Present tense

Tomorrow morning, my daughter returns from her first experience at sleep-away camp.  She left with her church youth group last Sunday.  And while those in charge advised against campers bringing telephones, I allowed her to take one and for that reason, I’ve heard from her a few times this week via text message.  (Stuff like, “uh, I broke a bracket on my braces!”)

It’s been so quiet without her here.  I spent the first two days giving her room a thorough cleaning and then organizing it (with her advanced knowledge and permission).  In the past year she has turned away from her beloved stuff animals and fully embraced friends and everything that comes along with middle school.  She’s outgrown not just her old clothes, but childhood itself.  Time to put it away.

Now the relics of her childhood are stacked in the garage.  Some will be packed away to save but lots of it will be sold in a garage sale.  It seems another lifetime when I carefully packed a million stuffed animals into boxes when we moved but it was only four years ago.  That little girl is gone and in her place I have an eye-rolling, opinionated almost-teenager.  (It’s mostly awesome.)

When I try to imagine four years into the future, I’m blinded by the brightness.  It’s like looking into the sun.

So I blink and look back.  The past four years hover like a mirage, close but out of reach.  Time is a fun-house mirror, always distorted.

All the more reason to focus on today.  What else is there?

Friends are not friends forever despite what Michael W. Smith says

While driving to soccer practice, my 10-year old daughter chatters non-stop.  One day she mentioned that she and a teammate want to have a playdate.  I suggested the waterpark or the beach and then she said, “It’s weird.  Whenever I go someplace like that I always meet someone and make a friend.  And then I never see them again.”

I said, “Yes, they are just friends for a day, huh?”

I hate the idea of a friend for a day.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love the occasional conversation you have with a stranger you meet in random circumstances:  in the airport or the beach or while walking your dog down the street on a balmy Southern California morning.  I like a temporary intersection with an acquaintance or the getting-to-know you exchange of information and ideas with a potential friend, even if nothing really comes of it.

But what I hate is the abandonment of old friends, dear friends, those friends who have toured the inside of your heart and seen you cry.  I hate it and I don’t understand it.

Maybe I am that kind of person, the kind of person who walks away and forgets her friends, the kind of woman who drifts away on the currents of busyness, the loser who plain-out abandons her friends.  But I don’t want to be like that.  I don’t think I am like that.  I spend a lot of time wondering if I am.  Is it me?

Admittedly, I am an introvert, one of those weirdos who would choose reading over partying.  I am never the life of the party, like some people I know.  I don’t gather people to me like a magnet.  I like solitude and peace and quiet.

But when I find a friend, when I connect with someone on a deeper level, when I find someone who laughs at my jokes  and makes me laugh, who “gets” me, I treasure that person.  Over the years, I’ve had some of the most amazing friends.  We have walked parallel paths as we became wives and mothers.  We’ve shared our lives, our sorrows, our gripes, our dreams, our fears.  We have history together.

But at some point, silence has crept in.  Distance both geographical and emotional has turned from space into a wall, an impenetrable wall without a gate.  I’m alone.  I don’t know why.

I don’t have forty-seven other friends tucked away in a banquet room.  I have loved these few friends with devotion and faithfulness.  I have saved every letter these friends have ever sent yet I feel like my actual friendship has been shredded and tossed out in the recycling bin.  (I know.  Real letters with handwriting and postage stamps and everything!  So old-fashioned.)

Sure, this could just be life, that time in the life-cycle of an American female human being when she only sees her children and her husband and her job and her to-do-list, but I have a hole where those friends used to be.

I can’t stop probing the hollow space.


p.s.  I already know that some friends are “for a season” and some are “for a reason” and all that trite stuff.  I just feel a sense of abandonment and it’s probably me, not you.  I don’t need advice or comfort.  I just wanted to stay what I’ve been thinking because it helps me think better and sort through things.  (I almost didn’t post this but I can’t seem to post anything else until this post stops blocking the traffic in my head.)

The last day and extra days

On that last day of summer in 1989, I woke up in the dark and went to work at my job at Blue Cross Blue Shield.  At noon I called my house and reached Aunt Lu.  “How’s he doing?” I asked.  “He’s resting,” she said, “Everything’s fine.”

