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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Nothing but a scaredy cat

A door slammed, jolting me into consciousness. Blinking, I saw nothing. It was a moonless night—no silvery leaves glinted outside my windows as I pushed the blanket away from my ear to listen more intently for footsteps. I reluctantly got up to investigate. No children were about, no lights were on. If there had been an intruder, surely the dog would have barked. It probably came from the neighbor’s house, I told myself as I eased back into warm blankets.

As I drifted back into slumber, I heard the fence gate creak and expected to see the glow of a flashlight as a child approached the house from their sleeping spot in the tree. They probably needed the bathroom or maybe there were too many mosquitoes. I lumbered toward the door. There was no glow, no child. I flicked the light switch and saw tanbark, a closed gate. I’m hearing things, I told myself, and fell back into bed.

For years I lived alone and managed the eeriness of night, the creaking of houses, the slamming of car doors, the voices of neighbors, the scurrying of raccoons and other creatures across the rooftop. But now, used to my husband by my side, things are different when he’s out of town. My subconscious hears regular suburban nighttime sounds and magnifies them into monsters lurking, strangers sneaking, invisible dangers.

In that moment, even as I was still on high alert, I felt very silly. How can I be the competent adult in charge of keeping children and pets fed and safe? I read something recently about how there are no adults, only super-sized kids. And that’s how I felt last night. A big kid afraid of being alone in the dark.

Then a child walked into my room—a nightmare woke him. With my most convincing voice, I told him to think of things he loves to drown out the other stuff—Minecraft, our dog Pepper, his sleeping companion Foofy—and sent him on his way. He came back two other times before I convinced him to take his sleeping bag into his brother’s room. At that point, I couldn’t fall asleep. So I tried to think of the things that I love—my husband and children, my friends, our dog and the chickens, the tempeh Ruben at Dharma’s. I didn’t feel less scared, but I did feel hungry, so I hatched a plan to take the kids to Capitola later this week so that I can munch that sandwich.

At that point, the night sky was easing into dawn. Nighttime sounds were overruled as chickens began to cluck, birds began to chirp, and the fountain began to dribble. Hours later, I am so tired. If I have another restless night, perhaps I will take my blanket and pillow into the kids’ room.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Over sharing?

I like sharing a salad before my meal and my dessert afterward. I like sharing a blanket while watching a movie. I like sharing a bed. I like sharing my dog with friends who like dogs but don’t have their own. Sharing is cool. It makes me feel good. There’s even a Jack Johnson song about sharing. You know the one, the “Sharing Song.” It was on the Curious George soundtrack: “It’s always more fun to share with everyone…”

I have been contemplating sharing and how we learn to share and the importance of sharing because I haven’t been able to stop thinking about an article I came across the other day. It was called, “Why I don’t make my son share,” by Very Bloggy Beth. She wrote: “I think it does a child a great disservice to teach him that he can have something that someone else has, simply because he wants it. If you doubt my reasoning, think about your own day-to-day adult life. You wouldn't cut in front of someone in the grocery checkout line just because you didn't feel like waiting. And most grown adults wouldn't take something from someone, like a phone or a pair of sunglasses, just because they wanted to use it.”

Bloggy, we wouldn’t do those things precisely because we learned to share and because we learned to wait for our turn. Hopefully we also learned not steal someone's sunglasses because we think they might look swell on our own face. Sharing is about enjoying something with another person. Sharing does not mean cutting in front of someone in line. Sharing does not equal taking all of something or taking an item forever. Sharing is about expanding your own personal joy by giving someone an opportunity to enjoy something too. I think I came across her post because someone shared it on Facebook.

Share the crayons with your brother. Share the Legos. Share the trampoline. Share the bowl of popcorn. Share your scooter. Share the bubbles. Share your shovel. Share the calculator. Share the Wiimote. In no scenario do any of these mean giving all the crayons away such that you don’t have any more crayons or that you never get another turn on Mario Kart. It’s about taking turns. It’s about getting to watch your friend have fun too.

The article reminded me of something I read years ago in the foreword of a book. It told the story of a group of children in Africa who were given an opportunity to play with a toy. My recollection is that whichever child accomplished something first would get to play with the toy. When the child “won” the toy, he was sad. When asked why, the child answered, “How can I be happy when everyone else will be sad?”

