Overheard

I really do wish that women’s jeans weren’t styled to be so form-fitting or that more dresses and skirts came with pockets. I forget at least a dozen things I overhear or read in a day. They slip through, no matter how hard I work to remember them. I have a little black notebook, but where to put it? I don’t carry a purse when I walk places (and I walk a lot of places). There’s my iPhone, but I’m not entirely comfortable typing on that little screen. I doubt I ever will be. Too much slipping around, and I don’t have small hands.

So I understand why John didn’t want to carry his while traipsing around our area amusement park with Jonah on Wendesday (two free tickets!), but I miss what I didn’t get to see, or hear for that matter. It was Jonah’s first ride-a-thon. We were unsure if the roller coasters would completely freak him out or be his best thing ever. Being such a well-rounded emotional creature, Jonah experienced them as both.

His very first coaster was the Millennium Force. With an initial 80 degree drop, it clocks in at a respectable 93 mph and has been voted one of the best steel coasters in the world. Jonah is 7. Did I say he has never ridden a coaster before? And this was His choice. Granted, as they were pulling out of the station he mentioned, “I’m not sure if this is a good idea.” I just watched the YouTube video, and the height alone left me feeling dizzy and terrified.

But Jonah’s a thrill seeker, so on they went. One coaster they rode four times in a row, continually. No line. (That’s the one that left John with the headache he couldn’t shake for the rest of the day.) Only one ride—a particularly rough coaster that throws you around—truly freaked J out. “I don’t think this is very interesting!” he shouted at John, mid-ride. This is where I can hear G interject (he picked up the line from J, who picked up the line from some show he watches), “That is going to Hurt tomorrow!”

Before and after the day, Jonah told his dad something to the effect of, “Today/Yesterday is like a birthday.” I’m sure their pre-coaster trip to Dunkin’ Donuts and after-coaster trip to McDonald’s intensified the feeling.

G and I stayed home that day, except when we walked to the grocery store. It was muggy and hot. I came home all loose-limbed and salty—one of my favorite feeling. I made myself a margarita on the very cheap (gluten free beer and limeade) and felt entirely refreshed in an exhausted kind of way. G slept while walking, shopping, walking home, and then a good half hour parked in our front room near the AC.

Our good friend Kelsey watched G in the morning while I worked in my office. I got so much done. Not even having the option of a car seems to relieve me of a certain need to “make plans.” I hate making plans. I get all defensive and weird when people ask me about my plans. I certainly have plans in my head, but there’s something in me that doesn’t want to tell you, or anyone. I can be a real pain in the ass to live with. Witness list: parents, sisters, roommates (I’ve only had one—that should tell you something), husband.

Anyway, G got his special surprise when John walked in with a carnival sized one-eyed minion from Despicable Me. He carried it with him everywhere for days. Hearing him shout “I forgot my minion!” while he was getting ready for bed made me want to write a children’s book.

[Speaking of children’s books, check out Nobody’s Diggier than a Dog, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, illustrated by Beppe Giacobbeour. Short excerpt: Nobody’s diggier than a dog– / a bury-a-bone-dog, / a shake-a-paw dog. / Nobody’s piggier than a dog– / a dribble-drool, / toilet-drink, / breathy-stink dog.]

That same night, or maybe it was the next, G awoke in an empty bed (a somewhat freakish occurrence around here) and came stumbling down the hall to our bedroom wimpering, “Daddy, you awn’t theay. You fweaked me out.” It was the sweetest, saddest thing. His need, our needs, the way we keep each other going, so often in spite of ourselves. It reminded me of two separate passages from two separate blogs: a couple—both college professors—who often write about their autistic son, Charlie.

The hours and days of our lives are consumed in what we’ve dubbed autismland: that experience of showing up for life each challenging day has provided the best, really only opportunity of a lifetime to bear witness together as part of a family, with a flesh and blood loved one at its heart.

James T. Fisher at The Irish Waterfront

His wife, Kristina Chew (We Go With Him), wrote: “One keeps vigil over what can.” Which I guess is what this post is all about—bearing witness together.

boy puzzle

Flesh and blood needs flesh and blood / And you’re the one I need.  –Johnny Cash

Sylvia and Simone

This is my third try at a post this week. With the arrival of warmer days, of sun, I find that my need to write is superseded. By what, I can’t just say. I feel slow and happy. Sylvia would disagree.

