Friday, January 30, 2009

into the new

I heart, "You Tube." Mainly cuz I'm a closet musical theatre junkie and I can watch all sorts of poorly recorded clips sung by my favorite NYC divas (and divos!) My sister Hilary is also really swell at getting me clips from, "Fame" and, most recently, "Double Trouble" to help me feel super nostalgic about the good ol' 80's and the truth that is legwarmers, headbands, and breaking out into song whenever necessary. But the ability to watch random video clips at any given time has also found it's place in my child's heart. It started out with an obsession over India Arie and Elmo singing the Alphabet Song. I have to admit, if I'm gonna have to listen to that song countless times a day, India Arie's version is certainly the way to go. And Elie saying, "Elmo? India? B C C?" is pretty damn sweet, a request that's hard to deny. I kinda love that she's on a first name basis with India Arie.

And there's also the video clip of her dancing with Moana on inauguration day. That isn't exactly You Tube, but, you get the idea. She could literally watch it like twenty times in a row. "Again? Again? Moanie? Eliana?" she asks. God I love how she says her name. She says it with such pride. So I press the play icon again and just stare at her and smile. She wiggles her little shoulders and torso as the Indigo Girls sing, giggles when she lands up on the floor at the end of the clip.

And then another sweet, media moment happened. She has taken to loving the Michael Franti, "Obama (Yes We Can!)" video. I don't know if it's because it's on Casey's blog post where her dancing with Moanie is, but now instead of saying, "Again?" every single time after we watch her clip with Moana, she'll shake it up with a request for, "Obama? Yes? Obama?"

It seems Obama-mania has even made it's way into my little eighteen month olds heart.

Of course, I could watch Michael Franti til the cows come home and love her watching all the people, all the colors, all the goodness come to life on the little screen.

I am pretty certain that I was the kinda pre-baby gal who vowed that her kid wouldn't watch music videos. Or Baby Einstein for that matter. But, there are a lot of hours in a day with a toddler. There are only so many times we can read, "Hop on Pop" and "Moo, Baa, La, La, La" before we both get a little bonky. And I know what a fool I was for the videos I was allowed to watch as a kid. I can't imagine my childhood without, "Xanadu" or "Mary Poppins." I can't imagine going throughout grade school without sneaking into my parent's bedroom at any given moment to watch Madonna slink around on a gondola in a Venetian canal or Ric Ocasek buzz around like a bee in the Cars, "You Might Think" video. And we don't even have TV reception in our house today. It certainly didn't turn me into a junkie. Enough with feeling guilty about every little thing already!

It's a new world for my girl and for her mama. I'm ready to start to take this mama thing a bit more lightly. It's been an intense eighteen months. And I know I'll never love or care for anything as much as I love my girl. My heart is certainly in the right place. But I kinda have to relax.

Tomorrow this mama is hanging hard with the ladies, Montana style. What started as a "weaning weekend" with Joellen turned into a 17 mama posse, cross country ski, Jackson Hot Springs adventure. I am so excited I can hardly stand it. While these past two nights home with just Els (Jeffy is out of town for work in the Flathead), have been nothing but sweet, I know how important it is for me to venture out. And, truth be told, January has been a pretty tough month. The lack of sunshine. The cold temps. I kinda feel like I had a re-Saturn returns since it's been 2009. Big shit has come up with lots of the most important people in my life. And while it is all important to process and deal with, it's exhausting as all heck. Pour that emotional intensity into the blender that is second and third graders, dance classes, dinners to make, kitchen counters to wipe, and, most importantly, little Pea sticks to play with, and you've got a hell of a lot on your plate.

So here's to mama's gone wild! Here's to soaking and yammering and red wine. Here's to welcoming the new and getting on with it already!

Thursday, January 29, 2009


My kid is a total nut. Not that I'm surprised. And I call her my kid cuz all of a sudden she feels like that. "My kid." There goes my kid tearing through the house. There goes my kid demanding to walk down the sidewalk on her own, without holding my hand. There's my kid on the middle of the dining room table. There's my kid eating the dog food. There's my kid with the dog's leashed attached to her shirt. There's my kid pretending to take a nap with the dog on the dog's bed.

