children, family, humor., Life in General, Nature: Hiking, Wildlife & More, parenting

Fun with Other People’s Kids.

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I can’t resist engaging with kids. They seem to be the people I most want to meet. My girls call me the baby whisperer, okay, sometimes they use the term ‘baby stalker’ based on some of the looks I get from wary  care givers when I address a four year old in the check out line at Dollar Tree. I won’t be deterred though, because if a kid makes eyes contact with me, I want to turn it into a smile. I usually get one too. I’ll play the fool in a long line to pass the time, I’ll put myself out there to entertain, I’ll step in to distract a child on the verge of a tantrum, or make a silly face to get a laugh, or start a conversation with the older child who is standing, bored and neglected, as a younger sib’s whining skims off all the attention fat. Sure I’m risking embarrassment, rejection, and citizen’s arrest, but aren’t I always? At least an honest kid-interaction holds some reward for me that’s worth having, unlike say, acting or writing or fashion choices. Not that I don’t love acting and writing, but they seldom offer the immediate elation of connecting with an unblemished soul free from pre-fab social roles. So I guess you could say that I’m impulse inspired. Or just crazy. Either way.

Increasingly, other parents think I’m nuts. When I was younger and prettier—which sadly makes a difference in our appearances-first world—people didn’t seem to mind so much. In fact, if they recognized me from film or TV, they encouraged it.  I once had a family thrust their baby in my lap while I was eating at a restaurant and start filming me. The baby was cute, but I was eating spinach at the time. Spinach. But now that I’m older, out of the public eye, wear no makeup, dress like I’m always on a hike or just back from falling down a muddy hill, and don’t give two flipping fucks what grown ups think of me, I’m viewed with increasing suspicion.

But that won’t stop me from trying to get that smile.

I just have an affinity for kids and the open, unclouded psyche of their as yet unspoiled minds. They just got off the boat onto this strange, magnificent shore of life, especially the little ones. Kids are still closer to the other side, to what’s important, and they showed up in this world ready to run screaming with delight along the shore, leaping with both feet into puddle of sea water just for the delicious squishy sound of the sloshing and the spray of wet mud. They care nothing yet for the sand that gets tracked into the house. Screw it, they’re alive and ready to shout it at the sky.

They remind me of me.

When my older daughter was in college, she had a job working for a family as child care, cook, and general dogsbody, she had three highly intelligent, personable, independent little charges. They were these amazing kids, and I wanted to get to know them. Even though I was just another adult, I was also ‘Creason’s mom’ which lent me some prestige and mystique. Oh, they’d heard stories! When I first met them, on the beach in front of their house, they were polite but somewhat reserved, until I offered to flip them upside down.

My daughter remembers me doing this to her with her father, or one of my sisters, or my best friend, we did it a lot. So she looked down at their questioning faces, which eloquently and intelligently asked, ‘do we trust this crazy lady?’ and nodded with a smile. “You’re gonna’ love it,” she told them.

Here’s what you do. There are three rules for this ‘trick.’ One. It must be performed over sand or grass, something softish. Two. Both adults must be physically able with a good grip. Three. Sobriety is a must. Do not attempt this with a beer in one hand or your system, and definitely no psychedelic drugs that might make you think the kid could actually fly. I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but some folks are highly impressionable, lawyers are real, and…well, it’s funny.

To begin, stand facing the other grown up with the kid seated on their bottom in between you. Each of you take the kid’s wrist nearest you, linking tightly to get a solid hold like trapeze artists do. Use the same hand as the kid’s as though you are shaking hands, child’s right hand to adult’s right hand adult, child’s left to adult’s left on that corresponding side.  Adults cross their free hand over their already occupied wrist and take a hold of the child’s same side ankle firmly, thumb toward the knee on the inside of the calf with palm facing down. It’s a bit of a twist. If your palm is facing up, you will wrench your shoulder out when the fun begins.

Lift on the count of three and gently rock the kid back and forth, gaining momentum and height, much like the kid is the swing on a swing set or you’re working up to launch them onto the top bunk from across the bedroom. See? We’re already having fun.

But remember that kid-wish to pump the swing so high that it would just wrap right around the supporting pole like Olga Korbut back flipping off the high bar in the ’72 Olympics? Come on, it can’t just be me. Anyway, that’s the goal. When you get to shoulder level, aim the butt end of the kid into the air above you, go ahead and sling them all the way up and over, this will uncross your arms. Keep the wrist hold at all times. At the apex, release the ankle hold, switching that hand to support the kid under the arm on the way down so the kid lands on their feet.

The kids rocks like a pendulum, the sky and clouds above invite them on over as they lurch back and forth, ever upward, and then with one great hurl, centrifugal force meets gravity and they are propelled into the blue, for a split second they float, free and unfettered by physics’ forces, before the thrilling fall.

Wheee! And…she sticks the landing!!

So…after that stunt, I’m in the cool-grownup club. Throwing six and eight years olds butt-over-bangs didn’t exactly cement a lifelong relationship, but it sure did make me a more welcome visitor the next time. And when that next time came, and the one after that, we searched for sea glass, roasted hot dogs over a beach bonfire, played tag until my ageing joints required epsom salts soaks and various CBD salves, and baked bread in the shape of snake until one glorious far away day, (about a week later) they told my daughter they missed me and asked if I could come and play. I went to meet them when she was picking them up after Karate. I arrived to see that my daughter was a couple minutes late, and the kids were the last ones waiting for their ride, watching out the big plate glass window like puppies at the pound. I pulled up and got out of the car and gestured subtly, like a rodeo clown trying to distract a bronco. The second they spotted me, they bolted outside and wrapped their arms around my waist and climbed me like the jungle gym I was born to be.

