Whole Cookie

Because of the economics of my childhood, my parents were thrifty. Because of the economics of their respective childhoods, they knew how. There was never enough money to be miserly, and my parents practiced generosity whenever, and, however, they could. They set aside money for church and charities, and birthdays and Christmas never lacked the magic of Special or Thought Of.

Frugality was in the day-to-day. With yards of fabric still less expensive than pre-sweatshop ready-made, mom sewed many of our clothes. Back to school meant pattern books, cutting tables, buttons, and thread. Fabric stores were places of unlimited possibility, always a good feeling to garner at the start of any new school year. We did shop the mall for shoes & socks & shirts & sweaters, the only time of year we did so, but only at the less expensive stores. The end of August, still, has a pull, a visceral memory of new.

I’ve mentioned before how we canned and/or froze vegetables from the garden to eat throughout the winter. From berry patches, our own and U-Pick, we’d freeze strawberry and raspberry jams. We processed peaches and pears from our neighbor’s grandparent’s orchards, food at the ready in that basement cupboard, the one squeezed in, between the crawl space and the stairway, the one intentionally designed for canning jars.

My mom shopped for the lowest priced foods, which until they went out of business, was the Prairie Market. I don’t know what made it Prairie, but it was definitely a precursor to the bulk-buying monoliths of today. The only carts available were the large, unwieldy, flatbed kind. Bins piled high with empty boxes flanked the automatic entry. Customers piled empties onto a cart, while kids enjoyed being ferried throughout the store, ferried until the potential purchases pushed them to their feet. I most remember the coffee cans of mechanical grease pencils, pencils to mark shelf-tag information onto the products being purchased. This was the dark ages before POS or UPC or SKU. It was easier to change shelf tags than re-price all the product? Sometimes we helped mark things, sometimes we drew on the empty boxes, regularly marveling at the audacity shown by previous shoppers, those who’d taken time to embellish the Quaker Oats guy with angry eyebrows, or Tony the Tiger with earrings and eyelashes. Our trip to Prairie Market was always at the beginning of the month, coinciding with PayDay, and we always left with a cart loaded with product. My mom stuck to her list, knowing what we needed for the coming month, what meals she’d be able to pull together, knowing that things would get tricky as the days wound down toward another PayDay. There were those days with shopping treats, maybe of Hostess Cupcakes, or the occasional bag of Popsicles. I never felt any lack or deprivation. We had plenty.

My dad was, and still is, a fixer. He kept our stuff in service. Lawnmowers, rototillers, wheelbarrows, bicycles, automobiles, all repaired, patched-up, sometimes MacGyvered with baling wire and nuts/bolts, especially where nuts and/or bolts had not been a part of the equipment’s original design. My mom budgeted for replacements, but those replacements never occurred until all other attempts at resurrection had failed. After full days of Middle School Teaching, Dad came home and DIY’d the house repairs, plumbing repairs, electrical repairs; he’d build up the firewood supply, weed the vegetable garden, prune the apple trees, and re-gravel the driveway. Just this year, now that my parents are 80, they have hired landscapers to show up once a week, only to edge all the flower beds, AND they’ve hired the occasional help to fix the roof, put down new bathroom vinyl, or re-carpet the house. Only lately.

But getting back to my mom, with all the tasks she took on: gardening, house painting, household accounting and procurement, all things clothing and laundry, she had no fear in the kitchen. She could make bread or cinnamon rolls with her eyes closed, roast turkeys without breaking a sweat, was, and still is, a legendary potato peeler. Canned salmon, boxes of Jello, melon-balled watermelon, not always epic in their final presentation for a meal, she handled all deftly, confidently. We had to eat, we ate on a budget, and I know I didn’t always like what she served.  Tuna Noodle Casserole? Not so much. I’m sure some of those You’ll-Eat-It-And-You’ll-Be-Grateful speeches were delivered, most likely by my dad, but I don’t really remember that. I do remember my mom’s Kitchen Can-Do, a memory I still feel and work to harness for my kitchen practice.

Like many, I have Dad- and Mom-isms that pop in and out of my consciousness. Most of mine are harmless and even endearing. One of my favorite Mom-isms, one that I hear repeatedly during many cooking projects, stems from cookie-making as a child. One learns early on that when scooping cookie dough, if the bowl isn’t spatula-scraped clean, the baker gets to indulge in the remnants. Gets to indulge until the efficient, frugal mother looks into the bowl and says “Oh Honey! There’s a whole cookie in here!”, and who then proceeds to get that last cookie onto the sheet pan.

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My first choice was a former manager’s backyard, a teetering bluff overlooking Admiralty Inlet. Unfortunately, I didn’t know you couldn’t expect people to take a ferry. I then felt an early afternoon gathering, followed by an abundant potluck dinner would be a pleasant second choice. I, however, didn’t know you couldn’t ask people to bring food. Beginning to feel the edges of conformity moving closer, I suggested a mid-morning affair, coupled with a cozy pancake breakfast. Regrettably, I didn’t know that some ideas were just plain ridiculous. In the end, we found ourselves at a suburban protestant church, complete with narthex, nave, sanctuary, and basement. It was the right size, the right price, and accessible to all.

