The fall is suddenly upon us, and it is indescribably wonderful. I’ve felt this exact autumn in my bones most of my forty-one years and I could recognize it with only a handful of my senses. I remember the last ninety-plus degree day, just a short few weeks ago, and then suddenly the temperature dropped. It is still warm enough, with rich rains, sometimes violent ones. My husband kept watering our sparse tomato plants right up until last week, although I told him there was not enough summer warmth left to coax the green fruits into ripeness.
I’ve been singing “Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa” over the last day, to myself. The Dusty Springfield version, of course; there is no other version. While I’m sewing or working her voice pierces my heart. I can sing as dramatically as I like, in front of my children. In front of no one else, in fact. Maybe I’ll grow a little less shy, or perhaps my children are just the most special people in my heart, and who can know the unvarnished Me.
We are in for several months of absolutely stunning, perfect weather. We’ve had nothing but sunshine and warmth, and delicious soft rains. The daylight lasts well past nine PM and I’m taken back to my childhood and how much I loved those late twilights. During the blue and white, perfect daylight the life springs from the soil and everywhere the scent of green grass and blooms; the peonies we brought in to fill a vase are startlingly redolent with a heady scent. Everything is in bloom and the hot earth is panting and giving forth greenery. It’s beautiful here; I live by the mountains and by the sea. I may travel but I would have such a difficult time living anywhere else.
My youngest son has become irascible and peevish in this last half a year. I’ve parented long enough to not worry too much, But I don’t ignore those kinds of things either: children need interventions when things aren’t going well, when they are struggling. Tonight I made an offhand comment and he took offense; this is happening with relative frequency of late. He comes in the bedroom and lays down next to me I do not say all the things the adults in my life used to say to me. I don’t tell him he has a bad attitude or he’s snotty or selfish. I do not make condescending remarks about puberty or “teen attitude”. It’s a little damned depressing these thoughts even come to mind but, that’s how I was raised. Still, It is ending with me, I won’t parent that way. I won’t treat mine the way I myself was treated. My son holds me and I put my head on his chest. Both kids’ voices are deepening, and they are getting broader through the shoulders and they are taller than I and although we laugh about it, it puts me off track a bit. Impending old age and death, a ways off perhaps but sometimes it doesn’t seem so.
The older child soon creeps in and I hold him a while too. The two children seek me out several times a day. This is why, exciting as my career is, I can’t and won’t work fulltime as long as there are kids that need this. All kids need this. To think when I was pregnant with my first, I worried I wouldn’t have enough love, wouldn’t have what it takes. Well. I have what it takes. Turns out. What surprises me is that every day I can return to that intention, that not one day goes by I’m on autopilot all day. Sometimes I think parenting taught me mindfulness more than any other practice, or tradition, or lecture, or book.
The windows are open and I can feel the sea air and I can hear the trainyard; a sole candle burns on the dresser. The house is quieting although the younglings stay up late; they too are comforted by the long summer evenings, I think. Children of their mother.
My son climbs in the bed and flips his hair, which is soaking wet from the shower. Even a few moments on my pillow will leave it wet the rest of the night, as much hair as he has and how well the tangles hold moisture. “I will love you forever,” he tells me as he settles into my arms. It’s late and he’s exhausted but he wants to fall asleep here with me. I hold him for a while but send him to his own bed. I fear tonight he may have night terrors; he used to get them so often when he was much younger. Now we see them about once a year. Frightening and brutal, but for all that I am glad for their infrequency.
I slept well last night and indeed have been sleeping well lately, and I am grateful for this. I am struggling with so much anger of late. My little family gives me so much solace and joy; so does my volunteer work. So too, does my yoga. Maybe it is just that I am so faithful in all of these and it’s my faithfulness that sustains me.
I set forth in my studio and work on a pair of velveteen trousers with gathered knees, and double-welt slash front pockets, and flower-shaped fell-stitched back pockets, a jaunty little pair of luxe knickerbockers for a small child. The velveteen is gorgeous but dot not perform well when cut, shifting irritating bits of fluff all about my clothing and sewing machine table. For all that I persist – building and constructing a half-lining similar to a pair of men’s dress trousers. Grosgrain ribbon for the inner waistline. When finished they are a delight; I set them aside as I will be adding more pieces soon, for this same child.
