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.

A Grand Scheme

After ten straight hours of bingeing on chocolate eggs, what eventually hatched was a scheme. Lacking a phaeton-and-four, it was a simple plan. (The author has just finished a Jane Austen book, and is thinking of seasides, horse-drawn carriages, and misadventures that result in stays of se’ennight, ending in marriage.)

It began as a casual suggestion on the part of the eldest: “This grass is so soft,” he said, staring up at the sky in the warm light of day. “We should sleep out here.” His younger siblings were immediately on board, catching him in a whim, a bluff, a passing fancy. They started drawing up plans, fancying themselves medieval travellers, caught out-of-doors on a much longer journey. It was a scheme as dreamed up by three children, aged 11, 7, and 4, lacking finesse, but making up for it with gusto. If there were older (or of a more literary bent), I believe they might have phrased it, “What need have we of a tent, mother? We shall survive by our wits alone!” As it was, it came out, “Oh, no. We don’t need anything. We’ve got our snowsuits.”

As the evening progressed, they acknowledged (as in the tradition of great role-playing games) that it might be a good idea to have a tarp in case of rain. And perhaps a bottle of water. And maybe a lantern. But that was it. At dusk, they set off for the back of the lot with their snowsuits in hand, still wearing only pajamas. “No, no!” I cried. “You have to put the snow suits on! Grudgingly, they put on their appropriate clothing for the chilly (getting colder) evening. 10 minutes later, they arrived back at the door, wearing only pajamas. “No,” I said. “If you get too cold, you won’t be able to get warm again. If you are going winter camping, you have to keep warm. You can’t warm up again. Please put the snowsuits back on.” (You can see that I play the part of the mother in this drama.)

The adults set off to light a fire in the pit at the other end of the yard, near where the children have discovered a pine-cone mine.

Several minutes later, the children, drawn to the fire, arrived with pine cones in hand, wishing to see what happened when they roasted them. The fire smoked and failed to catch in the long-unused and wet pit, the children danced around the smoke, trying to add things to the smoldering pile. The father became irritated. So I took a different role in the scheme, going back to the tarp with them. “May I join you on your tarp?” I asked. I was invited into the travelling band. We took up our places, and the middle child volunteered for first watch. We lay on our backs for some time, counting satellites and shooting stars.

The encampment

***

It is genuinely dark by this point, the clouds are parting, and the stars are plentiful above our heads. “You’re allowed to stay, if you want,” they say. “Do you want me to go?” I ask. “Um. A little bit yes, a little bit no,” says the middle child, my intrepid daughter. “No,” says the youngest. “You stay, Mummy.”

The girl has thought to bring a sleeping bag, and the youngest child becomes jealous. The oldest goes back to the house for blankets, and returns with a single light-weight polar fleece sleeping bag, into which the youngest is dutifully zipped. Laying on the ground (also in my snowsuit) I discover that a snowsuit and tarp alone will not keep the cold out of your legs. A 4-year old in a sleeping bag, however, makes a marvelous blanket. I recommend it. Eventually, though, my blanket loses his youthful enthusiasm, and starts conjuring canines hiding in the dark. “It’s too dark, Mummy. When the lights go out, you should be in the house.” It is decided. I will take him in, and bring back more blankets for the rest of the troupe. “Do you want me to come back?” The loons are making a racket on the river, the frogs are hollering at the tops of their lungs, and the mysterious howls of the neighbourhood dogs have started up. In short, the dark in our yard is starting to remind them that we live at the edge of the forest.

“I think I do,” says the oldest. “Yes,” says my intrepid daughter. “You can come back.”

I arrive back to find that they have (once again) removed their snowsuits and are wrapped up in the thin blankets over their pajamas. “Mom” comes  out. “Put the snowsuit on. Do you remember the other day when you refused to wear a jacket and then you got so cold it made you cry and then you had to stand in the shower for 20 minutes to warm back up??? You can’t warm yourself back up if you get that cold! It’s dangerous!” (Why? Why is this an argument? Do kids LIKE getting hypothermia? I don’t understand, at all!) And, I fear, completely contrary to the spirit of the thing, I lay down the law. “You are not allowed to sleep outside unless you put your snowsuit back on and don’t take it off again.”

