Friday, May 13, 2016

Angels Have Wings



"Heads up. The kids aren't doing so well with the idea of Gran's house being sold."

"Did they say why?"

"I didn't ask."

I sighed internally and made a mental note to delve deeper. It's how our method of co-parenting works. He gives me a heads up. I take the kids on a long drive and ask questions, praying I'll know how to handle the answers.

-----

"Daddy said you're not happy with selling Gran's house."

"I'm not," Elizabeth said, her jaw firm in her displeasure.

"It's a lot of changes, honey." I glanced in the rear view mirror at Joseph. He stared out the window at the passing houses, his expression closed. "Is there a reason it makes you unhappy?"

"It's Gran's house," Elizabeth said as if I'd asked what that yellow orb in the sky was. "Where is she supposed to go?"

"Does she still visit you?"

"All the time."

"Do you chat?"

"All the time."

I searched my mind for answers, ideas in how to help a little girl coping with the loss of her beloved great-grandmother. I stalled for time. "What about you, Joe?"

I stole another look. He shrugged, still staring out the window. "I'll miss her if we leave."

"You visit too?"

That got his attention. He turned to meet my eyes in the mirror in surprise. "Of course."

Silly me, thinking something as mundane as death would keep Gran from her babies. "Don't worry," I said with more authority than I felt. "We'll figure it out."

I looked at the two of them over my shoulder as I pulled into our driveway and gave an encouraging smile.

-----

I'm not certain what happens after we die. Sometimes I'm jealous of those with such spiritual surety, envying the confidence with which they say they will see their loved one again. I don't think, though, that it's the end and I have enough of the dreamer in me to believe in fairies and magic and spirits.

I don't doubt that my children communicate with their Gran, that she is still as present for them now as she was when she lived. I think, sometimes, as we grow up we begin to view the world as consisting of only those things we can see, feel, and touch and forget the flexibility we had as children.

But I still wasn't sure how to help them because, internally, I too wondered if Gran was tied to her home. When I reached out to Angela and Cam for advice, Angela said something that clicked, "Angels have wings. They can go anywhere."

It was one of those forehead slapping moments. An answer so simple it had eluded me.

-----

"You know...Gran has wings."

"I don't see them," Elizabeth said, her head tilted.

"They're probably folded up," Joseph told her wisely, "Like in Percy Jackson."

"It means she can go anywhere." I told them.

Both kids grinned.

-----

"I had lunch with Gran at school today."

"Really? That's wonderful."

"Uh-huh. Analeia and Viddy weren't at school today and I was sitting next to my other friend and no one was in the other seat so Gran sat with me."

"Did she chat with you?"

"No," she plopped on the couch next to me. "She was quiet, but Gran is almost always quiet."

"That's just how she is, Elizabeth. She's that way with me too."

-----

The house is nearly empty, the debris of life slowly disappearing. Some to thrift stores, some to family, some to be trashed. I picture Gran on the couch, her hands shuffling photographs. I remember holding one by its worn edges. She was sitting in the sand, squinting at the sun. Next to her two young boys stood, bare chested. She was tiny, perfect in her Marilyn Monroe one piece. Her dark hair was held back from her unlined face with its shy smile.

Joseph is right. Gran is almost always quiet.

I'm glad she has wings and my babies haven't really lost her.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Ten Years...

Ten years ago, I lay in a hospital bed, swollen and groggy, pumped full of Ketamine and morphine. I stared at a blurry Polaroid of a baby. At least, I thought it was a baby. Pale yellow tones against a dark background suggested the idea of a face, eyes, a mouth. I pressed my hand to my stomach, certain my baby was still there, still kicking and pushing against my hand, but there was nothing.

Chad wandered in and out of the room, a dazed smile on his face. Family visited, my sisters frowning over hair matted by thirty-six hours of labor and an emergency surgery. They braided my rusty colored hair, rubbed my feet through the warm blanket, and repeated that yes, that was my baby.

Twenty-four hours after he was born, I gently lifted myself into a wheelchair and made my way to the NICU where he waited, the biggest baby in the ward. He was perfect and I cried in relief and joy.


How can it be ten years since that moment when I tucked his tiny body against my heart? I look at Joseph, my Joe, and am awed that I'm his mother. I wonder how on earth someone so amazing came from someone so...ordinary.

I sat at my computer for an hour, trying to find the right words for this birthday post. It's not that they fail me, it's that they come in gushing, prideful waves. I used to do posts about his milestones, his funny little saying, his laugh and, while he still has a giggle that makes me grin and a sense of humor sharpening by the day, the milestones are more subtle; less the black and white typed list handed to me by his doctor and more glimpses of the man he's becoming.