My kid who is obsessed with the ABC song and can sing all the way from A to G. My kid who loves to use use her own soap and says, "Mas?" with a funny lisp so it sounds more like, "Masth?" when she wants me to pour more into her little hand. My kid who loves to tear body parts from the animals in her pop-up books and then mourns their maimed bodies, saying, " saaad!" My kid who is dying, already, to go to school and loves to come to work work with her mommy and daddy, ready to run down the hall after some unassuming pre-schooler, making friends at every turn.

I could just eat her up. I never got that phrase before. Now I do.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

actually here

So after all the nerves and fear that our nation was nothing but corrupt and dishonest and totally out of sync with the rest of the world, something tremendous happened. Our man was actually sworn in and big bad dub was flown away in a helicopter. Watching the inaugural ceremony on the television with a room full of seven to thirteen year olds was really perfect. They cheered and hoot hollered in the right moments and were silent when they knew things were serious and emotional. Of course, I was nothing but a well of tears, but I think they're used to my sappy crying. They see me cry when they sing, get weepy when the share some beautifully hopeful poem about the rainforest or peace, hear me en fuego when we talk about MLK or discrimination. Seeing me with a little wad of Kleenex is kinda par for the course for these brilliant children.

So there we were, all packed into a classroom, all a bundle of energy and enthusiasm. My husband was there and we were able to exchange a momentous hand squeeze after Obama swore in. I was able to share a weepy glance with another colleague during Aretha's brilliant patriotic rendition. It felt almost more patriotic to be watching this in an elementary school, at a place where we study history and all that makes this world unique and amazing.

And then, almost too quickly, it was time to carry on with the business of the day. Spelling words and library books. Zippers and snow pants.

I was able, luckily, to continue to savor the moment with my friends and greater Missoula community as the night wore on. Perhaps one of the highlights was watching Eliana and Moana dance together, hand in hand, on Tuesday afternoon. Casey and I would like to think that they, too, were celebrating the glory of the day. Also, Jeff's parents generously helped me host a shindig at their lovely house and all my friends turned out in their finest duds (there was even a wedding dress! woohoo!), carrying an array of savory dishes. It again made me feel so much gratitude towards my humble little community. And while there was part of me that couldn't help but have the words, "happy and homogeneous", run through my mind as we moved on to the Elks Club and watched all of liberal, white, Missoula whoop it up, I think that was just because I felt how truly huge this day was and missed the throngs of colorful people and smiles of strangers. We smile at strangers every day here. There are never throngs of colorful people.

But there are lovely people. Lovely and kind and honest and true. I always feel safe and I always feel gracious.
inauguration night

I think sometimes when there is something so brilliant to take in, we have to find a little way to make it not totally perfect.

But I'm over it. Because these are the new days and we are the dreamers of dreams. We have shown what we are capable of and, to quote the ever so fabulous Etta James, as sung by one of my favorite divas, Ms. Beyonce while the lovely president and his even lovelier wife danced at the inaugural ball, "At last." At long last.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

momma zen

You don't have to work so hard at this. You don't have to do so much. You don't have to endeavor to be natural, normal, and good. It happens by itself when you least expect it. If you are confused about what you should be doing, try this. Stop what you are doing. Take care of what is in front of you, when it is in front of you, and the confusion will pass. This is called the effort of no effort. No effort is what powers the universe.

With time, your roots grow deep and your branches long. You lean a little less backward in fear and a little less forward in doubt, resting solidly right where you are. When the wind blows, you bend. When it stops, you straighten. Your boughs provide shelter and shade. Your strength supports the sky. Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows by itself.

Your baby will be okay.

-Karen Maezen Miller

I found this passage last night in a book given to me by my mom when I was pregnant called, Momma Zen. It's funny because I began reading it when I was about seven months along and it didn't really resonate with me. I wasn't even sure if I liked it. I just picked it up again the other night and I realize that it didn't resonate because I so didn't get it. I just had no idea, then, how much of me would shift and strengthen and solidify when my little girl entered the world.

