discernment and dreams and maybe some madness

I got a doctorate before figuring out that my strongest calling is to raise a family. We had to live in this town a long time before we felt anything like certainty that this was our home. And on the relationship front? Before we met each other? Well, let’s just say that we both made decisions that lacked wisdom. My guess is that most (all?) of us feel this way. No matter how clean it looks from the outside, finding one’s way must usually feel like a complicated, experimental mess full of failures and missteps and confusion. That’s one of the things that’s been such a blessing about this space: how much it has (you have) helped me sort out the mess.

Because I have learned this about myself, I’ve been wondering a lot about discernment lately, praying about it and wondering. But it finally occurred to me that this time, I actually think I have it. This time, things feel sort of clear. Only here’s the funny thing: I think they also seem a little nuts. A bit absurd. Out there. Wackadoodle as (for some reason) Bram likes to say. What’s been holding me back is not a lack of discernment but a fear of being misunderstood and questioned and assumed to be crazy.

I mean, in less than half a year’s time, we have fallen in love with an Episcopal church, with (I can only imagine how laughable this seems to lots of our academic friends) God, and with the service to which we feel newly called. I have fallen in love with my wife, again, on the other side of breaking apart to make space for a new family member. And I have fallen in love with the possibility of homeschooling.

There’s a lot to write about the God piece, but I feel bumbling and inept when I try, so I guess I’m not ready yet. But the homeschooling? It is thrilling to consider. I find myself daydreaming about things we could do.learn.explore.build.create.discover. Daydreaming and smiling a lot of the time. In February. In Michigan. Which you have to know is saying something.

Learning has never been anything but deeply pleasurable, inspiring, and delightful to Bram, and I feel overwhelmingly protective of that privilege. We’ve recently cut B back to just three mornings a week of Montessori preschool because we all just thrive when the pace stays slow. So cutting way back – and next year taking the formality of school completely out of the equation – could mean that when we’re really focused on reading, or letter work, or puzzles, or storytelling, or drawing, or building, or just PLAY, we can do whatever it is until it’s natural to stop. The days when we pull that off – when we’re just not on a schedule – bring us few meltdowns and lots and lots of belly laughs and glee. And sleep (the boys wake up on their own every day, so they’re well rested). And food (which deserves its own post). And interests. Can I tell you how much Bram’s interests are not mine? And not J’s? He has no pop culture under his belt (I mean, I think he thinks that Johnny Cash and Pete Seeger and Jesus and Harold (with his purple crayon) are the world’s biggest celebrities). He asks everyone who enters our home (with absolute adoration): “Have you read Journey and Quest??” Right now we’re reading Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories and he is over the moon about Haroun, and Rashid the Ocean of Notions, and Butt the Hoopoe, and Iff the Water Genie. When he’s into something – whatever it is – he is all in: he wants to draw it, perform it, read about it, create new stories about it, ask questions about it. He never tires. So my sense is that he’s well suited to a kind of unschooling model in which we can immerse ourselves for a week or a month or two months into whatever it is: instruments, or American folk history, or geography, or oceans, or carpentry. Even broad topics like quests and fencing and stained glass and God.

I have this dream. We homeschool. Three kids. Jax teaches them French and money management and political geography. All kinds of other things. I teach, well, whatever we want to learn about. Whatever. We take community classes when they come available: we learn plumbing and electrician work and construction. We learn about solar panels. We build small things. And when each kid is around fifteen, the whole family builds them a tiny house. A small home on a trailer. We build the whole thing. We just: we buy the wood and we build. And when they go off to college, or to live off the land in North Dakota, or to learn a trade like farming, or even to travel for whole months at a time? They just take their home with them. A place they built. And all the knowledge of how to build. And the confidence of being people who can build. And the memories of growing up a family that let them see all of that about themselves, that discovered it alongside them. They live rent-free until they’re ready for a home. They could get through grad school only paying a small fee to park the thing in someone’s back yard. They could be that much nearer self-sufficiency in case the world, or this country, or their own peculiarity ever required them to be. It’s a nice dream. And life doesn’t usually play out the way we think it will, but this one feels worth at least walking towards with a big heart and plenty of hope, doesn’t it? I mean, even if it seems like I’ve gone a little mad?

.on children.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

Growing up, I had a copy of Kahlil Gibran’s poetry/meditations collection, The Prophet. I always found his writing a bit too sentimental for my tastes, but I’ve recently returned to his poem, “On Children” by way of the all-female African-American a cappella performance group, Sweet Honey and the Rock. The truth of these words and the ache of the inevitable (and necessary) disconnects between parent and child have been weighing heavily on my heart of late. I’m not sure if it’s the blossoming independence (of movement, of thought) of three, or if I’m in a more sentimental place in my own heart, but I can’t quite hear this without “big emotions” (as Bram would say).

