Working from home. Remotely. Baby in the House. Far away from Home. Feels like Winter when it’s actually Spring.
Walking around the block feels like the past, the future and nowhere in between. Am I breaking the law? Putting myself, my family, in danger? People in masks. Impressively respectful.
I need air. I need my beach. My dogs. My bed. But I am here and they are there. Near the coast, but not at the coast.
Remote. Like everyone else, I’m dealing. I’m grateful. Believe me, I’m grateful, grateful, grateful that I get to work at home, get to be with my beloved daughter, granddaughter and son-in-law. I get to smell baby breath and watch this little being grow and watch my daughter grow. I am so very blessed. I get to hang out with humans who care about me and I them. In the same apartment. Maybe for a long time.
It’s The Uncertainty.
Then it’s The Resolve: It’s going to be This Way. For a LONG TIME.
So now what? Unpack the bag I packed 2.5 weeks ago expecting to be here for no more than a week? Buy more clothes? I’ve been hand-washing the same grey and black shirts and slacks, and that one pair of comfy shoes I wore on the plane, every day and it’s getting kinda old. I know it’s trivial. I should be ashamed of myself for having such tiny thoughts. But is it time to think about settling in?
Two weeks ago I upgraded my travel size toothpaste thinking I’d be here, at most, two more weeks. Maybe now it’s time to invest in boxed hair dye.
Never having had to endure a weather-related catastrophe, I guess it’s like preparing for, and enduring, a very bad weather event. Hunker down. Stock up. Take out the paints and canvas. Start that 500-page book. Distract yourself from fear.
Work. Not every minute. I don’t have to be a slave to the computer screen, addressing my remote students’ every need. But they NEED me and I need them. (I’m historically lousy at balancing home and work life.) So this is the ultimate test: I need to pace thyself.
Step back. Breathe. Smile. Dance in the sunset, even if it is just a sweet memory for now.
Every day for the unforeseen future I have the privilege of watching a wee baby fall in love with her parents–and me. I am reminded that while the days ahead are uncertain, our commitment to each other is rock solid.
Time to unpack.
Good morning world! My name is Millie Beverly. Mommy and Daddy tell me my first name means strong and my middle name also means strong because I was named after Auntie Bevie. She’s the whole family’s superhero, whatever that means, because of all she’s gone through; Mommy says Bevie is a vessel of hope.
Mommy and Daddy say it’s important to be strong in life so they wanted to fortify me with all the tools, including my name, that I might need for the next 90+ years. I actually have no idea what fortify means or 90. The only thing I know is the world is a lot different from the place I came from.
Six days ago I was in warm, dark and cozy tropical water cave. I didn’t have to think about anything. I had everything at my beckon call.
Snap, snap, waiter, waiter!
“How would you like your drink, Miss? Warm or warmer?”
It was like I was living full-time in a five-star hotel comp’ed by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Now I’m here, listening to something called Netflix, my grammy’s tapping, tapping purple knitting needles and something called a keyboard. She’s doing something called editing. She’s called something like a teacher. And, she likes coffee. And California wine.
You know me, I’m into milk from someone called Mommy. And cuddles. And pooping. And smiling (at least that’s what Grammy calls it, but I’m not going to tell her it’s really just my tummy gurgling). And sleeping. A lot of sleeping. Because I have to rest up. From what I’ve seen so far, and believe me it’s not so easy to focus nowadays, I have a lot to learn. Grammy says, “No need to rush, little one.”
I think Grammy might be the river or maybe the sea, where the rain falls and the wind sings, swoosh, swoosh, swoosh.
I’m no longer head-first like I was six days ago; my arms and feet now have room to stretch. I wear clothes. And diapers. I have a piece of plastic on my belly where Mommy and I held hands before I was born. Honestly, I really don’t want to think about that. It was pretty tough, and that’s all I’m going to say about that, except I’m glad I don’t have to be born again. I’m good.
It’s all so strange and vaguely familiar, like an EKG sketch of Manhattan’s skyline off in the distance. Trains roar past. Just not right now.
It’s kinda hard to explain it. Overwhelming and completely normal. That feeling that you just want to be better. You want to be healthier. You want to be kinder. You have your priorities figured out.
