learning a place

hi.  it’s been a while.  that’s how it usually goes around here.  I will be sort of on track with life for a bit but then something will happen or I just get behind (on sleep or housework or something) and then I will be sort of absentee on this blog for a while.  or sometimes I write a blog post that leaves me feeling blah, sort of disenchanted with my life with the kids or myself as a writer then I get all pissed off and stop speaking with myself for a while.  or sometimes I start feeling like a big sham over here typing about my kids and myself as a parent but actually having no freaking clue what the freak I’m even doing.  then I feel like I just need to shut the crap up for a while.  but usually I find my way back when things simmer down a bit and if I find myself with a few minutes of free time in the morning when the kids are miraculously sleeping in for a spell (almost never happens).

even though it’s been so hard to leave our old house the truth is that it didn’t really start feeling like mine until very recently.  I fell in love with it the same way I fell in love with my spouse (perhaps the only way this hardened heart ever can love anything or anyone).  which is to say very slowly while simultaneously pushing it away and telling it I didn’t like it or need it.  there were many years when I told myself I hated that house.  I could only see it’s flaws: everything about it that I wanted to change or that wasn’t right.  it’s ironic now, looking back, that I fell so deeply in love with it pretty much right before we had to leave it.  this is what heartache feels like.

it’s been nearly three months since we moved and sometimes I still close my eyes and pretend I’m back in my old house, in my old living room, in my old life.  pathetic, I know.  but it’s hard when you’re somewhere that feels totally foreign and cold.  however, time is the great healer, after all, and eventually erases everything, every trace of hurt and every bit of us (so that’s comforting:).  I’ve finally begun, bit by bit, to open my heart (in that guarded way I have) to our new place, the same way I inched my way into loving our first house.  it’s called “learning a place”.  and it’s a labor of love.

it’s learning what’s causing that mildewy smell from under the sink that smells like our old camp Dearborn trailer from the 1950s: a leaky pipe that spills a pool of scuz onto the laminated cabinet bottom and just sits there getting browner until you sop it up.  it’s fighting a war with these goddamn vertical blinds until several are knocked off and torn and your whole window looks like a smile with missing teeth until you finally just agree to disagree and can finally live in splotchily-lighted peace.  it’s learning where to put your wet and muddy shoes (which around here, there’s just no stinkin shortage of) to dry (up on top of the window right beneath the ceiling which is where the only heat vent is located).  it’s figuring where to put your stuff, constantly reshuffling furniture and tables and lamps until one day you turn around and everything has just sort of settled and sunken into the carpeting as though affirming their identity once and for all and seeming from then on to be fixed structures, the landscape your life will now unfold against.  it’s resisting filling up that blank wall space you have to stare at while doing dishes (50 times a day) because “this is only temporary” until you finally can’t take it any more and hack up a bunch of magazine pictures to tape up in a colorful collage of cacophony (aka my style).  it’s sweeping the floor over and over and over until you learn just the right broom strokes to reach all the crumbs from under the cabinet lips, scrubbing the fallen food bits and dog prints from the tiles until they shine and seem to say “thanks, I needed that”.

caring for a place.  leaving your mark on it.  resolving and accepting your differences of opinion.  coming to know it, day in and day out.  getting on its nerves, it getting on yours.  yelling at it.  apologizing.  this is getting to know a place.  and this is the way love grows.  through labor.

birthday marathon

Yes.  I’m going to piss and moan about how hard it is to have children with birthdays one day apart.  I mean, sure, it sounds kind of cool and almost planned the rest of the year.  Then the actual days roll around.  And things get all crazy.  It would have been better if they had been born on the same day because then at least we could combine their celebrations.  Or if they had at least like a single day in between so we could rest and catch our breath.  But no.  Every year it’s like a freakin’ birthday marathon.  You hit the wall and have to find the strength to keep going (need some Gatorade up in this house…some electrolyte replenishment).  I tell Greg that it’s like Christmas Eve and Christmas day.  (Not to mention that Mother’s Day is usually a wash because we’re so focused on the kids at this time of year.  Just more fodder to fill my self-pity canon with.  Commence pissing and moaning.)

