what a great day! no, wait. shit.

It sometimes occurs to me that many days I get to do the sort of things other people consider day-off activities. Probably the first amazing thing the kids did for me today was, upon leaving Sophie’s swim practice, they ran over to the landscaping and asked me to come look at a bush with them, some unremarkable shrub with tiny clusters of purple lilac-smelling blossoms. “It’s the bee bush,” my daughter tells me. And indeed the thing is prolific with these insects – many and varied, we count at least four different types of bees – and most magical of all, we got close enough we could see the tiny, perfect little parcels of pollen on their legs. This is the sort of miracle I technically already knew about (thanks to nature shows or public school), but had never really discovered for myself. Each little bee busy collecting smaller-than-grain size bits of pollen, hoarding a little share. The three of us blissed out just a few minutes outside the YMCA and I thought, without these children I would not have even noticed.

This afternoon the kids suggested we go “exploring”. First we had to stop home to grab the necessary requirements. Each child found a backpack and outfitted it appropriately. Sophie donned Spongebob Squarepants gardening gloves (and they did come in handy in navigating through blackberry bushes) and brought bottled water, a sketch pad / observational notebook, a science field book of some sort, and a bug net. Nels brought a “rock collector”, extra shoes, “a napkin in case something smelled bad”, and magnifying glass.

I chose to take them to the beachy / semi-wooded / train track spur of land we called “The Flats” when growing up here in Hoquiam. It was a lovely little afternoon jaunt, one where my kids were so deeply happy they had no behavioral problems and as we clambered through grass and up hummocks they regularly and fluidly delivered several factoids about how much and why they loved me. They also foraged through bushes and stopped to view flowers and insects and go “fishing” in a brackish little pond and they climbed around driftwood fortresses and scaled trees with an almost alarming alacrity and skill.

Things change so quickly as a parent; only an hour or so after we’re home and I’m busy in the kitchen, finding myself increasingly anxious, tired, overworked, and pissed at the kids’ occasional fights or accidents. Ralph got home at five and I had all four burners of the stove going and the kids spied a fraction of a brownie I was snacking on and (charmingly, but persistently) commandeered it. I was feeling overworked and claustrophobic and though the kids did nothing wrong in clamoring for my one thing I’d tried to keep to myself – well, I just gave in and cried, a little. Everyone deserves a collapse now and then.

Tonight: company, cooking a bit, packing up for tomorrow’s 30 mile family bike ride.

i couldn’t think of a post title, but as i type this my husband is explaining the details of crucifixion to my children

Today I knew something about myself concretely: I will not be the mom who has a hard time with my kids growing up and growing older and getting a life separate from me.

No, but really. And this is a good thing for me to know.

Let me explain. Today’s trip to downtown HQX ended in a rather frustrated attempt at the bike shop: intending to order both riding gloves and a new helmet for my daughter, I had to leave after not being waited on for several minutes (this happens sometimes and I do not hold it against the oft-busy shop owner) and experiencing a exponential increase in douchey behavior from my secondborn. So fine: bike errands another day. Not a half hour after we return home I hear the children talking outside to some grownups and join them to see my daughter talking with our friends and sporting a new helmet. I am completely amazed at this and thinking – I did not even update my Facebook status to indicate helmet shopping. I didn’t even tell my husband! No: it turns out earlier today my daughter had called a friend of the family’s to invite him on a bike trip. Apparently they got chatting on this and that and Sophie revealed that A. she needed a new helmet, but B. she was sad to see her old one go as these friends had adorned it with a sticker she loved. So here our friends are, providing her with a lovely helmet with a second charming sticker – and she’s wheeling around in it, having manifested a own solution nicely.

I might not be able to explain this to the childfree – and perhaps even some fathers I know. But my life often revolves around the constant assessment of my children’s needs and acquisition of said sundries or provisions. Just before the cold weather set in this year I remember trying to explain to my mother how small I felt that most of my waking thoughts were on boots, coats, and gear for my kids to keep warm. She thought I was saying something I wasn’t (I think about feeling inferior in some way), becaus what I wanted to convey was a constant running preoccupation that borders on obsessive thought.

I cannot be alone in this. Everytime I pull a load of clothes out of the dryer I note the wear on the pant hems, the elastic popping out of the underwear’s waistline. Every time I open the fridge: how much milk is left? This is not because I am particularly fastidious, controlling, or even that excited about the mundane details of running the household. This is because seven years ago I hit the ground running with a newborn, the experience like a sledgehammer to the chest and suddenly altering my adult life of, Ho hum what’s my schedule today? into a sprint where you are required, at first, and for years, to meet every single need of a living, growing, high-energy lifeform – who by the way, makes your heart leap and your breath catch in your throat on a regular basis, running the gamut from an almost oppressive experience of deep love to the worst kind of worry a human being could feel – and one never knows when these staggering emotions may be invoked.

The acquisition of a helmet is of course, no big thing. But watching my children figure out their own goals and priorities and make these things happen is a pride and a privilege – and only a bit disorienting in that I’m hardly needed.

