Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Forty-eight Months

 Hang on, Momma. Nothing stays the same.

These days Beren might lay in bed staring at the ceiling when he wakes. Or, we might hear him bound out of bed, clamber onto the toilet, pee, and then return to his room. He might then descend the steps, aglow. Why he's dressed for the day. 

In many months past and years past, he'd lay in bed, demanding my presence while crying piteously. That was distressing and that was how we began our days, each day, for about 3 and a half years.   

This is why I regularly try to spend time with other mothers and children.

I never knew a baby could wake happy until I had my second child, one friend says. Whew, we're not alone, I think.

On another occasion, I glance over at a friend who holds his infant daughter. She's dozing. Wasn't she just awake? Babies can do that? Babies can fall asleep away from mother's breast? Wow, we weren't in that club.

Just weeks away from four years old, Beren's bedtime routine has changed from the early days, too. It used to take just shy of forever to get Beren to bed. Now, it's bath or shower, snack, story, and then lights out for a "Cheetah story". This is story Jared's invention, and each night Beren is treated to a story about Cheetah, his family, and his friends - Cheetah Momma, Cheetah Papa, Kitty, Mishi, Socks, Checkers, Mrs. Anteater, and Spots. Beren appears in the stories, too. Beren helps weave the stories.

Most nights Jared leads the bedtime routine. I can hear Beren shouting about how he's riding his orange tractor with Cheetah. I hear Jared and Beren talking about a mysterious machine called The Bizbopper. Beren shouts, "Bizbop!" which is the sound The Bizbopper makes.

Often around 9:15 p.m. Beren falls asleep, sometimes alone in his room, sometimes cuddling with Jared. Sometimes, like tonight, I'm called in to be The Closer. It's 9:42 p.m. and Beren is finally asleep. It's far later than I'd like it to be, but like most things there's much more flexibility in the routine and in the moment.

Beren can have a later bedtime without shaking the earth's balance, or at least without disturbing the following three day's bedtimes. He can spend a couple more minutes hungry for snack without "going A-bomb" to quote an old friend. He might declare that he needs to pee, strike up a conversation, and then idly head for the bathroom only when prompted.  The Bizbop Days of Forty-eight Months are easier than days past.

Ah, perhaps. Today, Beren accused me of "always" causing him to jump poorly or break his Lego buildings or something or another. It's always something or another to keep me hopping.

Friday, November 14, 2014


At 8:15 in the evening I look outside, and exclaimed, "It's snowing!" We huddled at the door, watching huge flakes cover the ground. "Let's go outside!" Beren said. Though on the cusp of bedtime, we agreed. The first snow in a new home happens only once, after all.

Two pairs of mittens were quickly soaked. And we eventually retreated inside. Tearfulness indicated bedtime's cusp had passed.

At parent's bedtime, we did our own rituals - talk, light snack, draw a glass of water, and head upstairs. Despite our intentions to stay awake, we drifted to sleep. I woke in a hot cocoon of pajamas, bathrobe and quilt. I heard Beren whimper and cough. I climbed into his bed to comfort him back to sleep.

The following morning, Jared and I peered into Beren's room as he woke. He rubbed his eyes and didn't notice our stare. He peered outside. The snow was still there. By 9:00 AM, early by our standards, we'd already been out for about a half hour.

Our farm

By 10:00 AM we were in the truck heading to Duke Farms. While Jared taught a class, we spent our time in the orchid greenhouses. And so, I add my photographs on the Orchid Range to what must be thousands or more images of the Duke Farms orchid collection.

 Reminds me of Jewelweed.

Reminds me of Tradescantia.

 And, Indian paintbrush. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Measuring Stick Has No Marks

Work or family? Work or family? Is it either or or can you do both?

In my experience, once my child hit age 3 and 3/4ths, I could do both. I can do both with several caveats: 

I work from home. (I also have part time work away from the home). We have a native plant nursery. Some tasks can be made interesting to a young boy. For example, we yanked dozens of 4' long pieces of rebar from our gravelly farm field. Beren happily pulled some and then raked leaves and clipped branches with hand pruners. 

First and foremost, I'm a mother. Luckily, I work with my husband, so we take turns on parenting, which includes stopping for snacks, boo boos, a push on the swing, or assistance climbing on some part of the farm infrastructure.

In no way does 'work' include sitting down to read or use a computer. 

