Monthly Archives: October 2015

Hope blooms

It’s a rainy, dreary day in Seattle, with Halloween and darker days just around the corner. I’ve heard a lot of sad news this week, and I’m preparing to help one of my best friends say goodbye to her mom, just as  she did for me.

And I found this today:

2015-10-26 15.24.42

Despite the blustery wind and pounding rain, this gorgeous flower continues to thrive.

My husband gets me fuchsias, my favorite, every year on Mother’s Day. I love the bright ribbons of color that wrap underneath the petals of another shade, and the small, ordinary-looking buds that explode into cascading hues.

They seem so delicate, but these have been hanging for more than five months, surviving summer’s extreme heat and fall’s chilly nights. Still there are buds hidden among the wet, yellowing leaves, just waiting to pop.

It made me think that we are not as fragile as we feel sometimes. We can hold on through the storms, clinging to the branches that hold us up, and find we are stronger than  we thought.

Hope blooms.

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People in wheelchairs deserve to be seen

mom and ma (2)

I hardly see the wheelchair in one of my favorite photos of my fun-loving mom and my aunt.

I hate that seeing a wheelchair always reminds me of my mom.

She was so much more than that chair. So much more than the monster called MS that she lived with for 30 years.

But whenever I see someone in a wheelchair, or a hopelessly inaccessible bathroom, or a store you can only reach by taking the stairs, I’m reminded of my remarkable mom, who was dependent on a wheelchair for too many years before she died too soon almost 13 years ago.

Sometimes the chair was all people would see.

Sometimes it made this vibrant woman invisible.

I thought about that this weekend while we were at our city’s Halloween festival. We admired the creative costumes, screamed through the haunted house, and trick-or-treated at the shops along the way to the town square for the dog costume contest and the wiener dog races.

A crowd gathered around the small cordoned-off area to watch the tiny four-legged racers. It was hard to see, and kids crouched down at the front while adults stood behind. A man wheeled up and took a spot behind the children.

Soon, a woman appeared and stood directly in front of him. She kept looking around, I assumed, to make sure she wasn’t in anyone’s way. She never noticed the gentleman in the wheelchair behind her. He kept trying to peer around her, to get a glimpse of the action, but he never said anything.

Finally, I touched her gently on the shoulder, letting her kindly know she was blocking his view.  She was embarrassed, she felt bad, and of course she apologized.

“I didn’t even SEE him. I didn’t even SEE him,” she kept repeating.

She didn’t even see him.

My mom would never have been alone. My amazing dad or one of her kids or a friend would have been there to push her forward and make sure she had a clear view. This man was by himself. I don’t know him or anything about his circumstances and really have no right to speak for him.

But I saw him.

And I saw my mom and all the times airport security wanted her to stand up to be searched, all the waiters who tried to get us into a booth rather than seat us at a table she could easily pull up to, and all the salesclerks who looked over her head and asked me if they could help me find something. I thought of the numerous times my Mom was using her electric scooter on our walks and someone jogged by, cheerfully but thoughtlessly saying they envied her ride.

I remembered the times she didn’t want to make a scene when we couldn’t get somewhere she wanted to go, and the times she made a joke about it.

“Watch out for the crazy driver!” she’d laugh as I pushed through department store racks placed too tightly together so she could reach the sweater she wanted to try on.

I’m grateful for the strangers who would hold the door for us, who would help us negotiate a curb where there was no ramp, and especially thankful to those who greeted my mom, instead of avoiding her eyes and looking to me.

mom and me

My mom and me, before MS.

Because she was someone you wanted to know. She was a funny, smart, and resilient woman who loved shopping, football, and politics and could debate with the best. Before the disease ravaged her hands, she played a mean piano, and the former English teacher and music school owner inspired her children to play music, to write, to sing. She fought hard and worked hard and loved much and never stopped trying.

She was so much more than that damn chair.

Please remember that the next time you encounter a person in a wheelchair.

Just see her.

Working out the koo-koo crazy moments

letter (4)The other day my son and his friend tied their shoes together at recess and ran around like they were in a three-legged race for half an hour. I can imagine the giggles and hilarity that ensued.

