Well, she’s 17 and I really am in for it. I’m in for all of it. I’m in for discussing colleges and options and cities and futures as yet unknown. I’m in for staying up late at night watching heart-wrenching movies and discussing bad scripts. I’m in for great conversations about life, liberty and the constant pursuit of happiness. I’m in for long lingering hugs just because. And soulful apologies after we have a fight. I’m in for laughing until we cry and crying until we laugh. I’m in for dancing to loud pop music to shake off the blues or sitting quietly side by side at the kitchen counter eating cereal at midnight. And I’m in for the constant reminder that while we might be alike in some ways, in many ways we are different and isn’t that a beautiful realization.
I want her and all my kids to know that I have complete and utter faith in them. Sometimes I forget this and I get in their faces with a string of you-shoulds, but really, when I step back and watch, it is mind-blowing how well they navigate this world. I remember when she was little and I reminded her for the gazillionth time to say thank-you to someone, and one time she turned to me and said rather annoyed, “I know!!! You just have to give me a second!” She had been there for the lesson all the times before, and now, all I really needed to do was to let her be. This I will try to remember now and for their whole life long. I will try to let them be them. I will try to give them a second. And when I don’t, I will try not to take their reminders personally.
I want my kids to view life like a fresh notebook at the beginning of a semester, or a three-day weekend with no plans. I want them to know they can make it whatever they want, that they can fill it big ideas and people they love and the things that make them feel good. They can fill it with projects and plans and adventures and they can allow a little space for dreaming too. Because it is those quiet moments of dreaming that take us all to our next big ideas.
I want all my kids to know always that I am so glad they were born. And while my daily focus might sometimes be too much on the tasks, overall my heart explodes with the realization that we are fellow humans, walking through this life together. And while that takes a little while to sink in when you’re tending to the physical needs of babies and tiny children, that becomes so clear when your child turns seventeen.
So yes, if you have little kids now, just wait until they’re seventeen! I guarantee you, it will blow your mind.
Our refrigerator door has a feature in which a tight seal is activated each time you close the door. Once you shut it, it takes a few seconds, maybe 3 or 4, for the seal to loosen enough to open the door again. So if you try immediately, it is difficult to pull. There is resistance.
It used to bug me this feature. I occasionally even exclaimed out loud a rather inappropriate epithet, followed by a frustrated sigh. To a refrigerator door. For a delay of possibly 2 seconds of time.
Then one day when all was calm and the seal had activated as I was putting away groceries, I just stood there, hand on the handle, and took a big deep belly breath. In, down, out. In the time it took to take that breath, the seal released its vulcan grip, and I easily, effortlessly opened the door. AND had the benefits that a deep breath can bring.
Simple as that. What was frustration, was now benefit. What was blood-pressure-raising, was now calming. And at the risk of sounding all spiritually haughty, what was resistance, was now empowerment.
All day I looked for more chances to turn frustration around. And I didn’t have to look too far. Each time I came across the little things that aggravate like red lights and toothpaste on the counter and socks on the living room floor, I froze. And took a breath. The things that are so momentary and so minuscule really, but became monumental in the way I let them impact me. And all day I used those frustrations as a reminder to take a deep breath.
Now it’s my sometimes mantra. FREEZE! Take a breath. Feel better.
Because really, though I long to remember these mantras of mine ALL the time, I am human and it is only sometimes I am wise.
I am grateful when I do remember, and even a tiny bit grateful for these little frustrations now that I know I can use them to my advantage.
Because believe me, living in a house with 4 other humans, those little frustrations aren’t going anywhere and I am breathing deeply all day long. When I am not shouting inappropriate epithets that is.
Between the 5 of us currently we are commuting a collective 8 hours of drive time. Some of that is on the city bus. Some of that is in the car. Some on foot. While we live central, and I work from home, our schools are north and south and so we travel to all of it. That’s a lot of time spent getting to and from where we need to be. And that’s on a normal day. That’s not a day when there’s a back to school night or booster meeting or any such thing. That’s just daily drive time. And in growing Austin, daily drive time seems to compound monthly.
