It behooves me to post a photo of Harvey and Zion in their halloween costumes, since I made them and all, and there should be a running record somewhere of my sewing exploits. Although really, I'm not too proud about this year's costumes. Once the children decided what they wanted to be for Halloween I dashed off their tunics in an hour as shoddily as possible. The pants took a bit more time, but only because I mistakenly cut out a pattern that needed pockets, and then I had to go ahead and make the stupid pockets. So there you have it, crappy Peter Pan and Sharky the Pirate costumes, complete with pockets. And not hemmed because I encouraged them to go for the "ragged" look. I bet that's the way Wendy would have done it.
One of my great joys as a mother is fulfilling my children's desires through sewing. A little bag for lost teeth, a treasure sack, theses are the requests that warm my heart down to its very cockles. That said, I feel like taking a break from big sewing projects right now, at least until the Easter suits demand construction. The simple halloween pants took me weeks to complete, as each five minute burst of sewing inevitably woke the baby. In this light I've decided to scale back my normal Christmas expectations. Just sweaters and candy this year, no late nights in the sewing room. Sweaters because they are an important (quiet!) tradition and candy because I'm always in the kitchen anyway. So this year expect a lot of candy. Peppermint bark naturlicht, but I intent to branch out.
Speaking of candy, you might be wondering how the rest of Halloween went. The answer is delightfully sugar-filled. And now the boys can't stop talking about Christmas...
A moment from the week.
Every year when the cold weather sets in a family of mice join us in our kitchen. This gives me a nice (if forced) opportunity to reorganize all the drawers as I dust for rodent poop. I did such a thing on Saturday morning and I found something that I had forgotten: a little mason jar with homemade capsules in it, left over from last March.
"Hey Dan!" I called, elbow deep in vinegar cleaning spray, "I just found the last of Elijah's placenta. Can I bury it in the garden, or is the ground too cold now?"
I should pause here to say something superlative about my husband, the man who has already buried two placentas out back. This last decade as I have slowly transformed myself into a homemaker he has slowly transformed himself into a farmer. So when I asked after my ability to organically dispose of human tissue, he was all over it, answering: "Not too cold at all. I'm planting garlic today so you can just drop it in the ground then."
So later in the day I did just that. And even though the pills were far too small to affect soil content in any way, I felt a sense of healthy goodness about the action. Now Elijah has a little bit of his story implanted in our soil just like Zion and Harvey before him. And in turn I felt like I was letting go of something too. My last pregnancy maybe? The last-ness of my last pregnancy?
I don't know, but it felt good to do something final.
Elijah is eight months old now. As I watch him progress through each developmental stage I find myself secretly rejoicing that the previous stage is over. For Ever. The old clothes go in an outbox and from there go out of my house. I fantasize about sleeping getting progressively easier and then staying easier. And so every day as I push forward through life with three kids I feel a little door closing within me on my willingness to do it again from scratch.
I am excited for our family to grow older, not bigger. For outings without diapers or strollers. For learning opportunities where we can all learn together. I could say that feels sad, but it doesn't. It feels right and good and appropriate and safe.
But there is one thing that is sad in that admission. My willingness for my family to be complete means there is a part of my family that will never be. It means letting go of my dream of having a daughter.
Oh my fictitious daughter! How much space she has occupied in my mind for someone who doesn't actually exist.
So in the spirit of letting go I thought I would write her a letter. Let its posting serve as a virtual internment ceremony. Here it is.
Dear Betsy Jubilee,
I'm sorry I couldn't be your mama.
I wanted you so badly, little girl. I wanted to dress you in little white onesies with pink tutus attached. I wanted to braid your hair and secure your bangs with handmade hair clips. Oh how I was ready to sew you hair clips. I would make hair clips as fast as you could lose them, I told myself, and then I would happily make more hair clips.
Maybe it would never have really been so happily, though. Secretly I had mixed feelings about you.
