Col is on the couch reading, staying one chapter ahead of us in Harry Potter, dropping occasional spoiler-bombs on innocent ears. “I just learned that Rita Skeeter has been eavesdropping by–”
“Coe-uhl, DON’T TELL US!” Rose roars, her feet kicking out of a handstand and crashing down on her rat’s cage.
Col grins, snark pinching the corners of his mouth. He returns to his book, buoyed by his supreme reading power over his sister, who is still swimming in the shallow end of Frog and Toad.
“You shouldn’t be reading ahead, Col! It’s not fair,” Rose protests. I wonder if Rose will someday harness her sensitivity to injustice for the disenfranchised of the world.
“Why do you care?” Col replies.
All I have for them is sighs. Where do they get the energy for all the arguing?
Col returns to reading The Goblet of Fire, the words lifting off the page, creating an impenetrable force field around him. Somewhere on the couch is a boy who needs to clear his airplane drawings off the table, hang up his jacket, but I’d need Harry Potter’s magic to pierce his literature-o-sphere with my voice.
Rose’s body flies past me. Her feet pound the mat in a round-off. Her legs kick over backwards. I think of a spider. So many limbs, all moving at once.
“Are you having a piece of your valentine chocolate today, Col?” Rose asks, mid-cartwheel.
“That means you’ll have nine pieces left and I’ll only have four. That isn’t fair.” Rose stands for a brief moment, arms folded accusatorily across her heaving chest. I don’t tell her that’s because she ate most of her candy the first day she got it. Harness that power for good , Rose.
Col goes back to Harry Potter, his eyes swimming inside a flood of words.
I should be cooking dinner, or editing stories for the magazine, or persuading Col to hang up his jacket but I lie down on the couch, resting my brain, absent-mindedly watching Rose flip back and forth. She does a back walkover for the first time. It’s sort of slow and creaky and hesitant, with a crux moment where she seems to be prodding her legs along like you would a recalcitrant horse.
“You did a back walkover!” I announce, trying to be appropriately excited for her but not praising-excited like the good 21st century mother I’m training to be. Really what I want to say is: holy shit, girl! You fucking rock! You practiced and practiced and taught yourself to do a back walkover for the pure joy of it!
Just like I want to say to Col, You’re reading a 735 page book, dude! Sure, you might ignore a house fire or your own mother’s voice, but I remember when you struggled and struggled through reading, when there was worry and tears. Now you can’t pull yourself out of the orbit of a book.
Here’s the thing. When kids are motivated, they give it all they’ve got. They’re like that: dedicated to their passions without doubts and fears wrestling them into some submissive posture. They push forward as if knocking on a vacant door they’re determined to get through. Rose was bent on learning how to hula hoop, then cartwheel, then to snap with both hands, and now, the back walkover. Knock knock knock.
Col once collected and curated a large collection of rocks. He had a short, loud whistling phase (which I still shudder to remember). His fingers were magnetized to legos for years and then three months ago, he announced, “I think I’m done with legos.” Drawing airplanes followed. Now, reading.
My job is not to panic when their interests can’t be measured on a standardized test, nor when they’re messy or loud or so quiet all you hear is the sounds of boarded up windows advertising “no vacancy,” behind which a small child crouches with his book. This focus and devotion will be their ally as they mature into the complex world of adulthood. My job is to allow space for what wants to emerge next, to celebrate their passions, to allow a metropolis of legos to occupy a corner of our living room for four years, to continually scoot the gymnastics mat (formerly known as my camping pad) out of the kitchen when it migrates, to let the kitchen table become plastered with airplane pictures, to get off the couch and make squash custard.
It’s dessert, breakfast, snack, and side dish. It’s the nutrient dense, yummy, healthy answer to the 55 winter squash we tucked into our root cellar back in October. Plus, the kids *ask* for it.
One large winter squash (or approx 4 cups cooked squash). We’ve used every squash you can think of. All successful.
1/2 can coconut milk
4-6 TBSP softened butter
4 TBSP honey (Optional: we don’t use sweetener, but our kids are brainwashed to think fatted-up winter squash is sweet enough).
1-2 TBSP pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves)
1 TBSP vanilla
1/2 TBSP salt
Mix everything in one bowl, or in food processor for super smoothness. Pour into greased casserole dish. Bake at 350F for 40 minutes or until cooked through and nicely browned on top.
