Talk Feeleez is moving. Not too far, just over here.
I needed a little more room to wiggle around, a few more features I could fiddle around with. Please come over, take a look, and save the address so you can find me again.
I care about you a lot. I have put off this move for a long time so that I didn’t make anyone uncomfortable, didn’t rattle anyone by shaking things up too much. With that in mind I made every effort to make the new home a familiar and comfy place. If somethings feels off just let me know and I will see what I can do.
This time I don’t think it’s your run of the mill shedding. I think Henry might be going bald. I think he might be losing his entire outfit. I always complain about dog hair around the house because it is ALWAYS AROUND THE HOUSE. God forbid we have any visitors because they all leave with an additional warmth layer on their behinds. Babies leave with a beard hanging from their drool. No one is allowed to sit down if they are wearing black fleece. And black leggings are right out as well. If this is what you have chosen as attire for the day then just turn around immediately and change your outfit before you join us for even a moment.
I should get to work knitting my family body-suits made from shaggy camel-colored yarn because that’s the only garment we could reasonably pull off these days. What? You see a little yellow dog hair? Oh that’s SUPPOSED to be there. It’s the shaggy yarn you see. Full length Thneeds (don’t tell me you haven’t read The Lorax), our all-purpose, dog hair hiding, uniforms. Absolutely required.
We are at that point.
I don’t remember our boy ever letting go of this much hair, especially right before winter. Images of a plucked-chicken dog in the middle of a snowy field, ball in mouth of course, keep running through my mind. Pocked, nubby, bare skin. Oh dear.
He is so sweet. The girls routinely use his round sleeping form as a landing pad when they launch themselves from the couch. Babies can pull his cheek jowls without a reaction. Ride him if you like, he won’t mind. He is doe-eyed and perfect in so many ways. But good gracious the hair. The dog bed he snoozes in, in between meal times and walks, is as big as a kiddie pool and two days after washing, it is completely lined with two inches of blonde duff. A nest. Big Bird’s nest. You know how sometimes when you walk through the woods you can see the remains of an animal? Bits and pieces, but mostly hair, like the animal itself evaporated leaving a hair silhouette on the ground? Our yard is like that. Several Henry-shaped hairy silhouettes.
I could reach over right now, grab any patch of hair I want and pull it straight out.
And I do. Several times a day, and I think he’s beginning to feel like a project, like an object I keep returning to, a painting I keep reworking until it’s just brown mud. When I do stop he meanders a few feet and then shakes. A mushroom cloud of happy yellow hairs fluff off of him and if he happens to be standing in a shaft of sunlight and you happen to notice the snowstorm of hair, you feel like pouncing on him like a hyena and tackling him to the ground. Only then you’d get more hairy than ever, so you don’t.
The school Halloween party is today. Blue wig, slinky wedding dress, and sparkly heels are packed up and ready to go for Xi’s rendition of the Corpse Bride (the only costume she could think of that was both pretty and spooky – bless her heart.) Even little Echo is invited to attend the school shindig in her Cookie Monster assemble, so we were up at dark this morning so that her older sister could color in the chocolate chips on the cardboard cookie before she left for class.
As a kid I loved Halloween as it involved two things I love: ritual and candy. The ritual was to host a party at our home. My mom would make a giant batch of soup, clam chowder or chilli, and kids were charged with the task of eating a wedge of sourdough and a bowl of real food before trick-or-treating. From my current motherly vantage point I can see that couldn’t have been an easy task. In fact, even in my foggy child memory I think I can remember haggard parents sailing loaded spoons toward wily mouths to no avail. in the meantime, the rest of us already partially-fed children bounced around with plastic pumpkins in hand and badgered the dads about when we could leave.
