Thursday, September 11, 2014

a family is everybody all together

Gabriel explained to some dear friends who were over for dinner recently that Beatrice's favorite time of the day is dinnertime, and her favorite part of dinnertime is when we all hold hands and sing the Johnny Appleseed grace. She smiles, slowly scanning every face at the table, and when it is over she punctuates the song with a joyful Ah-men! 
Tonight, just before bedtime, I was carrying Beatrice to say night-night to Gabriel in the kitchen, when we passed my phone sitting on the counter. I noticed Beatrice look at it and could hear the wheels turning in her head. 

Would you like to say night-night to Gramma, too, Beatrice?

Yeah, she replied. Call Gramma, call Gramma, say night-night, night-night Gramma, night-night Bardolf!

She has only Facetimed my mom, so somehow the phone is like a magical portal to Gramma. But Gramma is in Ashland and was probably finishing up a matinee at the Shakespeare Festival when we called, so she didn't pick up. Beatrice looked crestfallen watching her own disappointed face in the phone, listening to the relentless ring that refused to end with Gramma's face.

You know Beatrice, I told her, we can call Grammy and Poppy on my phone, too.

Grammy! Poppy! Call Poppy! Say night-night Poppy!

So we did. His wireless connection was not so hot; it was short and sweet. Then Beatrice said goodnight to Frances and Michael, then we went into her peaceful darkened room, where she looked at me expectantly: Nurse, Mama.

She falls into position, so sleepy and happy. Do I love this time of day? Oh, I do. Every night at this point I say, would you like me to sing a song? And she grins blissfully and snuggles closer and sings-talks in response: vatetrain vatetrain, which means Freight Train Freight Train, which she has insisted on for her bedtime song ever since she first heard me sing it many weeks ago, which sometimes makes me sad because our song used to be Wild Mountain Thyme - which I think suits her perfectly - but she was adamant.

It's okay, I love Freight Train too. I sing it Elizabeth Mitchell-style, and sing about all the places I would like us to visit, or the places we love, or the places we are considering for Mike's sabbatical next year, or the places in the world I am so sad for. Going to Syria, going so fast. Going to Liberia, going so fast. 
But tonight I would begin singing, then she'd pull off and look up at me and say Gramma? Soon?

Yes, we'll see her soon.

Poppy? Grammy? Soon. 

Yes, we'll see them soon too.

And then ... back to the song and nursing. But then, a few moments later: tell Poppy ah ruv you. Ah ruv you.

Yes, he loves you too.

A few moments later: See Bardolf? Soon. See Bardolf soon.
Does she even like Bardolf? Last time my mom's labradoodle was here she spent a lot of time looking at him sternly and reprimanding No Bardolf, no no. But he's part of her family. And Beatrice is a connector, a lover of gatherings, a small person who is happiest in the heart of her family, when everybody is all together.
Oh Beatrice! I like it too. I like how much you like it. You help us all to see just how precious it is.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


 Beatrice loves to draw. She loves to draw all over everything.
She consistently identifies yellow and purple, and sometimes green, and every time I nearly jump up and down applauding, I am so delighted by her learning. We all are; she is in the midst of a magic, golden age. We hardly notice the hard behavioral stuff because we are so taken with her new compentencies, which she seems to aquire by the hour and is in turn delighted by, and then again, she is delighted by our delight. Back, forth, back, forth, so many grins erupt in our family every time she strings together a little proto sentence. Papa, read me! Look, Mama, I draw! What a great system.
So this is one of her new favorite places to be: standing at the kitchen table, preferably alongside her siblings, which allows her a sense of comraderie as well as the occasional opportunity to reach over and mess up whatever they are working on. 

She even likes to stand there and draw while I make dinner, which is a miracle that I should be thanking God profusely for. But sometimes I hardly notice, because at that hour the kitchen can feel like a maelstrom. The quiet sensory pleasures of simmering rice and chopping vegetables cannot compete with the nonstop voices, the flare ups of competition, the constant need for my attention. Eventually Beatrice joins in the action. I've been at work, they've been at school; they haven't seen me all day. I have to listen to what happened at gym, see what's under this Band Aid, look at how amazingly this top spins. Now. I wonder how many times I hear a plaintive MAMA! between 5 and 6 o'clock?

Is it always like this? Are we simply adjusting to work and school routines, and eventually I'll be able to tolerate all the voices heading in my direction at once, and the children will (hopefully) be more peaceful in reconnecting with everyone at home? (Say yes. Please.)

