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.

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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!

 

 

Birthdays

Wow. Growing up in my house, birthdays were a big deal. This phenomenon evidently originated from Mom’s side of the family, something Dad had to get used to early in their relationship. Living next door to my maternal grandparents and maternal aunt and family meant there was always a crowd. Many relatives situated close by equaled instant party.

Younger sister

Younger sister

Our growth and development from littles to biggers to grown-ups can all be documented through these photos gathered around tables adorned with cake, presents, and scattered pieces of dish ware and cutlery.

Older sister

Older sister

Sometimes Mom was creative with cake shapes, other times it was a simple 2-layer round or 12×18 rectangle, but always removed from the pan and frosted completely. No in-pan celebratory cake for us!

Me

Me

There were always group photos taken of people clustered around the birthday person, and occasionally, a photo of honor for those Emeritus in our midst.

Mom

Mom

Paternal Grandmother

Paternal Grandmother

My parents both came from Large families. As they grew up, married, had children, their lives continued to revolve around their birth families. These people were their friends, their confidants, their travel companions, even their nemeses. It made perfect sense to my parents that we would celebrate everything with my aunts, uncles, and cousins: all of our birthdays, young and old, along with Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving, graduations, anniversaries. You wouldn’t be able to differentiate between parties, save for the special decor of Christmas, or you were able to read the writing on the cake.

As we got older, started developing our own lives, generating our own friendships, relationships, interests, the way we did birthdays needed to change.  Having the same gathering, adding in our own friends, with the same aunts & uncles, cousins dutifully showing up, but now bringing significant others, mostly people we really only associated with at these yearly events, had become awkward, unpleasant, strained. Making things worse, we started to celebrate Group Birthdays: all the May birthdays in the extended family on this day at this place at this time. Generic cake, generic conversation, generic attention. Rather than a fun party to celebrate this great person I know and love, birthday events became a heavy sigh on the calendar.

These dysfunctional “celebrations” continued after grandchildren began to appear. Rather than draw boundaries around each individual family, all presumed that a party would be thrown, and everyone and anyone would be invited, leaving the invitees to feel their own sense of duty to attend, or face the subsequent guilt of disappointing The Others. Sadly, these parties weren’t fun. Most pointedly, the birthday person, especially if a child, was given a song by all before candles went out, but after that, every time, at every party, about half of those in attendance had nothing to do with, gave no attention to the person being feted. They would carry on the same conversations they had at the last get together, giving a perfunctory Happy Birthday Hug when leaving. Why were they there? Why did they attend? Why was I there? Answering these questions spawned change.

Today we do birthdays however the heck we want to. Sometimes there will be a group gathering with my extended family, not the extended family of my parents. Sometimes we have mini-gatherings with my one sister’s family, then just with Spouse’s folks, then with my other sister plus my parents. Sometimes for Junior, we’ve been able to integrate my nephews with Junior’s other friends for a party, and sometimes, given the emotional makeup of all involved, that hasn’t  been ideal. Often my nieces, now adults, make dates with us or their grandparents or my sister to do something to celebrate their special day or days. We instigated Birthday Weeks, taking all the undue and ridiculous pressure from this One Day of the Year, Our Big Day, etc. We want to celebrate the person. We play games. We try to involve the youngers with activities, rather than have them fend for themselves, yet again, while the adults, deep in chit-chat, ignore them. Birthdays have become fun again.

One nice tradition that my parents have faithfully continued  is the telephoned birthday song. This morning, when my phone rang at 8:55AM, I had a strong suspicion of what might be in store. I was right! After my “Hello”, there was a slight pause, an intake of breath, and another careful, theatrical, quasi-operatic rendition of Happy Birthday. The two people who decided that trying again for that son they really wanted was a good idea; the two people who really thrilled when I turned out to be me rather than some unknown named Bradley; the two people who have loved me from Day One, sang me their best rendition yet. Happy birthday, Lisa!

 

A Mix

Yesterday was a blender full of:

good & bad, gentle & prickly, soft & unyielding, connection & anythingbut

I had all my students in our tiny kitchen: eight bodies wanting activity, wanting participation, some bold, ready to measure, pour, whisk, handing off only when directed to those less so, but fingers still antsy for bowl or contents. Fingers chastised by others, others with stronger notions of propriety, mini-firestarters of hot emotion. Hot emotion in a very small, sardine-packed space. Multitasking the recipe and tricky method times 3, 1 of me, 8 of them, student A, the one I saw, the one continuously wrong place/wrong time, he not able to immerse in the project, me not able to recognize his need.