Is anyone happy? No, not unless they are living in a dream or in an artifice that they or someone else made. For a time I was lulled in the arms of a blind optimism with breasts full of champagne and nipples full of caviar. I thought she was true, and that the true was the beautiful. But the true is the ugly mixed up everywhere, like a peck of dirt scattered through your life. The true is that there is no security, no artifice to stop the unsavory changes, the rat unrace, the death unwish…

Sylvia Plath, May 14, 1953, The Unabridged Journals

“The true is that there is no security, no artifice to stop the unsavory changes…” Part of my necessary slowness is the finally come spring. Any kind of change, even (or especially) the longed-for revolution of temperature, color and growth puts me in fuzzy place. If I slow to the pace of my unsight, I don’t mind the scattered dirt (John and Gabriel stomping the garden off their boots across the kitchen floor and up the stairs). It’s a way to best my doubt. To enter into it rather than run from it.

Just a month earlier, Sylvia—a sensuous lover of the material, of line and form—wrote:

The human tragedy: to be reactionary, the conservative, and to always choose the certainty of daily bread above the light and airy inconsistencies of foreign pastries.

April 9, 1953, The Unabridged Journals

While I’m not the fan of caviar that Ms. Plath was reported to be, my taste in food is often more expensive than I have the resources to be. The deliciously round and not-overly pungent flavor of fancy Greek olives (unsoaked in vinegar or stuffed with slimy pimentos) that run about $6 a 6 ounce jar. Dense and dark, almost purple, buckwheat pancakes with fat pats of hard European butter, Grade B maple syrup and fresh strawberries.

But I must dispute her “certainty of daily bread.” I find daily bread to be anything but certain. Some days, my every action is motivated by the fear that daily bread will Not be given. Isn’t that what worry and anxiety are? A fear of the unknown and the fear that what we need will remain ungiven? And so we try to please ourselves. We take what we can. We build for a future unknown.

Enter Ms. Weil. She realigns the question, essentially flipping our understanding of necessity and the essential, clarifying the concept of energy:

Bread is a necessity for us. We are beings who continually draw our energy from outside, for as we receive it we use it up in effort. If our energy is not daily renewed, we become feeble and incapable of movement. Besides actual food, in the literal sense of the word, all incentives are sources of energy for us. Money, ambition, consideration, decorations, celebrity, power, our loved ones, everything that puts into us the capacity for action is like bread…

All these objects of attachment go together with food, in the ordinary sense of the word, to make up the daily bread of this world. It depends entirely on circumstances whether we have it or not. We should ask nothing with regard to circumstances unless it be that they may conform to the will of God. We should not ask for earthly bread.

There is a transcendent energy whose source is in heaven and this flows into us as soon as we wish for it. It is a real energy; it performs actions through the agency of our souls and of our bodies.

We should ask for this food. At the moment of asking, and by the very fact that we ask for it, we know that God will give it to us. We ought not to be able to bear to go without it for a single day, for when our actions only depend on earthly energies, subject to the necessity of this world, we are incapable of thinking and doing anything but evil…

Christ is our bread. We can only ask to have him now…We cannot bind our will today for tomorrow; we cannot make a pact with him that tomorrow he will be within us, even in spite of ourselves…We have not been given a will that can be applied to the future.

from Simone Weil’s “Concerning the Our Father” in Waiting for God

I’d like to tattoo that last sentence into the soft underside of my forearm. It has that sort of potential, bringing to mind the parable of the rich fool who tore down his storehouse to build a bigger one. Aside from their conspicuous (and somewhat) superficial differences, Syliva and Simone inhabit a similar space. Both relished, and rightly so, the immediacy and power of the present moment. Weil acknowledges our need for earthly energy but makes it clear that living only for the material ultimately leads to evil. Plath herself sees the deception of living for happiness when she speaks of being “lulled in the arms of a blind optimism with breasts full of champagne and nipples full of caviar” (what an image).

For as long as I have been conscious of living in the world, I have struggled to fully inhabit my body and its material existence while being equally drawn to the life of the spirit—that transcendent energy I have been lucky enough (though I don’t believe in luck) to experience from time to time, in time and outside of it. Contrary to what I inherited from my Mennonite/Baptist upbringing, I no longer believe the two are oppositional.

