Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I can hear the sounds of my kids playing at recess

I'm sitting on my back step soaking up the sun, yearning to feel the promised effects of Vitamin-D penetrating my skin and seeping into my veins and stimulating my dull brain.

Writing on a laptop outside, with the midday sun directly overhead, is tricky. It's hard to see the words on the screen for the glare.  What I can see --mirror mirror--is my furrowed brow and deeply lined nose and frowning, lined, mouth reflected back at me. Those lines that say, "you've had your day in the sun. Time for some shade and a bit of overpriced beauty cream, Honey."

I keep dipping my head to see the true color of my hair in the sun. It almost looks blonde. It looks so dark and dirty to me in artificial light. The shallow vanities of a once tow-headed girl turned brown-haired woman.

But back to that sound. That sound-- the sound of children squealing, their bodies exuding the joy of liberation. The joy of being released from the rigid walls, the uncomfortable chairs, the assault of overhead fluorescent lights and the expectations of overly strict teacher's aids--is a good sound. That sound is the sound of a happy childhood. I live for that sound.

Last night after helping Isla to bed, I took our giant puppy out for a final frolic in the moonlight. It was bright. The air was cool but not cold. I could hear the breeze whizzing through the baby-leafed trees and vibrating across the grass. Wood frogs croaked. Spring peepers sounded their sustained siren call. There were thin stripey clouds, like iron bars, waving across the moon. The sky looked like a painted backdrop behind a stage. An illustration in a children's book about Gods, Kings, Knights and dragons and their waiting, always waiting, princesses.

As I stood there, my bare feet numb in the cold grass, I imagined being an Indian. A native American without access to Google and Facebook and 24- hour news and the constant bombardment of perpetually-updated information. Just me. My dog. This meadow in this hillside. Those unmoving mountains in the distance, and that constantly shifting sky, showing off its stunning, fully-ripe moon.

Who was the first person to call the moon "the moon"? What did the Indians, who must have stood here once, looking at that same moon, that same archer Orion who goes from lying on his back across the east mountain, shooting straight up into the sky in December, to standing upright, bold and ready, straight above the house, his bow pointing north in spring, think when they looked at that same, younger, moon?

If I hadn't had an artificially-lit house, a computer and a television and a smart phone, a sink filled with dinner dishes, a pile of unfolded laundry to fold, and two young children calling to me  across the meadow, I would have kept walking in that moonlight. I would have walked straight into the woods to see the shadows cast by the trees. And maybe I would have stripped a piece of bark from a white birch tree and found a sharp stick to write with. And I'd write it all down. I'd write all the words I could think of for how the full moon, and the sky that appears to hold it, suspended, makes me feel.

I would write down every question I had about what it was I was seeing and hearing there and every noise I heard, including the creaking of an unlucky tree that can't yield to the wind as noiselessly, and uncomplaining, as the rest.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Isla's trip to England: A poem

Ian took the girls to England during spring break to see his mother, who is sick in the hospital. Isla wrote this on her way home from the airport.

While their reasons for making the trip were more desperate than happy, they had a good visit with Granny that could very possibly be their last.  Isla stroked Granny's head and helped a nurse feed her. She and Esther both held her hand. Though it was hard to understand her because she is too weak to speak, Esther heard Granny say "I love you" when they left the hospital for the last time.

I'm so pleased they got to see her, their Granny who lives so far away. And I'm even more pleased she got to see them, her curious American grandchildren.

 by Isla

We went to Iagland
I had so much fun
The grass was green and the flowers wear bloming
And the sun was shing like an angul
I walked throw a feald of flowrs.
We went to Wales to see horeses jump like the wind
And their hovs thumping on the growd
Then the nest day we go swimming.
It is Ester sunday
I fill myself up with choclit
It is time to go home
I am sad to leave

Most recent stream of consciousness, which reads more like puddle jumping, can be found here on the BabyCenter Blog.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Spring light

We had a birthday party for Ian a few weeks back and I was forced to clean the house, well, at least the first floor of the house. This was one day later when it was still clean. Alas, it doesn't look like this right now. If only they could make some sort of preservative that makes your cleaning jobs last longer.

Since that bold night, when I invited half the town over and never considered where they would park, we've been riding out the rest of a particularly grueling winter. I knew we had turned a bend when we got invited to a sugar house to watch some farmer friends do their first boil of the season. I think I heard the world sigh when that sweet steam hit the sky.

Then I know I heard the girls sigh when they took their first sip of sap tea, tea made with boiling hot, sweet maple tree sap, instead of hot water. I've been telling them about it for years and they finally, at age 12 and 8, got to try it.

Other signs of spring are the sound and sight of the farmer whizzing by on his tractor pulling huge vats filled with sap to the sugar house. There was a panic there for a moment, when the sap wasn't running and it was already April.

And I heard the distant sound of honking Canada geese on a walk the other morning. I looked up and there, way high in the steel grey sky was a large formation of migratory birds headed north. North. Of all places.

