Nels & Tinderbox

mother’s day: on performing your children

Nels & Tinderbox

I believe I hurt someone’s feelings a little while back, when they were asking me for parenting advice. I said,

“Stop thinking of your baby as being ‘good’. Stop showing off the baby. She’s a person, not a pet. The sooner you abandon these practices the better it will be for you – and your kid.”

I’ve said this before. And if I was a bit direct – well first, I was being asked to be direct. Second: it’s nothing I didn’t learn the hard way.

I did every one of these things and lived to repent, and change my attitude. And I’ve left my own early parenting writings online – you can go back and see I made these mistakes.

Parents do these things, because we’re told to. It’s modeled to us. It’s conflated with “good” parenting.

Herbert Pocket & Her Beans

boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew!

Herbert Pocket & Her Beans

Scuba Hoodie, Designed & Sewn By Me

At seven-ish in the morning I get up. The house is quiet. I use the bathroom, wash my hands. I notice the oven is on and when I peer in, I behold three perfectly oiled up potatoes. I realize Nels has stayed up all night – and this occurs to me right at the point he cheerfully pops his head in the door, pleased to see me awake. He asks me something, but I’m headed to bed. I can’t remember how I respond. I am back next to Ralph, and I fall asleep quickly.

A couple hours later and my husband wakes me, rising up from the bed. I look over and there’s my son: his belly full of hot potatoes, presumably, sleeping like he’d fallen a great height into the bedclothes.

Twelve hours later, at the end of the long day, he’s still asleep. I am working in the office and I hear him say, “Hello?” – his voice sounding much younger than his thirteen years. I go to cuddle him close; he is dismayed he’s slept through the daylight. “Nels,” I ask: “How many potatoes did you eat, out of curiosity?” “Two and a half,” he whispers. Still waking up. A few moments later he is in the kitchen, crouching on the tile in his t-shirt and underwear. His hair is wild and his eyes wide.

“You can play your game tonight. And when dad gets up, you can hang out with him. Allison is coming over for dinner tomorrow. And tomorrow night you can sleep with Mama,” I tell them. I watch his mind work, as he determines this is a sensible course of action. He cheers immediately.

When I was his age I was letting the disrespectful boys around the way teach about French kissing and stealthy groping. Ugh. If nothing else, I am providing my children with a hundred percent more wholesome upbringing.

Yesterday: we called upon a new acquaintance, to see a litter of kittens. I thought I’d feel good after holding them but I just wanted to hold them a lot longer. They are two days old and their eyes aren’t open. I found myself feeling anxious after we left. It’s only been a little over a year since Trout’s litter died in our hands. It seems I can’t get my mind around what my responsibility to it all is.

We Visit Kittens

custom pajamas

the lap of luxury

“You got me out of bed so we could pick up Thai food – so you wouldn’t have to leave the car!”

This is true. I mean – I’m in my PJs and knock-off Uggs and my hair is covered but I don’t think I have makeup on? See, I am okay with walking from the car to my house, but not so much standing outside, in public, waiting for food.

“Yes, Nels. You told me to be honest, I’m being honest.” It’s the last day I can get takeout here, before the restaurant takes a month’s hiatus.

“You made me get up and get going early!”

“Nels… it’s TWO-THIRTY PM.

This child. 

My eldest is on their spring break after a full quarter. They sleep all kinds of hours, on a lopsided schedule. So my job mostly consists of trying to feed them, cuddling them, taking them on little road trips, reminding them to do a few chores, and maybe buying them little treats now and then.

My son though, that’s another story. He is up late with me, then sleeps in. He is my little shadow, as he’s been his whole life; if I’m still up and working he’s next to me, pressed up against my side and playing on his Wii U. If I’m in bed watching something he’s snuggled on my right, trying not to wake his father, whispering in his gorgeously harsh voice – sometimes on topic with what we’re watching, sometimes telling me of the worlds he and his friends have created, whether online or in the backyard. Then up to bed into his bed tent where he listens to music and puts on a cheerful set of lights.

He turns thirteen in a few days. His father and I are working hard to find him the video console he wants. I’ve got a few other gifts secured. I’m taking him and his buddies swimming, and then for pizza, and a movie.

