If Col is not sick and Rose is not bereft, I have approximately 2 solid days/week to put towards work.
Today, Rose is bereft. Actually, she’s bopping around in purple velvet—scratch that, now she’s in pink shorts and a doll sling turned bikini-top, crayoning smiling horses under blue skies. She speaks softly and continuously to herself. But, suggest that she join her friends at homeschool co-op, and she looks shocked, as if I’ve proposed she’s ready for a solo trip to Russia. An actual flood of tears rush from her eyes, suggesting the cliché originates in a six year old encouraged to separate from her mother.
This is a new development, this bereftness at leaving me. Everything is absolutely fine—giddy fine—until it’s time for Rose to go to the places she goes on the days I work. This morning she almost floated away on the sea of her own tears, until I said, okay, you can stay with me, but I’ll be working. You’ll have to entertain yourself.
And really, I’m flummoxed. This morning Rose watched three friends pile into the car heading to Fawn’s house for homeschool co-op, which is historically where learning dresses up like fun and all your BFFs are there. No dice. Rose waved good-bye to her friends and skipped inside to “entertain herself.” My prediction that she’d regret staying home after an hour of tedious aloneness is proving wrong.
I know that the latin root of “parent” is: More Flexible Than You Ever Thought. How many times have you been gearing up for some cheery social gathering, putting the finishing touches on your potluck dish, when your child turns her lovely moon-face towards you, flashing the grim, red-eyed squint of pink-eye. We get schooled early. I remember feeling all self-congratulatory when I got baby Col and his steamer trunk of supplies packed up for a hike all by myself. Next, he pooped, explosively, needed to nurse and then fell asleep on me. We stayed home and napped on the couch.
While Dan is gone hunting (does it seem like Dan’s always hunting? I overheard Col’s friend Mathew ask him: “What is your dad’s job? Does he work and hunt?”), Rose has been sleeping in a nest on my bedroom floor. But really, I wish I could incubate her in an external uterus at night. I’d tuck her into that dark aquatic cave and hook up the old umbilical cord, shuttling bits of last nights beef stew her way. She could craft her 6-year old nighttime dreams to the thready soundtrack of my heartbeat. And I’d sigh in relief at performing the easiest task of mothering.
Maybe it would be different if I had one of those jobs where I had to show up without a child (who’s now dancing in a smattering of headbands) zippered to my skin, like my friends who work as teachers, massage therapists, accountants. As far as Col and Rose see, I’m just typing away at the computer, the same little box which mysteriously produces videos of Arthur if you press the right buttons. All my deadlines and obligations, writing and editing work—this work I love so dearly—is as intangible to them as the rise and fall of numbers in our checkbook.
“This will pass,” friends have said. Child development is not linear, but more like a series of concentric circles. Kids swing out into their own, brave orbits, and then loop back to the home base of their parents. Their evolution is a mysterious, beautiful and confounding process. Someday I’ll watch wistfully as Rose sashays out the door into the bright sun of her own life, but right now I am trying to keep the checkbook numbers up while she orbits precisely around my feet.
Welcome to my new series on What Makes Memoir Outstanding!
But first: yesterday Dan rushed, on his lunch break, to pick up Rose from shared school, who’d been crying and sad and missing me, so she could….immediately assume the role of teacher, delivering art, spanish and guitar lessons to her students. I don’t even pretend to understand.
Welcome to my new series on What Makes Memoir Outstanding!
Ok. I’m not really starting a new series, because as you’ve noticed, I can barely pluck one post a week from the un-tuned guitar of my life. (Although, I wish I could just publish my little pocket notebook, because I’m still prolific, ideas-wise). But, if I were to write about what makes memoir, a genre I’m personally drawn to, outstanding, I would call upon these mentors:
Kristen Kimball, who wrote The Dirty Life (Do you like how I link to my very own review rather than, what, Amazon or something?) is masterful at moving her story along without getting bogged down in the telling-ness of emotions, thoughts and backstory. Rather, those are revealed, but only through the action of the story, like in these lines (after Kimball drives from NYC to Pennsylvania to interview a farmer who puts her to work for three days before granting her an interview):
“Michael did not look optimistic about my work capacity. I had traded my white blouse for a vintage Cheap Trick T-shirt, tight jeans, and a part of thrift store Dingos with chunky little heels. It was the kind of ironic-chic outfit that worked well in the East Village but looked strange and slightly slutty in a field in Pennsylvania.”