Students gone, alone in the kitchen with last bits of cleanup and bin-packing, not having to rush to our usual next stop, my friend appears. Even with my tired focus now torn, I get counters wiped and containers loaded, into the elevator and outside. We find a sunny bench while Junior plays and her child finishes class. We get to spend a few hours, the boys playing, we picking up where leaving off in March. Always rich and knowing, with acceptance and approval, each happy for the other, giving yet another glimpse into what life is like through our eyes.

Driving home in a hot car, on another irregularly warm May afternoon, traffic is burdensome from a self-imposed schedule deadline. Though my routine favors flow over fixed time, the movie starts at 6:45, Spouse needs to finish his arduous commute, dinner made then eaten, Pup given some active time outside, all of us back into the still-too-warm vehicle for another 20 minute drive. We don’t do movie theaters often, finding our schedules fit better with Instant Watch or our DVD subscription. Junior more readily absorbs movies, catching the finer points of plot and character, when, after the initial viewing, he can “watch his favorite parts” again and again. The popcorn was good, the movie fun, though Spouse visibly tired after the go!go!go! of getting there, Junior didn’t always know why the audience laughed when they did, and the inexpensive seats weren’t very comfortable. Not having the usual time to unwind from and process the unpleasant parts of the day, I was snappish during the ride home.

Back in our quite warm house, apologies and hugs accepted, we each retreated, for the little while that remained, to our small oases of normal. I was tired. I tidied a bit. I helped Spouse assemble ingredients and equipment for his Pancake Thursday. I gathered strewn clothing for tomorrow’s laundry. The tired brought forward my unhappy feelings about the class. Tired brings out negative. I know every day won’t always be fulfilling. Every day won’t always be amazing. Every day, even though I want to connect, I want to give space for personalities, I want to be a Zen Baking Instructor, every day won’t always be that. I bounced some words off Spouse, not looking for resolution, just needing to say them aloud. Never disregarding me, he said a few in return. Just a few. Sleep was next.

After another night of action-packed dreaming, obscure, tangential stories drawing from all points of my life, I awoke far too early this morning by our resident, Neighborhood Watch Robin chirping his or her soul out. I closed the window, increased the fan speed, and mercifully fell back to sleep. I am grateful for sleep. Grateful for our stuff-strewn house, the dishwasher full of clean dishes, the clean water that dutifully emerges from the tap each day. I am most grateful for each day. Grateful that mercy starts over, begins again, each and every morning.

Strangers

My folks scanned a batch of old photos,  giving each of us a CD of what they thought we’d like. Looking through my collection of pictures was sentimental & nostalgic, mystifying & embarrassing. Many of the shots are groups gathered around a birthday cake, groups posed on & around an armless sofa, smaller groups in front of our smoked-stained fireplace in matching yellow dress, or standing with easter baskets in front of the flowering quince. There are pictures of the neighborhood gang filling up my cousin’s above-ground pool, pictures of us on farm equipment, emoting on haystacks, with arms around my always huggable grandma during summer trips to Grandpa’s Eastern Oregon farm. There are pairs of us on the front steps, first day of school, complete with note-pinned-to-coat for bus driver or teacher; pictures of us with the same next-door cousins, hanging around their cabin near Leavenworth. Individual shots show us opening a Christmas gift, posing with a sailboat-shaped birthday cake, or dressed for the 5th Grade Potlatch at school.

Some of the photos riveted me. What we still call “The Cabin,” the mountain vacation home of my maternal Aunt & Uncle, lies nestled in the eastern slopes of the Cascades. The access road was originally cut for logging operations, and was just one of a maze of logging roads crisscrossing all through the area. Piling onto the back of Dad’s Suzuki or Uncle’s Honda 90, careful of the hot exhaust pipe, we would ride these roads for what seemed like hours, I privately terrified of the bear or mountain lion we were sure to encounter. For longer trips, or if we wanted to trek all the way to the Sugarloaf Mountain Fire Lookout, we would station wagon it. This photo hails from one of those trips.

image0264

 

Though dressed for the warmer valley far below, we thrilled to still find snow. Maritime PNW weather, even back then, didn’t give us much snow in winter. Winter driving over the mountain pass, the significant measure of Cascade snow fall, and the lack of snowplows on logging roads, meant there weren’t many winter trips to the cabin. Finding this snow must have been exhilarating. Snow to us was better than gold. My cousins look as though interrupted, waiting for the photo to finish, so they can continue with the serious work of snow. My sister, always button-cute, in the fall-leafed fuzzy coat that was never a hand-me-down from me, closing her eyes, not from usual shyness, but from the direct, bright mountain sun. I, draped in the station wagon blanket, rocking olive-green leggings before being called leggings, with mustard-colored sweatshirt, and blue sneakers, strike a pose, though will never know if intentional or the accidental capture of personality that cameras sometimes manage.

