Saturday, March 30, 2013

last day in Washington, D.C.

Rebecca will please forgive us (again). Fox made a parting aesthetic choice about the cake, pictured above. Her original presentation was simple elegance. 

The birthday dinner party last night was silly fun and delicious. There was lamb (!), asparagus, and orzo masquerading as rice, plus chocolate Bundt cake topped with Ganache and freshly whipped cream. That was all the delicious part. The silly fun part was an improv acting competition between Woody and Neal, as well as an evening-end movie called "Justice Revenge" whose characters were as follows:

The robber -- Woody
The assassin -- Daddy Honey
Johnny Q. Law -- Neal
Innocent Bystander -- Rebecca
Film crew -- Charlotte

Fox and I were in the other room during all the acting reading Lafcadio the Lion Who Shot Back because Fox had accidentally hit Rebecca in the head with a tinker toy intended rather for his brother's head, and that took a bit to come back from.

We stopped by the Arlington National Cemetery on the way out of town. It wasn't the favorite experience of the trip, but some parts were good.

Further along in Virginia, we played for a while at a rest stop with a particularly lovely view. It was good to run around and stretch out. There was something there that I want to write more about some day, an attendant sitting at a not-too-near picnic table looking out over the ridge. Just behind him on the ground was a bowl of clean water, several pieces of lunch meat, and six shiny, bright-eyed feral cats sharing the meal.

Friday, March 29, 2013

An Acceptance Speech

I would like to thank the following circumstances and entities in the D.C. area for contributing significantly to our enjoyment of the day: First, the weather--sunny and cool, perfectly comfortable in light layers. Thank you, sun,  Earth's axial tilt, and relatively middling latitude! Second, big-name hotel, although your amenities and offerings are lackluster at best (and for a regular non-conference nightly rate that's higher than my rent, that's tough to swallow), you proved your mettle by being easy walking distance to our destination. What luck for us! Third, Starbucks. Starbucks, we haven't always been on good terms. But today, you were there with Naked Juice and cinnamon bread for our breakfast, inexpensive, fresh and delicious.

Lastly, National. Zoo, you---you were amazing. You, like the other Smithsonians, are completely FREE. Amazing. You happily accept food that visitors bring in the park, and you have working water fountains; do you know how rare those are these days? You are huge, but with big open pathways. We could run and play and not worry about getting lost. You open your gates 6 a.m.!  We didn't arrive until around 8, but we and the retiree power-walkers had the park to ourselves for the first two hours! We enjoyed unexpected and quiet close-up time with the leopards, pandas, gorillas, elephants, and otters before we ever had to wait our turn to get a glimpse at a cage or enclosure. By the time we left at noon, we had more great experiences with the animals than we could even recount to Daddy Honey. Good signage. Cheerful, helpful, and well-informed employees and docents. Excellent text about animal biology and behavior, but also human-animal interaction and conservation and restoration. I could go on. Washington, D.C., I'm glad we stuck with you and didn't leave in an exasperated huff yesterday like we said we might. Things really came together today, and our two boys had a fantastic time. Thank you for that.

And tonight, birthday dinner with friends, which merits its own special post. So I'll be back with that.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Shittiest day ever

This was the first picture of the day. So much hope. Alas, it ended badly, in this and worse:

Today was terrible. Four hours, from noon to 4 p.m., were really maybe the worst parenting moments we've had together that didn't involve immediate risk to one of the boys' lives or limbs. I can't bring myself to shape the narrative for you. I will say that there were bad moods all around, the mother of all meltdowns over a broken new toy, colder and windier weather than we'd dressed for, lost Metro passes, and really, really expensive food. The Honey parents were angry islands and the older boy wailed and raged from the reflection pond all the way to the Capitol. It was bad.

My friend Candice graciously offered that all the self-flagellation leading up to the point that I called her could suffice for my penance. I was glad for that acknowledgment. And right now, as I type this, the evening looks very much like I'd have expected it to look even if the day went great—happy kids playing with each other and new Air and Space Museum toys (even the little prop plane toy with the one broken wheel). Reparations were made to relationships, and peace was restored.

Tomorrow is the zoo. It's also Daddy Honey's 36th birthday. Woody's jazzed about seeing elephants and Fox is excited about the gorillas. Daddy Honey is looking forward to dinner with his very best friend from high school, who in addition to being a terrific person, is a saucy cook. I am looking forward to a day that isn't awful, and I don't mean that facetiously; my standards are crazy low for what will make this a salvageable trip: if we can just be in this beautiful city and not be angry, I'm good.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

An angsty afternoon at the capital

The Honey boys--AT THE WHITE HOUSE! Fox had just bloodied his nose, hence the posture. See story below.

