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When life imitates the game Sorry

2018 January 25
by Rachel Turiel

Monday night, Dan and his buddies are gathered in the solarium for their bi-weekly “bow-night,” in which a group of guys, wielding metal rasps and sandpaper, craft primitive bows out of tree trunks. It’s like Hunger Games meets a beer commercial. 

When I suggest to Col and Rose that we play a game, they select Sorry, a choice which gives me panicked flashbacks to the tedium of early years where five minutes passed like a geological era. But I give a resounding “yes!” because it’s the clearest way to say, “I want to be with you,” (even while my brain is liquefying). Col decides to create a stack of his own Sorry cards, spending half an hour scribbling directives on paper rectangles.
 
He folds his custom Sorry cards into the deck and on a turn pulls a Col original. “Say five curse words and move forward ten spaces,” he reads, blushing. He and Rose search my face, wondering if I’ll shut this down. Instead, I hold him to it. He can only come up with four, one of which is “crap.”
 
I can remember thinking, at least 25 times in the past eight years, that we had landed in the exact sweet spot of parenting, inhabiting some cosmic, singular intersection of independence and loveliness, the ingredients for such balance never to be present again. Maybe we had just thrown off the shackles of diapers but everyone was still beside themselves with enthusiasm for farm animals. Or, perhaps the kids could endure long road trips, but would still make an imaginative world of play on the shores of the Animas river. My belief that as the kids soared closer to independence they’d necessarily jettison their own childlike wonder like so much extra baggage kept me frantically attached to what was surely the last outpost on the unswerving path to some drab, inevitable adulthood. 
 
But childhood is not actually a linear path projected by Motherhood Inc, in which plot points create a predictable trajectory of growth. The kids soar and stumble, bouncing around every spot on the grid. Recently, I overheard Col explaining to a buddy that he felt hurt when other friends teased him about watching Barbie episodes with his sister. And I thought, “beautiful expression of feelings!” The next day, Col mocked his sister mercilessly. Par for the sibling course, but still, was this real life imitating a Sorry game? Ten steps forward, five back.
 
The other night the kids spent the evening hissing at each other like territorial snakes and then climbed wordlessly into the stacked mattresses of their bunk bed as if any hour past 8pm was automatic truce for cobras. I can hardly keep track of anyone’s personal trajectory anymore.
Cobra couch truce.
The Sorry game goes on tediously (as history predicts), and the kids are completely, bafflingly engaged. I’m reminded that these children contain all their former selves, a living mix of who they’ve ever been. It’s like simmering a soup, different flavors asserting themselves at different stages. Within this gumbo is the toddler “do it ownself” battlecry, transformed to the tween corollary: “You can’t stop me from wearing shorts in January.” Also within: four certified curse words and solo bike rides to friends houses. But wait – a game of Sorry surfaces like the pre-adolescent version of executives taking a load off on the golf course. Still in there! And because all we have is the sweet spot of now, I’m determined to be eternally delighted, which is a matter of my own perspective.
 
When I stir in the most recent layer to the soup—maybe that tweenish thing that gives me pause—the aroma of their collective days hits me and fills me with a knowing that there are no fixed points, no finish line, just a continuum of grace to be here growing together.
Multi-cobra couch truce.
In case you were wondering, elk rawhide is not a great sledding medium. Now you know!

Just when you thought there was no room for a foosball table in an 800 sf house. Guess again!

Related posts:

The anthropology of childless adults
Homestead happenings: the festival of summer
Hanukkah miracles

safe escort

2018 January 11
by Rachel Turiel


Rosie and I are leaving the Christmas Farmers Market, our bags plump with beets, potatoes, and carrots. A raven croaks from a nearby rooftop, eager to be the beneficiary of holiday crumbs.

“I’m sooo hungry,” Rose tells me.

Really? I think. Weren’t you the one who ate two man-sized breakfasts before 9am? And then a notion spontaneously beams into my mind as if deposited by the raven. “Hey sweetie? I’m wondering if you’re actually craving something else and it feels like hunger? What do you think?”

Rose leans into me and says quietly, “attention.”

I contemplate the hour we spent browsing farmers’ and artisans’ stands, how we held hands while sampling raw sesame candy; conducted sniff-tests on homemade soaps; and watched the ukulele concert from one shared chair. And, how I loved it all! Oh…and I also remember her small hand tugging insistently at mine when I ran into friends, engaging in adult conversations that stole my attention away from her.

There are two storylines here. One is my own, which includes my desire to be present to the sensory experience of the market, to the spontaneous meet-ups that are a cherished part of this close-knit town, and to the blessing of being with my daughter, this ten year old who won’t always choose to spend a Saturday morning with her mother. The other storyline is Rose’s, which includes her desire to feel connected to me, to know that she matters enough to hold my attention. How do we get all these needs met?

I believe in empathy as a first response to painful feelings. Empathy lets us know we’re heard and understood. It’s like getting a safe escort out of the amygdala, the brain structure where we experience fight, flight, or freeze, and into the prefrontal cortex, where logic and decision-making prevails.

In the (wonderful) comic book Urban Empathy: True Life Adventures of Compassion on the Streets of New York, author Dian Killian describes empathy as “understanding what others and ourselves are experiencing and, by doing so, easing pain and suffering.”

This won’t happen by explaining to Rose that I only chatted with four people. Or, by offering a vacant apology and promising to do better next time. Nor by delivering a well-intentioned lecture on how expectations can cause suffering. Giving empathy is not dependent on me agreeing with her or granting her wishes: it’s a voice reaching through the cramped darkness of overwhelming emotion to say, “I see you. You matter.”

It helps that Rose can articulate her need for connection. Despite twelve years of school, we’re not taught this most basic skill of identifying our needs and having the confidence to share them with others. Instead, we often unconsciously try to get needs met in ineffective ways. (i.e. the younger brother who wants to be included and so scribbles on his older sister’s artwork to get noticed. Or the adult who wants belonging and tries to mold herself to fit into a social scene that doesn’t feel authentic).

