Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Key to Home

A woman at the gym today told me that the single item the homeless long for is a key.

A door key to a room, an apartment, a house. A space to call their own. A place where they're welcome, where people know and care for them. A single, metal key to a door to home.

I had been telling her that last week, before she left for college thousands of miles from home, Andrea held tight to her house keys.

We have a need for more house keys, and have been lazy about running to Home Depot to make copies. Independent of each other, Ron and I both asked her if she really needed her house keys between now and when she comes home for Christmas.

In a firm tone she rarely uses, she told both of us that, thank you, but her house keys will remain with her while at college. Period. No exceptions.

Now I understand. She wanted to keep with her front door keys to her own space, her own family, the place where she's understood and accepted and deeply loved. Keys to the place where she belongs.
She wanted to know that she can come back home anytime. Which, of course, she can.

I just wonder why she needs keys to feel that...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

After Parenting, What's Next?

Despite impressive job titles, elaborate business cards, spacious offices, pricey business suits, and a torrent of pressing responsibilities, small, large and sometimes imagined...

My primary vocation these past (gulp!) 32 years has not been a job that drew a pay check. Or had set hours. Or that I could neatly leave behind at the office.

Instead, my primary vocation, as well as passion, preoccupation, and obligation, has been parenting.

I always knew I wanted children. I had my first a few months shy of my 25th birthday. Now, as I approach year 58, my youngest celebrates her 18th birthday as she packs for college almost 3,000 miles from home. (See photo above of the historic residential college to which she has been assigned.)

My days as a first-line, hands-on parent are drawing to a close.

I'd like to say that I don't regret one single moment of parenthood, but the fact is that I made mistakes, and God knows, so did they.

But that's life. That's part of the journey. That's certainly part of the process of growing up for both parent and child. That, ultimately, is a great blessing.

Yes, I always knew I wanted children. I knew I was meant to parent. And after I'm gone from this life, my main legacy will be carried by and in my children. That's how it was meant to be for me. On a deep level, I've known that from a young age...

Now, I know from experience that parenting doesn't end when they leave for college... or become adults, or marry, or even have children. Trust me on this. :)

But when they leave home, parenting intrinsically changes. That, of course, is part of God's plan.

But I find myself wondering: what does God want me to do with all my new spare time? More writing? Finally, a book or two?

Or does He have another plan?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Michael Jackson as Kabuki Theater

Michael Jackson's persona was reminiscent of (or directly lifted from?) kabuki theater, which is a centuries-old, stylized form of traditional Japanese theater.

Think about it: kubuki theater is...

* performed by men elaborately costumed in kimino garb,

* wearing heavy layers of white-pallored, make-up,

* adorned by smooth, festooned black wigs,

* vocalizing in unnaturally high-pitched voices.

Kubuki stagings are strangely charismatic, yet incomprehensible on a linear level.

The deep sadness of kubuki theater is that top practitioners live devoted to their craft, yet toil anonymously behind the mask of make-up, wigs and costumes. No one knows their heart or mind or soul.

Credible media reports... if there are any at this point... paint the portrait of Michael Jackson, sans wigs, costumes and make-up, as a balding, long drug-addicted, near-skeletal old man with ailing eyesight, significant lung disfunction, and a startlingly scarred face.

What we saw was Michael Jackson as kubuki theater, buried in personal eccentricities. We barely saw his desperate drive to hide his heart or mind or soul. Despite his sins, he seemed, at core, to be a sweet, odd, naive guy just looking for love, like the rest of us.

The problem was... Michael Jackson's kubuki theater was so damned interesting and creative. And endlessly lucrative to assorted leeches.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Whose Memory Book Is It, Anyway?

To commemorate Andrea's high school graduation in a few weeks, I'm creating a Memory Book of her class photos, report cards, momentos, a handful of essays and papers, special projects, awards and so on.

The Memory Book will fill four brightly-colored binders with more than 400 sheet protectors bulging with all facets of her school years, from first grade through high school.

Andrea will be teary-eyed, touched and delightfully surprised... until a few days after graduation. Then she'll set it aside until someday long into the future: a high school reunion perhaps, or her own children starting school. She has new, exciting dreams and goals. A shining future awaits her. A future that will build on her solid foundation, but will rarely involve looking backward.

Which made me wonder: Why, then, am I now putting such extraordinary effort and love into a Memory Book for her? Why did I hold onto every possible shred of her childhood? For that matter, why did I meticulously document (and film!) so many dozens of precious moments when she was a baby?

Sure, getting 12 years of Andrea's school junk out of my desk is welcome relief. And sure, it's a way of me letting go. That phase of her life is done. She'll soon be a legal adult and a college student. We've finished the task of raising and controlling her. Our roles are irrevocably changing.

But that hardly explains my driving passion. My deep love. My holding on. My intense desire to document and care about and affirm and remember and praise...

And then I realized: no one ever made a Memory Book for me. My young, hardworking, unsentimental parents never kept report cards, special papers or school pictures. They took few photos of me, my brother or sister. They attended only the minimum school events: back to school night, open house. No one ever kept a baby book/journal about me, like I did for all my kids. Like Ron's mother did for him.

