When I was a child I made a dollhouse, a beautiful ornate wooden mansion that I constructed from a kit with considerable help from my parents. I don't remember doing any hammering myself, but I remember painting and painstakingly gluing on every tiny shingle. So when I noticed Zion playing with a dollhouse at a friend's house, I thought to ask my parents if they still had the thing. My mom checked the basement and said they had it but it was huge. I said it can't possibly be that big. She said to take a look next time I came over.
So last week when I brought the boys for a play date, my mother urged me to look at the dollhouse in the basement. It was bigger than I thought, so big in fact that we'd have to remove shelving to find a place for it. Also the furniture has disappeared. Well, I certainly couldn't afford new furniture for a dollhouse that's half the size of my real house. Dejected, I started back towards the basement stairs.
That's when I saw it.
"Mooom!" I yelled from the basement, my voice filled with childlike excitement, "Forget the dollhouse! I want to take my loom!"
I thought they had sold it. They had asked me if they could sell it. Indeed, when I came up the stairs with an armful of loom parts under my arm my mother asked me, "Didn't we sell that?" No, all this time it had been hauled up in a corner of the basement. Not getting in the way, but not making cloth for anybody either.
You might be asking yourself: why do your parents have a barely used table loom in their basement? The answer is because they love me. When I was in fourth grade I was part of a Waldorf-style experiment in the public school (described in a book by my former teacher in which he erroneously called me by a different name.) I really took to weaving that year, so much so that my parents bought me a little loom that I could use at home. We paid some fiber-crafty neighbor to teach me how to set the thing up. In reality, though, we just paid her to set it up. Because while the process of weaving is meditative for a meticulous 9-year-old, the process of stringing a warp onto a loom requires a complicated number of steps that challenges my brainpower even now.
And so I wove a few tapestries all those years ago, enough to fill up one warp stringing, and then I never picked it up again. A poor mostly-new loom sat in my parents' basement collecting dust. Thankfully not mold, though. My parents' basement is remarkably dry.
So last week I piled the big loom and all its accessories into the back of Dan's station wagon. (Actually, my mother who just had knee surgery did it for me, because she won't let a pregnant lady lift things.) On the way home my excitement started to temper with a bit of worry. Would Dan raise his eyebrows at the enormous piece of equipment I was bringing home? I thought of saying something like: "I have good news and bad news. The good news is I brought this loom home! The bad news is I brought this loom home."
Thankfully Dan has a soft spot for pioneer crafts, and he didn't protest the loom's entrance into the house. We put it in the middle of the living room and admired it for a moment. Then Harvey started asking when he could start weaving.
Excitement is a virtue in our house, clearly. Patience is something we're still working on.
There were two problems we had to tackle before weaving. The first was that we couldn't permanently store a loom in the middle of the living room. After some negotiations between me and Dan (who was running out the door at the time and therefore not at his hard-line best) he agreed I could remove the door-side table with the promise that we would find a smaller table to hold the lamp and the dog leash. Then later Dan volunteered to make such a table himself. Doesn't sound like much of a negotiation really.
Then again, Dan brings a lot of potted plants into the house, so I guess I've built up a credit.
The second problem was stringing the warp. I looked up a few videos online but there was nothing posted for my particular model and every method looked more confusing than the next. After careful examination of the machine, I decided to wing it and try to figure it out myself. In what is probably an unapproved warp stringing method I cut approximately 200 strings of similar length and tied them in groups of 4 to the front and back of the loom, stringing each through the little holes. The process took me three hours on Saturday night.
I just want to emphasize that. Not three hours during the day while I was playing with the kids and serving snacks, the way I might say it took three hours to cook a turkey. This took three UNINTERRUPTED hours after the kids went to sleep. I considered it an act of love for my oldest son.
And it was completely worth it. Because Harvey's joy at loom weaving? Incredible.
After we wove a few rounds together, Harvey felt confident enough to try it by himself the following day. He banged the beater so hard that the picture on the wall next to him shook crooked, but his weaving looked nice and tight.
Here's our work together so far. It's slow going, because I have to be on hand to untangle the shuttle thread and because Zion can't find a productive role in the process. But we'll probably get some fabric ready for Christmas. Harvey says the first thing he wants to make is a present. For PowPow.
My favorite thing about the loom as a teaching tool is that a child can't really break it. The worst they could do is bend the metal strips, and even then there are extras. The rest of the loom is made up of wood and string, bits that connect together in ways that are obvious and replaceable. Unlike my computerized sewing machine that is breakable and therefore attracts scolding, this is a truly child-friendly adult tool. Plus merely touching the wood makes you a gentler person, if the Waldorf method is to be believed. All mocking aside, it certainly makes me happier than an end table.
