things that scare me

Things that scare me:

1. Being unable to protect my children from bad people, risky behavior, terrible decisions and freak accidents.

When you bring a baby into the world, that mama bear love overwhelms you. You hug the tiny person close and swear you’ll never let anything hurt the unbearably precious creature. And you mean it, but it’s an unkeepable promise because – unless you live in a remote, armed, stocked fortress, which I totally support – eventually bullies will push your kid around on the playground and men will grope your daughters and bad drivers will crash into them and politicians will make shitty policies and if those are the worst things that happen, you are still lucky.

The news is filled daily with stories you can’t even think about, the kind that involve children going missing, being gunned down – and these events are rare enough, you try to find some comfort or maybe stop reading the news, but then the children themselves toddle into the street, into parties, into cars, into dysfunctional relationships and you realize it might be easier to protect them from the world than from themselves. You’d hoped they would learn from your own experiences – someone should, right? – but no. They will go down the wrong path, sometimes willfully, sometimes innocently, and all you can do is pray to the God you don’t believe in that they come back intact.

2. Drowning.

3. Living too long. It sounds exhausting.

4. That when I hurriedly tug on my surf bootie I’ll immediately feel bugs writhing all over against my feet and it will take at least a minute to get it off because you have to tug hard and then a hundred sow bugs will tumble out because I guess leaving my booties on the deck for a week wasn’t a good idea and I’ll never be able to put them on again without thinking wiggling bugs trapped against my foot flesh.

5. That sexual harassment, assault, rape will never stop because not enough men care enough to stop it.

6. Related: That stupidity will emerge victorious. (See Idiocracy, anonymous commenting, no one giving a fuck.)

7. Heights.

8. People jumping out at me from behind doors. Or shower curtains.

9. That I won’t realize my own foolishness in time.

10. Drivers who don’t bother moving over or slowing down when passing me riding my bike on the highway or over the bridges. I envision myself tumbling broken into bramble or over the concrete barrier into the bay. This is not how I want to go out.

 

Things that don’t scare me:

1. Spiders.

2. Taking a stand.

3. People acting like jerks because they don’t like your opinion or because they devalue your experiences. Take your friendship and go, jerk.

4. Diplomacy and compromise. Which is different than kowtowing and caving. We’ve all got to get along in this world, more or less, and although letting one’s defenses down enough to find that common ground can be frightening – Oh my god, I’ve got things in common with that person?! – it’s less scary than living an us vs. them life.

5. Public speaking. (Usually.)

6. Tsunamis.

7. Traveling alone.

8. The threat of eternal damnation.

9. Gay marriage.

10. Committing to the drop. Wait! I am often scared when paddling into a wave outside my comfort zone, big and steep and fast and gut clenches up and I have to yell at myself in my head to paddle, goddamn it, and go! But I’m trying.

From Pancakes to Parting: On Being Mom

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

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

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

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

It’s strange.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Mexico: Departure

Of course, it wasn’t quite over. In between dropping Kj off at the airport and cleaning the house, Casey and I squeezed a final surf in at Santiago Bay, picking off waves between local kids flinging themselves into the head-high barrels with abandon. And then we were done.

That would have been an elegant way to end, but at the airport I discovered I’d lost my immigration paper, which meant I couldn’t board the plane. They held it for me – thanks to Casey’s quick thinking – as I scrambled to pay the fine required to replace it. This was the second time an important piece of paper had gone missing while I was with Casey – the first was in a San Diego security line when we finally got to the front and I abruptly had no boarding pass – so her patience with the situation was especially commendable.

And then we were done.

Mexico: Day Four

I rose late, a nearby midnight drum session having interfered with my sleep – so late that Casey had to get me up, a situation greatly reversed from the norm! We headed straight to Paraiso, where I was determined to try the hollow waves on my rented board. The waves rolled in a few feet overhead, steep and pitching. A better surfer would’ve been barrelled for days, but for me, I was stoked to make the drops, repeatedly pushing myself into another and another.

We then ate the best tacos in the world. I scarfed down two chile con queso while Casey moved in on a third. Antonio and I teased her. La Nina es La Gorda! Off to Pasquales, an internationally known spot and the only place we saw other tourists. If you enjoy hammocks, a pool, well-muscled Australians and epic barrels, I highly recommend this place. The waves were bigger here, the surfing pro level. I hung out on the edge of things with a paunchy Canadian, finally caught a wave and called it a day, in part due to the fact that my board was de-waxing in the heat as I watched.

Back home, we made more silly Vines and dinner. I’d found a bottle of citrus liquor and made what I thought would be amazing margaritas. I should have made a test one first – the look of polite disgust on both Kj and Casey’s faces suggested “amazing” was not the taste they were experiencing. I sipped mine. Oh, puke. We returned to the tequila-Fresca combination that’d been working much, much better.

