Song of childhood

I have a child’s toy tune stuck in my head. Actually, the tune is from Jack’s new bouncy seat, complete with an assortment of objects designed to capture the attention of an infant. He’s not quite sitting without support, still a little wobbly. But in his little seat he reaches out to touch the noisemaker and color in front of him, his first exploration of the universe he’s joined.

Jack in discovery mode

Jack in discovery mode

I’ve been immersed in the world of the littles for much of the last two weeks. First we went to a family wedding, featuring Riley as the flower girl (sorry, bride and groom, this is Gram speaking!). It was fun to see her participate in the big event, complete with losing her shoe on the way down the aisle and stopping to put it on again. Priceless! She managed to scatter the petals (pedals, heavy on the “d” in Riley-speak). She was charming in her little dress. And both Riley and Jack were good on the flights. Mission accomplished!

Flower Girl Riley

Flower Girl Riley

I spent the following week in Gram mode, rediscovering the joys of potty training, naps, snacks, feeding times, and a memorable blow-out of a diaper. Funny how effortlessly it comes back! I struggle to remember I am not mommy in these scenes. With my own two children being the same sex and birth order as Riley and Jack, I could close my eyes and skip back twenty-five years to see Alex sitting in Jack’s spot, and Stephanie chattering beside me.

Riley is a joy, in the phase of constant “look at me.” She wants to go everywhere the adults go, have a part in everything going on. She’s both a big girl and emerging toddler, and you never know for sure which side of her you’ll get. But it’s all good. I have endless patience for this phase of life. Give me the sweetness of these ages, the funny things a child says, the joy of snuggling a three-month-old safe and warm in my arms, and I’ll gladly take the not-so-pretty spills, poops, and messes as the price of admission.

Over the weekend I flew to Denver to spend a few days with Alex. Alex, who at twenty-five has already spent five years in the army, has been 13 months deployed abroad in a war zone; has married and divorced, one of the statistics of military life; and is now trying to re-start his life in his old home-town…my Alex, who just a few short years ago was the Jack in my photos. He’s come through, not without scars, but with courage. He’s learned some difficult lessons, made hard choices. And now, seeing him after a year apart, a year of plans for connecting that didn’t work out, and long conversations by phone, I’m satisfied. The mom in me has needed this sight and sound of him, his hug and quick smile.

Alex smiles

Alex smiles

We talk. I drive to his apartment in a blinding white-out of a spring snow storm, one of Denver’s famous March storms that makes me wonder if I’m foolish for being on the road. But how could I not be? I won’t give up a day of visit to the inconvenience of weather. His apartment is spartan, bachelor in furnishing, and needs a mom shopping trip. He doesn’t ask for anything, but I load up the cart with comforts and extras. It’s so little to offer.

He knows what he has to do: put his head down and forge a path to next. He has to make his life work, and that takes time and discipline, doing it day after day, paying his bills, creating a place for himself. I can’t do it for him, and I can only help in minor ways. Mostly, he has to choose what he wants, and then accomplish it. Hard for me to recognize that he is essentially on his own.

He used to want me to watch him play video games, to see his Lego creations. He was the one that said, “look at me!” Now he’s singing a different song. He has to prove something to himself, and to the world around him. His song has matured.

We were out in the storm last Saturday, hitting Target and Safeway and knocking out my list for him. In a parking lot there was a car with the hood up and a guy standing beside it, leaning over to look at something. Alex pulled up next to him and got out, offering to help. Turned out no help was needed and we drove away. That’s who Alex is. He’s funny, has been known to wear a kilt on occasion, loves music, is helpful to a fault.

My head spins a bit, coming back to Seattle for another few days in the nursery before heading back to Alaska. I’m in a time-warp, caught between the realities of today and the memories of the past. All good, but just the same, poignant, driving home the reality that the days are long but the years are short. I’m so blessed to have had children in my life that brought me joy. They weren’t, and aren’t, perfect. But they were, and are, a joy. And to see it repeat with Riley and Jack..that’s a privilege I treasure. I know this go-round just how fast it really goes, and I know more than ever that life is a risky business with no guarantees to the outcome.

Motherhood is a delicate balancing act. Heart can get in the way of character building and courage-growing. How could I not want to protect? And yet these adults that I still mother a bit have moved well beyond my ability to protect. They fight their own battles and make their own decisions. Sometimes my heart has to race to catch up with them. My head gets it, but the mother in me struggles. I’ve been a slow learner and late bloomer in the realm of letting go. I’ve done a good job of it externally. Does that count?

The song of childhood is sweet but short. I’m learning to listen to the adult voices of my kids, and feel proud that somehow, in spite of the fact that I was making it up as I went along, they turned out well. If I do say so myself, not in my own praise, but more in wonder that it worked…all the things I tried to do, that we tried to do as parents, somehow, we got enough right.

Mommy and cub

Mommy and cub

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Tulips

Tulip, 2005 Floriade, Canberra

The color of spring

I pass by the floral department in the local Safeway and see the spring flowers with all their vibrant colors. The daffodils, hyacinths, tulips are on display, and walking up to choose a bunch for my table, I catch the fragrance of springtime.