Mary Karr is another masterful memoirist. She crafts sentences so stunning, you stop to savor them. Like she’s salting a stew, Karr uses just enough metaphor, but not too much. In Lit, she’s meeting her WASPy boyfriend’s parents for the first time, sitting at their formal dinner table, feeling the unspoken family tension in the air, when her boyfriend, Warren, gives a snide reply to his father’s question:
“Warren’s reply prompts the first of many silences I’ll sit through at that table. Silence rolls across us like a grey sea fog. Ice crystals form around our faces. Forks freeze in place. The salad plates are cleared. Warren sits straight enough to be lashed to a stake.”
Kate Hopper (who also wrote the indispensable writing tool-kit of books Use Your Words) just published, Ready for Air, a memoir about her daughter’s premature birth. I read it in two days due to the gripping-ness of it. Kate teaches, above else, to trust in honesty. Yes, you want your readers to like you, but they will like you for being vulnerable and uncloaked, not for being winner of The Martha Stewart Perfectionism Awards.
Hopper says, upon first seeing her daughter, “I don’t want this tiny yellow thing to be my baby.” She asks all the brave questions about motherhood, including (paraphrasing, here): what the fuck are we supposed to do all day with these helpless infants we love more than our own pumping heart? Or, what does it mean to be lucky; can you have suffered and still find the luckiness? Hopper answers her own questions as she lives and tells her courageous story. I am so glad Kate’s story is out in the world.
Kate is a writing teacher (both in person and online), and creator of the class “Motherhood and Words,” and an encouraging midwife to all Mamas who have a story to share.
Read Kate’s blog here
Kate on Twitter
THREE cool options:
1) Kate Hopper’s publisher is giving away ONE FREE COPY to a reader of this blog. Leave a comment below telling me your favorite memoir.
2) Fifteen copies will be given to NICUs. Enter the NICU of your choice (how COOL is that?). Click on Kate’s blog to enter this giveaway. Please include in your comment the name and address of the hospital, specifying whether it goes to the NICU or family resource center, etc. At the end of the tour, Kate will randomly pick 15 hospitals to receive signed copies of Ready for Air.
3) Third: a book club visit. Kate wants to come to your book club — either virtually or in person. Kate believes that memoir connects us, heals us, makes us feel less alone, and makes the new known, familiar, and necessary, and she is available to talk to your book club about this and more! To enter the contest, all you need to do is e-mail email@example.com with the subject line Ready for Air Book Club Contest and include a few sentences about why you’d like to have Kate visit your book club.
More beloved memoir:
Gabrielle Hamilton: Bones, Blood, Butter
Melissa Coleman: This Life is in Your Hands
Anne Lamott: Operating Instructions (and all other non-fiction)
Catherine Newman: Waiting for Birdy
Ayun Halliday: The Big Rumpus
Katrina Kenison – The Gift of an Ordinary Day
Jeannette Walls – The Glass Castle
Annie Dillard – Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Kay Redfield Jamison – An Unquiet Mind
Beth Kephart – Slant of Sun
I was rendering lard yesterday, thinking that I needed to be beamed back to a prior century in which my great-grandparents regularly decanted meltable white paste from petal-pink chunks of pork fat, because I had a few questions. And then I remembered I’m Jewish: there would be no lard rendering in the shtetl!
trailblazing through um, the forests of monounsaturated fat – that’s the good fat, people! Incidentally, my cousin, also named Rachel Turiel, tells the story of growing up in a house filled with the laissez-faire pantry stocking of sugary cereals, pop tarts, and cheez whiz. But never, oh never would you find a smidge of bacon. Old habits die hard. My father and his two brothers grew up kosher, in Brooklyn.
Then, this morning, Dan’s co-worker, Drew, who’s lived in Mexico, walked in, saw the crispy byproducts of lard-rendering and announced “chicharróns!” which sounds a lot closer to something you’d want to eat than “pork cracklins.” We Americans have a lot to learn about branding.
Which is to say, things are getting weird around here. I recently boiled a pot of cow knuckle bones on the stove for 48 hours (with some dried wild porcinis), all the while praying that I’d actually like the taste of the broth into which the bones had flung their gelatin, collagen, glucosamine and chondroitin. And I do, very much.
Also, I know you’re not going to believe me, but, when you stop eating sugar, you stop craving sugar. Not to mention, everything that I’m usually looking for in the arms of a sugary treat, is never actually there. Like, lasting happiness. Also, in the files of annoying gloating, I’m the only family member to dodge sniffly colds thus far.