This is exactly why we don’t take our mothers along when hatching a scheme.

On the other hand, at least I provide a logical person to take first watch. After the snowsuits are (once more) grudgingly (once more) donned, we settle back down, with extra blankets. I can now report that a 4-layer tarp, plus double wool blanket, plus polar fleece wrap, plus snowpants will keep the cold out, at least when it is just below freezing. My nose is very, very cold, though. I’m a terrible night watch. I start falling asleep almost immediately, and keee pulling the blanket over my head. My eyes start to droop in a matter of minutes. “I don’t think I can take first watch. How about you,” I ask the oldest, initiator of the whole plan. “I’ll do it!” he says. A few minutes later, the daughter says, “I can’t sleep anyway. I’ll take first watch.”

A couple of minutes later, I ask, “What are we watching for?” “Oh, you know,” she says, breezily. “Coyotes. Foxes.” “What are you going to do if you see one?” “Mummy,” she says, and I can hear her hands on her hips and her rolled eyes. “We have a big stick, and we’re right next to the house. Besides, they’re more scared of us than we are of them.”

I’m not convinced, but I’m not going to let my irrational fears jeopardize a good scheme. Hypothermia from sleeping outside without proper protection? Likely. Coyote attack? Not worth the energy to conjure the thought.

It is only about four more minutes before things start to fall apart. “OK. I’m tired,” she says. “Somebody else take over the watch.” My son says maybe we should huddle for warmth. It is the beginning of the end. A few more minutes pass, me still staring straight up at the sky through the tiny gap in the blanket wrapped around my head. My son says, “I’m going in the house.” “Are you cold?” “Yes.” And he is up and gone. (Although, it turns out, to the still-blazing bonfire, not the house. Warmth and light are what he seeks.)

This leaves my daughter and I at opposite ends of the tarp, staring at the starry sky. “Are you cold?” I ask. “Not really,” she says. She pauses. “Do you want to come and snuggle with me?” I ask. “I guess so.”

So we rearrange the blankets and lie there for a few more minutes. “I think I’m ready to go in, now,” she says. “Only, could you go first?” “You want me to leave you here?” “Yes. But just for a few minutes. I want to come across the yard by myself. It might be a bit scary, but I want to try it.”

So I leave my middle child in the dark in the middle of a field… the one who is the thrill-seeker, the one that we think we’d better channel into extreme sports before she finds other things to fill that need. Right now, walking across the back yard in the dark by herself fills that need. And I go into the house. And a few minutes later, doesn’t she show up at the back door, carrying her snowsuit and sleeping bag, dressed only in pajamas? “That,” she says breathlessly, “was a little bit scary!”

The Vital White Sauce

I have been teaching my children to cook since they were very small. It is one of the greatest gifts I can imagine giving them, since it is a skill that leads to cheaper food, more control over their preferences, and healthier eating. Even if they cook something high in fat and sugar, it won’t begin to rival most prepared foods in potential health damage. I’ve been thinking about what constitutes basic cooking skills, and I think that we need to reach higher to reintegrate things that are currently considered advanced, and bring them back to the daily kitchen.

For example, I have frequently claimed that making a white sauce is the only useful thing I learned in junior high. It’s not quite true: I can think of two other things I learned in junior high, and they were both from Home Ec as well. I’m sure I learned other things in those three years, but these are the skills that I remember learning. (The other two were 1. not overmixing muffins, which is also useful for pancakes and biscuits, and 2. taking in a ruffle, which is good for seam easement, joining curves, and setting in sleeves.)

