Category Archives: home

Family Mythology No. 1: Exiles from The Shire

About Family Mythology: It’s good for families to inhabit common psychic terrain. We do, but sometimes I think it stops at the boundaries of our property … maybe extends to the park a few blocks away, certainly to the kids’ schools … but there’s a whole lot of “TBD” out there, owing, in part, to the various life experiences and viewpoints we hold. (I was thinking “To Be Determined” when I typed TBD, but let’s change that to “There Be Dragons.”) For instance, I like church, and he likes football (both kinds, American and what the rest of the world means).

So anyway, about The Shire: Back when I first read The Lord of the Rings I longed for the mythological terrain of Middle Earth, with the cozy rightness of The Shire, and the epic landscapes beyond its borders. Somehow (that’s a quick gloss over of a lot of literary criticism) Tolkien created a world that seemed realer than regular old life. And all that place-based magic and meaning – how did we lose that?

Fast forward a decade, and I’m married. A couple more decades, and I’ve realized that he, too, is an exile from The Shire, and really wants little more than to hunker down in a hobbit hole with a cup of tea in a rocker by a fire. In his case it’s more personal. Economic forces uprooted his family when he was 15 from his home in Oxfordshire, and swept them across the Atlantic, inland, to the remote and barren terrain of West Texas.

We’ve had some lovely trips back over the pond, in which many of our country rambles on footpaths trod by Romans and earlier inhabitants of the isle lead to country churches that were there when William the Conqueror did his inventory way back when. Luckily no village is complete without a pub, as all that tramping builds up a thirst.

Now we live on the edge of the Great Plains of North America. It’s not as green as The Shire, but it’s got that ever-so-humble homey quality, low-key but tightly woven community — to quote nerdily from LOTR, “deep roots are not touched by the frost.”

Other truths “we” hold to be self-evident: The Sex Pistols have redeeming qualities. James Bond is a minor deity.

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Rites of Passage

A nine-year stage of life has ended. As of today, neither of the kids in our household attends the elementary school that is half a mile south of our house. I didn’t realize till later that my walk to and from the “fifth-grade celebration” would be the last time I’d enact that lovely ritual, at least as an active parent, for … ever? Many kids, parents, teachers, and school administrators were getting teary, including my son and me. One of the dads asked me how I was doing and I said I deliberately didn’t wear mascara that morning and he said he didn’t either.

What’s truly sad for my son is that a good portion of his close buddies will be going to a different middle school. This is life. It’s not a huge city but when you’re a kid and you don’t drive it really does affect your ability to see your friends. Of course now there’s texting, Xbox live, and much more.

Saw the daughter for about 30 minutes total yesterday. She had two celebrations after school, arriving home on foot with a buddy around 10 as prearranged, and then quickly finagled a sleepover at the buddy’s house. I’ll pick them up after theatre today. She seemed happy and calm. Independence seems to do her worlds of good.

The grownups on our street gathered for a block party, with fifth grade grads and their visiting parents making up a big chunk, and lots of littler kids filling in the spaces. The weather was perfect, clear and not too hot. We are very lucky to have such nice neighbors.

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First Day of Spring

First Crocus of SpringIt’s been a long, cold winter. As if on cue, front and center at our house, the first crocus emerged on the first day of spring. How do they DO that? She was a little purple number, came out like an emcee from between closed curtains, to reassure the audience that the show is about to begin.

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Fresh Pot of Primordial Holiday Soup

I got on the stairstepper today and stepped along to the whole Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat recording. I love the rhythm of story, and story set to music is even better. In the past I’ve been to spinning (stationary cycling) classes and to bellydance, and just got some hiphop adbs DVDs, all of which give me ideas for movement combos that I did on the stairstepper. Good job no one was watching. This would really have been one of those moments where the sheer existence of a mom could embarrass a teenage daughter. I am also threatening to put a video of me hula hooping to the Time Warp on You Tube. It would be from the back and no one would know it was me. Anyway, the exercise and connecting to various rhythms helped me regain a sense of autonomy again.

The past several days I melded happily into family stew. My parents were visiting and we Had Christmas. The kids enjoyed their surprises as well as some expected biggies. We were, as one of my friends put it, all geeked out. On the up side, we have attention spans. On the downside, sometimes we have to remember to talk to each other.

Went to a Christmas Eve service with my parents. The music was fabulous and we all enjoyed singing. I was particularly glad to greet the Sudanese guy who leads Nuer worship at church.

It’s icy here. My mom barely left the house, being suitably cautious, and the rest of us moved very slowly. Dad and I took the dog for some nice walks. We lit a fire on Boxing Day and cozied up with leftovers, gadgets, and each other.

This time of year, going way into family space and barely entering the outside world (yes, it’s an education-based pattern), is like whatever happens to a bulb underground, anchoring us, gathering our energies, getting ready to poke, shoot, and burst forth when the time comes.

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Hi, Mom

Am taking advantage of a slight lull in the action on Thanksgiving vacation to actually start, which I promised myself I’d do a week or so ago. I was busy trying to keep other promises to myself.

It’s been a great trip home. My parents’ house offers its usual smorgasbord of good reading. I realize that my dad, with his ongoing work on Francis Bacon, has set the stage for a lot of my interest in the intersection of science and religion. Among the books I’ve started and am borrowing are Ghost Hunters, by Deborah Blum; The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright; and The Madman’s Tale, by John Katzenbach (a gal needs a break from seriousness now and then). Not yet used to the newly cold weather so have been exercising (in a feeble attempt to stay ahead of turkey, pie, etc.) indoors. Today was on my mom’s exercycle, facing a wall of books, authors and titles evoking images, dispensing advice, raising questions.

The big event today was getting to go visit the house where I grew up, which my parents sold in 1985 — that was 22 years ago, just as I was finishing grad school (the first time). We noticed that after years of being a hippie house and going downhill in comparison to the rest of the street, it was vacant, sold, and renovations appeared to have begun. The assessor’s site makes it easy to locate the owner, so with one or two phone calls, we were in touch with the very nice young man who seems to have the talent, inclination and appreciation for old homes that it’ll take to restore it to its Arts & Crafts period splendor. It wasn’t just me. The entourage included my husband and kids, parents, brother and sister-in-law, and nephews. And the new owner was nice enough to give us a welcoming speech about being part of the history of the house and all that. He’s already moved some walls, adding a main-floor bathroom and enlarging the one upstairs. Way too much of the interior became pink. And the basement smelled of cats. (At one point in the basement my son, who is 11, or “the big one one,” as he puts it, buried his face in my sleeve. I think it’s because mom is “odor neutral,” or it’s a way to reset his olfactory senses when they get too much of something unwelcome.) But the built-in bar was still there, and nothing had changed in the basement bathroom, which was always my dad’s, except someone had removed the New Yorker covers that lined it when we lived there. In the back yard, a tornado a few years ago took out the trio of birch trees where our treehouse was. The new owner called the garage a “carriage house” and my husband noted that the doors would be very high if they were just for cars. It’s the same brick-on-tile construction as the rest of the house, worth saving. The owner said he’d restore it, too, and eventually run electricity out to it.

Had a good visit yesterday with one of the few people from high school with whom I’ve kept in touch, if only once a year at Thanksgiving. It left me glad we’ve stayed in touch and grateful for my own and my family’s health.

Looking forward to traditional night-before-departure pasta dinner. Important to carbo-load before a seven-hour drive. It’s a recipe that came to us via my late aunt, who married into a big Sicilian family. 

So there’s really no end, no tidy conclusion, just gratitude for the chance to unplug from the usual routine and recharge by melding into the family flow. 

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