Saturday, July 25, 2015

As My Daughter Turns 18: Reflections on Parenting

This week, my daughter turned eighteen. In Delaware, nineteen is the age of emancipation, so I am not sure how that works. Is she an adult? Isn't she? Do we still have to sign for her? Is she allowed to move out?  She can vote, buy cigarettes and lottery tickets, ask for her own doctor's records (her doctor is in PA), and get any number of body parts pierced and tattooed. So I am just going to assume we've crossed some sort of line. Our son is twenty. As far as I'm concerned, we've ushered two children into adulthood, so at this juncture I am going to take a breath and reflect a little.

I certainly didn't see this day coming when I was pregnant. In preparation, I read What to Expect When You Are Expecting and What to Expect the First Year. The series goes on to What to Expect the Second Year and What to Expect: The Toddler Years. I didn't read them and the series didn't continue. I think, by that point, you realize that no book can cover it all.  A lot of times, you are just living day-by-day as a parent. Sometimes breath by breath. Thank goodness the Internet came into our home when our oldest was a year old. Yes, that's right--we ventured into parenthood without the safety net of the World Wide Web. What else? Not all gas stations had pay-at-the-pump, so I would drive five miles out of my way so I didn't have to run inside to pay with my sleeping infant in the car. Ditto for ATM's (they were called MAC machines, then). I had to make sure I went to a drive-up machine.  We laid our children on their side in the crib, propping them between foam triangles. Belly sleeping and back sleeping were no-nos. Cameras had film and needed to be developed. We didn't get our first digital camera until Maren was five. We had cordless phones in our house (though not all of them) and an answering machine. No cell phones, though. We had a VCR and borrowed my in-laws huge video recorder for special occasions.

Mark and I worked opposite shifts when we became parents (figuring that the less time the baby was with a sitter the better). Jonah slept between us for two years. Another no-no, unless you were a proponent of the family bed. We weren't. We were just a proponent of sleep, and Jonah wouldn't sleep in his crib. He would scream bloody murder. We lived in a duplex at the time and didn't want to wake the neighbors. Okay, it wasn't about the neighbors; it was us. We wanted to sleep. It didn't occur to us to ask a doctor about this. And, as I mentioned before we didn't have the Internet; we couldn't Google, For God's Sake Help Us Our Baby Won't Frickin' Go To Sleep.

The kids grew, and I realized that some of the things I thought I valued, I didn't. I thought I wanted them to be raised without TV and sugar, but they had those things at the sitter. Did we change sitters? No, we adored our baby sitter, so we adjusted our expectations. Reading aloud to my kids and the family dinner were things that became sacred to me. Having our family be part of a larger extended family and having the kids be raised in a faith tradition (We joined a UU church the month we found out I was pregnant with Jonah.) were also important. We exposed our kids to nature and art, music and sports. We were never good at adhering to a schedule. Nap when you were tired or in the car on the way to whatever activity we were racing to. I volunteered in the schools. Mark built sets for plays and coached little league. We travelled to as many places as much as we could afford. Having our kids see a bit of the world, envision something bigger than themselves, was important. We did it all without video players in the car. I read to them instead.

I don't know what I would have done differently.  Living in Arden, I have witnessed a style of parenting that is simultaneously more unfettered and more sheltered than what my kids experienced. Arden kids explore and have great independence from a young age, but do it within the safe boundaries of the community. Kids know their neighbors and know where to get the band-aids or  cookies if the need them. This safe haven from which to explore their world sometimes gives Arden youth tunnel vision, because--as we know--the whole world is not like the Ardens. But the kids do get to ride bike and visit friends and gather in the woods and by the pool or walk to the library. They have the freedom of choosing their own activities at ACRA's summer camp. As older teens they graduate to campfires at Indian Circle and Kan-Jam in the Gild parking lot. And imagine concerts that teens and their parents can both attend, but separately, neither group acknowledging that the other is sharing the music.

