Planting Seeds

We arrived home at midnight and it felt like another dimension.  The house seemed strangely familiar, like something I’d seen before but of which I didn’t have an actual relationship.  As in a dream I walked from room to room, remembering what our couch looked like, recognizing the kids in the picture frames as my own, realizing that our kitchen table doesn’t match our kitchen at all.  And we were only gone a month.

31 days to be exact.

During the last days we wished so hard to be home, in our own beds, eating homemade food, pulling clothes from drawers instead of packing up our bags every morning.  And then we were there.  And it was weird. Like “I don’t think I live here.  I’m pretty sure I live in my car.”  And I wasn’t sure I wanted to live in my house, in Lawrence, KS, in the middle of the country.  I felt pulled toward the coast.  For obvious the-west-coast-is-beautiful reasons, but also due to a mysterious tug of the heart.

Like it just fit.

Those who know me will find this ironic.  And possibly infuriating.  When I moved to L.A. in 1999 with my new husband, solely because that is where he wanted and needed to live for his work (movie-making), I hated it.  Truly, I did.  I dreamt of Lawrence constantly for two years, longing for the familiar place I understood – its seasons, its trees, its small-ness.  L.A. was foreign and crowded and hectic and enormous.  It took me several more years to really think of it as home, or one of my homes, and be glad about it.  I was happy when we moved back to my roots after having our first baby.  We took a collective sigh of relief for the slower pace, the bike-able/walk-ableness, the non-existent traffic.  I had been overwhelmed for years and was ready to settle the hell down.  Lawrence was the perfect place for having babies.

But (if you read my earlier post My Old Friend, you’ll know) when I reached Los Angeles and the central California coast on our trip, I was shocked to realize that this felt home-like, too.  After all those years of struggling to enjoy life there, I found myself pulled toward it.  Suddenly it felt familiar.  Which is such a funny turn of events it proves you never know what’s coming.  No one would have pegged me as headed to the West Coast when I was younger, and no one would suspect I would want to go back.

So why the inconsistency?  Why the fickle hatred-to-longing feeling?  Is it The-Grass-is-Greener Syndrome?  Is it because I’m (cross my fingers) done having babies and don’t need as much settling down as I did before?  Is it a legitimate pull toward something, or a restless running away?  Is this a problematic theme in my life – discontent – or a stages-of-life reality?  I do not know that answer to any of these.  I’m pondering.  And the pondering will continue as home prices in L.A. are well beyond our means for now.  But the seed has been planted.  We’ll see how it grows, or if it dies in the dirt of settling back in.

If you have a freakishly inexpensive home in South Pasadena you’d like to rent out for part of the year, specifically during the months of February and August, let me know.  In the meantime, here’s to pondering, and the idea of home, and awesome road trips that might just change the course of your life.


My Old Friend

We haven’t lived in Los Angeles for almost nine years.  I only lived there for eight.  So really, I should feel less at home there than I do in Lawrence, Kansas where I’ve spent the greater part of my life.  And mostly, I do.  But on this trip back to the land of my twenties, my young newly-married self, the landscape has felt surprisingly familiar.  The landmarks have seemed less like famous places to visit than old friends I haven’t seen in a while.  The magnolia trees and neatly trimmed bushes, the tropical flowers, even the bermuda grass bring nostalgia.  Not that my twenties were so great – they weren’t (marriage was hard, I felt awful, I didn’t know yet who I was).  But this place has clearly carved a place in my heart I didn’t know the depth of until this trip.

We drove north from Calabasas along the coast today.  Stopped in Santa Barbara for lunch (hello, sunshine and delicious grilled veggie sandwich), past countless rvs parked on the side of Highway 1, grabbing a slice of ocean view for themselves.  Past surfers and surf to the left, parched hills and shrubs to the right.  The drought has made the landscape different, like a friend who has gone gray and wrinkled with age, whom it takes a minute to recognize.  But as you stare you see that familiar face, beneath the wear and tear, and smile.  As we turned inland toward San Luis Obispo, our destination for the night, a rush of “Oh yeah…I know this,” hit me like the waves I had just been watching.  I remembered this exact drive from many trips to the Central Coast for wine tasting and fabulous, frivolous wandering.  The high hills that rise into mountains in the distance.  The curve of their backs lit up by the sun.  They welcomed me like a relative coming home for a family reunion.  “It’s so good to see you.”  Hug.  Kiss on the cheek.

