Friday, August 12, 2016

On the Road

In January of 2001, when I was 20 years old, my cousin Andy gave me a novel. Technically, a friend of his, when I complained to them both about looking for something to read, Jeff slipped it in my hands when I was saying good-bye. I took that book with me, shoving into the outside pocket of my carry-on bag, next to a bag of cookies.

I boarded my flight to Ireland, I listened to music on my Walkman, I tried to watch in-flight TV. I was restless. I was nervous. I ate a cookie. I pulled out the book, running my fingers over the cover, reading the title once more, On the Road by Jack Kerouac. I sat back, reading the opening paragraph. I consumed the novel in one sitting. I re-read it again, marking quotes, jotting in the margins.

I read On the Road two more times my first two weeks in Dublin. I finally got set-up on email through the university system, I sought out Jeff’s email. “That novel you gave me, I wrote him. “I loved it. I loved every part of it,”

The response was short, “Oh yeah,” he wrote. “I thought you might.”
I read that book again and again and again. I carried that book in my pack around Europe. I brought it home to college, from college to my adult life, from Sacramento to Los Angeles to the suburbs of San Francisco, packing it up with every move. It still remains, without question, one of my top three favorite novels of all time.

When I met J, we bonded over a love of reading and travel. He’d tell stories of lay-overs in Australia and jet off to New York for the weekend, and I’d reminisce about my time in Ireland. We'd share our favorite novels, talk about our favorite characters like they were old friends. After we graduated, our weekends were free, and often times we would skip town for the weekend, deciding at the last minute where to explore next. We’d pack up a cooler and drive: San Luis Obispo. Hollywood. San Diego. The Redwood Forest. On our drives we would plan out elaborate trips to Europe. To Asia. To Argentina. Anywhere and everywhere.

The weekend excursions diminished as we earned more responsibilities. Grad school and a mortgage. Babies and routine.  Weekend trips were less likely to happen, but they were essentially what really built our relationship. 
A few days after Christmas 2008, we were driving up to Orangevale. It had been a particularly hard month, and we had hit rock bottom.

“What if we just skipped Christmas and kept driving?” he asked. "Yes." I answered without thinking. 

So we just left. We let in the rain, with just the nights’ clothes on our back and a coffee to share. No plans except an idea to head north.

As we drove on I-5 towards Oregon, the quote from On the Road that I had memorized years before came flooding to the surface.  “What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies."
This past weekend as we drove farther and farther north, we kept questioning our decision. “We should have camped in Sonoma,” I muttered, as Violet cried, and “Are we there yet” sang out for the thousandth time. But, then north of Eureka, the landscape changes and something shifted and it felt right.

On Saturday as we hiked through Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, and we watched the girls climb on tree stumps and raced among Redwood Groves. We ran our hands up and down the soft bark of the trees. We breathed in the fresh air and played games among the trees. We built campfires and roasted marshmallows. We dug in the dirt and balanced on tree logs. In forty-eight hours we watched each of our girls grow in different ways.
I am nostalgic to a fault. I miss people before I’ve left them. I reminisce about things ten minutes after they’ve happened. I look back on times that were happy and they made me happy, but they make me sad too, and sometimes there is just no way to separate the happy from the sad, and it’s because you can’t go backwards, I think, because there’s no way to press the repeat button. Things happen and then they’re over. People are here and then they’re gone. We keep going forward because we have to, and the past recedes in the rearview mirror behind us, and it gets smaller and smaller and smaller.

Nostalgia, if you can believe it, was once recognized as a medical condition. Soldiers fighting in wars in the eighteenth century were diagnosed with nostalgia and sent home. Rousseau’s Dictionnaire de Musique describes how Swiss mercenaries were banned from singing the songs of their homeland – the Kuhreihen, or cattle-herding melodies – because they stirred in them such a powerful longing for the past that they would run away, become ill, or even die. Nostalgia – from the Greek word nostos meaning “returning home” and algos, meaning “pain.” So, when it comes down to it, we feel nostalgic when we are looking for a sense of grounding or stability.

You can’t go home again, they say, and it’s true, you can’t: you can’t go back in time to a grand international adventure in 2001 when all the world seemed alive and new. You can’t go back with hard-won knowledge and hard-earned skills, and you can’t do it over, even if you swear you wouldn’t do it any differently at all. But, remembering the past inspires hope and builds confidence. Nostalgia helps us make sense of this wild ride. It grants us perspective, reminding us: Nothing is permanent. You can’t go backwards, and so you have to go forwards. But there’s nothing wrong with looking over your shoulder every once in a while. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

A letter to my little peanut: Violet is TWO

Dear Violet,

In the morning when I get your from your crib, I stand and watch your sisters dancing and singing and playing with you. I watch them reading you stories. I think it then. I walk in and as I do you smile and shout "HAPPY BRTHDAY (birthday) ME!" We play our game: I ask "How old is the birthday girl?" and you hold up four fingers, and say "TWO!" and we all giggle and laugh. I think it again while you nestle against me, your skin against my skin, for our first morning snuggle. 
In the morning, you sit up on your chair spooning in large mouthfuls of greek yogurt and cut strawberries and you babble to your sisters. Joining in on their conversations about pirates and dragons, laughing at their jokes and listening to their stories. You interject your own words in between bites of Daddy's leftover pancakes, and I think it then. I help you put on your "LA-LA" (Cinderella) dress and dance around the playroom with your sisters. I watch your face light up as you skype with your SASSI (Grandmother) as she sings you the Happy Birthday Song, and I think it then too. I think it while you expand your knowledge of the world, and sharpen your vocabulary with words we use every day. You ask to make play dough, AY-DOH, making the sign for please, "PEAS, MOMMA. ORANGE. PEAS." I think it then as we gather the flour, salt and cream of tarter, as I watch you stir in the orange colored water and oil. You smile and giggle. "HOT" you tell me, pointing at the stove. Smiling, I think it then too.
We're readying for quiet time, and you are snuggled on my lap asking for hugs and kisses and I think it then. You tell me "READ" and we're reading Ollie the Stomper and Gossie and The Day the Babies Crawled Away. More you sign, "MO" and I think it then, as we settle back for Bear Wants More and Ladybug Girl and her Momma. I think it as I set you down in your crib with your piles and piles of board books stacked around you in your crib as you blow kisses and wave "BYE" as I leave the room.

