Art Davidson’s 1969 account of the first winter ascent on Denali, Minus 148°, is an incredible tale. An eight man international team, out six weeks; three men summit, and seven make it out alive. On reflection, one of the images that really stands out is when the three climbers summit. It’s night, complete darkness, and they pass an aluminum pole caught in the shine of their headlamps. What’s that doing here, out in the stark nature? Wait, that’s the summit. This is it. We did it. The expression goes, “it’s lonely at the top”, but it’s also sometimes dark and anticlimactic. You think you’re at least in part climbing the mountain for the views, or to see if it can be done. Sometimes there is no view, but it can be done.
If mothering is the mountain, maybe Mother’s Day is the summit; you’re expecting to revel in your accomplishment, take in the view, and feel appreciated. You’re climbing the mountains day-in, day-out every year, but not every mountain nor every summit is the same. Sometimes there is no view, but it can be done.
With physical and emotional strength, determination, companionship, and a whole lot of sacrifice, mountains can be climbed – even in the winter. Mothering is a lot like that.
Except once you get flown in to Kahiltna Glacier, you don’t get to decide if today is a good day to try for the summit.
Every day is a mothering day. Every day you’re trying for the summit, and when you reach your goal, sometimes there’s nothing perceptible there, just the air in front of your face and the twinkle of far-off civilization.
Then, it’s another day, a different day altogether, and you’re on your way down the mountain. There’s still pain, but the sun comes out and you feel the relative warmth and that’s heaven; that’s enough. Davidson describes how on his descent after submitting, he can’t imagine ever needing anything more than feeling the warmth of the sun on his body. A child’s smile can be that sun, and sometimes, simply… the sun is that sun. You find your own moment of meaning, of making the journey worthwhile.
In my experience, Mother’s Days tend to be Do It Yourself (DIY). For Mother’s Day this year I kept up my phenomenal mother’s tradition of gardening and weeding—getting the garden in shape after the spring rains and bursts of sunshine have woken up all the weeds but the earth is still soft and forgiving. Lady Kitty was helping me a bit. She was cheering me on. “Well done, Mama,” she kept saying. (She can say so much now, I can’t even catalogue it all.) When Lake finished playing LEGO, he wandered out to share lovely moments together in the sun. We visited our neighborhood playgrounds where we bumped into and chatted with our neighbors throughout the day.
It’s easy to say, yes, thank you, I’m having a lovely Mother’s Day. It’s harder to say, my mother’s day is hard and underwhelming. My husband is sick, working, or absent. My babysitter got sick, injured, or cancelled. The children are wild animals and I have a headache. But that was the prevalent reality.
We all seemed to be navigating some version of a DIY Monther’s Day. A true Mother’s Day— not an idealized day-off from mothering, that starts with flowers and ends with fireworks, but an actual day spent mothering. DIY Mother’s Day means celebrating the life and the family that you work so hard every day to create and maintain. It means a day spent parenting alone with your children and having it be the best day of your life.
“Happy World Redhead Day!” our friend Clarence greeted us this morning along with a handful of fun facts. Apparently our particular colorway is the rarest hair/eye color combination in the world with an incidence of 0.17%; approximately 170 in 100,000 have red hair together with blue eyes. We’d be right at home in Scotland or Ireland which boasts the highest global concentration of redheads (13%, 10% respectively)… That’s where our red hair hails—from the Thomson’s and the Murphy’s.
We celebrate diversity and today it’s the uniqueness of red hair we honor. We love our shared gene mutation, but most of all we love our family and friends! A perfect day… I’m glad I spent it with you.
Lady Kitty is walking! Her prompt came when crawling was precluded by her hands being full. She’s definitely getting the hang of it. In fact, she’s already leveling up. She likes to practice walking down the stairs facing outward/forward (with help!). And all on her own, she likes to grab her coat and head for the door—ready for a proper walk!
