What Busyness Takes

There will not be that ideal moment to write; when all ripe tomatoes are cleared from the weighted, fragrant vines, when the laundry is all tucked into drawers and relaxing onto hangers, when the children are deep into quiet, peaceful play, and the to do list is a crossed-off list of merry accomplishment.  Such a moment would last, at best, a span of minutes, and so I write anyways.  I just left to help a frustrated toddler remove his wooden cars from his little barn toy where he had hopelessly wedged them.

Financial burdens led me this past year into multiple jobs and homeschooling my five year old, with a baby and toddler at home as well.  I did babysitting at a local church, I became a direct care worker for a disabled person, and I continued my soap business, albeit without a partner, who moved out of state.  Though there was love in my offering, I felt, and still feel, hollowed out by the weight of the work of that year.  The children I cared for gave me their smiles and their joy, and I love them.  The person I care for with a disability has given me concrete perspective on suffering and perseverance.  My small soap company has given me just enough to stave off needing loans to pay for our childrens’ education, and gave me the opportunity to grow in my craft.  All these good things, and yet, there was too much, leaving not enough of me to breathe.  Not enough of me to connect at day’s end with my kids and husband and friends.  I missed the kids’ sports, social events, and quiet evening time playing games around the table, because I was working or falling asleep standing up.

Activities give, but busyness takes, and I’ve found that I cannot live well with what it takes.  We are taking steps to reduce my work.  We enrolled the homeschooled kiddo, and I declined to babysit this year.  I put in a request to drop to one morning a week for direct care.  I wrote to one of my wholesale customers that I’d be unlikely to make the quantity of soaps they’d requested (this was a sorrow as I love the shop’s owner and have sold at their location for years).  I am fully owning that I’m one person and that I can’t breathe; that I require open stretches of time that aren’t stalked and menaced by a workload that endlessly intones, “back to work, back to work”.  I need my energy that has been consumed by busyness; I need it to be a “horsey” for my baby to ride on, I need it to cook wholesome food for my growing kids, I need it for cheering on my kids while they play sports.  They have first dibs on what I have to give.

I don’t want to miss these years.  I don’t want to produce a thousand bars of soap if it means I’m too tired to read a bedtime story to these little ones who grow an inch every time I look away.  I’m putting a stop to the madness that can be stopped, so that I can reasonably  deal with the madness that can’t.55458331_10157517776583352_5915649093199200256_o55819024_10157527981533352_787634639161262080_o56396022_10157545627993352_5875322391126605824_o57568478_10157581165648352_7460836377630867456_odrawing


What the House Holds

The floor still creaks the same, and the hall gives the sound a shape that my heart knows.   I shed snow pants, boots, and gloves there, the bluish light of four o’clock in winter peering in through the living room windows.  Warm light at the end of the hall, the clamor of pots being wrestled out of the cupboards, the light dry sizzle of meat on cast iron, drew me, with reddened nose and cheeks and hat hair, wet socks, and frozen toes.

The stools at the counter made their own bark of wood-on-wood, because some of the legs had lost their felt circles, and I slipped my feet on to the rungs and climbed to watch her.  My mother was a whirlwind in the kitchen; frying, steaming, baking, cleaning, and it’s only after the years have made me a mother that I can see my limbs took notes, my hands work the same way, resting on my hips when I’m thinking what to do next.  Stir the sauce and bang the wooden spoon on the edge to clean it.

Why do my eyes fill so?

Voyeurism can take many forms.  I stalk my childhood home on real estate sites.  I see pictures of the rooms; I hear the rooms.  My memories lays over the changed paint and fixtures; it places the characters back in the scene.  My brother draws with me in the dining room, my sister is slouched in a wing chair by the fireplace, listening to music on her Walkman.  Our cat Annie weaves through our legs under the table.  But then, the photo reasserts itself, gone are the leather chairs that came from a courthouse once upon a Montana auction.  Gone are the purrs under the table, gone the table, and the small people who didn’t know all that the house held.

These were the rooms that heard my Grandma Gwen’s voice; I can still hear her voice and how the room would shape it.  Even a grown woman can still want to curl up in a lap like hers and hear, “Oh now, it’s okay.  You’re going to be just fine.”

Why do my eyes pour so?

