Even Keel

In the wake of this week’s tsunami warning, I began searching for middle ground. I need a consistent stretch without the ebb and flow of life’s fluctuations. A long, invariable range with enough leverage to see the approaching storms and still sunsets on the horizon.

All I can find is peaks and valleys; it’s been a long time since I’ve had a prairie period.

Although I once had a naval pierced to Jane’s Addiction in a far away place in my teenage life, it’s taken me thirty three years and counting to realize I’ve never had a middle.

Two weeks ago, I was at one of those high peaks I’ll remember from my elderly rocking chair: my first play opened. One week ago, I was with a 103.7 degree fever, Mono’s diagnosis and a week under sea level, under the covers. Peaks and valleys.

Three times in my life I experienced a peak and valley at relatively the same moment. Three natural births produced three lovely ladies and a broken coccyx that required a walker to maneuver the newborn period. But, wow, birth. I read every book and every research study. I became obsessed. I can’t handle a paper cut, bee sting or stubbed toe but bring on thirty-six and a half collective hours of pure surge for my babes because I believe it’s best. Natural. Newborn bliss with a seriously messed up back? I still can hardly walk a mile. Peaks and valleys.

I got a shiny red guitar for my sixteenth birthday that has many stories to tell. I once played it every day, taught by an amazing Danzig lovin’ teacher who, painfully in his opinion, scribed all the notes to Neil Young’s anthology and one Dead song, The Wheel. I skipped all the boring beginner stuff and went right at the peak of interest. Years later, it sat, dusty at high elevation, in Montana while I skied and lived and breathed love and poetry. At Betty’s birth, I picked up knitting needles and a guitar pick, once again, and learned Old MacDonald, Twinkle. Last year I dabbled in a college course (the instructor later became my play’s leading man) until my gigantic belly got in the way. Now I’m back past midnight with a head lamp, sneaking out of the bedroom to master Avett Brother’s Ten Thousand Words. If I was an in-the-middle kind of gal, I’d just of practiced an hour a day since I was a teen.

I don’t even know how to pop my own hood (realized the other day at battery’s death) or change a tire, so I have no business talking about car repair. But when I took car maintenance by the wings and tried to act like a lady who wouldn’t be swindled in the big city of Billings, MT I was ferociously attacked by the dealership’s parrot named Hundai Accent. It latched onto my long braids, my suede coat cuffs and perched like I was a toppling Amazon nest. They threw me out of the dealership claiming I provoked the cage-free bird and grumbled something about youth and teens. I was nearly twenty three.

At thirty three, the peaks and valleys remain constant. I’m either ridiculously exhausted or entirely rested. Our laundry piled high dirty, or toppling folded and clean awaiting drawer’s slumber. I either sew for hours a day for weeks on end or abandon my Bernina buddy for months. I either have enough patience for an afternoon with paper mache, ten library books aloud and toddler/preschool kitchen prep instruction or barely enough to get me through to night’s tuck-ins and repeated bedtime refusals. Or, barely enough to tie one more shoe, zip one more coat, wipe one more, well, you know.

I like to listen to my music incredibly loud or really, not at all. What’s the point soft, really? I like to know everything about the people I let into my heart; I have a hard time keeping a lot of acquaintances. And I don’t think I ever really had a crush. Even when the New Kids on the Block were the “it” boy band, I didn’t just have a poster. I saw them in concert nine times. Nine times. Thank goodness I saw way more Phish and Dead shows. What if the New Kids had been my tour experience. So, yeah, never a crush just truly, madly, deeply in love.

All Salinger, all Nabokov. Entire collections of those I love.

And so goes Solo Mono Mama Week while Daddy skis in Taho with pals. All movies, all kid-friendly ITouch Apps or all art and sit-on-the-floor-and-play, play. Each day Luke was gone we created something amazing, and each night Luke was gone I wondered why I couldn’t find enough patience to make it to midnight. Each night I snuck into the spare room and locked the door for five minutes, for what felt like an hour.

But this is about the peaks of having the ability to stay home with two crazy pets and three little ladies and pretend I’m not an adult. The love of playing with that much fur and that many kiddos I created. The love, oh, the love.

Around here, we love Flat Stanley and listen to his stories on audio CD on repeat for bedtime’s first few hours into deep dreams.

Let’s make real-sized Flat Furber Girls said Betty with a mouthful of oatmeal.
OK, let’s do it I said instead of sure, maybe later and we left the half eaten bowls like Goldilocks.

We took turns tracing out the bodies with black crayon on paper, and after trials with our one pair of Kinder-Ease scissors (seriously, we’d still be cutting) I took my Fiskars and the girls ripped and stuck what Lucy calls maggic bue tape.

Betty was going to draw pictures of the things she loved, of the things that made up who she is. I thought Lucy and I could flip through some of the collage magazines I’ve saved and we could have a scissor lesson and she could cut out what she liked, what made her who she is. And the two were going to work together to “make Olive.”

