I went to church on Sunday for the first time in many, many years. Not everything is as I remembered. Services don’t take place inside the 100+-year-old white church steeple sanctuary, rather they are held in the 1960s-built Parish Hall and outside in the courtyard. Christ Episcopal Church has been Covidized. And the lead minister who’s been replaced several times over since I left the church some 18 years ago, is new. She’s a mum of two twin girls; instead of calling her Father, she’s referred to as Mother. And she’s originally from England. And she reads her sermons rather than speaks off-the-cuff. The music’s new too. I didn’t recognize a one.
But the Episcopal service is the same structure, as are the prayers. Communion is way different: Each parishioner is given our own sealed tiny wafer and a thimble of sweet wine. All sanitary and in plastic kinda like the ginger and wasabi containers that come with To-Go sushi. Environmentally horrendous, but some clever inventor’s $$ meal ticket-response to the pandemic. I doubt that anyone will ever again feel comfortable sharing the Communion chalice; this new fast-food approach to sharing the body and blood of Christ may be here for good.
What drew me back to church is my friend, Mona, who invited me to check it out after I posted my last blog. I’m obviously going through life-changing turmoil and she instinctually sensed I might benefit from a visit to God’s sit-down restaurant.
She was right.
Being in a faith community renewed my faith and brought back memories of the first time I went to the church in third grade having convinced my parents that I needed to go to a house of worship, and then later, after my mom died and my heart was broken. Despite my flakiness, I will always consider Christ Church as my home church, the place I seem to be drawn to when my life is mixed up. Being there yesterday gave me a place to formally say, “Here, God, take this. I can’t carry it by myself anymore.”
Christ Church is a tiny little wooden chapel, a ten-minute walk from Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea. Sweet, not flashy; a building that’s withstood two world wars, various economic collapses including the Great Depression, the zealous tear-down of neighborhoods replaced by 1950s stucco, and a revolving door of ministerial leadership that has, unfortunately, taken its toll on the congregation. But with the new minister, Mother Julie, a USC MBA graduate who’s worked in the entertainment business before heeding the call to ministry, the little church by the bay has a chance to once-again be revitalized. There’s birds singing in the trees in the outdoor sanctuary as the church bells ring and the violinist and pianist use their musical gifts to ease the soul.
So many flashbacks at this church: My dad in his walker, proudly wearing his medals on Veteran’s Day. Katie, who was a tot, and her Sunday School buddies. Father Rob and his growing family. Me, having the freedom to teach Sunday School in a way that reflected my personality and spirit. Me, being able to question, doubt, and grow as a mother, woman and Christian. This historic sanctuary gave me a home where I could be the flawed, creative person that I am. I was loved for being myself and embraced wholly, as was every other parishioner.
Truly, it was a remarkable time and place back in the early 1990s guided by a remarkable leader who allowed each of us to find our own path. No egos. No dictatorship. Christ Church was the People’s Church.
Yes, I have decided, I will go back next Sunday.
It’s Lent, the purple weeks, and from what I remember about this time on the Christian calendar and my own experience over the years, a Season of Tests. Trouble seems to bubble up to the surface. Lots of it. Like waves. Think you handled this crisis, this miserable person, BOOM, here’s another challenge Ms. Smartypants! It’s like two-by-fours hitting you again and again, stunning you, until you are so bruised you instinctually put up your dukes, like the mustached boxer in a black and white film, and shout, “Let me at ‘em, let me at ‘em.” Problem is, for me, my one-two-punches are a waste of energy; weak and unpracticed, I end up falling on my butt.
Confession: I’ve been holding the weight-of-the-world on my shoulders for far too long. I need a lounge chair and tanning oil.
Church seems to have helped, although I’m less than 24 hours from the experience.
But so has movement: I’m on a clean-the-house, get-rid-of-stuff, re-thinking and staging each room, frenzy. Preparing for the unexpected. Preparing for the expected. Preparing for change. I’m in-process mode. And the way I process the unprocessable (because I’m in the middle of it) is to overeat or overdrink or organize, of which I am choosing the later. Organizing equals clarification: Do I need that? Does it bring me joy? If not, thank you and goodbye. And that, quite frankly, is the hard part. It’s where I’m at. Maybe you are too. It is, after all, Lent, a time of reflection, upheaval, and on the other side of it, a glorious Easter sunrise.
