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the tactical role of raising teens

2019 November 20
by Rachel Turiel

October:

The leaves are going up in fiery, breathtaking flames. We amble around stupored and awed, recycling appreciative phrases from every past autumn, which feels reassuring and maybe like humanity at its best. 

I’m at the thrift store with Rose, because here it’s easier to say yes to all the things she “needs” like black leggings and nice sweatpants. 

We meet up and her cart is full of non-sweatpants and it’s like a game show, getting past her fast talking challenges while tracking my own thoughts. 

“This doormat is so cute and would last a reallyreallyllongtime!”

“We have two doormats already.”

“I know but it’s so cute and wouldbereallyfun!”

“I’m not going to buy that.”

“Okay, these pants are a little big but half off and…”

“Yes.”

“This sweatshirt?” (that she’s already wearing)

“Don’t you have one just like that?”

“Yes, but not this color.”

“Ok.”

“So, these shoes,” which she is also already wearing, “would be my exhibition shoes (school presentation) and theyfitperfectly!”

“Whoa. Those have a really high heel. No. I’m not comfortable with that.”

“Whyyyyyyy?”

“Well. My take on high heels is that they were developed to accentuate women’s sexual appeal and I’m not comfortable with you putting that message out there at 12.”

Meanwhile I text Col at home, remembering that he’s been biking to school in sub-freezing temps with no jacket because he’s outgrown his and hasn’t taken any steps to replace it.

“Can I get you a jacket at the thrift store?”

“Yea”

(There is one really warm jacket in his size. I buy it. He loves it. End of Col shopping).

Dust bunny and the Witch:

November:

Next, all those flaming leaves float to the earth, coating the ground and when I let the dog out to pee at night, I track him by the crunch crunch crunch.

I’m in the kitchen, recalibrating my role as parent. Turns out parenting a 12 and 14 year old requires more of a special ops tactical role. Like, I’m here making dinner if you want to tell me anything, like anything about the boy you’ve been texting, not that I need to know or have any opinions, I’ll just be here chopping onions. And then it’s my job to tamp down all the questions that are actually igniting a bonfire of curiosity and just casually chop the onions.

She says, I wish there was something between having a crush and actually dating.

I say, do you mean like just being friends?

She says, Mom, you don’t understand. 

Just keep chopping onions.

It’s a weekday morning, that time where paradoxically we all want to move slow, savoring drinking coffee, snuggling the dog, and yet we are on speed mode, dashing around, all of us inefficiently clogging the kitchen, except the boy who waits for food and winter jackets to be delivered.

Me to Col: Would you be open to either putting away dishes or doing dishes this morning?

Col: Sure. Whatever would help you more.

PAUSE to re-hinge my jaw.

Me: Oh, honey! I come towards him with outstretched arms.

Col: MOM. DON’T MAKE A BIG DEAL OUT OF THIS.

Me: (Tactical response): Ok, cool. Thanks for helping.

Most days, if he’s not working a carpentry job, I find Dan in the solarium, engaged in some ancient art. “So, about that thing I was telling you about over breakfast…” I start, following him outside as he moves a bucket containing an elk hide soaking in a slurry of brains. “I’m wondering if you have time to give me some empathy about that interaction last week…” Now he’s applying sinew to a bow with warm hide glue. “cuz, I’m still so confused..,” Now he’s softening a deer hide by hand. Now he’s grinding up pinyon sap with mortar and pestle.

Applying pinyon sap and turpentine with heat gun to a bow to…um…strengthen it?

Sinew-backing a bow (after pulling tendons out of deer legs, drying and pounding them, then pulling them apart into thin threads) to increase bendiness.

We’re playing bocce ball in the back yard when Rose notices the roadkill deer hanging from the back shed. She is horrified, despite the fact that she is made of roadkill deer.  Perhaps she’s imagining a brigade of middle school girls showing up and seeing the weirdness that is her dad, who hands out his card to people who regularly commute on county roads. If ya happen to see a deer down…

That same night Rose devours grilled deer tenderloin, and the next night ribs, announcing “these are the best deer ribs I’ve ever had.”

I’ve been facilitating empathy sessions amongst the clients at our local soup kitchen. We meet for an hour weekly to “share struggles and celebrations and be held in care and support, while practicing tools of listening without judgments or solutions.” I know, when you don’t have shelter, empathy seems like placing a ragged bandaid on a gaping wound. And yet, people are making a point to come weekly, leaving happy to have been heard, to have their humanity seen. Seeds are planted.

If things look different it’s cuz we moved back downstairs, after 16 years upstairs, so the kids could have their own rooms and Dan and I could have enough space for TWO cutting boards on kitchen counters simultaneously.

There’s big snow in the forecast, the kind that puts the whole town on pins and needles of expectation. The root cellar is stacked with potatoes, carrots, apples and winter squash. Dan and I butchered the deer while the kids were at school, with precision, celebration and multiple coffee refills.

Last night I found Col eating candy corn from a half pound bag in bed. The tactical move was to swallow down every judgment, crawl into bed with him and ask for a piece.

Rose has been wanting to decorate our new house, thank goodness, because the rest of us are hopelessly utilitarian. She’s put up rotating seasonal decor in her room. Puffy, foam autumn leaves are on their way out; snowflakes coming in. She wakes me up talking about living room rugs. Or, “that bathroom linoleum is so old, you just can’t get it clean. How bout a new bathroomflooroverThanksgivingbreak?!!”

Dan has been out on his November “buck drives,” (November is the rut, meaning a lot of exciting animal dramatics). Yesterday he saw both “eastside obsession” and “westside obsession.” Living with him is so fun.

It’s all so good, really. Not in an I love every second sort of way, but in an I’m in for it all, the whole wild, magical and bittersweet journey.

Rose borrows a pair of shoes for her school exhibition. Turns out they have a substantial heel on them, as do every other girl’s shoes in her presenting group. I am reminded that she’s her own person, finding her way, and doing a beautiful job. And I make the tactical move of breathing in the full, gorgeous mystery of life. 

waking up

2019 September 18
by Rachel Turiel

While I was making plans (i.e fiercely procrastinating) to find a ladder, climb the ladder and pick all the out-of-reach chokecherries, the robins came and stripped our tree bare.

