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.

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…