It takes two families to cover childcare so Dan and I can come to the woods today. We’re here to visit the big pines, the old growth ponderosa that have been around for centuries. They’ve quietly risen while aspen forests sprouted like highrise tenements and then fell; while the Civil War was fought and the Wright brothers launched failed iterations of the future airplane; while generations of animals came and went, feeding the trees with their bones, blood, hair, excrement.
We follow a trail that seems to lead straight up to the sky. My ears fill with the sounds of my own quick breaths, the metronome of my heart tapping a brisk, ascending tune. The wind whooshes through the tops of the big pines in a world above us. Secrets lurk everywhere.
The soil is exposed: moist and fragrant. At 8000 feet the snow has retreated from all but the north faces in these unseasonably warm February days. We quickly shed jackets. Summer smells abound: human sweat, warm soil, dry bark. Thick hatches of winged insects launch from the brown oak leaves. Grass spears up towards the sun like a snake to a flute. I’m aware that winter is alive and well in parts of the U.S. but it is said that in our changing climate, extended drought will be the Southwest’s particular cross to bear.
I once went to an outdoor talk devoted to the ponderosa pine tree. I learned that a mature tree exhales 100 gallons of water a day; that ponderosa roots can stretch 100 feet laterally; that a tree only 30 inches in diameter can be old enough to have shared breath with a human who walked through the forest 200 years ago. Ponderosa forests are sculpted by fire, the young upstarts cleared out periodically, making room for the elders to become habitats unto themselves.
I can’t separate my love of this land from my grief about this changing world. I keep trying to find the angle from which to gracefully accept what climate change will, well, change. I struggle to find the bright side, the message, the shiny pearl in the rough oyster. In the Southwest, water wakes up this dry, dusty land, sloshing life into every living thing.
A Buddhist teacher said that the gift of this particular time is that we can wake up (as in: become present) to our environmental losses instead of say, blundering along unawares. I think I’d rather blunder along a fat mountain creek, in the monsoon-fed wildflowers, in my own August rain-drenched garden, knowing these gifts will be available to the next generation.
We head back down the muddy trail, through the bare oaks, their skeleton limbs snagging our clothes. Ravens circle overhead.
I think of my children, with whom we’ll reunite soon, and I realize that to love this land means to not give up on it. The more we feel the earth’s blessings, the more protective we become. It is a privilege to be a human walking on this earth. How do you receive the earth’s blessings? Maybe you grow food in your yard, or befriend trees, feed backyard birds, or use your feet as transportation. Maybe you spend time with a stretch of river, turn a compost pile, receive the quiet calm of a thicket of woods. Maybe you remember from time to time, that you too, are of this precious earth.
Now I see the secret of making the best person: it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth. – Walt Whitman
Pinyon sap and cotton-rag torch, to be lit in Col’s favorite cave this weekend.
It’s bedtime, kids nestled in bunk beds, and I’m singing the same lullaby I’ve been warbling out for the past eight years, the one that’s branded so indelibly on my mind it seems I should be able to press a button somewhere behind my ear to play the recording.
This is the lullaby that ends another day together, that offers amnesty to all our daily regrets, and disarms the charge of my own parenting doubts, signaling to all of us to lay down our mental weapons and let it be.
Rose whispers to me from the top bunk, as she often does, not quite willing to actually let it all be until every question, thought and observation has been wiped clean.
“Mama, I just thought of something funny. You know how Col is ten now and you’ve been singing us this lullaby for so long? What if when we were all grown up we called you every night so you could still sing us this lullaby?”
And I picture Rose picturing herself: pulling on the unicorn pajamas, brushing her teeth and then climbing into some twin bed somewhere with an iphone to call her mom.
No problem, little one, I’ll be waiting for that call.
Some things I want you to know:
1) Turns out Col is skilled in the polishing arts, and is happy to paint your nails (pink or purple, non toxic) at the Oh la la Salon. He’ll charge you 50 cents, which Rose provides, though asks him for a cut back because she bought the nail polish.
2) Elk ribs in peach bbq sauce. (Worth carrying out an extra 40 pounds of mostly bone on your back, if you’re Dan anyway). “Mmmmm, it’s so gamey,” Col says, praisingly.
3) I recently finished two excellent books. Animal Dialogues by Craig Childs, about his experiences with wild animals,—each short chapter a new animal—is so engaging and beautifully written, my hair is still prickled from the mountain lion chapter. (This is a great book to read to kids).
