Archive for the ‘Portraits of Home’ Category
This afternoon one of my Halloween decorations mysteriously lost its two front legs: a cute little kitty, now permanently crippled because the ceramic paws are completely shattered. My first thought when I found it, sitting in its usual place, with all its bits and pieces lined up beside it, was ‘Why do I bother with decorations when I have four kids running around the house?’ My second thought was, ‘Who did this?’
So I began questioning my children. Surprisingly, not a single one of them admitted to breaking the Halloween cat. One of them tried to blame the dog, but our little Westie couldn’t have reached the shelf where it had been on display. Another one of them tried to blame Dad (never a wise move). So I let the case rest.
Until tonight when we sat down to dinner. A surprise development occurred when I asked my eleven year old to bless our food. ”Dear Heavenly Father,” he prayed, “Please bless the food. And please bless us that we can talk about the things that are upsetting or troubling us.”
“Thank you, Hunter,” I said when he had finished his blessing. I was little worried about that last part, though, so I turned to the rest of the family and asked. ”Does anyone have anything that is troubling or upsetting you that you want to talk about?”
“Yes,” said Pierce, my five-year-old, waving his hand up in the air.
“What is it?”
“I don’t like this dinner.”
“Okay,” I said. ”Anyone else?”
Hunter looked at me, his face all trouble and concern. ”I broke the cat, Mom,” he said. ”I didn’t mean to.”
He probably expected me to be mad. It was a cute little kitty. But I couldn’t be angry. Because I was looking at his face, and seeing all that trouble and concern, and it made me much sadder than a broken Halloween decoration. I put my arms around him and kissed the top of his head. I was so grateful that I could make all that guilt and sadness go away, just by forgiving him. And so grateful that he would tell me what had happened so that I could forgive him. ”Next time tell me right when it happens, okay?” I said.
“Okay,” he said.
And I hope he will.
Spring is here. Ribbons of yellow daffodils are growing on the side of the road. Robbins are hopping around, their red breasts puffed out in front of them. And soccer season has begun. My weekly schedule is suddenly an ink smear of places I need to be. I’m having a hard time keeping up with it all. In fact, I’m NOT keeping up with it all. Last Friday I completely forgot about a music evaluation my son, Hunter, had for piano. It was an exam of sorts, including sight reading, performance, theory, and technique. He’d been working toward it for months. And I forgot. So did he. We both felt terrible. Tears-on-our-cheeks TERRIBLE.
First thing Saturday morning I called his teacher, Rebecca, to apologize. “I don’t even have a good excuse,” I confessed. “We just forgot.”
Hunter’s piano teacher is one of the kindest, most gracious people I know. But even so, I expected her to be frustrated. Disappointed at the least. I would have been. Instead, she responded by saying, “I am so happy to know that everything is okay. I was worried that Hunter was sick.”
Before I had a chance to plunge into an even deeper state of guilt, our sweet teacher went on to say, “Now, Janessa, I’ve had this sort of thing happen to me many times. I wish I had been gentler with myself. Please. Be gentle with yourself.”
There wasn’t much I could say to that, especially not with the tears welling up in my eyes. I shared her words with my son, Hunter, and saw a wide-eyed look of gratitude and adoration appear on his face.
Be gentle with yourself. What a valuable lesson. I hope Rebecca knows she is teaching Hunter so much more than how to play the piano. And I am learning, too.
Lucky. That is how I felt today when I dropped my four year old off for preschool. He stopped on his way to the door, turned around, shouted, “I love you, Mom,” and blew me a kiss.
The little things do it every time – make me realize how wonderful life really is. That little kiss, sent to me across the chilly February air, blew away a thousand thoughts and concerns that have been pressing on me lately, most of them concerning the word MORE.
That word, ‘more’, has been such a burden lately. I need to lose more weight. I need more fashionable clothes. I need to finish more of my book. I need my house to look more put together. I’ve been so focused on what I don’t have, and that little kiss brought it back to me: the remembrance of all the things I do have. All the little, tiny, precious, priceless things.