After looking under and behind every piece of furniture in our already ready-for-company-clean house, I opened my computer in a bizarre mix of despair and hope, as if I secretly thought I would discover to a CSI-inspired PowPow tracking device.
Instead, despair and hope brought me (as they often do) to facebook.
"If I could ask God one question right now," I wrote, "and have Him answer immediately, I would ask: 'Where is PowPow?' (PowPow is Harvey's doll)"
A few minutes later my neighbor wrote a comment. "Did u check our yard... saw him come with it"
In a moment I was outside with the flashlight. Yes, PowPow was in the neighbor's yard, right next to the sandbox. So happy to stop looking, I kissed that doll right on its sandy plastic head.
And this was after Harvey swore up and down he hadn't taken PowPow out of the house today! When I brought the doll up to Harvey's bed and told him where I'd found it he said, "Oh. I knew it was there."
dot dot dot.
I have not been great with this thing our church calls "listening to God." Sure I pray, but my prayer is not a lot different from my thinking and my thinking is not a lot different from my worrying or list making or whatever it is I do in my head that is impossible to shut off. I have isolated moments of peace in the same way I have isolated moments of anaerobic activity; they're fun and they make me feel better afterward but they can't go on forever.
But this season has been even worse, since I got pregnant. The busy thoughts just can't seem to shut off, my hands won't be calm unless they are cleaning or making or holding something. I wonder if it is the hormones. And then secretly I wonder and push it to the back of my mind: could it be avoidance? Could if be fear of reality? The reality that you're going to have another child?
Because God knows every time I get pregnant there's this little fingers-in-my-ears dance I have to do with reality. "La la la, I'm not LISTENING to you! I know having a baby is the hardest fucking thing in the world but it's going to be LOOOOOOVELY with a cute little baby, La la la..."
Because the reality of having a baby is a real bitch. I'm not talking about the body-destroying labor, with the fluids and the blood and so many people all up in my business, forget what plans you had for this week, THIS is what you're doing now. Or the horrible week following where everybody needs to come over to my house asking me how I feel when that is such an asshole question, how do you THINK I feel? I'm talking about the weeks and months and two whole years of not sleeping, of wondering when I'll get a moment to put some sort of food in my mouth, of having an audience whenever I go to the bathroom, an audience of hecklers.
In order to say YES I'LL DO THIS AGAIN there has got to be some major mental trickery involved. I wonder if it's this, the self-delusion, the "it'll all be fine" that I repeated to myself over and over again, if it's this chimera butting heads with the bull of reality that means my brain can't stop spinning for one single second.
Because even if God wanted tell me where PowPow was, I wouldn't be able to hear it.
But then of course there is a silver lining.
Because every time I share my fear or my anger or my absolute inner insanity there is someone else who answers saying, "Right on. I totally get that."
Because whenever I share the inmost cry of my heart, whenever I say, you know this is ridiculous but I've GOT to find Harvey's doll tonight, there is someone jumping in saying, "You're looking for PowPow? I've seen PowPow. PowPow is right over here."
If that's not God speaking then I don't know what is.
Summer hung on for a long time this year, but, as I warned the boys this evening as I pulled out extra blankets, tonight is going to be the coldest night of the season so far. Harvey at least is ready for snow: maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow, he says. He and I worked hard this weekend getting the garden ready for the winter; it's not quite done yet, but if you ask me the snow isn't coming quite as soon as that, so there's probably time. There are still a few flowers blooming, even: the butterfly bushes, that go as long as the bees can manage and longer, and the late purple chrysanthemums from Grandma Judy. None quite so pretty as our zinnias, of course, pictured above in an arrangement from August. I like that picture and never got a chance to show it off, so I thought I would do it now, on the edge of winter.
Another garden story that I never shared is our bean teepee. We were inspired by Vera's Baby Sister, by Vera Rosenberry—or I was, in any case, and even though Harvey's baby brother is no kind of problem to him he was happy to agree when I asked him if he wanted his own teepee.
It grew in very nicely and he was happy and proud of it when he thought about it, but it was really too small to do any playing in. Not that I could have made it much bigger; as it was I had to use a ladder to pick the beans at the top and even then there were many that escaped the harvest. Oh well, we're not huge fans of green beans in this family anyways, so no great loss. And because we couldn't pick all those beans to eat I was able to save plenty of seeds for next year! Maybe Zion will want a teepee to make up for his baby brother or sister showing up...
The time change happened, which was nice because it made the morning very relaxed yesterday and today, but not nice because it meant that sunset was just 37 minutes after I got home today.
