Friday, November 18, 2016

It's the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)

The past week and a half - and really, the months leading up to this past week and a half - have been exhausting. I grew up in a household in which history and current events and politics were CONSTANTLY the topic of discussion - well, that and football. And even with that frame of reference, I don't remember ever being so consumed with an election - with fear of what the wrong outcome would bring.

And now here we are, and it's shaping up to be as awful as everyone thought, if not more so. There are white supremacists and overt racists and misogynists heading into major positions of power. People who would have members of a particular minority forced to "register" - whatever the fuck that entails - so that their movements can presumably be tracked and they could be singled out for harassment and discrimination. Instances of bullying and bigotry and harassment on the rise, with the perpetrators emboldened.

I've been reading about the rise of fascism in the 20th century. And what's going on has me legitimately terrified. I don't want to be hyperbolic, but that instinct of, "oh, let's not hyperbolic, it won't be that bad" is what led to World War II.  I'm scared.

So I've been participating in advocacy groups and calling my representatives and writing letters and joining the Colorado Democratic Women's Caucus.  I feel like my days have been consumed with worrying about all these things that are bigger than I am - with feelings of, "what more can I do? how else can I help?"

It's overwhelming.

Tonight is the start of a weekend when I don't have the kids. And we'll be in Virginia next week, so it was my last day at work for a week. And I'm tired and I needed a break from worrying that the world is about to end and wondering what I can do to stop it.

So I went and bought some earrings for Josie.

She got her ears pierced at the beginning of October. And then had to wait for a month, keeping the same earrings in place, cleaning them and turning them every day, while the holes healed.

Anyone who knows her, or who reads this blog, knows that patience isn't her strong suit.  I've gotten quite a bit of, "AAUUUUGGGHHHH! WHY DO I HAVE TO KEEP THESE SAME EARRINGS IN FOR SO LONG? IT'S SO STUPID! IT'S SO BORING!"

And I'll roll my eyes and say, as calmly as I can, "I know, honey. Just a few more weeks, and then you can wear all the different earrings you want."

"Uuuuuugggghhhhh..."  This is accompanied by exaggerated huffing and puffing and flailing of arms.

"Oh, for god's sake, Josie, stop growling at me!"

But eventually the holes did heal and she has been able to swap out different pairs of earrings.

"Mama, can I wear your pearls?"

"Yes, but not to school. I don't want them to get lost."

"Can I wear these dangly ones?"

She pointed to a pair of cheap pearl drops that I've had forever but never wear.

"Yes. You can have them. Wear to school if you want. Just don't sleep in them - they could get pulled if you roll over and it will hurt."

"I can keep them??!!??"

I smiled. "Yes. They're a present from me to you."

"Squeeeeeee!!"  Her whole body shook with happiness and her grin consumed her whole face.

I have a million little purses and cloth bags and jewelry boxes that my mother has brought back from her travels around the world, so I gave Josie a heart-shaped jewelry box that my mom got in Korea.

"This is for you. Mimi gave it to me and I want you to have it to keep your earrings in."

"Can I get some new earrings? Some little dangly snowflakes?"

So today after work - after helping one of our lawyers get a decision out, after interviewing witnesses in a case I'm investigating, after answering a million questions from a million different places - I went over to the Claire's near my office to buy my daughter some earrings.

I bought dangly snowflakes and dangly penguins and little ladybugs and bumblebees and turtles and flowers and sparkly hearts and cute little faux-diamond studs.

I wasn't worrying about Jeff Sessions or Steve Bannon or calling my congresswoman about conflict of interest investigations. I was having fun buying frivolous baubles for my sweet, impish daughter, and enjoying the thought of how delighted she will be when I give them to her on Monday when I pick her up to go to the airport to fly to Virginia for Thanksgiving. I was thinking about how, when we go to the hockey game this year, Zeke will be coming with us for the first time, and how excited he is about it. I was thinking about how he asked me the other night if we were going to do the Turkey Trot this year, and when I said we were, he said, "yaaaayyy!! That's my favorite thing about Thanksgiving." I was thinking about that moment when, after walking through the endless corridors of Dulles Airport from the jetway, we go through the doors to baggage claim and the kids see my mom waiting for us and completely lose their minds with happiness as they run to her and jump into her arms.

I came home tonight to an empty house. And I continued to set aside thoughts of the world coming to an end. Instead I ate some cold pizza and watched The Crown, alternately entertained by the pomp and then irritated by how utterly useless the royal family really is. Over the weekends I have errands to run and plans with friends both nights, and I'm looking forward to it.

The world is scary right now. But it will not end this weekend, so I'm going to get a pedicure and go out and have some fun, because if I don't, I'll collapse under the weight of it all.





Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Get up, stand up. Stand up for your rights.

So that happened.

And it sucks on so many levels. The uptick in racist/misogynistic/xenophobic attacks made in the president-elect's name. The appointment of an anti-semitic, misogynistic, wife-beating white supremacist to a leading White House policy position. The threats to women's rights, particularly in the area of reproductive health.

For the past week, every night I have woken up at 3:30 in the morning with flushes of panic and anxiety coursing through me.

But I am not, by nature, a gnasher of teeth and render of garments. I cannot wallow endlessly. If I'm miserable about something, I've learned to let the misery wash over and through me, and then I move on. My approach to unpleasantness is to either suck it up if I have to, or do something about it.

I am taking steps to get more politically active. I am becoming involved in women's groups, determined to support causes that are important, either by giving money or volunteering. I am in contact with my government representatives at both the state and national levels. I am signing up to do training to help immigrants who are resettling in Colorado so that I can work with families and help them apply for jobs, or find apartments, or get their kids enrolled in school.

I am fortunate to come from a family that shares my sensibilities. I've talked to and heard from so many people whose political views are diametrically opposed to those of their parents or siblings, and they feel under attack and alienated, and worried about what will happen at family gatherings at Thanksgiving or Christmas.

I don't have that problem. I come from a long line of hard-core Democrats. As the descendants of Jews who came to this country in the early 20th century to escape the Russian pogroms, we are hard-wired to oppose discrimination in all forms. Over 20 years ago, and well before homosexuality became far less stigmatized or normalized than it is now, my dad participated in a march on Washington for gay rights because, as he told me, "I can't stand bigotry or discrimination."

So my Thanksgiving will be a good one. i will see my brothers and my nieces and my DC-based friends. We will watch hockey and go for a hike at Great Falls or Scott's Run. We'll do the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning. Copious amounts of cranberry jello mold will be consumed. We will feel the love.

That's what I can always do - let my friends and family know that I love them and will always be there for them. I can stand up to bigotry and refuse to remain silent if I witness bullying or harassment. I can work to advance equality. It's what we all need to do.

So get more active in your community. Volunteer. Run for office. Don't let hate and ignorance win.



Tuesday, November 08, 2016

My persuasion can build a nation

Last night I was lying in bed watching President Obama's speech in Philadelphia - his last campaign speech of the election cycle. As ever, he was eloquent and inspiring. And as he spoke, I felt this well of emotion and I started to cry.

First I thought back to his final campaign speech of the 2008 election, which was delivered the day his grandmother died on the day before the election. I remember crying then at the enormity of what was about to happen but also with sadness at the fact that the woman who raised him, who was smart and capable but whose career bumped up against a glass ceiling, would never get to see her grandson elected as the first black president of this country.

I thought with wonder about the world my children were born into - during the administration of the first black president, and now about to witness the election of the first female president. I was talking with Zeke on the phone this morning as I walked to work and remarked on how incredible it was that he and Josie were born in a time when barriers to success are increasingly falling. That you can achieve what you are willing and able to work for, no matter what color you are, no matter whether you're a man or a woman.

"It's like in the movie Zootopia!" he said.

Yes, like Zootopia.

