when the house stays clean and every night is date night

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We sleep with the blinds up and so can see to the east and south from our bed. I often wake to the sunrise framed like a painting. Sometimes I’ll nudge Bobby, “Look! Look at the sky,” and he will raise his head, mumble, “Pretty,” and roll back into slumber. Today I watched as the slashes of cloud lit up, brilliant pink against the pale green-yellow of the twilight sky – that odd, inexplicable color – then faded to the standby white-on-blue as the day settled in. The pretty lingered in my heart, however. I love this house.

We only moved upstairs a bit over a year ago, after the girls had moved out and Nick had graduated. For over 15 years, through two houses, Bobby and I have taken the downstairs bedroom and the children have lived upstairs – we preferred the kids grouped together and ourselves a line of defense in case of break-ins. Also, the mess stayed somewhat contained.

In our first house, up in Ridgewood Heights, the upstairs rooms had been smaller, the downstairs one the largest of the three. Here in Manila, the main upstairs bedroom is the master one, complete with arched doorway, skylight and clawfoot bathtub – our landlords, who lived here first, are romantics. The other upstairs “bedroom” isn’t one, technically. It’s six-by-nine-feet and lacks a closet. For the first seven years we lived here, it also lacked a window. When I’d been looking for a place to rent, the listing had described “two bedrooms plus office.” I hadn’t expected the house to work, hadn’t expected to show up and discover the sort of house I’d dreamed of, wonderful light and wood floors, redwood deck and easy walk to the beach, salt in the air and the ocean steady in my ears – two steps in and I didn’t care how we had to make it work, I knew we’d make it work and that this was where we should be.

Fortunately my soon-to-be landlords felt the same way.

Since we had three kids to divide between two rooms, the deal struck was either you shared the big room or you had a room, albeit tiny, to yourself. It worked out for a long while. Once Chelsea left, Kaylee took total command of the master room, creating disparity, but when she moved out, Nick had the entire second floor as his domain. Bobby had already started pushing for us to move upstairs – we’d been in the unassuming downstairs bedroom for a decade – but I insisted we wait till Nick was done with high school. Navigating the rapid changes, drama and expectations teenagers suffer had exhausted me too much to further risk destabilizing our world. Letting Nick keep the upstairs through graduation was a way I could be nice at a time when so many efforts to be kind backfired.

When we asserted control of the upstairs and shifted Nick to the downstairs bedroom, he shrugged. Not a big deal. Bobby repainted the upstairs, making one of the walls a gorgeous blue. I gushed and asked, “Why didn’t we do this years ago?”

We’re still doing a bit of a kid shuffle – Chelsea moved in shortly before Nick moved out – so we’re not quite yet having the house to ourselves. What we do have is a growing understanding of the upside of losing parental control over our progeny.

To be clear, we worry as much as ever and we still do what we can to support and celebrate them all, whether responding to long distance laundry emergencies via texts or going over the FAFSA together at the dining table. We applaud good choices and attempt (emphasis on attempt) to refrain from criticizing the bad ones – telling someone what they’re doing wrong is one of the least effective ways to encourage change. It’s been a long time since we could “make” them do anything. When they were teenagers engaging in actions likely to result in bad consequences, we still tried, because as parents, you always have to try. Now that they’re adults, we must acknowledge they are very clearly their own people. (Good luck, kids.) And so after a lifetime of relating to each other primarily through shared parenting of these demanding, joyous creatures, we’re finding ourselves focusing on us. Soon, we think, the house will stay clean and every night will be date night.

We’ve never lived together without children!

We worry as much as ever.

We still do what we can to support and celebrate them all.

But the responsibility has lessened – whether we wanted it to or not – and with this lightening comes a little bit of freedom. And a view.

any belief will do

Once, when Chelsea was two, she wandered off. We lived in Long Beach at the time and were hanging out at a lazy afternoon barbecue in a mid-upscale neighborhood a couple blocks from the beach. Bougainvillea cascaded down beachy bungalows, more statuesque houses boasted manicured lawns bordered by well-kept flowers of all sorts. So at least we lost her in a nice place.