At 2:00PM, our friend and pianist began singing Bob Franke’s Hard Love, while my sisters, my cousin from next door, and the 3 young flower girls made their way from back to front, taking staged places. In shiny pink below the knee dresses, the women anchored the platform opposite a line of black and white tuxedoed male counterparts. The singer segued from the realism of Hard Love, to a song of her own pen, one of laughter, light, and hope. Intentional juxtaposition.

Wearing a simply designed, sewn-by-mom, silk-brought-back-from-Hong Kong dress, I linked arms with my dad and paraded my way past rows of respectful guests, guests who probably really would have enjoyed stacks of pancakes, on towards the pink-dressed, black-suited people watching me. Not something to be given away, I kissed my dad and joined an already teary-eyed spouse-to-be in front of the ministers.

The mid-1980s were all about videotaping and our event, no different. Two cameras, one positioned at the back of the room and the other facing us, captured every detail. Our friend delivered the ceremony speech, telling stories of shared times and what, in his opinion, it meant to be married. In his nervousness, he forgot to ask the guests to sit down.  The video shows my very skilful work of mouthing the words “sit dooowwn”, eyes widened for emphasis, with a slight directional jerking of my head toward the people. Regardless, the guests continued to stand for 20 minutes. They really deserved pancakes.

The event went on with talk of rings and vows and candle-lightings. At the end we were magically pronounced husband and wife, exiting the room while bluegrass banjos played. Our shared relief, palpable.

Church Ladies arranged the basement with flowered tables supporting coffee, tea, and punch bowls, mints, nuts, and cake. The very setup I had seen countless times growing up. A formal receiving line allowed us, flanked by our parents, to face-crackingly smile at all the attendees, making introductions, shaking hands or giving hugs. We fed each other some cake, I threw a bouquet, then a designated person drove us away to rendezvous with our car and our stuff and a honeymoon.

Getting married was the strangest thing I’ve ever done. When finally alone, I found myself repeatedly remarking, “We’re married”, incredulously pondering the before/after, the abracadabra of the day, the superficial change that changed everything. We had jumped through some hoops, hoops not entirely to my tastes but funded by my parents, answered a couple of questions, and signed a paper. Blammo.

Looking back at the pictures, we were babies. To some it may seem we jumped too soon, but we knew what we wanted. We knew fairy tales weren’t true, that nothing would be in-love easy. We wanted to be together, why not be married? We didn’t plan any exit strategies, we didn’t have anything to pre-nup. For better or worse, we became a package deal. Being a young married couple, having space and time to grow into our full adult selves together, before becoming parents, cemented the deal. We, each other, were our family, our community of 2.

I have loved being with Spouse. He smugly agrees that I am a better person because of him. The deepest emotion that I’ve ever felt before or since, was the night, while grieving a friend’s death, I worked through an overwhelming sense of loss, the chest-caving pain of letting go of Spouse. He is not mine to have or hold, to grip with fear for losing. He is mine to love, while I can. He is mine to cherish, mine to lighten, mine to lift up. That is my aim. Blessed and lucky, Spouse feels the same toward me.

We do.

One At A Time

I’ve been busy. My writing has been entirely other. There has been no room for anything birthed by the beautiful push of Muse. Nothing deep or soulful, nothing but lists and formulas and direction. My time consumed with readying for class: the class in 2 days, the class in 2 months, or the potential class, 6 months from now. Ingredients and method, time and temperatures, facts and figures. This, on the tail of my year-end cleaning binge, has me feeling empty, creative bits alone, unable to find a foothold in the vast cavern where they usually have many. So, yesterday, I collaged.

My collaging hiatus has been far longer than my writing. It’s been almost a year since I’ve bellied up to my collage bar, when I finished and mailed the most recent Candace Card. My Candace Cards are for my friend who moved away, a reason to collage on an almost 5×8 sheet. These collage are random, stream of consciousness, whatever-ephemera-grabs-my-eye, feeling-about-my-friend-based things. Sometimes they’ve been fantastic, other times too busy, too strained, but I still send them, the back covered in chit-chat. Yesterday I created a Candace card and will mail it today.  While it felt rough, and I found I do not care for glitter, it was a start, a spark.

Letting myself collage was an opening. While initially only for myself, I was tentative, afraid of doing it wrong, afraid of not being good enough, creative enough, whatever enough. I read books and looked at many images, seeing the layers, feeling their depth, catching glimpses of the backgrounds, beautiful on their own, but almost completely covered by the end product. I loved the idea of Art Journals, notebooks devoted to whatever medium, most often mixed media collage. I found a small spiral bound notebook which I had used to plan weekly meals and shopping trips. I began adding color and cut-outs to its pages. With each week dated, I could use the events surrounding those dates as a catalyst for idea. For color, I started with what was on hand: Jr’s toxic-free tempera, kid-grade watercolors, and any pastel crayon stubs large enough to hold.

