Sunday, August 17, 2014

Man's Best Friend

Beren plays with Bunny Rabbit and Puppy Dog. Puppy Dog looks a lot like Max the dog and was a gift from my mother-in-law to Beren. Puppy Dog gets some role play time as the dog a kid might encounter.

Three and a half year old versus dog. The child is out classed in height and weight. The dog presses forward. The mother squeezes the child's hand gently. 

The mother says, "He's on a leash. I'm right here."

Or, she quickly lifts her child as an unleashed dog rushes forward to touch noses with the child. The mother says, "I've got you" as she lifts her child up.

Most, if not all, public parks, trails, and nature preserves, require that a pet be leashed. Yes, it's true, even a very well behaved dog that would not hurt a soul, but still is rushing forward with intents unknown towards my thirty some pound child. Even if he loved dogs, he still might be startled. 

I'm trying to gently teach my young child to be wise and aware and unafraid and cautious around dogs. He tells me that dogs are too noisy. I grew up with cats, and I tend to agree, but I don't tell him so. 

I've noticed other children react the same way. Startled, they leap up into a parent's arms or flinch and raise their elbows to protect their faces. I've noticed dog owners often act the same at each encounter. They walk with wide steps towards their dog, calling the dog's name. "Oh sorry, this is what he does. He's friendly." It's unpleasant to watch, and even more unpleasant to be part of the interaction. 

This happens at parks, while hiking, at farmer's markets, in cities and towns, in retail stores, and restaurants. Dogs are welcome in many establishments these days. To a lesser extent, they've replaced the cigarette. You may not smoke, but you can bring your pet instead. Dogs are also increasingly considered members of an owner's family, not just Fido who sits in the backyard. They go where the family goes. I get it. Some of them wear more expensive booties than I do.

In case you're wondering, my child is bold, agile and curious. He climbs boulders, fences, and trees. He chases butterflies, watches wasps, transports daddy-long-legs and earthworms, and catches lightning bugs. He adores cats, chickens, rabbits, llamas, and ducks. With confidence he identifies plants from maples and poison ivy, to stiltgrass and sorrel. He uses tools and works on our farm. He's also sensitive, alert, and aware. Last, he does not like strange dogs, especially not dogs that rush towards him with intents unknown. 

My in-laws have a dog. A big one. A black lab pit bull mix with a lot of energy and a stegosaurus-like tail that knocks over kids and wine glasses. For the first half hour of a visit to their house, my child leaps up into my arms or Jared's. He's practically weightless. His mass is replaced with nervous power. It's no wonder that people can perform physical miracles when propelled by adrenalin.

Once Max the dog settles down, I pet him. I encourage my child to touch his ears and chin and tell me which fur is softer. By the end of our visit, my child and the dog are fast friends.

I'm not willing to put the dirt time in with every stranger's dog, not like I do with my in-laws' dog. I don't want to be pals with a stranger's dog, especially not once he scares the crap out of my child. Honestly, I just want to go back to peacefully strolling or wading or shopping.

So just in case you have a dog, and my child may meet your dog, consider that we've not met your dog yet. Keep your dog in check, please. We'll put in the dirt time and become friends as needed.

In turn, I promise not to rush up to you, my eyes wide, my mouth open and shouting, my intents unknown. And if I do, Jared or Beren will let tell you, "Oh sorry, this is just what she does. She's friendly."

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Light and Dark



Sorting through my vegetable seeds, I found that it was too late to sow another crop of some. Autumn is on the wind, especially at night.

I noticed black walnut trees dropping their yellowing leaves. They're always first to go, but isn't this too early? Perhaps it's the drought. Though I've heard others talk about what a rainy year it's been. Not at our farm's latitude and longitude, and not on our rocky, well-drained soil that lost much of its organic material to years of erosion and corn and soy plantings.

With autumn coming, we decided to have a campfire a few days ago. On that particular day, Beren had slept until 10 o'clock in the morning, so why expect a timely bedtime?

Beren and I stacked the branches from a felled box elder and balled up newspapers. I lit the match, passed it to Beren, and Beren lit the fire. Jared followed the smoke from some corner of the farm to the circle of fire. We sat. Beren chased the smoke.

As the sun set, we watched the sky clear for but one low cloud. Vega appeared first. Then Altair and Deneb. Stars. "I think that's the summer triangle," I said. The sky darkened more and Beren asked me to count the stars. I thought it might be easy, this is New Jersey, after all, but I gave up after 26. "There's a lot," I said finally.

We agreed that we wanted camp food. Jared and Beren carved sticks, while I got sausages from the refrigerator. I was hardly hungry, but all five sausages were cooked and eaten in turn.