My parents hugged us, or each other, very little. I have no memory of them telling Jeff, Teri or me that they loved us. We were never made to feel special or smart or unique or even all that worthwhile. We just were.

My parents, the children of generations of poor farmers, were too busy making a living, making a home, and trying to grasp city life. They both came from gruff stock and hard-scrabble backgrounds. Pretentious Pasadena was a strange, hard land to them.

Let's face the Truth: here I am, crazily lavishing on my last child all the attention and care that I never got. I suppose some people might find that unhealthy.

But upon soul-deep reflection, I've decided this: SO WHAT? So darn what?

Andrea's a great kid, and hasn't been unduly spoiled by my foibles. Frankly, there's a heck of a lot to celebrate about her achievements. If someone thinks I've gone overboard... well, too damn bad.

My child, my love, and I couldn't be prouder. And I refuse to leave my child with the same hole in her heart that I've worked for decades to fill with all manner of things good and not-so-good.

Today, I bought four pricey binders for Andrea's Memory Book, and some pretty stationary for notes and memories. Think she'll like them?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ultimate Backhanded Teenage Compliment

My high school senior received the ultimate backhanded compliment from a classmate this week in response to a glowing article about my daughter's academic feats in the local newspaper:

"My mother really thinks you're amazing."

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Mother's Day Confession

My youngest (pictured left, dressed for her senior prom this evening) plans to take me out to lunch after church tomorrow to celebrate Mother's Day. She will also give me a thoughtfully chosen gift.

She would give me the world if she could, and if I asked for it.

My oldest, my 32 year old daughter, and her husband would also give me the world... or almost, anyway. Her life is busy, and I understand that. And she lives 1,000 miles away.

We have a terrific relationship. We talk, email and text all the time. We share similar temperaments and outlooks in many respects. So when I called her last Wednesday to not-so-subtly ask if she needed a Mother's Day gift suggestion, she was thrilled (and probably relieved, truth be known.). She promptly ordered for me that sage-green, leather-trimmed summer purse at J.Crew I have my eye on.

My 30 year old son is busy beyond all reasonableness. A husband, father to two very young (and adorable!) children, a man who works long and hard to make ends meet for his young family... he loves me deeply. I know that. He' ll be busy, though, honoring his wife. And on Mother's Day, she is always swept up in honoring her adoptive mother, who is two decades older than me.

I understand. I really understand... even though they live only ten miles away.

My 25 year old stepson, who I've known and loved for 21 years, will be honoring his mother tomorrow. They both live in Huntington Beach, just a couple miles from each other. And she has always been devoted to him.

I understand. I really understand that, no matter how kind or thoughtful or caring, stepmothers are forgotten on Mother's Day when mothers are fully present. I would have it no other way.

But, although I understand. I really understand, and I love our sons with all my heart... I have to confess: I THANK GOD every single darned day for my daughters!

Because they get it.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Mine that Bird Gives Hope to Longshots

Mine That Bird (pictured at left), a 50-to-1 longshot, won the Kentucky Derby two days ago.... the second longest of longshots to win in Derby history.

In fact, this delightfully bargain-basement horse, purchased by his owner for a mere $9,500, won the Derby convincingly by several lengths. And at the finsh, Mine That Bird was still widening the gap.

Sports Editor Phil Simms wrote at The Online Wire two days before the 2009 Derby:

"Mine That Bird needs to run a perfect race to beat the favored Kentucky Derby contenders thus his odds are worthy if you look for a huge payout.

Currently this horse is listed amongst the 4 biggest underdogs out of the 2009 Kentucky Derby odds at 50/1 and really deserves to be the biggest underdog considering how slow he’s ran in recent races."

Here's to you, Mine That Bird, from all of us who've been counted out, disregarded, or demeaned as slow, an underdog, unworthy...

Your victory lifts our spirits. You give us hope they we, too, can beat the odds... prove the critics and cynics wrong.... and leave the crowd cheering for more.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tupac Is the New Elvis

Yet another sign that the boomer generation's reign as trend leader and opinion maker has expired: Tupac Shakur sightings.

Tupac, of course, was the 25-year-old photogenic, talented rapper/poet who was gunned down in his prime in Las Vegas on September 7, 1996. He lingered for six days before indisputably dying of cardiac arrest and respiratory failure.

Used to be Elvis sightings. But rare, now, is the under-50 music aficionado who mourns the lost potential of the "King of Rock 'n Roll," who died at age 42 in (believe it or not) 1977. Thirty-two long years ago!

Hard to imagine that many boomers have even heard of Tupac...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Craigslist Killer and Men with Secret Lives

Megan McAllister, fiance of the alleged Craigslist killer, Philip Markoff, is a lucky woman today. The stars of good fortune are shining on her.

She doesn't feel gratitude yet, though. Probably still rues it as the worst day of her life when her beloved ("a beautiful man inside and out... He would not hurt a fly!") was wrongly accused and arrested in a terrible case of mistaken identity.