My Accidental Jihad, is a stunning memoir written by Krista Bremer, an American woman who falls in love with a Libyan-born Muslim. After Bremer’s husband spends the month of Ramadan fasting, praying, renouncing pleasures and connecting with God, he kindly asks his wife, “Now, tell me about your holidays. What is the meaning behind Christmas?” She panics, while the word presents runs shamefully through her mind. I loved this book so much I bought it, as a reference guide to writing memoir.
4) Thank you for your kind and caring words on this post about our 7-year old friend, Chloe, who is experiencing leukemia. (She is doing great, thank you for your prayers and donations). Chloe’s father, Craig, and brother, Jordan, are back in Durango and every workday morning we get to be with Jordan until his preschool ride arrives. Rose has appointed herself Household Ambassador to Jordan’s Care and Comfort. She removes his hat and mittens, feeds him breakfast (he’s five and quite capable, but you try and stop Rose from nurturing), and leads him through handstands, art and the principles of rat-care.
One great thing that has transpired from Chloe’s diagnosis is all the hugging! Dan and Craig hug at least twice every time they see each other.
5) Fermentation Class. I am teaching a fermentation class at Durango Natural Foods on Tuesday, Feb 24th at 6pm. We’ll be talking about the art and history of fermentation, we’ll sample some ferments (beet kvass! gingered carrots! something I haven’t decided on yet!) and make our own kimchi in class to take home. Space is limited. Details, and to register, go here.
6) Yoga/Writing Retreat returns: THREE SPOTS LEFT
Happy February. May there be snow! And if you’re sick of snow, may it come to Durango.
It is penciled into our calendar this Sunday: Family Adventure Day. This is the vaguely formed notion that we’re devoting a full day to getting out of town, to being outside together, to expanding out of our habitual activities, even if Col would elect to stay home drawing airplane #3987 and Rose could cartwheel her 7-year old body across our 800 sf house into the next year.
There is a faint memory circling my head of a time when Dan and I would set out on any wild adventure our hearts conjured. Now, these family outings are prefaced by inserting every relevant child-limitation (weather, time, gear, endurance) into the hopper of appropriate activities, and rallying around what clunks out. We consider our angles of persuasion as measuredly as any marketing company.
The kids drag their feet. They don’t want to go hiking, get dressed, leave home, or endure the drive required to get out of town. There are protests and pep talks. There are negotiations and compromise. Concessions are made: we leave home an hour later with a tall thermos of hot chocolate and our neighbor’s golden retriever.
We drive south into New Mexico, peeling back layers of high desert, descending into a kingdom where scrubby, spiny plants reign. The landscape has been crayoned in with the Crayola set “desert triumvirate:” orange rock, blue sky, dusky green plants.
We park at a quiet trailhead, and the dog, who’s been drooling, panting and whining for the last hour explodes out of the car, running like a man released from prison. We shoulder packs, sloshing with hot chocolate, and set out. Half a mile down the canyon that spills liquid life into the San Juan River, we find a dead raven, spot a bald eagle, spy mountain lion tracks and pull apart clustered clumps of owl pellets found at the base of an old twisted cottonwood.
Rose springs down the canyon as if there’s candy at the finish line; Col meanders, gathering rocks he must have, then forgetting them when he stops to inspect another desert gem. It turns out the kids are naturals at inhabiting this world, their world. Shoes off, scaling rocks, and shimmying up the trunks of fat cottonwood trees, they need not one suggestion to fill their time. Rose even finds a flat, sandy expanse upon which to unleash an olympic torrent of cartwheeling and back handsprings while Col perches high in a tree, privy to the hawk’s view.
When Col was still in the NICU, we met with a soft-voiced social worker, who asked us what our dreams were for our son, this boy who hadn’t yet broken two pounds and needed technological assistance to eat and breathe. “I..I want him to be able to walk and eat unassisted, to talk and laugh,” I replied, my heart clenched in its own prayer of anxious hopefulness. Dan replied without hesitation, “I want Col to begin to feel the blessings of this earth.”
I will never understand why the idea of a hike equates with boredom and hardship in the kids’ minds. They never fail to find magical worlds, real and imagined, as well as the craggy interstices where they can fall into their own, mysterious sibling-friendship.
Many hours later we return home, drop off the dog, shake the sand out of our clothing and dive back into our habitual activities (plane drawings, cartwheels, e-mail, bow-making). But, we are long blessed by our time away, our time together, by the simplicity and freedom of feeling our feet upon the earth.
