A pamphlet was delivered to us for an upcoming religious gathering: a smiling, Aryan Jesus holds his hand up in invitation, his arm draped with a poncho and his coif softly curling. My husband, without a word, cut out a talk-bubble and applied it – “Who’s up for some Ultimate Frisbee?” The Son of Man congenially asks – then put it on the fridge where I saw it an hour or so later and spluttered laughter (Ralph went to Evergreen).

Last night I bathed with both my children. My aching body found comfort in the hot, hot water. Sophie sat behind me and poured water on my back, unasked but so appreciated by me. After a few minutes she said, “Let’s lay back,” which is exactly what I wanted. I held her and we whispered. She got out and into a towel; Nels arrived next. I smelled his salty skin and his hair – I simply can’t describe how good his hair smells to me. His little strong body is the brownest of all of us. I hold and kiss him and think it’s remarkable how my children allow me to fuss over and touch them – sometimes they enjoy it, leaning in and reciprocating, but often they don’t even notice. I thought, how nice for us all that we touch this much.

I told my son, “Nels, you were born in water.” He said, “This feels good,” and smiled. Sometimes I simply can’t believe I’m allowed to spend time with them in my life. I cherish and love almost every minute.

on the road again… [ kegger at my parents’ place! ]

Yesterday my father, mother, and their wee little dog loaded up in their homebuilt motor home (actually a converted logging crew bus with black-purple and gold detail, solar power, and an elevated roof – it’s a trip) waved, and headed off for a 2+ week trip to Montana – the Tetons, Yellowstone, friends.

My brother gave long, sincere hugs goodbye. I felt just too rotten to do that so I pretended I didn’t feel bad and held Nels on my hip (my god… he’s three years old! I don’t really have the baby-on-hip thing going on anymore, do I?). I occupied my mind thinking of how I was going to steal their lawnmower for a few weeks and pick up some of my mom’s flower starts. But really, I felt just inexplicably shitty and couldn’t get away from it; as they drove off I thought, well it makes sense I feel bad. My whole life we’ve been a foursome; we’ve always been together. And as they left I felt a keen separation as I will when either parent succumbs, and I wonder when that will be. My mother at least is mostly convinced my father doesn’t have much hope of holding out much longer; his chemo treatment is losing efficacy and there isn’t a backup plan after it stops holding the fort. Daily I go back and forth between letting them do the thing their way and just supporting and loving them; or inserting myself more aggressively: asking them to seek more opinions, going online and looking up experimental treatments. Daily I yo-yo between being allowed to accept his death and the peace and sadness this brings, and fighting for more life. It’s an odd state of being that protracted illness and long-looming death can beget.

I also harbor this sneaking suspicion those sneaky bastards that are my Mom, Dad, and brother know something I don’t and are keeping it from me. Like that the doctor only gave him a few weeks to live and that’s why they’re having this roadtrip. I wouldn’t put it past that trifecta of non-communication. Last week he was so not-sick after his chemo I grew alarmed and point-blank accused him of not having treatment Tuesday, which he denied. Five minutes later I then ambushed my mother, coming inside the house with my kids: “Did dad really have chemo yesterday?” Her innocent and surprised reply, “Oh yes,” was clearly honest. He just lucked out and wasn’t very sick. The first time in six years we’d seen him feel good post-medicine, and I’m suspicious about it.

It’s hard sometimes to remember that it isn’t the cancer that makes him feel so bad, it’s the medicine. I can’t believe he’s even gone through it for all these years with scarce a complaint (to anyone else; I know my mom gets a more full story). Sadly thought, it’s also the sickness that contributes as he can get depressed. The depression changes him. I have known and loved him thirty years and up until he got sick I’d never seen anything like the depression, I would not have thought he had it in him. I don’t talk him out of it, I talk to him. Sometimes he barely answers. I have found if I keep talking to him eventually he pulls his head out of whatever mire he was in and answers me. I go home, then come back the next day.

