An Afternoon with Arthur

I looked out the window on Saturday during “post-tropical storm Arthur” and noticed that there were small-to-middling sized branches on the ground all around my car. I was concerned about the windows.

I said to my mother, “Um. Do you think that the cars should be parked directly under the trees?”

“Hm. Maybe not. Let me check and see what your father thinks.”

She went out to the motor home, to which my father had retreated for some peace and quiet in the middle of the storm. (Apparently my children are noisier than a post-tropical storm.) He came in and we briefly conversed about where else we might put the cars, gathered keys, and went to the back door. I opened it, and discovered that the lull in the storm was no more.

Rain was going past in sheets, horizontally. Branches whipped in the wind. It looked like stock footage of a storm. I stood there with the door knob in my hand for a moment, and said, “I’m not entirely convinced we should go out in that… “

I had just decided that the cars were going to have to fend for themselves, and started to close the door. “Maybe if there’s another lu…”

CRASH!!!

“Something fell on the house!” I said.

“I don’t think so,” said my mother. “This tool just fell off the dryer…”

“Something fell off the house?”

“I don’t…” said my father.

“Well, something happened to the house,” I insisted. (1)

I shuffled the kids back into the living room at the middle of the house, because I wasn’t sure what had happened. But I wanted them to be away from whatever it was. “Why?” they said. “Because!” “But why can’t we go outside and look?” “Because!” “But why?” “Because sometimes you just have to listen to what we say!” “But why?!” “Sometimes you just have to do what we say so you don’t die!” (I heard giggling as I walked back out of the living room. Not sure I got through to them, but they sat still for a couple of minutes.)

Assessed that the power was out. Unsurprising. Looked out the window. Wind roaring, water sheeting, branches tossed like so many sheets of paper.

“That tree across the road came down on the power line,” said my father. “The motor home looks a little… flat.” After a couple of hours of him sneaking out during lulls (against my protests that we couldn’t do anything about it anyway, and clearly they were temporary), he established that the CRASH had been the sound of the electrical mains coming off the house, and the stud they were attached to snapping in half and flying across the bedroom where my kids had earlier been watching a movie.

Just to reiterate all the things that didn’t go wrong: My father was not crushed by a tree in the motor home. Nobody was killed by a tree falling on them while they moved a car. My children were not impaled by a flying 2×4. The cars even came out of it intact, if not the motor home. (It wasn’t as flat as it might have been.)

And I have learned never again to succumb to the temptation to “just do a little thing” during a lull in the storm.

Also, if you need me during future storms, I’ll be under something heavy.


1. I heard a DC-10 explode once, and the people I was with that time also insisted that it was nothing to worry about. For the record, it sounded almost nothing like thunder. Sometimes I wonder what other people do consider a noise worth noticing.

Parenting Towards Enlightenment

We, a class of aspiring yoga teachers, are sitting on the floor of the meditation hall at the ashram in India when the conversation turns to the conflict between practice and parenting. “But how,” asks one of the men, “do you work with being here when your children are somewhere else? You have to worry about them, think about them… otherwise…” His hands go up in a gesture of helplessness. I (chagrined) admit a moment of surprise, because this is usually a conversation had amongst mothers, and to hear a man in a traditionally patriarchal society express the same concerns brings me back to reality. Parenting is this agreement we all make, described by Elizabeth Stone as letting your heart walk around outside of yourself.

I try to take it up, this question. How do you be here when they are elsewhere? How did I justify leaving my three children for an entire month to go to the other side of the planet where (it turns out) I will be unsuccessful even at finding the post office to send home the promised letters, let alone making a weekly phone call? And how is this search for myself related to my search for their mother, hidden somewhere inside me?

The teacher offers mother-love, the mythic, all-giving, all-merging force. The Mother, she says, sacrifices of herself for the sake of her children. The boundaries blur, her self is merged with that of her children, the Love is complete.

