Posts Tagged ‘Love’

not the ending

July 8th, 2012    -    9 Comments

The beginning of Hand Wash Cold, because somewhere, for someone, the cycles are repeating:

By September everything was gone. Given away or sold, cheap. The entire living room to my sister, who hired movers to take it. Two garage sales to empty the shelves. My wedding crystal, still in plastic in the Lenox shipping box, for $35. The woman halfheartedly bargained, “Is this set complete?” before she laughed at her own question and handed over the bills. One Sunday night I invited the little guy from the rollerblading group inside and sold him the wine rack for $20. He’d wanted dinner and a date but he drove away with the rack standing up in the backseat of his MG convertible.

I kept what I needed and wanted. They’d become the same. The bed, desk, books and a chair, and about half of my clothes. I sublet one room, the smaller one, in a two-bedroom apartment from someone who seemed desperate for the company and the cash. Then I did what everyone else had already done from the big house on Avalon Drive. I left. And then it sold.

Hadn’t quite sold, but after two years in a falling market it was wanted, finally and fast, by a woman attorney new in town.

It was time to take care of the last bit of housekeeping. Just a day’s worth, a day in September.

There was stuff left in drawers and closets. The cabinets above and below the tiny wet bar between the kitchen and the living room with the blue-and-yellow tile counter. An understated spot that had made the house seem so authentic. This would make someone a lovely home, I often thought, realizing it wasn’t me. I surveyed the mismatched glassware and souvenir mugs, the army of half-empty liquor bottles my husband had brought home after doing beverage inventory at the hotel where he worked. We can’t use it there, he’d said. Never used it here either. I poured every bottle down the little sink and stuck the empties, like bones, into garbage bags. Dragged outside, the bags piled up behind the little white picket sanitation fence by the garage. Up and over the top, an embarrassing tower of unmade toasts.

Upstairs, I swept through the closets of empty hangers and leftover shoes, pausing over a stash of get well cards from the surgery five years ago, when the doctor said get pregnant now and, looking at my blank-faced husband, I knew I didn’t love him.

I pulled down the attic stairs and went up. In some ways, it was my favorite room. We’d bought the house from a surgeon, and that explained the precision of the place. No visible scars. The guy had actually done his own gardening and cleaned his own pool, installed his own sprinkler system and outdoor lights. Awash in aftershave, I imagined, with an aperitif in hand.

The attic was high-ceilinged and light. The span was clean and shadowless. The surgeon had put in a solid floor and neatly lain old doors and shutters across the rafters. In case someone could use them again. On one wall was a built-in shelf where I kept my small store of Christmas decorations. Not enough ornaments to cover a tree, but centerpieces and ceramics to set out in the years before I could no longer lift the sentiment. read more

A halfway spot

June 15th, 2012    -    37 Comments

There is a lull in these months of the year, a gentle sway between the tug and the rush, when my daughter is at her halfway spot, the sweet, round stillness of equilibrium. I’ve noticed this each year with the mid-season: her momentary certitude of being right in her own place, secure that she’s earned all of her years and a half. These extra six months after a birthday and we begin to beam in wonder again at how much she’s grown and how fast she runs, how well she reads and how clever and fun she is, how light and amazing her grace, how charming, how funny, how much of everything she is becoming and then she turns and buries her face in my waist and says,

Mommy, I don’t want to grow up.

And I know she’s heard the dim roar of the river, the whitewater rumble, the current of life beneath us that only flows one way.

The other night when her dad was gone she settled into my bed and took into her hands the photograph we keep on his bed stand like a shrine, the school photo of her at age three at the idyllic Pacific Oaks preschool. She had a kind of glamour then, a barefaced beauty and twinkle that foretold her marvelous future. She studied the photo for awhile and then says,

I really like this girl.

She gazed for a long time, disbelieving that the little tousle-haired blonde with the baby teeth grin was her from five years ago, five years being an unfathomable breach of time the way thirty years is to me, the me who isn’t brave enough to look at photos of the past after it has disappeared for good. I snuggled her to me that night, I swallowed her warm breath, her weightless slumber.

Lately since I’ve surpassed my own irretrievable threshold in age I wake most mornings to the feeling that there is no time. Ah yes, there really is no time and in that way there is infinite time but the feeling I have is that there is no time left. There is no time to wonder how much time or how little time, where to go or when, what to do after, how to end up, what it’s all about, what better or best or next great thing I should or could or why not do. There is no time to waste but only to appreciate the precious and, yes, parting gift my daughter brings when she steps out of the tub and into a towel, leans into my arms and says,

I want you to be my Mommy forever.

