My life has changed drastically since the last time I’ve written here. As it should. I would be afraid if, in seven months, my life was not different in some way.
I live in a different house in a different area of town. I am more than halfway through a pregnancy, although it is not an entirely healthy baby inside of me. This baby boy has heart problems, which means a very different birth than I had envisioned when we first started this thing.
I am still unpacking. I have not hung up the art on the walls because I am scraping a vinyl wallpaper border off what might be painted sheetrock. Lottie has begun preschool, and it involves city bus rides. We just finished a waterproofing project in our new basement, and the water heater isn’t re-connected yet.
Right before that, we threw a housewarming party, and it was glorious. My home was filled with new neighbors, old cast members from the play we did as a family at the end of 2017, old church members who want to continue to keep in touch, and just the right amount of kids for my kids to disappear with. People came and went and ate our food and gave us lots of plants. I loved it.
My new mantra to keep off worry is: “Doubt not; fear not; work hard.” A healthy combination of faith and practicality, and simple enough to repeat when I find my mind wandering toward things I can’t do anything about right now. I’m living very much in the right now— what to do today, this week, this month. And at times in life, it’s okay to think like this.
This is one of those times. You can see a glimpse of what I choose not to worry about. I choose to pry myself out of bed instead of laying there, worrying. I choose to work hard so I don’t lay in bed at night, worrying. I choose to take the time to take care of myself.
On my way back around the house from taking the recycling to the outside bin, I stopped on the sidewalk and listened. A gorgeous cacophony of birds in the many large trees above me, chirping, tweeting, singing in the winter trees, invisible except for their sound. I stood there with the empty recycling bin in my hand, just listening, for many uncounted minutes.
Then I went back inside my new house, put the bin back in the kitchen, and got my phone, hoping to capture the magic sound just outside. I stepped onto my front stoop, closed the door behind me, and activated my phone. But as it chirped, a sound so unlike the birds, and dinged with every tap of my passcode, I noticed a change.
The birds had all stopped. The sound doutside my home had changed to cars driving by on the street behind me and dogs barking in the distance. I stood on the sidewalk again, phone in hand, and hoped for them to begin again with that beautiful sound. I moved to the exact spot I was standing before and waited for several more minutes, but nothing.
Did the birds in the trees above me hear the sound of my phone? I don’t see why not. And so I’ll have to be more careful if I ever try capturing that wonderful sound again. That sound has ears, as well. And apparantly, it’s wary of electronic noises. As well it should be, I think. It’s only natural.
I can do hard things.
I can shake the hand of the man who did improvements to my home that I think are ugly, but that I know are necessary. I can share a smile with a different man who did home improvements that prove to need fixing. I can look into the face of the twenty-year-old kid who passively told me that he didn’t want to be my friend after I invested time and emotion in a relationship with him.
I can do hard things. I can intentionally take myself off birth control and watch month after month of blood come and go. I can post my house on the market without knowing where we will move and what kinds of sacrifices I will have to make in choosing our next home. I can apologize to another adult when I knew she was just having a hard time.
I can do hard things. I can prepare and deliver spiritual lessons to a class of all men who know it already. I can work at Mom Tasks all day, even when I wonder at the end of it what exactly I did. I can scrape a little paint off a door each day, and toilet train each day, and clean something each day, and acknowledge the unfulfilled feeling inside each day.
These are all hard, but my spirit is slowly expanding because of them. My will is growing stronger, and my fortitude is hardening. Right now, I grab for a few easy things because they help me deal with hard things. Easy things like reading books and Facebook. Easy things like sleep.
Even when sleep is soured because my body wakes too far just to turn over. And when I wake to realize my dreams are more exciting than the day ahead and the day previous. Right now, I’m willing to sacrifice stimulating days to create a stable atmosphere for two kids.
Even when it’s hard.
We begin with me blowing the bubbles and the natives happily giggling and prancing to pop them. But then she sees me doing it over and over and figures it must be easy.
So then she, that toddler, asks to try, and I hand her the wand, and she dips it in the container. My hand is already soaked because the stuff splashes when I do it, but now my shoes are soaked because she drips it over and over as she tries, unsuccesfully most of the time.
