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.

Mermaid

We are in the third month of 2020. Coronavirus has us in its grip. Every other moment is an “oh shit” moment because I touched a doorknob or my face or didn’t wipe down a hard surface. Lordy, there are so many hard surfaces in my life. Over the last three years I’ve considered hard surfaces and where I breathe and what I touch because too many people in my life have endured cancer and cancer treatment.

Fuck you, hard surfaces. This is for my mama who is going through another round of radiation. She is samurai-ing back the new cancer spots on her spine. She loves to sit in the back yard and look at the birds. She told me she wanted a pair of binoculars so she could see them more closely. Tonight I found her a pair of binoculars. Tomorrow she can sit in the backyard and see her birds. She thanked me for the find of the binoculars, she hugged them to her chest and she carried them into her room. Earlier, before she went to radiation treatment, she sent me photos of the blooming trees in my backyard. She reminded me of how beautiful they are. Yeah, my mom and I have met the hard surfaces before. But hard surfaces pale in comparison to the beauty around us.

And maybe, just maybe if we let go of fear, we won’t have to wait until cancer or coronavirus to appreciate the beauty of life around us. I’m sure going to try.

At 9:00 p.m. on July 1, 2019. Max texted me: “Are you home. Mom. Mom. Are you home. Are you home right now.” I responded: “Yes honey. “I’m in my room. Where are you?” He responded: “In my room.” I texted back: “Okay lol. I love you.” He texted back: “I love you too.” Max’s room is 10 feet away from mine. Love doesn’t know distances. I’m so grateful for that. We are all closer than we think to love and beauty.

I used to say I didn’t want to be a mom. But now, I can’t imagine my life otherwise. My sons have made me a better human being. They have given me the capacity to be a better daughter, friend, partner, lawyer, and whatever else I am meant to be in this life. It isn’t easy. But nothing worth having ever is.

Last week, Max headed off to New York to audition for the jazz studies program at New School. We’d had a challenging week beforehand so we didn’t have a chance to shop for cold weather east coast clothes ahead of time. We were packing the night before. I gave him my wool socks and we were putting multiple sweatshirts into his carry on. He didn’t have longjohns, so I said, “I’ll give you a pair of my yoga pants.”

Early the next morning he texted me, “Mom, should I wear the yoga pants under my jeans on the airplane?” After I thought about it for a while, I texted him back, “Yes. You should.” And my son wore my mermaid yoga pants to New York. In this family, we don’t do hard surfaces. We do mermaid yoga pants and samurai fights. We do love and we kick cancer’s ass. Wash your hands. Be who you are. Unabashedly. That is how we win the fight against coronavirus and cancer and fear and hate. Be a mermaid, you badass, beautiful warrior. I love you.

Letter to my sons

Dear Boys,

This is a love letter to you. Every day that you have been alive is another day that I managed to keep you alive, another day you were not eaten by wolves or bears. Every day you have been alive, is another day you learned another lesson, made another friend, walked another mile, skated another park, played another song, wrote another poem, another day you made your mom proud. Every day that you have been alive, every day that you have taken a breath outside my body, you have been a love letter to me.

I did not expect you to grow up so fast and so soon. I used to get frustrated about coming up with another damn chicken recipe for our family dinners. Tonight, I sat alone at the kitchen table with a new chicken recipe dinner.  It was good. However, I made it for all of us and all of us aren’t here anymore. I could feed the leftovers to the dog, but his ass is getting kinda big. Anyway. I do regret those times I got frustrated when I was getting a meal ready for a full house. I hope you never do. Because there is no love quite like a full gathering at a kitchen table.

I did not always know what I was doing momming you. I still don’t. No parent does. There are lessons for almost everything in life except being a parent to the exact human you are assigned to be a parent to. When you were hurt or sad or suffering and I could not fix it, I can honestly say I have never known heartbreak like that before. But it is not my job to make it all better or fix it all for you, as much as I want to. It’s my job to let you go and grow.

Once when you were both old enough to be left at home alone (maybe you were 16 and 13 years old), I left you and went out for the evening. I told you, Shane, “You’re in charge of putting together dinner for you and Max. There’s pizza in the refrigerator and stuff to make salad.” When I returned a few hours later, I checked on you. You each had a bag of microwave popcorn and a Coke and you were playing Xbox Live with each other (one upstairs, one downstairs). “What’s this?” I asked you. “Well, we weren’t actually hungry, so we just had a snack,” you said. I asked Max, “Are you okay with this?” Max said, “Shane is being so nice to me!”

From this, and my many other attempts to script your lives, I learned that while I have a modicum of control and I can provide some suggestions, you are both ultimately responsible for what you do and how it will all turn out. After I had you boys, I had to reconcile myself to the fact that my heart and my soul will be walking around outside my body for the rest of my life. This love letter is to you, my heart and my soul. I believe in you. Keep doing good things in this world. Make it a better place. Show up. Work hard. Be kind. Say please and thank you. Recycle. Vote. Donate. Serve. Love. Visit your mom. I’ll make a new chicken recipe.

Love,

Mom.

This is what cancer looks like

This is what cancer looks like. It’s exhaustion. After the biopsy appointment that was supposed to last four hours and you’re in the hospital, cold and alone and hungry for seven hours. And no one thought to sit with you or hold your hand or offer you solace or call your family. You are elderly and tired and cranky and just want to go home. Instead you’re told to just wait in platitudes. And left alone in the hospital room.


