Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Woman in Her Thirties Needs to find Robert Hays

*I read this essay at Morningside After Dark last night.  I was nervous, I'm not going to lie.  Autobiographical writing is the toughest form, if you ask me.  But this piece kinda came to me a couple months ago, and I was happy for a chance to share it.  Though this was deeply personal for me, probably the most emotional thing about last night was seeing so many supportive faces in the crowd.  Feeling very blessed and loved.  Now I need one of you resourceful women in your thirties to find Robert Hays, and get this to him immediately, okay?


Thank You, Robert Hays

For those of you who don’t know, Robert Hays is the dashingly handsome star of the greatest movie of all time.  Airplane! (with an exclamation point!), directed by Jim Abrams and the Zucker brothers, and released in 1980, when I was two years old.  If you are not familiar with this film, I give you full permission to stop listening and download it onto your preferred technological device.  But just promise me you’ll start from the beginning—“The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only,” and stick with it until the end.  The very, very end, when the thirteenth president of the United States, Millard Fillmore, is thanked in the credits. 

When Airplane entered my home, it was in its boxed VHS format, at least eight years after its release.  Airplane! 2 had already been made, released, and sent to VHS.  Leslie Neilsen was promoting his Naked Gun series, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was embarking on his long and totally under appreciated run in TV sitcoms.  The late eighties were a time of Phil Donohue, the First George Bush, and Please, Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em.  I was twelve years old, an awkward Catholic school kid smack in the middle of all that awesome. 

I don’t remember my very first viewing of Airplane, though it must have happened on the green shag carpet that underlined most of my childhood in California.  I loved it instantly, as did my brother and sister and dad.  We watched it daily, and for a long time.  “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue!” we would roar to each other, while my mother stirred far-past al dente pasta on the stove and begged us to shut up.  This was before the academy of pediatrics was hell-bent on making parents feel terrible for “screen time”.  We grew up in front of the TV, and lived our lives through it.  Mornings: the Today show.  Afternoons:  All My Children Evenings: The NBC Nightly News while we ate dinner and begged incessantly for it to be “our turn”, which meant putting Airplane on.  

“Joey, do you like movies about Gladiators?”

Of the hundreds of jokes in that movie, we got maybe ten of them.  Ted’s drinking problem was a favorite, and none of us could get enough of Barbara Billingsly speaking jive.  I can’t tell you what it was about that movie, but we all bonded over it.  When dad laughed, we laughed. When we couldn’t find something to talk to each other about, we talked about Airplane. 

“You got a letter from headquarters this morning.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a big building where generals meet.  But that’s not important right now.”

We got the news of my father’s illness in June of 1990.  Fresh Prince of Bel Air.  Ally McBeal.  And my dad, with inoperable cancer at age 49. When you’re twelve, and your biggest worry is how much Aussie scrunch hairspray you have for your bangs, there is no preparation for such a thing.  We needed Ted and Elaine more than ever.

There’s no reason to become alarmed, and we hope you’ll enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?

Something happens to a home when it holds a sick person.  It bursts with movement and energy.  It is constantly filled with equipment and clicky prescription bottles, and the smell of other people’s casseroles. All the attention, all the noise…  I didn’t mind it. It was the only way to keep from screaming as we watched my father embark on chemo and radiation. 

Nervous?
Yes.
First time?
No, I’ve been nervous lots of times.

We as a family endured that painful summer, which is to say we survived it.  My mom fell deeper and deeper into despair as the leaves turned, and the conversations in our home were quick, as though we were all made of glass and liable to break if someone used the wrong verb.  Airplane played on what could only be described as a constant loop during those cancer days.  Every time we couldn’t take another second of sickness, we put on the scene where Ted Stryker dances to Saturday Night Fever.  Try watching that scene and crying about the state of your life.  IT CANNOT BE DONE.

Twelve is an odd time to watch someone die.  At twelve, you feel invincible.  You feel like life owes you something.  You feel things should be fair.  But nothing about what was happening to us was fair, and we all knew it.  One night in October, after my dad had been checked in to the hospital for good, I overheard him pleading with my mother.  His voice was barely intelligible from drugs and pain.  “Let me go,” he moaned to her.  “Please, just let me go.”