But then, after just enough tantalizing successes, she notices that I am still holding the bubbles container.
I’ve kind of lost where this next mental jump happens because, by this point, my back aches and my throat hurts and my lips hurt from pursing them to blow so much. My only guess is that the toddler figures one must hold both the wand AND the container in order to be more successful at blowing bubbles.
So all the rest of the bubbles end up in my lap. Or on my shirtfront. Or in a huge, wasted, too-expensive puddle on the ground.
And funny enough, I feel luckiest if there’s a puddle. Even when the toddler realizes that she can’t blow bubbles anymore.
During my years in adulthood, I’ve gravitated toward natural treatments in personal hygiene: a waterpik versus flossing, a coconut oil swish versus mouthwash, a no ‘poo hair regimen versus dandruff shampoo and constant hairwashing, a deodorant with no aluminum in it. The list goes on.
I’ve also read many books that originate from stories of our history: stories of travellers trekking through the forest, and they encounter a tiny cottage amidst the trees and a woman who lives there. Most often, she is old and wizened, but the travellers are soon amazed at her healing food made from her garden.
She leaves the cottage and comes back in an hour, holding plants picked from the woods around her. Each plant is to be made into a remedy to heal each of the travellers, and they are amazed at her knowledge. They go on their way a few days later, rejuvenated by her care, her food, her medicines.
Sometimes, these women are called witches because their healing and cooking knowledge seems like magic. But a bunch of plants and knowing how to use them are not magic. Instead, they are put into tiny, glass bottles and sold as essential oils today.
When I try essential oils, that’s how I imagine us: women practicing a (legitimate, effective, proved) medicine to rejuvenate and revitalize and protect. When I crack open my new tome all about essential oils to treat an ailment or a sickness, I imagine it to be packed with knowledge passed down by wise women for centuries. I use it very carefully, and my imagination can see a similar book on a wood cottage table, made of vellum or parchment, browned with age and use.
I’m new at essential oils. I’ve recognized that women gravitate toward these. I received a booklet about essential oils in the mail from a cousin, and it is full of specific testimonials— all from women. I won’t be spending hundreds of dollars all at once, buying a hoard of tiny, precious bottles; I’ll be learning, bit by bit. Bottle by bottle. Elixir by elixir.
I haven’t tuned out Western medicine altogether. I see the value in immunizations. And Western medicine is expensive too. But most of it does not smell good or feel good in application. Swallowing pills is more uncomfortable than an oil massage. A poultice is less invasive than swallowing foul syrups every few hours. But sometimes, I don’t have the healing answer. And sometimes, it sounds more authoritative coming from someone who works in an office and wears a white coat and carries a computer.
But the vision of that precious book made of parchment on that wooden table surrounded by a vast resource of forest just won’t go away. So I hope to learn some of it.
My life just got a little easier. I’ve volunteered to be the volunteer coordinator at my local community theatre, and my first assignment was to help plan and execute the large, annual Volunteer Appreciation Party. It was on Saturday. Whew.
My life also changed at the beginning of the school year with a little phone call telling me that Toby would no longer be bussed to school. Two frustrated phone calls later plus lots of corresponding with many local parents leaves me walking two miles every day to and from school in the morning. Yes, I’ve talked with the principal and a bus driver and yes, we’re building a plan for when it’s cold and rainy.
That leads me to my writing topic today.
It’s cold and rainy.
The way we talk about the weather fascinates me. In an annoying way. That pesky pronoun: what is it?
The sky is freakishly sunny today.
Well, actually, the sky is always sunny. The sun doesn’t fade on and off as the weather changes. It’s the clouds that make the difference.
It’s cold, and I HATE the cold.
The cloud is cold? The sky is cold? How do you know the temperature of the sky? Do you have a weather balloon attached to your shoulder?
Okay, so “it” is the weather.
Gosh, I love it today. It is so gorgeous out there.
The latter works, but the former does not. Why? Why did our language become that way?
Maybe “it” is the air. Gee, it’s a lot of talk about the air. I’ve learned that when we talk about the weather with complete strangers, we do so because that kind of talk is the neutral zone from which we base all other talk. If this complete stranger gets passionate about the sudden wind gusts today, we know that this stranger is easily excited, with highly expressive reactions. This stranger will probably have similar reactions if we continue the conversation to different topics.
