Lessons from Starkville

I grew up north of Pittsburgh, so, naturally, I’m a Steeler fan to the core. I may have been swaddled in a Terrible Towel in the hospital.  I went to graduate school in Chapel Hill so I’m a Tarheel basketball fan – no matter how many years it’s been since I lived there, the sky is still Carolina Blue to me.  I’ve watched teams win playoff games and Super Bowls and national championships. I was downtown Chapel Hill in the driving rain in 1993 celebrating their win.  I’ve been married to a college baseball coach for over twenty years so I’ve seen too many baseball games to count. And in all these years, I’ve never experienced anything quite like a Mississippi State baseball game.

I had the chance to go to Starkville, Mississippi in June of this year for the college baseball Super Regional between Stanford (my husband’s team) and Mississippi State.  Having lived in the south for seven years I had a few ideas about what to expect (good BBQ, friendly people, a summer humidity that makes every day a bad hair day).  And I found those things but so much more. And I learned a couple of things.

1. HailState fans really want to win.

2. HailState fans are friendly.

3. The combination of #1 and #2  is likely to produce a cognitive dissonance that your brain will never fully resolve the whole time you are there. They will blow out your ear drums cheering for their team while handing you a bowl of jumbalaya and a beer. They will genuinely hug you, praise your players, and thank you for your coaches while crushing your CWS dreams into a powder finer than the perfectly manicured baselines. They will shake your hands and walk you to the parking lot after you lose and you will hug them back and thank them and get in the car and be hit with the brutally sudden end of the season and wonder how you could have possibly been smiling just a minute ago.

Their fans embraced our players.  They made friends with the outfielders, giving them food, getting hats and selfies in return.

stowers on wall
Kyle Stowers with some outfield fans

They reposted pictures of our team, promised to follow Stanford if we ended up winning the series.  HailState fans on Twitter vowed to come out to Palo Alto for games, a friendliness that was a marked contrast to some other teams.  Like in the Stanford Regional when an opponent on purpose bought tickets on the Stanford side and then, seemingly drunk (I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt) let loose a stream of off-color taunts and heckling at such a volume that he was mercifully moved back with his tribe.  Before he was relocated (by the ever present, ever respectful but effective red coats) I heard him say he bought his tickets while drunk and thought it would be funny. He was big and loud and obscene and while it was entertaining for a while, it seemed inevitable that he’d either fight someone or be removed.  13,000 fans in Dudy Noble field and rivers of alcohol out in the Left Field Lounge and I didn’t hear one of those kind of guys (then again, once the game started it was hard to hear anything. Every pitch a cheer, every play applause, music and chants the whole game. )

4. There is a new concept for baseball fields and it involves tailgating terraces and LOFTS. Its flagship is Dudy Noble Field, aka The Dude.

The Dude

I didn’t even know it was possible to have a stadium with lofts and tailgating terraces in the outfield.  Now that I have seen it, lived it, I wouldn’t mind bringing it home with me. Sunken Diamond is beautiful and elegant and I do so love watching home runs sail off into the trees but I wouldn’t mind seeing the home runs sail off into a haze of grill smoke either.

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The Left Field Lounge – grills, smokers, furniture, coolers – it’s all here.
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The sole purpose of these lofts is to watch baseball!

 

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I’ve never walked through security into a baseball game behind someone carrying a bag of charcoal.  Into the stadium.

I kinda think that if there is ever to actually be a Rapture, a spontaneous rising of thousands of people into the sky, it will happen at The Dude.  The energy of 13,000 people who love their team, love every one of their boys fiercely, is hard to imagine unless you are there. The chanting, the music, the wave, the cloud of smoke across the entire outfield, it is unrelenting.  It is never quiet there. It is a roar of joy and fun.  I felt like I was at a megachurch and Jake Mangum was the preacher.

5. Your visit is incomplete if you don’t get time with ‘Big E.’

Mississippi State was best exemplified for me not by Jake Mangum (a deserved hero, a kid who sounds so amazing we’d all like to have him as a son-in-law) but by Everett Kennard, aka ‘Big E.’  He drove our bus from the Memphis airport to Starkville and by the end of the drive we felt like we’d known him forever. It turns out he’s a Starkville native, drove for Mississippi State sports teams for years before starting his own bus company, and knows everything you’ll ever need to know about visiting Mississippi State.

Before we even made it to the hotel Big E had arranged for the team to go to The Little Dooey for dinner, an outstanding introduction to Starkville.

smoker
There’s a good chance you are about to eat excellent BBQ when you roll up on this out front of the restaurant.
dooey
The Little Dooey did not disappoint.

Big E is tall, strong looking, and chatty, like if Jack Reacher drove a bus and was friendly.  He was a tour guide, concierge, a historian (directed us to the Ulysses Grant Presidential Library, which was time well spent). Big E was ours for the duration, stayed at the hotel, ready to take the team anywhere at any time.  He shuttled a couple of us to the local airport to pick up rental cars, keeping the big bus and an SUV on site depending on the needs.

Big E seems to know and like everybody, and everybody knows and likes him. On the drive from Memphis he and Dave realized they have a common friend, former University of Arizona head coach Andy Lopez.  Big E texted Andy and within a minute Dave’s phone rang. Andy, excited for Dave to have a chance to hang with Big E.

Big E was more than the driver getting a team from one place to another. Big E embodied the hospitality, the warmth, the friendliness of Starkville. He made everyone comfortable and brought every bit of himself to the world through that job. What I learned from Big E is that the job doesn’t define you, you define the job.  He took a job and made it a calling and this made me realize we can take any task in front of us and bring our full self to it and give something to the world. As someone who spends more time in the stands than in the arena these days, someone who also drives everyone around to their arenas, I found this heartening.