Why is our son cutting apples on our table leg?
Also, did I tell you that Col’s not doing shared school this year? (The Durango program in which homeschoolers can go to public school 2 days/week with other homeschoolers). The program is wonderful and they have a new, large and lovely space, but Col seems to resonate with a slower, deeper, more DIY education. So, while Rose is at shared school Tues/Thurs (in which she seems to spend most of her time setting up future playdates), Col has a new program. Dan is usually with Col on Tuesdays (except when he can’t get off work, like yesterday, when I was trying to meet deadlines and Col was chopping apples and distracting me with scintillating questions like, “do you think birthday parties were invented when Jesus was born?”
Col and Mathew spent an hour adhering two pieces of aluminum foil with melted wax from a candle. Their happiness meters were pinging loudly while I was slowly asphyxiating.
Thursdays, Col is with his friend Mathew. Together, they do a lot with duct tape, knives, cardboard and aluminum foil. I can’t even ferret out the learning from life anymore, it’s too intertwined. Like when Rose snagged a pair of toe-pinching sandals from a trash pile, and we got to discuss the historical Chinese practice of foot-binding. All I know is that the mind of a child is a wild and beautiful place, and the more I turn the compasses over to the kids, the more they lead us into the bright sun of their own education.
Old mining equipment = mountain jungle gym.
And Rosie? Rose is the living embodiment of the phrase: if you can walk, you can dance; if you can talk, you can sing. Except it’s more like: if you can walk, you can dance constantly, even at City Market while your mom waits for a pound of salami at the deli; if you can talk, you can jump up on the couch in a wedgie-producing leotard, quieting everyone so you can sing Borderline by Madonna, except you actually sing, “Board walk. No. Wait. How does it go?”
The garden and I are at the “come as you are” phase of our relationship. Nobody’s dressing up or trying to cover their raggely (Rose’s word) cruciferous edges. And yet, there’s some solid food out there: cabbages, carrots, turnips, beets, kale, chard, lettuce. Everything just wants to hold hands in a big pot of soup.
Apparently, Col’s educational compass sometimes leads him right into the bright sun of hobo skills: fire in a can.
Taking hoboing one step further: toasting his sandwich on the coals of a fire.
I have an essay up on Mamalode about how parenting gets less physical and more mental, and how I still don’t know what I’m doing.
From the essay: When Rose cries “it’s not fair” because Col’s hair doesn’t get all tangly or because baby starlings are bigger than their parents, the potential responses scrowl across my mind like an intimidating multiple choice test from high school. And none seem exactly right…or exactly wrong—it’s like I’m in the Zen Koans for Parents class and the correct answer is both: all of the above and none of the above.
Wishing I could share my chicharróns with you all (which, by the way, taste like cookie dough that got reincarnated as a pig),
ps: Was this post even about anything? Goodness, you guys are patient with me. Thanks, as always, for reading.
The kids are more excited about the annual city-wide fall clean up, in which people toss trash-goodies to the curb for the city to dumptruck away, than the actual, breathtaking, changing of the leaves. We drove to the high country last weekend, passing through the rise and fall of an entire season at once: from still green, to every combination of red and yellow as if each tree were decked in tropical parrots, to naked and gone. “It’s fluxing all around,” Dan said, which feels like the truest truth of fall.
Also fluxing all around is my health. I’ll start by saying “I’m OK,” in the same way I prefaced the “Col concussion” phone call to my parents with “Everyone’s OK,” because we humans are nervous enough without having to wait for a long explanation involving words like ladder, fall, and unconscious to hear that ultimately, everything is OK. As opposed to Col who came running in from playing with the neighbors, announcing, “I have some bad news.” Turns out our chickens have been launching themselves into David’s yard, which, after unclenching our nervous systems, Dan and I explained really isn’t bad news.
The Western docs have one diagnosis, the upshot being: there is no known cause or cure to my symptoms (thus, medication forever). My other current medical practitioner, a gorgeous Vietnamese wholistic kinesiologist who falls between totally out there and amazingly, inexplicably right-on believes my body can heal itself. She has determined, through muscle-testing, that the following foods are, for now, part of the problem: grains, fruit, sweeteners, dairy and white potatoes (and anyone who can identify an alcohol made with none of the above gets my undying gratitude).
