Monday, May 26, 2014

memorial weekend glory

There is so much to say and so little to say.  There is so much to say about the green that continues to unfold, the way the larkspur and daisies dance as the balsamroot slowly being to lower their heads.  So much to say after a full three days at home, all four of us, just moving through space together.  We've tackled lurking house projects, hiked the trails behind the house, painted pictures, written poems.  Maybe that's a concrete place to start.  The poem in Spanish that Elie wrote today titled, "Mis Padres."  She uses similes to compare me to a flower and Jeff to the clouds.  In the end, she thanks us for walking "a lado de mi."  I asked her to explain what she meant and she said, "You know, mom.  You walk beside me.  Like you take care of me."  I'm way into a lado de.  I really love walking beside that little girl. 

I also love walking beside her brother.  Her brother who explodes like the apple blossoms, explodes like big lips and snuggly love.  Her brother who explodes like a wild fire, scary and surprising, with moments of uncontrollable frustration and rage.  It's sometimes hard to watch how quickly Elie submits to him as to avoid a conflict.  As an all-out conflict avoider, I would have done anything as a kiddo to spare those around me anger.  I see her do the same thing.  Today at sushi lunch, when the waitress asked if we were still hungry Eliana said, "Actually yes.  May I have another order of unagi."  Jeff and I smiled across the table at our sushi loving, bank-breaking child.  When the order came, Eliana gave me one and she took the other for herself.  I offered Soli a half eaten piece of mine (in and of itself, quite a sacrifice).  He was about to go to the dark side about not getting his own, about to submit to cries and annoying whines about wanting a "whole" piece when Eliana immediately gave him hers, untouched, and took the half eaten piece.  Anything to avoid a conflict.  Especially when her parents are paying close attention.

That said, there are some sneaky things that send him flailing and wailing that come from sweet sissy.  She knows how to play the innocent and he knows how to go balls to the wall.  We seem to have wonky family hiking karma right now.  Like the minute we leave the house, one of them decides to get uber into it and the other decides to be a total asshole.  Then the minute one turns around, the other flip-flops to the other side.  It's super odd.  I'm trying to push family hikes, especially Sunday hikes, as our families sort of weekly, sacred tradition.  I try to push gratitude in the great outdoors and just sort of expect everyone to be as enthusiastic and on-board as I am.  The sojourns always end well, but the bipolar attitudes can be a bit cause a bit of a metaphorical stumble.   

I mean, how can you not just shout hallelujah across these hills right now.  Petals and fluff and rain kisses drift sweetly across the wild clouds, the piecing blue and slate gray and billowing white that is spring in Montana.  I'm developing yet another relationship to this place as I continue to get to know my new neighborhood.  It's so quiet up here, so close to the earth, such a refuge from my busy work life.  My neighbors are kind and funny and the kids zip around with an unstructured abandon.  My gratitude cup is overflowing around these parts. 

I'm filled with thanks for Jeff's parents for helping us exist in such a tremendous physical place.  It's a special day to remember Morty, the planes that flew over Germany, how handsome he was in his uniform.  Jeff and the kids took him to Fort Missoula today and he sang along to the, "Star Spangled Banner."   I regret not being there to see that.  I'm so proud of my husband and the way he takes care of us all, so proud of my kids for having such a great attitude about spending time with their PopPop.  I feel like every day we all continue to grow together.  Who we are when we were young and where we came from, who we were before we had our own children, who we were when they were tiny babies, who we are now and every moment in between.  It's this pulsing, charged, glowing ball of energy and history and light.  Of gratitude and fear and frustration and surprise.  It's another spring, another cycle of renewal and rebirth, yet another chance to emerge into our finest selves. 


The other night at dinner when we were reflecting on our day, Eliana came out with a doozy. 

"Well, my day wasn't that great," she said.

"Why?  What happened?"  Usually her reports are all fairies and gnomes, so I was a bit concerned.

"Well, Billy called me a name," she continued.

"What?  What did he call you?"  I asked.

 I've known all of the kids in her class since preschool.  They are a very sweet and diverse bunch and we've been spared a lot of the social drama that can go down between school-age children.  I was confused.

"He called me saxy.  Yeah, saxy.  And I just don't really like being called that!"

The drama was expanding here.  Her blue eyes were big and sincere with a hint of baffled incredulity. 

