"NO! Noooooo! Rafa, stop!! That's my baby!!!
Friends, I know my posts have been scarce lately. Here's something I wrote for the Freehold newsletter about my prison theater work.
I should be coming up for air in a couple of weeks!
Freehold facilitates an annual residency
at three separate Washington Corrections facilities, in which we enable
the participants to write, direct, rehearse, and perform their own show
in a five-month period. Residencies guide participants through the
creation of an original performance based on an exploration of the
archetypal hero’s journey. Participants invite their peers, friends and
family to watch their performance at the culmination of the residency.
The residency performances at the Washington Corrections Center for
Women will be on April 8th.
The Finns have something they call sisu. It is a compound of bravado and bravery, of ferocity and tenacity, of the ability to keep fighting after most people would have quit, and to fight with the will to win.
- Time, January 8, 1940
Robin Lynn Smith taught me that word. It’s Finnish, and it has no direct English translation. It has been used to describe the Finnish spirit – what makes the Finns the Finns. I don’t actually know any Finns, but I think “sisu” relates to what my grandparent’s generation might have called “character.” It means possessing the determination to persevere in the face of near-impossible odds. Say that it’s stormy, dark, and freezing. Say you have no shoes and the ground is covered with jagged rocks. Say you’re carrying a vial of medicine for someone who needs it but you’ve already fallen six times and you’re eight miles from your destination. If you’re the stubborn sonavabitch who keeps on walking, you’ve got “sisu.” As I mentioned, Robin taught me the word; the Engaged Theatre Residency at the Washington Corrections Center for Women has taught me what the word means.
This is the first year I’ve been a part of the WCCW Residency. When I agreed to participate, I had only a small idea of what I was getting into. I’d never created a play from scratch with a group of other people before. In fact, writing a play “by committee” has always sounded, to me, like a version of torture. Add that I would be collaborating with a group of incarcerated women, and I could see that the whole enterprise had the potential to go south quickly. And yet when Robin asked me to participate, I didn’t hesitate. I have often referred to theatre as a form of medicine; I reasoned that surely a prison would be full of people in need of it.
But that’s only one-half of the transaction, actually, because I forgot that I was in need, too. In fact, this process has given me loads more than I’ve given it. I’ve been taking my artistic medicine for five months now. I feel much better, thanks.
In prison, I’ve met some of the most powerful writers I’ve ever encountered. These are women who have been to hell and back and are actually willing to tell you about it – a phenomenal feat when you consider how many times they’ve been shut down; how many ways they’ve been told they’re stupid, worthless, and wrong. Women who grapple with violence, addiction, PTSD. Hilarious, heartbreaking women. Thoughtful, patient women.
Theatre under regular circumstances isn’t glamorous; theatre in a prison, much less so. Our play will take place in a gymnasium under fluorescent lights. Our actors will wear their prison grays under costumes from Value Village. An actor-playwright (that’s me) will be running the soundboard. It’s not exactly the West End! And the whole shebang could be yanked out from under us at any moment.
Still, my colleagues return week after week for our medicine, because it's clear that the women inside have a lot left to share with us. They're just getting started. How can I possibly describe what I'm writing about here -- what these women have to offer? These are women who can make lasagna out of the contents of a vending machine. Women who adopt courtyard slugs as pets. Women who hold a puppet like a baby.
Resourcefulness. Generosity. Courage.
Photo above: Monument to the Finnish Sisu. Photo by Aleksi Ollikainen ja Juho Heikkinen.
So. It's been a while, right? Here's something bizarre: I've been writing this blog for something like three years now. I thought I'd established a pretty fixed writing habit. "(What She Means)" was no blogging lark; oh no. I was in it for the long haul. And yet, as I discovered over the last several weeks, the more time that went by without my posting so much as an emoticon, the more impossible posting, as an activity that someone might actually do, felt. And thus the time trickled, spouted, and eventually gushed along until I found myself wondering:
Am I done?
But I still don't have the frigging time for a long post!
So here it is, the texture of my experience, with an explanatory note here and there.
Birthday. Officially in "late 30s."
This picture makes the Washington Corrections Center for Women look nicer than it generally is.
For starters, it should be raining.
Minecraft, our lives will never be the same.
Oscar's first stop-motion, yo.
Rafa called this picture "Ladybugs."
Dropping off and picking up and dropping off and picking up a hardworking man at his place of employment.
(No, I still have not eaten there.)
Thanks for reading, friends. I'm rusty, but -- Lord willing -- I'm back!
And now . . . Deep Thoughts. By Oscar Tourino Collinsworth.
Oscar: You know, there's one thing you can't make out of rocks.
Me: What can't you make out of rocks?
Oscar: Friends. You can't make friends out of rocks.
Me: You can't make friends with rocks, no.
Oscar: No, because rocks can't talk.
Oscar: And they aren't a person.
Oscar enters the workroom, carrying his Abby Cadabby doll.
Me: Hi, Oscar.
(Oscar sets Abby down on my desk.)
Me: Hi, Abby.
Oscar: You don't have to say hi to her. She can't talk.
Me: Yes, but we can pretend she can.
Oscar: No, I casted a spell on her and now she can't talk.
Oscar: Yeah, she's just a regular doll now.
Oscar: But if you need to talk to her or you need help I can cast another spell so she can talk again.
Me: Thank you.
Oscar: (Quickly) They're not hurting spells, though.
Me: That's good.
Oscar: Yeah. They're called un . . . they're called de-violent spells.
Driving in the Car, Part One:
Oscar: Mama, what happens to the lava in a volcano?
Me: When a volcano erupts, the lava comes out of the top.
Oscar: But where does it go?
(I wish I'd retained more of that Earth Science textbook in junior high. Then again, that book spent its introductory chapter strenuously trying to disprove the theory of evolution, so can you blame me for blocking it out?)
Me: What? The lava?
Oscar: Yes, when the volcano . . . interrupts, and the lava comes out, where does it go?
Me: It runs down the sides. And then it . . . it keeps going until it's all done.
Oscar: (Seeking confirmation) But there aren't any real vocanoes in the world.
Me: There are real volcanoes, but not very many. And most of them aren't active, which means that they do not erupt.
Oscar: Are there any volcanoes in Seattle?
Me: No, there aren't. None at all.
Rafa: I wanna haf vah-cano!
Oscar: But where does the lava go?
Me: It stops eventually. It cools down and it hardens into very dark rock. What's that, Rafa?
Rafa: I wanna haf vah-cano!
Me: And then it's called volcanic rock, I think.
(Please do not be intimidated by the breadth of my knowledge.)
Rafa: I wanna haf vah-cano to-day!
Oscar: What's Rafa saying?
Me: Rafa, you want to have a volcano?
(Oscar is laughing.)
Oscar: That's silly, baby. You can't have a volcano.
Rafa: I wanna haf vah-cano too!
Rafa, in the kitchen, with Kermit the Frog.
Rafa: Papa, I wan' you to do him (pause) a-gain!
(Brandon has a Kermit puppet on his hand. He's doing the voice.)
Rafa: Yah, hi.
Brandon: (As Kermit) Are you having a good day?
Rafa: Yah, I’n . . . haveen (pause) a good day!
Brandon: (As Kermit) Oh, good! I love you.
Rafa: Yah, I yuv you!
Brandon: (As Kermit) Can I have a kiss?
Brandon: (As Kermit) Yay!
Rafa: Yah, yay!
Brandon: (As Kermit) Love!
Rafa: Yah, love! Hoo-ray!
Brandon: (As Kermit) Hooray!
Rafa: Yah! Hoo-ray fuh evehbody!
Brandon: (As Kermit) Hooray for everybody!
Brandon: Is it time to clean?
Rafa: No! Is no clime teen -- is not time to keen.
Brandon: (As Kermit) It’s not?
Brandon: (As Kermit) What time is it?
Rafa: It’s . . . ssurssty!
Brandon: (As Kermit) Oh! Are you thirsty?
Brandon: (As Kermit) Would you like some water?
Rafa: Yah! Waduh!
(Brandon is opening and closing cabinets, carrying Rafa in one arm and Kermit-the-puppet in the other.)
Brandon: (As Kermit) Where’s the water? No water in there. No water in there. Here are some glasses.
Rafa: Gass! Yah!
Brandon: (As Kermit) Do you want some water in one of these glasses?
Rafa: Yah. Waduh.
Brandon: (As Kermit) Do you like ice?
Rafa: Yah, I yike ice!
Brandon: (As Kermit) Here you go! Water!
Rafa: Oh! Okay!
Rafa is gathering up toys and flinging them around.