I do wish my kids had had some of that (in Jonah's case) and more of that (in Maren's). Where we lived previously, my kids couldn't even ride a bike safely. They did a majority of their bike riding at their grandparents' house. If I had to go back and change what I did as a parent, I would probably try harder to give them a safer place from which to explore and gain independence. I used to walk into town as a kid, from the age of eight. I learned to talk to adults and make purchases on my own. I learned how to get lost and found again. But how is any parent to know what our kids will need? How could we have prepared our kids for Facebook or Xbox 360 or smartphones or even [author shuddersNo Child Left Behind? I don't have the answers. Jonah and Maren still have things to figure out in a world that is constantly changing. They are smart, thoughtful, creative kids who make me so proud even as I nitpick at them to make appointments and clean up after themselves and take initiative. I know my job as their mom is far is from finished, but at this plateau, I am going to stop and admire the view.

I leave you with a poem that was written by an Arden poet of yore. She was speaking of her youth, but what she expresses still applies today and is widely circulated among our community.

Arden Child

When I was young
And it was necessary
For my world to be
Small and safe and beautiful,
Here it lay, outside my door.
The greens became enchanted land;
The woods, an endless trail,
The sound of creek and rocks
My symphony.
Barefoot and free, I ran
Along the wild paths.
Fruit from a hundred trees
Fell to my hand
Above the hedgerows were the sky and stars,
Remembered blue as blue.
A proper soil for a growing soul
Where love, a circle round,
Assured me of my place on earth.

--Marjory Poinsett Jobson

Marjory Poinsett Jobson (1916-85)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Jetsons meets Little House on the Prairie

When I was little, I was immersed in the Little House on the Prairie books and TV show. Living in Arden, I sometimes imagine I am living in Walnut Grove--but with electricity. Like Laura, I live in a rustic house that looks like it was cobbled together by elves or someone's Pa. We are nestled outside a forest with other houses that look like they came into existence in a similar magic fashion--and are held together in a ways that have baffled home inspectors. We have a creek or two, neither of which is quite a fishing hole material, but one is playing host to a family of beaver this summer.  And when the winter was really bad two years ago, we all banded together until the train came through with supplies and food.  Okay, the thing about the train didn't happen, but we did act pretty neighborly toward one another.

I would say that the way that my life most resembles the Little House books has to do with the community spirit. We don't have sing-alongs, spelling bees or church picnics. Instead we have the Arden Concert Gild, Saturday dinners, and the talent showcase of ACRA summer camp. People walk the narrow streets to get to the events. We chat and catch up. Gossip a little. Ask after the health of a neighbor. Report on a tree down on one of the paths. And yes, we have our very own mean-spirited Nelly Olson who sometimes makes life miserable for those who cross her path. I don't have to name names. Nelly is an archetype who makes her own presence known.

It would be the quaintest of lifestyles except for all the technology. My husband is an IT guy. While I was reading LHOTP books, he was hacking the very early video games so that he could trounce every high score his brother obtained rightfully. Mark's predilection for programming means that above our rough hewn fireplace mantle we have Hue lighting which he can control by his iPhone. I can control them, too, but I haven't found the practice as convenient or user friendly as Mark has. What was wrong with our dimmer switches? In addition we have home security, house cameras, dead bolt we can activate with our touch if our iPhone is on our person. We drive electric or hybrid automobiles. From under our carport, built in the peg fashion, the blue light of our chargers glow against the backdrop of the dark forest.  Computers. Tablets. We have all the gadgets, sans the new iWatch. I am not entirely comfortable with the new technology. It isn't that I am a technophobe. It is just that I don't like the fact that my life changes so quickly before I get used to it all. For example, last week, I  rented a DVD from a grocery store kiosk only to come home and find out that we don't have a DVD drive anywhere anymore. My computer doesn't even have a drive. Mark said he would come home and hook one up, but I had rented the DVD to watch in his absence, knowing he had an after-work engagement. I was so mad that I paid to stream it, cursing that I just paid twice to rent the same mediocre movie.

