Does this child need a t.v.?

Does this child need a television?

We don't have a television. Officially and Truly.

We had one in the basement up until a couple months before we moved. Until then, we'd tell people, "We don't have a t.v.," if the subject came up. "Well, we have a t.v., but it's in the basement. We don't watch it," I'd add. Jared would say, "We don't really have a t.v. just because there's one in the basement. It doesn't work." "That's true, but still it's there," I'd say. "But, if you plugged it in, it wouldn't get reception," was Jared's final word. "True, true," I'd say, my final word.

He was right conceptually, and I was right materially. That's a difference in our personalities and perception. We both also like having the last word, or maybe that's just me. Next time, I'll try to pay attention, but I'll probably be formulating my last word.

The last time we watched t.v. was most likely in a hotel somewhere. The last time I remember watching t.v. was when we lived in Queens and really needed to 'zone out'. I tuned into reruns of The Simpsons, adjusted the rabbit ears, and we watched through the fuzz. Our finances and our lives were in the red. Television offered a reliable half hour of peace.

Jared didn't watch much television when he was a child. When his classmates talked about television shows and characters, Jared had nothing to add.

As a kid, I had a t.v. and watched it regularly. I enjoyed cartoons and other shows. I probably could have been doing something else, but I don't look back with regrets.

We recently wondered if Beren might one day wish that he lived in a house with a television. I certainly wished my parents' television also included a cable subscription. We wondered if he might feel like an outsider.

We agreed that there was little to worry about. There often is so little to worry about. Looking back at the things I worried about regarding Beren, there was little to worry about.

Big weekend

Hoop house one goes from pad to partially erected.

Child reminds mother that success is a state of mind. Our gingerbread house may not get of Certificate of Occupancy, but it was fun to assemble (and to lick the extra icing).

After two days inside trading germs, mother has no more reason and allows child access to straight pins to make cranberry, pin, and snap shish kebabs. Note the styrofoam - "I made a mouth, Momma!" 

And, last but not least, our Christmas tree is up. Perfect height, just an inch below the ceiling, proving once again, everything is better at the farmhouse.


Treasures, Momma. Here's another treasure.

Most days, I feel quite youthful. There are days that I realized I have stepped across the threshold, deep into the world of adults where sad events happen. Today was the latter.

Beren makes child-sized steps into that world every day. One evening, I tell him that tigers eat smaller animals. "No animals should eat animals," he tells me. "It's likely they eat fruit, too," I say.

Yesterday, he got a balloon at Shop Rite and that bright yellow balloon makes him joyful. Jared carefully shepherds Beren and the helium-filled balloon to the truck. Back home, Jared tells him to enjoy his balloon, but keep it away from light bulbs. Jared and I hustle to get dinner ready - it's already 6pm. Beren bats the balloon around for awhile, until BANG! The balloon drifts up into one the recessed kitchen lights.

Beren's face crumples and he screams. Jared and I do, too, form surprise. Tears stream down Beren's face. He wanders a short circuit through the kitchen. "WHY DID THAT HAPPEN?!" he repeats again and again. "MY BALLOON!" Jared and I console him while canola oil spatters from a not, empty skillet. My face is wet with his tears. "MY BALLOON! I WANT MY BALLOON!"

It was terribly sad. Passing into veil of things, things being so deeply pleasurable and meaningful, and then lost.

Happy birthday eve, tiny family

Exactly four years ago, I was undergoing a complete transformation of self, one that would be completed when my son was born twenty hours later.

But really completed? No, not at all. It was a beginning. One that I fell into, part rock, part water, part sweet and soft fruit. Beren was placed in my arms and there he was. I stumbled and crawled at times, but my starts are usually awkward and rocky anyway. But really when is the start?

I've found I can turn a new beginning into something fraught. Jared is pleased and excited. I'm wide-eyed and feel the touch of a frantic hand on my shoulder.

I have had a little mirror and little reflector by my side for four years now. I can see me translated by a little person who is his own person, but is part me. I hear my voice, I see my actions. Sometimes I'm pleased and sometimes I'm startled.

I hope that one day Beren will see that I tried to understand myself for this tiny family's well-being and here, I've told some of our family's story.

I may be shy at the start but once I put down roots into the new, whatever it is, I'm there. Happy birthday eve, tiny family.


Big Bear, I love you no matter what.

For about four days Beren was a very, very grumpy bear. On day one, I was grumpy bear, too, so it's hard to say who started it.

Could've been my fault, my bad mood might have been catching. Jared noted that I was a grumpy bear momma, and instead of snapping at him, I snapped my attitude back into shape. It soon became obvious that Beren had a mild stomach complaint, though he very, very strongly denied have a stomachache.

After one romp outside, Jared snuggled Beren on the couch. Jared asked, "Is it hard that it's cold out and we spend more time inside?" "I want there to be green leaves!" Beren said.

Some of my tension eased as I listened to their conversation. Maybe they were getting to the bottom of this grump. The seasonal transition is tough. It's tough for me. He's better when we're occupied outside, but then again, not really. And then he's ok, when we're cuddled and reading a book. When I get up, he goes wild.

"Is it just me?" I asked Jared. A shriek from Beren, something in the other room wasn't going well. "No, it's not just you." Some jump he had attempted wasn't perfect. Maybe this is just who he is? Maybe he was in some developmental stage? But then there's the bellyache... I pinwheeled from understanding mother to tearful mother to angry mother to guilty mother.

He was a grouch. There was no denying it. On day three, he looked at me, smiled, and dumped the laundry basket on the floor. "Are you doing that because you know it will make me upset?" I asked. An honest but unanswerable question for a 3.99 year old. Little transgressions and big overreactions continued through the day.

On day four, he knocked over a potted plant, and refused to sweep up the dirt. Everything was uncomfortable, nothing was right. On and on. I thought I'd lose my mind. It was becoming an ineffective contest of the wills.

