Monthly Archives: August 2013

My beautiful girl; Last day of summer vacation at our friends’ new farm, first day if 7th grade

I am full/overflowing with emotion as this slower summertime schedule comes to an end and we get ready for the school year. As I write, right now, my daughter makes her way through her first day of school. She has been especially brave this past week and a half. Last year four of her closest girlfriends– friends since before kindergarten– chose to leave for a different middle school. She was sad and upset, but when asked was absolutely clear that she wanted to stay at her school. By the time last summer rolled around she had jumped in and gotten very close– best friends close– to a girl she has known since kindergarten. Then a week ago Saturday after almost two weeks away she called her friend, A, as we were leaving Lassen Volcanic Park, and A told her that she is not returning to their school. At the last minute her mom and she had made the decision for her to go to a different school.

I know N was heartbroken and also felt like the rug had been pulled out from under her– the two girls talked a lot last year about going to the same high school and to college together. But I heard her saying into the phone to her friend– “The main thing is I want you to be happy.” I don’t completely feel that way (not that I don’t want A to be happy, and I’m not mad about it, but I can tell my heart is not as open and generous as my daughter’s is)– and she is way too transparent and not shut down enough to think or say such a thing without really meaning it. I cried a little to myself for her– I was sheltered in the back seat of the car as she sat in the front and had this conversation. But here she is– gorgeous, big, growing up and brave.

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Home again–Numbers game

We are home from West Coast vacation. Somehow as I think about the weeks we have just been away and the fall and start of school year coming so soon, I think in numbers.

Things are still quiet in our town, and you can feel that much of the city is off on vacation or working shorter, less frantic days, in less dressy clothes with fewer cars clogging the roads downtown. I am back at work but on the shortened schedule we adopt at my workplace when the legislature I work for, is in recess. I had lunch with a very old friend recently– a guy I’ve not been in touch with in probably 20 or more years and caught up on his five children. And I will have lunch again, out of the office, with a Jewish mom like me, whose daughter has been friends with mine since before kindergarten and is now at a different middle school. Two friends, two lunches out of the office.

We were on Pacific time on vacation– so three hours earlier. I didn’t have a lot of trouble in that direction the way I used to– I didn’t wake up ready to get moving at 4:30 a.m., but we’ve all had a heck of a time getting back to Eastern time. The first night we were back daughter was up until 2:00 a.m. and I until 3:30 a.m. Then we all got up at about 7:30 the next morning. Oy.

Here are just a few of the other numbers skittering in my head. While on vacation we were staying at a house in a town that is 4,505 feet above sea level. When we drove into Lassen Volcanic Park we hiked to Bumpass Hell and other sites– at about 8,000 feet. Bumpass Hell is a geothermal area in Lassen Volcanic park with bubbling springs and geysers that reach about 200 degrees fahrenheit. It is, as my partner liked to say, otherworldly; a place that looks something like we imagine it might look if we landed on the moon, except white and bright and sunny. Here are a few of the stats from the guide book about the hike from a parking lot to Bumpass Hell.

Start: Bumpass Hell parking lot
Round Trip Distance: 3 miles
Round Trip Time: 2 hours
Terrain: easy 300 foot descent
Elevation: 8000 feet

Our gang, looking down at Bumpass Hell, geothermal area below, with water that steams and bubbles at over 200 degrees f.

Our gang, looking down at Bumpass Hell, geothermal area below, with water that steams and bubbles at over 200 degrees f.

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We were away 16 days. I worked out at my friends’ YMCA twice, did three good hikes, one routine 6.5 mile bike ride on fairly flat surface except that the sun was beating down, it was 97 degrees and there was no shade, and I took a few great aerobic walks. My daughter skidded on gravel and fell off her mountain bike once and really scraped up one knee badly on countless pieces of rock and stone. While at Lassen we experienced three earthquakes, which my daughter loved and which reminded us that we live on this one earth and are part of the natural world– free to enjoy and revel in it and at its mercy too.

My biggest number one worry these days (a mild way to put it– it’s about a zillion cubic feet in size, to put it in numbers) is that now that my daughter is a 12-year-old, and having worked this job for 19 months which has taken us through two school years, I cannot work these long hours for months on end for another full year. I am trying to figure out what to do about the fact that I cannot bear to miss another one of her remaining school years at home, which I count as no fewer than six though possibly more. I want almost nothing more than time to be available. Available after school, available for parent-teacher conferences, available for the times (fewer and further between) when the young people at school put on a performance or invite us parents to hang out with them after school or at a school activity.

There are a lot of other numbers too– like there were seven of us ages 12-64 on our trip. And like the fact that back here at home my partner has some single digit number of days before she leaves her job after 10 years in her former job. She is ready for a change and her non-profit cannot afford her deputy director salary number anymore. Actually to be precise, they’ve not afforded it and she’s been working at reduced pay for some number of months I won’t calculate.

There is the number of miles away, Izzy, my nephew, is, in Quito, Ecuador– which I have not yet calculated or the number of months til he is back in our town, or the one bedroom we have back with his departure. I’d trade the bedroom back for the nephew in a heartbeat. There is the number of bags of stuff we should fill and move along out of our houser and the number of hours it will take to organize all that. And there is the Jewish new year, just around the corner– year number 5774. And last but not least, this is my third blog post this month and the month ain’t over yet.