I try and keep things simple but even so, it seems like people, both the kids and myself, usually end up having numerous breakdowns and fits due to the added pressure of the days and by the time it’s all over, we are very grateful to have an entire year ahead before we have to deal with it all again.  Case in point: Ruth said on her birthday night, after staying up late to take her “birthday picture” at her birth time with our special clock, that she was so glad that the next day was no one’s birthday.  I thought kids were supposed to wish their birthdays were every stinkin’ day of the year??  Meh.

Despite the fact that these days are often a whirlwind of emotion and activity, their birthdays are very special to me and I kind of see them as a really sacred personal holiday for myself.  I always try to steal a few moments to myself to think back on those days.  I can recount the last days of each of my kids pregnancies, their births, and their first months of life very vividly.  They are very poignant and detailed sensory memories for me.  Each child has awakened a new understanding, a new part of me as a person and each time, I am profoundly transformed.

Years before I ever had children, I feel like I knew I would have a daughter and that I would name her after my grandmother.  Before Ruth was born, I was literally emotionally constipated and full of hatred.  From this perspective looking back, I seem like an immature and naïve child in so many ways, a shell of a person.  Her birth was surprising in it’s intensity and the sheer physicality of it.  From the moment she was born, I felt lightened and elated.  In many ways my heart woke up or grew or broke out of a stone casing when she was born.

It seemed like we wanted Joel for so long and were so overjoyed when I found out I was pregnant.   I felt so connected with him all through the pregnancy and Greg and I have both said that we could feel his personality long before he was born.  His birth was on a beautiful sunny day, the brightness of the sun is probably the most prominent memory from that day.  His birth was quick and probably the most empowering physical experience I have ever had.  But when I looked on his face for the first time, my heart broke.  He just seemed so vulnerable.  I have had a strong urge to protect him since he was born.  He brought pure joy into our lives and our family.

Miles seemed to surprise us and will his way into this life.  His pregnancy was easy and uneventful and just seemed natural.  I had a hard time connecting with him at all during the pregnancy, though, and as a baby, he was just incredibly mild.  It’s been so hard to figure him out and to this day he seems to me otherworldly.  He feels like someone that we don’t have any claim on.  Someone that we will all just watch on his journey.  His birth was understated and straight forward but I felt awestruck by his physical beauty when he was born.  Miles just is.

And here I sit trying to type this, surrounded by chaos and noise and three beings that are constantly around, feeling emotions and getting hurt and exploring their world and bouncing off each other and me and it feels all at once completely overwhelming and so sacred and blessed and happy.  I am baffled by all of this.


a bunny blunder

Well, I haven’t blundered yet.  But I fear I’m about to (someone slap some sense into me).  You see, my daughter wants a bunny.  Though I’m well aware of the fickleness of youth, I just might buy her one.  It’s all in the name of desperation!  (Oh, the things one does to fit in to a new place).

You see, I was never in 4H.  I…was a girlscout.  I know, I know.  We got patches for things like going to see ‘Barbie on Ice’ and I recently read on the side of one of those boxes of girlscout cookies (it wasn’t mine, I swear) that selling cookies teaches the girls “business ethics”.  “Business ethics”?  Really?  “Business ethics“??  Please tell me what’s ethical about sending little girls out tramping through neighborhoods and local businesses to push over-priced, heavily processed cookies that are probably made in factories by underpaid and overworked minorities?  Sorry.  I’ll calm down now (“business ethics“!!????).  No, I’m good, I’m good.

Anyways, if I could go back into my own childhood and be my own mother, I would have signed me up for 4 H instead.  However, I clearly don’t have a time machine.  Nor do I have the power to give birth to myself.  I did however give birth to my actual daughter in present day time and look at that!  She’s the perfect age to sign up for 4 H.  The place we live is rife with 4 H clubs.  We need new friends.  The timing seems perfect.  There’s just one problem.

My daughter is not me (weird, right?)  Would you know?  She says she doesn’t want to be in 4 H (I know!  Even though I need new friends and also pretty desperately need her to be involved in something outside the home.  How inconsiderate of her.  What is she?  Six or something??:).  However, I was able to peak her interest when I mentioned the bunny club.

