Tag Archives: family

Father’s Daughter

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At some point, many, many years ago, we lost each other.

Somewhere, between the teenage years when I rebelled with a fervor that would have any father of two adolescent daughters wanting to take his own apartment for a few years, and the time I launched my own adult life which included college, traveling, building a career, failed relationships and eventually getting married and having babies, I lost him.

I probably lost him long before that.

It could have been as an angsty pre-adolescent, when I stopped playing Barbies and discovered boys, pining for unreturned crushes and playing The Smiths on my Walkman until I’d send myself spinning into melodramatic episodes that turned me into a tweenage cliche. That was probably around the same time I stopped adoring him. When I stopped running to the front door to greet him when he returned from work, his crisp white shirts smelling of the Niagara spray starch my mom ritually ironed them with, mixed with the faint remnants of his Tumbleweed cologne that smelled like sandalwood and the sweat of a long workday, with an even longer commute in traffic.

My sister and I were his joy at the end of his day. We were the sweetness and innocence that punctuated hours spent with hardened adults — mostly men — and navigating office politics, along with the pressure of making sales and meeting quotas and making money and making sure our family had what we needed in our middle class neighborhood, living our middle class lives.

We were his joy when we ran to that door as if someone wildly famous was entering it and we practically threw each other out of the way to get to him first, to capture his attention. We idolized him and crushed on him as little girls do, just as we crushed on those boys whose names I can barely remember from junior high and high school, when I started shutting him out, when I stopped adoring him altogether and he took it personally.

When he’d turn that key to the front door after a long day at work expecting to hear the giggles and squeals of anxious girls who missed him and was instead met with silence. One day, too soon for him I’m sure, he came home to teenagers, who were holed up in their rooms chatting on the phone to their friends or blasting loud music behind headphones, blocking out his words, which sounded ridiculous and archaic to us.

Until last week, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d spent any time alone with my father.

My earliest memory of us having conversations alone were in Kindergarten. I attended some kind of fancy private Kindergarten for a year where I learned French and where I was so painfully shy I didn’t have a single friend. I sat alone at lunchtime daily, head down, staring at the detail and grain of a wooden lunch table, inspecting it so intimately I could have told you exactly what kids had eaten for lunch all week, just by examining the crumbs they’d left behind. I don’t know what I was looking for in those lunch tables, with my head down, avoiding eye contact with my classmates. Maybe I was looking for someone to save me. A friend to reach out to a little girl who was virtually paralyzed by her shyness.

At the time, he saved me. His office was nearby and he would pick me up once a week from school in his baby blue Ford Granada, a boat on wheels, and take me to Bob’s Big Boy to eat a hamburger and french fries. He was my knight in a dark business suit, scooping me up, and it was a welcomed relief. I didn’t have to sit alone at lunch that day, humiliated by my shyness, watching my peers interact with one another from the sidelines.

He picked me up and we quietly ate our lunches together. I remember him not quite knowing how to converse with a five-year-old girl at the time, but I didn’t mind, I was just happy to be with him in the silence, away from a world that made me anxious. At the same time, I’m sure he was equally relieved to not have to share another harried lunch with a potential client, trying to close a sale between bites.

Looking back, we probably saved each other during those days in the late 70s where we met alone on weekdays, mostly in silence, quietly dipping our thick french fries into ketchup and then parting ways, returning to our separate worlds for the afternoon, two socially awkward souls not entirely comfortable in our own surroundings.

And then one day those Kindergarten lunches stopped. I changed schools and my new school was many miles away from his office. I think we might have started to lose each other from that point on, through work and school and life and friends and teenage years and boys and into adulthood, through more work and life and boyfriends and eventually a husband and children.

We have recently tried to find each other again. He’s retired now and he has nothing but time on his hands. He hasn’t worn a starched shirt or business suit in over a year. He lives in shorts. He stopped shaving. He stopped working the endless hours he worked for decades, his workaholic self replaced by a gentler, more patient and  less on-edge persona, someone who has all the time in the world now, while also being painfully aware of the reality that he doesn’t. We are both sobered by the awareness of what time means when you are an aging man who has reached 70. Time seems much more urgent than it once did.