And last (and first and second...), I'm a mother, so that means while Beren has been into growing to his rebar pulling self, I've been growing him. This means my participation in the business has been about 30/70, me/Jared. I'd graciously and honestly say that we're 50/50 parents, but still I've been able to pull off only 30% for the farm. 

When Beren was an infant, I hardly had time to make a half dozen 4" by 4" paper cut outs of wild birds for his mobile. In between diaper changes, nursing, and perhaps filling a cup of water for myself, I had zero time. He'd wake up as I trimmed out a killdeer beak or hummingbird tail. Sigh, don't you know I'm making this for you? How about another five minutes on that nap? Infancy and toddlerhood were so absorbing, and then again so is early childhood. 

When we began our nursery Beren was about 2. I really wanted to share in the work and did. Jared made space for me and held a space for me by being with Beren. 

But still, my role lagged behind Jared's. I felt deep pangs when I'd hear someone talk about "Jared's nursery". 

Business makes little room for children or families. Evening programs during bedtime, daytime programs during nap time or snack time or play time. Meetings and events with no space for a mother (or father) and child. I thought I might bring Beren along various places, and we certainly did. There were far more that we didn't.

After all, spending time as a family was one of the fundamental reasons we started our own business, and yet there was a push away from family. There was a little boy that needed me. There was a husband and business partner that needed me. And a me that needed me, whoever that was. 

After the whirlwind of setting up our farm on our own land and the slow fade into this autumn, we've had a chance to reflect on 30/70. Jared and talked about how we might become 50/50. 

We rolled out our empathetic listening skills. We talked about the way that some women participate in a family business...they do the books. I definitely have that role, self assigned. No glory, we agreed. We talked about our interests within our business plan, our passions, and our comfort areas. 

Like most of the good talks we've had lately, there are no immediate resolutions. There's no hope or desire for one. It's just important to talk.

A few days later, I baked a quiche that we'd take for lunch while making the Central Park delivery. "Making this quiche, is participating in our business," I said. "This is our farm and everything I do helps our farm. Whether it's packing snacks for our delivery or washing our work clothes. It's all important."

"I want some time to think about that," Jared replied slowly. 

"I just don't want to discount all the work I'm doing by saying I'm just 30%."

"Ok, but that's not the glory work you were talking about a couple days ago. And, I want you to be doing the things you want to do," Jared said.

I think 50/50 is the measure the modern, conscious family might try to live by. But really it's often felt like what we might fight about. It can be confusing to sort out who sorts the recycling, who goes grocery shopping, who waters the plants, who runs the tiller. How can it be measured, not by a calculator certainly. Weekly or annual tally? Perhaps by a sense of self worth? It's not easy when the measuring stick has no marks.

Thursday, November 6, 2014


Central Park Conservancy's plant enclosure.

Today we made a delivery of native red raspberry and blackcap raspberry plants to Central Park. Thorny plants make good living fences apparently. 

We decided to make a day of it, especially since the hour and a half ride to the city (mind you, The City, as there are no others) would tax our family's sanity and one three year old's need to ramble. And so, we rambled. 

After the delivery, we (Jared) drove across town in our full size Dodge truck with a quad cab. I occasionally clung onto the "oh sh*t" handle. Beren asked why there were so many taxis. 

Beren has been here a few times before. He knows that this is where Pickles the Cat and Jenny Linsky, two cat characters in a beloved book - School For Cats - are from. He knows New York City is where our Zabar's mug came from. He also knows this is where Papa grew up and lived before he knew Momma. The latter fact elicits a smile of disbelief from Beren.

Along one of the avenues on the west side, a muni-meter declined our credit card. We sought $3.50 in change from nearby stores. This amount would cover the one hour limit. One store had no cash register (really?). The other could not open the register without a sale. I glanced around at wares in the high-end tea shop and down at my twenty dollar bill. "Sorry," the clerk said. "It's just the way we do it here. Perhaps because we usually have so little change anyway. I'm sorry." I frowned at looked at my obviously hungry child. "It's ok."

Back outside in the rain, I called 311, listened and responded to the prompts, and finally reached a person. "I've tried two credit cards. Both were declined. I know they're fine." The line went dead. I turned towards Jared and Beren who huddled under an awning to keep dry. Beren was crying. 

