Children's Fashion Workshop



I'm Erin.  Gardening addict, incurable maker, insatiable reader, closet author, chronicler of childhood, wanderer, wonderer.  I'm glad you've come to sit a while with me.

Instagram @ewatsonhowe


Offhand comments:

9.y.o.-"I have three ant bites.  Can I use this stuff I found in the first aid kit on them?  It's called ant-acid." 

9.y.o.-"It would be awesome if we had a 3-d printer because then we could print anything. a tiny little model of Angkor Wat!"


I really needed that laugh


You look at house values. You look at crime rates.  You check how far it is to the grocery store, the library, the church, his work.  You look at schools, whether or not you intend to send your children there because so will anybody who eventually buys the house from you.  You spend hours finding activities the kids could do if you moved there.  You check the weather, averages and records, the frost dates, the hardiness zone.  You check whether there's decent internet available.  You check, and check, and check, and check.

And then, with a prayer, you sign the papers and make a leap.

Because there's so much you can't know.  You can't really go meet the neighbors and say, "We're thinking of moving here and we want to know if you're nice or nasty."  Long pause.  "So?  Nice?  Nasty?  Say."  You can't go live in that precise community for a while and see.  You could rent, I suppose, which we did, but we ended up finding the perfect home 45 minutes away from our rental home.  45 minutes puts you in a different community entirely.  So even doing that is tricky.  

But the beautiful thing about there being a gap between what you know and what you'll eventually find out is that there's room for delightful surprises.  

There was a list of things I hoped for, clutched in the sweaty palm of my heart.  I wanted rain. (check: it's raining buckets right now.)  I wanted proximity to work and church. (25 minutes to the former, 5 to the latter.) I wanted land.  (11 acres should do it.)  And, oh please, I wanted people.  

This last want is so hard to measure.  Rainfall charts, maps, specs on a property, can all be had easily.  But how can you know whether the people you need are in any specific place?  And as much as I just want to be a person whom other people need, as much as that would assuage my ego, I know that I need other people just as badly as they could possibly need me.

And, to add impossible specifics to my list of demands, I didn't need just any people.  Of course any people are wonderful, and all can enrich your life.  But your people, people who get your particular madness, those people are comfortable to your soul.  I wanted women people.  Mom people.  And...maybe, if I could have them...homeschool people.  This is a very specific type of people, I knew, and hoped but tried not to hope too hard.

I looked up this morning, in the middle of a hysterical shared laugh with a circle of homeschool mom people in my living room and thought, this.  I didn't know how to predict this.  If I had known a place where this could happen existed I would have moved there regardless of the rain or the acreage.  This, in other words, was not my doing.  It was a straight-up blessing, a gift I hoped for, prayed like crazy for, and am blown-away astonished that I've received.  It's early days yet, they've only been coming once a week for three weeks, but I can feel them beginning to fill an empty place that I've had for a long time, a place that isn't always filled.  This can be so lonely.  I pay attention, and am intensely grateful, when it's not.

Oh, also, the kids are having a pretty good time. 

We have no special agenda for the kids, on our Tuesdays when friends come.  They play in the creek, they fish in the pond, they fly kites, feed the neighbors' horses, play board games, create complicated character games around a table full of playdough, and cover every hard surface with sidewalk chalk.  They make friends.  They wander around in tribes or pairs.  They come to us for lunch and bandaids, or justice for some wrong done.  And for the change of clothes the moms have learned to bring if they don't want to cart dirty wet kids home in their cars.  

None of this is to say that I have forgotten, or will ever forget, those of you who have filled this place for me in days past, who continue, though from afar, to fill it in your own way.  But not to notice when a desperate desire is fulfilled is ingratitude, and I'm loath to be guilty of that.

Because man, I really needed that laugh.



road ends

"Once upon a time, a very long time ago now, about last Friday, Winnie-the-Pooh lived in a forest all by himself under the name of Sanders.

(“What does ‘under the name’ mean?” asked Christopher Robin.

