I’m grateful I get to be my children’s main teacher. I love seeing the light in their eyes as they understand a new concept. I love, though I’m often frustrated by, hearing their inner thinkings and tangential wonderings. I love that we can exchange giggles, or hugs, or tickle wars as a break to a strenuous grammar lesson, or writing assignment. I love our ability to connect everything in our lives- since everything interweaves. I love how my children can reference briefly a sentence we read or a wonder we saw and I know immediately what they are talking about and can jump into the conversation with them. I love that in a way I’m rediscovering learning for myself. I’m learning how to learn, how to cultivate learning. I’ve discovered anew my love of math, I’ve marveled at the English language both for its beauty but also complexity. But mostly I’ve marveled at the capability of the child’s mind. They are astounding. I’m humbled daily by their ability to remember, understand, and connect. I’m so grateful that my children’s world revolved around each other right now. Yes, they have their separate communities, but their core group is our family, and I’m grateful that we have more sway than “they” for the time being. I’m grateful that we have the means, and I have the opportunity to stay home with my children. It is overwhelmingly frustrating at times, and yet strikingly blissful in moments sprinkled throughout the day: When Anders looks up with his little smile and sweet eyes, while he reads to me. When Chiara climbs on my back while I’m on the floor working through math with Scotland. When Scotland’s eyes light up with a new idea- always grander and less likely than the last! I’m grateful for a home from which we can easily take in the outdoors. I’m grateful for a healthy body and mind. I’m grateful for literature, poetry, and music. I’m grateful for our piano. I’m grateful for slow early mornings, and fast late mornings, for slow early afternoons. I’m grateful for the opportunity they both offer all of us to contemplate, ponder, and be just ourselves. I’m grateful for yoga. I’m grateful for time to consider my gratitude!
Ever since I was a senior in high school I’ve had a job. I’ve only had a full-time job once. I worked as a secretary at a loan office one summer. Otherwise, my jobs have always been part-time, or undefinable like my “job” designing and renovating the homes we’ve flipped. My main side gig has been teaching voice lessons. I love teaching. I love the interaction with my students, I love the music, and I love the person I become when I teach- more playful and funny.
I had around 15 students in Cleveland, and then only 3 in Seattle. And now in Chapel Hill, I’m trying to decide if I should teach again. Perhaps some of my hang up is I like the idea of having a “studio.” A group of students, who know of each other, have recitals together and feel some sort of group identity. In Seattle, I never had that, and it sort of embarrassed me. I didn’t feel like I could offer the sort of experience I wanted for them. (Though, thinking about it, my first voice teacher didn’t have a “studio” that I interacted with in any way. She was a university professor and I was a side student, an eager 12-year-old who’s mother talked her into taking me.) Now in a new city, I’m trying to think through the practicality of taking on new students. Our stay here could be a year, or it could be three or it could be permanent. Though, as of right now it’s looking more like a one year gig. Tom’s career will likely take us to a few different locations in the next ten years, would it be better to pick up a side gig that is more mobile, say freelance writing? Or maybe, wait for it, I don’t need to have a side gig. Maybe I can just do the Mom gig. Heck! I’m already homeschooling, isn’t that job enough? Maybe I should claim that as my “gig” and use any free time to pursue other hobbies?
Moving has given me the opportunity to assess who I am, and what defines me. I struggle to feel that spending time on hobbies, just for joy’s sake is a worthwhile use of time. I really enjoy nature journaling. It has brought me such wonder and curiosity, but every time I take fifteen minutes to do it, I feel guilty. I really enjoy reading, but it’s very hard for me to sit down and read. Its why I adore audiobooks- they allow me to “read” while also doing something “productive.” And yet, I know how productive reading is, I know the power and importance of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, and learning about the experiences of another, but it’s just so hard for me to do! Sometimes I can justify it if it is a parenting book- continuing education, but a novel- it’s difficult! And so back to the side gig, part of my reason for working has always been to keep my toe in the water so that I’m ready when the time comes that I want to “go back to work.” I’ve taught voice lessons because that’s where my training lies. I love teaching voice, but I identify myself as a singer less and less with every passing year. It occurred to me that I haven’t a clue who Kjirsti Foutz will be in ten years. And if I don’t allow myself to fully immerse myself in my present passions, I will probably have no clue “what I want to do with my life” then! Often people that create vibrant fascinating careers later in life, do it naturally as an extension of something they pursued for personal interest first. Unless I allow myself time to throw myself into my present-day interests how will I ever grow those interests into something that will pull me out of bed each morning?
