Sunday, December 14, 2014

creating tradition

It's a quiet Sunday morning.  The snow is falling softly outside my window.  I'm alone in the house.  My music, my candles, my coffee.  I danced my little heart out last night and my neck and shoulders, hips and knees are feeling the aftermath of supreme joy.  I'm thinking about this season and what it all means.

When Eliana was first born, I was so excited to host Christmas.  I was so thrilled when I had our family's stockings made, elated when my mama passed down a set of our traditional Nutcrackers for my own collection.  I think we had, like, four ornaments that year.  It was sweet and simple, a tree cut in snowy woods, a toddler with wild curls and Pillsbury cinnamon rolls for breakfast, just like my mama did on Christmas. 

I had only one little taste of the metallic bitter that year -- it was when I decided that Eliana needed a full stocking.  My parents did an amazing job with our stockings.  There were so freaking many of us and my favorite part of Christmas morning was seeing all nineteen or so of those stockings stuffed full with, well, stuff.  My mom would buy some token little things and my dad would always put in random packets of Advil and Tylenol sent to him by the drug companies (I think one year there was even tiny vials of Vicodin...hmmm...).  Anyway, there was something magical about those stockings.  So I went for it.

I went for the first, and only time, to the Dollar Store.  I bought thirty dollars worth of random plastic crap to fill up Eliana's stocking.  And on Christmas morning, within about thirty seconds, that random plastic crap had been dumped on the floor, left for the landfill.  Holiday ick number one.

I felt it again last night, like a heavy wave of nauseating, this is just not right.  Jeff's mama had done a stupendous job picking out just the right presents for the kiddos.  We made the mistake of opening them before dinner.  And the kids were hungry.  So when it was time for honey baked ham and potatoes, Soli freaked.  Freaked.  Refused to eat, refused to sit properly, yelled and screamed.  Jeff responded with a hard hand.  And our early Christmas dinner was screwed.  Eliana and I got that scared, oh no they're fighting look.  Nana and Elie and I tried to make positive chit chat while the boys' yelled from the bedroom.  It was awful.  Really bad.

And I'm not going to now blame Christmas or consumerism. 

I swear.

This is not the first time that Solomon has behaved this way.  In fact, any time there is stuff involved, preferably cheap plastic crap, Soli's doomed for the dark side.  He's that kid.  His sister has yet to ask for a single thing for Christmas.  She's just not really a toy girl.  She likes books and art supplies and clothes, but give her a chance to pick any toy off the shelf and it's hours of indecision and frustration. Soli wants everything.  Everything.  And then some.  And it usually involves, eventually, some form of screaming and threats (...if you don't buy me that sword I won't be your friend for eighty days). 

So when you have a kid who is already predisposed to the gimmies, a holiday that highlights our greediest selves gives me a bit of pause.  What can I do to help guide this holiday so that I'm proud of the traditions of our family.  So there is a sense of peace and goodwill and giving back.

As far as peace goes, leaving the country and heading to a tiny fishing village on the Bahia de Banderas seems like a good start.  There are no parking garages or malls, no things to return and no last minute holiday steals.  We've told the kids that this trip is their present.  Of course, I'm bringing the stockings and, of course, I will give them some things to open on Christmas morning.  But I really, really want to try to be mindful about this stuff.  I want them to have a sense of calm on Christmas, a sense of cohesion.  Maybe going far, far away is not the best answer every year, but, for now, with my four year old and his ridiculousness, with my deep sense of shame and frustration when he behaves this way, perhaps removing him is the best bet.  You don't bring an alcoholic into a bar, right?  

I can't decide what I want for my kiddos right now.  Each Christmas we've had has been distinctly different, special and unique in it's own way.  Perhaps whatever it is, I just need to be thoughtful about what I want the message to be.  I want them to see the spirit of giving and gratitude.  I want them to feel secure and warm and surrounded by people who love them.  I want them to see that our gift is being together, of having each other, the simple experience of another season on this beautiful, kind earth. 