May I be the best version of my “bow” for the best of these, my arrows.

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.mid-february update.

So I’ve been a bit AWOL as of late. I think I’m mostly done licking my wounds around not getting the most recent position I was up for. I understand why the committee made the choice they did and I would have made the same decision were I in their shoes. It still leaves us in an economic hole, but at least it doesn’t register as a personal affront. Things are tight, very tight, and they’ve been that way for a while now. So when I let myself down the rabbit hole of “when is this going to happen for us?” it can get bleak up in my mental landscape. Most of the time, though, I trust the process, know that I am lucky to have a full-time job while I’m looking, and keep putting myself out there (over and over and over again). I used to say it was like riding a horse, but now I think it’s more like riding an angry ostrich (those things are mean!).

Our kids are a pretty cool antidote to all of the career worries, though. Louis is going to be one next month!?! How in the world did that happen so fast? He’s cruising all around (though no independent walking yet). He’s starting a few words: “mama” and “hi” and I swear I got a (p)”omo” out of him the other day! He loves to rub his head against us (like a cat marking its scent). And he adores games of peek-a-boo, which will send him into squeals of giggles. Seriously, this baby is just the level-best. He smells good, he’s still bald, he nurses all.night.long, and he will eat anything you put in front of him. I mean anything. He’s like Mikey from the old Life commercials, or maybe a billy goat. Take your pick.

Three-year old Bram is a rollercoaster of emotions for all involved. The spontaneity of his sweetness, empathy, and physical affection is enough to just bowl me over sometimes. Last night, we were pretending to be on a fishing expedition in the ocean. I secretly dressed up as the Loch Ness monster. Then, instead of trying to eat anyone, I sang a sad song about not having any friends. To this, Bram burst into actual tears and gave me a HUGE bear hug and said that he would be my friend. This is the second time that one of my made-up silly songs has sent him into tears of empathy. That kid. Love him. And just to be crystal clear, this is the same kid that had a thirty minute temper tantrum (involving growling and hysterical crying) in the middle of the night last night, too. And he’s still v.e.r.y. sensitive to sugar. They had a juice snack at school yesterday for their Valentine’s Day celebration, and he proceeded to come home and flip the f%$# out on our lunch guests. I’m sure some people think we’re crazy or over-protective to say he’s “sugar sensitive,” but the difference in his behavior is like night and day. As an adult, it’s so telling about the way that sugar lights up our brains like a drug. I hope we’re able to communicate health and moderation around this as he grows and is making his own food choices.

We’ve also got a big post that we need to write soon about some major shifts in our thinking about homeschooling. It’s been a possibility swirling around for the last year or so, but we’ve started talking and researching with some specificity lately. To be clear, we love the part-time preschool that Bram has been at this year, but it’s not going to be a long-term choice for our family (mostly from a financial standpoint). And we have some real interest and desire to take a more intimate and active role in the boysies’ education. We’re weighing our options and making a game plan. Like I said, more soon…

small deaths and resurrections

Maybe it’s my age.

Maybe it’s these small children and their unequaled talent for making every day (hour. moment.) a roller coaster. No better metaphor for the soaring, giddy love and the stomach-dropping worry (and none more haunting for me, lover of the ground).

Maybe it’s the narratives of Christ newly at work in my mind and my heart.

But whatever it is: all I see, everywhere around me, is life as a series of tiny deaths and resurrections.

Friendships that collapse under the weight of too-different lived realities and selfishness and small failures of heart and word, only to swell and rise again in surprisingly sweet ways.

Hopes for hard-earned dream jobs vanishing in a phone call and taking self-worth with them as they disappear. New – smaller, humbler – hopes rising in the bruised places that remain. Hopes that hurt to the touch, that make you wince, and yet.

Feeling like you must be doing something wrong raising your sons because: why are they so violent? Sword, stick, mean guys, hunters. From whence – in my quiet, simple, peaceful home – does this come, this obvious failure, this obvious failure of mine. And then a call. A book on its way. A setting down of old narratives (always) and an embracing of what is and must always have been: an attraction for power that I cannot feel but that I must make space for. That I must, even, love. And then I do, suddenly. Love.

The ebbflowebbflowebbflow of marriage. Marriage with young children. Marriage, which dies. Marriage which is miraculously reborn in a look or a letter or twenty minutes, finally, of eye contact and a shared blanket. Not a trip or a date or a romantic gesture, but a shared blanket and a little bit of truth. Marriage, which is sweeter than I could have guessed, not in spite of the deaths, but for them. Not less sweet, but sweeter, though also so much like a bruise. Like the place in my spine, my mid-back, that is always sore to the touch, but which I long to have touched.

Defeat. Triumph. They come hourly. They go. They stay, some of them, layering on top of one another until they form a mountain on which you stand, often feeling alone. A mountain from which the world just looks different. Not better or worse, but so different.

