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Homestead Happenings: relax, everything is okay

January 24, 2011

Firstly, thank you for all the comments (and e-mails) on Homestead Happenings: overhaul, recommending that I march right down to the Methodist thrift store and bring Tootle home. Strangely enough, last weekend I was looking through our “re-gift” box and there was Tootle, its pink cover winking at me like “hey, did you forget something?” Why, yes I did. Tootle is now residing in the very small box of special keepsakes to save.

Secondly, thank you for your heartfelt comments about The Handhold. Honestly, I’m lucky that through that entire experience I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know what it would be like for my belly to swell to full term, or to feed a chubby newborn without many degrees of separation (breast pump, syringe, feeding tube). I got broken into motherhood by peering through the porthole windows of an incubator, everything I previously assumed wiped clean in an instant.

Also, you’re right; I do want to write a book about Col’s early years. I’ve saved medical documents, discharge papers, calendars, and e-mails. All I need is: 1) an agent and publisher 2) someone to watch the kids while I write 3) a fellowship would be cool so I could stop working freelance. Okay, who’s in? Hello? Tap, tap. This thing on?


::Homestead happenings::

I am considering having the words “relax, everything is okay,” tattooed on the inside of my eyelids. Here’s why:

Raising children is like this wild roadtrip. There’s these long stretches where nothing seems to change. You’re flying down the Interstate of Parenthood on cruise control, driving and wiping noses in your sleep. Then you suddenly descend into the blooming desert where platter-sized flowers unfurl on strange spiny plants. Tortoises haul themselves over rocks and bright birds paint rainbows in the sky. You slow down, not wanting to miss a single, breathtaking moment.

This is just to say that Col started reading. And by reading, I mean sounding words out. And by words, I mean one syllable, phonetic, three letter words. And it’s so strange because the last thing I remember was inching down the highway, criss-crossing the country for months while Col’s peers were speeding past us, waving their Easy Reading books out the window. I’d tighten my fingers on the wheel, helping Col sound out words like C – A – T. “Cookie!” he’d guess haphazardly. “Cottontail? Crawdad?” he’d venture, completely uninterested. And I’d sigh audibly, exhaling my own fears into the charged air, when really, everything was okay, I just needed to relax.

You’d think I’d know better by now, that I’d remember that children walk the most zig-zagging, spiraly path; they hop-scotch forward then tumble backwards. It’s hard to place them on a continuum, to locate them; they are not fixed points. For example, Rose is fiercely brave except when she’s burying her head in my leg because someone said “hi” to her. Col is an extrovert who loves to be home puttering amongst his rocks and legos.

If you see me gripping that steering wheel, trying to maneuver the kids the wrong way down a one way street, please remind me to relax because I’m pretty sure everything’s going to be just fine.


Col and Rose had their first friend sleep over last weekend, which was a great success. They all slept in the same room, and I love that along with undies and socks (which live in a singular, socialist basket), Col and Rose share friends.

Is there anything cuter than a roomful of pajamed kids? Try not to notice the blankets *still* hanging in the windows.

They actually slept.

The funnest thing ever: make the longest possible word with magnetic letters, all full of rough-edged consonants, then ask a grown-up to read the word.

Then, politely line up to take turns hurling yourself over the edge of the couch.

I’m writing an essay on roadkill for a fantastic magazine and jokingly told Dan he should seek out a nice roadside animal on his Sunday outing with the kids, for y’know, story material. Team Roadkill dutifully returned home with the backstraps and one hind leg of an elk found near Chimney Rock. That afternoon, while the kids napped Dan did the initial butchering outside. “The smell of that meat took me back to so many places,” Dan told me later all dreamy-voiced. “That meat is so fresh and fragrant, that spruce-needley, slightly musky smell that says animals have been here.” Which was Dan’s way of saying this meat is going to be good. And it was.

We got legit and went down to the DOW (Division of Wildlife) for a Roadkill permit.

Even though it was all business down at the DOW, it felt a little Monty Python-esque, this official Roadkill Permit signed and dated by the official (and very serious) wildlife guy. Like any minute we’d drop the facade and The Roadkill skit would begin with goofy dancing and hi-jinx. But I do feel better now, because I’ve got my library card, my drivers license and my Roadkill Permit.

The requisite, chickens eating meat scraps picture.

Col wrote this card to his friend Mathew and my heart swelled and crashed on the shore of my motherly soul.

Which is exactly how Dan feels about our friend Jojo, who, when Dan showed up at his house last Sunday with a shoulder from the roadkill elk, Jojo (who was butchering a goat at the time) went into his freezer and gave Dan a couple packages of goat and a gallon of local apricots.

Dan and Jojo getting all happy about making bows.

And this book finally came in for me at the library—the last in the series of three—and I may not get out of bed until I finish all 546 pages, or at least until the little people jump on me at 6:00am, and I get to start the whole day again.


