preludes to a different nest

It seems oddly fitting that at night when I come upstairs to my rather austere master bedroom (actually it’s not just mine; the four of us sleep in one huge room, I love it) and find my perfectly tidy space now has a small cluster of Legos, toy dinosaurs, and a Christmas bow lying beside my bed with my current reading material (The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials). The little hobgoblins that live here constantly move their projects – drawings, “presents” (items from home Nels gathers up and wraps and gifts us with), comic books (Sophie), nature books (both kids), and clothes scattered here and there after forays outside to check for chicken eggs or play in the backyard with all its new wonders.

I am completely comforted by the presence of my children. Last night they stayed over with my mother; while I thoroughly enjoyed a night with my husband, I also felt a restlessness. It seems backwards; I require them to tuck me in at night and can’t settle easily if they do not do so.

Today in response to a frustrating sewing project we fled out on the Xtracycle; the sunny, fairly warm weather making it a possibility. All too soon the day draws to a close and I scoop laundry, return books to shelves, and try to convince my wee rascals to let me hold them a little while before they sleep.

of lizards and liaisons

This morning our mission was simple: a sojourn to the local pet store to do some homework. My daughter has been persistently requesting a new pet: lizard or turtle. Today we went to find the appropriate animal for her care (verdict: leopard gecko) and price all the accessories we’ll need for said animal. Sophie brought a clipboard and pen for our research. After we move into our new place I’ll venture out again to acquire the animal (hopefully from a home that no longer wants their wee lizard).

It was a snowy walk to meet the bus; slow going, as the roads were still icy and treacherous. After boarding (fare is free most of this month for Christmas) we head to the back of the bus; I get violently carsick on most public transportation unless I’m assiduously facing forward. We sit next to a grown man in scuffed leather coat with a coarse dark beard and skull-printed do-rag. My daughter looks out the window at the snow; there’s never been a child more interested and invested in finding ice to crunch with her boots. My son takes up Sophie’s clipboard and flips the page to the lyrics for his Christmas concert (tomorrow night) which he’s been practicing. In a clear, measured voice he sings the versus of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”.

After my son concludes this recital the man next to me leans over. “Thank you for the carol,” he says, holding up two shiny quarters for the children (even though Sophie hadn’t sang). “Oh, thank you!” I say. “I didn’t know that was part of the deal.” The man apologizes for what he now perceives may be an intrusion. “I hope my tattoos didn’t offend you, ma’am,” he says, showing me two very homemade-looking on the back of each hand: “JESUS IS KING” and “JESUS IS LORD”. Tattoos don’t offend me; neither does passionate Christianity. With his long hair and dark beard he reminds me of my father and brother, of company my family used to keep when we lived in Southern California. I talk to him a bit more, sharing a story about walking a long distance the day before because I didn’t have bus fare, not knowing that fare was free this month. I enjoy talking to strangers and I am somewhat eager he sees I do not scare. I see his jeans are torn and underneath he is wearing bathing trunks, presumably against the cold. Where does he live? Where is he going? The words stick in my throat; I don’t want him to think I’m intruding.

Across from Swanson’s he rings the bell to exit the bus. “Have a nice day,” he tells us, and unless I’m mistaken there is something guarded in his tone. Does he regret offering the quarters? Does he think I scorn him based on his appearance – as so many before me doubtless have done? Is he just lonely?

“You too,” I say warmly. “Thank you.” I’m smiling as he leaves and my eyes feel wet, grateful for the contact between strangers.

We chug up the Simpson Avenue bridge on the bus, only blocks from our destination now. I think to myself how much the human soul wants connection, wants to be seen and not judged, wants to strike up a conversation with someone they’ve never met and likely won’t see again. I also think to myself that when I’m out on foot, on the bus, on the bike, I am so much more likely to experience the expansion of the soul, the pauses that end up in their way more rewarding and real than the rushing about I am wont to do in my many plans and errands.

