Tag Archives: parenting

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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A Week in Photos (and a little shameless self-promotion)

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The boys and I were able to get outdoors and explore quite a bit this week.

Last weekend, I took the two older boys to see a movie in an actual movie theatre, which we rarely do. The three-year-old is finally at an age where he can (mostly) sit still through a nearly two-hour film, without too much”Shhhhushing” on my part to get him to stop TALKING OUT LOUD and narrating all the action for us. There was a little bit of this going on, but I think our neighbors were mostly okay with it, since it was a kid’s film after all.

Later in the week, we visited a beautiful arboretum on the campus of my old college, where I was a little wistful reminiscing about being young and quietly studying for exams in the shady gardens there as a teenager, when all I had to worry about back then was studying for exams and being a teenager. I used the outing as a vehicle for not only allowing the boys to study nature, while using their imaginations and getting their hands dirty poking around bubbling streams with sticks and leaving with muddy knees, but to continue to explain the concept of college to my oldest, who had never actually stepped foot on a college campus before.

We stood beneath giant cacti in the sunshine, got up close and personal with vibrant orange monarch butterflies, who let us nearly touch them with our fingertips, and ran through make-believe jungles, pretending we were lost there, using our sticks to guide us through tangled vines.

We also hiked through our favorite canyon this week, under a canopy of oak trees. It was the first time I really let the baby walk around on his own and hike along with us, instead of strapping him into a stroller or onto my body, carrying him on my back. He was giddy with the freedom of exploration, grabbing sticks to carry like his big brothers, stomping around in piles of autumn leaves, touching new textures and throwing rocks. I’ve realized a large part of boy behavior involves searching for the biggest stick you can find on hikes and wielding it as a sword to fight your brother, while also chucking rocks at anything and everything that moves.

“Yeah, boys? Let’s not throw that giant rock at that beautiful bird resting peacefully in that tree, okay?

This week, we also tackled a little project I’d been talking about for awhile, but hadn’t gotten around to. We finally moved the baby’s crib out of our bedroom and into his brothers’ room so that all three boys could finally share a room together and the baby could sleep in his own crib overnight instead of co-sleeping with me, as he’s done since birth.

I dreaded the process because I knew it would be met with major screaming tears on the baby’s part. I wrote about why I was ready to get him sleeping in his own crib here. It’s time for him to learn how to sleep in his own space, without still waking up to nurse every couple hours when he’s co-sleeping with me. I am more than ready to get some solid sleep again. They say it takes 72 hours to break any habit and last night was night three of him sleeping in his crib overnight with his brothers.

The first two nights didn’t go very well, my husband was up with him several times, coaxing him back to sleep, but last night, he did much better. He only woke up once, fussed for a few minutes and got himself to go back down. It was the first time in fourteen months that I was able to sleep a solid six hours without waking up and it was blissful. Let’s hope tonight goes just as well. Fingers crossed.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving here in the US and we feasted and gave thanks along with the rest of the country. This year, it was just us five gathering around our table, which I decided to decorate and make festive for the occasion. My husband roasted a delicious turkey and we collaborated on the side dishes: mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, green beans, sweet potatoes, cranberry chutney and pumpkin pie. It was a lovely day and an opportunity to be grateful for our blessings, especially the three little lively boys who have stolen our hearts more than we could have ever imagined.

They have taught me so much about loving and living.

And to tie this week up with a beautiful holiday bow, a book I contributed a piece of my writing to, was released today. It’s an honest anthology of funny pregnancy stories from twenty moms called, “Bumptabulous,” and if you’re so inclined to buy it for yourself or an expectant mom, you (or they) are sure to get some laughs and a candid  peek at pregnancy and motherhood.

You can read more about it here and purchase the book here.

If you celebrated Thanksgiving, I hope you had a wonderful one with your loved ones. I’m thankful for those of you who visit and read about this little life of mine, with my Three Wild Things and share your stories as well.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Quiet Time

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In my twenties — many years before I had children — I spent a considerable amount of time in very loud places. I stayed out late with my friends in trendy bars and nightclubs in Hollywood and New York City, attended concerts I’m sure caused some kind of irreversible eardrum damage, where thumping music blares from giant speakers at an amphitheater or those you stand next to in a bar, sound vibrating through your rib cage with a gust of wind, sound that leaves you temporarily deaf at the end of the night, where you start asking your friends to repeat sentences and try to fall asleep to ringing in one ear, or both.

