The Ides of Idleness

Screen Shot 2018-03-06 at 12.47.24 PMHey y’all. I’ve been cocooning to make it through the dregs of winter, and haven’t had much to say about anything, but life has carried on as it usually does. There’s been a lot of watching Star Trek, a lot of hot Moroccan mint tea, a lot of big dog sitting on my feet to comfort both of us, and a few movie nights with the family. (Wakanda forever!)

For some reason, I’ve been fainting. Doctors are involved, tests are being conducted, the Big Scary Things have been mostly ruled out, and it’s looking like anemia is playing a part, dancing with my inherited low blood pressure. Turns out, while low blood pressure is great, *too* low ain’t so great. Hence, passing out and bonking my head on the bathtub, floor, etc. Jon is making me eat all my food cooked in his cast iron pan in an effort to bring those HGB numbers up. I wonder if there’s something to the old trope about ice-chewing after all?

We all laughed last week when Virginia (oh, Virginia…) canceled school because of WIND. Not enough canceled days due to “snow”? Now we’re canceling for wind. Well, I laughed, Jon may have thrown things–he’d taken the day off and suddenly we found ourselves with a house full of kids instead of enjoying a quiet romantic lunch. It was all funny until the WIND actually started, and the siding began to peel off our house, the dog fence blew over, and our back gate was torn from it’s hinges. That’s some WIND. Jon was on the roof with a rope tied around his belt, screwing siding back on in 80pmh gusts, while Jeff anchored him from inside Abby’s room. There are no picture of this event, as I was hiding under a blanket in my room, too afraid to watch my husband and son being super heroes. So here’s a picture of Jeff deadlifting Tiberius:

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Kelsey turned fifteen. We spent the morning of her birthday with her, celebrating with presents, chocolate cake, sombreros, and huevos rancheros. She’s a remarkable young woman. I won’t embarrass her by bragging about her, but she had the amazing grace to ask for records for her birthday. Like, actual vinyl LPs; Jon and I had fun finding a record store and shopping. We gave her a copy of the Beatles’ Abby Road, and Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA.

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For Lent, I quit Facebook. I took it off my phone, and removed all notifications. I checked back in after a couple of weeks, and I had a few messages, but since I didn’t make a big announcement, I’m pretty certain almost no one has noticed my absence. That’s a weird, yet oddly validating feeling.  I need to find another way to connect with local friends; I missed a few events and I don’t want to miss real-world interactions, but I just cannot deal with the…unendingness…of social media right now. I don’t know what else to call it. Life is hard, winter is long, and things are scary right now. I’ve been moderating my news consumption, and trying to take better care of myself, doing what I can when I can. It’s hard, because part of me wants to withdraw, but the propensity to become an introverted hermit is strong. I think spring will naturally help.

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Jeffrey is getting his driver’s license this month. He’s finally completed all the requirements and hours behind the wheel, and I finally had to admit that it was time to let go. It’s really hard transitioning from the intensity of parenting younger kids, with navigating them naturally starting to have more independence. There are bumpy days, of course, but I know the best thing I can do is to help him continue to trust me as he figures out more and more how to do things on his own. Parenting continues to be the best, hardest work.

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Abby has taken up the ukulele, and she’s actually really good at it. It’s fun hearing her and Kelsey play together. That makes a tuba, a trumpet, a cello, a guitar, a ukulele, a piano, and a set of bagpipes in the house. And I can’t play a damn thing. But I can make pavlova! Which I have, much to everyone’s delight, practically perfected.

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Bean is Bean. Peanut butter was on sale for 75 cents a jar at the grand opening of a new grocery store, so I bought six cases. He took a sharpie and numbered all 72 jars. Then Jeffrey dared to use one out of order. 500 pounds of boy was suddenly tussling on my kitchen floor. My kitchen cannot handle that level of tussle.

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There are crocus and tulips pushing aside the frost-damaged mulch from last year, and I am hopeful for spring coming soon. Because honestly, I’m going to do something drastic to my hair if it doesn’t warm up. As it is, I watched a YouTube tutorial and balyaged it myself. Judge for yourself, kittens…

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Philosopher Bean and the Evolution of Motherhood

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This kid. Lately we call him Philosopher Bean. I kick around ideas with him, and he bats them back to me, with questions tacked on and insights I had not considered. He’s got way more of his dad in him than I ever expected—and they’re the very best parts. I see beautiful pieces of David developing and rising to the top.

