Three years ago I took my kids (Elena Grace & Christian, then 9 & 12) up to my parents’ house for Christmas. It was the first time in over a decade that I had been “home” for Christmas, and we resurrected every Christmas tradition I had grown up with. We baked my grandma’s famous vanilla-apricot sugar cookies. We decorated the Christmas tree with ornaments our family had accumulated abroad over decades of travel. We held a Christmas-caroling party on Christmas Eve, and my mother and I together sang our favorite descant to “Silent Night” to finish it up. We opened stockings while we drank orange juice out of great-grandma’s gold-rimmed goblets. We read aloud the whole of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” We made snow angels in the back yard and pelted each other with snowballs.
My mother used to tease that she had found me in a pumpkin patch, and my sister under a cabbage leaf. Secure in our elementary knowledge of biology (and the baby-book photos of her bulging belly) we didn’t think twice about our origin, despite her joke.
I used to make a similar wisecrack when my teens were small, asking them (usually in moments of amused exasperation), “Who spawned YOU?!” …which always prompted a giggly response of, “YOU did!”
With a shifted perspective, those jokes come to mind now… I am eagerly observing the emerging personhood of a little guy who grew in his mommy’s heart instead of in her tummy. I’m always greedy for news and photos of him, delighted by his smiles and grateful for his medical progress…
He’s not my son now, but I’m the pumpkin patch where he grew.
For most of my pregnancy this boy was my baby. After all, it’s a natural assumption, when you find yourself “in the family way,” that this new person will, in fact, become part of the existing family. The pregnancy was NOT intentional (I’m in my 40’s—and did I mention my kids are teens?)… but it’s not the first time that God’s plans have trumped mine, and I do my best to roll with that.
Yesterday my dad should have turned seventy. He passed away this year on my birthday, so this weekend we’ve been missing him on his.
Ironically, I could still practice my favorite joke-ritual, which was not to call my dad (whose depth of phone-phobia was rivaled only by my sister’s and my own) on his birthday. I even found him a card one year that offered a “no-call” option as a birthday present. (Actually, I usually did call anyway—and this week I’m glad of that.)
One of the horrible ironies of memorial services is the fact that grieving people are expected (worse: expect themselves) to brilliantly and eruditely sum up LOVE, as it applies to a suddenly-missing person, at a point in time when their hearts are most broken and their brains are most fried. In such a case, the best you can hope for is that God will get some of the right words into your mouth (or out of your pen), and that the other people missing him will be able to fill in the rest through their love and memories.
The single story I most wanted to share about my dad didn’t seem appropriate for either the obituary I wrote nor the eulogy at his service. Somehow, alcoholism (in either the speaker or the deceased) doesn’t seem like a welcome subject in those venues… But this story says SO much about my dad, and here’s a place where I can tell it. Continue reading “Addendum to a Eulogy”→
If you’re not familiar with poker, the thing to understand is that you start a hand with some cards of your own, and you don’t yet know what other cards will be available to you to use in that hand. You have to “sign up” to play that hand by putting some money in the pot before the other cards are revealed, and there’s a minimum amount (the Blind) that’s essentially the baseline price of admission to play. Sometimes people will bid higher than the Blind (if the cards they CAN see bode well for play, or if they want their opponents to THINK that), but sometimes a player will hope to see the next few cards without investing a great deal up front. Calling the Blind, or going in for the minimum amount, is called Gypsying, or Limping in.
The other day my counselor told me several times that the word “Gypsy” describes me. (I don’t think he even knows that I literally do live on wheels, in an RV!) In that same day, reading a book about Borderline Personality Disorder*, I got forehead-smacked by chapter-headings titled “Playing the Dealt Hand,” and “Learning to How to Limp.”
With the word “Gypsy” on my mind, and the poker-connection of Gypsying or Limping, those headings felt significant, so I read mindfully; I believe in Messages rather than Coincidence. (“As my first Sponsor always said, “Coincidence is God’s way of staying anonymous!”)
The chapter in question talked about practicing change, which can be “a monumental struggle” for a Borderline Personality. Okay, that sounded odd to me at first, given my own very-varied past performances in Life… On the surface, you wouldn’t tag me as a person who struggles with change.
It’s fairly telling that my most “recent” post here dates from almost two years ago. It’s even more telling that I haven’t FELT like writing for two years. (That should be a red flag for a person like me, right?) And the real irony is that there was plenty to be writing ABOUT in those two years, which have played out like a soap opera on the screen of my life… (To borrow the analogy from Fozzie Bear at the left, when suds get in your open mouth, your shower-song becomes a soap opera. I’ve been humming along as if everything were fine, when really I’ve been chewing shampoo!)
