Chapters: House

I let go today. Didn't take a single picture of the house. Didn't need any. Hasn't really been mine since we moved out four years ago, except it has. It just hasn't lived inside me, or me in it. We've let go of each other…slowly, as you do with these things.

I built the memories from the inside, all of them. His first steps at 8 months old. Bringing her home from the hospital on rodeo weekend, rain pouring down in the middle of June, gladiolus blooming halfway up the picture window.

The DOJ sitting in our living room, just after your diagnosis.

The walls we knocked down and worlds we opened up.

And your spirit leaving us at the end of that long hallway, all of us with you. The window we had to open before you'd go.

Now the slate is ready for a new run; another family can paint their memories on the walls. They'll cover ours, wonder why we did what we did to that sixty-year-old house, just like we wondered why beer cans fell out of the walls we opened up.

Sometimes you don't know why, or don't want to.

Our home now is the place we've chosen for ourselves, the place that chose us, and the place where we are together—the one with the bitchin' bathtub, wild turkeys, a crazy old diving board, and Neiman Marcus just a skip away. A girl needs her shoes.

Thank you for another chapter; I'd never have written it without you. I wish you were here to write the next one.

She Is Sixteen

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It feels cliché to say I can’t believe you’re turning sixteen, but I can’t. And for all kinds of reasons—because you’ve already seen more of life than many kids your age. You’ve learned that life is not meant to be measured by fairness, and you’ve learned it head-on. Still, you rise. 

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You make better choices at sixteen than many adults I know and certainly better than the ones I made; it’s exactly what Daddy and I hoped for you, but the actions are all your doing. We wanted our kids to know how to make decisions for themselves, because we knew we wouldn’t always be there.

From the time you could dress yourself, you knew what you wanted, and that hasn’t changed. You have strong convictions about how you think things should be, and how and whom you want to be in the world. You may not always think of yourself as tenacious, but I challenge you to look at all you’ve seen, done, and accomplished—take a deep breath, my child, you are resilient. 

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If I could give you anything for your birthday, you know I’d give you more time with Daddy in a heartbeat. I miss seeing the light in your eyes that was automatically there when you were with him. All other gifts feel like poor substitutes. They just do.

They have an easiness together that everybody sees.

I am forever grateful that you have a passion that gives you such peace and joy, because your smiles feed my soul. Your ponies are your happy place, and I imagine they’ll always be part of your life. 

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Happy 16th Birthday, Peanut. You are my favorite daughter, and I am so incredibly proud you are my child. 

Seventeen

By the time the story hits my fingers it’s a roaring waterfall of words I cannot stop. This one is about you, looking up at him. Just before he died. It was his last race before the cancer returned. You look so small. Him, so big.

You fill doorways now. Your voice fills rooms. Your laughter fills the hearts of those who miss him and love you. Taller than even your grandfather, you are no longer a little boy looking up.

You turn seventeen this month. I am asked what you’d like for gifts, and I fight giving the answer that’s always in my heart—your father. Gift cards and games seem poor substitutes, yet that’s all you say you want. Or a sword. You’re practical like that.

I read an article yesterday about a neuroscientist’s research that showed autistics don’t lack empathy; in fact they feel more than others. They experience the world as a sensorial overload, taking in too much too soon. I cannot think of a better way to describe your sensitivity to the emotions (and information) around you, the people you love, and how you care for others. The way you just know things without ever letting on; it’s always left me dumbfounded.

You notice things so many people miss. I adore your texts telling me what you see on your daily commute. I hope I still get those no matter how old we get nor how far apart we live from one another.

Happy Birthday, bud. You truly are a gift and an amazing kid. I know teenagers get a bad rap from a lot of people, but I really do like mine. You make my world and the world in general a better place.

Love,

Mom

Dropping Stones

Waterproof mascara was the good idea I had heading into today. The dark eyeliner beneath was not. Sunglasses and lipstick. Why I ever stray from that simple rule is beyond me.

