Category Archives: Family

My Young Professors

Getty2 compliments of openculture.com

Getty2 compliments of openculture.com

With school coming to an end, my young professors are in high gear hoping to reach me with course curriculum reviews before my brain shuts down for summer.

Boy two was a mess on Monday. Nothing was fair. Injustice was large and everywhere. He found me alone later. “I think the problem is I just didn’t get any time by myself yesterday. It was all fun but there was no time by myself.”  He was right. Three hours with his head in “The Princess and the Goblin,” by George MacDonald and he was fine. (So go and do likewise was the review piece I keep forgetting.)

Boy one is a fine young man . . . with whom of late I have become the chief head butter. 99.5 percent of all the times he is not just difficult but impossible, he feels hurt or misunderstood. Addressing those feelings fixes things almost immediately. On the other hand, carrying on about the uncrossed t’s and undotted i’s until he gets it right has not. Soon I will print out this paragraph and have it tattooed on my forearm where I can see it. Although since I work like this too, it is funny that I should ever forget it. (We two are card carrying black belt gold star premier members of the Best Defense is a Good Offense Club.)

Girls ages nine and six (who never really notice money) have been counting and recounting it in stacks nightly. This is due to a WEEK LONG Garage Sale at school to which they have had ongoing un-parentally-supervised visits. I convinced Girl two Thursday morning before school that she didn’t need anything more. Then she convinced me she wasn’t buying anything for herself, but for poor Boy one whose school wasn’t even having a garage sale. She came home two dollars poorer with jewels.

What did you get for Boy one? I asked.

What? Oh, nothing. Don’t worry, I can make him a card.

The evil garage sale is framed as a fundraiser for latrines and mosquito nets somewhere. I’m guessing that’s a ploy to keep the results of their psychological study pure. Someone has obviously paid them to find out how many trinkets it takes to torture a lone housekeeper in a colony of Neanderthals to death.

The weekend looks to be deliciously void of learning experiences. The young professors are off for their second Camping with Dad adventure. I’m hoping to hunker down and work on my neglected children’s novel. The taste of summer is in the air. The delight bordering on euphoria is not just about camping. The kids can’t sleep at night with all the light singing through the windows every evening that there are still trees to climb. When the light finally falls it’s the noise of country nights that thrill me. A thousand choirs of crickets, hundreds of croaking frog soloists, and scores of birds scheduled with different songs for different hours. On and on in the dark it goes requiring nothing of me. I smile that the noise of the kids in the morning will seem quiet by comparison.

My dreams are of lettuce soon from the garden, canoes on the river, and a mentor for our beekeeping pursuits.

 

compliments to gang10-little-rascals-pictures-public-domain-httpgreenbriarpictureshows.blogspot.com_-e1412352044365

compliments to gang10-little-rascals-pictures-public-domain-httpgreenbriarpictureshows.blogspot.com_-e1412352044365

Current ailments

photo compliments of morguefile.com

photo compliments of morguefile.com

In addition to severe hearing loss, my children no longer have interest in or aptitude for school, music practice, chores, responsibilities, basic personal hygiene, or conversation about any of the aforementioned.

Girl two has been the egg collector for ages. She has two modes right now.

#1. Going out to get the eggs after wailing, tears, and stomping (I see her veering towards the Charismatics when she’s older). On the way, she sees a sibling, a bird, or a bug, and forgets why she went outside. If you can find her after that and lead her to the door of the coop, she sometimes remembers to get the eggs.

#2. She wails, stomps, dries her eyes and heads to the coop. She returns a few minutes later with at least one broken egg, sometimes more. She cries and says she just isn’t good at getting the eggs. She suggests that perhaps it would be best for the sake of the eggs if another more skilled child were assigned the job of egg collection. She is shocked at suggestions of intentional egg breakage.

Boy two and Girl one are reading like there’s no tomorrow. A friend couldn’t quite get how I could be getting my son in trouble for reading. I’m not sure what there is to explain. Both of them hide (closets, bathrooms, small spaces) to read. Both expect that a good page trumps coming to dinner or responding to verbal commands. I have endless conversations with people who only appear to be in the room with me. I yell their names a foot from them, sometimes twice before they realize I am speaking. Boy two speaks (and works) primarily on Saturday morning because I’ve taken to using an after lunch library trip as a way to his heart. It’s a mixed blessing. I get to hear his voice for a few hours. Then he wants nothing to do with food, life, or people for the rest of the day. I am planning to call a no reading zone for a day or two this summer just so I can remember what it was like to have kids who talk to me about their thoughts when they came in from outside.