Earlier this week, we took a long hike together on a beautiful February afternoon, two uneasy nature-lovers reunited in a setting we both feel most at home in, where we could rediscover each other, at first with cautious, awkward footsteps that grew increasingly more at ease along the path.

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With every step, it felt as if we were shedding years of pain, of holding grudges, of putting up walls. So many years of not understanding each other, of hiding behind long hours at the office buried in paperwork, of hiding in the arms of the wrong boyfriends who offered a replacement for his love and attention for so many years, shutting each other out because it was easier than giving in, easier than tearing down the barriers we’d built around our hearts to keep each other safely locked out.

And in those years, so much was lost. So very much was lost.

Slowly, we are finding our way back to each other, defrosting after years of iciness, returning to that place we once shared hamburgers and french fries on sunny afternoons, me at five with my tiny plaid uniform skirt, skinny legs in knee high socks, him in his mid-thirties, his starched white shirt smelling of spray starch and sandalwood, two awkward, shy souls rediscovering each other and saving each other at the same time, all over again, before there’s simply no time.

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Heavy

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So many things have been weighing heavily on my heart lately.

I see the face of the man holding up a tattered cardboard sign on the street corner, beside the freeway onramp, the man whose eyes I dodge weekly, behind my sunglasses, before pushing through the intersection instead of rifling through the handbag beside me to find a dollar bill.

I wonder where he sleeps at night and whether the absence of my dollar in his hand will make his life that much more difficult for him. And then I feel ashamed, driving in my clean car, hands resting comfortably on the steering wheel. His face will stay with me the entire day, if not longer, until it blurs into the face of the next man on a different street corner, the next woman holding a sign and clutching her life’s belongings in a single bag.

They are a sea of anonymous souls, yet they’re familiar. They seep into my subconscious — my conscience — and stay there, as daily reminders of the fragility of life, of life’s misfortune and unrelenting pain.

Since I was a child, I’ve been afflicted with an unnerving sense of worry and on darker days, a nagging sense of outright dread, which I’ve dragged around with me like a clunky, over-packed suitcase. It’s ridiculously odd, I know, yet I somehow always felt I was in control of bad things or good things happening in life, simply through my own actions, which I balanced steadily as if on a delicate tightrope made of a strip of threadbare fabric.

I foolishly thought that if I followed my own imagined “rules,” and maintained an overall sense of duty and benevolence, mostly “good” things would surround me. Or the opposite would result with my bad behavior. I suppose I believed in Karma. As if by stepping the wrong way on a proverbial crack in the pavement, with the wrong foot at the wrong time, the ground beneath me might give out and crumble into dust, or some kind of doom might strike either myself, loved ones close by or complete strangers far away.

“Step on a crack, break your mama’s back.”

I used to believe such silly childhood idioms. I suppose I’m slightly superstitious and I thought my actions were connected to everything in this world, that consequences hinged upon my behavior or my attempts at being kind to others and trying not to break any rules. That one false move, a single misstep on my part, could throw everything off –kilter in the universe (or what makes up a child’s very small universe), a footstep on a crack might render everything doomed — or worse — might do some kind of irreversible damage to someone, somewhere, family, friend or stranger.

I made every attempt to follow the rules as a child and probably into adulthood, to be a good girl, because at the time, I believed good things happened to good people. Good always prevails over evil, right? That if I didn’t step on those real or imagined “cracks,” in the pavement, if I played by the rules and was “good,” nothing would be rendered broken around me. Nothing bad would happen to others or me.

I blame such simplistic thinking on the childhood naiveté of a nervous, tightly wound and somewhat idealistic girl. I obviously know now that I’m not in control of much at all, that I’m certainly not in control of another’s fate, let alone my own. Yet still, I worry. I worry about complete strangers I’ve never met in other countries and best friends in the next town over. I worry about suffering, illness and loss, about sadness, loneliness and hopelessness.