When I feel that technology is closing in, I sometimes do something that takes me away from it. I read a book, the kind with actual pages made from the pulp of a tree. Or I can some homemade salsa. I sew a skirt. Or I poke a stick at my garden (I am not a great gardener, but I make stabs.) Mark, too, seeks refuge in the natural world after his day working as the head of an IT Department. His latest battle, one that Pa would approve of, entails wrestling our modest leasehold away from the grips of invasive plant life. He is working to eradicate the bamboo, ivy, and lesser celandine which is the bane of village gardeners and the Arden Forest Committee. And jointly, we go for our hikes. The back and forth from nature to technology creates a balance--mostly. 

I am typing this blog post on my MacBook Pro while wearing socks I knit for myself. The windows are open, the breeze is blowing in. It is getting dark in my living room, but not quite knowing the best way to turn on the lights, I will sit in the dark until it is time to walk to the ACRA Summer Program Open House. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Green Tara, Ladybugs, and Girl Power

I belong to a group of women who meet weekly to meditate and solve all the world's problems. That isn't the greatest description of our doings, but the truth is harder to pin down. We started as a book group to read, discuss, and go through exercises for Brene Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection. From there we talked; watched videos and movies; did projects; contemplated life; drank wine and hot tea; burned journals; consoled, commiserated and advised one another; and have gone on field trip or two. (Stalking Elizabeth Gilbert may or may not have been involved.) This winter, we worked through Sarah Susanka's book, The Not So Big Life. But we aren't a book group. You can only move through so many self-help/motivational books before you start to question whether you are addicted to saving yourself from yourself or if you are going to take what you learned and live your life more fully.  We are choosing the latter. About a third of our group has a background in counseling, a third has a background in the arts, and over half have been Unitarian Universalists at one point on another. It makes for grand introspection, if introspection can be a sport played by nine women. And yeah, we are going to keep it at that number. It works for the Supreme Court, and it works for us--as counsel and witness to one another's lives. We named the group Green Tara. Green Tara, for our meditation practice and subsequent reaches toward enlightenment. Green is also a play on Green Lane--our usual meeting spot.

Green Tara at Two Buttons
Sometimes we need to get outside of ourselves and Green Lane. Last Thursday, we took a field trip to the city of Wilmington. (Arden is a northern suburb. We have a Wilmington address, but identifying with Wilmington is purely voluntary. Some people don't take advantage of the scene and culture to be had. For others, it plays a big role. I am somewhere in the middle.) Wilmington has been having block parties once a month in the temperate months. Thursday's block party was themed The Ladybug Festival as it was a showcase of female musical artists, many of them local. A spectacular evening. I was dragging, but so happy I went, because the energy was uplifting. The GT's and I were angling to see Angela Sheik, an international looping guru, who lives in Wilmington. I have been Angela's groupie since Mark and I saw her at one of Cynthia's barn shows four years ago. But Thursday evening, I was introduced to more artists, including Mary Arden Collins, a native of Arden who makes her home in California and whose latest album features a collaboration with Keb' Mo'. Her voice rang pure and clean like a bell. I was mesmerized. Jenny Leigh, another bright spot on the lineup, concluded the evening with gold boots flashing and some raucous good county music. Along with the music, the crowd added to the energy of the summer evening. People of all ages, colors, income levels, family situations, sexual orientation and fashion sense collided in the streets. It was a visual feast as well as a treat for the ears. Not to mention taste as I ate my Seoul Bowl and drank my Ladybug-tini which was very playful--a dark pink concoction with blueberries standing in for the dots on a Ladybug's wings. I stayed up past my bedtime on a school night and didn't yawn once. In fact, I am pretty certain I had a smile pasted on my face the whole time.  As Jenny Leigh sang, "Hands up!" And so we did.

I've heard the phrase Girl Power bandied about a lot over my lifetime. For me, the truth of that phrase is less of a karate kick or a high five and more of a group hug. We women are communal in nature and our strength comes in the currents that run between us.  A society like the one in America that focuses on the individual, doesn't always value the expressions of those who do things as a group, but I am increasingly aware of how radically powerful a cluster of women can be. Green Tara has done that for me. And an evening at Ladybug? It just might provide the soundtrack.