“It means he had the name over the door in gold letters, and lived under it.”)" --Winnie the Pooh, A. A. Milne

Is it hokey, I wonder, to name one's home?  They do it all the time in books: Wuthering Heights, Tara, Green Gables.  Farms that want to do business often have names, so that customers can remember an image and share the name with others.  Beds-and-Breakfast (how on earth do you really pluralize that?) always have charming names, Rose Cottage, Paisley Place.

I've thought about this before, as homes where I've lived have begun to take on personalities to me.  There's magic in a name, in having something to call something or someone.  If you share the name with someone else, you'll both know immediately what you're talking about.  If you keep a name to yourself, it's a secret, a way to label something in the silence of your own thoughts.  

I laughed when I first saw the sign at the end of our road/beginning of our driveway.  Road Ends.  Go any farther and you're off the beaten path, you're in my world.  Who knows what could happen to you here?  Many of my guests comment on the Road Ends sign, saying variously that it's forbidding, funny, confusing, helpful.  I laugh with them, because it is fun, trying to figure out exactly what it means.  "We live behind the Road Ends sign," I can tell them, and if they've found our road, they can find our house easily enough.

But in the quiet back of my mind, in my heart where I'm not laughing, I wonder.  Road Ends.  Can it be true?  Our road has been winding, stopping and starting, losing and gaining, hurting, hoping, and healing.  If we could just settle down, we keep saying.  Dare we hope?  Dare we trust the sign?  

Or maybe the sign isn't making a promise.  Maybe the sign itself is an incantation, casting its spell over this place, our friendly wizard at the end of the drive, telling the forces of upheaval that they shall not pass.  Maybe, most probably, it's a prayer.  Road Ends.  Oh please. 

Or maybe it's just a sign.  Not a sign, but a sign.  A road sign.  And I've almost begun to think of it as the name badge it kind of looks like for our home-I'm going shopping and then I'm heading back to Road Ends, why don't you come over to Road Ends for the evening, we'll be at Road Ends all day... 

A name, as evocative as it is, carries no real promise.  "Butch" may be a timid little boy, "Flora" a tomboy.  It's just a handle, a way to remember what we're talking about, after all.  If "Road Ends" were the name of our home, it wouldn't necessarily mean that we expect it to come true.  

But then again, it might.



her box

When it became evident that yes, we really were going to move into this home from our rental, almost all activities stopped except packing.  The music of the tape gun and the rhythm of stacking boxes became our song and dance for the week we had between knowing we were moving and the actual event.

I've never been good with transition.  I cling to the old like it's a life raft and act like the new is sure to be a deadly waterfall looming around the corner.  Nothing good can come of it, I'm always sure inside.  For the most part, I've felt a solidarity on this account with the toddlers we've moved around the country so ungently.  They don't seem to do so well with change either.  When we pulled up to a new home after a trip to a new library years ago, and the child in the carseat behind me burst out with an angry, "No, not this house!  I want to go home!" I completely understood and agreed.  It doesn't matter so much what or where home is, just don't change it on me all the time. 

So I expected to have this same kind of difficulty and sorrow with our 4-year-old.  I expected tears and struggle and somebody to pout with. 

I'll have to look for somebody else. 

For a couple of days she watched us pack.  She remembered packing before, in California, and knew that we were moving again.  I expected any moment for her to understand and object, because that's what small children do.  Instead, among our things, she found a little box.  It had snowed that week, and friends down the street had given her a pair of hand-me-down mittens to wear.  We had no mittens on hand, not having needed them for the last five years, and by the time it began snowing, the stores were clean empty of them.  She was so proud of them, they were pink, and tiny, and she wore them nonstop, even when the snow stopped and melted away.  

Now, having observed and considered what we were doing, she took her precious pair of mittens, put them in this little cardboard box, taped them up, and mothered them around.  When she went up to bed she had to make sure the box was with her.  In the morning she had to find the box and make sure she knew where it was.  In the shuffle of moving, the box was misplaced a time or two, and she was upset until it was found and sitting next to her again.  