Maybe there’s nothing more I like than those special things for my kids.

The basement studio is finally warming up; I am sewing, making clothes for babies, and children, and clients. Today, out the door: a pair of custom pajamas and a stripey hat.

Stripes cheer me up. Ready for spring.

custom pajamas
double gauze
chullo hat

Nels

but it turns out it was just a tumble down a steep trail

I’m with my oldest, and my mother. I’ve taken my first sip of the fragrant, spicy broth of my ramen bowl when the phone buzzes.

It’s my son. “Mom?” he asks. His voice, I could tell you a thousand times how well I know it. He has something important to tell me. “I fell off a cliff,” he tells me. In his mind it’s like a newspaper headline.

I ask a couple questions. Turns out, he’s okay. He’s called in part because he knows how much I would care, how much I’d want to know. And he’s calling to apologize for the very muddy clothes he brought into the house. “My hands are covered in scratches,” he says. I ask if he can hop in the bath, and I’ll come home and check him out. “Well not scratches. You can’t see them. Like scrapes,” he elucidates.

We bring him two fat burritos for lunch; my mom knows his favorite kind and I let her order while I chat with Phoenix. When we arrive at my house, there’s no way my mom isn’t going to come inside to check on her grandson. He’s showered and cuddled in a blanket by the time we get home. And he’s pleased to see his Grandma. A few minutes after she leaves, and he’s finished his lunch, he’s wrapped up in two warm throws and tucked deep into my bed. I crawl in next to him and breathe in his skin, the best smell there is. Our life can seem so normal but I realize it is rather spectacular. I get so much more time with my kids than most people do. I never want to take it for granted.

At home things have been – busy. Well. Rough, to be honest. My 40th birthday on the 11th was glorious; I spent the first part of the afternoon on a date with my partner, then had a yoga workshop. Home to my women’s meeting, then out with the family for a late dinner. Friends sent me presents and cards; another sent money from abroad. These things are spectacular gifts in an otherwise iffy few days. This week in my studio I’ve had one (minor) disaster after another. My main sewing machine’s foot pedal died – and I am in the middle of several projects. Half my sewing fabrics are in a huge, unsorted pile – they have not been sorted on the as-yet-unbuilt shelves. I have had several mishaps on the current project and each day I am a little further behind my hopes.

So tonight I’m not feeling it, as they say. But I did the things I should. I cleaned house. I give the dog a warm soapy bath – he needs it! – and some fancy dog treats. I let my oldest hold my hand, even though my skin is crawling and I am feeling unsettled.

Of course I put my arms around my husband, ask how he is. He’s also under stress: finishing up his Bachelor’s Degree this month. In a text today a friend asks me, What makes me feel alive? I say, “Accomplishment,” but I’m thinking right now. Maybe time is moving a little too fast, because I am doing a little too much.

Nels

Nels, Godzilla

My own sleep will be his / clock, safely keeping time

It’s at least three in the afternoon by the time my son rises from bed. Our cosleeping years are finally (mostly! – and recently) over; both kids installed in their own beds after so many years. That said, Nels creeps into bed with me half mornings. While I make coffee and do my yoga and pitter-patter through the house, his tousled head is barely visible between the pillow and comforter and his frame stretches across the bed, just his long feet visible. There may be no greater pleasure in life than the sums of thousands of mornings, knowing my children rest safely.

So today I’m cooking up a tofu scramble and toasting seed bread, he pads into the living room. He is wearing red briefs and a lime-green tank top; bright colors against his skin that is always brown and sweet, even in the dead of winter.

Phoenix sets out plates and cloth napkins and forks. I toast the bread, in the oven, no toaster, careful not to burn myself on the hot stove element! While the kids giggle in the next room I assemble plates of hot food; the three of us curl up on the couch and queue up an old monster movie. They watch the movie, but I watch them. I am thinking of all the time I spent refusing to send them off somewhere, so they could eat well and sleep deeply and watch monster movies with their heads still tangled from sleep. Phee has indeed been to the college campus and back today, but their head bears the telltale tufted remembrance of wrestling with a pillow; like a much-younger child.

