Early Monday morning, October 8, 2017, firestorms raged through my county and the surrounding counties. Friends and co-workers lost their homes. Businesses and familiar landmarks burned to the ground. At 3:00 a.m. that Monday, I was awakened by a phone call from my friend telling me to get up and get out because everything around us was on fire. For almost two weeks after that, I slept in my clothes on the couch, packed and ready to evacuate my home. I was not sure where I would go. I just knew I would get my kids and I would leave.

I texted my sons, who were at their dad’s house. “What do you want me to get from your room to pack in case I have to evacuate?” Shane: “There are some small wooden boxes on top of my dresser. Would you throw those in a bag for me?” Max: “There’s a picture of you from high school in my room, my first pair of drumsticks on your desk downstairs, love letters [from his girlfriend] on my desk…there’s also a letter from you on the small shelf to the left of my desk…there’s also a list under the small drawing mannequin on the shelf to the top left of my desk…there’s also a small sock stuffed panda on the lower shelf to the left of my desk.”

The evening after the fires began, the boys came to my house. Shane consolidated everything in the wooden boxes I had packed into one small box. He grabbed his tallit –  his prayer shawl – and his high school diploma, and put it in his backpack.

Max went upstairs to his bedroom.  After about an hour, Shane asked him, “Max, what are you doing?” Max said, “Shane, this house is probably going to burn down, I want to spend some time going through my memories before they are gone.” Another half-hour and he came back downstairs with two suitcases and a tote bag. “Mom, can you fit this in your car, too?” I said, “I will make it fit, Max.” I packed and unpacked Max’s two suitcases, his two tote bags, our two dogs and one cat, and all my stuff multiple times during those hazy days of smoke, airplanes and helicopters flying overhead, notices from the Sheriff pinging on my cell phone, texts from friends and family outside the county asking me if I was safe. Until finally, my little town got the message that we were not going to be evacuated. And a couple days later, my boys came home.

Max’s room was even messier than usual – dresser drawers and closet open, books and clothing on the floor. “Max, what is this?” I asked him. He looked at me and said, “Well, Mom, I figured if it was all going to burn down, I wouldn’t have to clean it again.” And that’s when it hit me. My kid had believed that he was not going to come back home again. He had trusted me to take the most important parts of his life from the home he grew in, put it in my car, and drive it somewhere safe. He had trusted that we would take whatever I managed to put into my little car (why, why did I decide to buy a smaller car?) and we would start over again, with that.

I am stunned at the loss all around me, as the days have gone by and I hear from friends and go out into the world again. How can I possibly describe what has been lost? It’s the loss of land and wood and stone and furniture and inventory and art and jewelry and photographs. It’s the loss of time and space and the love that built it. It’s the loss of community. It’s the loss of normalcy. It’s the loss of the fucking average day. Who knew how badly you could miss an average day?

Yesterday, the rain finally came, 11 days after the fires began. I have been around long enough to stop questioning why, why, prayers aren’t answered right when we think they should be. Praying for rain to happen at the time of the fire made sense to me. I don’t know why it didn’t make sense to whomever gets the prayers – G_d, Buddha, The Spirit in the Sky, whomever you pray to. That’s not my field of expertise, at all. I do know that it did, indeed finally rain. And I am grateful for that.

Tonight, my sons and I sat at the dinner table and asked each other questions. Who would you have dinner with if you could invite anyone, living or dead, to dinner? If you could wake up tomorrow and have any power or ability, what would it be? And I said, “Now we know the answer to that one question that people ask each other.” Shane said, “Which one?” I said, “If your entire house catches on fire, and your loved ones and pets are all safe, what one item would you save?” Shane said, “I put everything that I would save in one place, my briefcase, right next to my bed.” I turned to Max. “Max, how about you? Do you have one thing that you would take?”

And right then, as if on cue, the dogs got into a fight underneath Max’s chair. Instead of biting each other, one dog nipped Max’s ankle. There was blood and screaming. Both dogs were thrown outside, pending a trial. We took Max upstairs and wrapped the scrape on his ankle in three band-aids, a tube of Neosporin, one ace bandage, half a roll of sports tape, and seven layers of guilt. The dogs pled to a lesser offense and everyone went to their respective corners. By the time it was all over, all I wanted was a large glass of wine and several ounces of chocolate. And that was when an average day did, finally, return to our house.

We have all unpacked here, at my house. We have unpacked our suitcases and our tote bags. We have unpacked our rage, our frustration, our guilt. We have unpacked our lives, full of chores and school and work and messiness and love and friends and family. We are so lucky. We are so grateful. So, so, so very grateful, to be here, in this unpacked, imperfect, every day, average, life. And we will not forget that. Not ever.

