The Come-and-Go Gift

So imagine someone hands you a gift in shiny paper. You tear it open and it’s amazing. You hold it and touch it and play with it. You can’t imagine life before, or anything ever being better.

Then, it vanishes. *Poof* it’s gone. Devastation. Where did it go?

And just as you are about to mourn, someone hands you another gift – different size, different shape, maybe not as shiny, maybe even more sparkly then the first. You tear it open and it’s amazing and ….

– Welcome to watching your child grow up.

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Frankenhouse

Well, bugger. 

I’ve been fortunate to walk the Brazilian cherry wood floors of some beautiful homes lately that are on the market…and I mean bee-u-tee-ful. Open. Spacious. Spacious enough, in fact, that I think my entire little cottage could fit into some of the master suites, laundry rooms as big as my kitchen. The architecture and the consideration of detail in these homes are pretty amazing. 

And so, I find myself “Frankenhousing” – yes, exactly what it sounds like. Mentally piecing together all my favorite parts of each home into the one perfect home.  This kitchen, that bathroom, the layout of that living space.  I have to tell you, the Frankenhouse is pretty spectacular. 

Where would I put it? Sheesh. Whole other issue. Our current location is Ideal – with the capital “I”.  We can walk to anything in town, we are near the water, and it’s remarkably quiet.  So I am frankenhousing this house now, and I will tell you, it’s making my head hurt.  What would it take to make this one the perfect cottage? 

And there it is. What is it in human nature that makes us feel unsatisfied? Wanting constant change and at the same time we want peace and continuity.  It’s a balance I haven’t quite mastered, though I practice every day.  (I know how Luke Skywalker felt with Yoda saying “Never his mind on where he is” – yeah yeah… I get it weird little green fella.)

There is a difference between contentment and stagnation, though. A person can grow from a place of contentment, but stagnation is just dropping into the quicksand without a fight.

Contentment comes from days like we had last week. The wind blowing like crazy, things hitting the side of the house, rain clawing at the window….and none of it got in. I sat on the hand-me-down couch – by far the most comfortable couch we have ever owned – with a cup of tea, an ungrateful cat, and a small warm dog. The home is solid, and not so much as a creak.  She stood her ground and kept us safe and warm. What more can you ask of a home?

Maybe we’ll stay, and she’ll grow with us.  I have no idea. I do know that I will focus on the fact that our family has a place to play and snuggle and from where we can launch our many adventures. We can grow here. 

 I’m still going to Frankenhouse –  can’t help myself – and maybe with just a little more patience and practice I’ll get that balance thing figured out. 

 

 

 

 

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Four Walls and Soul

 I love houses. I love homes. 

Architecture geek that I am, driving around Anacortes and trying to figure out where neighborhoods begin and end based on the architecture is what I call a good time. Riding with me means pulling on off the side streets to take a historical tour.  And, like millions of others,  I really enjoy Downton Abby – but I’m not watching it for the plot (recent developments, GRR!) and the good looking men…. ok, a little for the men…but very little.  It’s the house… that beautiful house –  Highclere Castle, which was designed by Sir Charles Barry, who also designed the Houses of Parliament. (See? Geek.)

This has been going on for a while. House loving started in England when our family was stationed there. My mom and I would be out on an errand and through my thick glasses, I’d watch the rows of cottages, detached semis, and attached semis go by.  I loved the crisp, bright, white trim against the red brick and the brightly colored doors.  Every so often we’d pass a stately looking home, or particularly lovely looking cottage, and I’d say “We could do with a house like that, mummy!”

My morning walk to Tower Hill Primary School was past row houses with tiny, but tidy gardens. Each house exactly the same structure, each home completely unique. 

(Oh no. Have I become a broker to be an architectural voyeur? Hadn’t thought of that. Yikes.)

No, It’s not entirely the case. Maybe it’s because I never had one “forever” home and still long for the place I know every creak, every worn groove in the wood.

I remember house hunting in Ipswich, Massachusetts – an interesting experience. One house we looked at was huge, gorgeous, with all the character of an authentic Colonial – since it was constructed during the actual Colonial era – annnnd it had a stream in the basement. It’d been like that for a couple hundred years.  But there was this other big Colonial home that had been divided into condos. This place was old, as in pre Paul Revere’s Ride old. There were a lot of interesting things about the place, but it was the back stairs of the place that I remember most.

