Why did we do it?

Today was one of our lovely, sunny, Spring days and it’s been such a dreary winter that every sunny day is an opportunity for our family. I’m still digging up grass in the front yard, trying to expand a garden. Today, after visiting a friend who had a brunch complete with children, fake plastic eggs, copious amounts of candy for the wee ones and young Asian girls who were taking their photograph with my baby in the shot, we came home and I started to dig. There are a few gardeners on our street and as I drive through the hood I can see people, here and there, who have taken to growing things in their yards. It didn’t use to be like this, back in the day, when Hilltop was the biggest hood in Tacoma you’d find the old couple who have lived here for 40 years that kept a garden nice and tidy but it was a rare treat to see a home that was cared for. These days the pockets of homeowners who are breaking ground outside are becoming larger and it’s great to see the place shape up.

I’m out digging up the yard to make space for corn and raspberries when the mail lady who I say hi to all the time approaches me and asks, “Why is it that YOU guys decided to get a house here, of all places?” I just laughed because of the fact that I almost started to wonder the same thing myself after a massive and ugly party broke out next door this weekend. I told her that we aren’t wealthy and even if we could have found a 300K home in the posh North End I’m not sure it would really fit who we are anyway. She kept pleading that we surely could have found something somewhere else. Her gold teeth were shiny in the sun as she kept smiling at me and asking why we picked this street in particular. She talked about the block and the people who own dogs that don’t mind the fact that she has rules about mail delivery and dogs. They are the ‘irresponsible pet owners’ and they are also the ones who don’t understand why she won’t deliver if the doggie isn’t on a leash.  I told her I understood how it must be such a different perspective for her as a mail carrier and how she views dogs. She looked a bit surprised and said, “Thank you. No one gets that. I so appreciate you.” I think deep inside we all just want to be understood….anyway….

So why did we get a house in the hood? Well the short answer is, “Be damned if I know!” Seriously! It was something we were aware of before we said yes to the house. We knew the area’s reputation and also could see the potential but we didn’t have a grand plan or a mission in being here. In fact when the reality of living here hit us in the face we were a bit shell shocked and fear overtook us for a moment. There are still days that I can’t quite believe we did this….but we did it! I remember looking at a children’s book with my kids a few years ago, when we were still in Madison, and the book had a profound effect on me. It was a picture book without any words so it reached even deeper in my own interpretation. It was just drawings from a view in a little girl’s room, looking into her backyard. With each page turn the scenery changed and it was a story that took place over many years. You could see the beginning of the home when they moved in and the yard, ugly and filled with rubbish. The alley behind had drunks, graffiti and more rubbish. Behind the alley was crime, more graffiti and ugly, run down buildings. As each page turned it represented years taking place and each new page showed slow but noticeable change: a fence in her yard with plants, flowers and food growing. The alley now showed someone painting over the graffiti and there were a few more people around cleaning up. Then the next phase showed an empty lot turning into a community garden, more of the neighbors taking care of their gardens and buildings being turned into businesses. It was a slow and gradual shift that showed an entire community being changed through the perspective of the girl’s bedroom window. The family seemed to stay and live there and invest into the place; they owned it. It really spoke deeply to me just in the sense that I want things done NOW but real change takes time! I’m impatient but I long to go the distance with something, to see the process unfold through time. I’m a perfectionist but at my core I want to see slow and lasting change and that is usually very messy and uncaged.

We never moved here with this huge plan in mind so today I really didn’t have an answer for our mail lady. It really did, and still does, feel right to us to be here. I’ve done random things that just seem to be changing me and how I see the world and it’s only through living here that I’m able to do it. A few weeks ago I took a kid in the neighborhood to the beach with myself and the kids. I didn’t really want to just because it’s work and I wanted to take a break. But we took him and he said this was his second time ever at the beach. He’s nine and he grew up here but he’s only been to the beach twice. The beach is maybe a 20 minute drive but if your mom doesn’t have a car that 20 minute drive might as well be hours away. Life is different when your only option is the bus, so I’m learning.

This is a very peculiar part of town and it’s not always easy to live here. There are people who yell and sometimes even at their kids. There are some people who are drunk in the middle of the day (our neighbors shot-gun beer at around 11am). But it seems like everyone knows everyone here. People know their neighbors and if your neighbors like you, and I know ours do, they really have your back.There is a sense of community and longevity here that I’ve never experienced anywhere I’ve lived. We borrow, not really sugar and flour, but pitch forks and power tools. So far quite a few of my neighbors have sat down next to me and told me pretty personal things about their lives while I’m out in the garden digging (again, I think most of us want to be heard). There are still pockets of instability in the air but it’s so good to see beauty come out of ashes; dig up dirt, glass and beer tabs from the ground and put in food and flowers. Have a chat with a neighbor about life and raising kids, maybe even take a kid to the beach.