I've been thinking lately about "leaning backward in fear." Yesterday I had a ski lesson. Without getting into it too much, for whatever reason, skiing terrifies me. My teacher, who is also a friend, yoga instructor and life coach, had me take off my skis and hike with her to a cliff that overlooked the whole valley. We were looking down at the fog, the craggy peaks, the insanely gorgeous valley that I now call home. It was literally breathtaking. And totally uncomfortable and scary. She told me to close my eyes, stare into the sun and breathe deeply into my belly.

When I opened my eyes, the fear of falling from that cliff hadn't disappeared. I wasn't suddenly ready to conquer the mountain. I was still my same, anxious, "big mountains scare me" self. But I was grounded in my body in a new way. I was owning my body and my mountain and my relationship with my mountain. My relationship that all returns to my relationship with my child and to myself as a mother. Because I know that my girl will grow up rushing down these runs, and I know I so want to be a part of that. In order to do so, I have to get over myself and my issues. And when you make it about you and do it your way, it somehow doesn't seem so hard.

And, of course, this skiing metaphor, is just one teeny example of all the fear and self-doubt and caution and "what if" that is being a mama. That is being a human. But being a mama seems somehow magnify everything. Everything gorgeous and everything scary.

So, just like Ms. Miller says in the Zen book, I had to only look at the snow right in front of me. And then stop thinking and just do. Just make the turn. Just know, that at the end of the day, my girl and my man would be waiting for me at the bottom of the hill. And we would all be stronger for making the journey up.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

eighteen months

Tomorrow Eliana will be eighteen months old. Some little things that I could just eat up about her right now:

  • The way she loves edamame.
  • Her intense fascination with the ABC song and that yesterday she called it, "Bee, Si, Dee" and today she managed to put the "A" at the beginning of the title.
  • How when she hears Lucy bark at someone outside, she immediately says, "Moanie?" because she so hopes it's her buddy at the door.
  • How today she insisted on wearing two pairs of shoes. An old pair of Robbeez that still fit her under big girl, shiny mint patent leather sneakers meant for a four year old. She loved the way they made noise when she walked and she kept both pairs on until bathtime where she reluctantly relinquished them.
  • That she can say all sorts of ridiculous words including, "Yoni" (Yiddish, I think, for her privates) and "yoga" when she sees me grab my mat to go teach.
  • That anytime she sees the kittens in Goodnight Moon, she presses her cheek to their picture and says, "Ahhh, meow!" When she sees the bowl full of mush she says, "Noatneal."
  • When she sees or hears Jeff come in from work she shouts, "Dad!" and runs towards the door with her huge grin.
  • The way she pats me on the back when I'm holding her, as if to reassure me (and she always does).
  • The way she feeds Lucy one kibble at a time, but always makes sure to transfer that one kibble in the reused yogurt container that we use as a scooper.
  • That she reads to herself in the backseat whenever we drive.
  • Her obsession with her Baby and her Night-Night.
  • The matter-of-fact, unapologetic way she says, "No."
Of course, on the flip side of that list, are some incredibly frustrating new tricks. But I kinda love those too. The way she hates to be in the stroller or the backpack because she always wants to walk (even in two pairs of shoes). The way she insists on climbing on to the dining room table and completely know that she's testing our patience. The way she said, "Oh shit" this afternoon (though I have to admit it was the sweetest sounding, "Oh shit" I'd ever heard and a true shout out to her daddy).

So there it is. I can't even says she's growing up too fast anymore because it seems to be even faster than that. I seem to continue to grow right along with her. I've said a few times recently that I really don't know who I was before I had this baby. I mean, I know who I was. I know what I enjoyed doing and what I was passionate about. But all of that is so miniscuale compared to how I feel about my girl. And how I feel about my role as her mama.

