Thursday, October 8, 2015

Stress and the three-year-old.

I have felt for a while that my life was spinning too fast, not necessarily out of control, but beyond my ability to make what I really want from it. The past two weeks have been especially frantic and exhausting.

Sunday was Jay's fourth birthday party. While it was a bit over the top to create and manage, and felt a bit too competitive (WE give the BEST parties), it was gratifying to see so many happy guests, both preschool and adult. What made it all worthwhile, though, was the sheer joy and pride in my son's face when about thirty people sang "Happy Birthday", and it was just for him. 

At that moment he truly, deeply, felt something special. There was real magic in his eyes.

He has been challenged over the past month as much as, or more than I have. A month ago today he started New York state's Universal Pre-K program in the Granville school system. Doing so required a change of daycare, to a place that could take him to school and pick him up for the three days a week he would be in daycare. That was not an easy thing to find, nor was the transition smooth for Jay. He has done well, but for the first time in his short life, he seems stressed. 

Early morning awakenings have been frequent. That is a common sign of anxiety. He often wishes he would "stop growing".

"I want to be a baby again."

Regressive thoughts are nothing out of the ordinary, but I find myself wondering about the decision to enter him into pre-k. Despite his early birthday party, he's not really even four years old yet. Responsibility at this age should be about learning to wipe your own butt and, if you're tall enough, maybe taking your dinner plate over to the sink. Pulling up your own pants. That kind of stuff.

Okay, there's more than that in terms of responsibility, but you get the idea. He's three. There is plenty of time ahead to stress about meeting so many expectations and learning so many new rules and norms.

Today we hung out together, like the good old days. Oh, he went to school (for two hours and fifteen minutes), but before that we played with trucks and went to a playground. We raced on the soccer field (he won), went down the slide with him on my lap like we used to do, and we had a picnic.

After school we went fishing. I warned him that the path to the river was steep, and he made us both proud by reciting my hiking lesson for steep terrain:

"Daddy, keep your nose over your toes, and take baby steps."

Of course we caught nothing, but we loved hanging out on the bank of the Mettawee River together. At one point he hopped up and climbed back up the hill. I couldn't see him for a moment, but soon I heard him say, "Daddy- I made a waterfall!". After making sure I wasn't downstream from him, I cast again and laid my head back on the bank. We found some beautiful pine cones and filled our pockets to make Christmas decorations and bird feeders.

On the way back to the car, we stopped and lay back on the grass, enjoying the sun and breeze, his head on my stomach, relaxed and quiet.

It was the kind of day we needed, the day we've been missing since school started. We'll make it happen when we can, and try to take it easy on each other when we can't.

We're both too young for this much stress. Today, for a few hours, we helped each other out of it.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Great Adventure

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where we stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
Martin Luther King jr.

Laura left for DC at 6:00 in the morning. Jay fell back asleep until 7:30, but when he got up he knew his mom was gone, and probably for a while. Sure enough, she won't be home until Friday night. We have a week of single-parent-bachelorhood ahead, and we dug right in.

After a pancake breakfast we loaded some tubs of water into the bucket of the tractor to go douse our newly-planted baby Christmas trees. I bought him a Spiderman watering can on Thursday, and he's been itching to break it in.

Unfortunately, as we came off the road into the field, one of the tubs spilled and was crushed by the tractor.

I thought we were going to need to have a memorial service for it.

It was so upsetting to Jay that we couldn't finish our task. We had to hop back onto the tractor and circle our proverbial wagons. Mom's only been gone a few hours, and we weren't ready for failure and disappointment. The ride back to the house is about 150 yards. When you have (an apparently deeply-loved, if only-recently-met) crushed orange tupperware in the bucket of the tractor, it's much, much farther than that.

Time to call Rowan.

Rowan is Jay's best buddy. He's seven months older and about 15 pounds lighter, faster, and if Jay is unbounded energy, Rowan is the Big Bang Theory. They are perfect together, fight and love like brothers, and he was the salve we needed for Jay's emotional wounds.

Thankfully his mother, Kate, answered and was ready for action. We were both single-parenting this day, as her husband was away at an art show. She suggested we go to Merck Forest and let the kids ride bikes and pet animals. It was a perfect suggestion.

