23 March 2020

Say Zoom One More Time

I dare you.  Go ahead.  Whisper it or shout. Weave it into conversation.  See what happens.

I can't be held responsible for the reflexive, bitter stream of vitriol that might come your way.  You have been warned.

Don't get me wrong.  I've zoomed my way through a few delightful happy hours with friends. My office HR department hosted a lovely little virtual water cooler gathering that warmed my heart.  My fiddle teacher's band live-streamed a concert in place of one they had to cancel, and it made me happy.  And there's no question that I am able to work from home productively thanks in no small part to the wonders of teleconferencing.

And yet.  My household participated in at least ten zoom meetings today, and we didn't make it to all of them.  With three "distance learners" and two "distance workers" -- none of whom have nearly enough distance from each other -- the bloom has officially faded from the rose of virtual meetings.  (We also have one grocery store employee who is still heading out that door to work each day: he's our very own superhero.)

Day seven, and I don't feel so much connected to the world by Zoom as bludgeoned over the head with it.

The virtual requests keep coming: all three girls' soccer teams are or will be holding online sessions; Rick will be hosting online sessions for the two teams he coaches, in addition to the coaches' meetings he's already doing.  Tomorrow I have four separate online meetings for work.  My fiddle lessons are now virtual.  Here at Casa de Alatorre, we're Zooming.  We're Google Hanging-Out.  We're FaceTiming.  We're FB Living. We're doin' it all and we might just be losing something in the process.

Every external activity we engage in, for work, health or recreation, has moved online.  It seems that the entire world is offering to zoom on into our home to provide connection! exercise! wellness!  interaction! community! self-improvement! fulfillment! nirvana!

Ok, maybe no one is offering nirvana-via-zoom.

The new Zoom-infused reality we are living in has got some kinks to work out.  The onslaught comes from a truly well-meaning place: people need connection, kids still need to be part of their soccer teams, work still needs to get done.  But the virtual frenzy needs to calm the f*** down.  We need to take a minute. a real, non-virtual minute, to process what's happening and how we can and should respond.  I'd calgon myself away from this madness, but chances are, someone's in the bathroom with a laptop or phone, and that's not the kind of livestream I think anyone needs right now.

Maybe, just maybe, we all need to take a breather.  Shelter in place is hard.  But maybe the answer isn't frantically figuring out how to deliver every possible experience via the internet.  I, personally, need some time to prioritize and think and consider what virtual experiences are actually going to help me and my family in this monumentally challenging time.

As varied and mystifying as family time can be, as hard as it is to be sheltered together by necessity, the situation does present a family with a unique opportunity to spend time differently.  Virtual gatherings of all kinds are not necessarily helping, and may instead be making it harder for us to come together and weather this storm.  When the world can come inside the house at all hours of the day and night, it feels like we have less control as a family over how our family is, simply with each other.

This is not a new observation for me: I've long despised the long tentacles of marketing that are able to reach my kids through their phones, robbing them of precious quietness of mind.

But this feels like next-level infiltration, dressed up in good intentions, and it's currently colliding with the intense experience of six people trying to navigate COVID19 without losing our minds.  There is a reason we come home and relax, finally through the work and school and practice day: home is where we escape the grind.  Now, it feels like the grind is zooming into where it does not belong.   I want to say ENOUGH, but I don't yet know what we can say no to and what we can't -- and everything is happening so fast.

Zoom and all the other platforms out there are good tools that will help us through Shelter In Place -- but they are not the answer and they might be obscuring the question.  What are our families not figuring out, as we turn to online platform after online platform?  I don't know: I want the time and space to wrestle with this question.

Still not gonna miss my 8am virtual pilates with Starr, and bless her for zooming that particular activity into my home.  :)


19 March 2020

Family In Place: Reality Check

With Shelter-In-Place in effect, I have rushed to fill my social media with fun posts and photos about my family's response to this new reality.  The incredible responses I've seen from around the country and the world -- Italy's citizens singing to each other at their windows, friends hosting Yoga via Zoom, the endless hilarious memes that make us laugh -- have inspired me to be creative with my family and to focus on staying positive and motivated in the face of this daunting challenge.  This makes sense: we all need inspiration and motivation.