That I can do.

***


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spring bloom

April 7th, 2012    -    5 Comments

Seeing her right now reminds me of my mother back then which reminds me to see her as she is right now.

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faded letters

April 2nd, 2012    -    12 Comments

If you really want to change, live by someone’s last words. These are with me this week.

Be yourself, and take good care of your family. — Mom

I can’t wait until then. — Dad

It’s very beautiful over there. — Thomas Edison

Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow. — Steve Jobs

I am being shown the most amazing things. — Dominique de Menil

Does nobody understand? — James Joyce

It’s all been very interesting — Lady Montagu

Don’t make a great commotion over nothing. — Zen master Tozan

Today you will be with me in paradise. — Jesus

For all eternity, I love you. — President James Polk

Good night my darlings, I’ll see you tomorrow. — Noel Coward

routine and ritual

March 15th, 2012    -    13 Comments

String enough good days together, like a macaroni necklace, and you’ve made a priceless treasure out of what you already have on hand.

This is a transcript of a talk on parenting wisdom that I gave at the local library. We all live at such a distance from one other I thought I’d just put it all up here. It’s geared to parents of children under age three, but the lessons are forever. Please share.

——

Often we approach our job as parents like this:

“I don’t know what I’m doing!”
“I’m over my head!”
“I’m lost!”
“I’m ruining my kid.”

So we seek more information, come to workshops, and pick up new tips. We want to give our children a solid advantage and even a head start. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I take a different approach. I like to help you find the wisdom you already possess, help you find your own way, and help you feel more secure in your everyday life so that you can say:

“We made it through. We did OK. It was a good day.”

String enough good days together, like a macaroni necklace, and you’ve made a piece of art, a priceless treasure out of what you already have on hand.

They say that children don’t come with instructions, so I’m not going to give you any new instructions. I want to talk about two tools that you already have, but that you may not be using enough. read more

the girl can write

March 5th, 2012    -    60 Comments

About two years ago I read something on the web that I loved. I adore words, and I often admire other writing. But this was different than admiration. It was as if someone cracked open my ribcage and wrote the ache in my heart.

The piece by Joanna Brooks was called There is no Such Thing as Half, a courageous bit of outspokenness against the fractional religious classification of her children, born of a Mormon mom and Jewish dad. I read it and gushed blood, then immediately wrote a fan letter to Joanna. The similarities of our interfaith families, as all similarities, didn’t end there. It turns out she was a beloved professor to my next-door neighbor’s first-born. We both came of age on the suburban rim of the California orange groves. We shared the relative obscurity of all fledgling writers, figuring out how to woo readers, win publishers, and assemble the mythical “platform” that we’ve been told will yield access to the promised land of literary inclusion.

All I could offer her was encouragement. She went on and did everything by her pioneering self, becoming the go-to media girl for progressive Mormonism, a commentator at the frontier of politics, faith and feminism. Last month she published her memoir, and I recommend it to you here.

The Book of Mormon Girl is the story of deeply loving one’s faith, surviving its narrowness, renouncing its arrogance, and ultimately reclaiming the church. It is as smartly rendered as language can be, and it is beautifully, universally true. It gives me hope. Hope for our miscounted daughters, for our misunderstood grandmothers, and for the achingly faithful hearts, like mine, still beating and bleeding for peace, tolerance, and the seemingly lost cause of human respect. It gives me hope for our common lineage: love.

Comment on this post for a chance to win my copy of the book, to be drawn this Friday.

the child is not the child

February 27th, 2012    -    29 Comments

If you ever wondered what you are supposed to teach your child, please read this and learn from me.

It was Thursday afternoon about four-thirty. Georgia was racing through her mound of homework before we left for gym practice at five. (Do math, do science, write a poem.) The minutes were ticking.

This is where it gets sticky.

She’s finishing gluing drawings into her “Silk Road Journal” (16 pages, front and back, history project due the next day) when she lets out a high shriek. The glue has exploded out the cap from a hard squeeze and blanketed two whole pages. The booklet is a soppy mess. Her artwork is doused. She sobs. I stiffen. She collapses. I look at the clock. And what I think I see is no more time.

