A Candle for Emily

Photo courtesy of akosolov, Creative Commons

February 2nd–Imbolc

Three years ago, the year I turned forty and my father died, I began this blog to document just one thing–my resolution to begin walking every day of my remaining days, first thing in the morning. As I suspected at the time, this one change began a transformative process that continues right into this year. The transformations cycle backward and forward, at different times invisible, exhilarating, frustrating, terrifying and satisfying. Mostly, I write here about how I grapple with changes I have chosen: to get married, become a parent, leave the professional world of teaching for the world of homemaking, pursue my ambition to write books for children, and carry my inner child forward in healing.

Today, I learned about a mom who has spent the last few years grappling with changes she did NOT choose: the loss of an eight-month old child to SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy), subsequent miscarriages and just last week, a stillborn child. You can read more from Emily on her blog Sweet Ezra, and you can support her efforts to raise funds for SMA education and research through the organization she started after her son’s death, Hearts for Ezra.

But I think what Emily may need more than anything right now is your love. Today is Imbolc, an old Gaelic holiday marking the beginning of spring and now celebrated as part of the pagan Wheel of the Year. Traditionally, the Goddess Brigid presides over this holiday, a time to welcome in the new year, a time to light candles in the dark. Witches believe that through intention we can accomplish magic that will transform ourselves and the world. We believe in the power of intention. Some might call this the power of prayer.

For Imbolc, we invoke the triple aspects of the Goddess Brigid:

Brigid the Poet, who teaches us to speak our truth, with beauty,

Early Christians incorporated Brigid, the Celtic goddess of Imbolc, into St. Brigid of Kildare

Brigid of the Forge, who grants us the spark and the fire we use to transform the old into the new, to smith the tools we need from the materials at hand, and

Image by Gita Rau, Flickr Creative Commons

Brigid of the Well, who heals all wounds and tends the waters of the world.

Signs of spring 2 by James Jordan, via Flickr

Signs of spring 2 by James Jordan, via Flickr

I light a candle for Emily this Imbolc, that words may offer her solace and a path through grief, that the spark of her family and her hope continue to burn bright, and that she be held and healed.

To Emily, I offer gratitude for the blaze she tends in the world, the lighted path of her words. When you read them, you too will be warmed by the fire of Her bright spirit. Blessed be.

The Hidden Work of Housewives

What Didn't Get Done, © amomnextdoor, 2014

What Didn’t Get Done, © amomnextdoor, 2014

Periodically Mr. Banks says to me, “I just don’t know what you DO all day.” He can’t understand how he could possibly come home from a day at the office to find unwashed dishes, rumpled laundry, strewn toys, and cranky kids. As he recently pointed out, “You have fifteen hours in a day! How can you not have enough time?”

Hmmm. Well—setting aside that fifteen hours dedicated to house and home would take me from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. with no meals or tea breaks (and certainly no writing time)—how to describe the intensity of day after day with children to someone who’s never done it himself? I’m not sure it’s possible. But for my own gratification, for my own sense of self-worth, I found myself keeping track one summer’s day, of all that I did with my time.

A day with children is a day spent teaching and learning. Some things I teach them directly, some by expectation, some through modeling, and some by opportunity. All of it I teach with as much deliberation and thoughtfulness as this mama can. I find being present with my children in such a way both deeply draining and relentlessly rewarding. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Things I taught my children today:

  • How to exercise daily
  • How to commit to a goal and follow through
  • How to be patient
  • How to contribute to the family
  • How to play independently
  • How to play together
  • How to brush teeth properly
  • How to clean up after brushing teeth
  • How to give privacy to people using the bathroom
  • How to pursue one’s passions and interests
  • How to sew: how to plan a project, use pins, thread a needle, cut a thread, make a knot, make a whip stitch
  • How to share underlying feelings
  • How to listen deeply
  • How to take responsibility for one’s mistakes
  • How to be married
  • How to take time for oneself
  • How to give others space
  • How to respond to an invitation to connect
  • How to speak one’s mind
  • How to keep a house organized
  • How to tidy
  • How to reuse
  • How to recycle
  • How to roll out the garbage cans for collection day
  • How to core strawberries
  • How to break eggs
  • How to cook an omelet
  • How to load the dishwasher
  • How to close a sliding car door safely
  • How to treat clerks and service workers
  • How to behave at the checkout stand
  • The value of a dollar
  • How to negotiate
  • How to wait
  • How to notice the world around
  • How to give and receive love and affection
  • How to be an audience
  • How to hold back
  • How to laugh
  • How to be silly
  • How to create
  • How to imagine
  • How to have fun
  • How to love

That gets us to about lunchtime. I guess the laundry will have to wait until the afternoon.