“Tomorrow’s the last day!” – Kj

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” – Me

Mexico: Day Three

We looked and looked and looked for waves. Santiago Bay, then through Manzanillo’s Centrale Historicale district to the power plant, the jetties. The heat oppressed us. I wanted to get in the water so badly, but everywhere was closing out. We took a break for tacos pescado and were restored. After, Antonio pulled over without telling us why. As we climbed out of the car, he pointed into the trees. Iguanas! We then walked inside this place that was part zoo, part iguana sanctuary. An exhibit of raccoons made me laugh – bastards used to show up on my porch every night and they get their own space here? The other critters made me sad – a pig tied to a tree, birds in tiny cages. But the iguanas roamed free. As I held up my phone taking video of the dozens of iguanas, one detached from the group and marched at me so quickly I backed up, tripping over a mound of dirt behind me and falling on my ass. That would have made an even better video, but the moment will have to live on in only my and Casey’s memories.

Having given up somewhat on the surf, we trekked over to La Boquita for some snorkeling. Ah, the blessed relief of bath water temperature ocean on a baking hot day! A shipwreck lies not too far offshore, so we loaded up the snorkels and goggles on the boards, then paddled over to where a rusty beam protruded from the water. Now, maybe it was my two recent rounds of X-rays at the dentist, but I found the snorkel mouth bit disconcerting. Wasn’t sure I could relax and get used to it. Nonetheless, I swam around the edge of the shipwreck peering through the cloudy water as the tide pushed and pulled. Suddenly, the visibility improved. Brightly striped tropical fish exploded into my vision. I gasped like a little kid and kicked closer. The experience repeated as I stroked across the top of the wrecked ship – silvery fish twinkled, sunlit under the water. More clown fish, so many others I didn’t know. I forgot everything in my delight.

After, I drug out the longboard and caught some peeling ankle-biters for a while. So far I’d surfed every day.

Later, we drank wine and tequila and read outside as a tropical storm brought a few hours of rain. I scrawled this in my journal:

“I am sitting on a patio in Mexico, half drunk in a thunderstorm, reading Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder while two of my best girlfriends sit drinking margaritas reading Jess Walters’ Beautiful Ruins and the thunder cracks and the rain falls into the pool and the wine sits on the table and we’re tired from swimming and snorkeling over a fish-riddled shipwreck and all the sun that came before the rain and has life ever been so wonderful?”

Mexico: Day Two

We searched around Santiago Bay, ended up at Boca de Iguanas luxuriating in the heat, delighting in the ocean. Antonio helped Kj overcome her hesitation at giving surfing a go. Casey played on the small closeouts while I opted to swim. At some point a fish leapt out of the water near me. I laughed and said a thanks for providing such delight. Antonio took us to another taco shop. I opted for the scallops a la Diabla. Mexican food in Mexico is the best.

We also took in the crocodiles. The place, which consisted of elevated walkways over the river, was closed for the day, so we walked along the chain-link fence instead, oohing and eeking at the sharp-toothed reptiles separated from us by such a flimsy barrier. One of the walkways was accessible and led us on a swinging bridge over the river. On the other side, the fence stopped near the river mouth and only yellow caution tape haphazardly slung between two poles suggested something dangerous was going on.

The strangeness continued with a stop at Antonio’s friend’s shop, an arcade/surfboard repair place located in an old theatre. In front, quarter mechanical horse rides. Inside, Guitar Hero and pinball. In the back, boards sprawled out on sawhorses and a stage upon which a carousel horse leaned, detached. Light filtered through broken windows. Within that surreal scene, I found a board more suited to me than the longboard I’d been using. We hung out, marveled, negotiated, then moved on to Barra de Navidad. I caught some waves on the new board and took a million photos while Kj and Casey read their own copies of Beautiful Ruins.

Mexico: Day One

Up and out early to look for what I thought would be friendly surf. Pulled in to Paraiso to discover beautiful waves and by “beautiful,” I mean, “slabby head-and-a-half barrels.” Now, at this point in my surfing life, I should be excited by such conditions, but our boards were long and my charging motivation was short. Nonetheless, I decided to paddle out. No wetsuit! Eighty degree water! The enjoyment stopped there, however, as the current shoved me down the beach while I was still on my feet. I tried again, made it about halfway to the outside before a wave collapsed on my head like a dynamited building. I came detached from my board and with panic bolting through me. Don’t panic, I scolded myself – never, ever panic in the water. I reminded myself that I’m a strong swimmer, rolled onto my back and kicked and dove and stroked my way to shore among the sets.

