Friday, December 31, 2010

Resolving

All day, I've been thinking about resolutions.  Whether I want to make some, whether I've kept the ones I made last year, what they really mean.


Actually, I rarely make any New Year's resolutions.  They seem a set-up for failure, and I'm no longer into reaching for a goal as a destination.  I'm so much more interested in the journey as an end to itself, and I've found that the pursuit of an experience -- how will I feel if I experiment with working out every day throughout the holidays? what if I try to write three times a week for an hour? what would it be like to eat only veggies and fruit for a few days? can I soften my thoughts about something that's troubled me in the past? -- is often just as satisfying as reaching the "end" of a pre-determined goal.  


However, I went snooping through my dictionary to find something about the word "resolution" or its derivatives to grasp onto.  Here's what I found:


resolve - turn into a different form when seen more clearly (as in the orange glow resolved itself into four lanterns)


I had been thinking that "resolve" must mean "to solve again," and I wondered how I could "solve" my life again, or whether the New Year's renewal process was about providing new solutions to old challenges.  But I like the new definition so much better and it gets to the heart of what I want for myself in 2011.  When seen more clearly, I want to be transformed into the person/soul/being that I truly am, not just the woman/mom/wife/etc. that I seem to be from a distance.  


This has been a year of change, and if I truly allow myself the pleasure of seeing where I was last December as the calendar wound down 2009, it's very clear that Rafael and I were already in the throes of moving toward newness and growth before January 2010 arrived.  The challenges we faced - a new life in a new house in a new neighborhood with a new school - seem tiny compared to the loss of Max.


But, again working with the above definition of "resolve," we changed form when we were able to see ourselves more clearly.  Instead of feeling like we were outsiders in our new life, we immediately felt like we belonged here.  We didn't feel like we had left anything behind -- as I had feared that we would -- but instead moved toward the lives we had been chosen to lead.  And we continue to do that.


So that's my "resolution": to continue to move consciously forward in this life, the only one that I have.  Maybe it's presumptuous of me, but it makes me happy to wish the same for you, too.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sister Love




In my "real life," I have created a network of girlfriends that I adore, women who I call when I need the estrogen-laced advice that only another girl can provide. These women have helped me raise my kids, keep me sane when I'm going nuts, encourage me to say "no" to projects and obligations that will wreak havoc on my home or family, and talk me through important purchases at the mall ("Do I need a green coat or a pink one? What do you think?").  These "sisters" are such a part of my life that I sometimes forget about the REAL sisters that I have, the ones who live a little too far away to be a regular part of my daily life.

My little sister is 9 years younger and lives on the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. I have always made the mistake of thinking that she's "too young" to understand my life.  But I've been wrong. She's such a good, strong woman and even though her life is different from my own, she has constructed a good place for herself and it's been my good fortune that she's carved a special niche just for me.

My sister-in-law, who lives near DC, has been married to my brother for just a bit longer than I've been married to Raf.  She and I are so different in so many ways.  She's a redhead and a crazy-smart career woman with a strong sense of herself and her self-pride, which she's instilling in her kids (with remarkable results).  She's worked at the CIA and is a sharp shooter (like my own sister), and I didn't know whether to expect Sarah Palin at the dinner table or not.  But really, who cares? The person who greeted me (and bought me a pretzel at the mall) was warm and loving and welcoming and treated me like her own flesh and blood.  Moreover, she treated my brother with adoration and respect, which he mirrored back.  What else could I ask for in a sister-in-law?  

I will never give up my girlfriends - they are with me for the long haul - but I am going to find a way to make these REAL sisters a bigger part of my daily life from now on.  I know they're busy and that they may not always be able to tell me what to make for dinner or hang out on the cell phone while I shop for underwear at the mall, but I feel fuller knowing they're out there in the world and that they're MINE.  MY sisters.

We Are Family... I Got All My Sistas With Me...


My parents got a pug puppy soon after they moved to Texas because my dad had a fantasy of driving a pick-up with a little pug (like Frank in "Men in Black") on his lap.  Hence, their pug is named Frankie. It's kind of cute that they now have a furry "daughter" since we are all grown up and moved away, but... when my mom tells my kids to "say goodbye to your Aunt Frankie" or says things like "Frankie's glad to see her sister" (meaning moi!), well, I think maybe it's gone a little too far...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Big Fat Texan Christmas

My kids are half-Jewish, which means that we usually don't go overboard at Christmas because they've already had "8 crazy nights" of Hanukkah.  Not this year.  This year is the "go big or go home" Christmas at my folks' house in Texas.  A few snaps:

Christmas eve PJs

Sorting presents

Before the mayhem

Emme's "longhorn" Xmas presents (the bag reads "It's okay, I'm a Texan")

My niece Bethany ("Bobbi Nicole Stinkypants" to us) and her new J. Beebs doll

A real Texan Xmas gift for my dad: a new Dremel tool

My mom's book, titled "Momma Loves Her Some Eggnog"

Serena, complaining of a stomach ache.  Some kids can't handle Christmas...

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Road Less Traveled


This is 15 minutes from my house, walking slowly up a muddy hill, then down the other side, past a sign that says "No Trespassing" and shimmying through a narrow break in the fence.  My dog and I rarely see anyone else here, though a few days ago we did stop and wait for two coyotes to pass the trail 20 yards ahead of us.  There are a few houses clinging to the hill east of this trail, but we can't see them past the oaks and brush.  

It's quiet here, just a few noises. The soft suss-suss of a light drizzle on treetops, raindrops falling from leaf to leaf. Birds winging from one tree to the next. My boots on gravel.  Gibby's breath as it steams into a cloud in front of his snout.

