Archives for the month of: August, 2006

When my brother and I left for college, I wrote a poem about my mom called “Still Life”. The image was one of my mother — who had gone from baby dolls, to baby brother, to marriage and babies, and had considered mothering to be her most important role — suddenly left rattling around in a lovely old house, mostly alone, arranging flowers that nobody would see, in rooms that nobody would walk through until the flowers needed replacing.

It was a difficult time for her, with her children gone and my father embroiled in an all-encompassing phase of his career, coming home late and distracted much of the time.

She would go on to engage her energies in life, friends, neighbors, travel and organizations, become a museum docent, and find new joys and passions. But my memories of that time in her life still haunt me.

This week, life has dropped a trail of crumbs that have me considering my own impending empty nest. Granted, my youngest is only 8, and we’re homeschooling, so it’s not coming any day soon — but it’s all tied up with the choices I am making today, this week, this year.

We spent last weekend at my grandma’s, celebrating her 91st birthday. It’s always like time travel for me, going back to the Michigan farm country where I spent my childhood summers and weekends. You could climb a tall tree in my grandma’s yard and see the house where my beloved great grandparents raised her, and the house she and my grandfather bought as newlyweds and raised my mother in, the farm where mom’s sister raised my cousins, the house where my uncle was born, three miles from where he live now, and the cemetary where generations of the family tree lie buried among civil war soldiers and the earliest founders of the town. People don’t stay in one place like that anymore.

Grandma has photo albums of gatherings over generations — backyard picnics like the one we had that day, but my now half-grown kids were the babies on the blanket in the shade. Then page back, I was the baby on the blanket… then my mother.. then my toddler grandma, in weathered sepia tones.

I came home kind of addled with the swirl of generations, the march of time and a flood of my own childhood memories. Then Tyler found a stack of old family movie videotapes, and spent an afternoon watching them. It was uncanny to come down the hall, unsuspecting, and hear my long-grown toddlers giggle, my baby cry, my little one saying, “Ma-ma?” and my own voice chattering back, unaware that a decade-later audience was listening in. There was little Tyler — (now almost 13, and an inch taller every month) — in his first “big boy bed”. There was little Molly in the fairy costume she wore every day for a while.

Those days seem like yesterday, and like a million years ago. I ached to hold those little warm sleeping bodies again, and at the same time, remembered the worries and doubts, the midnight fevers and conflicting parenting advice, and felt sorry for the younger, waddling, pregnant version of me. I wish I could send her a message, let her know that she was doing fine, and everyone would grow up healthy and smart and happy despite her concerns.

So I have been a bit nostalgic about how fast time passes.

Then, yesterday, they all packed their bags and left.

Every summer, Jeff and I spend a week at woodworking and clay workshops at Appalachian Center for Craft, in Tennessee. This year, though, we stayed home, saved our money for my tuition instead. But the kids were annoyed, and felt cheated out of the annual “week at the cottage with myna and papa”. So yesterday, my mom picked them up and they all headed for the lake.

And here I am. Alone.

I wake up in the morning with no Molly crawling into my bed for a morning snuggle and chat. The room I cleaned yesterday is still clean. I can spread out piles of kids’ lesson plans, bills and paperwork, and won’t have to scoop them off the table to make room for lunch. I can write this blog entry uninterrupted by kids showing me art projects, asking about math problems or tattling on each other.

So far, I just hate it. It’s completely quiet except for the rustlings of a mouse, a rat and a guinea pig who (and I may be projecting here) look as lonesome as I am. I have had one or the other of them in my lap or on my shoulder most of the morning.

Yesterday, I finally grabbed my car keys and fled. I could go to the bank without the usual argument about why I send the free suckers back in the vaccum tube, I could try on bras without one kid in the dressing room with me and two waiting on the bench. I called Jeff at work half a dozen times for no reason, just to hear a voice.

This is what I get, I suppose, for doing the traditional homeschooler eye-roll when other moms cheer about school starting again, and the kids finally getting out of their hair. This is my reminder – along with the trip to grandma’s, the home baby movies, and the alarming growth spurts of my children — that no matter how crazymaking the noise, mess and interruption of three kids may be, I will miss it when it’s gone.

