Leopard Print

When my mom began the never-ending rounds of chemotherapy, I got her an iPad so she could watch movies and Netflix shows while she sat through the hours of chemo. Then she discovered YouTube. She spent the first few months watching Liam Hemsworth workout videos and sending them to me. “He’s a hunk!”

Throughout the day, I hear her giggling in her room – my remote workstation is in the adjacent room. Then I’ll hear a “ping” and an email will appear from her in my in-box. The videos range from the Ohio State University Marching Band playing Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” to “ANGRY AND RUDEST AUDITIONS ON AMERICAN IDOL!” to my personal favorite, “America’s Got Talent Emil and Dariel Brothers perform Jimi Hendrix.” 

In the mornings, when I clatter downstairs in my leopard print and heels, she giggles. I show her my shoes of the day and it makes her laugh. I have an entire closet dedicated to leopard print. And I have well over 100 goddamn pairs of shoes. Because if another pair of shoes and leopard print keeps my mom here another day, I’ll keep buying the f*cking shoes and wearing the leopard print. Another day, another day. Another day, please.

My favorite section of my shoe closet and my closet-closet is the leopard print section. I love leopard print. Here’s why: Because even though leopards are the smallest of the big cat family, they are powerful and capable of taking on prey much larger than them. They are incredibly strong and can climb trees while carrying heavy loads. Although they are not known for great speed (like a cheetah) they are still pretty damn fast and can jump and maneuver in small spaces. Leopards are brave and badass.

On days I want to feel brave and badass, I wear leopard print. When my mom has chemo, I will wear leopard print. When I feel lonely, I will wear leopard print. When I feel stuck, I will  wear leopard print. When I feel scared, I will wear leopard print.

When I was growing up, I adored watching my mother get dressed for work in the morning. Hair, makeup, clothing, shoes. It meant so much to her to look professional and show her students she cared. And so, I do the same. I take the time, because she did. That is what she taught me. Take the time to show the people you serve that you care about them and you want to do your best for them because you took the time to get up, do your hair, get dressed, put on your makeup. Yes, it’s hard some days. But I still do it. I do still get up and get dressed and put on makeup and do my hair. Because she does it to go to chemo and doctor appointments and some days just to get up and be here. So I can do it. I can do it. Now, more than ever, she shows me that it matters. So I do it. Because I am my mother’s daughter.

We all have our ways of dealing with that parade of horribles that may actually be happening or may only be in our minds. We all have something we have or do that makes us feel a little braver, more present, a little fiercer, more tenacious, precious, steadfast, and determined. We all have our own version of leopard print.  If it makes you braver, if it makes you giggle, if it reminds you to lift that middle finger to fear and giving up, then do it.

Here’s to YouTube videos that make you giggle, to your tribe, to your badass self. Here’s to one more day. And another day after that. Here’s to leopard print. Here’s to shoes. Here’s to the many ways we beat the odds, every damn day. However you do it, keep doing it. Do it. F*k fear. Keep going.

A Sweet New Year

Five years ago, there was a knock on my door and Max was standing there bleeding from his mouth. He handed me a tooth. “What’s this?” I said. (Mistress of the obvious.) “My tooth.” “Put it under your pillow!” I said. “Mom. I’m 13 not 9,” Max said. “Okay l will give you some money, it wasn’t a permanent tooth, right? Where did it come from?” I said. Max responded: “MOM. It came from my FACE. And I don’t need money. It’s your birthday present and Chanukah present and kwanza present and Christmas present in one precious bundle.”

My precious bundle has been gone since August. I’ve gotten more accustomed to an empty nest. Well, sort of.  It’s not completely empty. And I have become more aware of the habits of the remaining inhabitants of my nest. My mother and the dogs, Atticus and Lilo. Atticus is an Australian Shepherd mix. We adopted him from a rescue when he was a puppy, over 13 years ago. He is now arthritic and requires more frequent vet visits. I am grateful for his steadfast pathetic-eyed, bow-legged company. My mother’s dog, Lilo, is a 7 year old border collie Aussie mix who is neurotic and energetic. She spends her days digging holes in my backyard or hiding under my vanity. If she was a human she would chew her nails and wear all black and listen to Morrissey.

My mother’s bedroom is adjacent to my home office. About five or six times a day, the dogs clatter to her bedroom door. Atticus creaks up from his customary spot near my desk and Lilo wanders in from her backyard emo mischief. I don’t know what commonality causes them to arrive at the same time at my mother’s door. Their collars clang and their toenails click across the laminate floor into her room. And then I hear her say, “NO. No more cookies!”

