dear someone

dear someone,

I got a shitty phone call this morning and then made the situation worse. details don’t matter. what matters is that you aren’t here. you aren’t here to say ‘sons of bitches!’ and pour me a drink. you aren’t here to tell me about something completely unrelated and distracting and fascinating. you aren’t here to smoke those clove cigarettes I remember in my backyard and convince me that the best thing to do is drunken yoga in the grass like we did at the teahouse that night after I broke up with my fiance and we were out with those two men who thought we were beautiful and fierce and and dangerous. they wanted to kiss us. they wanted more.

sorry. memories. once I start missing you, I can’t stop. I can’t forget hashbrowns at midnight when we were both up late working. I can’t forget the free kittens we spontaneously picked up that day from the cardboard box on that porch near campus. I can’t forget your green hoodie, the different colors you dyed your hair. I can’t forget your wisdom, your naked honesty, your unending support. I had never met anyone like you before, and I don’t know that I ever will again.

god, that year. that was the best year. baking for boys and drinking all of that crazy cheap walmart rose and eating pico on the sidewalk until we stunk of garlic and cilantro and lime.

I hope that your life is fucking amazing. I hope that you dance until you can’t stand up any more. I hope that people respect and appreciate you the way you deserve. I hope that your spring is gorgeous and overwhelming. I hope that one day you decide to get back in touch.

love to you, friend.

The Fever Broken

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(wearing mama’s shoes)

I remember the baby fever, stretching back long before I got pregnant, lingering in a heat on my skin months after my son was born. I was addicted to deliciousness of my soft, tiny baby, hungry for another. The hormonal waves of love and peace. The cocoon of snuggling and warmth and connection. I remember, I remember.

But after a year, when his sleep was the worst of his life and when he could say enough to believe he was communicating but not enough to be clear, when he could move well enough suddenly to get into, onto, everything, but not well enough to get back again, when I worried I would never again have a moment to breathe, the fever turned cold. One child was enough; how could I face the prospect of another?

Then those troubles smoothed over. At eighteen months, he has words for so many of his wants and delights and pains. He wakes no more than once a night, if that, and sometimes even plays quietly in his room when he wakes, giving me a few extra minutes to climb out of my dreams. He is capable and strong, scaling stairs, traipsing over sand dunes, climbing rocky hills, with no problem. He is a delight, a joker, prodding us into games, imitating the spring birds we see more and more on our daily walks. We have a language, a rhythm, an understanding. He is old enough to be apart from me for half a day, a day, and (I believe) overnight, if need be. He feels safe with his father, his grandparents, his own quiet company, even the occasional family friend. And now he’s beginning to learn the Most Important Things: gentleness and sharing, cleaning up after himself, kindness.

And while my rational mind knows that we’re almost at the point where we want to start “trying” again, nine months before it would be most convenient to welcome a new baby into our very seasonal lives, my body hesitates, my heart speeds up. I’ve been told this is the point, just before a first child turns two, when most women begin to long for a second. They see their “babies” stretching longer and leaner and more independent and they yearn for the cozy simplicity of the newborn.

But I remember afternoons full of tears. I remember breasts aching with plugged ducts, underwear and sheets smelling of spoiled milk. I remember blood for weeks, my hair slipping away from my scalp and clinging to drains, floors, clothes. I remember feeling frumpy and soft and slack. I remember being so desirous of personal space. I remember, I remember.

I love my lean strong body, my sturdy, lovely son. I love my husband, the way we’re navigated the waters so far. Right now, we are enough.

Patience, or Reading Too Much Virginia Woolf

She felt done in. One was only allotted so much patience in a day, so many lengths of that precious thread to knot and waste and fret over before feeling quite finished. And she tried so hard to parse it out cautiously, to have at least a little remaining when the day ended and the baby was sleeping and the time came to rest. But on this day all of her patience had tangled by early afternoon when the child still would not sleep and so many trials were still to come before bed. One tried so to be good. Punctual and well kept and considerate. But it had been a day of minor irritations. Death by a thousand cuts. No one else, it appeared, was trying to be good. No one thought it important to be polite or organized. The handyman thought it just fine to show up an hour later than anticipated when he had so stressed the day before that he wanted an early start. And her husband had kept to himself the invitation to the party, which meant that not only had it surprised her earlier in the week to know that it was to take place so soon but then, after she had shifted a dinner party around to allow for it, he had mixed up the days anyway and so she had moved her own party from the night the event was not taking place to the night that it was. And on top of all of that was the boy, her lovely boy with apple cheeks and charming chatter who nonetheless was still a very young boy and so spent his days tormenting the dog, dumping out full containers, soiling clean ones, eating things one ought not eat, rejecting food he had accepted weeks or days or moments before, and generally falling apart over what seemed to be nothing at all. She did not, she reminded herself, have any reason to hold him to the expectations she held herself, but she did find other adults who failed to meet them all the more exasperating after contending with the child all day.
One could only bite one’s tongue so may times, after all…

Wild

In response to this article and the NPR interview I heard about it.

