Friday, March 25, 2016

Spring Updates

The Camellias are in bloom. The children fancy pulling them to pieces and leaving little piles of red petals on the sidewalk. The time change brings Phil home in time for dinner and romping in the front yard. With the same slide, lawnmower, and rock-climbing crash pad, the children grow more and more inventive with their types of play. Lee's imagination has come alive of late. There are dinosaurs and dragons and buccaneers and fires all over the place. This imagination boom has made play with Rose all the more delightful. They run about calling each other's names. 

"Lee! Come see somefin'!"
"Oh no, Rose! A monster is coming! Let's hide."
"Lee! Time a eat!"
"Do it, Rose! Do it!"

Lee has also grown in courage. The people in the grocery store no longer scare him. He will now bravely walk beside the shopping cart. I've been doing my shopping on the weekends when Phil could watch the children because I was unable to fit my groceries in the cart with Lee in there too. Now he races along trying to find the items on my list for me. Rose relaxes in the child's seat.

Phil has tackled several projects about the house including repairing the children's closet ceiling where years of leakage had made a hole in the plaster. He has also replaced the light sockets in our kitchen and discovered that the trouble wasn't the sockets but the lights I was buying for the enclosed fixtures. He also installed the last pieces of our kitchen cabinets and works studiously on side jobs in the evenings.

Progress around here sometimes looks like two steps forward and one steps back. Like when Rose started on solid food and a more extensive kitchen clean-up became a new chore after meals. Or when Rose started potty training and with that has come soiled clothes and carpets. Now we face the marvelous growth stage where Rose's desire for independence and choice collides with my sensibility and patience. Screaming fits occur at least once a day. I've learned that I must buck up and laugh, or I shall start crying with them.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Why Won't You Nap: A Poem About Daily Disturbances

Lean into pain;
‘Tis muscle ripping,
Allowing for more,
Through recurring strain.

’Tis no injury,
Warning or punishment,
But refashioned inclinations
Of disordered hearts:
Born wanting instantaneously,
Bred demanding sacrosanct rights.

Deceived diva
Dissonant from holy choirs.
Unbalanced cog
Obstructing the machinery.
Skiff colliding
With the King’s navy
War-bound to feed the hungry. 

Nothing is wasted or lost.
No yearning unrequited,
But transfigured and diffused
Unto the way eternal
Through today’s wants frustrated,
And tomorrow’s hopes replaced,
And yesterday’s offenses burned
Like incense’s sweet fragrance.

There on the altar,
I scatter the wood shavings
Chiseled clean-off my own form.
There they ignite
With the lamb’s immolation,
He gave to set hearts aright:
To lift the banishment,
And encompass all natures,
All voices at rehearsal,
All gears grinding down,
All ships learning to helm,
War-bound to feed more hungry.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Rain Makes Puddles

Rain makes mud and puddles. In the parkways, in our sandbox, down the gutters, in our raised-planter beds, on our breakfast patio, in the Lee-dug ditches in our backyard. The heavy rain sends us indoors until it stops and I put on the children's boots and rain jackets. It is a commitment to ten minutes of preparation and then maybe an hour of clean-up. I'll have to peel the children's pants off, get them clean pants, convince them to put on their clean pants, chase after them and force them into their clean pants. I'll have to hose off their rain jackets and remember to bang their muddy boots together after they're dry. I might need to hose off the front patio or give them baths. Then I can see to my own frizzy hair and muddy clothes. Maybe. But I'll still have towels and clothes draped over my arms when they come tromping into the house pulling out the crayons or asking to play with the play dough or opening up the kitchen cabinets and asking for a snack. 
I don't think they'll think much of this preparation and clean-up. I don't know that they'll remember it all that much. They'll remember where the puddles were the most deep. And how the streams in the gutters were strong enough to carry Podocarpus berries along in their current.
And I'd rather only remember those things too. It seems older parents just remember the good times. I suppose the hard work must pale in comparison. Having fires or making a tree house or going on day-hikes. I'd like to forget the work too or at least not see it as an obstacle. I'd like to not gripe about it or hold it against anyone. 

It is a necessary part of the adventures: preparation and clean-up. Without it the adventures don't happen. It is the dirty work. It's the preparing of the soil for seeds. It's a setting of the stage for the actors. It's the processing of influent at the water treatment plant. Or the clean-up crew after the party. It's not a pretty job. It's not a job for verbal affirmation. But if I don't do it. No one will. 

If I don't find the oomph to make puddle stomping happen, it won't happen. And will it matter? Will their little hearts be damaged because I preferred to stay inside and not mess with mud? We make enough messes without going outside. Why invite more? Do I really think something phenomenal happens when they slosh through the puddles? I don't think they'll even remember it twenty years from now. Dare I cut them off from all things wild?

Outside they find a wildness that I cannot create. Outside they see elements that no man can control. Outside their voices don't echo off the ceiling. Outside their tumblings break no glass and wear down no furniture. There, the laws of nature are their own teachers and I become a student as well. I too, if I put away my phone and journal and book, and stop to study as I wish my children to do: the movement of the insects, the subtle changes of the seasons, the darting of birds, and the position of the moon at sunset.

