Tag Archives: parenting

The Thrill of Twilight

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Do you remember the childhood thrill of playing outside at nightfall?

I was sitting in the hammock bemoaning the fact that it was only 7pm and the dusk was rapidly turning to darkness. From down the road I heard the excited shrieks and squeals of children playing outside, and the memories flooded back. Often when my parents had friends over for dinner, the grown-ups, distracted by free-flowing wine and conversation, would leave us children to our own devices.

Out into the twilight garden we tumbled, the dewy lawn cold underfoot and the wet grass sticking to our bare feet. A pale rock suddenly took on a ghostly hue. The silhouetted woods sent a delicious shiver of fear down our spines. Surely there was a witch lurking in there, or a wolf? All it took was one sudden creak of a bough, or croak of a crow coming home to roost to set us running, running fill tilt, arms outstretched to ward off shadowy objects. Our exaggerated shrieks of terror filled the air. Each circumnavigation of the garden ratcheted up the excitement until someone stopped to spit out a gnat, or scratch an itch, or wail over a stubbed a toe.

Cheeks flush from the chilly air, we’d sneak inside to run our fingers around the remnants of the grownup’s pudding bowl, sure that our giddiness was due in part to the rum in the chocolate pudding. Whispering and giggling, we’d shove snacks for our midnight feast up our sweaters and head out into the full-blown darkness. Flashlight bounced across the garden ahead of us, adding an eerie shadow-filled glow to our surroundings. We all knew that fairies were lurking in the roots of the hawthorn tree, or under the weeping willow, waiting to spirit us away to their magical world. Clutching each other, we’d creep into the vegetable garden and raid the raspberry patch to complete our feast.

We were never ready for it to be over, but at some point the adults would call us in to bed. No tooth brushing, just under the sheets with muddy soles, sticky fingers, raspberry and chocolate stained cheeks, and magical dreams.

The Stolen Child

WHERE dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

–William Butler Yeats (excerpted)

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Golden Moments

Yesterday was one of those crisp September mornings you could bite into like a perfectly ripe Macintosh apple. My youngest son, having started first grade the day before, was off for the Jewish New Year holiday. It was too good an opportunity to miss. We grabbed our cameras and headed out to our local stretch of the Appalachian Trail.DSCF0381DSCF0377

Our first leg of the trail runs alongside a dry summer meadow filled with purple aster and golden rod. My son marveled at the insect orchestra. I pointed out the different pitches and rhythms of the grasshoppers and crickets. We watched goldfinches flitting from seed head to seed head, stuffing their beaks. Trios of cabbage white butterflies danced around a mud puddle. A monarch flapped and drifted, seeking out the last flowering heads of milkweed. The air was sweet with the scent of virgin’s bower, the native wild clematis.

When we reached the woodland, the dirt path was packed, dry clay. But pushing up through the leaf mold, we spied several species of toadstool. When I told Milo about the extensive mycelium network that spreads underground from a mushroom colony, his imagination ran riot. He began inventing Rube Goldberg machines powered by mushrooms that sent secret messages down these connecting tubes.DSCF0370

We reached the boardwalk over the marshes and marveled at the variety of late summer flowers—turtleheads, purple loosestrife, jewelweed, bursting pods of milkweed fluff. At the suspension bridge we gazed down into the slow moving depths of the Pochuck Creek, looking for small trout. I think the herons had got there before us, but we did find an owl pellet stuffed with hair and delicate mouse bones.

At Turtle Bridge we counted nineteen Eastern Painted Turtles, and a water snake.DSCF0367

As we walked back through the woods, it dawned on me that at exactly this spot, six years ago, it had finally sunk in that I was going to have a baby—my youngest son. At 41, with two almost teens, the thought of another baby had been far from my mind. And yet, here he is, six years later, my late summer golden moment. What a gift.

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WHAT KNITTING CAN TEACH YOU ABOUT STORYTELLING

IMG_0323You’re a write eejit when you can’t control your knitting habits.

It hit me the other day like a blast from a water cannon that I’d become one of those crazy-aunt knitters. I knit things for people, unasked. I decide what they want—shape, color, pattern—and gift it to them so they feel obliged to wear it occasionally, and are terrified of tossing it in the bag for The Good Will.