If another stranger looks off in the distance while talking to you about the weather, and you know they’re not concerned about a distant tornado… You continue to talk to them about the weather, but they continue to not make eye contact… You know that is their normal conversational habit.
But the “it” thing? I mean—
The weather is hailing! Wahoo!
—it sounds so odd.
I’ve been posting quite a bit about Lottie, but it’s probably because I’ve discovered I like two and a half as a parent. But, if you remember, I have a Toby, too.
Toby is six, and as a friend of mine aptly put it, he is very much “in his own brain.” He babbles and jabbers and all his thoughts come out of his mouth whenever I’m in his company.
When Toby was just learning to talk, I told myself, “I will listen to everything this kid says.” Well, I was wrong in promising that to myself. Sometimes, I just can’t handle hearing the sound of his voice because he goes on and on and on… Sometimes, this makes me guilty– occasionally, he has amazingly creative and ingenious ideas that I love to hear! But it’s usually surrounded by half-baked ideas that I end up using quite a lot of effort correcting. Or rehashing of PBS shows he watches and melding them with obvious ideas from the current video game he’s playing.
For several years now, he has talked about the restaurant that he will build when he grows up. By now, it has turned into The World’s Largest Mall; it has fishtanks lining the walls and a roller coaster in the middle… ugh, I’ve lost track of all the stuff he has said will be in his restaurant.
I’m also proud to say that Toby can carry a tune and make all the rude and cool sound effects that boys make.
I’m also kind of happy to see that he uses mild potty language because it means he’s a boy with normal feelings. I often worry that Toby will be gay. Sometimes he has feminine mannerisms and sometimes the things he says and feels sound distinctly feminine. I have decided that I will still love him and support him if he is gay, but he’ll have an awfully hard time in society, in spiritual matters, with friends, finding a job…
All the friends he talks about at school are girls, and he plays in a very feminine way by standing around and talking instead of running or shouting or being mostly physical. He loves cooperative play– working together with a group of kids to achieve a building project. He loves board games; today, he and I played four games in a row, from setup to someone winning, before his feeling were hurt and he ran off in a tizzy.
However, I remember when I first met Just’In and when I was first establishing a friendship with him. My first impression was that he was really hot. And as I talked with him, I recognized that he had very feminine hands and gestures. I asked him at one lull in the nearly-nonstop conversation: “So, not offend you or anything, but are you gay?” He just looked at me and said, “No! Why would you think that?” And I sighed a really big sigh of relief and told him why.
And eventually, I married him.
Also, my dad loves talking. As a kid, we’d all get out of church and head toward our cars. While walking through the parking lot, we’d see the men of other families waiting for their wives with their kids; their wives were inside, lining the halls, checking up on each other, renewing friendships, and laughing. My siblings and I would stand around the car or get into the car after Mom had let us in, and we’d all sit in the car and wait. For Dad.
This didn’t last too long before he drove the truck to church.
To counter this thought, there’s also this: we just got back from camping last week. While I was at our campsite, preparing food, there were three boys, climbing over huge tree skeletons and talking with each other loudly, as kids do. The boys were probably eleven or twelve, and they stopped on a huge log and just stood there, talking at each other, much like my six-year-old son does with his friends.
Their tone, their stances, even the content of their conversation sounded exactly like Toby’s, which made me wonder whether, like his academic skills and his vocabulary, he just has social skills that are very advanced for his age. Did I mention that he started reading on his own in preschool and he can now read at the end of second grade reading level? Yeah, I’m both proud and freaked out about that.
The worry that he may be gay is very similar to a worry that he might lose an arm or that he might get run over by a truck. I just don’t want to see him hurt. I want him to be more successful than I am, faster, stronger, smarter than I am. More socially successful, more financially successful, more spiritually in tune…
Six is my favorite number, but it is not my favorite age right now. I don’t want to be in school myself anymore, but I love school because Toby can talk someone else’s ear off for many hours every weekday. Or he can be silenced by being freakishly well-behaved in public all day. Right now, I don’t care which one it is.