I didn’t know this but you can actually show bunnies at fairs (!!).  Who knew?  So, enticed by the idea of being around a bunch of huggable fluffy bunnies for the evening, I was able to talk her into attending a bunny club meeting with me (ok, it’s actually called “rabbits and cavies” and cavies are pigs and guinea pigs I guess.  You can show those too apparently).

The people were nice.  And the bunnies were cute.  And it seemed like a cool club to be in (too bad they don’t have a 4 H for adults, right? :))  Ruth was not as impressed.  She did like the bunnies, though.  And…she says she wants one.

“I don’t even know what to do with a rabbit, though,” I said but feeling myself ready to jump at the chance to join this freakin’ club and buy her a damn rabbit.  “I don’t think we could keep it in the apartment.”  Which is not a lame parent excuse.  I really don’t think we could even if it’s not against the apartment rules and regulations.  We already have a cat and dog up in this place (not to mention the goldfish we still need to bring that are sitting in their tank back in the basement of our old house (don’t worry.  My in-laws are on fish food patrol and visit with them so they don’t get lonely every few days)).

However, we should be moving into a house soon.  Then we can be as loud and obnoxious and have as many messy pets as we damn well like.  So…maybe this 4 H club thing will work out after all.

God, I’m a good parent (not).

the eternal baby

“I feel things shifting with Miles,” I said to Greg the other evening as we stood a ways off and watched them play on the apartment swing set.  Ruth and Joel were pushing each other on the swings laughing wildly while Miles pushed one of the empty baby swings.  Greg looked over at Miles who, now nearing two, is looking much the master of his own destiny these days and guessed, “Ah, he is getting difficult isn’t he?” This is one of the games we play as an old married couple.  One of us makes an obscure comment and the other tries to guess what in blazes the first one is talking about.  Family culture, what can I say?  We’re weird.  “Yes!”  I said with gusto, “But no.  That’s not what I mean.”  Greg pondered another minute then ventured, “His personality…it’s emerging.  He’s really coming into his own personality.”  I looked at Miles who, unlike the other two, is often content to play alone and who about I still get the sense that he somehow lives between worlds.  “That too, ” I said, “But no.  What I mean is….”

This is always such an issue.  Trying to explain extremely abstract notions and ideas in regards to the kids.  In some ways, trying to nail them down into concrete language is so much like trying to hold running water.  It just slips right through your fingers, always changing.  As their mother, I probably see them more clearly than anyone ever could yet trying to decipher the things I’m seeing and feeling, even to Greg sometimes, can be nearly impossible.  But still, I try…

“It’s like, up until recently, Miles was just Miles.  He was just there.  Now all of a sudden things are shifting.  Suddenly I feel myself becoming more motherly toward him.”  Motherly?  No, that wasn’t the right word.  Greg nodded like he was getting it but that just made me slightly infuriated because I felt like I wasn’t even close to saying what I meant.  “No!” I said, “It’s like suddenly, he’s not just a baby.  He’s THE baby.  He’s taking his place as the baby of the family.  I dunno why.  It’s like, with each of the other ones, they had their time as the baby but then there came another baby and their spot was usurped.  But with Miles….” I looked over at him again to try and capture the feeling, “With Miles, there IS no other baby.  And so, maybe all of that nurturing and snuggliness that I would put toward another baby is instead just going back into him.”

There.  That seemed to capture it a bit.  Greg said, “Ah,” and nodded in that way that I’ve come to depend on to know that at least someone gets me in my life.  Thank god for that head nod.  It saves my life some days, swear to god.

“I get it,” I said.  “I see it.  I see why the first born is the way they are.  I see why the middle child is the middle child.  And I finally SEE.  I see the baby.  I see how the baby becomes THE baby of the family.  I mean, LOOK at him!”  Just then he pushed the swing too hard and it came back and bonked him in the head and both Joel and Ruth rushed over to see if he was alright, saying things like, “Miles, what happened?  Did you bonk your head?  Are you ok?”

This is something I’d been noticing more and more too.  Not only was I in tune with stronger feelings of protection and affection for Miles within me but I had also noted that both Ruth and Joel had begun taking great joy in treating Miles with similar kid gloves.  That’s when it hit me.  He’s not just my baby.  He’s our baby.

