Max used to hate going to school. I recall when he was in elementary school, he told me he was too sick to go. I questioned him: “What hurts?” “My nose,” he said. “What’s wrong with it?” I asked. “It’s all stuffy and I can’t breathe.” “What else hurts,” I asked. “My stomach.” “What’s wrong with it?” I asked. “It’s pukey.” He said. I asked, “What else hurts?” “My butt,” he replied earnestly. I asked one question too many – but I let him stay home.
Sick days meant time in bed watching movies and playing games. Soup and cuddles with our faithful furry friend Atticus. I understood then and now why sick days are important. We all need some time away from it all, to rest and get some unconditional love.
When my mother’s cancer worsened, she could no longer walk the dogs, Atticus and her dog Lilo. Max took over walking them. But soon, Atticus couldn’t walk as far anymore. After a slow walk around the park, he would come home, breathless and panting. But still doggy-grateful for the walk.
My mom kept a cup of dog treats by her bed. She rattled it and called to the dogs to come in and see her. “Cookie!” she called, “Come and get your cookie, Atticus!”
I would bring her soup and Atticus would totter into her bedroom and collapse on the floor. She would give him a treat and he would keep her company on her sick days.
Last week, Atticus couldn’t walk to her bedroom anymore. He couldn’t stand up. She would call to him and he would try to crawl to her doorway but couldn’t make it.
Max took him for his last ride to the veterinarian after one last sleepover with him in the living room. He held our beloved dog until the end. He came home and we told my mom that he was gone. The hardest thing. She said to Max, “You are a good young man. You have such a good heart. You went on your walkabout today.” Yes, and also. His walkabout was through a freshman year of college without the typical companionship of college years. His walkabout was as a musician unable to play with his band. His walkabout, like that of so many of our young people, has been about survival in a way none of us expected our children to ever experience. And he came back a stronger young man, he came back and helped me and my mom and our old beloved dog.
My mom fell again shortly afterwards and had to go back to the hospital. Max sat with her and talked to her while we waited for the ambulance and while I gathered her medications and her paperwork. His strength and calm carried me through. My mother’s fight against sick days is a testament to our samurai ancestry. But I also believe the love of an old dog helped her keep going. I trust and believe the love he left behind still does. I trust and believe it will keep us all going.
I trust and believe that the love of a dog will carry us through so many, a lot, of sick days.
This is a story of how I ended up in law school. In high school my mom made me take a typing class during the summer. My mom, as always, knew what she was doing. I got really, really, good at typing.
I started working as a typist while I was still in high school. When I went to college, I got a job at a law firm in a typing pool in downtown Denver. I worked in the evenings transcribing depositions. After college that same law firm hired me as a legal typist. They promoted me to legal secretary. And that’s what I thought I was going to do for a living.
One day, an attorney named Brooke Wunnicke, a legal trailblazer who had graduated law school in 1945, took me into her office there and told me I should consider law school. I did consider it. About seven years later, I finally applied. Brooke wrote me a letter of recommendation.
I got a scholarship. I went to law school at night. I worked full time during the day as a paralegal. I graduated. I took the bar exam in 1994. I failed. I stopped trying. I went back to work as a legal secretary and paralegal.
This is a story of how I ended up becoming an attorney. After I failed the bar exam, I gave up on the idea of being a lawyer because I had never failed at anything before. So I figured it was not meant to be.
Years went by. I raised two beautiful boys. I moved from Colorado to California. Along the way, I met and worked with smart, kind attorneys who encouraged me and mentored me. One day, I was sitting in my friend Julie’s office, an attorney, and she said to me, “You really should be sitting on this side of the desk.” Another friend, Trey, at time the dean of the local law school, told me, “You really should take that pop quiz again.”
I took the California Bar in 2012. I failed it. This time I didn’t stop. I took it again in 2013. I passed. And I became an attorney almost 20 years after graduating from law school.
I am grateful for the lessons- some of them painful- that brought me here. It has not been an easy path. But nothing worth sustaining comes easily or without constant and loving effort. Talent without hard work and practice is just a noun.
On some hard days, the bravest thing we can do is to get up and keep going. Maybe hard days make for braver backbones. Maybe with braver backbones and plenty of laughter, we can achieve just about anything. Maybe the evidence is already around us: people are fighting cancer and winning, books are being written, bar exams are being passed, music is being played. All over the world in small moments and sometimes unseen ways, peace is finding its way into the world through the work of justice, love is finding its way through acts of kindness.
One of my clients recently told me, “I’m so glad you took my case. You carried me when I did not know what to do or who I was, at one of the lowest points of my life.” I truly believe the best work that we can do is help someone be the best version of themselves. To see people for who they are, not the story we want them to be.
Today, I get to pay it forward. Because of people who saw in me what I couldn’t see in myself. Because some amazing people took the time to help rewrite the story of a small-town girl who thought she was just a really good typist. Here’s to your story. May it turn out much differently and more wonderfully than you ever expect.
My mom had a CAT scan scheduled last week, to make sure her cancer isn’t spreading. It’s been a hard month for her.