It feels so remote that I occasionally plunge my fingers into the pocket of my rain jacket, just reassuring myself that my phone is still there, that I can still reach the real world if I need to.  My imagination swirls around my brain like marbles in a pinball maze.  Questions arise, ranging from those that my kids would wonder ("Did Indian live in these canyons? How long ago? Are there a lot of coyote dens here?") to the paranoid crazy warnings that my mother-bear instinct screams at me ("Are you sure there aren't wild bands of crazed heroin addicts or a Manson cult living behind that big oak tree, waiting to attack errant hikers? What will you do if a coyote attacks your dog? Are those holes where snakes live?").

Deep breaths.  One foot in front of the other.  I can't say that it will all be okay, but here I am, better just to keep walking, hoping we make it out alive.

When we do, I am always stunned by how quickly we are enveloped by the real world again.  Trucks roar past us.  Donkeys blare up from their stables. Over the hill, the freeway rushes by our neighborhood.  Same as always.

Or not.  I'm reminded of that poem -- Robert Frost? -- about taking the road less traveled.  And that, the poem goes, has made all the difference.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Mightier Have Fallen, Too

This is me a few weeks ago.  I was showing my kids how to sand surf at Zuma.  And I was pretty good at it, too.  This was on a small, not-so-steep, rather smooth slope.  I'm goofy-footed (right foot forward) on a surfboard and this is how I tend to look on ocean waves (hopefully with a better expression on my face).


Yesterday, I attempted the same thing, only I was on the other side of the sand berm, facing a steeper, choppier (i.e., not smooth) slope.  I positioned myself regular-footed (left foot forward) and held onto the lead of the boogey board and pointed myself downward.


Only I didn't bend my knees and get low.  And I didn't prevent the board from getting wedged in the sand.  And I let my back leg (the right one, which I should have had in front anyway) pop off the board and get stuck at an impossible angle uphill... while I was still going downhill.  


I heard a weird pop/click in my right knee and stayed there in the sand for a few moments.  Raf laughed, then didn't.  I laughed, then didn't.  "Oh shit," I thought.  "Really?  After a lifetime of no broken bones..."

But then I stood up and it felt okay.  Not great.  A little swollen.  A slight limp.  But okay.  Nothing a little ibuprofen and rest and ice can't solve.  This morning, it's more painful, but I'm hopeful that I'll be back in yoga and at Bar Method later this week, trying to stave off holiday poundage.


Here's the lesson, though: I've been battling with my age lately.  I've talked shit about my body and my "ailing" health for comedic effect.  But I realize that I've taken pretty gosh darn good care of myself, ingesting fish oil and flax seed daily, eating cleaner, walking every morning (except this one) with the dog for a half-hour or more, staying flexible.  And so this little "injury" is no big deal.  It could have been really bad, but it's not.  


So, again, I'm grateful. It could have happened on a not-so-busy week -- I'm trying to figure out how to get big boxes to UPS and how to manage the 5th grade gingerbread party without putting weight on my right leg -- but I'm lucky. 


Another lesson: leave the sand surfing to the kids!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Teenage Obsession


I am more than a little obsessed with Arcade Fire lately. I got the CD "The Suburbs" as one of my KCRW membership premiums, mostly because I liked the title and the idea of suburbs and urban sprawl. I felt weird about it, though; I had declared my distaste for Arcade Fire when their first album was being touted as the 2nd coming of Christ by the mainstream (and blog-underground) media critics. They quickly were known as "critical darlings," and that sort of freaked me out. I mean, I like K$sha and Justin Timberlake plenty, thank you very much, but when it comes to my LOVES in music, I didn't want to commit myself to a band that everybody loved, just because everybody loved it.

That, and I didn't quite "get" it.

The music was dour, the lead singer's voice was gravelly and slow, the lyrics contained a little too much angst for my post-adolescent lifestyle. And so I waited a long, long time to even give Arcade Fire their due.

And so...

During one of my morning walks with the dog, I put my iPod on shuffle and began to roam the hills behind our house, gliding past horses and trees and whispering leaves and the smell of early-morning fireplaces. I was trekking up the small hill that's guarded by the white lab who barks at Gibby, who stops to pee on the bushes across the street while the barking ensues, when a nice strong beat rang into my earphones. A girl's high voice, angelic, sad, matter-of-fact, sang dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains and there's no end in sight... And right there, I was hooked. It was like someone finally put words to the feeling I'd had about my previous life in the Valley. (Okay, I need to clarify that I don't seriously believe I live in the sticks now, but it is a very different lifestyle than what we had in Sherman Oaks, a little more natural and rustic, not to mention the horses and snakes.)


Anyway, so I heard this girl sing and realized it was Arcade Fire, which I had previously thought was strictly a guy with a weird haircut backed by a band of art school dorks. Then I saw them play "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" on Saturday Night Live and the singer, a sparkly Gilda Radner type who sounded and moved like Bjork, was mesmerizing.  I even made my kids watch it with me, to see if I was just imagining the majesty.  When they began to make me play the song repeatedly in the car, I knew it wasn't just me. 


And the rest of the album is just as freakin' good, with tales of modern-day isolation and the frustration of trying to make real, tangible connections in the email/texting age.  Plus, there's a sort of early Depeche Mode synthesizer thing on a few of the songs that knocks me out, and a nod to the Rolling Stones on another song, and and and... 


See? I'm geeking out and sure, I'm a little late to the party.  I did this with The White Stripes and Smashing Pumpkins, too, so Arcade Fire is in good company.  The great upside to this newfound obsession with an established band is that I can dive into the earlier CDs while I wait for the next album to come out...


