Month: June 2015

When Rainbows Light the White House

Yesterday morning, when the Supreme Court announced their ruling on same-sex marriage, I was driving to the airport with my wife. Kellie has been my wife for twelve years if you’re going by our personal vows, but only two years if you’re going by the state’s laws. If I had thought to turn on NPR, I probably would have heard the news, but instead I just stared out the window and commented on the lack of traffic.

Perhaps if I had listened closely at the airport I would have caught wind of this big story, but I was just focused on how hot I was and cranky, waiting in the 40-minute TSA line.

And once Kellie and I arrived in California, I didn’t plug in. We sat on the beach and stared at the water, enjoying the quiet. In those moments, I appreciated my distance from the world.

And so I was surprised when, at 9 pm, after settling into a cabin at the end of a winding road, I finally plugged in and discovered that nearly all of the profile pictures in my Facebook feed were covered in rainbows. “Something big happened,” I announced to Kellie who sat in the next room, reading. I had known the Supreme Court decision was imminent, but hadn’t dared hope for the best-case scenario.

“What?” she asked.

I opened a link to a story that explained the significance of the supreme court decision: all fifty states must now recognize same-sex marriages.

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“What?” Kellie asked me again, and I opened my mouth to answer her, and tried for a while, but nothing came out. I could not speak because I was sobbing.

Kellie rose from the couch to come find me. I worried it looked like I had just encountered horrible news, that I had just learned of a friend’s sudden death, but still I couldn’t speak. “Oh my god,” I finally whispered. “It’s over.”

I thought that Kellie and I were done getting married, that not much could touch me ever since the repeal of DOMA, but my life and my heart felt bigger knowing that the whole country had turned green.

WireAP_9673b3bba0d9471ab228d8fc95beac7b_16x9_992Kellie stood behind me, reading the news on my screen, and when we finished we clicked through the slide show. Our mirth could not be contained—we cackled and sighed until we came to the last photo: the White House lit in rainbow. “Fucking Obama!” I cried out, and I know it sounds like I was cursing him, but really it was the opposite. What gall, what spunk, to turn a Supreme Court decision into a full-on presidential party. Fucking Obama. Because it is one thing to soberly announce that the country will now acknowledge our right to marry, and it is another thing entirely to thumb your nose at the haters and blast the White House with color.

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My Six-Year-Old is my Guru

SweetSometimes my kids blow my mind without even trying.

Yesterday I had three six-year-old boys in my living room playing Legos. The play date was coming to an end and Sam, one of my son’s oldest friends, wanted to bring home the storm-trooper-on-a-motorcycle that he had fashioned out of Smoke’s Legos.

“No, you can’t take it with you,” Smoke told him, “because last time when you borrowed my Bionicle it broke and you never brought it back.”

I was sitting on the couch grading papers, and I looked up to appreciate the line he’d just drawn. I was struck by the absolute clarity of Smoke’s answer, and also his even delivery. His voice was calm. It wasn’t loaded with resentment or grief. He was simply calling it like he saw it.

But, Sam was not impressed. “I never asked to borrow it. You just left it at my house.”

Cody, a new friend who wasn’t privy to this history, joined in Sam’s defense. “He didn’t ask to borrow it, so it’s not the same.”

The helicopter parent in me poised to jump in, to restate Smoke’s position and make sure it was honored, but that turned out to be unnecessary. “Well I never got it back,” Smoke told both of them. He took a breath. “Sam, here’s what what we can do. I won’t take apart your motorcycle.” Sam was nodding already, relieved at the idea of compromise. “And if you fix my Bionicle and bring it back, then you can borrow it after all.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a boundary set so cleanly. My son didn’t learn that skill from me. I’ve only recently learned that my relationships don’t have to follow a script, that when someone makes a request of me I’m not required to give them the answer they’re hoping for. Lately, I try to catch myself in the act of delivering a line, of giving a Yes or a Maybe when what I really mean is No. I try to remind myself that I can give the answer I actually mean, but that answer never comes out easily. I stall, I stammer, or my voice trembles, or it’s tainted with defensiveness.

But Smoke’s gentle assertiveness makes me wonder: What do we know before we un-know it? What communication skills are we born with that time corrodes? And what can I do to preserve in my kids their own clarity, their intuition, their emotional intelligence?

Two nights ago both of my kids were still awake at ten pm. It’s June in the Pacific Northwest and so it’s still light at nine, and of course there are barbecues and spontaneous visits and deer sightings that get in the way of our bedtime routine. But no matter  the reason, I start to lose my mind at ten pm when my kids are still awake, and on this day Stump, my 2-year-old, had just insisted on a snack.