It turns out that holding a blow dryer pointed at your face in hopes of drying the tears as they come does nothing for your tears and horrible things for your already-dry hair. The end result is a wet, puffy face and scarecrow hair. This makes it hard to "blend" at parties.

Parties. That's what started this. Peanut had her birthday party today. Fifteen. She's turning fifteen.

And just like her past four birthdays, he's not here. And I can't do a damn thing about that. I can't resurrect him for her or for her brother or for me or for anyone. And every birthday I think it will get easier and it just doesn't. Because he's still not here to see his daughter grow up. And she's still growing up without her father who loved her so fucking much.

Fifteen. Another stone we dropped here along this mile we travel. Us without him. Us together. Us changed.

Your Tree

You were born during El Niño, rodeo weekend and even though it was June, it was rainy and cold. The gladiolus in our front flower beds were taller than I'd ever seen—I swear some were four-feet high. To celebrate your birth, Grandma asked if she could buy us a tree to plant in our yard. We picked out the biggest fruitless plum the nursery had, mostly in hopes it would survive. As new homeowners, we weren't sure how green our thumbs would be yet. Every year, I would prune your tree and watch it grow. I would also watch you grow. Eventually, your tree and you reached a size where you could climb your tree. This became one of your favorite past times. When we moved, I think leaving your tree was difficult. Today, I went back to prune your tree. Just like you, it has continued to grow and change into an amazing part of the universe. And I sent you a picture, but I thought we should share it with the world because it's kind of impressive to see how much a tree can grow in fifteen years.

Pink Chocolate Butterflies

When you're asked to make pink butterfly cupcakes, you make pink butterfly cupcakes because, well,  that's kind of your thing.

If I didn't enjoy the challenge, I wouldn't ask the kids what they wanted for their birthday cakes. And if I didn't have a daughter (with an equally willing sidekick of a BFF) to help with the baking, I wouldn't be quite so fortunate to pull off these little feats. An enormous debt of gratitude to Peanut and Totes Ameghan for their tasty chocolate cupcakes (and cake, for the actual factual birthday!) and delectable buttercream frosting. 

Chocolate butterflies.

The original source for these cupcakes came from a book, Hello, Cupcake!, which I have never read, but I have read the blog post at Annie's Eats that the book inspired, which also inspired me to create my own interpretation for our littlest person's birthday party this past weekend. It was the first time I'd done anything serious with chocolate, and it was actually pretty fun, once I worked out the kinks. And they were a big hit with the party goers! A++ would make again!

 

Boys And Girls: An Experiment In Conditioning

The little boys who live next door are forever throwing their balls over into our yard, and our girls are forever throwing them back over the fence. The boys decided this is a fun game, and started intentionally hitting tennis balls over the fence with a racquet, some of which have cleared the house, but most have collected in our courtyard. 

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At first, our dog thought mana was falling from the sky. He'd run around the yard, his little Lhasa jaw unhinged, carrying each ball back to his dog house, but then it got to be overwhelming. Even a dog has his limits, and though he's never seen Hoarders, he could sense this was going to lead to An Issue if he didn't draw the line.

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The boys, however, have no such boundary. The balls keep coming. 

The girls stopped throwing them back long ago.

And so our courtyard has taken on the appearance of Wimbledon sans ball boy.

Once in a while, one of the girls will throw a ball for the dog, and he'll jog off the grab it, sit down, and stare back at the child. She'll pick up another and throw that one. The cycle repeats. Ad infinitum. Truly. AD INFINITUM. ALL OF THE TENNIS BALLS. We have them. Also, one very confused dog.

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Reasons And Excuses

I walked uphill to school, well the bus stop. Both ways. In the snow. Didn't we all?

And I want better for my kids. Don't we all?

And I want to make sure to impart the lessons I learned that were worth learning, and the ones my late husband learned that were worth learning. Because that's what I view as my job. It's what we, as parents, decided was IMPORTANT. And I want to honor that.