I am with you, always, He said, he re-assured, in his darkest hour.
This is a test.
This is a test.
This is a test.
Or as The Byrds’ sang in the 1960s….there is a season. “Turn! Turn! Turn!”
Feet on the ground. Tears in the clouds. Swimming in Jello. Going nowhere. Waiting. Praying. Listening to hopeful music, music from when Katie was a baby and Bruce and I made slide shows about the wondrous Sunday School program at Christ Episcopal Church.
There is nothing I can do. NOTHING. But sit and wait.
When he returns from a second surgery on his foot, will he even have one? Will the doctors decide the infection is too bad and amputate? Will his body respond to antibiotics so he is eligible for a skin graft?
Will he even make it out of surgery?
I know to those in the medical community, surgery is an everyday occurrence. No biggie. But for those of us waiting in the empty hospital room, sitting by the phone for an update, every passing second is an omen of bad news. That’s what we—those of us who wait—think about as one nonsense TV show surpasses the next.
Tick, tick—-wait—-tick, tick—-wait.
Let me explain: Bruce is my ex-husband. We’ve most definitely had an interesting relationship over the years, including the 10+ we’ve been divorced. As much as we’ve both moved on, in many ways we haven’t. We care about each other and want the best. We have a shared history, family stories, and know each other better than practically anyone else. He’s seen me at my most vulnerable, as have I, him. The thought that he is hurt or in pain hurts me. I actually feel like I could vomit any moment. I want him to be OK.
Sitting here waiting, I’m on the verge of tears. Once again, writing is saving me, giving me a place to roll around in the grass without anyone seeing.
If you read my last blog, you know I’ve been struggling with the sale of my family abode, the home occupied by my sister and cousin. A couple of days ago, I was helping them pack up Mom’s china. It was all I could do not to lay on the ground and weep. I “get” that houses are material objects, that it’s the people inside that counts, that everything is transitory. I “get” all that. But loss is loss is loss. In a couple of weeks, I won’t be able to walk in the front door and silently say “Hi” to my long-deceased Mom and Dad. All the ghosts will be gone: Auntie Marjorie, Uncle Bill, Auntie Madge and Uncle Lou, Chris, Carolyn, our dog, Major, and Kitty Bummer. I won’t see Mom in the kitchen preparing the rump roast or Dad playing giddy-up horsie with the grandkids. It will soon be a mirage.
And now, Bruce. In surgery, as I type.
The known and unknown.
And I don’t like it one bit.
I want to be a little kid. I want to go on a picnic. I want to play Barbies. I want to twist to The Beatles.
I don’t want to be an adult any more. I don’t want to be strong. I don’t want to be positive and stiff upper lip. I want to live at Disneyland. I want to wear pink and purple and drink vanilla milk shakes and never get fat. I want to read “My Side of the Mountain” for the first time and climb on monkey bars and get tan like a Hershey bar without worrying about getting skin cancer.
I want to start over and appreciate every single milkweed crack in the sidewalk. I never want to get mad or angry. I just want to put on musicals in the backyard of our perfectly imperfect 1950s Spreckles Lane track home. I want to wait an entire week to watch “The Wonderful World of Color”. I want to be Mary Poppins.
Life is getting too grown-up-serious and I don’t like it.
Until, until, until a grown-up in scrubs tells me the good thing or the bad thing, I am going to believe in glittery rainbows. “Bruce was a smashing patient. The surgery was successful,” Dr. Kim will say with a big grin on his face.
Waiting is better than knowing.
Until the nurse walks in: “You won’t see the doctor until tomorrow. But he did well. They cleaned up the wound and did a skin graft.”
And when he returns to the room smiling, a pink glow flushing his cheeks and ravenous for the salmon dinner on tonight’s hospital menu, a thousand years of worry drops from my shoulders. At least for now, the crisis called diabetes, has been averted. Thank God for God. Thank God for science. Thank God for the brilliant medical team at Torrance Memorial Hospital. Thank God for wine, which I surely will be consuming as soon as get home.
…woke up at 4 a.m. and started writing. No deadline. No subject matter in particular. Just the rumblings of life.
