bunch of scalliwags

The neighborhood is one of the more kid-friendly I’ve known but that can always change. There are some new kids in the neighborhood and some of them are rather unprincipled with regards to other people’s property. Example: one or more culprits wrote, in mud, on the next door neighbor’s car, “I like poop and farts.” OK… you know… on one level we have to agree, that’s just funny. I am glad the mud-hazing was done on what the neighbors consider their “lesser” car. They have several shinier/newer/more expensive vehicles and they expressed repeatedly how upset they’d be had any of those received such a hazing.

So now all neighborhood kids are banned from that particular driveway (I’m not sure if they have any kind of enforcement plan). I talked to my kids about it (they weren’t a part of it and only hear rumors who did it). Nels made the tough decision to walk next door and tell the grownups he’d commit to helping keep kids out of the driveway, as a good faith neighborly effort. Ralph and I both talked to the parents there. Better still, Phoenix and I had a long talk about why she felt she couldn’t walk next door and discuss the incident, and my daughter and I had a long talk about this and I gained some wisdom regarding parental mistakes I’ve made (more I will not share, not now).

A few of the kids are just wild in general, and I mean very wild; several are medicated. A few more (most depressing to me) are servile and smiling and butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-their-mouth when they think they’re being watched by a grownup, yet liable to get up to anything when they believe they are not observed (hence the f-bomb incident between two such children yesterday).

My kids cope like you might expect. Nels with righteous anger, Phoenix with more politic and developed stratagems. That said, she is still a human being, and delivered a different kind of f-bomb today when the one child – who sprays other kids with our pool hose, deliberately and without regard to whether the other participant is agreeable, because he loves being the one-up in a bully scenario – kept doing so after my daughter asked him to stop. By the way, the hose-sprayer is also the kid who threw one of our cats in the pool. My mom has described this child as having “no moral compass”. You know personally, I think this is exactly the kind of risk one runs when practicing authoritarian parenting (whether involving hollow threats or ones delivered on). But I suppose parents feel good when they yell real loud at the kid to let us know they’re Taking Care Of It.

I guess writing here the summer kid scene sounds unpleasant to your average tight-ass but to be fair, here we have kids getting some freedom, fresh air, exercise, sunshine, and having a mostly fun time playing together. And in any case, it’s incredible to me how many grownups want kids to be “good” – or completely nonexistent – and how yet few grownups seem to know how to effect “good” kids without yelling, making many rules (involving segregation, lock-down, or punishment, none of which serve well for critical thinking coupled with spiritual wholeness), lecture, boring boring boring.

I enjoy the neighborhood kids but I wish they had more contact with grownups who provided gentle guidance. This isn’t because their “bad” behavior annoys me (although I hate to see our animals treated poorly), but because I think they’d be happier kids in general. They just don’t think they have many rights or that there’s much reason, besides the fear of getting caught, in respecting others’. When my husband told one child that “fatty” wasn’t welcome in our yard or in our home, because it was hate speech built on a principle that being fat was a shameful thing, the child in question just goggled at him. I think of the playground and classroom mentality many kids are regularly exposed to and what they learn as “normal” (i.e., all sorts of bullying and kyriarchal systems), often reinforced in the home, and I wonder how much it means to them to have a different place to be. Neither Ralph or I labor under illusions we can make much a difference, but we’d like the kids in our yard and home free from “faggot”, “retard”, “n**ger”, “fatty”, etc. – and not yelled or sent home with an earful of shame when they make mistakes.

Addendum: I must say that for now I’m totally fine with, in general, the kind of oath-swearing the nine year old, the freckled little beauty in my home, can deliver. She is the toughest little thing with a whip-smart sense of humor. Which reminds me: I gotta get cuddling her starting five minutes ago.

Won’t spent my time / Waiting to die / Enjoy the life I’m living

When things in my life start to unravel from the relative ease I know, I typically feel shame, fear, anxiety, and low-grade depression. The hardest feeling to disentangle Myself from is the shame, the feeling I am At Fault for scenarios that are embarrassing and public (whether I admit them or not) and proof of my failures and – this is the worst part – Could Have Been Avoided were I smarter, more efficient, had I worked a little harder. The car problems, the cats who have colds (Seriously. How can I blame myself for this? But I do.), the refrigerator cluttered, the table not set artfully for company, the sewing work that remains undone, the emails and messages from readers (and a few others) I have fallen behind on (perhaps not to recover), my unimaginative presence and my lack of beauty and worth, a wretch really. There is almost no point to talk about Failure as it is a fact I have failed on many accounts; and to do so, to be honest about my failure, risks the experience of those who’d rush in with Rescue or Advice. Even more scary at times is the knowledge of those who will step in with bona-fide Help. It is one thing to have someone do something nice for you when things are going well (“Thank you!”); it can feel miserable to have prostrated myself, even though done without goals of personal gain, to have someone hand you up and you know there is no repayment, it was merely a gift, simple and devastating. When I consider this I often just wish I could talk and have no one take action except to listen; but I also know I must allow people to follow their hearts and minds.