Bliss.

Make no mistake, I’ve got rules and boundaries, safety and learning how to navigate an uncertain world count, but kids see things more simply, their world is still filled with wonder and magic, and I see that too. When I hike, I notice sunlight on drops of dew like fragments of rainbow that broke off and ran away to have adventures, bright yellow banana slugs feasting on red mushrooms refresh my faith in faeries, and the calls of birds and the skittle of unseen, small, warm things all around me reminds me that I am only one in a fantastically diverse family of fabulous creatures who share the big world, or just my own backyard. Same same.

In other words, I often see things just like a kid. I don’t know why, but I always want to take the time to get down on my belly, or crouch on my haunches to stick my fingers in mud so fine and smooth it runs over your nerve endings like a kitten’s fur. This isn’t dirt to a kid, this isn’t mud or yuck, it’s liquid velvet. A crescent moon in the thick blueberry syrup of an afternoon sky, a green-black crow feather, a shiny rock smoothed by it’s time in a stream, these are treasures to be thrilled over, collected, admired and shared.

But it was easier for me when I had my own kids and they had friends. Now, if I share with other people’s kids who don’t know me, say on a hike, or at a national park, I try to do it in a non-chalant, ‘hey, did you kids see the giant frogs in the pond?’ kind of way, aware that their guardians are eyeing me with suspicion and positioning themselves protectively. It’s funny, the kids want to see the frogs, (who wouldn’t? these things were huge and loud, I mean they were awesome!) but their parents are often more focused on filming them for next year’s ‘Christmas from the Crookshanks’ video newsletter that, let’s be honest, nobody outside the immediate family really watches. Unlike their children, these grownups no longer hear the rustle of pixie wings in the flowers under the oaks, or see the glint of ivory scales on the friendly dragon that lives in the trees. Parents are all too often stretched dental-floss thin by the constant barrage of incoming reality and overwhelmed by the pressure of filling needs and expectations to let go of being the parent and join them in that place just on the other side of that sunbeam dancing with dandelion parachutes.

I get it. That was all too often me. I was guilty too. These days, hell probably always, parents are busy, frazzled, on constant lookout for danger. They don’t know this crazy, frizzy-haired lady who obviously lacks conventional social filters. I mean, why is she speaking to their child? Is a toadstool really worth getting excited about? I get it. Often, if the parents are reserved or untrusting, the kids take their cue from them and don’t respond to me. Those times, I smile, wish them all a good day, and go on my way, trying not to feel overly disappointed, but I still point out the path to the pond, just in case.

Yet more often than not kids do seem to instinctively know that I’m not only harmless, I might be fun. They recognize the impulse in me to do a cartwheel or climb a tree, or lay down and look through two blades of grass at a beetle and pretend I’m watching a performance on a stage with green curtains just because it’s awesome to visit another world. I am a kindred spirit to a five year old if you will. Or possibly just easily amused. Same same.

In fact, the older I get, the more I seek out imagination. I can’t tell you how often I’ve gone to a grown up party and instead of drinking and chatting about shopping and interest rates, I’ve spent the whole time devising games for the bored kids in the back yard. (and had a blast doing it) I recently went to a birthday for a friend who was turning 70. His grandchild has Asperger’s and was reluctant to relate in any way with any one, but he was fascinated with some leaves that had fallen on the deck and I found that much more worthy a subject than what interested the grown ups. So I sat down near him and started dropping the leaves through the cracks in the deck, then I would put my eye right to the space and try to spot where they landed. After a few, the kid was down on the deck with me. So I found some colored paper, tore it up and dropped that through. Within a few minutes the child was pointing with excitement when he spotted one of the bright scraps nestled into the brown leaf litter far below.

If I think about how that must have looked, like say, if I cared, I would probably cringe and I would definitely not have done it. This 58 year old woman, who no one at the party other than the hosts had ever met, on her knees with her butt up in the air and her face pressed to the redwood decking, proclaiming, “There it is! I see it!” But I didn’t give it a thought, and so by the end of the party, me and this terrific boy were building a ‘bridge’ over a foot wide waterway and playing at sword fighting with sticks, though he never spoke a word. I don’t know about the kid, but I had a wonderful afternoon. Still don’t know who else was at the party. I’m sure they were great, but compared to defending a bridge by fighting off highway bandits, discussing job benefits  is a snore.

As I get older, and more prone to muscular injury, I’ll have to adjust my tactics. I’ll rely increasingly on stories and invention.  I will always feel awed by nature and feel compelled to encourage kids to love her, as much for the sake of the little humans as for nature herself. After all, if they have fertile imaginations they can create anything they can dream of. If they love nature, they will protect her, and they will find solace in her arms whenever they truly need it.

And we all need solace sometimes.

And a giggle.

And magic.

We all need to do a cartwheel just for the joy of it.

Even if it’s only imaginary, in which case, add some applause.

But today, I’ll need to flip some kid upside down.

Just for fun.

 

Shari, January 6th, 2019

America, beauty, cancer, children, depression, family, Life in General, Marriage, parenting

Destiny Always Leads

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You can dance through life, but destiny always leads.

 

I hadn’t planned to go to Prescott Arizona, but when one of my husband’s few remaining relatives took a fall and relapsed from her brain surgery, I grabbed a carryon, threw in a few sweaters and headed for the airport.

