Saturday, November 20, 2010


Watched Avatar tonight.
The main character in the movie, Jake, is participating in some kind of top military project where he penetrates a virtual world for the mission. I don't know a lot more than that about the plot...wasn't really interested until the part where...
Jake is assigned an Avatar (this hybrid human, animal alien entity) that would enable him to penetrate this other "world." Jake is wheelchair bound, and his Avatar can walk, run, leap.

My Avatar would be able to see without glasses or contacts.
My Avatar would not get depressed
or compare herself to other mothers
and then get more depressed.
My Avatar could sit through a mind-numbing, soul killing, Thanksgiving-week ruining, meeting and walk out, unscathed.
My Avatar's daughter would look up at her: "Play with me, mommy?" And my Avatar would smile and nod and reach out her hand to her, every. time. They'd disappear into the rainbow.
My Avatar's son would never tell her he wished she weren't his mommy
and she'd never fail her husband
or sister
or mother.
or herself.

At the end of the movie, after the war between the "sky people" (humans) and the Avatars, Jake's soul is transferred from his human body to his Avatar's.
Of course he chooses the virtual world, right? I mean... he could WALK now.
It's only a matter a time before we really could escape permanently into a virtual world.
Sometimes I think the real reality has lost it's worth.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The first half of my creative writing class (which started in September), is now over and the next half is about to begin next week. It was a big class: 28 students, when usually it ends up being a core group of 15-20.

Among the highlights was the student who came to class loaded on those caffeinated alcohol drinks that are the rage apparently. I finally managed to get her escorted out of my room and into the main office...only she somehow (in her state) kept escaping the counselor and the security guards, and finding her way back to my classroom where she'd bang the door, demanding to get back in. First she said she'd left her stuff there. When I finally opened the door, she stood in front of the class, wobbling, pointing a finger in my face. "You're a BAAAAAD Lady," she said, before sliding onto the floor.

After like the third time she came back, I gave up and tossed the poems I was still trying to read.
"OK," I sighed, "I was gonna ignore it and go on but let's talk about what just happened..." Teenagers being teenagers, some said they thought it was funny. But most sat shuddering in their seats. There were several who had just finished stints in rehab, jail, even. Those students said there was nothing funny about it, and it served as a stark (broad daylight) reminder of how stupid they look when intoxicated like that.

And then there was what I now refer to as "The Factioning." I've taught the class for so long and this is one of the few times this has happened. I vaguely noticed the two groups forming as the class progressed, but it's natural for people to gravitate to people with whom they are more compatible with, in high school and IN LIFE. I didn't give it another thought until I got a call from the counselor. The two groups had gotten in an argument which had escalated and had all ended up in the counseling office.
Later, one of the students told me she wanted to drop the class. She said that what I'd said about the class was not true. It was NOT a safe place to be honest and free to write what you want, and not be judged. The argument she'd gotten into had revolved largely around stuff she had read in class. The opposing group had done just that: judged her by her stories.

It is the most important thing I try to drill into the students (and myself): treat the writing as just that: the writing. Once it is on paper, it is just a story, subject to faulty memory. DON'T JUDGE THE PERSON, JUDGE THE WRITING. If they can grasp this complex concept, then they could gain enough distance to write the hard stuff, the deep stuff of the heart, the REAL and ultimately, most touching stuff effectively. As for me, I have to remember this concept so that I can read their work and not fall apart. So that I can cope with such hard core stuff and continue to do this. It's worked for the most part, for the 8 years I've been teaching the class.

No one had ever said to me that it was not true. That really, there could be no such thing as this safe bubble I'd tried to create. It was hard to hear and I had no idea how to handle it.
A good friend who also teaches writing told me, "There are bone heads every where! Boneheads in high schools and boneheads in 'advanced' workshops! Boneheads in life!'"
It was a good reminder to get off it! Why would I think my class would be so flawless?  I decided all I could do is be honest with the students, as I ask them to be in their writing.
Thanks, Chi.

And so the second part of the class starts this week. Hopefully I can find a way to save some of my creative energy to write another blog before January, when the second half of the class ends...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Just Enough

Just enough so their stomachs don't growl
Just enough for him to tell the truth when he tells teacher he did his reading
Just enough so that they don't look at my sandaled toes and cringe
Just enough so that my hair and my smell don't scream "homeless lady."
Just enough so that my friends know I love them.
Just enough so that Savvy will someday have something good to say about her mommy when sitting around talking to her girlfriends
Just enough so that they walk into their classrooms clean, even though most times wrinkled
Just enough so that they remember the holidays at home
Just enough so they know I'm serious
Just enough so that they know I'm not always serious
Just enough so that I don't get called into the boss' office--again
Just enough so that I can still fit into my clothes
Just enough so my husband knows he now calms me throughout my day
Just enough to remember to ask my mom about the first night of her new class
Just enough so that she knows she'll always have big sister to fly home to
Just enough to keep the lids on
                                 the jackets zipped
                                 dreaming eye lids kissed
Just enough sleep
Just enough late nights to hear the house breathe
Just enough late nights to hear myself breathe.

