It all started with a helmet

My bike helmet is at least ten years old. I recently found out that the plastic degrades, and that helmets need to be replaced every five years or so, just like car seats. I celebrated a bit. Ever since getting Rhubarby I wanted something cuter, hopefully with some red to match my bike bags. I finally had justification.

After trying on dozens of helmets in multiple bike shops, I purchased a shiny white helmet with a red brim and zoomed around in it for a few days until facing the truth. It was too tight, and on long rides it gave me a headache.

I received a hot tip that Goodwill had new helmets for $15 and took the boys with me to check them out. The only one that fit was red. Sold!  It’s a huge melon protector, but it works. For $15 I would trade a little style.

We headed to the cashier until Charlie read a huge “TOYS” sign. I told the boys they could look but I wasn’t buying anything. They dove into the broken car tracks, plastic guitars, and stuffed animal snakes like monkeys in a pile of bananas. The misfit toys collection of 2015 received some serious love.

I spotted Connect Four and, sucker for games of my childhood, reneged my promise. “Boys, I’m getting you this!” Excited about the new game, they left the aisle of crack with ease. Our most direct exit was blocked, forcing us to walk through the adjacent hair care section.

This may have been the best detour of our lives. When The Bearded Head caught my eye, I snorted out loud. It was laughter at first sight. A perfect blend of horrific and hilarious. “You know what boys? We could prank Papa with him!” The boys and I giggled like mad in that aisle, dreaming up everything we could do. We had to bring him home with us.

Please welcome the latest addition to our family! His name is in progress, and I’m fairly certain it will change frequently, because this guy deserves NAMES. According to Miles, he is GI Joe. Charlie calls him Big Beard. Harry and I are going with Allen. Sometimes Barney. Tortuga when we’re needing Walter White, Rico Suave when I’m trying to gross Harry out. Either way, let me introduce you:

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The boys carried him proudly through Goodwill, generating a Candid Camera reel. “We could put him in our bike bags and bike around town with a head sticking out!” Doubled over, we chuckled our way to the line.

A woman ahead of us watched us cautiously, never breaking a smile. She must not like severed heads. Or children. Or moms. Maybe we are so goofy that we’re scary. Easing my growing embarrassment, a man ahead of us smiled and laughed. “You guys have plans, don’t you?” Well, the boys took the bait and ran, spilling out everything we intended to do with The Head. Our cashier informed us she was pleased he was leaving because “he” had bothered her since he arrived the past week. “He’s just so weird!” Yes, he is. Yes, he is.

He’s perfect for us.

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Bonus feature! Extra hair! Gawd, he’s gross. And amazing.

Miles held him in his lap for the car ride home, frequently talking for him using a low, gruffly voice, and making him look out the car window.

We arrived home and concocted our plan. We’d tuck him into bed, with a pillow for a body, and tell Harry the boys made something for him that is in the bedroom.

Allen waited.

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What? Do I make you nervous?

Harry arrived later than any of us could barely handle, and the boys flew out of their dinner table seats to scream, “We made you something! Go to the bedroom!” Of course, Harry had no reason to be suspicious. The boys always leave food behind and act freakishly excited about creations in our bedroom.

So, he entered dramatically. Then, he hesitated a bit, laughed hysterically, and promptly removed Allen from our bed to put him on the mantle.

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Allen on top of my speech-language pathology books. The ones I should be studying instead of writing this post, but I am SO OVER studying tonight, so you get this instead.

I think Harry was jealous. Allen probably shouldn’t be in bed with me. Don’t show Harry these pictures, because we started warming up to each other. (ALWAYS WEAR PROTECTION, PEOPLE!)

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Oh my. What a ride.

We have a lot of adventures A-HEAD of us with Allen. He needs to go on a bike ride. Harry suggested putting him on the back with red lights blinking through his eyes, or on the front with flashing white lights. Crazy freaky. If our kids weren’t being dropped off at preschool and elementary school, this would be hilarious and worth it. In fact, now I can’t wait for middle school pick-ups.

In the meantime, Allen might answer the door on occasion.

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He’ll watch as we play Connect Four.

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And show off his handsome beard and oh so sexy, devoid-of-all-color lips.

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If I get invited to someone’s house, he may come along. If someone wants to show me their new puppy or baby, I may ask if I can show them Allen. We’ll keep you guessing.