The guys stood around on the driveway, making jokes about one thing or another, while we wives and girlfriends laughed with each other about how silly the guys were and Chelsea giggled at the adults. I’d stepped into the house to collect our things. Scooping up my purse and the diaper bag took only a minute. When I walked back outside, Chelsea was gone. Nobody had noticed. We all panicked, teamed up and set off in different directions. My heart had stopped. My baby. Alone! Someone would grab her, pull her into a car, speed away. I would never see her again. I’d lost my child.

We called for her, looked between houses, asked people on porches. Hours passed – no, not hours, but each second extended an eternity. I had fallen off a cliff. The salty air crushed my lungs. My stomach twisted. What sort of awful mother loses her child like this?

I put one foot in front of the other, eyes searching. And then we saw her. On a porch with a couple adults whose concern manifested in scolding me as I arrived in front of them, out of breath from racing to my daughter. I burst into tears as I hugged Chelsea to me. These people were right. I was the worst.

When your children are small, you are supposed to know where they are. And you usually do. At the end of your arm. Singing in a circle at school. Warming up with catch at baseball practice. Staying over at a friend’s house. Sleeping, teddy bears tucked under an arm.

Then the teddy bears give way to boyfriends and girlfriends at some point, and you know they’re “out,” but not always where. Field trips to Ashland are replaced by exchange programs in Germany. You know the name of the town she’s in, the names of the people she’s staying with, but you have little idea of where the day takes her.

They move out, move back, move out again. Sometimes you only know they’re in town because they call to say they need to do laundry, to shower. Your son rolls his eyes at you, tells you to stop sending texts asking if he’s alive. “Why don’t you just wait for a phone call saying I’m dead?” he lobs, walking out the door, as if it’s a joke, this naming of your worst fear out loud for God and all to hear.

Not that you believe in God, because why would you? You weren’t raised in church and you’re fine with that because although you love stories – you read out loud to your children until they were teenagers – you prefer science and the kind of magic you can see, touch, breathe. The wonder of the redwoods. The undulation of the ocean. A particularly stirring sunrise.

But you understand when one girlfriend tells you she prays nightly for her children’s safety and another describes how she envisions her children wrapped in cloaks of golden, angelic protection. For if man had not already invented God as a way to explain the world, mothers would have done so in hopes of safeguarding their children within it.

2014: the good

January

Started working at the Northcoast Environmental Center, which meant I not only continued to have a job after being laid off by Ocean Conservancy, but was able to stay in the Greenway (aka “old Yakima”) Building, which boasts fantastic people, an office garden, sweet loaner bikes and an atmosphere of optimism.

February

My older daughter turned 24. Kj and I escaped for a day hiking through the redwoods and an evening spend at Benbow Inn, where C surprised us by having a gift certificate delivered. Love abounded. I used the word “motherfucker” in a Five Things column about not stiffing your server and people wrote in, offended, which caused the word to be repeated, repeatedly. I stood on top of the tallest building between San Francisco and Portland and reveled in local, coastal environmental progress.

March

My younger daughter turned 20. My writers’ group continued to meet, write, inspire. I began a love affair with the Humboldt Bay Tourism Center – oysters! wine! kombucha! excellent lighting! beautiful design! cheese! My friend Heidi Walters unfolded the story of the Wiyot tribe’s long overdue “Renewal.” My pal Ryan Burns wrote one of his best stories yet, an examination of a smear campaign against Shannon Miranda. A Sacramento trip provided reconnection with some of the ocean people who most illustrate success, who remind me of what I aspire to. I took Isla to the zoo.

April 

I helped judge a drag war. I helped my friends Steve and Amy Bohner build a distillery. I helped return a phone. I helped our NEC work study student understand Sacramento: inner workings, outer show and that sometimes in a fancy restaurant the waiter will place your napkin on your lap for you and yes, it’s ridiculous. I helped myself to friendship by accepting invitations to Easter, to brunch. I reveled in beauty, expressed gratitude.

