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.

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.

On being done. And not.

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.

Checking in

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.

5 Things to Know Before Having Children

1. You will fail them. They will emerge into this world limited only by their DNA and you will add to their problems by not being able to immediately and precisely rise to the challenge of meeting their needs with grace and foresight. You will yell. You will cry. You will swear. Exhaustion will override common sense. You will hear your mother’s voice scolding them and marvel that you are doing the same thing to your own children you hated having done to you. You will, one day, sympathize with your father’s decision to depart your family and start anew. Certainly you could do better given a second chance, too. You won’t know what to do, often, and will either freeze and do nothing, or do the wrong thing. The times you get it right will be taken for granted; your mistakes will live on through every holiday dinner, state-long road trip and 2 a.m. bout of insomnia.

2. They will make a liar of you. You will, as love floods your heart and makes your mouth run without thought, tell them you will always protect them. That you won’t let anything hurt them, ever. But you won’t be able to. Things, and people, will hurt them.

3. You will be inviting worry the likes of which you have never known. You will learn again and again how huge the world is in proportion to your small child, how much there is to fear. You will find yourself at the ER. You will find yourself at the ER. You will find yourself at the ER. You will lose track of how many times you find yourself at the ER. Strangers will honk at you as you space out at the intersection, wondering if your children will live up to their potential, pondering all the things you should have done differently. You will cry. You will fear bad things happening to them because bad things happen to children every single day. And just when you’ve achieved enough trust in the universe to believe they’ll be okay, one of them will get in a car wreck. Or diagnosed with an incurable disease. Or mugged. Or arrested. Or worse.

4. Money matters. Love matters more, but having the cash to provide enrichment/distraction through sports, music lessons, martial arts, etc., gives them, and you, an advantage. Being able to afford family vacations to interesting places enables you to bond over happy memory-making and, later, to whisk them away from the bad influences loitering around through the summertime. A lack of money leads to family stress, boredom, frustration at all the things you can’t provide – including, at times, birthday presents and steadily functioning utilities. The water will get shut off one Christmas. That story will never get any funnier with the retelling. If you don’t have money, you will need to be really, really good at managing it.

5. You will sacrifice sleep, food, dreams, a significant portion of your brain and most of your looks and still you will love them. Until they’re teenagers and then you might finally question what it is you’ve done with your life. But mostly, you’ll love them.

Hey, some words on parenting teenagers!

I don’t write too much about Nick’s diabetes any more because we’ve reached the point where writing about the diabetes is inextricably connected to writing about parenting a teenager – and writing about parenting a teenager isn’t cool because teenagers are not generally okay with having their family interactions served up as fodder for public discussion. It’s a shame, really, because parents of teenagers could certainly use the exchange of information, stories and ideas as much as the moms and dads of the under-five set. In fact, the struggles around breastfeeding, whether or not to put a toddler in time out, how to get your picky child to eat – well, all that just seems so quaint. Your three-year-old is having a tantrum? Yawn. At least the power dynamic is obvious and intact.

But having teenagers isn’t all bad. You can leave them at home, for example, and be relatively confident that they won’t stick a fork into the electrical outlet. This is very useful for those times when they make you so crazy you just need to get the hell out of the house and go for a long calming walk on the beach. Or a long calming drink at the bar. (And they will judge you, oh, how they will judge you!)

Now, let me make it absolutely clear that my children are smart, kind, sociable, helpful, resourceful young people – anyone who knows them will vouch, absolutely. One thing about my kids is they’ve all been super excellent people out in the world – they save their scorn for their parents only – hooray! Because that’s good. That’s exactly the sort of thing that, when you’re the parent of a teenager, gives you hope that you’re not: 1.) completely doomed; 2.) raising a sociopath; 3.) the stupidest mother that ever lived in the history of all the world, ever; 4.) all of the above.

The other thing about teenagers – and young adults, as my daughters are now – is that they are just brimming with youth. Vitality. Skin and bodies that gravity has yet to ravage. Hearts that have yet to harden. Chances that have yet to be taken. So no matter how well-kept you are, no matter how fit, how excellent your highlights and dedicated your regimen, the truth stares you in the face: you are no longer young, baby. And every day, they do their very best to accelerate your personal aging process.

“But you’re almost done!” people say. Usually the parents of younger children or childless people. I don’t know what they’re thinking, exactly – that the kid turns 18 and you’re suddenly unshackled? You get to clock out and go home? That because these people you’ve loved more than anything for a huge chunk of your life are now “adults” that your concern dials down to only middling? That your children being out in the world means you’ll never lie awake at 3 a.m. worrying about the choices they’ve made, are making? Well, wouldn’t that be nice?!