You realize you don’t have all the time in the world, like you did before.
So you know your imprint needs to last beyond making meals and cleaning up. You know your whispers in the middle of the night, your silly, made-up songs you sing when the parents are out of the room, need to touch your little ones’ most ancient self. Because it’s gotta last. Your love has to last beyond your years.
I remember my mother’s eyes when new mom Katie was born. Mom knew she wouldn’t be around for long. Her chronic lung disease, caused by a lifetime of smoking, was taking its ugly toil. It was all she could do to walk. But that she did. Heroically. Through the streets of Solvang, CA where she bought my baby girl, the mother of my new granddaughter, a ceremonial birthday candle, as she had done before for all the grandchildren and grand nephews and nieces. That day, I remember dressing up my baby girl in a Sunday school frock and hat, knowing how much her outfit would delight my mother. And it did.
It was a wonderful last trip to the Central Coast of California. On the scenic drive, Mom shared what it was like growing up with a “distant” mother, who herself was mysteriously adopted in England by a church elder. Her mother, she said, favored her sister and brother. She, Mom explained, was the working child who did everything she could to please her mother by completing all the household chores–and then some. Mom never experienced the deep, long-lasting, forever, just-because love from Grandma Elizabeth.
That trip, almost 30 years ago, helped me figure out my mother and forgive her for not being the mom I thought I needed. Our heartfelt conversation made me realize it was me not her that was the problem: I wasn’t the daughter she deserved.
From that day forth I did my best to do better by Mom. She was a champion. A warrior. I waited too long to figure that out.
Babies give us a chance to connect with the past, the present and the future. Our stories are deep and intertwined.
“I love you, I love you, I love you,” I whisper to three-day-young Millie, cooing the same words I say to my grandsons, the same words I sang to my mother when she was latched to a respirator in the dark days before she died.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” Ray Bradbury told me, and others who cared to listen. “Do what you love and love what you do.” Try not to worry. Be present. Let go of the bad. In the end, at the beginning, none of the bad stuff matters.
Yes, I’m sleep-deprived. Yes, I wish I could go outside and scream at the top of my lungs, “This is my granddaughter! Isn’t she amazing?” But we have to be careful, restrained, for we live in a time of pandemic disorder.
Like other elders, I’m here in our tiny cocoon, thinking about life, Millie, Mom, and wondering what this time in history is all about. Together, with a tear-drenched, off-key lullaby, we’ll figure it out.
On this day, an extraordinarily normal thing happened to an extraordinary ordinary family during anything-but-normal times: A child was born to a NYC couple, the woman, age 29, the father, 30. This girl-child greeted her teacher-mother and first-year med-school dad soon after lunch time, weighing in at 9 pounds, 3 ounces, 23 inches long. Mother and child are both doing fine as her masked-donned Papa cradles his daughter for the first time. Extended family are looped into the blessed event via the wonder of texting, phone calls and digitally remote conversations. As the sun–on-cue–pulls back the curtain clouds on the first Sunday of Spring, tears of joy are shed and God is profusely thanked.
Nothing will ever be the same.
Not the park.
Not the grocery store.
Not the long subway trek to work.
Life transformed into a translucent elixir of milk and honey.
Today there will be no talk of calamity because one thing is more certain and predictable than gloom and doom news: A new life, my granddaughter Millie, was born and from this day forth she will be loved forever. And with that love she, too, will become a giver of love, bearing the torch lit long ago by parents of parents, from East to West.
This is how it works.
Nothing else matters.
It’s hard not to worry. We’re in the midst of a world health crisis and my full-term+ daughter is on the NYC subway heading to her Manhattan elementary school to finalize plans for remote teaching. She is healthy. So is the baby. Thank God. But she’s “out there” mingling with people who might be very sick. As an ultra protective new-mom-to-be, she knows it isn’t a good idea to be in public right now, but she’s required to report to school and plan remote lessons for her fourth-graders. She cares deeply about her students’ education, but she’s also worried about draining her sick leave; like other mothers in her situation, she zealously hoards her sick days so she has more time to be with her baby post-delivery.
Let me be blunt: America’s attitude toward new babies and their parents sucks. There is NO WAY mamas, like my daughter, should put themselves in harm’s way because they need to bank sick leave. But American women are put in that no-win situation every day–Coronavirus19 or not.