So, as I said, we’re moving. And where we’re going we’ll all be walking or biking to where we need to be. In fact, the youngest’s commute from our back gate will be shorter than it currently is to walk from where we park to his classroom. The older 3 will bike just over a mile to their respective schools. And I’ll be standing in the yard waving goodbye.
Here’s what I think I’m going to gain…
- More sleep each morning
- Less road angst
- Less arguing about who gets shot-gun
- Less chance of car accident
- More time in general
- More ease
- Less crankiness
What’s funny is this schedule we’re on now was fine for us. Until it wasn’t. Which leads me back to one of the basic tenets of Slow Family Living, the question, “Is this working for us?” It was. Then it wasn’t. And when it wasn’t? We made a change.
This is an old post. A verbal #TBT from a few years back. Eleven to be exact. When I had 3 kids not 4. Before anyone was in school, let alone a junior in high school. When I wrote this I thought it would always be like this. Like time would somehow freeze. But when I look back? I see that every single year of parenting has been different than the last. Every child has brought something new to the table. (pun not intended but appreciated!) Every age has taught us new things about ourselves, our family and life in general. Here’s to the ever present changes. Here’s to family dinners. And here’s to the realization that right now is ALWAYS right now. Every single minute is the beginning of time – to be noticed and appreciated too.
The Table Dance (c. 2003)
In the beginning, it was just us, at our little table in our little shack of a rental house. Side by side we would make our feasts: chopping, slicing, sautéing. The two of us at the table sipping wine, eating our curries or fiery salsas and fantasizing about what the rest of our lives together would be. We’d linger for hours over more red wine and a few cigarettes and maybe a coffee at the end. We would eat late and long and imagine living in a big building with a big room and a big table – where we would eat late and long all the days of our lives.
In this same house with our first baby and still we ate late into the evening and not much changed in our ritual. Not much changed while we cooked and she snoozed in her sling. While we ate, she’d nurse, then collapse on my chest, neither of us always noticing or ever minding the salsa in her hair. In those early days of babe many things remained the same and we thought that’s how it would always be, with our little carry-on-bag of a smiling, contented, only baby.
As she started to crawl, we wriggled away from that hovel of a house that held such sweet emotion. We left that house of first meeting, first marrying, first baby and were off into our own first home. Our first own home that was not the enormity of our fantasies but rather the smallness of our bankbook – that made us choose between a living room and our dreamed of big table, and of course we chose the latter. At this big table our meals were a little earlier and our menu a bit altered and our sentences unfinished as we split chores in different rooms and we split kids, as now there were two. You change the baby and I’ll cook the dinner, you read a story and I’ll set the table, you run after them and I’ll run into the bathroom and take a deep breath. And then we’ll all sit down together at our big table, not late or long, as the attention spans are shorter and the bedtimes never early enough.
There are no more cigarettes but still there is red wine or a cold beer. Still we fantasize about the future, even more so now, as we imagine not only our own lives but our children’s too. These fantasies though are often interrupted by spills and crying and questions and directives: Eat your supper, get back on your chair, keep your hands to yourself, don’t forget to chew, and with this last command they are requesting (for the 100th time) the retelling of the caveat of the time as a kid I forgot to chew and I threw up whole orange slices all over the floor.
Three kids now and we fully surrender to the meals at 5:30 instead of 9:00 and they are in bed an hour or more before we ever would have even entertained the notion of cooking. Detailed conversations are rarely attempted, as no thought is too great to be left uninterrupted and only a rare sentence sees completion. We have ritual in the setting and the lighting of the candle and I have my own private, mindful, sanity-retaining moment of deep breathing, in through my nose and out the mouth, like childbirth and then salud, and I gulp my beer.