“Rosie, sounds like you were wanting more of my focus and attention. Maybe you were bored when I chatted with friends? And I bet it was hard not knowing how long the conversations would last.”

“Yeah,” she replies, sliding her body gently into mine, her body language articulating trust.

“I can see how that feels disappointing, how you were excited to have my companionship.”

“I just wanted youuuuuuuu,” she croons, holding the note, opera-style, signaling that the serious talk must end now. I sing back to her, a song about going home and playing our favorite card game. She laughs and then looks around to determine that no one important is witnessing the embarrassment that is your mother, singing. Just the raven.

It turns out that there’s no solution needed today. Sometimes just being heard and understood can take you out of a painful emotion and into a rollicking card game.

Related posts:

orbiting a more peaceful planet
3 ways to raise happy, connected children*
Feeling all the feels

ordinary magic

2017 December 22
by Rachel Turiel

It’s Sunday morning. Rose and her buddy are crafting a doll-sized birthday party scene, snipping up dish sponges and painting them to look like layered cake. Col has been asking me since 6:00am to set up a playdate for him. (I secretly love that I can still call what 12-year olds do playdates). By 7:15am Dan and I are drinking coffee, butchering a roadkill deer, and listening to Pandora. I can see how Col would think 7:15 was the middle of the morning for everyone. Earlier in the week Dan carried inside the gumdrop heart of this roadkill deer. “That’s beautiful, Daddy!” Rose said.

One of Rose’s teachers called her “freakishly adorable.” I really have to agree.

By sunrise our skeleton trees are filled with evening grosbeaks, the children of the children of the grosbeaks who began stopping by nineteen years ago. We point and laugh and delight in them every morning, like toddlers captivated by the newness of life each day. We’ve noticed one singular starling has joined their wholesome ranks, as if it’s trying to reform itself, like the white supremacist slowly taking up the banner of inclusivity. We should all welcome these defectors.

We had the sweetest Hanukkah this year. The spiritual leader at the temple we belong to (who—this month—has pink hair, wears combat boots and possesses the sweetest voice) explained that Hanukkah is a time to appreciate what’s inside of us, to be home with family welcoming the light, even if your child doesn’t get home from gymnastics practice until 8pm and every night’s a lesson in fire safety (Ok, I added that last part. Col, put down the lighter!). But, I love her message to find the sweetness in your holiday tradition, and then tinker with it to fit your life so that you can love it all the more.

Super fun new game: Haikubes. Thanks, Joy!

This year we asked the kids straight up what they wanted for Christmas. Col wanted a mountain bike on which he could navigate the loopy, rocky, steep trails behind our house (which invoke equal parts awe and hand-wringing in me). Rose wanted fancy snacks and body care products. Col got a Christmas mountain bike in November (thanks to contributions from my parents and Col’s own piggy bank) so he could ride, pre-snow. That’s all I want, he insisted when we nervously informed him that this present would be the same present on Christmas day. That’s all I want, he reiterated.

And, last night Rose opened a gift basket (because we won’t be home on Christmas) of many little items (peppermint foot massage oil, individual servings of almond milks, tropical fruit leather, homemade lavender room spray…). She was “totally blown away” and “over the moon,” as she said in the card she wrote us two minutes after unwrapping her present.

But first, a reminder to herself: Reminder! Make Dad and Mom a card SOON!!!

I recognize there’s not a lot of wonder and magic in our method. It’s a bit like bring on the scientists and have them figure out Christmas. However, there’s a certain reassurance and safety in removing what feels like outsized pressure and anticipation. And, I feel wealthy in the magic and wonder of the every day, in the grosbeaks and the muted winter colors, in the orangey-pink sunrises and the deer sausage in the freezer, in friendships, foster dogs and the blessing of childhood.

Last night at dinner, I had two hankies on my lap due to a mild cold manifesting in the faucet of my nose turned on full blast. Rose was reminding us of next day’s school performance in which she and her friend are singing Men at Work’s Down Under to over 200 people. Col was snarkily suggesting she could start being nervous now. The sun was long down and a new snow glittered under the streetlights. Dan was diffusing everything with humor, and I was full of my own nostalgic love and gratitude for this ordinary magic, all of it.

Love to you all and gratitude for your presence here in this space where I hold you captive while I share odd bits about our lives,

Rachel

OUTTAKES

**Do you remember our foster dog Sunny, who gave birth in our living room? Here she is with her one surviving baby. Dan says the caption of this photo is, “Hey Mama, if anyone’s messing with you, just let me know.”

**Remember my last post in which Col snarked about Rose’s dolls? I got a little more information from Col later about his anger around the dolls, and he made some beautiful requests to me to help meet some needs. Added in previous post near the bottom.

**Maybe I shouldn’t think this is hilarious, but I can’t help it (Col’s take on a traditional Christmas song):

**They can pretend not to like each other, but I have proof that says otherwise:

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signs of winter and nonviolent communication classes

2017 December 10
by Rachel Turiel

Signs of winter:

Uke concerts by the up and coming band Ocean Blue. They have a fine repertoire of cover hits.

Deer hides coming out of storage for tanning (are you glad I didn’t include the photo of Dan spooning—not a euphemism—brains out of deer skulls?).

Foster dog’s favorite game: steal the stinkiest shoe from the untamed herd of footwear.

The nightly boardgame, in which family togetherness is easy and fun and we still get to bed at 8pm.

Rose’s dolls are back out after being tucked away all summer and fall. At night she pajamas them and reclines them into their shared doll bed. By morning she yanks their stiff limbs into day clothes, trots them out to the couch and bends them into an arthritic sit, where they watch us get ready for school with such lack of solid routine, it’s like we’re amnesiacs starting new each day.

“It’s fun to see the dolls back out again,” I tell Rose, meaning: stay innocent, please.

“No it’s not,” Col interjects. “I hate them.”