Now this is sick. Sick! New parents ought to be able to spend as much time as they need to in order to connect with their little ones; they shouldn’t be stressed out about the inevitablity of handing their babies off to strangers, to institutions, because they can’t afford to live. This isn’t right!
My teacher-daughter is one of America’s “lucky” ones. At least she has sick leave plus six weeks of maternity leave. But two or three months isn’t enough time. You carry a baby for nine months, then transfer your infant to a stranger for eight-plus hours, return home–exhausted–and, in the case of my daughter and other teachers, patchwork-in grading and lesson planning.
Come on America! We CAN do better for new parents.
I am such a fan of Finland and what this Scandinavian nation did post World War II. Collectively, the Finns decided to re-think their war-battered society and asked, What kind of nation, what kind of people do we want to be? Their answers led to a complete overhaul of their government and social systems–from re-structuring public education and housing to prioritizing a new-found respect toward the elderly and the young. The Finns examined their weaknesses and vulnerabilities–honestly. They focused on shared values and created systems that fostered mental and physical health for every member of society. In Finland, no one is discarded; every human being has extraordinary worth and value–starting in the womb. Unlike the United States, Finland offers enviable maternity leave, and provides financial incentives for parents wish to stay home with their young children.
And don’t get me started on Finland’s impressive education system. They got it right, that’s all I can say.
And so can we.
Right now, we are in a war against an enemy we didn’t realize was coming. But like Finland, we have an opportunity to re-think our society and ask, “What do we want?” and “How can we make America truly better–for all?”
As we sit at home reassessing our lives, let’s be inspired to use this time to develop a renewed, healthier nation. We can FaceTime, Zoom or Skype innovative Think Tank solutions. We can seize control of the remote and Change the Channel.
A new life will soon be born into America’s family: My granddaughter. Your grandson. Your niece, cousin, a neighbor’s firstborn or third child. In the center of this daunting, billowing pandemic storm, are our children. I dare anyone to look into their eyes and say, “This is it. We can’t do any better.”
It’s time to put down the swords and re-evaluate who we are and what we want to be.
March 19, 2020
Not everyone is crazy. Waiting-to-delivery Katie and I walked to the neighborhood grocery store to pick up some milk and a couple of dinners in preparation of hanging out at the apartment post-baby, and discovered reason and sanity still exists. The New Yorkers in Katie and Jason’s Queens neighborhood don’t appear to be greedy, hoarders, or especially overly panicked. Maybe it’s because a lot of people walk and carry their groceries home. Maybe it’s because apartments are small and there’s no space for Big Box store palettes of toilet paper. Maybe it’s because we, (notice WE–I’ve apparently moved in for a spell), are thinking of other things like a baby about to be born in the midst of madness.
Now is the time to hunker down. And I don’t mean isolate. Now is the time to get close. Get real. Focus on our personal and shared values. To be caring and loving. We, The People. need to be The Change We Seek to See in the World, as Gandhi said.
I hope the world sees this as a time to step back off the fast-paced, frenzied lives most of us lead and self-reflect. What do we believe? What really matters?
Our conclusions may not necessarily be good for the economy: What if we don’t actually need to consume our lives with the doing and the buying and the consumerizing? What if we decide to read and write and go for a walk, just because we need some fresh air? What if we stopped focusing on the screens, be it phones, TV, CNN or Fox, and actually talked about what’s important? What if we stopped being frightened by TV news and read thoughtful and well-balanced “slow” journalistic accounts?
What if what we think is bad actually becomes good? A world re-alignment gift?
Sitting next to my very, very, very pregnant daughter, being quiet, knowing that for her it’s about to get very real and very hard, and that the pain of labor will replaced by abundant, forever love, gives me a sense of peace. Joy and light prevails in the folly of grey skies.
As the saying goes, we can only control ourselves. Which is profoundly liberating. We get to stop. Take control. Evolve into our highest selves. To be better.
Friday The 13th 2020
I’m sitting at the LAX Farmer’s Market waiting to board a plane to NYC to be with Katie and Jason as they labor through the ancient labor of meeting their beautiful child of hope. Our little girl will be born soon…but not before Grandma gets there, God willing!
