Cresting The Hill

13 10 2015

Friday was an in-service day for Palo Alto, so Danae went to work while the kids were both home with me.  This was the first day I had the kids alone at the new house and, while the possibilities for what we could do were numerous, I made an early decision that I was going to put them to work.

I fed the kids breakfast then told them that we would be leaving soon to go to the hardware store in town to buy fence stakes for the goat run. To my surprise, neither protested. Typically I get push back any time we are going to leave the house to do anything other than what they want to do.

Things move at a much slower pace in the San Lorenzo Valley. We walked into the ACE Hardware store and aside from employees, we could have been the only people there.  Just as we passed the threshold, the phone rang.  I needed to ask where the fencing was. The cashier answered the phone. She did not put the caller on hold to greet me or answer my question. I was going to have to wait.  I’m growing accustomed to waiting. I might even go so far as to say that I am actually growing to enjoy it. I’m relearning how to get lost in my thoughts and/or how to be completely present in any given moment.  Whichever suits the situation.  It’s a lovely feeling that has, up until now, gradually left me over the past decade as smart phones have taken over.  It seems increasingly there is no such thing as a “free” moment.  There are always text messages, e-mails to read and respond to and, if a free moment threatens to emerge, there is ALWAYS facebook to check, check in on or check out with.

When the cashier was finally finished with her call, she pointed us toward the lumber yard where we got twenty eight foot fence stakes and were on our way.

Once home, the kids helped me unload Moby (the Q7) and put the stakes in the Polaris to bring up the hill.  I grabbed my water jar and a 3 pack of work gloves and we all rode to the top. I set the kids to clearing the shed and chicken run site of branches. It seemed that the previous owner had cut down a medium sized fruit tree and all of it was left there in pieces. This wood will eventually be perfect for the wood burning stove but, for now, we put it in a pile on an unused clearing by the side of the logging road.

We rolled three logs that were being used to retain the site out of the way. One crumbled as we touched it, revealing a scorpion between two of the layers. We poked at the scorpion and observed it for a while, then it was time to get back to work.

If I were to say that my kids tend to lack stamina when work needs to be done, that would be a polite way of saying that, before long they both melt into deep puddles of tears and mood. Gwen gets bored easily and takes breaks because she quickly gets “tired”. Kaherdin starts “getting hurt” and, therefore, also needs to take breaks. Typically they end up going off to do their own thing, leaving Danae and I to do the rest of whatever needs to be done. Since moving here though, I have noticed a shift in both children, Gwen in particular.

I’m not certain, but it seems as though she may have just passed me up in height. When I’m at my ideal weight, we can wear the same pants, we share the same shoe size (a whopping 10).  Just as she is the size of an adult, she also has the strength of one. During these four months of offering, listing, selling and demolition and moving, there have been several times where I have had to ask Gwen for help with something that I am unable to lift of move. It is new for me to lean on her this way, but it is as if she has learned a sense of purpose by being able to help me. My weakness points to her strength, or her strength adds to mine, and I think that makes her feel good about herself.

I started leveling the shed site — digging down the 14 inches at the high spot and throwing the shovel fulls of dirt anywhere off to the side, over the steep down slope. Gwen was getting bored and tired.  Kaherdin was amusing himself by cutting vines with a machete. Gwen plopped down on a log looking as though she had long since resigned to the fact that the day was going to kill her. She is, after all, thirteen.

“Mama,” she asked, “can we try that new restaurant that you wanted to go to.  The one that’s only open for breakfast and lunch?”

“Rocky’s?” I asked.

“The one that looks like a house,” she added.

“Oh, maybe.  It depends on whether or not we get our work done.  We have a lot to do.  The more you help, the more quickly we get done and the more likely it is that we can go.”

She scrunched her face and sighed heavily.  I kept digging. Kaherdin hurt himself and quickly bounded into the Polaris to nurse his “wound”.

“Mama,” Gwen started again.

“Yes?”

“Can we go now?”

“Like I said, we have a lot of work to do.” I kept on digging.  Both kids were now sitting, doing nothing. “Hey,” I said, “you know what would be awesome?  If you guys went down to the house and made lunch for all of us and brought it back up here.  That way we could have a picnic together and still get our work done.”

“But you said we could go to Rocky’s,” Gwen protested.

I was beginning to lose my patience.

“Look,” I said to both of them. “Kaherdin, tomorrow you want to go to the Gem Show with Bo. Gwen, you want a sleepover with Sasha.  Both of those things are going to take a lot of time out of our day for drop off and pick up and what have you.  Mom and I planned for both Saturday and Sunday to be total and complete work days, but I am trying to make it all work. I’m trying to find a way to get everything done in such a way that you still get to do the things you want to do and I get to finish the work that I have to do.  All I’m asking is that you help.” I started digging faster.

Gwen got up and walked off. I tried to keep my cool.

Kaherdin said, “Well, then I’m going down the hill to get my sushi out of the fridge.” And he took off, too.

Irritated as I was with both of them, I was actually impressed with Kaherdin. K has been a tad hesitant about exploring on his own. Typically he requires a buddy to go up or down the hill.

