Tag Archiv: family

Kitchens

The Feast of St. Nicholas, by Jan Steen. (via Wikimedia Commons)

The Feast of St. Nicholas, by Jan Steen. (via Wikimedia Commons)

You can’t have families without kitchens. Families are all wrapped up in kitchens, in the lines on the tile, mixed in with the paint on the walls, and sprinkled like rice in odd cracks on the floor. The family you grew up in lives in the cupboards. The one you have now is everywhere else. Sometimes things stay as separate as a quarter of a century. Other times it’s like a finger painting when the finger can’t stop. Lots of swirls but they’re all the same colour and you can’t tell where the lines are supposed to be between your life then and now.

Boy one came across the kitchen the other morning and  somebody must have opened the cupboards. All of a sudden I wanted my mom to see how tall he was so much it hurt. That’s the thing. I don’t miss her at certain times of year, I miss her in my kitchen. She’s never even been there. Except of course the cupboards.

I do my best thinking in the kitchen. It’s not because I’m already there so much; I go to the kitchen on purpose to think. I do my worst thinking in the kitchen too. If I’m sure somebody isn’t home yet because they’ve died in a terrible accident, you can bet  I’m cleaning out the toaster or whipping up some biscuits, possibly refilling the spice jars.

A kitchen is somehow the place that can hold the weight of your sadness, while keeping the floor polished (flour and sugar granules with a hint of barn boot work well) and ready for a happy dance. A kitchen is like a church with a reversible altar. You can sacrifice tears and laughter on the same day and nothing is awkward. Whatever you bring rises up and joins in with a hundred other joys and sorrows. Yours and other peoples brought to the same counters and sinks.

In my kitchen, I am an indentured servant. Long hours required. Gratitude optional. I am also a queen with magical powers. I choose whom to bless and whom to curse. At my fingertips are the ingredients with which I can turn a grumpy heart cheerful and vice versa. When my subjects behave, I feed them well. Albeit while puttering away in dribs and drabs at the leftover heart and tongue disposal project. (Thanks to an obviously confused butcher, we clearly have the heart of every lamb from four counties in our freezer.)

At our kitchen table we play, pray, plan and decide things together. Above all, we eat. Children’s positions are changed regularly in an ongoing attempt to divine the best possible combinations for conflict reduction. The perfect set up lasts about a week. Some days I imagine eating somewhere else. The porch. Anywhere spelled by myself. The kitchen says no thank you. It all belongs here. Messy love, indentured servitude and joy beyond all recounting.

Rich

summer 2014 437

The children have taken to telling everyone that we had three vacations this summer.  There never seems to be a way to explain my side of it. The first, “vacation,” was a weekend invitation to a friend’s cottage. We left earlier than planned in order to get to the hospital and brush up on appendicitis facts, but prior to that it was quite wonderful. The second, “vacation,” was a once in a lifetime week by a lake with family, an hour from home. Cousins, the chief excitement of my children’s world, were present. But my husband was still working. There were 14 people to feed. Our calf was sick part of the time. Trips had to be made home, vets called, and well . . . I loved seeing my family, I just couldn’t say it was restful.  Which brings us to, “number three.”  This was the real kind . . . with my husband, six hours AWAY from the farm and all its potential needs.

For the record, we did not have three vacations! If we had, I imagine I would be rested. Instead, I watch the clock longingly until school comes tomorrow to take the rest robbers away. People with three vacations are rich. We are not rich.

Except we are and I know better. Forget clothes and food, we go to school, drive cars, spend money on things that might not pan out, quit things because we don’t like them. My husband pays for a cook (me), maid (also me), chauffeur (me), and tutor (still me) for the children. Since I don’t worry about getting fired, I also spend quite a bit of time writing. Lots of people we know have more than we do, but it is a matter of degrees. From a global perspective, we live solidly on the rungs of the rich ladder.

Light broke through this weekend though. Girl two is about to be a first grader. That got me thinking about me in grade one. Six years old for me was a bad year. A lot of things went terribly wrong. Girl two, bouncing up and down happy, turns six today. The comparison has me profoundly to my bones, grateful. The brokenness I came from is not her inheritance. She doesn’t know a thing about it.

