John Michael Greer has written an excellent post, The Tyranny of the Temporary, over at his blog, the Archdruid Report, on a topic i’ve struggled with a lot myself, in terms of decisions i make around parenting and decisions about where to live, especially, as well as everything from how the kids and i travel to where we get out food.

my initial response to reading his post was to question why i even bother blogging about things other than cute-things-my-children-have-said, since there are so many very talented, intelligent bloggers writing smart posts about a lot of the “serious” topics about which i spend my time thinking, but then i remembered how easy it is to write a post about cute-things-my-children-have-said-which-relate-to-the-topic-of-the-collapse-of-civilization and decided to write something anyway. ūüėČ

as i’ve hashed out repeatedly on this blog, i have, through a complicated calculus involving balancing of long term risks¬† and short term economic strengths (i.e.-not needing to use a car) and a little bit of hopefulness (i have decided to believe our civilization has some chance to collapse slowly enough that some sort of life may be possible for us in the city for the next 10 years or more, and that the odds of that chance coming to fruition are greatly increased by people like me staying put in the city and trying to live as “sustainably” as we can here rather than spreading out into the countryside (i make an exception for those with both a calling to and skills for farming)), decided that the kids and i belong in the city. but i do sometimes think about what of our city life is temporary and on what time scale it is liable to fritz out on us.

i have made a bet, in effect, that the ability of people like me to afford to live a car-focused life will be among the earliest parts of our civilization to go, both due to costs associated with car maintenance and fuel in a severely downturned economy that, as events along the Mississippi River (flooding) and in Japan (tsunami, nuclear catastrophe, and limited electrical capacity) and in the midwest (tornadoes) hint, seems unlikely to arrest its decline and due to what i hope will be political pressure to limit all sorts of fossil fuel use due to the fact that intense climate change is already rearing its head in the form of melting sea ice, collapsing ice sheets, and generally chaotic weather, decades earlier than previously anticipated by most, and we need to actually reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere now, not participate in or tolerate increasing it. i would be happiest to see this happen in the form of rationing (i believe it is the fairest way to limit overall usage), but a gas tax seems more likely (of course, neither seems at all likely at the moment).

in a situation where i can’t afford, either economically or morally, to drive a car, living in the city makes sense. and in a situation where most people can’t afford, either economically or morally, to drive cars, living in a city sounds great. i’d be seeing you all on the streets, walking/rolling/jumping in the rain and having fun. except that it really depends what else has such a brief half-life, and if everyone suddenly¬†couldn’t afford to use their cars, a lot more might be temporary than would be safe/healthy… the city doesn’t sound as great if large-scale sanitation services are short-term temporary and not everyone figures out about composting toilets or can manage to install them (streets as open sewers are as dangerous as they are yucky, yes?). it doesn’t sound so wonderful if the grid is short- or medium-term temporary (i.e.-institutional uses like treating/pumping water, hospitals, refrigerating perishable food in stores); although it still sounds preferable to me if personal, household level¬†electricity for the non-rich is short-term temporary.

also, historically, during recessions, depressions, and even famines, being in cities and towns in times of moderately strong government has been, excuse me as an anarchist for saying so, a positive thing in terms of accessing what services are available from said government… bread lines happen in cities and towns, not on your own personal slice of isolated rural heaven. if you, like me, do a lot of prepping (i.e.-storing food, having medical supplies and some level of knowhow, having a way to purify water, having a way to cook), you may feel you won’t need access to the bread lines or medical services a city or town will offer in these kinds of situations, but subsistence rural living leaves you very ¬†vulnerable to the ever-more-frequent crop failures due to bizarre weather (or just normal inclement weather), not to mention sickness or injury. although, not, of course, very vulnerable (if you are truly isolated) to the classic survivalist scenario of urban looting, although this is not something that has shown up historically in times of disaster (of course, you may make the argument that we are living in unique times and i will feel somewhat obliged to agree, as i think our current civilization is especially vulnerable around issues of long-term food and water disruptions… most people aren’t even prepared for three days without someone else providing these things to them, although, again, looting hasn’t shown up as a big issue even in areas where people have been without supplies for several days (after Katrina, for example)).

