Welcome to Chickadee Junction

Welcome to Chickadee Junction

I have birdfeeders outside of my office window. My office is in my home, up on a hill, surrounded by trees. The most frequent avian visitors are the chickadees. When the feeders are empty, they come to the window and let me know. They seem to converge here, and draw my attention out...

I wrote a column about life with children for six years. Now I am the grandmother, and I would like to repost those stories. I will also be adding thoughts and reflections, and if inspired - stories from the now.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Certain activities tie me to humans throughout history.  I can imagine mothers and grandmothers involved in the same, no matter whether it was last year or ten thousand years before.

I remember taking my babies berrying.  I remember, because yesterday morning I had my 16 month old grandson perched on my hip, clinging to my breast, obediently opening his mouth for black raspberry after black raspberry.  (I warned his mama to expect an especially seedy diaper!)  As I popped in a berry, I saw his papa, on my hip - being fed the same fruit in the same manner.  I felt each of my babies.  Then I remembered one of the sweetest moments of my life.

My oldest grandson was probably 13 or 14 months old.  We were circling the perimeter of his backyard, slowly, stopping to visit each black raspberry bramble.  We had been doing this for the past few days, and it had become his favorite thing to do.  It was warm and still and sunny.  The blond cherub on my hip had a purple beard, his chin stained with raspberry juice.  I held up one especially succulent berry and he willingly opened mouth.  I dropped it in.  He smiled and chewed and swallowed.  Then he pulled his head way back, leaning away from me.  He wasn't looking at me, and I wasn't sure what he was doing.

He plopped a big purple kiss on the shoulder of my white blouse.  There it was. the baby kiss print.  I was so charmed, so in love with this little being, that I prayed the kiss would stain and be part of the shirt forever.

But life doesn't work that way.  The kiss washed right out.  Of course the gray stains along the hem, the ones from garden work, remain.  But the kiss is stained into my memory.  And on hot summer days, and especially when I have little ones clinging to my hip, the kiss and all its sweetness flood me again.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

When Disaster strikes at our house, he doesn't hit and run.  He generally hangs around, enjoying the melee, getting in a few more kicks.

It was a frigid, early morn in our valley, nestled here in the southeast corner of Allegany County.  The air wasn't supposed to be quite so icy.  Even Stan on the radio was surprised at the 25 degrees less than anticipated.  Not being forewarned, I failed to turn on the heat in the basement.  The first disaster of the day: frozen pipes.

My eldest was the first to notice.  So we followed the usual routine - open all the taps.  Flip on the heat.  Then we got on with our day and forgot about the water problems.

My eldest was also the first to notice the ocean on the bathroom floor.  You know how squirrels store nuts and seeds for the winter?  Apparently a child in this house harbors ancient squirrel genes.  In this case he stored green crayons in the sink drain.  The big, fat kind.  And we claimed a waterfall and a sparkling blue ocean for our own.

Frenzied sopping, which soaked every clean towel in the house, occurred around me as I plunged - evacuating crayons.  The baby, as usual, was enjoying chaos from her perch on my back.  As I leaned over the sink, plunger in hand, vying with changing tides and obstinate crayons, my papoose helped herself to the toothpaste.  It was a fat, squishy tube.

Bathroom clean, drain open, we relaxed our guard, knowing Disaster was on his way to visiting another.  But no, he had one more prank.."Mom, what does the baby have all over her face?"  Blue, minty stripes.  She had smeared her clothes, the inside of her backpack.  And we all know where she wipes her hands..."Oh, mom, you should see your hair!"

Sunday, April 3, 2011

We are quietly reading, talking, doing chores, enjoying ourselves ever so calmly and the phone rings.  Chaos is unleashed.

First we have the race to the phone.  I haven't won, placed or even shown for so long that I don't even bother entering the race anymore.  Whoever wins generally grabs the trophy and cheers,  "Hello!" before the phone has even reached face.  The winner is also twisting and shimmying to shelter his prize from the other contenders.  Contortions make listening next to impossible.

It's happening already.  The phone is occasionally for my daughter.  And remembering my experiences in my teen years, I panic.  Over the next few years more and more calls will be hers.  Conversation times will increase until her neck becomes permanently cricked.  I'll forget how to dial or answer the phone, since the phone will be generally unavailable.

Still, the phone is almost always for me these days.  And my touching the receiver is 'the signal."  Voices are raised.  Arguments from the past month are rehashed.  Loudly.  Songs are sung in competing harmony and rhythm.  Ideas are hatched which need parental permission.  When better to ask mom than when she's not listening.  Then the  questions, "Mom, where do we keep the...?" or "Mom, how do we...?"

Project under construction means tattling will soon commence.  It also means that all writing implements will be needed in the toy room.  If I need to take a message, I have two options.  The first has limited success.  In my most controlled and business-like voice I ask,  "Could you hold a moment?"  I cover the receiver and hiss wildly,  "PEN!  Bring me a pen!"  I get blank looks instead.  "Pencil?  Crayon? Marker?"  None of these words seem to be part of their vocabulary.