Rafa: Tree foh fie!
Me: Are you counting, Rafa?
Me: You're not?
Rafa: (Irritated by my presumption) No! I'm not counteen.
Rafa: I'm jus' . . . pee-tendeen to count.
Me: You're just pretending?
Rafa: Yah. Two two two!
Brandon: Good pretending!
Rafa: Seben seben seben!
Getting ready for bed. Why do my children turn into Tasmanian Devils exactly twenty minutes before sleepytime?
Rafa: (A new idea) I wanna pay wif duh tea set!
Me: (Non-commital) Isn't that downstairs? I think it's downstairs.
(Rafa approaches his father.)
Rafa: Papa, where duh tea set?
Brandon: I think Mommy said it's downstairs, babe.
Rafa: Yah. Go get it!
Brandon: Not right now, baby. It's too late at night.
Rafa: (With the cry of a banshee) No! Go! Get! It!
Brandon: (Flossing) Sorry, babe.
Rafa: (Shaking with rage) No! Do not! Say! That! To me!
Brandon: (Lovingly) Bluh bluh bluh!
Brandon: Bluh bluh bluh bluh bluh!
(Rafa emits a sound halfway between a laugh and a shriek.)
Rafa: NO! Don' say dat! To me!
Brandon: No? Okay. (Pause.) I love you.
Rafa: Yah, I yuv you, too.
Rafa: But I . . . don' wan' you to say dat to me.
Brandon: Good job explaining that, Rafa.
Driving in the Car, PartTwo:
Oscar: “Broad way.” (Pause.) I read “Broadway” on that green sign over there.
Me: Wow, Oscar.
Me: You are really growing up.
Oscar: Yeah, I’m growin' up.
Me: So fast! You’re growing up so fast! You gotta slow down!
Me: Argh! Slow down, slow down!
Me: Because! You’re getting so big!
Oscar: I can’t slow down!
Me: You can’t?! Why not?!
(Oscar laughs a minute more.)
Oscar: You know I can’t. You know I can’t slow down.
Me: Yeah, I know that.
Oscar: Why do you want me to?
Me: Well . . . it’s because I like how you are so much every day, and every day I feel like I love you the most ever, and so I just want to keep you just like this. I want to keep you with me, this way, forever.
Oscar: (Thoughtfully) You can keep me forever.
Me: I can?!
Oscar: Yes. If you want to.
Birthdays! In December, we talk about birthdays.
Baby Jesus, please hold. Will you come back at month's end? Unfortunately, there is no room at this inn; for unto us, two years ago, a different child was born.
Rafael Gregory, there's your cue.
And lots of play. Rafa particularly enjoys knocking over his soft dinosaur bowling pins. He is quite good at throwing, kicking, and rolling balls of all sorts.
A trio of birthday boys blew out Rafa's birthday ring candles.
For dessert, we had chocolate pots de creme -- chosen because our littlest is happiest feeding himself.
I love that sweet boy. He's been so much fun this week, saying "Happy Birthday!" to everyone in the house, asking to play "birthday" with us at least three times a day. Wait 'til he gets a load of Christmas.
But wait, there's more! It's two, two, two posts in one!
Brandon had a birthday, too. He got almost nothing -- three handmade cards and a small poem I wrote him -- but he smiled as though we'd presented him with a big ol' check.
There's a man who feels wealthy.
Brandon's only birthday requests were homemade pizza and something sweet. I'm particularly proud of the cake, which I made in a whoopie pie style with chocolate buttercream, pieces of crushed toffee for crunch, and a salted caramel drizzle.
Happy Birthday, family!
Now: O come, Emmanuel.
Oscar had his cake and ate it.
And so did I, baby! I ate me a big fat slice. Not to turn this into a Mama-ganza, but it was a big day for Brandon and me, too. Five freaking years ago, we became parents. And life, as they say, has never been the same.
Friends, I'm starting to wonder whether I'll be able to keep up this blog much longer.
It's not that I lack for material. I've got quite a bit back-logged to share with you, including posts about my playwriting class, working with prisoners at the Washington Correction Center for Women, a new play I'm slowly writing, planning for the boys' birthdays coming up, enough Overheard conversations to make you dizzy, projects galore from homemade play-swords to crocheted hats to apple tarts, and certainly plenty of parenting rants. Trouble is, it's all still in my head. I'm chin-deep in experience, with nary a moment for reflecting about it.
It's a mixed blessing.
While I consider -- given the current circumstances -- how the heck I can manage to continue blogging on What She Means, please accept these photos of my children sleeping. Though they look placid, do not be deceived: a mighty struggle has just concluded moments before each frame was snapped. Oscar and Rafael do not like to sleep on purpose during the day; they prefer to keep their eyes alert until sleep overtakes them with the force of an invading army. They do not go quietly.
I've got to admit: I kind of love that about them.
While it's not raining! While it's warm enough to play outside!
While there is still daylight in which to frolic!
While there are still crispy leaves to find!
Throw them! Throw those leaves!
It's that time of year again. We spent most of the month of October gearing up for Halloween.
As a grown up, I've been ambivalent about this holiday for some time. The idea of coming up with a costume sort of stresses me out, I guess. I usually can't be bothered to make one on my own behalf.
Add kids to the mix, though, and it's a whole new game. Dressing up is pure fun for them -- no pressure to be "correct" or "clever." My goal this year was to say Yes! To see if I could reclaim a little bit of that Halloween magic by diving in with a gusto! I wondered whether that would take us anywhere new.
Over the past several weeks, Oscar has been streaming Sesame Street on Netflix. Big Bird! Grover! Elmo! Oscar the Grouch! All completely new to him. He immediately fell into deep love with one particular character: Abby Cadabby. Abby's a fairy.
So when I asked Oscar what he wanted to be for Halloween this year, he didn't hesitate. Well, sometimes he said he wanted to be a "fairy" and sometimes he said "Abby Cadabby," but in any case my work was clear. I couldn't just buy him a pre-packaged fairy costume. For one thing, there were none. Apparently little boys never want to be fairies; drag is the only option. I hate that it comes down to this, because I'm sure Oscar isn't the only little boy who loves Lightning McQueen and Abby Cadabby.
Why must it be cars or fairies?
I wondered how Oscar would feel trick-or-treating in a sparkly dress. I wondered if he would meet with any social push-back. I questioned his comfort level. I questioned my own. I also wondered if the dress was really the point for Oscar. I suspected that what he really hungered for was that feeling of abandon that comes when you really commit to a costume. I mean, Oscar also talked about dressing up as "cheese" for Halloween. And Super-Pocoyo. And a knight. Dress up is fun!
I asked a lot of questions. At one point, Oscar explained very matter-of-factly:
"Mama, I'm a boy but it's okay if I wear a girl's costume, you know?"
Well, that slayed me. I was bound and determined to make him something he liked. We talked and we dug through my fabric remnants and we looked at pictures on the internet. We discovered that bottom-line, for Oscar, an Abby costume had to have:
1. A wand.
3. Pink skin.
I introduced the concept of a tunic, which is something I had enough fabric for that would be simple to sew. Then I showed him examples of woodland fairies and found out he liked the idea of leaves on a tunic. He also wanted hearts and a star. He asked if Rafa could also be a fairy. They could be fairy friends. This was ideal, since Rafa was likely to want to wear whatever Oscar wore, anyway.
I made two wands that were Abby-inspired. They chose their wings, which ended up being rainbow-colored, another departure from the actual Abby Cadabby. That left the pink skin. Hello face paint!
Rafa declined to have his face painted. Oscar wanted his hands painted, too.
The costumes were soft, comfortable, very warm, and cost-effective. I only spent money on the wings!
Best of all, I had happy kids. Which is exactly what it's all about, right?
They say there's nothing constant except change.
(Don't They? Isn't that what They say?)
Well, I think I'm getting steadily better at it -- appreciating and welcoming change. And if you feel you've also got room to improve in this area, I suggest the following experiment:
Take some kind of flat, clear glass dish and pour in an inch of whole milk. Then add one drop of as many shades of food coloring as you've got around the house. Take a look at what happens.
You'll think, hm. That's interesting. That's cool, those spots of color hanging out there in that expanse of white.
And your son will say, Let's see what happens if we . . .
Oh, no, wait!, you'll say. Because you won't be ready; you'll have hardly taken in what's there yet.
Of course, your protests will be futile, because
he'll have alredy added a tiny drip of dish soap into the mix. Just a little bead on the tip of a toothpick, touched to the milky surface. He will cackle as the colors start to chase one another around. He'll poke and prod and shake the dish, so excited will he be to see what's unfolding.
