It Takes a Village: Day 12

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

 

Evan leaves today.  It was my first thought when I woke up.

 

It has been a whirlwind.  My life has been on hold for 12 days.  I haven’t pulled any weeds.  I haven’t cleaned the house.  I haven’t paid my bills.  My life has been pretty much 24/7 with a two-year old.

 

And I realize what this means.  For people who have kids, for people who are parents, life is put on hold.  And not just for 12 days like I’ve experienced, but for two decades.

 

I now understand why, for people who have had kids, for people who want to raise their children, their lives become totally absorbed in their children.  There is no other option. 

 

There were toys everywhere.  By the time I would get around to putting something away, something else was already out.  I gave up on cleaning by day 2.

 

When Evan was on his way here, I was worried about him but I realize now that I was actually worried about how he would fit into my life.  I was worried about my plants.  I was worried about how my cats would react.  I was worried about our house.  I was worried about our homestead.  I was worried about my sanity.  When Evan got here, I could only worry about him. 

 

By day 4 or 5, I recognized that my little orange kitty, Lucky, understood that he wasn’t the baby any longer.  When Evan went down for a nap, Lucky mewed at me and jumped into my lap, as if to remind me that he was still there.

 

Before Evan awoke today, I started sweeping the kitchen floor so that I could mop it.  It had been covered in yogurt and applesauce for twelve days.  It was starting to smell.  I still can’t find that banana peel.  I started a pot of coffee and got back into bed.

 

We don’t have garbage service and have to take our garbage to the “transfer station”.  We recycle almost everything and go to the transfer station about once per month.  We had gone right before Evan arrived.  Children are messy and, with all the dirty diapers and everything else, our can was full.  It was also covered in ants and maggots.  We got out the surgical gloves to bag everything.  It was awful.  I won’t describe the smell.

 

I was determined to get things clean and return Evan to his mother spotless and ready to go.  I promised her that she could sleep in so I knew that we had time to do laundry. 

 

When he awoke this morning we were already awake but back in bed. 

 

“Hi punkin!”  He smiled at me from our doorway.  He still doesn’t quite use the “ump” sound.

 

“Hi pumpkin!”  I said, smiling back.

 

I let him crawl in with us, dirty diaper and all.  I knew that we could wash the sheets and I knew that I would rather have time with him than worry about it.  He had spilled milk on his bed three days ago so, at that point, what did I care about a little baby pee?

 

When we were all ready, fed and dressed, we went to the laundromat.  We stripped the beds, put baking soda on the mattresses, gathered the clothes, Evan’s blanky, his two teddy bears and we were off. 

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Liz, Evan’s mom, hasn’t tried washing the “wubby”, the teddy bear that is Evan’s lifeline.  I understood.  I am pretty sure that my aunt and uncle turned around at the Grapevine to go back to the Disneyland Hotel, after we realized that we left my wubby, a tattered blanket I had had since birth. It was a blanket that I was sure I couldn’t live without.  Evan has never been without his teddy bear.  It had to be washed.  Who wants that responsibility? 

 

I carefully put Evan’s “Teddy” in a front-loading washer, wrapped in a pillow case on a gentle cycle.  Evan watched his bear spin upside down in a pillow case.  Teddy came out smelling like a morning meadow.  And he had all his arms and legs in place.  I’m sure that Liz was thankful.

 

When we got back home, my partner, Angelica, put away the laundry and I went outside with Evan to water the garden.  Evan collected walnuts while I was up the hill watering.  I felt pretty satisfied with myself having gotten through 12 days with a two-year-old without accidentally poisoning him.  Aside from the moment when I lost him, there were no major incidents.

 

I was spraying the tomatoes when Evan screamed.

 

I dropped the hose and ran down the hill.  He came out from behind the green house screaming.  It wasn’t a normal tantrum.  It wasn’t frustration.  I knew immediately that something was legitimately wrong.  Something was very very wrong.  He was holding himself as though he had been kicked in the ribs.

 

“I hurt the bee!”  He screamed at me through his tears.  “I hurt the bee!”

 

Evan had never been stung by a bee.  I was freaking out.  I knew I had about ten seconds to pump him full of benedryl and call 911 if he had an allergic reaction.  I grabbed him and pulled off his shirt, looking for a stinger. 

 

I couldn’t get him to hold still.  I didn’t find a stinger.

 

After about a minute I found two welts.  One on his arm and one on his shoulder.  Evan got stung by a spider wasp behind the green house.  As far as stings go, this was the best we could have hoped for.  The wasps are small and the poison is minimal.  It hurts like hell at the time but the pain dissipates quickly.

 

We have two honey bee hives on the homestead.  Honey bees are pretty gentle.  I have been stung a few times and I’ve managed.  Still, it wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had.  When Evan approached the hives curiously on the first day he was with us, I grabbed him and held him.  I told him that bees are a private creature.  I explained their power. 

 

Maybe it was something in my voice.  While he had tried to cross every other line and had tried to break every rule throughout the week, he never again tried to visit the bees. 

 

He cried as we brought him inside and covered his two stings with Redmond Clay and fed him a cup of children’s ibuprofen.  It took both of us.  Angelica and I had to hold him.  He could hardly hold still.

 

  After that, I set him on the couch with a sandwich.  “I want my mom.”  He said to me honestly.

 

“I know baby.”  I said.  I understood.

 

My heart went out to him.  But it was a good sign.  In the same way that I worried he would miss his mom when he got here twelve days ago, I worried equally that he would also miss the routine that he and I had created.  I think it was then that I realized that he was about to leave.  I called Liz.

 

“You just missed his first wasp sting.”  I lamented.

 

She confessed that she was still getting on the road.  It would be another few hours.  We talked about his milestone.  He seemed okay and she was on her way.  There was no point in making a bigger deal about it.

 

I was not about to leave my nephew’s last memory of visiting his aunties with a couple of wasp stings.  Hell no.  We had tried too hard.  We couldn’t leave it that way.

 

“Okay.”  I said to Liz.  “I think we are going to take him to the lake.”

 

We packed up the pumpkin in the car seat and got the swimming ring out of storage.  I blew it up while Angelica drove.

 

“Evan,”  I said to the back seat between breaths.  “Do you want to go swimming?”

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If we have learned anything about Evan in these past few days it’s that he loves water.  We turned off the water to the bathroom sink after a few days into his visit because we caught him filling up the sink more than once.  “I’m washing my hands,” he would say to us, the counter and floor covered in water.

 

When we got to the lake, he was excited to splash around.  He stripped himself of his clothes and diaper and ran for the water.  Who was I to judge?  I ran after him in my swimsuit.

 

He plopped his naked butt at the shoreline and splattered the muddy sand with his feet.  He splashed water at me and I returned the favor to screeches and giggles.  I need to talk to his mom about swimming lessons.

