July 2014

Today I have a full day at home on my own. My children and I returned last night after days and weeks apart, after long drives, traffic, a scene that required more of us than expected. This morning when I woke shortly after 6 the scene replayed and I got up to start the day, to cover the brand new outlets installed in the day care while we were away, to drag the trash and recycling accumulated from the last week of day care to the curb, to put our kitchen together, to drink a cup of tea and answer e-mail, to install a new to us air conditioner in the day care window above the outlet the electrician installed just for it.

As the kids were about to leave the house the rain began. I searched out raincoats from the pegs and basement and sent them off and then the rain began in earnest. It came down hard and fast and when I looked outside, there was a flood and then there were my children driving through it in our new car. I screamed as I had last night during the scene I won’t describe here, this time at my son, who couldn’t hear me through closed doors and hard rain, but soon they were through the flood and parked in front of the house. Later they were back on the road and the house was quiet upstairs, full of kids and day care teachers below. 

More desk work all morning, and laundry, and now I’m restless as can be. Time for ratatouille, first batch of summer, inspired by my favorite table at the Northampton farmers’ market this weekend, offering baskets of ripe tomatoes, mixed peppers, french squash, small potatoes. It’s cooler and less humid than it was when I woke up, though the storms are predicted to return. I’m listening to Krista Tippet interview a young artist for On Being, feeling good to be up from the table where I worked a long while, hoping the batch of ratatouille will be a good one, if a bit small, that it will be a fine meal for my kids and me tonight, second dinner of the week, last week we’ll be together at home for awhile, planning to make the most of it, fridge full of local produce, blueberries, veggies, eggs, mind less full of plans for cooking than of hopes for meals together, conversation, companionship, kindness, family in my home.

Here is a photo of the flood on our street, along with a link to the Krista Tippet pod cast with Dario Robletto, and if I am ambitious, the recipe from Moosewood for Ratatouille, should you be hungry, too.

I’m not able to cut and paste the recipe, but if you google Moosewood and ratatouille, you’ll be all set:)

And now I can’t do the photo, either..but here is a link to the podcast! I’m technologically challenged today. Time to go back to the chopping board, hands on learning where I’m at. Well, even the podcast link won’t copy..ugh..maybe later it will. Google Dario Robletto On Being and you’ll be all set:)

This morning I wake up to find a song shared via forwarded e-mail via Youtube which stirs up feeling that take awhile to untangle..from my swimming buddy via his, close friend of his and of the woman who used to be his wife, now gone. All of life is like that these days, midlife full of memories and connections to untangle and sort through. This past weekend I was in Western New York for a class reunion and to introduce my beau and swimming buddy to the places I grew up, hometown, parents’ birthplaces, Letchworth State Park and its gorges, high school friends and a relative or two. Not one of us is getting younger, and with each passing year, there is opportunity for struggle as well as triumph, and both show through. Two weekends ago I was in Western, New York with my kids, no beau, as he was with his own kids in New Hampshire, celebrating a past birthday, on a delayed, long-promised trip, and my kids were due to be in Texas during the class reunion weekend with their dad and stepmom and his family there, and when the family picnic date came out it made sense the kids and I would be do a visit home that weekend instead. Its like that these days, family trips come in many forms. Last weekend it was me and my gal and my guy in Northampton, skipping our trip to Ashfield to keep things simple, missing the swim in the lake and hitting the pool in Florence just before we left, rain drops coming down and only us three in the water at one point, taking over the diving board and talking about our jumps.

With all my hopes and dreams for summer swimming, things of late have petered out. The last four weeks I’ve logged two short trips to the local MDC swimming pool on Thursday morning and evening with my daughter, a quick drip in between chores or after work to break the heat, and two trips to Richard’s pool in Florence, one with only Richard and one with him and my gal, not a single dip in lake or pond or ocean, no fresh water for me. I could use a long swim in deep water, more than laps across the pool, and I’m hoping this weekend to be in Ashfield Lake again, swimming with my guy and my housemates there, kids off to Woolman Hill, where I used to be, won’t be this time, where they’ll likely jump off rocks and swim in a river with friends who used to be mine, but who I now see mostly dropping kids off and picking them up from events where I no longer belong. This time the kids will drive their dad’s car, stay on their own, be looked after some by various adults, mostly look after themselves. The problem with this, as my daughter explained, is not having food for snacks and Saturday lunch, and of mooching off others when they are at the river. To solve that problem, I’ve asked her and her brother and dad to make sure the kids bring some groceries, another way it seems they grow up too soon, but of course they can do it, as I can, manage this separation in weird stages phase of our lives, when our family combines and reconfigures nearly every other day into some new shape to which we try to adjust as each of us carries on.