Because we’re huge fans of nonviolent communication around here, we believe Marshall Rosenberg when he says that “all judgments are a tragic expression of unmet needs.” Meaning, when we blame others we’re usually feeling pretty crummy (such as: disappointed/frustrated/angry/sad) because some basic, human need of ours isn’t being met (perhaps: autonomy/to be seen/compassion/contribution).

We try not to get ruffled by these verbal firestarters but instead look for what unmet needs might underlie these statements.

Additionally, we do not punish our kids, not because we’re permissive, but because when you understand that all behavior is an attempt to meet healthy universal needs, punishing a child because you didn’t like their behavior is like slapping a band aid on a broken arm. The arm will remain broken. What drives the behavior goes unexamined. Also, punishment is often used to assuage our own anger. So, if we can care for our anger, investigate it, see what thoughts are causing it (when one kid says something hurtful to the other I often think, “Really? We haven’t grown out of this? Come on. There’s enough pain in the world.”) Underneath this hot kick of anger is sadness (I want them to enjoy each other), fear (will they ever be allies?), and frustration (bickering is unpleasant!), none of which will be taken care of by punishment.

“Hmm. When you say you hate Rosie’s dolls, what feelings and needs are you having, Col?” I ask, sipping coffee, which, thanks to Dan, is our one reliable morning event.

Col regards the two dolls propped on the couch, their faces locked in inert perma-grins. “I feel hurt…because I have a need for…realism.”

Fair enough. I tackle Col and aim for the ticklish spots. (Because I have a need for lightness and laughter).

*********EDITED TO ADD:

Col and I took a walk recently to discuss the above incident. After he shared his new theories on Star Wars for about 20 minutes, I asked if we could discuss Rose and the dolls. He agreed. I asked what bothered him about Rose’s dolls. After a few comments about how they’re pointless toys, he said, “and you always say how cute they are!” I asked him if he would like more attention for what he’s into. Yes, he said. How can I best do that in a way that would be meaningful to you? I asked. And he gave me two, concrete, doable requests:

  1. Come into my room while I’m doing legos/reading/drawing and check on me to see what I’m up to and ask if I want to share it with you.
  2. Come into my room while I’m doing legos/reading/drawing and ask me to do something fun with you, like play a game.

I’m so happy that he named these two requests because I so want him to feel seen and to feel a sense of belonging in our house and these requests feel so doable and enjoyable for me!

***********

I am excited to be offering two 5-week nonviolent communication courses here in Durango in the new year. This practice, developed by Marshall Rosenberg and taught on six continents, is a path to navigating difficult interactions with skills that keep you empowered and connected to your own needs while listening deeply to others, for the sake of creating mutually satisfying solutions. This practice has brought greater connection, peace and clarity to my life time and again.
More info here. Testimonials from former class participants here.
I am offering two 5-week courses in the new year:
*Thursdays 3pm – 4:30pm January 18th – February 15th. Smiley Studio 10 FULL with waitlist.
*Wednesdays 5:30pm – 7pm. January 31st – March 5th (break for Valentines Day). FULL with waitlist
Cost: $100
If these class times don’t work for you, but you’re interested in a future nonviolent communication class or a private session, let me know and I’ll add you to the list of people I’ll contact first with info on upcoming class.
Please contact me if you have questions or are interested in registering.
*******

Not posed:

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november again

2017 November 29
by Rachel Turiel

It’s 7:08am, the sun not quite topped out on Raider Ridge, though the sky blueing up outside. The kids have cordoned off a section of our livingroom for indoor soccer, chair legs serving as goal posts on opposite sides of the room. They’re running, panting, and calling fouls on each other while I drink coffee and read the newspaper as if our house wasn’t overtaken by the soundtrack of galumphing elephants at dawn. Like an auditory version of a mood ring, Rose sings a little tune while defending her goal, “Happy through the roof…I’m happy through the roof.”

It’s like two soccer world powers ensconced in fierce historical rivalry coming together for a little friendly scrimmage. In fact, any bickering on the field tile floor is so predictable and prescribed, it’s like two baby coyotes scrapping over an elk carcass. No reason for concern.

“Lets do a soccer championship every morning,” Col says.

“Yeah,” Rose agrees.

In the kitchen, it’s the time of the fruit fly, their frenzied breeding and creepy red eyes something we probably would have tried to get the kids to investigate were we still homeschooling. Their population fluctuations are a direct result of the cleanliness of our kitchen, which is feedback no one really wants. Dan diagnoses it as us needing to “keep more of a 1st world kitchen.”

Can’t imagine what he’s talking about.

Just an innocent vat of fermenting vegetables.

Rose Raven at 10: (and at 6 1/2, for perspective)

Rose has TWO baby teeth that are being moved in on by big, thuggish adult teeth and if they don’t come out on her own in the next few days, they have to be pulled. Which is giving new meaning to playdates.

Itty bitty cold frame greens:


And the mighty and coddled greenhouse greens:

Thank goodness for national holidays (minus all the actual dubious political implications and sleazy commercial pressure). We ate six types of local wild meat on Thanksgiving (elk, deer, bear, trout, lake salmon, and grouse) and had the best week shuffling work commitments to the bottom of the pile in favor of looking for ducks on the Animas river with the kids. “Why are we even looking for ducks? I’ve already seen plenty of ducks,” Col said tweenishly while grabbing my hand on the river trail, secretly happy to be required to spend time with family.

Every night at 4:30 I’d festively open a beer, inevitably leaving an inch of beer at the bottom, which could partially explain the Thanksgiving fruit fly proliferation.

Dan’s been, as per November usual, cruising around at “buck hour” (dawn and dusk) looking for rutting deer and coming home with photos, video footage and stories of sparring animals and swollen-necked bucks in pursuit of females. Which is to say, if you were thinking this blog was like a book where characters evolve and plots move rapidly forward, sorry to break the news.

Rose got concerned that there wasn’t enough daylight between me and my dance partner and bumped me off the dance floor:

We made beet/onion pickles with the last of our garden beets: Col said, “we should just start pickling everything: apples, deer meat…”

I wrote an opinion piece for our local paper that was not about food or kids, but about my dream that we solve conflicts by truly listening to each other and coming up with fresh, creative solutions that take everyone’s needs into account. (A method we are currently employing to work with everyone’s needs around Christmas. Some of us value simplicity, frugality, wonder, connection, and celebration of nature and family; others value fun and excitement in the form of lots of shiny, new things. Will report back on this.)