The evening before her scan, Max and I got into an argument. Not just an argument. One of those slamming doors, yelling, I hate you, fights. The stress and the tension of the months before got to both of us. I tried to apologize to him the next day, but it was too soon. I spent the morning at my desk trying to work, crying as I answered emails and holding it back as I talked to clients. Man, there’s no heartbreak like a mama’s heart breaking heartbreak.
As I drove my mom to her appointment that afternoon, I started crying and I said to her, “I am sorry, mama. I was wrong, I did it all wrong with Max last night. I lost my temper and I know I should do better and be better.” My mama said to me, “You did a fine job raising your sons. They are good boys. You’re okay and they will be okay. They just need to learn their lessons on their own terms.” I started crying harder and I told her, “I’m sorry if I was an asshole to you when I was 19. I’m sorry if you had to put up with me.” And she said, “No, you were already on your own. You were working and you were self-sufficient. It’s okay. You’re okay.” Then I told her that I was sad that people were not kinder and more respectful to each other and she said to me: “Laura, someone who truly cares about you will not abandon you or say hurtful things to you.” Simple. It was so simple, and yet so profoundly right. When we got home, she said, “Thank you for driving me to my doctor’s appointment.”
My mother is 85 years old and well past her initial diagnosis of a stage 4 cancer diagnosis. Every day she gets up and walks the dogs, tends the backyard garden she has set up, cleans my kitchen, and sweeps the front porch, driveway, and pretty much half the block. My mama comes from samurai. And I am learning from her, to follow that code. I am proud to be samurai like my mother. Driving her to her doctors’ appointments is the least I can do to honor what she has given to me.
Max and I made up. We always do. I learn a lot from being Max’s mom. I think both of us learned a lesson this time. Sometimes when your heart breaks it’s because it needed repairs. Mine did. The people in your life who stick around for those repairs are your people. Hold them close.
Shane is here, for a visit. It’s tricky, masks and COVID-19 tests. But my mom wanted to see her grandsons. And they wanted to see their grandmother.
My mom asked me to order her the ingredients to make an apple pie. I told her she could wait until she felt better and she said, “I’m making Shane an apple pie.” I came into the kitchen while she was baking it and she said, “I’m really tired. The scan made me really tired.” I told her, “You don’t have to finish, mama. Or tell me how, I’ll finish.” She said, “No. I am almost done.” She put the pie in the oven and went to lie down.
When Shane arrived, she got up and cut the pie for us. And went back to her room to rest.
As always, the pie was really, really good. Even though we are all in separate rooms, we can share apple pie and love. I’m sending some apple pie love to all of you tonight. And some samurai courage. Don’t give up.
My Max once told a friend, “Stop trying to scare me. I have a very small heart, you know!” I rarely say no to my sons. (Caveat – my career is all about not really saying no. Or yes.) But this time. No, no. I think, actually, it takes a huge heart to experience fear. It takes a gigantic heart to recognize and undertake panic, rage, sorrow, pain. And to truly experience love and magic.
When he was in middle school, my Max would slice up cucumbers for us to put on our eyes for Saturday night “facials.” We would lotion our feet and slide them into socks and watch “Finding Nemo.” Even now, when he is at home, he wanders into my bedroom and curls up at the end of my bed under a blanket to watch a movie. Sometimes, it’s still “Finding Nemo.” My youngest creates the capacity for awe in what may initially appear to be mundane, but is truly lovely and magical.
My Shane was here to celebrate his 21st birthday last year. The kitchen table housed his laptop, journal, teacup, a plate of fruit. His skateboard and a couple pairs of size-14 shoes were by the front door. T-shirts and flannels were scattered throughout the upper floor. He came into my room. “Mom, can I do some yoga in here?” “Sure,” I said. He flipped on a yoga video and I pulled out my yoga mat, too. We did a yoga session together. Then he headed out the door to hang out with his friends. It takes a special soul to be comfortable no matter where you are. My eldest appreciates and makes every space he occupies feel like home for himself and everyone in it.
I used to say I didn’t want to get married and have children. But we learn as we grow older – we can never say never. I did and I was wrong. I changed my mind about having children; my beautiful sons are here. I am grateful for that. They have taught me so much more than I ever imagined possible.
I used to fear that my own trauma and fear would pass through me to my sons. But here’s the thing. No one’s trauma is comparable. Or imagined. Trauma and pain might seem subjective, but they are very real and extremely personal. No one gets to hold out a ruler and say, mine is worse or yours doesn’t really exist or I’ve completely healed from mine or you’re more f*cked up than me. But we can be there to listen or hold each other while we heal.
Here’s what I think matters as this year winds down. This weird and crazy year. We are all on a journey. We all have a unique gift to leave this planet. For that, we can cherish each other. Maybe try a little harder to not hurt each other. The journey is long. It helps to have someone hold your hand when you get tired. I’ll hold your hand. I know you’ll hold mine. We have a little farther to go. Bless you and your gigantic hearts, loves. Get some rest.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.“
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 loving to myself in my journey to be an unstoppable, compassionate, human being and advocate. I hope you consider a little kindness towards yourself in this journey we are all on together. Namasté, beautiful ones. Don’t give up. We can do this.