Tonight is day care graduation, which I now want to call our Moving On Celebration, as this round we have only one true graduate heading off to school, and even he is not heading off to kindergarten in the traditional sense, but to a Sudbury school in Colorado, where there aren’t any grades, and the other two are heading to preschool programs, one in town, one far away, and the third one to be celebrated is Alice in her retirement. It’s another mix of tangled emotions as we round out a tricky year of shifts, of my return to full time life at WFDC after several years of working on the charter school and trying out the idea of a career there, then at SVS, where I worked a year, going to school three days a week with my children, balanced with two days running and working in the daycare, a full life I enjoyed, but which at times wore me out, of Jen moving on to another school part time and staying with us two afternoons a week, of Alice’s retirement and our summer working with a sub, my son’s gal Michaela, who stepped in at a moments notice and has been a fine example of how to do it right, a pleasure for me and Liana to get to know her as a young teacher learning more about the little ones we love, and of our year of working with infants and toddlers and twos, very few preschool-age children in the mix, first infant we have taken in many years leading to another young one this summer, taken on when the first one was away, and soon to be the year we begin to work with Anne, our new hire, middle aged mom of young kids, returning to the work force more substantially after time away from classroom teaching, easing her way in via Jen’s coop program, where she’s worked as a parent helper and a sub, to our place where she’ll become our next WFDC teacher.

Now it’s time to start my day, first a trip to the vet for my kitty and me, so long as I can get her in her crate and out the door on time, then chores around the house to prepare for the graduation/moving on event, tidying the yard, counting heads for pizza, laying bright clothes over the counter on the back porch to make a buffet table for the offerings families will bring, sweeping off the porch and looking for paper goods, setting out some chairs. The families and teachers will do the rest today, and Richard when he’s here. My kids are back from Texas as of late last night, won’t likely make the party as they used to do, disconnected from this group of kids and families, living their teenage lives of work and friends and travel and adventures about time balanced with quiet time at home and in their rooms, most likely staying at their dad’s until the weekend, avoiding another shift. Alice’s husband will be with us. Afterwards they’ll celebrate on their own. Liana and I, who used to have our children in the group when we first began our work together thirteen years ago, will tidy up the day care and the yard when the families go home, maybe with some help, though so far, the only line on the sign up sheet not to be filled is for the clean up helpers, families of young children knowing, I imagine, how long the day will be and how much they’ll need to get their small ones home to bed, and Richard will be here for the first time, to see what this graduation/moving on ceremony is all about, and then we’ll all start the day tomorrow, work or pleasure, on some level it would be nice if they were all the same, if the divisions between paid work and retirement, between work and leisure were a little bit less clear. Some days for me, that’s true. Yesterday, for example, we paused on our hot and humid walk to the park beneath a big old tree at Matignon. There in the High School parking lot in the middle of the day we felt the breeze. The children removed their hats from their sweaty heads and we all looked up at the leaves blowing in the wind and felt the cool air come down to cheer us up. It worked and we waited there to share the spot with Liana and her group and later when we were walking home and talking about something or other, one two wondered if someone we were talking about might be enjoying the breeze. Memory is like that, rooted in experience that returns, whether good or bad or tangled up or in between. I remembered that breeze and it’s remembering last night at Sharing Circle as we sat in the community room at Quaker Meeting on a hot night and the breeze came in the window as we closed, and I remembered it this morning when I woke up and the heat had broken and the breeze came in the window, and I could see the leaves moving in the trees outside, and I was inspired to write this morning, in part with that memory at the core, and even though I lost the thread in the beginning of this piece, it found its way back to me, the cool, cheerful bounty in the world, which finds us often in our moments of struggle, and echoes on in memory long after that.

Here’s the swimming song. Hoping to return to fresh water this weekend. Wish me luck. Now time to deal with Frances the Cat.

