Jun 132010

We’re not coming back. We’ve decided to stay and live in our sweet little water town.

Nothing monumental happened to help us decide. It’s all the little things.

It’s drinking our morning coffee on the front porch swing, and watching the sun set into the bay after the babies go to sleep. It’s wondering if we’ve enjoyed the sunset long enough, so we can get our ice cream and hurry to our beloved couch and tv.

It’s that I haven’t bought anything but food since April 1, and even so, I can’t think of a single thing that I need or want.

It’s that I quit locking our front door, and started leaving the car keys in the console.

It’s that we’re a WE here. Instead of 5 I’s…we’re a WE. What little there is to do, we do together.

It’s letting Amma do the driving on most of our errands. She’s only two, but she can maneuver that golf cart like nobody’s business.

It’s watching Chase stroll down to our dock with his net thrown over his shoulder like an Asian Tom Sawyer. It’s seeing him joyfully catch NINE SHRIMP, MOM and together driving the golf cart over to Bubba’s and Tisha’s to sell Bubba the shrimp. It’s giggling with Tisha while Chase and Bubba haggle over shrimp prices, finally settling on ten cents a shrimp. It’s watching Bubba hand over the ninety cents, grumbling about inflation, knowing that the second we leave he’s gonna pour those shrimp right back in the bay.

It’s roadside time-outs in corn fields. Nothing fixes a whiny road trip faster than pulling over and placing a shocked little naughty Melton bottom firmly between two stalks of corn. It’s smiling and waving to all the concerned passersby, while Tish screams, “MOMMY! YOU CAN’T JUST DO THIS! IM IN THE CORN!!

It’s that I’ve found more space in my day and heart to let Tish be Tish. If the girl wants to spend thirty minutes deciding which pair of wool tights to wear to the beach on a ninety degree day…so be it. We’ve got time. It’s discovering that she is so beautiful with a tan, so brave when she jumps off the dock into the bay, so gentle, so often, with her baby sister. It’s noticing that she’s actually not just a challenging part of my day. She’s a whole person, with her own days. Some of her days are harder than others, like mine. It’s noticing her more.

It’s walking to my mama’s house a few times a day to talk things over. That one could keep me here forever.

It’s finding out, along the way, that this place isn’t perfect for us. Nowhere will be. That was important to accept.

It’s that recently at church, our minister Valerie asked our tiny congregation for announcements. An elderly lady in the choir stood up in her shiny blue robe and held a spoon in the air. Not a special serving spoon, just a plain, metal cereal spoon. The dainty elderly choir lady said very slowly, “I think someone left this spoon at my house. I thought it might be someone from church. If it’s yours, I’d like to get it back it to you.” My eyes widened and immediately searched the sanctuary, expecting to see the knowing smiles of people tolerating this woman who was boldly spending their precious time on a single spoon. Nope. In fact, everyone was smiling earnestly at the choir lady and the spoon, including Pastor Valerie, because they were both theirs. The choir lady and the spoon. And they, the choir lady and the spoon, deserved to be treated with respect. And I thought, Oh, My. I have much to learn from these people. Because they know that God is in the details. They know that old ladies and spoons are infinitely more important than time.

It’s that I haven’t colored my hair or waxed my eyebrows or painted my nails or used a hair dryer for two months. I like figuring out what I actually look like. A little shabby, but not TOO shabby. No complaints from Craig. I read awhile ago that it’s not how a woman looks for a man that matters to him, but how she looks at a man. I’ve been testing that theory. So far, so good.

It’s Wednesday afternoons on the front porch steps, waiting with the kids for a glimpse of Craig’s red truck coming down Main Street. It’s watching them jump up and down as he climbs out of the truck and they prepare to attack. It’s watching him struggle to untangle himself from their little hands, so he can get to me first. It’s taking in his suit and tie, his shiny black shoes, his cologne. It’s knowing that over the next several days he’ll transform from business man to outdoors man. His clean shaven face will get a little scruffier each day. The smell of cologne will be replaced by sweat and salt and sunscreen. His button down will be replaced by nothing but dark, smooth skin and tattoos. Tattoos that say family.

It’s that last week in the car, the radio station stopped mid-song to announce that a little boy named John had lost his dog. The dog was black with white spots, and answered to the name of Rudy. Apparently John was extremely distraught. So could everyone keep an eye out and call the station if anybody saw Rudy? Then the all-call was over and the song resumed. I started crying a little. Chase heard me and said from the back seat, “It’s okay, mommy. They’ll find Rudy.” And I told him that I knew they would, I was crying happy tears because there are places where people want to stop and help. Where lost puppies and heartsick little boys are worthy of interruptions.

