I don't know if people in other parts of the world feel whiplashed by changing seasons, but I do here. Despite the summery light lately the weather hasn't been particularly warm—at least not with any consistency. The warm-weather potted plants aren't living outside yet, let's just say. But today we we catapulted directly into some hot weather. So of course, there was just one thing to do!
Well actually we did a great deal of other things too, many of them involving whining, arguing, and discipline, but running in the sprinkler was a nice interlude. And now the fans are doing noble duty cooling down the bedrooms, and there might me a moment in the next several hours when all five of us are asleep!
I am rarely diligent and forward-thinking, but I was last night when I prepared a wonderful-looking kale lasagna for tonight's dinner. The theory was that, to ease our preparations for our Bible study this evening, I could get most of the work done ahead of time, when it was more convenient: at 9:00 at night after fighting to get the boys to bed for and hour and a half. And it looked good too; right up until I opened the refrigerator this afternoon and it slipped out, crashing to the floor in an explosion of sauce, ricotta, and broken glass.
I have to admit that at the moment it felt like a gigantic setback. Lasagna is a fair amount of work to get together, and the we don't make it often on account of not usually having ricotta in the house; I was really looking forward to eating it. Then there was the money wasted: in the ingredients, and in the cost of the pyrex pan that we'll have to replace. It seemed to me, as I walked away from the mess for a minute before trying to clean it up, that the disaster pointed to the tenuous nature of our lives. I may think I can hold things together, this tragedy was trying to tell me, but it just takes one little slip of a pan to make life a lot harder. Or, you know, a car accident, or a serious illness, or something like that.
Of course, the feeling didn't last long; my use of "tragedy" in the last paragraph is somewhat knowingly hyperbolic. There are plenty of worse things that can happen. In this case we just got pizza! But it sure felt disastrous at the time.
A moment from the week.
Sometimes I wish we lived somewhere more farmy. Not so I could grow more vegetables—well, not only so I could grow more vegetables—but so the boys could enjoy long days of wandering outside, inventing games, and playing in dirt. (In my imagination more space and more dirt would reduce fighting.) Still and all, we don't do so bad: this afternoon they were taking breaks from helping me plant beans to try and find ripe strawberries, and chasing the chickens away from both activities. And then Harvey pushed Zion around the yard on the toy tractor for several minutes! So it could be worse, and this way we can still walk to Whole Foods.
These days our family life is dominated by the story of Peter Pan. I was going to say our PLAYTIME is dominated by the story of Peter Pan, but that doesn't go quite far enough. In the car, on our walks, in every corner of the house, Peter Pan's praises are being sung. And sung. And sung. And those of Captain Hook too. All week, including in public, Zion has been crooning gleefully about massacring Indians and killing little boys. For the sake of Indians and little boys within earshot, it's a good thing Zion's a little difficult to understand.
It started like this:
Harvey's friend Taya has a pop-up book of Peter Pan. Harvey and Zion saw it a few months ago at her house and instantly started buzzing. Did I know the story of Peter Pan? Could I tell it to them? What are the names of the Lost Boys? What are the names of the Pirates? Harvey has a craving for KNOWLEDGE, and each time a new story is opened to him he wants to know EVERYTHING about that world. Zion is not so particular about knowing everything, but he is happy to jump on any bandwagon Harvey rolls out, especially if it involves swords and killing bad guys and did I mention swords.
Knowing how much Harvey loves new chapter books (and how much I'm wary of chapter books written in the past half century) I checked out the original Peter Pan story from the Library. JM Barre's Peter Pan is by far the best way to enjoy the story. The text is post-modern before its time, and it pokes knowing fun at children, mothers, and prep-schooler in turn. I didn't mind reading it three times in a row.
But one day I mistakenly started singing:
"Let's be quiet as a mouse and build a lovely little house for Wendy..."
Their mouthes gaped open. There are SONGS of Peter Pan?
"Do you know more songs about Peter Pan?" Harvey asked breathlessly.
I love my children and I want to make them happy. I don't always know where something will go awry.
Over the next few days I had sung them every sond I knew from the 1950s musical. Tender Shepherd. I've Got a Crow. I'm Flying (which, I'm sorry, isn't much of a song at all.)
Their favorite was Ugg A Wugg, however, and by the time they started singing it WITH me I realized I didn't know the verses in order. So I looked it up in You Tube.
Okay, so in retrospect I should have seen that this was a mistake.
Any time my children learn that something they like is also available in VIDEO FORM? Stop everything and prepare for a battle. And not the flying fairy dust kind.