You'll say, Huh. Cool. And you'll prepare to clean up.
Then your son will ask for more drops of food coloring. More tiny beads of soap.
Oh, I don't think so, you'll say, because that part's not in the science book. Then you'll realize you're about to give him a lecture on frugality vis a vis the scarcity of such luxury commodities as food coloring and dish soap.
Then you'll sit back and watch him go.
1) You've got an exuberant son and 2) You've got your camera handy.
Because without both things, you might have ended up missing a lot of lovely stuff along the way.
Now, although I believe this experiment is designed to illustrate the concept of surface tension, I suspect that's not all it has to offer us today.
Is there such a thing as too much sweetness?
No, really. Consider it for a moment.
There's this thing with kids and sugar. I feel like lots and lots of people agree that sugar is bad for children, yes? That it's even a little frightening somehow. Once they start consuming that nectar of Satan, we fear, our children may never, ever stop.
That's possible. I mean, look at my own behavior: I bake cookies regularly, and around my kids I am a complete sugar hypocrite. I'll have one cookie. Two cookies.
That's enough for now!, I'll say, the model of temperance.
I don't sweat it; the deck's stacked in my favor. They've got to go to sleep some time. Once they're in dreamland, those cookies are all mine.
(Harumph harumph, but I am a grown woman who also eats vegetables, so that's okay, harumph, Get off my lawn, Sonney.)
I kept sugar from Oscar for a long time. This was during my Amish Parenting Period (similar to Picasso's Blue, really). I would have hand constructed all of his playthings if I could.
Son, take thou this ball of yarn with a grateful heart.
Look, boy! I whittled for thee!
Merry Christmas, lad! Take thee this orange and enjoy it with my blessings of good tidings and a wholesome slumber!
Yeah. Well, I tried it.
These days I'm figuring that as much as I'm supposed to protect my little angels from the Great Evils of this World, it's also my job to make sure they have fun. And let's face it -- there are a number of Greater Evils than a snack bag of M&M's.
So lately I've been allowing the kids more leeway on the sweetness front. I'm loosening the ol' leash. Oscar doesn't yet know what to make of it -- and truthfully, neither do I -- but it's kind of fun to watch. I'm just generally looking for more opportunities for treats. Just enhancing the delight. Not as a reward, but just because it's fun and it's part of what being a kid is about.
Speaking of delight:
I got really excited when I found out there would be cotton candy there. Cotton candy. Okay, granted, a lot of the cotton candy I had as a kid was not exactly artisanal. But that wasn't the point, was it? Could there be a more frivolous edible experience?
In preparation, we counted our change carefully and determined we had just over four dollars to spend. I hoped against hope that it would be enough; I didn't know how inflation would have affected the cotton candy market since I was a little girl.
You know what? It cost three dollars. Three dollars by a company called Spun. It was Lavendar Flavored, ya'll!
The best damn cotton candy I've ever had.
I ask you: Too much sweetness?
Friends, it has happened at last! We are famous.
Early in the morning sometime last month, my friend Sarah Greenman (of La Maison Boheme) tiptoed across my threshold, my husband and children still sleeping upstairs, and snapped a series of photographs of my home. Sarah is a freelance contributor to the online design magazine, Houzz, and having read many of her other articles I must say I was both shocked and awed that she'd ask to feature our humble rental.
I have to say, it's a little disorienting to look at pictures of my living space that don't contain any little boys running around. It's so . . . clean!
If you'd like to read the entire article, you can find it here.
Thanks for your lovely work, Sarah! We feel very fancy indeed.
Yeesh, I am so behind on my kid-notes. Occasionally I take thirty seconds to jot down something I hear, but now that I've got two talkers, I might be overmatched. Still, it's all too much fun not to share.
Currently, Oscar's big into magic. He carries his wand -- a stick with a star on it that he got at a friend's birthday party -- most places. A while ago, he was playing an old version of Final Fantasy with his papa and spent several days running around the house, making spell noises and flinging his hand around. This was, alas, before we outlawed all games that involve even a little bit of pretend bonking. As parents, Oscar's still breaking us in. His extensive vocabulary sometimes makes us forget that, inside, he's still just a little four-year-old mite who doesn't always understand what to do with the big, frustrating feelings that overwhelm him. Hence, the no bonking games rule. It seems to have helped.
However, we do miss out on some fabulous exchanges.
Oscar: (Leaving the room) Mama, I'm going.
Me: Okay. (A beat before I remember to follow up.) Wait -- where are you going?
Oscar: Just out there, honey.
Oscar: Yeah, I'm going to fight a lot of monsters to get some more experience.
(I'm getting the laundry together. Oscar runs around me, poking his arm back and forth rapidly, several times in succession.)
Oscar: Sfft! Sfft!
(I am alarmed. He is not allowed any "shooting" magic.)
Me: (Suspiciously) What was that? What did you do to me there?
Oscar: That was a potion, Mama.
Me: What kind of a potion?
Oscar: Not a high potion, just a regular potion.
(I am wishing Brandon were home to translate. I put down the laundry, furrowing my brow.)
Me: Oscar, what does the potion do?
Oscar: It's a potion. You know, a potion!
Me: No, I don't know. What does it do?
(Oscar spends a moment searching for a word.)
Oscar: It heals.
Me: Oh, were you healing me?
Me: Thank you.
And, at last, the littlest one's voice will begin popping up in these transcripts! Hooray for Rafa!
(Brandon's at work. Oscar and Rafa are playing. I sneeze. A beat. I sneeze again.)
Me: (Wiping my nose) Wooh! Excuse me.
(I know this is basic, but it could not be more charming.)
Me: Thank you, baby!
Me: Thank you!
Rafa: Peshoo! Mama!
Me: Thank you!
(Rafa runs into the workroom excitedly. He emits the sharp, squeaky intake of breath that means he's found something.)
Rafa: Bahble! Bahble!
(He opens one hand to show me what he's holding.)
Me: Marble! Terrific.
Some set-up -- which I hope will make sense outside of our own quirky family lore. With one family car to share, most days the boys and I drop Brandon off at work, picking him up again much later when he texts us that he's finished. Picking Papa up is an Event for the three of us. Rafa began noticing what all the fuss was about when he was six or seven months old; he became visibly excited by it. To get the children into the car as quickly as possible, I'd generally sing whatever silly song popped into my head, altering the lyrics. For a long time it was a modified version of "Tradition," which is the overture from the musical Fiddler on the Roof. (Look, whatever works, right?) I'd say, "Let's pick up the papa!" And then I'd sing:
The papa . . . the papa!
The papa . . . the papa!
Well, imagine my surprise when I was buckling Rafa in the other night and . . .
Me: (With a quiet enthusiasm designed to elicit easy carseat insertion) Yes, yes. It's time to pick up the papa.
(A beat as I pull the straps snug.)
Rafa: (Grinning) Yah!
Me: (Singing) The papa . . . the papa . . . !
Rafa is a trip. His most oft repeated phrases right now are:
1. Help youuu! Help youuu! (This means he needs some assistance.)
2. By self! By self! (This means back the hell off.)
I admit I'm finding it a little hard to navigate the occasions when he says both, one after the other.
Rafa: (Working on getting the lid off of a tin box) Help you! Help you!
(I approach. Rafa then uses his hand to flap me away.)
Rafa: By self!
(I retreat two steps.)
Rafa: (Struggling with the box) Aaaa! Help youuu!
Me: (Leaning in) Babe -- ?
Rafa: By sehhhf! By sehhhf! Help youuuuu!
Me: Sweetheart -- !
Rafa: (Repeatedly slamming the box on the floor) By sehhhf!
There's one more expression Rafa deploys regularly. Let's call it an oldie but a goodie.
Me: Rafa? Let's put your shoes on.
Rafa: I won't!
Me: Rafa, are you coming with us?
Rafa: I won't!
Me: Baby, we've got to get dressed.
Rafa: Nooooh! I won't!
(Playing with the doctor's kit. I swear this is exactly the same kit I had when I was little, except mine had a plastic case and this one comes in a little bag. Rafa's got the stethoscope on his ears. Oscar has taken my temperature and checked my blood pressure. He's wrapping up the examination.)
Oscar: Okay. What else do you need?
Me: Hmm. Well, I think I need a shot. Are you able to give me a shot?
Oscar: Sorry, I can't find my syringe.
(The syringe is literally a foot away from him.)
Me: It's right there!
(Oscar is non-plussed.)
Oscar: It's just pretend, honey! It's a game!
Me: Oh! You can't find it. Oh, dear.
Me: I hope you find it soon.
Me: So I don't get sick.