“This could be the Flint Hills,” Marc said as we drove north of Morro Bay.  Perhaps why this place has always felt so familiar.  Like a taller version of my beloved, treeless rolling scape in Eastern Kansas.  With an ocean to one side.  Enough sameness to be instantly comforting when I first glimpsed the area at twenty-five, but different enough to be new and completely alive.  And on this July afternoon in my 40th year, happier in almost every way than when I was twenty-five, the Central Coast of California feels like a worn, nubby blanket from my youth.

The next phase of Highway 1 rises in elevation, craggy and majestic above the Pacific.  It’s a bit more foreign to me.  Grand and romantic.  Flashier and louder in it’s “look at me” popularity.  I’ll enjoy the drive along it’s cliffs, taking in the scenic views.  But my heart belongs to it’s lowly neighbor to the south.  Less dramatic, but dearer to my heart.  Quietly beautiful.  Full of air and sunlight and space.  I’m even more at home in crowded, crazy Los Angeles, where I spent a good chunk of my younger years peeling back it’s layers.  Southern California and the Central Coast are my second home, I was surprised to realize on this trip.  More a part of me than I knew.  Surely willing to welcome me back like an old friend the next time I get to visit.



My fabulous friend, Dar, sent me a message this week.  It was a pep talk in the form of a text.  It made my day.  My whole week.  And all she did was say what’s true.

Sometimes we need reminding of the truth.  The facts, or more subtle realities, that we can stand on.  Sometimes we can remind ourselves, and sometimes we need others to do the admonishing.  When the truth is lost to us.  Because life has us swirling outside of our ability to get perspective.  And then we come across a perfectly applicable line in a novel, or hear lyrics to an honest and thoughtful song, or read a psalm that seems was written only for us.  Or a friend texts with some good ol’ encouraging straight talk.  And perspective is restored.  At least for the moment.

Speaking truth in love is always recommended.  It can be brutal, and therefore should be handed out only with good intention and a gentle touch.  A month ago I received news that was hard to hear.  It was true, and needed to be addressed, but it hurt.  It was the brutal kind.  At other times truth is the sweetest sound, raw and unfiltered.  No careful delivery necessary.  This is the kind of honesty I received from Dar on my iphone screen.  Say what you want about technology ruining a generation’s ability to communicate, but I was glad for it on Wednesday.  She, sitting in Los Angeles, sent me a message.  I, sitting in Kansas, received it almost instantly and responded.  And so forth.  Five minutes was all it took and my head was turned in a new direction.  I had something new to ponder, and firm ground to hold me up instead of the miry muck of fear I was walking around on.

There are some basic ingredients necessary in this whole speaking-the-truth-in-love thing.  Starting with knowing what the heck you’re talking about.  My friend and I have a history together.  She met me when I was fresh off the U-haul from Kansas to L.A. and, admittedly, even less cool than I am now.  And yet we became friends.  She knew me when I felt like crap every day but didn’t know why or really want to admit it.  We went through the roller coaster years of trying to have kids, having them, adopting them, me being insensitive, her being mad, us making up.  And then I moved away and we knew we were in this thing for the long haul.  Even from far away.  Emailing, calling when we could, visiting, loving each other from afar.  She has earned the right to speak the truth to me.  She knows me, my past, my present, and I know I’m safe in her care.  And she’s safe in mine.  She can tell me hard things, or sweet things, and I can receive them because the source is reputable.  The check out lady at Target could say the same thing and I’d know she was a nut job.  You have to earn it.