I’ve been surprised at the change in me as I’ve experimented upon this idea. I’ve taken along my nature journal more often and with it a field guide or two. I’ve taken pictures of leaves at the park. I’ve been more dutiful with my yoga practice, and more intentional with each poise. As I’ve allowed those buds of interest to open a bit, I’ve felt the subtle calls of expansion into work- perhaps I could create a local field guide “Trees of Homestead Park.” or maybe I should get a yoga certification, I’d love to teach a Friday Enrichment course! I think it’s great if my desire is to share my knowledge with others, but I find it worrisome when the minute I start to see growth in an area I feel the need to capitalize it. As if making money doing it will make it worthwhile.
So this year I think I’m going to take a break from side gigs, and instead just really claim my main gig- mothering, homeschooling, and living life fully. I want to show my children the joy of adulthood. I want to so fully immerse myself in my interests that when in 10-15 years I feel the pull to work, I know just what I’d like to do.
In my preparations to move I’ve been going through all our stuff. And I’ve been faced with the repetitive question- what is worth keeping? Around 60 of our stuff has been in a storage unit for two months. These are the things we’ve missed: the speakers for my computer and our TV sound system. “The Greatest Showman” just couldn’t get off the page with our TV’s meager speakers, and Dvorak doesn’t appeal to my senses coming from a mac mini’s speaker. We’ve missed our books, and our bookshelves. The first piece of furniture I moved back after we sold the house was our little bookshelf. We love books and read a lot of them. I went looking for Tom’s hiking boots and rain boots for our weekend getaway. I missed easy access to all our art and learning supplies- I packed some of it away, and I shouldn’t have it, we need it, we use it, daily. I missed my “extra shoes.” I went looking for the hammock and our picnic blanket. But that was about it. There are things we love, and there are things that don’t add much to our lives.
Moving cross country is expensive and I’m trying to be cut throat about what we keep and what we leave. It’s made me consider what I value. Why is the gorgeous bright and colorful plate I bought in Mexico not on my wall? I love it. It makes me happy just looking at it, and brings back a sweet memory. Well, it doesn’t match your decor scheme. Hmmm. Why am I buying new blankets when I have all these other blankets that people I love have made for me? Hmmm. I love a well dressed home. I love a stylish thoughtfully designed home. But the homes that make me pause and feel are the homes that are filled with items of meaning. I follow a couple of feeds on instagram that have homes like this. Their guitars, banjos, and violins hang on the wall- because they want easy access- they play them often. The art supplies are often the centerpiece, because why put them away when they’ll use them tomorrow? Children’s art is framed and displayed whimsically, and the whole home has a worn-out-in-love look. It reminds me of a conversation I had with my Mom about my sister Dantzel. My Mom mentioned that Dantzel had a wise realization a few years ago: she couldn’t afford to dress the way she’d like to, and rather than fail in her attempts she ‘d embraced a new style that she could rock without breaking the bank- grunge. Now she wears our father’s shirts, and my Mom’s worn flannels. Her natural un-styled hair, a bi-product of waking up at 5:30am for seminary, is perfectly in style. Her dusty shoes- from caring for animals on the family’s hobby farm- en pointe.
As I’ve considered what to take and what to leave, I’ve found delight in the thought of a fresh take on my home design choices. Yesterday, I sold the first pieces of new furniture I ever bought- two tufted leather chairs. They’re prone to scratching from children’s unclipped toe nails, and they tip over if children lean up against the backs as they look out the window. They’re not cozy for reading, and too slippery for building forts around. And their formality begs for their surroundings to similarly shape up and be rigid. They stage beautifully. But they aren’t chairs you really live in- just look at. Selling them was hard at first. But now with them gone, the window entirely exposed, an whole rug to play and roll around on- we’ve had more spontaneous dance parties, i’ve enjoyed the poppies, delphinium and daisies more out the window, and I’m sitting on the floor now as I type- relaxed, casual.
