Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Last Dance of Summer

I chaperoned a grade school dance last May, the boys stood lined up against the mats on the gym wall and the girls danced in the middle of the floor with each other. Both stayed that way for hours, believing that the music would last all night. When the deejay called out his last song, everyone froze, not sure how something this wonderful could end or what to do about it. The kids shot glances back and forth, from girls to boys and back again. "This is it," I said to the group near me, "the dance is almost over. If there's anything you want to do before this night ends, you're lucky, you still have the chance." A few faces looked into mine, needing one more push. "It's the last dance. You don't say no to the last dance."

August is summer calling out its end. If you want to walk out into autumn without looking back in regret, you'd better slide your body off the wall and into the center.

This morning, I'm going to go to the outdoor cafe with the shade trellis where I've yet to sit and order a warmed croissant with morning coffee.

I'm going to make sure the bottoms of our feet trek along the boardwalk that runs over the sand dunes 50 minutes from my home.

The surrey tram rides that circle the lake nearby stop running on Labor Day. We'll go there this weekend.

Since June, my children have been asking me for an old-fashioned picnic, so I've brought up the basket from the basement.

Summer will come again, but this summer won't. Everyone will be older in the one to come. We'll have experiences this year that we know nothing about right now. Lots will be different next year--but for this first day of August, right now, it's all wonderfully the same. There are five of us at home, five of us still together in this house as a family, until August comes to an end.

My children don't look that much different than they did this time last year. I'm the one who is thicker in the middle, my youngest -- he might be the only one that's changed, he stands eye to eye with me sometimes, it depends on the day.

The golden syrupy days are here, of when the packed summer schedule of classes is finally wrapped up and any vacations to be had, are now returned from.

August calls out, and I've learned enough to know you don't say no, to the last dance.

* * *

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Parent Bingo

Indulgent, neglectful, authoritarian. Those are types of parenting. Just seeing the letters that spell them out sends chills up my spine. The names alone are enough to scare me. I don't want to delve further into descriptors because I know I'll identify with 8 out of the 10 characteristics posted.

Have I bought my children what they've asked for?
Do the Dr. Dre monster headphones they wanted for no reason count? BINGO! Put your red marker on the Indulgent square.

How about that time you didn't make dinner for four five days straight?
BINGO again! You get to fill up the Neglectful row.

And then when you didn't budge about getting them a smartphone even though every kid in his class had one? (that one time? Who are you kidding it's still that one time)
Winner! Pile all your red chips in the center for Authoritarian.

Parenting is the most important thing in my life. It's what I think about when I wake up and right before I pass out at night. Parenting absorbs me and replenishes me. I love being the mother of my children. It's been my life for 20 years.

And I still don't know what I'm doing. I'm as terrified at times as I am at ease at others. Even when I had that high school boyfriend who convinced me that I could do a Civil War reenactment weekend doesn't compare to how at a loss I am for what I'm doing as a parent.

I whisper to myself at night, Forgive yourself as you forgive them. I've written on a note I keep in my purse, Mistakes are part of learning. Taped to my dresser room mirror is a yellow post-it, You don't just move on, you learn.

All these words I keep close to my side, meant to keep me going until the point I feel like I'm not groping in the dark anymore--hands stretched out searching. When I feel the terrain is familiar enough for me to step out without fear of tripping over something unseen, someone rearranges the furniture.

It's the secretive way that I was as a child, never feeling that I would be understood or accepted. That memory of feeling so lonely in a houseful of people keeps me second-guessing if I'm giving my children what they need. There is a balance to them feeling in control, intact, independent and me guiding, encouraging, instilling.

I never felt I was able to have a say as a kid, and that made me give up. It took decades to find my own voice from that.

My three children turn to me. In their joy and in their anger and questioning of the 100 percent say I have in their lives. I'm at the receiving end of gratitude as well as the backlash that goes with looming so large in someone's life.

They have always felt safest with me. When I would shower, and they were infants, my husband would have to hold them up and to the side so they could peek in past the curtains to keep me in their sight. It was the only way to keep them from screaming their heads off. The force of their maternal need for me, for mama, had me standing under the showerhead, water rushing over me, singing-weeping as much to them as to myself.

I now shower without Peeping Toms. I don't even have to announce I'm going upstairs to do it. I used to wonder if those eternal days would ever end, when I wouldn't have to stand in the center of a room and megaphone my hands over my mouth, 
“Mommy's going to go to the bathroom now. I'll be right back.”
“Mommy's going to go downstairs and get the laundry. I'll be right back.”
“Mommy's going to make a phone call. I'll be right back.”

The land has leveled and I've got my own oxygen now. But it's only been a few minutes of free-breathing and the air has thinned again. My youngest has started conversations that sound less like an offer of ringside seats to a fight and more like being in the ring.