I have so many memories of countless such mornings, but something is going wrong now. The children are older, so much older. I realize that unless I am very careful, very mindful, my time with them will have passed like it was nothing at all. It is easy to be a kind and loving mother when I see that in no time at all they will no longer be here in my home under my wing.

Wrapping up my hair; I have to get dressed and off to a meeting. The kids are doing the dishes. The cats are starting to run afoot – they know Ralph will be home to feed them soon. My husband texts – dinner tonight? He is preparing for a journey; the kids and I will have a few days alone. But for now: the evening will fall soon, and into another lovely, dark and warm night. Placed in our home, safe with one another.

Nels, Godzilla

 

We Visit Louis

if you fall asleep, down by the water / baby I’ll carry you all the way home

We Visit Louis

Christmas was not precisely difficult this year; but it was a bit off. On the 17th of December, a series of ATM fraud charges cleaned out our account – I mean entirely, taking our pending mortgage payment, and everything. Talk about an unpleasant surprise!

Then, Ralph shaved off his beard and left a huge push-broom moustache. Which he occasionally tries to rub on my soft skin. So that’s something that happened.

But – it’s impossible to have a poor holiday, or just a poor regular day, with my children. They keep things spicy. On the 9th, our oldest came out as non-binary, meaning they no longer associate with either the male or female. Fine, fine. After all – this is the child who changed their name at age eight. Not only do I totally respect this child’s autonomy, I also know it’s unlikely it’s “just a phase”, not that I wouldn’t support my kiddo – phase or no.

Night Creatures

(night creatures)

Using “they” and “them” pronouns for Phoenix has been such a novel experience – even harder than getting used to a name change. Ralph and I are at the stage where we are gun-shy around the female pronoun set. Every time we say “she” or “her” – about my mom, a friend, or a kitty cat – we flinch as we are sure we are getting it wrong! But – we’ll get used to it. Phoenix is very patient at correcting us politely.

Nels has taken off in gaming. He and I are downstairs at night – I’m sewing while he’s into Competitive Play on Overwatch, and has been recording, editing, and uploading compilations to his YouTube channel. In true Nels style, he is entirely immersed. After the summer where he was outside with the local tribe of boys – I mean he was always outside if he wasn’t at home eating or snuggling/sleeping – now he’s gaming all day unless I drag him out on errands.

Nels, The Joy of Gaming

The last few weeks I sewed so much for gifts and for clients that I was shipping and packing up and delivering faster than I could photograph. Having a little space to sew for myself, has been lovely.

So, we’re getting through. We had a lovely gift exchange and our first Christmas in our new house (we were traveling last year); we enjoyed our first vegan Christmas as well, with a repast from The Herbivorous Butcher. Life doesn’t get boring, let’s just say that!

Wishing all of you a really fabulous end-of-year.

Me, Kitchen

outside with the willow trees

I wonder at this, but as fun as summer is, there is a specialness to the school year for us. The kids’ friends disappear for the weekdays, and are locked down in the evenings and even weekends. The children and I move into a slower tempo. We have the time to do the things we like. Contemplative, unhurried. Lots of good sleep and even better food. Walks together, little errands. Swim dates and adventures to the beach in the rain; hot coffee in a cafe alone.

Today I wake the children and ask them to do their chores quickly, so we can get Phoenix to the doctor. She is having the last installment in a series of painful injections. She’s so damn stoic that the slight bit of friendly agitation she evidences – moving to sit by me in the waiting room, putting her arms around me, talking to me a bit more than usual – lets me know she’s a bit apprehensive. We sit in the exam room and discuss vaccinations, and her latest art projects. She asks me to sit by her; she reaches for my hand. I hold it in mindfulness as I watch the nurse thrust a very large needle in her arm.

After, the kids and I are out to split a small pizza and salad. We play on my phone and giggle together; my son politely samples the vegan salad dressing options and elects to eat his salad plain – lettuce and olives. Besides a table of burly-looking jocks, we’re the only customers there. Perhaps that’s the joy I feel with the kids, during the school year. The town is emptied: just us, no hurries, our errands.

