Ode to a Four Year Old

Dear Four-Year-Old,

I want you to know most of all that I love you. I have always loved you. That second day of your life when I cuddled you by my side, too exhausted in my hospital bed to do anything else, and murmured, “anything for you, baby…” – there were two things that struck me, even in that crazy moment: how little I knew you and how thoroughly I meant it.

I know you quite a bit better now, since that night I stayed up tracing and memorizing the lines of your face, too anxious to sleep. And with this knowledge, my love has grown alongside you. I love you now as a distinct person—not just as my little person, but as your own self. That silly, giggly, and conversely serious and thoughtful self who currently loves bugs and construction trucks. The girl who jumps on you when she’s bored. The girl who can negotiate a good deal for herself, who still prefers cuddling to sleep, and who watches television with quiet reverence.

I admire you for your strength and determination. I know that the same qualities that challenge me as your Momma will take you far in life. You follow your heart. You have an unflinching vision of how things should be. You stand up for what you believe in. You don’t quit. You are not carefree, but you are brave, which is even better. Carefree is a disposition; bravery is a decision that I see you make in different ways every day. As your Momma, I want to help you articulate your vision, recognize values worth standing up for, manage risk with wisdom, and (here’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way!) make room for others in your process.

You have gone through so much in the last year! When you turned three, you were still my baby—the only child, not quite finished nursing, not quite out of diapers. You were the center of my universe, and you relished your spot there. Then, my lovey creature of habit, your world shifted. You became a big sister. We moved out of our house and into the upstairs room at Nona’s house, and suddenly Momma and the new baby left for long trips to the tile store. The rocking chair, which had been our sanctuary all your life, was more crowded and less cozy. Still, to watch you welcome that new love into your life in spite of everything made my heart soar. And we had our ways of coping and compensating. Do you remember our first trip to the ice cream store, just you and me again? Do you remember how we filled baby’s nap times with drawing? Dogs saving the day—so many dogs bringing medicine to the sick kids. Drawing Thomas the Train from many angles. It wasn’t always pretty, but I let you know that was ok. We’re practicing. What a microcosm of our life at the time, and it still is.

I want to remind you to practice. Did you know that practice is an act of bravery? To do something even though you may fall short of your vision, get it wrong, make it ugly… But there is nearly always a next time to do better.

Except, perhaps, when it comes to being your Momma. You’re getting older and more independent every day. As you grow up, there are things that have come between us. Your sister who needs her share of my love and attention, your independent life at school. This is just the beginning, and even though it is completely natural, this new distance makes me a bit sad. I know you now—everything about you. We share the same language, the same references. As you grow and our time and interests diverge, I want us to share the same closeness. I hope we continue to understand and listen to each other. You’re not the type to run up and tell me about your day. I will get the missing pieces of your life in small doses, at bedtime or in the car, or just by watching you play. I will read your concerns between the lines of the questions you ask. Where does the caterpillar go when it becomes a butterfly?

I have practiced being your mom for four years now. I’m still not perfect. But I have a vision and I’m determined to be brave. And I love you. You inspire me every day to rise to the challenge of being your Momma.

Happy Birthday.


Out of the Weeds

Fair readers, it’s been a while. I guess I’ve been busy. I’ve had a couple of kids, in fact. And that said, I don’t even know where to begin, but I do feel I must begin again. In the last few months, I’ve had the deep conviction that self care is about much more than the occasional shower. There is my physical self, and then there’s my creative self– my spirit. Having one and then two daughters has been amazing for my spirit. I’ve all but quit my day job. That is liberating. It has allowed me to be just me, rather than a person representing a brand. I’ve made some fierce, creative, compassionate and just plain fun mom friends. People say having kids is murder for your social life. Mine has never been better. (Okay, maybe it was slightly better the last two years of high school). In the past week I have been on three play dates. Life has been mostly good in the land of swings, slides, and snails. I will no doubt elaborate in future posts.

But back to that spirit. It has been stirring. I have been reading and writing and binge watching things. I am hungry for ideas that nourish the imagination. So I feel like I must be more diligent in unfurling my own imagination. Ever since my first sleepless nights four years ago (and they were very sleepless– my older daughter has always felt that sleep plays a trick on her when it finally overtakes her, and she wakes up startled, angry, and determined it won’t happen again), I have felt like my hand moves faster than my brain. Those neural pathways have become weed-tangled from neglect. You see it, right? Go back and look at my other posts. I’m sure this one sounds cliched and melodramatic by comparison. Nonetheless, moving forward. Clearing the weeds. Unpacking my experiences one square foot at a time and figuring out where this path ultimately leads. I am a writer. I will write. I will write about motherhood because it has captivated and defined me, and because I want to capture it and define it while it’s raw and fresh. I will write about ambition because it still stirs under the squishy, rosy, spit-up-covered weight of motherhood.

