The day before the day before

The day before the day before the first day of school was great. Laid back, ambling walk. Brothers getting along. The cemetery.

We spent the next day rummaging through what meager school supplies were left at Target before spending some time in the toy aisle. “We’re not buying anything today” must have been repeated more than a dozen times, followed by a near-meltdown because G could not get his hands on the Lego guys housed in a plastic-domed display case. I’m not sure why they think it’s a good idea to put all that goodness out-of-reach, especially since it’s not even possible to buy a Lego guy without also purchasing a Lego building kit.

But anyway…

I have made an annal of that day. Sweet, fading summer.

weird bug
I have no idea what kind of bug this is. Anybody? It flies, and I love it’s black-spindled body against the metallic of our deck chair.

man on a wire
Cartoon by Jonah. Gabriel really said that. We were watching a cable guy working from a bucket truck.
He was fiddling with a bunch of wires in an open electrical box.

bro walk
It was one of those mornings when the boys just got along. G kept checking the barometer of Jonah’s mood by asking, “Do you still like trucks?”

brothers in a box
Boys in a box, curbside.

creepy statue
G’s favorite “creepy lady.” Her posture exudes sadness and mourning.
If only her eyes weren’t black pools of nothingness. If only she had a nose.

grave read
We did a lot of grave reading.

best name
Maybe the best surname ever. I should write a novel about the shy, yet bold heroine, Anna Ever.

meet me in back
The boys particularly loved the mini-mausoleums.
They tried to find a way into every single one.

sleeping dog lies
I think this is a dog. Even if it’s not, it’s a dog to me. What better companion could you have at your grave? Gives new meaning to “Let sleeping dogs lie.” (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

infant son
Infant graves are the saddest; they particularly bring the sorrows of parents to mind.
I like how this one is in the shape of a key.

up against a wall
I swear Jonah didn’t pose for this. As for the filter, something essential about Jonah surfaces
when I use Color Pinhole 1.

trunk grave
This one really stumped the boys. Is it a tree? Is it a gravestone? A tree?

G on the go.

francis in grass
St. Francis in the bulrushes.

strange stack
One strange stack of a stone monument.

strange stack 2
Another view. I could have taken a dozen pictures of this one.

final rest
Final rest, so to speak.


Boy on a boat

Jonah is incredibly present in my mind these days, and I know it’s the school thing. I’m touchy about it; he’s touchy—not necessarily aware that his touchiness is a symptom of our decision to switch schools a week before school starts, but definitely edgy and sad to leave his loving, much smaller school.

So I’m trying not to put my shit on Jonah. Just because I had a mental breakdown at age ten after switching schools doesn’t mean Jonah’s going to, right? I’ve also decided to ignore my husband’s prejudice against crewcut elementary bruiser-boys and their blank-faced stares—a prevalent physical type in our part of the country.

Jonah is (very nearly) all sweetness and questions and curiosity. And the last thing I want for him is for that essential part of himself to be tromped on. He’s going to (what we deem to be) a school with good possibilities for him: Montessori, bigger classes, more chances to learn to interact with his peers, caring staff and helpers, an intervention team of the sort that will keep trying until the right thing works. His intervention team from last year is thrilled. They think it’s time for J to branch out a little. The teachers at his old school are a little heartbroken, and so am I.

I will miss walking to and from the school everyday and the way it helped us all transition naturally from one place to another. I will miss the smallness and the way I knew that the people who were teaching him not only cared about his education and his progress but also, almost always, really loved him.

As you can see, this transition is as hard on me (probably harder on me) than it will end up being for Jonah. It feels like one of those monumental times where I’m supposed to let him go, to send him off on a bigger boat. Yeah, let’s think about it like a boat. Boat’s float, and my boy loves the water; he loves powerful waves.

A boat it is, with Jonah on it and a passel of potential new friends, his brother nearby in a classroom down the hall. Me at my computer for the morning in my quiet hallway office doing my own work on my own boat for awhile.

