Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Critics and Artists

Yesterday was a crap-pile, scum-bag, or something like it. I’m trying to curse less, you see, there is a baby.

I lost my Go-Pro camera at the skatepark. How original. But I think the part that sucked most was that I was really trying to have a great day and I felt like the day was against me, or that God was, which I lamented later to my bewildered mother who was nearly late for a lunch date with a woman from her volunteer job who never felt like she deserved to celebrate her birthday, until my mom changed her mind. I told my nearly late, self-less mother “I hate God! He’s mean to me” and as I said it, I felt no relief, only immaturity, betrayal and total lack of self-control.

Like surfing, skateboarding gives me such an escape from it all. Except because I know so much less about it, the feelings of accomplishment come quicker. My rate of learning new things while surfing has slowed down after 20 odd years. I think about the new skate tricks I want to learn at night before I go to bed. I fall asleep running over the body positioning it takes to do a half-cab rock. How you must stay just over your board and then as you come back down the transition from the rock, you must lightly lift your front foot off to clear the coping and keep your balance while going backwards. This is how I have been falling asleep since I had a baby and my sister got cancer. This is how the anxiety slips away and in its place, productivity and imagination float. A good skate dream makes me wake up just right.

Yesterday I had nearly enough time after putting the baby down to go to the skatepark by my parent’s Orange County house before we visited my cousin. That skatepark is my favorite and I was extra psyched all the groms would be back in school. Specifically, I did a little dance for Maddie and my mom and said “All those little bi-otches will be behind desks!” You see, cutting out cussing goes in stages. And those skate camp punks had made fun of me before so I was thrilled I would only have adults and homeschoolers to deal with. Those kids don’t seem to have quite the tribe the others do.

I arrived mid parenting podcast to a locked gate and a closed concession stand, my heart pounding with disappointment and trapped adrenaline. Apparently the park operates based on school hours and holidays. There wasn’t even anyone to complain to. But Google said there was another park eight minutes away, so I carried my hope and hiding anger with me there. Can’t keep me down! 

I learned that half-cab rock in about twelve minutes using a small volcano obstacle and a mellow bank with short coping. I’d been practicing half-cabs for months. Like the ego-centric millennial I am, I also captured it with my GoPro for myself and the internet. I was stoked on the angles I was getting too—one shot from the volcano, one from a tree branch and a few others from the bank. Then I did a slash grind just before I left. Can’t keep me down! 

I skated off like a hyena who found a wildebeest pack. But, oh, that’s not how the story ends. When I got home there was no Go Pro. No brand new case we just bought. No footage. No proof that I can. And the anger stopped hiding. I always knew it was there anyways.

Later a conversation about What is the point of it all? Why are we here? emerged and no one really knows how to answer that. But I know this isn’t the end of the story either.

I’ve found plenty of entertainment criticizing people for leaving whiny remarks about small things all over the internet and sometimes to my face, and here I am saying yesterday with a healthy baby and a mostly healthy family sucked because I lost a miniature camera. The paradox is not lost on me. 
I try to remind myself of something I wrote in a journal months ago: being a critic is much easier than being an artist.

And Can’t keep me down!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Talk Story

Years ago I remember talking to a friend I met through the innerweb about why she stopped writing. She said she got tired of having a constant narrative running through her head. Funny, because I think that's my favorite part. I mean, I don't know how funny Avalon peeing on the lobby floor of the swim school in front of this proud and breathless schedule-controller would be without it. I know there's a part of it that's super self-important of me, but the other part of me knows there's nothing to do except talk it out and write it down. 

It's hard for me to find the time to put all this inner dialogue somewhere though, now that there's a sovereign yet entirely dependent little baby-planet orbiting around here writing her own stories. 

She thinks it's fabulous to open drawers and empty bookshelves and I think she's on to the fact that I don't. I'm trying to remember that it really is amazing that a blobby former alien-eyed fetus can now say "uck" and slam my hair-brush drawer. However, when she discovered how to lock and un-lock the car like a drunken robot I had to draw the line. She's not sure what to think of the garbage disposal yet, but she runs away from it like a ding-dong ditcher and then returns deliriously excited to see what I'm doing. The other day I was trying to send an email while she was awake (a rare and risky occurrence) and she brought me a frying pan. 

As a mom I think I'm usually somewhere in between: "I listen and watch and let my baby tell me what they're ready and not ready for" and "What the heck? You're a b-a-b-y, I'm the boss." But there there's also intensely awful moments of exhaustion and weakness when I think "Oh God, please don't hate me already, just say 'please' and you can have a Nutrigrain bar!"

