Friday, October 24, 2014

Brooklyn Bridge Park


 Brooklyn Bridge Park

 Brooklyn Bridge Park - another memory making photograph

 We went to the park to check out the native plantings in an urban setting


Butterfly milkweed blooming in a recently seeded area 

"Beren said something so sweet, but I can't remember what it was," I say. If only I could remember it all.

Upon considering my 10th year of marriage, I observed that there were far more times that I forgot than remembered. Photographs are helpful. They center memories around a time that seemed important at the time of picture-making.

I might forget this trip to Brooklyn Bridge Park without the photograph. I certainly wouldn't recall Jared's squint against the grey clouds or Beren watching a family pass by.

Jared might remember the trip. The ultimate destination was a community garden where we'd attend the wedding celebration of his very first friend in life. Or, he might remember every time he sees a Pier 1 store. While I planned the day's activities - drive into Brooklyn and then explore and have lunch in the park, I repeatedly exclaimed how excited I was to go to Pier 1. Jared thought I was talking about Pier 1 Imports, and I knew I was talking about Pier 1 of the Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Tenth year of marriage, still working on communications. Possibly, it's more important than ever, now that we know each other so well and have a child.

I might remember the fun slide with the beautiful stone steps at Pier 6. A light dusting of sand from sandplay areas coated each step. We felt as though we finally found the best playground at the very last pier. On the second trip up the slide's steps, Beren slipped on the layer of sand. He was propelled downward on a thousand tiny sand-wheels, and I could hear the impact of his face on the stone.

"Oh no, oh no!" I grabbed him and hurried down the steps. "Oh! Oh!" I wish I could control the exclamations that come from my mouth when Beren's hurt, but I hardly can.

Jared wrapped his arms around us. "Oh, Beren! What hurts?" He couldn't speak through his cries and gasps.

We found a bench along the main pedestrian thoroughfare at the park's end. We three huddled. Comfortless, Beren sobbed, "Nummies would help." I tugged my shirt up, and he nursed.

I wondered who might notice us, who might know we were nursing, who might notice this big kid nursing, who might say something. It's Brooklyn, I thought. Who cares? You never really know, and I'll take one for the team. Besides most people have no idea that a woman is nursing. Really.

We left Pier 6, banged up and bit defeated. The afternoon hadn't been the treat we wanted. Oh well, I suppose I could forget about it, if it weren't for these photographs. And if it weren't for one of Beren's front teeth that turned a touch greyish after this outing.



Jared likes to call photographs like this "A Genuine Mackow." Centered, geometrical, human.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lessons on the River


The Delaware River is so beautiful. This is the view from the pedestrian bridge at Bull's Island.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Last stand against the dishes


Farm takes over the house.

Each autumn, part of our kitchen counter, despite best intentions, becomes a sea of plastic bags filled with seeds to sort and process. When an especially sensitive or important seed collection arrives on the kitchen counter, out comes the seed cleaning equipment. The blender dedicated to large seeded fruits, sandpaper, seed screens, strainers, leftover containers, envelopes...

Inactivity takes over corners of the house.

Jared thoroughly vacuumed the house, maybe last month. Tonight, Beren and I put his stuffed animals and wooden circus toy set to bed. We built them bunk beds from cedar blocks Jared and I gotten as a gift for our wedding. As I turned to reach for another stuffed animal, I was surprised at the web of dust next to his toy box. A similar web is attached to the nightstand in my bedroom. There's a less dusty rectangle on the bottom shelf of the nightstand - the imprint of a book, probably one of Jared's.

Dishes takes over the house.

Beren nursed continually for the first years of his life, or so it seemed to me at times. Now he eats continuously. Jared used to call him 'chickadee' because Beren was in ceaseless motion. Beren does occasionally rest for a moment or cuddle briefly, but really he's still a chickadee - always moving, always eating. And thus, either Jared or I am continuously washing dishes.

For a couple days, I'll reuse a cup, until it's filmy with fingerprints. If my lips sense a crust of leftover food, it's time to wash it. I'll brush crumbs from a plate from a previous meal and reuse it. A meal of eggs, meat, or one of an excessively oily nature sends a dish right to the sink, but I suppose I could refrigerate the plate and slow any bacterial growth. Perhaps I'll try that some time.

Last week, I pulled from the sink an unwashed bowl that had held Jared's snack of ice cream. I grabbed the unwashed spoon he used and served myself a heap of chocolate ice cream. It was delicious, especially since I didn't need to wash one more bowl and spoon.

This is my last stand against the dishes. I know I will lose.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

How are you?

How are you? Some days are a bowl of poison sumac fruit. It's a cool plant, and you've got to meet it, but you wish that you didn't...

E is for effort. E is for ecstatic. E is for effort. E is for exhausting.