It was always the dads’ job to escort us around our little neighborhood street. I liked that part. It was Halloween night after all and if there were to be any ghouls, goblins, or pushy teenagers around I liked the idea of my strapping father in his white hoodie, curly early-eighties hair and glasses, hanging around. We marched up and down the street in our pack, a full harvest moon usually rising above us. In Santa Cruz it is always HOT on Halloween day, so that you can wear the prettiest, frilliest princess dress in the land if you are so inclined, but come nightfall another layer is usually required. So most of us were costumed from the waist down. A bit of pirate peeking out from a zip-up sweatshirt.
Emily and I, with an artist mom in our arsenal, never went for the run-of-the-mill costumes. No kitty cat for us. No princess. No fairy. We liked costumes with cardboard and paint, objects. A Pacman video game, a Rubik’s Cube, a bag of groceries. We’d wear these in the school Halloween parade, hoping our face-paint wouldn’t melt in the sun, never sitting down so as not to crush our cardboard frames. By the time night fell we’d be ready to wear something else, something less cumbersome, and my memory is filled with images of my sister doing magical prest-o change-os at the last-minute. Zorro! No… Michael Jackson!… No, …spaghetti and meatballs! That last one, wow. I wish I had a picture. She wore a full red outfit, draped a natural-colored hammock over top, and pasted on paper meatballs. I don’t know which costume she actually ended up wearing.
In any case, we’d tromp up and down our street and return with the bounty. We never ate while we walked, there was a rule that a parent must inspect each piece before eating, just in case sweet Mr. Sundemeyer down the way had slipped a razor blade into a Reeces. We’d sit on the oriental carpet, our mound of sugar before us, and wait, not patiently, for our dad to do his scrutinizing. It felt like forever before he arrived and looking back I can see that what was a candy/kid focused night for me was also a party for the grown-ups, and I’m sure my dad had some back-slapping and rabble rousing to do before making his way to my pile.
The rest of those nights is a sugar-tainted blur. I remember the soundtrack from Ghostbusters on the sound system and always my grandfather opening the door to pass out candy. I’d sneak shy peeks from behind his legs and die of embarrassment when as the evening wore on and the doorbell ringers grew older and less costumed, my grandpa would shout: Hey! Aren’t you a little old for this? I think I see facial hair on you there! He always gave them candy anyway but I was appalled.
Now as a grown-up with my own doorbell I wish he was alive and that I had him with me on Halloween night, especially when teenagers arrive, asking in a baritone, for me to give them a treat. I could use his kind frankness. And while I’m at it, while I’m picking my fantasy Halloween line-up, I’d select my mom too. A pot of her soup would be the very best pre-game nourishment. And my sister. She might, at this point, simply work her costume magic on my kids, but you never know, minutes before leaving she could conceivably whip up a doozy for herself. I’d choose my dad too. His hair is no longer curly and around these northern parts he’d need more than a white hoodie, but it sure would be nice to see him guarding our pack, directing them toward only the lighted, friendly porches, and sifting through their loot for booby-trapped sweets.
I’ll be thinking about them all. I will miss them. But I think we’ll do alright. I can make a mean Halloween soup, in fact I think last year I even made orange biscuits for dipping, and Nathan is more than papa enough to fend off unruly teenagers and goblins. We’ll shuffle through fall leaves and develop our own candy management system. We’ll love it and remember it and our kids will too.
New rituals with a bit of the old woven through.
I know it comes every year. I know it’s because the earth tilts away from the sun. I know all of that but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Yesterday, talking to a friend I said: I still wish for shorter winters, and he said: You’re a bit too far north for that!
On Saturday I saw a sign at the Farmer’s Market, the last market of the year, that said: ” See you the first weekend in May!” The month of May. That is SEVEN MONTHS away. You know they have a market at the first opportunity so that means the very first possible chance of standing around outdoors for any stretch of time is officially in May. Seven months. Seven f-ing months.
Yesterday as I geared up for a dog walk I reached for my puffy coat, which even through the warmth of summer still hangs on the coat rack because Winter always jumps up out of nowhere without any warning, and I almost cried. Because it meant it is cold and it also means that I will be wearing that same coat from now until eternity. Basically the same outfit for seven months. That is worth crying over.