May

A road trip to Bandon, Oregon with colleagues and co-workers led to bonding over mosquitos, flea markets and the wonder of turning beach trash into art. Bobby and I continued on to Portland, where we stayed with one of my dearest, most long-time friends, a woman I shared a room with one magical San Diego summer when I was 18, working at Gold’s Gym, seeing bands at the Casbah and falling in love with Bobby. A woman who will tell stories about that time we went to Ensenada. (Or better, won’t.) What a thing, to have a friend who has known you so well and forever. And then we visited more friends, a wife and husband with a baby and toddler, and we had the pleasure of their company, of helping out, of going eating, drinking, seeing bands. My knees went bad, but provided some writing fodder. Mother’s Day at the beach. Kayaking on the bay. Bike commuting. Tidepooling with Redwood Coast Montessori and Friends of the Dunes. Bobby did amazing art. Twenty-two years ago, Bobby and I married each other.

June

My younger daughter departed for Europe. I wrote about sending her off for the Journal, the editors of which continue to invite me to write more. I was grateful for small things. My cool genius brother Tag Savage went to the White House as part of a Tumblr gig. I toured on the Madaket, I traveled to Crescent City, I played impromptu pool at Hum Brews, I assisted in the creation of a sand sculpture – “The NESea Monster,” get it? – what a life! I kept writing. I made cookies with Isla. I decamped for the Bay Area, a week bouncing between San Francisco and Oakland, excellent friends and fine food and a rush to finish a grant report that found me sitting in Commonweath Oakland during a World Cup game, the entire pub staring at the TV high in the corner, under which was the only open table. There I sat, filling in grant deliverables and project outcomes while the crowd roared around me. Bobby, Nick and I attended our friends’ wedding in Half Moon Bay, a humble, adorable, romantic ceremony on the beach under a driftwood arch. Love abounded.

July

New York! Visited my cool genius brother and his brilliant wife in their new Park Slope digs. Bicycled to the Rockaways. Surfed Long Beach. Biked over the Brooklyn Bridge and wrote about it for Lost Coast Outpost. (Did not succeed in disconnecting.) Infatuated with this poem. Surfing and writing and Crabs games and Humboldt Folklife Fest and summer.

August

Insomnia is relentless. Outside Lands is fabulous. Drinking is dangerous. Writing is life (is sanity). Linda Stansberry is brilliant. Bobby is 51 and still loves me. The month ends with a beginning as Andy and Alanna, two of the sweetest people, make official their commitment in a ceremony that has attendees alternately weeping and laughing and weeping some more and laughing again. They won weddings and I remain honored to have witnessed the triumph. Love abounds.

September

Humboldt’s busiest month? HSU’s volunteer fair, political fundraisers, Coastal Cleanup Day, North Country Fair – the latter included street theater organized by my boss (who gets annoyed when I refer to him as “my boss”) Dan Ehresman, whose flair for dramatic messaging proved as humble as it was brilliant. Also brilliant, my friend Malcolm’s Coastal Cleanup Day video, which featured even more friends casually confirming that we live in a beautiful place among beautiful people. (Further elaborated upon as my stint in the Insider continued.) Somewhere in there, I traveled to Ventura for the Surfrider California Chapters conference, an annual motivational experience heightened by a keynote speech by Shaun Thompson. This month’s takeaway: “Commit.” To the drop, to the world.