I’m not going to give a guide to making white sauce, because there are many other places to learn that already. For example, there is a very nice video here that demonstrates the basic technique:

Now that you know that, you’ve got limitless potential. Because you can substitute, add, season, and make all kinds of other sauces starting with that skill. Here is a list of 5 variations on a white sauce:

  1. A la vongole (that’s clams for the English among us): Add garlic to the butter before the flour goes in and fry it briefly, not to brown, just translucent. If you are using canned clams, use the juice from the clams in place of the first portion of milk, and add milk to get to the right consistency. After the sauce is complete, add the clams. If you are using steamed clams, use the steaming water/wine, as long as it isn’t sandy.
  2. Cheese sauce: After the white sauce is complete, add enough cheese to make you happy. This can be poured over macaroni or used on cauliflower. Use straight up or bake until bubbly.
  3. Mushroom wine sauce: fry mushrooms until soft in the butter (again, before you add the flour). You can either use a small number of mushrooms, or increase the amount of butter and take the mushrooms out while you make the sauce. Here’s the beauty: you can use red wine entirely in place of the milk and get a completely different sauce, but the technique is exactly the same.
  4. Garlic (as in 1). Parmesan (as in 2). Dash of cream if you want to boost the fat content. Yum. Alfredo sauce.
  5. Vegan: You can start with olive oil and flour to make your roux. It will still thicken. I have made sauces with veggie stock, and with soy milk, and they come out fine, but different. The stock makes a translucent sauce, but it still tastes great and makes a good base for pasta toppings, or casseroles. Don’t use vanilla soy milk by accident. Trust me, it’s weird. Although you could probably make an interesting dessert sauce this way, starting with something blander than olive oil and adding a bit of powdered sugar or cocoa… ooooh. Now I’ve got a whole new batch of ideas.

See? The options are limited only by your imagination. Most useful cooking skill, ever!

Advocacy? Me?

Welcome to the April Carnival of Natural Parenting: Compassionate Advocacy

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 advocate for healthy, gentle parenting choices compassionately. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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The theme for this month’s Carnival of Natural Parenting has me a little stumped. Yeah! Me! I thought I had an opinion on everything. (That’s been one of the favoured code lines for “shut up” most of my adult life.) The theme of Compassionate Advocacy appeals to me intellectually. I love advocates and The Loud! I love The Compassionate even more. It just isn’t quite the way that I think of myself. I don’t consider myself an intactivist or a lactivist, for example, although I certainly invited the woman who was about to bundle her hungry baby out of the library to make herself comfortable and talk books while they nursed. But I didn’t become a La Leche League leader, or crusader for women’s health. I just talk about breastfeeding in the moment, one person at a time.

Most of the time, I forget that all of this isn’t “normal”. I was listening to a discussion on circumcision on the radio this evening, and I was shocked. I didn’t choose circumcision because it never occurred to me. It never occurred to me not to breastfeed, or not to carry my infants, or not to sleep with them, or (conversely) to have an epidural, or an IV, or a bassinet, or a nurse whisking my baby away to be cleaned up. (OK. The possible superior wisdom of the epidural occurred to me once, during transition, when I was throwing up into my bathroom sink, but it passed after a couple of contractions.) I was offered all of those things, of course, at my hospital pre-registration, but I responded with such horror that the nursing staff threw up their hands in despair, labelled me “One of THOSE” and washed their hands of me.

I guess that what passes for advocacy in my world is more that I am obviously One of THOSE: Vegetarian lunches with whole-grain bread? In kindergarten? A table at the farmer’s market? Chickens? Home birth when the province hadn’t yet ironed out the midwifery legislation? What kind of mother is that woman?

When pressed to think about it, I must admit that by living my life differently, I hope that I’m offering people the chance to do the same. I’m certainly not doing it for the glamour of the rural life or for the praise that comes with being the weird mom. But I do think that the world could be happier, and children could be healthier, if more people felt comfortable making more natural choices. So I do whatever I’m going to do, but I don’t hide it to make other people more comfortable. Because people can only choose among what they know is possible.

So when I was offered a quiet chair in back to breastfeed my newborn (in the waiting room at the hospital!) I merely politely declined and continued on my merry nursing way. We carried our children everywhere in soft front carriers, a big backpack, or a bicycle trailer, and only used the infant car seat to deal with the problem of safe restraint in the car. We slept with the babies, declining a crib and opting instead for a king-sized bed. We had midwives for our births, and two of the children were born at home, and we talk about all of this stuff again and again and again because people seem to be curious… but mostly I just keep doing my thing. And it seems to be working.

