Thursday, December 11, 2014

Felt the earth beneath my feet, sat by the river and it made me complete

These days my respite is the outdoors.

When I am inside, whether at work or at home or elsewhere, I feel caged in and agitated.  I remember when I was first diagnosed with depression, the description provided by the psychologist or whoever was of a general, "free floating" anxiety.  Like I have this aura of grayness that hovers over me, full of malignant atoms whose electrons aren't arranged correctly, or something like that.

I have no motivation to exercise, to cook, to eat anything healthy.  I need to lose at least 10 pounds, but I can't seem to stick with an exercise program, and despite my resolute declarations of "today will be the day I'm good," I give in to temptation because it fills an emotional void.

I am irked by the holiday season, not because I begrudge anyone their time celebrating whatever they want to celebrate, but because it means I have to find coverage for the kids on days that they don't have school because of vacation, and buy gifts when I already feel like my kids have so much fucking *stuff* in their lives that the idea of adding to the stuff in my house makes me want to tear my hair out.

I read books, which provides some distraction. Right now, I'm pleasantly amazed by Michael Lewis's ability to turn an account of the collapse of global financial markets in 2008 and beyond into a gripping page-turner (at least for me).  But the distraction is temporary.

Mostly I want to be outside, not thinking.

My walk to work is the best part of my day.  On the days that I can't do it, because of early meetings or whatever, I'm out of sorts and jumpy.

But even on the days that I can do it, it's too short.  I'm bummed out when I get to work, because instead of walking 2 1/2 miles, I want to keep going.  10 miles might feel like enough.  Or even more.

One of my routes to work takes me through this park.  Sometimes the urge to turn south and keep walking until I reach the top of Pikes Peak is overwhelming.
Anything to stay out of my own head.

Monday, December 01, 2014

I blink, as if at pain

We were on the train taking us from the terminal back to baggage claim, part of the post-Thanksgiving returning throngs clinging exhaustedly to subway straps and poles, the travel-induced blank faces, bodies jiggling back and forth like jello.

I looked out the window and caught my reflection, and was, as ever, surprised and dismayed by how tired and haggard and old I look.

Not just look.  Am.

I tried to give myself a break.  It's a reflection in a train window.  It's shitty flourescent light.  You've been traveling all day.  You aren't wearing make-up.  It was a rough week.

It was a rough week.

I knew it would be.  And I guess it wasn't as bad as it could have been.  But it was hard.  Emma's absence was an enormous presence that we all felt.

We tip-toed around it at first.  Not in the sense that we didn't talk about her, but we definitely skirted the fact that it was The First Major Holiday Without Her.

We did the things we normally do.  The house buzzed with decisions about which sides to make for dinner on Thursday.
Dad doesn't really like sweet potatoes - maybe instead of mashing them we could do roasted wedges? 
Trust me, you may not like Brussels sprouts, but these are sauteed with bacon - you're going to love them.
They're not powdered potatoes - they make them fresh at the store!  But it's one less thing to worry about.
Why don't my pie crusts ever look like yours?  No matter what I do, they don't roll out properly.
The kids had a great time playing with their cousins.  Zeke took to rolling down the big hill in my parents' front yard, and was constantly covered with mud.  We went to the park.

We did our annual Thanksgiving run in downtown D.C. benefiting So Others Might Eat.

And it was all lovely.  But there was this unshakable underlying tension.  Sadness permeated the week, as much as we love each other.  The air felt full of tiny shards of glass that cut our insides when we breathed.  The force of gravity felt stronger, pulling us down and making us feel heavier.

We dressed for dinner on Thursday afternoon, and sat down at the beautifully set table, laden with a gorgeous turkey and creamed spinach and my mom's awesome cranberry jello mold and rolls and stuffing and gravy and potatoes and wine.

Then we collectively looked around the table, took a deep breath, and burst into tears.

We were thankful to be together.  Thankful to be alive.  But it's been such a hard year.  We miss her so much.

For the first time in as long as I can remember, I was relieved to be going home and away from my family.  Back in Colorado, I can get some distance.  I can compartmentalize.  I can let the day-to-day chaos of my own life - work, kids, house, appointments, friends -- shield me from that sadness and those tiny shards of glass.

But it still shows in my face in that train window reflection.

My soon to be 45-year-old face, which looks saggy and old and ugly to me.  My soon-to-be 45-year-old body, which looks saggy and old and ugly to me.

I was telling a friend of mine recently that I'm so much more attractive in my head - it's always jarring to me when I see my aging self in the mirror.

People pooh-pooh it whenever I say it out loud (so I rarely say it out loud), but it's how I feel.  It matters to me.  It affects my confidence and self-image.

I want my old self back.  I want the self that had discipline and will-power when it came to diet and exercise.  But when the sadness and stress moved in, the discipline and will-power moved out.

I'm trying so hard to get it back.  Because maybe if I get that back, I can figure out how to be young again.

Friday, November 21, 2014

I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds the future

I've been all wrapped up in the bombshell that Rolling Stone dropped this week about rape and rape culture at the University of Virginia.  Letters of outrage and petitions and laments about what the fuck is going on at our school.

My letter to the University president and other members of the administration can be found over at my friend Theresa Pileggi-Proud's site, You Are Here.  One of the things I talk about is the prospect of sending my own daughter to UVa. when she decides to go to college.  If she were going today, I wouldn't send her there.

But knowing what a problem campus rape is at many schools around the country, I don't know where I would want to send her.

And it's not just the issue of sexual assault.  I look back on my time at college, and while I loved it, socially, the mores were so fucked up and antiquated, particularly within the Greek system.  My best friends from UVa. are my sorority sisters - I am still in contact and very close friends with a significant number of them.  I love them and they are incredibly important to me. But when I look back on the Rush process - with its snap judgments and all night voting sessions that were breeding grounds for cattiness, tears, and fractured friendships - not to mention bronchitis, which I got every single year during Rush - it turns my stomach.  It is exactly the opposite of how I would encourage Josie to approach her friendships and interactions with other human beings.

