Woke Up This Morning and….

Like the arrival of birds in Spring, I found signs of the arrival of an unknown number of twenty-somethings, my son and his friends, in the wee hours last night.

The Gaping Underbelly of (fill in the blank…homeschooling? permissive parenting? unschooling? creativity?)

Terrain project from 2010 or so on its way to the trash can

I went up into the attic in search of trash to fill our garbage can. The trash gets collected early on Thursday ´morning so on Wednesday, I often search the house and yard for eyesores that we would be better off without. This goes best when no one else is home so they cannot raise objections.

This particular trip to the attic yielded the huge unwieldy mess pictured above. It is the last remnant of a terrain park that my third son build in his room about 6 years ago. It was for remote control ATVs to be driven at speed over.  He used a hot glue gun to attach huge amounts of styrofoam to a cardboard under structure. Then he used liquid insulation to build up mass. It occupied about a 8ft by 6 ft by 6 ft area of his luckily large bedroom for about 6 months. Like many of the large amazing things that got built in our house during twenty years of homeschooling four kids, I do not recollect much about it getting used. The kids were builders and “makers” to use the recently coined appelation. (Except for maybe my middle son who seemed to direct play for hours as long as it involved some kind of proft margin gor himself.)

At some point, terrain-park son wanted to reclaim the space in his room and relegated the terrain mess to the attic, which is also very large. There, it provided spacious housing and a wonderful defecation landscape for mice. The mice also snacked on the cardboard so that by the time I began removing chunks at a time, I needed a broom to sweep up the bits and deteriorated materials. I had waited a nice long time; about 5 years before I began the slow removal. Today was the first time my 18 year old son saw me relegating any bit of it to the garbage….and all he said rather happily was, “Oh man, that was lit, making that thing.”


It is an addiction like any other. I have to apologize to my husband when I finally arrive with the screw driver he asked for, “Oh sorry, I was in the middle of weeding”. We eat dinner late again; I stopped to weed on my way out to pick some basil for the pesto. I weeded in the dusk of the driveway where weeds are overwhelming the gravel. Yes, that is right. I am weeding driveways. Not one, but two. And gardens. a vegetable garden and several flower gardens. Just like alcoholism, it is starting to get in the way of daily life functioning.

I think as I weed. I think about why I am so compelled to stop what I am doing to weed. One reason is the immediate satisfaction  of it. It is the polar opposite of making phonecalls to try to figure out how to secure SAT accommodations for my older teen son. I can make phone call after phone call and then wait for return calls and then return those calls, only to find out almost nothing because many of the offices do not test older children for example, or they are not taking new patients. Or, they are not sure and have to ask someone else and get back to me. Or they refer me on to someone else. The weeds are a sure thing. I spot one, I grasp it firmly, and out it comes.

Another thing about weeding is that it is training for taking care of real problems, like culling people out of my life who are too demanding or discouraging to me, and like cleaning rooms in my house that need it desperately. Weeds can be easy to spot, but there are weeds that can seem worth keeping, especially after one has taken a Wild Plant class that pretty much assigns medicinal or dietary value to most wild plants. Alternatively, I sometimes do not spot weeds right away because they grow under or with a cultivated plant and sort of camouflage with it. So, by learning to spot the weeds and decide that they need removal, I imagine that I may be building up the discernment skills necessary for facing piles of messy build up in the house. Sometimes, I do not even see these problem areas, because I have grown used to them, and accepting of them. 

There is the pleasurable tangible feel of the little plant as I pull it and that moment of suspense as I find out if I got the whole thing or did I accidentally rip it from its roots. The subtle sort of tear as the web of roots gets pulled up through the soil and gravel. It is so palpably pleasurable to remove the offending plant. Like pressing puss from a festering wound. 

And just to be completely honest, my weeding complusion by no means leads to a tidy weed free garden. It is a compulsion, not an organized scheduled discipline. I weed just like I clean the oven: when it really is screaming to be done. 