Part of my irritation may be the cold in my studio; I think it fatigues me to work there. My hands are cold when I come upstairs and I heat them by washing them, or pouring another cup of hot coffee. Last week I put together the hummingbird feeders again as a solitary soldier was visiting now and then; so I can look out the window while cupping my mug, and watch the alacrity of the birds, the sun and rain outside on the fierce and fine weather we are having.
Yesterday my eldest child had their first shot of testosterone, administered by a long needle with a physician’s expertise. In two weeks we’ll return and I will watch my child learn to do this by themselves.
I am not nearly as nervous about testosterone as I was even a year ago, when I had just started educating myself more seriously about being a parent to a trans child. In some ways those early days were a little dream-like; I have a very close friend who is trans and had cheerfully thought that would be my most intimate experience – and I was grateful to be included in her life, and in her journey. When Beeps came out about thirteen months ago I am sad to say I did not realize just how much this would change our lives. It hasn’t all gone as expected, at all. We’ve had disappointments (unsupportive family with poor behaviors), elation (supportive family with awesome behaviors), a lot of great support (thank Jeebus for the internetz), and a huge learning curve. To this day, as much as I’ve read and studied, I haven’t seen anyone as eloquent, well-educated, and kind as my own child on the topic of gender issues. There’s a career in it for them if they so choose.
This child has been noticeably happier since the week dawned when they’d get their first shot; time will tell, but of course as has been my experience these sixteen years of parenting, it really is okay to trust our children. Watching my child bloom into joy, (more) affection, and a great deal more playfulness, has been both wonderful and a bit sobering. It is so easy, when a child is “well-behaved” intelligent, and (seems to be) doing so well, to ignore things rather than pay them heed. Important things.
I forgot to tell you but I am determined, by the way, on a new New Year resolution: to stop criticizing myself. It might seem entirely silly or perhaps even a vague or even unattainable goal but I absolutely know it’s important, and it’s possible. I have been practicing simply moving away from those thoughts that are repetitive criticism (or even obsessive criticism), simply stopping them. This is, I am surprised to find, entirely possible to do. Not that many years ago, I couldn’t have succeeded, and sadly I doubt I would have had an awareness of how self-critical I was. I am finding compassion to be as much a daily, nuanced, complex and fruitful practice as my daily yoga. This gives me a tremendous sense of optimism and gladness – joy, even.
Ralph and Beeps are in their last quarter of German together; “Du hast Hausaufgaben?” my husband asks our child, from the hallway through bathroom door. For their part, Phoenix has been tutoring me a bit. Today while they swept the kitchen floor they sat me down and lectured me on numbers, and how to count according to the German language. I laughed and repeated the word for “fifty-five” several times and Phoenix praised my pronunciation and my handle on their numeric system, although I felt I barely had a grasp on it all.
Also: happy vegan anniversary to me (yesterday)!
A wonderful, rich life, if the rain still pisses down and all that. Hell, it’s January. We got a ways to go.
My kids’ shoes end up: in my bedroom, on the bathroom floor. As relatively tidy and supremely well-behaved as my children are, they are nevertheless creatures of comfort: discarding clothes before taking a luxurious hot shower, or slipping off shoes before crawling in bed next to me to cuddle. They leave off on their errands to game – I hear shouts! of laughter from downstairs – and leave their clothes here and there. If they were adults I was forced to room with, I would find it all very irritating. As it is, these mundane remembrances are a comfort to me. I know when they leave my home I will miss them so.
“Are you okay?” my son says, at dinner. We are the only two left at the table and he is helping himself to a third serving of pasta. I tell him Yes, I am just tired and he says, “Put your hand here,” indicating the table between us. His long hand rests on mine – preternaturally beautiful fingers, and long nails. Then, shortly: “I need this to eat,” he smiles, removing his hand and crossing his right over so he can still comfort me.
I am okay, sure – but I am mentally very tired. I am meeting once a week with a small business consultant. I am in couples counseling every two weeks; I take one of my children to therapy every other week from that. It isn’t as if I’m particularly worried in all these concerns, but they very much require a special focus on my part. I am still reeling from the kids’ transition into their teenage years – which is absolutely nothing like the dour, cynical predictions would have had me believe, but is nevertheless a sea change – and I am experiencing the sadness of finally, finally no longer having a family bed. My husband’s car is once again tits-up – and mine is on the last legs for its brakes. My mother is selling her home, after five generations of lives passing through the old Victorian. A family friend dies young and this brings up, for me, horrible memories.