“No, no!” my inward protest screams. “That’s a recipe for disaster! Don’t you understand? Mothering must include the art of letting go, of moving from a place of merging, where even yourbodies are shared, to letting thinner and thinner tendrils connect you… it is a process by which you remain and become separate people.”

What I actually say, stumbling, is something like, “I need to have faith that I am not the only one. My children are surrounded by a web of other adults who support their growth. And worrying about them isn’t really about them. It is a superstitious belief that I can somehow influence their environment, keep them safe simply by fearing that they might not be. That just keeping them in the background of my awareness is somehow necessary to maintain the relationship to them. It is, in fact, taking care of the fear that if I stop that worrying, even for a moment, it is a sign that I don’t care.”

Despite years of education and training, daily exposure to cynicism and a tendency to a too-scientific view of the world, my superstitions run deep.
When my children were infants, I was afraid to sleep, believing somehow that their continued existence in the world relied on my sheer force of will. I’d like to say that this improved by number three, but it didn’t really. Some nights, even now, I peek into the children’s rooms on the way down the hall, just to make sure that I haven’t imagined the whole thing, and that no thief has come in the night, stealing these parts of my heart. There they all lie, even the 13 year old whose feet are now larger than mine, breathing quietly all these years later, with no effort on my part. I name this fear, that if I glance away, even for a moment, if I fail to show my appreciation, maybe they will be taken from me. Better not to chance it.

***

When my mother came to meet my first son, mere hours old, I held him up and said, “Hey, Mom! Look what I made!” She grinned. I grinned. We were as proud as when we shared my macaroni-and-handprint crafts in kindergarten. Yet even in that placental space, it’s not quite true that “I” made “him”. I had to walk through the world and gather the molecules from which my son would assemble himself, according to codes so complex that we don’t yet understand them. In this process I was neither the agent nor a mere vessel: he and I grew as entwined systems, evolving, communicating, sharing the resources of time and energy. It continues even now, as my limited time must be allocated among family members and my ever-growing list of projects, becoming myself among them.

In the varied practices of meditation and yoga, I learn to hold up my motivations to my own internal scrutiny. On the one hand, I don’t want to be a mother who treats her children as an extension of herself. This is an easy mistake to make, in a world in which we are judged based on our children’s behaviours. I admit feeling a pinch of pride when older women stop me in restaurants to say, “Your children are so polite.” (I even put it in here. You may call me on it.) Yet I pat myself on the back for having chosen to let them grow away from me organically. I take a certain amount of satisfaction in having faith that they will be OK for a month, even while feeling like I should probably miss them more.

It is a matter of some effort, placing my awareness on this ever-shifting boundary: where do I stop and you begin, child of mine? When I do this thing for you (whatever it is) am I responding to an actual need, or am I projecting one of my needs upon you? Worse, am I doing it to prove something to myself or the world around me, that I am able to play this role, that I am worthy to be this Mother of myth?

Which brings me back to that ashram in India. There is a message for my children even in my absence, and it is this: Someday you will be adults and you will leave me. We are in this for the long haul, you and I, but one of my tasks is to grow away from you, so that when you leave the parting will be gentle. The motion of two human beings, having walked together for so long, finally walking apart.

And in the meantime, as in so much of our practice, the instructions are, “Not too tight, not too loose.”

Wordless Wednesday: Playing Science

I particularly like the fluffy slippers with rhinestones. Nice touch for the lab.

Examining. Something.

"Now, look thoughtful," she said.

About That Beer…

Remember when I told you that I got lost on the way to a major national monument, and took 45 minutes to go the last kilometer on foot, and that I wouldn’t tell you the story without beer? I totally lied, because I looked at the pictures again. Seriously, how could I resist this:
Wading in the glacial meltwater

“It’s not that cold,” she said. That’s glacial meltwater, but she was comparing it to Lake Superior, which hovers at a cool 4 degrees Celsius. I guess that when you get that close to freezing, the feet can’t tell the difference.

Then I turned around and saw my son doing his very best impression of a snarly teenager:

“I will acknowledge,” he said, grudgingly, “that it is very, very, very, very, [he went on like this for some time]… OK.”

