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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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

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.

[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.

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.

The Last Ride of the Honda

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Dave in his 1991 Honda Accord in front of Stanford’s Sunken Diamond. June 2017.

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.

The Most Famous Woman in the World

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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.

 

Mazi and the Meaning of Team

 

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Glennon Melton Doyle wrote that “compassion is not your pain in my heart.  That’s pity.  Pity helps no one. No, compassion is your pain in my heart and back out through my hands.  Feelings are just energy.  Eventually we have to make something with them.” (If you haven’t checked out Glennon’s blog do it as soon as you are done reading this http://momastery.com/blog/).

I was sitting there feeling the pain in my heart of losing Mazi Maghsoodnia and I hadn’t done anything with that.  We so often don’t. We talk to each other and repeat, over and over, ‘I can’t believe it.’  Talking is helpful, and then, as Glennon said, you need to go beyond the pain in your heart.

So when Quinn S. called me one night and asked me if I wanted to go up to the town rock and ‘paint away the pain’ (so eloquently said, Quinn) it felt like the right thing.  And then more pain came back out through my hands when I wrote a couple blog posts about the experience.  But I wasn’t the only one making something with the pain and it feels like it is time to reveal the other Sisters of the Rock.

Amy, on the far right, came up with the idea to paint the town rock in Mazi’s honor. This wouldn’t have happened without her brilliant idea.

Quinn, second from right with the devilish grin, organized the entire op, including the 7-11 run for tall-boys. This wouldn’t have happened without her desire to do something with her pain.  

Christie, in the middle, outlined the letters (beautifully big!  You can see them from way far away) and created the soccer ball (repeatedly checking a picture on her phone, while we all worried the police would see the light).

Prab, second from left, filled every spot with paint, soldiered over the top and bottom making sure nothing was left uncovered.

Karen, on the far left is the one who had two people holding on to her sweatshirt as she hung over the top of the ‘M’ to get the top of the letter just right.

I’m the historian, taking the picture and struggling to put words to how the pain is coming back out through our hands. (Apologies for the blurry picture but it was late.  And dark.  And we are perhaps, like Barbara Walters, enhanced by a bit of a blur to a photo.  Plus we can deny participation if anyone tries to make trouble for us.)

Those of us with blond hair woke up to pink bangs, the red paint that stuck on our hands ending up somehow in our hair (I liked it, wished it had lasted longer).  We also woke up to blackened pillows because we used eye black to paint ‘mazi’ on one side of our faces and a heart on the other.IMG_20160319_221250234

Each time I write a blog post about Mazi my husband reminds me that I haven’t actually mentioned how we know Mazi.  So, third time’s a charm,  Mazi was my son’s Eclipse soccer coach along with Miguel Camacho (aka ‘the Soccer Whisperer’).  Mazi and Miguel were a great team.  The whisperer and the vocal cheerleader.  The loud positive and the quiet positive.

This U12 soccer team was a team that took its time coming together.  When you put kids from different towns together it takes a while to gel, and this team was no exception.  When you play soccer for an organization that, gasp, values kids playing multiple sports, it takes even longer to get to know everyone, because they weren’t all always there at practices, or even games.

Mazi and Miguel worked their magic and the team started to play well together.  And they won a few games.  And lost a few games.

It was all fun but they had never won a tournament.

And then, in August of 2015, Eclipse played in the Copper Select tournament in San Ramon against the mighty Mt. Diablo Arsenal.  In retrospect I wish had been taking notes, wish I had a more fact based description of that tournament (but then again, it was never my goal to be a sports reporter).  What I know is that the Eclipse team that weekend somehow kept winning.  What I know is that Mazi’s whole family was there to watch Nader and Mazi.  What I know is that, against the odds, the Eclipse team ended up in the FINAL GAME!

I remember hearing the whispers up and down the sideline as that final game started, Arsenal usually creamed their opponents.  They always scored a bunch.  They were unbeatable.