October

Isla and I attended the circus. I discovered Mark Manson. I wrote emotionally, confessionally, embarrassingly. One of our NEC interns joined me for a trip to Mendocino, where we paddled Big River Estuary – a marine conservation area! – and I tried to convince her that Manhattans were preferable to froofy cocktails, because while the information I have to impart to the youth is minimal, it is still useful and true. We then traveled to Oakland, where a glorious birthday party unfolded along Lake Merritt’s shoreside. The birthday party in question belonged to one-year-old Viva, precocious daughter of friends Lila and Ian, more talented, beautiful people who inexplicably allow me to share their life from time to time. Blessings counted. From there we launched into the Treasure Island Music Fest. I was a million years older than everyone, bands included, and I didn’t care at all. I siphoned the energy of the youth and drank of their enthusiasm. (That is my secret, friends.) I drove all the way to Long Beach in a day, stayed up drinking margaritas with Deric, whom I met when he was a lad shoveling ice cream at Bon Boniere and I was a shiny new scene editor at the Arcata Eye. Now he’s a veteran of foreign affairs and my older daughter is older than he was when we first discussed the local music scene over mint chip. I am realizing that 2014 was The Year of the Friend in many ways and Deric and his wife Megan are some of my favorites. I collected my older daughter, her dog and two cats in the morning and drove the entire length home. More friends, more dinners, more parties. (Thank you.) The Giants won the World Series! I worried about things.

November

My son turned 19. I voted. Kept writing: fiction with my fellow writers, music for the Journal, ocean for LoCO. I turned 45, planned nothing, was spoiled all week by friends taking me to lunch, dinner, drinks. For the first time, my age disconcerted me. I think about that sometimes. Then shrug. What can a girl do? Just try to be her best, always. And work hard and be kind. And forgive herself when she stumbles. Those things remain true. And attempt to answer questions intelligently when your journalist friend interviews you about trails and Humboldt Bay. Friends invited me to picnic at Luffenholtz and I paddled out between the rocks for the hell of it. Nick moved to Isla Vista.

December

My Facebook habit ebbed. My friendships did not. I stood on a stage and told the story of how the Marine Life Protection Act came to the North Coast and people did not fall asleep (as far as I know). OK, I nailed it. I did! I wanted to. It meant a lot to me. I knew I’d do fine, but I wanted to hit all the right notes and look confident doing it and I stood up there and delivered my talk and said everything I’d planned and walked off mentally fist-pumping the whole way. I worked out. We attended multiple holiday parties. I drove to Point Reyes, all the way to the end of the peninsula for a retirement party, a celebration of ocean heroes. It was dark when I finally found the bunkhouse and dark when I drove away in the early morning. The drive took six hours each way. I dodged a landslide, cows, deer, slowed to a crawl due to heavy rain. It was worth it to be counted among people I admire. Who also know how to throw a party. Kaylee and Nick arrived for Christmas. This was the first time the whole family had been in the same place at the same time in three years. (And all that that implies.) Everything came together – gifts, meals, Bananagrams. Things were imperfect and successful. People responded, mostly well, to my thoughts on forgiveness. Isla and I watched Frozen. New Year’s Eve consisted of impromptu bowling, happy hour at the Carter House, dancing at the Logger Bar, rocking out at the Palm Lounge. The year ended much like it was lived: among friends, with joy. Love abounded.

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how to make your son crepes before he moves 600 miles away

1. Sit down with him earlier in the week so you can make a list of things needing to be done before he leaves: stock up on insulin, test strips, etc., call about switching Medi-Cal providers, call UCSF about moving, new pharmacy, write down new address for parents, get boxes for packing, pack.

2. Buy a mattress cover and new sheets because you don’t know where that used mattress he’s acquiring has been and just because.

3. Two days later, remind him about “the stuff on that list.”

4. His last day at home, rise early to whip up some crepe batter – it’s best if the batter has at least 30 minutes to rest before cooking. (1 cup flour, 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup water, 4 eggs, 1/4 cup melted butter, 3 T sugar, dash salt: blend well)

5. Prep for your upcoming conference, work on your freelance column and otherwise do as much work as you can while everyone is sleeping so you’ll have the most time possible with the family on this momentous day.

6. Knock on his door, stick your head in, suggest he get up soon because there’s so much to do. Like pack. And eat. (Don’t mention the list.)

7. Do not be bothered by how unenthused he is.

8. Do be concerned that his blood sugar level is awry, especially since last night he mentioned needing to do a set change and wanting to wait till morning so would you just give him a shot?

9. Bug him again about getting up.

10. Bite your tongue when he snaps at you.

11. When he calls you, a few minutes later, from bed, to ask if you would inject another round of insulin for him, ask him what his blood sugar is.

