[This post will probably provoke a protest of “Mo-o-om!” from its subject… (Have you noticed how a teenager can turn “Mom” into a three-syllable word?) But the fearless family-chronicler forges forward nonetheless. ;) Love you, Son!]
I had a weird moment just a while back, one that other moms-of-sons might recognize… I had taken a few moments to run (OK, drive) the few blocks home from our restaurant in the middle of a Saturday, leaving “the men in my life” (husband Keoni and 18-year-old son Kapena) behind me at the business. Knowing the menfolk were elsewhere, imagine my shock when I opened the front door and heard the sounds, from my 10-year-old daughter’s bedroom, of her voice in conversation with that of a man! I went busting through her bedroom door in a state of alarm, only to find…
…my daughter and my son chatting together. Oh. Stand down, Mama Bear.
I had noticed, since his thirteenth birthday, that Christian’s voice had begun jumping around from one register to another. But it wasn’t until that Saturday, being startled by an “unfamiliar” adult-male-voice, that I fully realized that this IS my son’s voice now.
At my birthday party a week ago he presented me with a fire-opal ring of two sea turtles—a reference to his first nick-name of “Turtle”—and I found myself lifting onto my toes to kiss his cheek in thanks. It’s been a almost a year already that his arms have been on top when he hugs me, and mine around his chest instead of draped over his shoulders.
And there seem to be other changes in the wind. He has insisted for years that he’ll “never” be bothered with girls, girlfriends, or marriage—and I haven’t contradicted him. (Sure, I’ve thought he might change his mind, but who am I to insist that he will? Besides, I’m happy to be The Woman in his life for however long that lasts…) These days, though, there’s a girl surfacing in our conversations. He says she has “friend-zoned” him, but in any case they have lots in common to converse about, and he has been following her fiction-writing on Wattpad.
She may (or may not) have something to do with the fact that he has just launched the first chapter of his own first novel on Wattpad. To put this event in context (because in my mind it comes with several exclamation points!), Christian has hated writing since he first picked up a pencil. He was reading “chapter books” by his third birthday and spoke already like a miniature professor, but when it came to writing, his own perfectionism made it a chore. Even as a Little Guy, each word had to be spelled correctly, each letter had to be formed precisely—and his own demands on himself turned writing into a hassle he hated.
Despite his voracious reading, his tremendous vocabulary, and the treasure-house that is his imagination, he has hated every English class because of the demand for writing. So I’m thrilled at the chance to see what comes of this delightful and unexpected story-beginning.
One of the joys of parenting is watching our kids grow and change and become their own people… That’s true at every age; it’s just maybe accelerated during the teen years. It’s why I’m glad Christian talks to me. It’s why I’m glad he likes to share whatever he’s most recently discovered, whether it be a song or a show on Netflix or a book or an iPad app or a game. (Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t have looked twice at a game of driving and shooting tanks… But I got a kick out of letting him show me how to navigate, and letting him laugh at my inept attempts when we played together on an interactive online team.) It’s why I’m glad he has started working with us at the restaurant, where we have stretches of down-time together and he fills them by telling me stuff.
It’s a pleasure, too, to watch this self-possessed young man (transformed from the kid of a year ago who described himself as “not liking to talk to strangers”) interacting easily with customers at our cash register. Our guests enjoy his humor and his manners, and I enjoy observing the “performance” of Christian’s newly cultivated social skills.
I suppose you could say that my favorite “show” is the ever-evolving people-scapes that are my children… And just like a fan of a pop-star, I’m gratified by any sort of glimpse into their personalities and their private lives.
I think that’s what most intrigues me about Christian’s nascent story: not just what plot or characters he might imagine, but also the emergence of his writing voice. It’s a whole new aspect of him.