“I get it, Greg.  I get why the baby of the family turns out like they do.  Do you know what I mean?  He’s the baby.  He’ll always be the baby.  He’s going to be the baby when he’s freakin’ 35 and balding.”

We both gazed over towards him, long uncut two-year-old hair flowing, goofy grin in place, and smiled at the thought of Miles as a 35 year old man with a beer gut and a comb over.  Our eternal baby.

battling self hatred

Like any of an oppressed group of people, I have a certain brand of lifelong struggle with self hatred.  Sure, the culture I live in tells me that many things about me are loathsome, being a woman.  I could remain at a surface level and assume that it must be something about me in particular that leads me back to these feelings from time to time, a personal problem.  And I think I did throughout much of my twenties which caused me much confusion and unhappiness.  After all, it’s only the truth, however ugly and hard to face, that sets us free.  It’s not until recently that I realized that my problem isn’t unique.  In fact, it’s probably something that every woman in most cultures of the world have to face in some form or another.

My self hatred is the kind that’s always lurking and that I’m always working to keep at bay.  I do this in many ways.  I cope in my own way.  One thing I do is put myself in the constant service of others.  From a young age, girls are told that they need to put others first.  Basically, they themselves are not worth much and their lives will only be validated when they put others (children or a husband/partner) first.

I also cope by placing myself above other women.  I talk with myself and say that I’m better, on a more righteous path, than other women because of x, y and z.  The need to inflate an ego is of course derived from insecurity.  This is probably best illustrated by the “mommy wars” but I think is present in all women, at all ages and walks of life towards each other.  In a way, you could say that not only has the patriarchal society we live in gifted us each this lifelong self hatred but also distracted us from our own oppression by putting us at war with each other.  All of our energies then go to petty competition and, in short, destroying each other (this explains why women seem to be more likely to give dirty looks to other women that breastfeed in public than men.  Just an example).

Wow.  I’m glad I got that out.  I started writing this post about how we’ve been sick lately and look what happened instead.  This is heavy stuff and very important to put out there because understanding the culture we are born into and how it shapes our ideas about ourselves is an important first step towards breaking free.

What I really started to say is that we’ve been sick lately and that it led me down that well worn path to self hatred because I was feeling so bad yesterday, like such hell warmed over, that I let the kids watch videos all day long.  And I mean all.  Day.  Long.  And I didn’t do the dishes.  And I couldn’t muster up the energy to even clean the living room.  Forget about taking back the recycling.  Or meeting Greg up at the garden plot.  Or even cooking much.  And then the self hatred, that old familiar, started to rear its ugly head and look at me with taunting eyes.

But at least I am in my thirties now.  I have long since left any sort of school system.  I have taken my continuing education into my own hands.  You could say I’m unschooling myself.  And I have been reading things.  I can finally identify the subtle roots of this self-loathing that has interwoven itself through my life and so at least I have hope.  Hope to challenge what my life can be about.  Hope to pass on to my daughter and sons.  And anger and outrage (lots of that).  Rebelliousness and perspective and more anger.  And questioning.  Always questioning.  And discontent.  Unfortunately, with all of this I will also pass on a lot of discontent.  That may be the greatest trade off.  An examined life is one in which the floor from under your feet seems to be constantly shrinking and disappearing.  It’s an unsettling feeling to be sure.  Sometimes I do envy those that are able to sail through life blissfully ignorant.  Yet I also view them with varying degrees of pity and contempt.

But perhaps there is something greater out there to fall back on underneath all the bullshit.  Perhaps under all of these levels, there is a solid frame of oak, something real and substantial.  Something we can stand on with confidence.  Perhaps nothing manmade.  Perhaps the very earth itself.

Once we tear away all of the cultural veils, is there anything left for us to cling to?  Once everything has been deconstructed, how can we start to build up a real life of meaning?  I don’t have the answers.  But I will sit with these thoughts and questions and keep letting go of the ground I’ve been treading upon, scary and uncomfortable as it is.

Won’t you join me?

Patriarche Park Review

This seems to be the biggest and most popular park around, though it took me a couple tries to find it.  That is less a product of it being in a hidden or hard to get to place (it’s actually right off of one of the busiest and main roads around) and more of me being incompetent with my phone (I’m my phone’s bitch) and maps in general.

