Sunday, March 4, 2018

Panic...at Victoria's Secret?

Last year, I was in a funk. A group of girlfriends with whom I'd been friends for over six years were together on a girls' weekend in Florida. But I was not there. I had moved to Washington State a few months before, and was too far to be part of their conversations, their daily Starbucks runs, their plans. The logical part of me understood why I was here and they were there; the emotional side of me was bummed. The pictures posted on social media didn't help, and my "Have so much fun!" plus smiley and thumbs up emojis masked the jealousy I felt.

Tired of me dragging my feet around and eager to see me feel better, my husband suggested I go to the mall. "Why don't you freshen up your lingerie drawer? Get some fun new stuff?"

Always happy to leave our three kids in his care and get some alone time, I said yes. I wasn't super into his plan, but I understood that getting out of the house might help me get out of my funk.

I drove to the Alderwood Mall, a fine but not-so-extraordinary mall twentyish miles north of Seattle and parked near Nordstrom. I strolled the displays there, tried on a bunch of things, and bought a handful. Then I headed to Victoria's Secret. I grabbed one of their mesh bags and threw some stuff in that I planned to try on. I was holding up some tiny pair of underwear when I looked out past Victoria's Secret's doors into the wide mall. Something caught my eye.

I saw people running.

Lots of people were running. Some were screaming. I could feel their panic. A few people ran into Victoria's Secret, and I heard the words you never want to hear: "He's got a gun!"

I quickly dropped behind the heavy display counters, cursing myself at the stupidity of being here and not home. Of "needing" overpriced lace in cute patterns and bright colors on this day. My heart beat out of my chest, and I could feel the adrenaline shoot through my body. Might I get hurt--killed?--in a lingerie shop?

The saleswoman who had just before handed me the mesh shopping bag crawled over to me.

"There's a back door! Come on!"

I followed this lady. We all did. We pressed ourselves into a tiny hallway. People pushed and shoved, some cried, almost wailing, unable to contain their fear inside. Mothers clutched children as hard as they could. Other mothers pushed their children, confused and clearly upset, in front of them, as if wishing them to get out first. Before them. I've never been in any sort of panicked crowd, and I do not want ever to be in one again.

We got out to the parking lot. To the crisp fall day. The sun seemed to promise safety. My hands were shaking--I could barely use my phone as I could not control my fingers. The only other time I have felt this sort of adrenaline was after delivering each of my three kids.

I thought I knew what relief was before this moment, but I rdidn't. I was so glad to be out. I was dazed from the previous five minutes--if the whole ordeal even lasted five minutes. I really have no idea. I texted my husband: "There is a shooter at the mall. I'm outside and I'm safe."

Because I was new to the area and had been to that mall only a few times before, and because I was completely shaken up, I walked around the entire mall looking for my car. Police swarmed the place, sirens blaring. I saw armed men moving quickly inside and was glad I was not there any more. It turns out that it wasn't a shooter. There was no gun. There was a stabbing in the food court; the police believed it to be an isolated incident where Person A went in looking for Person B and then stabbed him when he found him.

As I drove home that day, I said a thank you prayer. For keeping me safe, for keeping others safe, and for all of that craziness to have happened that day, and not two days before, when I had all three of my kids at the very same mall. I'm glad that they did not have to feel panicked and afraid like the other children I saw. And I continue to whisper prayers of please protect them because I know that stuff like that happens way too often, and I won't always be there.

And that scares me.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Patiently Walking to Spring

I'm sitting at the round table in my living room, big picture window in front of me that looks out to the Puget Sound. The Olympics are mostly covered with clouds, but this morning in the early morning light, their snowy peaks were clear and pink. The sun is shining bright--it looks like a summer day.

But...it's not.

The temperature is barely 40, and being this close to the water means there's a constant breeze. And I don't mean a warm, Hawaiian breeze. I mean a bone-chilling wet breeze. This is the kind of weather where my kids and I get excited to go for a bike ride but turn around after a mile because we forgot how cold our hands and noses get in weather like this. The sunny view from inside tricks us into forgetting that we're still in Winter.

I'm not the most patient sort. I am always looking to the next thing. The week before a road race, I'm Googling for the next half marathon six months from now. This morning, right after breakfast, I got the slow-roasting pork that my family would eat for lunch ready for the oven. At the same time I mixed the meatballs for dinner, to let their flavors develop in the refrigerator while we played and tinkered the day away.