So here I am. The baby is miraculously on her second hour of nap, the preschooler (I will admit this!) is on her second hour of television. My kitchen is clean, I am dressed, I showered yesterday, I had a haircut in November. And now that I have remembered my WordPress password, the baby stirs. I hear her little uh-uh-aaaaah nana mamma as she wakes up. But I will be back. For now, we are off to the library and park for a picnic.

I have four years worth of stories backed up inside me. If there’s anything you’re interested in hearing, leave me a note in comments.

Fake Boobs and Oranges: On Serendipity

I’m embracing serendipity. I know, how new-age does that sound? But I’m reading today. It can be dangerous. I’m reading Bruce Nussbaum’s Creative Intelligence about harnessing or building creativity in individuals and groups. I’m only on page 33, but so far what’s stood out to me is the environmental recipe for creativity: serendipity, networking, discovery, connection, and play.

It’s not earth-shattering news. I teach teen-age girls about creative writing with WriteGirl, and we’re always telling them to make connections and write about the world around them. This strategy has produced odes to backpacks and amusing critiques of Thoreau–some very creative stuff. But how often do I practice what I preach? Perhaps not often enough. So back to serendipity– those chance encounters with people, ideas, and experiences. Today I’m using it as a catalyst for my creativity. Continue reading “Fake Boobs and Oranges: On Serendipity”

Thinking of Tomatoes on a Dreary Tuesday

This May Day I’m thinking of tomatoes. Sure, it’s cloudy and 59 degrees outside my office in Marina Del Rey, but fresh, ripe tomatoes seem eminently possible when the calendar crosses that critical threshold from April to May. This is a time of year when anything is possible: a canopy of purple jacarandas over the entire city, fresh sprouts of basil poking up through the moist soil where just yesterday there was nothing, a first kiss on a giant trampoline under the stars. Life is bursting at the seems of the known world, threatening to pop out and take over.

Four years ago today, when I moved into my new house, I felt just how heavy life was with potential—tomatoes, hardwood floors, dinner parties. I want to recapture that feeling and hold onto it today: life is bursting with potential. Continue reading “Thinking of Tomatoes on a Dreary Tuesday”

Close Encounters of the LA Kind

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Pan Pacific Park, December 28, 2011–I enter amid a blaze of photography, hundreds of DSLR megapixels pointed down the path in front of me. For just a second, it feels like the kind of glamorous reception I’ve always dreamed of. But these cameras are trained on a family: He with scraggly dark blond hair hidden beneath a knit beanie, a few days of facial hair growth giving him an effortlessly stylish look in line with his open flannel; she a blond with a crisp jaw line in a green tank top, enjoying the December sun. They have children. I can’t tell how many or what kind as we stroll past each other and I try not to stare.

It must be 75 degrees. The almost-turquoise sky brings the green grass and the palm fronds to life. After pausing to Facebook my glamorous encounter (“Obviously just saw a celebrity, given the paparazzi. Any ideas?” Because they’re none of the usual suspects whose pictures litter the grocery store checkout aisle tabloids: Brangelina, Becks and Posh, Will and Kate. Not even John and Kate…), I’m drawn into the day. And this park! Just two miles from my house, but I’ve never been. Paved paths wind through playground after playground, dividing baseball diamond from soccer field. Palm trees, pine trees, shrubs, benches, picnic tables, pavilions, all sparkling under that sky. I dip and climb with the path and soak it all in. Continue reading “Close Encounters of the LA Kind”

Book Review: Blue Nights

Joan Didion once wrote that “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” These words, conceived before she turned 45, took on a new meaning for the author as she became 75.

Her latest book, Blue Nights, is a memoir about becoming a parent, losing a child, growing old. It’s about her adopted daughter, Quintana, who died at the age of 39 after a long illness.

Its 188 fluid pages weave in and out of her memories. In an early chapter, Didion looks back at photographs of her daughter. Didion’s memories are like these snapshots – frozen moments, snippets of life, details: a plaid uniform jumper, a cashmere turtleneck sweater.

“These very clear moments stand out, recur, speak directly to me, on some levels flood me with pleasure and on others still break my heart,” she writes of the stories she tells. Her talent is the way she shares these memories so that they speak directly to readers – fill us with pleasure and break our hearts. Continue reading “Book Review: Blue Nights”

The Many Seasons of Los Angeles

“It’s Pumpkin Season!” my co-worker Sigita declared this week. I knew exactly what she was referring to– the time of year when the gourd fruits get ripe in the fields of Oxnard (or Guadalajara?) and every food and beverage establishment adds pumpkin to their menu– pumpkin lattes, pumpkin soup, pumpkin raviolis, pumpkin pie, pumpkin spice gelato. We sit and savor the realization.

Living in LA, I hear many people lament the idea that we don’t have seasons. Most of them are from other places, where sub-freezing winters make seasons obvious even to the willfully obtuse. Just because seasons in Los Angeles are more subtle does not mean they don’t exist. For these season-weary transplants, I’d like to describe some of the seasons I’ve come to notice. May you discover and enjoy them as I do.

Continue reading “The Many Seasons of Los Angeles”