12. When he says he knows it’s high and the number doesn’t matter, explain that it does. Obviously. We’ve been doing this for years.

13. Be grateful when he does check and matter-of-fact about the fact that it’s over 460 and try to stay patient when he says he’ll just do the shot himself.

14. Try to not think about how he’s moving 600 miles away tomorrow and who is going to watch out for him?

15. When he continues to be stomp around and then mumbles something in your direction, don’t snap, “What? Can you speak so I can understand you?”

16. When he responds by saying, “Go fuck yourself,” walking away, and slamming the door, remember that hyperglycemia messes a guy up.

17. Don’t take it personally.

18. Remember the two surf sessions earlier in the week, all grins and gratitude.

19. Don’t cry.

20. Tell yourself it’ll be fine later, when he feels better.

21. Chop up an apple, sauté it in butter with dash of salt, splash of almond extract, handful of sliced almonds.

22. Place a nonstick or seasoned crepe pan over medium heat with a little unsalted butter. 

23. Stir the batter and pour about 2 tablespoons into the pan, lifting the pan off the heat and tilting and rotating it so that the batter forms an even, very thin layer.

24. Cook until the top is set and the underside is golden.

25. Turn the crepe over, using a spatula or your fingers and cook until the second side is lightly browned.

26. Slide it onto a plate and top with apple mixture, then roll it up.

27. Drizzle heavy whipping cream on top.

28. Stand in the kitchen, alone, and eat.

29. Even if what should be delicious is hard to get past the lump in your throat.

30. Don’t cry.

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Epilogue

There was an apology. Much later. And I made cookies, but the crepe batter still sits in the fridge. We leave tomorrow morning at 7:30 a.m. I will drop him off in Willow Creek and hope he and his friend make it safely to Santa Barbara from there. And hope the world is kind and that his best self, the kind and funny and hard-working self, has occasion to rise. And that he remembers how much better proactively managing his diabetes is. But I am terrified. This letting go feels like my insides are being yanked out. I would convince myself God existed if I thought praying would do any good. Alas, I am bereft of faith and have only my inherent optimism and the wise words of others to cling to. “You have raised him well,” they say. “He’s a smart kid, ” they say. “You can tell what a good, solid guy he is – he’s going to be fine,” they say. So I hope. So I hope.

insomnia #25 aka yet another experience with worry

Haven’t had it this bad in a while. I did everything right yesterday: exercised, refrained from drinking, had a pleasant evening with Bobby complete with fabulous frittata dinner tossed together with our farm share veggies, feta cheese and an inspired peach salsa, went to bed early, but not early. Despite the everything right, however, here I am, downstairs after 20 minutes of my “Deep Sleep” app failed to send me away from my worries and into dreamland, honey-lavender tea steeping, brain still whirring.

Things I am worried about, from the vantage point of my lower middle-class life:

My children, for various reasons, none of which I can write about without breaching their privacy, so suffice to say, I wish I had more to give them, I wish I’d been a more patient and graceful mother, I wish my son would have answered my evening texts asking if he was coming home tonight.

Other things I am worried about:

Money (because I am making less, but the bills have grown).
Friendships (because I am not attending to them).
My teeth (because I have nightmares they fall out and also the reality that I’m losing my COBRA-dependent dental insurance).

My future (because what will I do? will it include ever finishing that novel? I want so much and how will we eat?).
My understanding of myself (am I the good, competent, kind person I think I am? what is simply being human and what is a sign of being an emotional lunatic?).
Making a difference (for something, someone, anyone, somewhere?).
And so it goes.

I wish someone would appear with all the answers and yet I can’t bring myself to get religion.

I will now drink my lukewarm tea and hope the purging works.

insomniasurfkidsoceannight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

From Pancakes to Parting: On Being Mom

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

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

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

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

It’s strange.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

insomnia #21 aka 2013 Year in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A worst thing

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

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

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

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

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

I killed a dog.

I would never hurt a dog. Never.

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

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

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

I would never hurt a dog.

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

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

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.

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