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.
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 whodon’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!
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.
Is it 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.
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.
I follow the road back up and down another hill. Nothing there.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[The only other time I felt this kind of easy connection was the first time I went to a writers’ convention and was stunned to find so many other cranky creative introverts all forced out of our holes by the common bond of this agonized path called writing.]
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 quiet 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.
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.
The first car my husband Dave bought was a 1991 Honda Accord, a proud purchase of a new car to accompany a proud new job as an assistant baseball coach at Stanford. Over the years the car took him to work at Stanford, and then to work at Pepperdine as head assistant, and then for 18 years to work at UC Berkeley as head coach. At some point early in the Cal years another car was added to the family and he rotated between the new car and the Honda. There were increasingly longer spans of time when the Honda was more of a driveway adornment than a mode of transportation. And then he’d drive it to work to keep it running, the team would win, and he’d keep driving it to keep the streak alive.
That kind of superstitious behavior happened during one of the most dramatic coaching years in his life, when the Cal athletic department announced they were dropping five sports, one of which was baseball. It was announced in the fall of 2010 that after the current year, baseball would no longer exist at Cal. This was a sport with a long tradition at Cal, it started in 1892, and in 1947 the Cal baseball team won the very first baseball national championship against Yale, with a little known player named George Bush senior playing for Yale. During that supposed last season Dave joked that he was simultaneously trying to ‘run a program, save a program, and dismantle a program.’ Even as he was training players in hitting and pitching and fielding he was sending them out on recruiting trips to other schools. He wanted to make sure each one of them had a place to land but he did joke that ‘it’s like letting my wife date.’
The players who stuck around (and all but 3 did) had a fierce sense of purpose. They were going to go out in a blaze of glory. Part way through that season Dave drove the Honda to work. They won. He kept driving it. They kept winning. The car became a superstitious talisman. A symbol of not quitting, ever. Keep doing the thing that got you here, even when people say ‘here’ won’t exist after June. Keep driving the thing that got you here, even though it has over 200,000 miles on it. Sometimes that is all you have to offer when life gets challenging. Keep going. Keep doing what you know to do, sometimes just a minute at a time.
Ultimately, passionate alumni raised 10 million dollars in a matter of weeks to save the program and the baseball team played their hearts out clear to the College World Series. Dave drove his Honda to campus, flew to Omaha and was driven to TD Ameritrade park on plush buses with a police escort and cheering crowds along the way. To the surprise of nobody but Dave, while in Omaha Dave was named the 2011 National Coach of the Year. The team took a private jet back to Berkeley where the newly anointed Coach of the Year climbed in his battered Honda and drove home, the same person he was before the College World Series.
Sometimes a car is just a car, just a means of getting from point A to point B. But sometimes a car can take on greater meaning and I suspect the Honda has been this for Dave. It is a symbol of him. It is a well built, long lasting, solid machine. It has been kept in good condition by his mechanic father. It is workman-like, as is Dave, as are the family from which he comes. Like its owner, it is modest, it does not ask for attention, it just accumulates miles and continues to do its job without fanfare.
It is perhaps an emblem of level of expectations or entitlement. Dave has never acted entitled, not one minute in the 22 years I’ve known him. He expects to work hard for everything. He does work hard for everything. Even for the things that come easy, he expects to keep working hard (which is the recipe for success if you ask Carol Dweck, she of the ‘Growth Mindset’ theories). He is a masterful coach, he is a skilled leader, he is an almost effortless speaker, so it is not that he lacks confidence, but he has never strayed far from the humble man who drives an old Accord.
And here comes his opinionated wife, someone a little more comfortable with spending (okay, a lot more comfortable with spending). Someone not attached to cars (but definitely attached to him, and wanting him to drive safely). I must have seemed insensitive to him, not respectful of what the car means. Too eager to toss out the old. For years I’ve tried to get rid of the Honda. It seems too old and rickety to me (there are no airbags, for one) but he resists. The car is in its 26th year of life, literally twice as old as our son. What will be the deciding point? What will happen for him to let go of the car? It isn’t going to be that it stops working, his dad has made sure of that. Peeling paint off the top? Nope, been like that for a couple of years. Hardened crusty upholstery? Nope. Faded everything? Nope. Busted radio? Nope. Been replaced at least four times over the years.
