From Daughter to Mother in a Year

 

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

 
Public nursing challenges at the Mall - Me with my ten-month-old daughter - Nov. 23, 2007

Public nursing challenges at the Mall - Me with my ten-month-old daughter - Nov. 23, 2007

This is the face of a new mother.

Not new, as in minutes new; but new, as in ten months into it new.

This is the face of a mother without a mother. A woman who was a bit lost in the world, after losing her mom and birthing her first child, almost simultaneously.

It’s not a particularly uplifting image or story; but it’s real, and it’s the truth.

A dear friend often says “it’s ok not to be ok.” I wholeheartedly agree. To be, wherever and however we are, allows us to feel and process our feelings, not run away from them. It’s a generously forgiving and nurturing attitude, toward ourselves and others; yet unfortunately, it’s not one many people adopt.

I have been doing this for years… not pretending I’m okay when I’m clearly not. The problem with this for other people is, when you’re not okay for a good long while, you start making them uncomfortable.

I was not okay when my daughter was born, and I knew and accepted that was just how it was going to be for a while. Almost every fiber of my being was grieving the sudden loss of my mom three months prior, while every other fiber was reveling in the birth of my daughter.

People around me wanted me to be okay, sooo bad. I too wanted to be... for my daughter, my husband, and me. Those who loved me wanted me to feel nothing but love and gratitude for this child, while taking comfort in the belief that my mom was “looking down on us smiling.”

But I wasn’t okay. It wasn’t comforting and I didn’t care to believe that my mom was up there, wherever they thought “up there” was, looking down on us, experiencing the joy of this child along with us. I didn’t care. I didn’t agree. I wanted her here with me, and with this baby. I knew that wherever her energy was now, there was no way she could be experiencing it quite as good as if she had been alive, holding her first grandchild in her arms.

I am not sure why my husband decided to capture the somber moment above. I don’t even remember him taking it. I look like I was in a trance while breastfeeding my daughter. That whole year after my mom’s death, the stark reality of enduring the challenges of motherhood without her support made me sad; and it permeated my days.

As if the grief was not enough, I was also dealing with hormonal imbalances, sleep deprivation, post partum depression, nursing discomfort, and an almost complete surrender of the person I formerly was. The challenges I faced as a new mom changed my face for a while. I often didn’t have the energy, nor the inclination, to cultivate a positive attitude or conceal the sadness.

On one of our daily beach walks - Malibu, CA - Aug. 19, 2007

On one of our daily beach walks - Malibu, CA - Aug. 19, 2007

Every Mother’s Day, I think of my mom, obviously, but not reminiscing on past years on which I celebrated her as my mother. Instead, I think of all the Mother’s Days that she’s missing. The ones we never were or will be able to celebrate as mothers together.

I have now celebrated twelve Mother’s Days as a mother, not a daughter. Today will be the 13th. Those people who say “It’s just a day” are probably the same people who tell the families who lost everything in the Woolsey Fire here in Malibu six months ago that “It’s just stuff.”

Until it happens to you, you have NO idea what you are talking about.

In 2006, I celebrated Mother’s Day with my mom, as I did every year, and didn’t know I was pregnant yet. The following year, I spent the day without my mom and with a child of my own, both for the first time. In the course of that one year, everything changed.

I don’t remember that first one. Maybe I have a photo from it somewhere, but I have no memory of it. I think I was sort of detached from the concept of it… how was I, all of a sudden, the mother on this day, in this scenario?

From the very beginning, I was this kid’s world. As a baby, she would sit, listen, and take in everything I said. When I would talk, she would just stare at me, absorbing every word, even though she didn’t understand them. When I wasn’t talking, she still had her eyes on me, observing.

She Always had her eyes on her mama, and still does - Malibu, CA - July 22, 2007

She Always had her eyes on her mama, and still does - Malibu, CA - July 22, 2007

She was my beach baby, my walking buddy, my everything. Even though the void in my heart left by my mom would never be filled, she filled in places I never knew existed.

Feeding at the Gaviota Beach rest stop - Sept. 1, 2007

Feeding at the Gaviota Beach rest stop - Sept. 1, 2007

She brought light into a dark time, and her smile, dimple, and big blue eyes brought me hope and kept me moving and living and working hard to be my best for her.

Beach fun in Pismo Beach, CA - Sept. 2, 2007

Beach fun in Pismo Beach, CA - Sept. 2, 2007

Nursing an eight-month-old in Downtown LA - Sept. 22, 2007

Nursing an eight-month-old in Downtown LA - Sept. 22, 2007

A night out at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center, - Dec. 9, 2007

A night out at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center, - Dec. 9, 2007

I know it looks very different for some, and involves a lot of effort and heartache for many women who want to have children. But for me, becoming a mother was the easy part. I was fortunate that it happened without me doing much of anything, except having a bit of pleasurable fun, and then growing a human inside my body without too much complication.

11-month-old on the verge of walking, Malibu, CA - Dec. 19, 2007

11-month-old on the verge of walking, Malibu, CA - Dec. 19, 2007

The hardest part of my pregnancy was the last three months while dealing with my mom’s absence.

But learning to LIVE life as a mother, without a mother, was the absolute hardest thing I have ever done. And being a mother, in general, is the hardest thing for me to do… harder than losing my mom in a car accident, harder than accepting marriage isn’t what I expected it to be, and harder than bearing my soul and exposing my vulnerabilities in writing.

As Teddy Roosevelt said in the above quote… if nothing worth having comes easy, and if the hardest fought challenges and rewards in life are the most sweet... then motherhood must be the sweetest and most worthwhile venture in all of human existence. At least that’s what I am banking on.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom (& Grandma)

from both of us…

 
My 2nd Mother’s Day with my 16-month-old - May 11, 2008

My 2nd Mother’s Day with my 16-month-old - May 11, 2008

 

(and her little brother too.)

POSTSCRIPT: I went through years and years of photos while searching for pictures of my aunt to include in the memorial slideshow that was going to be shown at the luncheon after her funeral on May 3rd. The photos that I found from my first year as a mother, a few of them included above, sparked vivid memories and feelings from that time; so I was inspired to sit down and write about it.

Reflecting on the difficulties that I experienced reminds me of how far I have come and how much I have surmounted. More than anything else, my children’s presence in my life has challenged me to heal, grow, evolve, and live as authentically as possible. Acknowledging our pain and allowing ourselves to feel it is the ONLY way to process, work through, and heal from it. There aren’t any shortcuts or detours to avoid them; that is, if you intend to heal from them. So each time I write and reflect on my wounds from the past, I heal from them just a little bit more.

You Make Me Cry

Flowers covering Jan’s grave site after her burial - May 3, 2019

Flowers covering Jan’s grave site after her burial - May 3, 2019

My Aunt Jan, my mother’s younger sister, died on April 13, 2019.

We had her funeral this past Friday, May 3rd, at which I gave the eulogy. She did not have children, and her father (my grandfather, George), her only sister (my mother, Judy) and her mother (my grandmother, Helen) all passed before her, in 2000, 2006, and 2009 respectively.

After scripture readings, a gospel, and brief homily by the deacon, a few words from my aunt’s former partner, Richard, with whom she was in a relationship for 17 years, a bible reading and powerful personal message from my older brother, Anthony, and a poem and Anne Lamott book passage read aloud by my older sister, Rebecca… it was my turn.

It took me about nine minutes to deliver the eulogy I wrote, speaking to a full chapel of over one hundred of Jan’s close friends and family. I didn’t know maybe half of the people in attendance, those who knew my Aunt Jan from other walks of her life; so I had decided to greet as many old friends and former co-workers of hers with a smile and a handshake as they walked up to the chapel doors.

I thought that if I was able to introduce myself to most of them, then we wouldn’t be complete strangers when I stood before them to say what I had prepared. I was nervous to speak, but I was confident in the message I was there to deliver.

After the service was over, we all walked from the chapel to the grave site to bury her cremains. Many mourners I had just met hugged and thanked me for what I wrote, as we shared this powerful experience of saying goodbye to someone we loved. The love and energy Jan had given in life to those for whom she cared, inspired me to write the following words to honor her in death, as I shared that day...

Jan’s Eulogy 5.3.19

I have written a lot about death and losing people I love. I write to make peace with the fact that they’re gone, and with why they are gone. I write to process how I feel about it, and about them, and how their words and actions affected me.

But I also write to honor them in death as best I can, aiming to share more of who they were and what they meant to me and others in this life. Today, I’m going to communicate with you some thoughts and feelings I got down on the page when I sat to write and reflect on my Aunt Jan’s life.

As a writer, not a public speaker, I would much rather post this where you all can read it yourselves. But since delivering a eulogy at a funeral doesn’t work that way, I’ll read it to you, and do my best to convey through my voice what came out through the strokes of my keyboard in silent reflection.

Jan and I share a middle name. Marie. She was Janice Marie and I am Lisa Marie. She called me “Lisa Marie” my whole life, so I recently began calling her “Janice Marie” in texts and when I saw her. But before that, while growing up, I simply called her “Aunt Janny.”

Aunt Janny & me on the Parachute Sky Jump at Knott’s Berry Farm - 1976

Aunt Janny & me on the Parachute Sky Jump at Knott’s Berry Farm - 1976

Aunt Janny was a cool aunt because she was ten years younger than our mom. She was 16 when I was born. She often babysat my siblings and I, and for as much as I can remember, she let us run wild and do what we wanted.

Once on her watch, I fell and hit my head on the corner of our coffee table while jumping on the couch. I have a scar next to my eye from the injury, and Jan often liked to remind me of this mishap… a running joke that amused her. Somehow she equated it as her proof that she was not fit to watch over little kids.

As a 20-something girl, she possessed a gentle ruggedness that made her intimidating, yet approachable. When I saw her, most often it was in shorts washing her car in the driveway of my Grandma’s house on Tuba Street in Chatsworth.

She did this A LOT. Like every couple of days, a lot. She always had a potent air freshener hanging from her rear view mirror, and religiously applied Armor-All to her car tires, dashboard, and leather seats.

Jan’s happy place was in her immaculately clean sports car, cruising and blasting her favorite tunes. She would drive us to Malibu in her powder blue Chevy Malibu… her love for the beach trumping her dislike of sand inside her car.

Just picture it… a 23-year-old Jan driving three little kids over Kanan Dume Road to Paradise Cove Beach in the late 1970’s, early 1980’s. The winding canyon road, windows down, wind whipping through our hair, and our little bodies sliding across the back bench seat, saturated with Armor-All.

Aunt Janny with my brother, sister & me - Easter 1976

Aunt Janny with my brother, sister & me - Easter 1976

No seat belt law meant we were untethered and at the mercy of Kanan’s sharp turns and Jan’s slippery, lubed-up leather. We would be crushed up against one another, pinned between a sibling and the car door, until a turn in the opposite direction catapulted us to the other side of the car, all the while a soundtrack of 70’s soft rock hits blared on the car radio.

No, none of the songs she played were AT ALL appropriate listening for the 7, 9, and 10 year old kids that my brother, sister and I were. But even though the lyrics went over our heads, the choruses were burned into our brains.

My brother collectively dubbed them, “Janny Beach Songs,” as we still refer to them today. Over the years, Jan loved when we would list these classic songs from memory and sing a few bars of “Fifty Ways to Leave your Lover,” “Hot Blooded,” “Afternoon Delight,” or “Hot Legs.”

