Not for use as a Facebook status update

Because Facebook, I like to keep that all happy happy joy joy. Partly because focusing on life’s best moments contributes to greater contentedness with the big picture, but also because I am far too aware of how fine my life is – any complaining comes matched with equal parts embarrassment for doing so. Plus I’m optimistic, having been around long enough to know that most of my problems are of my own making and therefore solvable, and that the passing of time has a way of making the serious stuff manageable and the minor stuff not worth troubling about.

But not today.

Or rather, I am grateful to be faced with no emergencies, to know my children, scattered as they are to the world at the moment, are whole. My husband toils in the garden while I answer emails from my bright, blue bedroom. We have running cars and surfboards and an immersion blender that my boss gave me for no reason other than I wished out loud one day that I had one. My blood pressure is excellent.

There. Blessings counted. And yet, under it all, this anxiety.

Normally, I can override the worry.

But not today.

I want to say I hit the proverbial wall, but it’s more like I failed to clear a hurdle, meant to leap, but instead merely tumbled over – oof – and find myself unable to get up and back in the race. Or even more so, as if some malevolent force tripped me, then sat on top of me, too heavy to fight off. It’s all I can do to breathe.

I forgot how feeling down can paralyze a person – which is another blessing, that these moments would descend on me as rarely as they do. I might be getting sick. Several people have reported coughs and colds in my presence. I might need a day off from being on. The obligations have snowballed into each other and steamrolled over any planned downtime. I might be feeling the cumulative effects of worrying about the children, the bills, the way my schedule and Bobby’s haven’t been jiving, the fact that a once-close relative cut us out of her life for no discernible reason a few years ago and that eats away at me most days – I am alone in the world, I think.

Objectively, I know, I am not.

That place that exists in the softest part of our heart is not dispassionate, however, and today loneliness pervades despite all logic.

When I write, I try to write with purpose. To entertain, to advise, to chronicle a story I believe worth telling. To put words together artfully so that someone else might find pleasure in the reading.

This is not my most artful post, I am well aware, so what is the point? To whine, oh, poor me? God, no. I wince and know I will hesitate to click “Publish” in fear it will come off as an exercise in self-indulgence.

Is it to evoke reassurance about my worth in the world? I don’t think so – I know I am liked and do good work and that my children need me and my husband loves me and my friends think of me as fun.

So I guess, what I am saying here, the thing that I hope will elevate these chunks of sentences to something worth posting, is that sometimes people inadvertently find themselves struck with a malaise they can neither shake nor define.

For the lucky ones, like me, it will pass. A quality nap might be enough to do the trick. (I am so very tired.) Or a walk on the beach (blessing!). Saltwater. Writing. In any case, I have responsibilities I must get to and eventually the distraction of doing will eradicate the despair – a therapist might say I use obligations as a survival technique.

I say, whatever works.

But for others, the crushing comes more frequently. Resources at hand might be more slim. Whatever life appears to be on the outside, a person’s inner world can be a troubled place. It is good to be kind. It is good to know one is not alone. That appears to be where I am going with this. Sometimes a person needs to hear that things are going to be okay. Today I need to tell myself, things are going to be okay. And if you need to hear it, please, trust me: Things are going to be okay. 

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The door must have opened first, but it was the closing that woke me, followed by the motion lights coming on. I stumbled out of bed to check the driveway. No one. The side gate squeaked open, shut. A car’s headlights shone through the hedge. My son and his friends had decided to get a middle-of-the-night snack, apparently. I returned to bed, listening for them to return. To fill the time, I started worrying. About teenage drivers. About the potential for drunk or texting drivers. About the kids in general. About the event I have tonight. About recent rough patches in a couple friendships. About making it through a long day of work, a busy night and leaving the next morning on so little sleep.

I should’ve gone downstairs and found my headphones, plugged in and listened to one of my relaxation apps. But I didn’t want to get up. Finally I got up and decided to write.

Sometimes I miss writing about surfing, repetitive as it was. Last time I went out was Sunday. The sky hovered mostly gray, sunshine promised, but not yet forthcoming. Waves broke on my face in the channel. My bootie has a hole and my wetsuit’s leaking, but the water temp’s been steady mid-50s, not too bad. My knees ache every day lately, but I caught a couple waves and did all right. Nick caught some and, as always, watching him fly along from the back triggered happiness. Most everyone in the water was a friend. The waves were head-high, slightly over, and mushy. I had to wait until they were almost breaking to get into them – good practice, mentally, taking off later than I’m typically comfortable.

A set came, larger than the others, maybe a foot overhead, maybe more. Usually I either get caught inside or somehow miss the set waves, instead observing everyone else tear them up while I linger pathetically alone on the outside. This time, I caught one. Dropped down the face, bottom-turned, back up to the lip, slid down – just an average ride on an average wave that filled me with exceptional happiness because that is what surfing does.

Rode to the beach, where Nick was waiting. We had places to be, so I ended on that successful note and off we went as the sun finally emerged and the day turned brilliant.

I wish those moments came to me in the midst of tossing, turning, adjusting pillows, sheets. Instead, the anxieties I keep at bay during the sunlit hours assault me. I remember when I would get up and check Nick’s blood sugar in the dark. For years, I’d set the alarm, sneak into his room, poke his finger, watch the drop of blood spread into the strip. Wait for the number. Either I’d be able to go back to sleep, satisfied that he was, for the moment, okay – or start the correction process, which might take hours. He’s been handling that himself, at his insistence, for a couple years. I don’t miss the interrupted sleep, but I do miss being fully informed, having oversight. I wish we discussed his diabetes beyond him reassuring me that he’s fine. I believe he’s paying attention. I know he’s not paying attention the way I want him to.

But since when do the kids do what I want them to? They’ve been teenagers, near-adults, adults for a while. So much letting go. It’s freeing in many ways, this relinquishment of control. What doesn’t go away is the worry. I remain shackled to that.