And I will have to fill that space.

This is what my mother was saying, when she explained, “When I look back at my life, the time with little children was just a blink.”  It seems impossible, during the decade of midnight nursings, diapers, toddlers and not-a-minute-to-yourself, to remember life before babies, or imagine a life after.

This is what Diana Pancioli was saying, when she advised me to consider an MFA, to have at my disposal after my children are grown.

So here I go, ready or not.

As a teen, I was a pretty darn good slalom skier. The way I learned was to start out on two skis, perfectly balanced. (I am thinking now of one ski as “my mommy role” and the other ski as “my own pursuits”.)  

Right now – and for the next several years– I’m staying on both skis. But as my kids grow up and need me to back off a bit, and as my own skills and interests take over more of my energy, I’ll practice putting more weight on that me-ski, seeing if it can hold me up, all by itself.

Eventually, when my kids leave home, I can slip my foot out of that other ski and drop it. Eventually. When it’s time.

For the moment, though, I am melancholy. I’m feeling, as I have since childhood, the unfairness of the death of summer. My mom says I never wanted to go on to the next grade. I always wanted to go back to last year’s home room, the teacher I knew, my same old familiar desk.

Now my basil under cool grey clouds gives me a sense of urgency: make pesto, squirrel it away, dry tomatoes, prepare for winter. The boat-sized tennis shoes in the front room, the baby pajamas falling out of attic boxes when I look for sweaters, the Canada geese making practive V’s over the back yard — all sing a song about time rushing by, about sweet pea blossoms waiting for frost, and children entering the years when mommy can’t kiss it better or fix it with a band-aid.

I’m not sure if I am ready. For any of it. But it always makes me feel better, in fall, to do what my instinct remembers: work, gather, store, harvest, prepare.

Eleven days from now, I’ll begin gathering a degree. I’ll harvest information, store up technique and technology, work my hardest. What I am preparing for isn’t clear to me, but I feel like it’s a house without children in it. Or the quiet I often long for, only too much of it.

I’mpreparing for a future I can’t see, but will one day look back from, maybe reading my old worries,  wishing I could send a message back saying that everything would turn out OK.

 

 

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These are the daily ones. Dinner, treadmill, gather stuff to donate/recycle/pitch, and check the kids’school work. Weekly/monthly ones are described in the blather below.

Some nights Jeff or one of the kids will get the “cook dinner” tag, or dad will check the homeschool work because I’ll be at school. I just have these hung like this, for now, to make sure the rows of nails are spaced right.

Here’s my chore chart — or at least the beginning of it. It’s in the cork side of my kitchen cabinet where we just tore a wall out to build our sunroom on.

I ran out of nails ;0)

 

 

In two weeks, I go back to school.

It’s been 20 years since I last wandered around a college campus.  Now, at 45, I’ve made the impulsive, illogical decision to pursue an MFA in Ceramics, at Eastern Michigan University (45 miles North of here.).

My feelings about this whole plan are a roller coaster of excitement and regret, guilt and determination, self doubt and ambition.  So I am ignoring the whole emotional thing, for now, and focusing on the logistics.  Details of schedule, budget, meal plans and lesson plans help me maintain the illusion that I have some control over my life. I have come up with several tricks for keeping things organized, and right now, I’m using them all.

In the evening, when the kids are in bed, I sit with graph paper charting out days and hours and half hours, scout meetings and saxophone lessons, sports and robotics, lunches and seminars, drop offs and pick ups.  A page of graph paper, lengthwise, gives me just enough space for five people’s schedules, seven days a week.  I color in the blocks for dad at work, mom at school, and kids at grandma’s the day those blocks overlap.  They don’t really need to be colored in, but it makes me feel calm to fill in the hours with colored pencils, serene blues and cool greens.

