for the single mothers.

July 16, 2011

sometimes the washing machine is broken and the pipes in the basement have decided to rain shitty water on the dirty clothes and who knows what else and the reality is that those clothes must get washed and dried by hand or we will have a Public Health Situation on our hands, or the car is doing that thing again where the engine just turns off and we’re in the middle of traffic and i remember why we went car-free for so long but the reality is that with my two kids and my girlfriend’s three kids and my girlfriend’s busy job and my sometimes desperate scramble for money anywhere i can find it, two single mothers sometimes need a car. even if one of them is opposed to cars and car culture and breathing exhaust (or making others breathe it) and a frenetic lifestyle…

sometimes other mothers laugh and say they would love the break from their kids and joint custody sounds about right to them but the reality is that even two days a week can be too much when you aren’t asking for it and it doesn’t come at the time that works for you or your kids and maybe you need childcare some other time and there’s this event you want to take your son to on the weekend but those are the two days a week the Powers-that-Be have you on record as agreeing to, and you wouldn’t want to seem uncooperative, now would you? no one likes an uncooperative single mother.

sometimes your friends see those two days a week (or one, or three, or a weekend a month, or whatever), and they say “wow, s/he is so involved, you are so lucky, isn’t it wonderful that he pays for that class, isn’t it wonderful that she took her to the park or that birthday party” and nobody says “oh, wow, you are so involved, yr ex is so lucky to know the kids are taken care of, you pay for all the basic needs and then some, isn’t it wonderful you go to the park so much and play seven rounds of chess and go to every birthday party humanly possible, even the ones at Flashing-Lights-Loud-Sounds-and-Animatronic-Monster-Animals-Pizzeria” because that’s just what you do. you are the single mother.

on the rare occasions someone does try to valorize you, to praise you, there will be a voice raised to remind everyone that you get help, “support,” breaks… whatever it is. the speaker doesn’t know: it could be $9.35 or it could be $0 or a trip to court and you’d better pay for and bring your own lawyer. never mind that if a storm comes and your roof caves in you handle it alone for your kids. never mind that if the car breaks down and your kid has school/a doctor’s appointment/a homeschooling playgroup it is you who figures out how to get there or how to break the news… on the weekend it is rarely time to say “i’m sorry, we can’t make it because of this problem or we can’t buy that because of a lack of money or our values around consumption.” weekends are for leisure and during the week shopping has been done, for necessities and for presents.

behind many a stand-up-guy there is a single mother being told to sit down or sitting herself down in order to assemble dollhouse furniture for $1 a perfectly completed piece. working from home means you are so lucky! you set your own hours, and there are a lot of them.

you will do what it takes because that is what you do, and sometimes people will see what you were willing to do and they will judge you from the comfort of their almost-totally-owned townhome with the two kids and the two parents and maybe a dog whose shit no one wants to pick up, but just keep on keeping on, girl… it’s just what you do.

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. ūüėČ

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!)

some things can only be said with paper + gluesticks, things that start with heavy hearts and cold hands and hopefully end with light hearts and sweaty palms, mine pressed against yours… there is safety in numbers, in person and through the postal service.

there was a time when i could scam copies from a thousand places and mail my zine for one stamp and lose so little money on it that i called it sustainable. back then you did a zine, too, and when i got it in the mail i squealed with excitement and my children, helping me get the mail at the end of our long, dusty, rural driveway, knew that mailboxes were magic, that they contained connection even when we were so far from anyone, and half the time you sent something for them: shells from the beach near your house, a little comic, a letter about playing the drums without “learning how” first in a punk band my son loved when i told you he wanted to play the drums, too, coins from around the world: there was plenty of wonder for all of us.

you taught me i could draw even though i “couldn’t.” i meant to tell you that, meant to write you a letter and send my zine, but i was always a little bashful about it, wondering if, with a zine-turned-book as popular as yours, you would still squeal with excitement out there in Ohio… that was silly, but everyone gets to be silly sometimes. maybe i’ll send you that letter now.

i read about the death of your grandfather and cried with you. you spent a whole issue bowling back home in Chicago and i wanted to visit and go bowling and listen to polka.

this moment in time is so hard, and in some ways the least of that is that we can’t afford to copy our ‘zines: we struggle for food, to make rent, to find a place to rent, to keep the water and electricity on in any given month, to keep our heads not just above water but held up with pride… but your solidarity and companionship helped with that last.

and i wonder if you walk out to your mailbox sometimes and wonder what magic it will bring, and if, like me, too many days have gone by with it empty. i would mail you this love letter if i had your address. can we pretend that i did? and, since i don’t really know how to work a scanner, let’s pretend that next there’s a little drawing of my kids and me with a bow in my hair and we are riding our bikes to the post office to mail you cookies. mwah! ‚̧ ‚̧ ‚̧

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!)

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.

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)

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 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.