Joy No. 40: Two thank-yous

When the little guy arrived home from school today I took a new tack. Instead of pumping him for information — how was your day? what did you do? what letter are you studying? who did you play with? — I started telling him about my day.

“I cleaned your bathroom,” I said.

“Thank you!” he said.

Wow, I thought. Let’s try this again. “And I vacuumed the house.”

“Thank you!” he said.

Somehow his earnest thanks made cleaning the house seem more meaningful than usual.

Bonus joy: autumn grasses at Sunriver, Oregon

Joy No. 37: Strikes and spares

The little guy was safely ensconced with friends, and the big guy announced we were going bowling.

Bowling? We hadn’t bowled more than once together ever, and I hadn’t gone bowling in at least a decade, but OK! We had a couple of hours to spare — ha ha.

So off we went to Big Al’s, where we got our shoes, our lane, our beer and pizza. (All we needed were monogrammed shirts and custom bowling balls.) Both of us actually hit some strikes and spares … one of us more than the other. I lost both games.

Bowling seemed so much easier than I remembered. I think it had something to do with becoming a parent. After dealing with public tantrums and other situations, it seemed like nothing to roll a ball down an aisle and knock over a few pins.

Unrelated bonus joy: cool carrot

Joy 31: Open house, open hearts

I should know by now that things never go as I imagine.

Tonight was the primary school open house, and the little guy was our guide. I truly envisioned us popping in, dropping off our pan of brownies, eating a plate of dessert from the “pie potluck,” visiting the little guy’s classroom and going home.

The little guy and I arrived first, and the visiting began immediately. The speech therapist we’ve been working with for three years, the special services coordinator, the physical education teacher (whom the little guy surprised with a body slam).

The big guy arrived, and we picked our plates and picked a table. The woman sitting a ways down from me scooted toward us to introduce herself as our up-the-hill neighbor (she’s seen us standing at the end of our driveway, waiting for the bus; her son divulged that he has watched our son fall asleep across the aisle from him on the bus). Then my guys went over to visit with last year’s soccer coach and family, while I visited with a mother I met on this year’s soccer team. On and on.

Finally, we headed to the little guy’s classroom, where we met a fellow the big guy works with and his family, one of my favorite moms from preschool, and the wife of the little guy’s soccer coach this year. And others. It felt like old home week.

Walking out to the car, the big guy was quiet, offering “That’s neat” as an answer to everything I was sharing with him. Was he listening? I start prodding him: “Hello?”

Turned out he was being reflective. He observed: Here we are in this little town, and suddenly we have all these connections, all these people who are treating us as friends. And it’s all thanks to our little guy.

He was right. I think there are times when parenthood makes you feel as if you’ve given up everything. And there are times it makes you feel as if you’ve gained everything.

Amazing.

Bonus joy: Minnesota fishing lesson

Joy No. 28: Cross your fingers

I’ve been trying to teach the little guy that when he picks a vegetable, he should use one hand to stabilize the plant and one hand to pull the vegetable away from it. Otherwise, when we pull off the vegetable, a good part of the plant might come with it.

Well, guess who was in a hurry today when she went to yank off a ripe tomato? I wound up holding a stem containing three tomatoes: a ripe one, an almost-ripe one and a hard green one. There was a brief, silent pause as the little guy and I separately considered the situation and both realized that I had not been listening to my own words of wisdom.

The little guy suggested we might toss out the green tomato. I told him, “No, we’ll put it on the windowsill, and see if it ripens. Cross your fingers!”

He was quiet. I looked over at him and saw him standing beside me in the garden, head bowed, eyes closed, fingers folded in prayer.

It might ripen ...

Joy No. 18: Grocery shopping

Over the past few years I have become almost pathologically averse to grocery shopping. It has a lot to do with the company I keep and the fact that said company has had a tendency in stores to get (let’s be honest here) overstimulated, grabby, recalcitrant and downright defiant.

For a long time I set aside hours to get through our local Safeway, abandoning my cart and taking my shopping buddy out to the car to cool off up to three separate times in a single grocery run. More recently, I have found ways to go solo.

All that said, now it will make sense that my joy today is having an incident-free grocery run. Incident-free! My buddy was helpful, calm and congenial, start to finish. Joy!

Partway through our shop, I must have realized that I was experiencing a watershed event, because I caught myself releasing a huge exhale, as if letting go of all the shopping-related tension that had built up before, during and after every collaborative shopping trip over the past three-plus years.

When it was over, groceries secured in the back of the car, child in his car seat gnawing on his treat of choice (a peanut butter and chocolate Clif bar), I realized that the little guy had done his part: He had evolved. Now it is my turn. I need to believe in him. I need to let him evolve.

Joy No. 15: Earth and Sky

I wanted to get some serious writing done this summer. For the first month or so, every time the little guy went down for his post-lunch nap, I would race to my computer. And every day, just about the time I’d be getting into the flow of writing, I’d hear the call: “Mommy?”

I realized I was not being very present for the little guy, and I was also not feeling very present in my writing. I was frustrated. Talking with one of my sisters-in-law, an artist, I decided it might be easier to focus on visual arts till the little guy was back in school.

So I started a quilt. Then, every time the little guy went down for his nap, I would race to drag out my fabrics, my rotary cutter and cutting pad, or I would race to my sewing machine. And every day, just about the time I’d be making some serious progress, I’d get the call: “Mommy?”

I stopped to ask myself, what was with this manic need to produce, despite the byproduct of frustration? I realized that in the midst of parenting, in which the path of progress is unpredictable, rising and falling like a scrap of helter-skelter rickrack, I was craving progress that I could touch, progress that I could control. And ideally the source of that progress could be picked up and put away at a moment’s notice.

Enter my friend Sarah B., who I had met 17 (gasp) years ago in Japan and had not seen in the past 12 years. We reconnected this summer, when she and her family moved to a small town an hour away, and she reminded me of the joy of knitting. (Since I had last seen her, she had learned how to knit and now is a pro knitter and pattern designer.) I went to my closet, pulled out my Grandma M.’s old knitting needles, picked up some yarn and a new knitting book and began casting on stitches, beginning my first project in years: a simple bag.

I don’t get many rows knit at any one time — “Mommy?” — but I can pull my project out and toss it back in my knitting bag in a flash. I don’t get frustrated at all. And every time I get to work the blue section of my variegated yarn, which carries the name “Earth and Sky,” I smile, thinking of how aptly the yarn was named, how the browns are so like the brown earth of the landscape in which I now live and how the blue is so like the perfect summer sky.

And when I get into the soothing rhythm of the knit, I wonder whether it was the colors or the cadence that drew my Grandma and caused her to knit all those sweaters and vests, some of which continue to wrap me in a substitute for her warm embrace, now twenty years since she passed on.

Joy No. 14: Friends’ faces

Saturday night, some good friends dropped off their two sons, ages 5 and 1, for an overnight visit, so they could go on a date for their anniversary. I wish I had taken a photo of their relaxed, happy faces. They were the picture of joy.

Of course seeing my friends happy brought me joy. They had watched our guy a few weeks ago when we went out, and it felt good to return the favor. But more than that, it was feeling them put their trust in us to care for such a  precious part of their life, their children, that not only brought me joy but humbled me.