Veronica's Garden

I originally started this blog to promote my novel, Post Rock Limestone Caryatids. Now I write essays and poetry about everything, including the Flint Hills, healing, parenting, etc. WARNING: emotional content, sometimes intense. Read at own risk of feeling.

Tag: parenting

To The LARPers

The 13-year-old wanted to LARP, and she found out about a group in Kansas that plays monthly. Their location happens to be the Girl Scout camp where I took Outdoor Leadership training, which made the whole thing seem more inviting. It’s not aimed particularly at kids, so I thought a parent ought to take her, and if you go as a non-player character and let them put you in their costumes and tell you what to do, they give you food and a cot at no cost. They didn’t blink when we asked for vegan food. So the two of us went, and we had a great time. It was a great group of people, terrifically creative, welcoming, and wonderful storytellers. I had oh so many thoughts, and here’s just one. In poem form.

To The LARPers

There are so many kinds of magic.
You are adept at the magic of costume,
disguise, image, imagination, vision.
You invoke the sacred magic of theater,
of the creative act in community
in consecrated space. Do you know
that you are working with dream magic,
manifestation, moving energy
between the physical and spiritual
realms: true alchemy? Can you see
the magic that is already here, now,
in the wildflowers around us,
in the naming of birds and studying
their flight? These millipedes congregating
in our midst have a message for us,
if we can divine it. You practice the magic
of words. Have you yet found the magic
of devotional chanting in the sacred
ancient languages, whose origins
are unknown? Do you long to live
in a world that cannot be? It is
here now. You have prepared yourself well.
It is much bigger than you know.

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Adopted

Here’s a poem for all the adopted people and parents on Mothers’ Day.

Some families don’t look like each other.
Tall and short, different shapes,
long pointy noses and buttons,
olive complexion and fair with freckles.
Blue eyes and brown. All mixed together
dumped unceremoniously into one pot.
Stir, add heat, and call it a family.
We have no shared genetic memory,
our only history that which we claim,
that which we make together or make up.
A handful of heritages from which
we choose at will. This is adoption.
We are people so audacious as to
choose our family, by luck or by love or
being in the right place at the right time.
There may be times when we feel we don’t belong,
we’re in the wrong family. There may be times
we secretly long for the rich, kind, perfectly adoring
people we were meant to have,
who would buy us everything we want
and never make us do chores.
But we always know better: the real family
is the one you are with. Who needs
blood and DNA and shared cheekbones and skin,
who needs strangers to know by looking at us
who belongs to whom?
We are family by force of will.
Our existence is proof that we are.
Our existence is proof of the power of choice
and when we say mother and father
we are speaking verbs more than titles.
Don’t feel sorry for me, I am adopted and proud
and know the strength of family
in a way you blood relations never will.

NaPoWriMo Days 20/21: Rough Draft/To Be An Artist

I’m not sure these go together. Not entirely sure this is poetry. But I wrote them together over two days, so here it is.

I. Rough Draft

If these poems seem rough to you,
it’s because they are. It’s often eleven
before I pick up the laptop,
after the kids have finished their
homework, selected some pajamas,
put the pajamas on, brushed
their teeth until the top of the hourglass is
empty, plugged in their devices, taken
their last hug of the day, and, finally,
gone to bed. Then talked to each other
out loud for a while, then
quieted to whispers.
Before all that, I’ll have wandered
into the kitchen, examined the contents
of cabinets, the refrigerator, and freezer,
maybe perused a cookbook
and decided to do something I already
know how to make, washed a round of dishes
while I think about how to do it, tidied
some work space, prepared the food,
called everyone to dinner,
threatened to sit down and eat right now,
then waited anyway for everyone else
to come to the table.

Mornings are solitary, leisurely.
Yoga. Hygiene. Feed myself.

Afternoons I give my full attention
to one client at a time.

