My 9 year old is a lot smarter than me

She asked me to make roasted broccoli for the fourth grade “holiday feast.” Happiness, pride, delight… I felt all of these things knowing she liked roasted broccoli so much she wanted to share it with her class. But, I also felt fear. I didn’t want the roasted broccoli to be met with “ewww!” reactions by her classmates. I didn’t want that for her sake (would she feel embarrassed? ashamed? regretful?). I also didn’t want it because I was afraid such a response would taint her love of the stuff.

Children hold wisdom we adults lose through life experiences. Her response to my confession that I worried her class might not like it was, “That’s okay. We’ll get to eat it all then!”

roasted broccoli

How beautiful to not get caught up in fears of rejection or social error. I learn from my daughters every day. They help me live the life I  most enjoy.

Plus, the class ate all the broccoli complete with audible “yumm!” sounds. So, it was a win-win all around…

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How I make roasted broccoli: preheat oven to 425, cut the very-dry (washed and dried, or not washed) broccoli in pieces, coat with olive oil-salt-drizzle of balsamic vinegar, spread on a cookie sheet, roast for 20-25 minutes. I also take the pan out and shake it around, or use tongs to flip the pieces, but I don’t think that’s necessary.

how’re things?

The mass email. The holiday greeting letter. The personal update. Is it possible to share a personal update without it feeling disconnected and generic? I’m going to try. I want to let folks know how things are since I’ve shared some pretty tough stuff in the last few years…

The girls are doing great. My 8.5 year old has had some health concerns but they are mostly all resolving without any serious long-term effect. She excels at school academically and socially. She is courageous and sensitive and intuitive and brilliant. Her frame is small (still about 10-15% on the height/weight chart) but her heart and mind are expansive. Her school continues to be amazing. I’ve started teaching a weekly writing class there which has been really fun. More than just fun, teaching has reminded me how much I love (and am good at) working with children.

It’s hard to believe my toddler will be three next week. She is exploring some of what I thought of as normal toddler behavior until 8.5 didn’t explore them (throwing food on the floor, insisting on doing things ALL BY HER SELF, for example). She is also one of the most consistently joyful children I’ve ever known. Full of laughter and… really, “joyful” is the perfect word for her most of the time.

Our new home is perfect. I couldn’t’ve dreamed a better place for us. The physical location is ideal, just a few minutes to downtown, a few minutes to the supermarket, and only a few more minutes to 8.5’s school in Falmouth. We’re also only a few minutes from the Portland Friends Meeting where the girls and I enjoy a great community of good people. I’m working up to the point where I’ll be able to attend meeting even on non-First Day School Sundays, though that might take a bit more time as it will require both girls feeling comfortable being “left downstairs” with the childcare helpers. Most importantly, don’t ever underestimate the impact that a dishwasher and an in-apartment washer and dryer can have on the mental health of a single mother. Our life has improved dramatically in the last couple months simply because of those FANTASTIC new additions.

Work is picking up after a few years of very limited activity. You can read more about that here. I have several meetings lined up in the next two weeks and all of them might lead to new work. If they don’t become new clients, the conversations will definitely be informative and useful for me.

I’ll be showing my pictures (here’s a link to some older ones) at three different places in the next four months. I sold one of my paintings, which has no comparable feeling in my life’s experience. (It feels good!) I bartered with a friend so I have an easel. I have one painting still in progress (it has been since December), another forming in my mind, and now have the space set up so I can get back to work on them.

My former husband (MFH) and his partner are moving this weekend into an apartment that’s about 5 minutes from here. The girls will spend some time over there each week and we will have a more typical “custody” arrangement. MFH’s partner has gone above and beyond the “girlfriend” status in my book as she will be commuting the 1.5+ drive each week to continue her work, in great part so MFH will be closer to his children. She’s good people.

I hope to join the Portland Food Co-op in the next month or so, ever expanding our commitment to sustainably grown foods. I’ll write more about my experience at the pig kill in January, too. I’m also about to post some thoughts I had about this blog space. I know I miss writing. I’m just not sure how or where I’ll be able to meet my writing needs.

Life is just going well. We’re stable. Our foundation is growing and solid. We’re putting in roots. Life is rich and wondrous and ridiculously exhausting and challenging. That’s how things are for us. :-)

irresponsibility

If I won the lottery, I’d “just” take care of my children and our home.

I am that irresponsible. I want to be my children’s mother. I want to have the time and energy to do parenting very, very well in the way that feels right to me. I want to be the mother I am. I want to live a rich life as an individual, as a woman, full of variety and color and creativity, so learning from my example strengthens my daughters.

I’m furious that our country’s values make me feel selfish, self-centered, spoiled, and irresponsible because I want to care for my children and create a beautiful, loving, clean, and safe home for them.

Bills must be paid. My former husband is very generous in his support, but it isn’t enough to live on.

Typically, I’m not a fan of complaining without offering solutions. Right now, however, I am just too tired to figure out how this messed up system can be fixed. Somehow, somewhere, someone needs to find a way to make people see that allowing a mother to be at home with her children and be fully present as a parent is an investment in our country’s future.

Until then, I’ll do the work I have to do to make money. I won’t sleep much. I won’t have much patience or energy to just be with my children as there will always be dishes and laundry and errands and follow-up phone calls with insurance companies and just a quick email check to see if a client got back to me and and and…

Last week I put aside all of my to-do items and set the stage for finger painting with my toddler. It was extraordinary. In these photos she is looking at herself in the mirror. I grabbed the mirror after the first time she touched her hair so she would know what she was doing.

