Thursday, December 19, 2013

the greatest love of all

I don't know why it's taken me so long to really know in my soul that I'm a grown-up.  Maybe it's hard to face. Maybe no one wants to believe that they are officially middle aged.  But the bright angel of wisdom has been shouting down at me from the mountaintops lately.  Shouting, watch!  Listen!  It's here.

There we were the other night with Poppy and the kids.  Jeff had been feeling stressed and guilty that we were leaving for the holidays.  His dad would be all alone in his special home.  Granted, he's never, ever alone in his special home.  In fact, in his home he is surrounded by people just like him.  They are old (very) and content (sometimes) and confused (always).  The lie around on sofas or shuffle around the hallways.  They mumble and stare off into space.  They make unintelligible comments to the kids and like old movies.  They are sweet and tired and have lived a long, long time. 

While we spend a lot of time with the gang at Rosetta Assisted Living, we rarely visit with Poppy outside of his cozy confines. But Jeff decided we needed to take him out for an early Christmas dinner (even though he's a Jew).  An early Christmas dinner for an 89 year old Jew at Noodle Express with a three and six year and their ten year old dog.  Just to keep things extra exciting.  Just to solidify that this was, indeed, a family trip.

After we maneuvered Pop into the car we drove, slowly down the road to the nearest restaurant.  The car was unusually silent.  Even Lucy didn't do her usual backseat whining.  The vibe was anticipatory.  Anxious.  Anything could happen. 

So there we were, finally eating our noodles.  Eliana had done a great job keeping everyone entertained while we waited (PopPop does not like to wait.  Instead of wait, he'd rather just shuffle out.  Or around.  Or something like that).  She was telling us about her dream, wild and vivid, involving penguins and masks and crazy chases in the snow.  Sol and Pop began to dig into their bowls.  And that's when we realized it.  Jeff, at the head of the table, was helping the two males on either side of him, his young son, his old dad, get their noodles on their forks.  He was passing them both extra napkins and refilling their fountain drinks.  He was making sure that they ate their chicken and had one more piece of brocolli. 

At one point I stood up -- probably grabbing more napkins -- I stood behind Pop and put my arms around his neck.  I said, PopPop, do you know how much we love you?


And it was a clear yes.  It was a heart-filled yes.  I was filled with that same feeling I have with my own kids.  How even after a long, full day, after meltdowns and rush-arounds, after slogging through homework and teeth brushing, my children know with their whole selves, with their whole hearts, that we love them.  Absolutely.  It's our one and best truth. 

We finished up our shoyu, our stir fry, our MSG quota satisfied.  I took care of the kids while I heard Jeff say, Come on.  Take a step.  Two steps.  There you go.  You got it.  Dad, look at me.  We are going to the door.  You can do it.  Walk with me to the door. 

Just like he used to say to the children.

They moved, Morty and his loose leg shuffle, hunched back, clenched grip on his son's hand.  They made their way slowly to the car.  Slowly up the big step into the truck.  Slowly with the seat-belt. 

After we dropped Mort back off at the home, Whitney Houston's, "Greatest Love of All" came on the radio.  Jeff, in his relief, in his wonder, in his thank-god-we-got-through-that relief, started singing along.  Like, hard-core.  In case you don't know, my husband is not one to sing along to anything.  Definitely not Whitney.  I started crying happy tears.  The kids were just sort of shell-shocked by how weird their parents are.  And we drove down the snowy, winter roads, back up the hill to our  house:

I believe the children are our future.  Teach them well and let them lead the way.  Show them all the beauty they possess inside...

Monday, December 9, 2013


Eliana had special homework tonight, part of her new unit on Celebraciones.  She was supposed to choose her three favorite holidays and then answer some questions about them.  This was terribly amusing on many levels.  First, the three favorites:

1.  Christmas (predictable)
2.  Valentine's Day (pretty normal)
3.  Dia de los Muertos (I wonder where she goes to school)

Then we got to the meat of answering the questions.  Eliana had to say why our family celebrates Christmas.

Me:  Okay, El.  What do you think?  Why does our family celebrate Christmas.
Elie:  I don't know!  Wait, to save the trees!