Both at church yesterday and in the school today I was expecting people to be, if not actually early, then at least bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, what with all the wonderful opportunities of the extended morning. Then suddenly it occurred to me: not everyone is a morning person. That means they don't care what time it gets light, or that they can seize on this artificial shift of the clocks to go to bed even earlier than they would otherwise—they just wake up whenever their alarm clock tells them to. As in everything else, I'm so out of the mainstream I don't even know what it is most of the time.
May I crow for a moment about my oldest child?
Harvey loves wearing clothes. Clothes, costumes, accessories, you name it. I love clothes too, and I love to make tiny clothes, but Harvey's zest for homemade fashion is an extra sweet reward for my efforts. When I couldn't find his regular Drumlin Farm hat I pulled this one out of the bottom of the closet hoping it might fit. Instead of throwing a you're-changing-stuff-on-me tantrum, Harvey perked right up, saying he LOVED the wooden buttons. He thought they looked like bear eyes, and he thought the ear flaps looked like bear ears. So he called this his "bear hat."
My little catalogue model. It's the whole milk that makes those cheeks.
Harvey was happy to wear his knitted mittens too (even though he really wants RED ones, another thing to add to my list). The tie was his own addition to the outfit. In all of this he stands in start contrast to his younger brother who HATES all outerwear. Zion absolutely refuses to put on mittens, even after he says his hands are cold. The coat alone is a big production. After the coat, I have no more energy to fight about mittens. I guess that's what pockets are for.
Harvey on the other hand? Harvey is a joy to dress, to knit for, to take to Drumlin Farm on a cold November day.
Coming home in the car Harvey said, "A lot of people admired my tie on this trip." Which was true.
Then he said, "When we get home can we read Anne of Green Gables as a refreshment?"
God I love that kid.
Dan will assure you, thought I will be the first to admit it, that this pregnancy has temporarily transformed me into a different person — someone who is insane. Well, I'm always a little bit insane anyway, but now I'm insane about HOME DECORATING. Things that I never noticed before, things that haven't bothered me about our house in the past eight years are suddenly MONUMENTAL PROBLEMS that need to be remedied RIGHT NOW. Like the color of the upstairs hallway? DISGUSTING! How could we even LIVE in a house with such an uninviting hallway? How can we bring a BABY into a house like this? Nevermind that I'm already raising two children here who could not possibly give a shit about a the color of the wall at the top of the stairs.
The upstairs hallway, for the record, bore the only interior walls that were completely white. Not a nice clean "I trust my surgeon that I'm in good hands" sort of white, but a dirty yellow-and-green tinged white that seems to say, "Oh, you're coming up the stairs? Why don't you go fuck yourself?"
So on Thursday evening amidst terrible traffic on Great Road I forced my entire family to accompany me to the hardware store to choose a new paint color. Because it was TERRIBLY IMPORTANT to my sanity.
I had in mind an earthy shade of pink, having been inspired by a trip to the Lexington Waldorf school where every wall is some version of soothing pastel. Dan used his superior design skills to help me pick out a color that wasn't too dark, or "institutional" as he put it. Once I had the paint in hand I could think of nothing else. Despite two days packed with social engagements I managed to paint a first coat over the entire hallway this weekend.
You wanna feel real productive about your weekend? Go paint something! Then even if the rest of the house is dirty, some part of your house is A DIFFERENT COLOR!
The look of the upstairs is already much improved. Now as you come up the stairs a bright cheery pink wall greets you as if to say, "Hello darling! Would you like to play fairies? Would you care for a massage after visiting our native american sweat lodge?"
Of course, there's still a second coat to do, and new outlet covers to pick out, and hanging some vinyl decals I bought on Etsy. Is $100 too much to spend on a hallway? Wait, don't tell me.
Last week at church I was reading to the boys and as I started the second book someone asked how many books we read to them a week. "A week?" I answered. "How about a day!" Then of course I had to come up with a number for that, so off hand I said, "oh, twenty or thirty."
I don't think it's actually that many; not anymore, at least. Maybe back in the baby book days, but now that each book takes at least five minutes that would put us at well over an hour of reading a day, which we don't always reach. But sometimes we do! I think a more realistic number for books read is between ten and twenty. A lot, anyways.
Harvey especially is a voracious consumer of stories. When I'm talking with other parents about their children's taste in literature, I tell them that Harvey would listen to the phone book read aloud if we were enjoying it, because it would mean more reading time. Not that he doesn't have taste in the sort of stories that he wants to read, of course—there are certainly some books and types of books he likes more than others. But the act of listening to someone read to him is on its own a pretty big draw. Zion isn't quite as omnivorous in his taste, but he's still pretty patient for a two-year-old when it comes to listening to the written word.