Eighteen months certainly doesn't seem like a long time. Good god, I can even remember when I didn't get how pregnant ladies and mamas with babies always counted in months. I've never been so hot at math. I just figured I'd never keep track so precisely. But it was evolution. The natural desire and ability to think in months came with my intense ability to focus on all things Eliana. It came with 50 plus pounds and a sudden desire to have an organized spice cabinet. It came with big boobs, leaky boobs, milky boobs and now, no boobs. It came with snaps and sleepers. And board books and bubbles. And more goodness and patience and determination and dedication and contentment and confusion and compassion and love than I ever knew I was capable of.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

a new week

I started my week with a resolve to put my best foot forward and attempt to live in full appreciation of all I have. Two days in and things are going swell. I've been trying to be as present as I can at work, and, of course, even more so when with Eliana. One little trick that seemed to make my Monday smoother was to not come straight home after picking up Els. We headed to her BFF Moana's place and had a little playdate. Not only did that help me be wholly present in being and playing and chatting and laughing with Els, it kept me from getting all anxsty about coming into a disheveled house. I got to share the ins and outs of my day with my girlfriend while our ninas jumped around like loons in Moanie's crib, ate mac and cheese at the table together, squabbled over who got to hold baby, and played this insanely cute, "Hello! Bye-bye!" game with various doors in the Massey household.

I arrived home after Jeff and we were able to handle dinner/bath/bedtime/clean-up together. I even managed to slip out of the house post bedtime to take a dance class to help get my ya-yas out.

So, I didn't stop taking myself so seriously, perse, but I did manage to manage to go with the flow a bit better, instead of allowing myself to feel slammed from one place to the next.

The ice is melting. It's slushy and wet and, yes, still slippery. But if I keep my focus on what's important and move with awareness, I seem to be able to keep the slips at bay.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

slippery ice

I returned to a wintery wonderland of a Montana. But things change quickly around here. The days warmed up. It stopped snowing. The snow turned to rain, the ground turned to ice. I was barely holding on.

I seem to hit these moment, luckily not too often, where I feel completely overwhelemed. I come in from an extremely long day at work where my brain seems to be firing in like 10,ooo directions at once. I'm super into my job right now. I love being at work. But I seem to be taking everything really seriously. There's never enough time to get everything done and I feel like I'm always trying to remember where I left off.

I work with my husband. So in the middle of observing a new teacher work with her middle schoolers, trying hard to be the best darn mentor I could be, Jeffy came in and told me that I had better hightail up the hill to pick up Els. Apparently she flipped her lid in the library parking lot after storytime, once again gracing the world with Wild and Scary Toddler Tantrum Elie. We've seen her up close and personal once so far. Apparently my in-laws had the astonishing horror of seeing her again this afternoon.

Poor girl. We had to wake her up to put her in the car in-time for our 7:30 meeting. This really is the worst. You open up the nursery door. You tromp around outside, making lots of noise, hoping she'll wake up on her own. You grind the coffee and run the water. She doesn't move. She is so happily passed out on her belly in her chocolate brown, fleecy sack, all her babies and animals nestled around her. Finally you really have to move and you pick her up like a heavy little bag of goodness. Her head falls back like it did when she was teeny. Her eyes are still shut, her breath is still heavy. You think maybe you'll actually be able to maneuver her into the car this way. But then her little eyes flash open. She is totally not happy to be awake. And the day continues to rush along.

Luckily my husband is a dream and drove Eliana up to her grandparents, even though he was running the staff meeting and had to be there on time. All I had to do was put a couple of trash bags on the curb, but I still managed to be five minutes late.

And when I walk back in the house this afternoon, it's like walking into the inside of a snow globe that's been all shook up, but the shit everywhere isn't snow, it's the egg pan from the morning and the laundry that never got folded and the puzzle pieces that didn't make it back in the box.

I used to not get too frazzled by this sort of chaos. The only area of my life where I am particularly OCD seems to be with regard to food. I really like things to be a certain way on my plate and in my mouth. I like a colorful, well-balanced, thematically cohesive plate. But otherwise, I could really give a damn if there were clothes on the closet floor.