“Captain, how soon can you land?
“I can’t tell”.
“You can tell me, I’m a doctor.”
“No, I mean I’m not sure.”
“Well, can’t you take a guess?”
“Not for another two hours.”
“You can’t take a guess for another two hours?”

Something happens to a house when a person inside of it dies.  It hollows out and echoes, as if it’s in mourning with you.  The emptiness was torture for me, but no more so than being the kid at school that every feels sorry for.  So I watched Airplane.  I showed it to my friends so we could have something to talk about other than my sad, sad mom. We acted out scenes from the cockpit.  “We have clearance, Clarence.  Roger, Roger.  What’s our vector, Victor?” We laughed and laughed, and somehow, made it through.

In the many years that have passed now, I have continued to love slapstick.  I think of my father every time I watch Modern Family, and how much he would love love love that show.  Comedy gets us through hard times.  Airplane taught me that it’s okay to laugh when things are unlaughable.  And now, when I see clips of that movie, or think of it in passing, I see it as a way of connecting with my dad, whom I missed so much during the Dana Carvey SNL years, and miss today, but in a different way. 

As a teacher and now a young adult writer, I have been asked many times about getting through hard times as a child.  “How did you do it?” People ask.  “How did you get through.” I say lots of different things, depending on my audience, because there’s no one thing that gets a person through pain.  But I would be lying if I said Robert Hays and the entire cast of Airplane didn’t have an impact on how I handle difficult times now. 

I mentioned this to a grieving friend recently, the ebb and flow of life, and how I look at my challenges as pieces of a great mosaic that came together and formed me.  And I thought of Airplane, and the power of laughter, and how it makes me sad that one day when I write my autobiography it cannot be read by the late, great Robert Stack, who was the perfect host of Unsolved Mysteries, but an even more perfect Captain Rex Kramer. 

“You mean to tell me that I won’t hurt like this all the time?  That I’ll be okay?  Surely you can’t be serious."


I am serious.  And don’t call me Shirley. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Woman in her Thirties in Austin

Last year, a terrible mistake was made and we did not escape the Minnesota winter.  It wasn't for lack of trying, but rather it was L's impossible work schedule.  Do you remember last winter?  Because I do:



I vowed this year not to make the same mistake, and booked our trip to Austin to visit Gu Gu (L's sister) and Uncle C.

We have had a very mild winter, comparatively speaking, but let's just say we were all beyond excited to see that our daytime temperatures were going to be in the mid-seventies all week:

Anna and Aaron, making a run for Lake Austin on a gorgeous Monday morning.  

I'd been to Austin once before, and had gotten a sense that Austin was like Berkeley:  lots of hippies, lots of great food, maybe not-so-kid friendly.  I was wrong about the last one.  There was SO much for us to do, and we took full advantage thanks to Gu Gu's experienced navigation. 




Duck boat tour of Austin-- the bus went right into the lake!  The kids were in heaven and I learned why Texans fly their state flag and the US flag at the same height.  (Because they can.)

Hanging out at Zilker park. I'm thinking, 'Hmmm.... how do I get my sister wife on board for a winter home in Austin?'

Austin has an AWESOME children's museum called The Thinkery.  The kids were in heaven. 

We went to a place called Kiddie Acres, and this amusement park truly deserves its own post.  Besides the pony rides, there were maybe five other "rides", all meant for toddlers.  Stepping into Kiddie Acres was like stepping into a Stephen King novel, set in 1955.  

Kiddie Acres was AWESOME.  As I write this, Aaron is standing next to me saying, 'Momma! I ride airplane!'  Great memories.

Lots of eating of amazing junk food.  An important agenda item when one travels to Austin.

And speaking of food, this is my lunch before Kiddie Acres.  A chicken soft taco, but did you know that in Austin 'chips and queso' are a thing?  As in, nachos with pretty much every meal, if you want it?  Queso might be my new favorite word.  I will say it in the depths of winter when I need to be reminded of Austin's greatness.