I frequently tried to set Beren up with a fun arrangement of toys, play for awhile and then slip into an adjacent room for peace. Beren would quickly come find me. I reminded myself that when Beren acts like this, more attention works better than less attention, but any amount of attention seemed not quite right. Most things Jared and I were doing were not good enough or so our child was letting us know in a variety of ways.

I considered calling my Mom to ask her to babysit. I searched the web for "four year old cranky" and got many hits, including a somewhat humorous article about how years two through four are very difficult. So, year five is magic? What about the teen years, I wondered? What will become of me then?  Still, I felt a little better - maybe this will end.

Jared and I took turns parenting, and somehow did not turn on each other.

On day four, Jared told me that his sister and her boyfriend were in the area. I alternated between thinking it was a good idea and a bad idea. Guests? Now?

Their arrival loosened our frazzled household's mood. We shared dinner and conversation. We discussed a relative with a young and spirited child who opened all of Beren's gifts at his first birthday party. I mused that she might be seven years old by now. My sister-in-law laughed, "That's an interesting age." She's a teacher, so she has some insights. My respite will be between age five and six, I'm guessing.

When Beren's aunt suggested he show them his room, Jared and I sighed with relief as they ascended the steps.

We huddled in the kitchen. "Oh thank g/d they're here," we agreed. Jared opened a jar of chocolate from Belgium. We each stuck butter knives into the jar and ate the truffle-like sweet from our blades. We doubled dipped. When I put down my knife, Jared said, "You deserve more. Here."

When our guests left Beren returned to his off kilter behavior. "Chamomile, he needs chamomile," I said to Jared. He got chamomile and his bedtime routine.

When he woke this morning, the beast had been dispelled.


This picture has nothing to do with this writing. It's Beren and one of his pals eating wintergreen.

When Beren was about two, Jared and I went out in the evening to friend's house for dinner. Beren was to spend his evening with my in-laws. We'd be back later to sleep over.

Our friend hosted several couples and one pair were to have a baby in the coming months. We noted that this was the first we'd been out at night together without our son. Everyone was surprised, especially the couple with child.

Later, one mother told me she and her husband rarely went out. "We realize we miss our girls at home. We try not to talk about them, but then we have nothing to talk about. So, I'll say, "Guess what the little one did yesterday? It was so cute!'" I shook my head, agreeing.

Deep into the evening, we received a text message, "Asleep."

On the road to my in-laws, Jared and I wondered if Beren would still be asleep when we arrived. We tried to time our arrival for "The 10:30 Wake Up", but the food was good and the conversation engaging enough that we lingered.

When we opened the door at my in-laws' house, I heard Beren's hysterical sobs coming from upstairs. "He's been crying like that for only a few minutes," my father-in-law said.

The 10:30 Wake Up.

I bounded up the steps, taking two at a time. My heart pounded, partly from the adrenalin pushed through my system by my child's cries and partly from a fear that he might wake and not return to sleep.

My mother-in-law was calmly crouched by his side, uttering comforting words. "I couldn't get him back to sleep," she said simply.

I tucked in beside him and nursed him back to sleep. This was our routine for years.

Another evening, we left Beren at my in-laws' and when we returned, he was cuddled in my mother-in-law's lap watching a movie on a projection screen. Beren's face glowed blue with the silver screen's light. "When I asked if were going to go to sleep, he said, 'No,'" my mother-in-law explained. Jared and I shrugged, not surprised.

Things have changed a little lately. The 10:30 Wake Up is no more. It's become The 10:30 Application of Chickweed Salve to the Chapped Face Because it is Otherwise Refused During Waking Hours. Beren doesn't like greasy stuff on his face. He's living in the now, as people sometimes say. As in, I don't know when this now will end. It could be forever. And that is most likely what he was considering when Momma and Papa were not home at the bedtime hour.

Over the years, I've snuck away, guiltily, in the evenings, leaving Jared to put Beren to bed. It was already a fraught time of day, the ultimate transition for a little one who cared not for change.

I did this rarely while Beren was exclusively breastfed, perhaps 3 or 4 times to attend a night class. I was not undisciplined at the breast pump, just doing it while at work. Otherwise, I felt I hardly had the time for another task. I'll just stay home - let's just nurse and conk out.

As he's gotten older, I've more frequently been away at night, to see friends because Jared's taken over the bedtime routine. And as of the past couple months, I've begun taking a night class once a week. It was time, and like most things there were no determining signs, we just fell into the rhythm.

Sometimes before I go out, Beren tells me, "You should stay here FOREVER!" And while I usually agree, my occasional evenings out have come more steadily as Beren's become more steady. "I'll tuck you in," I say, and apply salve liberally to those pink cheeks, I think.

On the way out to my class, tears begin to roll down my cheeks. Things are changing lately. I wipe my eyes and focus on the road.

On the way home from class, I drive around the last bend before our house, I watch for Beren's light. It's off. He's asleep. Inside, I ask Jared, "Did he say anything sweet? Did he ask for me?" Often the answer is "Yes". Once Beren asked why I always went out at night.

Upstairs, Beren is swaddled in his down blanket. His mouth hangs open. I put my hand on his chest and let it rest there and then I rub salve on his cheeks. "Goodnight, Beren. I love you."

Things That Eat You Up

Dad's Truck Filled With Tools at My House

My Dad sat back in a chair at my kitchen table. He sipped his coffee. He just had been on the roof of my house, knocking down a leaky, dilapidated chimney and patching the hole.

All summer long, I watched the water stain inside one of our closets grow. Each rainstorm expanded the stain. From the plaster wall's perspective, the summer drought was ok.  

When I see a roof covered with tarps, and think, "how sad, that family can't afford to fix their roof." It's so fundamental, a roof over your head. And here was my roof leaking from a chimney wrapped in a weatherbeaten tarp. How sad, that family bought that home and can't even afford to fix their roof. Times are hard, one of my neighbors might have said.