But last night, my 17-year-old daughter said: "Mom, your social media posts are making it look like we are having fun with all of this."

Good point.  It has not been fun.  There have been bright moments, and I'm proud of my kids for how they have managed things so far, but it has not been fun.  Here are some real moments from AIRY5 in the past few days:

One kid, screaming at another: "STOP LOOKING AT ME OR I WILL KILL YOU."  This was not said in jest.  It was not playful.  It came from a deep and primal place, familiar to siblings around the world.  The scream reverberated throughout the house and hung in the air for a good long time.  Speaking for myself only, it definitely depressed me, while simultaneously causing me to question my parenting and worry about the future of my childrens' relationships.  Temporarily, anyway.

I added a blank list of 5 or 6 lines to our family mural, with the heading: DAY 2: HOW WILL WE SURVIVE?  Then I texted everyone and asked them to help fill it in.  My oldest wanted to put "Eat the little one" on the list.  I didn't let him.  The list went unfilled, except for one suggestion: "Rob a bank."  No one was feeling like coming up with hopeful and creative ways to help each other through Day 2, apparently.

Despite the art mural on our dining room table, despite the basketball hoop my son made out of a Sierra Nevada six-pack container, despite the kickback Rick constructed yesterday for the kids, the most common sight in this household is still teenagers with bad posture, staring at their phones.  Rick and I have talked about the need to institute "tech-free time" each day, and we will do that, but we haven't yet.  What can I say: we are weak.

Yesterday afternoon, I took to my bed, overwhelmed and sad. I'm overwhelmed by the sheer number of articles and resources coming my way, sent by family and friends and posted all over social media.  I'm saddened by what is happening around the world and how many people are suffering.  I'm horrified by how our president is talking about the crisis.  I'm scared because it feels like this country is not doing what needs to be done.  I'm sad for my daughter, who is a senior this year, as she faces the possibility of not having any of the senior-year milestones and moments she and we have been looking forward to.  Did I, without realizing it, watch her play her last soccer game a few weeks ago?  I stayed in bed for two hours, before forcing myself to get up and take the dog out.


I told my kids that our family's Shelter In Place experience will be filled with all kinds of moments: good, bad, ugly, and strikingly beautiful.  I believe this is true.  And we should acknowledge all of it, and let it be.

Hang in there, community.  Share what makes you happy, but also feel free to share what makes you feel sad or scared or mad, if you want.  You are not alone.

16 March 2020


cute dog pic cuz she's my
favorite baby right now
Well, THIS is going to be interesting.

And by "interesting," I mean excruciating.

People, Rick and I are now trapped in a small house with three teenagers and a 21-year old male.  So essentially, four teenagers.  The fifth boy child is still away at college: his university is closed down, but he lives in a house, not a dorm, so for now, he's staying where he is. He is safer there than here in the Bay Area, where cases of coronavirus are growing.

It is true that when we heard the news today that as of midnight tonight we would be sheltering in place for the next three weeks -- along with 6.7 million other Bay Area residents -- my teenagers looked at me with equal parts horror and fury.  It took me about five seconds to recognize the look in their eyes, eyes pointed AT ME.  I knew what that look meant: it meant they were pissed AT ME for the shelter in place.

A tense silence hung in the air until I said: "Just remember, I personally did not decree this shelter in place, despite how you might be feeling or tempted to react."

One of my daughters pointed right at me and said: "I WILL BREAK YOU! I will NOT stay here for three weeks.  I WILL WEAR YOU DOWN AND I WILL LEAVE THIS HOUSE!"

Me: "So, this is starting off well."

• • • 

Today was tough.  One college kid home and pissed off that he can't go anywhere...one 7th grader bumping through the process of figuring out how to do "distance learning" on the computer...one senior in high school confronting the possibility of no prom, no graduation ceremony, no final spring soccer season, no life...one child sick and, yes, feverish, and one doctor-by-phone-appointment to determine that she likely has a sinus infection...one proposal deadline for the job I'm still responsible for...and one shelter-in-place order throwing a giant curveball over all of it.