I finished work and headed home at about 4 PM.  When I parked in my driveway, my aunt appeared in the doorway and met me on the sidewalk.  She told me I needed to go pick up my sister, that my dad was going to die very soon.

I drove a mile toward town, picked up my sister from her part-time job at KFC and returned home.  I headed straight to the back bedroom–my old bedroom with its lavender walls–and found him having a seizure.  I backed out of the room, pulling my 16-year old sister with me, back to the living room to wait. I didn’t want her to see.

Only minutes later, he died.  He was forty-seven.

Melanoma killed him.  That last day of summer–his last day of life–was twenty-three years ago.  I was twenty-four that year.


On February 17, 2012, I went to Disneyland with my daughter, son and husband.  We went to celebrate our son’s fourteenth birthday.  He was born on February 26, but was due on February 17, so we were celebrating on his due date rather than his actual birthday.

But February 17 meant more to me than that.

You see, on February 17, 2012, I turned 47 years and 20 days old.  I don’t normally measure my lifespan in days, but my dad had died when he was 47 years and 20 days old, so it had been on my mind, reaching the same age as my dad. I couldn’t help myself.  I kept thinking, “My dad died when he was my age.”

Disneyland is an odd place to contemplate your mortality and the sheer wonder of being alive.  At least it was for me.

After February 17, I thought I might remember each moment that I am living longer than my dad got to live.  I thought I’d be grateful and exuberant and I’d accomplish something miraculous with these bonus days, these extra days my dad never had.

But no.  Life plods along, routine as always.  On a good day, laughter fills the house and we photograph the sun setting pink over the ocean.  On a bad day, we’re all crabby and I forget to cook dinner.  My husband and I usually hang out at the end of the day, as comfortable with each other as cotton pajamas.  Chores stack up, bills arrive regularly, obligations crowd the calendar squares.  I forget.  All these extra days are miracles, 24-hour wonders.

I take them for granted.

I think about Dad.  I wonder.  What if tomorrow I weren’t here, if death snuffed my life without warning?  Unfathomable, unimaginable.  I’m right in the middle, cresting life and paddling madly to keep from going under.  He just slipped under the surface and disappeared from everything, from everyone, from me.

On this last day of summer, I”ll wake up to bright sun and wander downstairs to work.  I’ll scan my world and see that everything is fine.

I will think back twenty-three years ago when my dad’s life stuttered to an abrupt, unfinished, unfair end.

In the shadow of that loss, my extra days line up, waiting to be lived.



Sometimes, I look at the painted flowers on my daughter’s bedroom wall and feel the world ending.

One day, those flowers will be a memory and the very thought of the end of all this makes me want to stomp my feet and cry.  I don’t want things to change!  I don’t want her to grow up and go to college and meet a boy and get married and move to another state.  Or house.

Sometimes, I look at my 12-year old son’s soft cheeks and his freckled nose and his green eyes and want the whole world to stop. I want to hold his face and touch each freckle but if I did he’d roll his eyes, jerk from my hands and think I’d gone crazy.

Can’t we just take a time out?  Can we pause on twelve for a few more years?  I don’t want him to grow whiskers and fall in love with girls and choose a career path and stop laughing at things that aren’t funny unless you’re twelve.

I spy the distant Mt. Rainier in its white-covered glory and I feel frantic.  We haven’t sojourned to the mountain in two years.  What if that time was the last time we’d stomp its snowy sides?  What if we don’t venture back up the mountain?  Will the kids even remember the delicate alpine flowers and the pure thin air?

Just moments ago, my teenagers were little kids, wandering the back yard waving sticks and throwing balls over the roof of the house to the front yard.  They refused to eat vegetables and only drank apple juice.  Those mundane days already glow in the fading hazy light of memory.  The past seems sweet compared to the reality of uneven facial hair and loud music and their uniform of black t-shirts and baggy jeans.

I hate my kitchen counters.  They’re old, pale yellow formica.  I don’t have enough cupboard space.  The sink is a ghastly gold.  And yet, sometimes I’m already nostalgic for it.  When I’m an old woman and I think about raising kids, this is the kitchen that I will remember.  This homely, inadequate kitchen is like a friend I miss already, even while we’re still holding hands.