Avalon's been waking up in the still dark hours of the morning lately just whaling and half the time I bring her into bed with us and the other half I do absolutely nothing except groan and roll over until she falls back to sleep minutes later. I never really feel good either way, but I always lay there wondering if I should start waking her up from her long naps and never enjoy leisurely shopping online mid-day again. Though, I'm semi-convinced that no matter what you do or how old your kids are, motherhood is just destined to leave you in a faint but constant state of exhaustion. 

I believe I can do it all: write, stay in shape, get better at surfing and skateboarding, raise a brave and compassionate child with good manners and a varied palette, cook healthy meals, keep the laundry bin from over-flowing, remember and commemorate everyone's birthday with surprising and thoughtful gifts and cards and wake-up without bags under my eyes. If there's no belief, there's no chance, or something like that, right? But yesterday I accidentally had melatonin gummies for breakfast, didn't respond to any emails and spent Avalon's afternoon nap painting a $7 chair a deep, moody blue. I also re-arranged the living room, getting rid of a comfortable chair that everyone I told said they'd miss. Maybe the only thing to say is that in the end you'll do it all, but in the moment you just have to do what you can. 

Fall is almost here and it makes me nervous and excited like when a friend says they're coming over. I can't wait for Avalon to really experience it this year. I can't wait to experience it as a family who isn't dealing with a current cancer diagnosis, although a part of me feels like that's a cloud that will never leave. But I clean and re-arrange and surf and buy tiny knee-high socks with foxes on them and garden and cook and celebrate family and friends and write down the stories from it all when I can. 

Monday, August 15, 2016


(we had friends over last Friday. I bought dough and toppings and each couple made their own pizza to share with the group)

When I start writing I always get really thirsty. I wonder why that is... 
Maybe it’s because all the words inside of me are trying to live, so they gather up all they can.

I like to imagine this life where I have all these deep thoughts all day long, but usually it’s just random bits like how I love that old donut shop down the street even though I never visit it and that I need to buy Scott a sturdier pillow so he stops snoring.

I've been thinking about how much maintenance everything requires lately. Relationships, appliances, gardens, photo collections, houses, babies, babies, babies.

I did manage to grow two worm-free tomatoes this year and brought my strawberry plant back to life. Last week I cleaned out the entire hall closet. It took me two days and two trips to Target to get it just how I want, but there are a lot less vases and party napkins and charging cords now and the photo albums are all in order.

I went to a therapist earlier this week. The head kind, even though I should see the physical kind because I’m pretty sure I sprained my ankle skating last week.

I almost cancelled the appointment because I’ve been feeling like everything has been fine lately. But then, I thought I might as well go since it would have been rude to cancel so last minute and at the very moment I’d be sitting in the therapist’s office (she doesn’t have a couch you lay on), Maddie would be getting another colonoscopy since she had blood in her stool again and had to go back “stat”, they said.

I told the therapist that we’ve been doing great and how we’ve been seeing a bunch of friends and family over the summer and every time we do I laugh a bunch and cook a little and feel really proud of Avalon. I told her about the river and how it reminded me how to believe in God. I could tell she was trying to wrap things up so I started eyeing how many vegetable-dyed Annie’s Animal Crackers I was going to have to pick out of her carpet before Avalon and I left, and then all of a sudden, I felt compelled to bring up that I’d been having a few more glasses of wine after dinner than usual, that I yelled at three strangers last week, and that I am having a harder time accepting my body than usual.

I went home with a link to some guided meditations and a clear conscience, although it took until I actually did something about any of it to feel better. I'm not holding onto anything that isn't helping me anymore, I decided, so I cleaned out my mind just like I cleaned out that hall closet.

Maddie’s colonoscopy came back totally normal an hour after that. I got on my knees and thanked God. That night and Thursday I had no glasses of wine and went surfing instead. I will not call another old lady a "cutter!" while waiting in line at Goodwill.

The next day we went to lunch with a friend whose baby is due any day now. Another mom who was there with her baby kept inching closer to us and randomly contributing to our conversation so we made an extra effort to include her and talk about her daughter’s pretty eyes. Once you’ve been lonely, you never forget what it looks like.

I took Avalon to the store today and put her in the shopping cart. I’m not a germaphobe. When I tell people this, I usually follow it with the example that I barely ever used to wash my hands after I went #1 in the bathroom until after I graduated college. But despite my best deliveries, this fact is never as well received as I expect. I haven’t worried about putting Avalon in the shopping cart because of germs (you can wipe the carts off), I just love carrying her. When I told a chiropractor I was still carrying around a 13 month old in a front-pack she could not believe it. She had a way of asking me questions about it so as not to sound too controlling: But what about a stroller? And shopping carts? Which I appreciated, but mostly didn’t listen to. Last night I wore Avalon in the carrier the whole time I was making dinner because my carpal tunnel is worse than my back and she was just in a hold me! kind of mood that I can't help but love. But I let the shopping cart help me out today. I guess the chiropractor is a kind of therapist too.