I thought about how when my dad went to the University of Virginia, women weren't allowed to attend, except in the nursing school. How when my mom was in law school in the mid-60s, the few women in the class were criticized because they were taking up spots that should have gone to men.

I thought about the number of times men who didn't know me have defined and reduced me because I am a woman, whether in the form of a "nice tits" comment muttered under their breath as they passed me on the street, or in the form of an assumption when they walked into the law firm conference room that I was a secretary rather than a lawyer.

I thought about women throughout history - and still today - who live their lives waiting to be noticed by men, their validation and self-worth intrinsically wrapped up in the male attention they receive rather than in their own strengths and accomplishments. Believing, like the proverbial tree in the forest, that if they aren't coupled up, if they aren't singled out by a man, they don't really exist.

All of those thoughts flooded over me and I bawled.

My friend Ali added me to the Pantsuit Nation Facebook group last week, and it has been moving and inspiring and wonderful to read the posts of men and women from all over the country - straight, gay, transgender, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, immigrants, blue dog Democrats and registered Republican - giving their heartfelt testimonials about what it means to them to vote for Hillary Clinton in this election. Men who are proud feminists. Women voting for her in secret because their husbands wouldn't approve. People who were bullied at the polls, or who stood in line for 4 hours to cast their votes. Women who were born before women had the right to vote, and who now rejoice at being able to cast their ballot for a woman. In a political season characterized by hate and intolerance and polarization and negativity, the Pantsuit Nation page is a bastion of encouragement and love and inclusiveness. It represents the best of America.

I'm watching the news footage of long lines of women waiting to put their "I voted" sticker on the grave of Susan B. Anthony, and it makes me choke up all over again.

I am an intensely patriotic person. This country is flawed and messy, but I believe so strongly in the ideals and principles on which it was founded. And yes, our political system is frustrating and this election season has been exhausting, but today I could barely contain my excitement as I put on my Notorious RBG t-shirt (I don't have a Hillary shirt, but RBG is a badass woman, so it felt appropriate) under my pantsuit, which I will wear as I do some final election day canvassing later this afternoon.


Today is a great day.




Monday, October 24, 2016

Now you've grown so fine and come so far

My dear sweet Ezekiel,

I realized today, when thinking about you turning nine years old, that we have essentially reached the halfway point in the time that I get to claim you as fully mine, before you spread your wings and fly out into the world as a quasi-adult.

Obviously, you will always be my baby, my first born, my best boy.  But then you will go to college or off to fulfill some dream of adventure and start your own journey. Maybe, as my brothers and I have done, you will settle somewhere away from your parents. Thinking about that possibility - of not being able to see you whenever I want - makes my heart ache and my eyes fill with tears.

I'm getting ahead of myself, I know. But it goes so fast. It's such a cliche to say it, but it goes so, so fast.

I look back on pictures of you as a baby. You were so beautiful, with your dimples and your twinkly blue eyes and your wonky right ear that sticks out a little bit at the top - your dad dubbed it the "wingnut," which always made us giggle.


You have lost all of your babyish qualities. You are lean and strong. Your feet keep growing and stick out from the ends of your legs like paddles. You work on your six-pack abs.  There are no soft, baby-fat-ish curves in your face. You still have the outrageous dimples and the strikingly blue eyes, the freckles on your straight nose, the open grin. Setting aside any bias I have as your mother, objectively you an incredibly handsome kid.



From the beginning, you were strong and agile and coordinated and fearless.  You love hearing the story about the doctor was checking you out when you were first born, and marveling at how powerfully you kicked back when he pushed on the bottom of your foot. That strength and agility and athleticism has never abated.

This year, your interest in soccer has become particularly pronounced. On my weekends with you, one of our favorite activities is to go to the park and play soccer. Usually it involves me being permanent goalie while you try to score, or we'll run up and down the field doing passing drills.

You keep me young and healthy.

You have always been smart and interesting to talk to, but I'm seeing that intelligence and curiosity intensify. You're at the age I was when I was tested to be placed in a gifted program, and you're exhibiting some of the frustrations that I had at that age - being a bit bored in school, feeling like everything is a little too easy. Wanting to absorb as much knowledge as you can. You're doing gifted testing next month - I'll be curious to see how it goes.

Sometimes when you're lying in bed and we're talking, you'll ask me about history. Who fought in World War II? What were they fighting about? What's an ally? What's this song from the Hamilton soundtrack about? Who's singing? Who was that? Who are they talking about on the news? Who's the guy that has the disease but knows everything about black holes?

One day we were thinking about what to do on a beautiful Saturday.  "What do you guys want to do?" I asked. "Let's go for a hike in Boulder and then go to the science museum," you responded.

I love that.

We read together. We watch football together. We talk about life together. We have conversations about Greek mythology and poetry.  You're interested in everything.

Recently you and Josie and I were watching Project Runway together. Josie was looking at one of the designs and said, "that looks like a Valentino."

I gave her a skeptical look. "What you you know about Valentino?"

You said, "is he Italian?"

"Yes," I responded. "He's a famous Italian designer."

"How come so many great artists and designers are Italian?" you asked.

"Who else are you thinking of?"

"Leonardo..."

"Yes, he was a great Italian artist and inventor."

"And Michelangelo...."

"Yep," I said.

"And who's that other guy? Starts with a "d".... Dona-something?"

"Donatello. How do you know Donatello and these other guys?"

"Ninja turtles!" you responded.

I cracked up. And then you cracked up. We both started to laugh and laugh.

"You goofball," I giggled.

We laughed some more.

It's been an incredible nine years. I don't ever want to let you go, even thought I know someday I'll have to.

You fill my heart and make it sing.  Happy birthday, sweet gorgeous boy.

All my love,

Mama



Sunday, October 23, 2016

Crossroads

Nine years ago tonight, I was walking the halls of Kapi'olani Medical Center, trying to power my way through what would end up a 25 hour effort to get my cervix dilated to 10 centimeters so that I could meet my son - a big, strong, healthy boy who just about broke me in two.

I was living in a strange place where I didn't really know many people at all. My family and friends were halfway around the world and I felt very isolated and alone. I worked from home and didn't have a chance to interact with other people much, outside of some of the neighbors, none of whom I felt any particular kinship with.  Hawaii is a beautiful place, but without any family or real friends or sense of community, I found it to be very provincial and an unpleasant place to live. I honestly don't have any desire to ever go back.

Now I am in Denver, on the eve of my wonderful son's 9th birthday. And as much I truly enjoy living here - as much as Denver, as a place, is the best place I've ever lived - I'm once again finding myself feeling very isolated and alone.

I've mentioned in the past how extremely compartmentalized my life feels. Half the time, I am a single mother, with everything that that entails. My children are vibrant and beautiful and energetic and busy and difficult and all-consuming. We fill our days. I try to establish routines but also to infuse them with as much of my essence and love as I can before they have to leave and be without me again. I often feel like I am failing and flailing. I do the best that I can, but deep down, I don't believe that it's enough.

I see them struggle emotionally sometimes, especially Zeke. I wonder if it's just them being them, dealing with the trials of growing up as they normally would. Or maybe the divorce messed them up - maybe I messed them up. I feel guilty, like I have failed them. Like I am unworthy of them and of no good to them. (Add to this all the other reasons I regularly feel like I'm an abject failure at life, and you've got a real recipe for me in a laugh-a-minute mood).

And then they're gone for a time, and my life utterly changes. I don't have lunches to make in the morning, I don't have to get them up and out the door and to school. I can leave work late and go get a massage or meet friends out.

But mostly I'm alone.

I have friends and a little bit of family here.  But people are busy with their own lives and families, and trying to coordinate everyone's schedules to get together means we're having to plan weeks or even months out. My mom and I talk and lament that if we were closer, we'd see each other all the time. But we don't, and we can't.

