Friday, October 24, 2014

Mother Daughter Night

My daughter and I went out together this evening for a special mother-daughter night. Disney On Ice's show Frozen is in town and I purchased tickets months ago with a group of colleagues who have daughters around the same age.

I treasure these times with my daughter because it's usually not me who gets to take her to special events. At least, not on my own. My husband, as the stay at home parent, takes her to museums and sporting events and parks all the time. When I'm not at work we usually go out as a family. We set this evening up as a mother-daughter event though, which means I got to do something special with my little girl. We went out to dinner together, an actual sit down restaurant (although not a fancy one) and then to a 7:30 pm show. I kept the event a secret until we arrived and had the fun of hearing her exclaim in delight "It's a Frozen show!" when we walked into the venue.

The problem with a 7:30 pm show is that bedtime at our house is at 8:00 pm. At four years old my daughter's outgrown naps, except for the occasional dozing off while in the car. We sat down for the show and sure initially she was fascinated, all wide eyed intensity watching the performance. Sure enough though, by 8:00 pm  she was curled up in my lap. By about 8:30 she was covering her ears and hiding her eyes from the more dramatic special effects and by intermission she was very clearly no longer having fun. The noise and the heat were overwhelming, and then she remembered a scary scene coming up and then she asked to go home. So we left at the end of intermission. My goal was for us to have fun together, after all. Better to leave early, while it's still a good evening for both of us.

To be honest, I wasn't all that disappointed to leave. I'm not big on crowds and noise myself. As my dad says, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  And I am not in such a hurry for her to grow up. I like having a child I can take out to dinner, but I also like having a child who wants to cuddle up when she is tired. I know that all too soon she will not be so snuggly; she will have more stamina and will also be too grown-up to lean on mom that way. I want to enjoy it while I can.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Skyline Drive



I had all kinds of plans for today. I was going to spend the afternoon after church catching up on homework, writing one blog post and roughing out some other ideas, tidying up the house and yard and generally getting things done. It was a difficult past 2 weeks being on call and I'm feeling rather behind on my life. Yesterday was my day to play, with a lovely picnic with good friends in a beautiful winery and then some time with my husband and daughter out shopping for Halloween costumes together while we waited for my cell phone screen to be repaired. Today was going to be my day to catch up and get ahead.

But. 

It really was a beautiful day. Sunny, cool, just the right amount of breeziness. Who knows how many more beautiful days we will have this year anyway? Winter is coming soon. The leaves are beginning to turn and fall color doesn't last forever either. It just didn't seem right to waste a day like this indoors. It would have been ungrateful, I think.



So, instead of a well written, thoughtful blog post I have pictures and memories. My husband, daughter and I drove out to Skyline drive for the afternoon. There is a nice visitor's center near Front Royal, about 90 minutes from D.C., that has a number of short hikes and some outstanding views. My husband and I picked the shortest trail with some help from a ranger and we all set off with our water bottles and cameras. Our daughter examined leaves, recognized trail markers, picked up acorns and rocks (that she left behind: take only pictures, leave only footprints!), and banged sticks together to make music. She managed the entire hike, including some long uphill sections, under her own steam, which is a first for all of us. We enjoyed the day and each other. I'm still feeling behind on life, but at least I'm cheerful about it.




Saturday, October 4, 2014

Already Home

We celebrated Break Fast with my husband's cousins this evening in their beautiful home in Maryland. It was a low key and lovely gathering over bagels, fish, and sweets to celebrate the end of Yom Kippur as a family. The kids were big enough to play more or less on their own this year, under the direction of the oldest girl cousin and her friend. The adults chatted and ate too much, wandering from room to room as little groups coalesced, conversed and dispersed over and over again.

Yom Kippur is an intense, serious, Holy Day. It' a time to reflect on how you are treating others, how you are honoring G-D, and how you are using the gifts you have been given. It's a time to pray, to abstain from food and to focus on G-D; a time to confess your wrongs and to receive his forgiveness. It's a fraught and holy time, so it is particularly sweet at its end to come together with family and food and fun, in the softer beauty of regular life.

