When it’s your birthday and you’re 67…
Don’t need a party.
Don’t need presents.
Don’t need to go out to dinner.
Don’t even need to book a massage.
Because everything I need and want, I have. I get to look at the ocean every single day. I have a laptop and journal and art materials and can document whatever inspires me. I get to dive deep or glide superficially. I have my amigos who love me, my three grown kids, their partners, four beloved grandchildren, my much-loved nieces and nephews, my dear friends, my Monet, my adored vehicles, my health, books, and music. Life really IZ Good these days.
Every single day is my birth day, a new beginning, a chance to renew, change course, see the world with new spectacles
Such a blessing today is, to be loved and cherished from the beginning which, my mother reminded me every birthday while she was alive, was an unnaturally hot day in Lawndale, California. I was born a post War II, 1956 wanted daughter. My parents’ glistening eyes prove it. Cradled in the sink by my exhausted, but effervescent L&M-smoking, permed-hair mother, was big-smile, rosy-cheeked me. Chubby, vibrant, and happy, so I was told. I loved to entertain, dance, sing, make-believe, invite everyone to the party. All the strays. All the wounded, and the popular kids too.
My beginning was magic.
Trees to climb (and fall down from).
Quinn’s Dairy milk deliveries. Helms Bakery chocolate doughnuts.
Gutters to sail Barbie dolls down.
A metallic blue Sears bike that turned into a galloping horse.
A PV-stone embellished playhouse built by my carpenter dad.
Giant goldfish. Our calico, Miss Penny. Frog-pets. A pond. A tiki patio.
The rotisserie barbecue.
Swanson foil TV dinners and those gold-flecked, rose-stenciled fold-up trays from the Blue Chip Stamp store.
The green screen black-and-white Philco TV console.
Silver tinsel Christmas tree and all-blue lights. Modern. American.
My entire world. It was a good one, for me, a little pig-tailed, freckled nose rascal.
My sister was born when I was three. My cousin, three years older than me, would visit for weeks at a time during the summer and school holidays. Best buddies. Then, and now. We’re full–time roomies, hanging out in the apartment-by-the-sea. They share the one bedroom; Princess Bevie has the queen bed, my sister’s on the air mattress at the foot of the bed, and I sleep on the floor in the living room next to Monet. It’s a sweet life. Not the one any one of us imagined, but absolutely kind of cool and different and perfect.
I’m still in my pajamas and it just turned noon. See what I mean?
The sun decided to peek through the clouds in time for me to go for a birthday swim before picking up grandson-friendly goodies the boys will nosh on while the grownups slurp my homemade potato soup, kale salad, bread, cheese and, of course, some wine. What is the birthday girl’s favorite foods? The meal I just described: simple, healthy, and made with love.
When it’s your birthday and you turn 67, what you want most in life is for those you love, both near and afar, to cherish the day because it’s beautiful and hopeful and a gift.
Birthdays ARE special no matter how old we get. Birthdays are a day to say, “Thank you,” and feel the origins of love.
My birthday gift this, and every year, is YOU. Your radiance. Your imagination. Your kindness, intelligence, humor, creativity, and patience. Your toughness, your tenderness, combined with your inner and outer beauty, brings light to the world.
You are such a gift to me and others. You have NO IDEA how much hope and strength you have gifted me throughout the years. You have given me courage. To start anew. To take an unexpected path. To show up. To be there. Always. You. YOU. You are my birthday blessing, today and always.
I can’t begin to tell you how much love, gratitude and admiration I have for you as you forge your own path, making the world better.
Thank you Xs 67 years.
Love, The Birthday Girl.
Just when I figure something out, ascend into the golden clouds of enlightenment, I get tested and climb into the dumpster like Jimmy McGill did in the last episode of “Better Call Saul”.
Life is gooey. That’s my reoccurring theme.
What I knew one day, was sure of, buzzed about, wrote about, was straight-spined million percent convinced of a mere 24 hours ago, is instantly shattered by an agitated text and fist-clenched phone call …
… if I allowed said communication devices to consume me.
And I did.
And I do.
And it’s clear
I will never be cured of the terrible Need to Save disease.
Not my monkeys. Not my circus.
Why does my brain know this, but my heart says otherwise?
Without going into details, a person I dearly care about, briefly, apparently, disowned me. Until I got a text pleading for help.
These are magic words to me. Save me. I jumped into action. Conducted research. Found leads. Worried. Fretted. Discussed. Aged, about a year, realizing that while I could help, I couldn’t solve the problem. Because it’s not my life. It’s that person’s reality. And until that person-–or any of us for that matter—deconstructs the reason the problem exists and decides—once and for all—to subsequently and systematically take the necessary steps to get better, then—duh—nuthing’s going to change. I’ve been dealing with this person’s vicious cycle of hope and promise, self-loathing, and regret, for decades. No pill, no giant bank account, no form of escapism, can fix the problem. The only cure is staring deep into the mirror and doing The Work.
Every. Single. Day.
This recent crisis is predictable. Lose a pound. Gain two. Let it go. Take it back. Wise one day, porcupine mess the next.
Stay the course. Eat healthy. Think healthy. Even though it looks like it’s not working, it’s working. Don’t give up.
Tests. Tests. Everything’s a test. As a teacher I hated giving tests and as a student I hated them even more. But these Life Tests are the pits.
When I go on my marvelous camping travels and hang out in Nature, everything seems so clear, so in control, so basic. I’m happy. At peace. And then I return and fall back into The Frenzy of Others. Everyone has a problem, a need.
My go-to response: Abandon self-care for others’ care, yearn to escape, return to a place where I’m surrounded by those who ask nothing of me other than for me to be me. The lightness of being. That’s what I crave.