You could do worse than to follow Big E on twitter @Dogbusdriver

E and Tawa
Big E on a road trip to the Cape, visiting all his boys – here with Stanford’s Tim Tawa

 

6. There’s no place like home.

When it was all over, when the last out was recorded and the smoke started to clear from the outfield, the final handshakes and hugs exchanged, when the last hope of going to Omaha was gone, home started to look like the best place to be. When the bus pulled into the parking lot outside of the Sunken Diamond, sunny and unseasonably warm, it carried this particular group of players together for the last time (eight players graduated, a different combination of eight were drafted). The end of your college career is emotional enough, but this group seems especially close. Sunken Diamond has been their home, has been the place where they forged a brotherhood, and for all the fun in playing somewhere like Dudy Noble Field, in the end it is those relationships that will be the lasting legacy of their time on the Stanford baseball team. A team, like the military, like a family, has the chance to form deep connections from going through intense experiences together. You might not even like some of those people but you are forever bonded with them in your shared experiences. Only those other people can truly understand your experience because they had it too. My husband’s best friends are still the ones he won and lost with at the Sunken Diamond.  It is the thing he tries most to develop for his team, that brotherhood. Of course he wants to win too, but the brotherhood is both a means and an end in that process.

So we are home, and I feel grateful.  For the season I just witnessed, for all of the seasons to come.  For the players, the fans, the cool evenings, the extraordinary beauty of the Stanford campus and the stunning Sunken Diamond (not a lot of better places to play baseball, it is a jewel). Stanford is a special place and I, for one, am looking forward to showing it off and welcoming fans with the same level of hospitality as the Mississippi State fans. Palo Alto has a lot to offer, it is filled with great restaurants and beautiful hiking trails and lots of amazing people. Stanford is filled with smart people, kind people, charming people, and fans that love their team just as much as anyone in Starkville. People here have done incredible things. Come out and maybe I’ll tell you the full story about the time I was at my mentor’s house, chatting with his elderly neighbor only to discover he invented the laser.  Everyone out here has a “Stanford Story” and you’ll be well entertained if you ask them for it.

Thank you HailState fans, we’re here at Sunken Diamond, ready to return the hospitality.  Come find your own Stanford story.

stanford sunken diamond

Click here to see a video of the amazing Sunken Diamond:

Video of Sunken Diamond

 

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The Joy We Bring 

raspberry jam

One of my best memories growing up was my mom’s yearly ritual of making raspberry jam.  The sweet, steamy smell in a kitchen scattered with stacks and stacks of flats of fresh raspberries, many huge pots bubbling at once.  The buckets of sugar that went into those pots! All the rows of canning jars with their two part lids, the screw around part and the round center.  Why did it have to be in two parts?

That jam had the most amazing taste, I could imagine I was Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm eating that jam. Like the raspberries grew right outside my window in a sunny patch of heaven. We would spread it on toast, with melted butter underneath and the butter and the jam would merge together in the tastiest salty-sweet combination.  Long before chefs started adding sea salt to caramel, the salty butter-raspberry jam combo hit all those taste buds in the most delectable way. It was like eating a sunny summer day and she froze a lot of the jam so we could have that feeling all winter long.

She’d be sweaty and harried by the end of the day (my memory is that it took all day, and it must have) but at the end there would be this whole regiment of neatly lined up jars of jam.  Loads of people got those as gifts and every one of them treasured the jam. In a time before eating sugar caused guilt it was a simply delicious experience, that jam.

Writing this makes me wonder what kind of memories I’ve given my kids.  I wonder what they will reach back and think of when someone asks what was great about their childhood?  What will they remember of me as a mom of young kids?

It won’t be raspberry jam or any of the other amazing things my mom baked (her peach pies were right up there with the jam).  I like to cook but I’m not much of a baker, which is surprising given the amount I like sweets.

Will it be the afternoons we sat on the little couch on the side of the kitchen and had “Bookies and Cookies” time? I wonder if they even remember that.

I’d like to think they will remember all the nights I sat reading to them, first in a rocking chair and then on their beds.  For years, every single night, even after they were skilled readers themselves.  Even the times I fell asleep while reading out loud. (How do you do that?  Fall asleep while words are still coming out of your mouth?)

Or the silly ‘Where’s My Spoon?’ game I made up, hiding a spoon in my sleeve or down the back of my pants only to make it magically appear.  They were in awe of me then.

Or how often I let a pack of wild kids destroy the house in an epic battle of Nerf guns, Nerf bullets everywhere (we just moved and Nerf bullets came out from under almost every piece of furniture all these years later).

Or will they remember the places I took them, like skiing, something their dad doesn’t do?  Or the beach, because I love the beach so much. I turn into relaxed mom at the beach.  Permissive mom. Go-ahead-and-be-dangerous mom.

Like the time we got into a huge pillow fight in the hotel in Half Moon Bay – and how I stood laughing and defiant on the bed, face flushed, arms swinging wildly, while they stared at me in amazed delight (and a little bit of fear, I think).

That was the same trip I let them play on the beach in the pouring rain, let them jump over and over off of dangerously high sand dunes, while they continuously glanced at me to be sure I was really permitting this.  Shrieking in excitement with each jump. And then sopping wet and cold we went for ice cream.  Ice cream. Instead of “let’s get dried off before you get pneumonia.”

It makes me sad to think their first thoughts of me as a mom won’t be the fun mom.  Probably not even their second or third thoughts. So maybe the Half Moon Bay experience will really stand out.

But it’s more likely they’ll remember the times I got absurdly angry.  Like when I found my son, maybe 3 and daughter, 4, crouched in the raised sand box peeingBoth of them.  I dragged them inside and sat them each in a dining room chair, one in the dining room and one in the family room (somehow it seemed important to separate them) and shaking with rage I slammed down the open windows so no one would hear me yelling and call social services.  Then I stood between the two rooms and screamed back and forth, heart racing, voice vibrating in outrage.  I asked the four year old, why did you do that? YOU know better and she pointed towards the other room and said “because he did” and I turned and yelled at him and then her, back and forth, voice cracking in anger.  “Are you MONKEYS!? Do you think we live in a ZOO?  Why would you pee in the sandbox!???”