Dinnertime is chaotic and messy and we must remember not to sweep until the rice dries. The commands are many and seemingly more all the time, and the reminders to behave and to be nice and to listen, but so too increases the conversations and the sharing and the stories of our youth or theirs – those one or two or thirty long years ago. We exhale when all is said and done, or not (next time can we have macaroni and cheese?). With that exhale or with a lengthy discussion as to whose turn it is to blow out the flame, our dinner candle is extinguished.
Though we sometimes question our sanity at the concept of dining regularly with such ritual and with three small sometimes frantic and frenetic children, and though we sometimes start at their getting too close to the candle or their knocking over of their cup or their falling nonsensically from their chair or their singing during our moment of silence (read: moment not minute), it is our hope that what they will take away is the desire to one day sit and linger long and late and enjoy a meal shared with each other, with us, with friends or with mates.
This time of year seems to sneak up on me and every year it causes both excitement and dread.
School? Lunches? 6am alarm?? NOOOO!!!
Regular schedule? 8 hours of working at home alone? Earlier bedtimes? HOORAY!!!
For the past 7 years we’ve had our elementary school Back to School Clothes Swap. In the past 3 years we’ve added a book swap too. Both have been hugely successful. This year I just don’t have it in me* so this post is to help those that want to organize their own. (or take on the Zilker Elementary swap??) You can do a big community wide swap or just do a smaller one with friends. It’s a great way to both purge your own closets and get your family the things they need to get back to school. Goodness knows summer sees a lot of growth and those pants from kinder just aren’t gonna cut it for 1st grade. Unless of course you’re into clam-diggers. Which you might be! In addition to saving money and consuming less, the swap is a super fun way to encourage kids to take style into their own hands, create their own get-ups and not fall victim to the marketing machine which really preys on families during back to school time.
Our school swaps have had as many as 500 people attend. Our motto being, BRING WHAT YOU CAN. TAKE WHAT YOU NEED. There are no limits, no tracking of who brought what, no money exchanged. Just bring it if you can. Take it if you need. And here are my simple steps for…
- What we’ve learned about how to throw a successful community swap.
- How to throw your own swap on a smaller scale.
- The option to take on the task of running the Zilker Swap. (well for this just email me and I’ll hook you up!)
10 STEPS FOR ORGANIZING A COMMUNITY WIDE CLOTHES SWAP
These are a lot of work for 2 days with a HUGE return. There are no committee meetings required and really can be created with not that many committed folks. More is better of course but not mandatory.
- Secure a large space like a school cafeteria or gym or the like.
- Alert an area thrift store that you’ll need a pick up at the end. Here we use Goodwill because they come in with a truck and bins at the end and take EVERYTHING. If you haven’t planned this in advance, it’s a big task but you can have everyone take a carful to their local favorite thrift or charity. There will be A LOT left over.
- Get a cohort who can help you steer the ship. (this is crucial because it not only makes it easier but makes it more fun)
- Put the call out for volunteers to help set up and help the day of the event. You don’t need many but you will need some. The final clean up at the end you can just wrangle anyone who is still there picking through items.
- Pick a day and allow drop-offs the day before and the day of ONLY!! Do not try to take things days or weeks in advance unless you can have them dropped off in the space you will be using.
- Try to get a screen printer who can organize the screen printing portion of things. A screen printer is total value added. By having a screen printer you can make some clothing that might be unwearable because of a stain wearable. Plus, it makes the clothing options more fun and makes kids get excited about their expanded style options. If you can’t get a screen printer, continue without it.
- Get some sewists who can come with their own sewing machine. Set up an area for sewists where people can come and help mend, embellish or repurpose. You can also have a sewist making T-shirt bags. A GREAT and simple project which serves as a great swapping bag.