Rick went to the closest grocery store shortly after the shelter-in-place was announced, and spent 30 minutes shopping and almost two hours standing in line waiting to get to the cashier.  Never fear though, he brought home 9 bags of chips and a whole lotta beer: I'd marry him all over again today. (In his defense, the store was completely out of everything that was actually on our list: EVERYTHING.)

I went to pick up a prescription for the sinus infection, and the scene at our local Kaiser hospital was surreal: a triage center out in front, people pulling up to the curb looking very very sick, everyone in masks, lots of health care workers shouting directions to everyone.

It's almost time for bed here, and Rick just said to me: "Well, we made it through one day!"  I had to remind him that yes, we did make it through one day, but the three-week process actually starts tomorrow, so...

These are strange times.  We are all going through something monumental both together and alone.  One thing is certain: the next three weeks will be a fascinating study in family life, the good, the bad and the ugly.  Can a person be both subject and researcher at the same time?  

We shall find out!

• • •

02 March 2020

She Makes Me Happy. And Tired.

Good Lord.  Yesterday nearly did me in.

Some of you may know we got a dog for Christmas, 2018.  Ever since losing our beloved black lab, Tule, on Mother's Day 2017, most of our family has been lobbying hard for another dog.  I was the lone holdout, so when I -- as the mom and all around boss (sorry, hon) -- decided we were ready, we were finally ready.

This was that special moment:

Zuzu is now a little over a year old, and she is adorable and awesome and so much fun and...problematic.

We take her for hour-long off-leash walks, where she frolics like a maniac with other dogs, as often as we can, and it's not enough.  She needs more.  When we got her, the people selling her told us she is part black lab, part Australian Shepard.  This may or may not be true, but she is 100% pure energy, plus another 35% neurosis.  She's a hot mess most of the time.  All that puppy energy, plus a couple of breeds with high activity quotients means we basically adopted a full-time job.

No worries, you're thinking: this family has five kids!  Plenty of help with a new dog!  Riiiiiiight.  Have you met my children?  I love them to the ends of being and ideal grace, but they're basically worthless when it comes to sharing any kind of workload.

Don't get me wrong, I went into the whole "let's get a new dog" thing with my eyes wide open.  I knew it would be Rick and me doing most of the work.  Luckily, I fell so hard in love with that little munchkin that I'm ready to sacrifice cooking for my human children to fulfill her needs.  I am repaid handsomely in love and devotion, so it all works out.

Anyway, I recently realized that our hour-long walks are not doing the trick, so yesterday I had a mission: Get. Zuzu. Tired.

I found a book the other day called Bay Area Hikes with Dogs, and found a lovely hike less than 20 miles from home that looked like it might take me a couple of hours and introduce me to some local nature trails new to me: Bort Meadow Trail, sort of near Lake Chabot. I loaded whacko little Zuzu in the car and off we went.  This is how she felt about the experience shortly after we arrived:

And this is how the rest of the experience went:

Turns out, Bay Area Hikes for Dogs is less than exact in its trail dirctions, and what I thought would be a two hours hike turned into a 3.5 hour long epic, during which I asked myself several times "Am I lost?  I'm not lost, am I? I'm probably not lost."  And while texting my husband, I assured him I was not lost, while not exactly sure of that myself.  (True story, hon.)

The directions in the book, while less than clear, matched many of the things I saw.  The book said that at one point, it would seem like the trail ended, but that I should continue on the paved portion of road for .2 miles until picking it up again just past the water tower.  Well, long after having taken a wrong turn that I blame on the less than clear directions, I did in fact come upon a spot where it seemed like the trail ended and a paved path took over for about .2 miles.  I picked up the trail again and kept going, for a long while.  I passed a golf course; I passed Lake Chabot.  The book did not mention either of these rather significant sightings, and I started to get suspicious.

Finally, I came upon a trail map and consulted it, and could tell I was nowhere near where I was supposed to be.   So I started backtracking.  I drank all my water. I ate my apple.  I stopped seeing people.  It got cold and windy.  I started cursing all that nature.  I became a bitter, unhappy hiker. It was ENDLESS.

Did I mention the signs that warned that this area was home to coyotes?  That was fun.

