It’s been raining Northwest style here, complete with clouds that move in and camp out for days, unleashing extended drizzle interrupted by regular downpours. One of our tenants recently asked Dan what he did to the lawn, it looked so…green…and lush…and lawnlike. And, yesterday I had the thought, for the first time ever, “Hmm, the garden might like a little sun.”
Kathryn, my garden apprentice is back for another season! So are the hollyhocks!
All the carrot seeds that our outlaw chickens recently unearthed from neat rows have germinated in random clumps. Also, every seed that has ever bounced, drifted or paraglided into our yard, has split open and sent down an exploratory root, the conclusion being: hey, this place will work. The hollyhocks, comfrey, and mint have received the biblical decree to go forth and
multiply take over the world. The garden walkways are crawling with volunteer upstarts, each of which I should yank, yet I see as potential and future friend. (The cosmos: beautiful!; lamb’s quarters: edible weed!; Rocky Mtn Bee Plant: a special native!). Which is to say, like all relationships, it’s complicated. And strange. And beautiful.
On the homestead:
Rose turned 8 last weekend. She is a delectable mix of very innocent and very mature. Last night, walking one of her dog clients, she asked, “Is there a dog in the world who’s ever married a cat?” And for a moment it must have seemed possible that the right mix of dog and cat could walk down the aisle together, making it official. She wondered, watching the 4th Harry Potter movie, “Do you think the actor who played Wormtail really cut off his hand?” She loves when I feed her like a baby, scooping up soup and zooming it in her mouth. And, she told me last week, before a drama performance, that she was feeling “just a wink of nervousment.”
And yet, she is completely authorized to answer my phone, fully trusted to take messages or explain to a caller that I’m in the garden, rhapsodizing over carrot seedlings, which were unearthed by chickens on April 25th…Which is to say, the child pays attention. She knows people’s passwords, where their spare keys are hidden, can psychoanalyze any of us, and can detect that precise moment when celery has malingered too long in the fridge, turning from mild to bitter.
Rosie got an ipod from my parents for her birthday. Because I’m still beholden to mixed tapes and Pandora, she has officially surpassed me, technologically speaking. She’s figured out that 1 dog walk = 4 itunes songs. She likes to listen with Col, and the music soothes the two of them into quiet, thoughtful, non-bickering creatures. All the music she knows she’s heard through me. So when I hear her singing, very loudly, “Virgil Kane is the name and I served on the Danville train...” I say to her, “Wow, you have such great taste in music, Rosie,” both of us secretly congratulating ourselves.
:: Because plants in the cucurbit family (squash, cucumbers, zucchini, melons) have such a hard time transitioning after being transplanted, I am experimenting with germinating cucurbit seeds in a wet paper towel and transplanting outside before they put out leaves. It’s beautiful to watch how the rootlets literally grab onto the paper towel, determined to steady themselves.
:: A rare sunny day (can’t believe I just wrote that…but locals, can I get an amen?), launching a cardboard tri-plane from the roof.
Daytime, the baby chicks go outside to hang out in a cold frame for what Dan calls Chick Daycare, where we hope they get worn out enough to sleep through the night rather than party it up, squawking and pooping all over the bathroom floor.
:: Dan, bringing home the
: Baba and Nana are in town, being their typical awesomely kind and generous selves, taking the kids and then sending me texts like “We are having SOOO much fun!” Bonus points: why is there a gallon jug of water suspended in this photo?
:: In case you were still ambivalent about the cuteness of rats:
The arugula is fading out, (though if you invite us over for dinner in the next week, we will show up with a beautiful arugula salad that no kids will eat, except my friend Jennifer’s kids, who, while waiting for dinner, will go outside and eat dandelions. I am trying to splice some of their DNA into Col and Rose’s).
It turns out stripping hundreds of arugula leaves off stems is great therapy plus mindfulness practice plus Mama quiet time. It’s kind of like when the kids were very young and scared of the vacuum. When I needed no one to ask anything of me for ten minutes, I would plug in the vacuum and the kids would hide in their room while I buzzed around the house in a weird, loud state of relief that only someone who felt like time might actually be going backwards could appreciate. Now, I go outside and pick arugula.