“Socks, here ya go!” “Hats, I got that.” “Legwarmers—I thought of you!”

Yes, I know it became very trendy to knit a few years back, but honestly, I wasn’t riding that wave. I’d done it in a halfhearted, multiple unfinished projects at the back of the cupboard, way since I was a kid. I blame television, or rather, bad television. You need a distraction on hand—hence the knitting.

The success of my knitting hinges largely on how good what I’m watching is. I can rate a show, by how many rows I rip out the next day: the better the show, the more mistakes I make.

Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, all six-month sweater projects, for sure.

What do these programs have in common? Great storytelling, gripping scenes, emotional involvement. They suck you in. And sigh, yes, the writers of these shows are such experts in their craft that before you know it, you’ve knitted three armholes, or two left sides. I can always tell how good a season of Game of Thrones is if I’m still knitting a winter sweater in May.

Instead of torturing nearest and dearest with my knitted offerings, I should be sitting on the couch with a pen and paper, taking copious notes on story arc, character development, tension building. And I swear I will, just as soon as I’ve finished this tea cozy hat.

How to painlessly get your kids ready for school (and college) in half an hour a day.

My husband and I had just brought our first newborn home from the hospital. Honestly, I couldn’t believe they’d let us walk out of the place with her—didn’t they know we were completely clueless? The first diaper change was a fiasco that reduced us to helpless laughter. We were woefully unprepared. The fact that our daughter had DSC_0095showed up a couple of weeks early didn’t help. In those first few days, we walked around in a zombie-like state. One afternoon, while I was napping with the baby, my husband slipped out for a breather. When I woke up, he was back with the first gift he would ever give her—a collection of children’s books that he had loved as a child.

That very day, he propped her warm, saggy little body into the crook of his arm and read her The Lorax. And so began our favorite childhood routine. We read morning, afternoon, and night. Basically, anytime there was a bed involved, and frequently when there wasn’t. In the beginning it was all about indulging our own memories of books. But soon we discovered wonderful new classics of children’s literature. And it didn’t take long before the Ikea bookshelf in her shoebox-sized room was overflowing. When her brother arrived eighteen months later, our days revolved around the park, the bookstore, and the library. He even took his first steps, staggering, giggling, through the stacks in the children’s section of the Brooklyn Public Library.

Shortly after that, our book collection—children’s and adult’s—forced us to beat a retreat from city life. Our drafty old Saltbox was soon insulated with a solid six inches of books.IMG_0083

Toward the end of our second summer living in the county, an event loomed that left me full of dread. Our daughter was off to kindergarten, and the prospect of upsetting our leisurely morning routine—lounging in bed, gasping at the grossness of a Roald Dahl story, or laughing aloud at Shel Silverstein poems—was dismal. I knew that trying to get a cranky, uncooperative kid dressed, fed, and ready for the 8:15 bus was going to put us all in a major snot. Add to that, my determination not to give up our precious morning reading session. Like all good drill sergeants, I came up with a plan. Surprisingly, it worked so well, it became our new morning routine.

The night before I would pull out the next day’s gear (thankfully my kids were never fussy about what they wore). Then, half an hour before I knew the kids needed to be dressed and shoveling food into their faces, I woke them up. This sometimes involved picking them up, semi-conscious, and depositing them in our bed, along with an armful of clothing, various must-have soft toys, and a stack of books. As they snuggled back under the covers, I began to read to them. After about five minutes of a rollicking picture book, guaranteed to capture their attention, they’d be wide-awake. I’d read the next installment of whatever chapter book we happened to be reading—Little House in the Big Woods, The BFG, Harry Potter. Just when I reached a particularly juicy part, I’d pause and say, “Time to get dressed.” Rather than eliciting groans of despair, the kids knew, that was the signal to quietly drag on their clothes, while I finished the last few tantalizing paragraphs. Violá! I had a fully awake, fully dressed, happy crew, ready to face the day with their heads already bulging with stories, and their imaginations firing on all cylinders. An added bonus to all this was that my kids learned to read relatively painlessly, acquired a vocabulary that stopped adults in their tracks, and best of all, a love of books.

I would be fretting about what to do with the Alexandria-sized stacks of children’s book we’ve accumulated over the years when my daughter heads off to college this fall. But lucky for me, my six-year old has allowed us to indulge our morning reading routine just a little bit longer.