I think there’s a lesson here, which is something like: if you want something, go out and make that shit happen. I have enough self-manufactured resistance (love affair with my comfort zone, self-doubt, not wanting to risk my belonging) that keeps me on the proverbial couch, and all that couch-comfort is actually getting quite uncomfortable.

I’ve been super inspired by Greta Thunberg, the 16-yr old climate activist, who says “Everyone says climate change is the greatest existential threat and the most important issue of all and then they just carry on like before.”

I’ve been thinking about what makes us “just carry on like before,” see: love affair with our comfort zone, self-doubt, not wanting to risk our belonging. And I’ve been wondering what our human lives would look like if we all woke up to our collective societal illusions: that we are forever, hopelessly deficient without some new product; that our belonging is contingent on fitting in; that we can avoid pain by acquiring more stuff; that being liked = being accommodating.

As my dear teacher Miki Kashtan says, “Capitalism wants us to solve non-material needs (belonging, freedom, connection, purpose, play…) with material goods.” I’m kind of wondering what we’d find if we stopped looking for love, meaning and excitement at say, Target? Or, if we stopped suppressing parts of ourselves to fit in? Maybe we’d stop “carrying on like before.” Maybe this world would look different. Maybe things would start getting really fun and interesting. It’s possible we’d find that we need less shoes. This is liberation, not deprivation.

This is the good news, really. I am going to hoist myself off the couch, with all my awkwardness and self-doubt. There’s work to be done. And also laundry. I’ll go to the Citizens Climate Lobby meeting tonight and then come home and watch Strangers Things with the kids; go to my White Women Waking up to Whiteness group and then come home and cry because my dog is a total project. I think there’s room for all of it. No one has to do it perfectly; but never doubt that your voice and effort matters.

Snaps:

:: Dan and I snuck off for some amazing backpacking trips this summer.

My kind of trip, drinking wine in a can by the fire: (you know there’s a book in my pack. This one, actually. Hard cover).

Dan’s kind of trip, keeping tabs on the big bulls:

Ptarmigan!

Total amazement, finding this (and leaving it):

:: Dan made a big ass drum out of rawhide that he made out of elk skin:

:: Dan driving to hunting camp with fresh willow to make a sweat lodge with his Diné buddy:

:: From the dep’t of The Kids are Alright: Col hung out with a friend who he hadn’t played with in over a year. During that time, unbeknownst to Col, the friend’s sister transitioned from female to male. “How’d you figure that out?” I asked Col. “Oh, ‘cuz my friend referred to his sibling with a boy’s name now,” he shrugged.

:: I am trying to convince Col to create a zine (which he thinks is some unhip throwback–wait, is it?–because you can’t find it on YouTube, and because it’s my idea) in which he draws and narrates life from a teenage perspective. Like, how his mom always manages to, when referring to future romantic partners, say: “your future girlfriend, or boyfriend, or you know, both or either, it doesn’t matter to us…” to which he interrupts and says, “MOM, I know. And this is awkward.”

:: I’ve read some excellent books lately. You will cry through the first 50 pages of this wrenching and beautiful memoir, but it’s totally worth it. Both of these books invite and challenge white people to see the racism that we absorb by virtue of growing up in a systemically racist society (which white folks can choose to ignore, at high cost to POC and our very hearts and souls). Lemony Snicket for adults: odd plot, but breathtaking writing.

:: And, I’ve written some things. This piece for High Country News on wanting your children to feel life’s aliveness calling to them, except it’s the Dollar Store they hear. And some food related stuff (with underlying messages and recipes), herehere, here and here .

:: New class offering for locals: Connected Parenting: the revolution starts at home (Class info here; join us!) 4 Wednesdays, starting 9/25, 5:30 – 7:30 at Manna Soup Kitchen upstairs conference room.

I am the worst at promoting my work (and thank you HEAPS to all the folks who’ve shared my classes), but I want to say this: listening to and respecting children as full human beings promotes trust between parents and children, which would be enough for me to invest in this work. But there’s more.

Giving children the sense of being heard, the sense that they matter, and the language to express what’s true for them may be a safeguard against the poisonous societal messages they receive, like: girls should be nice and pretty and accommodating; boys should be strong and tough and capable.

When a child has space, freedom and care to examine painful feelings (that inevitably arise for any of us socialized under impossible standards) it is easier for them to call “bullshit” on societal norms while listening to their heart and forging their own way.

I so want this for all youth; for all of us.

:: Signs of fall: siskin, upside-down on sunflower.

Anyone interested in Col’s zine? (pressure welcome!)

Tell me about how you’re waking up from our collective illusions; or, what you’ve been reading and writing and cooking and thinking.

xo

Rachel

what remains

2019 August 30
by Rachel Turiel

Day 1

We set off as usual for our annual end of summer family trip, though this time with a dog wedged between the kids in the backseat, giving Col and Rose something to alternately fight about and fuss over. 

We stop on Wolf Creek Pass to eat lunch and look for mushrooms. I distract the kids from the fact of actually hiking by asking them questions about the upcoming school year. The part of me that wants access to their inner lives is somehow fed by their enthusiasm to share, well, anything. I sleuth around for hidden messages behind discussions of Rose wanting a new backpack, one that’s more “7th grade-ish,” and Col’s certainty that “it’s all pretty boring, but the 8th grade teachers are really good.”

The kids have been wading through the depths of our culture’s messages via perky YouTubers who seem to personify gender roles while evangelizing on fave brands and make up tutorials. Add the structureless freedom of summer (i.e. time to peruse the cultural offerings) plus a mom on high alert for anyone succumbing to the media’s shrewd marketing and well, things have been a bit tense. I recognize that this is my problem not theirs.

We arrive at Joyful Journey Hot springs in the San Luis Valley where the sky is fluxing in and out of thunderstorms. The Sangre De Cristo range slices open the sky to the east. Rabbits dart around the sagebrush and nighthawks dive and whine. We bring sautéed bolete mushrooms to the dining hall and soak until the stars come out.

At Joyful Journey Hotsprings; also white people appropriating other cultures, i.e, tipis, as we tend to do so frequently and blindly.

Rose affixes herself to my side in the hot springs; maybe she feels my full presence and availability because she starts revealing the layers of her mind. We start with the top layers: I really need black leggings and get all the way down to: I’m nervous about who I’m going to hang out with at school this year.