Releasing Control in my parenting and family life has brought a happier, healthier home and is nurturing children stronger and more joy-filled and humorous then I would have previously imagined. In the times I am weak I see how strong they are and nothing can take away the joy that re-ignites, wells up, inside of me. And after all, I am weak now but it was not always so and won’t always be so. My hard work, although spilled out and squandered and Done Wrong, has nevertheless reaped spiritual benefits both tender and tough. Within me I feel a deep love, an amusing and abiding love, and an interest in other human beings stronger than I’ve felt before. The table may have not looked lovely, but it was loaded with delicious and simple food I made with my hands. I may have been tired but I was still there. The house may only boast the meager (but beautiful) paper decorations of my children, colored with Walmart markers, and the house have little other ornamentation or beauty, but it is the dwelling of myself and those I deeply love.

Today I had the wonderful and simple experience of taking a walk in the sunshine down to the art gallery where my mother was getting off her gallery shift. I like walking in good weather more than ever; the watery light of the sun and deep draughts of our fall air is so familiar and soul-sustaining to me it seems amazing some day I will no longer experience it. At the gallery, the new pieces displayed and the Halloween accoutrement crafted by one of the artists were soothing and inspiring at once. My mother and I took her dog home and then shared lunch at the Italian restaurant – one of those meals so simple and satisfying. We talked and drank tea and enjoyed one another’s company and I felt an expansiveness, having at least done my work of house-stewardship and a breakfast repast for my (very happy-to-receive) children – homemade cinnamon rolls, bananas, and hardboiled eggs from Hoquiam hens. The mug of hot tea in my hand was a modest delight to my exhausted body.

Later I spent forty-five minutes volunteering at the Theatre (as we’ve been doing for a few years now). The conversations were normal and mundane and perfect; older fellows came through the door and flirted and I didn’t feel offended nor afraid.  I took tickets from two of my girlhood friends’ mothers; I was more happy to see them than they probably knew. I have a great caring dwelling inside me and it probably means very little and is worth hardly anything and maybe even it doesn’t show much because I’m afraid of showing it sometimes due to pride and fear. At times like this it is hard to be so public as I am here where I write. I want at times to be my tiny ugly little self and not be noticed by anyone but my family. They are in the final estimation the only beings I feel wholly safe with, as limited as this makes me.

it must be a mixed bag to have me for a mom

It never really ends, trying to be a good Mama, or the perfect Mama, or whatever it is we try to be.  So although this morning I put today’s obligatory novel-writing in first thing, then went for my run, then did my chores and paid some attention to the kids and secured a swim date and supplied a dinner list and arranged a lunch meeting and drove errands with the family…

Still, at 11:15 my daughter has put herself to bed and I realize I didn’t give her legs a massage, like I said I would (she is prone to growing pains).  Instead I sat with housemate Jasmine and spent thirty minutes talking (and smoking half a clove cigarette, a vice I hadn’t engaged in for over a month) because Jasmine was excited about a Christmas present she’d acquired – and I missed my opportunity.  And I came inside and found Sophie out on the couch, wrapped in blankets and sweetly sleeping, and I whispered to her and rubbed her warm thighs and I know I’ll apologize to her first thing tomorrow morning and she’ll forgive me.

But still, I feel rotten.  Not that I didn’t do what she wanted but that I didn’t do what she asked me and I said I’d do.  Because sometimes it seems that being a parent means finding out just how imperfect one really is.  Daily.  Repeatedly.

I swear before I had a family I could self-obfuscate some of that shit.

I think the best minutes in my gee-I-accomplished-a-lot day today were the few moments I did have alone with my daughter, before she went in for an early bedtime.  She’d received a copy of Stuart Little on her roadtrip and we were talking about the book; I hadn’t read it in at least twenty years but there were some parts very memorable. (* Some Stuart Little spoilers ensue *)  And I said, “But Stuart didn’t find his friend, the little bird he was looking for.” I’m lost in throught, remembering the book and how it had made me feel slightly isolated and scared, thinking of venturing off away from family on a lonesome quest.

