Following a sinking creek

The water was too low to go skinny dipping, so I left all of my clothes on.

I sat along the edge of the creek, the water barely coming up to my ankles. The creek was fed by a spring, and throughout the year would periodically disappear, earning its moniker “Sinking Creek.” Some days, with my parent’s permission and some days without, we would wander down to find it roaring. Other days it would be completely dry, and we would walk along it as if were a pebble covered hiking path, pausing to throw stones at the old oil can wedged between two trees.

My parents built their house on old Appalachian farmland which had been divided up into parcels and sold to professors from the nearby university and horse enthusiasts. Over the years, the forest crept from where tractors had kept it at bay, and slowly reclaimed the land. As kids, we were allowed to play in the forest only as far as the old fence line. There, we swung on old vines and built tents out of sticks. We listened for my mom calling us for dinner, and were reprimanded when we failed to return the first several times she called.

Below the broken down fence, the hillside tumbled towards the sometimes creek. I would occasionally escape there as a teenager, as I had that afternoon. Up on the hill, my grandmother’s mind slowly flowed away, and my mother frantically tried to swim after her. My father worked, and my sisters and I gradually and awkwardly attempted to form our own lives. That afternoon, I had snuck down the creek to rinse off from my soccer game, swim in freshwater, and to simply be alone. The last would have to suffice, as the water had not agreed to my plan for the day. 

I can still picture the rock that jutted out of the hillside, perpetually covered in the leaves of the last fall. Below it are the boulders my friends and I would recklessly climb too high, never having heard of things like bouldering pads. In the spring, johnny jump ups and mayapples lined the path we would worn. A path I will never walk down again.

Years later, in attempt to be better stewards of the land we all loved, they put a geothermal heating system in their home, and along with it, new insulation. The installation was too thorough, preventing the chemicals in the insulation to off-gas. The exposure left them sick, and their home virtually toxic.

Ten, twenty years from now we will look back and wonder at incidents like theirs with the same incredulity we have at putting asbestos in our walls or lead in our paint. But no one could have foreseen the outcome. After years of remediation, litigation, and investigation, my parents learned that it was only they who were affected by the insulation. The initial exposure had sensitized them, and thus, in the way one of my children can eat a peanut butter sandwich and another can not, they had to leave but could sell my childhood home, along with its small stretch of forest, to another family.

My husband, kids and I went back home, or rather, to my parents’ new house, recently for my sister’s wedding. I now live in Montana, and hadn’t been home during the fall in 10 years. As we flew in above the rolling hills, I watched the rivers trace the edges of fame colored mountains. My children marveled as we walked through the woods and leaves fell from every tree. I told my husband that as payment for living where where fall barely graces the underbrush he must frequently tell me how lovely it was. He complied, telling me yes, it was very pretty. But perhaps you can never love another place as much as where you grew up. Or only once it’s gone.

I still visit the woods of my childhood regularly, this time in the form of bedtime stories. My children know them almost as well as I did, although their version is populated with fairies and elves who cast spells to help young ones fall sound asleep. Now, there is no sitting – only adventures. Like the sinking creek in the woods, on days it would choose to flow, we can only move forward.




Miles to go before you sleep

When our first kid was born, someone gave us a glider. It was comfortable, with dark wooden arms and soft white cushions.

We rocked it into the ground.

This is not a metaphor. I spent so many hours, thousands of hours, in that glider, that it eventually fell apart.

At one point, my husband had given me a fit bit for Christmas. I pretty regularly hit the 10,000 recommended steps a day with little effort. That is, until I realized my fit bit was counting every time I rocked in the chair as a step. So while I wasn’t getting any fitter, I did learn I was spending about two miles per day in that chair.

I’ve got a confession: Those weren’t my favorite two miles of the day. Don’t get me wrong. I love rocking babies. I just don’t love rocking babies to sleep.

My children fight sleep like it’s coming to take away their Halloween candy. (Which to be fair, I do steal their Halloween candy when they’re asleep). But ever since they were babies they have fought the good fight. They writhe, they fuss, they scratch, they stick their fingers in my mouth, they fart defiantly.

(I didn’t know you could fart defiantly but if you saw the look my daughter gave me this morning, you too would know it is a thing.)

The answer to this situation is obvious – stop rocking them to sleep. This would also solve the “OMG we are traveling to somewhere without a rocking chair” panic attack we have biannually when we dare to leave our house. And for those who are blessed in the parenting skills department, that would work. We could cry it out, or pull them in to bed with us, and they would sleep happily ever after.

Theoretically anyway. We are 3/3 with that not working.

Plus there is another problem with not rocking our babies to sleep.

Once they’ve explored every inch of my face with their fingers, bitten me repeatedly (yep), and shot liquid out of every orifice in an attempt to evade their nap, something happens. They collapse into a heavy and warm pile of exhaustion.

And suddenly, I move from desperately wanting to get out of the rocking chair and actually do something with my life to wanting to be nowhere else in the world.

As I write this, my daughter has lost her battle of wills, and is snuggled into the crook of my arm. I know I should get up. I should lay her down soon so she gets used to sleeping in her crib. I should turn off the TV my older kid is watching and go sweep or dust or vacuum something.

I should.

But she’s warm, and soft, and the littlest she’ll ever be again. So I’ll rock her for a few more miles.

One day, when my oldest son was a few months older than the baby is now, I was trying to rock him to sleep. Frustrated at his fighting, I finally set him down on the ground. He laughed, and toddled over to his crib. I put him in it and laid him down. Five minutes later he was snoring.

And that was that.

I don’t know when she will no longer need – or want – me to rock her to sleep. Some days I pray it’s sooner. Some days I pray it’s later.

But for now, we’ll rock.