sunsets and love, medicine for mama

sunset, loveEven my tired eyes can be lifted to this, the golden, sinking sun.  Turned pink, my hands, and his, wander through the grass, the backyard apple orchard, almost fully picked but for the winesap, dark red and waiting.

A streak across the sky, my heart kind of picks up its beat.

I know no better medicine than this.

Weariness, sometimes, is part of the deal.  Today, the day, the week, it all left me slumped on the couch.  But little boys need things to do, and sometimes those things, a walk at dusk, are what the mama needs to.

sunset, love sunset, love IMG_0024Sweet dreams.

sunshine and lollipops and lots of tomato sauce

heirloom tomatoes, canning season, sustainable farming, farming, gardening, tomato sauce, summerWhen I am walking the rows of tomato plants in late August, so much sun on my back and sweat on my brow, and the sticky smell of tomatoes mixed with fermenting blackberries surrounds me, both intoxicating and suffocating, I remind myself to soak it all in.  In field work, and hard work of any kind, mantras help.  Remember this in your heart, in your mind, in your body.  Remember.

The smells, the heat.  The feeling of my body moving.  There is something so settling about the grey that will cover the skies here in the Pacific Northwest come late fall, and then stay all through the winter and spring.  Those skies create a sameness that spreads out covering everything, and although I love it like a favorite blanket, I know that it is all the better for this time of year right now.  For hot sun and dry ground and ripe tomatoes.

The tomato harvest in our wild, sprawling tomato patch is like a treasure hunt.  An eye spy game of finding the red hidden within all of the greens and browns and goldens of the tomato plants and the weeds.  I watch the tomatoes pile up in the path as I make my way through the rows, my loot.  The feeling of so much.  I am filled.  While I bake in the sun to gather these stars of the summer, I think about how later that night I will take all of the not-pretty-enough-for-market fruits inside and commence the never-ending pot of tomato sauce cooking on the stove-top season.  I imagine the wonderful aroma that will fill our home, and the wonderful flavor that will fill our bellies, later, when this sun is long gone.

I fight off the longing for fall.  All of the ways that I can.  I know well enough by now that love for any one thing is brightened in its contrast.  To cool off, after all that work, we will pull some popsicles out of the freezer.  We sit on our porch facing west and linger.  My children, too, grow like the tomatoes and I can’t slow it down nor speed it up so I try to take it all in.  The hot sun and dry ground and ripe tomatoes.  The sunshine and lollipops and lots of tomato sauce.

mindfulness, summer, popsicles, children, parentingmindfulness, summer, popsicles, parenting, childrenmindfulness, summer, popsicles, parenting, children

 

on mother love, on mother’s day

It is Mother’s Day.  The farmer left early to sell his wood craft in the city.  I was out of coffee filters and almost out of almond milk, so I had a barely passable cup of coffee to start the day.  I made breakfast, the same breakfast we have nearly every day, eggs.  I did add some well cooked sweet onion and spinach from the garden to the mix because I do love greens with my eggs, but we didn’t get dressed right away.  And because three of the children still have a lingering cough, we decided we should stay home today instead of doing anything special.  We may try to plant flowers.

I did want to do some writing, so I put on a movie right after breakfast.  My oldest son bought his very first electronic device and is now happily throwing fruit at things with it.  There is, ironically, in writing this today, an idea that all of this is somehow less than perfect.  But I don’t think so.

I am perfectly in love with these children and being their mother.  And as with all things in this life, including motherhood, I keep finding that the great and wonderful things are usually found even more so compared against their flaws.  That the silver lining shines brightest next to a puncture wound, a rusty hole.  Perspective is the thing.

Leading up to today, I saw many things written in a similar vein to the start of my own Mother’s day post–a kind of this is what it really looks and feels like to be a mother onslaught.  And I get it, I really do.  I have been thinking a lot about this heavy, hard work of being a mom, and the truth is, it is rarely easy and never picture perfect.

