I’ve spent the past few months a little like Charlie Brown in the pumpkin patch, waiting with equal measures hope and fear, for winter to arrive. (It’s not lost on me that there may be a more go with the flow way to live this life).
But it’s the end of March and the evidence is in. We ate our first dandelion salad; the lemony yellow goldfinches are back; the chickens have ramped up their laying; Utah topo maps are co-mingling with camping lists; the cold frames are thundering with greens; jackets are now strictly eveningwear.
The garden and I are waking up together, a little shy and out of practice. I’ve been mostly strolling around, observing (which may be a strategy to avoid actually working), but I can already see this is how I’ll garden when I’m an old lady—which feels approximately 7 yrs away—more observation and welcoming, less agenda (i.e. work).
As I stroll around, skimming my hands through the soil, plucking lambs quarter seedlings, everything feels both startlingly new and reassuringly familiar, like all my relationships, I suppose. And honestly, as much as my mind wants to evaluate and judge how the garden and I are doing…carrots are late, tomatoes on time, arugula early, should I be planting potatoes?…I’m hoping to wrest myself from the pumpkin patch of hopes and fears and just attend to what each moment requires.
This morning Col woke me up at his idea of morning. I extended an arm, he nestled in, and I folded it back over him like the metal bar on a carnival ride, locked and secure. He immediately fell back asleep. It reminded me of all the times very small children had fallen asleep in my arms while I plotted how to slip away unnoticed, feeling like a bank robber about to pull off a heist.
This time I stayed, knowing how rare and precious these moments are. I felt my ten year old’s heartbeat threading his body; I nuzzled his hair, still drenched in the fresh warm smells of youth. I could slip away, I thought. I could meditate, make coffee, read my book. But I stayed. He slept for an hour, until the sun rose and filled the room with light.
News and Classes and Such:
1) Have I given you a link to Dan’s etsy site? I’m such a biased, enthusiastic promoter of his arts and crafts that I hardly trust myself to write a description without morphing into a team of backflipping cheerleaders. So, you know, go check it out, it’s pretty cool.
2) I am teaching another Fermentation 101 class at Durango Natural Foods (which appears to be my new hippie sugar daddy, sponsoring all classes I dream up. Thank you) April 8th, 6 – 7:30. We’ll be talking about the history, art and science behind different types of fermentation, plus make our own batch of kimchi to take home. Cost: $17 for co-op members, $20 for non members. Register at the store, or call 970.247.8129
3) I’m also teaching Fermented Drinks: Kombucha and Ginger Ale with Jennifer Smith at Durango Natural Foods, May 13th, 6 – 7:30. We’ll be sampling, discussing, and going through a step-by-step process to make kombucha and ginger ale. You will take home a ginger ale starter, and first seven sign ups get a kombucha scoby. Cost: $17 for co-op members, $20 for non-members. Register at the store or call 970.247.8129
Harry Potter inspired play.
4) This summer I’m teaching a Harry Potter discussion and writing class for kids ages 9-13. (Partially so my kids finally think I’m cool). We’ll discuss the classic hero’s journey, the evolution of Harry’s primary relationships, why we’re attracted to the idea of Good vs Evil and the pitfalls therein. We’ll play games, unearth obscure factoids (who can name all the Gryffindor passwords?) and I’ll give the children in-class, related, writing assignments (write an advertisement for your favorite magical tool!). Two options: Wednesdays, June 10th – July 8th, 3:30 – 4:45 pm OR Tuesdays, 3:45 – 5:00 pm, July 14th – August 11th. please let me know if you’re interested. Cost: $90. Class limited to 8 children and is already filling, so register soon!
5) Two out of five of Dan’s bow-making students are now shooting their bows! Dan is like a proud Papa, fawning over them as they get ready to leave the bow-making nest. (Next bow-making class will start in fall). Dan will be teaching a one day, comprehensive Hide-Tanning Class in May (details TBD, e-mail if you’re interested) and is putting together a Hunting Skills Class for teenagers this summer (which could also be titled: how to see wildlife and read their signs). Limited space. Again, e-mail if interested.
We are heading off to Utah for the quintessential Colorado spring break camping trip. Rose is over-packing in the form of copious shoes, Col is underpacking, trying to forget his toothbrush, Dan keeps winking at me, whispering, “Me and you, in the canyon.”