Thought it doesn't often seem like it, I am self-conscious and naturally a bit introverted, so I feel awkward and unwelcome trying to include myself into other peoples' lives and events. It's easier to be alone because the emotional effort it takes to not be alone is so exhausting.

And sometimes I don't mind being alone. But lately, I've felt crushingly lonely.

The birthday month - the month including and in between the kids' birthdays (which fall exactly a month apart) - has been hard.  Both weekends, the kids have been with their dad and had birthday parties there that I have not been allowed to attend.

It has been overwhelmingly hurtful to me, far more than I could have anticipated. Partly because it's so hurtful to them - they repeatedly told me they wanted me there and asked why I wouldn't be, and all I could say was, "because I'm not invited." But it's also hurtful to me. And it's bewildering, because it's a course of action that I would never take in a million years.

It's just two days out of the year. People try to comfort me and tell me that I have to let it go. That I shouldn't let it bother me. That there's nothing I can do about it, so I need to get over it.

I know that they are right. That everything they are saying is true. That if I let it get to me, I will be allowing myself to be consumed by something that I can't control.

But the pain has been intense. I thought that as time went on and the reality of the divorce and the split custody situation became the norm, that I would get more used to it. But rather than getting easier to deal with, it has gotten harder, particularly on their birthdays. My birth days.

I try to think and reason and write my way out of it. Or go on long, grueling hikes like the one I did yesterday (I got lost and ended up tacking on an extra mile and a half, so by the time I got home I was toast).  The exertion pushes the bad feeling away, if only for a little while.

But then the feeling comes back. And I realize that the advice people try to give - don't let it get to you, don't take it personally - isn't what I need. I don't need to be told to let it go, at least not initially. I need to allow myself to feel shitty until I don't feel so shitty anymore.  I need someone I trust to envelop me in a hug or just hold my hand and say, "I know you feel awful, and I'm so sorry that you do. It sucks."

I will write Zeke his birthday post tomorrow, celebrating all of the reasons he continues to delight me and fill me with love and pride. For now, I will allow myself to feel hurt, because I am.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Here comes the rain again

It's been a long time since I've written about depression, or about being someone with a diagnosis of depression.  When it's been so well managed for so long, it falls off the radar.  You take medication that works. You exercise regularly. You feel good.

Horrible things might happen - and they are horrible - but the shock and sadness don't feel like depression.  They feel like shock and sadness. In other words, like they're supposed to.

So when you have a monstrously shitty weekend, for reasons that don't even really matter, you're prepared to feel monstrously shitty. But you're not prepared to have it feel like depression used to feel.

Not prepared for the feeling of hopelessness. Of worthlessness. Of being unloved and unlovable. Of rejection and isolation. Betrayal. Confusion. Humiliation. Loneliness. One bad feeling engendering another, like a snowball.  

It's been so long since you've had those feelings, it knocks you on your ass. And wears you out. The exhaustion is overwhelming. Emotional exhaustion. Exhaustion from feeling like you're once again back on your heels and playing defense in a battle that you thought was over. Exhausted from feeling awful, and by the prospect of waking up tomorrow and continuing to feel like this.

All you want to do is go to sleep and not wake up for a long, long time.

Of course, that's not an option. There is work to do, employees to supervise, a house to maintain, children to raise. You know that you have to get up in the morning and attend to responsibilities.  And most likely, and with any luck, you'll wake up in the morning and things won't feel so grim. Everything will be OK.  A good night's sleep, and some perspective, can do that.

But right now, it sucks. It's astounding how much it sucks.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Who run the world? Girls. Who run this mother? Girls.

My darling, sweet, crazy Josephine,

My Josie, Josie-jo, JoJo, JoJo-Bean. Little Monkey. Sweet Pea.

Guuuurl.


Today you are seven years old.  It's crazy to think that it's been seven years since I checked myself into St. Joe's at the crack of dawn so that I could meet you a few hours later. Happy birthday to you. Happy birth day to me.

It's been amazing fun hanging out with you and watching you grow. Last year when I was writing your birthday post, you were just starting first grade and it was a little daunting for you. Though you like to ham it up and act like the life of the party, I could tell that being the youngest kid in the class at a time when so much of learning is developmental was hard. Other kids were getting comfortable with reading and you had fallen a little bit behind and sometimes it made you feel stupid.

Reading is one of those things that kids get when they get. One day it just clicks. I knew it would click for you eventually and that you'd be fine.  But seeing you struggle in the meantime was hard.

Of course, it did click for you and then you were off and running, getting a reading award for your class by the end of the year.  It was another opportunity to watch you go from "I'm stupid and I can't do anything" to "Mama, look how great I am" in the blink of an eye.

You continue to be this warm, friendly, outgoing social butterfly. On the first day of school, after being all anxious about whether anyone would like you or be happy to see you, as soon as we got to the playground you saw some of your girlfriends and the three of you immediately threw your arms around each other and started jumping up and down and squealing. When I'm dropping you off before school, I'll run into the parents of friends of yours and they all laugh about how funny and amazing you are. "We need to set up a play date! Snowflake never stops talking about how hilarious Josie is!"

You walk around cracking jokes and making funny faces and goofing off with people, young and old. You're affectionate and sweet and generous. You'll sit on my dad's lap and give him kisses and scruff up his hair and say, "Papa, you're so cute! I love you so much!"  When Lisa and her kids came to the Outer Banks with us, you adopted four-year-old India as your special charge, holding her hand in the water and snuggling with her during quiet time.


You have recently developed this urge to give people money. You're constantly sticking coins or dollar bills in your backpack because you want to give money to your teachers, or your friends, or to Mimi and Papa.  When a bunch of my India peeps were visiting and I was having a get-together at the house, you brought your piggy bank downstairs to give to my friend Rob - the image of him sitting in the living room chatting with people while holding your big ceramic Minions bank in his lap is one that cracks me up to think about.

Another new thing is that you have developed a, shall we say, interesting relationship with the truth. You seem to have no compunction at all about making up random shit when the mood strikes.  My favorite recent example involves your new second grade teacher. The first week of school you came home all excited to tell me that Mr. O is Australian.

"Really?" I asked. "That's so cool. You guys have that in common."

"Weeeell, he's not all the way Australian.  Just half, like me. I know he spent a bunch of time teaching and traveling there."

"You'll have to tell him about your trips there," I said.

That night I relayed this story to my mom.

"Do you think she's telling the truth?" she asked.

She knows you.

"I think so. It strikes me as a weirdly random and specific thing to make up," I answered.

A day or two later when I was dropping you off at school, I walked up to Mr. O to say hi.

"I hear you and Josie have Australian heritage in common," I said. "She told me you're part Australian and that you spent time there."

He gave me the blankest look imaginable.

"Noooo," he responded.

I looked down at you. "Girl, what's the deal?" I asked.

You smiled and shrugged.

Mr. O offered, "my father is from Nigeria."

He and I had a good laugh about it.

Your relationship with your brother continues to bring me great joy. The two of you are each other's best friend.  You look out for each other and play and giggle and conspire together.  And also fight.

The fights can get interesting.

The other night you and Zeke were arguing about something - the basis of the dispute was the inability of any of us to remember whose turn it was to sit next to me while watching a movie.

This is something that must be diligently tracked.  God forbid either of you should get one more moment of snuggle time with me than the other does.

I was exhausted and irritated by the entire argument, so I left the room and told the two of you to figure it out.  You and Zeke proceeded to scream furiously at each other at top volume.  It was so loud and awful-sounding that I half expected the police to knock on the door.

After five minutes, Zeke came and found me. He was crying.  I opened my arms and he crawled into them, despondent.

"What happened, honey?" I asked.

"Josie screamed at me that I have a terrible memory, and then she called me a fucking idiot," he sobbed.