(He makes a big show of turning to look at the syringe on the floor beside him.)
Oscar: Here it is!
Me: Thank goodness.
(Oscar gives me a shot.)
Me: Yes. Ouch!
(Rafa gives me a kiss.)
Summer's over, kids.
It's all about to get more complicated. The days will get shorter and cooler. The work will get harder. And, in my house at least, the dying light will expose the grunge and grit that's accumulated stealthily during those long, bright summer days.
The chickens, they returneth home. It's clear they mean to stay a while. And roost.
It was obvious to me that summer was gone the other day, doing my laundry. I opened the dryer and began to understand anew the meaning of disaster.
Has anyone else discovered, much too late, the havoc a few broken crayons left in a little pocket can wreak?
Oh, the heartlessness of primary colors. Green, red, and yellow splotches will look good on the trees in the coming days. They will not look fantastic on a pair of linen pants. Or a crisp button-up shirt. Or any of the half-dozen homemade kid-clothes that happened to be in the dryer that day.
I was behind on the wash, you see.
Who takes the time to turn out their children's pockets when it's 75 degrees outside and doesn't get dark until ten?
Summer days, drifting away! But ah-ah those summer nights!
So, yes. Ruined. Despite being laundered four times. Despite each stain being ministered to with the devotion of a Pentacostal preacher.
blot blot blot blot blot
blot blot blot blot blot
Which is saying something. The clothes have been so . . . transgressed against. They practically look tie-dyed.
Come to think of it, virtually everything the boys are wearing in these photos was in that load of laundry.
How can I not see this as a metaphor?
Apparently, I am going to have to be even more careful to avert calamity. But I'm not a perfect person. I will sometimes eff up. Sometimes, I will open the dryer door and find that my clothes have literally turned into trash. Sometimes, the crisis will occur regardless of what I do. It's humbling.
The darkness is coming. There is work to do. There are cupboards to fill. There are debts to pay. And yes, there are a sh**t-ton of small pockets to inspect. But there is a bright side.
Looking over these pictures, at least I've got a handle on what it's all for.
Every branch of the Seattle Public Library has been closed all week. It's a seven-day mandary unpaid furlough, and it's been in effect for the last several years. True, it saves the city over $600,000. True, for the majority of us (those who aren't library employees, anyway), the closure means more of an inconvenience than a hardship. But that doesn't mean it's not a pretty massive bummer. We love our libraries here. We need our libraries here. Here, the library's home.
"Libraries are the last vestige of 'free' public space, the last place people can go to get out of the rain without being required to buy something."
That's why I was so delighted to find out about the People's Library, an outdoor volunteer library that popped up tenaciously -- for one week only -- to offer Seattleites some love.
"This book is for you, You can keep it, you can return it, you can give it away. You can donate it to a school. You can donate it to a public library.
"Libraries are more than books. They are a refuge, a cathedral, a home for dreams and fantasies. Libraries are a place to perform research, a link to services, an entertainment venue, a cultural center."
"Librarians provide tech support, serve the houseless and the mentally ill, teach the disenfranchised how to use the Internew, plunge toilets, change light bulbs, spray for ants, dress as Winnie the Pooh, proofread resumes for library patrons, provide pro bono therapy, coordinate fundraising efforts and library events. Librarians are heroes."
"There is no problem a library card can't solve."
We visited the Seattle People's Library on Wednesday.
As you might expect of a library, there were books there! Two volunteers approached me within five minutes of my arrival to explain that the books were free and that I was welcome to take as many as I wanted.
Oscar found a Mo Willems title he liked.
Brandon, true to form, found a stack of stray books that he felt needed a home.
I didn't take these pictures, by the way. We were photographed by a bearded stranger who chatted with me and gave me his card before he left. He was a really nice man, and after a coupla years of noticing people I don't know snap pictures of my children without so much as a by-your-leave, I appreciated his decorum.
(Alex Garland Photography, friends.)
It was the kindness.
How 'bout we just call this "Many Pictures, Few Words"? Uploading these photos has cost me rather a lot of time -- hence the slow posting.
Don't Cry For Me, Argentina, though; I've been very happily occupied. My sister's family visited for a week! And it was wonderful!
We both have these young kids, see; and we've both, by now, been at this parenting gig long enough to be able to do it confidently in tandem. The orangutans did not take over the zoo, but rather spent most of the time frolicking, playing, and posing sweetly.
I mean, the cuteness!
It's unfortunate that I have no photos of the wild blackberry foraging in our neighborhood. My sister, our gang of children, and I spent about an hour at one huge tangled, tall mess of a hedge. We were glutting on berries, fingers and lips a dark purple, when Christina and I looked at each other and agreed that we were in the midst of a magical moment -- but what could be done? Everyone was busy alternately giggling and yelping when pricked with a thorn, Christina was explaining to Oscar the definition of a calculated and worthwhile risk (i.e., the occasional thorn in one's finger in exchange for a ripe berry), and I was carrying a conked-out Rafa and gorging.
I guess I'm going to have to do the unthinkable and . . . use my brain to remember what happened!
We took those kids all over. To the beach . . .
To the Locks in Ballard, where we listened to a live band for a spell . . .
Where we tried a few posed picture moments that never quite worked for all four kids simultaneously.
The "herding cats" expression seems apt.
And my father flew up for a visit -- his first since we moved to Seattle. So of course he became Head Cat-herder, a task for which he was admirably game.
Their last evening in town, we went out to dinner and took the kids down to the water.
Christina then, super-sister that she is, proceeded to run the wiggles right out of all four of them. She had those kids running laps for a good fifteen minutes straight. It was awesome!
By the end of the week, Oscar and Rafa were convinced that my big sister had hung the moon.
Which, incidentally, is what I've always suspected.
'Til next time, Felix and Matilda. We miss you already.
Rafael is teething and miserable.
When he's miserable, he cries.
He will stand two feet from you and cry inconsolably. He will not be distracted by your paltry toys; your marbles; your shiny coins; your songs; your jewelry. He'll keep on crying because he wants you to pick him up, and let's be frank: He'll get what he wants. You're going to pick him up, aren't you? He can smell it.
Then you'll pick him up and he'll stop crying. You'll start to feel sheepish. You'll talk with him a bit, make him laugh, and after a minute or two you'll put him down.
And watch him cry.
So you'll pick him up again. He's gotten heavier in the last few months, hasn't he?
You'll carry him. You'll walk around your house. You'll make a mental list of all the things that need doing. You'll notice the things out of place, the dust, the dishes to do. You'll resolve to ignore all that. He's not crying right now and that's enough for you.
Then you'll realize you've got to go to the bathroom.
A-a-a-and, he's fallen asleep, hasn't he? What will you do?
You'll hold it.
You'll hold your pee and you'll like it, won't you? You'll count your blessings if you are allowed, after ten minutes or so, to e-e-e-ease your butt onto the couch. But then he'll start sleep-crying -- that eyes squeezed shut, flailing arm thing -- so you'll pat his back rhythmically. You might also bob your knee. You'll beg Oscar, in an increasingly hissy whisper, to bring you a book. Or a magazine. Or your phone.
Twenty minutes later, you'll realize that one of your arms is asleep, not that you dare to move.
Also, you're thirsty.
You'll ask Oscar to bring you a glass of water, then ask him if he knows how to help you drink it. You'll marvel at how calm and resourceful a four-year-old can be. As he holds the glass to your lips, you'll remember that you never got to go to the bathroom. Will you care?
Well, yes and no.
Because he's sleeping on you, that sweet, sweaty boy. His hair is sticking up all over his head. You've achieved the baby schlump. What would any red-blooded American adult do in your place? Soak it in.
The crazy thing is, Rafael's less and less of a baby every day. Here are some things I love about him right now:
(We're in the car, driving through downtown Seattle at night, on our way to pick up Brandon from work.)
Oscar: (Listening to the stereo music) Mama, what's this song that's playing?
Me: It's by John Coltrane, and it's a song called "My Favorite Things."
(A pause long enough for me to wonder whether Oscar's about to tell me he doesn't like it.)
Oscar: (Ebulliently) Red is my favorite color!
Me: (Relieved) That's right! Hooray!
(We bask in the glow of this idea for a block or two.)
Me: Hey, what's your favorite thing to eat?
Oscar: My favorite thing to eat is . . . sweet stuff.
Me: (Sighing) Yeah, you like sweet stuff.
Oscar: Yeah, like burgers and stuff.
Me: Burgers aren't sweet, though.
Oscar: But I like burgers, even though they aren't sweet.
Me: Sure, sure.
(Thought bubbles: Burgers . . . )
Me: What's your favorite smell?