In other developments, Lady Kitty has another tooth coming in–her tenth. Meanwhile, Lake lost his second tooth over last week, and has a birthday coming up next weekend! Thanks for tuning in for a quick update from A Perfect Day. Indeed, I’m forever glad I spent it with you.
Lady Kitty hiked up to Franklin Falls! It was very busy on the trail but she still found a spot to pause and eat some snow. The water was really rushing from Spring snowmelt—an avalanche had covered the area in late winter adding snowpack to the drainage making for extremely big waterfalls! Too big even to photograph!
Nana took us on this hike and kept a close eye on Lake as the edge of the trail is rather near the steep ledge and the rushing water. Nana had been Lakes au pair for the week while Madeline relaxed in Hawaii. Lake found this hilarious. “Nana is my au pair!”
Meanwhile Madeline felt the perks of the Covid thaw and enjoyed her traveling vacation! Yes even au pairs need a break and are due two weeks of vacation per year, though in our experience they’re always happy for more!
It’s fantastic and refreshing to get out and explore our beautiful and diverse planet!
Lake has taken to calling her Madeline, dear as a cheeky term of endearment. We are thankful every day for Madeline choosing to be our au pair! Today she reminds me is our one year anniversary from our match date. So many hurdles to cross and so much determination and commitment on her part—to come and stay. In the beginning after we matched there was uncertainty of whether she would be able to obtain a NIE (national interest exception) visa at all. There was the huge relief when she got acceptance of her visa (she got it!), then: covid quarantines made it nearly impossible to meet other au pairs or make new friends once she arrived. Once she arrived to settle in she was met with a rough bout of homesickness adjustment for the first few months while Lady Kitty cried every day. Then along the way to add injury to insult, she suffered a sprained ankle, MVA whiplash from being rear ended, the death of her cat, and now the unexpected paralysis of her dog Bones. She has remained steadfast and dedicated to our home life and the children throughout, providing a solid addition to our family during this unprecedented year of social self-reliance. Thank you for toughing it out with us, Madeline. We appreciate your support here in our family every day! We wish you more fun adventures for the coming year… car and air travels and dinners out with friends. You deserve a break Madeline—enjoy it! First up, look out Hawaii… here she comes!
Also in the family news this week: Lady Kitty cut her ninth tooth, and Lake lost his first tooth!
Lately my family has been amused by the hilarity of names for goups of different types of animals. A herd of elk is familiar, but a tower of giraffes?! Really? Can it be? A smack of jellyfish! A conspiracy of lemurs. A crash of rhinoceroses. A scurry of squirrels. A wisdom of wombats. A zeal of zebras?! We laugh together with mouths agape in disbelief.
Seriously, is this stuff for real? What do you call a group of cats? A clowder. A clutter. A pounce. A dout. A nuisance. A glorying. A glare. Apparently any of the above are ligit. It’s so zany it resonates with our year. What do you call a group during Covid quarentine? A pod. A bubble. A household. A family circus.
As the vaccinated population (people poked) grows and expands around us like kernals of corn in a popcorn popper, the Covid-19 pandemic seems to be finally well and truly receeding. Days emerge where I find myself momentarily forgetting about Covid altogether before something prompts me to remember (walking from the early morning tennis court into the park bathroom–oh, right, mask up), and it’s like waking from a nice dream and crashing back into the reality of a crushing break-up. What a year it has been!
We were incredilbly blessed by the friends that emerged into our sphere. Our associations shifted somewhat to settle in to routines with those families and friends who were similarly aligned as we were. For these folks we are eternally grateful, especially Clarence, Tom and Mandy, NanaBaba, and the Lange Family.
As much as we tried to keep an even keel, there’s no denying Covid’s collective impact also reached our household as well. Even as we worked hard to maintain a steady sense of normalcy throughout the uncertainty and rapidly evolving guidelines, there were losses and challenges. It helped to have Michael near the front-lines, but not in the trenches, getting the most up-to-date information from infections diseases rounds.