Yikes. Damn, girl.

You came into the room a couple of minutes later, also crying and terribly upset.  I gathered you on the other side of me and the three of us sat there quietly for a minute.

"You guys need to make up," I said. "You need to get over this fight. Josie, you can't swear at Zeke and call him names like that.  You guys can't scream at each other like that.  Take a deep breath and let's calm down.  Can you do that?"

The answer was yes. You calmed down. You apologized to Zeke and gave him a hug.  We went into my room and snuggled up to watch Mythbusters (your favorite show).

I think seven is going to be an interesting year.

As ever, I consider it a great privilege and blessing to be your mother, and to usher you through childhood and into adulthood. You make me happy and proud. You're great company. You make me laugh and cry.

And you make me drink a little.  Let's be honest.

 Happy birthday, sweet baby girl. I love you to stars and back.

Mama



Monday, September 12, 2016

I climbed a mountain and turned around

I was out on Saturday, driving around, running errands, when I came over a rise and had this magnificent view of the Rockies. It was a clear, beautiful day - one of those days when I am struck, once again, by how amazing it is to live here.  And suddenly, I felt an overwhelming need to get out there and climb a mountain.

I carried that transformative hike up the Longs Peak trail with me to Emma's funeral. I started walking to work as a way to foster the healing process. Walking gave me a release and made me feel closer to her.

Last year, around the anniversary of her death, I climbed Mt. Quandary to scatter her ashes.

And I guess my brain has decided that I have to make it an annual thing - a hard climb as a way of honoring her by pushing my physical limits and celebrating the beauty of the world and of being alive. I felt compelled.

So I called my friend Christin, my hiking buddy on Longs and Quandary, and someone who I really love hanging out with. She was game, so we agreed to meet at the crack of dawn and climb Mt. Bierstadt.

As soon as we solidified the plan I had this sense of dread. Fourteeners are so hard for me. Above 12,000 feet, I really feel the altitude and it's a struggle.  Quandary was an emotional hike and I'm glad I did it, but it also kicked my ass physically.

"It's going to suck," I thought to myself. "It's going to be hard and grueling and I'm going to feel like shit. I'm out of shape from being sick so long and I'm still coughing sporadically and it's going to suck."

But I couldn't back out. I had to do it.

I stopped on the way home from errands and bought new hiking poles. I went to the grocery store and loaded up on snacks. I went home and made sandwiches and laid out my clothes. I packed my backpack and threw in my inhaler (that my doctor had prescribed for the coughing fits) just in case. I went to the app store and downloaded an altimeter onto my phone, so we could track our altitude. On Christin's advice, I threw in a parka, hat and gloves, because it's been chilly up in the mountains. I tied my green Red Sox baseball hat to my pack - Emma was a Sox fan and I'd worn that hat on all my other big climbs.

The entire time I was thinking, "ugh, why am I doing this?"

That thought stayed with me after a shitty night's sleep, and after waking up at 4:30, and as I drove out in the dark to meet Christin at our designated meeting place. We had a laugh because she had a shitty night's sleep as well, and we were both thinking about how we were going to be tired and it was going to suck.

But we got to chatting and perked up as we drove up to the trailhead. The sun came out and the view was beautiful and we were happy to be out there once we started.

At the trailhead. Christin was right - it was chilly.  And as soon as I saw this picture I ordered new long hiking pants - those capris look ridiculous.
The sun comes up behind the mountains.
My sense of dread turned out to be unfounded - the hike was spectacular, perhaps only second to the Longs hike that was so perfect. The setting is gorgeous - lots of greens and golds, beautiful vistas all the way up, and some truly phenomenal clouds.  It was cold and windy and overcast on the way up, but we were prepared and it wasn't unpleasant at all.

Heading up the trail through the willows. Those clouds, tho...
that jagged peak behind us is called the Sawtooth. Behind it is the summit of Mt. Evans, which I climbed three years ago (it was my first fourteener).  The Bierstadt summit 
is out of the picture, to the right.
There were a lot of people doing the climb that day. That's the view 
behind us as we were climbing up. 
The view down the mountain from about 13,500 feet.  Check out the nuns in full habits. They were impressive climbers - they passed us on the way up and on the way down.
The view up towards the summit from 13,500.  It looked so daunting, 
but it was only another 500 vertical. 
The climb was challenging, but it felt much less grueling than last year's. I think it's because Quandary is more of a steady uphill climb up the ridge line, so it feels endless and kind of boring.  Bierstadt has more switchbacks, so you'll have a really steep pitch and then it will level out a bit and you can catch your breath.

The last 200 feet are actually kind of fun - rather than straight hiking there's a lot of boulder climbing, which Christin and I really enjoyed.

And then we were there and it was exhilarating. The views were breathtaking, and right when we reached the top, the wind died down, the clouds parted, and the sun came out.


The crowd at the summit.
I love this shot. This guy sitting with his feet hanging down, with the incredible view of the mountains and valleys in the background, is quintessential Colorado.

We hung out at the summit for about 20 minutes. I ate my PB&J. We talked about Emma a little bit and I teared up, but mostly I felt this sense of elation, almost like doing the climb in Emma's honor and having it go well was kismet (even though I don't believe in that sort of thing). What I thought would be a painful act of mourning felt more like a celebration, and one that Christin and I decided we would do every year.

As we had done on the way up, we talked the entire way down - an analysis of Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the ethical dilemmas of putting an infirm pet to sleep vs. pulling the plug on a human who was ready to die, the most cringe-worthy antics we got up to in college, the importance of access to quality reproductive health for women, the uncomfortable dynamics of having to fire an employee, and on and on. As we were descending, the nuns hauled ass past us as they recited "hail Mary, full of grace..." We laughed, and maybe rolled our eyes a little.

By the time we were at the bottom, it was warm and sunny and we had shed our winter gear.



Before heading to our respective homes, we stopped in Idaho Springs for celebratory beer and nachos. The beer was the tastiest beer ever brewed. The nachos were the most perfect nachos ever assembled. And after another perfect hike, we planted the seeds for next year's celebration.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Into these last nine beers, I have cried a million tears

It has been two years.

So much has changed. Life proceeds apace - children get older, we pursue happiness and lightness and love.  Even so, tragedy has continued to strike in surreal, unfathomable ways. But Emma's death is the epicenter of it, with waves and tremors flowing from that one horrible, heart-breaking event.

Grief is such a bizarre, fluid thing.  It doesn't proceed in a measured, predictable way. On a graph it wouldn't be a straight line, ebbing with the passage time. It comes in waves with the unpredictability of a tsunami triggered by unseen forces at the bottom of the ocean.  Some of the roughest edges of the initial shock and trauma wear off, but the feeling of loss never goes away. It just becomes more familiar.

Obviously, the "milestones" are difficult - the anniversary, her birthday. Other times as well - I recently saw a Facebook post by the UVA alumni association welcoming students back to school, and I started thinking about the fact that she would be 19 now and a sophomore in college.  I sometimes feel like she lives on in my head and I follow her imagined progression through life.

It's a miserably poor substitute for celebrating the real thing, but better than nothing, I guess.



This is one of my favorite pictures of the two of us.  We were in the Outer Banks on our annual beach trip. I think she was two, and she was this delightful, hilarious, bubbly little girl. I don't remember what we were talking about as we played with Play-doh, but I love the conspiratorial looks on our faces, like we were up to something that no one else was in on. I have this picture in a frame in my room and it makes me smile every time I look at it.

My brother continues to be a model of grace and strength. Tonight he and some of his friends will gather at his house and hang out around a fire in front of Emma's tree in their back yard.  He's referring to it as a "tears and beers" event, which I love.

I will try to celebrate her life similarly. I've shed tears, I've looked at pictures of her and smiled and cried, and tonight I will raise a glass to her memory, which lives on in my family, and always will.