You also have to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.  When to speak and when to zip it and just be.  Sometimes the truth can wait.  Until the person is ready to hear it, is open to that piece of reality.  When someone is hurting, sometimes she needs to hurt for a while.  To do the work, the push and pull of dealing with a mess.  But a good truth-teller can wait, can sense the right moment to come in with some tough or lovely honesty to cast the person’s vision in a new light.  And that person is priceless.  That friend should be kept.  Even if they live a thousand miles away.

That’s what smartphones are for.


This weekend we had a house full of people.  A party for about 30.  Good food, kids playing, a beautiful night, jazz, old fashioneds, a fire in the fire pit.  It was a lot of work, a mess afterward, and so much fun.

We moved into our new house in November with a huge sigh of relief over the space upgrade.  Exactly five people (one in a high chair, in the corner) fit into our old dining room.  In the warmer months we could host more outside, but heat and bugs made that less than ideal in late summer.  Which left us with about three months, maybe, of having-people-over possibilities.  Which sucked.  People are our thing.  Not just seeing them, or knowing them in an acquaintance way, but hearing their stories, sharing a good meal, hanging for hours on end.  That’s what we dig.

We were really good at it in our twenties.  Late nights of food and drink and talk when we lived in L.A. With good friends who we still treasure.  Then we had kids – we all did – and the parties changed.  Diaper duty, bedtimes to keep, kid disputes to diffuse – not as much hanging as grabbing snippets of conversation and connection.  It was a new kind of wonderful – family created and developed and shared with other families.  Deeper in some ways.  But certainly not as relaxing.

But now.  Yes.  There’s a glimmer of hope of hearing a full story again.  Of chillin.  While the kids get filthy running barefoot in the yard, sneak cookies, get out all the princess dolls upstairs, we can talk.  Have a glass of wine and discuss movies.  Or music.  Or politics.  Or laugh profusely.  It may seem a small matter, but those with kids will understand the significant shift.  The sudden combination of our children getting older and having more space.  We can gather people again.  We can create an inviting place for friends to get to know each other, and be known after that.  Like Cheers.  But at our house.  And with less alcoholics.

The party on Saturday helped me feel this switch, and I’m so glad.  I love my family.  Love movie nights with pizza – just us.  And weeknight dinners with third grade jokes, and our highs and lows of the day, and hearing only our stories.  That’s the meat of life.  The main, best part.  But I’m glad to know we can have the other, too.  Happy for a chance to be with family and friends at the same time, and get to experience it in full.

So yay for a larger house.  And the ability to gather.  And for people, who we dig.

It’s about time.

Celebrating that cute couple in the front.