I guess I’m grappling with the ‘look at’ vs ‘live in’ approach to design. I don’t think the two have to be mutually exclusive, in fact the IG posts I mentioned above tell otherwise. But I’m beginning to understand why so many large families have some element of ‘farmhouse’ styling in their homes. A weathered wood dining room table- welcomes the dings of an impatient toddler’s fork. A rustic shelf welcomes the collection of “treasures” from a hike. More and more I want a home that welcomes my children in all their energetic creative aka rowdy messy splendor. This month I’ve seen my kids in a new light. They’re inventiveness astounds me. Their focus and drive inspires me. Their full-on embrace of each day- their determination to not waste a moment, it’s breathtaking! I want my children to always see a home as a place to romp, wrestle, sing, build and exult. I want them to fill their days with passionate pursuit, and I want our home to be a place where their creations have a place- even a place of honor.
I’m not sure our rental is going to achieve these aims, but I’m hoping a year of make-do furniture arrangements, no house projects, and two large parks nearby will open a new chapter in our lives! One filled with adventure, togetherness, and focus on truly living!
We listed our house a little over a week ago, thanks to an amazing market (from a sellers perspective) we had accepted a great offer within a few days. I took screen shots of the listing photos from when we bought the house and I thought it would be fun to show the before and afters to showcase the work we’ve done on our little abode.
We knew we wanted to buy a house when me moved to Seattle, and we figured we’d do another flip like we’d done in Cleveland. We were nervous however because the homes were at least twice as expensive in Seattle, and we heard of many people who were making offers on multiple homes. We rented our first three months in Seattle so we’d have time to look. Our price range was low, and I wanted a yard, a basement, large windows, two bedrooms and Tom wanted to be 20 minutes or less from work. By, I think, a miracle, we found our house. It had everything on our list (one of only three that did). We made and offer, it was accepted, and it was completely sans drama. We didn’t like the busy-ish road we were on, but knew that was what pushed the price down, and the quaint private backyard made up for the less than ideal front.
Updates: New front door (that I painted), I trimmed and repainted the garage door- which made it too heavy for our old garage door to open- so Tm installed a new garage door opener. Woops! We painted the foundation, and the trim. I also did a lot of landscaping- adding the burning bush and perennials in the bed in front of the picture windows and a sunny perennial bed at the edge of the lawn. We also put in a full sun garden bed (non pictured) and a raspberry patch!
We were immediately taken by the huge picture windows, vaulted ceiling, exposed brick fireplace, and exposed beam. Having done a flip before I immediately started seeing the potential- tear this wall down here, open this up there. . .
Of course the most obvious change was the wall color- which we painted twice. First with some left over paint from Cleveland (I was desperate to get rid of the dark navy.) And finally this Tapestry Beige when we finished the kitchen.
The largest project we tackled in this house was our kitchen. Literally three days after we moved in my sister and I tore down the wall between the kitchen nook and the dining area. As it was there was this awkward breakfast nook that was too small for a decent sized table, and then this small door way to a dining area that was too small for a dining room table. The floor and wall had gaping holes from where the wall had stood for years, but our table straddled it and I preferred the function to the form.
Over the first three years we lived here we slowly worked our way through our kitchen- first having a HUGE cantilever beam installed above to support the weight of the house, and then vaulting the dining side and opening up the wall between the kitchen and living room.