Cautious at first, I found images, bits of magazines, greeting cards, wrapping paper. I used colored tissue papers. I highlighted original bits of text with markers. I incorporated existing torn pages to make layers of image. I love words and paper and texture and color. Letting myself play without judgement was an unmistakable Spring gust, the breeze of a perfect morning in May flapping about my soul. I couldn’t wait to work on my notebook. Lucky for me, that while I ignored dinners and housework and child, Spouse is a far deeper Creative, one who knows how everything falls away when you’re in the middle of It.

Since that beginning notebook, I’ve worked on others, made greeting cards, and, more significantly, did an art journal that encompassed the year leading up to my 50th birthday. This journal, meant as a daily, had some days spent catching up for several missed. It was here that I moved to acrylic paint, that I started blending on the page, trying different colors, experiencing the feeling those colors produced. Messing about with my 50th year journal led me to collage on stretched canvas. I purchased papers and background images for scrapbooking to use in collage. I fell deeply in love with creative services directories and image catalogs. Everything gleaned for images or design elements before meeting the recycle bin.

At some point during the year, Spouse said he’d like me to do a large canvas to hang over the mantle. I felt shocked and pleased. His work has always occupied that space and I’ve loved him for it. The thought had never occurred to me to go big. The experience was significant. Spouse knew what he was doing. I had to try things, try colors, cover it all up with different colors. I stamped images, I tore strips of text, I transferred black and white toner images, I painted over most of it again. Finally, the image started to appear, the gist of the thing began to emerge. It was about story. About telling. It was perfect to me after I dry brushed a lot of black over most of the images. What I’ve felt when I write happened with this collage. Never before have I been so viscerally connected to an image. I never thought I would be. The piece looked like crap above the mantle-wrong color. It didn’t work in the living room either. It did, however, find its place in the small hallway connecting Lego Room and Jr.’s Room. The large canvas, dominate in the small space, sits directly across from the bathroom door. Each time I face it, it draws me in, sometimes just to stand and stare.

I’ve not done any collaging since, save for my Candace Cards. Perhaps, as Monty Python puts it, I was “shagged out after a long squawk.” I’ve written things, I’ve cooked and baked, I’ve worked in my garden, but seldom do any of those overlap. This year I will try to change that. Rather than post nothing, to feel empty of words, I’ll show my latest card or a page from a journal. The 2nd Volume of my year-long journal still has empty pages. While I stopped on purpose, not quite 2 years later I’m going to fill it up. This time I have clear gesso to ready the 20-pound bond pages, letting the faint blue lines show through if I choose only a wash for background.

New Year

The 12 Days of Christmas are almost finished. Our tree is still up. The Wise Men have yet to visit the baby in the barn. La Befana is still searching for the child. One more fete takes place tomorrow, after which the house will slowly devolve into the pre company condition that took 4 solid days to make better. Four days of not cooking, not baking, not writing, hardly thinking past the sorting, piling, rehoming, recycling, reusing. The pool table sits uncovered and usable, the storage area I wrote of last time is accessible and functional, the art space is ready for papers, paints, and glue, the music area can breathe, the laundry room thinned and better organized, the Lego room is a Dream-Come-True, and the work space where I type is showing more concrete counter than it has since the day Spouse finished polishing it. I will try to keep things more tidy. I will try to put things back sooner rather than later. I can think better without clutter. I can breathe better when I see surfaces. I am happier when I let go.

This New Year I want to let go. I don’t know how it will happen. I don’t know if I will be successful, but I know it is what I want. I want to let go of grievance. I want to let go of shame. I want to let go of ruts. I want to let go of negative expectation. That’s it.

I hope for you the best. Be blessed.

IMG_1517

Everything Is Awesome. Photo Credit: Spouse

Ditch

Receipts waiting for Quickbooks; scrappy notes with names, addresses for fruit pickups or left-at-our-house-Nerf returns, URLs, memory prods for all those passwords; wedding invites to events passed but still at finger reach to get each sender’s new address entered into an address book; more receipts, cash transactions, not as pressing to account for, but the information wanted all the same; photocopied receipts, pages stapled from work reimbursements unsure to file or toss; written instruction for the many Kata Junior needs to practice so his muscles retain the memory of each; piles of paystubs waiting for their detail to find Quickbooks; printed insurance claims that needed a phone call but could now be shredded; current bills, even though handled through billpay, stay close on desk until payment date passes-Did I really remember to enter the correct amount? To all of this, pile on recipe packets from work, print outs of recipes to try, recipes to amalgamate into something more me, all waiting to find a better, more permanent home. A home other than the work space directly around my computer, the overflowing wicker  basket of to-be-filed sitting on the floor behind me, or the all-of-these-recipes-need-to-go-somewhere shelf above that.

Filing takes time. Sorting takes time. The kind of time one might find on a rainy January morning, listening to Jack Johnson, latte nearby, Junior happily occupied, sorting piles carpeting the cement floor: Utilities, Insurance, Paystubs, Mortgage, Benefits, and, the growing ever larger, Recycle.

