community, growth, Home, spirit

The Reach of Our Light

montreal botanical woman 3

Like many neighbors doing their part to urge in spring, my son and I spend our weekend morning transplanting seedlings. Our task is to thin the herd. We approach this work with an unspoken awareness of the terrible, lovely power we possess. We get to decide which of these fragile things have their chance to carry on in larger containers, and which will return to beginnings.

My son with his still unbroken optimism rejects this as a false choice. He scrounges around the kitchen for used water bottles then saws off the tops and drill holes in the bottoms. Bringing them into the dining room where garden debris litters the table and floor, he paws through the dirt for discarded seedlings. We move as many wisps of roots as we can to their more capacious, though still temporary, homes.

Continue reading “The Reach of Our Light”

Change, Family, Home, memory, Mindfulness, Parenting

A Frayed Knot

Aksam Gunesi mushroom nest

Sense skates over the damp oil of detangling spray. The film coats my son’s raveled mat. His head is a summer hayfield bleached gold and heavy with dew. At the tips, tendrils going to seed thin and fall away.

Down under all that flower and dust, the stalks twist into themselves. Pile up. Snarl. My fingers burrow to the base of his skull and find the nest there. I begin to brush. Starting at the ends, the gesture is one short stroke. Then another. The brush barks over the ragged rope. Its plastic bristles chatter as if scraped across a guiro’s ridged wooden belly. The boy tolerates this, gripping his nerf gun and re-reading Sunday’s comics.

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Growing Up, Home

Plant Anyway

corn shucking.jpg

He  drops his backpack by the door and heads out. Whether the temperature hovers at freezing or rises to a swelter, he and his friends find each other. Sometimes I block the way and steer him back to his violin for a round of scales. The neighborhood kids bang on the door every three minutes, “Is he done yet?” They loop around the breezeway on bikes and scooters. A few come up barely past my knee. A few are already shaving. When he’s free, they all charge off down the hill, hollering ever-changing rules to an ever-evolving game that winds through this labyrinth of stairwells and parking lots.

I shut the door and head to the kitchen to rinse out the lunch containers.

Divorced at 37 and still single at 43, parenting a surly tween, stuck in the suburbs, jammed into a 5-story development abutting a freeway, and working a desk job for a paycheck that barely covers groceries while a white supremacist and a Russian oligarch run the White House.

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Family, Home, Parenting

Burrowing

making-waves

He slides into bed next to me, his left side far warmer than his right.  His chilled skin  presses in as he drinks from my heat.  “Can you put your arm around me?” He asks.

“Sure, scoot down.”

A shifting.  The sheets tangle and we kick ourselves back to softness.  Dark lingers.  December morning takes her sweet time stretching awake.  We wait her out.

“It’s funny how the neck is shaped,” he says in his dreamy murmur.

“How so?”

“It’s like it’s designed exactly right so someone’s arm can fit underneath.”

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Family, Home, Parenting

Director’s Cut

film-reel

He blocks the dryer, wild eyes and a grin.  I duck, pump, shoot.  His wet boxer shorts whip past his ear and splat against the back wall of the drum.

“Oh man!” He turns and yanks a shirt from the washer tub, untwisting its rope of an arm from a pillowcase.  He cuts in front of me and pivots.  Past my block, he fakes then scores.  “Yes!” Fist in the air.

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Children, Choices, Determination, Home, Parenting

Don’t Waste Time Doing Stuff you Hate

everyday hospice 2

We are at the midpoint of our nine days together.  On the first night, I arranged to pick up my son’s little buddy from down the hall to join us for the free Seldom Scene bluegrass concert at a local park.  Bug snarled and fussed while I packed up watermelon and blankets.  Then at the show, the banjo twanged, the audience swayed.  Bug and his buddy rounded up a half dozen other kids and played soccer in a clearing until the trees twinkled with lightning bugs.  He rode home flushed and grinning.

Yesterday morning, when packing up to go to the Spark!Lab at the Smithsonian, Bug fought until he cried.  Then on the train, he thrummed with questions and leaned forward in his seat peering out the front window down the dark tracks.  At the museum, he spent 2-1/2 solid hours building laser mazes, a sonar rover, a helmet with night vision and echolocation.

Continue reading “Don’t Waste Time Doing Stuff you Hate”

Family, Home, Learning

Boxed Blocks Equinox

mirror tree house

My boy wants me near.  I want to be near.  The sun is low in the sky. We have come inside.

He taps his pencil against the worksheet. Someone somewhere crafted this shoddy crossword puzzle. Someone believed it to be an adequate stand-in for learning, or at least believed others could be made to believe. This is how we teach the vocabulary of soil.  The Rorschach of blocks (dinosaur? metro map) lacks symmetry. It lacks even the pretense of design.

Wood pulp pressed flat extrudes the texture of earth.  What’s left is surface and the imagined mines we spell ourselves into digging.

We ask so much of our children. Continue reading “Boxed Blocks Equinox”

Family, Home, neighborhood, Outdoors

Settle In

Durrie Winter Scene

The first flakes are dusting the sidewalk. My son and his little buddy are engaged in a take-no-prisoners Pokemon battle in the living room. They munch on microwave popcorn and negotiate rules while I re-pot the frozen rosemary rescued from the balcony. Beans for soup are soaking on the kitchen counter. Next to them, a bowl of sourdough rises under a cloth.  Continue reading “Settle In”

community, Friends, Home, Mindfulness

It’s Marvelous to Be Alive in This Time and Place

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It’s worth fighting through the inertia.

True as that may be, my self-pity disagrees. In its defense of digging a deeper rabbit hole, it would rather filibuster than concede. Its zealotry twists the mere suggestion of celebration into an offense against reason.