As much as I'd like to think of myself as the cheery, smart, eminently adaptable continental traveler, really, today—1,300 miles from Fayetteville and in the homeschooling playground that is the nation's capital—I mostly tried to keep from crumbling into a weepy heap.

Really, truly, I know—I mean I really know—what an amazing opportunity this is. Tagging along on a business trip to one of the most edifying cities in America? Yea. Once in a lifetime. It doesn't get much better in terms of family homeschooling adventures.

I don't know what happened. Maybe it was the overload of M&M's (a not untypical adverse effect of driving long distances). Maybe it was the general stress of 19 hours in the car. Maybe it was hormonal. But when, upon entering the downtown D.C. area, the real-life roads ceased to resemble the map in my iPhone, I started to get a little shaky in the psyche. Getting lost in a loop around the zoo, complete with unexpected dead-ends and one-way streets? Growing panic. My and Daddy Honey's mutual and awkward unsurety about how to handle valets and unloading and parking the car at the fancy-schmancy hotel? Nearly bolted. Boys getting antsy in the lobby while we waiting for the check-in at the fancy-schmancy hotel? Dear Lord. I understood deeply the need some feel for pockets full of Valium.

I will say this for myself: it wasn't as awful for my family as it would have been four or so years ago when I had fewer tools and less inclination to mitigate my outbursts of anxiety. This time, I mostly tried to breathe. I took a hot shower as soon as we got up to the room. I kept ambitious for the afternoon simple—get Metro card, visit National Mall, come back to hotel, run bath for boys. I told Daddy Honey and the boys that I was having a hard time, that I was struggling, but willing to give our first afternoon here a go.

Still, there were more tests. The staff at Chipotle Grill where we ate dinner wasn't very kind or patient with me as I tried to understand the ordering system. While getting the Metro card went fairly smoothly, the rides up and down the very long escalators were harrowing with Fox. Much was harrowing with Fox in the city. Would that I could still sling a 45 lb. child onto my back. Alas, the best I could do was walk slowly, hold his hand, and remind him not to pull away and run off. Just as we approached the White House, he wasn't looking where he was going. I wasn't looking where he was going. And he smacked face first into a three-foot metal pole designed to designate a pedestrian-only area. He got a bloody nose, and another (third in a month) fat lip. Woody is in that adorable if unwieldy Golden Retriever puppy stage that is 7 years old; he is impervious to the effects of regularly crashing his 85 lb. body into mine, or flailing wildly on busy sidewalks, or reacting to things in very big, loud, and frenetic fashion. I don't know if you've had the occasion to discover this, but holding on to a thread of sanity whilst being body slammed by a gregarious but not-small son is hard. He flubbed the Metro cards on the way back, and I had a mini freak-out. (What a jerk, right? A 7 year old using the Metro for the first time and I bark at him and slam my hand down on the turnstyle in frustration. I know. I apologized.)

Now, they are both collapsed in bed, and I am restored. I hold out hope that tomorrow will be lighter, more fun, more easy-going and adventurous. A full night's sleep will help, and the fact that we've already got an idea of how to get around. I wasn't the happy-go-lucky Bodhisattva of a parent that I wanted to be today, but at regular intervals I was able to keep a mood full of lemons from souring the whole experience. And we did make it from our hotel to the White House and Mall back to the Metro and our hotel again, on our first try and without too much difficulty. Under the circumstances, that feels like an extraordinary achievement.  

Monday, March 25, 2013

Goddesses, Goldfinches, and Real and Imagined Video Games

The Goddess Festival is something pretty darn special about Fayetteville. The boys mostly are too young to really enjoy many of the goings on--though I missed a magic wand-making workshop that I think Woody would have liked a lot--but we dip in and out over the two weeks that it takes place. Last night was the final event of the festival, and Fox and I spent some time listening to music, eating M&M's, and visiting the elemental altars.

Project Feederwatch is coming to a close in the next couple of weeks. We did a count today and recorded nine American Goldfinches! Their transitional plumage is so pretty; none of the birds above show it well, but a couple of the males have turned the brightest yellow with darkening caps over their heads. Fox and I watched a good while at the window today and named on particularly territorial little male Grumpy. He scared off all the other Goldfinches, but he wasn't able to intimidate the bigger male Housefinch or the persistent little Titmouse. 