Then once you're in, there's so much focus on landing a cute guy and being accepted by the right group and having a date to the football game and getting invitations from the "good" fraternities to have mixers.

Ugh.  It's fucking nauseating to think about.  And from what I can tell, not much there has changed.

And who knows.  More and more, I wonder about the value of college at all.  The world is changing so much.  In 13 years, when Josie is 18, the model for preparing yourself for the working world and beyond might have evolved to the point that apprenticeships or similar work/study arrangements are the key to success and upward mobility.  An expensive four-year college education, as the experience currently exists, might be obsolete.

It blows my mind that Zeke will be in high school in eight years, and Josie in nine.  If we stay in the same house, they might attend East High School, which is about 4 blocks from where we live.  I pass it on my way to work sometimes (depending on my route).  It's a beautiful, majestic building.

I just hope by the time they get there, I've imparted enough wisdom on how to be self-confident and tough, yet also kind and empathetic, that they can navigate the social hell that is high school (and beyond) with aplomb.

In the meantime, I'm signing Josie up for martial arts lessons.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Color me happy, and why it's good that painting doesn't involve sharp objects

As part of my "dealing with the utter shittiness that has been 2014" campaign, I've been painting the interior of my house (I'll do the exterior next summer).  When we bought it, we painted the hallway and the dining room because we reconfigured the walls, and we painted the bathrooms when we renovated them, but everything else has stayed the way it was when we bought it.  I decided to repaint the walls, one room at a time, on the weekends that I don't have the kids.

The colors upstairs - or lack thereof - were particularly depressing.  My bedroom was the palest, most barely noticeable shade of light light blue-ish grey ever, which meant that the room simply looked like someone painted it white a million years ago and left it to get dingy and dusty.  Plus there were spots where the plaster walls had cracked (or had lost chunks), so I had filled them in with spackling plaster.  It was seriously fugly.

So I started with my room.  I chose a beautiful turqoise-y blue called "Cloudless," because it looked like the color of Emma's room.  I wanted something that reminded me of her, but in a cheerful way.

The difference was astounding, and made me astoundingly happy.

See what I mean about how it wants to be white, but just looks dirty?

Ahhhh... so much better.
I adore the way it looks now.  It gives me feels.  I wake up and look around and am instantly in a good mood.

But of course, it's like getting a tattoo.  Once you start, all you want to do is paint more more more.

My room has an adjoining smaller room/alcove.  I had a chaise longue in there and a painted chest that my mom got me in Romania, but I never used it (the room, not the chest).  So this past weekend, I decided to turn it into an office.

I picked out a beautiful yellowy green color called Citron that I thought would look amazing against the blue.  I moved everything out of the alcove, put some college football on the TV to listen to while I worked, and started painting.  It was freezing and snowy out, so it was the perfect day to stay in and warm up the walls of my house.


Love.  The color doesn't actually look that neon-y in the light of day - the overhead light is causing that effect.
The view from my bed in the light of day.
It's so, so beautiful to me.  It feels happy and cheery and home-y.

But wait...


What's that spot on the floor near the door?

Oh, you mean the spot on the carpet that is the same color as the walls?

Yeah, that.

Oh, right.  Funny story, that.

When I painted the main part of the bedroom, after I had done the entire room, I waited a couple of hours and then went over the walls looking for spots where the coverage wasn't great, maybe because I had missed a spot with my brush or didn't press down hard enough with the roller or whatever. There were a couple of spots above the entrance to the alcove that needed some touching up, so I put a little bit of paint on the underside of the lid of the paint can and went up the ladder with my brush.

Of course, at this point, I had mostly cleaned up, including putting away the drop cloth.  The paint can was resting near the base of the ladder.

As I came back down, I wobbled a little bit and put my foot back abruptly to catch myself...

and ended up stepping backwards into the can of paint.  While wearing socks.

It took me a couple of seconds to figure out what had happened.  Why did my foot feel gooey?

Then it was a flurry of me pulling my paint-soaked foot out of the can, sloshing paint on the carpet, pulling off the sock and throwing it in a panic into a big cardboard box that I was using for trash, and then sitting on the bed trying to figure out what the fuck to do about the fact that there was bright blue paint all over the floor.

The answer, of course, was "nothing that would make a damned bit of difference."  I scrubbed and scrubbed, but it's unsalvageable.

But the truth is, it's shitty carpet and I've wanted to replace it anyway, so now I have an excuse.

Right after I finish painting the other rooms upstairs.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

When it's cold outside there's no need to worry cuz I'm so warm inside

The problem with this ridiculous cold snap, featuring temperatures that we don't generally see until January or February - and even then for no more than a week or so - is that it caught me totally unprepared from a sartorial perspective.

Usually, Colfax Avenue is bustling in the morning.  Today it felt like a ghost town, with almost no one else sharing the sidewalk with me.
 I have a bag or box or something that contains all of our ski pants and super-warm hats and all of that, but I have no fucking idea where it is.  This weekend I will have to excavate our cupboard under the stairs where I suspect it is all buried under a pile of other stuff I haven't looked at or thought about in dog years, but for now, I'm scrambling.

So I'm spending my lunch break shopping for mittens and hats and scarves.

But another issue is that the kids don't get to spend much time outside - they keep them inside at school when it's like this, and it's really too cold to go to the playground or anything like that.

They need an outlet to burn off their considerable energy.  So last night, I put in a workout DVD to get some exercise, and they both joined me.  I turned off the sound on the disc and put in some fun music and we all danced and jumped around with Shaun T.

