Tuesday, April 26, 2011

All In It's Own Time

I really should be out in the front yard right now. The  winter daphne and pink helleborres, the pale yellow daffodils are all beginning to fade, yet the fluffy white cherry blossoms and my bright tulips are now stealing the show. The native bleeding heart, bluebells and rosemary stand solid in their supporting roles. Sometimes I think:  Wouldn't it be great if I could choreograph my life as well as my garden?

I've sat here for the last twenty minutes, trying to share the haphazard mess that was my weekend, so that some bright message might emerge from this. What? I'll save you the rehash and just say that I am glaringly aware these days that life does not seem to be organized in the least. Life feels like a Pollock painting right now--- sblobs and lines and dashes of this and that, all glooped up on each other. I'm not a big fan of Pollock, I'm more of an organized person when it comes to art, and thus, I like life to have a little more delineation and form. Sunday was a lesson in Rolling With The Punches, as I watched my lesson planning time dwindle away due to my husband's beard needing attention (an hour and a half in the bathroom? Seriously, you'd better be building something in there.... Like a new bathroom) and the Easter Bunny. Roast that rabbit, for real. I'm a vegetarian, but I swear, that Bunny better not bring chocolate* to my house again or andouille sausage, here we come.

Monday, too, was another test: How Far Can We Stretch This Day? From getting a fire started first thing in the morning because the oil ran out on Saturday, to reorganizing Kiddo's room so he could start sleeping in it that night (weeks worth of work done in hours), to readying the house for preschool, I kept chugging on until I just couldn't any more. And to that end, I will now have four loads of laundry waiting for me to fold tonight come 7ish. Plus, Kiddo needs a hair wash, so that has to be fit in somewhere.

So, I should be in the garden, but it's drizzly and rainy again. See? Somehow, my timing is off, but I'm still getting it all done. I'll check on our recently planted peas, which we'll train to grow on our forsythia. I've still got time to prune it before the sprouts begin to creep upward on the stick and twine frame below.  For now, I think I'm going to make a cup of tea and enjoy the silence while Ang still has Kiddo in his care. Only an hour and seven minutes of "me" time left. There are dishes to do and so much more, but this is the first time I've had to relax on my own since before the weekend. Funny how those things are.

*This was the chocolate that set off the Fred Meyer Freakout, wherein Kiddo tried to climb up his father's leg in the produce section, and when Joe tried to hold him at arm's length, Kiddo tugged away-- face first into a produce sign sticking out, hitting right below his right eye, which became a lovely shade of purple--kind of like my tulips--within minutes.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Get on the Bus, Already!

The other morning, Kiddo and I took the bus down to the grocery store. He likes these rides, and we have fun together on our Bus Adventures. Even at the sophisticated age of four, he'll still relish the time to sit in my lap and talk about what we see out the window as we sail down Portland streets.

Our children need us to teach them how to use public transit, and for youngsters, riding with a parent is the best way to go. When it comes to my son, I feel like it's my civic duty to make sure he knows the drill so that when he's older, he'll have the experience and confidence he needs to get where he needs to go--when he's old enough to go alone. I myself grew up in Honolulu, and as a young child, rode buses all over Oahu with my mother and sister. Moving to the mainland at the age of 6, we became a two-car family, but when we moved to Portland in my late teens, using the bus was no trouble because I was so comfortable with it.

Riding the bus with kids is actually easier than it looks, and here are some pointers for getting around town without the car:

1. Get a decent umbrella stroller that folds up easily. This can cost as much or as little as you choose. We 'splurged' on a Chicco that held up well for a couple years; it was purchased on sale with a coupon, and was about $60 or so. Umbrella strollers aren't built to last, but they are made to collapse with relative ease. An umbrella stroller and a backpack will make things much easier in getting on and off the bus, and will save you the frustration of trying to collapse one of those behemoth plastic strollers after you board.

2. Wear your little one, if you can. Wearing my son saved me so much work, so if your baby is still happy to be on your front, consider wearing them. It'll also keep your hands free for holding bags, paying the fare and possibly holding onto the umbrella stroller you'll use when you de-board.

