Marching Forth


It’s always true. When you just get outside, something magical will always happen.

I almost didn’t go out. There was the knitting. The couch. The warm wood stove. The sharp wind.

But all of this amazingness was OUT THERE! I was thinking a lot about some special friends in my life while I was walking. Wishing so much Carrie was with me to admire this beauty.

{Are you freaking seeing this? For real?!}

Parenting from afar is new for me. (Oh sure, there’s still plenty of parenting to do right here at home. Don’t worry.) The hardest part about faraway parenting is striking the right balance: giving enough space, but also wanting to stay connected. Communication often happens digitally via text, by phone or FaceTime, sometimes inconsistently, and occasionally with urgency and all-caps.

As in (text):
MOM!
Or recently, when there was a very important message to deliver and all other forms of communication had failed, on his Facebook wall:
JONAS!!!! Call home.

I will always take his calls and I will always answer his messages as soon as I see them. When I don’t hear from him, I assume everything is fine.

I’ve been listening to Hamilton on repeat, as everyone in the world has. Loving it, just like everybody. I have to skip a couple of songs though, if I don’t want to get the twinkles in my eyes. This one, about his children: “Philip you outshine the morning sun, my son.” Sends me right over. Also, the terrible song where Hamilton’s son Philip has been shot in a duel and his mother is holding him as he dies in her arms. Any mom’s worst nightmare.

Worse than Eponine’s death in Les Mis! Any mom’s second-worst nightmare!

One of my favorite lines is one of King George’s, when he is singing to America:
“I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.”
I’m knitting a new sweater, with some yarn I got with a birthday gift certificate to my local yarn shop, The Cashmere Goat. One of the best presents to get! So far, not much ripping out, but it’s no doubt in the future of this project somewhere. It is one of Kate Davies’ yoke patterns: Asta Sollilja. The beauty of modern times was that I got digital access to all of the patterns as soon as I had ordered the book online. I am delighting in reading about the history and cultural significance of yoked garments.

But really. This:

Advertisements

–throwback–

~I have rekindled my admiration of moss because of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses~

Sometimes this time of year makes me a little weepy. And it’s often related to hearing music. No, not the silly stuff from the radio that I like to torture the family with, but the music that captures something haunting and quiet and dark and lonely (e.g. the Huron Carol and Balulalow). One time I was hugging a friend after the winter school assembly and I just burst into tears.Here’s a story, something that I was told. There was once a group of 6th graders, in early December. A teacher, not their class teacher, asked a little flippantly, “None of you still believe in _______[insert your choice of childhood mythical figure], right?” The class became still except for the one child who fled the room in tears. There were most likely others still holding onto the magic, even though they knew or suspected. I remember pretending to believe because I didn’t really know how to make it known that I didn’t. I remember feeling a little embarrassed that I did know, but that they didn’t know I knew. But in this class, they were all fiercely protective of each other’s belief. And how lucky to hold onto that innocence for so long! But also, how lucky to be held in such a caring and protective group of peers.The teacher left the room to go after the child. And soon, another adult came in. He asked what was going on in the silent room. Jonas answered: “Something terrible has happened.”That night our family attended a beautiful holiday concert: candlelit, in a church, with 16 extremely talented high school chamber singers. I remember that we were not sitting in our usual area of the church (back left), but up in the front right that year. Most years I usually find some water leaking out of my eyes during this concert; it just happens. On those terrible wooden pews, too narrow for anyone’s adult-sized bottom, with our two boys leaning in, listening to those voices in the glow of the candles, I was aware of the moment. Jonas was not still a believer, though he hadn’t admitted it yet. That day a threshold had been crossed.But it wasn’t the obvious loss of innocence that moved me that night. It was what happened after, when Jonas stepped forward to speak for the group: stepping into a role, assessing the ramifications of what had happened immediately, and then responding. Hearing about this gesture broke my heart open a little bit because it was about growing up and also into something new.The same sense he had when I spotted the rat’s tail hanging out of a crack in the ceiling in our old house. He and Mr. Crafty were on the couch, reading. And I was about to head to bed when I saw the long pink tail hanging down like the most horrible mistletoe you ever saw, a pink shoelace. Right in front of me. “This is my worst nightmare happening right now,” I whispered to them. They both looked up, took in my scream-whisper and my freaked-out attention on the pink tail. Jonas got up immediately and steered me by the elbow, hustling me out of the room, and back into the safety of the kitchen, “Come on, Mom, let’s go. Dad will take care of it.” Mr. Crafty got up to figure out what the heck to do. Both of them proved their heroism that night, but in Jonas it was something new, and again, a very quick sort of assessment and responsive action, with a fierce protectiveness. (Mr. Crafty, of course, is my longtime hero, proven many times in our long association.)Sometimes the growing happens right in front of our eyes.

