Category Archives: Family

Dress Up

compliments of morguefile.com

compliments of morguefile.com

My younger kids are especially crazy about dress up. They beg to play almost every day. They will clean things to get a yes. If I say no, they somberly depart, collect a costume each, then descend the stairs to beg if there is any way they can at least put on the costume in their hand. They solemnly pledge not to touch a single other item from the dress up tub should I say yes.

There is probably a justification for not allowing someone to wear a ballerina dress or plastic armor over their clothes, but I can never think of it when they look so plaintive. I leverage a small task and inevitably say yes. Maybe because I get the thing about dress up.

Dress up is an invitation to become our dreams, to experiment with what our dreams even are. To be someone else and to become more ourselves. The only one of my kids not in love with dress up right now is the only one not quite sure how to sit in his own skin. Trying to figure out a walk and a talk he can call his own, he’s dressing up alright, but he doesn’t know it yet.

Holy week is a drama. In some places it’s official with passion plays or musicals. Other places it proceeds without mention. Which is too bad because Holy week is an invitation to dress up. Wrap yourself in deep sorrow, unanswered longing, and uncertainty about the future. Try on doubt, worry, wonder, hatred, love. Leave them on the floor, pick up anger, joy, fear, hesitant faith, despair, and unrelenting hope. Look in the mirror. Pick through the piles and try it all on. Laugh, cry, throw your voice, get help with the zipper at the back. When you realize it’s broken throw a cape over it and go out anyway.

You look around and it’s all so much bigger than you. Heavy burdens that you carry are reduced to what they are: some things in the  midst of a vast multitude of things. A lot of people don’t fit their shoes quite right. Missing buttons, rips and tears. There’s a whole world of people sporting costumes like yours.

Holy week is a week that’s going somewhere. There’s a parade and you’re in it. Every outfit you’ve ever worn or wanted to wear is invited. Nothing is too awkward, outrageous, unsuitable, or simple this week. Attired accordingly, Quakers, transvestites, prophets, priests, professors and prostitutes, we are all on the float. Swept along towards a mystery we cannot possibly understand.

On Friday the pile of costumes will be collected to make a hill. On top of the hill a naked man will die without a costume. Before he does, he will look at us and smile. We will realize then that we are naked, clothed only in his love. Naked and in love, we will wait the rest of Friday and Saturday.

Sunday in awe, we’ll dress slowly as ourselves. Every one of us resplendent, honest to God children of the King.

compliments of morguefile.com

compliments of morguefile.com

Jr. prophets and teachers

compliments of morguefile.com by dave

compliments of morguefile.com by dave

A week ago I was on a very well planned vacation. I knew everything about who, what and when. There were lists of options and lists of set itineraries. I knew it so well I stopped looking at it.

And then my brain missed an entire day. The plan was to leave Georgia at 6:00am sharp on Thursday morning. Somewhere in there I started saying, “Thursday is our last day.” This despite weeks of excited planning about meeting a friend along our route on that same Thursday. It was 7:15am Thursday when I realized that I had invited my aunt and her family out for the day to a home in which we no longer had accommodations. 7:15 when I realized that there was no physical way to meet my friend by  1:00. We weren’t packed. No one had eaten.

I felt sick. This does not happen to me. Except it was. My aunt was looking forward to another day with us. The much anticipated hours with my very dear friend were being cut down to very little. There was no way of fixing it with either of them.

We drove to my aunt’s home. She met me dressed to the nines in preparation for our visit. I explained the situation and apologized. “It’s alright,” she said. But it wasn’t alright. We visited there for an hour. I wiped my eyes and tried to hold it together. We said goodbye and got on the road. I set to crying in earnest. My husband could not get past the idea that eating a sausage egg Mcmuffin was the answer. I ate it and he felt better.

There was no way to undo anything. Now we were late. For more than 7 hours we were late. I am not wired that well for ongoing failure. I’m big on making things up to people but there wasn’t any way to make it up. Until 5:30pm we were not there yet.

It should be called a good day. Although shorter than intended, the visits with both my aunt and my friend were deeply meaningful. I was still muttering about my massive failures getting ready for bed when my oldest daughter began singing softly.