And yet, I can not find a bad thing to say about it.  I honestly love being a mother.  As often as I am at my wits end and ready to pull out all my hair–still, I love it.  And even in those moments, if I can only just breathe for a second, I can find in my children’s eyes the reason for it all.  It is easy, if I try, to remember what is, to me, the hallmark of feeling and being a mother–the endless and boundless and unimaginably deep love we carry in our hearts for these small humans.

All mother’s feel this, it is hard wired into us, but it isn’t always easy to stay with that feeling.  We are human, too, after all.  I made it easy on myself when I entered this job the first time around and just did nothing else at all for the first many years of my mothering journey.  Looking back, I am sure that this is what made my time with a precocious and needy and busy first born baby boy so easy.  I gave him my all, and we didn’t expand too often outside our own insular little lives back then in Nebraska, so there were rarely any squabbles, rarely any hard times.  In fact, I remember so completely the first time we ever had to come to terms with feeling upset with each other.  He was nearly three and I was nearly ready to birth his baby brother.  It was a hard moment for me, I was a little heartbroken.  I hadn’t imagined mothering would ever be hard.

But of course, many more such times have followed since.  Now that we are a family of four kids and two businesses, not to mention my own mid-life need to resume some activity related to those non-mothering dreams I once had, there are many squabbles, and many hard moments, and ever so much give and take.  I was definitely living in a kind of fantasy land back then, thankfully so.  However, I’ve found that for all the perfectness I felt in my first three years of parenting, I have eaten crow for it all a million times over as we travel further and further down the road of time together.

mothering, mother's daymothering, mother's day

But that is okay, because this is essentially the most important thing that has come to my mind as this Mother’s Day approached, the knowing that this road passes by faster and faster each year.  That those tiny feet grow into big ones and we don’t even remember the sleepless nights or the spit up and messy floors.  Believe me, we don’t.  I long to remember, really, because that would mean I could also recall the smell of the newborn better, and the way it felt to hold them in my arms when they were so little.  All of the things they said and did as they made there way out of babyhood and into toddlerhood, and then childhood and beyond.  Sigh.

Instead of being able to remember it all, we learn.  We learn that we do indeed continue to change and grow and evolve along the way, as well as devolve a little too.  We learn that we can not foresee the future, nor make any real claims about whether we did a good job or not.  We learn, hopefully, that we will all do amazingly well and that we will all fail miserably, that to say otherwise is the real fault.  And we learn, ever so humbly, that they will be there own people and that they really will be okay.

We learn that even though it is really so hard, that doesn’t mean that some of us can’t always say good things about this work, because for some of us, that is our nature.  Others, blessedly, can make us laugh about the insanity of it all–to wear your heart outside yourself so that it can constantly take a beating seems outrageous and ludicrous on the face of it.

But that is what mothers do.  And really, despite the holiday and the really wonderful way in which we kind of deservedly get our kudos on this day, this work, this loving, is for the most part, and for so long, done entirely thanklessly.  If we are doing a good job of it, we only get thanks in the form of sticky kisses and hugs.  Or from taking in the tiring but intense need those small hands have to hold ours while it lasts.  From being the one they come to at their worst.  We are meant to be taken for granted, to always be there for them, to not be thanked until they have done their growing and are happy and healthy young adults who look back in wonder at this magnificent, unending love they were given.

I don’t really remember getting all of this when I was young like my children are, but at some point, despite the many, many failings of my own parents and the fate of illness that left my own mother bound to a nursing home when I was just entering my teen years, I came away from it all seeing that both of them did have this same fierce love for me.  And that has been enough.  That has held me despite it all.

So, mother’s, today, hold onto this love and take respite in knowing it is enough.  Above all, let it guide you, day in and day out.  It is hard to do, but it is your gift to your children and to the world.  As another wise mother puts it so perfectly, “Spirituality doesn’t look like sitting down and meditating. Spirituality looks like folding the towels in a sweet way and talking kindly to the people in the family even though you’ve had a long day. ” Silvia Boorstein, from On Being.

Your Mother’s Day will probably look a lot like mine.  Even if you have others around you and you do get to go out to dinner or have a bit more of some things special, you will, all day like every day, be doing your highest work as well.  You will be mothering.  It never ends, never goes away.