And here’s why I think I know Jonah will be okay out there in the world: it’s his desire to know and the delight he takes in his senses, a truth that this quote from Aristotle fleshed out for me:

All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses. For even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves—and above all others the sense of sight. For not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to do anything, we prefer seeing (one might say) to everything else. The reason is that this [sense of sight], most among all the senses, makes us know and brings to light many differences between things.

from Metaphysics

Beautiful Jonah and his difference.

boys on a wall

Daughters and their mothers (and their sons)

When last my sister Beth and her husband Brandon were here, I expressed my extreme skepticism to something Brandon said by furrowing my brown and giving him a hard, sidelong glance. His immediate and surprised response: “O my gosh! That was such a Debbe face. You look exactly like your mom” (something like that—I haven’t been around Brandon enough to get his parlance down just right). I know that face he’s talking about. I can feel it in the muscle and stretch of my skin, as though it was part of my genetic makeup. Maybe it is.

My reflexive response: No I don’t.

Brandon and Beth both sprang to her defense: “Well why not? Being like Debbe is a good thing.” They’re right, and I am not proud of my almost involuntary push back against the lovely woman who birthed and raised me, who continues to love me like no one else can or will. Who prays for me and would do anything to help me and my children and my husband in any way she can (and she and my father do, quite regularly, come to our aid as they are able from so far away).

Shall I go on?

My mom—her name is Deborah Doreen (but goes by Debbe—no, that’s not a typo)—is a lot like Ruthie Leming. She hates to burden anyone. She has an ebullient spirit, a heart for the poor and the downtrodden. She is a loyal and empathetic friend; she would do anything for anybody if she believed she could be of some help. As a speech therapist, I know she has turned a lot of kids’ lives around, not to mention encouraged their parents. She is creative and flexible. She knits a mean washcloth (not to mention scarf and baby blanket). She is dramatic. She loves life. She loves food. She delights in her grandchildren. She is my dad’s best friend, the yang to his yin.

And I am like her. How could it be otherwise? Why the need to deny my birthright? As I told John yesterday (when my telling him how I felt turned into a self-absorbed pity party—is there any other kind?), I can be a brat. Selfish and proud, I delude myself into thinking I am in some way self-made.

Wednesday was the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, and the reality of motherlove has been abiding. It was a fitting week for a spot at a different, larger Montessori school (where Gabriel will be attending preschool) to open up for Jonah. He’s been on the list for three years. After meeting with the team that will be working with him (teacher, school director, intervention specialist), we felt good, even confident that this could work. But speaking from experience, I am nervous as heck. When I was ten, a school change derailed me, and I can still feel the anxiety I lived that year.

But back to Jonah. Days before we received the call, Jonah dreamed that he met a new group of friends. Granted, his dreams since then have involved a perpetual fall from attic eaves and losing his mother; he’s also been extremely touchy and dramatically emotional.

I know something of what he feels, and I feel it with him and for him. But this is the sort of transition that will make him larger. He’s seven, and his world is understandably small, but he’s ready for a little expansion. A farther stretch. So the excitement and the anxiety, the uncertainty and the possibility, the known entity and the mysterious must co-exist. I keep telling myself that anyway.

Mary, Jesus’ mother, lived a whole life oriented to this sort of expansion. Again, how could it be otherwise? Being the Mother of God is, by definition, an enlarging vocation, as is motherhood in general. I see it in my mother. I see it in myself.

Maria Skobtsova, who is known as Mother Maria and was canonized a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church, writes about Mary and motherhood in terms of acceptance, of accompaniment, and of responsiveness:

In motherhood part of oneself becomes another life and yet there remains an inseparable bond with the original life. It incarnates an existence in oneself and in an other, but in an other separate from oneself.

The Mother, cleaving to Her Son, surrenders Him to the world. The Mother already is not freed in Her Son and together with this is inseparably bound up in all His paths and with Him. In general, the choice, the decision, belongs to the sonship and not to the motherhood.

Motherhood is drawn along the Son’s path and as it were co-lives the Son’s path. In regard to sonship, motherhood is passive and cannot make the decisions. It only shares in the sonship’s decisions. The freely chosen suffering of the Son becomes for the Mother a suffering not freely chosen, but rather inevitably accepted.

Motherhood is not active, but always responsive to the activity of sonship. Though, even in Her responsiveness, She cannot choose for Herself the decision.

In essence, motherhood can neither lead, nor conclude, but only accompany.

from “The Veneration of the Mother of God

I have been blessed to become a mother. Maybe it is not so much that women become their mothers but that, in a sense, all women become mothers (whether or not they have children—my godmother being a fine example of this), and in doing so, are able to fully inhabit themselves and the world.