Our new discovery for all the random and assorted leftovers in the fridge: Mix them together in a hot and oiled cast iron, pour cornbread batter over the top and bake at 350F and it always seems to come out festive and delicious.

That’s about it, loves.

Happy everything.

Rachel

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these days

2017 November 3
by Rachel Turiel

Things are changing fast here.

One day our cottonwood was a mesmerizing halo of yellow. The next, undressed by wind, it dropped acres of fragrantly shriveled leaves to the ground. (Which the kids then track onto the floor, into our bed. Dan advises, “Just don’t look down.”)

Recently, I noticed a brand new smattering of freckles sun-brushed across Col’s nose. Rose is growing like some magician implanted extendo-legs in her femurs. My foster dog pusher (it feels like that; sometimes I text her in the throes of dog-withdrawal: “got anything for me?”) brought over a pitbull, and I recoiled at the sight of her, and then within two days was ready to go on the road as spokesperson for the breed.

And, other things are reassuringly the same. The cold frames are planted. There’s a buck deer head in our shed around which Rose navigates her bike huffily every morning. Dan remains my dream-mate, bringing home meat and doing laundry. Recently, Col was looking for an eraser, reached under the couch and retrieved one. A new foster puppy is currently snoozing in the sun.

Jazzlyn the Pitty showing her true nature.

I got to help pack out Dan’s buck deer, my favorite kind of work.

We butchered most of an elk and all of a deer while the kids were at school. They’d come home to find us whittling on animal legs and wistfully remember when they were around to help butcher. Which is to say, their lives seem to be getting more conventional while Dan and I are working from home, projecting personalities onto the crows in our backyard. Also, when Col found out Dan cut his finger and required stitches in the ER, he said “why didn’t you come get me at school?”

Russian Spy spotted in Trump Tower.

See? Conventional. Minus the fish tie.

Player #47

We spent last weekend in Grand Junction at Rose’s soccer tournament, which felt like arriving at a new manifestation of grown up, what with staying in a hotel, reading maps, and trying to follow a sport that doesn’t involve books. Watching Rose’s fierce and lovely team play, I vacillated between edge-of-my-seat tense excitement and wondering if I’m inappropriately invested. (Really, what’s it like for you all to watch your kids play competitive sports?) Her team made it to the championships and after tying their final game I said to Dan “Why is the other team celebrating while our team is so glum?” Turns out Rose’s team lost because that goal I was still celebrating was actually offsides, which is an advanced and baffling soccer faux pas, (which the ref apparently called immediately in voodoo hand signs) and I missed entirely. Which is to say, I haven’t quite hit maximum grown up-ness.

As for sports that I understand, I just finished some excellent books. Judith Newman’s memoir To Siri With Love about her twin teenage boys, one of whom is on the spectrum, was the rawest, most truthful, hopeful and funny love letter to her sons. The gist of which is that we’re all raising our own particular brand of odd, imperfect and precious human (though Newman acutely more so) and to see and love them for who they are is the most holy of ordinary acts.

And, this novel was stunning. Such flawed, lovable and relatable characters. The writing is beautiful and the author creates Seinfeld-esque funny scenes.

The kids and I are savoring Catherine Newman’s first young adult novel, One Mixed Up Night. We’ve all laughed aloud (repeatedly), and I’ve teared up, and the book is just so fun to read. Lively and funny and fast-paced and suspenseful and Frankie’s voice just rings so true for this age group (9-14) , even if I’m like “hey – why aren’t my kids this nice and ethical?”

Oh, and this gorgeous memoir about a woman’s illness and the wild snail—no joke—that keeps her company and provides inspiration through her convalescence. I know, it doesn’t sound like a page-turner, but it’s a deeply captivating and reassuring reminder of human resilience and curiosity.

Just saying.

What are you all reading?

With love,

Rachel

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peeling the onion of anger

2017 October 9
by Rachel Turiel

It’s a puzzle of a Tuesday evening. Rose has soccer practice at a time that was once reserved for family dinner and needs to be shuttled to and from the soccer field; Col has a friend staying late; our foster dog needs a walk; everyone needs to be fed; Dan is 11,300 feet up in the high country chasing elk with his bow.

Col and this friend are deep in the fog of the next plan brewing and Col answers my questions with distracted monosyllables. This buddy seems to bring out in Col a thirst for adventure, for independence, for the kind of fun that is made of risk and hilarity and a few things you might not want your mother to know. When I told them recently that I felt hesitant about them riding bikes downtown because of their history of pushing the envelope together, this friend said with endearing transparency, “Oh, that’s not just with Col. I push the envelope whether I’m with him or not.” Though I sometimes wish Col was enamored with say, the cautious, rule-abiding art of library science, I am very fond of this friend.

I tell the boys that dinner will be ready in five minutes. They filter out the frequency of my voice in favor of nerf gun discussions. Finally Col’s friend nudges him, looks up at me and repeats, “dinner,” as if we have discovered a common noun in our different languages.

I assemble a meal that hits all the food groups currently existing in our fridge and call for the boys. Col and his buddy are missing, not on the property, not within shouting distance. There is no time to track them down. Rose eats, grabs her soccer bag and we drive away not knowing where the boys are. I feel annoyed, thinking: they should have told me where they were going. They knew dinner was impending. Driving home, my mind simmers with satisfying fantasies of what I will say and do when I find them. The blame center of my brain is like a city at night: lit up and active.

In the car, I resist the magnetic lure of distraction (radio, cell phone, punishment strategies) in favor of what I advocate for my children: to acknowledge and investigate all feelings. Breathing a little space into my clenched chest, I notice that behind the anger is a desert of sadness, dunes of fear rolling and cresting.