Now might be a good time to include a teeeny tidbit that might have added to our trip's pleasure.  Gu Gu and Uncle C are remodeling their home right now, and because they have put so much wonderful energy out into the world, it has come back to them.  What I'm trying to say is that the house we were allowed to stay in was the kind featured in magazines and posters about rich people (real, actual posters, that hang in the house).  We were so, so lucky to stay there.

Sunrise, from the kitchen window.

Standing in the backyard, wondering just how many rocks one can throw into Lake Austin.

Blowing bubbles by the pool.  Yes, a huge playscape behind that.  This place was truly gorgeous.

It feels really weird to post pictures of the inside someone's home, particularly someone I haven't met.  But suffice it to say the artwork was fantastic-- like FANTASTIC-- and I may or may not have discovered a picture of the home's owners chillin' with a pretty famous politician whose name rhymes with Phil Blinton. We were beyond lucky to stay there.

But of course, where we stayed paled in comparison to the company we kept.  I got to visit with an old friend from Santa Clara I hadn't seen in five years.  I met several of Gu Gu and Uncle C's friends, and I realized how true it was that great people attract great people.  But most importantly, we got to spend time with family we only see once or twice a year.  As I told several people before we left, I want my kids to spend as much time with their Aunt and Uncle as possible, in hopes that they will be inspired by their kindness, generosity, and overall awesomeness.

Despite all of this, I would be lying if I said the trip was complete. I purposely booked the trip when I did because it fell during what I knew would be an insanely long trip for L.  Which isn't saying much, considering it feels like the last six months have been one insanely long trip for him.  It was hard for us to be with L, and hard for L to see the pictures and not be with us.  So the trip served a dual purpose for me:  to solidify the importance of escaping the Minnesota winter, and solidify the importance of MAKING SURE L escapes with us, next year.  


I'm not sure when we will come off the high of our trip to Austin last week, but based on Anna's obsession with her new cowboy boots and pink-tiara cowboy hat, I don't think it will be for awhile. Grateful for the time away, grateful for wonderful family, and grateful a yee-hawing, giddy-uping, great time in Austin.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Woman in her Thirties Gives up Bubba

You know how when you have one kid people tell you that the second is going to be totally different?  And you believe them, but not really?  Not until you are actually in the midst of these two creatures and realize yes, everyone was right.  Two different people here.

I've had this realization on a daily basis in the last two and a half years, and a perfect example of that is with the pacifier.  Anna took one for a few weeks when she was a newborn, but once she figured out how to take out the paci on her own, she really had no interest in it. 

Anna, right about the time she dumped the paci.  I die.

I was totally relieved that Anna wasn't into the paci.  In fact, she was never a 'lovie' kid.  It was like she'd given me a gift in that department.  So when Aaron came along, I was hoping for the same-- take the paci for a couple months, then dump it on his own.

Not so much.

As with many things for a woman in her thirties, the paci with Aaron has been all about negotiation.  You can have it until you're one.  Okay, you can have it at home only, until you're one and a half.  You can have it until you're two, but only for sleep.  You can have it until you're two and a half, but only... 

Oy.

When Aaron turned two, I made myself a promise at Target:  I was DONE buying pacifiers.  Once that package was gone, it was time to give up the paci.  Firm.  Done. 

Full disclosure:  It was an economy pack.

I figured I'd struck a good deal.  I had an end date in sight, but that big giant stack of pacis seemed like it would last forever.

Then I looked at my stash two weeks ago and realized I was down to one.  ONE.

My face, pretty much.

I negotiated internally some more.  People have very strong opinions about pacifiers, from 'Who cares!  Don't worry about it!' to 'HOW could you let him still have that thing past 15 months?'  I made myself a promise awhile back to stop letting other parents tell me how to parent, so I shook all those opinions off (Thanks, Taylor!) and went back to my staunch woman-in-her-thirties stubbornness and said it was time.  No more paci. 

It was hard, people.  Sleep, as I've mentioned thirty million times, is a struggle here.  I was dreading adding to that struggle.  But all signs pointed to this being the right thing to do, so it was off to Target Buddy and I went.  Only this time, it was to buy his 'Big Boy Toy' to take the place of his paci (or Bubba, as it's known here...)