Everyone makes mistakes oh yes they do . . .

It’s a song Girl two brought it home from school a few years ago. Turns out it’s from Sesame Street:

               Everyone makes mistakes oh yes they do

               Your sister and your brother and your dad and mother too

               Big people small people matter of fact all people

               Everyone makes mistakes so why can’t you?

 

At home a few days later, I was telling the story of Michelle’s most awful disaster. “My aunt, my friend, the kids, they all forgave me, but it was awful . . .”

Which is when a freckled eavesdropper marched over to the sink where I was going dishes and tapped me on the arm.

“You know what I noticed,” said my youngest daughter on her tip toes so only I would hear her. She is missing her two middle teeth at the top. “Everybody else forgave you but you didn’t forgive yourself.”

She turned on her heel quickly and walked away, armed folded across her chest the way she does when she is sure that she is right.

 

Returning in sections

MIA: believed to be en route

MIA: believed to be en route

4450 kilometers (2765 miles) later we are home. Our bodies arrived a few hours of schedule. Our brains seem to have been lost in transit. Hopefully they’ll catch up with us before too many days go by.

Highlights people without brains can remember:

Air BnB:   Has everyone except me heard of this? I had never heard of it until this trip. We rented a small house from a local couple for the week. Full kitchen, two bathrooms, laundry room, porch, yard, living room, 4 bedrooms . . . it was amazing.

Public Transit: Once we figured out how to use public transit (which wasn’t that hard because we ran into so many helpful people) the city became a very easy place to get around. Buses were good. The kids liked them, but the subways were great. Major thumbs up from all parties. The first day we had to ride around on them for a while even though we’d already been everywhere we needed to go. Tired people in their seats couldn’t help smiling and laughing at the kids yammering about what was out the window and doing motion experiments holding on to things or not when the subway stopped.

Fruit: When you drive two days south and go to the grocery store, the fruit is a lot more remarkable.

Cash: We haven’t ever done a trip in cash before but we’ll do it again. It was downright exciting to sit girl one and boy two down at the table and assign them to count out our money for the trip. We attempted to write down everything we spent so we’d have a tally of how much went for gas, food, museum admission etc. but that kind of fell apart. Regardless, there is something really nice about having money that you can count and see.

Blue Ridge Mountains: Our little timeout onto the parkway to see the mountains (estimated at half an hour) turned into an hour and a half. The fog was so thick up in the mountains that we couldn’t see twenty feet in front of the car and had to drive very slowly with the hazard lights on. We had a very good laugh about the view from the mountains

It’s good to be back, with or without the brains.

 

 

 

Road Trip

file0001973917428

Before we had children (back when we thought the number of children you have is the kind of thing you decide) we planned to take a road trip. We would load them the children we did not yet have in a car, as soon as they were old enough to appreciate it, and drive across Canada.

Life happened. Jobs, schools and houses came and went. Four children made it to born. We moved to the farm. The theory of small farms is that one supplements one’s food supply and therefore income, while enjoying the wholesome qualities of country living. The reality is that while working  harder for it, you also pay more than the neighbors for your food. We stick with it because the farm makes us happy, our food tastes great, and we know where it came from.

The kids are now old enough to appreciate a road trip across Canada just in time for us to appreciate that the rest of our life choices have made that impossible. Luckily they weren’t there when we vowed to do it so nobody is upset. We the vow makers are okay with it because we think the trade off is worth it. Nevertheless, I have longed for a smaller version of the road trip. We looked at a few ideas in the last few years but nothing clicked.

This January I sat fretting about a beloved aunt. Should I fly down to see her?  If so when? I batted these questions around until I realized the problem: I really wanted to go see my aunt, but I really didn’t want to leave my family at home and go off by myself on a big journey.

Which is when I realized that a road trip would solve everything.

In January, my husband was ambivalent but willing. Since the end of February, he has been gleefully counting the days. The internet estimates the trip at 17.5 hours of driving. Past experience predicts at least 2 hours of stops for every 8 hours of driving. The return trip is longer. :)

And that’s all the news that’s fit to print. I’m away from the blog for a week to be fully present for our adventure.