 

When we got back home, I put him in the bath, trying my best to wash the sand out of his hair.

 

Liz pulled up as I was getting him dressed.

 

“Mommy!”  He shrieked.

 

“Baby!”  Liz exclaimed through the screen door.

 

The reunion was pretty adorable.  They gathered each other up in a bear hug and held on.

 

“I missed you mommy.”  He said into her shoulder.

 

“I missed you too baby.”

 

I think it is good for loved ones to miss each other every so often.  When we are away, we learn and we have new things to share when we come back.  When we miss someone, it gives us the possibility to fall in love all over again.

 

Liz set Evan down.  She peered down at her son and said, “Tell me about all the things you did this week.” 

 

I was so excited for this part.  We watered the garden.  We went to a parade.  We ate pizza.  We went to the farmer’s market.  We took a hike.  We went to the park, the post office, the lake, the store, the nursery.  Evan started a dance party.  He ate blueberries off the bush.  He went on a Slip n Slide.  He got into a pool.  He ate ice cream.  We had peanut butter pancakes and hotdogs for breakfast.  He had been stung by a wasp.  We covered him in mud.  There was so much to tell. 

 

“I met Buddha.” It was the first thing out of his mouth.

 

Liz looked at me.  I looked at Evan.  I cocked my head like a dog that had just heard a strange noise.  I shrugged my shoulders at Liz with a confused look on my face.  We aren’t Buddhists.  We aren’t religious at all.  The last time that I was in any religious building was for a wedding.

 

“You met Buddha?”  I asked him cautiously.

 

“Yes.”  He said.  “The sleeping Buddha and the happy Buddha.”

 

I had completely forgotten.  A lot of the statues at the stone house, which we visited after the Independence Day Parade, were Buddha statues.  I pointed them out to him and explained what they were.  The day after 4th of July, he had mentioned them while falling asleep but I hadn’t realized that he had thought about it so much.  I explained to Liz.

 

Evan said, “We saw snatchues mommy.”

 

“Yes, sweetie.”  She said.

 

Angelica reached up to our book shelf and took down our small, smiling Buddha and handed it him.  He showed it to his mom.  “This is happy Buddha mommy.”  We all laughed.

 

Liz brought us a few offerings as a token of her appreciation.  A couple bottles of wine and some incredible cheeses and salami.  Angelica and I would put them to good use in short order.

 

I helped Liz pack up the car while Angelica and Evan played with Buddha inside.  When the car was packed, we let him say goodbye to the cats and plants.  Evan looked at the garden up the hill and told his mother what I had told him.  “Plants are alive.  We have to be careful.”  I hugged him.

 

We got Evan into the car.  He wouldn’t let go of Buddha.  When Liz got settled, I stood on the porch and waved.  I could see the little guy in the backseat and smiled.

 

Before they pulled away, I ran back to the car, to Evan’s window.  Liz rolled it down for me.

 

“Goodbye pumpkin.”  I said.

 

“Goodbye punkin.”

It Takes A Village: Day 11

Friday, July 6, 2012

 

Evan leaves tomorrow.  Knowing that our time together is coming to an end made it that much harder to go to a meeting last night.  My partner, Angelica, took him under her wing and told him that they would go to the playground.  He cried when I left.

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He took a two-hour nap yesterday so I knew that he was going to be a handful.  It didn’t help that it hit 100 here and wasn’t cooling off.  After a trip to the post-office and a run around the field behind the firehouse, both Evan and Angelica were too hot to go to the playground.

 

Our little orange kitty had followed them around town and was panting under a tree.  The cat had to be carried home.

 

Angelica sang to Evan for over an hour before Evan fell asleep.

 

I got home after 10pm and tip-toed through the door.  When I shut it, Evan awoke.  He started crying.

 

I walked over to his bed to check on him.  Sometimes we will wake for a moment and then just fall right back to sleep.  When he saw me, he sat straight up and said with plain certainty, “I need you to cuddle me.”

 

I laid there with him and talked to him sweetly about my meeting.

 

I was at a camp meeting for our upcoming trip to Burning Man 2012.  I have never been to Burning Man.  I have never really thought about going to Burning Man.  Angelica’s boss bought us the tickets and told us, “You’re going.”  It was a gift.  We love camping and we love art.  We love gift economies and sustainable communities.  We love catharsis.  Burning Man is supposed to be all those things so, why not?

 

I think that the meeting was supposed to be more logistical.  I think that the plan was to talk about who would cook what meal on what day and who has what equipment that they can bring, etc.  Instead, we talked mostly about our plans for the theme camp.

 

“Evan, we are planning on building a 15-foot, couch-cushion, to-scale model of a Mayan temple.  And then we’re going to make tall and strange monuments that are all connected with bridges.”  I felt comfortable explaining these things to a two-year-old because I was sure that it made about as much sense to him as it did to me.  He fell back to sleep within minutes.

 

After our very tired and hot yesterday, we are doing much better today.  We ate peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast and have mostly stayed inside.

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Evan spent the morning drawing rivers and mountains with crayons and got into an empty cardboard box in the living room and made “vroom” noises.  He built a tower using the blocks and toys that my neighbors dropped off for him.  He spun around in circles to music in our living room.

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I imagine Burning Man to be a playground for adults who are ready to feel two again.  For Evan, everything is an open experience with endless possibility.  When he draws, he uses both hands.  When he plays, everything becomes a toy.  When he dances, he dances with his whole body.  For Evan, everything is art.  Every object has potential.  Every sound is music.

 

We should all be two again.

It Takes A Village: Day 10

There is a banana peel somewhere in my house.  I’m not sure where exactly but I know it is inside the house.  The doors have been locked since yesterday.

 

After our wild and rowdy adventures on July 4th, Evan and I were more than a little tired on July 5th.  He and I both fell asleep in the car on the way home from the BBQ.  (My partner was driving.)  We probably both could have used more sleep but Evan awoke at 7:30am in shining two-year-old fashion. 

 

“Wanna go outside?”  I heard it in my dream before it registered in my reality.  I opened my eyes and he smiled but I could see that his eyes were as tired as mine were.

 

“Auntie needs a pot of coffee first.”  Evan can be fussy if his play time gets delayed.  When he is ready, he is ready.  For some reason, he found joy at this moment of postponement.  He watched me yawn and giggled at my suffering.  I doubt he understood the joke.  But then, I wasn’t really joking. 

 

I got up and made breakfast for us both.  I’ve been feeding him fried hotdogs for breakfast—all beef, humanely raised, organic hotdogs.  I cut up the hot dog the long way before serving it because I remembered reading an article about how children choke on hotdogs because they are the perfect size to block a child’s esophagus.  At first I cut up the hotdog into bits and mixed them with eggs but he would just pick out the meat and call it “bacon,” leaving the eggs.  So for the last two days, I’ve just been feeding him “bacon.” 