How has it been? Motherfucking hard as hell. My seasonal compass has lost its bearings. Our peaches have swelled, ripened and been eaten by family and friends, juice pooling on their apologetic chins. Dan will say casually, “let’s go check on that pear tree on West 3rd,” while the house goes silent and a big N/A registers on my face. Our weekly raw milk, from which I make yogurt teeming with probiotics? Off limits.
Some nights, I eat an entirely different meal than my family. Other nights, I have what seems like a dreary knockoff of their meal. They eat thick-crust, cheese-dripping homemade pizza, I eat, er toppings. After one month I’d told myself that the repetitiveness of all the fried eggs, onions and kale I’d been eating isn’t so bad because of the spicy pizzazz of my fermented tomato salsa. Then, Hottie Healer decreed no more nightshades (“don’t shoot the messenger,” she reminds me). At the same time, my entire garden looked like a nightshade factory: potatoes, jalapenos, tomatillos, tomatoes and eggplants, all shining with ripeness.
Having restrictions has made me feel isolated and even a little embarrassed (Paleo? So trendy). Although I’ve long been a “healthy eater,” I’m reassured by the fact that I could find myself hungry at say, the Albuquerque airport, and order any fried hunk of hydrogenated corn-syruped gluten without any ill effects. I’ve always loved Natalie Goldberg’s advice to writers to take what is offered to you and taste the story of it, whether it’s a steak, a brownie or an old shoe. Now, I have to decline old shoes made of grain.
Still, I’ve been freezing eggplant dip and roasted green chiles; I’ve been canning tomatoes, tomatillo salsa, and pear sauce; I’ve been boxing up apples for the root cellar, all somewhat robotically, because this is what I do in fall. My aunt-in-law, the wonderful Barb Platt, once sent me an article postulating that seasonal depression is due to us “advanced” humans no longer spending autumn in a frenzy of food preservation, filling our larders with the literal fruits of our labors, once translating to nothing less than survival. I’ve felt that sense of buoyant security, that sense of meaning, of satisfying some molecular itch, going into winter with the pantry stocked. And yet, much of what I’ve labored over this fall is currently “part of the problem.” Talk about seasonal depression and confusion. Also, through all these changes, my symptoms raged on.
At my most optimistic, I’ve enjoyed what I can eat. My taste buds have reincarnated; I swoon over the caramely sweetness of roasted onions. My appreciation of animal flesh is near holy. There are a lot more vegetables on our table than ever before, and tonight I marveled at my kids enthusiasm over dessert of unsweetened applesauce. I make a lot of soups, in which meat, onion and garlic are the flavor base, and then every vegetable that gets through Hottie Healer Security goes into the pot. I travel with an avocado and spoon in my purse. Two cans of coconut milk, weekly. I bought some James Ranch pork fat to render into lard, and came home yesterday with ten pounds of local grassfed beef bones my friend Melanie gave me, all aflutter over the gut-healing properties of gelatin. I’m not casual about eating: we found the last forgotten package of elk sausage in the freezer and I hugged it.
There is no longer anything to binge or numb feelings on, which is disconcerting and also illuminating. I’ve dropped a size, despite eating loads of healthy fats, leading me to believe it’s sugar and carbs which stick to our ribs and thighs and bellies. It’s possible that I’ve become a bit of a pain in the ass to live with, like last night when I quietly returned a bottle of ketchup to the fridge after it appeared at the table like a beacon of tomato-flavored sugar. And I don’t want to be a militant zealot, body-blocking the neighbors’ cheddar bunnies, but I’m also the tiniest bit dismayed about the machine of American food production, and what’s marketed to kids, to all of us.
Also, I am wildly happy to report that after 40 days on this diet, my symptoms are receding. My decade-long symptoms. Receding. I’m so wildly happy about this, I’m like a postpartum mother, so awed with tiny miracles that I’ve already forgotten the month of protracted and wrenching labor. My belief is that, despite the fact that I’ve never had digestion problems, my gut has been compromised by grains and sugar. There’s loads of evidence to support this, so I won’t recount it here. I also believe that eventually I’ll be able to bring some of the exiled foods back into my diet with no problems. But, I’m not worried about that now. Right now I feel like the sun is rising on something new and beautiful.
*Huge gratitude to Phuong, whose crazy skills I bow down to.
*And gratitude to my friends who’ve supported my darkest moments, and to my parents, who are visiting for TWO MONTHS and are brave enough to cook for me and act like it’s no biggie.