He’s a deep thinker. And his deep thoughts are on big—sometimes metaphysical—vast spiritual and scientific ideas. He grasps abstract concepts and mathematics in ways that take my breath away, and these quantum leaps in growth have happened seemingly overnight. It leaves me trying to catch my balance as his mom.

I had been kicking around the idea of writing my next book on raising a gifted child with autism. But, as he’s grown, I have pushed that idea further and further back. If I do write this book, I believe it will be with him. I am aware of and support the movement away from parents controlling the narrative about their children with disabilities. Bean will have his own voice, his own memories, his own perspective on his upbringing, and it will be his to tell, should he want to. I don’t anticipate this potential project being easy or painless, but I think it might be worthwhile. Someday.

In the meantime, I am learning how to move away from the intense intervention that was needed from me when he was younger, into more of a supporting role as he moves to the forefront of his own advocacy.  It’s not always easy, but me getting out of the way is integral to him taking over his own growth. And he is more than capable.

When he needs me, I am still there—and I always will be. But stepping back at the appropriate time is a huge part of raising a child with a disability. It has been my job to protect him, to advocate for him, to insist on the services he was entitled to, to provide the scaffolding he needed to grow and learn; but the real goal has always been to someday not need those supports.

He had a bit of a rough patch this week, but in the days afterwards, he had insights into himself that he couldn’t have received any other way. Not only could he see that, but he was able to explain it to me, talk about it, and frame those insights into usable tools for himself for the future.

This kid. He has been a singular gift to this family since his birth. As I watch him get ready to move beyond his family, to flap and test his wings, and interact with the world, I wonder what gifts he has in store for the rest of us. Bear with me as I figure out how to navigate the changed mothering roles necessary in this new world. Respecting him, his wishes, his story, and if I can, still carve out a space for my own overflowing heart.

In the meantime, I will return to reading the crazy-dense article on particle physics he found about capturing light waves and freezing the light particles in crystalline form, and how this may solve the world’s energy problems.

February First!

We made it, people. January was 96 days long, and Christmas was six months ago, but we got to flip the calendar today. Do you still have a paper calendar? I do this year. I’m attempting to go analog, and I’m finding it to be super helpful. I’m more productive and more aware of what’s happening—though I admit I may have lost track of a few things in the labyrinthian 14 weeks of January.

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Pretty much.

So the California Hippie Girl is re-surfacing hard as I hit midlife. (What even constitutes midlife anymore? I don’t buy forty being the new twenty or whatever the kids are saying these days, but I kind of think falling down the stairs a few weeks ago (see: January 67th) gets me my Midlife© Card.

Anyway, I grew weary with the lack of recycling options in my neighborhood and went on the warpath (can I say that, or is it culturally insensitive? I am honestly asking.) It turns out our waste management company DOES offer recycling, but since almost no one uses it (seriously, if you drive around my neighborhood on trash day, there are NO recycle toters out at the curb) they don’t really advertise it. I have a shiny new blue recycle toter being delivered ASAP, and I am retooling the kitchen setup so I can teach my kids the glorious art of separating the trash!

I’ve also made the move from plastic food storage containers back to glass and 86’d paper plates or other disposable single-use products. I’ve had the same cloth grocery bags since 1991, so I’m good there. Seriously, it’s not that hard, just keep them in your car. It takes a week or two to get used to it, but once you do, it’s second nature. In the part of California where I’m from (and where most of my family lives) you can’t even get plastic bags anymore. People griped at first, but they got used to it. It’s amazing what our big brains can do! All of this used to be like breathing to me, but moving east sent parts of me into hibernation. I’m going to try and wake some stuff up.

I’m not quite ready to institute composting, but mostly that’s because I hate the outdoors in Virginia, and there is no way in hell I’m going to garden. Swamps are not meant to be lived in by this many people. While you can drain the water, the mosquitoes and humidity are eternal.