And every day, pretty much the same.
I do all the stuff. I get things out of the way.
Then when it’s quiet and too late
to make phone calls, too dark to clean house,
the cats are inside, the humans sleeping,
I clear a space on the couch,
sit down, open up the magical device,
and bang out a poem, hoping to have
something decent before
I fall asleep.

II. To Be An Artist

To be an artist, you have to want it
more than anything. You have to want it
more than you don’t want to be laughed at,
more than you don’t want to be told what to do,
more than you want all the other
things you want, more than you want
your children to wear clean clothes
more than you want straight As
understanding friends
organic home-cooked meals from scratch
and all the homeless housed.

You have to want to open more than you want to stay closed.
Want to fly more than you want to stay on the ground.
You have to want people to see your naked self
more than you want them to approve of your taste in clothing.

Want to make people feel all your vivid feelings more than
you want to protect them from feeling your pain.

Want to rip your heart out of your own chest and wave it
dripping in the faces of strangers on the street
more than you want to be intact and insulated and safe.

Whatever the medium—color, sound, words—it’s always the same.
Money, friends, stability—be ready to throw it all away
so that you can be here, now, you, all that you are, nothing more,
nothing less, nothing to hide behind, nothing to ask for,
strip off your costume, rip open your chest
so everyone can see the meat clinging to your ribs
and the glory of your gory, pulsating, squirming, bleeding
heart.

NaPoWriMo Day 16: We Three

When one is taller than I and the other isn’t yet,
it’s special to walk a strange city with them,
we three who look alike enough to be
the family we are, but all our own selves
too. One’s dyed her hair blue, the other wears
hers long and brown. We get in the car
and one navigates to a coffee shop.
She likes coffee shops. One orders a fruity drink,
the other has mocha. We eat and drink
and one goes to the bathroom, the other
puts money in the tip jar. One wants help
finishing her mocha. I sip and realize
I just bought my daughter a coffee drink.
(It’s delicious.) We go back to the room
and one plans the day, the other reads a book.
Back in the car, one sits in the front seat beside me,
the other in the usual back. City driving.
We drive around several blocks to find parking.
Navigator wants to give up. Little sis
says, “You can’t give up, or we’ll drive
around like this forever!” I say, “You’re doing
fine, you just don’t have all the information.”
She picks up the phone again, and we get there.
Walking from the parking garage, I tell her
the phone navigator doesn’t work for walking,
but she’s sure it’s fine. She leads us into
a building which is obviously a courthouse,
complete with uniformed officers behind a
desk. We laugh as we walk across the street
to the Visitors’ Center. We like the museum there.
One wants to listen to the story on the phone,
the other wants her picture taken with her face
peeking through a cut-out picture of the
statue on top of the Capitol. We don’t want to go
in the Capitol. One wants to take pictures
of the outside, the other sits under a tree and waits.
One loves the grackles and squirrels, the other
makes friends with every dog that passes.
We get in the car, the girls trade places
from the last ride. She navigates us
to the spectacular 1880s hotel, which is said
to be haunted. I don’t see any ghosts,
just a building like no other, light pouring in
through the round window surrounding
the rectangular doors. Woodwork painted
brown and gold in meticulous detail. The contrasting
brown and white marble floors almost but not
quite too much. One reads the ghost fact sheet
to us, the other takes pictures of all the paintings.
One is taller than I, the other not quite, yet.

NaPoWriMo Day 8: How To Write A Poem

You can write a poem about practically anything:
a dream, a moment in time, an event, like
the time you tried to put a baby bird back in the nest
and it flopped to the ground and died.
The time you helped an injured bird out of the road,
left it in the weeds, and did not euthanize or heal it.
The time you casually told your 13-year-old
a brutal truth and she cried.
Start with an image.
Look for the light radiating out of the words.
Follow the light. Keep adding words.
After a while, themes appear.
Something about the incompatibility of birds and roads?
Is it how attempts at kindness inevitably fall short?
Is it how you have to keep going,
even when it is futile to try?
You might pretend this poem is just striking images,
stories that don’t need meaning, that mean nothing,
attempts to make light through language,
but if you get it right,
the reader will know better.