You know how small, spontaneous purchases--those that seem almost inconsequential at the time--turn into the most wonderful tools for fun and learning? These magnet shapes were that for me. I bought them from my friend Joy at her moving sale last summer. Fox plays with them regularly, and in the picture above he has made them into a video game complete with gold coins (yellow hexagons) and extra lives (orange rectangles). He moves a shape over triangle spikes, jumping to collect coins and avoiding the two-lizards bad guy.

We have never ever played the computers at the library. Who knows why? Woody said he'd never been interested before. I suspect it had something to do with not really knowing the protocol of playing, or thinking they were just for the younger kids. I'd offer every other visit or so, but neither boy would take me up on it. But today, Fox asked right away to play a Dora game on the computers. So, there we sat, for the next nearly two hours! Woody zipped through math and anatomy games, and Fox got his fill of Dora and Diego. It was terrific. 

Then we read. And read. And read. And read. Fox asked for books about ocean killers, so we started there, but also stayed a while in the picture books, which is maybe my favorite therapy of all times. We liked the illustrations in this one especially.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Snowflakes, Pink, Puppets, and Kites

The snowflakes Thursday were unreal--so huge and glommy you could see a single one falling across the street. It was too warm for snow--43 degrees--so they melted soon after impact, but the effect was special for the thirty minutes or so that they dropped. No way to be sure, but that seemed like it may have been the last of the season's snow for us there on the first day of spring.

Daddy Honey stayed home with the boys Thursday night and I went with my good friend Candice to a free screening of Pretty in Pink in the temporary artists' venue known as the Sheetfort. We dressed in '80s clothes and remarked how easy it was to find those styles again. Also, we realized that if the movie were taking place in real time, we would be as old as Annie Potts' record-store-owning character Iona; we're as far away now from teenagers as adults who grew up in the '60s were from us.

Friday, Fox pulled the little piano behind the puppet theater so he could set up the Redwood tree and finger puppets on the piano back and play while telling us the story. It was short-lived, but sweet. I read this article in the New York Times last week, and have been thinking a lot about stories and the way we share our family history, values, and tales with the boys.

I remember relishing stories from my dad's childhood and extended family, even though they featured risky qualities to emulate or claim. There were stories with "borrowed" cars and drugs and escapes from bar fights and talking back to to teachers and losing his temper in public and playing with fire and getting beat up for being poor. The stories were unsafe and disturbing, but they were it. My mom told hardly any stories at all. I knew intuitively it was because she didn't think she had anything worth sharing, or that she'd want to share, but I asked her about it once as an older teen. "There's not much to tell," she said.

Saturday: The Eureka Springs Kite Festival. Oh, my. Forty degrees, wet, foggy, and the lightest of light winds. Still, believe it or not, we had a great time. Woody's kite stayed up most of the time we were there, only getting crossed with others' kites twice. He was really happy. My and Daddy Honey's feet went numb, and we took turns sitting with Fox in the heated car eating granola. We stayed for two hours, and Woody could have stayed much longer.

One particularly interesting conversation did come up. Daddy Honey and I both openly admired other kites in the air--huge rainbow butterflies, a cleverly designed robot, a black stingray, a single string that held fifty or so white kites with red strings at equal spaces from nearly the ground to all the way up into the air. This was of course after we'd ooo'ed and ahhhh'ed at his kite, taken out of the package for the first time there. And it really was marvelous how well it flew; other kites wavered and glided down to the ground whilst his stayed solid and high. Still, Woody started to get a little miffed about our compliments of the other flyers. "Enough with liking the other kites so much," he said. We tried to help him understand that beauty is additive, that loving a chocolate chip cookie doesn't make you love snickerdoodles any less, that roses and sunflowers are both lovely to look at, all the more when they stand together in the garden. I think he got it, but likely this one will come around again. 

This is one of those life lessons that I needed (need!) to learn over and over and over again. Still and again: beauty and wonder are big enough to hold us all

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Baseball, snakes, and negative numbers

Woody is starting baseball next week, his first team sport. We went together to pick out his glove during Daddy Honey's lunch break today. We hit balls this afternoon and Woody came up with a game where the batter got positive and negative points based on hits and misses. He tallied both our scores throughout the game in his head, sliding up and down the number line without knowing what a number line is or how it's represented. I've read that unschooled kids' math is like that, that they pick up concepts as they need them, and then later, when they want or need to do math on paper, it's more a matter of recognition of that concept in a new form rather than learning it for the first time out of context. We ended the game 17 to 49. I lost.