They were the original stairs. In every step was a worn area, the slightest concave dent in the stair where thousands of steps were taken over the last two hundred plus years. I wondered who used them? Families, servants, slaves – carrying bread, babies, firewood. I put my hand in one and felt the smoothness, like polished driftwood.  I travelled the stairs a couple times in hope I might absorb the stories.

The forever home. Circumstances have been such that my son hasn’t had one either, and that breaks my heart a little.  I wanted so much for him to have the tree that grew along with him and his name over lines in the door frame marking his growth. . .soft dents in the stairs.

At the very least I hope he’ll have a place to bring his kids. For now, each place we’ve lived we have made ours, and it feels like us.

We have the four walls and a roof, and that’s a house.  It’s four walls and soul that make it our home. 

Image

 

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Respectful Complications

My boy and I were talking about teachers this year. “The other kids say she’s mean and strict.” In kid-speak, that could mean anything from “she doesn’t let us do whatever we want,” to “the teacher can make their head spin around and they spit fire!” It could go either way.

He’s a little nervous. He’s never had issue with any teacher before.

“Bear, you’ll be fine. I’m guessing she has some pretty solid expectations of her class, so find out what those are. Use your best manners, don’t talk out of turn, don’t chat with your classmates, and do your work. Really concentrate on your writing, and if it takes a little longer to get things done, you can explain to her that you’re just a little slower til you get your writing smoother.”

“Ok” he says.

“If you concentrate on your best manners, work hard, and be respectful…”

PAUSE – as soon as “respectful” was uttered it seemed time stood still.

I attended many schools, in many states, and in two countries. Dad was big on being respectful in my behavior. Not necessarily to respect blindly, but to be accountable for my treatment of others. It’s a subtle difference, but when you get it, you get it.

Being respectful towards others is our business and in doing so we are, in turn, worthy of respect.

This is what was spinning in my head as the world went slow-mo.

I knew what disrespect felt like having been belittled by a teacher in front of a grade school class. I was already at a disadvantage being the new kid, again, and to have the teacher join in made me feel so very, very small. “This is so simple! How is it you don’t understand?” Ouch. Thanks so much.

Flash forward – high school. The girls in front of me are talking, and our very stern teacher snaps at me to “Stop talking and move to the other side of the classroom”

“What?”

“I’m tired of you girls yammering away when you should be working. No wonder you struggle in this class!” Way to make it personal.

“Sir, I wasn’t talking…”

“Don’t talk back, GO!” he yells.

The girls who had been talking protest, and tell him they were the ones talking, but that doesn’t matter. He shouts “Just get out of here, I don’t even want to look at you!”

…and I am sent to the office, and told my parents are going to be told of my disrespectful behavior. Oh, and that I am to write an apology letter.

My father, a man who has earned a great deal of respect from his men and his peers, very calmly asks about it that night. He understands why I feel so angry and hurt. (I did write the apology letter…kind of. My father’s input was to write in a very clear and concise manner, a respectful note, but to address the way the teacher made me feel by punishing me for something I hadn’t done, and refusing to allow me to address it, and for commenting on my overall performance in anger.)

So, at that moment, in the car with Bear, I remembered these events in a big ol’ swirl – Not quite a Scooby Doo flashback – think instrumental timeline montage. For the first time, there were words for this.

How can we expect or demand respect, if we are not willing to be respectful.

There. Simple. Clean. Bear needs to know this.

“Bear..”

“Yeah?” he says, and I see him in the rearview mirror – and those eyes…those beautiful, clear, sincere, intelligent, trusting eyes.

“Respect goes both ways, Buddy. If you ever feel that you are not being treated fairly, or respectfully, by any teacher or grown up you let me know, promise?”

His face relaxes a little, then his brow furrows, “What does that mean?”

Deep breath – “It means that if anyone makes you feel small, or like you are a bad person, or stupid, or somehow less…does that make sense? It’s NOT ok, just because it’s a grown up. It’s never ok from anyone.”