But, for whatever reason, this seems to be changing. It's kinda in line with how seriously I seem to take everything post Eliana. I equal parts like this fledgling trait in me, and despise it. It made me batty this afternoon. Eliana asked for, "B, C, D?", aka the Baby Einstein video that has these little girls singing the ABC song on it. She absolutely loves it. And I am such a trashy mom to even admit that my kid has a part in a video that she adores. But what can I say? It's the only thing in this house that she'll sit still for. I know that for twenty solid minutes I can get something done while she watches the random images of blocks and cats and babies, all set to the poetry of Shakespeare. There could be worse things.

So while she's rockin' out to the ABC's, I'm running around the house like a total loon. I, fairly systematically for a newbie at organization, get the house together. But it's in no way satisfying. It's just causing me to curse under my breath at all the crap we've accumulated, making me wonder how in god's name anyone ever manages to go to work and be a good mama and cook dinner every night and actually manage to clean the dishes as well.

Walking to my car from work, I slipped on the ice and landed on my ass. I remembered this as I heard the credits rolling on Elie's show.

I turned off the TV and carried her into her room which I had just tidied. She immediately began to take things out of her basket and toss legos all over. I sat calmly. I put a lego back in the box. She tossed it out. I put a wooden cat back in a wooden puzzle. She tossed it out. I played a CD. She stopped it. And then opened the CD player and threw it on the ground, laughing with her big ol dimples. We had established some strange sort of pattern.

And this is just where she is. And sitting there on the floor, letting her just be, is what I need to do. It does me no good to hold myself to some insane standard of orderliness. I have never been that person.

My sweet husband made it home in time for me to get to a dance class. I wasn't nice to him when he came in. I was micro-managing and critical and yucky. As I rushed out the door, I lost my footing again on the hard ice beneath me. For the gazillionth time that day, I cursed. I felt tears well up in my eyes. I felt so guilty. Guilty for being mean to him. Guilty for leaving my kid after I had already woken her up way too early, left her for way too long, put her in front of a video. But I knew that the only thing at that moment that would make me snap out of it was to move my body.

Or maybe drink a lot of wine. And that never really helps. Well, at least not in the same way.

The class was hard on my brain. There were lots of directional changes and wacky floor transitions that eluded me. But it was just the switch up I seemed to need.

I came home in time to bathe Elie. Our bath made every guilty, overwhelmed feeling of the day totally wash away. She was snuggly and funny and beautiful. She was so happy to have me home. She said, "Nurse? No," with a smile on her face. I told her that she was such a big, independent girl that she didn't need to nurse anymore. She said, "I! Elie!" with such pride and confidence, that I knew, for at least one second, there was nothing to feel guilty about.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

four freaks

I came home to quite a scene on Tuesday. It was my lunch break. I was ravenous. I had forgotten how hard my job is, how hungry inquiring children make me, how to multi-task. I just wanted to sit down, have a turkey meltie, and chill. As I walked around the corner, I remembered. There were four almost eighteen month olds wrecking havoc in my casita. And even though I knew I probably wouldn't eat in a serene environment, I walked a little bit faster because I knew it would be a heartbreaking hoot of a time.

The floor, pretty much from the kitchen to Elie's bedroom, was covered with books, toys, crayons, random kitchen items, old pieces of mail, soymilk cartons pulled from the recycling, anything that those little loonies could get their hands on. They were yapping, toddling, meddling. When I tried to go pee, I was interrupted by not just my own daughter's untimely entrance into the bathroom, but Moana and Jiah's as well. Soraya gave me a bit more personal space, thank the good lord, because my bathroom is teeny.

But it was damn funny. Really beautiful. These four tremendous little beings. I remember all the conversations I had with their mommies before they came along. The way we talked about the symptoms of pregnancy. Baby names. The excitement and drama and discomfort and unknown. The long walks, coffee dates, baby showers. I love these women so very much. And I see their beauteous babies and my heart floods almost as much as it does when I see my pea.

