Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Camille, My Love

I've had this entry kind of rolling around for a couple of weeks now. Life happened as it tends to do, and I found it getting pushed back behind Statement of Purposes, GREs, and general "OMG, I need to get graduate applications in by December!" But then I read this, a friend's post that promptly brought my own post back to the front of my clutter brain.

I thought when pregnant that we needed to prepare Piper. Piper was the one whose place in the family was going to be usurped. Thus I spent lots of time reassuring Piper that she would always be my baby. That I loved her so much, and that the new baby could never replace her. She always looked me with this sassy "Well duh." expression. Piper is not lacking in confidence.

Within a very short period of time, it became apparent that Camille was the one who felt displaced. Her mood swings become more drastic. She acted mouthy and rude. Her feelings about R were ambivalent at best. And we jumped in right away to reassure her but I sometimes think it would have been better if we could have just caught it earlier.

And I wish it was H that she wanted. See I have always felt a little bit of distance with Camille. Despite being the child that is by far the most like, she is also the one I don't feel as close too. For one thing, Camille is often hard to get close too. Like her mama, she is a bit prickly and it takes some work to push past those prickles to the warm person she can be. Plus, I had to leave Camille at daycare when she was about three months old. This is not a bad or a good thing but it is not something I had to do with the other three. And it hurt. I cried all the way to work because the last thing I wanted to do was leave my precious baby there. But we had to eat. H had her a lot more than I did for the first two years of her life. It was apparent that she ADORED him (and who can blame her? I do too!). H is a superb father, one of the best, and if you ever doubt it look at the way Camille looks at him. I figured that there was this distance between the both of us. That she prefered H in all things, and that I wasn't nearly as important. So when this stuff started happening, I pushed her to H. I figured if H spent more time with her than with R she would be okay.

Whoa boy did it ever backfire! R now loves her papa but prefers me so much that she's not exactly happy when left with H while I work.  It's not fun for anyone in this apartment when I have to leave her. But Camille wants me. She wants to do things alone with her mama. It moves me profoundly to have this happen. My heart hurts when I even write this out. Camille wants to go out with me. She wants to read her stories to me. She wants to go out shopping with me. She wants to do things with her mama. And now I have over attched baby who hates being in a micro inch away from me.

But there is still this tension between us. I suspect because we are so much alike. There is that tug towards and away that happened between my mother and I. I suspected it might happen later but not so soon. And I am not sure if I can head this tension off or if it's something that comes with the mother/daughter territory. I do not ever want to feel distance and alienated from my love, my Camille. I want us to draw from each other's strengths instead of pushing against. I feel this as we butt heads again over Math work. As she yells at me because I won't do watt she wants RIGHT NOW. As we argue over picking up her papers or clothes. Sometimes the day feels like a huge explosion of one crisis after another until I am so exhausted I shut down. I don't want this for my relationship with this lovely headstrong, powerful girl. I want our relationship to be mutually nurturing. It's just that sometimes I am not sure how to go about do that.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


A homeschool friend has instituted weekly hikes. We missed this week's hike but we got to go last week. I'm really excited about this as I've been wanting to get the kids moving more. I'm envisioning a day when we can do some real serious hiking. And this time of year is just made for hiking. It's cool with the leaves blazing in their change.
 Fall days!
 Before our walk.
 In the Nature Center. We got there a bit before our friend so the kids played in here. It was hard to drag them out!
 Dinner! The girls were very excited to see the snake's dead rat lunch. They were hoping he'd feed while we there but no luck.
 Love Beastie P's big eye here.
Practicing with the binoculars. deceiving. They're cuddling and they appear to get along. Do not be fooled.

Beastie Boy checking out some things.
On the Dragonfly Pond trail. We started with an easy trail to start.

 Checking out a rotted log looking for bugs.
 Using the observation stuff the center gave us.
 At the pond!

 My big boy.
And my little sprite.

Camille did surprisingly well on the hike. She really doesn't like walking and she's always the first to start complaining that she's tired. I think it helped that we walked to the pond with friends. On the way back, however, we walked back a lone as I needed to get to work. She wasn't too thrilled with the walking at that point.

Baby Beastie loved the hike and stayed up for the whole trip. She normally goes to sleep when we walk.

The end, right before mama realized she was going to be late for her class!

