We’re still getting the nightly dusting of snow, but it melts quickly these days. White predominates in our yard, but the crocuses have begun to emerge from the ground. And even as the cold is slow to relinquish its hegemony, it can’t prevent the longer days and, the return of the roadside egg stand as our neighbors chickens begin to produce again.
I have come to believe that in many marriages there is one partner who has their head in the clouds and another who helps keep both people anchored to the ground. Anyone who knows me knows that my head is not in clouds; it’s often in another dimension. No one knows this better than the Big Guy, so, last night, when I casually moved the new dark green shrub to the edge of the counter as I unloaded the grocery bags, he raised an eyebrow but didn’t ask what had prompted the purchase.
The plant was just the end of a journey I had started two days ago on the first sunny afternoon since the official start of spring. For the first time since I’d claimed my Mom-Cave at the back of the house, I minded that my cozy winter cocoon lacks a view of the impending greening of our yard. Our house is earth-sheltered, and, while all the bedrooms and family areas look towards the forest and fields that border our yard, the bathrooms and the study are tucked into the back part of the house, which is buried under three feet of dirt.
All of this made my first thought – how could I install a window – just a tad irrational. When I returned this dimension at five A.M. the next morning, I considered other options as I wrote. Taking over the one unoccupied bedroom/winter laundry room isn’t feasible for the longterm (the boys are getting old enough for their own rooms). Then I though about moving to our well-lit, but unheated, attic. My mind churned as I mentally figured out heating and decor for the space. The Big Guy has plans for most of that space, however, so I nixed the idea. Then came a stroke though, sadly, not of genius. It was the stroke I envisioned the Big Guy experiencing when I finished pitching my next plan – remodeling the upstairs and the downstairs with a workshop, study and guest-area down and family bedrooms up.
The Big Guy popped his head in as he was heading out to work, bringing me back to the ground. I posted my posts, got the kids to school and returned to the Mom-Cave for the next 8 hours of my Work-At-Home-Job. My 3 minute dance sessions – my latest attempt to get more movement (not exercise, just movement) – reminded me there was another advantage to working in a room without windows. Maybe I could find a way to make it feel less claustrophobic for the summer.
I googled windowless offices. Google gave me white offices (straight from the pages of the Neat & Childless Magazine), walls with trompe l’oeil murals, mirrors built into reclaimed windows, and plants. I remembered the houseplant cemetery we call a forest and took closer look at the mirrors, stumbling on to a gorgeous and, most important, affordable distressed window with a mirror behind it. I saved the page just as the Big Guy got home with the boys.
“Look at this mirror,” I said, not mentioning my other decorating ideas. “Don’t you think it would brighten up the office?”
“I guess do,” replied my husband with practiced composure. I don’t have hard scientific data on this, but it’s my suspicion that nothing strikes fear into the heart of a married man like the words, “I have an idea”. To I decided not to reveal my endgame (however much it had shrunk), and the conversation ended.
The next afternoon, I announced I needed to get some groceries after work and headed into town. The mirror was still in mind, but as I guided my cart through the aisles, I wandered into the nursery area. The aroma of dozens of Easter lilies and hyacinths assaulted me. I explored, remembering the plant idea and started hunting for something that looked like it would do well in extreme shade. A few minutes later, I emerged from a corner with a nameless plant whose directions to keep it out of sun and not overwater reassured me it might not join its predecessors in the woods as compost.
When I had the last of the groceries put away, I picked up the plant to take it to its new home in the Mom-Cave.
“What do you think?” I asked. “I just thought the room could use a little green.” The Big Guy just nodded and got to work on the latest incarnation of his famous pasta sauce. After +16 years of being the anchor in our marriage, he knows that a cigar may just be a cigar, but a plant is never just a plant.
We’re well into the first full week of spring and snow still covers our yard. It’s almost time to plant peas, and my garden is a slushy mess. The fact that Vermont’s gardening season commenced at least a week or three behind the calendars in every gardening book (even one or two written by Vermonters) once caused me consternation. By March, I’m ready to get out of the house and start digging.
A decade of digging later, however, I’ve learned to relax about this thing I absolutely can’t control. My springtime serenity stems from two sources. The first comes from observing the long-term effects of that saturating late winter snow pac. Soggy in spring but still moist enough to prevent the need for watering well into summer, I’ve come to trust that Mother Nature knows what she’s doing. The other source of my calm comes from discovering a spring signal far more reliable (and delicious) than a date circled on my calendar.
The sap buckets start appearing in late January. The large maple syrup operations set long blue tap lines that run from tree to tree and then into huge covered containers, but there are still plenty of do-it-yourselfer’s and small operators who use the old-fashioned taps and buckets that are symbolic of the season.
