Monthly Archives: March 2021

To love back instead

Add to the list of “things they don’t tell you before having children” this conversation:

Arlo: (bopping a red balloon around, just outside of the boundary I set circumscribing the kitchen while I’m making three lunchboxes) “I hope you guys live longer than I do.”

Summerly: “Why?”

Arlo: “Because I like you guys.”

This child LOVES LIFE. I’ve never known anyone to find such pure joy simply from being alive. He lives vibrantly, energetically, so vividly that his life force is practically palpable. Thermodynamics tells us that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but the way Arlo lives threatens that theorem. The vibrational resonance of his engagement in and appreciation of life is electromagnetic, and the power of his love feels both spiritual and gravitational. I’m convinced that, had he been born in a different place and time, he might have been snatched from my arms to be raised as a shaman or a lama or a mage or an imam. He’s an empath with a sense of compassion so intense that he does things like burst into tears and literally fall to his knees when his sister spilled water on the homemade book she’d finally finished illustrating with markers because he knew how hard she’d worked, how much she cared, how proud she was. His feelings weren’t only for her; they were with her; they were his too. He’s the kid who shares things he loves purely because he derives delight from the experience. People have told me, “He’s so good at sharing,” but that’s not it; he’s just really good at loving.

Upon further discussion, Arlo explicated his wish to be outlived to clarify that, because he loves us and because he loves life, he wants us to live as long as possible. He knows that some of us will outlive others, and he loves so fiercely that he wants to give us the gift of longest life. Mortality is on his mind more frequently than most kids’, I think, because he appreciates being alive so profoundly and with such cognizance that he doesn’t take it for granted, and he’s often talking to me about death, saying that he doesn’t want any of us to die. He told me that if he had one wish, it would be to let everyone on Earth live as long as they want to. That’s some next-level benevolence. And this kid is FIVE.

Can you imagine what it would be like if the world and its infrastructure were designed by adults similarly driven by forces of magnanimity, generosity of spirit, avid goodwill? By a horde of humanitarians hungry for a higher harmonic of existence? Our history books are rife with horror stories and peopled with leaders who suffer from moral bankruptcy, insatiably chasing power and amassing fortune and capitalizing on every opportunity for personal advancement, fueled by fear or narcissism or inferiority complexes, their priorities hijacked by greed or senseless convention. They were born into a world so unfriendly that their recourse was to fight back, and no one ever taught them that a more effective avenue to success, which is to say happiness, is to love back instead.

I hope the future is disturbed and restructured by people like Arlo, people whose sense of selflessness is the opposite of martyrdom, whose munificence is guided by the desire not just to live illuminated by the pilot light of love but to share that kind of life with others. What greater gift can there be than the kind of sustenance that comes from sharing such a clarified, such a rarefied, existence?

In “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, Eliot asks, “Do I dare / Disturb the universe?” Arlo dares. Let’s all dare.

When spring break is four seasons long

Hi! My name is Paddy Paws. I’m twenty months old and weigh one pound, fourteen ounces. My favorite pastimes are eating hay, eating clover, eating bok choy, eating baby lettuces, eating carrot tops, eating parsley, easting pea shoots, eating carrot peels, and watching tadpoles. I’ll nibble your kitchen mats if you let me too close, but I’m very tame and friendly and communicate well. I used to live in a preschool classroom, but I’ve been on spring break for exactly one year today! It’s pretty great here. I get to sit on the sofa to snack on Romaine and watch Netflix with the kids, and I like to hang out in the backyard, which the humans are trying to convert to a clover lawn. The only thing I’m not wild about is the family’s pet rabbit, who tries to take my food, but if it weren’t for him we wouldn’t have so many fun treats in the house, like timothy biscuits and alfalfa nibblers. In fact, spring break is so much fun I might NEVER LEAVE!

