Nels

Nels

Due to several factors I am not going to detail here, I have habituated myself to forgoing breaks. I don’t take hours off let alone days off. I am work, work, working and only slow down at all to sit with the kids while they game, or to grab a bite to eat, or take a little time with my husband. My daily session on the yoga mat – which I never skip – is an absolute screamingly silent exercise in discipline: trying to breathe and be present in the moment.

So days like today are special. Yes, I worked during the day but I also set aside my time for my volunteer commitment, which is grounding and while hardly restful, is at least a couple hours I am not thinking of my own plans, my own hustle.

And then later this evening, a trip to the beach to meet up with friends and enjoy the air, and watch a fire dancing show long after darkness falls. It is hard to believe a year has passed since we were here last; last summer I remember Phoenix and I split a huge order of greasy fries and we climbed on the rocks at the quay. It’s even colder this visit, but we didn’t think to bring blankets or even camping chairs to keep us off the frigid earth. Nevertheless there is nothing I like more than being tucked away with my family and with what warmth I can garner from my hoodie and the close-sitting strangers around us, drinking hot tea and waiting for the show to begin. Long after the tea is gone and the warmth has left my body and I’m still shifting, I feel peaceful and grateful to be nestled into a crowd with nothing more to do than watch performers swing flame and spit petrol to television hit songs.

We arrive home late and I’m too tired to even tell the children to finish up dishes for the evening. Tomorrow we will wake and be full of energy and we can houseclean then. But for tonight I light my candle and put up my hair and hit the hot shower, and fall into my pajamas and then to bed where my husband rubs my aching feet and slender ankles.

Westport

Hutch + Little One

smol guests

It’s 11 PM but my husband makes me blueberry pancakes from scratch. They are perfect: three identical, steaming hot and delectable confections. Vegan butter and hot maple syrup. There is a little extra batter so he makes a few more, doling out between each teen. Hot food; sleepy belly. 

I have been craving the comfort of foods off and on lately. I am in a constant state of creativity and mourning. My marriage is, for me, opening into a beautiful phase and I love spending time with my husband, I love how he smells, I love how he feels, I love hearing about his day.

I am still rather gutted my children are growing up. They are never again going to be the small children I cared for, for so many years. They are still so sweet, funny, and affectionate – and for this I am glad. Beeps had a wretched cold for a day; during that time they asked me pointedly for more attention and more TLC, and this is something I could grant. We put on the 1978 classic animated film Watership Down and felt the powerful, dramatic score clutch at our hearts. Nels, who was not exposed to the film or music as a young one, scoffed at us and we shouted him away.

Today, a footnote: we drove out to Westport into a gloomy, oppressive cloud cover, to meet with a friend and secure a small kitten for babysitting. Our friend is out of the country for about eight days and during this time we are stewards to this very tiny, very fluffy grey kitten who is now attempting to run our household. We introduce him to so many firsts: hot pancakes, and four stodgy adults kitties, and of course the best kitten-minder of all: Hutch.

Hutch + Little One
And maybe – well there’s no “maybe” about it – my desire to secure a little kitten ward for a few days is that desire to do something fun for the children, something rather superfluous and silly, something that brings us together. Much like the foster kittens of (exactly) two years ago, little J. here will sneak behind the stove and into the warming pan – there’s just something about that spot.

A Smoothie

i waited for you but you were already here

A Smoothie
Children’s memories are incredible. As we drive out to the beach today they both tell me about the walks, the bike rides, the times we stopped for a trail hike or ate at a restaurant. I have the same memories, of course; but theirs seem so vivid, and they are obviously so fond retelling these events. Their affection for our beaches and our trails is humbling, too; these are places that Ralph and I selected, in effect building so much of their childhood. We don’t program our children like blank tapes but we do influence them so much.

