Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Writing as an Empowerment Tool for Indigenous Education

I talk a lot about spectrums of communication-- sliding bars like a complex sound-engineer's mix board-- of purpose and intent, format and context, audience and witnesses, gender, age, race, and sex-- Hawaii's communication is multi dimensional-- not just a spectrum of formal to information communication, but multiple axes of mode and purpose.

Generally students move through that complex space fluently-- entering and exiting pidgin or Hawaiian or formal english or text-speak easily depending on the need. They read myriad contextual and identity clues to gauge what exact timber and tone  Self-awareness can bring barriers to empowered self-expression though-- and the stigma or fear of sounding haole or mismatching the dialect to the occasion is stressful.

But as for me and my house....All communication is ultimately empowering. Students being able to slide into the dialectally appropriate mode is the highest kind of success.

I'm wandering off track with this.

The real question is....
What is writing?
What is empowerment?
And what is a tool for empowerment?

Writing is any kind of writing-- any form, any genre, any purpose. I accept marginalia and latrinalia and tumblr-esque keyboard smashes and paragraphs of emoji. I accept scrawled reminders on palms and gothic tattoo letters scraped into forearms. It is self-expression and passionate and also deadly-dry-- columns and rows and sums and averages. It can emerge effortlessly as a prayer or get bashed out of you only through hours of tedious research, revision, pain, blood, constriction and sweat.

So empowerment? Does that mean a sense of entitlement? In the best way-- not in the sense we often here where entitled means spoiled and arrogant-- but entitled as in-- given a name-- given a role. Endowed with authority and validity. It's important-- especially for marginalized people-- girls, people working in a second language, people whose ethnic, racial cultural or religious identity makes them a social target. It's the belief that you have the right to take up space.

So how is writing a tool for empowerment? I'm reminded of the simple Archimedean machines-- wedges, levers, wheel and axel, screw, inclined plane, and pulleys. Language-- specifically writing-- can be that sharp wedge which divides the unbreakable boulder along the weak lay-lines. And lever-words can lift impossible weights, can screw into the impermeable depths, and heave you against gravity to impossible heights. Language-- but especially writing-- a stab at permanence that it is-- can be that wedging, lifting, shattering ideas.

Writing allows us to place our small marks of permanence on the world-- allows our words to emerge from our minds and linger slightly longer than they would have if only inscribed in breath. We can float our thoughts onto papers and they will continue thinking themselves for moments and moments after our minds and mouths are clear of them.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Two Minds about Two Bodies

I'm about 5 weeks away from giving birth-- really a month and a day from my due date, but you never want to hex it by shaving days off your full 40 week sentence.

My belly is profound, my bosom is bounteous. I groan and creak when I stand up or resettle in my chair. I require a phalanx of pillows to sleep (in the small of my back, under my neck but not touching my shoulders, under my left armpit and between my knees, no blanket but yes a sheet, but not covering my feet or arms) and even then I wake up to pee, to drink, to fret, to check facebook, to restart the soporific audiobook, to drink water, to swat mosquitos...

My belly is moon-round and lightly marbled with new stretchmarks-- pearly little striations. I rub them daily with coconutty lotion. My girls sniff at me and grimace-- you smell like baby belly!

This pregnancy-- I want to capture it before it's over. The baby bumps and rolls and stretches up under my ribcage-- sometimes jabs a sharp ankle or heel outward and makes a hard tense bump in my skin, until relaxing, rolling over and snuggling down somewhere deep in my pelvis. I feel deep hiccoughs-- almost in my tailbone. The other day I felt a weird scratching on what felt like the top of my cervix. Sure enough, there was a little blood-- baby's sharp little fingernails poking at the exit.

My hair has grown like mad-- 8 inches in 8 months, curly, thick. My fingernails grow too-- and I've managed not to chew them off for two whole months. My skin is radiant and I feel... gorgeous. I love the way I look in tight little dresses that show off the full curve of my belly, and my impressive cleavage. Oddly, I haven't gained much weight during this pregnancy-- just 10 pounds. With my other two I gained a frightening amount of weight-- 20 or 30 pounds! With this one I'm eating what I feel like-- which in this oppressive heat (it's a record for Kauai this year-- most miserably hot and horrifying September ever) is basically just fruit, and sparkling water with ice in it. With the occasional steak. And all of the purple sweet potatoes in the world. But I don't feel overly burdened with extra weight-- my ankles and wrists are still bony, as always.