I don't know what we win for this, but I will say that I'm very impressed with both boys' ability to make connections with the text we read, something that I'm always trying to drag out of second- and third-grade students. They get text-to-text, text-to-self: they're fully involved in processing the story on all sorts of levels. However impressed I might be, though, I would still prefer they kept those connections to themselves at bedtime instead of shouting out whatever occurs to them and disturbing the carefully curated atmosphere of calm and quite peace that I work so hard to create. At least one of them can actually fall asleep while listening to a story, if circumstances allow; and when I think of it even Harvey occasionally drifts off before I finish a chapter. As a parent I'm delighted when that happens, and as an educator I trust they're still processing the story in their dreams.
Since the arrival of the cool fall weather, our dog Rascal has been extremely, what's the word? Needy. He needs a walk in the morning (at least 30 minutes, please) before Dan leaves for work. He needs a walk as soon as Dan gets home, indeed he starts barking for one up to an hour before then. And often, additionally, he needs a walk sometime in the middle of the day when a walk means bribing two children into the stroller, two children who are happily doing something inside.
You know that giant yard that we fenced in at great expense so the dog could go out ANY TIME HE WANTS??? Not good enough for him. He sits at the door barking and then when I open the door for him he looks up at me like, "What is this BS? You want me to go pee BY MYSELF? Out there? But that's just not STIMULATING enough for me."
I am trying to love Rascal and deal with his needs without seeing them as a personal affront to my health, sanity, and self determination. It is a struggle.
In the meantime, I am trying to figure out non-food-related bribes to get my children in the stroller for a mid-day walk. A stroll to Bruggers can cost $10 for the three of us!!! But you know what's free? Fishing!
A brook runs under our local bike path at a spot not half a mile from our house. It's a good place to sit and stir the water with long sticks, if the weather isn't too wet or cold.
Harvey and Zion like to hook leaves on their long sticks and offer them to me as fish. Then I am obligated to take the soggy things off the end of the stick and say, "Num num num."
Rascal waits rather impatiently for the rest of his walk. I tie him a little ways from the stream or else he dives in after the sticks and gets the kids all wet. So he whines until I can't stand it anymore. My goodness that dog.
Fishing with sticks is so much fun that my kids pretend to see fish even in driveway puddles.
The children are so adorable in their enthusiasm for catching pretend fish, that it's almost enough to make me suspend my irritation with another creature barking at me. Almost.
I never like getting home from work after the sun has set. Not only does it make me sad about all the time away from my family, I also really regret the chance to get some real work done! Not that I'm ever highly functional after a day of gainful employment, but I like to make at least a token effort towards the things that need to get done around here before winter sets in. It snowed yesterday morning: we're running out of time!
I had a good chat with Harvey on Monday as he begged me to play in the boat just one more time. "These are the things that need to get done," I told him. "If the house doesn't get painted the water will get in the walls and they'll fall down. If we don't get the compost and mulch on the garden we won't be able to grow vegetables next year." (See, I like spending time with my family when they also let do the things I want to do.) Happily he's a wonderful boy and even volunteered to help with the scraping; he's definitely at the age when he wants to do some real work, at least in theory and for five minutes. It's a start!
Sadly, we didn't get too much done because of Zion collapsing of tiredness and Rascal pushing open the gate and getting away into the woods (which, on the upside, gave Harvey another chance to show his helpfulness by tromping, on his own, to where I was trying to convince Rascal to come with me and adding his own powers of persuasion). So I hated to see the sun go down today when I wasn't even half-way home.
But there's still tomorrow afternoon free, and the weather for the weekend looks reasonable... all hope is not lost. Plus we have a new blackboard for organizing our to-do lists, so that'll totally help everything get done right away! Right?
Would you like to see my new upstairs hallway? It is a work of art.
Weeks ago, before I got all nesting crazy about the hallway color, I was working on this idea that I could put up some vinyl decals to freshen up the space without having to paint. Then I went down the rabbit hole that is shopping for wall decals on Etsy. After several days of thinking nothing but DECALS I asked Dan to approve my choice. The man not only said Yes you can put a giant tree silhouette up on our wall, but he also said "If you're going to pay $50 for decals that can only be put up once, you might as well paint first."
God I love my husband.
Then I dragged him to the hardware store to help me choose a PINK color, and at this point I might have thought, well, maybe I don't need decals after all if I'm totally redoing the hallway with fresh paint. But by then the decals were already IN THE MAIL because when I am pregnant my DECISION is not separate from my ACTION.
