Life is Sweet

Let’s have a moment of music appreciation today. This song got me out of a dark place today. Natalie Merchant, “Life Is Sweet”:

natalie merchant

It’s a pity
it’s a crying shame
who pulled you down again?
how painful it must be
to bruise so easily inside

It’s a pity
it’s a downright crime
but it happens all the time
you wanna stay little daddy’s girl
wanna hide from the vicious world outside

Call it seasonal depression. Or emotional fatigue. Or denial. I call it “dragging the wagon.” Today I was dragging the wagon behind me and in that wagon is every brave thing I’ve ever wanted to do and left short, every pound I’ve failed to lose, every person I ever disappointed, every dream I had that didn’t come true.

So who pulled me down again? The bruise inside, the one I work on and sometimes think I’m getting past. The fear of putting my heart into the vicious world and getting it shredded. The fear of running back for comfort to my daddy and him not being there.

Three friends have lost their daddies in the past week. And the story I haven’t been telling for a couple of months now is that I almost lost mine. It scares me so much that I can’t look at it straight on. My dad was very close to dying. He’s back now. He called me the other day to thank me for the orchid I brought when he was in the rehab place. We’ll eat turkey next week and be grateful.

I’m sad for Heather and Jonathan and Laura who are trying to find words to say goodbye and thank you and good job, Dad.

But don’t cry
know the tears’ll do no good
so dry your eyes

They told you life is hard
it’s misery from the start
it’s dull and slow and painful

I tell you life is sweet
in spite of the misery
there’s so much more
be grateful

10700549_10204326604998278_6333280427733818279_oThis weekend, I took the kids down to the playfort in the backyard and got choked up when I saw that the cherry tree had dropped all of its leaves overnight. One day, a globe of golden whispering leaves and the next day, a silent carpet over the frosty ground. Some trees, like my neighbor’s sugar maple, take weeks to shed their leaves, so long that we get kind of used the change. Others–whoosh and they’re gone in the first hard freeze.

That cherry tree was a wedding gift from my coworkers when Richard and I married. It stayed in a pot for months, waiting on the soil to soften up with spring. I got around to planting it after Richard died. It’s been especially precious to me now that my babies play in its shade. Time and sunlight and being grounded–that’s all it needed to grow.

For almost ten years, I’ve grown used to the miracle of that tree. Pink pom poms in spring, pale green leaves through the summer, then the golden show of fall. And every year, the shock of the day when it’s just gone. Bare and spare. Reminding me how suddenly everything can change.

Who do you believe?
who will you listen to
who will it be?
it’s high time that you decide
in your own mind

Dragging the wagon. Carrying all this fear and sadness around and not writing it out. Afraid to write it wrong or write it right. Trying to speak my truth but the hand over my mouth is my own. That’s why I found myself crying at my desk at lunchtime. “Life Is Sweet” came on Pandora and it took me back all those years to when I first loved this song and had no earthly idea how true it is. I sat there and cried because I’m so tired of wanting things to be different but not making them different. Time to make up my own mind.

mapleThere’s a red maple outside my office window, and as it’s been losing its scarlet leaves this week, more sunshine gets through. I sat there today next to the window, half of my tired body warmed in the light and half of it shivering. Natalie’s words calling out to me from my phone.

They told you life is hard

it’s misery from the start
it’s dull and slow and painful

I tell you life is sweet
in spite of the misery
there’s so much more
be grateful

Who do you believe?
who will you listen to
who will it be?

I closed my eyes. In the dark quiet there behind my eyelids, the left eye caught a reddish glow from the sun shining through. The right eye looked out into the darkness.

It’s high time you decide
it’s time you make up your own sweet little mind

With my eyes still closed, I turned towards the sun. I sat still and let it warm me. Just like my cherry tree, “Time and sunlight and being grounded–that’s all I need to grow.”

They told you life is long
be thankful when it’s done
don’t ask for more
you should be grateful

But I tell you life is short
be thankful because before you know
it will be over

Cause life is sweet
and life is also very short
your life is sweet

If you are the praying type, say a peaceful one for Ted and Heather, Stephen and Jonathan, Gary and Laura. And say a thankful one for Sam and Ashley.

Daddy, I’m glad you’re back. I love you and I’m grateful for you. Save me some turkey.

No Milk, Two Sugars

coffee-239716_1280The other day, I came back from lunch and I stopped into Nicole’s office to tell her that I had run into one of the Big Bosses on the stairs and had asked him about a situation that needed clearing up.