I hope
when all is said and done
it will end up that
it was just enough.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

10 G's For Some Double D's

     "So did you finally decide what you're gonna do with the money?" I asked when she walked into my classroom.
     It was the same question I'd asked her countless times in the last two years. The other teachers and I had had fun trying to guess what she'd decide to do with the $10,000 she'd be inheriting on her 18th birthday from her deceased father.
     We'd made sure she had our input.
     "College?" one of us had suggested.
     "I know, a trust fund for Nikki! She's only two, by the time she's 18 interest will accrue and..."
     We had all learned to expect her 16 (and then 17) year-old eye roll.
     "Nope. A car! A month long cruise! Another car!" she'd counter.

     Finally, her birthday was a few weeks away.
     "Guess," she said.
     "The Land Cruiser?"
     "The cruise..."
     "Nope, give up?" she asked. I said I did because it was obvious she wanted me to.
     She drew in a long dramatic breath. "A boob job and a tummy tuck."
     "Ha!" Typical of her sense of humor, I thought.
     She seemed confused at my response.
     She wasn't joking.
     " just had a baby. You're 18!!! I-I-It'll all bounce back!" I stuttered.
     "Nope, nope. I've tried everything. Sit-ups, diets.  I want to look like a normal teenager again. I'm sick of my belly ring jiggling way after the rest of me has stopped moving," she said with a set jaw.
     "But you're not a normal teenager. You're the mom of beautiful Nikki..." I said with a sigh. Because of course, she wasn't listening. She had whipped out a stack of brochures and I found myself staring at a bunch of glossy before and after pictures of boob jobs and tummy tucks.
     "See, these are the ones I'm getting: The Teardrop Shaped Ones," she said, as if we were chit-chatting about earrings. "Oh, and I'm getting double D's," she added.

     I called her mom.
     "Oh, yeah, so she told you, huh? Were you shocked?" she chuckled. "I think it's a smart decision. It's like an investment," her mom explained. "A car will eventually go out of style, with a trip all you have left is pictures...but I told her, 'if you look good, mija, you could get a man. A good one.' And then she and Nikki won't have to worry about nothing."

     Soon after, the newly minted 18 year-old walked into the classroom with her tear-drops threatening to burst out of a stretchy tank that stopped in the nick of time to show off the taut new navel. She had apparently had enough bling left over for a new belly ring...and a tan.
     "Wow," I said.
     "I know, huh? You can't even tell I had a baby," she beamed. "I think my dad would be proud."


Friday, August 20, 2010

A Night. Tie-dyed Skies.

     We decided to take an evening walk. It was still at least 90 degrees outside, but shades of pink had started to tie-dye across the desert sky and there was at least a breeze.
     Paul and my dad walked way ahead of us, while my mom and I walked with the kids.
     "Just let them walk ahead," I said, "we won't get lost." I shouldn't, since we were staying at the same time-share in Palm Springs that we'd been coming to when I was still breast feeding Eli under a towel by the pool. People look at me like I'm crazy when I tell them we go to Palm Springs in August, when the temperature could easily topple over 110 degrees. But it's off season and cheaper, and hey, you just make it work.
     The place is built around a gulf course, with rolling grassy hills and lakes where ducks shimmy around in.
     On the walk back to our rooms the kids started to whine. The breeze had stopped and suddenly it was hotter than hell.
     "Carry me!" Savvy whined.
     "How come she only gets to be carried?" Eli. He'd plopped down on a curb and said he was walking no further. His legs were sweating, he said.
     My mom leaned over and whispered something in their ears. Suddenly the three of them took off running. By the time the rest of us reached the pool area, they had already stripped down to their bathing suits and dripped over to us by the gate: "Ha!Ha! We got in the pool and now we don't have to go to bed at bedtime!" Eli nanni-nanni-nannied, jumping back into the pool.
     My mom looked at me with her signature innocent shrug and bewildered eyes. "I don't know...they just got in..."
     It was 8:30 and the pool was aglow with white lights under the stars.  Occasionally a breeze would blow and tiny white lights twinkled in the  swaying palm trees.
     It was dive-in movie night, a staff person announced. A pool full of people cheered as this theater-size blow up movie screen was erected right at the edge of the pool. Just like that we were watching, "The Tooth Fairy" from the water!
     Paul had gone off to the adult pool, where it was quiet and the pina coladas flowed. He asked if I wanted to join him. "The kids are with your parents," he said.
     I looked over at the kids and my parents.  My dad and Eli were out in the middle of the pool where Eli (who had quickly gotten bored with the movie) was trying over and over to achieve a perfect flip in the water, the skin on his tummy stretched taut over his ribcage with every try. "Watch, grandpa! Watch what I can do!"
     My mom and I sat at the edge of the pool, where Savvy was performing one of her "princess dances" for us on the top step. My mom had gotten the giggles when Savvy tried to twirl and fell backwards into the water.
     "Stop laughing, grandma...or I won't dance. any. more," she said, missing another step as she tried to stomp...and toppling into the water again.
     I love to see my mom laugh like that. Totally uninhibited throaty laughter that leads to snorts. The kind of laughter that gives my dad his cue: "Stop, Stella, you're gonna pee."
     I thought of all the family vacations we'd taken when we were little. I remember thinking that it was worth all the stress of getting there, because soon I'd get to see my mom laugh like that and watch my dad make her laugh even harder. Seemed like so many lifetimes had gone by. Why did everything have to get so hard? There had been so many scars since...licked wounds, broken hearts. It's a testament to what a family could survive, forgive, I guess. Because there we were...a family vacation just like when I was little, only with my husband and two kids. Ha! It was surreal. I squeezed my eyes tight. It was one of those moments you just can't plan and all you can do is try and brand it in your brain, engrave it in your heart.
     "Nah, I think I'll stay here," I told Paul. I had pictures to take.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Zumba, Kids: Revisited