As he tries to find himself, I see how he's the one groping in the dark now. I have to remember I don't want to stop that process of him discovering who he is and the power of that. He is a child becoming a teen and he's caught between wanting the days of yesterday with the want to keep up with his peers. We all know it's easier to blame someone else for those feelings of still wanting to be with his mom than it is to know that it's him who does the opposite of what the world shows.

After all, our world doesn't have any video games, movies, or music that reward liking your parents. "You still like your mom? SO COOL! Extra points for that!”

Just because he hands me an invitation to a fight doesn't mean I have to show up jabbing. I can refuse the boxing gloves and stand holding my two arms open instead.

Whether he falls into them or not, it's his independent decision. But I never want to miss the chance of being the one they feel safest with.
* * *  

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A-B-C Always Be Closing: How About A-A-B-B Instead

A-A-B-B. My four-letter magic formula. It beats the business mantra of A-B-C Always Be Closing and has gotten me to some smart places in life.

A-A-B-B - Avoid, Accept, Borrow, or Buy. And not just in the material world. A-A-B-B can be slapped onto all areas of life; people, things, events, situations.

You can A-A-B-B when you meet a new person and are deciding whether or not to take them on into your fold, or when you find yourself wondering, Should I say something or should I not?

Say you’re at a restaurant and you've just finished a great meal, but are still feeling a tad hungry. When you pick up the dessert menu, before ordering the New York Turtle Cheesecake for yourself, apply the rule of A-A-B-B instead.
A- Avoid? Nice idea if you want to finally toss out the holey sweatpants.
A- Accept? Yeah, sure, the cheesecake is acceptable if there are pants in your closet that will still accept the size of your butt.
B- Borrow? WHY YES. Have your dining partner order it and you borrow a few forkfuls off their plate.
B- Buy? If you've got the change in your pockets, go on ahead. What is life if you don't treat yourself to your own slice.

In the case of a less than friendly neighbor across the street (more common than you know)—what to do about the way she blows all your leaves that come from a shared tree back to your driveway and out of hers?

You can A- Avoid her and just watch from the upstairs window, shaking your head and tsking away.

You can A- Accept her behavior. Who cares, right? Blow away, sister.

You can B- Borrow a leaf blower and blow the leaves right back again as soon as she’s through. Passive aggressive feels good for a reason.

You can B- Buy. Buy your own leaf blower and stand guard with it across your lap up in a deer tree stand you’ve built just for leaf blowing season.

I have yet to find any system that works better than A-A--B-B'ing my way through life.

Let’s try it: Morning yoga class starts in 20 minutes. You can A-Avoid that downward dog today and stay in child’s pose in front of your laptop all morning, or A-Accept that you have reached that stage in life where if you don’t do something with your body every day you’ll be pulling your ass up with clothespins. And maybe you’ll move on to B-Borrow that yoga mat and show up at the studio.

I’m pulling that final letter B-Buy today with my yoga class. I will B-Buy Beach Side Yoga with Rodney Yee Volume 1, stay home, and watch my new DVD.  A-A-B-B and pass the buttered popcorn while I watch this DVD, will ya. I can feel my mind grow supple with bend and shape as I ponder, How in Sam Hill does Rodney spatula himself into a Speedo that small?
Let's test your A-A-B-B skills, How would you handle the urge to yoga work out, supposing you wake up feeling that way tomorrow morning (it could happen):
A- Avoid the possibility of ligament injury by watching others on YouTube bend like the willow instead.
A- Accept that some look finer than you ever will so that's okay, we'll work out tomorrow.
B- Borrow and watch another DVD from the library to make sure you fully mentally integrate the greatness that a good yoga body is, or
B- Buy your own DVD to make sure that if you ever get the urge to touch your toes and reach for the sun, you won't be able to use the internet being down as an excuse to not move. 
The answer:
A-B-C - Always Be Chewing. Let me think about what I'm going to do right after I finish this chocolate with sea salt caramel bar.
* * *

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Auggie's Laments: Post BlogHer and While Mom's Away


Dad trying to get me to touch poison.

"Just knock me out until you get back." - Auggie, one hour before I left

"You can't convince me you have to go." - Auggie, night before I left

"Nice job trying to make me think four days isn't that long." - Auggie, on drive to airport

It's my fifth BlogHer conference, and it's also the fifth year of "Auggie's Laments." These posts have worked out to be my best posts of the year and my most highly visited.

Auggie is my youngest son, he keeps a "journal" [never say diary] of the day by day accounts of what happens while I am gone to the BlogHer conference. Does he exaggerate? Maybe. But I'll tell you this, he makes me laugh.

It's time to open the journal, and present to you, the fifth annual edition of Auggie's Laments: What Goes Down While Mom is at BlogHer.

DAY 1:
-Dad tried to feed us a made up breakfast. He tried to. It was awful on both accounts.

-Later we played basketball and he actually tried to play me like it was a real game. Every time he made a basket he'd say SLAAAAAAAAAAM. It was bad, mom.

-This sounds good but it wasn't: he didn't tell us when to go to bed. It's more fun when someone tells you and you don't do it then when they just let you.

