Coffee and Doughnuts

It takes a village, and Jim Barlow was a part of mine. A little over twenty years ago, I remember leaving the first class I had with him, convinced he was off his rocker, but intrigued enough to know I’d be back. It’s that last part that was Jim’s victory with me as a teacher. By then, I had already figured out the bare minimum that I needed to do to pass with decent grades, and showing up wasn’t generally part of the equation. High school was a hoop I was jumping through, even though there was no real trajectory beyond it. I appreciated Jim Barlow when I was in high school because he was the one person who forced me to stop and evaluate the status quo.
 
Jim taught me the difference between a diploma and an education. One is a piece of paper you get for sitting in a brick room, and one is valuable for a life, and it takes your entire life to obtain. To be fair, he called me out several times on my (lack of) attendance in most of my classes my senior year. He had checked up on my credits when I told him I had enough credits to graduate. He made sure to stay after me to get me to the classes I needed, but seemed to understand about the others. Even to the point that when I misses class and stayed on campus, more than a few times, I could have been found sitting in the back of his classroom, listening to whatever course he was teaching at the moment.
 
Jim introduced me to Kahlil Gibran and Thomas Mann. He taught me to approach life with curiosity and compassion, and told me more than once in his very corny way to go make the world better somehow, in whatever way made the most sense to me. He taught me how to intelligently and respectfully question the world around me. He taught me how to think critically. In his words, he “taught me how to think”. Not ever what to think, persay, but how. He taught me to approach life with humor. He modeled a joie de vivre which was and still is enviable. Many of these lessons stayed below the surface for me, especially early on. But they were always there.
 
Barlow was one of the only people who encouraged me to apply to college, and encouraged me to apply for scholarships along with it. He convinced me to apply for a few “dream schools” along with the more practical ones. He read and edited my essays. He believed I shouldn’t make a choice based upon how much money I had stashed away for school (which was basically none).
 
I imagine Jim was one of the people who led me quietly to teaching, and to sustainability work, and to promoting food security. I can’t ever imagine having the impact as a teacher that he had in his lifetime, but I certainly have tried, and imagine I will again. The biggest lesson Jim taught me was that I should have an impact in some way, no matter how large or small it may be.
 
No one lives forever, but heroes are not ever supposed to die. In a way, I suppose that Jim won’t. He’s still around in all the lives he has touched, including mine. I don’t think I ever properly thanked him for the impact he had. I wish I could thank him in person now. The world needed Jim. It still does.
 
Thank you for wrapping your wisdom in wit. Thanks for believing in me, and in so many of my friends. Thank you for not putting up with my crap (at least when it was unjustified crap). Thank you for inspiring me and making me laugh — even to this day. I feel so blessed to have crossed paths with you. Safe journey, my friend. Give my love to Wolf and Fang, and kick Rolf for me. I hated that dog.

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Calling down the sun

Dear Critter,

I blinked, and you are nearly two weeks old now. We are so grateful to have you join our family. You may never know the impact you have had on us already. You are a beautiful infant, and you won our hearts immediately with your snuggles and involuntary smiles. This experience with you has been a joy so far.

After two weeks of prodromal labor, you decided to come all in a rush a week ago last Monday. I could almost sense you laughing, as your trickster namesake would. My labor started in earnest (finally!) mid-afternoon, and your dad and I left our little log house for the drive down to the hospital in Denver with what we thought was plenty of time to spare — expecting to meet you in the middle of the night or the early hours of Tuesday morning. But you were excited to be earthside. During the 45 minute drive to the hospital, my contractions sped up rapidly, and when we arrived in the delivery room, you were born two minutes later. The emergency doctor didn’t even have time to put on an apron before your arrival — instead a nurse held it up and half wrapped it around her. You would have thought the whole experience quite funny.

Your grandmother was in town to help out with your sister during your arrival, and the two of them came to meet you Tuesday morning. Watching them meet you put tears in everyone’s eyes. You are already fast friends with your big sister, who dotes over you, and holds your hand in the car on the way to school each morning. Your favorite way to self-soothe is to touch your cheeks, and the other day as your eyes began to focus, you reached out and touched my cheek. Your arrival has brought our family closer together. Your dad is really appreciating being here to help take care of you, and I have been able to see you two form a wonderful bond, in addition to seeing his bond with your sister grow stronger. You truly are our lightbringer, together with your big sister you bring so much joy to our family.

You are eating and sleeping well, and love to stare at the world as it comes into your view. You regained your birthweight in just one week, and you are growing so quickly now. You are strong and happy, an “easy” baby. You are a snuggler — preferring to sleep on my chest than anywhere else. In the hospital, we started calling you “Scootch” for no particular reason, I suppose, but it seems to fit you, and you may have a new nickname. I’m sure I’ll be apologizing for it when you’re twelve.

Thank you for joining us. We’re all so happy you’re here.

