Story idea/art therapy

2 Jul

I’ve told several friends recently that this summer feels like an art film about middle age. I’m revisiting childhood haunts & connecting with old friends. The playlist (library CDs and college radio) feels a bit heavy-handed at times, but I’d still buy the soundtrack because overall the music is so good.

My 8 year old and I are in my hometown, working together to clean & repair an empty house our family bought as a rental a few years ago. She and her cousins haul sidewalk furniture and eat watermelon in a weedy backyard while I interview contractors and scrub the walls. Neighbors (nosy and otherwise) stop by to admire chalk art in the driveway.

We’re here to spend time with my extended (and I mean extended) family while my father’s health declines. The town is a popular rural tourist destination: large trees, rolling hills, quaint shops, fantastic little cafes, wine tasting & farmer’s markets. Walla Walla is gorgeous, especially during this mild summer. My daughter has more first cousins than I can count and she especially loves going to my brother’s house to collect eggs and ride dirt bikes. We attended a #FamiliesBelongTogether March with other earnest & outraged liberals, giving her a taste of home in Seattle.

Like all good coming of age/homecoming movies, this one has darker aspects. Obviously, my dad’s illness looms over everything, tying together the all the other aspects of the story. Cousins who haven’t seen each other in years (many I can’t recognize) hug and tell stories while our kids build forts. As we gather at his shop and drink beer in his backyard, there’s a sense of hope that everyone (except him, obviously) will be closer and/or find closure or at least learn something about themselves by the end of the summer. We laugh together about the mean things crazy Aunt A said this afternoon, shake our heads about cousin B’s health problems, change the topic when controversial family member C comes up.

In the movie the crazy and/or addicted relatives would probably be shown as central characters with an arc that promises hope and happy endings. Alternatively, one person would be a brutal sidebar whose funeral happens before the patriarch’s. This may be presented humorously, ironic, or in a bittersweet manner. The painful reality of multi-generational trauma can be handled with grace and/or grit.

I should write a novel or short story collection about this summer. It would sell, and it really would make a hell of a movie. Doobie Brothers blaring in the back of a VW Golf filled with laughing blonde children, middle aged mom/aunt singing along. Later, she enjoys a rye whiskey and red wine hybrid, hyper-local cocktail while putting together a curtain rod in an echo-filled living room while the children sit on an air mattress to watch a movie. Focusing on the 8 year old’s experience would give fresh perspective to this well-used theme. Who doesn’t want to watch her fall in love with a neighbor cat, or put together lawn ornaments?

Even while I consider the options for loosely fictionalizing this experience, I have to admit: this sucks.  Walla Walla is lovely and my daughter is building relationships and creating memories. It’s also painful and confusing to be around people who think they know me and/or want to talk about shared history that I prefer to forget or remember privately (or pay a therapist to help me navigate). The crazy relatives are comic relief, but they are also triggering. My father’s looming mortality is terrifying and sad. Our family’s dysfunctional dynamics exhaust and depress me, almost as much as the changing economy of this bucolic small town.

I’m grateful to have a supportive community of people who’ve been through similar experiences. They endure my texts, hand me tissues, make jokes & buy beer. I’m lucky to have the financial security and flexibility to stay here comfortably. It’s important to remind myself that we’re making memories at the same time I’m revisiting them. The kid is working hard to keep up with everything happening around. I want the version of this story that she remembers to be positive, or at least a time in her life that she can recall as helping build resilience. At the very least, she will know the words to Black Water.

Advertisements

I am a working mother

21 Jun

I am a working mother. I provide quality care for other people’s children between 4-10 hours every week–plus 2hrs of prep & cleanup as well as snack/meal planning. I tutor and counsel other people’s second graders for 5 hours every week. I also spend 1-2/hrs each week researching, collecting, and/or printing materials for the classroom. I engage my relationships and skills as a professional fundraiser and advocate to procure donations, collect information, communicate with families and students, and connect students & families with staff and district resources. Let’s average that over the school year to about an hour/week and we’ve got a minimum average of…12 hours every week of skilled labor that directly benefits a wide variety of kids and their families. Many weeks are a lot more, some involve a few less.

It’s not a full-time gig, but it’s important work and even people who actively dislike me have to admit that I’m pretty damn good at it.  No one can deny I’m extremely qualified for this job.

