Thursday, May 26, 2016


I've rarely weighed in on politics here - other people write about it far better than I could, plus arguing about politics on the internet strikes me as the ultimate exercise in futility.  But the fact that Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican nominee is horrifying to me.  He has to be the most spectacularly unqualified presidential candidate ever - makes me long for the good ol' days of George W. fucking Bush.

The kids are scared as well.

Zeke asked me yesterday, "Mama, is Donald Trump going to be president after Obama?"

He has a particular affinity for Obama, who has been president for pretty much his entire life. They were both born in the same hospital in Hawaii, a fun fact that Zeke is super proud of and that he likes to share whenever it comes up.

"No," I responded.

"How do you know?"

"Because he's awful and enough people know that he's awful that they won't vote for him.  He's getting a lot of attention right now, but he's not going to win."

"Why is he awful?"

"He's a racist, for one thing. And a bully. And stupid."

"What's a racist?"

"It's someone who thinks that people should be treated differently because of their skin color, like for example thinking that people who have light skin are better than people with dark skin."

His eyes got really wide.  "Oh, no! We can't let that happen, not again!"

I'm assuming he was referring to slavery - I didn't want to burst his bubble by pointing out that racism remains alive and well.  But still, I was gratified by his reaction.

"If he did get elected president, would you still be my mom?"

"Of course. What do you mean by that?"

"Jerry [his friend from school] said that if Trump gets to be president, our moms won't be our moms anymore."

"No, that's not true. I'll always be your mom."

"I also heard that he doesn't like girls."

"Trump? No, he doesn't.  He treats girls - women - horribly.  He's a terrible person."

"If he got elected, would kids have to sit in the front seat of a car?"

Where are they getting this stuff??

"No, that's not something presidents do."

"If he became the president, would we leave and move somewhere else?"

"No, I don't think so."

"Why not?"

"Because this is where we live. This is our home. I would hate it if he were president, but it wouldn't make me leave."

"Well, I hope he doesn't win."

"Me too, baby.  And I truly don't believe he will.  It would be a disaster if he did.  But he won't."

From my lips to God's ears.


**For a comprehensive list of the different monikers Jezebel has bestowed on Trump, click here.  there are some wonderful doozies.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The case for anonymity

I started writing this blog ten years ago as a way to keep family and friends apprised of my impending move to Hawaii.  It was originally conceived as a chronicle - a record of what was going on - because I was getting ready to be on the other side of the world (almost) from the people I loved, and it seemed like a good way to maintain some contact on a bigger scale than email or the telephone could provide. Remember, this was before the days of social media.

Over the years, the blog has taken more of an intensely personal tone.  I feel like I developed a voice as a writer, and became a better writer, by making the essays more thematic - even when they were expository in nature - and by tackling subjects that were harder and more emotionally based than simply "here's a funny story" or "here's something crazy or sad or awful that happened."  In the process, I've developed a (modest) readership and have had people tell me that they were touched or moved or amused by something I had written, or that I had given a voice to something that they were feeling, particularly when it dealt with depression or grief.  And I am so, so humbled and gratified that anything I have written is valued - the internet is a huge place, and there are millions of reading options to choose from.  Particularly for readers who have stumbled on the blog and don't know me personally, the notion that anyone other than my mother would be take time out of their day to read and be interested in my ramblings is amazing to me.

But many readers do know me personally, and therein lies the rub.  As the blog has become more personal, my relationship with it has changed.  It's not just a place to record my life - although I love being able to go back and remember and relive things that I would have otherwise lost.  It's become a place to bare my soul, or to vent - it's become a form of therapy.  I write to work out feelings, to force myself to articulate what's in my head and my heart, and in doing so, to deal with it more effectively. Often I'll be thinking about something, and the urge to write about it in order to clarify how I feel about it or how I need to handle it is overwhelming.  And when the essay is written, it's cathartic.  I feel better - lighter and unburdened.

Much of that personal stuff I obviously don't mind sharing. But sometimes what I want to write about implicates someone else in a way that doesn't need to be made public, even if I make an effort to be as opaque as possible (which itself makes the writing feel contrived and fussy to me).  Sometimes I need to be careful not to betray someone else's confidence. Sometimes I can't say something because I'm legally bound not to. Or sometimes I just want to write about shit that my friends and family don't need to know about.

And when I'm not able to write because I feel obligated to self-censor, I've lost an important outlet for my own self-expression.

That is the case lately. I've got stuff swirling around in my head, and I can't write about it here, and not writing about it is giving me agita. I feel stifled.

