Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tender Mercies

I've been feeling bogged down.  A lot.  For a long time.  I catch little glimmers of my old self in good moments, then it disappears in the slogging of our long days.  There are a lot of things in our life that I'm not terribly thrilled about, that I feel like I've been patient about for a long time and just don't want to be patient about anymore.  But patience is required for the only realistic paths over those hurdles.  But some days I fall prey to feeling like not only am I not making headway, but am actually going backwards.  I really hate how much I've allowed circumstances to dictate how I feel, and, even worse, how I treat my husband and kids.

The last couple of weeks, its culminated in resenting how "ugly" the town we live in is, and a terrible, aching homesicknesses for my grandmothers and for my days as a stay-at-home mom.   Life has always had its challenges, but the fact that I was able to be at home full time with my kids balanced out a lot of things for me.  Sending them all off to public school, friends' houses and Head Start so that I can get in to school and labs has been hard for me.

So yesterday morning, I went for a quick jog before school, and a song that always reminds me of my grandma came up on my iPod, and I looked up.  This is what it looked like in front of me:

This is not unusual.  It looks like this here most of the time.  Sure, town looks like an old man with some hard miles on him, but its in a beautiful place.  Clear air, big blue skies, puffy white clouds, conifer trees, a creek or two.  Its gorgeous.

I was cleaning up the back yard, and, buried in the mess of volunteer roses, dandelions and overgrown grass and raspberry bushes that passes for a yard, and in late October over a mile high, I found a little patch of violets.  I hadn't seen any before in the two years we've lived in this rental, but there they were.  When I was little, there were violets all over my Grandma's yard, and Michael and I would pick them by the tiny handfuls for Grandma, and she would indulge us by filling old, cleaned out butter tubs with a little water and we'd stick the violets in them. 

The same day, I got some change at the store, and ended up with a handful of centennial and state quarters--which my other grandma collected.

Normally I get home lateish on Thursday afternoons, but was able to switch my lab time this week so that I was home by lunch today.  On days when I get home early, I try to go spend some time in Keira's Head Start classroom.  The kids were on the playground when I got there, and she immediately ran over and into my arms and said, "I want to go home with you."  When I explained that I was there to spend some time helping in her classroom, she said, "No, I just want to go home with you."  Her teachers said she hadn't been herself all day: she hadn't been singing with them, hadn't been dancing and had generally been quiet.  She said she didn't feel sick and she wasn't warm.  For reference, this is fairly typical Keira:

She's independent and confident, you can almost always see those dimples, she's always laughing and singing and pretending.  She's almost always happy, and you almost always know it.

I signed her out and took her to the car, and she had already perked up by the time I strapped her in.  I reminded her that I didn't have school tomorrow (the first week day I haven't been gone in a couple of months) and she lit up.  By the time we got home, she was back to her old self.  She's snuggled up to me, singing along to a favorite movie.

About six more weeks and I'm done with school for a month.  I think that first day after my last final, the kids are all sleeping in, no one is going to school, and we're all going to spend the day watching Christmas movies and making crafts.  Just because we can.

Life is good, and I know that in my head.  I need to take care to feel it in my heart more often.

Friday, October 24, 2014


"By watching, I know that the stars are not going to last.  I have seen some of the best ones melt and run down the sky.  Since one can melt, they can all melt; since they can all melt, they can all melt the same night.  That sorrow will come--I know it. I mean to sit up every night and look at them as long as I can keep awake; and I will impress those sparkling fields on my memory, so that by and by when they are taken away I can by my fancy restore those lovely myriads to the black sky and make them sparkle again, and double them by the blur of my tears."
                                                              ~Mark Twain

It is a terribly difficult thing, to watch the brightest stars melt.  It is a terrible thing to feel like, no matter how much time one has to soak up their presence, it is somehow never enough.

It is a tremendous thing to know that endings are not our destiny, and that the stars will all be restored to us.  That is an eternal reassurance for which I am ever grateful.

Monday, October 6, 2014


A few weeks ago, I was thinking how to best convince my children to love e.e. cummings and Shakespeare, because I love them so much and I'm quite certain my children will encounter neither at school.  And in the midst of my plotting (clearly, it would be best to start Keilana off with "little you-i"--after that, I'm sure she'd be hooked), it occurred to me that no one introduced me to them, at least directly.