Merck Forest is a sustainable farm model owned by Merck Pharmaceuticals. They have sheep and lambs, pigs and soon piglets, horses, chickens, make maple syrup, and fruit trees and berries. It's free and open to all, and it's a wonderful place for a hike or outing with the family.

We got there first, and while we were waiting we stopped at the visitors' center. The resident cat immediately took a swipe and a bite at Jay. I sat and held him while he cried, running my fingers through the thick hair on the back of his head.

And felt a bump.

Yes, just that right size and shape. Crap.

I plowed through his hair, searching and tugging and brushing, and there it was. A big gray tick, recently embedded. So he's been bitten and scratched by a cat, dad's yanking at the back of his head, and somewhere at home an orange tupperware lies in an unmarked grave. And mom's gone.

"Let's go see if Rowan's here yet."

No Rowan, but a horse trailer pulls up. Distractions are good, thank you...

...and there they are.

They boys put on their helmets and tootled off on their strider-style pedal-less bikes, and Kate and I lagged behind to catch up on life.

Oops, back to the loo. We made it just in time. And, onward to the picnic tables. We picnicked, enjoying the advances of a few curious and hungry hens. And...

the blowout.

Poor Jay just...

...blew out. He'll stop feeding me some day for writing this, but yes. He had an accident, the kind you read about (like, say, here...). Massive and mushy. And far from help. I ran back to the car for his bag while Kate helped him to side-step and shuffle back to the visitors' center bathroom. We cleaned up, bagged the undies for permanent dismissal and the rest of the clothing for washing. His German stoicism was finding its way back into his mindset. He was a champ.

We collected ourselves, washed and washed and Purelled and washed, and set back out to see the farm.

Nose-to-nose with a lamb. Squawking at chickens. Threatening tadpoles and salamanders with sticks. Biking and running.



Into Page Pond he goes.

Now I get why his bag has TWO changes of clothing.

He didn't much like it (being wet). I think mostly it was embarrassment. He, the perfect one, the infallible Jay, had fallen.

I let him stay wet for a while, just to let him know he would live with a bit of water on him. But, when I turned around and both boys were bare-assed to the wind, peeing into the grass, I decided we may as well put some dry clothes on. We changed, and biked/ walked back to the cars.

We said a teary goodbye (WAY past nap time). I gave him the last of his juice, a cup of Cheerios, and clipped him into his big boy "Cars" booster seat.

I wondered how he was feeling about everything that had happened to him. It was quite a day.

As we tooled down the broken two-lane highway, I looked back to see his eyes nearly closed, his head bobbing. With his last breath before nodding off, he let me know exactly how he felt.

"Daddy? I had a great adventure today."

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Lessons from the Ministry of Encouragement.

I am a "charter" member and admin for a Facebook group called the Creative Group at Bedlam Farm. The group was founded by author, neighbor and friend Jon Katz almost two years ago. Jon entitled it a "ministry of encouragement". He had seen too many talented people, with lots to say, not saying it, not using their voices, for a lack of encouragement and positive feedback. I'm honored to be a part of it, and am only too slowly learning its lessons.

In January of this year we went to Florida to visit my parents. While we were there, Jay really began to notice how important photography was to me, and how exciting a good shot could be. One evening he asked for my camera. I handed it to him and showed him how to aim and push the shutter button.

He slammed away, shot after shot, of the ceiling fan, the counter, the floor, the couch, half of Grandma, Grampa's feet, whatever ended up in front of him. He was discovering how satisfying the click of a shutter can be, can feel, can sound. He was loving making something with his own hands and eyes.

And dad, the photographer, the most important voice in this, was clueless.

We sat and looked at his pictures. I deleted several along the way, then more, and at some point he took his slumped shoulders and went to the bedroom. He closed the door behind him.

I walked in and asked him if something was wrong.

"I take TERRIBLE pictures."

It would be hard to feel as crushed as he did, but I was close.

It didn't really matter what was in his pictures. They were HIS, and they were what he saw. It was fun. It was magic. Until dad and the "delete" button stepped in.

What an ass.

I am OH so grateful for the resilience of the young.

I got a second chance today.