I have the honor of visiting a woman’s house this evening, and listening to her talk about her alcoholism. She is much older than I, has lived a longer life. But I can offer her help. After we talk an hour, she takes me on a tour around the path she walks. It is festooned with all sorts of little statues and baubles; nestled against the lush grass. I say, “M____, were you raised Catholic?” She tells me she was. We both smile, that I intuited this – although there is no Catholic imagery in the masonry and stones and painted rocks and homemade mosaics, I could still feel the influence. We spend a moment in the soft beating heart of this bit of recognition, then we move forward.

It’s 80 degrees; a summer warmth, some of the last this season. I climb in my car and music plays. I am heading back home to the children, and to the rest of the day’s work.

longing, deprivation, and resentment

how to teach children Manners

Here’s The Problem

When my young children were in an organized playgroup there was a portion of the afternoon’s activities where toys were distributed to the little ones for a play session. The adults handing out the toys would march this toy basket past each child and announce, “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit!

Now – I am not kidding. The adults would do this when there was literally no cloud on the horizon. They’d say it whether a child had started to express a preference – or not. It was like a mantra.

And as you can imagine, for clever children this very sentence – this very, “I expect you to be a bunch of brats in a minute!” kind of thing – actually inspired some of them to feel anxiety. I mean, it makes sense. They were literally being told they were going to get something – and it wasn’t going to be something they’d like. And for some kids, that has become an all-too familiar and discouraging experience.

longing, deprivation, and resentment “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit!”

And trust me – the irony of adults telling children not to complain – adults who I noticed did a whole heck of a lot of complaining about their lives while they’d stand around the picnic table – was not lost on me.

We tell children that kind of thing – you know, when we don’t want them to take too many cookies. Meanwhile, we can go out and buy as many cookies as we’d like. No one can stop us. In fact I’ve seen lots of grownups “throw a fit” when the cookies they want aren’t in the store, or cost too much.

“You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit!”

Catchy rhyme, but – yeah. I’ve never liked that phrase much. As a matter of fact, I don’t like any rude phrase we levy at children to get them to shut up, sit still, or behave. (What makes it rude? The fact we would never, ever want someone to say it to us when we were upset!)

So – I don’t talk to children like that any more. I guess I think more of kids than that. And I guess I must think more of adults too, because here I am (partly by request), writing about a way to do it differently.

Now – this is a little awkward, but I gotta get something out of the way. I can’t write a little editorial here and be All Things to All People. So if you’re somebody who is now thinking something like: “What? You are crazy. The world is entitled enough as it is! Kids today are greedy, loud, and rude! Now we aren’t even allowed to say something like that? That’s just GOOD MANNERS. That’s common sense! Kelly, you are just Political Correctness gone mad!” etc etc – then here’s the deal. I am really happy to engage with you on these topics. Some other time. This piece? Is probably not for you.

But maybe you’re not quite in that place. Maybe you’re not that resentful about life in general. Maybe you’re an adult, a grownup – a teacher or daycare provider or a parent or carer – and you don’t want to talk to kids like that. You’re tired of nagging at them. What you really want to know is, if there is a better way.

Well, guess what? There is!

Here’s Why We Do It

So let’s look at WHY we say this stuff to kids. Because that will help us stop. The reasons are a bit multifacted, but not too complex.

People say this stuff to kids because, first: they don’t want their kids to grow up and be jerks. Or greedy (meaning fat, where food is concerned). Non-parents say this stuff to kids because they don’t want kids to have things nicer than what they had. More about this, in a bit.

Secondly, people say this to kids in an attempt to get their kids to behave so other people think they are good parents (or teachers, or whatever).

Thirdly, people say this stuff to kids because they (weirdly, in a way) want to pre-empt their kids’ pain. No one wants to see a child cry. It is embedded deep within us – yes, even the child-haters out there – the desire to care for them. Trust me – I get it. One time my three year old’s ice cream scoop fell on the floor, and he began to cry. My mother immediately leaned down to his face and said, “Well don’t get upset!” I retorted: “Mom, he’s three. What’s he supposed to be upset about? World Peace?” Like – can my kid have a minute to cry?

Now my mom loves my son – a lot. She was saying that because his discomfort upset her, and she hadn’t learned how to manage her feelings. Because her parents hadn’t helped her when she was little.

