Friday, October 10, 2014

Sunset Field Forever


We have the great good fortune to live in a neighborhood near a grocery store, several main roads, and a bunch of cow fields. Yes, cow fields.

It seems the county or some entity gives tax breaks for grazing land, so the undeveloped lots around our neighborhood have been home to quirky cattle herds and a few bee hives in the years since we moved in.

These fields dominate our journeys to-and-fro, changing from lush and green—even swampy—in summer, to dry and brown in the winter, when the laissez faire custodians dump hay for the cattle. The cattle, unregulated by their guardians, breed and birth at will, giving us adorable newborns to watch in every season.

I’ve watched the fields as I took my healthy pregnancy walks, as I toted babies in backpacks, slings, and strollers, and, more recently, as we took family bike rides or I ran for myself. I’ve composed poetry as I meditatively passed the ponds, solitary trees, and seasonal grasses. The kids have laughed in delight over peeing cows, bulls, and calves. They’ve seen cows nurse their babies and “big kid” calves learn to eat grass. I even proved to Big A. that cows can, in fact, run and it is, in fact, hysterical to watch.
On the way to Sunset Field.

One particular field, the largest and farthest from our house, could only be reached on foot on the best days. It’s a solid mile and a quarter there (and the same back again), so to take a mom/baby or mom/toddler duo there requires ideal conditions. All the same, we drive by it on our way to church, one of our schools, the mall, Target, the dojang, the dry cleaner…you get the idea.

One morning when S. was an infant, we drove past an early morning flock of Florida parakeets in the field. New to Florida, I seriously doubted my sanity when I saw that flock of green birds! And I’ve always enjoyed checking in the brindle cow that has stood out from her herd since we moved in. Her beautiful black and brown coat made her easy to spot and I loved that I’d “known” her for over ten years.

Why we call it Sunset Field--and this probably only shows a third of the sky visible.
Home to the bee hives and the largest herd of cattle, this field also offers a beautiful unobstructed view of the western sky. I didn’t realize until just recently that I thought of it as “Sunset Field.” When we drive home from activities or dinner out and spot color in the sky, we always say, “Wait until we get to the Sunset Field—this is a good one!”

Nothing last forever. Around when we expected Little A., developers came sniffing around, applying for zoning variances and presenting development plans to nearby neighborhoods. Well, with Little A. came the recession and the developers vanished for a while. We’ve been grateful for that slight silver lining in the cloud that hurt so many.
The fence coming down.

And now, as things look up for the economy, the developers have reappeared. The zoning hearing is over, the cows are gone, the picturesque white fence is coming down, and Sunset Field will be renamed Cobblestone, home 180 houses instead of a herd of cows.

I’ve cried over this—it’s crazy, isn’t it? For someone who has lived her whole life in areas that are beautiful, rapidly developing, or both, I still get awfully attached.

At least now I have the wisdom to take an evening at Sunset Field, as I wished I had with so many spots before, when other beloved land was lost. Yes, I photographed it, but I also took time to stand there with Bruno and smell the air, feel the open space, hear the evening quiet, and just be.



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Live in Peace


So, I have an obsession with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books.

They’re not the greatest books ever; the second and third desperately needed editing. The characters are interesting, but pretty self-absorbed and certainly alien to everything I am and do. So why the obsession? Okay, the endless stream of sandwiches and coffee may be part of it. You caught me.

I think there’s something else, though. When I envy Michael Blomkvist, it’s not his fame or his career or his status as a player, it’s the simplicity of his life. I envy his one room apartment in downtown Stockholm and his one room cabin on the shore. His lack of a car. His European-style fund of vacation days. His prison sentence.

Yep, I said that. I caught a glimpse of a crime show on tv today. A middle-aged, motherly looking woman sat there in a prison interview room, wearing a white t-shirt and jumpsuit. All I could think of was how comfy she looked. Then I started fantasizing about living in a clean, small room with no piles of stuff everywhere. I dreamed of having three meals a day served to me, however crappy the food might be. I positively yearned to have all my decisions taken away—wear this, eat now, shower now, with no thought required.

