All posts in category parenting
Posted by Jennifer Savage on July 1, 2014
It’s good to practice gratitude. Especially on a day like today, when I started off sleepy from last night’s sirens blaring past my motel. Some yelling, too. Pillow not quite firm enough for sleeping on my side, not quite soft enough to tuck under my head when I rolled to my back. Such is the struggle of a middle-class white lady in a cheap Santa Cruz motel. Tonight I anted up an extra $32 for a room at the Quality Inn in Capitola. So far, worth every penny. Quiet with better pillows and a fancy showerhead.
While I am grateful for the small comforts a bit of money can buy – and suffer guilt for even the most modest financial advantages – today’s acknowledging of The Good stems from deeper roots.
1. I have not used Google maps once on this trip. I shouldn’t need to. I’ve been to San Francisco a hundred times and Santa Cruz at least several. But technology has dimmed my once bright sense of direction. On this journey, however, I remembered how Water branches off from Soquel and both cross Ocean, and I can take Capitola Road to get from the Eastside to the Westside and back again.
2. I solved a bouldering problem. Oh, sure, it was the most beginner of the beginner paths, but for someone who has never tied on climbing shoes before today and suffers from sneaky bouts of vertigo, to plant my toes on outcroppings smaller than two of my fingers and launch upward required a perseverance I wasn’t sure I had. First of all, this Santa Cruz climbing gym spilled over with: a.) what I inappropriately refer to as “man candy”: conventionally attractive and ripped young men who apparently lack the fear gene that keeps the rest of us from wandering up cliff faces; b.) women just as fearless, rocking strong glutes, rounded calves and imbibed with a devil-may-care lacksadaisy that gives them an elegance I can only envy.
My daughter and her friends advised me. They encouraged me. They explained key elements of climbing. Keep your arms extended. Carry the weight in your hips. Stay close to the wall. They showed me, repeatedly, how to scale the thing. The first time, every move was awkward and tiring. Step where? Reach what? My ineptitude embarrassed me. I wanted to quit. I considered telling them I’d go run errands and come back. But I didn’t want to be that mom, the one who can’t handle learning in public. I was that kid. I’ve come a long way, learning to surf, taking akido, standing on a stage talking to a crowd as if it’s no big thing. I was not going to give up.
With each successive attempt, the path grew easier. By the seventh time, the initial steps were habit. Sure, I did fall on my ass once. Embarrassing, but K and her friend just laughed and went with it.
In between all this, K scaled hither and yon, all guts and grace, as fearless now as she was poised in the batter’s box at 10 or 14-years-old, waiting for her pitch. I kept trying. The first couple steps, then the first several, became habit. My focus shifted from how far the ground was below me to how close the goal was above. Twice I almost made it. “We should get going,” K finally said. “Let me try one more time,” I announced. I grabbed on to the handholds, stepped up on the starter protrusions. One, two, three, reach, balance, pull, switch feet, reach higher, shift my weight and suddenly I was there, no big deal at all, my right hand planted firmly above the orange finish line, proving I was a person who succeeds. I did not clamber down smoothly – I pushed off, letting myself fall and landing in a crouch, my butt inches from the row of guys perched on the periphery. Elation rippled through me. I’d done it! One microscopic step for mankind, one giant leap for me. I’ve been angry at my body lately, aching knees and sore shoulder, but it came through. Thank you, body. Thank you, mind. Thank you, daughter and friends. The giddiness of physical achievement buoyed me into the evening.
3. I made dinner for K and her friends. The years have provided experience in cooking and enough of a salary to fill a basket at Trader Joe’s. Granted, one can put most any food in front of starving college students and they will be gratified, but my happiness in feeding them is only more so from their appreciation. Besides, I am quiet while I cook, which allows me to listen, which assures me, they are good kids, thoughtful in their opinions, witty in their humor, wry in their perspectives. What a thing to be privy to.
My shoulder aches. My knees hurt. It’s late and I should be sleeping. What a grand day to be blessed with.
Posted by Jennifer Savage on June 2, 2014
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.
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.
Posted by Jennifer Savage on June 2, 2014
The debate was about sunscreen and the stakes were high. As a parent, I asked, is it more responsible to slather chemicals onto your child’s skin or to leave them unguarded and at risk of sunburn? Skin cancer rates were only going up, after all, so who could say if sunscreen was really working. Plus, I’d read something casting doubts on sunscreen safety. When I expressed my worry, another forum member – one without children – cast me as an overly paranoid mother whose children would grow up in shadows while I dithered about safety. (She may remember it differently.)