The game was the most intense I had ever seen our team play.  Every kick, every pass was contested by both sides.  Our kids played with a fever we had never seen.  They played like the future of the world hung in the balance, like if they lost, nuclear bombs were going to start going off in the parking lot and continue going off all over the planet.  They played like they would lose their phones and video games forever if they lost.  They were sweating, they were running until they were breathless, they were sticking a foot in where they couldn’t make a steal.  They were dogging the other team, hanging close to their defender/offender and doing whatever came to mind to win that moment.

Mt. Diablo Arsenal shot many many times on our goal and somehow, the ball never went in.  We could hear the parents on the other team exclaiming in disbelief, like a spell had been put on our goal protecting it.  The ball hit off of the cross bar, the side bar, off the tip of our goalie’s finger, off the side of our other goalie’s toe.  And our defenders seem to literally be giving pieces of themselves to every ball and defense.  Everybody watching knew there was something special going on.  No one wanted to say that, no one wanted to jinx it, but it was special.

So often in these kinds of battles parents along the sidelines start to be snipey at the other team’s parents.  But this didn’t happen. There was a grudging respect because the game was that good. We were all yelling for our team but when the other team did something good there was an appreciation for that.

The game, improbably, unbelievably, against all odds, was tied at zero at the end of regulation.  It is hard to describe what a triumph even that was.  It shouldn’t have happened.  It had never happened before against this team (and never has again, and we’ve played them multiple times).  But there it was.

And with the waning daylight they went straight to penalty kicks.

My son was the goalie who would be receiving the penalty kicks in the biggest game of his life, the biggest game of his team’s career.  Knowing he was a reluctant goalie at best, I had to fight off the urge to run across the field and snag him and take off for the parking lot at a fast run, worried what a loss might feel like to him.   And then, I saw someone standing in front of him, hands on his shoulders, leaning in and talking.  I saw my son’s head nodding.  I saw him nod again.  Even from a distance I saw his shoulders relax. It wasn’t Miguel.  It wasn’t Mazi.  It was Kian.  Mazi’s older son, a guy who knew something about being a goalie.  I would later learn that Kian gave him calm instructions.  Told him to watch the hips of the the player as he kicked, know which way the ball was going to go, know which way to dive.  Made him believe he could do it.  Made him trust himself and his team.  Kian wasn’t a coach on this team but, like a Maghsoodnia, jumped in to do what he knew to do.  Quietly, calmly, he gave my son confidence.

Parents on both sides were yelling, grabbing each other, looking to the heavens for help.  Each kick and goal or save resulted in gasps and screams.  There was no heartbeat that was calm at that point.  No player, no coach, no parent.  Well, maybe Miguel, the Soccer Whisperer was calm, but the rest of us were shaking with adrenaline.

Back and forth it went until we were tied.

Each team had one last chance.  Eclipse kicked and scored to put us one ahead.  And then it was up to us to defend one last kick to win.

“Watch the hips,” Kian had said and he did.  He stuck his hands out as the ball shot toward him, and the ball flicked up and away from the goal.

Eclipse had won.

The first tournament win for this group.

The most exciting, ecstatic dancing (and we know Mazi can dance), the dog pile, the screaming, it was, in that fading twilight, a pure joy.

Who was to know that the fading twilight also described Mazi?

Maybe that intense joy spoke of an awareness, in some subconscious part of all of us, that this win meant something more.  Looking back it feels like maybe it was a gift, a perfect day for the Maghsoodnia’s to keep in their memory bank.  Because Lida was there to watch Nader, Auveen was there, Mazi was there, Kian was there and helped coach.  And one of the best pictures ever is this one:  Kian and Auveen with Nader on their shoulders, their parents there to share in the joy.

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The feeling of team, it is so special.  We all desperately strive for winning, for great performances, for great stats for ourselves and then our kids.  But maybe what we are really looking for, with all this sports hoopla, is to feel like part of something.  Maybe this is the real trophy, to feel part of a team.