For 24 hours, I tossed and turned, furrow-browed fretted, contacted experts; how can I solve the problem? I even spoke to Carlos, one of the maintenance wizards here at the Portofino, who noticed my worried faced and remarked, “My friend, you look like you’ve had a hard day.”
“I’m trying to help a friend,” I explain.
“Give it to Jesus,” he said. “That’s what He wants us to do.”
“You’re right,” I said. I forgot to pray.
I got back into the apartment and did just that. I sat on the balcony, closed my eyes, and asked for help.
The next afternoon, after spending the morning researching and forwarding possible leads to the person-in-need, I received a text explaining that the situation had changed for the better; an apartment, at long last, has been secured and may be available as early as this Friday. Thanks for your love and concern. I’ll be in touch.
Just like that. Wow.
The tension in my neck began to ease. Thank you, I said, closing my eyes.
Grateful for the turn of events, I decided to jump in the pool—my chapel by the sea—and swim and swim and swim until my spinning brain stopped spinning.
During lap 15, I remembered Carlos’ kind eyes and departing words: “We only have a finite time on Earth. Be careful how you use it, my friend.”
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know how much I love to end with a they lived happier ever after conclusion. Usually, I wait for the “lesson” to come to me as I write. But this time, this time, I realized that I’m not such a good driver of life. I get side-tracked by billboards, bad-for-my-health road snacks.
I wish I could say that I’ll never again allow myself to be consumed by other people’s drama, but that would be a lie. Shiny objects distract me from my real work: Growth.
I could block calls, texts, wait a week to respond. But running away, hiding out in a dumpster, is chicken. No scam, no double-speak, no avoidance, can outwit fate. Eventually, like Saul Goodman discovered, and The Clash sang about, I can try to fight the Law, but in the end, the Law’s gonna win.
My microscope these days zooms in and out with the speed of my unsatiable van’s fuel tank. I feel everything. See everything. The blue jay that feeds from Monet’s dog bowl, the bushy tail of the red fox weaving in and out of the damp, Oregonesque fauna here at Camp Site 60 .
Strange things are happening in the silence, in the aloneness. I crave discussion the same as I crave sitting in the hushed morning rain in my pajamas, on a Tuesday, sipping my cooling cup of Trader Joe’s java.
What will happen on this grey Tuesday that will somehow change my life?
I’ve lived so many other lives. And here I sit in the warmth of my van feeling like I’m in a Dream with No Agenda. What truths will this wide, open space reveal? Will Walt Whitman sit across from me, gift me his walking stick, and recite my favorite passage, I know not what it is, but I know it is within me? Will Mary Oliver take my hand as we walk across the creek and remind me of The Other Kingdoms?
Consider the other kingdoms. The trees,
for example, with their mellow-sounding titles:
oak, aspen, willow.
Or the snow,
for which the peoples of the north
have dozens of words to describe its
different arrivals. Or the creatures, with their
thick fur, their shy and wordless gaze.
Their infallible sense of what their lives
are meant to be. Thus the world
grows rich, grows wild, and you too,
grow rich, grow sweetly wild, as you too
were born to be.
How does one get there, to this wild and authentic place? Like refinishing a piece of old furniture, I suspect that one must strip away the layers, accepting the fact that the process is likely to get uncomfortable.
Accept the messy, that’s what I’m discovering. The confusion. The uncertainty. The possibility that you might be making a mistake, yet something inside you tells you, “It’s time.”
And then, on the other side, which is where I’m at now, I’m learning to trust the process and give myself time and space to just be. No TV. No Internet. No friends. No sugar. Just healthy stuff to cook. For moi.
No one but me, and the Lord above, can stop the noise, the chatter, the restlessness.
It’s a challenge. I constantly flee my thoughts because they almost always require work, be it a change of heart, direction, even a sense of purpose.
Recently, as in the last few days of solitude, I’ve experienced what’s on the other side of uncertainty: love.
My entire life I’ve been taught/told/constantly reminded that there was something wrong with me. The way I think. The way I look. My choices. My trunk load of naysayers are right: I am mighty flawed, just like the sloping, stretching oak tree that I’m looking at right now, an easy-to-ignore landscape accoutrement that refuses to stand straight in its quest for the sun.
This tree is me. And you. And our children, each of us cravers of acceptance and love. When things don’t go exactly our way, it’s crushing, stunting. Truth is, shattered limbs can’t be duct-taped back into place, but their brokenness does provide a canopy and sun-nutrients to the saplings below. The tree reminds me that my brokenness can lead to growth. I wish it weren’t true. I really do. Because feeling not good enough, unworthy, is debilitating.
There’s something immensely freeing to embracing my entirety, including my clumsy parts.
Changing subjects, but not really, my girlfriend Julie and I were talking the other day and realized—out loud—that as kids we were both fixers. I channeled my Fixerism toward wounded animals and guys I dated. Julie, God bless her, tried to fix her bruised family. Going forward, we both agreed, it’s time to work on ourselves by making better, healthier choices. One day at a time, as they say. Grand plans are important. But it’s the small steps that get us there.
And where is there? Here: Camping in Cambria with my devoted pup, having a cup of honey-sweetened mint tea, in a warm van, sheltered from the rain, reading a book, glancing up at the tumbling ocean and feeling humbled and grateful. In a week and a half, I will celebrate my 67th birthday. How lucky am I to grow older, wiser, and have this golden time to reflect? I get to put the pieces together and move on.
I started today’s journal entry sensing that somehow my life would change. Visiting with my friend of 57 years, astounded by her grace and the way in which she’s conducted her life, being in Nature, hanging out with my teacher-dog, is changing–present tense–my life. I’m an evolving, shaping, like a mound of clay.
