Up the street

Last week we lost Big Ellie.

Ellie

Oh, sweet hound.

She and our Australian shepherd, Lady, stay outside most days until I get home with Cole in the afternoons. So when we arrived home last Monday to only Lady waiting at the gate, I knew something was amiss. My first instinct was that, given Big El’s recent cancer diagnosis and her bout with bronchitis, the hound might be somewhere toward the back of the yard, sick. Or that she had run away to die. I guess dogs do that.

Hours later, we received the phone call that brought her back home. Until yesterday, we hadn’t figured out how she was making the grand escape. Walking around the fence yet another time, searching for her route out into the great beyond, I wandered and Big ‘El ambled with me. And against the side fence, the once that divides our property from the house with two other fool dogs, El made her move. She crouched. She shimmied. She scurried as fast as a 90-pound, 9-year old fatty can scurry, under the fence. Halfway under, I pulled her back. And I saw the hole she’d dug.

El is grounded, banished to the life of an indoor dog or an on-leash dog until we can make the fencing secure. She’s unhappy about this, and so are we. But she managed to escape again today, straight through the front door and across the street. This time, I caught her before she slipped out of our lives again.

I don’t know why she wants, so badly, to get out into the world. But she wants to. She simply must. She’s willing to brave busy roads and unkind strangers and the uncertainty of her next meal to get a taste of freedom.

I wish I were a little more like that. Motherhood has made me cautious. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I am no less happy today than I was seven years ago. I’m more content right this millisecond than I’ve ever been. I am comfortable with myself. It’s cozy in my own skin. I’ve grown up. But in that growing up (and growing wiser, let us hope), I’ve lost some of the spontaneity that drives growth. Is that possible?

Does getting older mean getting complacent?

There seems to be a difference, however subtle, between complacency and learning to find contentment with what you have right now. Right now, I don’t much want for grand travel or some childhood remembrance of freedom. My want is more internal, more about finding what I’m here to do (other than to parent, which has proven to be my greatest calling in the most delightfully unexpected way). The wild streets and endless possibility and exhilarating uncertain aren’t really just outside the front door. They’re here. All around me. And the simple matter of throwing off the quiet, slinging open the door, and getting up the street—it’s as easy as deciding.

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Whooaly shit

Time flies. Let’s jump right in.

The Kaiser started his first year of Catholic school in early fall. Thus far, it’s been (mostly) sunshine and pretty, pretty roses. Of course, the homework overfloweth, the work rampeth upward, and the push for mommy-centric volunteerism is high. I’m good with those things.

For All Saints Day (uh, happy All Saints Day), Father Smith sprinkled the classrooms with holy water. Now I don’t really understand this, because A) it sounds messy and B) it sounds stupid, but that’s what they do. Cole tells me this with some glee. “And he came in and [exuberant hand motion] sprinkled us with holy water.”

That’s nice.

the power of christ

“The power of Christ compels you…. to do your spelling.”

Whatever. But a droplet of holy water found its way to Cole’s cheek. He darted his tongue out. Licked it away.

And as he tells me his tale, we eat and I smile and nod, nary making a single solitary sarcastic comment. And then, he dropped the bomb.

“Mom, after I ate the holy water, I suddenly remembered all of Hail Mary.”

“Huh?” I pause, fork to mouth.

“Before I licked the holy water, I couldn’t remember the prayer. After I licked it, I remembered it. I knew it all.”

He is convinced a miracle occurred. And who am I to squash his belief? But I don’t really have a good response for that, so I mumble and nod and smile and stuff spaghetti into my mouth. He reaffirms his thinking aloud, retelling the story, and his eyes implore me to make a comment on what is surely the hand of GOD HIMSELF at work in the world. And I do. I tell him that that’s really great and cool and that I’m so happy that he’s learned Hail Mary (he hasn’t–still says, “Blessed is thou among women and blessed is thafudodawubJesus”).

It’s a brave new world for us. I’m not big on organized religion. I’m not big on dogma and legalism. I’m not big on (any of that) Old Testament drivel. But Cole is, and I have to balance my desire for him to take it all with a grain of salt with what clearly brings him joy. He’s thrilled about God. He loves to talk about the sublime and abstractions–the very bigness of it all. And he’s a little fundamental in his belief, as I imagine most six-year olds are. He believes in the Flood. He believes that God is very clearly male. He believes that Adam and Eve were part of a perfect creation story. He wonders why God makes hurricanes. He knows that bad people go to hell.

It’s hard for me. It’s hard to give him other information without confusing the hell out of him. It’s hard to hear beliefs I don’t share. But we made the decision to put him in a Catholic school. Now I’m making the decision to leave his faith to him, and do my best not to bruise his mustard seed.

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Sweet house

It’s been forever. ForEVER. I meant to post as soon as I signed the papers and moved in — but moving into a new house is no small feat and my list of “gotta do this/get this/fix this/rearrange this” is huge. I’m happy. I love it. Cole loves it. The dogs love it. And our chickens, coming soon, are gonna love it. Highlights:

Image

Must grow grass.

I took this picture a few minutes ago, just for the blog. And upon coming back in, this greets me:

From my front porch looking in.

And one of my favorite sights when I come home:

Leftover marigolds and firewood. Feels like home.

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Live like this

I’ve lived out my melancholy youth. I don’t give a fuck anymore what’s behind me, or what’s ahead of me. I’m healthy. Incurably healthy. No sorrows, no regrets. No past, no future. The present is enough for me. Day by day. – Miller, Tropic of Cancer

How very Buddhist of you, Mr. Miller.