Toby is my investment. I pray for patience every day, and I know it works when Toby tells Heavenly Father in a prayer that no one got mad that day. He has small endearing moments, and I still love him.
Can I get a hallelujah?
Two-year-old Lottie has an emerging clothing style:
-She doesn’t like dresses and is dubious about skirts. I only insist that she wear one of the two on Sundays, and she the only thing she absolutely refuses to wear is a grey, floofy, all-made-of-mesh-and-tulle-and-ruffles skirt. You know, the one that other girls insist on wearing every day, even when it’s torn and dirty. If I manage to get it on her while she screams, she shouts, “No like it!” and immediately pulls it off.
I keep it in her drawer for Sundays when she refuses to pick something and doesn’t want to wear anything to church. If I put The Floofy One on her, she’ll pick something after she yanks it off.
-Lottie is beginning to like what society deems as “girl” colors nowadays, but she’s still working on identifying colors as a whole. Yellow and orange are both “orange”. Pink and purple are both “pink”, but purple and blue are also both “blue”. Knowing this, I favor purple.
-When she chooses everyday clothes, she goes for blue and turquoise and teal when offered cool and warm colors. She doesn’t like play skirts or jumpers or jean skirts. She associates all jeans with Toby, since many of his pants are jeans nowadays, and she doesn’t want to dress like Toby. Just straight shorts and t-shirts for Lottie.
Lottie picked a pair of pink socks this morning on impulse, but then changed her mind and went with one black and one purple instead. Sometimes, she doesn’t want to pick at all. I’ll gladly pick for her. I still have to fight her to put on clothes; it doesn’t matter if she picks them or not. Telling her that it’s cute as we put it on her sometimes helps; then, she’ll look at herself in the mirror, nod once in satisfaction and say, “Cute”, and turn away.
-She doesn’t love dresses or skirts, but she does love shoes. She loves to pick out my shoes, she loves wearing different pairs of shoes per day, and she’ll gladly put on shoes when she fights me about putting on anything else. Sometimes, she’ll wear a suede boot on one foot and a rainboot on the other, or a red flat and a plaid flat. I just laugh.
-Lottie is currently not fond of doing hair. We have three headbands and hair ribbons and hair ties for pigtails and hair bows on clips, but she’s not interested. She lays on her face in the middle of the hallway every morning to have her hair brushed.
-But she loves picking flowers. On a walk through the neighborhood to the bus stop, she’ll make a well-rounded bouquet of dandelions. She’ll hand me extras; on any walk around the block, our hands are all filled with flowers. And we juggle holding hands and holding flowers and holding toys like garbage trucks and wooden balls.
On any given day, you can follow our path by the flowers strewn along it. I favor flowers with long stems, but she hasn’t figured that out yet. When she hands me flowers that have no stem, I toss them beside me or behind me. Flowers are always in my hair, and the wilted ones end up on varied surfaces in our house and on shelves in stores.
In March, I got called for jury duty. Just’In was sure I wouldn’t get called in because I was juror #150 out of 150, but I was, and I went. I’ve never been called for jury duty before, and the process was fascinating. But what I’d like to write about is one of my fellow jurors and a conversation we had.
While I was standing in the first of many lines, I had just come in from outside. I was wearing my trenchcoat and a scarf and a hat over regular clothes– I think I was wearing green cord leggings and a polka-dotted shirt with a teal pullover sweater. My trenchcoat was buttoned because it was cold outside, and an old man was sitting in the row of chairs closest to the line I was in.
He seemed to be staring ahead until he caught sight of me. Then he brightened and gave me a thumbs-up. I was thrown off-guard because I was in such a new environment.
“What? Did I do something?”
“No,” he replied, grinning. “I just like the way you’re dressed.”
“Oh,” I said. I unbuttoned my trenchcoat and took my hat off, then grinned back as I put my hands on my hips. “Is that better?”
He laughed at me.
He was dressed normally enough, but his hair was amazing. It was very white and long so that it looked like he had a bird permanently top of his head. He was clean-shaven, his skin was tanned, and he was skinny. Because he was tanned, I couldn’t tell what race he was and I thought that fascinating. He had no accent, and I went on through this new jury duty process, invigorated by a positive and funny interaction.