Jan loved music. She loved sports, and she loved shiny colors, especially RED, on her cars, her lips, and her nails.

But bright, neon colors… those, she most often wore on her feet.

Great Aunt Jan with my kids - March 2014

Great Aunt Jan with my kids - March 2014

(I brought out a pair of Jan’s neon orange Nikes from behind the podium and placed them in front of me)

I don’t know exactly when her obsession with the blindingly neon-colored athletic shoes began; but I do know the dizzying number of pairs she had, like this one, are a perfect analogy to Jan herself during the years she wore them.

They are sporty, but stylish…

flashy, but comfortable…

casual, yet expensive…

Just like her.

Jan loved what she loved, and embraced it all with vigor.

She was sentimental… about family, her favorite songs, and her precious memories. I actually don’t remember her being sentimental in her youth; but what do kids really know about the inner emotional life of the adults in their lives, unless those adults open up and share it with them.

Some people say we get more sentimental as we age… that things a younger person would deem “sappy,” like TV commercials and greeting cards, can easily bring older people to tears.

I don’t know if age has as much to do with it as maturity does. I think sad things that make us weep, or happy things that make us cry, elicit these emotions, to those that are paying attention, because they are just that… sad or happy enough to provoke a physical release in our bodies… grief or joy, manifested through tears.

The grief and the joy are not necessarily stronger or more potent for most older people than they are for younger people. It’s just that most young people, and unfortunately some grown adults, have not yet developed the tools to let feelings flow without fighting them… their restraint often rooted in fear and shame.

Our culture has taught us that emotions are for the weak, that holding back tears is a sign of strength, and that being or appearing vulnerable should be avoided at all costs.

I think society got it wrong.

Janice Marie & me on my birthday at The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach - May 2014

Janice Marie & me on my birthday at The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach - May 2014

My Aunt Jan had this way of pushing her lower lip out to communicate something was causing her to become emotional. I think it was her way of feigning crying to avoid actually crying; although sometimes she did begin to cry too when she just couldn’t stop herself.

She did it when she told me how something I had written affected her.

She’d say to me, “You make me cry, Lisa. You’re such a good writer. Your words are so beautiful.”

And she would say it almost like she was a little mad at me for rendering her helpless to her own tears. Like I had found her Achilles’ heel and she was being forced to unwillingly surrender to her emotions when she read what I wrote.

Of course, she didn’t have to read the pieces about my mom, or marriage, or life being challenging or hopeful. She could have avoided them and not subjected herself to riding a roller coaster of emotions. But I think she liked taking the ride, and letting me bring her on a journey to that place she wouldn’t let her daily life take her.

That place of vulnerability. That place we go as humans when we surrender to what we feel so completely that, often in a flood of tears, we are relieved of a heavy burden. For those who don’t ever allow it, or who don’t allow it often, crying is like a valve being loosened just enough to release the pressure of what has been held inside for too long.

My writing brought Jan to that place. With every lower lip pout or tear she cried, I think she got a little relief from what she often held inside: sadness, pain or just the feeling of really missing her nuclear family… her mom, dad and sister… the three people who loved and shaped her and brought her up in this world.

Janny is not here to read this; but I can picture her now being overwhelmed by it… her lower lip in full effect, holding back tears, and lovingly reprimanding me for “making” her cry.

Well, Janice Marie, I’m sorry/not sorry. I am honored to be someone who loosened the valve on your emotions every once in a while. I’m content to believe that this would have elicited your tears as well.

But in truth, I know that if you are feeling anything comparable to the human act of crying in this moment, it is not because my words “made” you do it. If you are crying, I believe they would be tears of joy in seeing your family and friends show up to honor you today. It would be from the overwhelming joy of being reunited with your nuclear family again.

Jan with her dad, mom & sister in Studio City, CA - Summer 1969

Jan with her dad, mom & sister in Studio City, CA - Summer 1969

I can imagine the four of you together in a tight group hug… you with my mom, Grandma Helen, and yes, even Grandpa George. I imagine him as a beautiful light embracing his wife and daughters closely and tenderly, his soul now free from what held him back from doing so while he was here.

I imagine you wanting all of us to know that you are okay. Wanting us to be happy for you… happy you are with your family, and happy you are at peace.

And I AM happy for you. I am SO happy to also imagine you as a light, shining bright outside the confines of your human form. As bright as your neon Nike’s, with no need to wear Nike’s anymore.

I imagine your energy soaring through this chapel and through all the people here who love you. You touched us all with your energy, and you will continue to do so each time we think of you.

RIP Janice Marie

November 18, 1956 - April 13, 2019

Aunt Janny with my older sister & Me - 1975
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Smells Like Tween Spirit

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From birth, she had the most expressive eyebrows I had ever seen on a baby. Not that I paid any attention to babies’ eyebrows, or to babies, for that matter, before I became a mother. I was not someone who ever dreamed of having kids. The closest I came to enjoying the company of children as a young adult was when I worked as a camp counselor during the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college.

My counselor “nature” name was Brook, and the six and seven-year-olds with whom I played at camp endeared themselves to me with their wide-eyed innocence and wonder for the world around them. They would yell out “Brook!“ and smile when they arrived each day, happy to see me, giving me a glimpse of how intoxicating it was to care for them. Once I got to know the subtleties of their precious vulnerabilities and experience how much they began to rely on me for their safety and comfort, it was hard not to get hooked… at least for the summer.

The experience reminded me of the joys of childhood, the possible joy of parenting, and how it may be fun to spend some time with little ones once in a while. But that was as far as it went. I babysat kids in Newport Beach here and there while attending school at UC Irvine; and their young parents, who must have been in their early thirties, looked so old and mature to my twenty-year-old self (yet ironically, they were probably much younger than I am now with the same aged kids!). When I arrived to relieve them of their parenting duties, the moms and dads always seemed like they couldn’t wait to be free of their children. I didn’t understand then that it was most likely their date night, and they needed the break from parenting to stay sane and keep their marriage together. From my naive perspective, there wasn’t much joy in parenting for them, as it seemed more of a burden from which they were looking to escape, even if just for the night. This observation stuck with me.

After graduating a few years later in 1994, I dove head first in my career and didn’t give kids a second thought. Even having a boyfriend wasn’t a priority to me those years in which I worked fifteen hour days and slept in between. I didn’t see how kids would fit into my life with the big career I had originally envisioned for myself… back when I thought I was going to make movies for a living.

Twelve years later, after many memorable experiences, life lessons, and stark realizations, I was married and pregnant with my first child… this child, whom you see above, the one with the tween attitude and the expressively arched eyebrow. She came into my life by surprise, not by plan, and the expectation of her arrival was the biggest thing that had happened to my family in a while. She would be the first grandchild in my first family, an unexpected gift we all couldn’t wait to receive. But this big thing that was about to happen got eclipsed by an even bigger thing. My mom died. The woman whom she was going to make a grandmother didn’t survive a car accident and left this Earth just three months before she was born into it.

2008

So when she was delivered to me, under a cloud of grief, her huge blue eyes, single cheek dimple, and raised eyebrows soothed my hurt and gave me purpose, when all reason and sanity seemed to have abandoned me. She smiled and laughed and furrowed her brows, and she showed me how much joy one person can bring into another’s life, even in the worst of times.

I didn’t know what I was doing, I just knew she was the most important thing in life. I knew she needed me, but I didn’t realize then how much I needed her. My life felt out of control, like all of its biggest decisions were being made for me without my input, and I was forced to just ride the ride, regardless of whether or not I was a willing passenger. Without my mom there to support me, or to assure me everything was going to be okay, I felt lost as a woman, but found as a mother. The void my mom left was dark and deep, and I don’t think anyone, not even me, understood how much losing her would change me. I wasn’t sure of anything except that this little girl needed me to love and take care of her. I knew I could do that, I was going to do that no matter what, but I really didn’t feel like I could do much else.

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Once again, twelve years later, and this child turns twelve years old… today.

She is bold and she is beautiful. She is shy and she is stubborn. She is like me in so many ways and nothing like me in so many others. I see my mom in her sense of humor. I see my dad in her blond hair and blue eyes. I see how being my child has shaped her. I see her strong sense of identity rearing it’s head out from under her childhood innocence, and I see the baby I once knew still very much alive in her big eyes.

I am not ever one to say, “Where did the time go?” I have not said or written that statement, not once. I know where it went. I have spent almost every day of the last twelve years with this kid, and these twelve years have been unforgettable. They have been a mixture of happiness, sadness, and feeling a love never known before. There were times I felt content in the life I have built, and other times I struggled with unrest and wanderlust when my autonomy felt sabotaged by motherhood, and when my individual desires and personal aspirations got the best of me.

But regardless of the phases I have gone through, there has always been intense gratitude for the privilege of getting to watch this beautiful creature live, learn, evolve and grow.

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She has been a joy, a challenge, a heartbreak, and a saving grace. Sometimes she makes me feel on top of the world, and sometimes she wounds me to my core and momentarily crushes my soul. The way I feel as a person and as a woman affects how I relate to her, and the wounds I carry from my own childhood affect how I behave in some of her childhood circumstances.

There is so much I wish I had done, worked on, or figured out before I had her. There is so much I wish would have been different before she came into my life, the most significant thing being having my mom here to be a part of it. But mainly, I wish I had figured out who I was a bit more before motherhood made it’s mark on me.

I have been sharing my writing on this site for almost five years now, trying to better understand who I am, what I feel, and where my greater purpose lies beyond motherhood. This does not lessen my commitment to being a mother, nor does it reflect a dissatisfaction for being a mother. But as I watch my daughter grow, and see all the possibilities for her life that are coming around the corner for her, I want her to experience the best version of me, and I don’t think I have found it yet.

But above all, what I try to remember, however hard it is to keep at the forefront of my mind, is that nothing will ever be perfect or ideal, and no one ever is truly ready to become a parent. Even if you think you are ready, you don’t know what you are in for when a child takes over your life and your heart. I know I never could have imagined this kid.

She is innocent, but she is wise beyond her years. She’s been called an “old soul” so many times by so many different people who all see the same thing in her eyes. There is something intangible there that makes her seem like she knows more than she logically should at her age. She has the normal tween angst, hormonal mood swings, and irrational attitudes that a typical twelve-year-old girl does; but there is an added layer to her.

I sometimes think that her awareness to inherently know things that she doesn’t quite understand yet, or have the emotional capacity to process at her age, casts a cloud over her head. She is more pensive and somber than most of her peers, and doesn’t consistently possess the carefree nature and lightness that they do. As such, I have wondered if that cloud she walks under was formed soon after her birth, during her first few years in which she was with me every day as I was dealing with a lot of sadness and did a lot of grieving.

2010

There is no way to know for sure. What I do know though is that she is still the most important thing in life.

Along with her brother, she brings an elevated purpose to my existence…

She brings eternal hope to my heart…

And she brings so much joy to my soul…

Even if she crushes it occasionally.

💖

Happy 12th Birthday to my sweet girl. Thank you for choosing me to be your mom. I am eternally grateful.