~in the darkness~

{make your own caption}

I’ve been thinking a lot about mistakes and accidents lately. These unexpected events that happen all of our lives, wild cards of chance or fate or karma or just one moment of our own inattention or thoughtlessness. Ugh. They’ll just keep happening to us, like change, until we’re dead. I’ve had my share.

SONY DSC
{the naughty face on the right is the very same one he’s always had}

In those moments, just after the thing occurs, there’s the shock of it: “Hold on! Wait! Time out!!! Just seconds ago, I was going about my life! I had plans for this day that were not about calling insurance agencies! Or sweeping up the pile of spilled salt in the hectic middle of the making a stir-fry!”SONY DSC

SONY DSCBut these are the easy ones, right? The mistakes and accidents  remedied with phone calls or a dustpan are the ones that are inconvenient, but fixable with time and patience for banalities. (For the phone calls, pro-tip: have your knitting handy for all that time spent on hold.)SONY DSCBut the ones that are the hardest are when I know that my mistake has hurt another person. There’s shame and embarrassment, disappointment in myself, and the physical response for me is sort of a clenching in my heart. It literally takes my breath away. As a person who prides myself on attending to details, thinking of others, anticipating what will be needed, and sometimes verging into perfectionism, it can be hard to forgive myself. Because it would be one thing if I was mostly oblivious all the time, but I try very hard to pay attention.

But not always. In that awful moment when we are feeling the clenching heart and the waves of shame, we have an opportunity to be present with our own darkness (like Brené Brown describes in her new book Rising Strong), a choice to be there for ourselves at our worst, even before we get back into our head and figure out what to do next. Brown suggests articulating your inner monologue, prefacing it with the story I’m telling myself right now, for example: “The story I’m telling myself right now is that everyone will be disappointed in me.” Because if I frame it like that, I have the option to consider that it might not be totally the truth. Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves sound really silly/crazy/ridiculous when we speak them out loud.SONY DSCFamily portraits will be coming in the mailbox soon for the holidays. I treasure them! I love looking at the babies growing up, the teenagers trying out their new noses for 2015, the choice of outfits (matching? not?), the way the resemblances to parents and siblings come and go. But look at some of these holiday photo outtakes in this post. They’re not polished perfection for a postcard (ugh, orange shirt), instead they are a portrait of the 99% of who these brothers are with each other: silly, goofy, teasing, enduring, annoying, annoyed, and yes, finally, and always, loving. SONY DSC

we are all squirrels here

Mr. Squirrel likes to have resources stored away. When I was nursing, there was nothing he delighted in more than taking a peek at the freezer stash of milk bags. Sure, he liked to see them all in there because it meant he could feed our boy from a bottle. But the real thrill was knowing that there was a stash saved up. He likes pesto and blueberries in the freezer, he likes wood piles, he likes the physical evidence of our survival for the future.

I mean, it’s great! But not really my kind of thrill.

This Squirrel, by contrast, likes to make things. Yes, sewing skirts again! These are # 8 and #9 Barcelona Skirts by Amy Butler. They are modified, of course. I started making 19″ versions a while back, something shorter and more fun. And also thrifty, because as you can see here you can get two skirts by cutting your fabric yardage down the center crease!
  