I guess what gripped me with this shot was seeing that somewhere, far away from now, this one-day-would-be Trooper, Attorney, Poet, and WhateverItIsIAm, were on top of a mountain together. These pictured people who I don’t know, these kids I only vaguely remember outside of photographs, but whose experiences made me, one whose breath I still breathe, were standing in the crisp, cold, bright sun, far above sea level, holding lumps of late Spring snow. They were living life. They had yet to finish school, yet to get married or divorced or widowed, yet to become parents, yet to visit therapists, yet to learn the language of awareness. They just were.

Sometimes I wish I remembered more about that blanket-draped, fierce, blonde person. Sometimes I am sorry for the parts I do remember: manipulation given & received, inhibition of, instead of permission for, personality, all that accompanies unmet expectation-being too much, not being enough. I don’t look at old pictures very often. There is so much that occupies today. However, pictures from the past can be tools to unlock joy and pain, to open up a rivulet of I Remember That, to accept the past for what it was. I did not have a terrible childhood. People who tried their best on my behalf surrounded me. It could have been better, it did leave me with scars and marks and issues to attend to, but with gratitude for the right now, I once again renew my vow to live. I will hug my son, cherish my spouse, be patient with the dog, start more seeds, let the chickens out to forage, get thoughts onto paper. With this picture in my hand, this image of me posing as royalty, not succumbing to the wishes of the photographer, holding a fortune in snow, I breathe deep and continue my story: a wife, a mother, a baker, a teacher, a writer, a woman, myself.

Go and do likewise.

 

 

 

Easter

Easter with next-door cousins

Easter with next-door cousins

I’m fairly certain that Easter was the only time we took photos outdoors in our Sunday Best. This photo is unusual in that we’re posed with our cousins from next door. More common was my sisters and I alone, or with mom, standing on the porch or on the lawn in front of the thorny flowering quince. I must have felt particularly stylish this day, or was, perhaps, showing off new shoes. Whatever the case, hot cross buns were involved at some point during the day. Here’s more.

Reset

We are home from 5 days away. We had a whirlwind trip as usual. This time, another co-worker wedding called us to La Jolla. You may not have read my other post regarding a co-worker wedding, but I will say that I think I learned something from that experience. I still went on a dress-hunting rampage, and this time involved Junior, so I felt I had to dress him appropriately, bringing on more stress then I thought it would or should. My sister and niece came to my one-woman fashion show to help me pare down dress choices to 2 (we prefer to carry-on only), and I had my hair properly foiled, then cut short with some style. The weather report did add some additional angst: how many layers do I provide for? We, from the Land of Layering, travelling to the usual Land of Wearing Almost Nothing, didn’t know quite what to do if it was going to be cool and cloudy the whole time. I know. Neurotic, First World, Longing to Not Care. As stated, though, I do feel this time I was less stressed. Bags packed, TSA questionable items shipped ahead of time to the hotel, we enjoyed a good flight, with In-n-Out upon landing, then a fairly good sleep for night one in a hotel.

With the wedding in La Jolla, we stayed in La Jolla. Legoland, Mecca to us, was just to the north and Balboa Park was just to the south. We did both, enjoyed the wedding completely, then packed/boarded another plane to Oakland to find more In-n-Out and our dear friends, who had relocated to Marin County 6 months earlier. Friends in tow, we continued north to Healdsburg and our much-loved Unti, where they were releasing the new Rose, a perfect thing to do on our 28th anniversary, followed by delicious food at Diavolo. Catching up in person, driving through still-green Sonoma County, getting advice from a very wise grocery store clerk on staying young, planning the next day’s activity, had us ready for sleep at our next hotel.

Sunday, we were back at our friend’s house, where they were ready to walk to the nearby Sunday Farmer’s Market. I love Farmer’s Markets. This market, in this North Bay town, with access to San Fransisco, Berkeley, Mendocino, and the great San Joaquin, was crazy. Everything I love about the Greater Bay Area, assembled under tiny white awnings, available within steps: no BART, no tolls, no stop-and-go traffic. Add the warm, no, hot sun, my beautiful friend sharing her favorites, the color, the sounds, the smells, this transported me, out of body, out of mind, all worries, anxieties gone. Epic. At a Farmer’s Market. After lunch, beneath the Spire attached to the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Civic Center, we collected Kip, our beach bags, and headed out through Mill Valley, past Muir Woods, to finish the afternoon at Stinson Beach. While we have easy access to salt water and beaches here at home, Puget Sound beaches are rocky. When we have opportunity to enjoy sandy beaches, sandy beaches that are really warm in mid-April, in mid-April only a all-day’s drive from home, that is special. We whiffle-balled with Junior, threw frisbees, faux rock-climbed, ate tasty foods from the market, and spouse had me show off my football throwing skills. I have those, you know. We had Portuguese take-out for dinner, talked more, stayed late, said goodbyes then returned to our hotel. We were flying home next day. Whirlwind.