I have to admit, it’s kinda sad here at LAX. People in masks. Surgeon hand washing in the rest rooms—using elbows to turn on water–no one dare touching surfaces. No one acknowledging each other. There’s definitely a somberness to the airport. And a strange calmness. And then there’s Rock N’ Brews. No one seems worried at L.A.’s rowdy drinking station.
I’ve decided that even though I don’t like beer, we aught-to toast our Year of the C.V. 19 wee one with Corona Beer. No, on second thought, bad taste. Literally, to my wine taste buds and public perception.
Cheers to one and all. Enjoy each historic moment. Because they all are-every single one of them. Be kind. Life IZ Good. Baby Hope is about to enter the world. We gotta get it together for our little ones.
In the meantime, I’m about to enjoy a glass of non-Boisset wine (Aussie red blend-$12 a glass—actually not that bad!) and calm down from all the turmoil.
Solo Valentine’s Day Trip to Napa
Day 1: I’m at LAX waiting for my flight to Napa for the Boissett Ambassador’s Retreat. By myself! It’s kindof a Big Deal. First, I’m taking a plane. I doubt that I have flown on a plane more than a dozen times in my 63 years. Second, it is the second trip of my life by myself to an unfamiliar destination.
I know this is no biggy to most younger, business women. You do it all the time. You probably don’t get anxious. You probably don’t arrive two hours ahead of time like the airlines suggest. You probably have TSA pre-check and don’t have to take off your shoes or wait in a line. All this makes me a little anxious. Makes me feel out of place. Makes me feel not like myself.
So I am pretending to be you. The young, talented, beautiful woman seated across from me reading text messages and catching up on TMZ.
I’m wearing my Target “leather” coat, my sparkly Michael Jackson shoes and have my fake patent leather red suitcase with me, and my brown San Diego I’m-On-An-Adventure-Hat. I don’t fit in. I don’t stand out. I’m here, with everyone else. No one seems to care or know that I’m way out of my comfort zone.
Everyone is cool.
This weekend, I’m a reporter. I’m curious. I’m paying attention. I’m recording, thinking—and growing. And honestly, I’m grateful that I am well enough, have a credit card that I will eventually pay off, and have absolutely no other agenda except to be open.
I’m flying to Oakland, will rent a car (only the second time I have ever done this by myself), and will spend a couple of hours driving to Napa where I will arrive at an AirBnB house and live with strangers for the next four days. I will go wine tasting in fancy places and try to fit in, and then realize after a couple of drinks, that I don’t have to fit in. I just need to be myself.
To be continued…
I’m here in Napa, in a giant five-bedroom house. It’s quiet since everyone, who’s here for the wine retreat, are off learning about managing people like me. Thus, I have some time to myself in this spacious home 12 minutes from the luxury hotel where the conference is, to take my time, think and reflect.
No. 1: I like having time to compose myself.
No. 2: Whenever I have quiet time I think how much Bevie and Wendy, my two amigos, would LOVE being here. It never seems the same without them. I figure this trip is my expedition, my scouting trip for the next time we come up here. Which we definitely will.
No. 3: I am DOING THIS! I made it. I found the house in the dark, after a LONG day at work. I stopped to get groceries and had a half a bottle of Chalk Hill red blend, some aged Gouda and Safeway bread. I turned on season 4 of “Better Call Saul” and, honestly, enjoyed my world immensely.
In a short time I will be on my way to Raymond Vineyards for a trip to the Crystal Room and a solo wine tasting. It’s Valentine’s Day and I guess I could feel like a loser. And maybe I do just a little bit. But not because I necessarily want to be with someone romantically. That circus has been shut down a long time. Really, it’s because of what I said earlier: It’s fun sharing experiences with people I love.
No. 4: As I enter this new chapter of my life, not hanging out with my ex as much, I need to embrace this Hans Solo life. This is my new beginning. I have never had to work things out as a single person. Not really. My entire adult life I’ve had people around me to rely upon. This weekend, it’s all about me and what I’ll do in this new phase. Not worrying about anyone else. Just letting go and seeing what God has in store for me. Let the adventure begin!
