Thursday, September 01, 2011

Lesson #54: Never let schooling interfere with your education.

My middle son K started college a couple of weeks ago. His younger brother I started high school the same day.

When I woke up that first morning and stumbled into the kitchen to make coffee, K was already up, fully dressed and sitting at the kitchen table tapping his toes. "Hi mom, I made coffee," he said.

I stumbled out his bedroom as bleary-eyed as I was. "K woke me up at 5 a.m.," he said.

I knew K was excited. He and I had spent much of the previous week chittering about which classes he had waitlisted, which classes he really hoped he'd be added to, whether he chose the right major, whether he'd know anyone in his classes. He'd become frenetic by the last evening and I hoped his first day would release some of that energy. I was wrong: He came home with even more energy and tales from his day.

By contrast, I's response to his first day was, "It was cool."

K spent the afternoon and evening working out math problems for his first assignment of the semester. He struggled with one problem until I made him quit and have dinner with the family. After dinner, he went back to work.

On Day 2, K stumbled out of his room about the same time I did. We fought for shower rights (I won of course). K spent his afternoon free of classes and working on his math homework. That afternoon I got a call at work.

K: I'm going to fail!
Me: What are you talking about?
K: I can't figure this math stuff out! I'm going to fail! I should just quit! You need to get your money back.
Me: Knock it off. Skip the question that's giving you trouble and do another one.
K: But I'm going to fail!
Me: Have you been working on that one problem all day?
K: Yes. And last night too.
Me: Stop crying! I command you to stop doing your homework and go watch TV!

There was radio silence from K for about two hours, and later that afternoon he sent me a text that read: "I figured it out!"

I sighed and smiled. Until I remembered that I had forgotten to send in the check for his registration fees.

No worries. All's well now.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Lesson #53: It Gets Better

I grew up in a four-room cabin in the middle of the woods in California's gold country. We had a wood-burning stove until the county condemned it. After that we heated our small home with newspaper stuffed into the walls through the holes that had been punched into them during fits of domestic violence and a small kerosene space heater. Our shower consisted of a green garden hose snaking through the bathroom window and a round area marked off by a black plastic trashbag hung from the ceiling by fish hooks. Cold showers meant something different to me than they do to my teenage sons.

I'm not kidding. About any of this.

And I'm writing this on the eve of my 35th birthday sipping rum and Acai juice in a fine hotel room two blocks from the White House in Washington DC. I'm here enjoying fine food, fine friends and lovely presentations by my colleagues in the university grant writing business. I'm 3000 miles from that life in the backwoods of the still-frontier foothills of the West. I'm millions of miles from the little girl who used to wait for the sun to rise so she could brush her hair in the side mirror of her daddy's pick-up truck. The only reflecting surface allowed in our home. (Long story.)

How I came here? Well, that's also another long story. It's not my first foray in the South -- and boy does it make me home sick for cicadas and real, old big magnolias, and old slate and brick buildings. But it is the first time in our nation's capital. And my first time "vacationing" alone.

When I was 21, living in a small house in a little cow-town called Waterford, shortly after I divorced my first husband and during my brief stint as a single, college-going mom of 3, a psychic gave me a reading. She told me that I would travel, far and wide. That eventually I'd travel and speak. I am not speaking yet. But I have been traveling. From California to South Carolina and back, to DC, who knows where next.

I'd love to speak. I have a lot to say, but I'm not sure what needs to be said, and to whom. I'm not sure what I should say. I'm not sure I should tell people I came from abject poverty, from the country, from base and humble beginnings. I try not to let it show. I learned to use a salad fork and a butter knife, to cross my legs and to point my pinky, to sit straight and to pay attention. I have learned to speak when spoken to. And I am learning to speak as if I'm proud of what I have to say.

So on the eve of my 35th birthday I salute the past, the home I came from, my travels and the future I am traveling toward. I have made education my career and passion, and I do wholeheartedly embrace and support the education of all, but most especially myself.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Lesson #52: If you don't want to do something, one excuse is as good as another.