Breaking Children and the Problem with Spying

In the last couple of weeks a blog post has been circulating around concerning one man, a blogger, who watched another father not be very nice to a child. He condemned the man, saying the man "Broke his child." His post was moving, and in many ways right on but I didn't react the way that others did. Why? Because about ten minutes before I read the article, I had yelled at Beastie C after a really long, hard day for her. Unlike most of the people I knew, when I got done the article, I thought "Congratulations asshole on making another parent feel like a big fat fail."

You see I could relate to the father who was not being overly nice. After shopping with four kids, who are alternately screaming for everything they see, sobbing to be breastfeed, and beating on each other because "She looked at me weird!" I get a little snappy by the time time we hit the check out. I'm sure there have been many a parent who looked at me snarling at beautiful innocent Beastie P and thought "Oh my god that woman should have gotten a license to have a child." I'm sure that people thought "Oh my god she's breaking those poor babies. Someone take them away."

And here's the thing, if you're spying on me in a micro second of my life, you miss all the other things. You miss the parks where I am laying on the gross covered in beasties laughing and playing. You're missing me at 4 am holding my baby boy as he seizes. You're missing me sitting with Beastie C and reading with her at 2 am because she can't sleep. You'll miss the lovely nursing sessions with Baby Beastie.  You don't see me walking down the road holding hands with Beastie P. You don't see the cooking, cleaning, and lesson preparation that goes into making their lives happier and smoother. No, what you see in your tiny spying moment is GreenTeaGinger being a utter and total bitch to her children. Because she's tired. She hasn't spoken to another adult in over eight hours. People have given her dirty looks when her child has shoved against them.  No one has said in a while "Good job mama." Instead there's you. At the counter. With your one FUCKING child. You and your judgment which is already being formulated into a blog post. A blog post that thousands of mamas will love and share. And there will be an equal number who hate it. There will also be a number, who like me secretly feel for the other dad.

I'm not advocating that we yell at our children. But I am advocating that maybe as parents we need to be more honest. Perhaps there are many of you who don't ever do anything wrong in your parenting. I applaud you and perhaps we should leave the breeding to you. But I suspect that there are many more who, like me, sometimes fail. Sometimes we yell or say mean things. Sometimes we really don't like our kids because they're being awful (I always love them but I don't always like them). You know what I think? I don't think we're breaking them. Breaking is something that happens over time. When I yell at my kids a few times a week they are not broken. Trust me. Kids are more resilient than we give them credit for. I am one who believes firmly in apologizing to my children. When I yell, I wait until I'm calm and then I hold them and apologize. I explain to them why I yelled. We have a talk and then they're off into the next thing.

Those who know me know that my kids do not fear me. They love me as fiercely as I love them. But those who know me know this because they weren't spying on me at the local grocery store.

Monday, October 18, 2010


This weekend was spent "doing too much" and "not nearly enough." I had to re-constitute my to-do list on the computer again because every time I remember something to do, it was followed by three other things that needed doing. My perfectionist side was rearing up and getting real snappy about things not moving along like clock work. It was one of those weekends where I just picked fights with everyone over everything.

But mostly it was the problem of me getting one thing into my head and just bulling for that thing. I am, like most parents, a master multi-tasker but sometimes my feet find a path and nothing is going to get me off it. All I want to do is work until the task is completed. This is was how I was feeling about my grad applications. I had many other things to do. I had children to feed and care for but damn it all I cared about were those stupid applications.

Life kept happening though and I felt frustrated with each minor set back. R decided she MUST Piper was just super needy and wanted lots of extra attention. We had a pumpkin farm visit we had promised the kids. There were meals, dirty dishes, and dirty clothes all needing care. In my head, I gnashed my teeth and thought terrible thoughts.

And then I got knocked right off the damn path. I discovered that my GRE scores were not valid. I missed the cut of date for time by about five months. I am going to have to retake them and soon. I had not budgeted out the money for this or the time. In addition, the thesis title on my transcripts is wrong. It's the title of another person's thesis. I ranted and raged. I sobbed until I was hysterical. H calmed me down but I was so devastated.