We went to the West Pawlet rail trail. I took a few pictures of Jay on his Strider bike (thanks to our friend Zachary for the loan). He wanted to take my picture. Then pictures of the trail. And the trees. And the river. And the caterpillar. And me. Again. The shutter clicked and clacked in that satisfying way, and I loved watching him shoot. After almost every shot he wanted to show me his work. We chimped over every one. They were, all in all, pretty amazing. Some of that has to do with his increased strength (he can now more or less hold the camera level), and the amazing cognitive development that can happen in a three-year-old's mind in only three-plus months.

Moreso, it had to do with me offering a little guidance and lots of encouragement and letting him go.

Oh, it was hard to see my camera hit the ground and get dragged around a bit. My tongue is a bit sore from biting it, but he is happy and excited to be a photographer again.

A little guidance. Lots of encouragement. Honoring his voice while maintaining respect (we talked about why it would be inappropriate to take pictures of the strangers approaching us before we asked their permission). Allowing him to feel magic. 

It's so simple.

But, I learned a long time ago that there is a very, very big difference between "simple" and "easy."

He was excited to see his pictures on Facebook tonight, and to hear people's comments. He feels encouraged and connected, and maybe a little bit magic. 

He's three years old. That's how life should feel.

Actually, it's a good way for all of us to feel.

A few of Jay's shots from today:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

35 days.

35 days.

That is how many days Jay and I have left together in our father-and-son preschool adventure.

Yeah, we have more than 35 days until he goes off to the 2 hour and 15 minute-a-day toddler-on-steroid craziness known as universal pre-kindergarten, or UPK. We have camping trips, trips to the shore, hiking and biking with family and friends outings, but those are with the family, with friends, with others. Those are planned. Already on the calendar. Mother packs the bags, father apologizes as he tries to clean out the car, Jay wonders what all the fuss is over, 

they are 


a day with dad. 

A day with son.

Last night I asked Jay what we were going to do tomorrow. His eyes and voices brightened.

"Daddy? We're going to spend the WHOLE DAY TOGETHER!"

No need for plans. That was enough. 

It is enough.

We'll have more whole days, together, in the summers, in the future, but he and I will both be another summer older. His fingers will grow, and be able to grab more than just my index finger as we walk the rail trail, if he wants to hold my hand at all. 

At some point friends his own age will take over, and a whole day of riding bikes and playing ball, blowing things up, fishing, hitting things with sticks, will be the best possible way to spend a day. 

My relevance will evolve to some other form. I don't know what that is yet, but I didn't know anything about this job when I started and have done okay at figuring it out on-the-run thus far.

I have been going a bit crazy lately. I spent the last two months of winter fighting rather severe cold-weather-induced asthma. Once that started to pass, I got hit with a late flu virus that beat me without mercy for about ten days. For the past two weeks, as life has begun to renew itself here, seasonal allergies have hit hard. My lungs are just done with it all. My body wants to rest.

So, I thought about taking Jay to daycare for an extra day this week, and just sleeping all day. It's been rainy, and there has been little opportunity to get the work done that is needed on the farm (Friday I pick up 130 trees and shrubs from Warren County Soil and Water, and next week my two packages of honey bees, containing about 10,000 bees each, will arrive). What's an extra day in the long run?

I did a little thinking. And I pulled out a calendar.

35 is a very, very finite number. 

When we decided to have a child, I made a commitment that he would not grow up as a full-time daycare kid, managed among masses and a number in the child/ care-giver ratio. He does indeed go to daycare, in another person's home, a few days a week, as a part of a larger plan to help him socialize with peers. Beyond that, for two or three days a week, 

"We're going to spend the WHOLE DAY TOGETHER!" It's one of Jay's favorite things to say, and one of my favorite things to hear.

I can see the end of those days. These days. Like today, what should we do today, go to the library? Color something? Walk in the woods? Go find a playground? The whole day, OUR day, together.

These days have become easier, more fulfilling, and are hitting their peak of innocence and discovery. He can walk farther, stay out longer, understand more, wonder more, give more. It will be a spring and summer of both plans and serendipity. 