With love and spring blessings,
It’s 7am and I’m rallying around a cup of coffee; oh how we’re made for each other precisely at sunrise. Col and Rose are awaiting, goggled-eyed, for the arrival of breakfast: exotic, pricey organic muesli. Dan puts steaming bowls in front of them—studded with dried fruit and almond butter—and they sling creamy bites into unusually quiet mouths. Rose licks her lips and announces, “There’s just one thing I don’t like about this breakfast.”
A thick fog of silence rolls across the table. Dan and I find each others eyes and exchange weary “here comes the inevitable” smiles. Rose has what we call an evaluative mind. Every experience, event or mental state goes into the hopper of examination and out clunks an opinion. These opinions become her GPS system, guiding her passionately towards what she wants (a sip of my coffee, endless playdates, mega-carbs, an expanse of sand on which to cartwheel forever), and away from what she doesn’t want (cooked vegetables, long family hikes, a speck of boredom).
Her desires are the very forest through which she walks, thick and familiar. I’ve even, in a snarky moment, pictured a human bark collar engineered to give a small shock every time she utters the phrase, “I want…” Dan and I have instituted a new policy to protect ourselves from being rushed upon returning home: We’re allowed the amnesty of a pause to integrate (i.e. pee, put down our stuff, greet family) before Rose unleashes a request. Her restraint, during this moment, is visible.
Rose and I are out walking one of her regular clients, Jack the Scottie. She’s holding his leash in one hand, swinging my hand in her other. It’s bright and warm and Rose bounces down the sidewalk with a levity that’s endemic to people who’ve never had to balance a checkbook or wrestle internally with whether it’s appropriate to do semi-nude cartwheels in front of your windows.
It feels like a green light moment, in which to unleash a little philosophical mom-ologue.
“You know, Rose, I’ve been thinking about how some people have a lot of desires, you know, things they want or don’t want. They have strong ideas about how they want things to be.” I pause to let this idea settle in the fresh space of her mind. Melted snow drips from conifer boughs and rooftops, plinking out a spring tune.
“Are you talking about me, Mama?”
“Well, yeah, you and me. And also, I’ve noticed that some people don’t have very strong preferences about how they want things to be,”
“You mean like Daddy and Col.”
“Well, yeah…but it’s not good or bad,” Rose says, skipping forward to position herself under the corner of a roof, opening her mouth to catch the leaping water.
Hmm. I was about to deliver the dharmic punchline, the truth of how when we cling to our preferences, they bring suffering. How these desires, these expectations are at the heart of our human pain.
But I pause, understanding that Rose is right. Having a storehouse of desires is neither good nor bad, it’s how we relate to them, whether we buy into them. And to be fair, while Rose will broadcast the changing weather of her wantings, she is simply reporting. It may sound like complaining (The one thing I didn’t like about the pricey, organic muesli…) but it’s actually just her finely-tuned mind filtering through waves of sensory information. She’s often not actually asking for anything to change, but simply setting the chittering birds of her consciousness free.
Here’s what Rose has taught me: The forest of desire, it’s intense and wild, full of beckoning turquoise pony necklaces and parents instigating hikes with wolfy smiles, and you can walk through it all feeling your muscles of greed and aversion flexing and still it’s not good or bad. My job is to click the safety on my own future anxieties (Imelda Marcos!), to remember to breathe while Rose is telling me how she Doesn’t Like This Hike We’re On, to not create more pushback by trying to convince Rose her opinions are wrong. Because she’ll need a lot of clearance to take off, running under the blue sky, which she always inevitably does.
Rose drops Jack’s leash, issues a few grimy sidewalk cartwheels and comes up beaming. Watching her unbridled enthusiasm is like beholding a classical artwork, the kind that lodges in your heart and tells you something about the indomitable human spirit.
It’s 5pm. There are two extra kids at our house, a sinkful of dishes, and piles of discarded clothes festering in sparkly pink clumps. The kitchen table is layered with paper flotsam. The fridge is full of unaccommodating raw ingredients which need shaping and pulling and massaging into something resembling dinner. Rose and her friends are shrieking, ramped up like teenagers on spring break, drunk on their shared enthusiasm. Col has drawn a cloak of quietness around him, sitting at the table drawing airplanes.