Every time, a few minutes later, the dogs march out, tails wagging. My mother follows them to the Treat Desk. This is a refurbished old-fashioned school-house desk, acquired from a Goodwill store. We got it for Shane when he was little, cleaned and sanded it and spray painted it gold for him to use. He kept it in his room until he moved away to go to college in Oregon two years ago. Now it stands against the kitchen wall and serves as a shelf for boxes of dog biscuits.

The desk and the treats are at nose level, but the dogs know better than to help themselves. My mother was a public-school teacher for decades. At 85 years old, she still has the voice and tenacity of a professional who can keep 30 high school students in their seats. “There,” she says to the dogs. “Now go away.” They take their treats and slink away. Until the next time.

Every few days, she asks me to order groceries. “What do you need?” I ask her. “The large box of dog biscuits. And the special dog jerky treats.” I know better than to observe that we go through these items pretty quickly. That badass beautiful teacher raised me to know when to keep my mouth shut and just get sh*t done.

Later, at the dinner table, when Atticus is lying next to her feet, my mother will typically observe. “He is always following me around. He thinks I’m going to give him some food.” “I wonder why,” I say. She says to him, “No human food for you. It’s bad for you. You’re  getting chunky.”

He stares at her adoringly, panting. An hour later he happily lumps up from his spot on the floor and click clack jingles into her room, along with Lilo. “NO more cookies! I mean it.” Then the parade meanders out to the Treat Table.

When the Wallbridge Fire was burning towards us a month ago, in August, I told my mother to pack to evacuate. When I checked to make sure she had what she needed, I found that she carefully packed a large bag of dog treats.

When my mother arrived here to live with me two years ago, she had lived alone for almost 30 years. Throughout those years, she had given photos and art and books to family. She winnowed her life down to about 20 boxes of clothes and books and memorabilia to come here. But she kept all my report cards. And all of the certificates and awards I received, from junior high (we called it junior high back in the olden days) to law school. Now they are packed in a go box, one of the important boxes that will go with us if (when) we have to evacuate again for a fire.

After you have evacuated your home for a fire, you look at possessions differently. When your loved ones lose everything in fires and floods, your heartbreak for them teaches you. Things do matter. Even if you scan in old photos, the originals are priceless. Even if you take photos to remember, they cannot really ever be replaced. The handprints of your children as they grew up. The baby albums. That first lock of hair. The first tooth. Your grandmother’s wedding photos.

These days, I am finally in the process of clearing out the piles that my sons left behind when they moved out. The reams of  homework and notes. The shoes that have been piled next to the garage door for a decade. The toys and the books and the far-too-small t-shirts and clothing that hung in closets, untouched, for years. The posters that hung in the stands at high school football games, that ended up tattered and taped to a bedroom wall. Dried roses from a band performance, crammed into a vase on a half-empty dresser. School photos lining hallways and piled on bookcases.

I was unwilling to change or move a lot of these items after my sons’ dad and I divorced, afraid to make the change more drastic than it already was. Today, it occurred to me that I was still hesitating to make changes because I want it all to stay the same for my mother. If it all stays the same, we won’t disrupt the Force and we can keep her cancer at bay. It’s not rational, but neither is faith. And sometimes, that’s all we have.

So here it is, Rosh Hashanah 2020. This is a year we will never forget, for so many reasons. Today is an opportunity to evaluate the year before, to ask for forgiveness, to cast off, to let go, to prepare for the coming year. It is a good day to clear away the detritus. It is a good day to forgive yourself for missing the mark, for being less than perfect. To forgive others, to remember we are all doing our best. And to make a promise to do better. We can always do better. We are blessed that we can. That’s a really good thing to remember.

I’m letting go of some of the piles but I won’t let go of all of them. Not the piles that remind me of the best birthday presents and Chanukah presents and kwanza presents and Christmas presents that are my precious bundles, my heart and soul. Not the carefully packaged dog treats ready to go in case we have to evacuate, because fire season isn’t over yet and the dogs will want their cookies.. Not the hope that this time next year, both dogs will still be clattering into my mother’s bedroom and I will still hear her say, “NO more cookies.”

Yes, yes, yes, to piles of hope and a sweet new year to all of us. L’Shanah Tovah.

