Of Mountains and Mud

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There is little snow on Minister Hill this winter, and part of me has been mourning the absence of sledding and snowshoeing.  The road down our hill is mostly mud now.  

Navigating the deep oozing ruts adds another five minutes to every little venture.  Today, though, even the sight of the nearly naked mountains rising up over the muck as I drove down the hill was enough to slow our trip to the ice rink even further.  If the road had been better, I would have worked harder to pilot and gawk at the same time, but the mud nearly forced me to a stop several times.  I snapped off a couple photos, figuring I would do a sketch while I watched the kids during school skate.  

We returned a few hours later to a road even more scarred from a wintry mix and other vehicles.  I was a few sketches richer.  Thing1, my twelve-year-old, increasingly pensive as he approaches adolescence, was cheerful after racing around a rink for two hours.  Thing2, my six-year-old whose normal state is chatter and dance, was nearly asleep from his exertions.  

The mud up our mountain, earlier the guardian of my mindfulness of the mountains, was now just another obstacle between us and home.  Thing1 began pointing out the least treacherous parts, and the car’s rumble seat imitation began to rouse my younger passenger in the back seat.  As we passed the horse farm that lies just below our driveway, the ruts in the muck became deep slick channels, and my only option was to keep accelerating and let the edges of the chasms help me find the least resistance.  

Ten feet later, as the swells in the silt became more navigable, I was glad I hadn’t had much for lunch.  I glanced at Thing1 who was now grinning and looking very twelve.  In the rear view mirror, I could see Thing2 continuing to bounce, even though the car had stopped.

“Can we go again?” he asked, knowing full well that we will be ‘going again’ tomorrow.  But tomorrow morning, when we head out on our slimy roller coaster ride, I’ll remember that, while the coasting has it’s appeal, the climb can be pretty fun too.

A Good Egg

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It was a little after 6 when my shift ended and I turned off the computer and emerged from my office into the family room. Thing2 was hanging out with the Big Guy on the couch while Thing1 listened to music on his iPod. Without thinking, I launched into my litany of reminders.

“Is your homework done?” I asked both boys.

“Yes.”

“Yes”

“Firewood in?” I asked Thing1, getting ready to remind him that if he wanted to earn money for this necessary chore he had to be completely responsible for the bin staying full.

“Yes, Mom.”

“Dishwasher emptied?”

“Yes, Mom.”

“Did you take Katy out?”

“Yes, Mom,” He didn’t bother to look up from his iPod at the last query, knowing he had stopped me in my tracks. He had but not for the reason he thought.

As I stirred the leftover stew on the wood stove, it hit me that my once slightly serious but still impish boy is evolving into a responsible young man. And, while I want to keep the real world from denting that bliss that exists in all of us when we’re ignorant of the world, I am also realizing that I may need to find a new nick name for my first born.

It’s been sightly less than a year since I introduced my kids to this blog with their nicknames – Thing1 and Thing2. At the time, I was searching for stories close to home, and my 12 and 6 year old’s antics provided much of my fodder as well as their blog names (I didn’t want to use their real names on a blog). Thing2 is still very much an imp, but he has acquired a second nickname over the year – SuperDude – as the joyful theatrics that characterize his age became more colorful and creative. Little impishness is obvious in Thing1 anymore, however, as he gets closer to the edge of his childhood.

He’ll be thirteen in August, and he’s been towering over me since before his last birthday, but the changes in him over the last year are more than just physical. Thing1 went through his joyful, leaping stage when he was six, and, when he’s hanging out with his brother, he is reminded that the joy and leaping still lurk beneath the surface. But Thing1 has always been a more deliberative child, and he seems to be continuing on that path, accepting new responsibilities with little complaint. In short, he’s a good egg.

We’re seeing some of the expected displays of independence and boundary testing, but, remembering how I put my own parents through the ringer as a teenager, I was – and still am – ready for much worse. For now, though, we seem to be enjoying calm. It will probably storm at some point, but rather than fear what I can’t foretell, I’m realizing I need to begin marking this next phase in my oldest son’s life. I know that, like the last twelve years, it will fly by, and how and what I write about the person he is now will play a huge part in keeping that time in my memory. It makes his new nickname all the more important.