We are in a good place right now.  The kids are both happy and healthy and behaving (for the most part).  We had an amazing weekend, going to the zoo and the park and the pool.  Having movie night with popcorn.  On the nights that they are with me, they draw me pictures and we play and read books and watch the Neil DeGrasse Tyson series "Cosmos" (their latest obsession).

They chose animals next to each other so they could hold hands while they rode.
I'm very grateful for my life right now.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Big fat fluffy flakes

On Monday morning, it was about 60 degrees and sunny.  But because of the altitude, when it's sunny in Denver it usually feels about 10 degrees warmer than it actually is.

By the time I went home from work, it was 24 degrees and snowing.  It hasn't stopped since.  When I took the kids to school this morning, it was dumping snow and 0 degrees (Fahrenheit, so about -18C).

At this point, we are generally unfazed by this weather, except to admire it for its beauty.  We've got parkas and scarves and gaiters and mittens and snow boots.  When the kids look outside in the morning and see snow on the ground, they get all excited.  Their only lament this morning is that with the temperature so low, it will likely be an "inside day" at school (anything over 20F and they get to play outside).

I walked most of the way to work, until my thighs were so cold and numb that I caught the bus for the last half mile or so (strangely, the rest of me was comfortable - given that my parka goes down to my knees, I'm confused by this).

I love the way the snow makes the city look.  The snow makes everything glow, and insulates the sound a bit so it feels quiet and peaceful.

Plus I'm totally geeking out about how the ski resorts must look right now.  Josie has decided that this is the year she wants to learn to ski, so in a couple of weeks we'll go get the kids' season ski rentals, and hit the slopes after we get back from Thanksgiving.  Josie is a bit of a daredevil, so I'm curious to see how she does.

Cheesman Park
Walking up the steps to my office building

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I need a miracle every day

On my walk today, I listened to Spotify radio based on the Yonder Mountain String Band, a Colorado-based bluegrass group.  A bunch of Grateful Dead songs came on, and it took me back to being in college and going to Dead shows with my sorority sisters.

I wasn't one to follow the Dead around or camp out for tickets or anything like that.  You would never catch me twirling around during Drums and Space in a dingy prairie dress and moccasins and employing leather string as jewelry.  But I enjoyed the music and the experience of going to a show. I remember dancing in a warm summer rain at RFK Stadium as the band played Box of Rain, and feeling totally blissed out.

I thought about that night as I walked this morning past a group of people camping out for tickets in front of the Fillmore Auditorium.  I don't go to listen to live music much anymore (thought I would really like to, especially after the amazing time I had in Charlottesville two weeks ago), and certainly am beyond the point in my life when I would consider camping out on the sidewalk for tickets (or anything, really).  But I smiled as I passed them, admiring their dedication, particularly in the 10 degree weather, and feeling slightly envious of their youth.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Cause Baby I'm a Star

This morning was a total shit-show.

I was taking the kids to school when I remembered there isn't any school today, and that they were supposed to be going to day camp (for which, thankfully, I had remembered to sign them up).  So I drove them up to the school where camp is being held, and discovered once I got there that I was supposed to have packed them lunch.  My money was still at home, so I had to drive back home, get all of my stuff together, drive to the grocery store, pick up some lame prepared kids' deli lunches (enjoy your Doritos, kids!), drop the lunches at camp, and then drive to work, for which I was already late.

Meaning I missed my daily walk to work.  The best I could do was to park in a lot that's about six blocks from my office, and get some walking in that way.

I love the dark blue sky (no filter on this baby), and the juxtaposition of the red in the parking signs against the grays and blacks of the buildings in the background.  And I needed to capture the beauty and relative warmth of the morning, because we're getting a wicked cold front this afternoon that is going to push the temperatures below freezing by tonight.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Amazon Prime would ship it free, right?

I like this guy's face.  There's something gentle and hopeful in his expression.

Also, now I want lion statues in front of my house.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

At ease, boys.

Vintage gas pumps as urban art, displayed at the side of an apartment building's parking area.  They reminded me of young soldiers, standing at attention.

The bright lights of Denver are shinin' like diamonds, like ten thousand jewels in the sky

Even thought we ended up here kind of by accident, as the result of a crashing economy and a desperate need to get out of Hawaii before we ended up homeless, I have come to love living in Denver beyond anything I could have anticipated.

I have lived in a lot of places in my life, and I have cherished many of them - India, Israel, Atlanta, Charlottesville.  In my mind, each is imbued with its memories of friends, romances, trips, heartbreaks, song fragments -- it is impossible for me to separate the place from the overall sense of what my life was when I was there.  I would love to go back to India, for example, but India to me is totally wrapped up with the experiences I had while I lived there - being a senior in high school and having the amazing friends that I did, the nights out at the Gunghroo, the trips to Rishikesh and Goa and Bhubaneswar, being an extra in a BBC miniseries with my friends in Allahabad, shopping on Jan Path and Saroji Nagar.  Going back now would feel so different.

But I think as a place unto itself - the combination of location and lifestyle and culture - Denver is my favorite place I've ever lived.  I love my neighborhood, right in the city.  I love how there is so much focus here on getting outside and playing in nature - hiking, biking, skiing, climbing, camping.  The mountains are so extraordinary.  They inspire action and achievement and greatness and happiness -the kind of happiness that comes from effort and exertion.  I love how friendly people tend to be.  I love that it's an amazing place to raise kids.

I've written about how the big hike I did the weekend before Emma died was sort of transformative, and awoke in me this intense desire to be outside and walk.  I've been walking as much as I can, to and from work (though with the end of daylight savings, I probably won't be walking home in the dark very much, though I might occasionally), during lunch, around the neighborhood with the kids, in the various state and federal parks that are an easy drive away.