I bought my very own gym membership a couple of months ago. The gym by my house opened up a brand-fangled-new location near my workplace (in another city), so I canceled the membership by my house and started anew by my workplace, thinking, of course, that I would go more often that way.

We excuse our sloth under the pretext of difficulty.  ~Marcus Fabius Quintilian

I did go, once, the week after I opened the account. It was a beautiful facility, pristine and shiny, no shoe marks on the floor or sweat stains on the equipment. All the equipment worked. I loved it.

Several excuses are always less convincing than one.  ~Aldous Huxley, Point Counter Point

Then the excuses started.

1. I just had out-patient surgey and I'm not able to take a shower or submerged bath for a week.
2. My wound is still healing.
3. My wound has healed but I'm still sore and I can't wear a sports bra.
4. I have a head cold.
5. Husband is going out of town for work for a week, possibly longer, and I don't have long to say goodbye.
6. I have to be home in time to cover kids sporting events and classes.
7. I have to help K fill out his financial aid paperwork for college.
8. Someone has to make dinner.
9. Someone has to do the laundry.
10. It's too damn hot.
11. I have to work late tonight, and tomorrow night, and next week.
12. All I want is a beer.

He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.  ~Benjamin Franklin

Then I looked up all these great quotes on excuses, and realized, I'm not the only one who does such horrible things, or else there wouldn't be so many fabulous quotes about the activity! So, if you're looking for an excuse not to go to the gym (or some other thing you should be doing), you can pick one of mine, or make up your own. (Let me know in the comments section what you're favorite excuses are.)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Lesson #51: Sometimes you're the lion, Sometimes you're the mouse.

Warning: The following post is fairly graphic and disgusting.

A couple of weeks ago, I had to have a lipoma removed from my back. Earlier in the month, my husband and I had tried a home remedy that lead to infection. The tumor was exactly underneath the strap of my bra, which created an extremely painful situation and required me to go to the doctor to "fix" what we had started.

At the doctor's office, I learned that a) a lipoma is a tumor that simply needs to be removed (as in, I can't just hydrogen peroxide my way out of it), and b) I should have come in to see the doctor a long time ago (as in 8 years ago when I first noticed the lump).

So a couple of weekends ago, before the 4th of July holiday, I had out-patient surgery. I was taped up, given an appointment to the after-hours clinic to have bandage changes every day, and sent on my way. The clinic suggested my husband come along so the nurses could show him how to change my bandages and that way we didn't need to drive the 3-hour round trip to the clinic every day.

My poor husband then spent every evening watching me down a few shots of whisky and whimper and cry for hours leading up to the bandage-changing. He would lay me down on the bed, remove the bandage and gauze packing, flush the wound with water, remove the remaining chunks of lipoma that would float to the top, then repack the wound, all while I screamed and bawled and bit a pillow. After the bandage-changing, Hubby would have himself a few shots of whisky.

We carried on like this for days.

Finally last Friday, I went back to the clinic. I decided that the clinic needed to deal with this wound from now on. I had serious concerns that the bandage-changing was ruining my marriage. Hubby was irritated with me, frustrated with the process, and had become a very reluctant nurse. I was irritated that Hubby had reneged on his former enthusiasm to help, though I secretly understood why, and I had run out of pain medication.

On Sunday, the clinic nurse informed me that she thought the wound had healed enough it no longer needed packing. I about jumped for joy.

Until I got home and saw Hubby sprawled out on the floor, close to weeping. He'd slipped a disc in his back while working out and was effectively crippled. He whimpered for me to help him.

I handed him my bottle of whisky and pain pills.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Lesson #50: Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.

Hubby and I spent The End of World in San Fransisco watching exuberant sign wavers and bullhorn shouters await with mounting disappointment the Rapture that came and went without even a whisper to let us know it happened.

About 6 p.m., around the time said Rapture was supposed to occur, Hubby and I were driving around purposefully lost near the Haight district looking for trouble. Something. Anything interesting. We had spent the day on the Embarcadero oggling what good money can buy (as if we had good money), and were ready for a stiff drink and front-row seats to watch our beloved state slide off into the ocean.