I lived out loud back then, quite literally. And it was fun. The kind of fun you remember for a lifetime. The kind of fun that found you accidentally locked in bathrooms of underground parties in Paris all alone, giddy and tipsy off too much champagne. Parties so loud, your friends couldn’t even hear your very loud knocks on the door to get their attention, over the sound of very loud French lyrics blasting out of very loud speakers.

Back then, it never dawned on me that one day I’d seek quiet. I used to love being in a loud room or restaurant, voices competing with each other, lively laughter stacking on top of each other like bricks, creating a rhythm all their own. Being surrounded by noise meant I wasn’t alone, even if I still felt alone in a crowd. I craved sound — any sound — music, laughter, dinner conversation, the clink of champagne flutes celebrating a loved one’s birthday, the raised voices of friends debating politics, the cacophony of New York City traffic noise, horns honking, taxi cab drivers shouting with diverse accents, the bass line of a hip-hop anthem blaring from a passing car on a Brooklyn street.

Noise made me feel alive. Quiet made me feel lonely.

So many years later, the days of loud music in sweaty NYC nightclubs, dancing until the sun greeted us the next morning, or the volume cranked up as far as it could go on my car stereo dial while driving solo to the beach on a hot summer day, moon roof peeled back, are long, long gone. So long gone.

The noises of my twenties have been replaced by the noises of my thirties, the wails of newborns needing diaper changes and feedings, the whines of toddlers pleading to have their way, the screeching of “Mo-om!” from the bathroom, requesting some item that always seems to be needed at the most inconvenient time, the conversations of animated characters on the television I somehow know the names of (like I used to know the names of all the hotspots in the exotic cities I traveled through), their exaggerated voices intertwined with those of my children, taking on personas all their own like extra family members: Elmo, Barney, Olivia, Caillou, Dora.

Don’t get me wrong, the sound of my children’s voices is by far the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard — their laughter, the baby’s contagious giggles, my three-year-old’s adorable voice reciting his numbers or singing The Itsy Bitsy Spider, my seven-year-old confidently reading to me from his Diary of a Wimpy Kid books like a pro.

Yet still, where I used to crave noise, these days, all I want is quiet. The kind of quiet that doesn’t even include tranquil, new age music in the background, or birds chirping in trees, or crashing waves on a solitary beach.

Just pure, uninterrupted silence.

Quiet no longer equates to loneliness for me. Quiet is the peace I feel I have less of these days, caring for the demands of all these tiny, yet very loud voices who need something, right now, right away.

Admittedly, I yearn to have quiet back. If only for a few hours.

Disneyland Diaries

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I’ll admit, I’m not Disneyland’s biggest fan.

In fact, I wasn’t even a big fan of the place as a kid, when I grew up with it practically in my backyard, an easy, twenty-minute drive up the 5 Freeway on a good day. I can’t even completely pinpoint what it is about Disneyland that makes me uneasy, it just does.

There’s something so saccharine about it all, the squeaky clean image, the creepy, robotic characters and animatronics (I’m talking about those inside the attractions, not the real-life “cast members” themselves), the contrived “fun” that comes with an obscenely hefty price tag, how the entire place is stuck in some kind of bizarre time-warp (I mean, Tomorrowland still looks like 1986 to me), that it’s capitalism, Americana and over-consumption at its finest: buy, buy, buy, consume, consume, consume and you’ll be happy!

After all, it’s the Happiest Place on Earth, right?

Maybe it’s something about all that happy that creeps me out. Because, it’s not really a true reflection of life itself. Life just isn’t that darn happy all the time. Why should people spend $150 apiece to enter a theme park that promises them happiness by gorging on overpriced churros, super-sized buttered popcorn in cheap plastic Mickey Mouse containers, waiting an hour and a half in lines that snake around buildings for nothing more than a mere three-minute thrill? Is that really happiness? I feel like some of the best happiness I’ve found costs absolutely nothing at all.

I’m sure I’m completely overanalyzing Disneyland.

My point is, against my better judgment we visited Disneyland last weekend for my middle son’s third birthday. And we consumed and consumed and consumed. Until I literally felt kind of sick.

It always amazes me how easy it is to give up your stance on so many things you previously vowed you’d never do, once you have kids. For example, per his request last year, I spent my oldest son’s sixth birthday at a local Chuck E. Cheese’s. That’s something I swore I’d never do, pre-children. Ever. But, there I was, happily eating slices of bad pizza and playing skee-ball.

So. When your adorably spirited three-year-old has a newfound interest in all things Mickey Mouse, you know what you do? You stop being jaded and cynical. That’s what you do.

Yep.

You go to Disneyland.

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