He's still a little boy, snuggling up to me on the couch, though more often than not, our heads bump while he wraps his arms around me. He's five inches shorter than I am, his feet still puppy overgrown and showing he's got a ways to go yet. His long body fills the love seat, his hands and arms easily carrying heavy grocery bags from the car.

He's kind.

So very kind.

I wonder, if we were different, if his upbringing was different, if he'd be a minister, a preacher, a priest. No. Not a priest. Because he wants kids, this boy of mine. He's certain he's going to be a great father and I'm equally sure he's right.

I watch him play with Holden, patiently waiting for an almost-five-year-old to catch up, adjusting his stride, leaning down to talk. When he knows he's going to be over, he flips through his books, looking for just the right one to read to him.

He loves his baby cousins, gushing over their cheeks and blue eyes, calling them the cutest in the world until the lure of Benny and games to be played pulls him away.

At his sister's tee ball games, he likes being the third base coach, standing next to his dad with his hands on his hips, and fist bumping the runners as they touch the base. They grin at him, looking up to the big boy who gently encourages them. Between innings, he sits next to me on the blanket, reading his book, looking up to cheer for the batters.


His gentle spirit and kind soul are balanced by a sense of humor that borders on the irreverent and frequently dips into wit. There's not a day that goes by that he doesn't surprised a laugh out of me with a dry aside, a punny quip, a sarcastic comment.


In some ways he's so young with his undaunted belief in Santa and the Tooth Fairy mixed with pity for those who don't believe. And in other ways, he's wise. Wiser than I was at his age and wiser than I am now.

He argues against trying to capture lizards and snakes, making the point that scaring them is unkind and that they are better left to enjoy their lives. He struggles with loving ribs because "they're so delicious" and knowing a pig had to die so he could have his dinner. He hates when he sees reports of sharks being killed, sighing and saying, "They were in their home. They're just being sharks. They shouldn't have to die for it."


When it comes to people, his heart is even bigger.

Recently he bought a friend a school lunch because the boy had forgotten his own. He confessed, asking if I was mad that he'd spent double for lunch. I told him I'd never be angry at him for helping someone else and then wondered out loud why his friend hadn't had a lunch. He replied he hadn't asked because, really, it doesn't matter why.

And when he discovered there was a boy who didn't like him, he shrugged and said it didn't matter. "That's his opinion and he can have it. I like me a lot."

He wears confidence like a comfortable jacket. Whether he's unlocking the magic at California Adventure in front of thousands or lounging in a camp chair reading a book in the shade of an oak, he's at ease with himself and the world around him.


Do you see what I mean about the gush? The torrential maternal pride?

I know children are to learn from their parents, but I learn from him. Every day. And every day, I thank God, the Universe, whatever fate was at work, that I get to live my life with Joseph and I somehow, someway, am his mother.

Happy birthday, my sweet, dear Joe. We are so lucky you're ours.




Sunday, April 10, 2016

Lilacs in the Morning

When I was twelve, we moved into the house across the street. Built in 1892, it featured stained glass windows, a skeleton key for the front door, and a living room big enough for my younger sisters to skate across the hardwood floors. In the back yard, tucked behind the laundry room and hedged in by boxwood where wild raspberries grew was a lilac tree.



Winter in the rainy Northwest wasn't the brutal wasteland of the Midwest and it didn't require the endurance of the Northeast. Instead it was a series of cold, rainy days that made us all long for a hint of sunshine, a bit of warmth. Snow fell on occasion and brightened the gray until it was turned to muddy slush and the rain continued.

In a place where green surrounds you year around, the tender sprouts poking above the soil in early spring went unnoticed until they burst into blooms. Brilliant yellow daffodils, royal irises, pastel hyacinths, and the tiny blossoms on the lilac tree. My mom filled the house with flowers as soon as they could be cut using garage sale vases and water glasses. Though the skies remained overcast, a fire burned in the fireplace, the rain continued to fall, and the weather barely nudged up, I knew spring was finally here.

The first spring, I followed my mom's lead and cut lilacs for my bedroom. I set them on my desk next to the ancient typewriter where I painstakingly tapped away at my stories. They were pale against the Pepto pink walls - the result of mixing my own paint with a can of red and three cans of white - their scent a sweet perfume almost cloying.

As the days lengthened and got warmer, I kept the lilacs on my desk, letting their fragrance transport me to a forest where Pan chased a nymph who turned herself into lilacs. In the language of flowers, they are innocence, the harbinger of spring, first love. For an overly romantic girl who lived mostly in her head, they were ball gowns and waltzes, a handsome stranger asking her to dance.

Always spring.

When I moved to California, I found lilacs but, with their delicate blossoms and love of cooler weather, they were fleeting, blooming in brilliantly sweet swaths just as the apple trees blossomed and then dying before the last of the white apple petals could fall.

