My Boy, A Man.

In less than 24hrs I will put my firstborn son on a shuttle that will carry him to a flight, which will then carry him to Anchorage, from where he will drive to a remote town on an Alaskan peninsula. He will live, work, and soul search there for one month. This will be the longest he and I have been apart from one another in 17 years. While I am notably anxious to send him off, especially as I watch the hours pass and the send-off become more and more imminent, I am finding myself excited and hopeful for his journey. There are many reasons for this, but for brevity's sake I will focus on the top few here. I don't want to bore you by gushing about how awesome my kid is as he grows into a man, but it needs to be said.

First, the boy loves to travel. He has been taking solo flights around the country for a decade already, and has found himself in several other states on various adventures over the years. This trip will be his most independent of them yet. I expect that, in addition to learning copious things about himself, he will come back bearing plenty of lessons about work ethic, dependency, technological reliance, nature, and his place in the world.

Second, the last year has been ripe with transformation for Koa. He left school a few months ago, and since then has secured a fun and interesting volunteer position at the local Alternative Library, earned his GED, and finished Driver's Education. He has begun to explore and imagine a variety of career options and pathways for his future, and to discern and articulate what it is he wants most from life. This trip couldn't come at a better time insofar as helping him distill his dreams.

Third, he is staring down opportunities and has support I didn't myself feel as a teen. This notion is not insignificant, if only because I believe every parent's wish is to see their children have greater opportunities than they themselves had. After I left school and home at 15 I was on my own. For Koa to have our support and help in planning this adventure. for him to know that his bed will still be here, his seat at the table will be here, his family will be here, and his life will be here when he returns, he is receiving more than logistical backing... He is also getting affirmation that whatever he wants for himself in this world, his parents and loved ones will be here to support his work in achieving it.

And finally, he totally deserves it. Koa is a great gift to our family. He is compassionate, funny, smart, playful, thoughtful, loyal and talented. My son, the boy, has always been all of these things. My son, the man, deserves to find himself amidst all of the greatness that he has shared of himself with others. He deserves to feel the self-compassion in processing the difficulties he has surmounted this year, to internalize all of the growth, to challenge himself and see what he is really capable of independent of our immediate assistance, and to feel the freedom that an adventure like this is sure to provide. The constraints of the stress of teenage life are as real as they are in any other phase of life, and everyone deserves a break once in a while.
Dear Koa, I will miss you more than I want you to know. And yet, I am so excited to put you on that bus tomorrow morning. My son, young man, you have made me so proud to know you and grateful for the chance to be your mother. Travel safely, work attentively, and return wholly. We can't wait to hear all of your adventures along the way and upon your return, and to see the sick mustache you grow while you are away. We will be here waiting!

(love Mom)

Gone Campin'

I remember camping during the summers with my parents in the high deserts of the Southwest as a child. I remember hiking the Grand Canyon, sleeping in the back of my dad's pickup truck, stargazing at the expansive displays overhead, and waking to do things like explore ruins of ancient civilizations or picnic at nearby rivers. I remember the awe those contexts provided me.

As a teen I experienced camping in a variety of scenarios, from living in tents in the woods and sleeping in cars to spending time with the Rainbow Family at a gathering outside of Fort Collins, CO.

And finally, as a young adult, I met the man I would marry and he just happens to be one helluva camper. I've been told he was even an Eagle Scout, and though I tease him about it, I totally love that about him (not to mention I was a Girl Scout).
I fell in love with him camping in the month of March on the Oregon Coast. I married him next to a shining lake while our friends took over the campground nearby; our son Birch was born from fire embers next to that same lake years later. We have taken our tent to the Redwoods, packed full of boys and babies and beautiful memories. I have slept next to rivers, oceans, lakes, waterfalls, inside rainforests, at music festivals, on logging roads, and in backyards in that tent. I have come to love that tent because it is a physical manifestation of the life I am living with a person I love dearly. We are raising our children to understand the importance of sleeping outside now and again, and to feel the ways in which the earth on their feet propels them toward deeper understandings of themselves.