And they couldn’t stop laughing and I couldn’t calm myself down but even in that moment I knew they would laugh at this until the end of time.

It is an unpredictable thing, memory.

As parents we can exhaust ourselves doing everything we think they need and want, trying to give them morals and skills and good memories but we can’t really control what they will remember.  It seems unlikely it will be what we want them to remember.  And probably not what we spent the most money on.

My parents spent a lot of money on us, comparatively.  We went on nice trips, we had all the clothes we needed/wanted.  We had the newest Encyclopedia Britannicas, nice cars, piles of Christmas presents.

What do I best remember?

The raspberry jam.  The excitement of family arriving on Thanksgiving Day with the smell of the turkey in the oven from early in the morning.  Staying up late to watch HBO movies with my dad (Serial, with Martin Mull, we laughed so hard).  I remember my mom having a burping competition with my brother in the parking lot of a Cape May restaurant while my dad went in to see if they had a reservation for us.  My dad balancing me on a raft in the surf in Ocean City, over and over helping me catch and ride waves. Hosting parties to watch the Steelers while we all waved Terrible towels with amazing food in every single room (everyone wanted an invitation to our parties, in large part due to my mom’s extraordinary food).  Sitting around the dinner table in debate, my dad seeming willing to take any opposite side just to get us to think critically. Challenging us to open our minds and support our arguments with well-crafted questions.

It strikes me that the good memories that surface are the things my parents themselves cared about most.  The things that brought them joy.  My mom was (and is) a passionate cook and baker.  Her excitement and love for good food made these memories for me.  My dad was a skilled debater and loved a good movie (still does both).

In these days when it feels like we are checklist parents, when we are so continuously connected online so we see what every other parent is doing, it is only too easy to feel compelled to keep adding experiences for our kids.  I worry that we haven’t traveled enough with our kids, I worry that I haven’t taken them camping (actually I don’t worry about that, I hate camping), I wonder if we should have taken snorkel lessons together or done a train trip.

But then I think of my good memories growing up and how it was the stuff that my mom and dad each loved that made so many of my happy memories.

This is a huge relief to me, because I have my own passions, as does my husband.  Maybe what my kids will remember will have something to do with reading or writing or running, or Costco trips, or the joy of having a TV in every room, or mentoring, or maybe a little something about baseball (I’ll leave it a mystery who brought each of these passions, me or their dad, or maybe not such a mystery at that).

So maybe it isn’t about a checklist at all, maybe it is the joy we bring (which cannot be faked, or bought) that will leave the good memories.

And of course they will always have the shared memory of the joy of peeing in the sandbox.

 

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Imagining Christine Blasey Ford

I’m imagining I’m Christine Blasey Ford.  It isn’t hard. I’m around the same age.  I have the same hair style in old photos. I went to college with hard partying boys.  I’m an east coaster who now lives in Palo Alto as a psychologist.  I have my own #metoo moments. I could be her, life blown apart, regretful.

Because I’m not her, I can imagine something else. I want to tell her this.  Your honesty, at such severe price to you, was NOT in vain.  It didn’t serve the purpose you thought it would, but I have a feeling it will live on in history serving a purpose all its own.  A clear, honest, forthright, completely believable, story of abuse that was told at great price to you in a way that served no advancement for any part of your life.  It stands as the truth even though it did not have the effect you hoped it would have.  It serves to tell abused people everywhere (men and women) that to stand and tell the truth, even in vain, is a more worthwhile endeavor than all the distraction and sleight of hand manipulations that those insular beltway types have talked themselves into believing is okay. You did the right thing and nothing and no misguided misanthrope career politician can take that away from you.  You calmly and collectedly told your truth and you have no idea how many of us believed you, identified with you, hoped your words would make the difference.

They didn’t in this situation, but in the end, maybe that is not the point (you, and we, SO hoped it would be the point. But it wasn’t).  History will show that your terrified willingness to stand up and tell the world what happened to you, and to tell it in such a credible, educated and informed way, is the thing that mattered to the women of the world.  Not your fault that those privilege addicted white men were blind to your truth. Not your fault that allegiance to their tribe twisted their brains into outrageously ridiculous rationalizations for supporting such a subpar nominee (if anyone wants to look into the research on tribe, it might help, ever so slightly, to explain this inexplicable behavior).

It was truth.

It IS truth.

Nothing can take that away from you.

Or us.

As you face a completely unraveled life, as you start to figure out how to recreate everything (we just moved and it almost undid our family – you are facing way more of a re-creation) please hold on to this fact.  You are now an unwilling, unlikely, reluctant heroine for so many of us.  You will never know the count.  Maybe when you wake in the night with your heart racing and your brain fighting against itself to come back to calm (we psychologists have it the worst – we feel like we know how we should do it but life sometimes hands us such a challenge that we can’t, so then we lie there adding even more fuel to the fire, castigating ourselves for not using all our knowledge to help ourselves) you can remember that there are so many of us out here grateful for your courage.  We are grateful that you stood there, in the spotlight, knowing the likely futility and backlash, but still willing to take the chance that it could make a difference. We are grateful that someone in that zoo that has become Washington, told a calm, clear truth, voice shaking but sure.

Sometimes the ones who really need to hear this kind of truth aren’t just the judges, the arbiters of the outside world, the voters-in of supreme court justices, but the uncertain, victimized, internal brains.  The voice inside our heads that say maybe we were wrong, maybe we were complicit, maybe we shouldn’t have gone to that party, drunk that beer, worn that shirt.  Maybe it turns out that we, all of us women who have been in your shoes or close to them, are really the ones who will benefit from your testimony.

Maybe your courage will help us come close to speaking the truth too, in our lives. With way less publicity and drama and consequence but, still, hard to do.

Your testimony was not in vain.  Your careful expression of truth was a model of dignified courage and will resonate in many, many lives for years to come.

