Monday, August 20, 2012

Shock and Awe.

“Describe the saddest you’ve ever been.”

“That would be when Dad died. When Mom told us the truth.”

The cold hard facts are this: four years after the bomb went off in our house these are the commonplace conversations of our dinner table. They are the sayings that come up unexpectedly in a blasé you-need-new-skates-my-mom-has-no-money-ask-your-dad-I-can’t-cause-he’s-dead kind of way in the hockey camp locker room. The did-you-know-my-Daddy-what’s-your-Daddy’s-name-it’s-Jim-but-he-died statements that jolt the solid stance of off-duty police officers at retail and movie-going destinations in a 50-mile radius of our home. The no-my-daughter-wasn’t-lying-to-your-daughter-about-the-whole-dead-Dad-thing explanations.

I shouldn’t feel this way.

But the four-foot-nothing-white-haired-temporary-nanny in my kitchen is practically apoplectic.

And I am laughing. And I simply cannot stop.

Every mother knows that nothing is sacred when it comes to a child’s view of life. And that the jiggle quotient of our body parts will be evaluated and broadcast to every living soul within earshot. But it is when you, through a series of unfortunate events, become a suddenly-single-by-death mother, that you truly appreciate your children’s ability to wage a campaign so unsettling that military analysts might consider their strategist potential.  

Because there’s nothing like death to ratchet the absurdity, irony, unfairness and laughability of life to a previously unfathomable level.

As a mother, I have fallen short in perfection but excelled in love and devotion. I have struggled to hold the pieces together, but I have shown them how to pick them up when they fall. I have failed to rise above pain, anger and frustration, but I have succeeded in teaching them not to shrink from weakness and sorrow.

Maybe it’s the $1,400 water heater I paid for on Friday. Or the avalanche of work and personal emails that has threatened to entomb me for nearly a year. Or the familial dramas that are exacerbated by loss. Or the stitches sitting squarely between me and comfort.

“Did you know you are shorter than my Mom? And my Mom is really short!”

Or maybe it’s just life. The shock and awe kind.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Class is Now in Session.

It is exactly that moment when summertime glee has disappeared into boredom and youthful exuberance is on the brink of over-excited hysteria. It is exactly that moment when parents around the globe give praise to gods of all sorts that it has finally here.

The first day of school has arrived. 

New backpacks have been loaded with pencils and books, binders and erasers, lunchboxes and bottled water and personal accoutrements of notable style. Mothers, with tears of joy and happiness gleaming unshed in their eyes, have tucked loving notes into pockets and on sandwich wrappers. Fathers have proudly clapped sons on backs and placed chaste kisses on the foreheads of their daughters. Flashes have popped in the global race to showcase cherubic and not-so-cherubic cheeks on Facebook. Feet shod in shoes momentarily unscuffed have marched off in that age-old first-day parade of crew necks and pleats and fringes and sequins and denim.

As children we measure our growth in digits and years, racing from playground to playground and wishing that youth will pass us by. We experience bullies and bosom buddies, friendships that span weeks and others that will span decades. We enter adulthood with the lessons of life forged in the fashion and social misadventures of our youth. But adulthood is simply a different playground where the stakes are higher, the wounds cut deeper and the risk of misstep is not as easily recoverable.

For years I watched from the sidelines, reluctant to engage and questioning if I had the desire and the energy to enter the melee. And then I stepped onto the playground and realized not much has changed.

The popular girls are still there, chattering in corners. The bullies are still making up for their own insecurities. Playground politics and social spheres are simply refinements of the original. Truth or dare has become an elevated game of pawns, and iPhones have advanced the game of telephone to lightning speed.

“Mom, there’s a boy in my class that looks kind of like a nerd.”


“I won’t be mean to him. Like those kids were to me. That’s not nice.”

If only we remembered the lessons of our childhood.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Making a Wish.

It’s almost here. A day intended to be mine and mine alone. The close of another year of success and wisdom gained, adversity triumphed over and growth both mental and physical. The beginning of a new one fresh with opportunity. A celebration of me. Happy Birthday to me.

If an asteroid is hurtling toward Earth I would like it to hit on Saturday.

For years, I have avoided my day. I avoid it not because I am a woman and because of that I am, according to gender classification, destined to watch the hands of time with dread. I avoid it because I am a woman watching the hands of time by myself. Alone.   

When you are alone, birthdays echo with reminders of singularity. It’s not that I don’t have well-meaning family and friends that I celebrate as individual gems in the treasure chest that constitutes my life. It’s that I am missing the crown jewel that is supposed to celebrate me. It’s not that I want to be lavished with gifts and flowers and chocolates and dinners, the year of the Jimmy Choo’s aside. I don’t need elaborate bows and little blue boxes, gems and designer purses.

I simply want someone who celebrates me.