I read an article recently about the benefits of walking, and the author talked about how walking is one of the most fundamental, essential, and defining activities of human existence.  It's good exercise,  it allows for clearer thinking and problem solving, it improves mood, it's a mode of transportation - when you are walking, you are experiencing life as a human being on so many levels.  That idea really struck me, and I'm realizing how true it is.

I firmly believe that it has been an essential part of my grieving process, both relating to Emma's death and to the end of my marriage.  Particularly during my morning walk to work, it's solitary time to think and reflect, which is so important.  But it's solitary time to think and reflect while I am also out in the world, seeing people, looking up at the sky, noticing beautiful buildings or interesting signs.  I get to be alone in the sense that I can put in my headphones and listen to music and not talk to people if I don't want to, but I'm still out in the world, experiencing it.  I get to process my grief while my muscles are working and my blood is pumping and the crisp air puts roses in my cheeks.  It gives me a sense that life goes on, and is worth living, and that the world is an amazing, beautiful place, and that there is still plenty of joy and love and adventure to be experienced.

When I walk to work, I walk west, toward the mountains.  I start out walking through urban neighborhoods, and then more commercial areas.  So my view is this incredible combination of city life and funky architecture and the hustle and bustle of a weekday morning and the dramatic view of the Rocky Mountains suddenly rising up from the flat of the plains.  Mt. Evans directly ahead, Longs Peak to the north, and on a clear day, Pike's Peak to the south.

Like many of the old intown mansions, this grand dame is getting some much needed TLC.  I liked the way the bare trees formed a veil in front of the house, as if modesty prevents her from showing herself until she feels she's presentable again.
We could use more "thoughtful management" in the world, don't you think?
I love the way the dome on the State Capitol Building looms up over the grit of upper Colfax Avenue.
That white snowy peak in the background is Mt. Evans (one of Colorado's 53 "fourteeners'), which I climbed last summer.
I started taking pictures, and have decided to post them dailywith the hashtags #walktowork and #dailydenver (follow me on Instagram or Facebook, plus I'll post them here).  I'm hoping that they will inspire people to get out and walk, think, look around, be in the world, and live.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Grab the joy

A few months ago my friend Jen was posting on Facebook about how Sam Bush was going to be playing in Charlottesville (where she lives).  I love Sam Bush, and commented that when I was 17, he and the other members of New Grass Revival (Bela Fleck, John Cowan and Pat Flynn) had come out to India as part of a USIA cultural exchange, and that after playing a show at the Maurya Sheraton, they all came over to my house for a chili dinner.  After much back and forth, I checked my calendar, saw that the weekend of his Charlottesville show was on a kid-free weekend, and bought a plane ticket.  Music, reconnecting with my sorority peeps that live in Charlottesville, a weekend away - perfection.

As the time drew closer, I was excited to see my college friends and go to a show, but was lamenting the fact that it's a lot of travel time and plane tickets are expensive and I've got so much shit to do around the house.

But oh my god I'm so glad I went.

It's so amazing to reconnect with old friends from college - we all keep in touch and have been to (or in) each other's weddings and celebrated births and career accomplishments, but we don't get to see each other in person that much.  As with my India friends, there's something so special about being with people who have known you and loved you forever.  You reminisce, you revive old jokes and stories of crazy college antics and catch up on who is doing what.  You laugh and laugh.

Saturday we saw an incredible photography exhibit at UVa.'s art museum and then had lunch at a restaurant at which we had once used fake IDs to buy beer.  I bought a University of Virginia car decal at Mincer's, which has been selling (overpriced) Virginia paraphernalia since before my dad was a student there.

The University is so beautiful, even on a cold, cloudy fall day.

Saturday night was the Sam Bush show.  I had stayed at my friend Nica's house on Friday night, but went to Jen's on Saturday because Nica wasn't going to the show and Jen lives within walking distance of the venue, so it just made sense.

It's a great gift to have the realization that you're experiencing an epic night while you're experiencing it.  By the time I fell into bed at 1:45 in the morning, buzzing from tequila and dancing, I had been smiling and laughing for approximately 5 hours.  It started before the show, at the apartment of one of Jen's friends, where I met a bunch of wonderful new friends and fell in love with them immediately.

It continued at the Jefferson, where Sam Bush and his band put on an amazing, high energy show that had me jumping and dancing and grinning from ear to ear.  I do love bluegrass music beyond all sense.  More than any other genre of music - and I pretty much love them all except maybe death metal - bluegrass makes my heart feel like it's flying with joy.

We ended up at the Whiskey Jar, where one of my new friends bought me tequila.  We giggled about life and men and music and sex, and we could not stop guffawing over the dude who thought that my Notorious RBG shirt was about Biggie Smalls rather than Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and who proceeded to rap toward the general vicinity of my boobs until I patted him on the shoulder, said, "ok, buddy, that's enough," and sent him on his way.

It's been a rough year, particularly the last couple of months.  But I can't function in a perpetual state of grief and sadness.  I still grieve, and I'm still sad, but life is for the living, to be savored.  There is so much beauty and goodness and fun in the world.

Sometimes you just need to cut loose and dance and giggle and drink too much and stay out too late. The shit will still be there when you wake up the next morning.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Birthday No. 5: A little bit of Josie in my life

As you all know, September was, like, the worst month ever.  Except for the part about celebrating Josie's fifth birthday.  But I was so wrecked from everything else that I never got around to writing her a birthday blog, so here it is, a month late.

My dearest, sweetest, cutest, cuddliest little Josephine,

Five years ago, you came into our family and made it complete.  As difficult and frenetic as Zeke's birth was, yours was calm and mellow and lovely.