The outcome is not the proof of truth. The speaking of the truth is the thing.  Those who could not hear it were, in my opinion, the victims. The people who could not bring themselves to face the clear and obvious truth you described are narrow and misguided and living in fear, which is its own victimhood. You, Dr. Ford, have risen above victimhood, because you told your truth and owned your life and everyone who has hid in shame for something someone else did wrong got it.

Thank you.

 

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34 Ways I Have Succeeded as a Mother

Having posted 34 Ways I Have Failed as a Mother it only feels fair (to my kids and me) to recognize that there are many ways I’ve succeeded as a mother. This is perhaps even more important than acknowledging my failures because in the typhoon season called adolescence it is easy to forget all the years of things we have done well as parents, and things they have done well as kids.

For instance, both of my children have been successfully potty trained for a number of years now (I know! I’m impressive).  They have acquired language (lots of it! Some of it colorful), and know how to safely cross the street. They can put themselves to bed! (No long drawn out bedtime ritual, no popping back out of their rooms.) They know their own address, can find their way back home from all sorts of places, know how to unlock the front door (assuming they haven’t lost the keys, but even if they did they know how to access the lock box with the extra keys).  It may seem that I am padding my list with these items but they are important, imagine if they couldn’t do them!  Imagine still wiping their bottoms. The cost alone of buying star stickers for the potty reward chart all these years could be a tuition payment.

They can both roast a chicken Thomas Keller-style, make spaghetti sauce from scratch, grill a steak and stuff a turkey.  My daughter can make beef stroganoff, my son veal picatta.  They can clean a bathroom, clean their clothes, clean out the dishwasher, steam clean the carpet (I didn’t say they do these things willingly, or cheerfully but they know how).

My daughter can drive a car!  Sure, she had four lessons with a professional but most of the rest of the time it was me in that car with her teaching her when to slow down versus speed up at a yellow light (me and God, I prayed almost continuously but we got that job done).

My son can change a tire (I’m taking credit for this because I encouraged him to take Auto at school).  Years ago he and I assembled a Green Machine from a hundred parts so he knows how to follow directions and use tools.  He knows how to tolerate frustration because we spent an hour struggling to figure out why we couldn’t get the wheel on only to figure out we were doing it backwards (that also might have been when he picked up some of that colorful language, so I get to take credit even for that).

They know how to ask for help in a store, and from a teacher.  They each have done the family grocery shopping by themselves.  They can use debit cards and have savings accounts.  They know to save at least 10% of every bit of money that comes in and they know about compounding interest. They know another percentage is for sharing. They know I give money to homeless people because I’d rather be scammed once in a while than walk by someone in need.

They know to always stop at a kids’ lemonade stand, and always buy the Girl Scout cookies.  They know how to be kind to many people (not each other, the Arabs and the Israelis could learn how to prolong a conflict from these two).

Then there is an entire list of ways in which my kids are each succeeding as people independent of anything I (or their dad) have done.  My part in that success is just noticing what they are doing on their own and not screwing it up by trying to get my grubby hands on the controls.  My daughter has a wittiness that catches me by surprise so often, it is sophisticated and hysterical and can make me even laugh at myself. My son asks to go on walks with me and explains deep philosophical theories that just astound me.  They both are so creative and curious and every age has made them more fascinating to me.

Although there are many things my kids have each learned on their own, the list of things I taught them is long. Every single thing on my list took time and effort from me (and of course, my husband has his own list, I’m not a single parent, except for baseball season, then I’m most definitely a single parent).  If, like the scouts, I had a badge for everything I have taught them over the years my sash would be too heavy to wear. Thinking about this is helpful on the days where my failures are so robustly and continuously pointed out.  On the very worst day, when my meal is criticized and my movie selection derided and my need for glasses to read anything on my phone is met with contempt, I can watch one of them come out of the bathroom, the sound of a toilet flushing behind them, and congratulate myself on not being needed in that endeavor at all.

 

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34 Ways I Have Failed as a Mother

Let’s be honest, there are more than 34 but the full summary would require several volumes. However, I can offer a snapshot of my failures, which fall into three categories:  Things I Forgot, Things I Did Wrong, and my favorite, My Basic Personal Flaws.  Lucky for me I have not one, but two kids who are very committed to helping me correct all these flaws.

Apparently, I forget… a lot.  I forget to keep their favorite clothes clean at all times, I forget to sign permission slips that I’ve never even seen, I forget to remind them to take PE clothes even though I will never master Even vs Odd days (oh how I love you, block schedule).  I forget that I’m not supposed to sing along to music in front of people. It’s been pointed out that I forget to season the meat, I forget I should learn how to cook ethnic food, I forget to buy good snacks.  In fact, I forget to have anything good to eat around here at all.

The trouble my forgetfulness causes is equaled only by the things I actually do wrong.  I have incensed my family by falling asleep during movies, failing to telepathically discover I am to buy 36 solo cups for today’s football dinner, by mistakenly purchasing the wrong student card for school events.  My lunches are apparently not tasty, no matter that it is challenging to make a lunch for two people who don’t eat sandwiches and prefer a hot lunch, but not the hot lunch provided by the school, those are disgusting.  It turns out that I talk too loudly into my car blue tooth speaker (I’ve been told you can hear it outside the car!).  I buy the wrong cereal and the wrong root beer.  My salmon selection is all wrong too, I have a knack for buying only the salmon that tastes fishy. I showed up too early for the JV football game. I spoke to my son in public. I pointed out a cute boy to my daughter.  Some of these border on the unforgiveable but I’m blessed to have children who have hearts big enough to still eat my boring meals and begrudgingly find a different shirt to wear when the favorite is dirty.  They’re the best.