As the bell sounded, they couldn’t untie their laces, so they returned to class still connected at the feet. They each removed the offending shoe and spent 10 minutes with one stocking-foot while their patient teacher diligently worked out the knots.

Today H brought home a note he was instructed to write after he and the same friend were warned to stop picking each other up on the playground and trying to ride on each other’s shoulders.

“I understand it was a little bit dangerous now that they explained it to us,” he wrote.

“Now I need to learn how to have fun without going koo-koo crazy…I made a dumb desition.” (Spelling his, but I like his phonetics.)

It’s hard to get mad at an 8-year-old who puts it that way. I talked to him about how even though I’m sure they’re both very strong and couldn’t possibly accidentally drop each other on their heads or break an arm, the school just wants to make sure no one gets hurt. He said he wouldn’t do it again, and I signed the note.

Apparently he has written a few other notes to us this year when he and a classmate acted up. Once, he told me, a playground wrestling match went a little too far. Another time, a playmate tripped over his foot and thought he’d stuck it out on purpose. I hadn’t heard from the teacher about any of that or the shoelace escapade and wondered whether I should get in touch with him.

“NO!” he said emphatically. “We worked it out and made up.”

I happened to run into Mr. P after school one day, so I asked him whether H had been misbehaving.

“Just stupid boy stuff,” this veteran teacher told me with a laugh.

I love that he gets that. That boys will be boys, and that smart as these third-graders may be, they are kids after all. He expects a lot from them academically – and they excel. Their teacher holds them to high standards. But they are squirrelly. They are still developing their sense of right and wrong and learning about the consequences of their actions.

Some teachers would yell at the students, call parents about these antics, and keep the kids inside at recess. Instead, Mr. P encourages them to solve their own problems. Each writes a letter about what happened, then they share their notes with each other to understand the other’s perspective. If they’ve had a disagreement, they apologize and shake hands. The notes stay in their folders at school unless there is a pressing reason to send them home.

Can you imagine if we as adults undertook such a simple exercise every time we felt slighted or misunderstood or pushed around? If I could have had a sit-down like that with a few coworkers, mean girls, and ex-boyfriends, it might have eased a lot of hurt and stress.

It would have meant to a lot to hear from the pretty girl who made fun of me that she was sorry and didn’t mean to hurt my feelings but was just trying to fit in herself.

And it would be nice to rationally tell my husband “I’m sorry I snapped at you when you asked when dinner would be ready. I was overwhelmed and didn’t realize you just wanted to know if you had time to walk the dog.”

When one of us slips up or gets carried away next time, Mr. P’s system could be worth a try.

I mean, don’t we all go a little koo-koo crazy every once in a while?

A tunnel of love for our Seahawks

I was at the hair salon today – you know, that haven of gossip and girl talk. You’re privy to a lot of private conversations as women in the chairs around you chat with their stylists about their personal lives.

The things I overheard this time were no less than shocking.

“Can you believe they blew another lead?!”

“They’ll never make it to another Super Bowl.”

“They’re just pathetic.”

I heard the Monday morning quarterbacks on the radio lamenting our beloved Seattle Seahawks losing yet another game after leading the Panthers going into the fourth quarter. And even here, among these women with their hair poking  out of blotchy silver foils or their black-draped shoulders covered in newly cut hair, the criticism was harsh

“They can still turn it around,” I joined in. “Keep the faith.”

I used to hate football. A game was the perfect time to head to the mall, take my kid to a movie, or get a pedicure. They play for a total of an hour a week, I would complain, but it takes all day. And then everyone talks those 60 minutes for a whole week.

Sportscasters analyze every play with what I consider less-than-brilliant commentary that I love to parody in a deep TV voice:

“What they really need to do is catch that football.”

“They have to get the football down the field if they want to score.”

“They will not win this football game if they don’t get more points than the other team.”

(My husband, I should note, does not find this as amusing as I do. Go figure.)

Still, even I got swept up in Seahawks fever, learning the game, admiring the plays, rooting for the players I feel like I know. I love getting together with friends for the agony and the defeat. I make chili and I have a (pink) Seahawks t-shirt. This team has made football fans out of the most reticent and reluctant, including lots of women. It’s now my girlfriends who take to Facebook and Twitter to comment during the games.

