i’m forcing myself to write something, because more than a week of staring at a blank page is scaring me; writing is, to be dramatic and pretentious for a bit, what i do. not like childless writers do it, with hours and hours to devote to it and still hours left over to devote to their day jobs (if any) and then still hours to devote to their social (or non-social) drinking and their TV or Charles Dickens or Isabel Allende habits and maybe even a few hours for sleep… no, writing is yet another thing i do like a mother, and if i stay up late nine nights in a row and try to write and come away empty handed and empty minded, and have to get up in the morning and do the dishes i neglected, preferring to trust that i would write something if i sat long enough, i feel lost.

who am i when i have nothing i can manage to say? surely i am still a mother, but i want to be a mother to my children and a mother to the stories that are on the tips of my tongue and my fingers… my novel languishes, my ‘zine is a receding memory, and this blog is another page i break away from at 3 AM, leaving it unchanged.

the news:

my littlest has turned five, and he wants very much to have friends the way his now nine year old brother has friends: friends whose house we visit every other week or so, and who come here, too. i know he will find these friends; he is so sweet, polite, and kind in introducing himself to kids at the park, and in the fall our homeschooling co-op will start again and he will be old enough for a great many more classes and clubs than last year, and perhaps, too, there will be more kids his age now that he is “school age” and more parents of his peers are likely realizing they want to homeschool.

my oldest has become interested in basketball, and we’ve been watching videos of basketball games i watched as a child. i’m from chicago, so various championship games from the 90’s featuring Michael Jordan, John Paxson, Scottie Pippen, Bill Cartwright, Horace Grant, and BJ Armstrong, but i’m also a fierce lady so we’ve also been watching WNBA games from the first two seasons, which I used to watch as a baby dyke whenever they were on TV. he and i have also been playing basketball… mostly he wins and i’m actually trying reasonably hard. I’m not a jock and I never was into sports (i think it would’ve been hard to ignore the Chicago Bulls in the 90s living in Chicago as a kid, even as a totally flaming queer trans girl), but i am very supportive, of course, of my kids exploring every bit of this life they find themselves in, so i’m excited for him to be trying out something new! i want to find him some other pals to play with, or for us to play with together.

my girlfriend and i and our five kids, as well as her kids’ dad, went to the Rainbow Gathering in rural Washington. I am not very into hippie culture for a host of reason, but i found myself surprisingly won over during our day there (although i am still not very into hippie culture;), and i think it was a really good experience for the kids. the idea is that a temporary intentional community of family is formed in a wilderness, and a week (or more) is spent sharing food and brotherly/sisterly love. there’s a Kid’s Village camp which was pretty exciting… so many charming feral and semi-feral kids (i mean that in the best sense) running around! all of our kids brought their own trading cloths and lots of stuff to lay out on them to trade at the Trading Circle, thanks to lots of help from my girlfriend. there were some good trades made, as well as some seemingly poor/regrettable trades, but that, too, is something from which to learn. the kids were all impressed that, when a fire broke out at one of the kitchens, relative calm was maintained and a bucket brigade started, averting what could have been a really big disaster.

my house is a little bit disordered but i am focusing on having great times with my family and friends and figuring i’ll catch up this weekend. i’d rather have a somewhat disordered house than be unavailable for our summertime adventures and our needed snuggly downtime post-adventure!

i am now going to see if forcing around 800 words of blog post out has freed up my writing flow for my novel.

hopefully next time i will have a post for you that reads a little more coherently and effortlessly. 😉

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who’s in charge here?

June 29, 2011

i was once flexible.

my kiddo (yes, i only had one then) would ask to stay up late and go look at stars, or to have a midnight snack, or to stay at the friend’s house we were at longer than we had intended, and i didn’t exhaustedly, anxiously come up with a million reasons why we couldn’t; not always or even often.

even with kiddo#1 + a baby, i said yes to what the world offered us way more often than i said no. there was no reason we couldn’t get out all the paints or fill the water cooler with water so kiddo#1 could splash around in it out in front of our apartment complex.

i had more fun, being flexible. not being anxious. anxiety is horrible: it kills fun and joy and, within families, it is very contagious.

even when i first became a single parent, i could be so spontaneous and adventurous… we lived in a basement apartment and had no outside space, so at the drop of a hat the kids and i would be out in that Portland rain, at the park a few blocks away, getting covered in mud and grass, rolling down hills, sliding on waterproof pants down a wet slide, flying out the bottom, giggling… heading home filthy, i would carry the kids from our apartment door directly into the bath tub and go through a few changes of water, waiting for the moment when their bath water didn’t look like tea.

once the custody dispute happened and i felt real fear that i would lose most of my time with my kids, and unschooling (and by extension, stability for the kids, in terms of routine and money and lifestyle) was brought up as an issue, i started to feel like i needed to be in control… in control and perfect. and i felt tired and worried. i said no a lot, to variations from our schedule especially, and that was okay, i suppose… probably it was necessary to get through that time. saying no to everything kept me from losing it completely.

but things are pretty secure now, if not financially, at least in terms of my relationship to my kids. we are together five days a week. i have a relatively healthy working relationship with their other parent.