Simone has helped me understand the prayer we pray repeatedly in the Orthodox Church during nearly all her services, “That He will deliver us from all tribulation, wrath, danger, and necessity, let us pray to the Lord.” Sylvia reminds me to relish “the light and airy inconsistencies of foreign pastries”—like the changes in weather and in myself, in those I love. And I wonder if Sylvia ever read this by Simone: “All art of the first order is, by its nature, religious.”

Taken together, Ms. Weil and Ms. Plath nearly expunge my need for artifice and my disgust of dirt, at least intellectually. My material-spiritual self continues to play catch-up, one present moment at a time.

simone weil 2sylvia plath types

Happy Mother’s Day

[Translation: Dear Mom, You are the best because I love you.]mothers day

(Don’t ask me what’s going on with that picture.)

Truer words were never spoken Jonah Caedmon. I am the best me because you love me. Your loving me has changed me for the better in more ways than I know to say. Thank you.

In other news: John returns Wednesday.

In other other news: I lost Gabriel today. I mean, lost him to the extent of needing to call the police. He wasn’t really lost, just hiding out in the car and not answering my repeated, increasingly frantic cries. A neighbor finally found him while I was checking inside One More Time. She saw his head pop up in the back window.

He was sad all morning missing his daddy. And cold (I had just started mowing the side yard). And once he got in the car he couldn’t get out because of the backseat child locks (he doesn’t know to climb in the front seat and use those doors).

But he is fine. I have not emotionally recovered yet, but I sobbed on the shoulders of two lovely and kind women I hardly/don’t know at all, and I will recover too. On we go. Me and my boys, which aren’t mine at all but because I am so grateful to have them with me as sound as they can be, I’ll say it’s so.

It is after 10 a.m. I have walked Jonah to school and back again. I am curled up on the playroom couch, wrapped around my laptop (grateful for my workhorse of a MacBook Pro, dreading the day it reaches the end of it’s proverbial line). I am still wearing my sunglasses. I hear the porch screen door swing open with a creak and a bang. So much for Pooh keeping G busy. He is (literally) throwing his Tonka dump truck, roller, and front loader into the prodigious hole he has dug in the herb garden where the basil grew two years ago. How did we go all of last summer without basil? I am certain that hole has made the haven below our deck accessible to all sorts of creatures I’d rather not think about inhabiting the haven below our deck. Namely skunks.

Now that the scene is set. I told myself yesterday Not to overdo it. I had the best intentions. I knew that a full, manual day’s work following a Pascha night of three hours sleep would likely do me in. I just don’t take my body’s limits seriously. Mentally, I make a note. Physically I push through like the mule I am. G and I ran errands in Akron until one. I then mowed and weed whacked all three yards, working past six.

G is now naked from the waist down, all his bits swingin’ in the breeze, tossing dirt over his shoulder with his little green shovel. Damn. The dogs got out. I am still ensconced on the couch. Maybe Lucy jumping the wall will move me to action.

I am doing my best to embrace this state of stubborn refusal to do anything that is not of the most urgent need. I am enjoying watching my wild creatures wander the yard, exploring in relative freedom. Sophie tips her nose to the sky to catch a whiff of something in the wind. G dashes back inside to poop. Slams the door and shouts “Privacy!” when he hears me in the next room. I don’t see Lucy. Time to move.

[Postscript: It’s the next morning. I’m occupying the same place on the couch, exhaustion having progressed into a full blown head cold. I did decently well not doing much yesterday until Jonah got home. That hole G dug in the garden is now filled with giant rocks John got for a steal on Craigslist last summer. And yes, I carried every one but one myself. John leaves for Italy today. Here’s to the hope of quiet-ish, healing days ahead.]

Bright

After a characteristically intense Holy Week (Eastern Orthodox Easter is today—Christ is Risen!) and a late night/early morning long Paschal service (it was nearly 4 am by the time Jonah and I went to bed), I am happily, if somewhat foggily, enjoying a very Bright Day of rest.

I’m rather basking in the day. My impressions of the week, and particularly last night, fade in and out like satellites. When I try to focus on one in particular, it goes fuzzy and disappears. But there, I catch it again on the periphery. By suppressing my focus it reappears. One is material, another just a sense. Something that was leading me somewhere. If I am still, maybe I will be able to catch on again and follow.