She stared at my boobs. Well, boob. The right one, to be exact.

“You talked to him just now?”

“Yeah!”

Then she burst out laughing and pointed to my chest. I looked down to discover that my sweaty drink cup, which I had brought back from lunch, had brushed up against my red shirt and left a giant nipple-sized wet spot right on the bullseye. Nice.

No wonder that dude was so agreeable. I should have asked about the capital budget.

I laughed it off, but it did remind me of the days when I was nursing my babies or pumping at work and those kinds of mishaps were a real thing to think about.

And today, my friend Janelle from Renegade Mothering shared a picture of her cute new haircut and had to add, “Don’t mind the naked breastfeeding picture. I was stuck.” The curve of her sweet baby’s head in the corner of the picture took me back to those days of being stuck. The very best kind of stuck, when I spent hours in a rocking chair with my baby and a book. Lying curled together on the bed in the small hours of the night. A time when my #1 responsibility was sitting still and helping someone else grow. Those were the good old days.

I’m not trying to start a debate about breast feeding over formula. Or next to formula or after or behind or whatever. Vivi nursed until the week before her second birthday and it was a wonderful time in my life. Carlos weaned himself after 15 months. I was sad then because I knew it would be the last time that I would sit so still while helping someone grow.

Today, I was thinking about all this as Carlos and I walked in the house after school. My hand brushed the top of his head as he sailed past me and I said, “My sugar.”

That’s how I’ll take this next part of mothering–no milk, two sugars.

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Sweet Cheeks

November 8, 2014

November 8, 2014

He was born at 6:25 a.m., the morning after Christmas.

The whole world lay quiet under a snowy blanket, glowing in the lavender light before sunrise.

Eight pounds, five ounces.

Twenty inches long.

His first word was Da-da.

I’ve seen him eat three bananas in a row.

I have video of his laugh, how he laughs until he has to gasp for breath.

I have his first curls from his first haircut.

There’s a picture of him pulling up for the first time, on the corner of his great-grandparents’ traveling trunk.

He’s finally getting the hang of talking. He’s even learned how to complain “Aw, MAN.” I write down the funny things that he says in his journal.

I try to remember, to hold on.

But how will I ever remember the feel of his cheek?

One day, if he is lucky enough to live a long and ordinary life, his cheek will grow rough and prickly. How will I remember the silky curve of his cheek beneath my fingertips?

Touch is a sense we can’t hold on to. What our fingers have known, we have to let go.

 

Here There Be Dragons

Abraham Ortelius, Tehatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1570

Abraham Ortelius, Tehatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1570

Legend holds that, centuries ago, mapmakers marked uncharted areas on their maps with the Latin phrase: HC SVNT DRACONES.

“Here are dragons.”

There are only two maps still in existence that actually have these words on them, but the dragon or sea serpent was often used in map decoration to represent perilous waters, dangerous leviathans, or geographically murky coastlines. I think the expression is so beautiful–“Here there be dragons”–that the idea behind the phrase has stayed with us even if it isn’t on that many maps.

It’s a useful way of saying, “We are leaving the part of the world that we know and hell if I know what is out there but it’s probably scary.”

It’s the Latin form of “Get in. Sit down. Shut up. Hold on.”

I’ve been feeling that way the last few days. Since November started, to be exact. I’ve set myself a goal of writing 1000+ words every day and they are words in addition to what I post here. Words that, if assembled in the right order and around a central theme, might be called a…well, you know.

But I don’t want to jinx it.

In the proud tradition of procrastinators everywhere, I usually end up squeezing in my writing goal between 11 p.m. and midnight. I get my fingers moving across the keyboard. I slog through the warm up, force myself through the sticky bits, finally manage to sail my word ship in the general direction of The Point…and that leaves me in a soggy mess of tears.

I’ve cried myself to sleep every night in November (sounds like a country song). And it feels great.

With all this new territory, something new struck me about “Here There Be Dragons.” The cartographers didn’t put that on there to say “DON’T GO! PADDLE THE OTHER WAY!” Maybe they put the dragons on there as a landmark, a way to know that you’re steering in the RIGHT direction.  If you’re looking to explore the uncharted lands, you are right on course.

The one thing I remember from those sailing lessons that Richard and I took in Maine just before he was diagnosed with leukemia was “Point the tiller toward the trouble.” In the weird physics of steering by wind, if you want to go around an obstacle, you have to point the tiller directly at it in order to maneuver the rudder and the boat around it. (I think I got the terms right. My sister will correct me if not.)