Maybe it’s the wind. There’s a turbulence, a change, a danger lurking in the moon-lit, cloud-filled sky. Something new. Something old. Are the raccoons foraging in the backyard stream? Is that homeless guy camped out in the perimeter of the property? Will my prescription glasses ever turn up or is it time to throw in the towel of hope and order a new pair?
My sister and cousin are moving. My non-impulsive sister informed me last week that she’s in escrow, selling the family homestead and relocating to a pricier zip code I fear she can’t afford. House rich, day-to-day poor. She’ll have a Room With An Ocean View, something she’s long wanted, but selfishly, I know she’ll be harnessed to ensuring that she’ll now need to work longer and won’t have the funds to retire and horse around with me. My cousin too. Why would anyone want to work longer, enslaved to the responsibilities of paying for house expenses when you could be free and exploring? Less house, more freedom is my goal.
My sister’s decision has caused a seismic shift in my family’s world.
So here I type at 4ish a.m. trying to understand, turning the kitchen table upside down.
Thursday the Realtors arrive with their cameras and drones. This weekend, the house I grew up in, Grandma and Grandpa’s beloved abode, goes on the market.
It is her right.
Change is good.
At some point, it was going to happen. When she got sick. When she died. Closing shop on the Family Home is inevitable. It’s either in your control while you’re healthy and fit or it’s up to the relatives when you can no longer make decisions or you’re dead.
I admire the fact that she’s made a decision. I truly do. She is indecisive much of the time. The opposite of impulsive. But this decision, from the outside looking in, seems rash and not in her best, long-term interest. She’s never even walked in the house. She doesn’t know what she’s up against remodel-wise. The house is on a Main Street, much more hectic than the one she lives on now. But it has an ocean view. And neighborhood standards that dictate the color you can paint your house and whether or not they’ll grant permission to change the landscape.
Definitely not for me. Just the idea of a committee telling me what plants I can put in or take out makes me want to rebel and create a flamingo pink Disney jungle scape.
My sister’s vision about how she wants to spend the rest of her life is vastly different from mine. And that is the essence of what’s bothering me. It’s not the house. It’s the view. Which has always been different. It’s what caused us tussles as children. It’s what made me feel insecure. She was always right, always the thinest, the smartest—Mom’s favorite–who has been the protector of the Family Home almost her entire adult life. And now at 62, she’s about to literally close the door on decades of memories and move on. Whether it’s the right or wrong decision, time will tell. The fact is, she is shedding the old for the new, something I never, ever, as in EVER, thought my little sister would do. Change seems so out of character.
Which leads me back to my inner stirrings, my own longing to be closer to the sea, more aligned with Nature.
Am I not seeing the forest through the trees? Currently, I live two blocks from the beach in a historic cottage. My family and friends are close by, along with the convenience of living in suburbia. Maybe I have everything my heart desires but have been too distracted by the fantasy of change to notice.
What is it that I want?
Roots. And Freedom.
Love. Purpose. Discovery. Regeneration. Joy.
Can I experience these feelings while staying put? Of course. Is it my mind that needs to change rather than the venue? Yes, my mind definitely needs to change—no matter where I live. But this longing to be free isn’t a fad, it’s real. To be unburdened. To be porous. To have my limbs be as flexible as my mind.
It’s funny how a person’s view of life changes. When I was a kid, my sister, cousin and I would play Barbies, our kingdom stretching from the den, where my sister currently spends sleepless nights, into the hallway and sometimes into the kitchen where Mom percolated her preferred Maxwell House coffee. Our ever-changing plot consumed us for days. My sister was always the surfer Barbie, my cousin, the stewardess, and me, I liked to drive the Kleenex box convertible and cook food. Nothing has really changed. But looking back, my sister was never the homebody like us. She wanted to be in the water bodyboarding or skateboarding. Being tied down to crewcut Ken was never her thing. The accoutrements of homeownership were Mom’s thing, not hers. Which makes sense: The House on Paulina was our immigrant parents’ dream, a sign that they really made it in America, an accomplishment that never would have happened had they stayed in their tiny English village.
What we inherit.