"I love being a homeowner," I told my Dad as he continued to sip the weak coffee I brewed him as a weak thank you for his time on my roof. "But, it makes me realize all the things I don't know. I don't know about shingles, plumbing, or heaters, so I'm constantly asking people questions about houses. The worst is not knowing or understanding something. I'd rather know what's wrong, even if it is very costly repair. I just hate not knowing."

My Dad nodded and sat back, "And it eats you up inside," he said.

"Yes! It does!" I said. I expected he'd say he too had these feelings, but instead he said:

"You always were like that. Things would eat you up. Your brother was so laid back. We always thought if you could each trade a little of your personalities, you'd both be better off."

I smiled. "Yes, I've often felt that way."

My brother is confident and amiable. He's relaxed, on the surface, anyway. He's well-liked by my extended family, and that's well-deserved. He's got a great girlfriend and the two of them are fantastic with Beren. While he might have been laid back about schoolwork as a kid, but he's a competitive and driven adult. People are complicated.

"Yeah, things would just eat you up," my Dad repeated.

After he finished his coffee, I helped him carry his tools to his truck. "I was glad to take care of that roof. It's been on my mind all summer. I just kept thinking about it," he said.

Forty-eight Months

 Hang on, Momma. Nothing stays the same.

These days Beren might lay in bed staring at the ceiling when he wakes. Or, we might hear him bound out of bed, clamber onto the toilet, pee, and then return to his room. He might then descend the steps, aglow. Why he's dressed for the day. 

In many months past and years past, he'd lay in bed, demanding my presence while crying piteously. That was distressing and that was how we began our days, each day, for about 3 and a half years.   

This is why I regularly try to spend time with other mothers and children.

I never knew a baby could wake happy until I had my second child, one friend says. Whew, we're not alone, I think.

On another occasion, I glance over at a friend who holds his infant daughter. She's dozing. Wasn't she just awake? Babies can do that? Babies can fall asleep away from mother's breast? Wow, we weren't in that club.

Just weeks away from four years old, Beren's bedtime routine has changed from the early days, too. It used to take just shy of forever to get Beren to bed. Now, it's bath or shower, snack, story, and then lights out for a "Cheetah story". This is story Jared's invention, and each night Beren is treated to a story about Cheetah, his family, and his friends - Cheetah Momma, Cheetah Papa, Kitty, Mishi, Socks, Checkers, Mrs. Anteater, and Spots. Beren appears in the stories, too. Beren helps weave the stories.

Most nights Jared leads the bedtime routine. I can hear Beren shouting about how he's riding his orange tractor with Cheetah. I hear Jared and Beren talking about a mysterious machine called The Bizbopper. Beren shouts, "Bizbop!" which is the sound The Bizbopper makes.

Often around 9:15 p.m. Beren falls asleep, sometimes alone in his room, sometimes cuddling with Jared. Sometimes, like tonight, I'm called in to be The Closer. It's 9:42 p.m. and Beren is finally asleep. It's far later than I'd like it to be, but like most things there's much more flexibility in the routine and in the moment.

Beren can have a later bedtime without shaking the earth's balance, or at least without disturbing the following three day's bedtimes. He can spend a couple more minutes hungry for snack without "going A-bomb" to quote an old friend. He might declare that he needs to pee, strike up a conversation, and then idly head for the bathroom only when prompted.  The Bizbop Days of Forty-eight Months are easier than days past.

Ah, perhaps. Today, Beren accused me of "always" causing him to jump poorly or break his Lego buildings or something or another. It's always something or another to keep me hopping.


At 8:15 in the evening I look outside, and exclaimed, "It's snowing!" We huddled at the door, watching huge flakes cover the ground. "Let's go outside!" Beren said. Though on the cusp of bedtime, we agreed. The first snow in a new home happens only once, after all.

Two pairs of mittens were quickly soaked. And we eventually retreated inside. Tearfulness indicated bedtime's cusp had passed.

At parent's bedtime, we did our own rituals - talk, light snack, draw a glass of water, and head upstairs. Despite our intentions to stay awake, we drifted to sleep. I woke in a hot cocoon of pajamas, bathrobe and quilt. I heard Beren whimper and cough. I climbed into his bed to comfort him back to sleep.

The following morning, Jared and I peered into Beren's room as he woke. He rubbed his eyes and didn't notice our stare. He peered outside. The snow was still there. By 9:00 AM, early by our standards, we'd already been out for about a half hour.

Our farm

By 10:00 AM we were in the truck heading to Duke Farms. While Jared taught a class, we spent our time in the orchid greenhouses. And so, I add my photographs on the Orchid Range to what must be thousands or more images of the Duke Farms orchid collection.

 Reminds me of Jewelweed.

Reminds me of Tradescantia.

 And, Indian paintbrush. 

The Measuring Stick Has No Marks

Work or family? Work or family? Is it either or or can you do both?

In my experience, once my child hit age 3 and 3/4ths, I could do both. I can do both with several caveats: 

I work from home. (I also have part time work away from the home). We have a native plant nursery. Some tasks can be made interesting to a young boy. For example, we yanked dozens of 4' long pieces of rebar from our gravelly farm field. Beren happily pulled some and then raked leaves and clipped branches with hand pruners. 

First and foremost, I'm a mother. Luckily, I work with my husband, so we take turns on parenting, which includes stopping for snacks, boo boos, a push on the swing, or assistance climbing on some part of the farm infrastructure.

In no way does 'work' include sitting down to read or use a computer. 

And last (and first and second...), I'm a mother, so that means while Beren has been into growing to his rebar pulling self, I've been growing him. This means my participation in the business has been about 30/70, me/Jared. I'd graciously and honestly say that we're 50/50 parents, but still I've been able to pull off only 30% for the farm. 

When Beren was an infant, I hardly had time to make a half dozen 4" by 4" paper cut outs of wild birds for his mobile. In between diaper changes, nursing, and perhaps filling a cup of water for myself, I had zero time. He'd wake up as I trimmed out a killdeer beak or hummingbird tail. Sigh, don't you know I'm making this for you? How about another five minutes on that nap? Infancy and toddlerhood were so absorbing, and then again so is early childhood. 