I’ve never posted about our kitchen, but it was my first large design project and since this is my private blog I’m going to boast a bit here. Thanks to our weekend warrior renovation schedule (and since my husband only gets one weekend off a month it’s more like a mono-monthly renovation schedule) it took a LONG time to finish this space. I say thanks, because that gave me abundant time to design the space. I was grateful for the time to live and use the kitchen so I really knew what our needs were. The only reason we felt secure in putting in this nice of a kitchen was because I felt secure that it was a solid investment- given the strong real estate market. I wanted to strike a balance between what would be sellable and widely liked; and what I wanted personally. I made many many sketches of this space, tweaking here and reworking there. I knew I wanted a place for my music books to go (since there wasn’t an easy way to have them by the piano) I knew I wanted a built in desk, I wanted shelves for the shoes that crowded the walkway from the front door, and I wanted lots of pantry space. It’s fun to think about the various steps of this process. We took the washer and dryer down stairs early on- which was a huge help- moving the fridge out of the walkway really helped open things up. When we moved in, the washer and dryer were behind those accordion doors. Thankfully we had just enough space to put them in our cold storage room downstairs. Which opened up the space they were in for the fridge- a real blessing since it fit a full sized fridge without jutting out past the counter! I wanted a bar, because I grew up with one, and I love the image of kids sitting up to help prep food. Eventually this plan materialized, and I’ve completely loved it. Many people have asked me since, “Is there anything you would change about your kitchen?” And in all honesty I don’t have a good answer for them. I LOVE my kitchen! I LOVE all the pull out drawers. I love that everything has it’s place. I love the built in office area. I love that there is enough cabinetry for a drawer for art supplies, and two drawers for homeschooling books and materials. I love that all my appliances fit in drawers- and don’t have to be out on the counter. Even large appliances like a Bosch mixer, Vitamix, and instant pot! I love my built in – under the counter microwave. I love my open shelves- for their character, and for the openness they lend the kitchen. I adore our induction range. I love that we left the kitchen partially closed- you can’t see my sink of dirty dishes when you walk in the front door, and I can hide anything unsightly behind that wall when I teach.
One of the things I’m most proud of in our kitchen is the windows. I had a window guy out to give us a bid to replace them, and he said that being that they were already double-paned we’d have to upgrade with a really superior window to improve their efficacy. He suggested painting them. They are aluminum windows and they just looked old and ratty. I’d started noticing a lot of black trimmed windows in home decor magazines and on pinterest and really liked their dramatic contrast. I was soo nervous when I first slapped on the paint, but the final results combined with trimming them in wood (they didn’t have any millwork before) is striking, and completely transformed the space. The windows no longer look old and outdated, but stylish and current. They highlighted one of the main features of our home, in my opinion, our huge windows!
It was fun to see these pictures because I’ve often felt bad about how little I’ve done on this yard. The greatest contribution has been a huge amount of pruning, tearing out, cutting down. I’ll never forget the look on my neighbor’s face then they saw me 6 months pregnant, out in the drizzling rain, standing on our heavily sloped terraced gardens tearing out salal and ivy. I’m pretty sure they thought I’d lost it. The entire first tier was covered in it, and I was determined to prepare it for a flower garden the following spring. I was also pretty proud of those huge loads of vines, branches, bushes, etc that I smashed into the bed of our truck and delivered to the dump without help. It was my first time “Securing a load” and again I’m sure I got many a snicker from passers by seeing this pregnant woman jumping up and down on this huge bed of branches to compact them down- so I could fit more! The men at the dump were equally surprised when I yanked and pulled with all my might to then dislodge the heavily compacted yard waste from the truck bed- almost falling into the pit at the dump several times! The above pictures don’t really show the garden vignette’s I created, but at least hint at the amount of openness and light I achieved.
The yard is my domain. I still chuckle when I remember this conversation with our neighbor, John. (Please note that John is Korean and his english carries a strong accent. This conversation occurred one summer evening when I was out finishing up yard work after I’d put the kids to bed. I believe Tom was working at the hospital that night. )
J-“You work so hard! You do all the workee, I never see your husband do the workee. Your husband a fancy man? ”
I tried to explain that my husband is not a “fancy man” but rather works very hard at the hospital, and that he does many of the projects inside. (He’s the electrician, plumper, carpenter, etc.)
While our yard was small I wanted it to have a portion of the magical outdoors my childhood yard had. It took a few years before I secured the slide I had envisioned- a cast off from a playground! Both grandpa’s helped build the fort hidden up on the hill, and careful pruning allowed for a grove of rhododendron that made for the ideal climbing environment. I hope I always remember my children swinging under our apple tree, and reading books from the hammock we hung from the plum tree. I hope I remember how’d they’d drop down to the garden and pick sun-warmed tomatoes, green beans and strawberries, or how’d they’d lie about how many raspberries they’d eaten- the red smears on their hands and faces relaying the truth. As I was mowing the lawn for the last time, I cried thinking of all the plants that had been transplants from other people’s gardens. Sister Meringer started me off with heuchera, iris, peonies, strawberries and blue bells. Sabina gave me daisies, bleeding heart, and a few I don’t know the name of, the Mitchells gave me a bag of daffodils that bright up the dismal March’s and two Allium bulbs that stretch upward like aliens right in front of our front window and give me a chuckle with their absurd placement. They gave me one patch of raspberries and another friend from Moxee gave me the others. Sue Scruggs gave me a bunch of Fuchsia. I brought cannas from Cleveland that are HUGE and stunning next to my back door. And I always cherish the little Japanese maple that my sister grafted from her own tree in her front yard! My father fortified the front bed so I could have the full sun bed I’d been pining for since we’d moved here. He put it in the week after I had Chiara, and with every shovel of dirt and loading of wood I could tell it was his way of telling me He loved me, and was proud of me and his new granddaughter. I thought of the manure the Telford’s put on our rhubarb the spring we were living in Idaho- unable to prep our garden. How I wish I could bring all these plants with me, so I could forever have those symbols of generosity and love surrounding my home.