Next week we are considering sending the kids to a five day sports camp at the YMCA. The seven-hour-a-day program includes lots of sports activities, a field trip to a bowling alley, a day at camp, and roller skating (although I hope not at our local rollerskating rink where they’re likely to get knifed by a gang of mangy ten year old boys with shiv-sharpened peppermint sticks). If we put the kids in the program the amount of time I’ll have to myself will likely feel at first startling, then quickly be frittered away in my fashion. The camp is also $120 per child: no mean sum, even with my little paycheck as a sewing teacher at the college. I think it’s funny that many people use daycare or school to allow them to earn a second income; I decline such convenience, and here I am on spring break considering blowing $240 on my kids so they can have a great time. By “funny” I mean, occasionally I think I am completely stupid not to do things the way most people seem to, because by the dollars and cents, I don’t make sense.

More biking today. Cycling with my daughter is a delight. I realized today that it’s not just the lack of fifty-something pounds on the bike that makes our trips so much easier – it’s the fact she and her brother aren’t being annoying together on the snap deck (where about one trip out of five they piss me off so badly I finally “pull the car over” and chew them out, humiliating for us all since unlike a car anyone can hear me bicker). Nels’ persona on the bike is different now that he’s alone; he clings like a spider monkey, rubs his cheek against me, kisses me, watches for traffic, and sings songs of his own authorship. It’s lovely, really. I think if everyone spent more time on a bicycle they’d probably get along better, with everyone else.

of swimming pools and young hellions

Last night, messaging with a friend who was recounting a babysitting “adventure” involving my then very-wee son drinking rubbing alcohol, I found myself relating:

The same child that stole the rubbing alcohol keeps his parents busy to this day: attempting to smoke cigarette butts off the ground, running down the block to enter a scary bar, going around the neighborhood asking for food and water and getting CPS called on me, and emerging from a bathroom at my restaurant workplace – pants down – to yell at my mom, “Grandma, GUESS what I found in my foreskin?”

Here’s the thing: these example of Nels’ behavior were just a few I could think of off the top of my head. This is Nels. Classic Nels. My father once looked at my son at twelve months old, just beginning walking, and said, “He’s going to be Hell On Wheels”. At the time I thought there’s no way my father could intuit this at such an early age; I also am relatively resistant to “labeling” a child – setting in stone some aspect of their nature can serve as a way to be lazy and not see who they really are.

Labeling is one thing. Beginning to know one’s child is another. And yes, Nels is Hell On Wheels to me sometimes.

Even a small thing like today – one incident of so many! – as the Boy and I exit the pool (preceding Sophie, who can stay in for a solid two hours at a stretch). As we approach the showers Nels walks with one foot in the grate of the large, cold lap pool. Nels can’t yet swim. He is also not supposed to enter this pool. By walking with ONE foot in the grate he is technically not doing anything “illegal” but he is causing me a minor headache. I am a tiny bit worried he’ll fall in (especially when, at the last possible step, he actually dips the foot and ankle into the water, unable to resist I suppose). I am also waiting for the lifeguard to bitch at me (always at me; not at him). I let him do it, though.

See, I would be okay allowing him to do this, even okay with him falling in the pool as well. And even though Nels would be frightened by a sudden submerging, he would also enjoy it (the look on his face of excitement, nervousness, and exhilaration at the tipping point of the balancing ankle experiment confirms this). His nature informs my interactions with him, often to my discomfort; he makes me see the world differently. I see many people expect kids to behave like “adults” – that is, observe rules that are boring and make little sense, do what authority tells you simply because they’re authority, and if you’re a child, trust other people’s arbitrary limits, not your own sense of capability.

This is why, when Nels runs away (which he managed to do before we left the Y) – or drinks my coffee or pisses in the playground at school or plants every seed he can get his hands on before we’re ready – there’s a right and a wrong way to handle it. Sometimes I screw up and get mad, yeah. Most times I patiently, patiently make the request: “Nels, would you please not use all of my spices to make a tea? They are expensive” (last week). He always listens to me when I make the request, and because he is not a sociopath (no, really – he’s not) I can see he considers my feelings. He won’t be a twelve year old pissing in a playground, I know that much.

Sometimes it’s like parenting a wee tornado. Like owning a monkey. Like attempting to order entropy. But I’ll tell you, I’m so glad I don’t hear myself speaking unkindly about him, the way I remember my parents doing so about me (selfish, asshole). “Oh, she was a brat at this age,” or, “You have one of each, boy and girl – which is worse?” (the latter examples I have heard in the last few days from parents I know). It’s not that I don’t think I have a right to being angry. It’s that I remember these slights, character attacks, and labels as a kid; they always felt indistinguishable from the removal of love.

"blah-blah-blah"

Hoquiam and Aberdeen have a population of about 27,000 people so it should really reveal something about the microculture we live in that today a complete stranger asked me if I was “Ralph Hogaboom’s wife” and here’s why: she works with my husband who revealed our son’s proclivity to his sister’s clothes the other day, and this morning at our favorite deli Nels was wearing a hairbow of Sophie’s (to a lot of smiles and comments). This “recognition” should just give you a tiny taste of how rare it is for a preschooler boy ’round these parts to wear anything much more girlie than an Elmo shirt.