I didn’t want to go to the deep red state, carpeted with sage brush and gun stores in seemingly equal proportion, where the air is so dry and the people are so conservative it makes my nose bleed, but someone needed me—so I zipped up my suitcase and my mouth and went to help. It’s what you do.

I have lots of family, and sadly, as with every family, I have lost quite a few of my very favorite relatives, I’ve sat bed-side at home hospice through the end, cleaned houses turned to hoarders’ caves by senility, and spent endless hours dealing with lawyers, hospitals, insurance companies, and hysterical loved ones who selfishly tried to make it all about them. I’ve shopped for caskets, planned memorials, and visited gravesides and hospitals enough for a lifetime. I have comforted, fought, stepped up, and wept, I have wept as I thought I would never weep again.

Until I did.

Luckily, overall my side of the family is a healthy, long-living bunch. My mom is one of seven sisters and I have a large family on my dad’s side too, so there are plenty of aunts, uncles, first, second and third cousins to keep those photo Christmas cards rolling in. I look forward to seeing how everyone has grown, where they’ve gone on vacation or to school, who’s starting college, graduated, gotten married, pregnant, addicted, arrested, the whole sordid, magnificent, ongoing, family saga.

But my husband is an only child with no offspring of his own. He has only one first cousin who also has no children, so his generation is functionally the last. He wanted children of his own very badly, but instead opted to care for my girls and raise them with me. It wasn’t always a job filled with gratitude or promotion, but ultimately they came to love and treasure him because he adores them, takes care of them, always puts them ahead of himself, but mostly because he treats me like a treasure and they like to see me happy.

But it’s not the same, I know it’s not. I know that he gave up the dream of marrying a younger woman than me (I’m four years older than he and didn’t meet him until I was 40) who could give him children and the subsequent family that flows ever outwards in the form of in-laws, grandchildren, future wives’ second families, ad infinitum.

Okay, maybe only one wife, but you get my drift. Some families seem to keep expanding like yeast when you soak it in water, and some families sort of slowly empty like a cookie jar that no one refills. Once, shiny and new, it was stuffed with multiple generations, group gatherings, weddings, and birth announcements, but now it sits, chipped and gathering dust on the countertop, and all that is left inside are the funerals and a fading family album.

But that doesn’t mean the cookies weren’t delicious.

It’s odd to say, but I think being part of a large, extended family is both an advantage and a drawback when it comes to hardships and death. I suppose the fact that I have been through much loss makes me better prepared to handle the tragedies when they come, on the other hand—they come more often.

I’ve learned things. I know who to speak to if you want to get the right care, I know not to harass nurses for doctors’ information, or challenge the insurance company without a lawyer, I know what details should not be allowed to fall through the cracks, I know people will lose it sometimes, that they will laugh inappropriately to keep from going insane, I know how much work it is to clean up after a life and dismantle a home, I know that relatives will fight over things they never cared for in life, I know that this too shall pass, and I understand that I will now have a new indelible date on my calendar—a death date.

Stepping back into caregiver role is familiar for me as it is for many people my age, especially women. It so often falls to us to care for the infirm or hold a hand as a spirit slips quietly over. I know what it is to have someone in room with you one second, and then they just aren’t there anymore. I truly believe that in general women have more strength for suffering of all kinds. Throughout our lives we have dealt with blood and pain on a monthly basis, seemingly irrational emotional upheaval has been a frequent visitor, and cleaning unthinkable messes is all too familiar to us. I don’t mean to discount the strength that men have, it can be profound, but it is seldom sublime.

The times in my life when I have forced myself to function while tears streamed uncontrollably from my eyes and my voice broke from the strain of debilitating emotion are too many to count. Inevitably when this happens to me whoever I am dealing with, confronting, or comforting, will tell me to calm down or try to sooth me. Mostly because an honest display of feeling makes them uncomfortable. To this I always say, “I am fine. My emotion is not a weakness, it is a strength. I can, and will, go on. I can feel all of this and remain standing”

So when people start to lose it around me, I double up on grit. I get so full of grit I might as well be made of sand, and sand, as we all know, melts into glass. I have never been through the fragility of a severe illness or a death and not come out of it feeling more beautiful and enriched than I was before. The hue of sand may be bland, but after it passes through the fire, it turns into colors that deepen and strike back at the sunlight that strives to pass through them.

But not everyone has that sense of recovery or the experience to know that they will. Some people have bad things happen and say, ‘why me?’ rather than, ‘my turn.’ So when I was talking with my Aunt-in-law, who has no children and made most of her life choices around herself all her life,  my perspective was somewhat different than hers.

In the last ten years this aunt has lost her parents, in their eighties, her brother, in his sixties, and her much older husband. This is nature, this is the circle. Family members grow old and they die, and if there are no children, the family line eventually ends. This is a fact, not a punishment. So when she looked at me with tears in her eyes and bleated, “What is happening to this family?” I was able to look back at her with a smile as sure as dawn and say, “Every family goes through these things.” Then I told her that because of my charity I have often dealt with families losing a young child and pointed out the difference between losing a three year old and a husband in his eighties. I know it’s not any easier to lose a husband than a child, but I never met a parent who wouldn’t change places with their child, if only they had been given the choice. I told her that my great-grandmother buried all five of her children before her own death at 104. That shocked her into a different, much needed, perspective.

Then I sat down and took her hand. I told her the Buddhist story of a woman who lost her child and was so distraught that she went to the monk in her village and asked him what to do, she wanted nothing but to die.