This is what beautiful, powerful, enriching, inspiring irresponsibility looks like:

appearances

A few days ago I was singing a song while my older daughter read her book nearby. She was also, of course, listening. In fact she was watching, too, and it was lovely. It added to the intimacy of the moment.
After I finished she asked me what the first words of the song were. On hearing them she burst out with, “Mommy, that’s just like you!” The song was “Nobody’s Girl” by Bonnie Raitt and the first words are, “She don’t need anybody, to tell her she’s pretty, she’s heard it every single day of her life.” I asked her what she meant and she said people are always telling me I’m pretty.
What I think she’s picking up on is a stream of compliments I’ve received lately because of this whole weight loss thing. It’s relatively dramatic (about fifty pounds) so people who haven’t seen me in a while find it notable. As in, they note it.
My freshman year of college I dabbled in anorexia and bulimia and dropped down to around 108 pounds (I’m around about 5’6″ and weigh about 160 now). When I went home over Thanksgiving and Christmas that year people were insane. They were gushing and ooooooohing and aaaaahing over “how great” I looked. I was starving myself, making myself sick, and got nothing but praise for it. Our society and the obsession with female thinness is seriously fucked up.
Since I’m not starving myself and I’m not unhealthy now I don’t mind the “you look great!” comments. I’m a little annoyed for the sake of humanity that a woman getting thinner draws more compliments than a plumper woman, but remove the socio-political issues from it and I appreciate people are just trying to be kind.
When I notice a friend looks particularly attractive it’s hard for me not to say, “What is different?” Frequently I say it (I tend to say what’s on my mind without much consideration for the consequences) and realize what I’m implying is that they usually don’t look so great. Oops. Commenting on appearances can be so laden in miscommunications it’s easy to avoid them entirely. Then those of us who strive to always value the person inside more than the external qualities end up feeling shallow for what seems such a surface level assessment. I even had a friend hug me the other day wanting to apologize for “making such a big deal” (about my weight) because she didn’t mean to draw attention to it like that. In that case I think she just caught me in one of my many, many foul moods so her compliment may have been met with a blank stare verging on a stink eye.
Of course with The Beauty Myth still alive and well, some lost pounds doesn’t equal contentment, necessarily. I’ve continued my moratorium on mainstream media which I began last year in an effort to stop letting unrealistic and unattainable visions of “beauty” affect my self-esteem. As the reality of divorce set in I began seeing myself differently. Marriage is a comfortable state and one as loving and good as ours provided unconditional acceptance of me just as I was. I didn’t give much thought to my appearance. I’m working hard on returning to a similar state of disregard. It was a pleasant kind of ignorance I felt with no concern about what I should look like or how I should “take care of myself.” I lived with that peacefulness for years so I know it exists. Cutting out mainstream media has helped immensely. I dread grocery store checkout lines these days because that’s where I’m hit with the images and insidious messages I’ve so successfully avoided.
In about fifteen minutes I’ll be having “spa night” with my seven year old, a ritual we started after I read this article in Mothering magazine years ago. We’ll soak our feet, massage lotion into our skin, take turns having bubble baths, and we’ll even put a “clay” mask on our faces as something “fancy.” I was struck, though, tonight by how tempted I was to pick up some lotions promising they would “get rid of wrinkles” or “firm sagging skin.” Some of the fat might be gone, but The Beauty Myth lives on. For my daughters sake (when my own sake isn’t enough motivation) I will continue my search for loving myself for what I am, for how I am, not for how I believe I ought to appear. Tonight we will celebrate our bodies and as always, I will follow her lead in self-love. Children are wiser than any of us “grown-ups” when it comes to this stuff. We’ll talk, we’ll laugh, and we’ll feel extra special giving ourselves these treatments. The intersection of feminism, parenting, mothers/daughters, and being female will all come together and it will have nothing at all to do with appearances. It will be beautiful.

edited to add:

wrestling with gender

Gender is a social construction. We create gender through our interactions with each other. It’s not that biology plays no role. It’s just that the ways we respond to biology create our socially constructed realities. That said, it’s become more clear to me lately how differently boys and girls are from the earliest ages.

Our six year old daughter began school in September. Until that time almost all of her play had been with girls or with very small groups of boys and girls in very gentle settings. It seems she is by “nature” (as much as a role that plays) a quiet, careful, and sensitive child. She always has been, from the time she burst into tears at my shocked squawk when she bit my nipple. (Her sister, on the other hand, has several times heard the same squawk and just looked at me and laughed!) Now that she’s in school my older daughter has been experiencing a lot more rough-and-tumble play thanks in great part to two boys.

Today I found myself more grateful than ever for my husband. Why? Because he seems to have a clue what to do when she says, “Let’s wrestle!” I haven’t confirmed, but I suspect he’d prefer sitting on the couch reading with her just as I would. But once I get past a playful tickle tustle, I’m flat worn out of the “wrestling” stuff. He really seemed to get it in a way I just couldn’t. The two of them played for several minutes at a time throughout the day, “wrestling.” She’s clearly processing the whole new world of body slams, running smashes, and karate kicks. It makes sense she’d want to get some new skills, new (self-defense!) moves even.

I’m delighted she’s exploring all of it. I’m just more sure than ever I’m not the one she should go to when she wants to learn more about all that “boy stuff.” It’s a language I don’t understand. Thank all things Josh is here to share with her whatever it is that’s so fun and interesting about bashing into each other.

Boy, oh boy, I’m not a boy.