This summer, I can empathize with the offending plants I am uprooting. They are “tossed aside” which must feel something like  being “unfriended” on facebook and in real life by a friend. I have noticed that the weeds sometimes don’t die when they are tossed into a pile….they can make a rich moist environment that favors the new growth of the more determined ones.

Running Roughshod across the days

It dawned on me the night before the Wednesday in question. It was not going to be possible to get my daughter to her violin lesson at 5:30 a half an hour away to the east if my son was driving the car to his singing lesson at 5:pm a half an hour south. After google mapping the distance between the two destinations, I went to bed dreaming up options like insisting that my older  son drive home from where he was staying with his girlfriend so we could borrow his car. Or as I relaxed and became more lucid, increasingly complex ideas occurred to me: All of us setting off together and then dropping my son off a little bit early for his lesson, then the 40 min over a different bridge than usual to drop my daughter off at her lesson and then I could drive back to pick up my son and my daughter would only have to wait an extra 40 min. I figured that the last plan only involved an extra hour and twenty minutes of driving between the two locations. 

The next morning, I explained the dilemma to my kids. Before I could explain the third option I had thought of which invovled my son having to wait longer at his singing lesson after it was over, he interrupted and suggested, “Why don’t we just see if we can move the singing lesson to the Sat time slot?” It took only about a minute for me to realize that he had made a very good suggestion. So I texted with the lesson coordinator and within 5 minutes it was arranged that he could switch lessons. Problem solved.

So, my daughter and I set out on the half hour journey across the Hudson and down the other side of the river. We arrived at the music studio to find the door open as usual. We took off our shoes and I settled into the comfy sofa with my book. My daughter began tuning her violin. The teacher did not appear. After about 10 minutes, I felt the dismay and fear spreading through my body. I pulled out my ipad and went back to the teacher’s last email. Oh dear. She had written that, in general, Wednesdays were great, but not this Wednesday. Thursday at 5:30 would be perfect. And I had read her message. But my lifelong habit of skimming the time and date details had once again put a spanner in the works. Oh dear oh dear. 

My daughter pointed out after I vented frustration with myself for 10 minutes solid, that the car trip had been really nice anyway. We had talked about the transitional period she finds herself in right now. I have every confidence that she will find her way out of this difficult patch. The question is whether I will continue to obfuscate my days. (I have assigned her all future communicaitons with her teacher about lesson times)

