Friday, June 29, 2012

Being Family

 When you have a blended family it can take a while before you get to the point where you feel like a real family instead of a set of individual relationships. For a long time, family is a process more than a thing you are.

When Charlie was born and Nate came to live with us full time four years ago, we made a giant leap forward in "familiness," yet we certainly had more work to do for Josh and I to be full parents to all the kids and for the boys to be truly brothers.

A few months ago, I began to notice that something had shifted. Nate, Ellis, and Charlie were spending a lot of time together and seemed really to enjoy it. Perhaps my pregnancy with Isaac sent out yet another signal that this thing we were doing was for real. Perhaps, like all things related to the growth of children, it happened gradually, imperceptible in the familiarity of day to day life together until it was finally noticed as a fait accomplis.

Last Saturday, we went to a party to which we all have been going together for the past six years or so. For me, this party at the home of some of Josh's old friends has been a barometer of how well we were doing at our task of blending. For many years, we felt very compartmentalized, but this year was magically different.

At the party, Ellis was having a hard time being ganged up on by a group of  kids. He came to find me, and I suggested that he take a break from them while I got him a plate of food. Then Charlie came over ready, as always, to play with Ellis, who is one of his favorite people in the world. Then Nate started talking to Ellis, asking if he wanted him to go over and add some big brother muscle to the situation, and reassured him that sometimes people are just jerks. I remember saying to Ellis, "No matter what, you'll always have your brothers," and he knew that this statement was true. Finally, when Ellis wanted to go back and play with the group, Josh added a little dad protection to the situation, by stating that if anyone had trouble getting along they should talk to him. Turns out the kids realized Ellis was cool after all and protected by a big, loving family. Problem solved.

That night, riding home in the van, we all realized how much we like each other and how we've come to depend on each other for comfort, for laughter, sometimes for a good fight, and always to share our lives together in that big complicated mess that is family.

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Thursday, June 28, 2012


 Nate @ 13 (blue hair courtesy of me)
It is no small thing to raise a child to adulthood. I have had the honor of playing a supporting role for the second half of Nate's childhood, with most of my job being to keep his dad steady during this tumultuous adolscence. Today, on his eighteenth birthday, I raise a glass to the man that Nate is becoming and all our hopes for his future, and especially for the man, his dad, who has stuck with him for his whole childhood, no matter how hard things got. To me, this birthday is a celebration of their relationship as much as anything.

I also breathe a sigh of relief because, even though we'll continue to offer him plenty of support, somehow the worries have a different quality now - keeping all the love and handing off the ultimate responsibility for his life to him. We did it! This one made it through.
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Friday, June 22, 2012

Into Summer...

The solstice has just passed and it has only been two weeks since school ended, but I feel a bit overwhelmed by how short summer seems already. There are so many things I want to do with the great swathes of beautiful weather stretched out before us including repetitive indulging in old favorites like the beach, as well as finding one or two new places to add to our repertoire.  I'm also trying to figure out how to balance the needs of a newborn, two rambunctious older brothers who don't always get along, and my own desires to peacefully commune with nature. Then there are the projects - the things I'd like to do around the house that I know will make this a more fun and gracious space for us to share. As always, my ambitions are much greater than what is realistic for anyone, even a whirling dervish of activity like me.

Soon I'll start making lists of all the ideas I have so they get out of my head where they create that feeling of performance anxiety and contribute to my sense of the shortness of time. I can then start to edit that list and discard the things that I don't really want to or need to do in favor of creating space to be fully present in the beautiful gift that is each summer.
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Thursday, June 21, 2012

How to Spend Ten Bucks from Grandma

As part of the birthday activity frenzy yesterday, Charlie and I took a trip to ArtScraps. ArtScraps is like Ax-Man's crafty little sister full of random supplies that can be bought in bulk and used for all sorts of creative projects. This was our first trip and Charlie was bouncing off the walls in excitement. He wanted everything, but I was strict about keeping to the budget of his $10 birthday cash from Grandma Karen and focusing on things that could be used up relatively quickly on projects and wouldn't contribute to the general tendency our home has towards becoming a garbage house.