Fall in love with your baby, the text says. It sounds like advice from the heavens, from a love story, from a fairy tale. Don't be surprised if you don't fall in love with your baby. I tell this to mothers-to-be, she tells me. She also says that she feels uneasy saying this. I'd like to relate more of what she said because I found it such a relief, so real, and so inspiring - in an uneasy, Grimm's fairytale kind of way - but, I won't because I respect her confidence.

And yet, I'd so like to tell you more. When my son was still an infant, I chatted on the cell phone with a friend. I bounced the stroller down our rutted dirt lane. "So, are you lovin' motherhood or what?" she asked.

"Well, I don't know. It's hard. Really hard," I replied.

She was silent. I guess it's like when you ask, "How are you?" And, someone tells you exactly how they feel, and it's not good. I guess it was a rhetorical question. Or, perhaps because I seem like an all natural kind of gal, that my experience of motherhood would be E for Ecstatic.

Sure, at times. Sure, I can tell you all about milestones and sweet little things. I need to do that. I also need you to know some days are E for Effort.

But, as I held the phone between my aching shoulder and jaw and gripped the stroller with my awkwardly stiff arms, I felt so very alone. Why wasn't I lovin' this? Uh oh.

I find that when mothers can be real with each other, they reveal all the times they're not lovin' it. Sometimes, it just a hint. "He's really active. It used to be tough, but I bring him to the playground. He really needs it."

If I could just roll out of my hut, walk down a wooded path, and flop on the hammock of another mother, or a grandmother… If I could pass my babe to a young woman, not yet a mother, but curious…

Friday, September 26, 2014

Now and Then


These photos really make me smile. Beren often came along with us. It was always easier to bring him along. Meals were more peaceful with him on the table circa 1.5 months old. 

"March 2014" my herbal homework submission was dated. I finished it in August. And in between? We found our home in February and decided on a 30 day close or "quick close". It was a decision I was both thankful for and regretted at times. We spent March providing endless paperwork to the mortgage broker. We purchased our house in April and moved in May. I hardly remember the arduousness of those 30 days.

In September, I received my homework back with comments. Proofreading my writing, I felt sad.

The reading and projects were partially about herbs for children's health. In my homework, I wrote about the struggles we had with chronic respiratory problems. I had some breadth of experience on this topic. I recall many sleepless nights due to croup. I read and reread several books on children's health.

One book talked about the average number of illnesses that the typical child in the U.S. might get annually. The author, a noted holistic doctor, said she'd be very unhappy if her children became sick that frequently. She went on to say that those statistics (unfortunately, I can't find the stats right now…), were based on children that are likely to be formula-fed, in day care, and other life situations that would increase their likelihood to become ill.

What I do remember is that Beren's average illnesses per year were right up there, and possibly beyond, the typical child. "But, I nurse, we eat healthy, we're outside often, we exercise. I don't understand."

During the day, I'd hear Beren cough once. I'd cringe. No, please, no, don't get sick again. A sneeze. Two days later, Beren would wake hourly, or more, coughing. The croup, the rotten, rotten croup.

Beren got sick often and woke frequently, up to 3 and sometimes 5 times per night until he was three and a half. "I can do two wake ups, even three sometimes, but more…I can't. I can't." I'd tell Jared as though I was bargaining. We worked it from every angle.

We got all the advice. Try garlic. Rachel go away for several days. Make sure baby's (and the child's  as Beren got older) needs are met during the day. Make sure you're not "over" meeting needs during the day. Let him cry it out. Honestly, I found it all really f*cking insulting at times.

I'd look at my child and try to sort out the difference between dark circles under his eyes from being tired and "allergic shiners" due to a food allergy. We removed all preservatives and artificial ingredients from our diet, which wasn't difficult because there were already so very few to begin with. We limited our dining out experiences.

Or, if he was tired, why wouldn't he or couldn't he sleep? By the time we 'woke' in the morning, I was exhausted after a night of parenting and soothing my child back to sleep. I hardly wanted to continue to parent a cranky, tired child. When possible, I'd ask Jared to give me a break in the morning. "I need some space," I'd say.

I'd look at my child's bloated belly and wonder exactly what the books meant when they said that children's bodies had disproportionately large abdomens. Does that mean they're distended and hard? Does that mean they're cranky until they have a bowel movement?

I was often sick, too. One swollen tonsil, swollen glands, run down, tired. I'd want to visit friends, but it seemed that so often one of us would be sick. "I have to cancel our play date. We're sick," I'd say. "See you in the spring," a friend once said.

So we'd stay home, or I'd drag us out of the house. Mucus dripping, we'd shuffle along a trail or go shopping. Many times I could hardly muster to strength to pack extra clothes, diapers, snacks, and so on. I was overwhelmed and isolated at times.

Many times we were fine, cheerful, and companionable. Other times, I thought we fit the bill for "high needs". At the doctor's office we found we were generally quite healthy. And, you know, I believe that was true, though it felt so very much like a lie at times.

