gin and chocolate and lots of splishy splashy

It’s 2 PM. Overheard in our house:

Phoenix: “Nels, it’s time for breakfast. A good breakfast. A frosting breakfast!”

Yeah. At 2 PM. And yes, that was pretty much their breakfast: cake and frosting, and  yeah, as soon as I’m done with my morning reading and writing I’ll pull them out of the cheap kiddie pool where they’re gleefully playing with a friend recently-returned-from-vacation and a handful of other kids, and well go off on bikes for lunch out, in the sunshine, all the possibilities of the road before us.

We stayed out late last night at a party our friends threw and I got up to some drinking. So this morning I was not so much sleeping off a hangover, as sleeping off the effects of gin. By this I mean at 5 AM I woke and was still a little stumbly.  I watched two movies on my husband’s laptop (Happy Accidents and The Man From Snowy River, both really wonderful, and no that isn’t the booze talking) and drank a lot of water and took a hot shower and soon felt wonderful. By the time I fell asleep again I’d had to peel two children and four cats off me. Four motherfucking cats.

The party debauchery was the cap to a wonderful day yesterday – my husband’s birthday. We spent it together as a family indoors/outdoors, grocery shopping for birthday cake accoutrement and then a late lunch/early dinner at our favorite HQX eatery, and the kids climbed on and off our laps and Nels talked our ears off sweetly about his newest and most favorite online video game, Fancy Pants Adventures (if you’ve never met us, you can play this video game and watch the animation of Fancy Pants and that is exactly who my son is in demeanor and speed and appearance). For birthday presents Ralph took the children shopping and bought them Legos (yes, he bought gifts for them for his birthday) and while they constructed these at home I readied us for the gathering we’d be invited to, whipping a mascarpone filling and baking three layers of chocolate cake to top with my favorite glossy, rich double-chocolate buttercream frosting. The sunlight filtered through the kitchen and a low chill began to form outside as I stacked the confectionary all up and pulled aside some homemade hummus for a hostess gift.

This morning my children are so very sweet; after waking near me and holding and petting me I tell them I need to sleep a little longer, I was awake in the middle of the night. So they rise and groom themselves and get glases of milk and read to one another and begin going outside, coming inside, bringing kittens out to play, and splashing in the cheap little kiddie pool where they currently are; four neighbor boys are with them, one white and three dark-skinned, all six children in a variety of states of dress and undress. My daughter comes inside and the first thing she says is, “Mama, did you manage to get some good sleep?” She is calm and paces into my arms, her eyes are serene and clear like a tiny fierce predator.

I honestly believe in many ways my children have such a wonderful childhood, which I do not provide for them inasmuch as I’m able just because I love them, but because I care about what they will in turn provide for the others they meet along the way. And – maybe this seems odd to some – my children’s joyful life is contagious, it infuses me and changes me for the better, daily. Their lives give me strength. Last night at the party a friend told me he respected how much I seek out and consume and write on activist subjects. I told him it wore me down at times and he said, “Well thanks for wearing yourself out for me so you can provide these pieces to me.” I wonder if maybe my children and the future they hold in their hands are my reason I do wear myself out, voluntarily so. If that’s true I also recognize how incredibly restorative they are to me.

My own little joy-capacitors, and we infuse one another with loving care and joyful energy.

on which it somehow did not take a turn for the Awkward

It’s a common enough belief among people that when you have kids you give them little talks to fill them in on your particular family values. Yet I tend to believe as Mahatma Gandhi once said: “My life is my message.” Children pick up family values from the life lived in the family – and yes, this is for good or ill (kids also pick up values outside the family; you cannot force your children into your own worldviews). The need to be conscious about my life-as-lived is is why, in general, I don’t tend to give my kids lectures about this or that. But every now and then I initiate a direct conversation – I just try to avoid any ‘splaining about the whole business. When I choose these discussions I’ve often found asking my children how they feel and what they believe works better than telling them what they should feel or believe.

So here’s word for word what happened in the truck the other day as Sophie and I drove to pick up groceries.

Me: “Sophie, what age do you think it would be okay for you to have sex?”

Sophie: “After I get a boyfriend.”

Me: “When is that?”

Sophie: “Maybe… thirteen or fifteen.” She thinks another beat then says, “Maybe I’d wait a little longer.”

Me: “Oh so you mean, you’d start dating as a teenager, but wait to have sex?”

Sophie: “Yeah.”

Me: “You know, that’s what I did. I mean I had boyfriends and girlfriends for a while before I started having sex with any of them.”

Sophie: “Girlfriends? You’re kidding!” She looks at me in surprise.

Me: “Yes, I mean a few. I kissed them and had sex with some of them and all that. But you know, first I dated for a while before that kind of thing.”

Sophie: “Oh!” The light in her eyes and voice is just priceless. Something “fits” for her, although I’m not sure what it is.