Do you think he’s changing? I asked Dan recently.
How so? He wondered.
Like he needs us less, like he’s pulling away, separating a little. More backtalk, more defiance, more sister-directed snark. More of this:
The arc of my descending lips meets air as Col dodges my goodbye kiss when I drop him off at a friend’s house.
We’re at the table, homeschooling and Col throws up his hands, “Why do you think I need to practice writing! You don’t know what I need to practice!” He hunches over his airplane drawing, closing the door of his body on me.
I ask Col to come to the table, to brush his teeth, to hang up his jacket. My voice bounces off the cover of the book in which his head is buried.
And still, every morning Col tucks his sleepy body into my own folds and crevices. He murmurs, “You’re the best Mama for me,” and I remind myself to take what is offered with gratitude not grasping. He grabs my hand when we walk home from shared school and our limbs swing together, long and short, until a ice-sheeted puddle beckons and he’s off.
Rose and her friends are in new outfits, it’s like a nudist convention for how many clothes have been tossed aside in the past hour. I get the dishes done, creating a teetering tower of bowls, plates and cups in the dish drainer, which will incite Dan to explain in his beyond-calm voice, “If you start by putting the clean dishes away, then you have room for–” But apparently I never listen.
I miss the little boy who once needed large doses of my lap daily. And I want to be the mother he needs today. This is new territory, as is every other layer of childhood that has accumulated, adhering to the children’s bodies like their own limbs stretching and elongating. This parenting is like a progression of dance moves, where children start out literally in your body, and move increasingly further away; it’s beautiful and terrifying to witness. As usual, I’m being called to get with the warp speed program of impermanence. Don’t look back, the kids seem to say. I begin clearing off the table when Col announces, “I want to make dinner tonight. I want to create a new recipe.”
“OK. What do you want to make?”
“Something with eggs and cheese and carrots and raisins.”
“How many eggs? How many carrots?”
“Four eggs. Two carrots.”
“Get a piece of paper, write it out,” I suggest. We approximate amounts. We nix the raisins. He gets out the grater and starts grating exactly two carrots. “We need spices,” he tells me. He adds kale upon my suggestion, beats eggs, grates cheese, pours in milk. Rose’s friends get picked up and she tractors around the living room, lifting bundles of clothes into her arms. We pour the batter in a cast iron and I clear the table while dinner bakes. It comes out of the oven and everyone gathers to admire its puffiness, its kale- and carrot-confettied beauty, its ready-to-eatness. We flood Col with compliments and he beams while we devour it. My ten year old made dinner. I feel the sting of grateful tears building. I can do this. I can be the mother my children need in this moment, and the next. We eat every last crumb. Col names it Mungo.
Ingredients and directions:
Another version, salsa-less and with sausage:
* You can essentially add or subtract anything. We’ve made it many times, now. I like it with sausage and ample kale. The kids are fine with the kale because they say they can’t really taste it with all the other flavors.
* We’ve found that FIVE eggs is best, rather than 6 like it says in the recipe.
* Melt the butter.
* You could add/subtract any veggie. Red peppers would be wonderful.
* Heating up a cast iron with a TBSP of oil for 20 minutes helps the mungo slide off the pan when done.
* We use tapioca flour, which you could substitute with any type of flour. You could also omit it, but I like the denseness it adds.
* Sometimes we glaze the top with salsa right before taking it out of the oven, sometimes not.
* It may take closer to 35 minutes. Test at 30.
* Col’s recipe says 350F. Recently, in a hurry, I cranked oven to 375F, which made a lovely brown crust on bottom.
Col is on the couch reading, staying one chapter ahead of us in Harry Potter, dropping occasional spoiler-bombs on innocent ears. “I just learned that Rita Skeeter has been eavesdropping by–”
“Coe-uhl, DON’T TELL US!” Rose roars, her feet kicking out of a handstand and crashing down on her rat’s cage.
Col grins, snark pinching the corners of his mouth. He returns to his book, buoyed by his supreme reading power over his sister, who is still swimming in the shallow end of Frog and Toad.