I thought I wouldn't be a good mother to a daughter. I thought I would never know how to love a girl. I was afraid that I would unwittingly make you like me. I'd make you hate yourself and think you were fat and ugly. Girls need mothers who are strong and confident yet react with gentleness and patience. I am none of these things. I would have scolded you for being TOO EMOTIONAL and you would have screamed "I HATE YOU!" and slammed the door in my face. Then I would have cried that everything was just like I'd imagined it.
Yes, our relationship might have been a challenge.
Still, I wanted to make a go of it.
I knew that I was wounded and imperfect, and yet I thought we could have healed each other. I thought that in seeing you blossom and grow I'd become more accepting of myself. Maybe we could have learned to be strong women together. But that's a heavy load to place on a child, and I'm relieved for your sake that you were spared.
Dear Betsy I wish you could have met Elijah. You've never seen a kid so likened to a ray of sunshine. His face is like a fresh peach, soft and plump, and when he smiles it's like... it's like when you see a new invention and exclaim "Why didn't I think of that?" I wish God had given me both of you at the same time, Elijah AND the girl I always wanted. But God is wiser than me and is much better at seeing my limits, and I'm grateful for Elijah even if it meant missing out on you.
Because in truth is, Betsy, you aren't actually real.
You aren't a real person, Betsy Jubilee, you are a figment of my imagination. You are a name I gave to a possibility, a possibility that never had more than a 50% chance of coming true. So as much as it feels that I am letting you down when I say no more children, in reality I am letting myself down if I don't say it. I am letting myself down if I refuse to fully embrace reality because of some phantom image I have of what might have been.
So Betsy Jubilee, I'm choosing to say goodbye to you. Goodbye little girl who doesn't exist. May the emotional energy I've invested in you diffuse across the universe.
Harvey, Zion, and Elijah's Mama.
It's a classic correction to tell kids not to play with their food, so I laughed the other day when a friend of Zion's who was over for dinner tried it out on him. It was totally justified in that he was indeed playing with his food, making two pieces of his garlic bread walk around and talk with each other... pretty typical, actually.
I can see why parents might object to that sort of thing. Some kids have trouble eating enough healthy food, or even enough food at all. Zion might even be one of them: today for supper he had two bits of corn bread, for example. But with Harvey as our first child we never got into the habit of encouraging more eating, so it's easy for us to let that slide. Play at the table can also get noisy and disruptive to other diners, and in that case I certainly don't hesitate to shut it down. But mostly our boys know how to walk the line between charmingly silly (or at least ignorable) and oh-my-goodness out of control. Our version of the line, anyways.
And I even see a good side to how Zion plays with his food. Like his brother before him, the three-year-old Zion lives in a world of stories, where everything is playing something else and all the things have desires and motivations of their own. Yesterday his slice of cheese was being threatened with jail by, I believe, a fork. And with food, the characters are constantly being transformed by their author: the cheese had to change its story after Zion ate the piece he was using for its mouth. I won't attribute any great educational import to this sort of play, but I figure all this practice storytelling can't hurt, so I'll happily let it go. As long as it stays at indoor volumes, of course.
The boys, Rascal, and I took a hike yesterday a little farther afield: a town forest area that isn't just across the street. Last time we biked there, but with the dog today we had to drive. Which meant a different entrance place, so it was totally new for the boys! Experienced hikers as they are, they were well-prepared.
Many of paths through this particular woods are up and down steep sandy slopes, and they were fun both up and down and kept anyone from getting bored. It was wonderful to be able to have both the boys and Rascal with me on a walk and not have to worry about the pace either way: even Zion's developing into a fine hiker and moved along at a reasonable speed, and as Rascal approaches his second decade he's willing, if not to walk along with us, to wait up and check in with us from time to time. As happy as we all were with the walking, though, we were even more delighted to come upon a body of water.
Rascal jumped right in and the boys wasted no time in taking off their boots to paddle, but all three of them decided that the water was actually pretty chilly; Harvey stood in the water for no more than a second and Zion barely dipped a toe, while Rascal refused to go in very far after sticks and hauled himself out between each one to shake dry (including once all over Zion's coat; good thing it was warming up nicely!).