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Mud Season

Mud-Wrestling

You’re a write eejit when you love to play in the mud.

It’s that time of year where I live. A few days of rain and sleet have melted the foot or so of hardened snow and ice and turned the top layer into a gelatinous, brown mess. I didn’t get out early enough for my run through the woods and the icy ridges that I can usually balance on had turned into a mushy quagmire. I came home up to my uxters in mud.

There’s always a stage in a project where it turns to mud. Each direction you look you’re wallowing in muck. How did you get here, and more to the point, how are you going to get out?

It’s all a matter of perspective, folks. Once upon a wet, misty day in Ireland—yes, that could be any day, but this one was particularly memorable—I was six and my eldest sister, eight, and our parents took us for a hike up a mountain in Connemara. (In Ireland you don’t sit around waiting for the rain to stop, otherwise you’d never go anywhere or do anything.) So there we were, the four of us, being pummeled by gale force winds on the top of a craggy peak, the car was a tiny speck far below us with acres of steep, godforsaken bog and sheep tracks between us and the chocolate bar I’d left stashed under my seat. My short legs were already aching, and my Welly boots full of sludge from falling in one too many bog holes. What’s a girl to do? As we slipped and slid our way back down the mountain, rapidly becoming more and more covered in mud and soaked to the skin, my mother gave up trying to keep us upright. “All right, girls, go for it!” That was all the encouragement we needed. My sister and I rolled down the rest of that mountain, bumping through tussocks of bog cotton and cushiony pillows of heather. By the time we reached the car we were beyond saturation point. My mother stripped us off and wrapped us in scratchy wool blankets, and we sat grinning all the way home, munching chocolate.

You see, sometimes you just have to embrace the chaos, not wallow in it. As the gardener and the potter and the writer knows, if you’ve got mud, you’ve got substance. It’s ripe for growing. But first you’ve got to play a little. Revel in the chaos, and then slowly, slowly, let it take shape.

Letting Go

You’re a write eejit when you treat your manuscript like your baby.
I’m not the overly sentimental type—or at least I do a good job of hiding it. I wasn’t the one blubbing like a baby at “Mary Poppins” (not looking at anyone in particular, man-mate!) But I confess, when I put my youngest on the bus to kindergarten for the first time, I did feel that mother-child bond stretch out like an over-zealous rubber band, and it brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye. That wee one that had been clamped to my hip and shin for five years, had just blown me a kiss from the other side of the road and hopped merrily on the bus without a backward glance.

Okay, okay, I hear you groan—not another Mommy blog. Well, yes, but just this once, and only to make my point. (I’m not above exploiting my kids.)
So it’s with trepidation that I prepare to send premier child off to college. What if I didn’t get it right? What if I read all the wrong child-rearing books? (Actually, I don’t think I read any.) But what if I didn’t feed her enough kale or Vitamin D. Maybe I shouldn’t have had her vaccinated, and maybe all those fluoride treatments were a mistake. I didn’t teach her to ride a bike. I didn’t talk enough about sex, or maybe I said too much. I showed, but didn’t tell. Maybe I suffocated her character—didn’t let it evolve naturally. Should I have insisted she not swear so much?

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And then I pull myself up short, because I’m being as neurotic about my parenting of my daughter as I am of my books. Can you parent a book? I hear you ask. Yes, most definitely, yes!
You have sleepless nights while it’s in the newborn phase—lying awake for hours wondering if you’re doing it right. You can’t imagine how your baby can ever grow up and demand less of your attention. And then slowly you hit your stride. Sometime you’re cruising along taking every corner like a pro. Other times you’re flailing around like a one-legged roller skater. Sometimes you get to the stage where you just want to throw up your hands and yell, “I quit!” But you can’t. You’re in it for the long haul. And then there are those few and far between days when every, just every little thing, is bloody brilliant.
And as with parenting a child, there comes a time when you have to push that offspring out of the nest. No more editing, looking for stray commas, dangling modifiers. You’ve given it a good talking to and told it to do its best, and never go home with a guy who’s weirder than its brother, and . . . It’s all about giving it wings and letting it fly.

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Photo by Peter Barron