It’s that it’s harder to pretend that people or moments are dispensable here. You have to be careful in a small town. If someone has a loud, mean, barking dog, or is driving way too slow, you should not give the dog dirty looks or cut the slow person off. Because then you will forever be The Lady Who Gives Dogs Dirty Looks and Cuts People Off. There is no anonymity here. People are responsible for their actions. And if you don’t like your neighbor, well you best find something you like. Because nobody’s going anywhere. And there’s just not enough folks to keep trying people out till you find one that matches you perfectly. I’m learning to practice what I preach to the kids….you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.

It’s that here, there are not six degrees of separation between God’s creation and our survival. Bubba introduced us to the local fisherman, and we watch them take their boats out each morning to catch the fish that we eat for dinner, the fish that they sell to feed their families. Chase has gone out fishing with the fishermen twice and each time he’s caught a week’s worth of dinner. Our freezer is full of rockfish, and when Craig grills it and serves it, Chase watches us chew each bite, pride filling his teeny chest. He’s also met the local farmers and visited the farms, and as we pass by the crops, he examine them and says things like, “The corn is looking a little short, mom. It should be knee high by the fourth of July. We need some rain, mom. Rain is what we need.” And then during his evening prayers he prays for rain for his farmer friends. He is starting to know the people who work the land and the water to feed America. He’s learning how it works. That real people and real miracles put his dinner on the table. That’s really, really important to me.

It’s that in the absence of buildings and highways, it’s easier for me to remember God’s providence. Living here is a constant reminder that God made it all, and what God made is enough. Enough to feed us, to entertain us, to satisfy us. Back home all the concrete and highways and business and hyper- organization tricked me into believing that we must provide for ourselves. That we must stay very, very busy in order to keep things running. But we don’t, really. We can just do our work for the day and then watch things grow.

It’s standing in the kitchen in the evening, cutting local veggies while Craig chases the kids and they laugh so hard they can’t stand anymore, so they flop down and roll on the kitchen floor, holding their bellies. It’s looking out the back window to the water and singing along with my country music. It’s realizing that my life matches my music now. That’s what I really wanted. Just a safe, pretty place to let my faith, family, and bangs grow.

I’ll catch ya back here next Monday with Tangled Up in Blue, Part Two. I don’t feel like rushing anymore. I’m feeling slow.

Love, G

Jun 272010

Many of you have asked if I’ll continue homeschooling Chase in the fall.

In short: Hell No.

Let me explain.

Craig and I became curious about the public elementary school as soon as we arrived in our new town. Everywhere we went (ice cream parlor, farmers market, church…that’s about it) folks excitedly asked us if Chase would attend the neighborhood grade school. Their eyes lit up as they spoke of the school’s excellent teachers, notable awards, and special spirit. It seemed the elementary school was thought of as a local treasure. Chase and I decided to check it out.

We made an appointment, took a tour, and liked what we saw. There are small classes, loving teachers, an exciting atmosphere, a diverse student body…and as Chase noted…a cool playground and tator tots. We were both impressed. Not that it would have taken much to impress us, based on the school to which we were comparing it . . . The Melton Homeschool. Which, as it turns out, is certainly on the top ten list of Worst Schools Ever In the History Of the World.

The Homeschooling part of this Dropping Out / Dropping In experiment did not go as planned.

Here is how I envisioned our Homeschool Experience:

The kids and I would wake at eight-ish, kiss each other good morning, and mosey downstairs for pancakes and organic, freshly squeezed orange juice. During breakfast, we would preview our Daily Schedule, which would be neatly recorded on our official Homeschooling Dry Erase Board. Then the children would scurry off to get dressed for the day while I did the dishes and prepared the materials for our first projects, whistling while I worked, obviously. In my vision I was showered, wearing a little white apron, and done up real pretty.

When the kids came back downstairs – shiny, matching, smiling and holding hands – I would set up Tish and Amma with the creative and brain-expanding art project I had prepared for them the night before. Then Chase and I would get to work on our investigative report about how to Save the Bay from pollution. After that, we would finish up his first poetry anthology and get it ready to send off to the publisher. Then I’d introduced calculus. While he started to work independently on his Mandela biography, the girls would present their artwork to me, articulately discussing their use of color and shadowing and such.