 

After two days with Evan, I told his mom that she should plant fruit trees now.  I worry for her when he’s a teenage boy.  The kid eats more than I do and I think his feet have grown two sizes since he got here.  After yesterday’s hotdog he wanted a peanut butter sandwich.  And then goldfish crackers.  And then a glass of milk.  And then applesauce.  Nothing goes to waste.  I taught him how to scoop up applesauce off his shirt with a spoon and eat it.  I watched him do so while I drank my pot of coffee.

 

After breakfast yesterday we went outside to water the garden.  Evan helps but I have walked away soaking wet more mornings than not.  He got me good and, because we were both so tired, we cut the watering short.  I was grumpy and he was even more impatient than usual.  It’s hard to be a good parent when you’re tired.

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Evan commenced collecting walnuts in our yard and I began to grab the laundry off my neighbor’s line.  We usually go into town to use the laundromat.  We don’t have a washer and dryer.  Because we have had so much laundry lately, my next door neighbor had taken pity on me and let me use their washer and clothesline in the back.  I could hear Evan humming to himself and dropping walnuts in a bucket.  I grabbed a tiny shirt off the line, finally starting to feel the coffee kick in.

 

When I was four years old, my mother and I took a nap in her bed.  When she woke up, I was gone.  She called for me over and over but I didn’t answer.

 

We had lived on the water and she was sure I had drowned.  She called the fire department and had assembled a search party in about 43 seconds.  All the neighbors came over.  My grandparents drove across town.  The fire department arrived, sirens blaring, and woke me up.

 

I had tucked myself under the bed where it was dark and cool.  I came down the stairs rubbing my eyes.

 

“Are we having a party?”  I asked into the chaos.  Everyone froze and my mother pushed her way through the crowd to gobble me up in a hug at the bottom step.  I thought it must have been my birthday because everyone was so happy to see me.  It was great because I had been in trouble earlier for not cleaning my room, or, more accurately, turning it into a disaster zone.

 

I wasn’t good at putting my clothes away or cleaning my room when I was a little girl.   Now, I have a habit with my laundry.  I like to fold my socks before they go into the basket.  It helps me keep track of lost socks and motivates me to actually put things away when the basket gets into the house.

 

I was folding some of Evan’s socks when it occurred to me that I didn’t hear any walnuts being dropped into a bucket.

 

“Evan?”  I called.

 

I peered over the fence and didn’t see him.  Holding the laundry basket, I scooted into the open gate.  “Evan?”  Nothing.

 

I looked up the hill into the garden.  I looked in the green house.  I ran to the front of the house.  He was gone. 

 

I looked around for my neighbors.  Left.  Right.  I ran up the hill.  I ran down the hill.  There is usually at least one person outside at any given time.  I ran to the community garden.  Rudy waters the front.  Julie has flowers in her yard.  I ran to plum tree.  Dan fixes bikes.  Arlene smokes.  I ran to where Evan crashed his toy dump truck.  June gets better reception on her phone out front.  The kids across the street play outside.  I ran through the bushes.  No one.  No one was there.

 

I banged on my neighbor’s door and was running to the next door as they answered.  “I can’t find Evan!!!!”  I called over my shoulder.

 

I knocked on the next door and started towards the neighbor’s backyard.

 

“EVAN!!!!”  I screamed.

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My neighbor’s girlfriend spotted Evan sitting behind our neighbor Hally’s chicken coop.  I ran to him, gobbled him up and hugged him.  There was no point in punishment.  He wouldn’t understand.

 

Hally came around the corner and grinned at me.  Her four boys are ages 6, 8, 11 and 13.  “How do you do it?”  I looked at her in awe.  I was sitting on the ground holding Evan.  She just shrugged and shook her head with a knowing smile.

 

I have tried to give Evan some measure of license since he arrived.  Our growth is only as much as our living.  I have given him few limits.  I let him venture to the garden down the hill by himself, watching from afar, knowing that the neighbor was out front and could see me and would also keep a watchful eye.  I have let him eat what he asks for.  I have let him choose his toys with few rules.

 

So far we are allowed to watch “Mickey Mouse Club House” whenever we want but we don’t waste energy and it has to be turned off if we aren’t watching it.  We can’t play the drums before or after 9 because of the neighbors.  We don’t waste water.  Empty milk cartons get recycled.  Otherwise, our house has basically been “free-play.”  Until now.

 

About two hours after Evan’s mom, Liz, dropped Evan off, something occurred to me.  Liz had just put the two people closest to her, two people that she would take a bullet for, together.  I realized that I wasn’t just responsible for the health of Evan, I was responsible for my health and ensuring safety for both of us.  And though I took that to heart, I wanted Evan to learn and grown while we was here.

 

Since losing Evan yesterday, I have kept the doors locked whenever we’re inside.  He can’t get out without me.  That’s how I know that there is a banana peel somewhere in the house. 

It Takes A Village: Day 9

There is nothing like spending Independence Day with a two-year-old.  I don’t think I’ve ever partied so hard in my life.

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We started the day meeting up with the California Solar Company in the parking lot of the Stonehouse, at the bottom of the parade route.  California Solar turned their solar golf cart into a Viking ship for the parade.  Evan was very impressed.

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Evan and I found a prime spot in the shade to park the stroller and watch the parade.  I scooted him into a little window alcove at an antique shop across from City Hall.

There is something incredibly special about a small town parade.  The folks on the sidelines, even the teenagers, were respectful.  I teared up as the WWII Veterans drove up and everyone stood, hands over hearts, for the national anthem.

The parade lasted for over two hours.  It included the Boy Scouts, the Lion’s Club, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the newly-elected city counsels for the town hosting the parade, and for all the nearby towns, a horse and carriage, a brigade of llamas, a kazoo band and more.

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The Republicans, the Democrats and the Tea Party in a colonial ship all had floats and various messages about who is responsible for our country’s mess and how to fix it.  There was a flash mob organized by the Occupy Movement that had an official spot in the line-up.  They danced and sang new lyrics to a Depeche Mode song, urging the crowd to get involved in the fight to end corporate personhood.

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There were several marching bands, including a Celtic drum and pipe ensemble in full regalia.  By the time the jazzercise club danced by us I was wondering how there were enough people left in the county to sit on the sidelines and watch the parade.  Each of the local fire districts enters as a separate slot.  I was sure that Evan was going to fall asleep but every time he began to nod, another fire truck or motorcycle would drive by and he was right back to being captivated.

