Saturday, February 15, 2014


People have been writing about how family dinners are Very Important for quite a while. And lots of my friends have family meals every night with their kids. I'm sure we will one day, too.

But for now, our dinners at home go something like this:

Offspring 1: I don't *like* this soup.
Me: You don't have to eat it. You can eat your bread.
Offspring 2: I don't *like* bread.
Offspring 2: [makes gagging noises]
Me: Can you just chew it up? I don't want you to spit it in my hand.
Offspring 1: I'm all done!
Me [after consuming a total of three bites of food]: Ok, let's wash your hands!

Sigh. Our dinners out are much better; our kids have always enjoyed restaurants in moderation and only rarely have we wished we hadn't gone out to eat. But at home, none of us are quite so patient.

So no family dinners yet; the fellas eat at their little table, usually with several trucks. We often eat with them, but aren't trying to have a proper meal. 

Anyway, this isn't really a post about dinner. It's about what we do to connect instead of having family dinner for now. As most of you know, practicing gratitude is really good for kids (and adults), just like family dinners are. 

Back in December, our kids brought home these groovy, gnomy gifts for us from school:

We decided to light the candles after dinner, before bedtime. And we just never stopped. On the second night, we started asking, in the manner of Rabbit's Bedtime, "What was good about your day?" We all go around, each taking turns. The boys sometimes remember to ask each of us or each other and sometimes ask themselves. If they don't remember, then we ask.

And now Candle Time is sacred. I can't imagine a night without it. We offer some bedtime snacks (usually fruit and cheese), and sit around all enjoying each other's company. No one is fighting. No one is doing something else. We're just listening and hanging out. 

Here's a list of some things my kids have been grateful for over the last few days:
one time, I picked up this orange digger and digged in the snow.
I played with Dashie.
Daddy took me park.
Mommy, you came and picked me up after nap I was sad at naptime said where's my mommy and then you picked me up after nap.
We went out to dinner! and had burgers!
[in late December] We woke up and the stockings were ALL FULL!
[after a particularly tough day] I don't have anything.

I love hearing what they have to say. 

I love the neatness of the transition—we have to make the house relatively dark for the magic to take hold, and we just don't turn up the lights afterward. Everyone knows what comes next. 

We blow out the candle and do a little chant, raising one arm with the smoke: Up. Up! UP! WAY UP there!!

And just like that, it's bedtime. And that's its own set of rituals, equally sacred. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Accept the Fluster

Sky at the Museum of Life and Science, Durham. There is so much amazing sky here.

Elizabeth Bishop writes, in "One Art":
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster. 
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master. 
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster. 
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
This morning, as I was awakened at 5:45 by a whiny toddler, I lay in bed thinking about this poem. I have loved this poem for years, with its acknowledgement of how easily we lose things, how deeply we mourn them. I've been fortunate in that most of my losses have been of the "what-if" nature—and I am not one to dwell on things that didn't happen. I've watched friends suffer far greater, much more incomprehensible losses than I have.

Sometimes the art of losing means finding that some dear friends have been broken. Sometimes it's about the things gained in return for the loss. And sometimes (usually?) you find that something important has been left behind. 

I'm not talking about "the fluster / of lost door keys, the hour badly spent."

"Losing farther." That one's hard. Six months into our life here in Durham, most of what I miss the most is farther away than I would like it to be. Some of my friends, to my regret, I am "losing faster" than others. There is only so much time in the day to write and to daydream and the time change is a bitch. I have not yet mastered that art, particularly when I don't have that network here (yet, I keep telling myself, not yet).

Lost Garden

But my sorrow for them hasn't stopped the thrum of grief for what we've left behind. We're getting settled, have almost unpacked all the boxes. 

Sometimes, part of unpacking has been finding old, dear friends, ones we boxed up almost a year ago.

Books! We have missed you.

Back to Bishop:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

She's right. None of those will bring disaster. I've traveled some, enough to know that not traveling right now does not mean regret. I've lost some names (though Facebook keeps bringing them back).

I've lost "two cities, lovely ones" and that actually doesn't seem so bad—Durham has plenty to recommend it as a city.

It's the other stuff—the three Huichol pieces and two evil eyes we somehow left behind in the fluster, that didn't reappear as we tore through box after box.

Our realtor told us to take the little pieces down while we were showing the house, lest someone steal them. We tucked them in a drawer.

Those little things are gone.

I have taken those evil eyes to every home I've lived in since college, when I brought them home from a trip to Turkey with my best friend from high school. They've been in shared flats, studio apartments, my mom's house, upstairs and downstairs in the old house in California. Maybe I'm a bit superstitious, but I always felt like my home was safe and mine once I hung them up.

I don't even have pictures of the Huichol artworks; they show up in passing. They were some of the first things Geoff and I bought together, on a trip to Puerto Vallarta and Yelapa about six years ago. In fact (as Geoff reminds me), we came back from that trip on Superbowl Sunday—the one where Eli Manning won in the final play.

They're in a photo of the kitchen downstairs after we painted it.

Those tiny things between the shelves. Why am I so sad about these?

Over and over, blurry spots of color in the series of photos we took while I was pregnant.

Waaaaay back in the back. Yep.

This attachment to such small objects is grinding away at me, most obviously as a synecdoche for the loss I am still feeling for our old life. Possibly, too, it's on my mind after reading Donna Tartt's hypnotic novel, The Goldfinch:

And I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire, and sought them when they were lost, and tried to preserve them and save them while passing them along literally from hand to hand, singing out brilliantly from the wreck of time to the next generation of lovers, and the next.

Those little pieces of art, with the story about how we looked all over town for them, a story about my kids' parents; the evil eyes, with a story about comfort, security, stability—those are stories my kids won't hear or take with them.

...It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Yep. It's not disaster. It's an art. Sometimes it's hard to master.