posts tagged with 'moral failings'
Every year we have to renew the "keeping of animals" permit that says we're allowed to have chickens. As I understand it, the Board of Health wants to make sure that the livestock in town is being treated well and isn't making too much of a mess. Well, it may be that I don't fully believe in their mandate or could be that I'm just lazy and disorganized—maybe both!—but there has never been a year when I managed to respond when they reached out to me to schedule an inspection. Every year they start with a letter in October, then they follow up with a couple phone calls, one every three weeks or so. If I manage to answer the phone in that time I'm delighted to set up an appointment, bit if I don't—and I'm really not good about picking up the phone for numbers I don't recognize—I have a lot of trouble taking time to get in touch with them. And unfortunately the pressure to get the inspection done seems to fall mostly on their end. So this year the very kind inspector just showed up at our house on a Tuesday afternoon to make it happen.
Which was perfect! Even better than having to talk to someone on the phone! And the surprise inspection removed any stress I might have had about sprucing things up, but not in a way that left evidence of last minute work that might suggest I had something to hide. I think about those things. Nope, we run a tight ship here, and even without any warning (well, besides the two months of letters and calls...) our coop was clean and presentable and full of happy hens who have free access to food and water.
Still, I do feel a little guilty about not having things together. So I just made a reminder in my calendar: in 11 months it'll be time to make that appointment. Do you think it'll work?
Up above these words is our tagline: "living our values, as soon as we figure out what they are." We came up with it in a moment of inspiration and it's kind of a joke, but it's also kind of absolutely true. Like most people, I assume, we want to live in accordance with some higher principles. The hard part is doing that when ignoring principles would be easier—like, with cold rain in the forecast for the rest of the week I was kind of wishing we had two cars so I could drive to work. Good thing we could never afford another car anyway!
Lately I've been thinking about living values on another level: whether I actually spend my time doing the things I claim to want to do. That comes down to organization.
Modern life and media makes it easy to use up a lot of time on things we might not care that much about, objectively considered. I sit down at my computer and impulsively check out Google News... why?! I don't care, particularly, about what's happening in the world—at least not at that arbitrary moment. And beyond the news there's an endless galaxy of writing on all kinds of topics—fantastic writing, about things which would expand my understanding of the world! (also, for the record, lots of bad writing about stupid things). But when I have concrete tasks to work on—tasks I want to work on!—reading for enjoyment and vague self-improvement isn't the best use of my time.
Don't get me wrong, I'm no sort of Puritan. Reading is awesome, and just about any reading is self-improving. Watching TV shows too, if you're into that. The question is one of time management. And I'm trying to think more explicitly about it this week. To that end, I've set myself some goals for the week—high-level ones, rather than to-do list items. My theory is that, with them in mind, I can look at what I'm doing at any moment and see if it lines up with any of those goals. If it doesn't, do I have a good reason for doing it?
It's Wednesday morning; so far, so good. It does mean that this blog post, which I started Monday, is only getting finished now. Every other point when I though about sitting down at the computer I prioritized something else—sleeping, largely. But this morning it's too wet to work in the garden and the rest of the family isn't up yet, so it's prime writing time. So here you go!
This past weekend I took the boys on an outing to East Lexington, drawn by the promise of a Holiday Fair at the Waldorf School. We love fairs, and we're reasonably positive on Waldorf education, so it seemed like a sure bet. But when we were already in the doors, I was stopped in my tracks by a table positioned across the hallway and a sign announcing a $4 per person cover charge.
Sure, there was also a $15 cap per family, which as Harvey pointed out meant we would save a dollar; but since I only had $24 in my pocket and things inside the fair would cost additional money, I suddenly had serious doubts about the wisdom of proceeding. Zion wanted to go in; Lijah didn't particularly care; and Harvey wanted to make the right decision. So did I: the right decision that didn't involve us possible wasting a lot of money. I took them across the street to Wilson Farm instead and bought them each a treat, and then we visited Grandma and Grandpa and walked through walls in their delightfully under-renovation house. So it all ended happily.
But I can't help but think my extreme hesitation in the face of that cover charge might be a sign of a weakness in my personality. A holiday fair full of beautiful homespun Waldorfy crafts and games: it could have been totally awesome! But I just couldn't do it. And it's part of a pattern: while we explore lots of exciting places, I'm regularly turned away by spending money to get in anywhere. In the last month we've not gone in to an art sale and Buckman Tavern in Lexington, and those are just the ones I remember.
