The Year We Went To Forest School


Gasp By Melissa Lipnick

It's October and the sky is yellow. The fire is hot, the marshmallows burnt. The baby is asleep in my arms.

You three move quicker then I can document. The photos are blurry, like the moments in memory. We still say “snapshots” and here they are, ready, blurry, or not: marshmallows roasted. Three of you on a tiny red slide. Pajama bottoms falling down. Chopping wood with daddy. Fussy baby. Sad third child. Angry third child. Scared second child. Provoking second child. Loving second child. Moody first child. Leader first child. Anxious parents. Miscommunications and fixes. Hugs and pushes. “I’m learning,” husband says. He means the tending to the fire. I mean at life, as I nod.

There are rhythms to our chaos. Like waves that cascade, the tiny rhythms are these blurry photos from one hiccup to the next. A triumph sits heroically in between. The waves grow bigger and I see them in seasons. 'This too shall pass' is on repeat when we are at the top of the surf, unbalanced, afraid to drown. Then just like that, kicked out on to the beach. Not so unlike the time I found myself spit out onto the sand, with new awareness of our fragility, after the great Atlantic had mercy and let me go.

That evening, after the orange sky and sugar energy ran out, while my children snored, while I sat awake again on the couch, our next door neighbor died. Gasp. Quick deep breath, shocking news. Over and down the waves, under water, break through, Gasp. A soul waving at us from across the driveways under the orange setting sun, then gone. Gasp. Distance of time, already making the memory of her blurry. Quick, quick, another wave is coming. No time for deep breaths, just gasp. Quick, snap, document, remember if you can, then, move on. It's done.

#readas #writeas #parenting

Written by Melissa Lipnick, a writer and artist in Cleveland, Ohio.

What Kind of Parent Would I Be If There Was No Social Media? By Melissa Lipnick

I need to imagine for a moment how I would parent you, if there was no social media.

Your clothes would be delightfully mismatched, used, and peppered with cartoon characters, because I would never have been swept away by images of full families that are adorned in organic beige and white draping fabrics.

If there was no social media, we would spend summers at the pool instead of farm camps, truck-paloozas, measuring the number of our outdoor hours and critiquing the quality of our indoor time. You would gulp a mouthful of chlorine-filled water, and I would be too ignorant to spend the remainder of the day watching you like a hawk for dry-drowning symptoms.

I'm fairly certain that if there was no social media, you would be munching on frosted cereal and chicken nuggets, instead of the sprouted cacao krispies and tofu I feed you now. You're healthier, but are you happier?

I would send you to the nearest elementary school with a kiss and a shove, if there was no social media. If I took a first/last day photo (I wouldn't), it would be pasted in your scrapbook that I never finish, and not uploaded to be viewed by my closest friends, acquaintances, past coworkers, present circle, and the extended relatives we have never met. Your entry to and from school would be less affirming, but perhaps the uneventful would be more than enough.

There would certainly be a lot more money in my pocket. That just goes without saying. (Darn those glossy social media ads!)

I would likely still document each funny or remarkable thing you do, because that's just who I am. The difference would be in the lens. Instead of nudging your silly antics in the direction of consumable content, I would do more noticing and less marketing. Our daily life could be as boring as we liked. I would not be a reporter with a news feed. Your triumphs would be yours alone, and not material to share. There may be less notoriety, but certainly there would be more authenticity.

I think my mind would be quieter, if there was no social media. With less platforms to stand on, there are less people shouting to be heard. It's so loud out here in the virtual world, I can't hear myself think. Did you really want to play soccer or did I see that someone else's kid was playing and thought I'd screw you up if I didn't sign you up too? Video games are bad. Video games are good. I can't keep track, there's a lot of experts and research and voices telling me what we can and cannot do. Suddenly I realize I cannot trust anyone because social media levels a playing field, and it reveals we are all just grown up kids trying to figure it out. Some may be more intellectual, some may be more spiritual, and others possess more currency. We all, it turns out, just really, really want to be liked. The mystique of those possessive attributes are unveiled and the doors to our homes flung open. And it reminds me of how much stock we have placed in an invisible connector that could be pulled out from beneath our feet without a moment's notice. I like to feel connected, we say. Feel is the operative word, because I feel like I need to be every kind of parent that profiles their life, and I'm really confused now as to who I would be if none of it existed.