We pull into the parking lot. My daughter unbuckles her seatbelt, leans over and puts her arms around me, strokes my hair. “Thanks for always telling us the truth, Mama,” she says softly, and kisses me so gently.

So really, there’s that.

SHOULD WE FEED THE CATS AGAIN

This video is RIDICULOUS because it sums up a little too much our life. All off-script, including Mable’s screech and my pathetic succumbing to Harris’ begging-for-food charms.

Anna Dell Geckaboom, with my daughter, who is not only an experienced and loving lizard-custodian and would-be herpetologist, but is also getting pretty good at handling crickets as well.

Our Newest Member Of The Household

“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.

this evening’s quotables

6 PM Sophie, after mourning (and I mean mourning, lots and lots of weeping even whilst biking) the loss of tonight’s swim team practice*:

“To help myself feel better, I planted one of Nels’ nasturtiums. I named it Big Babie.”

She later went on to make a special half-gallon jar labeled such, for watering that flower only.

8 PM Sign in my children’s “restaurant”, name of Punkin Jack’s:

Attengon, song singers! This week on Tusday is:
SING SONG
Sing your onw song by Tusday

New menu, ibid:

PIZZA *ceese *peperoni *pepers *mushrooms
SUSHI
STIR FRY (prans, boccoi, staek, pork, musrooms, & snow peas)
COMING SOON birthday cacke

(Seriously, with the spelling! You are seven and five! Don’t make me put you in school!)

10 PM Nels, standing on kitchen counter in undies-only, every rib and muscle visible in his long torso, hunting for the many pints of freshly-canned strawberry jam my mom brought us today:

“Jam with… butter… jam… um… urgh…” (swaying and rubbing eyes)

Nels actually spent all day eating, including homemade scones with whipped cream; pizza; most of my salad (iceberg lettuce, mozzarella cheese, black olives, bleu cheese dressing); an abomination of a sundae that included bubble gum and cotton candy ice creams, chopped up bananas, white chocolate chips, strawberry and chocolate toppings, and sprinkles; fresh broccoli and carrot sticks with ranch; a Rice Krispie treat; quiche with basil, spinach, oven-dried tomatoes; cucumbers; milk; and garden asparagus and strawberries. It’s only natural he’d end up staggering on my kitchen counter rummaging for jam like a drunk bear.

* Story to follow.

things i’ve heard at home that may be kind of weird, now that i consider them

“Was David Lee Roth in any bands before Van Halen?” (Ralph, to me, and what’s sad is I had an immediate response as if I was thinking along the same lines).

***

“Please don’t compare my balls to Burt Reynolds’.” (Ralph again).

***

Sophie, in the car: “Phew! What smells like leprosy?”

Me, startled: “What? Do you know what that is?”

Sophie: “Yeah. It’s when your toes and fingers rot and fall off.”

Me: “Where did you learn about that?”

Sophie (airily): “At my Bible school.”*

Nels: “You’re right! It smells like rotting… like onions. An old onion.”

Me: “Well, that restaurant I was just in was cooking, maybe they were using onions.”

Kids (with more scorn on their faces than you can possibly imagine): “An old onion?” “Yuck.” “Gross.” etc.

***

Among other things, I sincerely weep for their targets should they become professional epicures.

* Sophie has gone to Bible school less than once each year, but she threw this out there like it was some college she had a degree from.

"i didn’t say it would be a *good* story!"

I woke up beautifully. And I usually have some great mornings. (These last few days I have been staying up late watching BBC mysteries on the laptop through Netflix instant viewing). This morning, to my left: Nels, clinging to me and sleeping softly. On the far side of Nels: my daughter, holding the cat Harris.

Sophie and Harris have a unique relationship in our family. She has always been kinder to the cats than our son has; in fact, she has been predominantly gentle to animals her entire life. She’s not the tail-pulling type. Harris trusts her in such a way that you often see the two of them travelling through the house, she carrying him in two arms, hunched shoulders, and his body forming an upside down “J” shape (or a right-side up flaccid “7” shape) while he purrs. Mornings, like this morning, you can find the two of them literally in each other’s arms – he’s a big cat, she’s a little girl, so the embrace is physically reciprocal in nature.

As I woke and perceived them there Sophie was talking to him softly. Sleepy, I reached over and pet all three of them; first the boy, then the girl, then the cat. The cat, for some reason, chose to grip the area between my thumb and index finger with his teeth. Not biting, but holding my hand. For a while. I tried to tug out of it but his little tooth was right in there. Sophie, seeing my conundrum, silently gave the feline a sharp but gentle whup on top of his head, her air the casual expertise of a professional cat-handler; he immediately released his grip. I lay there and watched the two of them while Nels gradually woke up and put his arms around me. I was in heaven. I was also thinking of my daughter and our pet; if she’s lucky, Harris will be with us eighteen more years or so. I pictured her out of our home, off to college or somewhere else, having grown up with this companion. Getting to have a love affair with this very cat. Being with him as he ages, perhaps – if she’s fortunate – when he dies.

