It’s 7 a.m. and our bed has been filled with small visitors and their weaponized elbows for some time.
The sun is just rising, except it’s snowing and everything has been transformed. The magpies, who come for the butchering scraps we throw on our shed roof, are sifting through the snow with their toes. The chickens are out, nabbing spent broccoli leaves predatorily. The snow is beginning to cover the scrappy neglectedness of our grass and the frost-beaten tomatoes I’ve “forgotten” to pull, always the great equalizer.
We’ve been without hot water and heat for two weeks, and Dan throws potatoes and squash in the oven as a house-heating strategy. Col reunites with his Simpsons comic book on the couch, bundled in his warmest jacket. While the rest of us follow some internal script of morning prep for work and school, he seems to have no pre-game plan, no pre-game worries.
It’s hard to know which came first: Col’s lack of preferences or his affinity for streamlined, low-fuss living, but they seem to feed each other. I periodically stuff hand-me-downs in his dresser drawers, and he’ll eventually emerge wearing the newfound clothes without comment. “Not having hot water hasn’t really been an issue,” Col told us recently. “Hmm, have you thought about showering lately?” Dan wondered.
Rose finds me making lunches and explains the comprehensive hair choreography she’s dreamed up for the day: Side braid, arced toward the back, rolled into a bun. No bumps. Very tight. She asks what’s in her lunch, then mentally adds five hours to each item to determine edibility attractiveness at time of unveiling. The apple crisp is deemed questionable.
Col is now playing the harmonica as if the morning clock isn’t ticking down. He asks what’s in his lunch and seems satisfied with the answer: “thermos,” a mash up of warmed leftovers (the ones he likely had for breakfast, and last night for dinner), which he approaches like new clothes in his drawer, with willing consumption and little comment. Meanwhile, I find the pink-markered document titled “Rose’s Christmas List” on my dresser, no matter that it’s November and we’re a Christmas-ambivalent household.
The sun streams in through our south-facing windows, heating the house to 75 degrees. Outside, evening grosbeaks and cedar waxwings pluck crab apples. The kids return, filling the house with their glorious complexity. An argument sparks over the previous night’s conflict. Col likes to settle into bedtime by reading a book in the quiet dark by headlamp. Rose settles in by laying out clothes, hair-brushing, tidying up and bustling around. Problem is, they share a room.
Except, it’s not a problem because finding ways to negotiate conflict while honoring everyone’s dignity is a treasured skill. (A skill still emerging in our household.) There are a lot of ways to settle in for the night; also, a lot of ways to share a room (Rose’s side contains hand-painted inspirational posters: “Even a small star shines in the darkness.” Col’s contains World War II airplane drawings). There are a lot of ways to be human.
The sun is in its final descent and much of the snow has melted. Our plumber says tomorrow might be the day hot water is restored. Deer sausage is cooking on the stove. I remember when Col was born, over three months early, there was talk of preemies “declaring” themselves, a point at which their will to live is solidly visible. Except I can’t find this phenomenon on Google, so perhaps I made it up.
But, I see how the kids are continually declaring themselves. I’m this; I’m that. There is room for it all, and room for it all to change.
Rachel Turiel teaches nonviolent communication to groups and individuals. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out her blog 6512andgrowing.