Today we went to story hour at the Pawlet, Vermont library (it was bunny day, and some of Jay's pink nose and white whiskers have not yet rubbed of during his nap). We drove to the Bedlam Corners country store for penny candies. We got a sandwich at the diner (I ate Jay's burger since he plowed through all the ham in my ham and cheese). Jay fell asleep. 

The sun has come out, so maybe when he wakes up we'll go smash some puddles in the driveway. He'll get the grain for the horses while I carry the hay, and he'll put the water bucket on the hydrant and start filling it. When it's full, he'll tell me and shut off the water. He'll pretend to help me lift the 40-pound bucket off the hydrant. 
"There you go, daddy."

After that, who knows? Check the peas in the garden- are they up yet? See how high the garlic has sprouted? Kick a ball, climb on toys, ride his glider bike- it doesn't matter. We'll fit in whatever is the most important thing to do at a given moment.

This chapter is already in transition. In September of 2011, I placed a baby seat in the back of our Honda Civic. I have to say, it freaked me out more than just a bit to see a BABY SEAT in the back of MY CAR.

Today, we took our first car ride in a booster seat. 

Soon enough I will be the parent in the drop-off line at Mary J. Tanner School. 

Soon enough his hands will be bigger than mine.

There are 35 days left in this chapter. I am looking forward to Jay and I spending the whole day together on every last one of them.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Rupert is my kitty.

Monday: I bring a nearly dead cat to the door from the garage into the house. I lie her on the garage floor, not knowing if she has an awful disease, is starving, etc etc etc. I call the vet clinic. Jay wonders what's going on. We explain that "daddy found a kitty and she's very sick. Daddy is going to take her to the hospital." No, she's not ours. 
She was silent for the last half of the drive. I thought she was dead on arrival. No, she howled in pain when I touched her.

Tuesday: Took Jay to daycare; he's asking questions. No, honey, she's not ours. I don't know where she came from. She was very sick. "She's at the hosdibble?" Yes, she is at the hospital.
Canvas the neighborhood looking for owner, not knowing if she is alive (vets don't answer the phone until 8:45). 
Hanging out the Whitehall farmers' market, my friend Ray sez "when did she show up?" Friday. "The 31st." Yup. "She got dumped."
I have to agree.
Called the vet in the evening, she's eating up a storm. Pondering the dumping of a young cat with a $50 collar...

Wednesday: Stop at the vet's for an update. She's doing fine. They thank me for trying to find the owner. Jay is happy to visit the hosdibble and thank them for taking care of the sick kitty. I ask him if he would like to have her. He said, "She's not ours." Would you like her to be? "Rupert is my kitty."
We went on to tumbling class. Later that evening, talked to Dr. Kissack. Talked to Laura.
Talked to Jay. "She's not ours." Would you like her to be ours? He nods tentatively.

Thursday: we take Rupert in for his vaccines. Jay is introducing everyone, human and canine, to HIS cat Rupert. He also helped to carry in the extra carrier for the sick kitty. "Is she ours?" She will be. Is that okay? "Rupert still my kitty?" Yes, always. 

The past two nights, at bedtime story hour, Hallie has come into Jay's room to join us. 

"Is she our kitty?"
She is now.

She likes her new people, and is at home in Jay's space. Maybe it's that just-changed-diaper smell, maybe it's the best collection of blankets in the house, but she and Jay are slowly finding their way to each other. He knows to be gentle because she is still very weak, and she is okay with his excess volume and flailing arms and legs.
He still asserts that Rupert is his kitty, but Hallie no longer poses a threat. He gets excited when she ventures out, and it's fun to watch his eyes follow her. His brain gets very busy when she is out.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ever changing.

On the day of the fourth anniversary of my marriage to Laura, many things are running through my mind. 

In the year following our wedding, I finished my college degree (lovingly known as the 33 1/3 plan, referencing the number of years it took from start to commencement), we sold our house in Massachusetts, bought a house in NY, I moved our entire household and orchestrated the move of our horses, Laura got pregnant, I opened a gallery and we went to Portugal for a last "just us" hurrah.

The gallery is now closed, and prints from the equine photo workshop in Portugal are piled in my basement but also displayed on four continents. The degree languishes, but the knowledge helps me every day in raising my son and striving to be a good father and husband. 