In all fairness, when they’re out of the house, it is a little easier. But it’s not easy.

Now I’m feeling a bit guilty for making the parenting thing sound so grim. (It is!) So here is something very fun, hooray!, about having teenagers: You can watch high quality shows and movies with them without regard to the sex/violence content. Yeah! Bonding over True Blood! You’ve been wanting to re-watch the entire Sopranos catalog anyway – here’s your chance!

Yep. See, not all bad.

Oh, and there is one thing worse than being the parent of a teenager: being one.

An exercise in gratitude

One night last week, I found myself setting the alarm for 12:30 a.m., then 1:30, then 2:30, then 3:30, then 5:30 a.m. Nick’s blood sugar hovered in the 300s despite my continued dosages of insulin, refusing to drop into normal range until that last 5:30 check. Why does this tend to happen throughout the night instead of the day? I don’t know. I was too tired to ask, “Why?” at the time. I am often too tired to ask, “Why?” these days; I just want to figure out, “How?” How can I resolve his blood sugar problems? Why something isn’t working is only as relevant as how knowing the answer will help me fix it. I am a carpenter these days, not a philosopher.

(I wish I was a carpenter – what a lovely, practical skill to have.)

The following day I was, of course, exhausted. Sometimes rallying to face all that needs to be done between 6 a.m. and midnight challenges me more than I’d like to admit. In my daydreams, I waltz through the mornings, salsa through lunchtime, samba across the evening and tango into the night.

(I wish I knew all those dances – what an exquisite way to live.)

Reality finds me more often stumbling, tripping over my words and slumping at my desk. I confess, I felt a little sorry for myself. Life felt too heavy. I hadn’t even had a drink and still I just wanted to lie down on the nearest floor and say, “OK, I give.” But as always, in my stupid, brilliant, complicated, straightforward life, the good happenings continue to twist around the bad, impossible to separate or ignore. So even as I spend another night awake at 3:30 a.m. because I needed to check Nick’s blood sugar, which was high, again, and because while checking him, he complained that his pump kept beeping because the battery was low, so I had to go find a spare battery in the truck, where I keep some emergency supplies, and throughout all this, my poor old dog lies on the floor without getting up because her legs went out yesterday and she’s not getting past it despite my hopes that she might just be really, really worn out from walking to the beach, and now I am likely going to have to make the call to have a vet come out and end her life because that would be the right thing to do if she can’t walk (right?) and I’m really not ready for that because she’s so sweet and I didn’t pet her enough or walk her enough and fuck, I was trying to get to the counting-my-blessings part of this.

Right, blessings. Despite all the above and other, less tragic, bad news, in the last week, I’ve walked out from my house four times to watch the sun, all fiery orange and ringed with red, settle into the blue-black ocean. Each time, the fact that I can walk from my house to this experience stuns me as much as the gold glittering from the horizon to the sand as the sun balances on the edge of the world.

I am awed. And in this same span of time, I’m hiked out from my house twice to surf and once to play Frisbee with Bobby and Nick on an afternoon so clear, windless and balmy I’d longed to transport everyone I loved to the water’s edge so they, too, could bask in the beauty. We winged the Frisbee around like we’ve done a hundred times and I could see our lives together stretch back, stitched together by perfect moments like these. I remembered a similar afternoon years ago – seven? eight? – with Nick zipping across the low-tide shallows on a skimboard as Sandy galloped alongside.

I still have a job I love, one that pays enough to cover the bills and a little more, keeps my family in health benefits. I have at least a half-dozen people I believe I can tell anything to and will still be loved, despite sometimes saying and doing stupid things. I had lunch with one of these fabulous people, last Tuesday, sitting outside at Café Nooner, eating my favorite sandwich in the sunshine. I took two others surfing in Crescent City yesterday, the only place on the entire North Coast that wasn’t sunny, where the wind stayed onshore despite predictions of off-, and they graced me by being not only good sports about the weather, but genuinely having fun. Even with all the fighting my family does, I never feel unloved. My body holds up. My husband finds me beautiful. His garden bursts with flowers and veggies, the backyard a testament to his devotion. The calendar attests to good times to come.

I worry about the dog, about Nick, about our daughters. Please let Sandy not suffer. Please let the children be happy and healthy and outlive me. I make my to-do lists each day, hopeful that if I get everything checked off, life will proceed in the best possible way. I never quite get there. Some nights remain particularly long, some days still bring bad news. In the midst of it all, however, some joy bubbles up. Good things happen. Exhausted as I may be, I can never completely despair.