Tuesday, August 23, 2016

And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

I was talking with my brother Sam over the weekend, just catching up and chit-chatting about this and that. I mentioned that I had been sick for two weeks and after kvetching about the various drugs I'm on and the various symptoms I'm still experiencing, I shrugged and said, "well, it'll go away eventually.  I'll live."

"Or not," he said.

"You're right!" I acknowledged. "It could go either way. I'll get better or I'll die."

"Yes," he said. "One of those two things will happen. You never know."

"But one way or the other, it'll resolve itself."

This is how we talk - you say "yes, and.." and keep it going.

We both laughed and continued talking about a book that he recommended that I'm in the middle of, about how throughout human history, mankind has made all of these changes to it's economic and cultural structure that have come under the guise of progress but that have actually altered the course of human history - and of the Earth's history - for the worse.

It's actually super-interesting and not depressing, though I know it sounds that way.

The conversation (both about potentially dying of a sinus infection, and the book) got me thinking about life in general, and how so much of what we do every day is in service to materialism, or to obligations that we are bound to because of our choices. We've created this mythology that allows us to believe that we are special and every minute is special and that life is to be cherished and every day is to be seized, and that we are not only entitled to happiness, but that if we don't feel happy we somehow aren't trying hard enough to embrace gratitude or whatever.  Then we feel inadequate and stressed out because we're not approaching things the way we're supposed to be approaching things, so we're failures at the happiness game.

But the truth is, life is often cruel and throughout human history, people have lived their entire lives in miserable conditions and without any notion of happiness as we view it today - it wouldn't occur to them that happiness was anything to be valued or sought out.  The point of living was to keep living until you died, and maybe propagate the species along the way.

Again, it wasn't a depressing chain of thought.  It was just ruminating on something that's interesting to me and that I think about sometimes -- that the way our culture approaches happiness as a goal of life is both a totally artificial construct that keeps us going, and also a source of enormous stress and dissatisfaction because it's such an elusive goal.

Anyway.

The end of summer and the focus on a new school year reinforces the speed with which time passes. I sometimes feel old and like I'm approaching the end of my shelf life and that I haven't accomplished anything of note.  Other times I feel good about where I am. But the number of my age is frequently in the back of my mind - I'm racing against a clock and it's ticking along but I don't know how much time is left on it.  And the fact that my kids are getting ready to turn 7 and 9 is weird to me - on one hand, it feels like they were just babies, but on the other, the baby and toddler years feel like eons ago.  They are such fully formed people now.  The barely human little amorphous blobs who needed to be swaddled and jiggled and shushed in order to calm down or get to sleep are, at this point, as familiar to me as aliens.

What's fascinating is that they also are so cognizant of the blazing speed at which time passes.

The night I was thinking all of these Deep Thoughts was the night before the first day of school.  The kids were excited and nervous and wired and anxious.  I was trying to put them to bed and sing to them to soothe them (badly, because my voice is still froggy and fucked up - I have no sense of my range and can't control the way it sounds), but they couldn't calm down.

Zeke said, "I'm nervous about school, and I'm also sad about it being the end of summer. It felt like it went so fast."

"It did, honey. And the truth is, you're going to realize that everything feels that way. You're going to start school tomorrow and before you know it, it'll be your birthday and then Halloween, and suddenly we'll be at Mimi and Papa's for Thanksgiving, and it's going to speed by and you're going to be amazed at how quickly it feels like summer arrived again."

He nodded and was quiet, clearly thinking about it all.

"I know you're feeling anxious, and I totally get that.  But tomorrow will be here before you know it, and once you get to school you won't even have time to be nervous because all of a sudden you'll be in the middle of greeting your friends and meeting your teacher and everything else.  So the day will quickly be over and you'll have dealt with it.  And the truth is, you do like school, so chances are it's going to be a great day."

He agreed that that was the likely outcome, but he and Josie were both restless and really wanting to talk through what they were thinking about, so I let them get in my bed so that we could talk quietly in the dark and fall asleep together.

We talked about the specific things they were worried about - would they make new friends, would their teachers like them, would they be able to learn new things and not feel stupid, would anyone be happy to see them.  Josie in particular has an ability to be anxious about something and then talk herself into a state of extreme agitation until she ends up sobbing, so I was trying to keep things light and make jokes and be silly.

But they were both wound tighter than the strings on my banjo, and I didn't realize how close to the edge they were.  And sometimes I forget how innocent and impressionable they are.

In the midst of all this, they asked me what were the things that made me nervous or anxious.

Half joking, I responded, "I worry that no one will ever love me again and that I'll die alone."

At which point, they both burst into tears and climbed onto me, smothering me with hugs and kisses and tears and drool.

"Nooo! Mama, why would you say that??  Why would you die alone?  You have us! We love you so much! Why would you think no one will love you??  Aaaaaauuuuuugggghhhhh!  We love you Mamaaaaaa!!!"  

They were seriously distraught and it took a few minutes to reassure them that I'm fine and that I know that their love for me is boundless.

I realized I need to leave those comments for conversations with my brother, who will know to respond, "yep, it's a distinct possibility!"

I also realized (for the millionth time) that these beautiful little people fill me with happiness, as elusive as that feeling can be.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Deja vu all over again

On Monday I got a wild hair that I needed to cut my hair off immediately.

I've had it long forever and while I liked the length, it was driving me crazy.  I've always had thick, shiny, healthy hair, and suddenly I was hyper aware that, whether because of age or living in a dry climate or coloring my hair or whatever, the ends were getting damaged and frizzed out and it bugged me.  So I did some internet research on the type of cut that I wanted, had an online consult with my friends, and decided to get it chopped.

I have no patience when it comes to decisions like that.  Once I've made it, I want to act right away. And in the past, I would have called my hair salon immediately and made an appointment with the next available person and cut it off as soon as possible.

But now I try to act like some semblance of a grown-up woman, so I have a dedicated stylist person (Candace) who I go to every time, who knows me and knows my hair and is familiar with its cowlicks and curls and texture and everything else.  She's the mom of one of Josie's friends from school and she's young and hip and effortlessly cool, with her gorgeous blonde hair streaked with pink and purple.  But I couldn't get an appointment with her until Thursday, so it was two days of agonizing and getting nervous and feeling impatient.

First world problems, I know.

The big day came and I headed over there during my lunch hour. Candace and I confabbed and she snipped here and there and we would make adjustments and confab some more and she would cut a little shorter here and shape the pieces around my face and I would say "maybe a little more off there" and eventually we got it to where we both said, "that's it. We're there. It's perfect."

I love it.  It's bouncy and cute and easy to take care of and frames my face nicely. My hair looks healthy and shiny again, rather than frizzed out and tired.

I've got a couple of mediocre selfies that don't really do it justice, but here's what it looks like:

Just after leaving the salon. A bit windy.
Mirror selfie. Meh.
Now I need to learn how to take care of it - how to do it in the morning, whether there are certain products to use, that kind of thing.

I got some smoothing cream that's supposed to work really well at giving it some gloss and get rid of flyaways.  I had it in my purse at work and wanted to take it to the restroom to use it.  I don't usually take my purse in with me to the bathroom.  I've actually always thought it's kind of weird when women do that, unless they're in a restaurant and are worried about their bag being swiped.  But at work, what's in there that you need?  A tampon? Just carry it in your hand, or tuck it up your sleeve or something.  Who cares?

I have no idea why this bothers me.

In any event, with the hair smoothing stuff I ended up putting it in my purse and taking it with me. I was afraid if anyone saw me they would think I was taking a giant pink dildo to the bathroom.


More than a little phallic, no?