The Best of Me

Max packed up and left for college the day before my birthday a few weeks ago. He said, “The time went by so quickly, Mom.” I told him, “Yes. It did. And it didn’t.” As they say, the years went fast but the days went slow. I still recall the achy sweet sore baby body fatigue. I recall zombie-ing up out of bed to hold each of my babies in the eternal rocking chair, passing out there until one of us woke again. And starting all over again. But. The memory of holding my sons is my brightest and cleanest. And I clearly recall that the top of each of my son’s baby heads had a scent that is a season I will never forget.

Man, it was so hard for me to let that last baby go. Like I had a choice.

When Shane was an infant, I was working as a legal secretary for a law firm near the Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado. I remember that there was a poster in the copy room, with the quote: “Making the decision to become a parent is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

We found Shane a day care a couple blocks away from my work. I would drop him off there in the morning and pick him up on the way home from work. On April 20, 1999, after I dropped Shane off and arrived at work, my office manager told us that our building was locked down because there had been shooting at Columbine High School, in neighboring Jefferson County.

I don’t know when we were allowed to finally leave work that day. I do remember how hard it was knowing I could not go get my baby. I cannot imagine what it was like that day for the parents standing outside Columbine High School, waiting to get their babies. I know that when I held my child that day, I knew exactly what it meant to know my heart was walking around outside of my body. I have never forgotten that.

The day after Max left was my birthday. I woke up at 4 am to thunder and lightning and within hours, our world here was on fire. Again. I had already packed my go bag to evacuate. As the days wore on, I got aggravated at myself for all the sh*t I have accumulated during the 15 years I’ve lived in this house. Lessons of the fires. Get rid of what doesn’t really matter to you. And pack up what does. There’s always, always, a lesson.

Max called me daily and FaceTimed with me. Reminded me of more memorabilia and important items I should pack and take with me. Photos. Books. His old laptop with photos on it. My grandmother’s obi from her wedding kimono.

He texted me. “Stay safe, Mom.”

Shane called me to check in and told me, “I’m going to take some time off work. I’m coming to visit.”

The fires are almost out. We are pretty safe, for now. Tonight, I realized, my babies, my sons, my amazing young men, were steadfastly there for me during this most recent disaster. Every day.

We can try to hide from a scary world and stay safe. Or we can acknowledge that we are f*king afraid, but still taste the juicy peachiness of the present. I’m right there. I think. I don’t know. I miss the hell out of my kids. I have to trust that they will be okay. More importantly, that they are reveling in and experiencing their present moments. Because that’s living.

So yeah, maybe my heart is walking around outside of my body every day. So is my soul. But I know it’s a really good thing. Through the long days and the somehow-fast years, through the exhausted nights, the school open houses, the sports games, the plays, the carpools, the snack days, the performances, the parties, the homework tears, the dinner conversations, though the time went by quickly, it went by oh so sweetly. And I am so grateful that I got to be there for it all. I would not give back a single day.

Sometimes you have to let go of what you love the most to make the world a better place. Even if it is your heart and soul.

You’re welcome, world. You got the very best of me.

Love of a Dog

I am a hopeless romantic. Or maybe I am a hopeful romantic. I started writing poems when I was 10 years old. I picked up my mother’s collection of Shakespeare around that same time and even though I didn’t quite understand all of it, I understood that pretty much every sonnet was about love. I was a nerd in love with writing and in love with the idea of love. And I didn’t know a damn thing about either one of those things. 

I wanted to be a poet, a writer. In fourth grade, my entire class wrote letters to John D. Fitzgerald, the author of “The Great Brain” series. In my letter to him I said, I wanted a chihuahua because my mother and my brother and I lived in a small apartment and we could not have big pets. But I really, really wanted a dog. And I wanted to be a writer. But maybe I should be a doctor because I liked doctors and they were kind and helped us. And of all the people in my fourth grade class, Mr. Fitzgerald wrote back to me. He said that I was a good writer. He told me that he hoped one day I would have my chihuahua. And he also told me, be a doctor. Or a lawyer. Because it is very hard to make a living as a writer. You must find a job that that will feed your art, he wrote to me. I have never forgotten that. 

I followed Mr. Fitzgerald’s advice. I became a lawyer. I got married and I acquired a husband and a couple big dogs. And we had two sons. When my marriage was crumbling, my youngest son Max asked for another dog. He wanted a little dog, a dog he could hold on his lap. Not the big ones that we typically had. 

He learned PowerPoint in fifth grade. For one of his final projects for an open house, he did a PowerPoint presentation titled “Why Max Should Have A Bichon Frise.” It was pretty damn good. A few months later, he and his dad adopted Tommy. Not much longer after that, his dad and I got divorced. His dad moved out and the dogs stayed with me. Max was 13 years old. 