"You and Beren go to Zabar's. I'll park the truck," said Jared. What a dad thing to do, I thought. Not bad. "OK, great. We'll order something for you."

Jared was back before I placed our order. "I found a spot. First I was waved away from a full parking deck, and then I felt I was owed a spot. It's just a block and a half away. No meter." Super dad.

Once our food was ready, we sat elbow to elbow at the counter. All realms were represented. One woman was dressed in traditional Dutch costume, including wooden clogs. One man pulled a small amplifier up to his chair. Another woman was from Vancouver. She chatted amiably to us and passed us a handful of napkins. Minutes later she mentioned her recent recovery from pneumonia. "I'm drinking lots of tea,"she said and covered her mouth to emit a crackling cough. "Do you want more of sandwich, Beren?" Jared asked. "Let's get out of here," he then whispered to me.

On the street, "Pneumonia?! We have to wash our hands!" Jared said. Indeed, it's a been a long autumn of respiratory based colds. No need to add pneumonia. 

We passed a panhandler. Jared wondered how they fared. "Do people carry change anymore? Or just iPads and credit cards?" 

With no destination, we decided to visit some of Jared's old haunts, including the alcove of the apartment Jared lived in when he was Beren's age. "The Fallout Shelter sign is still there," Jared said. 

We crossed the street into Riverside Park. A group of masonry workers passed us, and I heard one say something about, "stinkle berries." I think he meant gingko.

Notoriously stinky fruit of the common urban tree, gingko. I've used powdered autumn leaves of gingko in herbal candies for memory.

"I used to ride sleds down this hill," Jared said. "What's down at the bottom?" Beren asked. A playground where Jared spent many, many happy hours as a kid.

Feeding the "Momma" hippo autumn leaves. "She's hungry. Let's put more in." The hippos are new and so is most of the playground, Jared tells us.

 Puddle stomping at the Soldier and Sailor's Memorial

"What's this place?" Beren asked. I said nothing. It's something we're very lucky to know little about first hand, I thought, and we continued down Riverside Drive.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Who's Lurking

An active listener makes eye contact

Last night Jared and I discussed the cooling temperatures and how irritated and dry my skin becomes. It can be mind-numbing, or perhaps I wish my mind could be numbed.

This is difficult for me to accept, being a person who has a decent diet, gets exercise, and spends time outside. Know you, those things the doctor hopefully tells you to do. My home life is solid. My partner is supportive. I have a few friends I can call and present Too Much Information to. I have a couple hobbies, also. Last, I incorporate natural remedies into my life. So, I expect to not have simple necessities like scarves cause an irritation. And yes, I've worked the laundry angle, too.

We sat on our big, soft couch talking it over. Jared was particularly kind and gentle. I listened to the way he was talking to me. I felt relaxed by his tone. I smiled, "Are you lurking me?"

Over the past couple months, I've been reading about and practicing empathetic listening for a volunteer commitment I've undertaken. Listen. Empathize. Reflect. Clarify. Jared and I jokingly call it "lurc(k)ing".

We can tell when one of us begins "lurking." While we've had good communication from the start of our relationship, this style is new. We're fully partnered in life - married with child, new homeowners, and business co-owners. We communicate a lot. So much. All the darn time. Like a chafing scarf, it can get overwhelming:

What color will we paint the shutters? Will we paint the shutters? I'm not sure we should worry about the shutters. I really want to remove the chimney. There are no shutters on the south side of the house. Look at the crack in the siding. I got an email from someone looking for a million black huckleberries. We need to step up production. We ran out of quart pots. No, I put them over there. Have you seen Beren's shoes/mittens/pants/Cheetah toy/paint brushes?

Remember how the teacher sounded in the animated version of Charles Schulz's Peanuts? Uh huh.

We both went through the post-modern philosophy grinder at Rutgers. We're fairly critical listeners, readers, and thinkers. We can also be critical (ahem, especially me). "Lurking" is definitely the new wave. It doesn't have any hard edges or Foucault or Baudrillard or sign or signifier, though it might have some de Beauvoir. Sometimes I feel a little silly when I'm practicing.

I'll catch myself trying to "fix" some situation or feeling for Jared. I'll pause and resume, "That sounds really difficult, Jared. You've been working really hard." I'll smile. I can't help it. "You're lurking me," Jared says.