Much too soon

14 August 2013:

It is mid-August, and I am wearing a fleece. It is black and zipped up all the way to my chin. I am cold. This is a picture of my front yard:

august leaves

Side yard with Jonah and our neighbor Denny painting his house in the background:
august leaves with j

Pensive J on rocks:
august leaves on rocks

Okay, that’s three pictures. But these leaves! Mid-August? Red maples on the ground?!

In funnier news…

This is what G likes to look at when he’s sitting on the toilet. He says: Mom! Where’s the funny guy falling down the building? By which he means, of course, Anthony Weiner:

weiner on tower
Okay. I’ll go now. No pun intended.

the “situation which is ours”

I may live with two of the most interesting children in Canton, Ohio. I know, everyone thinks their kids are all that, but these two really are—entertaining, dang cute, so engaged with everything all the time—us, other people, the outdoors, us, toys, iPads, us, bikes, trikes, pogo sticks, us, dirt, bubbles, water canons, us. You get the point. Their need for constant engagement has been getting to me. And I’m a little stuck as to handle myself.

Okay, it’s mostly Jonah. If he’s within earshot—which could mean I’m sitting on the upstairs toilet with the window open and he’s outside in the backyard on his tree swing—he’s talking to/yelling at me or John. Asking a long series of questions. Yesterday he went through very particular questions about John and my courtship, as it was. Or repetitive questions about an upcoming event and when it’s going to happen. Questions about the nature of the universe. Questions about what’s real and what’s pretend. Questions about how to make his own light saber or movie or bow and arrow. Questions about what his voice sounded like as a three-year-old, which he insists (he and G put their own intense spin on the word insist) I replicate. Questions about bats. Questions about light sabers. When is church going to be over? Can I go to the Girls house?

Mommy I love you. Mommy I love you. Mommy I love you.

Mommy you’re the best. Mommy you’re the best. Mommy you’re the best.

He is an auditory homing device. He calls out these loving phrases (and they are loving) to keep track of where I am, to ease his anxiety, I’m pretty certain. And wow, it must be pretty intense in the world of his body, because intensity, in some form or another, is constantly flowing out.

I’m exhausted. It’s not even mental, I think. It’s auditory. Auditory exhaustion. The past few days I’ve had to institute a mommy-doesn’t-want-to-talk-right-now edict. This is hard for J, and I find he is soothed when I place a hand on his head or give him a smile. It’s just that I cannot talk (sometimes I cannot smile), because—and it’s true, so I’m going to say it—what I want to say is Would You Just Be Quiet For Five Minutes?

But instinctively I know I can’t, and should not do that to J. The quiet game, as it is called, would be a torture to him. I really kind of mean torture. To get a better sense of the meaning I want to impart, please read this: Quiet Hands.

The autistic woman who wrote that piece is primarily talking about hand stimming (flapping and the like), and Jonah certainly has some behaviors like that, but lately, and most often, it’s vocal. As we walk some days, I struggle to manage my irritation and keep the snap out of my voice. But then yesterday it (being understanding) dawned on me: “Hey, this is a vocal stim. He’s stimming.”

That was huge. The simple remembrance put me in a better spot. I was still exhausted, but a little more compassionate and a tiny bit of mercy entered me too, which I promptly squandered. But still.

One response to Quiet Hands reinforced my feeling that I should only very rarely, especially when I sense anxiety in J, tell him he needs to be flat-out quiet:

I love this post. It’s why I’ve never tried to control how my son moves his body, expresses himself through his movements. It’s why I’ve never learned the phrase “quiet hands” and have never told my son to stop flapping, jumping, hopping, dancing, or talking. It’s why I’d rather homeschool him than get him “table ready.” Just because it looks different doesn’t make it wrong.  — Mama Be Good

Mama Be Good also recently posted this to her Facebook page, which addresses my struggle with myself in all of this:

We mothers can actually learn to regulate and heal our own brains and nervous systems by choosing loving relationships and by treating ourselves in a loving manner.”
— Sil Reynolds, Mothering & Daughtering

But, I’m still a little stuck as to how I ought better to act. To love. To direct, or rather, cease to direct.

