Sitting in a rocking chair at my sister and cousin’s house watching the unpredicted rain, feeling the silent crisp air, gazing at the flock after flock of seagulls headed out to sea. Do they know something we don’t know? Will the tide retreat? Will the waves mount? Are the helicopters surveying? Is Mother Earth mad? Will there be an earthquake? Will I get Covid-19: The Omicron again? Should I cancel my flight to New York at the end of the month? Should I continue to order groceries online vs. shop in person? Will my knee get better? Will I hike again? Will I ever have enough money so I don’t have to worry? Will it all work out? Will I work out? Will life ever be better than normal again?
Why am I thinking these thoughts? I know. It’s the clouds over the horizon. It’s the violet blue sea. It’s the tsunami watch I never remember being warned of before. It’s the silence. It’s the alone. It’s being reminded of, once again, to cherish the day. We may be in charge of a lot, but we ain’t gonna harness Madame Nature.
Which leaves us all with taking a breath. Being kind to ourselves and others. Respecting the gift God has given us. Our highest potential. The Earth’s beautiful home with all her lovely creatures.
What would we say if IT happened? The tsunami. Would we run for our lives? Push people out of the way? Save ourselves? Claw our way to the top, to hell with others?
I mean, what is happening to our beloved world, the part we’re in charge of? Interactions. Conversations. Love. Civility. Mutual respect.
If today was my last day, or yours, what would my legacy be?
Turns out, most of my daily conversations and thoughts are, in the grand scheme of things, meaningless wisps of air.
The Big Picture is a stop watch with a beginning, middle and end. It’s a collage of moments and meaningful decisions that we ARE in charge of. The sound of the sea gulls dancing in the wind. The expanding pink sunset stretching toward the Tongan people who today have more worries to consider than they did yesterday. Our brotherhood and sisterhood. Our connections.
And those damn dividers. Those that seek to pull us apart. They have something to gain from our division, from our turbulence. They are the enemy. Not us. We are a family and families don’t abandon each other in times of need. We get closer. We need each other now more than ever.
You know when you feel like crying but you don’t, you suck it up, you dab your eyes, distract yourself by talking to strangers like the man standing next to you in the TSA line at JFK flying home to Barbados for his father’s funeral or the elderly gentleman who is your age that you discover lives a couple of blocks from you and you wonder, “Could I date him?” And then you wait 45 more minutes in the packed pre-COVID security line, and wisely avoid the 40-minute Starbucks line, then go into the shop that sells Brighton jewelry and everything reminds you of the love you feel for the person you just left and you impulsively think buying the silver heart pendant will soothe your aching heart, but realize there’s no price tag to this pain you want to avoid so you skip it and the smother-the-pain shopping tendency. Then you Facetime your daughter to see her face and your granddaughter’s and realize the overhead speaker, “Flight 2123 is now boarding rows A and B,” is too loud and you can’t hear them anyway and besides Millie’s moved on, doesn’t miss you and is distracted reading books so you hang up and that only makes you feel worse.
Run-on sentences be gone!
It’s over. It’s not. What was, isn’t. What’s to come, will be. What’s now, tap, tap, tapping on my keyboard mid-flight, is what I have. Present tense.
Breathe through your nose through the mask. Breathe out.
The hum of the jet flying over Lake Michigan.
Return to the center.
That is what space does for me. Backing up. Sitting down. Not doing. Being present. Being grounded while flying in turbulent space.
A cup of tea, please, with milk. Hot, really hot, and black, English.
My parents. The cinderblock framed backyard on Spreckles Lane. Their eyes. Mom’s belted pastel pink cotton print dress. Dad’s tanned carpenter’s skin and big toothy smile. My first training wheel-bike from Sears under the aluminum Christmas tree with blue lights—oh so modern, oh so American. Fast forward to Paulina Avenue, insecurities, family fights, self-doubt, self-loathing. The chubby girl gets chubbier. High school: Diet-it-down, change gears, discover inner gifts, celebrate emerging self-awareness and potential. Basketball star/smart guy first boyfriend. Moving on. College, journalism, then the big screwup, marry the bad guy, pregnant times three, finally leaves, returns to center, returns to writing, journalism, meets the nice guy, marries, third baby (the one who just had a boy baby), tries her best, but Marriage Two is not to be. Teaches, for 18 years, in the middle of which her kids become adults, her dad dies and she becomes a grandma, then retires.
One paragraph. My life so far. 151 words encapsulated 35,000 feet above Iowa. The good, the bad and the ugly , sparing the lavish details and sensory description. Which leads me back to the person I was the moment I was born. Just like wee Hudson, three weeks old today. I can already tell he is a fun-ster. Happy. Easy-going, but not a push over. Big-hearted. Smart. And very intuitive. And did I mention, handsome. Oh, he’s gonna be a cutie. Just like his Mama!