So some of these feelings that I’m stirring up? I hope my face burns from the dragon’s breath and this strange quivering around my heart is stirred by the dragon’s wings. And I hope I don’t fall off the edge of the world.

HC SVNT DRACONES.

 

FDR’s Second Term

The first time I ever voted was in the presidential election of 1992. Lines stretched around the building and we were told to expect waits of several hours. It just added to the excitement for me.

I was a couple of months into my first Real Job. I even remember what I was wearing on that momentous day! A black wool pencil skirt, a creamy satin blouse with long puffed sleeves, a gold scarf tied around my waist, black stockings and black pumps (we had only recently escaped the 80s).

This was before smartphones, kindles, ipods, so there wasn’t much to do in the line besides wait. Me being me, I struck up a conversation with the couple in front of me. A husband and wife, retirement age, African American. Neither was taller than my shoulder. He wore a flat driving cap and she wore her glasses on a gold chain. Somebody’s grandmama and grandaddy in Columbus, Georgia.

“This is my first time voting! I’m excited.”

“Oh, that IS good to hear!” he said. “We never miss an election.”

“What was the first election you voted in?”

She looked at him and he looked at her and they both did a little recollecting. She snapped her fingers and said, “FDR! Yes, that’s right. FDR’s second term.”

We spent the rest of that long wait talking about the history I had learned in books and they had influenced with their votes. I’ll never forget those two citizens and how their simple dedication to using their votes taught me about the responsibility and joy of being an American citizen.

I hope you’ll make time to vote today. It hasn’t always been a right. It hasn’t always been easy. But it has always been important.

It's just so much TROUBLE to give women the vote. Why bother?

It’s just so much TROUBLE to give women the vote. Why bother?

Five Completely Unconnected Facts That Tell a Story

chanelCasey over at Life With Roozle tagged me in one of those “Write a blog post with 5 Random Things About Yourself as if the entire blog isn’t an even greater superset of random things about you!” challenges.

And since it’s Sunday night and I can’t think of a damn thing to write…VOILA!  And since I’m already in my bed with the laptop warming up the sheets, let me tell you about five random things on my dresser.

  1. A pine jewelry box my father made me for Christmas about 12 years ago. It’s made from boards salvaged from my great-grandfather’s house, the place where my Pop was born in 1902. My mom rescued the wood and my dad turned it into keepsakes for us. I use that box for really precious things, like my babies’ hospital bracelets. Atop my jewelry box sits a box that Daddy made out of tiger maple for Richard that same Christmas. It holds slips of paper that Richard wrote on. You’d be surprised how precious handwriting becomes–even if it’s a grocery list or a phone number.
  2. A red plastic travel alarm clock that we bought in an electronics shop in an alleyway in Xania, Crete. The battery died years ago, but I like to have the clock visible to remind me of that adventure in Greece. Richard pointed out the clock on the counter behind the cash register and the whole transaction was completed without words. But when the old man who ran the store handed the clock to me, I said, “Epharisto” for the first time. That’s “thanks” in Greek. I love the word “thanks.”
  3. A blue pressed Depression glass slipper just like the one Grandmama Eunice used to hold her bobby pins. This one isn’t hers. It’s one I found at the Lakewood Antiques Market a few years back. I think of her every time I see it. On Halloween night, when Vivi’s Elsa wig wouldn’t stay put, I was looking around desperately for a bobby pin and looked inside the glass slipper as if they might have appeared there by magic.
  4. A bag of rocks that I picked up on Muir Beach last week. I’m a bit of a magpie when it comes to collecting shiny or interesting little things. And rocks are free.
  5. I’m afraid to pick a fifth thing because what will it say about me? Should I tell about the stack of books? The pearls inside a black velvet box? The red glazed ceramic dragon from Wales that I bought myself because it never dawned on Fartbuster to get me a little memento?  The Dr. Scholl’s odor eating insoles? The half bottle of Chanel No 5? The tissue paper butterfly I made with Vivi at the art museum last month? The Wii controller that has needed a battery since 2012? A sand sculpture with green glitter flakes because green is Mommy’s favorite color? Not just one but two unsharpened pencils? A blue bird of happiness whose beak has kind of chipped off? I can’t decide.

So what’s the story that these random objects tell?

 

She Pushed Me

10712475_10204160137356691_7861090945178605088_o“Hey, she pushed me!”

