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...