We parked in the first empty spot we found after an hour circling a 20-block radius of Haight-Ashbury, and walked the Haight sampling rum and cokes here and there. After a couple of hours and some hard-core window shopping (that place shuts down earlier than a podunk mountian town, I tell ya), and after coming to the conclusion that the world was not going to end but damn if San Fran doesn't LOVE to celebrate Morrissey's birthday -- as does our family by the way -- we decided to head back "home" to our weekend nest at the Embassy Suites.

The ES is one of my favorite places to stay for three reasons: free drinks for two hours in the evenings, free breakfast buffet with complementary omelet bar, and reasonably priced room service until 11 p.m. OK, four reasons: the indoor tropical atrium is pretty darn cool. The Burlingame ES wasn't the nicest I've stayed in, but it was a convenient place to stay so that we didn't have to make the two-hour drive back home.

Speaking of which, upon my return home, I truly surprised myself with how much I've aged in the past half-decade or so. I used to love running away to hotels and fancy restaurants. Now, I notice, I tend to spend my time on vacation thinking, "I could have made this drink stiffer at home," or "I would have put fresh basil and roasted the garlic in this pasta if I made it at home," or "my bed is so much bigger, softer, more comfortable at home," or "this indoor atrium and lagoon pool is just like the solarium and lagoon pool we have at home only with much less people."

I truly enjoyed what was a romantic end-of-the-world getaway with my husband last weekend.

But darn if I wasn't happy to head home at the end of it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lesson #49: Mom is an ogre.

Lately, C has taken to sneaking into my room at night and crawling into bed with me. He steals a pillow, wiggles down deep in the sheets and pretends to go to sleep.

His mom, if she's still awake, will sometimes seek him out and make him go to his own bed. At first, I was an advocate for the child sleeping in his own room, but his despondant wails are just so sad, and his little face is just so cute, and so lately, I've been advocating for his escape from bedtime.

This means that we have become compatriots at sneaking around after lights out. C quietly steals into my room, gently shuts the door, slides into bed, and then wiggles all the way under the covers down to the foot of the bed. When Mama opens the door and asks, "Have you seen C? Is he in here with you?," I wink at her, point to the wiggling, giggling lump under the covers and say, "I haven't seen him. He must be in his own bed."

When the coast is clear C crawls back up to the surface and whispers, "Is she gone?"

"Yes," I say.

He waits for a noise, any noise, then throws the covers back over his head. "She's coming for me!"

"No," I say. "That's just the wind. Or the neighbor's cats."

Eventually we fall asleep.

Last night, C was supposed to be sleeping in his own room, or with his own mother, whichever. I drifted off into a nice sleep and was suddenly wakened by C running into my room and slamming my door. He threw himself into my bed, stole one of my pillows, and layed there, looking at me.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"I am sleeping with you," he answered.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because mom is an ogre," he answered.

Suddenly the door handle rattled and shook. Mom the Ogre was trying to get in. But C had locked the door.

"Did you lock your mother out?" I asked.

"Yes," he answered.

"Go unlock the door," I said. C didn't want to. I insisted, so he hopped out of bed, unlocked the door, then ran back to the safety of the sheets. The door was silent. Mom the Ogre had left us alone for the night.

"You can't lock your mom out," I said. "That's not nice."

"She will make me go to sleep," he said.

"I will make you go to sleep," I answered.

C promptly closed his eyes and pretended to snore.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Lesson #48: If your parents never had children, chances are... neither will you.

Mothers day came and went this year with each of our children dropping by at some point or other during the week. Our wonderful children texted well wishes, brought hand-picked wildflowers and handmade cards and looked cute and child-like for a moment despite the fact that half of them are 6-feet-tall or taller.

This year, each one of them decided to gift us with heart attacks.