I like being active; on their trip, I email them. I work on a care package to send general delivery to whatever township they name. I thank Sweet Baby Jesus in his Golden Fleece Diapers that we moved here. It has been so nice spending time together and I love, love watching my children with my family. Yesterday at breakfast my father and my son sat together and my dad helped him eat breakfast and they fit together like peas in a pod. Nels put his hands up to grandpa’s face and said in surprise, “You have glasses Grandpa!” and tenderly stroked his face. My father acted casual (his M.O. even at his most demonstrative) but his entire body leaned towards his grandson and they touched frequently. My dad wiped strawberry preserves off Nels’ face and said, “Oh, I let you get some on your shirt. Your mom’s going to be pissed.” I ignored this. Then he said, “You’re mom’s going to have a heart attack, she’s going to have kittens.” so I looked at Sophie and said, “Should we get some kittens today?”

At the table I said to each of my parents: “Ralph and I think you are a good grandpa. And we think you’re a good grandma.”

Buen viaje, mi padre y madre.

so I pushed a couple kids out my vagina a while ago

Years ago my then-boyfriend and now-husband remarked on a small tradition at his church he found troubling. Every Mother’s Day Sunday the church would purchase flowers prior to the service. At the conclusion of the sermon (usually rather mommy-centered or at least referential) the deacons would pass out blooms first to mothers, and then to the little girls and women in the congregation. There would be a special meal and lots of smiles and platitudes and recognition.

Let’s put aside for a moment the creepy implied dictum that all little girls will grow up to fulfill their lives as mothers, or the inference that older childfree women should have been mothers. My boyfriend’s complaint at the time was that a Mother was a Mother. He contended one is not an “honorary” mother simply by being female; Mother’s Day is not in fact – to be blunt – Pussy Day (although we really should have one of those).

Of course I didn’t see the big deal. Flowers are nice, we said lots of things about Mommy, who cares? Quit being obsessed with details.

But tomorrow is Mother’s Day and over the last handful of years it has become special to me. I have been a mother a little over five years and I already know I do deserve a special category – not one especially edified or canonized, but the recognition I get is welcome. Being a mother isn’t the same as owning a dog, babysitting or being “aunty” or “uncle”, being a grandmother or grandfather even. It is uniquely different than all those roles, as important and lovely as those other things are.

After I had Sophie, the minute of, I became a mother. I did not know what this was or what it meant in any way (except for the overwhelming emotional elation at birthing a child I loved immediately and intensely). And I was alone in this! Despite all the family and friends who have helped along the way there was no “backup” for me and there continues to be no real respite. People may babysit my children, offer commiseration or advice, walk my crying infant in the restaurant as I bolt down food, but I have never been able to stop my ears to my child’s cries nor believe anyone else could be truly responsible, not even for a moment. When I read about mothers or fathers abandoning their children I know that such an act is not on my personal radar in any way; I am glad for and humbled by whatever part of my human nature makes this impossible to consider.

My children will one day leave my house; I will one day leave them in death. I simply find the idea of this separation so emotionally difficult I choose not to think about it at all; I pray, I try to be in the moment as much as I can when I’m laying next to my son in bed or holding my daughter’s hand in the supermarket. My children are strong and larger than I (though they don’t know it) and it will likely be my privilege to watch them grow in strength and identity; strong enough one day to start their lives without me, to raise their family, and to help me die, if I am fortunate.

There are so many potential pitfalls to being a mother. These include the shallow and silly; the alluded-to fashion gaffes, the obligatorily-assigned loss of the self (not true, as it turns out – merely fleeting). Moms are simultaneously pedestaled – Mother’s Day is Hallmark Cards’ most lucrative holiday – and categorically disrespected as evidenced by the term “MILF” – an apparently radical concept that a mother is, actually, capable of being sexually attractive to males. Imagine that.

My children make me a mother. They make me their mother merely by their experience of me. I will always be a woman and (hopefully) always be a wife; the first category is what I make of it and the second is between Ralph and I. But my children and I have a dance of our own that I think of performed in parts of 1/3 love, 1/3 hilarity, and a remainder of harshness and humanity that I’m finding is unique to the three of us.

