Posts tagged ‘nostalgia’

Rituals, Candy and Costumes Included

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.



October 28, 2010 at 8:32 am 1 comment

As They Are Now Is The Very Best

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.

October 25, 2010 at 9:36 am 5 comments


I took this photo today. I was quick on the draw and I’m glad because by the time I sheathed the camera the image was gone. What you see is the silhouette of the plants on the windowsill, projected onto the wall, as the morning sun comes in the window. And now that I think about it it’s a wonder I captured it at all. The sun would have to be at just the right angle, meaning just the right time of year, just the right time of morn, the trees would have to have just few enough leaves on it, there would have to be just enough clear blue sky to let the sun through, I would have to wake up at just the right time, certainly in time to have the shades open at just the right moment. It was a two-minute long moment. The sun then stretched behind the neighbor’s house and it was over.

I almost missed it.

And of course reflection followed. I’ve already been in the “trippin” frame of mind lately, but this fleeting image sort of sent me whole hog over the edge and into reverie. One time in college my professor assigned us one word and we were to spend the afternoon painting that word. He gave us “reverie”. I was twenty and I didn’t really know what it meant, but I made a guess as to how it felt and painted a woman gazing out a window. Somber hues, soft light. The painting was just okay. I think I probably just didn’t know how to do it, not paint of course, that part came naturally, but to sink into reverie.

Now I barely have the time but I slip easily into that state anyway. I know I’m not old, nevermind that some of the folks I interact with on a regular basis were born in 1990. Cough. Sputter. Choke. I know I am in my youth, that when I look back on photos of myself now, with three children filling the house, I will think how very young I look, how rosy my cheeks are, how long my hair reaches. But that’s just the thing. The me that will look at those photos is a whole universe away, years and years away, and I know I will get there in lightning speed.

It is all so fleeting. All of it.

I mean at one point I was a girl. I lived with my parents. I slept in a white wrought-iron bed. I looked out a window onto sunny California skies. I wore a sweatshirt when it was cold, nothing more. I ate food that my mother cooked. I watched t.v. and talked on a corded phone, a rotary phone. I was that person, that person was me. That person was me? It was a lifetime ago and yet so vivid, so real that this life, this one where I sit at a laptop in Montana is entirely surreal.

I now listen to my child say things like: How ’bout we can be princesses of two lands? I am princess of Hawaii, Princess of Egypt… oh, and Princess of Texas, ‘cuz I’m a cowgirl too. And I don’t think anything of it. I only remember it when I sit down to blog. Phrases like that are commonplace, are so now that it’s almost like they don’t exist. I raise a family here, where there are rivers and grizzly bears, open spaces so open they make you worry or want to cry, and trees that turn yellow. I live here, far from the eyes of that sunny-sky family I have known my whole life and sometimes, perhaps because they aren’t seeing it, it’s as if this life of family raising isn’t happening at all.

But notions like that make me panic. It has to be happening, whether or not they can see it, because I don’t want to miss it.

These girls, these days, this me, will later be cause for nostalgia. Like the silhouette on the wall it is going to fade and disappear altogether. I guess I could click away, storing the images in the hopes of actually seeing them, of not taking them for granted, but I know I won’t. I’m just not like that. Our camera grinds itself open with nails-on-a-chalkboard sounds because too often I have left it swimming in the bottom of my bag with crushed cheddar bunnies. So that won’t work. I’ll have to keep my eyes open on my own. Somehow.

And sometimes I won’t. Already so much is lost, images and dates that can’t be brought fully into focus. But there will be other times, moments when I am brought back to this place, back to noticing, even if all the witnesses aren’t present. Maybe there isn’t anything to be done about this anyway, the gap between noticing and not, the passage of time, the memory of rotary phones and the happening-now of toddler cheeks.

Maybe not. Maybe I’m just feeling it.







October 20, 2010 at 10:07 pm 2 comments

Deja Vu

Nearly thirty years ago I was this little girl. Big boots, an Oregon summer, blonde wild hair, and someone’s big green boots.

My sister and I looked forward to a trip to our Aunt Sally’s cabin like it was Disneyland. It was better than Disneyland. The smell of dry summer grass, oak trees, and ripe blackberry bushes sustained us, was a scent of nirvana. There was dirt at Sally’s, piles of kittens to sleep with, a river, mosquitos, push-up popsicles, cousins, and adventure. We loved it more than anything.

So it was with great nostalgia that I looked up in my sister’s Oregon kitchen to see my little daughter trying on workboots, or caught a sight of her picking blackberries among the chickens, or piling on top the dog. Her hair at night smelled like warm Oregon grass and sun, her face was dirty from honest, country, play. If those scenes and scents were nirvana in my childhood, smelling and seeing them layered upon my sweet child is, if even possible, better.

August 11, 2010 at 9:26 am 2 comments

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