When it comes down to it, this is the reason my husband and I moved our little family back to the East Coast. We lived in Texas when our daughter was born and we liked it a great deal. We had wonderful friends and Texas itself has many advantages; less traffic, friendlier people, lower cost of living. But despite all this we came back to the East Coast, where it is noisy and stressed and congested. We came back in order to come home.

We came home so that our little family could be part of our bigger family. We came home to celebrate Break Fast each year with our family, and see the cousins playing and not miss the children growing up. We came home so that my daughter can see her grandparents once or twice a month instead of once or twice a year. We came home to raise our child amidst the solid network of family and friends centered here, so that she would always feel that love and support. We came home so that our lives would be patterned with bright ribbons of community and tradition, each season flowing with a rhythm of observation and celebration.

Every once in a while my husband and I talk about moving. Some job or another in an interesting location crosses our email and we say "what if?" And then we attend a birthday party, or spend Sunday afternoon with our parents, or attend Break Fast, and we remember that we are already home.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

How Was Your Weekend?

The question of the day on Monday is "How was your weekend?" I can count on being asked at least two or three times on Monday morning by various people. The socially acceptable answers are, of course "Fine." and "Great!" with "Too short!" as a possible variation. It's an elevator question, not an essay question. Even if the weekend was difficult or something really cool happened, it's not the time or place or people with whom to get into it.

The truthful answer about the quality of my weekend depends on my perspective. For example, take this weekend.

I could tell you that this was a frustrating weekend. Our daughter was mildly ill and majorly cranky, so we've had about fifteen time-outs and about seven major temper tantrums. A normal weekend would be between zero and three time-outs and between zero and two temper tantrums, so she's way off kilter. Nothing we did seemed to be right and our normal routines and transitions were sources of angst and fury. Also, I couldn't find the items I wanted for our fall yard work, despite checking two stores and getting lost along the way. We spent two hours raking leaves and pulling weeds, two chores that in my mind should fall at different times of the year but somehow manage to coincide at our house. Half the weeds we pulled in the backyard were colonized from our neighbors wild meadow that they are growing instead of a yard. Which means we pulled vines off our fence and our house but we know it will all be back, since we couldn't get to the source. I had to take a proctored exam at the local community college for an online course I am taking and forgot to bring a pen. I ended up using a very old red pen that I dug up out of my glove box which had my fingers stained red by the end of the test. I goofed up the knitting project I am working on and had to rip out twenty rows of stitching so I could go back and correct my mistake. Frustrating, right?

Squirrel, mixed media. Rose Anne Karesh. 2014.
I could also tell you that this was a wonderful weekend. We spent several hours with a dear friend from out of town whom we don't see nearly often enough. When we got lost we ran across a bagel store that actually had my favorite bagels, pumpernickel, in stock. In our hunts through stores for what we couldn't find, we serendipitously found a hummingbird feeder that I've been wanting for a while and leaf scoops that I'd never heard of before. Leaf scoops are two large handheld plastic paddles with rake teeth along the bottom edges. They make me think of bear paws, and they are excellent for scooping up fallen leaves. Raking went much, much faster than it has in the past. We listened to music and worked as a family as we weeded the backyard. I found a great website where I could order some of the things I couldn't find and now I can look forward to even more flowers next year. We took two long family walks, exploring the neighborhood across the street and finding a shortcut path through to another road that will really help me if I ever make good on my plan to start biking to work. The shortcut not only cuts distance it allows me to stay off a larger road without a bike path that has been a safety barrier. During our walks our daughter found acorns. I'm not sure why, but she is enthralled by acorns this year and collected several pocketfuls to use in various art projects. We worked on one this evening, a mixed media collaboration portrait of a squirrel. She made a new friend at the playground in our neighborhood, a little girl who is about her age and lives across the street. I think my test went pretty well, which is a good feeling for someone who hasn't been in school for a while. I had time to knit and catch up on some TV shows on Saturday night, and even with my mistake the dinosaur project for my daughter is coming along pretty quickly.

So, really, it's all in my perspective and where I focus the lens of my memory. How was my weekend? Most of the time, it's really up to me.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Indecision

I finished the sweater I have been working on for the past four months. This is the one I wrote about back in June (Work In Progress). I finished it today, it looks the way I planned it to look, it actually fits me, and it's done in time to wear it when the weather turns cold. I knit it starting at the neck and it's knit in the round, seamlessly, all the way down, which makes me feel clever. Quite a success, all in all.

