I love watching movies with my family. It’s a time set aside for us to slow down and be together. Popping our own version of kettle corn popcorn on the stove top. Zoe, Elias and I like more sugar roasted in so it’s caramelized and crunchy. Rob and Brayden insist that they prefer less. I secretly sneak in extra when they’re not looking. They never complain. Melting vats of butter slowly in a pan. Watching and smelling to make sure it’s perfectly creamy and not burnt before pouring it on top of the popcorn. Sprinkling sea salt all over it before digging in.
We buy movie-style candy from Target. The old fashioned kind that comes in boxes. Giggling because we’re eating candy for our dinner and popcorn for dessert. Snuggling ourselves on the couch. Tugging on blankets to cover our shoulders and our feet. Forcing us to squish closer so toes aren’t exposed.
I collect our family movies. I didn’t realize this until recently and I know it’s rather silly in this time of instant gratification, when we can get just about any movie at anytime — and sometimes we do — using Netflix, On Demand or Amazon Prime when in a pinch. But I always buy the DVD eventually anyway. I like to hold them in my hands and have them when I want to. Having them makes me happy.
I’m a sensory person. I like to feel things that are real. I enjoy kneading breads and making granola. Digging my fingers into a bowl of oats and nuts and raisins — combining all of the bits and parts into a collective whole. Smelling the cinnamon. The maple syrup. The vanilla. Each time it comes out differently because each time I make it, I am a little different. It’s satisfying to create something like that. Something slightly unpredictable and predictable at the same time. Familiar yet unfamiliar.
One of my fondest memories of my childhood is of baking bread with my father. It was a process that took time. Getting the dough to rise just right. Checking to make sure the temperature was just so. We’d watch and knead. We’d wait and knead again. When ready, we’d use our hands to roll strips of dough and then braid the strings together into beautiful baguettes. My earliest memory of this was when I was four. I’d made little braided breads with my four-year-old hands — smaller than my fathers — and because of this, we’d had to time their cooking differently than the big loaves so they wouldn’t burn. The watching required attention. Thought. And patience.
Years before it was in vogue, my father kept bees. Before it became hip to keep backyard gardens, he grew an enormous vegetable garden which fed us long through winter. We planted fruit trees. He brewed his own beer. Each weekend my dad made his own spaghetti sauce from scratch. Tossing in whatever random ingredients he chose. Always using dried chili peppers and herbs from our garden. His sauces would leave my lips red from the heat and my tongue on fire. I loved those sauces. They felt alive and held a story of our weekend. I could be certain each pot would be spicy; I’d just never know how spicy. And neither did he. We’d laugh with tears streaming down our faces from the hotter batches and he’d smile at me between bites saying, “I guess I added one too many!” I’d look at him wide-eyed. My mouth too hot to comment, pushing the whole chili pepper on my plate to the side. Looking up at him in silent question, “I don’t eat this, right?” “Nope! You don’t want to eat that!” He’d laugh again approvingly.
I’d wake on weekend mornings to pancakes created from whole wheat flour and frozen blueberries we’d picked in Maine. They’d sit like lead balloons in our stomachs and leave us full until evening. My dad was always in motion. Working. Studying. Creating. And he listened to music. Constantly.
My father had a sound system with a receiver, an equalizer and a record player in our house. It was probably his most-prized possession. Later there was a tape deck with two compartments and we’d make mixed tapes from our albums to play in the car on the sound system he’d installed himself, having taken out the subpar system that came with the car and jerry rigging an elaborate model worthy of his creations in its place. Huge speakers were distributed throughout our house. My father drilled holes in the floor boards and ceilings and ran wires hidden from sight so we’d have music throughout our house. I’d wake up to Elvis Costello or Frank Zappa blaring so loudly that the house would vibrate.
These tactile, creative, sensory things bound me to my father. The realness of him. The remarkableness of him. I always viewed him as a nonconventional hippie who made his own rules and created his own standards of living. If something didn’t make sense then he’d find a way to make it make sense. If it didn’t work he wasn’t afraid to try his own way of figuring it out. I don’t know many people like that. People unafraid of using their hands and their minds to make something happen.
This was a stark contrast to my mother’s house and one I am eternally grateful for. There was life. And vibrancy. And a rebellious attitude that suggested you’d be wiser to think for yourself than conform to societal benchmarks of worth and importance. Having bought an old carriage house built in the early 1700s — my father spent years restoring it to its traditional charm. If something needed to be done, he’d buy a book and teach himself how to do it. He’d figure it out one way or another. Most often by trial and error.
I have these pieces of my father imprinted on me and they are perhaps my most cherished qualities. My resourcefulness. My creativity. My strength. My father didn’t parent me in the traditional sense of parenting. But somehow I imbibed the way he related to the world and I believe that this is part of what makes me who I am today. A resilient, soulful survivor who looks at things deeply and complexly to better understand the world. And see it.
As a child, I’d spend hours and hours while my dad worked on our house. Putting records on the record player and listening to them over and over. My father had so many albums; he built shelves to house them and they lined the perimeter of the living room floor. I had my own special records. My favorites were Free To Be You and Me and In Harmony: A Sesame Street Record. When they’d end I’d lift the arm of the turn table and gently place the needle back onto the vinyl. Careful not to scratch the grooves that magically created the music. Each time waiting for it to begin again. Listening to the sharp crackling before the music began, enveloping the house and embracing me. I’d be lost in songs and voices for hours. Reading the lyrics again and again. Memorizing them. Even now, to my children’s astonishment, I can recite them.
“Why do you hum all of the time, Mom?” Brayden asked me the other day. “I’m not sure … I think it makes me happy. I don’t even notice that I’m doing it.” I think I remember that my father hummed too. But I can’t be certain. I should ask him.
We are an inputting society. Rob and I are raising children in a world of consumerism. All parents are. We want things yesterday. We want them to work. And we don’t want a big production about it. Period.
But lately I think more and more about how — instead of button pressing and intaking — I want children who believe they can output. Create. Change the world. Whether a small corner of it or bigger section of it. It doesn’t really matter. At least leave a mark of goodness and expression upon it. I want this for myself as well. However, I think to do this, we have to be willing to take risks. And my children need to learn how to do this with the most basic of things. Preparing a meal and following a recipe. Or even better, changing the recipe and making it their own. Not only reading a book, but writing one. If not planting a garden, then growing some basil on a windowsill for a sauce.
This is creative outputting. It is creative expression. It’s discovering yourself and exploring who you are as a person. It is feeling your space within the world and realizing that you leave an imprint — good or bad — you leave one. Forever. It’s your choice how you want to it to be.
For Christmas this year we’re going old fashioned. I’m buying a record player for our family (Shhh!) and I’m taking them on a field trip to the city to peruse a record store. I want them to smell the dust and feel the vinyl. They’ll learn how to place the needle onto the record with care. I’m taking my camera to the local shoppe for a cleanup and buying a new lens for my family. I’ll wrap it and put it under the tree. I’ll flip the switch on the camera off of automatic to manual and they can learn about apertures and depth of field and discover that if you focus your lens just so you can capture the image you want. Or not. Maybe you’ll get something other than you’d expected.
Creativity is connection to a world so much larger than oneself. It’s both grounding and liberating at the same time. For me it was lifesaving.
Categories: Tri-Umphant Living