Lucy picked up an orange crayon from the shiny new box of 64 and made a mark she immediately wanted to erase. I was just thinking to myself this is going great. I’m on my own this day with these folks and I’m loving it. I wouldn’t change it– and Lucy freaks out. Nearly bangs her head on the floor in frustration and continues that way for forty-five teary minutes. We tell her crayons don’t erase, Olive wakes up needs a diaper and needs to feed, get a darker crayon and we’ll draw over it, Betty needs help in the bathroom, I say we can flip over the cut-out, I’m going to love this art project and be so glad I did it ten years from now I need to repeat this over again, and finally I take a teary Lucy into the other room and a breakthrough:

What happened with the orange crayon I ask.
Sometimes when I do art I get nervous Lucy whispers.
What do you mean? Nervous? I’m shocked.
Luke thought awhile back maybe she didn’t like to draw, but then some days she’ll do it for an hour. We never knew what set her off to set her crayons flying through the air, paper torn and tears falling, time after time.

My babes like art I tell Luke. They came out of me; they like art.

Sometimes when I draw it doesn’t look like it does when I close my eyes and see it in the dark. And then she starts sobbing. She’s still two years old, my old soul.
Then if it looks like it does in my eyeballs, it doesn’t look like Betty’s. Betty’s is so good.

My poor baby. I had no idea she was such a tortured artist; I’ve been so busy. I was crying, hugging her in the kitchen. I’ll make time to do art with you and just you every day. We’ll practice.

So we all used the magazine cutouts. Lucy made “round and rounds and around” for eyeballs and “sailboat bottoms” for her smile. It’s perfect. I have a kitty in my heart and my tummy is full of alpacas. That’s funny. I’m really funny giggles a proud Lucy.

Betty made a real life nose and took the time to draw some bones and a real life heart. They don’t look like Valentine’s Day hearts, you know. Uncle Skippy told me so. Her heart is under a cut out picture of a doll bed because she loves dollies and is a really good mommy to her babies.

Betty worked alone on Olive. She also wore a hand-me-down Christmas dress she loves because art is special so I want to look special doing it. She only wanted to fill Olive with yellow Ursa Labrador puppies because, Mama, any baby this sweet must be full of love and puppies. Olive has really long eyelashes, like the long green part of a flower, see?

Olive also has waves of breast milk inside. See?

Yes, Betty. Nice job.

And then they napped and I searched the Internet for something I could buy. Everything cost more than the one dollar I felt I had to spend, so I got thinking crafty. But, I had to wait for another day. I needed a nap, too.

Most often, I sew like Jamie Oliver cooks. No real measuring, no pattern. That’s how I did it when I rearranged Barbie clothes while sewing at seven. It’s how I do it now, still.

It’s occurred to me several times a day that Olive’s car seat insert needed a makeover.

I didn’t like the yucky pilled fleece in the car seat insert someone graciously gave us. I wanted a new one, but they’re almost half a hundred dollars (I’ve been thinking in hundreds lately). I found a fuzzy pink receiving blanket I wasn’t using and some scrap fabric from my ebay-loving brother-in-law that was left over from a super hero cape project.

I free-hand traced the pink blankie over the insert and pinned and tucked over the existing fabric.

Sew, sew, sew while carefully removing the pins. The next step was more challenging. I only had scraps of the seventies fish fabric I loved and the bottom insert had so much velcro for the car seat’s straps, I felt road blocked. So, I cut random sized scraps and tucked and pinned the bottom segments.

I had to overlap the segments, but that was OK. It would look patchwork-y and would do the job of covering up the yucky old fleece. I roller cut the seatbelt slits, flipped it over and tucked in the extra edge and pinned a smooth seam.

I sewed in stages, like mosaic, with fun pink thread while carefully removing the pins.

Now Olive’s got a good ride. I smile putting her in her car seat instead of thinking I should really get a new one with the money I don’t have. The project took sixty-five minutes. And while it might not look like it origionally did “in my eyeballs,” it’s perfect.


  • Love this post, Jenn. It captures a stay at home mamas life so well. I love the art segment. Lucy's story made my eyes tear up. Betty's quite an act to follow, Lucy's right. But, how amazing. I had two older sisters to aspire to…and I wouldn't have changed it for the world. They shaped my life in so many wonderful ways.

  • Oh I ADORE this post. SO much. Peaks and valleys…that you know yourself so well. Love the 30s for that. For naming and owning shit we apologized for in our 20s.

    The art story with Lucy? Oh. You are right, so much love in your home. She felt so safe to make that confession. And look at the drawing she ended up with? Perfect.

    We need to catch up. I want to hear all about your play opening. And mono. And the various other peaks you got going on.

    never a crush just truly, madly, deeply in love.

  • Oh my, you are quite the storyteller. I think I want to come hang out by the sea with not 3, but FOUR amazing ladies. The art is a treasure. Thanks for the reminder to stop and DO art with my kids.

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