It was another gray, cold and wet day and we were again desperate to get out of the apartment.  We took back our recycling to the recycling center (one of the things we’ve found to incorporate into our weekly routine.  Bonus: the kids think it’s super fun) and when we hopped back into the car I noticed some drops on our windshield and suggested perhaps today wasn’t the day for the park after all and that maybe we could go to the library instead (though that tends to make me incredibly nervous and I am always anticipating a speedy retreat any time I set foot in there).

Uncharacteristically, though, the kids were incredibly non-loud and there was even no screaming or fighting.  In fact, I’m always wowed when this happens, but my kids actually looked for a short time to outsiders like the perfect little homeschooled kids that I always envision in my wildest fantasies they will become and that I often envy in other families that I idolize.  (No one at the library that day need to know about the true state of things in my family and home).  Call me a phony but I ate it up.

I was in such high spirits that even though it was still coldish and wet when we left the library, though it had stopped raining, that I decided to take them to the park after all.  I dunno if it was the warmer-ish (than freezing) weather, the cool updated play equipment or the fact that we were all in good moods that made them super excited to play at this park.  This was in stark contrast to Shaw park that we had been to a few days earlier.  You just can never tell how a day is going to shake out.

The park had some older play equipment in one corner that we never got over to explore and some clearly recently updated stuff that I’m sure local newspapers have been raving over.  I can tell because it had loads of ergonomic and nature-based themes going on and I’ve been to enough parks that I know what’s hot.  Playground-makers are clearly on the right track as my kids loved this park and never stopped running, yelling and laughing the entire hour we were there.

There was even a nice muddy hill nearby that led down into a rain garden that had a nice interpretive sign nearby (Miles loved stomping in the mud).  So, that’ll be pretty sweet to watch change as the weather gets warmer.  Plus, very progressive of them which appeals to me and makes me feel like I’m living in a cool, hip city which is perfect because I’m a cool, hip person (not).  There were some stacked picnic tables, a path and some baseball diamonds, I think.  Not to mention the piece de resistance of parkdom: this place had a bathroom.  With real plumbing. Though I guess it’s technically still the off season so we had to use the port-a-potty they had set up outside the bathroom for now.  Still…a park with a bathroom is a park you can spend the entire day at, which I have been known to do from time to time.

As far as potential friends, there was one other large family there, or one family with kids and the kids friends as it seemed like there were an awful lot of them and they didn’t all look alike (and they got along too well to all be siblings).  In true bumpkin fashion, as I’ve said before that my kids are infamous for, and though it was in the lower fifties, Ruth and Joel both took their shoes off and started running and climbing barefoot.  The kids (who looked a little older than Ruth) who were on the swings saw this and began to copy, when their dad or whatever responsible adult was with them, hurried over and began to seriously berate them for taking off their shoes at a public park in such frigid weather while shooting me and my kids sidewise glances.   So much for friend potential.

Sigh.  I guess I should get used to this and learn to not let it bother me.  I’m going to have to learn to deal with the fact that being homeschooled, my kids are probably often going to do things outside the box (isn’t that why I’m homeschooling in the first place??)  It’s a mixed bag, though, and I’ve learned myself that it’s never easy when you leave behind conventional norms to take a different path.  You are often met with confusion, judgment, and sometimes downright hostility.

The kids had a great time and this park will definitely be on our list to revisit a lot in the future.  It seems like in the warmer months, it will be the park to go to and so a great place to meet people.

I give this park 4 out of 5 stars and look forward to spending a lot of time there in the future.

(I do have some pictures I could share from this trip but I’ll be damned if I have a clue as to how to get them from my phone to my computer…??  Is there some kind of ritualistic sacrifice I need to make to appease my phone?  Or just a button I need to push…?

am i a hippie?

Being a stay home parent is challenging.  Some days (most days) the only adult I come into contact with is Greg after he gets home from work and anyone I happen to steal a few minutes away from the kids to e mail or call.  Which can have various profound effects on a person’s psyche.  Being so insular, it becomes increasingly difficult to see yourself and your life from an objective point of view.  That’s why when people suddenly give you an unexpected critique, it can be sort of shocking.