Soon they were asking to watch songs from Peter Pan EVERY SINGLE DAY. One night during Bible study I broke down and purchased a movie of the stage production. I WANTED TO STUDY THE BIBLE! The children sat with their eyes wide for the entire hour. They clapped when Peter asked if they believed in fairies.
Okay, so it was kind of cute when they clapped that they believed in fairies.
But then they were asking to watch some of the movie EVERY SINGLE DAY, Just so he could learn the songs, Harvey pleased. And because the only thing I hate more than watching shows is TALKING ABOUT watching shows, and because it was only a few dollars on Amazon, I bought them the CD.
I don't know why I haven't learned anything about parenting over the past five years. Seriously, I sound like a flippin newb.
Because now every time we get in the car it's "Can we listen to Peter Pan?" "Will it start where we left off?" "Is this ride long enough to listen to Peter Pan?"
Dan casts me a sideways glance as if to say, "What have you done to my life?"
It turns out the Peter Pan is terrible! The characters are two-dimensional and wooden. The songs are at best annoying and at worst racist. I wish I could go back in time and erase my mistake, but unlike the Lost Boys I can't push a pause button. I live in a world where children grow up, and they get more manipulative as they grow, and they know how to fill a car with a baseline level of annoyance that is just enough so that the annoyance of a boy's role sung by a 50-year-old woman will be less annoying than the sound of my children whining.
Peter Pan is the quintessential childhood hero. He gets what he wants because he's sure, carefree and violent. He flies, yes, but other than that he has no special powers other children don't possess. His power comes from his complete lack of oversight.
No one is watching over him. He has external controls. I guess they have a word for that... um.... freedom?
Yeah, on a deep level this story really annoys me. Why should this little jerk get so much freedom?
The truth about Peter Pan, which comes out in the book much more than in the musical, is that he is cruel. He might entertain you for a spell, but then leave you on a cloud by yourself with no way to get down. He is in every way a child: narcissistic, greedy, fickle. Those who follow him, the Lost Boys and the Darling family, do not have compete freedom themselves. Complete freedom only exists if you're content to trample on the freedoms of everyone around you.
I guess that's why his story is so compelling. Wouldn't my kids love to live in a world where they have so much freedom even gravity doesn't apply to them? I left my children at the breakfast table this morning, and I came back to see them standing on their chairs waving their arms.
"They're flying," Dan told me.
"I trust they know their limits," I shrugged.
They are bound by their limitations and so am I. They cannot make breakfast for themselves any more than they can fly off their seats. I have to do that for them along with a trillion other things. And so even as a fully capable adult I'm not very free myself.
I'm more like Captain Hook. I'm an enemy to freedom and a slave to the sound of a ticking clock.
They love this bed because Mama's in it, but when Mama leaves and they're half asleep they're content to snuggle close to each other, enjoying the warmth and love of someone who is not Mama, a beautiful symbiosis of mutual need.
I think life is like this. As they grow I will become less physically present for them, until I will be one day not at all, and in all these moments they will turn to each other and maybe not cuddle but something. That is the reason to have brothers.
Also, it should be noted that our older child stays in his bed all night. Praise to Harvey.
Our farm stand is open again, and as always Harvey and I are excited to get the farm products up there to give away. It's always a bit of a struggle, giving away free vegetables, baked goods, and plants, but we had an exciting success this evening when the gentlemen trying to sell us on upgrading our internet service took a tomato plant.
Of course, we've made some changes for the 2014 season. I moved the stand up on to the porch, hoping to solve the problem of sun-damaged produce; it's a bit better than the roof we built over the stand last spring (visible covering the tomatoes in the right-hand side of the photo above). Of course, balanced against any shade advantages is the fact that having our offerings on the porch might make our shy customers even less willing to take something. I'm combatting any such reluctance with a program of sitting in the rocking chair next to the stand playing music on Harvey's ukelele: who could resist such a draw?!
Harvey is a great help as always, and it's exciting to see him take ownership of the operation. As Leah described on facebook the other day, he explained his choice to wear the Drumlin Farm shirt thusly: "Isn't this shirt so pretty? I'll wear it out at the farm stand. Then everyone will know I'm the farmer. Because I pretty much AM the farmer." As such, he's useful in the garden too, when the mood strikes; he pulled all the radishes, for example, (oh how he looked forward to that task, asking me daily if they were ready yet) and he's in charge of the cherry tomato plants for the season.
If you're in the neighborhood you really should stop by for a visit. Besides radishes right now we have garlic scapes, occasional cookies, and lots of plants. Act soon if you want tomato or eggplant starts—they won't be around for much longer! But there'll be something whenever you come by... at least through October.