I took pictures of the other rooms, but they weren’t included on the listing, and I’m not going to take the time to unearth them. Let’s just say there was a huge sketch of a muscled man with a machine gun on the wall of one room.
These pictures actually don’t represent the house as we lived it. Anders room is pretty true to form, it started out as the nursery until the crib was replaced by the toddler bed. What was staged as the master bedroom was Chiara’s room and our guest room. Much of the decor in the third room originally was in there. The third room had a bright green wall with thin white stripes and was decorated in blue and green for Scotland.
This room was SO fun to stage. I splurged on new bedding and pillows and it came together so sweetly. I’m so excited to let it be Chiara’s big girl room in our next house.
I love a basement. I grew up with a basement, and it’s hard for me to imagine rearing children without one. I love having a space for my kids to be wild and crazy, to leave out their intricate playmobil worlds or lego creations without it interfering with our main living space.
We made this desk (made out of a door and two book case from UW dorms, to create this office nook. Tom’s always been a fan of a BIG desk, and this fit his criteria. For a while I kept my computer down there too, but after I moved it upstairs I’ve used the other side for my sewing machine. Obviously the staging doesn’t show our typical set up down here. We never used a coffee table- preferring to leave the space open for play, and instead had that long table over near the bookcases for kids art and play. We also had two more bookcases full of books and more toys. I’ve gotta say, I’m kind of liking the limited toy set up. We cut down on our toys by probably 60% (they either got donated or put in storage). Clean up at our house is SO much easier since there are no miscellaneous toys, and everything has such a clear spot that the kids have been surprisingly adept at putting things back exactly as intended!
We had our master bedroom in the basement. I disliked the darkness of it, but it was ideal for Tom, since he so often has to sleep during the day. (We affectionately called it our mole hole.)
Well this post is WAY too long, but I wanted to jot a few of these thoughts down for memories sake. A more sentimental memory laden post should follow this at some point, but in case it doesn’t. Here’s something!
Chiara had her birthday two weeks ago. We were traveling on the date, but my in-laws were kind enough to arrange a cake and candles at the rehearsal dinner and the whole group of 30 or so people sang to her (including several opera singers, so it was quite the serenade!) She smiled with muted delight and ate her chocolate cake with serious concentration. But then, as is her style, told me all about it that evening with bright eyed excitement. “Mommy! I ha’ cake an’ can’les, an’ sing Happy Birthday Chi Chi!” Again yesterday, when we mentioned we would be opening her presents the next day- she remembered the occasion with delight.
Chiara is an incredibly verbal child, and acquires language through the habit of parroting. She often repeats what I say, or repeats the phrases of her brothers under her breath. Yesterday, she said off hand “Forget about it! It happens!” The same day she crinkled her nose in disgust and spit out the word “Stupid!” She knows that a burb will get a laugh and will at times fake one when she’s at a table of boys; but if she does it when her mother’s in the room, she’ll say “Excuse me.” Earlier this week she started using the word “favorite.” She often talks about herself in the third person. “Dis Chi Chi fav’ite book.” She loves to label the items in her First 100 words books, and will sometimes sit down and drill herself- “Bunny, cheetah, Zeb’a, gi’aff. . .” Last night, as I was tucking her into bed she said with distress “I nee’ give brothers kiss!” She’s taking to giving kisses and delivers the sweetest most delicate little pecks.