It is morning and I am drinking coffee, reading the paper, and fielding interruptions from the kids in a parody of my own routine ordinariness when my phone rings. It is my friend Steph, whom I’ve known since we were in our mid 20’s with no one more complicated to care for than a handful of animals. She made our wedding cake 12 years ago, zucchini with thick, chocolate frosting. I took a walk with her less than a week ago. She has learned that her daughter has leukemia. “I can’t believe I’m speaking that word,” she says through tears. “This is a game-changer.”
If there are six degrees of separation between everyone on this planet, there is exactly one degree of separation between everyone in Durango. Going food shopping is like old home week; I make half my social plans in the produce aisle. I know people who go to the farmers market strictly to “catch up with friends.” I’ve run into people I know miles out in the backcountry, and I’ve yet to take a plane into or out of Durango where I didn’t know someone aboard (Including, last flight, the guy who used to buy a pound of dried mint at the herb shop I managed, and joke “How do I explain this (baggie of dried herb) to the cops if I get pulled over?”). Facebook is the digital representation of this interconnectedness (I have 103 friends in common with my friend, Sheryl, who I met here in Durango.) Even the dogs are in; Rose scored a new dog-walking client when a jogger recognized the dog she was currently walking and got my number to sign her dogs up.
I have a very strong feeling that Steph’s daughter will ultimately be OK (Just as certain people in our life had very strong feelings that Col would be OK when he was born 3 1/2 months early. When Col was 2 weeks old, Dan’s friend, Robert, flew to Denver, rented a sportscar, and took Dan on drives to see the bighorn sheep in Georgetown. He told us, “Col will be fine. You both have very good genes.” Robert is a biologist). Steph’s family will go through some very hard things in the next year, and when they can’t hold themselves up anymore, the net of this community will catch them, relieving the ordinary burdens a family faces, so they can focus on the extraordinary. (Stay tuned on the old church committee of Facebook for ways you can help the Harris family).
There have been some devastating losses in this community in the past few months. Parents and children, their deaths rippling out across our collective hearts. In the following weeks friends greet each other with extra long hugs, clumsy sentences, and the shaking of heads because often there just are no words. But we show up with food, donations, any comfort we can spare. I’ve had two impromptu grief/hope/hug sessions with my friend Kate because she was walking by my house at the right time. Each time I felt my world pull tighter, closer.
I keep wondering: how do you prepare for these game-changers? How do you go about your life, drinking coffee, reading the paper, fielding interruptions from your children, knowing that in the shadows of this ordinary moment, life is a dangerous, wonderous and unpredictable place?
When I was pregnant with Col, after suffering an unusual 2nd trimester miscarriage a year before, I was buoyant. I loved how my belly was rising like bread dough, loved the indoor tickles of baby feet, and the feeling that if this life I was growing had a brand name, it would be: world’s luckiest secret.
Eugene’s eyes smiled behind his John Lennon glasses, his closely cropped, dark hair hugging his head like a tight-weave black carpet, freshly installed. “If you are joyful, then be joyful! We don’t prepare for disappointments or tragedy by worrying. We also know that experiencing joy doesn’t bring down the wrath of tragedy, nor does it equate to being immune to disappointment. In fact, nothing will make you entirely immune to disappointment, so you might as well enjoy being joyful.”
Wait, was this the Ben and Jerry’s school of Buddhism? Just enjoy being joyful? No nifty Zen tricks or mind-bending efforts which lead, like a lighted runway, directly to the prize of enlightenment? No need to imbibe happiness in careful moderation as if it were something on which one could dangerously overdose? No outwitting joy like the broad-ankled Eastern European matriarchs of my family line, whose superstitions about not letting the evil eye catch you gloating over your own good fortunes, are lodged like a splinter in my DNA?
Two days later I was emergency air-lifted to Denver, my joyous pregnancy a medical crisis. Everything Eugene Cash had said was true. It’s still true. Scouting around the corner, bracing oneself for the tragedy in the distance does not equate to protection. There is no protection, no way around heartache but through the sticky, hot center.
And so we go on being grateful, recognizing that this life is ridiculously precious, and equally out of our control. Maybe remembering this helps us love better, picking ourselves up and letting the small grievances fall away. It’s like that old physics equation: gratitude → generosity →happiness → more gratitude. Gratitude pries that crazy heart muscle open, letting in more light than you ever thought possible.