Me, I’m sensitive, creative, fun, friendly, intuitive and hopeful. These qualities are at my center, my core. Which means that no matter what else is going on, whether it’s cooking, gardening, teaching or writing stories for the newspaper, I do it from a position of optimism.
Naturally, I stray. I get in a funk. I don’t take care of myself carving daily me time. But I’m working on it. Because when I remember who I am on the inside, through creative activities, visiting with friends and family, being in Nature, praying, then I get lost. And when I’m lost, I’m not myself. I get sick. I get grumpy. I eat unhealthy foods and don’t feel like exercising. I dwell on the sad and get lost in the negative, like leaving New York and Katie and the babies.
Returning to my core reminds me of my strength, my connection to Truth, to God, to Love.
Grateful to be here, now. On my way to there.
Let’s talk about Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Dave Matthews, Joni Mitchell, and all the great musicians and songs that try to capture the bouncing-out-of-your chest, leaping-like-Tigger, swimming-like-a-lava-fountain of-Swiss-chocolate, feeling of love.
Now I’m not talking about romantic love. Haven’t, unfortunately, felt that kind of love for years. I’m talking about that explosively powerful feeling that a parent has for a child, whether that child is 2.5 weeks or 40+ years. Watching your baby love his or her baby in the way you love your child/parent is overwhelming. Because even though your hair is grey and you have arthritic knees and a pot belly and your double chin flops around the way your dad’s used to, on the inside you still feel like you used to. You still love your adult child, and now his or her child, with such passion and devotion it feels like the sky and the wind and the ocean and all the trees at at Big Sur and the stars from here to Pluto have been knit together in a jacket designed just for you.
No one, surely, could feel such love.
That this love for your child never ever ends. It just gets bigger and cozier and more honest and precious.
Because we know we are on the homestretch, that we won’t live to see the seeds we plant today, the baby butts diapered and the chins wiped, will all be forgotten–a blur–a mirage–a splash of Perrier with lime. We won’t matter. We’ll be long gone, a yellowed photo, a trashed diary entry, a dowry used to pay down credit card debt. Our names, our stories, won’t be uttered. We will be like all the others, barely mentioned, remembered warmly by but a few.
All of this–the sweet smiles and screams of grandchildren, the witnessing of adult children growing, changing, adapting–matters so much to us. These quiet moments are snapshots we burn into our chest. These children, these adult children, don’t realize how important they are to us, how we think of them when when we’re with them and away, how, when we toss and turn at night, it’s because we worry and want the best for them.
We have not even been close to perfect. We’ve made so many mistakes we could be in a textbook as an example of what not to do. But we sincerely meant well. We meant no harm. We are imperfect examples of humanity. We hope one day that you will forgive us. One day, you’ll understand.
We know it’s about you now. We’ve handed you the baton. And we’re glad and grateful for your life, and our life, for the past, present and the future. We are filled with the season, the joy, the grief, the abundance, the closed and open doors. We want for you more than we ever had.
Always and forever.
How Can I Tell You? by Cat Stevens
How can I tell you
That I love you
I love you
But I can’t think of right words to say I long to tell you
That I’m always thinking of you
I’m always thinking of you
But my words just blow away
Just blow away It always ends up to one thing, honey
And I can’t think of right words to say Wherever I am girl
I’m always walking with you
I’m always walking with you
But I look and you’re not there Whoever I’m with
I’m always, always talking to you
I’m always talking to you
And I’m sad that you can’t hear
Sad that you can’t hear It always ends up to one thing, honey
When I look and you’re not there I need to know you
Need to feel my arms around you
Feel my arms around you
Like a sea around a shore Each night and day I pray
In hope that I might find you
In hope that I might find you
Because heart’s can do no more
Can do no moreIt always ends up to one thing, honey
Still I kneel upon the floor How can I tell you
That I love you
I love you
But I can’t think of right words to say I long to tell you
That I’m always thinking of you
I’m always thinking of youIt always ends up to one thing, honey
And I can’t think of right words to say
It’s hot. It’s cold. I’m sweating in the overheated apartment or I’m freezing on a jaunt to the Queens Farm Museum with two-week-old Hudson and 20-month-old big sis, Millie. I’m limping with a sore left knee that doctors here need a referral to fix or I’m cavorting with Miss Toddler as we dance to “Let It Go”. I’m up and down, I’m in and out, I miss my home in Cali, I know I’m gonna miss being here and being part of the documentary, “Beginnings”, and witnessing my daughter blossom into a gifted and patient Mother of Two.