I fret about children I’ve never met and my own children, about scenarios that haven’t yet played out for them and might never play out. Yet still I lie awake at night, worrying, chewing my fingernails down to the quick, running down a mental list of all the possibilities and feeling a sense of overwhelming helplessness. Helplessness about all of the sadness and tragedy in the world that I can’t do anything about, that I can do some miniscule, seemingly insignificant things about in the big picture, but even that makes me feel unbearably small.

I know now that bad things happen to good people and that good things happen to bad people and that an unfair and inexplicable cruelty exists in this world, that there are evil people living amongst us who make it their mission to inflict pain on others. That misery and plight is as inevitable as tomorrow’s sunrise. And still, I wish it wasn’t so. I wish in some way I could prevent it all.

I see the face of the mother in the Target parking lot with her two young children from a few weeks ago, pleading in capital letters scrawled in black ink for help. And again I divert my eyes. And again, I feel ashamed. I’ll think about her worried, near-hopeless face that night as I lie in bed, and I’ll feel helpless and tiny and insignificant all over again. It’s her I worry about and everyone else.

I worry about them all. And each of them feels like a thousand pounds weighing on my heart.

Let it Snow!

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I’ll start by saying I’m typically a weather wimp.

When the temperature heads south of sixty degrees, which is rare where I live, except late at night, I start fantasizing about tropical white sand beaches and a fruity drink with a swizzle stick. As a native Californian, the most severe weather I’ve ever experienced (at least in my region) is a heavy downpour. Every so often, you may need an umbrella, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I used one. I’m a warm weather gal to the core, who doesn’t even mind a steamy 110 degrees in the desert, smack in the middle of August, as long as I’m sitting poolside.

But this winter had me seeking out a different kind of “white.” Not the white sands of a balmy beach, but the white, icy variety that’s only found in cold climates. Seeking out snow isn’t usually at the top of my list of winter adventures and even as a child when my family took a few weekend ski trips, you could find me alone in the lodge sipping hot chocolate, warming my hands by the fireplace while the rest of the family zipped up and down on those chilly slopes, freezing their butts off.

Thanks, but no thanks.

Lately, I’ve been craving a real winter – especially for my boys to experience. Maybe it’s seeing all those quaint photos on Instagram this past month, where friends in the Nordic region are posting beautiful photos of their blustery winter wonderlands, blankets of white snow covering wide open spaces and clinging to tall pines like powdered sugar.

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It got me yearning for some snow this time of year, when the holidays in so many other parts of the world are synonymous with sweaters and mittens, frosty white landscapes, hot chocolate and roaring fireplaces. Here in my part of California, you could easily spend Christmas on a beach in a bikini.

What I love most about this state, though, is that in less than a couple hours drive in the middle of winter, you can either be on a beach or on a ski slope.

I wanted the boys to experience snow and go wild in it, so we packed up our car with puffy jackets, ski bibs, scarves, warm socks (we even brought the puppy in his own little sweater) and headed up to our local mountains last weekend to play in the snow. And it was perfect.

It started snowing the minute we made our way up to about 4,000 feet, delicate flurries dotting our windshield, the boys squealing with delight, and it didn’t stop until we inched our way back down the mountain.

“Look! It’s snowing, mama!” screamed the three-year-old, the entire way up.

At about 35 degrees, it was cold enough to need all our layers, but not too cold where we were uncomfortable outside for a few hours. The boys made snowballs and slid down slopes on a bright orange plastic sled, their giggles echoing through rows of pine trees.

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I worried a bit about the baby being out that long in the cold, so I bundled him up to the point where he toppled over when he walked and couldn’t quite stand back up alone, so I carried him snugly on my back in a carrier much of the time, until he fell fast asleep, soft snow flurries melting onto his rosy cheeks. He was easily the warmest of the bunch.

My three-year-old cried when it was time to pack up and head back down the mountain. He wanted more. He begged daddy to let him go up the “mountain” just one more time to slide down on his little sled. And so daddy carried him up the steep incline one more time, only to launch him right back down again.