I am not a hoarder. Hoarders can’t throw anything away. I am a Unfiler, but a Unfiler who knows she must try or be buried. The rule follower streak in me demands I keep certain documents for a specified time, legal-ly seeming things. The researcher part of me needs the different recipes spread out on the table or floor for full view, to compare & contrast, without flipping back & forth between websites or Word.doc files. The recipes I know and love need to be entered electronically, edits added, or be plastic-sleeved, then snapped into the appropriate 3-ring binder. The addresses of friends & family will, hopefully, stay close until I mail Holiday Greetings; then and, probably, only then will the street names and house numbers find their way into the address book. I might thrift store hunt for an old-school Rolodex, having easy access cards on which to jot info or a place to alphabetically wedge bits of paper might work for me. However, given the state of my on-desk vertical file, home of the important documents needed close at hand, I wonder.

Organizing most of this requires that already filed material be gone through as well. The 4 legal-sized drawers of the standing file cabinet only hold so much. I can’t file new papers when expired documents block the way. The recipe binders always contain Good Ideas that I never went back to. Those pages need to leave, so the New & Certain To Use can fit in. Part of the Paper Flow Problem is part of my house cleaning problem. Another name for Unfiler could be Ditcher. I tidy up my house when I expect company, when we return from a trip with my eyes refreshed, or during the occasional I-can’t-stand-this-anymore type of fit. Tidying for company always means ditching: removing things from where company will be into somewhere where they will not. Generally this means piles from the table and/or kitchen counters goes into my room with door closed. When my room begins to feel oppressive, those piles make their way downstairs to the office area. Anything requiring attention sits next to the computer, a tight place shared with ten-key, vertical file, pens, paperclips, speakers, and various cords. Less pressing paper is left on the opposite end of the beautiful cement work top Spouse created, a veritable Area 57. Adjacent to this office area is a small room, the someday 2nd bathroom for our home. This project is a ways off due to digging through a cement floor to bury the waste sump. Many other non-waste related projects easily cut ahead in the DIY line. Meanwhile, this space has become storage. There is shelving holding bins and boxes of gift wrap, fabric, board games, extra blankets, and evidence that we own too many movies. There are things to sell on eBay and the empty boxes to ship them in. Equipment for catering and camping, books I’m not sure I want anymore, dishes and glassware hoping for a new home, luggage, and the file cabinets. It is a Ditch. When a party includes the basement, when I need to tidy up the laundry room (also a Ditch), when I’m generally tired of stuff everywhere, this is the place it goes, the final resting place. It is out of my sight, and even when sitting here typing, if the light is off, it is all easily out of my thoughts.

All this is well and good until I need to find something in The Ditch.

The stuff piling up is getting to me. I want the recipes sorted. I want the file cabinet weeded. I want the wicker basket emptied. I want the vertical file gleaned and tidied. I want the recycle bin to get its rightful due. I want to breathe. I want to be free to walk easily into this storage room. I want to ask myself hard questions about what to Keep, Donate, or Toss. I want to lighten. The burden of stuff is real. Regardless if it is Important Paperwork, those Dishes We Loved, or Junior Might Like This Someday, it is better to live lightly. For me, a cleared tabletop, free of clutter, free of Will Get To It Soon, frees my thoughts. I’m not forgetting Something on one of these piled papers. With this burden finished, filed, or tossed, with my thoughts unencumbered, they can roam, release memory, roll words around. When I see a modicum of order on the shelves, assured I will be able to find something when I want to, I see the beauty and crafts work of these built-ins. When I am able to touch the surface of my desk, run my hand over this once-bumpy-aggregate now smooth stone-like finish, I think of Spouse, of his process, his creativity, of how much he supports my own. It is much more satisfying for me to write, search for recipes and recreate those recipes, even more satisfying to get Quickbooks and my spreadsheets up to date than to sort, file, toss. Like Bill Murray in What About Bob, I will take baby steps to organization. I started with my work surface, the area directly next to the PC. It’s remained functional. Keeping my thoughts moving only to the next thing rather than the entire project, I will take baby steps with rest of the desk. Maybe I’ll baby-step my way to finishing the entire project before year end, or, maybe I won’t. Whatever I get done will be better than doing nothing at all. Cheers!

Productive?

Better!

Thankful

Evidently, it was George Washington, as president, who declared the first national day of thanksgiving on November 26, 1789, but FDR who declared the American Thanksgiving officially the fourth Thursday in November. Completely aside from National Holidays, official calendars, or Hallmark Greeting Cards, I aim to live with thanks, with gratitude. Since it is the 4th Thursday in November, and since I’m waiting for the mix of flours and water to autolyse, I will officially declare the following:

I am thankful for Spouse & Junior, our funny way of life, for my sister & her fight, for the friendships gifted, the amazing people who cross our path, for awareness, willingness to grow, change, for everything that’s brought me here, that I only and always ever “did the best I could for who I was at the time,” for hammers & nails & bread & words. Thank you.

Elsewhere

Elsewhere

On another note, I’ve been posting quite a bit In My Tiny Kitchen-rants and recipes, ingredients of Fall, life. Cheers!