Wine helps. So does the prescription-strength Aleve the Forest Hills doctor scripted me for my bum knee. Both products are helping me put a finger in the pain-dike until I can see a doctor back in SoCal. Crazy American health care system. I purchased the best Plan G Medicare supplement in case of something like this, but in order for me to see an orthopedic specialist to take care of the problem, I have to get a referral. Wait a second, didn’t I just get a referral? With an ultrasound? Err, guess I didn’t spend enough money yet. Oh, and did I mention the broker I used in California screwed up my Plan G supplement so I never actually had Blue Shield of California insurance? Double err.
By the way, for those of you who aren’t 65 and retired, I learned at a recent educator retirement luncheon that medical calamities are what-those-of-us-of-a-certain-age discuss when we are with our “own kind” (aka oldies but goodies). Fun times this getting older!
So what’s it like, you ask, living with a pair of non English-speaking grandparents, two babies in diapers, sleep-deprived parents, a lab-esque ebony dog, a husky grey cat within the confines of a 700-square-foot apartment in Queens?
Let’s start with the obvious: There’s no privacy. We’re mostly always busy diapering, cooking, cleaning, caring, not sleeping. You know. You remember. It’s all hands on deck, takes a village time. Everyone has a role and we all do our best not to step on anyone else’s toes. And so far, it seems to be working.
I’m the easiest target to get mad at. I sleep in the living room so I take up space. I’m in the way. I’m awkward. I’m the chubby girl comic relief. The nuisance that no one suggests directly to my face, but I know I can suck a lot of air out of the room. I’m a presence, to be sure. I like to play Disney music all the time. And now that my knee is an issue, I can’t escape via walks around the block. Best I can do is walk around the apartment, try to stay out of everyone’s way and sit on the balcony, which looks out onto a busy neighborhood street. It’s a nice street. Lots of foot traffic. Spectators to study. Sirens to shatter stolen moments of contemplation. Gratitude that it’s not me on the way to the hospital.
Life in the big city means adapting. It means paying attention to details, like the smell of Hudson’s breast milk poop. I know it may gross out some people, but baby poop doesn’t smell bad; it smells like baby. It smells like innocence and vulnerability and connections between the generations, my grandmother that I knew and my grandfather whom I didn’t, my parents, siblings, cousins, my children and nieces and grandchildren–all of us in this DNA mustard mud called Hudson’s poop. Because when you think about it, most families are complicated and poopy; we spend so much time solving, complaining, controlling, rejecting, judging, worrying, that interpersonal shenanigan crap often overshadows best intentions. Peel back the layer, and that shit that looks like shit is your brother, sister, parent’s version of trying their best, but screwing up.
Like not sleeping at night and babies crying and barfing and needing attention when the only thing you desire is sitting in front of a toasty fireplace with a glass of red wine for 30 minutes and thinking about the twinkling lights, the sweet chai, and your botched attempt at baking mince meat pies.
Fun fact: Did you know that in NYC mincemeat filling is a rare commodity? That this British staple has to be ordered from Amazon at $25 a jar? That there’s no way I’m going back to California without leaving behind Mom’s Mince Meat Pies, the ones I never appreciated when she was alive but have spent every Christmas since trying to replicate them.
Some years I nail it, but most I don’t. They are never ever as good as hers. Never. But the one thing I’ve learned from failure, and a few successes, is that it’s all about the pastry, the feeling, neither too crumbly or elastic. The just-right sweet spot of culinary heritage. I’m pretty sure it’s called love.
Tomorrow, I’ll assemble the flour, the cold butter, powdered sugar and tres expensive jar of mince meat filling, close my eyes and pray for Mom’s guidance. “Be with me.” I’ll notice my thick and calloused hands, like hers, and try to channel her knack for baking. Good or bad, they’re part of my tribe’s legacy.
And next weekend I’ll have tears in my eyes as I board JetBlue knowing that this precious time of bonding and getting-to-know and making my daughter’s favorite foods and making sure she can handle her new life, her new challenges, will be over. A chapter. A memory. Closed.
For now I will savor the hits and misses, the mattress on the floor, the additional calories, the gratitude for pain meds, the absence of personal space, knowing that each day is precious, that the recipe I seek to replicate was never actually written on a index card. For me to live my best life, I need to remember that there’s no re-writing prior chapters, that this is the moment. Miss it, and just like that, it’s gone.