Now my dilemma is which project do I work on next. My daughter has a request in for a sweater herself, and she even helped choose the pattern one evening while looking over my shoulder as I was perusing a favorite knitting website (knitty.com). Unfortunately, the yarn used in the pattern is a large part of what she likes about the sweater, and it's not washable. Washable is a critical characteristic when the recipient of a hand knit item is a child, because things will inevitably get dirty. Especially with my child, who loves to paint on her arms, dig in the dirt, and climb everything she can get a foothold on. So her sweater may be on hold until I find a good substitute yarn that will look just as good but also stand up to her activity.

I wanted to make my daughter a doll for Christmas, and I even bought an entire book of doll patterns along with clothing. It has a basic doll pattern with variations for hair, facial features and wardrobe to create about ten different gorgeously outfitted characters. Which I absolutely love. I pored over the book when it arrived, and then I showed it to my daughter and she yawned. She wants a knitted dinosaur instead. I have a book of dinosaur patterns as well, but I really liked those dolls. Maybe I should make a dinosaur for her and a doll for me? I have a sneaky feeling that if I actually made a doll she would like it very much, so a doll for me would probably become a doll for her in the end.

I have other projects on my list as well. A few years ago I made knitted Christmas tree ornaments, and those were a lot of fun to create. I have some ideas for new variations this year that I'd like to play with. I have yarn and patterns for more sweaters for me, since I love wearing my own hand knit items to work. Even when no one notices, it just makes me happy. Socks are fun to knit and don't take as long as sweaters, so that would be another way to wear my knitting to work. And I've been working on and off on a lacy shawl that doesn't look like much so far, but I'm optimistic that when it's completely done it will be beautiful. I just have to put in the time to get it finished.

Too many ideas, not enough time to knit. It's a silly problem, I know. In the scheme of things in the world, really not a problem at all. Still, I wish there was someone out there who'd be willing to pay me to just stay home and knit all day.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Stories: Mean Bunny and The Rules of Good Behavior

I love to tell stories, which you probably could have figured out from the fact that I blog. I started telling stories to my daughter when she was about 18 months old. We alternate between real life stories of events in my daughter's life, retold fairy tales, and completely made up stories. The made up stories are just goofy little things featuring "pretend friends" interacting with my daughter in various adventures.

Some of those characters have taken on their own life in her imagination. Freddy Frog and Ronnie and Rachel Robot (twins, you know, Ronnie is short for Veronica) have become faithful companions for all sorts of imaginary jaunts, usually in a rocket ship. Their characteristics, ages, and characters have evolved somewhat over time. Freddy has shifted from a pond frog to a tree frog and he is much less hyper and annoying than he used to be. He has an ever changing number of siblings and multiple birthdays each year. Ronnie and Rachel Robot don't have as much personality, but they do live in a treehouse, are afraid of rain, and eat birthday cake for dinner. So they are fun to have around and nicely fill out the group.

Some characters I tried to introduce haven't made it into the canon. Francesca and her pet dragon, for example, made a brief appearance when my daughter was about two and then disappeared once again, although I rather liked them. Cinderella was a character for a while and my daughter would want to take an imaginary trip to Cinderella's house to help her with chores before going to the ball together. Then Cinderella would reciprocate by visiting our home and helping us out with our chores. Lately we haven't seen much of Cinderella, though. Other fairy tale characters have taken her place and stories about them tend to follow the book or movie plot more closely.

The way my husband and I use the stories has changed over time as well. At first our stories were purely for fun, something to entertain our daughter in the car or while snuggling before bed time. It didn't take long until we evolved them into gentle teaching tools. For example, the character of Mean Bunny appears to be here to stay for a while. Mean Bunny is usually a very poorly behaved character, which I suppose the name makes obvious. He hurts the other characters and gets into trouble and my daughter's character usually has to correct and teach him. The lesson she teaches him over and over are the "Rules of Good Behavior" which we came up with as a family. I think they are pretty handy in keeping small bunnies out of trouble.