It’s possible that I’ve lost track of Col just a little this summer. I’m wanting to take him to the Triangle park to test drive the new play equipment and he’s wanting to stay home, build fires, and practice knife skills. It’s like The Ghost of Col Future is here to show me a few things. At 8 1/2, he’s precisely in the middle of the long dock of his own childhood, craning his neck eagerly to see what lies ahead. He struts down the dock, trying out: “why should I?”or “I don’t want to” like he’s been coached by the Childhood Alliance on Questioning Authority (of which I was chapter president in Berkeley, circa 1984-1990).
Col’s current appetite for time with friends is like a vitamin he’s deficient in. He carries a knife, and became instant hero at a recent birthday party, brandishing it to separate two conjoined legos. He does heartclenching bike tricks, covets lighters and announces after breakfast, “I’m going in Dragon Room for twenty minutes alone time,” shooting eye daggers at the possibility of Rose interrupting him. He soars down hills on the longboard some former tenant left here and I’m like one of those Russian nesting dolls: if you remove the outside, terrified shell of me, the next layer is like, “wow, that kid has some killer balance.”
And, though I’m more equipped for discussing children’s literature on the couch (we just read and loved this book), or administering lessons in canning tomatoes, I supervise while Col shoots his BB gun at the skunk in our chicken coop, or builds chokingly smoky fires in our fire pit. When Col comes to the garden with his knife, asking what he can cut down, I show him to the withered squash vines and try not to hover. The floodgates of boyhood are open. There is no turning back.
And really, all I want is to stay close and connected to my son. Whether Col becomes one of those boys who haunts the local skatepark with ear buds plugging up his head, or another unimaginable testosterone-inspired incarnation of his current self, my job is to furnish love, support and helmets. And yet, “love and support” is an arrow stalking the moving target of a child growing up. Sometimes I wish it worked more like the high school biology “lock and key” model of neurotransmitters clicking precisely and statically into ready receptor sites (or my Mama hug clicking precisely and statically into a child’s sadness…bing!). But there is nothing static about growing up.
And yet, The Ghost of Col Past is always—thankfully—lurking in the shadows. If you’re looking for Col between the hours of 6am and 7am, try between the sleepy bolsters of his parents. This morning he snuffled in and I opened the door of our comforter for him to scoot under, and he said, “thanks for getting right on it, Mama, and not complaining that it’s too early.”
Evolutionarily-speaking, it all makes sense. Kids have to grow up, gain skills, annoy us some, separate. Bedding down with us every morning at 18 years old would be more weird than cute. And surely, it’s the same genetic coding that allows for (semi) uninterrupted morning coffee and newspaper time that also brings an appetite for skateboarding and knife-skills. Something’s lost and something’s gained. It’s the math equation of growing up.
This is the skunk who lives under our chicken coop, with whom we have an agreement: chickens get the daylight hours, skunk can prowl the long night. Until, all bets were off and Skunky spent yesterday morning, full daylight, in the coop. She was sort of bumbling and goofy and unphased by the apples and then BB’s we launched at her. Col finally got her out after three hours of focused work. She’s kind of cool, but we’re trying not to like her too much.
Links and News and Sponsor Gratitude:
*I love how Natalie breaks down the real dope on homeschooling in this post. We parents are programmed to worry, and yet really seeing your child in the absence of societal comparisons can melt all that anxiety away.
*Natalie and her partner Nathan’s business Feeleez – Toys for Emotional Intelligence is a 6512 sponsor and they are offering another round of their e-course Parenting On The Same Team. As a former participant, I personally guarantee that taking this e-course will improve your understanding of why your child pushes your buttons, and how to respond effectively and peacefully. Yup, personal guarantee. Info and sign up here.
*Catherine Newman being hilarious and truthy in In Praise of Synthetic Vaginas
*This year the parents in Col and Rose’s homeschool co-ops are working together to produce a story-based interactive Halloween play on Halloween night. We got the script free from Sparkle Stories here. There will be costumes and treats and a fairy ball and maybe no one will actually notice we’re not on the streets pandering for suspect candy.
*Namaste Health Center (which includes the doctor behind my new fun healing diet) is a full service health clinic and longtime sponsor of 6512. Here you’ll find a holistic MD, naturopaths, acupuncturists, massage therapists, kinesiologists, nutritionists, all of whom have large tool bags of alternative (or, you know, what used to be standard back in the day) medicine for the whole family.
