Monthly Archiv: March, 2014
I guess I’m writing about mercy because I don’t have very much of it. I admire it in others and I’ve got most of Portia’s mercy speech from the Merchant of Venice committed to memory. Does that count for something?
Ten days ago I had a thought. The whole Lent giving up criticism thing has been a challenge. Not the least of which has been how to sensibly apply it to say, I don’t know, the bold, over energetic, extremely forgetful, thirteen year old I live with. While it might not be my job to criticize him exactly, it is clearly my job to point him in the right direction, which sometimes sounds the same. My hands are tied. In all directions I confirm, it is hopeless. But then, as I said, I had a thought.
What would happen, I wondered, if for one week, I pretended that he was doing the best he could. Not that this is true, (obviously no one could be so systematically challenging and actually be trying) yet for the sake of discussion, could I, for a limited time only, pretend it was true and act accordingly. Direction pointing still required, even criticism. Consequences, regular life, the only difference would be inside of me, approaching each interaction as if I believed that he was currently doing the best he could.
I tried it because I don’t do fad diets and humans need to try things. Also because you can do almost anything for a week. For ten days, I was still trying it. I liked what was happening. Before my eyes, Boy one was kinder, gentler, with evidence of trying that I could see without pretending. He reminded me of some of my favourite off the walls, silly, and good hearted students, and not nearly as much like a growing proof of my failure to raise civil persons.
Oh, and I liked me better too.
Everything was going great until it was not. Then I could tell that he was trying alright – trying to be entitled, ungrateful, condescending, and surly. Boy two used up all my transition/changing schedules sympathy. The girls used up all my everybody just needs spring to come soon empathy. For Boy one, I was just mad. He got ten days of pretending didn’t he?
Mercy? said quiet voice.
Mercy? I spat. He doesn’t deserve it.
Yeah, said quiet voice. That’s um, kind of the point of the word.
Sunday, last, I knew that deserving wasn’t a requirement for receiving. That Sunday I was so happy with mercy, I dared to hope it meant me too. By Wednesday it was too late. For everybody.
Quiet from quiet voice.
Well? I demand.
You were more right on Sunday.
So mercy? That’s it?
It’s for everybody.
I made a few more meagre stabs at opposition but quiet voice was into humming by then. Amazing Grace, or something like that.
A few hours after self guided lessons
Buster is rambunctious. This wanna be farmer is wondering if he is destined to be veal. I am told that 1200lb beef cow is his destiny. A scary thought at the moment.
After some days inside, I thought it was time to get outdoors yesterday, at least while I cleaned up the stall. Anabelle was ready. Out the door and thirty feet away without looking back. She was revelling in space and air and sunshine when Buster’s soft little moan called. (Roughly translated . . . mom, where are you? The door is open. What do I do? I don’t want to do it by myself.)
This was very sneaky. Buster didn’t mean much of it, but that is what he said.
Anabelle mooed softly. Buster moaned back and Anabelle was there. Sniffing, rubbing, talking. Stuttering steps.
Three pregnant sheep and a nervous Misty looked on. Misty has anxiety issues. (Also control, gluttony, and patience issues.)
Buster saw Misty, trotted away from Anabelle boldly, sniffed Misty’s nose and trotted around to check out the rest of her.
This triggered panic attack. With Misty’s disorder, panic equals I hate the world and I cannot stop running. Misty bucked kicked. (Anabelle gasped when she saw those hooves in the air only a foot from Buster’s head. I did too.) Then Misty took off running. Circles. Pause for catch your breath obesity moment. More circles. One of Misty’s favourite ways to say I hate the world, is to chase the sheep. Occasionally, she looped towards Buster, mostly she ran laps with timeouts to charge at the sheep.
The sheep, bellies full of baby lambs, have unfortunately not been keeping up with their prenatal exercises. I had thought the snow was prohibiting movement, but based on the successful mad dashes away from Misty every third circle of the pasture, the snow was not as much of an impediment as I had thought. Buster was unphased by the goings on. He was ready to explore by himself, thanks. If anything, the fat galloping pony gave him confidence. Ten feet he would run. Anabelle moved in front. Twenty feet the other way. Anabelle ran or walked as needed. Buster went where he wanted, but Anabelle stayed in between Misty and Buster at all times.
The sheep begged to get inside away from equine insanity. I have a soft spot for expecting mothers, so I let them in. A few minutes later, Misty was begging to get inside. She never chooses in, always preferring an open field, but even she had had enough. It was time for somewhere quiet. Safe from that nasty black thing in the pasture. The only one at peace was Buster. I put Misty in, made sure she and the sheep had hay and water and left Buster to it with the whole pasture to himself.
Anabelle appreciated the arrangement.
View from kitchen sink . . .only a month or so away!