There’s the feeling we’re all in this together. It’s definitely fun to rally around a winning team, to see giant 12s illuminated in the windows of downtown skyscrapers and a sea of blue jerseys at every checkout stand or Starbucks on game day.

Millions of people tune in to games, feeling personally invested in the outcome of something they have literally no control over. There are high-fives all around when our team makes a great play. And screaming at the screen and name calling when they screw up.

Why are we so quick to turn on our team? To bash the guys we idolized last week or last year?

Today I heard about death threats made against the Michigan punter who dropped the ball in the last few seconds of yesterday’s game, leading to an incredible play that cost them the game they had in the bag.

Death threats? This kid will remember that play for the rest of life – and kick himself every time he lines up for another punt.

I was bummed at the outcome of Sunday’s Seahawks game too, but it has no effect on my real life. It was my son’s soccer game – the one in which he scored three goals and his team came back from a 0-4 deficit to win 7-5 that really got my heart pumping.

I scream my head off cheering for everyone at my son’s various sporting events. I’m especially enthusiastic for the kids who strike out, drop the ball, or shoot at the other team’s basket.

“Nice swing!” we yell from the bleachers to the boy who tries to make contact with a pitch well over his head.

“You did it!” we applaud the swimmer who touches the wall several seconds behind the other competitors.

Win or lose, our kids head to the middle of the field and line up to shake hands with the other team, saying, “good game.” When a child gets hurt on the field, the players from both teams take a knee. I was never more proud of my son than when he came in second in the 25-fly – the race he’d owned all season – and reached his hand over the rope to congratulate the boy who beat him.

You rarely see that kind sportsmanship in professional sports. I know these are elite athletes held to a high standard. There’s a lot of money at stake — beer sponsorships and astronomical salaries for players and coaches on the line, and owners who want a hefty return on their investment.

But I’m pretty sure NFL players started out the same way as my kid, getting a juice box, a granola bar, and a hug at the end of every game no matter how they played. I have to wonder how old they were when people started booing when they had an off day.

It kind of makes me want to build a human tunnel on the sidelines, with fans facing each other, their arms stretched overhead, fingertips touching, to create an arc for Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman and their teammates to run through, reminding them that this is just a game.

A smiling face

This is the Jack O’ Lantern I carved this year.pumpkin

This is the one from last year.

pumpkin face

If there were pictures of every pumpkin I have carved since I was allowed to hold a knife, you’d see the same triangle eyes and crooked smile, over and over and over again. I started adding those stylish eyebrows a few years ago, and I was quite proud of that facial innovation.

For years, my husband, son, and daughter have created intricate designs: the headless horseman and Dracula, delicate spider webs and unabashed odes to the Seahawks (which my Superfan husband did freehand before there were templates.)

another pumpkin

Guess which one is mine?

I stick to what I know.

“A classic,” my husband says every year.

Why don’t I try something new?

Maybe I’m a pumpkin purist.

Maybe I just don’t have the patience for that tiny tracing tool and those diabolical miniature saws. (I really don’t.)

Maybe I subscribe to the “if it ain’t broke,” theory.

Maybe it’s that with all the big decisions we have to make every day as parents and adults and human beings I just don’t want to exert any mental energy to choose a new design.

Maybe I’m scared of change.

I think it’s that I love tradition: visiting the pumpkin patch, searching for the perfect plump canvasses, then gathering around a plastic-covered table on the deck, each of us armed with giant orange scoopers and an arsenal of cutting instruments.

As the leaves turn and the air chills, with school and soccer and piano lessons in full swing, I look forward to those few hours, laughing and singing along to ‘80s hits and Kids Bop with my lovely little family, our hands covered in sticky pumpkin goo, knowing another familiar face will soon join us.

Of birds and bees and tooth fairies

My son went to the dentist yesterday and had a stubborn baby tooth pulled in what was a far more gruesome procedure than I expected. We couldn’t even bring the tooth home with us, so he wrote a note to the Tooth Fairy explaining the circumstances. “Write back,” he instructed.