This past weekend Richard and I took Isabel to the bike store, in Northampton this time, after our bust visit to the Somerville shop. There, of two possible options, was my gal’s dream bike, tan and brown, like the ten speed I bought at age twelve, but unlike my boys’ ten speed racing bike, my gal’s city cruiser exudes elegance, a bike not for a gal riding miles on open country roads, but for a city kid heading to Newbury Street and beyond. The bike is a women’s bike, as my gal loves skirts, which I never wore on a bike until I met her. The handle bars ride high, so she can sit upright, enjoying the view, whereas I’ve always preferred to ride bent over. The thing has fenders, something I haven’t had since about age six, so no rain or mud will splash on her clothes. We added a new helmet, a water bottle holder, and a Northampton Bicycle water bottle, all accessories I never knew of in my day. Today we rode to Ace Wheelworks in Porter Square, with my gal out front and me behind, and added a heavy duty lock, two lights, and a bell, all things my adolescent self never needed in my country life . The baskets in stock didn’t suit her, wire and wooden baskets on the shelves when what she wants is white and wicker.

We pedaled on to Porter Square Shopping Center for a trip to the artist’s cooperative and the book store, where we bought Divergent for her, birthday cards and gifts for my guy and my brother-in-law, both celebrating this weekend, then a quick peppermint soda and three Vietnamese spring rolls, none of which could have happened thirty four years ago in Leroy, New York, where I’ll return this weekend for my thirtieth class reunion while my daughter flies off to Texas with her brother and stepmom, to meet up with her Dad’s family in Houston, where my city loving girl had wanted to go, rather than to the Texas Hill Country place her granddad shares with family when they return from China, Australia, Massachusetts, and Houston, city dwellers all but him.

I follow my girl back from Porter Square, watching her weave in and out of traffic, stop behind a Harley on Mass Ave, wave her hand in front of her nose at the exhaust, stop on the sidewalk to tighten the strap holding the lock to her bike rack, weave back into traffic, then onto the sidewalk, then back onto side streets, coming home just ahead of me. My gal is tall and strong and straight on her bike, all confidence and calm. Behind her I feel the same, whereas last time I was out riding on my own I felt small, unsure, and weak. Funny to be in this position, nineteen and a half years after becoming a mom, to watch my kids bike and drive and move away, one by one, and to see the paths they take, whether off to a radical school like SVS for all three, to RPI for college and summer work for my older son, or to Newbury Street on her own for my baby gal last week, when she rode there from the house she shares in Cambridge with her dad. Makes a mom proud, if a little wistful, to be the one trailing behind as they all go on ahead. 

Today as we were walking to the park, me in front with five kids, Alice and Liana behind with five, my group was singing. First one young two invited her friend, another yought two, to sing Abiyoyo with her. Then the seven, who is back visiting for the summer after two years at school, wished the group would sing You are My Sunshine, because she didn’t know Abiyoyo. Then they all just began to sing, Abiyoyo on my right, You Are My Sunshine on my left, turning to I’ve Been Working on the Railroad all around, and then the seven even remembered that at her school she had learned another version of Abiyoyo and she sang that an the others picked that up, too.

The kids wondered where Alice and Liana had gone. They were only a few steps behind. In that moment, my life was absolutely, terribly perfect.

These moments happen in family day care. The horrible monsters, the missing ones we love, the songs from our earliest childhood memories all come together as we walk to the park, all exist in our shared memories, all mean something to each and every one of us.

And the children’s voices are lovely. They are pure and sonorous and the sound of them wafting through the air to our neighbors reminds me that the children are all of ours, and that just by being here in this neighborhood all these nineteen years we’ve brought some joy. Also our fair share of monsters and tears, but joy above all.

Alice visited today after a tricky leave taking, a retirement begun more prematurely than any of us expected. The visit, however, could not have been made with more care. She brought photo albums she had made for the children of pictures from our year. She brought Miss Rhumphius, a book her day care parents had given to her when she ran her own program, a story that was one of my favorites in my young days as a public school teacher, and now, I realize, a perfect tale for explaining her retirement to the children, as it tells of the life of a strong, artistic, adventurous, nature loving woman named Alice from childhood to old age.

The children were happy Alice was here and so was I. It’s rare, I realized to take leave from a lifetime career with care and grace, and Alice is doing her best to do that. I’m happy that our family child care made a place for her after she closed her own program and that we’ve had these last many years together, and to know that her life in retirement will be long and rich and that we will stay connected.

And now, to post the photos I took for the parents. As I expected, they don’t really capture the moment. I did try. The singing and walking were better.