Who could ask for a better way to spend a lunch break?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

parking it

I'm learning that as a blogger, I have a hard time writing about things that happened more than a few days prior. The immediacy of the moment seems to be the key to getting me to write. So instead of writing about our lovely Christmas and New Year's in Pasadena and all the sweet times we shared with my family and friends there, I'll instead focus on my intense relationship with parks.

I think parks are my new favorite places. Not only do they get me and my Pea outside, they totally connect you to the essence of a place. I have my park here in Missoula. It's so close to my house and I walk there just about every day. I cruise the mile and change loop with Lucy, with Elie, with Jeff. In the summer we stop and wade in the creek. In the fall it's all about the yellow cottonwoods. In the winter we stare at the wild ice floes and glistening, frozen water. Everyone we pass says hello. Every other person we pass we know by name, (if not the human's name, at least the dog's). It's predictable. Perhaps even boring. But it's my place.

During my stay in SoCal, I did some pretty intense re-exploration of the parks I grew up in. My old haunt, Garfield Park, where I graduated from swinging on the monkey bars with my homies to playing spin-the-bottle with those same cats, represents all the diversity and ecclecticness that is South Pasadena. It's a regular United Nations, with toddlers and kiddos of all colors mixing it up together. It's fabulous in that rough around the edges sort of way.

Closer to my mom's new pad is Lacy Park, the creme de la creme of parks. Lacy Park charges an admission fee on the weekends. It's that swank. Well, that swank and the city of San Marino would prefer to keep the riffraff from the neighboring cities from scuffing up their manicured lawns too frequently. The park was totally fascinating for yours truly. Lots and lots of lovely Asian mamas and grandmamas as well as a handful of Latina nannies and a few big sunny, black spandex clad white moms with even whiter teeth, ala Katie Holmes.

I had some very interesting interactions with these folks. There is a strange intimacy that happens between the different children and guardians in a crowded park setting. Lots of invasions of personal space. Lots of funny comments. I heard a lot that went something like this.

"Gosh she's small! How old is she! Look at how well she walks!"
"Do you see that? She's climbing up all on her own...Be careful little girl!"
"She is fearless!"
"Did you see that little girl go down the big slide head first?"
"How old did you say she was again?"
"Do you want me to go up there with her?"
"She could fall off! You better watch her."

And so on. So apparently Eliana is extremely brave. I didn't know this. The only real "normal" I know in a seventeen month old is my girl. Homegirl likes to climb. And throw herself down headfirst on the big slide. So I assume that's normal.

This theme of lives, of the life I live versus the life I grew up with, seems to be a big thing with me right now. Even in the every day, the fairly blase, there is this feeling of heightened awareness of difference. I thought about what it would be like to be a mommy in one of those warm, Cali parks, the leaves still on the trees, Camellia and bougainvillea blossoms alive and bright. How lovely it would be to never worry about Eliana's hands getting too cold.

Here, today, I had to walk slowly, paying careful attention of the icy trail, remembering to step in the snowy part with one foot to keep me grounded. It felt so quiet. So still. Serene.

There was such an intense energy in those LA parks. Kids pushing past each other. All the swings taken. People talking in all sorts of languages. I could watch the scene for hours. I've always loved looking at people, looking at how they present themselves, how they walk, how they navigate through space.

Now I live in a place where I'm more likely to notice the red berries on the trees, the cracks in the ice. The people I see are interesting in a homogeneous sort of way. They all smile. They are all nice. Nice is fine. It's safe. It's kinda bland.

So a challenge for me as a mama is to truly open Eliana's world. To try my best to show her all the goodness of our little community, but also immerse her, to the best of my ability, in the rich life of the city. I want her to be worldly. I want her to feel comfortable with people who look different than her. I want her to ask questions about how people are unique, about where people come from, about other cultures.

Having this exuberant, competent, golden skinned president elect is a start. Knowing that the universe is shifting, that change is happening, is a help.

And I'll try to keep traveling, if only to help Eliana see a trip to the park from new and unusual angles.

Lacy Park, New Year's Day

Greenough Park, just two days later (with a bit more weather)...

Friday, January 2, 2009

visiting the past in a new year

It's the second of January today. We flew from super sunny, shiny and exotic Southern California back to white, snowy, but not too cold Missoula. And I couldn't be happier to be home.

