Going Solo: Single Parenthood, imagination, life lessons, Uncategorized

Slaughter Beach

This morning was a normal lazy Sunday. My daughter and I woke up, went downstairs, and made breakfast. As we ate it, we stared at the disaster that is our house. Toys on every square foot of the floor, a pile of dirty clothes and about four piles of clean ones that were folded but not put away. The dust in the house spread across the light coming in the window and my daughter pointed at it and said, “Look, Mommy! Those sparkles are dancing around in the sun rays.”

A responsible mom would have taken one look at all of this and dedicated the rest of the day to fixing it. Instead, I looked at my daughter and said, “What do you want to do today?” Her eyes grew wide and she looked up at me as if she had been waiting months for me to ask that. “I want to go play at the beach with all the pretty stones and I want to take Dane with us. He needs to go to the beach.” I looked at our poor old dog whose ears had perked up at the mention of his name. He is nearing 12, has terrible arthritis that has destroyed his hips, he is recovering from lyme disease, and he is blind. She’s right. He does need to go to the beach. Despite the fact that it is early November, it was actually a pretty warm day and kind of perfect for the beach. So, we packed up a lunch, a bucket, a towel, and puppy supplies and headed out on the road.

When we got to the beach, we walked pretty far from our car and set up a little private space on the sand. After laying everything out and getting comfy, my daughter told me that she urgently needed to pee. So, we packed everything back up, hiked back to the car by the bathhouse and regrouped. 30 minutes later, we headed back to our space and set everything up again. Bella started to play with her horses making them castles and corrals out of sand and I went right for my phone. After about 5 minutes on my phone, I put it down and looked out at my old dog and tiny daughter playing at the edge of the water. He was barking at the waves and she was laughing at him and telling him what the ocean was. The sun peaked out from the clouds and the only other sound we could hear was the lapping of the waves on the sand. The closest person to us was so far away they were only a speck and the only boats were all the way out on the horizon. I took a deep breath and just took it all in. I decided to be present for a moment and it took effort for me to do it.

I looked at my old dog and remembered the day I brought him home as a puppy and about all of the different houses and people we have lived in and with together. I remembered him putting his head on my belly as I had my first contractions. I felt that feeling of safety he gives me. He has protected me for almost 12 years and I will lose him soon. He barely gets out of the house or plays anymore, but today, he was like a pup again. He played with Bella and slept on the beach.

I looked at Bella and smiled as I thought about the fact that this amazing little person came from inside me. It’s so crazy!! I still don’t totally understand it. This little funny stubborn girl who thinks she is a horse, talks about horses, plays with horses, and wants to read horse books, started as a tiny little bean inside me. That smile that lights up a whole room is part of me. And that feeling I get when I get her something she wants, like a day at the beach, is like nothing I have ever felt before.

I looked at Slaughter Beach. This hidden place we found one day by chance. It is covered in multicolored rocks in every size that have been smoothed out by the ocean. Pieces of sea glass hide in the sand acting as great treasures to be found by little hands. Coral juts above the surface of the water collecting tiny creatures that are eaten up by the bouncing sandpipers in search for a snack. The beach is far enough in the bay that the waves are small and friendly to children and old dogs. The people are few and far between. Most are scavenging the beach for sea glass and stones or simply looking for a quiet place to relax. Everyone takes the time to stop and talk to each other as they pass. It’s as if we all share a secret because we know about this beach, so we are already old friends.  Dogs are welcome and often seen. What an incredible place. 

 

Once I forced myself to take this moment and focus on the present, I realized just how lucky I am and I was filled with gratefulness. It was a connection to the universe, a grounding, a sense of worth. I decided that except for taking photos, my phone would stay in my pocket. I chased and was chased by Bella down the beach, I went on a treasure hunt with her and helped her fill our bucket with sea glass, shells, crab parts, and various colored rocks. I splashed in the waves with her, shared a picnic lunch, and soaked up what may be the last warm sunny day of the season.

Like any day, we had our troubles throughout the day, but it was otherwise a perfect day

FullSizeRender (6)together. We came home to our filthy house and I realized that a responsible mom might clean the house on a day like today, but going to the beach, letting go a little, and just appreciating time with my daughter is just as responsible. My guess is that my daughter will remember our days at Slaughter Beach, but our messy, dirty house will probably soon be forgotten.

 

 

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gardening, imagination, life lessons, Uncategorized

Wick. 