So many things in life come and go. Players, in the natural order come and go. Assistants come and go. Jobs come and go. And the Honda has been there, all along, longer even than me, his wife. Maybe it is hard for him to think of it as something that comes and goes. It came, and now the ‘go’ part, well, he’s resisting it.
But lately, the car seems to have gone downhill, like a person at the end of life ready to transition. Even Dave agrees it has deteriorated rapidly in the past couple of months. To me, it looks like a car that has fulfilled its mission and is waiting for permission to be done.
In June Dave was hired as the new head baseball coach at Stanford. In all the excitement of the new job his nice car, the one only five years old, picks up an odd sound in the engine so his dad takes it to work on it. Just like that, he is back to driving the Honda. And there it is. Full circle. From a young assistant coach at Stanford with his proud new car, to a not as young head coach with his loyal old car. The Honda has brought him the whole way around. It has brought him home and it is proud and now it can rest.
What kind of parents invite their 13 year old sons to join them in a little illegal spray painting? And encourage gang signs? Late.On a school night. Aren’t we supposed to be lecturing them against that type of behavior?
Mothers who miss Mazi Maghsoodnia, that’s who. Mothers who one year ago climbed this same damp, dark hill to let the world know that a great man was going to be missed. And mothers who understand that the pain of missing Mazi has barely begun and his family still needs reminders of the community who love them and will not let Mazi be forgotten. This time it seemed right to bring our sons, the boys from his soccer team, along.
We painted up our faces and commenced operation Mazi.
The moon was so bright, yet the trail still so dark. Hiking single file along the narrow cow path left us fighting for who would bring up the rear, because even before stepping over the broken barbed wire fence we saw an animal we were sure was a mountain lion. This is how much we love Mazi, we went anyway. The last two of us in the line held hands the whole way, sure each rustle behind us signaled the launch of a pouncing wild animal.
We slipped and climbed and shushed the boys and finally made it to the top of the rock (did I mention how steep those hills are? Like, a foot slips and you hear pebbles go tumbling, tumbling, tumbling down towards the sinkhole). Even though the moon was so bright the rock and surrounding hill seemed darker than last year, which of course it was. The sinkhole below the hill is still there but the lights that blazed through the night last year are gone (maybe it just isn’t in the Moraga budget to illuminate a sinkhole for a whole year. It clearly isn’t in the budget to fix it quickly).
The boys were ecstatic to be out late, on a school night, spray painting, for crying out loud. The moms tried not to ruin the fun by pointing out that they were doing this cool delinquent-like thing with . . . theirmoms.
Excited to begin their tagging careers the boys quickly pulled the tops off of the spray paint cans only to find that at least half of them lost the nozzles upon opening. Just try to find a 5 millimeter nozzle on a dark, grassy hillside (hint, can’t be done, you’d have better luck finding $10 front row seats to Hamilton).
We heard laughter float up the hill and looked down to see a couple of figures moving carefully up the path. It was Lida, Auveen, Kian and Nauder coming to join us, arriving full of smiles and jokes. “Mom, are you talking in Farsi? While scaling the cliff?”
13 year old boys are at an interesting stage of life, simultaneously enjoying and rejecting the nurturing of their mothers. Some of the moms on this trip get at most 3 syllables at a time out of their sons these days, but this night was like stepping outside of time and stage of life. We all worked together, we talked, we laughed, and traditions were passed down from moms to sons, like the cliff hanging.
The only way to get the top of the letters painted correctly is for someone to hang out over the top of the rock, and the only way to do that with any degree of safety is for one or more people to hold onto the cliff hanger. Here is last year’s cliff hanger passing the tradition along to her son (with a mask for good measure, isn’t it just like a mom to take her son spray painting and yet insist he wear a mask?????).