So here I am, coming up on 7:30 a.m., wondering if I attempt more sleep or caffeinate my way through the day.

I have a big deal Ocean Night tonight (see Lost Coast Outpost at some point today for a comprehensive post), then off to Outside Lands tomorrow. Life is sweet, yes? Even without the sleep.

 

 

From Pancakes to Parting: On Being Mom

Like the bed, this chair is not quite comfortable. I’ve stayed here before. It’s one of the many Santa Cruz motels retro-beach themed. I enjoy the throwback font on the sign and the place is clean enough, but it’s the price that lands me here. Upscale hotel rooms with their fluffy pillows, non-polyester bedspreads and fancy toiletries please me. A guilty pleasure. But I’m aiming for thrifty on this trip. I packed food. I did not order a glass of wine at dinner. My funds need to go toward ensuring K has everything she needs that I can provide before she jets off to Europe for the summer. That’s why I’m here. To spend time with her before thousands of miles separate us and to be Mom.

It’s strange how my mothering role has changed with the girls off in the world and Nick having one foot out the door. After two decades of almost always having a kid or three attached to me, I now move through the days almost wholly myself. People I’ve met in the last few years know I have children, but they’ve never known me as “Mom!” – I’m just Jen. They’ve never heard me bubble over with pride after a Little League game, never heard the panic in my voice when I called to say one kid or another needing rushing to the hospital, have no idea how good I am at making pancakes or that I spent a year as a “nacho mom” when Chelsea was in fourth grade. I appreciate that I never let my identity disappear into motherhood, but to see me without it is incomplete.

“You had Chelsea when you were my age,” K noted recently. She’s 20.

“Yes, and I had you when I was Chelsea’s age.” I rejoined. Chelsea’s 24.

It’s strange.

I was pregnant at 19. In my entire life as an adult, I was never not a mother. In the past year, Bobby and I have grown used to being the only people in the house. We cook less. Once a treat so rare we couldn’t even relax into it, now a night home just the two of us is commonplace – Nick crashes at his friends’ places often. The house stays clean, more or less. Especially since we buried our dog last year.

I miss certain things: reading out loud, giggle-filled hikes out to the beach, making pancakes. I do not miss the rebellious teenage years, the endless running late places, the laundry. I’m enjoying feeling myself emerge more wholly these past few years, although rediscovering and redefining oneself is not as simple as a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. This era might feel a bit like I’m finally having the twenties I never had – and I confess, I envy certain freedoms younger women have gained, the confidence they have in their right to expect better from men, from careers, from their parents, the ability to be their own ass-kicking selves without apology, but it’s not like I need to suddenly get my party on.

Because I am most definitely not 20-something and I worked in bars through much of that decade anyway, so it’s not as if I missed out on going out. I saw bands. I had (still have) good times. I’ve always been rich in friends. I just had to accept certain types of responsibility faster because I had small people I loved depending on me to take care of them. That fact defined my life. It also defined my marriage, as did the ways in which our families judged us, as did the struggle to bring in enough money, to make a life with so few resources.

We persevered, Bobby and I, recently celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary, 26 years together in all. Not every moment is quiet and peaceful. We still argue about bills sometimes. Or whether or not too much stuff is accumulating. (It is!) But overall, this new chapter has been quite agreeable for us – it’s an odd thing when the kids are no longer the focal point. A couple might discover they have nothing else in common. They might not know each other. They might not like each other – and without the distraction of who’s driving the kids, making dinner, planning the family’s vacations, with nothing to do except hang out, well, sometimes people end up going their separate ways. I’m relieved Bobby still makes me laugh, that I love his cooking and his happiness in his garden. That we look forward to going to bed together.

Oh, but the worry! The children may no longer be children, but I spend no less time squelching the fears of losing them. Since I brought Chelsea out of the hospital, realized how small and vulnerable my new baby was in the light of this huge, terrifying world, a part of my brain has been dedicated to making sure I never, ever forget the grip they have on my heart and all the ways in which they could be wrenched from me. Every news story involving children stokes the potential narratives. I am here in Santa Cruz because K is off to Europe for the summer between semesters. I’m thrilled for her – education and travel being things I did arrive late to – but the distance, thinking of how many miles will lie between her and us hits like something physical.

The children are part of me and now those parts are scattered. It’s impossible to feel whole. But I’ll help K find some boots and keep sending Chelsea texts and cards, and pester Nick with questions like, “Are you alive?” when he hasn’t come home by midnight. I will take K to the airport on Wednesday, hug her hard and wave goodbye as she goes through security.

I will drive away in tears, my heart asunder, make my way back up the 101 to home, where I’ll share the news that, “She’s off!” and people will smile and say, “Wow! That’s so great!” And I’ll agree. It is.

Revisiting ‘All Men': Rape, Assault, Apathy and #YesAllWomen

It’s been almost seven years since I wrote “All Men Are Rapists – Until Proven Otherwise.” I wish my need to reference that post stemmed from celebration: “Look how far we’ve come!”

Instead, this:

A 22-year-old kid spouts the same misogynist rhetoric that my coworkers and I receive in our inboxes on a daily basis and goes on a shooting rampage with the expressed purpose of punishing women for not giving him the sexual attention he felt entitled to and we’re still told that we have no right to be scared because #NotAllMen are like that. (Jezebel)

As noted previously, I have been harassed, assaulted and date raped. (What does it say that I cannot simply say, “raped,” that I have to qualify it with “date” because I’m conditioned to accept responsibility for what happened?) I did not list every incident because what woman has time? We’re busy working, taking care of our kids, the house, our partners and, with luck, enjoying life. Why give the men who have hurt us any more of our time?