Of course, Megan could be proven correct. But the circumstantial evidence is extremely strong: emails traced to his IP address, security cameras and cell phone pings placing him at several of the crimes, corroborating evidence at his apartment.

At minimum, Philip has been leading a dangerous double life... one living up to everyone's expectations of a perfect guy ("He is intelligent, loyal, and the best fiance a woman could ask for.); the other, a cold, hostile misogynist who thrives on the angry acts of a powerless little boy.

I know. I've known two such men: my ex-husband and a young pastor.

Similar to Philip, both led double lives:
  • one life as the perfect guy, loved by his wife, adored by his children, admired by the world as a golden boy-man, beaming with promise and good looks, intelligence and charm.

  • a second, secret life crammed with repeated rebellions tailored to shock and hurt the people who love them.

These men break the hearts of the people who love them... people who never truly grasp the reasons for the golden man's painful, often heinous, betrayal.

Harsh reality reveals that we never really knew these men, Megan. Reality reveals that they craved an audience who believed in their goodness, but these men are incapable of returning mature love. Or of truth.

Move on, Megan. For your sake, forgive Philip, release your pain, and move on. Chalk your romance up to a close-call and a cautionary lesson well-learned.

You don't realize it yet, but this is the best day of your young life. Trust me on this.

(Photo of fiances Philip Markoff and Megan McAllister in happier times.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Adam Lambert: David Bowie with Fantastic Singing Skills

I'm crazy about Adam Lambert, the front-runner to win this season's American Idol competition. I'm crazy about his music, his persona, his theatricality, and especially about his joyously spontaneous creativity.

Adam Lambert will be a big, big star, most likely in musical theater, but his appeal won't be limited to, or even include many, young, edgy music aficionados. Here's why...

He's a joyously Disney-fied version of glammed-up punk rock. He's David Bowie, but with fantastic singing skills. He's Elton John, but with style and fashion sense. He's Elvis but without the snarl and the fried peanut butter sandwiches.

He's a mannered young man with a choir boy's face from middle-class San Diego suburbs. He's the son, the nephew, the brother, who had talent too out-sized for desk-bound college study and proclivities too exotic for his confused, loving family.

He's the wanderer who arrives home for Thanksgiving with a black shock of hair, two new tattoos, Revlon eyeshadow, and armed with pumpkin pie and sweet hugs for all.

What I find refreshing about Adam Lambert is his openness and comfort with his identity. He's part of the new generation of young gay man who lack an angry chip on their shoulder and a desperate need to taunt with their sexuality.

Indeed, his 21st-century androgynous charisma is blend of the new and the moderately old, but his creative vibrancy as a musical performer is an American tradition that dates back to vaudeville.

Adam Lambert as the lead in "Jesus Christ, Superstar," anyone?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Dust-Catcher and Recumbent: A Tale of Two Bikes

This my new gym-caliber recumbent bike, a Schwinn 230.
I bought it to replace my 30-year-old dust-catcher of a stationary bike which I purchased from Sears to drop weight after my first child... now 32 years old... was born.

I rode Dust-Catcher about 600 miles a year since 2003, so I did see use it... but turns out it was half-broken. And half-effective.

A couple months ago, to avoid eventual knee surgery, I embarked on a physical therapy regimen, and it's not been easy. But WOW...I feel better. Exercise has already made a huge difference in my health, and I'm just getting started.

My new recumbent bike is professional caliber... more so than I imagined, since I bought it via Amazon. I've been using it for two weeks, and have discovered that it's light years more effective... and tougher... than Dust-Catcher.

Gleaming, sturdy, computerized... Recumbent challenges me. Stares at me. Sometimes overwhelms me.Occasionally frustrates me. Frequently wears me out.

But Recumbent will never defeat me. Instead, I will work my way up to 30 minutes daily.

I refuse to be defeated.
Or to succumb to knee, or perhaps hip, surgery until doctors believe there is no better way. And that may be never, given that I'm motivated.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Competitive Tomato Growing

At our couples book club dinner last week, half-a-dozen men were huddled, thoroughly absorbed in conversation about... not golf, not MLB spring training, not their latest home improvement projects, and surprisingly, not the economy or the spiraling unemployment rate.

In hushed tones, these middle-aged, comfortably dressed, contentedly married men were earnestly discussing the upcoming tomato plant sale at the local arboretum, which features 200 varieties of heirloom, organic and newly developed species of their favorite backyard spring crop.

They were plotting strategies both for snagging the most desirable plants, and for nurturing their prized plants to produce mouth-watering, premium fruits. They were comparing notes on on the best qualities of certain varieties, and of the unsurpassable culinary experience of home-grown tomatoes.

Today, this quietly gray Saturday morning, Ron rose and nervously prepared for his anticipated foray to the arboretum, which opened 10 minutes ago at 10 am.

Armed with a six-column spreadsheet analyzing various attributes of his top 15 plant types (ranked in order of his preference), my engineer husband murmured that he wasn't sure when he would be home, considering all that he has on his plate: soil condition and plant health and fertilizer.

After all, our next book club get-together is May 8. He has much to accomplish before then.