Col announces “I think we should have a family game night once a week.” Dan and I raise discreet eyebrows. We’re slowly cohering after a summer of everyone going separate ways, of the kids wringing as much fun out of the fabric of summer as possible, where they’d return after a day of free-roaming with friends and I’d have to heel the eager puppy of myself—who doesn’t like the pack separating—from jumping on them, begging them to tell me everything.

Walking back to our tipi Col grabs my hand and says, “I figured out which organ you’d most want removed.”

“Really?”

“Your taste buds.”

“What!?!”

“The ones that detect bitter flavors.”

I want to tell the kids, who were ambivalent about this trip, but have now arrived with their full hearts: “this love nurtures us; we need this,” but I am hoping they will just feel it.

Day 2

We arrive at a sagebrushy knob above the Saguache river where pronghorn bucks suddenly appear like mysterious wise men on treeless hills.

We have almost completely set up camp before realizing Col is still in the car reading, being the connoisseur of leisure that he is. He emerges announcing the hardship of getting ones shoes on the exact right feet. “Someday I’ll invent shoes that go on either feet.”

“Wow. That could be a really impactful contribution to humanity,” I tell him. “Maybe after you invent the bitter tastebud-removal surgery.”

We hit a small snag when Rose tells us there’s nothing she’s really looking forward to, now that the hot springs have passed a whole 2.43 hours ago. “Can we just go home now?” she asks. I swallow a thousand mini-lectures about staying open to the mysteries of life and instead try to understand what’s true for her in this moment. It’s hard, because I seem to have this weird parental translation tool that translates English into the language: “anxiety.” I hear I’m just not excited for anything right now and translate it to: I need constant fun, excitement and entertainment. Please pass the cocaine. And new shoes might help, too.

“It’s fun to feel excited, huh Rosie? To have something on the horizon to look forward to.” I can’t provide her with insta-fun, but I can offer a nonjudgmental landscape in which she can explore her own mind. If she has to defend herself against me, she’ll just hold on tighter to her position. Then we all suffer. Ultimately, I want to be someone with whom she can share her uncensored inner and outer life, whether it’s currently “I’m not excited for anything,” or eventually “I’m too drunk to drive.”

Later, we all ramble down to Saguache creek. Dan and Col fish upstream and Rose plunges into the creek, shrieking and laughing and begging to take Rocket off leash. The dog, whom we’re still getting to know, was found on the side of the highway at 15 months old, un-neutered, skinny and alive by his own wiles. Taking him off leash is a crapshoot, i.e. he’s great until he disappears. Rocket and I roam around, his mind exploding over snakes, chipmunks, pronghorn poop, and a hundred things I can’t see.

Back at camp, for dinner we eat four beautiful brown trout, pan-fried boletes and butternut risotto on fire-grilled tortillas. Everyone is tired and grateful for good food. I am wishing life could be this simple more often. Maybe it’s how our modern complexities fall away so we can be more available for each other. The stars come out. I read to the kids by headlamp, while Dan does busy, productive things, including taking endless photos of the one pronghorn buck that seems to be circling our camp. 

Day 3

The kids sleep like teenagers, past dawn, through Rocket barking at distant cows, and into the explosion of sun over the horizon.

Dan and Col go fishing again. Rose and I walk the dog through the hilly folds of sagebrush; between the profuse yellow flowers are a rainbow of other stunning colors. I ask Rose which friendships she’d like to grow this coming school year. She thinks about it carefully and names six girls. She likes this line of questioning. “What else do you wanna know, Mama?” she asks. Anything and everything you want to tell me.

The kids are leading the way forward into a shifting family constellation. This is the way of things. 

They’re saying trust me and l’m saying I do, but this world is crazy. They’re saying but this is our world, we need to understand how we fit into it. I’m saying remember the world we gave you, that’s the good world. And the kids are saying, but we need to see all the options, so we can choose. I find myself wanting to draw a line in the sand: this is the good world and this is the bad one. But I might find myself on the opposite side from my children. 

Dan and Col return, Col carrying one brown trout. When asked how he caught it Col replies, “It bit and I reeled it in.” Apparently he runs on something other than excitement.

Later we fry up that one trout and everyone devours it. 

Day 4

We drive to Blue Mesa reservoir, after a stop in Gunnison to resupply on food and beer. The reservoir stretches forever, glossy and blue, and our campsite is at the farthest end, in a quiet pocket of juniper and sage. The kids are flummoxed by heat and mosquitos, which dominate until the afternoon wind kicks up.

Col is back in the car reading; Rose is begging to go to a hotel, or better yet home. I am trying to tell myself that we haven’t failed. We haven’t failed to instill a love a nature in our kids, nor to provide a fun trip. 

“We’re just planting seeds,” Dan reminds me as the emotional storm brews.

I recognize that what I want most with Col and Rose is connection and trust, two things that once came effortlessly with their dependence on us. I remind myself that the connection is always there, but if I expect it to look like all of us making chokecherry jam together on a September afternoon I won’t find it. If I can can metabolize my grief over everything changing then I will see more clearly what remains; because the connection that remains is enough. Different, but enough. I’ve heard several parents say “I will always love my kids, but they have to earn my trust.” Yes, and we have to earn theirs as well. 

The cold water is a balm for the heat, bugs and the emotional pain of wishing things were different. I swim to the opposite shore and back again. Seagulls flap overhead, land on the water and eye me curiously.

Day 5

Our family is headed out to walk the dog when our friends arrive at the reservoir with 1 van, 6 fishing poles, 4 bikes, 2 boys, 1 stand up paddle board and a deck of cards. I am happy they’re here and apprehensive about Col and Rose shifting their focus to their friends. 

As our friends set up camp, the four of us head out on that walk. The kids position themselves on either side of me, each grabbing a hand to hold. Here it is, I tell myself. This is connection. Don’t miss it, don’t evaluate it; savor it. Rose tells me “I just felt a bit of excitement about school starting.” Col asks, “do you think Rocket would taste good, I mean if you had to eat him?”

The deck of cards magnetizes the four kids into a fierce game of poker in the van. Col and Rose return to our campsite several times to gather items for the pot. Rose pulls candy out of some unknown place and Col lays down packets of hot chocolate that he lifted from the hot springs dining hall. 