The first night we slept here, the first night the house was ours, we had cleaned our rental house until late, and she was asleep when we arrived.  Her daddy carried her inside, and she woke up, looked around, and asked for her box.  It was found, sitting on the floor in front of her carseat.  She took it, marched into the house, tore off the tape, unpacked the mittens and put them on, heaved a great, satisfied sigh, and went up to bed.  She had moved.  

I had heard, before I had children, that they would astonish me.  I knew this and know this in an academic sense.  And yet they continue to do it.  How do some of us come with this built-in resiliency and understanding?  Where did she get the calm that so many of the rest of us lacked?  And, most of all, how do I learn? There was no life raft for her, no waterfall.  Moving wasn't a big scary thing.  It was just a pair of mittens and one little box.



the wall

The view from the front porch, with the rain-wet road to civilization beckoning. Or warning, depending on how you look at it.

The first time I really recognized the wall as a real thing was at the Cub Scouts' Blue and Gold banquet last week.  I am new in my town and church (again), and having to walk into rooms where I know no one and choose a seat among them is something that comes with that territory.  So I did at the banquet, standing at the door and looking long before selecting a round table with enough chairs left for myself and my crew.

The meeting hadn't begun, so people were chatting, and there it was.  Halfway across the table where we sat, there was an invisible wall.  We didn't know the people on the other side of the table, so we talked to each other, and didn't even look across the table at them.  They, likewise, didn't look at us.  Suddenly I thought how odd it was that we were three feet from someone else, but might as well have been in the next room, or the next city.  

Of course then I sat there contemplating the wall, and realized that I've seen it over and over.  We've been...fortunate? to be able to live in several different places during our adult lives, some of them spacious, some of them less so.  It's interesting to note the differences in the way people act when they have different amounts of space.  

The little pond, with the houses on the other side of it cleverly cropped out.

In the neighborhood we've just left, the houses were very close together.  I would say, self-righteously, that I make no judgement call on that arrangement, but you would call me hypocritical seeing these pictures.  I will say that the people living around us there seemed happy, and it was only I who felt something amiss.  There was a sense of community there that they all love, but I, a chronic misfit, couldn't bear. 

But the wall was clearly evident between each of those little properties.  Where people must live their lives always within the view of others, the wall, it seems to me, must be psychological.  So our neighbors would carry on in their backyards, playing or partying, or even just cutting the lawn, fully in view of our back windows, but with both of our walls firmly between us.  We saw, but did not see them.  They unloaded groceries into garages directly below our bedroom windows and had conversations about the day that we weren't intended to hear, and the wall was intended to protect us both.  We would rake leaves in the front yard at the same time as someone across the street, never interacting and never thinking of doing so, the wall an almost visible divider between us.  

In the apartments where we've lived, the wall is even closer.  When someone else's front door is a foot from your own, when your walls adjoin so that you can hear him catcalling at her through them, The Wall has to be more real than the walls themselves.  

All of this may sound as though I think the wall is bad.  I'm just commenting on its existence, really.  It may be, probably is, a coping technique that we all use to navigate a world where we've got to interact with a lot of other people.  And maybe I only see it now because it's so suddenly been moved back for us, at least at home.  Everywhere else we continue to carry it with us, in the checkout line at the store, in the corner we've staked out among the blocks and books at the library, between our half of the park bench and theirs.  

The Point, where two creeks come together and hold our little piece of woods.

But I think it's when someone musters up the spark of courage that it takes to cross the wall that's beautiful to me.  Sometimes they botch it, to be sure.  It's tough to know what to say when someone at the store asks me if I'm running a day care.  That kind of interaction tends to make my wall a little stronger.  But the other night at the banquet, as I sat wrapped in thought about, and firmly ensconced in, my own wall, I heard these words from the other side of the table, "I don't believe we've met.  I'm..."

And the wall between us came down.



create the kind of world

Running. Always.

