family life

Secrets from my children

“Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” Benjamin Franklin, “Poor Richard’s Almanack”

She almost caught me. Just when I was looking longingly at a newspaper circular for elastic-waisted pants — the mom jeans to end all mom jeans — my youngest daughter strolled through the kitchen. I flipped the paper over in a flurry. I didn’t want a horrified, “Moooom!” that early in the morning.

If she has her way, I will be wearing jeans that lift this, enhance that until I am dead and, quite possibly, beyond. Little does she know my little secret, however. (Imagine a devious smile here.) For several years, I have been buying all my jeans a size too big and altering the waist so they don’t slide down. Fashionable? Yes. Comfortable? Oh, yeah.

Ditto on the shoes. Shhhh! There are no pointy toes in my closet and there never will be. I’ve got boots, flats, sandals and on and on. Everything a younger woman might have. But, no pointy toes. (I also have Birkenstock knock offs that I wear with socks, but she can’t say a thing as these are oddly fashionable with teens at the moment. Go figure.)

It’s not that one’s children really need to know everything about their parents anyway. The fact that the palm I just re-potted and tucked into the corner of the kitchen came out of a neighbor’s garbage pile is none of their business, for example. “Help me, pleeaassse,” it said. What could I do? The fact I can “hear” plants is similarly my own.

As is my stash of chocolate. Enough said?


family life

3 things I didn’t know about my family

“When my kids become wild and unruly, I use a nice, safe playpen. When they’re finished, I climb out.” Erma Bombeck, American humorist

  1. All sorts of stuff goes on behind my back. Literally.

“Where was I?” I demanded, mystified as to how my daughters had done such stuff in their early childhoods. I have no memory of them spinning wildly on the living room’s hardwood floor or doing a coatless commentary on the porch’s Christmas decor, yet there they are doing these things. On film.

“I’m not sure,” my now-high-schooler daughter mused, but my location became obvious as a rainy weekend drove us further into a collection of family videos I did not even know existed. First, one video shows You Tube-like shenanigans in the kitchen that abruptly stop when I appear from the basement, carrying a basket of laundry. I smile at the girls, turn the corner to head upstairs. The whoop-to-do resumes — behind my retreating back.

The stealth action is even more laughable in a video our youngest daughter filmed when she was 3 or 4. The scene begins with a shot of my back going into the bathroom. Just outside, our daughters indulge in wiggling, wild-faced mayhem — occasionally panning back to the closed bathroom door, where our dog stands, looking rather nervous. I open the door, smile at the girls and move off to the kitchen, the dog at my heels. Game over.

2. Dads will be dads.

Who knew? The kids, of course. And, amusingly enough, my husband. He’s the one who gave a 3 year old a “junk camera” and later burned five years worth of her documentation of our family’s secret life onto CDs. As if the CDs aren’t incriminating enough, he’s a part of the video fun, dancing a jig in one scene, making silly faces in another.

I had to think hard just to figure out when all of this was done. Going by haircuts and clothes, I narrowed it down to a time when our little videographer was between the ages of 3 and 8. All I remember is her carrying around a silver camera for several years. And, all I knew is that she took a lot of photos, mostly of the dog and Barbie dolls posed on chairs. Ha!

He might be in trouble if the videos weren’t such a perfect capturing of who our children once were.

3. I don’t sit down enough.

And who I once was. “Even your hair looks tired,” videographer daughter observed during our viewing spree. I peered at the shot of my oblivious self at work in the kitchen. She is right. My hair does look tired, as does the rest of me.

The only scene in which I don’t look tired — a scene in which I obviously think I am being photographed, not filmed — is one where I’m sitting on the couch with one leg propped up on a wicker ottoman.

The leg is in a very large cast.


gardening, spiritual life

Going to seed

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish writer

Were goldfinches not so insanely cute, I wouldn’t be nearly so tolerant. They’re out there, right now, snarfing down the same seeds that I hope to harvest for next year’s crop of annuals. It’s as if the strings we tied around particularly handsome specimens — to set them apart for collection — are a come-and-get-it flag. Those are the flowers they seem to prefer.