Add to that the descriptions of Michael Blomkvist’s Swedish prison—basically a “bad hotel room” with a locking cabinet for his laptop, time to work out, and low-stakes poker with the inmates—wow.

So that brings me back to this retro-revolutionary idea I have. Let’s bring back sanitariums.

Whoa! Hold your horses! Do not panic. Hear me out.

I know that the Victorian approach toward treating mental health and women and mental health for women led to generations of general effed-up-ness. I’m not saying let’s go back to hysterectomies and laudanum, for crying out loud. I don’t want people politely hiding pregnancies or dying of TB in these places. I’m calling for rest.

Okay, maybe not sanitariums.

I guess I we have spas these days, although that seems so ridiculously out of my reach. I’d really like longer than I could ever afford in a spa—like six weeks. That’s the number that keeps popping into my head. And so, when I think how I could never afford six weeks in a spa, my mind starts looking for things I might be able to afford—like six weeks in prison. And then I shake myself. Seriously, Rosanne? What’s wrong with you?

Maybe it isn’t me. Maybe it has more to do with this American “let’s work ourselves to death” pact. Maybe we need paid parental leave. Maybe we need to realize that 99% of our kids will never be famous and stop shuttling them to 17,000 activities a week. Maybe we should just let them be happy.

Maybe we need to accept that what’s truly healthy is having time in our day to make and linger over a nice meal, possibly with a glass of wine. And take a walk through the neighborhood after. Maybe we need to embrace vacation time as the savior of lives and health and productivity that it is.

Maybe we need to stop trying to beat each other to the finish line—which, in life, is death—and live in peace.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Someday


Someday
I will have
                An excellent camera
                And time
                And a driver
For my foggy morning carpool drive

I will capture
In a field near home
                The domesticity
                Of a sandhill crane
                Family, pecking breakfast
Near a majestic bull reposing on a rise

Past the chaos
Stoplights and fast food
                The delicate strata
                Of country wire fences
                And rows of country trees
Interlaces with a wetland fog

Then the pristine peace
Of the soldiers’ cemetery
                Clean lines
                And pure planes
                Honor at rest
Silvered by fog, gilded by dawn

Through wild land
Park land, true swamp
                Blind fog now
                A shaft of light
                Paints a palm frond
We emerge at the school’s white gate

We motor slowly
Past flags of all nations
                Standing sentinel
                Limned by light
                Framed by fog
Craning my neck, I crave a camera

Someday, I vow
Someday I will
                Capture
                Encapsulate
                Perfect
These moments of aching morning beauty

Someday
When I have time
                And grown kids
                Money for a camera
                And no reason
To take a country road to school in a foggy dawn.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

To My Daughter


Dearest, darling, child of mine,

I will still call you that, for, at ten, you are still a child, though it’s hard to believe.

You’re growing up. You’re only six inches and two shoe sizes away from my size; I can slip my arm around your narrowing waist without bending over. You suddenly see the point in conditioner for your hair and I can’t shop for you unless you come with me, since you’re developing your own wonderful sense of expression through clothes.

I love you, sweet girl, and there’s something I want to say to you, so listen well.

I’m not a perfect mom. Sometimes I fail you. I try too hard or I ask too much or my demons trip me. I’m sorry.

I know that sometimes you can’t even hear your own growing voice because my figurative voice echoes so loudly, in your thoughts and in our home. I know that you want to pull away and think for yourself—I want you to do that, too.

I know you want to try on most (and I’m very grateful it’s not all) of the voices and behaviors and styles that you see out in the world. Try them! Just always know that I’m that person who loves you enough to say when the jeans make your butt look weird—or when the way you’re acting doesn’t show you for who you are.