The messy-Sunday-morning-hair me. The no-makeup me. The no-bra-laundry-folding me. The get-the-kids-to-school-and-me-to-work me. The tired-and-cranky me. The can’t-swim-can’t-cook-wine-loving me. The been-to-hell-and-back-and-never-gave-up-fighting-to-come-back me. The afraid-of-scary-movies-and-dark-hallways-but-loves-to-run-in-the-dark me. The flip-flop-and-peep-toed-heels me. The Websters-Dictionary me. The protective-and-nurturing-mother-of-two me. The if-it-is-implausible-and-outrageous-it-will-happen-to-me, me. The let-me-go-for-a-run-and-I-will-give-you-whatever-you-want me. The I-am-okay-with-your-smell-if-you’re-okay-with-my-subtle-irritation-about-it me. The content-and-loving me.

All of me.

But it doesn’t appear likely that the hand-carved wish box is going to deliver what I want by Saturday, despite the fact that I am on the cusp of crossing a milestone I didn’t anticipate celebrating alone. And I have yet to meet the man that wants all of me and not just parts of me, which is not an option I am willing to exercise. But sitting here looking at the Back 40, I can’t help but wish that on this birthday that I had someone.

Someone strong enough to take a fire extinguisher to the candles.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Tending the Yard.

Dear Widowed Me,

“Community CC&Rs require that each owner shall maintain his or her lot in a manner consistent with the Community-Wide Standard. The Perfect-Families-Community homeowners association has been noted your yard as inconsistent with the CC&Rs. If you do not bring your yard into compliance within 30 days, a fine will be applied to your account.”

Sincerely, People Who Aren’t Me

I admit, my yard is … er … a little unkempt these days. And frankly, I expected this little love note from my HOA months ago.

Perhaps they thought they’d be mailing a “you-cannot-run-down-the-street-naked-and-screaming-no-matter-how-much-your-life-falls-apart” notice first. If I was in their stealthy shoes, I would have waited, too. And considering the mental picture of my unrestrained parts – and after watching the naked man on the hood of a truck on the news – I am eternally grateful that my descent into grief-induced catatonia managed to evade the point of no return.   

I live in a comfortable house on a comfortable corner lot in a sleepy neighborhood. And because I have a corner lot I am required to have more plants, trees and shrubs than the comfortable lots that are not on corners in my sleepy neighborhood. And the list of approved and acceptable vegetation is surprisingly lush and hardy.

Despite the fact that my comfortable corner lot is in the middle of the desert. And an irrigation system that hasn’t worked in a year.   

In four years, my yard has been trimmed exactly six times. The first was the week our world stopped turning. For an entire week their assignment was us, their squadmate’s family. Like silent sentinels they were there, running errands, gathering belongings, cleaning work lockers and sharing memories. And I watched them descend on the yard like an army of Edward Scissorhands.

A year later, worn down by the weight of help asked for, I fought to bring the plants I told him I did not want under control. Two days, one plane trip and severe allergic regret later, my head spun in the dark as my kids bounced on the guest room bed in excitement and my friend’s humor floated through the air in an offer of coffee.   

Another year. Conversations over hedgetrimmers and leafblowers about the neglect of my yard, both figurative and literal. Six months. A young man motivated by good and the vigor of youth led the effort to replace the leafiest offenders with new life and laughter. A business card in the doorframe before Christmas. Another business card in the doorframe.

And with each tending I see that the yard that I have been left to tend is resilient and eager to bloom, despite the drought and neglect it has endured.

Dear People Who Aren’t Me,

As a follow up to the notice I received regarding the non-compliance of my yard, this letter is to confirm that it is now in compliance and no fee should be applied to my account. I assure you that my yard will be in compliance -- just as soon as I find the right caretaker for the job.

Sincerely, Single Me

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Okay. Afterall.

I watched a woman hand a flag to a man today.

Rows of blue standing silent and still in the morning sun, beads of sweat the only evidence of strain among the rank and file. The plaintive wail of the pipes disappearing into the air, tartan and flags snapped lightly. The crack of rifles thrice over. White gloved hands rising and falling in slow salute. Pain diluted and sharpened, the sound of silence washing over us in awkward waves of comfort.

And in the silence, her whisper thundered “Are you okay?” in my head as she walked me past a line of blue.

Am I? Am I okay?

In a few short months it will have been four years since she whispered to me, officer to grieving spouse, stranger to stranger, woman to woman. Four years since the rifles fired for him and my fingers welcomed the flag that was the last gift. Four years since a little boy asked why “that man was saying things about Daddy that made you cry” and a little girl screamed at the injustice of it all.

Four years of loss and renewal. Questions and answers. Resistance to change and rushing toward it. Memories not yet made, lost. Sleepless nights and comfortable slumber. Tears and laughter. Anger and adjustment. Four years after a moment that changed everything. They are the lost and found years.

A life lost and a new life found.

In four years we have processed trauma mentally and physically debilitating. We have embraced new friendships and watched others languish. We have found new passions and embraced new experiences. We’ve questioned the expected and chased the unexpected. We have challenged norms and demanded more.

The pipes still tear at my heart. The crack of rifles continues to pierce my soul. The line of blue remains uncomfortably comforting.
Because we’re more than okay.