Deep Dark River

Written January, 2013
         This morning I felt a familiar weight bear down on me, like an unwelcome blanket in the heat of summer.  I woke up with it and knew today would be a fight.  The cloudy brain, the anger at tiny annoyances, the ridiculous outlook on life that makes no rational sense but feels so real.  Maybe it’s my hormones, maybe it’s because we’ve all been sick and stuck inside for a week, maybe it’s the winter blues, or maybe it’s a perfect storm of all three.  No matter, it sucks.
          “There’s a deep, dark river rising on the inside.”  I heard that in a Matthew Perryman Jones song today and nodded my head.  Yes.  I could feel the river rising, I was trying to swim for the banks, but my arms and legs were useless in the cold water.  I was sad, I was mean, I was the ugly version of me and I hated every second of it, but I couldn’t make it stop.  I had to leave the house – my sweet family – and try to regroup.  It frightens me when I feel like this.  When I can’t reason my way out of a downer, can’t swing my arms fast enough at the moving target of my sinking emotions.  When I feel so close to falling off the cliff.
          I hate feeling depressed.  Because you don’t know when relief will come, or if things will get worse before it does, or if every day after will be full of deep sorrow.  The minutes drag on and hopelessness sets in.  I have yet to lose a close friend or family member, so I’m sure I haven’t scratched the surface of true sadness, but I’ve felt enough of it to know I despise depression and fear it more than most things in this world.
          The only good I see from sorrow (unwelcome, even so) is the wisdom a person can gain.  I’ve witnessed it soften the hard-hearted, strengthen the weak, fill the judgmental with grace – mostly when the light at the end of the tunnel is somewhat visible.  But many don’t make it that far.  Some people become bitter or mean, and some get swallowed whole and never see the light at all.  I’ve seen that, too, and I don’t want to end up there.  If I have to suffer sadness, wisdom sounds like a better ending.
          Once in Hawaii – yes, Hawaii of all places – I felt the weight of true depression for the first time.  Marc and I were on vacation in Kauai.  This was before kids and in-between a job change within the non-profit I worked for in L.A.  It should have been a joyful trip, a mix of exciting discovery and welcome relaxation, but it followed a year of increasing sadness inside me.  My funk reached it’s climax while I was in paradise.  Terribly bad timing.  It felt strange driving around in such beauty, the top of our rented convertible down, balmy breezes blowing through our hair, knowing I should be happy.  But I wasn’t.  I was sadder than any rational thinking could explain.  A hole had slowly been dug in my heart for months and was now hitting bottom.  In freaking Hawaii.  I touched a hot plate at dinner one night and burst into tears that didn’t stop for fifteen minutes.  We drove through Waimea Canyon one afternoon – like a smaller version of the Grand Canyon, full of color and astounding views – and I cried the entire time.  My whole body hurt.  My brain felt cloudy.  At times I couldn’t imagine not being sad.
          I don’t remember when I started the climb back up to normal after our trip, but the worst was over.  I remember that.  Starting my new job was wonderful.  I felt purpose again and was surrounded by co-workers instead of being isolated off-site.  But it didn’t explain the total rebound I experienced.  Maybe my hormones were out of whack.  Maybe I needed a good cry over a hot plate.  But whatever the reason for the descent and eventual return, I don’t want to go back.  I have not worked through this one yet.  I would be glad to never experience that hopelessness again, no matter what it teaches me or the great artistic material it provides.
          I know that’s an impossibility, though.  Like today’s weird state of mind, I will find myself in the dumps occasionally.  Possibly for an extended period of time.  But the good news is that each new day is exactly that.  New.  Thank goodness.
          So really, this new year is full of promise.  The light of it might be a tiny speck in the distance, but it is there.  I may have to squint to make it out.  I may have to pray and reach beyond my own brain for help.  And I may need a few hours away from my sweet but loud children to write, ingest caffeine, and be alone.  Today, they would all agree.  I will certainly face a day like this one again, and I hate that.  But at least I can remember that when my strength and reason and serotonin are gone, hope is not.  As my mother and grandmother always say, “This too shall pass.”  That’s wisdom gained from years of the same hard, sad stuff of life.  The longer I live, the more I understand it’s quiet strength.

Rightly Considered


Written March 24th, 2013
          We just returned from a week-long trip to San Diego and Los Angeles for spring break and went from 75 degrees and sunshine to 35 degrees and snow.  Our bodies had started to think it truly was spring and relished the welcomed warmth on our skin.  And then, this morning, I scraped ice off the windshield for ten minutes.  Blech.  An hour later I read an essay by G.K. Chesterton about re-thinking inconveniences.  The best quote, which I’ll be writing on a sticky pad and placing on my kitchen window to glance at as I do the dishes, is this: “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.  And inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”  From a flood in his neighborhood in London to chasing a hat, he turns each annoyance on it’s head and looks at it from the other side.  From the perspective of a child at one point…
                    For instance, we often hear grown-up people complaining of having to hang about a railway
                    station and wait for a train.  Did you ever hear a small boy complain of having to hang about a
                    railway station and wait for a train?  No; for to him to be inside a railway station is to be inside a
                    cavern of wonder and a palace of poetical pleasures.  Because to him the red light and the green
                    light on the signal are like a new sun and a new moon.  Because to him when the wooden arm of
                    the signal falls down suddenly, it is as if a great king had thrown down his staff as a signal and
                    started a shrieking tournament of trains.  I myself am of the little boys’ habit in this matter. (On
                    Running After One’s Hat)