I really think that time is up.

How is it that a girl and her mother can get stuck between two pages of the Silk Road Journal? Wedged between the pitiless hours of four and five on a Thursday? Strung between almost-done and starting over? Knotted, tangled and ripped in two?

I don’t want to tell you.

I don’t want to tell you what I told her. About what she didn’t do, didn’t plan, and didn’t finish soon enough. About how little and how late. The cause and the fault. How I couldn’t and wouldn’t and didn’t know how to help.  And what did she expect me to do?

Then she turned to me, through her sobs and streaked cheeks, and asked me the one thing that is still so hard for me to do.

Why don’t you just be the mom? Why don’t you encourage me?

Why can’t I just be the mom, and not the taskmaster, the lecturer, the appointments manager, the critic, the cynic, and the know-it-all? What is more important to show her than love? What is there always time for?

All great people, in their profound humility, remember their mothers most. They remember a mother who believed in them. And no matter how late, believed that there was still time. No matter how little, that there was enough. No matter how dismal the prospects, that it was possible. A mother who loved without measure, without schedule and without hurry.

So we blew off the timetable and moved to the dinner table. I gave her all the room she needed. She spread out and started over, using all the time it took. It went slow, but I encouraged her. She might have learned a lesson about glue, but I learned a lesson that I pray will stick.

When we realize that our child is not the child, then we begin to practice parenthood. It’s never too late to for me to grow up and be the mom. In fact, it’s time I did.

 

how to train a peanut

February 2nd, 2012    -    6 Comments

I’ve trained a bluejay, out of my own delight, to perch like a cat outside my door.

He doesn’t want me to sprout wings and fly. He can fly.

He doesn’t want a song and dance. He has a song.

He has a dance.

He wants a peanut. That, I can do.

For Jena Strong.

the third movie

January 18th, 2012    -    7 Comments

It’s not hard to make your first movie. It’s not hard to make your second movie. What’s hard is to make your third movie. — Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep says and does things I like. This was what she said about how hard it is to construct a career in the movies, but it applies to everything. It applies to love and commitment, family, work, physical and mental health, and everything else in your life. She means it’s hard to muster enough commitment to see things through. To keep going. To give up your expectation that anything worthwhile happens easily, without disappointment, or without trying really, really hard.

I repeat it here because of what I see so frequently repeated elsewhere about things not working out. By the time you’re approaching your third movie, you’re not new anymore. You’re not today’s darling, but you might yet become interesting. You might become resilient and resourceful, willing to make allowances. You’ll let yourself gain some weight, for instance, and do silly things with your hair. You’ll make a fool of yourself. You’ll take risks for your third movie, and every one after. Because when you do that for your third movie, you’ve realized there is only one movie. It’s called your life, and you don’t want it to end in bitterness and despair. The show has only just begun, and you love it. If you don’t love it, nobody will.

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be careful of the words

January 9th, 2012    -    67 Comments

This probably puts me in the category of a Kevin Costner sympathizer.

I’ve begun thinking in apocalyptic terms about what seems certain to be the demise of the US Postal Service. Admittedly, I’m a cultural throwback. I still think of writing as something that you do on paper, with your whole hand, in a cursive script that is elegant and intrinsic, like your DNA. I still think of community as consisting of people with bodies, using arms and legs and good manners to stand in line patiently at the post office, where we buy stamps, grouse about the three-penny price increase, see somebody we know, say a kind word, conduct our minor essential business, and go on our way, until next Monday or Thursday or tax season or the holidays.

I’ve noticed that they’ve started selling greeting cards in my little post office, which is ingenious, really, in a demoralizing way, since the only people who enter a post office these days are the sappy has-beens like me. People who saw those lame Kevin Costner movies in the 1990s predicting the disappearance of the post office, global warming, and the end of the world as we know it. And now we really do know it. read more

lo it is written

December 28th, 2011    -    12 Comments

I’m posting this early because everyone likes to have their fortune told.