I am thinking about that. About being rich. So rich I can’t keep track of everything. I wake up to discover stocks grown wildly that I hadn’t checked in ages. Investments I’d forgotten I even had.

My husband is hoping to take the kids camping for a weekend soon. I’m thinking maybe they can stop telling people how many vacations we have and just say we’re so rich we basically live on vacation.

But seriously. Some days I can’t believe it. My kids are really happy people. For real. How rich is that?

 

Song and Dance

Image courtesy of supakitmod at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  Image courtesy of supakitmod at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As I write, the children are upstairs dancing. Three of them. No reason. Out of the blue, one said, “I’m going to my room to dance. You guys want to come?”  I think our musicals kick off on Friday night has us feeling artsy. “Sound of Music,” was a huge hit. (Juvenile search for free, legal music to download has begun.) The singing/no speaking dinner was grand. We’ll do it again and give it time to develop. One was too shy. The others had a grand time. Five year old quite enjoyed her attempts at vibrato. A highly recommended activity, I say.

Maybe it’s a small thing to hear my child look up from reading a book and announce a desire to dance. It makes me happy. My own love of dance is hampered by the requirement to move my body without a plan. I remember going to a concert once. Nothing fashionable, just a marching band on a lawn. I loved it and I wanted to clap with the music. Most everyone else was. I was inside the sounds of trumpets and flutes, cymbals and drums, I wanted to be part of the song.

I don’t remember if I was eleven, twelve, thirteen . . . but I couldn’t do it. I pictured myself picking my hands up off my chair and putting them together, but I was too afraid to try. Not sure how to start. Worried that everyone else knew how to clap in time, but I might not.

Since that day, I have learned to clap to music when I want to. For a time, I could mostly line dance (thanks to help from anyone who would go over the simplest things with me just one more time). Line dancing had the beauty of set moves to follow, but that skill has gone the way of things.

My joyful dancing, the kind without a plan, has been with my children. I danced with them as babies when we were alone. Later my children began asking me to dance. About kids and dancing, I hold to the following to get me through the occasional requests to participate:

1. It matters more that they learn the freedom and joy of dance, than it matters that beyond the confines of my imagination and the walls of our home, I have known neither.

2. Along with remembering me taller and wiser than I am, their memories of whatever odd moves I may try to incorporate into my dancing have the potential to undergo similar distortions if I can just keep smiling.

The marvel of it grows in me. My children are upstairs dancing. For fun. Maybe I was faking it to get here, but my children love to dance. Watching them, I see the shadow of small miracles. Of these I can only say thank you. Bow softly. Wonder at such good gifts.

 

 

Chasing perspective again

Boy one is coughing again. Boy two has been down for the count since Saturday. We got home from picking out the Christmas tree and he disappeared. We found him sound asleep in his room. He’s been see through white and pasty ever since, hacking like an old man. Girl one is coughing and complaining of an ear ache. Girl two is tired and also coughing. After wracking her whole little self, she breathes in again and smiles at me through watery eyes. Whatever the weather of our lives, this one smiles. Her eyes say, it’s ok, mom, life is good.

My grandfather tells a story about two brothers at Christmas. The first opens a large expensive electric train set. “Hopefully it doesn’t break,” he says. The second boy opens a small box filled with poop. “Hurray!” he yells jumping up and down. “When do I meet my pony?”

My grandfather says that’s the definition of an optimist.

It reminds me of girl two.

The frustration of kids that don’t get better and limp in and out of health for months is really starting to get at me. A musical evening to sing at each other isn’t the only thing on hold while I try and figure out how to help them beat this virus. We cancelled and postponed and sent regrets this week and last. The kids are sick of me pushing hard on bedtimes and healthy eating. They want candy and late nights NOW. I’m sick of pushing too, but I want them well.

Common-sense-me says to stay the course. Life happens. Paranoid-me is fretting that school teachers, and music teachers, and cub leaders, and the grand everybody will think we don’t care, that the kids couldn’t possibly still be sick. Perspective is a little mouse loose in the kitchen. I have a pot lid and have reached to catch it again and again. Just when I think I’ve got it, it squiggles out. Soon, I will get a broom, I tell myself. With nothing else in control, at least I can send that uncatchable mouse through the kitchen window.