Isn’t this what family actually means, that you belong to something? Someone has your back, someone cares about you, someone is working with you to make life better.  My husband coaches for a living and it is the thing he strives for the most, to give his players this feeling of being a family.  Of a brotherhood that goes deeper than batting average or wins and losses.  When you feel that connection to others you realize how much more you can achieve than if you were just working on your own.

People may think that winning makes you feel like a team, but it more often works the other way around, when you are a team, a true team, that is when you start winning.  We all felt it at that tournament, this team that Mazi and Miguel created. Those boys were playing like they were brothers and their brothers’ lives were on the line.  It infected the sidelines, the parents all felt connected too. There’s nothing like a rush of adrenaline and a wild hug after a penalty kick goal to bring people together.  We weren’t just hugging the people we knew best, we were all hugging everyone. It was such a shared joy.  

This concept of shared joy, it is just so Mazi.

I am deeply grateful that my son got to be part of Mazi’s Eclipse team, and that  I got to be  part of the team that painted Mazi’s rock.  We called ourselves ‘Sisters of the Rock,’ and I’ll tell you this, you didn’t have to be one of the people up there that night to belong to this team.  There are many more Sisters out there, and Brothers too.  Which is another way of saying that Mazi left a worldwide family, and that family will take care of its own.

IMG_13961Beautiful Lida on the rock

 

 

Mazi Belongs to the World

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It turns out I have more to say about Mazi.  I thought I had done my bit with my first blog post trying to capture the experience of painting ‘Mazi’ on the town rock and then going on about the business of private grieving, but it isn’t over.  I can’t stop thinking about him and the fact that he is gone from this form of interaction (I suspect there are other forms, beyond this earthly existence, but not knowing for sure I feel sad right now).

I don’t what the exact definition of something online going ‘viral’ is, but I know that my blog post about Mazi has gotten way more traffic than I usually get.

It has been read over 1600 times.

It has been read in 32 countries.

I know this is not due to my writing skill because up until the Mazi post my readers were in the high single digits at most (I was so under the radar my own mother didn’t know I had a blog).

Mazi knew a lot of people.

The 14th Dalai Lama said, “One family can influence another, then another, then ten, one hundred, one thousand more, and the whole of society will benefit.”  It is as if he was talking about Mazi Maghsoodnia.  The family he and Lida created is the best way to understand what a great man he was.  They are his legacy, are loving and generous and full of life and fun and dancing, just like their dad.  Mazi greeted everyone with a hug and a smile that made you know the world was going to be okay and his family is doing the same thing.

In the midst of the most painful experience of their lives they are doing this.

This family influence, this love, is literally spread throughout the world – I know this when I look at the map of where the blog piece was read.  Everywhere from Iceland to Kenya to the Phillipines there are people who shine brighter from knowing Mazi.

I have had people contact me to ask where the rock is so they can go see it.  I got a message from one person who reported her family ate dinner at one of the restaurants below the hill so that they could look up at Mazi on the rock while they ate.

It is as if we all want to be close to him again and are using the rock as a proxy.

Eventually someone will paint their own message on that rock and I’m already angry at them.  Angry at those self-centered insensitive teenagers (see that?  They don’t even know who they are yet and I have already made them villains.  Excuse my reaction to teenagers.  I have one.  A new one.  And maybe like baby rattlesnakes the new ones have the most venom?).

I started planning another bit of midnight mischief to take up a little sign to post by the rock.  Something explaining who Mazi is and asking these future delinquents to paint the smaller rock to the left, the one we left alone (you can only carry so much paint up those hills).  I keep driving past the rock to make sure the bright white ‘Mazi’ on its red background is still there.

And then it hit me, even once it is painted over Mazi will still be there.

No one strips the paint off the rock before painting it, they just paint over it.  So he will be there, forever one of the layers of the history of this town. Just like he will be for the rest of our lives, there, inside us when we do something kind, feel God’s love shine through.  As Antoine Saint-Exupéry said in The Little Prince ‘what is essential is invisible to the eye.’  And the essential Mazi will never go away.