That evening we all gather at our campsite for grapefruit cocktails, food and many hilarious rounds of telephone pictionary, in which the teen boys teen-ify everything to 11. Dan lights piles of dried cow poop on fire to smoke out the mosquitos and strategically places them around the circle of camp chairs, announcing, “the dung has begun.”

Day 6

The kids are ready to go home. We’d like to stay another night. We try something radical, in which we each take turns speaking about what is motivating our particular preferences. i.e. I want to stay because camping brings simplicity, connection, and the beauty of the wild. Rose wants to go home because it brings comfort and the possibility of seeing friends and organizing herself before school starts in two days. We listen to each other with the hope that care for each other’s positions may generate some internal willingness to stretch closer to one another. Then, we each propose a solution that meets the most needs.

It takes almost an hour and we agree to this: go home tonight, though stop for one more mushroom foray, and then reunite tomorrow afternoon to take a walk, go out to eat and write our celebrations of the past year and our goals for this year. 

We pack up and drive home, through brutally hot Montrose, where we say yes to sugary drinks in throwaway plastic cups; through Ouray, where we stop to play soccer in the park; and over Red Mountain Pass, where we make dinner out of what remains in our cooler, while Dan goes off on a quick mushroom search.

In our final stretch, the shadows becoming long, and a certain warmth settling in the car from perhaps the gratitude of togetherness and trust, Col says, “you guys are really lucky to have us as kids.”

Me: “What makes you say that?”

Col: “Well, because we’ve learned a lot of good things from you. I’m a good listener to my friends, we’re kind to you, we know how to be social, we’re independent, and I’m pretty nice to Rose.”

Yes. There are whole sections of their childhood that have come and gone. There are cultural influences that will shake their souls, that they will roll the dog of themselves around in before they can decide if they like the smell. Our configuration of family will change and evolve. Some things will be lost and some will remain. And, there is a 14 year old boy who considers listening to his friends and being kind to be of high value. I breathe that in and we cruise towards home. 

p.s. we’ve had a “family game night” weekly since coming home as per Col’s request.

the gift of paying attention

2019 May 24
by Rachel Turiel

The lilacs are overdoing it, drooping under the weight of their own perfumed purpleness. The fruit trees have had their 15 minutes of flowery fame and are now settling into the more serious business of making fruit for the masses.

The robins, who just last month (photos restored on last post!), were part of the dominant paradigm, have vanished. The black headed grosbeaks are now flashing their outrageously orange breasts, while the year-round residents patiently make room for the showy tourists. Yesterday I got almost no work done because two white crowned sparrows navigated their way from California to our very crab apple trees.

Serviceberry enjoying the 225% of average precipitation this month.

Rose turned 12 on a very pink day:

Col created an imaginary recessive squirrel mutation called “Squirrelentia,” in which affected squirrels become particularly rabid, prone to ripping the hands off humans. Yay, science class!

Dan is apparently still learning when to say when on elk antlers.

Mother’s Day came and went with promises for more comically-altered newspapers. Just what a mom wants.

We had (invasive) Eurasian-collared dove for breakfast.

I have a new garden apprentice! Rebecca lives downstairs and has a special way of caring for everyone on the property. When I’m ready to pull out the volunteer yarrow and toss it in the compost she gently suggests, “maybe we can replant that somewhere else.” Of course we can! Here we are planting tomatoes just before a predicted low of 29F. Because you know how wild I can be.

We adopted a dog! Rocket’s been with us for almost three weeks and has exponentially increased the flow of love in the house. His main focus is loving everyone exactly as they are and stashing bones under the peach tree (though occasionally a stinky deer leg ends up in Col’s bed). Dan and Rocket have been sharing elk liver (raw for Rocket, sautéed in cream and onions for Dan) and I think they both feel a particular kinship in their shared culinary appreciations. Rocket is really here to help us through the teenage years, to deliver the message that we’re each worthy of love just as we are. He is allowed on the couch because it’s important that he take his message to where the people are at. 

Today, Rocket is snoozing on the couch after dunking his children in love and sending them off for their last day of school. I am thinking about a training I did for liberal activists this week; I learned a lot from them, but did notice they did not seem to enjoy the activity of connecting with our Republican senator’s humanity (However, I love trying to see the humanity in everyone while remaining strong in my own truth and passion. Call me for a training!). The lilacs I cut yesterday are counteracting any circulating dog smells (we now blame all bad smells on Rocket). And the brave tomatoes made it through the frosty night.

Yesterday the kids had end of the year Presentations of Learning. Col communicated his personal growth through comic illustrations.

“So, my friends and I were throwing edamame shells at each other and I decided to clean up the shells on the ground even though no one else was.” Col’s take on integrity.

In Rose’s presentation, she shared the quote she created last year: There will always be someone who does better than you, and someone who does worse, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try your best. This year, she explained, she refined her guiding quote to better fit her 6th grade self (her 6th grade self!!!): I want to focus on the positive and celebrate my accomplishments without comparing myself to others. Me too, Rose. All of us, too.

These were the last 3 books I loved, even though each was painful to read in its own way. Maid. A Mother’s Reckoning. Little Fires Everywhere (this last one was fiction, at least).

Last night I was giving Col a back rub, which seems to counteract all the misfiring neurons, the testosterone-sponsored boundary-pushing, the sister-directed snark, the spontaneous beatboxing (which I’ve come to love…after coffee) and he said, “that feels so good. If I could stay in one moment forever, this would be it.”

I kind of feel that way about spring, how it comes on so slow and mysterious, the wild lupine creating breathtaking purple tributes to themselves and then naturally fading into their own seedy background. The land is waking up into a procession of awe: vining clematis, pinkest phlox, and macgillivray’s warblers flashing yellow as they flit into the cottonwoods.

