You can find me in the garden

2009 was the year that I broke down.

Back to back pregnancies and losses had defeated me.  Fatigue from caring for a new infant had weakened me further. But I suspect that it was something specific that finally did me in. Initiation into the sometimes tragic nature of life is a one-way street. The terrible endings no longer belong to “other people”. And now you know, KNOW, that the 1 person in X,000 could actually be you.

Because it has.

My demon was anxiety, the overachieving cousin of the fear and worry that are such an integral part of parenthood. So ill-prepared was I to confront the adversity of mental illness that I failed to even recognize it until I had finally begun to emerge from it’s grip. But I haven’t forgotten the way that fears, both everyday and oversize, seize control of your body, forcing it into a sustained, exhausting, fight for survival against an enemy that never shows. Or the absurd way that your mind fails to regain control, even during those times when it can see the risk for what it truly is. I very nearly became a shut-in, in my illogical attempt to insulate myself and baby g from the dangers surrounding us.

But something changed one rainy day while g was taking one of his rare, long naps.  I remember staring out the window of our new apartment and noticing a small tangle of bermuda grass at the edge of our driveway.  It occurred to me then that I could dig it out. I thought about planting some herbs to the south and lettuce to the north.

That moment was a revelation.  At the time, my modest gardening aspirations were overshadowed by the victory represented in my intention to actually DO SOMETHING.  And several months later, after I did sprinkle those lettuce seeds onto a newly prepared patch of soil, I couldn’t bring myself to actually harvest them because I saw something in that dense mat of green and red that I had nearly lost sight of: hope.

As g began to assemble steps and sentences, I accumulated strawberries and salvia.  Eventually I got a plot in the community garden just around the corner. And I began to heal. Gardening has a way of restoring a healthy relationship to power.  It is, almost by necessity, a labor of mutual respect. You work to impose your will upon a space, provide me with peppers, and succeed only by allowing the space to impose it’s will on you, it isn’t warm enough here but I can give you kale.

Gardening can also teach you to appreciate dangers that are real.  There is no tiger at the gate after all, but global warming and drought are here.  Even better, gardening gives you something concrete to DO about them.  Though the actions may be small, you can decrease your waste stream and add carbon back to your soil.  You can provide food for pollinators and habitat for salamanders. Anxiety about the health consequences of high-fructose, partially hydrogenated glyphosate* disappears when eating from an organically-grown garden.

A little less than 2 years ago, as g was bravely conquering pre-school and Mr D was tugging at my pant legs, I convinced my then neighbors to park on the street and began to fill our parking spaces with pots and seedlings. Over time, what started as a patch of mixed lettuces has become a garden to me and our little apartment has become a lego and laughter-filled home.

I find myself returning over and over to a vision of these past 6 years as a time of rebuilding. Although neither my life nor any of my little gardens is anything exceptional, I am wholly convinced that we are all headed in the right direction.

patiobeforedriveway2015    *Glyphosate is the herbicide Round-up that is sprayed heavily on GMO corn and soybeans that make up a large share of the calories we in the US obtain from processed food.

It’s just laundry

I did the laundry today.  There is always laundry in some stage of it’s life cycle.  But today as I dropped the dinosaur underwear and moldy dish rags into the soapy water, my spirits followed.

It has everything to do with the new protocol.  My landlord recently blocked off the door that gave me direct access to our tiny laundry room, forcing me to lug our threads out the front door, down a few flights of stairs, into the garage with it’s master lock and hefty door and through an overflowing storage room, leaving a trail of smelly toddler socks along the way.

He apologized for the inconvenience, politely explaining that he had concluded that this was the best way to improve his living space, formerly an equal half of the 1950’s duplex that we share.  He is taking over a portion of our still unfinished first floor and wanted the stairs to himself.

I took the news in stride.  It’s just laundry, I told him.  And it is.  Prior to this apartment, I had yet to ever have onsite laundry during my decade+ living in California.  No more hoarding quarters or planning entire days around this chore.

But as I cruised the new route a seemingly endless number of times, I was forced to acknowledge something more.  I had no say in this change.  And I have no idea what changes may be coming or when.  Typically, my renter’s lament is centered around not being able to make modifications that appeal to me. I rarely stop to acknowledge just how far my lack of control stretches.  I would have no recourse if he decided that the rag tag collection of pots and planter boxes scattered across the driveway, a humble space that I affectionately refer to as my “garden”, has to go.  And we would be in real trouble if he were to decide to sell.

The truth is that while we get along perfectly fine with my landlord, he would like nothing more than to see us leave.  Since we moved in, rents in our area have nearly doubled and continue to climb.  A dizzying influx of cash is conspiring to paint fences and faces a brighter shade of white. And I feel like a passenger with no say in where we are going or how quickly we get there.  Gentrification is a reckless driver and the most meaningful decision we have is whether or not to get out of the car.