My children in the pet store are perfectly behaved; their tender handling of the fragile, small reptiles betrays their gentleness. The lizards themselves, animals I hadn’t been prone to notice before, are amazingly beautiful; looking as if made of glass, but soft, barely warm to the touch. A delicacy in each face as if it were formed by an expert craftsman, which indeed many think is the case. Sophie asks as we leave if I’m going to indeed bring a lizard into our new home. “I promise I will take good care of him,” and I believe her.

like backdraft, but with a room full of comfy chairs instead

Today a rather cold, dismal rain sneezes on us and my children and I miss a deadline because I invite them to participate in cleaning the living room – while I relax with a book. Some days it’s just not in me to come home to an overly untidy house. I can always rely on the wee ones to do the chores when I’ve got a good carrot in front of them (as opposed to the lash behind them). Today’s carrot: a field trip to the Fire Department and a book event at the Library.

Those who watch my family interactions know that I am more patient with my son Nels than my daughter Sophie. I chalk this up to wisdom regarding my secondborn and folly on the part of my first. Try as I might I find myself expecting far more out of Sophie, her lot in life to sport the unfortunate trifecta of firstborn / girl child / less dominant personality, my son seeming younger, more of a known quantity, easier to feel relaxed about raising. The last few days my son has severely tested even my reserves of patience for him, however. If I wasn’t his primary ally (in contrast to Ralph and my mother, who tend to scold and shame) I’d be doing far worse in applying compassionate care.

Today’s field trip was a pleasant one, despite a long slog in the rain to get there. Since I’d spent a few days out of the classroom setting I was struck by the extremely well-intentioned series of commands, reprimands, and seemingly unnecessary restraints vested in the manners requirements of our small group of preschoolers (“Say thank you, Johnny!” “What do you say, Johnny” – at one point my son duly reciting with a smile, “thankyouthankyouthankyou” like the most winsome parrot). The nine or so kids are allowed to look but basically herded in a don’t-touch-hardly-anything walkthrough that seems to me not so much cruel as baffling. I sat back and watched because, really, everyone was having a good time. Internally I found myself laughing at the thought that these massive, extremely rugged fire trucks would be treated like china glass – to hear the words of the accompanying adults. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been struck by this if I hadn’t been on far more hands-on and lengthy fire station tours. The fireman leading us through was an attractive, doe-eyed gentleman obliging the many questions of the children (half of them flat statements, like my son’s brilliant “Um. Hospital bed.” contribution) and a few of the parents (volunteering a younger man to slide down the pole for our edification).

My son and daughter had a spry attention span and asked many questions. Besides my son’s flat statement above he also found it necessary to revisit the concept of the paramedic’s oxygen – “The air that blows, it’s to help you breathe and put energy in your body.” At this I quietly wiped away tears as I knew his two comments had everything to do with what he watched his grandfather go through late August (as likely did, now that I think about it, Sophie’s answer to the query, “What does an ambulance do?” “It carries dead people.” – prompting a jolly laugh from the group).

Some of the events I’ve always loved about the life of children – especially when I was one – were trips like these, being taken out into the community to see how bells whistled and levers clanked. I truly feel blessed that my life allows not only for me to send my own children off on these adventures, or bring them to them, but a re-appreciation for the simple wonders of the daily existence.

monday bundles

This morning when my daughter finally woke up she entered the living room with a barking cough and clearly stuffed-up nasal cavity. Momentarily miserable (the mornings are always the worst for head colds) she flopped on the couch, accepting offerings of kitty cat and blanket. I’m having trouble along the same lines myself and thus bagged my bike trip to the preschool today. Best to keep sick children quarantined.