Fifteen.  That was the number of houses we counted as we drove slowly up our new street last Sunday toward our house at the end.  Now, on Monday, that was the number of loaves of bread we were aiming to bake, to take to each of them and introduce ourselves.  

As my daughter and I ground the flour and measured out the ingredients in a dance that's become automatic now, my mind ran the usual round of thoughts.  Why am I doing this?  What's the purpose?  Do I really want to meet all these people?  I'm not particularly fond of people in general, and it's going to be weird to show up like trick-or-treaters on people's front doorsteps.  We'll look so silly, not to mention overwhelming (there are a lot of us, after all.)  Is this really a thing that people do, or am I doing another one of those crazy things and all these people will think we're crazy?  There's no reason I couldn't just move in up here at the end of this road and hunker down and never meet anyone on my street at all.  Actually, that sounds nice.  We'll just eat all this bread ourselves. 

But then I reminded myself of this:  You've got to create the kind of world where you want to live.  It does no good to say, nobody in my neighborhood ever talks to me, if you're not talking either.  Being at the end of a dead end street, we drive by every single house every time we leave ours.  I didn't want to just wave at people whose faces I recognized by sight but never know their names.  I've lived in silent neighborhoods before, and bemoaned their silence.  Who did I expect to come and save me from it, I wonder now?  

So we squared up our shoulders and went.  We did look like trick-or-treaters, all clustered up at the bottom of each set of steps.  Or like Christmas carolers, maybe.  We rang each doorbell, and got the guarded, what-do-you-want faces of strangers.  We offered our gift of butcher-paper-wrapped bread, with our phone number penciled on top, and explained who we were, and in seconds we got the smiles and relaxed shoulders of friends.  

We met an older couple who have closed their restaurant but still run a catering business.  They explained how working together with their children as they grew made their family strong.  We met another homeschooler.  We met a couple of families who have been here for decades, who explained to us how our area has changed over those years.  

It took us a couple days (fifteen loaves is a lot of bread) to make it to the end of the road.  By the second day, word had spread of what we were doing and the people we approached already knew our names, where we were from, and were waiting for their bread.  We learned that all the properties on our street, now in lots with homes on them, had once been one giant peach orchard.  We learned about the rodeos held at the equestrian center on the next street over.  

At the last house on the street, an old man and woman stepped gingerly down their concrete steps to talk to us in the circle of the porch lights.  We'd declined their offer to come inside.  We're less destructive of trinkets and such if we stay out in the yard.  After talking with us for a few minutes, the man shyly said that he walked the street for exercise every day, and the former owners of our house had said that he could walk up the driveway if he wanted.  He only ever walked halfway up, but it added another 500 feet to his walk before he turned around.  Walk on up it, I said.  We'll wave if we see you. 

The day after our first round of bread, I received a message on my phone.  A lady down the street had heard that there would be a tornado drill in the morning, and she wanted me to be aware, so that "it doesn't frighten all those children."  A text came later, with the caterer's phone number and thanks.  A couple of days after that, the homeschool family dropped by with a bag of cleaning things and chocolate.  

Yesterday, having watched the wind whip across our front yard for days, we got a couple of kites while we were at the store.  The second we got home, the children tumbled out of the car, tore the packages off, and unreeled their ribboned treasures into the sky.  It had been a long morning, so I sat down on a rocking chair on the front porch to watch.  They shrieked and laughed as they launched their kites and crashed them and launched them again.  

While they were out there exulting over their vicarious flight, I saw a little figure with a dog coming up the street.  He reached our driveway and kept coming.  It was our friend from the end of the street, taking his daily walk.  True to his word, he shuffled about halfway down the driveway, then stood with his head back, watching the children's kites, his eyes shielded against the brilliant sunshine.  He stood that way for a long time, then turned, called to his dog, and walked the other way.  And I thought how strange that would have been if I didn't know who he was, if I didn't know his name.  When I waved to him, it wasn't the tight, obligatory wave of strangers.  It was the greeting of a friend.