And even if you are tired or cranky or sick of it all for the moment, you can, perhaps, still just fold the towel sweetly, with a nod to that special love in your heart, and they will feel it.  It will hold them through all the things near and far.  Your love will hold them, always.

Happy Mother’s Day.

little tree climber

tree climber 2 tree climber 1Families are almost as unique as fingerprints.  You may remember that strange feeling you had as a child when you entered the realm of another family.  How you would notice all those little things that were different from your own tribe’s habits; the way the eggs were cooked, the way the towels were folded.  As we get older, we see more of the similarities between us and others, I think.  Those small things become such a part of us we no longer notice them.  It is our children, now, who take them in, for better or worse, as we become our own strange, one of a kind families ourselves.

I am thinking about this because over here, our smallest child climbed his first tree a few weeks ago.  He was so proud, it was so darling.

And it struck me in that moment that this was kind of like a right of passage in our household.  Although I am the odd man out in this regard, the rest of my children, from the beginning, like their father before them, aimed to find themselves up in those treetops as early and as often as possible.

For some parents, this would be nerve-racking.  But for us, it has come naturally.  As this little guy grows into himself, as well as into this family, I can’t help but notice those things that remain steady and constant for us, from the first through the last.  We, the parents, have grown tremendously in these last twelve years of parenting, but I am surprised to see that the core of our family has remained much the same.  It makes raising this fourth child kind of a breeze.

It also makes for a solid foundation.  The farmer and I didn’t talk about a lot of things when we threw caution to the wind and fell head over heals for each other nearly upon first sight.  We were ready to start a life and family together almost from the beginning.  Things like career plans, financial goals, lingering hurts and fears from our own childhood’s, and so on–that seemed trivial to us.  What we did talk about was how we would raise our family, and how that would be the most important thing we would do.  In the end, that has made things easy in a way that I think can be hard in relationships and in parenting.  We knew what to do and how to remember what to value even when those other things made life hard.

Love is a word that can mean so little when we say things like it is all that you need, because those other things are important and real and we have to deal with them in this life to really fulfill our destiny.  But, it is also a word that can mean everything, that can really be the basis for how you make the other things work in your life so that you always have strength and a solid place to help you weather through life’s ups and downs.

It is our foundation out here, and so far, I think that it is a wonderful, expected truth my children are experiencing.  We certainly have our own weirdnessess, things that my kids will probably wear next to their skin for the rest of their lives because they are a part of this family.  But those are the kinds of things that enliven the world anyways.  Loving your own idiosyncrasies and  loving others are the two sides of the human coin.

So, my little tree climber, I can only say to you, welcome to the fold, sweet one.  We are so happy to be your family.

Learning free

Note:  I read this post earlier this week and left it feeling so very sad.  And so, I redoubled my efforts over here and wanted to share my thoughts.

Every year for so many years now, I am faced with this same question:  how do we do this homeschooling thing the right way?  There are so many ways to approach it, and although we tend to fall somewhere in the middle, trying to balance the freedom to be yourself with the reality of responsibilities and the status quo, there are always some struggles.  And with each struggle I ask myself, why?  Why do we have to study this particular thing or that particular thing?  And I am amazed at the layers of conditioning that keep falling away each year  as it becomes clear to me that we don’t have to always, and that we shouldn’t have to, always.

Because the realization I always come back to is this, there is a general lack of freedom for children to be the designers of their own lives.

No, I’m not talking about turning in the parenting card here.  Things like helping out in the home, or learning how to behave with kindness and compassion to the rest of the human race, these are important. But these are the things that kind of come naturally.  When those boundaries are pushed, these are things we do need to reinforce.

But what about in education? What does an education really need to be?  What should it be? Do we use what comes naturally to each child as our guide in this case?

I see adults the world wide, historically and through the present, attempting to make children over in their image.  But why?  If we look around us, we see that the world is  made up of a myriad of different people, all with different loves and passions, capabilities and crafts.  If we can acknowledge that other adults can be happy doing any number of things, why do we fret so about what our children might want to do.  How can we expect them to be just like us?