3. Buy your fare in advance. Likely, your local transit service providers sell tickets and passes at grocery stores and other more convenient locales. I purchase a book of tickets at a time and have found it to have some real advantages: I never have to look for fare; if rates increase, they'll still honor previously sold tickets, so I'm not surprised on the bus; I only have one ticket to hold and don't have to coax bills and change into a farebox. Altogether easier by far.

4. Keep kids on their bottoms at all times. We have to teach our children bus safety. Because drivers must deal with unpredictable traffic, buses have the potential for fast, quick stops which can cause accidents if children aren't seated on the bottoms. Looking out the window is best done from an adult lap. While parents want to let their children see out the window, it's important for them to understand that they must be seated. For our little ones, looking out the window is best done from an adult lap. The drivers don't have time to tell you to make your kids sit down if they must stop short. Parents are best at ensuring their own child's safety.

5. Give them a snack while you are waiting at the stop. The bus is plastered with signs that ask us to keep food in containers, so modeling this now is a great way for them to know this rule later. We try to pack travel-friendly snacks: nuts, string cheese, apple slices, water bottle, and have these in the time getting to/waiting at the bus stop. Fed kids are happy kids.

6. Bring a few books. Our backpack always has a couple of Frog and Toad books and a magna-doodle-type drawing toy these days. Sometimes the wait seems a little longer or occasionally a bus is delayed at a stop. Fidgety kids are often better read to than anything else. It takes their mind off the world around them and helps them center a bit.

7. Handle those awkward social moments as appropriately as possible. Several months ago, my then three-year old son pointed at two very rough-looking homeless men and asked me "Who are those people?" in a loud voice. "Oh, well, they're passengers on the bus,just like you and me and everyone else riding."  Neutralize what you can, ignore what you can, and sometimes, just nod and say "oh" when people who don't know you tell you way too much about themselves. Kids are sometimes magnets for people who might behave atypically; sometimes we have to be protective and sometimes we should have compassion and kindness. Be open to both.

8. Lastly, choose your bus times well. I mean this in two ways: check the bus schedule (to make sure when and if you have a return bus) and check your kid. Some days are just not going to be bus adventure days. When the kids are tired, squalling, or there's a lot on your own list of things to do, this won't be the best experience for anyone. Choose trips for days when you have more time to get things done, less of an agenda, and more patience for the child, the bus passengers (there's a certain amount of giving up control of one's environment when you step onto a bus) and the bus itself.

Happy Riding!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Eww... Baby's got the Car Keys

Long before I became a mother, I knew never to give baby the car keys. This was before your kid could lock you out. Besides even the possibility of losing the keys. It was just gross: locks are dirty with grease and grit and keys go into locks, therefore, keys are dirty and sticking them in one's mouth is about as gross as sucking on a penny from off the street.

Now Ellen at Mama's On Call gives us a new reason not to let your baby have the keys: their brain. Read about it. And don't let baby have your keys.

Come to think of it, don't let them have your smartphone to suck on either. That's not a smart idea at all.....

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Today, I felt blessed.

Traveling on a Greyhound bus from Hood River on an overcast afternoon, I felt restored and at peace. The Columbia River Gorge is one of the most majestic places in my world. Strong hills shoulder the wide, high Columbia on both sides, and there is something so grand and powerful, something beyond time here. I know that this area was not always like this, but it feels so permanent to me. There is no other place like it.

I spent a lovely 25 hours with my dear best friend sister Amanda in Hood River. This was our second annual weekend retreat and we used our time well, pouring our hearts out to each other, our ideas. Eating good food at a lovely restaurant and staying at sweet old hotel, where the space heater made us blow a fuse and we listened to a tour of ghost stories in the dark, waiting for the desk clerk to finish thrilling the other guests so she would come and toggle the switches in the fuse box. We visited toy stores-- the preschool teacher and homeschool teacher--critiquing certain products and sharing our delight in others. I learn so much from her, as a teacher, wife and mother. She is model for me in so many ways, yet she stays humble and honest and grounded in who she is. I love her for her unique, inventive suggestions and for her loving, unconditional support. Between times and in travel, I read my novel and just enjoyed those few moments of being in a new space, alone with my thoughts.