When Max started his senior year in high school last year, Tommy started having elder dog issues. Tommy was incontinent. He couldn’t see or hear very well. My evening routine included putting a diaper on him and tucking him into his doggie bed. Morning meant getting him up and out into the backyard. And then, a couple months ago, he wouldn’t come back in on his own. He was tired and would lie down on a patch of warm dirt in the back yard. I’d bring him in and hug him and he’d chortle and go back to sleep. When Max would come home, he’d wake up and totter after him. Max would take him for short walks, but only Max could take him.  Tommy was moving more and more slowly. 

Finally, after veterinarian visits and tests and difficult discussions, it was time for Tommy to be at peace and out of pain. I told Max. He was heartbroken. He spent Tommy’s last 24 hours with him, hugging him, taking him to the park, feeding him milkshakes, reading to him, playing him music. 

At the veterinarian’s office, my son held his little dog for the last time. He told Tommy stories about all the good times they had together. He said to Tommy, these are all the spots you liked to be tickled, do you remember? 

I realized that my child, my now young adult, lost so much this year. He lost a “normal” senior year. He lost prom. He lost a “normal” graduation. He lost saying goodbye to his teachers and his friends and his high school. He lost a last high school summer with vacations and trips. And he lost his little dog. But here’s the thing. My son, my badass, beautiful, boy – showed me that this year, he also learned a lot about love and letting go. 

You know what, it turns out that Mr. Fitzgerald was right about fourth grade me. I did get a little dog. I do have a job that feeds my art.  I’ve got amazing sons and family and friends. I’m also still a hopeless – or hopeful – romantic. Because thanks to the love of a brave, sweet, little dog, and my boy who held him to the very end, I believe love is possible – and necessary – for all of us. Thank you, little Tommy. I am grateful to have earned the love of a dog.

Happy Father’s Day.

When Shane was 16 years old, I got a phone call from a paramedic as I was pulling into my driveway. He said, “Do you have a son named Shane?” I said, “Yes, I do.” He told me that Shane had fallen off his skateboard and hit his head. They were loading him into an ambulance to take him to the ER. What followed was a few days in the hospital, followed by three weeks at home. I learned that my lanky kid had been standing on his longboard, lost his balance and fell backwards, resulting in a head injury. Honestly, it was one of the worst times of my mom-life. No one wants to see their kid in a hospital bed, IVs, pale, weak.

And by the way, wear a helmet when you skateboard, kids.

My Shane recovered from his concussion. We joke that when Shane hit his head, it changed him from a football playing, military-bound, alpha male to the laid-back poet, screenwriter, and quietly assertive young man he is today. I think that is who he was all along. Sometimes we need a smack upside the head to realize this. I don’t recommend falling off your skateboard onto your skull to achieve this.

Most of the time, life, the Universe, supplies this smack. In reality or metaphorically. It may be a few times before you pay attention.

Today is Father’s Day. For years, when I was married, my focus on Father’s Day was on my Wasband and on his father. So – I got a 20-year reprieve from dealing with my emotions about my own father on Father’s Day. But like most things that we take a sabbatical from without resolution, they don’t actually go away.

My parents divorced when I was six years old. I did not see my father again. However, he did reach out to me when I was in my mid-twenties, before I started law school. We started writing letters to each other. He was a college professor, smart. I used to proofread my letters multiple times before sending them to him. No matter, he still corrected them. I still disagree with him about the judicious use of a comma, particularly an Oxford comma. But – that’s not the point here.

My mother, bless her heart, put together a package for him and we mailed it to him. Photos of my brother and me. Newspaper articles about my brother’s athletic achievements. My writing. Our college careers. Both of us being accepted to law school. His grandchildren. She provided him with twenty years of time lost, without ever blaming or asking where he went. No communication for twenty years and she just sent out a catch-up package. Damn. That’s some amazing karma.

But I asked. I asked where he went and why. I was angry. I couldn’t understand why a father who said he loved me would leave. He gave me reasons. To him, they were valid. To me, as a law student with an attitude, they were not enough. At that time, I had not learned the most important lesson of being a good advocate – to listen without judgement. Shit, that’s one of the most important  and difficult lessons of being a good human being. Listen without judgement.

I wish I had been kinder to him. I wish I would have said, I forgive you, Daddy. I hope I said, “I love you.” I hope he knew that I did.