And then there are the personal flaws.  I’m so grateful to have these pointed out so I can work on them!  Apparently I’m too restrictive, I worry too much, I have way too many rules (more than any other parent!), I am uptight.  I’ve been accused of being no fun, of not caring about my children, of not even knowing who they are.  It also turns out I care too much about hygiene, I have this weird obsession with chores, and I’m too preoccupied with being on time.  My eyesight is a continual annoyance (“you should just get Lasik surgery!  Stop always looking for a pair of glasses.”). Until I had children I didn’t even know that I don’t throw a ball well or that I run appallingly slow. All those years of dance class did not pay off, resulting as they did in embarrassing dance moves. Luckily my texting skills are such a source of entertainment.

I know I am a work in progress and I appreciate their moments of patience with me.  But I am proud of one thing, I did not fail at producing expressive kids.  Future spouses and bosses, you are welcome!

 

P.S.  I’d love to hear other mom fails in the comments!

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Hello Inconvenience

We are in a period of history in which the meaning of ‘truth’ is being cheapened, but really, the concept of truth has been a source of conflict since people could talk to each other. The world has been telling people who to be forever.  Tribes (family, schools, culture) tell you what to do to belong, what you should think and do and be.  What they tell you doesn’t always fit with what you know and it can be a lifelong struggle to let that truth out.

Hello Inconvenience revised

The Gift of the Table

 

old table cropped

 

It is amazing how hard it is to get rid of a kitchen table.  A long ago Ikea purchase, it was not expensive to begin with.  It was well used enough that I painted the top to freshen it up – painted it with black chalk board paint in an uncharacteristic fit of whimsy. It turns out it doesn’t work in our new house.

And so begins the end of life journey of the table (and it’s been a journey!).

I tried to find an organization to donate it to, looked online for a group that would pick it up.  Found one, sent a picture, they gave me a quote of $250, which is more than the table cost new.

I called a couple other places, nothing easily arranged.

I finally realized I could fit it in the back of my SUV with all the seats down and drove it to Goodwill.

They didn’t want it.

They gave me address of a Salvation Army in San Jose.  Found the time to drive it there.

They didn’t want it.

I spent some time feeling a bit offended that the table we had used daily until now is so decrepit, no one else wants it.  Not even the places that take almost anything else.  They took my used pillows but not this table?

In for a dime, in for a dollar.  I was already half way to the dump so I drove the additional ten more miles with the table banging around in the back of my SUV.  I was tired of trying so hard to get rid of this table, I had a million other things to do.  But I wanted it gone.  So I end up on Guadalupe Mine Road and start winding up a hill.  And winding and up and winding and up.  Get to the top and wait in line of cars.

Waiting in line to get rid of stuff.  We are such an abundant country, we have so much stuff, that we have to wait in line and pay to get rid of it.

I am told it will cost me $55 to drop this table off.  It’s a deal.  The attendant hands me a new yellow safety vest, it’s required before you step out of your car.

So not only is it this challenging to get rid of something, it is also apparently dangerous.

He says, ‘you can recycle this, it’s all wood.  Go to the bottom of the hill, just follow the signs.’

I am relieved that it will be recycled.  I had been feeling guilty that it would just get added to the landfill, that something with life left in it will not get life. Guilty that our trash footprint might get bigger.

I pull away.

No signs.

Just dirt roads, winding around. No actual dump to be seen anywhere either.  Just hills and dusty roads.

I follow them clear to bottom.  Nothing here.

dump 1

 

I follow the road back up and down another hill.  Nothing there.

dump 2

 

I am laughing (while noticing how dusty my car is now, a definite car wash in our future).  What force of nature will not allow me to release this table?

I almost hit a family of deer.  Deer at the dump? What planet have I landed on?  This place is isolated and eerie and looks like a place you could dump a body, not a table.

I finally go back up the hill and find the recycling center (still no signs but the massive pile of wood remnants clues me in).

dump recycling

 

I see a van with two men in it, also in spanking brand new neon vests.  I get out and say ‘this is recycling?’

They nod and gesture to the pile.

I unload the chairs first and set them by the pile.  One of the men runs over and picks it up.  “This is good!” he says.  I can tell he wants it, despite all the signs posted everywhere saying ‘No scavenging or dump privileges revoked.’ (Now there’s a punishment.)

Then he sees the table come out and gets even more excited.  I see him eyeing his van, it would definitely fit. He exchanges a look with his buddy.  They look around. We are the only people in sight. I secretly hope that they take the table and chairs and give them more life as a table and chairs, not just firewood.  I’m grateful someone still sees them as useful, feel proud for them after their humiliation at the hands of both Goodwill and the Salvation Army.

I give the guy the nod and he gives me the two fingered peace sign.

I drive away, hopeful that the exchange meant what I think it meant, that he will take the table and chairs.  And yet, the image of the table and chairs, still intact, next to a pile of nothing intact leaves me sad.

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I feel emotional and have to hunt around in my head to find out why.  I’ve been trying for weeks to get rid of that table.  I’ve driven that table too many miles already and want it gone. It doesn’t fit anywhere in our house and I’m anxious to get all the extra stuff out so that the house feels organized and clean and soothing.  There is so much extra stuff, too many books and boxes and bathroom supplies and Tupperware containers.  Our old life had too much in it.  I’m looking forward to simplifying and streamlining and hanging onto only the things we use and need.

But as I wind down the hill the pictures of our family at that table start floating by.  How I chose it for it’s exact fit in our old kitchen.  How I strapped booster seats to the chairs for the kids when they were little.  How I painted the top with black chalk board paint so they could draw on it. Watching them do homework on it, eating countless dinners on it.  There were squabbles across that table, and secrets told and manners learned (hopefully).  There was artwork composed and milkshakes spilled and board games played until their explosive ends (our family is competitive).

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That table represents a big chunk of our lives as a family, it was the place we circled around and fed our bodies and fed our souls.  And of course we have a table in the new house and of course we can do those things in other places, but it was this table that holds all the history.

And I just left it at the dump. It feels wrong, like I abandoned a family pet.

I resist the urge to turn around and go rescue it.  It’s time with us has passed.