It was a week ago today when I started to panic.
It was the start of the much feared Three Weeks With the Kids.
A routine was going to be my saving grace, I decided. Sunday night I sat down and drew up a behavior chart (complete with key of what every color meant...stole this from a 1st grade teacher), a schedule...
And still....the panic at the thought of being alone with the kids. With my own kids.

But it wasn't the first time I'd felt that fear. It's been there since the very first night I was alone with Eli in that hospital room, only hours after he was born. I'll never forget the instant the door clicked, and the icy silence that followed. All day there had been people. People bringing me flowers, food. People holding the baby, taking pictures.
And then there were no more people. And I looked over at my new baby, and he looked over at me, and who knows who looked more terrified.
From that night in the hospital on, I have felt the terror grip me whenever I've alone with them.
I am only a little more confident now than I was then, but only because one day I realized what I was afraid of: me.
Not just: what if I don't know what to do.
More: What if someday I just...can't...just don't.
What this looks like is me opening the front door and running down the street, pulling at my hair, shrieking.

The good news is that work is over and I have returned to Zumba. Thursday night I moved up one row in the class...was in the second to last row. It's clear I may get those crazy dance steps long before I master the kid thing. 
Once again, I witnessed the phenomena of the hottest chicks in the class: The Front Row Dancers, turn into pumpkins, (A.k.a moms) when they picked up their kids from childcare. The hotter the dancer, the crazier her kids were, it seemed. Coincidence? Of course not! We are all, I think, whispering the same thing to ourselves in class: 'Dance, momma, dance, and everything'll be alright...'

I started thinking about how Zumba is so much more than nostalgia for the clubbing days.
Zumba is The Dance Class for the Rest of Us.
It was like when I ran...(well, participated) a half-marathon last year. Just as I was about to quit, when I thought I'd reached down down and found nothing left to keep me going, I told myself: 'remember all those times you were picked last for the kickball team? When you weren't asked to dance at the stupid 6th grade dance? ...and the mother of all remember when's: the time you told everybody you'd failed PE on purpose because you didn't want to mess up your hair, when really you just could not think of failing at yet another sport? Well, don't be a weak ass! Run!'
I managed to hobble across the finish line. I'd like to to think The Rest of Us were redeemed.

And I can't quit now. Second week Alone With the Kids starts tomorrow. When I reach down down and feel like I could find nothing more to keep me going,  I hope I remember to take a deep breath and: 'remember that first night in the hospital room, and I thought I couldn't...?'

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sports Camp

     "There he is...right where he always is...either in line for the diving board or in the same corner of the pool. Well, go ahead and go get him."
     "No, you get him. He's used to you picking him up,"  I said.
     "That's why you should... (hard sigh and a look of dread)..."I don't want to go through this again...he's going to throw a fit that we're early..."

     He saw me before I saw him... ran to me and gave me a sopping wet hug.
     Not a frown on his face...
     caught myself before the shock could show on mine
     I signed him out
     he grabbed his backpack, slipped on his flip-flops and waved good-bye to the camp leader.