But after two years of twists & turns (or twisted turns) I found myself singing in the shower for real the other morning—which is a GOOD sign for me. Even though this particular rendition of “What a Beautiful Morning” took place in the uncurtained shower of a psych ward.
Clinical Depression isn’t new to me (or to this blog), but thanks to my little vacation psych-stint, my medical chart has a whole new line-up of initials added. B.P.A.D… P.T.S.D… O.C.D…B.P.D…. Bipolar Affective Disorder. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder. Borderline Personality Disorder. With all those disorders getting applied to me, I think an out-of-order sign is in order for my forehead!
Joking aside, I’m grateful. For each of those sets of initials, there’s now a treatment plan in effect. And with a new sense of perspective and self-awareness, I’m actually dealing with [cringe!] my emotions regarding events of the last couple years. I’m not good at emotions, but I’m tackling them.
In a blog that has previously served as a pretty comprehensive Journal of my Journey, I feel I should fill in that two-year gap with at least a “Cliffs Notes” catch-up before I start writing about THE NOW… No doubt I’ll be treating a lot of this in greater detail at some point, but for now, for those who wonder what the heck has happened… Continue reading “Singing in the Shower”→
[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!
My sister and I used to play the Milton-Bradley board game Life, moving a plastic car along the predetermined path (adding pink or blue pegs to represent spouse and kids), and marking the “mileposts” of American living by paying or collecting money for various events. I suppose this game is intended to represent how life is “supposed” to proceed—go to college, get a job, marry, buy a house, buy insurance, buy stocks, get a dog, get a promotion, fix your roof, pay off student loans, pay property taxes, pay income taxes, pay for kids’ education… And eventually retire—either to the Poor Farm or to the Millionaires’ Estates…
In retrospect, it’s not a very interesting game. A player’s individual outcome depends entirely on the spin of the wheel (and the specific “events” on which the plastic car lands), rather than resulting from any choices or actions on the player’s part. What is interesting about this game (again, in retrospect) is the picture it paints of American assumptions—specifically, the events that are expected to compose a Life. (That, and the fact that a player’s success is ultimately measured in money.)
I didn’t question those expectations as a kid counting board-game squares with a game-piece populated by pink-and-blue pegs, and still wasn’t questioning them when I turned thirty. After all, I seemed to be squarely set on that standardized and circumscribed track—complete with husband, house, and a pair of “pegs” (one pink, one blue) in the back seat of my minivan… But this week (my 40th birthday!) I find myself reflecting on the unexpected twists my life has taken in the course of the last decade.
Ten years ago I probably imagined I could write my life-story, at least in its outlines, all the way to the end without waiting to live it. I didn’t foresee any drastic deviations from the proscribed path, and that vision didn’t vary much from the Milton-Bradley version. But God, in his infinite wisdom and humor, had other ideas. (As my A.A. Sponsor says: “If you want to make God laugh… Make PLANS!”) Instead of the conventional course I had calculated, my map of the last decade consists of curves and curlicues, spirals and swivels, U-turns and dead ends and leaps of Faith… I have definitely departed from the predestined path of the presumptive game-board.
I’ve been entertaining myself today by imagining a game-board re-write to reflect the reality of my thirties. It’s altogether a richer journey than my designs of a decade ago, but not at all what I’d imagined… Here’s what some of the squares would say in a “Kana” edition of Life…
[We begin at Thirty, with stay-home-Motherhood and two small children…]
You hit your limit on watching Sesame Street and decide to get back in the (outside-the-home) workforce. Take a full-time job teaching English and science for the state-sponsored online high school.
Spend a week aboard a sailboat in the San Juan Islands, earning your sailboat Skipper’s Papers. Charter a sailboat Christmas week in the British Virgin Islands with two small sailors-in-training.
Defend your Master’s Thesis in Creative Writing and publish some poetry. Discover that you prefer writing nonfiction! (Although your Master’s program doesn’t offer a “nonfiction” emphasis, this bit of self-knowledge will come in handy down the road, with the invention of the Blog!)
Move into an administrative job as Curriculum Director for Idaho’s online high school. Fly around the country giving presentations, publish academic articles, co-author a book chapter, and establish a national reputation in your field.
Move out of your house and your marriage and reimagine yourself as a Single Mom.
Take your first-ever solo vacation: another live-aboard sailing week to earn advanced sailing certifications.
Buy a house of your own, to be christened “The Gingerbread House” by your kids. Demonstrate to your kids (and to yourself) that you can mow your own lawn, change your own flat tire, and generally Take Care of Things by yourself.