After much winnowing, we were narrowed down to a group of 80. Or 50. It’s been two months; I don’t remember. After a fascinating set of questions from lawyers and judge, we were let out of the courtroom to be deliberated about. We stood in the hallway, we went to the bathroom, we were glued to our cell phones, and we milled and conversed.
This interesting old man was telling me about his past while leaning against a wall. He said:
He used to pick almonds, and each worker carried a long-handled rubber mallet and a canvas tarp with standing-up edges. They’d drag the canvas tarp along one side of the the row of trees and hit the trunks of the almond trees on the other side with the mallet.
He and his fellow field hands got so they could hear the difference between the sound of the almonds landing on the tarp and the sound of wasp mests hitting the tarp. Once he heard that more hollow sound, he had three seconds to shout, “Wasps!” to his fellow field hands while running for the nearest ditch.
The wasps took awhile to get their bearings and fly after the men, but they’d only fly straight in all directions and they wouldn’t fly into water. This was convenient anyway because they were hot days of work, anyway. He said this happened two or three times a day.
I questioned that statement that the wasps could sense humans and be able to follow them to attack. Surely, the men would be too big for the wasps to even be able to comprehend. This old man in the hallway was sure of it. To illustrate his surety, he told me another story:
He also worked as a beekeeper. He wore one of the mesh-hood-helmet/facemask things, like many beekepers, but sometimes, a bee would fly inside. She would be so preoccupied with finding a way out of the mesh, she would crawl all around the inside of the mesh instead of stinging him. When he as done with the job, he would step away from the beehive and take off his hood to let the bee out. As soon as she was out in the open, she would sting his face.
He discovered that if he went among or under trees with the bee in his hood, the bee would have less chance of stinging him. The trees confused the bee, and she couldn’t find him.
This makes sense to me because, to bees, humans are huge and so are trees. He also thought it was because trees have such different shapes and shadows than he.
We went inside the courtroom very soon after that, and most of us were dismissed. I was not chosen to be a juror, although I was quite willing to be. I certainly had the time and the supportive partner. I had the health, but I also had the outspoken opinions.
Have you ever had an experience with a tiny bug who seemed to regard you as another living being?
Lottie occupies the most of my time, but I still have to find time for me. She’s learned a trick that always works: when she needs help; she finds me in whatever room I have squirrelled away in and whispers, “Come ‘ere. Come ‘ere.” Then she grabs one of my fingers and pulls. And doesn’t let go as she walks off.
Lottie loves holding my finger while we walk down the street, and she also loves spontaneity. We often go for “Walk Days” and “Stroller Days” and “Bus Days” at her request; her request usually works— there’s usually an errand to run that involves the stroller or the bus, some errand that’s not urgent but that has been sitting around, twiddling its fingers, winking at me every once in awhile.
Walk Days, however, are not errands. They’re when Lottie and I walk out the front door together, holding hands, and I stop just long enough to lock the front door. Then Lottie gets to choose where we go. Last week, she scooped up a container of bubbles as I was locking the front door, and, like most moms, I ended up carrying it.
She led us to a care home that is run out of a house (as opposed to a big assisted living facility that’s more like apartments). The weather decided to be hot that day, and the shade on the sidewalk was most welcome. Lottie began walking on the railroad ties lining the yard. They run right alongside a chain-link fence: perfect for an adventurous toddler who is working on balance. I sat on said railroad ties and blew bubbles that floated into the road and into the giant pines on the opposite side of the road. It was the most magical part of my day.
Two of my literary heroes are Clarisse from Fahrehheit 451 and Stargirl. I love them because they find small bits of magic in every day and they’re each spontaneous. But not in a “let’s spend all our money on candy” or a “let’s go bridge-jumping tomorrow” kind of way. Because of them, I rub dandelions on the underside of my chin, and I send “Just Because I Love You” packages. Because of them, I teach my daughter how to twirl, and I skip with my son through the parking lot. I wave at bus drivers from the sidewalk, and I write messages in chalk to the kids getting off the school bus.
My hero used to be my dad, and he was the same way. He would shout across a lawn to one of the boy scouts he mentored, “Hey, Gary— catch!” Then Dad would run across the lawn and jump right in front of Gary, fully expecting the teenager to stick out his arms.