- Make BIG SIGNAGE for each sorting station. We tend to make different groupings each year but basic divisions like ADULT DRESSES. ADULT PANTS. ADULT BLOUSES. ADULT T-SHIRTS. For the kids item divide by size such as INFANT. TODDLER. 6x-12. You can also break this down further into bottoms and tops but it’s not imperative. Especially for the infant items, just toss them all in together. SHOES can all go together as can COATS. Perhaps in a cold climate you’d want to break that down by size but here in Austin we just threw them all in together.
- On the day of the swap, as people come in with their bags, have them sort their own items. In the past we’ve had people drop off their bags and then have volunteer sorters put them out on tables but we’ve learned that it’s easier to have each person sort their own stuff. They know best what’s in there so it’s faster and more efficient. Have a couple of sorters at the front to both direct people and also to help those that might need assistance such as mamas with younguns.
- If you feel like having a mic, that can be fun to build excitement and also to alert people to specialty items such as a cool pair of boots or some such item. It might not be necessary but I am rather fond of microphones so there’s that. Also good at the end to let people know you need help filling the bins and sweeping the floor.
- Pick a date and a location. You can do it in a house or even in a neighborhood park.
- Alert your friends and especially those with kids in various sizes. If all are the same the pickings will be slimmer. Expand your options by including families with different age/size kids.
- Sort your items as they come in: kids/adults/t-shirts/dresses/miscellaneous/etc.
- If you have a really small group you can just sit in a circle and do it show style. Pick an emcee (that’s usually my role!) and go through each bag item by item. Takes a while but is super fun!
- At the end each take a few bags to your favorite thrift or drop off bin. The bins are great because it doesn’t matter what time it is. Open all night!
I was on the river last week. A few of us middle aged women were sitting along the water’s edge as the kids swam, jumped off the rope swing time after time after time, and floated by on various inflatables. I had already been in the water so I knew how good it felt. The air was hot but not unbearable so the swimming was by choice for all the adults in the crowd. One of the women debated whether to bother getting in. And I recalled the words of my mom, now 89…
“Go in the water,” she always says.
Go in the ocean. The lake. The river. The pool. Wherever you are, even if you’re comfortable sitting on the side, go in the water when you can.
Because at some point in life the going in gets harder and so now, while you can, go in the water. Go in the water before your aging limbs see the rocks become too treacherous or the surf become too rough. Go in before the water we at one point ran, jumped, and dove into becomes just out of our reach. Go in before the movement from sitting to standing to swimming becomes just too much to muster unless you have assistance. Go in before the going in feels impossible.
So now, while you still physically can run, dive and jump in? Do it. Go in the water. Every chance you get.
Thank you Mom!
Recently I did a 30 minute radio segment with Bonnie Compton of WholeHearted Parenting. The subject of our segment was Creating Family Connection Through Creativity. It’s a subject that has come up for me quite a bit lately – a topic that I originally hit upon in my Future Craft Collective Days working alongside the fun and talented Kathie Sever (now of Ft Lonesome fame which you should totally check out!) Kathie and I created a lot of really fun projects during those years encouraging families to sit down and Make Stuff Together, encouraging kids to find ways to re-use and upcycle and create their own unique style. Heck we even wrote a book about it!
I’m happy to be on this topic again for it is one that is near and dear to my heart – this idea of creating, making, crafting, upcycling, and finding connection through the entire process. If you have 30 minutes to listen in, I encourage you to do so. Bonnie and I hit on some really good points and, perhaps most importantly, we had a really fun time with the process. Which is, really, what it’s all about. No matter what we’re working on.
So, check out our past Future Craft Collective Projects now on Craftzine. Peruse Make Stuff Together for some creative ideas for your family. (FYI, It’s REALLY cheap now used!) Check out Kathie’s current line of artistry at Ft. Lonesome. And have a listen in on my conversation with Bonnie. I guarantee that by the time you’re through, you’ll be MORE than ready to work on some creativity of your own.
Though it seems in many ways like this school year has just begun, one glance at photos from the beginning of the year and I can see how many changes have taken place! Physical, emotional, mental changes of monumental proportions!