Sometimes, I just want to press the pause button.  I want to appreciate this moment, to breathe it in, to gather it all in my arms and sit and rock, rock, rock in a peaceful rhythm before it all scatters, never to be assembled again in quite the same way.

But there is no pause button.  The children won’t stop growing.  I keep getting older and grayer.

The whole thing, when I consider it, makes my heart hurt.

Nothing stays the same and there’s a peculiar pain in noticing the fleeting days for what they are–a vapor, here today and gone tomorrow.

And then you are forty-five

When you are young, you can’t wait until you are in charge, until you can make decisions about your own life, about your own schedule, about how you will spend your hours, your days, your life, your paycheck.

You make life choices, whether conscious or unconscious and then you live with them.

And then when you are forty-five, you look around and realize that almost every bit of your life, every minute of every hour, every effort you expend belongs to someone else.  You wash clothes you don’t wear and cook meals you don’t eat and attend sports practices you only watch.  You buy snacks you don’t like and wash forks you didn’t use and iron pants that don’t belong to you.

You deliver other people to other places to participate in events that exclude you.

You worry about situations that will affect other people.  You don’t care too much how the outcome changes you but you care because of the others.  They matter.

You slice and dice up bits of your heart and life and give them away and wonder, in the end, if you’ll have anything left over, if the lunch you’ve offered to to share will actually feed five thousand.

When you are young, you steer your life in a certain lane, take a particular exit and you don’t realize that you’ll never again wake up in the morning with only thoughts of yourself.   You’ll never face an entire empty day full of possibilities and choices because everything you think and everything you do tilts the orbits of other people circling you.  You are anchored.  You are snared.  You wake up in the night because other people wake up in the night and say your name.

Part of you wants to use giant shears to cut yourself loose but the other part of you finds the web you’ve spun to be a lovely, soft nest.  You’re swaddled tightly and the immobility soothes you.

But all the same, you want to shout back to your distant self a warning to savor those days when you think you are so busy because you have to  meet a school deadline.  That is freedom.  You just don’t understand that then because you aren’t paying the mortgage.

Welcome to adulthood.

I have a lot to say for a Saturday

Yesterday, my husband and I took the children to their great-grandmother’s funeral. As funerals go, this one was a marathon which reflected the marathon 102-year life she lived. My daughter insisted on wearing her pink Easter dress and was a bright spot in the sea of somber clothes. Afterward, she wanted to see her great-grandma lying in the white casket. My daughter gazed at her great-grandma for a long time. A spray of spectacular flowers sat on the closed part of the casket while my grandmother lay in repose looking surprisingly well considering she was 102 years old and lifeless.

Also, I noticed she wore coral lipstick, which was the only time I’ve ever seen lipstick on her. That shade did not suit her at all, but what did they know? They should have gone with something that had plum undertones.

Grandma wore a pink Easter dress that my mother picked out. My mother’s face reflected her terrible grief. At the age of 65, my mother has become motherless.

My boys dressed in their best clothes and didn’t complain about going to the funeral. They sat quietly, even though the service dragged on for ninety minutes. (Four speakers, a choir, a soloist, congregational singing and a Powerpoint presentation.) My daughter declared it the “most boring” thing ever, but she also behaved well. She and my 10-year old both wanted to view Grandma after the service while the twins chose to go immediately to the lobby instead.

So, yesterday was a long, emotionally draining day. Before and after the funeral, I worked, finally finishing my shift at 10 p.m.

* * *

This blog is not a comprehensive dissertation about my life as a mother. Believe it or not, I leave out large chunks, including most of my life prior to my blog. You don’t know about how we adopted our twins, nor about how we parented them when they were young. I am not at liberty to share much of my life since my life is intertwined with the private lives of other people, just like yours. I cannot tell you much about my childhood in deference to others.

On occasion, I pull back the curtain and reveal some shameful truth about my failures as a parent and about my children’s perception of me as their mother. It’s risky, but I choose to share snapshots from time to time. I want to remember these moments–especially the ugly moments because in memory, these will be the brightest days of my life. Selective memory has a way of blotting out the blemishes and mistakes we make. (And I love the way most of you support me and make me feel not alone.)