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November 2018 - An Inspirational Disaster

Leo Carillo State Park campgrounds devastated by the Woolsey fire- Malibu, CA 📷: Sgt. John Regan, CA State Parks, Lifeguard Supervisor, Angeles District

Leo Carillo State Park campgrounds devastated by the Woolsey fire- Malibu, CA 📷: Sgt. John Regan, CA State Parks, Lifeguard Supervisor, Angeles District

Pacific Coast Highway through Leo Carillo State Park after the fire - malibu, CA 📷: Sgt. John Regan, CA State Parks, Lifeguard Supervisor, Angeles District

Pacific Coast Highway through Leo Carillo State Park after the fire - malibu, CA 📷: Sgt. John Regan, CA State Parks, Lifeguard Supervisor, Angeles District

The entries I posted on Instagram in November 2018 started off inspirational, but ended up in disaster, full of news and updates on the unexpected tragic events that took place that month. After my last Instagram entry on November 26th, I went offline and took a seven week hiatus from posting on or even looking at social media.

I completely checked out from it all, needing to focus on the care of my injured daughter, and the healing of my own hurt body. So amidst living through the frightening fire disaster, returning to a home in an area that looked like a war zone, and contending with the debilitating injuries and illnesses that befell me and my family, I remained offline through the whole of December, and made my best effort to enjoy the holiday season in gratitude for my family through to the new year.

A devastating wildfire, a painful spasm, and a serious fracture did a number on life around here for a while, and the following words and images chronicle how everything unfolded in November…

(I’ll get to December later.)


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It’s hard to live life sometimes. It’s hard to keep it all together when it feels like it’s all falling apart. It’s hard to be consistently responsible, helpful, kind, and generous, while also feeling happy, joyful, and sane. It’s challenging to do the right thing all the time. To resist sadness, anger, selfishness, laziness, and pessimism when they rear their heads, and when there are plenty of legitimate sources to justify their existence.

It takes discipline, awareness and intentional positivity to resist being swallowed up by the overwhelm of the big picture, the state of our world, and the perils of humanity. It takes courage and a strong will to resist collapse under the weight of our own quiet heartbreaks and peaceful resignations. To suffer soul crushing defeat, survive it, and rise above. It takes hope, intention, and an unwavering desire to build rather than destroy... our homes, our families, our kids’ spirits, and our own sense of peace within.

But we do it. At least we do our best to do it. We do it because we love life. And because we just plain LOVE. Holding love in our hearts can move mountains. It can get us through the worst of storms; and it can bring us to our highest purpose. It is our saving grace.


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Thousand Oaks is part of an extended community for many residents of Malibu. My kids and I are over there often, most recently this past Tuesday, the day before the Borderline Bar & Grill shooting, at a restaurant only four miles from where shots were fired and twelve lives were violently lost. Newbury Park, a town within the city limits of Thousand Oaks, is both where the shooter lived and where I take my kids to see their pediatrician. We dine, shop, and run most of our errands in this community, just over the mountain from our home.

I took this photo of my son in February 2017 at the mall when we were out in T.O. for our mother/son night while my husband and daughter were attending their annual father/daughter dance back in Malibu. It is just minutes from the Borderline Bar and Grill where the shooting took place. “It could have been us” has entered my mind more than once today, and I have had to qualm feelings of unrest for my kids’ safety as we go about our lives. The fear of losing loved ones has been more pronounced for me since my mom went away for her birthday weekend and never returned, killed by a driver under the influence of prescription drugs.

When these senseless shootings happen, as a victim of unexpected tragedy myself, I go back to how I felt the day I was informed by the police officer on the scene that my mom had died in an accident. I relate with and weep for the those whose lives have been forever changed in a blink of an eye. I know first hand how they have been blindsided by such news, how their existence has been severely altered, and how they now have to reconcile their new reality of living without. They have been pulled into the abyss of tragic loss these last 24 hours. Darkness has blocked out the light and they are just beginning their journey through it. My heart and my thoughts are with them. Even though the rest of us are left to process another senseless shooting in whatever way we can (again), we are the lucky ones this time.


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The Borderline Bar & Grill mass shooting last night and now the Hill Fire in the same town of Thousand Oaks, right over the mountain from us. We have the car packed for evacuation, which may come at any moment; as we have heard they’ve already evacuated five miles north of us. Hoping we can stay in our home tonight and all will be ok... but for now, we are thinking of all those over the mountain that are already mourning the loss of victims in the Borderline shooting, and on top of that, are now battling wildfires.


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Mandatory evacuation for all of Malibu from #VenturaCountyLine to Malibu Canyon/Las Virgenes. We are in the car stuck in solid gridlock on PCH right now trying to leave Malibu. Our home had a mandatory evacuation last night, but we stayed in Malibu at a friend’s house further south where there were no evacuations. Now we are part of the mass exodus to leave, wishing we had just left the area entirely last night. Hoping we will have a home to return to in a few days, and praying for the safety for all the Ventura County Fire & LA County Fire fighters and all residents in the affected areas. 🙏

#woolseyfire #hillfire


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My home is (or was, as the jury is still out on that) located about 18 miles up the coast from where I took this photo, somewhere behind and under that huge cloud of smoke. This was at 11:00am yesterday, and the kids and I had already been in the car for two and a half hours but had only traveled a mile. We stayed at a friend’s house further south from our home down PCH on Thursday night, having left our own home at 8:45pm under a mandatory evacuation.

I quickly packed up photos and various irreplaceable items, as much as would fit in our car with my two kids in the back seat, and walked out the door, leaving 99% of our possessions behind. It is now a day and a half later, and with each passing minute, it becomes more of a real possibility that I may not ever see my home again, except as a pile of ashes where it used to stand. I am heartbroken for my community, as so much of it has already burned; and so many of my friends are already dealing with the devastating news that their homes are gone.

Now, I sit here at my sister’s house waiting to hear the fate of mine - for the other shoe to drop. Yes, my immediate family is safe. Yes, the things we left behind are just possessions. But it is also our home... where I lived when I got married, pregnant, found out my mom died, grieved her, birthed two babies, nursed them, put them down for naps, fed them solid foods for the first time, watched them take their first steps, and took their first day of school pictures each year. Where we measured and marked their heights in pencil with a line and their names and the date on the wall next to the entry closet.

It may all be gone. It may all still be there. Either way, what has happened to Malibu is devastating. I know we will survive, and I know our community will rise up, support those who need it most, and get through this tragedy together. I am just so sad, and I need to allow this feeling for a moment before I face what is to come.

#hillfire #woolseyfire


Our home in Malibu did not burn down on Friday in the #woolseyfire and #hillfire, per the report I received Saturday afternoon. However, the danger is far from over and my sigh of relief will be forever stifled, since at least eight families we know already lost their homes, and those are just the ones confirmed.

Power lines have burned and our community is still evacuated. Wind ceased to blow most of the day Saturday, giving firefighters, first responders, and volunteers a reprieve, and a chance to make some headway on fire containment. Unfortunately, the winds picked up again Saturday evening, and more fires ignited in Malibu. It is going to be another rough day (or maybe days) of wait and see.

One of the many sad notes of Saturday was the news that Leo Carillo State Park was burned significantly. The landscape on and around my favorite Leo hiking loop is going to look vastly different than it does here above (taken last week) when I finally am allowed to hike up to this ocean vista point again and survey the scene. I am weeks away from that reality, but I know it will be hard to look out on what the fires have done to it from this spot.

For now, I must stay focused on the reality before me. Thank you to everyone who checked in and left notes of love and encouragement on Instagram, Facebook, or via text. I deeply appreciated all of your kind words and concern, and felt the love communicated from near and far. 🙏❤️

Hope for another day begins now. Hope for the safety and protection of those battling, and the victims of, these fires. Hope that peace and comfort will eventually soothe those who have already suffered tremendous loss. And hope that all life and property that has been spared thus far will stay safe and unscathed over this night and into these next few days.


These palm trees stand on our property, just feet from the side of our home. This mountain behind the palms, the sone in the second photo, is above us, right behind our home. The whole mountain burned, the fields adjacent to our home on both sides burned, and the open land in front of our street burned. Miraculously, our home did not burn. We have been assured our home is now safe from the threat of fire... well, at least from this fire. We are relieved and grateful. We are one of the lucky ones.

The list of Malibu families we know whom have lost their homes has grown to 26; and I expect that number will rise as information continues to spread. Kids in my kids’ classes lost their homes. Teachers at my kids’ school lost their homes. Moms I love and have worked with volunteering at school and in the PTA have lost their homes. My daughter’s best friend lost her new home, the one she just moved into a few weeks ago, as well as the home from which she just moved, where she grew up and had my daughter over for countless play dates, hang outs, and sleep overs. Educators and mentors who have inspired, supported, and just been there along the journey of our lives in Malibu the last 16 years, have lost the homes in which they had lived for over 30 or 40 years.

They are all suffering tremendous loss right now. Please pray 🙏 or keep them in your thoughts... or however you chose to send out positive energy 💫 into the world.

Donate to the many relief efforts that have been formed: @we.love.malibu @onelovemalibu @malibufoundation @bgcmalibu90265, offer a hand to help where you can, or just foster a little more gratitude for the safety and security of your own home, if you are reading this from afar, miles away from Malibu.


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Last Monday night, four days after being evacuated from Malibu, we were still taking refuge in my sister’s South Pasadena house. After sleeping in their cousin’s room for three nights, my kids came to snuggle with me, missing home, and their beds. They drifted off peacefully, while I lied there feeling the unrest and sadness of the last several days fully palpable in my body. My neck, where I hold my stress, had been tight for months, building since May, getting worse with difficulties endured in June, July and August, leading to its present state of stiffness and knots.

A yogi and runner, I had knowingly neglected my self care and exercise regimen in the face of adversity for months... a big mistake. Even though my home was safe, I didn’t feel relief. The damage to my body had already been done. The wildfire was the catalyst to my body finally raising the white flag in surrender.

At 5:30 the next morning, I was awoken by a muscle spasm that shot down my neck. My back was frozen in pain and I didn’t know how to make it stop. Bending my neck up lessened the spasm, so I held it in that position. I couldn’t move without pain taking over, so I just lied there, paralyzed in the dark, while everyone else in the house slept. I felt helpless, scared, and I had to pee. I needed to get up, so I silently gritted through the pain. It got worse from there as the hours passed, spreading down my right side to my arm, hand and fingers.

Thus began what is now going on seven days of chronic pain that hasn’t relented, except for some minutes here and there, and while I’m asleep, when I can sleep. I have seen three professionals ~ healers, therapists and doctors ~ and have had several treatments and tests, with no quick fixes in sight... just the expected weeks of physical therapy.

My body has drawn a line in the sand. It has told me it isn’t going to be ignored or neglected anymore. The wildfire that threatened my home and ravaged my town was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and mine. It was a huge wake up call. I am finally returning home today, still immobilized by pain, to begin the work of healing... not only the physical healing of my body, but the mental and emotional healing of myself and my community.


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Finally arrived back home yesterday afternoon, and witnessed the first sunset here in ten days. A sight for sore eyes.

The mandatory evacuation has been lifted for most of Malibu, but there are still some canyons in which people are not allowed to return to their homes, or to survey the damage done to their property. I am feeling a mixture of gratitude for still having a home to which to return, and sorrow for all the loss suffered by my friends and the challenging times ahead for all of us to rebuild our community.

Anyone interested in helping, you can donate to @onelovemalibu, @malibufoundation, @bgcmalibu90265, or you can visit @gabbyreece to find out what is actively being done for the relief effort locally, not only in Malibu, but other affected areas like Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley. Several groups have been formed to help victims of the #woolseyfire in all areas, and she has been disseminating information through her IG posts to help galvanize people into action. 🙏❤️💪


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My sister and brother-in-law have created a wonderful Thanksgiving tradition at their home for my family and my brother’s family, and they outdo themselves each year with an amazing meal and this beautiful setting.