After the parade we went back to the Stonehouse to meet up with my partner, Angelica, and her co-workers.  We sat on the patio to cool down.  Evan found two little kids his age who shared his vibrant enthusiasm for screaming and mayhem.  While the adults discussed where to go for dinner, the kids ran around.  I was particularly impressed with the little blond girl in the red overalls.  She had an uncanny ability to find trouble and invited Evan to participate at every turn.

I used to wonder why parents would just let their kids run wild in public places.  Truthfully, there is not much that can be done about it.  I was thankful that there were other kids doing the same thing so that I wasn’t the only asshole.  Some days there are plenty of opportunities for teaching and learning.  Other days, if the kid doesn’t fall into a well, it feels like success.

When we gave up on finding an open restaurant, my partner’s boss invited us to a neighbor’s BBQ for the evening.  “Is it kid-friendly?”  I asked, looking at Evan as he picked up an owl statue and handed it to his new friend.  I grabbed the statue out of their hands and grinned as if to add, “Because things like this might happen.”

When we arrived to the home hosting the BBQ, Evan exclaimed, “We’re in nature!”  The large and lively house sat on some fenced-in property in a pretty, remote area.  We walked up to a front yard teeming with kids of all ages and I was thankful.  Evan immediately joined in.

If the morning was filled with dubiously obedient patriotism, we more than made up for it with the evening’s anarchy.  Shortly after we arrived, a man blew a conch to get the attention of the guests.  Seriously.  A conch.  He invited us outside to recite a written anti-independence declaration that included the line, “All praise for the empty, full manifestation of the non-dual bliss heart in which all things appear and vanish.”  I had been hosting a two-year-old for over a week.  I think I understood what was meant.

After taking notice of the many parents and adults who were ensuring the safety of the children among the chaos, we let Evan run wild.  He played ball out front with some older kids.  He swung on a hammock.  He helped himself to seven or eight fig bars, several handfuls of blueberries and a piece of cake.  He went on the Slip n’ Slide fully clothed.

Still fully clothed, Evan climbed a ladder to join some kids in the pool.  One of the moms looked at me as I stood and watched.  She asked me, “Does he know how to swim?”  She sounded impressed.

“Nope.”  I said.  She looked somewhere between completely horrified and totally awed at my balls-out approach to parenting.  I was watching Evan closely.  Just as he was about to let go of the ladder I grabbed his arm.  I told the woman coolly, “He’s my nephew.”  I think she was relieved.

I held him up and got him to put his hands on the edge.  I told him that if he ever falls in a pool he needs to hold on to the edge.  He seemed very surprised at his vulnerability and seemed to understand the importance of the advice I was giving him.  He struggled with kicking while I held his head above water.  I looked at Evan and asked him if he thought a life jacket might be a good idea.  We put a life jacket on him but it didn’t really help him swim.  He was done with swimming fairly quickly.

When he got out he was shivering and the same mother who watched Evan get into a pool handed me a towel and smiled at me.  I stripped Evan of his wet clothes and changed his pull-up.  I didn’t think to pack a change of clothes so he spent the rest of the evening as a half-naked baby.

When the sun was starting to set I was sure that he would tucker out.  Instead, he started a dance party in the guest house.  Angelica and I took turns watching him from the porch.  He spun in circles, shook himself like a rag doll, walked on his tip toes and made snow angels on the floor.  He spent nearly an hour just rockin’ out by himself until he was joined by a little girl his own age and a few other people.  The host came in a DJed while more people filed in.   Evan ran back and forth across the floor with his new friend, dodging flowing skirts and lifting feet.

We left at nearly midnight but not before having a bowl of home-made ice cream.

It Takes a Village: Day 8

Tuesday, July 03, 2012: 9:26am

Every song can be a lullaby if you sing it right.

Evan had taken a nice nap yesterday afternoon.  So when I tried to put him to bed, it took a while longer for him to fall asleep than usual.  After almost an hour, I was starting to run out of songs.  I had gone through five or six spirituals, three or four Beatles Songs, several folk songs, almost the entirety of Leonard Cohen’s Various Positions album and a handful of songs I could remember from high school choir.  When I was finished with Billy Joel, Simon and Garfunkel, Brandi Carlile and John Denver, I started in on the musicals.  I did “Maybe” from Annie, “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables, “Without You” from Rent and “Still Hurting” from Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years.  I knew that I was running out of my stock catalog of slow and soothing music when I started in on Tori Amos’ “Silent All These Years.”  When he still wasn’t asleep after that, I had to switch to my karaoke repertoire.  I started in on a down-tempo version of Irene Cara’s “Flash Dance.”  It was horrible.  Really, really bad.  After squeaking out my last half-paced, “You can have it all now I’m dancing for my life,” I was happy to hear Evan’s even breathing because, if I had to pull Journey out of my back pocket, it could have been all bad.  Childhood nightmares would have no-doubt ensued.

I had my own nightmare last night.  I dreamt that I was diagnosed with cancer.  I was walking endless halls of stairways amongst continual shelves of books and uniformed students.  A professor-type man with a furry mustache grabbed me and held me by the shoulders.  He oscillated between looking directly into my eyes and darting to look at the inside of my elbows.  Very seriously, he told me that I had cancer.  In the dream, I found my friend and writing partner, Jovi, in an elevator.  I told her the news and she took me to a big brown couch where I put my head in her lap and let her stroke my hair.  She told me that I’d be okay and I knew that she was lying.  I walked away and found my partner’s brother and he hugged me like he already knew.  I kept looking for Angelica, my partner, and when I found her and told her, she said, completely out of character, that the news was too stressful and she couldn’t deal with it.

I awoke abruptly to a sweet little man crawling into bed with me.  When he saw me open my eyes from sleep, he erupted with a smile and said “Hi punkin!”  I gathered him up and held him tight.  He giggled and asked empathically, “We go the post office?”

12:35pm

My dear friend, Joann, once told me that having children is like instilling a perpetual sense of worry into your psyche for the rest of your life.  I now understand a little bit of what she meant.  I haven’t had such a vivid nightmare since my friends took me to see “Se7en” after telling me it was “the new Brad Pitt romantic Comedy.”  Evan’s mom, Liz, took my phone calls at 2am for over a month, when I couldn’t sleep after that.

Through this journey with Evan, I have had a lot of people tell me, “You’re doing such a nice thing for your friend.”  I have gotten a lot of accolades for caring for a child, a child whom I love, simply because he isn’t “mine”.  He isn’t my blood.

Liz doesn’t have any sisters by relation.  I’m not actually Evan’s “Auntie.”  At least, not in the conventional sense of the word.

But if ever there were a use for the term “sisterhood,” Liz and I define it.

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For me, the term family isn’t about blood.  It’s about how you treat people.