The oldest, G, checked in to let us know he had finished a four-page paper on the philosophy of the institute of religion for one of his college courses and was so proud of it, he wanted to bring it home for us to read. We listened to the news mouth agape. This was the child who, just three years ago, refused to finish high school and swore he'd never sit at a desk again. Now he's a full-time college student embroiled in his own education. Our Prodigal Scholar.

The next child, D, whom we've lately been worried about because he insisted on taking the year off after graduation and has had a difficult time finding work from the back seat of his car where he is living, came home bearing artwork (albeit questionable artwork) as a gift. Later that week he called to let us know he landed a job, would be moving into his own apartment within the month and no longer needed financial assistance to pay his car insurance. And by the way, he's making almost twice minimum wage.

Middle child, K, has always been our trouble maker. Like G, he rebels against authority, is argumentative and difficult to be around, yet so loveable and endearing when he is behaving. Despite his behavior issues, he is highly intellectual, and is testing out of high school this year and eagerly starting college in the fall. We only have three weeks left of school for him, but I still fully expect to get a last minute phone call, much like I did on the last day of school last year, letting me know that he has been banned from school grounds once again for insubordination, extortion or general mischief. To our great surprise and delight, he was the first of the children to call us Sunday morning to wish us a Happy Mother's Day. At 6 a.m. Because don't all middle-child mischief makers rise at the crack of dawn?

The youngest teen, IC, is our most forgetful and dreamy child. We thought no one could top D in the daydream department, but IC gives his older brother a run for his money. Teachers call him lazy, but I know better. It's not that IC doesn't listen to his teachers, so much as he sits there imagining his teachers are cloaked in dragon scales and breath fire, and he's just waiting for the day when he will don his cloak and raise his sword and vanquish those evil-doers who force him to do homework. The other day, IC followed Hubby around as Hubby picked a few roses from the garden and laid them on our pillows to suprise us ladies when we came home from work. IC asked him what he was doing, and Hubby answered, "When you grow up and you like a girl, you'll understand what I'm doing." We fully expected IC to forget the holiday, much like he tunes out birthdays and other important family events. In a twist of fate however, I came home on Friday before Mother's Day to a note in IC's handwriting that said, "Happy early Mother's Day Mom" and wilted but well-loved rose petals strewn about my bed.

Finally, the sweet, adorable  baby of the family, C, who is a never-ending source of joy for us aging parents spent the first part of Mother's Day refusing to eat the wonderful breakfast his father made for his mother and me. When we adults banded together and told him he had to eat his eggs or go back to bed and start over, C, climbed down from his chair, harumphed down the hall beyond our sight, then screamed from the top of lungs, "Fuck you guys!" After we absorbed the shock of the three year old screaming obscenities at us (thank you older brothers), we burst out laughing. We weren't sure what else to do in the situation.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lesson #47: Don't look back.

I recently wrote this for a friend who is having a rough time and having some regrets. She wishes some things were different. She regrets decisions she made. I have done both, myself.

The difference between regrets and wishes is this:

Regrets are things that you would change if you could, but you can't.
Wishes are things that you would change if you could, but need help or motivation or resources to do so.

The problem with regrets is that they make you focus on things outside your control.
Wishes are better because they encourage you to look for resources to help you achieve things that you want or need.

Regrets are poisonous because they breed feelings of inadequacy and despair.
Wishes are inspirational because they encourage you to envision yourself in a better, happier atmosphere -- and visions can lead to realities with the right mix of encouragement, motivation and luck.

Don't regret. Don't look back. Don't think about what could have/should have been.

Instead, look ahead at what can be. Look at what you wish for. The past laid the groundwork for tomorrow. Don't regret anything you did in the past, because you really don't know what joy and wonder tomorrow holds -- and tomorrow couldn't come to be if yesterday's foundation wasn't laid (with all of yesterdays joys and sorrows).

Let yesterday's regrets fade away as you journey toward tomorrow's dreams-come-true.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lesson #46: Remember, Chicken Little had a hard time making friends.

So, D is having trouble making his car insurance payments. He has been living on his own for six months now, paying his own insurance (sort of) for three months, and has yet to find a real job.