So yesterday I spent three hours sticking brown leaves to a pink wall. When I pulled off the first sheet of contact paper I remarked to myself, "Wow. I am finally realizing my dream of living inside of an Anthropologie dressing room."
I don't know if you've taken proper notice of the chickens.
I spent at least a half an hour trying to arrange the chickens into a configuration that I felt was both loving and biblical. Since the cock and hen are facing the same way the male has to lead, obviously. But arranging the whole family in size order would make the rooster look cold and distant from his children. The woman had to be bringing up the rear, then, but not in an useless way. After a few failed attempts at spacing I got it so the first chick subtly fits into the empty space under the cock's tail, thus demonstrating his fatherly nurturing AND leadership abilities. The hen for her part had to be close enough to the chicks to be comforting, but not so close that she seemed smothering. Also it was hard to get a proper vertical alignment on her with her one foot lifted. There is a lot to consider when you're placing sticky vinyl doppelgangers of your family in poultry form.
When I was done with the chickens I invited the children upstairs to view the masterpiece. Harvey gasped, "It's like we live in the forest!"
Then he noticed an unused chick sticker on the floor. "Where can I put this one?"
"Well, right now there are three chicks on the wall," I told him, "One for you, one for Zion, and one for the new baby. I'm not going to put up this forth chick now because I'm superstitious. But I'll keep it in a safe place in case we have a forth baby some day and need it."
Then I thought to myself, "Well, I didn't really leave enough room for another chick. I guess it could go on the other side of the rooster..."
And then I thought, "If we have another baby after this one we'll have bigger problems than where to fit a 3-inch vinyl decal."
Because seriously, if we have another baby after this? Someone might have to stage an intervention about my decorating.
Can I talk about throwing up for a quick second? Okay, great.
I've been throwing up a lot this pregnancy. Not every day, which would bump me me into the category of British royalty. But frequently enough that I can run gagging to the bathroom while my family is at the breakfast table, and nobody even batts an eye. Nobody says "Poor Mama" or "Are you okay in there?" Everyone just goes on eating breakfast like it's no big deal, except Harvey who maybe yells through the door, "Mama, when you're done can you get me some juice?"
I was thinking about this yesterday while I was puking, I was thinking that there's nausea and then there's actually puking nausea, and they're only very subtly different. There are many times in my life where I say, "I feel like I'm gonna puke" and I don't actually do it. Still, in those moments I'm sure that I feel so poorly that vomiting must be only moments away. And when I'm feeling that way, you better believe everyone around me knows about it.
But then there's this whole different feeling, the feeling of vomit in its immediate urgency. I don't know how it feels different exactly, but it's different enough that in those moments there's no whining or complaining - there are only agile feet finding the quickest route to the bathroom. When it counts, when I need to puke not all over my rug, there is surprisingly little commentary - there is only action.
Right now I am highly in favor of action that short circuits complaining. But a moment ago I stuck my arm wrist-deep into a toilet Harvey had filled with his pee to carefully extract my wedding ring. I had run into the bathroom when I heard a clink followed by Harvey screaming. I thought perhaps he had knocked his tooth out on the toilet. When I saw there was no blood, and then that he had merely thrown my ring in the toilet, I was pleasantly relieved.
Or last night, when I was on the toilet peeing and Zion was playing with toys by the side of the tub I had just filled, and he fell in headfirst and fully clothed. I jumped up and snatched him out of the water, unconcerned that my pants were around my ankles and that I couldn't stop myself from peeing on them.
In retrospect, this is kind of disgusting. But when you're saving your baby from drowning, or saving your wedding ring from an expensive plumber extraction, or saving your carpet from being covered with semi-digested shredded wheat, disgusting does not trouble the imagination. Nothing much does, indeed. There is just the imperative ACT NOW with such urgency that meta processing is meaningless.
I would like to live more in this way, with less thought and more action. Even when life isn't such an emergency.
Zion knows he's going to have some younger competition soon, and it may be that he remembers—from his own experience on the giving end!—how hard it can be on parents having a newborn around. Lately he's certainly being very considerate in offering us some chances to work up our game, at least as far as the being-up-all-night-holding-a-screaming-child aspect of the affair is concerned.
He's always been very different than Harvey when it comes to sleeping. Harvey is tough to get to sleep but then he's pretty much set for a long stretch; Zion drifts off quite easily (even during his bedtime story!) but then is a light and restless sleeper. And of course, when he wakes he wants company and help getting back to sleep (as has Harvey for most of his life, though we're really cracking down now). Leah tends to provide that service, mostly because Zion doesn't like me all that much so I am never what he's looking for when he has comforting in mind. Sometimes, though, the whole affair gets too aggravating even for her patience—what with the deliberate grabbing that forms part of how he cuddles with his mama and the accidental kicks as he drifts off to sleep—and I get to take a hand. Like last night.