An Uber driver galloped through 5 a.m. Saturday traffic to Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. Those iconic, fairy tale lights that define NYC’s skyline felt like coachmen escorting us–Mommy Katie, Dada Jason and Grandma JanZ—to Cinderella’s ball. It was surreal, like a scene from “When Harry Met Sally” only this story is about two friends who got married, then moved to The Big Apple to go to grad and med school, and then created their own little family in a land of brick apartments, subways, orthodox beards and fedora hats, underwater tunnels, honking drivers, jaywalkers and a Starbucks on every other corner.
This zany land of noise and smells and congestion that is so different from the land I come from, is where my baby daughter was about to give birth to her baby son and I was literally along for the ride.
The heroine, Mama Katie, worked at her job as a fourth grade teacher in Manhattan, Friday the day before she was destined to give birth. She ordered a feast of pizza and salad, made a batch of double fudge brownies and went to bed. At 5 a.m., she woke me up and informed me that her water broke. She booked an Uber and we raced to the hospital from Queens only to find out she was just 3 cm. dilated.
Like 99% of the women who have their babies at Lenox Hill, according to a Labor and Delivery nurse, Katie also chose to have an epidural. Voila! no more pain. No such juice was ever offered to me when I had my three babies. Pain and childbirth were a rite of passage. No more! Instead of fighting the pain, childbirth is now remarkably relaxing, so much so that I figured I’d have time to start writing this blog while Katie slept. When the doctor came in to examine her, she had dilated to 4 cm. The obstetrician decided to administer Pitocin. Ten minutes after the drip started, she was ready to push the baby out. Two gigantic heave ho’s and Hudson Bow was born at 12:42 p.m., 8.5 pounds, 20.5 inches long. A remarkably handsome child born to a remarkable mother and father, who just so happens to be the fourth grandchild of a remarkably, unabashedly, smitten grandma.
How does it feel to watch your daughter give birth? Proud. Scared. Hopeful. Honored. To watch the ritual of birth, the continuation of life, witness the first breath of the next generation is primitive and guttural and National Geographic sacred. It’s like watching a time lapse documentary where everyone you have ever known, and those dusty family members you’ve never even seen pictures of, converge in this euphoric Family of Man Times Square NYE Countdown Celebration. It’s real and it’s not real. It’s normal and feels anything but. Because it’s your baby, it’s your grandchild and there’s nothing in the world that you wouldn’t do for Hudson or Millie or Jack or Bronson–your heartbeat, your blood.
None of it makes sense. All of it makes sense. Everything. Wisdom magnifies across a drive-in-movie screen: Life is supposed to be good, precious. How can we love so much and be capable of such hate and cruelty? At one point in our lives, most of us were loved as dearly as we love Hudson. Someone believed in us, fought for us, gave up for us so that our lives could be better than theirs. How is it that we are so screwed up? Shooting, killing, yelling, blaming, denying? When our Source, all of ours, IZ Love?
Today’s “news” makes no sense. Not on this New York skyline day of Hudson’s birth. The Day of Promise and Hope. The Day our world tingled and twinkled and the traffic along 77th Street stopped. The Day the moon froze in it’s full moon position and smiled into a yellow-lit hospital room at a young couple ogling over their son, and a grandma cooing the song her father sang to her, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy, when skies are grey, you’ll never know dear, how much I love you, please don’t take that sunshine away.”
Tears, ugly, precious tears well up. I can’t help it. I don’t want to help it! A new life. A new me. In my arms. The first time Hudson and I, Grandson and Grandma, forged a bond birthed in ancient times. Rekindled. Renewed on this extraordinary, ordinary, afternoon in Manhattan.
Millie is once again used to me. After a few short months of separation between her longterm Spring/Summer staycation in Southern California with Mommy and Gma, she kinda forgot me. At 20 months, it’s to be expected.
It was clear over the course of the first week that she liked me. She smiled and we played wide-eyed peek-a-boo Baby Shark-kaaa-kaaa-kaaa-kaaa games. But she didn’t trust me. At least not enough to be left alone without her Hong Kong grandparents’ supervision. While my daughter and son-in-law are out hunting and gathering, John and Jennifer dote on our granddaughter probably with more reverence than their own two children. To say she is spoiled, in the most loving way possible, is an understatement.
Recently, say the last couple of days, she has begun to tolerate me with tangible gusto. We go out for walks around the block, just the two of us. Drop by the local doughnut shop for a bitty before-dinner treat (naughty Grandma!). Talk to the faded plastic flamingo. And stop at the neighborhood playground, normally filled with similar-age toddlers like Millie, and their nannies and a few of us token grandparents. It is a sweet community of bubbles, bouncy balls, blue sedan strollers, and little people who love dancing, clapping, squealing and accept each other’s “serious” look faces as normal.