There are many glimmers of goodness in this time. My older child is happier, a brief calm sea. They hold and hug and kiss me several times a day. The younger is a bit more volatile – a surprise, given his sweet nature – but I am gentle with him and he is good at coming to his sense and apologizing. And so, for that matter, am I. I put no small amount of concentration onto helping their father connect with them. He is gone for hours each day, after all, and misses the many opportunities I have.
On the turn of the dime it is absolutely fall, no longer summer. Even the warm days have a dampness and chill in the air. It’s incredible to me, as it was so very hot just before the break. Ralph finished painting the house during our driest spell. In a week or so I’ll pull all the summer clothes for storage and bring out my winter coats in preparing for the long, dark winter to come. As it will, whether we are ready or no.
Suddenly my work life has ramped up. I have sewing work for clients; I have three freelance writing assignments. I have started developing a pattern line. I have officially been given my first web design project.
It’s funny. I entered the workforce in a semi-serious way under a year ago; now, if I’m not careful, it could swallow me whole!
But: I am careful. Today besides my work, I take the time off of the “me” stuff. I make several hours’ worth of time available for volunteer commitments. If I can’t put aside what I’m worried about, and focus on what someone else might want or need – I am lost indeed.
I stand outside a rain-soggy building for a bit. My husband has bogarted my keys and I can’t let anyone in. People need to come in, need to talk, need to get services. I am friendly enough but I refuse to worry much about the delay. I did my best today and today? I don’t have a key.
Today at noon my husband and eldest were already out of town, on a trip to do their own volunteer work. My son, asleep. His current best friend, a lanky boy of eleven who lives up the street, stopped over to pick Nels up for a swim date. I ask him if he can wait a moment; he smiles and twists his body and says “Sure.” I climb the stairs, open the door, and ask my still-sleeping son into wakefulness. Then I ask him – does he want to jump out of bed and accompany his buddy, to go swimming right now. And of course: he does. He pulls on a long-sleeved shirt I sewed him last month. He brushes his teeth, he asks me to pack his towel. My son is now a young man. He has a phone, he texts me. He mans his own schedule with deference to ours.
It all happened so fast. He was a baby when I started this journal!
It’s late. From my bed, buried in blankets – this selfsame boy. Not too old to forgo cuddling, holding me close, calling me his Little Mama, his Little Beak. No one can speak to me the way my children do. I am unsure if anything smells as sweet as my son’s hair, as his warm and brown little neck. He is still so thrillingly beautiful to me, and I couldn’t have invented it, couldn’t have made it happen on my own thoughts or dreams.
Work has been hard, as I’ve been feeling ill. Pain comes and goes; today it didn’t start until the afternoon. But it must be taking its toll all day, as I’m considerably less energetic than I’ve come to count on. Now: lying on my back, temples feeling squeezed, lower back a dull ache and fire.
So today I fought to keep it together and to run the household. I’m only half-assing that for the most part. I can’t pay bills right now, so into the little wire basket they go. Sewing up my latest online tutorial, and the low-light in my basement studio and the deep cold (even though I wear a coat) is a deterrent. My kids ask for food and we put something together. My son hugs me – he’s over five foot tall now and will soon be reaching for things on the shelf that I can’t get. His hair still smells like sweet straw. His nose and cheeks still look like boyhood, when I watch him sleeping. Blond hair, caramel skin, against the white of the pillow.
Phoenix, she asks me about when she was born. I hold up my hands and remember how small she was. I remember holding her close. Funny, as the kids still put their arms around me and put their head to my breast. They will never not-remember how that feels, I suppose. I somehow lost that experience with my own parents. I have no memory of seeking them out in that way. Something got broken along the way, I suppose. But I always knew they loved me dearly.
The car has a light on, some kind of engine problem. We had a lovely, lovely person donate Phee’s tuition for this quarter – but soon I will need tuition for Spring. I am frustrated because I can’t seem to get the house in order. But – why should I? We have been down for the count. Ralph has been ill – he is also only a few classes away from earning his Bachelor’s Degree, which is kind of amazing, but it also means he’s working hard. In fact it seems everyone in the family is working hard on their projects. Family life seems never to stay in one spot for long. I am a veteran in that I don’t fear the future like I used to. But the present, the right-now, it seems to slip through my grasp as soon as I try to cling to it.