Also fun was the part where I was finally less than half a mile from my car, and the only path back had a sign next to it saying: "Trail closed; this path will be reopened when it is safe for the public."   It took me about 5 seconds to decide to take my chances on the closed path rather than (a) back track for another two hours or (b) continue on the main path with no idea where it went or how it would get me back to my car.  The book said that this smaller trail -- Buckeye Trail -- was a lovely, very secluded path back to Bort Meadow.  Damn that “closed path” BS, I needed the shortest distance between me and my Prius. Blowing past the TRAIL CLOSED sign, I felt like such a little nature rebel.  But here I am, writing about it, so we know it all worked out.

At the end of the whole thing, I had walked 21,000 steps, I was dirty, dusty, grumpy and tired.


It's hard to take a photo of a black dog, but trust me: that pup was OUT.

Success! So basically, I need to quit my job and devote myself to making this dog tired 4 hours of every day.  We might not be able to feed the kids, pay college tuition, or keep our house, but Zuzu will be well cared for, so it's all good.

She makes me happy.

28 February 2020

Better Parenting Through Selfishness

The other day, Elizabeth told me that a friend of hers "aspires to be like you when she's a mom."

Photo from a recent hike:
I do those for myself too!
Um...come again?

First of all, I was not previously aware that I had made any impression whatsoever on said friend.  To be honest, I wasn't even sure that if I saw this girl somewhere without my daughter in tow, she would know who I was.  Second, what could she possibly be basing this aspiration upon? How well I pull up to the parking lot to pick Elizabeth up from soccer practice?  The food I bring to games when I miraculously remember we are on snack duty?  My mad sideline cheering skillz?

Before I got too puffed up about inspiring the younger generation, I had to ask: Why, Elizabeth? Why does your friend want to be like me?

Turns out, she aspires to be like me because I "do pilates" and take violin lessons and otherwise do things for myself and not solely for my children.


Here we are killing ourselves to do ALL OF THE THINGS for our kids and gnashing our teeth over whether or not we're doing it all right, and it turns out, the children like it when we take care of ourselves!

This is very good news.  Never mind putting the needs of the child first.  Don't worry about those permission slips and nutritious lunches (unless they are for you) and clean, matching socks.  Release yourself from carpool duty and school supply shopping and bedtime/bathtime routines.  Really, the key to parenting success is to treat yourself right.  Have drinks with friends, go to baby goat yoga, play an instrument, train for a 5K fun run or for a marathon -- the world is your oyster!  And if you wanna eat oysters -- with or without horseradish -- DO IT!

It makes sense too: it must not be that interesting for kids to watch parents who have no lives beyond pick up and drop off, who make adult life look like it's solely about doing stuff for other people.  It turns out, kids want us to be happy. It helps them look forward to adulthood and see family life as more than just years and years of impossibly hard work.  They will surely figure that part out for themselves.

So, to those of you who have lists of things you need to do this weekend for your kids: shred that thing immediately. Start over, and this time, make a list filled with fun things that will make you happy.

Do it for the kids. 


27 February 2020

Bring On the 40 Days

Welcome, Lent.

This year, I am using this season to force myself to do something I've been meaning to do for a long time now: re-establish the habit of writing.

I stopped writing regularly awhile ago, and as a result, I don't know what I think about pretty much anything anymore, except that I really want the Trump presidency to come to a screeching halt.  But other than that, I can't really figure out much about life.  Writing used to help me make sense of things, and I'm hoping it will again.  Things like:

  • Why do my teenage daughters' midriffs (and sculpted eyebrows and endless, curated selfies) bother me so much?
  • How can one person make a stand against the divisions and rancor that are everywhere?
  • When will I figure out how to make my iPhone serve me, rather than the other way around?
  • Why is life so unbelievably hard?  Why is life so unbelievably beautiful?  And why is it so hard to focus on the beautiful?

I used to write a ton on this blog about raising my kids.  Now, I am deep into this parenting thing and have been doing it mostly without the outlet of writing.  I've now been parenting for almost 22 years.  Still have quite a few more years ahead before that day in the distant future when I invite my grown kids over for dinner.  I think about that day a lot -- what it will be like, who will be there.  Will I like the people my children bring in to the family?  How many grandkids will I have?  Will my adult children trash my house then as they do now?

