Monday, December 15, 2014

Does this child need a t.v.?

Does this child need a television?

We don't have a television. Officially and Truly.

We had one in the basement up until a couple months before we moved. Until then, we'd tell people, "We don't have a t.v.," if the subject came up. "Well, we have a t.v., but it's in the basement. We don't watch it," I'd add. Jared would say, "We don't really have a t.v. just because there's one in the basement. It doesn't work." "That's true, but still it's there," I'd say. "But, if you plugged it in, it wouldn't get reception," was Jared's final word. "True, true," I'd say, my final word.

He was right conceptually, and I was right materially. That's a difference in our personalities and perception. We both also like having the last word, or maybe that's just me. Next time, I'll try to pay attention, but I'll probably be formulating my last word.

The last time we watched t.v. was most likely in a hotel somewhere. The last time I remember watching t.v. was when we lived in Queens and really needed to 'zone out'. I tuned into reruns of The Simpsons, adjusted the rabbit ears, and we watched through the fuzz. Our finances and our lives were in the red. Television offered a reliable half hour of peace.

Jared didn't watch much television when he was a child. When his classmates talked about television shows and characters, Jared had nothing to add.

As a kid, I had a t.v. and watched it regularly. I enjoyed cartoons and other shows. I probably could have been doing something else, but I don't look back with regrets.

We recently wondered if Beren might one day wish that he lived in a house with a television. I certainly wished my parents' television also included a cable subscription. We wondered if he might feel like an outsider.

We agreed that there was little to worry about. There often is so little to worry about. Looking back at the things I worried about regarding Beren, there was little to worry about.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Big weekend

Hoop house one goes from pad to partially erected.

Child reminds mother that success is a state of mind. Our gingerbread house may not get of Certificate of Occupancy, but it was fun to assemble (and to lick the extra icing).

After two days inside trading germs, mother has no more reason and allows child access to straight pins to make cranberry, pin, and snap shish kebabs. Note the styrofoam - "I made a mouth, Momma!" 

And, last but not least, our Christmas tree is up. Perfect height, just an inch below the ceiling, proving once again, everything is better at the farmhouse.

Saturday, December 6, 2014


Treasures, Momma. Here's another treasure.

Most days, I feel quite youthful. There are days that I realized I have stepped across the threshold, deep into the world of adults where sad events happen. Today was the latter.

Beren makes child-sized steps into that world every day. One evening, I tell him that tigers eat smaller animals. "No animals should eat animals," he tells me. "It's likely they eat fruit, too," I say.

Yesterday, he got a balloon at Shop Rite and that bright yellow balloon makes him joyful. Jared carefully shepherds Beren and the helium-filled balloon to the truck. Back home, Jared tells him to enjoy his balloon, but keep it away from light bulbs. Jared and I hustle to get dinner ready - it's already 6pm. Beren bats the balloon around for awhile, until BANG! The balloon drifts up into one the recessed kitchen lights.

Beren's face crumples and he screams. Jared and I do, too, form surprise. Tears stream down Beren's face. He wanders a short circuit through the kitchen. "WHY DID THAT HAPPEN?!" he repeats again and again. "MY BALLOON!" Jared and I console him while canola oil spatters from a not, empty skillet. My face is wet with his tears. "MY BALLOON! I WANT MY BALLOON!"

It was terribly sad. Passing into veil of things, things being so deeply pleasurable and meaningful, and then lost.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Happy birthday eve, tiny family

Exactly four years ago, I was undergoing a complete transformation of self, one that would be completed when my son was born twenty hours later.

But really completed? No, not at all. It was a beginning. One that I fell into, part rock, part water, part sweet and soft fruit. Beren was placed in my arms and there he was. I stumbled and crawled at times, but my starts are usually awkward and rocky anyway. But really when is the start?

I've found I can turn a new beginning into something fraught. Jared is pleased and excited. I'm wide-eyed and feel the touch of a frantic hand on my shoulder.

I have had a little mirror and little reflector by my side for four years now. I can see me translated by a little person who is his own person, but is part me. I hear my voice, I see my actions. Sometimes I'm pleased and sometimes I'm startled.

I hope that one day Beren will see that I tried to understand myself for this tiny family's well-being and here, I've told some of our family's story.

I may be shy at the start but once I put down roots into the new, whatever it is, I'm there. Happy birthday eve, tiny family.