Before I had children, I imagined them all needing to read the same books I did, the ones that opened my eyes, honed my thinking skills, gave me such insight into life.  Shakespeare, Plato, Camus.  It was going to be brilliant.  They were going to be brilliant–by my definition of brilliant.

Then enters the farmer.  The love of my life.

He doesn’t ever really read books, he never really did.  And yet, his critical thinking skills are great, his understanding of the human condition well developed, his love of the good and need to do good, superb.  Clearly, he can read. He is particularly fond of dystopian works, and a few of those classic dystopian novels from his younger years were powerful enough to remain his steadfast friends to this day.   There is no denying the fact that well written literature and philosophy are great sources for an education.  Luckily, no matter how much or how little you get in, they tend to stick.  Such wonderful teachers.

But in the end, my education full of them and his with but a few,  netted the same result.   We are equally happy, equally fulfilled, equally liberated–skills that we didn’t learn from our elementary through high school instruction anyways.  Like Albert Einstein has said, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school”.   Meaning, there is so much more to learn about being alive and being human and being truly happy than we could ever learn in a traditional school setting.

So, why wouldn’t I want my children to develop freely?  Even though we are not tempted to convince them that they need a well paying job to be happy, it is just as hard for us (me) to not think they should adopt my line of thinking about the world.  How often do tiny remarks slip out of my mouth that devalue the moment of their thought because I respond like I know more than they do.

Of course, I have learned more than they have by sheer volume of years on this planet.  But that doesn’t mean I can blanket them with the weight of my findings.  They were hard earned.  That is the beauty of this life, the learning.  And when I look around me to the adults I spend time with, it is clear that we didn’t all get a chance to learn a lot about ourselves in our younger years.  Between school and our parents, trying to balance a happy childhood with so many expectations around us, it is hard to feel free to be yourself, to remain true to those thoughts of yours, to feel adequate with so many people to please.

And so, in our home, expectations are low.

I know this sounds so counter intuitive, but what I mean to say is that although our expectations of kindness and respect and communication are high, and that if the value of personal hygiene and purposeful work and taking care of yours and others belongins aren’t operating at an optimal level, we will definitely set some expectations, what we don’t do our kids to be anything other than their wonderful, unique selves.

In short, I try not to lay it on thick, my ideas.  What, you don’t love poetry, bah?!  No!  I try to control myself,  because you know, my husband doesn’t even like poetry and I think he is pretty great.

We don’t expect them to be laid back artists and farmers like we are, nor rocket scientists or lawyers or whatever else.  We even try to remain calm at the thought of them in a suit and tie.  Because,  it never feels good to feel unloved because of who you are, and don’t children feel that a little when we don’t encourage them to follow their own lead and keep encouraging them to take ours?

However, in our home we do chug away at math everyday.  That is easy since I can point out to them all the times in our days that these skills really do come in handy.  We do learn to read, that is a given, but we practice together.  When they get there, I really try not to make judgements about the books they want to read on their own or comment if they are not reading any books in their own time. Instead, I just read to them, incessantly.

In the reading I do, I try to get in all the books that I find meaning in, the ones I think will touch and tend their growing souls.  I try to give them the story of history in a way that interests them so that they can one day develop perspective.  I try, when they are interested in something I have never learned well, to learn alongside them. 

But I also try to bite my tongue when it seems like it is going to sound like a bull siren singing the praise of one way to live, one way to think, a certain writer they must like, or a classic song they must love, that math is so perfect, beautiful and reassuring and they should love it, or that a certain period of history if over the top fascinating and they should find it all just so too.

Because they can or they can’t, they are all wildly different small people.  It isn’t ever a should or they shouldn’t.

I want them to grow up knowing, above all, that they are worthy and perfect just as they are, with the inner light they came here with to guide them.  I don’t want to be a shadow on that light.  What I want, instead, is to let that beam shine and lead them where they were meant to go.  A place that I can’t know for them.

And this is a gift we can all give our children, home schooled or not.  The gift to be free.  Impenetrably, free.

**************

“All I am saying can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” – John Holt