Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Throwing Myself In

Kaleesha
Sometimes it's the unlooked for happenings in life that turn out to be the most impactful; chance meetings that turn us from the future we'd expected or planned for. I sit typing this, not in the cabin I built and have called home for five years, but at a beautiful kitchen table in the home of a family I did not know this time a year ago. My days are no longer in the quiet woods, a solitary life shared with a variety of non-human beings. Now I am surrounded by children. Blue Berry is next to me showing me her latest creation. Royal and Atira are explaining to me how much Royal has grown since October. This morning when I awoke Seth was waiting for me with a deck of UNO cards in hand. Most mornings start with a conversation with Kaleesha followed by coffee and a trip to the barn. To put it simply, my days are now filled with the building of a new relationship with Kaleesha and her seven children.

It gives me pause, to consider how quickly and to what extent life can change. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. This past fall I'd purchased my first telescope and that also represented a shift for me as I started spending a lot of time looking at the night sky. I'd already been spending more of my time studying and reflecting upon the Universe and a variety of astronomical subjects. The result was a remarkably happy and blissful me. When one spends one's time focused on the Cosmos it seems that a natural result is a certain kind of calm or bliss that comes from an appreciation of the beauty and perspective in such studies. My turn to the stars was certainly a change for the better.

Making ice cream!
And now this. I find myself in the daily mix of a wonderful family of eight, nine counting myself. This is hardly the sort of thing one plans for. Just as my reflecting upon the billions of galaxies in the observable Universe or the billions of stars in our Milky Way was overwhelming and exhilarating, so too, is my new life here in this home. Daily life here is an adventure filled with moments of sharing and opportunity for learning and growing. For all of us. It's difficult to really know where to begin. Like sitting down to a huge feast. So many possibilities.

Let me start with one of the fundamentals of life on Earth: to raise young. Long ago I made several decisions about my life. One of those was that I would not have children. This, not because I have anything against little humans, but that I believed the Earth already had too many of us and certainly too many of us called "Americans" that are really good at consuming far more than our share. So, I would do my part for the planet and hold back. There were other aspects to this decision but really it is a side point that I don't need to go into too deeply. But, for the record, I think little humans are pretty neat and watching them develop, helping them grow into adult humans is an amazing process, opportunity and responsibility. It's not something I'm afraid of being a part of, I just didn't expect that I'd ever be in a position to do so. But, here I am. Five months ago I had a great friend with seven amazing kids. Now I love that friend and call her partner. As for the kids, I'd never aspire to replace or emulate their biological father. What I will do, what I am doing, every day, is loving them as best I can. Let's explore that.
Farra, Justin and our visiting goose

Love. I've had a tendency to be fairly critical of the society and culture of which I am a part. It's what I do. A part of that has been questioning the idea and, more importantly, the practice of love. What does it mean to love someone? To love a partner or a child? What does parenting look like? What does it mean to be married or in some sort of committed relationship? Of course there is no set answer to these questions, no "right" answer. But I haven't let that stop me from pondering them quite a bit over the years. Now, I recognize that my observations are obviously very limited to a tiny, tiny sample. But in my experience relationships of most kinds do not get the care and attention they need.

The general rule seems to be that parents don't really want to parent. Spouses, partners, or whatever term you want to use, often don't seem to want to do the work of communicating with one another, don't want to cooperate. It's easy to use words like love but how do we manifest it in our day-to-day relationships? How do we put it into practice in our relationships? What's the connection between love and respect in our relationships? How do we love those outside our "family" or is that even possible?

Atira
Let's take that last one. It applies here because I find myself in this home and now the newest addition to this family. But… but… these are not MY kids! How can I love them? What is my role here? Is there a switch I just turn on? How does this love thing work? Many years ago I came across a few different ideas that transformed my notion of love and even my notion of what it means to define "me". Interestingly these ideas played very well into my recent explorations of the Cosmos. The idea, quite simply, is that we're all made of the same stuff. We share and exchange atoms and molecules, we are all a part of this Universe and all return to the same place at death. It's much easier to love one another, to accept one another and to care for one another. We humans have created countless ways to divide ourselves from one another, to compete with and dominate one another.