An old song I used to listen to popped up on my iTunes, “Live Like a Warrior” by Matisyahu.
Your heart is too heavy from things you carry a long time
Been up you been down, tired and you don’t know why
But you’re never gonna go back, you only live one life
Let go, let go, let goooo
Let go, let go, let goooo
Today, today, live like you wanna
Let yesterday burn and throw it in a fire, in a fire, in a fire
Live like a warrior
Take a listen to the entire song. Maybe it will be your new anthem too!
It’s complicated. Predictable. Like phases of the moon.
The other day my second baby turned 43. The night before her birthday, I couldn’t sleep.
I kept flashing back to the morning she was born, how after our water bubble burst I tried to squeeze my legs together outside our 524 Juanita Avenue apartment to no avail; how angry I felt—but was too occupied to express—at her father’s reckless Mr. Wild Toad Honda Civic ride to the hospital; how glad I was he wasn’t in the delivery room to witness the birth of our daughter (he was in the parking lot doing who-knows-what for more than an hour).
I was glad he wasn’t there: It was a sign: We did it. The two of us–with the help of Dr. Claire McCann–giddy-upped a speedy, 9-pound 13-ounce delivery. Baby girl couldn’t wait to be born!
It was a glorious, triumphant accomplishment for me, a 23-year-old mother of a newborn girl and 2.5-year-old son.
Three weeks later, I put everything I could stack upon stack upon stack atop the snazzy-new brown-plaid tandem stroller and wheeled my babies to my parents’ home where they offered us refuge for the next two years. My heart was broken; life as a single parent wasn’t what I imagined for myself and my children, but it was clear I couldn’t fix the man or the marriage.
Like other pivotal moments throughout my adult life, change scared the bageebees out of me. I had no clue how I’d survive; I had no money, no job, no medical insurance, and still had a year left of college to finish. Leaving my children’s father was the hardest thing I ever did. But revelations about my ex’s secret life gave me no choice; for the sake of my children, I had to set a different course.
It was a struggle. Financially. Emotionally. I wasn’t equipped to raise two babies by myself. But I did the right thing, the hard thing, for the sake of my children.
While most moms have fond memories of those precious early years raising their kids, not me. While I loved them with all my heart, dealing with a bad dude ex-husband and the stress of finances, housekeeping, career, school, was just too much. I did my best to hold it together, but my patience often grew thin. I snapped. Too often.
In the middle of the night, on the eve of my daughter’s birth, regret consumes me, blocking out happy memories, of which there are many.
After collecting Welfare and Food Stamps for a month, I got a night shift at the local newspaper typing legal ads. My parents and sister, bless them, took care of my babies so I could work. They are safe. They are loved, that’s the most important thing, I told myself.
While my dream of a white picket fence, Ozzie and Harriet life vanished, my dream of becoming a journalist, even if it was a local one, was still possible. I was hired by a snaggle-tooth #MeToo lecherous managing editor and taken under the wings by another #MeToo slimy reporter-colleague. It was all creepy. Ask women my age what it was like living during the 1980s and chances are they all have stories about the price of “getting ahead”. It was shitty for women. Enough said.
I earned my journalism degree during my baby’s first 24 months and spent a semester interning at a couple of Los Angeles TV “news” stations, while holding down a full-time job, living with my parents, and tending to my brood. I was in my mid-20s, overwhelmed with single parenthood, but pieces of the puzzle started falling into place. After two years working at a small newspaper in San Pedro, I wangled my way onto the staff of a more prestigious newspaper where I worked with supportive editors and talented photojournalists who helped me discover my potential. Those were fertile, productive years in which I won a half dozen journalistic honors for stories about heroic individuals dealing with daunting challenges.
The gig was fulfilling. But after a decade, it was time for a change. I fell in love with a photographer colleague, got married, had baby girl No. 2, and experienced what it was like to raise kiddos with a kind-hearted spouse.
The fairy tale, however, was short-lived. My eldest daughter was just about to go into middle school. Regrettably, my focus was on the baby not my preteen, so expected jealousies ensued. I didn’t handle sibling rivalry well. The baby wasn’t sassy, but my eldest daughter was. She became harder to manage. Fights with her brother were explosive. I tried to seek family counseling, but such services were hard to find and expensive. It was all a gigantic mess.
The summer before high school, having failed 8th grade Reading Comprehension—a subject I would later teach—my eldest girl was diagnosed with dyslexia. Summer tutoring didn’t help. She was stubborn, resistant. Somehow, no doubt through her bubbly personality, she found a way to deal with her academic challenges and earned decent grades. But I blamed myself. I dropped the ball, didn’t identify, and rectify in elementary school, her learning challenge. How could I not realize that this immensely social girl was struggling in school?
That’s what kept me awake at night before my daughter’s 43rd birthday. All the ways in which I failed her. How, for more than 20 years, our relationship has been complicated, strained; it’s been hard to find an in-road, a path to healing, a way we can both be ourselves, thrive, and forgive.
Perhaps some people are unforgivable. Perhaps the crimes we do while being raised and raising others are so hurtful that there’s no room for redemption. I think of all the ways I hurt my children, parents, friends, former students, neighbors, ex-husband, the Nation, and sink into a state of worthlessness. So stupid. Why didn’t I know? Why didn’t I stop? Why didn’t I do better?
Then I wonder: Is this how my mother felt? Do other parents feel this way? Do our adult kids know how much we regret, feel sorry, wish we could take it back? Love them?
On the morning of my daughter’s birth, Jesus’ words fill my soul: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Feeling overwhelmed and grounded, I sit up in bed, open my eyes, and know that a burden has been lifted. Because, if this glorious man, this teacher, in His darkest hour, was able to transcend hatred and blame, so can I. I can show up, pray, listen, be thoughtful and kind and forgive others as I do unto myself.