What Happened Instead, © amomnextdoor, 2014

What Happened Instead, © amomnextdoor, 2014

For You, Mom

 

Mother's Day Nosegay, ©amomnextdoor, 2014

Mother’s Day Nosegay, ©amomnextdoor, 2014

I have spent the past four Mothers’ Days alone with my children, while Mr. Banks was away on business. Every year, I have wondered if he would remember what day it was, following a foreign calendar all the way across the world. Every year, I have stepped into the bountiful garden we have grown together, and seen the flowers he had already given me. So I would pick myself a Mother’s Day bouquet, and then send those flowers to you, honored mothers of my life. At some point later in the day, the doorbell would ring, and Mr. Banks would deliver his love for me, from all the way across the world, in yet another fragrant extravagance of flowers.

California is facing a serious drought this year. We ended winter with just 5% of our usual annual rainfall, and by the end of spring had only edged up to 30%. We have decided not to water our garden this year. Out here in the valley, our garden needs irrigation from Spring to Fall Equinox in order to truly thrive. We’ve had just enough rainfall to bring out the blooms and the grass. Now we get to watch everything die. It makes spring flowers that much more precious, when we’re unable to artificially extend the growing season with imported water.

I noticed the Mother’s Day bouquet really changed in character this year. Usually I end up with armfuls of giant blooms, and still have flowers left in the garden to enjoy. This year harvested every single stem, and ended up with this little nosegay. The flowers are different, too. Instead of roses and tulips and lilies, I’m getting the self-seeders–forget-me-nots and bachelor’s buttons and carnations–and the hardy perennials. It will be interesting to let our garden go back to what it was meant to be, to start over on the canvas nature intended for this region. To tend my little corner of climate change. And still find flowers, for you, for Mother’s Day.

No One As Witness

Photo by rachjose, Source: morgueFile

Photo by rachjose, Source: morgueFile

I slogged my way through all five volumes of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, because he managed to invoke my deep commitment to his characters. I cared about the Stark children and their doomed parents, Tyrion, the transformed Jaime…I cared even about his most despicable characters, reading on in the hopes of seeing them eventually crushed by the same indiscriminate heel of Fate that beheaded Ned Stark and orphaned Arya. The HBO series capitalizes on that keen and deep portrayal of character in its frequent use of tightly-written, superbly-acted, richly-costumed and beautifully-lit scenes of intimate conversation and revelation between two actors.

But I don’t think I can keep going anymore. I only got through the novels by simultaneously ignoring and loudly reviling the despicable and unrepentant treatment of women throughout. My husband nobly bore the brunt of this disgust every night, as I verbally abused the author for his misogyny and lack of accuracy. Yes, you heard me. I am accusing Martin himself (not his characters) of misogyny, and I am calling him out for his incomplete and inaccurate portrayal of women and gender relations in ANY moment in history, imagined or otherwise.

In a recent New York Times article (“For ‘Game of Thrones,’ Rising Unease Over Rape’s Recurring Role,” May 2, 2014), Martin is cited as claiming that “he had an obligation to tell the truth about history and about human nature.” Except that he doesn’t tell the truth. Yes, one thing he says is true: “rape and sexual violence have been a part of every war ever fought, from the ancient Sumerians to our present day.” But Martin’s depiction of sexual brutality is consistently limited, inaccurate and deeply-biased — making it his truth, perhaps, but nothing near the truth.