But it stays with me, this melancholy that seems greater than the loss of a table.  In looking for the picture to go with the story I end up going through hundreds of pictures from when my kids were little and I end up pinned to my chair with an unnerving wistfulness.  I haven’t spent a lot of time looking backwards as a parent.  Too much focus on the demands of the now, too much worry about the near and far future.  But looking at these pictures of my little ones unsettles me.  Usually when I see old pictures of them I am so happy.  They are so cute!  Look at the 18 month old swinging a bat at the ball on a tee.  Look at the one year old smashing cake in her face.  But now, maybe it is the emotional upheaval of a move, maybe it is having two kids in high school, maybe it is menopausal hormones, but now the looking backwards is swamping me with nostalgia.

Two days later, I figure out why.

It is more regret than nostalgia.  More of a regret that I didn’t fully live each of those moments with my kids.  Oh sure, sometimes I did.  And I enjoyed them, no doubt.  But there were many times I was too consumed with taking care of them.  Consumed with their schedules and immunizations and play groups and sports sign ups and keeping them from running into the street.

If I could go back I would really relax into more of the moments. I would truly be present.  Clichéd but true, that living in the present moment is a richness beyond measure. I’m sad that I missed so many opportunities to just relax into those moments with them. Sit and watch them color instead of being glad they were entertained while I made dinner. Sit in the grass and watch them scrawling chalk designs on the driveway instead of cleaning the garage while I kept an eye on them (that one really gets me, that garage never got cleaned up!).  Give myself over to the moments more often.

The irony is not lost on me.  In this very moment, I’m doing it again, longing for the past instead of living in this moment.

And there are so many riches to this present. Watching movies together, walking/running together, laughing at dinner together. Riding in the car as my daughter drives. Really listening as my son tells me a story about school.

The gift of the table is that I am recommitted to living these moments. A lovely legacy given that these moments are with teenagers who are bringing their own hormonal contributions to the house (stomp!  door slam! sullen silence!).  But I want this!  I want all the intensity, I want to live the moments that are up but I also want to live the moments that are down.  Not desperately try to escape the lows but live them all together. Be present in more of the moments I have left in these last years before college takes them away.

So the table lives on as a reminder. And in my optimistic moments, I’m convinced those guys looked around, saw no one could see them, and in a blink loaded up the table and chairs before taking off in a cloud of dust. In my optimistic moments, I’m sure the table lives on.

 

Please come visit me on my Facebook Author page: Lynn Rankin-Esquer Author

 

Sails Sheeted Home

 

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Home  [hohm]

Noun:     any place of residence or refuge, a heavenly home

 Nautical Adverb:     into the position desired; perfectly or the greatest possible extent:  sails sheeted home

 

We are getting ready to move and it is making me think a lot about the meaning of “home.”  For 18 years we have had a wonderful life in this home, in this town.  This is where my children were born, this is the yard where they stumbled around learning to walk, that is the tree I hung a wiffle ball from so my son could take his first swings with a little plastic bat.  Here is the stepping stone they made with ‘jewel’ stones, the Japanese maple tree that has grown at the same rate they did, the one the plastic porpoise swing hung from when my daughter still allowed me to put a bow in her hair (I didn’t know yet that she is not the bow type).

This is the pool that went from floaties to floats to canon ball contests off the diving board, to “Mom can you just stay in the house while we’re out here?”

This is the house where sports started with soccer and t-ball and moved through basketball, baseball, softball, flag football, cross country, lacrosse, track.  I think the equipment from every single sports season is still in our garage, waiting for me to purge and redistribute it.

This is the house that welcomed two children, two dogs, a series of turtles, a disappearing crayfish. A blur of playdates, a whirl of book clubs, family BBQ’s, a carousel of babysitters.  Where we went from bubblegum flavored toothpaste to Scope. From Leapfrog to Playstation to Xbox 1.  From Pat the Bunny to The Hunger Games.

This is a house that was made into a home.

The feeling of home, it is so visceral, we feel it in our very bodies.  Home is the same thing as ease, as comfort.  Feeling ‘at home’ somewhere is the ultimate compliment. Where you can be your real self, not the curated one you show the world. Where you can relax your vigilance, that animal instinct to scan for danger, enough to rest, to sleep even.

When hard things happen, when the day is going badly, you just want to be home.  You go away and feel homesick, literally sick in your body to not have the familiar, the comfortable. After a brutal trip to Disneyland years ago (we all got so sick we renamed our room ‘the toxic cave’) all I wanted was to be home.  I literally knelt down and kissed our none-too-clean carpet when we finally made it back.

Home is where we make our mess, untidy ourselves.  Where the bra comes off, the sweats come on, the fuzzy blanket waits on the couch.  Where you can wake up with smelly breath and messy hair and still walk around.

Home is where Mom’s arms wait when you didn’t make the team.  Where Dad’s humor cuts away some of the sting of a breakup.  Where your dog nudges you with his snout for the ten thousandth time, ready for a pet on the head that turns out to soothe you even more than him.

Home is where the rituals happen, the repetitive actions that weave a group of people into a family.  Every year the red wreaths on the front door signal Christmas.  The pineapple cake with the cream cheese icing means it’s a birthday.  Every morning the smell of coffee and the ‘time to wake up’ whispered, then yelled, into bedrooms.  The calm and not so calm reminders to ‘put your stuff away.’  The ‘I love you’ to each as they exit every morning, regardless of the level of grumpiness.

All the things that say ‘a family lives here,’ in all its messiness and love.

Because home can be a crucible, too.  It is the hot arena where siblings battle and parents disagree and homework nightmares last deep into the night. Where hopefully the survival of the battle, the disagreement, the homework, ultimately prepares you for the outside world instead of weakening you.  Where you learn to forgive, over and over, because we feel most betrayed when the wound comes from inside the house.

So what does it mean to move?

Is it even possible to make a new place feel like home?

My son walked in our new place (we are lucky enough to have the new place to visit before we leave our current home) and said “I don’t like the smell here, it doesn’t smell like home.”