Shiny Things

Forgetting for five minutes that my daylight hours are pretty well filled from dawn till dusk with blogging, parenting and work (cleaning is more of an annual event), I clicked on the bright pretty button and signed up for the workshop.  It’s an iPhonography workshop, and for five bucks, I figured even if I wash out, it was a good deal.

Once upon a time I was a fair photographer. I even shot a few weddings and children’s portraits.  But when Thing2 (now six) started toddling, I found that focusing a big, heavy SLR while keeping an adventurous two-year-old in check were not compatible activities.   My big, heavy SLR spent a lot of time in its bag, until, finally  I decided to trade it in for a point-and-shoot, which now sits mostly in a bag.  I do take my iPhone everywhere, however, and its primary advantage – aside from being always with me – is that neither kid has a clue when Mom is about to snap off a picture.

I don’t really have time for another class or hobby or any other activity, but I was feeling a little down when the shiny thing caught my eye and my imagination.  It may lead nowhere, but hopefully I’ll get better pictures of the kids out of the deal.  That’s definitely worth five bucks and a little more hectic schedule

Focus and Fog

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A few weeks ago I came out of the cave. Struggling to stay productive as my elaborate and expansive fantasy world beckoned, desperate for inspiration, I began to write about my writer’s ‘block’. It’s more of a cave sealed by a great iron door than a block. When I’m teetering on the edge of a serious depression as I do almost annually, I retreat behind the door. The world behind it is richer and provides a sustaining refuge when anxiety and despair grow, inflaming one another and consuming me. But, the escape is never without a cost, as my sister recently reminded me.

Fantasy is my mentally-induced coma. When I’m diving into it, I still function, holding up my end of the household. For most of my fantasy visit, the only lifeline out of that very deep and seductive pit is the knowledge that several someone else’s completely depend on my not letting go. But, even though I’ve never completely lost my grip on that line, I know that living at the back of my mind means I’m not fully living with the people I love.

There are pharmaceutical ‘cures’ and therapies for depression, but they, too, come with costs. Some – physical side effects, sluggishness, even increased risk of suicide – are printed on the label. But others are not so apparent.

The back of my cave is dark, but sometimes I think it also provides me with tremendous depth of field when I do look back out at the ‘real world’. It doesn’t allow for any filter all the events of the day and their implications intrude on my consciousness as soon as I venture outside my fantasy realm, and they are in sharp focus at every distance. Where my mania lets the popular media burn out disturbing details through overexposure, my depression cancels out the glare.

With tack-sharp clarity and all at once I can see a life that is finally unfolding as I always wanted – people to love, work to sustain us, and a physical refuge from the rest of the world – and the things that can undo it. I pass a rusting upturned oil drum on the banks of the Battenkill and wonder how much ooze still covers the rocks at the bottom of that river. How many parts per million now float in that water where my children cavort in the summer? How much of it seeps into our ground water? Our well must be safe. How much of our cleaning products get into our well? Are they really going to start fracking across the state line? Can we protect our own water? Do we have any say in it? How do people find the courage to take these on? I should be trying to write the next Silent Spring, and all I can come up with is posts about laundry. And that’s before I even turn on the news.

There have been times when my worries have taken me to a dangerous precipice, and after many years of walking to the edge and staring into the delicious dark, I learned from an observant aunt that there were alternatives to this routine. I began to explore Prozac, which was popular at the time, and for a short time, it worked. And then it didn’t. I tried others. And, while sometimes they could contain the chain reactions of my worries, they created a new nagging fear.

The new worry had nothing to do with the chest palpitations they produced but with the foggy filter they fit over my lens on the world. I began to sense the problems of the world less, but in the back of my mind, I knew they were still there. The fog didn’t help to resolve them anymore than the fear did, and I often wondered if its true function was to obscure my own cowardice when considering how to help solve those problems.

I’m working to barricade the door to my fantasy realm now. It stands in the way of my present and future. But it is only just behind me, and now as I wait for my mania to shine its white hot, distorting light on the world, its problems are still in sharp focus.  I know I don’t have the wherewithal or courage to be an agent of change, but as much as that clarity can be a curse, I’m still not sure the filter is a blessing either.