For Two

When a pregnant someone indulges in an extra helping of mashed potatoes, afternoon pumpkin pie, or the whole rather than half sandwich, she stereotypically offers the rationalization,”I’m eating for two!” While the need for rationalization has its roots in dysfunction, being co-joined, connected, physically tied to a growing human, caring for that human in utero is natural and necessary. What surprised me as mother, was that long after the window for lilting “I’m eating for two” had passed, something far more altering would take its place.

Along my path of parenting, I have sprained ankles in unseen potholes, tripped over protruding roots, been scratched by thorns, stung by nettles, all from my own slow progress at letting go of control, letting go of an always tidy house, a just-the-way-I-like backyard, of getting to manage my time, of having any “my time”. The pain and joy felt has been from my failure and, thankfully, my own subsequent realization, forgiveness, and move for change. Those near me, not unscathed, whipped by a flinging tree branch as I walked ahead, listened to me curse as I once again stubbed my toe, doubled back when I took a wrong turn, each time accepting my apology, offering forgiveness and continued love. This, my own personal growth as a human who parents.

When young, the path of a child has joy, fear, pain when experiencing the physical world for the first time. An attentive caregiver holds the child, laughs with the child, names things for the child, provides band aids, smiles, hugs and kisses, safety and freedom for the child. Fears validated but the phenomena still explained; anger, sadness, tears welcomed amidst a hug, caregiver quiet until words wanted, the child reacting to darkness, that dog, weather systems, a lost toy, skinned knee, or his own wrest for control. Concrete. Explainable. Understandable.

My son has always been empathetic and compassionate. This was sweet when as a toddler he wanted to comfort someone’s injury or nurse an under-the-weather daddy back to health. He has always “worn his feelings on his sleeve”, allowing us to see how he felt about almost anything. Unlike my growing up, I wanted him, and still want him, to have space, freedom, to express his emotions, to vent his anger, to cry the tears, to laugh hard, to be seen, heard, and accepted.

As my child has continued on the path of Growing Developing Human, the joys, fears, and pain grow and develop along with him. As he moves from less concrete to the abstract that will be the rest of his life, our feelings, reactions, and experiences are becoming more the same. This realization, coupled with my dearth of early life emotional validation, makes the potholes I encountered with nap time or nutrition nothing compared to those I navigate now. If I am to make room for my child to develop emotionally as well as physically, I must learn how to give space for my own feelings, how to vent appropriately, when and where and to whom. I have to model this new-to-him world of swirling emotions, relationship highs and lows, both of us working toward his emancipation into adulthood.

My parents were and are Fix It people. While of course you have feelings, it was more important to do. Get on with the business at hand. Get praying for the sick. Get making food for the funeral. Get phoning to let the family into the news. If the feelings of sadness or anger proved overwhelming, my takeaway was that the individual wasn’t allowing God to help him/her enough. I’m not saying that is what my parents believed, but it is what I gathered from the life conducted around me. As my child experiences the peer-to-peer problems and frustrations that come with growing and developing, as he shares his feelings of pain, frustration, or anger, I feel my inadequacy. I experience my frustration, anger, at not being able to fix or solve or explain. His pain is more like mine now. Pain I don’t give much time to. More than during his toddlerhood, I need to practice my parenting mantras: “step back, breathe deep”, “meet him where he’s at”, or “let go”, before succumbing to my own marred emotions, reacting to unhappiness as a fury rather than welcoming his feelings to a refuge. I do not want to drag him into my lack, compounding what he has to work through. I sometimes forget that this now larger human still needs the same safe space to vent, to have his pain validated, maybe being hugged, maybe just sat next to, to be heard. When I do remember to sit with him, quiet while he shares, gentle when I offer assistance when he’s ready, he becomes soothed, sometimes ready for a chat, sometimes ready to go outside for what I fear will be more of the same. Gah. It’s hard.

I am becoming a master at apology. Most days my son hears, “I’m so sorry-that’s not the kind of mommy I want to be.” I tell him that I’m not very good with my feelings, but I’m working to be better. We have many chats, working through different interpersonal scenarios involving friends or relatives, coaches or teachers. We talk about boundaries, how to determine friendship, when it’s necessary to wordlessly walk away from a situation. We talk about what it looks like when we give others (abusive) power over ourselves, about not letting their dysfunction control us. We discuss compassion and empathy, but in light of boundaries, again.

These discussions have helped me with my own social scenarios, with my boundary setting. My son has his own boundaries to establish, Spouse and I are here to help him do that. In turn, we have boundaries that we set on his behalf, that he doesn’t always know about. These boundaries usually involve keeping him away from people who harm. As we’ve watched people interact with him in consistently unhealthy ways, why would we choose to continue to have him in those situations? To return home from an event only to spend the next several hours helping him process the interactions, not to mention the even longer time for me to process my hurt, anger, indignation at what my child experienced. Isn’t that someone’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results each time? We have plenty of good relationships where in my son can continue to safely learn the life skills of sharing, problem solving, of navigating personality traits, differences, likes or dislikes. He will have a lifetime to potentially deal with those who ignore or disdain or ridicule or worse. As parents, this one is our call.