(Oh my goodness, I hope he doesn’t have lice. Can mannequin heads have diseases?)

April 21

First of all, I feel bound to inform those of you who didn’t realize it that I posted about losing our beloved cow Tulip on April Fool’s Day. She never existed, but I did capture those pictures of cows during my exchange student year in The Netherlands. I also spotted that calf on a bike ride in Friesland and was absolutely smitten. But no cows traveled home with me. No animals were harmed in the making of that post.

The “burial site” is really just some logs, compost and greens in my first attempt at a specific type of garden bed, called a hugelkultuur bed. Hilariously enough, a neighbor’s visiting mom recently asked them with great concern if we buried a dog in our yard. It does look suspicious. That’s why I thought of that post in the first place. I’m hoping it’ll look a lot better once all the food and flowers are covering it. Plus, with time it’ll shrink. Otherwise, we’ll just be “Those neighbors. You know, the ones with the grave.”

Did I fool you? I hope you at least get a chuckle out of it.

In the past few weeks I have been buried under piles of mulch, speech-language pathology textbooks, a strange medical event, making the most of the boys’ spring break week at home, and celebrating my little guy’s fifth birthday. I’m clearing away one pile at a time, but will not be posting here often until late May, after I’m done taking my SLP national exam.

In the meantime, I wanted to share some pictures of our yard and garden. The layers, textures and colors are breathtaking right now. I feel so thankful to live here and to have nurtured this property along to better health. There are plants, bushes and flowers blooming now that weren’t four years ago because the soil was so poor and/or they hadn’t been pruned. This is the first year I feel like we’re really seeing it all come together in health. It’s a daily treat to look outside to the canopy of pillowy blossoms, the soft flowers carpeting our grass, the eye-achingly bright azaleas, the dogwood’s pink flowers, like fall in the spring, and the promise of food to come with our peas, chives, lettuce and berries growing up as fast, strong and colorful as my boys. I am so grateful.

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Remembering Tulip

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Itty-bitty Tulip. Simply the sweetest.

We recently lost our dear Tulip. She’s been with me my entire adulthood, a faithful reminder of my year in The Netherlands and reliable provider of high-quality pastured milk for our family. I brought her home as a calf at the end of my exchange student year in Holland. My parents weren’t pleased that my hideous Rotary blazer covered in pins from around the world wasn’t a sufficient souvenir, but what choice did they have? They certainly weren’t going to pay to fly a calf back across the Atlantic.

She was the cutest Holstein Friesian calf I’d ever seen. Remember City Slickers? Norman had nothing on Tulip, though he was responsible for inspiring my desire to own a calf in the first place. I came across her on a bike ride in Friesland. She was tied up to a tree and I immediately wanted to rescue her from a fate of veal. I made an offer, and come June 1996, she was mine to take home.

Tulip was the reason I learned to make cheese and always had an abundance of aged Gouda in the house. As much as we enjoy eating grass-fed beef, we couldn’t handle consuming Tulip. Instead, she rests among my garden beds and near the boys’ swingset, keeping us company even in death.

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RIP, dear Tulip. We are thankful you were in our lives for so long and that even now we can keep you close.

We hope that the city of Seattle will soon recognize the importance of allowing cattle on home properties, so other families don’t have to hide their precious heifers from their neighbors and friends.

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Tulip enjoying a last moment in Holland, before coming back to the US with me

 

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Tulip’s family and home of origin. I may need to go visit again and pick up another calf.

 

Spring’s call

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After a few weeks of increasingly anxious waiting, good news keeps bursting from the ground. Harry secured a contract for a few months that might become full-time work. The boys were accepted into a school that is a significantly better fit with our educational philosophies. While there is grief in leaving friends behind, we are eagerly anticipating joining this community. I am so thankful to have relief from the unknowns, as well as the opportunity to look forward to new experiences. In the meantime, I am relishing the present. It’s spring, friends!

Spring beckoned me to the garden, sore back be damned. Peas, lettuce, arugula and kale are in the ground and the tiniest of lettuce leaves are now visible upon careful inspection. A few peas peeked out today, too. Flower seeds were sprinkled all around, too. For me and the bees. A couple hugelkultuur beds are in process, ensuring my reputation as one of the craziest gardeners in the neighborhood. (The fact that I’m not THE strangest says more about Seattle than it does me. I have neighbors down the street who grow a ton of food, own goats, and trap and eat bothersome squirrels on their property.)