The closing on our new house is in six days. We have boxes to pack and Goodwill loads to deliver and closets to dig through. I have utility companies to call and carpets to clean and a dreadfully sick fish to medicate. But for now, for a while, let’s sit and love each other.

Live in the now.

Favorite things.

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Filed under Buddhism, Mindful parenting

Wasp love

‘Round about late March, a little paper wasp found her way to the wooden stairs of our apartment. She began building herself a home. For days, Cole was terrified of the wasp. But we walked around her, up the left side of the stairway. Up and down, several times a day, and each time, Cole would mention her. On the colder evenings, she’d be gone, presumably to somewhere warmer (really, I have no idea, but this is a fairly reasonable explanation). We’d wait for her to return. We’d come home from school and work, crouch by the stairs, and say hello.

paper wasp

Hey, girl.

We liked her. We watched as she built her little paper-wasp nest, a tiny bit bigger by the week. She worked tirelessly. Cole and I looked up how these cool insects makes their homes and how that’s where they lay their eggs. We learned the difference between wasps, hornets, bees, and carpenter bees.

paper wasp nest

Bird by bird, she builds.

Last week, one of Cole’s friends killed the wasp. After an afternoon of playing, the boys walked up the stairs before me. I carried two scooters and a skateboard. Cole cried out, sat down on the stairs. I knew what had happened before I climbed up beside him. He didn’t understand. He couldn’t.

“It was going to sting me!” His friend exclaims, indignant.

“She would never sting you. I loved her.” Cole looks into her nest. “She has eggs.”

I ushered the boys inside. I was pissed. I was sad. I wanted to scream at the kid. I didn’t, but it hurt my heart. It was a shitty thing to do. It was a thoughtless thing to do. It’s also… what most little boys do.

That night Cole, Matt, and I went to dinner later at Atlanta Bread Company. On his menu, Cole drew the wasp. He wrote her a note. Later, after his dad picked him up, I took our friend from the stairs, her body a squashed mess, and I put her by a big oak tree. I said I was sorry. And all along, I wondered if I had completely lost my fucking mind.

love the wasp

“I love you wasp.” That purple bit that looks like, uh, Texas is the step, with her nest dangling from it.

I don’t think so, though. It was a life. I’ve taught Cole that we don’t kill — not on purpose, ever. We take bugs outside and release them. We help where we can. We respect all life. And this wasp, over the course of two months, had become part of our daily routine; she brought us joy. It was a little life, but it was a life. We watched her work hard, day after day, to do her waspy thing. She hurt no one.

And while the life of a common paper wasp is insignificant to most, I’d imagine, and worthless to more, I’m glad that we grieved. I’m glad that we care. I’m proud of the boy.

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A thousand conversations

“I wish you could have been there for the sun & the rain & the long, hard hills. For the sound of a thousand conversations scattered along the road. For the people laughing & crying & remembering at the end. But, mainly, I wish you could have been there.”  -Andreas

I am nearly two days late with the brief Mother’s Day post that’s been simmering for a week or more. And now I’m tired, on the verge of sleep but if I wait another day it’ll be another little piece that never gets written. I do that.

I couldn’t be more fortunate to have the mom I do. What sort of amazing woman takes an eleven-year-old child into her home, integrates her into the family and never, for an instant, makes that child feel any less than one of the girls? And how wondrous is it that my mother was my mother’s best friend, and now mine? When I forget—the way my mom laughed or what she believed in or how much she loved me—I have another mother to remind me. How precious that is to me.

But I miss my mom, my first mom. My mommy. I miss her more today than I did ten years ago. It waxes and wanes, the missing, but it’s never far. And when the missing comes, it crashes into me. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I smile. Sometimes I think of the life that I’d have now had she not gone so soon. Sometimes I’m lost and quiet for days. Mostly I ache to hear her laugh and smell her perfume and feel her arms and trace the veins in her hand as I once did in the hard church pew during the sermon. To trace them now with adult fingers.

When I was young, she had a sepia-colored picture of her own mother in a turquoise frame atop her dresser. I never met my grandmother, but my mom spoke of her often. And she told me that while her own mother had been gone for years, not a day passed that my mother didn’t think of her, and not a day passed that she wasn’t missed.

I understand that now.

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The bullshit of innocence

I think about childhood a lot. I think about childhood a lot because becoming a parent meant, in many ways, that I was granted a front-row, second-person version of childhood. I get to do it again, this time without the first-person pain. And yet, as a mother, I get a new sort of a pain, the sort that only comes from the poignant distance of being the invested, one-woman audience of another person’s show.

Maurice Sendak died today. I’m very rarely moved by the death of those celebrities immortalized on Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and countless blogs calling out to the world. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s that I don’t really care.

Yet hearing of Sendak’s passing, I paused. I dug the guy. I liked his curmudgeonly persona. I identify with his view of children. This is a dude who didn’t hesitate to write to the darker corners of childhood, a man who didn’t shy away from treating children as what they are: people. He wrote of monsters and isolation, rupture and anger.

He was honest. I think (and I am well aware that it’s a tad presumptuous for me to assert this) that he was honest for the same reason I give it to the Kaiser straight. Kids know. They understand subtlety and metaphor.

“We’ve educated children to think that spontaneity is inappropriate. Children are willing to expose themselves to experiences. We aren’t. Grownups always say they protect their children, but they’re really protecting themselves. Besides, you can’t protect children. They know everything.”

Honest.

Children are tough.

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