“Would it be better than OK, if we hadn’t gotten lost in the swamp and bitten by mosquitoes and gotten our feet wet?” I asked.

He looked at me. “But we did all those things. So that question is not relevant.”

Forever, this will be my memory of:

Lake Louise. Lost. In the swamp. Between the parking lot and the lake. With a snarly near-teen. Go me.

Moral of the story: Sometimes it’s best just to follow the crowd.

Spring Comes, Eventually, With Birds

We’re just going to pretend May didn’t exist, ‘k?

I might talk about it sometime, but suffice it to say that it was a month of profound imbalance, lived largely in vehicles and including an astonishing number of grabbed meals on-the-run, and the gaining of 10 pounds. I’m cranky, irritable, and generally not much fun to be around after that. Also, it felt like it lasted 3 times as long as normal. Let’s put it this way: The most recent weekend included four parties and a school event, on top of swimming classes, spontaneous house guests and a stomach bug. That would be the nature of all the not-writing I’ve been doing for the last 4 weeks.

Ctrl-Alt-Del. Kill processes. I think I need to take the week long workshop on balance that I taught last summer.

***

Spring is finally here (ish) on the east-er coast. Although we had to light a fire in the woodstove this morning, and the plants have stalled out due to an entire month of overcast skies, there was sun yesterday and the black flies are out in force. Also, the new chickens arrived! I am told that they are unsexed Ameraucana and Araucana chicks, so half of them are likely to be roosters. These are astonishingly pretty birds, which look like wee chickens dressed in hawk costumes. They also have green feet, which are super-cute. (And yes, I’m becoming quite mad for chickens.)

They are currently about three weeks old, and are living on a tarp in the corner of the office. They will be moved to the coop tomorrow, we plan, as long as nobody else gets too sick to help with the coop modifications. (Here’s hoping.)

Pictures!

Did I mention that they lay blue eggs? Mad, I tell you. Quite mad.

***

And a quick moment I captured that I wanted to share. When my two children got off the bus yesterday, they both were reading as they came up the driveway. (The younger one is reading The Hobbit. Take that, school, for scolding our family reading habits on report-card day. “Needs to read daily,” indeed. Try and stop them, I say.)

The Mouths of Babes

It has been a strange week in the world of The Dilettante, and my writing has suffered as a result. On the other hand, I had a chance to reconnect with old friends, eat fabulous restaurant food, and revel in one of the great luxuries of our day, a weekend in the city. Upon returning home, though, I’ve been having trouble getting back into the routine of my normal days. I imagine that this, too, shall pass.

In lieu of the Very Long Post Regarding Closets, the getting out of (as opposed to closets, the organizing of, which is almost certain never to make it onto this blog), I give you a report on my last trip to town with the youngest, who shall hereafter in this story be referred to as, “Speaker of Truth”. Yesterday, I and the Speaker of Truth had been admiring the vehicles on display at the mall, and particularly coveting the electric-blue pickup truck. I was describing it to my partner, and said that I would add on a King Cab and an extended bed, thus making it a $70,000 truck. He whistled. I raised my eyebrows. The Speaker of Truth asked, “Do you have $70?” (He can’t quite put together numbers That Big.) I allowed as how, although I had $70, $70,000 was right out. And he, in his infinite wisdom said, bluntly… “Then you can’t have it.” And thus ended the discussion of the electric blue pickup truck.

On the way home, my daughter started talking about all the construction that we were going past, worrying about the number of trees that had been cut to build the houses, and provide the lots. Eventually she said, “When I grow up, me and my friends are going to save the earth.” And the Speaker of Truth said, “But what are you going to DO to save the earth?”

If only we kept a few four-year-olds in parliament, I think that things could go a lot better. But only, of course, if we listened to them.