 And for the most part, you are calm and mellow and lovely.  Your older brother can be a bit of a steamroller, hogging both toys and time in the spotlight, and you are unquestionably the yin to his yang.  Not that you are a doormat in the slightest, but you have a greater ability than Zeke to self-soothe and, quite honestly, to suck it up when the going goes rough, so you tend to let him get his way in order to keep the peace.  Because I am disinclined to ever give an inch (Zeke gets it from me), my instincts are to tell you that you don't have to do that, and that he needs to learn how to calm down and share.  But your relationship with him as his sister, as part of the inseparable "ZekeandJosie" combo, probably gives you a greater intuitive understanding of how to handle him, and so you are gentle and forgiving with him, even when he is being an overbearing pain in the butt.

The payoff is in your connection with him, which is so lovely and amazing.  Though you're only two years apart and at an age when siblings tend to bicker, you and Zeke have this love affair that touches me immeasurably.  When I drop you off in the mornings at school, Zeke goes with you to your classroom to make sure you get there without incident, and you give each other a hug and a kiss before going your separate ways.  You seek each other out when you're sad, happy, excited, frustrated - it's a wonderful thing to behold.

You look to him for advice on how to do new things, and use his accomplishments as a yard-stick for your own.  And you are so fiercely determined to be able to do what he does that you don't quit until you achieve your goal.  When you saw that he could take himself hand-by-hand across the monkey bars at the playground, you pushed yourself until you could do it too.  Same with riding your bike or any other physical endeavor.  After Zeke learned to ski when he was five, you have decided that this will be the year you learn as well.

You're pretty much game for anything - hiking, camping, climbing, jumping off of things, zip-lining at Zeke's birthday party.  Your daddy and I have always maintained that between you and Zeke, you are the one most likely to participate in extreme sports.

If there are particular character traits or behaviors that tell the story of what you are like at this moment in your life, they would be love and sweetness on the one hand, and stubborn volatility on the other.  The love and sweetness is in your treatment of your friends, your brother, your relatives, me and Daddy - you've got hugs and kisses for everyone, kind words of encouragement, and snuggles.  I don't think I've ever seen my father more tickled than when he and Mimi were visiting a few weeks ago, and all you wanted to do was hold his hand and talk to him, or sit on his lap and rub his face while saying, "Papa's so cute!  I love you, Papa!"

The stubborn volatility is a newer thing - the tendency to proclaim things that are boring or annoying or difficult to be "STUPID!" and lashing out (including physically) in frustration.  Yesterday, when I arrived at the park for Zeke's football game, I saw you from the other side of the field - your bike was down on the ground, and you were stamping your feet and waving your arms around and little puffs of dirt were rising up because you were kicking at it.  Truth be told, it was kind of hilarious, because you're such a skinny little peanut that it presents a really funny picture.

But I know that it's a developmental 5-year-old thing, rather than necessarily a Josie thing.  You'll grow out of it as you become more mature.

In the meantime, you continue to be a delightful, sparkly ray of sunshine in our lives.  It's been a pleasure to hang out with you these past five years, and I can't wait to see what the future has in store for you.

I love you beyond the Milky Way and back,


Friday, October 24, 2014

The Magnificent Seven

Seven years ago today, I became a mama.

On one hand, it's hard to believe Zeke is 7 years old.  I keep telling him to stop growing, but he laughs and ignores me.

On the other, I have a difficult time remembering what life was like before I had children, other than I had a lot more time and money to waste, and could plan a trip that didn't involve spending at least $1200 on airfare.

In any event, I now have this seven-year-old boy.
He is this astounding social butterfly who knows everyone and everyone knows him and he feels entirely comfortable with the notion that of course everyone is going to like him and want to play with him.  Why on earth wouldn't they?  He walks into school, greeting and waving at everyone he sees.

"Hi, Patrick!  Hey, Mr. Jones!  Good morning, Miss Becky!  Hi, Mrs. Snow!"  They all smile and wave and greet him in return.

There's a little girl named Beth* that he luuuuuurved when he was in kindergarten.  They had a thing. She told her mom that Zeke was "her love," and he pestered me non-stop about setting up play-dates with her.

Her family moved to Frisco (up in the mountains, about an hour away) at the end of kindergarten.  Zeke hasn't seen her since June, but still refers to her as his "girlfriend."  I've attempted without success to get in touch with Beth's mom to see if Beth could come to Zeke's birthday party, and Zeke doesn't understand why we can't drive up there and figure out where she lives and knock on her door because of course she still loves him and wants to see him.  Why wouldn't she?

This is a character trait that I cannot fathom, as I have gone through my life feeling weird and out of place and assuming that nobody really likes me all that much.  This feeling has abated as an adult, but as a seven-year-old?  No way.  It was an entrenched part of how I approached the world.

He is also smart and curious and inquisitive and funny.  He loves school and is good at it.  He is a terrific athlete, and one of the stars of his flag football team.  He can spend hours outside looking at ants or playing in a pile of dirt.  When we go to visit my parents in Virginia, there's a nature preserve near them that is a great place to walk and hike.  Zeke could easily spend three hours climbing on rocks and throwing things in the creek and then jumping into the creek and inspecting rotting logs and on and on.  He shares my appreciation for fart-related humor.  He's incredibly sweet to and protective of his little sister.

Don't get me wrong, he can also be a massive pain in the ass.

He has this extraordinary attention span and ability to focus, but often to the exclusion of whatever it is I'm trying to get him to do at a particular moment, like put on his goddamned shoes and get in the car so we can make it to school on time.

So we have a lot of exchanges like this:
Me:  Zeke, it's time to go.  Put your shoes on. ......*no response* ...... Zeke, come on we're going to be late....*no response* .......... Zeke, let's go!..............*no response* ........................ZEKE! COME ON!!
Zeke:  Mama, don't yell!
Me: *head explodes*
He has great powers of reasoning, but uses them to try to argue with me.  And he's not quite as good at it as I am, but I forget that he's only seven, so we get in these absurd arguments that have me questioning my own sanity and fitness to be a mother.