Promises and Ice Cream



About four years ago, after a long day, I came home to find Max lying in the middle of the kitchen floor, moaning. “What’s wrong, buddy?” I asked him. “I’m having a mid-life crisis,” he said. “I don’t think you can have a mid-life crisis when you’re eleven,” I said. “Well,” he said, “Whatever it is. Early life crisis. I’m having one.” I went upstairs to change and to give him 15 more minutes of crisis before it was time to put on shoes, run errands, and get ice cream. Things were much happier after that. And I realized that my kid could be on to something. Perhaps a lot of problems can be solved by lying on the floor and wailing for half an hour.

From my vantage point, the wail on the floor is sometimes the best and only way to deal with mid-life crises. We tend to think that our problems are also everyone else’s problems. This is because, too often, we think that everyone else sees the world the way that that we see it. And we get hurt when someone doesn’t get our angst and sorrow. But really, you can only invite one person to your pity party. And that is yourself. And maybe, if you’re fortunate, someone who has promised to listen to you and wait it out with you.

It is a little unrealistic to expect someone else to do you want them to do or think the way we want them to. It would feel damn good if they did. But if that happened, we wouldn’t have an entire section in the bookstore dedicated to communication. Or an entire industry dedicated to helping people communicate with each other – therapists, life coaches, dating coaches.

It seems weird that when you have a kid, you spend so much time teaching him (or her) how to talk. You write down the words he learns as he learns them. Shane’s first word was “dog.” Max’s first word was “cookie.” I know. My kids had different priorities. And as they got older, I learned that teaching them words, and communicating with them, were two completely different things.

About three years ago, Max and I were butting heads frequently. Finally, Max promised me that he would do whatever I asked him to do without arguing me about it. One evening, he was arguing with me. I said, “Max, we have a contract, that means you have to do what you agreed to do.” He said, “It wasn’t in writing.” I said, “It doesn’t have to be in writing, it was a verbal agreement.” Max said, “Well, Mom, I just ripped up our verbal agreement.”

He was right. Verbal agreements don’t mean anything. But there are promises. A promise means more than a verbal agreement or a contract. A promise is when you let someone wail on the floor until he’s done and then you go get ice cream. A promise is when you argue with your partner and after a few days of silence, you make up and start over. A promise is love, and that promise is to keep talking and to keep listening. You may never completely understand the other person. But you won’t give up trying.

Max said to me, not too long ago, “I need to do life better.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I have to figure out how to do more in less time.” I said, “Max, if you can figure that out, please explain and publish it. I’m sure your fan base will appreciate it.”

Like Max, I would love to figure out how to do more in less time. Right now all I can promise is that when I am done wailing on the floor, I will get back up again and I will try to do better. And I promise that when Max figures out how to bypass the time-space continuum to efficiency in all things, I will let you know – after I’m done getting ice cream.




Camp Caz

“We’re all just walking each other home.” – Ram Dass

Max went to band camp over the weekend as a mentor and counselor for the younger kids. He told Shane and me that the kids he worked with on percussion were basically good, except for one. He said, “I tried showing him some techniques to get better but he didn’t want to try them. I would say, ‘Try this,’ and he would say, ‘No I don’t want to.” Max said, “I wanted to say to him, this is why you’re bad at percussion.” Shane said, “You should have told him that. Maybe it would have gotten to him and he would have thought, ‘Damn, I’d better start working on this harder.’ I wish someone would have told me when I sucked when I was a kid. It would have saved me a lot of time. Maybe if we all just told each other the truth, we would actually get some shit done.”

Somewhere in this fucking struggle to figure out what we should tell to or do for each other other lies the truth. Maybe the truth is that if you care about someone, you won’t put your need to be right above his (her) needs.  Maybe the truth is that if you need to work on something and get better, you should own the parts that you need to work on, as well as the parts that you already know.  Maybe the truth is that when you fucking rock, you should own that, too.

One of my best friends got me a t-shirt that says: “boomshakalaka.” When I need courage to be better and do better, I put on my boomshakalaka t-shirt and some red lipstick. It reminds me to be proud of myself. It reminds me to own my truth. I am better at it some days than others. Some days I say or do stupid things and I regret it.  I know that I’m a work in progress. But I actually want to get some shit done.

I think my Shane is right. When the truth will help someone, tell them. When you do something amazing, own it. When you fuck up, own that too. When your fuck-ups hurt someone, say “I’m sorry” and mean it. It’s not the fuck -ups that will keep you from succeeding. It’s when you don’t learn from them. And that’s it for now, I think. #boomshakalaka.