seismic and other descriptors

This might have been the longest I’ve ever gone without offering something to this space. I kept thinking I would write when there was time. I would write something thorough and compelling, something that summed up this crazy time of transition: how joyful it has made me and how heartsick it has made me. Something that might be of service to me (in the writing) and you (in the reading). I feel like I have about a dozen posts to write and nothing to say at all. Full/empty. Elated/leveled.

I want to write about this of-the-body baby and what it is to love a child whose temperament is so different from mine: the mystery, the fear, the worry, the thrilling fascination. I want to document how he belly laughs when we read Red Hat, Green Hat, and how proud he is of himself when he signs “more please” and we understand him. How determined he is. How his determination alone could move great cities.

I want to write about Bram and his intense mind, how it works. How like me he is and how differently frightening that is.

To talk about both our boys’ easy affection and how grateful I am for that every day. “Kiss is this,” we say, like Dinah from Dinosaur Kisses.

About how I had childcare five days in a row last week (which will be rare), and though most days it was only for a few hours, it still felt seismic to be away so much. To know they were here – each with their current struggles and joys – with someone who isn’t me. How privileged and entitled I feel, and embarrassed for being hurt by this shift when I’ve had over three years of mostly.just.home. When even now I’m home way more than I’m not. When I’m one of the lucky ones, and I don’t ever forget it, or almost never. And yet.

And my job. How I love everything about it except that it takes me away. That I leave now. That I leave, and that even when I’m here my head is working sometimes, and I listen less closely, and time moves faster, and I’ve accidentally let in a new element of busy and I’m not sure how to get it back out again. And most of you know this with so much more depth than I do.

But oh, the work. The work itself. The architecture of the space is just pretty. And the people are honest and devout and free with grace in a way that I wouldn’t have even believed possible. And the work is challenging and soul-feeding and dynamic in ways that use most of me (head, heart, spirit, body, artist’s soul that I’m not sure I even knew I had). And I sit down sometimes, which – after three and a half years of all-the-time parenting – feels deeply indulgent. I can read an article. I can pee when I want. I can get another cup of coffee and set it anywhere because no one will spill it and hurt themselves. I can walk into the sanctuary any time. Be alone in that sacred space. I do sacred work, which is so like the sacred work I’ve been doing these years – it is, it seems, another form of motherhood – but which is also expansive, somehow wide, with space to breath. Because parenting when they’re little, when it’s all the time: there’s no space to breath. But breathing this way hurts after all this time. I want it; I don’t want it. I am equal parts grateful and grieving. It’s feels like a betrayal. Like a gift straight from God.

For everything I learn (and there’s so much to learn. And I love every bit of it.) I feel the weight of what I haven’t learned about Bram. About Lou. About being a mother. I know plenty of men do this too, I do, but often lately I am just in awe of women. Of women, who have long had servant’s hearts. Who have served, and mothered, and given. I cooked Indian food for seventy-five parishioners this week. I am entrusted with the responsibility of helping young children know God. Understand not what our culture thinks of Jesus, but what his deeply radical message really was. And how to pray. And how not to neglect their spiritual selves. How to revere and also just enjoy. How to give thanks.

I write curriculum. I read from the Revised Common Lectionary. I read from the Bible. I read complex theology, and biblical history, and children’s books on prayer. I read them alone in the only solo office I’ve ever had. In the prettiest office. I read them with Bram, whose spiritual and religious curiosity seems boundless. I teach children about liturgy. Teach them to say the words they hear again and again, and how to love the power of the ritual: of offering another human bread. The body of Christ; the bread of heaven. What it means to say amen. I work in a building with wall-sized stained glass. With old pews and old crosses where people have come for generations. People who know things I’m too young to understand. There is little noblesse oblige: that old idea of charity that I dislike so much. It’s not about charity, but there is so much service. No locked doors. No stipulations to the help we give. Few boundaries on what we can offer if we feel called to offer it. I was built for this work. But that fact is strange, and unsettling, and confusing to process. And Lou says “bye-bye” when I leave with the sweetest (almost southern, almost feminine) voice. And it feels like every day now Bram says something that levels me in its comprehension. In its kindness and its depth. In its just plain seeing of the world.

Oh, and we’re selling our little cottage. You know me: I’ll probably handle that transition pretty gracefully, right?

11156119_10153111935377870_7688619711775839393_n

11193393_10153158270797870_8642292914126361861_n

11167662_10153158270892870_349996704821067552_n

.ch-ch-ch-changes.