She has an adorable run- all bubble and bounce. Her arms flap, her curls bob, and her cheeks go up and down. You can’ help but smile and want to sweep her up into your arms when she approaches you that way!
She’s become a bit more decisive about her clothing. She loves our new routine of picking out her pajamas. Will it be penguins, cupcakes, polar bears? One day she looked into her drawer as I was picking out clothes for her and said “I wan’ my star shirt.” “Okay, Chiara you can wear your star shirt.” I grabbed the shirt and a pair of jeans. She fussed and said “I wan’ my cozy pants!” and pointed to a pair of gray leggings.
As Tom and I watched her flutter around the gymnasium this afternoon, her full pastel blue dress bouncing up and down, he voiced “We’re going to turn her into too much of a girl. You dress her so cute, and I spoil her so much too.” I’ll admit I love to dress her up, and one of the few delights I have about rainy weather is the way it makes her hair curl up.
Chiara is starting to be a genuine playmate, at least with family. We played a darling game with our puppets on the airplane, and Anders and she make me lavish meals from the school’s preschool room kitchen. She loves her friend Quincy, a 12 year old neighbor who watches the kids for an hour while I teach, and often asks “Go Kinzy’s house?!”
She’s not prone to smiling at strangers, more often she’ll offer a grimace or sneer, if not turn her head and burrow it into me in some way. If they speak to her she’ll strength her look of distrust. At home she is confident and independent, but in public she’s an all out Momma’s girl. Though, as our time with family showed, she’s able and willing to switch that affection to anyone who promises time, attention, and love. She took full advantage of her grandfather’s attention, enjoyed long snuggle sessions with her Grandma and still asks for “Tassie”- after their many sweet interactions.
She spends many hours playing LEGOs with her brothers and has gotten quite adept at working with the small pieces. She’ll bring her creations over to me and tell me about them. This morning it was something like this: “Mommy! Airfane! It ha’ ice c’eam” (she said pointing to the one pink brick.) “And boo. . .” (pointing to the blue bricks) “and lellow. . .”
She’s taken up singing. Yesterday, as she played with play dough she sang the whole time. I recognized clips of two primary songs, “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” and “Happy Family.” and often she’ll belt out her own tunes, usually with a false vibrato.
I’m always humored by the various voices she chooses; from her sweet and smiley high pitched one, to the low husky one, to the nasal strident one, to this silly one I can’t even describe.
The last two weeks she’s started to do this thing where she’ll grab my face with both hands and direct it towards hers so she can communicate her needs. This usually happens when we’re at school and I’m holding her while talking to friends. She’ll direct my face to hers and request I take her to pick out yet another handful of lego heads.
Chiara can be a tremendous helper. She’ll see me sweep and go and get the little broom and join me, or find the dust pan and bring it to me. She knows to grab a rag and wipe up any spills she makes. She can be a tremendous picker upper, and loves to help set the table. She often helps her brothers unload the dishwasher.
She loves running, slides, her baby, shoes, milk, her Paci, her blankie, naps, books, treats, pockets, pas’a, cheerios with milk, tomatoes, cheese, her brothers, her Daddy, her Mommy, her stride bike, painting, flying in ‘airflanes,’ going to Ga’ ma’s house, Quincy, and singing.
We love her. Oh, how we love her!
I just came across this picture of Chiara, and I love it! It so succinctly portrays her strength, defiance, snark, and confidence. This little number continues to surprise me. She has desires, she makes them known, and when they are not granted she can lash out with fervor. I was thinking about her strong personality the other day and was suddenly reminded of her first act in life: she had crowned and I was only a one or two pushes away from delivering when she kicked hard- willing herself out. Moments later, after having only laid on my chest a short while, she wiggled her way to my breast and latched on- helping herself. Earlier this week, story time was getting a bit long for her tastes so she walked into her room. She got her paci and blanket from her crib and settled herself on the floor; pulling her blanket up over herself, she fell asleep. If the boys continue to do things she’s asked them not to she will look them square in the eye, and yell STOP!- her eyes bulging, her face red, and her body shaking. Someone mentioned the other day how different Chiara is from the boys, “They were always so friendly.” Chiara feels no need to extend pleasantries for pleasantries sake. Last week one of the administrators at our school stopped to comment on Chiara. “Your daughter is SO adorable. She is so confident and busy and yet, as a girl, always aware- always watching.” Last month we got a bag of hand-me-downs, Chiara was most excited about a leopard print dress. She demanded to wear it immediately. The other night, instead of the cupcake or polar bear pajamas, she chose the cheetah print. I can’t help but wonder about foreshadowing. Looking at her yesterday on “International Women’s Day” I smiled, laughed, and felt assured, that this little lady is going to do just fine!
