Roaming Kids

I unclogged the kitchen sink yesterday afternoon with a sewer snake and a five-minute tutorial courtesy YouTube. In my childhood home, my dad had a yellow hard-covered book he consulted for his share of plumbing. While the reference method of home repair has changed, the essential has not. Just before I unplugged the sink, I wrote an article for work at the kitchen table my mother painstakingly refinished decades ago, and then I chopped up a watermelon for the kids, who appeared sweaty and panting from bike riding. They conceived a plan to cook outside, and built a blaze with birch bark.

My teenager appeared with her boyfriend, and we sat outside in the wood smoke that shifted with the breeze, laughing about marshmallows and hair gel, and remarking about the cooling air and the clouds fattening with rain. Tiny knobs of blossoms hung from the current bushes, and all around us, green growth surged mightily.

I had finished a reasonable amount of work (and triumphed with the drain, too), my daughters weren’t bickering, the black flies were negligible, and then eventually we left the fire and went walking in the rain, as I did as a child, too.

Dead my old fine hopes
And dry my dreaming but still…
Iris, blue each spring

– Bashō

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Mini Road Trip

Last night, as my younger daughter was getting into bed, her sister says, Want to go on a field trip?

In the dark , we drive around the mountain on our dirt road, passing precisely no other vehicle, and suddenly the nearly full moon appears in the sky, luminescent, unearthly, so near I imagine I could stretch out my hand and touch this gleaming orb.

While my older daughter leans against the car hood, busy with her Cannon, the younger girl and I admire the constellations, the night’s darkness ameliorated by the moon’s brilliance. Cold for May, I tug my down jacket tight.

The peepers sing. We breathe in the aroma of wet soil, standing at a hayfield’s edge, with no need or rush to go anywhere at all, drenched under star and moonlight.

 

Before the white chrysanthemum
the scissors hesitate
a moment.

– Buson

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Raw Material

My younger daughter lay on the couch all day yesterday with a bad cold; since she was a little girl, her response to sickness or misery has been quiet, a pulling into herself. Her sister rises up and fights.

Neither good nor bad, each girl arrived in this world with a distinctive personality emerging even as a young child.

When they were younger, I made a failed attempt to conceal what I believed were the harder realities – grave illness or betrayal. The truth, really, was that I didn’t want to hold those things; how little credit I gave to the children, and to resilience itself. Mistakenly, I believed resilience was a well that be tapped dry, rather than, like creativity, a bottomless collective spring.

I alone could never drink it dry.

Our writing is a living portrait of ourselves….. Write for the sheer pleasure we take in doing it, but also for the knowledge that it might just shift this world of ours a little. It is, after all, a beautiful and strange and furious place. Literature reminds us that life is not already written down. There are still infinite possibilities. Make from your confrontation with despair a tiny little margin of beauty. The more you choose to see, the more you will see. In the end, the only things worth doing are the things that might possibly break your heart. Rage on.

Colum McCann, Letters to a Young Writer

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Not By Light Alone

Darn near every moment these May Vermont days, the greenery deepens, fattening mightily, rushing headlong in the chlorophyll world as if making up for winter’s lengthy dormancy.

Walking in the dusky, gently falling rain last night? How could we not love this? All that growth – leaf, blossom, peepers, owls – chorusing around us.

Likely the most unresolvable argument of my life was about darkness, with a person who insisted I not embrace the darkness, not press it near my heart. Every one of my days for nearly the past 19 years has been filled with growing babies and children, teenagers now, with beeswax crayons and playhouses made from sheets, and an endless round of apple slices; at the same time, I’ve also lived through the planting, harvest, and demise of many gardens. Every year, I pass the unknown day of my death and the days of the deaths of everyone I love, and I know, even as the thrust of spring is so mightily powerful and unstoppable, all this will change, too. Our world holds both courage and cowardice, generosity and betrayal.

I’d rather know that, too, than not.

Thanks to State 14 for picking up a blog entry of mine. What a pleasure to be included with their fine writers and photographers.

Don’t be afraid of getting lost. Journey as far as you can. Find the dusk and the gloom. Fill your lungs with it. It’s the only way you’ll negotiate the light. Be worried. That’s okay. The dark is something to sound out too.

Brecht asked if there would be singing in the dark times, and he answered that yes, there would be singing about the dark times.

They are indeed dark times: be thankful. Sing them.