Rachel, who is trying to relax and remember that everything is going to be okay

28 Comments leave one →
  1. January 26, 2011 8:56 am

    Hi, Rachel, is that a Mat and Sam book Col is reading? The art and the printing look so familiar. Sarah learned to read with those. If they are not, I highly recommend them. I guess they are kind of old-fashioned, since she learned nearly 20 years ago. Some things just keep on working, no matter how old they are.

    Go Tootle!

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      January 26, 2011 10:59 am

      Kathy, They’re called “bob books,” and incidentally I was given a stack of them a gazillion years ago when Col was two, and what did I do? In a clutter-clearing fit, I gave them to the thrift store, because we were still immersed in bibs and diapers, and I just couldn’t see *reading.* But one book escaped me, and I am bowing down to it, and rethinking my get-rid-of-all-extraneous-stuff ways, trying to take the long view.

  2. Peggy permalink
    January 26, 2011 9:09 am

    Rachel- THANK YOU. I need to remind myself that same thing EVERY DAY – Relax, everything will be OK. We too panic that Charlie is not up to speed with everyone else as he guesses words based on their first letter! We sigh with exasperation and say firmly, “You need to stop guessing! Guessing will get you nowhere in life!”. And it shocks me when his little sister – newly turned 4 – can read and sound out just as much as he can, if not better! But I know that he WILL eventually get it, and we need to be patient. I just need to be reminded of this every so often (every day?!). So thank you- it’s good to know ours is not the only one guessing and just learning to sound out three letter, one syllable words!

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      January 26, 2011 11:02 am

      Peggy, we are in the exact same place. Rose is only two quick steps behind Col in reading, and they learned to swim on the same day (and she’s already a more courageous swimmer than him). Little sisters. Oy.

  3. January 26, 2011 10:33 am

    Roadkill Permit? I don’t think we have those in Brooklyn. I’m pretty sure we don’t have elk, either, though.

    That slumber party looks *so* cozy!

  4. January 26, 2011 10:41 am

    ha! i want to jump up and hug you. . . there. done. everything IS okay.

  5. January 26, 2011 11:05 am

    LOVE the roadkill permit. I know I’m on the right track when life feels a little surreal sometimes… ;) So happy for Col; I keep wondering if my son will ever start to love reading. We end up reading to him so much at bedtime that I think he doesn’t want to slow down to bother doing it on his own (um, backfire on that one). Your stories and writing are so wonderful (hilarious but also nourishing, joyful); I love hearing about everything and enjoy your beautiful family and community. You help me appreciate the wonderful moments living in these parenting trenches!! (Ok, all of this sounds a little too much like a cheesy back cover endorsement for your future book, but I’m game. Sign me up!). :)

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      January 26, 2011 11:42 am

      Marykaye, thank you for your words and endorsement! And also, just because Col is beginning to read doesn’t mean he loves it. Oh no, he’d rather build a trap, construct legos, harass chickens, get read to, or any number of things than struggle through sounding out words. Again, trying to *relax* around that.

  6. January 26, 2011 12:09 pm

    OK, that may possible be the only slumber party in the last century which buckskins took the place of winnie-the-pooh and strawberry shortcake sleeping bags. How else could you end a party like that but with some roadkill elk?

  7. Melissa permalink
    January 26, 2011 12:47 pm

    After Avi puked on me as we were walking out the door this morning (I get the mom-of-the-year prize as I held him away from me so as not to get puke on my work clothes–only had to change my shirt!) I think I had the same Everything is going to be okay mantra, or maybe it was more like I-need-a-vacation-so-badly while I literally gripped the steering wheel. He puked because he was having a tantrum, not because he’s sick or anything, lest you think I’m a meany who makes him go to school when he’s sick (;

    So I am treating myself to your blog after arriving at work (after I treated myself to an iced coffee) and girl, you do not disappoint!

    I love what you said about the continuum of child development–I have always disliked stage theories of any kind because most kids simply follow their own paths. My sweet baby, 8 months old today (!), is nowhere near crawling; in fact, if I put her on her belly she protests and looks at me like, WTF? But man, she has a killer pincer grasp and a vocab to knock your socks off.

    How exciting for Col to enter the world of reading . . . I remember it well.

    Loved this post! Seriously, I have to come up with something new to say but that is always how I feel (:

    Wish I could pull an agent and publisher out of my back pocket for you! One of these days someone will tell someone else to check out your blog and then you will get a comment from just that person and voila, fame and fortune! Get ready!

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      January 26, 2011 4:05 pm

      That’s funny Melissa. I’ve recoiled from bloody noses for that same reason. Killer pincer grasps should not be underestimated.