Our church has recently changed some of the ways we structure our third hour meetings. Now the first meeting is spent in counsel- discussing a topic of particular meaning to the group or congregation. Last week we discussed how we can strengthen and show love to the children and youth in our ward. Reflecting on the topic I became suddenly aware of the multiplicity of people who have loved, supported, taught, nurtured, and encouraged my kids. Just that week Anders’ teacher had sent him a package in the mail with a coloring page they’d completed in class, and a small toy, and thoughtful note saying they’d missed him. Scotland’s teacher sent me a text that afternoon sharing the fun discussion they’d had in class and a picture of Scotland wearing “bug eye” glasses- in connection with their discussion that God sees all. Last Friday I went to pick up the kids from my friends house after teaching to find Chiara standing on a chair stirring eggs, as my friend made omelets. The boys ran up happy and rosy checked from their play with her daughters. I considered the people who have volunteered to sit with my boys when I need to step out with Chiara. The people who take time to talk to Scotland and Anders in the hall. I considered our bishop who knows their names and makes them feel so special. I thought about Tony who always gives them knuckle bumps and is so happy to see them. I considered Rebeccah who walked Anders to nursery for many months, while I was nursing and caring for Chiara. I thought of friends who have watched my kids, taught them preschool, and created happy welcoming places to play. Looking around the room that morning, I could name a sweet exchange with nearly everyone in the room. And it dawned on me- that’s what five years in a community will do. A sadness at leaving washed over me, a sweet sadness, a grateful sadness.
Two weeks ago I flew to San Francisco. I spent a couple days there before flying back to Tucson to pick up the kids from my in-laws and fly home. It was an eye opening trip. Thursday due to flight delays I was in airports for seven hours. I read an entire chapter book- in one day. That hasn’t happened since before Scotland was born. Friday, Tom was at his neurology conference all day, so I had the day solo to explore the city. I woke up when I woke up, did some yoga, had a cup of tea while I ready my scriptures, and got ready. I bought a MUNI pass- jumped on the subway and headed out. I walked along the high-end market stalls in the Ferry Building, lingering to savor the samples of $12 bars of chocolate- without having to wipe faces, and hands, and clothes. I stalled to take in the diversity of mushrooms- no one complained. I took pictures without being pulled off balance. I didn’t buy breakfast- I didn’t want to waste time, and no one was begging me to. I explored the Embercado area, then took a street car north so I could climb the Filbert steps. I got off a stop early, and jogged the rest of the way, because I could. A goofy smile was smeared across my face. I couldn’t help it. I was in San Francisco, the sun was shining, the air brisk, fresh! I had an entire day to myself. I felt both stressed and exhilarated. How to make the most of it?! I climbed the steps, stopping from time to time to turn around and take in the view of the bay. I side tracked and walked down skinny alleyways between houses, admiring the enormous succulents, and new-to me plants. I imagined life in those homes- etched into a cliff, overlooking the bay. I had pleasant flashbacks to a trip to Cinque Terre, with it’s similar cliff dwellings, and steep narrow streets. I climbed all the way to the top arms swinging, mouth smiling, mind free. Wait, arms swinging, such a strange sensation. It was at this point in the day, an hour in, that I realized how strange it was to have NO one else to consider that day. My whims would guide the day. No time would be wasted discussing the merits of this or that decision, no energy spent trying to choose based on the others’ perceived desires. I would just go, do, enjoy. At that point I let go of any stress or pressure and decided to just take it all in. I took the elevator up Coit tower. I leaned out the windows (far enough that the attendant had to warn me!) feeling the fresh ocean breeze, and taking in the gorgeous 360 of San Francisco. Such a gorgeous city. The details of the day are less interesting than the feeling I had- such freedom, such abandon. I took busses the wrong direction, and walked too long in ordinary neighborhoods. I didn’t do things in the best order, and I ate nothing but granola bars until 5:00pm. But there was no one but me to worry about, no one complained, demanded, begged. The change was shocking. And yet I wasn’t gleeful about the absence of my children- in reality I melted every time I saw a child, and teared up a bit when a 2 year old darling with blonde curls danced around in Coit Tower. I wished Tom was there to share the view, and found myself focusing on things the boys would find interesting- double decker bridges, the variety of public transit options, decorative dragons. But I was also surprised by how often I felt freed by the opportunity to actually pursue something that interested me- to linger in the garden, to examine the succulents, to read the plaque, without consequence.