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I transplanted a bunch of perennial herbs and flowers out of this bed to make room for my first half-ass hugelkultuur. It’s our sunniest spot that’s ok with the landlord to change around, so I try growing heat-loving veggies here. I threw a ton more logs down, some leaves, weeds and grass, a layer of compost and a layer of topsoil. Fingers crossed! (Really should’ve done this last fall…)

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Here she is, simmering and sitting pretty for the next month until I plant.

Anyways, it’s not the first time I’ve covered a yard with cardboard and newspaper while neighbors craned their necks. After submitting a to-scale plan and receiving approval, I xeriscaped our front yard in a Colorado HOA suburban community that was filled with perfectly green, weed-free, Round-up abundant, sterile turf yards. Mulch and newspaper was a surefire way to get all busybodies talking. I ended up doing most of that work at night with a headlamp on, mostly to avoid gawkers and cranky old men with nothing better to do than complain.

In comparison, this time feels easy, if not downright delightful. I got landlord approval years ago! Many people pass by on walks and ask about the project with genuine interest. I’ve met five new neighbors since the mulch was dumped. Gardening is a fabulous way to build community in a neighborhood that appreciates it. Most people in Seattle do, thankfully. If they don’t, they’re certainly not surprised to see it. Gardens and weeds are tolerated, along with the chickens and goats of urban farming nutheads. (Oh, how I dream of joining them.)

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Enough mulch was dropped on our driveway to bury a bus. The boys immediately took to rakes, shovels and wheelbarrows. Give them a pile of mulch and they’re like sheepdogs around sheep. They need to move it. Three days in and I’ve barely made a dent in this pile. Oy.

Spring brought rain and wind, which was surprisingly absent most of winter. One of the nastier days we hunkered down to watch Mary Poppins as a family. It was the first movie in ages that hasn’t landed our boys crying in our laps. They giggled like crazy, eyes wide in wonder, “She’s flying with an umbrella!” “They’re dancing on the roofs!” The sweetest sound in our house in ages was the boys singing “Chim chiminey” repeatedly after the movie’s end. (And, by George, Mary doesn’t even sing “Let’s go fly a kite!” It is Mr. Banks, of course! Somehow, it’s still her voice in my head when I’m biking. Even now that I know better.)

Spring brought a morning of traipsing through the farmer’s market with Miles, who eagerly accompanies me anywhere offering quesadillas. On our way out, with our treasured orchard apples, my favorite loaf of bread and a few veggies in hand, I spied the word “nettles” written on Foraged and Found’s sign. My heart skipped a beat. I’ve wanted to try them for years but always let intimidation stop me. This time, I walked away from that booth with an extra skip in my step, a bag of stinging nettles, and a bag of watercress. I immediately knew what dinner would be.

I didn’t handle the nettles at all until they were blanched. I dumped them straight from bag to boiling water, treating them like hazardous waste until I was certain they wouldn’t sting me. Our first encounter left me confident enough to forage for them now. The taste is absolutely worth a possible sting.

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Toast a delicious piece of bread, sourdough rye if you’re lucky, and top it with a thick layer of chevre. (I had a black truffle chevre, and oh man, that was extra nice.) Spread on some nettle pesto and voila! My first real bite of spring came courtesy of those nettles and I’ve enjoyed spoonfuls of it almost everyday since.

(I substituted almonds for pine nuts because they were already in my house. I also added a bit more olive oil and lemon juice. Pesto is easy to make to taste. Have a bite, see what you think, and add more of what you want. We first enjoyed the pesto on pasta along with a watercress salad. In a somewhat miraculous evening, both boys ate both dishes! Plus, Miles exclaimed, “I love watercress!” which might be the nicest utterance I’ve heard exit a 4 year old’s mouth when faced with an all-green dinner.)

P.S. Are you on Instagram? I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE instagram (beankathleen). It sharpens my focus on the everyday moments of my life that are filled with beauty. After years of using it, I think my eye is better trained to appreciate simple delights. I am so thankful for that practice. Plus, it gives me glimpses into the precious tidbits of other people’s lives. Or the not so pretty moments to which we all relate. I like seeing those, too. Occasionally I also post wacky pictures there. Like this one: my cry for help after the bags of nettles and watercress attacked me.