I'm running around like a mad thing-- I wake up bleary and whimpering every day, but we all get ourselves to the school, and then performance mode kicks in and I have 500 questions from my teenage students, and to-do lists from fellow teachers, and ominous follow-up meetings with administration, and I have to move from classroom to classroom lugging projectors, posters, art supplies; and teach differentiated English to 27 kids ages 11 to 17, at mixed reading levels from 1st grade to 9th. It involves a lot of me spinning around the classroom, consulting books, reading earnest whispered confessions and fledgling poetry.

I'm teaching sex-ed, too, which I find really gratifying, and a little hilarious with my tremendous belly.  The kids ask me questions-- things they've worried about since some older kid on the bus said something weird when they were 9. The boys are worried about performance: can you get stuck if you have sex? The girls are worried about violence: If you get drunk, will you get kidnapped and raped? One kid told me seriously that an outcome of having sex was doing drugs. "Because if you get kids it ruins your life and you'll wanna do drugs. That's why my mom said she does drugs anyway!" With questions like that, and these enormous conversations with these precious and malleable young people, I don't have any time to feel pregnancy discomfort.

This whole pregnancy has been a delight. A bitter-sweet delight, because I don't think I'll do this again.

In an alternate world, I had a pile of babies, one after another. Like a lady of the canyon, cats and babies round my feet, baking brownies, marbling paper for craft fairs, canning jellies. There's a part of me that really would have loved that.

But it's harder than it seems. And being a mother-- I love it. It is the great treasure and purpose of my life-- but I also felt like I could easily shatter and die-- succumb to depression and loneliness.

And that's the crux of it. Pregnancy, birth, parenting-- it's both amazing and awful. I remember a few days after my first daughter was born-- I was standing in the kitchen wearing only the hospital-issued disposable pad-panties for the steady blood flow with an ice pack tucked inside for the swollen stitches and a cold wet towel on my engorged boobs-- and I was writing an email to my family telling them how perfectly happy I was, how I felt great, how everything was awesome and I was ready to do it again right away! I wasn't lying-- I WAS that blissed out. I was also in terrible pain and emotionally shaken like an old doll in a dog's mouth.

And the bliss and delight of taking care of little babies-- there's nothing as magical as their tiny hands, their eyes as they gaze deeply into yours and grin as they nurse, and dribble milk into their creasy fat necks... Also there's nothing as nightmarish as the irrational screech of a baby who hates the carseat and is trapped and you can't stop and pull over because that will just prolong the journey and you have to drive on, your shoulders hunched around your ears, your blood pressure sparking stars, and fifteen new forehead lines chiseled into your face.

And when they're bigger-- they're such beauties, such geniuses, such fairy-creatures of pure power, magic, and loveliness. And when you shout at them, slam the door, startle them, ignore them, betray them, bore them, disappoint them-- it's a terrible chasm of failure yawning before you. When my big tall 8 year old comes and finds me to snuggle and I smell her sunshiny skull-- bliss. When the 5 year old draws you a card covered in carefully jewel-colored spirals--- I could eat them up I love them so. Also some nights I barely manage a "go brush your teeth and choose an audiobook..." and that's the parenting for the day.

This pregnancy has been a Janus thing from the beginning. I desperately wanted another baby-- felt the absence of that baby like a loss. But I felt so afraid and unsure. It was the moment I realized that my reasons for NOT having another one were weaksauce: Traveling is easy with two big ones! Eating out is simple! We all fit comfortably in my little car! And my reason for having another one-- that my kids are the one pure and unadulterated source of joy and delight in my life-- was bigger than the fears.

And then actually being pregnant-- throwing up in the park, at the urine-reeking base of an ironwood tree when I couldn't make it to the bathroom, being tired down to the bones-- so zapped at the end of school each day that I couldn't speak or think or even feel my face as I drove home. I couldn't tell the girls stories-- my mind was a cottony mush. I couldn't interact with my friends or keep up with social events-- I was just too tired to do anything beyond get to school, get home, procure non-offensive food, and listen to BBC Radio Sherlock Holmes.