Inventing High School and Beyond

School was a monolithic fixture of my childhood. The smell of a school cafeteria, which usually pervades the entire school building, brings back visceral memories for me of being uncomfortable, unengaged, and unsure. The various bus rides were also memorable; it was at the busstop when I was 6 that I first got exposed to the idea that 69 meant something. I didn’t know what for many years.
The concept of school was demystified for me when I was 11, when my Dad started one with several other families. I remember the first day mostly because I had a terrifying asthma attack and couldn’t keep up with the large group of kids that were following my Dad around on a tour of the facilities. I found myself gasping for air and unable to yell, “Wait for me” as they all trooped off across another field on our return from some out buildings. I was frightened and upset. I had never had an asthma attack before and never suffered one again. Was it the stress of watching my Dad take on about 40 extra kids that day?
As my “homeschooled” 17 year old recently posted on facebook, the US government does not allow 18 year olds to vote, but it does encourage and assist them in diving $40,000 in debt to pay for a college education. His older brother went that route. He knew he wanted to be an animator, and his first idea was to find an internship opportuntiy. but it seemed that one had to be enrolled in an animation college in order to even be considered for an internship at an animation studio. So, he was persuaded that attending art school was a mandatory step towards his career goal. 6 years later, he is weighed down with the burden of his debt. He is so weighed down by it, that he pretty much thinks of nothing but the need to pay back the debt. Sometimes this worries me. He seems obsessed by the debt. Driven by it. His is an obsessive personality to begin with. He laments not being able to work on a large creative project that he feels speaks to this cultural moment….he worries that by the time he can bring the project to some level of fruition, it’s relevance will have passed. Keep in mind that animation is a painstaking process and he is building every piece of it himself, though working with another creative artist on the concept drawings.
Meanwhile, he is watching his younger brother take serious steps in an artistic direction. The older brother pontificates to any of us who will listen that he really does not think that his younger brother should spend money on Art school, or go into debt for an art education at an art school. He feels so strongly about this that he called up several weeks ago to essentially offer his younger brother an internship in Animation. While this may not be the younger brother’s ultimate orientation, the older brother had tapped into a seemingly endless vein of well paying freelance animation work. Not only could he not do all the work alone, but he realized that his younger brother could earn money, rather that spending it, while gaining an art education of sorts. So while there is a huge learning curve, where it could be months before the younger one can really be counted on to understand the animation program enough to be competent, he was able within a week of training with his brother to make toothbrush bristles that could be used in the brush. This whole plan consists of the older brother staying late at work with his younger brother at his side where banks of computer stations are available. While the older one works on his free lance jobs, the younger one can do tutorials and receive  help when needed. It is not a perfect plan. They each could really do with having new expensive laptops with the prohibitively expensive program loaded onto them. It would be good if the older brother didnt also get swamped with extra work from his day Animation job. It would be good if their working together didnt lead to staying up till 2:00 and 3:00 AM so that then neither one of them can get to work the next morning on time.
Cause that is the other thing. The younger brother has the opportunity to work for his Dad doing electrical work during the days in the city. And he is enrolled at the Art Students League in a. drawing class on Thursday afternoons. So his 11th grade looks a lot different than mine. I was in AP English which I loved. I helped edit the and layout the High School Literary magazine. But my art class was diabolical. The most modern artists we studied were the Impressionists. The art teacher was a “toll painter”. For the uninitiated, “toll painting” is the art of painting berries and flowers on metal objects like vintage milk jugs and mailboxes. We made “stuffed canvases” that we then painted. I guess we sewed them together. Mine was a cat. When I got to art school in New York City, the kids I met had been going to galleries to see conceptual and political art while they were in highschool. I caught up quickly, but I couldn’t help feeling a little incredulous at my own art education in high school. or lack of it.

Second Breakfast

When my children were little, they slept until they woke up as the noisy school buses lumbered by, and then they began playing. They would come downstairs and eat a bowl of cereal and then go back up.  I got as much done as I could until I heard the momentum build upstairs….the thump of blocks, the flush of the toilet. I would push my chair away from the computer, and get up and go into the kitchen. Time to make waffles, with whipped cream and raspberry sauce. or buttermilk pancakes with blueberries in them. or scones with creamcheese and raspberries in them. and others with chocolate chips. If it was Fall, I would often make a German Apple Pancake.

“Is our children learning?” George Bush famously asked. They loved second breakfast as we called the more elaborate baked confections. They took me some time…both mixing and cooking, and then clean up afterwards. And no, I was not good at getting the kids to help. But man, do they help me now. It was a pleasure caring for them like that. A real pleasure.

That was the standard we lived by. 

When kids make you work

Video chat with faraway son

My daughter showed me how to sweep the long expanse of barn hallway in about a quarter of the time I would have taken. It involved pushing the wide broom in short agressive bursts and then lifting it quickly to bring it down with a hard tamp on the ground to loosen any stray dust or bits of straw off the broom with each swipe. She moved rapidly down one half of the hallway and then headed back up the other side. I picked up the kitchen sized broom and began adressing the detail work that the wider broom could not pick up….the bits of straw and dirt lying in the entry way and along the sliding stall doors. My daughter’s work was done once we got the floor swept, and I would be free to drive her the 70 minute trip home.
As I “broomed” ( a word one of my kids must have coined) I thought of all the weird jobs (and huge amounts of driving) I have done to help my kids. There was the Photoshop drawing that I did late into the night when my oldest son needed extra sketches for rough presentations his first few years in art school. He would assign me specific tasks, like drawing more bricks in the alley scene or whatever….he rapidly became much more proficient at Photoshop than I was and then he only called on me to proofread overdue papers.