And for that, I am grateful.

Parenting gets easier? Then why am I still freaking out?

It started when Chelsea turned 16 and people said how excited I must be for her to drive. We were in the thick of a challenging adolescence and at the time I worked at the Arcata Eye newspaper, which meant I saw every CHP collision report come through the fax machine. The knowledge that cars were death machines permeated my every work day. Facing the emotional wallop of raising an angry teenager left me raw and on edge nightly. The idea of my child behind the wheel was not exciting – it was horrifying. That so many people imagined otherwise made me realize how incomprehensible one person’s life can sometimes be to others. How even such a common experience as raising kids does not always translate to having something in common with other parents. That the greatest difference between having kids or not is the amount of fear that lives lodged in your brain, throat, heart, gut.

Of course, I tend to worry. Not everyone does. Some people are born with, or cultivate, this trust that God, the universe or some other benevolent force will “watch out” for their children. I assume they sleep well at night. I’ve considered turning to religion if it would help alleviate my insomnia.

Now that Kaylee’s 18 and graduated from high school, and Nick’s launching into his senior year, Bobby and I get a lot of, “Hey, you’re almost done!” Which I understand – and certainly, some things are easier. I am mostly confident that none of my children will stick keys into an electrical socket or choke on grapes if they’re not cut carefully into halves. I’m even mostly confident they’ll go off into the world and thrive. But this assumption that they’re grown and therefore I have less to worry about confuses me.

I do not feel less worried.

What I do feel is more helpless – my friend describes the shift as, “You spend all these years as their manager and then they fire you. The best you can hope for is to be hired as a consultant.” There’s an accompanying awareness that this is it. These years were the time I had to do things right and make up for things I did wrong. It’s too late to fix my parenting mistakes, which is so unfair because I finally have enough experience to raise children.

I would have lost my temper less, for example. So little sleep, so much stress, often translated into me snapping at the kids above and beyond what could have been called a “reasonable” amount. I don’t know where more sleep would’ve come from, but maybe I could have found ways to offset some of life’s seemingly relentless pressures.

Lack of money, for example. If I could redo things, this would be a big one. Not that I would’ve traded having jobs that allowed me to spend the most time with my kids, but I would have had a far better grasp on managing my money. I would have liked to be one of those people who managed to save a shocking amount of cash while working two waitressing jobs and never letting her kids go without. (I would still like to be one of those people who manages to save a shocking amount of cash.) You could’ve read about me in O magazine. I would’ve maintained a money tips website for several years, but decided to retire once all the kids were grown. Bobby and I would be planning our Costa Rican lifestyle about now.

(Note use of humor as a coping mechanism. I’m still trying to figure out the path connecting my daily actions to my dreams.)

The other, biggest, thing I’d fix is, I would’ve addressed and resolved the conflicts between Bobby and I sooner and more often. Becoming a mom, wife and adult simultaneously wasn’t easy; I was 20 when Chelsea was born, 21 when Bobby and I finally moved into the same place, 22 when we married. While I strongly reject all notions that only older, well-off women should have kids, I can’t deny being young and broke is inherently more challenging.

I was lucky – Bobby’s commitment to our family has never wavered – but being in love isn’t the same as being prepared. And I’m lousy at conflict, preferring to let things build up until something triggers a total freak out. I’d rather flee than fight. A lot of years were wasted in unnecessary unhappiness because I didn’t know how to fix what ailed us and was intimidated by the hard work and seeming impossibility of finding a solution. We still created many moments of joy with the children, but my dream of home always being a haven didn’t survive intact. I regret that. I know all families have their drama, but I wish I’d known how to spare mine from the amount of dysfunction I allowed to happen.

(This is the part where I note that if one compares dysfunction in families, we’re not too far off from the norm. I do not mean to imply otherwise. I’m only saying some things could’ve been better and I wish I’d been able and willing to make the changes then.)

Fortunately, none of the damage has been irreparable. Yet. But our children are always our children and with the pride and relief their independence brings comes whole new forms of heartache. The world may not be nice to them. In fact, I know it’s indifferent. Bad things happen all the time. But good stuff, too! I may not trust in the universe, but I muster faith that they’ll create their place in it. And hope the place they make brings them more happiness than sorrow.

I’m speaking in generalities now, which pains me as a writer even if some comfort is offered my mothering side.

Maybe I was wrong earlier. Maybe I’ll never have enough experience to have this raising kids thing figured out.

 

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