There is a tradition in the Dharma Center I attend, after meditating and listening to the Buddha’s teachings together, we dedicate all the goodness that arises from our practice to all beings. I would like to dedicate any goodness that arises from contemplating joy and connectedness, community and gratitude to lovely little Chloe Harris. Thank you.
Recently, I bought a package of balloons to conduct a science experiment, and the very presence of these balloons, bouncing around the house, has reduced the kids into loud, noun-limited toddlers (waking up, pointing and shouting “balloon!” and pouncing on the floating orbs).
“Wow, they’re really ramped up over those balloons,” I told Dan one night, wincing as balloon-batting bodies crashed into each other.
And then we laughed, because really, of all the things these kids will someday become ramped up over, I’m highly comforted that buoyant latex blimps still make the list.
You see, Col just turned ten and I’m stockpiling evidence that everything’s going to be OK. Maybe it’s the double digits, or the decadeness, or the fact that more than half of his childhood has poofed away in a cloudsmoke of memories, and it seems inevitable that this second half will include less, well, balloons.
I woke up recently with a panic knocking around in my heart. It was like one of those ubiquitous anxiety dreams where you’re about to teach a class except, whoops, you’re wearing a Shirley Temple wig and forgot your pants…but it was actually this notion that I wanted to be surrounded by small people forever, but whoops, I forgot to have more children.
And really, I only ever wanted these two exact children. But I had no idea back when I was leaned up against a tree at the park, Rose clamped to my nipple (her default position until age 2) and Col toddling off to stick his starfish hands in some dog’s jowly mouth, how quickly they would accumulate years to their bodies, like accessories, like geological layers. I had no clue that the artifacts of their childhoods—board books, tiny knitted hats, baby teeth, mispronounced words—would chunk off into mental midden piles I’m left to curate.
Getting personal information out of Col is a tentative business, but his main currency of communication remains the 4-limbed wrap-around morning snuggle. This very morning, he proclaimed sleepily, “I love you and your husband,” and yet I still haven’t found the conversational key to unlock an unfettered sharing. At ten, he’s stepping into new independent territory. I can’t kiss him in front of his friends. Last fall he went on a 2-night trip with his friend Mathew and he still refers to it like some poignant symbol of liberation, the way some people will always regard Rosa Parks’ bus ride.
Around any family birthday, I find myself feeling that we’ve reached such a lovely intersection of our collective four lives, that I could settle in right here for a long time, feeling a tiny bit beleaguered but mostly incredibly lucky.
And yet (didn’t you want there to be an “and yet?”), there is joy in this inching forward, in the way Col and Rose are becoming more of themselves, like protagonists in a book whose character gets more revealed over time, whom you love with a deeper, more complex understanding as the chapters progress. And to spend too much time lingering over their bygone childhoods would be to miss the sun shining fiercely on our lives right now. This will always be true.
Setting up the great rocket launch 2015. Previous rocket launch here, just to prove how fast time flies
Running to retrieve the fallen rocket.
Col and I recently took a field trip to the Animas Air Park, a small private airport where we like to troll around, Col pointing out high wing singles and other notables. He indulged me briefly in some hand-holding and then pointed at the small yellow plane descending. “That’s extra loud, probably a 12-seater,” Col said. We watched the plane bounce out of the sky, rolling out a perfect landing, 12 exact seats revealed.
I think about how I want connection through expression, through feelings, through hold my hand and tell me everything. But, as usual, my children’s personalities are not for me to orchestrate so that every interaction falls under a heading I’ve pre-approved. Rather, I get to stand by as they lift off and soar, as they come in for landings, sometimes shaky and awkward, sometimes crashing. But this connection—me and my ten year old son gazing into the blue Colorado sky, not saying much—is real and true and blessed and now.
I’ve heard that on the national scene, yoga is being paired with many other modalities (meditation, cooking, painting, heavy metal music appreciation…). In spirit of this trend, I am honored to announce that Joy Kilpatrick and I are offering our second Yoga/Writing Retreat here in Durango!
New Years Day soup lunch with the beloveds. Note: tablecloth! And white-out snow conditions outside!
It’s 10:30pm on New Year’s Eve, two hours after our children are usually nestled into bunk beds. We’re with friends, their living room turned dance floor packed with the bendy bodies of children and their parents. There are toddlers spinning and stomping, pre-schoolers believing the spotlight belongs solely to them, and the 7-10 year old crowd, all leggy grace and giggles.