It is sunny and warm – seventy degrees. We arrive to park and no one is near; we can see a few distant sea-gazers on the far-off overlook tower. The oldest child made and packed our lunch – hoagie sandwiches with red leaf lettuce and pickles and vegan lunchmeats and cheese, a side of chips. The dog is perched back of the Jimmy – excited, his expression absolutely jovial and alert. He can’t believe his luck! Once we lock the car and head to the jetty we are disturbed to discover he is finally too old to leap up the rocks and climp over into the hidden sandy beach. He tries many times, valiantly; but his agility is not there. We walk him a bit, then tie up him with a good deal of water, and leave him for a bit. My heart hurts to leave him behind; I also know it is better to have brought him than not at all.

Tide Pools
Today on social media – in a parent support group – I read parents complaining about their teen children, calling teens “assholes”, discussing whether a preteen child was old enough to decide ____ for herself. It hurt my heart; I closed my laptop. I wonder to myself how I avoided this fate, of feeling I was doing my children some kind of favor to care for them.

My children aren’t perfect; just last night one of them had a verbally violent outburst and today tempers are still tender. The child and I have a short conversation in the car today and I tell them that everyone has outbursts; no one in this family is judging, and we need to keep the family safe.

I ask if they know what set them off – were they worried about ___, were they feeling resentment toward ___? They tell me, “I have been asking myself the same thing,” and I am thinking: Job well done. I let them know that sometimes we don’t know why we lash out, and it’s okay not to know for a while. But by the same token, they also need to step back and reflect; it is their responsibility to figure it out. And there is always help available. It’s a conversation we have with our kids; keep it as short as possible, keep it thoughtful. Make sure to center myself first; and if possible discuss the issue after I’ve rested, meditated, and talked with my partner.

Because our dog party member is down for the count, we don’t stay at the beach very long today; long enough to find starfish, and chiton, and little snails and little crabs and large isopods. We stop on our way out of town at a coffee shop for tea lattes, and then home to Ralph who is cleaning the house and preparing dinner.

Before bed my eldest comes to be held and I kiss the top of their fuzzy shaved head; they still smell like the sea. They are soft and warm and content, that we had a day together, playing like children.

“come downstairs & bring popsackles”

A cardboard box filled with kraft paper; I remove gifts, setting them on the counter. Wrapped in tissue: findings from another sea. Teas, candied ginger. A paper-wrapped parcel of fine chocolate. Two bolts of sumptuous flannel fabric – a pea green plaid, a yellow plaid. Set aside and I run my hands over them each; fine robes for Christmas.

A wooden box, masterfully if plainly constructed, with a fire-branded logo. A note. And opening the box: a plastic shark. I recognize it as nearly identical to the one my children used to play with in the bath.

Then when I call my brother – to thank him and his wife, for the package – he laughs about the shark. “Do you recognize it?” I am confused for a moment. He can’t mean my children’s toy, as he never gave them baths and wasn’t there when they were small.

He says, “It’s just like the one I gave you a black eye with!” He is gleeful.

I am thinking, Oh that’s right. A childhood fight – we were still living in the bus, so I was seven years old or younger. I am set back for a moment. I am blinking at the road ahead, the phone on speaker in my lap.

What I say is: “That’s the only black eye I’ve ever had.” But now I’m thinking of a man who beat me. He never gave me a black eye. I think when you’ve been terrorized it can come to you, visit at any time. On a sunny day, in a lighthearted laugh with your brother.

The shark is now installed in my bathroom, hovering above the glass bar lighting fixture. I cooked and cleaned today, instead of leaving it for my children and spouse. I am coming out of a state of living where I was caring for the children, the home. We are moving and growing; I am working more, and the children are learning how to run a home. They are willing participants, and they are strong.

Yesterday they waited at a bus stop and went to the dentist. The children were gloomy; I woke them up and scolded them when they did not do housework quickly enough. We sat in the living room and we talked about the challenges in the household now that I work. The children listened, and ate the simple breakfast I made – creamed wheat, coconut oil, brown sugar. They put the dishes in the sink and I cleaned the kitchen after they left, then moved to the studio to finish my work.

