Thursday, September 6, 2012

This morning a man called Jasmine a f***ing idiot. He said it twice. "You f***ing idiot!" he said, flapping his arms above his head. "What the hell is wrong with you? You f***ing idiot."

She looked up at me with her big blue eyes as she pulled at the loose skin on her neck.

It was meant for me, but he had looked straight at her.

I was making a right hand turn through a crosswalk, just as he stepped off the curb to cross the street. I had seen him on the corner, but which direction he intended to cross was not clear. And with the morning sun in my eyes, and a steady stream of frantic traffic behind me, I went.

As soon as I saw him, I stopped mid-turn, and waving my hand, mouthed the words,"Oh, sorry." That's when he peered straight at my little girl and said what he said.

I think the most troubling part about it was that he didn't look like a crazy person. He was out for his morning jog, fifty-ish, greying, in an expensive sweatsuit and running shoes.

Maybe I made a bad call, maybe I was just flat out wrong, maybe I even deserved a ticket...

But Jasmine really didn't need that this morning...minding her own business, just hoping she gets a top locker.

"Jasmine, I am so sorry that happened," I said. What a way to start the day, huh?"

"Yeah, and on my second day of Jr. high too!" And then she scrunched up her face and tugged at her neck some more.

How do you explain to an eleven year old that some people are just assholes?

I'm trying to have grace for the guy, clearly he was afraid for his very life, but I'm also kinda hoping I see him again when Jazi isn't with me, so I can simply inform him of his errant ways.

We continued on down the road and listened to Cat Stevens sing out, "Oooh, baby,baby, it's a wild world..."

And then even more people were crazy mean out there, speeding around, cutting each other off, honking their if 911 never happened.

I remember for months after the planes crashed into the buildings that people seemed to be kinder to each other, at the post office, in the grocery store, even on the roads. I think it was enough for people just to see other people alive.

"It's a harsh world," I told Jaz. "People shouldn't speak to each other that way."

Jazi looked up at me and said, "Mama, you know what I do when something like that happens?"

"What sweetie?" I asked.

"I pray," she says to me. "I pray for myself, that I can forget about it and that I will feel better."

And then she put on her best, almost-twelve, brave face.

But I don't feel better. I hurt that this world can be so ugly.

Ya know those signs that they have in all the home stores lately? The ones that say things like, "Live, love, laugh" or "Be creative?" I kinda hate them. They feel bossy.

But after this morning...I think I might have to paint one up. I'll write something simple like, "Don't scream the F word at children."

And then I'll hang it up on that street corner.

...Sad day that a grown man has to be told this.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


When we said good bye to May-May in the corridor of her dorm, she had a belly ache, and a brush fire raged on the mountainside just above the school. She smirked and said, "So Mom, you're just gonna leave me here with a tummy ache in a disaster zone?"

My family finds great amusement in my hyper-vigilant fears.

She squeezed me tight and I watched her blonde ponytail bounce away...down the hall.

Jon and Summer and Jazi and I sat in the parking lot for half and hour and watched the dark plumes of smoke rise from the mountain. Jon searched his smart phone for news on the fire while I breathed in and breathed out.

I fiddled with the purple hospital band on my wrist that read New Student Orientation, a meager safety measure for the flood of people milling about the campus.

Eighteen years ago it had read Cottage Hospital-Hughes-Baby Girl. And my body had churned and cramped and opened and released.

And now as the smoke filled the sky, again my body churned and cramped. And again...I opened... and again...I released.

Even my body knew she was leaving.

Labor had surprised me by how it knew it's way, that the waves of contractions knew when to rise and when to fall, when to press in and when to relieve, as if my body was on auto-pilot and I was merely a passenger.  And that even at the moment of transition, as my mind failed me, my body fought onward, and all that pressure, all that pain...had such holy purpose.

For months I have found myself doubled over in pain, as we've packed up her room...threw out her toys. My heart has ached and my mind has gone mad as I have grieved the child she once was... oh, that funny smile and the curls on her little round head...