I have extensive experience and relationships working in women’s health, public health & humans services, education, and public policy. I’m an effective advocate and activist with a proven track record for bringing people together. I’m confident, experienced, and extremely skilled in a variety of specialized areas (volunteer coordination, fund development, communications, education) that have been focused on kids 0-12 and their families for over 20 years.

My educational background is complicated (reflecting the diversity of my experiences and interests), but can be summed up as a BA, a 3 year certificate in midwifery (not officially a Masters, but should be), and–most recently–a certificate as an English as a Second Language instructor.

I am a working mother. I don’t get a salary, retirement, or benefits directly attached to my work in my name. As far as the mothers who work in offices are concerned, I’m a “stay at home mom” who can & probably should be replaced by low-paid staff and long email chains. My role in the backup childcare ecosystem is necessary but painful for them to recognize, as is the reality of our school system lacking the basic budget to provide the services I am able to contribute every single day. I’m able to offer my professional services to other families for free because my family’s financial needs are met by my partner. I’m able to take responsibility for 85% of the work involved in caring for our home and our child because my partner is paid enough to pay our bills, buy snacks & materials for the classroom, and feed every child who walks through our door.

I have chosen to take advantage of this privilege because I believe that my skills and labor bring value to our community, as well as my family. I accept the trade-offs of my choices (for now) because I have the privilege and hubris to believe that I will be financially secure in my “retirement” age, despite not earning Social Security credits for my unpaid labor.

I usually don’t engage the women who refer to themselves as “working mothers” (I’ve never met a man who defines himself as a “working father”, by the way). I usually ignore the open judgement of my choices and contributions, because…there really isn’t a point.  I’m no longer shocked or even particularly offended by the disdain that women who “work outside the home” have for what I do because…I’m just as tired as they are. I’m just as focused on the well-being of our kids, just as motivated to work for change, equally as outraged by the incredible gender inequity in everything involving children and family care. I’m also outraged by the racism and classism of outsourcing childcare, meal preparation, and house cleaning to poorly paid workers who have to make complicated and difficult arrangements for their own lives. I can’t express my sense of overwhelming hopelessness at how poorly funded our public education system is, or my fear for the future as we continue to fail to invest in youth and families. I do what I can to advocate for the changes we need…but I fear it’s not enough.

I’m a feminist, an optimist, and a pragmatic cynic. I’m a mother, a daughter, a neighbor, a partner, and a friend. I fill in the blanks, pick up the slack, wipe the noses and always pack a ton of snacks. A lot of kids benefit from what I do (including my own) and I’m cool with that. I am a working mother and I like my job.

 

 

 

Beer on Beacon Hill

17 Apr

We moved to Beacon Hill in 2003. Java Love was just transitioning to Baja Bistro, La Cabana still served up friendly, cheesy Tex-Mex, and Perry Ko’s was just about to be torn down to begin construction on the Light Rail Station. There was a lot going on in our neighborhood, but there wasn’t anywhere to go for a “craft beer”–that required a trip to Georgetown, downtown, or (maybe) Columbia City. That’s changed–completely.

I can’t believe I stopped updating this blog before the bar boom began on Beacon Hill. We now have more places than I can count for enjoying a beer and some snacks. The Station (and The Station Wine Bar) Tippe and Drague, Perhelion, Oak, Bar del Corso, El Quetzal…I’m forgetting someone. My review of the Jefferson Golf Course Clubhouse is now way out of date–it’s been demolished and replaced with fancy.

There’s a lot of that going on around Seattle these days–demolition and development. Beacon Hill has changed a lot. New buildings, new people, new infrastructure. It’s confusing and exciting and scary. I’ve watched these changes (and been part of advocating for & against some of them) as I’ve watched my daughter grow.

For the most part, I’m happy to welcome new neighbors and visit new restaurants. I’m sad that Monti’s closed, but I’ll check out “the new place” (Clock-Out Lounge). I miss the neighbors who moved out, but I’ll go say hi to the new folks down the block.

I love being able to choose between hipster bars to enjoy the best IPA & fries. Every single one of the places I’ve listed is owned & operated by neighbors–people who live in Beacon Hill. Most of the employees also live in our neighborhood. The bars & restaurants reflect the diversity of my changing neighborhood, including me. I’m happy to bring my kid in and enjoy popcorn, a cheese plate, and a locally brewed sour ale at Tippe & Drague. If they’re busy, we can hit up Oak for a cupcake and some killer fried chicken. Or maybe we’re in the mood for the best mole in Seattle…and maybe the lady who makes it is working today at El Quetzal.