I don’t make new year’s resolutions per se, but in the 654 days of January, I had time to reflect on some stuff, and I realized we really don’t need any new stuff. I mean, seriously. We just don’t. I cut back on Christmas last year, and we focused on activities and going to NYC as our big family present. It was worth it. I am trying to make a genuine effort to examine any potential purchase and ask if we really need it. This might make me sound like a ton of fun (and January me wasn’t super awesome, I admit) but it’s actually exciting because less stuff will allow us to take more trips and go more places, and experience more life, and that’s a very good thing.

So, regardless of what happens with the damned Groundhog tomorrow, we will have six more weeks of winter, per the only calendar that matters: the moon. Spring equinox is at 4:15 in the afternoon on March 20, regardless of what a rodent and Bill Murray do. The days will be perfectly balanced for that moment, before we begin the tip towards peak summer sunlight. Equinoxes > Solstices. I know Solstices are fancier and get bigger parties, but I love that balance point, where you can feel the year tip.

Here’s to a mercifully accurate 28 days for February. So far, so good.

Falling

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I fell down the stairs today.

I am not old. My bones are not yet brittle. I found myself, tumbling the entire length of our long staircase, landing in an undignified thud at the bottom. I couldn’t stop it from happening, even as I watched the walls fly by, my shoulder banging into the wainscoting, and my tailbone hitting the landing. I think I made a frightening noise, because within seconds, all four kids and the dog ran to me.

I was dazed and confused for a few moments, feeling my body, trying to discern if I was actually hurt, or just rattled. I think, were I a couple of decades older, it would have been a potentially catastrophic fall. Now, hours later, my shoulder is sore, my lower back is tender, and three fingers on my left hand hurt quite a bit—though I don’t recall how that happened, I must have jammed them. I also skinned my elbow. I am otherwise sound.

It’s got me thinking though—or as Carrie would muse, “I couldn’t help but wonder…” how much we depend on each other to make it through this fraught mortal journey. When we are young, we are supple and flexible, and usually surrounded by people who love us and are watching out for harmful things we do not yet understand. As we get older, we are full of the hubris of young adulthood, stronger still, flexible, and brave. I’ve come to believe this belief is necessary to function when we starting out, otherwise the perils of what might come would paralyze us.

As we get older, we can start to see what all the fuss is about, all the things from which we were protected when we were younger—and even the dumb luck that may have graced us over and over. We look at our parents with new eyes when we ourselves become parents. “Oooooh, I get it now, mom…” as we watch our own hearts walking around outside our bodies for the first time. How does one even live this way? I don’t know, but the locus our bravery is forever permanently moved outside of us.

It’s like the ever-opening lotus. For the first time today, I felt my own fragility, and my children felt the unfamiliar rising of their own strength and bravery in the possibility—even in the inevitability—that mom was breakable.

We’re like waves at the sea. We each have our out path to the shore, swelling, growing, cresting, crashing, rushing up the beach, and gradually ebbing back into the eternal sea. I  notice my own mother’s hands looking more like my grandmother’s hands each time I see her. I notice my own hands staring to bear the gentle signs of years of caring for others, knitting, cooking, writing, and living creative life. There are veins that once were deeper, skin that is more translucent, rings that spin under my knuckles.

And life goes on.

I hope I don’t fall down the stairs again any time soon. Or maybe ever.

Material Culture & Daughters

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You will die. You will not live forever. Nor will any man nor any thing. Nothing is immortal. But only to us is it given to know that we must die. And that is a great gift: the gift of selfhood. For we have only what we know we must lose, what we are willing to lose… That selfhood which is our torment, and our treasure, and our humanity, does not endure. It changes it is gone, a wave on the sea. Would you have the sea grow still and the tides cease, to save one wave, to save yourself?
—Ursula K. LeGuin

Disheveled and disgruntled as only an 11 year-old after a tedious school day can be, Abigail flopped into the raveling thrift-store chair opposite my desk. It’s everyone’s favorite chair; threadbare on the arms, an earthy green brocade with sea-blue weft threads, thick and heavy cushions worn to the shape of humanity with time. She stared over my shoulder out the window, opened to the unseasonably warm January afternoon.