As I continued digging I kept wondering why my kids crumble so quickly. Then I reminded myself of the hard work they’ve put in to get us as moved in as we can be right now.  Gwen and the load after load that she took in the Polaris a couple of weekends ago to clear the front driveway all on her own.  And K, bringing heavy boxes from the garage up to his room all on his own.  I wanted to believe the best, but I was frustrated.

K returned to the top of the hill. “Gwen’s not in the house. You really should tell her not to wander off like that.”

“Well, I suppose if she’s choosing to be mountain lion food, that’s her choice.  I can’t physically restrain her,” I said. And I meant it. If you believe in time outs, once a child gets to a certain age and size, there’s not much you can do to keep them in one place. I didn’t necessarily mean the mountain lion food part about her wandering off, but on Garden Street it had become a recent habit of Gwen’s to get pissed off and leave the house without telling us where she was going. She would threaten us with running away. She told us she would learn to survive on the streets. In retrospect the threats were adorable. We came to learn that “running away” meant walking over to Nordstrom Rack, where invariably she would find an outfit she liked and would call from the dressing room asking if I’d come down and pay for it. We also learned that, in Gwen’s terms, “surviving on the streets” meant using her own money to buy a Caramel Macchiato while she hung out at Starbuck’s for a couple of hours. And, every single time she “ran away” she was texting me constantly, craving connection and understanding. Still, I worried about what “running away” might mean to her when we moved.  It’s two miles into town, and most of that is on completely uninhabited roadway. Anything could happen. I wasn’t sure if thirteen year old hormones could override common sense and cause her to one day run off into the night. Then I remembered the first time Gwen stormed off after we moved here.  She walked up the road past our house and, when she came back, instead of remaining pissed off, she was excited to share that she’d seen some of the other houses and had discovered a water fall.  Wherever she was, she’d be fine.

K sat and ate his sushi. I kept on digging. I got lost in my thoughts — a fantasy that, at any moment, Gwen would crest the top of the hill with food in hand.  But K said she wasn’t at the house.  Maybe he missed her. Maybe she was in the make-shift kitchen, while he just grabbed his sushi in the main kitchen. I tried to just focus on my work.  Truth be told, now I was getting tired and a trip into Rocky’s was sounding pretty nice.

I looked at the ground.  The soil was rocky and loose. It wouldn’t be difficult to level, but it began to feel overwhelming for just me. Suddenly I was no longer in the mood.

The stakes still needed to be unloaded from the Polaris. I threw down my shovel and as I turned to walk toward the Polaris, there, cresting the hill, was Gwennie, panting from the hike, carrying an armload of food for the three of us.

My eyes misted up. I walked toward her and threw my arms around her. “I am so proud of you right now.”

We sat on a log. She handed K some sushi.

“I already ate mine,” he said, “that one is yours.”

She shrugged it off. For herself she brought a small cottage cheese.  For me she brought some chips, carrots and my favorite Annie’s Cashew Cheese Dip.

“See mommy, I brought you your favorite dip,” she said. She wanted to please me. She not only heard what I had said about needing to get the work done, but she accepted it and understood. She had grown more than in just height.

K took the sushi and said, “I’m going to go put this back in the fridge.”  Once again, he trotted down the trail independently.

Gwennie and I sat on the log and ate our food.  “You know,” I said, “this can just be a snack.  There are just a few more things we HAVE to do, then we can go to Rocky’s.”  We sat shoulder to shoulder with our heads touching, rocking side to side. I felt happy.

Minutes later, K crested the hill saying, “Look who I brought!” He had gotten Hoover on leash and walked her up the hill all on his own.

I can’t help but compare moments. An ending like this would have never been possible on Garden Street. I can only speak for myself when I say that I haven’t experienced a peace or calm like this since I left home for the first time to go to college. I drive at or below the speed limit because I am so relaxed. Sometimes I feel as though one slight shift could put me in a meditative state.

Our realtor and friend, Bradd, said to us when he came to Garden Street to write our offer on the Love Creek house, “Once I moved to Love Creek, everything else began to feel like insanity.  Even being here in the suburbs,” he said, “is almost more than I can take. You guys will understand once you get there.”

He was right.  When I am here, I don’t want to be anywhere else.  When I sit on the deck, I just want to sit.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I am constantly moving — getting up, sitting down, getting up again.  Being still has never been something I am able to do…until now.  It’s as though the trees, the silence, the lack of buzz and energy that permeates the Silicon Valley, affords me a peace that is allowing me to get back in touch with parts of myself that I have been trying desperately for years to get back in touch with.  I stopped writing poetry right around the time Gwen was born which, no coincidence, was the exact time that cell phones entered our lives. I was certain that parenthood would bring endless writing fodder, but I have spent the past decade and a half paralyzed.

I remember telling Danae, when we lived in Noe Valley together, that living in San Francisco was paralyzing for me. There was so much energy, so much possibility, so many choices in things to do and places to go, that I would sit in my apartment all day feeling stuck. Now I understand that my creative spirit not only wants, but needs space. Here, for the first time in my life, I have it. Lots of it. And now, so do my kids.  I can’t speak for them, but I notice shifts and changes that point to relief, growth and dare I say, happiness? The space that is reconnecting me to the true ground of who I am is now allowing them to learn and become who they are.

I am happy here.

Yes, we’re still living in a construction zone and cooking on a camping stove, but more and more deeply we are home.

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