One difference between Zion and a newborn, of course, is that he's pretty verbal. "No Dada, I want to sleep in my bed, with Mama!" Also his violence is more focused and directed: after flailing for a couple minutes yelling "let go of me!!" he switched his tactic to hitting me in the face. I gave him a halfhearted spank after the first couple blows, but that didn't actually seem like the direction I wanted to go in: things were already plenty escalated, and I just wanted to get back to sleep. So I let him satisfy himself by bopping me a few more times, at which point he succumbed to the inevitable and let me cuddle him until he drifted off.
So maybe it's not that much like a newborn: the really little guys can't reach your face to slap you, but on the other hand they have no idea of what might or might not be inevitable. But whether you're dealing with a one-month-old or a two-and-a-half year old, there's still that same wonderful moment when they finally start to settle down and you shift all at once from being mostly just annoyed (if not downright furious) to feeling like a loving parent—and receiving love from the deal as well as just giving it. That, and the being up at all hours of the night. That's the same too.
Last night I had a dream that I was hired as an assistant coach to an elite high-school figure skating team. (This is not such an odd thing to imagine on its own, if you grow up in the sort of town that breeds young girls into world-renown synchronized skaters.)
On the first day of my new position, I uncovered a frightful hazing ritual. Each new recruit, in addition to her regular publicity shots, would be photographed under a giant sword of Damocles of sorts. It was a large paper-mache penis hanging from the rafters in a corner of the dressing room. The poor girl would look up, see the veins and the pubic hair in fee-fi-fo-fum proportions, and she would shiver a bit and mutter, "Ew, gross."
In my dream this was deadly serious, but when I woke up in the morning I remembered the whole thing and had to laugh.
The sword of Damocles (for those for whom this brings up nothing more than a tune from Rocky Horror Picture Show) is a metaphor for a fear or burden that hangs constantly over one's consciousness, keeping one from enjoying the banquet of life that lies infront of him. (Greek context here.)
As an old married women, I no longer feel hanging over my head the fear of the male member. Scheduling worries perhaps, but not the bottomless teenage pit of anxiety that swirls with questions such as: What is this THING? What will it DO? How will it change my body and my personhood and my focus on making it to the national figure skating championships?
I have a different sword of Damocles now, colloquially known as a "due date." This is a day (or a very short portion of one) when everything about my current life will change. I don't know exactly how, but I imagine it will be very much like a prototypical teenage sexual experience, in that some of it will be painful and some of it will be so amazing as to defy description, and some of it will be no big deal to the extend that I'll simultaneously feel emotionally relieved and fear that I've become clinically numb from a psychological perspective.
It will definitely distract me from my synchronized skating.
It is and is not a relief to know the date when the sword will drop.
I am far enough away from Christmas still that I can gleefully forget about the things I've committed myself to making (two sweaters and two hats, only three of which are in progress, for example) and get caught up in creative whims. This week I went off on a bit of an embroidery tangent.
No one really NEEDS embroidered ornaments or hair clips as much as they need warm winter clothing (or the play tent I promised to sew the boys, the one I haven't even sketched yet, ugh.) But embroidery is fun, and hair clips can come together in an hour without transferring too much fabric from the shelves to the floor.
The important thing was that Harvey was inspired by my work, and he wanted to embroider an ornament as well. I set him up with some burlap on a hoop and a tapestry needle, and he cleaned out my stash of embroidery thread, starting with red and then working through everything else I had in the color family.
He decorated two pieces of burlap like this. Then with the newfound manual dexterity that this sewing practice gave him, he stitched the two pieces together around the edges, all by himself. He only needed my help for tying the knots.
This was so different from the pillow he made two months ago where I had to hold the fabric for him and remind him whether he was going up from the bottom or down from the top. Here I didn't have to hold or coach anything. So my pride when I saw him coming around the last corner? Pretty much indescribable. Would you like to see another picture? I took about a thousand.
I had to take many pictures, because this precious handmade present is soon leaving our home. Check it out all wrapped up in paper that Harvey painted himself. Apple, you don't fall far from my tree.
Here I only helped with the writing and the bow. Well, and the hole punch. And the pinking sheers. And laying out the brown paper so he could paint it. And waiting for that paper to dry and then stashing it in the wrapping paper drawer for later. And reacting excitedly when Harvey said he wanted to embroider an ornament, and having burlap and dull needles ready for just an occasion. And gently reminding Harvey of every next step in the process so that his disperate creative efforts could turn into something real and tangible to give as a gift.