Julia Fisher (doctor of chinese medicine) and Jess Kelley (master nutrition therapist) are leading four Family Wellness Workshops, including:
1) Preconception and Pregnancy: Strategies for Enhancing Fertility and Conception.
2) Toddler: Sugar and Kids – what you need to know.
3) Infant: Babies first foods, what to introduce and when (hint: it’s not rice cereal)
4) Teenager: Hormones and Young Women – balance weight, clear skin, and monthly cycles.
For more details on classes, including prices and dates, go here. Also Julia and Jess are offering $5 off on each class for readers of 6512.
That’s all folks. Check in tomorrow for a new post.
Despite the good intentions in the artwork, there will be no elk for us this bow season.
Col’s picture is an aerial view of hunting success complete with (holy moly) blood, while Rose’s must be the “before” view, when all the forest creatures are smiling and playing dress up in purple.
Dan worked so hard under crazy challenging circumstances, namely hunting with a primitive bow he made himself. To even take a shot, he’s got to be within 15 yards of the animal, and then the shot must line up perfectly with its tidy little package of vitals. It’s so different than rifle hunting (for which he has a deer tag), in which you can take a shot from (no fooling) 300 yards, miss the vitals but still wound the animal enough to track it down and put a final killing bullet in it.
Dan spent yesterday unpacking his hunting gear, issuing forth sports analogies to explain the sense of failure he feels.
A basketball team makes it to the playoffs after working toward that goal all year. They win three out of six games. It’s the 7th game, last quarter, last minute, they’re close close close. There’s the crucial shot. The shot everything rests on. They blow it. It’s over.
Dan got close close close so many times. Close enough to see the frosty steam of a bull elk’s early morning exhale, 5-yards away close another time until the bull turned lightning quick, charging away with his vitals tucked safely away. And despite all the deep spiritual lessons available in failure, like the opportunity to re-commit to your work despite not achieving success; or getting to re-evaluate the definition of “success” (is it winning, or simply showing up?); or letting the taste of failure mingle with every other truthy flavor in the soup pot of your life, sometimes you don’t want deep spiritual lessons, you just want a green chile elk burger.
Inspecting the peaches from the tree that came up in our compost. The compost! Tree is behind Dan in this photo. Nutso!
Also, we got a hard frost last week. The kind that had me scurrying around the garden with urgency, plucking all the green beans, tomatillos, tomatoes, winter squash, basil and jalapenos.
As much as I would have wished for just another week of sun to paint more red on those tomatoes, or deepen the yellow in the spaghetti squash, ultimately I appreciate the energy (Californially-speaking) in the turn of seasons. I like how my small preferences (long days! all the tomatoes ripening! Sundays at the river!) are like whispers lost on the winds of planetary truth. It’s reassuring to know there’s something bigger than me saying “I hear your preferences, now can we talk about planetary tilt and the earth’s orbit?” Because, though it sometimes seems like what we want out of life is elk burgers and ripe tomatoes, even more, I’d like to acquire the taste for acceptance.
Chickens have been granted supervised access in the garden.
In other news, Rose’s very loose tooth became the focus of a fun game of dentist. Seneca donned plastic bag gloves while Col shined a flashlight in the patient’s mouth. I snapped a goofy picture, certain that Rose wouldn’t actually let anyone pull her tooth out. I was wrong. She’s a little worried that the tooth fairy (who is a bit of a slacker around here) keeps forgetting her tooth because it wasn’t scheduled to come out this early. Sounds plausible.
p.s. I’m still looking for a few more locals to interview for an article I’m writing on organ meat. Cow, goat, fowl, wild game…kidneys, liver, tongue, heart, brains…old school, new school.
This post has nothing to do with the new neighbors:
Nor the fact that two nights ago our garden got spanked by hail and then frozen by frost:
Look at me, I’m in tatters, yeah, I’ve been battered. Splattered all over Durango. To live in this town you must be tough, tough, tough, tough, tough! (Name this song for extra credit)
From the pre hail/frost/concussion halcyon days (Dan’s brother, Cory, helping out with the tomato harvest):
This post is not even about how we’ve had 3X as much rain as usual this September, which makes our sploshy-full rain collecting barrels about as superfluous as a shaving razor in our bathroom. Nor is this post about how Dan left today for bow hunting, again, just as Col announced, feverishly, “I have a little asthma in my throat,” and Rose begged to sleep in the living room, under a chair (and did). Nor is this post about how I’m on day 25 of not eating sugar, grains, dairy nor alcohol, which is a little like breaking up with America.