Hello, gentle readers. We’ve been away for a few weeks dealing with some major sick and some major changes. I feel like I’ve shirked writing about four disparate posts, which I will now (probably not that successfully), attempt to coalesce into one:

Oh, the sick. I’m feeling at about 75% today, which in sick speak means that the skies have opened up, birds are singing, and I’m kicking up my heels. We’ve had a real fight of it lately. Louis first came down with some sort of RSV/flu awfulness about three weeks ago, which wound us up in the ER with high fevers that weren’t responding to medication. Subsequent to that, he wound up on his first ever antibiotic for persistent ear infection. And just like his brother before him, he broke out in head to toe amoxicillin rash on day eight of his ten day course. Fun. This was to be followed by another 72 hours of high fevers, sweats, and weight loss. Yesterday’s sick baby visit revealed a severe throat infection, a sinus infection, and an upper chest infection. They put him on a baby azithromycin, which seems to be working well. He’s back among the land of the upright and fussy today! All the while this has been going on, R has had four different bugs (72-hour stomach flu, upper respiratory virus, and two secondary bacterial infections), which have spelled eight days of fever. This was further complicated by the changes I’ll tell you about next. I also had a nasty chest infection (thanks, Zpack!) and Bram fevered for a few days and was out of school this week. I detest being sick. Having sick babies makes me a kind of anxious parent that I am loathe to be. I will be so grateful to have us all back to total health very soon. And I am feeling so much love and compassion for the many parents in our lives whose health cannot be counted upon to rebound quickly (theirs or their children’s). We are a very lucky family (in so many ways).

The wife I should have been during the sick:

121ae22c7aa0c3e31b3fe21c2bfa90bbVersus the wife I was during the sick:

wicked-witch-margaret-hamilton-1

I’ll try to do better next go around, which, I pray, is a very long time from now.

So, to the changes underfoot. We have good news! R got a new job! I’m sure she’ll like to be the one to tell you all about it, but I’ll give a brief run-down. We’ve been attending a church that we simply adore for about six months now. This comes after many years of trying and failing to find the right long-term spiritual home for our family. Very recently, an opening came up for the job of Formation Minister at the church, and R’s hat was quickly thrown into the ring. At this point, it’s a thirty-hour/week one-year commitment. However, it has the potential to become a permanent position, which we should know more about over the coming year. The work is rewarding and will really tap into R’s amazing skills as a teacher, a scholar, and a community-builder. The hours are very flexible, so R will still be the boysies’ primary caregiver (with some additional in-home care). And the pay will make a massive impact on our family’s financial picture, which will give me the gift of discernment as to my next career move(s). It’s all come about very quickly, though, and in the midst of the aforementioned sick, so it’s been a deeply intense and exhausting couple of weeks. I am so very proud of my smarty-pants wife. I just know that she’s going to rock this opportunity and that the church is lucky to have someone so talented in this role!

In the midst of all of this, our beloved Bluebird turned one on March 23rd!!! He’s nearly twenty pounds of sweet, grinning, snuggly energy. I swear this child just hurls himself into every experience in life. Whether it’s almost taking an eye out going in for a hug, racing his brother up the stairs, playing “what happens if I poke the cat here?” or “how many nondescript items from the floor can I fit in my mouth at once?” (his personal favorite), he’s always living his life fully present and engaged. It’s been hard to see him who is ordinarily so rambunctious and opinionated be so muted by illness. I’m glad to see him feisting back up again! We kept his birthday low-key this year and enjoyed a series of fun family outings just the four of us (the museum, a special lunch, and frozen yogurt).

Happiest of birthday, our gorgeous Louis Nathaniel!

IMAG0030In the big brother Bram department, things are going quite well. He’s recently begun to spontaneously read and write. While we’ve certainly been working with him on the underlying skills (along with his preschool teachers), the actual execution of the process has been like the flipping of a switch for him. It’s an amazing thing to watch unfold. He’s also been singing with a small children’s choir at church, which he loves. And he’s is still nursing about once a day (sometimes twice, sometimes none). I could never have expected to still be nursing at three years old, but the farther along we’ve gone, the more I can see that, for us (everyone totally needs to decide what’s right for their family), this is a relationship that needs to end on mutually beneficial terms. I trust that he’ll know when it’s the right time. And if that’s too long for me, then there are ways to encourage closure for the both of us. Still, it is so cool to see how nursing has evolved to fit into his big-kid persona. I think nursing is a real touch point for him still, like an old friend. I am grateful and blessed to be able to still provide that comfort to him as he grows and changes on every level.

He loves “milky pads” (the washable nursing pads that I wear). They are like a nursing prize to him and he’ll carry them with him throughout the evening after he’s nursed. I caught this picture of him working in the yard last night with his “milky pad” in his back pocket. IMAG0067_1IMAG0054

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.

10991309_939715582455_3387151843475128860_n

.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:

10407092_10152913586557870_232310595583487034_n

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.

10933924_10152918627697870_8649519048300651612_n

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.

10501834_10152906745187870_9117358140987021797_n

10404214_10152906774382870_5568520349397924240_n

10922713_10152911878772870_5946208740571492181_n

10888360_10152906751887870_8517869338795972429_n