Cotton Day; reproduction of leeches; cooling of turkey vultures; Eris

Cotton Day and Goldberry.

Cotton Day and Goldberry

I’m mostly a mama at home with one little boy these days. Although, when I referred to Mack as a little boy the other day in the bike shop, the twenty-something guy with the snappy blue eyes who works there glanced at him and stated, “he’s not so little, you know.” Gosh. That guy was certainly cheeky. Of course my little boy is little.

Amalia has a job that she loves and is in a theatre production in another town. She stays very busy with her life, her friends and her plans for next year: also how to get a movie in with friends, now and then. Bryan is busy and preoccupied with a new business, as well as his day job. Once he takes off for work, it’s little, well, not-so-little (whatever, bike-shop guy) Mack and me.

They crop up at the beginning of summer every year, I think, these blog posts that tell you how you ought to do summer with your kiddos: “don’t overschedule your child’s summer,” “give your child the freedom you had as a child during the summer,” and so on. Everybody seems to think that it’s a huge revelation: let your kids be kids. I suppose it’s a necessary backlash to the intensely competitive kid-culture that we adults have pushed: Soccer! Baseball! Reading programs! Summer Theatre! Who can do the most and be the best? Let’s start them out early figuring this out!

I’d like to humbly join the conversation. To wit.

But first. A picture of a peony. It's a stalling tactic.

But first. A picture of a peony. It’s a stalling tactic.

Little Mack will not be pushed (er, gently guided) into any of this business. I’ve tried. I was into a lot of summer organized activities, when I was a kid: 4-H. Swimming lessons. Part-time jobs. Et al. I liked it, mostly. “Want to play on a soccer team?” I’ll ask. “You’re a fast runner, and it might be . . . fun . . . ” He snorts and rolls his eyes. “Be on a sports team?” he asks, in derision. “Why on earth would I want to do that??”

It’s not his thing. That’s okay. I worry about him though, sometimes, all alone at home with me. Not that I’m a bad influence, but I work a lot. I’m really really happy to be left alone in my garden in the summertime. But I don’t want him to be lonely.

So the article that I read has been bugging me. I don’t disagree, basically, with most of what the author writes: in essence, that one ought to let ones’ kids do and be for the summer, without forcing them to do anything or organizing them into a summer schedule. If they want to play video games all day, let them! If they want to lie down in a hammock and read all day, let them! They are only kids once!

It sounds good and wholesome and kid-friendly of course, but I’m thinking that we could easily let the pendulum swing back too far towards the opposite of over-scheduling craziness, to: “meh. whatev.” To “Mommy’s busy, now go play with that new computer game I bought for you—” To: you-live-your-life-kiddo, and let me live mine.

May I suggest that we not throw the baby out with the bathwater, but stay involved with our childrens’ summer days, without making all the decisions for them? Is there not some middle ground here? There are so many things to be learned during the summertime. We don’t do structured “school time” during the summers–there’s the garden to indulge in, just for a few short months at that–!–but we learn a heck of a lot of things together, little Mack and me. But–we do have to be in close proximity with each other in order to do that.

Also there’s the latter half of Proverbs 29:15 to consider: ” . . . a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”

Do you observe Cotton Day at your place?

A peony portrait at Golden Hour on Cotton Day.

A peony portrait at Golden Hour on Cotton Day.

We have one very large cottonwood tree on our property, the tree that I pass by every day on the way out to care for my chickens and get to my garden. It is a glorious tree, in many respects. The really wonderful thing about it this time of year is that it is dripping with clusters of tight green catkins, which are full of seeds that are attached to cottony fluffs (that’s probably not the technical term for them). The catkins will eventually burst open, releasing the fluffs, and we will have a stunningly beautiful day or two of glorious cotton puffs being swept through the air.

It looks like a snowstorm. In May.


The kids and I watch for this day eagerly throughout the spring. When it finally happens, we catch sight out the window of all the cotton in the air. We call each other and we go out in it. We grin. We frolic. We call out “Cotton Day!” and we dance around like loons in the swirling cotton.

It’s pretty cool. And yes, possibly we need to get out more. 😉


Cotton Day this year started late one afternoon, and Mack and I decided to take our suppers outside and eat in the hammock–it was just the two of us at home that evening. I left the dishes unwashed in the sink, I left laundry in the washer, I left all the evening clean-up chores I usually indulge (cough) in. It was Cotton Day! Those things could wait. I took my camera. Mack ran around happily, and I took pictures and enjoyed the Cotton Day splendor.

