Sunday, November 30, 2014

Chamomile

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

Bedtime

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.

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

Snow

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

NYC

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.