The tradition of getting the soccer ball painted just right.
The tradition of an adult beverage toast was not passed along to the sons. We aren’t that depraved. They will have to discover Fireball all on their own, hopefully far in the future, in their own dark field like the rest of us did.
A new tradition of initials added to the bottom.
A new tradition of including Lida, Auveen, Kian, and Nauder. Last year we painted the rock for them, this year we painted it with them and that felt just right.
A new tradition of a prayer, right after the Fireball (or was it before?).
A new tradition of a gang sign in Mazi’s honor (hand pointed downward with an “M” of middle three fingers).
Perhaps the most important tradition to pass down. An ancient tradition of gathering around a family in grief.
I want to write about grief but am finding it hard. I have not been struck with this level of loss, so my imagination fails me when I try to truly understand what Mazi’s family has gone through this past year. I feel the urge to focus on how well they have coped (they have) to allow myself to step back from looking into that abyss of pain that they still face every single day. My mind flinches when I try to think about what it must be like for Lida to wake up in the middle of the night alone. My mind rushes to reassure itself with images of her smiling and hugging us all up on the hill. See? My mind says to itself. She is okay, she must be, she’s hugging and smiling and laughing.
Even while part of me knows she must still have very dark moments.
Even while a part of me feels helpless to do anything about those moments.
It feels cowardly, like a failure of compassion, to hide from the pain, so I try again to put myself in their shoes. I try to imagine what it must be like to wake up and face the knowledge all over again, every single day. And again the sadness drives me towards trying to find something reassuring. Perhaps there is a deeper richness to life once something like this happens? Perhaps Mazi was needed on the angels soccer team? Perhaps they are stronger people now? Surely there is some meaning to this.
We all want to know that the Maghsoodnias are doing okay because we care about them, but also because we would like to believe you can survive tragedy. It is too hard to imagine the long days and nights of pain so we would like to cut to the end of the movie, the laughing, smiling family who have triumphed, who have remade their world into something good again. And people do survive, but are altered so profoundly that it is a whole different world that they are now living in. A world where the presence of the one lost has to be created in new ways, ways that will, inevitably, sometimes heartbreakingly, fall short of what they used to have.
I read Kian’s exquisite FB post about meeting his dad in his dreams. I look at the picture of Mazi’s headstone that Lida sent me, surrounded by flowers, bright sunlight shining off of it. I see a hint of the ways that they are remaking their world and it is, as Glennon Doyle Melton would say, ‘brutiful’ (brutal and beautiful all at once).
The painful moments will exist no matter how much other love and joy comes to their lives. Those moments are part of the landscape now. Part of our job as a community is to not pretend those moments out of existence. To be ready with the happy hug but also with the courage to acknowledge the pain that will never completely go away. To hold hands and stand vigil in the dark night so that no one has to feel completely alone.
So the trip up the hill this time was a way to circle around the Maghsoodnias and allow all the messy feelings to coexist, joy in the presence of grief, beautiful memories in the face of great loss, connection alongside loneliness. To say we understand that joy and grief may stay forever intertwined for them. What we tried to offer is what the poet David Whyte calls solace.
“Solace is not an evasion, nor a cure for our suffering, nor a made up state of mind. Solace is a direct seeing and participation; a celebration of the beautiful coming and going, appearance and disappearance of which we have always been a part. Solace is not meant to be an answer, but an invitation, through the door of pain and difficulty, to the depth of suffering and simultaneous beauty in the world that the strategic mind by itself cannot grasp nor make sense of.”
Mazi’s Gang did something hard and scary in the darkness of night, our only illumination the full and luminous moon. Instead of the blazing warmth of the sun he used to be, maybe Mazi is now more like the moon, a steady, encircling presence, not always visible, but with luck, revealing himself as an incandescent glow in a dark night. And what we discovered was that the brightness of that moon was, in the end, more than enough light to get the job done.