Time goes so quickly. I wish we could camp out every night and watch the stars. Instead, some nights we go food shopping and pick up another canister of propane for the grill. Some nights, we plant vegetable seeds and then slouch on the couch reading. Others, we wash dishes and tidy the house. Some nights I balance the checkbook while Jared answers emails and Beren makes Play Doh forms.

Some nights I ask Beren if he wants to put on the headlamp and dump the compost with me. Some nights we go into the night with no light. "Which way do I go, Momma?" "You know the way. Feel the path with your feet, Beren." He runs.

Some nights we do it all beautifully, and other evenings are quite otherwise.

***

I'm reminded of a well-put together book Beren had as a toddler. Photos of animals, many pretty pictures. One page was called "Creepy crawlies". Pictured were a worm, a centipede, a butterfly, a moth, and more. I really disliked the phrase "creepy crawlies".

So much of life is in between the light and the dark. So much of it is the thrill of the dark, walking at night. Being close to the fire, and creating fire. Of touching things dangerous, things crawling and strange. I'd like to give the creatures of the night the dignity. I like to walk among them when I allow myself the time.

***

Though my heart stops when Beren's headlamp turns one way, and is so dim I think I lose him momentarily. "There's nowhere he can go," I tell myself. "He's fearless, let him feel safe and courageous. Not even courageous, just curious and free. Let him be 'alone' in the dark." I watch him, letting him be alone, quieting my inner self that is always nattering away.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Year Ago or So, Leo Gave Me a Glimmer of The Days to Be

Potting up purple flowering raspberries. Beren's choosing the next plant.

Not a moment of the past four months would have been possible if this was any spring between the years 2010 to 2013.

Last year, I watched a friend's child, who was a bout three years old, roll on the floor and sing songs to himself. He chose toys to play with - by himself. Both the choosing and the playing were done by himself.

I stared. Other mothers stared. Each of us bounced babies or young children on our laps or scrambled across the floor, zooming cars or trotting animals. All the mothers also tried to converse with varying degrees of luck. Leo's mother must have noted the room's collective stare. She bounced her own infant, Leo's baby sister, on her knee, and she said, "This is what you have to look forward to. This is three years old. They start playing by themselves, usually when I'm about ready to leave the house, but…"

"He's singing to himself, Kat," I said.

"Yes," she answered simply.

"Wow," I said.

I went back to zooming, trotting, and scrambling.

Since that time, we've reached that magic age. Beren's in his sandbox. Beren's on the couch playing with Legos while Jared types on his laptop. Beren's gotta go, and he goes. Beren's sweeping out the greenhouse with me. Then, Beren's on the swing and wants to be pushed. Or, he plops in the sandbox, and I feel the urge to weed the garden, but I plop down next to him.

Sometimes I go and weed, and I feel guilty. Of course. He's playing by himself. That's a good thing, for everyone. Remember when you had exactly zero minutes to yourself, Rachel? Still, hardly a minute goes by without thinking something about being a mother, but I can do adult things with my child or with my child nearby.

Ah yes, so long as that adult things is not: talking on the phone nor having a "discussion" with Jared. Forget it.

We've always tried to include Beren in our work. He has his own clippers and will use them, whether we might like it or not. Purple milkweed by the front of the house? Oops. But then, there goes a pokeweed, and better choice for clipping. He likes to lug things, dig things, and figure out where plants can be planted. "A sedge or a cynthia there?" No answer. "Sometimes they call this Krigia. Do you like  the name Krigia or cynthia better?" "Krigia." "Which do you want to put in this hole?" "Krigia."

"Don't cut the snakewoot, Papa," he says while Jared scythes the work area. "Not the snakeroot?" "No." "OK."

And about that scythe - we have no money to buy a big tiller. We have no money to build a big shed to park it in. When one of us wavers on the "no lawn mower" stance, the other pulls the purse string tight. No mower. No shed anyway. We also have child who is very intrigued by power tools when they are off. A scythe and shears are the resolution for those with no money for more two cycle engines, no shed for two cycle engines, and a child startled by two cycle engines.

Solo play and participation and sharp blades - it's how we've been able to set up our farm at our new home. It's been, mostly, a pleasure. The milkweed will be back in 2015, and meanwhile Krigia is doing great.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Is this swimsuit top seaworthy?

Upon emerging from a large wave at Seaside Heights this weekend, I wondered aloud to my mother if my new swimsuit was seaworthy.

In fact, she told me, it was not and that I could probably shorten the top strap.

This, we joked, was probably not the first swimsuit of the day to be found unworthy of the sea, nor even the first of that particular hour.

Indeed, should I find time, I may shorten that strap.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Farmer

Planting native grasses along the fence

"Are you going to be a farmer when you grow up?" Beren was asked.

"I am a farmer," he replied.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

I have this feeling that I owe someone a thank you card, but have no idea who that could be.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

I could work endlessly and never be done. That's how it feels.