But here we are at the beginning of March. I'm proud to have made it past February, my least favorite month because of it's expectation-laden holiday and gloomy weather. Like the view outside, March tricks me into thinking Spring is here. It nearly is.

What if, this year, I enjoy these last few weeks of Winter? What if I tried to find the joy in the little glimpses of Spring without casting a growl at Winter for still lingering? What if I said a little Ann-Lammott-like prayer of thanks! every time I noticed the sky lightening earlier, or the sky darkening later?

Hopefully this will help me slow down and appreciate today instead of simply looking ahead to tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that...

Friday, March 2, 2018

Sunset

As a stay at home mom with three young children and a husband who works way too much, I have to confess: I love Monday mornings. On Monday mornings, I wake up early to walk the dog before the business of lunchbox-packing and breakfast-making begins. My husband often leaves before the kids wake up; if I'm looking to be an extra good wifey I'll pack him a lunch that involves rice and some sweet-salty Korean-ish meat. I throw on work out clothes and brush my teeth in the last seconds before the kids and I dash out the door. They chatter and I try and keep my patience during the 15 minute drive to school. I drive up through the carpool lane, and they get out.

And then it's quiet.

Oh. So. Quiet.

Friday afternoons are the opposite of Monday mornings, of course.

But on this Friday afternoon, we all took the dog for a walk together--me on my feet, them on some sort of wheels they got from the garage. The weather is cold and dreary, but if the dog has to be walked, why not encourage them to come along? My two boys are playing basketball with the two neighborhood boys, and my oldest daughter has been sitting on the sofa--reading, helping her little brother (before the basketball began), and now is taking a turn on the iPad before dinner.

I've been quietly making jerk chicken. Mixing the cinnamon, salt, brown sugar, cumin, cardamom in a little bowl, then rubbing it onto the chicken breasts. I've prepped tomorrow's Kalua pork, a recipe that makes me think of a luau we went to last year during a vacation to Maui. My mind lingered back to those times as my hands worked, cleaning the kitchen for the third or so time of the day.

And now the sun is setting out my window--somehow it's found a clear patch in the sky amidst all the dark clouds that threatened rain all day.

It's quiet now, because it's just me and my girly. When the boys come in, their bring in their energy and excitement, but the talk will soon turn to what movie we're going to see over the weekend as we dig into the jerk chicken and corn and cole slaw.

I guess Fridays aren't so bad.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Family Book Club

A few weeks ago, my oldest son Ben suggested to his big sister Lorelei and little brother Kiefer and me: "Let's have a family book club."

The suggestion hung in the air; I waited to see if his siblings would match Ben's enthusiasm or strike down the request. As a giant book lover and devourer of books, I held my breath and hoped. Would they support their brother in this out-of-left-field suggestion, or might they chuckle at the random suggestion that create homework for themselves?

"Yeah!" they agreed.

I let out my breath. I patted myself on the back for whatever hand I had in this sincere appreciation for books and thanked my lucky stars for these cool apples who definitely fell close to this tree.

(Honestly, the reward for reading the book was really having permission to get on my laptop and do a PowerPoint presentation as a final book report/presentation to the rest of us. Nothing is cooler than PowerPoint right now to them...if that's not chuckle-worthy, I don't know what is!)

Ben got slips of paper and asked for help in remembering different genres of books. "What's a genre?" asked first grader Kiefer. Fifth grader Lorelei filled in the blanks for him, and we threw out a healthy list of categories: nonfiction, fiction, fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, biography, graphic novels. He folded the slips of paper, grabbed one of his many baseball caps, and let Kiefer do the honor of choosing the first genre.

"Biography!" Kiefer declared.

They happily started looking for books and talking about which person in history was interesting to them. They Googled and looked to see if our library had the books they wanted. Kiefer became quickly overwhelmed by the number of options within the "Who Was...?" book series. While I observed them and chimed in to help, I began to wonder who I would choose.

A few days later, I got a notification from my library that it was finally my turn to listen to the audio version of Grant by Ron Chernow. The decision was made. I'd listen to this book and learn about this important man and also do my book report on him.