“You shouldn’t be reading ahead, Col! It’s not fair,” Rose protests. I wonder if Rose will someday harness her sensitivity to injustice for the disenfranchised of the world.
“Why do you care?” Col replies.
All I have for them is sighs. Where do they get the energy for all the arguing?
Col returns to reading The Goblet of Fire, the words lifting off the page, creating an impenetrable force field around him. Somewhere on the couch is a boy who needs to clear his airplane drawings off the table, hang up his jacket, but I’d need Harry Potter’s magic to pierce his literature-o-sphere with my voice.
Rose’s body flies past me. Her feet pound the mat in a round-off. Her legs kick over backwards. I think of a spider. So many limbs, all moving at once.
“Are you having a piece of your valentine chocolate today, Col?” Rose asks, mid-cartwheel.
“That means you’ll have nine pieces left and I’ll only have four. That isn’t fair.” Rose stands for a brief moment, arms folded accusatorily across her heaving chest. I don’t tell her that’s because she ate most of her candy the first day she got it. Harness that power for good , Rose.
Col goes back to Harry Potter, his eyes swimming inside a flood of words.
I should be cooking dinner, or editing stories for the magazine, or persuading Col to hang up his jacket but I lie down on the couch, resting my brain, absent-mindedly watching Rose flip back and forth. She does a back walkover for the first time. It’s sort of slow and creaky and hesitant, with a crux moment where she seems to be prodding her legs along like you would a recalcitrant horse.
“You did a back walkover!” I announce, trying to be appropriately excited for her but not praising-excited like the good 21st century mother I’m training to be. Really what I want to say is: holy shit, girl! You fucking rock! You practiced and practiced and taught yourself to do a back walkover for the pure joy of it!
Just like I want to say to Col, You’re reading a 735 page book, dude! Sure, you might ignore a house fire or your own mother’s voice, but I remember when you struggled and struggled through reading, when there was worry and tears. Now you can’t pull yourself out of the orbit of a book.
Here’s the thing. When kids are motivated, they give it all they’ve got. They’re like that: dedicated to their passions without doubts and fears wrestling them into some submissive posture. They push forward as if knocking on a vacant door they’re determined to get through. Rose was bent on learning how to hula hoop, then cartwheel, then to snap with both hands, and now, the back walkover. Knock knock knock.
Col once collected and curated a large collection of rocks. He had a short, loud whistling phase (which I still shudder to remember). His fingers were magnetized to legos for years and then three months ago, he announced, “I think I’m done with legos.” Drawing airplanes followed. Now, reading.
My job is not to panic when their interests can’t be measured on a standardized test, nor when they’re messy or loud or so quiet all you hear is the sounds of boarded up windows advertising “no vacancy,” behind which a small child crouches with his book. This focus and devotion will be their ally as they mature into the complex world of adulthood. My job is to allow space for what wants to emerge next, to celebrate their passions, to allow a metropolis of legos to occupy a corner of our living room for four years, to continually scoot the gymnastics mat (formerly known as my camping pad) out of the kitchen when it migrates, to let the kitchen table become plastered with airplane pictures, to get off the couch and make squash custard.
It’s dessert, breakfast, snack, and side dish. It’s the nutrient dense, yummy, healthy answer to the 55 winter squash we tucked into our root cellar back in October. Plus, the kids *ask* for it.
One large winter squash (or approx 4 cups cooked squash). We’ve used every squash you can think of. All successful.
1/2 can coconut milk
4-6 TBSP softened butter
4 TBSP honey (Optional: we don’t use sweetener, but our kids are brainwashed to think fatted-up winter squash is sweet enough).
1-2 TBSP pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves)
1 TBSP vanilla
1/2 TBSP salt
Mix everything in one bowl, or in food processor for super smoothness. Pour into greased casserole dish. Bake at 350F for 40 minutes or until cooked through and nicely browned on top.
It takes two families to cover childcare so Dan and I can come to the woods today. We’re here to visit the big pines, the old growth ponderosa that have been around for centuries. They’ve quietly risen while aspen forests sprouted like highrise tenements and then fell; while the Civil War was fought and the Wright brothers launched failed iterations of the future airplane; while generations of animals came and went, feeding the trees with their bones, blood, hair, excrement.