     "We played water dodge ball," he said, slipping his wet little hand in mine. "It's like dodge ball, mommy, except you throw water balloons."
    Managed to keep all comments and questions to myself

     The sigh of relief I couldn't hide.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Warning: Rant

Rant #1:   
I have soooooo... many fucking writing projects I want to work on for this blog!
  • But working at my high school's graduation...
  • and then there was my birthday...when I had one of the most humiliating interviews I've ever had in my life (story for another post)
  • and preparing for weeks for the class at Whittier College I will be teaching TO ACTUAL GROWNUPS!!!!!... 
    I have this one week off to spend with my kids before having to go back to teach summer school and it is not going well.
    Paul took today off since his family is here to visit.
    When I got home from running an errand this morning, the kids had been separated, forbidden to be in the same room.
    They fight over and about everything. We took a walk this evening and the fight was over a weed.
    Eli had picked up a weed off the sidewalk that Savvy said she was just about to grab.
    Yeah. Like that.

    There is this house we walk by where an older gent lives by himself. He sits shirtless in his garage that is plastered with yellowed pictures of hot air balloons, I'm guessing old calendar picture cut-outs. He wears these huge 1970's eyeglasses that magnify his watery eyes and those glasses are always the first thing you notice. He is peering out of his hot-air balloon garage every time we walk by.

    For some reason, it is when we walk by this house that the kids seem to be at their worse. When Eli's whining has reached torture proportions, when Savvy is screaming no!!! and pulling away from me, flaunting to the world her total fucking defiance towards me.

    The man never says anything, just slightly nods at us as we pass by.
    But he doesn't have to say anything, because in his bug-eyes I see reflected who I used to be:
    ...the one who used to wonder why someone didn't just shut the kid up.
    ...the one who used to roll her eyes and recommit herself to never having children when that mom, with those kids were in a long grocery line.
    ...the one who would rush out of the supermarket sighing in relief that she had the freedom to roll her shopping cart as fast as she could away from the screams and snot.

    And yet there I was, the old me: peering out of plastic '70's eyeglass frames, shaking her head at the new (twitchy) me.

    I think of all the progressive bullshit I've read in parenting magazines. What could I have done to prevent their behavior from elevating to such proportions? How about some positive reinforcement, huh?, worker mom?
    But the magazines don't tell you: what do you do if your kids
    are like mice before a trap:
    always manage to grab the cheese and be long gone wayyyyyy before the thing goes snap!?

    Deep breath.

     Rant #2:
    Because I'm a teacher, I get home early from work, but do I really get home early from work?
    It takes so long to emotionally leave my teen mom who has recently become homeless with her infant.
    Or how about my brilliant foster girl who is being treated like fucking Cinderella by a 24-year-old foster mom?
    I have just enough juice left to sit and do homework with my (of course) resistant son.
    I say a silent prayer that Savvy won't want to play her favorite "school day," where I have to be one of the students among her dolls, andget time-out if I yawn.

    I try to forgive myself for being sooooo grateful when bedtime comes. But by the time I am at the bottom of the stairs after putting them to bed, I am riddled with guilt and regret. What could I have done differently to make it a GOOD DAY?!

    Deep breath.

    On a positive note, I am thankful for my molar that broke, oh, about a week ago.
    No, wait, listen! I'm not wallowing.
    I think I've lost one or two pounds because it hurts really bad now to eat, even with Advil.
    But this is good news. Tomorrow I am going to the dentist...and might be able to squeeze into skinny jeans for the occasion.

    OK, I did warn you this would be a rant.

    P.S.: Dewi, if you read this: I haven't been able to send you an error always occurs!
    My email address is:
    I'd love to hear from you!

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010

    "I'm Coming Out..."

    The end of May marks my two year anniversary on anti-depressants and I thought I'd celebrate with some red wine and a "coming out" post.

    This is what happened:
    Savvy's birthday was coming up, her first in The New House.
    I decided it had to be memorable.

    My sister gave me "that look" when I told her I'd stayed up for several nights making paper flowers.
    "...because there's this place called Michael's where you can buy..." she said in her typical smart-ass, little sister way.
     Nope. They had to be handmade. Memorable, remember? I learned how to make them on the internet.
    along with flower shaped sandwiches
    "worms in dirt" pudding cups
    and even butterflies made out of tissue and construction paper. (Not as easy as YouTube made it sound)
    I ran around decorating, frosting, cooking...floating on a high.
    I can't even tell you if anyone offered to help. I would have said no. When I'm like this I'm shocked someone might think I might need it.
    I heard it went well, the party.
    by the time the party rolled around, I had already started to crash. I'd gotten only a few hours of sleep each night that week, which contributed to the floating down, down, down feeling that marks the  beginning of:
    Going Under.