After the pond it was a just a little ways back to the car, since we were starting to tire a little bit. The only complaining of the trip came from Zion towards the end of this segment, but as we reached the road and he could see an end to the walking he rallied and finished in good spirits.
Then we were home in time for lunch and an afternoon of further adventures: the advantage of hiking close to home!
A moment from the week.
As I mentioned before I've had houseplants for a long time—longer than I had a house, indeed—but the ornamentals aren't doing as well as they were at the time of last writing. The ficus took some damage over the summer, and I let the peace lily expire peacefully rather than giving it a new pot and some actual dirt. But they've been replaced by a couple other plants with some pretense of usefulness, most notably my lime tree, a gift from my parents for my birthday this past March. It's great!
It was flowering when I got it and lots more blooms appeared in the spring, and they smelled wonderfully as the spring sun warmed up the house. Then I took it outside for the summer and all the little limes grew and grew, and the first few started to ripen. It's been back inside for probably a month now, and is heavy with ripe or almost ripe limes, and to me ripe limes means only one thing: gin and tonics! (Well, I'd do some salsa too, but all the other salsa ingredients are done with; maybe next year they'll sync up better.)
This particular lime ripens to orange, and each fruit is quite small: the biggest are under two inches in diameter and the smaller ones more like three quarters of an inch. Cut, they smell like mandarin oranges or clementines but are quite sour; mostly lime-like, with a little hint of sour orange. The juice is orange too, so in a clear cocktail they color the whole very nicely. I have to say, it's entirely delightful to be able to pick—and drink!—my own limes in November. Thanks, mom, for the tree! If anyone wants to join me for a drink stop by: there are plenty more limes to pick. I just need to get some more tonic...
Everyone should have chickens. As I tell anyone who asks (and some people who don't) they're a lot less work than a dog and need less room than you expect. And you get eggs, and the simple enjoyment of watching hens do their thing: a delightful mix of silly, beautiful, and dinosaur-like deadly. But this morning, as I ventured out into the cold rain to fill their food and water and give them some new straw bedding, I wished they were a little more work.
Not for very long, of course! This time of year is when the number of necessary trips out to the coop doubles to two, as I need to bring in the waterer overnight to keep it from freezing solid; and since I need to put the water out first thing in the morning, it also enforces a time-line on a chore that in warmer days I could do whenever I felt like it. (Yes, I also let the hens out in nice weather, and sometimes visit them just to hang out, but in the summer I don't have to.) So I'm more aware now than I was a week ago of my responsibilities to the flock.
But there's something valuable about having those sorts of responsibilities to take care of before you get going on the rest of your day. Sure, I actually need to leave home to work—to sully my hands in the business of commerce, if you will—but when I spend a few minutes pitching hay before I leave it puts the workday world into perspective: an interval in the middle of real life, rather than all there is. I suppose it doesn't need to be agriculture: you could probably get the same effect with a morning run or bike-ride, or by putting in some time on a musical instrument, or by baking something. Anything that's your own work rather than the paying job you happen to have fallen into.
And I say that as someone who likes his job, and doesn't even work that hard anyways! Today I wasn't even going to work: as I watched the hens in the rain I was looking forward to a hard day of "homeschooling" and riding the T all over the city with Harvey and Zion (more about that later!). But the chickens were still wonderfully grounding, and for a little while I wished they were enough work to give me that sort of feeling every morning.
Leah, maybe we should get goats!
Living where we do we have a wide range of possible adventures close at hand. Last week, a friend invited us out to Great Brook State Park in Carlisle. Leah and I had been before, but not since Harvey was born, so we weren't really aware of the range of kid-friendly farm-visiting opportunities there were available there. But first we had a picnic.
While the big kids and grownups ate lunch and ran around, Lijah enjoyed some quiet time on his own pulling up grass and biting on leaves and sticks. He can get himself around just enough that if he sees something interesting close at hand he has the means to obtain it for himself!
After a bit we headed over to see the animals. There were cows.