Col decided to teach Rose how to play chess approximately ten minutes before we had to leave for shared school, and if waking a sleeping baby is taboo, than try interrupting two harmonious siblings.
It’s been raining here (as in, almost daily this past week) which has been cheering me up immensely. All the seeds I planted a few weeks ago are coming up, including new rows of ARUGULA, which made me flinch at first, and then smile and give thanks.
Dan has been away for a week helping his mom in New Jersey on house projects. Dan’s mom has raised such kind, devoted sons, and just in case Col didn’t get the Grow Up and Pamper Mom gene, I like to mention regularly to him, “I bet Nana Judy is just thrilled to have Daddy helping her!”
I’ve been texting Dan with Tupperware Heights updates: La Plata Mtns socked in again. Simps heard in spruce tree across the street. (Simps are baby crows). Col spots bullock’s oriole in yard. You know, the big news. I’ve realized that what I miss so much about Dan (besides the fact that he’s mastered the coffee/water ratio of our french press and isn’t squeamish about trekking through our coon-inhabited yard at night to lock up the chickens) is how we partner in celebrating the ordinary details.
I think this picture will cheer me up for approximately the rest of my life.
I read two books recently that I want to recommend. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is a fast, suspenseful and masterfully written saga of mothers and children, all of whom you can relate to even if you don’t want to admit it. There is bad behavior, humor, secrets, friendship and bonus, a murder mystery.
I can still barely talk about the memoir, A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout. It’s the true story of a Canadian world-traveler, held by kidnappers in Somalia for over 400 days. I stayed up until 3am finishing it because it was so harrowingly gripping. And yet, Lindhout is courageous and forgiving and manages to tell her story without any extra drama.
Finally, I am extremely excited to share that I’ll be teaching the creative writing portion at two sessions of Art of Mindfulness Summer Camp for Kids. Children, ages 6-12, will rotate through mindfulness practice, yoga, theatre, drama, visual art and creative writing, each modality anchored in a child-friendly sense of mindfulness. (Mindfulness creates space…replacing impulsive reactions with thoughtful responses).The second session is 50% full, and scholarships are available courtesy of Inhabit. For more info, go here.
Have a superb Mother’s Day/May weekend.
5:43 pm: There is one red sock on the kitchen table. A slushy of ripe-smelling liquified elk brains warms in a pot on the stove (I overheard Dan explaining to a friend, cheerily, “Oh, they just tend to rot in the process.” Brains are essential for brain-tanning hides).
I am trying to pretend that the smell of putrefying animal parts isn’t hindering my dinner-making mojo. Col is nearing the final lap of the last Harry Potter book, leaving strange Tourette-like written spoilers around the house like this one I came across on a recent airplane drawing, “Fenrir Greyback is not a death eater.” Rose is DJ-ing via youtube, singing along heartily to Steely Dan’s Dirty Work, making me wonder if we should be encouraging, I don’t know, the Mary Poppins soundtrack.
When you need a bit of lovin’
Cause your man is out of town
That’s the time you get me runnin’
And you know I’ll be around
Looks muddy because it’s been *raining!*
(Feel free to fall asleep for this paragraph) I stumbled upon an apparently uncommon violet on a hike in my backyard shale hills the other day, by the name of viola vallicola. The ultimate authority on Colorado Western Slope flora doesn’t list it as even being present in our county, and my favorite website for Southwest plants says: “This lovely miniature is not very common at all in the Four Corners area.” So, I’m appropriately nerdily excited and have a renewed belief in keeping ones eyes open for the unexpected. Dan and I have decided that when we retire, we’re devoting ourselves to monitoring various local plant populations. If Col and Rose want to visit, look for the ragged tarp in the arnica fields.
Also, we’re having a bit of an arugula situation.
Which is to say, all those sweet little October cold frame seedlings have become a towering, menacing forest of vitamin A, K and carotenoids, folate, anti-cancer compounds, yadda yadda. When I ask Dan if he’s been doing his part, he’s indoctrinated enough to ask, “How does arugula compare nutritionally to dandelion and lamb’s quarters?” (Also abundant these days).