beyond these community size issues, i wonder about the proper way to raise my children during these times. there are some things that i feel a moral imperative about, like limiting our car usage and buying local food, that i also think are good for children and their communities anyway, and i would do them even if i didn’t think climate change and resource depletion were pushing our culture(s) towards the edge of a cliff. i do not discuss them with my kids in those terms, because i believe kids need to feel a greater measure of safety than a blunt description of our dilemma allows. i choose to focus on the positive aspects, like that all the walking we do leads us into adventures and interactions with people and helps maintain the health and develop the strength of our bodies. when we do discuss climate change or urban sprawl or other problems, i try to focus on the people who are battling these problems, either strictly in their personal lives or in a more overtly political sense. the kids make comparisons between these people and Harry Potter, among other heroic epic fantasy heroes. they want very much to grow into people doing right by the rest of their world. i worry a bit about the moment when the wool is pulled from their eyes, either by age (and independent inquiry into these issues or, as age appropriate, family discussions that delve deeper) or by circumstance. i can’t know for sure that the knocking of disaster on the doors of our communities won’t get too loud to keep from them. i worry that they will misunderstand my motivations for sheltering them in this way (or perhaps see them all too clearly?) if they come to believe, as i do, that industrial civilization is killing the planet as i focus inward on my family and our personal impacts and our future security… i worry about them asking me what i was doing when all of this was going on… just having us walk places and buy local food? visualizing world peace?

which character was i in this version of star wars? :

i don’t have a good answer for this one if they should ever ask it, and i’m not likely to have one.

i am fairly happy where we are, and feel confident that, for most short and medium term emergencies (so… not Yellowstone going kaboom) that could arise here in Portland, my kids and i are relatively safe. it is when i think about the ways the routine can change over time that i get more concerned. i don’t know what Portland will be like five years from now, what things will have already proven themselves temporary and how many people will have clung to them until the last possible second and then been left scrambling for stop gap solutions. i hope it’s a peaceful, walkable place filled with gardens and the laughter, playfulness, and hard work of all ages of folks who have the time and inclination to enjoy and benefit from each other’s company. i hope my kids and i are here, too, sharing all that with our friends and neighbors.

the one thing i don’t want to be temporary is a living planet for my kids to grow into adults on and on which they can raise children of their own, who know and feel that our planet is alive, alive with them and all sorts of other creatures.

(are you looking for the cute things my kids said? umm… i tricked you. i mean… it was a joke? not laughing? okay… just a few days ago my little one looked out at the grey, cloudy western Oregon sky and said, “mama, why do people paint the sky blue when it’s never really blue?” now if that isn’t cute, i don’t know what is! what? you want it to relate to the collapse of civilization?! and be cute? sorry!)

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today was so fun, and a big part of that fun was a new game my oldest kiddo has invented. we use Lego people and roll dice to determine how far we can move on the floor (we don’t measure, we estimate) and we have battles with all manners of creatures (rolling dice to attack and using hit points to represent our characters’ remaining life before they are “knocked out”) and make friends with unicorns and attempt to save his little brother, who is hidden somewhere in the house with his character (who has a shark head), a book, and his baby dolls, assuring that he won’t get bored but rather will be quite ready to begin shouting “help!” when he notices we are close by so we can follow his voice to our final showdown with the weird skeleton Lego guy with a blank white head.

i took a bunch of pictures, but none of the several computers we have in the house (a thinkpad running ubuntu, a powerbook g4 running mac ¬†os 10.4, and a macbook pro running mac os 10.6) will import the full collection of pictures from our camera (this problem is now 6 months old and i want to sneak into the room we keep our computers in and quietly drain their batteries while they sleep). that is why tonight¬†is significantly less fun than today was. it is enough to make me want to just go back to film… except i want to share pictures with my family who are far away easily, and to put pictures up on this blog. the battle sequences were pretty impressive. my kids are thinking of recreating them as stop-motion animation, assuming the computers don’t kill and eat us in addition to ignoring the fact that we have a whole lot of cute/awesome/fun pictures on our camera that we would like to know are safely stored for future generations to enjoy, assuming that they can access pictures in the format we have saved them in, and they have electricity, and nothing better to do but look through 7000 digital pictures of their ancestors (we actually have more than 7000, and a little Internet research tells me that we have a relatively small amount compared to a lot of families who spend their free time posting things on the Internet).