Later that night, I was getting ready to wash my face before getting into bed and needed a headband to hold my hair back so it wouldn't get wet.  Before cutting it, I used to just put it back in a ponytail, but it's too short for that now.  I looked in a bunch of different places but couldn't find any headbands.

As I rifled through one of my drawers, it occurred to me that I could do what I did when I was in the extreme throes of pregnancy brain and use a pair of thong underwear.  But the thought of having to explain to my children why I had underwear wrapped around my head was enough of a deterrent that I kept looking until I found a sash I could use.

In other words, in spite of appearances to the contrary, my standards have actually gone up a little bit.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Vacation, the all-medication diet, meth, and nose penises

I didn't even realize until a day or so ago that the last thing I'd written about was Sarah's death. Which, admittedly, threw me for far more of a loop than I thought it would.

But, as ever, life goes on and that is a good thing. Especially when it involves two weeks in Duck, North Carolina, on the Outer Banks.

Because I didn't have the kids for spring break this year, I had more annual leave time than I normally would at this point in the year.  I know people who don't use all their leave time and end up with hundreds of hours built up, but I'm all, no, I will take all of the leave, thankyouverymuch.  That's what it's for. I'm reminded of my friend Michele's strategy to always having something (like a trip) to look forward to. So use your vacation time, people.

Anyway, the beach was great, the water was great, the weather was great (if a tad hot), the Outer Banks are beautiful, the house was great.
The dunes at dusk.
Full rainbow!!
 Spending time relaxing and reading and swimming and going kayaking and hanging with the family and getting tan was rejuvenating.




I know that, like everything else these days, getting a tan means I'm going to get cancer and die tomorrow, but hell, at least I'll look good.

My children also demonstrated a knack for hard labor, so if all else fails, at least they'll have construction as a fall-back.


An added treat was that because my brothers were only coming for the second week, we had extra room in the house the first week. So Lisa came down with her kids for a few days, and our children immediately got on like gangbusters. They collected jellyfish (the non-tentacle-y sting-y kind) and swam in the pool and played in the ocean.



India developed a particular affinity for my dad, so he explained Amelia Earhardt to her. He likes explaining things.


Lisa went out and got Duck Donuts for us every morning. Notwithstanding the fact that my family has been coming to the Outer Banks forever, we had never had Duck Donuts.

I am not much of a donut person, but Duck Donuts are insanely good. The rest of the vacation, I ate many donuts. And key lime pie and ice cream and chips.

I figured I'd get back on the wagon and lose the fluff when I got home.

This turned out to be easier than I anticipated, because I hadn't been back in Denver and off the plane for 3 hours before my throat started to hurt.  The pain got worse and worse over the next couple days. I went to the doctor, who prescribed lots of medicine. Between the medicine and the pain, I couldn't eat much.

The throat pain went away, but there was lingering congestion in my nose.

"No biggie," I figured. "It'll clear up."

It didn't clear up. I couldn't breathe, I felt like shit, I was exhausted, and every time I blew my nose or coughed, the product was greener than the time before.

After 5 days, I went back to the doctor. He diagnosed a sinus infection, gave me more medicine, told me to take other medicines for the various symptoms, and sent me home to bed.

"You're going to feel horrible for another week," he prognosticated cheerfully as I left.

I am now on day 11 of this bout of plague. I take five different medications at bedtime and four when I get up.  My appetite has abandoned me entirely, so I've lost whatever pudge I gained on vacation.

On one hand, yay!  On the other, I'm not sure this is a fitness strategy I'd recommend.

The congestion is still there, so I polled my friends on ways to combat it.

Lisa suggested meth, but I ruled it out because I'd like to avoid the black teeth and the inevitable descent into prostitution to pay for the habit.

I'm not really an essential oils person, so that was out.

Everyone raved about neti pots/saline sinus flushes, so I decided to give that a go. I opted for the plastic squeezy bottle rather than the neti pot that Walgreen's was selling because it looked too much like I'd be sticking a blue penis in my nose.
Which, though I've never really given it much thought, strikes me as something else I'd like to avoid.



Thursday, July 07, 2016

If the thunder cloud passes rain, so let it rain

I didn't think this one would freak me out so much.

As I said in my prior post, it's so awful for her family. But I barely knew Sarah, so her death wasn't really a personal loss to me.

And yet.

I'm so weary of one tragic death after another.  Of people whose lives are ending way, way too early. Emma was 17.  Lori was 45. Sarah was in her late 30s or maybe 40.  I'm weary of people in my life being devastated by loss, over and over again.

I consider myself a really tough person. But right now, I am a total fucking mess. I'm not sleeping except to have brutal dreams. I'm in a constant state of anxiety and exhaustion - I'm so tired, and my chest feels constricted, like I need to keep taking really deep breaths but I can still never get enough oxygen. Everything is making me weepy.  I feel gripped by tension, and nothing seems to ease it.

Over the past couple of years, I've discovered that when I'm supremely exhausted, my sense of taste is thrown off. Things that would ordinarily be delicious to me taste wrong and unpleasant.  And last night, in an effort to try to distract myself, I cooked a complicated dish that should have been yummy. But it tasted awful to me, and I ended up throwing it away and going to bed at 7:15.

I also feel very alone right now, like I have no one to comfort me.  The friends who I would normally look to to help prop me up are far away, or out of town, or dealing with their own shit.  My family is far away. My children are on a two week vacation with their dad.  I have an overwhelming desire to be enveloped in a warm hug, to have someone say, "it's ok, everything's going to be ok." But for the next week and a half, I come home to an empty house, and it feels very lonely.

I have things to look forward to, thank goodness.  In a week and a half a bunch of my dearest friends from India will be visiting, and we will have a joyous time catching up.  Y'all know how much I love my India peeps.

And then a week after that, the kids and I are leaving for the Outer Banks for two weeks at the beach. As ever, it will be a welcome respite, a time to relax and swim and read books and eat ice cream and bask in the love of family.  Y'all know how much I love the Outer Banks.

Looking ahead is keeping me going.  I can grit my teeth and gut it out until my children come home and my friends get here.  I can exercise to the point of exhaustion and get some Ambien to help me sleep at night. I can go for long walks and look up at the sky.

It will pass.





Tuesday, July 05, 2016

What next?

Every time I get news about a death in the family (or in this case, extended family-in-law), I think, "ok, this really has to be it.  No more."  With Emma it was shock and horror and bottomless sadness.  With Lori it was shock and anger and a feeling of exhaustion, with some despair for my brother and his girls thrown in.

This time, with the news that Lori's younger sister Sarah died today, after years of ravaging her body because of personal demons, my reaction was just shock.  But not even very much - quite honestly, the shock stems not from the fact that it happened, but that it happened now, a mere 4 1/2 months after Lori died.  That within a less than two year span, her parents have lost two daughters and a granddaughter.

I don't know how a person deals with that.  I can't wrap my head around it.

To be clear, I don't consider this a personal loss. I didn't have any kind of relationship with her, nor did Josh.  I don't need any personal condolences.  Rather, my sadness stems from the fact that it's such a tragic waste of a life, and so desperately, unfathomably awful for the family she left behind - parents, brothers, and a grandmother.

It's too much death. Too many funerals. Just too much. This is Greek tragedy level shit.

Weird things pop into my head. First was that I received the call from my mother rather than my father.  Her vocal inflection for announcing death and destruction is different from his.

Second was that I felt genuine pity for someone I've been rather severe with, in terms of my assessment of her culpability in her other daughter's demise.  But whatever failings she had or has, nobody deserves this.

I was talking to Josh, and we both remarked on how yet another death reinforces, once again, the importance of finding joy and purpose and beauty in every day.

As Josh put it, it's time for full-on zero-fucks-given mode.  Not irresponsibility or foolishness, but casting aside all of the silly fears and self-doubts that so often keep us from going after what we want.  Climb mountains, seek out love and adventure, travel, get laid, bask in the joy of friendships.