We make a lot of things from scratch around here, like bread and deodorant (two projects from yesterday). The ones we do over an over again aren't hard for us (though they are sometimes tedious), but I totally recognize that they might be hard to approach for the first time. But some homemade projects are so easy that I really don't know why everyone doesn't do them, and probably the easiest one is mint tea.
There's actually one bit of the process that's a little tough for me, and it's the reason that "MINT TEA" features prominently on my part of the to-do chalkboard: to make mint tea my way you have to start the day before. But once you remember to start, you've got it made, because all you have to do is boil a pot of water and turn off the heat, then put some stems from your mint plant in there—preferably washed, unless you like a more buggy or dirt-infused flavor. Then in the morning strain the tea into a pitcher or jar and stick it in the fridge, and drink it when it's cold. That's it!
Of course, you may be protesting that you don't tend to have mint lying around, which is fair. But you'll be happy to know that, as mint tea is the easiest thing to make, mint itself is the easiest plant to grow. It's actually pretty much a weed, so if you don't want it to take over everything you should grow it in a pot, where it'll do fine with no more water than it gets from the rain. As an easy rule of thumb, I'd estimate you need one five-gallon-sized pot of mint for each day of the week you'd like to make your tea (and I should mention that I make it a gallon at a time). Or if you have the space, let it roam: when it starts to spread too far outside its bounds pull up the plants you want for your tea instead of clipping off just the top half of each stem with scissors, as you should in cases when you want more mint to grow.
As you may have guessed from the paragraph above, we have plenty of healthy mint plants to give away, so if any of this sounds good stop by next time you're in the neighborhood and I'll hook you up. Or just come in for the tea; I try to always have some in the fridge this time of year.
Today is Harvey's birthday. Harvey is five years old today. Five years ago I swallowed a quarter cup of castor oil to induce labor, and I had NO IDEA what I was getting into. I mean, with becoming a parent and all. I had no idea how challenging and frustrating and surprising and enlightening and all-around all-consuming parenthood would be. Castor oil, I had a sense how THAT was gonna go. That part pretty much came out as expected.
Harvey at five years old is a wonder. He's loving, compassionate, empathetic and curious. He's also bossy (but not as bad as some other kids) and gluttonous (but not as bad as I project onto him.) He says things like, "I just always want to hug you, Mama." and "I just love you Elijah" and "Zion! Just give it to me!" He says the word 'just' a lot, I guess. He sits in on a lot of our Vineyard-style Small Groups and he seems to have picked up this denominational affectation.
At five Harvey is getting braver and attempting more physical feats. Recently at the playground he called me over to where he was perched atop a playhouse. He didn't want me to help him down — he just wanted me to stand three feet away and watch him jump. He said very specifically: "Don't help. I just want you near me. I want you to stand there. " The second time he asked me to perform this task he explained it with even more self-awareness. "I need you to help me be brave," he said. My heart just about melted in my throat as I stood next to that playhouse, watching him jump down by himself and then pump his fist in the air at his mission accomplished. This is the job set out for me right now, mothering a child that is all too like myself, and Yes I will stand where you need me to stand, Harvey. Yes I will help you be brave.
More about Harvey at 5 years old: he loves farming and biking and outings and food. He loves picking out clothes and costumes and deciding what things are pretty. "Isn't this so pretty?" He says of his collared-shirt and shorts combo, or about an outfit he's just put on one of his dollies. He also notices when I wear something different and notes brightly, "I like your pretty skirt, Mama." But he's honest and not universally complimentary. At the pond the other day when Zion asked why I had a new swimsuit I replied, "Because my boobs didn't fit in the old one."
"Your boobs don't fit in this one, Mama," Harvey pointed out.
"Well, they mostly fit in this one," I explained. "It IS a bathing suit after all. It's okay if the top part of my boobs show a little in a bathing suit."
Zion summarized the situation thusly: "A little bit in and a little bit out!"
Oh my boys.
I honestly look forward to the next five, ten, and fifteen years, with Harvey learning to bake and sew in earnest, to read and figure, to follow the passions I see already in him and those that have yet to catch me by surprise. At the same time, I relish the present, this perfect moment, when Harvey still gives hugs and asks to be read to and everything is just beginning.
I love that kid, all five years of him. Happy birthday Harvey.
It began with a trip to Michaels.