Mother's Day Card by Suse
Sophie’s card she made at school for me. Inside: “I love you because… you make me food to eat.” (narrated by Suse, written by teacher).

And as I type this, I find myself knee-jerk saying to my daughter, “Don’t run with scissors!”

Happy Mother’s Day!

back to his other half

I’m in for it this week. My son wakes up this morning sick and cranky. Laying on the floor, crying, complaining. Ralph asks, “Did you have any dreams?” “Yes!” Nels belts out, wallowing on the couch. Ralph persists gently: “What did you dream about?” “Butterflies!” my son yells angrily. The meanest, tiniest, most pissy butterflies ever, apparently.

Ten minutes after Ralph leaves, after Nels has complained and asked for milk and then no milk then “hold you” etc – he finally sobs, “I’m going to go find Sophie.” Which is where he is ten minutes later when I finish making the kids’ breakfast (scrambled eggs and toast made from Blue Heron Bakery’s black olive blue cheese bread. P.S. best toast ever.) – happily and quietly spooning Sophie in my bed as she drowses.

my little man turns three today,

and I’m gonna gift ya’ll with a tribute to my son and our life thus far.

Mama about to get knocked up
This is me, right about when I got pregnant with Nels. I haven’t been skinny since. Thanks, Boy!

Wee Sophie, summer '03.
Sophie, same time as above. What the fuck? How cute is that? That’s Ralph’s pasty leg in the background, BTW. Not mine. I swear.

Newborn Nels
My Easter Baby. Well, not Easter exactly. His birth was my favorite thing ever. He hung out in the sling quite a bit – in this case, daddy has him.

Ralph and Nels, back then as now.
Ralph, a few days later. Everyone in the goddamn house slept while I ran around. It was great.

the "big" sister
Sophie, the “big” sister – right after Nels was born. Her hobbies at this time: dressing up as a ninja, nursing a couple times a day.

Sophie + Nels
Sophie and Nels – still summertime, you can tell by their skin. Jesus, have I never heard of sunblock? What kind of mother am I?

Nels' smile
Nels’ smile is always in his eyes. Our doula knit this cap.

First Halloween for Nels
First Halloween. How cute is this? His ears even match his expression. He’s just about to go on the hayride at the Ft. Worden Spooktacular. We went every year. (P.S. you can see the tiny “flaw” in his left eye, in this picture).

1 year old
One year old – and this is how our life was. He rode around on my body as I went about my business. I loved it.

Nels 1, Sophie 3,
Why is he so fat?!? Why did no one tell me?

Aw yeah.
Grabbin’ the junk, in the front yard. God I miss PT. We won’t be doing that here.

Nels at 2.
Nels’ second birthday. I made him a butterfly cake. Check out Mr. Surly Curls. He will look the same in 65 years.

A typical "squinky" look
A typical “look” from Nels, usually trying to get some boob or chocolate (or both). Check the cleft chin. What a hunk! Yes, I’m a sick Oedipal case – but most mommies are, they just don’t admit it.

Last days of PT
My little kitten on our last day in PT. He’s heading – who knows where. I have always yelled, grabbed, and / or caught him. So far.

New life in HQX
The Boy, contemplating life’s existential issues.

(Flickr tag set)

a special type of resentment

This morning I took the kids out to their favorite park, as requested. It felt like it had been quite some time since I’d had fresh air. Perhaps because we had been snow-bound for a while, or perhaps because my children and I have moved into a different phase in our life together, the three of us had a very harmonious hour and a half on the park grounds (read: they let me go to the bathroom without drowning themselves in the sea; Nels did not run away in the opposite direction of Sophie *every single chance he got*, I actually listened to and followed the suggestions of my wee ones instead of barking out orders while clutching my precious, precious coffee). I attended them in the childish activities that to many must look boring: swings, monkey-bar spotting (my son copies everything his older sister does, no matter how terrifying to himself or me), leaf-scuffing, creek bed exploring. Instead of fervently hoping for another Mama to join me, or allowing my mind to race about thinking of chores I have to do, beans to soak, toilets to scrub, I just accepted I was not doing any of those things *now* and I really attended my little ones. I sat, swung, walked with them. We ate lovely, heavenly fresh hearth rolls from the uptown bakery and they took my breath away with the beauty that bloomed on their rosy cheeks and noses.