So now, in my thirties, I can comfortably take four children camping on a solo trip over the Pass. I can set up and take down my own tent, hang a hammock, cook delectable dutch oven food, comfortably go days without a proper shower, hike packing a 35lb child/pack combo, chop wood and build a raging fire, build a cooler in a river, dig my own holes, pack light, hang a straight shot on ladder ball, stop my own bleeding... you know, camp stuff. Here's to my first camping trip of the season, one which I happened to tackle alone because Brian had some serious work to crank out. Four boys, three days, two nights, one Mama... We joined a circle of friends (thank heavens, because seriously, that whole "it takes a village" thing is real as daylight), set up for the long haul, and never even had to be cold or break out the super-glue.
 I think everyone, but especially women and their children, should go camping. Get out there. Get dirty. Explore. Feel the dirt, the water, the leaves of the trees. Watch for new birds, fish, squirrels. Find bugs, talk to other campers, make a meal in tinfoil. Curl up in comfy feathered sleeping bags, tell stories in the woods, stare at the stars, take a deep breath. Remember that you are made of stardust, too. And then, when it's time to come back home, shine with the rejuvenation communing with nature provides.
If you are in the Pacific NorthWest and looking for a choice spot, allow me to share a few of my favorites:

Silver Lake: This is where we were hitched. It is approximately 1hr outside of Bellingham, WA, down the infamous Highway 542. Paddleboat and canoe rentals, fishing, swimming, and abundant grass fields are some key features.

Rasar State Park: Just outside of Conrete, WA, this park boasts rivers, kid-friendly hikes, warm sandbars you can walk onto, two large and fulfilling playground areas... Need I say more?

Deception Pass: Gorgeous, lots of hiking, best sunsets around. Easily accessed, though surrounded by water.

Fort Ebey: Saltwater shoreline for miles, old battery forts to explore, and the best place imaginable to fly a kite.

Are you a camper? Where do you go to commune with nature? Bonus points if the spots are in the PNW, because proximity, obviously.

Crying over spilt milk.

In my circle of friends and among my family members I am recognized as an "attachment parent" or an "unconditional parent," otherwise understood as one who takes careful measure to secure the bond between myself and my children through practices like breastfeeding until my children are ready to self-wean, wearing my babies close to my body in carriers, co-sleeping, and practicing gentle parenting practices. When I reflect on these practices I feel a sense of pride, because these are the acts that bring on oxytocin rushes and that create conditions where my children feel safe to grow and explore with a feeling of confidence and an air of support from me as their guide.
First Mother's Day in WA, '04.
I  became a mother half my lifetime ago, giving birth to Koa when I was just barely 17. I started my parenting journey like many first-time parents do: somewhat ill-prepared, parenting in the framework of my own childhood, and fumbling through the early days inept simply hoping to see my child reach his first birthday relatively unscathed. My parents ran with a punitive parenting framework, which in many ways made it difficult for us to connect. Reflectively, and after a lot of therapy, it's pretty easy to see why. When children are simply acting, as a friend of mine so elegantly puts it, like "developmentally appropriate assholes" it is our job to support them, hold them accountable, and to guide them through those phases toward stronger, more confident, authentic versions of themselves. This is hard to achieve under a punitive model that forces apologies instead of seeking understanding of motive, that grounds and revokes privilege, and that is founded on a deep-seeded distrust risen from unresolved mistakes in the past. I hardly place blame on my parents, who were young when they acquired me following my biological mother's death and suddenly found themselves the stewards of a fragile and conditioned 6-year-old, but I do wish it could have been different a little earlier in my life. So, like any other parent, I am simply trying to right the wrongs I felt growing up by approaching child-rearing in a way that feels right for my own children.
In my house, years ago, a pound of milk on the floor like this would have sent me over the edge. My boys would have likely spent some time in their rooms, crying and trying to understand why they were locked away from me when they simply acted on the age-appropriate impulse to dump it out after I left it in reach. Years ago, I would have denied my own culpability in the situation and instead take out my ill-placed rage on the most vulnerable and reliant people in my life--my boys. This is embarrassing and heart-wrenching to admit publicly, and is among my biggest personal regrets in life. I have a salient memory of expressing my frustration to a 6yo Koa, saying, "When you act like this you make it hard for me to love you." Simply typing these words out has me welling with tears for his little heart; the impact of something like that is so painful and deep... Not to mention a bunch of bullshit. I don't know if he remembers it, but I have never forgotten and have never ceased to regret saying such hateful, frustrated words of anger to my precious child. I admit this here because I think it illuminates the distance I have come, thankfully, for my children, and hope that it shows others that it is always possible to work toward different, more positive relationships in life.
Sushi Date with Koa (16)

My parenting philosophy now rests on drastically different premises. Over the last several years, since Birch (3.5) came into our lives, I have spent a great deal of time and effort reflecting on the way I want to raise my boys. I have subsequently made moves to repair my psyche so that my own baggage doesn't weigh them down, taking special care to deconstruct my earlier experience as a young mother and to reframe this period in my motherhood as something more positive and healthy. Koa and Cedar have been incredibly resilient, and have worked with me to repair the damage in our bonds from my reactive parenting in their formative years. It is the greatest gift they could ever give me, that forgiveness and openness to a new type of relationship.