This daily parade of awe-inspiring life feels like the gift for paying attention.

p.s. Dan explaining why we didn’t get the kids easter baskets this year. “We’re Jewish, we passover Easter.” (Only some of us thought this was funny).

sunny with a chance of robins…and teenagers

2019 April 17
by Rachel Turiel

*not sure why photos aren’t showing up; it’s kind of distracting. Try back later? But I love that you’re here, and love every comment you leave (hint hint). xo

First, the robins came, descending on our crabapple trees like an efficient crew dispatched to pluck every last dangling, winter-shriveled, red orb. Next came the cedar waxwings with their black, comic book hero eye masks and inexplicable yellow-dipped tails, so lovely and uncommon that I wondered how to make up the guest bed of our yard and entice them to stay awhile. By the time the evening grosbeaks showed up, I thought the tree was picked clean, and yet, like the clown car of the vegetative world, the crabapple trees renewed themselves daily. There’s something wondrous about the orchestration of it all; the elegance and simplicity of resources flowing towards needs.


Snowy robin.

In other news, there are apparently teenaged people in the house. Col’s voice just dropped a few octaves, and both kids come home from school requiring an afternoon snack that lasts right into dinner. I find myself saying antiquated things like, “save your appetite for dinner,” while Col growls like a wolf at the kill of his cereal bowl, urging me to back off. And secretly I love all this feeding of children; how I can hand them a plate of cheese and apple slices like a tangible manifestation of my love. Whew.

Where does she keep finding these longer sets of legs to snap on?

Last week Col’s buddy Cedar was here, both of them gulping cereal before soccer practice. I was milling around, always interested to eavesdrop get a sense of who Col is with his adolescent friends, listening in on what’s important in their lives.

Col: I hate it when I pour too much milk in my cereal bowl.

Cedar: Yeah. You want just enough milk so that your cereal floats.

Pause for chewing.

Col: I’m really happy with how my Hero’s Journey comic is coming out for Humanities.

Cedar: You should see mine, it’s so cool. Super Homer Simpson Duck.

Col: I’ve seen it. It doesn’t look like Homer Simpson. Or a Duck.

Pause for unrelated beatboxing.

Col: My comic has ten panels leading up to the Call to Action.

Cedar: That’s so dumb.

Col: Why?

Cedar: Because you should have less, like me.

While they are loading granola into their mouths you can almost smell strange hormonal processes happening. Their bodies must constantly tingle with growth; bones and tendons knitting into larger versions of themselves like little factories operating around the clock. Frontal lobes are scribbling out pathways titled “what’s cool now” and “that’s so dumb” while perhaps other trajectories like “discernment” or “caring over-much” get pruned.

Sometimes we’re all gathered at dinner, chatting and eating, and Col lets out a string of beatboxes, almost as if he’s re-organizing his brain, or issuing a neural placeholder as he moves from “gory comics I wanna draw” into “conversation with parents.” Then he tells us, “I just love our house.” When we press him on details, he looks around and says, “Just, you know, where the bathroom is placed. It’s just perfect.”

Is he meditating? Pausing for a mini growth spurt? Re-routing neural pathways into “family appropriate humor?”

We took a trip to the Sonoran Desert over spring break. These are Rosie’s photos:

And yet, connection is just as important to the tween/teen set as when they were little. This morning Rose e-mailed me from school saying, simply: “I want you to e-mail me.” Fair enough. And when I’m not parenting via food, I like to give Col long back rubs on the couch while we chat about potential summer jobs for him (the other option is to install retractable spikes on the couch). Here, he can unload bits of his mind with me. He tells me he appreciates the friends he can have actual conversations with. “It’s a sort of maturity thing,” he explains (and then the next morning, 35F, takes off for school on his bike without a jacket).

Rose is two feet away, making another batch of slime while sharing her current grievances. And it’s so strangely Pavlovian, how I’m primed to want to respond with my great, logical advice when she’s hunkered down in her amygdala. I can help! says the well-intentioned heroine, Supermom. Yet, if Rose is swamped with jealousy, anxiety, sadness, all my wisdom will land as tangibly and helpfully as if I just responded in French. i.e. this never equates to a good teaching moment. All I can do is meet her where she’s at, surrounding her emotions with love and care while checking to see if she’s ready to move into her upper brain, where she can access choice, logic, planning and empathy.

******

I’ve read two excellent books. Both of them heartbreaking. This is a novel about a Nigerian immigrant family trying to find success on America’s terms, and the pain that fundamentalism can wreak on a teenager’s expression of sexuality. And this non-fiction book was written by an undercover reporter who spent four months working as a guard in a Louisiana prison, and who found the system so inherently inhospitable to anyone’s humanity, it became disturbingly and increasingly more challenging for him to treat the inmates with respect over time. More cheery reading!

Oh, and the kids and I just finished another Carl Hiaasen book. We love how he always provides an adventurous plot through which to show that teenagers are mostly well intentioned and misunderstood and adults are often buffoons doing various levels of damage to the earth and society.

*******

There are a few crabapples left on the trees, and every day a couple robins touch down to wrestle one off with their long beaks. The vultures have returned, and the apricots are at various stages of bursting into bloom. The mornings are cold questions, answered by deliciously warm afternoons. We are harvesting chard from the greenhouse and stealthing it into dinner as we watch from our big windows, life transform, inside and out.

Mending

2019 March 8
by Rachel Turiel

Far, far away a millionaire lawyer is testifying against a (supposedly) billionaire president while myriad news outlets cover the shockingness of it all, though our collective sense of shock seems to have been hammered and deadened. Nearby, a democratic presidential nominee is proposing a 2% tax on people whose assets are worth over 50 million, which seems a bit like someone’s very distant Monopoly game.

And here, in Tupperware Heights, snow is melting, robins are singing their hearts out, and siskins gather in the ash tree at 7:30am like spectators waiting for the game to start, belting out their collective buzzy zhreeee, sounding very urgent.

Inside, 36 tiny tomato seedlings perform sun salutes through the muted window. We listen to Tattoo You on cassette and the kids can’t believe people used to just wait for tapes to rewind. Rose is amassing a PhD on slime. Col is selling used lego minifigures on Ebay, making frequent solo trips to the post office to mail out tiny packages. I have been mending wool socks and jeans, sewing up, with minimal skill, heel holes and knee blow outs and feeling unexpected happiness about reviving a pair of winter socks with a needle and thread.

Col and Rose are also babysitting weekly AKA receiving teachings from a 3 year old who told us sagely last week, “Sometimes I’m nervous to go to ballet class because I really just like to stay home and play and eat snacks.” We were all stunned quiet for a second and then were like: thank you for giving voice to the truth.