We follow a trail that seems to lead straight up to the sky. My ears fill with the sounds of my own quick breaths, the metronome of my heart tapping a brisk, ascending tune. The wind whooshes through the tops of the big pines in a world above us. Secrets lurk everywhere.
The soil is exposed: moist and fragrant. At 8000 feet the snow has retreated from all but the north faces in these unseasonably warm February days. We quickly shed jackets. Summer smells abound: human sweat, warm soil, dry bark. Thick hatches of winged insects launch from the brown oak leaves. Grass spears up towards the sun like a snake to a flute. I’m aware that winter is alive and well in parts of the U.S. but it is said that in our changing climate, extended drought will be the Southwest’s particular cross to bear.
I once went to an outdoor talk devoted to the ponderosa pine tree. I learned that a mature tree exhales 100 gallons of water a day; that ponderosa roots can stretch 100 feet laterally; that a tree only 30 inches in diameter can be old enough to have shared breath with a human who walked through the forest 200 years ago. Ponderosa forests are sculpted by fire, the young upstarts cleared out periodically, making room for the elders to become habitats unto themselves.
I can’t separate my love of this land from my grief about this changing world. I keep trying to find the angle from which to gracefully accept what climate change will, well, change. I struggle to find the bright side, the message, the shiny pearl in the rough oyster. In the Southwest, water wakes up this dry, dusty land, sloshing life into every living thing.
A Buddhist teacher said that the gift of this particular time is that we can wake up (as in: become present) to our environmental losses instead of say, blundering along unawares. I think I’d rather blunder along a fat mountain creek, in the monsoon-fed wildflowers, in my own August rain-drenched garden, knowing these gifts will be available to the next generation.
We head back down the muddy trail, through the bare oaks, their skeleton limbs snagging our clothes. Ravens circle overhead.
I think of my children, with whom we’ll reunite soon, and I realize that to love this land means to not give up on it. The more we feel the earth’s blessings, the more protective we become. It is a privilege to be a human walking on this earth. How do you receive the earth’s blessings? Maybe you grow food in your yard, or befriend trees, feed backyard birds, or use your feet as transportation. Maybe you spend time with a stretch of river, turn a compost pile, receive the quiet calm of a thicket of woods. Maybe you remember from time to time, that you too, are of this precious earth.
Now I see the secret of making the best person: it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth. – Walt Whitman
Pinyon sap and cotton-rag torch, to be lit in Col’s favorite cave this weekend.
It’s bedtime, kids nestled in bunk beds, and I’m singing the same lullaby I’ve been warbling out for the past eight years, the one that’s branded so indelibly on my mind it seems I should be able to press a button somewhere behind my ear to play the recording.
This is the lullaby that ends another day together, that offers amnesty to all our daily regrets, and disarms the charge of my own parenting doubts, signaling to all of us to lay down our mental weapons and let it be.
Rose whispers to me from the top bunk, as she often does, not quite willing to actually let it all be until every question, thought and observation has been wiped clean.
“Mama, I just thought of something funny. You know how Col is ten now and you’ve been singing us this lullaby for so long? What if when we were all grown up we called you every night so you could still sing us this lullaby?”
And I picture Rose picturing herself: pulling on the unicorn pajamas, brushing her teeth and then climbing into some twin bed somewhere with an iphone to call her mom.
No problem, little one, I’ll be waiting for that call.
Some things I want you to know:
1) Turns out Col is skilled in the polishing arts, and is happy to paint your nails (pink or purple, non toxic) at the Oh la la Salon. He’ll charge you 50 cents, which Rose provides, though asks him for a cut back because she bought the nail polish.
2) Elk ribs in peach bbq sauce. (Worth carrying out an extra 40 pounds of mostly bone on your back, if you’re Dan anyway). “Mmmmm, it’s so gamey,” Col says, praisingly.
3) I recently finished two excellent books. Animal Dialogues by Craig Childs, about his experiences with wild animals,—each short chapter a new animal—is so engaging and beautifully written, my hair is still prickled from the mountain lion chapter. (This is a great book to read to kids).