For now, we are lucky to have rent control legislation on our side.  For now, we still love our neighborhood, with a special fondness for the old hippies and odd characters that hang on for dear life. For now, we are lucky to have access to all the amazing benefits that prosperity brings, from wonderful trash to delightful little stores where you can buy a cargo bike or a kombucha scoby.

For now, it’s just laundry.

Minimalism – slowmamma style. Part 2

After writing this, I began to read more about minimalism.  And I’ve discovered that it is BIG. There are books and talks and capital B Blogs and lowercase b blogs on the subject. Lives have been changed and homes have been tidied.  It’s apparent that many people are fed up with consumerism and its discontents and looking to change and all of this is very very good.

It also occurred to me that I’m not a very good minimalist after all.  I have no idea how many things I own, my closet is a mess and, while I do value the goal of owning less, there are many things that I value more.  In short, I’ve discovered that I don’t want minimalism itself to occupy space in my life. I don’t want to count objects or develop a capsule wardrobe.  All I want to do is focus my energy on those things that bring meaning to my life, at the expense of everything else. And while stuff doesn’t bring meaning to me on it’s own, a lack of stuff doesn’t do much for me either.

The message, focus on what’s really important, is so simple and universal that it may be a little silly to be writing it down at all.  But the question that follows is so important and potentially complex that it merits a thousand blog posts.  So just what then is it that brings meaning to your life and how do you find it?  While the obvious answer is that everyone has to figure this out for his/herself, I’ve learned enough about what is important to me to want to share.

Being something of a minimalist on the word front, there is no way that I can tackle this in a single post but I do want to say that pretty much everything that I value most falls into one (or, preferably several) of three categories:

Creativity

Connection

Nurture

It also stands that nearly all of the traps that I fall into occur while searching for something that can be found in one of those categories. I find that by beginning to see how and where I satisfy my needs in relation to these things, I am better able filter the rest. My intention is to write about each one and how it relates to my life.  But, to anyone in an introspective mood, I suggest picking one of those categories and asking yourself: how do I best satisfy my need for this? 

6

When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six
now and forever.

A.A. Milne

My dearest g,

After 6 years together, I finally feel like I’m getting to know you.  I say this mostly to celebrate the fact that I’ve been paying attention.  Like an anthropologist, I find myself carefully observing, trying in earnest (and so often in vain) to paddle upstream of my assumptions about who you should be.

5 was a splendid and terrifying adventure. But 6 is uncharted territory.  It turns out, you’ve taught me, that people do change.  All the time, in fact, but never in ways that can be easily predicted or influenced. Just look at your mother.

We returned briefly this past year to that unspeakable place where I can no longer pretend that I have any say in how long you will be mine.  But , like Tigger, or your beloved Caracal cat, you bounced, showing me once again that you’re so much stronger than my fears.

This little journey is my greatest adventure.  And so to 6 I say this: bring it on!

gio

Homemaker

It was just a line on a fairly unimportant formal document but seeing it in print made me wince.  Occupation: homemaker.  I remembered the conversation – address? phone number? employment?  I had answered honestly. I’m not working right now.  Somehow in my head that couldn’t possibly translate into the archaic term printed before me.  Surely I had little in common with a relic from a time before the feminist revolution, a role that, like the word itself, belonged to my grandmother’s generation.  I think the term is stay-at-home-mom, I remember thinking.

g was not yet a year old at the time and I was awkward in my new identity.  I can laugh now at the memory of preferring to tell people that I was “unemployed”, rather than tackle the subject of how I had utterly failed to combine career and motherhood.  Surrounded by high-achieving parents on the playground, I was withdrawn and uneasy.

But mostly, I was busy.  Despite having only one child, I was working constantly to learn the new skills that I needed for the job.  I was, quite possibly, in over my head.  I learned. A lot. And over time I began to forget about old expectations and stop caring what people might think of my choices.  I took ownership of the decision to stay home and I began to see it as the right thing for us. I let go.

Even more, I began to see the value in my new life.  Beyond the dedication to my tiny son and his giant needs, I began to see how I could relieve pressure on my spouse who needed to work, sometimes long hours, to make rent and secure health insurance. I began to notice the importance of the food choices that I controlled and their impact not just on the health of my family but on our entire political and economic system. I began to recognize how more time at home translated into gradual improvements to our environment, mostly in ways that involved time and thought rather than money.  And I began to appreciate how getting to know our neighbors could have a genuine impact on both our lives and theirs. I discovered that self-reliance and community begin at home.

But I haven’t forgotten my beloved grandmother.  I will always remember her telling of how badly she wanted to work outside the home.  When a job opportunity came up, she brought the idea before my grandfather who agreed, hesitatingly, but warned that she could keep the job only as long as it didn’t interfere with her duties at home.  She kept the job and recounted that story with pride.  Across the distance of generations, I listened in absolute horror.