Sunday, November 30, 2014


Big Bear, I love you no matter what.

For about four days Beren was a very, very grumpy bear. On day one, I was grumpy bear, too, so it's hard to say who started it.

Could've been my fault, my bad mood might have been catching. Jared noted that I was a grumpy bear momma, and instead of snapping at him, I snapped my attitude back into shape. It soon became obvious that Beren had a mild stomach complaint, though he very, very strongly denied have a stomachache.

After one romp outside, Jared snuggled Beren on the couch. Jared asked, "Is it hard that it's cold out and we spend more time inside?" "I want there to be green leaves!" Beren said.

Some of my tension eased as I listened to their conversation. Maybe they were getting to the bottom of this grump. The seasonal transition is tough. It's tough for me. He's better when we're occupied outside, but then again, not really. And then he's ok, when we're cuddled and reading a book. When I get up, he goes wild.

"Is it just me?" I asked Jared. A shriek from Beren, something in the other room wasn't going well. "No, it's not just you." Some jump he had attempted wasn't perfect. Maybe this is just who he is? Maybe he was in some developmental stage? But then there's the bellyache... I pinwheeled from understanding mother to tearful mother to angry mother to guilty mother.

He was a grouch. There was no denying it. On day three, he looked at me, smiled, and dumped the laundry basket on the floor. "Are you doing that because you know it will make me upset?" I asked. An honest but unanswerable question for a 3.99 year old. Little transgressions and big overreactions continued through the day.

On day four, he knocked over a potted plant, and refused to sweep up the dirt. Everything was uncomfortable, nothing was right. On and on. I thought I'd lose my mind. It was becoming an ineffective contest of the wills.

I frequently tried to set Beren up with a fun arrangement of toys, play for awhile and then slip into an adjacent room for peace. Beren would quickly come find me. I reminded myself that when Beren acts like this, more attention works better than less attention, but any amount of attention seemed not quite right. Most things Jared and I were doing were not good enough or so our child was letting us know in a variety of ways.

I considered calling my Mom to ask her to babysit. I searched the web for "four year old cranky" and got many hits, including a somewhat humorous article about how years two through four are very difficult. So, year five is magic? What about the teen years, I wondered? What will become of me then?  Still, I felt a little better - maybe this will end.

Jared and I took turns parenting, and somehow did not turn on each other.

On day four, Jared told me that his sister and her boyfriend were in the area. I alternated between thinking it was a good idea and a bad idea. Guests? Now?

Their arrival loosened our frazzled household's mood. We shared dinner and conversation. We discussed a relative with a young and spirited child who opened all of Beren's gifts at his first birthday party. I mused that she might be seven years old by now. My sister-in-law laughed, "That's an interesting age." She's a teacher, so she has some insights. My respite will be between age five and six, I'm guessing.

When Beren's aunt suggested he show them his room, Jared and I sighed with relief as they ascended the steps.

We huddled in the kitchen. "Oh thank g/d they're here," we agreed. Jared opened a jar of chocolate from Belgium. We each stuck butter knives into the jar and ate the truffle-like sweet from our blades. We doubled dipped. When I put down my knife, Jared said, "You deserve more. Here."

When our guests left Beren returned to his off kilter behavior. "Chamomile, he needs chamomile," I said to Jared. He got chamomile and his bedtime routine.

When he woke this morning, the beast had been dispelled.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


This picture has nothing to do with this writing. It's Beren and one of his pals eating wintergreen.

When Beren was about two, Jared and I went out in the evening to friend's house for dinner. Beren was to spend his evening with my in-laws. We'd be back later to sleep over.

Our friend hosted several couples and one pair were to have a baby in the coming months. We noted that this was the first we'd been out at night together without our son. Everyone was surprised, especially the couple with child.

Later, one mother told me she and her husband rarely went out. "We realize we miss our girls at home. We try not to talk about them, but then we have nothing to talk about. So, I'll say, "Guess what the little one did yesterday? It was so cute!'" I shook my head, agreeing.

Deep into the evening, we received a text message, "Asleep."

On the road to my in-laws, Jared and I wondered if Beren would still be asleep when we arrived. We tried to time our arrival for "The 10:30 Wake Up", but the food was good and the conversation engaging enough that we lingered.

When we opened the door at my in-laws' house, I heard Beren's hysterical sobs coming from upstairs. "He's been crying like that for only a few minutes," my father-in-law said.

The 10:30 Wake Up.