We were home early enough in the evening to get a start on laundry, something I can’t wait to get done after a trip. The house needed some warming up after 5 days of no furnace, but other than that it was good to be home. I felt relaxed, as well as motivated to mildly declutter my closet and the common area flat surfaces (my friend has a great design sense and her flat surfaces were enviable), but this came from a positive motivation, from a place of contentment, a place of starting over, new.

Being home this week has continued to be good. The re-setting I have felt from our trip is amazing. Our brains like same, they prefer routine. When we give our brains different, when I give my brain something different, it howls in protest at the thought, the mere mention of unknown. After the fact, though, the silly thing feels more alive, more intact and in touch with its usual surroundings. I am filled with gratitude that we could go on this trip: invited to the wedding, Legoland met and exceeded Junior’s hopes, the sun was out, we reconnected with our friends, we were kept from harm, we got to be together, captives together, on holiday, for 5 days.

FLW

FLW

Be Mine

Spouse and I first encountered Stephen Colbert long before there was a Repor(t) or a  Colbert Nation. For only one season during 1995-1996, Comedy Central aired a show called Exit 57. The show’s theme song was a version of If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake, and the opening sequence had the entire cast squeezed into the back of a vintage cab, driven by a questionable cab driver. They, naturally, exit the unnamed highway at milepost 57. This is where we fell in love with Stephen, as well as Amy Sedaris, and acquired many of our funny-just-to-us one-liners. The sketches followed the usual lines of parent-child relationships, community theater, craft sales, and the seamy underbelly that is grocery store break rooms.

Whatever it is that draws people to each other, be it pheromones, divine intervention, or the chance encounter of fate, Spouse and I were. Our mutual attraction was permanently set by our shared sense of humor. I loved Monty Python’s Flying Circus, having discovered it during early high school. Spouse, I learned, had reels of 8mm film that he shot of the show while watching it on television as a young teen. He had LPs and cassettes that the Python’s released after their series ended in the UK. He also had many LPs by Elton John, The Beatles, and Emerson Lake & Palmer. I didn’t care so much about those, but having things we could laugh at together, things that sparked our quirky intelligence, things that struck our wit regardless of what common thought might be, these were priceless.

Now, I would never suggest that our sense of humor is the only reason we have been happily together for 27+ years. We often find ourselves on the same pages ideologically, spiritually, musically, politically, etc., but still have heated debates over social issues, or, say, parenting, often not agreeing on a variety of things. I get mad when the dog he wanted digs up my garden, when his unremoved shoes track mud through the house, and when the garage is, again, littered with sawdust and bits of wood. (He could list things about me but this is my blog.) I think the main reason we’ve had a good relationship is that we practice a combination of talking about things that feel problematic and letting go of those same things. For me, I try to reposition myself to see the bigger picture: yes, there are dirty footprints through the kitchen, but HE made those footprints and I am so grateful that we’re together; yes, I’m cleaning up the garage again, but HE is making really cool plant supports for my garden or the needed airplane showcase shelves for Junior’s room or the forms to pour the cement face of the fireplace. Not at all content to be a doormat, I remind Spouse that it makes life easier when he takes off his shoes, I ask if he can figure out a way to keep Puppy out of the garden, or I give him a Did-you-notice-I-cleaned-up quiz, all of which, when delivered in a kind way, he responds to with sincere apology, problem-solving, or praise. No one is a mind-reader. We each have to speak our concern or praise, out loud, so we can compromise or celebrate together.

Humor does, however, make all of this much easier. A well-timed one-liner, delivered with sensitivity and a straight face morphing into a smile, can take an unpleasant, heated exchange and turn it into a platform for a reasonable conversation. It’s the tiny bit of light that reminds me that this thing I’m so worked up over, this enormous issue that must be dealt with in a dramatic fashion, is just a flicker, one moment during the whole of my life. I pause, breathe, laugh, and become human again. I need to say that we don’t believe in negative humor. Belittling someone is not funny. Jokes about physical appearance, personality, ethnicity, economic status, or anything else someone has little control over are destructive. We don’t put each other down, we aren’t rude to each other, we never laugh at one another’s expense. Yikes! This is shared humor, delivered by people who trust and love each other.