Not that you're a geek like me, but if you watch this video of "We Used to Wait," which is full of angst and artistic rage, just imagine me at 15 or even 22...  I would have given up everything to just follow Arcade Fire around so that I could be lucky enough for the lead guy to tightrope walk on the back of my stadium chair... 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Grateful Prayer (In Spite of My Own Idiocy)

Dear God (and may I say that it's interesting now to call you that after a decade or so of trying out "Divine Being," "The Universe," and merely looking up to the heavens and shrugging? Who knows what/who you are, really.  May as well make it simpler on myself and just call you by your monosyllabic moniker, right?):


Thank you for keeping me safe, helping me to help others and for not taking it all too seriously.  I'm grateful that Raf was home to answer my call when my car stalled close to home and I had an SUV-load of groceries and perishables in the back, hoping to restock our abysmally empty fridge after a holiday weekend in Vegas (and I'm grateful also for his lucky streak at the craps tables, by the way; it makes a man feel good to win once in a while, even at a crazy game of chance).  


I'm grateful that I renewed my AAA membership again 18 months ago, for the peace of mind that it gives me when something like this happens.  I'm grateful that the tow truck driver was kind and didn't laugh when I said, "Oh, it might either be that I'm out of gas or my alternator exploded."  I'm grateful that Raf had come back after unloading the groceries and was able to take the tow truck man's gas can to the station - literally a half-block away - and get some gas for me.  


I'm grateful that the tow truck driver was so nice that when I said, "What should I be doing?" he said, "The best thing for you is to just sit in your car and relax.  We'll take care of this." In talking with him while we waited for Raf - he was recently laid off from a great job and now earns $8 an hour - I felt grateful for the security that we feel in our life.  As he spoke about a previous job as an EMT in Watts and Compton, I again felt enormously grateful for the quiet, safe neighborhood where my kids are growing up among the horses and trees.


I'm grateful that when Raf was returning and made an illegal U-turn in front of the lady police officer, I was only a quarter-block away from him as he waited for her to give him a ticket, and that she let him move his truck up so that I could fill my tank.  I'm grateful that she relented and didn't give him a full-on moving violation ticket, just an "unsafe maneuver" sort of a ticket so that it wasn't as expensive (as she explained, she wants the streets to be safer for all of us... and I'm grateful that she actually seemed to mean it).  


I'm grateful that, yes, it was only an empty gas tank and not an explosive alternator.  And even though the tow truck driver said, "Hey, and you're not even blonde," I'm grateful that I had the means (thank you, Vegas) to give him a healthy tip at the beginning of the holidays.


I'm grateful that I got to get back on the road in time to volunteer in Serena's class and then pick up my kids and their mom for another precious day because of all of this safety and security.  And I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to acknowledge it, once again.


Amen.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving - Giving Thanks




There are a few too many things in my life to be thankful for, and so I won't make a list. I'd prefer to use this space to remind you, my favorite people and dear readers, of the things that keep you going when it's too much and the people and experiences and moments that inspire and delight you. Because that's what it's all about, isn't it? When it's said and done, and our moment in this life is over, it may only be these things that "live" on.

And for that, I'd like to say thanks.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Giving 'Em What They Deserve

Pool slide, 3 trampolines and a tree-house 
This is my backyard - or, at least, the very kid-friendly part of it at the back.  There's a pool slide, three trampolines (one for each kid, and they alternately share and fight over them) and, as of yesterday, the beginnings of a tree house/fort in the big pine tree that shades us.  It is fairly spectacular for kids and, in some ways, it makes me a little envious.


Sand surfing at Zuma
I've heard this sentiment from other parents from time to time, too: Why, if I had had just a fraction of the stuff my kids have, I'd never complain!  Or My parents would never have gotten this for me, [insert kid's name], aren't you lucky?

Well, yeah, they are lucky.  But, as I've said before, maybe they deserve it.  I'm not talking about giving a kid every single thing in the world that they want, building up an annoying sense of entitlement.  No way, that's not it at all.  I'm only suggesting that, if you can give something special to your child that you know (s)he really wants, why not?
Emme's first riding lesson


I listened to a phenomenal podcast from This American Life yesterday about the love between a parent and child, and the chilling life-long effects of children who do NOT have an attached bond to their parent when they are babies.  I won't do the podcast justice here - you'll have to listen for yourself - but there was one story of a Romanian orphan who'd lived in a crib (only getting out of it to go to the bathroom or to eat), never going outside, and sharing the crib with another child for 7 1/2 years! That fact alone made me want to cry, but when this boy finally was adopted by a couple from the midwest, he had severe problems that stemmed from his inability to bond with other people.  He would hurt his mother and smile and lived in a state of complete hatred that, if he'd had a "normal" conscience, would have consumed him.  But he could not feel empathy, and therefore he could inflict pain on others without feeling anything. The huge breakthrough treatment for this 10-year-old child - whose parents had used mental illness professionals and medication to try to help him, and had had to hire a bodyguard at one point to keep him from hurting his mother - was to simulate the infant bonding experience.  And so for 8 weeks, the mother and son were required to be within 3 feet of each other at all times (except when using the bathroom and sleeping), and to make complete eye contact during any interaction.  His "punishment," if he didn't make eye contact or said mean things, for example, was to sit next to his mother on the couch and be hugged for an extended period of time.  And, after about 3 weeks, it began to work. I didn't finish listening to the podcast, so I'll have to make sure that everything worked out well - sometimes This American Life surprises me with its endings - but this bit alone was enough for me to chew on.