Little did I know, when contemplating parenting, when hearing someone blame an unborn child for their own overeating, of the effect and extent of the emotional part of this task. I don’t think anyone has said, at least not glibly, or even in public, “Oh me? I’m feeling for two.”

Equal

My dad was the primary wage-earner in our house. My mom set aside nursing at a private practice to have the babies and care for them as most women did. Actually caring for the kids was only a small part of my mom’s life. There were no tasks at our house she wouldn’t tackle save for auto repair and/or maintenance, and that only because she didn’t need to.

My mom laundered: washing, drying, folding, and ironing when necessary. The kitchen floor was a slick sliding wonderland when misted with the Niagara, Faultless, or Magic Sizing overspray. She cleaned: vacuuming, spot removing on floors or furniture, dusting, window cleaning, stripping the linoleum of, then reapplying the floor wax, washing the kitchen cupboard fronts, emptying the cupboards to wipe them out and reorganize the contents, removing our fingerprints from walls & doors to extend time between painting, scrubbing the bathroom fixtures, fighting the good fight against shower mildew. She organized: the cupboards, the kitchen drawers, the bathroom drawers, the desk drawers, the dresser drawers, the closets. She knew our shoes, coats, and socks, the scissors, tape, and gift wrap, the tweezers, toothbrushes, and band aids. She kept the garage tidy and organized: house paint, garden tools, buckets and boxes within easy, predictable reach. Mom sewed. She made curtains and table coverings. She made clothes for us and herself. She made clothes and blankets for our dolls.  She repaired clothes, extending the life of “work” pants and shirts with patches, replacing lost buttons, mending frayed edges. She made custom oversize neckties for Dad to wear at breakfast, keeping his dressed-for-work self spot-free. My mom shopped for and cooked the food. She kept the budget, writing every expenditure by date in a ledger. She paid the bills and balanced the bank accounts. She collected cans to turn in for cash when the month’s-end money drew exceedingly tight. She hauled firewood from pile to living room wood-burning fireplace insert. She mowed the lawns. Pruned the trees and shrubs. She weeded and edged the flower beds. She picked rocks from the vegetable garden, transplanted seedlings, weeded some more. She corralled raspberry canes and kept slugs away from strawberries. Early afternoon when Dad came home, she made coffee and they’d talk about their day. My dad would change clothes then work on something until dinner.

There was no separation of jobs at our house. There was no Men’s Work or Women’s Work. If it needed to be done, it got done. No matter who did the doing. My parents each had their strengths and preferences: my mom was/is a far better ironer than my dad, but he knows how to iron a shirt. My dad was why we had a dog, so he did the pet grooming. There was no talk about both doing the “same” amount of housework, they just did the housework. Rooms got painted, the cars kept running, we could always find a ruler or paperclips. My mom appreciated my Dad’s daily trudge to work and he appreciated her attention to detail around the house.

When old enough, my sisters and I found ourselves conscripted into this lifestyle of work. Tasks of vacuuming, dusting, and dish detail were easy starting points, freeing time for mom to paint louvered closet doors and gut the linen closet. Outside we raked, mowed, and weeded.  We learned how to use a squeegee and give windows a final wipe with crumpled newspaper. I learned how to change a tire on the car, and do other basic auto maintenance. I learned to operate the small garden tiller. I didn’t want to learn the chainsaw but became proficient at splitting firewood with a maul. I learned how to build a fire. I learned how to care for house painting tools. I learned to drive a car and a motorcycle.  I learned to sew and cook and iron. I learned how much I disliked dusting. Eventually my mom returned to private practice nursing 2 days per week. We girls became responsible for dinner on those days, and had great fun with Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cookbook.

All through the years of projects and plans, not once did I hear my parent’s talk of either one not doing their “fair share” or of some task not being suitable for a man to do, etc.  Yes, my parent’s held the Evangelical belief that, “The man is head of the household,” and yes, my mom had an almost maniacal capability for projects, but when it came to work, we were all the same. It wasn’t until later, when I started to hear the voices of feminism, that I learned few woman shared my upbringing. It seemed crazy to me that a woman shouldn’t use power tools or drive trucks, that a man shouldn’t plant flowers or iron shirts.  All people have differences, like my parents: different strengths, different preferences, but to be inherently better or worse based on the arrangement of a few chromosomes was ludicrous to me. That women would only have worth if they worked 9-5 outside the home was equally ludicrous. Thirty years have passed since the Enjoli woman sang of bringing home the bacon, frying it up in the pan, and never letting the listener forget he was a man. With more two income households than ever before, the absurdity of that song has long been proven. While women still fight for equal pay for equal work, everyone tired, converging at home around 6 o’clock for dinner, dishes, homework, a few laundry loads, are all hands ready to help ease the burden so all can have a little down time before sleep? Where the woman would be expected to work away from home, make dinner, clean up, ready all for the next day, and then be perky and fresh at bedtime is ludicrous. Only with the equality exhibited by my parents, an equality based on love and respect, can two-income households thrive.