My Accidental Jihad, is a stunning memoir written by Krista Bremer, an American woman who falls in love with a Libyan-born Muslim. After Bremer’s husband spends the month of Ramadan fasting, praying, renouncing pleasures and connecting with God, he kindly asks his wife, “Now, tell me about your holidays. What is the meaning behind Christmas?” She panics, while the word presents runs shamefully through her mind. I loved this book so much I bought it, as a reference guide to writing memoir.
4) Thank you for your kind and caring words on this post about our 7-year old friend, Chloe, who is experiencing leukemia. (She is doing great, thank you for your prayers and donations). Chloe’s father, Craig, and brother, Jordan, are back in Durango and every workday morning we get to be with Jordan until his preschool ride arrives. Rose has appointed herself Household Ambassador to Jordan’s Care and Comfort. She removes his hat and mittens, feeds him breakfast (he’s five and quite capable, but you try and stop Rose from nurturing), and leads him through handstands, art and the principles of rat-care.
One great thing that has transpired from Chloe’s diagnosis is all the hugging! Dan and Craig hug at least twice every time they see each other.
5) Fermentation Class. I am teaching a fermentation class at Durango Natural Foods on Tuesday, Feb 24th at 6pm. We’ll be talking about the art and history of fermentation, we’ll sample some ferments (beet kvass! gingered carrots! something I haven’t decided on yet!) and make our own kimchi in class to take home. Space is limited. Details, and to register, go here.
6) Yoga/Writing Retreat returns: THREE SPOTS LEFT
Happy February. May there be snow! And if you’re sick of snow, may it come to Durango.
It is penciled into our calendar this Sunday: Family Adventure Day. This is the vaguely formed notion that we’re devoting a full day to getting out of town, to being outside together, to expanding out of our habitual activities, even if Col would elect to stay home drawing airplane #3987 and Rose could cartwheel her 7-year old body across our 800 sf house into the next year.
There is a faint memory circling my head of a time when Dan and I would set out on any wild adventure our hearts conjured. Now, these family outings are prefaced by inserting every relevant child-limitation (weather, time, gear, endurance) into the hopper of appropriate activities, and rallying around what clunks out. We consider our angles of persuasion as measuredly as any marketing company.
The kids drag their feet. They don’t want to go hiking, get dressed, leave home, or endure the drive required to get out of town. There are protests and pep talks. There are negotiations and compromise. Concessions are made: we leave home an hour later with a tall thermos of hot chocolate and our neighbor’s golden retriever.
We drive south into New Mexico, peeling back layers of high desert, descending into a kingdom where scrubby, spiny plants reign. The landscape has been crayoned in with the Crayola set “desert triumvirate:” orange rock, blue sky, dusky green plants.
We park at a quiet trailhead, and the dog, who’s been drooling, panting and whining for the last hour explodes out of the car, running like a man released from prison. We shoulder packs, sloshing with hot chocolate, and set out. Half a mile down the canyon that spills liquid life into the San Juan River, we find a dead raven, spot a bald eagle, spy mountain lion tracks and pull apart clustered clumps of owl pellets found at the base of an old twisted cottonwood.
Rose springs down the canyon as if there’s candy at the finish line; Col meanders, gathering rocks he must have, then forgetting them when he stops to inspect another desert gem. It turns out the kids are naturals at inhabiting this world, their world. Shoes off, scaling rocks, and shimmying up the trunks of fat cottonwood trees, they need not one suggestion to fill their time. Rose even finds a flat, sandy expanse upon which to unleash an olympic torrent of cartwheeling and back handsprings while Col perches high in a tree, privy to the hawk’s view.
When Col was still in the NICU, we met with a soft-voiced social worker, who asked us what our dreams were for our son, this boy who hadn’t yet broken two pounds and needed technological assistance to eat and breathe. “I..I want him to be able to walk and eat unassisted, to talk and laugh,” I replied, my heart clenched in its own prayer of anxious hopefulness. Dan replied without hesitation, “I want Col to begin to feel the blessings of this earth.”
I will never understand why the idea of a hike equates with boredom and hardship in the kids’ minds. They never fail to find magical worlds, real and imagined, as well as the craggy interstices where they can fall into their own, mysterious sibling-friendship.
Many hours later we return home, drop off the dog, shake the sand out of our clothing and dive back into our habitual activities (plane drawings, cartwheels, e-mail, bow-making). But, we are long blessed by our time away, our time together, by the simplicity and freedom of feeling our feet upon the earth.