I feel guilty about "not doing enough" for my girls from time to time.  But, after listening to this, I remembered that they were so well loved as babies and are so hugged and cherished on a daily basis - loved so much that I am perhaps too strict with them about their friends and behavior, because I want for them to be citizens of the world rather than self-important Valley girls or aloof, indulged American kids.  After all is said and done, though, they are good people.  Good enough for a tree house and a trampoline and a pool slide... and all the hugs and kisses that Raf and I can give them.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Expansive Oneness (Joy in the Little Things)

I don't know if this post will make any sense, but I'll give it a go anyway.  A few days ago, I listened to a Ted Talk on my iPhone featuring Jill Bolte-Taylor, a renown neuroscientist who had a stroke several years ago.  It took her 8 years to fully recover her faculties, to walk and speak and be "normal" again. The fascinating part is, here is a woman who made it her life to study the brain and then she had the unique opportunity to study her own brain while it was having a stroke... and, miraculously, lived to tell about it.


She talks about the two sides of the brain: the left one, which is rational and keeps us on schedule and makes sure that our separate uniqueness (I'd even call this the "ego") stands up for itself; and the right one, which is more creative and free-thinking, able to literally think out of the box and sense the energies of all the molecules (people, things) around us.  The right one, to paraphrase her, enables us to be a part of the "expansiveness" of the universe, the connective tissue that binds us to each other and everything.


I got chills when I heard this.  It's as if all the struggling that we do in our lives comes from within, battling between the desire for connection on a cellular or molecular level and the need to keep it all in check so that we can live in the real world and keep gas in the car, pick the kids up on time, have enough savings in our bank accounts.  And it made me think about all the times when I feel like I'm juggling a million things and activities in order to get to a place (a party or an event or even just home for dinner) so that I can simply melt into the experience of the moment.  These moments, strung together, create a life.

Bolte-Tayler talks about the moment when she felt that she was dying, leaving her physical body.  In most circles, I've heard that called an "out of body experience," but she describes it as more of an "in the body" experience, a moment in which she felt so connected with everything else in the universe that the letting go actually enabled her to embrace and expand to her limitless existence.  And she doesn't talk at all about fear or commitments or responsibility.  She talks of love.

I cry at everything, so it will not suprise anyone that tears streamed down my face as I heard Jill Bolte-Taylor's voice crackle when trying to describe the awesome power of that experience.  But my mind had wandered, to Max.  I wondered, if he had taken an Ambien to go to sleep on his final night, had he been conscious enough to experience that Expansive Oneness when he passed away?  If that is the ultimate moment of love and awareness in  life, was he able to enjoy it and feel it and at least float into his next adventure with the knowledge that the love he'd created in this lifetime would continue on after his physical body had stopped working?  Was he able to feel the joy of all of the little things he'd seen/been/done in his life?

And how far did his soul stretch when it was no longer limited by his body?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Fortieth Year

Halloween 2010
NYE 2008
So, to look at the photos I've chosen, along with the title of this post, you'd think I was EXCITED about turning 40 next year.  Well, you'd be half-correct.  


I suppose I'm thrilled to have gotten to that place where, yeah, I "know better."  I know better than to drink too much at a party when I have to get up with the kids and walk the dog the next morning.  I know better than to make an illegal U-turn in front of my kids' school... and I accept full responsibility when I slip up and do it anyway.  I know better than to buy every new season's fashion trends (although buying a couple of them do make my closet seem happier).  I know I need to use sunscreen religiously -- with a hat -- or else I'll look like the crypt keeper before too long.  I know that if I decide to hack off my hair into a pixie cut, it will be a slow, painful growing-out process.  I know that I'm better off being on this side of my 30s (the late side) than on the other one, when I was still trying so hard to figure my shit out.


But now I'm in the throes of my 40th year.  Sure, as Raf keeps reminding me, I just turned 39 in August.  But I realized that, if babies are considered to be in their 1st year throughout those first 12 months of their lives outside the womb, then I'm already in my 40th year, calendar be damned.  Yes, yes, I like that I'm still in my 30s, no need to rush to the "finish line" of 40, blah blah, but this 40th year thing is driving me a little nuts.


I'm trying to tease it out.  Why are you menacing me?  I'll ask this shadow of 40, as it pops up and sits next to me while I'm having a quiet cup of coffee.  I have months to go before I have to let you into my house.


I want you to take stock, 40 says, whispering in my ear.  What do you want to do?  Then 40 does an impression of the caterpillar from "Alice in Wonderland," puffing on a pipe and asking, Who ARE you?


I am me.  That's all.  I'm a different me than I was at 20 -- hence the creams and vitamin C serum and crazy ballet-style class and cleaner diet -- but I don't think I'd go back to 20 unless I could bring my 39-year-old's point-of-view with me.  And there's the rub, right? 


So I guess it's on, 40.  Bring it.  You have 10 months to prepare, and so do I.  I'll be ready.  Will you?



Thursday, October 28, 2010

Old Dog, New Tricks

If you know me, you know that I used to be overly involved.  In everything: my kids' school (oh how involved I was in room parenting, PTA, fundraising, email communications and everything in-between), their activities (soccer team mom, snack bar volunteer), my friends (coffees, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, drinks, emails, long chats on the phone, yoga classes, fitness classes, parties, book club, consulting with one another on local gossip, hot topics, nail polishes), my family (special occasions, who needs to bring what to said occasions, gift giving, picnics, birthdays, holidays), my house (redecorating, remodeling, thinking about planting new colors in the garden, wanting to buy new sheets or pots and pans, repainting one room, then another)... on and on.  I could write a long laundry list (yes, I forgot to add laundry), but it would bore you.  And me.  I can't do it anymore.


I'm learning to say "no."  It's hard to admit this, but I think I had to move away from my own life -- physically, geographically -- to gain perspective.  


Yes, I've volunteered to be in Marlowe's class one morning each week.  And I'm one of Emme's room parents, which has taken up a lot of time this week.  But these activities directly impact my kids and that makes me feel like it was okay to say "yes," this time.