Birthday? Bah. What would you be celebrating anyway? Your troubled finances? The end of your relationship? The last dozen fights with Bug, an anemic field of job prospects, your dearest friends in crisis?

The silk-throated devil reminds me that I’m stretched too thin as it is. “Tired” is no longer an adequate descriptor for the perpetual state in which I exist. Wouldn’t you rather just rest, read, heal? Wouldn’t your time be better spent re-tooling your resume?

And:

Once you’ve had 40-something of them, birthdays just become days. Throwing yourself a party at this stage is both tacky and desperate.

No parties. No people. No no no.

But also yes. Because every reason to skip out on pleasure is a dolled-up version of submission. In fact, the more convincing the justification for staying low, the more I should suspect — and upend — its dominance. A toxic mood relishes its alpha dog position, growing in power unless I subvert it.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has a simple and ingenious approach to this. Just choose the opposite.

To break this feedback loop, we need to engage in a behavior inconsistent to the emotion we’re trying to manage. This is a technique called opposite-to-emotion behavior. To do this, identify the emotion (sadness), identify the mood-dependent behavior (inaction/isolation), then do the opposite of that.


Opposite to Emotion Behavior from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

A snap, right? Take the stairs. Don the cape. Put a friggin foot on the gas and go. Even when it seems like the most useless act in the world. Especially then.

So, snarling and irate and certain the endeavor will fail, I hurl a few names at Evite.

Fixing a time and place leads to tidying, menus, asking for help. I cobble together activities. I send personal invitations to a new neighbor and to old family friends going through a tough time. My mother gets on board — bless that lady — and then I am dashing around, slapping on lipstick and jamming in earrings as the first guests knock on the door.

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As with so many actions, motion generates momentum. It’s almost irrelevant the direction of travel. Any push will do.

The friends arrive. More follow. They hug and meet and hoot and gossip. They bring wine, sweets, kids, dogs. A few play along with my contrived icebreaker activity, milling around five zones of the house where markers and paper on the wall invite joyful thinking about our community and our time together here.

As with so many choices, intention determines outcome. It’s almost irrelevant the details of the text. Any welcome will do.

Earlier in the day, Tee whisked Bug off to a college basketball game. Halfway through the party, he’s dropping the kiddo off. When half-ass planning this whole shindig, I’d been wearing armor of thorns and stink. My invite list failed to catch half the people I love. I’d also been too tight-hearted to ask Tee if he’d like to come. If I have to throw this stupid party, I don’t want my ex husband here. My birthday. My party.

Mine mine mine.

Then my son walks through the door and the room erupts in a cheer. Bug’s face lights up and he skips into the Studio 54 buzz and music and sparkle. Tee is already backing out, saying good night. “Come in,” I say. “Eat. Have a beer.”

“I’ve got a lot of school work still to do. . .”

I gesture wide. “There’s hot cider, Moroccan veggie stew.”

“Okay, just for a minute.” He steps inside and stays for an hour.

Tee is still there when my loved ones gather in a circle around the room. Everyone speaks out loud their wishes for the year ahead as well as their thanks for the right-here-and-now. My mom. The junior-high pals. The Zumba instructors who’ve become sisters. The new neighbor, the writing group fellow, all these the people who just happen to be my people. Even Tee shares how happy he is that we are parenting together as friends and that our son is thriving. Words upon words brushed with almost-tears and lots of chuckles weave their light web around the room.

Bug and the neighbor’s son, chasing down dogs who are chasing down crumbs, dart through the throng decked out in sunglasses and bandit masks, mercifully demolishing our grownup drift towards solemnity.

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It’s an extraordinary and dizzying experience to stand inside the metaphor of a circle of love manifesting in real life.

That incessant need to be on, to get things right and be just so, has slunk off into some forgotten corner. In my home with these dear ones, I feel at ease. It is as if I really am — for the moment — okay as me. Clumsy, gushing, nerdy, cutting, tempestuous, so-very-lucky me. . . just a gal entering her 43rd year in the happy company of her tribe.

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(And, as I remind several perplexed friends and my son: Yes, a 42nd birthday is the beginning of a 43rd year, because math, people).

As the music starts up again, the circle dissolves and takes on new shapes. Small pockets of conversation dot the room. People who just met giggle like old friends, a baby is passed to a new set of arms, men talk coaching and gals talk travel. Folks who haven’t seen each other in years cover lost ground. The first roots take hold under nascent relationships.

Orientation determines truth. I tilt my head and the whole thing resolves into sharp-edged clarity. Throwing oneself a party is also giving a party. A birthday is just another day, yes. It is also a gift, a perfect excuse to open a door and invite a fledgling community to weave itself into being. This circle is so much more than mine. It holds my son, parents, neighbors, and all the friends who show up with attention, voice, and story.

My girlfriend says that each year is “a free vacation around the sun.” Even so, it can also feel like an extended solo trip. It can take a few revolutions (or a few dozen) before it becomes clear that we have always been in this together.

This time I can see how many are at the helm, how strong the crew, how wide open the skies.

 
 

Family, Friends, Home

For This

Kulturgeschichte / Essen / Belle Epoque

For more than one of the eleven around the table, the year left bruises. For more than one, tears choke the blessing. Words that begin as thanks are threaded with veins of dense and nameless matter.

Loss is a removal that adds weight.

Chuckles accompany each small confession. We are older now. Pleasure hits the tongue in the bitter spots too. Years distill gratitude to its sharpest potency.

We round the corner and my turn is seventh. I say that I most often describe myself as a single mother. I say this is inaccurate because a tribe holds my son and me. We are not doing this on our own, we never have been alone. I say that family is like a story. It ends up looking entirely different than what we expect and somehow ends up looking exactly as it should.


Image credit: Otto Günther, Am Tagelöhnertisch (1875)