West coast vacation– unfinished

My threesome; daughter, partner and me are nearing the end of a two-week vacation. We flew to San Francisco and spent several days with my long-time friend L and her guy/husband–S and their younger daughter, H. When I say that L is my long-time friend, you should understand that this year, this month, is the 40th anniversary of our meeting and becoming best of friends. L’s and my friendship, is rare, I think, in that it has never wavered. We have had our struggles and our fights but there has, in my memory (she can weigh in if she reads this), never been any question for either of us that this was a deep and permanent friendship. As we get close to the end of this time together I only want more, I am never satisfied that I have had enough of her and I love her family– each of them individually and each of them in their relationships now with M, my partner and with my daughter.

It was hard getting ready to leave town for many reasons– the biggest of which was saying goodbye for awhile to nephew/cousin Izzy who has left this morning for his semester in Ecuador. He will be gone from our summer of living together and will not even be in our city going to school this semester when we return. He brings to our household the joy of more family, a 20-year old’s enthusiasm, his own experiences and perspective, his own particular brand of boundless energy, his handsome, eager, open, presence and a lot of love for each of us–among many good things.

When we arrived in San Francisco we did our brand of great San Francisco things for several days– family dinner at L’s house on Sunday night with her mom and another family, also old friends of ours now. We drove L and S to the hospital where they both work each morning and spent days taking in the views, walking the dog at the ocean, drinking coffee from just one of our favorite SF independent coffee shops– Martha’s– looking at the gorgeous bougainvillea that grows abundantly in this climate and being together. I had a great time and took great satisfaction spending more money than I intended at my favorite outdoor outfitter– getting a good fleece jacket and backpack for my suddenly-so-big daughter, N. and tee shirts, socks and hiking boots for me. I also went twice to the YMCA where L and her family belong– and worked out amidst a bigger and more diverse crowd– particularly a diverse group of women of all ages, shapes and sizes — than I ever see in our city on the East Coast. Going with L to this YMCA has become one of the highlights of my trips to San Francisco. We always run into her mother (also initial L, though she and my friend do not share the same first name). Her mother is 89 years old and walks with a walker to the YMCA where she works out. Inspiration for me.

A week ago today, we drove north to the mountains. I am still working to get my blogger’s rhythm back, and I so want to hit publish– I will share a few photos and save more for later.

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Lassen National Park, at 8000 gorgeous and scary feet high-- with daughter nearer a steep drop-off from a narrow path than this photo shows.

Lassen National Park, at 8000 gorgeous and scary feet high– with daughter nearer a steep drop-off from a narrow path than this photo shows.

My friend, L.  We were teenagers when we met.  Women in our 50's now.  Gorgeous.

My friend, L. We were teenagers when we met. Women in our 50’s now. Gorgeous.

Our gang, looking down at Bumpass Hell, geothermal area below, with water that steams and bubbles at over 200 degrees f.

Our gang, looking down at Bumpass Hell, geothermal area below, with water that steams and bubbles at over 200 degrees f.

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On getting back to business (blogging); getting away from business (leaving work for vacation) and on other mothers and fathers

By my count, today is five weeks and two days since I came up with my plan to write at least once a week, and often twice, through the summer. This is the post following that one and for the record, this has been my longest absence from blogging to date. So much for proclaiming my plan to write twice a week. If I can’t get immediate results, certainly persistence is mine. So I begin again.

The thing is that I walked out of my office yesterday at 1:00 for a haircut and for the beginning of two and a half weeks out of the office. We leave on vacation on Sunday. Leaving the office was telling in terms of my current internal relationship with my multiple jobs– my paid work, my job as a mom and the job as a writer. Upon leaving the office I felt a sense of something lifting– the guilt I have over not logging in enough hours at home with my daughter, and the feelings of pressure and not being able to fully think or focus on my own thoughts lifted. My worries lifted some as I walked across the plaza across the street from my office, with time in front of me. This mama still hasn’t figured out a way that is satisfactory to me, to juggle the time and the challenges as a mother and as a writer, with my paid work. There are certainly things I have loved about this legislative work– I watch and hear so many important things as they unfold in my community. But for now, without work, I get to hang out with my partner and my daughter and my nephew and I get to write. I begin again.

In my job lately, I have done a lot of work with people in my city who are homeless and I’ve heard a lot of stories from people. I often love to listen though the stories are hard. One story, practically unbearable, was told directly to me by a father with great determination and dignity. He had been living two years earlier, with his wife and two children in a slumlord’s apartment, the rent was low and the place was what, in our current system of inequities, the family could afford. This father described the conditions in the apartment– mold, crumbling plaster and sewage often backed up in the basement. They complained, and they complained and nothing changed. He described his 17-year- old daughter’s ongoing struggle with asthma and the increasing difficulty she was having as the conditions in the building did not abate. Then he described the day she had a terrible asthma attack and they called the paramedics– but she died in his arms before help arrived. His 17-year-old girl. A completely unnecessary death.

The death literally took the family apart. He and his wife and his teenage son couldn’t live in the place where they had lost their daughter/sister anymore. They left and it meant the family was pulled apart. Mom and son went to a relative’s home. The relative didn’t have room for all three. The father, my storyteller, went to a shelter where he had been living for two years when he came to our office and told us this story. He came with a group of protesters but stayed on when the larger group left and told several of us his story. We stood silently as he talked and then when I realized what was going to happen– how this story was going to end, I gulped and I stood silent and stunned. He cried. We all did.

I have been thinking a lot about this man and his visit to my office; his strength and dignity and his heartbreak which we are all responsible to fix, though we cannot bring his daughter back, ever. I’ve been thinking about the many moms and dads whose faces and whose young people don’t appear in pictures in mama blogs like this one, mainly written by white middle class moms. These stories of mothers and fathers living in poverty and other stories simply don’t get told. So I begin again with a link to a blog called Rise! written by parents who have been connected to the child welfare system. Read some of these stories. And I’ll take this matter of getting back into writing–one step at a time.