Hmmm.  Perhaps celebrate the trees.  After they've all been cut down.

So I launched in a bit.  Well, you know in our family we like to celebrate the season of winter and the love in our family.  We want to be generous and show appreciation for the people we love through giving gifts.  But really, the origin of Christmas has to do with a birthday.  Remember Jesus Christ?  Well, Jesus's birthday is actually on Christmas.

Eliana...after a bit of quiet reflection...:  Wait.  Why does Santa bring us presents when Jesus should?

She was thinking about how when she goes to a birthday party, she brings a gift but she also gets a gift (the party itself, the treats, the goodie's a win-win).  So, yeah.  Who the heck is Santa anyway?  How'd he get mixed up in this whole shebang? 

The whole homework process began to deteriorate right about there.  Valentine's Day was kind of a repeat of my, "love and appreciation" spiel.  She knew way more about the real origins and meaning behind Day of the Dead than either of the other two.  So, way to go Internaional School.  Bad job mommy and daddy on any sort of folklore. 

I guess if she keeps focusing on love and appreciation she's on the right track. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

the simple life

On Thanksgiving morning the cabin is cozy,
flannel sheets worn and soft.
The men rise early with orange vests and
heavy arms while the girls
find their fancy dresses, red velvet and colored tights.
I extend my time in bed as much as possible,
move slowly,
take in the red of their lips,
the dissarray of hair,
the silver-white mountain peaks and
golden earth, open wide.

There's something about unihabited space,
mile after mile of prairie,
hill, then mountain,
rocks and sage,
a frozen creek,
a still resevoir.
I settle inside,
chest softens,
mind slow and soft.
The children color and chat,
play hamsters and kitties, baby eagles,
throw earth at ice,
slide and search for crystals,
the sun just warm enough,
the cold breeze of November,
quiet and comfort of old friends as
we settle in, move through shared space,
cook and clean,
gather and come,
flow in the rhythm of a simpler time,
languid and luxurious.

 As the sky opens
there's a settling in the chest
a deeping of breath,
a slowing --
after months of early mornings,
lessons and lunches,
deadlines and departures,
moods and mess.

The settling is like nectar,
poured down a withered throat,
necessary and perfect.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

killing zombies

I know nothing about the zombie craze.  I do know that my girl Melissa told me that when she's crazy with work and kids, moving at a rapid-fire pace from one thing to the next, she and her hubby call it, "Killing Zombies."  The term has found its way into my daily vernacular.  A day like today when my only break from teaching or a meeting or mommying is lunch, it's a full on killing zombie day.  Days when my mind has to be so dang clear from one moment to the next, total presence until the fifteen minute transition when I think through what comes next.  Killing zombies.  And somehow we're almost at Thanksgiving.  Zombies are a wild time suck.

I just uploaded pictures from my phone and realized that I have been slacking hard.  There are pictures of my kids playing in golden leaves, covered in make-up and their weird and creative Halloween get-ups, the annual trip to the corn maze.  It feels like that stuff was years ago.  So I'm doing an anti-blog, blog and dumping on some old pics and getting caught up, zombie killing style.  Banging on through. So here.

Now that that's out of the way, I have to say, we're definitely settling into a groove, zombies and all.  It's amazing how the energy reserve always finds a way to re-fill, even when you think you'll never have the energy to do another dish, make another lunch, grade another paper.  My children are troopers and they are very, very good and rolling with our madness.  I know I've said this all before.  But I'm really proud of who they're becoming.  

Eliana is so damn creative.  She had to choose a career to research for school and she decided she wanted to be a, "Dancing Artist."  She picked out this brilliant outfit to be filmed in for her Dancing Artist school program today -- pink legwarmers, a Peruvian wool-embroidered sweater dress, extra accessories, a striped duster sweater -- she made her mama proud.  And I, honestly, had absolutely nothing to do with it.  I sometimes worry that I'm depriving her of things because I don't have her in any lessons or after-school activities.  Our life is too full for me to drive her around after school.  It's just not really an option for our family right now. But then I see what she does on her own.  Today after school she made and wrapped presents for family members, including sewing two pieces of felt together and stuffing them with filling to make a pillow for Mazzy.  I'm kinda blown away.  I do not sew.  She did a puzzle then drew the castle and princesses on separate pieces of paper, made a store to sell her precious rocks and jewelry collection, danced to her best Pandora songs, all while including her brother and actually getting along with him.  It was a special afternoon, to be sure.  They certainly do not all go this way.