So much has changed since they were little. When Aspen toddled over and gleefully poured his brother's cup of milk everyfuckingwhere yesterday while I was engaged with Birch in the back room, I was able to simply scoop him up, smile as he rubbed his milk-covered hands and feet all over my body, and simply say, "Oh man, that looks like fun. Let's get you in the bath so you can splash in clean water instead of milk!"

No tears. No struggle. No regret, no guilt, no shame in myself. And for Aspen nothing but a mother supportive of his creative (albeit sometimes overwhelming) exploration efforts, unfaltering in her display of love for him. No son, we will not be crying over spilt milk in this house... and we will all be better for it.

I am a phoenix.

Trigger Warning: This post speaks further on domestic violence and it's effects. Readers sensitive to the subject should be cautioned.

Yesterday marked an important anniversary date for me. On May 3, 28 years ago at 6:15 in the morning, as the sun was rising over the Texas sky and the heat was setting in for the day and the world was abuzz with news of a terrorist bombing on an Air Lanka flight and the wedding of Annette Funicello, in a small hospital room in San Antonio a young woman took her last breath. Her heart stopped pumping, her lungs finally collapsed on themselves, her body convulsed only slightly, and then it just... let go.
Like a condemned building tumbling into mere dust or a person walking away forever.
This woman was my mother, and my latest grassroots work is her legacy. That is what she left for me: a few tattered memories, more questions than answers, and a whole lot of work to heal from the losses and traumas throughout the years following her death. This year's efforts have been especially useful in that way, igniting the spirit of generosity among my neighbors, providing needed items to an organization that is working to help people like my mother and me, and allowing me to share my experiences in a way that gives a nearly justifiable purpose to the suffering my mother went through in her final three weeks on this Earth.

Some strange and unlikely occurrences have unfolded over the last three weeks of this drive. For example, my mom was apparently called the Yellow Rose of Texas by friends and when she died funeral attendees showered the scene with yellow roses. The day after I announced From the Heart to the Hands, a photo of a tattoo a friend of mine had just finished on a client showed up in my Facebook newsfeed. It was a yellow rose draped in a purple ribbon, the color used to signify domestic violence. Another is the random text a girlfriend received the other night from a stranger. She shared the details of it with me, and it was a horrifying statement of abuse and control wherein the sender recounted the many ways he had hurt other women, including shooting one out of jealousy. There was also an incident recently where a local man intentionally hit his girlfriend with his car, and another just yesterday where a man bound and stabbed a woman and then shot himself in the head following the police chase that ensued. Lastly, and perhaps this is the most poignant of all of them, we received a box of strawberries on our doorstep yesterday as part of our Fruit of the Month club membership (remember? The grapefruit bomb-diggity DIY cleaner?). This is not remarkable on its own; however, my mother was attacked for the last time by her lover on the eve of their date to the Poteet Strawberry Festival. As I unwrapped the insulated packaging and held one of the chilly, perfect berries in my hand I moved momentarily to the memory of the coldness of my mother's hands on the day of her burial. Suddenly my mind was overflowing with memories from that day, countless and small, like the seeds on a strawberry. It's been a long time since I said goodbye to her; like, a really, really long time. I've never held such cold hands since. The warmth of childhood bliss froze for me that day.

There have been days where my whole universe was on fire because of my mom's death. Days where everything familiar and comforting fell down around me, engulfed in flames and melting away to ashes, burning me with the embers and making it hard for me to breathe because of the nerves and desperate palpation of my heavy heart. I have felt the intensity of the heat, the lack of control in situations along the way, the damage caused in the immediate of those moments and in the aftermath, and at times I could see nothing but a scorched and partial framework left where there once resided the fullness and hope only found in small and wondrous children. Domestic violence will do that to those who live it. But today, I am a phoenix.