Maybe my father can finally take his long johns off.

Speaking of my dad, I wrote about him and posted it to the BabyCenter Blog this morning. Read it if you feel so inclined. It's a lot more illuminating into my reality than this post has been.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

What's posterity got to do with my posterior?

Strange how life happens, and happens, and keeps on happening, even when you don't stop to record any of it, not in writing, that is, for posterity. What is posterity, anyway? Does it have anything to do with our posteriors? Our behinds?
I'm thinking yes, yes. It has everything to do with our behinds.

I've vowed to stop dwelling on my behind. Not that I ever truly 'dwelled' on it. Well, now, come to think of it... I spend a lot of time sitting, thus sort ot dwelling, on it. But I certainly have a habit of needing to see what it's doing, or how it's looking doing, back there whenever there is a mirror handy and no one is watching. You know.

What a strange and vain, in every sense of the word, habit. And the day I see my daughters doing it is the day I realize I am a terrible role model. Check your asses before you leave the house, girls. You never know. You never know what, exactly? You never know who might be judging you by the shape, size and volume of your ass?

Oh dear. This is not at all why I stopped in here to write today. This is what happens when I'm presented with a blank page and I'm alone in the house with nothing and no one but the dog curled up on a sunny spot on the floor and the guinea pig around the corner by the chimney noisily nosing her water bottle and chewing on the bars of her cage. Having a caged animal in the house has got to be one of the more bizarre aspects of parenthood. Why? Why, what with the horses and the dog and the squirrels and the birds and the weasels and bobcats and chipmunks and foxes, and bears, and wild rabbits and mice and the voles, and lowing cows in the distance, do country kids need a caged pet in their house? Why?

There I go again. Another tangent. So anyway. It's been awhile. Winter, it's safe to say, came. It's still here. Take a look.

The thought keeps occurring to me, that it isn't what's in the picture that makes Vermont unique, but what's missing from the picture. 

And, while we're on the topic of posteriors....

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The apple and the tree

I woke to the gauzy, unexpected light of snow in the air this morning. The flakes were unsure of themselves. New to the stage. They meandered and floated more than they actually fell. But they were there. We saw them. Huddled together for warmth on the roof of the barn, collected on the top edge of the windshield wipers, stuck in a spider's web. We saw them. 

Like shuttling through darkness, turning the bend and seeing that glimpse of light, we’ve broken through. No more waiting and wondering and lamenting and regretting and reminiscing about things, warm and breezy, easy things left behind.

Winter is approaching. Our world has been stripped bare and stands exposed, ready and waiting, unafraid, un-self conscious, unashamed of its nakedness. Prepared.

 Fall agitates. Winter soothes. Spring promises. Summer lulls.

How sensitive can one be to the seasons? How is it that the spinning of the earth, the proximity to the sun, the length of days, the attitude of light, the precipitation or lack of precipitation, can dictate my outlook, my chemistry?

Did I inherit this hyper connectedness? My children may be learning it from me.  The rain draws them outside to dance. Dark days soothe them. They love snow-- the smell of it, the look of it, the feel of it, the sound of it.

On this, one of the darkest mornings we’ve had in a year, the house was still dark, their eyelids shut tight, at 7:05 a.m.

"Wake up, wake up, we’re going to be late for school," I shouted. “No light. No light.” Isla said, scootching backwards under her blanket to escape the rudeness of the bedside lamplight.

And Esther, in the dim light coming through her attic window, her body shaped, no contorted, into its usual arched , jumping fish pose in a tangle of covers. Her head never in line with her feet. Nothing, not even the fear of being late for school, stirred these children.

That is until I mentioned the snow. In an instant they were up, wide eyed, running, barefooted, to the windows, down the stairs, back door flung open, hands out, tongues out, itching for a feel, or a taste, of the sky.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

I cannot claim to love the fall


I cannot, will not, despite its wiles, claim to love it. Fall leaves me feeling weak. Superficial. I ignore her message, disregard her true character, while admiring her beauty.

How can something that is dying be so stunning? How can we walk amongst the death, feel it thick and moldering beneath our feet, hear the crunch of its fragile bones, smell it on the air, feel it in the anemic sunlight on our skin, yet revel so unabashedly, so irreverently, in its temperate nature? Nothing this good, this delicious, comes without consequence.

But we, I, do revel. I let my guard down. I allow myself to be bowled over. I comment, mindlessly, on the beauty of fall every single day.

It's turned the bend now. The mountains have transformed from feisty fashionistas, to aging, skeletal homeless ladies. A balding old man. A near -empty coat rack, just a few tattered jackets left hanging.

But the sun, she tries. Her dutiful perseverence is almost pathetic.