The letters from my dad stopped in the early 1990’s. My brother and I did a search in the mid-1990s and we learned that my father committed suicide. And just like that, my dad was gone. For good this time.

For a lot of years, I was really, really mad at him. Not fair! Why would you just leave and not say anything to me? And then, I don’t know. I stopped thinking about it. It hurt too much. It became part of my rushed narrative.

So – Shane was here visiting last week. He was in the backyard talking to a friend on the phone and I heard him describing the time when he fell off his skateboard and fractured his skull. I said, “Oh, Shane, that still hurts my heart.” He said to his friend, “My mom still has a hard time with that one.” Yes, I do. It’s one of the worst and best things about being a mom. That your heart and soul are out there in the world walking around, riding skateboards, driving cars, falling in love, and you cannot change that, you cannot protect them from life. You just have to let them go. You have to trust you did a good job parenting them. It sucks in the best possible way.

For some reason, today, on Father’s Day, the Universe smacked me upside the head. Maybe it happened before. Today, I finally paid attention.

It wasn’t like anything sexy or spectacular happened.  I re-organized my garden shed. I weed-whacked the front yard. I cleaned off tools and organized the tool bench. I planted sunflowers and rosemary. I reorganized the garage. I packed a box of items for fire season – and discussed fire evacuation plans with my best friend. I was dirty and sweating. I joked with a friend – “I’m the Dad today.” And it just hit me. Fucking left hook to my brain.

My dad never got to see me grow up. He never saw me get ready for Homecoming and Prom. He never saw any of my graduations. He never got to tell me my dress was too short and my attitude was too big.

He was not perfect, for sure. I challenged the way he handled his divorce from my mom.  I was not okay with his parenting of me and my brother. But in the end, holding onto blame and shame and hate never brings us to a better place. It just propagates more blame and shame and hate. I don’t know about you, but I’m done with that kind of redundancy. I’d like to step off that hamster wheel.

I don’t know why my father believed his life wasn’t worth continuing. What I do know is that I’ve stopped asking if it was my fault. Or if I could have changed it. Just as I cannot fix or change my sons’ lives as they progress in their own adult lives, I did not have the ability to fix or change my father’s life. There’s a lot of power in compassion and forgiveness. Especially when you give it to yourself.

I hope you had a beautiful Father’s Day, however you spent it, and whomever you spent it with.

Dear Daddy, I hope you get this message. I just want to say, Happy Father’s Day. I love you and I wish we could have spent more time together. I hope that wherever you are, you are happy. Love, Pixie.

Graduations and Divorcesaries

My Max graduated on May 30, 2020 in a drive-through processional. It was actually heartwarmingly perfect. The streets of our little town were lined with people in front of their homes holding up signs “Congratulations, Class of 2020!” Here’s to celebrating the future in the face of disaster. It’s how we win back our lives from fear.

His big brother Shane came home for a couple weeks. My house was full again. My home office is in the living room adjoining the kitchen. As with most homes, my family and friends gather at the kitchen table.

The first morning Shane was back I could hear my sons at the kitchen table talking. Shane giving advice to Max about going away to college and living on his own for the first time. Max telling Shane about music. Shane telling Max about movies. I was in the next room at my desk sending up a silent thank you to the Universe that they were not talking about going to law school. Not that I don’t respect or appreciate my profession and my passion. I want my kids to follow their hearts to their art. When I finally did, it made all the difference in my life.

The other night, going through my journals, I found a classic brotherly exchange, circa 2015. It occurred to me that a solid chunk of a being a mom (or dad) is eavesdropping on your kids and hoping there’s no crying or bloodshed. 

Max: “Shane, what can you do with a mixer?”
Shane: “What CAN’T you do with a mixer?”
Max: “Can you make babies with it?”
Shane: “Leave my room.”

My sweet, funny, sometimes pain in the ass kids left my house tonight to go stay at their dad’s house for a few days.  Shane said to me, “Mom, you look tired.” I said, “Yeah, I had a rough workday.” He hugged me and said, “I love you.” He came back through an hour later and I got another hug. Max said, “I’m leaving but I’ll be back, Mom. I’m not really leaving, I’ll be back later tonight.” I said, “I know, baby.”

Yesterday was my fifth divorcesary. Five years since my divorce was final. During those five years, my sons have grown from teenagers to young men. During the first really hard years, I wasn’t sure I was doing it right. I wasn’t sure I was present enough as a mom. I was the mom who brought store-bought snacks, I didn’t plan ahead. I was the mom who sometimes couldn’t make it to the ceremonies or the concerts or the presentations because I had a hearing or a deposition. I was that mom whose “career” kept her busy. I felt guilty – a lot.