I banged those doors in anger, teenage rage blasting the frames.  Even so, there was still the warmth of the kitchen at the end of the hallway.  There was a bone-wearied parent yet stirring, scrubbing, and kneading; work that called down the hall “Even so, I love you”.

There were sadnesses, houses hold those too; somehow as years pass I find less of them in my memory; they are outshone by all the life and light that was there.

I write from my house, this house that accepts all these new characters as if they were expected, written in the script from the first shovelful of dirt at the turn of the century, when the house was becoming, rising up from a field, sticks and lathe and brick.

There they are, gathered on stools that scrape against the tile, felt pads lost, watching me cook.  They don’t know yet; all that this house holds.


On Solitude, Capes, and Norms

IMG_1836As a mother of a brood of half a dozen children (all chatty extroverts) and the wife of an extremely social husband, myself being an introvert on the level of a wannabe hermit, there is no greater luxury for me than time alone, time quiet.  The thoughts I find there simply don’t surface amid noise and clamor and others.

A half hour of picking berries in a quiet glen, the ruby red wineberries rolling into my palm with a touch.  The birds spoke, and I gathered words and impressions along with the berries, so tart and so sweet.  The quiet; it clears space, it clears the throat of my innermost voice.

I push a cart through the thrift store, a favorite haunt, to see what the spinning machine of materialism would spit out upon the racks and shelves.  I take it in, the sequined mini skirt, or tube top perhaps?  Who went to a store and said to themselves, “Why, this is JUST the thing!”  There, sagging on the hangers, were the wide lapel, navy-inspired office suits with their gold braid buttons and polyester glory, shoulder pads showing bravely stiff amidst the drooping.  Nappy sweaters that had fooled their owners:  “I am so nice and soft!”, and one dryer cycle later, “Never mind, I am shamefully matted.”

My hands run over the racks, pausing when my fingertips feel linen, wool, silk, cotton.  I check the ingredients.  Rayon, polyester, and any of their clever aliases go back.  I examine the silk lining of a short cropped jacket (a sign of good craftsmanship), wondering if it would go well with a makeshift Regency costume.  Why?  Well…a person with an imagination always has reasons.

A friend found a sparkly purple dress at a yard sale for a dollar.  She lamented that she had no occasion to wear it to, to justify the great expense, of course.  So she invented an annual occasion, The Purple Dress Party.  I attended, I came away inspired.  I’ve been somewhat smitten with period dress since the newest Pride and Prejudice came out.  I wanted to wear everything the characters wore.  I was spurred further on by reading Ruth Goodman’s delightful works “How To Be a Tudor” and “How To Be a Victorian”.  A question that I’ve had percolating for nearly twenty years has been this:  “If I love the dress of another era, why do I not wear those clothes?  What stops me?”  And then, “Well, I suppose I could throw a Jane Austen dinner party every year….”

A friend wrote on Facebook the other day of her insatiable desire to own a full length cape.  I heartily concurred.  What stops me?  Only the lack of a Caped Caper Club, an annual night when lady friends don capes and walk a local trail in hilarious seriousness. Think of the urban legends that may result!?!

Whatever it is that’s kept me relatively normal apparel-wise, it may not always hold such sway.  Already I wrap myself in pashmina shawls, wear long skirts and soft leather shoes.  There are hints that I embrace a more romantic form of dress; that the barest threads of convention to norms is all that keeps me from capes, pinafores, and muslin gowns.  That and not wishing to hopelessly embarrass my teenagers.

It’s a small thing, to hear those oft-muffled thoughts, yearnings of dressing artfully and beautifully, but it is a gift of the quiet, a gift of solitude.

On Small Joys

Take a moment, maybe?

Our lives are brief.  We breathe through the hard, we let tears fall one after another, chasing each other’s trails, dripping off our chins.  We laugh hard, we laugh with our whole selves, bending low with the joy, then throwing our heads back, laughter erupting forth; the sound joy makes.

In between, in the even breathing, in the blank expression, washing a dish, thinking of how to untangle a work knot, wondering if Sadness will come and turn out the lights inside; even there…

A warm cup of coffee and a blanket.

A phone call with a friend whose soul knows yours.

A flower that dares to open fully, radiantly.

The way of dogs, to lay their heads on knees just then.

The candle, lit and nestled into a trough of sand, prayer in light and wax.

The child, wild, who wants suddenly a kiss.

Why not learn to enjoy the little things-there are so many of them.

-St. John Chrysostom,  347-407 A.D.