I feel simultaneously seasoned at motherhood and baffled by every new experience that comes my way as each individual child grows and changes.  It's stunning, really, how unprepared I can still feel for the things that life throws our way.  And I think life is trying to teach me to never feel like I have arrived, to always stay open to learning more and changing and becoming who I am.

This week marks one very gigantic milestone in my family: we officially change pediatricians as of March 1, and I'm seriously deep in mourning over it.  21.5 years ago, after I had failed at one of the first TO DO items I ever became aware of as a newly expectant mother (research, interview and carefully choose a pediatrician for your new baby!), we were lucky enough to give birth on a night when Dr. Maria happened to be on call checking out all the newborns.  She asked if we had a pediatrician and I sheepishly said no.  She offered to be ours, and what the heck, she seemed nice, so we said YES.

It turned out to be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.  Ever since, she has been by my side.  She has helped us through the usual fevers and ear infections and viruses and sprains.  She got us through a lacerated kidney and a rather unusual bowel movement issue (nuff said, truly).  She has a perspective and approach to medicine that is fundamentally based on the relationships she is able to build with parents and kids, and IT WORKED FOR US.  I have never, for one minute, been a mother without the amazing Dr. Maria in my back pocket, as it were, and we -- me, my husband, and all five of these little shits -- are beyond fortunate to have fallen into her lap.

Alas, health insurance rates don't care one whit about those relationships.

Faced with a choice of sticking with Dr. Maria and seeing our health insurance cost go up by $450 per month or switching to a plan that will only go up $150 -- which is to say, not much of a choice at all -- we "adulted" and did the totally sucky responsible practical fiscally smart very sad thing, and switched.  (I'll have you know that I consciously chose not to use commas in that sentence because that's how it feels in my head: a steady, uninterrupted litany of yuckiness.)

It's fine.  We'll all be fine.  Maria will still be a big part of our lives (because BONUS: We became FRIENDS over the past two decades!  We play FIDDLE together!).  The kids will get another doctor, and I have a recommendation for a great one at Kaiser, where they will now be seen.  It will all be fine.  So why do feel like I'm in mourning?

Maria has been formative to my mothering, and to my identity as a mom.  So now, I have to forge a new mom-dentity, with a new pediatrician who doesn't know our history, who doesn't know that Sam is the sweetest boy ever, or that Vincenzo and Lola are basically Picassos, that Elizabeth is wicked smart and hilarious, that Tallulah is a force of nature that we're gonna try not to screw up too much.

The new doctor will learn.  She will come to see these kids as the freakin' miracles that they are.  If she doesn't, I'll find a new doctor.

I saw Maria tonight (fiddle lessons every Thursday, yo!), and told her of my heartbreak.  She gave me a hug and said: "I'll always be your pediatrician.  You can always call me with stuff -- I just can't prescribe for you anymore."

See?  She's gold.

Looking forward to seeing what I write about tomorrow.


23 September 2019


I learned the other day that my mother's death certificate says that the cause of her death was Alzheimer's Disease.

This is fascinating to me.  My mom was given multiple diagnoses for her physical and mental decline in the five years that she was sick, ranging from Parkinson's to Alzheimer's, to not-Alzheimers, to other weird forms of dementia we had never heard of, to generic "decline."  That period of time was characterized by confusion and questions, by us figuring out over weeks and months that doctors, in general, don't know very much about the brain or its problems.

We've had two close family friends who also received Alzheimer's diagnoses.  Both of them exhibited textbooks signs of that disease like forgetting family members' names and their relationships to them and gradually losing the ability to converse. While mom experienced intense confusion sometimes and was clearly dealing with some kind of dementia, she never forgot who she was, who her family and friends were, never forgot names. She even remembered more than most of us sometimes: she could remember how she met a person or details from events far in the past.  She repeated herself a lot, but she could still carry on a conversation with us, and she asked questions about grandkids and jobs and other goings-on of life.