Brothers, Lee and Danny, spin tunes from the inner machinations of their smartphones, noting to the children like professors of the class, Decades in Music Appreciation: The 80’s, “This song was huge when I was your age.” Out blasts Michael Jackson, Madonna, REM, and regrettably, Vanilla Ice. Although I might not have been shaking my ass (or slow-dancing to the occasional Journey ballad with Rose) if I wasn’t here with the kids, in the blurred factions of children and adults, it’s hard to say who’s having more fun.
Though the passing into a new calendar year is an arbitrary transition, and as all great spiritual teachers (and most toddlers) remind us, each moment is brand new, I like taking this opportunity to assess where greater degrees of effort or acceptance are warranted in my life. A resolution is an intention, an intention is a powerful act of self-love. And as pointed out last night at the Durango Dharma Center, a resolution is for the purpose of training. Training these silly, over-active, sneaky minds of ours.
I seek to carry out this parenting gig consciously, with continual intention towards connection and peace, which includes a good measure of falling. (Paraphrasing a Zen monk: “There is standing up practice and falling down practice.”) Creating peace and connection in our family never comes from simply wishing and waiting. Rather, it comes from gentle and pointed effort, active forgiveness, and a willingness to regard my children as deserving the same respect and kindness I expect. (In fact I just read somewhere that the best way to ensure a respectful relationship with your teenager is to nurture a two-way connection of respect now).
If Hugh Hefner drank hot chocolate and lived in snow country.
The funny thing is that this is not exactly intuitive. There were times that I would have downloaded an app into my brainstem and given a pint of flesh for a roadmap called “child compliance” to lead me through the thick trees of parenting, no matter the method. But, too many of these “methods” (wait – is yelling and excessive sighing a method?) gave me an existential hang over immediately afterwards. (Which is a good barometer: if you feel remorse after interacting with your child, this is an indicator that there are places that need gentle attention).
There are myriad parenting books, coaches and classes. There are websites, support groups and inspirational Facebook quotes. There is the sacred act of taking a deep breath before responding to your children, remembering that all their misconduct is a function of them trying to get their normal, human needs met.
Dr Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids, explains, “Troublesome behavior signals big feelings or unmet needs. If you don’t address the feelings and needs, they’ll just burst out later, causing other problem behavior.”
And really, this is good news. When all our efforts towards initiating complicated reward charts and tiered systems of punishments are put towards determining our children’s unmet needs, the road to peace becomes shorter. Your child will benefit more from the lasting power of being understood than the short term faux-fix of a time out.
Often the need is as simple as wanting to be heard and acknowledged. How many times do we breeze through our agendas, sweeping our children along without letting them know we understand their point of view. Maybe they’re sick of accompanying us on errands, or they’re involved in a book and don’t want to come to dinner. We might not be able to change the circumstances (dinner is ready; errands must be done), but we can empathize with their position, share how much we too hate to be interrupted when engrossed in a book, and perhaps brainstorm after dinner with our child on how to ease the transition. As we begin to identify our children’s needs, they will often learn they can bypass the “bad” behavior and simply state their needs, trusting they will be heard and efforts will be made towards true solutions.
It’s after 11:00pm when we finally arrive home, full of New Years cheer. How grateful I am to be in the position of celebrating New Year’s Eve with my children (dancing with my 9-year old!), rather than nervously awaiting their return home from teenage festivities as will someday be the case. Col explains how the night went to Dan who was home teaching a bow-making class, “We jumped on the bed, we ate, and we rocked out.”
May your family peace and connection increase in this new year.
* Incidentally, the kids and I just had another late night dancing to Carute Roma, Durango’s own gypsy band. The kids think staying out late dancing is our new thing, and why not? Anyone need a few, enthusiastic groupies?
I find I need support for doing anything that flows counter to the mainstream (I rely on my friend Melanie for quarterly homeschooling pep-talks; my artist-friend Jo gives me the much-appreciated straight talk on living the poorly-compensated, highly-fulfilling artist’s life; Julia, Sue and Jennifer and I console each other regularly over trying to raise kids on a nineteenth century farm diet; I have a whole community of people I meditate with (falling down practice) every Monday night; and I tend to hang out with people who never tell me to look on the bright side when I’m feeling down).
Perhaps you too need support in creating more peace and connection in your home. Some resources: (all of which I’ve directly benefitted from).