Second option is to wing it.  Using a fork tine, I have learned I can scratch information on wax paper.

This leads to the Mommy-martyr complex.  Why can't I just sit back, relax and have a conversation?  Life is not fair.  Oh poor me.  So, I get tough.  One last battle-tattle and I announce,  "On the stairs.  All of you!  Stay there until I hang up this phone!"

The balance has changed.  Semi-calmness results.  And after I have finished my call, I get to listen to the Child-martyr complex.  Life is not fair.  I had to sit, and it wasn't even me.  Poor me.

Mima's Notes
More than anything, writing about the phone let's me realize how quickly technology changes family dynamics.  My youngest got a cell phone while in her early teens.  It is always in her hand.  She texts constantly and is not even vaguely interested in the family land-line, old fashioned telephone that can't go with you.

Now instead of let me answer the phone, the dynamic has become - put that phone down. 
Every family has one:  the Informer, a child whose mission is to make sure "Mom knows."  I was the Informer.  Now I have a child who is giving credence to the threat, "I hope you have a child just like you."

Constant tattling wears on me, erodes my spine until I am a blubbering mass of jellyfish on the living room carpet spouting,  "Go to your rooms.  All of you.  Stay there until you are adults!"

So I made a rule:  You can only tell if 1. someone is getting hurt or 2. something is getting ruined.  At least they have to stop and think first.  Slows down the meaningless reporting.

When I really get up in arms about the incoming  bulletins, the Informer backs off.  Rather than direct reports, I receive ongoing narration from the arena.

"Hey, Bro, you're not supposed to be eating crayons."  If we are talking to a little brother, then why are we raising our voice and addressing the general area of Mom?

Or,  "I thought Mom said you weren't supposed to do THAT!"  The ball is in my court.  I can choose to ignore THAT or be controlled by the Informer and satisfy the reporter by checking which THAT they are in the midst of now.

The Informer is somewhat easier to work with than the Enforcer.  The Enforcer never tattles.  The Enforcer merely takes over and handles THAT.  In the process someone ends up crying and the Informer is justified in telling.  Now I am involved anyway, but at least it's taken a few extra minutes.

I don't know why they want me in on it.  I am very predictable.  I make them sit on the stairs, go to their rooms, write an essay or run laps.  Generally the Informer and Enforcer are included.  When will they catch on and solve it peacefully among themselves?

Mima's Motes:
It did happen.  They did bond and learn to be their own society.  They learned to refrain from telling me what was going on.  Now that they are adults, they seem to enjoy telling me about their escapades - the times they did outrageously dangerous things, and didn't rat each other out.

"You did not hitch-hike to (a nearby town) with (name withheld to protect the guilty)!"

And siblings assure me this did happen.  And so I admit, I was a clueless mom once the Informer outgrew his job...


The worst part, the frigid-cold-seeping-right-through-your-boots ( and two pair of thermal socks) part of winter is over.  We have had a few thaws, so the creek is running fast.  Walk out the back door and the rushing tickles your ears...spring is near.

I know this is only a teaser.  I know Old Man Winter will assault us with at least one more dump of snow and blow of wind.  I know it's not time to plant peas.

The creek is hurtling by, high in the middle.  The ice still reaches from the sides, riddled with crystalline walls - crumbling.  It's time to assist Mother Nature.

I started it.  The boys learned it form me.  But I was simply reenacting what we had done as children.  And if we could spy on Neanderthal tots, we would observe them breaking off pieces of ice, launching them into the rapids.

Sticks pry (primitive, yet effective use of tools) hunks of ice, then poke, pushing as far into the center of the stream as one thrust will allow.  Now it's time to pray them past all the snags and roots and rocks.

Of course, encountering snags and roots and rocks calls for another age-old technique - throwing stones.  Sometimes one good lob will loosen the ice craft, allowing it to freely tumble over the waterfall, which drops about six inches.  The waterfalls renders floe into crushed ice.  So we launch again.  And again.

The rocks we toss become larger and flatter with each passing attempt.  The splashed become increasingly far reaching until I notice the water seeping through the weave of my socks.  Soon the creek bank is ice free.

We are all damp and chilled and in desperate need of hot chocolate.  But nor for very much longer.  Spring is in the air.

Mima's Notes:
We still find it hard to resist a thin layer of ice.  There is something so satisfying about the crunch of what was a pristine sheet under boot.  I was walking with my granddaughter.  We are in this same time of year.  It thaws, then freezes - promising spring, then retracting the promise.  Teasing us, forcing us to wait a bit longer.  The puddles along the roadside have an icy veneer, which we stomp!  We are aiding the delivery of spring, in our brief bouts of violent midwifery.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

"Who wants to help me paint?"