There’s this existential sorrow over my children growing up and calving off the glacier of our family, landing in the wide ocean of their own lives, paddling ever farther from home. Meanwhile I’ll be in the kitchen, a caricature of my own loneliness, prepping another meal in hopes they come home hungry. This is only part invention. When I volunteered to accompany Col to the flea market recently he said, “but I want to go with someone Mama. Like, a friend.”

The kids are doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. Growing and stretching and leaving, a thousand small practice goodbyes. And it’s all been so lovely, couldn’t they stay just a bit longer?

The children needing me less is both wonderful and heartbreaking. They are free to prepare their own breakfast and also free to make bad decisions, decisions which are bolstered by the advisory boards of their own peers, who have equally, alarmingly undeveloped prefrontal cortexes. Sometimes popular culture and peer influence looks like rotten bread crumbs which they hungrily follow. This is where fear shakes me by the shoulders. Sometimes a winning strategy is to make really clear agreements with them, other times it’s doing the heart-searing work of letting go.

I am grateful to see that underneath the hot kick of anger is fear and sorrow. I can surround these feelings with love. The inroads of self-empathy clearcut through the misplaced blame. For these are universal experiences of motherhood: arms achingly full and then achingly empty.

Also, the sadness and fear are simply messengers pointing to what I’m really yearning for: connection, however it may look between a tween boy and his mama right now.

When I arrive home—the boys still missing—I hop on my bike and hear their voices less than a block away. They’re deep into mischief, the variety of which would be familiar to generations of boys.

I explain that not knowing where they are leaves me worried, and I want them to check in with me before they take off. No threats or punishments, just stating boundaries. They understand and readily apologize.

The three of us sit down to the spread that was warm and fresh an hour ago. The boys express their gratitude for dinner and are forthcoming in the specific brand of 12-year old boys: an endearing blend of self-doubt and bravado. I can see that they’re wobbling on their own precipice, experimenting with who they are outside of family, and yet needing their home nest to be welcoming and steady. I feel a thread of connection, braids of their tweenhood and my own mom-ness, weaving us all together tonight.

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the sameness of sheep

2017 September 27
by Rachel Turiel

Everything is happening with reassuring predictability. The goldfinches have returned, their bright yellow summer costumes already fading as if adhering to some stricture of fall fashion. The sunbathing vultures unfurl their wing-capes to the morning sun; their days here are numbered. Frost sneaks around the garden like a bandit in the night. Dan is a blur of bow-season comings and goings. (He recently left me with a bag of half eaten chocolate covered espresso beans, which is the exact right drug for solo-parenting).

A decade of similar September memories are lodged in my cells, released under the precise conditions of temporary fatherless children seeking a wrestling partner while I press tomatoes through the assembly line of roasted sauce. Outside it’s cold and then warm and then cold again, daily.

On another note – did you leave that metal pasta spoon (in above photo) at our house after a summer potluck? We are holding it safe for you, while apparently using it.

And yet, I am always blindsided by the melancholy of fall, the way walking through the orange glow of aspens fills me with both awe and a sense of grief. I don’t know, maybe it’s the heartbreaking truth of impermanence. Every day something succumbs.

This year, with the kids in school, I’ve had more time to explore this grief, some of which is due, no doubt, to transitioning out of my role as homeschooling parent; a whole family paradigm, slipped away. But, there’s more. There’s the micro-anguish: present work disappointments, coons nabbing our grapes, the kids orbiting ever farther from the sun of their home. And the macro: climate change, inequality, our cultural lust for the next distraction.

Last arctic gentian of 2017.Last sun-ripened colander of tomatoes, 2017

Christine King, teacher of nonviolent communication, says grief’s job is to drop you into the river of all souls – it asks us to be quiet and stop all forward movement.

I’m finding that grief can be this expressway connecting you both to universal human suffering, and the universal human generosity of spirit. When you’re in grief it’s very difficult to exist on the busy surface of life. And so, you’re plunged into a deeper undercurrent. It unseats any delusions that you will be spared the pain of loss and disappointment because of any wall you’ve erected of money, yoga, organic broccoli or goodness. Grief is a finger tapping you on the shoulder, reminding you that everything you hold dear will change.

And yet, in this raw and open state, small kindnesses become magnified and envelop you like a warm blanket. The morning onslaught of birds to your feeder feels like a holy avian party. Kneeling football players become unexpected heroes. Kate Braestrup, author and chaplain, says “you can trust a human being with grief, for grief is just love squaring up to its oldest enemy.”

And so, I’ve been quieter, taking more walks and less runs, talking less and listening more, feeling more, knowing less, and believing that you can trust a human being with grief. And yet, there is assurance in the predictability of cottonwoods flaring yellow, in the kids that need feeding, the basil that needs harvesting, and another season turning, showing us something inescapable and true.

“I love this nip in the morning air,” I told Dan back when September was young.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because it’s so new.”

Dan laughed, because for many people “new” means foreign travel, or remodeling your house, or something that creates a wave of excitement in the circulatory system of your life. On personality quizzes Dan and I both score embarrassingly low on novelty seeking behavior. Which may explain a lot, including why when I read this passage at the end of Charlotte’s Web to the kids recently, it brought tears to my eyes, happy tears.

“Life in the barn was very good – night and day, winter and summer, spring and fall, dull days and bright days. It was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, the glory of everything.”

And so as September fades out, we shuttle squash into the root cellar, whiz up batches of pesto, cover the tomatoes one more time, find another way to cook beets, make time to walk in the oakbrush as it turns from green to psychedelic to dust, and tend to our feelings, however they may present themselves.

Total winter squash count this year: 168.

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the life hacking of school mornings

2017 September 17
by Rachel Turiel

We are trying to lifehack school mornings, which seem to be some test of American fortitude, or I don’t know, a scheme to increase reliance on snack foods. For the first couple weeks I felt a bit like an anthropologist discovering a highly strange cultural phenomenon. So everyone rises to an alarm and rushes around putting small bits of food in containers and shouting at each other?