So I've set up a separate, completely anonymous blog.**  It has no reference to who I am or where I live or what I do - just a place to be completely open and honest and raw as I want to be.  I'll still blog here sometimes, but many times I won't.

**I could keep a written journal, but I don't write as well that way, plus what if I die in a car crash and someone finds it in my house?  No fucking way.

Monday, May 16, 2016

It's all about the benjamins, baby

Having visited and lived in Third World countries growing up - particularly India - I'm well cognizant of how extravagantly I hit the jackpot in being born who I am.  American, solidly middle- to upper-middle class, with parents who were loving and supportive, who provided me with an amazing education, and who lived a life that allowed me to travel and experience the world in a way most people never get to. I was always well-housed, well-clothed, well-fed.  I've never had to worry about poverty or homelessness or deprivation.  I was praised for being smart and pretty and athletic, and made to feel like I could do anything I set my mind to.  I had every advantage.

I try to impart to my children how fortunate they are, but it's hard. When we lived in Venezuela, our house was down the street from a barrio.  Everywhere I went in India I encountered wretched slums, extreme poverty, and children begging in the streets.  But my children are rarely, if ever, face-to-face with children (or anyone, really) whose socio-economic status varies from theirs in any significant way.  Their biggest source of frustration is when I set the parental controls on their Kindles to only allow them an hour of screen time a day.

So even though yesterday's events were a little jarring, they also provided a valuable lesson.

I bought Josie a new bike on Saturday, so we spent the weekend riding around.  Yesterday we decided to ride along the South Platte River trail, which starts at the REI in part of downtown Denver.  It's a wide, smoothly paved path, perfect for tooling around with kids, and perfect for Josie to get the hang of her new wheels.  The trail takes you past Elitch Gardens, where we marveled at the scary looking rollercoasters, and past Mile High Stadium, where we marveled at the statue of the horse and talked about how great it was that the Broncos won the Superbowl.

After that, the scenery gets a little rougher.  Factories.  Power plants.  Industrial areas.

Then suddenly, about 2 miles down, we rounded a curve and saw an amazing playground.  The kids asked if we could stop and play, so we did.

When we took our bikes up, I realized we were smack in the middle of the housing projects (in fact, the headquarters for the Denver Housing Authority was right next to the playground).  But whatever - the playground was nice and it seemed safe enough, so I sat at one of the picnic tables while the kids climbed and jumped and had fun.

After a couple of minutes, a group of four kids came over and started playing as well.  They ranged in age from 2 to about 9.  There was no adult with them. The toddler had a full diaper.  The older kids were eating burritos out of tupperware containers.  They were all very sweet, and fell in comfortably with my kids.

Then a little girl came over and started causing trouble.  One of the other kids said she was 7, but she looked older.  Josie will be 7 in a few months and this girl outweighed her by at least 10 pounds.  She was at least as tall as Zeke, and looked strong and muscle-y.  I looked at her and thought, "in 15 years, she will look exactly the same, only taller and with worse skin." Dirty, stringy blonde hair, wearing fuzzy pajama pants out in public, with a shitty, mean look on her face.

She went over to one of the girls who looked to be about 7 or 8, and tried to snatch her food from her.  The girl backed off, but the mean girl followed and started throwing wood chips (from the playground), and then started hitting and kicking.

I ran over to break up the fight.  Mean Girl wouldn't stop trying to attack, so I stepped between her and the other girl and said, "you need to stop that nasty behavior right now.  Leave these kids alone and get away from here!"  She gave me a look that reminded me of a snake about to strike - cold, emotionless, and menacing.  But she backed off.

I went to comfort the little girl who had been attacked - she was crying and upset.  I put my arm around her and was trying to soothe her when Mean Girl returned, this time threatening one of the other kids.  I approached her again and told her to leave, and she backed off.

After that, she circled around the edges of the playground area like a shark, looking for any opening, any opportunity.  So I kept myself between her and the kids, and would step towards her and send her away when she started to approach one of the children.  Zeke and Josie were simultaneously freaked and in protective mode - they would put their arms around the other kids and yell at the girl to leave them alone.  But at no point did they say, "Mama, we're scared, let's get out of here."  I was kind of proud.

The kids were mesmerized by Zeke's and Josie's bikes, so we let them ride around the playground.  Mean Girl was continuing to roam in the background, but for the most part she kept her distance.  When she didn't, I would direct the kids to get behind me and order her to leave them alone.