And looking at him when he said, "It's nice sewing with you, Mama," and replying, "Harvey, it's my favorite thing in the world."
Yeah, I guess there's a lot that goes into a four-year-old making a present on his own. But that doesn't make me any less proud of him.
Because today was cold, bitter cold, and there was so much church, we didn't do much outside. But yesterday was fine and the day stretched empty before us, so we went exploring in the woods.
We don't do it as often as we should, considering that the woods are just across the street from our house; that is, we don't bring the boys to explore enough. Leah and I are there daily, though generally not exploring particularly unless Rascal is feeling unpleasantly adventurous. Since the last time we went for a family hike was when we were in Maine, Zion thought that we should be able to walk to the water. So we tried.
Tried to find water, that is: he had nothing to do with the walking part and Leah carried him the whole way. I did coerce him into taking a few steps when we were almost at our goal, though, which he consented to because he was eager to fish.
Of course when there's water Rascal needs to go in it, even when it's just six inches of water on top of about a foot of stinking black ooze. Even he quickly regretted his rashness when he realized the situation.
Also of course we don't go on any adventures without food. Look at the cozy spot we found for our picnic!
There was much more to the walk that was not marsh: most of the way is just regular woods, but there were plenty of occasions to stop and examine leaves, fallen trees, and a fire-pit filled with ashes and beer cans. Those weren't photographed not because they weren't interesting, but because we actually didn't have a camera along with us, as you can see from the lamentably poor quality of the pictures above. Except for Zion not wanting to walk it was all a joy and a delight. Next time he might have to; at the rate the weather was going today he'll be a big brother before we want to be out there for our next picnic!
One day last week I was on my way home on the bike path when I passed a gentleman walking by himself. I wasn't paying any particular attention to my ride: I was thinking about other things, not trying to make great time, just idly peddling down the slight grade west of Lexington center. As I came up next to the man, the only other person in sight on the path, I moved well over into the opposite lane to give him plenty of room, just like I had for the last, oh, 20 or 30 walkers I'd passed already over my ten-mile commute. Only this one did something different. As I came up to go around him he called out crisply, without turning around, "on your right!" A second later, as I went by, he followed up with an equally assured "thank you!"
Now, while cyclists will immediately understand what he was going for, those of you who spend less time around aficionados of two-wheeled recreation might be a little confused. Briefly: there's a custom among certain cyclists—mostly bearded commuters on steel frames and the occasional eager bibbed and jerseyed road rider—to call out a friendly (usually) "on your left!" to other riders they pass. I do it myself, in narrow confines: it's good practice to let other folks know you're there when they might be startled or get in your way otherwise. This gentleman's "on your right" therefore was a condemnation of my failure to let him know that I was on his left. It couldn't possibly serve any other purpose: if he honestly thought I didn't know he was there he would have gotten out of the way or, at the very least, said something more to the point. No, it was an accusation!
And let me say, I want to wholeheartedly and unreservedly apologize to him. I wish I had stopped to do just that, but I was so startled and befuddled that I was a couple hundred yards further on before the thought of contrition bubbled to the top of my brain, and I figured it would be awkward to stop and wait for him to come up to me again. It might even have looked confrontational, which I didn't want at all—because, as I said, I was totally sorry for not warning him I was coming. It wouldn't have cost me anything to do just that; I in no way object to the idea of letting each and every person I need to pass that I'm about to go by them. I don't feel that it's at all necessary in every case, sure, but if I had any idea that this individual wanted me to warn him I would have done so with pleasure.
At the same time, though, I kind of feel bad for him. His non-warning—and his non-thanks—was so crisp and pat that I'm sure he must have done the same thing to every cyclist who passed him, that day and every other day. Which means that cyclists not warning him is like a thing with him, a burden of frustration and anger that he has to bear constantly. Can you imagine walking on a smoothly paved path through woods and marshes, with birds calling and leaves falling around you; but instead of taking in your surroundings, or losing yourself in your own thoughts, you're listening carefully for the quiet sounds of a bicycle behind you, ready to unleash your perfectly-timed rebuke and feel the potent rush of justification as yet another person fails to live up to your ideals of common decency.
I spent the rest of my ride worrying about where in my life I'm acting like this gentleman. I think I feel a lot like that while I wait at crosswalks on winding suburban arteries and watch driver after driver zip by with, at best, an apologetic shrug. I almost want the cars not to stop: my self-righteousness is a better reward even then getting where I want to go. Which is foolishness, as I sometimes recognize—especially when I'm all set to blast a driver with a sarcastic wave and they see me and brake to a sudden stop. Self-righteousness evaporating in the glare of reality is never a pleasant feeling.