Because what happens is this:

On Friday, May 23, 2014, a man killed six people (and possibly himself). The manifesto he left behind stated he did it because women wouldn’t sleep with him. …over the weekend, the hashtag #YesAllWomen started. It was a place for women to counter the #NotAllMen distraction, and to state clearly and concisely what they actually and for real have to deal with. All the time. (Slate)

I couldn’t stop reading #YesAllWomen. Not because it was shocking – the experiences relayed via the hashtag are so common that I grew inured to them years ago. You have to. Because if you stop to think about what it means to live in a world where you can be harassed, groped, raped, stabbed, shot because you happen to be a woman, that this mere accident of birth has made you more vulnerable, more at risk, more afraid, well, sooner or later you’re going to have to demand change. And you know that change has to come in part from the men who are not harassers, gropers, rapists, killers. Your friends.

It’s a hard conversation, especially when the offender isn’t a stranger, as they usually aren’t –

“…this isn’t just about two buddies who don’t get along. In this case, the man did something predatory and disturbing.” (Jezebel)

– one I cannot fit it into a hashtagged tweet. The experiences barely fit into a blog post seven years ago. I just made a list. I could elaborate about the worst experiences, but those are the easiest ones to understand because even your most gray-area guy friends will usually agree that a guy you don’t know well forcing you to have sex is Wrong. (Small victories.) What’s harder to get across is how demoralizing the daily devaluing can be. Let me try.

Imagine this:

You have a job you like in a market bad enough that such a situation is rare. You work with mostly guys and all the women are either in secretarial positions or struggling the same as you. You and your female coworker joke one day about how little money you make and when you giggle about “$11/hour,” she suddenly gets serious and says, “You make that much?”

And it’s not really funny because you’re trying to feed three kids on that wage. Three kids you had because you and your husband seem immune to birth control and so what? You love your children as much as if you’d desperately fought to conceive them. Maybe more, because you’ve had to prove to the people who doubted you that you can be a mother.

Your dependence on that paycheck, this job, comes to define your life even more than anticipated one day when your bosses bring in a consultant to tell you and your coworkers how to do your job better. “People think I’m an asshole,” this guy says by way of introduction. “I’m cool with that.” Your bosses chuckle, then nod along as the asshole talks down to you and the other peons in the room. You do not remember feeling this disrespected at a job, ever. Not the dive bar. Not the Italian restaurant where the owner would steal your tips if you weren’t quick enough to grab them off the tables.

So it’s not exactly surprising that later, when you’re getting some coffee, the asshole squeezes past you and grabs your ass with one hand as he’s reaching for the pot with the other. It’s also not surprising that, demoralized and aware of your place, you say nothing.

Until a couple years later, when you have a better job, one with respect and a decent paycheck. At this time, you share with your former coworkers what happened and how upsetting it was. They’re taken aback. But the consultant remains one.

A couple more years and you still interact with these same people, your friends, and they mention, by the way, the asshole has been hired to work there full-time. Maybe he is good at what he does, you think, but so what? Are you worth so little that sexually harassing you is not an impediment to being hired? The answer is, and has always been, obvious.(#YesAllWomen)

Another example: You are out one night, dancing with friends when someone grabs your ass, your crotch, repeatedly, despite your pleas for him to stop. You keep whirling around, but you can’t catch him until finally you do. He’s someone you’ve known for years, considered a trusted friend. He giggles when you bust him. It’s hilarious that he’s doing this to you, out at a bar. You’re hoping no one sees. He’s never been like this, even when drunk, but now he is. You’re shocked, confused. You end the friendship and try to warn people because you’re not the only one experiencing these hands on your body against your will. But being in the role of killjoy never goes over well. Everyone just wants to have fun. They get drinks with him, joke around on Facebook.

You maintain distance, curate your social media outlets to a higher degree, still can’t help but feel hurt, angry when your friends act like nothing’s happened. You’re frustrated on your own behalf. On behalf of women everywhere. (#YesAllWomen)

Because it’s not just you. (#YesAllWomen)

It’s just how men are. Because they can be.

And you remember, in your whole life, the one set of circumstances in which guys did not get away with hassling, harassing, assaulting you. You were working in that dive bar. The bouncers were great. If any man bothered you, you could just holler and point, and the bad guy would be expelled, no questions asked. What a thing.

I can’t let go of #YesAllWomen because, to quote the Madeleine Davies‘ post again:

I hate that we’ve all experienced these things to varying degrees.

I hate that I feel lucky for not having experienced worse.

(#YesAllWomen)

Life’s obvious lessons or it’s amazing what you can get done when…

I’m writing because I told myself to write this morning. After all, I’m between full-time gigs and was supposed to use January and February to 1.) finish my novel; 2.) surf every day; 3.) whip the yard and garden into shape; 4.) do all the house projects that I’ve been too busy to do while working 40-plus hours per week. And read and work out and go for hikes and make sure I’m carving out enough family time and couple time and maybe take that tango class we’ve been promising ourselves we’d take for years.

Yeah, sometimes I tend to overestimate my ability to accomplish – although to be fair, the days when I am disciplined about my time often end with a small glow of satisfaction warming my brain. One of my favorite scenes in Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues was when Denzel Washington’s character, Bleek Gilliam, explains to one of his girlfriends that you have to do the same thing at the same time each day because that’s how shit gets done. (At least, that’s how I remember it.) Less exciting forms of research reinforce that concept: Routine is good for accomplishment.

The other key, courtesy of my friend Niki Bezzant and a mantra I’ve uttered approximately one gazillion times over the past decade (including on this blog, I’m sure), is this: “It’s amazing what you can get done when you don’t arse around.” (Or as we say in America, “… when you don’t fuck around.”)