I’ve always talked to my sons about my work, usually when we eat dinner together. About how important it is to look out for those who don’t look like you, who are disabled, who are struggling. That we have an obligation to bring this world forward, to make it better than we found it. That we are here to serve, not judge. Man, I love talking to them about my work. Max once told me that one word that describes me is “unstoppable.” I like that.

On my fifth divorcesary, I realized that I needed to give myself a fucking break. I was telling my sons to be compassionate, good humans, but I was not doing that for myself. You cannot truly be a compassionate, good human, until you are compassionate and good to yourself. My mom used to tell me, when I would say something negative about another person, “Are you judging something in them that you need to evaluate in yourself?” Oooh, so hard to think about that. Maybe that is the greatest fear we face. Not a pandemic. That we have to get truly gritty and honest with ourselves. And maybe instead of doing it with judgment – do it with compassion and curiosity. My mom is usually right. Most moms are usually right.

I sure don’t have the answers, but I’m asking a lot of questions these days. I have great kids and I’m grateful for them and their love and their wicked senses of humor every damn day. I’ve got five years of being single and falling on my face a lot. And also – getting back up again.  I think I’m going to give myself a break and be a little more compassionate to myself in my journey to be an unstoppable, compassionate, human being and advocate. I hope you consider a little kindness and compassion towards yourself in this journey we are all on together. Namasté, beautiful ones. Don’t give up. We can do this.

Happy Mother’s Day

Back when Max was in middle school, I was going shopping and I asked him, “Do you need any new clothes?” He said, “Yes, I need some new underwear.” I asked him, “What size do you wear now?” He went into the bathroom, closed the door for a few minutes then yelled out to me, “100% cotton M!”

Max leaves for college in the fall. Well, that’s the plan right now anyway. University of Northern Colorado is setting up to hold classes according to the protocols of these times: masks, social distancing. Shane called me this morning from Oregon as he headed into work, to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day. He asked me, “Do you think I’ll actually be able to go on campus to go to college this fall?” I checked University of Oregon’s website. It looks like he will – under the same protocols. And I will have an empty nest.

I know the best indicator that you have done your job as a parent is when your kids are independent and can solo out in the world. When Shane left, I learned pretty quickly what I didn’t teach him. How to write a check. How to pick out a good pineapple from the produce department. Now that Max is going away in the fall, I’m running through lists in my mind. Does he know how long it takes to boil an egg? Did I tell him how to balance his checking account? Write a check? Buy his own underwear?

I realize now, as my sons become more independent and adult-ish-like, what it must have been like for my mom when I headed off for college. My mom used to say to me, “I wish you could learn from my mistakes.” I know now what she meant. I wish my sons could learn from my mistakes, so they don’t have to make their own. I wish my sons never have to experience heartbreak or loss or fear. I know they already have. Just living through this pandemic has given them more life experience than I ever had at their ages.

My mom and dad got divorced when I was six years old. My mom drove us cross-country from Missouri to Colorado in a Volkswagen square back. We ended up in a little town in Colorado. My mom was a teacher there for three decades before she retired. Although she eventually remarried, she essentially raised my brother and I by herself, on a teacher’s salary.

I remember watching her get ready for work in the mornings. She would sit at her dresser and put on her makeup and do her hair, listening to AM radio. I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. I couldn’t wait to do my hair and makeup like her someday. She was strict and she set the bar high for me and my brother. Once I became a mom, I understood she did this because she didn’t have the time or energy to deal with any bullshit from us.

One of my mom’s past students referred to her as “a force of nature.” My tiny, soft-spoken mother enforced rules, made us mind our manners, do our chores, and do our homework. And she loved us, fiercely. She still does.

I am definitely my mother’s daughter. I inherited my love of music and art from my mother. I have her stubbornness and determination. And her love of shoes and funky jewelry. I do my hair and makeup every morning before work, music blaring. I fiercely love my children. And her.

Many of us who are parents look at our kids through the lens of our own expectations of ourselves.  We often hope for lives for them that we don’t give ourselves. I used to do that. Having my mom live with me softened my agenda. I realize that life is sweet and short and it’s meant to be lived moment to moment with love and attention. I realize that my kids, like me, and like my mom, are absolutely their own beautiful badass selves. Which makes it all the sweeter every time they say, “I love you, Mom.” However and wherever you did it, and whomever you celebrated it with, I hope you had a good Mother’s Day.