Change is hard, and we need to be thoughtful and aware of the impact of development in our communities. So far, the change that has happened in Beacon Hill has only made happy hour better.

Hora feliz con ninos

14 Apr

My baby has survived infancy, toddlerhood, and preschool. She started Kindergarten in 2015, which put a serious cramp in our happy hour action because she was EXHAUSTED after school. Six hours is too long for 5 year olds. I can (and will–oh, yes I will) opine about school another time. Right now, I want to write about being happy.

I probably had postpartum depression. I most certainly struggled with a major depression between my daughter’s 2nd-5th year, and I’m still figuring out mood stuff and self care. I’d love to have a series of “Really Good Days” like Ayelet Waldman but unless one of you sends me a little blue bottle that’s going to take some effort. Even if you do, which would be creepy (but cool!) I still need to work on building a happy life.

We just returned from 7 weeks in Costa Rica. I’m not going to say every minute of every day was pure bliss, but I was happy a lot of the time. I need to break down why I love travel so much (for myself, though I might subject y’all to some of the navel-gazing) but right now I really want to share my brilliant travel hacks.

Pack light

This isn’t exactly original advice, but there’s a reason so many people recommend traveling carry-on: it’s awesome. It doesn’t have to be hard, but it takes some planning and trial-and error. The goal is to pack only what you and your child(ren) can carry by yourselves, from plane to bus–upstairs, downstairs, in the rain, on the sand. You’ll save time and money, and you’re going to learn what you really value and need.

Plan

  • How will you ditch extra stuff?
    • ship it home (this is a great way to unload cold-weather gear when you’re moving on to warmer regions)
      • NOTE: shipping is expensive and can be time-consuming.
      • You almost always need your passport at the post office–plan ahead.
    • give it away (ask around–does anyone need or want your hoodie?)
    • throw it out (you do not need to bring that half-full tube of sunscreen home)

I try to avoid carrying any toiletries if I’m going somewhere that I can buy them–especially if my first stop will be a hostel or hotel that provides the basics. It’s cheaper and much easier to buy a bottle of shampoo or sunscreen than to check a bag. If you’re going somewhere really remote and/or have extremely special needs and 3oz of product won’t last your entire trip, consider shipping yourself your special products in advance.

Souvenirs & gifts

Your friends and family back home would rather get a postcard in the mail than anything you’re going to haul home. If you’re committed to supporting the local economy & really really really want to purchase a gift or momento, ship it back. Don’t carry it around in your luggage. Yes, it can be expensive to ship things. It’s also expensive to check bags.

Some of our favorite souvenirs: free maps of the small towns we visit, coasters, stickers…flat, light stuff. I’ve started collecting bottle caps from my favorite beers. Every member of our family is allowed to buy one thing during a trip. Coming home from Costa Rica,we brought a stuffed bat & the kid got a stuffed sloth. We also grabbed some coffee and chocolate at the airport store for teacher gifts.

We do not bring home nature items: shells, rocks, etc are part of the ecosystem. They need to stay on the beach. The kid likes to collect her favorites during a trip, then make a big ceremonial fairy castle the night before we leave.

We take a ton of pictures of the cool stuff we see and do, and keep notes and journals. We’re not going to forget just because we didn’t buy that shirt, or the hammock chair.

Laundry

Most of us don’t go on vacation because we want to do laundry in exotic places. However, even if you pack your entire wardrobe (not recommended), you’re going to need to wash clothes. I buy the smallest possible amount of laundry detergent (dry) and a package of clothespins, then wash laundry in the sink wherever we’re staying. Many places have laundry service, which can be a life-saver if the climate (or your time) doesn’t allow for line-drying.