My sister and I would likely never been able to afford to live near the beach had it not been for the generosity of our parents. We are rooted here, in our own homes, because of them. But our inheritance came with strings never detailed in their will: their hope for us was that our lives would be better than theirs, that our homes would bring us joy and peace and attract love and provide a sense of fulfillment.
With the sale of my sister’s house, maybe as soon as next week, our parents’ legacy has certainly been honored. She has been a good and loyal caretaker. She did our parents’ proud. But perhaps now, her burdens will lessen.
At the end of the day, or at 4 a.m., we need to know that we are all in the process of doing the best we can do, that we’re on the path we’re supposed to be on, heeding God’s will, and having a bit of fun along the way. One foot in front of the other.
Whether I like it or not, agree or disagree, my sister is about to take flight. Three, two, one—TAKE OFF!
Some people kneel. Some people chant and sing. Some people bow their heads and cup their hands. To me, writing is prayer.
It’s the way I connect. It’s the way I listen. It’s the way I distract my mind with lists and events and all the trivia that clutters my mental state of being, that I wrangle over and over again until I get to a place where the clothes closet of my life is almost empty. What remains are those too-small, too-faded, bits and pieces of life that, at some point, need addressing.
And I do. And I don’t. Perhaps you can relate to that exhausted and bored with yourself Amazon-shopping-to-distract frenzy of not dealing with the real deal, the What Really Matters stuff. You know, the icky junk that wakes you up in the middle of the night that you can’t solve and you try to solve by taking nighttime meds and watching YouTube until you finally fall asleep to that scratchy black and white state: “You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!”
Writing is prayer.
This is what happens when I write. Yes, in the case of a blog, I am aware of an audience and that’s ego, to be sure. But I crave connection; I’m a social creature by nature and feel better when I engage with others, even if it is with a “like” or a hopefully sincere comment. But behind this public display of trying-to-figure-out-my-life-at-65, is a hope that by shedding my veneer, others will similarly shed theirs, which I happen to believe is the key to finding peace: Being real. Like Anne Frank. My mentor since the fourth grade when I first read her diary. Oh, how I miss sharing her story with my eighth-graders.
Writing is prayer:
God, how can I be of service? What do you want me to do?
Be yourself. Smile. Engage. And stop worrying. I got this.
Wow! It’s really that simple?
No judgment. No, “You dumb bunny. I’ve told you this a million times before! Why don’t you listen, fool!” God responds with kind of an air-hug warm embrace that always brings tears to me eyes and a, “Duh! Of course!”
Float. And float I shall. I don’t need to sell the house now. Though I might. I don’t need to buy clothes or furniture or tickets to see Josh Groban or Cirque du Soleil. I don’t need to reflect the frenzied energy of others and respond to their nudges and “words of advice”. If God says, “Hold still. I’ve got this,” I will. If God says, “Now,” then I will.
My frenzy is buying into the frenzy. Not stopping. Not valuing my time. This gift—-Life—-that prayer and silence and walking and being in Nature reminds me of.
What prompted today’s journal entry is the possibility of moving: For decades I have dreamed of moving to the Central Coast, having an ocean view, going for walks, eating healthy foods, drinking lovely wines, journaling, art-ing, socializing—growing. Selling my current home would release me of certain responsibilities. It would shed the ever-present worry I feel if “something goes wrong” since I don’t have the finances to address “The Bad Thing”. In a few years, when a portion of my retirement is spent, some of my monthly income will be gone and I will be house rich and day-to-day cash poor. Obsessively, I turn over and over in my head, “Should I sell and downsize?” House values in my area are way up. I could walk away with financial security and a new beginning.
And therein lies the rub. What about my present? My grandchildren? My adult children? My amigos? And my city, with all its faults, the one in which I grew up in and am used to?
To move means I would be alone sans family. I’d have to re-create my life, my relationships, my routine. Would this shatter or reinvigorate me?
For now, my life IZ very good. I live two blocks from the sea in an old California bungalow that I have somewhat remodeled. I love my Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea. But a change is inevitable, in a few years, for sure. The question is, do I take the plunge now? Or wait?
I have dreamed of living in Cambria for decades. The lost, brand new home steps from the beach, the one I was afraid to buy decades ago because I would be too far away, woke me up last night. My life would have turned out so differently had I decided to live there then. I probably wouldn’t have become a teacher. Who knows what would have become of my kids?