Thus chastened, we left for elsewhere, grabbing lunch along the way – my first sign that vegetariano was not a common option in these parts. I had a quesadilla and salad. We then drove north to a spot frequented by locals and accessible only by a dirt road that’d been washed out by the rain in spots. Antonio’s car scraped over rocks, ricocheted through gulleys. Once, we had to get out and push. But when we reached the overlook, perfect longboard waves awaited. Kj relaxed on the beach while Casey, Antonio and I took turns zipping down the rights. Antonio had warned us about La Tigre, a rock we shouldn’t surf past as it meant we’d end up on the reef. After a couple hours, Casey and I decided we’d catch our last waves. Mine was the best one I’d had all day, head-high, fast, peeling for days. Caught up in play, I forgot to watch for La Tigre until too late – I’d stoked myself right into the rocks. Banged up my toe, my knee, didn’t care. The happiness coursing through me kept the bruises at bay.

Mexico: Getting there

Packing

I’d packed in my head multiple times: two swimsuits, sundress, sunscreen, SPF 30 lip balm, etc. But a half hour before departure, I had yet to do it in reality. So I packed under duress, always a bad idea since it leads to forgetting things and arguing with one’s husband as one is heading out the door to leave the country for a week.

Things I Forgot

daypack
tampons
extra pen
underwear
tank top

Thing I Remembered

magazines
sunscreen
rash guard
floss
sandals

Vines

Making Vines amuses me. Making Casey make Vines with me generates the kind of giggles that continue the rest of the day. She’s the best subject: cute, silly, totally committed to the project. We’ve traveled together several times now and I love her more each trip. She embraces adventure. She shrugs off inconveniences. She’s flexible, but not indecisive – there’s none of that protracted, maddening “What do you want to do?” back-and-forth. In other words, the perfect person to bring along on a trip.

San Francisco

An aquaintance referred to Mexico as a place where “brown people wait on white people.” I thought of that as the Asian woman scrubbed my feet and clipped my toenails before polishing them turquoise. I’m not sure if I overthink these things or don’t think about them enough – should I cancel my trip, give myself a pedicure nowhere near as skilled? I have no answers to the complex questions surrounding race, culture and class issues. I just want to take a vacation and be a good person and hoping the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

Thus prettified, Casey and I ran errands – sundress shopping at Goodwill, rash guard shopping at Aqua Surf – then popped over to the Tenderloin to meet my friend Donna and her gang for a drink. Oh, the Tenderloin! My brother lived their for years, so I’m familiar with it, but wow, the level of trash and insanity still jars. But the area – while not gentrified – has grown more hip. I saw a magazine headline referring to it as “The Trendyloin,” which the 620 Jones bar bore out. We were underdressed in our hoodies, a fact that didn’t stop Mr. “I’m In High Tech Sales!” from hitting on us. Oh, San Francisco. The good, the bad, the inevitably cliché.

At some point, Casey nudged me into departing for the airport. Smart, as we were now running a bit on the late side for my flight – hers was a couple hours later. A rental car mixup delayed me getting to the flight I was already late for. My stress level shot up until I remembered all the other times I’d run late for flights and never missed them. I hugged Casey goodbye-for-now. I rushed off to hand my boarding pass over to the attendant, who alerted me to the wonderful news that for some reason I’d been unexpectedly granted a pre-approved TSA clearance, allowing me into a shorter security line that didn’t require me to take off my shoes. I made the plane.

Flying

A middle seat on a redeye flight sucks as much as one would expect.

The Houston airport will always be remembered for two things. One, it’s the first airport I’ve slept in. Two, the guy pacing the length of the gate, talking nonstop at his laptop held arm’s length in front of him. Facetiming, I suppose. His Texas accent began to run like sandpaper on sunburned skin, so I tried to pretend he was Matthew McConaughy in a movie role, but did not succeed.

At the Mexico City airport I was reminded how incredibly stupid it is to not speak Spanish. I spent money I didn’t want to on food I wasn’t hungry for because the restaurant promised wifi. The wifi did not work. No matter. The book I was reading – Jess Walters’ Beautiful Ruins – had me aching with delight and eventually I noticed the polka dots and a confident walk that meant I’d found Kj. We were both near the ends of our books, so we stretched out on the floor and finished our respective pages.

The flight from Mexico City to Manzanillo bumped along over cities that gave way to green hills and blue lagoons, ocean stretching out alongside. The puddle-jumper plane taxied down the runway and we disembarked on the tarmac outside an airport large enough for one, maybe two, gates. Just like landing in Humboldt, only warm and foreign.

We reunited with Casey, who handed us beers in the car – you can do that in Mexico! – and introduced us to Antonio, our guide for the week. Twenty minutes later, we pulled up at Joe’s house, four years of dreaming of going culminating in finally arriving.

Mexico, The Short Version

What We Did

Surfed, swam, ate tacos, drank, read.

What We Didn’t Do

Work, wear makeup, bother with much more than swimsuits, be cold, worry.

 

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