Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Tag: school

50 years: forties

This’ll bring us up to the present. First decade, second decade, twenties, thirties.

41. Kiran was about seventeen or eighteen months old when my Mom died. “Baba” was grandma since Rowan started to talk, and we saw Kevin’s mom frequently, so my mom became Baba Leona. A few weeks before she passed, Kiran started calling her Bona.

There was a period when Caryn Robson came over for a couple hours every week to watch the girls so I could write. I didn’t get much writing done, but knowing she would be coming every week was a lifeline. Often we would spend much of the time chatting, or I would be just getting around to putting lunch on the table when she arrived. After Mom’s funeral, the next time Caryn came over, we ended up sitting on the floor of my bedroom, Caryn behind me, releasing trigger points in my shoulders. When I started crying, she wrapped her arms around me and held me. Kiran was nearby, solemnly watching.

The next day, or maybe the day after, she said to me, “Bona died.”

“Yes. Bona died.”

“I saw Bona.”

“We saw Bona at the funeral home.”

“Bona was hugging you.”

“When was she hugging me?”

“Miss Caryn was here.”

“I was sitting on the floor and Miss Caryn was hugging me.”

“Yes. Bona was hugging you.”

“Bona was hugging me when Miss Caryn was hugging me?”

“Yes.”

“You saw Bona?”

“Yes.”

I had many more questions, but we seemed to have reached the limit of her ability to verbalize. She stopped talking then, satisfied that I’d gotten the main point, that after mom died, Kiran saw her with me, holding me in my grief.

Kiran doesn’t remember it anymore.

42. I wasn’t sure I wanted to send the kids to school, and preschool seemed like basically an ad for school. Rowan was very attached to me anyway, but because she was born in early November, she was almost four by the time the school year started. Still, I hesitated. My mother-in-law was on the preschool board, so I felt a certain amount of pressure to send her. I resisted. If she went to preschool, it would be that much harder to say no to school later. She would think of homeschooling as a deprivation.

One day Rowan was driving me crazy. Whatever I said, she ignored. Whatever I wanted her to do, she did the opposite. It went on all day, and really it had been building for a week. Clearly I had no control over this child whatsoever. Finally I’d had enough, and the words just came out of my mouth: “That’s it! You’re going to preschool. We’ll see if someone else can do any better with you than I can.” Sending a child to preschool because she was beyond my control seemed like the weakest possible reason, but I really was at my wit’s end. I couldn’t think of any other way to deal with her.

Her behavior changed immediately. Rowan started preschool a couple weeks later. She loved every minute of it, and was even disappointed when she found out it was only two mornings per week. Later I looked back and realized that it was precisely what she’d needed: to assert her individuality, to take the next step in separating from me. The words that popped out of my mouth were exactly the right ones.

43. I don’t remember what we were thinking when we planned this trip, but Mark Ferguson was getting married in Chicago, and I wanted to see my sister in upstate New York, and Niagara Falls was between the two places. When I saw it as a child, I was impressed, but as an adult, it was profoundly moving. We took an elevator deep into the earth, then walked a long tunnel to a boardwalk so we could walk right up to the edge of the falls. A little stream broke over a rock and fell onto the platform. That tiny stream was immensely powerful. This place where the water would devour the earth, were most of it not diverted before it even gets to the falls. And yet, this little bit of the remainder packed easily enough power to knock a person down. I planted my disposable sandals on the wet wood and held out my arms to open myself to the full force of the water. It was a ritual bath. It was a baptism. For days I was stunned, wondering that anyone could leave that place not knowing it is a sacred node of water energy.

As we returned to the surface, five-year-old Rowan said, “That’s the wettest I’ve ever been in my life!”

IMG_000744. I was working on the novel that would become Post Rock Limestone Caryatids. I was well into it with maybe 40,000 words. That doesn’t sound like very much now, but it was a huge struggle at the time. One day I was sitting in front of the computer, not feeling too inspired, when the phone rang. I got up to answer it, and when I came back, Toulouse was sitting on the keyboard, and the screen was blank.

Yes, the file was empty. The cat had deleted my entire novel.

Yes, I had a back-up copy. I only lost a few sentences.

45. Trying to learn and use Photoshop had always been an exercise in pulling out my own hair. I asked Kevin to help me design a cover for my book, but he bogged the project down with alternative ideas that would make the whole design much more complicated, but, in my opinion, wouldn’t improve it significantly. I decided to bite the bullet and learn Photoshop. Whenever I had a question, I googled it, a strategy Kevin often espoused. Each step took forever, but somehow I managed to create a workable design. It was an amazing achievement for me.