Which is to say, mornings are intense. Dan told me a story he heard about 15 elk gathered at a water hole, clicking their teeth territorially at each other. He told me this after I had apparently been clicking my teeth at him trying to move him aside at the stove. After which he pivoted. And I grabbed the pot I needed.
We are on our bikes at 7:45am, all senses deployed as we ride single file through commute chaos, Dan practicing his elk call (he’s been put on notice by Rose to stop before we approach school grounds) and me reminding Rose that it’s not a great time for me to answer questions, unless it’s really important.

“Okay,” she agrees. Three minutes later she wonders cheerily, “Do you say fridge, refridge, or refrigerator?” Right. The really important stuff.

It’s all somewhat surprising, really, to hear Col announce on the way home from school, “I really enjoy the way Mr. Rich teaches math.” I make a point not to fall off  my bike, but just reply, “Oh, cool,” as if I totally saw it coming. Same with all the unprompted showering and changing clothes, something homeschooling at the kitchen table never inspired.

All of which to say, school is going really well for both kids. Col often goes hiking for P.E. and today groups of children spent several hours building boats out of cardboard and duct tape to send their teachers across the river in. During school. It was some sort of team-building competition of engineering, although a friend of mine asked if they were actually trying to drown their teachers.

Offering up an innocent little question to the kids, like, “how does lunch work at your school?” can yield so much information, it can get a little competitive, like if you were interviewing Sonny and Cher simultaneously.

I appreciate the streamlined nature of my new role: feed and support children (and drive them to soccer). Which I find to be much easier than trying to facilitate a whole education.* When they arrive home I am ready with snacks and empathy. Col tells me that he hates when this one boy shares his kettle corn with everyone but him. “Hmm, sounds like you want to be included,” I reply, rather than tracking this boy down and roughing him up, or giving Col a lecture about the nutritional components of kettle corn.

When Rose and I reunite, she usually needs about fifteen minutes to wade through everything that didn’t go quite right: her water bottle leaked, recess was too hot, she didn’t do well on her spelling test, this one boy at her table is disruptive. Offering her the balm of my presence without advice or empty reassurances (“it’ll get better”) is like beating a dusty rug with a broom, eventually all the dust falls away, and the rug is fresh, renewed.

And sometimes if everyone’s really ragged, I pull them close to me and we read, like I did when they were overstimulated toddlers, or exhausted preschoolers, or like I’ve been doing their whole life. I imagine Col calling me someday from work, overwhelmed and aggravated, and I’ll pull out Harry Potter and begin reading.

Speaking of reading, this book was a quick, light and fun read. This memoir was fascinating, funny and heartbreaking all at once, and actually, so was this one, just with way less swearing.

Also, here is a link to my last Durango Herald column, which a friend said was my best, because there was actually a plot.

And, I’ve written many things for Edible Southwest Colorado magazine, if you’re interested:

Squirrel for Dinner – yes, it happened

Bone Broth – nature’s multivitamin

The Great Homemade Dog Biscuit Challenge (in which I got to “interview” some of my fave dogs)

DIY BBQ Condiments

Karlos Baca – indigenous chef forages for a new paradigm

*A friend mentioned she’d been waiting for me to explain why we stopped homeschooling. For us it was a lovely way to keep the kids close when they were young, to avoid the reward/punishment game that most schools rely on for cooperation, and to give them space and freedom to get curious and follow that curiosity. As time passed it become clear that it was challenging for the kids to feel motivated to learn from me and Dan. Last year, trying to teach Rose the difference between it’s and its, I gave her seven sentences to work through. She reported matter-of-fact, “I’ll do four.” And instead of insisting she do them all, I might have said something like, “OK, then lets just snuggle and have a snack.” Which was a clue (one of many) that the parent as teacher dynamic had reached its limit for both of us. 

Oh – and this is Sadie, our latest foster pup. She’s part border collie and part cray cray, but so smart and fun. She often invites our neighbor’s enormous dog over for a playdate and they go wild finding bones and antlers in the yard. And then, Dan busts them for stealing useful bones and antlers out of the solarium, “hey – that’s the deer ulna I use to scrape my hide! And that’s the antler billet I use for flintknapping.”

xo

Rachel

p.s. Accepting any and all suggestions on how to life hack school mornings. My wise friend Carrie suggested that if I got out of bed at 6:30am rather than use that time to watch half an episode of Orange is the New Black, I might end up feeling a bit less frantic. This is the kind of help I need.

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One love. We get to share it.

2017 August 30
by Rachel Turiel

We set off for eight days, car full of collective hopes, expectations and gear. We remember the mushroom-collecting baskets, the homemade pesto, one rawhide drum, 15 books among us, but 50 miles down the road, Rose announces that she neglected to bring a single pair of shoes. Including the pair she did not walk out of the house with.

Lunch stop and a few choice boletes on Red Mountain Pass.

Ridgway Thrift Store provides: flip flops and sneakers for $2.50, plus one more book and the books each kid picked out at the Ouray bookshop. New count = 18.

By mid-afternoon, at Ridgway Lake, the kids have already entered sibling vacation mode, in which geographic proximity, lack of outside social inputs, and commitment to fun melds them into something approximating friends. Dan and I sit against a tree, watching them splash and swim, sinking into that familiar role of being happy simply for their happiness.

That night, we introduce our sacred space (“our evening activity” we call it, as if we’re aboard the Love Boat) with drum, smudge stick and a bird’s nest we found on our property. The focus of our ritual time is recognizing their journey from nestling to fledgling, from homeschooler to child of the world.

The kids are wide eyed as we tell the story of how we decided to homeschool. Next, we ask them to identify the strengths they developed as homeschoolers.

“One thing,” Col says, “was getting to know my parents and my home better.”

We come up with a list of 12 strengths, pass the drum around to close the circle, eat a little chocolate, and climb into our sleeping bags. “Goodnight everyone, I love you all,” Rose calls out. I nudge Col and he replies with a resigned, “good night, Rose.”