Tom texted around 5:15- “Where are you!?” My day alone had come to an end. An exciting dinner date awaited. I jumped on the side of a cable car, holding on to the bar, and resisting the urge to lean out and start singing. An older man, asked me curiously, “Do you feel comfortable there?” “Oh. I feel great!”
A few months ago I was enjoying a dinner of pho’ with my sister and Mom in Ballard, when I suddenly realized that there were four small children in the restaurant. It was a small place, and the fact that I was just noticing them surprised me. Why hadn’t I noticed them earlier? Because they were so quiet. They weren’t running around the restaurant, weren’t sliding under the table, and weren’t even talking loudly. Reflecting on this later I wondered, why are my children so loud? And why are they seemingly unable to conduct themselves in a restaurant or store in a polite, calm, quiet manner? Now to be fair, people have often commented on how well behaved my children are. But after a very raucous and frustrating 10 minute visit to Old Navy this afternoon, I’m wondering again: What do I need to do to teach my children to be calm and quiet in certain situations?
Do we need to do practice drills in stores- where the sole intention of the visit is to learn proper grocery store/ clothing store etiquette? I left Old Navy today SO frustrated. From the minute we walked in they were hiding under clothes racks, racing down aisles, fighting, crying you name it. Unfortunately, this isn’t a singular occurrence. We’ve had enough of these displays that I next to never go shopping with them. I’d rather do my grocery shopping at midnight than deal with the chaos that ensues when I take them. Which perhaps, is precisely the problem. Do they need more practice? As I’ve queried this over the months, I’ve come to realize that I see very few children in the grocery stores here in Seattle. And when I do see kids, I don’t remember seeing any running around as mine do. Maybe the problem is not as great as I think it is. Is my fixation just amplifying it? Maybe others’ have husbands/ or family/ or nannies they leave their kids home with. Or maybe, my children are just ill-bred! I’m beginning to wonder.
I’ll admit to lowering myself to the Santa Claus threat this afternoon. It had been a day of teasing, fighting, disobedience, screaming, whining. You know the days. Looking back they were quite calm and respectful in Joann Fabrics- granted we were looking at kids toys- so that was captivating. But at Old Navy, not so much. When we got in the car I let off a rant: “I am very frustrated! Your guys’ behavior in there was deplorable. You know, Santa Claus is watching. If. . . then. . . Threat. threat. threat.” I’m not proud of my response. Hence, this post. I’m really seeking strategies. Judging by the behavior of those calm, quiet children in the Vietnamese restaurant, it is possible for children to behave in public settings for extended periods of time. What do I need to do differently? What is the natural consequence for wrecking havoc while shopping?
All advice welcomed!
Last night was our ward’s harvest festival. It’s one of my favorite ward functions because of the sense of community that arises. Costumes lighten the mood, and create easy conversation. The activities are simple but joyful, and it lends it self to much activity and sociality. I’m listening to the book Hannah Coulter. I was touched by the section where she talks about how they would use their free time in the evenings. There was no TV and many didn’t have radios. So they would sit out on their front porches and talk, sometimes it would be so quite you could hear a family talking from their front porch a mile down the road, and sometimes they would even talk back and forth from front porch to front porch. I know this sort of neighborliness still exists in some communities, but I have experienced little of it in the neighborhoods I’ve lived in. Sure I chat with my neighbors from time to time, I consider them friends. But I haven’t done enough to foster a real connection between us.
The harvest festival was followed up my a fifth Sunday combined third hour meeting, and then a potluck, and by chance our friends’ daughter’s baptism. While at first I grumped about the amount of time we’d have to spend at the church. In the end, I found it a complete delight. Its a beautiful thing to be part of such a dynamic community.