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It was the perfect finish to 2012. There is something about a fresh snowfall and all that untouched white that can’t help but resemble a clean slate. I’m looking forward to 2013 and all the possibility it brings. It’s a new chance, an unwritten page, an unmarked path open to new plans and new adventures. I’m excited to get started.

I’m wishing you the Happiest of New Years. I hope 2013 brings you love, peace, health, happiness and everything you could possibly wish for.

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Puppy Love

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Call it kismet, fate, destiny, luck, good timing or just plain meant to be, but we now have a fourth boy in the family — yep, a fourth Wild Thing — and his name is Mojave. Like the beautiful, dusty desert in California I’ve always loved driving through.

We signed up to be placed on a waiting list to adopt a dog at the Humane Society over the weekend, but as we left the building and headed to our car, the boys a little let down that we wouldn’t actually be going home with a dog that day, we spotted three young guys in the parking lot holding the sweetest-looking pup who looked just like a tiny chunk of salted caramel.

My husband asked about him and the guys told him they’d found the little guy abandoned behind one of their workplaces and that the Humane Society turned them away since the pup was found too far away from their area of jurisdiction. We offered to keep him and they quickly agreed, happy to find him a home with a family who’d undoubtedly love and care for him.

We’d thought about adopting a pup for the boys for quite awhile now. I suppose we were waiting for the baby to get a bit older and for my oldest to get a tad more responsible, so he could help with the care and nurturing and maintenance  a dog requires.

He’s ready. We’re ready. And we figured it made sense (although, maybe it sounds crazy to some) to adopt a younger puppy so he could “grow up” with the boys, rather than an older dog who might already be set in his ways and could become impatient with three very loud and very wild boys.

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I’d say a puppy’s playfulness is on par with a toddler’s, so a new playmate has arrived in this house ready to do what puppies do best, equipped with an energy level that only a goofy little pup can bring, all big, clumsy paws and perked up ears, a tiny ball of adorable fluff. So far he naps a lot, eats a lot, poops a lot, pees a lot and plays a lot, just like any other baby does. He’s awfully cuddly around nap time and I’m not sure who enjoys snuggling more — the boys or him.

And that’s Mojave, two days in. We’re so happy we found him. Or he found us.

Now, onto the housebreaking.

Rule of Three

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He was my most difficult baby and he’s still my most difficult child to parent. He is a classic middle child acting out for attention, testing his limits, pushing you to the edge with a wild look in his eye and a smirk that lets you know he’s precisely aware of what he’s doing. In fact, he enjoys seeing you sweat. He will blatantly tell you what he’s not going to do, no matter how many times you tell him exactly what he is going to do.

“No, I not go do that!” he exclaims all day long. He is mischievous and wild, determined and bold. He is also loving and devoted.

Today, he is three.

He’s no longer a toddler — I suppose I should refer to him as my preschooler now — yet that would be a misnomer because he’s not in preschool yet. He’s stuck in that in between stage of not quite being a baby anymore, figuring out who he’s supposed to be next. He knows how to clearly express his needs and desires with words now, while still not completely having a handle on his body or his emotions, getting frustrated because he wants his way all the time and acting out when he doesn’t get it.

He’ll hurl himself to the floor and scream, he will hit, he will cry and contort his body into 53 different yoga positions until he feels heard, but he also knows I’m relentless in not giving into his tantrums. Daddy? Not so much. With daddy, he gets his way if he demands it loud enough and he knows it. This is probably one of the many reasons he’s always been a daddy’s boy to the core and probably always will be. I’m definitely second best, simply a stand-in if daddy’s not around.

He’s headstrong, bullish and stubborn. He’s also full of the most adorable giggles and the purest joy. He’s grown so much in the past few months, both taller and developmentally. He recites his numbers to twenty with confidence and can tell you the names of most shapes and colors.