Last night near seven my two youngest children and I returned. We had stopped for what turned out to be a very late lunch with my oldest son at RPI, where he’s working for the summer, sandwiches, coffee, and treats in the cafe downtown where he took us Parents’ Weekend of his freshman year. Before that we had been at my mom’s, visiting for a long weekend, with a family reunion picnic on Saturday, held in the backyard of my Aunt Bea, site of many family picnics over the years, first family reunion in a long time.

As we left the picnic, my daughter, thirteen, asked me why we don’t go to these picnics more often. My answer surprised me. There haven’t been any for awhile.

This is a family who used to get together so regularly, Sundays were for visiting, sometimes Saturdays, sometimes more. Growing up many of my aunts and uncles and their children lived nearby. Grandparents on both sides lived on the land they farmed while the aunts and uncles were growing up.

This weekend my mother showed my brother and me and my kids photos from her early years. My kids found images of my mother and her father and their ponies that were new to them, not so much to me, as I grew up with stories and photos of her on the farm, wishing for a horse of my own, wondering if I might be a farmer some day, too.

At the picnic, I talked with my cousin’s husband, who runs a John Deere dealership, a place with an outpost we passed on the way to the picnic, with tractors and equipment displayed on the lawn not far from the Creek, which I want to say now is the Oatka, the creek which also runs not far from my mother’s house, which runs under the bridge where my mom and kids and I walked after dinner Sunday night, looking down, remembering my childhood playing there, which also runs through the town where I went to High School, but now I think it can’t be that same creek, all the way in Alexander, all the way in Attica, cutting off the land behind the house that used to be my grandmother’s, someone else’s problem now to pay the taxes on land that’s washed away, marking the back of their property, across which they can look to see the Attica rodeo grounds, the Attica Prison, and the cemetery where my father lies, all on the other side of that creek.

It’s something I ought to know, the name of that creek that runs through Alexander, that runs behind my grandmother’s house, and while I want to say it’s the Oatka, I can’t trace the line from under the bridge in Pavilion where I played to Alexander and Attica, realize for the first time as I write, that creeks run all around that part of Western New York and the only one I ever knew the name of was the Oatka, and even that one I took somewhat for granted, swelling, flooding, defining the landscape around the places I grew up.

In my childhood bedroom there were changes. I left home at seventeen and now I’m forty seven. As my mother said, she’s hung onto this stuff nearly fifty years. There were baby dolls in a heap waiting for the decision, Salvation Army, trash, my adult home, or someplace else more fitting and less final, as of yet determined. I joked about a pyre so I could save the ashes of those babies I grew up loving, Chrissy, Lori, Baby Tender Love and her bottle and her clothes of cotton flannel, cotton a fabric doll clothes used to be made of before they were made of polyester, before they were made in Japan, or China, or wherever they’re made now.

Next weekend my boyfriend Richard will visit my childhood home. That weekend is for the High School Reunion, this time around it’s a town I’ll be rediscovering, not the rural landscape or my childhood home or the aunts and uncles and cousins who I love, but adults who were children once when I was, in that era pre-eighteen when I made so many of the memories that shaped who I am now, all of us grown into people who might or might not recognize each other if we were to meet on the streets of Boston, who’ll put things together under the rental tent at the back of the LeRoy Country Club, buying drinks from the bar to jog our memories and ease our minds, dancing together again, if all goes well, to the music we grew up with, most of it music I could easily never choose to listen to again, but which will bring back moments I danced with friends or boys, testing out those early yearnings to be partnered which continue on.

In every picture of me and my children in my mother’s house I am a single mom. So is she in most cases. This is the stage we’re living, the stage we are permitted to remember. Once upon a time she was married twice, first to my dad, next to my brother’s. Death and divorce. Then I was married for awhile, nearly twenty years, then I wasn’t, now I’m not. In my family that’s ok. Two of my mother’s seven siblings were divorced, another married a woman who had been, and certainly there are cousins who’ve been there, too. Others have remained single all their lives, some have had not children, some have even wandered off. The thing I love about our family reunions is how much each one of us is welcomed, whether home from Atlanta, or Somerville, or Rochester or Buffalo or Attica or Pavilion or Alexander or Darien, we all drive over, park our cars in the dry front lawn, walk to the back with our dish to pass, and circulate amidst our family for an afternoon. No wonder my daughter asks when we go home why we don’t come more often. Perhaps going forward we will.