He gave her an empty jar and told her, “Take this jar around the countryside, and every time you find someone who has not lost a loved one, ask them to put one pebble in the jar. When the jar is full, return to me and I will tell you what to do.” So the woman took the jar and went from village to village, from house to house, but she never did get even one pebble, for every family had lost someone beloved. What she did find were others who had suffered as she was suffering and and they comforted her, they understood and shared her loss. What she found was that she was not alone, that death and loss were an integral part of being human. At long last, she returned to the monk, gave him the empty jar, and thanked him before going on with her life, always taking time to help others through their losses and their own unique, but familiar, unfathomable pain.

The time came for me to return home for other family responsibilities and my husband stayed on, he’s still with his aunt. At the departure gate, I received a phone call that another family member (mine this time) has just been diagnosed with cancer, and so that journey begins. Already filled with leaden sadness, my trip home was one misadventure after another, nasty airline personnel, bad directions, a bumpy flight through storm clouds, lost parking ticket, and on and on until it cumulated in me leaning against a trash can in front of terminal two at San Jose International and crying from my gut just long enough to bleed that poison out before bucking up and getting on with it. If anyone bothered to notice, they may have thought I was weak or broken, but it was exactly the opposite.

Somebody needs me, and I need to be there.

We all get a turn. We all hold a hand, feel the desperation of not being able to make it better, we all wake up at night and dread the coming dawn, we all think we will not be able to take one more step. But we are not alone. Each of us knows devastation to our souls at some point. Though we may feel that no one suffers as we do, if we search for them, the jar stays empty, at least until we fill it with compassion and memories.

And the light of a thousand departed souls.

Until we join them.

Be brave, be strong.

Cry for the loss.

Cry for the strength that it shows.

Your pain is love.

Would you have it any other way?

 

Shari, December 3rd, 2018

 

America, beauty, creative inspiration, family, Life in General, Nature: Hiking, Wildlife & More, parenting

Just for You.

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My husband and I recently gave ourselves the gift of a few days in Yosemite National Park. There were jaw-dropping vistas, cliffs so dramatic they make you weep, waterfalls that remind you how mortal you are, and rivers and trees that murmur the blessings of Mother Nature to you, welcoming you home. All of it is so special and remarkable that you feel that you are the first, that this is a gift just for you.

The city smut sloughs off of you and you can clearly feel your exhaustion. You hadn’t been aware of how depressed and isolated you had become. The separation from anything real snuck up on you, seeping in insidiously until you had lost hope in this current, science-denying country of ours, and assumed everyone but you saw Mother Nature as a big ol’ whore to be pimped to the highest bidding john.

But you look again, and miracle of miracles, you realize there are others. Many others. “Oh,” you say with tears of surprise and relief in your eyes as you see that someone else cares, “I thought I was the only one left who gave a shit.” There are many who have come to be in this sacred space to remember who they are. People who realize that without wilderness, we can never know ourselves, or our place in the world. Individuals, like yourself, who value the world as it is rather than reducing it with their small-minded greed to a disposable commodity.  People who know that we have fucked up—big time—but it’s not yet too late, not quite, and they will not let her die without a fight. These people are the planet’s medics on the battlefield, the last line of defense against the disease of the uncaring ravagers and pillagers. We humans, meant to be the stewards of nature, have instead wounded the world, lost our way, but there is a path that leads back. It’s a sobering thought that the world will not be healed in our lifetimes. Bringing back a healthy environment will take generations.

Which is one reason that, as much as I love my own experiences hiking or exploring or just admiring, I get a real visceral thrill when I see and hear children’s enthusiasm that matches, or even exceeds my own. I love sharing my meager knowledge, or pointing out a deer in the trees, or maybe encouraging them to take off their shoes and feel the cold water and smooth stones of the creek on their feet. If they don’t know it, they can’t love it, and if they don’t love it, they won’t protect it.

When I was a small child, my mother said she had to get a hold of me if we ever went somewhere high with a view because I would race to the edge with my arms flung wide and scream at the top of my lungs. Every daring glimpse of the cosmos was a gift, just for me, and I took it.

My mom called it energy, and it was, but it was something more than just my personal energy, more even than childish unbridled joy. It was a few precious seconds of connection with the swirling, glorious infinity of nature and the universe. I know that feeling, I remember it. I still get it, though people freak a bit if, as an adult, I launch myself to the edge of a precipice and scream. I don’t know why—just one of life’s many mysteries. So I’ve learned to temper my reaction, sadly, but my husband still gets a hold of my belt when we get close to high, open places. He is wary of my impulse to be out in that air, to experience sitting in the twenty story windowsill or on the edge of bridges. Both of which I’ve also been known to do, feet dangling over the width and breadth of San Francisco bay, or the lights of a city night.

In that same spirit I have twirled on rooftops, waltzed on the Eiffel tower, whooped with bliss on the African Savannah, hummed with the crickets in the forest at night, leapt from a rocky cliff into the chill of the magnificent Pacific, and laid down in the rain with my face up to the sky, watching the water fall. Note, it’s important to squint when you do this, it makes it easier to keep your eyes open.

And why? For life, to feel the whorl and tides of unmitigated force and vitality. It’s a precious gift and I damn well am going to open it every chance I get.

Possibly the only thing I enjoy as much as gulping in bliss and nature is watching and hearing kids do it. Their enthusiasm is endless, not unlike my own, and their expressions have not yet been tempered or their unchecked joy corrected, limited, and restrained. Their awe is unbridled and infinite.