Monday, December 1, 2014


On the Montana highline, the mountains finally emerge, snowcapped and massive like a universe that's suddenly landed from some unknown galaxy, all sharp points and unknown places.  The plains lay out before us, endless and unreal.  There is nothing, anywhere.  No humans or buildings or interferences.  We are one house of lights down a dark road and children spill, their voices ring through wild games while their parents laugh and sing, share stories and work through meal after meal, each dish another opportunity for communion.  This may be the biggest gift of being together in this far away place, land untouched except by wind, a piercing wind, that croons through our days.

And the rainbow.  She lasted for two days.  The children wanted to know where she went when the snow finally came...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

We Can Only Imagine

I was born at the end
of winter's breath,
spring a
sweet taste on my tongue,
something to anticipate,
the blinding hospital lights
a beacon,
a full moon,
linoleum slick like sea glass,
the silver of stirrups,
a cold ocean foam,
her breath heavy and controlled.

Up Angeles Crest,
coyotes howled for tomorrow
and south,
towards shore,
a single jellyfish rose softly,
her transparent limbs
nothing but hope,
a phosphorescent glow
spinning gracefully
towards home.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

lice and hunting in Montana

It’s a gray, Missoula Sunday.  My husband woke at an ungodly hour in search of elk that supposedly bugle somewhere up Rock Creek.  My four year old found me a few hours later, asking to snuggle.  Instead of holding him like I longed to, I reminded him about the lice, made him go to the other side of the bed and strip the sheets back, throw the pillow to the floor.  I then adjusted my shower cap.

It’s been a really long, hard week.

My husband and I are both educators.  We have two small children who attend the same school where we both work.  This week was parent/teacher conferences, meaning early mornings, late afternoons and very focused, intense conversations.  Lice has been circling through the school as it tends to do.  My husband, ever the vigilant Virgo, has been sure we’ve had it countless times.  He was finally right.

So here’s where I am today.  Full of gratitude that it’s only lice, absolutely exhausted because the little things that I count on — the ability to get into a cozy bed at night, hang up my coat, brush my hair, take a bath with my children — can’t be had right now.  I have done more laundry than I ever imagined possible, watched my daughter scream as my husband painstakingly works through her thick, tangled curls in search of microscopic mites.

On top of this, we’ve had two dead deer hanging in our garage, begging, ever so pathetically, hauntingly, to be dealt with.  My man still hasn't finished the butchering of one and now he’s off for more.  Yes, this is Montana. Yes, we appreciate the meat.  But shoot.  I just want a little down time.  What’s up with all the random creatures?

My son calls from the other room, wants me to see his new castle.  My daughter comes in to my sacred space and finds an old stick of incense, lights it on the wick of my candle and starts dancing around like she’s at some weird, trippy rave.  She asks me what I’m doing and I tell her I’m trying to take a writing class.  I suggest she put down the fire stick and do something equally creative.  They are now sitting on the kitchen counter with uncapped markers, old rolls of tape and paper scraps.  I appreciate their creativity.  And then I think about how I just swept that area of floor.

My sparkle feels a bit dim now.  I feel overworked and run down.  I feel raw and exhausted and on edge.  Now my son wants me to help him re tape his sculpture and my daughter has unrolled my yoga mat right next to me.

I want them to do something fabulous and productive and educational and independent.  I don't want to worry about anything other than love in their heads.  I want to sit and write and stretch and go for a long hike in the woods alone. 

But, alas, this is the moment I have.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

hiking club

Life keeps blowing us forward, fast and furious.  After a midnight arrival on Sunday night, I was back at it Monday morning the hampers full of laundry to fold and put away and my overflowing work inbox, dueling subjects for most in need of attention.  From there the week barreled on and I felt myself fraying at the edges.  By Wednesday night, Solomon's midnight hacking cough grated at my patience instead of my compassion.  "Can you just try not to cough?"  I begged him.  Parenting at it's finest.

When he woke up the next morning, eyes crusted shut and swollen with goop, I realized he was actually pretty sick.  Mega pink eye and a nasty earache were affirmed and our week took a little shift.  Instead of ignoring the chores at home to wade through the work at school, I settled into both.  Jeff and I traded out, me at school, then back when I didn't have class, then at the doctors.  When she let us know that he wouldn't be returning to school on Thursday either, we did what most sane people do, and called in a sub.  A mid-week, open day with my boy.  Too contagious to go to school, but with it enough to enjoy a day at home with his mama. 