Then we would break for lunch, which the children would prepare using elements from each of the food groups. Immediately following lunch we would treasure hunt through the neighborhood…looking for specific plants and flowers, labeling their parts and then hand delivering to them to elderly neighbors. Then we would write up a review of our day, highlighting new discoveries and inquiries and plans for the next day, and the kids would wait excitedly at the front door together, shaking with the anticipation of reporting our educational adventures to Craig. I would retreat to the powder room to freshen up and then quickly retrieve Craig’s robe and pipe and scotch. I don’t really know what to say about that last part. We’ve been watching a lot of Mad Men.

**Please note that none of this is an exaggeration. This is really what I thought would happen. My hopefulness is what makes my life extremely exciting and also, consistently disappointing. It’s like what Homer Simpson said about alcohol: “Hope: the cause of – and solution to – all of life’s problems.” **

Kay. Real Life Version:

Chase would actually stumble downstairs at nine thirtyish. By then, the girls and I had been up for approximately one million hours. I’d already refereed thirty fights, cleaned up six broken glasses, watched nine cartoons, changed twelve diapers, and cried while whimpering I just can’t do this anymore three times. And so it would be high time to take a long break for breakfast. However, I don’t know how to make pancakes. And I don’t have an apron. Also I always forget to shower. Which made those parts of my vision impossible. So we’d just have some cereal and then rest for a quick six hours.

We’d end up starting homeschooling around two o’clock. Only I wouldn’t have prepared any schedule or art projects for the girls the night before because of those damn Kardashians and Audrina and Justin. So I’d throw some play-doh at the girls and then turn to Chase and ask him what he thought he should learn that day. And he’d always look at me blankly and say something like, I don’t know. Maybe math or something? But that wasn’t very specific. So much for child-led learning. By then Tish would be screaming because Amma was eating all the pink play-doh and I would have tell Amma to stop please, that play-doh is not organic. But then with nothing else to eat, she’d bite Tish instead. More screaming.

So I’d stare at my girls and wish really hard that I could send them to the principal’s office, or call their parents to suggest therapy or at least some parenting classes, or better yet, suspend them from school indefinitely. But there were obvious problems with each of those solutions. So instead I’d just tell Amma to go ahead and eat the play-doh after all. And Tish would scream that it wasn’t fair that Amma got to eat play-doh when she couldn’t. So I’d give Tish the green play-doh to feast upon. Then I’d finally turn back to Chase, but he’d have escaped off to the corner to read, wisely deciding that it might be his only chance to learn something. And I’d be grateful, because it had been a very long six minutes of homeschooling and I was completely exhausted again.

And as if these circumstances weren’t difficult enough . . . all of a sudden, through absolutely no fault of my own, we would accidentally go to the beach every day. Right in the middle of Homeschool Time. We would call it P.E. But after three hours of PE in the bay, I would start feeling guilty and make Chase answer some multiplication problems in the sand. And then every half hour or so, I’d think of a smart fact I knew, and I’d yell it to him while he was boogie –boarding. Like…for example, I’d sit up real quick from sun bathing and yell…Hey Chase, so there’s this TOWER in PISA and it LEANS. And he’d yell back, COOL MOM. Where’s Pisa? And I’d yell back, Ummm….. I can’t hear you. And then I’d lay back down, pleased with myself. How many teachers can weave Architecture lessons so seamlessly into Physical Education?

Somewhere along the way, Bubba and Tisha started noticing that each time they stopped by during our “school day,” we were asleep, at the beach, or flossing play-doh out of our teeth. So Bubba planned a research unit for Chase about the local economy. He took Chase to interview a local boat builder, fisherman, and farmer. The two of them created the questions together, went for the interviews, and Chase wrote up reports. In this report, he was working on transition sentences, which you’ll note at the end of paragraph two.

The end result of this research unit was that Chase gained some new friends and knowledge about how Small Town USA operates. Thanks to Bubba, Chase has learned some valuable lessons during our Homeschooling Time, in addition to this one: a human being can eat pounds of play-doh and survive.

And I’ve learned something too, which is this: one can consider herself a decent teacher, and still totally blow at homeschooling. It’s hard. And some hard things I just don’t want to do. God bless you ladies who do it. Truly and really, I am awed. And also done. Quite done.

So excited to see that yellow bus. C’moooooooon Sweet Yellow Bus.

I love you, public school system. Always have, always will. Forever and ever and ever.

Love, G

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