It was a big trip for me. Lots of wheels spinning in this lil head of mine. Lots of, "This is your life, Gillie Thomas" thangs coming my way.

Last Saturday night I went to a reunion with the gang I grew up with. These are my peeps from elementary school and junior high. I went to a private high school and ended up loosing touch with most of the people who knew me between ages four and fourteen. Pretty big years with some pretty intense growing.

Thanks to my BFF, Facebook, I've managed to reconnect with lots of that crew from the early days. A friend from junior high now owns a fabulous Mexican restaurant in L.A. So the plan was to meet there and go for the gold.

I was always an enthusiastic and involved friend. When I last saw most of these folks, I was the president of the student body and the captain of the drill team. I won, "Best Personality" in the yearbook poll. People knew me.

The hood I grew up in is fabulously diverse. I was always the minority in school. At Monterey Hills Elementary, I was a sweet whitie in a sea of beauteous kids of Asian decent. My three BFF's were Japanese, Korean and Cantonese. I tried to pass as half something (HOPA - half Oriental, part American -- our absurdly un P.C. name at the time) so that I could go to Donna's Japanese school carnivals on the weekends. I went to Chinese restaurants where no one, not even the menu, spoke English. I ate kim chee and adzuki beans made by my friend's moms. I loved it.

When I moved on to junior high, the diversity furthered. Our school brought together all three grade schools in the area. They seemed to represent even more ethnic groups. So my friends were Mexican and Asian and Sri Lankan and African-American. It was colorful and gritty. I had a tight knit scene and experienced many "firsts" with this gang of people.

Including my first boyfriend. He was from the, "other side of the tracks" for lack of a better phrase. While my dad was a doctor and I grew up in a house with my own room, his dad lived in Detroit, and he lived with his single mama in a tiny apartment. He drove around on a scooter, wore a black leather jacket (I know, another cliche) and had a fabulous flattop Afro, ala Will Smith or Kid N'Play, circa 1987.

If you had asked me who I would most certainly marry, I would have said, without a doubt, this boy. I thought he was the most worldly, tough, beautiful, smart (though not in the "honors classes" sort of way...) kind of dude. I snuck around and rode on the back of his scooter. I snuck around and did a lot of things.

And then I went to Private School.

And everyone was smart and pretty and good at everything and mainly blond and I felt like a frizzy, brown haired bottom of the barrel kinda chick.

I tried to keep up with my peeps, especially the love of my life. But we had different football games to attend, different parties to hang at. And time moved on.

My guy had his wingman at the time. Most of my memories involve hanging out with both of these dudes, a gaggle of girlfriends in the mix as well. I was thrilled that Buddy was one of the first folks to arrive at the restaurant on Saturday (I was the first one there. I'm still kinda the dork in the bunch). He's now a cop with the LAPD, was toting a beauteous, buxom woman on his arm, his build as big and strong as ever.

After we chatted for a while, I asked.

"So do you have any idea what happened to Mike?"

"Do you really want to know?"

"Um...I think so..."

So, apparently my guy, the one whose name filled my diaries for years, is in jail. For a long, long time. For meth. And beating his wife. And kidnapping her.

And while that's terrible and I know his wife and she bore him three children and she comes from good people in that same town I grew up in, I couldn't help but keep bringing this news back to me.

Being back in So.Cal for the holidays with Eliana and Jeff, brought up all sorts of thoughts. My Christmas last year at home in Missoula was so very different to anything I had ever know as a child. It snowed. It was calm. There weren't lots of presents. Minimal chaos.

I kinda loved it.

But I grew up on an eight lane, 45 mph road with seven siblings and a swimming pool. My holidays were crazy. People fought. People ran around. Toilets overflowed.

And the mantel was lined with hand-knit matching stockings. My sister and I got to choose a new ornament from Stats the exceptional and enormous Xmas store each year. My mom played carols on the piano and we would all stand around and sing. My parents were exceedingly generous with each one of us and we always got exactly what we wanted.