***

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:

  • Natural Parenting Advocacy by Example — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction uses her blog, Twitter and Facebook as her natural parenting soapbox.
  • You Catch More Flies With Honey — When it comes to natural parenting advice, Kate of The Guavalicious Life believes you catch more flies with honey.
  • From the Heart — Patti at Jazzy Mama searches her heart for an appropriate response when she learns that someone she respects wants his baby to cry-it-out.
  • I Offer the Truth — Amy at Innate Wholeness shares the hard truths to inspire parents in making changes and fully appreciating the parenting experience.
  • Advocating or Just Opinionated?Momma Jorje discusses how to draw the line between advocating compassionately and being just plain opinionated. It can be quite a fine line.
  • Compassionate Advocacy — Mamapoekie of Authentic Parenting writes about how to discuss topics you are passionate about with people who don’t share your views.
  • Heiny Helpers: Sharing Cloth Love — Heiny Helpers is guest posting on Natural Parents Network to share how they are providing cloth diapers and cloth diapering support to low income families.
  • Struggling with Advocacy — April of McApril still struggles to determine how strongly she should advocate for her causes, but still loves to show her love for her parenting choices to those who would like to listen.
  • Compassionate Advocacy Through Blogging (AKA –Why I Blog) — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares how both blogging and day-to-day life give her opportunities to compassionately advocate for natural parenting practices.
  • A Letter to *Those* Parents — Zoie at TouchstoneZ shares how to write an informed yet respectful reply to those parents — you know, the ones who don’t parent the way you do.
  • Why I Am Not A Homebirth Advocate — Olivia at Write About Birth is coming out: she is a homebirth mom, but not a homebirth advocate. One size does not fit all – but choice is something we can all advocate for!
  • Why I Open My Big Mouth — Wolfmother from Fabulous Mama Chronicles reflects on why she is passionate about sharing parenting resources.
  • Watching and Wearing — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life advocates the joys of babywearing simply by living life in a small college town.
  • Compassionate Advocacy . . . That’s The Way I Do It — Amyables at Toddler in Tow describes how she’s learned to forsake judgment and channel her social energy to spread the “good news” of natural parenting through interaction and shared experiences.
  • Compelling without repelling — Lauren at Hobo Mama cringes when she thinks of the obnoxious way she used to berate people into seeing her point of view.
  • I Am the Change — Amanda at Let’s Take the Metro describes a recent awakening where she realized exactly how to advocate for natural parenting.
  • Public Displays of CompassionThe Accidental Natural Mama recounts an emotional trip to the grocery store and the importance of staying calm and compassionate in the storm of toddler emotions.
  • I will not hide behind my persona — Suzi Leigh at Attached at the Boob discusses the benefits of being honest and compassionate on the internet.
  • Choosing My Words — Jenny at Chronicles of a Nursing Mom shares why she started her blog and why she continues to blog despite an increasingly hectic schedule.
  • Honour the Child :: Compassionate Advocacy in the Classroom — Lori at Beneath the Rowan Tree shares her experience of being a gentle and compassionate parent — with other people’s children — as a classroom volunteer in her daughter’s senior kindergarten room.
  • Inspired by the Great Divide (and Hoping to Inspire) — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis shares her thoughts on navigating the “great divide” through gently teaching and being teachable.
  • Introverted Advocacy — CatholicMommy at Working to be Worthy shares how she advocates for gentle parenting, even though she is about as introverted as one can be.
  • The Three R’s of Effective and Gentle Advocacy — Ana at Pandamoly explains how “The Three R’s” can yield consistent results and endless inspiration to those in need of some change.
  • Passionate and Compassionate: How do We do It? — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy shares the importance of understanding your motivation for advocacy.
  • Sharing the love — Isil at Smiling Like Sunshine talks about how she shares the love and spreads the word.
  • What Frank Said — Nada at miniMOMist has a good friend named Frank. She uses his famous saying to demonstrate how much natural parenting has benefited her and her family.