On the other hand, I did pay lots for apples that one time, and I let them ride the 50¢ merry-go-round at Market Basket. And I heard from other folks that I made the right call, and this particular fair probably wasn't worth it. But I didn't know that at the time!
What do you think... am I unfairly depriving my family of the possibility of joyous experiences because of my cheapness? Should I just loosen up and live a little?!
I'm usually not a judgmental sort, but put me on a bicycle and watch out! The following is a partial list of the things I've looked down on other riders for doing.
- Adjusting their arm sleeves while stopped at the end of the bike path.
- Wearing full kit and going slower than me.
- Having aerobars.
- Having a squeaky chain.
- Passing me and then slowing down.
- Passing me and then not letting me catch up, denying me a chance to demonstrate my superiority.
- Wearing full kit and riding two abreast on the bike path with five feet separating the two riders.
- Talking loudly about cycling while cycling.
- Wearing a full face mask and goggles in March, when it's warmed up enough for me to think about going without my muffler.
- Riding with an unbuckled helmet.
- Riding a fixie.
- Falling over at an intersection after failing to unclip.
And things I have not looked down on other riders for doing?
- Being a young man riding a vintage step-through frame in an untucked button-down, with an unlit cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
Shortly after New Years Harvey started complaining that his tooth hurt. I gave him two days to make sure it wasn't just a canker-sore, but when it still hurt him after the weekend (so badly that he didn't even finish dessert!!!) I scheduled a visit for the dentist. And because our local Mass-Health-accepting dentist is kind of rude with kids (no prize bucket, seriously?) I told Harvey I would buy him a lego for his trouble.
What kind of a lego? he immediately started asking. Would it be a guy AND a vehicle? Or just, like, a guy? How big of a box are we talking?
"Tell you what," I said, acting all homeschool-y. "I'll give you ten dollars and you can pick our your own lego."
This, I thought, would be a good way to teach him the value of a dollar.
"I'll need you to sew me a wallet then," he said. "So I have somewhere to put my money until we get to the store."
This boy. Weaseling his way into a custom-made present in addition to a plastic toy. Be still my sewing heart.
Since the receptionist on the phone was encouraging, I thought we would make a quick trip to the dentist, get a filling, and round out the day with a new lego in the $7.50 range. To my horror, however, the dentist took one look in Harvey's mouth and started filling out an appointment referral card.
"I'm giving you the number of an oral surgeon," she said. "When there's so much work to do and so many teeth affected, they usually put kids under general anestesia, and we don't do that here."
Okay, hold the phone.
"When the cavity has broken through the top of the tooth," she said "it's already pretty bad. I don't know whether the nerve is affected, or whether there are cavities between the two teeth. And the molar on the other side also has gray spots..."
I drove home in a bit of a parenting fog. What had I dont wrong? How could I have let my kid's teeth rot away to nothing?
Harvey, however, was unfazed. "Can I have my ten dollars now?" he asked.
Well, of course, yes, you can put it in your wallet.
Two days later we packed ourselves into the car for the pediatric oral surgeon. Harvey had yet to have something painful done to him, so he was practically giddy. "I think you should bring your wallet so I can have my ten dollars when we get there!" he exclaimed.
If you're keeping a running total of the bribes, that's $20 and we're still only in the consultation phase.
The new dentist looked in Harvey's mouth for about 30 seconds before pronouncing his verdict.
"I see at least 8 cavities in the back two teeth. I'll need to take x-rays, fill all the cavities, and put a cap on each tooth. Typically for a child his age we do this under anesthesia. I'm going on a trip in April, an I wonder if we could get him in before I leave..."
Before April? But my child can't eat carrots! Isn't there anything you could do for him sooner?
"Well, we could try doing the work with laughing-gas. It'd be a little at a time. Over multiple visits."
That's okay. At $10 a pop I think Harvey would be JUST FINE with multiple visits.
So that's where we are, going for our first round of dental work on Thursday in the hopes that Harvey's newfound love of money will keep him from freaking out when a dental drill enters his mouth. We'll see how it goes, while filling our O.R. forms in the background and crossing our fingers regarding insurance.
Meanwhile, Harvey went to the toy store today for his first foray into financial independence. He chose a small lego set featuring a bank robber running from a police motorcycle. And if that's wasn't symbolic enough, he explained his choice thusly:
"This way I'll even have lego money!"
Among the many plants in our gardens this year we have a pair of beautiful pink hollyhocks. Aside from enjoying them because they're quite pretty on their own terms, I also appreciate their old-fashioned look. The only problem is, they both self-seeded and they're perhaps not in the most convenient locations. The one next to the driveway is fine, but the other one...