Power dynamics and gender politics still play an unfortunately large part in the discussion of domestic work. But, I honestly believe, they don’t have to.  There are so many benefits to taking back some portion of caring for our own needs.   Over reliance on convenience leads to a form of corporate paternalism that has enormous social and environmental costs. There is much to be gained at home.

It is ironic that I am compelled to write this now, just as I begin to take my first encouraging steps back into the world of paid work.  I can’t deny that the need for greater participation and a more tangible contribution to our household economy are important driving forces for me.  But I sincerely hope that I can avoid ever returning to 40+ hr work weeks.  Because these years have taught me something that I can never unlearn.  Despite the inherent injustice in my grandfather’s approach to household division of labor, it turns out that we fundamentally agree on one thing about the work that goes on inside the home: it’s truly important.

All things seem possible in May

He’s three.

Copy of IMG_2508

Well and truly three.

At times the overwhelming force of his determination stills me, his unshakable resolve inspiring the most perplexing combination of frustration and awe. But mostly I think that it is exactly as it should be. This power of will has overshadowed my own from the time he was conceived.  It was he who decided he belonged here. It was he who would be born exactly when he was ready, even if that was before any piece of our “plan” for his birth was in place (I, probably more than most, know just how silly the joining of the word “plan” with “birth” truly is).

And thank god.

None of us would care to imagine our home without the deep belly laughs, sweet kisses or gripping hugs, the animated storytelling or continuous soundtrack of cheesy Italian 70’s hits. So disproportionate is his contribution to our lives that it sometimes makes me sad for the woman who dared not even imagine that he might exist.

Happy happy birthday to the best decision I never made.

 

 

Why slowmamma?

I stumbled into the world of blogging through the most unsuspecting of channels: the newspaper.   The introduction came by way of an article in the local paper announcing the arrival of the annual BlogHer conference. It was 2008 and, while I was generally aware of the existence of blogs, I was astounded to discover the delightful reality of a vibrant community of women bloggers.

Just weeks before, my world had been shattered by the loss of my first pregnancy at 19 weeks and I quickly found my way to a community of women who were sharing painful stories of infertility and loss.  At the time, I didn’t have the energy to even comment, let alone write, but those blogs provided much-needed sustenance.  I went on to become pregnant again, endure another loss, and then to blunder my transition into motherhood without so much as a hint of grace or ease.

Those years were nothing short of catastrophic. Thanks in part to crippling postpartum anxiety, I was  incapable of juggling work and motherhood and abruptly ended my career trajectory. And because so much of my community had revolved around my work life, I found myself painfully isolated during much of my first year of motherhood. When I finally found the strength to dig myself out of the rubble, I discovered a desire to blog.  To actively join the conversation. For me, it was about regaining control of my own story and believing quite literally in the power to write it.  I already knew the narrative: I had been gifted the opportunity to construct a different version of my life, this time according to a value system built around the things that I now knew to be most important to me: family, community and the joys that can be found in choosing a simpler, slower way of life.  My undoing was my admission to something better.  I simply needed to sort out a few details.

Life, it seems, refuses to be confined to a linear path.  Soon after I began this blog, I became unexpectedly pregnant with Mr D. and after a surprisingly uneventful (for me) pregnancy and birth, we reverted to basic survival mode for a few years.

The blog fell by the wayside but in many ways, I have been successful in guiding us in the direction that I envisioned. We do live simply, minimizing consumption and commitments and maximizing our time together.  With only one small income, we manage to thrive in a tiny rental apartment and are mostly happy to call the Bay Area our home.  While in a parallel universe I live a self reliant existence on a sustainable farm within a community of like-minded dreamers, in reality I do manage to grow some of our food and cook most of it, make my own compost and even barter for quite a few pasture-raised eggs, all despite the fact that we don’t even have a yard.

But I’ve discovered that there are many layers to creating a simple life.  And many challenges. It is both undesirable and impossible to inhabit our personal spheres without bumping up against the society that surrounds us.  And it is practically meaningless to change ourselves without changing the world. And that, I’m afraid, is no small task.

One of the greatest gifts of the internet is the opportunity to carve out our own reality from an unbounded space. We can consciously choose to “surround” ourselves with like minded people and filter out the naysayers.  Thanks mostly to other people’s blogs, I’ve come across an astounding amount of evidence for a very real momentum to change direction in a time of global climate change and cultural collapse.  And I’ve come to believe that the little choices that we make every day carry enormous power to affect that change, indeed that some of the smallest, most mundane actions may be the most revolutionary, especially when they come from a deep shift in our thinking.

Amidst all of the urgency, the thing that I appreciate most of all about the concept of slow living is the strong message that while we need to simplify because we want to save the very planet that sustains us, we feel compelled to change because we are drawn to what we believe is a better way of living, one that focuses on meaning and connection rather than accumulation and performance.

But first, we have to slow down.