          Marc and I should have read this essay before we left.  We could have used the kids’ perspective in two long days at Legoland, or in our five-hour rush-hour trip from San Diego to Pasadena, or when Mae puked all over herself just before we reached our friends’ house but after we’d eaten at In-N-Out.  Actually, I’m not sure how to make that an adventure.  She was miserable and thrown-up hamburger is just gross.
          Marc and I are pretty good at going with the flow.  We deal well with the inevitable craziness and not-as-we-planned-it ways of a family vacation.  And of life in general.  After three kids, we let most inconveniences roll off our backs, but I can’t say we’ve actually reached the point that we enjoy them.  That we look at what would generally be frustrating events as adventures.  We can get over them quickly, but things like leaving our very expensive train passes on the Shinkansen in Japan, or losing Marc’s wedding ring in central California, or getting lost from one another at an enormous outdoor market in Bangkok (and me trying to plan how I would get home to America without my presumedly dead husband) – these things did not fill us with child-like wonder.  They made us argue.  And freak out.
          I remember driving through a blizzard to my grandparents’ house at Thanksgiving when I was five or six years old.  We got stuck in a snow drift at nightfall, and my dad had to walk to the nearest house (not so near in rural Nebraska) for help.  My brother and I were understandably nervous, snuggled up in a blanket with Mom.  “This is an adventure!” she said with enthusiasm.  “Oh,” I thought.  “I guess it is.”  And then it was.  I don’t remember it as scary.  I remember it as exciting.  I’m sure we got cold, I don’t remember how we got out, and my poor dad probably didn’t think it was thrilling, but it sticks in my mind as a fun experience from childhood.  Because my mom knew to make it that way.
          When we were getting ready to leave L.A. Luke said he wanted to live in California.  Legoland had a great deal to do with it, but also the weather, the excitement of being somewhere new, the ocean, our friends’ kids he met, and seeing the place he was born.  The whole thing was an adventure for him.  Southern California is an inconvenient place – the traffic, the smog, the amount of people, the cost of living, the traffic.  But he didn’t see those things.  Or he did and just looked at them with a kid’s eyes. He and Lily have a game they play in the car imagining they are racing all the others on the road (yep, G.K. Chesterton was right) that they played on our trip, too.  It was just a bigger race track.  A super slow one at times, but that didn’t ruin the experience for them.  If you ask me what I remember most from the trip, it’s the bad cold we all caught, the puking, the traffic, and then the fun stuff.  But if you ask the kids, it’s only the fun.  They had a grand adventure.  I could learn a few things from my children and G.K. Chesterton about rightly considering inconveniences.  Life would be a lot more exciting if I did.