I met Evan’s mother my second week of high school.  We were working on painting sets for the school play.  I liked her immediately.  She was funny, crafty and pretty.  She had a kind sarcasm about her that I’ve never seen anyone be able to replicate or execute as effectively.

I invited her over to hang out at my house.  She accepted and I was ecstatic.  She was a junior and I was a freshman.  At the time, it seemed huge.

I told my mom all about it.  I told her that I had made a new friend.  I told her that my new friend wanted to come over and hang out with me.  I think my mom was happy.  She worked full time.  It couldn’t have been easy to raise me.

I had had a hard time in middle school.  I was red-headed and left-handed.  I had freckles. I was smart.  I played the clarinet.   Let’s face it.  I wasn’t exactly a “cool kid.”  Really, I was completely awkward.

I remember being so nervous about trying to impress my new friend.  What would we do?  How would I entertain her?  How could I make an impression on her?  I really wanted her to like me.  My parents had gotten me a water bed by then and I had stripped the walls of my New Kids On The Block posters before I started high school.  So I knew that I wasn’t totally uncool.

Still, I had no idea what to do with a “junior” in my house.  She was so much older than me.

“Wanna snoop through my parents’ stuff?”  I asked her when we arrived at my home after school.

We started in my parents’ closet.  I got on the step ladder and went into the cigar boxes on the top shelf. I only found pieces of paper.  Nothing interesting.

We went into their drawers.  My step-father had an old coin collection but I feared that such a thing would wear off its valor in a matter of seconds.

“Let’s go into the garage.”  I said.

The first drawer had screws in it.  Then grommets.  Then drill bits.  Then nails.  We kept going.  A few odds and ends.  Some miscellany.  More screws.  Smaller nails.  And then I found it.  Something out of the ordinary.

We found a pipe and a pocket of small sugar-like rocks.  Score!  Totally interesting.  My new friend wouldn’t be bored.

“Look at this!”  I handed it down to her.

“Oh wow.”  She said it with an air of interest but I could tell that something was wrong.

“What is it?”  I can still hear the lilt in my fourteen-year-old voice.

“I think you need to tell your mom about this.”  She said to me.

“Is it bad?” I asked.

“It is.” She said simply.

And then I asked, “I guess we should call your mom to pick you up, huh?”

“Probably.”  She said.

“Do you know what it is?”  I asked her before picking up the phone.

“I think it’s meth.”  She said.  “One of my friend’s boyfriends got into it for a while.”

I was thankful for the knowledge but I knew that the party was over.

I knew what meth was.  I remembered from our classes in the 6th grade.  It was bad news.  Meth was drugs.

I had found drugs.  I had just found drugs in my step-father’s garage.

I didn’t understand how that could even be possible.

Liz’s mom picked her up.  I don’t remember what we told her.

My mother had been sober for over a decade.  She never did drugs.  She used to drink.  I knew that.  I had spent my childhood in 12-step meetings, eating Brach’s candy.  Hard butterscotch and chewy-maple were my favorites.  Sometimes I would even get to have a cup of coffee.  I liked coffee.  Even then.

My mother and my step-father had met on an AA ski trip.  I was eleven or twelve when they had married.

By the time that I had entered high school, my mother was a drug-abuse education teacher in the jail system.  Her whole life was about sobriety.  Her practice.  Her daughter.  Her career.  Her husband.

Why did Liz and I find drugs that day?  Why did we find what we found?  How could that have happened?

My parents were suburbanites.  We lived on water-front property.  My parents have college degrees.  I was a good little girl.  We had a nice house, on a nice street.  Our house was big.  It was an affluent neighborhood.  I was afforded piano lessons.  I saw my grandparents all the time.  We spent all of our holidays together.  I played soccer.  We went to church.  I never went hungry.  How could this be happening?

My dismay could not have been compared to my mother’s.

When my mother got home, there was no point in stalling.  “Mom.  Liz and I found this in the garage today.”  I said it gravely.  I handed my discovery to her.

I watched her face fall.  She knew what it was.  I knew that she would know.

(At this point, I have to give a disclaimer:  I’m not exactly sure what happened next.  Not exactly.  I can say what happened before.  But only because I now understand the circumstances.  This next recollection is only my conjecture. It has never been discussed.)

My mother looked at the wall.  “I have to call my sister.”  She said it with a voice that I had never heard before.

Then she said to me, “Hilary?  Can you go stay with your friend for a while?”  My mother asked the question plainly.  As my memory serves, this was the very first thing that she said to me after she realized what was happening.

I wasn’t sure what she was asking.  Or who she was referring to.  I supposed to go somewhere.  My friend?  What friend? I didn’t really have any friends.

Liz?

But I had just met her.  I wasn’t even sure that she liked me yet.  But I could tell that my mother needed me out of the house.

I got on the phone.

“Liz?” I recognized her voice when she had answered and said hello.  I felt shy.

“Yes?”  She said with an openness that sets a precedent of friendship forever.

“Do you think that I could stay the night?”  I felt like such a child.

To this day, I can’t remember what actually happened.  I know that Liz’s mom, Jane, said yes.  I remember that it was a school night.  I’m not sure why Jane said yes.  I don’t remember if my mom took the phone.  I don’t know if my mom told Liz’s mom what was going on.  I doubt it.  How do you explain that to somebody?

I spent the next few days at Liz’s house.  Maybe weeks.  Maybe months.  I’m not sure.  I think I might have been there the entire time my step-father was in re-hab.  Liz and I shared a bed for the first few weeks of my high school career.  And, after that, we became inseparable.

What Liz and her family did for me and my mother then is something that I will never forget.  It’s something I may never be able to repay.  There are critical moments in each child’s development.  For a two-year old, almost every day is critical.  For a 14-year-old girl entering high school, those first few weeks can be the difference between life and death.  In the first few weeks of high school, children make many choices that can shape their life forever.  Because I had Liz and her mom to look out for me, I was able to make the choices that led me here today.  I think I have a pretty nice life.  I know that I have a really cute nephew.

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It Takes A Village: Day 7

Monday, July 02, 2012: 12:53pm

Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States.  It stands at 14,497.  The only taller mountain in the United States is in Alaska.  To hike Mt. Whitney, you need to apply for a permit from the National Park Service.  You have to haul in all of your food and water.  If you have to poop while on your climb, you must poop in a “wag bag” and you have to haul out your excrement.  In other words, you have to carry your poop in your pack.  Climbing Mt. Whitney takes a kind of dedication that is indescribable.

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From base camp, the trail to the top and back is 21 miles, with a 6,132 foot gain in elevation.  Most people who attempt to climb Mt. Whitney will fail on their first try.  Even for the fittest of people, elevation sickness is always a grave possibility.  Most people who make the climb do it in a three-day stint, camping half-way up, climbing to the top and camping halfway down and hiking down the next day.  I climbed Mt. Whitney in a day.