Also present were sheep, goats, chickens, a duck, and many many pigeons (the pigeons were of the "wild" variety). There were horses around too; we saw several people riding, which was a much more exotic sight for the boys than the other livestock. There are farm tours at Great Brook sometimes, but not on November Tuesdays, so we had to stay outside the fence.
When we finally managed to tear ourselves away from the animals we took to the trails for a hike. You never know what you're going to get hiking with two- and three-year-olds (we had one of each in the party), but since it was so nice we launched ourselves on a pretty ambitious loop and didn't actually do too badly. It helped that there were lots of dramatic rock features for the kids to observe and climb: climbing energy is different than walking energy, and a couple minutes of strenuous climbing will restore your typical child for at least an equal period of boring walking. Harvey brought his new notebook along so he record his observations.
Then yesterday we took off in the entirely opposite direction. On a day with steady rain that looked like it wasn't going to stop, I figured I could take the boys on a train ride: exciting and under cover! Leah dropped us off at Alewife and we took the Red Line to Park Street, where we changed to real(er) train and chugged up out of the tunnels on our way towards Newton.
When we felt like we'd seen all there was to see of the D line we hopped out, dashed across the tracks, and jumped on an inbound train not two minutes later. I did have enough time to snap a memento of our visit, a shot of the station at Newton Center... excuse me, Centre. A charmingly old-world structure to be sure.
Back downtown we emerged from the subway tunnels to discover that the rain had tapered off to a fine falling mist, leaving us free to explore the city aboveground. At the Library Main Branch we saw lots of tourists visiting but weren't able to locate the kids area or even any books, so we gave the place up for a bad deal (though it's just the place to go if you want marble walls; and we did also find a restroom, which was handy). Then across the street we were confronted with a real live skyscraper.
Harvey's theory was that a town as big as Boston ought to have a toy store somewhere, so I led the party in the direction of FAO Schwartz, only to remember along the way that the Boston location closed five or ten years ago. We looked in to the Marshalls that's now in about the same place, but it's toy selection was smaller than the boys are used to at our local store (have we written about our dealings with Marshalls? we should!) so we pushed on. No toy stores, but a tour of Boylston and Newbury Streets landed us at the Public Garden, where we fed pancakes to the ducks and then had to fend of their increasingly aggressive attempts to get seconds. Zion was seriously nervous; we were all much happier viewing the avian life of the garden from the safety of the bridge.
There were lots of pigeons there too—very pleasant uniting theme to the two adventures!
When the rain started up again we ate lunch in the bandstand on the Common (sharing the mostly-dry space with some homeless folks) and then walked over to Park Street to take the Red Line back towards home.
Both outings were tiring but rewarding; both are worth doing again soon!
I wanted to get out in the sunshine yesterday but the playground was not a compelling offer to my children. Aw mom, we've BEEN to that playground before. Well then, I asked, do you want to go to the skate park?
Dan found some skateboards in the trash the other day. Or at least that's what Harvey tells me. They may have appeared unbidden on our lawn, that kind of stuff happens around here too. Either way, Harvey was delighted to try out his new ride. It wasn't until I was a half mile from our house pushing the stroller that I looked up at the scale of the ramps and I thought to myself: Golly. We should have brought a helmet.
In the end we risked no head trauma, though Harvey did get a skinned knee and Zion screamed for several minutes that he WANTED HIS MITTENS!!! (I had left them at home because upon leaving he screamed for several minutes that he HATED HIS MITTENS. Luckily I'd brought bandaids.)
As the boys wrapped up their outing by running up and down the half pipe, I couldn't but notice the line of busses in the distance behind them. This, I thought, (minus the screaming... okay truthfully with the screaming) is the homeschool life.
Great Brook is a state park, and known locally for good hiking. But it's not the only place around here where we can get out in the woods away from people. A few days ago we went north (for about five minutes by car) to an area I know pretty well; today it was west to a piece of woods that I've explored just a couple times since we've lived in Bedford.