It didn’t smell bad, it just didn’t smell familiar.

I understood in an instant what he meant.

Every home has its own smell.  And the sense of smell is so linked to emotion, to memory.  When we were kids my brother used to take his comforter to our grandmother’s house and leave it so that it would absorb the smell of her house.  And he could then take it home and feel wrapped in my grandmother’s love, sleep with that smell all around him.

So I told my son, “I can make this homey.”  That once we cooked there and used our soaps and cleansers there and sprayed our hair products there and used our laundry detergent that it would start to smell like home. That once our favorite stuff was there, the books, the pictures, the Xbox, it would feel more familiar.

And that I know the other touches that make a house feel like a home.

Home is where someone paid attention to what you need and what you like. The bubblegum flavored toothpaste, the cupboard of school supplies with the exact kind of book cover your middle school requires, the original flavored goldfish. And where someone cared about the house itself. Had an eye for the accented throw pillows, the arrangement of candles on the dining room table, the whimsical cookie jar. The lavender pump hand soap, the bedside lamp placed to throw just the right light to read a book in bed.  The line of framed family photos up the staircase wall.  These are the details that bring a house to life because they come from someone caring.

I love this house, I love the memories that were made here, but I also know that while this house has been home, it is not the physical structure that made it home.  The love and fighting and forgiving and toothpaste preferences are what made it home, and we can take that show on the road.

We can make the new house a home, and we will.

 

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Please come visit me on my Facebook Author page:  Lynn Rankin-Esquer Author

Homer: Epilogue

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Last night we said goodbye to our beloved Homer.

People often say “Rest In Peace” when a loved one dies but that’s not how I’m thinking of Homer.  He’s at peace but he got enough of resting in his last couple of weeks.  So instead of Resting in Peace I’m sure he is Frolicking In Joy, chasing baseballs and snitching tacos off the counters of heaven, delighted at the return to vigorous activity.

We had many great moments with Homer, some of the most poignant ones within the past week. I know he felt loved by my almost constant presence, by sitting outside together, by sitting in the hospital together, by me sleeping beside him the last two nights.

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Here is Homer, resting against me as I read the hundreds of beautiful stories people posted about their own beloved pets in response to my Loving Homer blog piece.  Story after story of love and pain and healing enough to do it all over again. Picture after picture of adorable dogs and horses and cats.  Reading the stories was so soothing to my raw heart, knowing how many people have felt exactly like I feel, and have not regretted it for a moment. Social media can be criticized for being a time suck or often superficial but one of its great uses is connection.  To find other people in a similar situation, to feel not alone in your experience, to feel close to and understood by other people, this is technology at its best.

Homer got extraordinary care, IV’s of fluid, medications to combat his GI bleed, three infusions of blood, three generous dogs and their owners (two of whom work at the hospital) doing their best to keep him going.

In the end, it wasn’t enough.

Who am I to decide how long a good life is?  Maybe he lived the exact right amount of time.  Maybe this was a perfect life for him, rescued from Taiwan, four years with a family who loved him.  Somehow we all get an idea of what is enough of a life.  But who is to say long is better?  Maybe a well lived shorter life can be perfect.

Each person in our family dealt differently with saying goodbye to Homer. There is not one right way to deal with a pet at the end of life and my husband and I wanted to make sure our children each did what was comfortable for him/herself.

Eventually it was just me sitting with Homer for that final step in the journey.

I sat with Homer’s head in my lap as Dr. Nurre injected first the anesthesia to make him sleepy, then the euthanasia meds.  He slid his stethoscope under Homers chest and we sat in silence, tears running down my face, until he softly said, “his heart has stopped.”

And then I sat alone with Homer until I knew it was really just the form of Homer left, knew that Homer’s soul was not in this body anymore.  I’m typing this through blurry eyes because I am still crying.

But I know this. Homer doesn’t have to be here for my love to go on. He was here and he was loved and that doesn’t have to end. Even though he is not actually lying beside me while I type anymore, I will never stop loving Homer.

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Frolic In Joy, sweet Homer

 

Please come visit me on my Facebook Author page: Lynn Rankin-Esquer Author

Loving Homer

 

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I just stress-ate a cold McDonald’s hashbrown.  I wasn’t hungry and it didn’t help with the stress but then again, it didn’t taste awful either. I’m headed to the Vet hospital to visit my dog Homer who has been admitted because the chemo that so quickly shrunk his massive tumor has wiped him out and he is not eating or drinking or even moving around very well.  When a ten year old Golden Retriever is too sick to retrieve it is time for lots of loving care and that is exactly what Homer is getting.

I am worried and I am sad, thinking about whether Homer is in the home stretch.  But I am also feeling a sense of amazement and love because I’ve been spending a lot of time at an extraordinary place, East Bay Veterinarian Specialist and Emergency, and have witnessed love in all its rawness.

On the first day I arrived with Homer, I looked around the waiting room and saw a mix of people and pets.  Dogs and cats and young people and old people and prim ladies and tattooed teenagers.

The owners of hurt pets are chatty, they connect with each other, recognizing fellow tribe members.  “What’s his name?” “What’s going on with him?” Easy trading of stories and sympathy.  People sitting in this waiting room are all there because they care about their animal and can recognize other people who feel the same way.

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This room is where love lives.  (I took this picture when it was mostly empty to protect people’s privacy.)

Everyone in this waiting room has a pet who is hurting in some way and everyone here has opened their heart, made themselves vulnerable to pain.  Because, unless your pet is a tortoise, your pet is going to die before you.  These people know this and yet they have opened their hearts anyway.  These are the brave ones, the ones who are sharing their hearts knowing those hearts will be broken.  These are the people who are brave enough to LOVE.  I look around and I realize, this whole room is filled with love.  This room is filled with people who have said, screw it, I’m putting my heart out there onto this little being who can’t even talk to me but who I feel so connected with I’m going to empty my bank account to get another month with him.