Oscar: My favorite smell is . . . like some really good . . . potatoes.
Me: Huh --
Oscar: Mama, why do mosquitoes like to drink your blood?
Me: I don't know, exactly. But it's like their food --
Oscar: Yeah, we're going to have to look that up. Like on the Internet or something.
(A popular refrain in our household: We'll have to look that up on the Internet.)
Oscar: Yeah, I bet the Internet would know.
Me: I bet you're right. What's your favorite time of day?
Oscar: My favorite time of day is winter.
Oscar: Because then I get to look at all the nice, white snow.
Me: I see.
Oscar: What season is it right now?
Me: It's summer.
Oscar: You like summer.
Oscar: Yes, summer's a nice time of day, too.
Me: Yes, it is.
Oscar: (Extravagantly) It's so warm!
Me: I know!
Oscar: Mama, what is that billboard with the dog and the ice on it?
(I glance over. It's an animated squirrel.)
Me: It's an advertisement for a movie called Ice Age.
Oscar: What's that?
Me: It's a cartoon. It's about animals.
Oscar: I bet those animals are really funny.
So here it is, complete!
Gosh, it doesn't look like all that much to me from here! Huh. It took hours and hours. Isn't that always the way?
Maybe if you get closer.
In reference to the Peter's Projection Map I started with, I'm calling this group of canvasses "Actual Size." I thought I was doing a piece about the actual -- rather than commonly misrepresented -- sizes of countries and continents. I take issues of size rather personally, maybe partly because I've always been a little slip of a thing. Underestimation's a recurrent hurdle for the wee.
I started with an actual map of the world. I ended up, I guess, with a very different sort of map.
A map of emotion?
Of the past?
I painted an unbelievable number of layers. Half the time, I'd end up scraping paint off and giving the whole thing another go. I told Brandon it felt like the canvasses and I were collaborating. As a theater artist, I'm well aware that few collaborations are matches made in heaven; most of them are sustained by resignation.
On each canvass, I'd keep trying until we could agree -- until what the canvas wanted to be matched up with my meager ability. There was a lot of compromising.
I had to let go of almost every single thing I planned to do. (Seriously, when I think about the amount of stuff I ended up painting over . . . !)
Of course, with my fondness for metaphor, I found the whole process quite fraught.
Happily, I learned that I have become more patient in the last few years, thanks to those little munchkins I've been raising. I can handle more readily the idea of leaving something unresolved. With not knowing if something will work. With letting a canvas be freaking ugly for a few days while I take care of other stuff on my list.
So that, I think, represents some growth!
Yeah, there are crazy wrinkles and air bubbles.
And for the life of me, I can't get the canvasses to all hang straight at the same time I think my brain is in crooked.
Still, the thing is done.
And I did it!
A little bird asked me yesterday why I haven't been blogging as frequently this month.
Bless you, little bird, for caring! I've been in the s**t, friends. The creative s**t. It's a glorious, terrifying, and metaphorically bloody place.
In less poetic terms, I'm still working on that project I wrote about last time.
Observe: the canvasses below look absolutely nothing like the two times I painted them.
What fresh hell is this? I don't know. All my clothes have paint on them. Rafa's got it in his hair. There are improbable streaks of it on Oscar's legs. My bathroom sink is clogged with it. There's laundry to fold and I need a haircut.
It's do or die, friends. Will you wish me luck? I'm going in.
We're making some extra art messes these days, with mixed results.
In the success column, Brandon turned a cheap cutting board from Ikea into a useful guitar pedal board. Now he's got something organized and super-portable, perfect for playing shows. All it took was a little measuring and some sticky-back velcro.
Then Oscar picked up the pencil Brandon was using to mark measurements and began scribbling with it right onto the unmarred wood surface of the board.
I saw Brandon stiffen for a moment. I heard him begin to say, "No, no, no."
But he didn't. Instead, he passed Oscar the jar of colored pencils. And I brought out the crayons.
Family fun for everyone!
Here's the finished pedal board, sans pedals:
So much in art depends on letting go of what you expect to happen. What you think something will look like. Your first, second, or fifteenth idea. Your precious intentions.
Speaking of intentions, let's turn to the failure column. Sigh.
Okay, look, I'm not much of a visual artist.
You know what? Let's skip that part. You can fill it in for yourself, right? Yadda, yadda, yadda, insert disclaimer here.
I've been working on a painting. It's the largest painting project I've ever attempted, and it threatens to ruin me. It has plunged me into the depths of despair more than once.
Ah, the artistic temperament.
I started with a map -- specifically, the Peters Projection map, which I cut up and attached to canvasses of varying size.
Dissatisfied with the washed-out colors of the original map, I set to systematically repainting the entire surface.
That didn't quite work for me. It didn't do enough. So I let that go, even though I knew that in changing it I might wind up with something . . . inelegant.
I began to layer on stuff.
This is the project at what I was calling its Bad Affirmation Collage Phase.
I decided to add more paint. A lot more paint.
Here's a mid-way point.
Where is the map? Oh, it's under there. Way, way under there.
You know what tragedy is? Forget Medea for a second and put yourself in my shoes looking at these pictures. Tragedy is recognizing this moment: The moment that this godforsaken project was finally starting to work for me. The moment it was all beginning to make an eccentric kind of sense.
But then I got tired. I got hungry. And I pushed. I pushed, knowing that I'd bought myself that specific time to paint and that I might not get more time to work on this project again for a while. I pushed, hoping to avoid running into the crazymaking clutter of unfinished work day after day. I admit it: I wanted to be done. I wanted to check the box.
Yes, I pushed, feeling that the project itself had become more than a little bit ridiculous.
I mean, a painting? Really?
Do you know what I'm saying?
And because I pushed, I ended up hating where the painting went next.
Although there are a couple of parts that I mind less.
Now, it seems, I'm back at square one. Let's re-cap where we are. I've already essentially obliterated two previous paintings.
I suspect that my mettle is being tested. But by whom?
Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles?
You tell me. I'm exhausted!
Anybody up for a pep talk? I could use one.
Last week, I foundered a bit. If it's even possible to founder a bit. Maybe I mean floundered. Do I mean floundered?
Founder: To fill with water and sink.
Flounder: To struggle or stagger helplessly or clumsily in water or mud.
Okay, so I floundered. Although it felt like foundering.
Because: I am a married mother of two and I am also sometimes, when I'm lucky, an artist. And on occasion I feel like I'm failing at both. My children, my adorable children, my little schnooks, how I love them! But there are moments when I want to lock myself in a studio and throw away the key, ignoring the wails on the other side of the door. Except I can't, because there those kids go again, needing me.
Oscar: Have you already finished your blog?
Me: No, I just started.
Oscar: (Beginning to cry) Mama! I don't want you to!
Me: The less you interrupt me, the more quickly I'll be all done.
Oscar: You're not being nice to me!
Yep, I'm their mommy. They literally require me to wipe their asses.
Small children. Seriously, they're so great, aren't they? For one thing, they're gorgeous. That skin! Those eyes! They are so funny and so affectionate and so smart! And many other ineffable things that I don't have words for right now! But sometimes they are tedious. Imagine, please, being so bored, so very bored, and yet not being allowed to go to sleep. That is parenthood, darlings.
Imagine, too, having a brain stuffed with plans. So full to the brim with ideas, so many projects to undertake, yet so impossibly unable to actually pursue any of them to your satisfaction. I think I used to be a writer, for instance. We could be romantic about it and say I am writing living epistles these days. That's even true, in its way.
But the greater portion of my life isn't romantic at all. Because what do you think I'm doing? I'm cleaning up messes. You know one of Oscar's favorite games these days? He likes to "cook" -- and cooking, for him, requires that he pull out three or four pots and add to them the contents of anything he can get his paws on in the pantry. We negotiate over the amount of any one spice or baking supply he can filch from. I try to get him down to a teaspoon, but I only sometimes succeed. He throws it all together in a bowl and stirs it. Then he adds water. Honey. Marshmallows. Then he pours it all into tupperware and puts it in the refrigerator. By the end of the day, I've got several unholy concoctions taking up the space milk should occupy, I'm banging my head on the table trying to sweep up spilled cornmeal, and I'm desperately trying to corral the baby in the kitchen, since he smells so overpoweringly of cumin that you'd think he bathed in the stuff.