We were on a roadtrip one summer, and Dad saw a stream running along the road. We stopped the car and waded and splashed in it for an hour or so as a welcome break from sitting. We would often do Chinese Fire Drills at red lights, usually when the van was full of people. We were in San Antonio, and while waiting to go into a restaurant, he took his shoes off and stuck his feet in the river just outside the door.
He doesn’t do this stuff as often anymore. Part of it might have to do with age. Another part may be that I don’t live with him anymore, but at the end of last year, while waiting to be let into yet another restaurant, I went outside of the lobby to deliver a message from Mom, who was inside. And to my utter joy, I found a dance party on the porch with my siblings and cousins. They were getting their jitters out and their exercise in, and my dad was part of it.
Yes, of course I joined in. It was so much fun. And moments of fun can be made as well as discovered. They can be made without a whole lot of money. They may be a little embarrassing, but the laughter is worth the initial blush.
Before I continue, you must meet someone you may have never met before:
This is Lottie. She is two. She had the audacity to be born on my birthday, but I’m slowly, slowly forgiving her for it. She will forever be compared to her brother, Toby, but she has enough spunk to overcome that and be her own girl. She is more fearless than he, shriller than he, and more spontaneous than he.
She loves going for walks around the neighborhood, just she and I. She loves puddles and doesn’t understand that there are some shoes for splashing, and some shoes for just walking in. Thus, we have gotten many pairs of shoes soaked this spring.
Lottie loves shoes. She’s not one for poofy skirts or dresses, and she only sometimes likes her hair done, but she consistently loves shoes. I call her my R. R. Pottle the Fourth; if you’ve read A Three Hat Day, this will seem natural.
She loves books, too. And currently, she loves Monkey George, dogs, and Chapter Three. Much of her speech is code: Monkey George mean watching Curious George on the PBS App on the tablet (she has only just discovered that we have Monkey George books), and Chapter Three means having her Dad read aloud at bedtime from a book with no pictures. Currently, we’re reading The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, but we have read the first two Narnia books.
Lottie is very much a normal kid, more prone to tantrums in public places and not quite so freakishly well-behaved as Toby. She has the same color hair as I do; it’s straight, but it curls delightfully on the ends. I love this girl.
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot
Nothing is going to get better– it’s not.
(Dr. Seuss/Theodor Geisel)
I love trees. This is no secret. I decorate with trees, I doodle trees, I collage images of trees.
We own the appropriate Dr. Seuss Book and all the film variations, and it’s got me thinking again: I care. I’ve planted native Northwest trees in the otherwise empty lot that is my front yard, I’ve named all the trees on my property and in various other places in the the town I grew up in (Penelope was first), and I collected two huge stumps when my neighbors cut down their huge maples earlier this year.
I miss those trees immensely. They have memories associated with the man who cared for them and who is no longer here, and they provided a huge amount of shade for everyone who used the sidewalk, the bike lane, and the road. When that man died, Toby and I used to hug those trees in what used to be his front yard every time we walked by them to remember him.
The family who owns that property now are his grandkids and great grandkids, and it’s shocking how much they don’t value those trees. I’ve met and talked with other people here in Oregon who cut down all the trees on their property; they didn’t want to pick up the leaves or trim them or work around them. There are so many trees here in Oregon, and they grow so easily, that people here consider them common.
I named trees as a kid because they were rare. I read the Anne books by L.M. Montgomery when I was a teenager, and they were amazing to me because of the reverence the author has toward trees. I lived in the desert city of New Mexico called Albuquerque. It’s the biggest city in New Mexico; trees grow rarely in the desert, and they grow rarely in cities– people who want to grow trees in Albuquerque have to put a lot of effort into nurturing them. Intentionally watering them, laboriously digging trenches for sprinkler systems… it’s quite a contrast from green, green Oregon, where you have to put in a large effort to stop things from growing, but you can see why I’m shocked at the attitude that trees are common.
So, yes— from my childhood, I have cared an awful lot. But can I do more to help? More besides planting on my own property and reading books to my kids about them? More than creating and loving images of trees?
All the extra I can think of is to write about them.