Treat yourself

Maybe during this quarantine shut down mask-wearing time, we have a choice. We can spin out and get mad and blame the government and our (alleged) toilet paper hoarding neighbors. Or we can pay attention to what is actually happening inside our homes, inside our brains, inside our hearts, and decide what needs to change and what can stay the same. I’ve done both over the last month. It is a daily struggle.

A few months ago, while I was out of town, my mother’s oncologist told her that there were more tumors. In her lungs and in her vertebrae. I knew she had been getting tired. She is a night owl, it’s where I got it. But she had been going into her room at 9:00 pm after saying goodnight to all the dogs. And not getting up until after I left for work. This was unusual, since the last round of radiation and immunology. The doctors gave her some options.

She told me, “I am going to fight. Besides, Mochi would miss me. [Mochi is her name for my dog, Atticus.] Everyone else he loves has gone. I have to stay.” First, Atticus is now Mochi because he is now round and roly-poly. (Mochi loosely means “rice treat” in Japanese).  Second, he adores my mother and follows her everywhere and when he does, she gives him another treat. But what am I going to do? Send in the dog treat police? To arrest a naughty 85-year old and a 75-pound ball of fur?

My mama chose to fight. More radiation. More chemo. Weight loss. Hair loss. Yet, she still has that beautiful face and skin she’s always had. She wears bright scarves and sneaks out into the kitchen to find sweet snacks to make her happy. I catch her reaching up into the cupboard for the sugar. She looks at me and smiles. And grabs a spoon from the kitchen drawer. It’s her treat. Whatever makes her happy.

A couple months ago, I came downstairs and I found her eyeglasses and her phone on the table and I was worried. I didn’t know where she was or why she would leave her glasses and her phone.  But after about 10 minutes she came out of her room to get them. She told Atticus, “Lie down, Mochi. No more treats,” And she said to Tommy, “Don’t pee on the floor.” And I added, “You little asshole.” Then I hugged him. Lord, that dog is such a pain in the ass. But the pain in the ass in our life needs our love just as much as we do. It’s entirely possible that we are the pain the ass for someone else’s life. I’m pretty sure I am.

Despite the pain and the effects of radiation and chemo, my mom maintains her routine. Every morning she gets up and feeds the pack of dogs. She says to them, “Don’t stand behind me! I don’t want to fall over you!” And they obediently shuffle back. A few times a day, when she comes out of her room, she goes to the treat box and gives them all a treat. I say to her, “MOM, that is why Atticus is getting so big!” She just gives me that look. The teacher-librarian look I grew up with. We all know the mom look that can silence you. I have not quite mastered it with my offspring. But I’m working on it.

When I’m at my desk during the day working, my mom wanders out of her room with her iPad to show me the news stories she is reading. Last week it was Liam Hemsworth’s workout videos. Bless you, Liam. My mom loves your workout videos. She’s shown me photos of wildlife and ocean and flowers. She says to me, as I drive her to her doctor appointments, “Look how beautiful it is. The sky is so blue. Everything is green and growing. It is so beautiful here.” Then we get home and the dogs swarm around her because they know whenever she comes in and out of the house, everyone gets a treat. Mochi is getting incrementally bigger and squishing his way out of the doggie door. But who f*cking cares. He is happy.

I walked out of my house this morning with my cup of coffee and I sat and looked at the sky and the green of my backyard. And I thought, you know, whatever may come, I have this moment and I’m grateful. And maybe, just maybe. In these moments we are forced to pause from our fast forward numbing paced gotta have it lives, we are getting the treat of learning how to be present. Maybe we all needed to be literally grounded to be more spiritually and lovingly grounded. To stop and say, this is where we are. And this is what we need. Perhaps, we are finally learning that one of the biggest needs is how badly we need each other. So that we can keep fighting for each other to be healthy and safe. So that we can come home to packs of dogs and treats. Until then, beloveds, may you be well, may you be safe, may you be loved. I love you. Until we meet again.

Four Leaf Clover

It is now 27 days, I think, since my county in California issued a shelter in place order. The day after we did, Governor Newsom issued a statewide quarantine. My law firm transitioned to working remotely. We initiated a video staff meeting every week. Our second meeting was kind of a fail but we’re getting better at it. We’ve all seen each other’s kitchens/bedrooms/living rooms. We’re learning to put up backgrounds on our calls. Baby steps.