But then I got to hear the baby's heartbeat-- and I cried. My midwife laughed with me-- "You'd think it's your first time!" But my happiness at having this baby just bubbled up in those tears. The big girls watch me intently every time we visit the midwife now and report: "Mom, your face is turning red! Are you gonna cry?" I usually do.

And now, a handful of weeks left. I'm in the 9th month. If you pay attention from across the room you can see the baby rolling around.  I love having the baby safely in there-- tucked away. Transportable, cozy, warm, clean, full, happy... I am in no rush to get this baby on the outside. This precious short time will be done, probably forever for me. I can't stand to mark the "lasts"-- the last kicks, the last braxton hicks, the last labor... Even while dreading the pain and fear of delivery, I am heartbroken to say, "never again."

Maybe in that other life I would have had the cocooned safety and security to have all those heaps of happy fat babies. But then there are many other lives that lie abandoned in the possibilities of the past that I can thinking about with both regret and relief.

For now, I'll just enjoy the incredible and strange treasure of this moment-- this pregnant pause.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Poems that I Want In My Brain

He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven

HAD I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. 
--W B Yeats

A Little Tooth

Thomas Lux1946

Your baby grows a tooth, then two,
and four, and five, then she wants some meat
directly from the bone.  It’s all

over: she’ll learn some words, she’ll fall
in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet
talker on his way to jail.  And you,

your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue
nothing.  You did, you loved, your feet
are sore.  It’s dusk.  Your daughter’s tall.
Egg By C.G. Hanzlicek
I’m scrambling an egg for my daughter. “Why are you always whistling?” she asks. “Because I’m happy.” And it’s true, Though it stuns me to say it aloud; There was a time when I wouldn’t Have seen it as my future. It’s partly a matter Of who is there to eat the egg: The self fallen out of love with itself Through the tedium of familiarity, Or this little self, So curious, so hungry, Who emerged from the woman I love, A woman who loves me in a way I’ve come to think I deserve, Now that it arrives from outside me. Everything changes, we’re told, And now the changes are everywhere: The house with its morning light That fills me like a revelation, The yard with its trees That cast a bit more shade each summer, The love of a woman That both is and isn’t confounding, And the love Of this clamor of questions at my waist. Clamor of questions, You clamor of answers, Here’s your egg.
Living in the Body
by Joyce Sutphen
Body is something you need in order to stay
on this planet and you only get one.
And no matter which one you get, it will not
be satisfactory. It will not be beautiful
enough, it will not be fast enough, it will
not keep on for days at a time, but will
pull you down into a sleepy swamp and
demand apples and coffee and chocolate cake.
Body is a thing you have to carry
from one day into the next. Always the
same eyebrows over the same eyes in the same
skin when you look in the mirror, and the
same creaky knee when you get up from the
floor and the same wrist under the watchband.
The changes you can make are small and
costly—better to leave it as it is.
Body is a thing that you have to leave
eventually. You know that because you have
seen others do it, others who were once like you,
living inside their pile of bones and
flesh, smiling at you, loving you,
leaning in the doorway, talking to you
for hours and then one day they
are gone. No forwarding address.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Translation Problems

The other day I was talking to someone, a transplant from the mainland, who works here as a facilitator-- she was telling me about her work in different organizations, and how entrenched people can be in their feelings about ideas, and how tricky it can be to untangle some of those interpersonal knots. I mentioned that with school we've had facilitators come in to lay western-style groundrules and accomplish western-style goals, and that we've also had Hawaiian ho'oponopono. She was curious about it-- how does it work? What is it like?

I told her about my experience, how it went for hours and hours, starting immediately after school and carrying on until nearly midnight, what the alaka'i' did-- his role seemed similar to the mediator's role-- providing space for everyone to say their part, to be heard.  In my limited experience, it didn't seem that there were set scripts to follow, although every person was expected to speak, and everyone, as we went around the enormous circle, expressed their gratitude for each other, and apologized for their part in the difficulties we were addressing. I said, "We stayed until everyone felt heard." When we left, the alaka'i told us that now it was finished, that he had to leave it in the past and move forward.