Happy Hour travel essentials

In the purse/pockets/diaper bag–carry with you always

  • multi-function tool with a minimum of scissors & bottle opener
  • plastic utensils & cloth napkins, small snacks
  • hygiene supplies: roll of medical tape, mini-pads, alcohol wipes, large bandage, small bandage, ziplock bags
  • entertainment: ballpoint pen, paper, playing cards, tiny toys
  • ID, a little cash & your bank card

In the swim bag/at the beach (use a tote, backpack, plastic bag, large purse…)

  • sunscreen stick
  • towel
  • water bottle (your fancy insulated bottle or reuse a plastic bottle)
  • extra plastic bag for storing wet clothes/sandy shoes
  • dry shirt or dress for the kid/s (who WILL complain of “freezing” the very moment the sun comes down, before or just as your drink arrives)

Random notes

I dislike wearing wristbands, so I cut them off while I’m out wandering and then reattach using the medical tape. The medical tape is also useful for small cuts. Use the mini-pad as a sterile gauze pad for larger injuries, using medical tape to keep it in place. Large bandages are very useful; small bandaids only exist to help someone feel better about an owie.

Entertainment

On the beach, in the forest, etc we do what we’re there to do: hike, swim, build castles, look at animals, play with rocks & sticks, talk to people, play with animals, daydream…there’s really no reason to pull out an electronic device unless you’re taking photos. (In my extremely biased opinion.)

I’m not a complete Luddite (obviously) but I don’t want my kid (or myself) plugged into a phone all the time. We don’t give her (and we don’t use) devices in public places, with the exception of transit (bus or plane) and even then limit the time. Screen time during this last trip was pretty much reserved for siesta–the hottest part of the day. We hung out in the hammock with a book, game, TV show, or homework activity.

Since we also don’t carry a lot of paper books, it can be challenging to keep ourselves occupied during the many situations where we had to wait. Since we only have one kid, we needed activities that everyone would enjoy (or at least not hate).

Some games we played with the almost-8 year old during long restaurant waits/layovers/hotel stays, etc:

  • gin rummy
  • UNO (oh, how I LOATHE the UNO box)
  • dots
  • tic tac toe (sparingly)
  • chess or checkers (we actually bought a mini chess set this trip)
    • draw a board on a piece of paper if you don’t want to carry a board–which you don’t

 

 

 

I got wet, Mama!

25 Aug
I got wet, Mama! by melissajonas
I got wet, Mama!, a photo by melissajonas on Flickr.

Before the kid, Georgetown was our go-to destination. There are a handful of very good bars on Airport Way. Unpretentious, reasonably priced, good food, excellent beer and lots of pinball. Also, alas, almost all 21+ only.

Don’t despair, parents. G-Town has plenty to offer for those of us dining & playing with ankle biters. Sylvia’s Friday routine (in this order, always): Circus School, sushi, playground and the beer store for a be-bop.

Circus School is SANCA. Amazing instructors, classes for all ages.

The Cutting Board is delicious and very reasonably priced. Lots of veggie options, too. They welcome kids & even have small plastic cups & child-sized chopsticks. Bonus for the digger-obsessed: there’s a HUGE construction project underway–lots to watch.

Georgetown Playground is one of the few SE Seattle playgrounds with a spray park AND mature trees.

Georgetown Brewery fills growlers fast & cheaply and will give your kid a lollipop if you ask.

Other places where kids are allowed in Georgetown: Calamity Jane’s, Stellar Pizza (aka Stella’s), Dog’s Dream pet supplies, and Full Throttle Bottles. We occasionally visit Fantagraphics and the coffee shop (salted dark chocolate covered graham crackers–yow!). I haven’t tried the newer diner.

Summer blog reading

12 Aug

Love this post from PhD in Parenting. “Cocktail of Judgement” describes the latest “Mommy War” between two groups that I didn’t realize were rivals: Pot Smoking Moms vs Wine Moms

I’d rather hang out with either than Sober Moms. 

Maggie at Mighty Girl has added a new feature: Mighty Thirst. Incredible drink recipes. Check ’em out. 

Booze Bombs

6 Jul

I’m behind on all my favorite blogs, so I missed this post from Mighty Girl. Since Seattle is just starting to enjoy summer this is actually perfect timing.

I’ll bet this would work well with Apriums, small plums, or large strawberries. I’ll try and report back next week.

Shots in ‘Cots:

They’re easy to make. Three steps:

1. Test your apricots to make sure they’ll stand up on their bums.
2. While your apricot is standing on a flat surface, take a metal cap (I used one from a booze bottle), and press it into the stem end.
3. Use a knife or small spoon to pull out the top and the pit beneath.

Thanks, Maggie!