i want to get a representative sample of them printed… my previous goal had been to print them all, but what do you do with 7000 pictures representing a mere 6 years of your life (the previous two years are mostly documented on film)? who has time to organize them, or money to print them? and i just keep making more. and every one seems like i would be losing something if i deleted it or didn’t print it and it got lost in the shuffle, even though if i was taking pictures with a film camera i would take my 24 exposures and feel satisfied, even though in most of them we would look strange or have our eyes closed, not to mention the ones the kids take of their own noses.

i don’t like what a timesink all of the gadgets we have are (for the record, we just have the computers, my cellphone, and a digital camera… it seems like a lot, though), even though i like the idea of the things they can do. i’m not really sure how to balance their potential usefulness with the frustrations their malfunctions and my user error cause, and the way that doing “one more thing” or clicking on one more link to an interesting blog post is the worst sort of rabbit hole.

i wonder if anyone else has ever fantasized about gridcrash as a solution to their own poor time management and the grumpiness or dazed feelings that often overcome them when they spend time with their beautiful aluminum glowing screen machine and then felt like a total ghoul (because gridcrash would not be a picnic or a reward, it isn’t even the most likely reason i would end up unable to use my gadgets, and i need to just quit navel-gazing on the Internet and whining about my computer while I’m… using my computer)…

but back to fun: homemade, child-led roleplaying games, an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (the kids really like the factory tours… today we saw how they make plastic, inflated balls because we have a computer and it does sometimes work as i direct it to), lots of good food (i made a gluten-free strawberry crumble last night to have for breakfast today, and then we had left over gluten free pizza for lunch, and refried black beans with cilantro, tomato, peppers, and corn chips for dinner with kefired apple juice to de-salt our mouths), a walk around the neighborhood during which my littlest one pushed his “foster baby” in a stroller, lots of reading and…

messes! i’ve been verbally expressing either positive or neutral feelings for the messes the kids have made lately, and enthusiasm for the (sometimes necessary) process of cleaning them up together. since i started doing this, i’ve been hearing a lot less berating each other and themselves when something spills and a lot more, “whoops! oh well… this project is totally worth a few minutes cleaning up!”

my favorite was when my older kiddo volunteered to help clean up a big spill of salt, baking soda, and ink because his little brother’s project (mixing that and lots of other stuff together to make “paint”) was “important.” the little one responded, “i’m making this paint for you, anyway!” which was met with “tomorrow i’ll paint a picture of the three of us using your paint!” and then, after the “paint” was complete, a small amount of cleaning (i pitched in to get it done but was glad for their help), a lot of giggling, and finally a cuddle puddle that i didn’t need to clean up at all. it was right where it belonged: in the middle of the kitchen floor, with “paint” stuck to the participants’ clothes in a properly festive manner.

we are reading A Wrinkle in Time, by one of my favorite authors (I have gone far enough in my fandom for her to have read her essays on religion and her memoirs). it is the kids’ first time and we have to stop sometimes to talk about things. this book is a bouncy house for their minds… not that their minds needed a bouncy house to get jumping!

we get to this passage, the first time Meg, Calvin, and Charles are traveling by tesseract with Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which:

She was completely alone.

She had lost the protection of Calvin’s hand. Charles was nowhere, either to save or to turn to. She was alone in a fragment of nothingness. No light, no sound, no feeling. Where was her body? She tried to move in her panic, but there was nothing to move. Just as light and sound had vanished, she was gone, too. The corporeal Meg simply was not.

my oldest one sits bolt upright and says, “i don’t think the part of you that is not your body can ever be destroyed.”

i ask, “what part of you is not your body?”

“not your mind, exactly, but the part of you that goes on thinking even when you are asleep. and the part of you that was there in the Big Bang and before.” his eyes are shining. he swipes his hair away from his eyes. “the part of you that has been part of a lot of different things before.”

it is late now; we have been reading for a few hours (we have had to start with the little one’s books in case he falls asleep during A Wrinkle in Time!). i am internally hemming and hawing about whether to encourage this intense philosophical discourse or to hurry things along towards a pre-11 pm bedtime so i can make the blueberry crumble i want to prepare tonight for breakfast tomorrow.

it really isn’t much of a debate; he has never expressed anything like this before: my most recent blog post highlights all of his rational, atheist leanings and pronouncements. i am anticipating the taste of crow. i am determined to listen for however long he has feelings and thoughts to share, and to answer what questions he may have and to share my own experiences when appropriate.

he continues, “i think that when you die, that part of you can’t see or hear but it is there and it is part of everything. it goes with the worms and the fungi that use your body. it can go where they go and it can go everywhere you’ve gone.”