He picked a sword from Jake and the Neverland Pirates.  Then we made a big show about throwing away the Bubba.  Because...

'Bubbas are for babies.  And you are a big boy.' (I have repeated this phrase uncountable times in the last two weeks..)

It was hard.  I'm not going to lie.  It's still hard.  One look at my eyes will tell you that.  However, we did it.  And when a woman in her thirties says it's time to give up the Bubba... no matter what that proverbial Bubba might be...  IT IS TIME TO GIVE UP THE BUBBA.  


And she celebrates her success with a glass of wine, two or seven cups of coffee in the morning, and a pat on the back for a job (finally) well done.  

Friday, January 2, 2015

A Woman in her Thirties Resolves, 2015

You know I loooove me some New Year's Resolutions.  Bring it on, people!  Make yourselves happy!  Tell the world and hold yourself accountable!

So it's January 2, and time for me to list mine:

1.  Get in the black

So many people have asked me about the book and how it's going.  I love it when people ask what they're really wondering, and that is whether or not I'm making money on it yet.  The answer is no, I'm not. I'm about halfway there.  So this year will be all about getting creative with selling the book, so I can make room for my second resolution...


2.  Publish book two

Yes, it's done.  My same amazing group of seventh graders from last year is going to read and edit it this month.  I learned SO STINKING MUCH publishing The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High, so I'm looking forward to doing this second one even better.

3. Deal with the sleep issue

For four years, I have been able to blame my children for my sleepy, sleepy state of living.  But now that sleeping through the night is a fairly consistent thing, I find that I am still living the toss-turny-no-sleepy-for-Mommy lifestyle.  Sleep has always been difficult for me, and I really need to prioritize getting better at it this year.  (Ideas welcome...)

4.  Become a lunchtime vegan

I am not much of a meat-eater, and when L is away I almost never cook meat (I do cook fish).  I have always liked the idea of cooking one vegetarian meal for the family a week, but that has just never worked out.  In the last year, I have adopted a habit of not eating much for lunch-- a smoothie or whatever leftovers I can scrounge in the fridge.  I'm not trying to lose weight (I snack all day, homies), it's just the Momma-on-the-go life.  So I figure I can use what is almost always a meal by myself and eat vegan, or at least vegetarian.  (Ideas welcome...)

5.  Have more fun

When people have asked about Christmas this year, I keep responding the same way.  'It was the most fun I can remember having on Christmas since I was a kid.'  That's because my babies aren't babies anymore, and I got to see the magic of Christmas through their eyes:



So in 2015, we're going to live it up.  Feb in Austin.  Arizona in March (weeeeeell, that one's just for me!)  Trips to the movies and museums and shows. Polar Vortex be damned, there's a big ol' world to discover!


Happy New Year, blog friends!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Woman in Her Thirties Posts a Year of Gratitude

Remember how I posted this a year ago, about how I was going to do the 365 Grateful Project on Instagram for 2014?

Raise your hand if you didn't think I'd do it.  Go on, admit it.  I can't see it, anyway.

Well, suckas, I did.  I was not perfect at it, but I think overall the amount of days I missed could be counted on one hand.  I'm no mathematician, but I that means I ROCK.  A woman in her thirties means what she says and says what she means.

The 365 Grateful Project was eye-opening and totally worthwhile, and let me say for the record that if you are reading this and are tempted to give it a try for 2015, DO IT.  Here are a few of the many things I learned being #365grateful.

1.  It was way easier than I thought.

I am a picture taking fool, so taking just one picture every day was a piece of cake for me.  But it was more than just the actual taking the picture.  I was worried that I would struggle to find something genuine every day that I was grateful for.  Especially in the depths of the Polar Vortex, endless sleep deprivation, etc. etc.  But it was easy.  SUPER easy.  In fact, I could have posted twice a day with no problem.  Once I was in the habit of being grateful, I was grateful for lots of things, all the time.

One of my favorites, from early in the year.  