Mondays are small domestic happenings in that they’re the days we go off and buy groceries for our week. Our grocery needs are mostly across town. At the fruit stand (where it sometimes seems “everyone” shops) I purchase the weekly veggies and let the kids each choose their own fruit (tropical fare today: a mango for Nels and handful of kiwi for Suse). I’m looking forward to tonight’s meal: paghetti squash with basil, feta, and tomatos, blanched beets with bleu cheese dressing. We have local apples at home, waiting for inclusion in salads, turnovers. I buy a few pears for our cupboard and the fruit salad I’ll be making at the Deli on Friday: give them a few days to ripen on the shelf (the secret is to not one time even touch the pears as they make ready). With my weekly allowance I can buy a few niceties that make the week so enjoyable: licorice, dark chocolate for Ralph, goat’s milk, garlic powder, nutritional yeast.

From produce-buying back to the library where my children pick their books and I pick a few for them (The Paper Bag Princess, a hefty Dinosaur encyclopedia, and Batman: The Sunday Classics 1943 – 1946). The rain has, finally, sadly hit our November; I’ll be back up and bundled on the bike as soon as our colds clear up.

rebels without a tire swing

The last couple weeks we here in HQX have been blessed with thrillingly sunny late autumn days. Today, even though my husband and I are both suffering from a head cold, we simply can’t stay off the bikes. Our destination: the bakery (previously blogged by a local) new to downtown Aberdeen.

Our children seem to fare better, behavior-wise, when we go off on road trips and even more: bike trips. They are genial, their appetite is good, and their conversation entertaining. Ralph and I can usually get more uninterrupted conversation time, which keeps us from loathing one another too much. Today I tell him my novel synopsis; he tells me he plans a celebration for the family on Tuesday (the day, God willing, he gets his new guitar). We talk about our friends, our future plans. From the bakery to the grocery store for cat food and a few dinner items. Sophie pushes the cart, Nels rides underneath.

Have I mentioned how much I love, love, love biking for the opportunity to meet new people? As we leave the store we see a man jaywalking across the main thoroughfare (which is actually, regrettably, a highway) sporting a large beard, wearing an open coat, no shirt, huge gold chains, and talking to two big friendly-looking dogs connected not to him but to one another via fifteen feet of some kind of industrial cable tied around their necks. The dogs join us; the kids and I pet them. The man is cursing (gently) at them, trying to untangle their bi-leash. He compliments the bike. He looks unclean and cheerful, his chest beneath his coat smooth and muscled but also tragically scarred. The dogs look happy. We part ways for the now.

A few minutes later at Finch Park and the kids are gamboling on the playground while Ralph and I talk. As we sit huddled on the picnic table two teenagers enter the grounds, alike as two peas in a pod with hair in their faces, half-cocked hats, screenprinted hoodies, and jeans that hug low and tight on the hips and loose on the legs. Ralph points out he sees kids like this at the parks often, carrying themselves with a self-conscious stoop to their walk and remote body language; but who do, in fact, play on the playground equipment. “It’s a commentary on childhood, and how we don’t provide for kids this age,” he says (or something like that, it sounded smart to me). Sure enough, the two boys effortlessly climb up to the top of the rope-coned merry-go-round and swing on it a bit, clearly wanting velocity. I heckle Ralph to go offer a push and, given his refusal, finally do it myself. The boys bray laughter like it’s a joke but they concede happily. I push as much as I can, my daughter joining and clambering up along with the little pirates.

I return back to Ralph and as we continue our conversation I observe the youths have now freed themselves up to play on the large swings, the teeter-totter, goofing off. They are as joyful and full of mischief as the younger kids, and no one begrudges them their company. I often think of teenagers and young adults and how little some people trust or support them, especially if they have a cigarette in or bad language coming out of their mouths.

It’s nice to just watch them play.

wrong as rain

This morning a girlfriend told me it wasn’t until just now that the weather here started getting to her. “Last night I was listening to the storm and thinking, ‘I shouldn’t be hearing this!'”

I feel the same. I’m ready for sun or at least – I’d settle for warmth with an absence of rain. First of all, the fact I bike most everywheres means that rain really sucks. I don’t have to just rainproof myself but my children and my groceries and my paperwork or whatever else I’m transporting. And then I have to go inside buildings soaking wet in vain hopes to hang eight layers of clothing up to dry before I go again.