A lot has happened this year, and some of it has been hard. Even during my spring break, I felt like I had my nose to the ground, dutifully working toward something--- what? It wasn't as enjoyed as it could have been. This short trip, however, brought my head up to look around me. Perhaps spring has begun later for me than the daffodils. My head and heart have been in a hard, somewhat dark place for part of the year, and I'm starting to sense some balance now. Lately, my thoughts, effort and energy haven't been used as well as they could have been, and I've been a bit stuck in the mud. I've been worried about some of the wrong things and getting trapped in the anxiety of others. Today, traveling next to an older gentleman and staring out the window at the beauty beside me, I felt like this old shadow could be flung off, that things could be turning around to something calmer, more peaceful. More in balance with what I want from life.

Life is work and progress. I've got work to do tonight; laundry to fold and some brainstorming for next week's lesson plans. This will easily get done. I'm happy to spend time with my family tomorrow. To cut my husband's hair before he leaves for work; to slice up strawberries for Kiddo's snacks and prep the house for preschool on Tuesday. And I'm also going to take time for something else. I'm going to cut flowers and set them on the woodstove in my mentor corner and ask for more mentoring voices to come into my life, because I am needing this right now.  I need more ideas, more perspectives. We will take a walk, rain or shine, and notice all the green growing glowing-green things out in the world. And hug on Kiddo. I feel a little fuller-- more patience, more empathy, more perspective.  We're meant to be lights in the world, and I've more work in it to do.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Just in a Day...

Is this a guide to keeping sane?

Leave the house at 2:20 pm to hit the grocery store for dinner. Take along some ice packs for the fish and a good book. ("Someone at a Distance" by Dorothy Whipple. She's been called the literary heir to Mrs. Gaskell, and if you've read Gaskell's "Daughters and Wives" you'll know that's a good thing.)

Pick up the best-looking fish you can find. Today it was the rock fish, fresh and gorgeous. Procure some beets because that bottle of lemon balsamic vinegar has been singing to you from it's place by the stove near the olive oil, and you know you'll cook'em up tomorrow. Grab some strawberries too, so your little boy is happy with his lunches.

Pay for all the stuff. Place the fish between the ice packs. Now walk (don't run, because they don't open until 3) to Belmont Station's Biercafe. Enjoy the threatening clouds, the music on the ipod (a mix of Crowded House, Steely Dan and The Flight of The Conchords. Apparently the ipod is feeling sophisticated and lowbrow all at once). Smile at the older gentleman who tends the gardens for Portland Nursery as you pass, even though his back is to you because he's busy working the soil.

Go order some good beer. Beer Chips will accompany such beer, any beer. The first is a glass of some Dogfishhead wonderfulness called Theobroma, which sports chocolate nibs and chiles but reminds me of mead, so there's something to be said for subtlety. Next is a small glass (yeah, really small) of the Flat-Tail barrel-aged Lickspiggot Barleywine. Yum. Read the best parts of the Mercury (the letters, "One Day at a Time", which is the only reason I pick that rag up, and "I, Anonymous", which I have yet to contribute to. One day....)

Walk home in the rain, and pretend it's not raining because, really, you aren't getting soaked, just a wee bit wet. Help someone. Today, a fellow with a loaded up pickup lost part of his load-- some sort of undefinable machine the size of a sander and a bucket with holes punched in all over it. While traffic from Burnside slowed --hey, a big thing that could take out their low end is in the road-- a woman coming from Stark didn't want to wait for me to move the bucket and nearly took her rims out on the curb 'going around'. I grabbed both and ran across the street so the owner could retrieve them. "I've never had this happen before," he said, and I believe him. Pickup Guy and I did have a laugh that the woman who couldn't wait for me to move the stuff out of the road was now sitting at the red light anyway.