Dan is lasered in on the neighborhood bucks, in their season of dropping antlers. He’s tuned into their daily perambulations, and will send me texts from work: “Can you check on Longbeam? Last seen at the crabapple on Eastlawn.” “Still antlered,” I’ll text back.

Last week in the neighborhood Col and I saw a big buck with one antler, and called Dan at work to describe it to him. “Okay, so he has a notch in his right ear?” Dan asked. “And some patches on his upper side? That’s Obsession Buck. He had both antlers this morning.” You could hear the suspense music cued up in his brain.

Longbeam, Quirky-tine, Obsession buck and one of the ‘small-mediums’ during the week we got three feet of snow:

Longbeam holding steady, and his antler-less buck posse.

Three years in a row of Obsession Buck’s left side antlers. In background: slime studies.

It snowed a little in February.

I got a really lovely award: The Durango Women’s Resource Center Extraordinary Woman of 2019: champion of Peace and Nonviolence. Article here. Wow. Though the honor brought up enough stress in me that I had to book a therapy appointment, I am now feeling even more strengthened and bolstered to stand in my own power as I walk the path of nonviolence. Please check class listings for upcoming classes. And if you don’t see something that works for you, make a request! (Also, a reader from Honolulu has offered technical support for an online nonviolent communication class, so look for that offering in April).

Being highlighted and recognized by a room of 150 people is a few galaxies out of my comfort zone. 

My sister-friend-collaborator-cheerleader Kati Esperes-Stevens speaking about my work and saving me from speaking about my work:

One of the central practices of nonviolent communication is to speak honestly with the most care for the collective, while listening for what core needs (like belonging, safety, meaning, autonomy) are underlying others’ opinions, judgments and behavior. When we can see what’s truly at the essence of our and others’ behavior and words, we can soften to them and ourselves, opening up to infinite possibilities for collaborative resolution.

Sometimes it looks like this: (told with kid-permission, cause that’s where we’re at in 2019).

Rose is getting ready for soccer practice when Col comes home with a friend and the friend’s dad (who is picking something up from me) and Col immediately kicks Rose’s soccer ball out from under her. She protests. He ramps up, keeping it away from her with more force and effort. Col’s friend, watching, laughs. Rose is getting annoyed because she’s trying to get her soccer gear together and get out the door; I am feeling embarrassed because I want this dad to see me as a competent mom and my kids as good people. Suddenly the kids start tug-o-warring with the soccer ball like toddlers with a toy truck. Annoyance and embarrassment increase! Col’s friend continues to laugh, though I detect some discomfort in his voice. I get Rose to help me get stuff together for the friend’s dad and then everyone leaves except me and Col.

I approach Col in his room with some victim narratives and punishment fantasies running through my head. I can’t believe he did that to me! I’ll take away his screen time! (hint: punishment is a strategy we use to assuage our own anger; it doesn’t address the actual issue, so the issue will resurface).

Me: Hey Col, that was really hard for me. I felt really embarrassed because I want people to see the best in you, and to see me as a good parent. (Already, I feel some relief in naming this, owning my reaction). And Rose felt really annoyed. She just wanted to get out the door with ease. I’m wondering if you were trying to make your friend laugh by dominating Rose?

Col: Yeah, I guess so.

Me: Okay. And what do you get through his laughter?

Col: He thinks I can dominate Rose.

Me: Yeah. And what does that get you? (because dominating your sister isn’t a true need).

Col: He thinks I’m better than her.

Me: Okay, yeah. And if he thinks you’re better than your sister, then what do you get?

Col: He admires me.

Me: (I let his words be, though I internally translate as him wanting to be seen, appreciated and belong.) I totally get that. I want you to feel admired, too! You want your buddy to think you’re cool, and funny and that you have some power in this household. Is that right?

Col: Yeah.

Me: Do you see that your strategy has a high cost to me and Rose?

Col: Yeah, I don’t want it to have a cost to you. And I don’t want it to have a cost to Rose. (I feel tremendous relief and celebration hearing this, and have almost completely softened to Col).

Me: Can you think of some other ways you can get that admiration from your friend that doesn’t have a cost to us?

Col: I could show him some of my art, or tell him about my eBay sales.

Me: I love those ideas. Do they feel doable?

Col: Totally.

Because we are interdependent beings, when we trust that our needs matter we are more willing to meet the needs of others. And if we know we can contribute to others without sacrificing our own needs, we are more likely to choose this because, well, it feels damn good to contribute to the well being of others. We’re wired for that!

“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.” Clarissa Pinkola Estes

All the love,

Rachel

bits

2019 February 7
by Rachel Turiel

Yesterday Dan and I were taking a walk in the neighborhood, me jabbering away as I tend to do, him glassing people’s backyards for familiar bucks as he tends to do, when he crossed the street and walked right up to a large, funky deer antler that had just been shed. After doing a little ceremonial ritual on Crestview Ave, Dan picked up the antler, studied it for a moment, and announced “Ahh, it’s The Limper.”

Finding one of The Limper’s antlers is pretty exciting, but the big bonanza will be finding “Obsession-Buck’s” antlers for a third year in a row. Will keep you posted.

Col made some retro technology greeting cards (thank you Brooke at Basin Printing, Patron Saint of children’s creativity). He would like you to know that you can buy 5 cards for $5 or 10 cards for $8. He would also like you to know that although he had to look up an Atari game console and Walkman on the internet, the flip phone was found in his mother’s pocket. See them on Dan’s etsy site.

Col’s cards.

Stack o’ hides–tails included!–also on Dan’s etsy shop, for that special person in your life.

Also, I have been so strengthened and soothed by the work of Natalie and Nathan at the Center for Emotional Education. Getting on their e-mail list is a short path to excellent support and soothing wisdom.

In the span of a couple months I have lost all my steady work, and a good portion of my income. The magazine, Edible Southwest Colorado, for which I’ve been managing editor and staff writer for eight years has folded. And my ten year parenting column at the Durango Herald is also history. You can read my last column here. I’ve been a little adrift lately without these anchors. I’m grateful for the nonviolent communication workshops I’ve been giving for organizations and businesses. (That was an ever so subtle plug. Do you, your marriage, your organization, workplace need some communication support? Testimonials here). Info on upcoming classes for individuals here.

(I am doing a 1/2 NVC workshop in Mancos in mid-March; if you’re interested let me know).