He deserved a visit after the way the tooth came out. Sadly, H woke me up this morning with the news that the Tooth Fairy hadn’t come. I don’t know if he really believes in the Tooth Fairy, but I’m doing all I can to convince him, so this was a serious tactical error. I desperately want these mythical creatures to continue to exist for him.

Last year I sent away for a “package from Santa,” that came with a customized letter and official gold seal, along with a certificate declaring he was on the “good list,’ authenticated by a hoof print from Rudolph.

“He really knows a lot of stuff about me!” H exclaimed. He framed the certificate and hung it above his bookshelf.

One more year of Christmas magic preserved, I congratulated myself.

I patted myself on the back too soon. We flew to my hometown for Christmas. The gifts from Santa and and for H’s birthday the next day — unwrapped to speed the trip through airport security –were in a carry-on bag I surreptitiously put in the closet out of view. But H found it, and my curious kid could not stop asking what was in that blue suitcase. So I moved it again.

On Christmas Eve, he looked me nervously in the eye and confessed: “Mom, I looked in the blue suitcase.”

Tears instantly hit my eyes, knowing the truth was out.

“I only saw three things!” he said. “I’m sorry.”

I agonized into the wee hours about what to do. Ultimately, my husband and I decided to save the Santa gifts that had been on the top of the suitcase for his birthday and wrap up the rest to leave by the chimney.

The wait finally over for him, he dug through what was admittedly a more meager pile from Santa. Everything was going fine until he opened the art set I bought when we got to town and hid in my dad’s house. Instead of excitement, I saw disappointment.

“I saw this in Grandpa’s study,” he said, dejectedly, followed instantly by the question I feared: “Are YOU Santa?!”

He jumped in my lap and we both cried. I was overly emotional, but my sweet boy was still 7 for one more day. It was too soon. Even then, I couldn’t fully fess up. Santa is real, I told him. But there are so many people in the world, he just needs a little help from parents once in a while.

I knew this inquisitive, intelligent boy was teetering on the edge of belief. My 14-year-old nephew told me my son asked him if he believed in Santa. “Of course!” my nephew blessedly told him.

“Me too,” my son replied. “But a lot of kids in my class don’t.”

The jig is up, Mom. But I can’t admit it. He wants to believe, and I want him to.

His ninth birthday is still a few months away, and he already has to see the orthodontist and argues with me about why he can’t be on Instagram. His older sister recently announced she’s pregnant, and he has a lot of questions about how that whole thing actually works. The magic-seed-that-got-in-Mommy’s-tummy story isn’t an adequate explanation anymore.

Please don’t tell me I have to have the sex talk and tell him Dad and I are the ones who put those gold dollars under his pillow in the same week. I love that he is growing up, that he learns new things every day. But I am not ready for this.

Hoping to salvage something from the Tooth Fairy failure, I had my husband dash into our son’s room to stash the cash and respond to his note while Mr. Dubious was in the bathroom.

He ran to check under his pillow, grabbed his reward with a grin and read the note.

“Dad, this looks like your writing,” he said, looking at us both with those skeptical eyes. “But I know it’s not.”

He’s keeping the dream alive. For my sake or his, I’m not sure.

Writing tips from an expert

My 8-year-old son is a great reader – who doesn’t really like to read.

He starts one book after another, claiming they don’t hold his attention and he simply can’t go on. The most recent one is sooooooooooooo boring, he says, that even a big reader like me would agree.

What’s wrong with it? I asked.

“There’s no main character and no theme,” he said. “It’s not happy or sad or funny and it has too much description. It’s not interesting.”

As a person who loves a good story – and who is working on a novel myself – I wanted to hear more.

What does make a good book? I asked him. He answered with ease:

  • There have to be good characters and a problem they have to solve or a goal.
  • It should be sort of a mystery so you want to see what happens.
  • It should be humorous or adventurous and make you feel happy or sad.
  • It has to have a solution to the problem or a moral or a lesson learned.

Wow. I’m glad I was taking notes. We as writers are always looking for tips and inspiration. I got mine from the son I hope learns to love books as much as I do. As I’m wading through drafts and struggling for words, I’ll remember what readers really want.