“or, i don’t know… maybe it can see and it can see other things left from other people and animals and plants and spend time with them. i’m not sure. but i just don’t think it can ever be destroyed.” he lays his head on me and sighs.

i am about to say something when he says, “i want you to keep reading. but i have a lot more to say. for later.”

“okay. i love you, and i want to hear what you’ve been thinking about and feeling if you want to share.”

we continue reading and then we get to another paragraph that prompts him to speak. it is after Meg, Charles, and Calvin have been carried on the back of the transformed Mrs. Whatsit (she is positively angelic, for those who don’t remember the book that way) to a garden where many of her kind are singing a song that Charles and Mrs. Whatsit attempt to translate. Meg’s reaction to hearing it follows:

Throughout her entire body Meg felt a pulse of joy such as she had never known before. Calvin’s hand reached out; he did not clasp her hand in his; he moved his fingers so that they were barely touching hers, but joy flowed through them, back and forth between them, around them and about them and inside them.

he interruped only to say, “that’s just how i feel right now. keep reading.”

i figure i don’t have to worry anymore about him not feeling a sense of wonder in this life he is living.

but within a few paragraphs he was asleep, and so was his little brother (who had been strangely silent throughout this whole affair, little noisy mouse that he usually is).

oddly enough, i have a vivid memory of being moved by this exact same paragraph, as well as the song before it, as a child reading the book to myself. i had felt the same thing Meg was feeling and recognizing it set off ripples inside me.

sharing that with my son… now that’s¬†magic.

time for wonder

May 14, 2011

before i was 11 or so, i was a God-fearing, Jesus-loving, Mary-idolizing Catholic girl, probably with more and more genuine religious feeling than any of my siblings. i frequently imagined being a nun and living in a convent. i prayed. a lot.

one of the things i asked for was “to be a girl,” and i figured out around the same time that i was a girl and that a lot of the things i had believed in didn’t make very much sense at all, especially my belief in the Catholic Church (and even it’s individual cells in the form of priests and nuns) as all knowing and inherently right, a view neither of my parents ever expressed but which seemed to me to follow naturally from things i had been taught in Catholic school and heard at church on sundays.

but i missed the magic and mystery of God very quickly. i dabbled in Wicca and other forms of Paganism and was very, very strongly attracted to the idea of a pre-Christian, nature-based spirituality, but grew disillusioned around age 14 after a long time of feeling like my friends and i were “making things up” or faking it.

as an adult looking back, i’ve decided i was just too used to the feeling of having an authority figure leading me in my faith and especially in its ritual manifestations. being the leader sometimes and other times having no leader at all was likely the problem. i even wonder now if my great-uncle (who is a priest and a strongly intellectual man, who once assured my grandmother that people like me (i.e.-queer folks) had existed since the beginning of time and are part of God’s plan) ever feels the way i felt then when he is giving Mass.

i don’t have a strong sense of spirituality now. i’ve tried to give my kids religious literacy, reading selections from the Bible, the Quran, and other religious texts, participating respectfully in religious and quasi-religious events to which we are invited. i haven’t come out and told my kids that i am a conflicted atheist, wanting to feel something like i felt as a child but unable to convince myself of anything for which there is no evidence. i am stuck here, between some of my skeptic friends who find it a tad infantile and possibly foolish that i feel this way and my friends who experience a sense of spirituality (as often as this has to do with God it has to do with crystals or energetic memory in water and all of it is so embarrassingly rooted in a willing suspension of disbelief or a total lack of understanding of how the world demonstrably works that i have trouble having conversations with people about it). but i would love some evidence for God, or even the crystals or water-that-behaves-differently-when-you-play-heavy-metal-music-to-it. the problem is that there isn’t any, and it is a short hop-skip-and-jump from God or Goddess to water-that-makes-you-sick-because-you-said-the-word-hate-to-it and, well… how about weird, sad consultations with Sylvia Browne for people in grief?!