What Not To Say To Your Poor Friend

There is no steady trajectory to it, no tidy line going forward, gaining momentum, hurling towards measurable goals, dreams, visions.  There are only questions, large and small.

Will we be able to pay our tax bill?

Will we be able to keep our kids at the school they love?

How much debt is acceptable to do so?

Will we ever have extra after the bills are paid?

How long can we put off getting our childrens’ teeth cleaned?

When can we afford the MRI for our daughter’s knee?  What will happen if we can’t?

Which of our possessions should I try to sell?

What if our car breaks down again?


“You deserve it.  You had all those kids.  You got yourself into this.  What did you expect?”

Not everyone sees children in the same way you do; as planned dots on your trajectory, tidily managed.  Also, three of our kids were surprises (those can happen, you know).   We’re glad they’re here; we’re doing everything we can possibly do to raise them well.


“Well, you’ll just have to cut back and save.”

You should come and see how we live each day.  Do you like beans?  Cloth diapering?  Hanging out the wash?  Butchering your own meat?  Repairing clothing?  Selling your things?  Working three jobs? Canning and gardening out of necessity, not just as a hobby?  No tv?  No cable?  One cellphone?  No video games?  Used clothing and shoes and toys?  No cleaning products, just vinegar and baking soda for everything?  No dishwasher?  

“It’s not about how much you make, but how much you save.”

Even if we can’t save because there isn’t enough to break even?


I do not ask for your sympathy, but just PLEASE, PLEASE don’t say such things to folks who are drowning.  We are already down, no need to kick.



Why, wild Giver,

This loathsome, leaking

Wretched blackness

Threatening to swallow, to swallow swift

All good gain, all light


You say it so softly, so softly

Right into my tingling ear

Wrought red by weeping, by raging

-My love, despair not

Take this wretched, this leaking, this puncturing

This pain

Take it in hands of flesh and hold it.-


I cannot hold it

I scream

It weighs, I bend

Hands slip under my arms

-Hold up your arms, I aid you-

Tight, tense, through pale lips


-Hold, beloved, hold.-


I hold.


Arms, every muscle quivering, alive with weight pulling into the ground

His hands under my arms lifting.

-Stronger than the weight

Dear one

We hold, we lift.-


Up it rose, past my swollen face

With salt, salt of tears, all traced

Up and above us


-We go to offer it, we go to make an offering

This way go the martyrs; they held

Take courage, dear one,

You will not always lift

I myself will lift you up

When arms no longer tremble, when backs threaten not to snap under the weight

This way go the martyrs; they held.

Dear one, hold.-_mg_8393



Nature, Like White Paper


We aren’t really playground material.  Unless, that is, if no one else is using it.  Then it can become an obstacle course for an intense game of tag or a jungle gym for my children who find no joy nor challenge in the “correct usage” of the equipment.  They go up the slides, climb on top of the swing bars, and try to spin themselves into white-knuckled, near-projectiles on the merry-go-round.

My four year old climbed a five foot fake boulder at a playground while I watched from about ten feet away.  Another mother was soon spotting him from below, asking anxiously, “OH HONEY!  Where is your mommy?”

“I’m here,” I said, giving a little wave, “He’s fine.”

Her eyes told me that he was indeed not fine, but she moved on.  I appreciate her care, I do.  If he’d been wandering toward a busy road or had been being bullied by some big kids, she’d be one I’d want to have around; a protector, an ally, a do-er.  Unfortunately, we don’t always see eye-to-eye about what constitutes acceptable risk.  I find the current culture of helicopter parenting to be exhausting.  Have you been to a playground on a busy day recently?  Kids are followed around, constantly!  They are directed on how to use the playground “correctly”.  There is a chorus of mothers saying “OKAY, no, no, honey, we only go down the slides.  NO, no, sweetie, take turns.  Oh, say you’re sorry for bumping into that boy.  OKAY, kids, not so fast on the merry-go-round; now stop it so this girl can get on, okay, go slowly, NO STANDING, okay stop it and let him off, okay….”  It’s like this delicate dance of politeness and correctness and fairness and safety, and really, I didn’t come here to direct a ballet; I came so that my children could dash about, climb, spin, and work off that boisterous and overflowing energy which is there for a reason.  And if you don’t follow the Momicopter Culture?  You’re shamed.  Shamed for letting your kid carry a small stick.  Shamed for letting them climb.  Shamed for letting them jump off the swings.  Shamed for letting them throw snowballs.  Shamed for not making them slow the tire swing down to a speed other parents comfortable with (even if it’s just your own kids on it!).  Shamed for letting your kid stomp in the rain puddles and get understandably cold.