So, when my child tells me, "the reason I didn't do X" or the "reason I haven't Y," I need to step in as the only parent left on the scene. Because that's how this works.

And in my world, a reason is an excuse.

And excuses are a reason for not doing what you need to do, what you have committed to do, or what you are obligated to do.

When you preface a statement with, "The reason I didn't," what I hear is, "My excuse for not doing," and that doesn't fly with me. It doesn't fly in the world. It won't fly when you are a grown-ass man or woman, and you need to fix that shit pronto.

Apologies are excellent. Make them when you fuck up. Own your mistakes, and then fix them. But do not make excuses for yourself. Be responsible for your actions. Always. 

Did you forget your homework?

That sucks. I guess you'll experience the consequences.

Did you get in a car accident?

Accidents happen.

Fix it.

Do you have trouble completing your assignments on time due to a disability? 

Get that accommodated. And do your work. You are still expected to complete your work.

It is your responsibility to get your shit in order. It is your job to make sure you get your needs met. Your job. Nobody else's. Your happiness comes from you. It always will.

And if you need help, it is your job to ask for it.

Do I know that it can be hard to ask for help? FUCK YES!

But sitting around with your thumb up your ass making EXCUSES? 

That's cute, but it's still an excuse!

Own your shit. Make it work. 

To review:

  1. Own your shit.
  2. Don't make excuses.
  3. You are responsible for your success and happiness.
  4. Ask for help when you need it, but ultimately the responsibility for your life is yours.
  5. Natural consequences are part of life not some evil plot to destroy you.
  6. Deal with it.
  7. I love you.
 
 

 

How It Changes

I used to have themed Christmas trees. I had seven in the living room, and the kids each had one and I'm pretty sure a couple small ones were scattered about, too. A snowman tree, Santa tree, angel tree, and trees for just my ornaments, my husband's, the kids' ornaments—it was the only time I really decorated for a holiday. I have ornaments from every Christmas of my life, and it shows. My first Christmas, alone? I have at least five ornaments. And every year I greet them like old friends. Or I used to.

 

 


My Santa and angel from 1969 are something I know will be there in their cotton-candy pink glory each year.

 

But it's hard now. Because in between them are mixed golf ball Santas and Sponge Bobs who belonged to my late husband, and every time I unwrap that piece of paper that used to feel like an early Christmas gift, I now feel a mix of anticipation and fear.

 


Because I want to honor his memory, and I want my children to know their father is still part of our celebration of the holidays (and every day), but I also know that it's a painful reminder of loss with each unwrapped piece of our history.

 

That first year, I couldn't even bring the ornaments out of the attic. Last year, I got them onto the tree, but somebody else had to put them away. This year, it took me three tries and a meltdown in the shed to get the decorations into the house.

But it gets better. I was able to help hang some of his ornaments on the tree. And children are the balm of healing like no other salve of this earth. As I watched them hang too many ornaments from the tips of a single branch, it made me smile. Some day they will know that the branches are stronger toward the trunk, but right now they want nothing more than to make sure the beauty of their ornament is seen RIGHT NOW. RIGHT HERE. UP FRONT. And who can blame them for that kind of passion? Even the tree tries its hardest to support their dreams.

 

 

 

 

Another Circle Around The Sun: Another Birthday Approaches

He's almost 16, and you won't be here for this birthday, either. And I hate that. I hate it for him and I hate it for all of the reasons.

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He's taller than me now, which means he'd be taller than you, too.

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And he's amazing. He is so independent you'd be blown away. And so caring. Nearly every day he checks in with us to see how our days went, give us hugs, and he's genuinely concerned about his family. He loves your parents and makes an effort to stay involved in their lives, all on his own. He is all of the things you would want him to be and even more. His personality is still very much the same as the day he was born, and yet he is nearly grown. Funny how that works.

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And as the sadness at your not being here overwhelms me, the joy that he is doing so well fills me, too. You were right. We are okay. Maybe even a smidgen better than okay. I am so sorry you missed this part. We miss you. Thank you for all you gave us that got us here.