I’m part of only one private facebook group, one with a group of mothers who all were due the month Thomas was born. When first pregnant, we met up on mothering.com (website for all mothers crunchy/hippie), and we’ve kept in touch daily ever since. They accept and love that I still breastfeed my son when he’s eighteen months old, that we coslept, that I never used formula or jarred baby food, that we use cloth diapers, that we delay vaccinations. While I love the mothers I’ve met in my own town, these mothers support and encourage my unorthodox ways.

But a recent story I heard on NPR has made me feel, for the first time, like an outlier in this group. The story is about childrearing in the past generation or so, the way that kids are never unsupervised, never exposed to any kind of risk, always clean and safe, and the detrimental effects it may be having on confidence, on the way children may be taking part in more risky behaviors as adolescents because they never tested themselves as children. The article talks about “playgrounds” filled with scrap wood and fire pits and rusty lawn chairs where kids can roam without rules (maybe a few adults, there only to intervene in Very Serious Circumstances). It talks about the hours upon hours kids spent alone a generation ago and the way none of the children of those children are ever alone, though our world is no less safe than it was back then.

The mothers in the group were all a bit tense in their responses, it seemed. They keep their children close. People drive too fast on roads. There are transients often nearby. No safe places. And maybe they are in dangerous places; I’ve never visited any of them, and cannot judge.

But I can’t wait to see my son’s territory in our neighborhood expand. The day he can go bike on the dirt road without us. The day he can walk to the pond, to the beach (as long as he takes the dog, and then alone). The day he can cross the highway to the other pond. The day he can go to the park. The day he can go to his grandparents’ house or the farm where I work (two miles away). The day he can take the kayak out on his own (many many years off, obviously). And all of the secret places he’ll go to along the way, places I’ll never see, never know about. Places he’ll catch frogs and build forts and look at pictures of naked women an risk is balance and his bones. I want him to come home muddy and scratched. I want him to come home a few minutes late, running like a bat out of hell because he knows he’s late but he got distracted watching a fox or a trail of ants or a thunderstorm coming in from the sea. I want his natural confidence and charm to be backed up by experience and honestly-earned pride, by tested bravery.

I don’t care if he wants to play soccer or sing in the chorus or write computer code. I don’t care if he gets straight As year after year after year. I don’t want college to be his one and only goal through his teenage years.

I want him to get learn to use a knife safely and to build a fire and to find his way home when he’s lost. Technology and sex and teachers we’ll have to deal with inevitably. But wildness can be squeezed out of a child early and carelessly. I want him to know his limitations, and to know when it’s time to push them a little further.

And if people think that means I’m neglecting my son, I guess that’s too damn bad.

freewrite, a few months ago

I don’t recognize myself these days. The inattentive gaze in the mirror belongs to a doppelganger, more slender and short-tempered than I. She pinches her pennies and frets ever so much about her inability to accomplish anything personal or professional. She often cannot recall the last time she showered or where she set down her most recent cup of tea. Someone keeps sliding free the pins in her train of thought, sending half-formed plans and contemplations down separate tracks and into the wilderness.
She lives in a looking-glass world. The same town as me; the same home, even. But a changeling child, a faerie, an elf lives with her, scampering through the rooms of her house, his voice full of conviction as he chants nonsense against invisible demons. Even in the reflection I can make out the whats and whens and wheres of his life, but the whys elude me. I understand that he pulls the books from her shelves – all children do – but why, over and over, her three copies of the The Little Prince (one English, once French, one Latin), her husband’s two copies of Beowulf (Seamus Heaney’s and one in old English), and the massive tome of The Faerie Queen?
The strangers in my mirror. Sometimes she holds him to the glass and they two stare at me, her eyes blue blue and his dappled gray-green pools. He spins in circles and she stares into space. How strange…

Quiet, quiet

I couldn’t say it here. Not over and over and over again and again. The twisting, ugly fears over money, the way it polluted everything, the way I was questioning my mothering, losing my sense of self, dismissing my worth. The hours I spent applying for jobs I didn’t really want or didn’t believe I would get. The distraction. The obsession.

But now I am scheduled for eleven hours a weekend at a local coffeeshop, one at which I already know how to do most things. And editing work is becoming more plentiful. And I will still have the farm this summer (the farm! soil and green sprouts and so many lovely vegetables after a winter of potatoes and onions and squash and frozen broccoli). The relief is delicious.