This donation drive helped to lift me out of those ashes, a break from life as a fiery creature engaged in a cycle of burning and being born anew from the remnants of the painful struggle. Today this bird flies on wings made of crayons, journals and tampons, on grocery gift cards and play-doh and cookie cutters and baby carriers. These simple items and so many others which have been given to me for this drive have made a tremendous impact on me, and on my community. I am uplifted by these gifts of hope and healing for the people who need them, and am elevated by the privilege of acting as a community hub for their dispersal. This time around my rebirth is one of reflective and meaningful purpose, and that feels pretty enlivening.

Thank you, Tiny Town, for doing what you do best: sharing the love. You are one bunch of generous citizens and I cannot wait to share all of your donations with DVSAS. Thank you, thank you, thank you. On Wednesday they will receive the following and so much more:

  • hundreds of dollars in gift/phone cards and cash
  • approximately 500 diapers
  • a fresh paint job for the DVSAS offices
  • 6 baby carriers
  • 2 jumperoos
  • quality fresh coffee for a year for the office
  • a highchair
  • lamps
  • a mirror
  • trunk full of costume items
  • craft, home & office supplies 
  • and, lastly, my favorite: gift certificates for families to get new portraits devoid of old memories

I asked. You came out in droves, arms full, again. You shared your stories of trauma and survival with me. Your participation in these grassroots efforts is helping me create a movement of individuals inspired to perform random acts of inspiration, giving, and kindness, and the impact is tangible in my community and beyond. I've said it before, but don't you ever stop. Ever!

The staff at DVSAS wrote my name on the sign, but only because all of yours wouldn't fit!
{Rest in peace Mom. I'm not sure what comes after this life, but I hope your spirit can feel my love for you in whatever form your energy has taken.}

Inside-out Swimming Pool!

It's been hot here in Tiny Town this week. Now I'm not one to complain, since we will barely blink and the drab gray rain that cloaks the majority of our days will return, but I can hardly stand it. When the curls on Aspen's head are kinky and wet with sweat, the food sits untouched on the table and the notion of being anywhere indoors seems laughable, it's time to get outside and do some waterplay... but what?

Today's project? An inside-out swimming pool!

6mm painter's plastic drop cloth (I bought a 10'x25' roll, but you can choose your own size)
parchment paper
non-steaming iron (or one with a no-steam setting)
duct or gorilla tape
foam shapes to add in (obviously optional)

Similar projects have been done before by a large crowd of people ala Pinterest, but I hadn't seen it before today. I gave it a try and ended up wowing my boys and cooling us all down--win! My experience was not flawless, but for the $20 I spent and the amount of time it busied up the boys it's still worth sharing for the hot days ahead.

Punk rock domestics FTW!
I started by unrolling the plastic and cutting a large piece off. After matching the edges of the plastic sheet I set my iron to its highest setting, set up a towel folded multiple times to serve as an ironing board on the floor, and tore to large sheets of parchment paper.

Folding the parchment paper evenly around the edges of the plastic as I went, I ironed along the edges. Since the paper sheets were only 2' long, I was able to work in manageable sections and alternate to let each sheet of paper cool in between. I made quick work of the edges, about 20 minutes of work in all.

Before sealing the third and final edge (since one of them is made by the fold in the plastic) I put a set of foam alphabet letters inside the bag. Then, after sealing the third edge, I took the bag outside to fill it.

I cut a slit in the top to accommodate the hose, and then let it fill until it resembled the waviness of a water bed (remember those?). After it was full I just stuck some gorilla tape over the hole in the plastic and let the kids go to town. This larger than life reverse swimming pool was a total hit, and I expect it to be the first thing they ask for in the morning! As much as the little guys liked it, Cedar also gives its supreme cooling powers a 10/10 rating.

Cedar cooling down after school.
For added fun you can drizzle a little dish soap and water on the surface, put some food coloring in the water to create an ocean or a purple cloud or whatever you can dream up, or add other soft buoyant objects or foam shapes to the inside. The alphabet worked as a great mini-lesson; Birch looked for certain colors and letters, and even spelled out a few words. If you end up making your own inside-out swimming pools I'd love to see what you come up with!

What's the weather like where you are? 
How do you beat the heat? 
Tell me all your hot-weather secrets!