Revolutionary Activities

file3981250019738

 

It’s almost March break up here in the snowy lands. Snow banks are sinking. Roofs drip madly. The maple syrup is running and the pancake houses have put out their open-for-business signs. March break is not the end of winter, but it’s the time you let yourself start longing for spring. Maybe if the schools didn’t let out for a week it wouldn’t stir up every trapped feeling I’ve ever had. But they do and it does. Institutions and structures and culture loom like prison bars on a window begging for a jailbreak. A holiday is great, but I’m feeling revolution.

My opening battle cry of revolutionary activities to be completed or repeated

Give a child directions on how to get somewhere and leave (The grocery store, main street in a small town, the woods, or a major urban center depending on the age.)

Leave children untended with no more than two rules for hours. (Ditto for self)

Sing together for fun (This will be hard if there are too many Catholics unless they play the guitar. According to my observations the majority of guitar playing Catholics are accustomed to singing, the rest are not. So guitars, Protestants, or musicians required if anyone else wants to pull this off.)

Read a book requiring many sittings, out loud with the family. (There is little better than a children’s book to begin with. Reading one out loud with someone else means you get to inhabit another world together. If anyone else feels the same way, some of the most delightful I’ve run across lately: The ***Penderwicks, The Calder Games, Chasing Vermeer, Artemis Fowl . . . and I have it on strong recommendation from a seventy year old and an eleven year old that, “The Borrowers,” though hardly a new release is well worth a read or a reread.)

Write letters. Put them in envelopes with stamps and mail them. (I discovered to my horror in February that although my grade ten son is working to become bilingual and is quite proficient in math, he had no idea how to mail a letter or where to write a return address on the envelope.)

Play board games or cards.  (We are big kitchen table game fans but have been playing only in bits and snatches of 15 -30 minutes. A multi-hour game-fest is calling.) If anyone else is feeling the itch:

Our tried and true: Go Fish, Old Maid, Uno. Trouble or Sorry. Dominoes. Taboo. Pit.

Recent delights:  Settlers of Catan, Seven Wonders of the World, Apples to Apples

The eternal classic that may not have broad based appeal but will forever hold my heart: The Farmers’ Game

 

Poetry is enough to start a revolution all by itself. The kids like to listen to it but I want them memorizing it and writing it. Maybe when I figure out how to put feet on that vision, I’ll write about it. So far it is a mystical yearning with no good ideas to hold it up.

Hard Work

DSCN0835

 

The human aversion to forced labor is alive and well here. Boy two is extremely tired of bringing in wood for the stove and has been since somewhere between the first and third loads in the fall. I assigned him a partner mid-winter to try and inspire his efforts. I looked out the window the other day to discover that the reason he had not yet returned with a load of wood was that an archery lesson was in session. He was immensely proud of himself for occupying his (and Girl two’s) time so well.

Having a partner has not increased the dedication to the task. However, it has made the task diversions much more pleasing. On his cheerful days, he lets Girl two ride on top of the wood stack and is setting all kinds of records as to how much time one can take to fill a wheelbarrow with wood, run it across the path to the house and unload it. The girl on moving wood stack method makes me nervous but months in, so far so good. I tell myself the snow would prevent a concussion should there be a toppling.

It was only after I snapped this picture that I saw the egg container perched up on top of the wood. I made them both promise to never balance eggs with the wood and they swore it was only for when the wheelbarrow was standing still and they were doing a lesson.

DSCN0837

March Buzz

DSCN0845

You can see at least a few of the bodies here.

 

The business of bees nags at my brain. I want a sugar alternative, I want kids on fire for living things, and I like us learning whenever possible. People tell you to expect nothing for honey harvest in year one, while simultaneously telling you how much honey their uncle Harold, neighbor Frieda, and son, Billy, got their first years. We did not become a story like Billy; our first year we got zero.

I discovered in early January that the winterizing of the hives had not been done properly. Exits and ventilation are as important for bees as they are for people. One hive seemed ok. The other had both entrances inadvertently sealed. I removed hundreds of dead bodies and ice and settled into hopelessness. I mentally pronounced hive A dead and the hive B potentially terminal.