Pretty profound. On the day of my daughter’s 43rd birth, I am determined to shake out the tent, pull out the stakes, and hit the metaphoric road. Bon voyage regret. This flawed, ruddy sojourner has miles to go before I sleep, which I intend to do, like my baby girl did the first time we met.
Complicated as our mother-daughter relationship has been, forever and always my baby she’ll be. As Willa Cather said, “Where there is love, there are miracles.”
Recently, I discovered this poem by Wallace Stevens. Hid images express my spiritual connection to the moon so well that I wanted to share it with you. Whatever phase of life you find yourself in, may the brush strokes of his words bring you hope and solace.
Lunar Paraphrase by Wallace Stevens
The moon is the mother of pathos and pity.
When, at the wearier end of November,
Her old light moves along the branches,
Feebly, slowly, depending upon them;
When the body of Jesus hangs in a pallor,
Humanly near, and the figure of Mary,
Touched on by hoar-frost, shrinks in a shelter
Made by the leaves, that have rotted and fallen;
When over the houses, a golden illusion
Brings back an earlier season of quiet
And quieting dreams in the sleepers in darkness—
The moon is the mother of pathos and pity.
I’m getting a suntan. Yep. Sun. Is out. And I am back. On the balcony overlooking the Marina.
A dad and son are kayaking past, fishing for something, enjoying this spectacular thermal blanket afternoon. The little boy, I’d say he looks about 10, just belted out an aria that echoed across and beyond the canal, prompting a duet-bark with the neighbor’s yappy Chihuahua mix. As the child’s melody melts into the dewy rainbow-horizon and the dog owner reprimands her feisty four-legged alarm, father and son climb out of the rental kayak and, just like that, the magic of an improvisational who-gives-a-damn concert is over.
I love these little Hitchcock “Rear Window” moments. Spying. Witnessing. Mason jar-capturing snapshots of firefly joy. Filling the canvas with pixelated polka dots, each representing a solar system of love. Be it the rowers paddling with Olympic ernst or a member of the Portofino Marina staff dropping off a package to an elderly tenant. Not in his job description, but Musician-Composer Ben goes out of his way because that’s what he does, “That’s how I was raised,” he modestly explains.
I’ve been thinking about so many things recently. About kind and not-so-kind people, about leisure time and how some folks insist upon it while others remain busy, busy, schedule-busy. Too busy for walks. Too busy for a swim. Too busy to read a book or watch an entire sunset. About how everyone’s a critic. Everyone reviews, has a publishable opinion that’s often mean-spirited. I think about our hairy, club-swinging ancestors, how unthinkable it would be to teardown a member of the tribe. Our cave-dweller relatives knew the importance of fortifying the skills and mental strength of family members. You know the old saying, “You’re only as strong as your weakest link,” well, our elder, elder, elders, knew that in order to survive, they had to build up rather than tear down.
It’s something to keep in mind. Tamping down the ego. Foregoing the need to chime-in, to be “right”. Hands up: guilty as charged.
But I’m growing.
Getting older, thank God.
Getting better, Halleluiah.
I’ve learned more about myself this Year of Great Change than any other time in my life. I’m figuring out my triggers and how to better address them. I’m trying not to self-harm by overeating or overdrinking. I’m trying my very best to understand that it’s OK to take things personally because that’s who I am. The trick is not dwelling on the nasty, the rude, and shifting my response to uncovering The Why? the backstory, the reason behind the reason. I’m trying to replace the, you A-hole, piece of sh–, with, bye-bye, may God be with you. Because—blast it from the loud speakers—YOU CAN’T CHANGE ANYONE BUT YOURSELF. Move on. Get better. Focus on moi.
I could go into psychoanalysis for the next decade to trace back why I’m so late to the—duh—party of Grand Realizations. But this, too, is going to slide off my arthritic back. Because my life span-piece-of-the pie is shrinking. I don’t have time for blame or regrets.
What I do have time for is the kind of self-reflection that moves me forward, that advances the conversation, that brings light to the day, a song in the air, sunbathing on the balcony in high 50s temps, and plans that involve future fun. Like Cambria in the Spring. Montana mid-summer. Like my daughters’ trip to SoCal in August. Like Fall camping in the Sierras. Like flying on a jet and going somewhere exotic late October. And returning to NYC in November to watch Baby Girl run her second NYC Marathon and celebrate Youngest Favorite Grandson’s second year inhabiting Planet Earth.
At my nephew’s recent surprise 50th birthday party, the sister of the party-thrower remarked on my way back to the car that I looked different. Maybe it’s your hair? Your glasses? “You look good,” she said. Mind you, she was quite tipsy, still, she insisted that something was different.
“I’m happy,” I told her. “That’s what it is.” It’s coming from inside.
These days, I smile in the car, rock out to 1970s music, and saturate myself with this spectacular balcony view, this incredible, changing, consistent, up-close relationship with the sea. And, I eat kale, lots of kale.
Happiness, I am learning, radiates, actually pulsates, like a sunny, late morning, like the leaping sea lion pups, like the pops of turquoise I’ve frosted our temporary abode with. When you turn your gaze to the sun, that sweet, uninhibited little boy’s song seeps into your soul and inspires you to pay attention; Life IZ Good.
Alice Walker reminded us in “The Color Purple” that, “Time moves slowly, but passes quickly.”
It’s a fact: My slice of Life Pie is shrinking. So, as The Carpenter’s crooned in their deliciously corny song, “Sing”, I intend to.