Because finally: people say this stuff to kids (shut up, don’t complain, life isn’t fair, etc) because of their own childhoods, where they were treated without courtesy or emotional intelligence. This explains why non-parents, who seemingly don’t have much skin in the game, will say some atrocious things to and about children. Non-parents say this ish as much as parents do.

So let’s talk about why these reasons, are crap reasons.

Don’t want your kid (or some other kid) to grow up to be a jerk? Focus one hundred percent more on yourself. Easy-peasy. Model the behavior you want to see in the world. Whether you are in the grocery store line, in traffic, or at home. Yes, even at home, where you behave the worst. Do better – instead of expecting other (small, vulnerable) people to, just because you can bully them into submission.

Second: caring what other parents, or adults, think of your parenting (or teaching style, or whatever)? Well, you are right! Lots of them are judging! Would it make you feel better if I told you “Don’t worry, the people who judge you are running around thinking unpleasant thoughts about other people all day!”? Because that is the truth. No one likes to be judged – or gossiped about. But are those the people I am going to parent for? No. I’m going to parent for my kid, and for me. I’m going to let those other people have their bad times and I’m going to be kind to them because they probably need some kindness. And no, I don’t have to hang out with them!

Third: you can’t pre-empt a kid’s pain, and it’s rude to try. If you look deep back in your childhood, you won’t appreciate the adults who tried to do this to you. This one is the trickiest of all. Lots of people have a deep-down embedded worldview that Life Is Unpleasant, so we must manufacture ways to teach kids about this; or maybe, when kids discover this, we have to RUSH IN AND TELL THEM, like some kind of insufferable person barging in all the time. Is life unfair? Aw, hell yeah. Are kids going to find this out? Yup! Are we supposed to make it more unfair? I can’t really write more about that than has already been written – here’s a fabulous piece, for instance. As a parenting guru once said – I paraphrase: “Adversity is good for children – but not when organized and created by the person supposed to care for them.”

And before we move on, let’s think about the logical extension of manufacturing unpleasantness for kids. A few years ago a friend of mine told me that my partner and I, and the behavior or our children, was so inspiring it almost made her re-think having children. But she said she never would, because she knew that if she had kids, she’d beat them. See – she herself was beaten, quite a bit. For her own good. She lived in a dangerous neighborhood, and they were poor, and life was scary. Her carers were strict, and violent. To keep her safe. She told me this – that she could never have kids, because she knew she would beat them – with tears in her eyes.

Now – those carers had every “justifiable” reason to beat this child. Should they have?

I’d love you to think on that for a minute. You’re thinking it’s an extreme example. It’s not extreme, in that it’s not rare, and hitting children is little different than using emotional or verbal violence on our children.

We are all complicit.

We need to change.

Here’s How To Change

Each of us needs to ask ourselves: are we responsible to help children, or aren’t we? If we truly want to teach children how to handle unpleasant or awkward social experiences, we should be a little willing to let those unfold a little bit – instead of prematurely rushing in to prevent (and thus inadvertently exacerbate!) these situations. As my friend Hafidha commented on the topic:

Hafidha's comment
It takes discipline, and our own emotional maturity, to do better. The most eye-opening thing about, “you get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit” – as well as the other things we say – like, “Because I said so!”, “Life’s not fair, get used to it!” and “You need to learn you aren’t the center of the universe!” – is that the adults who say these things are never, when I look at it objectively, adults who are particularly good role models.

We all have problems, it is true. But I have learned to take my parenting advice from the best. Not just anyone who has an opinion. I take my advice on “manners” from children and adults who model grace under pressure. I take my advice from parents who treat their children with respect. I take my advice from people who demonstrate they can speak their mind with directness – and kindness. From people who can disagree without devolving into name-calling or violence. From people who demonstrate empathy – and courtesy.

And “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit!” – is not an empathetic, nor a courteous, thing to say. 

So how do we “teach” children manners?

We lead by example. (This isn’t a new concept – it is heralded in all the world’s religions, and also is based in scientific study.) Your example will go so much further than you realize – when your child is developmentally ready to emulate it.

We acknowledge that children are people, just like us. It’s pretty unfair to demand a child accept a situation with perfect equanimity when we could hardly do so ourselves. Let’s remember we all know what it feels like to have a huge freak-out – and let’s work on being the adult we’d want helping us when we struggle.