I Know My Kid

As soon as we got to school, my daughter realized she’d forgotten her lunch. She had a field trip today and didn’t have another lunch option. It’s not very far, and I wasn’t in a hurry, so I went back home and got it.

I was a little self-conscious because I’ve been seeing that meme going around facebook, about not bringing your kids their lunches and homework when they forget them. It’s supposed to be bad parenting to help your kids these days.

Sure, that meme was aimed at parents of kids in high school, but most of the comments I’ve seen on this subject don’t specify any particular age. My daughter is only in sixth grade, but she’ll be going to the “big school” next year. Right now, I know this kind of help is good for her.

When I was newly a mom, and trying to figure out what on earth I was supposed to be doing in that capacity, I found a lot of good advice in the community at mothering.com. It’s an amazing, large, and diverse community that I would recommend to any parent for advice on practically any parenting question you could think of. Mothering.com mamas come from many political, religious, socioeconomic, and racial perspectives, and everyone gets along (or gets gently corrected by a moderator). What they have in common is a preference for natural, compassionate parenting.

One statement I saw people make frequently on the forums was, “I know my kid.” “I know my kid so I trust him not to bow to peer pressure.” “I know my kid so I can leave her at home alone.” Reading these comments, I always thought about the things my parents didn’t know about me in adolescence. I had no idea who I was, and often tried on different attitudes to see how they worked. Could parents know their kids better than kids know themselves? Are all these people kidding themselves?

Here’s what I know about my kid today: she isn’t very good at remembering things. She’s lost more than one item of value, things she really cared about, because she set it down and forgot to pick it up again. But I also know that she is more self-motivated than any kid I know (I’m sure there are more self-motivated kids, I just don’t happen to know them). She sets high goals, and strives to achieve them. When she fails, no one is harder on her than she is on herself. She may not be able to take the burden of remembering things off of the adults in her life, but she won’t hesitate to take on the burden of making herself feel bad. She’ll do it on our behalf, if that’s what we teach her. “Making her suffer” the consequences, lecturing, and anger do not enable her to do better; they break down her confidence and self-esteem. I can imagine the possibility that those strategies might work for another child, but they do not help this one. I know because I know my kid.

Sometimes kids need tough love. Sometimes they need compassionate assistance. Who knows when to do which? This is what I know: those people making memes and snarky comments, blogging about parenting, they don’t know my kid like I do. They don’t see the way she struggles to grow herself up, the ways she already suffers her own perceived inadequacies. They don’t see her kindness, or willingness to help others, or the ways those qualities might be connected to my choice to model them, by helping her. They may see the ways that I have failed to make her the kid they think she should be, and for that I do not apologize. She is her own person, with strengths and weaknesses, both known and unknown. We’re all just trying to figure out how to live the best we can, and today that means giving my daughter a little help.

rosadie

She likes to wear cat ears, but she’s a dog person at heart.

 

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

It’s been quite a busy summer. I’m a personal assistant to two children, which is a job I never thought I’d be competent to perform. Early in the season, I bought a Passion Planner so I could keep it all together. I love how the planner has a place to write the focus of each week, though too many weeks all I can think of to focus on is simply getting through the week.

I had ambitious goals for this summer. I was going to do a project every month. June’s project was renovating the spa, but that has dragged on much longer than I’d hoped, and I’m thinking about coming to a stopping point and moving on to the July goal, which is to publish a story which has been waiting for a book cover for several months, and to do some more original writing. Not to mention getting caught up on both my blogs, and promote them more actively. But even scaling back my goals doesn’t get me through the days. This week I’m going with one Girl Scout troop on an overnight trip, and planning, organizing and supervising a full day event for the other troop. In between, a dear friend who lives far away will be in the midwest, and bless her, she’s going to take a day to come out to the sticks just to see us.