So I can return to a little boy who learns new words every day and climbs onto everything and eats and giggles and makes his desires and demands known oh so insistently. I can feel a little less guilty over my plans to knit hats for so many mamas-to-be in my life and to sew quilts for my family. There has been too much black tea and an insistent cold this month. There has been an effort to keep tidy, to wipe down the surfaces with vinegar and lemon juice, to keep the sink empty of endless dishes, to sweep when I can. It’s not perfect, but it’s better. An effort, too, to not mind that it is not, cannot be, perfect. There has been the desire, if not always the time, to read a bit more. Slipping on ice, but keeping upright. Pots of oatmeal. Cultivating love when sometimes it’s been harder than I like. Wondering if my fingers and waist and face will always be this slender, my rings always this loose, or only until the baby/toddler/boy weans. Not enough hair brushing. Not enough hot showers. Too much time wasted figuring out what I want to do with my precious time. A new (free) phone. A new (carefully chosen, purchased with credit card points and borrowed funds) laptop to replace the dying one. Not enough living in the moment, no matter how I try.

Here’s to appreciating the end of winter. Here’s to loving it for what it is.

Time well spent

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Few acts are sweeter than knitting a very soft, tiny hat for a very new baby boy.

Today my not-so-new baby boy tipped right into a mud puddle and, while he recovered at the first promise of a bath, gave himself quite the goose egg. Later on he bent a fingernail back rather fiercely but, thank goodness, did not break it. He is coordinated and sturdy and excellent at catching most every fall, but still we are entering an era of new bumps and bruises as he climbs higher and more daringly. Not a reckless thrill-seeker, he simply prefers rough terrain, the road less traveled. The universe again and again proves how much he is my child.

My little love. This hat I’m knitting isn’t for him; it won’t be able to stretch over his curls, let alone cover that bruise. I don’t want him to be ‘saved’ from his growing pains. It does startle me, though, the literal cry of shock that my own mother body insists on when they happen.

Both Hands

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On the one hand,

Thomas is in the middle of some sort of wild phase. My trickster boy has the many hands of Shiva. He is a whirlwind, a magician, in all places at once. Pulling the dog’s tail, eating heaven knows what off the floor, pulling books off the shelves, banging his broom on the table, sneaking under the table to fiddle with the heat register, pulling firewood out from the woodbox, grabbing at the record on the record player, dropping his things in the trash can, hitting me or a table or the dog when he doesn’t get just what he wants, weeping and wailing and clinging when he’s not into mischief, all day, on and on, the patter of little feet and babbling, shouting, chanting words he knows, things he wants, nonsense. He is adorable and exhausting. He is curious and experimental and oh so proud of his accomplishments, and this mama is having to take each moment at a time, to bite her tongue against sarcasm and frustrated mutterings since this little one has begun to parrot so many words and to understand so many things. I find myself setting up camp at my wits’ end, tottering on the edge longer than I thought possible.

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On the Other Hand,

I have a new editing job, and an old professor just shared an opportunity for another with our alumni facebook group, so I’ve already sent a sort of inquiry letter. The husband and I are working on spending more evenings reading and fewer on an episode or two of television. I’m spring cleaning my mind, my attitude, my perspective, learning to live in Toddler Time, remembering patience, really paying attention. I have paperwhites and dwarf citrus trees thriving in this woodfired home. We are stocked up on tea, and fresh gingerbread is waiting for us in the kitchen. My son is bold and sturdy and strong and clever and sweet (oh, the kisses! the snuggles! the giggle fits! the spinning sessions in our living room!). I have a whole language to learn (ancient Greek) and a lifetime to learn it. I have a baby-free date with the husband on Friday, and I think I know just the dress for it.

“You’re what all the hipsters want to be!”

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We had just sat down to brunch at our long dining room table. Homemade bread with homemade peach jam. Omelets with locally-grown organic vegetables and local eggs. Locally roasted coffee in handmade mugs. Orange juice in mason jars. Perhaps lacking pinterest-worthy decor, but other than that, maybe my husband’s cousin and her fiancee were right.

At first glance, maybe we are hipsters. Or, as I jokingly said to my husband the other day, “what hipsters wish they could be as they cry into their sparsely-grown beards at night.”

But we’re not hipsters by choice. We eat local eggs and produce and drink local beer because my husband and I volunteer at a brewery and a farm in order to earn them. Our bread, our jam, our scarves and mittens are homemade because we don’t have the funds to buy them in high-quality. We heat with a woodstove because unseasoned wood is cheaper than electric heat. We know how to cook because vegetarian options in smalltown American tend to be pricey or lackluster. We wear thrifted clothes because the amount of money the same things would cost new astound me. I’m a crunchy stay-at-home mother to our son because daycare is a luxury we couldn’t afford with anything less than a fulltime+overtime job, and I can’t imagine being gone from my son that much more than I’m home. He is breastfed and cloth-diapered and his introduction to solids was “baby-led” because we couldn’t afford formula and disposables and mashed peas in jars.