In the wilderness of the suburbs, Lee is master of the dirt, and Rose converses with other women besides my weary self. Unless I think myself a greater teacher than the skies, or able to protect my children from much worse dangers than spider bites and pokes in the eye with a stick, then let the learning begin from this. The messes made outdoors.

And now I must go wash the dirt out of my daughter's mouth.  

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Preparing the Ground

In the morning the fog rests around our home. The Whittier hills are concealed by it, and the tops of the Podocarpus trees are pale in it. Lee stands out on our breakfast porch, walled in on three sides by house and fence. He gazes up at the window of white above him, and when he comes back inside he says, “I just been smelling the air out there.”

“What did it smell like?” I ask.

“Like . . . air,” he says.

Today I will configure the garden: a preliminary step to planting when winter neglect has made the garden a catch-all for various uses. Lee has turned the soil with his shovel, rake and backhoe. Rose has swept the dirt out of the raised beds and onto the DG as if this were a way of tidying up the place. 

As a collector of succulents, Phil has stuck several Jade stem-cuttings into the garden and there they have taken root and grown like little trees. Last year’s fennel seeds, scattered into the compost pile and later transferred to the planting beds, have sprouted and are now sturdy enough to endure the children sampling their newest unfurling fronds. My parsley from last year, which survived the winter shade, now is located in a most inconvenient spot. Why did I decide to put it there? 

Japanese Beetle larvae have found comfort in the warm moist soil, as have pill bugs and earwigs. A new visitor has made a home there too: gray cutworms with their copper-colored larvae. They’ll grow into moths by the summer, but before that they’ll fell my spring crops like lumberjacks. I can either hunt the little beasties at dusk, delay my spring planting or sprinkling some diatomaceous earth around the soil. 

Our neighbor’s roofline will keep the garden beds in shade for another month or so, so I can delay planting for a spell. In the meantime, I reward the children a coin for each larvae found. We make a game of it with the younger Jensen boys when they come to play on Friday. 

I unfasten the latches on the compost pile and peel back the gate to the squeals of eager children. They are ready for the hunt. They are ready for the dirt. Gigi Jensen and I take turns eroding the layered block of rich dark dirt with our shovels. We hack at the sides and little avalanches of soil come tumbling out. Ollie makes a slide of it. The soil is hiding huge white Japanese Beetle larvae and long wiggling earthworms, a good sign that our compost pile, though neglected for most of the year, has indeed turned out some ripe and ready soil. Egg-shells and avocado seeds have yet to deteriorate, but these are easily removed.

While I fill the wheel barrow and wheel the loads over to our garden, Lee finds various bugs and shows them to Rose, telling her to either leave them alone because they are good bugs or to smash them because “they’re ewwy" or to kiss them for what reason I don’t know. I assume because compliant Rose will do what he won’t dare. Once I overheard him saying, “Now eat it, Rose.”

She has no concept of “ewwy” yet, and will allow a grown larvae to entertain her by letting it burrow into the soil only to dig it up again and laugh at it. It’s like peek-a-boo . . . with grubs. When she tires of that game, she’ll throw the white wiggling larvae into our pot fountain or maybe she’ll smash them or simply forget them, allowing them to escape for their lives into the dirt again.

The soil is good. It’s the color of ground coffee beans. And it smells like damp goodness. In my raised beds, I form three rows parallel to the roofline, and in my portable beds, I make mounds for melons and pumpkins and squash. When these trailing plants start to meander, they’ll spill out of the beds and onto the brick pad beneath them.

We leave our shovels and muddy boots by the door. It’s bath night tonight. Later in the week, we’ll take last year’s seeds out of the freezer and visit Mama Mina’s house to select a few more seed packets from her big glass jar. Lee will accurately identify the pictures on most all of the packets that we choose. He has high hopes for our garden. This is, after all, his fourth garden, not counting the very first one made in the two weeks after his birth. So he knows how the seeds grow and produce good things to eat. He knows that he must wait many long months. He knows that he must not disturb the dirt. And he knows that we always begin this process by the shifting of the soil. Step one: complete.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Poem For Mothers of Naughty Boys

Confounded soul of mine, give grace!
What can decipher their plight?
Perceiving eyes, soulful listening, growing experience?
None of these, I say,
So give grace.

Disturbed stomach, perhaps.
Oncoming flu, we’ll see.
The prick of some slight performed out of sight, who knows.
Poor sleep? 
Caged oomph?
Wants with no voice?
Fears without comforts?
I guess at the cause,
But even mother knows not. 
God alone comprehends,
So give grace.

And take no offense at rebellion.
He means it not against you.
Every child pains in growing
In this war between I and us,
Brain evolving,
A dig, unearthing discord after discord.
As in me, so in them.
Give grace.

Unhand mastery;
For the Master must rule.
Entrust fears;
I, mother not maker.
Leave vanity and pride
To stoop lower
Rising higher
Unto grace.