Growing Outside

Welcome to the May Carnival of Natural Parenting: Growing in the Outdoors

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared how they encourage their children to connect with nature and dig in the dirt. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

***

The second movie finishes mid-afternoon, days and days into a dreary week. I don’t know when we last had sun, but I know that the solar powered battery is run down. At least five days, probably longer. Rain. Rain. The soil is too wet to turn over, let alone plant. Small puddles of water are pooled everywhere that large pools haven’t completely obliterated the lawn.

I wander through the house, feeling agitated. I want to be doing something. I want to plant something. And then I notice my oldest son slipping out the back door, wearing his coat and boots. Several minutes later, he wanders by the window, stick waving wildly, chasing imaginary foes. My daughter notices and heads downstairs. “I’m going out, Mummy!” “Ooh!” says their youngest brother, “Me too!” I insist that he (finally) get dressed after two days in PJ’s. We have been storm stayed, but the cabin fever is winning. Everybody suitably attired, I wander out after them. There is nothing to do, and nowhere to go. We are just wandering, playing, chasing the critters, counting chickens, throwing a stick for the neighbour’s dog. It is so much a part of them that I don’t need to add anything.

I wander down the driveway, and they follow. “Oh! A walk! Let’s go for a walk!” says my daughter. Her brother scrambles after, not to be left out of anything, ever, “Me too!” “You coming?” I ask the orc-slayer. “No,” he says, stick swinging more gently, as is his wont when the younger ones are around. And I know what I need to do to get my children to love the outdoors: nothing.

