IMGP0335I used to think I was a patient person. The laid-back type. Always chillin’ and always smiling. You know, the kind of person that doesn’t get rattled by much. Not even by copperheads in the wood pile.

Nowadays, I don’t feel so patient anymore. By the end of most days, in fact, I honestly feel pretty frazzled and very much at my wits end. Not at all patient. This end-of-the-day state-of-mind set me to thinking…

…My kiddos wake up, on normal days, about 6 am. Ira is often up shortly after five. They are normally in their beds (maybe not always asleep, however) by 8:30 pm. This evening I broke out the calculator and found that is approximately 870 minutes of waking hours for each child every day. I estimate that my name, or rather, the name my children know me by- “mama”- is spoken or murmured or screamed by at least one child, on average, of once per minute throughout the course of the day. (Often with some request attached to it.) Sure, sometimes there will be quiet stretches, smooth sailing on calm seas… but then a squabble will unfurl it’s nasty head and then the “mamas” really start flying, two or three at a time, making up for lost time. Maybe I’m exaggerating a hair. Some days I don’t think so, though.

It’s no wonder I sometimes feel like I’ve got a visible eye twitch.

I know all of you mamas out there get what I’m saying. If you are not yet a mama but are considering it, think about having your name spoken aloud 870 times each day (and often in the middle of the night, too!). Well. You might want to consider contraception.

I’m only kidding.IMGP0330

My children are truly the best. My life would be incredibly boring if not for their precious existence. They bring me to my knees over and over again, but they are awesome. I know I am blessed to have them. They do challenge me, though. In ways I never, ever would have imagined I could be challenged. My twenty-something pre-mama idealistic self really had no idea.

Tonight, as the kids were brushing their teeth and putting on pajamas and I found myself telling Livi that I would read a “short” bedtime story… it was then that I had a realization. I realized that in the past, before i had children, there was nothing that really challenged my patience to the extent that it is now challenged. Nothing was constantly asking me to grow and stretch in ways that might not always feel comfortable. Nothing was in my face like a swarm of hornets all of the freaking time. Nothing could or would compare to the persistence of my own offspring. Nothing like looking straight into the eyes of your own reflection… and seeing a light bulb click ON.

Ahhh. A good, old-fashioned light bulb moment. What a blessing.

So, now that I think about things in this light, I do have patience after all. I put it to good use all of the time. Every day: 870 minutes of patience.IMGP0332

fresh tracks

icy dayTaking a break from the house on this last (hopefully) beautiful winter day of snow and ice, we took a family walk up the road. There were no car tracks. The woods were quiet and beautiful. Every tree branch was laced with ice, glittering even under the gray sky. The snow crunched under our feet. We looked for tracks in the snow. We found deer, turkey, squirrel, possum, and coyote. coyote tracksWe followed them sometimes, seeing which way they were headed, guessing at what pace they traveled and what size they might have been from those clues on the ground.

Coming home, we followed our own tracks, each their own size, traveling at their own pace. And there were the tracks that Lulah made, very particularly her own.lulah tracks

It sounds amazingly simple to say what I’m thinking. But I’m amazed at how many times I have to be reminded about simple things.

My children are not reading

Obvious, right? Of course. I know that, and have known it all along.  But, they are closer to being me than anyone else, except my parents maybe.  And there are moments when we can still be surprised by what we already know.

This long cold winter has been a good time to play catch up on some academics that we sensed were missing in Lulah’s natural learning process. We’ve enhanced the structure of our homeschooling. There are still no set hours, but it is generally accepted that after breakfast Lulah and I will sit and do some math, some reading, and this and that as appropriate. If I feel like we need more, we’ll pick it up again after lunch, or make a quick review before dinner.