When we began our nursery Beren was about 2. I really wanted to share in the work and did. Jared made space for me and held a space for me by being with Beren. 

But still, my role lagged behind Jared's. I felt deep pangs when I'd hear someone talk about "Jared's nursery". 

Business makes little room for children or families. Evening programs during bedtime, daytime programs during nap time or snack time or play time. Meetings and events with no space for a mother (or father) and child. I thought I might bring Beren along various places, and we certainly did. There were far more that we didn't.

After all, spending time as a family was one of the fundamental reasons we started our own business, and yet there was a push away from family. There was a little boy that needed me. There was a husband and business partner that needed me. And a me that needed me, whoever that was. 

After the whirlwind of setting up our farm on our own land and the slow fade into this autumn, we've had a chance to reflect on 30/70. Jared and talked about how we might become 50/50. 

We rolled out our empathetic listening skills. We talked about the way that some women participate in a family business...they do the books. I definitely have that role, self assigned. No glory, we agreed. We talked about our interests within our business plan, our passions, and our comfort areas. 

Like most of the good talks we've had lately, there are no immediate resolutions. There's no hope or desire for one. It's just important to talk.

A few days later, I baked a quiche that we'd take for lunch while making the Central Park delivery. "Making this quiche, is participating in our business," I said. "This is our farm and everything I do helps our farm. Whether it's packing snacks for our delivery or washing our work clothes. It's all important."

"I want some time to think about that," Jared replied slowly. 

"I just don't want to discount all the work I'm doing by saying I'm just 30%."

"Ok, but that's not the glory work you were talking about a couple days ago. And, I want you to be doing the things you want to do," Jared said.

I think 50/50 is the measure the modern, conscious family might try to live by. But really it's often felt like what we might fight about. It can be confusing to sort out who sorts the recycling, who goes grocery shopping, who waters the plants, who runs the tiller. How can it be measured, not by a calculator certainly. Weekly or annual tally? Perhaps by a sense of self worth? It's not easy when the measuring stick has no marks.


Central Park Conservancy's plant enclosure.

Today we made a delivery of native red raspberry and blackcap raspberry plants to Central Park. Thorny plants make good living fences apparently. 

We decided to make a day of it, especially since the hour and a half ride to the city (mind you, The City, as there are no others) would tax our family's sanity and one three year old's need to ramble. And so, we rambled. 

After the delivery, we (Jared) drove across town in our full size Dodge truck with a quad cab. I occasionally clung onto the "oh sh*t" handle. Beren asked why there were so many taxis. 

Beren has been here a few times before. He knows that this is where Pickles the Cat and Jenny Linsky, two cat characters in a beloved book - School For Cats - are from. He knows New York City is where our Zabar's mug came from. He also knows this is where Papa grew up and lived before he knew Momma. The latter fact elicits a smile of disbelief from Beren.

Along one of the avenues on the west side, a muni-meter declined our credit card. We sought $3.50 in change from nearby stores. This amount would cover the one hour limit. One store had no cash register (really?). The other could not open the register without a sale. I glanced around at wares in the high-end tea shop and down at my twenty dollar bill. "Sorry," the clerk said. "It's just the way we do it here. Perhaps because we usually have so little change anyway. I'm sorry." I frowned at looked at my obviously hungry child. "It's ok."

Back outside in the rain, I called 311, listened and responded to the prompts, and finally reached a person. "I've tried two credit cards. Both were declined. I know they're fine." The line went dead. I turned towards Jared and Beren who huddled under an awning to keep dry. Beren was crying. 

"You and Beren go to Zabar's. I'll park the truck," said Jared. What a dad thing to do, I thought. Not bad. "OK, great. We'll order something for you."

Jared was back before I placed our order. "I found a spot. First I was waved away from a full parking deck, and then I felt I was owed a spot. It's just a block and a half away. No meter." Super dad.

Once our food was ready, we sat elbow to elbow at the counter. All realms were represented. One woman was dressed in traditional Dutch costume, including wooden clogs. One man pulled a small amplifier up to his chair. Another woman was from Vancouver. She chatted amiably to us and passed us a handful of napkins. Minutes later she mentioned her recent recovery from pneumonia. "I'm drinking lots of tea,"she said and covered her mouth to emit a crackling cough. "Do you want more of sandwich, Beren?" Jared asked. "Let's get out of here," he then whispered to me.

On the street, "Pneumonia?! We have to wash our hands!" Jared said. Indeed, it's a been a long autumn of respiratory based colds. No need to add pneumonia. 

We passed a panhandler. Jared wondered how they fared. "Do people carry change anymore? Or just iPads and credit cards?" 

With no destination, we decided to visit some of Jared's old haunts, including the alcove of the apartment Jared lived in when he was Beren's age. "The Fallout Shelter sign is still there," Jared said. 

We crossed the street into Riverside Park. A group of masonry workers passed us, and I heard one say something about, "stinkle berries." I think he meant gingko.

Notoriously stinky fruit of the common urban tree, gingko. I've used powdered autumn leaves of gingko in herbal candies for memory.

"I used to ride sleds down this hill," Jared said. "What's down at the bottom?" Beren asked. A playground where Jared spent many, many happy hours as a kid.

Feeding the "Momma" hippo autumn leaves. "She's hungry. Let's put more in." The hippos are new and so is most of the playground, Jared tells us.

 Puddle stomping at the Soldier and Sailor's Memorial

"What's this place?" Beren asked. I said nothing. It's something we're very lucky to know little about first hand, I thought, and we continued down Riverside Drive.

Who's Lurking

An active listener makes eye contact

Last night Jared and I discussed the cooling temperatures and how irritated and dry my skin becomes. It can be mind-numbing, or perhaps I wish my mind could be numbed.