So, when I post something here that is unflattering to me (usually) and my children (on occasion, though they are not completely identifiable), I am already fully aware that we are imperfect. I consider my own flaws in the glaring spotlight of self-flagellation and when other people turn their flashlights upon the dark corners of my soul, they’ll find nothing that I have not already illumined and examined with a microscope. I know how I am failing as a mother. I know the errors I’ve made. I know my personality and how my personality clashes with other personalities in my household. I can catalog the many ways I’ve failed my children as a mother, a role-model and as a person.

I’m pretty sure that I’m not an inhuman monster and my son told me the next day, “I overreacted. But you should be easier on my brother.” My other son apologized repeatedly for his behavior on the day in question. However, my children see me only from their teenage perspective, just as I only saw my parents from that angle when I was their age. I thought my dad was much too strict with me. I did not understand. I judged him with teenage harshness. I think that’s part of growing up, of separating.

So my children judge me, too. They’ll understand more when they are older. I hope they will grow to understand me as a human being. I hope they will forgive me for the mistakes I make. I allow them to speak freely to me, probably because I was muzzled as a child, unable to ever address my parents honestly. I was much too scared to tell them how I felt about anything they did or said. We did not talk in our family. When I was home, I went to my bedroom and locked my door.

My children are living in a different type of household and even though I do not relish backtalk, I’d rather have my kids argue with me than shove their thoughts deep inside to fester. I spend almost every moment of every day at home with my kids. My boys have been doing school-at-home for four years and I don’t think that longing for a regular period of kid-free time every week is a failure. In fact, if you’re an introvert like me and being with people drains you, you know well that unless you have solitude, you will wilt like a plant without water.

And don’t even get me started on the nature versus nurture conundrum. (Hint: Nature wins.)

I do consider every comment I receive here, especially the ones that sting. I try not to be defensive, because there is often truth even in the hurtful things people say. So, please, continue to share your thoughts but do remember that you don’t have the whole picture, all the facts nor a complete understanding of my private life. Such is the nature of blogs.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Edited to add: This is not in response to any of the published comments on the last entry. So do not fret.

My daughter and my grandmother, separately

My daughter woke me this morning by climbing on top of my bed and whimpering. I held her, thinking maybe she had a bad dream. She fussed and carried on for a good twenty minutes. Then she finally said, “Why didn’t you answer me?”

“I didn’t hear you!” I said.

“Oh,” she said. And she slithered off and returned to her room.

Kids are so weird.

* * *

All the crocuses are up, blooming with great enthusiasm. Are you ready for summer? It will be here in what will feel like twenty minutes.

* * *

My grandmother is almost 102 years old. About six weeks ago, she fell in her bedroom. She was taken to the emergency room, but I heard just last night that they didn’t bother to x-ray her. A day or two ago, they brought a portable x-ray machine to the house and, as it turns out, she has a fractured pelvis and a broken femur. She’s been hobbling around on these injuries for six weeks.

I am stunned by this news. She is heavily sedated for perhaps the first time in her very long life. My mother says that she may or may not hang on until her birthday, which is March 10.

I cannot even comprehend the idea that my grandmother might not boss us around forever. The worst thing is that I have a trip scheduled in the near future . . . I leave on March 13. I selfishly hope that she will hold on until I return on March 18. (I’m going to a writer’s conference in California.) It would be awful if she died while I was gone, or even if she died right before I’m supposed to leave.

And now I will wrap up this rambling post.

The end.

All nostalgic and everything for the good ole days

I feel kind of lonely for all my blogging buddies . . . before I started working full-time I had so much more time on my hands, even though it was time broken into a million fragmented pieces. I would walk by the computer on my way to the laundry room, pop onto the computer, read a few blogs and leave a smattering of comments. I’d pass by on my way to the patio door to check on the kids and stop in for a blog visit and leave some comments. I had time, somehow, to read blogs, a lot of blogs. But no more.

Now I am practically chained to my computer and my beloved blogs–not the ones I write, the ones you write–may as well be floating around Saturn they are so impossible to visit. It’s past midnight now, my shift has just ended and David Letterman is talking to Steve Martin on his show. My head throbs with the exhaustion of working twelve hours today. (Not every day involves twelve hour shifts, but Thursdays are killers.)

So, if I used to leave you blog comments and you’ve noticed my conspicuous absence and silence, it’s nothing personal. I long for a day full of blog-reading and blog-catching-up and blog-commenting . . . but, alas. Alas.