More On That School Thing

I can't let it go, apparently. Inefficiency is a thorn in my side, paper is my arch nemesis, and websites with information that hasn't been updated in years make me twitchy. 

I get that schools are short on funds, but when you're asking for volunteers, and money (a lot of money), passing around STACKS of clipboards for volunteer signups, and having me register my child online three (yes THREE) times, before the TWO in-person registrations, separate orientations in the spring AND fall, and annual in-person residency verification process that lasts for a week prior to school starting, all staffed by school personnel and volunteers, I have to question the logic. 

Not one of those volunteer requests was for someone to update the school or classroom websites.

Not one of those volunteer requests was for someone to get rid of the paper that's sent home every Wednesday that is also duplicated online, a process easily done away with by asking parents if they prefer online vs. hard copy versions.

Instead, we were asked to donate two reams of paper per student.

And volunteer to staff the multiple days of registration.

For one student, in the spring, we spent 3+ hours attending registration activities, orientations, counseling appointments, and completing online registration for fall classes. In the fall, for the same student, we spent another 5 hours attending to orientations, registrations (in person and online), and verifying our residency. And this was considered efficiently run—a marked improvement over past years. 

I haven't even factored in the hours spent acquiring school supplies which were purchased both prior to and after the start of the school year. I'm not even sure we're done on that front as the teachers still seem to be adding to the list.

Oh, and the calendars. What. The. Hell.

Why create a school calendar for export if you can't be bothered to have it contain accurate times? Noting that it's a shortened school day, but having the times noted as 12am-12am? Not real helpful. Failing to even include the daily bell schedule on the calendar? Or your website? Worse still, having last year's bell schedule on the site when this year's schedule is different? Total fail. Or, ya know, just not having an exportable calendar at all. That stinks, too.

While I'm listing peeves:

Don't ask me to follow your school on Facebook or Twitter if you don't actively maintain either of those social media channels. It's just downright annoying. I don't want to know what was going on in 2010. Take the link down.

Likewise with your links to teacher's classroom info. If the teacher info isn't up-to-date or in use, don't post it. It's frustrating as a parent to try to find out what's going on in your child's class and have the site be wrong. We live in the Bay Area, people. I shouldn't have to read Lorem ipsum under the class description for two years running.

Okay, taking off my cranky pants now and getting ready for date night. Enjoy your weekend, folks.

 

 

 

 

Middish Week Review: I'm Making It A Thing

POLITICS

Rape. Yeah. The news is chock full of rape, but guess what, so is the world. Get your heads out of the sand if you think this is just about Akin, folks. And keep in mind that since this is my personal blog, I'm expressing my personal opinions. If you don't know by now that I have some opinions, we probably haven't met. Here are some of the articles that really spoke to me over the past couple of days:

An Appeal to Rep. Todd Akin by Maureen Herman, former bassist of Babes in Toyland, founder Project Noise, and a mother of a daughter born as a result of rape. 

Using the Right Words About Rape by Kelly Wickman, an educator, mother of four, and all-around amazing person who has very important things to say on this subject, with perspective that speaks to me and might speak to you.

The Official Guide to Legitimate Rape by Katie J. M. Baker, Editor at Jezebel. This article is one of the most comprehensive I read on the concept of what is defined as rape and how legislators continue to undermine the good that would come from a zero-tolerance approach to rape by playing the game of trying to define "types of rape as if they were different flavors in an ice cream shop."

DEATH

If you're more comfortable with your head in the sand, we can talk about death. Phyllis Diller died this week. I loved her. I spent part of today listening to this tribute on NPR, which included an interview she did with Terry Gross in 1986. It was every bit of the awesome I expected, with a slice of gold on top. 