    By the end of that week all the typical stuff started happening.
    Listening, talking, all started to dull. It's like trying to do all these things through gauze. It looks like something's right there, but when you go to touch it, hear it, listen to it, it ends up it's really layers away...

    And then my gums started going numb. This particular characteristic doesn't always happen when I'm slipping into a deep depression, but when it does, I know it's gonna be bad. No exercising, writing, talking in the world would work. All these things in my "tool box": useless.

    This sequence pretty much sums up the rhythms of my life since college, when the depression began to become debilitating:

    (It still pisses me off when I think of all the things I screwed up because of "it."
    I missed weddings,
    I much rather people think I was self-absorbed than "down")

    • Start feeling more pep than usual
    • Can't believe how much I'm capable of and how great life is


    • I start to teeter-totter from so way up high
    Hold on tight and hope this time won't be that bad
    that I could sleep it off--no matter how long that might take
    and wake up and shake it off
    go on like nothing happened

    This particular time was the first time it had hit me so bad since I had the kids
    It became very clear that I was not going to be able to do this mom thing
    in such a state.
    I no longer had the luxury of self-medicating, sleeping for days, locking myself in a room until I was presentable again.
    Nothing's more frightening than the thought of being unable to be a mom to my kids

    and so here I am two years later
    it's like I finally started living my life
    On Saturday I watched my kids playing in the waves
    digging a hole in the sand to make a fort for protection against the world
    (wouldn't that be cool)
    and I had to turn my head so they wouldn't see me cry
    B.M. (before meds.), an outing like that would have surely hurled me into a deep one.
    My mind would flood with taunts about my inadequacy to compete with all those "real moms."
    who remember suntan lotion
    and snacks.
    Christmas, birthdays, vacations...I feel like I'm actually there now, not watching the Happy Normal People through that gauze I was telling you about.

    Things aren't perfect, of course.
    I still go under, but I could feel the meds. lifting me up long enough to scramble and grab my tool box.
    Many times it pisses me off that I have to be dependent on chemicals to make me "normal."
    like right now I am having a glass of forbidden red wine
    because this is really hard to write. know how people are
    there is still this stigma surrounding depression:
    suck it up, you're just being a baby
    at work if people know you're "medicated", side-long glances at meetings tell you they attribute any mistake, etc. to your...ahemmm..."condition"

    I know because I used to think the same way
    about those high-maintenance "depressives" (eyeroll)
    who can't get it together.

    I like to think of myself as a bad-ass
    and taking happy pills didn't fit with the image.

    A two year anniversary,
    of getting you're life back,
    that's something to celebrate and not be ashamed of
    and so
    I'm coming out...I want the world to know...

    Monday, May 24, 2010

    Best Laid Plans

         I changed into my running clothes in a book closet that opens up to my classroom, and arranged for a teacher to cover for me. Slipped out of my class and jogged to my car.
         Didn't want to be late to the Jog-a-thon fundraiser at Eli's school. Yeah, I was a bit pumped. Both of us were. Since it is his (our) first year at this school, we didn't know what to expect. I couldn't make out from the flyers that were sent home whether parents would be running with the kids or alone. Either way, we were supposed to get pledges for participating.
         "They already have the track ready and the cones set up!" he said the afternoon before the race. "And they're gonna have prizes!"
         I pictured Eli and I, running side by side....mother and son. It would be a bonding experience and God only knew we needed as many as those as we could get. Maybe we could start going running together...

         The woman getting out of the SUV behind me in the parking lot of the school wore Barbie-pink sweats, the Victoria Secret kind that had some kind of saying on the butt, a slightly less loud pink top, and flip-flops with crystals all over them. Her bleached choppy hair was fastened into two pig-tails that stuck out on either side of her head. She carried a fold up chair in one hand and tried to hook her tiny dog (who wore a pink collar, of course) to a leash.

         "Great," she said, "the damn gate is locked. Now we have to go all the way around!"
         Pffft...she won't be running any where, I thought.

         Once on the field, I started to get even more excited. They had balloons in the school colors all over. It was like a homecoming game! Music was blaring from the sound system and everyone wore the official Jog-a-thon T-Shirt.
         I chit-chatted with the few parents I knew.
         "Are you running?" I kept asking.
         You think their hesitation to answer should have given me a hint right?...
          But I shrugged it off. There were plenty of parents dressed like me. Surely I was not the only one who planned on running.

         The games were about to begin. The guy with the microphone explained that the outer lane was the walking track and the one next to it was for runners.
         I tuned the rest out. That was all I needed to know: where Eli and I would be running. Just then I spotted him out on the field and waved. He jumped up and down, waving back.