But then, I was just as fascinated by what he chose to write about himself in the “biography” section on Wattpad. Even where the content wasn’t “news” to me, it’s another thing to see his self-image crystallized in his own words. Take this gem, for example: “I’m partially tone-deaf, meaning that while some people can’t carry a tune in a bucket, I can’t carry the bucket. I do play the cello though, and I am very good at recognizing an artist from their music.” I also found myself grinning at the last three statements with which he wrapped up his bio:
My life dream is to buy a sailboat and sail off into the sunset.
I work as a cashier and waiter at my mom’s restaurant, Kana Girl’s Hawaiian BBQ.
I want to become a Dive Master so that I can lead dive tours around Hawaii, where my mom and stepdad plan to move after I graduate from high school.
Every parent I know talks at some point about how fast time flies by. (Well, not every minute of it… A night awake with a vomiting toddler lasts at least as long as most weeks… But mostly.) It’s almost cliché even to make the observation—but then, I guess clichés are generally derived from Truths. So here I am thinking that “just yesterday” this kiddo was in a carseat, and now he’s counting the (very few) months till he can get his driving permit. All the more reason for this Mommy not to miss any episodes of “the Christian show” while it’s still airing on our home station!
Once Upon a Time… Kana & Keoni owned a Hawai’ian barbecue restaurant.
For more than a year, Kana Girl’s Hawai’ian BBQ held UrbanSpoon’s #1 spot for “Best BBQ restaurant” in the Treasure Valley (home to one-third of Idaho’s population)…. And we had a kick-ass time of it, building a unique atmosphere with our combined knowledge of Hawai’ian culture and Keoni’s cooking—the authentic family recipes he learned from his Tutu Pa (grandfather) when he was a small kid. The word our guests most often used to describe Keoni’s food (a little ironic in view of our own alcoholic/addict backgrounds) was: ADDICTIVE. We were closed Sundays & Mondays, which meant we’d have an onslaught of regular customers every Tuesday, jonesing for a “fix” because they’d had to go two days without his food. No joke.
When we first opened the restaurant, we hadn’t realized what an abundant number of Hawai’ians and Pacific Islanders lived in this area, but word quickly spread among the “Local” community (“Local” being a word Hawai’ians use to refer to other Islanders, regardless of their current location) and we quickly had a flood of folks looking to test us to see if Keoni’s food were the “real thing.” He passed the authenticity test, hands down—his “plate lunch” (a to-go container with sticky rice, mac salad, and favorite Island entrees) is precisely what the Local folks remember from back home. Word-of-Mouth served us well; most months we didn’t spend a dime on advertising—but business was booming.
The two of us ran the place by ourselves–the original “Mom & Pop” approach—so we had the pleasure of getting to know our many Regulars, and after a while we couldn’t go anywhere in town without being pounced on and identified as “the Hawai’ian BBQ people.” No doubt it’s the closest we’ll ever come to experiencing “celebrity” status. (Keoni follows the Hawai’ian custom of addressing everyone as “Bruddah” or “Sistah”–a personable habit that came in handy in the occasional encounter when we were unable to put names to the faces of people who obviously recognized US…)
It led to some interesting social dynamics at times… During our first week of business a gentleman came in the front door and I greeted him with “Howzit“–the Island version of “Hey, how’s it going?” He literally stopped dead in his tracks and repeated the word with a question mark. He looked “Local” to me, but I expanded with an explanation: “Howzit–How’s it going?” He looked askance at my haole (white!) self and retorted, “I know Howzit. How do you know Howzit?” I explained that I went to school on the Big Island, and that I’m married to a Hawai’ian (the cook)—and once he tasted (or should I say tested) his first Plate Lunch order, he was hooked. In fact, he and his wife became some of our closest friends in the years that followed.
And then there were my Friday-morning rounds to the Asian markets in town… We made our fries from the taro root (the Hawai’ian staple from which they make poi)–but taro is understandably difficult to come by in Idaho. All the Asian markets got their produce shipments on Friday mornings, which meant that every Friday the markets would be swamped with lovely ladies who came up to my shoulder… And every Friday I made the rounds of all those markets, buying up their taro root. I’m not sure what the Chinese words would be for “tattooed white lady who buys the taro,” but chances are that I’d recognize the phrase if I ever heard it again… The taro fries were a hit—and we noticed that although people occasionally asked if we had poi, very few people actually asked for it. Let’s just say that poi is an acquired taste.