Sometimes, probably unfairly, it makes me nuts when people treat an outing to someplace like Yosemite as a photo shoot for their kids. Reining them in from the hugeness of the experience to try to contain it in a few thousand pixels. I get it, we all want to document our experience and to share it, but not at the cost of the kids discovering it while they’re there.

So it’s nice to find a balance. I was at the base of Yosemite falls and a mom with two boys, very young, maybe 3 and 5, was trying to line them up for a photo, drawing them away from the toddler-mind-blowing reality in front of them. Away from the now for a future reward. The younger boy slumped, hands hanging almost to his knees as he moaned, “Why do we always have to take a picture?” His older brother, no doubt sensing the inevitable and wanting to get it over with, threw an arm over his little brother’s shoulder and drew him close. Turning their backs on the object of delight to pose for mom, he explained, shouting over the roar into his brother’s ear, “Because these are memories.” As he said the word ‘memories,’ he stretched the last syllable, turning the eee sound, into a big smile, which he turned toward the camera. Click, and they were back to the moment where they belonged, exhilarated at the sheer thrill of the explosive power of falling water. They leaned over the stone bridge and screamed into the crash of impact and danced in the magical mist that engulfed them.

And that’s our life, sometimes we take the gift of now, and sometimes we wrap one up for the future into a tiny computer file to look at later and bring the memories and the sensations of something grander than ourselves back to us when we sit at our desks or in the carpool lane. A gift of now for the future, just for you.

I suppose that’s what a great family trip in nature is, a gift for now and for later.

“Please,” I pray to Mother Nature, “please let the children remember. Let them love you so that they find the courage to protect you.”

And she whispers back to me, “It is in their soul now, it always was, but here they have found it again.”

Then, being Mother Nature and a bit unpredictable not to mention snarky, she adds, “And it’s on mom’s cellphone, so…you’re welcome.”

Then she winks and fades away with the most glorious sunset that ever was, to work her magic on the twilight.

 

Just for me.

 

 

Shari, April 11, 2018

 

America, family, kids, Life in General, parenting, RV life, trailers

Log Jamming for Idiots

 

It’s a lovely day in Santa Cruz and my husband, daughter, her boyfriend John, and I decide to take Thor from the RV to the ‘dog beach’ where he can run around, trouble is, it’s high tide, which we don’t yet know means we may also get to rescue dogs, people, and ourselves if we’re not careful. Mama Ocean looks hungry today. When we arrive there is maybe fifteen feet of sand exposed where at low tide there is a hundred. The surf is filled with logs, some as small as firewood and some as large as a phone pole and several times the girth. Every time the waves wash in and out, these projectiles are tossed back and forth as lightly as ping pong balls in a blender, but with less stability or direction. The beach here is wrapped with cliffs, and only a concrete stairwell gives us access to the small cove. The surf, the concave cliffs faces, and the shifting tide all conspire to make predicting the strength or direction of these weapons impossible. Caution!

We take off our shoes, our jackets, the dog leash, and put them up on the steps, a couple of dry steps up. The first larger wave washes up hurling projectiles that would make log-jammers nervous, so we stay to one side and have to dodge the water soaked clubs that are bobbing like bomb-shaped apples during a halloween hurricane in a barrel.

They have something here called rogue waves, and thats’s the perfect word. Like some Navy Seal gone psycho with all the fire power but none of the discipline, they come from unexpected directions, are far more lethal than their uniform counterparts, they are bigger, higher, and strike when your back is turned. I’ve heard of them and been warned before, but I’ve never seen one.

But now I meet one up close and personal. All of sudden, I’m hit by a thigh high wall of surf from one side and turn to see that the few feet of sand we had taken refuge on has disappeared. My daughter has lifted our chow, soaking wet, up out of the surf to protect him from the logs, some of which weigh several hundred pounds water-soaked, that are tumbling around in a frenzy of constantly changing directions.

Now thigh deep in water but several yards from the cliff face, I see a huge log, fifteen feet long and at least three feet in diameter rolling back toward me as the water recedes. My brain goes to automatic and I get ready, the water recedes to my knees, my calves, and then my ankles as the steam roller spins crazily toward me, I get ready, then jump it when it flies past, gratefully under me. I struggle back toward the steps dodging smaller flotsam, but take a couple of good shin hits.

As I’m helping my daughter with the dog, I hear my husband and John both shouting. Then I see John running toward the surf. The rogue wave was so high, that it hit over the concrete steps and washed all of our stuff out to sea. Including my husband’s jacket which had his wallet in one pocket and his keys in the other. John snabs three shoes from the ocean’s maw, two of which are are my expensive new hiking boots, which he throws to me, and then he turns back to search for more, as does my husband.

Meanwhile, back on semi-dry land. My daughter and I tie the dog up higher on the steps and run back to help. But this is dangerous. Every time a wave, though thankfully no more rogue waves, washes up, it catapults its’ projectiles in unpredictable directions. John take a hard hit on his thigh, we’re still searching.

Now, new people start arriving, the tide is going out but we’re still having some high waves and precarious conditions. My daughter and I start warning people. The first lady down has two small yappy-type dogs. She ignores us, lets them go, and within seconds they are running for their lives back up onto the steps. She wisely takes them somewhere less like a battlefield to romp.

Then comes the family with five kids. My daughter tells them what’s happening, points out the concussion possibilities and they nod and move a little ways away.

The tide continues to recede with the occasional high wave, and now, soaking wet, I’m walking the shore trying to see if anything will wash up within a few hundred feet of where we are. Mind you, all of this beach is surrounded by cliffs, there are very few ways out, and no high ground if you are caught in the wrong place.

