Sunday, October 6, 2013


There is a place, in the kitchen, just in front of the oven, a place I stand very often as I make bread, casseroles, or birthday cakes.  Using recipes passed to me by my mother and recipes that are new.  A place I walk across as I approach the kitchen table to deliver food to the kids for breakfast.  A place which holds a moment of boing.  A feeling of uncertainty, or instability, a lack of solid footing.  The floor, specifically one wide plank section of the flooring, sinks as you step on it, as though there may not be a support beam below that part of the floor.  

The floor planks are very old, many of them original to the kitchen, and they were left unsanded back when the kitchen was renovated.  I wonder if the family who lived here before us left this board intentionally imperfect, as a way to maintain the old genuine feeling of the kitchen, despite its new cabinets, new appliances, and new windows.  Though we have made few improvements here since we have moved in, I know that there are certainly quirks about this house that I would want to maintain even as we upgraded or changed something about the house, adding something that would allow our modern life to work a bit better in this house built 230 years ago.

I was standing on this bouncing spot as friends arrived for a potluck this weekend, holding dishes and giving hugs and greetings, when Elliott found me, and tearfully told me that he felt sick.  And nauseous.  And like he needed to find a quiet place to lie down.  I knew his feeling.  I was feeling a bit overwhelmed as the party began myself.  So many wonderful friends were arriving.  But it was certainly a bit more busy, more noisy, more festive, than our everyday life here.

And so, despite the arriving guests, I put down the dish I had just been handed, stepped off the familiar spot, felt that precarious bounce.  And walked upstairs with Elliott.  Up the narrow and steep back stairwell that rises out of the kitchen and empties directly into Jonathan and my bedroom.  The kitchen and bedroom are an addition to the original home, a large ell, but even this "new" part is still two hundred years old.  

Thinking I could tuck Elliott into our bed and give him a bit of quiet time.  To rest, maybe even fall asleep.  To give him a bit of protein and some quiet extra love, to help him make it through, and hopefully enjoy, the next few hours.  

This house.  It has an interesting layout, with its additions and different floor levels and front and back stairs.  I realized there was really no place for me to go with him that was not a part of the winding path one must take to move between the first and second floor, or between front and back rooms.  Or to a bathroom on the second floor.  There are really no hallways between rooms. Batty, our escapist cat, was already locked in the one dead end/panic room I could think of, our master bathroom.  I considered throwing a sleeping bag on the floor in there and putting cat and small boy together for a bit.

But we figured it out.  We cozied up for a bit.  Locked the two doors to the bedroom.  Ignored the knocking.  And the yowling cat.  Then he and I quickly devised a plan to give him privacy while I ducked downstairs for a few minutes.  I locked the door to the stairs to kitchen from inside the bedroom with a hook and eye, high on the door.  And then I gave him a kiss and headed out the other door, the one that leads me into the front bedrooms.  He used a stack of books I placed on the floor next to the door to reach the hook on that that door, locking me out.  I circled through the bedrooms, passing gaggles of children engaged in a good deal of silliness, and descended the front stairwell, looped through the living room and back into the kitchen.

I greeted a few newcomers.  Explained my absence.  And grabbed a butter knife from the silverware drawer.  I then headed back up the back stairwell and used the blade to lift the hook and eye lock through the crack between the door and the door frame from outside the bedroom.  And thus returned to Elliott.

He was sitting in our bed, munching on a piece of fruit and sipping a glass of milk I had left for him before I locked myself out.  He was feeling a bit better, and soon headed off to find his friends.  I wasn't worried that he was contagious and that we might need to send everyone home after we hosed them down with hand sanitizer.

Because I knew Elliott had been bouncing, pretty much constantly, for much of the day. 

We had celebrated his seventh birthday earlier that afternoon.  Yes, his birthday was actually a month and a half ago, but really, celebrating a birthday in the midst of heading Back to School exhaustion and emotions is just not the crazy full on frenzied joy that makes you dance a jig that begins in your bottom kind of celebration one is looking for when one is seven.  So we decided to hold off on the festivities for a few weeks.

It turned out to be a great choice.  This transition to full day school for Elliott has been a bit bumpy. So, when one's seven year old child has waited six long weeks, and now asks for a bouncy house and when a coupon for said bouncy house presents itself unexpectedly?  One gets a bouncy house and puts it in the shade of Sylvia, the 200 year old maple tree, her leaves showing just the slightest shades of yellow.

And one gets one's bounce on.  The kind of crazy full on frenzied bounce that makes you dance a jig that begins in your bottom kind of bouncing.  Even me.  Though blessedly, there are no pictures of me airborne in the bouncy house.  

Elliott could not stop giggling as the house inflated.  And the amazing guys at Magical Moonwalks declared in response: We have the best job in the world.  