I’ve become inspired to model our academic structure after that which was in place in the early years of this country. Back then there was fluctuation in the school year schedule according to the rhythms of farm life, because most everyone was a farmer of some kind. When the kids went to school, it was a big part of their lives, and they learned a lot. Then, they were off, with work to do in the fields and at home. I get that. There’s still a lot of learning going on in the fields and at home, so the fluctuating schedule was complimentary. Both activities were viewed as honorable opportunities, and responsibilities. That’s the balance I was hoping to strike.

Lulah has not necessarily shared my enthusiasm for this concept.  I wouldn’t say its been a constant battle, but there’s been some nasty friction, some challenges for both of us.

She’s a strong willed girl, and always has been. But I am surprise by how frustrated I can get with her. I’ve always considered myself patient, but I’m not as patient as I’d like to be. What’s wrong with me? I’ve made my expectations clear. I try to communicate what we’re doing in a way that makes sense. Why does she resist so much? Why is this so hard?

The answer I hear: she is not me.

I’m communicating the way that I can understand. I’m teaching the way that I learned. Truth be told, there are some ways that I’ve learned that I’d rather she NOT. So I have to re-evaluate.

This is the time to be patient with myself too. I am the person that I know best. It’s not unnatural to use ourselves as the example of “normal” and structure our approach to others accordingly, but it’s not always a working strategy. As she grows more and more into her own character and personality, I have to take the time to learn about her. What a wonderful opportunity.

She’s a much more physically inclined child than I was. I don’t remember turning cartwheels at her age, especially on one arm! I loved to read more than anything, and I was a bit of a brooder. She would rather move her body, and she’s certainly not hesitant to express herself. My fascinations usually tended toward the mystical – unicorns, mermaids, aliens. There’s a fascination in that for her, too, but she’s in love with horses, real ones. Her mind works differently than mine, maybe slightly more like her father’s, but really – she is her own person.  Though I will certainly influence her and leave my tracks in her life, ultimately, she will make her own tracks in the world.

So I learn that I’m only just beginning to get to know this person who has been with me since her first cell divided. The more I relax into the process of learning about her, the more we relax together in the process of home schooling, and we are rewarded with a more harmonious home. Not to say we won’t still frustrate each other from time to time. Sometimes growing together is a challenge. In this life we’ve chosen, we commit to facing that challenge.

Our road is a clean slate after the snow. everyone tracks

We walk out together to explore, and we all make our own tracks.lulah tracks 2

wrestling with angels

The refrigerator door is open, a small person stands in the mist emanating from its cool interior.

“Mama, I’m hungry!”   “Get out of there please, and wait a few minutes, I’m cooking!”

I’m two feet away, making dinner as fast as I can.  There are still a few miles of row to be hoed, but dinner is more important, and not early enough.

“Mama, can I fly from here?” (Here is four steps up the stairwell.)  “No, you can’t fly from there.”

“I can’t?”   “No, you can’t.  It’s too high.”   “It’s too high?” (Small voice lilts upward.)  “Yes.  Too high to fly.  Come lower and fly.”  (He “flies” from the first step, and returns to the fridge.)

“Mama, I’m hungry! I want fresh moolk!”  (Second voice comes in.) “What’s for dinner?  Ugh. Rice again.” 

At this point, I the tired Mama, abruptly evict all the hungry small people from the room until further notice.

On the last page of the three year old notes of my previous time with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I found this:

“The first casualty of anger, hatred, etc. (let’s include impatience right now) is oneself.”

I’m well reminded of that, here lately.

Patience is a virtuous quality, worthy of cultivating.  Impatience is a dreadful feeling.

Our little homestead is low down in a deep, steep hollow.  The sun rises late and sets early.  But since we are not in the depths of the creek bottom (thankfully), our soil is not sandy (mixed blessing there).  Our soil is, um, dense, and improving.  Every year it is a little nicer to work with, because we’re kind to it (mostly).  Besides numerous other techniques, we grow cover crops, mow them down, and turn them into the ground.  The ground loves it.