Whenever Keoni had a few minutes of down-time in the kitchen, he’d wend his way through the dining room (I called it his “Charm Walk”) speaking Hawai’ian Pidgin with the Local folks and “talking story” with other diners. (Pidgin is a recognized language in the Islands, so Keoni was considered a Bilingual Officer when he worked in the prisons there…) He also sang in the kitchen all day long–he’s got a gorgeous tenor voice and knows all the classic Hawai’ian songs by heart… His Tutu Pa was a musician, and taught Keoni to sing as well as to cook–and also to blend the things he’s passionate about.
Our restaurant was the kind of place where diners (who didn’t know each other) would chat among tables, where people would bring ukeleles and indulge in an impromptu kanikapila (“jam session”) when they finished eating, where a couple might get up and dance in the middle of the floor to one of Keoni’s solos, where regular customers would drop in to say Aloha and give us a hug even when they weren’t there to eat, where people brought in all kinds of Hawai’ian mementos until our decor was a wonderfully collaborative clutter, where we could get to know people’s regular requests and personalize their orders (that’s also how we ended up with Vegetarian and Gluten-Free menus), where people could slow down from the hectic pace of their lives and enjoy a mini-vacation in our “ISLAND TIME zone” (as the sign above the door proclaimed)… We liked to think of it as an embassy of sorts—a few hundred square feet of Hawai’ian soil in the middle of Idaho.
We loved being able to work together—we were happy to go to work together every morning, and we were happy to go home together every evening. We were only half joking when we’d say that Keoni was afraid of the cash register and I was afraid of the smoker—but together we made a Most Excellent Team. And Keoni liked to boast that he got “paid in kisses and tattoos.” Whenever a diner told me I should give the cook a raise, I’d lay a big ol’ smooch on him!
We regularly ran up against sexist stereotypes when dealing with salespeople and the like; very few people made their first approach with the idea that I might be the “businessperson” of the operation. One salesman came in while Keoni was out picking up supplies, and insisted on sitting and waiting until my husband returned, rather than talking to me. When Keoni came back half an hour later, you can imagine the guy’s chagrin when Keoni told him, “You’ll have to talk to Kana Girl about that. She’s the owner—I just cook.” Needless to say, this guy had already lost any chance of making a sale. Other people would ask me if they could talk to the owner (never mind my apron with “Kana” across the front, and the “Kana Girl’s” name across the front door)—and one fellow went so far as to ask me if I knew who the owner was. (Surely it couldn’t be the tattooed chick in the miniskirt!)
We were also both very happy about NOT having to work for anybody else. It was one of our favorite jokes, whenever anyone asked if we could make a substitution or fulfill a special request—Keoni would answer, “Well, I’ll have to check with Corporate…” Then he’d turn to me with the question: “So what do you think, Babe?” (We also joked that if I were “Corporate,” that made Keoni my “Corporate Man-date”…) We loved being able to do things the way WE thought they should be done, and we loved being able to involve our keikis (kids) in the family business.
Looking back now… Opening that restaurant when we did looks in retrospect like a totally harebrained idea. We were deep in a recession and eateries were closing left and right. Neither of us had ever owned a business, we’d only known each other for half a year, and only been Sober for that same half-year. Launching a restaurant just then was a crazy-ass thing to do. And we had a lot to learn! But all in all, it went beautifully. In fact, in some ways it was an advantage to be new to the restaurant business, because we weren’t hidebound by “The Way Things Are Done.” (Take the zero-dollar advertising budget, for example…) Although I also have to say that there were plenty of other things, learned along the way, that we would definitely handle differently if we ever had a “do-over.”