Thanksgiving was especially memorable yesterday, since we had been evacuated here and stayed at their house for five days when the Woolsey Fire hit Malibu two weeks ago. So many lives have been turned upside down since then, and I am feeling so many different feelings about it. Most of all, I feel gratitude for the safety of my family and our home from the fire; but I also feel sadness for all of my friends who lost their homes to it.

When tragedy strikes, clarity for what you value most can often hit you soon after. I feel overwhelming love for the people dearest to my heart, and an aching desire to be with the ones I love whom are not in my physical realm right now. 💗 I feel the void of their presence and miss their touch, while simultaneously feeling the fullness of my heart with love for them. A testament to how much love our hearts can hold.

Amidst all the love and giving thanks, I’m still feeling the debilitating effects of my back injury from a week and a half ago; and now my daughter is also injured from an accident she had on her scooter the evening before Thanksgiving. It landed us in Malibu Urgent Care right before they closed, and luckily they were able to stitch up her chin that had split open when she fell face first on the asphalt street in front of our home. She scraped some other body parts too; and beside the pain in her chin, her jaw is stiff, her teeth are sore, and she ran a 102 temperature for the duration of our Thanksgiving celebration.

We woke up this morning, both of us bedridden and sore, and I was feeling a bit in a state of “when it rains it pours.” Yet I recognize that these physical challenges and injuries we are nursing still pale in comparison to losing everything in the fire. I know we will be fine soon. We’ll heal our bodies over the next few weeks, and then we will be ready and stronger than ever to help our friends rebuild their lives, and help rebuild our beautiful community.

#malibustrong 💪💙


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In bed. Looking up from the flat of my back. Visions of love, loss, limbo, lust, and light abound. 💫💛✨

#backinjury #bedstretches #yogainbed #youwilllookupatmefromtheflatofyourback #aknightstale #william #heathledger


Before all the hills in my neighborhood off the coast of Malibu burned, including this bluff I often hike in the Santa Monica Mountains, I began writing #thirtydaysofinspiration posts, starting on Nov. 1st. I only wrote and posted on day 1-7 before the Borderline Bar shooting occurred in nearby Thousand Oaks the night of Nov. 7th.

The next day, the Hill Fire in Ventura County, the Woolsey Fire in LA County, and the Camp Fire in Butte County, all began to burn up the state of California. I never got to my day 8 inspirational post, instead writing about the bar shooting. The wild fires took over our lives on Nov. 9th, and they burned their paths of destruction through the city of Paradise up north and my city of Malibu here down south.

Tragedy and loss have competed fiercely with inspiration during these difficult days from Nov. 8-25. Still, many examples of bravery, kindness and perseverance emerged amidst the rubble by the first responders, fire fighters, law enforcement officers, community members, and people from near and far, either working to prevent loss, or helping those who have suffered loss. Inspiration at its finest.

Today, on day 26, I wanted to resume my posts on these last days of this very difficult November; but I find I don’t have it in me right now. I feel sad and overwhelmed. I need time to process some things and do some healing. In the absence of my attempt to write something inspirational to share, I want to show some love and appreciation for those on my Instagram feed who often inspire me.

Inspiration can take many forms... in words and images, in art and intellect, and in humans who embody love, courage, strength, beauty, emotional intelligence, kindness, and ⚓️ hope, as they share their gifts and vulnerabilities, and expose their humanity.

Thank you for inspiring me:
@nayyirah.waheed @changeurperception @createthelove @beingisbeautiful @mindfulmft @abbywambach @estherperelofficial @bzblooms @herbadmother @thelastburstofspring @fodadaclothing @timhortonphotomalibu @julieellerton @projecthealthybody_ @dallashartwig @briana_leonard @rootsnwings_malibu @wearemanenough

Thank you all for the truths you share, and the light you shine. 🙏 💙 xo- Lisa

I Am Here with You

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Every year, I bring the kids to visit you. After school ends, we rush over from Malibu and arrive with only a few minutes to spend before the gates close at five.

They give you their flowers and run around the grass. I try to steal a moment to talk to you, but I often don't let myself get very far into the one-sided conversation. I don’t want the kids to feel the heaviness in my heart while they flit around in their lightness. Sometimes, I just don’t want to acknowledge the heaviness.

So I watch them run around... burning off energy they built up on the car ride over. I tell my son repeatedly not to step on the other headstones and to leave the balloons and pinwheels where they are.

They are comfortable here, playing in their grandma’s yard, the only one of yours they will ever know.

I sit on the blanket and breathe in the peace this place is supposed to bring its visitors. I look around at all the trees and beauty and reflect on the number of years it's been since we laid you to rest. It may be only a year between our visits, but so much happens in the span of each year that sometimes it surprises me how much remains the same here.

Yet it’s a little different today… the light is different. I haven’t been here in the morning since the day of your memorial service twelve years ago, when I had a baby in my belly and an army of mourners walking with me from the chapel to this spot in the grass.

At this time of day, the tree that shades you filters the sunlight from directly above, casting strong shadows of branches down on your headstone and a warm, golden spotlight that bathes me in a natural glow when I lie down next to you.

The ground is a bit moist and uneven, and the smell of soil and cut grass is potent. My blanket is supposed to keep the wetness of the lawn from coming through, but it doesn’t. I hear the whizzing sound of weed trimmers all around, as the groundskeepers’ maintenance is in full swing. Ironically, I came here today to get some peace alone with you while the kids are in school, but it turns out it is a little less peaceful at this time of day then when we usually visit in the evening.

Still, without the kids in tow, there is a different kind of peace. I can sit here alone and say anything I want to you. I can talk and cry, and there is no one to hear me. I also can sit here in silence and feel the intimacy of the moment without words, knowing words don’t actually need to be spoken aloud to be heard.

Intimate words are hard for me to form through my voice. I get overcome with emotion in most instances of speaking intimately, and those strong emotions often muddle what I am trying to verbally communicate to others. For me, words flow more freely when I write; hence, this.

I write here next to you, sitting on this now wet blanket. Wanting to talk to you, but not knowing where to start. Wondering so much, about so much. Thinking of questions I never asked you. Wanting answers I am missing that I had not sought to get when you were alive, because my life had not yet begged their questions.

You feel closer to me here somehow. That doesn’t make logical sense, I know, because the ashes of your body buried beneath me here are not really you, nor is this inanimate slab of concrete next to me embossed with your name. I just refer to it as “you” because it is tangible. It is a symbol, a sign... It’s what I have left of you.

People like to say you are in me, and that you are with me always. They say it to comfort, and they say it with spiritual conviction; but it is not enough for me just to hear that. You are a feeling I have to deliberately elicit… one I have to connect with to believe, or to find comfort in. Just being told by others you are here with me, and that it is so because of how they choose to believe, doesn’t do it for me.

I am here with you. You are here with me. It’s intangible, but it is all we have. I write to you and about you to feel closer to you. I think about you and all that you have given me, and I feel you with me. When I am connected to my true self, I remember that you are part of me.

I have to go now. The kids and I will return in a few hours, with flower bouquets in their hands. They will give their flowers to you, and they will run around the grass, as always. They will hear church bells ring in the distance and take off to meet the source of the chimes. I will watch them go, silent in the calm of the evening stillness, enjoying the last few minutes we have before the gates close at five.

POSTSCRIPT (about the photo above): On that day, the branches of the tree that looms over my mom’s grave had filtered the midday sunlight in such a way that the glow affect on my face was created in the camera of my phone. I did not add any artificial filter to it after the fact, nor did I manipulate the photo in any way. I’m grateful for the beauty of nature’s filter, and for capturing this image.

Forty Six.

a poem inspired by my birthday weekend getaway in May 2018

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Leaving town,
Can't get out soon enough
Traffic building,
Too late, it already sucks.

Made this trip many times,
Know the drive by heart
University visit,
Walk the campus
Memories materializing,
Time is gone.

Where I slept and lived,
Freshman dorms
I was so quiet and shy
A transformative year.

Up the hill to Greek housing,
I hardly recognize
So much seemed to have changed,
Yet still it’s exactly the same.

Sorority house there,
Fraternity next door
Visions of boys flirting,
Forgot all names but one.

Sisterhood outside of family,
Bonds made, anchors grounded
Then lifted up and floated away
To our separate lives,
To chase diverse futures.

It went by in a blink,
Never thought about it then
That I’d miss it once it was gone.
How hard those days were for me
In relation to that time,
Yet they seem so easy
Now that I’m living this adult life.

I was out of place, in my skin
and in that large circle of friends.
I sometimes wish for a do-over
If what I know now, I only knew then.

Leave the past behind,
Time to start time for me
Hotel room unpacked,
Autonomous feeling
Shoulders are relaxed,
Raise a glass to freedom.

High floor,
Bird’s eye view
Breathing in the solitude,
Just me, no sign of you.

Late at night,
Quiet, so quiet
In bed with book in hand
In heaven reading about
A founding father without a father.

Wake to 46. I’m 46.
What does it mean?
Not good nor bad,
But indifferent maybe.

Am I older, wiser, more evolved?
Or am I living the same life
As I did one day before?

Hotel bed,
King size all for me.
Buttery white sheets,
My favorite delicacy.

Don’t want to get out
I could stay here forever.
Am I avoiding life,
or living my best one ever?

Birthday wishes,
Coming at me from all sides
Playing weekend plans by ear,
Yet suddenly, I am deaf
As a time warp draws near.

In a different place, but similar feel
A different year on the calendar page,
Still unable to make an escape
From the plans I didn’t make.

Embrace by instinct,
Shielding me from the truth I know
Hard to trust the feelings,
That led me astray for years.

A garden walk instead of a run,
A birthday wish I thought I wanted
Giving up what I should have done,
Not satisfied and nothing won.

Why go back to the played out fact,
Like a vinyl album with a scratch
Skipping, skipping, staying on the same track.
I want to change the song,
I need to change the song.

Hope for the unattainable,
Desire for what doesn’t exist.
Disconnect. Accept.
Compose a new tune to hear,
Find a new direction to steer.

At least I keep his eyes in my life.
RISE UP. WISE UP. HAMILTON.
Art that breathes life,
Life that affirms good.

Food, love, music, rest, indulgence,
Why don’t I do this more often?
Heartbreak, frustration, tears, and anger,
Why’d I think that while away
These things would soften?

More love than I know what to do with,
So much it suffocates me
I want to break free of it at times,
Cut it loose, let it fall away and fly off.

But I am tethered to it,
like an oxygen tank
Needed to breathe,
And crucial for survival.

Wishing it was quiet uptown,
While I’m going through the unimaginable
Wishing I could in fact rise up,
And stop the cycle I’m caught in.

Nautical dinner, birthday treat
Sharing stories of pain and love
Family and friend alike,
Repertory and a playwright.

Drama, Art, Passion, Life
There’s so much to see
To be,
To flee.

Sun, sweat, water, swim
Can I stay a little longer?
Delay my departure north,
Not ready to go home yet.

Dinner, sweets,
Late night movie
I Feel Pretty,
But not really.

Who cares anyway,
Beauty comes from inside
Good message with which to leave,
It’s time to get back
To the life that I lead.