February broke all kinds of weather records for average cold, most consecutive cold days . . . This past weekend saw warmer temperatures. Despite the sunshine, I walked with heavy steps through snow higher than my boots (or knees) to make myself look at the hives.

“Good news!” I told my husband afterwards. “There were dead bodies all over the snow.”

I had hoped to see a bee or two fly out into the sunshine (they use the warm days to relieve themselves). I didn’t see that, but I did see a lone bee fly. Granted, she flew straight to the snow and committed frozen harakari . . . but before that she flew.

“It’s kind of weird,” said my husband, “when you say, ‘good news,’ because you discovered dead bodies and witnessed a suicide.”

But good news it is. Dead bodies on the ground mean the girls inside are alive and cleaning house. Should the buzz continue into spring, I’ve made some resolutions in celebration of hope’s resurrection:

  1. We’ll buy better bee protection. Winterizing would have been done better if we weren’t so sick of getting stung.
  2. I’ll give up expecting the boys to own the bee project. We all find the bees exciting. The boys are willing to work and willing to get stung. For the foreseeable future, they aren’t going to carry the emotional burden, initiate anything, or wake in the night with what they’ve forgotten to do. I can own the project or we can quit. I can be bitter about what my bee men aren’t doing or be happy for what they are.

With dreams of project watching gone, I am officially the project manager. May the eventual honey sweeten the gaps in working style among the partnership. I’ve got the ability to make myself do what I don’t feel like doing at a particular moment because it needs to be done and the notion that the pursuit of ongoing knowledge is required.  The boys are actually much more comfortable handling the bees than I am. We could do worse for a combined skill set.

Winter Party Plans

DSC_0214

Following the ancient customs of our people, I am planning a special event which will either be named, Winter Carnival, or, The Surviving Party.

For the opening ceremonies participants will wrap their winter outerwear in neon duct tape while listening to The Beach Boys in my kitchen. While singing a rousing round of, “wish they all could be California girls,” we will form a train and head for the chicken coop. We will drive the chickens from the coop into the sunshine, while serenading them with the chorus from Abba’s Dancing Queen. Participants will be free to dance in pairs or groups, with people or chickens, as the spirit moves them.

Other activities include:

Believe in the Green: guests will gather the ice scrapers from their vehicles and bring them to the garage where they will be painted green. Once dried, they will be planted in the snow symbolizing our belief that spring will come.

Throw it from the Roof :  Guests will add non-living items of their choice to a laundry basket to be carried up to the top of the roof and thrown down one by one. (This symbolizes the casting off of winter gloom.) Prior to the first throw, the roofer will lead the observers in a rousing chorus of, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

Chef for a Minute:  Hot dogs and hamburgers will be available from the barbecue. Only males are eligible for cooking duties as chefs will be expected to cook topless. This symbolizes the determination required to survive the barrenness of winter (not to mention a little justice for the nasty habit of putting men in three piece suits all winter while women shiver in flimsy fashion of the day). Fully winterized spouses may link arms and sing, “it’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight . . . as encouragement if a chef is waning.

Keep the Party Going: Guests commit to going commando one day a week  (each day of the week must be spoken for) until the first buds of spring are visible through the snow. This symbolizes the casting off of winter restrictions. After the solemn commitment, guests may join in singing a chorus of, “Livin on a Prayer.” Whoa, we’re halfway there… take my hand, we’ll make it I swear…

Closing Ceremony: The child most resembling Pippi Longstocking will be placed on the pony’s back. They will be led from the field into the kitchen where the pony will eventually pee in shocking quantity. The result will be a fine symbol of the bitterness of winter. Misty will be given a carrot  by Pippi and led back outside while any of her symbols are removed because they are no longer wanted. From the cupboards every guest will receive a pot, pan, or plastic mixing bowl. Beating them loudly we will make our way outside. Still drumming, we will huddle together in a circle and howl at the moon. This will symbolize everything important that we didn’t have time to symbolize before. Any in tears may close with “I Will Survive.”

Date and Time TBA

Along the Way

 

IMG_1378-NB NEUTRE plus 1C plus 2C

I found child A’s 100% spelling test in the toilet and a very strange conversation ensued. Who did this?

No one.

Who knew about this?

Child B only knew a little.