Let me set the scene: “Sleeping” on a mattress on the floor in a chilly New York apartment living room surrounded by a deflated unicorn, packed-and-ready double stroller, toddler kitchen set, playhouse, a bookshelf of shoes and outerwear, two scooters and a couple of toddler scooter toys, a cat who uses the night space as a Mario Andretti race track, and the next-room mother-in-law who dreams out loud and wakes up once or twice to pee.
At strange times throughout the night—11:41 p.m., 1:20 a.m., 3:03 a.m., 5:48 a.m. when my daughter wakes up, makes coffee, and prepares for work—I think about the partying teens on the corner, about why I bought, then ate, three Cadbury cream eggs, about whether or not I’ll buy a new camper van, about what it would be like to live in Kauai, about the troubling economy, about the best recipe for chia pudding, about organizing my storage unit when I get back, and all other topics related to The Meaning of Life.
Spanxed between love and chaos, I often find myself in this position when visiting my New York daughter and her wee ones. The environment and daily routines are predictable: Baby Zombies attack me soon after they wake up (about 4 a.m. Pacific Standard Time) and continue grenading me with affection until bedtime, about 8 p.m. These two, Millie who turned 3 yesterday, and Hudson, 16 months old, are vibrant, passionate, can’t-wait-to-discover asteroids, easily enchanted by crazy grandma’s ear-tickling “I love you” whispers.
Always, somehow, electricity zaps my red-eye exhaustion and sky-launches me across the shedding-black-lab-mix-Charlie-floor as I vanish into the babies’ sparkly world of Playdoh and Elsa and squeaky Minnie Mouse rotary dial conversations and Lucky Charm snacks and watercolor afternoons with Baby Mozart.
I’ve been here a week. Monday, I fly back to the seals and occasional dolphins and the deck overlooking the sunsets and marina. Back to Monet, who’s being well cared for by a wonderful dog sitter who hangs out with her twice a day, and my homies who love her up before and after work. My new temporary home feels like home although nothing in the dwelling, except clothes and a couple of pillows, towels, kitchen supplies, belongs to me. Just like staying at my daughter’s apartment. I’m temporary.
So I dive into this world, like I dive into my world back “home”, with a sense of tip-toe respect and awe. I imagine what it would be like to live here or back at the Redondo Beach apartment full time. Overlooking the sea? Or overlooking Queens in some kind of NY apartment around the corner from my Baby Zombies. Because as I sit here in the dark, having relinquished any notion that I can go back to sleep before my daughter leaves for work in Manhattan, and contemplate getting up and making a second cup of coffee before the Zombies wakeup, I am aware that this feeling is a pattern I ping pong with all the time: The Great American Straddle. Neither fully here nor there. Even when settled, I’m not.
Remember how cold it is. My frozen fingers. My ruddy cheeks.
I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing. It’s what I do, along with taking mental Remember it all snapshots.
Remember how hot it was yesterday at the Bronx Zoo when we visited the giraffe exhibit. Remember my sweet three-year-old barely tall enough to see over the rail as the stretch-necked, patterned giant nuzzled a tree-high bucket of straw. How amazed we all were at his batting black eye lashes and bat-swinging neck. “I want to touch, I want to touch,” Millie declared, obviously reading all our minds.
Remember the little boy’s pudgy hand when he held mine, the dimple-grin I must work for, but gets easier as the days go on.
Remember the make-believe games with the “Encanto” figurines and birthday unicorns and teacups and play foods blending together in the new Melissa and Doug blender from “Papa”, and dress-up princess wear, and everything everywhere all at once, joy and exhaustion, jumping on grandma’s floor mattress and cat and dog hair on the bottom of socks, and scrambled eggs and oatmeal and parceled-out glasses of wine.
Absorb the details, the feelings. The sounds. The rumbling of early morning traffic. The sparrows tweeting on the bird-food embellished balcony, delighted it’s finally Spring. The budding yellow, white, and pink trees and the popping daffodils. Katie’s and my matching grey flannel dog pjs. The new pair of blue New Balance tennis shoes I Amazon-ed to save my wary walking feet and nagging knee that miraculously accommodates my cramped toes and sagging arch. I can see/walk for miles and miles and miles … .
Maybe a half marathon, like my daughter ran last Sunday, or a bike ride through Central Park, or maybe my goal of hiking in the Sierras in the Fall, when all the frenzy of summer trips and babes in California adventure are iPhoned and Summer of 2023 albumed.
This life is spinning. The kids are growing. The flowers are blooming. Yes, it’s still raining in California as I type and in a few hours, also here in New York. We’ll stroller to the Queens Library after lunch, notice Easter decorations and New York’s vastly-different-from-where-I -live neighborhoods. I’ll do my best to savor—while responding to the needs of snack-devouring little ones—the moment so I can cherish it when I’m gone. All the tiny, chaotic, noisy, quiet, endearing rituals like Daddy reading to his babies when they wake up and go to sleep, the goodnight songs, “You Are My Sunshine”, “Twinkle, Twinkle”, “Baby Beluga”, that lull this young canoeing, paddling family into blissful slumber.
As the sun rises and the glow of my laptop fades, I can see that this imperfect cocoon, that is so hard for me to sleep in, is this family’s filled-to-the-brim paradise.
This family offers me their floor, their space, even creep around me in the dark on the way to work, so that I can experience for myself this growing garden that won’t be tender and young and innocent all that much longer.
As I used to tell my 90-year-old dad, “There’s plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead.” He would chuckle, then go back to his wheelchair snooze.
“No slumping,” I’d tease, handing him pen and paper so he could finish documenting his life story. There’s books to read and dances to dance and toes to tickle.
He never finished that story of his.