Another year in this humble gift of a house with the snow piled up outside and the sun shining. Shining today. More liminality, and another chance to learn to accept it as the only thing that won’t ever go. Dreams clung to. Dreams discarded. Dreams wrenched away. Dreams you never would have thought you’d dream rising into your heart and surprising your mind. Making you smile. Making it all new again. Scaring you again.

Boys that belly laugh and boys that hit and boys that cry and boys that kiss. Heartbreak and gratitude at turns. At once. The work of trying to notice. To just notice. To die and come back again and just notice.

dream chasing and a Bramble-Bug turns three

Ten comments to my existential-crisis-post of last week. Ten thoughtful, wise, loving comments. Thank you for that; you are deeply wonderful. Even the fact that – with your busy lives and your kiddos and your not enough time – you take the time to READ these meanderings is a gift.

Anyway, many of you are saying: do the community work. And that’s full of wisdom. My only thing is: I really don’t multitask well. At all well. When I have lots of little two- to three-hour things to do in a week – hell, when I have even two of them – I feel distracted. And when I feel distracted, I am not my wholly present self. And when I’m not my wholly present self, I panic. And I feel like I’m failing everyone. I don’t know how working parents do it. Even my wife: I watch her and how she moves in and out of roles and I feel at once impressed and disoriented. It took me a long time to see this part of myself – and even longer to stop judging it – but there it is: I lack a certain fortitude when it comes to balance. And hear this: I know what a privilege it is even to KNOW this about myself. It means that I’ve been allowed to step back. To do one thing at a time. It means that others have taken up the slack for me: in money making, in activism, in life. It is an indulgence. But I am easily knocked off my game, and I am scared of taking on a two-year responsibility that could chip away at my already shoddy equilibrium. So I’m not sure. But I have one more week to decide. At any rate, your comments warmed me. And lots of them made me laugh, as when a mama over at Queer Conceptional said “you sound like the sort of person who gets satisfaction out of the chasing of dreams, and there is value in that.” Yes: the thing I’ve most learned about myself through this journey of parenthood: I lack practicality. For better or worse – and make no mistake, it’s often for worse – we are dream chasers. J is better at covering that in herself than I am, but I sometimes think we’re unfit for practical life. But we’ll see. I’ll read your comments through a few more dozen times.

In terms of chasing dreams: we have a three-year-old KID in our house now. Yesterday was January 19th. A big big day in our little little house (Emmett Ever in 2011 and Abram Adrien in 2012, of course). It came on the heels of J taking part in a three-day anti-racism training. I hope (hope pray hope) she’ll write about that here soon. My mom spent the weekend with me and the boys (such a joy, and SO generous of her). B’s party is next weekend – I’m making these for a small gathering of our most beloved locals; we’ll all build snow-creatures outside before coming in to eat them – so this weekend and his actual birthday were all pretty low-key (a good thing since we’re all lousy with head colds). B had his first-ever Montessori walk around the sun on Friday, and we all got to watch. He was just pure light from being so happy. Then my mom gave B an incredible set of liquid watercolors (thanks so much for the recommendation, Erica!), and we spent the bulk of the weekend creating. Here are a couple of process and outcome photos; more to come on these, and why you should invest in them if you can at all.

Their first experiment:

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The hearts we made with glue, salt, and watercolors: the big Bram-Bubbie-Mama work of the weekend. B will spend the next few weeks writing his name on the back of each of these, and then we’ll use them as Valentines. I am in love with each one, and with the memories I have of watching my mom and son make them.

photo 2

photo 1

And here’s a photo of what our birthday kiddo saw when he came downstairs yesterday: a handmade banner, a Winnie the Pooh balloon, and the magical dollhouse that came to him courtesy of his Grandmom (J’s mom), his Pomo, and his Mama. It used to belong to our most beloved children’s librarian (Mr. Bill. You’ve probably heard of him. He must be quite famous.) which makes it doubly wonderful. We have somehow amassed nineteen dolls to live in this two bedroom house, so J has taken it to calling it the “Lesbian Duggar House.” She is (adorably) less reverential than me.

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Anyway, Bram is three. Lou will be one before we know it. J knows even more about the catastrophe that is American racism, but she is all kinds of fired up to use (and sometimes silence) her voice in the service of ending it. These head colds won’t last forever. I thought I was too sick to keep caring (alone) for these kiddos today, but then B went to school and I had a meltdown from missing him. They are nice, these reminders that you’re right where you should be. I look forward to the day when we can do really meaningful service work with the boys on MLK Day, and I think it’s magical that sometimes B’s birthday will fall on that day. And we get to share our lives with these boys. These brothers, who are ever learning. I just can’t begin to understand the grace of it all.