I'm sure I do the same sort of thing more subtly in lots of other ways too. I have some strong opinions, you might have noticed. But my encounter with the gentleman on the bike path helped me realize how unhelpful that kind of thinking is for everyone involved. When you act that way you spend more time angried-up and itching for a fight—and at the same time you don't do anything to really improve the problem that upset you in the first place.
I'm not, for example, going to start hitting everyone I pass with an "on your left". On balance, I still think it's more irritating than not, and it'd take reasoned argument and maybe some survey data to convince me otherwise. I won't even warn this particular gentlemen next time, because I have no recollection of what he looks like beyond that he was wearing, I think, a brown jacket. Of course, I can't think of any better way he might carry on his crusade—maybe put up some stickers?—but I think when you reach the point of weighing ineffectual angry action against no action at all, it might be better to do nothing.
I took the day off so Leah could go to a dentist appointment, and the boys and I seized the opportunity for another adventure. We went in search of water, since the last trip didn't deliver so much in that direction; today we took the bike so we could get a little further afield and explored Hartwell Brook, the Shawsheen River, and the Old Bedford Reservoir. Without any further comment, here is our adventure in pictures.
Zion got up and, better-mittened, stayed out on the ice until I convinced the boys it was time to head home for lunch. Can you believe it: a three-hour outing and only one small container of crackers for a snack?!
I promised them we'd go back later this winter when the ice is thicker and we can slide all the way across the pond. We're all looking forward to it.
We're headed off to Lexington soon for our combined Thanksgiving and Hanukkah celebration, but we're already ahead of the game: by having friends over for a full Thanksgiving dinner last night, we made it possible to lunch on holiday leftovers even before our official dinner. Pretty good, huh? We also took a walk to make sure we'd have room to stuff in more food in a couple hours.
We hope your Thanksgiving (and Hanukkah, if appropriate) is going as well!
When I was growing up, we went around the Thanksgiving table and said what we were thankful for. My mother always started the challenge, and then she always confidently declared: "My family." Then she would look round the circle with a challenging eyebrow raised. All those who followed would also mutter "my family," because how could I follow up such a heavy response by saying I'm thankful for "my new leggings" or "my American Girl Dolls."
Still, I never really understood what it meant to be thankful for family.
Unlike new legging or an American Girl Doll, my family was never something that I asked for. It's not like I sat alone dreaming up one day: I want two Long-Island Jews for parents and a younger brother who is always smarter and more well adjusted than me. Rather, my family was the environment I lived in. It was more like a landscape I parachuted into, Survivor style. Sometimes warm and welcoming, sometimes harsh and stormy. But not something I could so much imagine changing. How can you change the weather? How can you be thankful for something for which you can imagine no alternative?
Now that I have a family of my own, I understand a bit more about what it means to be thankful.
I understand now that there are choices we make as adults that form our families. I chose who to marry, for example, and Dan and I chose I chose how many children to have and when to conceive them. We choose how to present the world to them. We choose which aspects of normative culture to interact with and which to ignore. We choose our attitude when we interact with our children, or at least we try.
On the other hand, there's a lot we don't really get to choose, if only because the scope of our choice is limited by our current understanding. If I had known when I married Dan (other than the fact that I loved him) that I would give up my affection for movies and shopping, that I would stop wearing makeup and permanently stop styling my hair, that I would rearrange my life to be where God heals people, that I would open my home to whoever who was poor or needy or emotionally distressed? The weight of the choice would have been too much for me. And because I value my current life, I'm glad there were things I didn't know ten years ago.
Similarly, I can choose to have sex at an opportune time, and I can choose to forgo tuna and alcohol for a while (or not), but I cannot choose the people my children turn out to be. This is obvious with the two I have now. They look like each other, and they each look a little bit like me, but they are 100% their own selves. I cannot separate Harvey into a menu of personality traits and say, "this is me and this is Dan and this is all that extended nursing I did." He is Harvey and Zion is Zion. They each parachuted down into my family, and though each time I held out my hands in eager expectation, it's not like I knew what I was getting.
For this reason, I understand what my mother meant when she said she was thankful for her family. Though I know nothing different from my family, though I don't know how they could possibly BE any different, I know that there lies in this unknowing a weight of wonderfulness that is so heavy, so overpowering, that I have no other choice but to turn my eyes to a higher power and mouth the word "thanks."
So for today and the celebrations that lie ahead, and for this next season and the great big questions marks it hangs over us, I can only think of the prayer that Maria the ill-fated nun offers at the beginning of The Sound of Music. "For what we are about to receive," she asks, "may the Good Lord makes us truly thankful."