Why did they do this?

They didn’t. Child B had balanced the test very carefully so that someone else would knock it in. Whoever did it should get in trouble, but they don’t know who that is. When Child B left the test was not in the toilet.

 

Girl Two is engaged in an “ing,” contest. The idea did not excite me. I envisioned my six year old chained to a chair wailing while I begged her to write down a fourth word ending in ing. Either I misjudged based on visions of a related child, an alien has invaded her body, or her teacher knew something I didn’t about ing words. Girl two has sat enthralled and almost dizzy with excitement writing ing words on three separate occasions. Her biggest worry when we left for skiing on the weekend was that she would miss on times to write more words.

I was invited for  Lego worlds expo by my youngest three. The designated explainer gave a long and detailed review of the intricate worlds. I thanked them and stood to leave. The kids laughed. That was just one person’s part, they said. I settled back in and tried to concentrate on all the plots and sub-plots. I stood again when the third explainer finished.

Thanks a lot for coming, said one.

She can’t go yet, said another. Remember about the test?

The Mom-is-tested-on-retention-of-Lego-villain-names did not seem like it could be fun but I was assured it was the best part. There were at least fifteen villains. There had been no advance warning so that I could sift out name information from discussions of battles, special powers, or castle fortifications. I failed the first time. They laughed if I called Banana, Asparagus, or Skeleton Dude, Donkey. They took turns giving me clues. I took the test a second time and passed. Somehow by the end it really was a lot of fun.

 

The Optimist is all legs and feet right now. He is happy at school but steps gingerly across the ice of his social world worried it will break with the weight of oddities thrust upon him by his parents. He punishes us with music played loudly on the piano. I stop him when I need to hear myself think, but there are worse ways to lose. My rattled brain remembers myself in another life doing the same thing. He’s on track to become a better musician than me. That makes me happy and keeps me from moving the piano to the garage.

#Pilgrims Love Pilgrimage

file000420981688

Pilgrimage is good. Especially if it involves a mountain.

Four years ago we were given an overnight ski package. Our youngest was two, I am not a skiing whiz. . . I left thinking I would enjoy it because the kids were enjoying it. This is now our fourth trip to the mountain and for all of us, it is a much anticipated winter highlight.

Our traditionalist children expect the order of liturgy intact whenever possible. We leave Friday in time to settle into our hotel suite before dinner. We walk across the parking lot to the same restaurant and talk about the stuffed monkey’s hanging from the ceiling while we wait for our food. We play our billioneth imagination game (Magic Fairy).

After dinner we swim. I fidget about hotel hot tubs and keep sending people back to the pool. My husband says it’s okay. To calm me, the children swear on oath that they are in perfect health. They take vows of fidelity to sleep, water, fruits, vegetables, hand washing, and sharing. I applaud the many tricks and triumphs of their water play.

At bedtime my husband gets out the map of the ski hill and the older ones make plans. The next morning I ferry out the early risers for breakfast. We watch cartoons on the lobby television until we can’t wait any longer. I remind all breakfast comers about their nutrition vows. I smugly allow a small danish pastry after winning the yes fruit, yes yogurt, no chocolate milk, no sugared cereal contests.

We check out and pack in. For the ten minutes it takes to get to the mountain the children fight because we aren’t there yet. We arrive. With a nod to the really irritated psalms, while everyone remembers how to put on skis, kids fight about who is going too fast or slow. I use this opportunity for ecclesiastical instruction about the danish pastry, which may be the reason we are fighting. Something to remember. But only if we care about having fun, and loving each other, and a happy life.

With that part of the liturgy complete, the kids take ski lessons while adults get in a run or two. The rest of the day is free. I pack a lunch (with clean tablecloth for the well used indoor picnic tables). The kids say almost nothing because everything is familiar enough that they feel safe, but foreign enough that it thrills them and fills them. They like being pilgrims.

On the way home we stop at the same restaurant. (Last year’s bids to change either restaurant were rejected.) For all I know they pick the same things from the buffet. We say closing litanies of brave deeds and success. A few hymns of wonder in the car and a prayer or two to live at the bottom of the mountain when they grow up and the whole thing comes to a quiet Amen.