Girl two has recently shared her long term vision for the future. She loves our home so much, she says, that she is never leaving. When she is a grown up, she will hire a special builder to come and make a new kind of bed. This way, she and I and her father and sister can have our own beds but have them hooked all together. (I imagine the neighbours will want to take a look someday but that’s another story.)

For girl two, nothing really matters as long as we’re together. Construction plans aside, it reminds me to take a deep breath and let it go. With sore throats, ear aches, and coughs abounding, we’re in this together. That’s a pretty good gift.

I’m taking the bait, Dear Abby

I think you need to have a real life musical evening…where everyone sings what they have to say. Sing through dinner….etc. If you yell at the kids, you have to sing it. heehee . . . .

(This was from Abby’s comment to my “Singing in the Snow,” post.)

Dear Abby,

Have you ever tried this yourself? This is a seriously great idea. You have now officially planned the first musicals kick-off night of the upcoming family musicals tour. . . date still to be determined.  I’ll post back the results, but really you are killing me. I wasn’t going to start the tour until school was out . . . Dec. 19th? 20th?  But if you think I can wait that long to sing my grievances at my children, you are wrong.  I have already begun working on possible lyrics. So far, I have a short number on the state of their rooms set to the tune of “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”  I am still playing with the words to my impending mental breakdown serenade, but am using the tune of Amazing Grace to contrast nicely with my thoughts on uncivil sibling bickering and how it is affecting my peace of mind.

Many thanks for the brilliant suggestion. As soon as I can pull it off, we’re going for it.

Sincerely,

Singing to sanity, or not, but having fun, on County Road 21

Singing in the Snow

We put a pretty big value on family time over the Christmas break. This year, we have a plan that we’ve gone so far as to tell the kids, so there’s no going back now.  We’re going musical, as in musicals. All that’s really left is to pick the ones we’ll watch and get them.

`              Here’s why we’ll be watching so much singing and dancing this December . . .

1. Boy one announced that the music from Fiddler on the Roof was some of his favorite music in the world. (We didn’t even know he had downloaded it.) He started singing Fiddler songs around the house, but had no clue about the story.

This got me thinking. Then two more discoveries pushed the idea into a full blown mission.

2. Boy one confessed that, “Matchmaker,” was his favorite song at first because he assumed it was about someone playing with fire . . . and how cool is that, you know, mom?”  He said he sang it for a while before he figured it out.

3. We discovered that only one of our children had ever seen, “The Sound of Music.”

How it was we got this far, we two who both love musicals, without sharing this with our children, I have no idea. We did a test run last week with the 1971 movie version of, “Fiddler on the Roof,” to help us gauge our range for choosing.  They obviously understood it at different levels but regardless of comprehension, it was a big hit. Do you know how nice it is to hear your kids singing those songs around the house?

I feel a town crier is in order, although chances are that both the crier and my excitement about sharing musicals with children would be met with confusion.  Watching the kids enjoy, Fiddler on the Roof, was just so satisfying. I feel a kind of civic duty bursting out of me. Like I should be stopping people at the grocery store to tell them about it. Like I should be knocking on doors of people I don’t know and handing them copies of, The Sound of Music.

This is why I have a husband.  He reminds me that I will probably not want to knock on all those doors in the morning, so perhaps best not to print out all those fliers tonight.  “But that the original idea,” he will say carefully, “the one where we show 4 or 5 of the best ones to our kids . . . well, it’s just so manageable . . .”  And normal, he kindly does not add.

So, no posters, no grocery store announcements. Just a blog.  :)  Did I mention that we haven’t finished narrowing our list yet? Sound of Music, and My Fair Lady, for sure. After that, I welcome suggestions!

Cheers

The numbers of people potentially offended or irritated by this post grow in my mind with every passing second. Nevertheless, it happened on County Road 21, and seemed to me both true and beautiful.

Dinner time was drawing to a close. My son thought he remembered that it was All Soul’s Day. I explained that All Saints Day was Nov. 1, All Souls Day on Nov. 2, and therefore past. Remembering the dead is not something I do easily. Sometimes I celebrate my mother’s birthday. Sometimes I do not. Although the dead I know now include my mother, my paternal grandparents, and my miscarried children, it is only on some days that I find myself comfortable loving across the chasm that divides us. The loving seems too often to come with aching.