But I was unsatisfied with my own explanation. It was inadequate-- for two major reasons. One, I don't know that much about it. Yes, I've participated-- yes, I read Mary Kawena Pukui's description of what it means in Nana I Ke Kumu, but my understanding is shallow.  I've attended Mass once or twice but I would never feel qualified to explain its significance to someone who had never been. I felt like I should add the caveat-- but don't take MY word for it...

The other problem with my explanation was my language. I kept slipping into analogues. The Alaka'i is like the mediator! The Ho'oponopono is cathartic! The groundrules are established! But all of these analogues are inadequate and oversimplify with comparison. I mean, they're fine for short-hand, but an Alaka'i is not a mediator-- the roles are very different and can't be conflated. The Alaka'i would be offended and distressed to be called a mediator or a facilitator. It's just... not that.

When I apply familiar American terms to Hawaiian practices, I flatten the practices. This is why practicing the culture-- and passing along the culture-- with the language, is so important. There are terms in Hawaiian that are specific to these activities, that set it apart from anything that can be performed in English. This is why I feel that the Hawaiian language IS an important part of understanding Hawaii and participating in life here. Because relatable explanations in English just can't get to the heart of the matter.


This year has been a bumper year for summer fruits: the mangoes went wild last month-- we were spoiled for the sweet ripe juicy fruits, nectar on our mouths and running from hands to elbows, leaning over the porch railings to enjoy them cubed and inverted, like this:
And now it's the lychee. 

We have two giant trees who, in nearly five years at this house, have never given us more than a handful of lychee, but for whatever reason this year are bedecked like bacchus, long red clumps of the fruit hanging like bangles all over the trees.

We started picking them the second they had any meat on them-- they were still mostly green and very tart and juicy. Now they've matured into fat red globes, brimming with juice as soon as you peel away a bit of the hard bumpy skin. 

From across the lawn they all look perfect: cascades of red rubies like dangling earrings. I drag cloth grocery bags and my extendable fruit picker over.

A little closer and you can see where wild parakeets and doves have pecked off some of the fruits, and where other people have already gleaned, and the bunches just a little further on seem better, fuller, riper, fatter. 

We find a suitable spot and I have the kids watch the ground carefully while I reach up with the picker, extended twenty feet up into the branches, and claw at the bunches to snag berries in the narrow wire fingers:
I pluck some berries into the little wire basket, and yank others loose. The girls have to watch the ground and chase the ones that fall. There are hundreds on the ground already but no matter how beautiful and whole they may seem, they are swarming with tiny maggots (who bite, incidentally), so they have to watch carefully to only pick up the ones that have just, in this last second, fallen from the tree. Sometimes they fall like little rough-skinned bombs-- one hit me on the face with a sharp sting, and when I looked in the mirror later tonight to brush my teeth I saw a pink welt the size of a quarter. 

Tonight we filled a grocery bag with them, and then sat on the lawn and sorted them into "perfect" and "possibly questionable"-- with cracked skins or small black spots or little white oozy holes. Then I used my what were once my favorite craft scissors but which have now taken up residence in the kitchen to cut the offending parts off, and peel the rest. These I froze. 

Tomorrow we should really spend the morning out there, fill bags and bags, and fill up jars and freezers and the dehydrator-- really show our gratitude for this short season of bounty. Just in case it's another five years before the trees go off again.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Lambda Aloha Tiny Gay Dance Party

I got home at midnight last night but went straight to bed so this morning I still have residual fire-engine red lipstick, a waxy paper "bud light" arm band, a wrist stamp, and several tiny french braids above one ear for what the internet assures me is an "edgy faux side shave."

Heh, edgy. Not really the first descriptor I'd pick for myself.

But it's mildly gratifying to wake up with these little relics of A Night Out.

This is a tiny, sleepy island. Restaurants shut down at 9.  Nights Out are few and far between.
And I am a person who would really, truly, whole-heartedly prefer to stay home and listen to BBC Radio Drama, with Clive Merrison as Sherlock Holmes. (No really, they're great.) So usually I'd pass the chance to Go Out because it's not really what feeds my soul, ya know?