We got rid of the dishwasher a few years ago. A friend of mine was anti-dryer and anti-dishwasher. The idea rubbed up against my pioneer worship issues and started making music. The husband put his foot down about the dryer. (I was welcome to hang clothes out all winter for the rest of our lives, but the dryer had to stay he said.) I won on the removal of the dishwasher.
He was right about the dryer. There are months I don’t have the emotional energy to hang clothes. I like doing clothes where it’s warm and toasty, even though the flick of that little dryer start button sends most of Hydro One (local power monopoly) and their extended families to University with our monthly contributions. Our support of Ontario’s economy via the energy sector is no doubt appreciated.
And I was right about the dishwasher. Loading a dishwasher, unloading a dishwasher . . . it’s nothing but rinsing and stacking and irritations about which way the silverware point. Dishes is life with background music. Kid’s doing homework, practicing their instruments, creating plays, and bar room brawls without the drinking. Done together, dishes are the best conversation of any day. Alone, dishes the day’s best thinking. Water, soap, and the things we eat from being taken care of, handled gently, and put away for another day.
I don’t know what I think of renewing wedding vows. I can’t see ever doing it. I think I do it most every day four or five times. These are our dishes, these are our counters. This is our home and we’re taking care of it. It matters because you do, and they do, and I do. Amen.
Not perfection. Not every speck in every corner of the house pristine. Laundry, by edict of God, has never once been finished. Any time you think you’ve done it, is only because you didn’t get low enough to find the dirty underwear under the bed, or think smart enough to find the dirty socks in the sandbox. But stray forks can be done up in seconds. Dishes can be finished – at least for a few hours.
In winter, the yellow gloves come out to save your cracking hands. Spring finds the window looking out on new lambs. Lilacs. Apple blossoms. Wildflowers. Sagging clotheslines. Browning grass and trees. Bare wood. Snow. Repeat. Perhaps if there wasn’t a window over the sink, I’d feel differently, but I don’t think so.
In another life, around kitchen sinks, my mother and I laughed and solved the world’s problems. Here’s to hoping she looks down now and again to see the really good stuff, like Girl two pleased as can be when I put dishes on her job list. Standing on a chair to dry and climbing up the cupboards to put away a bowl if I’m not looking.
Girl in a Field. 1920. painted by Alberto Plá Rubio (1867 – 1937)
We went to the National Gallery in Ottawa, recently, compliments of my mother-in-law, an avid lover of art. I like THE arts. I like artists. I like the idea of liking art. But I do not fall over myself very often about art. More than one tear has been shed in my house over a masterpiece (fed by me) to the woodstove. I don’t feel about art museums the way I feel about fabric stores. (Fabric stores give me a headache in thirty seconds and make me want to lock all the crafty people in cupboards with their bead collections.) But visual arts are . . . far away.
I learned two things at the art museum last week. First, were I able to view art without having myself so thoroughly viewed as I viewed it, if there were say two, instead of thirty guards hovering and trailing us from room to room, I might be evolved enough to enjoy art. (If the guards were behind a glass and viewing them was part of an exhibit, set against different colors and fabrics perhaps, I would definitely enjoy that.) Not all of it. Not even fifty percent, but ten percent of what was there called art, would honestly interest me, ask questions of me and even provoke delight.
The second thing I learned was about my children. Three of them were on the excursion. Girl two’s relationship with art is not yet clear. For the other two, art is poetry. Obscure and accessible only to the erudite poetry does not particularly interest me. With instruction, I am appreciative of its intricacies. But poetry that sings. Or cries. Poetry that you can understand with your heart, no preparation required. Poetry that moves down, down in the deepest corners. I drink that poetry as water. I go months without it, then stumble headlong, desperate for its taste. It refreshes and restores like no other.
To be kept from poetry would leave a part of me stunted. Poetry is a private sunshine, an old and faithful well. Whatever the metaphor, I am more me with it than without.
Art is like that for Boy two, even more so it seemed, for Girl one. I saw some paintings at the museum I liked, but the most remarkable thing I saw were my children, walking from room to room, oblivious to glaring guards, or ticking time, caught up in a magic I couldn’t see. Or if I saw it, it was in their eyes.
I learned that despite my lack of vision, they need to see art because it’s a place where they see poetry. We’ll need to go back, and we’ll need to find other places to do art. It might not be my perfect cup of tea, but we’re not tall enough in this family to chance having a few inches of anybody stunted.
First off, thanks for all the great suggestions, we loved them! One of the few unfortunate things about living with children is that they have enthusiastically horrible taste in names. When I awoke on Monday, it looked like the poor calf was going to be called K.B. (for King Buster). Egads! Thanks to all the great ideas, we at least managed to get that off the table. The final result of all the deliberations was to stick two of the suggested names in a hat (Licorice and Slate) along with King, and Buster. The last name drawn would be THE NAME. It wasn’t my first choice, but perhaps it ended up what it should be. My husband was out walking the dog when the calf was born, so it was Boy one and I to get the new Mom and calf to the barn (fifty feet = half an hour).