It was one of those days that got colder as the day wore on. By sundown, it was too chilly to be outside without a jacket. We were turning over stones and bricks looking for crickets and found this little guy. He let us get a good look at him before he slowly made his way back to the shelter of the thick mat of brown grass.  Fox was curious about him and asked to see more snakes, so we looked online and found this Fish and Wildlife Commission publication on the snakes of Arkansas. We looked through together and he stopped me at snakes he wanted me to read about--Copperheads, Timber Rattlers, Ribbon Snakes, and these Ringnecks. We learned that this was the start of the Ringneck's active and mating season, that they're often found under rocks and logs, and that they eat earthworms.

The rest of the day was made up of Magformer subs and Snapcube aircrafts, curry and rice, Phineas and Ferb, a neighborhood cat, Playmobil pirates, computer games, hammering, fixing the bird feeder, checking the mail, watering the strawberry plants, and doing puzzles.

We were unhurried. The day was gentle. Discovery and learning was steady with small surprises.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A passing

"What's the right thing to call it now?" Woody wanted to know about Granddaddy's house, now that Granddaddy passed away.

Yesterday, we waited for and then took in the news, then we extracted ourselves from obligations and commitments, and we packed. Today we traveled. We're staying here in Louisiana at Granddaddy's house with the family of Daddy Honey's oldest brother, eight kids from 1 1/2 to 16. The cousin time has been pretty special.

Fox, after we told him his grandfather had died, wanted to enlist Daddy Honey in playing multiple pretend scenarios in which one soldier's dad has died, and another's hasn't. He also has announced a few times, "Granddaddy died" to anyone in the room. The last month or so, he was starting to get confused about who Granddaddy was, and for a while he thought Granddaddy was "my old uncle in the hospital." Today, he said to Daddy Honey, "I know your mom, and I know your dad who died."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Eureka Springs

Woody felt woozy just out of the car--those twisty mountain roads will do that. We sat on the stoop of a little candy shop that was closed for the season until he felt better. He threw up. Way up. Into a street planter filled with pansies.

But then he felt much better, and we walked up and around Basin Park. I love unexpected art. I love how beautiful pieces such as this seems to hold a kind of cement-and-sparkles magic that gets immediate entry into your soulful self, the part of you that's always looking to be awed and challenged and moved.

Woody and I rested on a bench that was cast in 1880. It said so in huge letters right on the back. While we did, Fox put on a show for us. It was about the Easter Bunny being a soldier, and was mostly pantomime. There was one street performer in the otherwise empty park, and it turns out I had met him once. He came to church, and we talked about organic gardening.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Kite flying

When my nephew Jacob was little, maybe five or six, I bought him a kite for his birthday. It was a big, black nylon shark with a red open mouth and white pointy teeth showing. When I went to visit my mom's house, where he and my sister lived, we took the kites to the beach to fly--his new shark kite, and the rainbow-colored dragon kite that had been in my mom's garage for years.

I don't remember many specifics from that visit except that we went, and I remember how the two kites looked way up in the air, and the nearly violent flap-flap-flap of their tails in the off-the-ocean air.

Jacob, now 16, spent this past weekend in the hospital with terrible injuries sustained from snorting ecstasy at a party. There was a hole in his bronchial tube, a diaphragmatic hernia, and kidney failure. In the course of his stay he told about months and months of drug use--regular use--different kinds and in different contexts. He has been in counseling for the past year, but said he didn't find it helpful. He has his use under control, he said, and as soon as he heals, plans to start again.

I remember the nihilistic, ignorant arrogance of 16. I remember that not all the kids had it, but a lot of us did. I remember that at the time, I thought there was nothing that anyone could do or say that would have changed me. I saw myself as being carried on a tide, and being part of a wave--even a sad, self-destructive one--was better than being alone because alone meant unworthy of company and facing a self that I didn't like all that much. I remember that time in my life, my whole adolescence and into young adulthood, 14 to 22, being  reactive, impulsive, unmoored, and angry.

1997. Me, 20, trying to come back to life, him, a month old, coming to it for the first time.

I want my nephew to want more from his time on earth, and now, not later, because if multiple organ failure isn't the catalyst for an epiphany, I don't know what comes next.