In the end, we threw our beautiful restaurant away. We didn’t lose it; we threw it away. After a year and a half of booming business, we drank again. In a mere matter of weeks, we threw away absolutely everything that was important to our Sober Selves. Custody of our kids, our restaurant, our house, our car, and almost our marriage. (People regularly ask us if we ever fight—a question usually accompanied by the observation that we clearly have a lot of fun together. The honest answer is that we don’t argue… when we’re Sober. When we drank, we didn’t even like each other.)
That was a little more than two years ago. If we could take back the hurt we caused to the people who love us—particularly our kids and our parents—we’d do it in a heartbeat. But at the same time… There are a lot of things about our journey of the last couple years that we wouldn’t want to trade. (In fact, that’s probably a whole post in its own right.) Bottom line, though: despite the financial struggles and various challenges of the last 27 months, we’re in a better place now than we’ve ever been—spiritually, emotionally, in terms of our Sobriety and our family relationships… in every way, actually, except financially.
And then… An unexpected blessing fell into our laps. Keoni had a retirement account from his career in Corrections; we’d been trying to avoid tapping into that resource, but we’d been falling behind on our rent, and he had a couple surgeries to get through (last week’s spine surgery, and another knee replacement coming up) before he could get back to working… So we finally decided we’d better go ahead and cash out his retirement. We thought it would be just enough to catch up on our rent and pay ahead a few months while we figured out “what next”… But when the check arrived, it turned out to be quite a lot more than we’d expected. In fact…
It turned out to be enough to re-open our restaurant. Seriously, how often in life do we actually get a “do-over”? Well, we just got handed one. To quote one of our favorite A.A. guys: “How cool is THAT?!”
Things have been falling into place the way only God’s plans do. (One of the things we’ve learned in Sobriety is that when we’re working too hard to try and make something happen, it’s time to take a step back and evaluate whether “our plan” is really the best thing to be doing. Not surprisingly, God’s ideas are better than ours.)
We found the perfect location almost immediately. It’s ideally situated from a business perspective, and it’s right next door to Elena Grace’s school and within walking distance of Christian’s junior high. There’s even a private space upstairs that we can use as a “family room” when the younger kids are there with us.
This time around we also have the advantage of some eager extra hands within the family. Our teenage son Kapena has already been working full-time between two jobs, and he can’t wait to quit those jobs to work with us. Even Christian is gung-ho about being part of the venture. And we have the chance this time to put into practice all the things we learned the “hard way” the last time around. I can’t even begin to describe how excited we are.
We’re set to open April 13 (our lucky number 13!), giving the landlord time to do some remodeling and updating of the building, and giving us time to “remodel” the cook (those surgeries I mentioned). The restaurant website is still under construction, but I do have the menus posted: www.KanaGirlBBQ.com. And so… The next adventure begins! Stay tuned…
Our chickens won’t be winning any intellectual awards. Ku’okoa (aptly named with the Hawai’ian word for “freedom“) is brighter than the rest—she spends a fair bit of time outside the chicken-yard, but she always returns when she’s done adventuring. The other girls, though… Maybe I’m too much “Mother Hen” with them, but I just don’t trust their capacity to figure out where they’re meant to be.
Their general lack of imagination is evident in how INfrequently they get out, not to mention their behavior when they do. Last time one of the Stupid Chickens blundered out of the chicken-yard, she tried to return by running through the fence. Repeatedly. Like some kind of wind-up chicken-brained battering ram.
They remind me of nothing so much as a sleepy toddler who falls out of bed, too groggy to navigate back to the starting point. So when one of the Dumb Clucks “fell out” of the chicken-yard yesterday, I felt compelled once again to round her up and tuck her back in.
She sped away from me, dashing along a narrow stretch between our fence and the pond behind the house. I ambled along after her, confident that I would scoop her up where the fence and water converged to cut short her runway.
This is where she proved me wrong in my assumption about lack of imagination. Instead of the dithering disorientation I expected, she took to the air!
