Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Road Trip: We Heart Weed

When we were in our early 20s, Melissa and I - along with our friend Katrina - made a couple of road trips to Washington to visit our parents. We left after we got off work in the early evening hours and drove straight through the night, stopping three or four times for gas, food, and bathroom breaks. We usually arrived in Cathlamet shortly after breakfast, exhausted, but not nearly as much as we'd be if we tried to attempt the same trip in our late 30s and early 40s. We were, after all, used to being out all night and wandering bleary eyed into work with only a shower and a strong cup of caffeine to get us through the day.

The joke was, of course, that I usually took a Dramamine and fell promptly asleep in the backseat for five or six hours making me the worst road trip partner of anyone we knew.

This time, though, the only ones taking Dramamine were the kids and I didn't have a friend to jump in the driver's seat when I started to get tired.


We left the Sacramento valley behind us and started north on I5.

I have a very deep love of Interstate 5. When I was growing up, it was the main thoroughfare between our house and my aunt's. It was what connected me to my family when I moved to California and, as they followed me down here, it became the vein connecting us still. Whether they lived in LA or San Diego, I always knew I just needed to jump on the 5 and it would deposit me into their lives.

The 5 is familiar to me, reassuring in its wide, high speed way. But this time we were going to veer off its path and take a new road through the mountains and dipping into the valley of the Cascades. And the divergence started in Weed.


The buildings and manicured walls gave way to fields of sunflowers pointing their golden heads to the sky. We drove through farmlands and empty spaces filled with more Harry Potter. We took bathroom breaks - too many - until, finally, lulled by the sunshine, Elizabeth fell asleep in the back, her head resting on her big girl booster while Joseph fought to keep his eyes open and his imagination at Hogwarts. "Pause it, Mama," he finally said sleepily. And so I did.

I turned off the book and turned on the music letting Adele and Ruth B. keep me company while farmland slowly turned to tree-covered hillsides. Mt. Shasta rose from the valley floor, impossibly far away and then, somehow, it wasn't. It towered to my right, its peak partially covered in snow as we twisted our way through the foothills to Weed.


We'd decided to make Weed our lunch stop. I wasn't sure what there was, but the map showed a sparsely populated route after it. Road construction and slow traffic meant it was going to be a late lunch and an even later arrival in Bend.

There are all sorts of amazing apps to help plan a road trip. Apps that make finding a spot to eat or to stretch your legs easy. Apps that promise vistas and delicious food, perfect spots to sleep, and the best place to find a haunted site. The problem, I discovered as the kids snored in the back seat, is that on a solo adult road trip, I couldn't actually access those apps unless we stopped.

Which meant we were going to have to rely on a little bit of luck.

We pulled into Weed and parked the car outside a souvenir shop. I woke up the kids and got out of the car cursing the hereditary bad hips and knees. I limped to the back of the car and, while I was stowing away my purse and grabbing my camera, chanced a look up. When in the shadow of a mountain, the views can't help being majestic.

We walked down the main street, my hip slowly loosening until I stopped resembling a range rider after a four week cattle drive. We were hungry. The snacks we'd packed hadn't been a substitute for a real meal and right in front of us was a kitschy cafe promising meatloaf sandwiches and breakfast served all day.


We walked into the tiny restaurant, nearly getting run down by the waitress with plates lined down her arms. I pulled Elizabeth back and she said, "I've got nine of them at home. I know how to dodge a kid." I grinned and decided it was absolutely the spot for lunch.

It was simple food, but the cucumbers were crisp, the tomatoes were sweet, and the sweet potato fries perfect. We watched the regulars chat with the waitresses from our seats at the counter. We took a moment to look at the pictures the kids had taken on my cell, to enter an address into the map, and for me to sip my soda and let the caffeine restart my brain.


We wandered out by way of the gift shops. I said no to the tie-dyed shirts proclaiming its wearer's love of Weed and herded the kids back to the car. We were about to start on a stretch of unknown road that would lead us into Oregon.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Road Trip: Driving into the Night

The sun was low in the sky as I passed Gilroy. Elizabeth sat in the back seat watching a movie while Joseph and I listened to Harry Potter. Buildings flew past as I shifted into cruise control. One thought flashed repeatedly through my mind.

This isn't a good idea.