“I want to name him Buster,” said Boy one within minutes. “I look at him and I just want to call him Buster.”
Boy one has been doing the nightly chores for all the animals for more than a year now. It is Boy one who feeds and waters Anabelle and takes the extra minutes to say hello. He patiently hoped through the hours of deliberations and the eventual draw of names. There was one very satisfied young farmer in our house last night when it was at last decided that his was the name given the calf.
So Buster it is and our well deserving boy is very happy.
Girl one, from outside: Mom, we don’t have to worry about when Anabelle is having her calf anymore.
Me, not getting it: Why’s that?
Girl one: She already had it.
Me still not getting it: Are you sure?
Girl one pointing: Look
So very, very happy news. Anabelle pulled this off in twenty minutes. She was lying down pregnant when we drove in from seeing friends, and calf was out by the time we changed our clothes to go outside. All pictures are of few minutes old calf with very new mom. In case you can’t tell, we bred Miss mostly Charolais (pronounced Shar-lay) Anabelle with a Black Angus. And also in case you can’t tell, Black Angus cows can be the colour of night. Which would, by the way make an excellent name for the new calf, but it has been rejected. A few hours of political jockeying was followed by an intense hour of name discussions. We finally went to bed. Rejected names include: Joey, Pierre, Felix, Night, Knight, Prince, Sir Eliot, Tumnus, Obsidian, Space, Pupil, Burger, Burnt Marshmellow, and others. Under strong consideration are Buster and King, although there is a lobby going for a name we haven’t thought of yet as long as it isn’t Buster or King.
The cottage where we stayed last week has the most delightful chess board I have ever seen set out on a table in the living room. It was impossible not to play chess. Boys one and two are learning. Girl one has the barest basics. Without even playing, the kids would stand by the board intrigued with the figures.
Come play chess with me, Girl two said to me on the second day.
You don’t know how to play, I said.
Yes, I do, she said. I learned yesterday.
She turned, expecting me to follow.
You might have to go easy on me, she tossed over her shoulder.
Would you mind, said Boy one. (It may be established by now that Boy one doesn’t say things unless he means them seriously, but just in case it is not, picture the way you might ask someone to consider giving you a kidney and you have about the right level of earnest.) Would you mind, if I shovelled the yard?
I blinked for a few minutes trying to figure out what I was missing. I could not come up with anything.
Where, I said.
On the other side of the driveway. I know it sounds strange, but I want to break in my cleats and I don’t want them getting all wet. I thought I’d shovel down to the grass and make myself a field big enough to take shots on a net.
Of course, he was still serious. If the goal was grass, he failed. If the goal was fun, he and his brother made wild success out of a few hours with a soccer ball, ten minutes of which involved a shovel.
I make it my business to read anything left lying around. Things left around the house are considered voluntary donations to my curiosity. The latest secret journal in tatters opened to the following page. Journal: date unknown. Content: unexplained. Original spelling: preserved.
To My Dear Huspin.
I culd nevr love u anuf
Bent over the dryer, I hear footsteps and a chair is shoved across the floor. I emerge to see Girl two climbing up onto my laundry table.
What are you doing? I ask.
I want to own that rainbow, she says eyes intent on the wall.
Over top of the laundry baskets, on tip toe she reaches a finger to a little square of colours reflected on the wall.
There, she says, and begins her descent. Now I own it.
I own a lot of those, I hear her say to herself as she disappears down the hall.
There seems to be a revolving door of normal around here. Boy two has stopped being Phil and has taken up counting telephone poles. It takes about fifteen minutes to get to school each day and he counts the whole way there and the whole way back. He was so pleased with himself that he had to get his sisters on board. Now the counting is out loud.
This is problematic, not because of the noise, but because counting out loud makes it obvious that they aren’t doing it right. It is impossible to cultivate inner peace when people that claim to be counting EVERY telephone pole, miss poles at random intervals and refuse to stick to any kind of system. Unlike some people, at least I can at least remain civil in the face of numerical defilement. The day Boy one had no school and came along to hear his sister’s play, he became so distressed at the counting mistakes I thought we might have to sedate him. Threats to leave him in the car were the only thing that managed to calm his nerves enough to stop talking about it. I’m not convinced it won’t resurface.
With the kids on school break, I forgot about counting until we were coming home from our time away at the lake. “Nobody’s even helping me anymore,” yelled an exasperated and exhausted Girl two into a previously pleasant silence. “I’m counting all by myself and it’s too hard.”
