Children's Fashion Workshop

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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.

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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.  Like...like a tiny little model of Angkor Wat!"

Sunday
Aug022015

we've all still got it

"Oooh, here's my classroom building!" I told my children.  "And here's Daddy's! He spent hours and hours of his life in there!  And here's the apartment building where we lived when we met!  And here's the library! The bookstore! The statues!"  The more I tried to recreate the enthusiasm I'd felt when I was going to college so that my little friends could understand, the more I realized that I really, really couldn't.  

We were walking around the campus of our alma mater, having stopped there for a little while on the way home from back-to-back family reunions, exulting over all the little places where things had happened, the places we remembered so well.  It's been fourteen years now since we left town, and campus, and we, have changed a bit since we parted.  I was aware that we're no longer the backpack-wearing proto-adults we once were, striding around in our native environment, but visitors, surrounded by a crowd of statue-climbing, flowerbed-trampling hooligans with a couple of gangly half-grown humans thrown in just to prove our age.  I saw the spark of excitement in the faces of the students everywhere, and I wondered whether they had something that we, outsiders now, had lost. 

I was baffled by my lack of ability to hand over my college experience wholesale to the crew.  We walked through empty buildings, peeked into empty classrooms with rows of desks and blackboards, and I began to see that what I was pointing out, pretty and formal as it was, was just a container. The whole huge imposing place is set up to hold something else. 

I began to think, what was it that made this place, this time spent in this big container of a college campus, so magical?  And, as is usually the case, I realized it was me.  Well, judging from the goofy, dreamy grin on my husband's face, not just me. 

I am a plant person, might as well own it.  My default flowerpot for picking metaphors from is decidedly botanical.  And I thought, the reason that I loved this place and time so much was that it was a meristem for me.  On plants, meristems are the growing points.  The bundles of undifferentiated cells at the ends of stems or roots that could become anything, a flower or leaf bud, more stem or root.  What's between the meristem and the rest of the plant has already been decided, is now a twig, and must now perform the function of a twig forever.  But out there at the end, where the plant is pushing outward into unknown space, anything could happen.  

Those years at college were just such a time for me.  And maybe that's why college itself becomes a magical place, because so many people are having those meristem experiences in the same place at the same time.  All the questions are being asked.  What will I study?  What friends and more-than-friends will I make?  Where will I live when this is over?  Who am I?  Where do I fit?  And so on, endlessly.  We're each a ball of green and growing cells, waiting to burst out into whatever directions we can find.  And this, unfortunately, is something that has to be experienced to be understood.  It's at this point that adults have to retreat behind phrases like, "You won't understand until you do it yourself," and children are frustrated, thinking they're deliberately hiding something.  Not so, I find now.  It just can't really be described adequately, and this is the surrender of someone who realizes it's futile to try.

While musing on this, I saw a picture my sister posted on Instagram.  It showed her little dog in her empty and cleaned living room, in the final moments before she said goodbye to her home to move away to California.  I clicked on the heart, and tried to say something.  "I'm glad for your adventure but sorry you're moving away from me," I wrote, and deleted it.  No use bringing her down when she's already probably pretty tender.  "Best of luck with everything!" I wrote, and deleted that too.  That sounds like I don't care that she's abandoning the east coast for the west, and I really do.  So I closed Instagram and thought.  What do I really mean to say?  What is it that would help most both to say, and to hear said?

Now I have to pause to teach you more about how amazing plants are.  When you prune a plant, say, a fruit tree, or a bush next to the front steps, you've cut off all the meristems.  There they are, lying in a pile next to your feet, slowly dying while they wait for you to haul them off to the burn pile.  For a while the plant is shocked.  Oh my, it thinks, (in the way that plants do, which is not like you and I do, don't forget that or you'll never prune anything again) all my growth points are gone.  I can no longer grow.  For a few days it seems to be sulking, but things are going on that you can't see.  In no time at all, every tip where you cut off a branch becomes a meristem.  Now the plant can get on with its life.  The twigs will almost certainly grow in a different direction than they did before, but they'll grow, and chances are, if you're a good gardener, and have chosen carefully what to prune off, the plant will be stronger and more useful (beautiful, productive, shading, or whatever you need it to be) than it was before.  

Finally I realized that all of that was what I was thinking as I looked at the picture of the little dog in the empty living room.  Leaving a home, and a community, feels in a way like dying.  It certainly feels like someone has taking the pruning shears, sharpened them up (or not), and lopped off a good deal of your already-completed growth.  But, shocked though you may be, remember that the meristem is coming.  After the pruning comes the ability to grow in all kinds of directions you hadn't before.  Maybe in directions you couldn't before.  It is very tough to type all of that on the frustratingly tiny keys of my phone.

Meristems, I wanted to say to her.  The growth happens at the meristems.  

Maybe this is why we find children so fascinating, and feel instinctively that they're so precious.  Every day is a day that could determine a new direction of growth for them.  They're all meristem, no woody growth behind them at all.  Maybe we watch with a hint of jealousy, or regret about some of our own old growth.  Maybe we watch them to learn, because really, our growth points never die, no matter how brushy we get with age.  Even venerable old trees, having reached their ultimate height, will send out new shoots if a branch is torn off in a storm.  

And where are we in all of this?  Seeing others growing lushly around us or having just been pruned, where (it always comes back to this) do fit?  Having been fairly recently pruned back rather hard myself, along with my family, I am pleased to see new and healthy growth in all kinds of directions, some of which I could never have predicted.  Plants, and people, will thrive if given half a chance.  So I suppose that those fresh-faced college students don't have something we've lost.  Although it may look different now, and certainly not like we expected, we've all still got it.

~E~

Tuesday
Apr072015

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.

~E~

Wednesday
Apr012015

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.

~E~

Monday
Mar302015

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.

~E~

Friday
Mar202015

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.

~E~