Like the other day.  Living in an apartment is an interesting thing.  We’ve been here only a month and plenty of things have already gone wrong.  Our sink clogged and wouldn’t drain.  We had a grease fire in the oven (ok, that one was all me).  We seem to have a warm-weather influx of box elder beetles that are finding their way in and flutter all about and off the walls and freak the crap out of Miles (he’s terrified of any sort of bug).  Either that or its the same determined one that we keep throwing out and keeps on coming back in for more.  The hot water mysteriously disappeared for a solid 12 hours and then randomly came back (that one was a real puzzler).

The latest thing was that we got back from a weekend away and I noticed a wet spot on the carpet.  I thought nothing of it until I noticed it hadn’t gone away after a day so I finally stopped to really look at it and discovered that the carpet in the dining room was really wet and when I peeled it back, so was the pad underneath, encompassing a pretty good sized area.  “Call the guys,” said Greg.  “Are you sure I shouldn’t just dry it out with a fan and wait and see if it gets wet again?” I suggested, dreading calling the guys.  Greg was adamant.  Call.  The.  Guys.

So I didn’t want to but I called “the guys”.  That is, I called the apartment maintenance line and told them about my wet carpet issue promptly at 9 o’clock, expecting that it would take them a while to get to me.  Not five minutes later, mid-bite with Joel at the breakfast table, still in my pajamas, there was a loud knock at the door.  “Shit,” I said, wondering if I had time to squeeze on my bra before opening the door.  I gave up and quickly answered the door.  In walked not one but two large burly maintenance men.  “Good morning, ma’am.  We’ve come to check on your leak.”

“Right,” I said and awkwardly led them inside to the dining room to show them my saturated rug.  The two boys  (Joel and Miles) were awake but groggy and glassy-eyed and a little dumb-struck by these towering strangers in their home and for a minute the workers nearly stumbled over my two awe-struck sons.  “Sorry,” I said, “Boys, why don’t you move over there and watch from the living room?”

“That’s alright,” one man said, “What have you got?  Four kids?  Two girls and two boys?” as though he was having to wade through an entire army of children to get to my leaking wall.

“No!” I said a little too defensively.  Then, softening my tone, I said, “Just three.  Two boys and a girl.”

“Ah,” he said, with an amused gleam in his eye, “So, you’re a hippy?”   It was less a question and more a statement.  I played it cool but I was secretly stunned.  Me?  A hippie?  (What does that even mean??)

He blathered on about the rug and the water, speculating on the source, and the two of them began to investigate the bathroom on the other side of the wall.  The whole time I was outwardly very polite and obliging while inwardly I was trying to figure this out.  Why would having three kids qualify me as a hippie?  Is being a hippie a good thing or a bad thing?  Is there something else he’s basing this statement off of?  I looked around the apartment, trying to see it as a stranger might.  Is it the way I’ve decorated with naturalistic materials?  All of the houseplants that Greg is trying unsuccessfully to nurse back to health?  Could it be that he noticed the homemade granola I was feeding to Joel?  My overwhelming smell of BO since I started shunning deodorant and usually don’t even wear the homemade stuff any more?  My bra-lessness?

“Well,” one said, bringing me back to reality, “We can’t find the source.  So, let’s just air it out with these fans, dry it out, and then see if any wetness comes back.”  Sure, I said (I made a mental note to rub it in Greg’s face that he was wrong and I was right later.  I always make sure to do that.  How else can you keep score of who’s winning in a marriage?)

The men left and I continued with my day but that comment has plagued me since.  Am I a hippie?  Is that how people see me?  (What does that even mean??)

I guess this all just strikes a nerve with me.  How does the world see me?  Do they think I’m cool?  Or weird?  Or smelly?  Do they like me?  Do they wanna be my friend?  Do they have me up on some kind of weird pedestal?  Or think I’m an outdated freak of nature?  I’m so engrossed in my own life and small existence that I truly don’t know.

It’s always just such a shock when the world comes knocking.  And then calls you a hippie.  And then airs out your rug and wishes you a pleasant day.  Isn’t it?