  • Baby Sling Carriers Make Great Compassionate Advocacy Tools — Chante at My Natural Motherhood Journey shared her babywearing knowledge — and her sling — with a new mom.
  • Everyday Superheroes — Who needs Superman when we have a community of compassionate advocates?! Dionna at Code Name: Mama believes that our community of gentle bloggers are the true superheroes.
  • Words of advice: compassionately advocating for my parenting choices — MrsH at Fleeting Moments waits to give advice until she’s been asked, resulting in fewer advocacy moments but very high responsiveness from parents all over the spectrum of parenting approaches.
  • Peaceful Parenting — Peaceful parenting shows at Living Peacefully with Children with an atypical comment from a stranger.
  • Speaking for birth — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud soul-searches about how she can advocate for natural birth without causing offense.
  • Gentle is as Gentle Does — Laura at A Pug in the Kitchen shares how she is gently advocating her parenting style.
  • Walking on Air — Rachael at The Variegated Life wants you to know that she has no idea what she’s doing — and it’s a gift.
  • Parenting with my head, my heart, and my gut — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares her thoughts on being a compassionate advocate of natural parenting as a blogger.
  • At Peace With the World — Megan at Ichigo Means Strawberry talks about being an advocate for peaceful parenting at 10,000 feet.
  • Putting a public face on “holistic” — Being public about her convictions is a must for Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama, but it takes some delicacy.
  • Just Be; Just Do. — Amy at Anktangle believes strongly about her parenting methods, and also that the way to get people to take notice is to simply live her life and parent the best she knows how.
  • One Parent at a Time… — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment believes that advocating for Natural Parenting is best accomplished by walking the walk.
  • Self-compassion — We’re great at caring for and supporting others —from our kiddos to other mamas — but Lisa at Gems of Delight shares a post about treating ourselves with that same sense of compassion.
  • Using Montessori Principles to Advocate Natural Parenting — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells how she uses Montessori principles to be a compassionate advocate for natural parenting.
  • Advocacy? Me? — Seonaid at The Practical Dilettante discovers that by “just doing her thing,” she may be advocating for natural parenting.
  • Feeding by Example — Mama Mo at Attached at the Nip shares her experience of being the first one of her generation to parent.
  • Compassionate Consumerism — Erica at ChildOrganics encourages her children to be compassionate consumers and discusses the benefits of buying local and fair trade products.
  • The Importance of Advocating Compassionately — Kristen at Adventures in Mommyhood acts as a compassionate advocate by sharing information with many in the hopes of reaching a few.
  • Some Thoughts on Gentle Discipline — Darcel at The Mahogany Way shares her thoughts and some tips on Gentle Discipline.
  • Compassionate Advocacy: Sharing Resources, Spreading the Love — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle shares how her passion for making natural choices in pregnancy, birth, and parenting have supported others in Dominica and beyond.
  • A journey to compassion and connection — Jessica at Instead of Institutions shares her journey from know-it-all to authentic advocacy.
  • Advocacy Through Openness, Respect, and Understanding — Melissa at The New Mommy Files describes her view on belief, and how it has shaped the way she advocates for gentle parenting choices.
  • Why I’m not an advocate for Natural Parenting — Mrs Green at Little Green Blog delivers the shocking news that, after 10 years of being a mum, she is NOT an advocate for natural parenting!
  • Natural Love Creates Natural Happiness — A picture is worth a thousand words, but how about a smile, or a giggle, or a gaze? Jessica at Cloth Diapering Mama’s kids are extremely social and their natural happiness is very obvious.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting: Compassionate Advocacy — Even in the progressive SF Bay Area, Lily at Witch Mom finds she must defend some of her parenting choices.
  • A Tale of Four Milky Mamas — In this post The ArtsyMama shares how she has found ways to repay her childhood friend for the gift of milk.
  • don’t tell me what to do — Pecky at benny and bex demonstrates compassionate advocacy through leading by example.

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