I am led to another book (this is one I’m actually reading and not just co-opting): Meditations on a Theme, by Anthony Bloom. While discussing the parable of the Prodigal Son, he writes about how necessary it is to recognize the reality of one’s situation in order to experience the mercy of God:

It is of the utmost importance for us to learn both how far we are outsiders and how richly we are already endowed with his presence, by the light enclosed in our darkness; our very potentialities can be an inspiration, a way, a hope; how little we need hurry but how important it is to be real, to occupy in relation to God and to the world around us the true situation which is ours, within which God can act…

These things are important because unless our point of departure is a realistic one and we are aware of the true nature of things and accept them entirely as a gift from God in response to the situation in which we are, we shall pass our time in trying to force a lock in a door which will open of itself one day. St. John Chrysostom tells us: “Find the key to your heart; you will see that this key will also open the door of the Kingdom.”

And so I need slow down yet more, or yet again. Less force, less fix—“to consider the significance of our actions, to appraise the impulses of our whole being, to ask ourselves whether our will is really orientated towards God or if we look to God for a moment’s respite from our burdens, only to forsake him the next instant, as soon as we have recovered our strength, to squander that energy he has given us like the prodigal son” (Anthony Bloom, from the same essay)

I really am a slow person, and I wonder what it is, why it is, that I repeatedly try to be otherwise. Nevermind our culture or technology or all other manner of external realities cajoling me to be other than the way I am. I have always felt this pressure to push myself, to be more. Internally I am slow, but I insist that my outer person do more and a faster rate than what I can often maintain. Maybe that’s why every time I see or think of Eric Carle’s book, Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,” said the Sloth, I breathe a little deeper and feel a little bit more myself.

The beauty of Jonah is that he is incapable of being otherwise. And I don’t want to be the one who makes him feel as though he should be. The real feat is to accept the ways in which I cannot be otherwise and find a way to life full-up in the “situation which is ours” (Bloom).

Photo entry

As my detox continues and I attempt to stabilize a recent rash of gastronomical (read intestinal) upset, I have discovered the intense pleasure that can be had in drinking medicinal strength peppermint tea, lightly sweetened with raw honey. Dark roast yerba mate and an espresso-strength dandelion blend also bring their pleasures, but nothing quite like coffee. It’s nice to move about the world without that internal jitter, but waking up is hard to do.

However, my morning slogginess does lend itself to a particular kind of sleepy observation. I stared an inordinately long time at the top of my almond milk box (gave up dairy too) before pouring it on my cereal and read far more into their package instructions than I’m sure they intended: “Give it a good shake; separation is natural.”

Though it tends toward that particular strain of kitschy fortune cookie advice, this directive seems applicable to life in general, and relationships in particular. I’m not going too deep here. Like I said, I’m sloggy.

But speaking of the word too, I must share a funny interaction with J this morning.

ME: That is too much! (Can’t remember what I was referring to.)

JONAH: That doesn’t make any sense. Two isn’t much!

I hear my neighbor’s ladder squeak as he prepares to spend the day painting his house. And I best be getting on with what I have intended to do here. With summer sun and lovely days, I find myself farther from my computer. I’m doing less writing, which is okay, though I know my person misses a more regular routine of words. Images, on the other hand, have been collecting on my phone, so I will share them in a short kind of photo essay covering our last few weeks. What I saw, where we’ve been. A softer-edged view of the world I live in. Can’t help it. I love filters.chewy, with skull
One of many in a recurring theme. Doesn’t Chewie look dashing next to my prized cow skull?

darth magician  saber walk
Catching on to the theme? Meet Darth Bat-Magician, proprietor of all manner of Dark Arts.
They even battle when we walk, which gives me the chance to work on my bob and weave.

mary ann's tractor   tractor with garlic
Our friend Mary-Ann has the most photogenic tractor around (the kid’s not bad either).
I love the garlic drying in the background.

garlic   birth
Another shot of that magical garlic.
A cicada Jonah found this morning on his swinging tree, drying its fresh wings in the sun.

up the hill down the hill   pee break
Our friend M-A’s backyard. Jonah could have played “up-the-hill-down-the-hill” all day long.
G taking a pee break. He’s quite liberated. I see this view more than I’d care to mention.

jump  bow make
I call the first photo “Leap”. The day really was that blue.
Our best Jon Lincoln fashioning an arrow for J (John fashioned the bow). Along with the light saber interest-bordering-on-obsession, the boys have been loving Brave’s wild heroine, Merida.

minion   don't let the pigeon
Minion found on Sophie’s dog bed. The sort of deranged I feel sometimes after a day with the boys.
Don’t let the pigeon drink the currant liqueur! (M-A steeps a mean, sweet-tart of a summer drink.)