I forget how fast we move until we stop.  Our day together was glorious.  Glorious in that laundry folding, closet organizing, block building kind of way.  I have kind of neglected the full-time job that is, "Keeping A Home" since returning to work in September.  The drawers needed a clean-out, the coat closet an overhaul.  When I checked the weather and read that a frost was heading in this weekend, I decided that itchy eyes and I needed to get outside. 

I've said it before, but there's nothing better than being outside with Solomon.  He can be a royal pain in the ass about eating anything healthy.  He has a terrible case of the gimmies most times we go anywhere that sells anything.  But put that boy in the woods, or by a river, or at the sea, and you see the most present, creative and lovely little man. 

As we walked, I asked Soli what sort of activities he'd want to do when he got a bit older.  Eliana's been busy this fall with soccer, ballet, and most recently, rock climbing, so he's hearing all about the offerings of our full little community.  Soli didn't miss a beat. 

Oh, I just want to be in hiking club.

Hiking club?  Hmmm. 

Oh, Soli!  That sounds awesome.  Tell me more about hiking club.

Oh, you know mom, we hike and stop and have snacks.  I could, like, pack my backpack with some Halloween candy and, like, all my swords.  And we can have meetings by the birdhouse.  And it can be our special club.  Just ours.  Not Ellie's or dad's.

Homeboy is a crazy talker when his sister isn't around.  

So we started hiking club.  We had our first meeting under the ponderosas by the birdhouse.  We talked about what we were thankful for in nature.  We had some m and m's.  We slayed some tall grass with our swords.  We had races and Soli let me beat him up the hill (he knows I'm an atrocious runner). 

Hiking club has met twice more since Thursday.  We've jumped in leaves and slid down boulders and crawled like cheetahs through the underbrush.  There has been no complaining, no negativity, no whining. 

Now don't ask me what it was like when I tried to feed him dinner tonight.  Don't ask how the car ride was to Costco this afternoon.  Tonight I choose to focus on homeboy's hiking club.  His love of adventure, his love of the wild and my love for him. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

80 years

Complete, or,
For My Mom, at Eighty

She takes all of me.
I’m a little sprout somewhere
deep inside her universe.
Deep inside,
a single woman,
a third baby.
She takes all of me.

She takes all of me.
The rocking horse flies across the room in rage.
I hide behind the sofa, face pressed into velour,
decide I will not go to school.
She reaches down and lifts me up.
Takes me.

She takes all of me.
The eye that won’t stay still
 and writhing belly aches.
I can’t seem to learn my multiplication tables and
she takes me, a record of sea sounds and a
swaying crystal:  Six threes are eighteen,
seven threes are twenty one.
The slow and steady mantra,
her accent clear and all-knowing.
When she snaps her fingers,
she’s done it again. 
All of me in her hands.

She takes all of me,
the exuberance and mess,
pink glasses and pixie cut,
grass stains on my white jeans that she
advised me not to where while skating.

She takes all of me.
Chicken pox in a high rise hotel room,
on the last day, she lets me lie in the back of
a yellow cab, look up at all the skyscrapers,
takes me as I am.

She takes all of me.
The sudden changes,
a date at the Clinique counter,
frosted coral lipstick and soft beige foundation.
Even though I know how expensive they are,
I ask for them anyway – the pink overalls
and the new topsiders.  She makes it work.

She takes all of me.
The betrayal and lies,
the confusion and disarray,
innocence slips in dark shadows,
my secrets spill like rain.
She takes all of me,
holds and listens,
eyes blue pools,
radical acceptance.

She takes all of me.

The hours on a leather sofa,
piles of homework and the constant
ring of my phone.
The music, the volume, the chaos. 
She takes it all. 
Always meets me
as me,
before an age,
before an era.

They leave me in an eleven story dorm room.
They leave me and drive through garlic fields
and the vacuous heat of Central California,
leave me and go  home.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever be the same. 
All of me wants to be in the backseat of
that blue Honda.  All of me feels empty
and alone without her.

She takes all of me.
I come back, ease into adulthood,
settle in a little guest cottage,
yellow walls and a fridge full of food
I don’t have to buy.

She takes all of me
when I come home covered in
blood and briars,
lost for hours, I stray
from the trail,
look out alone at the lights of the city,
wonder when I’ll see her again.