He called me last night to ask for help making this month's insurance payment. I know it was hard to ask on his part. And as Mom, I was glad to help and glad he was calling, regardless of what it was for. I remember being 18 and on my own. I remember freaking out when the lights were turned off because I *forgot* to pay the electric bill. Life is hard when you're 18 and your head and your ass have switched places temporarily. But I survived it, my head returned to its original, upright position, and I slowly but surely became an adult.

Watching my oldest son figure it out on his own is making my arms itch. I want to help, but I have to be careful how much.

A snippet of our conversation last night went something like this:

D: I'm so frustrated. I hate this. I just want to get rid of my car.
Me: How will you ever find a job if you don't have a way to drive to it?
D: It doesn't matter anyway. The economy is about to collapse.
Me: No it's not. There are jobs out there. You just have to try harder to find them. You have to actually go to places of business and, like, fill out applications.
D: Japan's economy is collapsed. Ours is next. Why bother?
Me: Because our economy has not collapsed and won't collapse anytime in the near future. And besides, you will still need to eat and in order to eat you have to work. At something.
D: I'm just going to take out a loan.
Me: Um, isn't that why global economies are threatening to collapse in the first place?

Each conversation leads us one step closer to college. He wanted to take some time off of school after graduation, but I think he's realizing "the real world" ain't as much fun as he imagined it would be. Sandwiches aren't free. I know I was pretty sad when that realization hit me, way back when.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lesson #45:Don't be surprised if I love you for all that you are, I couldn't help it, It's all your fault

On Sunday morning, I sat facing a large bay window in Ducey's watching snow fall on Bass Lake. Our waiter called it "The Pond" in reference to the dwindled water left over from the dam repairs that were going on just up-river. Boat docks were strewn haphazardly about the shore, waiting forlorn for the return of the deep and the docking of summer boats, disappearing slowly under mounting snow drifts. The snowline on the moutain across the lake lowered with each passing minute -- hour? -- and Hubby, Wife and I sipped champagne and enjoyed a fine brunch.

We were celebrating the one-year anniversary of our wedding and commitment ceremony. Hubby and I have been together for five years now, married for one, friends for more than 20. Wife and I have been friends since high school, and as part of our ceremony last year, promised to stay friends as long as we live.

I don't know if it was the snow, the feeling of being safe and warm while we watched a horrendous winter storm move in, or the fact that I was surrounded by people I love, who love me, but the feeling of grateful joy has lasted well beyond that annivesary celebration, well past the work week, well into the next weekend and it's still going strong.

I am one lucky gal to have so much friendship, to have people with which to share joys and sorrows and struggles and triumphs and life in general. My lake is full.

This is a picture of the proposal at Duceys - don't know how many years ago now.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Lesson #44: What the bleep do we know, really?

Last night I watched the documentary The Quantum Activist about retired University of Oregon physicist Amit Goswami.

 Admittedly I fell asleep before it finished. I've been working 12-hour days, so that's not surprising. And it's also not surprising considering I fell asleep the first time I tried to watch What the Bleep Do We Know.But I perservered and tried it a second time and loved it.

Though I only got halfway through Goswami's doc, I gathered enough information to realize I soon will be picking up one of Dr. Goswami's books. He is a renegade scientist who claims to have found the existence of god in science.

"You can call it God if you want, but you don’t have to," his Web site boasts."Quantum consciousness will do."

This really fascinated me, because while I have been agnostic for years, even going so far as to call myself atheist, I have wondered if quantum science would eventually "crack the god code." I suppose that could be because I was raised on the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, Shirley MacClaine, Ruth Montgomery, Edgar Cayce, and Richard Bach. These authors formed the foundation of my loosely held *spiritual* beliefs, and left in the dark recesses of my mind a nagging feeling that there may be something to the god theory whether I wanted to believe it or not.

As an adult I discovered T.C. Lethbridge, Michio Kaku, and Madam Blavatsky. Interestingly it all fit together. I learned that the '60s mantra that "it's all vibes man" was actually referring to new discoveries in quantum physics. Matter doesn't really exist. It's all particles that agitate each other through attraction and distraction, forming loose associations (waves/vibrations/"vibes man"), that create potential forms that we humans perceive as matter through a process that Goswami can explain far better than I can.