As it turned out, we had a horrible storm later that night, with tremendous wind and hail, so we were cheated out of the full Cotton Day phenomenon. It was cut short. Much of the cottony clumps were on the ground in the morning, sodden.

I was so glad that the day before, when the cotton started blowing out of that old cottonwood, I had gone out into the cottony splendor with Mack, and had left those dishes in the sink. Cotton Day is a bit of a metaphor for childhood here, at least in my mind. It goes too quickly. It’s exquisitely beautiful. It’s worth celebrating. And then it’s over.

But back to the utter summertime freedom business for kids. I think about everything that I want my kids to learn. And how breathtakingly fast time goes. Oh, and also that I really, really want to tie strings to bind this little guy to me. I crave connection with him. If we are connected, tied together with an echelon of shared experiences and stories, I’m fairly hopeful that if and when he faces tough challenges in his life, he’ll not hesitate to talk with me about them. I’m hopeful that he’ll come to his dad and me for help and/or advice when he needs it.

I do not want Mack to look back on his childhood summers and remember only toiling with me in the garden. No, no. Neither do I want him to remember long summer days sitting inside, hunched over a computer, playing video games or watching endless episodes of “Gilligan’s Island.” I very very strongly don’t want him to be inside, addicted to screens, while there is a beautiful, fascinating world just outside the door for him to explore, learn about, praise God for, and thoroughly enjoy.

And the thing is, there is.


I want for little Mack only this: a healthy balance of fun and learning, work and play and rest. I figure my childhood was pretty much perfect. We lived in a little town in Nebraska, eons ago, of course, before anybody ever thought about locking their car doors–indeed, we didn’t even have locks on our house doors and would leave for two-week vacations with nothing more than a request to the neighbor to feed our cats. And gerbils. And pig. Anyway.

Mom and Dad gardened and planted fruit trees and grew food to excess, like I do. They needed our help to accomplish all that they did. We all helped Mom can beets and pick green beans and weed the strawberries and bottle root beer. What I remember is that before we could take off for our daily adventures, we had chores to do: weed the strawberry patch before you go to the pool. Watch your sister while I do some sewing, before you go to 4-H. Wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen before you go out with your friends. There was balance. There was fun to be had, always, but a daily chore list had to be tackled, first. The fun was the carrot on a stick. And actually, I think the fun was more fun because of the chores that we had to slog through first. Spending an hour weeding the spinach intensified our anticipation of fun to follow.

Doesn’t that sound like healthy balance?

This is what we do, too. Mack is 10. It would be frustrating and depressing for a 10-year-old to have to work as hard as his Mama and Dad work. But to do a list of daily chores, and then help me in the garden for an hour or two is pleasant(ish). He learns valuable life skills. I have a helper. We tie strings, we tell stories, we talk about things that are important to us. We commiserate about how hot it is getting, and try to identify the little bugs that are biting us. Occasionally we’ll take off on a bike ride, or to go to the pool for a swim. We don’t work all the time.

It works well for us. This is what this looks like at our house:

Yesterday, Mack showed up at my side in the garden, ready to do his stint. He had already replenished the bird feeders, taken a bike ride around our place, done his morning chores, and had read a couple of chapters from his book. He had found a baby sparrow and had held it for awhile, and had brought it to me so I could take a picture of it. It’s the fourth baby bird that we’ve found in the last few days, as a matter of fact. I had asked him to report to me in the garden as soon as he could. “Okay, Mom, what do you want me to do?”

“Do you want to haul mulch, or pull weeds with me?” I asked. Giving him a choice is always wise. Pulling weeds is not a favored task, so I was surprised when he uttered “anything but hauling mulch. Anything. I choose weeding.”

I was pulling tiny weeds from a fairly large bed of baby spinach. It was tedious, because the weeds that are coming up in that bed look very much like baby spinach leaves. “Do you think you can tell the difference between the spinach leaves and the weeds?” I asked.

He dropped to his knees across from me. “This is lambs’ quarters, this is bindweed, this here is baby dock weed, I think . . . I don’t know what this is, but it’s not spinach,” he said with more weed-authority than I expected from him. “This is spinach,” he said, carefully pinching a spinach leaf. I was impressed.