And then, Jared will practice on me. Shucks, it really works. It so much easier to talk if someone is listening, not calculating.

I've often heard from women that male partners try to "fix" things. They other solutions to difficult emotional situations, while these women prefer to simply be listened to. Is this a gender thing? Maybe, women and men are quite different.

Regardless, when we ended the conversation last night, I felt like I had support and a plan. Maybe not a fix, but definitely a plan.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

First Halloween

Halloween Cactus

"I want to be myself," Beren told us when Jared and I asked about Halloween costumes in early October. "OK, that makes sense," I agreed.

A week later, Jared and Beren were joking around, and Beren, who finds rhymes and wordplay very amusing, laughed heartily when Jared said, "You can't kiss a cactus!"

In the nursery, we have a Dutch bulb crate filled with cacti pads for future divisions. The cactus intrigued Beren for the past two growing seasons. He's been respectful of the cactus' prickles after Jared explained to him about cactus spines and their nearly invisible glochids. He'd often sit by the cactus crate and linger peacefully. He added stones and pebbles to the soil around the pads after learning they like well-drained soil.

And just like a cactus, Beren does not like kisses. He rubs them off. I once asked if he didn't like wet kisses. No, he didn't like wet kisses. As a child, I found damp, chilly kisses unappealing, too.

Once or twice, at bedtime when he's very tired, I've given away kisses with no complaint, just guidance. "Very dry, Momma. Make it very dry." I wipe my mouth. "Dry?" "No, more dry," he says wiping his face. I wipe and try again, "OK?" "That's dry. That's OK." More typically, Beren shrieks and exclaims, "No kisses!"

One evening after the "You can kiss a cactus" game, we asked if Beren would like to be a cactus for Halloween.

Yes. Yes, he did want to be a cactus.

I considered the options. Though my mother is a great seamstress, I'm mediocre and impatient at the sewing machine, and my son is very discerning about color.

I found a set of plain green thermal long johns online. Jared, Beren, and I sat around the computer. "What do you think of these? Cactus-colored?" Beren said nothing, but watched the computer screen intently. I moved the cursor around the screen, enlarging the view of long johns. The cursor created a one by one inch semi-transparent blue square over the long johns.

"Cactus-colored?" I repeated. Silence. I pointed at the bright green clothing. "Is this cactus-colored?" Beren pointed to the color created by the green long johns and the blue magnification square. "That is cactus-colored."

He was right. Prickly pear cactus has a bluish tone. Jared explained that the long johns were truly bright green. No go.

After Beren went to bed, Jared and sat at the kitchen table. "You know, I don't want to be a downer, but if you're going to put all this work in, Beren will have to agree to the costume. It would be disappointing for you to make something and him refuse to wear it." "That's for sure, on all counts," I agreed.

A few days later, Beren and I went to a local craft store. In the fiber arts section, we perused the t-shirts and found lime green, but no cactus green. We turned to the dyes and chose two bottles of liquid Rit dye that we agreed were cactus-colored. We found red pom-poms that were acceptable for fruits. Beren chose medium-sized though I liked the larger ones. For spines, we compared felt and foam. "We can cut spine shapes from these," I told him. Beren opted for the grey foam.

We continued to browse the aisles and stopped at the pipe cleaners. The display was vibrant and candy-like. They're always handy, I thought. "I want ALL them," Beren said. To myself, I agreed. Aloud, I said, "Would you like this package or this package?" as I held up two packages of multi-colored pipe cleaners. "THAT ONE!" "OK, GREAT! Let's look at more STUFF!" I said and hustled us to the next aisle.

We found rolls of shiny mesh fabrics at the far end of the store. The glitz caught my eye, and internally I thought, "I want ALL of them!" From three colors, I narrowed down to one roll, purple, of course. The rolls were about $10 each. Across the aisle was a nice display of puffy bows made from lengths of the mesh and tied off with pipe cleaners. They cost $7.99 each. I wavered. I already had the pipe cleaners in my basket. I had the craft skill, maybe. All I needed was the sparkly mesh. It looked simple enough, and maybe I could make a Halloween costume for myself, or maybe bows for holiday gifts.

Ten days have passed. I've made one awkward bow and no costume for myself. However, Beren and I tie dyed his shirt using the green dye that was the most cactus-y. We cut a stack of triangles from the foam. I sewed two rows of red pom-poms down the front of the shirt at Beren's direction. I sewed one final pom-pom on the back of the t-shirt. Again at my young clothing designer's request.