Love in Moderation

          We have dear friends who are thinking about moving away, and it breaks my heart.
          I had a friend in Los Angeles who had to deal with this often.  Eventually she decided to only make friends who planned to stay in L.A. for the long haul.  Too many friends – couples who she’d known as singles, whose weddings she’d attended, whose children she had seen born – moved away over the span of a few years and it was too much to bear.  She couldn’t keep her heart open for just anyone new – and there is always someone new in L.A.  She had to be selective, to protect herself.  I knew it must be hard, but as one of the people who was planning to leave I didn’t really know how it felt.  We had a going away party when we first decided to move back to Kansas, and announced at said party that we would, in fact, be staying for a while longer as Marc was going to shoot a documentary.  A year later we had our second annual going away party.  This time we actually moved.  It was a long-time coming, and for me a mostly exciting change.  I was the one leaving.  Not being left.
          But now I’m feeling the impact of being left behind.  I planned on raising my kids with these friends, taking family vacations together, being able to say “remember when” with them every year of our grown-up lives.  And now they will be packing up their things and the irreplaceable spot they have in my heart and driving away.
          In his soaring song Land of the Living, about dealing with the death of his father, Matthew Perryman Jones sings “You cannot love in moderation/ You’re dancing with a dead man’s bones/ Lay your soul on the threshing floor.”
          I agree.  That’s the problem.  To love someone you have to give your whole heart, and take the risk of having it ripped away.  It doesn’t matter what sort of love you’re dealing with – romantic, friend-friend, parent-child, person-dog (actually that one’s a little easier) – for it to be real, you have to be vulnerable and raw.
          C.S. Lewis writes about this in The Four Loves
                    “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly
                    broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an
                    animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it
                    up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless,
                    airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable,
          So awfully and wonderfully true.
          I tried the casket route for a few years.  When my mom was sick with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome I decided not to feel.  I would be strong and keep the sadness at bay.  That didn’t work at all – it only produced anger, which is itself a feeling, and a terrible one to have.  Even a broken heart is better than anger, because it’s a release.  It’s not bottling up, or stuffing in, or avoiding.  It’s cathartic, and real, and necessary.  I don’t know when the tears broke through, but I remember they did.  All of a sudden, after years of very little crying, I let it out.  And out, and out.  And it made all the difference.  It made me a better daughter, a better friend, and eventually able to be vulnerable enough to fall in love.
          In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet the friar cautions the young lovers “Therefore love moderately.  Long love doth so.  Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.”  He is trying to save them from their passion.  To temper their lust and love into something that will last.   His words are wise, but as we see in the rest of the play, even if it comes to a tragic end, loving fully, passionately involves abandon of the heart at some point.  In my love for my husband, my kids, and my friends, I choose to give the whole bloody thing over to them, because I want to be real.  I don’t want a hard heart, even if it saves me pain.
          So I’ve given my heart to my friends who may leave, and if they do they’ll take it right along with them.  I know it will hurt.  It will sting and throb and there will be no medicine to help.  I could cut them off now, as with a tourniquet, to stop the blood-letting.  But that would cut off the joy too.  It would hurt them.  My friend in L.A. didn’t cut me off before I left.  She let it hurt.  She was real.  And we are still friends.  That is what I will hope for as I watch their car turn the corner, away from me, if and when it goes.  I will choose that over feeling nothing.  Take the risk and let the pain come.  And cry, and cry and cry.

Happily Ever After

          Marriage is hard.  It is, as the (brilliant) 80’s movie Parenthood demonstrates, like a roller coaster ride.  You change over time, as does your spouse, as does every human being.  And you’re both faulted.  Two faulted, changing people can’t expect a smooth ride, and we shouldn’t want that either.  As the grandma says in Parenthood, “Some went on the merry go round.  But that just goes around.  Nothing.  I like the roller coaster.  You get more out of it.”  I actually hate roller coasters, so maybe I’m not naturally prepped well for the ups and downs of marriage, but I do agree that a merry-go-round would get boring after a while.  I might just choose the coaster in the kiddie section.
          Marc and I had a rough time in our marriage a few years back.  The low point was probably me getting out of the car during a fight, yelling at him to leave me alone.  And him actually, physically leaving me alone by driving away.  This came after months of frequent arguing, over things we seemingly couldn’t get past, about which we weren’t going to change our opinions.  It was a hard, discouraging time.  Neither of us could understand how the other was feeling, so we visited a counselor to help us see things differently.  To get us outside our own heads, above our own situation and give us the bird’s eye view.  Our disagreements, which up close looked huge, seemed small and manageable from far away.  Easily fixed with some work and an attitude change.
          That’s often the case in marriage.  By nature, it is a difficult thing – two people joining their lives, promising to stand by one another through whatever goes down, not having a clue how hard that is to live out.  Even when people say being married is hard, you don’t know how hard until you do it.  Until your spouse has hit the one nerve that seems connected to all the others and it feels like your life is falling apart.  Just as reading the entire collection of parenting books from Amazon can’t prepare you for the reality of a tiny person in your arms.  But that’s the part that makes it exciting.  The roller coaster instead of the merry-go-round.  And that’s what makes it worthwhile.
          In his essay On Marriage, Robert Louis Stevenson writes of the difference between hope and faith.  Hope is the feeling a young person has before he marries, and faith is the long-married person’s view of marriage and his spouse.
               Hope lives on ignorance; open-eyed Faith is built upon the knowledge of our life, of the tyranny of
               circumstance and the frailty of human resolution…In the first, he expects an angel for a wife; in the
               last, he knows that she is like himself – erring, thoughtless, and untrue; but like himself also, filled
               with a struggling radiancy of better things…
          I was full of hope when I married, which is inevitable.  One would normally think of hope as a good thing, but in this case it’s hope in something, someone, bound to fail.  Who won’t measure up to your expectations because he or she can’t.  By nature your spouse will let you down, in big or small ways.  The experience of living through the disappointment, and getting past it, is what produces the faith to carry on, as long as you see that the same faults are true of you.
          This essay sounds like a downer on marriage, as does Louis Stevenson’s for the first couple of pages, but I promise neither is so.  In his new (and excellent) book on marriage, Tim Keller references a study in which it was found that “two out of three unhappily married adults who avoided divorce reported being happily married five years later”.  You can look up the parameters of the study if you like (, but I think it makes sense even without any empirical data.  Given a little time, you can work through, or as the study points out, outlast, many issues in marriage.  Three years after Marc and I had our rough spell, we are more in love than when we got hitched thirteen years ago.  It’s odd to think that we ever had such raging fights.  We worked hard, changed some of our behaviors, learned to love one another better.  And we forgave a lot of crap.  That’s the key – not hoping for perfection, but expecting to forgive and be forgiven.  A lot.  Then you can get on to the business of enjoying each other, too.
          Louis Stevenson says it beautifully…
                    …for the faults of married people continually spur up each of them, hour by hour, to do better
                    and to meet and love upon a higher ground.  And ever, between the failures, there will come
                    glimpses of kind virtues to encourage and console.
          Marital bliss may be possible for a time, but it can’t be expected forever.  The good news is it gets better, or it can.  I know our roller coaster will dip again, but it’s also bound to go back up.  In the meantime I’m enjoying the heights with the man I married.