Postscript: So it turned out OK. I made it through a Valentine’s Day without feeling like a loveless loser. No, there were no romances or prospects of a possible relationship. I did talk it up quite a bit with The Count at Buena Vista, but I end ronight feeling full. Not with wine or food, but of new experiences and insights.
I haven’t bought the Koolaid entirely; it’s unlikely I am ever going to be a sales person for anything. But I do LOVE this wine. And I do LOVE talking about it and sharing it. And I do realize no matter what I do that I need to be me. Which I’m still figuring it out. I’m processing. I like wine. I like talking to people. I like learning about wine. I like listening to, and telling stories. And I’m figuring out mine.
Be mine, the ol’ slogan on those cheap sugary candies. I don’t think they mean allowing yourself to be someone else’s property. Be mine means to thine own self be true. That numb feeling I’ve had for a while, is starting to subside.I’m starting to feel like my old, curious Han Solo the warrior self.
I am sitting on the ridiculously squeaky bed trying to mind my own business and be quiet while the rest in the household (six others, I believe, although I’ve never seen everyone together and have almost no idea who my housemates are) prepare for the final day of the retreat.
Being honest, there’s definitely a Cheerleaders for Boisset Wines Team element to this retreat. Lots of leopard, bling and halleluiahs in the room. I am part of the bobble head congregation. I almost became a wine collector–$500 to join and about $3,500 in 24 bottles of wine—if I had been a little more intoxicated I would have. Fortunately I remembered my reality: I am a single, nearing retirement woman who enjoys nature and all things not blingy. I have to remain open and manage my enthusiasm.
Which brings me to something pretty exciting: our head wine honcho, as in the owner of a wine empire, is excited about my podcast idea, “We’re Here for the Potluck”. I explained my vision and he was sincerely digging it. Even last night the marketing director asked me for my card. This is promising. A fantastic partnership. THIS is the reason I’m here…to get juiced up about life and my role in All Things Possible. Wine is the entry key. The rest, is up to God, me, and the universe.
I am pretty sure for the last few days I have been a character actor in, “Invasion of the Wine Zombies”. It has been a really interesting few days. In most ways, it was like a typical convention. Panels. Sales-pump-up-messaging. Swag. Incentives, like big trips to Europe for top sales-earners, and purses and elite bottles of wine for attendees who show up on time. The celebrity, the head of the company, kept making appearance thrilling both genders. He is a special human, an artist.
I’ve been paying attention to how he treats attendees. He is incredibly charming, genuine and positive. He makes people want to be better.
He has a familiar line/attitude/approach—that anything is possible.
I’ve decided to steal that.
I used to believe that, then life grabbed me by the wrist and dragged me in a direction that wasn’t necessarily my first choice. Don’t get me wrong: I am happy. Very happy. I have the privilege of having a home and family and I have a fulfilling job as a teacher. But most of the decisions I made were based on bad decisions I made in the past and my life became a series of adaptations. Again, it all works out as it’s supposed to, but this next chapter beckons me to grab the steering wheel and seize control.
I’m going to think long and hard about my Hans Solo Weekend and what it means to my soul. Being open is a good thing. I did something way out of my comfort zone. A quarter of the time I was worried or thinking about What’s Next? and What Do I Need to Prepare? I guess that’s normal. What I need to practice is the art of being in the moment. Like right now.
I’m on Southwest Airlines bound for home. I’m flying along Highway 1 and will soon pass Paso Robles. It’s hazy and spring green and the Pacific Ocean is just beyond the mountain ridge. The plane engines roar and my shoulders begin to tense up. Relax. Relax. The peace that passes all understanding flows through me.
Soaring above, between and below the misty clouds, I feel God’s presence. A new life is beginning. Burgundy, navy, turquoise and forest green. Life IZ good and it’s about to get even better!
I’m doing my civic duty. I am waiting to see if I’m selected to serve on a jury. I want to. And I don’t. I want to do my part. But I don’t want to spend so much time away from the classroom, from my students who need their teacher to help them negotiate “Fahrenheit 451”. I want to experience the process, the judicial branch doing its thing with the help of open-minded citizens. But I also know that my students may grow stagnant without their teacher. Maybe they’ll miss me. Maybe they’ll realize that Ms. Johnson’s classroom management is highly beneficial to support a thriving atmosphere of learning. Maybe they’ll like the substitute teacher more than me. Maybe I’ll like being away from them. Extended lunches. No homework to grade. No angry parents to engage with. No staff meetings. No lessons to plan. No routine.