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Pie on wheels

Hands down, the best purchase I’ve made since having kids is our cargo bike. She’s been my right-hand gal over six months now, helping me transport the boys to school, haul groceries, fetch library books, and complete other supremely routine aspects of my life. With her assistance, the monotonous became an adventure. (Yes, she’s female. I still need to name her, though. The boys once suggested Rudolph, and as much as I appreciate the story parallels, I couldn’t embrace Rudolpha or Rudolphina. Suggestions welcome! She’s black with red bags and strong as a horse. Lucille? Annie? Cherry Pie? Rhubarb? Oooh, maybe Rudy!)

Now, cue Mary Poppins singing “Let’s go fly a kite” except substitute “Let’s go ride a bike.” Nearly every time I hop on I sing that song (in my head, though I’m probably a decade away from singing out loud.) Bike rides bring out my inner musical like just about nothing else. The only conditions that block the earworm from entering are arguing boys, super wiggly passengers, busy streets, rude or inattentive drivers. (Stop texting, people! Sheesh!) Otherwise, I am ridiculously happy on my bike. I often feel sluggish in the afternoon before going to get the boys but one ride picks me right back up.

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Rain and wind didn’t stop us! I’m not sure we would’ve braved the weather if we hadn’t committed in advance, but we ended up so glad we participated. It was such a fun morning! (Thankfully, the wettest day in over a year happened the NEXT day.)

My first time carrying a bike passenger happened during an exchange student year in The Netherlands. I was eightteen, a recent high school graduate and away from home for the first time ever. Every few months the Rotary exchange students would gather at someone’s village. We’d dance, freely speak our native languages without judgment, and repeatedly consume four ounce glasses of Heineken. We usually ended our nights biking in small groups to homes of kind people willing to host tipsy, homesick foreign teenagers.

One of those nights a Dutch girl (stranger to me) needed a ride to her place. The back rack of my bike was open and I must’ve agreed or couldn’t argue sufficiently given my state. Either way, it was naive of me. Probably her, too. We didn’t get far. I lost my balance as I biked over a canal bridge. Wobbling and shaking, I dumped both the bike and my passenger on the street. I’m glad my Dutch wasn’t stellar at that point, because I was spared comprehension of most of the cuss words she threw my way. I’m certain I confirmed her belief that Americans can’t ride bikes. (I wish I had tallied the number of times I was asked if I could ride a bike during that year. There must be a lot of American tourists dumping bikes in canals or having near misses with trams.)

Thankfully, both my Dutch and my biking skills improved that year. I learned to navigate my way past the Amsterdammers blocking paths without stepping off my bike. I rode 10km from my village, Monnickendam, to my school in north Amsterdam with a group of friends. As I recall, there was always headwind both ways. (Listen up, young whippersnappers!) Biking became second nature and my passport to freedom. Heck, I even learned to adequately transport people while tipsy!

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Most, but not all, of the bikes on the ride. Notice Madi’s bike on the top left with the bike teeter-totter strapped on, aka her “sail” on the windy day.

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Cargo bike decks act as portable tables, too. After consuming his 3.14 pies, Miles resigned himself to apples and cheese.

Biking with my boys has reminded me of the free spirit and sense of adventure I felt while living in Holland. Last Saturday, our family celebrated Pi Day with a big group of other families on a Kidical Mass bike ride. Charlie and Harry biked themselves. I carried Miles, his balance bike, twenty-something blueberry turnovers, apples, bread, cheese, a towel, and water bottles. It felt easy, which was definitely not the case six months ago and such a great realization. (I’ll write another post about my journey towards comfort with this bike.)

For the past few years I was scared to death of biking with the boys in the city but missing riding more and more. I was the quintessential Wendy, willing but wary. I began searching the internet for inspiration from Seattle families. Madi, the Queen of Seattle family biking and author of the soon to be published Urban Cycling, inspired me to start seriously considering a cargo bike. (Check out her Instagram photos. The woman could carry a small house on her bike. Oh, and her pictures from Pi day are here!) Each little glimpse into her world encouraged me to be more courageous. If she could tackle Seattle’s hills, relatively poor (but improving!) cycling infrastructure, rainy days and less than biker-friendly driving culture with two kids on board, I could get there, too. It was a slow warming period, but with her help and the support of Seattle’s Family Biking facebook group, I jumped on board.