I know that I’m the foundation under your feet and you’re getting ready to leap off and soar. I know part of that leap means pushing against your ground—your grounding, your anchor, your mom. I want you to push and I want you to soar! Sweet daughter, I want you to reach heights I can’t even see from here. I only ask that you try to remember, if you can, that I’m also a person who loves you very much and, if you can, don’t make that pushing off too hard.

I love that we share books and music and jokes. I love that, gradually, you’re bringing wonderful new things to me instead of me introducing you to the world. That’s how it should be. And I want that connection of words and sound and humor between us to be our guideline. No matter how far apart we are, in space or feeling, I want us to know that that line exists and love flows along it, even during the times when it must go in disguise.

For go it will, sweet girl. The love will never stop flowing from me to you, in whatever form it must take. Know that now and let it go. Only think of it when you need it, but trust that it will be there. It will.

Now you go, leap, soar, discover—and remember, everyone deserves a chance to fly!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fun for All Ages


Welcome to my first blog by request! As I rambled on about this topic, one of my passions, a friend said, “You should blog about that!” And I said, “Wow. That’d be cool.” So here we go.

When S. had only just started learning new things, I learned something new and very important. You see, I noticed that she wanted to crawl, but she didn’t quite have the whole alternating arms and legs concept. So I tried to show her. I got down on the floor and crawled around.

Well, she couldn’t say what she was thinking, but she sure looked at me like I might be an alien, landing right there in her living room. Not long after that, we started going to our library play group (more about that here). There, S. watched the other, slightly older, kids crawl around and got the hang of it in no time.

This brings me back to something I read in a fiction book (Anne McCaffrey’s Damia, if you’re interested): Each one, teach one.

I can’t begin to list how many times I’ve seen that principle work beautifully in my own childhood, so I’m going to stick to my thoughts as a parent. Children of all ages learn best from slightly older children. That’s why Big A. and I have consistently sought multi-age environments for our children.

Why? Well, my theory is that, as baby S. demonstrated, adults are aliens. Of course, they’re important and all that—no question. But can you remember being a kid? Your parents were gross and old and what—like 30-something? Ewwww. You were never going to be that old. But a kindergartner can imagine being in third grade and a fifth grader can relate to a high schooler.

So children aspire to be “big kids.” Eventually they’ll want to be adults, but not for a while yet. Right now, they just want to be like the older kids—the cool kids.

This gets us to the big win-win of multi-age groups. Take S.’s Girl Scout troop. Adults supervise everything, but the older scouts (middle and high school) do the work of helping the younger girls with skills they haven’t developed. For example, when our group of 5-17 year old girls does a craft that requires accurate cutting, it’s a huge blessing. Let’s count the wins there:
 
  •  The adults don’t have to help with the scissors…for the thirty-nine millionth time.
  • The younger girls get big-eyed and inspired to be like the big girls. They’re on fire to cut “just like so-and-so did!”
  • The older girls learn the art of teaching. They slow down, organize and articulate steps, give feedback, respond to their pupils. It’s amazing!
  • The younger girls get the benefit of the older girls’ patience and interest (when adults may be frazzled or focused on logistics)
  • The older girls get a healthy and genuine esteem boost from successfully teaching a skill. (Showing them the genuine rewards of growing up can counteract some of the superficial markers they see everywhere—defiance, self-destructive behavior, hypersexuality.)
  • The older girls also get to step back into a simpler life for a minute. Teens vacillate between adulthood and childhood; this gives them a still-satisfying way to leave behind the pressures of growing up for a bit.

 As I said, some of my best experiences as a child came from being taught by—or just playing with—older kids. Some of my most satisfying moments as a teen came from working with younger children. Some of my most successful activities as a camp counselor came from setting up peer-led activities.

As a parent, I’ve seen my children’s biggest, happiest leaps come in a dynamic, healthy group of young people of all ages. In schools, in scouting, and in martial arts, they grow without even realizing it. They think they’re just having fun!