I remember when she died, we had to decide as a family whether or not to have an autopsy done.  It was the only way, we were told, to know definitively if she had suffered from Alzheimer's or not.  I had stopped expecting medicine to provide us with any answers, and my vote was NO, we didn't need that to happen.  Most of us agreed, and we didn't do it.

But someone, somewhere, decided to fill in the box on her death certificate with a specific answer, as if that were a thing that could be known for sure.  Who made that decision? Why? What purpose does it serve?  How is that information used, and by whom?

One the one hand, it doesn't feel very consequential.  On the other, I find it so strange that such a personal question -- how did she die? -- has apparently been officially answered when the actual, most true answer is that we don't know for sure. 

How trustworthy are official documents in general?  How do historians evaluate documents like this when they are doing research into famous or historical figures?  Seems like a giant guessing game to me.

That is all.  I just think it's weird and wanted to take note of the weirdness in writing.

28 August 2019


I crave crunchy gravel,
Clean swept wooden decks,
Cool, misty sprinklers in the evening.

I crave the deepest forest quiet,
Leaves settling and pinging into place.
Hummingbird wings pulsing through thick summer air.

I crave the stillness of time.
The suspension of need and want and craving itself.
The commandments of land and water, field and sunshine.

Out there, everything makes sense and fits together.
Out there, we both belong and understand.
The dry creek beds and the smell of dirt tell us who we are.

Let’s go there together.

21 August 2019

What Is Wrong With Us?

Our country is in a rather distressing situation.  I chose those mild words deliberately because losing my mind over the current state of affairs is getting exhausting.

But really, we do seem to be headed for a fall: everyone is angry at someone; everyone is sure their side is right.  Everyone feels panic about something: guns, abortion, immigrants, you name it.  But how do we break through the noise and weirdness that has gripped our national discourse?  How do we ask real questions and listen to real answers?  Nearly every single thing I see on Twitter, or Facebook, or in the news features someone spouting their incredulity at "the other side."  All around us, people are fighting and ranting.  No one seems to be getting past the rant. 

Rants feel great, don't they?  Just this morning, I went on a very satisfying one about my ungrateful children and how infuriating it is to confront what seems like their complete lack of awareness and consideration.  I ranted.  I raved.  I expressed myself, energetically.  And then I took a deep breath and remembered that I love those crazy ingrates and that "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?" is not an effective parenting strategy. 

Neither is it an effective governing policy or problem-solving approach. 

But we do have a problem in this country: we are divided, and divided, we cannot stand.  This division will not stop and it will destroy our country unless we can figure out how to listen to each other and how to respect each other's humanity.

Up to this point, I have not betrayed my politics in this post, because the division problem we have isn't about who is right and who is wrong.  It's not about who you're going to vote for, or who you think is Anti-American.  It's about the humanity of the people we disagree with and our inability to honor it or even see it.  And we should.  Even in the people who infuriate us; even in the people who want to keep their guns at the expense of our children's lives; even the people who say that Democrats support killing babies; even the people who think that cruelty as an immigration policy is a totally OK, ends-justifies-the-means kind of strategy.  So there, now you know my politics.  Now, you either think I'm on the side of All Things Right and Good or you think I'm a Godless Communist.  You'll either welcome me into your fold or you'll write me off as an idiot.  You'll either give me my humanity or you won't. 

None of this will stop when Trump goes away unless we figure out how to build community with people we disagree with.  It will not stop until together we ask and try to answer: What is wrong with us?

10 July 2019

I'm at Least as Strong & Stubborn as They Are

I am rusty.

I used to sit down in front of my blog and write, write, write. Words flowed out of me as fast as my kids could mess up the kitchen, and I could barely keep up with the stories and ideas pouring out of my mind.  Now, I rarely think of something I want to write about, or I censor it before it travels from my brain to my fingertips.  Even as I try to get the writing habit back, it feels foreign, clunky, awkward. Yucky.

Two main things have contributed to the demise of my writing: Teenagers and Social Media.