Silence, and I see it flash in his eyes. Some moment I’ve not known about, some time maybe when someone was cruel to him – and it breaks my heart – and I see that he understands.

“Yeah…” He says quietly. Then smiles, “I promise.”

He hugged me when I dropped him off, in front of the school and everything, and I had that thing that parents feel so rarely – Holy crap.. I think I got something right.

So, as I said on the FaceBook, it’s not enough to teach our children to be respectful. They must also be taught to recognize when they are being treated with respect, when they are not, and that they are worthy of it.

Oh, and that teacher to whom I had to write the letter? I received an apology letter of my own.

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10,000 Miles

This gallery contains 11 photos.

I picked up my guitar this morning to run through a few songs.  It didn’t go according to my cunning plan. Grief is a strange thing. It can be manipulated, ignored, felt, pressed down. Grief can devastate, inspire, comfort, and … Continue reading

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Ego + Parenting = :(

I contend that ego and parenting don’t mix.

Bear is not an extension of me.  He is entirely his own being, and has been since the first slug to the uterine wall.  In no way do I feel that he is even remotely responsible for any of my successes or failures.  He is a unique and amazing person.

I have tried to formulate this into something coherent, and hit the backspace key so many times. . . To be honest I sort of thought this one would write itself, as it is something about which I am very passionate and vigilant.  Interesting, that while ego might not mix well with parenting, it certainly rears its pompous little head when writing. Having now politely told it to “Sod off,” I can move on.

Too often parents express their disappointment in their child because they aren’t the athlete they want them to be, or the musician, or whatever it is.  I get it. We love them, we want everything for them, but the number one lesson I’ve learned on this parenting journey is that it’s not about me.

Laura Lavigne tells a great story in her book “Pink Hair and Chocolate Cookies” about two twin girls that had been adopted separately and their respective moms.  When they had contact, one complained that her daughter fussed and screamed for cinnamon on everything and the subsequent trauma this caused, while the other mother had figured out the cinnamon thing and kept a shaker of it within reach at the table.  Brilliant.

I hear that story and wonder why mom A was so anti-spice. Did she not like cinnamon? Was there some sort of cinnamon trauma in her past and she wanted to protect this little girl from the same terror? Just an opinion, but I don’t think it was about the little girl at all.

Bear doesn’t run amuck.  He is not allowed to whack another child upside the head, or draw on someone’s wall while I beam and say “he’s just expressing himself.”  There are boundaries and lines of behavior that are not crossed.  Behaving in a courteous and respectful manner, and being responsible, are not optional.  That’s just common sense, right? Not because of a reflection on me, but because I think life will be easier for him if he has these behaviors while he pursues his life.

It’s a balancing act, one almost impossible to explain.  I will say that the more time I spend getting to know my son as an individual human being, the easier it is to parent.  His hopes, his dreams, his fears and disappointments are known to me.  Attention is paid to the things that bring him down or light him up.  Every day there is a conversation about what were his low points was and what his high points.  Dave and I strive to know who Bear is – and it’s a crazy kind of courtship building this deep relationship that will change, has to change, as he grows up and goes out on his own.

This was all put to the test not long ago – just so ya’ll know I am not wholly immune to this ego thing. (I said I was vigilant, not perfect.)

Conor’s school was offering a strings program. As most of you know, I am a musician. I come from a family of them. My dad and oldest brother are the only ones who are not actively musical – and even they have both played an instrument. So, music being such a part of my life, some would assume Conor wants that too.  Nope.

“Bear, do you want to do the strings program at school and learn violin or something?”

“No thanks.” What?  I don’t know what I was expecting. It’s not like I’ve been having to fight him to get my guitar back or anything.

“Are you sure?” I ask.

“Not really interested in music. I like listening to music and stuff, but I’m not really interested in learning an instrument.” Stunned silence from me, while gasping on the inside.  Any dreams of us playing duets…FLUSH!

Two possible reactions here. One, use your imagination, but it involves an unhappy kid with sore fingers and plenty of resentment. Two…

A moment of pause to commend him for feeling safe and confident enough to express his true feelings without being hurtful or disrespectful. . .