And then I think, maintenance is another form of love and we all need it.


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Gathering Place

I love the buzz of summer and I also love the tranquility that comes from being away from it; like sitting by the fire during the holidays.

I lost track of time up there in a cabin on the last mountain before California becomes Oregon. After a slam at the Arcata Skatepark, I even broke my watch. I know that sounds cliché, at least the losing track of time on vacation part, but I feel since becoming a parent, I've never been more aware of time. For a year I'd watch my nursing timer just to make sure things were staying as predictable as possible; seven minutes was ideal. I'm aware of nap time and lunch time and music time and how long the newborn days seemed and how quickly her hair grew long and her socks became too small over night. 

But up there, in the middle of that forest where it felt almost like we were hiding in a grown-up fort, time stopped weighing me down. If Avalon was up early, one or both of us took her down to the river while everyone slept. We played with silty grey sand and threw dry sticks and collected cold rocks. One morning there was fog sleep-walking on the water. Another morning the wind blew east and you could kinda smell that bear carcus that was across the river. One afternoon we swam to the other side and touched its teeth. It was like I was aware of everything except for time while we were up there.

Aunt Liz and uncle Thomas seemed ageless too. At the very least, their spirits did. This is comforting to me in a transcending kind of way since I think one of the things I fear most in life is forgetting how to be a kid. 

Uncle Thomas listened to rock and roll at midnight louder than most people would at their wedding receptions. And he danced too; playing air guitar and shaking his shoulder-length hair, slamming the kitchen table with two open, rough palms. I watched him the way you watch a new world go by from a window seat, then awkwardly tiptoed away to make sure the baby was still sleeping. 

Aunt Liz played with Avalon like I imagined she played with her own daughter, Victoria, when she was small. She ran after her and assembled puzzles on the floor. She got out supplies for building blanket forts and made homemade ice cream on our fifth wedding anniversary, tasting it with her finger. She loves games. They both do. We stayed up playing Parcheesi and this European dice game called Chicago until 2 a.m every night. One night we went into the Indian Casino after dinner and Basia won $76 for picking number 17 (Aunt Liz's birthday) in roulette. A wolf came by other evenings. Her name was Bravo and she liked Basia and Phil's bed. You could tell she loved Aunt Liz and Uncle Thomas by the way her ears perked up when they were talking and how calm she was in their home.

I asked Uncle Thomas if we needed to worry about mosquitos and he told me, in his assertive German accent, "No! We have the bats!" because two bats had flown into their house and never left. And swift birds lived in the fireplace when the fire was out and the air was hot outside, to start families and displace soot. 

Their cabin is a gathering place. 

I feel like we went up to their mountain and river and hand-built home for a lot of reasons (not convenience). As I was packing, one thought that wandered my mind was that maybe seeing Aunt Liz wouldn't make me believe in things again, but would help me remember how to. When I was unpacking, I was thinking about how it was never God's fault, or anything I did, that made Maddie get cancer. It was just life. 

One morning walking the river with Avalon, I said prayers out loud. It was the first time I talked to God without feeling some resentment or obligation in months. It felt both right and silly that it had taken me so long. 

I could recognize then how God found other ways to reach me; Scott, mothers, fathers, sisters, aunts, uncles, friends, baggers from Trader Joe's.

The ways that Basia has been there for me in this last, most challenging, year of my life are hard to describe. Especially because when we aren't together we communicate semi-infrequently. But she is like the ocean to me; when I'm around her I just feel better and I know she understands and accepts everything that I am without having to say it. 

Sometimes I feel nervous seeing Basia again because I love her so much and I want us to always have what we started with--the purest love and the most fun. But we always have what we started with; it comes back like the color to our skin when we're in the sun (in her case-red). 

And Aunt Liz. You know when you can tell that someone really loves you because just being around them heals you? Your dirty feet might be on their beloved crocheted blanket from their mother, but they just look into your eyes and ask all the right questions. She and Basia are alike and unique that way. 

I cried saying goodbye to them in the kind of way that's hard to understand and hard to stop.

When we got home, I found another watch in the recesses of my jewelry nest and strapped it tightly to my wrist.  But I watched Avalon more-- really observed her for all she is. I put things to dry in the sun. One night I even welcomed the neighborhood cat, for a minute, and listened to some rock and roll before I said a few prayers in bed. 

{+Picture of Fritz, the dog, and of our family by Phil
+Best advice I have for traveling with a kid: lower your expectations, enjoy the new experiences you are having with them, let them be on vacation too and pack a ton of snacks!