While I faithfully review almost all of the books I read on Goodreads, listening to Grant with an ear towards lessons for my children on this leader has been unexpectedly fun. Should I share with them that his first name is actually Hiram, middle name Ulysses, which created the initials "HUG" for which he was teased mercilessly in grade school? Should I tell them, especially my equestrian daughter, of his horsemanship? In addition to these two things, here are the things that stand out to me as very worthy of teaching them about Ulysses S. Grant:

  • He was a kind-hearted, tender leader who once walked among the wounded in the Mexican-American War and gave water to a wounded enemy after walking the battlefield to look for his own troops.
  • He was a successful military leader early on, but then got out of the Army to pursue civilian life with his wife and children. But he was a failure at all things agrarian and business. Yet these failures meant he was looking for an opportunity, and when southern states seceded and military leaders were needed, he was in need of work--and this was his kind of work.
  • Many believe he was an alcoholic from a young age; Chernow argues that he was disciplined with his alcohol abuse and kept it from affecting his family and military career. He was a private man who took seriously the positions he held, but was undoubtedly unable to shake this addiction altogether.
I'm looking forward to listening to the rest of the book--which is a good thing, because I'm on part 7 of 38 parts!--and I'm looking forward to my own PowerPoint presentation to my trio at the end of the month. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

I Quit

I'm quitting writing.

I just got home from my middle grade critique group, where I told my two excellent, also unpublished authors: "I need to take a break." They nodded their heads, telling me to come back anytime. I took a deep breath and walked away as they started to plan their next meeting.

Some backstory: Five years ago, I decided I wanted to write children's books. Our three kids were very young, and I was surrounded by piles of books of all sizes and fonts and types. I started writing my own stories, playing around with voice and plot and syntax. At the same time, I tried to learn as much as I can about writing children's books, mostly books, blogposts, and my newly formed critique group. After three years of picture books and dozens of rejections, I had a go at a longer format. I wrote an early middle grade chapter book, about 22,000 words, and for the last two years I've edited and revised it.

I still had those three children. I still am surrounded by piles and piles of books. But they did what children do--they grew up some in the last five years. Their baby phases ended and school began. Practices and playdates replaced the long afternoon walks to the mailbox. My husband still works long ten to twelve hour days, so all of the household management and parenting falls to me.

A few months ago, I sent my long, polished manuscript to a few agents. I really thought I was going to get a YES from one. I did not.

Her rejection was the straw that broke the camel's back. (Now that I'm not writing I can use such cliches.) I'm now reconsidering everything, as setbacks usually make a person do. After weeks of soul-searching and wondering and really thinking about it, I've decided to quit writing children's books.

At least I think so. At least for a while. The thing is, this quitting doesn't have to last forever. If I miss it, if I feel empty without sitting down at my computer and typing out a new story, if I want to be involved in the children's literature community as a writer and not just a blogger and aficionado, then I'll pick it back up. This quitting is almost a test, a litmus test to see how passionate I am about writing stories.

But slicing? Essays? I can't imagine not writing those. In fact, the first thing I did after breaking up with my critique group was to sit down, open my laptop, and edit this before clicking "publish." So...see you next Tuesday.




Tuesday, September 5, 2017

My Daughter Asked Me About Bad Decisions...

The other day my daughter asked me: "What are some of the worst decisions you ever made in your life, Mom?" I stopped to think. Panic in the form of adrenaline shot into my bloodstream. My mind was instantly blocked by the few enormously bad decisions I've made in my adult life that are too big and too mature to explain right now my ten year old right now. Her question prompted in me an explosion of uncertainty about whether or not I'll ever tell her about those bad decisions. Some secrets are worth keeping for a long time. Maybe forever.

I promised my daughter that I'd get back to her, and this blogpost will be edited and changed (and the above paragraph deleted, to be honest) as a letter to her. I needed to think about my answer. 

As the days rolled by after her question, I thought and thought. I realized that a big chunk of bad decisions didn't come to mind right away because what were horrible and emotional moments in the short run became funny--though perhaps slightly embarrassing--stories in the long run. 

Here's what I came up with:
  • I sure wish I hadn't driven my mother and stepfather's car into the ground when they lent it to me for a road trip with my pals when I was mid-twenties. It was a bad decision to ignore the sound coming from the engine; it was a downright stupid decision to think that "letting the car rest" in the parking garage of our New Orleans hotel while my friends and I did what twenty-somethings do in New Orleans would cure it of its clanking.
  • It was a bad decision to break up with my boyfriend in the car after he surprised me at the airport for my best friend's wedding. I had told him not to come, that I'd wanted to focus my time and attention on being a bridesmaid and hanging out with old friends instead of being his girlfriend and making sure he had a good time around people he'd never met before. When we got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, the break up became pretty awkward.