If I give a bit of my dessert to a friend and they love it, then I feel good. If I share my eye make-up with a friend who never wears make-up, watching her light up at her decorated self gives me joy. Giving opens up a whole bucket of feel-good feelings. I love sharing the extra fruit from our orchard and extra eggs from our chickens. I even like sharing when we don’t really have extras simply because people feel appreciative and that in itself makes me feel good.

The giver gets just as much—if not more—out of the act than the recipient. It’s about joy multiplying because more people are getting to experience something fun. Children who share learn about taking turns and empathy. They will learn about the joy of giving, the joy of helping. The joy of including.

Kids may not get the initial joy in sharing, in the same way that they like getting presents a whole lot more than they like giving them. But I’m going to guess it’s one of those things that happens over time. Like saying "I'm sorry," it gets easier with practice. R had to learn to share me when C was born. I had to learn to share my boys with another woman, and both of my kids had to learn to share me when my bonus kids came into my life. Sharing is the gift that keeps on giving. And on that note, I think I'll go share my bag of water balloons with the kids.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

“Alls I’m saying…”

You can occasionally hear it in my voice. It’s the pesky “a” sound that makes hospital sound more like haspital and coffee sound more like caffee. You may even catch me using the expression “Alls I’m saying…” when I summarize something in my own persuasive way. These pronunciations and expressions are most prevalent if I’ve just gotten off the phone with my mom.

My mother lives in Western New York, which, to be clear is not Upstate New York. Western New York is the most western region of the Empire State that points like the tip of an arrow towards the west. It’s where one would find Niagara Falls and Buffalo and Rochester.

I grew up in Western New York, but that does not make me a New Yorker. A New Yorker is someone who lives in New York City, which is 300-some miles east of WNY. I was born and raised in WNY and lived there for 17 years and 364 days—from the moment I was born until the day before my 18th birthday when I went off to college in Boston. For the next few years, I ping-ponged around from Boston to London and Colorado before heading back to Boston. And not long before my 23rd birthday I moved to San Francisco. I’ve been in the Bay Area ever since.

That’s a good long 18 years and change, thus breaking my record for living anywhere… Honestly, I cannot imagine living anywhere else. And for the time being I cannot live anywhere else. This is where my kids live; this is where they go to school; this is where their dad lives. I do not have the luxury of even entertaining the idea of packing up and moving my family unit to another town or another state or another country at least until the last of my kids head off to college.

So it’s official—I’m a Californian. Unless of course, I have to wait until I’ve lived here for more than half my life, in which case I’ve got another three years. None of this has any real significance aside from being a mental milestone or a tick in my timeline. However, it does come with another realization. R is 11 1/2 and my youngest turned 8 last week. Alls I’m saying is that—poof—life happens fast.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A man from my past

Like the air rushing out of an untied balloon, the Exploratorium emptied patrons onto San Francisco sidewalks at closing time. I was one of them, along with my children and my friends and their children. I heard “Suzanne” come from behind my shoulder, a man’s voice. It wasn’t a shout of certainty, but more a gentle question. I wasn’t even sure I heard it.

As I turned toward the voice, a familiar frame in a gray suit greeted me with a warm smile. It was my former boss from He was there with his wife, and father, and children. I suspect he snuck out of work early that Thursday afternoon. I haven’t seen him in at least 12 years. We introduced each other to our children, asked how the other was doing, made promises to get together at some point to catch up—which I hope we do.

But what struck me as ironic is that my old boss appeared—a physical reminder of my professional life all those years ago—as I’ve been holding a deep conversation with myself about the road not taken. The one where I went back to work after I had my babies and continued along with my editorial career. What kind of publication would I be working at now? Where would my name fall on the masthead? What jobs would I have used to leapfrog across the editorial pond? What magazines or newspapers would be coveting my skills and leadership with all of my years of experience?

My husband recently passed his 17-year anniversary at his job. And I’ve wondered what I’ve done for more than 17 years, aside from inhale and exhale. The list is short--I lived in the small town where I was born; I’ve lived in California, I’ve been a vegetarian. They are passive things, insignificant things. For nearly a year, my neighbor has been job-hunting for a full-time position after being out of work for more than a decade to be at home with her own babies. She's been facing the challenge of edging her way back into the workforce. It’s all so daunting and humbling and discouraging.

I’m not looking for work. I still have my book to finish—I’m so close! And I still have parenting to do. But it does beg the question.