The key word there, though, is potential. As in, possibility. All matter is nothing more than waves of possibility.

That's why creative visualization works -- but only in certain ways (and Goswami has a very complicated but interesting explanation for this).

My fondest childhood memories are of my Great Grandma. I remember driving in her big, white station wagon. She let me sit in the front seat. I could barely see over the dashboard. We would go to the store and before we pulled into the parking lot, Great Grandma would say, "I know there is a parking space waiting for me." And there always was. Right up front near the entrance so Great Grandma didn't have to walk so far with her bad back and all.

She told me she was practicing Creative Visualization, something that was popular in the 1970s thanks in part to Richard Bach's books, Jonathon Livingston Seagull and Illusions. It worked for her.

She was also a Christian Scientist, and she would often recite: "There is no error in divine mind." As a young child I didn't understand what that meant. The only errors I'd ever seen were big red check marks on my schoolwork. It wasn't until I was much older that I realized that negativity, in all of its manifestations, including physical and psychic illness, is error. As a child, I envisioned Divine Mind to be the biggest brain ever made sitting inside the skull of a kindly old gentleman who sat on cloudtops watching the world spin beneath him.

But Divine Mind is simply another word for Goswami's "Quantum Consciousness." It is the split second choice that occurs when agitated molecules group in just such a way as to create something. It is the ability to choose how those molecules group or which direction the waves travel.

All this fascinates me because I have long known I have the ability to manifest dreams and desires in my own life. It's something that takes concentrated effort, and the manifestation of reality is something that involves disassociating myself from the concerns of physical reality (I am not looking for a Porsche, a million dollars or the perfect parking space). I associate with my ego, and the reality of my ego as a state of being, and I look for possibilities and ways to manifest goals and desires in the realm of the ego.

This creative manifestation has resulted in me achieving seemingly impossible career goals (relatively impossible if you look at the childhood I came from), creating a family and a marriage that makes me happy, and smaller things like changing the way I interact with the world or view my place in it.

For example, when I first went to college, I was so shy that my throat would close up if I tried to talk to strangers in the hallways. My face would grow red. I'd hide my embarrassment beneath long, unkempt hair and glare at people to keep from having to engage in conversation. I hated my shyness. So I envisioned what I wanted to be: a confident woman capable of striking up interesting conversations with complete strangers in any situation. Then I looked for examples of this state of being, and found them in the field of journalism. Watch Christiane Amanpour do her thing on CNN. That's what I'm talking about. I envisioned myself with such confidence, such poise, such ability. It took months and years of faking it until the mask started to fit.

Now I can hardly remember my former self.

It might sound crazy, but the example I just gave is not just mind-over-matter; it's not just me breaking out of my shell. I believe that it was a physical rearrangeing of key molecules that make up my ego, my self. I recreated myself by forcing those molecules to interact with each other in new -- potential, possible, creative -- ways.

And I believe Goswami when he says he has found god. Because if he did, then Great Grandma was right, there is no error in divine mind, and the future is limitless.

Who doesn't want to believe that?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lesson #43: Easy Come, Easy Go

This year I received a surprise tax refund. I made less than I expected last year, thanks to my brief interlude being self-employed, and was pleasantly surprised to receive tax money back (rather than owe the IRS).

I had the money in my account for 24 hours, and during that time, I wondered aloud what I should spend it on. New furniture? A small vacation? A new camera I have been coveting? I commented to my family that for the first time since I started filing taxes, I didn't need to spend my refund on car repairs.

Then my son, D, came to visit. He drove to my house. It's his first car, one that he scrimped and saved for, and it was the first time he drove it to my house.

Being temporarily financially endowed, I offered to buy him a new set of tires. He was excited by that, so we drove his car to Pep Boys. It died in the parking lot. Two days later, the repair costs and new tires came out to more than $1,000.