You will bribe her with french fries
storm the gates of the forbidden
amassing a mortuary
of happy meal toys
and extra ketchup packets.
Join the zoo, the aquarium,
and the natural history museum,
surrendering the educational mission
for another stuffed animal at the gift shop.
Buy an army of Barbies.
Throw good money after bad.
Throw caution.
Throw fits.
Ante up to the American Girls.
One hundred dollars a pop.
Thank heaven for doting relatives.
You will overspend on school fundraisers
for mixed nuts, note cards, and candy
packed eight lousy pieces to the box.
Buy two cases of girl scout cookies
enough to enter winning territory
for a beach towel she’ll never use.
You will overpraise recklessly,
overjudge relentlessly,
underestimate entirely.
Give in on the cell phone.
And the next.
Awaiting her text.
You will go overboard at Christmas,
blow out Hanukkah,
host the birthday party from hell.
You will  exalt in her naptimes.
Cry in the shower.
Bide your time.
Bite your tongue.
Release her to the sleepover.
The trampoline. The mall.
The crush.
Scream your fool head off.
Or worse, or worse, it can always be
worse.
You will squander the good days.
You will, you will, you know you will.
You will fail her
and you will forgive her,
failing only to forgive yourself.
You will start over, verily, over again.
As it is written
in the year 2012 AD.

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in a word, love

December 23rd, 2011    -    3 Comments

The mountains have more snow. Georgia dragged her jacket out today and went outside for one minute before she agreed it was too cold. She was happy to read and play inside today.

My sister sent me an envelope in the mail this week. She attached a short note:

“I found this today while going through a drawer of old letters. I think I found it in Mom’s room when cleaning up after her death. Regardless, it belongs with you. Now that Georgia is all grown up, it’s especially poignant.”

She ate a good supper of chicken and vegetables all by herself. When the spoon proves inefficient, she just digs in with both hands.

The date of the letter was Feb. 14, 2001. I think it was the last letter I sent to my mom before she died.

She thought the doctor’s office yesterday was one big hoot but the wait was boring. She is 20 lbs and 31 inches. She was very happy after her long nap and danced backwards and forwards to Barney before her Daddy came home.

Georgia was 18 months old. Not knowing what else to say to a dying woman, I put every little detail of my daughter’s day on the paper. I wanted my mother to be in her life. I wanted my mother to be alive.

Last night she had a bath in the big tub, and while she was squatting in the water, she pooped. That was a fast bath and a long cleanup. I bought her a small potty chair for her to look at and she thinks it is a waste of time and money. Good for holding Cheerios but nothing else.

I see how I was mimicking my mother’s style of correspondence. My sisters and I used to laugh at the quotidian details she put in her letters. Perhaps we thought she should make better use of the time and space to expound on worldly matters, things that would interest daughters like us.

Georgia misses her Grandpa to chase around the dinner table. She runs a circuit around the table or sofa every night. Where is he?!?

Mom died on April 13, 2001. Dad died on Nov. 25, 2005.

I will not tell you how my parents failed me; I will not tell you I despise my kin. I no longer indulge those conversations when there are more important things to say.

Our love and thanks for another day,
Karen & Family

My holiday wish for you.

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go

November 28th, 2011    -    6 Comments

It took a very long while. Thirteen years. It took a lot of people. Nine thousand or so. We had to travel a far way. From California to Florida. To wake up awfully early. Five a.m. We took a car, a plane and then a bus before we sat on the shore of Banana Creek in the drizzle of a gray dawn to watch the Mars Science Laboratory – NASA’s newest and largest rover – lift off from Cape Canaveral.

The rover will look for the smallest signs of life.

My husband had a role in its engineering for several years. I do not recall the stretch of time with particularity. In the heroic cause of ordinary life, the days do not shine with glory.

We sat in bleachers for two hours as the minutes and clouds passed. We chatted with our neighbors, compared stories of kids and colleges, and drank coffee and hot chocolate, our gaze focused lightly on the horizon, where a shiny sliver stood against all odds that time could yet stop, or the day turn disastrous.

As the count drew down, the flight director made one more audible poll of system flight controllers for a go/no-go call, a spoken ritual broadcast on loudspeaker. There was no no given. There was only go, and again, go, and again, go.

Go.
Go.
Go, and all accounted for, go.

Certain then that neither earth nor sky would intercede, we stood and crossed our hearts and sang an anthem, then heard one last benediction, one final decree, a dedication to all the men and women who had risen each day to this task, traversing their own long years and brave distance, in the split second before their work could be judged as success or failure, taking measure by each part, each step, allowing the greatness to be no greater than the small in each of us.

And I thought to myself: Could there ever be life more intelligent than this? The propulsion of human ignition, the momentum of life itself, the genius of the inevitable, irreversible, go.

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