I'd been up since just before six and spent almost ten hours at work before loading the car and kids and heading north. Hundreds of miles stretched out before us and hours of driving.

There used to be a VW commercial that on the road of life there are passengers and there are drivers. The ad was aimed at the drivers, showing twisted roads and a sleek car hugging the curves. To me, it confirmed what I always knew.

I'm a passenger.

Traffic stresses me out, windy roads make my shoulders hunch, cliffs make my knuckles white. I'd much prefer to be sitting to the right of the driver, looking out the window than staring at the white and yellow lines.

Which is why 120 miles into a 1,900 mile solo road trip with the kids made the orange "Caution: Bad Decision" light blink in my head.

But I'm a stubborn sort, so I just kept driving north, telling myself I only need to reach the Bay Area and that a road trip would look better after a good night's sleep.

We were staying with a friend - though one I'd never met - for our first night. Amy had offered fresh sheets, clean towels, and a chance to meet in real life. We pulled into her driveway late, both of our kids awake far past their bedtimes and energized to an almost manic level. We weren't much different. Our words tumbled over each other as we tried to stuff years of online friendship into minutes before we all needed to go to bed; it was a work night for her and I wanted to be on the road early.

The morning was rushed: press of hugs, promises of proper time together, hurriedly packed snacks, waves goodbye.

In the light of day with a new road in front of us, the doubts of the night before were a memory and the knowledge that I'd be spending that night in Oregon with a friend I hadn't seen since high school graduation spurred us on.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Compass Points North

The gingers and I are embarking on a road trip this weekend. Leaving after work, the plan is to point the car north and continue on until we knock on the front door of our friends, the Byrums.

There will be stops along the way, overnight visits with blogging friends and high school classmates, people I've never met and those I haven't seen in 23 years. There's a scary sort of exhilaration at play, a sense of jumping out into the unknown, gingers in tow, and landing someplace that still feels like home.

The bloggy friends I'll meet know me. We are creatures of the writing world, sharing the same deep hopes, the same fervent dreams, expressing ourselves in words and witty bits.

The high school friends I'll see knew me. They knew the painfully awkward and shy girl I was. They knew the teenage facade of indifference. They knew the girl who formed the woman I am.

I plan on taking the kids to my hometown, population 538. I sent out a message on Facebook, that brilliant site that has provided a tether to my past. I should be able to see a few of the people I went to school with, a half dozen at least, I hope.

It's amazing that I've not seen them. We've kind of slacked off on the whole reunion thing. I never heard if there was a ten year and the twenty year wasn't really possible for me to attend. I see them all on social media, follow their families on trips, cheer when their children graduation, smile as they find love, and ache as they lose those they care for.

I was always a bit outside during high school. With the hindsight of an adult two decades past, I think maybe that's just how everyone feels during those years. Six months after I left home, I returned. For the first time, my phone rang and a boy was on the other side inviting me to join those classmates who had wandered home at a party to catch up with how things had been going in the great wide world.

My parents being who they were said no and me being who I was, respected their wishes. After all, I was in their home and the obedience of childhood was still strong.

I wonder, sometimes, what would have happened if I'd have gone to that party. Would I have reconnected as an adult? Would I have exchanged numbers and addresses, perhaps building a stronger relationship with my past? Would those stronger relationships have pulled me back when, two years later, I found myself adrift with no anchor?

When I left home, I left my life. It wasn't intentional, it was just how things were then. We didn't have social media or even the internet to keep up with people. There were no cell phones, no way to keep touch with people who moved or left or changed addresses.

I was talking to my co-worker Val the other day. She grew up here, raised her children here. When we go out to lunch, she sees people she knows - teachers, classmates, family. I told her how amazing that must feel to be so connected. She said she didn't know any different because she never thought to leave and can't look back at a moment and wonder what if.

Maybe that's what I'm doing when I visit home. Maybe I look back and wonder..what if?

It's not that I don't love my life and the people in it or the relationships I've built, but...

Who would I be? Who would I have married? It's not a small what if; it's a life changing fixed point in time. I was faced with a divide in the road and the path I chose sent me so far from where I came that every bit of me has changed because of it.

And it's a long drive back.

We're going to meander with a vague idea of how far each day should take us. I'm excited. I'm nervous. I'm anxious to get started with our grand adventure.



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.