      I think the whole milestone hand-out that you get at every pediatrician appt. can be really scary for first time parents. Thank god for second children and the ways they help us relax.

  8. January 26, 2011 1:22 pm

    Love this. I needed a dose of “relax, everything is going to be OK” this morning, unrelated to child rearing.
    Reading, how I love reading. I couldn’t wait to learn and took to it like a duck to water. But growing up in the dark ages of the 70’s, I remember learning letters and that words started with letters IN FIRST GRADE. And then graduating to “see spot run”. This need to push kids to read at an earlier and earlier age is strange to me. If you could show me what a difference it made, say, when they got to college, I might be sold. But I think by the time you reach high school, it all comes out in the wash.
    My step-son was not, and still isn’t much of a reader. And with extreme performance anxiety, the more you pushed, the worse he got. His mom tells a story of using flash cards to teach him his colors when he was little. He freaked out and threw a tantrum. Later, decompressing in his room with no one around, he sat on a colored quilt and pointed to the squares. Red, blue, green. Thank goodness his mom told me this story. It helped me remember to let him go at his own pace, and that he WOULD get there. I actually think it was video games (gasp) that finally tipped him into reading to learn (rather than learning to read). He needed to read in order to follow the directions. Motivation (when nothing we were doing was working).
    When you think about it, how long have humans been on this planet? Now how long have we had written language? It’s a special brain construct that allows it to happen, and it is not something that is easy or enjoyable for a good portion of us. They say once out of high school, more than 50% of people never read a book cover to cover again. That should tell us something. Also heard a great piece the other day on telling kids, when they do well in school, that you are proud because they must have studied hard, rather than you are proud because they are smart. One (smart) is perceived as intrinsic. You either are or are not. The other (studying) is something you have control over, and therefore is empowering. Good stuff.

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      January 26, 2011 3:23 pm

      Jen, That makes me sad to think that 50% of people don’t read a full book after high school. But I’m sort of a freak about reading, and get completely uplifted by a stack of library books. And yes, reading is now taught in kindergarten, which is now a full day, instead of half days like in the 70’s. And it doesn’t make a difference for anyone’s future.

  9. January 26, 2011 1:59 pm

    Rachel, your post could not have come at a more perfect time for me. Thank you for reminding me to relax and enjoy the moments that are my life. Oh, and thank goodness you found Tootle! In our house, our Tootle is “Annie and the Wild Animals” which Finn has renamed “Taffy and the Moose.” Here’s to the books we know by heart!

  10. woowoomama permalink
    January 26, 2011 2:15 pm

    did you read the post on simple homeschool about reading? it just popped into my head when i read your post.

    also, the polite line before catpulting onto the couch cracked me up because my gaggle play the here. with the polite line and all please and excuse me and then – WHOMP onto the couch and i am sure if their head bends at that angle again their little necks are going to break.

  11. January 26, 2011 4:09 pm

    It is so hard in today’s world (although I remember this from my early years as well), to not feel like our kids are missing something, behind in something, etc. I think that this especially true for homeschooling parents. There are schools around our area that teach latin beginning in kindergarten, who have test scores through the roof, etc. And often times, when I am talking to parents of these children, I feel like my kids are “behind”. I will then try to steer them down a more conventional path, only to be reminded (normally in a rather unpleasant way) why we don’t take that “normal” route. Thanks for the reminder to slow down, and breathe.

  12. Judy permalink
    January 26, 2011 4:21 pm

    If a “C”-word – for Col – could be a COOKIE, a COTTONTAIL, or !! a CRAWDAD – then CAT could seem pretty pedestrian. A kid could think: “is this the reading thing that the adults are making such a fuss about? Let me do it – my way!”

    They’ll both be great readers – very naturally – :)

    Nana Judy

  13. January 26, 2011 4:23 pm

    When your socks and undies are in a basket for you to peruse whenever you feel like it (and share with friends, siblings, elk spirits, and/or overly serious permit granters) everything will be okay.

    My daughter has been writing her name for a while now, but she writes it backward. It would look perfect held up to a mirror. A friend of ours was saying the other say that her daughter does the same thing and that she’s really worried about it. I immediately thought, “Oh, shit, maybe I should be worried, too!” Thanks for quashing that for me. I needed to hear it, and life lessons always sound so lovely coming from you. =>

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      January 26, 2011 10:41 pm

      Stacia, Col wrote his name “LOC” until he was five. Whenever I see it on old artwork it makes me smile.

  14. January 26, 2011 5:03 pm

    Ah reading… kids and reading… aaahhhhhh….
    And relaxing, and trusting, and knowing everything will be okay, they do follow their own timetables.

    I love to read. Always have, always will. I wanted to learn to read, and taught myself, with help from my reader Grammy, to read at 4. I remember laying on our living room floor, feet against the wall heat register, reading Curious George. It was 1970.