I bounded up the steps, taking two at a time. My heart pounded, partly from the adrenalin pushed through my system by my child's cries and partly from a fear that he might wake and not return to sleep.

My mother-in-law was calmly crouched by his side, uttering comforting words. "I couldn't get him back to sleep," she said simply.

I tucked in beside him and nursed him back to sleep. This was our routine for years.

Another evening, we left Beren at my in-laws' and when we returned, he was cuddled in my mother-in-law's lap watching a movie on a projection screen. Beren's face glowed blue with the silver screen's light. "When I asked if were going to go to sleep, he said, 'No,'" my mother-in-law explained. Jared and I shrugged, not surprised.

Things have changed a little lately. The 10:30 Wake Up is no more. It's become The 10:30 Application of Chickweed Salve to the Chapped Face Because it is Otherwise Refused During Waking Hours. Beren doesn't like greasy stuff on his face. He's living in the now, as people sometimes say. As in, I don't know when this now will end. It could be forever. And that is most likely what he was considering when Momma and Papa were not home at the bedtime hour.

Over the years, I've snuck away, guiltily, in the evenings, leaving Jared to put Beren to bed. It was already a fraught time of day, the ultimate transition for a little one who cared not for change.

I did this rarely while Beren was exclusively breastfed, perhaps 3 or 4 times to attend a night class. I was not undisciplined at the breast pump, just doing it while at work. Otherwise, I felt I hardly had the time for another task. I'll just stay home - let's just nurse and conk out.

As he's gotten older, I've more frequently been away at night, to see friends because Jared's taken over the bedtime routine. And as of the past couple months, I've begun taking a night class once a week. It was time, and like most things there were no determining signs, we just fell into the rhythm.

Sometimes before I go out, Beren tells me, "You should stay here FOREVER!" And while I usually agree, my occasional evenings out have come more steadily as Beren's become more steady. "I'll tuck you in," I say, and apply salve liberally to those pink cheeks, I think.

On the way out to my class, tears begin to roll down my cheeks. Things are changing lately. I wipe my eyes and focus on the road.

On the way home from class, I drive around the last bend before our house, I watch for Beren's light. It's off. He's asleep. Inside, I ask Jared, "Did he say anything sweet? Did he ask for me?" Often the answer is "Yes". Once Beren asked why I always went out at night.

Upstairs, Beren is swaddled in his down blanket. His mouth hangs open. I put my hand on his chest and let it rest there and then I rub salve on his cheeks. "Goodnight, Beren. I love you."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Things That Eat You Up

Dad's Truck Filled With Tools at My House

My Dad sat back in a chair at my kitchen table. He sipped his coffee. He just had been on the roof of my house, knocking down a leaky, dilapidated chimney and patching the hole.

All summer long, I watched the water stain inside one of our closets grow. Each rainstorm expanded the stain. From the plaster wall's perspective, the summer drought was ok.  

When I see a roof covered with tarps, and think, "how sad, that family can't afford to fix their roof." It's so fundamental, a roof over your head. And here was my roof leaking from a chimney wrapped in a weatherbeaten tarp. How sad, that family bought that home and can't even afford to fix their roof. Times are hard, one of my neighbors might have said.

"I love being a homeowner," I told my Dad as he continued to sip the weak coffee I brewed him as a weak thank you for his time on my roof. "But, it makes me realize all the things I don't know. I don't know about shingles, plumbing, or heaters, so I'm constantly asking people questions about houses. The worst is not knowing or understanding something. I'd rather know what's wrong, even if it is very costly repair. I just hate not knowing."

My Dad nodded and sat back, "And it eats you up inside," he said.

"Yes! It does!" I said. I expected he'd say he too had these feelings, but instead he said:

"You always were like that. Things would eat you up. Your brother was so laid back. We always thought if you could each trade a little of your personalities, you'd both be better off."

I smiled. "Yes, I've often felt that way."

My brother is confident and amiable. He's relaxed, on the surface, anyway. He's well-liked by my extended family, and that's well-deserved. He's got a great girlfriend and the two of them are fantastic with Beren. While he might have been laid back about schoolwork as a kid, but he's a competitive and driven adult. People are complicated.

"Yeah, things would just eat you up," my Dad repeated.

After he finished his coffee, I helped him carry his tools to his truck. "I was glad to take care of that roof. It's been on my mind all summer. I just kept thinking about it," he said.