I thought about taking my kids and riding off, but I also didn't want to leave the other children there unprotected.  Apparently their mom was off doing laundry, so I thought I'd wait a little while in the hopes that she came back.

Things came to a head when Zeke was letting the toddler sit on the seat of his bike while he pushed it around, giving the baby a little ride.  He was being incredibly sweet.  But he got about 15 feet away from me, and when he did, Mean Girl walked over to him and started kicking at him.  Because he was holding up the bike with the baby on it, he was powerless to respond.

I lost my shit.  I broke into a full sprint and screamed at her, "GET AWAY FROM MY SON!!" She started to run and I chased her until she had run behind one of the buildings about 200 feet away.

She never came back.  The other kids went home when they saw their mom coming back from the laundry.  And we climbed on our bikes and rode back to REI to get some lemonade at the Starbucks there, dragging our privileged white asses back to the safe, easy world we live in.

Later in the car, Josie said, "that girl was really mean.  She shouldn't act like that."

"I know, honey, you're right.  But the truth is, she's probably just behaving the way people in her home behave.  I bet she sees a lot of fighting and anger.  Her life is hard."

We talked about how lucky they are.  I explained that even though I knew it wasn't easy for them to deal with the fact that Daddy and I had split up, they now have two nice homes to live in, lots of people who love them and take care of them, nice friends, and plenty of food and toys and clothes and new bikes and books.

"You both live very fortunate lives compared to lots of other kids.  So you should try to be understanding.  Even though what that girl did wasn't OK, we should try to remember that her life isn't nearly as nice and easy as yours is."

After a minute, Zeke asked, "what if you or Daddy died?  Where would we go?"

"If Daddy died, you would live with me.  If I died, you would live with Daddy."

"What if you died and Daddy was already dead?  Could I go live with Jackson [his friend from across the street]?"

"No, in that case, you would probably go live with Josh or Sam, or Mimi and Papa.  I don't really know - I should really talk to them about it - but you would be with family and they would take care of you."

Josie said, "living with Josh would be fun.  He has a pool!"

Zeke was quiet for a while, deep in thought.

Then he piped up, "if we live with Sam, could I bring my Xbox?"

It's the important things we need to worry about, right?

Monday, May 09, 2016

Hey Nineteen

Dear Emma,

Today is your nineteenth birthday.  It's been over a year and a half since you left us, though it feels like a million years.  We are through the Year of Firsts, so this birthday doesn't feel quite as agonizingly raw as last year's.  It's more of a settled-in sadness.  Grief that sits in your bones, emerging like the pain of arthritis on a gloomy, rainy day.  Making you say, "oh, right.  There it is again."

I was thinking about what I was doing when I turned 19. My parents were stationed in El Salvador at the time.  Sam was there with them while your dad finished high school at a boarding school in New England, because the high school in Salvador wasn't any good.

I was in my second year at Virginia.  I had just pledged a sorority, was trying to figure out whether I wanted to major in something, and if so, what.  Exploring romances and adventures, going on road trips, staying out too late, having crushes, acting like a stupid teenager.

Where would you be now?  What would you be doing?  At the Naval Academy?  Studying engineering?  Having silly teenage adventures of your own, figuring out who you are in the world?

Thinking about that is the hardest part for me.  Of course I miss you - I miss talking to you and hearing about what you're up to.  I miss seeing you at Thanksgiving and at the beach.  But I didn't live with you or see you every day, so your absence feels different to me than it must for your dad and your sisters and your friends.  As much as anything else, I mourn the loss of the life you didn't get to live - the lessons and the heartbreaks and the adventures and triumphs that you would have experienced.  I mourn that loss for my brother and my nieces and my parents as well - knowing how hard it must be for them to not be with you.

We all loved you so much.  We still love you.

I was looking through old pictures and found this series of shots that I took when I was up visiting you when you were about four.  You had a little guitar and some sunglasses that Melba gave you and you were rocking out, singing and playing.  All sass and sunshine.

It was a joy to know you.  I will never stop loving you or thinking about you.

All my love,


Friday, May 06, 2016

Yes, and...

I read Tina Fey's book Bossypants a few years ago, and one of the things that really struck me about it was how she bases her philosophy on life in general on the rules of improv.  And if you've ever taken a class in improv, you know that the very first rule is that you always have to say, "yes, and..."  In other words, accept what your scene partner has presented, and add to it.  Saying "no" kills the scene.