“Ashley’s using my hairbrush!”

“STOP IT!”

“Get OFF of me!”

That’s how my sister and I talked to each other when we were growing up–the way sisters do. Now that I’m back home from a fantastic Adventure Girls trip to San Francisco, I’d like to report that my sister pushed me. AGAIN. A couple of times.

1782499_10204160137556696_6295599819005434958_oMonday night, she pushed me out of a cable car. It was her idea to take a nighttime cable car trip to see the city lights in the first place. We got on the Powell Mason (or Powell Hyde? I dunno, she’s the one with the sense of direction) and rode up and over the hills of San Francisco. From one end of the line to the other. When the car was crowded, we stood inside the glassed compartment. But at the first chance, we got some seats out in the open air. Vivi kicked her feet against the side of the seat and stuck her boots out into the wind. I sat there next to her, ready to grab her by the collar in case of sudden stops, untoward jostling or…earthquake.

Gay said, “Come stand on the running board and hang on.”

Me? With my sensible purse and imperious shelf of matronly bosom? Why, I don’t even color my hair anymore and I am wearing Dr. Scholl’s shoes for goodness sake.

But she pushed me.

I hung my ass out in the wind and it was GREAT. I couldn’t stop grinning as we sailed up and over, down and around all those wonderful hills. When I looked out over the Transamerica Pyramid all lit up in orange for the Giants’ World Series win, I got that deep seated feeling of joy in my heart–that place where my sense of adventure lives. All because my sister gave me a little push.

And Vivi? Vivi got to see her mama being bold. She got to see two women having fun in the wide world.

My big sister isn’t one for limits. I had decided to change my grand plan of renting a car and taking Vivi to see the redwoods on our last day. It was just too much hassle. Instead, we rented a tandem bike and set off around the marina. Gay went off to her surgical conference to earn some CME hours.

Then right when Vivi and I were getting saddle sore, I get a text: “Want to rent a car?”  By the time we got back to the house, Gay had us a car and a Plan. We took off over the Golden Gate (and Lynrd Skynrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” happened to be playing on the radio) and up into the woods. Muir Woods, to be exact.

10712561_10204160136796677_596909291184890860_oI would have been happy to walk along the wooden boardwalk under the giant sequoias, but Gay decided–in her flipflops–that we should go for a little hike. We went up to the top of the valley on the Canopy trail so we could look down from the tops of the giants. I never thought I would be teetering on the edge of a gorge filled with ancient redwoods, but my sister pushed me and there I was.

We wanted to go to the beach–she found Muir Beach. Vivi played in the cold water of the Pacific for the first time. I picked up striated rocks I had never seen before and old shells tumbled by the sandy waves. 10623298_10204160136516670_2485446281195265282_oWe had to leave before sunset to get the car back, but Gay was already ruminating. “Next time, we come PREPARED to hike! We’ll stay until sunset! We’ll…”

She busted it back to San Francisco through evening traffic. Didn’t even need the GPS for directions. I was ready to get Vivi back to the apartment. Gay assured me there was time for one detour.

Our route was so circuitous that I was sure she had gotten lost. Then she turns up a hill so high that it looked like a wall in front of us. She starts giggling. “Ready?”

Ummm…for WHAT?

fixed gay darkI couldn’t even BREATHE. She floored that little Kia and we shot straight up into the air. Both of us leaned forward instinctively, as if we could urge the car up that precarious angle. Gay had her face pressed so close to the windshield, I snorted, “You look like Aunt Eula!” That got us tickled.

When we made it to the top, she slowed to a crawl so I could look out across the vista of lights and down into the bay. The three of us paused there in that moment, the whole world spread out below us. Vivi squealed from the back seat, “Whoa!” when she had been getting whiny about dinner just seconds earlier. Aunt Gay said, “See, Vivi? You gotta trust me!”

She hit the gas and pushed us over the edge of the hill. It was so steep and dark, it actually looked like the road had disappeared beneath us and we might sail out straight to Alcatraz. We hurtled down Taylor Street as the lights of the city whizzed by our windows. I laughed and laughed and laughed. I couldn’t quit clapping like the Mama in “Nutty Professor”–Herc-a-LES, Hercales!

Gay popped me on the leg with the back of the hand and asked, “When are YOU going to learn to trust me?”

I trust her. My sister pushes me, and I let her, because I know she’s also the one who would never let me fall.

Thanks, Gay. I love you.

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