It's right on the edge of the bed where I put many of the tomato plants, and the only positive is that it's alongside the determinate varieties—the ones I'm growing in cages and mostly leaving alone, from a pruning point of view. But still, it'll be in the way soon, if it isn't already. I may have to take it out some time soon, but what a shame that would be!
Oh well, at least it isn't as bad as the year I left one to grow out of a crack in the walkway right in the middle of back steps.
I have been reading a lot of parenting theory these days. The more I think about it, the more I think the simplest things are the truest things. And also the hardest things to hear. Like, my children's level of okay-ness is 100% correlated with my moment-to-moment attitude. If I can't have a good attitude, then I must try my damnedest to fake it. Start singing a song with hand motions. Talk only in hushed tones.
It's hard because patiently putting aside my emotions is not really a thing with me.
I want to say something like, "this season has been really emotional for me" but it's too ridiculous to write. What do I mean by 'this season?' In the past four years I have been pregnant twice, given birth twice, changed jobs, changed to full-time-parenting, and added so many pets and projects I get queazy just thinking about it. In comparison to last summer, this summer I DID NOTHING. And yet, recently I've felt such ready access to this deep kettle pond of emotions, like I'm always tip-toe-ing around this thing and if I slip just a teeny bit I am up to my neck in DISAPPOINTMENT. I mean it's as if the emotion of disappointment is a real physical thing, it's cold and wet, it's like I only just suddenly realized what DISAPPOINTMENT meant. And I'm not talking like I just barely missed placing at the olympics. I mean like I made a Shutterfly album thinking I had a free promo and then at the last minute they said I couldn't really have it for free.
And I think, "Is this day even worth finishing?"
People ask me how I'm doing and I have to say "fine" because the other answer is "life is amazingly and excruciatingly beautiful but sometimes it flares up infuriating and sometimes you cannot imagine how boring."
I swear I do not have a mood disorder. It could be perhaps that I am thinking about these things just now. I have always had moments of anger or sadness, but when I rage around young children I have all these little faces looking up at me like mirrors, little tiny heart-breaking mirrors showing me just how profoundly hurtful or disgusting or off-putting my emotions are.
I have had some disappointments this season. I have also had some really lovely moments with my family, more lovely moments than boring and exhausting ones probably. I continue to be baffled and amazed that these people love me.
We've done a lot of driving this summer. Sometimes I feel like my radical parenting impulses are torn in two directions. On one hand I want to be homesteading, showing the kids how to sew and make jam, raise animals, be content playing in the woods and, I don't know, some idealized version of childhood that doesn't actually work with my children. Because the home is where they hit each other with blocks, so my other impulse is to present my children with exciting new adventures. Sans blocks. To that end we find ourselves hopping in the car every day to scoot off to God knows where, some museum or farm or beautiful river where I pretend like I didn't know they were going to swim.
I love adventures. I love the way I can't be distracted by chores and I'm forced to pay attention to my children. Sometimes I play with them in the river or at the museum and it's just fantastic. THIS is parenting! i announce to myself. Sometimes I merely facilitate the transportation of kids, diapers, clothing changes, and one thousand pounds of snacks to and from various exciting locations. On this trip to the river I carried a bag of beach toys, a bag of snacks, the bag with the diapers and towels, the stroller and the dog, and I SHOULD have brought the Ergo with me because Harvey broke down at the end and refused to use his legs to make any forward progress towards the car. And there's everyone, all the thousand tourists and park rangers at the Concord bridge, looking concerned in my direction and asking, "Is he hot? There's a water fountain over there!" As if I wasn't keenly aware that I'm carrying not one but THREE water bottles — indeed that's the reason I can't PICK UP MY SCREAMING CHILD all the stupid bags in my hand. And I just felt like, well, my mother used to say she felt like a "beast of burden" and I wouldn't go that far but I did feel like an ass.
The problem at the river was that the dog was barking because HE wanted to go home. Or sometimes it's the baby crying because HE wants to go to sleep. Or sometimes it's me who's bored because I don't have a smart phone. Because paying attention to my children is lovely but oh my word I do it for many many minutes a day.
The problem is, Harvey has a longer attention span for staying somewhere than anybody else in the family. And Harvey gets to make A LOT of decisions about what we do, but duration isn't one of them. So there are tantrums. Which, I don't know, when my kid is having a tantrum I enter this horrible place of mental redundancy where I think: haven't we done this before? Haven't a million parents done this before? And I have to sit through this AGAIN? Like, why isn't the tantrum problem solved for all humanity?