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nostalgia

Nostalgia: “A sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past.” Or, if you’re me today, for television shows that ended. (The West Wing.) For graduate school. (Course work, coffee, days buried in novels, dinners with smart, smart friends.) For career paths not taken, but imagined and then cast aside. Nostalgia to the point of panic.

Does this ever happen to you? Is it my Achilles heel, this oversentimentalization?

How do you know you’re making the right choices?

Sometimes I think I should have been a speech writer for Bartlet. Or, you know. Obama. That I’m smart enough. That if I had just known early enough. Sometimes the shine I see on my (truly gorgeous) life falls away and I think: I’m wasting it.

Because who finishes a PhD and then jumps ship to change diapers all day and try to pry open frozen 2001 van doors in -10 degree weather?

And because yesterday, Bram told me he was mad at me for not making milkies. He wanted to nurse and J wasn’t here.

And because my house is cold and my activism is so local it rarely makes it out my front door.

Most days I think: this is activism. Nurturing, deep nurturing. In this world: that is activism. But today I wonder how it would feel to draft language for the State of the Union. To feel important to someone with the language skills and the comprehension needed to express that importance. It is absurd, but there it is.

I have a couple of options for the next year or two, but I don’t have time for both. You tell me what to do.

Option 1. I’ve been encouraged to run for the position of communication’s officer in my union. It has a stipend that might, just barely, cover the few hours of childcare I would need to pull it off. It would give me the chance to spend three solo hours working at a coffee shop a week (when school’s in session). It would be one way back in to a form of activism (organizing) that I believe in. And it would allow me to connect with people in the community who might have suggestions to offer when, one day, I find myself ready for a full-time career again.

But Option 2. A few months back, I started a novel. And I haven’t gotten very far yet because: No childcare. Short naps. Teaching. The short hours between their bedtime and when I stop functioning are already too full, and I don’t multitask well. At all. What I have, though, is an instinct that it’s worth writing. That it’s a story worth telling. And that I’m the person to tell it. In a perfect world, J would find the right new job, and I would sit a couple of semesters out from teaching, and I would try. Try to write it. Get it out there. See what comes. Which may, of course, be nothing. But which may be a whole new path. Which could – even if only in the most remote of possible future worlds – lead to me being a writer. Of novels. A mama and a writer. A person who didn’t forsake her career to raise babies, but who faithfully put that career on hold and found – lo! – that all along the thing she was supposed to do was just waiting patiently for her to arrive.

But there’s no tiny stipend to that. No money for a sitter. And it won’t help me network. And it will only be of service if anyone ever reads it, and there is every likelihood that no one ever will.

And I don’t multitask well, so I know that I need to choose.

What would you do? I mean, if the job of Toby Ziegler was already taken. What would you do if you were me?

let’s hear it for the boy.

Our youngest son is nine and a half months. And I remember this from his brother: nine and a half months bears some new resemblance to personhood.

For awhile, I thought I had loved B sooner than I loved Lou, but that’s not it. It’s that with Bram, I loved motherhood. I was falling in love with motherhood. And that was new. But it still took awhile to understand the canyon-deep love that is parenthood because to love someone canyon-deep, to love them middle-earth-deep, you have to know them. And that takes time.

At three years, that is clear. At three years, loving right down to your child’s marrow is easier than breathing. Easier than breathing.

But now, at nine months with my youngest child, the canyon-deep is coming.

To wit:

Until recently, I was content to surrender Louis to J for the nights: I hold him all day. He is yours now. But now, I climb into bed and reach for his hand. Now all day isn’t enough. Now there is no enough. Already. And instead of thinking why did this take me so long I think how magical must the Bluebird be to have me here already. 

So here’s to second children. Loving them is all about them because the you part is already sorted. Loving them is just as canyon-deep, and seeing them is just as sweet. Maybe sweeter because it’s all about them. Louis did not make me a mother; he made me his mother. His mother, who gets to notice things first (alongside J, of course).

Who gets to know how much he loves foot rubs.

And that he loves to have his hands held.

And that when you say his name he lights up with his whole body, as if the very creator of the universe were holding him close. As if no one has ever felt more loved.

That if you say his name from across a room he will catapult himself towards you.

That he loves to crawl with something in his hand such that whatever it is thuds loudly against the floor with each forward gesture. That the thud of the forward gesture brings him glee.

That a thousand moments a day bring him glee.

That when he drops something he gasps and raises his hands in a gesture of panicked surrender. Of surprise.

That he is infinitely surprisable. That nothing is already expected by this child. That everything is a gift, and so new. That everything is treasured.

Made of gratitude, this one, and delighted to be here. And oh to be near him. To be near him is to be led by his tiny hands to the sweetest of things.

To second children, who bring their own magic in their own time. To my second child, who pulls his mouth to mine and belly-laughs into a kiss. Middle-earth-deep, you joyful soul.

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