This post is really about chocolate milkshakes. Specifically, the kind of chocolate milkshakes you can offer your kids like you’ve suddenly become the mom they dream about, like my friend Tara who makes meals based on what her kids actually like, rather than, say, the five eggplant refugees just shuttled into the safe-house of our fridge, while frost sneaks around outside. (My kids have actually told me, sheepishly: “We wish that you were still our mom but that you cooked like Tara.”)
Last spring, when I interviewed Dove Creek dryland bean farmers for an article, Mike Coffey, 3rd generation bean farmer sent me home with a box full of various homegrown beans. Intrigued, I held up the bag of “Mortgage Lifters,” white beans as big and fat as a toddler’s thumb.
“Oh, those Mortgage Lifters? Ya either love ‘em or ya hate ‘em,” Coffey explained.
(We loved ‘em).
Which is to say, it’s a good thing bean farmers don’t do their own marketing, but, in the name of transparency, I will say that I like these for the usual reasons: quick, easy, healthy, sugar-free, protein-rich, yummy. And while the kids and I put these chocolate milkshakes in the “insanely delicious” category (and their similarly eggplant-fed friends have also loved them), there are several of Col and Rose’s friends who remain suspiciously and politely un-hungry for the hours they’re visiting, and will not be trying these milkshakes. We think they’re sweet and creamy and rich, but I’m curious what you think. Report back?
Pretty innocuous, right?
Ingredients: (makes approx 3 cups)
2 whole bananas, peeled, frozen and cut into chunks (you can use fresh bananas, but the frozen ones give it a real milkshakey mouth-feel)
2 cups plain yogurt or coconut milk
3 TBSP unsweetened cocoa powder
3 TBSP peanut butter (almond butter excellent too)
Blend and serve! I use a food processor rather than blender, and I’m not sure if a blender can handle frozen bananas. If you don’t have a food processor, try either semi-thawed bananas or fresh bananas.
The Doctor Is In (unfortunately, the doctor sometimes pinches her patients).
Thank you for all your messages of empathy and support. Col is healing up well. We’ve had the most peaceful week following his accident. Col’s been temporarily forbidden to participate in any actvity that could cause further head trauma because of the teeny tiny issue of subsequent whacks to the head while healing from consussions causing the brain to swell in an instantly fatal fashion. (So, no bike-riding, sports, trampolines, wrestling, walking without ones mother shielding ones body from errant flying objects).
The docs also put the kibosh on any school work that requires deep concentration, while prescribing simple carbs for brain food. Which is to say, Col’s been hanging out on the couch eating buttered bagels while I read him Ben Franklin’s biography (who incidentally only had two years of schooling between the ages of 10 and 12 before becoming a world-renowned writer, inventor and peace-treatying statesman).
One comment from my last post, from my wise internet-sister Lacey Jean, flew express delivery right to my heart. “These children we are guardians of are a gift. A treasure. Each day, each hug is a present. These people we share life with, our partners and spouses, they are also a gift. Life is a gift. It is not something we get to own or have a right to.”
I’ve been thinking about this as I rub arnica oil over Col’s eight gnarly head-stitches, as my children climb into my bed at too early thirty every morning. These children we are guardians of are a gift. This is the truthiest prayer-poem of parenting I know.
This is not to say that we’re supposed to enjoy every moment - that is a farce devised by well-meaning grandmotherly types who simply don’t remember what it’s like to watch your child enact the play Sisyphean Jewelry Making, in which your daughter threads miniscule beads onto a nearly invisible wire only to have the entire string of beads crash to the ground just before it’s finished, every single time.
But to remember that we are guardians of gifts? That is like stepping on the true Wheel of Fortune, in which each turn increases the only real wealth we’ll ever have. It’s the old physics equation: cherishing others → gratitude → generosity →happiness → cherishing others. Cherishing others pries that crazy heart muscle open because to love others (as) unconditionally (as possible) is our gift. It’s like my neighbor Frankie says, gratefully, when he’s got no less than 3 of his grandchildren ransacking his house, “I get them every afternoon!” When my heart is open, all the slights and slings of the world have a little more space to land, perhaps even getting lost underneath the way my kids have been saying lately, “if it’s not a hassle, Mama, could you get me an apple with peanut butter?”