Okay, so full disclosure, I should not be allowed to go on a trip to Michaels. Michaels is a crafting superstore one exit past Joanne Fabrics, and unlike Joannes which is mostly sewing stuff, Michaels stocks materials for EVERY hobby under the sun. Painting, beadwork, scrapbooking, not to mention fake floral arranging (?) and knock-off American Girl Doll clothes (??). It's just so overwhelming that my normal thrifty instincts break down, and I end up leaving the store with a bag full of hobby supplies that do not even match my hobbies. I never go to Michaels for that reason, but Dan had to get some things for work and I had to pick up a canvas for my mother's birthday present, so we went on a family outing together.
Also? I should not be allowed to bring my kids to Michaels. Because my kids are exactly like me only 30 years less mature. So when they saw FOAM CRAFT KITS! ON SALE! they immediately said, "Mama Mama Mama I think we should get some!" To which I replied, "Which ones do you like?" and my husband walked away from all of us in disgust.
This is how Harvey got to make his first fairy house.
Well, okay, so first I made them wash the windows. Because we don't just BUY presents for NO REASON. When the windows were clean we got to work on the craft kits.
First I assembled Zion's boat (in approximately seventeen million minutes) then Harvey and I set to decorating his foam fairy house. We worked on it together, with him telling me where to squirt the hot glue, me working the glue gun, and him sticking on a pom-pom or glittering leaf. I've heard there are such things as low-temperature glue guns, and I may need to invest in one of those for the future. Or three.
After an hour of QUALITY TIME with my child (and trashing two rooms of the house with tiny pieces of foam) we had a fairy house all ready for its residents.
It was lovely! For about 24 hours. Then Zion got mad and tried to rip it apart. It doesn't matter what he got mad about - it's just that we shouldn't have rip-able toys lying around the living room. This includes paper, cardboard, and yes light foam. We should know better with an angry three-year-old in the house.
Harvey, to his credit, didn't stoop to destructive levels of anger. As he grows his moments of emotional resilience increase in number, and instead he casually remarked, "I think we should make a new fairy house. Out of FELT."
Oh my sweet sewing-inclined son. You always have excellent ideas.
The next morning while Zion and Elijah slept, Harvey and I cut out felt pieces for the new house. While I tried to steer him towards brown and green (to make it look a tree, or something dumb like that) Harvey insisted that both body and roof be purple. With a red floor on the bottom. I followed his wishes because it was his fairy house after all, but I took charge choosing the accent colors (because I am controlling, and I like to LIKE the things I sew.) We had to abandon our project when the younger two children woke up, but when Harvey and Zion went to Grandma's later I finished the thing in a whirlwind three hour sewing session. I was supposed to clean and rest during that time, but sewing feverishly is a kind of resting, right? For manic people?
Of course, once that was done I needed to make some fairies.
Truth be told, I wasn't really happy with the first two fairies. They didn't exactly match the aesthetic of the house. So I made a more basic model.
Then I decided I really MUST clean my house for a birthday party.
The first thing Harvey said when he saw the finished fairy house was, "Oh, this is a good surprise, Mama! Thank you for making it! I like how you made a leaf for the doorknob."
The other kids at the party were SUPER interested in the fairy house, and for a moment I thought it might get ripped in two. Thankfully however, felt and stabilizer turn out to be pretty strong. I was also nervous that Harvey's school-going friends might make fun of him for wanting a purple fairy house, but it turned out they thought it was pretty cool (though they did fight over who got to be the BLUE fairy.)
Of course, there were lot of new toys at the birthday party, and once Harvey abandoned the fairy house for some newer hotness Zion filled the space by making it a setting for his story. With his (new) (disney) (plastic) peter pan figures (thanks Grandma.)
The fields at Parlee finally opened after a cold spring, so we took our first picking trip of the year this morning. Well, most of us did; Leah and Lijah stayed home. She says she has too many bad memories of trying to do pick-your-own with an infant, which is more then fair. But the bigger boys were excited for the adventure!
They brought their backpacks so they could carry their own lunches, water, and, in one case, diapers. Harvey showed his seriousness by getting right down to picking berries, not all of which ended up in his mouth.
Zion was only serious about eating. The only berry he put in his basket was almost entirely white; a little of it was green. But he enjoyed himself!
We met the Stevenses there, and I was very impressed at how well elementary-aged children can contribute to the family welfare through their labor. The younger boys, working together, chipped in a tiny bit.
But the best part of the whole trip was that Grandma Judy came along. After she picked her own four quarts and helped Harvey with some of his one, she gave the little ones something else to do while we finished up the harvest.
Between all of us we ended up with 32 overflowing quarts: besides Grandma's we took home 12 and Bridget and co. had 16. It was a true team effort, and we were all proud and tired.