But my friend Yuki asked me, so gently, so politely, so ready to be disappointed. And look at this earnest little promotional website: So eager!

And plus I've missed Pride and I was curious what kind of showing the QUILTBAG (yes that's a real acronym, isn't it cute? Not sure what the U is for...) aka the LGBTQIA* community would make in Kapaa, Hawaii.

I'm married to a guy, I've got two kids and I'm 6 months along with my third. So although I identify as queer and live right smack in the middle of the Kinsey scale, I don't really ping peoples' gaydar. But I long for the community. I have "passing privilege" which is another way of saying "bisexual erasure," and I need a little more gay in my life.

So I said yes to my polite and earnest friend Yuki and put on my red lipstick and a confused outfit--what does one wear to a lambda dance in Kapaa? I went for Geek Chic: Tardis space skirt and a black tanktop with a giant goldfish and Mycroft Holmes quote "I am living in a world of goldfish." Because I subscribe to the Nerd Shirts Are Mating Calls philosophy. I met up with Yuki at her friend Ruby's house (clean simple rooms, art on the walls, instruments and surf boards propped up against the wall, evocative of a different life) and we applied blue eyeshadow and smudged dramatic eyeliner around for awhile before heading over to the resort.

We did a slow drive-by first, peering into the ballroom windows. Is this the place? Flashing lights, but terrible balloons, people standing around... acting gay? Looking gay? Nope, everybody looking just like people. There were some guys standing outside smoking-- Ruby rolled down the passenger window and asked: "Hey, is this the gay pride dance?"
The guys answered: "Yes, of COURSE! Can't you tell?" And laughed, mock-swishy.

So in we go. I've been to this ballroom before-- for a coworker's child's wedding, for a county-wide teacher union event. It's a cavernous, stodgy rectangle carpeted with big paisley patterns, sea-shell chandeliers on low ceilings. Last night the flashing strobe lights sparked against the windows, and around the room giant screens showed soft-core music videos-- hunky and busty models straining lumpy packages against their... um, somethings. I forgot what I was saying.

Anyway!  Two hotel workers were stationed outside the ballroom to check our IDs and give us little beer bands. My friend Waiulu was one of them! It was a relief to see a familiar face-- I gave her a hug and ribbed her for using her English name on her hotel name tag. We chatted in Hawaiian for a bit-- she teased me-- You've finally come out? She and I have already had this conversation, so this was not new information for her. I told her to come in and dance-- she said, no, she has to get home to her NEW girlfriend. I made an impressed noise and asked her what happened to her face-- her nose was blushing to blue and she had scratches all over her face. She said she and her girlfriend got into a fight. I asked her-- Seriously? She nodded. Dude. Take care of yourself! And then we went through into the ballroom. When I went out later to find a drinking fountain, she had already gone home. It seemed like an unfinished thread...

Inside, Yuki shout-introduced me to the folks she knew over a frenetic techno beat-- angular and coiffed femme-women in their 40s. The names immediately disappeared from my brain. We got drinks-- a soda water with lime for me-- and then hit the dance floor to the obligatory Lady Gaga "Born this Way" super ultra techno heavy remix. The dance floor was small -- only maybe forty feet long and fifteen wide. Yuki joked that we'd double the dance floor if we went out-- so we did. Joined a guy in gold lame skinny jeans and black stilettos, two girls wearing black buckles and leather and silver studs, and a guy in a faded button-down polo shirt and a tiny pink tutu and "sh*t-kickin' boots." Yuki is nearly six feet tall and willowy in sheer white, and was wearing a bright blue wig. There were a handful of people in their 20s looking very young and energetic, passing out rainbow colored glow bracelets. The rest of us were ordinary-looking people, most over 30, looking shiftily at each other, not quite fully extending our arms as we danced, not taking up too much space, mostly marking the beat with our feet and bobbing heads.