Being a toddler, I realize, is genuinely serious business. Every single corner of their visual and auditory world is a learning experience.
Which is why yesterday’s Irate Nanny Attack was so disturbing.
Here’s the scene: Late morning. Puffy jacket, knit cap weather. Nanny was on her cell phone near the toddler apparatus. Her little person, Aubrey, was playing with some singing knobs on the gym equipment when 2-year-old Remy, who was accompanied by his grandparents (who, they told me, put their lives on hold for a year so they could help with childcare) unexpectedly pushed the little girl, and she fell down. Stunned, Aubrey cried as the Nanny grabbed her and started yelling at the boy and his grandmother: “Get him out of the park! He is a bully. Leave. Leave. Get him out of here! He doesn’t belong here!”
Grandma grabbed Remy off the apparatus and began yelling at him, “No, no! That is bad, Bad!” then shook him.
The Nanny continued to scream and point, “There is something wrong with him! Get him out of here!”
To which the grandma yelled back, “You were on your phone. You should have been watching her!“
which triggered the nanny’s response, “He is a bad boy. He doesn’t belong here!”
Three toddlers witnessed two adult toddlers attack each other like rabid coyotes.
The hostility continued for 10 minutes before the two parties finally separated.
“He’s just a little boy,” I calmly said to the nanny. “He didn’t do it on purpose.”
The nanny had AirPods on and appeared to be talking to someone on the phone. She smiled at me, which was weird, then yelled at the little girl, “When someone hits you, hit them back. I told you before, hit them harder.”
The little girl’s face was blank. She had no idea what the nanny said or meant. She seemed to be close to Millie’s age, younger than two.
The nanny turned around and continued her phone conversation while I tried to get Millie to say “Hi” to the little girl to distract her and see if she was OK. Millie and Aubrey stared at each other, kept their space, and took in each other’s vibes. Despite witnessing what was hopefully their first and last playground violence incident, they appeared to be in-the-moment.
Millie and I found some abandoned pink and blue balloons from an ongoing 2-year-old playground party. We played and played for more than 20 minutes, delighted by the wind and how it whisked the balloons along the crispy leaf carpet, then high into the November blue sky.
It can be this way, I thought. Leaning into love. Leaning into the simple, the innocent. Leaning into one’s potential, that can serve both sides. Where both are right and worthy and honored. Where both listen with open hearts.
We don’t have to lean into the nonsense. We can choose to disconnect. Maybe say a prayer. Move on. Like the little kids in the park. Millie doesn’t hold a grudge, stereotype. She doesn’t yell at each other, blame.
These little kids are sponges. If they see us snapping, attacking, being vitriolic, guess what? They’re clones.
Being here in Queens, I’m an observer, a recorder. I pay attention to everything. Because it’s new. Because I can. Because paying attention to how others behave helps me behave better.
We all make mistakes. I have a Ph.D in Mistakes.
But when you know better, you do better. Say sorry. Mean it. Or as Mom used to say, “Be the bigger person.”
You know the “Aladdin” song? (just in case you need a reminder: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iq2KLYRLQyw ) Well, that’s how I’m feeling these glorious November days, my new favorite month of the year, next to retirement October and September, the months the world goes back to work and school and retirees get to wander.
I’m here in Queens waiting the arrival of my new grandson–any day now.
If this sounds like deja vu, it’s because just 20 short months ago Baby Millie was born in the midst of the pandemic. She’s none the worst for wear, thank the Lord, but all of us adults and school-age kids got beat-up in the washing cycle. We’re coming out of it, a bit battered and in need of some fabric softener, but the sun is shinning here in the Big Apple as we slide into the Big Holidays wondering what Life will bring for families like ours throughout the Nation and the World?
Current Worry Score: 6.78
Things are getting better. At least in my little world. And I am feeling mighty blessed these days. I get cuddles from Millie, nuzzles from their black lab-mix pup Charlie, witness my daughter blossom into The Best Mommy and Teacher Ever, applaud my gritty son-in-law and have fallen in love and admiration with Millie’s paternal grandparents who moved from Hong Kong to be full-time caretakers to this full-house family.
Naturally, there’s a bit of jealously on my part because Millie favors them, not me, but knowing how devoted they are to our granddaughter is emotional and gratifying. Knowing that my daughter doesn’t have to worry about Millie’s care, takes a load of worry off my shoulders. She is going to be just fine. She’s strong. She’s supported. And she’s living the life she has chosen. And, she’s giving back: She’s an essential Educator. And (that’s the third), she’s happy. That’s what we parents want, right? Knowing that our grown kids are OK even if we can’t always be with them.