Want/Don’t Want

          It’s funny how the things you want can change over time, even to the opposite of that which you wanted before.  When I was seven I wished my name was Misty.  How ethereal, I thought, as I flitted around in a ballet skirt; If only I was Misty rather than Jenea, I would be happy.  When I was in junior high I longed for Pepe jeans, the height of awesomeness.  I bought one pair with my own money and wore them every other day – stone washed to almost white, pegged at the ankles.  Oh yes.  In high school it was a new house I thought I needed.  Not an old one with creaky hardwood floors like we had; I wanted carpeting, and a neighborhood in the new part of town where every house looked the same.
          Getting the things I wanted produced varying degrees of happiness for me, but it didn’t last forever.  The Pepe jeans were horrible just a few years later, and Misty would now be on a list of names I would go to the courthouse to change.  As an adult I live in an old house with creaky hardwood floors in the old part of town.  By choice.
          One of the biggest desires I ever had was to be a mother.  As I tried to get pregnant with my first, my obsession increased with each unsuccessful month.  What I ate, my temperature in the morning, which pants Marc wore – each was an essential element in my quest to have a baby.  It was all that mattered.  The day I knew I was with child, my obsession switched to having a healthy one.  The day I gave birth to my son I fell in love so hard I couldn’t imagine ever leaving his side.  A year later my dream was to go to Target alone.
          Having a second baby was a definite urge, too.  I felt a little less sure of having a third, though if I would have known what a sweet and easy child she’d be, there would have been no hesitation.
          But now, if I got pregnant again I would cry.
          I’m not supposed to say that, because there are people who desperately ache for a baby, as I did eight years ago.  And if it were to happen, I’d move past the crying at some point and welcome the new little person into our family with joy.  It would just take some self-pep talks and a lot of caffeine.  I realize the I-want-what-I-want-when-I-want-it aspect to my changed desires.  Like a spoiled five year old who rejects the ice cream she just ordered because it’s in a cup instead of a cone.  I can almost see my own pouty face and crossed arms.  But it’s the truth.  My body might actually fall to pieces if I grew another person in there, or gave it birth, or woke up every two hours to feed him.  I need a nap just thinking about it.  As sure as I was that I wanted a baby when I was younger, I am sure I don’t want to be pregnant again.
          Much has happened since I was 29, namely having three children and getting older.  I’m in a different stage of life now than I was then, and I’m ready for the change.  I want to focus on rearing the children I have instead of having any more, and I’m excited for new challenges, a re-connection with my brain, a chance to go to the gym more than once a week.  I’m not being fickle, I’m just moving on.  Thankfully I have no misgivings about having my kids the way I would have regretted being named Misty.  And they don’t go out of style as did my jeans.  Over time I may want different shoes or change the way I do my hair, but my children are one part of my life I will always be glad for.  I might need to go to Target alone from time to time, but my heart isn’t going anywhere.