It is morning and I am drinking coffee, reading the paper, and fielding interruptions from the kids in a parody of my own routine ordinariness when my phone rings. It is my friend Steph, whom I’ve known since we were in our mid 20’s with no one more complicated to care for than a handful of animals. She made our wedding cake 12 years ago, zucchini with thick, chocolate frosting. I took a walk with her less than a week ago. She has learned that her daughter has leukemia. “I can’t believe I’m speaking that word,” she says through tears. “This is a game-changer.”
If there are six degrees of separation between everyone on this planet, there is exactly one degree of separation between everyone in Durango. Going food shopping is like old home week; I make half my social plans in the produce aisle. I know people who go to the farmers market strictly to “catch up with friends.” I’ve run into people I know miles out in the backcountry, and I’ve yet to take a plane into or out of Durango where I didn’t know someone aboard (Including, last flight, the guy who used to buy a pound of dried mint at the herb shop I managed, and joke “How do I explain this (baggie of dried herb) to the cops if I get pulled over?”). Facebook is the digital representation of this interconnectedness (I have 103 friends in common with my friend, Sheryl, who I met here in Durango.) Even the dogs are in; Rose scored a new dog-walking client when a jogger recognized the dog she was currently walking and got my number to sign her dogs up.
I have a very strong feeling that Steph’s daughter will ultimately be OK (Just as certain people in our life had very strong feelings that Col would be OK when he was born 3 1/2 months early. When Col was 2 weeks old, Dan’s friend, Robert, flew to Denver, rented a sportscar, and took Dan on drives to see the bighorn sheep in Georgetown. He told us, “Col will be fine. You both have very good genes.” Robert is a biologist). Steph’s family will go through some very hard things in the next year, and when they can’t hold themselves up anymore, the net of this community will catch them, relieving the ordinary burdens a family faces, so they can focus on the extraordinary. (Stay tuned on the old church committee of Facebook for ways you can help the Harris family).
There have been some devastating losses in this community in the past few months. Parents and children, their deaths rippling out across our collective hearts. In the following weeks friends greet each other with extra long hugs, clumsy sentences, and the shaking of heads because often there just are no words. But we show up with food, donations, any comfort we can spare. I’ve had two impromptu grief/hope/hug sessions with my friend Kate because she was walking by my house at the right time. Each time I felt my world pull tighter, closer.
I keep wondering: how do you prepare for these game-changers? How do you go about your life, drinking coffee, reading the paper, fielding interruptions from your children, knowing that in the shadows of this ordinary moment, life is a dangerous, wonderous and unpredictable place?
When I was pregnant with Col, after suffering an unusual 2nd trimester miscarriage a year before, I was buoyant. I loved how my belly was rising like bread dough, loved the indoor tickles of baby feet, and the feeling that if this life I was growing had a brand name, it would be: world’s luckiest secret.
Eugene’s eyes smiled behind his John Lennon glasses, his closely cropped, dark hair hugging his head like a tight-weave black carpet, freshly installed. “If you are joyful, then be joyful! We don’t prepare for disappointments or tragedy by worrying. We also know that experiencing joy doesn’t bring down the wrath of tragedy, nor does it equate to being immune to disappointment. In fact, nothing will make you entirely immune to disappointment, so you might as well enjoy being joyful.”
Wait, was this the Ben and Jerry’s school of Buddhism? Just enjoy being joyful? No nifty Zen tricks or mind-bending efforts which lead, like a lighted runway, directly to the prize of enlightenment? No need to imbibe happiness in careful moderation as if it were something on which one could dangerously overdose? No outwitting joy like the broad-ankled Eastern European matriarchs of my family line, whose superstitions about not letting the evil eye catch you gloating over your own good fortunes, are lodged like a splinter in my DNA?
Two days later I was emergency air-lifted to Denver, my joyous pregnancy a medical crisis. Everything Eugene Cash had said was true. It’s still true. Scouting around the corner, bracing oneself for the tragedy in the distance does not equate to protection. There is no protection, no way around heartache but through the sticky, hot center.