This difficulty with the dead does not exist for my children. Maybe because they have tasted death mostly in farm animals, or maybe because they are children and see things differently. My son didn’t worry himself with fine lines of time and place.

“I’m going to say a prayer anyway,” he said cheerfully. Chewing. Thinking. We waited.

“Ok everybody, get your glass. I’m asking this prayer for all the people in palliative care right now.  Cheers.” He raised his glass and waited for us to clink glasses with him.

“Do you know what palliative care means?” I asked.

“Yeah. It’s people that are dying.” He smiled and raised his glass to clink against mine.

The idea was very enthusiastically received. Other children’s prayers and glass clinking quickly followed. Their father tried valiantly to maintain the dignity of the occasion while being asked to clink his beer bottle with everyone after each of the prayers. We made it through without laughing until we cried by avoiding each other’s eyes until it was all over.

My worries about how strange we are got the best of me. “Ok, so this was really nice,” I said. “It was a good thing you all did, saying those prayers, doing cheers. But just so you know, there isn’t anywhere else in the world where people do it like that. You won’t ever find a place where people are praying and raising glasses to say cheers afterwards. It’s fine. It’s good. I just wanted you to know that people might not get it if you tried it somewhere else.”

Quizzical looks. Shoulder shrugs. Mom is strange. Business as usual. Are there any more Doritos?

“There’s something right about it, you know?” my husband said when it was over. “I mean I know it’s different. I can’t really explain it. But there’s something good about it. Something that’s the way it should be.”

He’s right. They’re right. So may God bless you, my readers. May love hold each of you gently and tenderly today. Pour the milk. Pour the wine. Cheers. Raise a glass.

Last night’s prayer

These days my son is almost this and not quite that. His skin doesn’t seem to fit right. Certainly he has no idea what to do with his hands, his mouth, or the repetitive strumming of what we hope are brain waves.  For the first few weeks of school this year, we wondered if he would ever be quiet again. Please, I would say through clenched teeth. For just three minutes. Don’t talk.

It is exhausting, that constant chatter of nothing. The kitchen is filled with information bullets undaunted by my pleas for a ceasefire.

I’m joining two bands. I’m thinking about choir. I can’t decide which sports. Maybe volleyball and soccer. Maybe basketball. Definitely not cross country. I like it, I mean, you know, it was fun, but if I can only do two sports – two sports – then cross country’s like not even on the list. And did I tell you that I saw . . . By the way, I’m only packing things for my lunch that you can eat standing up now because we don’t sit down anymore. We go out.

And so it goes. A boy on fire with possibility. Neither fish nor fowl but in clear sight of both. As summer slipped away, so did his inclusion in the many imaginings and games of his siblings. I watched him watching them. Unsure of whether to mad or sad to be leaving the group.

It is much too soon to invite him to be one of us in those precious pieces of adult time devoid of short people. He’s tall enough. I see him watching us too. But he isn’t ready for grown up land and we two who run the place need those minutes. Besides, he talks too much.

Almost two months into school, the chatter has slowed enough to save us the constant nagging concern about muscle strain in his jaws. Yet appropriate levels of noise and motion are demands he finds so unreasonable as to be almost incomprehensible. He complies with a mixture of curiosity, dogged attempts, and then resigns himself to non-compliance in a leap or bang or whoop of energy.

Everyone is in bed now and in the quiet I can hear him and see him for what he is. An off the charts excited boy, scared boy, not sure boy, trying to figure it all out boy, want to do the right thing boy, hoping to fit in boy, wanting to be liked boy, not sure if he is good enough boy, distracted boy, changing boy. Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom.  Yes son?  Mom, look at me mom. Ok, son, I’m looking. Sigh. Awkward turning. Mom? Yes, son. Could you stop looking at me now?

Oh my beautiful wingless fish and sputtering bird. Soon my boy, you’ll be flying just fine. In the meantime, I guess you’ll just keep splashing in circles cawing madly, tossing rocks at the crows with your shrivelling fins.

I will listen in the silence tonight better than I did during the day and await with joy your waking, where we may once more begin again.