Keeping on top of it all is a constant challenge. I’ve tried coffee, but the extra energy seems to come with even greater propensity to flit randomly from one task to another, so I’m not sure there’s a net improvement. A little yoga and meditation are perhaps more beneficial. I saw on facebook or somewhere that some famous yogi said that everyone should meditate for at least ten minutes per day, unless one doesn’t have time, in which case, twenty minutes. So I am making the effort to prove that ten is enough for me.

Today I was doing my usual practice: after a little yoga, I cool down and end in corpse pose (savasana), in which I listen to my breath, attempting to take a full breath in and out without a thought. There’s always a thought, though, but for some reason I always think the next breath will go better, so I try again. Sometimes I do get almost to the end of the inhalation before a thought comes. Today somewhere in the middle I heard a voice asking, “Been in the dungeon?” Oh no, I haven’t been—wait a minute, who’s been in the dungeon? Who put you there, and why? It was Mariah, the little waif/saboteur with whom I had meant to make friends. But today she says I put her in the dungeon because I wanted to prove that I was in control.

Before I could figure out what to do with that, I heard a ruckus in the yard. Blue jays are known to be annoyingly loud, and from my observations this summer, I’d say they can be alarmist as well. That crow-like screech is their alarm call, as well as warning to any creature they consider a threat. When the threat is resolved, they make a pretty cuckoo-like signal. The screeching was louder and more urgent than I’d ever heard, even from blue jays, so I looked out the patio door and sure enough, there was Wildy the cat in the tall grass (mowing was one of the things I haven’t had time for this summer) playing with something gray in front of her. Damn! It’s been nearly ten years since we’ve had blue jays, since the year Wildy’s predecessor 23, (may he rest in peace) killed all the babies, one by one, as they flew the nest. I’ve regretted ever since that I didn’t keep him inside that day.

There was no time to lose, so I decided to let my pants lie where I’d left them on the ottoman and ran out in my underwear. Two adults were swooping and screeching all around, and in the middle of it, cat and fledgling were facing each other off. Not waiting to see what would happen next, I grabbed Wildy by the nape and wrapped both my arms around her as I retreated. Inside, we watched from the patio doors while the bird hopped over near the door, mom and dad screeching incessantly. (They can see us through the doors, though they don’t know that fixing the doors so they open and close is another project that hasn’t made it to the top of the list yet.) But I watched long enough to see the juvenile hop on both legs, and stretch and fold both wings, so there’s a pretty good chance the bird was uninjured. Then I closed the curtains to give the poor parents a break.

I might have looked up the symbolism of blue jay earlier in the summer, but a drama such as this is what happens when one ignores the more subtle signals. What does Ted Andrews have to say about blue jay?

“For those to whom the jay comes as a totem, it can reflect lessons in using your own power properly.”

The power comes from both the spiritual and the physical realm, as blue jay moves between worlds. “The main problem will be in dabbling in both worlds, rather than becoming a true master of both. Those with a jay as a totem usually have a tremendous amount of ability, but it can be scattered or it is often not developed any more than is necessary to get by.”

“If the jay has flown into your life, it indicates that you are moving into a time where you can begin to develop the innate royalty that is within you, or simply be a pretender to the throne. It all depends upon you. The jay has no qualms. It will teach you either direction.” Okay, jay friends, I hear the message loud and clear, but damned if I know how to live any better than I am right now.

Interpreting Dreams, Life, and the Big Story

When I was at a point in writing my novel,  Post Rock Limestone Caryatids, that I had more behind me than in front, I had a dream that I was sort of a motherly person to a band of runaway kids. They had no one else to look after them; I did what I could. We had a bond of loyalty and mutual trust that comes of surviving difficulty together. There was a teenage boy who I felt particularly close to. He had maybe had some trouble in the past, maybe not all that serious. He had yet to demonstrate any outstanding talents or gifts. But he was a good kid, attentive, quiet, sensitive in ways that you would only notice if you were paying attention, which no one ever had, to this kid. What kind of chance did he have in life? I was going to do everything I could to help him, not just to survive, but to establish a life for himself, to create opportunities for himself to realize whatever potentials he had yet to discover, whatever dreams he might one day allow to blossom in his spirit.