Later, when I tried to make a cover for another book, I found I could neither remember nor figure out how to do what I’d done before. It was as if it had never happened.

46. After a couple years of occasional puttering, I got my studio not entirely complete, but into a condition in which I could work in it. Steve Thompson did a lot of work. Without his input, I  couldn’t have gotten it done. I chose a gaudy, sunshiny yellow for the walls. Steve thought that color was totally wrong, and tried to talk me into something softer, but I ignored him. It’s a room where I’ve had days of sitting at the desk for hours, writing, revising, publishing, promoting. I go in as early as I can get there in the morning, and if I let myself, I can get lost in the work.

Costa Rica Journal47. Our trip to Costa Rica straddled my birthday. It was my second time there. The first I wished I’d journaled more; so this time I made time during the trip to write down as much as I could remember, most days. After we got home, I started blogging our experiences in this magical place, and intended to write at least one post for every day we were there. I did several, before the project faltered. But still, I think the Costa Rica Diary blog posts are some of my best writing here on Veronica’s Garden.

48. Shortly after the new year began, before the end of my term as a 48-year-old, I made these goals/resolutions for the year:
Have a working dishwasher.
Girls have their own rooms.
Publish 2 more short stories.
Have a solid draft of Witchcraft novel by year end, ready to seek an agent or self-publish.
Find my birth dad, George Mah.
Manage my health effectively for lasting wellness. (Yoga 4x/week)
Massage Kevin regularly, minimum of 12 times through the year.
Clear/organize house.
Make progress on back debt.

I published four stories, so I exceeded that goal. I’m averaging yoga twice/week these days, and seeing benefits from it. Massaged Kevin three times. As for the others, I failed every last one.

49. What I did instead of working on those goals was spend most of the year struggling with bureaucracies. The Kansas Dept. of Revenue was claiming we owed back Transient Guest Taxes from the motel we’d closed two years prior, while our health insurance premiums grew to unmanageable magnitude. Talking on the phone, navigating institutional websites, hunting through files for papers, these became my unpaid part-time job. Astrologer Kaypacha, aka Tom Lescher, said repeatedly in his weekly forecasts that 2016 would be a year of purification. Apparently, for me, purification means doing the tedious business of managing finances.

Sometimes it occurs to me, normal people do all these things all the time. I don’t know how they do it. And people who work forty hours/week, when do they do these things? Living as a normal adult continues to be my biggest struggle, my most persistent failure.

50. On my birthday, I had a wonderful massage from Lana at Southwind Health Collective in Lawrence. A few minutes into the session, she said, “I’m getting that there’s something that you’re really, really worried about. Is that right?”

I said, “Yes.”

She said, “I’m also getting the message that it’s gonna be all right.”

***

So there we go. It may be as hard for you to believe as it is for me, but I have lived fifty years. I have the memories to prove it.

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.

 

Beautiful Morning

Maybe it was because the heat had lifted, making way for a cool front and just enough water coming down to call it rain.

Maybe it was the quality of the light filtering through the clouds, so the hot colors settled down for a nap, while the cool greens and grays woke up vividly.

It was a kind of day when you step outside and say, “Oh, what a beautiful morning,” before you realize you’re living a show tune.

The girls have been biking to school this year, but I drove them today due to the rain. The doves in the street were so at peace, it was hard to rouse them out of the path of the car. “Car, doves!” I told them, and the girls behind me joined in, “Car! Car!” Then, “Caw, caw!” which would possibly alarm doves more effectively.

Humming a pretty tune, I waved at other parents coming back from the school in their vehicles. A white-haired man sat on his stoop watching the traffic. It was an ordinary moment, perfect and beautiful.

It occurred to me that maybe for old people, watching kids go to school in the morning isn’t just something they do when they don’t have anything else to do. Maybe it’s meaningful in itself to watch these rituals of coming together and parting, the hurrying and dawdling, the putting on and removing of outerwear as the seasons revolve, children growing day by day and year by year.

It used to be that when I came upon these moments of heightened awareness, I’d wish desperately and wistfully that they could last forever. Now I know that the secret is to be that present in every moment, to be in perfection and beauty, even through everything changing.

How do we get there? I suppose they say meditation and mindfulness practices can help, though it seems to me largely a function of grace, which is to say, the Divine bleeding through our consciousness, unasked, undeserved, unwarranted.

Or maybe it was simply that the heat had lifted.

