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!"

Thursday
Jan172008

quarantine

The sound of measured breathing comes from the baby seat, the couch, the bedrooms upstairs. It’s the only sound besides the steady rush of air from the heating system. The lights are off all over the house, the dying light of the dim winter day the only illumination. It’s mid-January, it’s cold and flu season, and we’re in quarantine.

This seems to happen every year. After the Christmas stress and sugar binge, everybody crashes and burns for most of the month.  My husband’s illnesses are usually accompanied by fever, and every one of his children treat sickness the same way. So I face January with a bottle of Children’s Tylenol and blankets, and we shut the doors to our home and wait.

First one child, then another, falls ill, thrashes in bed, slowly recovers. The duration of each bout so precisely overlaps the next that we are prevented from going out as a group, usually for weeks. I steal away early on Saturdays to do a furtive grocery run, carrying hand sanitizer with me to cover my tracks. My husband uses up his sick leave caring for the least sick three while I carry the worst one to the doctor. There is no playgroup, no storytime, no church, and the days drag endlessly into each other.

If we try to see everything from a “useful challenge” standpoint, though, quarantine has a different face. When there’s sickness in the house, we withdraw, turn inward as a family. We remember the sickest in our prayers, all worry and care for them. We all share the burden of interrupted social activities until we can again face the world healthy, together. What seems like a useless exercise, I think, actually makes us stronger. Our “family immune system”, in a way.

Still, if I had a mail-order source that could bring me dry goods via UPS in under 24 hours, here would be my list:

More Children’s Tylenol, about a gallon
Diaper rash cream, for the one who’s on antibiotics
A decent movie nobody’s seen
Several yards of fabric
Something chocolate

At some point, we’ll reemerge, stronger for these long quiet hours spent doing nothing but building immune systems and relationships. We may even be able to live without the Tylenol and rash cream until then. But doing without fabric and chocolate is deprivation indeed. They’d be better medicine anyway.

~MB~

Wednesday
Jan162008

sisyphus

When I first heard the legend of Sisyphus, I was a teenager in high school. His punishment sounded cruel to me then, but never until I had a house, a family, children did I understand the mental and physical agony he must have felt.

I imagine him, condemned forever to roll a huge boulder to the top of a hill, where it would inevitably escape and roll to the bottom. I think of him standing at the top, sweating, swearing, and then stomping down the incline to start all over again. What must he have done in life to merit such treatment?

We moved into our home two years ago this week. This means there have been 104 Mondays, on which I wash the same clothes I’ve washed hundreds of times before. 104 Wednesdays to make the same eight loaves of bread. And 104 Thursdays, on which we have the opportunity to go to the library for storytime, health permitting. We’ve loaded and unloaded the dishwasher at least 730 times, and probably more like 1460 times. Been to the store in the neighborhood of 156 times. Church, 104. We’ve given 730 baths, served 2190 meals. Brushed our teeth a total of 7300 times.

We use our house hard. For many people, a home is a place to eat and sleep. In our home, we eat, sleep, play, work, go to school, go to work, and so on. So my personal boulder, I admit, may be larger than is strictly necessary. But knowing that doesn’t diminish its size.

As awful as the story of Sisyphus is, I begin to understand one thing. Nonfiction isn’t always pleasant. Was it a legend? Yes. Was it true? Definitely. Every morning, if we’ve been diligent in our labors the previous day, we have a relatively clean house. And the work begins. Distilled into one equation, our day is something like this. Six people creating disorder + one person creating order = entropy in its finest form.

For a while I thought it was just the number of people creating order that was out of balance. So I cut the purse of the family budget and hired housecleaning help. I felt very cosmopolitan, taking my children to the grocery store while “the help” cleaned the house. When I returned home, it’d be beautifully and completely clean. I would think, money well spent. But as soon as I opened the doors to Pandora’s SUV, the boulder would come crashing down again. I couldn’t get the groceries in the house before the children were pumping ketchup onto the newly sanitary kitchen floor, unrolling toilet paper all over the sparkling bathroom, crumbling crackers into the fluffy, spotless carpets. I let the cleaning help go.

There must be something larger to this story that I’m missing. There must be valuable lessons to learn in the hard slog that is every day. If you know them, send them my way. The only lesson I’ve learned is this. I’m not as much like Sisyphus as I originally thought. He at least made it to the top every time, without his boulder slipping away halfway up, or crashing off down the side of the hill to smash to smithereens at the bottom while he watched in resigned horror. There were no children hanging from his neck, his legs, his back, and when he got to the bottom every time at least he could find his rock. Ha. Sisyphus was on easy street.

But I wonder. His labor was obviously designed to give him an eternity to reflect on whatever heinous acts he’d committed that earned him that unenviable position. He must have done something terrible to warrant a lifetime of tedious, repetitive labor. But...what did I do?

Friday
Jan112008

night shift

Late in the evening, after the last marathon run of dinner-baths- pajamas-bedtime-cleaning, we start the dishwasher, sweep the kitchen floor, and turn off the lights. Wearily we climb the stairs, pass the children’s rooms, glance one last time at their sleeping cherub faces and fall into bed ourselves.