He continues to take after his uncle Sam in a remarkable way, with his sensitivity and creativity and unique way of looking at the world, but also with his penchant for whining when he doesn't get his way.**  As a young child, Sam was a repeated recipient of the Wally Whiner Award, and his nephew is on track to match that success.

And yes, he adores his sister and is very attentive, but sometimes to the point that he keeps getting in her face or poking her or climbing on her or otherwise annoying her when all she wants is to be left alone -- sort of like being pecked to death by a chicken.

But mostly, he's kind of awesome.  He asks wonderful questions about the universe and animals and space and time travel and zombies and tornadoes and what the biggest thing in the world is.  And he makes me think about the world, and my place in it, in new ways.  In trying to raise him to be a kind, adventurous, interesting person, he makes me think about the kind of person I am and the kind of person I want to be.  About how to be a good mother who is worthy of the task of raising him.

It's a wild and wonderful ride.

*not her real name
**to clarify, Sam is no longer whiny.  Love you, Sammy!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Just step outside yourself and look up at the stars above, go on downtown baby, find somebody to love

Dear Emma,

It's hard to fathom that it's been over a month since you died.  Time doesn't feel like it's moving like it used to.  Normally, my brain works like a calendar - I can sort of see the days and weeks and months, and what happened and what is coming up, with a fair amount of precision.  Now it's all muddled in my head.

The constants are images and audio clips.  I think I will go to my grave hearing my dad's voice on a continual loop in my head, telling me that you had been killed in a car accident. And seeing the image of you in the funeral home, cold and still.  And the picture of you making that amazing save in goal - the one that's on your memorial card.  It's taped to my desk at work - you're with me all day long.

But I don't only see and hear you in death, thank goodness.  You're all around me in life as well.

Did you know that I have more pictures of you displayed around my house, on the fireplace mantles and the walls and the tops of dressers, than I have of my own children?

Pictures of you as a flower girl in the various family weddings.  A shot of you from Thanksgiving when you were about 3, playing on a playground near my parents' house.  Surfing pictures from our annual beach trips.  A picture of you and me sitting in the hammock on my parents' deck, giggling and snuggling.  In my office I have the family shot taken in the State Department on the day my mother was sworn in as an ambassador - I was holding you during the ceremony, and then when Mom finished her speech, you jumped out of my arms and ran to her, and everybody in the room smiled and laughed at how cute it all was.

It's been hard since you've been gone.

The whole family has been drifting in a bit of a fog.  We go about our daily lives, but there's this miasma of sadness and heavy-heartedness that has settled over us.  I'll have days when I'm constantly either crying or on the verge of tears, and then days when I manage to function pretty well, but even on the days when I feel somewhat OK, there's always this tightness in my chest and my gut.

I've been trying to honor you by remembering you at your best (which isn't hard to do), and by doing what I can to live well and in the moment.   That feeling I had, in the days after you died, to walk and walk and walk has not left me.  I do a lot of walking.  After I got back from New Hampshire, I started walking to work, at first part of the way (taking the bus the rest), but now I walk the whole way (it's about 2 1/4 miles).  Then I started walking home as well.

It's become one of my favorite parts of the day.  In addition to the physical exertion, it's time to think and listen to music and see my community.  The pace allows me to appreciate the architecture of the old houses and buildings here.  I walk down Colfax Avenue, passing thrift shops and tattoo parlors and dive bars and yuppie restaurants and organic grocery stores and bodegas and music venues and cathedrals and homeless shelters.  I smile and say "good morning" to the delivery guys and mechanics and office workers and waitresses taking a cigarette break.

I love those walks.  They make me feel more connected to the world.  And to you.  I think about you and look up at the sky.

This has been a stressful year, and even before you died, I wasn't taking very good care of myself, physically.  I wasn't exercising regularly and I was eating horribly, and then after September 10, it got worse.  I gained weight and felt sluggish.  But then I thought about you, and how hard you worked to get strong and fit again after your accident, and I decided I needed to #belikeemma and get off my ass.  I'm exercising again and eating properly and I feel like I owe some of it to you.

I'm going to take that picture of you playing lacrosse, kicking ass in goal, and blow it up to poster-size and put it in my workout room.  I'm going to paint my room the color that your room is (that awesome bright turqoise-y blue) and think of you whenever I look around and smile at how beautiful and cheerful that color is.

Thanksgiving is coming up.  The family is getting together at my parents' house, as we usually do.  We're going to do the same fun run we always do on Thanksgiving morning, and probably go to a hockey game, as we usually do.  And hang out and take the kids to the park and go to the movies and see Ali and Joe for Day After Thanksgiving Pie, as we always do.

But without you there, it's going to be hard.  And weird.

I still have a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that you're really gone.  I love you and miss you so much.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

College is awesome, dude. And best part - no zombies!

Some of my most interesting and random conversations with Zeke are right before he falls asleep. Now that I have an entire king-size bed to myself, I sometimes let him come and snuggle with me.


"Yes, honey?"

"I don't want to go to college."

This is totally out of the blue.  I don't remember ever talking to him about college in any meaningful way.

"Why not?"

"I just don't."

"Hmm.  I think you'll want to go to college when you're ready.  You'd like college."

"But I don't want to go."

"Well, it's not something we need to worry about right now.  Let's go to sleep."

I shmush up my pillow and get comfy.

"Why not?"

"Why don't you need to worry about it?"


"Because it's a long way off.  If you go to college, it would be twelve years from now.  You might change your mind."

He thinks about this for a couple of seconds.

"Mama, how long is middle school?"