First, I've had teenagers for something like seven years and will have them for another 8.  Writing a blog about parenting and family life is much harder with teenagers around.  They aren't exactly thrilled with me using them as blog fodder.  I used to write funny anecdotes about my kids all the time.  Now, things are different.  Either teenagers just aren't that funny or cute, or they're waaaaaay more sensitive than younger kids about parents telling stories about them.  Now, I gotta be all considerate of their autonomy and stuff.  They still do things that would make some seriously great stories (comedy, horror, tragedy...really all the genres), but now I can't just share their business with abandon.  Some might say I shouldn't have done it when they were younger either.  Some might be right.  But it's definitely less OK to do it with teenagers.

Second, I totally blame Facebook.  Once the Almighty Network sucked me in, the language in my head started sounding like status updates instead of stories.  BFB, I would sit down at my laptop when the kids had finally gone to bed and write about the day.  I would make sense of life's craziness by thinking about how to tell a story and why it mattered to me.  AFB, I stopped responding to my life by writing about it.  AFB, I'm too busy catching up on everyone else's posts and scrolling myself into a stupor to write, and I can't really make fun of my teenagers publicly anyway, so what's the point?  Embarrassingly, I also discovered that even an introvert and a cynic like me responds to that little red notification circle like it's a warm hug of validation, albeit fleeting.  The time I used to spend writing, I started wasting on FB, Instagram and Twitter, scrolling and scrolling, and reading endless, usually pointless comments on posts and tweets, and waiting for something to grab me, for the notification/dopamine hit to give me that sick little rush of adrenaline (they don't call them push notifications for nothin').

I recently cut my social media use way back, for lots of reasons.  I found that asking myself, mid-mindless scroll, "how is this enriching my life in any way" was a great motivator for shutting down the window on my laptop or the ap on my phone.  Removing the aps from my phone altogether is also incredibly helpful (and hard to stick to).  I miss out on a lot of stuff, including super important news like the latest insults our colossally stupid president has tweeted, but it's better for my mental health to limit my exposure.  Both to our president and to social media in general.

Anyway, neither the teenagers nor Facebook seem to be going away anytime soon, and I miss writing.  So I need to figure out how to claim that habit back for myself.  When I first started this blog, I wrote about wanting to write as a way to make sense of the contradictions inherent in raising a family: the love and anger, the joy and despair, the exasperation and exhilaration. As the mother of teenagers and young adults, I need this more than ever. As a citizen of the world, I need it desperately too, as I contemplate the madness facing us at every turn.

And so, here I go. I will try to shake the cobwebs off my fingertips and my story spinners. I will write shitty first drafts (thank you Anne Lamott) and be happy that they exist. I will make something from nothing, I will make sense from the senseless, I will create as a way to respond and stay hopeful.

Or at least, that's the idea. Teenagers are even harder to neglect than younger children, so I know it will tough to find the time. But I'm at least as strong and stubborn as they are, so I think I've got a fighting chance.

Wish me luck!

22 January 2019

Untangling Knots

A few weeks ago, my daughter Tallulah found one of her favorite necklaces, a sweet silver angel with a rhinestone heart, in a jumbled tangle under the passenger seat of my car. She asked me to fix it. “Sure, yeah, just stick it on the dashboard.” I may have a habit of saying “sure, yeah, later” to my kids and their 47 daily requests for me to do something for them.

Days went by, and I made no effort to fix it. Driving to and from work, grocery shopping, picking up girls from soccer practice, I would look at the small lump in the corner of my dash and push it out of my mind. It took me a few days to realize that I wasn’t merely putting off a mundane task.  I was actively avoiding it. Why was that little thing taunting me? Why did the sight of it fill me with something like dread?

A few more days went by before I realized it was because of Ann.

* * *

Ann and I met when I was 13 and she 14. Immediately, I realized that she was basically good at everything. She knew how to ride horses, and taught me how as well. She got better grades than I did (than nearly everyone did), and helped me in my classes. She trained me at the deli where we both worked, and where we first met. She was confident and humble, and I looked up to her, even as we became good friends.

A couple of years later, she had her driver’s license, a brown diesel Volkswagon Rabbit, and a sense of adventure bigger than mine. Powered by Ann, we went to the Sonoma Coast, on hillside hikes, and to exotic San Francisco, always exploring. I followed her everywhere, literally and figuratively, and I relied on her for many things, large and small.