Getting back to the idea of loving others and in particular those outside our family. It's really not that hard to extend ourselves, to offer any variety of things to those outside of our "circle". Of course there are only 24 hours in a day and most of us have limited resources so I'm not suggesting that we are unlimited in what we can do, just that we can often offer far more to others than we do. Settling into this house it was easy and natural for me to begin caring for the kids. Anyone that knows them might say that yes, of course it was! They are adorable, respectful, loving… its a long list of compliments that are often applied to them by friends and family. It is accurate but visiting with them is not the same as living with them as Kaleesha told me many times. I can safely say that they really are normal human kids that sometimes get upset, cry, throw little fits and more. They're not perfect. They are, however, well loved by their mother who parents them with an attention to detail and a consistency I have never seen before. Ever. And they respond very well to her parenting. They know that they are loved, appreciated, cared for and many other things.

Blue Berry
Loving in this context comes naturally. Kaleesha has worked very hard to create a culture of love in her home. It is evident morning, noon and night at the dinner table, in the garden, on the porch and anywhere else. She is, frankly, relentless in her insistence upon active engagement with her kids and with others that might be around. I've spent these first few weeks talking with her about parenting and have observed her carefully. I don't feel that I'm in a position to do much more than observe but I am constantly learning and engaging. The daily lessons range from actually parenting to learning about the children themselves. Learning their interests, expressions, habits, ways of speaking, their ways of non-verbal communication as well as their patterns of interaction amongst themselves. Jeesh, I'm sounding a bit like an anthropologist in the field with that last bit. Oh well. There are so many little details to appreciate in daily life here.

My life here is just beginning and I have much to learn but I don't doubt that I will. Over the years I've had several people share with me that they thought it a shame that I would not have kids, that they thought I'd make a good parent. Time will tell but I certainly am happy and grateful to be given the chance to be a part of what's going on here.

Next time around (and soon) I hope to share about Kaleesha specifically as well as a post about the similarities in life here at Make-It-Do Farm as compared to life at my cabin on the lake. Check back soon!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

An Unexpected Journey

Where to start? Up is down, down is up. In the dark of space there really is no up or down but then, this is not a post about space at all. It's also the first post in over two months. One of my many gaps in posting here but this time with good reason. I've moved and by moving I don't mean to a new blog but a new home and it was very much unexpected. It's not just that I've moved but that my life has taken quite a turn in a direction, onto a path, never looked for or considered.

Several months ago, November to be specific our local librarian referred a family of homeschoolers my way for an astronomy session. He cheerfully told me that they'd recently come out of Christianity and suggested that they were very interested in astronomy. I happily obliged and we arranged to meet one Saturday evening for a look at Jupiter and a few other objects. It went well and from there a friendship began to build. A few chats here and there over the next few months led to my inviting Kaleesha to our Geek Parade, a weekly discussion group. She began attending the discussions in January and as the group began transitioning from general science discussions to a more astronomy focused group she happily followed along. Many of our indoor meetings transitioned to outdoor viewing sessions and she often showed up with two or three of her seven children.

As our face to face conversations got longer so to did our online chats and before long we'd become good friends. Sometime in February or March I started to see evidence of problems in her marriage. Apparently there were many and they were nothing new. In April, another milestone: Saturn. Kaleesha stayed late one night with the kids and we were lost in conversation. We noticed the time and as she was getting ready to go I realized Saturn was up so we had a look. As always, being around to show someone their first view of Saturn is a fantastic experience. We said our good byes. It was a few days later that our conversations grew a bit more intense as her troubles at home increased. It was increasingly obvious that she was moving towards ending her marriage.

A few weeks later her marriage was ended. Not officially, but in the way that matters most. She asked her husband to move out and informed him of her intentions to divorce. He resisted at first but not for long. Suffice it to say, he'd made the choice to leave the marriage long ago so the parting of ways, once she decided, came quickly.

As her friend I was in the thick of it all. The build-up to the separation as well as the days that followed. Then there was a day that she came to me with no kids. We walked and talked and she cried a good bit. She cried on my shoulder and I held her. Then a little later, after she'd calmed and we got back to talking, she looked up and asked: "Can I kiss you." I was surprised but not that surprised. I said yes and a new chapter was started for both of us.

In some circumstances I would be more cautious and would have thought that she needed time after the ending of her marriage before moving on. But in truth her marriage had ended long ago and she was only now getting around to dealing with it. So things began to move fairly quickly as the nature of our friendship changed into something more. I'll stop there and get to writing on the next post. I'm sure you see where this is going.