The kids aren’t expected to eat arugula until they’re eleven, and Dan and I are doing our best. But, I need some help, so I can clear out those beds and put in tomatoes (inside walls of water and under greenhouse plastic because I’m a wild gambler). I’m offering up bags of washed arugula! Will consider any and all trades…watch the kids for an hour, homemade goodies, garden work, original love poems, hang a few flyers for my summer classes, teach Rose some appropriate song lyrics. Or, I don’t know, slap down four bucks. Really, help me out. You know how to get in touch with me.
The daily arugula salad:
There’s nothing not to love, really, about all of it: the smell of elk brains, Rosie belting out mature lyrics, Col detonating Harry Potter spoilers, having too much of so many good things.
p.s If you want to see the violet, let me know. Blooming for another week or so.
p.p.s This is happening:
This happened the other day:
First, crack a beer. Next, put on Pandora. Accept that he refuses to wear an apron. Take 5 deep breaths. Explain to Rose that no, when you take a deep breath it doesn’t mean you’re annoyed, just that you’re remembering to calm your system. Get out the ingredients for the chocolate cake Col visioned up this morning, lobbying for “recipe creation” to replace your ideas of homeschool writing practice.
When Col forgoes your suggestion to cut the butter in even pieces for melting and instead drag-zooms the whole stick around the hot pan, sizzles of smoking fat shedding off the yellow rectangle, remind yourself that Col comes from a long line of men who don’t like taking instruction from others. Feel the jungle drums of your nervous system signaling the dictator has stepped into your psyche.
Let the dictator off for the night and say with what you hope is a gentle voice, Honey, is it fun to melt butter that way? Do you notice the butter is smoking? Remember that while Col is a beginner in the kitchen, he sees himself as contender for Top Chef of Tupperware Heights.
Take 5 more deep breaths and a long swig of beer. Remember that you also rarely follow recipes, that you haven’t mastered taking instruction from Dan after nineteen years together. Remember that Col wants to be here, that he turned down his sister’s invitation to play outside so he could cook with you. Remember that the rebel genes come from your side of the family and did not skip over you.
Watch Col spill, accidentally, copious amounts of poofy tapioca flour on the countertop, on the floor, watch him lick butter off the spatula, wonder why beating four eggs has to be so loud. Remind yourself that this cooking together is a new iteration of your relationship. Be determined to show up for it.
Find a way to casually remind Col to fold the flours into the wet ingredients with a light touch, we’re not mixing concrete, even though you’re quite sure you’ve mentioned this once or twice or ten times before.
Feel thankful that in your own home you can sing along loudly to Pandora. In fact, this may be the crucial ingredient, the back up support to cooking with a ten year old. Spirit in the Sky. Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall. Late for the Sky. Notice that belting out, Gotta have a friend in Jeeeesus, loosens something in your jacked up spine.
Hold the pot while Col scrapes the batter into the cast iron. Together, lick the spatula, the fork, the chocolately-gooey sides of the pot, congratulating yourselves that this is gonna be a good one. Feel the excitement and satisfaction of creating something together. Put the timer on for 35 minutes and let Col run outside to find his sister while you happily, singingly, clean up the kitchen.
Chocolate grain-free cake
1 stick butter
1 1/2 cups almond meal/flour
1/2 cup tapioca or arrowroot flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup plain yogurt (can be omitted or substituted with applesauce or half as much milk or coconut milk)
1 tsp each: salt, baking powder, vanilla
Mix wet ingredients, fold in dry ingredients. Bake in greased pan at 350F for 30-40 minutes.
Let cool and celebrate.
p.s. This cake is delish. Moist and light and full of flavor. When we’re feeling extra fancy, we mix cream cheese with fruit sauce for a frosting.
Arugula from the cold frames, planted last October.
We’re eating through the magical forest of arugula: hack away at an armful and watch it reinvent itself while you sleep, like Madonna. (Conversely, I’ve been watching hairs turn curiously grey, and it’s just like that, a hair formerly a rich compost brown simply turns grey). I’ve been engaging in April seed therapy, scattering seeds in the greenhouse, garden beds, cold frames, small labeled pots, unmarked troughs, feeling like my own clichéd caricature of dotty hopefulness.