In my current mode of cleaning and and preparing to move, I’ve given away the few potted plants I had here. I have three small flower beds outside, but of course those plants will stay with the house. No digging up and transplanting for me.

To take the place of green and growing plants, I’ve been buying cut flowers for my table. I have a different color of bulb every week. Sometimes I’ve mixed colors of tulips, or had a bouquet of a single hue. The deep purples and milky white flowers are stunning together, and make a showy centerpiece. I also like the freshness of pink tulips. Seeing a big double bunch spilling out of their vase in the morning brings a smile to my face.

I made a decision recently that I know would be scandalous to my 89-year-old grandmother. I’ve determined that I’m not going to have indoor plants again. For a person who comes from a long line of green thumbs, mine is surprisingly, disappointingly, brown. I can grow flowers outdoors. But when I bring a plant inside, it’s just a matter of time. I know it, and the plant knows it.

And here’s the thing. With my new-found freedom from potted plants, if I’m traveling for a week, I just don’t buy fresh flowers. Nothing invested, nothing lost. And since I’m at the grocery every week, any time I need to add a splash of color, it’s easy enough to do. Cut flowers liven up my dining room in a way that a potted plant never did. And they last amazingly well. I can keep a bouquet for almost a week.

I do like a fresh cutting of rosemary or basil on a regular basis, and I plan to put those outdoors in my next location. But I’m making a pact with myself right now. When I move, I’ll put effort into plants outside. But I’ll let the grocery florist do the work for the inside. Should be a pretty even trade, when I think about the number of plants I’ve bought and killed over the years. At least there’s no surprise when you buy cut flowers. You know they’re going to wilt and turn brown within a week. I guess, to be fair, I always knew that about the potted plants too…the timing was a bit more uncertain, depending on the heartiness of the plant. But the outcome was never in doubt!

So here’s another little declaration of independence: I don’t need a potted plant to make me feel at home, or to create a warm environment. I do need color and freshness. But like many things in life, there’s more than one way to fulfill the need. I’m focused on freeing myself from things that have taken my time, held me back, kept me in a maze, and not returned the investment I’ve made. Potted plants fit in several of these categories. It’s a small step, but one of several I’ve taken recently. And even better, voicing it out loud validates my decision, tells me I’m letting go.

It’s going to be a great spring. See you at the floral counter!

The Grocery

I’m planning my food shopping list for Christmas. It’s very exciting to me. I’m one of those rare people who actually likes going to the grocery store. The only time I dread it is when I have to go alone. For so many years I could always count on having a kid or two with me, and when Stephanie and Alex were no longer available to go, Rob became my shopping partner.

I really love going at this time of year. The local Safeway is brimming with treats and seasonal offerings that make the whole place seem festive. I like to explore the imported cheese display, check out the specialty foods and consider what candies and tidbits to put in the stockings. I am the resident stocking filler, assisted by Stephanie when we spend Christmas together. There are a lot of choices. Since I rarely buy candy except at Christmas and Halloween, I’m surprised by new products that I haven’t seen or tried before. But I usually pick something tried and true: a Toblerone bar or truffles or one of the particular favorites of our kids. Rob doesn’t really eat candy, so I look at fruit for him. The red grapefruit, Clementines and pomegranates are the best. And they fill a stocking nicely.

When Rob and I go to the grocery I am always in a good mood. I think the connection between the intimacy of meal planning and eating together is what does it for me. (Of course he sometimes finds romantic things to say in the produce department, but that’s another post.) It may seem like an odd choice of words to describe something so seemingly mundane. Intimacy and Safeway?! But there’s something touching to me about planning our meals, what we want to share, who will cook what, and it inspires me to look forward to each dinner, each breakfast. We are not simply eating: we are being together. And I’m happy to say that we are both at our low weight goals for ourselves. So even though I consider myself something of a foodie, and we both enjoy eating, we are NOT out of control. Yay! 

My daughter and I had this conversation a couple of days ago…you are either into food, or you’re not. If you’re not, cooking is a chore and not fulfilling. And while there are times when I am not interested in being in the kitchen either, in general I find a lot of pleasure in the process from start to finish. Now, thinking about what dishes to make when Alex visits for Christmas, I remember the things he liked to eat when he was still living at home: shepherd’s pie, thick potato soup with cheese and bacon; homemade rolls; shrimp; cookies right out of the oven are a few of his favorites. I’m excited to cook for him again and to show him that although he’s been out of the nest for a while now, these foods are still part of coming home and being pampered a bit during his stay.

Food taken to an unhealthy extreme is not good. But like the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, there is a level that is just right: food fills, cherishes, warms the heart. It’s one of the biggest elements families share together. If you’ve been shorting your dinner time, don’t miss the chance to sit at the same table with the people who are important in your life. And at the risk of sounding like a mom, if you are the chief cook and bottle washer in your home, put some thought into the experience. Knowing the food likes and dislikes of your family shows that you are tuned in, that you are paying attention, that you care. I don’t mean food or the table setting has to be fancy to be nourishing; of course not. But as long as you have to eat anyway, wouldn’t it be more fun if the food is good? And the place to start is at the grocery. My advice: make menus and a shopping list, be adventurous with recipes…it is much easier to have great meals  if you are prepared. And then do it from the heart. Look for the intimacy. It’s there between each aisle.