"I do!"..."I do!"..."I do!"  The Swedish Mafia is unanimous.  How unusual.

With baby firmly perched on my back, we bravely approach the barren walls and sanded woodwork.

The youngest, brandishing the largest paintbrush is ready.  Now.  "Where's the paint?"  He does his Erroll Flynn impression - fencing a la Robin Hood.

"We have to tape the windows.  Look how we place the edge of the tape right where the glass meets the wood.  See?  Who wants to try?"

"We want to paint...This is too boring...It's too hard..."

At length, finally, at long last, it's time to open the paint.  If, and when, we can find a screwdriver.  For five frenzied minutes the gang wanders around, glazed stares in place chanting,  "We can't find it, but we saw it yesterday."

I am a mom with years of experience.  I know how to wing it.  And I know the butter knives we inherited from great-grandma have the sturdiest blades.

A few flicks of the silver and we pry the lid loose, exposing a gallon of glistening white primer.

"Me first!"  That from the kid wielding the biggest brush.

"Oh no.  You've got to listen first.  Look how we dip the very tip of the brush into the paint.  See?"


"After you get just a little paint, you get to do along the floor.  See?"


"I only want you to paint up and down.  Like this.  See?"


"There can't be any drips."


"OK.  Try it."

He plunged the brush into the paint, submerging bristles right up to the handle.  Then he walked away, hand cupped beneath the drips, leaving an artistic dribbley trail in his wake.

His brother managed to smear every window, reaching far beyond the taped border.  And his brother, after experimenting with the edger, dropped it into the paint.  I retrieved it just as the last bubbles rose to the surface.

"How come I can't use the roller?  I'm done now."

"Put the brush on the shelf, so I can wash it.  Do you hear me?"


"Mom, this paint spilled here."

As I went to salvage the situation I stepped on the biggest brush, bristles still laden with paint.

Mima's Notes:

I allowed my children to help with pretty much everything I did.  It made my life slow and messy - absolutely perfect.  Although the house was seldom perfect, or sometimes even presentable.

Now, the two youngest members of the SM are timber framers.  They design and construct amazing buildings.  They are attentive to detail and careful about being very neat.  Who could have imagined?
AT&T is pushing pictophones - the newest gotta-have appliance.  They must be kidding.  The last thing I need or want is for everyone, or anyone, to see me at my most natural.

A pictophone would exposed me at 10 am, hair still uncombed.  Could any information exchange be enhanced by that?

When I'm using the telephone, the anonymity of all but voice allows me to glare at my children, snack, wash dishes, all while "Mm-hmmmmm-ming" at the appropriate time.  In good voice.

If you could see me, you'd catch the Mom-glare, that look which ices any child's heart.  I would not be able to do my frantic pointing dance as I silently order small people to practice Kung Fu elsewhere.

Not only would casual callers know we live in chaos, but any salesperson who chooses to call couldn't miss the chin high laundry pile I'm planning to fold.  The same salesperson would see my exasperated expressions elicited by their spiel.  Having to listen to them is bad enough.  Having to appear polite and interested - no way!

And what about that reliable dinner-interrupting call?  One must choose between eating cold food later, chewing casually or asking them to call back.  If it is a sales pitch (and we are talking dinner-time here) who wants to brush them off twice?  Since it is often impossible to get a word in edgewise, I attempt to eat inconspicuously.  I am suddenly aware of each crunch, slurp, swallow.  Try this on pictophone.

Now imagine that mid-shower call.  Or the, "Did I wake you?"  I can't see the pictophone catching on.  At least not in this house.

Mima's Notes:
I've always marched to a different drummer.  I was wrong.  Skype is the latest version of the pictophone, and is popular.  When I wrote this, almost 20 years ago, I had a phone on the kitchen wall.  It had a very long cord, so I could wander around the kitchen, or go sit in the living room.  My neighbor had the latest thing.  He had this big apparatus in the front seat of his truck.  It had a phone receiver hung on it.  He could get phone calls in the truck.  It was - weird.  Who wanted to get calls while they were out driving. 

I mentioned that I march to my own drummer, right?  Now we have cell phones.  Okay, you all have cell phones.  I am holding out.  I don't want to have a cell phone.  I don't want to be available 24/7.  Everyone worries - what if I have a problem with the car?  What happens is what has always happened.  Someone stops to ask if I am okay.  With cell phones, we are losing this personal connecton.  Some people have stopped worrying about strangers.  If we can call someone we know, we don't have to step into uncomfortable contact.

And Skype...it's great if I want to see my grandson, something we have not managed to organize yet, but I work on the phone.  I start at 5 am.  You know that puffy face, squinty eye look at 5 am?  No way! No one needs to see that!

I feel so old when I think about party lines when I was young compared to cell phones now.  I can easily fall into the grandma, "In my day..." speech.  But I wonder what the next 20 years will bring.  I am sure Skype will be outdated and so unbelievably elementary.