However, when a new mom-friend of mine at the school said that they were looking for someone to be a yard supervisor in the afternoon -- just for a half-hour, paid -- I heard myself say "NO!" before I could stop and think of a nicer way to put it.  But I couldn't bear to not be heard or understood.  Watch a yard full of 1st to 3rd graders for a half-hour?  No way, Jose.  In general, I don't even like other people's kids, not even if the job entails an orange vest and a regulation whistle.  It would be another commitment and I'm not that person anymore.


As my dad, a born-again Texan, would say, That dog won't hunt.  No sir, it won't.  THIS dog is busy learning new tricks.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Oh No, She Di-int (And Oh No, She Won't)

Emme, Marlowe & Serena (Picture by Marlowe)
Last night, I snuggled up to Serena before bedtime and asked what was new.  We talked about gymnastics and her teacher and the 4th grade trip to Sacramento in the spring.  Then I remembered that Raf told me she'd mentioned having "a thing" with one of her new friends at PE -- the friend called Serena a "show-off" when she did a cartwheel -- so I asked her about it.


Now, every day when I walk Gibby around the neighborhood, I try to listen to a podcast and yesterday I happened upon a recent one on This American Life called "Frenemies," detailing how we befriend -- and maintain relationships with -- people who are overly competitive, push and pull us, and are generally abusive in ways that are both subtle and overt.  One surprising detail, mentioned at the very beginning of the podcast, was a scientific study that found that nearly half of all of the subjects' relationships caused great stress and anxiety, even the relationships that the subjects had with people that they love (BFFs, family members).  The study charted the blood pressure of its subjects over the course of three days throughout EVERY interaction they had with other people.  The finding? That blood pressure rose much higher when they interacted with "frenemies" than with actual enemies or people they just didn't like.  Hmmm....


So, back to Serena... 


I asked her about the incident and she sort of shrugged and recounted a few other times in which the girl (I'll call her Annie) and another one (let's call her Betty) were blatantly unkind.  Rather than being shocked or upset or crying, she was methodical and observant.  She told me about an incident a week ago in which she was sitting at a lunch table with the girls and Betty told Serena to go sit at the other end to "block the view of an ugly guy."  Serena thought she was joking, but after a few minutes, she did so.  Annie, who is also sort of new to this sort of mean-girl behavior, finally said, "Serena, come back and sit with us." But Betty told her not to, which confused Serena, especially if Annie and Betty claimed to be her "friends."  


After I considered the situation a little more -- and keeping in mind that I could dismiss it as "girl behavior," which I've heard time and again, but which rankles my core because I disagree with it -- I finally told her, "That's bullying.  It may not seem like it and I doubt Annie and Betty understand that they're doing it, but now you know it and you can choose not to be a part of it."  Serena, unfortunately, has had some experience with girl bullying, and I knew that word would inspire her to see the situation more clearly.  After I said that, Serena told me there is another girl in her class who was the "slave" of yet another girl... And it was clear to me that Serena knew what that meant and why it was pitiful.


The good thing is that these girls are not the only game in town.  There are several other sweet girls in Serena's class and these two may actually wise up and get tired of their own in-fighting and be sweet again, too.  But that's not my concern.  My concern is raising a strong, confident woman who does not sway to the whims of a weaker person.


And so I've decided not to even let this moment slide.  After school, I'm going to mention it to Serena's teacher, kindly, not asking for anything, just allowing myself to share an observation that may help keep other girls from wasting their self-esteem.


Amen.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Life Happens

EAT DESSERT FIRST!
Yesterday, a dear friend of mine relayed the story of an unfortunate event that happened last Friday and consumed her time and energy for the better part of the weekend.  I don't need to tell you the details, because all of us have those moments when illness or tragedy or heartbreak or financial woes or disappointment or what-have-you gets "in the way" of life.  I was about to say, "I'm so sorry that you had to go through that" or "Yikes, bad luck," but instead what tumbled out of my mouth was, "Wow, you had a big bunch of life this weekend."


She smiled at me; she gets it.  Not every day is the one where you get a phone call from someone saying you've won a trip to Hong Kong.  Some days you're more likely to get a call from the school nurse announcing that your middle child has lice.  And then you still have to go home and help everyone with homework and dinner and maybe you'll watch a good TV show together before bed and you'll hug each other good-night and it will all start fresh again in the morning.  Some days are good and others are so-so and others make your eyes red from tears.  But this is all part of it.  


Raf and I were laughing last night about how, in our 20s, we are waiting for our lives "to begin," and now, in our late 30s and early 40s, we are scrambling with the knowledge that our lives have ALWAYS been... and now how do we make the most of what life doles out to us?


For instance, last week I took Emme to see Broken Bells, one of our favorite bands, at the Wiltern.  It was a late birthday present and we were anticipating it for weeks.  We left early enough to go to Fred 62 for dinner (French toast and mashed potatoes for her, pho noodle soup for me) and then we were rounding the left turn from Western onto Wilshire when she told me she had to puke.  No, really.  After I finally parked and we entered the Wiltern, and went back and forth to the bathroom three times, wading through the fabulous older hipster crowd (utterly my peeps - I even saw one of my yoga teachers), I texted Raf: "WHAT DO I DO?"


He replied: "You'll do the right thing."


Which meant leaving during the opening act (Autolux, another KCRW fave) so that Emme could throw up, unashamed, in the comfort of our own car.  With no traffic and her stomach settled, we could talk about the things that matter.  She told me about missing her Uncle Max and we talked about the beach house.  "Maybe we weren't supposed to have it anymore," she said in her 10-year-old wisdom, understanding the complex nature of the universe more profoundly than most elderly people.  We both came to realize that maybe the anticipation of going to see a concert alone with her mom -- something she wanted so much -- was too powerful and made her too nervous to handle.  Instantly, she felt at ease, knowing I wasn't disappointed in her and that we had already had a nice evening together, even without the "main show" of the Broken Bells.