Websites and coaches
Incidentally, she’s singing, not screaming (but that could change quick).
Col (Flipping through an airplane book on the couch): I really want to fly on a 747.
Rose (Also on the couch, holding a Christmas song book): Ok class, now we’re going to sing…Little Town of Betterham!
Col: Little Town of BETHLEHEM.
Me: Isn’t that what we usually fly on?
Col: That’s a seven thirty seven, Mom.
Rose (indignantly): Col, this one says BETTERHAM. Ready, class? (starts singing off tune, happily and obliviously mangling the words).
Dan (whipping up egg nog in the kitchen at 7:42 am and then serving frothy glasses to all of us, the lucky amongst us including rum): I’m egg moNOGamous!
Dan, softening a deer hide in our unheated sunroom. Soon to show up in Dan’s ETSY shop amongst other treasures of the wild. Outside: 36F and breezy. That southwestern sun works!
If you saw a time lapse video of our lives right now, it would look like we were living our entire lives on the couch in various permutations of people, animals and flotsam. This is where we read Harry Potter, the kids rioting like fans at a rock concert at the end of each chapter. More! Just! One! More! Chapter! This is where Col does his airplane drawings, pouring the entirety of his essence into each drawing and then starting anew each morning. Rose colors in her Frozen coloring book, which Dan surprised her with for Hanukkah (after opening it she held it to her chest and said, “I feel so spoiled,” which just goes to show that depriving your children of all material happiness can work in your favor). This is also where the rat runs free, chewing small holes in the couch and sneakily peeing on people while they’re distractedly engrossed in stories of Hogwarts. (I am totally sending my kids “Howlers” when they’re in college. ROSE!! PUT DOWN THE CORN-SYRUPED GLUTEN BOMB!! COL!!! LOOK INTO HER EYES WHEN YOU TALK TO HER!!!)
For Christmas we got SNOW and a roadkill doe. Like Rose, I feel so spoiled.
The kids get off the couch solely to run and jump back on the couch, executing various “jump kicks” that Rose swears originated in her gymnastics class. “Do you want to see me do swizzles, levers, scissors or plain kicks?” Rose asks 100 times a day, including right as I’ve committed to the five minutes of focused whisking required to make mayonnaise. Dan has created categories in which he and Col judge Rose. She now, in hopes of scoring big on “crowd interaction,” flashes a smile and a wink before launching onto the couch.
We also slink off the couch to play Ticket to Ride, which is super fun and doesn’t require any capitalistic aggression to win like Monopoly or Risk, which we also like, as long as we’re the ones winning. You actually can’t know who is winning Ticket to Ride until the very end, which keeps morale strong throughout the game.
Is it OK to say that I’m glad Christmas is over? That I felt such relief when my favorite radio station returned to cheesy Styx ballads after a month of Christmas songs that made me feel pestered into a neurotic serial cheeriness. It turns out the post-holiday season is where the magic lies. The egg nog is still flowing but strangers are no longer baring their full complement of teeth asking my children if they’ve been good for Santa. It has been snowing and extremely cold here, which makes me feel cocooned in something special, even if it’s just the same fleece pants I’ve been wearing for four days straight and the fantasy that we’ll get snowed in and have to eat our way through the root cellar, pantry and freezer, kids showing up merrily for another meal of elk sausage and root vegetables…oh wait, that’s how it is now, minus the merry.
Our post-holiday days are unrolling slowly and by the minute. There’s another 3-6 inches of snow forecasted for New Years Day, a bit more egg nog and fleece pants on the schedule, and surely many more hours on the couch. Thank you, winter.
New Years Blessings to you ALL,
* In my efforts to have more frivolous fun, I did not wait for the movie Wild to come out on Netflix, but WENT TO THE THEATRE (AFTER DARK!) to see it with my friend, Sue. The fact that the last movie I saw in the theatre was Brokeback Mountain may or may not qualify me to judge, well…anything, but I loved the movie, Wild, extremely very much.
* Sledding: when the hair flies or you capsize, it’s extra good.
* After finding a small passel of knuckle bones at the bottom of our soup pot (thanks, bone broth), we’ve been engrossed in creating a game to play with them. Suggestions welcome.
This is some circular toss game Rose is developing.
Dan’s current challenge: stack all nine bones…he’s up to seven.
Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All Beings.
My phone, by the way, is so retro, it’s actually cool. At least in your grandma’s circles.