For the last part of spring, all of summer, and the first part of fall, the entire town has been our playground. Any scrap of grass, any stretch of river. If you loaded up the stroller with enough snacks and water you could conceivably stay out all day, moving from one kid friendly locale to another. But not anymore. Yesterday, heading home from the coffee shop, Echo wanted to stop for a moment and watch the football players grunt out some plays. Ordinarily this would mean a relaxing slump on a grassy knoll, but instead with Winter’s arrival, it meant a miserable crouch behind a ponderosa, a face scrunched, shoulders hunched, test of endurance. And I failed. I finally convinced her to climb back in to her sheepskin and blanket, the cozy den of a stroller, and grimaced our way swiftly back home.
When I became pregnant with Echo it was like my world stopped. In my mind I was pregnant, I was going to have a baby, and that’s where the story ended. I knew logically that babies grew into toddlers, then kids, then pre-teens. In fact I had watched both Bella and Xi turn from chubby babes to leggy tykes, but somehow when it was my turn to actually give birth my mental imagery and certainly my planning ended at baby. I figured she would always wear the onesies stacked in my top dresser drawer, she’d always wear the puffy booties, always fit in the crook of my arm.
I knew my belly would out-grow my jeans. I knew I would eventually quit my job. Hiking dogs up snowy mountains with a belly would work for a little while, but those same mountains and drooly dogs with an infant? Probably not. So my vision ended with birth. Part of this limited view is in part due to the very real “pregnancy brain” but also to the fierceness with which I was approaching my role, the steel-like focus. I was doing nothing with more intensity than growing that baby, almost like I had never done a single other thing in my life until that moment. I continued, of course, to wildly love and take care of our older girls. Riding three-year old Xi on the hump of my belly, baking muffins, vacuuming the hairy carpet, reading stories and whipping up batches of play-doh. But all the while I had baby on my brain, and even though the older girls were growing before my eyes I never imagined this baby as anything other than a forever baby.
But she’s not.
Today I am only even allowed to call her “baby” if I remind her it’s just a mushy love name, not an indicator of her actual size. She reminds me every day that she grows during each day, not just on her birthday.
I don’t know if I ever wanted her to stay a baby or if that is just as far as my imagination went, but now when I look at photos of her, even the most full-of-thigh-rolls, eat-her-up-on-the-spot, kind of images I don’t long for that girl. I love this girl, the one next to me in a black turtleneck. The big one with blueberry smears on her chin and a thoughtful look on her face.
I think unless it is a particularly horrible moment, perhaps with kicking and screaming involved, the current version of our children is the best. Who they are today is the very best age, the very best stage.
Sure, as a baby it was cute when Echo found her toes, when she made signs to let us know what she wanted. But today she is discovering the delight of thighs clad in corduroy rubbing together. Today she is looking through a kaleidoscope trying to get one eye to look and the other to close and needing to smash the uncooperative one without simultaneously closing the other. Today she is finding out what happens when you stare at the standing lamp while closing your eyes and rubbing your eyelids, the swirling black, orange, and red shapes that swirl before her like a good acid trip. She is doing three-year old things and they are just as cute as those baby things, but better. Because they are happening now.
And I get to watch and remember, both when I discovered the wicky-wicky sounds of corduroy thighs but also when her sisters did. Those sisters are bigger than ever, their heads reaching my armpits and above, and yet even though I can no longer carry either of them, can no longer see a trace of baby fat, this is the version of them I like best as well. Xi is learning to read and spell and carrying a fairy book around with her everywhere we go and I find it the most endearing thing I have ever seen. Bella is inching her toes into the big-kid world and only yesterday we found ourselves in the underwear section of a department store to try on that particular undergarment, so mundane in the grown-woman world but so blow-your-mind-exciting when it’s your first one.
And this is the stuff worth living for. The photos of yesteryear are not. If I were to talk to my pregnant self I would say: Yes. You will have a baby, and yes, she will be the most important endeavor you have ever begun. But it doesn’t stop there. She will grow and change and not only is that okay, it is delightful and just as things should be. You will not be able to live the baby days over, but you also will not mourn them. You will love your girls more each day and always love the moment before you the very most.