I remember the taste and smell and feel of Christmas so clearly. The lumpy stockings. The "Chrismtas tree" smell . The excitement of pulling our Miss Piggy and Linus ornaments out of the boxes. The way my dad put free samples of new drugs (albeit fairly benign drugs, though I think one year there were a few shots of vicodin in the mix, just for kicks...), the way we religiously watched holiday specials or, later, played our, "Feed the World (Let them know it's Christmas time again)" 45 over and over, trying to identify each singer, line by line, who contributed to the album.

So I love my past. It defines me.

But somehow I ended up far, far from there.

And while my ex-boyfriends prison time really isn't connected to Christmas at all, it makes me think of the way my life could have been. Maybe if I hadn't gone to Private School, I would have kept dating him. Maybe I would have had a handful of babies instead of my college degree.

Maybe Jeff didn't get a sweet scholarship at the University of Montana. Maybe we never moved and he went to UCLA for "gradual school" instead. Maybe I still made lots of money as a teacher in California (tee, hee). Maybe Eliana lived on a busy street and we were stressing about what private school she would get into because we couldn't send her to the public schools because they are too "bad". And my mom lived a few blocks away and I got to see her everyday. And sissy too. And Eliana could see all gazillion of her cousins all the time. And I could see good theatre. And the ocean. And I wouldn't have to snarf ethnic food at every meal because it would be there, all the time (this post could have been titled, "eating L.A." after the week I had).

So here's the thing. What I seem to take from all of this is that there's no perfect place. No just right life.

I was planning on leaving the reunion early. Eliana slept terribly in Cali and I was exhausted and feeling kinda over the whole socializing thing. And then I heard about Mike. I decided to celebrate the path that was given to me, the life that somehow presented itself my way.

There was a kick-ass DJ spinning rad tunes from the old days. It wasn't your average 80's either. Not just another Manic Monday. Oh no. This guy was busting out The Smiths and The Cure, Depeche Mode and some rockin', rockin' 'Til Tuesday. At my friend the restaurant owner's urging (and my determination to be honest to my true nature), I ditched my shoes and busted out. I was alone for a while on the dance floor. Lots of people were smiling and watching and I could only remember the sweat of the gym during those Friday afternoon dances. The way I always stood right next to the speaker to dance, those same tunes pumping in my brain. The way, when a slow song came on, and I got to snuggle up to the likes of George Michael or the Psychedelic Furs, got to be in the dark, all sweat and shoulders and hips. I loved the slow songs.

But there was something in the way I felt on that dance floor. I felt exactly like who I am. Felt like I could give a hoot if I was barefoot and in pony tail, while all the other girls I grew up with must have done some sort of phone tree to ensure that everyone was wearing beautiful, stiletto, black leather boots and equally fabulous (and tight) black minis.

It felt a bit like I was dancing in a wonderful and familiar dream. I didn't feel like I was from that dream land anymore, but I knew that it's roots ran deep within me. I knew that as much as I don't own stilettos, I love them and they just aren't exactly practical where I come from now. I knew that the tunes from OMD and Berlin might not be songs my husband or posse in Missoula have ever heard, but somehow they represent a big part of me.

This is a hard thing to articulate. You are created from your life experiences. Mine were wild. They were loud and colorful and sunny and real. They were freeways and pumping bass notes and aqua net and black eyeliner and the Hello Kitty store.

Somehow I ended up very far from this place. When I think about Eliana's life, I don't see her encountering those influences the same way I did. For her I see seasons and farms. Game meat and homemade jellies. Fleece. And this is still totally nuts for me to write. Because it is much more common and much more normal in most of my experience to get Indian take-out for dinner than it is to defrost a piece of deer butchered and shot by my husband.

Though here I am. And my little girl is splendid. And I know she'll take what she needs from this place and then spice it up with her own ideas and journeys when she's ready. I guess sorta like what her mama did.

So here's to a new year. Here's to new adventures. To flavors. To seasons. To friendships. To family. To all the parts that somehow always come together. To wholly embracing who we are.