I let her be, alone with her thoughts, keeping one eye on her as I quietly wrote. Her gaze shifted to the wall over one of the bookshelves lining my tiny office. A linen tapestry hangs there, embroidered with blue morning-glories. “Did you make that mom?”

I look at the piece of needlework, flashing briefly through dozen different walls in my homes on which it has hung. “No, I didn’t. I bought it at an estate sale decades ago.” I have reached the point in my life where I still feel young enough, but it’s possible for me to say a sentence like that and for it to be true. Decades ago… I have lived enough time now that decades ago seems close enough to touch.

“Why would someone sell that?” she asks, admiring what surely is familiar to her. It’s hung nearby her whole life. The fine linen square, once intended to cover a small table, is now covered in late-afternoon rainbows from the prisms hanging in the sunlit window.

“Hmmm.” I stop typing quietly and regard my daughter. Her hair is deep brown like her grandmother, but she has my wild cowlick on her hairline, splitting her bangs forever into disarray. Her eyes appear brown, until they are hit by sunlight, where they show their true deep green. I think the Punnett square precludes a brown-eyed daughter from two green-eyed parents I smile to myself. “I don’t know why anyone would get rid of something so pretty. And it’s not just that it’s pretty, it’s an example of material culture. By material culture, I don’t mean fabric—though it is fabric—I mean the things women make that denote their own histories.”

As I suspected this would, it piques her interest. She is so bright, and so interested in what is happening around her. She moves through the world in a bit of a cyclone, trailing bits of paper, glue, ink, rocks, sand—anything that has captured her imagination this week. We discuss women’s history, and how the gatekeepers of what we know as history have often been men, and women’s work is historically quieter, harder to find, but it’s there. And this is why I buy linens and samplers and recipe cards at estate sales. Some people don’t recognize this for what it is: women’s history, speaking just as clearly as the trumpeting of men, but quieter, and requiring eyes to see it.

She looks at me, her mind visibly rolling these stones over. “Is this why you write, mom?”

My heart flutters. “Yes. This is why I started writing, for certain. I was a young mom at home, not even pregnant with you yet, and I wanted a connection with my grandma. I missed her, and while I have things that belonged to her, I didn’t know what she thought, what she felt, when she was home with three little girls. So I started writing.”

“It’s kind of weird that there’s a record of every day of my life on Dandelion. I mean, I like it, but I don’t know anyone else who has something like that.” She is relaxed, staring out the window again.

I smile at her over the tray of pens and papers and candles on my cluttered desk. “Yeah, I guess maybe it could be weird. But it belongs to you, this story.”

“I like it. I like reading back over the stories of when we were little. I like the memories that are there. I like knowing dad is there, too.”

I nodded at her, resting my chin on my hand and closing my computer.

We talk quietly for a while about history—mine, hers, her great-granmother’s, and about my idly imagining someday, maybe someone, would find what I thought would be a humdrum life interesting. She laughed. She already knows that’s not exactly how things worked out.

“I’m hungry.” She peels herself from the great green chair and circles the desk to lean on me, her version of a hug, and kisses the top of my head. Our enormous dog trails behind her in hopes she will bless him with scraps of her snack as she heads downstairs.

It’s time to introduce her to Laurel, I think.

Changes & Random Crap

IMG_1042I’m going to whisper this, because it’s so monumental, I don’t want to jinx it:  Bean wore jeans to school today.

Levi’s 501 button-fly original jeans. I know that’s not even worth mentioning for most kids, but this is a child who, at 14, has never (ever) worn anything except the softest sweatpants (no bumpy seams!), snug velvety leggings (which have morphed into athletic compression tights as he’s gained teenager size) and shorts. That’s it. He’s never worn any other type of pants.

He used to cry if his pants were “flappy” and couldn’t tolerate anything that tickled his skin. Last week, Jon and I found a pair of Levis on clearance in his size. They were dyed a bright turquoise, which made me think perhaps he’d give them a shot. I left them on his bed, and left him alone. Last night, while I was in my office, I overheard Jeffrey explaining how to manage the button fly and showing him how to fasten them up. I held my breath, but said absolutely nothing.