P.S. Thank you for all your book suggestions; my library hold list is full with anticipatory excitement!
I’ve been waking up at 5am, which seems crazy except I’ve been falling asleep at 9pm, which puts me at a square 8 hours. Early morning is proving to be the best reading time, at least until 6am when Col crawls into our bed, floppy-limbed, his mind rumbling in a low, nostalgic gear suitable only for professions of love. You’re the best Mama, he whispers. And Daddy’s the best Daddy he mumbles towards Dan’s slumbering body. I love everything about you, he says like an investment against his future teenage self.
We’ve been entering the holidays, which I’m happy to say has been our typical spirited mash-up, all of which could provide material for the Sinatra holiday video remix of I’ll do it My Way. Which is to say, tradition is simply what we, as co-captains of the family, present to the crew. We cut a few choice conifer limbs for what Rose calls a “Hanukkah bush,” and Col calls “Pojupifir” (adapted from its combined parts: ponderosa, juniper, pinon, fir).
Last night we celebrated the first night of Hanukkah with gluten free butternut squash-potato latkes (topped with green chile sauce and chokecherry-applesauce), cheap red wine and some high stakes dreidel with Col and Rose’s Jewish cronies. (Note to self: for every ounce of red wine, ten ounces water, old girl). On Christmas Eve we’re cooking venison lasagna at the homeless shelter, because my new understanding of Christmas is that it’s about giving. I’ve realized that all the Christmasy things we don’t do no longer put me in a neurotic tailspin of over-analyzation. The kids are getting more comfortable with being different, with being us, which is something I hope they can draw from as teenagers, that we never did anything just because everyone else was doing it.
Bring your own menorah!
Because the kids have everything they could ever possibly need and want, we’re giving them this for Hanukkah:
Choose Your Own Adventure Sleepover. I figure it’s like being on a cruise ship and having the luxury of choosing your meals and activities. No?
Also, we’ve been practicing for winter by spending a lot of time on the couch reading. The kids and I are cruising through Harry Potter, which they’ve already read with their grandparents, but are enjoying immensely knowing what comes next but arguing over it anyway. To get past Fluffy you say, Good Dog, Col. No, that’s absolutely wrong, Rosie. Of course, I love reading Harry Potter to them, partially because I spend hours bookended by their warm bodies while the dishes go undone (Not true; Dan is a dish angel), and partially because I love Hermione.
I just finished this masterfully-written novel. It had all the elements of good fiction and is about the plucky daughter of poor Irish immigrants who, by unexpected turns, becomes a NYC midwife practicing in the late 1800’s. Not only is the writing lively, rich and absolutely gorgeous (I read about ten of her metaphors to my children’s writing class), but it’s an enlightening glimpse into women’s reproductive rights in the 19th century, which were a sad, secretive thing that women hardly owned. This is one of those books that cocoons you in another time and place, leaving you changed just a little bit for the better. I honestly can’t recommend it enough.
I also loved this book. The message is basically that American kids are unprecedentedly picky eaters and guess who made them that way? The author, who once had two terribly picky eaters before moving to France for a year, believes that all of our wealth and privileged choices plus 21st century parental guilt and lack of a strong culinary tradition has created entitled children who snack constantly yet have little respect for food. Ouch. Not at all a sanctimonious book, the author learns lessons the hard way. (Lessons being: Adults and kids eat the same thing. Reduce snacking, feeling hungry between meals is OK. Relax and enjoy eating, no bribes or rewards). We have revamped our eating habits since reading this, and though my kids often say, “but we’re nottttttt French!…” everyone’s coming to the table hungrier and eating more variety (aka vegetables!).
And if you need more reading material, this book is an absolute freaking gift to humanity (Nevermind her bestseller that is now a movie, this is truly her most stunning book). And this book, recommended by you dear people years ago, remains ever one of my most favorites.
* Thank you to everyone who supported a young artist. Col is beaming with the enthusiasm of the encouraged. I am happy to report that unbeknownst to me he used some of his new funds to buy his sister a fairy ornament. If you haven’t received your cards yet, we are waiting for the second printing (!!) and will ship out before Christmas. Also, excitingly, this exposure netted him commissioned work as an illustrator on a children’s book…written by a friend…for her extended family…but, still!
* Now that I’ve finished My Notorious Life (at 5:56am this morning, just in time for Col’s arrival) I’m having major book withdrawal. Send suggestions quick! 5am is not the same without a good book!
With love and gratitude,