Saturday, May 31, 2014

Seeking owners of old farmhouses. Possible LTR.

Walking down a road in our extended neighborhood, Jared and I notice a house. Nicely done new siding. It's a unique and very old farmhouse.

Before I had a child, it seemed no one had babies. Once Beren was born, everyone had kids, though few exactly his age... Similarly as a new homeowner, it seems everyone owns an old farmhouse. I especially eye the ones with slate roofs like ours.

A minivan pulls up. A mom drives with her three young daughters. We slow our pace and wave. We wait until they get out of the vehicle, reining in Beren whose goal was reaching a nearby bridge over a rushing creek. But wait, they have kids and an old farmhouse.

We chat. "We did the three week version of This Old House," Jared tells the mom. "We did the three year version," she relates. "It looks great," I tell her. "The house was derelict. I couldn't imagine even buying it, but my husband really wanted to be here and live in an old house. It's finally nice."

Jared often says that he thinks we'll replace everything in the house at some point. He's probably right, but in the meantime, we work on the basics.

So one question, poor man's spackle - heavy application of paint to fill in the small cracks between the wall and the trim - yes or no?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Colorful Voices

Around us life and death. A luna moth, missing hind wings. Jared and Beren discovered it and left it beneath the clothesline for me to see.

I hear voices, loud voices. Voices of people that I love, voices of people that I respect. I hear sourceless voices from the deep, from above and around.

I'm surprised by their volume at times. I'm surprised at how inadequate I feel at times. I'm surprised at how I feel walking through my new home. I feel surprised, as though I have not earned this place.

I tell Jared this, and he says, "Maybe now that you're rooted you can work on this, on the fact that you always worry what others are thinking. What others might expect."

I'm surprised by my reaction, one that I stifle. I want to stomp my foot, and say, "But I don't want to!"

The following morning as I slice vegetables in the kitchen, I hear voices that tell me there's a very long, intimidating to do list. I consider the items as they surface, one by one. "Really, I'm doing the best I can," I say to myself.

Happiness is so tenuous. It would not exist without sadness and disappointment. Here, in my new home, I feel profound happiness. I feel my youth is in its twilight, but I feel young still. And then, there's a seen of forever. I'll be here forever.

Forever is weighty. In forever I see endings. I see myself aging. I see Jared aging, too. Little lines around his eyes. Perhaps I'll suggest a little chickweed salve. Not to erase, but to soften to slow. I'm not ready for forever.

On a recent walk we found a nest that had fallen from a tree. Blue eggs lay cracked on the ground. I guessed it may have been a thrush's nest. It's base layer was last year's flowering garlic mustard stalks, tattered leaves above that, and then cup was lined with rootlets. Beren told Jared that the baby birds had fallen out. Not to their death, but purposefully leapt as in the video we watched of baby wood ducks plunging from their nest boxes to the forest floor.

Beren's taken to asking questions in the realm of forever. "Does cheese grow?" he asks Jared.

We're about a year past him saying, "The glue is dead," when I told him it was dried up. He recently watched a chipmunk playing in our yard, and then dash into the road. I wasn't there, but Jared related that he heard the car coming and knew... "The chipmunk got hit. I'm going see if I can help it," Jared told Beren. He told him the chipmunk was dead and that he was sad and that he'd bury the animal, which is sometimes what you do when animals die. I saw the blood on the road when I came home.

Painting at the Allentown Mayfair. Beren started with orange and then purple. We painted canvases of each color. Older children found his planes of color tempting, and inscribed their names over them. Beren stepped to the side, watched, and resumed painting.

I notice that Beren's frustrated when his paintings come out brown. He loads his brush with each color generously and swabs the surface. I suggest quietly that he might use a brush for each color. He understands and follows my suggestion.

A few days later we unpack a box labeled "CRAFTS". He carefully removes bubble wrap from around tiny glass jars of watercolor tints. We hold them to the light, each one a beautiful jewel of color.

We sharpen colored pencils over a piece of paper, and I add a lump of Modge Podge to it. "Let's use the glue to move and paint with the pencil shavings. They'll stick," I say.

I add drops of the watercolor tints to his canvas. He swirls them around. Red, blue, yellow, orange, we observe. "Look you made brown by mixing." I add a different blue and watch him pause and consider which brush to pick up next.

I'd given him knowledge and thus taken some freedom from him. Perhaps he heard my voice inside him: don't make brown or keep the brushes separate.  

"That's your mixing brush. You're mixing colors. I'll add some of this brown. It's called sepia brown. What do you think?" He takes his brush and mixes the tints. "Look, red and blue are touching. They're mixing. What's happening to the colors?"

I quiet myself, and we paint in silence.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

At the Table

Our kitchen, photo by Beren. Note the recessed light at center right. Still pulled down after painting. Others were pushed back into place. It will probably remain like this until we have guests. The to do list is very long. No time for trifles.