I have had a chore chart for my kids that I have used for many years.  (It’s on my website, http://www.primalpotter.com  ).  It’s the disorganized, short-attention-span mom’s solution to sanity, and keeps me from having to remember to remind kids of a dozen chores each, in addition to where-the-hell-did-I-leave-my-car-keys and which-pile-of-papers-is-hiding-my-overdue-bills.  I don’t have to walk around nagging.  “Did you brush your teeth?  Go brush your teeth.  Did you feed your rabbit? Whose turn to empty the dishwasher?  Now did you feed your rabbit?  Go back and brush your teeth!”

Last night, I made a chore chart for myself.  Little round metal-edged paper key tags organize my daily and weekly chores, and are flipped over, when done, to expose the shiny star-stickers I have so lamented in my “celebrate-intrinsic-rewards” approach to homeschooling.  But I like my gold “daily” stars.  They mean I have walked a mile on the treadmill, sorted one box of random stuff in basement, closet or attic, looked over the kids’ homeschooling for the day, gathered a bag of outgrown stuff to donate, and pulled yet another dinner plan out of my hat.  I need a daily reminder to go down to the laundry mines and move that final batch of wash into the dryer before bedtime… my standing joke is that our thorough method of washing clothes includes a “ferment cycle”.

Other tags show up once a week.  On mondays I start a batch of yogurt, start alfalfa or broccoli seeds sprouting in a jar, feed two sourdough cultures, and write up the week’s dinner “specials”, restaurant style, in colored chalk on the kitchen cupboard door I have painted with blackboard paint.

One day is for planning menus and shopping, one day for banking and recycling, and the little tags on my chart will mean I don’t have to waste mental bandwidth trying to remember which is which.

Another gadget that makes my life worthwhile, besides graph paper and metal edged key tags, is the cheap Christmas tree light timer that plugs into an outlet and will turn on lights (or lamps, or whatever) at a pre-set time.

I plug my crock pot into one, set on low, and set the timer to turn it on at six in the morning. Then I give one of the kids a chore tag that says “set up oatmeal”.  I have little plastic storage boxes into which I have premeasured steel cut oats.  They dump one into the crock pot, then add whatever their little hearts desire: cinnamon and dried apples and raisins, nuts and dates, fruit juice, a can of peaches or pineapple, brown sugar or maple syrup. They each have their own “secret recipes”.  I have asked that yogurt, milk or cottage cheese not be stirred in until morning, though. Dried fruit soaks all night and raisins plump up delightfully.

We wake up to a wonderful smell, and breakfast is ready.  The only down side is cleaning the crock pot. Jeff brought me home thoseplastic bag liners, but I am sufficiently paranoid after reading about microwaved plastic and carcinogens that I have been hesitant to use them.

Today, I lined up my next happy invention: the bread machine boxes.  Maybe two years ago, when I first got my bread machine, I got “The Breadman’s Healthy Bread Book” and wrote my favorite recipes on ziploc bags.  Now they are written in Sharpie on the lids of those disposable/reusable plastic containers.  I wrote all the dry ingredients on the left side of the lid, the wet ones on the right, and then line up the boxes and the kids help me measure out flour, sesame seeds, gluten, whey, salt and so on, in all the boxes at once.  We snap on the lids, and there’s a week’s worth of daily fresh bread. When the kids have a “bread machine” tag on the chore chart, they just dump in a box, add wet ingredients, and push the button.

The only flaw in that plan was stickiness. Molasses, oil, honey, lecithin and malt syrups have a way of leaving little stickies all over the kitchen, fingers, and the chins of my little spoon-lickers. So today, I measured the oily/sticky stuff into little labeled jam jars, one to match each box. All that’s required now is water and yeast. And a monday tag for mom, reminding me to refill the bread boxes.

I don’t know how moms do it when they are not home during the day. I have a new respect for anyone who manages to feed kids healthy, fresh, frugal meals with a busy schedule. I’ve been making and freezing big batches of Cinci chili, pot pies, white bean and kale soup and other family favorites, like I did before my babies were born.  It always made me feel prepared, and created the illusion that life was ordered and under control, at a time when major changes were coming.

Only this time I know exactly when labor will begin. The first day of school for me is Monday, September 11th.