We're walking Casey around the court, and you see the neighbors walking their dog and you exclaim "PUPPY!", insisting we stop and pet the dog. You stop and investigate each and every flower you see. I think it then. You run to keep up with your sisters, and insist on playing on Daisy's scooter riding around the court. As you focus on balancing, I watch you and I think it then, a few steps behind you, giving you space to learn, but ready to catch you if you fall. As we ready for our Parent and Me Swimming class, you smile and say "MY TURN", so happy to have your own turn in the pool after watching your sisters at swim practice all summer long.
I think it while we're playing in the water together, your sisters cheering you on while standing on the pool deck. You wave and clap your hands at them, "SISSYS" you shout, and you blow bubbles and kick your feet, beaming with pride. I think it then while we sing and swim together.
We're readying for the night. You are tired. You march into your bedroom and demand to be bathed and changed, picking out the pj's of your choosing. I think it then. You ask for stories, demanding more after each one. I think it then. I think it while we read together, while your heart beats beside mind. I whisper it then. I whisper it with my lips on your forehead, with my soul bursting, and your fingers rubbing up and down my arm.
I whisper it again: I love you. I love you sweet girl.

I love you more than all the stars in the sky and all the water in the oceans.


Monday, August 01, 2016

A Letter to my Bug

Dear Lily,

On Saturday you turned fifty-four months old. I had to count out your months and look at your last few letters because I keep forgetting you are already four and a half. 

I still remember when you hit about two weeks old and I stopped counting your age in days. Mostly because of my fried brain and lack of sleep, and navigating life with two children under two, and I just couldn’t keep track any longer, and I started crying. Actually, bawling. It was totally devastating to refer to you in weeks instead of days. You were growing so fast that it took my breath away. And now, going to four and half, or fifty-four months, or 1,642 days, or how ever we want to count it and my breath starts catching because it just seems impossible.

Tomorrow I’ll probably be waving to you as you drive off to college and in a week I’ll be watching your children graduate from high school. I know that when you’re four and half time stretches on forever and ever so that every hour feels like an epoch, but trust me: time flies.
At the Chevron Family Theater Festival. We saw the play the Wizard of Oz, got our face painted and made masks. All in all, a very fun afternoon. 

While you've grown in so many ways over the past six months, one of the biggest things you've really started mastering is swimming. Like, you kick your feet and pull your arms through the water. Swimming for hours and hours like a mermaid swimming. You have left behind the floaties and have donned your magic rainbow goggles to become a swimmer. You cannon ball and swim laps. You play elaborate made-up games by yourself or with your sister. It’s been so amazing to watch, you started this summer completely fearful of the water. Afraid to let go of my hands, afraid of not wearing your swimming vest or not having fins. I spent the first few weeks of summer having to convince you to get into the water, and now I use all my mad-parenting skills trying to pry you out of the water. It’s been really cool to watch this transformation. 
You did a "little" swim team this summer with swimming practice several times a week that culminated in a swim meet where you earned a medal after your "race." 

Your love of cooking and baking has also really taken off in the past six months. You love to help daddy make pancakes on Saturday mornings, or roll out the pizza dough on late Friday afternoons. You constantly want to help me in the kitchen whether its making the balsamic dressing for our salad or baking muffins for breakfast. You love to test if the pasta is ready by throwing it against the wall to see if it will stick and are forever asking how exactly the yeast causes the bread dough to rise.

Additionally, your love of stories and books has also risen to new heights. You constantly love to listen to your stories podcasts, and in your humble opinion, the best day of the week is library day. It's not just that you love the stories, but you've been very interested in learning how to read too. Earlier this year you asked me to teach you. At first, I was very hesitant. Four year old seemed so young to learn, but then you were insistent, and started recognize and spell several words on your own: STOP, MOM, DAD, SHEEP, RAT, DOG, GO, and so this summer, the reading lessons have begun in more earnest. And even though I never intended to teach you letters and writing and reading until you were closer to kindergarten, and even though I feel a little silly getting so geeked out over something so little, I'm not really certain which of the two of us is more excited about this. 
One weekend we drove up to Lake Tahoe, which honestly was a bust. There was a wind storm that whipped the sand around and caused crazy white caps in the water. So we switched gears and played mini-golf and ate ice cream up at NorthStar. 

My little bumblebee,  you are  a wonder to behold. Sometimes you are a tempest. You are wild and angry, but there is something beautiful about you, something amazing, and even in the worst of rages I can look at you and see my baby, my darling girl. I hold you and rock you until the sobs subside. Other times you are calm and peaceful. You are inquisitive and nostalgic. You are thoughtful and compassionate and observant. I see glimpses of the woman you will become. To me, you are magical. 

I could have never seen it fifty-four months ago when I was crying about you growing up so fast, but being with you at this age is wonderful. I love you more than all the stars in the sky and all the water in the oceans.

Love, Momma