I have a very active imagination, and never more so than when I’m running. One of my favorite scenarios is that I’m winning the NY marathon (sometimes it’s Boston). It doesn’t matter that I’m actually running slow, in my imagination I’m running so fast I’m beating the men. I’m even beating the Kenyans and the announcers are going wild and women all over the world are jumping up and down and cheering at their TV’s and calling each other to share the great news. Abused women are dumping their husbands on the spot they are so inspired. Oprah and Gayle are hugging and toasting me with fancy cocktails even as Oprah gives the order to get me for her next Super Soul Sunday taping or someone’s losing their job. Nike executives are scrambling madly to find my telephone number. They are sending representatives down to the finish line with boxes of running shoes for me, only to sadly discover when they meet my husband that I am a Born To Run devotee and am wearing a thirty year old pair of Asics. Asics, which have been out of business for three years, decides to get back into the game and have filed a new company license by the time I hit mile twenty.
The producers of the broadcast switch out the cart carrying the camera filming me, putting their lone camerawoman on the job, knowing this story needs to be covered by another woman. She has tears running down her face but stays laser focused on getting my image just right, even as she has a fist in the air in solidarity. She zooms in on my face, capturing my perfect eyelashes, the ones I used extra adhesive on so they wouldn’t blow off with my flaming speed. They have held up remarkably, but then again I’m a master at make-up, and eyelashes in particular. I did just the slightest smoky eye to go with my eyelashes and my foundation and blush are impeccably applied. When you are over fifty there is no shame in wearing make-up to exercise and I knew I was going to be on national TV today anyway. L’Oreal sends a representative as well, not knowing I’m a Clinique gal.
I’m running so smoothly it is hard to tell I’m running that fast but they keep checking my splits and I’m scorching it. Each man I pass looks at my back in horror, seeing my bouncing blond ponytail and trim, obviously female, figure. They look at each other, at the cameramen, at the race employees along the route, who let this crazy woman crash their race? The announcers are going apeshit because I am on track to be the first ever sub-two hour finisher. People have been chasing this unicorn for years and it is looking like it might be a woman who catches it first.
Every ex-boyfriend has found a TV and is watching, regretting that they ever lost me, calling all their friends and telling them they dated me. Their current wives are getting more and more annoyed at how complimentary they are of me.
No one can believe a 53 year old woman looks that effing good and Vogue also has a representative down at the finish line to sign me up for a photo shoot. The Vogue representative gets into a hair pulling fight with the Cosmo representative. My husband tells them not to bother, I’m headed straight to Sports Illustrated. Swimsuit edition!
All the girls/women who have ever been mean to me in my life are busy stuffing that information into their unconscious and claiming to have been my best friend.
My dad and brother, who were golfing together, are called in from out on the course and are watching my big finish in the country club bar, which is packed with people cheering me on, high fiving my brother and dad, toasting each other and them with lots of beers.
My mom is on a cruise and someone in the bar points out to her that a woman is leading in the NY marathon and she looks and sees that it is me and starts screaming. People call the ship’s doctor, sure she has lost her mind but they finally realize she is the mother of the most famous woman on earth and instead start buying her drinks and wanting her autograph. When she turns down the drinks (she’s not a fan of alcohol) they switch to buying her shrimp cocktails and lobsters. That doesn’t impress her either since the cruise is all you can eat, and they finally come up with the idea to bring her jewelry from the gift shop. By the time I cross the finish line she is adorned in more diamonds than Elizabeth Taylor.
My sister is at a hockey game and when the big screen switches to the unprecedented event of a woman beating the world’s fastest men in a marathon she discovers it is her sister. Word quickly travels around the stadium and she and her family are invited down onto the ice as the entire place watches, breathless, the finish of my race. Her sons are hoisted onto the shoulders of the toothless hockey players and get rides around the ice as the place starts chanting ‘USA! USA!’ It’s like the two biggest sports miracles have merged. The Olympic track coach happens to be at the hockey game and as he watches my race he holds his heart then looks up in the air and says ‘thank you God!’ He’s sure he can get me for the Olympics and I’m the final piece in his plan to dominate the track and field events.