my eldest child is a born skeptic. he has never taken anyone’s bait about Santa Claus (even without a direct contradiction from me (it was first brought up by my mother and father while i was unavailable for comment)), and he will tell anyone who asks that he doesn’t believe in God or heaven or any kind of afterlife at all. This has been steady for him since he was 3 or so, despite any number of Christmas celebrations and Sabbat dinners. His little brother, on the other hand, despite hearing from well-respected-authority-on-everything-big-brother that none of these things exists, believes in God, Jesus, Santa Claus, ghosts, and the Easter Bunny, as well as fairies and toys that come to life when you aren’t looking.

so far, i have managed to stay out of these debates of theirs other than to offer the noncommittal “some people believe in…” types of comments. i’m not really sure where to go from here. part of me is very charmed by my little one’s belief in a world alive with literal magic and the supernatural, but worried about the possible letdown he may experience should his beliefs all shipwreck on the rocks of life. another part of me is immensely proud of my older son’s skepticism and intellectual rigor, while hoping desperately that he will experience some measure of “magic” in this real world that we live in, in the people we know and love and in the wild, rural, and urban environments in which we spend time.

because i do. i may not have managed to convince myself to believe in Jesus-fearing-leprachauns or guardian angels, but i experience wonder and joy when our seeds sprout and when i hear my children singing and when a spectacular sunset turns our living room red and orange. i experience something just shy of spirituality when i breathe the air beneath ancient trees and imagine the place i live now as it might have been when those trees were seedlings, and before there were coniferous trees at all, and going back so far it is hard to fathom.

if i can’t believe, and if my children ultimately can’t, i at least want us to stop in wonder. there will be time to explore and find things out and know the cold, hard truth in any number of situations. and we will make time for wonder.

rental gardening

April 27, 2011

we have had a lot of gardens over the years, some of them disasters of poor planning, lack of skill, and/or lack of time and some of them small, well-orchestrated and productive. we have never gardened in the same place for more than two years, and now that we approach our second summer in our current home, i wish so much that we knew we were staying somewhere.

last year i knew there was a chance we would move, so most of our gardening took place in pots on our porch (an excellent place to dump buckets of mildly grey water). we didn’t move, and we found some corn, squash, and eggplant starts on the side of the road with a little paper sign saying “plant me!” they looked just desperate and sad enough that we took pity on them, dug a very strange garden bed (mostly the kids dug it), and planted them.

and it hit me: planting things directly in the earth is special. it feels good, to me and to the kids. there is no internal dialogue of oh-please-don’t-slop-all-the-soil-over-the-side-of-the-pot as i watch the kids plant, as there is on the porch (i consider keeping this dialogue internal a testament to my commitment to raising kids who love to garden… i certainly don’t keep it internal because i love to see our porch awash in mud). and there is something magical about knowing your plant-friends’ roots can go down and spread out as much as they want, can grow around each other, can mingle with all kinds of buggies present in the soil (of course i do also picture those roots mingling with heavy metals).

and i wanted to plant our spring garden in the ground. but then it became obvious we were going to move again sometime before fall, and the work of making so many beds has seemed daunting and now that we are actually looking for a different house, it is harder than ever to get motivated, but thinking of the sad lack in our future garden as each planting date i was aiming for passes and we don’t even know where we are moving yet is very hard.

over the winter i got rid of a bunch of our pots (all the plastic cast offs we got from other people) and kept only the terra cotta pots that have travelled with us from Palo Alto to Oakland to Mendocino and through three moves here in Portland. we are going to plant in these pots (really there are a decent number of them, although nowhere near enough for all the seeds i got for our we-just-moved celebration garden) this week and next week and make the most of the spring.

i would plant a garden in the backyard, even with the work of making the beds, if i knew that new tenants were going to move in (i think several months could go by before the house will be both rentable and rented) and garden, or even if i just suspected strongly that a child would pick and eat our snap peas, strawberries, and cucumbers. that a little mouth would savor tomatoes planted as a hope of some green, growing joy.

i hope, at least, that the kids from next door will keep climbing our fence after we move and eat the cherries that grow abundantly in the backyard. and i hope i remember when we move that turning soil and preparing a garden to receive seed is more important than painting, more important than hanging pictures, more important than unpacking beyond essentials…

i swear to the Goddess that we have roots to put in the ground, even if we keep pulling them out. one of these days they’ll be held too strong to break loose and we won’t be able to move Home ever again. (i hope)