"I think here it's three years.  Sixth, seventh and eighth grades."

"And how long is high school?  Three years?"

"No, high school is four years.  Honey, I'm tired.  Let's go to sleep."

"High school is four years?  I thought I heard someone tell me it's only three years."

"No, it's ninth through twelfth grades.  Four years."

"And college comes after that?"

"Yes.  And you know, college is a lot of fun.  It's where you get to decide what you want to learn about.  You can study the things you're interested in.  And have fun with your friends.  Now close your eyes and go to sleep."

He's quiet for a little while.


*sigh*  "Yes, sweetie?"

"Are zombies real?"

Monday, September 22, 2014

Everybody's got a mountain to climb.

The weekend before Emma died, my friend Christin and I did an amazing hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, taking the Longs Peak trail to Chasm Lake.  The trail was long and steep, plus we definitely felt the altitude - Chasm Lake is almost 12,000 feet up, more than double the altitude we're used to.
Chasm Lake, at about 11,800 feet.  Atop that sheer diamond-shaped face is the summit of Longs Peak, at about 14,200 feet.
But it was spectacularly beautiful.  Warm, but not too hot, sunny, clear, with astoundingly gorgeous views in every direction.  The walk was hard - it's a legit hike - but it felt good to feel our hearts pound and our muscles burn and our lungs work for every bit of oxygen.  We had a lovely lunch sitting on a boulder by the lake, and talked for the entire 7 hours we were on the mountain, about books and life and children and men and travel and everything else that came to our minds.
The trail up to Chasm Lake.

By the end of the hike, I was sore and tired and my knees and feet ached and my legs were like heavy stumps.  But I still felt amazing.  It was a perfect Colorado day, when you really appreciate the gift of living here and of being alive and healthy.

A week later, when I was in New Hampshire, all I wanted to do was hike in the mountains again. Instead of standing around in a funeral home, I wanted to feel my heart pound and my muscles burn and my lungs work for every bit of oxygen.  That level of exertion is the only thing that has ever provided a physical antidote to that "cold metal ball in my chest" feeling that comes with depression or anxiety.  Or intense grief.  I just wanted to walk and climb for miles, so that the heat of feeling alive could push that cold metal ball out of the way, where it could bounce down the trail behind me before falling over a cliff and shattering into a million pieces.

So in that spirit, I took the kids up to the mountains this weekend to hike a trail off the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway. The aspens are changing color, so it's a great time to get outside and see some beautiful scenery.

At first, the day was a little frustrating for me, because I still had the craving to do a hard hike, but we were on a gentle, easy path that didn't gain much elevation, plus the kids were far more interested in dragging around enormous sticks/logs, climbing on rocks, and playing in a mountain stream.  Meaning I spent a lot of time watching them rather than hiking.  I didn't exercise, or exorcise, the way I wanted to.

But it was an exquisite day.  Sunny and warm, and the aspens were such bright yellow and gold that they looked lit up from within, particularly against the evergreens.  We splashed in the water and threw rocks and sticks and climbed around near a waterfall.  It was lovely being with my children as they enjoyed outdoors and got wet and dirty and dusty and tired.

While we were out there, I kept looking up at the cerulean sky and thinking of Emma.

Can you see us or feel us missing you? Are you up there? 

But deep down, I knew she wasn't.  I don't believe in God or heaven or angels or ghosts or any of that stuff.  I can see where it would be comforting to believe in all of that, but I can't make myself believe in something just because it might make me feel better.

Still, it's kind of nice to engage in magical thinking once in a while.

That kind of magical thinking is what makes me want to summit Longs Peak next summer, and scatter some of Emma's ashes from the heights of the Rocky Mountains when I get there.  So that when I make another pilgrimage to the mountains and look up at the sky, maybe a tiny piece of her will be up there after all.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Everything I need to know about life I learned from a 17-year-old girl

At some point on Friday afternoon, Josh called me while my dad and I were at the Kohl's over in Seabrook.  My dad needed new khakis because the pants he was wearing were old and ratty-looking and my mother was threatening to throw them away.

"I need you to do something for me," Josh said.

"Of course.  What do you need?"

"I need you and Mom and Dad and Sam to collaborate on speaking at the funeral.  The rabbi is out of town and so I want to put together a program of about an hour - people can talk about Emma and tell stories.  Our side of the family, Lori's side of the family, her coaches, that sort of thing.  So you guys could do about 10 minutes or so."

"You got it."

So I started to think about what I was going to say.  At that point, we had already been spending the bulk of our time at Josh's house, which was in "permanent open house" mode - crying and hugging and talking about Emma.  How horrible it was, how incredible she was, how much she was loved and admired.

And we also talked about how inexplicable and incomprehensible it was.  How could this happen to her, after she survived the accident?  How could her family go through this again? She got better.  It wasn't fair.  It wasn't right.

I didn't want what I said at the funeral to be a rehash of those conversations.

That night, when we were hanging out at Josh's house, he handed me a letter that he and Lori had received from one of Emma's teachers.  She talked about what a great kid and great student Emma was, how kind and generous she was to others, and how much she enjoyed having Emma in her class.

She also talked about Emma's college essay, which the teacher had reviewed for her and given some feedback on.  Emma's essay was about her accident; what had happened, how she had recovered, and what she had taken from it as her life moved forward.  The teacher's feedback was that the essay focus less on the accident and more on the recovery, because the recovery was Emma's story.

She was absolutely right.

Emma's story was about recovery and strength and perseverence.  After her accident, she had to relearn speaking and walking and functioning.  It was hard work, both physically and psychologically.  She pushed to get stronger, to regain agility, to be a great student again.