Clearly she can achieve enough lift-off to hop the short fence around the chicken-house, but I really didn’t think she had enough flight-power to make it across the water… And this time I was right. She managed half the distance, ran out of juice, and splash-crashed right into the drink. It was unkind of me, but I couldn’t stop laughing while this poor soaked, bedraggled, panicking chicken thrashed her way to shore. Ducks make it look so easy!
I looked up “swimming chickens” on the internet when I got back inside (the waterlogged and baffled bird returned safely to her enclosure) and found quite a few videos of serenely swimming chickens. So they CAN swim—but apparently someone needs to explain that to OUR chickens. Maybe I’ll show them the video…
In other animal antics… I’ve been in a fever of anti-packrat cleaning-up this week. Cleaning junk out of drawers, cleaning old documents off the computer, uploading photos into our online album (I learned that lesson when a laptop died and took a load of family photos with it!), filing the stacks of paper that have been accumulating on the kitchen counter where I drop the mail…
And I’ve had “help!” Our ferret Niele (aptly named with the Hawai’ian word for “nosy“) was particularly useful when she climbed into my accordion folder. Evidently we need a new filing system: “Kids’ school.” “Medical.” “Utilities.” “Insurance.” “Ferret.”
Filed in the category of “new knowledge”… Our son Christian has me reading the “Ranger’s Apprentice” series of books—great read, by the way!—and he brought home #4 and #5 from his school library for me this weekend. What an “aha!” moment I had when I got to this passage, about a knight riding through a snowstorm:
“His surcoat was white and his shield was marked with a blue fist, the symbol of a free lance–a knight looking for employment wherever he could find it.”
This freelance writer had never wondered about the etymology of the word that describes what I do! I exclaimed aloud at my discovery, and earned a look from my son—the kind of look that pre-teens have perfected. Half affection and half disdain, the kind of look that says “Duh” without a word spoken. “Seriously, Mom? You didn’t realize that? It’s kinda obvious.”
My husband Keoni found a historic gem online yesterday: game-film from the championship football game he played his senior year of high school. The whole game—complete with a “pause to change reels.” Yep, reel-to-reel, black-and-white game film. Classic 1973.
Naturally, I didn’t miss the opportunity to tease him about my Favorite Fact. “Wow, there’s Senior-in-high-school You. What was I doing then? Oh yeah—I wasn’t born yet!” (Hell, I wasn’t even conceived yet.)
And another favorite topic of teasing: the mascot for Punahou High School. To back up for a little history, this school stands on Hawai’ian land won in battle by King Kamehameha I, and gifted half a century later to the missionary Hiram Bingham. (If you’ve read James Michener’s Hawaii, Bingham is the historical basis for the dour, hardass character of Abner Hale.) Bingham and his fellow missionaries started a school for their kids in 1841, with Daniel Dole (think pineapples!) as the first principal. One hundred seventy years later, Punahou is still a prestigious private school, known to some as the alma mater of Barry. You know Barry… Obama? (He graduated with Keoni’s younger brother.)
But I’ve digressed—it’s the mascot I like to tease about. Any guesses? Punahou’s mascot is (drum roll, please)…
The Lauhala Tree. That’s right, a tree. Ferocious and intimidating, don’t you think?
So while the game commentators used the opposing team’s mascot (“the Crusaders”) in references to them, Punahou was identified instead by their colors—“the Buff and Blues”—as if that were the team name. I’ve been giggling and poking fun at this unusual mascot-situation for years, but hearing it from the sports commentators took it to a whole new level of fun.
Plus, I have to add the observation that to members of my generation, “buff” is a state of undress rather than a color. Seriously—I had the 128-box of Crayolas, and there wasn’t a buff anywhere in the line-up. (Of course, our son Christian just pointed out that his generation uses the term “buff” to refer to someone who’s very muscular—so I guess this is one of those words that pinpoints your age by how you use it…)
Generational joking aside, it was fun to hear some familiar names in the commentary. Punahou’s offensive line alone boasted three all-star players who seemed destined for the Pros: Mosi Tatupu (who went on to USC and a career with the New England Patriots), Keith Uperesa (who went on to BYU and played for the Oakland Raiders & the Denver Broncos), and one John (a.k.a. Keoni) Tyler (who went on to ASU, but lost his football scholarship to a career-ending leg injury).