From the Outside In

          My first couple of years living in L.A. I found I had nothing to say.  It was hard for me to write in that city.  Part of it was due to my surroundings – buildings all around don’t start the creative juices flowing in me.  Views have always been a part of writing for me.  Being able to see a long way off, especially if the scenery is green and lush and sweeping, has always prompted words.  Certain trees, or stretches of the sky, or images in a photo have jump-started many stories and essays and poems in my brain.  Finding  the meaningful in the beautiful motivates me.  Mid-century architecture, in pastel, doesn’t.
          It also takes a while – years – for a person to know a place enough to write about it.  “Write what you know” is common writing advice, and I didn’t know L.A. enough my first several years there to say anything worthwhile.  It’s a complicated city; It takes a while to absorb.  I also struggled with liking it at first – that didn’t help.  I moved to Los Angeles a new bride, to a teaching job I wasn’t trained for, to a city my husband had already lived in for two years.  From Kansas.  It was culture shock, marriage shock, career shock and lack-of-friends shock all at once.  In a apartment in Alhambra with decades-old shag carpeting and no phone.  It seems like it should have been fodder for a lot of good writing, but instead it left me speechless – quietly taking in all the new, all the different, trying to understand my changed life.  There was no room left in my brain for processing.  For overflowing.
          Four or five years in to my time in L.A. I enrolled in a writing class through UCLA Extension.  It was the first time since college that I felt a twinge of being able to throw some words down on paper that weren’t inner ramblings.  It felt great.  I wrote some decent sentences in my classes there, but more importantly, I wrote.  Pieces with structure and craft involved.  I remember driving home from class one night, which I went to in the evening after a full day of work, feeling more alive and awake than I had in years.  And more connected to my city and the people in it than ever.  I had something to say for the first time in a long time.  Hallelujah.
          A couple of years later, when I had my first child – my son – my heart broke open with all sorts of new feelings and met yearnings – longings I didn’t know the depth of until they were realized in my baby boy.  I knew I wanted to be a mother, but I didn’t know what a primal need would be met in having a child.  That it would open up another valve and pump new blood into my life.  That it would answer an unanswerable question in my soul.  I spilled over with things to say, things to write, about becoming a mother.  The floodgates opened.  I wrote a love letter of sorts to my son about nursing him – the labor of love that it was.  It is probably horribly written – cheesy beyond forgiveness – but I still can’t see past the utter passion I felt at the time.  It still makes me cry.
          I’m beginning to be able to write in any kind of room these days, with any kind of view.  Even at a desk in the basement, with the computer and dirty laundry looking back at me.  Sitting in my dining room full of windows, looking into my back yard with kids’ toys, a swing set, bushes I’ve neglected trimming and the silly-looking pear tree I planted when we bought our house is my new writing spot of choice.  I could write there for hours.  I’m not sure why I don’t need sweeping views anymore.  Figuring that one out will be another essay some years down the road, I assume.  I wonder, though, if it has something to do with settling into myself.  Having three children made me take a step back and see myself differently, from a different angle.  From a more distant view, I suppose.  I was filled up by giving myself to my kids, and I witnessed that happen.  I still like sitting on top of a hill and seeing what thoughts pop into my head.  It’s magic for me.  But the empty screen and a few things to say are enough these days.  My family is my muse.  For now, watching them from the outside in is as good a view as any.