As I drove away, feeling lighter than I have in a while, I thought about the word more, and what I really need more of: more gratitude, more patience, more love, more doing good for others, more fun with my family, more laughing, more smiling, more hugs, and more, more, more feathery kisses blowing my way on light and lucky breezes.
Saturday evening we drove home from a bike race up in Park City, happy, tired and covered in dirt. When we turned into our quiet town, we looked up to see this welcoming us home:
It arched, end to end, over Alpine. We followed its ribbon of color to see if we could find the elusive rainbow’s end. Of course we never could quite reach it, but the colors were so vivid, it really did seem we could reach out and catch hold of it.
Moments after coming home the sun broke out from behind the clouds and the rainbow was gone, but it left its imprint in my mind, along with these words by William Wordsworth:
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky;
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
Clearly I am no videographer, but on Friday we took a trip to Wonderland, and here is what we brought back:
Everyone has been home for the past three days, and the skies outside are damp and gray. The perfect equation for a very messy house. Today in the midst of my spraying, scrubbing and sweeping I remembered what my friend Lisa said, which I quoted in my last post: “Dishes are no big deal.” I think hearing her say that resonated with me so much because I often allow housework to take up an unnecessary amount of my emotional energy. Not long after picking up my sponge, I find myself feeling a lot like poor, miserable Atlas, holding up the weight of the world.
Why do I allow housework to do this to me? I remember with perfect clarity the first time I suffered from housework-induced ennui. I was a newlywed wiping off the edges of a dirty toilet bowl. I felt so dissastisfied and depressed that I sat down immediately afterwards and wrote a pathetic little essay about it in which I cursed my sorry fate.
I’ve managed to come to terms with housework quite a bit since those early days. I’ve decided that cleaning my house is just something that needs to be done. Not my calling in life, my destiny, my raison de vivre. No. It’s no big deal. Like shaving my legs or going to the dentist. I don’t enjoy it, but I get it done.
And I do understand the value of work, whether tedious or not. Which is why I can’t make myself hire a cleaning service. I need work, and I know my kids need it, too. They don’t fight when they are doing their jobs. They are focused on working, and our home hums with industry and satisfaction. For five minutes. Maybe. But I’ll take what I can get, and keep reminding myself that the repetitive, mundane tasks don’t accumulate to equal the size and mass of the densest planet in our solar system. Poor Atlas, indeed.
The lilacs are blooming, the creek that runs past our house is swelling with a fast-moving swirl of cold mountain run off, and the sounds from the schoolyard are growing more and more exuberant. Summer is coming.
Slowly. The air is still a little too cool. The list of to-do’s a little too long. But we are all taking a deep breath and holding it. Waiting for school to end and for lazy summer mornings to settle in; afternoons out of doors with popsicles melting in our hands; evenings surrounded by scrub oak, riding through the foothills on our bikes.
But before we say goodbye to the school year, I have to stop and reflect on how much my kids have grown since last August. The new shoes I bought them don’t fit anymore, the pants have long since worn through at the knee. My ten year old, especially, has grown to a whole new person – tall, smart, and confident. He has had a great year. I’ve saved a letter he wrote to me back in January, for his parent-teacher conference. I thought it said so much about his year as a fourth grader, and his thoughtfulness. It gives a sweet savor to the year’s end.
School is going great! I feel like I am improving in math and other subjects. Even though I am learning so much there are some things I need to improve, like staying on task and working more quickly.
At recess I mostly play tag but on Tuesday it was great to see you at the Book Fair!
Lunch is great too, thanks for making home lunch for me. It is funny what conversations we have at the lunch table.
I love the times when you come to teach writing!
Today’s post is really just a couple of pictures of the quilt I made for my daughter’s twin bed. She asked for a Little House on the Prarie themed room, infused with a touch of Barbara McClintock’s Dahlia. Of couse I loved the literary references and set about making a wagon wheel quilt using a pattern and fabric by Denyse Schmidt.