In honor of the freedom wheels bring, full-circle moments, and opportunity to indulge in buttery pastries, I was excited to celebrate the day with a special treat on board. Here’s a very minimally adapted turnover recipe from Dorie Greenspan. Hers calls for apples and are a bit larger. I made mine smaller because I didn’t want any tiny riders to be pie deprived, nor did I want to double the recipe.

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Hi-vis jacket courtesy of my road biking days made it easy to spot the pies. Did the trick this rainy, windy day! The Green Lake wading pool hosts bike rodeos in the off season.

 

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Flaky Blueberry Turnovers

Slightly adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s turnover recipe in Baking, makes ~20-24 hand pies

Dough
  • 1 cup full fat sour cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 sticks (12 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Filling
  • 1 to 2 jars thick blueberry jam (I used St. Dalfour Wild Blueberry)

Aesthetics

  • 1 large egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for egg wash
  • Turbinado or Demerara sugar (or other coarse, thick sugar), for sprinkling

To make the dough, stir the sour cream and sugar together and set aside. Whisk the flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter pieces into the flour, using a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingers. Work the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse meal. It is better to have an uneven mix than an overworked dough, and keeping the butter cold is important, so don’t worry about being too thorough. Using a lifting and tossing motion with a fork, gently work in the sour cream. The dough will be very soft.

Divide the dough in half. Put each half in a piece of plastic wrap and use the plastic to shape each half into a rectangle. Don’t worry about size or precision. Wrap the dough tightly and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour, or for up to 2 days.

Remove one piece of dough from the fridge and roll it into a rectangle about 9 x 18 inches. The dough is easiest to work with if you roll it between sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap. If you want to roll it traditionally, make sure to flour the rolling surface. Once it’s rolled out, fold the dough in thirds, like a business letter. Wrap it tightly and refrigerate it. Repeat with the second piece of dough, and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours or up to 1 day.

Once the dough is sufficiently chilled, position the oven racks to divide the oven into thirds, and preheat the oven to 375℉. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Roll out one piece of dough to a thickness of about 1/8 inch, and cut out 3 1/2 inch rounds with a large cutter or the edge of a tartlet pan. (You can change the size and shape of cutter you use. Obviously this will impact your total yield. It may also change the baking time, so plan accordingly.) Repeat with the second piece of dough. Gather the scraps together, chill them, and make additional turnovers to get the full yield. (The turnovers made from scraps will still taste good, they just won’t be as light and flaky as the first round.) You’ll get 8 to 10 rounds from each half of dough.

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Place one teaspoon blueberry jam in the center of each round. Moisten the edges of each round with a little water and fold the turnovers in half, sealing the edges by pressing them together with the tines of a fork. Use the fork to poke steam holes on top, and transfer the turnovers to the baking sheets. (At this point, the turnovers can be frozen. After they firm up in the freezer, wrap them airtight and store for up to two months. Bake them without defrosting, adding a few minutes to their time in the oven.)

Brush the tops of the turnovers with egg wash and sprinkle each one with a pinch of sugar. Bake for about 16-18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 8-9 minutes. When done, the turnovers will be puffed, firm to the touch, and golden brown. Gently transfer them to racks, cool to room temperature, put them in a sturdy container, and secure them in your bike bag.

 

Clear cut parenting (Ha!)

It’s no secret that it was challenging for me to learn to trust my child’s snail-paced journey throughout years of watching him observe instead of participate. Fearing he would never move himself out of his comfort zone, we wondered if he needed a push from us. In the end, we committed to honoring his temperament and developmental pacing, which meant not forcing participation, listening to his fears and respecting his decisions. We watched in awe every time the excitement of an activity motivated him over the first hurdles. It was never our push that made him jump.

The other side of the coin is that some skills just have to be learned. Let’s start with an obvious choice, like safely crossing streets. Parents don’t let their kid run into traffic simply because that’s what lil’ Jimmy wants to do. They also don’t leave Jimmy on the other side of the road because he won’t cross with them. Jimmy’s hand will be held and his always-in-the-moment mind will be reminded a million times to “Look both ways!” until the People With Brains That Contemplate Consequences are certain he understands. Love & Logic’s “natural consequences” get thrown in front of the bus. Not Jimmy.