When we became 3, we decided Spouse would keep working since he had a better paying job than I did. He was better paid, not for being a man, but because he had worked more consistently at the same job than I had. I who dabbled in jobs or businesses was more of an income liability. My very part-time commitments would be doable, juggling Junior with Spouse or Grandparents, or taking him in tow. Early on in parenting I struggled with multi-tasking, finding even dinner-making an almost insurmountable feat. Going to the office for a few hours here or there allowed for focus and task completion, my entire self able to sigh contentedly. On days when Spouse had covered a shift with Junior, he delighted in making dinner, setting the table with linens and candles, having my food plated and wine poured when I walked in the door. He was partly trying to prove he was better than me, but moreover, he was taking care of our kid and me. He understood my fractured thought processes and knew I’d eventually adjust. He was grateful that I was willing to be the primary caregiver for our child.

Our shared value of a happy adjusted child growing into an adult has him understanding when dinner is not ready, when the house is messy after a busy day of life, has me understanding when I return from weekend working to discover that, while the breakfast dishes never found the dishwasher, trees fell, nails met hammers, lunches out were enjoyed. If I’m spent after a day of karate, spelling, read-alouds, Nerf, interpersonal neighborhood relations, Spouse will sequester me away after dinner with iPad or book, and he will, after 11 hours away, happily return the kitchen to pre-dinner clean. So I could work the odd all-day yesterday, Spouse took a personal day to ferry Junior to karate, introduce some new math concepts, and cut more firewood. Never do we bitch about stuff undone. Never do we compare money earned or tasks completed. We respect what each of us brings to our family. We are equals, both working for the best.

Weeping Willow

Stately as princes the swans part the lilies and glide, under the willows.

The 3 young girls, arms unconfined, heads dipping & lifting, moved, twirling slowly, with as much grace as they could imagine, in, around, through the arching, earth-touching branches of the monumental weeping willow.

Are they enchanted men, soon to be free again, here, under the willows.

Such melancholy of lyric meeting with the longing of this tree. A tree whose sole desire was to reach, not skyward as most trees, but sinking low to caress the earth, a desire celebrated by these little girls, their plaintive voices lifting the plight of potentially entrapped royals, royals forever limited in swan-prisons, swan-prisons under a willow tree. What sorrow, what despondency of earth-desiring branches and forever-trapped princes, all beneath the delicately leafed arched willow limbs.

This was the power of a John Thompson’s Modern Course for the Piano-The First Grade Book song over me and my sisters. I don’t think any of us thought much about our piano lessons, but this song was a favorite, and we truly loved our very large willow tree. We felt honored, lucky even, to have such a tree in our yard. A tree favorite of royal swans, no less.

Weeping Willows are not domesticated. Willows need a lot of water, perhaps to support the vast number of leafy branches they sport. Willow roots are always on the move, sending out runners and shoots, looking to propagate itself, searching for more water sources. The willow anchoring the north end of our yard was classic in shape, size, branch length, and leaf. It gave definition of play space versus vegetable garden production space. It had a climbable trunk and its leafy curtain-like branches provided a favorite place for outdoor play.

In the fall, the lawn beneath the tree became blanketed with the golden-yellow, small, narrow leaves, the bare branches becoming cold, harsh, and whip-like. We didn’t know about the nifty things one could create with willow branches. My folks’ weren’t Arts & Craftsy, and I had years before meeting the willow furniture makers who lived near Trails End. The branches would be trimmed up and saved for Springtime campfires. My mom was never a fan of fall leaf-on-lawn removal. She did it because it needed to be done, but I think relieved when we were old enough to take on the task. The apple leaves, the maple leaves, even the Alder leaves were better to rake than the Willow. The small, narrow leaves danced around the rake, laughing at the thought of being carried away. Only when enough of the leafy brothers found themselves stuck in the rake tines, did the rake become effective on the lot. Despite rake detail, I still loved the tree. Keeping its romantic aura of my earlier childhood, under the branches had morphed into the perfect place to park with Nancy Drew, Charlotte Spider, or Mary Lennox. Unfortunately for the tree, it was powerless to keep control of its roots.

The greedy roots of the willow proved its undoing. Every spring, tilling took place in the adjacent vegetable garden, readying the soil for the summer bounty. As the roots spread gardenward, my tilling father would be jerked and thrown about as the tines of the tiller grappled with the willow roots. The roots often came out as the stronger opponent. The first battle tactic was to dig a trench between the lawn and the vegetable garden. This trench was 2-3 feet deep, about 6-inches wide, and probably 12 feet in length. The shovel would cut through any roots encountered, hopefully severing any further encroachment from the tree. This strategy worked for several years, the ditch remaining open to give sight to any new roots making a run for the garden. It was important to remember, when playing tag or kick the can or when simply walking to the garden, that the ditch was there, open and waiting to twist and sprain or worse. With the tree thwarted from the garden, it sent its energy in other directions, finally going too far when it began to interrupt the septic system.