My daughter, watching me cry about our dog who might be at the end of his life, said, “is it worth it?”  And she meant that in a completely honest and curious way.  She was aware that after losing our last dog, Beau, she didn’t quite open her heart as much to Homer.  She was sad, a combination of empathy for my sadness and a regret that she didn’t love this dog more.  Her question was actually quite profound.

What she was really asking was, “is love worth it?”

And through my tears I said, “for me, absolutely.”

But I also told her it is a question that each person has to answer for him/herself.  It is not something anyone else can answer for you.

Only you know the stretchiness of your heart, how much pain it can take.

But pet owners, these brave people, sitting around the waiting room with their three legged dogs and angry shaved down cats, they’ve answered that question.

These are my people, willing to cry as we mop up the pee of an incontinent dog, willing to get blood on the car seats as we drive to the vet, willing to empty the bank account, willing to weave that dog into our heart knowing it will unravel that heart when it when it goes.

And when the treatments have all been given and the beloved pet is gone and our trampled hearts have somehow smushed themselves back into a sort of heart shape, we do it all over again.

Willingly.

We sign up all over for a new dog, knowing we will watch the same play, the same ending, the same unraveling of our heart.

Because the gift of loving that deeply is worth it.  That wagging tail when you walk in the door, that head on your knee on a mundane TV watching Thursday night, that jingle of  dog tags in a dark middle of the night that reminds you that you are not alone.

And isn’t that what love is for?  Knowing you are not alone.

It is perhaps a larger question, love.  Not just love of a pet but love generally.  Who among us truly opens his heart to love?  Who is brave enough to open it knowing it will be stepped on and yet knowing it is really the only reason we are here.  To take the chance and connect.

We are not here to tiptoe carefully to the grave.  We are here to open our hearts, to love and be hurt and love again and nothing makes that more apparent than loving a pet.

I’ve been at the hospital five days in a row, both in the waiting room and then back in the treatment area and here is just a sample of what I’ve seen.

A couple with two young boys and big chocolate lab blew in the door.  The boys were small enough that their baseball uniforms were baggy and their hats too big.  One of the boys had a bright green cast on his arm.  The dog had apparently just eaten rat poison and the tech immediately took the leash and headed back into the treatment area.  The mom turned around, harried but laughing and, looking at the boy with the casted arm said, “we are an accident prone family!”  That family, like so many of us, had enough love for kids and their dog. There is always enough love.

I watched an older man come in and say to the receptionist, “I’m here to pick up Missy.” The young woman behind the desk said, “of course,” very sweetly and then walked around from behind the desk/counter and handed him a small wooden box with a design or picture of some sort on top.  He took it in both hands and kind of bowed his head towards it and said, “oh, it’s pretty.”  And she nodded, “yes,” and then he turned and walked out slowly, with great dignity, with the ashes of his pet.

And I thought of the young family, who seemed at the beginning of it all (the lab looked just out of puppyhood) and the older man, whose pet was at the end of it all, and it was the whole circle of life, right in front of me.  It made my place in that circle seemed okay, just part of what life is.

Then there is the staff member whose own dog donated blood for my dog’s blood transfusion. She tells me this as she expertly loads up another syringe to be pushed into the IV Homer is getting. Homer now has a bit of Hank in him and the tears that seem permanently at the edge of my eye start falling, again. I’m overwhelmed with the generosity of a dog owner who would give her own dog’s blood to a hurting animal. I never even knew this was a thing, blood donation from other dogs.

And the nurse/tech who came in and cheerfully cleaned Homer’s behind when he couldn’t control his poop.  In such a friendly way she told me how great it is that they have waterless shampoo, as she carefully cleaned each bit of poop out of Homer’s fluffy tail (and then they wrapped his tail so it wouldn’t be a poop collector, and shaved around his behind to make it easier to keep clean.  So thoughtful this group).

And the nurse/tech who brought a selection of foods to see if we could tempt Homer to eat (he didn’t), and then offered me water, coffee, Kleenex, and Purell (the Purell battled with the Kleenex for most favored status, lots of crying, but sitting on the floor with an oozing, pooping dog, also lots of germs).

Eventually Homer is kept in the x-ray room, off the big central treatment area and as I sit with him I have a chance to observe the goings on.  I am so struck by the loving professionalism of the entire crew (and there seem to be so many of them!  At least 15 on a shift that I could count).  They are relentlessly kind and upbeat. As they expertly take off casts and clean out wounds they use calm and friendly tones. They aren’t just calming the animals, they are calming me too.

I’m still worried and sad but it feels like a place I can be worried and sad in.  Other people are taking care of Homer, my job is to sit with him and let him know he is loved and not alone.  To rub his head and tell him we have loved every minute of his time with us. To thank him for his companionship, the way he moved room to room with me every day when I went about my work at home.  After the kids are off to school I head upstairs to write at the computer and Homer would plop himself beside me and stay there until the end of my work was signaled by the turning off of the lamps.  Only when he heard the clicks would he stretch himself and get up and follow me to the next home work location.  At night Homer would insert himself into even the smallest spot on the couch, nudging his way between anyone sitting there, confident he belonged right in the middle of the family.

Homer is the most social dog, you can tell he believes his place is in the middle of the pack.  When we have guests and people are congregated in the kitchen, Homer splays himself out right in the middle of the floor, letting people step over or around him, not moving no matter how crowded the kitchen gets.

So I thank Homer for all his love and his quirks and tell him it is okay to rest.  His breathing gets slower and more regular, he is asleep.  And then I shift my legs (the floor is hard but the lovely tech/nurses have brought me a soft blanket to sit on) and Homer’s eyes pop open.  His puts his paw up on my leg, like a hug, like holding hands.  He leaves it there and drifts back to sleep.

In this moment life has become very simple. There is no thinking about dinner or carpool or cleaning or even writing, this moment has distilled down to me and a dog.

So I just sit, loving Homer.

 

 

Please come visit me on my Facebook Author page:  Lynn Rankin-Esquer Author