I had to train for a year.  Before we left, I was running an 8-minute mile.  I was running 7-9 miles each day, in addition to the several yoga and step aerobics classes throughout the week.  I was climbing over 1,000 flights of stairs each week.  Before the hike, we stayed at a 6,000-foot elevation for two days to get acclimated to the air.

I could not have made it to the top without the advice from Sharon Baker Salony’s book “How To Climb Mt. Whitney in One Day.”  I had read the book at least ten times before the hike.

We stepped onto the trail head at four in the morning, the dark of night surrounding us, only our headlamps to light the way.  We reached the peak at past four in the afternoon.  We had long since left the tree line and we were literally above the clouds.  We took pictures, ate lunch, signed the guest book and began the trek back.

The trip down was the hardest part.  The adrenaline of victory fading fast and using muscles in the front of my legs that are rarely used for anything, the sun set with several miles to go.  I reached the trail head at base camp at past 11pm and nearly collapsed.  The next day, I was so sore that I had to crawl on my hands and knees to get to the bathroom.  It was the hardest thing that I have ever done.

Until now.

Most of climbing Mt. Whitney is about mental determination.  I remember a man sitting on a rock mid-way through the switch-backs professing that he couldn’t make it.  He was an Adonis.  He looked by-far stronger than me but he was willing to give up.

When you are caring for a child, you cannot give up.

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Now that the homestead is becoming less of an exploration and more of a routine to Evan, he has begun to test his boundaries.  Since yesterday’s time out, we have had at least six more.  He threw his milk at me.  He kicked the cat.  He has disobeyed.  He has screamed.  He pushed his wagon down the drive way and watched it roll all the way down the hill, after I told him that it wasn’t allowed.  He keeps screeching “no!” and throwing tantrums when he doesn’t get his way.

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Last night, we put him on a time out and he screamed “I hurt my eye! My eye!”  I had to think about the corner I put him in.  Was there anything that could poke out his eye?  I held my breath.  I stood in the kitchen and listened for while.  He went silent for a moment.  And then, “My foot!!!! I broke my foot!.”  I stifled a laugh.  After he yelled for a while, he went silent again.  After he was quiet for a count of twenty, I went and got him, reminding him once more why he had to sit there.  “We don’t rip pages out of books Evan.  Books are very special.”  I didn’t bother to explain that a bible is a sacred text.

I have learned more about patience, love and determination in the past few days than I have learned in all the previous days of my life combined.

Evan has outgrown his sneakers.  They were big on him two days ago.  He eats more in one sitting than Angelica and I eat in an entire day.  Yesterday, he drank two pints of goat’s milk in less than five minutes.  He goes through clothes faster than all of Kardashians.  I have done a full load of laundry twice since he arrived.  Today, we were on our third outfit by lunch time.  He ran to the neighbor’s house this morning and, before I could figure out what was happening, he was running through the sprinklers.

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I have done things in the past few days that I have never dreamed of doing.  I’ve cleaned poop off of my hand.  I stepped in a pile of applesauce on my bedroom carpet.  I have gotten up at 4am just to sit in my kitchen and enjoy the silence.

This morning Evan threw his breakfast at me.  This afternoon he took plants out of the greenhouse and dumped them out of the pots so that he could use the pots to build a tower.

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And yet, every time I think that I’ve reached my breaking point, just when I’m ready to lock him in the closet and throw away the key, he does something that makes my heart melt.  “Auntie, will you cuddle me and sing me lullabies?”

It Takes A Village: Day 6

Sunday, July 2nd 2012: 10:30pm

 

I awoke this morning to that completely creepy feeling of being watched.  I could feel it.  I sat straight up in my bed. In the faint light of daybreak peaking through the curtains I could see the silhouette of a child.  My first thought was, “Where the hell am I?”  And then I remembered.

 

“Hi pumpkin.”  I whispered, trying not to wake up Angelica as I pulled off the covers and got out of bed.

 

6am on a Sunday?  Really?

 

Liz told me that her son is a morning person before dropping him off.  I told her not to worry.  Our cats are also “morning people.”  They like to be let out as soon as the roosters start to crow and will paw at the door in order to alert us.  I thought I was being funny.  Liz should have clarified with the phrase, “like a meth-addict morning.”  When Evan wakes up, it is time to get going.  How do kids do it?

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Angelica and I have made jokes about teaching our three cats to make coffee.  I’m jealous of the possibility that Liz’s child might one day be able to greet her at sunrise, cup in hand.  Truly, all energetic children should come with a cup of coffee.  But Evan is two.  He doesn’t yet come with coffee.  Maybe next summer.

 

The first morning that he was here, I let Evan play for a while in his pajamas.  I’ve learned to change Evan first thing.  Jammies off.  Clothes on.  Go! Evan can’t wait a moment.  Everything is an exploration.

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Today was a big day for me.  I had plans to sell my marmalade at the farmer’s market in town.  I had a lot to do.  I needed to label my jars and pick the greens from the garden for market.

 

Angelica got up and wagoned the kiddo to the park.

 

I took in the quiet of the morning, addressing my chores and slowly sipping nine or ten cups of coffee to prepare me for the day.  I tie labels onto my marmalade.  I pull cut choicest leaves of chard and mizuna in the garden.  I check in with my neighbor about when we should leave.  When I see the radio flyer being pulled up the drive way, I’m ready to go.

 

We take two trips.  My partner takes my neighbor first, the jam and the table and then comes back to get me.

 

“I’m going to take Evan on a walk while you’re at the market.”  She says to me.

 

“Oh, you don’t have to do that!”  I say with too much emphasis.  “I can watch him.  Rudy and I are sharing a table.”  Rudy is the neighbor that I’m joining at the farmer’s market.

 

She insists and I relent.  It probably would be easier if Evan weren’t there the whole time.

 

I immediately feel a twinge of guilt.  For two reasons. 

 

Angelica works away from home full time.  Weekends are precious.  I don’t want her to get tired or feel put out.  She is an incredible partner.  She spoils me beyond belief and, not only that, she makes me feel like I am worth it.  But she shouldn’t have to take Evan.  She loves him to pieces and likes his company but she didn’t exactly sign up for the commitment to taking care of him.

 

The other reason I feel guilty is because I know that Evan’s mother, Liz, my best friend, doesn’t have the luxury of a “second parent.”  She doesn’t get breaks.  There isn’t a father in the picture to take him to the park when the chores need to be done.  There isn’t another person in her life who is obligated to take on the extra responsibility.