Laundritude 66.5039 degrees N, 25.7294 degrees E

Just as 2020 was circling the drain, a day before the new year dawned, one final aggravation just had to have its way: the washing machine gave up the ghost. It had served us faithfully for a decade, alerting us to its cycle completion with a chirpy little ditty countless times, so the squealing and thumping it emitted that night of December 30th, accompanied by a telltale burning aroma, bore the unmistakeable strains of requiem. We thanked it and, after a moment of silence, transferred the final drum full of clothing to its sturdy sidekick, the dryer.

Our pod family friends immediately offered the use of their unit, which would have been extremely convenient considering that their home is almost a stone’s throw from ours, and my dear friend, Kate, proposed that I mask up and run loads at her beautiful house in Ivy. My mom even volunteered to pick up and do our laundry for us, but I was bound and determined to see this out. Here was my second social experiment: what would it look like and feel like to go without a washing machine for seventeen days? I mean, it’s not like everyone has one. It would be a good exercise to live for a while without. We’ve learned that we can live without so many other things this year, and considering that the ability to launder using an appliance in our own dwelling is a creature comfort afforded only to those considered affluent by worldwide standards, I thought it would be worthwhile as a way to emphasize the appreciation we should recognize for the luxuries we sometimes might forget are luxuries.

I could wash things in the sink if necessary, but I knew we all had enough clothing to go that long without NEEDING to launder. I wanted to showcase this fact, the explicit fact of our privilege, for my kids as a way to show them the excess implicit in a lifestyle as comfortable as ours is. I wanted to test myself, too, and shine some perspective on how fortunate I am to own things like a washing machine and a dishwasher; as much annoyance as chores like laundry and dishes are, they could be a whole lot more arduous to accomplish without the automaticity of Samsung and Whirlpool and Maytag literally at our fingertips. In an admittedly minuscule way, perhaps this process would amplify the wattage of the bulbs in our gratitude lanterns.

Well, I can show you how a couple of weeks’ worth of laundry stacks up over here:

Not pictured: Brian’s personal basket in his closet

We watched the pile creep up the map, all the way to Scandinavia, topping out with the mesh bags of school masks right there at Rovaniemi, which happens to be the capital of Lapland as well as the “official” home to Santa Claus and a prime location for viewing the aurora borealis, so says Google. This process was most difficult for Liam, who is particular to the point of pedantry when it comes to his clothing, especially as it pertains to which underwear he pairs with which outfit and which day of the week. He likes to have the whole week ahead laid out for himself, frequently fretting over the whereabouts of his Friday underwear when it’s only Monday. He also likes to wear the same things over and over again until I finally draw the line and say, for example, that he must retire any clothing that is size seven or smaller (he’ll be eleven in three months). I wanted to push him out of the conscription of his self-imposed sartorial safety zone, compel him to struggle against his reluctance to try the new clothing hibernating in his drawer, to practice feeling uncomfortable in this short-term, relatively unthreatening way.

And, by jingo, he did it. Because this all began over the winter holiday weeks, he couldn’t even seek solace in the monotony of the school uniform at first. No, this was full-bore NEW SHIRT NEW PANTS, lo, NEW UNDERWEAR territory. He hardly complained that he hadn’t seen his “Monday undies” in a month of Sundays or that he was missing that familiar pinch under the arms that only his outgrown Old Navy crew shirts could provide. He bravely donned that hand-me-down hoodie and even the tie-dyed number he’d previously proclaimed aesthetically objectionable and, dare I say, he rather liked it.

I do declare that I felt a sense of relief when the new washing machine, a ravishing black top-loader with just enough but not too many features, was delivered and installed. But the look on Liam’s face when he put that first load of laundry into the shiny silver basin? Sheer glee.

From the Barnett Street home laboratory

I’m currently running a series of social experiments. The first is called “Bowl of Grapes on the Counter (BoGoC)”.

Fig. 1

They’re sitting in the center of the kitchen island directly in line of sight of all five of us during mealtimes. At the point when Fig. 1 (above) was recorded, the bowl had been in position and untouched for three days. Basically I’m just going to leave them there and see what happens.

Hypothesis: In about two weeks, I’ll be raisin hell.