For the past few months I have been going out to my garden in the evening, digging a hole, and filling it with food scraps. I try to go out at dusk when I still have a bit of light but am less likely to be seen by my neighbors. I am pretty certain many of them already think I am a little strange(an introvert in an extroverted neighborhood), so seeing me dig holes in my yard to bury the ends of my carrots and used coffee grinds would not help my current status. A while ago I read about the benefits of burying compost in your garden to improve the soil. I wrote an entire curriculum on composting for grad school, so I am not new to the concept, but I’ll admit I never thought of just digging holes and burying it. My soil is in bad shape, so I figured, “why not?” 

My garden, or backyard, is half the reason I bought my house. I want to live in the city, but only if I can have a piece of earth to play with. I lucked out finding a house close to center city, but not too close, with a yard that is the same square footage as my downstairs. I want this garden to be happy and healthy and full of flowers, herbs, vegetables, and fruit trees. I want bees and birds and butterflies to make their homes there. I want my daughter to grow up with a green thumb and a love for the outdoors.

When I moved here, the yard was full of waist high prickly weeds and random tools and trash left over from the remodel of my house. The first time I saw it, it was pouring rain and it looked like the yard had been neglected for years. I instantly fell in love. I looked at my realtor and he immediately knew as well as I did that this was the one. I looked at that muddy weed and trash covered yard and all I could see were the birds and butterflies dancing through the lush and healthy garden. I could already smell the lavender and fennel.

My first few months with the garden, I filled 10 or more bags of trash. Broken glass, rusty tools, parts of railroads, statues, dirty diapers, and a variety of broken toys and christmas ornaments were on or sticking out of the top layer of soil. I pulled all of the weeds and pulled them again when they came back. I had days when my arms were covered in scratches from thorns and the stench of old trash filled my nose. I threw out some of my gardening clothes and wore through 4 pairs of gloves. My daughter was strictly forbidden to enter the garden I so desperately wanted for her. By month six or seven, most of the weeds stopped coming back and grass and clover started covering the yard, random morning glories popped up, and birds started coming to my feeder. Still, the yard was mostly bare and after heavy rains, more trash would come to the surface and I would fill more bags with pieces of glass, plastic, Styrofoam, and metal. Sometimes I would come in crying and feeling hopeless that I would ever have a good healthy garden.

The thing is, I grew up watching and reading The Secret Garden knowing that you should never give up on a piece of earth. In the story, Dickon shows Mary a bud in the neglected garden and says it is “wick.” That is, it still has life. It is worth reviving and it will blossom again. Much like The Secret Garden, I heard stories of my yard once being lush and covered in rose bushes by a previous owner who is now gone. I like to think that she also once dreamed of a little piece of heaven in the backyard and the life that is left here is a little piece of her.

 

Each hole I dig is 8-12 inches deep. In some areas of the garden, I dig up a bucket full of soil with little else but happy worms and bugs. However, in some parts of the garden, I have uncovered entire foil chip bags, whole water bottles, tennis balls, plastic bags, whistles, broken glass, and coins. I get a little sick to my stomach at first. This trash is so deep, the only explanation is that someone along the way was literally burying trash. It wasn’t healthy kitchen scraps they buried, it was pollution. I think of my rural gardens growing up; rich clean Central Pennsylvanian and Alaskan soil. It is beyond me why anyone would want to tarnish that which gives us life. Why would they want to fill it with, well, poison? Then I remember that redemption always comes. It may take forever, but it comes. As sad and gross as it is to pull trash from deep beneath my soil, there is great satisfaction in sifting through it and replacing it with fresh watermelon rinds, eggshells, and avocado peels knowing that doing so with gradually clean and feed the soil so worms can prosper and my little piece of earth can produce and thrive once more.

 

 

And yes, there is a lesson in all of this that has not escaped me. My garden, once again, is mirroring my life. I am pulling out the rancid, poisonous things that haunt me and making room for fresh new life to spring forth. I am finding what is still wick and nurturing and caring for it so it will bloom again.

 

“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.” 

~Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

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Going Solo: Single Parenthood, imagination, life lessons, Uncategorized

Goodness.

Tonight when I told Bella it was time for bed, she grabbed her blankie, marched upstairs, brushed her teeth, and went to the potty. She did this all on her own.

She then asked if she could play quietly for a little while and if I would sit in her room with her and read while she played. I agreed.

She got out several sets of toys: her Montessori sorting bears, her Big Hero 6 figures, her construction truck, and her safari animals. I watched her and was stressing about the mess that would need to be cleaned up.