Now I suppose I have to make some jam!
I think today was the hottest day of the year so far, which may or may not be related to the boys' decision to play snow exploration late this afternoon. It was probably 80°F or so in the house; the snow gear didn't stay on very long, but I was still impressed. I just wish I'd gotten a picture of the two of them together!
Did you know we're running a free, unaccredited day camp? We are! Today was our first day. We had eight kids (and one additional parent to help out), and after some playing, a snack, and a lesson on identifying poison ivy, we went for a walk in the woods.
The kids all carried their own backpacks with lunches, water, and other supplies; well, most of them. Zion didn't manage to make it to the end of our street with his on, but no worries, we had strollers along to portage any cast-off gear and tired kids (and despite dumping the backpack Zion needed to be in the stroller himself most of the way—but that's fair, he was the smallest one there).
Besides getting tons of exercise the kids also did some naturalizing. Harvey even brought his new magnifying glass along, and was very interested in the dragonfly larvae he noticed in the horse trough.
The walk was probably close to a mile, and Harvey walked—and ran—the whole way, so he was tired out after all the campers left mid afternoon. I don't know what Zion's excuse was; I guess fresh air itself can be powerfully soporific.
All in all it was a great time, and we're looking forward to doing it again next week! Let us know if you want to be part of the fun: there are still spots available!
When Harvey and Zion were younger I used to read to them from the bible every day. We'd sit on the couch and read a prayer, then a story from each of their kids bibles, then the illustrated Nicene creed. Then if we were on a roll we'd read about a saint. It worked well for about a year, and then it didn't work at all.
It stopped working when they started annoying me on purpose, hitting the book or poking each other or repeating the same words over and over again when they knew it irritated me. Suddenly I was doing this thing that felt only important to ME. They knew that it was important to me, and that made them uncomfortable. Well, that's the most charitable explanation. Could be it made them feel like they had the power to mess with me. Suddenly reading the bible was the beginning of a disciplinary fight. So I stopped the practice altogether. I didn't want them to see the bible primarily as something that made Mama angry.
I also stopped praying with Harvey at bedtime, for other reasons. First he asked me to pray for him multiple times each night, and I thought either it was a stalling technique for not going to bed or it was becoming an anxious compulsion. So sometimes I said no after the first time, and sometimes I prayed multiple times with both eyes closed, "Please God no nightmares, blah blah blah, no bad dreams, I'm falling asleep zzzzzzz." Then Harvey started asking me to NOT pray for him because it GAVE him nightmares. The psychological explanation for this is simple: he was asking me to pray for him NOT to have nightmares, so as soon as I started praying he started thinking obsessively about nightmares. Or you could go for a spiritual explanation, spiritual warfare and all, which may be true but it's not a helpful way to frame the topic for a 4-year-old.
So no bible and no bedtime prayer. For half a year that felt authentic to me, and I figured life was long and grace sufficient.
Then Harvey started asking me to pray for him recently, again about the nightmares, and I did something different. I ACTUALLY prayed for him. No more praying as emotional palliative care, or praying as a model of how I thought Harvey should learn how to pray. Instead, I prayed for him like I would pray for an adult at church. I listened to God and praying what I thought felt right. I said things in the normal non-kid language I use. Like, "Thank you that Harvey is covered in your blood, Lord Jesus, as a protection against all evil." You know, shit that SHOULD give kids nightmares.
But you know what? Harvey started to say things he didn't say before. He let out a sight and said, "I feel better." He rolled over and said, "Thanks. That worked."
You know, as if this prayer stuff was real or whatever.
You know, I do believe God is real. But sometimes in parenting I forget.
Sometimes I think that I am God. That I control the universe of our home right down to my children's beliefs. (It isn't true.) Or I believe it's my job is to serve up a safe, cuddly, moderated God for my children. A sanitized God of the fuzzy bible. Yes that is a rea thing. We actually own a bible covered in fur.
This is the God that bores them. They start poking each other. It becomes the Catechism of Mom is Testy.
And yet there is the other God. Let's call him Jesus. He's a real person with a real relationship to Harvey. He's awesome and compelling and brave. He rides through Harvey's dreams on a white horse chasing away the nightmares.
Jesus is God who comes alive when I step to the side and let Harvey experience him for real.
Tonight after I prayed for Harvey and he said he felt better, he said, "You know, I never pray for you Mama. You should ask me to pray for you sometimes."
In normal parenting this is not the sort of thing that happens. When I'm mad I don't immediately turn to my child and ask him to pray for me. But I think I should start. With God anything is possible.