Elliott's cake, using my mother's recipe, and decorated by Julia while I ran around vacuuming the first floor of the non-bouncy house, was lovely.  

There was much fun to be had.  And I promise, there were wonderful friends for Elliott here, but I am feeling a bit uncomfortable about posting pictures of other people's children without their permission.  So trust me.  It was a full and happily chaotic bouncy house and yard.

There was a hilarious game of Bucket Blast, a game which makes me laugh so hard I have to give myself a Time Out every time we play.  Because chasing around other people's bottoms and trying to put my bean bag in their fanny bucket just tickles my funny bone.  The evasive maneuvers of the bottom region?  So very funny.  And watching a bunch of hilarious, giggling, completely into the game 7 year olds?  Even funnier.

And our fall garden, and its herbs and vines and completely surprising and highly productive zombie compost gourd vine?  Fabulous for a scavenger hunt.  Our list included a rotten tomato, a gourd, a crab apple, and a wilting flower.  Good stuff.  I entertained myself with the contrast between the hum of the bouncy house blower and children dashing in and out of the garden, asking me where the herbs were, where they might find a fern, where were the trees that were dropping red leaves, not yellow.

Though I had my doubts, we were even able to make use of this unexpected zombie crop, the gourds we did not plant.

Bouncing and chocolate cake.  Stinky rotten tomatoes and running in circles to avoid anyone being able to reach the bucket on your back side.  So good.  But the intensity.  The energy.  The jouncing so hard that his eyes were flopping around like the googly eyes on his gourd guy.  It was exhausting for Elliott.

After the birthday party, we did have a bit of a break, some quiet, and then had a Potluck Dinner here.  Why not, we asked ourselves, take advantage of a clean house and the all day rental on the bouncy house.  At one point during the potluck I looked about the house, about the yard, children running around in the dark with flashlights, some cleverly perched and hiding high in Sylvia's lower branches.  And realized just how many people were here.

Back in the kitchen, standing in my favorite spot, and talking with friends.  The adults stood back against the walls of the kitchen, while 28 children moved about the island in the center of the kitchen, placing food upon their plates.  I stood on my tiptoes to find Jonathan across the room, to ask him with my eyes to get a few more spoons out of the drawer behind him.  And felt, as I rose onto my toes, the floor give under my feet again.  Felt unsettled a bit.  Wondered how many times this kitchen had seen upwards of 50 people in it.  Whether this kitchen could support this many people, knowing it could despite the give beneath me.

And realized just how many birthdays have happened here.  How many tears. How many parties.  How many incongruities this house has seen.  And how each of the unique events and moments we have as a family in this house are really just another notch in the beams in the attic of this home, another scratch in the floorboards.

* * *

Today we had a day of the complete opposite.  In our pajamas, our first fire in the woodstove of the season.  Just us.  In a house that was clean, and quiet.  All of us with our wool socked feet firmly on the solid floor boards of our home.  So very un-rainbow colored and new.

This house, our home.  Built 230 years ago.  Blending the rubber and neon colors with the wide plank flooring and wood heat and garden.  Happy children running past the bee yard and stopping to say hello to the chickens.  With plastic buckets around their waists and bean bags in their hands.  Such a wonderful combination of old and new.  Such a showing of how respect for old ways can blend so well with our modern life here.  Amazed by how this house was dreamed of and built and maintained and expanded by people, families who lived hundreds of years ago.  And how it still works, still holds a family so well all these years later.  Helping its newest residents celebrate birthdays and friends and creating memories, the very ground itself still growing food and supporting animals, children's feet bare back then, and still bare now running on its surface.

As I made dinner this evening, I listened to the kids playing a board game with Jonathan in the other room.  A wall between us, certainly not the open floor plans of more modern homes.  I felt a shift occurring, movement between the kitchen and the room we call the family room, with the warm woodstove and the games we had played together all day.  I was perceiving the space differently.

We were starting a shift in how we use the space created by these very old walls.  It is hard to explain.  A change in the familiarity of the space.  The family room is clearly, given the large fireplace with a beehive bread oven beside it, the original kitchen.  Yet in some ways, after a weekend spent in what we think of as the family room, it was now the heart of the home, not the kitchen as I often perceive it to be.  It's funny how a change of season, a celebration, a weekend spent using the space a bit differently, can so completely change your center, your balance, where you place yourself and feel most at ease.  A bounce, a feeling of weightlessness, and when you land on solid ground, you feel mixed up and jostled.

And this repositioning, this flexibility, this respect for what it is.  It is how this house has survived.  How it has been home to so many before us.  And how it settles into feeling like our home.  How we think creatively about how to use the space, how to make its eccentricities work for us, how we are reminded constantly of its stories, its mysteries, and its uniqueness.

It was a very good weekend.  It was home.

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