Writing is prayer. Writing is a way of sorting out, deciphering truth from fiction, and being forthright—bruises and all. Writing is my way of microscoping the past and engineering a new flight path leading to the future. But more than anything, writing is my way of anchoring to the present, experiencing and observing today’s blessings so that when, and if, it is time to launch, I can do so with no regrets. God wants me to smile, enjoy, and be at peace.
I got this!
I know I’ve written about this topic before: Leaving. It has always been ridiculously hard for me, starting with my cousin Bevie leaving Spreckles Lane to go back home to San Carlos or Chicago. Leading up to, and following, her departure I would be absolutely cry-boo-hooing unconsolably. I still feel that way when I’m away from her. The world is just better when we are hanging out, drinking a glass–or two–of wine and talking about our family and the various life decisions that have brought us to this point in time. Bevie, and my sister, are my angels. They’ve been through it all with me, and I with them. I am so blessed to be able to hang out with them. We’re The Three Amigos, bound for untold fame, fortune and tons of fun, God willing.
I’m feeling nostalgic and melancholy: this time next Saturday I won’t be here in NYC I’ll be back home with my West Coast family. No more baby cuddles. No more mattress-on-the-floor-sleepless-nights. No more freezing temps and central heated apartment. No more making Saturday pancakes for my much-appreciative daughter or strolls along Austin Street and the grand brick estates of Forest Hills. No more strolls to the neighborhood park and mittened hands and icy sidewalks. No more “Frozen’s” Anna-spins in the living room and Playdough snakes and the finger-paint of life with an almost 2-year-old. Close the scrapbook. It will soon be over. And it’s on to taking care of Bronson, my 8-year-old grandson, and maybe hanging out with cousin/grandboy Jack. In a short time I’ll be on another solo camping trip for a couple of weeks and then—Maui—for a week. My life and my heart are full and blessed. I am grateful, hopeful, and feeling positive these days.
Discovering the new, challenging one’s self, is like carving down the center of my body and tattooing a gorged river vein from the top of my head to my toes. Everything is vulnerable, exposed, yet I am conversely healed. The Great Shakeup can’t happen if I sit on the couch remote dialing Netflix to Hulu and back again. Discomfort, sadness even, is the great nudge I need to un-numb myself. Rawness leads to light.
The jubilance of a sunrise or sunset is sweeter following a storm.
Just like Millie, the crying-for-nearly-an-hour before nap time “Mommy, Mommy!” toddler. She misses her mommy the way I already miss both of them. I totally get the wailing. I totally get the sense of abandonment now that her mommy has returned back to work after 2.5 months savoring maternity leave. It just feels right hanging out and being together. I feel that way too as I wait for my daughter to feed Baby Boy so we can get back to needlepointing and watercoloring. I never want this to end. Even the tension–when the parents discuss the benefits or damage caused by allowing their toddler to cry it out rather than rush to the room and comfort her–will be missed. What is right, really? Dealing with the pain, the frustration, the sadness in the moment then moving on or postponing loss and never leaving? Staying put.
Welcome to a kinda strange transitory for instance…
Last September I decided to try a new weight-loss approach via Noom. This isn’t an advertisement for Noom, therefore I’m not adding a link. But it seems to be working for me. I’ve lost 30 pounds. Not dieting. Not denying. A little bit of calorie counting/observation. Mostly, I’ve lost the weight due to new thinking about my relationship with food. Noom provides prompts, strategies, to get to the core of why I have spent my entire life over-eating. Without being hardcore, without shaming, the 12-minute a day “sessions” gets you to revisit your core and ask, “Why?”
Now why am I sharing this and what does it have to do with leaving New York and crying babies?
My vehicle of choice has been to numb the bad with food. Someone says something mean to me…eat. Someone doesn’t understand my intentions…eat. Someone didn’t get enough sleep, drank too much, didn’t make time for herself to have fun and be creative…eat. Eat to feel love. Eat to deny. Eat to block out. Keep overeating and I am destined to die before my time.
I’m changing. I’m on the right path. I’m not covering up. I’m dealing with the whole shebang of life. It’s OK to feel. as Kasey Musgraves sings, “Happy and sad at the same time.” It’s OK to feel alive and free and miss and long. It’s OK to hope and dream at 65, at 75, at 90.