Sneer“Goldfish,” Stump said after his bath and then he repeated the word “Goldfish” at least two dozen times. I knew he wouldn’t quit and I was too tired to fight, so I sat him at the kitchen table with a small pile of Goldfish crackers. But it turned out that he wanted the Goldfish crackers, not to eat, but to construct an interpretive scene. I sat in a neighboring chair and leaned my head against my hand. I was done.

“No cry Mommy,” Stump whispered, and he brushed his fingers across my cheek. “No cry Mommy.”

No one in the history of my lifetime has ever been able to pull me out of a funk so easily. I hadn’t been on the verge of tears, but Stump’s empathy perked me up, and I laughed. Stump laughed too and continued to touch my face. “No cry, Mommy. It’s okay, Mommy.” He was teasing me and comforting me at once.

I wished that Kellie had been there to witness Stump’s feat of emotional intelligence. Earlier that evening I had complained to her about some problem and she responded by saying “Why do you let that bother you?”

“That doesn’t help!” I told her, but when she asked me what she could say, I could only answer: “I don’t know!”

But now here was Stump, hours past bedtime, rescuing me from myself, as if he arrived in this world knowing all my secret codes and how to crack them.

The Summer of Less / More

Lately I’ve been dreaming about Colorado. C1Two summers ago Kellie and I packed her truck and took the boys to live on an 800-acre ranch for the summer. We did this for no logical reason, except that we had an opportunity and we seized it. It was a hard summer. Though the mornings were often beautiful and sunny, by afternoon the clouds rolled in and they often brought lightning and hail. Smoke, who was four at the time, complained of being bored and homesick. Stump, who couldn’t even crawl yet, wasn’t much of a diversion for him. Meanwhile I struggled to keep up with a workload of teaching online and editing while our internet was spotty and Kellie was busy building a barn.

But of course those challenges aren’t what I’ve been remembering. I’ve been remembering how every night, just after dark, my family fell asleep in one room and I sat among them, writing in the dark, listening to their breathing. I remember the garden snakes who warmed themselves on the same rocks every day, and the chickens who refused to stay inside the fence. More than anything, I remember the massive herds of elk who moved through the land every day on a schedule.

In Olympia, where we live full-time, it’s not hard to find nature. Sometimes deer walk down our neighborhood roads. It’s a ten-minute drive to the forest. I can walk the kids down to the beach and sometimes see seals swimming in the water. But visiting the beach is not the same as living in wilderness. Here in town, I can’t recreate the feeling of waking up in the mountains and walking to the outhouse through wet grass to take my morning pee, or the feeling of watching the evening slowly gather around you as the elk descend from the hills, munch grass and bugle at each other, and then disappear in time for the first stars to appear. C2I keep thinking about how this would be a good year to return to Colorado, because Stump is old enough now to play with Smoke and I can imagine them chasing each other with sticks and scrambling up the gravel road. But that adventure isn’t in the cards this year. We will not be dropping everything, packing the truck, and living in the wilderness—at least not for three uninterrupted months.

Since I can’t have Colorado, I’ve been asking myself how I can strip away my life this summer, to make room in my cells for some growth, to reclaim the balance that I lose every year over the course of nine months of teaching and working and parenting. I want my life to be quieter, with space to notice the changing sky, the ants, the birds, my own two children. And so, I’m working to identify the things that clutter my life, to reduce them in hope of making room for what feeds me.

Less internet / more real life

This might mean going to bed at the same time as my kids, lying in bed awake to take in the dark, or letting Smoke stay up late so that we can read together. It might mean keeping my Macbook closed for most of the day, unplugging my modem, and keeping my smart phone out of sight.

Less digital / more analog

Recently a friend shared this: How to Replace an Instagram with a Sketchbook. The idea is that we consider drawing our lives for a change instead of constantly snapping photos. I want to. And while I’m at it, I want to spend more time reading books and stories and essays that are printed on actual paper.

Less packaging / more slow food

No to microwaved lunches and single-serving yogurt containers. Yes to canning all of the fruits. Yes to this post by the Zero-Waste Chef: 5 Zero-Waste Baby Steps

Less driving / more walking, running, and biking

The goal is for the car to get lonely. The goal is for a tank of gas to last a couple of weeks at least.

Less stuff / more room Maybe I’ll finally get around to recycling my old computers. Maybe I’ll even read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

What will you be doing less / more of this summer?