Other lessons are not as clear, but can feel just as critical.

Take swimming, for example. A sensitive topic in my household for a few months last summer. If Little Monkey hadn’t scared the daylight out of me with the pool-bobbing incident, I doubt I would’ve endured the initial phase of his latest swim lessons.

In the weeks after that nightmare, I signed him up for a couple private lessons through Seattle’s parks department. He participated well but continued to demonstrate the lack of fear that originally got him into trouble. Despite his inability to float, he kept trying to swim unassisted. On a few occasions he jumped in impulsively or lunged at me without warning. Obviously, at this point I was watching him like a hawk, so he was quickly scooped up. But I didn’t feel any better about his water safety by summer’s end.

Not wanting to enter next summer at the same level, we decided to take the plunge last fall and signed him up for intensive private swim lessons recommended by a friend. He dug in his heels, certain they would be “horrible!” With a little probing I learned that he believed that this swim coach would squirt him with a water gun. Ah, the rational fears of a four year old.

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With a firm promise that his coach wouldn’t shoot him, and quite possibly a pack of Pokemon cards in hand as bribery, he willingly entered the pool during his first lesson. At his request and the coach’s approval, I was in the water with him for his first two lessons. Courtesy of the most methodical, safety-oriented, and efficient swim lessons I’ve ever witnessed, Miles learned to open his eyes underwater, swim with his head under, and begin to backfloat. To get there, he was pushed farther beyond his comfort level than ever before. It was painful to watch him struggle.

The third lesson consisted of me sweating on the sidelines with my teeth grit together, trying to hide my anxieties from both the coach and Miles. He screamed and sobbed a decent portion of the lesson. The swim coach heard his complaints but did not let him give in to his fears. She kept him moving, practicing and struggling his way through each critical skill. I felt sick to my stomach.

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I spent that evening wondering if this lesson style was the right choice. DId I betray his trust by not just ending it there and calling it quits? Was he being pushed too far? Did I trust this coach and her judgment?

As I contemplated, I thought of all the parents of children with learning disabilities I interacted with when their kids came to me for evaluations and therapy. Many required months to trust me enough to follow advice or accept a diagnosis. I sympathized then, but I understand their hesitancies far better now that I’m a parent. Acknowledging that another adult may know what is best for your child is not easy to swallow, no matter the situation.

I came to believe that years of experience have taught this swim coach what children tolerate. She is not worried about their well-being as they go underwater, cough a bit, and correct themselves. At least not in the short-term. But long-term, she is absolutely concerned. She wants these kids water safe. To get there, she accepts the struggle as part of the learning process, like the countless falls toddlers take while learning to walk. She knew what my boy was capable of achieving. She knew that he needed to conquer his fears to move forward. While Miles and my brain were in fight or flight mode, hers was calm, cool and collected.

I dreaded telling Miles about lesson number four. I promised to take him to a favorite playspace afterwards. To my astonishment, that was enough to get him over the hump. Maybe he knew he needed it, like the toddler that keeps running despite scraped up knees. Maybe he found the outcome satisfying enough to account for the struggle. He entered the pool without complaint, seemingly forgetting his fears.

The reprieve didn’t last long. She asked him to stick his head underwater to retrieve a toy, and he completely broke down. In the skilled, graceful way that experienced teachers exhibit, she guided him back with ease, letting him repeat a skill that he found pleasurable and comforting until he calmed.

She moved him into snorkeling next, which was a completely new skill. “I DO NOT WANT TO SNORKEL!” he yelled and sobbed. Unaware of her motivation, I watched anxiously and questioned this choice. She introduced him to the mask by talking about its function and demonstrating its use. Then, the snorkel. She quietly put both on him. He protested throughout, but she assured him he’d be fine, and sure enough, soon he was excited to search underwater for toys. After he got the hang of it, they spent the rest of the session snorkeling around the pool to round-up tiny pumpkins. (It was October.)

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IMG_8898He was hooked. “Mama, I think I could be a scuba diver now!” He was over the hump.