You might ask why I allow Oscar to "cook" at all. (Are you wondering that?) Well, he hears some version of "no" or "not now" most of the time. That's what being a little kid is like. And sometimes I just can't bring myself to say no again. Besides, I'm trying to buy myself time to get my own stuff done! So while I work, Oscar "cooks" and builds and draws and bangs on things. And Rafa pulls anything -- everything -- out of any drawer/cabinet/shelving unit within reach. He especially loves to open boxes of playing cards and board games, scattering every. Single. Piece. Take anthing away from him while he's en flagrante and he screams like you've lopped off a limb.
So I clean and then I clean and then I clean some more.
Clean up, clean up!
Clean up, clean up!
Everybody do your share!
Ha ha, I chortle! More like:
Me: Oscar, look at all these toys on the floor here. Please help me clean them up.
Oscar: (From the couch, where he is lying upside-down, flopping his legs around without explanation) Well, I'm busy right now, so I can't. Sorry, honey!
At this point, Rafael, dollars to doughnuts, will be doing one of three things. 1) Signing persistently that he wants to breastfeed now. 2) Following me around the house, weeping miserably, to coerce me into picking him up now. 3) Both. Now! And let me tell you, there's nothing quite like squatting and brushing sticky crumbs into a dustpan with a toddler hanging off one of your nipples, nursing like a fiend.
Oscar: Are you finished with your blog yet?
Me: (Squinting at the screen) What?
Oscar: Are you finished with your blog yet?
Me: Uh . . . not yet.
Oscar: No! That's not the right answer! You have to be done and that's your only choice!
I'm wondering if everybody else has this figured out by now and forgot to tell me. Perhaps I should stop fighting my decline and instead reminisce tiresomely about days past when I had nothing but time, when I was making art practically as often as I was breathing, and when I could reasonably expect to finish reading one frigging book -- just one frigging book -- that I started!
Seriously, am I ever going to reach my freaking potential as a human? Me me me me me!
Last night, I went out again to hear a rock show -- this time at the Comet Tavern.
I'm starting to get the hang of it, I think; you mostly just stand there with a bunch of other legal adults and sway a bit or tap an appendage, ice cubes thwacking inconsequentially within the plastic cup you're holding, while the bands play. The bands also thwack, though with plenty more persistence than the ice cubes. Never stop learning, friends.
Also, they won't let you bring your plastic cup outside of the bar when taking the air between sets, just so you know. You're welcome.
Anyway, Brandon was playing with Hearts Are Thugs and I was there.
On a related (trust me) note, I have Potty Progress to report. After toilet training advancement and regression, then more regression followed by even more regression, followed by Oscar announcing that he would not be sitting on the potty until he turns sixteen, followed by my subsequent despair and complete surrender of the entire process, we now have a potty trained boy. Holy Mary, Mother of Diapers!
We stumbled onto a foolbroof method, friends. And the beauty of it is how darn simple it turned out to be. Curious?
Yes, we did. Yes, we did. We bought him an iPod in exchange for seven straight days of before-purchasing potty and a lifetime of potty ever after. How do you like them apples?
There have already been many unintended bonuses.
Texting with my four-year-old while drinking a gin and tonic and watching Brandon onstage, listening to unearthly loud music in a slightly seedy bar: priceless.
Oscar: Oscar love you
Me: Oscar, you are a wonderful boy.
Me: There's Papa!
Oscar: From rafa
Me: Rafa, I love you!!!!
Me: Hi Oscar it's aunt Jess!
Oscar: From Oscar
I'll go back.
You know how, when people used to listen to music on cassette tapes, you could press "fast-forward" and "play" at the same time? And if the singer was singing:
Suddenly it sounded more like:
Well, that's kind of how my life's been feeling at the moment. Although it's all definitely familiar, there's quite a bit of vertiginous momentum and everything's all electric! And chirpy! And weird!
It's very exciting, if occasionally disconcerting. For instance, I'm falling in with the strangest people.
Like that guy, Gregory, holding my son (and his namesake), Rafa Gregory. He turned forty and his betrothed threw him a momentous party. And Brandon and I got to go. I write "got to go" not because we were in any danger of not being invited -- we named a kid after him and all -- but because we HIRED A BABYSITTER so that we could attend the birthday bash, at a bar, and cavort the way grown-ups do.
I should mention this was Advanced Cavorting, because Greg is a musician. Who shows up for a musician's birthday party? Many, many other musicians (of the rock variety). I think there were more guitars and other plug-in-able amplifying devices there than people -- which is saying something, since the joint was packed.
It was like a foreign country. There was set after set of music. Loud music. (Louder than you're imagining right now.) So loud that there was nothing to do but submit and let somebody hand me a drink.
It was fantastic.
And then there's this:
I've begun my work with the Freehold Theatre Lab's Ensemble Training Intensive (ETI) We had our first round of auditions for the ten-month training program a few days ago*. It was another step-through-the-mirror experience, which is to say another country visited -- this one much more familiar. A black-box theater, a small team of us behind a table. A group of applicants waiting in the hallway. Another pretty exhilarating instance of being in a room among people who know, intimately, what they are doing.
By the way: Theatre artists are easily as profane as rock musicians.
*If you are interested in applying, or know someone who might be, PLEASE contact me because there will be another round of auditions later this summer and we want to see you (or your friend) there. It's not too late!
Then it was back to rock. The same babysitter TWICE IN ONE WEEK IT IS INSANE, I TELL YOU.
Brandon and Greg's band, Hearts Are Thugs, played in a benefit show at the Sunset along with Tim Rogers. Greg, in fact, played bass for Tim Rogers' set. I can't properly explain the significance of this event because Americans are weirdly under-exposed to the band You Am I, but believe me when I say that the Australians get it.
In other words, hello Wonderland again, particularly since through some kind of crazy intersection of events, we ended up driving Tim Rogers to the Sunset in our car. Yep, we took the carseats out of the Kia so that Tim Rogers could climb into the middle back seat and be conveyed safely to his rock show.
I told you I was Batman. Wonderland, Batman, foreign travel: I know I'm mixing my metaphors but I'm fast-forwarding here! What do you expect?
It's been kind of a wild couple of weeks. I keep going from this:
(Hey, that's Brandon!)
Hard living, kid. I know how it is.
And have I mentioned the lettuce?
Because there isn't anything much nicer than heading out to your patio with a bowl and a pair of shears to snip, snip, snip your way to the gentlest, tenderest, most adorable salad you've ever eaten.
I mean, isn't that precious?
And then there's this action:
Our family is in thrall to a juicer. We feed it daily, stuffing it with what I can only term a professional amount of produce: spinach, cabbage, lettuce (green, red, and romaine), collards, chard (green, red, and rainbow), kale (curly and lacinato), parsley, celery, cucumber, lemon, carrots, ginger, coconut, apples, oranges, pineapple.
It's obscene, I admit it. I am a brazen hussy. But it feels so right.
I crave this stuff every morning. We're talking beyond coffee. The juice! I gotta have it! It's all Requium for a Dream up in here -- except, you know, healthy. My vegetable scrub brush and me: We've become besties.
Then I drink the green juice down and ZING!
Wow! Life! It's just! So much is possible!
All of a sudden!
Maybe you've got to be there.
You want to know the days I feel truly deviant? When we throw in wheat grass.
Yes, I've figured out how to grow it myself. Turns out it's a fairly straighforward process. I can remember, back when I was in college, doing the wild show Ruthless! while stricken with mononucleosis. I used to stumble blearily by the juice bar on the way to the theater and down a shot of wheat grass before every performance. The stuff is a little bit magical.
Zow! Vitamins! Minerals! Phytonutrients! Enzymes!
And . . . I haven't had a migraine in six weeks.
It's good to be a grown-up.
For me, it was not always so great to be a kid. Being a kid meant having no control over my life. Being a kid meant that, for my long-commuting parents, more often than not I was a logistical problem to be solved. I didn't make my own decisions. I didn't have preferences. What was the use of them? I always deferred to others, measuring my happiness in terms of theirs. I felt fine as long as they did.
It's not like that anymore, and I've got to say: I prefer it like this.
Do you remember when you figured out that you could -- and should -- make yourself happy?
I'm not sure it was one precise moment for me. It was more of a gradual understanding, like a sunrise.
But sometimes I catch myself discovering it all over again. Like when we walked down, down, down 200 or so steps in Ballard.
Kids strapped to us, we descended.
We took in the moss, the stones, the spicy ferns, the fallen trees. It got downright steep at times. And then we came through a tunnel and hit the water.
Golden Gardens, it's called. I can't begin to tell you how beautiful it was.
As a bonus, there was a playground.
The weather was so perfect that we lingered. Brandon got called off at work and the world was suddenly our oyster. We started walking towards the shoreline and Oscar bemoaned the fact that we'd brought no toys for him to play with. But then he discovered driftwood and rocks and had a playdate with the water.