As we approach the last day of school, I realize once again that it’s time to leave these beloved elementary school teachers of whom I have grown so dependent on throughout the year, so attuned to, so enamored with! But it’s time to move on. To say goodbye. To end this relationship which has grown so comfortable in such a seemingly short time. It’s like breaking up with someone you love. You question the necessity. You are confused by the circumstance. I want to continue on with this comfortable place. I want to keep up with our ongoing conversations about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and education.
I want to greet each other in the mornings. I want to savor those little smiles we share sometimes at the sheer absurdity of it all. But alas, here we are at the end of a very beautiful relationship. The school year closes, and in the fall we will start anew.With someone else. New getting-to-know-you. New understandings. New inside jokes. New knowing of what works and what doesn’t. But before I go into the abyss of summer, I have a few things I want my children’s teachers* to know…
- From the proverbial bottom of my heart, thank you. For everything. For your patience, your love, your commitment to my child’s growth and understanding. And for your commitment to our whole family’s well being. We have learned so much from you and we have loved being in your midst.
- Your patience is mind-blowing. Having spent a few hours here and there doing projects with the class, I am FLOORED by your patience. You deal with the talkers and the squawkers. The constant requests to look-at-me!! The mess and the distractions. And the sheer magnitude of the multiple personalities in one room. I know here in our house of 5, getting a word in edgewise is painstaking at times. Yet you manage to not only deal with all of it but TEACH at the same time and keep your cool. At least that is the appearance you give. Which brings me to my 3rd point…
- Your human-ness is endearing. Those very few times when it felt like too much? You didn’t hide it at day’s end. You admitted DONE! But done was only for that day and then the next day you were back, to do it all again. Like nothing had ever happened. Thank you for that. Thank you for re-intending a brand new day and for showing the kids that what was, was and now here we are in a brand new now. I commend and applaud you for that and I have learned a lot too.
- The way you see the whole child is a gift. I love that you teach the basics but you see so much more! I love that while the twitchers and the class clowns might be a lot to deal with, you see each person and what they bring to the table as a valuable part of the group. You really seem to appreciate them for who they are. You don’t put everyone in one box, rather you celebrate the unique part that each child plays.
- Thank you for not judging. When my marriage ended. When we were working out the logistics of being in two households. When a certain child showed up in the same pair of corduroys day after day you didn’t judge. I felt compelled to tell you that really he had two pairs exactly the same and that he insisted on only wearing those and that it just wasn’t a battle I was willing to fight, but really, you never judged in the first place. For all our family crises, mix-ups, snafus, you never judged. Quite the opposite in fact. You made me feel understood.
- Thank you for sharing your experience. When a certain child had a rough day, or something funny happened, you managed to steal a minute or two at day’s end and share the story with me. Even when I’m sure day’s end had big value, you kept on, you didn’t rush away, you took time to connect. And when the sharing was an infraction of some sort, you didn’t snark about it, in fact, sometimes you chuckled about it as if it somehow made your day. With all your little anecdotes shared about what went on, I always had the feeling that you truly and totally appreciated having my child in your room. Priceless that feeling!
- Thank you for sharing you. I know you have to keep a lot to yourself about what you’re going through, but those times when you shared your own heartache or saga or home experience, I so appreciated being able to meet you there in that place. To share a cry or a laugh or shoulder shrug. It made me love you even more!
And now it’s time to leave you. I’ll wave to you in the hallways next year. I’ll stop by for a check in on occasion. I’ll long for you in the beginning of the year and then we’ll be onto the next. And if they are anywhere near as great as you, we’ll be a lucky, lucky bunch.
Thank you for being you.
*While I am also grateful to my older kids middle school and high school teachers, this post is for my children’s elementary teachers because as kids get higher up, my connection with the teachers is slim to none. In elementary it is a real relationship. Built anew each year. So enjoy it. And know that it is fleeting.