Jeff and I were taken aback.  It was one of those times where it's just not appropriate to laugh but it's all your body seems to be able to handle.  I literally had to jump up from the table and pretend to need hot sauce.  I proceeded to kind of hide inside the open fridge to gain composure.  I pulled it together and said something about Billy just trying to get her attention because they are buddies and sometimes boys like to tease.  I couldn't really deal with the 's' word just yet.  Especially the incorrect form of the 's' word.

But then it came up again the other day.  Eliana is a very innocent six year old girl.  She's the youngest in her class, she loves to wear dresses and she's way into musical theatre.  She isn't in to pop music or trendy things just yet.  She has wild hair and a gap where her teeth should be and she likes to mix bold colors with prints.  I think that's pretty fantastic and I want her young in all ways for as long as possible.

So when I found her looking in the mirror, hands on her hips, her little hips moving back and forth as she said, "Oooh, saxy!"  I decided is time to tackle this one head on. 

"Eliana, come sit on the sofa with me." I asked.

"What, mom?  Did I do something wrong?"  Again, her blue eyes grew wide and concerned.

"No, no, honey.  Just come sit on my lap."  My tone was even, though my speech wasn't at all prepared.

Her hands dropped back to her sides, a big chunk of matted curls fell over one eye, and she found her place on me, her body just a bit too heavy for extended lap sits. 

"Eliana, do you know what saxy means?" I asked.


"Well, first of all, saxy is not even a word.  The word that I think Billy meant to say was, 'sexy.'  Sexy is a word for grown-ups and it's not really an appropriate thing for kids to call other kids,” I continued.

"Is it a bad word, mama?"  My daughter is a pleaser.  She hates breaking rules. 

"No, babe.  It's not a bad word.  It's just a word for grown-ups and not even a word that I really like all that much.  I don't really say it, honey."  When was the last time I had used the word 'sexy.'  I really don't know.

"But what does it mean, mom?"  I guess I had still avoided the actual definition.

I started to flounder a bit.  I'm an English teacher.  I teach oodles of vocabulary words every week.  It brings me great pleasure to explain the meanings of words.  Except when the word is sexy and the kid is six.

"When someone describes someone else as sexy, it's sort of like a fancy, grown-up way of saying that the other person is pretty.  But it's like more than pretty.  But it's not like pretty on the inside, it's just about being pretty on the outside.  Does that make sense?"  I was starting to go on a bit too long.

"Yeah, mom.  Like Elephaba is green but she's pretty on the inside.  So she's saxy?"

Even with the vowel clarification, saxy seems to be the preferred pronunciation for my girl.  And I'm way good with that.

"Not really, honey," I continued.

"But it doesn't really matter what you look like on the outside, right mom?  What counts is kindness."  She looked serious and pure and earnest.  "Can I go play with Soli now?"

Eliana has always had an after-school-special quality about her word choice.  She's always been very articulate and able to play the innocent quite well.  Most of it is legit, but sometimes these sentences are almost too scripted sounding.  So while she seemed to have found a morally righteous closing for our little discussion, I let her scamper away.  But the whole thing left quite a funky taste in my mouth. 

We want our daughters to be confident.  We want them to feel strong.  To feel bright.  To feel capable. 

Part of that is how they present themselves to the world.  We want them to feel beautiful. I don't want Eliana going to school without having her hair brushed.  I love it when her leggings actually match her dress and she doesn't show up total hardcore Punky Brewster.  But am I wanting her to be saxy?  Is matching socks and clean ponytails the early stages of eyeliner and short shorts?  I don't think it is.  It's what my mother would call, well-groomed.  But for women, for girls, so often it comes down to being saxy.  Even in the first grade.

So here is my reminder.  My reminder of my feminist roots and Ani Difranco blaring headphones.  My reminder that my daughter's middle name comes from the protagonist in an Alice Walker novel.  My reminder of how outraged I was the first time I started to understand basic feminist theory.  The rallys and marches.  The poetic diatribes and spoken word mics.  This mama will work hard to define saxy for her daughter in a way that resonates with depth and strength.  Eliana will know that at the end of the day, we are nothing but our integrity, our honesty, our creativity, our knowledge.  That, why it's okay to go forth in the world with some saxy sass, it's the grit and sincerity beneath that really runs the show. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mama's Day Rad

