absolutely a precious thing

Ralph and I are home late but we are putting together a dinner with several parts: chick’n strips, steamed cauliflower and broccoli, roasted carrots, gravy from scratch, homemade fluffy biscuits. The preparations take a while and the dining room table waits, the children having set each plate with a folded napkin. Four small juice glasses.

Sometimes I think of preparing an elaborate dinner and setting it in the warmer to wait until the kids come upstairs from their gaming. They work work work (gaming or drawing) until they are famished. They come upstairs crying out for food. Besides little bouts of inspiration here and there, they are uninterested in learning how to cook for themselves, let alone the family. I don’t worry at all because I know they are growing. They are being raised in a home with a love of food and with good homemade fare on the table several times a day; they will very likely grow into this aptitude themselves when they are ready. (And if they don’t – what of it?)

My youngest child’s locks are long; tonight he asks me to dye the blond tips a cool blue. I put on gloves and mix up a concoction and paint his hair, his beautiful honey-colored length. I knot his hair up on top of his head and instruct him on how to cowash it to keep the color. He tells me, “I have hair under my arms now!” and shows me – proud. His shoulders are getting broad and yesterday after he asked me to snuggle him, as I slid behind him on the bed to put my arms around him saw stretch marks on the smooth skin of his back; he is growing so fast. He tells me he stayed up all night and waited until Ralph got up to get ready for work, so he could crawl into bed with me: “The way things should be,” he says, his eyebrows beetling and his lips set firm. 

Both kids want me to work less. When I took the day off yesterday and had us do housework they were happy and they sang and played and enjoyed our time together as much as if I’d taken them to the beach. There is absolutely no mistaking the fact that as long as we prioritize parenting, one of us adults won’t get to develop their career as far as it might have gone – that’s looking to be me, set back about twenty years. I have searched every brain crevice and I know it’s what I want (and it’s what Ralph wants), but sometimes I get salty as fuck about how little we want to spend on our kids, how few resources we throw them. My kids get to be raised differently and I wouldn’t have thought it would be one of my legacies but it is. Today in any case I did get to stitch some darts in a burnout velvet, and I got to do a few more this and that, but to be honest much of the day was spent caring for children, and the home, and putting time into a few other people besides.

upside down / inside out, & round & round

Two weeks ago pulled the carpet out of my basement studio, with aims to steam clean it and sun-dry it. It never made it back in the house, and was instead sold on Facebook. Now my studio is agreeably cool in the hot summer days, if a little less posh-looking. I try not to think about the winter, when I’ll bundle up in lots of layers in order to sew. My husband wants to “finish” the basement fully but I am not wild about the idea; we have enough debt and I don’t think he quite understands how expensive an undertaking will be.

Today I sit at the kitchen table and queue up 1958’s The Fly while re-applying lace to a wedding dress, by hand; my oldest child washes dishes and cooks up a tofu scramble, stepping into the dining room to join me for our favorite parts of the film. We laugh when scientist Andre Delambre – played by the very handsome David Hedison who at ninety today is still a fox – discovers the misprint on his “heirloom” ashtray; we cringe minutes later at the reveal of the poor man’s hideous new visage and his creepy, monstrous claw. The doting Vincent Price, caring for his distraught sister-in-law so tenderly. “This movie altered my life,” Phoenix tells me ruefully. It’s still a thrill to watch – all these viewings later.

In the afternoon I sit the children down and let them know they are joining me out at a restaurant on the beach, for lunch. They are to wash their faces and get dressed and not in pajamas. Then, with two of my best girlfriend, the five of us travel in style in a new car, along lonesome back roads green as ever; these roadways will stay fecund and lush through even the driest of summer weather. Along the beach route: lonely trailer parks, half-hazard tourist diversions, produce stands, llama farms and makeshift fireworks stands. As is often the case, the heat in town dissipates as the fog. “Ocean Shores always smells good to me,” Nels says, as we leave the restaurant to find a coffee. I realize every little choice I’ve made has led my children to this life here in this little corner of the world. Who knows where they will venture later? But for now, this is home.

When Ralph gets home I have put my studio back to rights; I have opened the delivered parcel of sumptuous bamboo french terry, and pulled out a sample card for zippertape colors. The earlier wedding dress project is packed into a garment bag and carefully secured in my sewing closet downstairs. I put aside my work for the evening; yoga practice, a shower, and some quiet television with my husband before bed.

a stuttering, a restart

Tonight my oldest child is finishing up their art final and submitting it. This is one of three classes for the quarter finished; they have two more winding up here over the next couple weeks and then – summer break.

It’s incredible to me this time next year my child will have an Associate of Arts degree from a community college – at age 16. I’d love to tell you all that we meant it to go this way or, even more importantly, that we have some great master plan for what we’ll do when they graduate. Well, I could say either of those things but they would be false.

Last week we hit the induction ceremony to Phi Theta Kappa; Phoenix is now the youngest-ever member of this chapter. I was working all day and changed out of workwear to something suitable for the event; I rounded up the kids and met Ralph on campus (he was onstage helping, as staff), walking in late and taking a back-row seat. Phee remained close to me and tried not to give into nerves; they weren’t sure if they were going to have to speak in front of everyone, or what. My other child sat next to me and at one point was jokingly harassed by a neighbor sitting a few chairs over; tender as Nels is, he took the teasing to heart. I sat there with my two teenage children who both needed my reassurance and softness just as they’ve needed it their whole lives.

The ceremony, although short and to the point, was nevertheless a bit soothing, a bit special. I am still salty AF over how hard it’s been to get Phee the support they need, being academically-advanced and relatively introverted. I keep thinking I could help so many other parents if I got my act together and wrote about our experiences, or especially if I educated myself more as to resources. But the truth is this year so far work has been exhausting me. I’m in this goofy race at the moment, trying to get my work done so I can have a breather and put some time in elsewhere.

“Elsewhere” meaning, probably, seeking out more money or scholarships or fellowships, really. I want to get this kid the tablet they would find so helpful and, in terms of drive and focus and hard work, they so clearly deserve. I’ve been trying to save up money – a huge wad of cash in a special place – but family ish keeps coming up. The car is in the shop and the bill for that drops in a couple days. Just tonight while Ralph did the dishes an ominous gurgling emanated from the bathroom – diced up salad and sink water began spurting from the tub drain. So tomorrow: a plumber. My pile of cash is not safe, not ever. I’m not angry or worried, it’s just how it is.

I’m thankful that with my relatively punishing schedule lately, I haven’t fallen ill. My son woke up with a headache and sore throat last week; I ran him a bath, got him something to drink and a couple Tylenol. We fall ill so rarely and it is a great opportunity to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n.

Tonight my body aches; Ralph is asleep and the children awake. I journal, yoga, meditate. Then time for bed, after watching of course a punishingly-horrid supernatural documentary. I’ve logged many hours on the laptop while I doze in and out, my mind perhaps being populated by cryptids and lake monsters I have no conscious awareness of, or belief in.

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.