for a year or so my girlfriend has been pointing out that my kids are not so flexible. and our counselor has noticed it, too… so now i am trying to model flexibility, and especially taking things (and opportunities) as they come. it’s hard for me… i feel like i’ve fossilized in the last two years. but flexibility is my great goal… when we are capable of it, we will have conquered a lot of our anxiety.

on monday we went to the coast with my girlfriend and her kids, knowing that it was going to be hot in Portland. when we arrived, it was raining, windy, and about 60 degrees. of course, the two adult, the teenager, and the preteen realized that we should probably have stayed in Portland and had a water gun fight, but the three littlest kids (my two and her youngest)  didn’t care one bit for this reality… they had been in the car for two hours, so they were going to have fun immediately!

and they did! the two older kids went to the car after a short while, and the grownups huddled on the blanket, getting miserably wet, but the little ones were busy digging massive tunnel cities (they were overjoyed to strike water eventually!) and getting wet in the little inlet. my littlest one came over several times to ask me to join him, and at first i put him off, hoping, i suppose, that huddling grumpily on the blanket would somehow warm me.

at some point i realized that i could let go of my idealized version of the trip and enjoy what was possible, and that he would enjoy things more and for longer with my demonstrated willingness to dive into what we were being offered: a wet, gray, cold day at the ocean, which we could experience as we pleased.

the inlet wasn’t really that cold, and we found a lot of shells. the older kids’ tunnel cities were really quite amazing feats of engineering… and running around was warming me up almost as much as smiling at the kids was cheering me up.

after three hours or so, we left and went to the candy store. traditionally my role in the world of sweets is to remind everyone that they are going to have to brush their teeth right after and be a general killjoy… i managed to shut up and everyone had a great time figuring out how far they could stretch $1.30 (i have to vote for the teenager’s quarter pound of saltwater taffy as the best use of resources). i’m sure all of it will be remembered by everyone for a long time.

when we got back home, after eating dinner at their house, the kids said they wanted to ride bikes… seven o’clock is usually the beginning of our bedtime, but i was so busy being flexible that i said “yes!” we went to the park and played lava monsters and my littlest did some new tricks and my oldest rode two miles on his bike on the basketball court (he has an odometer). then we (yes) brushed our teeth and read and told a lot of stories before passing out, exhausted and happy.

i like our routine and i know the kids do, too, for the most part, but i’m really glad to be relearning how to be flexible… it feels good to be on an adventure, whether a literal beach-in-the-rain adventure or just the adventure of letting our family return to finding it’s rhythm on it’s own. it’s a rhythm that mostly follows our currently imposed schedule but is not ruled by it. our schedule is a tool, and i hope to be able soon to say honestly that it’s not in charge anymore!

(thanks, Ananda, for taking the picture… wish there were some of the rest of us!)

i’ve done my share of crafty/handy projects (designing and helping build a chicken coop with ample room for 30 chickens (in Mendocino, CA)? check!), but i have limited experience with most tools, and so do my children. this year i really want to change that. i’m searching for high quality hand tools at yard sales and thrift stores, biding my time finding the right tools that will do the job well and reliably. i’m also considering buying my first electric sewing machine (although of course i lust after the human-powered treadle sewing machines because i am a sustainability-obsessed, low-tech GEEK;).

in high school, i took home economics but was too embarrassed to finish my sewing project (an apron… oh the merciless teasing a seventh grade trans girl receives for such audacity!) and thus didn’t learn as much as i could have. i also took shop class in high school, but some of the boys were a little rough with me (to put it mildly) and i also didn’t get much out of it except for a folding table finished by the one nice boy in the class who offered to do it for me so i could skip class and be safe.

when my son was six we built the aforementioned chicken coop with help from my former partner’s father (a woodworker). working in the shop was amazing, although sometimes i was scared using the table saw or the skillsaw… the power tools in general were intimidating to me, and since my kids’ grampa was sick with cancer, he could only supervise so much.

despite the success of finishing that project, i still am relatively “hit or miss” (if you will) with driving nails. 😉

my kids both seem to have some natural aptitude with tools (especially pocket knives) and i try to give them opportunities to sew, whittle, and help chop our food whenever possible.

my woodworking goals for this year are that we will build a chicken coop and run for four to six chickens, a little “pond” so we can have a few ducks, another little pond in a different area of the yard with the intention of providing habitat and water to little creatures (other than mosquitoes, of course;), hopefully near a (still to be gathered) brush or stick pile that will provide them with cover since we have  outdoor cats (i would really like to transition them indoors soon), as well as several garden beds and, should that all be finished, some experiments in making (very simple) furniture from reclaimed and/or free wood.

fiber craft goals include finishing the kids’ quilts, making lots more little felt creatures (and other felt creations, like terra cotta pot cozies), and learning to use a sewing machine, all while facilitating both of the kids’ growth as crafters.

older kiddo and i are also learning basic electronics with an eye towards building a replica of the Apple I computer.

i want them to see that i am a capable, handy adult, but i really feel like (from a historical and global perspective) i am a bumbling fool in these matters. this is the year i will change that! long live the handy girl and her handy kids!

(please tell me about your own handy goals and experiences, dear readers!)