So here I am, writing because I told myself I should write first thing in the morning while the house is quiet and the sky is too dark for a surf adventure. Sure, I’m running behind already – the sun came up an hour ago – and the house’s silence has been broken by my husband clomping downstairs and into the kitchen where he’s putting water on for coffee – the water whooshes out of the faucet, the gas clicks on, the kettle clanks down, the flame whooshes to life like I wish my imagination would. Nonetheless, I persevere. (If you’re reading this, I can’t promise it will get any better. Please feel free to go admire my lovely rainbow photo on Facebook instead – none of the thousand or so words I will write here will come close to matching the beauty of that moment. If only perfect prose was as easy to stumble upon as the right combination of sun and rain.)

Now my husband is blowing his nose and I want to kill him. It is hell being married to a writer. Or a wannabe writer. Or maybe just me.

What I thought I would write about going in was transition. And value. Transition because the past several months have encompassed so much change and value because that was the concurrent theme.

I’m now wondering if I can lift the rest of the post up from the preceding deadening sentence.

It’s not that I didn’t know the job would come to an end. But my coworker and I had just found out our funders planned to continue supporting our work. We’d high-fived at a conference in Southern California – “Havin’ a job! Yeah!” – which made the call from my boss a week later surprising. Regret tinged her voice as she went down the list of talking points concerning the organizational layoffs, which included the elimination of my position (and my coworker’s). She sounded sad enough that I made a joke in an attempt to reassure her I was okay. After we hung up, tears came. This job had been the palace ball and I’d been Cinderella – except, this being real life, no Prince Charming would be swooping in to collect me (and pay my bills) after the fact*. On the upside, I had six months to figure out a next step. On the downside, even when you know it’s not personal, being told you’re no longer valuable enough to the organization to be kept on can mess up a person’s self-perception.

Looking outside of Humboldt reinforced what I already knew: I have neither the educational background nor the big world experience to score a serious job. This triggered a lot of what-the-hell-have-I-done-with-my-life thinking. For a while I couldn’t imagine being hired by anyone for anything. Maybe waitressing. At some point, I’m embarrassed to say, a certain bitterness settled in. I am good at some things, damn it. But, my thinking went, those things aren’t valued by the stupid people in this stupid world that we live in. Why isn’t the ability to put words together in a semi-pleasing way with a minimum of typos a job that pays a living wage? Why isn’t being able to get along and find commonality with all different folks an existing job I could apply for? Why do incompetent douchebaggery types still have jobs and I don’t? How come people don’t come courting me if I’m as rich in talent as my performance reviews – and supportive friends – suggest?

This is not a productive way to think – and I am all about productive – but pulling up from the self-esteem nosedive isn’t easy. Because some truth exists to it, right? If the question asked is, “Why don’t people want me?” then potential answers inevitably include, “Because you suck.” This is where I started getting hung up on value, predominantly my own worth (as measured by what people were willing to pay me to do), but also what I elevate to importance in my own life and how that relates to the greater world.

As all this was happening, my youngest kid graduated high school, my middle kid moved away to Santa Cruz, my oldest continued her own adult life down in Long Beach. With only one kid in the house, my husband and I took over the upstairs – the master bedroom and a small room I’ve turned into a walk-in closet/project space. Although I worry as much (or more) than ever, our hands-on parenting days are over. For a couple that never lived together before having kids, this new chapter is without precedent and raises a whole bunch of questions. If parenting is inherently valuable and we’ve focused on that to the detriment of our careers, what happens now? Who will we be without parental obligations defining us? How will we relate to each other without the children’s needs being the center around which we revolved? With the breathing room to consider the future, what did we see? And, more importantly, did we see it together?

Here are some things I learned, in no particular order because time is short and the keyboard battery is low:

  • You can’t make people value you. Your kids, your coworkers, the people you wish would hire you, the people you wish would love you. All you can do is do what you love doing, work hard, strive to do it well. Maybe someone will pay you to do this thing for a living someday. Maybe someone you look up to will turn to you and say, “Hey, this is real good.” But you have to do it for the love of doing it, because you believe in the fundamental value of what you’re doing. If you build it, they might come – but if they don’t, you sure as hell better enjoy stretching out in the sunshine admiring the clear, blue sky.
  • Life isn’t fair – hardly a new concept, sure, but still, a hard one to swallow when you’re considering unemployment while people who are obviously far more horrible than you are whistling while they work. The problem with brooding on the world’s unfairness is twofold: you might forget all the ways in which you yourself have been lucky and you put yourself at risk for turning into a grudge-bearing asshole. I’ve been guilty on both counts in the past. (But I have SO MUCH character at this point!)
  • Booze does not help. It’s the worst in fact.
  • How to get over yourself: Express appreciation, daily, to people you love and admire, especially those who’ve tolerated your self-pitying behavior. Distract yourself from freaking out about your life by engaging in it. Take the goddamn tango class with your spouse already. Invite those gracious, kind, fun friends of yours over for brunch. Read books that take your brain to another place. Go new places, whether restaurants or hiking trails, together or alone. Get the fuck away from the computer.
  • Take more walks on the beach and fling yourself more often into the ocean (metaphorically if necessary). Nothing – and I mean nothing – like being out in the fresh air in this place of beauty to give you perspective and kick you into a more positive gear. Bitter? Insecure? Hike or bike until your legs give out. Rent a kayak and paddle the hell out of the bay. Whatever. Push yourself physically until your mind turns that corner.

Which is a good note upon which to end. It’s another (drought-riddled) glorious day out there and I’ve got a beach calling.

*The way things went, the folks who fund my conservation work still wanted to fund it, enabling me to find a job with a different environmental organization, thus making them a suitable stand-in for the prince. Rejoicing commenced.

insomnia #21 aka 2013 Year in Review

If I were to make a list of things I’d most like to leave behind in 2013, insomnia would be up there. I blame the evening’s red wine this time, but the cause could just as easily be falling asleep too early with too much on my mind. It’s a horrible thing, thinking.

My arsenal of sleep aids – herbal teas and tonics, Tylenol PM, relaxation apps – are failing to do the trick tonight. Rather than lie in bed kicking my husband every time he nears snoring, I’m here in front of the computer, writing.