I like loud music and dancing... but with a healthy amount of self-mockery. Really, cutting loose to Weird Al parodies and Harry Potter Pop in the living room is really my scene. And I swear I can dance. So I had to really pretend I was just in the living room getting down with my kids in order to cut loose. But honestly, dancing with two fearless kids in dressups to raps about Hip-hop-oppotamuses is way more fun than with a dozen self-conscious adult strangers. I can see, with the heavy relentless beat and the lights and the effort of getting dressed up, alcohol or stronger would be absolutely necessary to enjoy the event. My soda and lime was not going to silence my frontal cortex nearly enough. Ruby disappeared outside with a friend.

I lasted all the way to like, TEN THIRTY, which is basically 3 am Kauai time. When we sat down to catch our breath, we looked back at the now totally deserted dance floor and the sparse tables around the room, Yuki said, "I'm not sure why I thought it would be different. I mean, it's Pride! I was just picturing throngs of people! I guess this is just all of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people in Kapaa?"

I looked around. I said, thinking about Waiulu at home now with her scrappy new girlfriend, "Maybe it's all the white LGBT people in Kapaa." It was a lily-white crowd. It's not that there's no non-white queer people on this island--in just the tiny social circle of my work, I know a surprising number of LGBT folks. Local culture is pretty tolerant about gay and lesbian and non-gender conforming relationships. Honestly they tend to have more in common with local straight culture than with mainstream American queer culture. The other day I ran into a former student, a mere 21 years old, with her 35 year old girlfriend and a grocery cart full of step-kids. Most of my former students, just graduating high school since 2013, are involved in serious relationships that look a lot like this, young kids with older partners, with kids and stepkids already in the mix. Whether the relationship is same or mixed sex doesn't seem to make a difference in the shape these relationships take: founded early, family-oriented, prioritized above school and career, and (from the outside) painfully all-consuming-- thinking of my friend's broken nose and my student's full grocery cart, and the way both of their community college degrees are languishing.

Someday I'll think and write more about culture and queerness, how culturally narrow the rainbow flag can be, and how sometimes cultural constructs of gender and sexuality are cherry-picked and decontextualized in the service of a privileged white story about what queerness signifies.

I dropped Ruby off and exchanged numbers, and drove home-- happy to have Checked the Social Boxes. I dressed up! Wore make up! Met new people! Bought a (non-alcoholic but still) drink! Danced! And with relief tore off towards home, shrugged out of my clothes and into bed with the soothing tones of Clive Merrison as Sherlock Holmes at last.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


It was a hot day-- heat swimming up from the pavements, everyone dreaming of lemonade. After school, I drove my girls up to the river to jump in and cool down. The beaches would be warmer, balmy pacific lagoons with still-waters and lethargic tropical fish. But we needed something bracing-- something reminiscent of glacial Rocky Mountain streams.

The river up the road is easy-- a short drive (through the river itself) to a pitted and pocked parking area. Then a short walk between colorful and peeling rainbow eucalyptus trees to a steep stream bank. There are a few picnic benches and pavilions-- overflowing rubbish bins and redolence of skunky Pakalolo-- and on weekends families come with pavilions and tents and rock-blockers and barbecues and coolers and generators-- but today the place was empty.

We skid down the mud-root-mud gulch onto the little rocky "beach"-- just a few dozen feet of flat ground on the bank of the river. Over the years, people have carved and terraced the river itself to form a series of cantilevered mini-pools and a long, bottom-scraping "slide" over uneven rocks that spits you into a deep murky pool on the far side of the river. If you coast along in the current, you pass over a trench, past a mossy cave, and 30 meters on or so to a little rock dam. People gather their courage and jump from on top of the cave into the deep pool, and shriek when the cold water slaps over their heads.

It's a beautiful spot: ferns along the smooth slick rocks, the light shining mirrors on the top of the little cave, sunlight illuminating underwater sepia rocks and dimming behind clouds, wild sweet-smelling Awapuhi-- ginger-- and wild mint underfoot.

We drop our beach bags (the wet one with snorkels, flippers, kickboards, goggles, and the dry one with towels, sun-hat, lemonade and coconut water) and stripped down to swimsuits. I am grateful for the body nonchalance I see here constantly-- with my stretchmarked belly, 6 months pregnant, white as copy paper, and my inadequate bikini top-- I draw exactly no reproachful looks. There is always someone bigger, odder, older than me wearing far less with more grace and confidence.