Get home well before the kid. It doesn't always work like this, but Ang said he'd be a little late dropping Kiddo off. They were still at the playground because everyone had to use the bathroom. Well, now, that works in my favor now, doesn't it?

Type on your blog. Yep, these little occurrences are fun for you. You aren't sure if they're fun for anyone else, but you don't care. It's a reminder that sometimes, some things go right.

Just as you thought they should.

ps-- and this magical spell was broken about 2 minutes after Kiddo came home. So, pro'lly good I'd had a beer beforehand!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Listening With One's Heart

Yesterday morning, I cut Kiddo's hair. It's one of those Mama haircuts that have to be worked on over a couple days to smooth out. Add to this,he's got some curls and when I cut his hair wet-- Sproingg!-- up goes the hair when it's dry.

A single-dad friend of ours had brought his daughter over for a playdate. He and Joe were commenting on the drying haircut... "Now he looks like Thomas Dolby" said my husband.

"She Blinded Me With Science". echoed our friend.

"More like 'He Blinded Me With Whining'" I butted in, setting the kettle onto the stove for a big pot of tea for us.

Fact of the matter-- we are on Day 7 now of WhineFestAthon. The Flying Ants that appeared for two days, threatening him with their mere presence (nevermind that they don't bite) have kept him afraid of working in the garden, which sucks big time for me. I've still peas to get into the ground. I didn't see a bug anywhere yesterday, but he refused to go out. Things are slowly improving, but wow! I think I get a trophy for keeping my cool this last week. A couple times I've had to "go take a break, because I'm all done with having whining company". This as he was assembling a puzzle, holding the piece that should go into a place, looking at it, and then grabbing something completely incongruous and trying to connect it incorrectly, with a soundtrack of "Unnnnhhhhhhh! IT WON'T WORK HOW I LIKE!!!"

This was when I needed to go out of the room and stare at a wall and wonder if maybe being a little hard of hearing might work to my advantage. I've thought recently about hearing aids, but  now wonder if the opposite would be more beneficial to my sanity-- if I could just opt for silence instead, sometimes.

I'm being patient because I know there are some deep-seated things going on. He's turning four soon, as I've mentioned before, and this is fairly common. He's also had some big stuff come up-- a younger sibling of a playmate at his preschool unexpectedly died, and the children are processing this at school as they play. We've talked about how animals and people have their time on earth, and we've always held to the line that people live a longer time than cats and dogs. This event, the death of the baby, was not in keeping with what we had told him previously, and my only answer to him is still "I don't know why he died. His body stopped working."

"But why?"

"We don't know, honey. I do know, though, that you are fine and healthy and we love you and you are going to live a long, long time, just like Mama and Daddy."

Is this a false reassurance? Maybe yes, maybe no. Is this hopefully going to reduce some of his anxiety? I'm hoping so. It's also time to find some good books on the subject, one comes to mind which discusses how there is a life time for every living thing, and a time when it dies, and that this is somehow beautifully intertwined to the order of the universe.

Keeping all this in mind, I have more patience for my son than I would on the average day. More compassion and empathy. We are still all figuring this out. Lessons regarding death are more welcome when they come through emotionally-removed  natural expressions such as insects, plants and flowers. These closer, more personal lessons are deeply conflicting and bring this crisis of understanding into close-up view. I can't pretend to know what my son needs to learn from this, or needs to hear, all I can do is give him lots of hugs and snuggles and lap time when he asks for them. What I can do is not dismiss the pain and upset he's wrestling with: growing, a new stage of independence, and then this event which makes him need us all the more. I'm trying to be present with him in this strange space of his life, to just be strong and reliable and empathetic. The terror at the flying ants is symbolic, a stand in for something less tangible and so abstract-- how can a child of not-yet-four wrap his head around a mystery adults still ponder, sometimes with deep fear?

So we go forward. I might be blinded  and deafened by the whining, but my heart isn't impaired. All I can do is love on him as much as I can, and take a break to stare at the wall from time to time, knowing I'm just doing the best I know how.