The family circus that will be remembered as our year of COVID quarentine has been entertaining overall. It was Lady Kitty’s first year of life, and Lake grew from a toddler to a little boy. We were certainly never bored! Not with Lady Kitty astounding us every day (Michael said, “She’s fully engaged but can only grunt to get her point across. it’s like being in a different country), and Lake around slinging out memorable phrases like a firefighter with a drenching hose.
I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you a collection of recent quotes from our contemporary family circus. So, here you go… enjoy!
Lake loves cats. He is an assiduous student of cats and their various qualities and dispositions. He recently described our tortoiseshell neighbor cat, as his “fravrorite cat.” He described her coloring as “black with a shimmer of white. Like Missy but with less hair.” About Mr. Cat, Lake said, “Mr. Cat looks like a movie star, doesn’t he? He just needs some sunglasses.” He came up with that a few days after I had recounted an anecdote from the dentist office. Seeing Michael reclined in the dental chair, I said to him, “You look like a movie star, Michael! Must be the sunglasses.” “No,” Michael dead-panned, “I look like that all the time.” Now, Lake really wants to be a circus actor. “No, just a plain actor. A dramatic actor,” he clarified.
Lady Kitty said, “wawawawawa”
Lake interpreted for us. According to Lake, Lady Kitty is saying, “My mommy’s the best! She’s the cook of my life!”
Those two have a really sweet relationship. Lake adores Lady Kitty and vice versa. He continues along this charming vein:
“Lakus Bakus has something to saykus…”
“Lady Kitty, it wouldn’t be the same without you.”
“We’re pals, right, Lady Kitty? We’re pals!”
“Lady Kitty, I’m voting for you, pal!”
“All I need is a Newfoundland. Lady Kitty hasn’t even had the experience of having a Newfoundland around. She hasn’t even had the experience.”
Instead, what she’s grown up with is a clutter of cats! In fact, Lake continued:
“Lady Kitty is going on a safari to look for cats!”
Lake gave Madeline a handful of foreign coins. “You’re so wealthy now. You have a collection of coins!” Then with the thinly veiled generosity of a four year old. He proclaimed “you can buy me Octonauts!”
The Vaccine Spring is lifting the mood of Covid Quarantine, and we’re looking forward to a cultural shift in precautions allowing us to travel to Port Townsend and Leavenworth and other favorite destinations to reunite with friends we haven’t seen in over a year.
“I can’t wait to get busy chopping wood with Baba at Newman Lake. We go out in his huge truck to get wood. And he has me in the front all the way to wherever the wood is, and back. Because it’s not very far.”
“Newman Lake is very deep in the woods. But Quinault is even deeper in the woods. There’s not even a single power cord. Tolle couldn’t even have a single movie to watch when she was there… nothing!” Lake is incredulous and perhaps a tiny bit proud.
It’s true Mama Tolle grew up without electricity and we learned keepin’ busy from a young age. No problems with boredom there!
One of Lake’s beloved family jokes is to ask: “What did you eat for dinner two days ago, Lady Kitty?!” when Lady Kitty has the hiccups. Madeline taught us a German technique for resolving hiccups. Ask the person “What did you eat for dinner two days ago?” The hiccups are stilled into submission by the concentration of remembering. We have all been pleasantly surprised how well it works. Try it!
There’s also plenty of minor disagreements along the way, feeling out our boundaries and continually learning how to get along. but that’s how we get to know each other’s needs and vulnerabilities so we can better be supported, and support each other, right?
Mama: It’s time to pick out your pajamas Lake.
Lake: That’s not something I’m going to offer to do.
Lake responded with, “Now it’s getting complicated.”
In closing, I will include as a tribute some wise words from recently departed Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh. Many years ago, prior to meeting the Beatles in London at an awards ceremony in the Spring of 1964, Philip was asked if he thought the band was helpful or harmful to Britain. “Entirely helpful,” he answered. “I would much rather people make any noise they like, singing and dancing. What I object to is people fighting and stealing. It seems to me that these blokes are helping people to enjoy themselves.”