I heart living in the city!!!


Party in the hood

Once again I’m left with a busy week(s) where the days blow by faster than sand in a windstorm and at the end of the night I’m sighing a breath of relaxation after my kids go down for bed. There’s so much to do now that spring is here. I almost can’t stand how undone my garden is. I have things planted but not nearly what I wish due to the fact that I’m digging up heavy, wet sod to tear back the grass, making way for real soil. It’s like I’m pulling hair out of the ground just to make way for food to grow. The perfectionist in me is cringing every time I look outside my window at my half-made garden. I’ve been trying to put form to it because I have to grow a lot of my veggies in the front yard where most of the sun will be. I just didn’t want my front yard to look like a farm came and landed on the lawn. I wanted some decorative flow to the beets and lettuce. Circles, half moons, pathways rather than just rows of carrots and corn. So I’m undone inside with all of the unfinished-ness in our lives.

Matt is also building a chicken coop, something we had wanted to do in Madison but interior work on our house always prevailed. Now we finally feel ready for this (we also go through so many bloody eggs that it just makes sense for us to get chickies) but we’re still fairly busy with life and three children. We’re getting there though. Slowly but surely….that’s the mantra that keeps chanting in my head. Better that than “get ‘er done”!

I still need to re-register my son for the homeschooling academy, figure out what I want his curriculum to be, order seeds that my dear friends The Shatsi’s made possible through a loving birthday gift through Seeds of Change, attend a child’s birthday party tomorrow, book camping spots for the summer (they fill up fast and who doesn’t want to see where Twilight was filmed?), take advantage of my sunny days to work in my garden and read to my kids on a regular basis. I’m falling asleep just re-reading all of this. What I would rather be doing is sitting on a sunny beach, eating fruit wedges and picking sand out of my turkey sandwich but this stuff has to get done. I still have panicky days where I wonder if my kids are getting all that they need to grow into amazing, secure and delightful adults. Somedays I recall the events of the day and it seems like I’ve only said three sentences to them at all, just because I’m so stuck in my head, thinking of all the tasks (I’ve always been this way) and just when I think they’re likely going to end up, as skinny jean wearing Emo adults, writing grim poetry while sipping black coffee in a dim lit coffee shop, I catch a glimpse of just how rad they are.

Today our next door neighbors who have several people living in the same house while most of the dudes living there don’t work during the day (if at all) and shot- gun Coors Big Mouth cans at 11 am, they told us one of the couples are celebrating their three-year old’s birthday and my kids were invited to come over. All my kids heard was the word “cake” so of course they HAD to be there. I think they’ve seen her once so they seriously aren’t the closest of friends to this girl. Alas, a youthful sweet tooth shall drive them and the excitement of other kids around drove them running into the house screaming, “Mamma, we get to go to their house for a party”. In my mind I was picturing them playing around all the adult dudes that live in the house while they smoke, drop the F bomb and drink straight out of their 40 oz of Old E’ (this really happens). That’s when I decided that I’d be chaperoning them.

We also have a tradition in our house: when it’s someone’s birthday the kids make the person a card and sometimes a gift. If it’s another child they often give them one of their toys. I started asking them to do this so that they would learn how to give a gift to someone else. The beginning lessons were hilarious as they would run upstairs to grab the rankest, most beat up toy that they haven’t played with in years and try to give it to the birthday child in question. I would try to help them understand that their dear friend would never want a Strawberry Short Cake doll with a severed arm and nappy hair or a Lightening McQueen car that had no wheels. We’re still learning….

Today though they both came inside, made the girl a card, Oliver made her a potato person (one of our recent projects that he really liked), Chloe made a butterfly and then grabbed a glow in the dark lion from her room (that last one was, once again, a lame “I never play with this yucky thing anyway” toy). I was really proud of them because I didn’t ask them to do it and they just couldn’t wait to go next door and give it to her. She’s only three so I don’t think it’ll go down in history as one of her more awesome gifts from the neighbor kids, heck her parents may even think it was a dorky gesture and that I could have at least run out to Walgreens to buy a damn Polly Pocket! But again, I was really proud of them for wanting to give…not only that but wanting to create something for her.

In the big scheme of things….I think my kids are going to be ok….