I find myself begrudging how quickly my children are growing up. Why do I ever want any stage, any difficulty, to end? I should desire and hold onto everything, and I mean everything. The late nights, the crying, the clinging at naptime. A year ago I was breastfeeding my son and could still remember, vividly, breastfeeding and diapering my daughter. Now I am adrift, afloat, no longer a physical necessity except in my performance of slave labor (daily) that I now have learned to love. Now. My children are both potty-trained, both weaned, and I am ten pounds heavier in part because every day I think of, shop, buy, and prepare their food. And I make no milk. No nursing; I realized the other day with a small, angry mix of pride and sadness that *just anyone* could take care of my children now (although, of course, no one else really does). I suppose this was true from the day they were born, but my unique gifts of my milk, my love, my voice, my intelligence, my body, and the pain in the ass of a diapered child somehow kept them more within my exclusive realm. Now I know they are growing upward and onward, and although they will always remained tethered to me and I have formed a Goddess-image for them – they will need me less and less. It is time for them to take flight a little more and for me to pull back into myself, my art, my work, my marriage – just enough to not resent their going.

As I type this my children, back from a fancy-festive Christmas party, are putting together their new Christmas gifts (note that Nels’ comes with a key-fob so you can take your precious pets with you – “up to 18 hours” and I don’t have to tell you what happens after 18 hours). With dad’s help, of course.

gearing up for Halloweiner

This morning I awoke amidst the three others in my family, burrowed under blankets on a large mattress Pangaea on the floor of my kids’ room. These measures are necessary because we are currently having our house interior painted and sleeping in a freshly-painted room is, well, kind of gross and scary. That’s OK because I am secretly (or not-so-secretly) a big fan of family-sleeping. So last night I was only too thrilled to move a TV into the kids’ room and watch a movie (a “conventional but entertaining sports flick” indeed – I’m coming to believe the Disney sports films – The Rookie, Invincible, etc. – are my version of other women’s romantic comedies – which I don’t watch – perhaps because they are always well-crafted, contain a good period soundtrack, and are comforting, formulaic, and only mildly emotionally moving), a late-night snack, and all-night family snuggle.

This morning I disentangle myself from the litter and start coffee; Ralph and Nels soon follow in waking up and while I shower Nels lays on the floor whinging as Ralph washes breakfast dishes (apparently being hungry for ten minutes in the morning is an existential nightmare for our son). After getting dressed I snuggle next to my daughter’s sweet body and we lie in bed quietly for a while. Then she starts talking, whispering to me of a purple dragon, a dragon “that saves people”. She sits up cross-legged and holds her hands in front of her, meshes the fingers to cup someone gently, and tells me the creature has long claws to hold people, as she talks she is gazing off, remembering. “The dragon had a very friendly face,” she breathes, her smile beatific.

Today has been a near-madhouse of activity, mostly including family events – playschool responsibilities, Halloween costumes, trick-or-treating – and significantly hampered by having the house torn apart for painting. But yes, I got all my Halloween sewing done, easy. And don’t think I’m not thrilled that I have had emails asking me to post photos! And you would think I’d get to breathe a breath of relaxation now the Halloween sewing is done. My last day of my sewing workshops is tomorrow, however – so I have to prepare for that. Zippers. Funsies.

Nocturnal animals in my car, from the other night’s late-night grocery run. Which I and the kids enjoy. Note Nels’ many layers of scarf, which he wore all night without even toppling over.

domestic interludes

Today I woke up in worse shape than I was two days ago. My throat, my sinuses – congested, scratchy, ill. Yuck. This morning at least I am blessed with plenty of sleep and no hangover. At 7:30 I slide out of bed (kids still sleeping) and head to the kitchen. Start coffee for my husband and I and some breakfast for my kids to warm in the oven (they wake up voraciously hungry and a proactive breakfast is something I can throw at them in self defense, like jars of peanut butter at voracious doberman shepherds from some movie I saw once).