         The guy was announcing the beginning of the race, but still said nothing about what the parents should do.
         I turned to the mom next to me and tried once more, "Has he said if the parents run with the kids, or...?"
         She shrugged, annoyed, and got back to taking pictures of her son.
         Pictures. I looked around me. There were parents with frickin' tripods and fancy zoom cameras. And of course camcorders.
         I hadn't even remembered to bring my camera phone. My focus was on remembering my running shoes.

         The whistle blew and they were off! I looked on the running track and spotted Eli, taking off like a bat out of hell. But...there were only kids on the running lane. Parents pushing strollers and fast-walkers trying to get action shots of there kids were on the walking lane.
         There! I spotted a woman in the running lane. (Later I would realize she was a teacher running with her class) That was all I needed. I waited for Eli to get close by and then I sprinted until I was running next to him.
          "Hey pops!" I said.
         " can't be here. Go over there! You're gonna get me in trouble!" He said as he stopped to get his lap card stamped by the official parent "stampers."
         I caught up to him. "No, I think it's alright! There are other grown-ups running..."
         "You're supposed to go over there and watch me and take pictures!" he said before sprinting off and leaving me in the dust.

         I kind of faded into the crowd, not even daring to look up and see if anyone had noticed my wounded heart laying there in kicked up dirt. I backed up, backed up until I was close enough to the school gate and then I made a mad dash to the car.

         Hell yeah I was hurt!...especially since he'd insisted I go. That very morning when he was acting up I'd threatened not to go and he'd actually started to cry! 

         Yeah I felt stupid!  I'd concocted this fairytale of running hand in hand with my child like they do in those stupid parenting magazines...of crossing some imaginary finish line together, after which no fights or time-outs or hurt feelings would ever come again.

         I imagined he'd be so proud to have me for a mom: "Yeah, my mom's cooking sucks, but this one time we won this race together..." he'd tell his friends.

         I decided I wouldn't go back to work with my tail between my legs. I had set out to run laps that morning and damn it, that was what I was gonna do!
         I pulled into the nearest park and told myself I couldn't stop until I'd done 5 laps/ lashes. I hadn't noticed earlier how fierce the cold wind cut through me, but no matter. I had a goal to meet.
         After three laps my throat started feeling scratchy.
         After four, piercing pain in my ear.
         The doctor confirmed it today: I have strep throat, a broken heart, and a bruised ego.

         I never did find out what the deal was. Were the parents expected to just walk? Did all parents just walk because all the others were walking? think I would have the guts to ask?


    Wednesday, May 19, 2010

    Seeing Anne Lamott. Seeing My Mother.

         Not too long ago, I found myself with two tickets to see one of my literary idols, Anne Lamott. This is why I love her writing so much: in a scene in one of her books, she is in labor, trying to have her baby naturally. When she finally gives birth, everyone is dead silent, staring at a space between her legs. Later, her best friend told her that as she was pushing the baby out, she was also pushing out a tiny turd. Both the baby and the turd were playing peek-a-boo. Apparently she was able to push out the baby, but not the turd. It was still stuck there long after the baby had been whisked away.
         Anne Lamott has no shame and writes it like it is. I want to be like her when I grow up.
         I found myself with the two tix and no one to go with. My sister was out of town, and really, you have to be selective when you're trying to pick someone to share this type of experience with. When you have the chance to see someone you love on stage, the wrong person next to you could mess everything up, you know? Like if they're yawning the whole time, or worse, FALL ASLEEP! Can you imagine? For the rest of your life you'll remember seeing one of your idols... with this dead beat next to you.
         I happen to mention to my mom that I would be getting to see one of my favorite writers that night, and that I would get to go alone. Alone, after all, was a luxury when you had two small kids.
         "I'll go with you!" my mom said.
         I hesitated too long and she quickly recanted.
         "Never mind," she said, "it'll be too much of a hassle to pick me up. You have to go way out of your way..."
         "No,'s fine!" I said, "It'll be fun."

         But as I drove over to her house to pick her up, I started to panic. What if Anne Lamott said something that would offend her? What if my mom ended up being the dead beat next to me, yawning and nodding off?
         "Thank you for coming with me," I said as we sat in traffic.
         "Of course," she said. "When you mentioned you were going by yourself I thought 'finally I can spend time with her by herself, with out the kids',"
         I sat back, a bit stunned. It never occurred to me that she wanted to spend time with me. Ever since I had Eli and Savvy, our conversations had revolved around them. And before the kids?  For the life of me I couldn't remember one conversation we'd had Before Kids. She actually wanted to spend time with me. Huh. It was truly one of the most tender things she'd ever said to me.