At some point I took the rainbow kite home with me, and it has moved in and out of four houses with us. Woody, Fox, and I took it out yesterday to the park. There was a strong, high wind, and even though it was cold, it was sunny, and we were glad to be outside. Woody had the first turn with the kite, got it up quick, and did a few trick loop-arounds with it. The sun was so bright it was hard to see it against the sky; it was almost impossible to tell where it was in relation to the ground.

All of the sudden, something happened and the kite took a sharp turn down, diving right into the high branches of a tree on the edge of the field. The string and the tails were hopelessly tangled. I pulled and maneuvered and climbed up to try and coax it down, but it was stuck.

We cut it loose and stood beneath the tree for a minute, watching the kite flounder and flap, wishing some lucky gust would bring it back to us, but of course nothing did.

We spent the rest of our time at the park on the playground. Woody said it made him a little sad, but he was glad for the fun we had had with it. He tried to explain this perspective to me because he could tell I was feeling quiet and unsettled. I thanked him for his words of consolation, and inwardly, I let the sadness of an out-of-reach, tangled-up kite sit for a while in my heart.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sweetness and sickness, old and young

Daddy Honey got back in town late Friday night from a few days in Louisiana, where he was visiting with his dad who is in the hospital with many systems of his body failing, and who is tired of IV's and operations and antibiotics, and so is not agreeing to them. Daddy Honey described the hollow places in his father's face--deep cheeks and eye sockets, too thin ears. He described conversations that trail off into nonsense, and then come back for a self-conscious moment before the speaker shrugs, shakes his head, and gives in to silence. He told about the triumph that was sitting up for 13 minutes, when the goal was 15, and how that amounted to physical therapy for the day. A few bites of avocado. A wily eyebrow raised in wry humor.  A chorus of relations coming in and out and in again to visit, console, and bring avocados. (Brookeshire's had a sale, see.)

Woody and Granddaddy, July, 2007. 

When we went to pick Daddy Honey up from the rental car drop-off office, it started to snow, the prettiest snow we've had yet, wet and fluffy in snap-cold air against a purple-black sky.

But there was hardly time for more than a quick hug and the gift of a hot cup of coffee before we both set off into a work-filled weekend, tag-teaming our care of the boys and doing the best we could when obligations overlapped.

Now, now it is Sunday evening. And though Fox today came down with a low fever and some stomach trouble, he's sleeping deeply on the couch under a favorite quilt with the spotted dog at his feet. Daddy Honey is at the kitchen table playing music that got Woody's attention; they're talking about grooves and titles and what makes music infectious.

One of our overlaps today was the co-op's annual meeting and my Sunday Children's Chapel. I kept the boys up at church while Daddy Honey took the car downtown and went to the meeting. Fox slept in my arms while I read the story and conducted the service for the five other kids, including Woody. I was so focused on my day's work that I was the last one to notice Fox was sick. Other women asked after him with concerned looks, and I waved them off with an everything's-OK smile. I held and cuddled and moved through the text and whispered empathy and paraphrased back contributions to the discussion and extinguished the chalice and said namaste and goodbye until next week. 

Only then, when the room was empty and all the conversation went upstairs, did I involuntarily put a hand to my child's neck and guess that he was at about 100 degrees. I was disappointed in myself, and I made plans for keeping him comfortable for the next two and half hours while we waited for Daddy Honey to come get us. 

One of those comforts was having Woody read to us as we sat in the rocking chair in the nursery. There was a book with a picture of a pig writing on a piece of paper, only the text of the story was about the pig reading. I pointed out the discrepancy. Woody said, "Well, if you know how to read, you know how to write." 

"You think?" I said. "How so?" 

"Well, if you can read, you know how the words go. You know how the letters fit together. Only I can't write yet." 

"You can write. I've seen you," I said. He looked a little doubtful.

"I can write my name," he said, as if this was some lesser accomplishment.

"You can write an X, from Fox," said Fox.

"The thing is," said Woody, "when I pick up my pencil, the words don't come out perfectly."

"You mean you don't know how to spell words? You ask me how to spell things?"


"Well, that takes a lot of time and experience with writing. That will come."

"I know."

I was thankful for this. It was a rare glimpse into his learning process, how he thinks reading and writing fit together, where he thinks he is in terms of his skills. 

When Daddy Honey came, he held Fox and we read a few more books before packing up. The day had warmed to long-sleeve comfortable, and an evening free of pressing business lay ahead of us.