My friend, the one who had the big bunch of life last weekend, said, "I'll bet that if you'd actually seen Broken Bells, you wouldn't have had that moment with Emme."  


And that's exactly what I mean.  Maybe it's not the "main attractions" that we're supposed to experience, but the smaller, quieter moments that come before, after or in lieu of the main shows.  I wonder, also, if sometimes those main attractions -- with their fireworks and sparkly lights and pomp and circumstance -- merely distract us from the sweetness of the not-so-attractive bits of life, which are unheralded but just as significant.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Rainy Days and Mondays



I am not generally a rainy day person; this is probably evident in most of my blog posts and I'm sure you've guessed it by now.  I would probably not make it through a winter -- or any other season -- in Seattle.  I am happiest when the sun is shining, regardless of whether it's hot or cold outside, even though I do have a kick-ass pair of black-and-hot-pink striped rain wellies and faux-fur-lined Kamiks for chillier wet days. But I'm changing, a little.

When we lived in the Valley, on "the grid," I used to dread rainy days... the bewildered rushing water in the suburban gutters, the puddles in the cracks of the asphalt, the pool flooding, the precarious way that we Angelenos drive in the rain.  I could never find a working umbrella -- I am somewhat known for throwing broken ones back into the umbrella bucket in the garage when the sun comes out and then scrambling to fix the sharp spokes when the next rainstorm hits -- and my kids have never owned rain jackets.  Even during that crazy El Nino year when my oldest girls were in preschool and we had to practically wade through a flood to get out of the car for two weeks, I didn't get the hang of living in the rain.  I hate being wet.  I hate the dark, cloudy days.  I hate the perpetual Monday morning feeling of rain.


Until now, that is.  This morning, I had to take the dog on a walk.  He drank a ton of water before bed last night and wouldn't go outside when Raf opened the door... and I figured a wet morning wouldn't kill me.  Quite the contrary.  It was quiet and smelled fresh and clean outside.  Gibby and I quickly got the hang of the weather -- he's a Lab, after all -- and I was surprised by how much I loved the sound of the rain dropping from leaf to leaf above us in the trees that we passed.  27 minutes later, we were home and I had to send my apologies to the late great Karen Carpenter.  Rainy days no longer get me down.


Now, I'll turn my attention to Mondays.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Weddings

Twelve years after our own wedding, I think Raf and I are happy to attend weddings without the stress of it all.  I was my own version of a Bridezilla, wanting to do everything by myself.  Raf and I spent hours stringing wires around Mason jars to hang in the trees as candle holders, we made bows for each and every invitation, I wrote a poem for him and a loooooong-winded program that were printed on vellum and placed on a table at the entrance.  I sewed feathery fake butterflies to my veil and hand-picked a band to play 1960s soul music.  The effect was beautiful and exactly what I wanted.  But by midnight, the party was over and my bridal daydreams turned back into pumpkins, which have become now become three little pumpkin pies for whom I will one day play the Mother of the Bride.  Happily.  


Over the weekend, we attended the wedding of my youngest cousin, Julie, the daughter of my beloved Aunt Carolyn.  Julie is luminous on a daily basis -- one of her nicknames is Tinkerbell, among many, many others -- and her 1930s-inspired wedding was just another opportunity for all of us to bask in her light.  Her husband, Shane, glows as brightly, and it was a pleasure to celebrate the world that they've created.


When the wedding began, it was hot in the sun, so many of us decided not to sit "on the bride's side," preferring instead to sit behind the groom's family.  Inadvertently, I got a beautiful view of my Aunt Carolyn (in the bottom left of this photo) watching her youngest child at the altar.  I love this picture because Carolyn is crying happy tears and Julie is looking at her future, in Shane's face.  Once I was in Julie's place, and someday I will be in Carolyn's place.  


No wonder I always cry at weddings.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wishes Granted Daily

My friend Kendra and I saw necklaces like this one at the Rose Bowl Flea Market a few months ago and had to have them.  Ours are cooler, I think, with the golden wishbones hanging from a thin string, much like the ones that hold wish bracelets together.  That's probably why I wanted it so badly; I thought that if I made a wish on it, then when the string finally gave way, I'd get my wish.  Like honking your horn or holding your breath in a tunnel or blowing out birthday candles.  Superstitious, but still: I made a wish when I put it on in June. 

My wish?  To travel.

Now, I knew that I'd be traveling to Europe in the summertime, a trip that was marvelous beyond words.  But I suppose I was hoping for another Italy trip, or even a weekend jaunt to San Diego. I get greedy like that.  I love to travel, sometimes just for the sense of "home" that it provides when you return.

The other day, I remembered this wish and had to smile at all my fortune: I have several trips ahead of me this year, starting with this weekend's quick getaway in Orange County for a family wedding.  There's a Christmas gathering at my parents' place in Texas and an unexpected journey to Italy.  We made plans to go to Mexico for my cousin's wedding in May and will return to Maui for my 40th next summer.  On top of all of that, I received a phone call from my favorite radio station, KCRW, telling me that my name was chosen in their sweepstakes.  My prize?  A trip to Hong Kong!

I talked to a friend the other day who is pregnant with her first baby and she said, "Rub some of that good luck on me."  I told her that I would, but that she's already got it.  A baby is a journey in itself.  And, in that respect, I've been on three parallel journeys with my girls for the past decade - and those are far more exciting and exotic than taking a plane ride anywhere else. 