We are not poor. We’re not on welfare or eating government cheese or deep in credit card debt. But we’re both from long lines of Yankees who believed in stubborn ingenuity. We pay extra on our mortgage and car payment. We pay off our credit cards each month and put away a few dollars each week for our son’s future. We make anything that would be too much more expensive to buy. We work with our hands and value our pennies. I do love cabbage and bananas and rice and beans and oats – but I love them because I find them delicious and nourishing, not because they’re all I can afford.

Sometimes I do feel silly for worrying about money when I count up all we have. But I also fiercely want to protect our safety. I don’t ever want to need to seriously worry. I want to pursue multiple options for income to ensure that at least one will come through in a given month. I want to feel a little pinch now so that the rest of my family never need feel it themselves.

So I don’t think we’re like hipsters at all. My husband has a scruffy beard and plays banjo, and I knit and bake. Maybe we’re what the hipsters think they want to be, the way that people want to be starving artists or movie stars without realizing that those people have it just as tough, if not tougher.

We are careful and hardworking.

We are blessed.

That’s What Little Girls Are Made Of.

We didn’t have a girl.

We didn’t know until I lifted that slippery, squinting, brand new baby from the birthing tub that Thomas was a Thomas. But I had hoped that he would be. There had been strangers’ predictions based on my body’s shape and friends’ earnest guesses and even a 50/50 raffle at the coffeeshop where I worked, and though those odds were stacked slightly in favor of a boy, it wasn’t a given.

Meanwhile, I had been thinking of my own adolescence, the swiftly shifting alliances among the girls I knew and trusted, the tears I cried on my mother’s shoulder, the loneliness, the unbelievable insecurity. I wallowed in the challenges that would come with raising a girl to eat healthy food while still being unafraid to indulge on occasion and to love moving and strengthening her body without becoming a slave to it, not least of which because I still had some scars that itched from such battles with balance. And if she wasn’t like me, if she instead sprang into the world confident and beautiful and beloved, then of what use could I be?

And even then I felt like I was letting down feminists and The Goddess and Womynhood. Why wouldn’t I want a girl? I live in a country where a daughter would have far more opportunities than a half-decent marriage and work in a sweat shop. I’m well-educated and liberal, as is my husband. We are responsible about money and respectful of others and very much in love. Presently I work at a farm and freelance as an editor while my husband teaches high school English and volunteers at a local brewery; were our positions switched, no one would bat an eye. We both cook and wash dishes and putter in the yard. We both change diapers and bathe our son. We would be as excellent at parenting a girl as we are with a boy (however excellent or not that may be). And heaven knows, as we are always being told, the world needs more Strong Women, more Woman Leaders, the kind of women grown from girls raised by parents like us in the quiet neighborhoods of small towns like the one in which we live.

It’s the eternal guilt. The guilt I’ve carried since first labeled “gifted” and praised upon a pedestal. I have been given the gifts of cleverness and a willingness to please. I have been given the gifts of parents who are still together and a peaceful childhood and no serious illness or disaster. And so I ought to do better, to make something of myself, to serve as a role model for the daughters I will raise and inspire. Except that I haven’t.

We didn’t have a girl. We have a boy. A boy who, at fifteen months, loves dogs and dancing to records and shoes and birds. Who can imitate a truck or a chicken. Who loves eating and sweeping and making strangers smile. And every time I tell him he is strong or brave, I ask myself if I would say that to a daughter (I would… I hope). I also tell him, as I would a girl, that he is sweet and snuggly and clever and safe.

My husband says he’d like to have a girl next, though he isn’t strongly inclined either way. Mina Pearl, we would call her, or Amelia Acacia. Maybe she will have blue eyes like her mother, brown like her father, grey-green like her older brother. She’ll have curly hair; all three of us do. And she’ll have a brain and a body and inclinations she didn’t ask for, all of which she’ll need to learn to live with.

But maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll have, as I like to joke, “a pack of boys.” And maybe that’s okay, too. Because I will raise them (as best I can) to be the kind of people who will stand up for gender equality, who will respect and admire a woman as they will a man, who will recognize greatness, no matter the anatomy in which it’s housed. Maybe they will have daughters for me to spoil and inspire a generation from now. Maybe my sons will be gay or bisexual or transgendered or some other description I’ve never heard or that’s not yet been dreamed.

Maybe I will have a girl or two, and maybe they’ll all be that way, too.

Maybe it doesn’t matter.

I want my children to be competent. I will try to teach them to bake bread and start a fire and to love Walt Whitman. I imagine my husband will focus on teaching them to ride a bike and play the banjo and make authentic Italian gravy from scratch, just like his grandma makes. We will teach them all we can, and probably some things we didn’t intend.

That’s the goal, anyway.