I’ve been reading a ton, as usual, and loved these three novels, An American Marriage, Unsheltered, and The Mars Room, all of which are in some way about how–as one of my middle school writing students wrote–“Life is like baseball, you never know what kind of pitch you’re going to get.” Some of those unexpected pitches end up changing our lives.

One more thing: I am in need of a very simple website for my nonviolent communication work and would love to trade someone their time for my time. I can offer editing for your writing, some communication consults (via phone works great), or entrance into one of my upcoming classes.

Last night:

Col: What video games did you play as a kid?

Me: Ms. Pac Man as a kid. And, I played a lot of Tetris in college.

Col: In your fraternity?

Me: FRATERNITY?

Rose: (scoffing) Col, that’s for pregnant women.

(Thank goodness for the younger children, for they will always be younger.)

Big Love. Stay warm,

Rachel

wonder

2019 January 24
by Rachel Turiel

Rose is making iterations of slime—metallic, glittery, cloud-like—while speaking to her audience in informative Youtube-esque tones. “Hi Guys, I’m back with a really cool version of butter slime.” Her audience is a foster dog, and maybe a small percentage of Col’s brain, the part not engaged in drawing a comic strip.

Col: So, Mom. In my comic the guy just got zapped with F8 and now he’s bad so he started attacking everyone on the island. What should happen next?

Me: Mmm. How bout some part of him realizes that he just hurt people he didn’t want to hurt and he feels a little bit sad about it.

Col: (eyeroll + groan) Mommmmm…

Slime making fest.

How to make an 800 sf house seem smaller: add a foster dog.

How to make an 800sf house seem bigger: keep a xmas tree in your house for 1 1/2 months, then remove it!

Outside it is snowing. It has snowed so much this winter that a new music has encoded itself into my brain: the sound of shovels scraping sidewalk, which has become a neighborhood call and response. Outside, life is simple: bend at the knees; scrape and fling. Swishing through snow, alone, on my ancient nordic gear, has been a refuge. 

The hide tanning process does not stop for snow.

Inside, life is a bit more complicated. Mostly, I’m celebrating through gritted teeth all the opportunities I’m being given to not foist all my great ideas on my children. This requires deep childbirth breathing and holding the fierce animal of my agenda back while allowing my kids to do it their way. Sometimes this means that they choose the thing that doesn’t quite seem to be working for them. And I get to muzzle the stampeding buffalo herd of my own helpful advice, while getting curious about what their choices feel like to them, so that if they want to change things up it is their voice, not mine, that guides them. Because that is the voice they will live with.

When Rose reports, reflectively, “Sometimes I get pretty influenced by my friends,” this is not the time to call the Buddhist monastery to see if they take 11-year olds, to disable youtube and their perky, influential personalities or have a head-shaving party to throw off the shackles of conventional beauty norms. But, it may be the time to ask a casual question or two. What does that look like? When do you notice that? How does that feel?

Sometimes, I want to whisk my family to the woods until Col and Rose’s prefrontal cortices are fully developed. If I could unscramble cultural messages embedded in their brains while they sleep, I would. It’s okay for boys to hug each other. Girls don’t need to be accommodating and beautiful to matter. You don’t need to buy that next, new thing to be accepted. True belonging comes from accepting yourself. 

My friend Nathan said something so beautiful: “It isn’t our job to sweep away the cruelty of the world so that our children never see its face, but to hold them as they witness the horror and determine to meet it in their own way.”

Sometimes that horror is Rose asking a group of friends, “Can I join you?” and hearing “no.” If I can stay curious, helping Rose to explore what this feels like, perhaps (fingers crossed), she can move beyond revenge fantasies and open her heart to the emotion of loneliness or hurt. Sometimes the first question to arise is: How do I punish those who hurt me? I’d like to explore the question: What does loneliness and hurt need?

On Sunday, we all watched the lunar eclipse. The Patriots, who’ve become easy scapegoats for all my disdain, had just won the playoffs on a coin toss which I was a teeny bit grumpy about. (I may be a bit triggered by the happiness of millionaire Trump supporters).

We got out of the car just as the shadow of the earth began sweeping across the luminous moon, dusting it in darkness. Right before our eyes: incomprehensible celestial bodies interacting. A sense of wonder—which could be translated as awe for the great mystery, for the interplay of species and events beyond our control, or I don’t know, just nature—filled me with relief and reassurance because it’s always available, and I need it now more than ever. The chittering band of bushtits who showed up unprecedented in our yard this week; the sun sparkle on dollops of snow; Rose donating to Col ten minutes of her screen time. The wonder of it all! The next morning, pre-sunrise, we caught the full moon, glowing and huge, having shaken off its shadow, melting into the snowy hills.  

Oh, and Col turned fourteen. No biggie.

between holidays

2018 December 11
by Rachel Turiel

Speaking of holiday ambivalence, I was in a bit of anguish recently over our American canonization of Santa as hero of, I don’t know…consumerism, punishment and reward? Also, feeling sad about the transformative life-force of generosity being co-opted by obligatory spending. (Did you come here for a bit of buzzkill?) And, Dan said a bunch of confusing things to me, something about looking to wise elders, the beauty of trees inside, and maybe he even mentioned pumpkin pie.

Suddenly something clicked.

“Are you saying I can approach Christmas honoring my own choices for authenticity, integrity, and generosity, instead of putting energy into my disdain around societal messages?”

Dan looked at me like, Did I say that? And then decided that “yes!” he did.

“That’s so helpful, honey,” I said, picturing weaving simplicity into our holidays, only buying gifts out of love and joy; celebrating baby Jesus as proxy for all children having inherent worth; and focusing on the gift of togetherness in this cold, dark time.

And then the next day Rose said, “I don’t mean to sound selfish, but aren’t we supposed to get a present each night of Hanukkah?” And then I put “buy more Hanukkah presents” on my to-do list. Oy.

 

Boiling the skull of the deer Col shot, possibly the least complicated thing happening this season.

The finished skull interestingly displayed in a co-designed space of two children. More complicated.

In other signs that everything is proceeding completely as expected, Dan has created a computer photo folder called “best bucks.” He’d been driving around during mule deer mating season observing the hormonally-swollen bucks parading around, assembling harems and assessing their ladies for receptivity. It was a very exciting time for him, being self-appointed judge of the La Plata County best bucks pageant.