It’s an easy enough problem to solve. Sometime today, I’ll wrap what’s left of the chosen blooms in tulle and tie them shut. Problem solved. Sort of.

In truth, the goldfinches are everywhere, helping themselves to a yardful of zinnias, cosmos, black-eyed Susans and the like. I generally don’t mind — the garden is planned with the delight of butterflies and birds in mind, in fact. But, this year, it’s a fight to keep the entire garden from shutting down as soon as Labor Day.

Drenching rain throughout the summer brought explosive growth. And, it seems, there’s only so much activity a flowering plant — annual or perennial — can handle in one season. A crop of flowers that usually extend into October is clearly waning, going to seed in as spectacular of a way as they shot up from the ground and then flowered in fairy-garden fashion.

It’s true. There will be no fall bouquets on the table this year. But, Lord willing, there will be plenty of seeds — and that is a pleasure in itself even though it is coming earlier than I’d like. One daughter and I particularly enjoy marking the seed heads, letting them dry on the plant, harvesting them and shaking each tiny crop into a glass vial. We drop tiny strips of cardstock in each one before they are finally stored away against the winter. This last part is done for pleasure. It’s not as if we haven’t done this long enough to recognize what we’ve got without a label.

Actually, all of this gardening business is done for pleasure. The planting, the pruning, the amused raising of eyebrows at goldfinches who play he loves me, he loves me not with our best blooms. This watching of one season flowing into another, one generation making way for another, making provision for another.

It’s good. It’s God. It’s life. It’s hope. And, that is enough.


family life, women

Listening to the season 2

“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” Anne Frank, writer, hate-resisting firebrand

The other day, our youngest daughter asked me to get something on a high shelf in the kitchen. Our house is old. Our cabinets are exceedingly high, built no doubt for a year’s worth of canned goods. So, I got up on my tip toes and reached in a manner than would impress any yoga instructor. As I have done for the last decade plus.

Then, I sunk back down on my heels. “Wait a minute,” I said. “You’re as big as I am. You get it.” We looked at each other and laughed. It’s true. Anything that is within my reach is now within her reach.

Both of our daughters are now somewhat bigger than I am, in fact. A sudden growth spurt that caused even the older daughter, who hadn’t grown in nearly two years, to move from petites to plain old clothes came upon us this summer. They literally grew like weeds in garden soil, like shelter puppies of mysterious ancestry, like piles of laundry.

So, today, when both of them headed back to school, a bit bleary eyed given the insanity of the hour, they looked more ready than ever. So tall. So grown up. So ready.

Everything is in reach.

family life

A template for home

“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.” William Faulkner, American writer

“Remember when we had that baby squirrel in the kitchen?” my youngest daughter asked in the middle of a walk this week.

I was so surprised I nearly stopped walking. She was really young when we tried (in vain) to save an even younger red squirrel who somehow made it from his nest to our yard after a dog had killed his mother. She not only remembered the novelty of harboring a wild thing, she remembered the details. The bottle-cap watering bowl, how he lay sadly still the next morning.

It’s  interesting. Our daughters are just old enough that one such memory spoken aloud can now trigger a round of reminiscing. I hear their spin on our family stories — sometimes painfully accurate and other times bordering on fiction — and I am reminded that our everyday life is what they will someday be sharing with their husbands, their children, even their grandchildren. It’s what they will reflect on in moments of quiet.

Our life now is their memory of home, a template if you will.

It is what they will measure other people’s life experiences against. It is what they will measure their own future lives against. For better, or for worse. That is a sobering thought, for sure, but it is also a joyful one.

The birthday cakes, the bandaged knees, the eye-popping first taste of ice cream, the solid hour of hoola hooping on the porch, the kneading of bread, the beading of ornaments, the first pair of high heels, even the squirrel in the kitchen are not lost. Those experiences will not disappear with age or death or change of location. They will morph and sift and settle into memory. A template for home.

And, we will always be there together,