Gran's house boasts five lilacs, their height reaching far above my head, and their branches dripping with blooms. Her house sits quiet and empty most of the week, only to be filled with activity on the weekends. Soon, it will be sold and the lilacs will belong to someone we don't know. Yesterday, I dropped strawberries off for the kids - a more Californian sign of spring - and paused before getting back into my car. Elizabeth and I walked to the flowers and began picking them, some for Gran's house and some for mine. When we finished, we had armfuls of the flowers. We kissed each other in the way she likes - first rubbing noses, then bumping foreheads, finally kissing pursed lips with a satisfying smack - and I came home, putting the flowers in an empty jar.

My home is filled with flowers, their bright colors collecting in garages sale vases and pretty water glasses. In a mason jar, on the corner of my desk next to the laptop where I tap away at stories sits a bouquet of lilacs, their intoxicating smell transporting me to a Pepto pink room and a girl dreaming of the future.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Connecting in Disconnection

I've wanted to camp at Kirk Creek ever since I drove past it nearly two decades ago. Perched on the edge of a jutting cliff and surrounded on three sides by ocean, it could be one of the most breathtaking locations to stop and pitch a tent in California.

Which is why it's virtually impossible to book.

Somehow - likely because it was February - someway - probably because I kept hitting refresh until the booking site opened - we got in and it was as perfect as I'd imagined.


I love camping with my kids. Truly. I love exploring nature with them, roasting marshmallows over a campfire, spending lazy afternoons reading or playing board games. I love spending time with them away from the distraction of the internet, the flickering light of the television. I love watching their faces as they discover the perfect flower on the side of the trail or watch a hawk circle high above. I love zipping them into their sleeping bags, leaving a lantern lit as the sound of crickets and frogs lull them to sleep. I love knowing they will one day sit at a campfire and share memories of childhood trips with their own little ones just as I tell them of epic bike rides to Coffinberry Lake and the cement block batteries scattered along the coast.

But...

Camping without kids?

That's a whole new ballgame of rest and relaxation fueled by grapefruit Schofferhofer and sparkling Prosecco, silent afternoons, strenuous hikes, marathon card games, and long nights of deep sleep without feeling the need to get up and make sure their little bodies are still warm and snug in their bags.


Kirk Creek, I discovered, is a Disney campground. Warnings of bears and mountain lions are replaced by fat wild bunnies dashing into burrows and tortilla chip stealing squirrels. Poison oak is a distant memory as wild lilies and deep purple dianthus covered emerald green grass. The ocean lulled us with crashing waves while at night, the moon rose over the hillside, a plump glowing pearl.


We hiked Mill Creek during the day, scrambling over boulders and fallen trees like children. We dipped our hands in the icy waters of a creek greedily engorging its banks after a long drought. We found the poison oak, it's sly leaves hiding and waiting for inattention. Along the path, wild strawberries and blackberries promised summer while mint and sage scented the air.


We drank our caffeinated beverages of choice while feasting on freshly made beignets. We laughed until our sides hurt and our cheeks ached. And I wrote.


I sat in the tent and wrote the last few pages of the last few chapters of a book that's taken me the last few years. I enjoyed the silence, the peace, and the cold air nipping at my flannel covered body. I snuggled under the down comforter and held my notebook steady while my pen flew across the pages.

It was, in a word, perfect.


I used to love to camp - if you know me in real life or have followed this blog for the eight or so years I've kept it, you know I used to camp all the time. When my marriage ended, I kept the gear, storing it in the garage with the hope to use it again sometime. This year seems to be that sometime. With a trip last July, I set in motion a series of excursions that will result in a ridiculous number of camping trips before the end of the year.

I keep meaning to write about them, to put them in this space on the internet so I will be able to look back and remember the who, what, and where. I might go back and write about the trips already taken - New Year's Eve, Ventana, our first grown-up trip. Or I might just keep writing about the ones planned: the Pinnacles, Pfieffer Big Sur, the Indians, Danish Days. But if you don't see me, it's likely because I'm spending the weekends under the stars with the people who populate my life, disconnection allowing true connection.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Jimmy and his Wife

I noticed their tent first. In a campground populated with brightly colored nylon, the pale canvas against the brilliant green hillside proclaimed it to be the home of camping purists. The ends of the awning stretched between guylines flapped in the light breeze as the poles stood sturdy and straight. I could imagine it being used by a surveyor or a general on the march, at home on a sand dune or in a forest.

By the time we strolled past, it was late afternoon. A man and a woman sat in padded camp chairs, their feet resting on plastic milk crates, books in their hands. He held a Costco size container of mixed nuts, his Air Force baseball cap shielding his eyes. She was barefoot, her toes stretched towards the sea while the rest of her was bundled under a long sleeved shirt, scarf, and hat.