Apparently, we are creating the new cookbook “How to use up 125 squash in a month.” It’s very specific to, well, our house. We’ve settled on one recipe. Pumpkin pie (but call it squash pie and you will lose two crucial eaters). 2 pies/week = just about right.

My 11-year old has a to-do list. She really values organization. I noticed the bottom item was “But most of all have fun.” Whew.

Sometimes Dan and I communicate important thoughts in notes for each other. Found this recently.

When Rose asked me what I wanted for Hanukkah, I told her, “just for you to be completely satisfied on Dec 25th.” #smallgoals. But really, all I want is to be able to live in alignment with my own values while holding full care for my children while they grapple with the inevitable pain that seems built into many of our cultural norms. #moresmallgoals.

Col asked me recently if I could choose any superpower, what I’d choose. “To be able to empathize with anyone, anywhere, anytime,” I replied, easily.

He sighed, visions of retractable finger-claws and telepathic mischief evaporating. “That’s so boring.”

“It could save your life,” I pointed out. “It could save Christmas.” And truly, it has, here and here.

This morning Dan and I had our usual circular Christmas conversation.

Dan: “So, I’ve been researching cameras and found some that could be great for a Christmas present for Col.”

Me: “Have you ever heard him mention interest in owning a camera?”

Dan: “No. But the point is to surprise him.”

Me: “But what if the surprise costs $50 and he doesn’t really take to it?”

Dan: “Good cameras are between $100 – $200.”

I’m as confused as ever. Seriously. Please advise.

Last night at the dharma center, teacher Erin Treat told the story of Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the hill. “And really, Sisyphus adored that boulder. He could have just walked away and gone home,” she said, pausing to let the truth of that sink in. He could have freed himself. “What could we all put down, and just start walking home?” (home being metaphor for your heart), she asked the assembled mass of us. I know what you’re thinking, dear reader. There’s something here for me. Thank you for believing in me; I’m working on it.

There’s so much daily magic that arises spontaneously. Last Friday night the kids asked what our plans were and I said, “lighting Hanukkah candles and playing board games.” I waited for the riot, but everyone nodded happily. Col liked to say, in his best radio announcer voice, each night of Hanukkah, “time to light the candles for Jewish Christmas!” And then he’d glance at me to determine what level of mom-provocation he’d reached. So I’d pummel him. And then we’d celebrate all the miracles. Including the tremendous gift of being home together bathed in laughter, light bickering, and connection. I’m guessing this won’t always be our collective vision of a good Friday night. (Now that Hanukkah is over, Col likes to serenade me with “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” Assault by Christmas music?)

We’re back in hackysack season! Best way to close out an evening, I mean at least until 8pm when we’re all in bed:

The magic of filling the house with beloveds:

Same beloveds, six years ago:

The magic of everything familiar (squash, snow, small people):There’s also the daily magic of mornings: coffee maker burbling, the sky blueing at the cusp of dawn, snow settled in the north faces, magpies snitching deer hair from the pile of hide scrapings, and small people stumbling out of their room looking for snuggles. These are the gifts I’d like to unwrap every day.

Dystopias and utopias

2018 November 21
by Rachel Turiel

I’m feeling a bit ambivalent about Thanksgiving this year. I mean celebrating one supposedly inclusive harvest season amidst a generational history of settlers who stole land, committed genocide and aimed to destroy fully functional, community-centered, earth-connected indigenous cultures is like sprinkling a little baking soda on a landfill and calling it a success. Why aren’t we talking about the truth? I broached this topic with the kids, wondering if they had the whole picture. “You mean how Columbus was a murderer?” Col asked. Yeah, pretty much that vein of history.

This is not to say don’t enjoy your holiday fixings; we are grateful to be included in our friends’ gathering. I’m just saying the more we can all acknowledge the devastating truth of history, and its present-day repercussions, the more likely it is that we may choose to stop perpetuating oppression.

In other news, Col shot his first buck deer. Hard to say if this was a bigger moment for Col or Dan. In his typical understated way, Col returned from the hunt, flushed and adrenalined and bloodstained, told me the whole story, ate a couple tacos and then settled in with a comic book on the couch while my heart leaped around my ribcage. We’ve been enjoying deer roasts and deer burgers and celebrating the whole, wild reality of this 13 yr old boy feeding the family.

Also, I got a piece published in the New York Times. It’s about navigating the complexities of raising children who want to fit in and be accepted while their parents (that would be us) live a pretty unconventional lifestyle. I’m really honored to share this essay, and really bewildered by some of the comments. My favorite thus far is the person who with all seriousness says it’s OK to not wear makeup or shave my legs, but not having a smartphone is taking it too far.

Col is working on a series of drawings of retro technology, including my first computer, which almost sent me to the chiropractor, hefting it to the electronics recycling.

Interestingly, Rose just completed a dystopian/utopian literature project in which she created a dystopia where people outsourced their humanity to their phones. After the historic “screen attack” which killed most of the community (except the few who “threw their phones from the tallest building smashing them into a million pieces,”) the utopia was born, where people spoke face to face, solved their problems nonviolently and relearned practical skills like farming, hunting and using medicinal herbs. Slay me. After her exhibition, she came home and asked to watch a video about making a hygienic toothbrush holder out of a tennis ball. Complexity.

This was a big year in which I trusted the kids to monitor their own candy consumption, which meant deep breathing through food coloring. We all survived. #Jewishsanta

And I’ve been reading, lots of reading. First I read this fascinating memoir written by a man whose son nearly died from a meth addiction. Then I read the son’s memoir. Both were horrifyingly riveting. Also, this heartbreakingly beautiful memoir, written by Anthony Ray Hinton, who spent 30 years on death row before being exonerated. His crime, you will see, is that he was black and poor. Note: I like to link to Amazon so you can see the reviews, however, consider spending your $ at independent bookstores, or this online book retailer that donates to literacy programs worldwide, or go to your local library, or borrow from me.

Our 126 frost-damaged winter squash are starting to mold in the root cellar. Thus, we’ve become very serious about winter baking. Squash steams on the stovetop and bakes in the oven, continually. “I only eat pumpkin now,” Dan told me while tucking into a plate of pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread.

With love,

Rachel