It’s far from gone,
I’m alive and awake
There’s a million things I haven’t done,
Just you wait.

*To read the piece I wrote about this year’s birthday weekend getaway, and why I am posting it four months late, see: No Mom Is An Island

No Mom Is An Island

Poolside 5/28/18

Poolside 5/28/18

For the fifth year in a row, I went away alone for my birthday weekend. It’s my ritual, and usually, my saving grace. In previous years upon my return, I have felt renewed, light, free, and more connected to myself as a woman, rather than exclusively a wife and mother. Traditionally, I have written about my thoughts and feelings after these getaways, having done so three times before in 2014, 2016, and 2017. I didn’t write about my 2015 trip; I’m not sure why.

As for this year, I am having a hard time finding something positive to say about it. I honestly would chuck it and not write about it this year, leaving it to fade into my past and memory, if only I hadn’t begun the habit of documenting these annual trips in writing. I’m sure no one else would miss it if I didn’t write about it; but I would be disappointed if I didn’t at least try.

I felt like escaping more this time than ever before, wanting to head out somewhere that wasn't necessarily going to be better, but was going to be at least a relief from that which I wanted to get away. Since 2014, I had spent my birthday weekend each year in Orange County, staying in either Newport Beach or Costa Mesa, seeing various people down there and experiencing various situations that made memories, changed perspectives, and left indelible marks on me.

Should I go to the OC again this year, just out of tradition? Why? I had been contemplating this for weeks, not sure if there was anything left for me there after four years in a row. It seemed some people had moved on, and other people had moved away, and I pondered what my motivation would be this year, going back to the same place. Living and breathing in my current, resigned reality, I couldn’t find any excitement for it, any good reason to rehash the past or try to replicate what I had experienced over the last few years. I needed a new reason to go there this time, and I just didn’t have one.

So I asked myself what I’d like to do instead. What would be the thing I would want most, in experience rather than in people or material gifts? The idea that instantly popped into my head was Hamilton. I had missed seeing the musical when it came to Los Angeles last winter, so I wondered if there was any possible way I could go somewhere for my birthday to see it; that is, short of flying to New York to experience it on Broadway, which was not in the (monetary or time) budget.

Maybe if it was somewhere close enough to California, I could go there, finally see the show, and have a change of birthday venue. It was a long shot, but I did a quick Google search to see if Hamilton was still touring the US; and if so, where they would be during my birthday weekend… just to rule out my farfetched, pipe dream of seeing it.

To my surprise, the company was in the western United States, and not only were they going to be in California for my birthday, but in Orange County, playing a limited run from May 8th-28th at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts - in Costa Mesa. I couldn’t believe it. I had my new reason to go back there… down to the area where I not only attended college and earned my degree almost twenty five years ago, but where I discovered many truths about myself, my soul, my loves, and my life over the last four years of birthday getaways.

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I bought a single ticket to the matinee performance of Hamilton, snagging a seat in the center orchestra near the front, for the afternoon of my birthday, Saturday, May 26th. I booked my hotel, then proceeded to make zero plans to see anyone in the area I had previously seen for my birthday in the past.

This was intentional, as I needed to free myself from the confines of what usually transpires: A long massage, meeting a friend for a chat over lunch, dinner or drinks, getting a glimpse into my alternate reality on the other side of a sliding door - the life I might have lived had I settled in the area after graduating from the University of California, Irvine.

Sounds crazy, I know, now that I write it… passing up on a massage! Weird, but I just needed a change. This year, I was determined to break free from my set routine, and Hamilton was just the experience that I thought would do that.

Before I left, my eleven-year-old daughter was upset with me for going. She laid the guilt trip on thick, as she couldn’t believe I was going to leave her alone to be “ganged up on” in a house full of male influence and energy… namely, her seven-year-old brother and her dad. Neither of them were the picture of sensitivity and empathy in her view, at this drama-filled stage of her tween angst life.

I’ll admit, this made me want to leave town even more. I needed a break from parenting, and from my kids, who relied so much on me to be their emotional safety net. By design, my birthday weekend had become the most significant stretch of time for me to have a respite from the draining demands of motherhood and my life in general; and I couldn’t get away fast enough, or long enough. However, drama, angst, and life still seemed to find me that weekend, as I would soon find out.

I drove down in massive Memorial Day holiday weekend traffic, but still made an early check in at the Westin South Coast Plaza, next door to the theater where I was going to see Hamilton. After dropping my bags and changing into running gear, I headed to UC Irvine for a run around the tree lined park that lies in the center of the campus. It’s always a little strange for me to return to my alma mater, but when I’m in the area, I don’t seem to be able to skip a visit there.

After my trip down my collegiate memory lane, and a nice hot shower, I spent the evening cocooning in king size comfort alone and reading. I have shared my reverence for hotel beds many times before in my birthday posts, and reading a book for hours tucked away in one is a getaway tradition I happily kept in the repertoire. I read for hours that night and the following morning, trying to get through as much of Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton biography that I could before seeing the show. I maybe read a third of it before showtime, but it didn’t matter; the musical Hamilton was otherworldly. I can’t go any further on that topic because I will get off track and this will turn into a long exaltation on it’s brilliance; so I’ll just say it was the best piece of art I have seen or heard, ever.

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In contrast, I saw a non-musical, two-act stage play at the South Coast Repertory theater the following night. Despite what seemed to be a miscasting of the lead actress, the play was enjoyable, and I was grateful to meet up with my husband’s cousin to accompany me to it. We shared a Chilean sea bass dinner at the nautical Water Grill restaurant adjacent to my hotel before the show, and I was treated to a birthday dessert with a candle upon which to wish. Oh, what a wish.

The following night, I saw I Feel Pretty at the movies; and I liked the film for its commentary on inner beauty and female self-worth.

I was grateful for the opportunity to see and hear three forms of art, music, drama, and comedy on stage and screen for those three days in a row; as those three theatrical performances were the highlights of my trip.

It would have been great if the theatrics had remained inside those three theaters that weekend; but it didn’t. Although I began my trip hopeful to have a relaxed, autonomous existence and trouble-free weekend, that dream was short-lived. During the first 24 hours away, I received texts and calls that forced me to confront issues I was hoping I would be free of that weekend… they were communications from people I love, but ones from which I was trying to take a break. Contact that interrupted my peace and solitude, and that reminded me of my love and anger, desire and hope, hurt and loss… contact that reminded me that I was still a woman who was not indeed free of the confines of her existence, still in a challenging marriage, and still a mother.

I found myself unable to bask in the autonomy and solitude as I had done previous years on this weekend, or see and experience people on my own terms. Failing to be immune from complicated issues infiltrating my vacation left me feeling like I hadn’t gone anywhere or taken a break from anything. No matter how mesmerizing Hamilton was or how lost I got in that show (or how much I wanted to go back to that theater day and night to watch its awe inspiring cast of characters sing and perform)… I was me, and my life was it, and there was no escape.

No mom is an island.

I had turned 46. It is not old, but it is not exactly young. I feel younger inside than I am in biological years, and I have come to discover this reality is common for many at my age; and further that it shocks the hell out of most people when they get here. It shocked me, and truthfully, kind of depressed me. Being an adult and growing older are not things most of us revel in. It is a transition we all have to make, and one we can't avoid or delay, no matter how hard some of us try.

As teenagers, we naively anticipate adulthood, as we see the impending perks of age as isolated “adult” prizes: independence, autonomy, freedom from parental limits on our behaviors, eating what we want, and staying up as late as we want. Spending money as we wish. Having sex whenever and with whomever we want. Having successful (possibly ego-driven) careers. Drinking alcohol and going bar and club hopping. Enjoying all those luxuries and irresponsibilities that we crave when we are naive, immature and primarily selfish kids posing as young adults who think they know themselves and what the world is all about.

But once we settle into adulthood, and have lived here for some years, we realize we didn't know why the hell we were so excited. The sentiment, “Can’t Adult Today,” is printed on a t-shirt my sister gave me, and that pretty much sums it up. Sometimes being an adult sucks. Sometimes doing the right or responsible thing is no fun, and sometimes our desires - to break the rules and live like we have no allegiance to anyone but ourselves - get the best of us. Sometimes we get a harsh reality check that forces us to reign it in and accept we aren’t islands… we aren’t, never were, and never will be autonomous beings.

What we do deeply affects others. Our actions, or inactions, hurt people. Our habits, our words, and our behaviors shape our relationships with one another; and whether we want the responsibility or not, what we do and what we say, and to whom, has a profound affect on them. It affects their lives, and in turn it affects ours, as well as many others’ lives in our world, and exponentially in the world at large.

No mom (or man, woman or child) is an island, not even if she claims to be one for a birthday weekend getaway during which she expects to be self-indulgent and pampered. Instead, life infiltrates, issues bombard, and people come into the fray uninvited to force her out of her fantasy world of problem-free bliss.

No mom is an island, especially when she is called upon to comfort her crying child on the phone, for what seems like an eternity, on her birthday night, instead of enjoying room service, an in-room, on-demand movie, and a bubble bath.

No mom is an island, when she realizes the uninterrupted peace that she desired for a few days could only be claimed at the cost of others’ tender needs… that is, if she ignored those needs and went ahead and claimed her peace. (She didn’t.)

No mom is an island, when she rises up to the responsibility of her life, instead of fighting it, to comfort, console, and put her child’s needs before her own wants, no matter how much it may frustrate or disappoint her in the moment, and no matter how sad it makes her for a little bit afterward… as she wishes things were different, but doesn’t know how to make it so.

This is not hero behavior. I am not claiming it to be that. This is what a mom does. A mom who loves and comforts, whether she feels strong enough to handle it or not. A selfless mom who sometimes gives too much, at the detriment of herself. A selfish woman who sometimes takes too much, at the detriment of her family. A flawed human who resents, and suffers, and regrets, out of weakness and poor choices and from her own wounds and limitations.

But all is not lost. Sometimes this mom finds a way to gather strength from the kind souls surrounding her, who don’t abandon her in the most challenging of times. Sometimes she finds inspiration in the feats of adversity she sees others accomplish.

And sometimes she is able to summon the last vestiges of courage inside herself… to cultivate gratitude for what is right and good, to learn acceptance for what is not the way she wishes it would be, to find peace for what will never be again, and to raise hope for what is possible in the future.

She may not be an island, but she is a piece of a continent that is beautiful, and one that is worth keeping together.

She (me) has also adopted a more realistic goal of existing as a peninsula of that continent, instead of an island, next year for her (my) sixth birthday weekend getaway in 2019. ❤️

No man is an island,
Entire of itself;
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
As well as if a promontory were:
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were.

Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

No Man is an Island - a poem by John Donne, 1623

POSTSCRIPT: I began writing this piece in June after my birthday weekend trip at the end of May. I was not feeling completely optimistic at the time; and what I had written reflected that. When it wasn’t shaping up to be anything worthy of sharing, I abandoned it altogether. I never shy away from sharing hard truths when I write; but I also don’t like to just spew negativity and offer it up to my readers as some sort of self-indulgent, pity party.

I began writing a poem instead, thinking that might come out better, or at least more entertaining to read. (I was determined to write something to honor my tradition of birthday weekend posts.) But the poem wasn’t any more positive; so I just left it be, and figured it wasn’t going to happen this year.