They are lined, and with a contrast color zipper in back. Notice this beautiful roundy blue and white print? It was a tea towel given to me by Miss Joanie, way back. And I knew upon sight that I would never use it as a tea towel — the pattern was way too pleasing and it would need to be something to wear or carry. Also because: Miss Joanie Magic.

And more inspiration came from B., who had whipped out her own new skirt of this lightweight denim with an offset contrast band like the one at left. Mind-blowing idea. This is a friend who has an extremely busy life and is unbelievably talented at everything she does (and yet pretty mellow about all of her excellence) and she recently embarked on a new adventure of her own…and I was thinking, wow, I could be sewing too.

But because I’m me, certainly talented in my own right but not very spatial or numerical in my intelligence (unlike B.), I needed a lot of mathematical support from Mr. Squirrel the Math Teacher about how to cut out the contrast fabrics. I COULD have figured it out on my own, but I might have needed to construct a paper model to have it make sense to me.

And after years of feeling really irritated by the strangely shaped, awkwardly sized, spiraling, knotty, or otherwise unusual pieces of wood that do not fit nicely with their straight and narrow compatriots, and generally tossing them behind the pristine woodpile, I have come up with a solution. We now have a Fly Your Freak Flag Woodpile, pictured above, for those punk rockers, those iconoclasts, who are curvaceous, funky, and nonconformist. They seemed to want an organically-shaped woodpile made in their own image and I think they are much happier in their own place of prominence than being tossed away and shamed to the back of the woodpile.

And this, below, is one way that my big boy, out taking the world by storm now, shows his mother that he cares. He created 21 Drive To School Playlists for me; each one is just about the right length to get me to or from school. Who is lucky enough to get a mixtape from their own teenage son?!

This girl is, that’s who.
#4 was pretty great, ending on the perfect Pirates of the Caribbean “pump up” note as I pulled into the parking lot. (“It’s been emotional” is a dialogue clip from the movie Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, a cult fave around here and one of my favorite parts of parenting a teenager…sharing the best cult classics in books and movies.) For me, Alejandro will always be his pump up song, because it was what we were listening to as he tied on his tie in the car on that icy, frigid New Hampshire morning, so that he could go have his interview at the school where he is now attending. It took at least three tries to get the tie right.

And #7 also has its charm, particularly the juxtaposition of the first and second songs, somehow perfectly summing up the boy and teen.

So much was done.

These two: mostly brothers from way way back. They were two of the quietest small boys in their kindergarten, just sitting near each other, mostly in silence. They had some big plans recently, things to finish up in advance of Jonas’s departure. Such as the above world map, painted on Jonas’s wall. They had traced it out using  a projector earlier this year and then got down to brass tacks and painted it, over the course of 8 hours in one day.

The next day they walked from our house to his house, which are 31 miles apart. The result was a lot of blisters, but they were hardcore (being 16 and 18, respectively), and so they ran the last two miles in the dark (with flourescent shirts and headlamps). There is no limit to what these two can do, obviously, and they also made videos of both adventures which, annoyingly, are not on YouTube so I can’t share them.
SONY DSC

SONY DSC
~tiny whales on a bowtie! little Magrittes for a lover of apples!~

SONY DSCThen, there was the preparation to leave, which included the usual packing up and organizing, but also just for fun, finishing up an online AP class right down to the wire, and for extra extra fun, wisdom teeth extraction! I have a whole poem about the waiting room experience, vis a vis listening to classic rock and all the most important news (everything Tom Brady), all. morning.long.

These ties and bowties are from a few of his fans. I sent out a little invitation to participate in a tie/bowtie send-off and they came through! I presented them to him while he was recovering from the teeth surgery— little colorful packages and notes of encouragement. Think of all that love, living in his closet this year.
SONY DSC
This love note was written on our steps on the morning of his departure, a little art from a friend who came in the night for a last goodbye. I got teary then.
SONY DSC
I made his bed in his dorm room. No top sheet, his forever preference. His room overlooks one of the quads, so green and shady.
SONY DSC
SONY DSC

SONY DSC
~science building~

Leaving him, I felt awestruck. And as the week has progressed, the adjustment is settling in with the just three of us. Mostly the part that is hard is that I can’t read him every moment, to know how he really is. But this is the new life! Moving forward and on his own, the same way it was strange when he went off to kindergarten and there were whole parts of his life that I was suddenly no longer part of. Letting go and trusting, just some of the biggest themes of parenting.