I love you,

mama

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Connor Raven

born September 26, 2016

7 lbs, 21 inches long

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Changes

Dear Critter,

I can’t believe that you’re almost here, and I am just now writing you a letter. This year has been a whirlwind for our family, and we are so looking forward to meeting you. When I found out that I was pregnant with you there was still winter snow on the ground, and now the elk call and sing from the yard, and the bears get into trouble at night, and the aspen trees are slowly beginning to turn. This winter will be early and it will be cold. I am looking forward to spending a lot of it tucked up into our little house with you and your sister watching the snow fall. I am so grateful to be able to raise the two of you here, near where I lived as a child, and close to the earth and her rhythms. Our life here is not an extravagant one, but it is genuine, and I am hoping to raise you in a house filled with love.

Your sister is overjoyed to meet you. She lays her head on my belly and talks to you nearly every day. I can tell that you are already friends. Unlike her, I don’t have a strong sense of your energy yet, of who you are, other than I think you are eager to join us, too. I am about 36 weeks pregnant right now, and already you have slipped low in my belly and quieted your movements — waiting, as we are. All I know of you right now is that you are strong, and much calmer in my belly than your sister was. Your movements are less frequent, but for several weeks now they have been enough to make me catch my breath. You don’t have the “dance parties” your sister did, but you seem to like Jack Johnson, and you move closer to the cat when she lays next to you, purring her gurgling song.

It’s hard to believe that you could be here any day now. I think you may be born on the equinox, and you will be a light-bringer. Whatever your purpose in this life will be, I know it will be one of goodness. Perhaps it is just because you are our second baby, but I get the feeling that you will fold yourself easily into the rhythms of our family, and the four of us will be able to watch the seasons together with astounded eyes.

xo,

Mama

 

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Slow down

Dear Spoon,

You started Kindergarten today.

You were so very excited, you came running into my room at 6:30 this morning, determined not to be late by even a moment. Overjoyed by the newness of it all — new backpack, new shoes, new school, you floated through the morning.

Once we reached the school, you led the way across the meadow to your classroom, shouting over your shoulder, “Come on, Mom!” You ran up to every kid who was about your size on the way and introduced yourself, asking each of them if they were in your class. A few minutes on the playground before the bell rang, and you already had a pack of new friends.

How did you grow up so much, so fast?

The bell rang, and I asked if I could give you a hug goodbye. “Oh, okay, Mom. If you have to.” Already worried about what the other kids might think. “I have to.” I said, and I gave you a quick hug and kiss, wondering how my baby had suddenly decided to become a preteen overnight as you ran to your classroom.

Once I was back in the car, the silence was so foreign. I thought about you all day, and tried not to feel sad that in your excitement, in your sudden maturity, my status had somehow shifted. I am so happy for the person I see you becoming, and feel so grateful for every opportunity you have which I am fortunate enough to witness.

So this is the difference between parenting a toddler and parenting a kid: watching from the sidelines, and quietly cheering.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t overjoyed when I met you at the end of the day and you flung yourself into my arms, words coming at a tumble: “MAMA! I missed you, Mama! I had the best day ever! We went on a hunt for a raccoon and there were clues! I have a new best friend! School is great! I love you, Mama! My teacher is awesome!”

These are the times when I get to hold tight to your smallness, and bite my tongue a little to keep from whispering, “Slow down. Stay little.”

I love you, little one.

xo,

Mama

 

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Tiny Superhero

Dear Spoon,

It has been so long since I wrote you a letter. Our days get busier as each week passes, as you race the sun to grow up (too quickly, in my opinion). You are five now. A joyful, insightful, curious, and emphatically loving child. You amaze me on a daily basis.

You wake each morning early and tumble into our room, where you crawl in bed with me and we have long talks about your dreams the night before and any number of other things — science questions, kids at school, books, cartoons, and the big goals you tell me you have for your life. You want to be a paleontologist, and sometimes a ballerina. You tell me that you plan to marry 1,000 people: every one of your friends, even the ones you haven’t met yet, because you love them all so much. You tell me I can come live with you and your 1,000 spouses, because you don’t want to be away from your mama — but you tell me we’ll need a really big house. Your pragmatism cracks me up.

Your best friends are Maeve, Annabella, Lyla, and Payden. You love school to the point that you get upset when there’s a snow day. You’re doing really well in school. You are reading on your own now, leveled readers from your teacher as well as your own storybooks. You like math, and are doing addition and subtraction easily now. Your favorite way to spend your day at school is making art, though. You come home some days with three or more finger paintings, a craft, and a crayon-drawn picture for me. You color mandalas in your yoga class that you insist must be perfect. You bring them home half-finished, and spend hours at the dining room table with your colored pencils creating masterpieces.

You are my star, bright and fearless. You love riding horses and skiing. You seek out the tiny “jumps” we let you go over on your skis in the kid terrain areas, and love winding your way through the trees. When it’s warm enough, you race down hiking trails with the dogs; the third in their little pack. You love all animals, from snails and snakes to horses and goats, and everything in between. Somehow, already at five, you have learned to stand up smiling whenever you fall. I wish I could say I taught you that. I wish I could say I did it myself. You operate on the principle that people are good and the world is joyful, even when bad things happen, and for that you are my tiny hero.