saber town
Our light saber collection, at present (not counting figurine- or Lego-sabers). Thanks to Matt and June Phelps, the Girls, Jonah, and John for their creative contributions.

lego guys
As they are. It took five tries in three different locations (during which time G smashed my toe and in the process knocked the whole lot down), but at least Gabriel let me take a picture of his works-in-process before destroying them (what usually happens). Note the Potter-Jango-Fett, Mr. Bones-Trooper, Harry Potter Knight, Yoda-Farmer, Faceless Spaceman, and Hedwig-Potter-Goes-Black-Tie.

trash truck wait   getting along
When they get along it’s swell, when they don’t it’s ______. Okay. I’m being dramatic, but it’s a wonder how the pendulum swings from one moment to the next. Brothers!

Pare down, pass along

The boys and I journeyed back and forth to a neighbor’s yard sale (you don’t call them garage sales around here, as I was unequivocally told by the seven-year-old running the lemonade stand) four or five times Friday. We all love treasures, but we soon realized we were under surveillance as we poked through the tables and boxes and plastic crates of toys. The boy of the house was having a terribly hard time letting his things go. Baby toys, baby bikes, broken Matchbox fire trucks, bags of foam he’d worked at with a plastic hacksaw. His mom bagged our treasures quick as we tried multiple times to go. In the end he followed us halfway home, calling “Let me see what you got there!”

What we had there, besides our paid-for-junk, was three stolen pieces from a Dinosaur Train set. I guess G had slipped them in while I was conspiring with our neighbor to return for the items her son decided she couldn’t sell. We returned to the scene of the crime, where G said he was sorry and our neighbor said it takes a big man to admit what he’d done. Little did she know that G was motivated to perform his act of contrition by a package that arrived for him in the mail. Packages trump all.

Seeing how hard it was for D (the neighbor boy) to give up his things, even his baby things, the boys and I got into a discussion about Too Many Toys. Actually, the conversation was more about having a garage sale. They were begging me to put one together, to which I responded—But can you actually give up any of your toys? —Yes, yes, we can! they practically shouted in unison.

Recognizing a rare window of opportunity (I am always one for paring down and passing along or throwing out the unessential and unused), I said, “Let’s start with your guys then” (the guys live in a large lower drawer of the lovely hutch we inherited from John’s mom and converted into a book shelf/toy hut/art supply cabinet). Guys include the likes of superheroes, Happy Meal toys, borrowed 3D movie glasses, special rocks, Playmobil pieces, half-transformed Transformers, plastic hourglass timers and other assorted treasures from the dentist’s office, speech therapist, sunday school teacher, et cetera. The two of them sat with me for over an hour and went through every single item in that drawer, one at a time. The vote had to be unanimous, and I reserved the right to veto certain “sell it” choices, being the only person with any kind of a long view (though my long view is notoriously short).

On Saturday, I made J’s favorite Cook ‘n Serve chocolate pudding as an incentive to continue our cleanout quest. Worked. We started with G’s truck stash then moved into the playroom and finally ended up back up in their bedroom going through costumes. Our downstairs queen sized bed is now completely covered with Stuff. Whatever the used kids’ shop (the boys’ name for our local resale shops) won’t take I’m taking over to the other used kids’ shop. No, they don’t resell used kids.

This isn’t the first reduction project I’ve tackled this week. Frankly, it’s all of a piece. Monday I tossed our dish rack, sick of the mildew I couldn’t find a way to scrub out of the too-deep, ridged, clear plastic drain mat. Yeck. I drastically pared down Jonah’s artwork in our eating area; it felt too busy, too much. I am trying to ignore the peeling paint I’d forgotten lay behind those varied pieces. Yesterday John trimmed the tree limbs weakened by recent storms and hanging low over our driveway so that every time we passed through they scraped the top of our car.

Even my body tells me I’m in need of a certain decontamination. Every few years my guts just seize up, a kind of intestinal charlie horse. Not pretty. The only way to get my colon from either spasming out or remaining in lockdown, I must limit my food intake to almost completely soluble fiber for a few days, before slowly adding in everything I eliminated. I must also, so very sadly, quit coffee, dairy, beer, wine, and other assorted mixed cocktails (read Don Julio margaritas). I guess my month-long birthday/anniversary celebration is officially over.