My third son rarely asks for my help. He has invented a special way to require my attention. He has developed a knack for asking in a compelling way, my permission to use the car right at the edge of legality. He will suggest that he pick up a friend because they need a ride to the same place he is going, and then mention that their sibling needs a ride too, and they won’t be able to come home before 10PM. Because he is not yet 18, he is only supposed to have one friend in the car, and cannot drive after 9:00. So, time and time again, I must choose between the economy and ecology of his making one efficient trip versus myself or the other parent making there-and-back trips to pick up and drop off the various kids at the various destinations.

It was my second son who required the most attention; more than his three siblings put together, when he  was a little guy. He made me work. He needed a lot of reassurance as he worried about lots of things. He did not like transitions and needed help everytime we went somewhere or headed home from somewhere. He wanted my attention but he did not want me to read stories to him as his older brother had wanted. He insisted on sitting in the stroller long after his younger siblings were born…they could stand on the skateboard contraption behind…. I finally read a book that gave me permission to pay 80% of my attention to one child with the remaining 20% to be divied up among the remaining 3 siblings. My son thrived under this regimen, and his siblings did too. He is the one now at 20 who had the courage to leave his full scholarship at a very good college where he was on track to graduate early, in order to move to a different country to work on a social media start up idea with a friend he had made at a weekend educational program. In person, he wraps his arm around me and tells me to “stay calm” and then delivers a friendly lecture on how being emotional about things does not solve problems. 

Each of the four kids assigned me specific tasks. It was a question of when they needed me to put the hours in.

Letting the bees go

My son is now coming home on a later bus, so I do not have to go pick him up yet.

My daughter has texted me to bring her cutoff shorts later when I pick her up and that I can find them in the top of her clothes chest.

I remind my son to contact his guitar teacher.

One of the baby chicks has escaped and is running frantically up and down the mesh enclosure trying to figure out how to get back in.

I pull over on the side of the road to text my son that the car he will take needs gas definately.

The trays of tomato and eggplant seedlings really need water.

Oh, look, that loud hum in the back yard is a huge bee swarm.

I text my friend Deb to tell her that I am leaving the book for her on the front porch.

I filled a bottle with water for the long round trip drive northward and left it on the table,  but I remembered to run the ipad back in so that my son could do math over SKype while I am away.

I thank my stars that my good friend did not need my help taking a photo of her family today.

I wait for an idea of what to make for the pot luck lunch tomorrow.

R and S, Scourge of the Raspberries

Because the raspberry bushes that we planted when we first moved here did so well, we have “volunteers” every Spring. More volunteers than we know what to do with. At first I added to our long row of bushes so that we have about…70 feet of raspberry bushes. Then between taking two sons to high level soccer practice and games over 40 miles away, teaching several classes each Spring, and taking care of the large vegetable and flower gardens, the raspberry row fell into disrepair. 

I definately discovered one of the culprits two days ago while “weeding” with a shovel. I was digging out young trees, wild black cap runners, thorn bushes, and a monster weed that actually looked like a criminal. It had grown into huge clumps of tentacle like tubers that formed a hard mass in the ground. I believe that they produce some sort of daisy wildflower up above ground. These masses of tubers were strangling the straggling row of raspberries…. So out they all came. While I use every last ounce of strength and heavy iron hand tools to weed, I imagine other people kneeling politely next to their manicured plots…lifting weeds out with delicate little trowels. The up side to my laissez faire gardening is the “volunteering” of not only weeds, but wild edible plants such as onion and garlic and also cultivated plants like parsnips, kale, and cilantro that all appear each year now where I planted them previously.

I believe this is garlic growing wild from preovvious years of planting it here

Q is for quit, quick, and quiet…

I was going to quit this alphabet posting as it is a bit demanding and I wonder about it’s value to myself and the world, but a quick (another “q”) look back encourages me to continue down the home stretch. Q is for quit, quick, and quiet; the rythmic quiet of rests in music…they pulse and throb.