I know it doesn't seem like a big deal but it was just this one more thing that made everything feel so over-whelming. It's all part of me being tired. Tired of fighting for every damn thing I have in terms of the academy. I spent four years fighting to prove I could do the work. And now I'm fighting to convince a PhD program that I'm awesome and they should take me. And just when I'm feeling like I might be able to pull this off, I am knocked down. Again.

But today some friends kicked my ass, and promised to kick some ass for me. And just now I took some time from doing all the stuff for my classes (cause yeah I'm teaching two classes with all this going on and by tomorrow at midnight will have 60 papers waiting to be graded), to read to Umberto. Because if I'm going to keep knocked down, I might as well take the time to lay down sometimes. Take the time to be with my beasties.

If I hadn't gone to the pumpkin farm, hadn't paused for that moment, I would have missed this:
 Cause how cute is Piper in a riding hat?

 And a top her first pony!

Oh Camille, the look on your face when they put you on that horse. She's hooked, and I remember that feeling so well. The feel of beings so high up, and oh the smell of horse. Like heaven.

She's got it! She felt confident enough to give the horse a pat. Now I'm hoping we can scrape up the money for her to ride. You could see her visibly calm down as she sat there being lead around. The horse is a good thing for Camille. She told me: "Up on the horse...I felt wild like the horse." Total connection.

And how could this not make anyone stop for a second and just breath. Oh baby!

I have to remember that what kept me sane through my MA was H and these beasties. It was having to be human to feed them. Having to stop to read a beautiful picture book. Time to watch them grow into themselves.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Bully Next Door

When I was nine, we moved to a new town. This wasn't an unusual occurrence. We moved a lot. This move was rougher because I would no longer be attending the tiny Christian school connected to our church. My family made up a large portion of the church and thus ensured that I had a place of prominence among my peers. Before that I wasn't popular but I wasn't picked on either. Mostly I was so strange the other kids just ignored me. They no doubt would be the same kids who picked on me in Jr. High but for some reason at the lower levels of elementary, I was just shunned. This didn't bother me much. I was in my own world anyway.

But our move brought me into direct contact with a whole new world of children's cruelty. It was so bad that even now when people talk about the "innocence and purity" of children I snicker. The children in this town were some of the nastiest people I've ever known. It began on the first day when I wore my favorite outfit. It was Kmart purchase. Beige dress pants with gold buttons, a cream dress shirt with a peter pan collar, and a crochet beige vest with gold buttons. I LOVED this outfit and, yes, looking back I realize it was hideous. But 

When I was introduced to the class, everyone laughed. And this was the only start. At the first recess, I was mocked. I was trying desperately hard to not cry because I sensed if I cried, it would be over. The lunch recess was where all hell broke loose. I couldn't hold back the tears, and then they knocked up the bullying a notch or two. Several students surrounded me, boys and girls, and began to yell insults at me. Then they started to push me around until I finally was shoved hard enough to fall into a mud puddle. My outfit was ruined, and to cap it off when we returned to the classroom, the teacher yelled at me for being dirty and wet. This happened every day. For months. Looking back, I wonder where in the adults were. I mean, wouldn't a teacher on recess duty noticed that a gang of fucking kids had surrounded another kid? I don't think I told my mom because there was a lot of crap going on in our lives, and I didn't want to worry her. I was the good kid who didn't cause problems.

One day I was at my grandparents visiting (they lived in the same town). I loved going to their house. It was my safe, warm space. My comfort space. I was helping my grandfather put leaves into the garbage bags when all of a sudden I heard the familiar taunts. I looked up, wiping my hair from my ears, to see the ringleader of the bullies with a friend. How ironic that he lived right across the road from my grandparents. He kept at it and I tried to ignore him. My grandfather encouraged me to ignore him. And I tired. But finally I couldn't take it. I was in my safe place and this little asshole was making fun of me. I ran at him, and put him in a headlock. I held on while he bucked and tried to shake my off. I didn't care. I wanted him to hurt. I wanted him to feel every bit of pain he had inflicted on me. I remember his friend screaming for me to let him go, and I kicked at the friend when he tired to touch me. My grandfather ended up pulling me off. The kid was chocking, his lips blue. I was sobbing and screaming obscenities at the kid. My grandfather carried me back to the house and gave me chocolate milk. I was shacking and terrified. I was scared about what would happen at school the next day. 

The next day everyone ignored me. I was now someone to be feared. I was crazy.