Tonight Frances was pacing around the first floor of the house while reciting a poem at an uncomfortably loud volume (her preferred mode of memorizing something - pacing while nearly shouting it). I'd ask her to speak more quietly, she'd try for a line or two, but then her voice would shoot right back up. OH HARK, OH HEAR! HOW THIN AND CLEAR! 

Gabriel had taken apart a pull-back car and was fascinated by the mechanism inside it. He'd poke my arm urgently until I looked, showing me how one aspect of it worked, then minutes later return to show me something else, then to show me how he put it back together, then to show me how one might create a car using the same components arranged differently. 

And Beatrice was at the table, in her spot, muttering draw draw, eyes eyes, draw eyes. She'd look at me when her concentration broke and demand Mama, draw, Mama, sit. Sit here. 

At one point, while the frozen spinach and cauliflower simmered in some last bits of tomato sauce, I did. I sat and drew a picture with Beatrice, while the Tennyson poem came in and out as Frances marched past again and again, and Gabriel brought yet another incarnation of his car study for my investigation. These are all worthwhile pursuits that might make another parent glow with pride and pleasure, yet in their simultaneity I felt utterly exhausted by them. 

By bedtime, things quieted down; we'd read together and I'd regained my composure. Somehow, I made it through. Oh friends, I suspect I join in a chorus of parents - generation upon generation stretching back through the mists of time - when I say this: good gracious, that dinner-making hour is grueling.

Monday, August 18, 2014

home improvements

There are few things duller than talking about improvements to one's home. Hinge selection? Roof repair? Sump pump in a tizzy? This ordinarily makes my brain go fuzzy and heavy, and then a bit of anxiety stirs in my belly, because if I don't change the subject or find a way out of the conversation quick it will begin to drip out of my ears. 

That's why I'm not going to tell you about all the improvements large and small that have been made around here this summer. I'll just show you. Part of why I wanted to mention it at all is that I am experiencing the sum total of our efforts as a surprisingly pleasant improved sense of being truly home. This space is more ours: more beautiful, more personal, more of a real place. Which, come to think of it, seems worth talking about! So take it back, you can tell me about window replacements anytime. Honestly. And then I will tell you about my hunt for the right drawer pulls for Frances's old/new dresser...
Did you get this far? Well. I do have one more little thing to note: tomorrow I go back to work. So obviously instead of prepping for freshman orientation I am here with you, showing you the pet mice and three-year-old napkin art that I had saved and that Gabriel and I made into a little bottom bunk banner last week. 
Transitions! May yours be going as peacefully and smoothly as possible. 


Thursday, July 31, 2014

happy birthday, dad

Last week we were in Lancaster. During the visit, I composed a blog post in my mind about why I feel so at home there, what makes that town such a vibrant, creative community (the arts! sustainable local agriculture! Mennonites!) - and why (I think) I no longer feel so bereft about living elsewhere. Why having a second home, a home-away-from-home, is something to be grateful for.

But then I thought if I told you too much about Lancaster (such as the fantastic new yoga studio or the kids' experience at farm camp), you would probably want to live there. And then real estate would be driven up and there would be waiting lists at the local private schools and it would ruin it for everyone.

So forget I even mentioned it. Instead I'll tell you about my dad's birthday, which is today.

My mom and my sister and I usually connect with each other on the anniversary of his death, but often his birthday quietly slides by. I'm never sure how to commemorate it. But this morning, on the way home from swimming class, I told Gabriel it was his grandpa's birthday. Without missing a beat, he said, "Let's make him a card. Even though he's dead. Okay?"

Okay. We gave Beatrice a piece of scrap to make her card on, Gabriel folded some red construction paper, and hesitated. What does one say to a dead person on his birthday? It was unknown territory for both of us. We laughed and considered sorry you're dead but then Gabriel confessed he wanted to be serious about this. So I suggested he just tell his grandpa - who was surely one of the best people for talking about feelings in the whole world - how he felt.

Sad. He felt sad. And that he wished he could meet him.

When it came time to sign the card, Gabriel again paused. "I could put my name, but he won't even know who I am, Mama. ...What if I write 'Meagan's son'?"

Oh no, I assured him. He knows you are Gabriel. (He does? Does he? Yes. I think.) God makes sure of that.

Frances caught wind of what we were doing and made a card too. She didn't want me to see what she wrote, because it's just for Grandpa. 

Then we confronted yet another challenge involved in making a birthday card for a dead person: how to deliver it? In the end, we build a tiny firepit in the backyard and burned the cards, in the hope that the tiny wafts of smoke might make it to heaven. We cried, a little. And then, maybe in honor of their grandpa's wild spirit, I showed the kids how to light matches for the first time. Fire is so cool.

Happy birthday, Dad.