 

Evan’s grandmother, Liz’s mom, has helped out through Evan’s life.  Both Evan and Liz and truly lucky to have her.  They both live with “Grammy” and Grammy has watched Evan grow and has loved him since the day he was born.  When I was holding Liz’s right leg in the hospital on Evan’s birth day, Jane, Liz’s mom, was holding her left leg.  She held him the day he was born.  She saw his first smile.  She has seen his first steps.  She has rocked him to sleep.  She had read him books.  She has babysat and parented when Liz has needed a break. 

 

But having your mother help you is very different than having the presence of a second parent, a parent whose commitment to a child runs through blood.  Liz has never been afforded that kind of enjoyment. 

 

When I asked Liz what she was going to do with her free time while I watched Evan, she said “sleep.”  And then she added, “I’m going to go to the movies.  I don’t think I’ve seen a movie in the theatre since before Evan was born.”  The first night that Evan was here, I called her after 6pm to check in.

 

“Where are you?”  I asked.

 

“I’m still at work.”  She replied.

 

“What?  Why?”

 

She said simply, “I haven’t been able to work overtime since I was pregnant.”

 

I couldn’t argue.  But the next day I texted her before quitting time and reminded her: “Call us before you go bar-hopping tonight.”  I’ve never known Liz to bar hop but I was hoping that she would understand my implication.

 

Liz went out this weekend and I was thankful.  She went out with friends.  She went to the movies. She stayed up past midnight.  And she got to sleep past sunrise.  For the first time in almost three years.

 

Angelica took Evan on a medicinal plant-identification adventure while I was working the North San Juan Farmer’s Market.  Angelica and I had gone on such a walk at the “Green Life Eco-Fest.” In Nevada County, California last week we got to attend a wonderful festival and took a plant walk.  It was amazingly fun and incredibly informative.  There, our friend Anna taught us to sing to St. John’s Wort, to express our gratitude for the earth and its gifts.  We passed the lesson along.  Now Evan chortles at every yellow flower he sees.

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Evan and Angelica got to the farmer’s market as it was wrapping up.  Angelica helped Rudy break down the table.  Evan snatched up the zucchini I bought and started eating it like corn on the cob.  He sat in front of a woman named Suzette and watched her play the violin.  He looked at me and said, “She’s pretty.”  He blushed.  I wasn’t sure if he was talking about the girl or the music.  I hid a giggle.

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When I bent over to pick a weed this afternoon, Evan asked me, “Is it special?”  I froze with my hand on its stem.  I looked down at the plant in my grip.  I looked back at Evan.  I took in a breath of air.  As I let the stem go I said comfortably, “Yes, Evan.  All plants are special.”  They’re just like children.  I left the weed there.

It Takes A Village: Day 5

Sunday, July 1st, 2012: 5:23pm

It’s amazing to me how limiting our language is.  I can’t count the number of times that I have been misunderstood.  As a writer, I often struggle to find the right words.  In my recent conversations with a child, I have realized that language is an incomplete and unjust way to convey our emotions, our meaning and our humanity.

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For a two-year-old, language can be incapacitating.  Evan had to have a “time-out” yesterday.  I don’t really know how to give a child a time out.  I once heard that a child’s “minutes in the corner” should be about equal to his or her age.  It sucks being the cool auntie that gives a child a drum set and the totally mean auntie that puts the child in time out—all in the same day.  I set up a stool in the corner by the hall closet and set the timer for 2 minutes and 50 seconds.

Evan had to have a time out because he screamed “no” at me and threw his toy after I told him that “we don’t yell at our loved ones” and “we don’t throw things”.  I don’t remember the request I had made that upset him.  For his “time-out,” he was very offended at having to sit on a stool in the corner.  In order to explain his dismay, he kept screaming, “I’m hungry.  I want noodles.”  Over and over and over and over and over and over.  We had just finished a wonderful home-made dinner of noodles and cheese, followed by some apple sauce, peanut butter crackers and two handfuls of carrots.  The child wasn’t hungry.  What he was trying to say was, “Auntie Hilary, I feel upset about the fact that I’m sitting in the corner.  I wish that you would just overlook my tantrums and let me have my way.”  But, like how a baby’s needs are voiced only in crying, Evan’s needs resulted in “hunger.”

I responded to the request for noodles in my most calm and angelic voice.  “Evan, we can address your perception of hunger later.  Right now, you need to sit and accept that throwing our toys and screaming at our Auntie is not allowed.”  He cocked his head at me, confused at my calm response to his volume.  And then proceeded with his diatribe.  “I’m hungry!  I want noodles!”

Truthfully, even I was incapacitated by language amongst Evan’s tantrum. What I was really trying to say was, “Evan, Auntie Hilary quit smoking two months ago and you are jeopardizing her accomplishment.”

We agreed to disagree.  He stayed in the corner for two minutes and fifty seconds.  I managed not to have a cigarette.

After the “time-out” was over, and the child was allowed to get up from the stool, it was like nothing had happened.  He picked up a cat toy and said, “This is a saxophone.”  He put it to his mouth and began to hum and sing.

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Children attach words to perception long before they attach meaning to words.

Shortly after Evan met the five-year-old from across the street he looked up at me and said, “I want to go home.”  It startled me.  Did something happen?  Was there a problem?  Did the other child say something mean to Evan?

I got down on my knee to meet his eyes.  “Why do you want to go home Evan?”  I asked sweetly, hoping to calm him (and me).

“I want my bike.”  Evan responded matter-of-factly and then ran off to grab the watering can.

Right.  The kid rode up on his bike and Evan wants to go home because his bike is at home.  Not because he is miserable or upset.  This was my first lesson in childhood linguistics.

I read the book “Don’t Think of an Elephant” by George Lakoff about three years ago.  It was an entertaining enlightenment about the nature of language, what language symbolizes and how it is used to manipulate us.  Language can be beautiful.  It can also be a tool used to get what you want.

One of the smartest things that Liz did as a mother was to call water “juice” from the day that Evan was born.  She knew that she was about to face a world of sugary drinks, hyper-activity and rambunctiousness.   Evan says “I want more juice.”  I fill his cup us with water and he is totally happy.

Evan says “I’m washing my hands.”  What he means is, “I’m playing in the water.”

Evan says, “I want to brush my teeth.”  What he means is, “I want to eat the toothpaste.”

Evan says, “I want to change my pants.”  What he means is, “I pooped.”

I decided to use his interpretation of language to get some of the things that I needed from him.

I say, “I’m gonna put on magic spray.”  I spray on sunscreen, laughing and dancing around.  Evan tells me that he wants magic spray too.

I say, “I’m gonna make dirt.”  I put dirt into pots and Evan wants to help.

I say, “I’m making rain.”  And, while I’m actually watering the plants, I know that Evan will want to play with the water and asks to make rain with me.