We stick up for vulnerable people being put down. Kids provide the most opportunities to do this. It isn’t that hard. It actually often brings a lot of joy!

We model courtesy toward others. We model this even when we don’t particularly like something that person does, or says, or represents.

We model direct confrontation. We show bravery instead of saying nothing in the moment – then later gossiping or complaining or worse.

We slow down. If we’re feeling frustrated, angry, and upset – we take responsibility for ourselves, and commit to some self-care.

Lots of grownups can’t, or won’t, do these things. Statements like “You get what you get” are merely forms of hazing. If a grownup says this sort of thing it’s most likely the adult doing the hazing is just repeating the behavior she endured. This is what makes the conversation so difficult. The grownups who do this the most, are the least likely to listen to a new approach.

But – that’s Okay. Because you listened. You read until the end of this piece. You can speak up and be kind to children. You can be a Helper – instead of a Shamer. You can work on your own discipline, gratitude, self-control, directness, openness, and grace under fire. Now that? That is the assignment of a lifetime!

And finally: I have a girlfriend who regularly interacts with children – she cares for her children and other people’s children – and in the many hours I’ve spent with her I have never heard her say anything demeaning, belittling, or cruel to a child. As you can imagine, children love her very much. As you can imagine – if you are good at deductive reasoning – children behave really well around her. I like it when I get to hang out with her. She’s a lot more fun than many grownups I know. 

It’s funny how it works out that way.

deschooling: not an all-or-nothing experience

[Ed note on terminology: Let us not pretend I oppose the existence of institutions of learning that employ knowledgable instructors providing course material either voluntarily or for a wage. This is absurd. What I mean by “school” for all my alt education writings is the following: a state-run institutional edifice where children are required to attend; also, the resultant culture that has sprung up in and supporting such institutions.]
Untitled

I’ve recently had the good fortune of receiving a moderate volume of calls, emails, and texts from parents who are curious about homeschooling and unschooling for their children. Part of the increased activity may be the small community ripple our thirteen-year old daughter made this fall when she tested into, and enrolled at, our local community college. Regardless of the factors behind this increased interest, I love the subjects of homeschooling, unschooling, parenting, and living with children. I am honored when adults and children alike trust me enough to share their concerns.

Today I’ve fielded texts from a mother to six who is trying to navigate her family’s first year of home- and unschooling. She tells me her family spent a year deschooling – living without books and curriculum – and now she’s worried, because they’re “behind”. She was feeling upset because in an online unschooling community she brought up these concerns and was told by members of the group that she “hadn’t deschooled yet”. This kind of thing can be unschooling-speak for: “you’re still part of The System! Bad unschooler, bad!” (Meanwhile those unfamiliar with unschooling are probably scratching their heads thinking – “What in the WORLD is ‘deschooling’?”)
 
Let’s think about my friend’s position for a moment.

crowdfunding my li’l boo

Readers: you have, over the last twelve years, supported me in a hundred different ways. I thank you for this, and today I have a special request.

Our 13-year old daughter is the youngest-ever student to enroll here at Grays Harbor College. She is doing well, halfway through her first quarter of college – a 95% in her math class, and high marks in her Life Drawing course. She is also finishing up a private Pastels class – this latter, paid for by a patron.

Tuition was due last week. It is pricey – about $100 per credit, per quarter. Our hopes to find her a scholarship have astonished me: most scholarships discriminate by age, making our bright, gifted daughter too young to qualify for traditional funding. Be assured Ralph and I are pursuing various options to help with these costs – but so far, as they say, bupkis.

To wit: you can help us immensely by either a one-time donation here via Paypal (or traditional mailing to P.O. Box 205 Hoquiam, WA 98550), or by supporting my daughter’s Patreon account. Please know that even a small sum monthly, will make all the difference for my daughter’s educational goals.

Phoenix Fire Hogaboom

I will be keeping this post updated if we receive scholarship funds, enrollment in Running Start, or a large enough donation to cover costs. And as always – thank you so much for your support.

Phoenix Hogaboom
c/o Kelly Hogaboom
PO Box 205
Aberdeen, WA 98520

Phoenix’s first pen-and-ink, for class last week:

Phoenix Fire Hogaboom