It seemed potentially more productive. New Year’s Eve. Why not take stock?

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January: Our sweet dog died, my younger daughter was detained in London en route to Ireland, I wrote my first Five Things, and a friend and I attended the Presidential inauguration.

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February: My older daughter turned 23, my husband and I relived the ’90s by seeing Soundgarden in Oakland’s Fox Theater, I moved into The Link and I went on an epic surf-work trip to Central Cali, the first of many excursions I’d take with my dear friend Casey.

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March: Spent another week along the central coast, my younger daughter turned 19 and I wrote my first (and so far only) cover story for the North Coast Journal.

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April: My first Five Things column ran in the NCJ, I tripped to Sacramento and Santa Cruz, and I helped coordinate a memorial service and paddle out for John “Moose” Mason, a man whose sudden death brought forth such beautiful tribute from so many people that I found myself thinking, “We should all be so loved” – and that we should all be so kind and good as Moose.

May: Some idiots filming an ad at Moonstone high-centered a Dodge truck on a rock, launching me into Surfrider mode and ending with me being named a “Humboldtian of the Week” on Facebook, a work trip took me to D.C., we attended my fabulous brother’s fabulous wedding in San Francisco, where I stayed on for a conference after – four hotels in 10 days.

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June: Traveled to Long Beach for work and some time with my older daughter, stepped in as the NCJ’s music columnist, spent Summer Solstice at Shelter Cove, wrote about the dead whale that washed up on my beach and was given a six-month layoff heads up.

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July: Played cornhole and bocce ball for the first times and failed at neither, took a vacation to Seattle that included a whale watching tour through the Puget Sound and a stop in Portland on the way back that included visiting a friend with whom I shared a room when we were 18 – and all the required reminiscing that implies, and wrote my favorite Five Things so far.

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August: Threw a most excellent birthday party for my husband’s 50th, was hired on to do part-time outreach for Humboldt Baykeeper and moved my younger daughter to Santa Cruz.

September: Played a small role in Humboldt Made’s big premier, guested on Sherae O’Shaughnessy’s Late Night gig, traveled with Casey to San Diego for the annual Surfrider conference, helped cover the arrest of alleged crossbow killers in Manila, helped clean up around a homeless camp for Coastal Cleanup Day and wrote about it.

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October: My kickball team raised $2,697 for Six Rivers Planned Parenthood and came in second in the annual tournament, Casey and Kj joined me for my second excursion to a foreign country, this one a long-anticipated trip to Manzanillo, Mexico, where we spent six days surfing, swimming, reading, drinking and eating tacos – best vacation ever – followed by a closer-to-home excursion to track gray whales and see humpbacks, a transcendent experience.

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November: My son turned 18, my friend Grant and I took off to New York for a week, where I stayed with my brother and his wife and celebrated my own birthday – 44! – at The Comedy Cellar, and upon returning home, my husband and I moved into the upstairs master bedroom after 11 years of downstairs living.

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December: Held what was likely my favorite Ocean Night ever, wrapped up my job with Ocean Conservancy, made plans for a next chapter with the Northcoast Environmental Center, tripped down to Santa Cruz to visit our younger daughter, reminisced about a time I almost died, and trekked up to Crescent City for an especially memorable surf safari due to cramming five people in a Honda CRV, finding fun waves under endless sunshine, a rescue by me of a person drifting out to sea, stinky sea lions, piles of fish and chips and hours of excellent conversation.

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In between and throughout all that, a million photos of sunsets, sunrises and various bodies of water. Also, surfing. My wonderful writers’ group. Parties. Music. Books. Movies. Food. The requisite ups-and-downs and various heartbreaks involved in being a human people who spends time with people. Most importantly, a ton of love and good best friends. I aim to transform this list of things done into something larger and life-useful at some point, but for now, what a reminder that I am a lucky, lucky girl.

A worst thing

There are many worsts in life. This was one of them.

I would never hurt a dog. I found myself repeating that fact out loud. To my children. To the guys who pulled over to help. To myself. I would never hurt a dog.

Seconds before the impact, we’d been glowing from an evening surf, Nick, Kaylee and I, waves and weather conspiring to keep us in the water through dusk. One more, just one more as the sky flared pink and orange, and the ocean shimmered in the sun’s last rays. We’d been raving about the session – So fun! – the three of us smushed in the cab of the truck, what a great surf that had been. We hadn’t all surfed together in months, schedules and temperaments not often aligned.

From the jetty to home is all of ten minutes, a sprint up the spit with a single stop sign interrupting the journey. I don’t speed – even if I were inclined, my truck trundles along on the slow side. But the limit is 55, far too fast to stop in time when two dogs bolt out of the darkness onto the road directly in front of you. I tried. I saw the silhouettes, the kids shouted, “Mom!,” I hit the brakes, I swerved. All these actions piled on top of each other so quickly it was as if they were the same moment. And then the thunk. I pulled over and we ran to the dog I’d hit as Kaylee called 911. The other dog had raced away.

Nick implored me to keep Kaylee away from the dog I’d  hit, but I had no chance. She ran over to it, hoping somehow it would be okay despite that horrible sound. I wanted a miracle as well – in my mind, as I caught up to her, we were already loading the animal into the truck, racing to the emergency vet. But the animal had been killed on impact.

I killed a dog.

I would never hurt a dog. Never.

Nick went off to search for the other one. Kaylee cried and said we had to move the body out of the road so no one else would hit the poor thing. The dog was larger than our old yellow lab we’d lost in January and black in a stretch of street with little light. The thought of picking up the lifeless body, dead weight like a sandbag in my hands, blood, there would be blood, horrified me almost as much as the vision of a car ramrodding over the corpse, splattering the insides across the lane.