The one exception to my practicality rule was a painted letter X:
Charlie said, "Let's get this X."
I said, "What will you use it for?"
He said, "I'll use it to mark the spot."

Today he's been running around saying "I'm Art Man!" Thanks, ArtScraps.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Happy Birthday, Solstice Baby!

Four years ago shortly after midnight on the longest day of the year, we welcomed Charlie into the world. It has been one adventure after another since then. All the energy of the summer solstice is packed into his little body. In true Charlie form, this birthday has been a day of activity: helping wrap his presents, helping bake his cake, a long bath in a tub full of toys, reading, writing, making art, constant chattering, and jumping (lots of jumping).
Charlie's favorite way to get from one place to another is a full on run. He sits in the car and tells us the names of all the places he sees. He talks to everyone who will listen (and talks at those who aren't listening). He sings and dances. He approaches every aspect of his life with a contagious enthusiasm. He is rough and tumble, strong-willed, and often exhausting, but also game and a whole bunch of fun.
As he grows, he will learn how to harness the incredible energy that he has to do all sorts of great things. I can't wait to see what he does!

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Black Raspberry Collaboration

For the past three years, sometime between late June and mid-July, my husband embraces his hunter-gatherer self. He spends a large portion of his free time picking the black raspberries that grow by the Mississippi River. He comes home, covered in mosquito bites and and scratches from the thorny branches of the raspberry bushes, pleased to pay this price for his spoils.
 This year, he's been a bit obsessive about his picking. He's brought home about 2 1/2 gallons of berries. That's more than enough for the raspberry flavored mead and cider he's planning even after the children nibble on bowlfuls. When he suggested that there might be enough for me to make some jam, I said, "YES!"
 A brief consultation of the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and a few hours in a steamy kitchen with my trusty helper, Charlie, yielded fine results. Jam for the year, virtually for free!
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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Family Ties

"Every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied."
- Josh Ritter

Y'all, we are one person away from maxing out the seating in our minivan. That's some serious familial critical mass. I'm over the moon about it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

From Our Yard: Pie!!!

I'm guessing we put in the strawberries about five years ago. It was back before Charlie, when Josh and I were just a couple of single parents raising our shared-custody kids together. We put in a lot of the edible perennials around that time when we had actual full days with no children in the house (imagine that!).

Either it has been the right number of years since planting or the right weather this spring or both, but we have a bumper crop of strawberries this year. Each day for a week or so, we've had a heaping bowlful to pick and eat, and enough left over at the peak to make a pie! (Next year, cross your fingers for enough excess to make jam!)

The rhubarb was planted the same year as the strawberries, but will need to be moved because it's being out-competed by raspberries and our neighbor's mulberry bushes. When I went to harvest it, I could only get a few thin stalks - enough for about a cup and a half cut up. Luckily, that turned out to be the right amount to blend with the strawberries.

Pie is always good, but pie from stuff growing on your own little city lot is damn satisfying!
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Friday, June 8, 2012

Three Babies

 My three babies @ 6 weeks (clockwise from the top: Isaac, Charlie, and Ellis).

It's been fun, as I've snapped photos of growing Isaac, to go back through the archives and see what the others looked like at the same time in their lives. Made possible through the miracle of digital photography - both the increased quantity of photos and the searchable, clearly dated archive. (Unfortunately this technology did not exist back in 1994 when Nate was born, so I'll have to make do with just the three younger boys).
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Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Big Deal

He's been nonchalant about it, but with all we've been through together in the last four years it's a pretty big deal that Nate graduated from high school last night. As befitting a celebration of Nate, we ran outside in the pouring rain to drive to the ceremony, only to realize that half the back of the van was filled with cedar mulch and a bicycle, and thus we were one seat short for our now six-person family. We also discovered that the tassel for his cap and gown was missing from its bag. The graduate was good natured about riding to his big night on bags of mulch, and by the time we got there, the sun had come out and a giant rainbow was spread across the sky. Luckily, there were extra tassels to be had, and all of the little boys were cooperative and excited to see their biggest bro mark this rite of passage.

If I've learned one thing from Nate, it's that no matter how winding the path, it all tends to work out in the end. I look forward to our next adventure into adulthood with him.

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