Come to think of it, we all did.
I don't know if my children will figure it out earlier than I did, but I hope they do. I've found that it's well worth my time to allow myself to sincerely enjoy myself.
Not that it's always easy, mind you. Actually, it almost never is. The moment of serenity, above, ended rapidly as soon as Rafa threw one of rocks Oscar had collected into the water. "NOOOOO, Babeeeee!," he shouted. And let's not forget there were some 200 steps for us to ascend to get back to the car while carrying our sunburned children. I was famished by the time I made it to the top, and so, promptly, was Rafael. (The bench stationed at the very top of the stairs was a welcome sight to this nursing mother.)
It occurs to me that the phrase take pleasure is more instructive than I've ever considered. Pleasure can't be fallen into like a vat of honey; it's something one must seek out and take.
(And then? Don't forget to share!)
Sure, sharing is caring and all that.
I like people!
And I've no wish to raise little misanthropes.
But can I just admit that I highly enjoy a perfectly empty playground?
No awkward half-conversations with other adults.
No policing or parenting anyone's kids but mine.
No loud, long-limbed teenagers inappropriately hoarding the slides.
Just a playground -- the whole playground -- and nothing but.
Rafa took his first steps two days ago! He was just shy of seventeen months old.
Below, Oscar is pleased to present to you his brother's new skill.
Phew! That was the longest blogging hiatus I've taken in some time. Everybody with me?
Friends, I have been to the heart of Texas. And the heart of Texas, in case you're unaware, is in the home of my friend Sarah -- she of Maison Boheme -- and her family, who hosted me and my children for longer than anyone not of my bloodline should ever have to host me and my children. She did it with grace. She is my hero.
I, meanwhile, burrowed in the labyrinthine studios at the Meadows School of the Arts, flexing my voice and speech muscles among its enthusiastic population of talented students. I was busy. For one thing, there was quite a destructive tornado -- and in this case I don't mean my tantruming four-year-old. But what fun to be there, cohabitating with Sarah while covering her husband Jack's classes in his absence. She even packed my lunches for me.
Thank you, Sarah.
Fast-forward to my return, and the momentum of those packed Dallas days is more difficult to come by. There is a slew of housework to do, but I lack willpower. It's so purty outside! I just want to sit on the patio watching our lettuce grow. Somebody give me a straw hat and I won't move for days.
The only thing is: growing stuff is kind of dirty, you know? There's . . . dirt. And I have these little munchkins running around here that just won't stay away from it. Rafa cries when I take him inside, his arms and legs covered in compost. He's tracking in grimy puddles and I'm suddenly allergic to the mop. Maybe I should just strew sawdust and peanut shells on the hardwood and call it "rustic."
Or maybe it's just springtime. After a highly industrious winter, I'm resting in the aftermath. The tornado has passed, I guess, and I'm in a recuperative mood. I'm reminded of this post over on Angry Chicken, where Amy discusses keeping sort of a bizarro to-do list. Instead of writing down what she's going to get done and crossing each accomplishment off, she jots down one or two things a day that she blew off. I love it: An Undone List. Sounds like just the permission I need to let that floor get truly filthy for a few more days and watch my next salad come up.
What about you? What are you putting off?
My low point was a couple of days ago. We were out eating dinner and Brandon and I decided to spring for a dessert for Oscar to eat at home later. A chocolate tort, friends. And let me tell you: I have, in the past, eaten this chocolate tort, and it's the sort of thing that sane people don't decline. While waiting for the check, our server kindly brought us the ice cream that generally comes on top of the tort in a little dish. Oscar's face brightened.
"It's made with iced coffee," our server said, eyeing as Oscar reached for the spoon. "So go easy!"
What was I to do? The ice cream had been scooped and was under Oscar's nose. There was no sending it back.
Because of Lent, I let my four-year-old eat the whole darn thing.
He was bouncing off the walls. "I am caffeinated!" he reported ecstatically to restaurant onlookers ten minutes later as his father carried him out over his shoulder.
At home, he also ate the tort without interference. I wept inside.
I'm leaving for Texas in two days, so you may not hear from me for a couple of weeks. I'll be celebrating Easter while I'm there. And yes, there will be some indulgence come that spring morning two Sundays from now. Any recommendations for breaking the fast?
I'm not exactly sure how the argument preceeding the exchange below escalated. How do they ever escalate? Oscar is awfully stubborn; I'll tell you that much. Wonder where he gets that from?
All I remember is it was something to do with his leftover vanilla milk, and how I had sinned against his personhood by removing the milk from the cardboard container from which it had been leaking in long, sticky rivulets and instead bringing it upstairs to him -- with its original straw intact, I might add -- in a small glass.
Cue Mexican standoff.
You can imagine it, can't you? I tell him to drink the vanilla milk, he tells me he wants it in the container. I tell him I brought the straw, he tells me it's too drippy. I tell him the original container had been far drippier, he tells me he wants a sippy cup. I tell him he should stop complaining, since I brought the milk all the way upstairs for him. He tells me he's too tired to pick it up and drink it. I tell him to drink the vanilla milk, he tells me to pick up the glass for him.
A tumbleweed blows across the bedroom floor.
I sit still, nursing the baby and waiting.
Oscar: Mama, I'm thirsty!
Me: Why don't you come over here and see me?
Oscar: Mama, I don't feel like being close to you.
Me: Oh. Well, that's okay.
(Nursing continues. From the looks of things, all three of us are over-tired. I close my eyes.)
Oscar: Yeah, Mama?
Oscar: I don't really love you anymore.
(I open my eyes. This is new.)
Me: Oh, that hurts my feelings! Ouch.
Oscar: (Breezily) But feelings change, hon!
Me: (Sighing) Yes, they do.
Oscar: Actually, Mama . . . I didn't mean that I didn't love you because I still love you no matter what.
Me: I love you, too.
Oscar: I love you forever and always.
Me: I love you forever and always.
Oscar: I still need that vanilla milk.
Me: It's on the window seat.
(I wait. Rafa is asleep on me. Oscar stands up and walks over to the window seat.)
Oscar: (Miserably) Mama, I'm gonna go drink my milk now.
Me: Hey, that's great!
Oscar: Because . . . I can't stay mad forever.
It's still Lent, folks. The time of abstinence. Not a cookie, not a square of chocolate, not so much as a cup of flavored yogurt for several weeks now. With as much perspective as my sugar-free bloodstream can muster, what can I report? What has Lent done for me?
Actually, I think my body loves sweetness more than ever. But the interesting thing is that, now that I'm off added sugar, I find sweetness everwhere I look. Grains are sweet; milk is sweet; carrots are sweet with a skosh of bitter; apples are like candy. I could -- and do -- eat fruit all day. I'm not sure how my system would cope with a dish of ice cream, at this point.
And somewhere in the whirl of the winter term ending, as I've been preparing to take my family to Texas so that I can teach for two weeks next month, spring arrived. Haltingly, here: with two instances of snowfall in the month of March, I'm hesitant to pack away my wool just yet. Still, the signs are unmistakeable. Oscar's become interested in flowers. First, I noticed that he'd been taking (30 or 40!) photos of the quilt I made years ago; the one with squares and squares of blooms, trying to document them all . . .
. . . as well as several photos of himself, lost in thought.
And then there's the planting. It seems our whole family's on the spring bandwagon -- we're gardening for the first time ever. We always meant to. Perhaps I'm having delusions of grandeur; I am the same woman who, before this year, couldn't keep a single houseplant alive for more than a month. But spring has a way of bolstering my gumption. We've steadily been repurposing wine crates to use on our balcony, drilling drainage holes here, filling boxes with soil there, then nudging the seeds down into their mysterious depths.
When I asked him what his song was about, Oscar said that it was:
About a guy who is driving a racing car. And he's happy because he drives fast and he just wins the race! And he is wearing a T-shirt with a star on the front.
I was finishing up some yoga the other night when it occurred to me that I hadn't heard either one of my children for three or four minutes. I'd actually had some semblance of a shavasana, for example -- an end to most traditional yoga practices that I usually find impossible to achieve, given two monkey children who regularly confuse my body with a jungle gym.
My initial reaction, of course, was alarm. When I then heard water running in the bathroom, the sensation intensified. As I bounded towards the sound, my brain (as it sometimes does) raced through a morbid projection of the future: A police officer, interviewing me, was bound to ask what I could have possibly been doing while one of my children drowned in the toilet/split his skull open on the tile/poked his eye out with tweezers/drank glass cleaner. And what would I answer?
Lucky for me, the anguish didn't last. I turned the corner and saw this:
So . . . apparently the baby can climb the stool now.