Then I had a shitty summer, in which I was faced with some new challenges that occupied most of my waking time, having to do with relationships, business and personal, both mine and other family members. Phone calls, emails, and lawyer meetings consumed my life, as I struggled to be a good parent and somehow give my kids some semblance of a summer vacation.

The stakes were life-altering high, and the little down time I had consisted of sleep, commiserating with my sister on the day’s events that she was going through with me, wine drinking, and binge watching British baking shows, Queer Eye, and other Netflix originals… anything to take my mind off the stresses of the day. Regretfully, energy for physical exercise and mind space for creative writing was at an all-time low.

Since then, although things are not completely resolved, the load has been lightened and shifts have been made, enough to get on with the writing (and physical fitness) part of my life. I have much to do, pounds to lose, a lot to write, things to heal, people to love, and help to give. I am (still) blessed to live this imperfectly charmed life in perceived paradise, and for me to try to claim otherwise would be fallacious and wholly ungrateful.

The culprits behind the challenges I was facing consist of a laundry list of the usual suspects: parenting woes, hormonal imbalance, and marital conflict. The origins and details of these challenges are just as important as the shifts that have been made since then, and I plan to write about them in the future. There are important lessons I have learned that may help others, especially women (and the men or women who love them) who deal with any severe level of hormonal imbalance issues.

As my sister would say, “To make a long story endless…” When I revisited both this piece of writing and the poem months later, I was able to finish both. Trying to find a positive note to end them was easier now, at what seems like a lifetime later, but the hopeful ends don’t conceal the victim-y, self indulgent negativity that fueled the beginnings of them written back in June.

They aren’t my proudest examples of writing, or living; but the negativity and sorrow in them document what I was feeling at the time, and that’s an important part of my journey as a writer and a human, if not for anyone but me.

My birthday poem is entitled Forty Six. You can read it here.

That One's Life

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My kids are at the center of my world. Not as they were when they were babies - when they had to be for their mere survival - but rather because, intrinsically, they point me to my greatest purpose.

They are the catalyst to every good or hard decision or change that I make. They rely on me to make sense of their world, and look to me to show them how to live a good life. They are so affected by my attitude and how I live my own life that they show me every day, through their behavior and in the way they receive my love and show me love, what I am doing well and where I need to improve.

There is always so much to improve upon. More than I wish. The daunting responsibility of raising them, although challenging and overwhelming, is more important than anything. I want to give them my best self, yet I fail to do so, so very often.

Still... wanting to do my best for them doesn’t mean I need to sacrifice myself or my own fulfillment of wishes and dreams. I have done that too many times in the past to good short term results and negative long term ones, paying dearly for what I’ve given up in happiness and well being. I’ve decided I’m not going to do that anymore.

There’s no black and white answer to any of this. I perpetually live in gray areas. Parenthood is a never ending balancing act that is so hard to master, and an easy one to give up trying to balance.

Many people either completely sacrifice themselves for their kids to the detriment of their own identity, or they put themselves first and roll the dice on how their kids will turn out or feel about them later. I think we all wish to fall somewhere in between these extremes.

I strive to do better for them, and for myself, as far as honoring their needs, while still honoring my own... honoring who I am, what I love, what makes me feel healthiest and most alive, and how I can use my gifts to contribute to the world.

It’s out of these choices that one’s life materializes. That one’s life finds its path in both parenthood and individuality. That one’s life reaches its fullest potential and has its strongest impact. That one’s life defies the odds, winds its way through its challenges, and travels the journey that was meant for it all along.

#lifesjourney #findyourpath

*Originally posted to Instagram and Facebook

Happiness is Being Croatian

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This is me, my older sister and brother, and our mother at our ranch before leaving home for a school picnic, circa 1977. Yes, we are all wearing matching “HAPPINESS IS BEING CROATIAN” t-shirts, written in big, bold, blue letters. My dad and mom were used to being in the spotlight, so I guess they thought we wouldn’t mind it either; however, it was hard garnering attention for something about which people didn’t even understand or know existed.

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, the largest suburb of the melting pot that is Los Angeles, California, I was often asked what I “was”... what mix of blood and ancestry could I claim proudly while chatting about such worldly topics on the elementary school playground at recess. The other kids would boast about their combinations of Italian, Irish, Spanish, German, Mexican or English... declaring, “I’m 50% English and 50% Irish,” or “I’m half Italian and half German.” When asked what combo I was, I would timidly answer, “I’m 100% Croatian,” to definite looks of bewilderment.

“What is that?”
“It’s what all four of my grandparents and my parents are.“
“What country is that from?”
“Yugoslavia.”

This answer did not enlighten them further on the topic; they just looked at me funny.

They had no idea what or where Yugoslavia was.

The Croatian people fought for and won their independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, and more Americans learned about this small nation on the coast of the Adriatic Sea through the news of its war and victory. When their basketball team competed in the 1992 Olympic Games for the gold against the USA “Dream Team,” Croatia was in the spotlight on the world stage of sports; and I was able to share I was Croatian without confusing people.

Over the past few weeks, my half Croatian kids and I have been watching Croatia on another world stage of sports, as their Hrvatski nogometni savez (Croatian Football Federation) soccer team have been dominating the FIFA World Cup, yelling at the TV and jumping up and down each time Croatia scored or won a match. I can’t wait to watch them take on France in the World Cup finals on Sunday, as this 100% Croatian American gal will be watching and yelling and jumping up and down once again for Croatia. ⚽️

#fifaworldcup2018 #croatiasoccer

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

So Much of Her is in Me

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So much of her is in me. So many ways I am, and things I do, stem from her. She was thoughtful and creative, with an open, vulnerable heart and a vast artistic sensibility.

She was editor of her high school and university yearbooks, and earned her degree in journalism. She was a proficient photographer and writer, and had a talent for piecing words and images together to create a visual narrative of people and moments in time.

I grew up watching her create. Whether it was drawing, painting, writing, taking photos, decorating a room, designing an invitation, or planning an event, I experienced how she used her gifts to enrich the lives of those around her.

She brought me into this world and gave of herself more than anyone else in my life; and she left this world with so much more to give.

Although I think of her often and miss what could have been - how she could have enhanced my life as a mother, and how her energy could have contributed to the lives of my children - I honor her on Mother’s Day, and every day, by sharing my own gifts... those I feel have been passed on to me through her love, her example, and her presence in my life, both while she was alive, and now that she is gone.

When I create - when I tell a story through words and images - I do so because she was my mother.

#mothersday #missyoumom

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

Three Monkeys

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My heart, joy, heartache, destiny, and purpose, all wrapped up in a little boy. Cocooned in my bed today with a 101 degree temperature and a tummy ache, he wished something would come up and out of him to give his tummy relief. No luck. An easy patient, he was calm and quiet, almost peaceful, and didn’t complain at all about feeling yucky. It was unexpected, since his older sister has the opposite demeanor when she is sick. Comfort came to him today in the form of cuddles with me, books read, movies watched, and naps taken... but most of all, in his three 🐵 monkeys.

His bedtime companions since he was two years old, they are three identical monkey heads on soft security blanket bodies. Why three? He actually started with one that I would switch out to wash, with a spare for the car; but he got hip to my deception and demanded to keep all three at once. And so it has been, for the last 3 years or so.

Today, monkeys were in their usual spot, gathered up together and clutched in his arm like a bouquet of flowers. He dubbed these best friends “rockstars” early on, but now he simply refers to them as “monkeys.” They have priority over anyone and anything in the house; and even when enjoying warm cuddles from me (one of his favorite pastimes), he may demand I move my face a bit so I don’t breathe on them. 😷 The nurturing and gentle care he shows these precious companions speaks volumes. He is a special soul.

While cuddling with him today, his body hot from fever and weak from starving it, I felt a surge of emotion, as the back of his head rested on my mouth and chin. My eyes welled up, and I acknowledged silently to myself that there was no place I would rather be, and nothing I would rather be doing in that moment. An overwhelming sense of contentment and gratitude washed over me, and I felt as lucky as monkeys to be enveloped in his love.

#threemonkeys

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

These Feet

Rough start today. First day back to school after a two week spring break. Kids. Moods. Attitudes. No more explanation needed.

After they left for school with my husband, the house was quiet and peaceful again. Hallelujah. I needed to just sit for a minute. Breathe. Regroup. I lied on my bed, checked my email, read an article or two, recited some positive affirmations, and did a few mind centering exercises to collect myself before tackling the day. I have an article to post today, and some writing to finish up on another piece I want to get out this week. So many ideas in my head, things I want to explore, share, open up about, and connect on with all of you. 🙏

Before rising, I noticed the light streaming in from the window, right onto my feet in front of me. It’s as if they were put in the spotlight for me to notice them. So I thought about it... How often do we consciously appreciate the parts of our body that do so much of the heavy lifting for us, but rarely get the love and care that other less productive, but more aesthetically pleasing, parts get?

These feet have taken me on so many lifesaving, therapeutic runs, climbed hills on the toughest and most beautiful of hikes, grounded me in hundreds of renewing yoga poses, walked me gracefully down the aisle at my wedding, kept me steady carrying babies and toddlers everywhere for years, and held me up as I stood at the podium giving mother’s eulogy. I am grateful for my feet. For the mobility they grant me, the solid connection to the Earth 🌏 they give me, and the foundation they provide me to stand tall and strong... even in the face of a moody eleven year old.
👣

#thesefeet

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

Soften to the Silliness

The magical 🎈balloon lady storytime event with Annie Banannie at the Malibu Library one week ago was targeted for kids ages 4-10. My son (7) and my daughter (10, but three days shy of turning 11) sat there amongst an audience of mostly toddlers and were skeptical it was going to be worth their while.

This was one in a long series of Malibu Library after school events to which I have taken them over the years... probably since she was about two-years-old, and definitely since he was a newborn. As our library outings have been some of the most fun and memorable times I have had as a mother with my children, it is strange to think that this may have been the last one my daughter would ever attend.

When the show began, they didn’t jump right in to participate. At this point (pictured), he was still deciding what he thought, and she was captivated by a baby sitting behind me. Yet after the show progressed a bit, they both began to soften... smiling, laughing, and letting go just enough to have a good time and enjoy the lightness and the silliness.

Even though my daughter is now 11, I will still try to take her to these events, and hope that she will sit, smile, laugh, and soften... soften to the silliness, despite her tween angst, and soften to the innocence and lightness amidst her inner battle between not wanting to be treated like a baby, and not wanting to grow up at all.

#balloonstorytime

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

Like Mother Like Son

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A couple weeks ago, I took my son to H&M to exchange a pair of shoes that didn’t fit him. While there, I saw this scarf and asked him if he liked it. He took the scarf from me, immediately put it around his neck, smiled, and asked if he could get it.

We decided it would be a good purchase for winter, and so he quickly made his way to the cashier to get in line. I spotted the matching beanie as I tried to catch up, and brought it along to show him. He was excited to see the hat, and asked if we could get that too. Yes, sweet boy, we can.

Upon leaving the store, he insisted I take his new scarf and hat out of the bag and let him carry them as we walked through the mall. He held on to them like they were his most coveted treasures, and he thanked me for getting them for him. Every time he has worn them since, he has treated them the same, proclaiming they are just as important to him as “monkeys” (his three sleeping buddies).

Something about that scarf captured his heart and held on to it, beyond any explanation or reason. It’s a beautiful thing because, isn’t that the way most amazing relationships begin? An inexplicable, undeniable connection that defies logic and causes us to hold on with the most fervent conviction.