Thank you, Prince Philip, for sagely illuminating the fundamental ground rules of community fellowship in bespoke salty wry humor. I appreciate the Windsors’ clear eyed pragmatism. (Happy 95th Birthday, HRH Queen Elizabeth II!) They do inspire me to keep calm and carry on. And certainly share a bit of mirth along the way.
That’s mostly what has been going on during our Covid Quarantine year: a pod of people and a glare of cats living joyously together making a bunch of noise singing and dancing, and only rarely fighting or stealing. I’m grateful for everyone who has sustained us during Covid Quarantine in our bubble. We are looking forward to hopefully being able to pop the bubble soon! Ultimately each and every day has been a perfect day. I’m glad I spent it with you.
“Peas, please,” is a common refrain around here. Lake delightfully took note “Peas and please rhyme!” as he asked for yet another serving.
I didn’t directly understand the appeal, so I embarked on an investigation. First I asked Lady Kitty.
“Why do you like the peas so much, Lady Kitty?”
“Huh,” she said. Then she laughed and cooed.
“Does it feel good to chomp down on frozen peas where you are teething?”
She smiled with all her eight teeth showing.
That’s right, it Must feel good to cool those erupting gums. Next I tried to find out some more information from Lake.
“I like to be cold,” he said.
I pressed further.
“When you chew them, their juice turns sweet in your mouth,” he said.
Pea juice, now why isn’t that more popular? Or frozen pea smoothies? Has anyone tried that? Let us know if you have any favorite recipes to share. In the meantime these kids are most satisfied with helping after helping straight out of the bag.
I love my sweet peas and they love their frozen peas! A perfect day, I’m glad I spent it with you!
Lady Kitty snuck in a few steps yesterday afternoon while she thought no one was watching. Were they her first two steps?! Or has she been surreptitiously practicing? Applying the principle of parsimony, it is likely they were her first steps. Madeline was the fortunate one who caught a glimpse in the mirror, and reported at dinner. “She’s not earthbound for much longer,” said Michael. Lady Kitty is set to launch.
“Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” said Jamma Julie to Lake.
“The egg,” he said without a moment of doubt.
“Well, I’m glad we finallygot that sorted,” said Julie.
“Thank you for bringing the fun and joy, Jamma Julie!
“Come every Sunday! We’ll be covered with mud! We’ll be covered in pitch. We’ll be covered with cake—head to toe, we’ll be covered with cake. We’ll find the taste of candy in the air!”
Lake exuberantly invited Julie back to join us for weekly Sunday dinner. Does he think then there will be an accompanying egg hunt laden with treats? Or is the fun and joy of being all together what he’s craving to repeat? Or perhaps it’s simply time for resuming our pre-pandemic routines — maybe Lake is remembering what I barely can, that more than a year, and a lifetime ago Julie came on Sundays for dinner. What a lovely tradition.
May every Sunday have the Easter Sunday feeling. We rejoice in the rebirth of Spring, hope, faith and love. From our family to yours, sending Easter greetings!
Covid has gifted us the opportunity to truly lean-in to parenting. To domesticity. To home life.
When Lake was one year old, my position at work transitioned from being at the hospital five miles away and became based out of an office building a few blocks from our home. What fortune! At the time, I didn’t think things could get any better (or closer!) And then last year whilst on maternity leave with Lady Kitty, the novel coronavirus situation unfolded. The ensuing covid pandemic ultimately allowed for my work position to become available for WFH (work-from-home) accommodation. It’s been such a welcome and unexpected blessing, and has allowed me to support my devotion to both work and breastfeeding seamlessly.
These months my office, for better or for worse, has been a tiny closet (with a window) located off the living/dining room at the hub of our home. Michael calls it the grand central station of the house, allowing me to be immersed in my work and my children at the same time. Although it is not without the accompanying feelings of the working-mother guilt, am I focusing enough on my work? Am I focusing enough on my children? Yes, with Madeline on board as our au pair, I am present for both. Overall it is absolutely an agreeable situation—the major silver lining of an unfortunate global event.