Jonah’s head on my lap, my hand shielding his eyes so that he could fall asleep as the priest shouted “Xristos voskres!” and the people around us shouted back, “Voistinu voskres!”

The woman’s hair catching on fire while we stood outside, inching forward toward the open doors of the Church. Her son’s large hands smothering the flame. The distinct smell of hair on fire. The strangeness of hardly anyone noticing.

The bells. Jonah clamping his hands over his ears, pressing hard. Excited, over-stimulated, and asleep on his feet.

Sophie and Lucy having simultaneous chasing dreams, their erratic breathing and dream barks, all eight paws sleep running.

“We bow the necks of our souls…” from the Bridegroom Service.

Meeting the woman we often stand next to for the first time at Pascha. J was asleep, there was no G, so it was finally possible. Her name is Debbie. She lives in Fairlawn. She’s gone to St. Nicholas her entire life.

Hearing Jonah say “Indeed He Is Risen.”

Jonah’s utter amazement at the midnight service. “You mean, these people do this Every year? It’s crazy! They walk around the building in the dark! I’m shivering all over.”

The abdominal cramps that started at the very first of the 12 Gospel readings at the Thursday night service. If you’ve never been to this service, well, they call it the 12 Gospels for a reason. Every ounce of Gospel scripture dealing with the crucifixion and resurrection as well as the Sermon on the Mount are chanted, interspersed with many hymns and prayers. I almost fainted. I broke out in a complete body sweat. I stumbled to the cry room to recover and made it back in by about the 5th gospel. I was asked: “Are you having a heart attack?” and “Are you pregnant?” I’m not sure which terrified me more.

Seeing just one set of lights pass me on a six lane highway on our way back from the Pascha service at about 3 :15 a.m. The world at 3 a.m. feels like an entirely different place, eerily so. I thought about what it would have been like to travel through the area where I live in the dead of night with no streets, no streetlights, no cars, no civilization as we have come to know it. How people must have longed for any sighting of human life. A home lit up from the inside. Other bodies. Technology seems like a warm thing: the lights, the heat, the possibilities of communication and commerce and resources. But as we like to say around the Estes homestead (talking about you G), it’s a tool. Not a replacement. Not that any of us would consciously think of it so, but I certainly think we act as if it were, without thinking. No doubt it’s easier to live with your phone than the person in your bed.

Waking up humming a version of the “Christ is risen from the dead / trampling down death by death / and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” Hearing Jonah hum it unconsciously.

Stopping at Dunkin’ Donuts at 3 a.m. to get Jonah a classic glazed. I don’t think they see a lot of 7 year olds at 3 a.m.

The wonder that my priest asked, “No Gabriel?” How many times has G interrupted his homily? And I’m not even counting the fire alarm incident.

That Holy Week was the week that G finally got his shit together. Literally. Thank you Gabriel Keats for finding your way around that fear-of-pooping-in-the-toilet-thing. And no, mama is not going to continue to give you a lollipop every time you do.

g found it       all gs eggs in one basket

mail egg       over there

upside watch       monkey hang

beauty broken       beauty fix

Mad [little] Man

Finding a way to live with Gabriel Keats is not unlike the business philosophy adhered to by the associates of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce: make him think it’s his idea. He will not be bulldozed. He is the bulldozer.

And like those wily Mad Men, you must use your cunning to ensure that those “great” ideas of his are also the best ideas. There is your reputation to consider, and, in the case of the human being you are attempting to “train up in the way he should go”—a passionate, independent, smart-as-a-whip little imp who could just as likely end up in juvie as the White House (Are the two really that different? Sorry. Been watching too much Scandal.)

Between toliet and church training, my endurance has been tested. We crossed a major hurdle this week regarding the former. He no longer rolls around on the playroom floor, clearly in pain, trying to hold in his BM and chanting “hummy hummy hummy,” the shrillness of his tone increasing as the pressure to relieve himself bears down. In this response to his body’s obvious need to function as it was made to function you get a sense of how far he’s willing to go in order to do what he wants when he wants to do it. When he realized he could shut the door to the bathroom, shouting “Privacy!” as the door slammed, things started to turn around.