We’ve worked all day, dressing, cleaning, feeding, comforting, training and caring for four children and we’re exhausted. So it’s with a grateful sigh that we lie back, click off the lights, and slip into sleep. The house gets quiet, the only sound the gentle woosh-woosh of the dishwasher. We each go just over the edge into the beginning of hours of relaxing rest...and somebody starts to wail.

Two tired parents clock in for the night shift.

Every night, as I jerk back awake, there’s a “this can’t be happening” feeling that washes over me. But I know that it can, I know that it is, and so I haul myself back out of bed to fix the problem.

I used to feel like the only person in the world that was awake at those dead, dark hours of the morning. I remember sitting on the couch one night, nursing a fussy baby and watching the moon rise. I sat there from the time it came up behind the mountains until it slipped away out the top of the window, and felt completely alone. There were no lights in any of my neighbors’ houses, no cars on the street. Any sane person would be in bed.

But gradually I began to realize I was not actually alone. A friend up the street would have a baby who was teething. A sister in another state would have a child with pneumonia. They’d be up tonight, pacing the floor, keeping their midnight vigil.

And even in my house it’s not just me. Many mornings I’ll wake up to see the same haggard expression I know is on my face on my husband’s face as well. One of us says, “My baby didn’t sleep all night. Did yours?” We compare notes and realize that between the toddler and the infant, there was a relay race going on all night.

So when I get up at night, to find a pacifier, or quiet a fear, I know now I don’t do it alone. I feel a sort of comforting sense of community with all of you whom I know are up as well. I think of you in the quiet of the early morning hours, dispensing medicine, replacing blankets, nursing a newborn. At 2 a.m. we’re not doing anything so noble as underpinning the lives of future generations, or saving America’s tomorrow. We’re each just silent and determined, working the night shift.

Wednesday
Jan092008

powerless

About mid-January, when I’m mentally wiping my hands and rolling my sleeves back down after the holidays, there’s a sort of time vacuum. What do I do next? I was organized, driven, busy up until we drank the last of the New Year’s Martinelli’s, threw out the Christmas tree, took down the lights. I had so much direction until Father Bird went back to work, the kids started school again...

Into this void comes the seed catalog. Father Bird set it down with the other mail across the room from me during school one day. I could see its glossy cover faintly glowing over there and knew what it was. A couple hundred pages or so of pictures of perfect ripe tomatoes, crisp watermelons cut open, piles of yellow ears of corn. It seems to say to me, “You remember fresh corn, don’t you? Your nose remembers...your teeth remember...”

And the cover picture this year...a barefoot girl with a straw hat astride a wide row of lettuce mix, knife in hand, harvesting the crisp purple and green leaves. Last year the lettuce was my pride and joy.

All this combines to create a siren song that’s almost too much to bear. But do I stuff cotton in my ears and tie myself to the mast of my ship, straining to resist the beckoning that’s sure to drive me to pieces on the rocks?

No. I meekly get out my pencil and calculator, bite my tongue between my teeth, and start making notes. I’ve got to figure just how many of those tomatoes, corn, watermelons I can stuff into my garden this year. I start taking sidelong looks out the window at the brown bare earth and the cold gray day. I can’t even see it. I see myself, straw hat, hoe, blue sky, and lush vegetable plants, just as the seed catalog directed me to.

I know in my mind that things won’t turn out that way. I know there will be bugs, not all of my crops will make, and we’ll battle weeds in the heat and possibly drought all the long hot summer. I know that under the idyllic straw hat is a face streaming with sweat, hands blistered from weekend gardening, and the anguish of “how many more rows??”

But the seed catalog came. And I am powerless.

Thursday
Jan032008

mute reminders

Sometimes I wonder how much of ourselves we leave in a house we've lived in. I don't mean the hairs, the fingernails, the lost earrings that'll live in some forgotten corner until the house is finally torn down. I mean, how much of our selves do we leave in a house we've lived in?

Our house had already raised one family, at least, when we moved in. Sometimes I think it's like an old mother, finished raising a crowd of rambunctious children, surprised to suddenly find herself handling a brand new set.

The last family that lived here had two little boys. Over the two years we've been here, I've seen trace of them here and there. On a windowsill:

And this on the kitchen counter:

And, inexplicably enough, carved on the stairs to the side door, this:

Initials I understand. Boys are boys. But the KKK is a mystery. Was there an event, or just boredom that caused a little boy to take a nail, or some other blunt tool, and carve the most sinister thing he could imagine in such a public place? I imagine he’d heard a reference to the KKK somewhere, it stewed around in his brain for a while, and finally found expression on a long summer afternoon when there was nothing else to do...

Soon after we moved in, two quiet grown men showed up to haul away some junk from a shed behind the house. Now I mentally probe my recollection of them to see if they match the part of themselves that they left here. No, those men grew up, moved on, and learned not to carve their initials in things. The boys that still live here are young, untrained, and bored. Sometimes when I’m cleaning the windowsill or the counter with the initials forever etched there, I almost think I can see them slipping around a corner with a guilty expression.

And so I wonder. How much of myself is left in the house where I grew up? Do the strangers who live there now pass a place or two in the house where a mute reminder provides a fuzzy snapshot of the child I was then? I’ll never know. The doors to that house are closed to me now. But of one thing I am sure. I never carved “KKK” in anything.