We immediately launched into conversation. Mack set the topics. He started by asking me if I knew about how leeches reproduced (um, no) and then he explained the phenom to me; quickly we moved into the topic of the periodic table and our favorite elements; then–ignited by seeing some vultures fly overhead–he explained how turkey vultures cool themselves while flying (trust me, you don’t wanna know); and finally he launched into why (a pet rant of his) on earth Pluto and Eris aren’t recognized as planets. He got heated at this last one. He always does. His mouth was moving faster than his agile little weeding fingers.

“You’re good at weeding,” I observed.

“Just don’t tell anybody,” he growled. “I don’t want people to know.”

“Oh, why would I tell anybody?” I asked, innocent. He looked up at me. “I can just hear you telling Dad, and then he’ll say something mushy about me growing up,” he said. “I hate that.”

“Oh. Okay. Gotcha.”

(I’ll protect his image, for now, so, gentle readers, keep this under your hat: Mack is good at weeding. But you didn’t hear it from me.)


Possibly it was the cat who spilled the beans.

TTFN, lovely folks.


8 thoughts on “Cotton Day; reproduction of leeches; cooling of turkey vultures; Eris

  1. Claudia

    Thank you for the education on Cotton Day. I noticed recently how messy the air was around certain trees, little did I know to celebrate it, being from the West and all.

  2. Chef William Chaney

    I must agree on limiting some things while allowing freedom to grow. Video games on a bring and sunny day is truly a waste of time and does no go. Later in the day, after the dinner dishes are done perhaps, an hour or two on the games should be enough. I was wondering how you would like Mexico if you and your family every got down here but I see you have mastered the hammock so not to worry, that’s step one of a two step program. The second step is walking to the ocean for an early morning dip. You’ll need to wait a bit for that one. Is the kitchen remodel complete? Seems like Bryan is pretty busy.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I’m pretty sure I would LOVE Mexico, especially that early-morning dip business. Any time we have a chance to go to a beach for a vacation, I am on the beach. I actually believe that I was born to be an islander (or a coast-dweller) but some strange twist of fate dumped me here in the middle of the country, where I’m happy (no doubt) but where I still long for the sea. Yep Bryan is busy, and the kitchen remodel inches along, bit by bit. Pity that poor guy has to sleep now and then. 😉

  3. gene gage

    Amy – Our Cotton Days were just a bit ahead of yours. Must be because we are 10 miles south and twenty miles east of you. You know, closer to the tropics. I have four cottonwoods as old and large as yours on the west and south sides of the greenhouse where I grow the lettuce and other greens. When it gets above 100° in that greenhouse, the big exhaust fans kick on and the outside air is sucked in the vents and windows on the south end and hot indoor air expelled on the north end. And on Cotton Days, guess what else gets sucked in – millions of cotton fluffs! And they literally pile up on the floor in drifts, like snow. We have to sweep them up because if they get wet, they become a slippery slimy coating on what is already a pretty slick greenhouse floor. I know – I’ve slipped and fallen on them several times.

    But no never mind about the downside of cottonwoods. I totally love the trees, grew up with them on the farm in the Frenchman Valley, and regard them as the ultimate natural symbol of our crazy state. In the 15 years we’ve been out here on the prairie I have propagated at least 25 cottonwoods from soft wood cuttings and transplanted them here and there on our property. So that folks in my grandkids’ generation will experience Cotton Days for another hundred years.

    Your comments about raising a little boy are spot on too! Little Mack is one lucky boy! Chores and all! You’ve heard my rants about the 20-somethings who come to work for me who have never learned that work is a way to earn the means to do the fun stuff, let alone that honest work is fun in itself.

    Keep up doing exactly what you’ve been doing. The first five to pass through your care and nurturing are certainly doing just fine out there in the real world!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Oh wise propagator of cottonwood trees: will you teach me how to do this? And I love this part of your comment: “I regard them as the ultimate natural symbol of our crazy state.” What could be more entertaining that a cottonwood tree? Well, maybe a ten-year-old boy. 🙂

  4. Connie Stahl

    I loved this post! We had a huge, old Cottonwood tree that grew in the backyard of the house where I grew up. I fell asleep to the rattle of its leaves every night in the Summer. Now my Cottonwoods grow up on the ridge where i can’t hear them at night but I love to watch the way the sunlight sparkles on their leaves on a breezy day. It is poignant to watch our kids grow up. You never get the days of their childhood back. I remember the day my last son moved out on his own. I thought,”That really was fun. Why was I in such a hurry?” Savor every moment!

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