I love his passion. It mirrors mine; and he is so much like me in so many ways. Unbridled expressions of devotion are just our thing, and we proudly flaunt them for all the world to see.

#likemotherlikeson

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

The Legacy of Grief

And Why It Is So Important to Own Our Pain

My daughter leaving flowers for her grandmother on her birthday yesterday - Now ten years old, she was born three months after my mom died.

My daughter leaving flowers for her grandmother on her birthday yesterday - Now ten years old, she was born three months after my mom died.

I am still thinking about the people who lost their loved ones in the Las Vegas shooting massacre last Sunday night, October 1st.

Yes, still. It has only been a week.

Those left behind to grieve lost loved ones are on my mind because I was them. I know what they are feeling right now. The rest of the world may have moved on, but they are still in the thick of it, possibly paralyzed by sadness, scared about the future, and looking for answers on how they are going to live without their mom, dad, son, daughter, sister, brother, or best friend.

I know their pain. I have felt their pain; as I too lost someone in an unexpected, tragic accident. One day my mom was here, turning 60 years old, and the very next day she wasn’t. That next day changed my life forever... October 10, 2006, eleven years ago today.

The deadly weapon used to kill her was a truck, not a gun; but the person operating the weapon was unwell just the same. The driver was under the influence of prescription drugs at the time of the accident, and so her impaired state caused her to drift off the two lane highway she was speeding on. When she swerved back into her lane, she over corrected and plunged her Bronco into oncoming traffic... slamming it head on into the car in which my mom was a passenger and killing her instantly.

My mom died lying on the asphalt of a rural road in Northern California at the hands of a woman not intending to kill her that day but who wasn't in the right state of mind to safely operate a vehicle that became a lethal weapon. There was no news coverage of the accident; and no villains were vilified nor heroes celebrated (although the driver did get sentenced to a year in prison). There were no hashtags prayers. Still, my mom's death changed the lives of her family and friends instantly, just as the deaths of those 59 people in Las Vegas changed the lives of their families and friends instantly, and forever.

In both cases, the irresponsible act of one single, troubled and unwell individual took innocent lives. The Vegas tragedy was just on a much larger scale and in a very public forum; and that act was committed with malicious intent. The added sting of knowing the killer intended to harm and kill people that day is one I was spared when my mom died; yet, the result of both events was the same - people were killed violently and unexpectedly.

Social media was ablaze this past week, with some people praying for Vegas, others demanding gun policy change, and still others protesting those demands by trying to convince the opposition that they should blame the individual, not the weapon. I know this is not true, but it seems like the people in the latter group are stuck in time somehow, like we are all still living in the 19th Century, when guns were shot one bullet at a time and were used primarily for protection from looters, robbers, and carpetbaggers. Their argument frustrates and confuses me, seeming archaic and inaccurate on so many levels. Yet above all the various protests, there were genuine sentiments of grief and many heartfelt pleas for stricter laws and demands to hold our politicians accountable for their failure to implement policies that they believe could have prevented this tragedy.

Now, over a week has passed, and most voices have quieted on all sides, save the various articles still being written and shared to further the debate on the subject of guns, media, and politics. It seems most people have moved on, resuming their normal output and usual consumption of media and going about their regular lives.

As I touched upon in Forever Changed, the only post I shared last week, our society functions on our collective ability to keep the tragedies of each day at arms length, and to prevent them from penetrating the armor we built up to protect us from daily doses of bad news, depressing statistics, and inconsiderate behavior by those around us. The Vegas tragedy was so tragic though that people could not help but let it into their hearts; and so they allowed themselves to feel devastated for a day or two, or three... just as they did when deadly shootings happened in Orlando, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, or Columbine.

But eventually, after a few days, maybe a week, most people expect themselves, and each other, to revert back to their normal routine of disconnect. Be it for self-preservation or simply for keeping their lives operating, they pull themselves up, look ahead and move forward, leaving the devastation behind, along with most of the emotion connected with it. After all, they would argue that they have to get out of bed, go to work, take care of kids, and contribute to society in the way they normally do and are expected to do. They can't afford, neither financially, emotionally or mentally, to curl up under the covers and allow themselves to feel sadness, fear, and powerlessness to the detriment of their careers, families, and self-images.

For about a week, praying for the families of the victims in Vegas or "keeping them in their thoughts" was the extent of what most people would allow themselves to do or feel. This is understandable, as it really is all most of us can do. The sad reality is that a week of prayers won’t give the lost loved ones back to those families, and heartfelt thoughts won't stop future acts of violence, irresponsibility, and loss that are bound to occur in a society full of people in pain that are taught to treat the symptoms instead of the roots of problems.

The people that were demanding stricter gun laws and policy changes may have felt more in control by "taking action" rather than just sending prayers. As admirable and empowering as this feels, it may not have any effect, since deeming something illegal does not mean people will immediately abide by the law and cease seeking out and possessing it. This has proven to be true over and over again by the whiskey and rye drinkers during prohibition, the pot and hash smokers of the sixties and seventies, the cocaine snorters of the eighties and nineties, and the crack, heroin and meth IV drug users of any decade. It is a well known fact that making something “illegal” doesn't make it unattainable; it just makes it trickier and more expensive to attain.

Too many people own guns already, or possess a large enough arsenal to sell them illegally and make a lot of money. So even if stricter policy changes are made, possibly banning bump stock devices that allow semi automatic weapons to perform like automatic ones, someone somewhere will still figure out a way to make, sell, and buy them illegally.

Aside from guns though, add to those illegal drugs listed above the issue of legal drugs - alcohol, prescriptions, and medical marijuana - that are over used and abused daily, and you have a whole other group of citizens that are taking lives via DUI accidents and drug overdoses in record numbers that dwarf the 59 souls lost in Vegas at the hands of one soul with an automatic weapon.

This man’s horrific deed has incited ideological arguments, intense anger, and (more than usual) political dissonance; yet adding to the debate on gun laws, the responsibility of the media, and the political failings of our leaders is not the purpose of my writing this. It is charged subject, with multiple facets and layers that don't add up to one definitive solution. It troubles me, but I am not entirely convinced that what happened in Vegas could have been prevented by stricter gun policies in a culture that, on the whole, glorifies violence, condones separatism, and encourages and enables the denial and numbing away of our emotions.

Instead, I write to share and process my experience of loss these past eleven years, and to grieve the loss of the people killed nine days ago. Their families are just beginning their journey into grief and loss, so I honor them and the difficult road toward acceptance and healing that they have just begun to travel.

Yet I also write to ask questions. To bring up that which most don't and won't talk about. To point out the way in which our society (dis)functions as a whole to the detriment of our collective mental health and emotional intelligence. Among all this discourse about policy and politics, where is the dialogue on the state of our overall wellness as a people, as a society, as a nation?

Wellness is a buzz word these days, as is mindfulness and meditation. But these concepts, and the efforts to implement them, only seem to surface in progressive communities and are often isolated to an individual's personal journey of growth and awareness. Self help - therapeutic, holistic, spiritual or motivational - is seen by the general public as an esoteric ritual reserved for yoga instructors, therapists, fitness and lifestyle coaches and their tribe of followers.

The fact is, there is nothing alternative or obscure about addressing our natural human emotions and our fundamental need for connection and love, or honoring our pain by approaching it with awareness, compassion, empathy, and understanding.

Where is the national agenda promoting true wellness in our society, outside of Western medicine's money making racket of drugging its people up on prescription medications? Where is a national dialogue confronting how to tend to people's mental and emotional well being without the use of drugs or other numbing methods?

There isn't one. There is no national dialogue such as this.

Sure, we have renowned alternative medicine doctors, writers, and self-help gurus, such as the late Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Andrew Weil, and Eckhart Tolle who guide and teach those who seek them out through their books, articles and talks. We also have influential people such as Oprah Winfrey, Tony Robbins, and Brené Brown who do the same with their powerful platforms, working in their own unique ways to show us how vulnerability and emotional intelligence is not something to shame or be ashamed of, but something to strive for, encourage and support within ourselves and our fellow humans.

There are also thousands of therapists and social workers doing their part every day, without the fame and glory of the former teachers and leaders mentioned above, to instill knowledge and awareness, promote courage and healing, and help people face and overcome their adversities without the use of prescription drugs, violence, or the usual numbing tactics coveted and accepted by our society as the norm.

But on a national scale, the need for and goal of true wellness, for the most part, is unaddressed in our society. In its absence, the crises of our culture is the perpetual numbing of pain and discomfort with a host of band-aids... anticipating and celebrating wine-o'-clock, ritualizing Sunday Funday drinking, zoning out on YouTube videos for hours, and binge streaming seven seasons of Game of Thrones in seven days, to name a few.

Numbing and denying our pain, instead of embracing it, leads to isolation and disillusion. Sharing our pain and our struggles in a supportive environment, instead of sweeping it under the rug, is the road to healing and thriving. The "rug" in its many forms - alcohol, TV, drugs, movies, video games, work, social media, sex, gambling, pornography, and retail therapy - has the magical ability to camouflage and cover up a lot of hurt and pain. Yet after the magic wears off, in a matter of days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years, we are still left with the same hurt and pain, now increased exponentially. If left under there, unchecked and unresolved for too long, this pain can rot, decay, fester, and transform into something twisted and toxic, with the potential to erupt in violence; and in last Sunday's case, a shower of bullets.

So where does this leave us? Where does this leave me in writing about my cyclical grief for my mom's death and the empathetic grief I feel for the families that are suffering tremendous loss right now? I don't know. All I know is I will continue to hold the victims of this tragedy close to my heart, next to the memory of mom, for as long as my grief needs me to do so. I am open to feel and accept it all. The grief, the pain, the disappointment, and the loss. I am a living testament to working through grief and pain by embracing and owning it, instead of concealing it away in a dark corner of my soul.

I will grieve, and when I am done this time around, I will remember and cherish my mom even more. I will recall how my kids brought flowers to her grave site on her birthday yesterday... how my son placed his colorful fall bouquet in the ground and uncomfortably yet sweetly wished her a happy birthday as he looked down at her grave marker... how my ten-year-old daughter chose red roses for her because through the years she has learned that they were her favorite... and how she hugged me tight and cried her first tears ever over for the loss of her grandmother whom she never had the chance to meet.

The legacy of grief.

It seems like an unwanted burden to bear, but it is really an invitation to expand our capacity to love.

Forever Changed

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Tragedies happen every day. A person dies in a car accident, another dies of cancer, and still another dies giving birth or while being born. Tragedies are ever present in our world, even if they don't happen right around us or we are not aware of them. If we were to take every single tragedy into our hearts and feel them as deeply as our own personal hurts, most of us wouldn't be able to get out of bed in the morning.

So we go on living our lives, hearing about these sad things that happen, and knowing there are infinitely more, and we don't really allow them to penetrate. At least not completely.

That is until something like the Las Vegas shooting happens, in which (so far) 58 people have been killed and hundreds of others have been injured, in what they are now calling the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, and we cannot ignore it. We can't keep it at bay and try to prevent it from affecting us on an emotional level, as the scale of it is just too immense. The sadness and knowledge of the sheer waste of life that now pervades our reality is so heavy that it can crush us. The helplessness and fear that this violent act can manifest in us has the potential to cripple us from continuing on our day. Do we let it?