I vividly remember the playgrounds of my youth.  They were made of wood and metal; they had precipitous drop offs, unforgiving angles, and slides that could fry eggs in the summer.  Tall towers to climb, high swings from which kids could launch into glory, and wondrously speedy, large merry-go-rounds.  And the moms?  Stationed on a park bench, book in hand, happy to have a rest while the kids exhausted themselves.  Kids got splinters, bruises, and the wind knocked out of them, sure.  They also got to navigate risk.

I took my kids to our local playground today, which was blessedly empty.  I noticed that the huge wooden ship, where many of my kids’ early memories were staged of harpooning imaginary whales, leading a band of pirates, or braving typhoons, was gone, replaced by an open stretch of newly seeded grass.  First had went the open stairwell to the ship’s interior, boarded shut “for safety”.  Then the mast.  Then the slide. Then the whole boat itself.  I noticed quite a few more missing attractions; without a doubt they were deemed “unsafe”.  There remained nothing exciting; no apparatus which caused any tingle of fear.  There was no risk.

My kids solved it.  They climbed in the no-climb zones (atop partitions, over low walls, etc).  They dragged big gnarly downed branches in and made weapons and tools out of them.  They plunged headfirst down the small slides.  Their developing brains made accommodations for the lack of risk.  I scribbled out these thoughts on a scrap of paper in my purse and tilted my face to the sun.  “Nature is like blank white paper; anything can be wrought upon it; it can absorb any story you draw on it.  Playgrounds are like coloring books; the stage, the lines, are set, fixed.  There is a degree of success expected because of the proferred design:  here is how to enjoy this; follow the rules and it will turn out nicely.  Playgrounds with helicopter moms in full command are like paint-by-number pieces, where even the minutest details are not left to chance in the pursuit of excellent, safe, play.  I can think of no greater threat to imagination and safety than this current state of affairs.”  I wrote it out in hurried cursive.  My baby clambered past, slipping on patches of snow.  He hollered at the icy cold on his bare hands, shook off the snow, and carried on.

Appropriate risk is crucial to developing brains.  Overly coddled and protected children don’t have the tools to interact with their environment in the absence of their parent.  I’ll never forget the time when I hosted a stream-stomping birthday party for my son in third grade and invited several boys from his class.  One boy, whose mother was on the extreme end of helicoptering, asked if I was going to hold his hand on the walk to the park (it’s just through a development, no major roads nor traffic).  When we arrived at the stream, the boys clambered down through the brush and started exploring, splashing, and pretending.  He turned to me and asked “Where are the steps to get down to the water?”

“Um…there are no steps, just walk through the brush.”

“But what do I do?”

I was shocked.  Had this child ever been allowed to interact with nature without an adult telling him how?  “Just go explore, feel the water, run around, be a kid!”

After the creek stomp we headed back and I let the boys build a fire to cook our supper on.  The one boy looked on with a mystified expression on his face.  Fire was danger, danger is for adults.

I don’t pretend that every adult reading this is agreeing with my point of view, but I do ask you…if 100% of kids love to try to climb up slides, why are we always telling them not to?  When the worst case scenario is as benign as getting run into by a kid coming down, which automatically teaches the climber the risk involved and how to hedge against it, say, by observing by sight and sound whether another person is up at the top, why are we interfering?  Couldn’t it be that kids’ minds know what they need to do to grow?

It is my contention that good playgrounds enable rather than inhibit appropriate risk, and so do good parents.  I think the magic of kids’ play really takes place when they not only navigate bodily risk, but also learn the give and take of social interactions (sharing, apologizing, being considerate) without a parent prompting them.  When they screw up, of course a parent should pull them aside and reiterate expectations, but that should be a rarity.  They’re there to play, to learn, to risk, and to grow.  That will only happen if we get out of the way.

Until then, I prefer nature itself; there is no “correct usage” of a fallen tree spanning a small creek.  Maybe it’s a bridge, maybe it’s a pirate ship’s plank to walk, maybe it’s simply the risk-du-jour that needs experienced and conquered.