In his fiction, and now in the series, no one stands as witness to this horrific treatment of women, and that is where Martin’s vision and accuracy fail. Martin claims that “certain scenes are meant to be uncomfortable, disturbing, hard to read.” But that is not in fact what he either attempts or accomplishes as an artist. At most, his depiction of the rape, subjugation and abuse of women achieves a sort of background eroticism in his work, because it is perpetually mired in the perspective of the rapists and the bystanders. The experience and voices of the victims, the naysayers, the comforters, the survivors, the brothers and the sisters, the change-makers — these are almost entirely absent (with the occasional exception of Arya Stark, Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly).

Photo by hotblack, Source: morgueFile

Photo by hotblack, Source: morgueFile

Over the course of actual human history, people have borne witness to rape and brutality – -cradling their mothers’ torn bodies, comforting a brutalized boy, marching through college campuses with lit candles to Take Back the Night, standing over their children and saying: “NO! I will NOT let you hurt them.” How do I know this is true, even in those feudal times Martin claims to depict so accurately? If it were not, we would still be living in those times today. The world that Game of Thrones represents holds no possibility of transformation, no one as witness to the things that must change — because they are too cruel, brutal and inhuman to survive against the collective will of humanity.

Will I boycott the show? Decline to buy the next book in the series? I don’t know. I am drawn to these characters and their destinies. There is no doubt that Martin has me hooked. In spite of my instincts, I have continued to read and to watch so far. To find out what happens next, to remain connected to these characters about whom I have come to care, I will probably squelch that inner recoil, swallow the bile, and keep going back for more. And in this way Martin with his art has replicated exactly the experience of rape itself: the confusion, the mixed allegiance, the blurring of self-protective boundaries and yes, the arousal, that occur when someone — usually someone we know and love — abuses us. The HBO writers and directors perpetuating this rape may read this blog and others, and perhaps tone it down a bit, just enough to keep us coming back for more — precisely as child molesters groom their victims, creeping past boundaries only to destroy them from the inside out.

When we consider rape as a society, every rapist — actual or imagined — is our father and our brother and our self, and every victim is our mother and our sister…ourself. Martin and his artistic partners at HBO are raping all of us, and we are allowing it. It won’t stop until we say no, walk away, and hold them — and ourselves — accountable.

Photo by plexium-nerd, Source: morgueFile

Photo by plexium-nerd, Source: morgueFile

30 + Summer Activities for the Kids

© amomnextdoor, 2013

Summer’s over, but some great ideas are eternal. Besides, here in the CA Bay Area, we have a solid month of summer weather left. I had to reblog this post, just to have it handy for easy reference. You’ll find my own ideas for keeping little ones engaged with their world in my post, Spring Break Blues.

Welcome to 2nd Grade

© amomnextdoor, 2013

© amomnextdoor, 2013

Agent 006 (age…6) brought home this second grade humor a few days ago, and already his sister, the Birthday Girl (still age three), has worn it out. From today:

BG: Do that look down thing!

006: (big, reluctant sigh) Ooookaaay. Look under there!

BG: (who is supposed to say, “Under where?” Get it? The joke already happened, and you missed it) Look up!

006: Oh, brother, I hate this joke!

BG: It’s just for fun!

006: (dramatically) I’m too old for this!

(Pause)

006: Mom, how do you spell “eye-cup”?

Magic Apple for Teachers

DSC_0007Yesterday my son, Agent 006, got this letter in the mail from his soon-to-be-second grade teacher. It included Magic Confetti,DSC_0011 to help him sleep well on the night before school.

Thanks, Mrs. J! My son is not the only person who will be starting school totally confident that he has the best teacher in the whole wide world. I slept like Mama Bear in her cave last night.

So here’s a special wish for all teachers today–may your first day of school be promising and fun! Thank you for all that you have already done for the families and children you lead deeper into a learned life. You are truly appreciated.

Kids Reach For Confetti

Kids Reach For Confetti (Photo credit: librarianjill)

This article is part of amomnextdoor’s Magic Apple series: sharing ideas for magic moments with kids.

Long Flight, Short Attention Span: the Kindertainment Kit for Little Travelers

Airport Lines

© amomnextdoor, 2013

I recently sat in an airport waiting area and watched an eight-year old girl play contentedly with her fingers, albeit in a slightly bored sort of way, for fifteen minutes. She may have  gone even longer than that, but I was too busy entertaining my iPhone-addicted three-year old to notice. And a three-year old in full withdrawal ain’t pretty.

