This was the first paragraph in my very first “Notes from Claudette,” written back when Ariel was 6. Revisiting 20 years of those editor’s notes for this anniversary issue has been a little like flipping through old photo albums, losing track of time in verbal snapshots of changes in our family and in the Santa Fe family community.
Back when Tumbleweeds was born, in the summer of 1995, Ariel was about to enter first grade. For Charles and me, our home life, and my columns, centered on our child and our entourage of pets: the dogs, cats, snake, rabbits, lizards, turtle, chickens and other species around which we shaped our family. We were focused, in those fledgling days as parents, on maintaining a stable household, often easier said than done without a lot of relatives nearby, and the animals helped anchor us.
Life in the parenting lane gave me abundant material on the seismic changes children inflict on the adults who love them. Baby Harry’s birth came late in the lives of our friends Susie and Bill:
Bill’s word to describe his feelings about Harry was “scary.” This beautiful little boy with the wispy red hair that won’t lie flat has meant more to him than he thought anyone could. Since Harry’s birth, Susie said, when she hears news of efforts in Congress to destroy environmental protection laws, she wonders, “Don’t these people have children?” (Winter 1995-96)
In these pages I found reminders of loved ones who left our family. Our gentle black Lab, Emily, died when Ariel was 7:
Emily was the first member of my Santa Fe family. When Ariel was born, Emily graciously added him to her circle of care. Emily faithfully endured his pokes, pulls and climbs as part of the duty of love…. On a great fishing day last July, Ariel caught a fish especially for Emily. Back at the campsite, poor Em was so tired from the day’s hike that she could barely lift her head to gobble up the fish placed before her. Our girl was getting old. By the winter, she was unable to walk. We realized we had to prepare…. Our vet waited respectfully while we said some prayers and cried. Ariel was leaning forward with eyes wide as the doctor gave Emily an injection. We buried her under the lilac bushes. (Spring 1996)
Raising a boy brought delights and challenges my girly childhood hadn’t prepared me for. There was the Power Rangers obsession; the joy of building things that was surpassed by the glee of knocking them apart. And then there was the language thing.
Imagine our delight when he discovered the “hole” words. You know the sort of words I’m talking about. Until recently, Ariel thought ‘manhole’ was a nasty word. With my nephew Johnny, that particular era seemed eternal. He couldn’t say “s” yet, so the word of choice came out more like “ath-hole.” A visiting cousin asked, “Who’s Ethel?” (Winter 1996-97)
I also watched changes in how our society sees fathers, a topic on which a few writers in this issue also reflect.
The whole institution of fatherhood seems to be correcting itself. If mothers are stereotyped as saints (I’m wincing), fathers get the other rap. The word “dad” gets free-associated with “deadbeat,” “abusive,” “absentee.”… There has been a rash of books and movies recently about dads who discover -- often after divorce -- the crushing, heart-wrenching importance of their children. Our society seems to be relearning how to raise fathers. (Summer 1997)
Having a child encourages us to see world events through their eyes, and see how they interpret things that might defy the understanding of adults. When the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal erupted, topics came up that I hadn’t planned to discuss with my pre-tween boy:
When John Kennedy was shot, I was not quite 6 years old. From the fat, across-the-page headline of the Washington Post, I learned a new word: “Sniper.” This week, my son learned “affair.” It’s hard to imagine how a child who puts his hands over his eyes and makes gagging noises during kissing scenes in movies interprets a president’s alleged sexual escapades. What must this boy, snugly ensconced in his “latency period,” think of the national scandal dubbed “Zippergate?” (Spring 1998)
Friends, near and far, provided food for thought about Santa Fe as a place to raise children. My friend Diana moved back to her hometown of Dallas with her special-needs son after several years in Santa Fe.
“Sean had some good, caring teachers in New Mexico, indeed some excellent ones,” she wrote me, and I quoted in a column back in 1998, “but well-funded districts make such a difference. Politicians mouth off about education, but if you don’t put your money where your mouth is, you end up with what you didn’t pay for.”
Funding our schools is one of those “more things change, more they stay the same” issues. In the late 90s, I wrote about the dreary mood among parents and teachers after the school board discovered a $2 million shortfall and looked for ways to trim nonexistent fat from the budget. That figure seemed quaint by 2011, when a $7 million deficit led the board to hold public hearings on closing small elementary schools. “We all recognize that it takes a village to raise a child,” an Acequia Madre mom told the board. “I’m asking you not to split our village.” (The board voted not to close Acequia Madre, but it did close Kaune, Alvord and Larragoite.)
Grandma Cynthia and Grandpa Mike, my parents, made visits to Santa Fe (and my columns), until just a few years ago, when their health turned a corner.
We all know we’re going to lose our parents someday. It’s Chekhov’s proverbial gun on the wall in the first act that will go off by the end of the play. It’s actually the “better” grief, compared to seeing children go before their parents. I told my brother our dad had been “blessedly spoiled” by good health for so long. But age was gaining ground. (Summer 2012) (Mom and Dad are still alive and kicking, a little more slowly, and not making such long trips to the mountains anymore.)
Ann Hackett, Tumbleweeds’ graphic designer, suggested I call this column “My Two Children.” Tumbleweeds is indeed my beloved baby, along with my little boy who is now a 26-year-old junior analyst at a financial firm here in town. Not quite the same, though; only one of my children hugs me when he comes home, or makes me tea when I’m tired. Only one will make my grandbabies some day. (Are you listening, hon?)
But looking through all back issues, I see how much Tumbleweeds has been a part of my community, how many of the amazing people I know came into my life through these pages. I can’t sum it up better than my younger self did in that column about losing Emmy-Dog:
This circle of support, the people (and critters) with whom I connect, who receive my words and feelings, are what give my life wealth. Whatever else we share, we keep each other company on the trail.
I often ask myself how much longer I’ll want to publish Tumbleweeds and I don’t have an answer. I still enjoy it, I love Team Tumbleweeds, and the articles still please me. I guess it’s a little like labor; after each bouncing baby Tumbleweeds comes out, I forget the deadline craziness that went into its birth — at least until the next time!
Whether you are a first-time reader or a long-timer, you are part of the Tumbleweeds community, and I hope you’ll celebrate with us: at Rock Paper Scissors Salonspa on July 24, and the Santa Fe Children’s Museum’s “Friendship Day” on August 2 (part of their own yearlong 30th birthday celebration). You’ll find details on page 46 of this issue, and updates on our website and social media. I’d love to reconnect, or meet you for the first time!