His life, while long, just wasn’t long enough. Still, he sits in the shadows next to me, reminding me to enjoy every moment, to love wildly, to look forward, not back, and “Be bold in your travels near and far.”
Here today, gone tomorrow, Dad used to say.
In a blink.
All at once.
In sickness and in health. ‘Til death do us part. I’m pretty sure I edited those lines out of my first wedding vows.
Given that I’d been divorced from a man I didn’t want to marry but was society and family-pressured into doing so to “validate” my “illegitimate” pregnancy, the second time I got married I knew there was no way I’d make that kind of promise. I won’t get into details, but my first marriage could have cost me my life had I not jumped ship soon after my second child was born. My second marriage, minus the vows in question, lasted more than two decades. We made our marriage work as long as we could because we got used to being dysfunctional. Thank God we never agreed to the obligatory vows or we never would have moved on.
It was, and is, hard to unfurl from unhealthy patterns. Whether it’s relationships or food or a destructive habit, it’s painful to change one’s ways and choose health over habit. Healthy people, those who grew up with a positive sense of self, probably don’t get it. But it’s one of those things those of us with unresolved childhood wounds suffer from; we tend to self-harm instead of self-respect.
Thankfully, I’m happy to report that after six decades and a handful of years trying to figure myself out, I’m finally learning how to be nicer to myself. Which, I’ve discovered, makes me feel physically healthier which is saying A LOT these days since I’ve been living in a cough, cough sick ward with a really cool view of the Redondo Beach Marina. My homies, my sister and cousin, have been hacking away with this nasty cold-thing since we got back from Barbados. No one is sleeping through the night which further exasperates their chronic post-nasal dripping, coughing and eye infection seeping condition. Fortunately, I have yet to come down with the junk that “everyone” seems to have.
I had a minor cold about four weeks ago, but my homies’ version of “the thing that’s going around” morphed into a monstrous brain-clogging submarine.
Could it be that after all those years working in a stagnant, petri-dish classroom that I built up a resistance?
Was their response to the common cold versus mine ignited by stress? Because these days—hear the trumpets blare—I’m stress-free. Not to be confused with worry because that’s part of my DNA. I worry about friends and family members; I worry about where I’m going to live while we wait for the Lunada Bay remodel to be finished. I worry about overspending. I worry about Monet.
Worry, however, is different than stress. Worry is a habit. Stress is a condition.
Cue in the bagpipes:
But both are treatable.
Pep talks help. I like to listen to podcasts. My favorites are hosted by Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and Conan O’Brien. They help me think about life from a new perspective, opening my mind to topics and people I never would have otherwise considered.
Books, magazines, other blogs also help. Right now, I’m reading “A Line Made by Walking” by Sara Baume. The story takes place in Ireland following the death of a quirky grandma and the unknowing impact she made on her granddaughter.
Watercolor journaling is also a de-stressor. I play with colors and words, ribboning them across the page without fear of judgment or evaluation. The same is true with writing. I blog to uncover. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, my words connect with another soul which makes me feel understood, which is validating.
Walking, swimming, being in Nature, listening to music, instantly, and almost magically, abracadabra’s away stress. Every. Single. Time.
While none of this is new or Earth-shattering, the fact that I’m learning to be good to myself is BIG.
Thank you, retirement. I get to relax, breathe, and no longer stress-out about students. Being a middle school, preschool, and college teacher for more than 20 years was such an honor and joy, but it was also taxing and stressful. Despite routinely logging-in twelve-plus hours each week outside paid classroom duty lesson-planning and grading English essays, I was always looking over my shoulder, fearing an angry parent or student would stab me in the back. Some days I felt like I failed before I started. There was never enough time and way too many students to do the job right.
I look back now and realize how much I shortchanged my family and health, prioritizing my students over a balanced lifestyle. I learned that from my mom, God bless her, who taught me to give onto others before giving unto myself. Mom’s only luxury was smoking which, out of shame, she hid from her family. It ultimately killed her in a most cruel and suffering way.
So, we learn, don’t we? We stand tall, try to do better than those who have come before us. Which means possibly having to re-think what we think. Write a new script that makes more sense.
George Michael’s dance video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2hLL_UNUSo “Faith” comes to mind. I know, I know, I know the song is about the complications of a relationship, but the chorus is still relevant, maybe for you too.
“Yes I gotta have faith
Ooh, I gotta have faith
Because I gotta have faith, faith, faith
I gotta have faith, faith, faith…”
Last night I danced under the starry moon as the warm ocean pounded and the hotel band played Bob Marley. I slept in a crisp, white linen king-size bed made for a queen, turned off all the electronics from an iPad-like device next to my bed that had just been fluffed up, sheets turned back, by a mysterious butler who seemed to anticipate my every need. Right now, I’m sitting on the veranda that feels like I’m in a movie with little birds hopping along the hand-tiled floor and a tiny gecko slinking around a marble column that frames a mango tree-shaded view of the sea.
I mean, come on!
There’s more. Everywhere you might think about turning off or on or understand the electronic complicity of this mahogany and tapestry-embellished room, there’s a panel to dim lights, evoke sound, close or open the drapes, turn on the interior or veranda fans, intuitive air conditioner and silver-framed TV. The white embroidered slippers are placed next to the grandest Hearst Castle-esque bed I have ever slept in, the ornate closets light up, then there are the comped goodies in the stocked fridge, the finest liquor and wine in the hidden bar, and pink-rimmed made-in-France cup and saucer and polished silver spoon.
Yes, this is a place fit for a queen and it turns out, was. Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados was Queen Elizabeth’s favorite resort while visiting the Caribbean and here I am in a room of my own with a soundtrack of crashing waves and the view of a shimmering turquoise horizon. Right above me, on the top suite, is where the Windsors resided.