This gratitude thing is pretty overwhelming. It’s like the wind. The blowing Fall leaves.The Magic of Disney, which I so craved during the dark days of the pandemic. As I Distant-Taught my 8th grade English Language Arts students, double-dutied by caring for my new granddaughter, I used to fantasize about Disneyland. I imagined being on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and munching on popcorn down Main Street and what life would be like when the Mess of 2020 was over.
In September, I became a Magic Key holder. Couldn’t resist! Now I can go to Disneyland and California Adventure as much as I like, along with my sister and cousin. Us best-buddies senior citizens having a no-apology, only live once, blast.
Hopefully, as a Nation, we’re collectively rolling into health; but I know I will never forget The Lesson: To care for one another. To love as big as Mount Whitney. To never again take for granted the sweetness of a song or the greetings of a stranger. Smile. Stop being afraid. Stop worrying. Be present. Remember, God is in the center of all things, just waiting to join the party.
I’m sitting on the balcony outside my daughter’s Queens apartment as Millie naps, soaking up the sounds, the sights, the sun, the smells. Last year, I craved Nature and bought a turquoise bistro set for their balcony so I had a place to feel the air. They lived next to the train tracks which lulled some people in the household to sleep. Definitely not me! Now in their new apartment, the train is miles away and the soundtrack to our Fleet Street abode are the departing planes from John F. Kennedy Airport, a parade of honking horns and sirens from 4 to 8 p.m., cranking music of all languages, strolling children curiously pointing out the sights–the Halloween leftover jack-o-lanterns and skeletons–and hushed Disney lullaby music from inside the apartment.
The two-story brick homes, framed with silver and wrought iron awnings and rails, are so different from where I live in Southern California. People walk. Rarely talk. They are on a mission. And then there’s Me and Millie who wave and say, “Hi” to everyone we pass. It’s a game. Can we get them to smile? Respond? Feel lighter? See what we see?
It’s a Whole New World.
Alan Menken and Tim Rice were right when they penned these words almost 30 years ago:
I can show you the world
Shining, shimmering, splendid
Tell me, princess, now when did
You last let your heart decide?
I can open your eyes
Take you wonder by wonder
Over, sideways and under
On a magic carpet rideA whole new world
A new fantastic point of view
No one to tell us, “No”
Or where to go
Or say we’re only dreaming
A whole new world
A dazzling place I never knew
But when I’m way up here
It’s crystal clear
That now I’m in a whole new world with you
(Now I’m in a whole new world with you)Unbelievable sights
Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling
Through an endless diamond skyA whole new world (don’t you dare close your eyes)
A hundred thousand things to see (hold your breath, it gets better)
I’m like a shooting star, I’ve come so far
I can’t go back to where I used to be
A whole new world
With new horizons to pursue
I’ll chase them anywhere
There’s time to spare
Let me share this whole new world with youA whole new world (a whole new world)
A new fantastic point of view
No one to tell us, “No”
Or where to go
Or say we’re only dreaming
A whole new world (every turn, a surprise)
With new horizons to pursue (every moment, red-letter)
I’ll chase them anywhere, there’s time to spare
And then we’re home (there’s time to spare)
Let me share this whole new world with youA whole new world (a whole new world)
That’s where we’ll be (that’s where we’ll be)
A thrilling chase (a wondrous place)
For you and me
The sky’s the limit fellow adventures. What’s on the horizon for you?
Look at them: 30,000 runners, all of them pre-qualified by running previous marathons. Just a sprinkling appear to be competitive. Most paid the $200 entry fee because they wanted to challenge themselves: To be better, stronger, more mentally focused.
At Mile 23 of the New York City Marathon 2021, my son-in-law, Jason, looked like he was just hitting his stride. While my 9-month pregnant daughter and I ambled our way into a bagel shop and later Starbucks for a seasonal latte, Jason was pushing himself beyond the I-can’t-keep-going wall. Later, I asked him how he did it and he said he just got it into his brain that he wasn’t going to quit–no matter the blisters and smoldering leg, thigh and butt muscle-pain. That same determination is pushing him through medical school as an English Language Learner student who immigrated from Hong Kong and became a U.S. citizen just a few short years ago. All the late-night runs after studying and long shifts at the hospital and in the classroom, taking care of now 20-month-old Millie, are as innate to Jason’s character as his dedication to dote on his little girl despite blinding exhaustion. Jason is determined to succeed: For himself, for his family and, eventually, his patients.