This is difficult for me to accept, being a person who has a decent diet, gets exercise, and spends time outside. Know you, those things the doctor hopefully tells you to do. My home life is solid. My partner is supportive. I have a few friends I can call and present Too Much Information to. I have a couple hobbies, also. Last, I incorporate natural remedies into my life. So, I expect to not have simple necessities like scarves cause an irritation. And yes, I've worked the laundry angle, too.

We sat on our big, soft couch talking it over. Jared was particularly kind and gentle. I listened to the way he was talking to me. I felt relaxed by his tone. I smiled, "Are you lurking me?"

Over the past couple months, I've been reading about and practicing empathetic listening for a volunteer commitment I've undertaken. Listen. Empathize. Reflect. Clarify. Jared and I jokingly call it "lurc(k)ing".

We can tell when one of us begins "lurking." While we've had good communication from the start of our relationship, this style is new. We're fully partnered in life - married with child, new homeowners, and business co-owners. We communicate a lot. So much. All the darn time. Like a chafing scarf, it can get overwhelming:

What color will we paint the shutters? Will we paint the shutters? I'm not sure we should worry about the shutters. I really want to remove the chimney. There are no shutters on the south side of the house. Look at the crack in the siding. I got an email from someone looking for a million black huckleberries. We need to step up production. We ran out of quart pots. No, I put them over there. Have you seen Beren's shoes/mittens/pants/Cheetah toy/paint brushes?

Remember how the teacher sounded in the animated version of Charles Schulz's Peanuts? Uh huh.

We both went through the post-modern philosophy grinder at Rutgers. We're fairly critical listeners, readers, and thinkers. We can also be critical (ahem, especially me). "Lurking" is definitely the new wave. It doesn't have any hard edges or Foucault or Baudrillard or sign or signifier, though it might have some de Beauvoir. Sometimes I feel a little silly when I'm practicing.

I'll catch myself trying to "fix" some situation or feeling for Jared. I'll pause and resume, "That sounds really difficult, Jared. You've been working really hard." I'll smile. I can't help it. "You're lurking me," Jared says.

And then, Jared will practice on me. Shucks, it really works. It so much easier to talk if someone is listening, not calculating.

I've often heard from women that male partners try to "fix" things. They other solutions to difficult emotional situations, while these women prefer to simply be listened to. Is this a gender thing? Maybe, women and men are quite different.

Regardless, when we ended the conversation last night, I felt like I had support and a plan. Maybe not a fix, but definitely a plan.

First Halloween

Halloween Cactus

"I want to be myself," Beren told us when Jared and I asked about Halloween costumes in early October. "OK, that makes sense," I agreed.

A week later, Jared and Beren were joking around, and Beren, who finds rhymes and wordplay very amusing, laughed heartily when Jared said, "You can't kiss a cactus!"

In the nursery, we have a Dutch bulb crate filled with cacti pads for future divisions. The cactus intrigued Beren for the past two growing seasons. He's been respectful of the cactus' prickles after Jared explained to him about cactus spines and their nearly invisible glochids. He'd often sit by the cactus crate and linger peacefully. He added stones and pebbles to the soil around the pads after learning they like well-drained soil.

And just like a cactus, Beren does not like kisses. He rubs them off. I once asked if he didn't like wet kisses. No, he didn't like wet kisses. As a child, I found damp, chilly kisses unappealing, too.

Once or twice, at bedtime when he's very tired, I've given away kisses with no complaint, just guidance. "Very dry, Momma. Make it very dry." I wipe my mouth. "Dry?" "No, more dry," he says wiping his face. I wipe and try again, "OK?" "That's dry. That's OK." More typically, Beren shrieks and exclaims, "No kisses!"

One evening after the "You can kiss a cactus" game, we asked if Beren would like to be a cactus for Halloween.

Yes. Yes, he did want to be a cactus.

I considered the options. Though my mother is a great seamstress, I'm mediocre and impatient at the sewing machine, and my son is very discerning about color.

I found a set of plain green thermal long johns online. Jared, Beren, and I sat around the computer. "What do you think of these? Cactus-colored?" Beren said nothing, but watched the computer screen intently. I moved the cursor around the screen, enlarging the view of long johns. The cursor created a one by one inch semi-transparent blue square over the long johns.

"Cactus-colored?" I repeated. Silence. I pointed at the bright green clothing. "Is this cactus-colored?" Beren pointed to the color created by the green long johns and the blue magnification square. "That is cactus-colored."

He was right. Prickly pear cactus has a bluish tone. Jared explained that the long johns were truly bright green. No go.

After Beren went to bed, Jared and sat at the kitchen table. "You know, I don't want to be a downer, but if you're going to put all this work in, Beren will have to agree to the costume. It would be disappointing for you to make something and him refuse to wear it." "That's for sure, on all counts," I agreed.

A few days later, Beren and I went to a local craft store. In the fiber arts section, we perused the t-shirts and found lime green, but no cactus green. We turned to the dyes and chose two bottles of liquid Rit dye that we agreed were cactus-colored. We found red pom-poms that were acceptable for fruits. Beren chose medium-sized though I liked the larger ones. For spines, we compared felt and foam. "We can cut spine shapes from these," I told him. Beren opted for the grey foam.

We continued to browse the aisles and stopped at the pipe cleaners. The display was vibrant and candy-like. They're always handy, I thought. "I want ALL them," Beren said. To myself, I agreed. Aloud, I said, "Would you like this package or this package?" as I held up two packages of multi-colored pipe cleaners. "THAT ONE!" "OK, GREAT! Let's look at more STUFF!" I said and hustled us to the next aisle.

We found rolls of shiny mesh fabrics at the far end of the store. The glitz caught my eye, and internally I thought, "I want ALL of them!" From three colors, I narrowed down to one roll, purple, of course. The rolls were about $10 each. Across the aisle was a nice display of puffy bows made from lengths of the mesh and tied off with pipe cleaners. They cost $7.99 each. I wavered. I already had the pipe cleaners in my basket. I had the craft skill, maybe. All I needed was the sparkly mesh. It looked simple enough, and maybe I could make a Halloween costume for myself, or maybe bows for holiday gifts.