2.  The little things were sometimes more profound than the big things.

I had so much to be grateful for this year. Remember how I published a book, and my life-long dream of becoming a writer came true?  That was a BIG thing.  


Of course I'm so grateful for that, but the 365 Grateful Project made me step back and think about the rungs on the ladder to getting me there.  The things I might have taken for granted.

Hot wheels on a miserable February day.

Sweet Daniel, and all the happiness he brings us (when he's not stealing the kids' food).

Chipotle.

Life isn't all about the big things, it's the little things, too.  And they all add up, when you start seeing them.


3.  Gratitude is a state of mind.

It is not enough to be thankful sometimes.  It has to be every day.  It has be be an engrained part of you, like potty training.  Yeah, that's it.  Being grateful is like being potty trained.

Oy.

What I mean is that once I started looking at life through a lens of gratitude, it became a part of who I am. Here's a good example:


This picture was taken after a solid 24 hours of puking.  Hard to believe Anna had it in her.  And once she was done, guess who was next?  Only I had it worse than her, to the point of needing IV fluid.  But as I lay on the couch and took this pic, I kept thinking, 'at least she's better.  At least L is home.  At least my neighbor can take me to the ER.'  

See what I mean? Being grateful doesn't necessarily mean being happy.  (I was certainly not happy when I snapped this pic.)  But I was aware, and thankful for the things I knew would get me past the hard part.  

4.  Gratitude helps you live in the present moment.

If there is one thing I'm bad at, it's this.  Meditation is the hardest part of yoga for me.  Napping is not in the cards; never has been.  My mind is constantly moving toward the next thing, the next thing, and then the next thing.  It's annoying.  

But the 365 Grateful Project helped me recognize the moment, the space I was inhabiting, for better or worse.


For example, look at this picture of my little Mister Buddy.  Look.  No, really look.  Think about how many times you look at your kids, your pets, your partner, in all their sleepy perfection and not take a moment to soak it in.  I do it all the time.  But not this day, not in this moment.  And I'm so grateful, because now I have this picture to melt over for all eternity.  

5.  Gratitude is contagious.

I've taken some flack over the 365 Grateful project, I won't lie. I'm sure my once daily posts got annoying for some, especially if they were not in the mood for Polly Positivity.  But overall, the people I've talked to that have followed me on Instagram have been overwhelmingly glad that I did it, because it has encouraged them to be grateful, too.  Maybe not in a snap-a-pic every day kind of way, maybe not in a public kind of way.  But maybe in an ever-so-slight mind shift kind of way. 




At least, that is the hope.  And I think, at the end of the day, that is what is point of gratitude.  Hope in the face of adversity.  Thankfulness, even when we don't feel like life is going our way.  Figuring out small happinesses, and by sharing them, paying them forward.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Woman in Her Thirties and Community

When you're buying a home for the first time, people always repeat the same old mantra:   Location, location, location.  I remember it from when I bought my first home, a townhouse in Sacramento near the river, and I remember it when we moved many multiple times since then, and I certainly remember it when we bought our house here in P-town.

For those of you not from here, or maybe those of you who didn't see our family grace the cover of our neighborhood magazine...

This is T and H, both laughing uncontrollably at that magazine cover.  I love my friends. 

... Pleasantville has a bit of reputation for snobbery.  Not just my neighborhood (though it certainly does), but the whole of P-town. We are called cake-eaters, which is pretty dumb if you think about it, but I get it now.  Especially as an outsider, someone who didn't grow up knowing many of her neighbors, and doesn't have much to relate to when it comes to country clubs and nannies.

Here's what I've discovered in the last five years living here:  The reputation I live amidst is not completely unfounded.  As a friend said the other day, 'You get caught up in the bubble; you start comparing yourself to the people around you and focus on what you don't have, rather than what you do.'  Yes.  Yes here, yes for many women in their thirties, I would imagine.

However, two things happened this month that made me appreciate this bubble in which I live.  The first involves this big, gray cloud that has hung over me since I was about sixteen years old-- a molar in my mouth that never came down to play with my other teeth and ended up fuzing to my cheekbone. The technical term is 'ankylosed', and to make a long story short, that thing had to come out.  I really didn't know what to expect in terms of recovery, but I figured shoot, I recovered from a C-Section, didn't I?  And at least this time I didn't have to breastfeed after.