It’s one of my life’s pleasures to watch my kids form relationships completely independent of my influence. I find myself comforted by the impermanence of things, interested in how things play out. My life as a parent has been one of relinquishing more and more control. I wouldn’t have guessed my daughter would take as much genuine pleasure from our pets at such a young age. I thought I’d adopted this kitty for my pleasure.

Overheard this evening:

Me: Should I give Shannon some of the tamales I made as well? [while packing up some molasses cookies for her]

Ralph: NO! What the hell are you thinking?!

He’s a little greedy for tamales. As you know.

Bringing Harris Home (Wed 8/22)

the great toe mashup of ought-six

I’ve been biting my lip trying not to laugh at things my kids say because they are just so serious when they say them but it is also so funny.

First there’s this afternoon as my daughter and I walk to join Nels and Ralph in their photo-shoot at our downtown favorite deli / eatery (Ralph’s working on some new menus et cetera for the proprietor).

“Oh man! I forgot to put Harris’ ass outside,” I exclaim, deliberately using bad language because Sophie loves when I talk that way about the cat.

But she’s having no playful banter in this case: “The point is, it’s not our fault. It’s Harris’ fault,” she says in clipped, decisive tones. “He should have gone outside when we opened the door.”

“The point is …” ?! Who talks like that in this house?

Then tonight as my son runs through the living room top speed with my quilting ruler (look, there was some reason he was doing this – none of us knows what it was) and suddenly the ruler, only three inches shorter than he, stutters on the ground and scrapes the top of his foot. And he cries. Then he sees some of his skin is gone and he really cries. I mean Nels hardly ever lets life get the best of him; he’s either belligerent, angry, or whining but in this case he’s actually afraid. His chin lowers and trembles and everything. Ralph is trying to explain to Nels his skin will grow back; patting Nels tenderly on his tiny, bandaged toe.

Sophie steps in: “Nels,” she says sagely, “When I lost my toe…”* she goes on reassuringly, with all the veteran wisdom of like, some kind of grizzled old Marine telling combat stories.

Ah yes. Belly up to the bar, young ‘un – Ole Stumpy can regale ye with thrilling tales.

my children are not jumpy mice, a mantra

Today as I awaited my young daughter’s exodus from the hot showers post-swimming lesson I saw another woman in a an angry tableau with her daughter while the grandmother watched. The little girl had done something – I don’t know what – and was receiving a lengthy scolding, right there in her bathing suit. The mother and the grandmother’s faces were molded in lines of intense displeasure. The object of their ire was avoiding eye contact while making angry grunts. “Look at me. Look at me,” the mother fumed, gripping her daughter’s upper arms. At this the grandmother marched over from a few feet of observational distance, grasped the young girl’s head, and forcefully turned it. “Look at your mother,” she grimly intoned. I lost track of the conversation as my daughter skirted past the trio, giving them a curious glance, and into my waiting towel. A few minutes later, out of eyesight at the locker bank, I heard the sound of a slap and the mother’s voice again, angrily: “Behave.” I thought, impossible. If the little girl was weak-natured, she would be terrified and ashamed. If she was strong-willed, she would be angry and ashamed. At best, she’d be cowed into submission. Adults can win this sort of conflict because they are larger, meaner, and scarier. And the worst thing is adults who behave like this often never reflect on doing things a different way; never learn to take care of their anger, only to unleash it at the expense of their dependents.

I remember episodes like this in my childhood (I was of the strong-willed variety, in case you hadn’t guessed), the full (if momentary) anger and shaming language directed at me by the supposedly loving figures in my life. These incidents were awful, simply awful, and when I see a child treated in this way I remember it like it was yesterday. Only slightly less uncomfortable than witnessing tonight’s unpleasantness was the knowledge that I have myself talked to my child this way, have felt that angry at my child – although I know I have never permitted adults to gang up on my children in any way (at least, not as long as I’ve been present to stop it). It was so easy for me to see, looking in on someone else’s child, that no matter what this girl did she in no way deserved this browbeating. It was so easy for me to imagine this grandmother treated her daughter this way and the cycle continued – at least in this moment there was no growth, no healing.

Alone on our locker room bench, I gather my daughter in my arms, towel and all. She permits the embrace and I have a few blissful seconds of her warmth and dearness. She is tough and smart and almost the age she could physically forage for herself in the world. But in the moment she feels like a tiny bird, all fluttering heart and fragile wings. Gentle, gentle, I think to myself. Can I return to being gentle to my children? I know today’s example will stay with me. I also know I’m not being so gentle to myself lately. Take a breath; tomorrow is a new day. I can do it.