When you’re dotty and turning grey you can start growing datura.
Col’s homeschool co-op is exploring the light and breezy topic of “Life Purpose.” Yesterday we discussed the feeling of being “in the flow,” to which children are so strongly magnetized. This explains why, as our house is going up in metaphorical flames (“We’re supposed to have shoes on now!”), Col is serenely drawing and Rose cartwheeling into nirvana.
I spent the afternoon with Rose and her 2 BFFs on Sunday. Between playing “teenagers” (Lets say my name is Jazzlynn and I’m on the train with my cat. Commence furious teenaged texting on cardboard phone) and sparkling at full freaking tilt, they held impromptu breakout sessions to manage their interpersonal conflict. While I spend my Monday nights dousing the fires of my deluded, craving mind at the Durango Dharma Center, and my Thursday afternoons figuring out how to get along with people at my Conscious Communication Group, these girls are working out who gets to play the Kitty figurine in real time. It’s not about being conflict-free, it’s about being able to comfortably work that shit out. (And they do, they do). And then returning to the work of sparkling.
Col, at ten, still finds the occasion of Dan and I dancing together in the living room to be an opportunity not to shirk away embarrassedly, but to insinuate his small, lovely self between us. He had a personal epiphany in the Trimble Hot Springs changing room the other night, something about how while he still really likes the aesthetics of airplane design “it’s more that when you fly you feel like you’re in control and there’s no one telling you what to do.” (A slightly troubling attitude which might land him at the Durango Dharma Center or similar spiritual bootcamp in 20 years). The upshot of which is that he thinks he can achieve this same feeling in a boat. On water. Which is closer to being on land than 20,000 feet in the air. (I mean really, are there any mothers who wholeheartedly support their children piloting small aircraft over the Rocky Mountains?) So, we’re renting an experimental canoe this weekend. The plan is to fish and lounge while Col paddles us around feeling like he’s in control.
Also, we’re making volumes of Everlasting Salad. This is a hardy, improvisational salad which gets reinvented and added to as the week goes on. The point is to have a quick, easy, highly-vegetal meal to constantly draw from. In it goes everything that won’t wilt quickly, namely: cabbage, arugula, grated carrots and beets, parsley, dandelion greens, kale, cilantro. We dress it with olive oil and rice/balsamic vinegar. It’s an act of freeform love. Dan will start a bowl of Everlasting Salad, I’ll scoop out a lunch’s worth, add a handful of arugula and a grated carrot and put it back in the fridge, he’ll pile it on our plates for dinner before chopping up a cabbage to replace what he took. Occasionally we get to the bottom of it.
Kids bowls with friendly add ins: cheese and raisins.
Last night at dinner Col and Rose were talking about who wants to be whose girlfriend or boyfriend, and who has a crush on who. Rose reported, “Alex likes me and Dewa. Kailas likes Fawn.” (These names, I know). I asked Col, “And what girl are you interested in?” “Just you, Mama,” he replied. Smart kid. But that still won’t get you a ride in an airplane.
Pear flower buds
I am riding my bike past Turtle Lake watching coots skim blue water when a large shadow strobe-lights the road ahead of me. I look up. White head, white tail, body a black feathery bullet, dihedral wings (Col taught me that term; it means inclined upward). Bald eagle. First: the requisite full body turned inside out gawking lucky awe. Second: I can’t wait to tell Dan.
Back home, I sling my bike in the shed. I pretend for a moment that this sighting is the singular headline of the day, the most important news to convey. With swift Mama-ninja mind tricks, I elbow out the competing stories: the unfinished taxes, outstanding dental bill, upcoming homeschool co-op day still to plan, ultra-pricey orthodonture in our future, groceries needed, who’s driving which kid where, Rose’s 64 pieces of easter candy that she fondles daily, we’re almost out of toilet paper!
Spring is like living inside a constant all points bulletin, except y’know, about evening grosbeaks SPOTTED IN THE CRAB APPLES, and apricot fruit MAKING AT THE SMILEY BUILDING and WHERE are the white crowned sparrows? Yesterday I found new carrot seedlings lifting two green arms to the sun. Daily, we watch crows, house finches, magpies and scrub jays scoop up sticks, deer hair and chicken feathers from our yard, off to shore up secretive nests. The evening grosbeaks descend every morning, a numerous club of yellow- and black-suited members, taking voracious shifts at our feeders.