Sanity Sunday… or Not

Organization is not a hallmark of our family life, but over the years we have managed to stumble on a few rituals.  Lately, it’s been Taco Friday –  neither kid objects to it because they make it themselves.   When Mom is dieting it’s Meatless Monday (the diet almost always begins and ends on Monday).  Six-year-old Thing2’s addiction to Shake ‘n’ Bake means at least one night of the week is dedicated to pork chops.  Saturdays are dedicated to morning sports and breakfast at Bob’s Diner in Manchester, Vermont in the winter and dragging the kids to the latest free art exhibit in the summer.  Sundays have been a bit nebulous, however.

We’re not religious, so our Sunday mornings tend to be wide open.  Some weeks we head to back to the diner, other days the kids will ‘inspire’ the Big Guy to make corn cakes.  Yesterday, however, we thought we might have found on a new candidate for our Sunday routine.

Our boys, twelve and six and affectionately nicknamed Thing1 and Thing2 after the imps in Cat in the Hat, still share a room whose hamper not long ago acquired magical properties that prevent dirty clothes from entering.  A recent ruling by the Big Guy made indoor Dodge Ball with the smaller, ‘softer’ red ball in their toy box permissible, and now a carpet of clothes and dodgeball casualties litter the room.  Still, until Friday night, I had put the mess at a mere Defcon 4.  Level 4 usually causes a double-take when I walk by the room but doesn’t inspire me to intervene.  Friday, however getting from the door to the bunk bed for a goodnight kiss had become an act of death defiance, and I raised the alert to Defcon 2.   After a snuggle with Thing2 and an almost-deflected kiss for Thing1, I let them know it was time to engage in cleaning maneuvers before I had to go nuclear and clean everything OUT.

Hoping to encourage them to manage their own time a little and recognize that mother and maid are not interchangeable terms, I gave them the weekend to get the room presentable.  It didn’t have to be Grandma-and-Grandpa-are-coming clean, but the mess couldn’t just move under the bed either.  And I set a deadline – high noon on Sunday or there would be consequences.  There would also be no access to electronic media Sunday morning until the work was done.

Saturday morning we had basketball practice and went to breakfast.  The boys decided that was an iron-clad excuse not to clean in the morning.  They had a few hours in the afternoon, but decided to use it dawdling until we went out for a brief visit to friends.  By the time dinner rolled around, they had rationalized the entire day away.

By seven A.M. Sunday, the procrastination began to acquire heroic proportions.  Zero hour was approaching so they woke early and immediately began arguing about how to divvy up the work.  Between settling rounds, the Big Guy and I began quietly debating what the consequences should be.  Then, shortly after a breakfast of thoroughly-chewed cereal, the room at the end of the hall became eerily quiet.  I wondered if victory might be in our grasp as griping morphed into the sounds of things being picked up.

Then it stopped.  I got up to lay down some law but was stopped by the opening riff of ‘Ticket to Ride’.  The Big Guy is usually the source of homemade music, but his guitar was still in the utility room.  The radio was off, and as I got closer to the minefield, I realized that Thing1 must have rediscovered his guitar under a pile of clothes or toys.  I knew this was just another diversion on his part, but this was the first one that was remotely constructive.  Suddenly Thing2 bolted out of the room and into the utility room.  He emerged with his guitar and bounced over to the Big Guy.

“Daddy,” he breathed, “can you show me how to play that Beatles song?”  The Big Guy is always happy to pass on his love of all things Beatle to the boys, and obliged.  Thing2 disappeared into his room, and I sat down on the couch with my co-parent, marveling at how, deprived of all privileges and electronic entertainment these two had finally found something creative to do.

“I think we should make them do this every Sunday,” I said.  The Big Guy nodded, and we both listened to the chirping (Thing2) and picking (Thing1) in the other room.  For a few brief moments sanity reigned. We both agreed the noon deadline should still stand, and, for the moment, I thought we had found a new ritual.

Two minutes later the chirping stopped, and it wasn’t long before the picking ceased and cries of “You started it” resumed.  The Big Guy and I closed our eyes.  I think he was the first one to speak after an exasperated minute.

“So, how about the art museum next Sunday?” He said.