The horses moved home after boarding for a year, as I fenced in a few acres and brought in a run-in shed to shelter them. New water and electricity lines make their home easier for us to manage. The garden has tripled in size. I am now known to the state of New York as Farmer Number 1909, accepting WIC and Senior Nutrition checks (as well as cash, thank you) at three to four farmers' markets every week. I haven't ridden my horse in a couple of years, but he is still dear to me and as honest and sweet as ever. And, he and his pasture mate sure can make compost. They are a part of my spirit, they nurture my inner nurturer, and you can't beat the soil in our gardens.

And, the "baby". He's just shy of three years old now, and last night he joined in a bluegrass jam when a young woman offered him a washboard to strum along with the music. If we're foolish enough to leave the TV on during dinner, he is likely to jump out of his chair to dance to a theme song. Every week we go to "concerts"- music events where he can dance and play and clap, and flirt. People marvel at his willingness to entertain. As the saying goes, to Jay "there are no strangers, just friends he hasn't met yet."

Our marriage has not been easy. My wife's job is very stressful, and we are raising a child as members of slightly differing generational viewpoints. Sometimes I think our biggest connection is that we both frequently feel socially awkward, but are pretty comfortable with each other's energy and boundaries. That's not always easy to find, no matter how passionate and loving two people may feel. We continue to approach some sort of breaking point, cool off, and try to "re-set". It's work, wearying and wondering work, and yet it somehow does work.

And, my parents are very much on my mind. Their 58th anniversary approaches. I know they have had their share of work with each other. At the moment, my two concerns are for my mother's ailing heart and for my father's declining body and spirit. We had planned to visit in January, but I'm feeling an urgency to go soon. 

So many forks in this road, all of them requiring paring and pruning, and not always with a clear view of the road ahead. Faith keeps the feet moving forward- faith in my resourcefulness, faith in my family, faith in the power of love to overcome the power of sorrow and anger.

Ever forward, the only sin is sitting still and waiting to die. My 95-year-old neighbor fires up her wood chipper and mulches the rakings from her flower beds about once a week. Friends older than I am continue to strive for knowledge and growth. 

The lexicon of my new farming vocation says that I am a "grower". I like that title. I plan to keep it, even when I can no longer kneel in the garden.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Washboard duet

Bluegrass music is literally in Jay's blood. I can tell you that his grandmother, my mother, was born in the hills of eastern Kentucky, and that we had many an evening of mountain music when we visited early in my life. But all you really need to do is watch him when the music starts.

We have been feeding this interest for some time now, with visits to the Adirondack Fiddlers, and to various fairs and events nearby. There are regular and spontaneous hoedown throw-downs all around us- at the farmers' markets, art events, festivals, bluegrass is alive and well right here in and around the Green and Adirondack Mountains. Since we are positioned smack between the two ranges, we get it all.

This summer we have discovered Little Theater on the Farm in nearby Fort Edward. It's exactly what the name says, a little theater on a farm. The stage and a seating area are in the back of an old dairy barn. They hold regular bluegrass jams, as well as gospel jams that are thinly veiled bluegrass jams with maybe an extra nod to the spiritual roots of the music.

A few weeks ago we had our large animal vet, Lauren Marsh, out to help me with some infected scratches on my horse's legs. As we worked, we chatted about the area and the culture. Lauren asked if we knew about "Pickin' in Pawlet." I said no, but we were happy for the tip.

Tonight we went to our second Pickin' in Pawlet, in the Tavern of The Barn Restaurant. Yes, I took my 2-year-old to a bar to dance and chase women. Okay, well, I took him to eat and dance. The other part he did on his own. And hell, he's almost three, right?

He is becoming a big hit among the locals. and tonight he joined the jam. A beautiful young woman who regularly sings with the musicians, also sits by the stage and strums a washboard when she is not singing. She loves Jay, and gets up to dance with him when he hits the floor. Tonight she got out a second washboard, and invited him to play along. He was in seventh heaven. He studied her closely (technique is very important- must get it right!). Soon he was strumming along with the band in between the local ladies' frequent dance requests.

It's a beautiful thing to watch, spontaneous and fun, as a jam should be. He already "gets" the spirit, and why not? It runs through his veins, it makes his very heart beat. It is his lifeblood.