However! I will make a promise, here and now. Leave me a comment. Include the URL of your blog and I will stop by and bring you a plate of fresh-baked cookies. Or a comment. One or the other.

I miss you, Blog-writing Friends!

Merry Christmas, but not to me

My 5-year old spent the afternoon at her grandmother’s house which is chock full of bric-a-brac with a large side order of gewgaws, and a heaping helping of curios. Grandma also has a lot of stuff, particularly costume jewelry and chocolate sitting around in candy dishes. My daughter adores visiting.

While I stood in the kitchen waiting for my mother to package up some ham and cheesy potatoes she had overbaked, I caught a glimpse of my estranged sister’s handwriting on an envelope. The sticker-dotted envelope sat right next to the kitchen sink. It looked like a Christmas card.

For a moment, I felt the tiniest ghost of a pang, the flimsiest regret that my sister and I no longer speak. We haven’t spoken a word to each other in over five years. A couple of years ago, I sent her an email and asked if we might discuss in through email why we weren’t speaking. She emailed back, “I’ll call you when I get there,” (there being here–she lives in Japan and was due for a visit to the Pacific Northwest). I emailed back and said, “No, we need to talk before you get here.”

She never emailed me again. She never called me, either.

It’s strange when a person you’ve known literally your whole life (except for those first sixteen months, but I wasn’t exactly a conversational wonder in my babyhood, so that doesn’t count) rips you out like a perforated page in a book. Granted, my anger at her was justified, in my opinion–despite my explicit instructions not to make copies and keep some particularly graphic pictures of my giving birth, she ordered herself copies from negatives and took them back to Japan with her. When I discovered this theft, I emailed her a concise, direct demand to return my photographs. I never got my photos, an explanation or an apology. And that was the end of our sisterhood.
Not that we were very good sisters anyway. If friends are the family you choose for yourself, sometimes family are the friends you wouldn’t have chosen in a million years–you have nothing in common other than a gene pool. For all our differences, though, we were still sisters, sister who had nothing in common, who grated on one another’s nerves and didn’t particular like spending time in the same room from our very earliest days together.

Still. She’s living a life completely outside the frame of my life. She not only cut me out of her life, but cut my children out of her life, too. I imagine it’s easier for them and yet some day, will be more difficult. They don’t miss what they never had, but one day, they’ll wonder why we don’t speak and ask whatever happened to their aunt.

And my explanation will sound so ridiculous: Your aunt doesn’t speak to me because I asked her to return some photos of me giving birth that she took without permission. The deeper explanation is so tangled even I have no idea where it begins and where it ends. You know when you can’t unravel a knot? Sometimes, you just have to cut it out and start fresh.

I guess that’s what we did.

Post-Funeral Thoughts

A life well-lived is one sensible decision after the next. A life well-lived is full of kept promises, even when they hurt. A life well-lived ends and those left behind cry, but their tears are not bitter, but rather sad tears of loneliness and loss. We cry because we realize just the swiftness of our journey on this planet, how few sunsets remain in our lifetimes, how much time we have squandered.

Her life well-lived was extravagant, full of beauty. She loved her husband, her children, her grandchildren. She loved her garden. She filled her house with lovely objects and her closets with fashion.

I will remember her jet-black hair, her meticulous make-up, her shiny bright smile. I did not walk up to the casket to peer at her lifeless form. I want to remember her alive and beautiful.

Watching her husband of 53 years stand at the white casket lined with pink broke my heart a little. He stood so tall, so distinguished in his suit, so composed, so still. He stepped back, then closer again. I averted my eyes from this private moment. He kept his promise to her, though the last years were bleak and her mind had fled. He was faithful and strong.

One of my other uncles delivered the eulogy, a message full of scripture and poetry and reminders of God’s love for us. The flowers were so gorgeous. I rested my gaze on them while I listened to the powerful words of a man I admire and love. I thought, “I would like him to do my funeral,” and then I realized that I would have to die young or he will have to live to be 150.

Funerals and weddings . . . so much alike, so vastly different. Flowers everywhere, men in suits. One is the beginning, the other the end. And endings are always so sad that if I start to cry, I may never stop.