Just fucking live.






Monday, June 27, 2016

I remember, I remember when I lost my mind, there was something so pleasant about that place

I seem to have a knack for bizarre encounters with folks I meet around town.

This past weekend, one of my childhood friends was in town with her husband, so I thought I'd take them to Vail on Saturday to see a little bit of the mountains, see the view from the top, and get out of the Denver heat.  There are great activities for kids, so it was sure to be fun for everyone.

Before we left, I took the car to get it washed and to fill up with gas.

After the car was cleaned, we stopped to get gas at a 7 Eleven.  I pulled up to the pumps, set the nozzle in the tank, and went inside to buy a case of water to keep in the car.

I picked up a big case of water and went to get in line.

This is where the layout of the store becomes important (see my most excellent diagram, below).

From my vantage point, I saw a guy at the checkout counter, so I stood behind him and slightly to his left. I didn't see anyone else behind him.



As he moved away after finishing his transaction, I saw an African-American woman, who I will call Crazy Lady, walk up behind him as I started to move closer as well.  (The only reason I mention her race is because of what happened next.)  She was shorter than the top of the shelves, so I hadn't seen her until she stepped out from the aisle she had been standing in.

She snapped at me, "the line is back this way."

I hadn't seen her in line behind him, so I responded, "I think I was actually next." I said this matter-of-factly - I was not spoiling for any kind of confrontation.

She said, "oh no, I've been back here.  Haven't I been back here the whole time waiting??"  She said this to the guy who had just finished paying.  He looked back, a little bit confused, and seemed to nod.

I was about to say, "ok, I'm sorry, I didn't see you there," but before I could say anything, she started yelling at me.

"Why would you automatically assume I'm lying? Where do you get off calling me a liar?  Huh, Trump?"

What the fuck?  "Trump"?  Is she suggesting that I'm a Trump supporter (and therefore a racist) because I'm white??

"What are you talking about? When did I ever call you a liar? I didn't call you anything!" I said.  I was a confused and a little flustered.

"Oh, you just assume that I'm lying, didn't you Trump?  Yeah, that's right, you heard me."

"I don't know what you're going on about.  I never said you or anyone else is a liar.  I didn't see you standing there, that's all."

"BARACK OBAMA! THAT'S ALL I'M SAYIN'!"

I actually laughed at this.  "You haven't said anything! And just to be clear, I voted for Barack Obama twice!"

Ugh, why am I engaging? I know full well that there's no point in engaging with the crazy.

"I seriously doubt that!" she yelled.

"I don't give a shit what you doubt. What the hell is wrong with you?"

As I said this, I noticed that Zeke had come in (he and Josie had been waiting in the car) and was standing next to me.

"Truth hurts, don't it, Trump?" she spat.

"Oh, Jesus Christ," I sighed.

"Don't you curse in front of your child!!"

This got my hackles up.  "You don't need to worry about my child," I said. "And I didn't curse."

Now another woman decided to butt in.

"You took the name of the lord.  Oh, so you don't believe in God??"

"Well, not really, no," I said.  "And why is any of this your business?"

Crazy Lady said, "you piece of shit parent, talking in front of your child like that, TRUMP!"

Zeke's eyes widened and he scooted a little closer to me.

I finally snapped.  "You know what? You can shut your goddamn mouth, you crazy bitch. Leave my child out of this. Stop talking and take your stupid ass out of here!"

She kept yelling at me, but made her way out the door and into the parking lot. Zeke was eating it all up.

I finished paying for the water and was signing the credit card slip when the cashier laughed and said, "what was up with her?"

"She's a fucking lunatic, that's what's up with her," I said.

The second lady (the one who asked me if I believed in God) said, "don't you say that about her! She's my cousin!"

I rolled my eyes.  "Of course she is. Whatever, that's your problem."

And I walked out, paid for my gas, buckled the kids back in the car (Josie had stayed out there, oblivious, reading a book), and left.

Zeke, to his credit, was unruffled.

Later, when we were driving, he said, "are you upset, Mama? Did that lady ruin your day?"

"No, she didn't. I don't care enough about her for her to ruin my day."

"What was she yelling about?"

"Honestly, I'm still not sure."

But at least she provided me with some ammunition for the next time I get in an argument with someone.  If I want to make a point without having to actually make a point, all I need to say is, "BARACK OBAMA! THAT'S ALL I'M SAYIN'!"

I've already used it twice.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

It's a Saturday night special, got a barrel that's blue and cold...

There's a great line in When Harry Met Sally when Jess and Marie are moving in together and trying to combine their households, deciding what to keep and what to toss.  Jess's fugly wagon wheel coffee table doesn't make the cut, and when he protests, Marie says, "everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor, but they couldn't possibly all have good taste."

We all think we have good taste, that we're the good guys, that we're reasonable, that it's the other guy who's the misinformed idiot.

Sometimes we're right, sometimes we're wrong.

The problem is that we all live in our own personal echo chambers. We have access to more information at our fingertips than ever before in human history, but we also can and do choose what information to receive. Everything we consume is filtered so that our own opinions and impressions are confirmed to us. My Facebook and Twitter feeds, the blogs I read, the news sources I frequent, all reinforce my impressions that Donald Trump is an ill-informed, narcissistic danger to this country, or that abortion should be legal and safe and easily accessible, or that people should be able to love and marry who they want, or that Michigan is far superior to Ohio State in every way. Someone else with different views will obviously receive different information to reinforce their own perspectives.

It takes an effort to be open to the idea that you could know more to either bolster or disprove an opinion you might have. I'm as guilty as anyone of not doing this often enough.

The issue of guns and gun control and America's so-called obsession with guns has obviously been in the news quite a bit lately.  Anyone who knows me knows that my political sensibilities fall on the liberal end of the spectrum, and I don't believe that the second amendment's language, written in 1789 to secure the right to "keep and bear arms" for purposes of allowing a "well-regulated militia" to maintain the security of a free state, should be interpreted to allow any yahoo off the street to be able to get their hands on any weapon for any purpose.  But I also believe in personal freedom and responsibility, and in limited government infringement on how we live our lives, so I don't believe in an outright ban on guns.

Of course, it's the middle ground that is so messy and confounding.  I believe people should be able to own and use guns for hunting and sport and self-defense.  I also believe that it should be very difficult - if not impossible - for civilians to buy machine guns or similar weapons that are designed for warfare and mass killing, rather than for hunting or the reasonable defense of a home.  I believe in background checks and gun registration and waiting periods.

I also want any laws or rules to make sense, have basis in reality, and be designed to actually work. And my sense of how that can be accomplished is limited by the fact that I have virtually no experience or real knowledge about guns.

So I'm trying to learn.

A good friend of mine is big into hunting - he grew up doing it and was exposed to guns from a young age.  He knows about guns, owns many guns, and is a huge proponent of responsible gun ownership, with safety being the foremost consideration.  He is not opposed to reasonable, rational gun control measures.

He and I were spit-balling about something fun to do on the weekend and decided to go shoot guns.  I was excited because I had never really done it.  I spent an hour or so at a riflery range at summer camp when I was 12, but nothing beyond that - I'd never shot or even held a handgun, and am generally ignorant about the different types of guns, how they work, and the ways they're designed to be used.

So we drove out into the forest, up a narrow, boulder-strewn road that was so rough and close to the edge of a cliff that we needed to pull over at a little opening where the road widened so that I could calm my breathing and my heart rate and my nerves.  And then we looked around and saw that we were right by the entrance to an old silver mine, and there was a rotted out little structure that was dinged up from other people using it for target practice, so we decided to stay there.