This time last year, we were already feeling the edge of the on-coming drought, laying drip tape, and pumping a lot of water.  This year is different in almost every way.  I’m grateful not to be droughty.  The rains have been like clockwork, and for the most part they haven’t been too violent and pounding, but we’re struggling with the virtue of patience.

waiting field

The soil is still too wet to work.  The thick roots of vetch, crimson clover, and rye are holding an amazing amount of moisture, and the moist soil is cool.  I have no doubt that a lot of our friends have planted sweet corn, but we haven’t, because we’re waiting for that big patch of mowed cover crop to dry and warm sufficiently to till.  Sigh.

If we didn’t plant cover crops, we could work the ground.  But if we didn’t plant cover crops, our ground would not be improving so well.

Sometimes it’s easier to be patient than others.  We’re expanding our seed saving operation this year.  We believe in saving seed, as much and as well as possible.  By downsizing our CSA, we can give better attention to those efforts.

What this means, right now, is several rows of last year’s crops still standing, taking up precious space in the Spring garden and complicating matters of tractor cultivation.  The kale and radish seeds will take quite awhile to fully ripen.  We’ll need some luck with dry spells so that the dry seed pods don’t spring open and re-plant themselves (if it’s very hot and dry), or rot on the stalk (if it’s very wet).  If all goes well and we harvest a nice crop of seeds, it will be another season before we know that the seed has not crossed with its wild or cultivated neighbor plants.  At least the flowers are lovely and the bees enjoy them.

radish flower

Last weekend in Louisville, I did not take any notes at the Dalai Lama’s talk.  I spent the first several minutes of the talk taking Levon to each stall of the women’s bathroom so he could inspect the fancy flush handles, wash his hands thoroughly, and look out the super-big windows of the YUM Stadium at the big trucks going by on the highway below.  Eventually, he fell asleep, and the talk was sweet, of course.


One point the Dalai Lama made that stuck with me and has been bouncing around the open spaces in my cranium ever since is that we humans are multi-layered beings.  Several other notable spiritual leaders who were in attendance (rabbis, monks, sufis, swamis, scientists) commented on this from the standpoint of their own traditions as well.  Each of us has a surface level self, and a deeper self.  The surface level self is generally more reactive, and less refined.  This is the part of us that gets tossed on the tumultuous waves of cyclic existence.  This part gets angry, impatient, distraught, and aggressive when things get rough, and alternately giddy and frivolous in high times.  The deeper level is more subtle, and the sage company on stage last Sunday all agreed that the deeper level is the place to get some work done.

Boy howdy, is it ever.

In the garden, this means that even though it is difficult to give space to these rows that sit there, a gamble with weather and genetics as to how they will turn out, our belief in the goodness of seed saving is strong enough, deep enough, to carry us through.

kale seed

As growers, it means that we take the long view.  We will choose to do the right thing for the land, even if it means a later season than we would like.  This is stewardship.  Not easy, but good.

At home, with my family and myself, working with that deeper level is a greater challenge, and an even greater relief.  When I dive into that quiet cave of my heart and look out at the world around me, reality pronounces itself.  The beauty and innocence of my children shines through, and I can see that no matter how it manifests towards the rest of my life, I am primarily impatient with myself.getaway

There are days when it feels like not enough is getting done, and whatever is getting done is not done well enough.  I want to do more, be better at whatever I am.  But spending my time being whipped around in those feelings, and spreading them out to my family, is all the more exhausting and painful.

From the inside, looking out, I can see myself with compassion, which in turn gives me the energy to attend to all my works, be it hoeing or homework, as much as can be done that day, with greater ease. It’s not a passive state.  Living deeper in my “heart cave” does not mean I that watch the world go by without a care, or that I never get tired and cranky, or that I let my kids run over me.  It just means that when I stop Levon from smashing Lulah with a fishing net, my heart is not angry.  I simply act for the sake of everyone’s well-being.

There’s no formula to get there.  It’s just remembering.  It feels like I’m going toward “the peace that passes understanding”, and closer to ananda – unending joy (go on, contemplate the meaning of that).  It feels like going home.