Let’s put it this way: If I was to look at the weather, I’d give it this face:

one day of spring and then summer?

Today I spent most the day on my bike and on the beach. I know this sounds nice and all, but it was very hot for me (HQX reached 93 and considering last week we still had winter chill I guess I just wasn’t ready). On top of this the bike trip with my mom was harder than I’d thought it would be. In my tube-top dress and bright red face under a bike helmet I wasn’t exactly getting wolf whistles, in fact I’m sure I made a few lads puke in their mouth a little bit.

Our beach trip was lovely. Friends Mikey and John picked Sophie and I up at 3:30 and we hit two separate beaches toting water and sunscreen as backup in the van. On the shore John repeatedly braved the waves while I watched my daughter over and over running into and out of the surf. After dinner and ice cream we journied home and hit the barely-cool house just prior to 9 PM. Quite a day for both Sophie and I and I count it up to my Good Mommy my daughter’s skin remained entirely free from sunburn.

"threshing herself to pieces over all the mean worry of housekeeping"

This morning a little after 8 my husband, daughter, and son rode off in my girlfriend’s minivan. Sophie to school, Nels and Ralph across the state to see about a wallaby.* As soon as I’d had my half cup of coffee I did the following:

Swept / vacuumed all floors
Watered and weeded the garden
Hung laundry
Re-washed stank laundry and threw out offending stank-gear that stanked the laundry up
Washed dishes, cleaned table, cleaned cupboards
Cleaned rat cage and tidied kids’ room
Took a bath and packed my bike for a roadtrip**

All of this done by 10:30 so I could go about the rest of the day.

My friend Shannon calls the work we domesticiles do “the Cinderella Chores”. At about day five in a row of backbreaking housework one can choose to die inside or decide, somehow, this work is worth it. It must be nice for the people who don’t do this sort of work, or don’t do it very often because their spouse does it, or they don’t have children to care for and who have conveniently forgotten they were once infants who had others do this work for them. You could trick yourself into thinking you were smarter or more accomplished or hardworking than, say, people like me and Shannon.

But of course then you’d come over and have dinner with us and think, wow, this is a nice family and Kelly’s a good cook and somehow family life is just easy and falls together. And you’d be a totally wrong asshole to think so.

For this morning: biking with my mom in the sun and against the wind, protecting oneself with sunscreen.

* Mercedes sedan we are interested in purchasing.

** In light of the weather’s caprice I packed gear to change into should it rain; of course today was a record high and so hot I wished I could have spent the day in my back yard, naked and cowering under an awning.

flowers bloom for everyone, rich or poor, great or small

Last night we attended my daughter’s kindergarten concert at the HQX high school’s theater. It was glum and cold-ish at 6 PM when we biked up and then down a huge, steep awful hill to get there. I had to walk the bike both up and down – the “down” was at such an incline I didn’t feel I could safely mount the bike and have Sophie do the same. And in my tippy Danskos at that with middle school students gawking. I don’t think so.

The school concert was like being slammed into my own childhood, only I was a Mommy now. It was a familiar experience in some ways but alien in others. Parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, teenagers on chaperoned pseudo-dates filled the seats to overflowing. When the kindergarteners filed onstage parents a sweetness filled the room as parents began rising out of their seats to joyfully signal their own children (whom they’d just dropped off minutes before in the band room). With the hum in the air the rising and falling of parents in their seats reminded me of butterflies lifting and falling out of a swaying meadow. My daughter was in the first group out and the only child to, as she walked, turn and throw her head up to wave with confidence; they were all there to see her.

My son sat in rapt silence, bundled in his coat with his hair falling in his eyes, his gaze fixed on his sister and her big moment. Ralph got there late and snuck out after her performance to meet a friend. And a mere forty five minutes after we took our seats I was biking the kids home in the wet spring evening. We made pizza together in the kitchen and I hung Sophie’s dress back up in her closet. Finis.