And then the responsibility for the aftermath ceased to be mine. A couple guys from Samoa Fire pulled over to see what was happening. Through tears, we explained. They were concerned about my son’s safety – he had not yet returned, but as we spoke, he emerged from the darkness. No luck finding the other dog, he said. He expressed his worry about Kaylee again, frustrated that I’d let her experience the dead dog up close. I couldn’t stop her, I cried. I couldn’t stop.

The volunteers tugged the dog’s body to the side of the road. They reassured me. No way to avoid it, miss. I wanted them to be right. I wanted to think that I could have done nothing else, that underneath the circumstances, the outcome was inevitable. I replay the moment – dogs! brakes! swerve! – over and over.

I would never hurt a dog.

I love dogs. We had a dog for 14 years and I miss her almost every day. My son grew up with her. They were practically littermates. For all his concern over his sister, I know he’s horrified at what I’ve done. What I’ve done. In an instant I went from cool surfer mom to mom-who-killed-a-dog. That the collision was unavoidable is of scant comfort. We lose our children’s idolization bit by bit as they grow older and discover our flaws, learn to their great disappointment that their parents are merely human. We long to be superheroes. A superhero would’ve somehow brilliantly avoided disaster. A superhero would have managed to save the dogs, not kill one of them, scare the other off. I have taken an animal’s life, by accident. Someone, somewhere will miss this dog and I am so, so sorry. I miss the moment ten minutes ago, when life was perfect and hopes high.

A sheriff’s deputy shows up. We explain, again. He reassures, again. He hands me the front license plate he’d picked up from the road – the impact had knocked it off the truck. We shiver in our wetsuits. The men agree nothing remains for me to do. I should take the kids, go home, don’t feel bad. It was an accident. These things happen. There was nothing I could have done.

On a birthday: regrets and reflections, belatedly

I’m in New York. Specifically, I’m in Brooklyn, folded into a comfy armchair. I refuse to move despite the sun’s upward shift causing moments of blindness when I lean back. Every so often I close my eyes for respite and realize I could slip back into sleep. A head cold has kept me up the last few nights and even the trucks chugging by every minute would not keep me from drifting off. This patch of sun inside is warm. The air outside hovers near freezing, one of the reasons I’m spending my birthday hunkered down and lazy.

I’m 44 today. How I’ve celebrated my birthdays this decade has varied. For my 40th birthday, I threw a big party at the Jambalaya. I heard it was fun, but an excessive number of vodka gimlets prevents me from remembering much – I have favorite blue dangly earrings from that night without a clue as to the gift-giver.

Turning 41 was both quieter and more profound. I was in Taiwan on my first international trip surrounded by people I didn’t know who spoke languages I do not speak. I’d never been gone from my family so long. The adventure excited me enough without an awkward, obligatory toast, so I kept my birthday tucked away. I’d think about it later, being 41 and discovering, as I circumnavigated the island, that I like myself. A few weeks ago I used my passport for the second time, a warm water surf vacation to Mexico. I wonder if I should have traveled more in my 20s – I mean, of course I should have, I always longed to explore, but imagining how that would have worked, three kids and no money, exceeds my ability to suspend disbelief.

I threw another big party at the Jam for my 42nd birthday. The evening culminated with Full Moon Fever performing all my favorite Tom Petty songs, a fine, fine time.

My 43rd was slightly more restrained – or was meant to be until the ATL put a “Happy Birthday” announcement on their marquee (a wonderful gesture that I’m sure marked the zenith of my popularity). What can I say? I like to go places and I like to celebrate and I’m good at throwing parties: these are three things I’ve learned in my life. Of course, I wish I’d learned some more useful skills, too – sewing, perhaps, or speaking Spanish. When modern society collapses, my only hope is convincing people to feed me now so I can plan the annual harvest celebration later. (“But, guys! We need to have something to look forward to now more than ever! Don’t let dystopia get you down! Look, I’ll pull together a party for all the survivors. It’ll be great! And, um, can I have some of those acorns?”)

Another talent I wish I’d acquired sooner: being good with money. If I’d arrived at adulthood armed with that knowledge, many of the pitfalls I encountered would have been inconveniences instead of catastrophes or could have been avoided altogether. (“Overdraft charges, late fees? What are those?”) But those of us with a reckless streak insist on learning the hard way how to conserve our resources: money, time, a willingness to love.

I would also have liked to have mastered the art of communicating feelings by now – something my family refrained from so strongly that I blanched even typing that – and been less quick to anger. I let frustration with my children manifest in yelling too many times, even spanking on occasion, despite a firm opposition to both. The number of times I lashed out at the kids due to other troubles – how to pay the water bill in time, the morning’s argument with my husband, exhaustion from working late, trying to find my way around a new town and being confused when H Street turned into Campton. We’d been in Humboldt all of nine days, desperate to find housing, and I was supposed to meet the property manager at a promising place, but the directions were to take H to Walnut, which didn’t make sense. This was pre-smartphone, so I had no way to pull over and get my bearings. My oldest complained about something and, already on the verge of panic, I lost my mind, screamed at her to shut up and lashed out with my hand. I wish that birthing a child into this world brought along an infusion of patience and grace, that those attributes had come in with the same abundance as my milk.

In Jess Walters’ book Beautiful Ruins, the theme of want – of the way “we want what we want” even when we claim otherwise due to obligations and a sense of what’s proper — runs through the novel. The closer what you want is to what is right, a main character’s mother tells him, the more likely you are to be happy. When the thing you desire is different than what’s ethically best, in other words, your odds shift in favor of misery. (And thus is the plot of a thousand movies launched.) When you’re married, when you have children, immediately much of your world is divided into right and wrong. And, as a mom, what is “right” is always the thing that requires the most self-sacrifice. At least it seems that way in the beginning.