His language has exploded recently and he can articulately explain everything he’s thinking in his high-pitched voice, even if he sometimes gets his words a little mixed up. We once had a box of doughnuts sitting next to a bag of almonds on the kitchen counter and somehow he came away thinking almonds are doughnuts. So when he reaches for a bag of almonds and asks if he can have “doughnuts, please” I always get a laugh.

I still haven’t corrected him.

He is affectionate, playful and full of love. He is a cuddle bug, the one who needs the most touch and reassurance, the one who wants you to scratch his back on the couch as he purrs, then turns to stroke your cheek with the back of his doughy hand,  imprinted with four dimples below his chubby fingers, tracing your face and studying your eyes with intensity.

He sees you. Truly sees you, with that knowing look that only those who really feel with intuition have. Those with that psychic-like energy who instinctively know your pain or joy or the kind of day you’re having just by taking your emotional temperature with their eyes. He is caring and compassionate and will ask you if you’re okay if you so much as cough or sneeze or stub your toe. “Are you okay, mama?” he asks. It’s endearing and sweet. When his baby brother fell at the gardens earlier this week, he dusted him off and picked away the leaves that had attached themselves to his romper, making sure he was okay.

Ironically, he’ll also smack that same baby brother over a stolen toy.

He’ll batter you emotionally and the very next second, run to your aide. His love is hard-fought and hard-earned, but it runs deep.

Happy Third Birthday, my fiery little Libra. You made your presence known the day you arrived and you still know how to command all the attention in the room, three years later.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

At ten weeks old

At three years old

Baby, it’s hot outside.

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October is that weird month where the rest of the country seems to be cooling down, all dewy mornings and crunchy golden autumn leaves, while here we get unseasonably warm heat waves and yearn for pushing our hands through the long sleeves of a cable knit sweater or slipping boots over our ankles.

In other words, it’s hot. And when you’ve had three solid months of hot weather, it tends to get a little old. We’re kind of over the water parks and swimming pools and popsicles and beaches by now. Our electricity bills are through the roof, the hum of the air conditioner running twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We’re ready to ditch our shorts and flip-flops and sunscreen in exchange for some rain boots and temperatures below ninety degrees.

Despite the heat, we’ve been getting out to explore nature trails and our favorite wild gardens, getting lost in the cool shade of oak groves and hunting for any signs of autumn in our midst. Needless to say, we’re dripping wet with sweat by the end of our little hikes and swatting bugs off our sticky shoulders and faces. But where else would my boys be able to spot a slate-colored buck with giant, twisted antlers crossing their path or chase after cottontail rabbits who scatter beneath their feet, only trying to blend in with their surroundings. I cherish these times with them, when we can shed the four walls of our air-conditioned, urban existence and attempt to blend in with nature, just like those bunnies.

When I was a child, my dad, a nature-lover himself, led us on hikes and camping trips where we navigated trails and crossed creeks, fallen tree trunks our bridges. We pitched tents under the deep purple of mountain night skies, bathed in chilly, bubbling rivers and cooked our breakfast over Coleman stoves. He is an adventurer at heart and there is still a sliver of that in my own blood, yet I often let fear and anxiety get the best of me. We’ve yet to camp as a family because of all the “what ifs” I constantly come up with to talk myself out of taking most perceived risks in life. What if someone tries to rob us at our campsite? What if a bear decides to have us as a late night snack? What if a mountain lion attacks? What if a Lyme-disease carrying tick wants to use us as its host? What if, what if, what if…?

What if the statistics prove my fears wrong in every direction? Because they do. I mean, there have been less than twenty confirmed mountain lion attacks in my state since 1890. It’s more dangerous to buckle my children into their car seats and drive our SUV to a hiking site, than it is to go on the hike itself. The idea that a mountain lion would attack us is absurd. Yet, I still have these fears — the “what ifs” that make me such an overly cautious mother, they keep me from being as adventurous as I’d like to be with my boys.

I think it’s time to change that. I think it’s time for me to leave my comfort zone and get back that same sense of adventure I had as a child, so that I can instill that thirst in my own children.