I grew up with parents who are teachers, learners, readers.  Our living room had 3-4 sets of overstuffed bookshelves, and the room we all referred to simply as "the office" (a long room at the end of the house that was the full width of my parents' good-sized home) had bookshelves made from plywood boards and bricks that ran the full length of the room, floor to ceiling, and were completely full of books of nearly every kind imaginable--and that's before we got to the books in bedrooms and in piles on the end tables and counters of our living spaces.

The personal library my parents had accumulated in their many years of reading and teaching was my best teacher.  I was free to wander through the shelves at my own speed and indulge whatever title or cover or description sounded interesting.  It wasn't merely the quantity of books available, but the quality and diversity that was truly amazing.  My father had been (and is again) a high school English teacher, and so we were awash in classics:  in high school, I read a good portion of Shakespeare's plays, several Jane Austen novels, The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Republic, quite a lot of Dickens, and a tiny bit of Chaucer.  Not because they were assigned, but because they were there and sounded interesting.  There was a seemingly limitless supply of poets (I tended toward Whitman, cummings, and Wordworth).  I read histories by Stephen Ambrose and Wallace Stegnar, I read biographies of Lincoln and Jefferson and Adams, I worked my way through the Federalist Papers, I read about the Civil War and the modern South.  I discovered a love for science I didn't know I had by reading books about trees and flowers, human biology, and ecology that somehow found their way into the collection.  I read fiction of all kinds--historical, sci-fic, chick lit, fantasy.  I discovered Tolkien, and Lewis, and a great love for the kind of fiction that actually taught me things rather than just entertained me.  I read Ender's Game for the first time after picking it off the shelf in the office, and discovered my favorite living writer, and one of my favorite fiction series ever, books that changed and sharpened my own beliefs.

You get the idea.  I have tried to be good at getting the kids to the library often to make up for the fact that we don't have a lot of space in our current house for books.  We have two relatively small bookshelves of adult books, and a small bookshelf full of kids books.  We have boxes and boxes of books in storage, even after getting rid of many through multiple moves, and I hope that in the next few years we are able to get situated to where we can have them out for our teenagers to peruse at random.  We have books on the Kindle and audio books on our mobile devices, but that isn't quite the same as having shelves of actual books to let your fingers wander through.

I grew up in a small town in rural Montana.  That has many advantages, but it has disadvantages, as well.  It was easy for my parents to instill in us a love of nature and outdoor activities, taking us camping and hiking and berry picking, while teaching us the names of flowers we picked and animals we passed or saw evidence of.  It was easy for them to teach us the value of family, with grandparents  being part of our daily lives, as well as some aunts and uncles and cousins.  It has long impressed me how remarkably good my parents were at overcoming the disadvantages of that environment.  We went to historical museums, art museums, aquariums and zoos, national parks and cities that were within driving distance.  When they took me to Washington, D.C. as a 12-year-old, it was revelatory.  Despite their large family and relatively small budget, I had the opportunity to listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square and the National Symphony Orchestra at the National Cathedral. I got to canoe down portions of the upper Missouri, explore the Seattle Science Center, and take in Renoirs at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  I saw a Sondheim musical at the Kennedy Center, and learned how to sew and raise pigs for 4-H.  They gave us everything they could, and then filled in all the spaces in between with piles and piles of books.  While I'm sure they could see many of my strengths and weaknesses just as I am capable of seeing those of my own children, they never pushed me in any particular direction, nor failed to nudge me forward.  I'm trying to find that balance, to give that gift of limitless options and knowledge to my kids.

They never told me that I could learn or do anything--they just put the tools in reach and expected me to use them, built my confidence and helped me patiently through my struggles, and somewhere along the way I became consciously aware of how much wonder and beauty and good there was in the world.  I sometimes feel like I'm not as good at providing those tools for my kids, but I hope that we can continue to show them how big and full the world is, and how delightful it is to explore, whether in a canoe, a theater seat, or curled up in bed with a book.