The Rules of Good Behavior
No hurting other people. Keep your hands, feet, teeth and ears to yourself.
Speak kindly and respectfully to others.
Don't grab or take toys from other kids, bunnies, robots or frogs.
Share, take turns, and wait for your turn patiently.
When you are frustrated or mad walk away. Play with another toy, another kid or bunny, or ask an adult for help.

Of course, Mean Bunny never can remember the rules and gets into all kinds of trouble on the playground or over at our house for a play date. He gets consequences and feels terribly sad and then my daughter's character takes him aside and reminds him of the rules. Once Mean Bunny follows the rules he has much more fun and everything ends happily. On a few occasions recently my daughter has declared that Mean Bunny isn't mean anymore and that he's become Nice Bunny. Most of the time, though, she still wants to hear stories about Mean Bunny. I suppose it's nice to feel wise and mature and capable, no matter how old you are.
Mean Bunny by Rose Anne Karesh, 2014.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Pirate Fairy and Grace


...and I think to myself, what a wonderful world. from Flickr via Wylio
© 2010 Caleb Dorfman Photography, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio
 I attended a church once that did an annual "G-D in the Movies" sermon series, usually in the autumn. The pastors and sometimes a member of the congregation would each choose a movie and use the themes and moments in the movie to illustrate a point about our relationship to G-D. I'm sorry to say I don't remember many of the specifics, but it always surprised me how many movies brought up these themes. The movies ranged from popular blockbusters to indie films to little known documentaries and each of them had something important to say. Which, now that I've written that and thought about it some more, isn't really so surprising after all.

I was thinking about this because I realize that I do the same thing with my daughter. Recently we were watching "The Pirate Fairy" which is part of the Disney line of Tinkerbell movies. There are five of them, I think, and they feature Tinkerbell and her friends solving various problems through cleverness and teamwork and caring. In one of the pivotal moments in "The Pirate Fairy" Tinkerbell and her friends give up a treasure they had worked very hard to retrieve from the pirates in order to save the pirate fairy, a renegade fairy who helped the pirates steal from and imprison the fairies. The pirate fairy asks Tinkerbell why they saved her, and Tinkerbell replies with a smile "We're showing you quarter." Earlier in the film the pirate fairy had refused to show quarter to Tinkerbell and her friends, but Tinkerbell pays back harm with kindness. The pirate fairy becomes an ally and of course the fairies defeat the pirates and recover their treasure.

Nor surprisingly, that particular scene generated a host of questions from my four year old.

"What's quarter?" she wanted me to explain. I told her that quarter meant mercy, or even grace.

"What's grace?" she wanted to know. Grace is when someone gives you something you don't deserve or earn, I told her. It's like G-D giving us his love and forgiving us, and it's like Mommy not making you take all of a time-out sometimes. It's something you receive as a gift.

I don't know how well my four year old understands all this. Hopefully repetition and ongoing illustration will help her take these ideas in. They're tough concepts even for grownups. This weekend during the pastor's sermon in church the pastor talked about how grace is hard for us to accept. He was speaking about G-D's grace being sufficient for us in all of the hardship and troubles we might face, and emphasized that grace is something unearned and undeserved by definition. Most of us don't do well with this idea, with accepting something we don't feel we deserve. It feels uncomfortable and insecure and dependent, which is anathema to Western 21st century adults. I believe grace is true though, and I find I can grasp and accept it best using metaphors.

Movies provide great metaphors; Tinkerbell saved the pirate fairy even though she didn't deserve it, because of who Tinkerbell is and because of Tinkerbell's character. My favorite metaphor though, the one I understand best, is that of parents and children. Fundamentally, I love and take care of my child not because of who she is but because of who I am and the relationship I have with her. I loved her when she was a tiny infant, when all she could do was cry and make a mess, just because she was my baby. I love her now when she is still making messes and also gets into trouble and frustrates me, because she is my child. Which is not to say that she isn't lovable or that she doesn't have wonderful qualities; she is and does. But that's not the basis for my love. It's not the reason I provide care for her. My love and care aren't contingent on her behavior or her characteristics, they exist because of who I am. She can't earn my love and care and she can't lose it. The word mother defines how I relate to my child, and my character tells me that a mother cares for and loves her child.

In the same way, G-D is our parent. His love and care are given to us based on his character and his relationship to us. We can't earn G-D's love and we can't lose it. His love is given to us as a gift. That's grace.