The girls charge straight into the water. The 8 year old is fully equipped-- flippers, snorkel mask, snorkel-- and I know that she won't surface for an hour. She will be face to face with underwater mosses and poloka kiko ("frog dots" aka tadpoles) and hunting for interesting river rocks to bash into knives or pretend cellphones until the moment we leave. The 5 year old isn't shy either-- she shrieks with the cold but charges in with her kickboard-- leaping from the shallow into the deep, face down, arms outstretched.

I am more reluctant but I make the girls count to three for me and then I jump in too. When my feet leave the ground I know the cold submersion is inevitable-- under I go, water in my nose, lungs shocked and thrilling with cold. It's frigid. Blessedly cold. I stub my toes on the river rocks and dark boulders that rise suddenly from the riverbed. I slip on the shale into the deeper pool and windmill my arms to anchor my toes in the shallows.

The girls are off. The little one sets off with her little kickboard to the "fairy cave." I am aware that ten feet of dark rushing water is beneath her happy kicking. I cheer her on and hope I don't telegraph anything but confidence in her abilities. The big one snorkels through the current, gets scraped along rocks-- long bruises along her thighs that would hobble adults-- but she jumps in again. They set off together with an elaborate game. There are powers "you are weather and I am plants!" and armor "Crystal and ice with diamonds!" and animal sidekicks "Eagles! Tigers! Giant Snakes! Snowy Owls!" and peril from mermen or eagles or swimming tigers. They paddle back and forth over the deep, over the weedy shallows, all the way across the pond to the far dam.

I watch them from the shallow with amazement and horror. I am in awe of their fearlessness. Also, I am terrified that they will capsize, let go of their kick boards, panic and sink and I will be too far away, too slow, unable to help them. The fear of what could happen is so vivid in my mind's eye I'm half-way panicked-- my heart is racing and all of my senses are pricked-- my amygdala is lighting up like Christmas.

But it wouldn't do them any favors to pass my fear over to them. So I stand there as tense and alert as a hare, and only finally breathe easily when the tadpoles in the shallows pull them back within arm's length.

I think, "This is ridiculous. I am being ridiculous."  I had to pass a tense test for a sailing class in college: stay afloat in a 20 foot deep pool for 30 minutes. I nearly hyperventilated, terrified my boyfriend, but I bloody well did it-- wild eyed and freaked out but afloat. I can swim across a pool. Technically, it's possible for me. And looking across that little pool in the river-- maybe 4 meters across and MAYBE 40 meters long-- I know objectively that I am capable, easily, of swimming across that depth and distance. But I feel unable to start.

Again, This Is Ridiculous.  I ask the girls to Please For the Love of God Stay in the Shallow Part So I Can Swim For One Second, and I borrow one of their kickboards. I REFUSE to be cowed by this fear. By the vertigo of that deep unseen bottom, by the dark currents waving the dead ti leaves under the water. No. I grab the kickboard and I set off across the pool. I am startled by the strength of the current pulling me away from the shallows. I go past the cave. The light reflects in wavelets on the ceiling. If I slow I begin to sink. I know that I am over the deepest part-- the part where when my husband jumped in he said he couldn't feel the bottom. 12 feet? more? I do not imagine the murky boulders and dark sediment far below me. I push on till I am nearly to the far dam and the stones a few feet below me are visible, and then I can stand up and turn around to see where I came from.

I wave at the girls-- Not Panicking! Having Fun! STAY THERE! I mentally apologize for them if my fear is planting in their minds at all. I hope it doesn't-- I hope their own bravery will choke out any cowardly weeds I may accidentally sow.

And then I set back. I kick hard but can't seem to make any headway against the current. My legs are splashing out of the water. Nothing-- I'm stationary. I try to kick like a frog, to move like a mermaid-- I finally let go of the kickboard with one hand and pull my way through the water. The girls are eager to have their board back, to head out to their cave again, to slide down the brutal little chute into the deep pool. They do, again and again, until our skin is all plucked-chicken and our teeth chatter. Then we climb out and back up onto the bank, wrap up in towels, and make our way back home.