We made maple syrup a few years in a row. Our buckets were recycled milk jugs. We collected sap for days and made exactly one gallon (you need 32 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup) on our old wood stove. Our old house was drafty enough that we didn’t mind turning our kitchen into a sauna for a few days, and it was the best maple syrup we ever tasted.
We buy our syrup now, and, even though it’s available at even the smallest producers through most of the year, picking up a gallon or two at the end of March has become as much a ritual as taking Thing2 to see Santa at the town Christmas party or planting my peas in soggy spring soil.
The steam started pouring from the sugar houses in late winter. Even now, the nighttime temperatures are still mostly in the freezing range even as the days get warmer, and the sap still flows. Last weekend, the first weekend in spring, the sugar houses opened their doors to tasters and tours, but it was just a date on the calendar. For me, it won’t be until the sap slows that spring will really begin. It’s when the sap buckets along our road come down.
It doesn’t make the spring season any less welcome, but it does make it a little bittersweet.
Listening to the wind of his soul, as Cat Stevens once sang, and letting the music take him where his heart wants to go, it’s Thing2’s time to dance, as it is every night after his homework is done and before dinner is ready. With the Big Guy’s borrowed iPod and and my old ear buds, he leaps and twirls, shakes, rattles and rolls, his eyes half closed as he translates the music into motion.
An angelic smile lights his face as he looks at the Big Guy for approval. The Big Guy is bemused. Thing2 turns to me for non-verbal feedback, but his gaze falls first upon Goliath, still steeped in homework at the round pedestal kitchen table. Always willing to be a distracted from his studies, Goliath has stopped to watch our private performance. His face is a study in preteen angst. A smile lurks, but the fear that this performance might be repeated in public also knits his brow.
Thing2, unsure of Goliath’s evaluation, stops mid pirouette. He stares at his big brother as another one song ends. When he finds his tongue, it is not nearly as dextrous as his feet.
“WHAT?!?” he demands. Goliath shrugs and bows his head over his book again, and the Big Guy and I worry the time to dance has ended. But the dance continues until the last plate has been set at the dinner table. Thing2’s monosyllabic outburst was not a question after all; it was statement that he will be who he will be as long as the music keeps playing.
The steps creak a little more each day as Thing1 descends from his bastion on the upper bunk. He’s been taller than his mother for a year now, and, even though he enjoys sizing up the difference every time we pass in the hall, I am getting used to looking up at someone I used to carry around in a Snugli. It’s strange feeling, and a few weeks ago, I realized that Thing1, evoking a decidedly impish quality, didn’t really suit him anymore.
I’ve been using nicknames for my kids and husband since this blog’s inception. My six foot six husband is the Big Guy. My twelve and six-year-old boys are known as Thing1 and Thing2 (or SuperDude if he’s wearing his cape and wig), respectively.
My decision to use nicknames was not so much to safeguard their internet safety – very little is private anymore now – but more the result of the feeling that, especially with the kids, I had the right to tell our stories but not the right to opt in the use of their real names until they were old enough to make that decision themselves. The result has been a mostly illustrated blog (the few photos of the kids are usually old enough to prevent easy recognition by anyone but the people who already know them), and I’ve been happy with it. Now, however, as I’ve been searching for a new, more appropriate nickname for the gentle giant that roams our house, I realize that part of the motivation for the original nickname was my denial that he is growing up.
There is still a bit of the imp in him, but middle school and the discovery that a world lies outside Minister Hill have made him serious. When the imp is revealed, Thing2 is often the inspiration and the provocation. Like any good younger brother, Thing2 carries around a bit of loving hero worship for his big brother. Most afternoons he expresses his love by snuggling up to his older brother, but there are times when love hurts.
Sometimes inspired by boredom, sometimes by that most flattering of desires – to imitate his older brother in every possible way – Thing2 will sidle up to Thing1 at his desk or on the couch. He’ll work to inhabit the space with his brother. Then he’ll ask to play whatever Thing1 is playing, listen to whatever song Thing1 has blasting, or watch whatever show Thing1 thought was great last night but couldn’t care less about this afternoon. He is dogged in his admiration, and, when Thing1, in the time-honored tradition of surly preteens everywhere, ignores the initial overtures, Thing2 finds a plan B.
Snuggling becomes poking. Then poking becomes climbing, and sometimes the climbing hurts. Thing2’s faith that Thing1 would never hurt him is stronger David’s in a God that would guide his slingshot was. For the most part his faith is well-placed. Unlike the ancient Goliath, when our giant needs a lot of needling before he responds in kind. Sometimes the giant will lose his temper, but he rarely loses his cool.
Lately he’s been taking on more grown-up chores around the house. He’s attentive and responsive when we need a quick favor. Naturally, I see him through my maternal bias, but as I watch the imp becoming a man, I’ve decided it’s time for someone to get a new nickname and rehabilitate the name Goliath.