And if you’re interested in some cool additional reading, click these links:



Friday, August 29, 2014

Milestones


This post may seem like that most insidious of things, a humble brag, but it’s not. For one thing, I take no credit. For another thing, the writing served two purposes—it reminds me of what really matters at the end of the parenting day and it leads into my next blog. Naturally.

It’s been a summer marked by change. Of course, children change most of all. And, when I think of their milestones at age nine-turning-ten and six, at first I think of all their achievements at school, celebrated so thoroughly in May and June.

More recently, I remember how startled I've been when we sit together at a meal and I think, How tall they look! Then comes the second, heart-bursting and stomach-dropping thought: They’re not sitting on their feet. It’s amazing when they grow like that. I look over, startled, and then just admire what they’ve done. Getting taller. All on their own. Wow.

But this summer, like seashells, I’ve been collecting other little markers that, in the end, mean more to me. It all began when we went to our favorite Italian place for a meal. As the hostess turned to collect menus and lead us to the table, she knocked her notebook onto the floor. Faster than I could think, Little A. leapt forward, picked it up, and cheerfully said, “Here you go.”

Something inside me said, This is important.

My heart nearly burst with pride. I realized that this act of kindness truly meant more to me than his report card. I filed that reminder away for the future, for the times when I need to choose parenting priorities.

And then we’ve also had an abundance of small ones in our lives this summer. Dear friends had a beautiful baby girl in the spring and other babies have crossed our path. One sweet girl, about a year old, played with us for nearly an hour at the beach one day. I say “us”—she really played with S. and Little A.

As soon as we arrived, S. laid out a beautiful and elaborate sand project. As she sculpted away, the little one toddled up. Right away, S. saw that the baby and her pudgy fists of destruction were heading for her sand city.  

Calmly, sweetly, cheerfully, our tween started making quick sand castles between the baby and her project. She built tower after tower for that baby to smash, moving on to tunnels and buried feet when the baby’s interest waned. Little A. joined in at times. They had a blast, even though S. never did finish her beautiful sand-sculpting project that day.

Again, the voice inside told me to pay attention.

The remarkable thing about both these incidents—and other sweet moments I’ve stored away this summer—is that I did nothing. Neither did their dad.

On vacation, Little A., bundle of energy, runner-into-walls, thrower of things, hurdler of obstacles, never-say-die, all-around tough kid, played with another toddler in the baby pool. He gently, sweetly, and patiently tossed a beach ball over and over, responding to the baby’s cues. Later that night, Big A. asked me how the kid learned to do that.

I stumbled around, looking for an answer, but in the end, I had to say, “I guess he learned it from the way he was treated when he was little.”

I thought about the wonderful teens who have stayed with the kids when we couldn’t, the teens and big kids who’ve shown delight in our kids—at school, at church, in scouting, at the do jang—and I thought what a wonderful gift they’ve given us.

They’ve shown our kids that big people have fun taking care of little people.

More on that in my next post, which will be my first blog by request!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Changes

I've started composing blogs in my mind, but I can't go on until I take time to acknowledge that our family has changed profoundly in the last few weeks.

My husband's father, the children's beloved Papa and the best father-in-law a girl could ask for, passed away peacefully on August 15.

With the help of a wonderful community of family and friends, we said farewell with a funeral Mass and Celebration of Life on Saturday, then--again, thanks to some wonderful, generous new friends--said a final farewell at sea.

Words seldom fail me, but, now, even a picture's proverbial thousand words seem inadequate. How could I pick one? Or ten? Papa lived life so fully, so vividly, and with so much love that his going leaves a huge hole in this world, not to be patched by words or pictures.

So I will leave this. The whole family gathered for Papa's 72nd birthday a few short weeks ago. On his birthday, the quote on our calendar seemed so fitting that I haven't changed it yet.

"The measure of a man's character is not what he gets from his ancestors, but what he leaves his descendants."
 
Farewell, Papa! You have left us so much--wisdom, memories, adventure, joy, and love. 
We will sail on until we see you again one day!