Being responsible for the welfare of another person, especially a helpless one, is hard in about a million different ways. When I had my first child, doctors were still in the habit of doling out antibiotics at the drop of a hat. It was only my attention to “alternative” lifestyle magazines such as Vegetarian Times that gave me pause about such things. As a result, I learned the difference between viral and bacterial infections and, thus emboldened, questioned my doctor when she wanted to give my daughter amoxicillin for a cold. And guess what? Us paranoid parents turned out to be justified.
Playing on parents’ fears is big business whether it’s what to do or what not to do. I rocked a friend’s newborn to sleep recently and realized I had no idea how to put her in her crib? Are they sleeping on their backs now? Or sides? Bellies?
I thought about all this when I read Ryan Burns’ recent story on how Humboldt County is under-vaccinated. (Or, to be more precise, I thought about all this after I linked the post on my Facebook page with a semi-snarky comment about, “Oh, look, facts.” This is an attempt at a more thoughtful follow-up.)
In the course of my 24 years of parenting, I’ve experienced all kinds of advice evolve and sometimes circle back around. Food trends, for example, switched from multi-grain to gluten-free and now possibly back – and recent studies suggest gluten may be a scapegoat no longer. What to feed your family is one of the most significant decisions a parent makes and I made sure the foods in our home were of the most wholesome and nutritious variety – but if I’d had kids five years ago, I’d never have made all those pancakes. Now that the gluten-free mania has been largely discredited, maybe it’s okay to bust the griddle out once more. Who can tell? It’s a challenge to keep up, much less know which sources to place one’s faith in.
Health advice from 60 years ago is dramatically different from that of a decade ago, which is often different from what’s in the news today. The medical establishment has a spotty history. From the Victorian era, when doctors recommended morphine-containing “soothing syrups” for cranky babies to 1950s instances of doctors endorsing cigarettes as a useful way for expectant mothers to relax to continuing to overprescribe antibiotics, it’s obvious that a medical degree is no guarantee of infallibility. Add in the well-documented greed of large pharmaceutical companies and no wonder parents are skeptical about injecting their babies with compounds beyond their understanding.
But in some cases, the skepticism has swung beyond the science. Now, I admit, I wasn’t swayed by the chicken pox vaccine. I was initially suspicious of the HPV vaccine because it was new and because our health care system is so jacked up that it makes trusting companies involved in it impossible. To not question belies a naivety no parent wants to be guilty of. But when it comes to whooping cough, polio, measles? Those are awful diseases that we have no reason to allow back into circulation. Questioning vaccines, other health advice, everything, is justified – we owe it to our kids to make the most informed decisions possible. Ultimately, the hope is, those decisions will be the right ones, and by “right,” I mean the ones most rooted in truly accurate facts. Good luck, parents of the world.
Posted by Jennifer Savage on May 23, 2014
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.
Posted by Jennifer Savage on February 1, 2014
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Posted by Jennifer Savage on December 31, 2013
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.
Posted by Jennifer Savage on October 18, 2013
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.
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.
Posted by Jennifer Savage on August 26, 2013
I fell in love with the south wind again today. I stretched my arms overhead as it teased down the back of my neck, all warm, electric and promising.
We need the rain, everyone says, or the rivers will run too low to protect the life within, sustain the world without. I’ve yet to find myself at the river this season, sprawled alongside, book in hand, sunshine heat permeating my body, cell phone useless. I like to read until the heat makes me so dizzy the words swim and then I must, too, the shock of the cold water bringing me back into myself, reminding me how joyous it is to be alive.
I’ve been longing for a river moment the way I like to breathe and need to eat. The past few weeks, months, years – how do I say “have been hard” artfully and in a way that does not fall into complaining? Whenever I start, the awareness of how simultaneously lucky I am and how much worse so many people have it kicks in. Gratitude inhibits my ability to express myself. Like moms who haven’t yet learned to say, “Some days my kids make me crazy,” without adding, always, “but, of course, being a mom is the best thing in the world.” But being a mom is only sometimes the best thing in the world and some days I just want to stomp my feet and say, “Universe! Give me a fucking break!” Except the problems are mostly of my own making – overdrawn again?! – which is almost worse since I have only myself to blame and definitely better because at least with blame comes hope for change.
We are hard on ourselves, mothers. People keep congratulating me on being “done” because my youngest just graduated high school. As if I can straighten up, brush off my hands and say, “Yep, aced that.” I wish I could. The thing about “done” and parenthood, however, is you’re not. Sure, some things are easier. I never have to do that manic breakfast-get-your-stuff-together race to get there on time. Hallelujah!