After their appointments, my mother returned them home – food in hand, of course. They quite circumspectly did not eat hot foods for a couple hours, as the hygienist warned them off. Once they were home we piled in the car and off to the beach; meeting with a new friend who was visiting from inland. I realized well into the meeting that I hadn’t taken a break for quite some time.

After a coffee date, we two women and our four children climbed the jetty down to a little partitioned beach. We showed the visiting girls the tidepools: anemone, barnacles, limpets, chitons, starfish – and the little crabs under any rock you overturn. Every size – from a pinhead to a few inches across, and every manner of color: white, blues, greens, deep purples. The anenomes we instructed – you could touch them. Be gentle! They are gentle to you.

I know I live in a beautiful place. I never forget it. But I don’t often see it as it can be seen to visitors. That itself, was quite a blessing.

a gradual thaw

Nels and I pass the Trave-Lure in Aberdeen. “‘Aberdeen’s Finest’,” my son says, making “air-dick quotes” with his hands. I laugh – to myself – but keep quiet. I am thinking about the lives we live and how the world drives past. So many suffer and suffering doesn’t have a downtown crummy address especially; it lives in the human heart.

A moment later my boy asks, “Mom? What’s the difference between a motel, a hotel, an inn, and a cozy?” A COZY! What is this, even? And I am dying over how his voice sounds when he says the word, “cozy”. I don’t want to tell him a “cozy” is not anything in the hospitality industry, because basically I never want to hear him stop saying “cozy.”

I tell him what little I know. This leads to a frank discussion of a vacation: Nels wants one. The sun is out, first day of spring, and anything seems possible, even if it’s kind of not.

Spring. It is a little incredible to believe it is here. But it is. The buds are flowering; the air, though still cold, is changing. The sun is out and it has a favorable look.

Spring / Ocean

Nels called his father today for a favor – asking Ralph to drive out to pick up Phoenix, so we would have time to visit the “wildcats” out in Westport. Ralph didn’t know what our son meant, so asked me for the phone, to clarify. When I explained Nels meant, feral cats that live at the jetty, Ralph laughed. And of course our son took no small delight in finding, and attempting to feed, the ragtag little bunch flitting in and out of the rocks.

“This is gonna get weird. TWO cats.”

Sekrit Catz

My son reminds me that life is really good As Is. Needs no improvement, nothing to blow up bigger than it is, or try to make smaller, either.

 

at Bottle Beach

At Bottle Beach

At Bottle Beach

At Bottle Beach

Just one of those places I’ve lived near many many years, but had not yet visited – until today.

Our dog went mad with joy – again. He has missed being able to go for long, athletic walks. He crunched what I can only assume were crab shells. I am now closing my eyes and letting my head drop back and breathing out through my nose. He is ridiculous.

At Bottle Beach

This is my last weekend with my daughter before school. I am having All The Feels. She is growing up very fast and when she was younger I worried too much and therefore squandered a lot that I might have otherwise lived fully.

All I can do is live today, and not look back.

On that note –

I’m going to go downstairs and get ready for bed, then let her wrap her arms around me and her sweet voice say whatever it wants to say.

unattended children deserve to be cast into a pit of fire motherfucker, but in the meantime:

Today I had access to my mom’s van (while Ralph braved our local transit to get to work) and I made sure to get us out on another beach roadtrip. This time: Westport and Grayland. Only a few minutes post-breakfast (dining in the car) we first stopped at a taffy shop (with no less than three variations of those douchey “unnattended children will be placed on hooks and tortured” signs, and not that there’s any excuse for that crap, but I want to note we’re talking a candy shop in a tourist town, SMH). That, plus a few patriotic clownhorn bumper stickers, put me off any confectionary I was eyeing, but my kids didn’t seem to mind the sign asshattery; the very kind lady behind the counter made a half-apologetic reference, and anyway it’s the kiddos’ dime and I decided not to give into despair.