I’m driving my mother to a medical procedure this morning. It’s suddenly become cold – so icy out that I am delayed. The car heater does not work, so defrosting the windshield takes overlong. I end up driving with my windows down so I can see and within moments I am deeply, stunningly cold.
There is nothing like the discomfort of extreme elements to sharply bring one to the moment.
My mother is anxious. The preparation for her procedure has been unpleasant; she is hungry, and did not sleep last night. Her face is pinched and anxious; she is small and angry like a dried apple doll. She doesn’t know where to check in, so we ride elevators up and down. I try to stay off my phone as much as possible. Radiate calm. Despite the hundred and four things not quite going my way – I think my brake linings are going out! – I know it’s not the time to talk about any of that.
Leaving my mother in the hands of physicians for an hour, I am home to rustle up my children and take the eldest to class. Both children are unhappy: my daughter dreads an assignment today – my son wants to sleep. Then there’s work: my job is my job: low pay, twice as much work as I’d have time to do, but constantly being asked to cut my hours.
My daughter has a bowl of cereal and bundles up; she is tough. Her face, maturing into womanhood, still has some of that babyish look – the full cheeks, the slanted eyes. Her short haircut emphasizes today’s resemblance to her toddlerhood, and I feel a pang of loss.
My son, I placate with a hot Egg McMuffin.
And it’s wonderful to be doing for the family, to be with just the kids. I had so many years with them, that it feels like the normal thing.
Later: I pull on a new hat I’ve sewn, a slouchy beany. Then a hoodie. Down to the basement studio to work on a Christmas present. The kids clean the kitchen and start the dishwasher: a comforting sound.
The temperature hovers around freezing; melting, then re-solidifying the ice. No one has a fall. Darkness descends and I put my sewing away; upstairs and a fire in the fireplace.
Another day. <3 <3 <3
I adore my new(ish) job, but there are decided quirks. For instance, budget problems are major issues amongst personnel and almost every day I’m there, someone is sniffing out “so… what exactly are you doing today?” All the more depressing considering my predecessor was gloriously underpaid and while “appreciated” (as in well-liked by all coworkers) – quiteunappreciated when it comes to working conditions.
So for me – even though there’s plenty that needs to be done, and lots of cleanup I’ve been messing with, and little training at navigating databases and lawful requirements – well still, many days I’m facing some direct or oblique form of, Is There Any Possible Way We Don’t Need You Here?
Now I am a patient woman, a competent worker, and a confident person, so I don’t get too excited if I think someone trying to get me to justify my contribution. Still, it is a bit depressing. I find my mind wandering to people are accustomed to living this way for their food and board, daily. Work is a trade – my best hours for your rate of pay. Where do we get the idea we’re lucky to have a job? Give me a break.
At two o’clock today I zip up my coat, pull on my wool cap, and bundle into my scarf, ready to brave the elements for a lunch break. A storm hit the Pacific Northwest this morning; now the Chehalis River is flooding and deadfalls are crashing to the backroads. The wind is lashing torrential rains against the grey little buildings squatting outside, cheerful lights flickering within. My coworkers take a moment from their clerical exertions to watch the storm. The joke they’ll see me blow across the street if I step outside.
But I need hot food. I’m going.
My husband and children are home, safe inside the house. I’ve sent Ralph a grocery list, so he can get us a few things should we need them. The power might go out; we need to be as reasonably well-supplied as possible. We’ve got a fireplace and plan on putting it to a maiden voyage these days.
At four-thirty: home then, and caring for the family. It’s getting dark, but the road isn’t as wet as I’d feared.
Ralph cooks most meals these days – funny that! – but while he’s taking a nap tonight, the house is quiet. I enjoy making up our meal: mashing up garbanzo beans, mixing up herbs and spices and breadcrumbs for falafel cakes to fry. Pita, fresh out of the oven. I let the kids help – first putting away the clean dishes, then washing their hands and squeezing lemons, snipping fresh parsley, placing the hot bread in a cloth-covered bowl.
Tomorrow I have the day off; the storm seems to have died down. My car is out of commission – some kind of horrendous leak somewhere, we are still troubleshooting – and the bank account is, predictably, overdrawn.
But – so what? I’ve got safety, warmth, and a lotta love.
and a new fireplace!