Looking back, I wonder how I survived this bullying. It stopped at that school but it continued at other schools. And remember we moved a lot. There was always something. I was fat. I had zits. I was dorky. I read too much. My clothes were crappy Kmart purchases. My hair was frizzy. There was always something. I learned to not let it show how much it hurt. I starved myself thin. I stole Clearasil to try to get rid of the zits. I hid in my books. 

Everyone told me to ignore it but years and years of being called ugly takes its toll on a person. My body became shaped by those words. Now, 30 years later, I still have moments when in the mirror I still see that girl who is fat, ugly and covered in acne. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Writing a Life

Where does one begin a life story?
Life does not really move a long a straight line. There are no themes. No over arching lessons.

Memories are tricky material to weave into a story. When I look back over my life, there are many stories but they do not flow. Some of these stories are likely not even true, or at least did not happen the way I tell them. When I close my eyes, and think backwards through the years, the memories are fuzzy. They come in random bits, not in any kind of coherent order. I think of moments that stand out but that do not always connect neatly.

When I look back, there are not always stories or even words. There are times when what  I remember is a smell, a flash of touch, jumbled images packed together in poem. There are memories that I have created over pictures. These picture tales are so old that I no longer know if the memory came before the picture.

And my memories of my religious past come now with a whole set of theoretical considerations. They come with the concerns of a mother wondering about her own children and religion. They come both sanctified with nostalgia and demonized with old wounds.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Striking a balance between the beasties' plans and our plans is a constant struggle in our homeschooling journey. I struggle with my teacher side which wants to plan every little detail and my more hippie side which wants to let things just flow. There appears to me to be a middle road that meanders through these two extremes. My goal is to follow that road as best as possible.

This morning typified what I have learned about how the beasties work. Now given their own choice, they'd watch Netflix instant streaming or play X-Box all day (depending on which beastie you ask). When I call a quit on electronics, boy beastie will play with Legos and maybe even read. Girl beastie 1 and 2 event elaborate story lines with their stuffies. None of these things qualify as non-learning but I do think that a little structure is important. It's that middle road, and it's a middle road I try hard to get them to see rather than impose it on them. I know that they may go to college someday and that we have to start prepping them for a learning world that is not home. So after breakfast and some electronics time, I pushed, gently, towards the dreaded Math books. Boy beastie is quite good at math concepts but he detests the drudgery work associated with Math. Girl beastie 1 just plain hates Math.

As usual, there was whining, eye rolling and sulking. I counted to ten because lately my patience has been in short supply (no sleep and little baby). Instead of yelling, I just pointed out that they only had to do one sheet each and then they were done. I sat with them and nursed R so that they could have me there if needed. They both sat down, and did the work. And that's when the amazing thing happened. After helping them, I went to nurse R in our bedroom. Beastie C came in and asked me if she could do another page. Hell yeah! Please! Then Boy Beastie came in and wanted to show me his drawing of a Native American village and his "village." He explained to me what things were and then said he didn't see much alike in the two villages. He went on to list the differences. At the library, Beastie C sat and read three books on wolves including one with Native American myths. She speculated with me about why Native peoples might use the wolf so much in their stories ("The wolf can be very mysterious."). Boy beastie was engrossed in a book on the Hoover Dam.  When we got home, Beastie C did a bunch of science experiments, sharing her results with everyone which in turn got them excited to try them out. After dinner, all the beasties did wet watercolor paintings representing autumn. They were lovely and Beastie P did this wonderful abstract painting in which she captured water, leaves changing and pumpkins.

I told H how that it's neat that if I push them just a little, it seems to set off this chain reaction in which they engage in a variety of other learning activities that I don't have to push on them. The freedom comes with a little reminder of the restriction.

Old Age Learning

My high school French teacher was crazy. At some point, he gave up trying to teach us how to conjugate verbs and focused his energies on training us to sing in French and Latin. He claimed to have been a trained opera singer but considering the number of things he claimed to be, we were skeptical (he was crazy remember?). Needless to say my grasp of French was weak at best. I tried. I loved translating poems but it involved a lot of dictionary use. I felt unable to memorize vocabulary. And speaking French was out of the question. My inability to speak English well eroded my confidence. Plus we were too busy singing.