But then comes the unavoidable truth that you still want the things you want: adventure, love, joy, friends, success, to embrace as much of the world’s offerings as possible. And sometimes you skip making pancakes because you’ve learned to surf at 30 after a lifetime of wanting to surf and this morning has brought the sort of small, clean swell perfect for you and the tide is now so you leave out the granola and milk and a note saying you’ll be back in time to take everyone to school, but the waves are so good that by the time you drag your exhausted self out of the ocean, you’re running late and when you get home, your family is in a world of stress and it’s your fault because you were selfish.

And sometimes wanting to surf takes other forms: working late because your career excites you in a way that doing laundry never will, taking college classes because you fear your brain is atrophying, social engagements with childless adults instead of planning school events with the PTA moms – you’ve volunteered, you have, you served nachos every Friday for an entire school year, and your appreciation for the tireless efforts of more dedicated mothers is tangible, but at some point you just want to talk film and literature and politics with people who get you, and so you give in, again, to that selfishness. But you are not quite happy because in the back of your mind, you are aware that the life you want is not exactly the life you have and try as you might to reconcile the two, there are times when you choose what you want over what is virtuous. Predictably, people are disappointed and the guilt you feel for letting down the people you love makes you regret, makes you wonder if you’ll ever figure out how to do life right.

But enough cataloging of regrets.

Here I am, lounging about in my brother’s apartment. I could have spent the money I’ve spent here on something more practical. I could have brought a kid with me for his continued cultural edification. I could refused my brother’s offer of a birthday ticket to New York and stayed home to care for my people, my house, eschewed vacation to get more work done. But I didn’t want to. I wanted some time alone, some time to lie on the couch, the ability to do what I wanted, go bowling or to a comedy club or the Tenement Museum, without arguing with anyone about it – a heretical state of mind for a wife and mother, to be sure. But typically my selfishness is mild, a pedicure here, a surfboard there, a penchant for cocktails.

Other, older, women tell you, as you’re turning 40, that your 40s will be “awesome!” (They say the same thing when you’re turning 30. Or 50.) For me, that’s been true. The past four years have been awesome. Partly because the older I get, the less patience I have for bullshit, and that will improve anyone’s life. Partly for all the reasons earlier decades were good: children relatively healthy, living close to the beach, a slew of solid friends. But mostly because I’ve had a job that not only challenged and rewarded me, but pays enough that I can cover the bills, donate to some causes, treat folks to dinner once in a while, take a trip on occasion and afford to do validating work as a freelancer. Good job and good friends equal happiness in my world. And that kind of happiness equals confidence. And confidence is sexy! So yeah, my 40s have definitely been a sexy time — just like those other, older, women said they would!

All this reflection! I sound like I’ve turned 94 instead of 44. Quickly, some things I do not regret: saying yes to life, cultivating the best possible friends, dedicating the majority of my adult life thus far to my family. Having a dog. Moving to Humboldt. Striving, repeatedly, to be kind, to be kind, to be kind.

So, 2013, yada yada yada, Mexico

It’s been a while.

Between Facebook and once again writing regularly for the North Coast Journal, I don’t turn here as often as I once did. And since my children have – for the most part – grown too old to use as fodder and since I am no longer chronicling my surf sessions, well, what would I write about?

It’s been quite a year.

But aren’t all years? Not one year of my life has passed after which I thought, Oh, wow, what a nice, dull time. This one started with our wonderful yellow mutt reaching the end of her 14 years. The following month marked the termination of a decade-long friendship. An important family relationship turned inexplicably distant. My youngest child graduated from high school, the middle one moved on to Santa Cruz and college. In June, I received notice that my beloved job will officially cease to exist as of Dec. 31. Another friendship fell apart. The endodontist says I need two root canals and the dentist found nine cavities in my son’s mouth and I have no idea how I’m going to take care of all this when the insurance only covers a percentage in the first place and time before losing what little coverage I have is running out.

Insert obligatory #firstworldproblems acknowledgment.

Of course, a stream of good things happened, too – they always do, preventing me from sinking too far into self-pity. Foremost, my children are alive and relatively well. I reconnected with old friends during one visit to Long Beach, another to Portland and yet another to San Diego. We reminisced, as people do, about the crazy things we did – that trip to Ensenada where she ended up in the closet with my future husband’s roommate and I broke the top off a Cherry 7Up bottle in my desperation to quench my hangover-induced thirst. That time I was super stoned and pulled what I thought were eyedrops out of my purse, but it was lotion and I didn’t realize it until I’d squeezed globs on top of both eyeballs – a story that apparently never gets old in the retelling. Those days we stayed past close in the bar, too blown away by some great band that had played to stop drinking – or because we needed to vent about how shitty the band was and how annoying the NA crowd could be with their ceaseless demands for coffee refills and emptied ashtrays.

Despite differing political and social views, visits with family members were lovely and free of debate. My previous writers’ group stopped meeting years ago due to the demands of children, husbands, jobs, life, but the women who made it up continue to be on the other end of late night/early morning emails most notable for being pleas of Help! How do I cope with this crisis? How do I get through another day fraught with too much to do and people going nuts? They always have answers – or for the unanswerable, comfort. I needed a lot of that this year. My new writers’ group delights me. Who am I to deserve such an abundance of smart, kind, funny, creative people populating my world?

From the people I work with – at all my various endeavors – to the people who showed up for my husband’s ridiculously fun 50th birthday, I am, for lack of a less hackneyed word, blessed. (Thoughts on friendship distilled here.) My job, albeit ending, has provided a leg up in the world and experiences I never expected: Taiwan, for example, adventures in D.C., even more intimate knowledge of our coastline, a hand in creating concrete protection for it. Health care. Experiencing what being able to pay one’s bills is like. I’ll miss it desperately, sure, but future opportunities are promising and for the time being I’m still privileged to write, occasionally, for both the Lost Coast Outpost and the NCJ. Those days when keeping all the magic going threatens to send me sobbing into anxiety-riddled nervous breakdown, I can still walk out my front door to the beach. Life is so very much work and yet continually proves to be worth it.