Ten days have passed. I've made one awkward bow and no costume for myself. However, Beren and I tie dyed his shirt using the green dye that was the most cactus-y. We cut a stack of triangles from the foam. I sewed two rows of red pom-poms down the front of the shirt at Beren's direction. I sewed one final pom-pom on the back of the t-shirt. Again at my young clothing designer's request.

I sewed one foam triangle on. It flopped downward. Not quite right, we agreed. After Beren's bedtime, I took my sewing machine out and sewed the foam triangles all over the shirt. They stood straight out like spines. It was after 10:00 PM and I was tired, but I successfully made my my child's first Halloween costume (as a couple other Halloweens were spent sick). I held it up. "Nice!" Jared said.

When I unveiled the spiny shirt the following day, it was well-recieved and then difficult to remove at bedtime. "I having so fun in this shirt!" he told me. "We'll wear it again tomorrow for the Halloween party at the indoor gym," I said. Satisfied, Beren got into his pajamas.

While we dressed for the Halloween party the following morning, I asked what shirt might go under a cactus shirt and what socks a cactus might wear. Compliance. I got dressed up in a shin-length brocade vest, a puffy white shirt, and wrapped a colorful scarf around my head. "What are you, Momma?" "I'm a pirate, like Uncle Willy's pie rats," I said. Beren, an admirer of Richard Scarry stories, including "Uncle Willy and the Pirates" smiled approvingly. "Are all people going to be dressed up in favorite clothes?" Beren asked. "Well, all the kids will be, but adults sometimes don't. Some probably will. I like to."

At the party, hosted by a local community center, I was one of two adults in costume. The party's host was dressed like a gnome. One 4 year old dressed as a princess told me she liked my costume. Someone's grandmother enthusiastically praised Beren's costume, in the way that grandmothers do. "I like that costume! What are you? A dinsosaur? I like that costume!""He's a cactus!" I answered as Beren scampered away. "Oh, I like that cactus costume!"

This is our child's "first" Halloween as a full participant in the festivities. Halloween night's forecasted to have cold weather…wish me luck when I say, "Which jacket would keep a cactus cozy? This one or that one? Cactus do like to be warm."

Check. Mark it off the list.

I do ladders.
I don't do ladders.
I do ladders as high as my parents let me.

Winter hands are here.

All it took was a blustery day spent blasting away at the north side of the house with a power washer. Just in time for Halloween, our 1830s farmhouse no longer looks haunted. The faux shutters still look dingy and faded, but the grim algal bloom covering the siding is gone.

Since I don't "do"tall ladders, Jared made the ascent with the washer. Thankfully, the two wasp nests that had been there in the summer were inactive. Now, there's just one active nest, down from a high of six active nests on the house alone (that's excluding the nests discovered in the yard).

I had scrub brush duties, ladder-stabilizing duties, and child duties. Beren immediately wanted the lighter weight but better performing scrub brush. After a few passes with the inferior brush, I offered to trade back. "Mine has a soft handle with a red stripe. Want this one, Beren?" He agreed, but quickly found his new tool unworkable. "It's too heavy!"

I left Jared attached to the ladder, and went inside to find a squeegee and a small scrubber. Beren accepted the squeegee, and I went back to scrubbing. Working in the shadow of the house was chilly and then warm and then hot and then cool in that autumn sort of way.

Beren was happy to climb the 6' ladder right behind me, as I tried scour higher areas. He must have forgotten yesterday's hike when he fell off a rocky bluff and landed squarely on the top of Jared's head. I blame the apple that slipped out of my backpack. As Jared bent to retrieve it, Beren slipped. I screamed, and Jared braced himself, thinking that I was about to fall on his head. Our mountaineering antics were not to be repeated today. "Maybe you could work down lower," I suggested to Beren.

On the job, I alternated between the attitude of "good enough" and "one more spot". Since I dare not go up a ladder more than 6' or 7' tall, I felt it most tactful to tell Jared, "Great job. The house looks great," each time he climbed another rung. The dark smudges by the attic window, well, "we" would get them next time.

"OK, I'm cold, wet, and tired," Jared stated. I replied, "C'mon down. The house looks great. Thanks so much." He descended until I could reach the power washer wand. Jared turned to me. His safety glasses were covered in water. His windbreaker jacket was soaked. His face was red and dripping. "Got it," I said as I grabbed the wand. "Go inside, get changed."

The next time I drive up the mountainside to my house, I will no longer think, "We really have to take care of that siding." Instead, I'll think, "Check. Mark it off the list," and then I'll immediately find another project to take its place.

Brooklyn Bridge Park

 Brooklyn Bridge Park

 Brooklyn Bridge Park - another memory making photograph

 We went to the park to check out the native plantings in an urban setting

Butterfly milkweed blooming in a recently seeded area 

"Beren said something so sweet, but I can't remember what it was," I say. If only I could remember it all.

Upon considering my 10th year of marriage, I observed that there were far more times that I forgot than remembered. Photographs are helpful. They center memories around a time that seemed important at the time of picture-making.

I might forget this trip to Brooklyn Bridge Park without the photograph. I certainly wouldn't recall Jared's squint against the grey clouds or Beren watching a family pass by.

Jared might remember the trip. The ultimate destination was a community garden where we'd attend the wedding celebration of his very first friend in life. Or, he might remember every time he sees a Pier 1 store. While I planned the day's activities - drive into Brooklyn and then explore and have lunch in the park, I repeatedly exclaimed how excited I was to go to Pier 1. Jared thought I was talking about Pier 1 Imports, and I knew I was talking about Pier 1 of the Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Tenth year of marriage, still working on communications. Possibly, it's more important than ever, now that we know each other so well and have a child.