So if your partner starts with, "hands in the air, I have a gun, this is a stick-up," you wouldn't say something like, "that's not a gun," you would "yes-and" it by saying something like, "don't shoot! And hey, that's my mother's gun, how did you get it?"

Applying this to life in general, the goal is to say yes to opportunities.  Take risks.  Have adventures. Seek out the new and the interesting.  Don't make decisions based on fear of bad things that might happen, but rather on hope for the good things that might happen.

I've applied this philosophy to my own life, with mixed results.  I yes-and-ed a marriage to someone entirely different from and not well suited to me, and we all know how that went.  I yes-and-ed a move to Hawaii, which I mostly hated.  But all of those choices led me to where I am now, in a place I love with a job I really enjoy and beautiful children whom I adore.  That which doesn't kill me makes me stronger, right?

A couple of weeks ago my friend (and coworker) Lisa and I went to New Orleans for a legal conference.  The conference itself I found to be of limited utility - the statute that I work with hasn't been reauthorized in so long that at this point, there really isn't anything new under the sun and I feel like I could have given most of the presentations in my sleep.

But man, did I fall in love with New Orleans.  The music, the voodoo, murder, vampires and ghosts, hauntings, disaster, disease, heat, food - it's a place that feels viscerally full of all that life can offer.  We "yes-and-ed" the shit out of that place.

Jazz trio in the French Quarter.  Amazing musicians were playing all over the place.
We said yes to having our tarot cards and palms read, even though that stuff kind of scares me.  The tarot reading was at once crazily specific at points and meaninglessly generic at others:
  • The cards show that I have been through an extremely emotionally turbulent year and a half, which, duh.  I will continue to feel emotionally pushed and pulled all over the place for another 6 to 8 months, at which point things will settle down for me.  
  • A young man between the ages of 22 and 35, tall, with dark hair and dark eyes, is in my life, seeking money or some kind of financial assistance or guidance from me.  I found this bewildering, until after we came back to Denver, I interviewed a bunch of candidates for a position on my team.  The one I want to hire is a young man of 23, tall, with dark hair and dark eyes.  Does that fit?
  • In a few months, I will meet an older woman (described by the tarot reader as "over 35" - pffft) who will become important to me, and I will remain close to her for the rest of my life.  Ok. We'll see where this one goes.
  • I will continue to have turbulent dreams and difficulty sleeping.  No surprise there.
  • The answer to my secret question is "yes."
We said yes to having our palms read.  My palm shows that I am intelligent and stubborn, have no tolerance for being lied to or feeling like someone is bullshitting me, that I am very much rooted in "this world" - I don't have my head in the clouds.  My palm shows 2 healthy pregnancies (yep), a long lifeline (she said I'd live to be 102, which is the age my great-grandfather lived to), and no sign of Alzheimer's or Parkinson's or strokes.  Cool.  She also said my palm shows a strong, 50-60 year marriage or love relationship.  If I were to have a 60 year marriage, I'd pretty much need to get married 6 years ago, but I'll take a prediction of a long, strong love that fits within the timeline I've got left.

We said yes to a ghost and vampire tour.  I now want to go back to New Orleans and stay in the Andrew Jackson Hotel in the French Quarter (I joked that it would be changing its name to the Harriet Tubman Hotel - that got a few chuckles), so that I can experience a hotel haunted by the ghosts of mischievous little boys who run around the halls making noise and use guests' cameras to take photos of them while they're sleeping.  

We also saw the LaLaurie Mansion, which has a particularly gruesome, terrifying past. It was owned by a socialite couple who used part of the house to torture and conduct medical experiments on slaves.  The house continues to be haunted by the screams and apparitions of the tortured slaves.  Our tour guide is so creeped out by the house that she won't stand next to it - we viewed it from across the street.  The following evening, Lisa and I were wandering around the French Quarter when all of a sudden we realized where we were - walking right by the LaLaurie house under the balconies.  It freaked us out.  We apologized to the ghosts and scurried away.

Ursuline Street.  Home to three residences, all in a row, where over the course of a century women were murdered and dismembered by their husbands or lovers.
After wandering around, we said yes to foot massages at a random reflexology place we passed on the street.  Why not, right?  Who knows if the people had any actual training in reflexology, but it felt great.

Hurricanes and planter's punch was consumed.  Lisa won a bunch of money playing blackjack at a casino.  

Late that night, my friend sent me a text, asking about the trip.  I told him that I needed to come back to New Orleans, not on business, and walk through one of the the above-ground cemeteries and listen to music and learn about voodoo and eat spicy food and just generally cavort.  He responded, "yes, we do."