And again, I am surprised by holy purpose...the birth of this miraculous young woman... healthy and smart and lovely and strong and funny...oh goodness...she is so funny... and I know this world is a better place because she is in it.

So, where I have been bracing myself for what I thought would feel like death, where the pain seemed violent and pointless, there is now wonder and awe and celebration...and life.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My How You've Grown

When I was pregnant with my first child, the whole world seemed to make sense. I made sense. I was...Mommy...and the stars aligned.
So when that baby girl died in my belly, I crumbled... and breathing in and out seemed to have no purpose.

But two years later, on a crisp autumn morning, when May was born, I began to breathe again.

And then when Summer was born, I was in awe that a miracle could happen twice. All ten fingers, all ten toes...again. The babies cooed and giggled at each other, white-haired cherubs, people pointed and stared in the grocery store. "Mommy! Mommy!" they'd say.

And then when Jasmine completed us...Big Eyes, we called her...the waters danced, the earth sang and my heart was at least for a moment.

My days were all about the babies. Bath time, lunch time, beach time, nap time. Let's do numbers...1...2...3. Let's do letters A...B...C.

And then they grew a little more...and then they grew right out the door.

"Mom, I need a ride to dance, to soccer, to school." And I took my place in the parade of SUV's on our neighborhood streets.

When they became teenagers, I thought I would lose them forever. I remember feeling like I was being shoved into May's 13th birthday by some twisted eccentric force.

But I listened to my friends who had gone before...

My friend Mayli said that raising babies is the training for the Olympics of the teen age years. Train well, stay focused, keep your eye on the prize, remember you are on the same team.

And my friend Candy told me that you have to embrace the teen stuff just like you do the baby stuff. Like when you laugh because their poopy diaper is so stinky, you also have to laugh when their poopy teenage-attitude is so stinky.

This advice was really helpful.

And so began the swirl of parties and dances and football games and late nights and near misses. And my heart bounced along praying they'd be safe, making deals with God if he'd just please keep them safe...begging...pleading...bargaining.

I thought it would go on forever.

But no...just 2 more days left.

At least for May.

Dear girl is off to Azusa Pacific University...and Mommy...could not be more proud.

I know she will shine there because May is better than most people. We knew it right away, the way her eyes lit up. The way she'd toddle up to the other children at the park and say. "You wanna be my fwend?" If another child was ever alone, she'd ask, "You wanna play with me?" It's just how she is. Compassionate and generous with a great big giant heart.

And now we have to share her...

I know...I know...she's not going that far...I know we still have two cherubs at home...I know! I know! I know!

But Mommy is still finding it hard to breathe...

Last night as she grabbed the car keys, she asked me what time I wanted her home. "Forever," I told her. "I want you home forever."

My How You've Grown
by Natalie Merchant

My how you've grown
I remember that phrase
From my childhood days too,
"Just wait and see"
I remember those words
and how they chided me
When patient was the hardest thing to be
Because we can't make up
for the time that we've lost
I must let these memories provide
No little girl can stop her world to wait for me
I should have known
At your age, in a string of days, the year is gone
But in that space of time it takes so long
Because we can't make up
For the time that we've lost
I must let these memories provide
No little girl can stop her world to wait for me
Every time we say goodbye
You're frozen in my mind
As the child that you never will be
You never will be again

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Wildflowers in the Fields

When I was eighteen my brother in law told me that my childhood didn't have to define me. He said the things that happened to me were like stories, in books, on shelves. And that at different times I could take one of the books down to look over it, if I needed to. But that they were just books that I owned...and they didn't own me. Then he wrapped it up with a Jesus bow and threw in a few yadda yaddas about being a new creation.

Thank you Rob, this theory has carried me for over twenty years.

But recently, the fault line quivered and the ground shook and the books fell open on the floor. The words on the pages jumped out like a tiger thrashing at my throat for blood.

I knelt down beside the pile, the stories, the colored pictures...graphic and ugly.

Bit by bit I've been trying to shove them closed, slip them back into their Dewey decimal spot on the shelf.

But it seems that every time I just about get them back in place, a tremor rocks the shelf and flings them yet again back to the floor, each time earmarking open to more stories, more lost days trying to be found.