Because my mother is undergoing cancer treatment, I’ve avoided going out as much as possible. Just today, we got an order from our county Public Health Officer to wear masks in public if we are going into anywhere other than our homes, or if we cannot maintain a six foot distance from each other. I took the dogs for a walk at 9 p.m. in the empty streets of my neighborhood without a mask because I’m claustrophobic as hell and I figured it would be okay to be maskless. As it turns out, lots of people are walking out late at night these days. Tonight, we crossed the streets when we saw each other but we waved and said hello. Because saying hello isn’t contagious.

Today I texted with many friends and clients. I got phone calls from several others. Work was just as busy as if I were in the office. Probably busier because I am still figuring out how to make sh*t work without constantly asking my staff for help. And probably because I kept wandering into the kitchen to look into the refrigerator and cupboards. Nope. Nothing changed since I was last there. Back to my desk and the bag of jellybeans I was working through since I decided they were going to be my breakfast today.

The rules may have changed during this time but I do have some guidelines for myself. They are getting me through. They are:  Get up at the same time every morning. Say three things I am grateful for. Tell Alexa to play “I Sing the Body Electric” by Laura Dean from Spotify because you have to be f*cking specific with Alexa. Some days I opt for “We Are the Champions” by Queen. I know, I’m a dork. I tell my dogs I love them.  Shower, put on makeup, an amazing pair of shoes and go downstairs to my home office. And try to do what I can to make a difference.

When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I realized how sweet life is and to take more time to appreciate it. Today my mother, who has been weak from the last round of chemo, went out into the front yard and found two four-leaf clovers. She brought them back and showed them to me, beaming. “I found them in the front yard,” she said. I told her, “It’s because you are lucky, mama.”

So, today, I took a break from my desk and my computer and I walked outside and looked at the sky and the grass and I said thank you. Thank you for another day. Thank you for giving me this time with my mother and my family. Thank you for teaching me that after all, love is the most important thing we have. And it will never end. Love never ends. We are all still, lucky. Check your front yard for that four leaf clover, loves.

Sweet in Times of Sour

I had this speech I’d recite to my clients when they told me, “I worked for my employer for 10 years (or 15 or 20) and I cannot believe that they’re not taking care of me now that I’m injured.” I would say, “Work will not take care of you when you are elderly or sick or hurt. Work will not be there for you when you are hungry or need your rent paid. Only your loved ones will be there.”

I was wrong. Me, who devoured the works of Studs Terkel and opted to work representing injured workers over a more lucrative career in commercial litigation. Me, the cynical ex-wife of a cop. I was wrong. As it turns out, work does take care of you.

As I understand it, the first step to any detox is admitting you are wrong. But perhaps there’s also no right. Especially not now. We are all re-inventing ourselves and the way we do life. One sheltered, solitary day at a time. I do know that without my work, I’d be a little lost. It’s my way back to the world right now. Work is what keeps me sane and focused. As it turns out, work is taking care of me.

I also know that now more than ever is I appreciate my “work” friends, my family, both by blood and by love. I know that now more than ever I appreciate the moments I have with my beautiful mama, who is continuing her fight against Stage 4 Lung Cancer.

Tonight I walked into her bedroom with her dinner in a bowl and displayed it to her and said, in a crappy fake Italian accent, “Tonight we are serving Creamy Lemon Spinach Ricotta Ravioli!” Her face lit up. I hoped that she would eat. She ate a little. I’m working on my recipe and presentation for tomorrow night. It’s so worth it. My mom once promised me she would be here until she was 105 years old. I guess we all thought we would be around to be 100. We should. We really should. And someone should be there to present us meals that we may or may not want to eat. One hundred years buys you the right to be picky as f*ck, I think.

Once, several years ago, Shane told me and Max at dinner, “We are studying the respiratory system in science. Did you know that whatever you breathe into your lungs stays there for the rest of your life?” After my sons went to bed that night, I went into each of their rooms and smelled the tops of their heads like I used to when they were babies. I sucked in that sweet smell hard into my lungs. Just to make sure it stays there forever.

What I have learned from this pandemic and shelter in place orders, as my community did from firestorms in October 2017 and 2019, is that after all, we do need each other. Years ago, my mother’s family recovered after Pearl Harbor was bombed. They walked through poverty and racism and they are still here. I’m so damn proud to have that legacy.

As we move forward into this particular unknown, I’ll follow my mom’s lead. Remember what is important. Enjoy your food. Hug your pets. Grab your kids and suck in that sweet smell from the tops of their heads. You know that smell.

It smells like love. It smells like hope.