6.21.2018

beyond belief

We dropped Tucker at sleepaway camp last weekend
and I have been thinking about him all week,
like plugging in a crockpot, maybe
some kind of exercise in vague worry.

But the worry kept shifting
because
we signed him up for this, sent him willingly.
And it has been our privilege to fret.
He might learn that foil sheets are for campfire vegetables
and he already knows that cages are for batting practice.

He will come home
and we will do normal things together,
separating yolks from whites
for sponge cake
and splitting hostas
to share with neighbors

while families are breaking the desert in half to be here
while politicians are playing games with the truth
and the plot is lost.
But Tucker will find his way home.
He will tell us about archery and hiking and cooking and card games
and he will tell us about a large yellow moth
drenched in the downpour,
pummeled and practically stuck to the porch rail
until Tucker opened the door
and let it in.

6.18.2018

in the dad department

I lean through the doorframe and discover him in the rocking chair, propped against the pillow with Baby in his lap, tossing books to the floor one by one as he reaches "the end." We smile at each other for a moment and then go on about our duties. Later he puts Baby in his crib for a rest, turns on the noise machine and quietly shuts the door to his room, following the same routine we've set with him. Caring for an infant is not the only neural connection he seems to have forged by watching his father, but he does have a really good example in the dad department.
Andy is facile and generous, and very smart, but never concerned with proving it. He is behind the scenes and on the sidelines, coloring time with his kids in cheerful shades. He passes along important life skills, like how to keep good knives sharpened, and models quality attributes, demonstrating gentleness as the ultimate strength. It is, isn't it? And somehow Hank already seems to understand.

6.14.2018

helping them help

We don't do choir charts or pay allowances, instead trying to bring the concept of teamwork to the forefront, so the boys know that our family functions best when everyone contributes.

And yet I find myself pulling out a toy from the back of the closet, hoping it will have some novelty, hoping it will buy me enough time to get the counters wiped and the crumbs swept. This has been my strategy, especially as we've been trying to settle in to our new home: engage the boys in an activity, get them started and try to sneak away and cross something off my to do list.
When I pause though, I remember that what the boys want, often more than anything, is to spend time with me. Or with Andy. It doesn't matter what we're doing, even if it's "work." They would like the opportunity to try doing it with us: watering the plants, fixing the fan, baking the naan. Sometimes their "help" is clumsy and counter-productive, and often it is slow. But I understand the strong drive to be around family, and am fascinated by the innate desire to be helpful.

I read an article on NPR last week about how to get children to help with chores without resentment. Volunteering to help is such an important trait in kids that Mexican families have a term for it: acomedido. "It's a really complex term," says Andrew Coppens, an education researcher at the University of New Hampshire. "It's not just doing what you're told, and it's not just helping out. It's knowing the kind of help that is situationally appropriate because you're paying attention."

This feels far more important to me than, say, having the boys make their beds every morning.
Tolliver is particularly good at paying attention, and finding solid ways to pitch in. He mentions he's ready for lunch and begins to pull out the blender and the frozen fruit, knowing how to get the smoothie show on the road. He understands that he has earned screen time, but sees that I am swiffering the floors while Hank naps, and picks up Legos before he picks up the Switch. He notices the laundry basket of clean towels that have been left untouched for several days and begins folding tall stacks, separating piles by bathroom. He's even had some success convincing Hank that Hamilton is good table-setting music, and Elmo's Song is better suited for matching socks.

Awhile ago we decided to use the phrase "would you be willing." We've tried to ask each other for help with these words as much as we've tried to use them with the boys. Different from the response to hearing the words "I need you to do A, B or C," there may be better feelings generated by a willingness to cooperate. While the I need you to demand feels like an affront to autonomy, the would you be willing request seems to recruit more cells of generosity.
Tolliver may have figured this out too, having asked recently whether I'd be willing to bake a half birthday cake with him...

6.12.2018

in my pocket

I know that if we take a walk, and we do nearly every single day, my pockets will wind up full of acorn caps and bottle caps and lollipop wrappers and whatnot.

The boys are fascinated by things that I don't even seem to notice, especially outside. The way the mushrooms congregate in small clumps. The way a particular leaf is shaped like Louisiana. That there are six silver birds on the wire ahead of us, and that someone has left unclaimed a shirt we theorized had been dropped when we saw it in the same spot last week.

At the creek, Hank helps place rock after rock in the gray bucket, each one a beloved addition to the collection curated according to standards only the boys understand.
At the strawberry patch, Tucker finds in fields of green the occasional leaf exploding in throes of gold and purple, adding them to his cardboard container.
At home Tolliver rinses another skull bone from the woods, trying to identify the small dead creature based on the shape of its jaw and the sharpness of its teeth, the likelihood that it ate plants or animals.

On their dresser is mason jar full of caps and corks and bolts and buttons, next to the plastic tub of clean-ish bones. Nature collections cover the dining room table, with a small guarantee the mudroom bench will be shrouded as well. And while I do not claim a mess-free existence of my own, what our home’s clutter mostly requires of me is patience, understanding. Acceptance for other people’s preferences, acknowledgement that the stuff they find points to curiosity and exploration. This focus and devotion will be their ally as they mature into the complex world of adulthood. My job is to allow space for what wants to emerge next, to celebrate their passions, to allow a metropolis of corks to occupy a corner of our counter for four months, to continually scoot the drying bones away from the food prep area. To keep my phone in my pocket and to keep calm about the accumulation and to see the world with them.

6.10.2018

pairing up

When the boys are not dusted in dirt like small powdered donuts, they are likely reading a book.

6.07.2018

courageous parents

Maintaining a relationship while raising healthy children can be hard, but it feels particularly challenging when your child has complex medical issues.
Courageous Parents Network asked me to write a bit about how Andy and I kept our marriage alive while our daughter was dying. The publish date coincides with international Batten Disease Awareness day, June 9. Visit Courageous Parents Network to read the full essay, and please consider sharing the link.

6.05.2018

chiaroscuro

I remember writing the word on the white board in my classroom, more than eleven years ago. We stumbled upon it during read aloud (The Tale of Despereaux), and none of us knew what it meant.
Seeing so much interplay between light and shadow, I thought of the word this week at Shale Hollow.
I also thought a little bit about an immediate post creek bath strategy...