And there are no fairytales amongst them.

My counselor told me that it was time now because now I am safe and I am loved.

But I can still feel the tiger's claws tearing into my flesh.

Pete Scazzero chants out the importance of going back in order to go forward, I can't think of anything less I'd rather do.

But I'm tripping over the pile on the floor, and the wind is flipping through the pages at a pace I can't keep up with.

So I lean on Rosie...

lyrics to The Wildflowers

If I place my hope in all things that pass away
What have I shown for myself?
If love shows her face, and my life’s out of place
Will I be kind to myself?

Where, where will I go from here?

If it’s all about timing
Then I’m right where I should be,
And there’s no room for regrets
But often times I find
That my thoughts play in rewind
And won’t free me from the past

So, where will I go? Where will I go? Where will I go?

If my life had its way
Oh how simple it would sway
Like wildflowers in the fields
I wish I could learn from the flowers and the ferns
How to take things as they come

How, how will I grow?
Oh how, how will I grow?
Oh how, will I grow from here?

(please don't attempt to answer this question for me)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Duck Love

Today we said goodbye to our ducklings and I cried, hard.

Jasmine tried her best to console me, but it was no use.

When we first brought home the fertilized eggs and incubator, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

It was just a science project.

Besides, I'm not really what you would call an animal lover, at least not anymore, too much poop.

Of course when I was a little girl, I adored all things wild. We had several dogs and cats, chickens and pigs, bunnies and parakeets...but no one stole my heart more than goat.

Don't laugh.

My goat was better than your dog any day of the week. And her poops were just tiny little pea size balls, hardly noticeable at all.

Chocolette and I won first place in showmanship at the county fair. They gave me a shiny blue ribbon and I paraded her around in front of a popcorn-eating crowd of applause.

You know, it's not true that goats are stubborn, they're as sweet as cherry pie. And it's a flat out lie that they can eat anything. Later that year, Chocolette chewed up some avocado leaves, that tore up her belly and she died in my arms.

I looked into her mud brown eyes and whispered I loved her, as she moaned and panted through her last breaths.

Same year, my brother John won first place with his prize pig, Dolly and sold her for five-thousand dollars at auction. John respects the animal world more than anyone I know, but he also says that if God didn't want us to eat them, then He wouldn't of made them out of meat.

Although when Mama fried up Dolly with some eggs, John said he wasn't feeling so good and he slipped out the back door, but not before I saw his eyes wellin up. He knows I saw, but we don't talk about it much.

My kids have a fish and a frog. I've pretty much been there, done that when it comes to animals.

So a month ago, when we got these six duck eggs, I figured we'd see the project through and if any of the birds survived, we'd just drop them off straight back to the pet store as was the plan. A simple science project.

So for 28 days we monitored the incubator, keeping it at a steady 99.5 degrees, we rotated the eggs each morning and evening and dipped them in warm water to raise their humidity. And then we said a short, respectful prayer for the tiny life growing within.

First to be born was Ruby. She rattled around for a good half hour before she poked her tiny beak through the surface of the shell with a faint chirp. She was born to a crowd of shouts and cheers and a video camera, as so many of us are.

And then came King Julian, quickly spilling out with all the ooze and smell of musty new life.

Soon to follow was Malika , spirited and eager to try out her floppy new feet.

And then Kadijah was born, at four am with only me to witness. I had gotten up to get a glass of water just as she began to poke through. And in the quiet of early morning, in the corner of my dining room, a new life began. As my own babies slept, I sat and watched in wonder.

The next day we moved the four ducklings to a plastic box and attached a heat lamp. They cleaned and primped and fluffed up like tiny yellow cotton balls.

We said, "Hello babies, welcome to the world!" As they stumbled clumsily over their little webbed toes.

They slurped up water and filled their bellies...snuggled together under the lamp and drifted off to sleep.

One of the two remaining eggs turned black and started leaking smelly green stuff, so we wrapped it up in a plastic bag and Jon took it out to the trash. Again, it's only a science project.