Time now to return to today’s reality. Day care for me. Dishes and shower first if I can manage both types of water. Kids here this am, work at school and circus for Jonah later on, work on the hedges for my girl, if time and energy permit, then both are off to their dad’s this evening, while I am off to Brookline, then home again in a quiet house on my own. Jonah will be away three weeks, at his dad’s in Cambridge, at his granddad’s in the Texas Hill Country, at his Grandma’s in Houston, back at his dad’s, then in Western Mass with friends. My gal will be back for the weekend, though we have more nomadic plans to return to Western Mass this weekend for swimming and sunshine and being there with friends, then back together here next week, before she too, heads to Texas, Dad’s, and Western, MA with friends, nearly two weeks away for the gal, sandwiching one with me.

I get it when I can, this family feeling. Other days I learn to live alone, or with my beau, if he is here or I am there, or if we’re together somewhere else. It’s a fine life of nomadic living, provided we touch down now and again at home.

On Memorial Day, Richard and I dunked ourselves at Musante Beach. Two Mondays since we’ve swum in Walden Pond, first time a mere dunking, second time a swim out into the pond and a walk around. The first weekend in June we spent swimming on Martha’s Vineyard, in two ponds,one beside the ocean, one in the woods, in the ocean, in the bay. We also rode our bicycles on a path around the airport. The last two weekends we’ve swum in Ashfield Lake, along with all of my children and two of their friends. This past weekend we also floated and took a dip in the pond, which had been our project the week before, as it was low, and needed adjustments and repairs the weekend we went out to deal with the septic.

Meanwhile, back in the city, the day care kids have been playing in water at the park nearly every day. Now we are early birds at the park, sometimes the only ones there with the hose, I have become park plumber,a job I used to wait for my friend Michael to do, as he hooked up hoses in many fancy ways. This year, I set up the first hose on the first day and helped our young ones learn to dig a river, something I had not done in many, many years, it seemed. The moment took me back to my body, to a more physical experience of the world, as does all this swimming.

I remember floating in Ashfield Lake shortly after my life seemed to fall apart, looking up at the sky, laying my arms on the water, feeling my body take the shape of Jesus on the cross, sun warming my closed eyes, being held there buoyant. This past weekend, I floated some like that while Richard swam through seaweed I found too creepy, and I went back in my mind to that moment. Other times when I swim, I go back to childhood days at State Parks in Western, NY with my family, to days floating in Keuka Lake with my sister or a friend, to time with my brother and my kids at the lake place he had in Washington State or the Lake down the road from his house now. I’m a gal who loves the water. Fresh water is best. Salt water is not my home, though I love to watch the waves and if they aren’t too strong, to play there, too.

This summer, Richard and I have a goal to swim every single weekend. So far, since Memorial Day, we are there. This past weekend we made it our goal to swim across Ashfield Lake. Now we have a project, something I think we’ve needed. Other than my sister, I think he’s the person in the world with whom I’ve swum the most. Which tells you something about how much swimming I’ve done in adult life, and how much we’re picking up the pace.

I have friends who swim all the time. They do it for exercise, is how I’ve seen it. This morning when I look in the mirror, I wonder if it shows that I’ve swum every day this weekend. I think I feel it in my muscles. I think they want to go back.

Here in the city it’s harder. The places we can swim are limited. My daughter wished to swim earlier this summer and there wasn’t a place she could go. The public pools didn’t open till July first. Many weekends and evenings the lots at Walden Pond are full, and to get there you need a car, or very strong legs that bike long hills and many miles.

I’ve been reading A Pattern Language, one of my favorite books, after finding it on the table at Richard’s, left there by a friend helping him to think about the way he lives. There’s a paragraph that sticks with me, that helps me understand my return to the water after all these years. Here it is. Then I’m off to shower, my old stand-by in the world of water. No wonder I depend upon that morning rinse so much. Most days that’s the closest I get to a swim. Nice to be submerged, if only a few minutes. Allows the mind to wander, the muscles to relax, washes the dirt down the drain, refreshes the skin and hair, starts the day out right.

I’ll include the quote here later. It’s from Pattern 64, Pools and Streams, and it’s been with me the last two weeks, ever since I’ve read it, reminding me of water and the power of the unconscious and our dreams.