When children grow into successful adults, we’re grateful to have wound up with such fine, mature decision-makers. When they struggle to find their way, every mistake we made over the years flares up in our memories. “If only I’d… instead.” And the thing about being “done” is all opportunity is lost. Whatever bad days I had can no longer be compensated for with cupcakes or a trip to the zoo. At this point, all I can say is, I tried. But I wanted to be perfect. I wanted to ace it.
I think my children will be fine. They’re smart, kind, funny and interested in the world. (And too old for me to write in detail any more.) But one of the frustrations of parenting is, you already have a road map. You’re like a crazy person on the side of the road waving this dog-eared and creased piece of paper. “Don’t go that way!” you’re yelling, as they zoom past you, intent on finding their own way, heedless of the roadblocks and dead ends that you’re trying to spare them. I already made all those mistakes, I say, but no one listens. At the end of the day, the only person who is going to learn from my life is me.
And so melancholy sneaks in. A few weeks ago, I spent time with my oldest daughter in Long Beach, where we lived together from the time she was six months old till she was almost four. She spent a week in the hospital there, riddled with croup. We’d trip around downtown for the free concerts and farmers’ markets. I’d take her to work with me during the day – I helped out the talent booker at a live music club while my daughter took markers to the backs of flyers and pulled gum off the bottoms of the tables when I wasn’t looking. But the club is long gone, razed to make way for a Best Buy. The interior design school that brought me to Long Beach, closed down. The Italian restaurant where I waitressed, pregnant with my second, an empty structure in which all traces of existence have been erased.
But the coffeehouse survived, as did our favorite café. Downtown renovation brought in a discouraging number of chain stores, but the up-and-coming artsy areas have solidified into something cool. My daughter has to find her own path, but her legs are strong and my love for her never yields.
I haven’t been to the river yet. But I did find myself in Shelter Cove yesterday with friends new and old, bright sky and sunshine warming up the beach so sweetly the girls wore bikinis and the guys trunked it on their surfboards. The waves rolled in all of waist-high on the best sets, but the best sets were also perfect and blue and beautiful. I caught a set wave and rode it to shore, where I flopped into the churning shallows to the entertainment of my friends. The remnants of the wave carried my board forth, parked it on the pebbly beach. I wiped sand off my face and dug it out of my ears, a gritty reminder that made me laugh.
I’ve been struggling to write, too many adjectives and no sense of story. I’ve been struggling, period, between the good times – the vagueness makes me crazy. What happens when I let the words out, however, is the thoughts streamline, the negative dissipates and my apparently innate optimism once again takes root. Hence, this.
Now I’m ready for the rain.
Posted by Jennifer Savage on June 23, 2013
It’s not that I haven’t been inspired to write. Thoughts blossom in my mind, begging to be pressed onto a page. But sometimes I’m driving and sometimes I’m sleeping and sometimes I’m just lazy and sometimes I just Facebook instead.
There’s also another problem: I can’t write about parenting because my children are too old for me to write about them. Or at least for me to do so without potentially embarrassing them. Two of the three are adults, technically, and the other is close enough. Who wants the angst and struggles of their teenage years, their early twenties, blown up for the world to see? If I were the sort of person to drop to my knees and pray nightly, I’d thank God for staving off Internet popularity until I was well into my 20s. Regular film was bad enough.
So I won’t write about how I worry, about how telling the difference between “normal” teenage drama and “put your kid into psychiatric counseling” teenage drama is about as easy for me as – as what? My mind seeks a metaphor, but all suggestions fail. Who did I talk to today? One of my friends who assured me everything will be okay because, after all, look at what we did and we turned out all right? One of our family friends who appreciates coming home to happy animals and a clean house? “They’re great kids,” people say. And they are. Helpful and funny and morally outraged in the right direction. But sometimes I can’t tell the difference between raising teenagers and walking over red hot ploughshares.
(I see why people turn to religion in these times. When logic no longer applies, faith and prayer manifest as logical options.)
What else am I not writing about? Surfing. I’m pleased to find myself in the water again and lighter for being unburdened from chronicling said misadventures. Kaylee and I traveled to Santa Cruz so she could check out Cabrillo College. We braved the rocks and locals of Steamer Lane and fought through the kelp at Pleasure Point. The Lane’s offerings hit us at the knees, but at Pleasure Point I turned around after catching a wave to see K dropping down a face at least two feet over her head. I hollered and thumbsed up as if she were eight again and paddling into waves by herself.
Memories tied to moments and I hold fast to the rope.
Posted by Jennifer Savage on May 6, 2013