Boy one continues his preparations for law school. By my estimation, he will soon be ready to take on, if not the world, at least the ruling communist party in China or the mafia. I do my best to be a good training ground. An analysis of his time would look somewhat like this: Homework: 3-5%, Responsibilities: 5-7%, Recreation (soccer, music): 15% Verbal exercises (philosophizing, debating, honing socialization skills on the phone): 75%.

The lack of focus around here is maddeningly contagious. I myself have not had clear consecutive thoughts for days now.  When I can remember what the issue is, I ponder important questions slowly. Like is there a cure for spring fever? If so, what does it taste like and where do you buy it?

Toward something good

photo thanks to Smadar at morguefile.com

photo thanks to Smadar at morguefile.com

When I stopped teaching, it felt like I was dying. The sight of math books, grammar DVD’s, or anything school related undid me. The label that told me who I was (teacher) wasn’t going to exist anymore. I would picture my sons, looking up at me as I led an assembly, and burst into tears. How could I quit before I ever got to teach one of them? How could I take away something they were proud of?

The months that followed were an excruciating relief. Relief because I badly needed rest. Excruciating because on the way to getting it, I realized things. My kids didn’t really care that I quit teaching. Turns out their pride in my accomplishments was a happy smile in a day, not a sustaining factor in their lives. They liked my improved availability.

Although I had put in hundreds of hours to non-teaching related helps to the school, nothing fell apart when I left. My students had enjoyed my classes, but no one’s education came to a grinding halt. That something I was an integral part of could be okay without me was “totally new information.”

I knew that I had been slowly bleeding to death trying to do it all. I didn’t know that with the best of intentions, I was choosing to die. Or that no one had really asked me to. I thought I was special to the people at the blood bank. I never realized that they accepted what I had to give because I was standing in the line to give it. That they weren’t even marking gold stars by my name for donor of the month. When I left, the blood supply did not even hiccup. Life went on.

A friend teaches kindergarten. If a someone’s mother has a baby, if chicks hatch, or something important happens, they make a poster. They always put “BIG NEWS,” at the top, and then tell you whatever it is. As I rested my body and spirit (something in my case that should have been done years earlier) this was all very big news to me. At first it made me feel small and depressed. With no official employment, not only did I no longer matter, but I had never mattered. (This is what it felt like.) The thing that I felt as vocation  and claimed as identity, teaching and school involvement, was gone. I was left facing the fact that I had not been as important to the picture as I thought I was.

An invaluable gift came wrapped in these painful discoveries. I found permission to rest and permission to wait. I wanted to write, but I was hesitant to go rushing off to join the hubbub of facebook likes and incessant small talk. I intentionally stayed back from the maddening crowds and focused on what I could learn in quiet, without promotions, recommendations, or commendations. (I would have been okay with some of that but since it wasn’t available I learned to make do. :)  )

I didn’t quit teaching five years ago to be noble. I quit because I couldn’t function anymore. Some days I miss it. More days, I’m glad. All the grief I felt then at walking away from something has  grown into the firm conviction that I was only ever walking towards something. Perhaps this is one of life’s secrets, that a little honest effort will suffice to keep the boat on course. We journey on a wide and forgiving river nudged gently along toward the good, when we know it and when we don’t.

Mother Arranged Marriages

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I met Brian Gillespie in grade two. We were both short and loved to imagine, talk, and write. He wore coke bottle glasses.

After grade two, my family moved, but my mother never forgot Brian Gillespie.

“He’s okay,” she’d say if I told her in high school that I liked someone, “but he’s no Brian Gillespie. I’m telling you, Brian Gillespie is the one that will make you happy. Your brother, by the way, is marrying Lizzie Burdick.”

Lizzie Burdick is too little, I tried to point out.

“Now she is, but she’s the perfect girl for him. She used to help me clean the house for fun while you guys were out playing. I like her. I know what I’m talking about. A mother knows these things.”

Fast forward to now and I’ve almost narrowed the search:

I chose Boy one’s wife at a Christmas concert. She sings like an angel. Plenty of power but nothing grates.  She performed at the talent show with another girl and a boy who can’t talk but loves music. And she has short hair. Do you know how many normal looking girls wear their hair short these days? That’s right, almost none. Girls are born, walk into factories, assimilate to as many uniform qualities as possible and walk out. The ideal model is disturbingly free of any kind of original thought or impulse and almost always has long hair. I don’t need to meet this girl to be sure; she has a heart and she thinks. What else is there?

Boy two is a little trickier. My top choice is cheerful, silly,  kind, and friendly to kids and adults alike. Having never done sports, she ended up on a team by default and did crazy things like ask questions, try again when she messed up, and accept advice. She is a big time team player in every sense of the word. And like I said, she is quite silly.