SCHOOL

We're also sending a big kid off to high school this week and a little one off to kindergarten. A time for transitions. And questions about why school districts can't seem to get their calendars to actually reflect meaningful information like start and end times to the day or truly import to the apps we all use with some sort of ease-of-use. Or maybe updated websites with links that aren't broken, less paper—hell no paper—especially when you're asking us to donate paper, which will presumably be used to produce copies of things to be sent home, just as easily made available online or also available online already—redundancy you are my nemesis. Silly things, I suppose, but they irk me every year and seem to be an issue across the country, so I don't feel alone. And who are these parents who can take off from work for hours, day after day, to attend registrations, open houses during the workday, and orientations, for varying grade-levels all held on different days and times, AFTER we've registered online multiple times in the spring and again in the fall? What an assumption of privilege, I think, to require parents to do these things, and make them feel less-than if they don't. It is wholly unnecessary that inefficiency or poor planning should result in longer hours for staff, volunteers, and parents. It doesn't show that anybody cares more or is more important. It is a waste of time and resources. It doesn't build community. It builds burnout and resentment.

And now, I'll be stepping off my little soapbox so I can get my house in order for back-to-school and daily life.

Enjoy the rest of your week, folks.

Drink something cool and fruity if you're able.

 

Our Showgirl

Saturday was Peanut's horse show. She took 1st in walk/trot equitation, 6th in walk/trot pleasure, and 4th in walk/trot/canter equitation. This was her first time showing in walk/trot/canter. Not too shabby. So very proud of all of her hard work.

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Thinking About Her: My Other Grandmother

I just had my forty-third birthday. By that time, my grandmother had given birth to her second child, now a year old. Her firstborn, my father, was three. The year was 1949. By the time my father was eleven, my grandmother would be burying her husband and raising her two children alone in California. 

I never thought of my grandmother as a young widow. I never thought of my grandmother as young. 

When I arrived on the scene, my grandmother was on old lady who would tell you to kiss her on the cheek because she'd been "eating onions." 

My aunt and my father stood over six feet tall, but my grandmother was lucky to hit five feet standing on a hill. 

Even in her 80s, she still had natural streaks of light brown through her graying hair. She lived on her own until the day she died—fiercely independent, using an electric ringer to do her laundry well into MY childhood, giving her series of overfed Pomeranians the same name (which, for the life of me, I cannot recall right now—something with an "L" I think), and placing little notes on the back of everything ever given to her so that when she died you got back the things you gave her (a great lesson in not giving shitty gifts). 

She loved to dance, and talk on the phone—a ship-to-shore operator for more years than I can remember—and would always make you hang up when you called her so she could call you back on her dime, because Ma Bell gave her a deal for all those years of service as a single working mother. 

She immigrated to this country without any of her siblings or her parents. I don't know why. She was the oldest. She never spoke a word of Norwegian in my presence. She never had an accent. I never knew her political beliefs, but she'd mail me unaccompanied, unexplained clippings from the National Enquirer throughout my life, and boxes of See's Candy at the holidays. 

My mother didn't care for her, or didn't like her, or didn't understand her, and I think that's why we didn't spend much time with her, but honestly, I don't really know why I didn't see my dad's mother much. I just know that I wish I had gotten to know her better. I think we have some parallels in our lives that I didn't see coming—nobody could have seen them coming—that would have been well-served by us spending some more time together.

As I raise my fatherless children, I wish I could sit with her and ask her things. As I encounter difficult times with family members who don't understand, I wish I could ask her things. I wish I could sit with her one more time for one of her manicures.

Instead, I sit in front of the cabinet I inherited when she passed away and remember how I sat in front of it as a little girl in her house. I remember asking her about the items it held, some of them it still holds. I remember her stories. I try to tell them to the little girls in my house when they ask. I try to hear her voice.

It has occurred to me, mid-packing, that I might possess more teacups than the average girl.