And I’m leaving for Mexico tomorrow.

This trip will be only my second out of the country (not counting ill-fated teenage trips to Baja), made possible by the generosity of a friend with a house there and judicious use of frequent flyer miles. To say I’m excited is to say a hummingbird is bit of a speedy creature – my heart is beating faster than those wings with anticipation. I wanted my husband to come so that we could have a shared adventure, celebrate this dawning new phase of our lives in which our children are grown, but alas, his desire to avoid flying supersedes his desire to trip along with me to exotic locales. The consolation option is no less wonderful, however – lieu of romance, I have two of my best girlfriends accompanying me, both so easygoing that my only concern is now I’m in danger of being the uptight one. I’ve wanted to travel forever. And I’m leaving both cell phone and laptop behind, so ready to disconnect that keeping focus through the day seems nearly impossible. I have a stack of books. Oh, to read novels again!

I fear I’m too happy about this.

Sometimes I’m compelled to reiterate, it’s not easy, this life. It’s much easier now that I’m not working 60 hours a week between two jobs that still didn’t pay enough to cover life’s expenses, fun as they were. A living wage directly improves one’s world, no question. But a lot of struggling and stress existed between finding myself pregnant at 19 and finding myself landing a dream job 20 years later. (I’m always finding myself!) Even under ideal circumstances, raising children challenges the most patient of adults. Our circumstances were far from ideal, lacking in both family support and cash, our son diagnosed with an as-yet incurable disease. And I am not patient. But – to get hackneyed again – love keeps getting us through.

So I can’t write about my kids very much because they’re adults or very nearly. (Also – disclaimer – because I hope to contribute a column to the NCJ’s new “Offsprung” series, so I can’t go on too much about how, despite what a vast number of well-intentioned people say, having adult children does not, in fact, make a parent “done.”) The nearly-adult status of my son also means I can’t write about my son’s diabetes like I used to. For the record, it’s still scary. Scarier in some ways because he’s opted to take on more responsibility for his care. He now inserts his own sets, checks his blood sugar on his own even in the early morning hours. I have not stuck a needle in the kid for months. Hardly a thing to miss – but like all aspects of letting go of controlling a child’s life, one that brings anxiety along with the relief. Who will take care of him if not me?

And since, for the first time since I began surfing, I’ve stopped counting my yearly surf sessions, I have no obligation to chronicle them here – by permitting myself the freedom from tracking, I inadvertently did away with a steady writing prompt. Alas. I have surfed and not surfed. Weeks pass and I freak out and suddenly I’m zipping down the spit, truck loaded, blood racing, my need to be in the water as primal as hunger. I don’t do things for a while and then worry I’ve forgotten how to do them. Surf. Make pancakes. Read. Write a blog post.

Thanks for bearing with me.

Launching a child

TAKE ONE

I’m stretched out on a guest bed in a Santa Cruz home, bits of sand still clinging to my feet, contacts dry against my eyeballs, belly full of Brie and strawberries, asparagus and mojitos. The sun worked me over today, bright heat radiating off the pavement as I trailed my daughter and her friend down the sidewalks. Sweat slicked my body, gathered in the small of my back. Where was my ocean breeze? We’d started the day shrugging on jackets when the morning coolness caught us unaware, then spent hours complaining about the heat — I believe it topped out in the low 80s, at least 10 degrees warmer than our Humboldt-acclimated bodies can handle.

TAKE TWO

Duty called in the form of work (needed to write the Hum), sleeping (required), socializing (coffee with my generous hosts) and getting on with the day (showering and meeting up with Kaylee). Thirty-six hours later, I’m back, tucked up on a motel bed, fan cranking to cool off this too-warm room, fat and gross from eating lousy Italian food last night, already concerned about the inevitable hitting of traffic on the drive home.

But my larger concern remains finding her a place to live. Possibilities exist more tangibly now that we’ve trekked down. Searching a competitive and expensive market from 350 miles away wasn’t working. I’m glad we’re here. I’ve also been able to introduce her to friends we have in the area, my way of saying, Here is a small safety net.

With so much to attend to on a practical level — Where will she live? With who? How will we get her stuff down here? Will she need a toaster? — the emotional reaction to relocating my darling daughter to another part of the state lingers untapped for the moment. My older daughter, Chelsea, left home several years ago, returned, left again, has been happy in Long Beach for the past year-and-a-half. Kaylee spent three months in Italy and another in New York and Los Angeles — it’s not as if I haven’t said hard goodbyes before. A few weeks ago I passed through SFO’s international area, walked past the gate where I’d waved goodbye at K as she went through security, Italy-bound. My heart lurched at the memory.

Being a parent is visceral. Love and worry manifest as kicks to the gut, a punch in the face, the sensation of not being able to breathe. I get so busy and then something reminds me they are a part of me, and I fall to the floor, pulse pounding, head bursting. Not literally, of course; I have things to do and must get through the day like a responsible adult, but a part of me flees to some sort of internal panic room until it’s safe to come back out.

I am more proud than worried, thrilled to have her take responsibility for her own life, understanding that her dad and I are increasingly background on the stage of her life. But I have been a parent my entire adult life. Bobby and I have never lived alone without children. Nick is also out of high school as of June and about to start CR. He’ll be at home for a while, but the idea that some day Bobby and I may have the house to ourselves is startlingly real. And odd. Our own grand adventure. The thought dizzies me. So much transition!

Time is short, so dwelling on these changes is not something I can do. I just wanted to write enough down to remember. Now I need to roust the girl, get on with the day, focus on more practical and immediate demands. Housing. Driving. Staying up on work. Figuring out where to eat. Connecting with another friend.

By the end of today, we’ll be back on the road, aiming for Humboldt, fingers crossed against traffic jams. A week from now, I’ll be making the same drive back, only alone. That will be the one for tears.

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