Fortunately the rest of Westport, which has a working class/touristy/carny/beachy/tumbleweed-&-shuttered-winders thing going, was quite hospitable. Particularly the outdoors, which the kids evidence an unabashed joy for no matter where we find ourselves. Today we ran around the floats (boat workers and fishermen in general welcome kid presence, probably because they have their own who are highly participatory in their family tradition), bought some smoked tuna for my mother off Float 8, climbed rocks and beachcombed and explored, then eventually the children chose their restaurant of choice, and raved about the food.

Gangplank

Horizons

Wet Sea Grass...

& Dry Creepy Sea Grass Muppet Monster

Contemplation

Hop!

I <3 My Dad

Snap, Step, Bump!

Alien Invasion!

Phoenix provided me with a small heartache, reminding me of my late maternal grandmother today, mostly in physical appearance. Her long, increasingly blonding hair (a yearly event with the advent of seasonal sunshine), the masculine-styling wool car coat, a simple pair of good corduroys. And she’s about as tall as my grandma was too, and I have many beach memories of that woman.

But today we built more memories of our own. Nothing fancy, just a lovely trip, and some sunshine, and the sea crashing in my ears. I wonder if I’ll ever be brave enough to live away from it?

 

≈

twelve years hence

I Don't Think You're Ready

Today went from pleasant, and nice out, and calm, to kind of ONE HUNDRED MILES AN HOUR AWESOME – and at times, overwhelming.

I’m speaking specifically of my friend J. and her daughter E. calling us up to re-invite us to Westport. Realizing we had not missed our meetup window, the kids and I threw together snacks and water and a lunch and made our way to the fishing township as fast as we could given we were slowed down by the neighbor inviting himself along, a bridge closure, and hot hot blacktop roadwork.

The beach town was lovely – the heat ameliorated by a rich breeze – and the walk, and grownup conversation, and child conversation, and taffy at the candy shop, and verdant water and working class environs and massive, massive schools of anchovies (you can see some in above picture but a close-up would have been brilliant) and sea breeze and sunshine and happy, happy, happy kiddos were great. The children spent most of their time running along the rocks and shoals and on floats and watching the working fisherman. They needed no diversion or touristy purchases.

After our plunking around town we decided to go looking for the swimmable old rock quarry I used to frequent as a young woman. I hadn’t been there in years. We drove through the sunshine and I used my phone to call Ralph and accessed my brain to try to remember where the road to the quarry was, driving along and remembering a girlhood friend who’d lived out here and the lovely times we had, green grass halfway up to our chests and running about in the gloaming…

We found the quarry (after some travail). That is, we found the road. Then there was the parking and the hike –  not a long one, but a steep one. The four small children navigated this well and cheerfully, with littlest ones Nels and E. bringing up the rear and playing so sweetly together.

The swimming hole itself… the quarry had not only changed vegetation-wise (there were large trees and a fair amount of algae carpet over the once-clean rock bed; salamanders and crawdads still reigned as in days of yore) – but –

the real change was the stunning amount of human refuse. I have literally never seen so many spent shotgun shells. And there were mattresses and auto parts. And food wrappers and beer bottles and kiddie pools crumpled up and discarded. And spent condoms. And broken glass. And coolers and torn-apart teddy bears. It might be easier for me to list what wasn’t there.

Two things occurred to me. One was how upsetting these changes were. They weren’t just dismal but they also hit me in the chest regarding the passage of time and the occasional ravages committed. In my mind and heart I’d been diving off these shores with my young boyfriend (that would be Ralph) only months before. But it had been some years and the place was utterly changed. After some time I realized I was making too many hard-humored jokes about the nastiness of the garbage, and I made myself stop. It was an effort. I made myself stop because:

That leads me to the second thing that occurred to me: the children were merely curious and cautious about the garbage but accepted it as a reality. They delighted in the trees and the water and wading and salamander-watching and did not complain we required them to keep their shoes on, because even the water, yes, was littered with dangers. They did not pull back or complain about the venue. It was humbling to see children, once again: how quick they are to see the Beauty in our world, mixed-bag as it often can be. They shared snacks and splashed and swam and waded and quarreled and explored. They were, really, the picture of enjoyment and agency.