DAY TWO

We set up camp in the Slate River Valley outside Crested Butte. Col catches a respectable-sized brook trout and pops the tiny, raw gumdrop of a heart into his mouth, seemingly as an answer to a question the organ posed sitting in his palm.

The late-August sun feels like an old friend I’ve reconciled with after a summer of arguing; we all bask in its generosity. When Dan and I return from a run, the kids are sorting fishing lures, and Rose announces that they’ve been sorting “and just talking.”

“Not really,” Col counters.

At our evening campfire, Rose asks, “If you were starving in the desert and had only a wooden torch and an old rag what would you do?”

We try to parse it all out when Rose announces, “you cover the wooden torch with the old rag so it doesn’t burn you too much when you eat it!”

Things devolve from there into perma-hilarity. Col asks, “Would you rather eat me or Rose if you were starving and we were both dead?”

I eye up Rosie’s thighs and Col deadpans, “No, seriously. Which?”

Dan asks if this is a competition to be chosen or not chosen.

For our evening activity we each write the values we developed through homeschooling (identified the night before) on paper targets and then shoot them with our bows to symbolize staying focused on these values: independent learning, connectedness, rootedness, going at our own pace, family time, nest and rest, practical skills, belonging.

The kids love the archery game, which we play till the darkness kicks us out and into our tents. That night a deep rain polishes our campsite clean.

DAY THREE

We spend the morning drying out, drinking coffee and watching animals across the valley like its a TV station broadcasting frolicking elk calves, meaty clusters of bucks, and one large, slow-moving bear.

Later, we cross the Slate River, and creep up the slope, north of where we saw all the animals. The kids flounce through the last flare of wildflowers, swat mosquitos, and are amazingly resilient about the Dan-led, trail-less bushwhack.

That night after our gratitude ceremony (in which we read pre-written notes detailing points of thankfulness from these past six years of homeschooling) we present the kids with watches, which I thought might be akin to getting a brick of responsibility thrown in your lap, but they’re thrilled and spend much of the evening synchronizing, “What time do you have now? How bout now?”

At night, Rose calls out to me and Col in our tent, “Goodnight. I love you Mom and Col.” Col looks confused, scowls and tells me, “I’m working my way up to that.”

DAY FOUR

We wake up in the Slate River Valley and watch the pre-sunup lightshow on the ridges. Fog fingers creep down through aspens, pink clouds recline on the western slope.

Rose shows up at campfire ponytailed and in pajamas that somehow seem like an outfit. Col shows up in yesterday’s clothes, but immediately chops wood and starts the fire. “I’ve got 7:12am Rosie, how ’bout you?” “Same.” Sigh of relief.

We slosh some Frangelico in our coffee and Dan mentions to me that someday we’ll have to do an Empty Nest Colorado Tour.

“Many,” I agree.

“What will the theme be?”

“Wildflowers, elk, coffee and scrabble.”

Col spots the black bear, humpy, lumbering and thigh-heavy, in the upper clusters of trees. The bucks fold their legs under them and settle in for a morning nap. The elk calves run literal circles around the herd and Dan says it’s their last burst of wild energy before settling into the trees to bed down for the morning. “Like how you guys get a burst of energy before bed.” We drink coffee, hot chocolate and pass the binoculars around.

We pack up camp, resupply in Gunnison, including a trip to Six Points Thrift Store, in which we pick up six more books and three pairs of shoes. Plus the book Dan surreptitiously bought at the Ouray bookstore for an anniversary gift. New book total = 25. Dan and the kids play soccer in the park while I take a walk, charmed by the flowing in-town ditches and subsequently, the greenest lawns this side of the Mississippi. We drive an hour southeast of Gunny to the Quarter-Circle Circle Ranch  at 9,300 feet. The two male hosts (one of whom chain-smokes and packs a pistol, fascinating the kids) give us a quick run down on the wood cookstove, kerosene lamps and 1000 gallon/minute spring, which all serve as our domestic technology for the next couple days.

Evening appetizer. Plus, as Dan says, the siblings are now even. 1:1.

That evening around the campfire we hold a forgiveness ceremony, Quaker meeting-style, in which each family member has a chance to share something they regret from our years of homeschooling, while the others simply listen without commenting. It is profoundly moving to allow the words to be spoken, and then to let them go, absorbed and freed.

DAY FIVE

Dan and I go for a gorgeous and grueling sunrise run and then pack up for fishing on a nearby creek. I’m not prepared for how much I enjoy watching the kids fish. Maybe it’s because I’m sitting beside a meandering mountain stream without much agenda; maybe it’s because I’m with the family, though everyone is quiet and focused (so focused that Rose turns down a snack of chips, a historical first).

The sun peeks in and out of clouds, the plants are tall and seedy, and it’s perfectly quiet except for Dan coaching the kids: “Nice cast. Yup. That’s a fine place to put your hook. Eye on your lure. Start reeling in. Slowly.”

The kids catch nine trout between them. Col winces as he pushes his finger into each fish’s mouth and snaps their spine. Rose performs this task without flinching.

That night, our “evening activity:” decorating prayer flags that Col and his homeschool co-op made six years ago with images representing our homeschooling years. Next, we cook a multi-dish meal (including nine fresh trout) on the wood cookstove, which is an exercise in mindfulness as each burner’s heat is a byproduct of proximity to the firebox and there are no “off” switches.

“Rootedness.”

After dinner Col pulls me out onto the porch and cries in my lap in remorse for the fish he killed.

“Is it sad to think of all those precious fish lives?” I ask, employing empathy as a tool to help him get closer to his emotions.

“Mom, you’re making me sadder,” Col sniffs, deflating into my arms. I trust that allowing that sadness can act like a fire to cleanly burn away emotion, but I back off and just hold him without words.

Later, the kids swing in the most picturesque setting I could imagine and then fight over who gets to light the kerosene lamps until Dan reminds them that there are two. Dan and I come back from a sunset walk to find the kids in the bottom bunk together. “We’re snuggle-wrestling,” Rose explains.