But the wishing... Is that as important as the granted wish?  I'm thinking that it just might be.  The wishing feels like stirring up stardust, and the granted wishes feel like gold sprinkles on top of life's buttercream frosting.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ending an Era

Sometimes I think you just can't anticipate how you'll feel about something until it's over, kaput, never gonna come back again.


"I'm sorry, I didn't want to upset you," Raf said on the other end of our conversation.  It had been a 2-way dialogue until I'd choked on my words.  I had, ironically, also been saying the words "I'm sorry."


The beach house is in escrow and, if all goes well, it will close next week and soon it will become another family's getaway and the site of new, happy times.  But for someone else.  Our family's time there is over. 


The beach house was my father-in-law Isaac's playground, the natural extension of his wealth and desire to live a semi-retired lifestyle once he'd "made it."  He had created the other house in Sherman Oaks as his dream home, a place to raise a young family, but Malibu called him back to a fisherman/poet part of his personality.  And so he lived on precarious stilts at the edge of the glittering Pacific, savoring the sun's journey across the sky from Santa Monica to Point Dume through his floor-to-ceiling windows, living out the last of his days with his scruffy dog Alaska, losing the names of his famous neighbors in the translation between his native Hebrew and adopted American English language ("Chuck DuChamp," for instance, turned out to be John Cusack). 


When we got married, he moved back to Malibu from Sherman Oaks and his beach house became the site of every-other-Sunday BBQs, Jewish holidays and family occasions.  After he died and we renovated the house, it became a renewed, modern version of Isaac's legacy and we were all happy to continue to have it in the family as a getaway when it wasn't being rented.  After Max passed away, though, it lost a lot of its sparkle.  It's hard to want to go there now, despite the gorgeous location and the way that Malibu glows when it's sunny. 


I'd wondered how Raf could be so anxious to sell the house immediately after his brother's passing, but his gut reaction was just that.  He couldn't stand to be there, remembering how he'd found his brother, thinking of all the good times we'd had there and how they were now inexplicably, irreversibly gone.  However, now that the end could be merely a few days away and everything is being boxed up and moved out, it's suddenly real and visceral.  I knew I'd be sad, but when Raf admitted his own sadness, I was overcome and unable to speak.


We've said it over and over, but we're now ourselves, Version 2.0.  Without the moorings of the Sherman Oaks house or the Malibu beach house, I don't know that we can still be the "same" as before.  Not that it's bad, it's just different.  I'm just trying to remind myself, over and over, about the Anais Nin quote: And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

I just hope that blossoming will, eventually, be less painful.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Farming, Erin's version

My girls and I picked these tomatoes a few weeks ago, at a nearby farm where I get much of my produce. That's my intention, anyway, to eat as much locally grown fruits and veggies (and honey, etc.) as possible; in essence, to become more of a locavore. And so Emme and Nina and I descended upon Underwood Family Farms in late August to pick our own produce... with my sneaky under-the-radar motive to get my kids to understand what's involved in farming and bringing food to the table.

This is not a new concept, I know, but it's still fairly new to me. There was point, a few years back, when I finally realized that, by purchasing a blandly off-red, not-so-tasty Roma tomato in the middle of winter, I am essentially paying for the fossil fuel to transport it here before it ripens on the vine AND tipping the demand side of the supply/demand equation in such a way that tomatoes are created using hybrid seeds that can, yes, resist frost with tougher skins, but lose the very soul of their species. When I first heard about GMOs -- genetically modified organisms -- I shrugged my shoulders and said, "So what? Capitalism isn't so bad. This way, everyone can eat tomatoes year-round and they are less susceptible to freezing temperatures and bugs. What's the big deal?"

The big deal is that, when I finally ate an heirloom tomato from a local farmer's market, I nearly cried. The taste was juicy and unlike anything I could remember tasting in the US... though I'd eaten fresh produce daily when we lived in Italy in my teen years. (One of my mom's biggest complaints about Europe was about the small size of their refrigerators; however, there should be no need to keep leftovers since everything is so fresh and delicious that there is usually nothing left over!) And I'm not even scratching the surface about how GMOs adversely affect the environment and our bodies.

Like Marie Antoinette, who had her own little farmlet in Versailles (run by servants), I have wanted to indulge in the fantasy of farming and living off the land. I have enough space in my yard to do it, but... the truth is that I'm lazy and unmotivated and not sure that I have the stick-to-it-ness to actually get a crop or two to live through a season. And so it is that I am grateful for Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark for offering pick-your-own produce. I can wheel my barrow down the rows and pick what's in season, get my hands into the soil and become acquainted with the growing seasons and the cycle of a farm, then take everything home and make amazing dinners that taste farm-fresh... Without all the hard work.

Because, as much as I want to be good for the environment and my family and myself, I know that I'll do it if it's convenient. This way, we all win.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Luminosity

I have this friend, the woman in the picture, who is simply, purely luminous. Look at her. I had to use a black-and-white filter just to make the picture a little less sparkly, so that you could look at it without sunglasses or squinting. Anyway, it was her birthday and she turned... well, I don't really know how old she is. I can't tell. One moment, she's giving really great advice about motherhood or bending a compassionate ear about life's struggles or writing an amazing essay about a homeless guy she's seen down the street. And then the next moment, she'll tell you a joke her 9-year-old son's friend told her that day and then she'll laugh until you laugh and then you're both laughing so hard you're crying, then you're nearly peeing your pants and later neither of you can even remember the punch line. She's that woman. And she's such a bright star. Wouldn't you be clapping, too?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Six!

I can't believe that my "baby" is six, but I hope that all of her crazy, mercurial, opinionated, perfectionist, detail-oriented, culinary-talented, silly, Virgo, funny-face-making, mega-watt smiling, stuffed animal-loving energy will remain constant as she grows up. When we decided to add a third little birdie to our nest, we had no idea what we were in store for... And she continues to keep us guessing.