I am far, far away from my normal life. This is a place where the British elite come to play and I’m here in my clearance rack clothes from Target, with my cousin, sister, niece, nephew and the two boys having the time of our lives. We are the only Americans we have met so far. This place attracts lovely British folk who, despite their economic status, are engaging and slightly mystified about us bubbly, brash (volume-wise) Aw-gosh can you believe we’re here? Southern California Yankee giddy tourist spirit of “Let’s enjoy every moment!”
While the Brits typically stay for a fortnight at this lavish resort, we’re here for a mere four nights, courtesy of my niece and nephew’s generosity. It was supposed to be a five-night vacay, but our darn flight was cancelled, and we had a layover in Philly, then an overnight in Miami, cheating us out of our previously booked and paid-for night at the Fairmont Hotel down the street in St. James where we stayed three nights. That hotel, the bomb. We walked out the sliding doors right onto the beach, also had our bedding turned back, bottled water refreshed, and once the kids and their parents were fast asleep, drank comped French champagne under the moon on our private deck.
How is it that we—my sister, cousin, and myself–could be so very, very blessed to have family members who thank us for wanting to share their spectacular adventures with them? We’re not a bother. They tell us all the time that they like hanging out with us, the crazy Three Amigos.
You know I’m tearing up right now, filled with a sea-full of gratitude and love.
When you experience daily afternoon tea with sand on your feet and saltwater crusting on your chest, and breakfast buffets with catamarans sailing past your table and waiters calling you, “My lovely lady,” and “My dear,” greeting you with the biggest, most beautiful smiles I have ever seen in my life, you know life has been good and kind to you. Never, in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I would experience this kind of tropical opulence, the kind Geoffrey, the chap we met one night at the Fairmont lounge experiences all the time.
This is his 10th time visiting Barbados, he told us over two rounds of rum sours. He was solo, having lost his wife recently, and a girlfriend who dumped him. He needed a fortnight to “think about things”. We had a laugh and serious talk about Harry and Meghan, which he abhors, “Mark my words, he will leave her,” countering our take, “He wanted a platform to be heard, tell his truth.” He thinks Biden is a shaky old man, which was an interesting comment since he was probably about the same age as the President, yet traveling solo across the globe. Geoffrey regaled us about his trips to South Africa—“You simply must visit South Africa; it’s marvelous”— all of the islands several times pulse, and countless trips abroad chasing his favorite sport, Cricket.
We talked about the Royal family’s squabbles, toyed with the topic of the world’s political shenanigans, applauded the singer’s reggae interpretation of a Amy Winehouse song, discussed Barbados’ glorious flauna and when the night was over for this sweet, jet-lagged man, he paid for our drinks.
“I can’t tell you how long it has been since a gentleman picked up the tab,” I told him, tapping his arm. “Thank you.”
“You can’t be serious!” he said in his astounded, Jeremy Clarkson British accent. Then waved himself away.
It’s all been like a dream. In a few hours we’ll be gone. But before that regrettable time happens, I wanted to take a moment to chronicle it, remind myself that I’m here, that this is real, that I wrote this as a tractor pushed a motor boat into the ocean, that I’m wearing a white and pink-trimmed bathrobe with a cup of English Breakfast tea at my side, the hypnotic, translucent waves crashing a stone’s throw away from me and am about to greet the best breakfast I’ve ever imagined, so I’m told. You know, having recently re-gained some of the weight I lost, I thought about trying to kick-start my diet plan on this trip, but no, changed my mind. It’s all just way too good not to partake.
Which brings me back to dancing to Marley’s “Three Little Birds” last night with my interpretive dancer little guys, Dylan and Logan, who didn’t care a lick who was watching them. Not the multimillionaires. Not the stiff-upper-lip clientele. Those little boys, this place, reminded me, “Don’t worry, about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be all right…rise up this mornin’. Smiled with the risin’ sun. Three little birds pitch by my doorstep singin’ sweet songs of melodies pure and true. Sayin’ “This is my message to you-ou-ou.”
Soak it all in.
Tell me, poet Mary Oliver asked, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?”
Today, Mary, this day.
Dove grey satin ripples toward me, shifting suddenly like a water snake skimming the surface. The breakwater-caged-sea ebbs and flows as I attempt to absorb this graceful, milky dance.
Sunset. Without hoopla, without Academy Award-applauding fanfare—Nature—with some modifications by clever engineers, does its thing and I am blessed to sit here in the calm before yet another storm to witness the ocean’s ever-changing masterpiece.
One of the benefits of staying put—for now—is the beauty of noticing. Without apology.
As a writer, paying attention to the simple and complex is part of my job. As such, I find myself sitting on the balcony night and day, brisk or truly cold, for hours and hours.
Every day I toast the morning with a cup of coffee and salute day’s end with a sense of gratitude, and almost always a glass of wine: “Thank you.”
Between you and me I’ll confess; I resent ever having to leave this paint-chipped corner of the world, now decorated with turquoise pillows and a folding table snatched from my grounded van. Errands. Picking up. Dropping off. I resent getting in the car and leaving this view because while it’s the same, it’s different. Every single time.
It’s funny, but I feel the same when I travel to other places that feed my soul, whether it’s the beaches of Cambria or the Tuolumne River in Yosemite. Home. That’s what it feels like. My heart’s triangle.
When we first arrived at the Portofino Apartments a month ago as of yesterday, the skies were gloriously cornflower blue; temperatures were in the mid-60s. Typical January weather for the South Bay. We’ve had our spats of drizzle, impressive winds, temps in the low 40s, but by in large it’s been a beautiful SoCal winter. And I get to witness it here from the balcony overlooking the breakwater, my very own, ever-changing, real-life TV monitor screensaver.