It’s time to get outside, in more ways than one.

Lucky Number Seven

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Today, my firstborn son is seven years old.

I know the cliché is to say that time goes too quickly and they grow up so fast, but with him, I don’t feel that way. It seems like eons ago that I brought him home from the hospital, this chubby wise old soul, his dimpled cheeks flushed pink. He has always seemed older and wiser than his years to me and I feel as if, in some odd sense, he was seven years old even when he was seven weeks old.

He spoke in such full, articulate sentences by eighteen months, I could always understand exactly what he was saying and never needed to translate his baby speech. People were always in awe of how clearly he spoke, even as a toddler. He’s still a great communicator. He prefers to be spoken to directly and without mincing words, nothing sugarcoated. Because of that, I’ve always spoken to him more like an adult than a child. He uses words like “inappropriate” in the right context and can be borderline condescending when he feels someone is being “inappropriate” (i.e. that “someone,” usually meaning his two-year-old brother). This boy does not suffer fools gladly. But inside that often exasperated exterior, lives a fiercely loving and sensitive boy.

At times, I see glimpses of the teenager he’ll become. When I’m explaining to him why it’s important to complete mundane tasks such as brushing his teeth or making his bed, I’m met with epic eye rolls and a defiance usually saved for the most hardened of adolescents. No explanation as to why he needs to follow instructions is ever good enough for him. He will argue a point with you inside and out until you almost want to raise a white flag and surrender from exhaustion.

He’s smart and he’ll try to outsmart you. Sometimes, he’s too smart for his own good. When I catch those glimmers of teenager in him, I’m also quickly reminded that he’s still just a boy, a boy who has only recently left the stage of being a “little” boy and I see him struggling with that concept. He sees his younger brothers being helped with everything and doted on and I can sense there’s a part of him wanting to feel small and babied and doted on too and I make every effort to do that for him. We snuggle in bed nightly, just the two of us, and it’s at these moments that I’m made aware that at seven, he’s struggling to find his way, knowing he’s this unusually tall, overgrown child who is often mistaken for being ten years old, all lanky limbs and sharp joints, who feels older and younger at the same time.

When he was seven months old, I wrote this poem for him:

Life rushes by with the force of a wave

Before it drenches me

I need to tell you

Everything you are

September baby

With a shock of black hair

Mercurial, mild

Wide set eyes fixed upon the world

You kicked your way out with determination

Like now, when you kick mommy in your sleep

Your smile stops strangers on the street

Your giggle inspires a joy I can’t contain

You are curious

You are stubborn

You are sensitive

You are strong

You are full of peace, just like your name

You are a mystery, baby

And I devour your every move

How you run your tongue across your toothless gums and grin

The way you clench your tiny fists when you are elated and mad

The tone of your raspy cry

How proud you are when you stand on your sturdy legs, bobbing up and down

How your doughy thighs move like lightening as you crawl

I cement these images in my memory

They are as fleeting as the tides

Rolling in and out of life

With an ebb and flow I can’t control

Soon, you will grow from baby

To boy

To man

and it will blur into that space

between memory and make-believe

So this is how we can remember,

a time when you were only seven months

With two bottom teeth

And a smile that stopped strangers on the street

And a love from your mommy

As deep as the ocean.

In so many ways, he is still that seven-month-old baby, his personality set in stone from birth. All of those traits still apply to him today: curious, stubborn, sensitive, and strong. Although, those two bottom teeth he once had as a baby have since fallen out and been replaced with two permanent adult teeth. In fact, he has a mouth full of tiny baby teeth mixed in with oversized adult teeth and empty gums still waiting for new growth, an unwieldy combination of different sizes and shapes representing past, present and future, just trying to all fit in and find their place.

Which, I suppose, is very much like being seven years old itself.

Happy Seventh Birthday, my sweet, sophisticated son. You are the one who started it all and it’s been one wild ride ever since. I have learned immensely from you and these have been the best seven years of my life. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for you.