He drove away this afternoon, in a nice-running car with tires that actually grip the road rather than slip and slide, and a full tank of gas. I was happy to see him drive away in a safer car.

My bank account is empty again. But my heart is full.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Lesson #42: What happens in the cubicle, stays in the cubicle.

I have worked in a number of offices with a variety of coworkers in different fields and even in different states of the union. No matter how different, there is one thing that every office has had in common:

Women who like to comment on what other women are having for lunch.

I would wager money that I could walk into any office anywhere in this country, peel an orange, and some woman is going to say, "I smell an orange! Someone has an orange!" I could microwave salmon, garlic pasta, or sausage spaghetti, and the result would be the same. Someone is going to hunt down "that smell."

What is a polite woman supposed to do in that situation?

Do I confess to being the barer of the smell?
Do I offer to share my meager left-overs?

I have never been good at small talk. And I'm not one of those women who finds it polite to comment on other people's private meals - particularly if they're hunkered down over a Tupperware container in their little cubicle or windowless office. It seems to me that leftovers for lunch are one of those things polite people shouldn't talk about -- like coworkers' salaries and what happens in the ladies room. For many years, I decided the easiest way to avoid this type of thing was to leave the office for lunch.

But I grew tired of being pirated out of my office by overactive nosey noses, so now I embrace the interaction. "Yes, that's my orange. It's a great orange! Do you want a slice?"

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Lesson #41: Keep your eyes open when you ride the rollercoaster.

My youngest biological son, I, turned 13 last year. He's the 5th of our brood of 6 kids to do so.

I know what's coming. Tears. Innapropriate giggling. Long showers. Squeaky speech. Red cheeks. Impulsive stomping and door slamming.

When my oldest, D, turned 13, I really didn't know what I was in for. The first time D wailed and weeped and rolled around on the living room floor extolling how much he HATED his teachers and his counselors and his principal and me and and his father, I was horrified. I tried to reason with him. I tried tough love. I tried soft love and hippy hugs. Finally, I sent him outside and told him to hit the punching bag until he stopped crying.

Then I realized that the D in my living room was not the same sweet little boy I held at my breast so many years before. He was a young man, with all the angst and agony afforded to young men who haven't yet found their inner Swartzenegger. I had to give him time to navigate the hormonal waters of early teen-hood. And in time he found his way.

While it happened, though, I went through my own five-step process of watching the boy-into-man evolution.

1. Shock: "What the hell is going on with D?"
2. Anger: "Quit acting like a baby on crack and go to your room until you can act like a normal human being!"
3. Bargaining: "If you'll quit weeping, I'll make you your favorite peanut butter and jelly with no crusts!"
4. Depression: "I miss my baby D!"
5. Acceptance: "OK, so how many years until college?"

 Now that I've seen the process a few times, I can skip straight to Number 5. Only 5 more years until I goes to college. Really, that's not very long at all. I've decided I'm going to enjoy as much of it as I can, caterwauling, high water bills and all.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lesson #40: Don't worry.

We have a songbird in our house.

C -- the youngest of the Brady Bunch -- loves to sing. He knows all the words to:
  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
  • Now I Know My ABCs
  • Bob Marley's Three Birds
  • House of Pain's Jump Around
  • Bloodhound Gang's Three Point One Four
  • and another song that K made up just for him when he plays with his train set.
Some of these songs aren't appropropriate for a little ears, I know.

But still, there is nothing more sweet than hearing a 3-year-old trill, "Every little thing's gonna be all right." Sometimes I need to hear that. For some reason, I can believe it when I hear it from an innocent babe.

Though I'd probably feel all right if I was chillin' in Jamaica, too.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lesson #39: The Mouths of Babes are Filled with Truths

Today is the one-year anniversary of the loss of our eldest child. The One We Lost is never far -- he keeps popping up in dreams (that end in my sobbing that I'll never see him again). He keeps appearing in my husband's eyes when he weeps all of a sudden (and to see a man you love suddenly start weeping is the strangest and most heart-wrenching of things). My sons talk about him and strive to emulate him. I haven't learned to say I have five children, because with him, I have six, and always will.