I might remember the fun slide with the beautiful stone steps at Pier 6. A light dusting of sand from sandplay areas coated each step. We felt as though we finally found the best playground at the very last pier. On the second trip up the slide's steps, Beren slipped on the layer of sand. He was propelled downward on a thousand tiny sand-wheels, and I could hear the impact of his face on the stone.

"Oh no, oh no!" I grabbed him and hurried down the steps. "Oh! Oh!" I wish I could control the exclamations that come from my mouth when Beren's hurt, but I hardly can.

Jared wrapped his arms around us. "Oh, Beren! What hurts?" He couldn't speak through his cries and gasps.

We found a bench along the main pedestrian thoroughfare at the park's end. We three huddled. Comfortless, Beren sobbed, "Nummies would help." I tugged my shirt up, and he nursed.

I wondered who might notice us, who might know we were nursing, who might notice this big kid nursing, who might say something. It's Brooklyn, I thought. Who cares? You never really know, and I'll take one for the team. Besides most people have no idea that a woman is nursing. Really.

We left Pier 6, banged up and bit defeated. The afternoon hadn't been the treat we wanted. Oh well, I suppose I could forget about it, if it weren't for these photographs. And if it weren't for one of Beren's front teeth that turned a touch greyish after this outing.

Jared likes to call photographs like this "A Genuine Mackow." Centered, geometrical, human.

Last stand against the dishes

Farm takes over the house.

Each autumn, part of our kitchen counter, despite best intentions, becomes a sea of plastic bags filled with seeds to sort and process. When an especially sensitive or important seed collection arrives on the kitchen counter, out comes the seed cleaning equipment. The blender dedicated to large seeded fruits, sandpaper, seed screens, strainers, leftover containers, envelopes...

Inactivity takes over corners of the house.

Jared thoroughly vacuumed the house, maybe last month. Tonight, Beren and I put his stuffed animals and wooden circus toy set to bed. We built them bunk beds from cedar blocks Jared and I gotten as a gift for our wedding. As I turned to reach for another stuffed animal, I was surprised at the web of dust next to his toy box. A similar web is attached to the nightstand in my bedroom. There's a less dusty rectangle on the bottom shelf of the nightstand - the imprint of a book, probably one of Jared's.

Dishes takes over the house.

Beren nursed continually for the first years of his life, or so it seemed to me at times. Now he eats continuously. Jared used to call him 'chickadee' because Beren was in ceaseless motion. Beren does occasionally rest for a moment or cuddle briefly, but really he's still a chickadee - always moving, always eating. And thus, either Jared or I am continuously washing dishes.

For a couple days, I'll reuse a cup, until it's filmy with fingerprints. If my lips sense a crust of leftover food, it's time to wash it. I'll brush crumbs from a plate from a previous meal and reuse it. A meal of eggs, meat, or one of an excessively oily nature sends a dish right to the sink, but I suppose I could refrigerate the plate and slow any bacterial growth. Perhaps I'll try that some time.

Last week, I pulled from the sink an unwashed bowl that had held Jared's snack of ice cream. I grabbed the unwashed spoon he used and served myself a heap of chocolate ice cream. It was delicious, especially since I didn't need to wash one more bowl and spoon.

This is my last stand against the dishes. I know I will lose.

How are you?

How are you? Some days are a bowl of poison sumac fruit. It's a cool plant, and you've got to meet it, but you wish that you didn't...

E is for effort. E is for ecstatic. E is for effort. E is for exhausting.

Fall in love with your baby, the text says. It sounds like advice from the heavens, from a love story, from a fairy tale. Don't be surprised if you don't fall in love with your baby. I tell this to mothers-to-be, she tells me. She also says that she feels uneasy saying this. I'd like to relate more of what she said because I found it such a relief, so real, and so inspiring - in an uneasy, Grimm's fairytale kind of way - but, I won't because I respect her confidence.

And yet, I'd so like to tell you more. When my son was still an infant, I chatted on the cell phone with a friend. I bounced the stroller down our rutted dirt lane. "So, are you lovin' motherhood or what?" she asked.

"Well, I don't know. It's hard. Really hard," I replied.

She was silent. I guess it's like when you ask, "How are you?" And, someone tells you exactly how they feel, and it's not good. I guess it was a rhetorical question. Or, perhaps because I seem like an all natural kind of gal, that my experience of motherhood would be E for Ecstatic.

Sure, at times. Sure, I can tell you all about milestones and sweet little things. I need to do that. I also need you to know some days are E for Effort.

But, as I held the phone between my aching shoulder and jaw and gripped the stroller with my awkwardly stiff arms, I felt so very alone. Why wasn't I lovin' this? Uh oh.

I find that when mothers can be real with each other, they reveal all the times they're not lovin' it. Sometimes, it just a hint. "He's really active. It used to be tough, but I bring him to the playground. He really needs it."

If I could just roll out of my hut, walk down a wooded path, and flop on the hammock of another mother, or a grandmother… If I could pass my babe to a young woman, not yet a mother, but curious…

Now and Then

These photos really make me smile. Beren often came along with us. It was always easier to bring him along. Meals were more peaceful with him on the table circa 1.5 months old. 

"March 2014" my herbal homework submission was dated. I finished it in August. And in between? We found our home in February and decided on a 30 day close or "quick close". It was a decision I was both thankful for and regretted at times. We spent March providing endless paperwork to the mortgage broker. We purchased our house in April and moved in May. I hardly remember the arduousness of those 30 days.

In September, I received my homework back with comments. Proofreading my writing, I felt sad.

The reading and projects were partially about herbs for children's health. In my homework, I wrote about the struggles we had with chronic respiratory problems. I had some breadth of experience on this topic. I recall many sleepless nights due to croup. I read and reread several books on children's health.

One book talked about the average number of illnesses that the typical child in the U.S. might get annually. The author, a noted holistic doctor, said she'd be very unhappy if her children became sick that frequently. She went on to say that those statistics (unfortunately, I can't find the stats right now…), were based on children that are likely to be formula-fed, in day care, and other life situations that would increase their likelihood to become ill.