The footage is streamed live onto scoreboards around MLB parks and games stop to let the crowds watch the finish of the race. All of my husband’s baseball friends and former players are blowing up his phone. He sends out a group text ‘of course she’s winning, she’s a stud!”
The camera takes a break from my perfect eyelashes to zoom in on my “I’m STILL with Her” T-shirt and then to all the arrows pointing to ‘and her’ ‘and her’ ‘and her’ representing all the women in the world. Women around the world cheer in solidarity. Women rock! We rule! We are about to beat the men in a f*#*ing marathon. Hillary Clinton makes her way down to the finish line too, but makes Bill stay home, I’m that attractive. Even though she can see that wrinkled old Bill compares poorly to my husband, who is so handsome he will play himself in the movie about me, she’s been managing Bill a long time and knows she doesn’t have the bandwidth to pay attention to me and keep him from straying at the same time.
Donald Trump, from his solitary confinement prison cell, watches in disbelief. As part of his punishment his cell is equipped with a TV turned on 24 hours a day to MSNBC. Donald has decompensated to the point where he is sure my race is a made up TV show designed to torture him, and that part is true, he’s tortured by it, and yet the pale monster (he is not allowed to have tanning spray in prison and now has the filmy translucence of a jellyfish) can’t look away. His fingers twitch as if he is tweeting but there is no phone in his hands. He flings his head forward to dump his comb-over into his face, hoping to block sight of the TV but without the dye and other products it is just a couple of wisps of white with orange tips and he can still see clearly through it. He knows he should look away but he’s never been able to do even one thing he knows he should do, so he keeps watching, fingers air-tweeting.
My website crashes and my amazon self published book starts selling at a rate of a hundred books a minute. It can’t sell out since it is digital so the numbers just keep climbing and climbing. All the publishers who turned down my books are desperately searching through their emails to see if they still have my contact information.
Someone from the Zac Brown band notices on my website that I said they are my favorite band and sends a car to the finish line with the message that I’m to be their guest at their next concert, which just happens to be that night in NY. We can hang out with the band, and in fact, since they see that I am a dancer too, they will have me on stage with them for as many numbers as I’m willing to give them.
As I close in on the finish line I know there are no men close behind me because there is only one TV cart, and that is my girl right in front of me. I pull off my baseball cap and let my hair blow back like I have a Beyonce fan on me. Glam to the end.
I do it. I finish in 1:58:03, almost two minutes under two hours. I am triumphant and barely winded. The men in the race, once they finally finish, are bent over, hands on knees, gasping for breath, stunned and speechless. A couple of them are throwing up, whether from running hard or being beaten by a woman I don’t know. The world goes crazy, people run into the streets cheering. Women high five each other for the next three hours, tears running down their faces. Around the world news shows have something positive to show for once so run the highlights of me over and over. Malala lets people know she would like to meet me. The Pope sends out a congratulatory tweet. George and Amal Clooney invite me to their Italian lake house to meet the twins. Even more unbelievably, both of my teenagers hug and kiss me. In public.
I agree to appear on every TV show I like and snub the rest (so sorry Pierce Morgan, thrilled to meet you James Corden!). Diane Sawyer comes out of retirement to interview me because I’ve always loved her. That night I dance the night away on stage with the Zac Brown band and stay until morning signing an autograph for every single girl and woman at the concert. My legs are a little sore but that was more from the dancing than the running. Without the need for sleep, and with eyelashes still perfect, I go on Kelly and Ryan because I’ve been a fan of Kelly Ripa’s forever and always thought she and I could be the next Oprah and Gayle.
By this time I’ve slogged my four miles in just under forty five minutes and the most famous woman in the world slips back into her secret identity as a suburban mom. Although, if you look closely, there are signs of my real super hero self – I have a sub-two hour carpool record and my perfect eyelashes truly do stay firmly attached.