Sunday, July 12, 2015, WHITE, and blue

Arden Dinner in White Sparkler Sendoff, photo by Joe del Tufo

I have been lax in my blogging. I have sent my novel off to my agent for review, and as a result I have no novel writing to procrastinate. Hence, no blogging. The effect is multiplied because it is summer, and I am busy, running around Arden in the beautiful weather--summer camp songs of my youth, popping into my head. Something about all the deep green foliage and the twisty roads and trails that conjure my first forays into selfhood. Ah, summer camp.

ACRA's summer program is in full swing now. This week they had an ice cream sundae party and played water "Hunger Games." The program is in its post-July 4th stride now and heading for the home stretch. Three weeks down and two weeks to go. I didn't blog about July 4th, busy as I was with our own doings. This year, Mark and I drove to Lewes where we hiked with our hiking group from Cape Henlopen to Rehoboth beach, ending our eight-mile trek in a glorious mess of marmalade-topped shredded Austrian pancakes at Kaisy on Rehobeth Avenue. Not very American, but a worthy celebration just the same.

Back home in Arden, our daughter Maren and her boyfriend participated in the Arden Games on the Green. With participants ages four to eighty-four, the games reflect friendly competition at its finest. How serious can you get over the sack race or three-legged race or slowest bicycle race? Plenty. The first year we came to the games (which was within five days after moving to Arden) we saw a youth painted to the likeness of Darth Maul from Star Wars I movie. He was killing it at every event. Who is this kid? Two years later, we know him as our daughter's boyfriend. He was nursing an injury this year, but still gave it everything he had. Other Arden teens painted themselves in a more event appropriate red, white, and blue. The games started with the ceremonial running of the torch around the Green.  Last year, our son got to carry it part of the way as part of his involvement as co-outdoor activities coordinator at ACRA's summer program. Arden doesn't have any officially sanctioned firework events in the evening, but those who are looking for a show know where to go unofficially. Invariably the whole town will hear about the debris on the Pettit Green the next day. We had to explain to our daughter that even though she didn't set off any fireworks, if she was part of the crowd who enjoyed them, she was also responsible for the mess and should go help clean it up. Who knows where traditions like these start or how long they have been around?

From longstanding rituals to the stand-alone pop-up event. A week after July 4th, Arden joined in the trend (started in France?) of the diner en blanc. Participants wear all white and gather in a predesignated spot. They decorate a table with white and bring out a prepared picnic. Of course, Arden put its spin on things. Arden Night in White was a fundraiser for the new kitchen being installed in the Gild Hall. Ninety people who bought tickets, including us, met in the Gild Hall parking lot to process to the secret location for the festivities. Here is where I admit that Mark and I knew of the secret location. It was the back yard of our friends Cynthia and David. It is the same back yard where we first got our introduction to Arden back in May of 2009. It is a magical spot indeed, and the weather could not have been more glorious--an unusual July evening in which heat and humidity took a breather. The soundtrack for our procession and dinner was a fitting and quite impressive playlist of artists who had performed in Arden Concert Gild's shows over the years. Everyone got to work, setting the stage. So many beautiful tables. So many artful menus. The costumes were thoughtful and outrageous and a delight. One woman, not from Arden but who somehow stumbled upon promotion of the event, showed up wearing her wedding dress. She and her groom, who was not quite as obvious, had gotten married earlier in the day. They won the prize for best-dressed. How could they not?

While nobody else wore a gown, everybody brought their A-games and ratcheted the celebration to a higher level. I saw trays of cheeses, homemade aioli, lobster salad, white gazpacho soup shots, creme brûlée, appetizers so decadent they need to be eaten in one-bite allotments only-- off of white ceramics soup spoons. Our table featured an Israeli menu we recreated using recipes from the famed Zahav restaurant in Philly, and we served the fare in white Chinese food boxes for added whimsy (and convenience). As for the tablescapes: white crudités platter, lush flower arrangements, bird cages, lanterns, feathers, architectural elements, fairy lights, and textiles. With all the creativity, the prize for best decorated table was not as easy a choice for judges, but they managed to declare a winner.  It was a good thing that Joe del Tufo was on hand to document the glory with his all-seeing camera lenses. That man is a ridiculous light-bender and storyteller in his own right. The event was an unqualified success. Before the sparkler sendoff, we managed to raise about $3,000 for the new kitchen.