Which sounds remarkably calloused to the emotional needs of my children. Sometimes I think I'm a working mother in an attachment parent's body.
Once I had my kids at the mall food court (crappy hippy that I am) and there was a kid at the table next to us throwing a tantrum about his meal and his caretaker said, "This is the food we have. You can eat it or not but you need to sit in your seat until everyone else is finished." Which is a perfectly reasonable thing to say, I would say the same thing, but in my head came the phrase, "A thousand little prisoners and a thousand little jailers."
But I got off track. I had wanted to write a post about driving.
We have done a lot of driving this summer, and the thing I notice in between beautiful playgrounds and swimming holes (that we feel very blessed to visit, don't get me wrong) is miles and miles of sprawling suburbs. Another house with another lawn over and over and over again. All made out of ticky-tacky, all watered with underground sprinkler systems. And I've just felt like, Oh God. I've got to get out of here.
I'm reaching a point with the suburbs and the cars and it's fight or flight.
My friend Jo said something so poignant to me the other day. "I feel like my kids are going to ask me, 'Why did you keep driving when you knew it was unsustainable?' And I don't have an answer to that question." It kind of hit me like a ton of bricks, because it's true. Why did you keep ruining the environment, mom and dad? Because we lived in the suburbs. Because you and your brother kept hitting each other when I tried to do stuff in the house. Because you loved new playgrounds and ponds and museums.
Our generation's equivalent of "Why didn't you stand up to the Nazis?"
This isn't really a coherent argument about anything other than my general malaise with living in the suburbs. Which really might just be general malaise about parenting. Betty Friedan wrote in The Feminine Mystique: I ask women about their lives and they give me a list of tasks. Get up, load the laundry, feed the baby, on and on. There is no substance to these women's lives other than their chores. (I'm paraphrasing here because I can't find the actual quote. I don't own the book and google isn't smart enough to deliver it to me based on my vague searches.) Obviously Friedan wasn't a Marxist. Of course our labor defines us. To put it in more obvious terms, our life is pretty much made up of what we do all day. But that's an argument for another day. What I'm trying to say is, I'm starting to feel like Friedan's housewives, with a problem that has no name, and I'm trying to name it "driving" or "capitalism" or "living in the suburbs," when Friedan might have been wrong it might just be that life with young children is sometimes tedious.
Maybe it's just tantrums. Dear Lord, I see where Harvey gets it from.
We've been eating a lot of tomatoes around here lately. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner some days (alright, not many breakfasts... but I've managed at least two!). I have a couple sores in my mouth; I wonder if it's related. And yet, this afternoon at the farmers market I bought a couple pounds of paste tomatoes. Why?!
Well, the fact is that I didn't steward my tomato crop—any of my crops—as well as I should have. The Martinos Roma tomatoes, especially, never really got staked properly, nor pruned. As a result they weren't as big as they should have been and a whole lot of them rotted on the vine where they were in contact with the vine. And don't even get me started on the ones that rotted inside the house when I couldn't do anything with them in time.
Talking about the garden with Leah this evening she and I agreed that we've been well-supplied with produce, but I know that I could have done very much better. And I will, next year! Maybe I'll start by getting some garlic in the ground this fall.
Anyways, the farmers market tomatoes were to make a marinara sauce for dinner tomorrow. I count it as practice: one reason I didn't treat my tomatoes as well as I should have was that I've never canned tomatoes in any form, so I didn't even know where I should be starting. Now I know. And I was able to use my own basil and oregano in the sauce (along with onion from the farmers market), so that should count for something, right?
I love preserving... in theory. Leah knows that it takes some encouragement to actually get me going on making jam or pickles: it's such a big production, especially in this crazy heat. For example, I want to make pickles before we leave tomorrow with the cukes I picked the other day, but I haven't done it yet. And dill pickles are super easy! We were planning to leave early tomorrow but something came up, and now we won't be able to leave the house until after nine; so of course I jumped on the excuse and declared I'd do em in the morning. "Then we won't have to deal with the steam in the house, because we'll be leaving!" That would work even better if I hadn't also deferred 17 other tasks. It'll be a busy morning, but that's only right for about to leave on vacation.
In my defense, I did make bread and two batches of pesto and chocolate chip cookies (with Leah's help), and we've packed up more than half of the items on our two-page, two-column-to-a-page checklist. So I'm not a total disaster.