Solomon is doing all sorts of cool things too.  His Spanish is taking off.  Tonight he found these red Nikes, like four sizes too big, and he was so into them that all he wanted to do was race me around the house.  He'd yell, "A las uno, a las dos, a las tres!" and then take off from one wall to the next.  He loves learning new things, loves being at school with his sister, loves throwing his whole self into everything he does.  During his parent-teacher conference Adriana told us about how kinesthetic he is, how enthusiastic, how into songs and stories.  He's a boy, though he's had a rough sleep regression and seems to will himself awake around two a.m. so that he can find his way into our bed.  He settles into my body like he did when he was tiny, all elbows and knees, lips and curls.  I'm pretty crazy for him, though Jeff and I are both pretty low on a good night's sleep.  Bring on the zombies though.  Life doesn't seem to stop.

Monday, November 11, 2013

here and there

I feel like we've all been here, there, everywhere as of late.  Jeff or I has been out of town or we've had friends or family visiting for what feels like forever.  I'm so deep in the full school vibe I fell asleep at 8:30 on Saturday night, woke at 4 ready to go, my husband ready to head to the dark and cold woods, his call of the wild, bright orange vest, ready to go primal.  That said, he already hung one deer from the rafters downstairs, already brought home lots and lots of little white packages of winter meet, bolognese and burgers, stir frys and stews. 

The weather shifts abruptly.  I guess that tends to be the pattern around these parts.  But I feel like I've been playing catch-up for the past week.  Left to orange leaves, returned to bare trees, left to sun, returned to gray.  I say that, but then look outside and see the patches of blue bursting through, remind myself that sometimes I just have to embrace it, go outside, pump my arms, my music, breathe in the clean of the air. 

I spent last weekend watching bravery and wisdom at work.  My sister is tremendous and her words, her movements, her honesty, fed me like rich and healing wine.  I was a mess of art and sunshine, words and words, the scent of the fragrant California air, my beloved family all around me.  I wrote this for her...

A Love Poem for Hilary

I rub her between my fingers, squeeze out the essence of memory –
oils of lavender and rosemary, soft seep of a white rose,
cleanse of eucalyptus and ripe sage, the way they climb
from beneath pavement, over walls, confident, unstoppable and
it’s November,
the breeze barely ruffles the wild hair of the palm, her skinny torso and
assured base.  She dances with heat and shadow, light and feminine while
the thick oak reaches with his ancient embrace, all intellect and memory,
all root and foundation and I smell my childhood and her soft steps past the
stucco of the library, black wrought iron and Spanish tiles, everything
low to the ground,
close to the earth.

Sometimes I can’t believe I ever left you,
fled over mountains and rivers,
through torrential sleet and blinding white snow,
left it all behind,
our family and her songs, the syncopation of sisterhood, lure of the ocean
and the way she appears after that long tunnel on the ten,
that last curve before we flow into PCH, the blinding shine of blue,
the arms of the ocean calling me to return
again and again.  

And this for him...

For Brandon

You sing of the angel of the morning, she’s calling out
your name and I feel you reach your hand down my throat, down and down,
grab hold of my heart just enough so I catch my breath and then return,

There’s another moment on the screen.
We dance a little duet, your black top hat and silver tails,
my long braid whips, orange tights, subtle and focused smile.
I feel the space between us,
how I waited in the wings with the music,
the sweet crescendo,
waiting for my turn to join you,
how we practiced after school at your house,
your loose shoulders,
weight barely forward,
faces barely touching.