SONY DSC
~library!~
SONY DSC
~a history classroom in the library~

Here’s a poem about our golden boy who still lives at home…


 

Last Summer Sleep

Your arm was extended in repose,

golden wrist and hand limned in that ray of early September sun.

The rumpled nest of quilts

were pooled around your sleeping form,

and I watched you

breathing in and out—

that beautiful line of your elbow and arm rising up to meet your wrist,

like Adam’s casual response to God’s outstretched forefinger.

 

God was making all the effort.

And Adam was like,

“…whatever,”

lounging back in the nude,

a bit laissez faire, if you ask me,

in the face of God’s intensity of *capital-C* Creation.

Like He was on some sort of cosmic merry-go-round

and if He didn’t put out his finger just right in that exact moment,

really quickly,

—and despite that terribly awkward position—

He might have missed the golden ring.

“Dammit, Adam, could you at least sit up? And put out your finger! Come on man, make an effort!”

 

There you were,

enjoying that last delicious sleep of the summer.

Your face was relaxed,

captured so perfectly between

teenage man-boy

and baby,

depending on how I shifted my gaze.

 

Your hair was perfect,

even in sleep.

SONY DSC

 

holding on/letting go

I wonder what Billy Collins would think about the fact that I had to muscle my way around a rack of paperbacks to access the Poetry section in our local bookstore. Like the Poetry section was small to begin with and then they parked this rack of trade paperbacks in front of it, the implication being …

SONY DSCWho buys poetry anyway?

SONY DSCI was there to buy a book of poems for someone who has cancer. The efforts of the bookstore to hide the poetry and to thwart my intent were in vain, and I came away with the right book of poems in my hand.

SONY DSCI don’t really know this person well enough to choose a novel for them, or even nonfiction, but I know that words can be a lifeboat. So I went for poetry by Billy Collins because the first time I read him, it was during the course of one bath and I was surprised to somehow find myself in cold water, in the almost-dark, and turning the last page of the book.

SONY DSCIt was total poetic gluttony. I was a little ashamed that I didn’t show more restraint, and quite wrinkly.

SONY DSCI hope it was the right choice of book.

SONY DSC{oh my goodness, look at him.}

SONY DSC

SONY DSCI wrote this poem before I knew for sure he was going away. But I already knew. Holding the poem was like that feeling of knowing you’re pregnant, but when you can’t tell anyone yet.

SONY DSC
here’s a portrait of the two of us.

~Curator~

Since this has been my life’s work,

the work that I have strived for the hardest,

loved the best,

the work that has brought me to tears and frustration,

baffled and inspired me,

this work of wonder and miracles

(sometimes all in the same five minutes)

it’s no surprise that I’m terrified.

You were difficult,

pushing every limit,

imperious,

enamored with power

so early.

You may have had some notion

coming here

that you would be a boy prince.

It’s possible that you faced this disappointment

every morning when you woke,

expecting a room of courtiers and satin slippers,

but getting us regular people instead,

the make-your-own-bowl-of-Cheerios sort.

So you really made me

the parent I have become.

As a small person,

you were the Zen master who

switched the tender backs of my knees

every. minute. of. every. day.

to be sure I was fully present,

paying attention,

alive in each moment,

because

YOU

WERE.

Sometimes I just wanted to space out,

tune out.

Have a thought.

But you were there to help me elevate my practice:

work to art

work of art

art of work

heartful work.

I don’t take credit for who you are,

because you were yourself

right from the first moment.

Your eyes were wide,

taking in the panoply of adoring grandparents

and one uncle,

all present at your birth.

You arrived into all this love

and have kept your

eyes wide open

ever since.