I remember when Jason came to America on a Visa and I asked him what he wanted to do? “You’re in America now, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to,” I assured him. He looked puzzled. He genuinely had no clue what he wanted to do having been straight-jacketed into an engineering program at the University of China. When he realized engineering wasn’t his forte, his college counselors relied on aptitude test results and switched his major to religion. Again, religion wasn’t his thing, but he soldiered on and finished his studies, earning his Bachelor of Arts degree.
Here, in America, Jason experienced choice for the first time in his life. Soulfully, he contemplated his future before determining that a career in medicine was his best path. It would come at a cost, however; U.S. colleges wouldn’t accept his University of China credits, which meant he had to go back and complete his four-year degree, which he did in two vs. four years. Imagine, not being fluent in English reading, writing and speaking comprehension and jumping into a field that, even to born Americans, is insanely challenging. Jason explained that studying for medical exams felt like trying to sip water from a fire hydrant running at full blast.
But he’s doing it, the impossible.
And that’s what I was thinking about as I watched Jason and the other marathoners run past me and my fellow enthusiastic supporters who lined New York City’s streets on a brisk, but sunny Sunday afternoon. Yelling runners’ names strewn across sweaty T-shirts, soundbites of encouragement, “Good job!” “You can do it!” “You’re almost done!” hooting, cheering, honking horns, ringing cowbells, clapping for the Jasons and the Emilys and all of those running on behalf of a sick or deceased love one.
“The human body is amazing,” Jason told me on our walk back to the apartment. “But the mind is even stronger. You’d be surprised what you can do.”
Not me, I thought. I could never do that.
Not so, chimed-in my about-to-give-birth 4th grade teacher-daughter who insists that she will join her husband next year. Both babies there to cheer them on, “You’ll be there too,” she smiled.
Great, another worry to add to my list of current worries. Katie already walks miles and miles of Manhattan’s hilly streets to and from work, climbing up and down the subway stairs. Full-term pregnant. How does she do it? How do they all do it? I marvel. In the heat. In the snow. In the crowds!
These post-Covid New Yorkers that I lived with at the height of the pandemic last year, they are something else. Never giving up. Never shutting down or shutting up. Brash. Polite. Living Life Large.
That’s the essence of this year’s NYC Marathon, the reason my eyes got misty as I gazed at the skyscraper of humanity, old, young, rich, poor, Black, White, everyone together, supporting each other as we collectively confetti-ed our support.
Every single person, runners and spectators alike, each one of us with our own challenges, successes, our own set of doubts, together, on this crimson and butterscotch Fall day, saturated in Possible.
Photo credit: The New York Times
I’m sure it’s OK with you if my eyes are misty. Let me tell you why: For the first time in two years, I walked into a bookstore. Granted, it was a Big Box-type bookstore, still, there were row after row of hard bound and paperback worlds.
With my hoarding of Teacher Appreciation Barnes and Noble gift cards in hand, I strolled up and down the aisles like I was greeting a long-departed best friend. I opened the covers of books I’d only read online reviews about, read the inside cover flaps, the back flap, walked, actually walked, to look up alphabetized books by the same author. I had “Retirement Time” on my side as I wandered up and down the COVID-decluttered aisles, wondering, thinking, grabbing a cafe latte, shelving, unshelving, adding to my list of must-reads, and remembering what it was like to linger with paper.
It was like talking to my high school boyfriend, Tim Myers, and catching up:
How have you been?
What’s it like in heaven?
You know, I always loved you.
I wish I had had a chance to tell you. I was meaning to. You were on my To-Do List.
But Monday, you died.
Bookstores conjure up memories and possibilities. I have missed them. Greatly. I didn’t know the extent of my longing until I opened the door into the dream: everything was familiar. The children’s books are upstairs. The non-fiction is to the right. The bargain books to the left, next to escalator. Yet, things were different, like there weren’t knowledgable book clerk specialists to guide me to new and favorite authors. I unwittingly left my phone in the car and was lost: who could help me? My brain was overwhelmed.
A young couple, I’d say 19 or so, dyed black hair, stripped black socks, piercings in their eyebrows and nose, giggling, looking at Young Readers graphic novels, were chatting about some kind of audition, reading their phones for updates, and I boldly asserted “Could you please look up the author of a book I’m looking for? ‘My Side of the Mountain’ “
Sweetly, they got to it: “George”…they responded…and I remembered, Jean Craighead George. The author who changed my life.
Back in the day, when we went to libraries, not bookstores, at least not my working class family, I read the worn brown and yellow-cover borrowed book over and over again, imagining myself running away, living in Nature, and being with a community—wildlife—that understood me. In fourth grade, I was aware I was a little different, not peculiar, but I was drawn to the odd.