The sunflowers are about as high as an elephant's eye.

The sunflowers are about as high as an elephant’s eye.

Where Does the Time Go? I Mean, Really, Where Does It Go?

Today something very strange happened to me. I lost time. I pick up my kid from school at 3:45. I was watching the time carefully, getting my younger one dressed to go out, giving us ten minutes to walk to school. Last time I looked at my watch, it said we had five minutes before we had to leave. By the time we were ready, I was sure we were leaving just on time. We walked at a normal speed. As we approached the school, I noticed that, strangely, there were no cars there. We couldn’t possibly be early, but how could we be so late that every last person was already gone? I’ve been late before, but never like that. It was eerily quiet in the school yard. I looked at my watch and saw that it was 4:00! Somehow I had lost a full fifteen minutes. Where did they go? Of course, my husband just said, “You have a hard time with that.” (This from the man whose secret motto is, “If no one’s waiting for me yet, I’m too early.” hrmph.)

I’m posting a poll. You tell me what happened to my fifteen minutes.

“Do not forget that all change is good,” or, why I didn’t clean motel rooms that day

“When butterfly shows up, make note of the most important issues confronting you at this moment. This is probably why butterfly has shown up. What stage of change are you at in regard to them? To determine that, you may have to examine and determine what you wish the outcome to be, and how best to accomplish it. . . . Do not forget that all change is good.” –Ted Andrews

It was one of those late August days, down to the last precious few before school and the quotidian jail of the daily schedule set in. This time of year I always wonder why I’m not homeschooling. I fear that any creativity and inquisitiveness in my children will be gradually squelched by the endless worksheets and pressure to follow instructions quickly, before the next worksheet is presented. Yesterday we were unloading stuff from the car and going into the house when my 6-year-old stopped, and wouldn’t move closer to the door. “One of those wasps, the orange ones.”

“The really bright orange-red one, or the orangey brown?”

“Bright.”

“Is it on the ground, or in the air?”

“On the ground.”

These questions are relevant because I know of two orange wasps around here. One is orange-ish and flies; that’s the digger wasp, which is not aggressive. The bright orange, fuzzy one that looks kind of like a brilliant, oversized ant, is, naturally, known as the red velvet ant. The female is wingless and I’ve warned my kids about her; though I didn’t tell them that the account I read of having been stung by one described the pain as so intense that, said the victim, for about thirty minutes he wanted to die. I just told them to avoid the wasp when they see her. The male flies, and doesn’t sting at all, though it’s said he might try to fake a person out.

Rowan is increasingly afraid of wasps. She’s been stung twice this year, both times completely by surprise. I keep telling her that they won’t bother her if she leaves them alone, but I know as the words come out of my mouth that she has never looked for trouble with waps; I witnessed the second sting. She just pushed away something that flew in her face, and got stung on the hand.

The red velvet ant wasp crawls along the ground at a good pace, so I didn’t expect anything to be on the sidewalk when we got there. But then she said, “There it is!” while trying to hide behind me.

There was no wasp there; just a struggling little pearl crescent butterfly, Phyciodes tharos. Really, it looked nothing like a wasp. Strangely, its wings were spread and resting on the concrete. “I think it’s dying,” I said. Then I gently picked it up. It let me; and made its way to the underside of my finger, where its limp wings hung together toward the ground. It hung there, occasionally moving its wings slightly. “It’s not dying, it just came out of its chrysalis,” I realized. I explained to the kids, “When they first come out of the chrysalis, their wings are wet and soft. They can’t fly right away, they have to wait, and kind of pump the fluid out of the wings. It’s a very vulnerable time for them. If they fall down, their wings might get crunched up and they won’t ever be able to fly.” Watching it move the unwieldy wings, I imagined what it must be like to undergo such a transformation. “Remember how I was telling you how caterpillars have to eat so much? What if you were really, really hungry, you ate and ate and ate, then you took a long nap, and when you woke up you had giant wings!” Surely our imaginations could never encompass the shock and mystery of such an experience. In my mind, I pictured my daughter waking up in bed with sticky, wrinkly appendages unfolding from her back.

I held it for a while; the kids each took a turn letting it dangle from their fingers; then we moved it to a twig on a tree nearby. By this time, the creature’s wings were firm enough that it could hold them up. We went inside the house and ate lunch, and when I came back later, it was gone.

What does my daughter need? Somebody to make sure she’s safe as her wings unfold; somebody to help her find a place from which to launch into flight. Then, she needs to be let go.

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