It is a relief actually.
I don’t talk a lot about Feeleez, our line of empathy tools. It’s funny because almost daily I print out labels and Nathan scoots off to shoot Feeleez packages off to excited customers. Kris and I talk business talk at the park while our children shovel sand, and we have big hopes and dreams for this little seed we are watering. In fact this very blog was started as a place to discuss Feeleez news and triumphs, yet I almost never mention them at all. In fact, even though Feeleez forms the fabric of our lives I even forget to use them as tools in my own parenting. Maybe it’s the case of the bookkeeper’s own checkbook remaining unbalanced, the therapists own relationships continuing disastrously, or the housekeepers own house staying perpetually messy, I’m not sure. But in any case I used Feeleez last night for conflict resolution and felt like a doofus for passing our poster by so many times, for not using it for all it’s worth, for not employing it ten thousand times a day.
Nathan is a thespian, so he has been away during the evenings this week rehearsing for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I have been holding down the fort. So you can imagine the scene at seven-fifteen last night. Three tired girls, dirty from a day at the corn maze, and frayed at the edges from non-stop sister dynamics. A sink piled high with dishes. A mama working feverishly against the clock so that when things went downhill she could usher them toward tooth-brushing and story reading and later when she emerged from the sleep-filled bedroom she wouldn’t still face that ugly mountain of pots and pans. In other words, the perfect scenario for a scrap and the perfect scenario for Mama to yell and fail miserably at gentle parenting.
And so it went. In their last-ditch efforts to squeeze every last drop of fun from the day Bella and Xi flitted about from one game to the next, finally settling on drawing. But when Xi slid a piece of paper out of the pile she hit Bella in the arm. Bella was pissed, yelled. Xi yelled back, explaining it was an accident. Bella, not believing her, struck back. Xi cried and stomped away. I watched it all go down and continued to wash dishes. Eventually I explained to Bella what I saw, but it was biased and preachy and my speech certainly didn’t inspire her to run to the bedroom and drape empathy over Xi’s shoulders. I washed more dishes. Then I dipped into the dark bedroom and ladled out empathy myself. Xi felt better but she could hear play continuing in the living room. She wanted to join back in, she wanted to have fun but she didn’t want to act as though nothing had happened either. She was trapped.
I stayed on the dark bed with her for a while, reminding myself that mothers don’t have to know what to do. I could simply hold her and sit in the dark, there are no rules that say mom has to make everything better, and in any case I didn’t know how to do that anyway. Finally I thought of the poster. Glory be! Xi was game so I invited Bella to join us there. They stood awkwardly, like newlyweds in a tiff, and I acted as host. Who wants to start? Will you tell us how you felt at the very first hit? And so we went through the progression, not how the fight went down, but how the girls felt at each stage.
When I asked her what she would prefer to feel like she said, less of the “doh!/oops” feeling and more of the happy one.
I stood in the background and said almost nothing, only oh, uh huh, and oh yeah. That’s it.
The girls started out with their bodies turned as much away from each other as they could while still facing the poster. As they pointed and described, the space between them closed. By the end they were nearly belly to belly and grinning, shyly at first and then full throttle. They hadn’t directly exchanged a single word. They hadn’t “worked” anything out, they simply saw what is was like emotionally for one another. And that was it. I eventually said: Are you guys looking for a sense of closure? It looks like you want to hug. And they did, collapsing happily into gigggles and each other.
It’s miraculous. It’s empathy via pointing and it takes very little. As dirty, tired, and crunchy as they were last night I had very little hope that things would turn out. I imagined surreptitious elbow jabbing during tooth-brushing and crying ourselves into bed. I imagined herculean emotional feats on the part of mama, a collapse on the couch in exhaustion kind of evening. Instead we snuggled, all three of us in the big bed, close, warm, and well-loved. They drifted off to sleep with smiles on their faces.