Of course in PT the requisite look was encouraging one’s boychild to wear a Halloween costume year-round and / or thrifted Hanna Andersson playdress, fairy wings, and dirty face comprised of equal parts organic gummi bears, Odwalla Superfood, and Veggie Booty. While I lived there I never thought I’d miss the New Ager Preciousness of that crowd of parents and kids but of course, I really really do – not just my friends, which made my holiday season hit pockets of unbearableness, but the culture there in general. The Port Townsend I knew was exciting, brazenly liberal, and fiercely creative. Port Townsend will always hold a very special place in my heart and in the inheritance of my young family.

OMG I have nothing to complain about these days, and I really shouldn’t. I mean really. Today I spent the day running necessary errands and cleaning house, with my children’s help in all endeavors. We had a delightful lunch on store credit. And I’ve since been at the library having me-time while my children quietly play and read. We’re about to head home and get ready for a Y visit this afternoon where I can get in some walking and talking with my girlfriend J. And if I’m lucky, the kids won’t hate-fuck the house and mess it up again. I am definitely dreading firing up the old clunky sewing machine again, but I do have to finish Sophie’s li’l overalls and start on her birthday princess dress. Which will, in all likelihood, be worn more by Nels anyway.

for lack of two bits

Today I found myself at 11:15 leaving my daughter’s school (where I do volunteer work every Monday) and on my way to pick up Nels when: problem? I forgot bus fare. Luckily it was only very, very, freezing-nuts-off cold as opposed to the torrential rain that descended at 2:45 that day when – again, on foot – I needed to go pick up my daughter. At 11:15, realizing my error, I tied my hat earflaps down and walked super-fast to my parents’ house to ask for their van or 50 cents and the use of the phone. As I walked I thought about what it is like for families who really DON’T have a car or people who RELY on public transportation regularly. There is simply no room for, “Oh whoops, I forgot such-and-such,” or “Oops, running a little late!” when you’re catching a bus in order to get somewhere.

As of two yesterday our van battery is dead. Luckily nothing phases me when it comes to getting around; it’s a good life skill if you ask me. Today at 3:22 as I pulled the kids along to our bus stop (uncovered and right by a crosswalk; people slow down and glare at me, waiting for me to cross. I point and point to the sign we’re next to but no one registers it is indeed a bus stop. It’s weird.) my children asked me why we have to walk so fast in the pouring rain. I said, “OK. Let me tell you a story about what’s happening. When our car breaks down, we don’t have money to fix it right away. So we take the bus. You know some people don’t have cars at all. Some people have money to fix their cars right away,” and a bunch of other things. It was a good conversation. They really listened as we slogged through the wet. My three year old son valiantly hiked his coat up and kept a jog for four blocks. Yes, we made the bus. They are pros at it. Nels rang the bell when we got to the Y.

Despite being on foot, on bus, and bumming the use of my parents’ van once I still managed to arrange school for the kids, take homebaked cookies to Suse’s school, deliver a hat to a friend, and get the kids to the Y for my workout (very sluggish today) and the kids’ first night of Short Sports (tonight’s workshop: basketball skills). Arriving home at 7:30 and my body doesn’t yet know it’s time to rest (in fact, the dirty dishes and piles of laundry encourage my body to keep going). But it really is time to rest. And give the family the SNUGGLING OF THEIR LIFE! Does that sound threatening? Because it’s meant to.

creativity comes in fits and painful sedentary jogging spurts

One way I’ve been getting some time to my own thoughts is hitting the YMCA right at 4 PM – before the evening rush, but just as the childcare opens. I can listen to music really loud and work out a few aggressions / sorrows. I also can look straight ahead and see high school boys on the swim team, diving off the diving board. Today one was wearing a speedo with a pirate flag smack over the bum.

While on the treadmill this evening the man next to me (OK he’s running, I’m walking, but he’s doing a SLOW run and I was on longer) kept looking over. Trying to catch my eye. He looked familiar to me. But he had his headphones in and so did I, so I didn’t ask if I knew him. At one point I looked over and he was using the headphones to watch sports statistics on the treadmill TV (yes, there is a television in the treadmill!). I on the other hand was listening to Panic! At the Disco, The Kinks (simply cannot get enough), and Radiohead – while occasionally looking up at the CC set to watch Tom Hanks on Oprah (this all worked very well for me). After a while the man started to smell, or rather his smell wafted to me. It was part man-funk and part stale doggy. I have a very sensitive nose so, just because I can smell you doesn’t mean you should worry you particularly smell bad. By way of illustration: one summer day (pregnant was I) my husband and his friend Bart came inside my parents’ house and I, from fifteen feet away, said, “You smell like bark. Were you climbing trees?” to their very shocked expressions because of course, they did and they had been.

OMG OMG OMG!!! I like, completely finished the first issue of my zine… ohgeez. So yeah. Download here at the – oh yes, did I mention? I (well, RALPH and I) finished the website, too. You can go to “Current Issue” and download the PDF – it’s a rather large file so give it a few minutes.