How wise we both were, even then,
to understand darkness, to be unafraid,
sing loud,
jazz hands and swaying hips,
the heat of the stage lights,
the range of your voice,
knowing even then that
there would be very few times like these,
that this was it,
the purest of love.
And this is what I still choose,
harmony over dissonance,
the memory of your voice reaching
over highways and mountain ranges,
radio waves and the highest of heavens
where you rest
finally free
to sing at peace.  

And from all that big stuff life continues to spill.  The laundry builds like little gossips, whispering their secrets, reminding you that you can't hide from the trite for too long.  The children continue to save their worst selves for me, fierce devotion and whiny frustration, his big lipped kisses and loud protestations, her sweet questions until she bitch slaps me out of nowhere, just to keep me in check.  

But this day off is a gift.  A gift to remember how peaceful it is when he sleeps, when she is whisked away by a buddy, their first grade humor, his little fists rub red eyes.  I bought myself all my favorite healing foods, prepared a huge plate, ate slowly, at attention.  No one asked for anything, the phone stayed quiet, my gaze still.  


Two Children on a Sunday

He is all elemental, stick and strength, born of my strong body, his muscles rest in mine. 
She is of mythic space, silky fabrics that swirl, a soft hum of rhythm, music,
she thinks things through, eyes blue pools of understanding,
mind an eddy of questions, connections.  When he loves hard, he bites, doesn’t yet get

her need for harmony, soft fabrics that twirl, thoughts deep in the mystic
until he throws himself on top of her and they wrestle and roll,  
their fierce eddy of connection, the bite, the fervor and hard love of
our mothers and fathers, our driftwood histories and stories smoothed like small bits of stone. 

He throws himself into all he does, wild haired abandon, voice dissonant, loud
and she’s beginning to seek quiet discernment, thoughtful hours with scissors and paper,
honors the mothers and fathers, our driftwood histories and stories like stones, polished, altered,
she sifts through her own, the suddenly leafless trees, gray dull of November, river still and low.

After hours quiet with scissors and paper, thoughtful discernment, she says,
Mama.  I have a secret.  I’m actually a mermaid with a golden tail…
and she splashes her gold against the suddenly leafless trees, splashes light against the dull of November, across the still river,
 thick curls wet down her back, eyelashes drip diamonds in the early, quiet evening. 

Mama.  I have a secret.  I’m actually a transforming ninja and I have powers to defeat you,
and with a few pow-pows, his mighty make-believe sword, he flies from the stairs,
thick curls, wild sprigs of rebellion, eyelashes drip diamonds in the early, quiet evening. 
My heart a full sphere of pulsing light, of absolute devotion and profound exhaustion. 

With the assembly of another make-believe day, night, we land in the dark,
feel our way, eyes weary pools of understanding,
hearts full in the pulsing light, absolute devotion and profound exhaustion,
all elemental, blood and bone,
born from this body,
the still river,
our muscles rest. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

the garden

For Mom at 79

You read that at the Garden of One Thousand Buddha’s
we must walk clockwise, our right ears turned
towards the statues, our right ears ready to hear the words
between the space that is sameness, stillness.

You clutch your blue cane, butterflies dance around the
steel periphery and we walk hand in hand, your weight in my
hip like I did with my babies, those natural grooves, that flow.

So very slowly we circle and I feel the false move, the slightest tap,
could knock you down, a heap of only the finest linen,
lips outlined in subtle red, not a smudge, everything just so,
the weight of my task immense as we
shuffle this circle, the still of this valley,
the patterns, intricate and deliberate, molded and holy and you say

you can almost feel it.  How it feels to feel.  Because, perhaps,
when you’re near the end it’s better to ground in logic and
knowledge, your strong mind dictating the terrain,
because you’ve always done it all by yourself.

Come to this country.
Marry this man. 
Raise these children.
Education and education, work and work,
one heavy step after another. 

Though today, your legs barely support your frame,
your back bent and broken, a tiny hand shakes,
your face serious and deep,
pained clarity.

Sixteen years ago, I never thought you’d still be here.
The morphine dripped and I told you all my secrets,
spoke to your closed eyes,
laughed myself silly, delirious,
those hours spent in that stale room,
striped curtains and flowers,
everywhere flowers,
just barely