Noticing, being still, being alone much of the time while my amigos are out and about working for a living, allows thoughts to rise to the surface. They’re just there. Things you stuffed down and didn’t want to think about anymore. I blame my grey skies British heritage as my mind tends to go grey.
As I’ve written about before, I’m working on my chronic worry habit. I’ve got all the jingles in my head, “Don’t worry, be happy,” “Live with no regrets.” And I am getting better, thanks to this view that sweeps me away, re-directing my thoughts.
There’s wisdom here. That’s for sure. Simple. Profound. The sun rises and sets. I can take a shower whenever I want (a biggie for van camper me), shop at the organic store up the street, walk along the shore with dear Monet, take a nice swim in the heated pool or relax in the jacuzzi. I can turn right or left, travel in the sky or trapeze in an underground cave. I can take a chance or stay put. I can be brave or stay scared.
Watching folks cruise in and out of the Marina on sailboats, paddleboards, outrigger canoes and studying the habits of seals and birds, I wonder why I neglected leisure—AKA fun—during my working years? I was too responsible, too work-oriented—unbalanced. So Sunday, I decided change that and do what I’ve been longing to do for years: I went kayaking.
My bouncy 9-year-old grandson and I climbed into the popsicle orange kayak and we paddled in the waters that, for my entire life growing up in Redondo Beach, I walked past. We laughed and screamed and splashed and surfed tiny waves and cruised past the stinky seals and the mossy breakwater and the Pier. It was an absolute blast.
Now I’m inspired to have fun every single day. I’m positive it’s the antidote to worry. Yes, I know I’lll slip. But today, before tackling the To-Do List, my priority is to go on a solo bike ride. At some point I’ll jump into the pool and do some laps. And Friday, despite all kinds of challenges including my tendency to anchor, I’m going on an adventure. Leaving the balcony. Not staying put.
Fun is about to get funner.
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
I’m not sure why I’m thinking about Anne Frank, one of my inspirations and heroes since I was in the fourth grade and discovered her diary for the first time. “Santa Claus”, at Dad’s Carpenter’s Union Hall Christmas party way back in the 1960s, laid out a bunch of wrapped presents and I randomly selected Anne’s diary and a black, gold-embossed journal. Those donated gifted to a doe-eyed child of working class parents, changed her life forever.
Today, tomorrow, yesterday, and weeks to come, my colleagues at the middle school where I used to teach, are sharing Anne’s story. They recently went to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles for a PTSA-funded field trip. Apparently, it didn’t go so well. Today’s generation, it seems, weren’t that engaged. A couple of students were downright disrespectful.
How can anyone not feel immense sorrow, shame, and how-do-we make-sure-this-never-happens-again-outrage to Anne and the millions of individuals who experienced the repulsive consequence of discrimination? Compassion, where is it? Connection, when did it get lost?
I did my best when I was a teacher of eighth grade English Language Arts students to help students understand the back story, the reasons why the individuals we read about were often the target of hate, misinformation and jealousy. We examined who, what, when, why and how the events in both history and present-day occurred through the lens of language arts writers and researchers. Years, and years and years ago, I realized that my students seemed to be swaying from a lust for learning and a desire to be of-service, to an unhealthy preoccupation with cultural dribble, i.e. Kardashians/TicTock/fake “reality” realities.
My colleagues and I wanted to better engage young people, so we created a curriculum that was standardized-based, yet challenged students to dive deep and pay attention to patterns, sources, and misleading messages; we encouraged students to develop vital, critical thinking skills to help them discern nonsense from facts.
Damn, we did our best. As are all of my teacher friends.
But times are different.
Things are COVID-ized.
Our young people are lost.
I can see it in my former colleagues’ eyes, who very, very sweetly, dropped by last week to pay a sunset balcony visit. They’re young, talented, hardworking, and care so very much about the kids and the teaching profession; but even they are losing hope.
I tried to reassure them, but honestly, I’m at a loss; that’s why I’m reaching out to you; we are at a critical juncture. We either stop, acknowledge our kids profound brokenness, or we crash and burn. Not an overstatement. Reality.
In my opinion, here’s what needs to happen:
I know I’m just a blogger, a random person with no power or influence, thinking about bigger issues; the worrisome direction of young people and our troubled world that appears to be spinning out-of-control. But so was Anne, a little person with a gigantic message. Had it not been for Anne’s 1940s version of a blog, we might not have understood that “in spite of everything,” as she wrote on July 15, 1944, less than a month before she and her family were captured and everyone, expect her father, murdered, “I still believe…that people are truly good at heart.”
On this day, this average Tuesday before Super Bowl galas, the State of the Union speech and GOP rebuttal, and all the other news and family events that will saturate the remainder of the week, I continue to be inspired by my dedicated teacher colleagues, my daughter who’s teaching fourth-graders in NYC, and all the other purveyors of hope who keep digging, who fail to stop trying.
Anne, at 14, said it best: “I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness; I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”
I encourage everyone, right now, to email your local, state and national legislators and insist that they place healing America’s kids at the top of the national agenda. Share your stories, what you see, as parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, neighbors, employers and educators. This is not a one-person, one-teacher, one-classroom, one-parent job: it’s going to take the entire village screaming at the same time, “Help!”
I just emailed four legislators. It took about 15 minutes. I encourage you to share your stories; no doubt, you speak on behalf of countless others who sadly believe that whatever they have to say won’t make a difference. But it will. And it matters. If Anne Frank can believe in positive change, “Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness,” so can I.
Within two hours, I received two responses, one from the White House, the other from a California senator. I’ll let you know in an upcoming blog what happened next.