kids

Marking Weather, Forgetting Time

Lately, as a new approach to weekends, I’ve struck a deal with my kids. On one weekend day, they get to choose an activity. It’s usually something that requires money and coordination, like going to Chuck E. Cheese’s, or seeing Lego Batman at the Cineplex, or visiting the children’s museum—the kind of boisterous activity that you would only do if you are a child or supervising a child, the kind of experience designed to make children beg.

On the other weekend day, I make them walk with me. We’ve got at least a half dozen nearby trails that lead to the water. In the past, I’ve had a hard time motivating them for this, but lately, because it’s routine and because I’ve set it up as an exchange (your day, my day) they seem to roll with it.

And every week, once we arrive at the beach, I am struck by the same exact thing: They LOVE it here. They run around in search of sticks. They lift big rocks and watch the crabs flee. They descend into this kind of flow state where they can throw rocks into the water, one after another after another, and they don’t get bored. They are focused and happy. No one bickers.

If given the choice between a walk and Chuck E. Cheese’s, I’m pretty sure they would choose Chuck E. Cheese’s 98 out of 100 times, and yet they seem to have more fun on the walk. I think about how, just as Chuck E. Cheese’s is designed to appeal to all of their joy-seeking impulses, the beach was designed to appeal to all of their senses. Like, we could go to the children’s museum—we could pay $35 so that they can launch wooden boats in a water table—but Nature has already nailed it. There’s the soft sand, the logs to climb on and roll, the encroaching tide, and unexpected guests.

Last week, our Saturday brought us to a marina that sells soft serve ice cream for $2, a place where people launch boats and let their dogs run wild. Once we’d been playing for a half an hour, three friendly dogs stormed the beach. They were all different breeds, but all were black and white. One of them barked insistently at Smoke until he threw a wet stick over and over. Another one leapt in the air every time Stump threw a rock and this made Stump laugh uncontrollably.

When my kids grow up, wherever they land, I want them to know they grew up in the Pacific Northwest. I want them to feel it in their bones, to remember seasons of rain and breaks of sun, and the way Puget Sound spreads its fingers and holds the land. I want it to be a childhood of mossy trees and glassy inlets, a childhood spent throwing rocks in water, forgetting time.

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This is What it’s Come to

Can you tell I’ve been in a bad mood lately?

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Smoke drew this at the kitchen table today while Stump was napping and I was grading papers. He had been asking me to buy him various downloads (Spider-Man II, The Lego Movie), and after a series of nos, I informed him, simply, “I’m just not going to buy you anything today.”

He looked stunned. “Not anything?”

“No. Not anything.”

“But why not?”

“We don’t buy you new things every day. That would be crazy.”

He seemed to take this in, to accept it almost, but moments later I looked on as this image took shape. It was clearly an illustration of how he was feeling, and there were a few aspects to it that broke my heart a little:

1. It’s not so much that he looks sad and I look angry, but that our happy faces are crossed out. That, right there, is loss. It’s not just that Smoke is aware of the yucky things that we are feeling. He’s also aware of the good things that we are not feeling.

2. Maybe you already noticed that in the center of the image, Smoke drew a heart and crossed it out. No love.

3. If he were merely illustrating the preceding moment, I would have mostly been amused. But Smoke’s drawing represents our entire week. His hurt is bigger than the news that I won’t download Spider-Man II.

meanmomKellie was out of town most of the week and I haven’t been at my best. I’ve been having a hard time discerning whether Smoke is suddenly acting out or whether I’m just incredibly grumpy. I’m pretty sure it’s both.

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This week he became defiant with a family friend who was watching him for a couple of hours. She warned him that she’d report his behavior back to me. “My mom doesn’t punish me,” he told her.

I am so relieved she told me this. Since then, our dynamic has come into sharper focus. As the lingo of modern parenting dictates, I don’t believe in punishment, but I believe in consequences, and it’s clear that Smoke is sensing that I’m not doing everything I should be. He wants boundaries, real ones, not empty warnings. He doesn’t need me to freak out, to lose my shit, to be annoyed every moment of every day. He needs me to calmly, lovingly, draw the line.

I think it’s pretty clear: I need sleep; Smoke needs limits. We’ve got out work cut out for us. In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye on his drawings for clues about how we’re all doing.