“You don’t have to count,” I ventured hopefully.
“But we’re trying to set a record. This is a long drive, so we can go higher than ever before,” said Girl one.
So it’s official, we currently have an issue with telephone poles . . . which may require medication to get all the parties involved through to the next normal.
I mentioned being tormented yesterday. A sorry state that. No easy rock to climb out from under. I am of the firm opinion that most all of those who claim to have overcome all demons and arrived on that blissful shore, should be quickly escorted to a cliff and advised to test their theories immediately via a leap (or a shove if need be). This isn’t that.
I can’t say I don’t hear the voice that says I’ll never make it, it’s hopeless, or whatever other poison it feels like spouting. I have figured out how to keep it at bay (most of the time) but I’ve never found the lifetime mute button. The voices have had all kinds of experiments tried on them. (I either have boredom issues or an ideas generator on overdrive.) Ignore. Drown out. Divert. Debate. Refute. Redirect. But honestly, my trump card to date has been agreement.
I was keeping this little tidbit to myself (it being absurd because it shouldn’t work) but then I accidentally saw a documentary on changing habits (it is scientifically possible!) and well, you know. I am aware that people with science on their side are the only people more potentially obnoxious than people with religion on their side, but I’ve got to say it anyway. (The voices, see, they have been REALLY aggravating all these years. It’s kind of like a teacher finding a classroom management strategy that actually works. Sometimes you just have to tell someone.)
So, yes, here it is . . .
Voice: Wow. Tough day. You definitely deserve some serious dessert.
Me Before: Maybe a little. OR No, forget it. I’m not even looking at them.
Result: A minute later first cookie is nibbled. Twenty minutes later I decide to finish the plate. It is the only way to guarantee that I will stop eating them.
Voice: Wow. Tough day. You definitely deserve some dessert.
Me/ Current Approach: Some? Are you kidding me? I deserve all that and a bottle of wine. I’m starting one hour from this second.
Voice: It’s sitting right there. What’s the difference between then and now?
Result: Scary soul haunter sounds like nagging children. So toss in a box of ice cream, I’ll be there in an hour, I say. Enough already.
Voice: You’re such a pathetic excuse for a mother/woman/wife/person/writer
Me: It’s probably worse than that. I’ll book in some self flagellation later today. At the moment, I’m a little tied up.
Science says that the part of our brain that considers and works towards long term goals needs a little time to kick in. It doesn’t arrive first at the scene. If we want to access the brain segment of good decision making, we have to find a way to buy it a little time. Laughter’s not a bad companion along the way.
Winter is never going to end, says droner.
Indubitably. The sun may also cease to shine.
Yawn. The old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be.
Out there somewhere is a man who was once a boy. A particular boy who helped to save me.
But what did I do? he might ask?
Nothing. You were you.
I couldn’t have been more than 21 when I first met Josh. He was a baby: settled, happy, content, and unconcerned about anything beyond the present moment. Josh was easy to please. When he wasn’t pulling himself up to stand on top of his cousin’s head, we got on very well.
If I had to pick a word to describe myself then, I would go with tormented. By day I put one foot in front of the other as best I could. I washed lettuce in large sinks for hundreds of people. Delivery from this life by car accident seemed unlikely (as I rarely had reason to go near a road) but it didn’t stop me from wishing. Sleep was nightmares and more nightmares or the agony of days that would not end, and tears that would not come. Along the way, I was asked to work in childcare. I shared responsibility for six children during the morning (four three year olds and two babies). In the afternoon, I took three boys for naptime routines and quieter playing. One of these was Josh.
While I sagged in my insides feeling hopeless, my outsides condemned my failure to sleep, elude nightmares, and feel joy as proof of my basic worthlessness as a human being. Self hatred was justified more every day that I failed to be happy. I tried, but I failed to feel much beyond numb.
The exception was when I was with the children. My dysfunction had to be set aside if it was circle time. There were stories to be told and songs to be sung. We sang, The Itsy Bitsy Spider as dainty as you please, then we picked up pot lids, smashed them for all we were worth and sang verse two, “The Big Fat Spider.” (An excellent and quickly beloved variation.)
My three year olds tucked in, I would carry Josh to the rocking chair every afternoon. I advised the state of my soul to wait until the middle of the night to haunt me, Josh had a back to be patted just now. Every day I rocked him to sleep and stayed a little longer than I needed to, singing softly and gently holding something good.
Salvation rarely comes quickly in these places. But it comes.
What would you do, I wondered one night, if someone were to come in and try to hurt Josh?
I would die for him, said my thoughts. As soon as I said it, I knew that it was true.
A little light broke through. If I would die for a baby that wasn’t even mine, then there was something good in me. If there was something good in me, then there was hope.
Little windows to all that is meant to be. Oh the children that lead us.