“What are you interested in learning, Bear?” I asked him, though I already had an idea.

“Science. Science and Art,” he says with total conviction.

Done. He’s taking after school classes in photography, drawing, and woodcarving. He is a talented photographer, an impressive artist, and a mildly enthusiastic wood carver (but I think the enthusiasm is about using sharp pointy things.) We have new things to talk about after every class, like shadow and composition. . . preventing injury to oneself or others with sharp pointy things. He is happy.  (How much is my ego out of it? I let him do his photo story about me before and after coffee.  Not pretty, but highly amusing.)

In the end it was a win/win (is that how that is written? no clue.)  He has the benefits of learning a skill that will require a level of discipline and practice, skills in themselves, but it’s in an area he chose.  Dave and I have the joy of watching Bear as he discovers his talents and passions…

…oh, and the art that will be on my fridge is gonna totally kick ass.

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Some thoughts on why I don’t sleep 100%. . . and why I don’t care.

 I’d hoped to add a new tab for previous notes and posts, but WordPress taunts me. Ahh well, rather than get my knickers in a twist about it being set up in a perfect way, I’m just doing it this way. The essence is here, even if the form didn’t turn out.  This little train of thought originally left the station on January 16th, 2010.

My son has been wanting to sleep with me lately. He wakes up in his dark room and, as he tells me, just feels so lonely.  The wind howls around that corner sometimes, where his room is, so he bears it as long as he can, but he decides sleep is done.

So, something scratches me out of sleep – and in that gray area between sleep and awake, I hear footsteps. Dog? No. No clickety clack of claws on hardwood. Cat? No. That bugger is stealthy, so not him. I realize devil cat is sleeping on my feet.  My boy? No.  Asleep.  So what is this sound? Then, that icy dread and terror, thinking someone has made it into your home and you mentally run through every scenario – or as in my state, realizing the flashlight is in reach….and that’s a damn heavy flashlight.

Then something touches my comforter on the other side of the bed and I am upright and alert, only to see in the dim light my boy is actually out of bed.  In fact, Bear is tucking a stuffed animal version of a baby penguin into the empty side of my bed – head on pillow and covers being pulled up.

“Bear?”
“Oh, Hi mom,” he whispers.
“What are you doing, buddy?”
“I woke up and thought you’d be lonely so I brought you Pengy. Then you wont be lonely”

He stands there, waiting for my response. I can make out his small shape and hear him breathing. He has a question that he’s not asking out loud, but he’s still waiting for my answer – hoping I’ve heard him.

“Bear, You want to sleep here tonight?”

His answer is to jump in the bed and snuggle up into the pillow.  “I love you, mom,” he says.
“I love you too, Bear.”

He is a sleep in mere seconds. He takes long slow breaths. I rest my hand on his chest for moment – Checking his heartbeat? Like I’m not sure if it’s beating or something? He’s not a tiny infant in the crib anymore.

I’m pondering the true deep sleep vs the perpetual alert system he kicked on at birth. I’d been dreaming pretty solid, but that radar kicked in and pulled me out of a dream and said pay attention.

Mothers don’t really sleep 100% when the children are in the house.  Hell, I don’t think any mother ever sleeps 100% again after a newborn enters her life. I can’t speak for fathers, but I cannot imagine it’s any better for them. That internal alert system is activated within minutes of the child joining our life. For me, it was when I came to after the c-section. The second I felt that weight in my arms, I never slept 100% again. Even in the “deepest” of slumbers, I listen for my child, or for anything that could harm him. Even if he is across town. It never shuts down. It isn’t worry – it’s something else.

I’ve lost a little sleep with the hazy-danger-turning-out-to-be-Pengy scenario. As I am drifting away thinking about sleep, scary footsteps, then back to sleep. Each thought is hazier than the last. Bear snores and talks a little in his sleep, sometimes even sings, and so he revives my train of thought every few minutes. Sleep is coming, and my last thought suddenly comes into crystal clear focus: Every heartbeat, every sigh, the talking, singing, and the little murmurs. This is so worth it. I don’t care if I never sleep right again. I wouldn’t trade this ruckus for a lifetime of deep slumber.

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