Conflict arose when his abusive father re-entered his life. The father was a surly, bitter man, whose sole way of getting his needs met was to extract them from the people around him, by any means that he could. He located his son and demanded that he come home with him, because it was the son’s responsibility to provide for his father, regardless of any future sacrifices he might have to make in order to take up menial labor and start bringing in paychecks immediately. Wielding the power that only parents have, he took his son home.

I was infuriated. What a shameful twist of logic, to require the son to support the father, instead of the father nurturing and supporting the son. What an ugly, hateful way to raise a child, to thwart any potential before it had been discovered, to extract whatever monetary profit could be gleaned from the relationship. Parenting ought always to be managed with an eye to the day when the child will stretch his wings and leave the nest, to start his own life, to make a way that he owns, free to become what he will become.

But there was nothing I could do for this boy. He had chosen, uncomplaining, to follow his father, and really, what did I have to offer but some kindness and undreamed dreams? He really was a good kid. That was the end of the dream.

There’s a method of interpreting dreams in which everyone and everything in a dream is understood to be a part of the dreamer. It’s not an original idea, but I have no idea what famous psychologist or psychoanalyst presented it. I think I got it from Rosalyn Bruyere, but last time I quoted her, I made a huge gaffe, so don’t go blaming her for anything I say. In this dream, I am the mother, of course; I am the boy; but do I have to claim the father? That hateful, petty man, whose only goal in life was to get his due from other people? Oh, it makes me shiver to think that he is part of me.

Here’s how I interpret this dream. The boy was my novel in progress. I was both mother and father, encouraging, discovering, nurturing; but also wanting to make this creation of mine work for me, to bring me money. Was I willing to thwart its potential to that end? I’m not sure, but I can say that to date, it hasn’t provided any profit, and I don’t hold that against the book. If anything, it’s my fault for not nurturing it adequately, not helping it to find its wings. Don’t ask me what that would mean in practical terms; I honestly have no idea.

I read the Hunger Games trilogy this week, and I was so impressed, much more than I expected. There’s a Big Story in it, not just a dystopian teenage love triangle or a heroic warrior girl leading an army. Like life and dreams, the Big Story can be interpreted by the “I am everything and everyone” method. I haven’t untangled it all yet, but for some reason this dream inserted itself into my musings. So here it is, and tomorrow I’ll write about Hunger Games.

Wildfire dozes in the inbox while I write.

Wildfire dozes in the inbox while I write.

Why Intentional Parenting Is So Much Harder

What happens when you don’t let the kids have screen time:
There Is A Couch Underneath All This

Over Lemonade on the 4th of July

Having a glass of lemonade with R, who is 9.

Me: Wow, Daddy’s done half the chore chart today. I planted some tomatoes.

R: I’m the only one who hasn’t done anything helpful. [After this conversation, she made lunch for herself, her sister, and me.]

Me: No, you’re not the only one.

R: K helped you plant.

Me: She did very little. I sent her back in.

R: Why did you send her in?

Me: It’s like she’s in this stage where she really wants to be helpful and independent and do things for herself, but when I give her a job, it’s too hard, or she can’t do it perfectly the first time, and she whimpers and gives up. It’s driving me crazy. Do you have any thoughts about this?

R: No.

Me: Have you ever been in a stage like this? [Yes, she has, but I wanted her to think about it and remember how it felt. Maybe she would have some insight that would give me something to work with with her younger sister.]

R: I don’t know, because I can’t tell when it’s happening.

Me: I could be in this kind of stage right now and not even know it.

R laughs.

This, of course, is exactly the case. I don’t know what to do about myself any more than the kids.

Happy Independence Day, friends.

Girls Studying a Map

Girls Studying a Map

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