This is what cancer looks like. The pharmacy denying your pain medications even when your doctor says you need them because there’s a new tumor or your pain has become so unmanageable that you cannot sleep. Because “we” are fighting a war on opioids. So you’re just collateral damage because palliative care for cancer patients does not factor into winning a war.

This is what cancer looks like. One day to the next, trying to maintain a routine, and schedule, a sense that maybe tomorrow your life will be back to normal. You are fighting for that routine and that normal. And it isn’t. But you keep at it, walking the dogs and cleaning the kitchen and tending the garden and making meals. Because that is life. Life is the small things that sustain and keep you going. So you keep going.

This is what cancer looks like. It is everything you thought was going to be your life winnowed down to a small point of taking this breath and then the next. And the next. So you keep breathing.


This is what cancer looks like. Like me – the daughter of the parent with cancer. Or – the son. The father. The mother. The wife. The husband. The partner. The sibling. All of us who watch cancer and at times feel helpless to stop it. Helpless to ensure treatment. Helpless in the waiting rooms, in the emergency rooms, in the hospitals, in the doctor’s office, and at the bedside.


This is what cancer looks like. Some days, it may look like cancer is winning. But it isn’t. We cannot give up. Not for my mom. Not for your loved one. Because one day, cancer isn’t going to look like this anymore. One day, we will kick cancer’s ass. Today, I am the tired daughter. Tomorrow, I’ll be back in the fight. Never give up. My mom has not. No one should. Keep fighting.  #f*ckcancer

Be a Jedi

One particularly gray day in October of last year, I came home to pick my mom up for her radiation therapy because her usual home health care provider kept forgetting her appointments. And my mom called me and said, “My helper is not here and I’m going to be late.” I raced out of work and drove home to get her. As it turned out the appointment was for a different time. When I found out, I was frustrated and tired and my mom started crying and it was the worst thing ever because she had not cried, not once, not even when the first oncologist we saw said to her, “I think if you want to travel you should do it now because I don’t know if you will be here next year.” I hugged her and I said, “I’m sorry, I’m mad at the situation not you, mama.” I took her to the appointment at the oncology center later. And while my mom was getting her treatment, two cancer patients began sobbing hysterically in the waiting room. I’ve sat in several cancer waiting rooms. There should be a much better design for them. A much, much better design.

I’d given Max my old lap top computer but it kept freezing so I took it to the Apple store in the mall. So after I took my mom back home from her doctor visit, I picked it up. As I was leaving the parking garage, the exit gate kept getting stuck. I was several cars back in a very frustrated line of people trying to get out and home. For some reason I remembered a date I’d had with a man I really liked the year before. We had parked at the mall and he’d gotten stuck exiting, too. He had jumped out of his truck and ran back to my car to kiss me before the gate opened and he drove away. Three months in, he met someone else and as far as I know, they’re doing well. Anyway, I finally made it out of the exit gate and drove away.

When I got home, I told Max I wanted to go for a walk and he said, “I’ll go with you, Mom.” And we started walking. I began telling him the frustrated story of my day and he said, “Hey, Mom. Let’s slow down. We’re just taking a walk right now.”  I said to him, “Max, I’m a little frustrated tonight. I’m just thinking about how sometimes people get their power through anger and guilt. They use that to manipulate others to get what they want. And honestly, I did that too. But it doesn’t feel good. I’d rather feel empowered by asking for what I want with love and respect.” And Max said, “Well, you get the same result. But with the first, you get a result with hate. And the second, with love. It just depends on whether you want to go to the Dark Side and be a Sith Lord. Or whether you want to be a Jedi.” I said, “I love you, Max.” He said, “I love you, too, Mom. And I think you should be a Jedi.”

Today, finally, we got the insurance approval on the estimate for the cleanup from the smoke damage to our home from the Kincade Fire. One of the contractors texted me in the middle of a hectic work day to schedule the cleanup of the “contents” of our home. Bedding, linen, clothing. When I finally got home, I walked into Max’s room and told him that we had to clean up his room for the contractors. He said, “I don’t want them to clean my room. There’s no smoke damage here.” (These are not the droids you’re looking for.) In typical Max and Mom fashion, we fought about it for about 10 minutes. Max went for a run. I texted my friends and ate chocolate and talked to my dog. And then, I realized this. Max could clean his room up. And it could be sanitized from the smoke and the past. Or I could just let it go. Because he’s leaving for college so very soon. And when he does, I will be furious when I have to clean up all the shit he leaves behind. But I will also be grateful to go through the reminders of every one of the 17 years that he spent here, even if they do smell like smoke. Fuck it. I cancelled the “contents” cleanup.

I went in and apologized to him and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t know why there’s a need to have anything taken away. I got it straightened out with the contractor and they’ll just come here and clean the house.” I said, “I guess I was a bad Jedi today. I don’t think I was a Sith Lord.” Max said, “Mom, it’s okay. Even Jedis have bad days.”

Tonight, I went for a walk under the full moon shining down over the familiar blocks of the neighborhood I have lived in for 15 years now. Fifteen years ago, I thought I was moving into the white picket fence of the rest of my life. It turns out I was being tested for the armor and the saber. You will arrive where you are meant to be, I do believe that. It may take some days of loss and being stuck and heartbreak and fire and smoke damage and fighting with your kids. The important thing is, if you’re going to stay in the fight, do it as a Jedi. Use the force of love.