I’m up too late (at least I’m getting baking done!), and i read this article: wind and wave energies are not renewable after all. it reminded me again of how often i or people i care about who really care deeply about preventing total ecological collapse due to climate change express hope for a way to keep running our society’s refrigerators (this one is my guilty pleasure), cars, computers (oh, wait, another, even guiltier pleasure), and so forth… a way to keep these things moving, only “greener.” something “sustainable.”

but adding new sources of energy (or increasing the efficiency with which the current sources are used) does not typically lead to a reduction in energy usage; rather, it tends to result in more *things* being done with the same total amount of energy used (oh, no, Jevons Paradox!).

for a long time, i’ve been pegging my non-Jiminy-Cricket-when-you-wish-upon-cold-fusion-and-or-ultra-efficient-solar-film hopes for our society on wind power, because of concerns i have with the manner in which the EROEI (energy returned over energy invested) of solar panels (most industry folks qoute an EROEI for solar panels of between 30:1 and 6:1, but they are only taking into account the portion of the energy invested directly in manufacturing them, not mining materials, transportation, installation, making the factory, etc… which is very important to consider, because if solar panels have an EROEI of 1:1 or worse they are not only a waste of money but their use is actively encouraging people to continue using energy in an unsustainable way while feeling virtuous).

now comes the article i linked to at the top to make me worry about our ability to scale up wind power safely and i am left with only one conclusion: most of our energy usage needs to stop. we have billions of people on this planet, most of whom will never have access to the amounts of energy in a year that we in the United States (on average;) use in a few months. even if they could have access to that energy, the planet would be destroyed (many times over!) in a host of ways in the process (mining, climate change, urban sprawl, etc.).

it is fun to watch movies a few times a week on the computer, and to read people’s blogs a few times a week as well (all night long, although admittedly with my screen brightness turned way, way down). it is fun to drive to the high desert and be somewhere beautiful and different from where we live. buying pokemon cards brand new makes my son happy (luckily so does getting them at yard sales for one tenth of the price;). it is fun, useful, and historically/globally novel to have somewhere to put food that stays cold all the time.

if i give up these things and the government/military/giant multinational corporations keep chugging along, burning infinitely more than my share of fuel, will i have accomplished much? no. and that is why i’m glad i’m not alone in further reducing my energy usage. that is why i’m glad there are lots of people here in Portland and around the world interested in holding government and corporations responsible for their usage, too.

but our personal usage is a big deal. we can’t keep throwing up our hands and saying it doesn’t matter, or we’ll change when everyone else changes, or when we have to, or when they pry our refrigerator door handle from our cold, dead hands…

i’m going to be revisiting this project and aiming again to get my usage back to a closer to equitable share of resources. this can be fun. it was fun last time, and i didn’t even make my 90% cuts! who wants to do it, too?

my littlest sweetie mumbles to me through a yawn, “i’m a country boy, mama…” and i can’t resist asking him what that means to him. he says “you know, horse riding, lassos, pretty much a cowboy but with an interest in all the wild creatures. for you i’ll add looking under logs for bugs.” this same boy frequently describes our neighborhood (a moderately busy one here in Portland, OR, but we have a big yard) as “smelly and loud.” if it weren’t for the fact that he likes to walk everywhere and completely detests spending time in the car, he would find nothing redeeming about our urban life.

i tell him i’m a country girl and a city girl, both, and that we are both a country family and a city family. once upon a time we lived in a little house in a meadow on the edge of a state forest. we are all marked forever by the year we spent there, messing about in creeks and on trails, building forts and listening to birds’ wings. i’d be lying if i didn’t say there was a sharp tug in my heart when we spend time hiking, which is fairly rare now that we don’t drive. seeing my children making their way through the muddy paths with their walking sticks (“i’m a gnome, mama!”), feeling the change in their demeanor after even just an hour out on the trail, i feel called to give them that again, the freedom to roam and the chance to experience the woods or the meadow not as a place you go but as a place you are…

and yet i would never live where we lived before again. 6000 people is too few for me to feel safe and loved and understood as a trans person. it is too few for us to have solid, long-lasting connections with other homeschoolers. and the drive to anywhere else when you live five hours from the nearest city of any size is depressing.