We spent two weeks at my parents' house in mid-April, preparing our new house for our move. They live just ten minutes away from our new house. We slept in my childhood bedroom. We slept in mattresses went from wall to wall of the small room. One night, I said to Jared, "Listen to Beren's breathing. It's so much clearer."

Once our whirlwind floor sanding and wall painting was finished (kind of), we began moving our plant nursery and then our personal belongings. We arrived at the new house with a load of furniture, and I threw open the cargo door of the moving van. A familiar, sickly sweet, and dark smell surrounded me. Mold. I began to obsessively sniff my clothes. Mildewy. Moldy.

I knew we had a wet basement. I knew we had mold. We had two dehumidifiers. It might seem surprising to you, but I had in some ways had no idea it was so pervasively bad. But then again, what could I do?

Over the next couple weeks, I watched Beren begin to run freely. He didn't stop and start as he did before. His belly slimmed. Over the summer, his sleeping became deeper and sounder, and mine did, too.

He became that sweet child Jared always said he was. I believed him, but sometimes it was so very hard to have a tired, chronically ill child who just wanted to nurse to sleep all the time. In a way, I feel robbed. Robbed of all the pleasant days and nights we might have had, if Beren had been able to breathe fresh air.

But mostly I feel blessed the our family lives on a breezy mountain ridge now. How lucky we are that we could change our circumstances.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Was Aunt Rita a Plain Jane?

Plain jane caterpillars are called "cryptic". Cryptic, that has a ring to it.

I've said this a few times recently - I often feel like a plain Jane.

My Aunt Rita used to say that of herself. "I was always a plain Jane," she told me.

Aunt Rita was actually my great aunt. She was Pop-pop's sister. Pop-pop was my mother's father.

Aunt Rita had long, straight hair that reached below her waist. The bottom still was brown, though her hair had long turned grey. She'd sit outdoors with her recently washed hair tossed over the back of a lawn chair. Her eyes closed, her face pointed towards the sun. Once her locks were dry, she'd braid her hair and wrap it many times around her head from her crown to the nape of her neck.

When she became much older, she cut her hair very short and permed it, like many other women of her generation. It was easier to care for. I missed her hair.

To me, Aunt Rita was anything but a plain Jane. She and my Uncle Newell and my grandparents played cards and had happy hour in the afternoon. They lived in a tiny mobile home in exotic Florida with hundreds of other elderly couples who fled from parts north. They had gators in their yard. They had a storm door with a vibrant floral patterned stain glass window made by their son. They travel extensively and brought me dolls from around the world. Plain Jane?

Then, I have a friend who seems worried that she might be a plain Jane, my words, not hers. If you were to see her, you'd be surprised to learn this. She's willowy, graceful, and poised. She laughs well. She's thoughtful and perceptive. She's stylish. She's gracious and generous. Her personal history is deep. Her inner tenor is strong. You'd notice her walking down the street.

I wonder if others would be surprised to hear me say I so often feel dull and shabby and inadequate. Dilapidated work clothes, broken glasses, and cracking knees. So I have a business with a nice website and I write a column for a magazine, so…so what.

It's hard to write this because I don't know how it will be perceived, but what I'm trying to do is point out that we often don't really know each other. We have no idea how someone else feels about themselves. It's likely their face does not tell the whole story.

It's easy to feel inadequate. It's easy to compare myself to someone and feel like I should be different… gosh, if I could just stop being a crybaby. If I could just be more decisive. If I could get my son's clothes clean. If I could spare some time for my husband. If I could just have one nice pair of sexy shoes. If my posture was better. If I could eat more greens. If I could write more.

Aunt Rita, you were never a Plain Jane.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The physical and emotional needs of people

If I don't expect my 3 year old to provide for all his physical needs - food, bathing, dressing, fresh clothes, tidy living quarters - then why would I expect him to provide for all his emotional and spiritual needs - love, guidance, touch, play, comfort? Why would I expect to separate physical and emotional and spiritual needs, for a child or for an adult?

Don't they overlap and interplay? What about the sense of well being that comes from a pleasant warm bath filled with water play? Or, sharing a good meal while sitting together? Or the conversation had while drifting to sleep?

So you've been imagining a parent and child as you read the scenarios above...instead, imagine two friends or lovers. Adults can't always provide for all of their own needs either. They're better at it than children, sometimes. They're better at coping with deprivation, to an extent...

I wish we could toss out the notion that providing for emotional needs of children is creating bad habits or dependency. A child is dependent.

Going to momma to fix a boo boo is a good habit. Finding reliable love and attention from parents is a good habit. Better said, it's natural and instinctual. The alternative is learning the bad habit of seeking love and reassurance elsewhere - from things and people who cannot provide it.