She takes all of me as I announce I’m
moving to the mountains,
another leap of faith,
a man to marry and
pies at the wedding.
On the video, her toast is my favorite bit,
how beautiful she looks,
how proud I’ve always been of her,
all wit and intelligence and grace.

She takes all of me,  
 waits for the contractions to start,
the dry July heat,
sits and sits in a waiting room,
knitting and books.
All day I move through my endorphin haze,
the red sleigh bed and hot tub jets and

the girl flies from me
just like that.

It is so clear her face,
how amazed and how perfect,
all the worry a wash
in those sticky little limbs,
the vermix and blood.
She can sleep easy.

And tonight,
I take all of her,
out of bed again,
says she can’t sleep.
She rests on my chest and we
read another book,
her curls matted,
a halo of golden frizz,
eyes red from exhaustion,
the blue like you.
I’m frustrated and speak sharp at first
and then remember
take all of her,
take all of her,
every single day.
Take all of her. 

Happy Birthday, sweet mama.  What a wonder you are.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

the fastest season

 The fall colors continue to shift and re-shape each day.  The lawn that was still green on Wednesday is, today, a sea of leaves.  The children rake and pile, face paint all day, hail, then sun, then rain, all in an hours worth of soccer.  How lovely it was to watch my girl improve over the past two months, her strong kicks and confidence of the game.  Somewhere in all of this I've been away and returned, had my dad here, and then gone.  I know that the next time I sit down to write in this space, the trees will be bare.  That's a tough one for me to internalize.  I love this time, love the cooling and colors but always have to brace myself a bit for what's next.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

first rain

It's our first rainy day of fall.  The heat is on in the house.  I just want to nest, rearrange picture frames and lamp, light candles and bake bread.  The children dance to their songs on Pandora, sing, slip back into my bed, ask for a movie.  I oblige, happy to sit and write and sip tea, bask in the dark hue of a day without sunshine. 

Jeff's gone for the weekend and I see how easily we slip into our little routine.  The music and baking and random little excursions to Butterfly to buy tea and a tiny bag of candy for each of them.  To the farmer's market for apples and purple potatoes.  The serendipity of the kind man from the Bitteroot and his peacock feathers and dried bouquets.  He was the impetus for the nesting and rearranging, though I'm still not sure if the long strands fit right in the smallish vase, wish for a teleport to the Import Market to buy just the right thing.

For now, it doesn't matter.  Just this space and my babies.  My music and my mellow.

Friday, October 10, 2014

my boyfriend

He's not always his best self for me, my wild little Sol.  The past few weeks have been tough at home.  He screams about dinner, refuses to eat most offerings.  There's been a resurgence of nighttime bed-wetting and yet he despises Pull-Ups because they're for babies.  The laundry and rage were bringing us all a bit down.

On the flip side, Eliana has been in this very lovely, peaceful place.  She and I have engaging conversations and she can actually be somewhat helpful around the house.  She, too, gets frustrated with her brother yet she always starts each day loving him unconditionally.

Last night she had a dinner date with her bestie, and Sol and I had a stay home date together.  He asked for grilled cheese and while he was waiting for it to cook, he actually ate his whole plate of broccoli, all the while chatting about his buddies and asking sweet questions.

After dinner we headed outside with our swords and bikes.  He practiced tricks on the neighbor's driveway, speeding down the slope and then hopping the curb, skirting over the island, and then crusing back towards me, massive smile.  He'd then hop off his bike, pull his little plastic sword from his pants (nothing Oedipal here...) and challenge me in a duel.  After he won, he'd hop back on and head down the road again.  We shared an apple from the apple tree down the road, watched as the light began to change.

And then I took it up a notch.

Hey Sol.  You know how you did such a great job eating your sandwich and broccoli?  You know how you sat polietely and didn't get angry during dinner?  Well, I have an idea.

We hopped in the Honda and headed down the hill.  There was the longest train ever and, as we waited, the sky drew us back in.

Mama, that sky looks like heaven.  Have you ever been there, mama?  It's like pink and golden and purple just like the rainbow. 

No, babe.  I've never been to heaven.  

I stared at the train, the sky, my mind moving to my girlfriend who lost her brother this week, how sad and terrible and tremendous it all is.  I could hardly stand it, the beauty that held us still, slow train, dripping light.