This is the news.
Our peach tree is in full, fancy pink bloom; honeybees are back in business. The plum blossoms have emerged like twinkling, white daytime stars. The hops, elderberry, lemonbalm and rhubarb are popping out like electric green currents charged by the earth. Maybe spring is about hope, or maybe it’s simply about keeping your eyes open, believing this world is worth our attention.
Every crevice of the car is packed. The kids are human puzzle pieces wedged between carefully stacked ramparts of coolers, water jugs, sleeping bags. Four handmade bows bisect the vehicle lengthwise (and keep children to their respective sides, lest Dan hollers, Watch the bows!). We’re heading to the canyons of Utah, a seasonal spring migration down from the mountains of Colorado.
We pass dozens of vaguely familiar dirt roads, at which earlier versions of Dan and me parked an ‘86 Honda, and descended into the slickrock, hoping to find water, ancient ruins, unpeopled miles, the meaning of life.
“It’s like old times, but with new people!” Dan says, maneuvering the Subaru through a soaring mesa of pinyon and juniper, through which secret canyons are gashed into solid rock.
We set up camp. A canyon wren sings the final, descending notes of the day. Rose chops potatoes, Col chops wood. Our tent smells like every camping memory plus pine needles and the merest whiff of mildew, not unpleasant. I have the distinct feeling that I have everything I need (plus two 6-packs gluten free beer and several bars dark chocolate).
From camp chairs, we can see into Colorado and Arizona. Our home mountain range, the La Platas, rise in jagged snowiness. I drink a beer and survey our good fortune.
The next day our friends arrive. Factions coalesce. There are those in the first half of their lives and those, likely, in their second. We grown ups check in and catch up and make plans while the kids get busy with a game in which one person throws pebbles at the others who are lined up firing squad style. It’s Lord of the Flies meets Hunger Games in the desert.
With buddies, kids can hike farther, eat more, stay up later, and recover faster from personal injustices. They become a roving band of grubby life enthusiasts, seeking adventure. We drop over the flat edge of the mesa, down spiraling stone staircases which require all four limbs. A raven disappears into a slickrock nest. The sky beams blue.
Our obligations and responsibilities shrink down to some basic human code: keep children hydrated and away from cliffs, while the trickier aspirations like, Become Somebody slough off like layers of desert sand.
Even the kids cut through the fluff.
Rose (to Teo, 4 yrs old): do you want to chase me first or eat an apple?
Teo: I will chase you now.”
In the canyon bottom we adults unfurl in the shade, having modern conversations about whether the unadulterated sun is more likely to sponsor vitamin D production or melanoma. Meanwhile, the children sculpt mud pies, like every other child who’s ever lived on this planet.
“At my bakery, you can get anything from wheat to grain-free pies!” Rose announces. (Okay, maybe not quite like every other child).
Yes, we hiked this “causeway,” looks sketchier than it was. Plus, at the knob, we found this:
Various permutations of adults meander down canyon while I remain to watch the kids. All their usual lust for the Next Thrilling Thing has evaporated in a poof of sand-smoke: they scurry around seeking the perfect grass seeds to sprinkle on mud pies; they climb boulders and stalk lizards. My nostalgia about the carefree, childless days Dan and I spent in the canyons alone is already passing away. Someday (likely, in about a week), I’ll feel wistful about these moments. About how these slickrock canyons were enough to keep the kids’ imaginations firing, about how we came here and found everything we need.
Kangaroo rat tracks found in our camp kitchen every morning.
Driving home, it’s like pressing rewind as we backtrack through tiny dusty towns, climb up out of the desert, finish off lukewarm coffee, remember our modern responsibilities. I look around the car for signs that we’ve changed somehow, that we’ve absorbed something essential and immutable from the desert, something to bring back with us to our days of busy routine.
Col tells me, “I wore the same clothes for four days.”
“And that’s a good thing?”
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.