I will admit to one moment of weirdness, when I was commenting on his uniform… (Ladies, you know what there is to say about football pants, right?) …And then it dawned on me that the version of Keoni I was watching was a sixteen-year-old. In fact, exactly the age of our son Kapena—which suddenly made my commentary seem a little creepy. Until I reminded myself that I wasn’t even born yet when this particular butt was on display. Well, I’m back to patting the 55-year-old version of that butt, but I sure got a kick out of our YouTube time-travel.
Keoni and I make a running joke about his age—not because he’s incredibly old (though of course that’s the joke), but because he was in college when I was born… So I tease him that when he used to carry girls’ books after school, they were clay tablets… Or that his birth certificate was chiseled in stone…
Maybe my teasing sparked an idea, because he recently picked up some pieces of sandstone that have been piled in a roadside heap since the dismantling of a wall at the entrance to our neighborhood. He started looking up traditional Hawai’ian petroglyphs, and next thing he was playing with his dremel tool and carving into his sandstone squares.
In Hawai’i you can find petroglyphs (literally, “rock-pictures”) near sites of old villages, around the volcano, or the sacred grounds of heiaus. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that they aren’t cordoned off or marked out like museum-pieces; you can just be poking around a lava flow and realize you’re standing on a story… The petroglyphs (or, to use the Hawai’ian term, ki’i pohako) tell stories about the sea life and plant life of the islands, family and social relationships, birth and magic and food and sport (Hawai’ians invented surfing, of course)… As a writer, I’ve always felt a special affinity for these enduring image-stories.
We’re both familiar with many of the traditional petroglyphs—hunters and fisherman, canoe paddlers and boats, and of course the honu (turtle) outline that’s all over the merchandise in tourist shops. I hadn’t realized until he started researching, though, that there’s a petroglyph for the owl, my own totem. So the owl was his first carving, followed by a pair of paddlers in memory of my Hawai’ian friend Al (an outrigger canoe steersman, whom I wrote about last year on the anniversary of his death).
He went on to make a pair of carvings for the two youngest kids, each one representing a family name we use for them. I nick-named Christian “Turtle” when I was pregnant with him and didn’t know know his gender, so honu is the obvious choice for him. Keoni carved a sandstone version, and then another on a circle cut from a gourd, which he put on a braided cord for a necklace.
Elena Grace was trickier to match with a design, but she’s been a “monkey” since I first saw the movie Curious George… She was two years old and so exactly like George that I jokingly began to call her by that name when Christian and I came home from the theater. I didn’t anticipate the repercussions, though. For a month or two afterward, she insisted on being called George, persistently referred to herself as “Jooj,” and wouldn’t answer at all to her given name! If I felt ridiculous about the incredulous looks I got when I addressed her as “George” in public (because she wouldn’t acknowledge any other form of address)—well, I guess it was my own doing…
She was also born in a Year of the Monkey, which she particularly celebrates because she has that in common with Keoni. They’re the Monkey-Twosome of the family… But sadly for us, Hawai’i doesn’t have endemic monkeys, and therefore no monkey-petroglyph in the traditional line-up. No matter, though—we made up our own, adding a tail to the conventional “man” symbol.
The kids were thrilled with their carvings, and I got even more of a kick out of Elena Grace’s determination to try her hand at carving herself. She went through the stack of index cards on which Keoni had drawn different petroglyphs, picked out “bird,” and after a quick demonstration of the tool, went to work on a piece of sandstone. Maybe that one is for the chickens we’ll be adopting soon.
We have a pile of sandstone left, so the carvers are still at it. We’re thinking of pua’a (wild pig) for Kapena, since he’s so passionate about his “pigskin” (football)… Now we just need to figure out the other four kids, and the three grandkids, and we’ll have the whole family line-up in story-stones.