Since I've never gotten them lost for too long the boys trust me to lead them into unknown territory, and there's something fun about walking on trails when you're not sure where they're going to lead. (Fun for me, anyways; I don't know that the boys yet pay enough attention to know one bit of woods from another.) When you're navigating blind even small bits of protected land take on the aspect of expansive wildernesses.
Not that we were quite blind entirely: the last link above goes to openstreetmap.org, a great resource for local trail-finding. When I first discovered it I was amazed, for a couple reasons. First, it was really something to see all the little trails by my parents' house, where I wandered as a kid, marked down on a map for all the world to see: so fancy and official! And then, seeing the shear number of off-road paths available in the area was exciting—and inspiring of future expeditions.
But while the internet of maps let me know that there were trails in there somewhere, it didn't really help us with navigation on the ground (not least because the page wouldn't load on my phone in the middle of the woods; but let's pretend the expedition was eschewing technology deliberately). So there was a delightful frisson of risky exploration to each fork we came to. And even if we had had access to trail maps, there would still have been surprises, like the section of trail we came to that was completely covered by a daunting depth of water.
It might look from that picture like we could just go around, but the whole area was pretty swampy and mostly under water—the trail just happened to go through a particularly low-lying section. And there was no way we were going back, since Zion had reached the complaining-about-cold-hands-and-mittens stage of the expedition. So, as Rascal ran back and forth through the icy water wondering what was taking us so long, we painstakingly inched a path around the deepest water—a path that included a 10-foot-long traverse along a fallen log. I carried Zion, but Harvey did a great job on his own!
It was all totally fun and exciting, and easily as rewarding as any destination we could have looked for farther afield. And we didn't see a single other person out there the whole time! You should totally check out the trails around you, if you haven't already; even if there are some local places that you walk frequently, I bet there are lots more you don't know about yet! And the best part is, you can bring a lunch.
A moment from the week.
Our bedtime routine is working pretty well these days. I thought of it because today it didn't, quite; I guess that made me pay attention. We haven't said much about bedtime since Lijah's been around, which is maybe surprising since there's some concern, I think, about having the third kid: now the parents are outnumbered! But for us going from one to two was actually trickier. As it is now, Harvey and Zion have pretty similar interests and schedules, so it's workable for one parent to put them both to bed at the same time.
What usually happens is that Lijah starts getting sleepy sometime around 6:00, and Leah takes him upstairs to nurse to sleep in the bed. He's fairly sensitive to noise when he's falling asleep, so I work to keep the boys quiet and contained in their after-dinner activities. When one or both of them seems tired—usually between 6:30 and 7:00, this time of year, we head upstairs for stories. That they both love books more than just about anything else is very convenient, since if there's any recalcitrance I only have to say that the window for story time will be closing shortly to get them going.
They each get one book "in the lap"—so called as a historical relic from when Harvey was the only audience; these days we're just all in a row on the edge of the beds—then I direct them to brush their teeth and pee. That last bit is the only trouble spot lately, since Zion isn't always (ever?) happy to be made to use the toilet on command, and the requirement is a new one for him. But we make it work. Then I read two more books "in the bed", lying in Zion's bed between the boys (their "beds" are a pair of mattresses on the floor, pushed right up against one another). The lights are off for the second round of stories; they're lit by headlamp. I limit the "lap" stories to shorter picture books, but the "bed" material can be longer; most nights Harvey asks for a portion of a chapter book (we're currently in the middle of The Four-Story Mistake).
After I finish reading I turn off the headlamp and assess the situation. Zion often falls asleep as he listens, or nearly so, but Harvey has only dropped off during a story a handful of times in his life. Sometimes he asks me to pray for him to have no scary dreams, something which used to be a ritual but now is pretty intermittent, and every once and a while he'll request a song; Zion also tends to want a song if he's still awake enough to speak. After I do those things—or just lie still for a minute or two, if there aren't any requests—I say goodnight and get up to go, letting anyone still awake know that I'll come back to check on them in a couple minutes.