I met Girl one’s future husband at her second birthday party. Other children arrived with the usual gift bags assembled by mom. Husband 2B had done it himself. In fact, in addition to some fancy markers, he had drawn crooked lines on a lot of pages, stapled them together, and drawn a cover that said, “Girl One’s Journal.” I knew you liked to write, he said. The last present was the story of a miller. It was a favorite of his so he had carefully copied the words of the entire story out and added his own illustrations. His father said he spent hours.

Girl two is not yet seven. I remind myself that we still have time. The best candidate has major focus issues and wears rubber boots to gym class, but I’ve got one of those already; they’re not so bad. Candidate runs fast, tries hard, and isn’t the least bit intimidated by Girl two trying to yell him down on the playing field. His birthday request is what rocketed him to the top of the list.  He’s in love with WWII planes. His mother suggested a book about them, and I began to hear the bells ringing.

The truth is, I am happily married to someone other than Brian Gillespie. I don’t even know what became of him. What I can say is that as a mother now, knowing what I know, if God forbid anything were to happen to my husband, before I’d go posting on personals and checking the local availabilities, I’d first figure out what exactly the status was on my good friend from grade two, Brian Gillespie.

Letter to my patron saint

Spiral stairs in Saint Istvan Basilika in Budapest

FYI for those with an alternate calendar of the saints: Erma Bombeck died 19 years ago this week (April 22nd).

 

 

Dear St. Erma,

Any time I’m asked what it is that I do my mind goes blank. I have no idea. Perhaps I do nothing? I wrote a list to prove it isn’t nothing.

Recent Accomplishments

I made space for my children’s novel by not cleaning my house for almost two weeks.

I have had no wasted leftovers for weeks or possibly months. Family survives because I eat everything they hate at lunch or repackage it so they don’t see it coming.

For the second year running I have convinced my husband to help me clean up the part of the pasture where the animals eat hay all winter. He finds the idea of tidying a pasture irritating and ridiculous. It’s one of those things he wouldn’t want his friends to know. And yet, I have prevailed.

I did not swear where anyone could hear me when I saw the state of the garage/storage space.

I took the emergency brake off a trailer transport then rushed out and laid down in front of the tires. With the truck snugly on top of me, I was able to hold down my fears of bad-people-disasters and allow my 11 year old to bike to school from his grandparents’ house. He is angling for a weekly event. I am costing out the tractor trailer rental from now until June.

I have given up gray. I’ve developed an allergy to nuance so am going back to black and white. All questions will have a yes or no answer. Having dispense with gray, I stepped on a scale to see if I was as light as I felt. The scale didn’t respond appropriately so I threw it out. I thought you would approve.

If you have time to pass this on to my mother, here are two things I’m actually proud of:

1. I’ve learned to love some of the kids who made me crazy when I first started doing the PE classes.

2. My relationship with one of my kids – the one who has caused me the most head scratching about how exactly they got from their odd little planet into my stomach in time for delivery – has blossomed this year. In trying to make things better for them at school (and not finding answers anywhere else) I figured out how to help because I had to. It has made all the difference. The relationship I used to feel guilty about not knowing how to improve has become a source of great joy for both of us. The common interests I thought we might never find are many and lovely.

I’m re-reading some of your best quotes. This one is my meditation for the day:

“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.” (Erma Bombeck)

St. Erma of the Bombeck, pray for us from your spot at the everlasting dessert bar.

 

Brilliance in the becoming

 

saw this happening out the window and got the camera

saw this happening out the window and got the camera

 

Turns out this was the goal. :)

This was the goal.

 

Boy two has a bruise on his head. During our work day he began taking the split logs in his hand as they came off the splitter and tossing them behind him onto the wagon without looking. He stopped after one log flew straight up and came straight back down on his head.

——

Girl one is reading a novel to Girl two as we drive back and forth to school. It’s a mystery with illustrations of art in parks. I tuned in to catch this.

Girl one: It’s crazy, but sometimes in really old art there are sculptures of naked people.

Girl two groans loudly in protest.

Girl one:  I know. It sounds weird, but it’s the way they were learning about the human body. They didn’t know very much so they made sculptures of it so they could learn about it.

Girl two resigned herself to the senselessness of our ancestors with an exhausted, okay.

——

Boy one recently completed a submission for an essay contest. The potential prize money is big. Aided by the whole optimism disorder, he decided to give it a try. I was quiet about the possibilities of winning. For a few months my secret service, reverse psychology skills have been frequently required. Due to stealth constraints about my actual interest in him completing the project, the number of times I could say, “how do you not see your current state of not finished as an emergency!” was limited. The essay was due at 11:59 on a Friday night. Around 11:50, his father asked him where he was supposed to submit the project. He wasn’t sure. Turns out there was a form to fill out. The fact that the project was submitted at precisely 11:59 is something he’s immensely proud of. He sees it as a kind of good luck charm.