About 8 o’clock after Ralph has left and I’ve caught up on email and am contemplating sitting down and resting (I’ve done the math and I believe I do this about every 2.6 days) when I hear whispers from the hallway – Sophie coaxing Nels about something. I open the door to their bedroom to see my children, tousle-haired, pj’d, asking for Mama. I know the drill. I take my coffee and put it on the coffee table; sit on the couch. Nels crawls up on my left side, Sophie furnishes the blanket and tucks herself on my right. The three of us sit there quietly for minutes. I stroke their backs and the length of their strong, sturdy little legs; their little hands pet me. The smell on the top of Nels’ head is something lovely and indefinable. It is part shampoo, part health, part sleep, part uniquely and wondrously my Son.

I realize as I sit there with them that I have some sort of precious commodity. I have a treasure that I did not altogether ask for, nor did I quite win like a lottery. It isn’t the only treasure in the world nor the most glamorous. I do not deserve it entirely, based on merit, but many others (more deserving?) do not have what I have. These creatures curled up on my lap depend on me, love me, and are forever connected to me. Nothing could break the programming within them that causes them to find my arms, my voice, my smell to be the most Home they could ever hope to find.

A couple hours later and I’m home doing dishes by myself. My daughter is at school; my son with Abbi who is watching him for me as I take a more restful morning than I would normally have. In this way too I am fortunate, benefiting from friends who are also raising their young children. Abbi and I are sometimes like dual wives; daily bringing food, clothing, children’s books and knitware back and forth to one another. Just a phone call away from help, commiseration.

Tonight for dinner: Beef-in-Guinness (courtesy of a lovely brisket from Sunny Farms*), potatoes, cabbage, and carrots. We are sharing our meal with a friend and her daughter. Home-cooking and loved ones all around.

* This website cheerily claims, “a row of registers along the front of the store helps keep customer wait time to a minimum” – what they don’t tell you is that there is no frakin’ room to wheel your cart, and that several of your fellow cart-using customers will glare at YOU as if this is your fault. It’s the weirdest vibe.

the post-nap demands of the day

My son woke up from his nap, ate half his weight in pizza, and then climbed on my lap and insisted I sing him a song. Then another. And another. He sat perfectly still, alternatively staring at the monitor (where my iTunes visualizer swirled) or clinging to my neck with his arms, pressing his cheek to mine to hear my voice. I sang him oldies:

“Be My Baby” by the Ronettes
“Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” Frankie Vali
“Will you still love Me Tomorrow?” The Shirelles
“Needles and Pins” The Searchers
“Little Red Riding Hood” Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs

“I love you baby! And if it’s quite alright I need you baby…”

You know, I honestly can’t think of anything I’d rather do.

sweet… and scaley

This morning- I don’t know how it happened – but I woke up next to an angel. She had gone to bed with her brother the evening before but how she’s lying next to me in bed and her soft hand is petting me. I open my eyes and she says, “I love you Mama.” Her face is just inches from mine. Her eyes are clear and large. Some alchemy of Ralph’s reddish-brown depth and my lighter green and dark lashes and her skin is calm and clear from sleep. Her skin is flawless: the only imperfection a very small scratch, barely visible, on her freckle-dusted nose. Her tresses fall around me, clean and sweet smelling and I think of the song lyric: your hair upon the pillow / like a sleeping golden storm. She yawns and even her breath is sweet. Her belly peaks out from under her black cotton shirt: a long, white, lean tummy. She twines her legs around me. I love it when she shares my bed, because like me she likes to talk for a while before getting up. Her last words before sleep and her first words in the morning are always of Love.

Later in the day this same girl runs downstairs with a new Snake Body book – a thrift store purchase by my husband. She slams open the book and jabs a finger, wordless. To a six-page photo spread of a snake graphically swallowing a bird chick. She tells me to read every word.