She's tiring. You can see weariness in her pale eyes. You can feel it in her nonchalant touch. She's growing weaker. Hesitant to rise in the morning. All too eager to retreat to the safety of that place, out of sight, beyond the horizon, below the distant mountain tops, at day's end.
A lot like me.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Power of Yes

It's getting harder to make jokes about my dad's Alzheimer's these days.
It's never really been funny. But we manage, as we do with most of life's heartbreaks, to find the funnier sides to it.

We particularly like the way he throws his money around. After years of being thrifty guy, he's got his wallet out every chance he gets, offering to buy my kids things they want but don't need, or to pay for my groceries as if I were still in college.

Or the quirky things he does. Like the time we went walking on the Equinox trails and he complained and complained about his underpants "feeling strange" until finally I made him step off the trail and drop trou, praying no one would come along and find us-- an old man with his pants down and a younger woman trying to straighten out his underwear. After having ignored his complaints for half a mile, like I would a toddler, I discovered his was not an idle complaint. He had on briefs and boxers together.

And the boxers  had somehow ended up around his knees.

Or the things he writes down on scrap paper but can't explain. Like  "intelligence + personality= important."

Or things he says. Like in the car in Maine just recently, when he responded to some upsetting news I was telling him by saying, "That's a bunch of birdshit!"

Then, in a moment of great clarity, he said, "I don't think I've ever said that before, have I? That's not what people say. A bunch of birdshit?" And I said, "No, Dad. I've never heard it before. I think you just made up your own brilliant expression."

Bird shit! It doesn't necessarily stink, but it's still super annoying. 

We have so many laughs throughout the day with my dad. We laugh with him. But we're often laughing at him, and he seems to know that, but he never gets upset. My dad has always been a fan of laughter. He likes to make people laugh.

But, just lately, the humorous side of things is harder to spot. He seems so.... vulnerable. And, I'm guessing, he feels vulnerable too. The other day he said something about being a baby. "But you're not a baby anymore," I said. And he said, "Yes, but I'm just as damageable."

Telling him where we're going, twenty times along the way, isn't what gets to me. What gets to me is seeing him, once an incredibly alert man, a conversationalist, at a loss for what to say because he can't follow the conversation. He's lost the thread. He's forgotten what we're conversing about.

And what gets to me, is seeing this once perpetually busy, restless man at a loss as to what to do next. This man who was never caught without a plan. Never to be accused of idleness. Never under remotest threat of gathering moss on any of his many surfaces. A moving target, his motion was his sanity. As long as he kept moving, doing, doing doing, he was safe from whatever it was he was hiding from.

And having heard the distress in his voice the day I stupidly asked him what his most powerful childhood memory was so I could write it in his grandfather book and one day give his memories to Esther and Isla, and he started telling me the story of his father's suicide when my dad was only five, and recounted a vivid memory of his mother howling and pacing on the sleeping porch, I can only imagine that running, constant forward motion, is much more preferable to ever, ever going back there. 

But now the movement has stopped. Lurched to a halt, unsettling all that was not bolted down with the abruptness of the transition. Yet it's not my father who is unsettled, it's us who love him. It's us who look at him and see the same man as always, yet do not recognize the docile aimlessness, the lack of certainty in his eyes. The idleness.

Yet his brain is not idle. He remembers so much-- like the Boy Scout law, which he recites at least once each and every time I see him.
"A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly,
courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty,
brave, clean, and reverent."

He gets a big kick out of the clean part. I'll have to ask him, now that I've just Googled it, if he remembers the Scout's Promise as well.
"On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight."

And, ever since he was in the hospital with five broken ribs, sustained last winter while cross country skiing, and they kept him on morphine for several days, he has developed a new quirk. You might call it a verbal tic.

And, so fitting with who my father has become, the master of gratitude, who feels blessed for  everything that comes his way, with the exception, perhaps, of rainy days,  this tic involves chanting the word "yes" as he makes his way through his day.

He sometimes says it with every step he takes, like a child learning to walk, "Yes, yes, yes, yes."
He says it when he's fixing himself breakfast, all alone in the kitchen. "Yes," he says, as he takes the milk carton out of the ice box. "Yes," he says again as he fishes a spoon out of the drawer. "Yes," he says when he reaches for a bowl in the cupboard.

And when he's about to do something tricky, like step across the boardwalks around Equinox Pond, or climb over a stone wall on his property in the woods. "Yes. Yes. Yes." he chants, as if the very word is what propels him. The word is his crutch. His cane. His gas pedal. His teddy bear. His pacifier.

That he's chosen this word, out of all the words in the world, fascinates me. As annoying as it is, mostly in its repetition and its foreshadowing of mental instability, it's brilliant really.

I found myself imitating him the other day, all by myself. It was soothing to say. Yes. Over and over, not letting any other thought, or word, enter your mind or cross your lips. You can't say yes without smiling. Whereas "no," forces the mouth into what feels and looks like the beginning of a frown.

Try it:

"Maybe, maybe, maybe" this is all going to be okay.