The fact that life is not something we get to own or have a right to is tops on my To Remember Daily list. When I keep this information close, like a note in my back pocket, it helps me remember that most of my problems are what real problems eat for breakfast. Because even as my children are entering the Olympic Pushing The Envelope competition, or leaving the day’s ten costume changes on the floor like a trail of bread crumbs in case they ever lose their way back to the dress-up box, or are squabbling mightily over whether today is actually September 20th as they did this morning, this is the small stuff.
What rises like cream to the top of every day is the luckiness of this life. And now these two great gifts are asking me to make breakfast if it’s not too much of a hassle.
Have the lovliest of weekends,
It’s the sun’s last curtain call. The sky is pinking up. Rose sits on our swing, munching an 8-inch green bean. Chickens swirl like water around her feet, flowing into their coop for bedtime. Col is on the second story of the unfinished playhouse, finishing up another round of “the apple game,” with his cousin Peter (visiting from Alaska), in which apples are launched back and forth from the ground to the playhouse (accessible by ladder). I am yanking weeds through layers of rain-wet soil. We are about to head inside for vanilla ice cream and pear sauce.
“Col?” We call out. “Col?”
Cory, Dan’s brother, rushes to the playhouse. He shouts “Col!” as if he’s found Col doing something surprising and awful.
Col is brought to my arms. His breathing is labored, as if the air is thick and viscous. Col’s eyes are unfocused and his body is limp. He is unresponsive. He is somewhere else. I am cradling him, kneeling on the ground, staring into his blank face begging him to keep breathing. His head rolls back. Ladder. Crash. No. Cory calls 911 while my brain screams not this, not now, not like this. Come back, baby. Come back.
“Col, keep breathing. I need you to keep breathing.”
Dan comes outside and reaches for Col, laying the limpness of his son over his shoulder. We see the back of Col’s head for the first time: matted with sticky bright red blood. Dan’s eyes are wild animal terror. My heart is a metronome cranked to its highest setting. We follow Dan to the front yard to wait for the ambulance.
Dan cradles Col’s head. Blood seeps into Dan’s light blue shirt. “I’ve got you, baby. I love you. Your daddy’s here.” My heart is clenched like a fist. Col twitches. His eyes blink and squint. Five pairs of eyes are lasered on him. “What happened?” Col asks. He is back.
Two ambulances arrive. Col is able to tell a paramedic—huge and uniformed like a super hero—his name, his address. “How long was he unconscious?” Oh, that’s the word for it. Unconscious. My son was unconscious.
The paramedics bandage Col’s head. Cory runs upstairs for shoes and a wallet. Neighbors come out of their houses. Col is loaded onto a gurney.
Rose asks, “Is he going to be okay?”
“Yes,” I answer, climbing into the back of the ambulance.
From here, we drop into the system like a ping pong ball. The paramedics squeeze Col into a stabilizing full body suit; they call ER to prepare for our arrival; they wrap an 02 pulse oximeter around his toe. I can’t help but notice that this boy who couldn’t breathe without supplemental oxygen at our altitude until he was 2 1/2, is satting 99% at 6512 feet. Holy preemie miracle.
The ambulance barrels into the night. Relief and gratitude begin easing out the fear. I am left with the knowing that there is nothing more important than our lives. Not my ambitions, nor any amount of money that ever has been or will be in my possession, not our beloved homestead. It is this same love that would do anything for these children—this selfless love that pushes them into the sun while I can be content in the shadows—that is the vulnerable skin of parenthood. How are we supposed to do this? To love these flesh and blood people? I’d like to order the teflon-model kid, because I cannot under any circumstances lose a child.
Col has eight new stitches, cinching up the 3-inch gash to his head, and a concussion. He is nothing but lucky. In typical undramatic Col fashion, he lies quietly on the non-injured side of his head, answering “pretty good,” to our every-20 minute inquiries on how he’s feeling. If I pry, he’ll admit that his head hurts, “a little.” We’re all just so giddily grateful to see him, we fall over ourselves bringing him books and food and kisses.
He’s slowly piecing things together. “There was a yellow bar in the ambulance,” he remembers. “Was that for extra family members to hold onto?” And, “It’s strange how we were all at the hot springs having such a good day, and then later I fell,” he muses, spying the tip of the Things Can Change Irrevocably in an Instant iceberg. He now knows the word “unconscious,” and “concussion,” and that he is one incredibly lucky boy.