I didn't tell too many people what was going on because I was in denial felt like I had things under control.  On surgery day, L was prepped and ready to take over for a few days so I could stay drugged up and get through the most painful hump of recovery.  The people who did know kept offering to bring food, take my kids, sit with me and wipe the drool from my mouth, anything.  L came home from picking the kids up from school that day and said, 'Jeez, everyone there is SO nice!'  Because it's true.

And as much as I said, 'Please, I'm on an Ensure diet anyway! Don't bring me anything!' I kept getting stuff:

Pumpkin bread and Juice So Good... my new favorite thing!

Beautiful flowers

Nie Nie's delicious soup

A woman in her thirties knows enough about the world to know that this doesn't happen everywhere. My surgery ended up being MUCH better than we'd anticipated (hooray!), and I was reminded yet again of the generosity of the people I'm surrounded with.

A few days after this, while I was still recovering, the news of a dear neighbor's grave condition started filtering through the neighborhood.  She had been battling cancer for some time, and as the end drew near, the neighbors all rallied.  Visits to hospice, lots and lots of food deliveries, flowers, cards... Her funeral was Friday, and as I sat in my pew next to another set of neighbors we really truly couldn't live without, I was overcome with appreciation for where I live.  That afternoon, as we hand-delivered our Christmas cards...


I talked to Anna about how lucky she was to live here. She, of course, had no idea what I was talking about...


... and neither will her brother, at least not until they go out into the world and see it for themselves.  So until then, I will just have to eat my cake (or pumpkin bread, whatever) and appreciate it for them.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Woman in her Thirties Makes the Best of It

Over the last few weeks, when I have told people that L had to travel for work over the Thanksgiving holiday, I got a whole slew of different responses.  Everything from, 'What kind of a jerk travels for work over Thanksgiving?' to 'We never spend holidays together. Welcome to my world.'  It was interesting, too, how I responded to all of these people.  Everything from 'Yeah, this is the last time THIS is ever going to happen', to 'It's not that big of a deal, not really'.

My response changed based on the person, by the situation. I changed my perception based on the perception of others. This is NOT how a woman in her thirties is supposed to behave.  Had I learned nothing on this journey in my thirties?

Besides yoga?

I thought and thought about this as we approached the holiday, and kept coming back to a conversation I had with my wonderful neighbor some time ago.  She and her husband have two grown children, and are living the dream.  Because her husband is a retired pilot, they travel anywhere, anytime, for free.  They take great pride making their own alcoholic beverages.  They host Downton Abbey parties.  They are among the most giving and kind people I've ever known.  I mean, seriously.  THE DREAM.

Anyway, she told me awhile back that she-- like me-- was alone a lot in parenting.  There's no way around the suckage of that.  However, she reminded me, I have two choices in this situation.  I can get angry and resentful.  I can compare my life to the lives of the people around me and I can shine big giant spotlights on how much better their lives are than mine.  I can wallow in my own self-pity and take my children down into the pit with me.

Or...

I can make the best of it.  For my neighbors, it was about celebrating holidays on different days, when they could all be together.  And if that didn't work out for whatever reason, they would understand that such-and-such was just a day, and wouldn't define them or their family unit.  I can focus on all the blessings we have (COUNTLESS) and choose to be happy.

I'm not going to lie... we missed Daddy this year on Thanksgiving.  We set a place for him:


We called him lots, but tried not to make him feel too bad (it's not like traveling over the holiday is easy for the person traveling...)  We had a simple dinner with YeYe and NieNie and wrote what we were thankful for on the white tablecloth.

(Daddy, of course.)

And when I asked Daddy what he wanted me to write on the tablecloth for him this year, this is what he said:


Honestly, when I wrote that, I realized exactly what my neighbor was talking about.  About making the best of things.  About how it affects everyone, when you're positive.  About how a day is just a day, but a family is defined by more.

Happy Thanksgiving from our silly, unconventional, wonderfully imperfect family to yours.