Looking over, I see a man take off his hat, quickly kick off his shoes and start for the water. I’m about to say that he should not leave his stuff there because it will be washed away when I see the intensity on his face. Following his gaze, I realize that one of the kids has gone under and his dad is trying to find him in the churning surf.

I turn and start running too, but before we get there, the dad locates the kid underwater and drags him up by the back of his shirt. We help him struggle out of the sucking surf, where his mother tries to calm the boy as he hacks up saline solution. The kid, maybe ten, is moaning, “I’m never…” pukes up a portion of sea, “going in the ocean…” hack, hack, sob, “again!” He looks accusingly out at the lovely sea as though she did it on purpose, perhaps she did. It’s not nice to ignore mother nature.

I smile at the mom and mouth, “At least not until tomorrow.” And she represses a laugh and nods, doing a great job of staying calm and reassuring.

The family gathers their stuff and leaves the beach. I high five the dad, “Good job!” He smiles at me as though it’s all in any father-with-five-boys’-day-job, and he’s probably right.

Though we search for another hour, we never find the jacket, keys, wallet, or leash, but we all have shoes!

So we head out, every step a salty, slurpy squish, to start calling credit card companies and making appointments at the DMV.

John’s right thigh is twice the size of his left, we all have bruises on our calves and shins and feet, but I always say it’s a good day when nobody dies.

And ah, how beautiful the sunlight on the water.

Gotta go. I have some keys to make at ACE hardware.

I expect I’ll be there a lot.

Be careful out there.

 

Shari, March 30th, 2017

 

authors, family, Life in General, parenting

Why I Need to Get My Head Examined

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the cliffs of insanity, or just a bad headache

You might think it’s because I hang off the edge of cliffs, and that’s probably a good enough reason. But then there’s this. Three days ago, I get a call from my sister that my mom has fallen, smashed her head and has no memory of how it happened or what’s going on. Because she’s a Shattuck woman, she insists to her friend who found her wandering around outside that she doesn’t need to go to the hospital. Her friend texts a picture of the open gash in mom’s head to my brother, an ex-paramedic, and he texts back, “CALL 911”

I feel horrible that I’m not there. Normally, I’m the go-to choice for trips to the ER. Next thing I know, I’m getting calls left and right, she’s in the trauma unit, she doesn’t recognize my brother or sister, who are there with her by now. She’s disoriented, can’t remember her birthday and has no recall of the last few days. They’ve done a brain scan (meaning she had her head examined!) and it looks okay, no internal bleeding. It’s late in the afternoon and I’m up in Santa Cruz, so since she has family with her, I tell them all I’ll head down to LA the next morning early. I feel so guilty that I’m not there I go ahead and pack a bag so I can leave super early. I’m not feeling great myself, so I go to bed early.

Within a few hours I wake up with a fully loaded Ram pickup truck parked on my head. I mean I have a headache like I didn’t know you could survive, like I’m not sure I can stay conscious if it’s going to hurt this badly. Like second only to childbirth but with no breaks between contractions painful. I can’t take light or sound, any movement makes me want to scream but at the same time I wouldn’t dream of making a sound, it hurts even to breathe. All I can do through the night is cradle my head in the dark. I take as many ibuprofen as is legal, maybe more, and try to meditate the crushing pain away. That requires focusing on my breathing, which hurts, so…that’s not helping.

By morning the headache has lessened a half a degree, but I cannot get out of bed. I’m the worst daughter in the world. I should be in LA taking over my mother’s care. My cell phone is buzzing and ringing with news about my mom, questions about when I’m coming, etc, and every time I look at it the light pierces my brain. Still, I force myself to find out what’s happening from my siblings and let them know I’ll leave in a few hours if I feel better. Doctors call, and squinting and grimacing, I answer their barked questions about my mom’s medical history. Why are they all so loud?

Then the phone keeps ringing and the screen says it’s my mom, but when I pick up and whisper hello (all I can endure) there is no answer. After four or five times, we have this exchange.

“Mom? Mom? Are you there?”

“Oh, hello.” She speaks as though she’s surprised I called.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Well,” she say indignantly, “I’m in the hospital and I have no idea how I got here. No one has even called me except my friend Sharon.”

“Mom, Shawna and Dwayne were with you all day yesterday.” (my siblings)

“Oh.”

“Shawna is on her way there now.”

“Oh.”

“And I’m going to try to drive down later today.”

“Oh. Well all I know is I woke up and nobody is here.”

“Shawna will be there soon.”

And I knocked out a tooth,” she says accusingly, as though I snuck up behind her and yanked it out with a rusty nutcracker.

This simple exchange feels like grenades going off in my head. My whole body feels like it’s been hit by a truck, but I still kind of want to slap her. How many years have I spent taking her to hospitals and doctors appointments, making sure she’s okay, but the one time I missed a turn…

“I love you mom, I’ll talk to you later.”

Her response was a tortured sigh and her saying she had to go now. A nurse or doctor came in I’m assuming.

But my own little parcel of hell doesn’t lessen, it gets worse. I spend the whole day in bed, and then spend yet another night begging for sleep and relief. My body is exhausted, I’m nauseous and sweating. My brother, the ex-paramedic, is texting me that I might have a blood clot and I need to go to the hospital, which isn’t alarming in any way. Just what a gal wants to hear when her forehead is being used as a dance floor for a thousand super-sized river dancers wearing golf cleats. I don’t want to go anywhere, do anything, speak, think, or move thank you very much.