I sewed one foam triangle on. It flopped downward. Not quite right, we agreed. After Beren's bedtime, I took my sewing machine out and sewed the foam triangles all over the shirt. They stood straight out like spines. It was after 10:00 PM and I was tired, but I successfully made my my child's first Halloween costume (as a couple other Halloweens were spent sick). I held it up. "Nice!" Jared said.

When I unveiled the spiny shirt the following day, it was well-recieved and then difficult to remove at bedtime. "I having so fun in this shirt!" he told me. "We'll wear it again tomorrow for the Halloween party at the indoor gym," I said. Satisfied, Beren got into his pajamas.

While we dressed for the Halloween party the following morning, I asked what shirt might go under a cactus shirt and what socks a cactus might wear. Compliance. I got dressed up in a shin-length brocade vest, a puffy white shirt, and wrapped a colorful scarf around my head. "What are you, Momma?" "I'm a pirate, like Uncle Willy's pie rats," I said. Beren, an admirer of Richard Scarry stories, including "Uncle Willy and the Pirates" smiled approvingly. "Are all people going to be dressed up in favorite clothes?" Beren asked. "Well, all the kids will be, but adults sometimes don't. Some probably will. I like to."

At the party, hosted by a local community center, I was one of two adults in costume. The party's host was dressed like a gnome. One 4 year old dressed as a princess told me she liked my costume. Someone's grandmother enthusiastically praised Beren's costume, in the way that grandmothers do. "I like that costume! What are you? A dinsosaur? I like that costume!""He's a cactus!" I answered as Beren scampered away. "Oh, I like that cactus costume!"

This is our child's "first" Halloween as a full participant in the festivities. Halloween night's forecasted to have cold weather…wish me luck when I say, "Which jacket would keep a cactus cozy? This one or that one? Cactus do like to be warm."

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Check. Mark it off the list.

I do ladders.
I don't do ladders.
I do ladders as high as my parents let me.

Winter hands are here.

All it took was a blustery day spent blasting away at the north side of the house with a power washer. Just in time for Halloween, our 1830s farmhouse no longer looks haunted. The faux shutters still look dingy and faded, but the grim algal bloom covering the siding is gone.

Since I don't "do"tall ladders, Jared made the ascent with the washer. Thankfully, the two wasp nests that had been there in the summer were inactive. Now, there's just one active nest, down from a high of six active nests on the house alone (that's excluding the nests discovered in the yard).

I had scrub brush duties, ladder-stabilizing duties, and child duties. Beren immediately wanted the lighter weight but better performing scrub brush. After a few passes with the inferior brush, I offered to trade back. "Mine has a soft handle with a red stripe. Want this one, Beren?" He agreed, but quickly found his new tool unworkable. "It's too heavy!"

I left Jared attached to the ladder, and went inside to find a squeegee and a small scrubber. Beren accepted the squeegee, and I went back to scrubbing. Working in the shadow of the house was chilly and then warm and then hot and then cool in that autumn sort of way.

Beren was happy to climb the 6' ladder right behind me, as I tried scour higher areas. He must have forgotten yesterday's hike when he fell off a rocky bluff and landed squarely on the top of Jared's head. I blame the apple that slipped out of my backpack. As Jared bent to retrieve it, Beren slipped. I screamed, and Jared braced himself, thinking that I was about to fall on his head. Our mountaineering antics were not to be repeated today. "Maybe you could work down lower," I suggested to Beren.

On the job, I alternated between the attitude of "good enough" and "one more spot". Since I dare not go up a ladder more than 6' or 7' tall, I felt it most tactful to tell Jared, "Great job. The house looks great," each time he climbed another rung. The dark smudges by the attic window, well, "we" would get them next time.

"OK, I'm cold, wet, and tired," Jared stated. I replied, "C'mon down. The house looks great. Thanks so much." He descended until I could reach the power washer wand. Jared turned to me. His safety glasses were covered in water. His windbreaker jacket was soaked. His face was red and dripping. "Got it," I said as I grabbed the wand. "Go inside, get changed."

The next time I drive up the mountainside to my house, I will no longer think, "We really have to take care of that siding." Instead, I'll think, "Check. Mark it off the list," and then I'll immediately find another project to take its place.