Yesterday, I spent the day cooking casseroles to take to my uncle and cousin's house. My aunt died that morning. After spending the day with them, and leaving them when I saw my uncle grow weary of being strong for his guests, I went home and cried myself to sleep. I couldn't get my aunt's beautiful, strong voice out of my head. I felt her bear hug wrap me in warmth. And I missed her, already.

There has been so much grief for my family lately. Our son, my husband's uncle and grandfather (the two men who glued the family togehter, a family that has since completely fallen apart), and now my aunt, all passing in the space of a year. My beloved aunt -- A woman who taught me to be proud of my name, who taught me I could be a strong woman, a career woman, a writing woman. Whose strength rests in me still.

With her passing, I became the matriarch of the family, the oldest living female on that side of the family. The oldest woman and the one who has to keep the stories of our heritage, passed down from my aunt to me. It hit me recently that it's my responsibility to teach our children and their children about the beautiful ones who passed away before they came, the ones who came before them. But I have been so heavily burdened with grief this past year, I wasn't sure I could rise to the challenge

A couple of days ago, one of the young ones showed me how it is to be done. C, the baby, loves to watch Harold and the Purple Crayon, a cartoon about a little boy who draws his reality using a magic purple crayon. Months ago, I let him borrow a necklace of mine that reminded him of the purple crayon. As one would expect in giving a three year old a necklace, he lost it. He felt bad about it too and said he was sorry. At Christmas, he picked out a giant pink pen, and his mama wrapped it up for him. He was so proud to give it to me. His mama said that he picked it out for me because he knows I like to write. I thanked him, put it away and forgot about it.

The other night, C and I were playing together in a rare moment alone. He found the pen and held it up to me. "Do you like the purple crayon I got you?" he asked.

"Oh yes," I answered. "Thank you for my purple crayon."

How could C -- he's only 3 -- remember all these months that he owed me a purple crayon? How could he know I needed one now, so badly, to draw myself a happy world to hide from the sadness I live in now?

It doesn't matter how. He knew.

C and I spent the evening drawing rainbows and waterfalls and zebras to ride in the air around us. He and I escaped some of our grief for the moment. C showed me the promise of youth again, in a time when I had forgotten it existed. Death robs us of promise. It robs us of joy and hope and those things that youth takes for granted.

That's really why youth is so filled with promise. Because the future has yet to be drawn. It's a blank palette, an empty canvas. The colors to work with are only vibrant and new, they aren't yet tainted with shadow. 

But with a purple crayon in our hands, we can recreate whatever we want in a world that has been destroyed by grief.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Lesson #38: Don't bite off more than you can chew

I started a new job last October writing grants for a university that's about an hour's commute from my home. I love the new job and was happy to land it.

But prior to taking the job, I had solicited my local newspaper to see if the editor was interested in letting me write for them, on staff or as a freelancer. I was feeling nostalgic for my days as a newspaper reporter, and my current job as a freelance grant writer was so, well, boring.

The editor pulled me in for an interview, both with him and the staff of the paper. I never heard back from him, despite a thank you letter and confirmation from the business office that they had all my paperwork in order. I figured, no harm done by asking, and chalked it up to good interviewing skills practice.

Two weeks after starting the university position, the editor called me and offered me a gig writing a bi-weekly column on "anything interesting that pertains to Merced County." Of course, I said yes.

I mean, 11-hour days working for a prestigous intellectual community in a high-stress, challenging position wasn't enough for me, right? What I really needed was to tack on a couple more hours a week of research, interviews and composition that would be published in my home town twice a month for 50,000 readers to chew and bitch about.

I've been writing more-than-full-time now -- both grants for the university and a column on raising kids in the county -- for almost three months. I've gotten my first hate mail (after five columns, which isn't a bad record). It's exhausting work.

But it's worth it. I'm finally making decent money (what I'm worth), hanging out with interesting people, and keeping my name in print. I'm a pretty lucky gal after all.