“Yes he did,” she responded.  “Or he was going to.  The last line says, ‘he felt he was headed in the right direction’.”

And I thought, is my daughter’s optimistic interpretation of the book’s ending due to the fact she is younger and hadn’t experienced the full pain of parting so many of us older had?  Or was that just part of her character – that she’d read the ending of the book as hopeful and open?  Knowing my girl I lean to the latter.

I thought for a moment, then said, “Well, it’s too bad that later she got hit by a truck, and died.”

There was a beat of silence, then Sophie and I both laughed at my sick little joke, she scrunching up her perfectly freckled nose and her eyes crinkling and every tooth coming out of her grin as she put her hands to her mouth.

You know, at least in my world, nothing is really sacred.  Because I’m an ass.

what’s pretty funny is that the childfree person has absolutely no clue

Today went well except for a brief period this afternoon when I felt like such a bad mother I stared out the window of my car at the pissy rain, earnestly believing Sophie and Nels would be better off without me.  I don’t have a choice, of course.  I could never abandon them in any way, never screw up so badly I could leave, but that’s not the choice I’m talking about anyway.  I mean I don’t have a choice whether I’m their mother or not; I am forever and ever, Amen.  For better or worse, and this time I felt worse.

Luckily such episodes are short-lived; and in part this is my own doing because in some ways I’ve raised the children well.  One of the more amazing things about growing a couple kids is that soon they are able to help you with some of life’s thornier problems.  Like today when Sophie and Nels sat and listened to me tell them fuck it (I didn’t use that phrase), I wouldn’t take them swimming – it was just too frustrating that they hadn’t helped me pack the swimgear and that Nels had been shouting at me all morning – and Sophie looked straight at me and although I was telling her about the worst thing she could imagine (she loves swimming about a thousand percent), she remained calm.  “Is there anything you haven’t done yet that I could do, Mama?” The crazy thing is she wasn’t trying to save the swim date by being “good”.  She was trying to solve a problem.  I didn’t change my mind about the family swim-date and she took it in stride.  We’re going to try again tomorrow.

Later in the day after Nels ran outside of the grocery store, got in the car and kicked over my coffee, she righted the cup and said, “Oh Mama… I’m so sorry this happened,” and put her little arms around me.  My children’s hugs are the Best Thing Ever, and I’m kind of wondering if they feel the same way about mine.

A tangent, sort of:  I met my online friend Jasie for the first time in person on Saturday, during Ralph’s Port Townsend show weekend.  I’ve met many people online and met them later and it always been a little odd – no matter how much I read about their passions, opinions, or activities, the pieces that include their voice, mannerisms, and physicality is often a bit disconcerting.  But in this case it wasn’t, as the woman herself has blogged many pictures and videos and I had a more well-rounded formation in mind.  It felt like meeting someone for the first time that I’d already met.

The day before we laid eyes on one another she wrote a blog entry entitled “insecure perfectionism”, well-worth a read for those of us who have children (and honestly, those without).  And although at first glance it may seem I don’t suffer from perfectionism and a lack of good-humor for my mistakes – I’m attempting both a novel and running a 5K in public this month, for crying out loud – I felt like I related, big time, to what she’d written.  After all, what else could one call it, being prone during personal setbacks to despairing that I’m such a bad mother (not “parent”, interestingly) I might as well give up?

It makes me wonder: how bad of a parent do you have to be before you should give up?  My guess is: it doesn’t matter.

Never give up.

“Nels, if you yell at me one more time I will lock you in a dark room with spiders.”

So says I five minutes ago out of exasperation because remember, I have reminded you time after time again I am a Bad Mom. But I don’t think my son believes this sort of pronouncement because I’ve never really retaliated on him in such a sophisticated fashion. Actually by the time I swoop back into the bathroom after depositing a towel in the hamper he’s sitting in the tub – finally stripped down and in the warm water – and his eyes are big and he’s looking up and he says, “You wouldn’t really lock me in a room… ?”  He is exactly equal parts small and worried and laughing, so when my lips form the “No,” his smile turns up but it’s still rather shaken. He’s been shaken the latter part of this evening, actually, before my ridiculous threat. Earlier after Ralph left to go play with his band, Nels had been my little companion, arranging a game of “I Spy” on my sewing machine (this means hiding all sorts of items – made and found – around my sewing machine and then narrating hints about them – I’m supposed to “find” them after his hints) and singing songs to himself.  But then something happened and he was clingy enough to demand, cry, and yell for me if at any point during my evening cleanup I strayed out of the room he was in.