Old mine opening.
Shoot 'em up shack
Over the course of two hours, I shot seven different kinds of guns - a bolt action rifle (my favorite), a lever action rifle, a semi-automatic .22 pistol, a .22 single action revolver (Old West type of gun), semi-automatic 9 mm pistol, a semi-automatic 45 caliber pistol, and double action 44 Magnum revolver (the Dirty Harry gun, pictured below).  Every one felt and looked different and had slightly different features and characteristics, so it was a non-stop lesson for me.  

Safety was at the forefront of everything, which was good because I was nervous and wanted to be as careful and focused as possible.  I learned to double check the chamber to make sure that it was empty, how to hold the gun, where not to point it, how to hold my finger away from the trigger until I was ready to shoot, how to use the various safety features.  I received a primer on different types of bullets, different caliber weapons, different loading and firing mechanisms, how to aim, how to use a scope, which types of guns would be used in different hunting scenarios.

All afternoon, the conversation kept coming back to gun control and the current debate.  About how every gun I handled, no matter the caliber bullet, no matter the firing mechanism, is an extremely dangerous weapon that can kill or inflict serious damage.  And that the debate as currently framed, focusing on semi-automatic, high magazine capacity assault weapons like the AR-15, which has been used in many of the recent mass shootings, ignores entire categories of guns that are equally effective in their ability to kill many people in a very short period of time, and are also smaller and more portable (begging the question of why they aren't used more in mass shootings).

We talked about background checks and some gun control ideas that I was totally unfamiliar with, like warehousing, and other efforts to keep guns out of the hands of crazy people.  We talked about the idea of requiring liability insurance for gun owners, to cover scenarios like the negligent handling or storage of guns that allows them to get into the hands of children, or be stolen and used in crimes.  It was an informative and respectful discussion.

And the afternoon was seriously fun.  Shooting targets is fun.  Trying to learn a cool new skill is fun. Doing it outside on a gorgeous day and in a gorgeous setting is fun.  And as it turns out, I'm a "crack shot," in my friend's words.

"You've gotta ask yourself one question: 'do I feel lucky?'  Well, do ya, punk?"
It was also eye-opening that we weren't the only ones out there, doing the same thing.  We drove past clearings where other people were shooting, and past trees with old targets stapled to them.  At one point, a dad with three young kids in tow stopped where we were parked.  He was wearing a holster holding a Glock.  I was taken aback at how much it didn't alarm me, in that setting and that context.

Heading back into town, I remarked that I was surprised we didn't go to a shooting range.  I didn't realize that just taking a bunch of guns into the woods to shoot was a thing.  It was my first time, and I didn't know how this stuff worked.

He said, "Nah, I don't like shooting ranges. They're full of crazy fucking gun nuts."

I laughed, realizing that neither of us ever truly left our respective echo chambers.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?

"Mama?"

"Yeah, babe?"

"How tall is Mt. Everest?"

We are on the plane from Denver to Virginia.  This means I'm trapped in a middle seat between my two children, Josie asleep with her head on my lap, and Zeke looking out the window and pelting me with a three and a half hour barrage of questions.

Luckily, I'm up to speed on my random geography trivia.

"About 29,000 feet," I reply.

"How do you know that?"

"I don't know. I heard it or read it somewhere."

"Did you know that all of Mt. Everest would fit in the deepest trenches in the Pacific Ocean?"

"I did know that. I think the deepest Pacific trench is about 35,000 feet deep."

"That's really deep."

"It is."

He sits and thinks for a second, then starts studying the safety card from the seat pocket in front of him.

"Mama?"

"Yeah, babe?"

"If the plane is safely on the ground, why do the people need to exit the plane on the slides?"

He's looking at the picture of an emergency landing on the ground.


"I don't understand the question.  If the plane crash-lands on the ground, why don't people just stay on the plane?"

"Yes."

"Why would they do that?  They're not just going to sit on the plane and not go anywhere.  There could be a fire or some other danger from the crash, or people could be hurt. They need to get off the plane."

He points to the "no" symbol over the hand holding a briefcase.

"What's that?"

"It's saying that if you have to do an emergency exit off the slides, don't take your luggage with you."

"Why not?"

"Because you don't want to take any extra time getting off the plane.  They want people to get off the plane as quickly as possible so that everyone can get to safety."

"In case the plane blows up?"

"Possibly."

He looks out the window for a little while.

"Mama?"

"Yeah, babe?"

"How fast can the fastest plane go?"

"I'm not sure.  I know it's at least a couple thousand miles per hour."

"Can this plane go that fast?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because it's not that kind of plane."

"What's the name of this plane?"

"Do you mean what airline is it?"

"Yes."

"It's United."

"Is that the airline that you don't like?"

"No, that's Frontier."

"Was that the airline that we took when we missed the plane?"

"We didn't miss that plane.  We got on that plane."

"Because you pitched a fit, right?"  He smiles.

"Right."

"How long does it take for this plane to go one mile?"

I do some quick calculations in my head.  "I think about 7 or 8 seconds."

"What if the wing falls off the plane?"

"That would be bad. We would crash."

"It's a really clear day today.  Look how far we can see."

"Yep."

"Is everything that we can see right now all one whole state?"

"I don't know. I don't know exactly where we are. But probably not. States are pretty big.  What we can see is most likely much smaller than a whole state."

"What river is that?"

"I don't know.  I don't know what we're flying over right now."

He's quiet for about a minute.

"Mama?"

"Yeah, babe?"

"Did you know that when a cheetah is running and is fully stretched out with its legs off the ground, it's 20 feet long?"

"I did know that. I think you told me that."

He starts looking at his book, which is about surviving different kinds of natural disasters.  It's got a picture from the Japanese tsunami of 2011 on the cover.  It shows the water overtaking cars and trucks and everything else.

"Mama?"

"Yeah, babe?"

"Was there someone in that truck?"

"Probably."

"Is he dead?"

"I don't know. Probably."

"What about that car? Is that guy dead?"

"I don't know. Probably."

"Are those mountains we're flying over right now?"

"Yes."

"Which mountains are they?"

"Probably the Appalachians."

"How do you know?"

"I'm guessing based on how long we've been on the plane."

"How tall are they?"

"I'm not sure.  They're not as tall as the mountains in Colorado."

"You mean the Rocky Mountains?"

"Yes."

"They look different.  Not jagged-y."

"That's because they're much older mountains. As mountains age, they erode and smooth out."

"What's the shortest mountain in the world?"

This one totally stumps me.  "I don't know, honey."

"How tall is it?"

"I don't know. I don't know how tall land has to be to qualify as a mountain."

"Is it five feet?"

"I'm assuming it's higher than that. Five feet is barely a hill."

"Is it ten feet?"

"More than that."

"What's the shortest mountain called?"

"Sweetie, I have no idea."

Short break in the action.

"Mama?"

"Yeah, babe?"

"Are we turning right now?"

"Yes."

"What if the plane gets sucked up into space?"

"That would be bad."

"Why?"

At this point, I start to laugh. I cover my face with my hands and I can't stop laughing. The guy in front of us, who has overheard all of this, looks back at me and smiles and starts laughing as well.

"You're doing great," he says.

I'm overwhelmed with a sense of deja vu.

Zeke reminds me so, so much of my brother Sam.  Sam is one of my favorite people in the world, partly because he is so inquisitive and thinks about things in such interesting ways.  But as a kid, when my family was travelling, we would argue over who had to sit next to Sam on long flights, because he never stopped talking and asking questions.

Later, I'm sitting with my mother at her kitchen table, telling her about the flight.  When I relay the question about the shortest mountain, she says, "why didn't you just make something up?  Just make up a name.  'The shortest mountain is Mt. Tiny' or something like that."

I can't believe that didn't occur to me.  But then again, she raised Sam.  She knows.  And it probably didn't occur to her the first time, either.

This whole process is a learning curve.  But a highly entertaining one.