This morning, he got up, and instead of putting on his fancy pants, or his party suit, or his tights, he put on his 501s. He came into my room and asked me to help him cuff them, and then went happily off to toast his English muffins like he’s done 5,110 other mornings. He did wear a tie-dyed shirt—I mean, we can’t be getting too crazy.

***

In other news, I am in the stage of writing a book where the writer does everything humanly possible to avoid sitting down and starting. Jon called me out on it earlier in the week. “I see you’re trying not to write.” he observed, as I was fixating on fixating the under-counter cabinet lighting in the kitchen. Jerk.

He’s right. There’s a new book fermenting, and I don’t want to do it. Why is it so painful? Why does it have to get to the point where not writing it hurts more than finally giving in and putting my butt in the chair? Be a writer, they said. It’s so much fun, they said.

Speaking of, I am the guest speaker at a book club this Saturday night. If you’re in the DC/Metro area and want join us, message me. (this actually is one of the fun parts of being a writer…)

***

So government shutdowns suck if you’re a federal employee. There’s a crap ton of misinformation and propaganda out there about government jobs, and it’s mostly wrong. When the government shuts down, it hurts the lowest paid workers the most. Congress all still gets paid, but the janitors, cafeteria workers, office assistants, secretaries, cooks, and even the regular white collar jobs? They don’t get paid. They may eventually get paid when whatever they are fighting over passes, but there is no guarantee. There is also no way of knowing how long a shutdown will last. How many of you could make it three weeks on no income and still honor all of your commitments and bills? It’s incredibly stressful and the people on the bottom rungs are the ones who are hurt the most.

In this shutdown this last weekend, I know people who had to come home from vacations they’d planned a year out, because all scheduled leave is canceled and recalled in a shutdown. Transit and airport employees don’t make a lot (salaries are public record, look it up) but they had to buy last minute tickets home to report for duty, on their own dime, to a job they didn’t know if they would be paid to do. Consider that. Think about what that would do to your finances and family budget. If they had not come back immediately, they would have been AWOL and could have been arrested. That’s what a government shutdown means on the ground to regular workers.

It’s not all mid-six-figure salaries and fat cats. It’s blue collar workers living paycheck to paycheck trying to take care of their families. And it’s millions of them.

We’ve got to find a better way move this country forward.

I support CHIP fully, and I am grateful it’s been funded for 6 more years. It’s the only civil thing for a nation as rich and broad as this one to do. I fully support DACA. I support Dreamers. I want our representatives to do right by these people and protect them under the law. Do it. Do it now. And don’t roll anyone else over with the bus while you do it.

Rhythms

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The dog doesn’t leave my side. Well, that’s not entirely true—he’s afraid of the bathroom, and if I’m in my bedroom reading, he will sneak into Jeffrey’s bed and I’ll shortly hear his rumbly snore. There’s nothing like the snore of a 165 pound dog shaking the floor. Really. If I am in my bedroom doing yoga, he is insistent that he help. That’s another issue.

My office seems to be his favorite place to nap. He circles twice and then flops heavily on the floor, sighs deeply, and starts another nap. It’s a hard life. If I change chairs or move around, he faithfully gets up, circles the tiny room, and flops again at my feet.  I’m pretty sure he can’t tell time, but every afternoon, just before 3:00 he rouses himself, gives a big back-arching stretch accompanied by a wide yawn, and then heads to the office window behind my desk.

He stands still, ears cocked forward, eyes scanning the street below. It will be a good twenty minutes or more before Bean and Abby round the corner, but he stands at attention, never leaving the window.  I believe he hears them before he can see them—his vision is compromised—but I know he hears them when his tail begins to batter the back of my desk chair. He stands there, wagging with joy, listening with perked ears, until they round the corner and he finally sees them.

As soon as he sees them, he spins around and races out of my office and down the stairs, where he presses his nose against the glass in the front door, his whole body wagging with joy, while Bean fumbles with his key in the lock.

Every. Day.

He’s a more accurate timepiece that the old German cuckoo-clock I restored that hangs in the dining room. I never know what hour it’s going to chime, but the dog…the dog knows.

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