But there are two things that I came up with that aren't funny and probably never will be:
  • I wish I hadn't bought such an expensive wedding dress. My mother was kind and generous and wanted to provide some parts of the wedding, though we (but really my husband-to-be) paid for almost all of it ourselves. Looking back, I can see how I got caught up in the exciting swirl my wedding and I wanted that day to be gorgeous and wonderful and memorable. But a dress with a four-digit price tag that I wore for five hours...? Looking back a dozen years later, I wish I had been more respectful of my mother's money and more frugal about our wedding.
  • I wish I never spanked my children. I don't think I ever spanked my oldest daughter, and I think I only spanked my youngest son a handful of times. But my older son...I can't say the same thing. I cringe at the the count and wouldn't want to know it if it was available to me. I was going through some emotional times when he was going through some terribly obstinate times, but the fact was: I was 38 and he was three. I was wrong.

Some days these bad decisions rise to regrets. Other days, I choose to be kind to myself and grant a little grace today and whenever I think of those bad decisions. I'm human. I make mistakes. Sometimes of epic proportions, sometimes ones that are easy to laugh at right away...or after a few months.

But the lesson to my daughter is clear: Time helps. The passing of time helps one gain perspective on a situation and allows you to view it from a vantage point that is usually clearer and makes the solution a whole lot more obvious. Sometimes that's tricky, because I know I have a tendency to be hard on myself and beat myself up: Why didn't I do X? That was clearly the right thing to do! But when you're in the thick of it, that clarity simply doesn't exist.

So you live. And you learn. And you chuckle at the fact that you thought a few days of rest would solve your car troubles. Or about that break up with your boyfriend in a traffic jam. And about the bigger things you sigh and wish you'd chosen differently. And hopefully you will from this point onward because you've thought about it and learned. On to new mistakes!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Trees I See

I'm sitting on the deck of our house-for-the-week during our family's last hurrah of summer. The deck, like the whole house, is unlike our traditional, cottagey home. It is sleek and swanky, and the railing I'm looking at--well, looking through--are another example of the modern touches. Thick panels of glass mean that there is very little between me and the view. Only sturdy clips to prop up and link the glass together sit on the deck.

Other than that, it's just me and the view.

And the view is breathtaking. I know I'm supposed to be looking at the water. There are orcas and seals, humpbacks and porpoises out there. Bald eagles could fly by any minute. I'm supposed to be searching for them. A couple of neat boats sail past every hour.

But between me and the blue, blue water are seven trees that keep grabbing my attention. I can't keep my eyes off of them.

Six of these trees are tall evergreens. I think they're Douglas Firs, but I'm not certain. We moved to the Pacific Northwest from Virginia last summer, so I'm still getting to know the flora and fauna of the area. Regardless of their correct classification, they shoot from the ground as straight as arrows towards the sky. One has a few reachable branches, but the other five have no low-lying limbs to invite my children to climb...which is fine, because all six are taller than the house, with perches four stories tall. They are perfect for this plot of land because they don't affect the view too much at all. I can see plenty of ocean between their trunks.

And then there's the seventh tree.

This one is completely unlike the others. This one is twisted and gnarly. It is bushy and imperfect. The bark makes this tree stand out even more. There are three different barks happening: One is a predictable, tough shell. The next is the most eye-catching thing about it: a skin as chestnut as my daughter's pony, smooth in some places, bumpy in others. Then, there's the stone gray part of the bark, where it looks like the tree has died but is still in tact. It is the same color of teak after several seasons bleached from the sun. There are hardly any leaves, and I can see no predictable pattern of where the few clumps of leaves grow.

This red tree grows up over the cliff and the water but its limbs twist their way down and out like a wicked witch's fingers beckoning kayakers its way.

I wonder: Is there any moment in this red tree's mind when it wishes it was like the others? Does it spend any ounce of its precious life feeling envy or self-doubt?

How ludicrous! How laughable! What a silly thought! Trees don't have thoughts like that.

And with that, I'd like to be a more tree-like. I want to grow where I need to grow. Grow how I need to grow, trust my instincts that my bark and my hair and my trunk and my limbs are exactly how they are supposed to be rather than wasting precious moments wishing otherwise.