There is something companionable about the evening even with some of the hectic bickering that goes on. Chores are easier to accomplish now that the kids are helping more. And as a direct result of their involvement we’ve spent more time in the evenings playing, reading, cuddling, and writing music.  This week the kids have treated us to a couple “Music Show-Offs” where the kids write songs and perform them, or lipsync a favorite – the soundtrack from the upcoming Where The Wild Things Are film is in heavy rotation and the children have been studying the music and lyrics.

Tonight, though, we’re wrapping up from a busy weekend that included Ralph’s movie showing and having company, a friend from Port Townsend, for our Friday and Saturday.  The last few nights I’ve slept only a handful of hours, staying up late and watching British serial-killer television until I can finally close my eyes, drifting off to visions of Robson Green manacled and naked (sadly, only in the first episode).  A costume for Nels is only minutes away from being finished; there is a hand-knit component I must also complete before I can post pictures.  Sewing in my mother’s living room is less fun than my previous sewing rooms, but I make it work as best I can.

one of those elucidating discussions like the parenting mags recommend

This morning after I wake up my kids direct me to the couch, climb on either side, and pull a blanket up over us. This is their favorite thing to do after they wake – and often an opportunistic cat will choose this moment to make use of my body as well.  My kids weigh a combined amount of about a hundred pounds, give or take.  I’m wondering how much longer they’ll love climbing all over and on top of me as much as possible (like, EVERY SINGLE NIGHT while we sleep, too) before they decide they’re too grown-up to do so.

Nels is just getting over a cold and Ralph unfortunately is coming down with the same thing (twenty-four hours prior to the Food, Inc. showing he has been working so hard for), so today he stays home.  The kids love having both of us around today.  But I’m very serious on the subject: while snuggling on the couch we discuss how to best avoid getting sick, if someone we know or who lives with us is ill.  “You can stay away from them,” Sophie says.  “But then if they’re sick, they’re going to want you,” Nels responds, his eyes reflective and turned inward, clearly thinking of his own needs when he isn’t feeling well.  “Wash your hands, and rest a lot,” I tell them.

And this precipitates a new discussion entirely.  Sophie, who has recently acquired the household duty of the laundry, says, “Well, I guess I shouldn’t do my work today then.”  I think for a moment, then tell her that unless we are very, very ill, we do need to do our work.  Imagine if we gave up our daily work, I say.  What would happen then?  The kids are silent, thinking on this.

“What kind of work do I do?” I ask them.  They are stumped.  Apparently I am making no impression on them, at all.

“You cook, and shop for food,” they eventually respond.

“OK, so, what would happen if I didn’t do that during the day?”

“Daddy would do it!” Sophie replies, confident.

“OK, so he’d have to take the day off work,” I say.  She nods.  This fictitious day is shaping up rather well.

But they see where this is going.  So when I say, “OK, so Daddy wouldn’t bring home any money,” Sophie instantly responds with, “We can take some from Grandma.” She means, when I press her, the little pot full of many quarters, dimes and nickles up in my mother’s bedroom on her desk – that my kids somehow think it’s appropriate to raid.

I am trying not to laugh; let’s get beyond the fact that it is wrong to steal – perhaps especially from Grandma, who has been nothing but generous and sweet to my children since we moved in.  Instead I say, “Well, how long do you think that money of Grandma’s would provide for our family?”

Nels, blasé, responds, “When Grandma’s money is run out we can go up to a person and say, ‘Hey, let me look at your Chapstick,’ and when they pull it out we can take their money.” Then he laughs in delight.

So that’s their plan.  You know, I’d thought this would end up being a discussion where the kids sit at my knee and are awed by my wisdom about work ethic and pitching in and taking care of one another.  But no. They are basically Rapscallion Thieves without a moral bone in their body.

At 6 PM tonight Ralph and Sophie are fiddling about in the Theatre cementing projectionist details.  I’m stitching away on a Halloween costume.  Nels wakes up on the couch after an impromptu afternoon nap (he’d fallen asleep on his way home from Olympia, picking up the organic popcorn for tomorrow night’s movie) and silently walks up to me and puts his arms around me.

My son looks like he grew another couple inches in his sleep – hey, it really happens, I swear.