I have two reasons for posting about this quilt. One: I worked hard on those curved seams! And the quilting wasn’t easy, either, on my standard sized sewing machine. It is a very happy feeling to have it finished and see my daughter snuggled under it at night.
Two: I want to go to this. But I didn’t feel like I really qualified without blogging about a quilt that I had made. So now I am legitimate!
Recently my kids’ art teacher sent them home with a research assignment. She gave them an index card that read, “Spiral Jetty, Robert Smithson,” and told them to find out what it meant. I had never heard of Robert Smithson or the Spiral Jetty, so I helped them search for clues online. This is what we found:
“Robert Smithson’s monumental earthwork Spiral Jetty (1970) is located on the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Using black basalt rocks and earth from the site, the artist created a coil 1,500 feet long and 15 feet wide that stretches out counter-clockwise into the translucent red water. Spiral Jetty was acquired by Dia Art Foundation as a gift from the Estate of the artist in 1999.” (From the Dia Art Foundation website).
I was surprised to learn that such an interesting work of art existed so close to my home, and that I had never heard of it. My kids and I looked at the images of the jetty, talked about it a little, and that was it.
Until last week when I saw another work of art inspired by Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. It was a photograph by Bastienne Schmidt from her upcoming book Home Stills. The photograph features the artist standing in her backyard in the apex of a spiral of laundry. The dirty clothes circle around her in concentric rings, seeming to trap her. The sun is setting, shadows are lengthening, and a solitary tree is an autumnal red. In the distance the artist’s young son is running toward her, but she stands in place, seemingly unable to move.
Schmidt says of the photo: “The spiral repsresents the repetitive, seemingly endless tasks that come with domestic life and motherhood . . . Rethinking the household domain as an artist allows me to see these tasks in a new and almost whimsical light, so I can mentally clear away the clutter to start each day fresh.”
I wanted to laugh and cry at the time when I read those words. I looked at the woman in the photograph and saw myself, trapped by the mundane but necessary tasks of a homemaker. I felt the frustration of spending my time cleaning or cooking instead of enjoying my children and their fast-fleeing childhood, so poignantly captured by the setting sun and crimson leaves. Those were the tears. The laughter came from the change of perspective the photograph allowed, and the artist, when she spoke about purposefully seeing household tasks in a new light in order to clear away mental clutter. Looking at the laundry spiraling around her, I was able to see it for what it was. Just colorful pieces of cloth carefully laid out on the lawn. Not chains. Not shackles. Just dirty clothes that need to be washed. Dirty clothes that maybe I take a little too seriously.
But even after laughing, the photograph still unsettled me. That feeling of being trapped was too profound. I went back to the image of Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and saw something that was missing from Schmidt’s picture. The jetty. The tail flaring out from the spiral that connected it to shore. I got out my dictionary and looked up the definition for jetty: “a structure extended into a sea, lake, or river to influence the current or tide.” Smithson’s art work is more than something pretty to look at. His jetty is disruptive, in a way. It reaches out into the lake and impacts the current, changes it’s direction, leading it on a new path through the spiral.
It is a reminder to me that I am not trapped by the circumstances of my day-to-day life. I get to choose how I think, how I feel, what I do. I am in control of the currents. That is all too clear when I see how my words and feelings influence every person in my home, big or small. I am a jetty. And how I decide to shape my current is up to me.
I found this in my garage on Saturday:
Two weeks after finding one of these:
Don’t ask me why in the midst of all this I brought home one of these:
And am planning on buying one of these for Christmas (ho-ho-ho):
I don’t know what I’m doing to myself. My skin is constantly crawling these days. I’m just going to have to give in and get my kids a dog. Dogs might be more work, but at least they are cute. That crab creeps me out, and guess who is feeding it, bathing it, and spritzing it’s cage every day? (Yes, hermit crabs need baths.)
As for the venomous creatures setting up house in my garage, this is my only consolation: We haven’t had to deal with any more of these since we left Massachusetts:
and I found them in MUCH scarier places than my garage!