It is strange to realize I’m so outdated. Instead of dwelling on the fact that the business world, the editorial world went on without me, I need to look ahead. My kids are growing up and I need to begin unraveling the mystery of what I will doing with the next phase of life. I’m certain I can do anything if I only knew what it was I wanted to do. In the meantime, I’ll follow up with my old boss and see when we can catch up.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The carnivorous husband

My husband is a carnivore. And that has been really hard for me, a vegetarian of more than 25 years. Until we moved in together 18 months ago, I had not lived in a household where the refrigerator stored ham and chicken and other meaty things for more than half my life. The first time we had Thanksgiving together and my step son waved his greasy fingers around, I seriously doubted whether or not my relationship could endure. I cringed at the idea of animal molecules embedding themselves on the walls or on my plates or my cloth napkins. Gasp!

Yes, that is absurd. But decades of vegetarianism and Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, and Fast Food Nation, and Super Size Me solidified my viewpoint on loving animals and not eating them, not just because a plant-based diet is healthier, but because factory farms and slaughterhouses are horrible places and overproduction of cows and other livestock contribute to global warming.

Until recently, I even believed that eating meat was a character flaw similar to smoking cigarettes. When I was first dating after my ex and I split, I was unsure if I should even date men who were not vegetarians. Then I reminded myself that I had been married to a vegetarian for 10 years (and with him for most of 20 years), and well, that didn't work out so well.

Fortunately, I am still willing and able to grow as a person. My husband is kind, understanding, generous, affectionate. He listens, reaches for my hand when we walk, and talks me down from my own special brand of crazy on days like these. He is tall and handsome and sensitive. He sang at our wedding because he knew it would make me happy. He often skips shaving because he knows that I think stubble is sexy. He does laundry, walks the dog, and helps the kids with homework. He always kisses me before his first bite of his carnivorous dinner. He introduced me to the joys of sailing and is a patient teacher. He laughs easily and often and even occasionally joins me at my Monday night dance class because he knows I love having him there. When he doesn’t join me at dance (which is most of the time), he entertains Meat Monday. And often, he does so by cooking on the grill in the yard, thus minimizing meaty smells in the house.

So I can say with all honesty, that my husband and my marriage are far more important to me than a cow. And with that, I’m going to suggest we go to his favorite restaurant this weekend for barbeque ribs. I, on the other hand, will be having the baked potato and a salad.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Can you buy one online?

Sucking in, pushing out. That is how it feels to breathe some days. It is not natural or in the background. It is a conscious effort, so very conscious. So very full of effort. My body weight is concentrated in my legs. Lumbering along. Lifting, placing, balancing. Repeat.

These kinds of days happen more frequently when the kids are with their dad. And the kids are with their dad this week. Hours stretch before me and minutes are punctuated by fearful thoughts of which hospital the next doctor appointment will send us to. Of what tests will be performed. Of the risks bulleted in neatly typed rows. Of the consent form to sign. The declaration of bravery. The kiss goodbye just before the gurney rolls beyond the double doors.

And when it’s over for the little boy, it’s really just the beginning. There are the consequences of those tests. The data collected, the discussions, the sharing of medical records. Then there are the speculations, the probabilities, the percentages, and the likelihood of this and that. There’s the portable oxygen concentrator that goes under the seat in front of him.

I have far too much experience navigating these appointments and tests, of reading between the lines. And on days like today, I too easily fall into the dark places of the past. There have been too many ER visits and too many stitches have punctuated a newborn’s skin, a toddler’s skin, a preschooler’s skin, and so on. I also too easily get stuck in the hazy places of the future. The ones that include all of those haunting things and more. There have been few hours in the last 11 ½ years that those images aren’t the undercurrent on which I lumber along, even when I’m not lumbering.

There have been moments that twinkle like glittery flecks in the sand. I see a boy swinging from a rope off the back of a sailboat. I see a boy jumping on a trampoline. I see a boy eating key lime pie. I see a boy pushing pins into a map of the United States that hangs on his bedroom wall. I see a boy selling the lemonade he made from the lemons picked in our yard. I see a boy snagging a fly ball at third base. I see a boy grinning with his Tabasco, his garlic bread, his black pepper and parmesan. I see a boy wearing green. He loves green.

And honestly, the joyful days outnumber the medical days. There are also thousands of beautiful and uneventful regular days. I just don’t know how to quiet those powerful tangents so that I can focus on the sparkly bits. Does anyone have an emotional sieve I can borrow? Do you think they sell one at Target?