As for the latter (church training—by which I mean at least a semblance of respect and rule following), there’s definitely room for improvement. He manages to walk/trot up to the icons at the front of the church for veneration, but it’s a full-on sprint down the side aisle to the back. I have some sympathy for his compulsion to run in church; looked at a certain way, all those aisles and rows are like a race track or obstacle course. He certainly would have at it if I let him.

He is still almost completely incapable of speaking in a quiet voice, unless we are playing the secret game, and that only lasts about 30 seconds. In the midst of Fr. Nicholas’ homily last Sunday, G became enamored again of the giant stain glass window/icon of John the Baptist, complete with his head on a platter in the bottom left corner.

“Where the rest of his body?” he clamored.

His body is gone, I answered. See his wings? He turned into an angel (a simplistic explanation, but all I could come up with at the time).

“Where the blood?” he loudly continued.

And here Jonah joined the conversation: “Yeah, why isn’t the blood gushing?”

Somehow I managed to shut the inquiry down here. Jonah is very good at heeding my “let’s talk about this another time” directive, and Gabriel had grown tired of the topic and had started chanting again, “I don’t want to be at church. I want to go home.”

We don’t take our kids out much. As in we’ve gone as a family out to supper maybe twice since we moved to Canton. Just stating a fact. So when we decided to let G attend J’s spring school musical (Stone Soup), we knew it’d be tough. But it was in a church, and G and I have been practicing on that front. It went about as we expected (much chasing and shushing, one ultimatum involving leaving without cookies or being able to reenter the sanctuary) with a very rough patch at the end. He kept nabbing cookies off the refreshment table after John had said enough several times. Rather than return the cookie or simply split it with his father, G threw it to the ground and went into full-blown hysterics. It took almost an hour to pull him back from the edge.

As this Slate article (by Melinda Wenner Moyer) puts it, being a three-year-old isn’t all bubbles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on demand:

But 2-year-olds [I adamantly interject 3-year-olds here too] are also going through a hellish personal crisis: They have just learned how to walk and use tools, so they really want to explore the world; at the same time, they are terrified of what that world contains and constantly fearful that their parents, whom they love and trust to a terrifying degree, will suddenly abandon them. Oh, and those same parents? They’re suddenly barking “no” all the time, seemingly just for fun. What the hell?

It’s no coincidence that kids start having tantrums around the time that parents start enforcing rules. When you say no, sweetie, you can’t have that butcher knife, your 20-month-old has no idea that you are depriving her of this awesomely shiny contraption for her own safety. “Since it’s the parent, whom they rely on for everything, who is taking it away, it’s perceived as a withdrawal of love, essentially,” says Alicia Lieberman, a professor of Infant Mental Health at the University of California-San Francisco and author of The Emotional Life of the Toddler. “They don’t know your reasoning. They just know that something they were getting great pleasure from, all of a sudden, you are taking away.” The pain that this causes, Lieberman says, is similar to what we might feel if our spouse betrays or cheats on us.

Ouch.

The article also talks about under stimulation. I’ve had the same thought, minus the caveman analogy.

If it sounds like I’m characterizing your beautiful, special, way-above-average toddler as animal-like, that’s because I am. Pediatrician Harvey Karp calls toddlers “little cavemen”…“It takes years to socialize our little toddlers, so it’s important for parents to cut themselves some slack. Don’t feel you’re a terrible parent because they smeared jam all over the walls”…

The caveman analogy helps to explain yet another issue plaguing toddlers, Karp says: They are very understimulated. Little cavemen (and here I’m talking about the real ones) spent their days very differently than kids do today. “It was a sensory-rich environment: smells, the fresh air, shadows, birds, grass under your feet. Today, we put our little kids in houses and apartments with flat floors, flat walls, ceilings, and not too many chickens, and we think that’s normal,” Karp explains. “It is hard to spend all day with a 2-year-old, and they don’t really want to spend all day with you anyway.”

Which is yet another reason to rejoice at the coming of spring. G’s out before breakfast, then back in, then back out. He can’t wait to play with Jonah outside after school. He wants to go on trips. He’s also resumed his jailbreak ways. I warned our babysitter last night that he’d been professing the need to “go for a walk by myself.” But as I’ve mentioned before, he can be a sly and fast little stinker. By the time she realized he was gone (it was bedtime, she was reading to J), he had already headed out the back door. When asked where he was going, G matter-of-factly replied, “Traveling.”

dandelion lick     stinker 2