I realize just how manipulative language is when I tell him.  “Big boys poop in the potty; they do not poop in their pants.”  I was frustrated with another poopy diaper.  After I utter the words I realize that, basically, I’ve just used language to demoralize his devolpment, attempting to pusuade him to do something by using words to make him feel less-than.  I feel like an asshole.

Our words can change a person forever.  Most of the time, we won’t even know when that moment happens.  Sometimes, it’s for the better.  Sometimes, our words leave scars below the surface.

When I was 16 I used the word “diet” in front of a friend’s 11-year-old sister at the dinner table. Their mother took me outside.  Afraid that her daughter could develope an eating disorder one day, her mother was careful about the words used in front of her.  The mother explained to me that women of all sizes are beautiful and that we don’t use the word “diet” in the house.  I understood.

Words have gravity.

For Evan, words are coming into meaning.  I have known his mother for almost twenty years.  I can hear her phrasing in the way that he forms sentences.  I can hear her voice in his laughter.  And I can hear all the words that I say to him because he repeats them back to me.

“That’s Lucky.  He’s orange.”  Evan says when he sees our orange cat.  “Plants are alive.  We have to be careful.”  Evan says when he steps into the garden.  “Good job.”  He says to himself when he stays on the path.  “Hi punkin.”  He says when I smile at him.

“Hi pumpkin.”  I say and smile back.

Angelica and I considered trying to teach him Shakespeare.  Instead, we have taught him the phrase, “I totally rock!”  He says it every time he sits down at his drum set.

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It Takes A Village: Day 4

Saturday, June 30, 2012: 3:16pm

Evan has been in and out of sleep for today’s nap.  He should be tired but his reluctance may have something to do with the fact that he drank half of my iced mocha at the farmer’s market this morning. I guess that setting down an iced, milky beverage next to a kid isn’t the best idea.  I didn’t even hear him pick up the cup while I searched the crowd for my partner and our friend Julie.  When I looked down at him, he had the straw in his mouth, delight in his eyes and half my mocha in his tummy.

I awoke at 6am, after staying up past midnight reading a book.  I thought of trying to go back to sleep but the quiet hum of the morning was too tempting to resist.  I got up, did the dishes, picked up toys and made coffee.  I knew that today was going to be a big day and that the silence in the air was soon going to break—for more reasons than one.

Evan awoke and crawled out of bed.  Ever since I greeted him with “hi pumpkin” the first morning that he was here, he has been repeating it back to me in his adorable child accent.  “Hi punkin!”

Our friend Julie was already on her way up from the valley.  We had called her with a special request when we knew that Evan was coming to stay.

I helped Evan get dressed and we went outside to water.  He repeats my guidance as we walk up the hill together.  “Plants are alive.  Stay on the path.”  Except it sounds like, “Pants are a lie.  Stay in the bath.”  He has learned how to switch the settings on the hose nozzle so I’ve been trying to help him differentiate between the settings that are gentle and the settings that are too hard and can hurt the plants.  He likes the jet setting because it squirts the farthest but it is too hard for the peppers and tomatoes.  He switches the settings over and over, squirting for a moment and making a determination.  “Gentle.  Gentle.  Gentle.”  And then surprised, “Too hard.”

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The air was cool and I wanted to release the lady bugs before it got too warm.  Also, because I wanted to sprinkle them on Evan, I wanted to take advantage of his good mood.  We opened the bag of cute orange beetles in the garden and took out the straw from the bag.  I shook the bag of lady bugs on Evan and his eyes grew wide.  There’s a split second on the face of every child just before they are either going to burst out laughing or throw a fit and, for whatever reason, the preceding expression between the two directions is exactly the same. I burst out laughing and so did he.  We did a lady bug dance and made several wishes, sprinkling the lady bugs into the garden and watching them fly away. I thought we could be in trouble when a lady bug flew into his mouth and he froze.  Evan spit it out and reconvened the ceremony with giggles and wiggles.

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The event was a perfect distraction from what was occurring inside.  Julie had arrived and was helping my partner Angelica because there was “some assembly required.”  Evan and I sat out front in the wagon, listening to the rustling in the living room and watching the kittens play across the street.

Then an unmistakable sound erupted.  First the bass, then the snare, then the symbol and finally a dope-ass beat.

Yeah.  I’m the asshole who got her best friend’s two-year old a drum set.  He’ll be three in July.  It’s an early birthday present.  Yes, I know that if you love someone, you don’t get their kid a drum set, that it’s something that the drunken, clueless uncle does, but Evan has rhythm.  Not just two-year-old rhythm.  He can actually hold a beat.  And to him, everything is a drum anyhow.  Why not have an actual instrument?

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When we knew Evan was coming over, we ordered the drum set and called Julie to ask if she’d be willing to give Evan a lesson. She agreed without hesitation.  I checked in about three times to make sure that she was prepared for the pandemonium she had signed up for and to let her know that she could back out without any hard feelings.  She arrived to our house just after 8am this morning.  I’m just going to assume that means she was excited.

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Evan had his first drum lesson today.  It lasted about 10 minutes.  Julie showed him how to make the bass sound by pushing the petal with his foot.  He uses his left foot.  And she showed him how to hold the sticks to make the proper contact.  She held his hands and helped him with a beat.  Once he was given license to beat the drums, he took off.  He sat there making music for almost an hour.

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Of course, as a good mentor and responsible adult, I know that life can’t be all rock and roll.  Sometimes it has to be about toys and ice cream too.  We took Evan into town to experience the “vegetable festival”, known to most as a farmer’s market.  At the market, he ate four apricots, a carrot, three basil leaves, a fig bar and two slices of dairy-free, gluten-free key lime pie.  And, as I had mentioned before, he drank half an iced mocha.  And then we went to pizza.  After pizza we went into a wacky toy store and tried on funny glasses.

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On the way home we stopped off at South Yuba River State Park to hike the Independence Trail.  Angelica led.  Julie and I kept watch at the back.  It’s thrilling to see a child take in the pure beauty of nature.  Each flower had an ooooo and each leaf had an awwww. He looked up.  He looked down.  He shrieked a happy call at a butterfly.  He showed a couple of passing hikers the “bridge” and they followed him obligingly.  He ate a piece of bark and called it “berries” while rubbing his tummy and sighing “mmmmmm”.

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The South Yuba River State Park was on the chopping block this year.  Due to budget cuts, a lot of California State Parks have had to close. After several thousand signatures and several busses of kids were presented to the Governor, South Yuba River State Park stayed open.  Our community was lucky.  I can’t imagine the impact of what losing such a beautiful place could do to the next generation.  And I can’t imagine what has happened in the communities where the parks have had to close.

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The four of us finished the trail tired and in good spirits.  Evan needed a pull-up change and was thankful to be wearing just that, which is how he rode home.  When we got there, both Evan and Julie went down for a nap.