And then later that day, while we were out, Fluffy Daniel Grayson, the last to arrive, entered the world, all on his own.

Fluffy was much smaller than the others and he didn't seem to be feeling so well. He sat hunched in a corner, his head drooping low, with no interest in the mash or the watering dish.

Summer tried earnestly to get him to eat, holding a small spoonful of food up to his beak.

"Sweetie," I said gently, "I don't think this one is gonna make it through the night." I tried to close off my heart, be the farm girl who knows that sometimes in nature, these things just happen.

But just in case I was wrong, I made a few phone calls and googled just one or two things. And by nearly 11pm , I found a vet about an hour away, that was open 24hrs and would see Fluffy for $50.

I cradled him to my chest and he nuzzled his beak into the palm of my hand.

How much money is a duck life worth?

When our kids were little, Jon and I tended to hang with the "attachment parenting" crowd, otherwise known as the hippies who breastfed too long and let their babies sleep in their beds with them.

Somewhere between just-a-science-project and Fluffy's tummy ache, my attachment parenting set in.

I had not anticipated such love.

We decided to wait it out through the night, taking turns cradling and praying for our Fluff. The next day we drove her to the pet store. Jasmine held her close to her heart as Fluffy chirped a soft and frightened song, her dark eyes flitting about as we bumped along on the road.

The lady at the pet store was warm and kind and hopeful. She said Fluffy seemed strong spirited and that sometimes ducklings just take a couple days to get used to life. She said she'd keep her overnight and we should give her a call later to check her progress.

Jazi kissed the top her head and said, "Hope you feel better soon Fluffy."

And with that we drove away, tears pooling in both our eyes.

Later that afternoon we phoned the pet store. Fluffy was doing great, had been eating and drinking...and pooping...and had even made some friends with a couple of chickens.

Now let me say this again, I am not really an animal lover. I don't forward email pictures of kittens and I don't think your dog is cute.

But we watched these five little lives enter the world, in our home...and with them...Duck Love was born.

When we brought Fluffy home from the store, the other ducks cheered and gathered around him.

We pretended Fluffy told them a long tale of how he was ab-Duck-ted.

And we laughed out loud and rejoiced in Fluffy's life.

Friends came from far and wide to see our babies, "Hurry," we'd say," they get bigger everyday!"

Each morning we were awakened by their singing. When we came to greet them they wiggled their tails and stuck their beaks towards us so we could rub their necks and kiss the tops of their heads.

King Julian grew the biggest and he ruled his little plastic kingdom by being the fastest to slurp up all the water in the dish.

Ruby was the true singer of the bunch, and she whistled happily her sweet songs.

Malika and Kadijah we called the twins, because they were both solid yellow with no unique identifying marks and we could hardly even tell them apart.

But Baby Fluff, or Daniel, depending on who you ask, held an absolutely deeply loved place in all our hearts. He had survived in spite of his rocky start and although he was still quite a bit smaller than his brothers and sisters, he was mighty and thriving, continuing to eat and drink and poop. What more could you ask from a baby duck?

Bath time was the best. At first they panicked and squawked a bit, not having a mama around to follow. But then Fluff sailed through the tub and showed them the way, he may have been small but a fighter from the start, born to fully live. Soon they were all diving and happily splashing about.

But as the babies grew, my mama radar began to worry. How long is it really best for these little-almost big- guys to live in our tiny kitchen?

But now we loved our babies, like you love your dog. And the idea of just dumping them back at the pet store in some tiny box with no bath tub for their swim lessons and to most likely be separated from their siblings, just broke our hearts.

So the search began, to find 5 lovely ducklings a home. We dreamed of a pond with duckweed and a tree and waterlilies. I called zoos and parks and rescues. And then after talking to a myriad of duck people, I realized some disturbing news...we weren't the only ones.

Schools all over the county had been hatching ducklings for months and our sweet babies were just five out of thousands of homeless domesticated ducks, unequipped to survive in natural life...and this happens every year.

So with blistered hearts and streaming tears we returned Ruby, King Julian, Malika, Kadijah and even our sweetie pie, Fluffy Daniel Greyson to the pet store, where they promised to find them good homes.