When I look at the map of people reading about and remembering him I know that just like his name is forever preserved on the rock, the name Mazi Maghsoodnia is forever written on the world.

 

Marriage Savers and Magic Mike XXL

How do you thank someone who just gave you the gift of your own child? As in, all six years of elementary school? My friend Susan texted me the other day to say that she had just dropped off a ‘wee gift’ in my mailbox. When I opened it up I found a CD with pictures of my son and all his school buddies from Kindergarten through their just completed fifth grade. Set to music. I watched it three times in a row, reliving so many moments from his elementary school experience, things I had forgotten, things that made me laugh and then cry. The missing front teeth, the longish hair then the shortish hair. The matching Paul Frank t-shirts with a buddy. The Halloween costumes, the field trips, the goofy poses only eight year old boys can do, the half shy, half confident brink-of-maturity smiles of eleven year olds.  All that time, from Kindergarten on, Susan had been taking beautiful pictures, and keeping them in some sort of order, and then she put them all together, set to music, everyone represented, and gave us all the gift of our own children. She would probably say she was just doing something that interested her. She would be modest about her skill and her passion and most likely doesn’t realize the value of the gift she has given me.

Part of why I don’t take a lot of pictures (aside from being cataclysmically bad at it) is that I like to enjoy the moment that is happening. That’s hard to do when your face is behind a camera, when you are focusing on the focus, the centering, the zoom in or zoom out issue. Susan made that sacrifice and we all are benefiting from it. She didn’t get to live in a lot of moments so that we could have them preserved forever and I don’t know how to thank her enough.

Because what she did is part of what saves my marriage. I don’t take good pictures and with someone like Susan around, I don’t have to expect my husband to take good pictures. With people like Susan (and there are more, lots more in this community) I don’t have to expect him to do all the stuff that I can’t do (the old ‘you complete me’ bullshit, can we all just agree to stop expecting our romantic partner to complete us? My work here on earth would be done if I could convince people of just that one thing). All the people in my community who do the stuff my husband doesn’t do (and sometimes I don’t do), they are the glue that keeps us together. Not just as a couple, but also as a family, and as part of this community. My book club fulfills my deep need to talk about a book I just read (making it fine that my husband isn’t much of a fiction reader). My group of boy-mom friends gives me the chance to laugh about the intensity of odor emitting from boy feet. My group of girl-mom friends helps me figure out what age girls are starting to shave their legs these days.

I’m grateful to the dads and moms who give up so much time to coach my kids, because neither my husband nor I are up to the task (he has the skills but no time, I have the time but no skills).   I’m grateful for the parents who prep the fields before every baseball game. The moms who remember to collect money for coach’s gifts. The mom who set up a google docs spreadsheet for soccer carpool (I would have no idea how to set that up. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how to just open it).

Thank you to everyone who has given what you have to give, it has kept my life full and satisfying, it has kept my marriage happy. You have allowed me to appreciate what my husband brings to the party without focusing on what he doesn’t. I can enjoy his humor and his affection and admire his unmatched work ethic (really, I do admire it, except when I’m tired. I feel all too mortal next to him, He Who Never Tires). I can appreciate his brilliant baseball mind, his amazing understanding of people, his kindness. I can enjoy watching him throw a baseball with my son and a football with my daughter without getting all bent out of shape that he didn’t drive carpool or read that parenting book or take me to see Magic Mike XXL (that would really be asking too much, wouldn’t it? Definitely a job for a girlfriend).

Some of us probably don’t feel like we are giving a lot to the world, at least not in a Sheryl Sandberg or Oprah kind of way. But maybe what we are giving comes so easily it doesn’t seem like a gift. Maybe just pursuing something that is interesting to you is enough. As Howard Thurman (theologian) said, “Don’t just ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and then go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Susan, my deepest thanks for doing something that makes you come alive. It was just what I needed.