Things What I Enjoy: A List Of Sorts And Kinds

  • Teaching tiny humans to spot bovine and equine on grass-covered hills.Hill bovine = hovine
  • The sound of traffic rolling up to and away from a four-way stop from my bedroom windows.
  • Excited children picking snow peas and strawberries to eat from our garden, before we can even get them to the house.Garden porn. #strawberries #organic #casabesttogether
  • A child sniffing the bark on one of our Ponderosa Pine trees to see if it smells like vanilla or butterscotch, but deciding it smells like cookies—I'd never thought of cookies in all my tree-sniffing years in the Sierras.

Clearly a sign from God. #Hangar1Vodka #blimp

Boxes Or Matches

It's finally time to move out of our rental house and into the home I purchased back in March, which means we've been packing. And packing. And packing.

The wine is huddled in fear.

I have wondered aloud about the number of teacups I possess.

And there are. So. Many. Games. I'm convinced they were breeding in that game closet.

My non-essential footwear is packed.

And we are ALL more than ready to go to bed and wake up to THIS beautiful space each day, even with the work we have left to do. THIS makes it all so much fun.

Milestoning: Graduations And Birthdays And Such

In the coming days, Peanut will finish her first year of public school, graduate from eighth grade, and turn fourteen.

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Peanut and her 'fro at the hairdresser

She is so ready for all of these milestones, and I am so very proud of all of the goals she has set for herself in this past year and all she has accomplished. I cannot wait to see how she continues to grow and change in the coming years. I know her father would have been very proud of her, just as we all are. She is a truly beautiful person. 

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Peanut, almost 14, a little taller in the hairdresser's chair

 

Nearly Bilingual

So, I bought this house, as you may recall. And because I descend from a long line of people who can't leave a kitchen alone, I decided this house needs a new kitchen, which means I'm learning Swedish.

I'm learning Swedish for #mothersday. They don't have any words. Or women.

In Sweden, there are no women or words. There are only men, sinks, and directional arrows. 

It turns out that these arrows MEAN SOMETHING. 

Back to Sweden. #ikea #kitchen #casabesttogether

This is a "before" shot. Before I spoke Akurum.

I know this now. I know this after building SIXTEEN cabinets. (I still have six to go, but I'm fluent now, so it'll be fine. Also, I discovered how to stay hydrated with beer/water, aka Bud Light.)

Five More #ikea #kitchen

I swear not all of the cabinets are the same, just these five. I think. I hope. Shit.

Eventually, we'll have a sparkly new kitchen, but right now we have a fuckton o' cabinets. Really awesome, well-built cabinets THANK YOU VERY MUCH. 

Oh, and if anyone needs to know how to install IKEA cabinet hinges, I'm your girl. Also, drawers. Oh, and shelves. Akurum. Rationell. Ädel. See? Bilingual. 

And, I look bitchin' in a tool belt, I'll have you know. At least, that's what the 80s throwbacks tell me, because they're the only ones who use bitchin' to talk about how cool they look in a tool belt. Whatever. My man digs it.

Oh, and I planted a tiny organic garden with a little help from the kids. We went with the square-foot approach in the raised bed. For the rest of our plantings, we just worked things in where we could find sunshine and space. With all of these giant pine trees, sunshine is a rare commodity. We managed to squeeze in four tomato plants, a few varieties of basil, some oregano, and some seeds for a few things to see how they do this first year. Oh, and strawberries. You have to have strawberries. I think we'll end up doing a greenhouse at some point since we have a well for water. We'd love to be able to grow goodies year-round and the sunniest part of the yard has a perfect spot for a greenhouse.

Growing things. #garden #herbs #squarefootgarden #raisedbed #organic

Sneaking food into the corners. #maters #herbs #organic #garden

Maters planted. #garden #tomatoes

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Gonna wrap it up with some fig porn. Our fig tree is just so darn happy. Now, if I could figure out why we have only four food-producing trees out of the fifty-plus trees on this lot, I'd be so very happy. Time to fix that. I do not like watering things I can't eat. Gotta get these citrus trees in the ground before we get another heatwave! Mama needs her fresh-squeezed citrus cocktails!