Sometimes I miss the baby you were not so very long ago, and other moments I see the person you are becoming, and am so filled with joy and pride and eagerness for you. I am so proud of you always, little one.

I love you.

xo,

Mama

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On losing one’s mind.

I would never describe my mother as level-headed. My relationship with her is complicated and dysfunctional in the way only a relationship with a parent who has struggled with mental illness can be. Sometimes, she appears completely normal. Sometimes her affect is off. I have learned to recognize her manic periods by her tone of voice and the names she calls me. She has spent her life struggling with depression, and has made several suicide attempts over the years. She has done her fair share of manic shopping. She is horribly manipulative, and rarely honest — with herself, or anyone else. She hoardes dogs, and things that she buys from the Goodwill, carefully stacking other people’s cast-offs into piles and pathways through her home. Mom has health issues, too. She is a diabetic, and takes medicine for high cholesterol as well as depression. Occasionally, she will have a period of enlightenment when she is lucid, mostly logical, takes her medicine, and appears to be in good spirits. Sometimes these times last hours or days, sometimes months.

I live about 1700 miles away from my mother. I have all sorts of guilt about that, especially because it left my sister with greater responsibility for her, largely because of geography. On the other hand, I am nearly certain that distancing myself from my family was one of the smartest decisions I have made as an adult, even more now that I have a daughter of my own. I talk to my mother about once a week on the phone, in which she chatters on about her dogs or the weather. It’s not a real conversation, but I don’t know that I have ever had a real conversation with my mom. I check in to see if she’s lucid, if she is able to walk around, if she’s alive — that’s pretty much all these calls tell me. Lately, I thought she was doing fairly well. She was able to converse mostly normally (though still about very little), and she had recently told me she was getting rid of some of the things in her house and cleaning it, she is trying to eat healthy, she is taking walks with her dogs, and doing well. She clearly was lying.

She was admitted to the emergency room about a week and a half ago. She had chronic diarrhea due to severe colitis, was delusional, spouting nonsense, was at the lowest weight she has likely been in her life, and had a blood alcohol concentration of 200ml. After leaving against the request of the hospital and being readmitted to the ER a few hours later, she ended up in intensive care for several days. They did a full body scan, and discovered deep dementia fissures in her brain as well as encephalitis. My sister was there with her for nearly a week, trying to piece together my mother’s true health condition along with the doctors, and dealing with mom’s hostility toward her and her delusional speech the whole time.

During my mom’s stay at the hospital my sister went to mom’s house, where mom hadn’t been staying for several days since she had been house-sitting for her friend. When she got there, my sister found doors and windows left standing open, the key in the lock of the front door, piles of things everywhere, and medications that had not been taken, or had been taken incorrectly. (Too many or two few pills left in bottles.) She did not find unusual amounts of alcohol or empty alcohol bottles, so that is still a bit of a mystery, but clearly she has a problem which is strange and unexpected — I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my mom drink even a half a glass of wine in my life. There are other mysteries which we are still trying to get to the bottom of, as well. The neighbors told my sister that they were concerned for mom, who often stood in her driveway for extended periods of time, doing nothing. A social worker visited mom in the hospital, and arranged for a mental health nurse to visit her once she returned home. It was pretty much agreed that if left in her home instead of assisted living, they would be expecting to see mom in the emergency room again, and likely soon, if mom was very lucky to avoid the alternative.

The state nurse came and evaluated mom a couple of days after she returned home, and mom convinced her that she’s just fine. Because she can access outpatient services, they will not place her in an inpatient facility. Because she can answer yes and no questions and sign her name, we can not legally force guardianship and move her to somewhere that she will be supervised and safe. And so now we wait for her to either die, or end up back in the emergency room, at which point she will only be released into assisted living. My sister is frustrated and angry. I am struggling with what the most humane course of action is, and with the ideas of free will, and motherhood, and obligation, and preservation of the generations. My mom told me she went to the hospital for “a couple of days” because she had the flu. And that she is perfectly fine. Legally our hands are tied, and there is a looming dread about all of this which I am still unable to put into words efficently.

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Bad blogger. No doughnut.

I have been a writing slacker lately. It seems I’ve spent the past couple of months in triage mode, and haven’t been blogging or writing anywhere. I’m hoping to remedy that, though it will likely be gradual until things shake out and we’re back in a regular routine around here.

In the meantime, I started another blog strictly about our place up here. I’ll be writing mainly about gardening and homesteading in the foothills. There will probably be some DIY mishaps recaps and tutorials. You can find that stuff here: https://redfoxmountain.wordpress.com/

In the meantime, this will be, as always my personal blog for essays, etc. Less “how to” and more how we’re doing. I’d love for you to follow both if it suits your fancy.

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