——-

Boy two announced that he is kicking Boy one out of the solemn brotherhood. He says he can no longer tolerate someone so obsessed with hygiene. Boy two does not have this problem. Following a thoroughness inquiry from this interested mother after a recent shower, he explained that he had indeed washed everything from the top of his head down to about six inches below his knee.

But why would you stop there? I asked. That means you didn’t even wash your feet.

Who would ever wash their feet, he wanted to know. All the soap from your whole body goes there.

——

There was a knock on my bedroom door recently. Most knockers wait for my invitation then nudge a few inches through the open door to ask their question. This time the knocker closed the door behind them, strode across the room to the other side, and turned to look at me.

I’m almost in tears about everything. Do you know what’s wrong with me?

Family Work Days

wood cutter

Wood Cutters, by Tom Roberts. 1886. (Gratefully, not the way we do wood splitting!)

 

Spring has inaugurated the pecking season. That season where one never finishes but faithfully pecks at the list whenever possible until October. Saturday was a family work day. The sheep barn is clean, we put in some hours with the wood splitter (a shiny red machine, not a person), we made a start towards cleaning up some more of the pasture, and we spread brown treasures around the property. Our manure spreading is shovels and pitch forks from a wagon pulled by the smallest tractor driver who can still reach the gas and brakes. We also leveled some places for our new hives, picked them up, and got them in place.

Not a single child was excited about family work day. The older three accomplished quite a bit. The youngest did a little. There were lots of complaints, some good natured, some not. Feet drug in a range from periodic to emphatic. The after lunch return to labors was especially unpopular. It ended like this:

“I actually really like family work days,” I said. We were stacking some more of the wood we’d split.

“Me too,” said voices from every side of me.

“They’re one of my favorite times together,” I said.

“I know what you mean,” said one.

“Me too,” said another.

They began recounting all they’d accomplished, especially impressed that some of them could no longer reach the top of the stack we had started along the wall of the shed on the ground that morning.

Family work days give me hope. Not because we ever come close to what we thought we might do. (Why my husband and I spend such large amounts of time debating what should be done on the list which we never complete is a good question.) Not because everyone is happy all day.  My husband and I disagree on and off about how best to do it all. Once every fifteen minutes or so, someone hides in the bathroom, stomps off incensed at an egregious insult, or insists that they are starving, exhausted, or seriously injured. I tell myself as I re-motivate another child that work days are like democracy: the only thing worse than doing them is not doing them.

Conclusions:

Before this year, there is no doubt that my husband and I could have accomplished more in a day working by ourselves than with the family. But the scales have tipped. Not a lot, but a little.

Family work days say that work is an important part of life, but efficiency is not everything.

Knowing in the moment, the difference between failure and success, might not be a particular human specialty. Maybe the point is to keep at it as best you know, celebrate the stacks of wood and piles of poop you have, and leave the rest of it as tomorrow’s problem so you can go inside eat meatloaf with baked potatoes.

The buzz of the impractical

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To our great satisfaction, our bees remain alive. Hive #2 is vibrant and buzzing madly. Hive #1 (which we worried about due to our human error) is not nearly as vibrant as the other, but it is alive. Buoyed by these wild achievements,  :)  we are with trepidation and a little excitement expanding our partnership. A friend is getting out of the bee business. Weather permitting, we are picking up two more hives over the weekend. Or should we get three? We can’t decide.

A brief list of the things I know:

  1. We don’t know very much about bees.
  2. We might not have what it takes to stick with it. Continued investment into something which has yet to produce a jar of actual honey is questionable.
  3. Bees are the only place where Boy one and I meet as two people who can’t do it without the other person’s help. In the rest of life, he’s struggling to find his feet in ways that don’t require stomping on other people’s heads. With the bees, it isn’t like that. I read, ask questions, try to figure out what we aren’t thinking of that we should be. (My most remarkable ability is that I can do something at an undesirable time because it needs to be done.) I am also ten times as afraid of the bees as he is. This is not a secret, but he never mentions it. I don’t tell him he has to do all the things that make me scared, he does them without me saying anything. 80% of the physical work on the hive is done by him. 100% is done by him until I observe that the bees are calm and work myself up to an approach. This doesn’t bother him.
  4. Boy one never self selects to do the next thing on the bee list. But when a teacher asked his class to fill out descriptors of themselves, he wrote down: trombone player, soccer player, beekeeper.Boy one is a mirror image of my quick, sarcastic, best defense is a good offense, approach to interpersonal conflict. In the winter I proposed a contest. We put a chart on the fridge. A point if you could respond to harsh words with a gentle reply (actual unfairness not required, just the perception of harsh). Boy one loved it. (When he started losing he found a ball and bounced it behind me one day for five minutes waiting for me to snap so he could come back with a gentle reply.) We kept at it for a weeks, awarding points to each other with grace. The whole thing reminds me of the bees. Where losing could still be winning.
  5. At the hives we’re not young man and a forty-two year old privileges/duties dispenser. We’re two people trying to figure out the art of bee keeping. One of us understands that it will probably prove beyond us. The other is a non-cheque writing optimist, with no concept that failure is standard practice for more than half of life’s experiments.
  6. What we are doing is not practical: but there might be more to it than honey.