Their lives are beginning, and so is mine.
About complaining. About why the world is going to hell. About who’s right and who’s wrong. About Trump. About Biden. About COVID. About masks. About insane, selfish people who value their rights over the health and welfare of others.
We want to read about Finding Nemo. About how life can get better. About promise. About the sweet moments of life. About how important it is to cherish those moments no matter how bleak or unsurmountable they might seem at the time. Because Life IZ Good. And those others, those who seek to poison our minds and hearts for the sake of ratings, well, if we don’t seize the manuscript and red-pen-edit the nonsense, they are right: we will be in deep doo-doo.
But what if we refuse to listen to the pessimists and work on a new mantra: Life IZ good and it’s going to get better.
Such as …
Right now my daughter is on a subway headed to her fourth grade classroom in Manhattan. It’s her first day back from maternity leave. Wee Teddy Hudson is 2.5 months old and Sassy Sister Millie is just shy of Year Two. Her husband will soon leave for his new assignment at a hospital serving the underserved where he’s learning to be an ER doctor. He has a grueling schedule; he won’t see the kids or his wife and parents or the dog and cat for the next four weeks. I’m here to help with the transition. A pinch hitter. No parents in sight from 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Just us wild, crazy and dependable grandparents.
I’m in charge of the baby while the Hudster’s other set of grandparents are assigned to tending to his sister. It’s about as sweet a situation as any new parent could wish for. Still. It’s not Mommy. Or Daddy.
I would be upset. Worried. Sullen and erring that l I’m not with my kiddos. But I know my daughter. She is determined and strong and will make this work. Her breasts will engorge and she’ll pump three times at work today in between teaching a lively group of 10-year-olds. She is organized and has the admirable ability, gift really, of placing things in a mental bento box. No doubt, she’ll be an outstanding teacher today and when she gets home, an immensely loving parent to her two babies. She won’t complain. Her life and her choices are her decision. She’ll put her nose to the grindstone and do the job.
She is so much better than me.
I would have been whining, ticked that America doesn’t have stronger paid family leave policies like Finland, a nation that prioritizes the well-being of families. I definitely couldn’t sleep. Today, I would have been a complete mess on the way to work. But Katie is a true New Yorker: Get out of my way. I have life to do.
And a sweet little life she has.
She has her inaugural children, her four-legged babes, Cat Bus, The Found Feline and Charlie, The Adopted Black Sort-of Lab. Her mother and father-in-law are here indefinitely to help with child care. She has her med school husband. And her two two-legged babies, Teddy and Sassy. It’s a lot of commotion inside this three bedroom NY apartment. Oh, and then there’s me to add to the chaos. Two weeks, then it’s back to the dark cave of my chilly Southern California 100+ year-old bedroom and sleeping in to 11, if I feel so inclined.
Two separate, but entwined lives. Theirs and mine, which is predictable and wonderfully boring at times. At home in my Southern California bungalow by the sea, I sit in the backyard in 80 degree winter weather gardening, painting, reading and writing, while the crew here relishes all-too-brief baby nap time. Ah, the blessings of quietude. Time to collect my thoughts, have a cuppa of tea and mincemeat pie , write a bit in my journal-blog that no one will likely read.
Writing to the air. That’s what I do. Writing to understand. To feel. To return to self. To notice. To remember. To embrace. To smile and feel everything the world can try to grab and smother. Taking a moment to step back and listen to the sound of the keyboard, the baby’s jet engine sound machine, to not be distracted, to remember what it’s all really about.
Babies can do that. So can going for a walk in the brisk New York air or taking the subway and what-the-hell buying tickets to a Broadway musical “Hadestown” or pulling yourself away from ordering online and visiting the local French bakery–La Boulangerie de Francois–that makes the best damn baguette on the entire planet along with the most yummy. steamy, frothy real-cup cappuccino this side of Paris.
Step away from the closing doors please.
It’s the simple things. Like reading a random blog. Smiling at a stranger. Or getting up to dance to “Baby Shark” for the fifth time today.
Just like that, the babies begin chanting their well-coordinated “Wake Up” coos. Time to return to the bedlam of Grandparent Paradise.
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.