We ate our ice-creams outside, basking in the last glow of the day.  We came home and snuggled in his bed, as I read the longest version of Peter Pan ever, the one with all the duels between Hook and Pan and Tinker Bell and her naughty thoughts.  At five thirty this morning, there he was again, cradled in to me like an animal, the way we've always fit on such an elemental level.  Even as I type this, he has found his way to me in the dark, lies across my lap like a primate, my chest on his back, his body in a little ball just like he likes.

Sometimes we need special time.  Sometimes we need a shift in perspective, something that knocks us from our routine, something that let's in the light.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

all I want

My man gets restless when there's not enough
movement on weekend days,
peaks and parties,
rivers and rapids,
adrenalin instead of insistent
laundry, the lists and canvas bags
stacked full with groceries and the
vacuum whirs and a very old man
turns ninety and sticks his thumb into
chocolate frosting,
won't look up for the camera,
chews and spits out pizza,
the cheese gelatinous and aged
on the plate,
the energy so charged.
This big day,
ninety years on this earth.

But then we go
to the sacred garden and
the light is just perfect
the gray just the right way
to celebrate another birthday
a birthday not as momentous
a bit in limbo
between holding this life
and embracing the new
and the children race
and the grown-ups breathe deep
pay attention
slow down
and celebrate.

And this is really all I want now
these sweet times that slip in
unexpected like soft rain,
unannounced and unassuming,
family and the way we hold each other
in so many different shades,
the brilliance at
its best. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

full immersion

Mother's can always second guess themselves.  Children throw fits, melt-down, refuse to eat anything green.  You don't floss their teeth enough, their lunches don't have enough variety, you let them watch TV so you can have a break.  I constantly see the many ways, daily, that I can improve myself so that my children can somehow be better.  It's a bit exhausting, the continuous need to do more, do different. 

That said, there are a few sure-fire successes in my family that I can rely on and be a bit proud of.  We will always enjoy a good burrito.  We are well-hydrated and drink lots of water.  And we spend a lot of really swell time together outside in the wild.

Gorgeous September temperatures lead us down the Bitteroot Valley, to an old, faithful spot.  From the minute we hit the trail, the whining stopped, the imaginations and conversations kicked in hard, and the exploring exploded.  My children are fearless outdoors.  Usually the first ten or so minutes at any creek side spot is my settling in time -- settling into the wet and slippery rocks, settling into the anxiety of my child who can't swim as he hurls himself through the freezing water, moves like a monkey across branches and boulders, his bravado and extreme confidence in potentially treacherous conditions.  Eliana just sort of takes off, singing her show tunes, taking dare after dare from her dad.  I'm really, really lucky that Jeff is the father to my children.  They have his confidence outdoors, in their bodies, his crazy zest for all things that push the limit, just a little bit. 

I feel so ridiculously thankful that I am their mom.  That I have been given the gift of fretting over them in such a beauteous space.  That I love more than anything to be outside where it is quiet and calm and open.  The only better thing is doing that with them.  So I have to tell myself to relax and be present.  If Soli is doing something truly dangerous, we will stop him.  I can't not let them explore -- his little victory dance as the rock he throws ricochets down the creek, his insistence on bouldering with a plastic sword in his hand.  And the lady.  And the way she asked me all sorts of questions as we wandered together on the trail.  What musicals was I in.  Was I ever a main character.  Tell her again about how I used to ice-skate or my dance recitals.  She scored her first goal today.  She looked at me in utter disbelief and then broke into a huge smile.  Jeff and I yelled just a bit. 

Sometimes it feels impossible that I live where I live.  This weekend was a flood of gratitude for the sunshine and trails, the clean water and open sky.  The man and his strong mind and open heart, the girl and her zest and the boy and his wild ways. 

In Kootenai, the canyon walls hold us safe,
gray slate leading to the sky,
boulders house fairies and bees,
mosses and red leaves,
turning right now, right before us,
this precipice of change.

The children move fast, want to
climb every rock,
stop at each new
pool,  slip and slide and
up and down,
shimmy and hold and scream --
the water is cold,
the sun is warm,
we lay like lizards.
we wander like conquistadors,
the discovery of a new land,
the dirt flies behind us.