Unlike other campsites, theirs was practically barren with only a lonely can of Dinty Moore stew on the otherwise empty table and a knotted plastic bag with colored pencils and a coloring book indicating they would be doing more than watching the sun set over the Pacific.

"We love your tent!" Tara shouted to them.

They looked up from their respective books, setting them aside. "Would you like to check it out? Feel free," they invited with the Midwestern hospitality their license plate promised.

I wandered up the slight incline and peeked into the cozy enclosure. Two cots flanked the door, a table in the middle holding a lantern and more books while above it, a loop of fabric secured a handful of colorful scarves.

I wandered back to where they sat, proclaiming my admiration for their simple set up. They grinned and started to tell us their story.

Jimmy and his wife - who was never introduced but I like to think of as Claire - are in their mid-80s. When we met them, they were on the third week of a six week camping trip and had been watching the sun set over the Pacific from their perch for nearly a week. They had traveled from Indiana, spending weeks camping in the snow and cold before finally hitting the coast.

Tech savvy, they pulled up pictures on their iPhones and showed us grandchildren and the newest member of the family: their first great-grandchild. They laughed at how Jimmy, once a long distance truck driver, could never stay in one spot long and how his wife, once a stay at home mom who had given birth to their first child while he was playing basketball across Europe for the Air Force, had started joining him after the kids left home.

They'd been married for fifty-seven years. He teased it was due in part to her being deaf for twenty-four of those years. "Cochlear implant!" she said with a grin and tapped the tube partially hidden by her cap.

"I can't tell her her butt looks big anymore without getting a black eye," Jimmy said with a wink and a smile towards his petite wife.

They told us of their plans - Bryce Canyon, Colorado, Florida, Alaska. He told me of the motorcycle accident four years ago when he thought he was going to lose her again - the first time being when she battled breast cancer.

I watched the two of them together and wondered what it must be like to know someone for such a long time, to know their every secret, every strength, every weakness. They laughed and teased each other like children. Her eyes rolling while he giggled over what he thought was a particularly witty remark. Logically, I know there must have been fights and loneliness when he was gone for months. Logically, I know they may have even hated each other sometimes. But, something in the sparkle of his eyes and the lines around her mouth tells me that they spent more time laughing than fighting.

We said goodbye and walked back to our campsite after nearly an hour. As we sat down to play cards while the chile verde simmered in a Dutch oven. My mind kept drifting back to Jimmy and his wife who are spending their 80s sleeping on cots in a canvas tent and traveling down windy roads, their adventures far from over.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Earthquakes


We had an earthquake last night. It wasn't very big by any standards, clocking it at a M3.4, but with an epicenter only eight miles away, we felt it.

I heard the rumble, the rattle of glasses, and stood from my desk calling out for Joseph to meet me in the square space between our bedrooms and the bathroom that we've jointly decided was the safest during the drills Joseph makes us run. Elizabeth was curious and calm. Joseph was not.

In tears, he told me the top bunk had swayed and he'd been worried it was going to fall. He sobbed in my arms as I sat on the floor, legs braced between the two walls though the quake had ended almost as soon as it had begun.

I rubbed his back while explaining that it was not the biggest earthquake he's ever been in; he has just always slept through them. I kissed the top of his head and told him that in a normal situation, I wouldn't have even left my desk, but that I thought it was a good idea to put his drills into practice. I snuggled him until he stopped crying and then explained that it was scientifically impossible for him to be afraid of earthquakes. He is California born and bred. He wears flip flops and shorts in December. He loves avocados and green smoothies. He says dude.

He laughed at that.

We spent a few minutes trying to vote on the worst place to be during an earthquake. Sitting on the toilet won hands down, with in the shower coming in second. I explained that we can't stop life because there might be a quake. We need to use the toilet and take showers and not be afraid the ground might move beneath us.

After I got them tucked into bed, I started thinking about how much that applies to life. There is no question that there are quakes on the horizon. The only question is how big and what sort of damage it might cause.

My mom used to tell me that I could die in the living room so I might as well enjoy life and go out and do the things that scare me. Now while that advice is likely not the best to give to a ten-year-old girl with an overactive imagination who would spend the next three decades obsessively locking the door to her house and staring warily at overhead lighting fixtures, she had a good point.

We can't live life in fear, anticipating earthquakes.

Today, I kissed my gingers goodbye with fear in my heart. They're going on a field trip to see a play and I'm heading in the opposite direction for three days of kid-free camping on a cliff overlooking the Pacific.

The number of things that could go wrong as we hurtle through space clinging to this rock are legion: earthquakes, wildfires, alien abduction, broken hearts. But we can't live in fear or we won't live at all. We just have to smile and move forward, knowing that when the quakes hit, we can brace ourselves against the wall and ride them out, clinging to those we love.