 

 

 

Post Easter week snow and the troubador

photo compliments of morguefile.com

photo compliments of morguefile.com

 

Good Friday was warmish. We saw green bits in the brown of the grass and smiled. Easter was cold but the afternoon warm enough for a walk through wet paths and fields. Easter Monday it snowed. My husband did dinner dishes yelling every time he forgot and raised his head that he refused to look outside the window. On the way to school, Boy two remarked how strange it was, here it was one of the most beautiful snowfalls of the year and we weren’t happy about it.

It’s true. The trees were lightly covered in just the right amount of snow. No plows had gone through throwing brown sand around the edges. The roads had fixed themselves. Their black winding path went through a world of unbroken white. Fields and branches perfectly baptized, a grey blue sky was especially free to shine as the only real colour in town.

My son has this same problem right now. I have always wanted him to love music. To share this part of joy together. He loves music now more than I’d dared to hope. Except he doesn’t play what I think he should. He plays loud pieces when it should be quiet. He practices endless chord sequences instead of scales. He teaches himself songs from musicals or rehearses pieces from two years prior when I know he should be preparing for an upcoming evaluation.

If anyone had shown me a picture of the snow on Tuesday morning, I would have thought it impossible for my response to include anything other than rejoicing and gratitude. Likewise if anyone had told me four years ago listening to my son’s great boredom and disinterest in music, that he would be sticking his trombone out the window to serenade whatever country neighbours might be driving by, that he would be unable to stop singing or humming as he went about the business of the day, or that he would be unable to pass the piano without setting his hands down to play a few bars, I would have bet the farm that the tidings would bring nothing but joy.

In both things I have been wrong. I want to say to son and God – timing is everything. And if it is not everything, it is at least something. But the hoped for vision is the grander one.

We prayed for snow leading up to Christmas. We don’t want it anymore. Yet there is no denying it’s perfection. Shimmering and glinting in the morning light. I spit out my no thank you, and it stands unheeding. Behold all things are new. Come, dance. The music that you love is playing again.

I made my peace with the snow (which was good because it snowed like five times last week before it finally left). Perhaps there will be grace for the chord loving, composer dreaming, discipline eschewing troubadour as well.

Two small stories for April Fools

compliments of morguefile.com

compliments of morguefile.com

Because we are all of us April fools most days of the year…

 

Girl two was in the bathtub yelling madly on the weekend.

Daddy…..  Daddy…..

On principle, I never interrupt when I hear this call. But I was starting to feel agitated waiting for him to respond. I told myself she had just dropped something or least it was a small injury.

Daddy …..

My husband does not hurry, even when a drowning or gushing flesh wound seem likely

Daddy …..

At last I heard him entering the bathroom to answer the call of distress.

What was it? I wanted to know when he returned. Is she okay?

She wanted to know if there were electric eels in Canada.

—————————

 

I drove in the driveway to see three children huddled around a tree, obviously covering something up as a result of my entry. They cast glances in my direction and huddled more tightly around the tree. I couldn’t think of any tree related crimes requiring immediate attention so I put the car in the garage and went inside. Half an hour later, they were knocking on my door triumphant.

They had a surprise for me. They could microwave it if I’d like but they wanted me to see it before it went any further.

A mug was held out with a half an inch of clear liquid.

It’s sap!

We got it ourselves!

For you!

It’s a surprise!

They had found a nail, pounded it into a tree and wiggled it, while catching drips in plastic cup. They had strained bits of tree bark out with limited success.

I took a tiny sip, proclaimed my delight and suggested more cups.

No way, they said. We all had some. The rest is for you.

Every bit of it.

It’s our surprise, they said.

So I have a mug of sap and tree bark in the kitchen. I can’t bear to throw it out but neither do I wish to drink it.