After parting with our friends, I had lead-foot to make the RSVPd social engagement back in HQX. Which had some awkwardness including my accompanying extra kiddo who’d not been invited (I didn’t have time to return him home first, but I also think when there’s tons of extra food no one should begrudge an extra guest) then an old beau there walking about while I looked like Hammered Ass and felt pounded flat. Look, in the best of circumstances I am no beauty but after our “Shotgun Shell Swim” as J. called it I was particularly bedraggled (my clothes I put on after the swim were still damp with sweat and my swimsuit bunched unbecomingly under my dusty tank top) and so were the kids and I had mild heatstroke and was horsefly-bit and I didn’t want to press the flesh and talk to everyone.

Probably the worst thing was I was Unable. To. Deal. with any of this and I spent some time wandering the cool, silent, and totally secluded rooms of the local museum adjacent to the festivities, pretending to look for a sink for Nels to watch his snake-musk hands in (he and his sister caught a reptilian beauty) but mostly just being Silent with my son at my side like my most precious personal haunt. I realize this was rather ungracious and assy of me. But I am a Human Being and not always the picture of etiquette. I did my best, hanging on with my fingernails, and when Ralph arrived (he, frustrated, retained at work late today by his boss) he took over our kids and I escorted the neighbor boy home.

And now I give thee “Tetanus Meadow”:

Tetanus Meadow, Tentative

Tetanus Meadow, Assured

Yeah. And you know me. I’m pretty confident in my kids’ abilities to navigate without injury. But I was a bit concerned, given we were much distance from the car and my First Aid kit, and who knows what may have lurked on sharp edges ready to poison his bloodstream.

Of course Nels didn’t hurt himself one whit.

And seriously? Today was the most fun I’ve had in some time.

Pillow-Snatcher!

day two of the S24O

You are reading part two of two of the S24O camping trip my seven year old daughter and I took from Hoquiam, WA to Westport, WA.  I’d attempted to tweet along the ride with pics, but out on the coast this ended up not being possible. Part one is located here.

It was a terrifically uncomfortable overnight on the Thermarest – but I must have slept soundly enough because when I woke my daughter had switched pillows on us, leaving me with the smallest while she bogarted the two larger ones.  Here she is naked, her face all chocolatey, making a joke about how she took my pillow:

Like a champ, Sophie elected to stay in the tent while I took a shower and foraged for breakfast.

Like a champ, Sophie elected to stay in the tent while I took a shower and foraged for breakfast.

It turns out that even while camping my priorities are the same: shower, then coffee, then, at some point, breakfast.  Not only did I proceed this way but Sophie did as well. She stayed behind while I showered and brought our morning breakfast beverages (coffee for me, chocolate milk for her – carried in her water canteen).  Then I escorted her to the showers and she happily moaned in pleasure at the feel of hot water.  It only took a few minutes back at the site to break camp (although wrestling the Cabela’s tent back into its sleeve was aggravating).

How cool is it that ALL our camping gear is packed on our bikes?

How cool is it that ALL our camping gear is packed on our bikes?

Highway trip behind me, I’d found a new trip detail to obsess on: the number of bikes that can fit on a Transit bus.  Both for Sophie’s sake, and a soccer meeting later that day, I’d decided we would bus from Westport into Aberdeen (if not to Hoquiam and a few blocks from home).  The only problem with this was A. the fear some Transit driver will balk at loading my X on the rack (this hasn’t happened so far), and B. the fear that the bus would already have a bike on it -since they can only fit two.  In the case of the former obstacle, I am a pro at getting my X on the bus rack (it involves pulling the front wheel off) and I’ve found my confidence in doing so has helped drivers feel confident as well.  In the case of the latter obstacle, I just obsessively worried.  I knew at very worst we could leave a bike in town and venture out by car later to get it (ugh).