I realized, yet again, that she had a clear plan and vision. The hardest skill for him to learn was how to transition from swimming forward with his head underwater to rolling over on his back to rest and breathe. With the snorkel, he could delight in swimming all around with ease. She took his biggest struggle out of the equation.

After lesson five I believed that he would have a chance at survival in a water accident. During lesson nine he took a “Clothes Test,” demonstrating the ability to fall in with clothes on, float on his back at length, swim to the closest exit, and other skills like getting his shoes off while floating. (He worked his tail off during 20+ minutes of testing.) We both walked away from this lesson stupendously pleased. Miles was thrilled with his accomplishment, and I was greatly relieved that last summer’s nightmare won’t be repeated.

I’m not sure how I’ll know when my boys need to be that far out of their comfort zone again. Right now we are contemplating decisions that could upset both of them, but we think would be for their benefit long-term. It is incredibly hard to choose between respecting their emotions and trusting in their resilience. I want them to do things of their own accord, but I also don’t want them to become paralyzed by fears. One thing I can count on: I am going to mess up a lot. I am going to error on both sides of the coin. Once I know I’ve gone too far in one direction, all I can do is apologize as we all learn from the mistake.

I’m glad I didn’t get in the way of progress this time. By learning to trust the coach, I didn’t rob my boy of these skills, nor the pride and satisfaction that resulted. Plus, how cute is a kid with snorkel gear? Sheesh.

Parenting is rarely clear cut. I couldn’t be more thankful that it comes with support staff.

(Pssst! I added a little video from one of his lessons to my facebook page. Head on over to see him in action. I always appreciate you “liking” my page while you’re there, too! Thanks!)

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Sunbreaks

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When we first moved to Seattle in 2000, I remember dying with laughter the first time I heard a weather forecaster mention “sunbreaks.” My native Colorado soul could barely handle that I had moved from a state with nothing but blue skies to a state that gave residents notice of when they just might be lucky enough to see the sun for an hour or two. The choice was either to laugh or cry.

Last Friday I felt the heavy weight of my snowballed anxiety lifting. It felt like a sunbreak after an unusually long, gray winter. I quietly hoped that the majority of February trials would firmly park themselves within that month, allowing March to come in like a lamb.

I drove to Seattle Public School’s district headquarters to drop off paperwork and landed a parking spot right in front of the building. I shared a little yelp of glee with the parking attendant. She understood and laughed knowingly. Previously, I’ve ended up parking at least a half mile away. It’s an industrial part of town, and walking to the building involved crossing railroad tracks and busy, trash-filled streets. (If you don’t appreciate a good parking spot, visit Seattle and drive somewhere downtown. You’ll quickly understand why we love our bikes.)

After waiting in line a fraction of the time I anticipated, I received the best customer service I’ve experienced in years. The kind man processed Miles’ Kindergarten enrollment form with a genuinely happy demeanor. He didn’t seem to notice the line rapidly growing behind me. (I had been anticipating a stern look of disapproval from whomever helped me because I didn’t have Miles’ student identification number. I had recycled the only notice we received with his number on it because I didn’t realize that: 1) the number was on it, 2) the number was important, nor 3) the only place we could find that number from our home was on that letter. For goodness sakes, the entire purpose of that letter was to inform parents that we wouldn’t be getting a letter with school assignments on it. Why would I keep that? Sigh. But, I digress. He was friendly, not at all flustered by my error, and helped me forgive SPS for it’s poor communication.

While exiting, I ran into two different friends, one of whom I’ve known since high school. It was a fun surprise to see familiar faces in an unfamiliar part of town. Later that day, I met with a different friend whom I’ve known since junior high, and the two of us saw another Boulder friend. My entire day was peppered with friendly faces, most from days past, in parts of town I almost never visit.

At the end of the day, Harry finalized a contract that brings us sufficient income for March. Things look hopeful for April, too. We celebrated with take-out and a bottle of wine.

The past week almost felt normal. We enjoyed a fun family outing at the Arboretum Sunday. I cooked. Harry mowed the lawn. I returned to my weight-lifting class because my back is recovering. My stomach is nearly normal after the tenants’ surprise eviction. No one else in the family is sick. Harry has been working.

It’s felt comforting. Not everything is resolved, but all of these little gifts felt like sunbreaks. I don’t know if this winter has passed, but I am thankful for the reprieve.

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