Most of our catch phrases come from The Simpson’s, It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Monty Python in all of its incarnations, The State, and, of course, Exit 57. As a surprise gift, Spouse, my personal latte-delivered-to-me-while-still-in-bed barista, rummaged around eBay and found me a mug that looked like an ear of corn. His purpose in doing this was that, yes he loved me, but moreover, so he could reenact a  Stephen Colbert Exit 57 Pilgrim sketch, saying as he handed me my coffee, “Here, have some corn.”

Love

Love

Bean Counter

Somewhere between Elementary School Teaching and All Things Cooking, I took care of people’s money. I fell into it really. Conventional teaching was playing havoc with my health, and a vendor of Spouse’s needed someone to help get the invoicing done. I stepped up. Quickly, and on-the-go, I learned the basics of balance sheet accounting, and before anyone could say Fixed Asset, I was a bookkeeper. Accounting was orderly, systematic, and while it offered drama via cash flow, it never left me sleepless at night, worried that I wasn’t doing enough for the accounts, that I wasn’t reaching the real need of the ledger, that I needed to find a more integrated way of connecting with the vendors. Teaching, as I knew it, was gone.

For the 20 years that followed, I worked for small companies, primarily connected through the printing and graphic arts industry. The size of company, the industry, and the region we were in made for a very small, connected world. Our Graphic Arts firm was a hub for the bevy of small printing companies in the area, each vying for market share, suspicious of each other, yet all smiles and handshakes when they happened on each other in our foyer. I knew the ones who paid us promptly, the ones who were past due because of disorganization, and the ones who wanted us to help bankroll their own expansion by not paying their due. I liked the company I worked for. It was a true sole proprietor-owned, Small Business. We had birthday lunches, baby showers, and Holiday Parties. We fought, we apologized, we gossiped, we were dysfunctional like most families. As the technology of the industry began to shift, graphic arts companies were the first to feel the changes. When my work didn’t require as many hours, I began to help out a printing company and a bindery, both small companies, giving me accounting experience, and industry knowledge, which spanned the entire process of producing a printed product.

I did all right as a bookkeeper. Not a Lover-of-Math in school, basic concepts that I would need for bookkeeping had finally been made clear for me when I had to teach kids how to perform the same operations. There is real-world application for math, up though beginning algebra, for most people. I occasionally had to “solve for x” and I was happy to know how. I learned, on the job, how to manage cash flow, anticipate sales income, manage depreciation schedules and accruals, amortize, negotiate with vendors, the importance of customer service, and all the ins and outs of State Tax Reporting. While I had a requisite amount of attention to detail, I was not fastidious with those details, finding myself on a rollercoaster of tidy/filing/all-ducks-in-row to papers piling/entries missed/catching everything up at the last minute. I wasn’t a REAL accountant and didn’t care to be.

Like basic algebra, most people practice a level of real world accounting: paying bills, balancing checking accounts, figuring how much interest they would have to pay on a loan. The IRS requires that we keep wage, banking, and tax deduction records to support our tax returns for any number of years. Less tangible accounting is experienced emotionally. As a child, I was taught, “Love keeps no record of wrong,” a warning against keeping track of offenses. My parents extrapolated the meaning of this to include that if I chose to forgive someone, I was responsible for forgetting the wrong done to me. I will spare you any details of inner unmet expectation and the resultant bouts of guilt, but simply say that forgiving equalling forgetting is bull shit. I do believe that “keeping a record of wrong” is also a load of hooey. Filling ledgers with offenses done to me, petty or otherwise, turns me into Scrooge himself: empty of life, alone and haggard, unable to allow joy or light into my space. I still remember the offense, sometimes acutely, but each time I do, I look to see what I have that’s good, right in that immediate moment: spouse? child? shelter? ability? my garden? or that I am simply still breathing? This exercise helps me begin to let go of the offense, and to continue to let go, over and over if necessary.

Growing up, I thought that not keeping records of wrong was about loving the offender. Now I know it is an exercise of love for my own well-being. And though I often don’t completely forget (it is amazing what an overtired, stressed-out brain can dredge up from the past), the pain, the anger, the twisting effect of those events, lessens. When I stop this negative accounting, when I work on loving myself by offering forgiveness, I can try to practice another adage taught by my parents: Love your neighbor as yourself. Impossible?