In fact, her birthday was such a big deal to her this year that we celebrated for a few days straight, taking two friends out for a fun playdate over the weekend, then giving goody bags to new classmates and soccer teammates, then capping the whole shebang off with a birthday sushi dinner at Iroha in Studio City (her choice; that kid has great taste). She may be high-maintenance, but I can't help it... I like her. Waiting for her to smile again is a favorite pasttime of mine. Five was really fun -- even if it was somewhat trying -- and I am excited about six. What new things will she try? What will she learn? Will she always kiss her mama goodnight?

(Sidenote about photo: She's blowing out candles on a spoonful of chocolate chip cookie dough. See what I mean about mercurial?)

Friday, September 3, 2010

iLove

I have broken up with my CrackBerry and have fallen in deep lust with my iPhone 4.

Like a deck of cards that fits perfectly in the palm of my hand, my iPhone is full of possibilities that shuffle around like a magician's sleight-of-hand trick in Vegas. Pretty pictures made prettier with hipster filters, FaceTime with my friends' 15-year-old (one of my few friends with an iPhone 4). Apps for music, apps for games, apps that inspire, apps that keep track of the balance on my Starbucks card, apps that practically wipe my butt and wash my hands afterward.

There's a lot of newness in my house lately and I always find myself a little resistant when it comes to truly embracing change, and this was no exception. Though I'd secretly desired an iPhone since its inception and had watched helplessly as my husband abandoned his dinosaur Nokia flip phone and became an iPhone cultist over the past two years, I'd resisted the tug toward "easy" rather than "practical."

All I do is call and text, I'd said to myself. It would be wasted on me.

And the first few days that I had my new phone, I left it in the box, afraid to touch it. Afraid of its power. Intimidated, for sure. What if it doesn't like me? What if I can't figure it out? And when I did finally plug it in, it was a little too easy for me. I was used to my BlackBerry's menu-driven interface which, like a regular PC, demanded that I always return to the main menu, closing out files and folders as I went along so that everything would be in its neat, proper place when I needed it again.

But my iPhone is like a designer's desk, messy and full of seemingly disorganized chaos, a baker's case of goodies that you want to dive right into. There are apps and docs and messages flying all around all the time. There's music playing in the background when my mom calls me to ask for a picture of the new dog, which I take while we're chatting and manipulate to look like an old Polaroid photo, then email it to her before we're off the phone. If I get lost on a hike in my new 'hood, I can pull up Google Earth to find myself... if I want to. It's all good, my iPhone says to me. I know where you are. Play some Biggy Smalls and we'll get you back on track soon enough.

My iPhone is still new, so maybe one day this lust will simmer down into a warm, comfortable companionship and I'll be able to keep my hands off of it for at least a few minutes at a time.

Don't take this the wrong way, BlackBerry, but I don't miss you... Trust me, you did what you could and were the best you can be, but I've changed. I feel bad saying this, but I've moved on. It's not you... it's me.

Seeing Red (but in a good way)

I have written about my struggle to pursue a "better" school for my kids in our move to Agoura Hills and, in doing so, hoping to "pay it forward" so that they can get a kick-ass education, meet really nice friends, get good grades and go to a good (or great) college, find a career that they love and excel in it... Basically, my anxiety stems from a desire to do the right things now so that they will have happy, fruitful adult lives.

A little bit of pressure on myself, don't you think?

But finally, I am relaxing. Our kids have started at the school I chose for them and I believe, with all my heart, that it was the right choice. It just feels... right. The kids that my children have already gravitated to are nice kids, who politely introduced themselves to me and dragged their moms over, too. Not that it isn't an adjustment from the school they loved in the Valley.

The classrooms are small, my kids pointed out to me. Serena said, I'll bet my classroom is half the size of my old one.

Yeah, that's true, I said, but there are fewer students in each class. (Which is ironic for me to say because Las Virgenes has increased their class sizes to a ratio that is still smaller than the one in LAUSD; so while some parents are grumbling, I am singing praises. This increase may also be the reason our kids got into this school, which was trying to avoid split-grade classes.)

They shrugged and then told me how they could take their lunch and sit anywhere on campus that they wanted, a welcome change from their old school, where each class had an assigned table and lunch ladies who kept everyone in line. On my tour of the school, I had asked the principal about this and she'd said, They're good kids, why shouldn't they be allowed to choose their favorite lunch spot?

So this week has been about noticing the differences between what we know and what is our new normal. This morning, we remembered that Fridays are School Spirit Days at the girls' school, so they wore red shirts and prayed that other kids did the same. At 8:26 am, I got this text from Raf:

Whole school sings the Willow Pride song in the yard each Friday. It's got a lil dance to it, too. It was pretty cute. (Our girls) don't know the words so it was kind of a shock to us, but about 80% of the kids were sining and chanting P-R-I-D-E. Kinda cool.

If you've been reading this blog, you know that I loved our old school and was proud to be an involved parent there. But trying to convince other parents to feel the same way was like pushing a rock uphill, over and over. School spirit was not entirely absent, just not fervent. For high school, I lived overseas and went to schools in the Department of Defense "district" and the smaller student populations sometimes made for less-than-passionate school spirit; even my college was more of a commuter school, so great big football games and pep rallies were never an option.

Okay, accuse me of living vicariously through my kids, but something about this school spirit, with kids singing in unison and even proudly spelling out their P-R-I-D-E makes me gleeful. I saw a few SUVs driving around town this morning with Willow magnets on the back so I proudly slapped one on mine, too. If my kids are gonna be proud of their new school, Mama's gonna represent, too.