DAY SIX

After breakfast Col says to Rose, “You can draw with me if you want,” which Rose is wise enough to realize is Col’s way of saying, “I want to be with you.” I love how these trips ignite their friendship; or maybe it’s that these trips strip away distractions and complexities, laying bare what was always present.

We’re sad to leave the Quarter-circle Circle Ranch and rejigger our plan to camp in Crestone in favor of heading north (through Salida: coffee and ice cream) to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs for the sake of fun, just pure fun for the kids.

Dan sets up our next campsite and I read poolside while the kids attack the water slide. Rose makes two girlfriends almost immediately and I worry that Col will be left out. When I approach the group Col tells me “These are our new friends Natalie and Lauren. We’re playing with them.”

Back at camp, the kids have a fierce throwdown over who gets to present the hat to Dan that I bought at the ranch. Twenty minutes later they’re sitting around the fire making up new swear words (with copious clicks, consonants, and yak-herding Mongolian sounds), laughing hysterically.

That night, as always, we bring out the drum, the smudge stick, and the nest, for which the kids have found small rocks and special flowers to place inside. We’ve come to love our evening ritual, and I can feel it sealing us together, marking our collective transition out of homeschooling, beginning to transform and ready us for what’s next.

Gathering at the start of a rock labyrinth that we find at our campsite, we hold hands and walk along the stones, recounting our lives together. We name aloud their developmental stages, the decision to stay home together, the names of people who’ve been an integral part of our journey, the kids’ accomplishments, and then we stop at a lodgepole pine where two presents await. They each find a necklace (made by my talented silversmith friend). On one side of the silver coin pendant a heart with wings is etched into the metal; on the other the word: soar. They put their necklaces on and walk over a stone threshold into our arms. “We are your nest, your home,” we tell them. “Always here.”

DAY SEVEN

The kids sleep late. The morning is frosty and Dan and I linger, warming hands on coffee mugs, by the fire. Today is our 15 year wedding anniversary and I wake up feeling…is it happy? I don’t know. It feels deeper, steadier, more trustworthy. I recognize that in a different life, Dan and I would be backpacking in the epic Collegiate mountains surrounding us; the kids, if asked, might choose some sanitized hotel with its packaged entertainment. And yet, there is nowhere I’d rather be than here, the sun mingling in the tops of lodgepole pines, hummingbirds buzzing Col’s red swimshirt hung to dry, frying bacon on the cookstove.

I’m grateful for this trip, for the simplicity, the slow and open rhythm, the ease of so much time and space, the way it’s knitting us together as a family as we each play a different role in our shared story. (I can imagine buying a van and never coming home, looping through this extraordinary state until the kids are 18. But wait – we’re transitioning out of homeschooling.)

We pack up after breakfast and head south. We drive through the San Luis Valley, which is like a Hollywood depiction of the Mountain West: acres of sagebrush meadows rolled out to the foot of the lofty, imposing Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range.

In the car, the kids read. (Not owning hand-held electronics has been a great strategy in not needing hand-held electronics). We find a radio station dubbed “Hippie radio” and sing loudly along with The Who, Stones and the Eagles. Dan rouses the kids from their books to get them to listen to Jethro Tull. “The only rock band to include a flute,” he instructs. The kids are unimpressed but I’m delighted. My partner of 22 years, who prefers bushwhacking in the wilderness to concerts, knows these things?

Dan and I each find a shirt; Col snags a 2009 Oprah magazine, the rights to read it providing sibling fodder for at least 20 minutes of bickering. 

We stop in Crestone for lunch (Desert Sage Restaurant, so good) and leave the kids in a park with ice cream while we take a walk.

“You know, in another fifteen years it’ll be our 30th wedding anniversary, and we’ll be sixty,” I tell Dan, as we take in the funky residential area, seemingly free of pesky building codes.

“We should be in good shape because we already live like 60 year olds. You know, how we enjoy Scrabble, plant identification, taking walks together, no coffee after 3pm.”

Later, heading towards the Sand Dunes, U2’s One comes on. We sing along. Yellow sunflowers blur past our windows and the lyrics almost bring me to tears.

One love, one blood/One life, you got to do what you should/One life with each other/Sisters, brothers/One life, but we’re not the same/We get to carry each other, carry each other.

One life/We get to share it/Leaves you, baby, if you don’t care for it.

The sand dunes are hot and wild. We climb and sink and slide and afterwards Col notices that when he blows his nose, grains of sand come out.

Tonight, our last night, in a lodge in South Fork, is bittersweet. The kids agitate to watch a movie and we acquiesce and head to the hot tub. Already a subtle layer of separation is erected between us and the natural world; between parents and kids; between self-made fun and easy entertainment.

We don’t let the four walls hamper our ritual. Out comes the drum, the smudge and the nest. Tonight, we write peptalks to ourselves, addressing the inevitable challenges that will arise as fledglings. My heart is pierced with the hope and vulnerability of everyone’s words.

DAY EIGHT

Dan and I go on an early run, the chill air hinting at a new season. Rosehips are reddening, the plants are a tangle of late-season overgrowth. Back at our sweet lodge, we cook breakfast on easy appliances, and then write postcards of gratitude to the people who supported us in our homeschooling years. We pack for a final time, feeling the heaviness of endings, but also a tingle of anticipation to return home.

We stop on Wolf Creek Pass for a mushroom hunt, finding a few boletes and the stunning and stalwart gentians, flaring up in summer’s last stand. In Pagosa Springs we make lunch of the last edibles rolling around the almost-empty cooler, remembering how we could barely close it 8 days ago.

After lunch, we wade into the San Juan River holding hands. Together, we lower the nest into the current and watch it surf down the river until it fades out of sight. Goodbye homeschooling. And then, we pile into the car and drive back to our homeland.

  • Our dear friend, Tara Frazer, life-cycle celebrant (trained in family and healing ceremonies by The Celebrant Foundation and Institute in New Jersey), and proprietor of Four Trees Life Coaching and Ceremonies provided unparalleled assistance in planning our ceremonies. She can be reached at tarafrazer@yahoo.com

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