During my morning coffee run, I interviewed a man at the park and ride (another man with prematurely decayed teeth; Westport seemed to have a few of these working class young guys who were very friendly but looked like they’d had a rough go of it) about the bus / bike protocol. Before I rode off he told me if we headed into town, to check out the “boardwalk” that ran a couple miles along the beach and north to the Westport docks.

Which is exactly what we did.  Although the highway and town were sunny, a few blocks away from the beach the cold, clammy mist descended, bringing a cool breeze to counter the humidity.  The boardwalk wasn’t as I pictured, but rather a smooth, gently sloping path through the grassy dunes.

I dont mind biking on the highway or in the city streets; but I must admit, these trails were a real treat.

I don't mind biking on the highway or in the city streets; but I must admit, these trails were a real treat.

If I was smarter Id have done a pictoral panoramic of the wild, cold seascape here.

If I was smarter I'd have done a pictorial panoramic of the wild, cold seascape here.

Sophie was charmed that the trail ended right at the observational tower at the Westport docks, and she raced right to the top where it was very cold. I was pleasantly surprised that in climbing the tower we had a pelican’s-eye view of, well, pelicans – many groups that flew close enough it seemed we could touch them.

From in town Sophie elected to try the Westport Aquarium over the Maritime Museum (which has the largest American flag flying I have ever seen, but is probably full of stodgy old fart museum stuff).  It turns out the Aquarium has new owners who hope to put more humane exhibits in the 50-year old tank system that has languished over the years.

The new owners have put a spark of life in this Aquarium, which you can sense despite a rather shabby feel to the place.

The new owners have put a spark of life in this Aquarium, which you can sense despite a rather shabby feel to the place.

A funky little dry display in one of the old concrete tanks.

A funky little "dry" display in one of the old concrete tanks.

The new owner took me back to where the seals had once been contained; I was shocked to see how small these facilities were, but glad to hear seals will not be featured on the re-opening of the Aquarium.  My daughter purchased a pack of cardboard dinosaur figurine puzzles and yet another shell – a conch – for her brother, who loves to transform shells into building materials for musical instruments.

It was getting cold and clammy in Westport; we stopped for sandwiches at the Mermaid Pub & Grill (there are lots of breast visuals, under the guise of mermaid paintings and sculptures, in Westport).  It was a nice lunch, a delicious cup of coffee, and a good finale for our day in town.  We took our last few minutes looking at the whale skeletons housed in the courtyard of the Museum.  When the bus came we had no problems putting the bikes up on the front of the bus at our Dock St. stop, although I was both asked many questions and actually filmed by some tourist as I did it.

Sophie sat in front, and watched Grayland come and go. I messed about with trying to Tweet to no avail.

Sophie sat in front, and watched Grayland come and go. I messed about with trying to Tweet to no avail.

Grayland was beautiful, and again I wish I’d had a better camera, or could have popped off the bus for a minute.  The bus was populated by all sorts of locals, including a teen mother who formula-fed her screaming baby and a kind older man who was the only person on the bus (myself included) who thought to jump up and assist her with her monstrous stroller and carseat caddy-like carrier.

It took all in all about an hour to get back into Aberdeen, where we exited the bus, rode through downtown Aberdeen’s Crackton, and back home against a rather demoralizing headwind.

At home Ralph was kind enough to bring our gear in; it took only a few minutes to have everything put away.  I was surprised that a more minimalistic camping trip was so much more fun and so much simpler than any camping trip I’d taken so far.  There were no extra comforts so there wasn’t much to do except ride, eat, and meet people and see fun things.

Technically our trip was not an S24O as we were back home at 2:45 PM the day after we left. I felt this was a great dry-run of a camping trip.  I look forward to taking both of my children soon; I need my son Nels to be peddling, as I’ve noticed on long trips he is the only one to complain – out of boredom, I think.