And she was doing all of this in her early and middle teens, which is a time of life when most of us feel awkward and unsure of ourselves and self-conscious anyway. Some of her old friendships suffered.  So she made new ones.  She had to cut her long hair off because some of it had been shaved while she was hooked up to machines in the hospital.  So she dyed it pink.

She had always been an athlete, and was bummed when she wasn't allowed to snowboard anymore.  Eventually, she started playing lacrosse again, and eventually became the goalie for her high school's girls varsity lacrosse team.  She knew it was risky.  When you've suffered a traumatic brain injury, it's not exactly intuitive to play a sport that involves hard rubber balls being flung at your head.  Or to surf or snowboard again.  But she did anyway.

What a badass.
Being an athlete was part of who she was, and she was determined not to let the accident defeat or define her or be an excuse to not go for the things she wanted in life.  She was going to study and work to become an engineer.  She was going to play lacrosse.  She was going to surf.  She was going to snowboard.  She was going to keep working.

This is what I talked about at the funeral.  That Emma understood that life can be risky and scary, but it has to be lived, and that if you're not living for the present and the future, you're not really living.

Vivir con miedo es como vivir a medias.

The only way to deal with this awful tragedy is to live as Emma did. We are sad, but we can't use her death as an excuse to stop pushing to achieve greatness, to be stronger and better and kinder.  The only path is to live deliberately and fully, as she did.

Only then will we be truly honoring her.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Stop all the clocks

The most surreal part about the whole thing - other than that Emma is dead at the age of 17 - is that both times I got the news in the same manner, in the same place, at the same time of day, from the same person.

When Emma had her accident four years ago, I was sitting at my desk at work at about 4:30 in the afternoon, Denver time, when the phone rang.  It was my dad, who told me that Emma, my niece, had been hit by a car and that nobody knew if she would live or die.

But she did live.  She survived, and she worked incredibly hard to recover and regain her strength and to get on with her life.

She had dodged the bullet.  Her card was supposed to have been pulled from the deck.

But it wasn't, apparently.

Because there I was, four and a half years later, sitting at my desk at work at about 4:30 in the afternoon, Denver time, when the phone rang.  It was my dad, who told me that Emma had been killed in a car accident.

No, I thought to myself.  I've gotten this call before, and I know how it ends.  She doesn't die.  It turns out OK.  He's got it all wrong.

But the other part of my brain, the powerful part that remains firmly rooted in reality, understood. Somehow, in the cruelest twist imaginable, she had survived only to be taken again, for good.  

It feels ridiculous to even try to explain anything.  It's all the same platitudes you've heard a million times about the death of a young woman at that thrilling time of her life when everything is starting to happen.  It's the worst thing imaginable for a family.  My brother Josh and his wife are devastated beyond anything I can comprehend.  My mother and father are crushed by the loss of their first grandchild, and by the pain that their wonderful son is enduring, and will continue to endure for the rest of his life.  My brother Sam and I are heartbroken by the pain that our brother and our parents, whom we love with everything we are, are going through.  And for Josh's wife, Lori, whose grief is so intense and bottomless. And for Emma's sisters, who, after barely getting over the trauma of her accident four years ago, have been blindsided by another trauma even more unspeakably awful.

For our beautiful, wonderful, precious Emma, who was, quite simply, one of the best people I ever knew.  For the life she was so excited to embark on, but now will never experience.

I know everyone is a great person when they die.

But in Emma's case, it's really true.

From the day she was born, she was a bubbly, funny, sassy ray of sunshine.  She was the first grandchild for my parents, the first baby born among my brothers and me, and she was a shining star for us.  A happy, spectacularly gorgeous baby and toddler.  A sweet, affectionate, smart little girl who took care of her younger sisters.  The preteen who was atypically agreeable at a point when most kids are surly and pushing at boundaries.
5-year-old Emma hanging with her baby sister, Lydia.
Dancing with her at my wedding.
In Detroit for our Grandpa Leo's 90th birthday.
With the cousins and sisters who loved and looked up to her, at Sam and Camille's wedding.
Even her response to her accident was remarkable, but so very her.  She recovered, and then she worked.  She worked and worked and worked to get stronger, to succeed in school, to be a good friend and daughter and sister, to be a great athlete.  College lacrosse coaches were interested in having her play for them.  She decided she wanted to go to the Naval Academy, and she survived the first grueling cut of applicants after taking their initial entrance exam.

 And she was growing into such a fantastic young woman.  In meeting with the people who have been congregating at Josh's house since she died, I keep hearing these stories about how she would see someone at school who was shy and eating lunch by herself, and Emma would go and sit and eat with her.  She befriended a classmate who was timid and self-conscious, and encouraged her to not be afraid to be herself.  Her coaches and teammates loved her for her attitude, her work ethic, and her effervescence.

I think the accident imbued her with a preternatural gratitude for life, and a level of maturity about the tenuousness of our existence on Earth that most 17-year-olds can't begin to approach.  She knew how lucky she was to be alive and healthy, and she was determined to live every moment to the fullest, appreciate the beauty around her, be kind and open to all, and give and receive love without reservation.

She was truly a good, sweet person,  growing more overtly comfortable in her own skin, more overtly kind and generous with each passing day.  She was loved by all of us, and by her friends and teachers and coaches and employers and teammates and everyone else she encountered.

Emma's last instagram:  "Loved the sunset last night #sunset #beautiful"
I loved that girl so much.
To say that it's all so grossly unfair is the goddamned understatement of all time.

We went to the funeral home to see her today.  She is going to be cremated, so this was it.  The last time we would ever see her again.

She looked so peaceful.  We all took turns talking to her, stroking her hair.  I kissed her goodbye.

She was cold and her skin was waxen, but I needed to see her and touch her.  As awful as it was, I needed to see her like that to help hammer home the truth.  It's too unfathomable otherwise.  I needed the punch in the gut.  And I got it.

She is gone.