 

Rubber Bands Everywhere

Or the art of seeing what you need when it is right in front of you.

Current daily mantra: exercise something, write something, clean something

February 27, 2015

It’s been a very up and down week/month/year. I went for a run today, reminding me for the hundred thousandth time that running resets my brain into something suitable for human interaction (how can a brain that can successfully complete 24 years of school forget, over and over, that running is my greatest mood stabilizer?). I saw a hair twisty on the ground and was suddenly back in Chapel Hill, a little slice of heaven where I lived during my graduate school days. Come to think of it, life was very up and down there too, and not just because of the hills (it is named Chapel Hill for a reason).

In Chapel Hill I was out running one day and my brain was running even faster, doing its agitated squirrel race from one thing to the next, despairing of even one solution to the many problems I tend to dream up on a daily basis. At the time my hair was Rapunzel length down my back and I had it tied back in a pony tail. It started to rain, which experience had shown me would snarl my long thin hair into a mess (not the magnitude of a just-lied-to-congress mess, but definitely in the realm of a just-cut-it-off-rather-than-try-to-comb-it-out mess). I actually like running in the rain and if it was raining before I started I would braid the pony tail so it wouldn’t get tangled. However I was about three miles into the run when it started to rain and I cursed myself for not having a second rubber band to tie off the braid. Then I cursed myself for being such a sissy (I mean really, snarled hair has never topped the list of world problems –you don’t see Bono lobbying foreign governments to stamp out snarled hair).

I pounded along the trail for about 10 yards before I realized I had just seen a rubber band on the ground behind me. Because I was so focused on having only brought one rubber band and because I didn’t believe I would be able to make a braid while out running I didn’t even look for a rubber band. My eyes took in the rubber band but my Bear-of-Little-Brain self didn’t make sense of it because it didn’t believe I could find the answer to my problem out on the trail. I turned around and ran back and got the rubber band and braided my hair and eventually ended up at home with untangled hair. My professors at the time could have told me this was an example of selective attention. Oh wait, in fact they did. Sometimes I’m a little slow in the application.

The whole rest of the run I wondered how many times I had stepped right over the answer to a problem. How many times has my narrow vision for life prevented me from an obvious solution? It reminds me of the saying (or is it a song?) ‘standing knee deep in water and dying of thirst.’ Sometimes the thing you need is right there.

After that I started picking up the rubber bands I found lying around in the world and within months had filled two honking big nails I pounded into the wall in my closet. I stopped collecting but the clutch of rubber bands stood as a reminder to broaden my vision.

And then I moved to California, married a great guy, had children and I swear each of them came out clutching one of my cerebral lobes, turning my steel trap of a brain into sleep deprived, hormonal oatmeal. On a quick grocery store run for even more diapers (size 5 and size 2, how’s that for failing to space out the procreating) I stepped out of the car covered in spit up and amped on stress and landed in, I swear, a scattered clump of brand new rubber bands. Like, about a hundred of them. As if someone had just bought a bag and it tore open and spilled and the person didn’t even notice.

Sometimes God has to use a whole bag of rubber bands to get your attention. And there it was, the reminder that the answers might well be right under my feet. It’s not like life immediately became the soft focus fairy tale of motherhood we see in the movies but I did have a moment of remembering that I was probably standing in the water I was so thirsty for.

And I looked around and noticed I had friends and play group moms and neighbors who care about me and while life still goes up and down, it feels like there are a lot of soft places to fall. And a lot of hands helping me back up. Turns out I have a village.

But it also turns out that when it comes to life skills I have a memory like Dory in Finding Nemo (remember, those kids, now 12 and 11 years old, kept chunks of my brain as souvenirs of our first journey together). So I’m starting this blog as a way to remind myself of the stuff I know, or once knew, or knew someone who knew. A sort of guide wire out of the cave. Feel free to join me. You can start by picking up some of those rubber bands you find lying around in the world. I swear, they are everywhere.