But hubby sets up an appointment at Urgent care and off we go, me carting my pillow to block out the horrific lights and sounds of sleepy Scotts Valley. The doctor decrees that I probably don’t have a blood clot, which is somewhat comforting, though a more definitive choice of words would have been welcome, ‘probably‘ leaves the door open that maybe, I just might, possibly have one. That’s how I hear it in the five alarm fire that is my head anyway. He thinks I have a migraine type headache, but not a migraine because I’ve never had one, and he prescribes super mojo painkillers to ‘break’ the pain and sends me home.

I’m never leaving home without those pills again. You can have all the credit cards and fancy cars you want to show off with, I’ll take the pills, thank you. Within a few hours I was mostly headache free. Still limp and barely animated, but sweet relief is in sight.

So, I’m recuperating today. Keep thinking I can do my usual stuff only to wilt like arugula on a bbq within a minute or two. I’ll try to get to LA and mom tomorrow. I still feel badly I didn’t rush to her bedside, but driving requires the use of light and sight, two things I couldn’t pretend to face.

And my mom? She’s home at my sisters house, complaining that she’s bored. She’s back to normal,(translate as level-three hurricane force activity) and insists that we’re being ridiculous for wanting her to take it easy.

Yep, that’s me, the jokester with a first time migraine-slash-maybe, possible bloodclot who needs to get to LA to make sure that her 80 year old mother doesn’t slide down my sister’s stairway railing or drive to Santa Anita to wander around the cherry blossom festival.

She would do it too.

I might still have to get my head examined for clots or even just for hanging off of cliffs, but so far, I’m happy to be able to sit up and eat.

But I still feel guilty.

Lesson learned? Try not to pile shame on top of physical pain and keep your prescriptions within arm’s length.

But first, get a prescription.

Stay healthy.

Shari, March 15th, 2017

 

 

 

 

authors, creating character, creative inspiration, New Novels, parenting, writers

But What I Really Want To Do Is Write.

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                    In between laundry loads.                                                                Gussied up.

So here we go, a new novel out tomorrow in stores and on line everywhere!! So I’ve spent many hours on FB and twitter, or addressing postcards or arranging speaking engagements. Of course on Saturday I’ll be at Vroman’s in Pasadena at 4 for the book signing, so, it’s been distracting from my usual routine.

I generally spend about 40 hours a week working, not in a row, of course. I break it up and try to spread it over time that I haven’t reserved for my family. Sometimes I can actually get in 6-8 straight hours, but other times it’s two hours before I go to bed, three hours before everyone else gets up, or, like now, forty-five minutes over a quickly snagged burrito while I’m out buying detergent and other important things for family, like…oh, I don’t know…food.

Meanwhile, my next book, isn’t receiving the necessary time and concentration and is therefore resisting my efforts to keep it progressing steadily.

But writers, let’s be honest. Unless you are a super freak or an automaton, you don’t sit down everyday and write forward 4 to 12 pages. You squiggle around a bit, start a character but aren’t totally sure who they are or what they’ll say yet. You have a basic story line idea, or plot layout, but in truth you’re not working from a blueprint or IKEA instructions, (which to be fair require special tools and a keen understanding of fourth dimensional math.) Writing requires time just thinking, doodling concepts and character traits on napkins, watching people behave badly at the grocery store, talking to the homeless guy reading novels on a bus bench, (to be fair, my homeless reader-friend prefers, ‘domestically challenged’) even screaming at the moon to inspire you.

The book, the idea, and your thoughts about it are incomplete. And no amount of forcing words into the computer will congeal it into one of those pretty molds with sliced fruit suspended in a cake-shaped gelatinous mass.

That’s why I love editing, especially with a great editor. The basic form is already there and all you have to do is fluff, like a designer backstage at a fashion show. The main work is done, just a tug at the hem, a twist of a scarf, and you can shove that creation out onto the stage.

As much as I love writing and the books I’ve produced, I have a major problem with promoting them, and here’s why—besides making me feel vaguely braggadocios, (Mom, mom, mom, watch me, watch me!) getting myself out there involves makeup and an attempt at coordinated clothing, even possibly, god-forbid—high heals. Three things I’m able to avoid on a daily basis for months while I’m writing.

One of the big problems with being a writer is that people assume you are available at the drop of a hat, you are not ‘working’ at a job, so you must be able to go to lunch, answer their emails within seconds, take care of their kids when they are busy, and chat for hours on the phone.

Wrong. I’m not a chatter, I turn off my wifi when I work, I love your kids and will take them to the space center when I can take an afternoon off, and if I eat, it will be on the run. My family has learned that they may interrupt me when I’m writing, but I reserve the right to say “Not now.” (One major exception was when my 8 year old daughter put on her Sailor Moon costume, complete with star-wand and stood next to me saying, “But mommy, I want you to come help me save the world.” I mean, come on, I had to go. The future of the planet was at stake.) My friends—who aren’t writers—don’t get it.

And then a book comes out and everyone says, “Oh, you’re so busy, you have so much going on!” Not really. I’m busier when I’m home trying to focus on my story plot in my torn T-shirt with unwashed hair while simultaneously trying to keep a decent house, do the gardening, prepare delicious meals, and spend time with my husband and my daughters.

So when you think of my recent ‘success’ remember this mental picture of me at home, moving cats off my keyboard, jumping up to check the laundry, the crock pot, the sprinklers. It might not seem as glamorous as speaking in front of a group of people wearing a nice skirt and blouse holding my shiny new hardcover, but it’s the bulk of my life, and frankly I prefer it.

Because, while I appreciate and am eternally grateful for the friends and readers who say lovely things on line, re-tweet my good reviews, and actually take the time to come out and support me… what I really want to do is write.