She played quietly for about 30 min. I told her it was getting late and she needed sleep. Without help, she carefully cleaned up each set of toys and put it back in the shelf. She then gave me a hug and kiss and climbed into bed.

Everyday I thank God for letting me be this child’s mother. Everyday as a parent has been a lesson. Many days have been extremely hard. Many have made me think that I am not made to be a parent and I am convinced that, like many things in my life, I am failing horribly at this. I didn’t always want kids. I was happy working with them and I was happy being an aunt, but I thought the responsibility of actually having my own was probably more than I could handle.

I often wish there was an instruction manual that would tell me how to do this right. I screw up. A lot. I’ve made my share of mistakes as a parent. For some of the bigger decisions I’ve had to make, there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t doubt whether I made the right choice.

This kid though, this beautiful vibrant miracle, she proves me wrong over and over. She defies the odds. She does the right thing. She loves and laughs and forgives constantly. She is brilliant and witty. She is creative and independent. She is so strong and brave and confident. She is growing up so quickly and does something everyday that amazes me.

Though I often doubt myself as a parent and quite frankly as a human, she is a constant reminder that I did and am doing something inherently good and right in this world. That, for me, right now, is all I need.

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gardening, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, imagination, life lessons, writing

My Daughter is a Horse.

My daughter is a horse. I don’t mean she eats like a horse or looks like a horse. I mean she is galloping around the living room on all fours shaking her head and neighing like a horse. She leaps from couch to coffee table pretending she is leaping over a canyon with a rider on her back. She will only tell me once that she is a “running horse” and then I must understand her. She will stay in character for up to 30 minutes sometimes. She remains focused and true to her character and never breaks. She has carefully studied hours of videos of horses and intently watched horses in real life to perfect her character.

At first I thought it was annoying when she wouldn’t talk to me while in character or that she watched so many horse videos. I kept thinking, “ Gah! I have a weird 3-year-old.” But then, as happens a lot now, I learned something from her. She doesn’t just say “I’m a horse” and then act silly around the living room. She commits. She studies. She will not break. She practices daily. She experiments with how a horse might move on steps or furniture. She reacts to our dog and cat as a horse might react to them. She pulls grass from our yard or on our walks and pretends it is hay for the horse to eat. Her focus and commitment is incredible.

I want to be a writer as much as my daughter wants to be a horse. The difference is I just say it, or don’t say it all but think it, and then I go about my business of doing everything except writing. I am just jumping around life being silly and not having any commitment to my passion. How many of us say we want to do something or be something and then fill our lives with silly things that have nothing to do with what we truly desire? When did we lose that sense of play and of really truly wanting to BECOME something. When we were children and played firemen or police officers or queens, we committed to those roles. We really believed we were those things and we gave it our all.

I recently visited the house I lived in in rural Alaska. We lived on roughly four acres of land in a mostly birch forest in a fairly tiny house. There was an old chicken coop on the property that my siblings and I had turned into a play house. My memories of this place ended at age 10 when we moved. I remembered a white birch forest where the trees almost glowed. I remembered our small patch of grass as a brilliant green and the trails through the woods leading into magical lands of adventure. The old chicken coop was massive and looked like the home of the fairy queen. At night, the Aurora Borealis would dance across the tops of the trees with every color of the rainbow and hiss and crackle at us and we stood below it in our pajamas and moon boots. We could see every star and planet in the galaxy. They were so close we could almost touch them. As an adult, I walked around our old property and everything was just brown. There are a scattering of birch trees, but other trees are there as well. The chicken coop was tiny and not the least bit magical. The place from my memory was nowhere to be found. When do we stop seeing the world as a magical place? When does it suddenly become cynical and ugly?FullSizeRender (5)

Life is magical to my daughter right now. She understands play and imagination. She looks at our mess of an urban back yard and calls it our “secret garden.” She finds the tiniest flower growing from the tiniest weed and jumps with joy screaming “momma, look a beautiful flower!! I’ll pick it so we can put it on our table.” My initial reaction is to protect her from the cynicism and ugliness that I see as an adult. As I have been observing her and recognizing my own sadness, however, I think I am going to take a different approach. Instead of trying to protect her, I’m going to let my imagination come back. I am going to welcome her with open arms. I am going to join my daughter as she neighs and gallops and I’m going to see the magic in our little backyard.
And then I’m going to write about it because that is what writers do.

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