I don't know if I witnessed the start of yet another Arden tradition or if, like Brigadoon, the tale of this event will fade into the mists, to be talked about in reverent whispers for the next decade. I'm not sure we could improve upon the perfection that was had. Another possibility that was kicked around was an Arden tie-dye dinner. Something different indeed that would defy comparison. And it was suggested that we should wear the same clothes we wore to Dinner in White, only tie-dyed for that event. That would be a heck of a thing to do to one's wedding gown.

Gallery of photos from the event.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Songwriter Envy

Last week, I sent out my completed novel to my agent. To be more accurate, I sent her the completed rewrite of my novel, a process that took approximately nine months. Yeah. That's a very telling amount of time. I wish I could say that sending my book this time was a hallelujah moment, but I didn't even bother to break open the wine bottle that night, because the truth is that I don't know if this was a significant moment.

I have been working on this novel for over three years, sending versions back and forth across the ethers so my agent and her minions can return it to me chock full of notes which usually sends me  into a creative and emotional tailspin. I could have gestated two baby elephants in that time. My dad keeps asking me, "What am I supposed to tell people when they ask people what you are up to?" I know. People ask me, too. I don't know what to tell them. I'm working on it. It was easier when I worked on the first novel. I was employed (going all Clark Kent) as a fabric designer. Nobody suspected I was actually Superman working on a novel. They didn't ask. I didn't have to give out progress reports.

I have other novels that haven't seen the light of day and never will. I also have parts of novels that are in various stage of completion. I have often said that in my next life I am going to be a songwriter. If you write a song and it sucks, you just throw it away, grumble for a day or two, and write a new one.  It is true that I don't know exactly how long it takes most people to write a song, but my daughter can crank one out in an afternoon if she is fueled with enough angst. As her mother, I've given her the needed motivation on several occasions. (Taylor Swift's mom will back me up on this.)

Last night, we had the pleasure of sitting down with two musician/songwriters over drinks at our friend Cynthia and David's barn. Shawn and Jordyn,  newlyweds who make up the harmonic alternate folk duo, Flagship Romance, were taking a night off from their 60+ stop Honeymoon tour. (Let me be clear: although, I want to be a songwriter in my next life,  I'll let someone else take those songs on the road. I am not cut out for the gypsy life.) Flagship Romance have been past features in Cynthia and David's summer Barn Concert series, and Mark and I don't miss a barn concert if at all humanly possible. Being barn groupies, we pretty much invited ourselves over when we heard that Shawn and Jordyn were in town. We buffered our arrival with the gift of good beer. Know thy audience!

I told them of my songwriter aspirations which are basically novelists woes in disguise. They regaled us with stories from the road which is another reason to befriend traveling minstrels--to get the news from outer kingdoms. More than that, we all sat around in easy camaraderie, talking influences and nodding to great musical performances. We moved onto the subject of audience/reader interpretation of material and how an idea that started off in our head becomes its own magical creature once the public braids their experiences into what we mistakingly own as our creations.

Impromptu gatherings with the artist set are par for the course here--but never mundane. I count myself lucky to be able to have exchanges with so many artists and art enthusiasts, those who live here and those who are traveling through Arden. They are the springboards to important conversations. What is art? Who has ownership of it? How can we collaborate? How do we get paid in this new electronic economy? What other mediums inspire us? How do we make sense of our world? Craft beer lubricates these dialogs which always seem to end in song when the musicians are in town. I take these lyrics and melodies home with me where I process them over a night's sleep. My dreams take ownership of them--possibly to transform them into more of what I do. After all, they are part of the novelist's experience now. It is a true Möbius strip.

Flagship Romance headed south the next day, and with them went my songwriter fantasies. I am a novelist and sometimes painter. I know my place in the order of things. My book is in the cloud now. The cloud--an image that used to represent heaven, is my artistic purgatory. That's fine. Time to pick up a paintbrush.