What will you do today?

Shari, August 10th, 2015

family, Life in General, parenting

Her, Them, Me, Us.

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The gang is back in town. Two of my three siblings live here in LA, so we get to see a good bit of each other and help out with kids, holidays, etc. My mom also lives here, so I’m used the the dynamics between us all, interesting to watch, experience, and sometimes learn from.

But one of my sisters stayed back east. She lives in Charleston, SC, a city with history and charm which I love to visit, so that’s good, but when we all get together, with kids, old patterns jump up and if you’re not careful they bite, leaving a welt that frankly itches.

Now that we are all past mid-forty, there’s a lot more consciousness than there was when we were kids or young adults. It is fascinating to me how four kids raised by the same parents in basically the same environment can all be so different. It’s the same in pretty much every family, and now I get a chance to see that same dynamic unfolding in our children.

We each have two kids, totaling four boys and four girls, ranging in age from 21 to 5. it’s almost impossible to get them all together at the same time, especially with one at college, but we almost managed it. The cousins all adore each other, every one is unique and very special in their own way. The IQ’s, the height, and the humor runs into the ninetieth percentile, so it’s entertaining to say the least.

Like when my golden haired nephew, who is 11 walked into my kitchen and said with his cherubic little mouth, “Kennedy jacked our Maserati and threw it in the pool,” it took me a minute to figure out he meant the scooter, which she confiscated and did in fact submerge, because he had refused to pay the toll she was demanding, (cracking his knuckles).

I have girls, so having young boys around is very cool for me. I don’t think I’ve heard the word ‘butt,’ (from the five year old Cayden) or the words ‘penis’ and ‘boner’ (from the 11 year old,) as many times in my life put together as I have in the last few days. We’ve had tears, and tickling, and the scrape or two, but overall, it’s a big pile of fun.

And yet, old habits die hard. Almost anyone woman will tell you that no one pushes her buttons like her mother. I’ve had a good look at that in two generations this week. My mom, who is one terrific lady, is the source of our ADA trickle down tendencies. From her to me, from me to my oldest daughter. Attention deficit can lead to narcissistic behavior, not out of selfishness, but stemming from the inability to stay focused on a group. My mom can change subjects so many times in a conversation that we often end up saying, “What is she talking about?” My mom is super smart, and she knows for sure, it’s just us that get left in the verbal dust.

Here’s an example. “So remember the Wilsons who lived down the street on Knob Hill? You were friends with the daughter, Terri, and Dwayne was in school with John, and they had that cute dog, Spunk. Well, she started drinking, and he got a job out of state, and then when she graduated from college, she married this guy from France, and they lived in Paris for two years, and her brother couldn’t have kids and the daughter had some mental issues, then the brother sold his house and moved to the old house, and…”

At which point I stop her and ask her to clarify what she is talking about.

My mom’s response is dismissive. “Well, anyway…” she says, waving an impatient hand at my thick head, “he died.” 

Leaving us looking at each other saying, “Who died? The dad? The husband? The dog?” It’s a bit tough to follow, but we can generally keep abreast.

What amuses me now is how old things, like my mom needing to do things her way sometimes, in spite of the obvious fact that nobody else wants to do it that way, still frustrates and annoys us. You think we would know better. She’s 79, and exhausts us all with her energy and interests, and you’d think we’d focus on that now. She doesn’t do it much at all with just me, but something about the whole family dynamic being reactivated brings it back in her. You’d think we’d get that and let it go, but no, every once in a while our inner five year old jumps on our head and kidney punches us, and we’re taken off guard. We are all leaving the zoo and two people need to ride in her car, but she ‘has to stop by home and pick up some tomatoes.’ “It’s right up the street,” she insists. It isn’t right up the street and the kids are exhausted and just want to go home, and nobody needs tomatoes, but she will not relent. I’m driving, so I can’t volunteer.  My sister does, with rolling eyes and head shaking, but the kids are all refusing. Finally my sister nominates her daughter, who mutters and bitches, but goes. It’s like a comedy rerun. How many times in our lives have we let our mom upset us over such a small thing. How many times has she done small things to upset us? Why don’t we learn to take a breath and just go with it? Later, I watch my sister dealing with her own spirited seventeen year old daughter, and I can only think of all the trouble she got herself into and the word, “Payback” leaps to mind.

My siblings think I’m too easy on my kids, they are all three more conservative than I, but when I think to back to my teen years, out of the house at sixteen, married at eighteen, off to New York and drug abuse by nineteen, well, let’s say I’d be a hypocrite if I expected my daughters to dress in pressed khakis and refuse a beer after prom.

I’m blessed to have so many loving, healthy family members. We’ve been through some changes, that’s for sure, we’ve grown, regressed, noticed that the world is bigger than we once knew, that there are other opinions besides our own. Between the four siblings, we’ve had eight marriages. (Only the sister back east stuck with one, and I hold the record with three). We judge each other, have strong opinions, rush to support during tough times, drift away, and return to hug and laugh. The flotsam and jetsam off our lives is ever moving, ebbing and flowing, and I have sailed but half that sea. I’m hoping for many more adventures, discoveries, and growth. But who knows? Maybe we’ll get pissed off over politics and fire the cannons.

In the meantime, I’ll whip up some dip, grab a bottle of bubbly and head out for another family dinner.

I’d ask you to join us, but we all talk at the same time, and we’re the only ones who can understand us.

Ain’t it always the way.

Hug your family.

Shari, June 18th, 2015.