A Crossroads



One year ago from this past Saturday was the last time I saw The Original Big Man alive and well. He was in town to tape Thing 1 playing her fiddle at the Frozen River Film Festival. 

This year, Big Man took Thing 1 by himself.

Our lives have changed drastically since that sunny January day. The decision to work elsewhere has not panned out as we had hoped, and so we are being forced to re-evaluate what makes a place your home.

Making Toast

How many of us have ever looked at our kids and felt empathy because we felt sure we knew just what they were going through because of our own past experiences? It might be true to a point, but I think the hardest part of parenting through difficult times is that we can't own our child's struggle. It is theirs, not ours. We can't fix, mend, mask, make better. Instead we can love and offer assistance when requested. Short of intervening because of medical concerns, all that is left to do is let go. Even when kids have the kinds of troubles where medical and mental professionals get involved, the lion's share of the work belongs to the child. 

This is not to say that letting go, doing your part, trusting, is easy. How hard it is to watch your beating heart float out into the world seemingly ready to get battered, busted, blown apart by what it seems to offer. Helicopter parenting isn't my style, but I get glimpses of the why of it now and then. There are times when a thick Plexiglass container is exactly where I want to put my babies when they are in a tender spot. They can watch the world and not be affected by it....perfect.

Riverview Drive

I take the "river road"  (known as Riverview Drive) when I am driving from my house located in a valley off Highway 14 near Winona, MN. To get downtown, I head south on 14 and just putter along at the posted 40 miles per hour speed limit and at this rate, you ease your way into the heart of downtown Winona in less than ten minutes.  It's about an eight mile stretch from my house to my favorite book store, and the last four miles give me a spectacular view of Mississippi backwaters before I end up staring at the old girl herself.  I pass the grain elevator, which keeps the traffic heavy with trucks, a few boathouses, the Minnesota Marine Art Museum and whatever river life the season offers. Usually there are joggers of different breeds, effortless college kids, determined middle-agers, and an octogenarian who always makes me smile because of his tenacity. Waterfowl abound, the trees dressed up in the spring and fall or stripped naked in the winter, and of course, the river who speaks clearly for herself. The soft rolling sound of a train running down the tracks parallel to the river sometimes completes this scene.

Movie Vs. Boy: Who will win?

The longest holiday break EVER  was unceremoniously lengthened further due to the Great Minnesota Freeze-Out. Around day 18 we were attempting some "special" family time. By special I mean no one was yelling, hitting, eye rolling , or whining within a 45 second time frame. Thing 2 had been coping through Wii Dance Dance Revolution and Thing 2 was drawing and building masterful Pokemon decks with neighborhood kids. Not every Lego in the house had been used, but it sure felt like it. We'd also done our fair share of bread baking, reading and art, but it was clear that even cocoa and popcorn and our new board games were losing their appeal.  At the crux of family restlessness, we needed a new scene and so I brought out a movie, Howl's Moving Castle. It's a Japanese animation film that had won a few awards. Though it isn't something I would normally choose, I trusted the friend who recommended it. Besides, I was all out. I had nothing and thought something new might settle us (me) down.




Big Man tried to circumnavigate the fire building process recently by putting up a screen on his computer of a roaring fire. Every ten minutes or so, an arm or hand appeared to add a log while the audibly crackling fire roared on at a steady pace. The kids and I were unimpressed, and he was put out that we barely chuckled.

"Fire is work!"  he said.

"And it's fun," I replied. He did not disagree.

This made me think of a time during what would be our last summer with The Original Big Man. My Big Man had purchased some wish lanterns. He thought they would be fun, which really meant it would be a new way for him to play with fire. The windy conditions and a recent drought made this a less than ideal time for such a pursuit, but what he really didn't bargain for was the seriousness we brought to the task. He seemed mystified when I toted out the Sharpies so that we could write out our wishes on the pale cream cloth before we lit them.  "Can't you just think it?" he asked before he realized how silly this sounded to someone like me.  Everyone save for Thing 2 who opted to draw pictures of mythical marine life followed my lead and wrote out explicit and sincere wishes.  Big Man's face was a picture of surprise when he noticed our furrowed brows and thoughtful expressions.

"Hey Man!" I chirped. "You can't mess with wish making!"

This memory makes me think of a great book I am reading by Karen Karbo about Julia Child. It's called Julia Child Rules:  Lessons on Savoring Life. Among the many lessons gleaned through studying how Julia lived her life, one is that she took all of her pursuits seriously whether they were labelled fun (partying at school) or work (classifying top secret information for the OSS). It could be hard to distinguish which was which because no matter what she took on, she dove in wholeheartedly.

I am not saying that writing on a paper lantern is work, but what we wish for? what we hope for and seek? These are the big things in life.  Once you get beyond the Santa phase, you realize that which you desire is a pursuit that requires some work. And if it is the work you are meant to do, fun seems to be it's companion.

There are certain things that will always feel like work to me:  cleaning, wrapping gifts, laundry, weeding, having multiple children over for birthdays. None of these brings me a whole lot of joy. But the moments we live for are those in which we get lost, where time escapes us, or where we feel suspended in a pocket that feels separate from real life. For me it is in a book or in a sentence or in the creation of a cake or some oddball recipe or unexpected adventures with my tribe of Things. That cliche about getting lost to be found? I get that. When something takes you away,  it is really introducing yourself to you.

And so of course we don't want a fake fire or a speed round at wishing. We want to do the work of the real thing, starting small with the kindling, laying the foundation, and later stoking the fire. And if you are a reader of mine, or someone lucky enough to know my Big Man, it will not surprise you one whit to know that it is Big Man who has taught each of us how to slowly and methodically build a fire that lasts. And certainly we want think a bit before we inscribe our wishes with permanent marker because these are the promises we will sweat for, the declaration of work we will do on behalf of ourselves. When the time is right, we will release them up and out to the universe in the hopes that it too will do its part.