what i long for is present in so many books i read to the kids: the Moffats, Edward Eager’s books, Kiki’s Delivery Service (yes, the book!), and many others feature either country children who can readily walk to town or town children who can easily walk to the edge of their town and into the country. when i think of all the people in the communities around Portland who would like to live in Portland (if they could afford it), i’m very saddened thinking of how we could make room for them here in the city, how Portland could have a real edge and we could walk or bike there (if we didn’t use so much space for cars and their infrastructure).

or i imagine our neighborhoods having edges, like a more dense Hawthorne District opening up to a surrounding area with larger lots and open space on it’s edge that eventually grow smaller as you approach Foster-Powell’s dense neighborhood center, say…

In Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language¬†(if you only read one book i suggest ever in my entire life, let it be this one), one of the patterns is for City-Country Fingers, the idea being that city life only works for people when it’s vibrancy is complemented by access to open countryside, and, therefore, the city and the country should interlock with and penetrate each other in one mile (or so) wide bands, affording everyone in the region access to both. obviously, we are extremely far from this ideal here in Portland, even though we are very far ahead of many other cities in the country.

and meanwhile, my children grow, and my choice to do the ecologically responsible thing (as well as the thing best for mine and my children’s social, physical, and emotional health) and greatly minimize our car use is facilitated by our urban neighborhood while at the same time their access to the countryside is vastly limited by it.

i periodically look at listings of houses for sale (often in random places throughout the region or even the country). i recently saw one for a house on 14 acres with Columbia River frontage about an hour by car from Portland. i then went to walkscore.com and discovered that the library and grocery store (the town center) were less than a quarter mile from the edge of the property and i literally wept thinking of the ways that this kind of life is foreclosed for me and my children, by virtue of our society-wide planning and by virtue of my queerness (living an hour from Portland in a small town would likely be a bit awkward for me and my girlfriend and our five kids, even if i could sell my girlfriend and the charming teenager on the idea;), and the ways that it is foreclosed for the 70%+ of children in America growing up in cities.

and i know that if i lived in a place like that, i would come running back to the city faster than i left, because i do like the vitality and opportunities the city offers and because of my commitment to doing my part to save the world (which really has to mean making cities livable and sustainable). i just want my kids to lie in (or on the edge of) a meadow near our house (not a manicured lawn at the park) and watch butterflies and then pretend to be rabbits. i want Johnson Creek to be safe to play in (there are so many tempting places along Johnson Creek right here in the city), not filled with E. Coli, DDT, gasoline, and heavy metals. i would be fine living above a bakery in the center of our neighborhood (even with four floors above us) if countryside that was accessible to the public (like Europe’s picnicking rights) was a mile away or i would be happy to live in a country finger and share my slice of the country with the family that lives above the bakery so they could picnic all summer long.

interestingly enough, even the electronic distractions kids are sucked into more and more these days (not that i didn’t play my share of the Legend of Zelda) acknowledge the beauty of this possibility. my older son has a Pokemon video game, and he remarked that he’d really like to live in one of the towns in it. the main character in the game is a child who lives in town and can walk in a matter of minutes past all manner of shops and beckoning friends and be in fields, grasslands, or forest. there are bike/pedestrian corridors that take him to other towns where kids are able to do the same thing.

i want our neighborhood to be as enticing to him as his Pokemon town.

i have not changed; i am still that nineteen year old mama staying up nights, desperately tired but even more afraid that this fragile, magical baby entrusted to me could break or wind down or simply stop. the first thing i do when i wake in the night is place a hand on each of my children’s bellies and feel for the movement of their breath, listening hard in the still dark for the easy, slow wind that means everything in my shrunken night-time world is right.

i fear cars, both our occasional rides in them and the death that they deal to bicyclists, pedestrians, anyone breathing the outside air and working to get where they’re going (and so often children). i fear disease. most of all i fear sudden stillness, the unexplainable loss that is immediately known and unfathomable.

not always, believe me, i am not so far gone that i cringe and cower always… but enough. enough to sometimes think “how could i have doubled my risk of loss by having two children?” and to wonder if i may have more than doubled it, distractions being exponentially more common with two children involved.