I always feel like a rotten parent when I hand my kid the iPhone. Yes, it’s so cute how the tiniest one-year old already knows how to swipe and tap. Mildly amusing when the two-year old accidentally calls the Philippines. Only a minor hassle when the three-year old deletes seven apps and all their data. Sort of embarrassing when the four-year old happens to find an indiscreet photo in the camera roll. Really embarrassing when the five-year old reads aloud from the iPhone screen, “Mom, what does l-i-c-k spell?” And a royal pain-in-the-ass when the six-year old throws a temper tantrum because you have to use the iPhone to, like, call someone, then spends the next thirty minutes in jittery, aggressive withdrawal from his favorite video game.

Yes, that’s what we used to call them—“video games.” “App” sounds so innocuous by comparison. I haven’t yet run across the slew of articles titled “Apps Increase Violent Behavior in Children!” Yet I feel uneasy with the amount of screen time my young kids get, when screens are so portable and absorbing. So I decided that for this flight to Grandma’s, we were going to try old-fashioned entertainment. Thumb-twiddling and looking out the window would do for a start, but I was insecure about traveling completely deviceless. So I put together an Airplane Entertainment Kit and decided to use the three-hour flight for beta testing.

Kindertainment Kit

© amomnextdoor, 2013

Continue reading

Fallow

Fallow Field

So it turns out that I don’t write much in the summer. You’ve noticed.

Our family is now fully steeped in its current incarnation: Agent 006 in elementary school, about to start second grade next week, and the Birthday Girl (still three in spite of intervening birthdays which refused to have anything to do with her) in preschool twice a week. With the help of our marvelous babysitter, I manage to extend those few childless hours into a ten-hour-a-week writing practice (not including late nights and “I just have to go to the bathroom” quick ducks into the writing studio for stolen moments with the page).

But somehow children and travel have completely absorbed my time and attention this season, rolled up my writing practice like an old wool rug nobody needs when it’s hot out and the lawn sprinklers call us to summer’s baptism of heat. And it’s impossible for me to feel guilty about it. I know what’s really happening.

Summer is my growing season, but story doesn’t grow on the same schedule as the vegetal world. Travel, my children’s inches and appetites, long, sweet hours at the pool and beach–I can feel myself soaking it all in like the browning of my skin. The fields of my story lie fallow in the summer; the children and I play together in the rich dirt. My fields may look as empty as the pages of my journal or as inert as my blog statistics, but I feel small creatures stirring underground. I feel the bursting of seeds, straining toward the light of back-to-school fall routines. Soon, I will be able to water these fields once more with scattered showers of solitude. With just those scraps of nourishment, and the discipline of the hoe, the stories will grow forth again.

Please stay tuned for these new series of articles, and more, coming this fall:

Little Travelers: Tips for parents and kids on traveling to destinations near and far, exotic and quotidian.

A Writer’s Passage: Wisdom shared from the June 2013 Book Passage Conference for Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators, as it intersects with my life as a writer and mother of two.

The Beleaguered Kitchen: Ideas for creating nutritional family meals under duress

Bites from the Magic Apple: Strokes of parenting genius shared

See you soon!

Photo credit: Thanks to Paul Schultz for adding “Fallow Field” to the Creative Commons.

Bite From the Magic Apple

Apple with a bite taken out of it.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

A Recipe for Parenting Panache

Exhausted. Cranky. Worn down, worn out, used up.

Kids at the table bossy and ungrateful, impolite and obnoxious.

The Birthday Girl and Agent 006 are already snarling at each other over the breakfast cereal. I am parenting alone, again, unloading the dishwasher and delivering delayed eggs to the table. I have twice already invoked my ironclad rule of home dining—only polite and grateful children permitted at my table—and sent the children to their room for a time out. Now they are back; they don’t realize it is their father’s absence that is making them feel grumpy and out of sorts. They think it is my fault. I need an ally. Out of desperation, I start grumbling to the apple in my hand. Continue reading