As Taking Care of Things takes its toll, your alcoholic tendencies get increasingly out of hand. You get sent home from work and suspended, pending a review by the Board of Directors after a month of outpatient rehab treatment.
Having been given a generous second chance at the job, you blow it almost immediately and get sent home again, this time with a termination letter.
Go to jail for Driving Under the Influence. (Do not pass “Go,” definitely do not collect $200. There is no get-out-of-jail-free card.) Embark on a year with suspended license (get to know the public bus routes!) and brace yourself for two years of Probation and peeing-in-cups.
Two days before Christmas, call your ex and ask him to take the kids so you can check yourself into an inpatient rehab center. Spend the evening building a gingerbread house with your kids and then drop them off with their Christmas presents. The artificial Christmas tree will never make it out of the box.
Check yourself into Rehab, subject yourself to a strip-search and confiscation of your toiletries (including feminine hygiene products—although why you need to be protected from those is a mystery). Meet the Old Hawai’ian Guy, introduced by the ward-nurse as “the guy who takes care of everybody.” Engage him in a gripe-session about having to ask a male nurse for your “female supplies;” because this is your first-ever conversation with him, he will dub you “The Maxi-Pad Lady.” Spend Christmas day constructing the exact same gingerbread house you just built with your kids, playing badminton in the hospital cafeteria, and singing a karaoke duet (with the Old Guy) of the Beach Boys’ Kokomo. Fall asleep clutching your childhood teddy bear, hating Rehab, and missing your kids.
Check out of Rehab several weeks later with no earthly idea what to do with your life. Offer to rent a room to the Old Hawai’ian, who needs a new place. Begin addressing the “what-next” question as a team. Get your first tattoo: a honu (turtle) with the Hawai’ian words Huaka’i Kapono—a reference to Recovery that translates loosely as “Spiritual Journey.” Realize that you love Ink.
After five months of fruitless job-hunting (your impressive resume no longer being worth the paper it’s printed on in the field for which you trained), you beg your parents for a business-start-up loan to open a Hawai’ian BBQ restaurant with your Hawai’ian Guy. Your parents are blessedly willing to believe in you despite yourself, your recent history, and your lack of business background (or, for that matter, kitchen skills; your mother had already given up on you in this regard when she sent you off to college with a cookbook titled “How to Boil an Egg”)…
Creativity, Desperation, and Determination seem to make for a workable business plan. Several months after opening, your new restaurant holds a top spot in the BBQ category of UrbanSpoon, and you begin catching up on your bills.
Call your Sister and your Guy’s best friend on a Monday night and ask them to meet you at the courthouse before work the next morning. Marry your Hawai’ian with those two cherished witnesses, and then head over to open your restaurant for the day.
Enjoy the restaurant’s success, and family life, for a year before throwing everything away (not “losing it”—throwing it away) by picking up the bottle again. Your house goes into foreclosure, car repossessed, business gone, and (WORST!) you lose your share of custody of your kids.
Sober up again, find a trailer to live in, eke a living by freelance writing, and fight your way back to the most important thing: time with your kids. Learn how to blog. Find joy in writing, and in simple things that don’t require money. Practice gratitude. Remember, in this round of Recovery, to continue nurturing your marriage and praying with your husband—things that helped you both to stay Sober before.
After a couple years of bartering and scrounging and scraping by, your husband ages enough to cash in his retirement account (from the career he crashed-and-burned through drinking), and that it’s enough to re-open the restaurant. Immerse yourself for a year and a half in a second round of (successful) restauranteuring… And then remember again, just before your 40th birthday, that you love to write, and “dust off” your dormant blog…
I suppose it’s a common enough (if self-indulgent) urge to take stock of your life when you hit a birthday ending with a zero… And I wonder if it’s also common for people to find themselves shaking their heads at the unexpectedness of their path so far. I’m betting it’s far more common than a “Life” boardgame (or a million other cultural and media messages) would have us believe. (And I’m damned sure that “more money” doesn’t constitute an automatic win.)
Sure, some of the events of the last decade are things I hadn’t yet planned at 30, but they at least fit with my ideas about myself (like the career in online teaching & the move to administration). But there are so many more things that I never, never would have believed (at 30) a part of my future. Divorce. Arrest. Career termination. Academic failure. And that “unexpected” category includes the positive twists as well; I would have laughed my ass off at anybody who foretold I’d own a restaurant!
If I’ve become any wiser in the last ten years, it’s a simple matter of acknowledging the Journey. I accept now that God’s plans are better than mine; that even trials and tough spots can contribute to growth and joy; and that (even when I think I have a plan) I truly have no idea what’s in store for me on the road still to come. Today, I’ll focus on today’s segment of the Journey, and whatever it brings. Huaka’i Kapono.