And so we go on being grateful, recognizing that this life is ridiculously precious, and equally out of our control. Maybe remembering this helps us love better, picking ourselves up and letting the small grievances fall away. It’s like that old physics equation: gratitude → generosity →happiness → more gratitude. Gratitude pries that crazy heart muscle open, letting in more light than you ever thought possible.
There is a tradition in the Dharma Center I attend, after meditating and listening to the Buddha’s teachings together, we dedicate all the goodness that arises from our practice to all beings. I would like to dedicate any goodness that arises from contemplating joy and connectedness, community and gratitude to lovely little Chloe Harris. Thank you.
Recently, I bought a package of balloons to conduct a science experiment, and the very presence of these balloons, bouncing around the house, has reduced the kids into loud, noun-limited toddlers (waking up, pointing and shouting “balloon!” and pouncing on the floating orbs).
“Wow, they’re really ramped up over those balloons,” I told Dan one night, wincing as balloon-batting bodies crashed into each other.
And then we laughed, because really, of all the things these kids will someday become ramped up over, I’m highly comforted that buoyant latex blimps still make the list.
You see, Col just turned ten and I’m stockpiling evidence that everything’s going to be OK. Maybe it’s the double digits, or the decadeness, or the fact that more than half of his childhood has poofed away in a cloudsmoke of memories, and it seems inevitable that this second half will include less, well, balloons.
I woke up recently with a panic knocking around in my heart. It was like one of those ubiquitous anxiety dreams where you’re about to teach a class except, whoops, you’re wearing a Shirley Temple wig and forgot your pants…but it was actually this notion that I wanted to be surrounded by small people forever, but whoops, I forgot to have more children.
And really, I only ever wanted these two exact children. But I had no idea back when I was leaned up against a tree at the park, Rose clamped to my nipple (her default position until age 2) and Col toddling off to stick his starfish hands in some dog’s jowly mouth, how quickly they would accumulate years to their bodies, like accessories, like geological layers. I had no clue that the artifacts of their childhoods—board books, tiny knitted hats, baby teeth, mispronounced words—would chunk off into mental midden piles I’m left to curate.
Getting personal information out of Col is a tentative business, but his main currency of communication remains the 4-limbed wrap-around morning snuggle. This very morning, he proclaimed sleepily, “I love you and your husband,” and yet I still haven’t found the conversational key to unlock an unfettered sharing. At ten, he’s stepping into new independent territory. I can’t kiss him in front of his friends. Last fall he went on a 2-night trip with his friend Mathew and he still refers to it like some poignant symbol of liberation, the way some people will always regard Rosa Parks’ bus ride.
Around any family birthday, I find myself feeling that we’ve reached such a lovely intersection of our collective four lives, that I could settle in right here for a long time, feeling a tiny bit beleaguered but mostly incredibly lucky.
And yet (didn’t you want there to be an “and yet?”), there is joy in this inching forward, in the way Col and Rose are becoming more of themselves, like protagonists in a book whose character gets more revealed over time, whom you love with a deeper, more complex understanding as the chapters progress. And to spend too much time lingering over their bygone childhoods would be to miss the sun shining fiercely on our lives right now. This will always be true.
Setting up the great rocket launch 2015. Previous rocket launch here, just to prove how fast time flies
Running to retrieve the fallen rocket.
Col and I recently took a field trip to the Animas Air Park, a small private airport where we like to troll around, Col pointing out high wing singles and other notables. He indulged me briefly in some hand-holding and then pointed at the small yellow plane descending. “That’s extra loud, probably a 12-seater,” Col said. We watched the plane bounce out of the sky, rolling out a perfect landing, 12 exact seats revealed.
I think about how I want connection through expression, through feelings, through hold my hand and tell me everything. But, as usual, my children’s personalities are not for me to orchestrate so that every interaction falls under a heading I’ve pre-approved. Rather, I get to stand by as they lift off and soar, as they come in for landings, sometimes shaky and awkward, sometimes crashing. But this connection—me and my ten year old son gazing into the blue Colorado sky, not saying much—is real and true and blessed and now.
I’ve heard that on the national scene, yoga is being paired with many other modalities (meditation, cooking, painting, heavy metal music appreciation…). In spirit of this trend, I am honored to announce that Joy Kilpatrick and I are offering our second Yoga/Writing Retreat here in Durango!