I hereby declare today to be the best Mother's Day for me.  From rainy morning chai and snuggles in bed to meditative hot yoga downtown to more chai with Gita to impromptu shop for myself at Betty's to rad brunch at the Silk Road with my crew, to drawing and, "Wicked" Pandora with Eliana to wildflower expedition on Mt. Jumbo to Les Mis with Casey and then, finally, home again to my sweet man, this day has had just about all my passions.  I've had good exercise, good music, good food, good times with the family, good times with my girlfriends.  I've felt so calm and present all day, so settled and full of grace and gratitude.  Tonight listening to my local actors rock a very challenging piece of musical theatre, all I could think about was my family, and how many wonderful times we had together sharing music and musicals.  I remember my dad belting out his best Jean Valjean impersonation, Hilary reciting all the parts as fast as she could, dead pan, circa age 13, Brandon singing Epoinine, my mom banging bits and pieces out on the piano.  I remember the parts where we would hold hands, the way we knew instantly if we liked a certain cast member or not, the oodles of happy tears, the way we saw the show so many times in so many amazing places.  Casey and I were talking afterwards about how we are making our legacies right now, how our kids are finally getting old enough to really share in some of the things that we love with authenticity.  While Elie's too young for all the gunfire and prostitution in the show, she's not too young to hear the harmonies, to learn of the relationships that layer and deepen over the course of the piece.  She's not too young to learn that art heals, art teaches history, art is freedom, art is revolution.  She's not too young to look forward to the day when she's old enough to see these shows in the theatre, hold my hand, and cry happy tears at all the right parts. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

and then he was four

And then he was four and
for the first time
had clear opinions about what a
birthday looked like.
Lemon cake and balloons
and lots of spins on the carousel,
had his own buddies to invite,
his own little crew of men and women
gathered around, sang cumpleanos feliz cha cha cha,
new what sort of baseball cap to buy him
or cool light up wheel things for his
brand new bike. 


His sister regressed that day
her kindness and affection turned
cold with envy, quick to react,
quick to tears and I remember how
complex we all are.  Integrating
all the time. Moving through space,
moving through years,
putting pieces together again and again
continuing towards the completion
of our finest and most whole selves.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Dads and Sons


I have never noticed before,
how dark your eyes can really be,
lines seeping in like water,
when you write for the first time
about our son and how you don’t
want him to grow up.
I remember the story of you
crying the night before
your fourth birthday
because you wanted to stay three
forever and across town
we watch your daddy shrink,
pants fall to his ankles like rain to a puddle
and he shuffles and shuffles ,
past the bad mantras on the wall about
living for today,
a head on a table,
a head to a chin,
shuffle and shuffle,
through air like chicken soup and urine,
through memories of big trucks and the Jersey shore,
 past his grandson and the new green football,
towards the open window,
back to being small.


I had the opportunity to spend last week with my sixth and seventh grade students at a science camp outside Jackson Hole.  While I was technically working twenty-four hour days for a full week, my duties were so different to those that I have in the classroom.  I was in charge of emotional support, safety, timeliness.  I was in charge of encouraging the kids to be their best selves and in doing so, had the opportunity to do the same.  Every day required ample time for reflection and journaling.  Some of my musings are below, replete with the gratitude inherent in stillness and quiet in nature.

The Tetons are grandiose, dramatic,
total show-offs.  They pierce the sky
like futuristic planets,
glow above the hillside,
the sagebrush,
the kind and forgiving
community of aspens,
the lone moose crossing Ditch Creek,
a piercing edge,
a searing crevasse.
They are all muscle and angle,
these staunch guardians
of the valley.

One Tree
The lone,
curvy aspen,
thicker than the rest,
mottled and gray with age.
She’s birthed many babies,
nurtured a bustling brood,
branches reaching haywire,
organized chaos,
holding court on the hillside.

An Odd Obsession with the Columbian Ground Squirrel
In the Tetons, in late April, the ground is still hard with snow,
the moutains alive and charged.  Beneath the earth,
the Columbian ground squirrel sleeps in a frozen cocoon until
she awakes to the sweet sound of grass growing.
If you put her frozen body in a warm hand, you can
watch her come back to life but doing so would deny them her the
opportunity to hear that faint song, smell the green make the dance
upward, feel the tickle on her furry tail before she too begins her
April shuffle, her April scat of squeeks and jives,
wild hops like the old black and white films of people possessed by
reefer madness, running from the room in crazed delirium,
shrieking with unexpected delight.