What I do remember is that Beren's average illnesses per year were right up there, and possibly beyond, the typical child. "But, I nurse, we eat healthy, we're outside often, we exercise. I don't understand."

During the day, I'd hear Beren cough once. I'd cringe. No, please, no, don't get sick again. A sneeze. Two days later, Beren would wake hourly, or more, coughing. The croup, the rotten, rotten croup.

Beren got sick often and woke frequently, up to 3 and sometimes 5 times per night until he was three and a half. "I can do two wake ups, even three sometimes, but more…I can't. I can't." I'd tell Jared as though I was bargaining. We worked it from every angle.

We got all the advice. Try garlic. Rachel go away for several days. Make sure baby's (and the child's  as Beren got older) needs are met during the day. Make sure you're not "over" meeting needs during the day. Let him cry it out. Honestly, I found it all really f*cking insulting at times.

I'd look at my child and try to sort out the difference between dark circles under his eyes from being tired and "allergic shiners" due to a food allergy. We removed all preservatives and artificial ingredients from our diet, which wasn't difficult because there were already so very few to begin with. We limited our dining out experiences.

Or, if he was tired, why wouldn't he or couldn't he sleep? By the time we 'woke' in the morning, I was exhausted after a night of parenting and soothing my child back to sleep. I hardly wanted to continue to parent a cranky, tired child. When possible, I'd ask Jared to give me a break in the morning. "I need some space," I'd say.

I'd look at my child's bloated belly and wonder exactly what the books meant when they said that children's bodies had disproportionately large abdomens. Does that mean they're distended and hard? Does that mean they're cranky until they have a bowel movement?

I was often sick, too. One swollen tonsil, swollen glands, run down, tired. I'd want to visit friends, but it seemed that so often one of us would be sick. "I have to cancel our play date. We're sick," I'd say. "See you in the spring," a friend once said.

So we'd stay home, or I'd drag us out of the house. Mucus dripping, we'd shuffle along a trail or go shopping. Many times I could hardly muster to strength to pack extra clothes, diapers, snacks, and so on. I was overwhelmed and isolated at times.

Many times we were fine, cheerful, and companionable. Other times, I thought we fit the bill for "high needs". At the doctor's office we found we were generally quite healthy. And, you know, I believe that was true, though it felt so very much like a lie at times.

We spent two weeks at my parents' house in mid-April, preparing our new house for our move. They live just ten minutes away from our new house. We slept in my childhood bedroom. We slept in mattresses went from wall to wall of the small room. One night, I said to Jared, "Listen to Beren's breathing. It's so much clearer."

Once our whirlwind floor sanding and wall painting was finished (kind of), we began moving our plant nursery and then our personal belongings. We arrived at the new house with a load of furniture, and I threw open the cargo door of the moving van. A familiar, sickly sweet, and dark smell surrounded me. Mold. I began to obsessively sniff my clothes. Mildewy. Moldy.

I knew we had a wet basement. I knew we had mold. We had two dehumidifiers. It might seem surprising to you, but I had in some ways had no idea it was so pervasively bad. But then again, what could I do?

Over the next couple weeks, I watched Beren begin to run freely. He didn't stop and start as he did before. His belly slimmed. Over the summer, his sleeping became deeper and sounder, and mine did, too.

He became that sweet child Jared always said he was. I believed him, but sometimes it was so very hard to have a tired, chronically ill child who just wanted to nurse to sleep all the time. In a way, I feel robbed. Robbed of all the pleasant days and nights we might have had, if Beren had been able to breathe fresh air.

But mostly I feel blessed the our family lives on a breezy mountain ridge now. How lucky we are that we could change our circumstances.

Was Aunt Rita a Plain Jane?

Plain jane caterpillars are called "cryptic". Cryptic, that has a ring to it.

I've said this a few times recently - I often feel like a plain Jane.

My Aunt Rita used to say that of herself. "I was always a plain Jane," she told me.

Aunt Rita was actually my great aunt. She was Pop-pop's sister. Pop-pop was my mother's father.

Aunt Rita had long, straight hair that reached below her waist. The bottom still was brown, though her hair had long turned grey. She'd sit outdoors with her recently washed hair tossed over the back of a lawn chair. Her eyes closed, her face pointed towards the sun. Once her locks were dry, she'd braid her hair and wrap it many times around her head from her crown to the nape of her neck.

When she became much older, she cut her hair very short and permed it, like many other women of her generation. It was easier to care for. I missed her hair.

To me, Aunt Rita was anything but a plain Jane. She and my Uncle Newell and my grandparents played cards and had happy hour in the afternoon. They lived in a tiny mobile home in exotic Florida with hundreds of other elderly couples who fled from parts north. They had gators in their yard. They had a storm door with a vibrant floral patterned stain glass window made by their son. They travel extensively and brought me dolls from around the world. Plain Jane?

Then, I have a friend who seems worried that she might be a plain Jane, my words, not hers. If you were to see her, you'd be surprised to learn this. She's willowy, graceful, and poised. She laughs well. She's thoughtful and perceptive. She's stylish. She's gracious and generous. Her personal history is deep. Her inner tenor is strong. You'd notice her walking down the street.

I wonder if others would be surprised to hear me say I so often feel dull and shabby and inadequate. Dilapidated work clothes, broken glasses, and cracking knees. So I have a business with a nice website and I write a column for a magazine, so…so what.

It's hard to write this because I don't know how it will be perceived, but what I'm trying to do is point out that we often don't really know each other. We have no idea how someone else feels about themselves. It's likely their face does not tell the whole story.

It's easy to feel inadequate. It's easy to compare myself to someone and feel like I should be different… gosh, if I could just stop being a crybaby. If I could just be more decisive. If I could get my son's clothes clean. If I could spare some time for my husband. If I could just have one nice pair of sexy shoes. If my posture was better. If I could eat more greens. If I could write more.

Aunt Rita, you were never a Plain Jane.