And here on social media, there is an added element of timeliness and appropriateness... it begs the question, should we really be posting pictures of our workouts or meal ideas within hours of hearing about this tragedy? Should we take a hiatus from our regular online social lives out of respect for those who have died and those families who have lost loved ones? I don't know the right answer, or if there even is a right one; but for me, I had written something last night that I was going to post on here this morning and now it just doesn't feel right to post it.

So for today, this is it. This is my contribution to the online social landscape. A solemn recognition of how devastating this act was, and how sad I am for those who lost a loved one last night. Their lives are forever changed by senseless tragedy, and my heart is aching for them today, and for our world. 💔

#foreverchanged

 

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

In Seven Years Time

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I hosted my son's Lego birthday party today to celebrate him turning seven. And now is not the moment when I state any variety of, "Where did the time go?, The years are going by too fast!, or Slow down time!" No, I don't subscribe to this mode of thinking that most parents do. I feel the opposite. I believe that it's all happening at the right speed, in due time, with my close awareness and full presence.

These seven years have gone by as they should. They have been lovely, hard, joyful, painful, inspirational, challenging, uplifting, heartbreaking, euphoric, devastating, and hopeful. They have been seven years of my life. Of my son's life. Sometimes lived by me to the utmost and fullest, and sometimes lived less wisely than I would have wished.

There have been moments that have been some of the best of my life, and there have been moments that have been some of the darkest. My son is the gift I received seven years ago; but along with this precious gift, I also inherited the challenge of parenting two children, dealing with an often volatile sibling dynamic, and precariously juggling my time mothering two souls, all the while trying to find time and space for my own self care and self preservation.

As I have written about before, I lost myself a bit a few years after having this child, and then I found myself again three years ago when I began to share, through writing, what being lost meant. So life - for me, for my son - is happening as it should, as it was meant to. When people say "It's going by too fast," I think they may really mean that they want more of their time to play out in the ways they want it to play out, or that maybe they haven't been using their time to its fullest potential.

Yet who really does? Who can? At least, who can do so every second, or every moment. Life goes on, for all of us... we live it, we feel it, we thrive, we falter, we triumph, we make mistakes, we make the most of it, we waste time, we celebrate it, we have regrets, and we do our best with what we've been given. That's it.

This day has closed. This time is done. We will wake to a new day, with more life and more time; and we will spend it foolishly or we will spend it well. What will you choose?

#whatwillyouchoose

 

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

Charlottesville

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Somewhere in California, a father helps his daughter learn to ride her penny board at a gas stop during their family's summer vacation last week.

This father fell in love with his wife seventeen years ago, married her, and had two children out of that love. This daughter was born healthy, beautiful, and graced with the privilege of living with both her parents in a serene city by the sea, a golden state with mountains, deserts and beaches, and a sovereign nation granting her the freedom to dream of a life of her choosing.

This family of four wanted nothing more than to enjoy a fun road trip last week, create new memories together, and be nurtured, loved, accepted, and safe in the bosom of their extended family.

While away for seven days, this mother did not post to social media, was free of influence and distraction, and experienced what most moms do on a vacation with their kids: a mixture of relief to be away, excitement for adventure, exhaustion from all the packing, and grateful appreciation of time with her beloveds; intermingled with listening to whining, arguing, and annoying "Are we there yet?'s," and feeling the chagrin of an exasperated parent refereeing the chaos and attempting to orchestrate the calm, at times wishing she could escape to read a book... or write one.

Yet she, I, was also unexpectedly disrupted on our trip by the news of the intolerance and racism that was violently displayed a few days ago in Virginia, in this present day world that should be well past such an archaic ideology. A dangerous, ignorant, and irresponsible doctrine that so many Americans fought against (including my grandfather) and so many other Americans and citizens from many nations died fighting in a World War.

Not a small thing and not something ANY American should be so disrespectful of our violent history to blatantly ride in the face of, disregarding what America went through, fought against, and strongly reviles as not only anti-American, but anti-humanity. To denounce any human as less than because of their skin color, race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation is a human rights violation of the tallest order.

I am sickened by the news from Charlottesville; yet I am emboldened to continue to live a life of worth and purpose and cause, and to raise my children with knowledge, intelligence, empathy, and decency so they can carry on the virtues of acceptance, inclusion, compassion and love.

I was fortunate to have been born of a family who taught kindness and love over violence and hatred. My kids are fortunate to have been born into a life where, so far, they have been safe from daily harm and live in a place free of social unrest and dangerous persuasions. Yet, wherever you are and from whomever you were born, we are all humans who have love at our core. Humanity unites us.

Abject evil, ignorance and fear cannot and *will not* win if we, who chose love, expand our reach of compassion and solidarity with decency, equality, conscious humanity, and perseverance to uphold all that is right and good in this world.

#charlottesville

 

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

We Call Her Bean

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She was born on August 4, 1977, when I was five years old, all chubby and delicious, with big blue eyes and a whisper of thin blond hair as golden as straws of wheat. She was an unplanned surprise, like all of us were really, but she was the best one our family had seen in a long while. Up until her birth, I had been the youngest, a little sister to my older sister and brother, the three of us born in the short span of a harried four years for our mother.

So when she came, a lengthy five years later, we were all excited for the arrival of "our baby." I welcomed my new role as big sister, and didn't so much mind relinquishing my old post as the baby of the family, especially because now I had a baby I could call my own... a real live doll, one to kiss and care for and love.

She was the cutest baby I had ever seen, of course, and was an even cuter toddler. My brother dubbed her "Bean," I'm not exactly sure why, but I think because she was chubby and plump like a jelly bean or something similar to that he envisioned in his head. As strange and obscure as it was, like so many other words and phrases our brother came up with, it is what we, her three siblings, all inevitably began to call her.

Although I know I definitely bossed her around at times when we were kids, in some of the normal and expected ways a big sister would, what I most remember is wanting to protect and include her, more than antagonize or exclude her. (Yet, I wonder if she would agree with my recollection.) She was the first person I mothered, before I became a mother myself; and it was a role didn't know I would want to play, but one I took very seriously.

Halloween 1978. a one year old bean on my lap with my clown makeup and costume removed.

Halloween 1978. a one year old bean on my lap with my clown makeup and costume removed.

Apart from being my little sister, she was also my playmate, and my friend. I played Barbies with her A LOT, even when I was supposedly too old to play Barbies. We both loved Garfield, playing music and watching TV sitcoms. We played house, rode bikes, and swam in our pool. We were the last two kids in the house together with our Mom, once our older sister and brother went off to college; and although we had very different personalities, with a five year age difference that felt more vast the older we got, we were bound by sisterhood and always found some common ground to hang out and have fun together while at home.

When it was finally my turn to leave for college, she was only thirteen years old. I felt a pull to stay, like I didn't want to go too far and leave her there alone with only my mom to influence her. She needed her big sister, I hoped, to help guide and protect her; and I didn't want to leave, blink, and find her grown up without me witnessing it or being a part of it. So I came home from school many weekends over those four years at UC Irvine, just to be there sometimes. To see her grow through her teenage years. To just not miss it. I felt an obligation to her, like she was still my baby just as she was when I was little. My baby sister. The kid I looked out for and took care of in one way or another since she first became that little chubby Bean. I didn't want to relinquish that role, or shirk the responsibility I felt, and the desire I had, to be a presence in her life.

I think I have always felt this way, even through her and my adulthood. It only lessened slightly when I had children of my own; and has had to lessen even more since she has shown less of a need for my support and counsel; as you can't mother someone who ceases to need your mothering. But it is still there, even in the times when she's doing amazing and thriving in her life and career. That desire to watch over her is in me. Wanting to protect her, and to make sure she is okay.

It will probably always be there, in my heart, even until we are two old ladies, wrinkled and gray, (hopefully) chuckling about how we once were so worried about life and how things were going to turn out for us in the end. And how I once called her Bean. Who knows, I probably will be calling her that even then, as it's still what I call her to this day.

This day, in which I am hurriedly trying to write about her between refereeing my kids squabbles, is the day she turns forty years old. This baby of our nuclear family - the one who is also considered the baby of our whole extended family, as the youngest child, sibling, grandchild, and cousin of 25 first cousins, born to seven children of which our dad is the youngest - is now 40. I would venture to guess that all of those older cousins of ours who may be reading this are probably standing in disbelief of that fact.

But really, whatever about 40. It is only a number. The only reason I mention it here is as an indication of the passage of time. As a reference point to how far we've come in life and how much time we've had together on this Earth. My siblings and I have been, and will always remain, the closest people to one another, even in the absence of time spent together or distance spread between us; as we have gone through so much together that no one else can fully comprehend other than the four of us. So much I won't even begin to touch on here, as that is a different piece for me to write on a different day in time.

So for today, on my little sister's 40th birthday, as we are far from being those wrinkled and gray old ladies, with the end of our lives nowhere near upon us (God willing), and still not knowing how life and things will ultimately turn out for us in the end, I have many wishes for her...

I wish for her the absence of worry for those unknowns. I wish for her the faith that her life's journey is unfolding just as it is meant to do so. I wish for her to always find peace in her heart, joy in her soul, love in her life, and (my ever loving favorite) HOPE ⚓ in her life's daily adventure. I wish for her the knowledge of her power, her strength, and her resilience; and I wish for her the confidence in knowing that she already possesses all that she needs to live a fulfilling life. It is, and has always been, inside of her.

This child, who was a gift to our family, has grown into a beautiful woman; and I am proud to call her my sister. She is now, and will forever be, our Bean.


Happy Birthday, Bean. Thank you for coming to us, making me a big sister, and brightening our family with your light and love. And thank you for being my friend, then and now. I love you!

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep...

Looking out the window of my sister's guest bedroom tonight, the bedtime prayer I said as a child popped into my head: "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray to God my soul to take." I don't think I have recited that prayer, or even thought about it, for over 35 years; so I'm not sure why this view of the twinkling city lights brought it to mind.

Maybe it's because I traveled so often as a child & looked out the hotel room window at the lights of the city we were staying in before saying my prayers & going to bed... especially those of the original Las Vegas strip & the San Francisco skyline/Fisherman's Wharf, two of the cities we stayed in most often back in the 70's & 80's. Yet I also remember saying that prayer at home, kneeling by my bed next to my big sister's bed in the room we shared, & how a feeling of comfort washed over me after saying my prayers before laying my head down on the pillow.

I don't know if it was the meaning of the prayer itself or the ritual of saying it that made me feel so safe, loved & protected, wherever I was; but being here tonight, alone in this room in my big sister's home - while my kids sleep soundly with their cousin in his room - I feel that same feeling of warmth & security wrapping me up in the arms of my family. Knowing I belong to them, and they belong to me, I feel a deep sense of peace.

Although my childhood certainly wasn't wholly blissful, there were those moments at night, like tonight, when everything's so quiet, that all felt right with the world. I think it is in these times that we can better tune into the tranquility within our souls & appreciate all with which we have been blessed.

Unlike the night view from my home of a dark ocean, maybe it's these city lights that also bring me a more visceral & heightened awareness of humanity, the fragility of the human condition, how much unrest there still is out there, & how feeling these fleeting moments of safety & security is what gives us the strength & resolve to push forward in the challenging times & difficult moments.

Whatever the reasoning, I am grateful. And tired. Now I lay me down to sleep... 😴

#nowilaymedowntosleep #bedtimeprayer #gratefulforfamily

 

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook