hours on these employments – well, and eating.  I was busy finishing a grueling (no, truly) sewing experiment come Hell or highwater.  You know those kind of ambitious goals you set for yourself, and you work so hard to accomplish them – blood, sweat, and tears – and you do finish them, but instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment, you just feel tired out and maybe underneath it all a dull throb of hate?  Well, that was me.  You’re welcome, resentful-sewing-project-of-the-month.

At 1:30, dazed from being indoors in the poorly lit monstrous Victorian house that is our current domain, Nels and I drove to Honey Teriyaki for lunch.  My children like to order bento there, an epicurean monstrosity that comes in a two foot square lacquered box and contains about six different entrees.  I’ve learned to not order for myself since there is enough food involved to feed three or four people.  Today Nels demonstrated the utmost in dining-out sophistication, paying for his orange juice by himself (an afterthought when our food was delivered) then electing to use chopsticks for the meal – relatively well, in fact.  “I love you I love you I love you” he smiled at me, after rolling his eyes in pleasure from a bite of chicken teriyaki.  Looking into his brown eyes I knew what he meant.

After our meal we visited the drugstore for fabric dye, a prescription, and to look for yet more accoutrement for Nels’ projects: some “metal stuff” for his would-be chimes (he ended up purchasing a cheap paint can opener, two different sized plumbing nipples, and three copper fittings which he then attached to a coat hanger by fishing line). While at Rite-Aid in line for the prescription we were cornered by an older woman with red-rimmed eyes who talked to him quite a bit about his instruments; in a low, gravelly voice she gushed to me how handsome and gifted and precocious and intelligent he was.  I laughed and agreed with her, but, I admitted, “I’m biased”.  The thing is, strangers should notice other people’s children all the time; perhaps they need not praise them with abandonment, but to treat them as people in their own right would be a step in the right direction.

Hanging out with Nels, just the two of us, is a lot easier on me than my typical routine – and, I’m sad to say, illustrates to me how severely I’ve lacked in giving him one-on-one attention.  I love and miss my daughter, and I’m so pleased my children enjoy one another as much as they do.  But when they are together they are often about a thousand percent more energy than I can relax with.  A lunch date is turned into an undignified race where I bolt food down and try not to be irritated with their rambunctiousness, switching seats a handful of times, sliding underneath the table to go to the restroom, and of course the requisite fart jokes the two seem to never tire of after at least a solid year of such fare.  Honestly, at least with the fighting I can yell at them from the front seat of the car and they might actually stop – not so with the crazy giggle fest that is their typical bread and butter.

A golden few days with my son aside, it turns out that being away from my seven year old daughter is Kind Of A Big Deal for me.  It’s not something I think about all day, but then suddenly I’ll think of something she’d like to read, or it will be on the tip of my tongue to offer her something to eat – and she’s not here.  She’s not here and she’s not even going to call.  I feel a pang deep in my gut, and my eyes sting.  I am enjoying an easier day as a parent to One, but I will be so glad to see her again.

you know how they say it’s like pancakes, and your oldest child is a practice one

Tonight as I finish my bath in our claw-foot tub – a luxury I will all too soon say goodbye to – my daughter, having until this point cheerfully occupied herself nearby on a stool drawing pictures (throughout the last week she has played a game, pretending to be Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” from the lovely folk country song), suddenly bursts into tears.  I am preoccupied wrapping myself in a towel and rinsing out my own bathwater and it takes me a moment to realize what she’s crying about.  She has a splinter, one of those tiny sharp ones invisible to the eye. She knows it’s her turn next in the bath and she fears the hot water will sting.

My sympathetic ear, then my soothing words, don’t seem to make a difference.  She is inconsolable and howls sobs.  Her head reels back; hot tears flowing down her sun-streaked cheeks, her mouth open in a square and her face curiously rendered flat, a mere button of a nose, eyes squinched together.  She looks just, and I mean just, the way I remember those howling cries she had as a baby.  She’s a tall, near-grown little thing – reaching in height to cradle snugly under my arm! – yet her crying now is exactly the same raw emotional display I remember from days long past.

I am reminded by this outburst how far I’ve come as a mother in correcting myself.  With chagrin I admit my primary reaction to this sort of thing used to be minor irritation – what is it now? – or, worse, a muffled sense of anger that my child would be so immature as to have a full-blown fit in repsonse to something so minor (ah, the word “fit”, how it lives in my memory…  the condescending, scathing pejorative from the maternal side of my family!).  You know what’s funny: I can find myself to this day irritated at my daughter’s “fits”, because she is seven and shouldn’t have them – yet I remember the same sense of impatience and anger – when she was TWO.  And that isn’t funny, not really: it’s scary, or sad, or terrible.

In recent years I’ve come a long way in nurturing my daughter when she needs it, especially during upsets (which are relatlively rare, in fact).  When she was an infant, my entrenched response was guilt (her pain was my fault), fear – fear that I could not make my child “better” – and exhaustion (no apologies for this reaction – having babies is goddamned hard work!).  As mother to a toddler and preschooler my response (and I feel ashamed to admit this) was dosed heavily with the desire my child not-make-a-fuss-in-front-of-other-people-so-they-would-always-see-how-well-adjusted-she-was.  I wish I was making this up.  I am not sure when and where I began to drop this shameful response and know to be present for and loving to my daughter when she broke down; I am only glad that I am usually able to do so, that it has now become more my nature to do so for her.

And of course, because I’m loving up on her (kissing the top of her head which smells wonderfully like her, and dusty and sunny at the same time), and because I’ve come up with the rather brilliant solution she keep the injured digit out of the water, she immediately calms and enters the tub, where I carefully wash her face with warm water and hand her the clippers so she can tend to her nails.  She is in the tub and cannot hug me but her entire ego, her little body, melts toward mine.  Standing in the closet hanging up clothes and she comes to me in a towel.  I take up her pajamas out of the dryer and pull them over her head, watching her shudder in pleasure at the warm, soft cotton.  We continue the thread of tenderness up to the bedroom, where she sits crosslegged next to me, silently reading a copy of Camping & Wilderness Survival (where did she find this book?), and I log on to the computer to write of our evening.

where a baby made tomorrow is again

Tonight the four of us are sitting at the table doing schoolwork. Sophie completes a few pages and grows tired of difficult subtraction problems. She and Ralph leave to take a bath and I’m sitting with Nels on my lap as he finishes his Language Arts book (reading so well!) and quickly moves on to the new Math volume acquired today. It’s funny; he can perform well at first-grade level math even though in writing an answer down he still sports a backwards 9 now and then, and his 8s can end up “sidewards” (his word of course). I literally cannot tell you where he learned math because they weren’t really doing it in his preschool and this is the first time I’ve sat with him to do it; I think he’s been snuffling around in the various workbooks that accrue in our household.

I watch him discover “8 + 2 = 10” without using his fingers and his body jumps and he looks up at me with his eyes alight and the Iron & Wine song “Someday the Waves” is playing and my hand is in the wet tangle of hair at the base of his brown little neck and I feel tears coming on, because how did my baby end up sitting on my lap doing sums?

this garden is raising my progeny

This morning finds Sophie sleeping downstairs and Nels facedown across our bed as I do yoga in our large, open bedroom upstairs. As I relax into child’s pose I hear my son whisper “Mama”; he’s awake, his body assuming the identical posture – one that looks very natural indeed for a child. He’s half hidden by blankets, his hair over his face and his eyes and mouth smiling.

For a while he’s content to watch me. Eventually he slides out of bed and pads over just as I’m rolling into the plow position. I unfold my body to the mat to perform a bridge and he lies directly on top of me, and suddenly the warmth and delicious smell of his skin meld into my senses. I allow the heat from my body’s work to dissipate and relax into something that is barely exercise, a playful gentleness as I hold him and rock from pose to pose: reclined butterfly, a spinal twist. Like a little monkey he moves with me, his gentle strength matching mine. “Next is kiss pose,” he whispers. My face is buried in his neck, in his hair. The yoga session I’d been following guaranteed “clarity”; indeed I am feeling it.

My morning continues with both children in a gentle, open fashion. My daughter awakens, eats breakfast, and returns to her bedroom to clean it as I’d asked. We are packing up library books washing faces and hands, making ready for the day. Sitting on the couch with my son’s head in my lap, I’m brushing his teeth and I start talking to him about school next year, but he whispers to me instead Sophie broke a toy, the one she got from the pet store… I realize most of the time I want to talk to the children about something of import in their lives they are not ready or particularly interested in hearing it. I’m learning to wait. It occurs to me today that adults are like this too; how much more graceful it would be to know the right moment when it comes and not push otherwise. I must remember this.

In the afternoon after a lunch date (Ralph took Nels; I took Sophie) the kids and I return home. My children keep drifting back outside as I move about the kitchen; taking the ends off green beans, sauteing garlic and washing herbs, chopping apples and squeezing lemons, kneading bread and kneading and rising and forming and rising. I have given up on constant companionship from my ever-growing children, who never tire of things to do without aid of television or video games. No, my favorite afternoons are in the kitchen, cooking, fixing a new pot of coffee, as the kids come and go and, come look Mama, today’s distractions are a orb weaver, the very first lupine to bloom, new peonies.

blessed be the ties that bind generations

Yesterday afternoon my mother returned from her two-month visit with family in southern California. She called from a few minutes away, intending to drive straight to my house. I know she loves me and all, but she really loves my kids. Not to put too fine a point on it, but she is bat-shit crazy about them. When she called we were on our way out to the Deli for Nels’ birthday breakfast, so I asked if we could meet her there.

The sentiments are definitely returned: upon hearing she was in town the kids brushed their teeth in record time and bundled themselves into the car. We pulled up to the restaurant and my mom came outside; my kids and my mother snapped together like magnets, like gravitational pull itself. My mom had tears in her eyes and all through breakfast the children couldn’t stop beaming into her face and moving as close as she’d let them. I had to look away, it was oddly dazzling and crazy. I took pictures but the g-d camera card wasn’t loaded. It doesn’t matter, because we all hold these moments in our hearts.

My mother’s return established not only the immediate ebb and flow of dinner invitations, excited talk, and dates, but was kicked off with a breathless exchange of gifts – by “exchange” I mean, she had a lot of gifts for us. New toys, new clothes, gourmet chocolates, and – my favorite, of course – several yards of luscious barkcloth. I extended a dinner invitation for later in the evening (Nels’ home birthday dinner) and my son begged to stay at her house for the afternoon. Her arrival, the sunny weather, it was like a holiday. Oddly, living closer to my parents has made our time apart even richer. I am confident our move was a good thing in this regard.

Dinner Awaits
Last night’s dinner preparations: Chinese cold asparagus salad, butter fried tofu, chickpea flour pizza, cucumber salad, and sticky rice with tamari, peanut sauce, and sweet chili sauce. In the morning I gave Nels a little questionaire regarding his cake: he got to choose the shape, flavor, and frosting (round, Devils’ Food, and chocolate, resp.). I baked the cake with Sophie and her friend Lily while Nels spent the afternoon with his grandma. The kids resumed their swimming lessons this evening (Nels after a hiatus of almost two years). And for dinner we had my mother as well as our friends Mickey and Jasmine over.

Rock Cress, Trilliums, Tomato Starts, Daffodils, Silk Dress
We hit the HQX Public Market today. The selection was so lovely I spent the remainder of my waitress earnings, allowing Nels to load a cardboard box with cut and live plants to give his grandma. I also bought two soaps (Garden Carrot and Honey) and lime body lotion from my friend Sara’s lovely repetoire, six tomato starts, and some trilliums for our living room.

Spring feels good.

hurry up and stay present

Today my son awoke with a croupy-sounding cough and flushed cheeks – the sickness, presumably, that’s been going around his preschool. I decided to keep him close and subject him to my crazy “wisdom” in treating the common virus: fresh air, a wee bit of exercise, hot food, lots of fluids, and lots of rest. Having a sick child – especially my youngest – means I must put aside, as much as I can, my vast list of things I’d like to do in the day and be there for the Boy instead. Indeed as we go about our day I wonder that I’ve let myself be as busy with outside interests as I have.

Homeschooling is hard for me in one or two respects. When I had my daughter in public school last year I could wait to be told how she was performing or behaving – or I could ask the teacher myself (this happened often enough since I volunteered twice a week). Now on my own I have to figure it out with only occasional outside commentary. I’m well aware my children are ahead of the curve in their reading, writing, and math acumen (Yesterday in the library I was interrupted at my computer by the head librarian cackling and signaling my son. She’d tried to help him at the self-checkout terminal – unnecessary, as he knows how to operate it – and had said, “OK, click the blue button!” to which Nels responded, “You mean the one that says, ‘Continue’?” This tickled her. “I was just schooled by a four year old!” she crowed). If your children are doing well academically, for the moment anyway, what then do you do for “schooling”?

There’s a lot of newness in all this for me. As a youngster I did well in school and thought that was the be-all end-all “job” as a child – to perform well, to get A’s. This simply isn’t how I see it any more. For instance, I see Sophie’s self-directed interest and pursuit in embroidery as a pursuit as valid as any school curriculum: perhaps more so, since she herself sets the goals and decides how to execute them. I have discovered I am not an academic-success-at-all-cost kind of mommy, yet I still don’t know what kind of mommy I am vis-a-vis school. Sometimes I can’t decide how much work I should put in to finding them things to occupy their minds and bodies, and how much should be self-directed. Most days, like today, there is a happy medium: to know my children and know what they’re ready for, then to suggest it (or bike them to the event or set them up with paints) and get out of the way.

This afternoon we finish swimming (a blissful, calm 1.5 hours in the pool sans throngs of post-school kiddos) and sit down to eat a bit before heading home. My son eats. And eats and eats. “You going to finish that, Sophie?” he asks his sister (who is silently weeping, distraught the sandwich I brought along includes lettuce). After devouring the sandwich he has juice and string cheese, then a short car ride home and I tuck him upstairs in bed. Sophie is enthralled in her new book so I tuck Nels next to me and queue up On The Waterfront on Netflix. I am nearly instantly misty-eyed at what is one of my alltime favorite movies. My son asks questions and maintains his interest until we are interrupted by Ralph’s arrival home. I feel only a tiny bit claustrophobic – wishing to be out, itching to fold my tons of laundry, longing for an hour in the sewing room. I’ll get to those things again, and soon enough.

And as if on cue, my son slides off the bed and next to me here on the floor. He says, “I’m crying.” I ask, “Why?” And he tells me, “Because I love you. It’s happy crying.” His forehead is hot, his eyes are bright, he’s full of love, and I’m just hoping I don’t catch whatever it is he has.

tienes siete anos hoy

This Morning, At Seven Years
Sometimes I think your brother got the better deal. By the time I had him I was over a few things: namely, the identity crisis of giving up career and status, the need to have things entirely my way, and an irrational fear of infanthood. I’d like to believe I am a work in progress. I am doing my dutiful best to improve as your mother, leader, and mentor.

Sadly, though, while I have been doing all this self-discovery you are growing up. You benefit from my unadulterated, fierce love and the energy you bring to me – but you are also the recipient of my many mistakes.

I know you. You love to sing and you love to hear me sing. You love many of the things I love: sewing, listening to music at top volume, taking baths (together!), watching B movies. You like many things I don’t: Disney princesses, jokes about bodily functions, Regina Spektor.

You love swimming more than anything else I can think of right now. Any time your head emerges from the water you are smiling. Your skin tends toward dryness so I’m always lotioning you up after you swim. Last time I pulled out the Gold Bond – very effective but with an unappealing medicinal scent – and you groaned, “Oh no!” I laughed because I should just throw it out and buy you something new – it’s so “mom” of me to continue slathering it on you until it’s run out and it’s so “you” that you complain but allow it.

You love reading, especially graphic novels. Sweet ones, quirky ones, violent ones – anything you can get your hands on.

You are kind to animals. I was looking through our many photographs of you and your love for animal life is remarkable. You carried our new kitty home the summer day we picked him up, you attempted surgery on our traumatized chicken, and you are completely at ease with creatures large and small – knowing our pets’ many moods and proclivities better than the rest of us. You’ve told me you want to be a veterinarian someday. I can see if that’s the path you choose that you will be well-suited.

Just these last few weeks you’ve taken to sleeping in your own bunkbed. You’ve also not always been willing to cuddle or sit on my lap when I want. I’ve decided to look forward to and absolutely treasure the moments. Luckily, they still happen often. This morning when you woke you came and found me and climbed into my arms while I sang you “Happy Birthday”.

Why don’t you be a little blonder and cuter? Because it’s NOT POSSIBLE.

Punkin + Punkin
Having children means the revival of the punkin-patch. Thanks for being a constant source of renewed joy in life’s little pleasures.

Summer Babies
Is now a good time to mention you not only cuddled your brother a lot but helped out with the cloth diapering tons, too? I owe you back-pay, I admit it.

Surly Fish
Marine Science Center; I had Nels in the Didymos on my back and I was enthralled with the both of you.

Tiniest Little Undershirt
The way your lip is pooched out in this picture reminds me: you used to suck your thumb! For four-point-five years.

Fort Worden, Again:  Peace Portrait
You and your friend C.; you were wonderfully suited to one another. Your daddy has always been awesome at fixing up your hair.

Of "Muffin"
I bought you this mattress, and all the bedding, and you loved it. Name of the little creature you’re holding (that you crafted in church camp): “Muffin”.

Fort Worden
Up at the Fort, ready for action.

He's Going To Outweigh You Soon
On yet another hike. Don’t tell anyone there’s like, a six foot drop under your feet. You guys were fine.

"Of The Forest"
I found this coat abandoned on some playground; you wore it for years. The hat you still have; it actually fits now.

Last Day, Port Townsend
Port Townsend, our last day. You were both ready for (more) adventure. Nels was getting over pinkeye.

Helping In The New House
“Is there a ghost in my house?” You helped us pick and move into the place on Eklund. You approved of the purple house across the street.

We ride public transit a lot more now that we’re in HQX. You and your brother are experts!

Bagel Hunter!
Cooking in the Eklund kitchen; well, I cooked, and you’re about to eat. I loved the sunlight during the spring.

Que bonita! Remember when we went tree-trimming for swags, and had lunch at Galway Bay after? You probably don’t, but your father and I do. That’s pizza on your face, by the way.

Sophie Swimminz
Doing what you love: swimming. These days you can swim the width of the pool and are learning back- and breastroke. You go off the diving board rarely and reluctantly. You enjoy doing headstands and having me throw goggles for you to hunt and retrieve.

Lake Quinault Explorers
Out at Lake Quinault. You and Nels, a precisely-tuned engine of play.

eyes on the prize
Soccer! We never missed a game this summer. You are an excellent defender.

Morning Love
This speaks for itself.

Tonight’s birthday dinner choice: Alexander’s Restaurant.

Thank you for being a true inspiration. You are the smartest little thing in our house. I look forward to many more days with you; as many as you have to spare.

"a nice eel who lost his mommy" – nels, on his swimming persona

Two years ago when we first moved here we threw our kids right into swimming lessons (after my mother repeatedly hounded us to join our Y; she even said she’d pay our monthly fee if necessary, although we did not take her up on this). At first our daughter was only a wee bit more proficient than our son, but that has changed over time. This seemed in large part due to a setback for Nels: the ritual for kid water-readiness in the early swimming program is to dunk the kids (involuntarily and repeatedly). I don’t have much of an opinion on dunking except to say it seemed to work well enough for 80% of children, who got over the surprise and accepted the new sensation. The other 20% or so, like my son, disliked it very much. Nels cried and protested intensely. I felt for him. We didn’t return him to lessons at his vociferous request. He has been water-clingy ever since, and only reluctantly tolerates his face being wet in the bath.

My mother has always been earnest in the endeavor to teach my children to swim. Nothing makes her happier where her grandchildren are concerned than to see them make headway in this. I wish she could have seen Sophie’s recent foray across the pool; however, my daughter will be an expert when my mom returns in two months time and I know that old lady will just about burst with excitement. I’ve watched my mom with my kids and, like many other things, she is a “pusher” – often coaching or bribing the children to do the thing she imagines she must “teach”. This is just Grandma’s way and the kids seem to be fine with that.

I love swimming with the kids because our schedule (or non-schedule, as homeschoolers) means we often have the pool almost entirely to ourselves. This creates a very peaceful, serene experience. In swimming with Nels today (Sophie is off on her own, diving, hand-standing, cannonballing) I listen to what he wants to do. I notice he already grips me less than he grips his father. I don’t know if it’s the more peaceful swim hour or something unique between my son and I.

Something magical begins to happen. Nels begins to enjoy the water, rather than enjoy it reservedly. He begins to tell me to go here, or there, or leave him along the side to hand-walk his way around the pool. He lets me put him on his back to float. He requests water-wings and delights in being able to “stand” in the water, his legs free floating. Within about a half hour his hands are touching mine only lightly (as opposed to his arms around my neck). I move him over on tummy, or back, holding him only lightly. I repeat to him I will not let him go unless he wants me to. Soon, he wants me to.

But his face – it’s hard to describe. His face simply opens up, his chin the bottom of a happy triangle, his mouth open and laughing, snub nose, his eyes wide and smiling. It’s an expression I often see when he tells a “joke” and makes me laugh unexpectedly. He is the master and author of the swimming experience. We’d had good times in the pool before today, but even I am surprised with how wonderful this feels.

About halfway through our (almost two-hour) swimming adventure I start to feel very emotional and out of time. I realize I am having a visceral body flashback to my son’s waterbirth. The way his body stretches out before me, the gentleness of the experience, his arms are just so, and of course although he had no voice those years ago, it was still him. “Mama,” he says, peering at my face. “You have a little red in your eyes.” “Nels, I’m crying,” I tell him. In the small benched water oasis in the center of the current river the two kids move close to me, their hands gently encircling me, and ask me why. “I’m remembering Nels, when he was born in the water.” This is a story the kids know very well, so they nod. It makes sense.

Nels and I move back out, he updating his waterwings to include two on his shins. “My foot is being carried!” he smiles. Thirty minutes of doing this and the lifeguard staff changes; the next lifeguard tells us the water floats aren’t allowed on kids’ legs. By the time we are done swimming he is no longer gripping me and his body is relaxed. He has put on the new goggles I bought him and used them to look underwater a few times. And bittersweet for me: he looks older somehow, unfolding like a bloom. We leave the pool early again while his sister enjoys more time in the pool; we shower together and he washes his own hair. I move slowly, enjoying the rhythm of our conversation, watching him carefully dress in his methodical way. I was a good enough mother to babies and toddlers but I always felt I was bending over and helping them along. Today feels more like a dance.