Jared glances across the table at me. We look at Beren who is seated between us. He raises a fork to his mouth again and again. Perfectly. Rice, peas, chicken. He pokes a piece of lettuce and swabs it across a pool of dressing. All in perfectly. He's quiet, concentrated.

Jared and I catch each others eyes. I raise my eyebrows, which I've been trying to cut down on since I noticed the creases in my forehead deepening. Still, it's worth a micron of wrinkle depth - our child peacefully eating.

No running around the table. Not him, not us with a fork holding a morsel of food. Please eat, aren't you hungry? You were so cranky just moments before we "sat" to eat. No standing on his seat. No sliding off his seat and clambering back up. No me wondering what manners I was teaching, or not, my young child.


I really must stop being so worried. I must stop wondering on the future. Things usually work out.

Impeccable, especially if it's ice cream. A bowl of ice cream is eaten steadily, impeccably. "MMmm." A spoonful goes in. Clink. Spoon against bowl. "Hhhmm. MMmmm." Clink. "MMMmmmm." Jared and I smile. "Is that good?" I ask. "MMMMmmm. That's GOOD!"Beren answers.

We're thankful that Beren has broadened his ability to sit for a meal, making mealtime far more relaxing. I long repeated to myself a friend's quip, "There's no sound a child dislikes more than a sound of a parent's fork scraping across a plate." He's a grandfather. He knows. Sitting for a meal was riotous for quite some time.

Tonight's dinner was a bit of a recap of mealtimes of yore. After a couple bites, Beren hopped down and filled his bear cart with a variety of items. "I'm picking up garbage." Books, new Crocs, scraps of paper, the essential (and very small) pin that locks our trailer to the hitch, etc.

I extend forkfuls of food to him each time he passed nearby. "Orange rice? Beet triangle? Orange rectangle [paneer]?" Each was accepted until the beet quota was met. "Would you like to sit on my lap and eat?" No answer. More garbage went into the cart. Clink. The sound of metal. "Was that my [wedding] ring?" Jared asks Beren.

When Beren occasionally tells me he doesn't like our new house, and that he'd like to put "the red house in the attic" of our current house, I can hardly imagine why. Wild dinners with a jack-in-the-box child? Mold levels that had mother and child chronically (and mysteriously) ill? Renting? Well, that's all my experience.

It takes all my three and half years of learning to be a parent to say, "Yes, the red house is a special place. Do you miss it?"

"Mm hmm," Beren murmurs plaintively. I hug him close.

"What do you miss about it?"

"It's red."

"Anything else?"


He seems satisfied. So am I.

He sits for meals. Could it be the magic of a new place? Or, the cushion on his chair? Growth spurt?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Solenoids in the Basement

Down the path to homeownership. I am taken by the similarities between a new baby and a new/old house.

I walk past one of our big, beautiful windows, and I am joyful at the sunlight that comes through. I then note the lingering tobacco smell that has otherwise been painted over or sanded away on most other major surfaces on the house. I then try to open one window - a bit sticky. Another window opens easily but drifts slowly closed, a sentient being.

A stinkbug crawls across our bed nightly. A wasp, or two, is observed in the attic. A slight leak under the bathroom sink is caught by an old yogurt container. A bad or clogged solenoid on the washing machine.

As a renter, I hardly thought about so many things. I was hardly motivated to household repairs. It's not mine, and after all, I am paying a lot of money. As a homeowner, I consider my options - stretch my do it yourself skills to the brink or call a repairperson or contractor? That is, after I call my father.

I think of some idle chit chat to start off the conversation, but once I hear the phone pick up, my mind jumps to my washing machine problem.

"Hi Mom. Is Dad there? Hi, Dad. I have a question for you. So, when I turn on the cold on the washer nothing happens." My Dad asks if I've checked the solenoids. Solenoids? It sounds like something you'd sit under at a tanning salon. "Umm. No?"

I try to be patient, but I've just dumped a couple gallons of water on the basement floor after filling the washer with the hose for the third time. I try to pretend I know what a solenoid is because I'd like my father to not consider me a dunce.

I've long been a renter, sorry. I spent my precious time elsewhere as our former landlord tinkered with the furnace, leaky chimney, and possibly a solenoid or two. I could ask Google, but I've asked Dad.

We don't get very far on our first conversation. How do I check a solenoid? What do I need to do? They seem like simple questions. They're not. I wish I had a pencil and paper. I try to listen and remember what I'm supposed to check.

He calls back a couple hours later, given time to consider the options. He tells me to switch the hoses. "You just want to do cold water laundry, right?" I just want to do laundry, cold is perfect, if it works.

Days later, when I have time I switch the cold hose to the hot input. I turn on the washer. I feel for a click when the machine turns on. Water trickles from the cold water input. I call Dad again. I explain what I've done, and that water comes out of the back of the machine.

"Switch the hoses," he repeats. "It might be a mixing problem."

I talk to my Mom who tells me that my Dad will over on Wednesday to check out the washer and some other things he thinks need looking at. I'm slightly embarrassed and completely relieved.