So love happens and love is lost...for both human and duck.

You may think it sounds pretty silly to be going on and on about some ducks, especially from someone who really is not an animal lover, but if you ever get a chance to love a duck, like someone dies and leaves you a house with a pond, you may also find that love is love... and that caring for the sick or the weak is imperative...and that new life, all new life, is always...magical.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


The Sun Will Rise
lyrics and music by Brendan James

The sun will rise, the sun will save me.
The sun will change me, change the way I feel.
The day will make this heart a fortune
From the fruit of a hundred orchards,
From the water rivers bring.

The sun will rise, the sun will save me
From the night, the sun will change me,
Change the way I feel.

I've had enough of the hard and harder.
Times are tough. I've drifted farther,
Farther from myself.

I won't dwell on my failures.
It won't help. It won't bring changes.
I won't run, when all I want is to run.
I won't forget the morning's sure to come.

The sun will rise, the sun will save me
From the night, the sun will change me,
Change the way I feel.
The love I want, the love I need is
Sure to come, is sure to lead me,
Lead me home again.

The light is low, the night is burning.
My head is still but my mind is turning,
Turning 'round again.

If only I can make it through this
Lonely night, if I can do this,
If I can drift away,

Then the sun will rise, the sun will save me
From the night, the sun will change me,
Change the way I feel

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

o' Brother where art thou?

o' Brother, where art thou?

When my brother's wife slept with the electrician he hopped a Greyhound bus to Yosemite. With a backpack full of supplies, he carried the heavy load...and he hiked. He hiked the ridges and the valleys, the long stretches of green and tan.

My brother is no stranger to the wild country. He is the mountains and the mountains are him. The canyons and the rivers know his name.

Kin living in the higher parts, he set out for Tahoe.

The sun rose and beat upon his back...dust underfoot, miles blurred into miles...the crisp air of dusk...then the darkness and the stars.

When we were kids we were told an Indian folk tale of how the stars came to be...
Long ago, before there was man, all the animals were. They lived in balance and peace. The eagle soared, the fish swam. Fresh springs of water spilled from the earth and plants grew rich and fortified in the edenic light. The animals had everything they needed. But they grew bored and restless and greedy. "This is my sky!" the eagle told the hawk. "This is my land" the buffalo told the deer.

This made God angry with the animals and so he covered the earth with a heavy and dark blanket.

In the darkness, the waters turned sour and the plants began to rot. The animals became sick, many died and so the eagle gathered the animals. "I am strong, I will fly to the blanket and push it off."

"I will help you." said the hawk.

They spread their wings and flew to the top of the sky but the weight of the blanket was too much to bare and both the eagle and the hawk fell to the earth, exhausted.

"There is no use, the weight is too great."

"I will try" said the hummingbird.

"But you are too small" the animals told the hummingbird.

"But I will try." the hummingbird insisted.

And up he flew, tiny lightning wings, nose towards the sky... and as he reached the top...he poked a small hole in the blanket... and the light shone through.

The animals cheered.

And he did it again and again and again... until thousands of twinkling holes brightened the dark sky.

God was well pleased that the animals had worked together. So he said he would remove the blanket each morning but replace it at night so that the animals would always remember how important it is to be helpful and kind.

My brother pressed on through the night, the hummingbird's holes lighting his path. He told me he was so angry that he just kept on walking, hard walking... as the ache swelled in his chest.

Until finally one morning he came upon a warm valley with tall pines and wildflowers and a river flowing down the center...and it's there he collapsed to the earth, both feet fractured, broken by the long journey.

Kindness came by way of a stranger who found him, took him in, let him bathe and eat and rest. (Mountain folk...they remember the hummingbird.) The next day he boarded a bus to Grandma's house in Tahoe.

Years later he'd say to me, "Thing is sis, I made it pretty far...all the way up to that valley, darnest thing..." he says to me, "you'll never guess the name of that valley... Hope Valley!", he says, "Two broken feet and I end up in Hope Valley. It's the God-honest truth."