Colum McCann, Letters to a Young Writer

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Whose Baby Are You?

Searching through my younger daughter’s baby pictures the other day, gathering a handful of images for her sixth-grade graduation ceremony, I sometimes wondered, is this her? Or her sister? Once upon a time, I couldn’t believe parents might confuse their children’s baby photos; now I join those ranks of beleaguered – and, admit it, lame –parents.

In her face now, I see her woman’s visage emerging: my brown eyes, her father’s thin shape. As a writer, I’m trained to note specifics, like the way she regularly trims her own bangs these days. But details are only bits of her story, keyholes for my curious eyes.

These early wet May days, wildflowers bloom profusely – trilliums, bellflowers, spring beauties, Dutchman’s breeches – each day seemingly a new variation, every stalk and petal one tiny voice in the overall chorus of spring. The symphony rages mightily. So, too, with my daughter, in this spring.

I find myself listening to the symphony-in-the-creation of her.

In writing, you can always change the ending or delete a chapter that isn’t working. Life is uncooperative, impartial, incontestable.

Ariel Levy, The Rules Do Not Apply

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Lounging on the Lawn of the Loony Bin

When my older daughter was a babe-in-arms and all through her toddlerhood and young childhood, she and I delivered tiny bottles of maple syrup for wedding favors, usually tied up with ribbon or raffia, with a small slip of colored paper with the couple’s names and wedding date, and a cheery phrase, like Eat, drink & be merry! Or A Sweet Beginning.

With my little kid, goldfish crackers and the Vermont Gazetteer, we met people in  Price Chopper’s parking lot, tony lakeside resorts, or – one of my favorites – outside the Vermont State Asylum for the Insane in Waterbury. The hospital then had locked wards, and the purchaser of maple syrup bottles came down and met us on the grass. She was on her lunch break and had time to chat. I offered that my mother is a RN, and had amused us as children with her nursing school stories of the woman in the state asylum who swallowed spoons.

My daughter, who was four, looked up at me, completely puzzled. Why?

The woman and I laughed.

Of all the people who bought my wedding favors, this woman is the one I wonder about. We lingered on the grass that day, the sheer expanse of tended lawn a novelty for my child and I. This woman was happily getting married in a few days, and I took my child to a playground that afternoon. There were not enough playground trips in that girl’s childhood. Maybe that’s one of my few pieces of advice to young parents: more playgrounds. Linger barefoot on the grass. The strangeness of people who devour spoons doesn’t disappear.

The American way of life has failed – to make people happier or to make them better. We do not want to admit this, and we do not admit it. We persist in believing that the empty and criminal among our children are the result of some miscalculation in the formula (which can be corrected), that the bottomless and aimless hostility which makes our cities among the most dangerous in the world is created, and felt, by a handful of aberrants, that the lack, yawning everywhere in this country, of passionate conviction, of personal authority, proves only our rather appealing tendency to be gregarious and democratic. We are very cruelly trapped between what we would like to be, and what we actually are. And we cannot possibly become what we would like to be until we are willing to ask ourselves just why the lives we lead on this continent are mainly so empty, so tame and so ugly.

– James Baldwin

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Waterbury, Vermont

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Kid Chat

The May my younger daughter was born, rain fell every day, from May 1 to May 31. At the beginning of June, cornfields sprouted shoots of green, and the summer turned sweltering. We are yet in the rainy phase. Everyday, my daughter, now nearly 12, claims the apple tree leaves unfold their leaves noticeably wider. Fragrant blossoms and pollination are imminent. This girl changes, too, on the tender cusp of childhood and adolescence, past the why stage of toddlerhood and wondering at the pieces and people in her life.

The other morning, she asked about a church’s billboard sign: Jesus was a low-wage worker. She asked what Jesus did; I answered he was a carpenter, not a low-wage job in our town. Then what does the sign-writer mean? We wonder, who’s telling this story, anyway? The story of Jesus? The story of our town?

Then we were at her tiny school, the handful of graduating sixth graders wild about their trip to Maine, nearly trembling with excitement. On my way to work, I stopped again at that sign, pondering its existential statement. Rain fell lightly, and I sank my fingers into the church lawn’s soil, glad to see grass for the first time this year, long as my fingers.

….art and ideas come out of the passion and torment of experience; it is impossible to have a real relationship to the first if one’s aim is to be protected from the second.

– James Baldwin

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Hardwick, Vermont

 

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