         When we finally got to enter the auditorium, my mom marched straight to the front rows, even though they were roped off.
         "Mami..." I hissed. "I don't think we can sit..." But it was too late. She had already climbed over the velvet rope and sat down, putting her purse in the seat next to her. She didn't even glance back to see if I'd followed. I rushed to the front trying not to make eye contact with anyone. I expected a security guard to call out any minute.
         "You see," she said after I'd sat down, heart pounding, "you just have to act like you belong somewhere and people will assume you do."

         Anne Lamott spoke from a podium just steps away from us. I couldn't believe our luck! I could see the spray of sweat on her upper lip, hear her gulp down bottled water. It was more magical than I could've imagined. My mom was mesmerized. She'd never been to a poetry reading or seen a writer--let alone a great writer--speak. I had my notebook out, like a net ready to catch her precious gems. I glanced at my mom. She was jotting down stuff all over her program. A lump caught in my throat. There I was: Anne Lamott just mere steps before me,  my mother next to me. Two of the most influential women in my life, within arms reach.

      When Lamott was done talking, it was announced that she would be signing books at the table across the stage. When my mom heard this she pushed me out of my seat.
         "Gogogogo....while she's still right there, " she said.
          As I started grabbing my jacket and purse she yanked them out of my hand and shoved my book into my chest.
         "Go NOW!" she said.
         And so I ducked under the rope and stumbled up on stage.
         to stand before
         Anne Lamott.
         And I did just that. Just stood there, dumbfounded. I am not ashamed to admit I had actually thought about what I'd say if I happened to get such an opportunity. OK, I actually kind of rehearsed what I'd say. But standing before her, I started to mumble something about what an impact she'd had on my life...
         She interrupted me. "Great dreads. How old are they?" she said, reaching out to touch the tips.
         "Uhhhhbout three years old," I said.
         "Yeah, I just cut mine. You should bleach some of them, I think they'd look good..." she said, holding out her own bleached dreads to demonstrate.
         She signed my book before the guards could lead herto the table where a winding line waited.
         "Mami..." I said with a tear in the corner in my eye when I finally found her outside. "Did you see that? She touched my hair!"
         We beamed as we walked to find my car.

         On the ride home she talked non-stop. She said she couldn't wait to read all her books. She said she kept thinking of experiences she'd had growing up as she'd listened to Lamott speak. She shared stories about herself I'd never heard. Story after story came tumbling out until the inside of the car hummed with them.
         She said that when she was a teenager and everyone had gone to bed, she would sneak out of the house with friends.
         My jaw dropped, because of course I would never even entertain such thoughts. "What did you do, where did you go?" I said, anxious to hear the dirt.
         "I just couldn't wait. I'd think about it all day:we'd go to the best burrito stand and have a burrito and a big soda..."
         "You were such a rebel!" I said as I cracked up.
         I resisted the temptation to pull over right there on the freeway shoulder and start writing the stories down. I didn't want to forget one word. This night, I knew, was once in a lifetime.

         When I dropped her off, she  gave me a long hug and thanked me for taking her with me. She said she loved getting a glimpse into my world.
         And then, as is her way, she quickly let go of me. "OKbye," she said over her shoulder. Soon she'd closed the door and the night was over.
         It was a new reason to love Anne Lamott. She inspired me beyond words, but more importantly, she gave me a piece of my mother's raw heart, such a rare treasure.
    ...if only for a night.



    Thursday, May 13, 2010

    Zumba Nights

    "the party's over, the rooster is
    crowing and they've called in
    the dice..."
                                                                                          --Charles Bukowski

         I reached over to give Arcy a hug and a high five before I got out of her car. 
         Who-whudda-thunk-it? We'd pulled it off. Finally, one of our schemes to spend more time together, despite kids and jobs and significant others had gotten off the ground.

         Not that it was easy. That night, Arcy had to arrange for the the twins to to go to their grandparent's house, and I had to squeeze in the pre-bedtime hooplah (baths and bedtimes stories and prayers) before I left. In fact, I'd almost canceled on her tonight. Paul had gotten out of work late and as much as I tried to avoid them, my comfy pj's beckoned every time I passed my bedroom.
         But then I'd remembered the pep talk.
         "We've got to stand up for what we need!" I said when we'd first talked about  Zumba two nights a week. "They make sure they get what they need!"
         " trips and sports with the guys and all that..., " she said.
         "Exactly. So we'll just tell them we have made a commitment to go to Zumba twice a week, and that's it."

         Both guys were encouraging in theory, but quickly realized our commitment would mean their sacrifice. It would mean taking over whatever bedtime duties we didn't get to. It meant they had to be home so that we could leave. But we'd stood our ground. As I got out of the car, the adrenaline from the workout...and our unlikely victory, was palpable. I floated inside my front door.