But I will take some credit

for the short life you have lived

which has been imperfect,

full of mistakes,

hurt feelings,

the wrong things said and made up for,

angry words,

funny,

loving,

ridiculous,

morning Mom Songs,

zesty word play,

and

“numbers like roads

since there are so many ways to get to each one”

great books shared,

poetry,

debate,

ideas,

Invisible Poker,

“You never forget your first Miss Hannigan,”

amazing and wonderful adults,

laughter,

warmth around the dinner table,

and lavender footbaths

when you were at your worst.

So:

You.

You who made my dream job possible.

My best work and my life’s work.

I’m sending you out,

out there into the big world

of salmon pants and tortoiseshell glasses,

the world of big ideas and some very smart people,

your people,

who will expand your mind and feed your heart

(I won’t say soul because I don’t want you to vomit)

and they’ll finish the work I started.

The waves of panic

hit my heart with your old familiar relentlessness,

mostly in the small moments alone in the car

or late at night

when I can’t keep them away.

Because I know you are ready to go.

Postscript 3/9/15 on the Occasion of his Acceptance:

You’ve outgrown us.
–And I thought we had two more years,

but it’s now.

You’re going.

Just this week,

when we had that kerfuffle about your missing boots,

via text message,

I thought:
This is how I know we’re done here.

SummerSpace

SONY DSCAs promised, if belatedly, more photos from that idyllic evening on Penobscot Bay…SONY DSCSo I’m waiting tables this summer, a new experience for me. And because I like to keep people happy, it’s immensely stressful work because there are so many factors outside of my control. People have been fabulous and patient (new restaurant), and generally lovely. I’m a service person, through and through; it’s something that is a deep part of who I am. SONY DSCI have the house to myself for a few weeks and am enjoying a quiet life and very rare trips to the grocery store. I’m also building a quilt. Sylvan’s Turning 13 Quilt! It’s been two years since I have sewn anything!!! It’s amazing to be back. And I am exploring a new-to-me sewing machine, a true machine, an old Singer from the 1950s which glides smoothly along and is an absolute pleasure to work with. The part that makes me crazy is the placing each square part: it is always impossible (can’t have two same fabrics touching, need an overall balance, etc) and I spent about five hours getting it right (enough). It’s so nice imagining my cozy boy snuggled up inside it…that’s what carries me through the agony of placement.

SONY DSCSONY DSCBut here it comes with a new sense of reality: we have the date when Jonas will be heading off to school. I was typing it into our digital family calendar: “Take Jonas to School.” And then a tiny and very very  mean voice in my head added: …AND LEAVE HIM THERE. (Then I cried.) This happens to all mothers! This isn’t a unique event, in fact it’s absolutely mundane. Every day, forever, mothers have been sending off their children into the big world, and let’s take a moment give thanks for our extreme good fortune that I am sending him off to boarding school and not to fight in a war or to make a new life in a new country. This is how it was always going to be, it’s a part of the job that I signed up for, and this is one way I know I have done it well. SONY DSCSONY DSC—–

6/19/15

The Last Ride

Sometimes you don’t know when it’s the last time

so the occasion slips by unnoticed.

The last time you fell asleep in my arms,

cried in front of me,

needed a reminder to take a shower.

 

It was our last ride to school this morning.

Our playlist was two songs framed around

a biology concept litany,

timed to the length of our commute.

First, “Lilac Wine” by — surprise, I never would have guessed!– Miley Cyrus.

Then cell respiration,

photosynthesis,

acronyms,

words and vocabulary,

a few

of which I recognized,

like hearing another language.

Your voice, reciting,

next to me in the passenger seat,

and me,

just listening to the sounds of your words.

 

Sharing the space with you,

our proximity

was fleeting.

Once, you were the listener:

drinking in all those words and stories spoken

by me to you,

and you were the one making sense of a new language.

 

The final song of our last ride,

“More” by Usher,

is one of your classic pump-up songs.

(More is what you always wanted: more of the world, more time awake, more of everything, stories, time, dessert, information, from your babyhood right to this moment.)

“More” delivered us right to our usual parking space

under the windmill.

Your timing was impeccable.

SONY DSC