It strikes me that I want you to take far more risks then we let our researched, civilized, intellectualized minds allow now. When you are 18 and you go out in the world, I really just want one thing of you – come back home alive. I will try to protect you less from the hidden dangers (in a developmentally age-appropriate, screen-time measured, diet restricted way, of course), and you in turn, please just come home once in awhile with sound body, mind, and spirit. Ok, just one more request: when you resent me for the mistakes I made, please spare a little gratitude: I tried really hard to stay away from the screen, and attempted mess up this parenting thing as much as I could. It was for your own good. You'll thank me someday, I hope.

#parenting #motherhood #writing #writeas #socialmedia #pandemicparenting

Written by Melissa Lipnick, a writer and artist in Cleveland, Ohio.

Fried Eggs and Lukewarm Coffee By Melissa Lipnick

“Please tell me this gets better,” I text to two of my favorite friends and veteran mothers.

It's days before I receive a response.

“It doesn't get better. But you get better at it,” my wise friend responds.

You, my eldest son, are 3 weeks old. Every expectation of motherhood is scrambled, fried, and tossed in the air. The plate lands food side down. It took only a moment to birth a new life and leave behind another.

The next six years I do get better at it. With more babies, a mortgage, and webs weaved between it all, I can support more without spilling on the floor.

If I am being too abstract, dear child, it's because the new me that was born that day is getting mixed up in the mess. Every day I dig into the oatmeal plastered dishes, hide from the library fines, follow another parenting blog, and search in the crevices of this old couch that I am. I'm searching for bread crumbs, because I got better at figuring out you, but I got worse at knowing me.

I need to pour myself a nice, hot cup of coffee instead of my lukewarm microwaved mug, and I like my coffee strong, black, and unfancy. So I am writing because maybe I'll make sense of a few things while pouring out my hot coffee onto the page. Maybe I will make sense of this me, in between getting better at the balancing act of parenting you, and you, and you, and you, my dear children.

#motherhood #parenting #writeas #readas #pandemicparenting

Written by Melissa Lipnick, a writer and artist in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Year We Went To Forest School Melissa Lipnick

I wake at 5am these days. The baby needs me, and I need my time. The space between night and light is confusing. The windows are still black, the clock rhythmic, and the fake candles in the fireplace flicker, unwavering. Baby is warm on my lap, and I write.

My coffee is cold by the time that you, my second son, join me on the loveseat at 6am.

“Are we awake in the middle of the night?” you ask. “No,” I say. “Just very early morning.”

I can only experience your childhood with my adult eyes. I often feel trapped between who you are now, and who I see in the future. Will you remember these early mornings together, when your outstretched legs could barely meet the edge of the couch cushions? How will the memories be shaped by your faulty consciousness? For, we all see things through a smudged lens.

Today we are talking about “morning hands” because you are furious at the food wrapper that won’t open. You rebuke my comfort so I offer resistance instead, allowing your feet to push into my belly, mindlessly.

I remember to smile at you. A simple smile is sometimes all we need. We are quiet and smiling as the room slowly lightens. I am unready. I want to stay suspended here, balanced on the tightrope between uncertain evenings and daytime demands.

“I got something out of my eye that was bothering me,” you say, arms wrapped around my leg now. “And I’m hugging you because you give me medicine every day.” I soak in your love, gifted with abandon that is as wild as your anger, and say a silent ‘thank you’ to the magic of Zyrtec.

Our little box is unfolding and opening into the day, as the dogs paw impatiently, the third of my children yells from his bed, the first of my children predictably drums his feet thump, thump down the stairs, and the baby needs me again. This year, our box got shaken like a snow globe and we landed in a space of face masks, endless hand sanitizer, and school in the forest. We begin.

So, I’ll try again today. I hope in adulthood, when you remember these moments-if you remember these moments-I hope you know that every morning I woke by 5 and did my best to mother you.

#motherhood #firstperson #forestschool #pandemic #parenting

Written by Melissa Lipnick, a writer and artist in Cleveland, Ohio.