This may be the absolute perfect, “Am I ready to retire?” opportunity. Unplanned. Unwanted/wanted. My Civic Duty. A chance to really see what it’s like to not teach, to do something else, to re-invent, revive, to clarify. If I do get selected to serve on the jury for an expected two weeks, I’ll know whether or not I’m ready to retire from teaching. If I miss it, if my heart doesn’t pump as much as it does when I make a right and a left turn and another left at 7 a.m. when I turn into the staff parking lot, then I will know I need to stay in the classroom a while longer. If, on the other hand, my mind is expanded and I see new possibilities, then this step-away experience will be clarifying.
Right now, I have to confess, not having to report to “work” until 11 a.m. is kind of unnerving. I mean, look at me, I’m blogging before 9 a.m. in the middle of the week. No bells. No complaints. Just me and the morning sun, and the billowing white clouds, and the trash truck, every day occurrences I never would have noticed had I not been waiting to report to the courthouse.
I wonder, does Oprah have to report to Jury Duty? Is she exempt because she’s famous? Do other celebrities get a pass? Are they more important than a teacher? A nurse? A small business owner? The judge who welcomed us to the jury room yesterday told us that next to serving our nation via military service, this is the only other way we can make sure our democracy thrives. Jury Duty is a privilege, he said. Think of other countries where citizens never get “their day in court”. If someone sues us and we end up in the courtroom, or a family member is accused of a crime, he said, we would want to have someone as open-minded and impartial as us sitting in the jury box. This, he said, is how democracy works. Of the people, by the people and for the people.
I am torn. I want to experience the courtroom, but I miss the classroom. I miss my students.
In a few hours I will get the verdict. For now, it’s out of my control. For now, I will enjoy this brief midweek respite away from the day-to-day.
Refocus. Family crap is crap. Not gonna ruin my night. Refocus: The backyard pond. The Edison lights stretching across the fire pit, wired to the 50′ Christmas pines we planted in 1994, the year we moved in. An unexpected rain shower expected in exactly six minutes. The icy glass of fresh orange juice with a splash of Tito’s. The pea/lentil soup I made in between grading and cleaning the house. The Awesome New Friend I made, Mohamed, the auto detailer, who came to my home and turned my Luna Bella Blu into my new 2001 Eurovan Camper Joy! He shared his wisdom and insight about some of the crazy stuff going on in the world.
Flash present: Redirection. Ownership of self.
Of late, Mary Oliver’s poem keeps replaying in my mind: “Then the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice, ‘Mend my life’ and you were determined to do the only thing you could do.” And this is where I paraphrase: Save the only life you could save. Your own.
I am gifted (think verb) challenges, just like everyone else. They make me mad, but I realize there is a treasure embedded in frustration. It’s called choice. So today, instead of getting upset, hurt that my daughter told me I wasn’t welcome to her 39th birthday party (mind you, I paid for and attended her two other 39th B-Day parties), I placed my thoughts and attention on my world. As I said, I completed the tasks I needed to complete, and had joy taking ownership of my space.
And now as the weekend of service, reflection and growth ends, being a loving grandmother, friend, partner, citizen and imperfect mother, I return to the Written Page–myself–a stabilizing force during a perpetually destabilizing time. I am grateful for the sky and calm breeze, jacket-wearing weather, my new/old kissable clean car, a vocation that gives me focus and purpose, and Tuesday–Jury Duty, a paid day away from the classroom, hours to read, organize, figure out Instagram and Dream about Retirement.
And, if I’m really lucky, I’ll do my civic duty and serve on a jury for a solid week. Can’t wait to experience the entire process.
Which reminds me, strangely enough, of the WWII service men and women who assembled and piloted the WWII vintage planes I had the privilege of visiting this weekend at a local air show. Touring them, watching the beautiful old beasts take off and land, made my eyes well up with gratitude: These veterans loved us that much that they sacrificed their lives.
Reminding me, once again, that there are more important things than family squabbles. Refocus. It’s a new week.