         The magic of Zumba is the music, plain and simple. It's the best let-your-hair-down music from all over the world, crammed into an hour. The first time I tried it, I thought: I could listen to this music and just jump up and down and still feel this alive!
         The music makes it so.
         It's just like my Papa's and Beer days all over again...except without the tequila
         .....or the sand
         ....or the guys...
         OK, so it's really not like the old days, but still fun enough.
         A lot of the music is new to me. There's reggaeton (a kind of reggae, salsa fusion), rock en espanol, and exotic belly-dancing music.
         But once in a while one of our songs will come on...the ones with stories behind every beat, the ones that raise our pulse a notch. You know what I'm talking about. You're stuff in traffic, cursing the freeway, your job, your life...and then a song comes on and you're plopped right back to the good times, when your insides turned to mush.
         When those songs come on during Zumba, we glance at each other, eyes wide, remembering the time...
         Such a song was playing and the instructor had us doing lo' to the flo' moves.
         Ohhhh shoot...
         Arcy dared me with her eyes. Could I still do it? Would the music unlock my inner tootsie roll, the dance that would end all clubbing nights?
         "I don't think I could do this without tequila," I whispered as I made my way carefully to the floor. 
         "I don't think we've ever done it in such bright light either," she whispered back.  
         Now, there were many times the song could've plopped us back to, but as we shimmied and twisted and salsaed, we were transported to the mecca. All we had to do was close our eyes and there we were: Rosarito, Mexico.
         Rosarito is where we'd celebrate birthdays and break-ups, kick off the beginning or ending of summer. There were three of us and we found endless reasons to go to Rosarito. There was shopping, of course, and the food...but all that was merely filler as we waited for the sun to set and the night life to begin. Papa's and Beer was the spot. It was an outside dance club right on the sand and under the moon.   I'd step through the gates after standing in line forever and soak it all in. There was a communal sense of relief mingled with the salty night air. It was the weekend and we'd left it all behind. Toes were buried in sand. We'd dance. And dance. And then we'd dance and dance and dance. The three of us would dance in a circle, giggling. We were free! Not since have I felt that sense of total freedom.    
        And the night had just begun. 
        Whistles were a fixture in Rosarito night clubs. They would pierce through the thunderous music and like Pavlov's dogs, we'd start to salivate. The whistles meant something good was about to happen. Somebody would get something good poured down her throat, picked up over the whistler's shoulder, and spun around to the beat of the music. Cheers!      
         When the club finally closed and the music replaced with sounds from the sea, it was time for tacos. There was a ramshackle taco stand outside Papa's and everyone would head over there to eat tacos and watch the sun come up. In the light, you could make out the faces of the people who'd been dancing next to you all night. Between bites of taco, some people said they were from Sand Diego, right across the border, others as far as from out of state.  
         The metallic muddy smell of Mexico...anything could be swept under the sand at daybreak, but not the smell. There was no denying where we'd been. It lingered in our hair and clothes.                               The memories of these times...they were such an integral part of my coming-of-age, and I'm guessing this is true for many. 
         I remember the last time we made the pilgrimage to Rosarito. We'd entered our thirties and we were all more tired than usual during the car ride. Through yawns we assured each other we'd pep up as soon as we got there. We went to Papa's, but the drinks only made us drowsy. The whistles made us wince.
         "Were the whistles always so loud?" I asked.
         As we walked to the taco shack way before last call at the club, we agreed: it would probably be our last free-wheeling trip to Mexico. We wrapped sweaters tight against the wind, ate tacos and talked about meetings, and lesson plans not yet written.                                                                                        We were very quiet as we privately mourned our Mexico nights. No one had to say it: we had to quit while we were ahead. We didn't, after all, be the grandma in the mini-skirt and skuffed heels at the end of the bar.       

    Now  I am nearing 40 and happy to dig out these memories from beneath the sand.
                       Zumba made it so.                                                                                                                              

    Wednesday, May 12, 2010

    My Very First Post

    I just couldn't wait to get my blog up and running and now I'm stumped. For those who know me well, you know I've remained facebookless and textless...and so you know this is a REALLY BIG STEP for me. Many of you have tried to show me the (new) way, but you know what they can lead the horse to water...

    I've spent some time trying to nail down what I want my blog to be. A Daily Journal? A type of on-line portfolio?
    Got nothing.
    But if I wait until it "comes to me" I'll never do this.

    And so for now I'll just say I hope to make you smile.
    Shake your heads.
    I want to give you something to read (hopefully enjoy) and think of me.

    And maybe you will get the itch to write your own stories...