***

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Get Out!Momma Jorje gives reasons she doesn’t think she gets outside enough and asks for your suggestions on making time for the outdoors.
  • How Does Your Garden Grow?The ArtsyMama shares her love of nature photography.
  • We Go Outside — Amy at Peace 4 Parents describes her family’s simple, experiential approach to encouraging appreciation of nature.
  • My Not-So-Green Thumb — Wolfmother confesses to her lack of gardening skills but expresses hope in learning alongside her son at Fabulous Mama Chronicles.
  • Enjoying Outdoors — Isil at Smiling like Sunshine describes how her children enjoy the nature.
  • Five Ideas to Encourage the Reluctant Junior Gardener — For the rare little ones who don’t like to get their hands dirty, Dionna at Code Name: Mama offers tips for encouraging an early love of dirt (despite the mess).
  • Connecting to NatureMamapoekie shares how growing your own vegetable patch connects your child to nature and urges them to not take anything for granted.
  • The Farmer’s Market Classroom — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction shares how the Farmer’s Market has become her son’s classroom.
  • Seeds — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment‘s hubby Ken shares his perspective on why gardening with their kiddos is so important . . . and enjoyable!
  • Toddlers in the Garden — Laura at A Pug in the Kitchen shares her excitement as she continues to introduce her toddler and new baby to the joys of fresh veggies, straight from the garden.
  • Nature’s Weave — MJ at Wander Wonder Discover explains how nature weaves its way into our lives naturally, magnetically, experientially, and spiritually.
  • Becoming Green — Kristina at Hey Red celebrates and nurtures her daughter’s blossoming love of the outdoors.
  • Little Gardener — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis looks forward to introducing her baby girl to gardening and exploring home grown foods for the first time.
  • Cultivating Abundance — You can never be poor if you have a garden! Lucy at Dreaming Aloud reflects on what she cultivates in her garden . . . and finds it’s a lot more than seeds!
  • Growing in the Outdoors: Plants and People — Luschka at Diary of a First Child reflects on how she is growing while teaching her daughter to appreciate nature, the origins of food, and the many benefits of eating home-grown.
  • How Not to Grow — Anna at Wild Parenting discusses why growing vegetables fills her with fear.
  • Growing in the Outdoors — Lily at Witch Mom Blog talks about how connecting to the natural world is a matter of theology for her family and the ways that they do it.
  • A Garden Made of Straw — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy shares tips on making a straw bale garden.
  • The Tradition of Gardening — Carrie at Love Notes Mama reflects on the gifts that come with the tradition of gardening.
  • Gardening Smells Like Home — Bethy at Bounce Me to the Moon hopes that her son will associate home grown food and lovely flowers with home.
  • The New Normal — Patti at Jazzy Mama writes about how she hopes that growing vegetables in a big city will become totally normal for her children’s generation.
  • Outside, With You — Amy at Anktangle writes a letter to her son, a snapshot of a moment in the garden together.
  • Farmer Boy — Abbie at Farmer’s Daughter shares how her son Joshua helps to grow and raise their family’s food.
  • Growing Kids in the Garden — Lisa at Granola Catholic shares easy ways to get your kids involved in the garden.
  • Growing Food Without a Garden — Don’t have a garden? “You can still grow food!” says Mrs Green of Little Green Blog. Whatever the size of your plot, she shows you how.
  • Growing Things — Liz at Garden Variety Mama shares her reasons for gardening with her kids, even though she has no idea what she’s doing.
  • MomentsUK Mummy Blogger explains how the great outdoors provides a backdrop for her family to reconnect.
  • Condo Kid Turns Composter and Plastic Police — Jessica from Cloth Diapering Mama has discovered that her young son is a true earth lover despite living in a condo with no land to call their own.
  • Gardening with Baby — Sheila at A Gift Universe shows us how her garden and her son are growing.
  • Why to Choose Your Local Farmer’s MarketNaturally Nena shares why she believes it’s important to teach our children the value of local farmers.
  • Unfolding into Nature — At Crunchy-Chewy Mama, Jessica Claire shares her desire to cultivate a reverence for nature through gardening, buying local food, and just looking out the window.
  • Urban Gardening With Kids — Lauren at Hobo Mama shares her strategies for city gardening with little helpers — without a yard but with a whole lot of enthusiasm.
  • Mama Doesn’t Garden — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life is glad her husband is there to instill the joys of gardening in their children, while all she has to do is sit back and eat homegrown tomato sandwiches.
  • Why We Make this Organic Garden Grow — Brenna at Almost All The Truth shares her reasons for gardening with her three small children.
  • 5 Ways to Help Your Baby Develop a Love of the Natural World — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama believes it’s never too early to foster a love of the natural world in your little one.
  • April Showers Bring May PRODUCE — Erika at NaMammaSte discusses her plans for raising a little gardener.
  • Growing Outside — Seonaid at The Practical Dilettante discovers how to get her kids outside after weeks of spring rain.
  • Eating Healthier — Chante at My Natural Motherhood Journey talks about how she learns to eat healthier and encourages her children to do the same.
  • The Beauty of Earth and Heavens — Inspired by Charlotte Mason, Erica at ChildOrganics discovers nature in her own front yard.
  • Seeing the Garden Through the Weeds — Amanda at Let’s Take the Metro talks about the challenges of gardening with two small children.
  • Creating a Living Playhouse: Our Bean Teepee! — Kristin at Intrepid Murmurings shares how her family creates a living playhouse “bean teepee” and includes tips of how to involve kids in gardening projects.
  • Grooming a Tree-Hugger: Introducing the Outdoors — Ana at Pandamoly shares some of her planned strategies for making this spring and summer memorable and productive for her pre-toddler in the Outdoors.
  • Sowing Seeds of Life and Love — Suzannah at ShoutLaughLove celebrates the simple joys of baby chicks, community gardening, and a semi-charmed country life.
  • Experiencing Nature and Growing Plants Outdoors Without a Garden — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares some of her favorite ways her family discovered to fully experience nature wherever they lived.
  • Garden Day — Melissa at The New Mommy Files is thankful to be part of community of families, some of whom can even garden!
  • Teaching Garden Ettiquette to the Locusts — Tashmica from Mother Flippin’ (guest posting at Natural Parents Network) allows her children to ravage her garden every year in the hopes of teaching them a greater lesson about how to treat the world.
  • Why I Play with Worms. — Megan of Megadoula, Megamom and Megatired shares why growing a garden and raising her children go hand in hand.

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