    My kids developed very differently. My youngest randomly started identifying all the letters of the alphabet, upper and lower case, by sight, at 2. His older sister had shown zero interest until baby brother could do his letters. She didn’t really start doing the sounding out letters and reading until almost 6, but once she started, she was completely fine, and now, at almost 21, is a voracious reader of such varied things as French philosophy, sci fi, and drug and counterculture memoir. The youngest was reading proficiently by 3, to the horror of his preschool teacher, who, only because she’d had his sister and knew we weren’t doing the flash card, your baby can read, garbage, let him. But she told us he was too young to be doing that. I said, well, what are you gonna do? The kid broke the code, he’s reading, should I take his books away? Probably no. He’s almost 19. He stopped going to school at 15, started college, again totally on his own initiative, at 16, and is looking to transfer to University of Michigan. He’s got a 3.873, having taken full course loads in academic subjects for the last 3 years.
    That kid didn’t talk to people until he was 9. He was kicked out of summer day camp at 5. They couldn’t get him out of the lodge, away from the books. He would. not. play.
    The girl one? Athlete. Outgoing. She didn’t STOP talking until … wait. That never happened.

    My grandson, he’s yet another unique kid, on his own schedule. He walked at 9 and a half months. He’s 4 and 2/3, starting to sound out words, but mostly liking building, drawing, and climbing anything, whether still or moving. Interesting to see so much of both his mom, in his outgoingness and athleticism, and his uncle, in his total grasp of reading, writing and math, in him. The youngest boy also, at the age of, ahem, 7, asked me what ‘squaring a number’ meant, and what higher powers meant. I have no idea where he heard the terms, but I explained them. He immediately proceeded to take 6 to the sixth power, in his head, while I drove to the grocery store. Yeah. He got it correct.

    My youngest sister hated reading until high school, where the entire district in Seattle, and I mean everyone including administrators, picked up a book and engaged in SSR, or Silent Sustained Reading for a set time every single day. She was forced to read, and hasn’t been without a book since. She’s 26 now. Didn’t graduate, but neither have any of us. She’s much better-read than I in terms of classic literature.

    You just never know. And yes, video games can be amazing motivation. I’ve known kids who were so interested in figuring out how to build them that they undertook checking out calculus books from the library and teaching themselves advanced programming. And yes, reading. Instructions, cheats, etc.

    As for publishing, my best friend, who has the ins to this kind of stuff, is a big fan of She’s encouraging me to get my mom’s memoir on there. They are particularly interested in memoir and other personal type writing. They match the work with the appropriate agents/publishing houses. Sort of a clearinghouse/dating service. People she knows started and run it. So, there’s an idea! And, if I lived in the right sort of area, I’d be on board with hanging with the kids. Connor’d love the company!

  15. janie permalink
    January 26, 2011 11:47 pm

    I needed to be reminded of that (to just relax) as I tried to get Jazz to work on his report about megalodons and the impact that the isthmus of panama caused. He just wanted to do the weird couch thing you had a picture of and run as fast as he could up and down our hallway.

    We were invited to a friends house for Thanksgiving and they had the 3rd Stieg Larson book, I was soooooo happy because I was 7th on the waiting list at the library!

    Remember when I had the great idea of writing about our house….. and how excited I was???? And then it dawned on me….when would I have the time to write? We have to find the time for you, because you have all the material right there and you write so beautifully. One page at a time girl. You can do it.

  16. January 27, 2011 2:44 am

    i’ll watch those babies for ya! hope yer well – xoxoxo

  17. January 27, 2011 9:36 am

    thank you for having blankets covering your windows too!!!



  18. January 28, 2011 1:24 am

    Pregnancy insomnia’s keeping me up and here I am on the computer in the middle of a cold January night. Except your stories always keep me warm. With this smile on my face, there’s just no refuting you: everything is okay indeed.

  19. January 28, 2011 10:13 am

    i love that hazel can read now. it seems she loves it as much as i do. this morning she woke up and said “last night, while i was sleeping, i was reading in my brain.”

  20. Emily permalink
    January 29, 2011 5:35 pm

    Hi Rachel!! I love how you and your family takes on multi-tasking: kids go for a drive with Dad, Mom stays at home to write, Driving is like hunting+gathering, Writing is a method of relaxing and being ok, Dad and kids do some good trading, Mama does some good sharing. Thanks for the leg! I’m writing this as I eat Doerothy from Bayfield, a doe that graced our backyard with her fleshly bounty last winter. Did you say you are writing an article about roadkill for a magazine? Way to go! (SHHHHHHHH!!!!)

  21. February 1, 2011 11:07 pm

    that was fun. reading this post. i am very impressed with the permit gathering you did. and i love how he went and got you guys some road kill after you mentioned it would be helpful for your story. LOVE THAT!!!


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