Flash forward to college. I'm dating someone who is obsessed with China. I mean, obsessed. He talks me into studying Chinese as my language. This may be the stupidest thing I've ever done. A, it's really hard. B, it's not the language that will get me into graduate school for English or for American Religion. C, the boyfriend dumps me and marries our teacher (not joking), and D, I end up marrying the hot exchange student from Mexico and reproduced many little beasties with him.

Now here I am still not knowing Spanish even though we've been married for almost 11 years, and I kind of lived in Mexico for awhile. Why? Well I suspect my in-laws ask that often. I'm sure my friends do as well. And oh yes, my professors who often ask me for Spanish pronunciation. It is a huge embarrassment to me. But my fear outweighs that embarrassment. I am so scared of failing. So scared that I just kept saying I was going to learn Spanish and then never did anything about it.

This came crashing in on me while I was filling out applications to Ph.D programs. One programs basically said they are not going to take you if you don't have the prerequisite two languages. I felt pretty down about it. I even cried a bit. But mostly I sat on the couch and whined about why I can't learn languages. H, that hot Mexican exchange student, essentially shot down all my reasons. At the time, it was super annoying and I kind of said mean things to him so he would leave me a lone to sulk.

And later, after everyone was sleeping, I thought about this whole language thing. I was angry over some comments that had been made when I foolishly whined on Facebook. I suspect the poster thought I was being "that American", you know the one who says dumb things like "You better speak American here." It was insulting to be lumped into that category when that wasn't the issue at all. What bugged me was that this poster had no idea how hard foreign languages can be for someone like me. I didn't even take  a language until high school as the American public school system doesn't feel the need to teach us foreign languages until then. Yeah private schools do it earlier but hell there was no way we could have afforded that kind of education. When I decided to major in the academy, no one sat with me and said "Chinese. No. Not unless you plan on studying something that has to do with China." I had no clue what it meant to major in the academy and certainly no idea of what I had to do to prepare myself for that life.

But really there's nothing I can do about those things. And I realize as I sat on the couch that I don't know if  I suck at languages because really I've never tried. I never had the opportunity to apply myself. More importantly, my beasties had sat there while I cried about what I perceived as my inability, my stupidity. I keep telling them that they can learn anything they apply themselves too. We home school because we believe that learning should be self-motivated and self-driven. We believe that with effort we can learn what we desire to know. In the course of about ten minutes I had shown my beasties that I didn't truly believe those things when they pertained to me.

Tonight I sat down with H's Spanish book, and began at chapter 1. It wasn't so bad. The beasties helped me. We serenaded their daddy to sleep with our Spanish.

Saturday, October 09, 2010


Thursday was spent in a constant haze of too much to do. I strapped Rowena to me, and just plowed through all the crap on my to-do list. We packed snacks, made lunches, prepared for my class, did math with the older beasties. She was attached to me physically but there was a gap. I didn't feel fully connected. At one level, I know that I can really be that attached 24/7. But these days are rough because I just never felt we had our little moments together. Nursing was rushed and spent with me busily typing and reading.

We dropped boy beastie off with his pal, and then zoomed over to my school. Rowena surprised us all by not screaming through the whole car trip. She started fussing a bit once we hit the last light before the parking lot. We rushed to get coffee for mama and chocolate milk for the girl beasties. We hurried from the cafe to my office, where I rushed nurse Rowena. I brought her to class, handed her off to her dad, taught a hell of a class (one of those rarefied beautiful moments where the class just gets it, and you did nothing but gently lead them there). After class, I got to nurse Rowena during my office hours but it was still a fast and furious pace.

One the way home, H offered to ride with her in the van because at this point she was super cranky. I drove the girl beasties home in H's car while he charioted Rowena. I should have enjoyed the relative peace (five years do not stop talking. Ever.). But instead I felt this pain, this tugging inside me. I yearned towards my baby. I had not renewed that sweet connection we have, and being apart from her, not close enough to hear her crying, to see in the rear view mirror her shock of black hair, hurt. I knew this tiny cut could not be healed until we laid together to nurture not just to eat.

And so we finally arrived home to lay down in our quiet room, just the two of us. I held her small round body against me as she nursed. We gazed at each other with nothing to buffer the moment. And I felt with each second, that invisible thread shine.