They were playing together.
It could have gone wrong in so many ways.
Let me count the ways!
On second thought, let me not. They were okay.
Rafa and the Glass.
Although it's been fairly mild here, winter has dug in and she's fixing to stay a spell. With nary an alternative to waiting for spring, we are cuddling down at home with a vengeance.
Our family knot is pulling tighter, as it always seems to during the colder months, conserving our resources through this season of quaint deprivation. "Quaint" because, of course, we're not actually deprived of anything much; in fact, we're swimming in excess of the essentials over here. And thence returns the yearly exercise of cutting back.
Yes, it's that time of year again. Lent!
And, right on cue, here come our ducks: waddle, waddle, waddle, quack, quack, quack.
We commence herding them into a row. Come along, ducks! Spit spot!
No spoonfuls of sugar for us, though, unless they are metaphorical, for we have given up sugar until Easter.
Notice I did not write carbs -- that would be cruel to this bread-loving bunch. Instead, we are eliminating sugar in its cloying varietals: white, brown, powdered, cubed, corn syrup, cane juice, molasses, maple, honey, agave. And no artificial stand-ins. Interesting to attempt this bit of stunt-abstinence with a four-year-old in the house. I guess I'll keep you posted.
That's not the only cut-back, though. Lent seems to be coinciding this year with a veritable wave of taking stock. Desperate to mitigate the chronic migraine headaches I've had since my early twenties, I'm overhauling my diet in search of possible triggers. We're weaning off caffeine, for instance -- something that would have been unthinkable as recently as a year ago. Alcohol consumption is virtually nil. And it's quite possible I have some kind of dairy-sensitivity, so (gasp!) milk, cheese, and butter might soon scale back drastically as well.
And cable. Cable is bye-bye. Guess that means no Oscar broadcast to watch this year! Darn!
Such self-denial! Jeez, what am I, the Dalai Lama?
The nicest thing is that none of us appears to be feeling crabby about any of it. (Check back in in a month, maybe!) Rather, we're facing these changes happily, as a unit, so there's a fun, experiemental quality to the whole thing; a curious momentum.
And Brandon and I? Today is our sixth wedding anniversary, and we're looking at each other with eyes that are googlier than ever. It's not like the road ahead looks exactly easy . . .
It's more like: Compared to that kind of stimulant, coffee and sugar don't stand a frigging chance.
Let's hear it for family gathering places and their attendant messes, including paper scraps, broken crayons, soggy paper towels, dried glue bumps, muffin crumbs, juice spills, and greasy fingerprints!
I love our meal-and-art-time hub.
Besides, I now have a four-year-old, for whom setting the table, organizing art supplies and cleaning with vinegar solution qualify as growing-up treats. So what if I have to clean the same space three or more times a day? At least I never have to do it by myself.
Took a little while, but I'm teaching again.
When I moved to Seattle some eighteen months ago, I was awfully pregnant. The end of my New York experience blitzed by too quickly for me to take it all in. I remember directing a showcase for my final class of students while waddling slightly, and kissing them goodbye in a flurry of light cues and performance adrenaline. I remember they baked me a cake, and there were no plates or forks, so one of them ended up running to Duane Reade on a tech break to return with utensils. I remember sitting on the edge of the stage, swinging my legs and quipping about baby names. I remember some of them cried when we said goodbye.
Then I was here, and then came Rafa, and he was a lot to take in.
And I've watched Oscar transform from a baby into a boy. Again, a lot to take in.
Plenty, really, for a long time there.
I'm their mom, you see, and to them it's the only thing I know how to do. I'm proud of what I've learned so far about mom-ness. Mom-ness has been -- and will continue to be -- extraordinarily educational, consuming, frustrating, fun.
So if I do any other sort of job, I have to figure out how to make it work again: tend to all of it.
Funny, I'd been away from teaching so long that I began to doubt I'd ever truly get back to it. There were no jobs; I was in a new city; there was never any energy; there was never any time.
I was sorely tempted to lose heart.
Was that it?, I asked myself. Maybe it simply won't happen again. I'm not the woman I was anymore . . .
. . . and OFF went that inner giving-up switch. If I were a giver-upper, I'd never have become an artist in the first place. Instead, I did what I've always done: the work, the work, the work.
You know what? It wasn't magical. Magic didn't do it. Instead, it happened how things really happen. Through working. And waiting. And loving.
It is happening, in its own time.
What these college kids will think of me remains to be seen.
(Breakfast at the kitchen table.)
(I look around.)
Oscar: (Pointing) There! Bug!
(There is a teeny, tiny flying creature. The kind of bug that almost doesn't qualify as a separate being in the universe. I wave my napkin in its direction.)
Me: Okay, bug, be gone. (Waving) Go away.
(I stop. I no longer see the creature.)
Me: Huh. Where did he go? Did I get him?
Oscar: (Peering in the corner) Where is he?
Me: I don't know. Maybe I got him?
(I move on, picking up my mug of tea.)
Oscar: Why don't bugs want to be smashed?
Me: Well, I don't know that I smashed him. He might have flown away.
Oscar: But why do they not want to be smashed?
Me: Mmm, I don't know. I've never talked to a bug. But I know that I wouldn't want to be smashed.
Oscar: What happens to the bug?
Oscar: When the bug is smashed.
Me: Well. The bug dies.
(I have just started making dinner. Suddenly, Oscar runs into the workroom and begins talking in the direction of one of our rolling file contraptions.)
Oscar: (Quite loudly, with emphasis) Uhhhhh . . . can I have a . . . can I --
(I recognize this voice. This is Oscar pretending to have a grown-up transaction.)
Oscar: Ccc . . . Can I --
Me: Yes, sir?
Oscar: (Very, very loudly) Hello! I'm talking into a speaker! And I'm ordering food out of my car because it's a drive-through!
(I'm still husting around the kitchen, assembling our meal.)
Me: Yes, sir. What can I get you?
Oscar: Can I . . . uh . . . can I have two . . . bowls of quesadillas . . . with cheese and salsa, please?
(This is exactly the meal for which I've assembled the ingredients!)
Me: Yes, certainly. (Grating cheese) Anything else?
Oscar: Yes! Um.
(Oscar is trying to figure out what else I'm making.)
Me: Would you care for some beet salad to go with that, sir?
Oscar: Yes! Beet salad would work.
(I'm tossing the salad, trying to remain nonchalant about Oscar requesting to eat the meal I've planned for us.)
Me: All right then! Two bowls of quesadiallas with cheese and salsa. Beet salad. Anything else?
Oscar: Do you . . . have bubbly water in this restaurant?
(He is obsessed with bubbly water.)
Me: Sure. That's one bubbly water, coming up.
Oscar: And do you have . . . any fruit at all?
Me: I . . . I think we have some oranges. Would you like one? Maybe after the quesadillas?
Oscar: Yes, maybe as just . . . a little treat?
(I flip a quesadilla and pour the bubbly.)
Oscar: And! Ummm . . . did you treat the animals well?
(This is new.)
Me: The animals?
(It's a meatless meal, but his concern is nonetheless commendable.)
Me: Yes, sir. The cheese is organic.
Oscar: Okay, you treated them well?
Me: Yes, the cows are happy!
Oscar: Because I didn't know if you did.
Me: We did! Definitely.
Oscar: Okay, then. Bye!
(Oscar catches me by surprise with this one.)
Oscar: How did the first person grow without any person growing them in their tummy?
(Wha . . . ?)
Oscar: How did the first person grow without any person growing them in their tummy?
Me: You've asked a very important question.
(Ummm . . .)
Me: The truth is that nobody . . . knows for sure. A lot of people have a lot of different ideas about that.
Me: What I mean is . . . Nobody can say for sure because it happened so long ago that no one who is alive today was alive then. You see?
(Oscar seems dissatisfied. I take a new tack.)
Me: What do you think? Do you have any ideas?
Oscar: My first idea is that somebody put a little egg machine into the ground . . . and that's how they grew.
Me: Oh. An egg machine.
Oscar: Yes, a machine.
(I can't resist.)
Me: Who do you think put the egg machine into the ground?
Oscar: An egg machine made the eggs . . .
Oscar: Somehow it must have been made by an egg machine that was under the ground . . . like it was in a store that the machine just built. Maybe that.
Me: Any other ideas?
Oscar: The second one is I think somebody put a spur into . . . a spur went into an egg that went underground.
(It takes me a moment to recognize that he's referring to sperm. I think Brandon is responsible for that one.)
Oscar: That's all my ideas because that's how the egg grew. The spur helps the egg grow.