Among her many talents, she was particularly good at fixing tangled necklaces. Such necklaces would have gone to the top of my dresser to die if not for Ann. Lacking as I did the patience to fix them myself, I would save them up for her, my more patient and optimistic friend.

Ann’ll do that for me,” I’d half think to myself before tossing them aside. And she would, always. She never seemed irritated or bothered. She went about the work of untangling knots as if she had all the time in the world and no more important thing to give her attention to. She is the reason my necklaces survived my teenage years.

In many ways, she is the reason I survived my teenage years, my college years, my 20s and 30s and 40s. As one of my closest friends, she eased my fears and insecurities for decades. When I needed to study, she helped me buckle down and focus. Ever the caretaker, she knew that I didn’t eat much when I was stressed, so she’d show up at my house with apple fritters drowning in butter. Later, as a doctor, she helped me understand the medical issues faced by my children as they grew and my parents as they aged; I would often call her after leaving a doctor’s office to get The Ann Translation, because I knew she would tell me what I needed to know, with the perfect metaphor to help me understand, and that she would ease my anxieties over the health and well being of my family.

She even once pulled a tick out of two-year-old Lola’s neck, because I was just too completely freaked out to do it myself. Never mind that she was all dressed up for her own daughter’s baptism, never mind that she had a house full of people to host. She responded to my plaintive “Aaaaaannnnn!” by whisking my child up to the bathroom and applying her tweezers and surgical skills to the nape of Lola’s neck. In no time, that tick was surfing down the toilet drain, giving rise to yet another opportunity for me to say: “Thank God for Ann.

Ann died of cancer in July of 2017. I can’t call her anymore to ask what some weird medical thing means. We won’t be going on any more jaunts to Goat Rock beach. I can’t indulge with her in chocolate chip cookie dough or apple fritters. She will not be talking me down from any more social-anxiety ledges.

And I can no longer save up tangled knots for her to fix.

* * *

Last week, I found myself at a soccer field, waiting for a notoriously over-time coach to finally call the end of practice. As I sat there simmering in mild annoyance and thinking uncharitable thoughts about the coach, my eye fell upon Tallulah’s necklace. This time, I didn’t push it out of my mind. Instead, I pulled it and so many memories of Ann towards me.

OK, dammit, I can fix this stupid thing,” I thought as I tackled the job of picking the knots apart. With no small measure of bitterness, I looped pieces this way and that, followed dead-end paths, and stubbornly tried again. I stared at clots of chain, willing my eyes to pierce the mysteries of which lengths went where. More than once, I chastised Ann for leaving me to deal with this mess without her.

After countless fruitless tugs this way and that, one loop finally got a little bigger and pieces started sliding through. As I worked, I found myself warming to the task, and concentrating more willingly and hopefully on my goal. More spaces opened up, knots resolved one by one until at last the angel was free. It probably took no more than 20 minutes, but I lived a lifetime in those minutes, a lifetime of thinking about all ways I miss having Ann in my life.

Something else happened too: I caught a glimpse of her spirit, of the way she did a job with purpose and single-mindedness -- and without self-interest or complaint. It seems too flippant to say I was channeling her, but I was bringing her to life for myself once more, by doing a task the way she would do it. As I worked at the tangles, I grew calmer and less bitter. Knowing how happy my daughter would be made me experience something like joy in the process. Realizing that Ann once did these things for me, and now I would need to do them myself, made me want to do this job and do it well.

This is is how she will live on for me: not merely by my remembering her or thinking about the things we did together, but by embodying her way of being in the world and making her present in the actions I take each day.

Hopping in the car after practice, Tallulah noticed her newly liberated angel swinging back and forth from the rearview mirror and happily exclaimed: “My necklace! Thank you! You’re so good at fixing tangled chains, mom!” With her words, I realized that I have adopted a little bit of Ann to take with me into the years ahead. Tallulah will probably save up her jumbled necklaces and shove them in my direction for the next several decades, and I will welcome them. Each one will bring with it another chance to have Ann by my side.

She once helped me smooth every tangle and resolve every knot; now I know that she will do that forever, from deep in my heart.

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