Most of the time that's all it takes. We work the boys pretty hard most days, and even Harvey can't usually last more than 30 seconds after I stop talking to him. But on the rare occasion it doesn't work and we have open rebellion I do my best not to fight, while also not setting any precedents that'll possibly extend bedtime in the future. Today, for example, Harvey was too worked up to settle down to sleep, so ten minutes or so after I left him to go downstairs I heard him walking around up there. Investigating, I told him that I was cleaning the kitchen and he was welcome to come help me, or he could turn on his headlamp and look at a book in his bed, or anything he wanted. He sat at the top of the stairs for a while, then came down and started drawing in the playroom. When I finished cleaning and started turning off lights, he whined indistinctly for a while until I was able to get him to ask me for what he wanted, which was "help going to sleep". So we went up together and I petted his head for, oh, about a minute and a half until he fell asleep. That was a little past 8:00.
Our kids are not awesome sleepers. Lijah wakes up four to six times per night, and its a rare night where I don't have to go in to settle Zion down at least once. But at least—and this is a great relief to me—they mostly don't fight sleeping. Lijah wants cuddles and nursing, and he get them, and Zion mostly just needs reminders that it's sleepy time and he should be lying down. He actually likes sleeping, which very gratifying to his parents; we're big fans too!
I don't know how other folks do with bedtimes; our culture seems to say that we should just put kids in their rooms and tell them to sleep—starting weeks after birth!—but there's also an industry of authors catering to solving sleep problems in the young. If you ask me, getting your kids to sleep isn't something you can "get right": all kids are different, and what works one month might not even work with the same kid the next month. But when I can relax about it things seem to go better. And I'm feeling pretty relaxed these days, so life is good!
We're enjoying lots of chances to eat Thanksgiving dinners this year: after two over the weekend, with friends and at Leah's parents, we made our own this evening. We invited a few friends over to share it with us, but a winter storm—all the scarier for being the first of the season—kept them away. That was alright, though, because we had a fine meal with just the five of us: tablecloth and centerpiece and all! And because it was just us, we were free to power through the meal from start to finish in not much more than ten minutes!
No, that's not quite fair. The boys, especially Harvey, did an atypically great job of waiting until everyone was served to start eating, and that was after we all shared something we were thankful for. And Leah only rushed off because Elijah, who got into the spirit of things by keeping himself awake for the feast, needed to go to sleep immediately after finishing his mashed potatoes. And Harvey and I lingered for a reasonable time over our seconds and desert.
And any rushing wasn't due to a lack of interest in the meal: on the contrary, excitement was high! We've been studying the Pilgrims, so Harvey was enough in touch with the original feast to ask for corn and apples to be part of our meal—five minutes before we sat down to eat. Happily canned corn is quick enough to heat up, though hardly authentic. I'll see what I can do about making some samp for next year. And Zion got into the celebratory spirit by calling for toast after toast, which in practice meant clinking glasses a lot. Cheers!
I'm always thankful for my family, but it's nice to stop and notice it officially over Thanksgiving dinner. Grumpy or cheerful—and we had some of each today—I love being with them, and am grateful for how much time I get to spend hanging out. Each of them is wonderful, and none more than Leah who did all the cleaning up after our feast! She's also much more eloquent than I on the subject of giving thanks; here's what she had to say on Facebook earlier:
Because the snow kept our dinner guests away tonight, I am particularly thankful for my family of five who makes every meal feel like a party. I am thankful for Harvey who said, "My favorite part of thanksgiving is corn because the settlers had corn!" and for Dan who immediately rushed some canned corn onto the stove at my whispered request. I am thankful for Zion who owns his pilgrim name so much that he now refuses to be called "ZiZi." I am thankful for Elijah who rubbed a full serving of mashed potatoes all over his face, and then freaked out that there was mashed potato on his face. I am thankful that every year they are a little bit more themselves and a little bit more my own. So happy thanksgiving, Archibalds, I'd settle with you guys any day.
One more Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow... let the thankfulness continue!
A moment from the week (before the snow).