People like Priscilla, who was large and pimply and friendless. I was drawn to her because people didn’t understand her, they rejected her because of her shape, family dynamics, and the home she shared with disabled parents and siblings. She lived in a converted garage, which didn’t matter at all to me. I saw her inner greatness, and she saw mine.
At 10, I still played imagination. But you had to keep that bit of damning info on the downlow. Could ruin a person’s reputation. But I adored my trolls, my TG and Y acquisitions, particularly my pocket-sized dolls that I would sneak into school. Priscilla and I would play with our purple-haired PeeWees. We’d find colorful gum wrappers around the perimeter chain link fence and fold them, zig zag, zig zag, into charming necklaces. Always crafting something out of nothing. We added other odd girls into our tribe, Gaylen, Annie, the kids who weren’t athletic or popular or the smartest students in class. It mattered, I’m not saying it didn’t, that we didn’t fit in with the “beautiful people” like the Kenny Bapty’s/Jeff Vaughan’s/Michelle WhateverHerFrenchSurnameWas of Beryl Heights Elementary School’s social elite, but we were good: We had each other.
And I had my books, that I’d read and re-read, escaping to a place I seemed to fit into.
“I am on my mountain in a tree home that people have passed without ever knowing that I am here. The house is a hemlock tree six feet in diameter, and must be as old as the mountain itself. I came upon it last summer and dug and burned it out until I made a snug cave in the tree that I now call home.”
These are the first golden words from “My Side of the Mountain”, my first favorite book. I will gift George’s story to my remarkable, reluctant reader grandson, Jack, for his 10th birthday. It’s not a $100 Lego kit or a dedicated gaming laptop, but it might help him along his journey. From one generation, to another.
Once upon a time, there was a mountain of books …
Dark blue tent. White Eurovan Camper Home. Turquoise folding chair. Watercolor paints. Edna Valley chardonnay. Cornflower-blue sky. 1,000-day Gouda. Mushroom brie. Multi-seeded Norwegian crackers. Handy portable generator powering up my LifeIZGood laptop. Layers of blue. Layers of green. Layers of quiet. Translucent breeze. Crashing waves. Cypress trees. Crunching yellowing maple. Two books read. Two paintings done. The poetry of now, the most perfect afternoon of my entire life.
Can every day be like this? Please?
Serenity. As wide as my ocean front yard. It’s getting better. Everything. My health. My attitude. My awareness that every single moment is a gift. It’s all going to work out. I need to stop worrying, planning, overthinking. I need to be here, now, at this graffiti-carved picnic table, in the shade, in the sun, in the bliss, knowing that everything I need is right here.
I need very little to be happy. A comfy place to sleep. A nice enough chair. Healthy food. Pleasant temps. Something to write on–a journal, laptop, a napkin, if need be. My art materials. Wine, of course. A reliable vehicle. Quietude. Music. Family and friends. My pups. Nature, my healer.
I am so profoundly blessed.
I know that not every day will be like this. But right now, it is, and I’m loving it and I’m grateful to be able to place all those worries in a bucket six feet away from me.
I don’t understand why, when I was working and raising kids, that I didn’t make more time for this….relaxation. Taking another day to explore, to rest, to read, to write, to think. I was always so obsessed with work, my students, my home, my children, and grandchildren. I didn’t make time to just be.
Sitting at this scarred campsite picnic bench, doing nothing more than noticing, is like floating over Highway 1, which I can hear to the West. All the doers. All the goers. And there’s me, hanging out without a plan cluttering my mind beyond the yummy dinner I’m cooking tonight or the sunset wine walk I will enjoy. A day in the sun. In the middle of the workweek. In October. The best-kept secret of retirement. Midweek and the Fall, when everything and nothing is possible.
I had NO idea retirement was going to be this regenerating. The PTSD of my life was stunning and exhausting and draining, actually bruising. I didn’t get it until I stopped, took a back seat, got in the van and headed north and west and felt scared and worried and finally fell back into the parachute arms of a very patient, very loving God.
Some readers may bristle with me referencing and crediting God. Certainly, you are more than entitled to your opinion and experience. This blog is not intended to convert or preach. We all have our own beliefs and come to certain understandings at our own time and pace. What I have come to realize about myself is that I am my best self when I give myself space. Writing and art help me to feel calm, to focus on what matters, to feel a sense of peace and love, which to me, is God. Unconditional, forever, love. My best buddy who wants the best for me.
My challenge is to remember this epiphany. Tattoo it across my chest. Document it in a blog. So when those challenges come (tomorrow’s L.A. traffic—dreading it—for example), I can reflect upon this moment of solitude and grandeur, sitting in this alcove of reverence, and know that no matter what comes my way, God is in the center, just waiting to help.