Chocolate Pot Letters

For years, my friend Elisa and I have spilled messages to each other. In high school we wrote in notebooks and passed them back and forth to each other between classes. In college we sent letters through the mail. Throughout motherhood we've mailed, emailed each other, and texted. In those moments when you're certain you'll go crazy at the solitary life of being mother, it's important to have a friend you can tell everything. How you burned dinner, left the laundry wet for two days, and yelled one too many times at a certain child. After reading Sorcery and Cecelia or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer (a novel made up of friend's letters to one another) we kicked around the idea of writing a similar fiction work. Though we've never gotten around to it, we've continued to write our own personal missives: full of the boring, the mundane, and sometimes - the insightful. Now, I'm taking a gander at sharing some of our letters here. Maybe the silliness of our deepest and most shallow thoughts will get you through a 5 'o clock witching hour as well.

*****

Dear Elisa,

There are a few glum facts I must relate. While it is true that homeschooling has its many perks (not driving back and forth to school, getting to interact about interesting things with my children, having them love me with a teensy bit of that teacher hero worship) there are definite downers as well.  For instance: snow days.

Isn’t there something absolutely fantastic about a snow day? Outside the world looks picturesque and glittery. Inside you wear your pajamas and drink hot chocolate. The seconds hold still. It’s a free day, a moment outside of time. It’s like being sick, without throwing up or sleeping through fevers. There’s a feeling inside about snow days, a warm swirl inside the belly. A surprise gift, thrown in your lap. An unexpected happiness. It’s like when I woke up two weeks before Spencer was due, and four hours later he was born.

When you homeschool, snow days lose all their allure. We still get the calls to tell us about them, but then we get up, put our clothes on, and pull out our math books. The logical part of my brain reminds me that in June, we will be free. But the eight-year-old part of me wants my snow days back. With the hot chocolate.

In other news, my winter bulbs are growing. Have I ever told you about how the chipmunk ate my spring bulbs? Oh yes, he did. All summer long he dug them up and carried them away for dinner. I caught him in the act, several times. I threatened chipmunk death, with no way to back it up. Besides, Ellie had decided “Chippy” was her pet. She condoned his hunger. Blah! Knowing it was no use to buy new bulbs, I resigned myself to a depressing, bulb-less spring. At Christmas, I bought a $5 box of forced Paper White bulbs at WalMart. I planted them in their little plastic planter, and they have dutifully grown. They are happy little flowers, but they are not the same as tulips. First of all, if I don’t water them – and I’m not an awesome waterer – they tip over like fallen soldiers. Second of all, only three of them have blooms. And third of all, they smell like stinky diapers. For real. As if I don’t have enough of that smell in my house. But they are flowers, and so I love them anyway. Besides, Chippy can get nowhere near them.

As it’s January, I’ve fallen into full Montana mode, and I’m thinking of when we will eventually move next year. What I will do when I don’t get to move again, I’m not sure. Moving is much too fun. Always in January I give in and download the Realtor app again. Then I look up houses in all sorts of different states we might move to when we finally get a job. This year, I made myself look up states that were colder than Iowa. I must prepare myself in case it happens. North Dakota had no listings. Maine and New York had excellent architecture. I can console myself with excellent architecture.

But I would still like more heat.

Hope you’re well. Hope you turned the heat up and enjoyed a few extra degrees of heater vent pleasure. Put a blanket over it and camp out. If you were here, you would have to fight Meg for the blanket and the vent. Some traditions should be hoarded instead of passed on, it makes for less competition.

Jamison


Dear Jamie,

I am writing you from prison. And no, it’s not a snow day here. I almost wish it was - which is nothing short of blasphemy coming from me. Few things terrify me more than driving/dying in the snow and then I would also be trapped at home, which I already am (well, at my mom’s home, which is worse because I am successfully accomplishing zero laundry, zero cleaning and zero dinner prep). I am just annoyed that the weather has no desire to change – I find looking at the 7 day forecast and seeing the same bleak half sun/half cloud icon day after day is rather depressing. I need something to anticipate, to look forward to, to plan around.

Since the calendar says January, I’ve decorated the living room with snowmen that I’ve collected over the years, I think there is even one that you made me. I use them to motivate me to put all the boxes of Christmas away but this year, the snowmen sit on the piano and mock me. It’s like I’ve put them up during the wrong season and they know it so they just smile smugly. I don’t think we’ve had a single snowflake all month. I try to remember driving home after piano lessons last year when, on multiple occasions, it took more than an hour and I feared for my life, despite driving a dangerous 12 mph. It is proof that memories do become murky over time to wish for that again.

So maybe the problem is that I’m completely impatient about life and can’t manage to just enjoy the calm seas when they come. I secretly wonder if part of me is always looking for the next storm to arrive, even if it brings traffic jams and days trapped indoors. I’m always looking ahead – to the next trip, the next work project, the next piano recital, the next Sunday. Perhaps it is because I can’t breathe when there isn’t a plan or a list or a sticky note filled with details.

Ironically, I tell my piano parents often that learning to play the piano teaches one not merely how to play a song, but (and more importantly), it teaches patience, practice and persistence, probably in that order. Music is only slightly different than any other foreign language with its script and sounds and structure and rules and slang. And in the beginning, every note, every count, every rhythm is completely foreign. Young students will often glance through books and remark on how ‘black’ they are – filled with notes, lines, markings no different than pages of Chinese. I remember my first subway ride in Germany. The subway was above ground for a time and I tried to read the names of the stores and restaurants as we sped past thinking they couldn’t be hard to decipher. I was shocked by how little I could understand. I could have been in Russia and it would have made no difference.

But then, sometime between the first and second year, if the practice part has been consistent, something will click for each student, always at a slightly different time and they can read the music. And lessons become enjoyable – for both of us – because it is less about the math and the why and more about the art and the how. Those monumental moments are the ‘this is why I teach’ times for me.

But to get there requires so much patience. And I wonder how – if I’ve travelled that journey myself musically time and time again – and then, over and over with each new student – how am I not more patient? Why do I not value patience more? Why don’t I rejoice when the forecast says SUN, SUN, SUN, SUN, SUN, SUN, SUN and not WIND, RAIN, POSSIBLE HAILSTORM? Maybe I missed my moment.

Probably because they are always plenty of storms afoot: my newfound ability to ruin dinner on a consistent basis (what’s more basic than a baked potato?!), my children, who can’t manage to have more than 2 good nights in a row because 3 is a horrible number apparently (should we have three children?), finding a way to replace the glue sticks we go through daily now that Kainoa has become a crafting kid, organizing Church things (I now have 3 different colors of post-it notes going) and the headaches that seem to mock me when I go a few days and almost forget they are still around.

Maybe patience exists in Montana. But that does not mean I think you should move there. I have always pictured you in a big house by the sea, with a porch that wraps around the whole house, which will be painted in a light, weathered, pastel color. And of course, it will somehow not require a plane ride for me to get there. So check your app for that.

At least the heating vents at my mom’s house are high class. Some things, like running to the one in the living room early in the morning so you could hold your school clothes against the slats and watch them billow up with warm air, at least those traditions never really disappear. And at least we are trapped in Spencer’s old room, where the vent was always magically extra hot as we make ramps for the Hot Wheels and wait for the floor installation experts to do their thing. At some point in my life I must learn to reply to the word, "Ma’am".

Hope you are well!
Jelisa

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