Septic systems are delicate balances between anaerobic bacteria, holding tanks, gravel, and leach lines. Constructed under grassy lawns, these systems are then meant to be left alone, save for the occasional tank pumping. When well-built, septic systems can be successful for years on end. Tree roots bring that successful balance to an immediate halt. Such was the case of our greedy Weeping Willow. I am sure the septic system was first to be repaired. You don’t mess around with septic issues. However, it would have been shortly thereafter that the chainsaw took down the tree. My dad and my uncle would be swearing their non-swear words:”kiss me again”, “good night nurse”, and the very bad, “nasty pot hound”, until the tree was down, trunk clipped as close to the ground as possible. We would all have worked the clean up, piling the supple branches, stacking the rounds of trunk, doing a rake of those tiny leaves for the last time. Not having the worries of the adults, I remember lamenting, pleading that the tree not be taken, eventually finding some comfort in knowing my fall duties would be a bit easier.

As an adult, as a homeowner, as someone who lives with a septic system, I am glad my parents took action to keep us and our home safe. I still love trees, and spend many fall hours cleaning up after them, but I see them for many things now. They are beauty, they are habitat, they are shade- and life-giving, they can provide food, shelter, and warmth. We have had a few trees removed from our little 1/4-acre, but they weren’t healthy or happy. The tall evergreens around my house now are silent companions, full of promise and the same romance of my girlhood. On afternoons when my neighborhood is quiet, I sit outside and take in the sounds around me: far away traffic, that happy toddler 3 backyards over, the occasional crow, and, when I’m very lucky, the wind, that high up wind, dancing with the crowns of my companions.

Yes

Early on, Spouse and I decided we would homeschool Junior. We were reading dangerous books: the kind of books that lead you to think outside of boxes, books that suggest there are other ways, that there are, perhaps, better ways to learn. The books we loved the most were/are those written by John C. Holt. This fearless, revolutionary thinker, this lover of life and learning, had much to say about How Children Learn, How Children Fail, and that It’s Never Too Late for anyone who wants to try something new. Learning is a natural thing that humans do. It’s why the species has survived-learning, adapting, evolving.

Homeschooling is a challenge. We want to offer our child all that’s best for him, for his personality, his innate strengths, his processing method, as well as introduce new things, a world full of possibilities that may vie for his interest and attention. We want him able to do what interests him. We want him to know stuff.  We also want him to be able to balance a checkbook, read legal documents, and sign his name. If he’s a confident, interesting person, one who knows how to learn, how to find the information he needs at any given time, someone who is emotionally sound and happy, he will be a great adult.

The best thing I’ve learned up to now, in our adventure as parents who homeschool, is that kids learn a lot, if not most, of their life skills via behavior modeled by others. If I want my child to be interesting, I need to be interesting.  If I want my child to follow pursuits that grip him, I need to follow mine. He needs to see me doing collage, baking bread, studying cake recipes, typing these words. He should casually be around when I check the broccoli plants for any invading Coddling Moth larvae, taste the differences between just-picked raspberries in varying degrees of ripeness, see the steam rising from the turned-over compost. He also needs to see how I clean up the kitchen, rearrange furniture, how the dining table looks when it’s cleared off. He sees me doing our monies in Excel and Quickbooks. He knows what we do at the Post Office, how I read labels and buy things at the grocery store, what to  converse about at the hair salon, the etiquette of movie theaters, etc, from being around us. He hears Spouse and I thanking each other, thanking him, asking nicely for things, or apologizing when we haven’t been as we wanted to. He’s learning to make a great latte.

Another best thing I’ve learned is that I need to take part in his interests. When invited, I need to watch him build that tower in Minecraft, I need to say yes to Lego Chima racing, I need to do my best at light saber or Nerf battling, I need to ask him questions about the WWII airplane model he just assembled, and I need to listen to all of his recounts from favorite shows and movies. I help him spell tricky words during internet searches and watch seemingly endless footage of YouTube fireworks videos. I also facilitate play dates, field trips, store purchases when requested, and have made more arm fart noise then ever thought I would as an adult.

Spouse and I have learned the importance, and the power, of saying yes. When I say yes to Junior’s request to play or watch or listen, I am doing much more than helping him feel entertained: I am validating him as a human being. People his age haven’t yet learned to distinguish between something that interests them and themselves. When Junior is REALLY into Thing A this week, I want to support him. When Thing A morphs into Thing B 10 days later, I try to keep up. If I am never able to pull myself away from my Important Work, my work is more important than he is. My words can tell him he’s loved, but when I sit on the couch to watch him command WWII airplanes over North Africa, he knows he’s loved. Both Spouse and I will often qualify yeses with “in 5 minutes” or “next Thursday” or a “Definitely! I will email his mom right now and try to set that up!” but we want the first thing he hears to be a resounding “yes.” We do set boundaries, personal and family, which require something other than a yes, but those are unique. Living in a world of yes, “no” has power as well.

There are days when I don’t want to say yes or play or watch. Days when I want to do this! Days when I want to curl up, read just for me, or simply nap. Those days aren’t easy but even 5-10 minutes of undivided attention with him helps him say yes to me. Almost magically, the practice of saying yes, learned through example. Live with Yes. Try it. Coupled with the healthy personal boundary of a well-placed No, the world, and you in it, will become more alive, hopeful, open, brave, selfless, giving, and unending. Yes!