and yet i want my children to feel none of this, and to be in the world not bravely but naturally, playing and free, seeing little of this mother-fear until they have their own children. and i want more for them: more adventure, more experience, more laughter, more friends, more siblings… more of everything, it seems, that comes with a greater risk of loss.

i pledge to myself to keep them safe and to let them go, in equal measure and as this life calls for. i can do no better than to know that they are already in the world and will now live in it.

i can’t sleep! i know i should blame my computer (or, rather, my own tendency to take it to bed with me… darn you, laptop! if you weren’t so energy efficient, i’d have a desktop!), but lately i’ve been feeling more positively about the time i spend on the Internet (i make sure that no more than half my post-bedtime-for-the-kids reading is online, though; there’s so much good information out there, and reading the blogs of other families with similar interests is incredibly inspiring/comforting to me.

tonight i’m awake and i followed a link that led me to the blog of some old acquaintances who happen to live on a boat. they’ve dreamed about traveling the world with their kids for a long time and i’m really excited for them that they are doing it! reading their posts about their family adventure, and following the links to other traveling families (in RVs or on bikes or however;) has me feeling decidedly provincial. i’ve lived in Chicago, the San Francisco Bay Area, and here in Portland. i’ve travelled to a small handful of other places, mostly near Chicago or near Portland.

usually this is fine with me; i value roots, a local life, long-term commitments (at least in theory… we’ve been here 2.5 years and haven’t really lived in another city for much longer before); i want my kids to have a sense of Home.

and yet…

…i feel a sense of wanderlust, as i often seem to in the spring, and as i have more often since becoming a single mama…

there’s been talk of a summertime trip to Colorado with my girlfriend and her kids, and i’ve been hoping to visit San Diego when my mother does sometime also in the summer… part of me wishes, though, for the freedom to keep going, to see more places, make new acquaintances, visit old friends, feel unlimited (oh, no, i’m infected with classic American lack-of-connection-and-committment-phobia-romanticization!)…

maybe this is also a late night brain fever, brought on by those self-same roots i asked for here in Portland, OR, the weight of which, when combined with gravity and inertia and beloved friends, family, and my kids’ other parent all living here has me feeling a little cleithrophobic (that’s irrationally afraid of being locked in an enclosed space, for those keeping score at home).

i need to breathe. i need to breathe and sleep and dream. i must remember that tomorrow there will be plenty of adventure within the few miles around our house in which we are planning to wander.  breathe.

i run my household on a tight, small budget, and most of the little drips of luxury money fall directly on the heads of my charming children and other people with whom i’m very close. before i was a single mother, money was (sometimes) (a bit) less of an issue, but luxuries like, oh, regular haircuts or an extra piece of my favorite fruit from the farmer’s market rarely fell into my hands, because i hadn’t yet learned, frankly, that i mattered beyond my capacity to please and care for other people.

after becoming single a few years ago, i was determined to not only love myself but to treat myself with said love. i got a cute haircut. i bought two new skirts so i wouldn’t always wear “MY skirt.” i went out to dinner with my girlfriend when my kids were with their other parent. i baked cookies for myself at night and ate every single one of them.

this was very liberating, but after moving from constantly-flooding-basement-apartment (i.e.-the first home that was just mine by virtue of a lease agreement with no other adult’s name on it) to a house with a yard for kickball and gardening and digging pits, i lost sight of the importance of taking care of myself.

recently i’ve started ending my two days a week away from my kids with a looooong bath (when i get home from adventures with my girlfriend and the other three wonderful kids in our crew) and a book. this is a message to myself that my time isn’t only for cooking and cleaning for others, breaking up fights and settling arguments, or even watching-a-movie-together or playing-an-after-dinner-boardgame. i can have a(n initially) hot bath that smells nice. i can greet my children with wet hair that might even drip on their heads and make them giggle at the sudden rain (or frown, pout, and whine at the sudden rain… this is a 50/50 proposition).

and on friday my girlfriend bought me a haircut. in a real shop where they pump up a chair with you in it and they can actually do the things you ask them with your hair. i feel like i did the summer i first became single (and had a nice haircut, i might add): invigorated, “youthful” (not in a sense having to do with chronological age, mind you), free… cute…

here’s to hoping i remember to take a few luxuries for me, and to accept the luxuries offered to me by the people who love me. i’m a person who matters… a person who can take a bath. alone. for over an hour. with a book. in relative silence.