 Is my homeowner's insurance company reading this? 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Big 39

For my parents, who continue to be great parents...

On Sunday, I turned 39. When I was in my mid-twenties, a college classmate told me I'd be amazing at 40.

"What am I now?" I asked. "You're fine, but at 40..." he replied. I rolled my eyes an shrugged.

In the early 90s I worked at Spencer's Gifts in the Phillipsburg Mall. Yup, I sure did. I probably made between five and six dollars an hour. I straightened racks of jet black t-shirts that said things like "Uh oh, the big 4-0!" and "Over the hill" and "I'm actually 19". Displays hung with tubes of candies labeled as meds for sagging breasts and penises.

It all seemed quite distant. To me, people aged 30 seemed incredibly mature.

At 39, I finally feel somewhat mature, having fumbled through much of my twenties, depressed and anxious, and then when I hit 33, the Jesus Year, as some call it, things ironed out a bit. I had a few photo exhibits, a gig for Harper's Magazine...

Hour long interlude as of the previous I wrote, Jared sounded the "Momma whistle". It's two note imitation of a blue jay call we've long used for communications. It has now become the nighttime Momma whistle. I usually get a warning, "where's Momma? I need Momma." Beren will interrupt Jared mid-bedtime story when he reaches some threshold of tiredness.

Jared and I change guards. Jared wishes Beren goodnight and to me he says, "I will see you soon."

I doze next to Beren who wiggles and chats. "Talk to me, Momma." And then, "I'm hot. My head is hot." I exhale and blow on his scalp. He requests "air" on his arms, elbow, back, no upper back, Momma... Soon we're dozing, until Jared comes into Beren's room, "Rachel?"

Thirty-nine. It's hard to stay up late, especially when I've been waking at dawn or earlier.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Baby's breath

for Peggy, an early supporter of my baby to be.

When Beren was newborn, I met a friend at Boro Bean. She put her face to his head and inhaled. "Mmm. That newborn smell. I miss that smell."

"Uh huh," I replied and shrugged a bit. I had heard about "that newborn smell", but never noticed my own child's smell. I felt a little insecure, and wondered, yet again, what was wrong with me.

This was a trait I mentioned to a lactation consultant at a local hospital on an early mother-child fact-finding mission. "You should get over that right away," she said confidently. I'd typically be annoyed, but I relaxed and agreed.

While I noted my self-doubt again and again, I also recognized a bit of spiritedness in myself. "You have claws, Rachel. You do," an old friend once told me.

I would strut down Nassau Street in Princeton with Beren in the Baby Bjorn carrier, strapped to my chest. He'd whimper, and I'd drop the carrier down a bit. I'd unbutton my shirt a bit, and he'd nurse. No one knew, and if they did, fa. I was flying with joy.

I always noticed my baby's sweet milky breath. And then, a couple months ago baby's breath became child's breath. Juice, butter, pears, noodles, chicken drumstick... all outnumbering breast milk in total volume.

Up until recently, Beren slept poorly at night. Now, he typically wakes just once. I comfort him, offer water, which he gulps. Occasionally he nurses once at night. Always to get to sleep, and rarely to sometimes first thing in the morning.

I worked so hard for this moment. Extending time between nursing. Distractions. Offering food and water, which he often gulped greedily. "You're thirsty!" I'd say.

He's begun to tell me he's thirsty, thirsty for water. It used to be that nursing was the frustrating default. Hungry, thirsty...but he'd ask to nurse instead. "Listen to your body," I told him. I suppose his body was telling him he was uncomfortable, and nursing would fix it. It did, and then he'd eat or drink.

He was (and is) demanding, as children are. "I want nummies!" "How about water?" "I want nummies!!"

I was conflicted and frustrated, tired of demands. And now, the sweet milky breath is gone forever.

We recently made a move, and I figured he might begin nursing more. Yes and no. I also found myself saying "yes" more. I realize these are the waning days of nursing this child.

I touched based with The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, as I do every so often. Your child will wean even if you do nothing, the text tells me. OK, but no. I guess, but am I ready. I'm ready, I've grumpily told myself many times. And then, I smile when I hear Beren chatter, "Nums. Nums. Nums! Numps. Numpsk. Numps. Numpsk." Something so special, my breasts have a variety of nicknames. Even Jared and I call them The Nums.

"I got alot,," Beren tells me as he breaks his latch. "Oh yeah?" "Mm hmm." It's so sweet, just a couple seconds as we sit in the bathtub together. I'd say that actually my breasts are below pre-pregnancy weight, but they do still make a little milk.

Other times, we'll lounge together in the morning, and what the heck, we nurse. Beren will gently and rhythmically press my breast. "Trying to get more milk?" He nods. "That's called a breast compression. That's what mommas do for babies who need a little more milk." Jared glances over and we all laugh.

Remember this, my little boy, because I want to smell my grandchildren's sweet milky breath one day.