-I slept in my clothes and he didn't care that they had pollen from the day on them.

DAY 2:
-Dad offered to make me my toast but I declined because I know he would toast it brown and I just like it to be warm bread. He also goes crazy with the butter and brown sugar like he can't see or something and the toast quote quote becomes soggy French fry sticks instead.

-However, he did order our hamburgers the right way at McDonald's and did get me to my classes on time.

-Oh! We had a soccer meeting with my coach and he is Brazilian and so Dad!! DAD! pulled out his "amazing" Portuguese and kept saying "obrigado" to him and I was mortified. I almost crapped my pants.

-He burped without saying excuse me and ate without a shirt on and those are all things I can't eat around. You know that.

-Dad used pesticide, got it on his fingers, then he licked them and ate a KitKat!

-Manana, mama, I miss you.

DAY 3:
-One more day, mama! I love you.

-Woof. What a day! I got slammed when we played basketball outside (again, mama, again) because I told Dad that basketball is a recreational sport and not a competitive sport and he ran past me and said, "recreational this!" and kept shoving the ball in the basket.

-We went to the mall for something to do and hung around Barnes and Noble but it's not like with you who buys me stuff.

-Dad made me play basketball again at night. Every time he'd go by me he'd say, "Smell that? I smell like a winner!"

-I am surviving but I love you and I miss you.

DAY 4:
-We are picking you up today!

-Quite possibly the longest day of my life.

-Not much to write about unless you want to know how Dad made us go for a walk in A TORNADO. I said, "Dad, the sky is yellow like a magic marker," and he said, "Who cares LET'S GO FOR A WALK EVERYBODY."

-I almost got ketchup poisoning from ketchup left out because no one cares about putting stuff back in the fridge when you're gone.

-Also, we have had NO SHOWERS.

-I thought my face was getting all zitty all of a sudden but it's probably a staph infection from bacteria because Absolutely no showers!

-This is day three of me not changing clothes because no one tells us to.

P.S. I'm hurrying with this, now Dad's rushing around to clean up the house before you come home and he's trying to teach us how to use the washer!

I miss you, mama, going to get you soon!

Love, Auggie
* * *
Past Auggie BlogHer laments can be found here:

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

BlogHer Re-Entry: It's Real

We constantly change. And as much as I would love to do what I usually do after a BlogHer conference, which is to write a humorous post, I find myself being pulled instead to tell what this annual conference has come to mean.

Bloggers attending this conference joke about coming back home, we call this “re-entry”. When the perfection of days among your people leave you wanting more of it when you get back home. It's hard to settle for the day to day after you've had Disneyland for grown ups. The laughter, good food, parties and dinners with friends, keynote speakers that are celebrities, and workshops, panels, presentations all feeding us more of what we love to talk about most: our blogging. It's hard to go home to grocery runs, laundry duty, carpool schedules and no one serving us coffee when you've experienced the world's largest social media conference for women. You don't want what you've had, to end. You don't want who you are when there, to disappear again.

There is no such thing as a perfect experience, but these four days spent with kindred spirits who love to do what I do, which is to put our words together and send them out into the internet, comes pretty close.

I have been writing my words, my stories, since I learned how to print. Before then, I would whisper my stories into my dolls' ears while I held them, falling asleep. I would listen to my Abuela tell her stories and knew that some day, I wanted to do the same. To learn to weave my words into a dance. Standing together, we shared her worn wooden cutting board, chopping the onion we needed for dinner, and I would be lulled into the expanse of the rise and fall of the waves of my grandmother's voice.

At my first BlogHer five years ago, I arrived with preconceptions about the conference and its attendees. I was worried I wouldn't fit among them, I was too nervous to think beyond how an introvert would survive four days with strangers while states away from home. I attended every workshop and I went to every party. I concentrated so hard in absorbing everything that BlogHer offered that I forgot to think about saying hello.

A conference was about air fare, hotel fees, arranging child care, and making the four days you had there count. I was at an actual conference, my first one in 15 years since I had stopped working full time and I was determined to return home, armed and ready to tackle my dreams. Instead, I was among people, so many people, and who are these people? On my last night at this first conference, I sat outside of the hotel on the San Diego marina and tried to hear my grandmother's voice in the lapping moonlit waves that rose and fell. Blogging had allowed me to call myself a writer. I was here, to be exposed to different styles of writing. And there were so many here, like me, did we all want the same thing?

At that first conference, I met a writer named Polly Pagenhart. She wrote in the style that I aspired to — she spoke in the voice of what I had grown up hearing. Stinging in its honesty, and in the naked style of truth. I had only heard a style like this once before, and that was in my own family. Polly's stories were hands up and life out loud. Chest open wide and arms taking it all in. Her stories were no exaggerated version. I know, because I had been hearing this style my entire life. It's a voice that makes for great storytellers. I had been living without hearing the voice of my grandmother for a very long time, but here I was, in San Diego at a BlogHer conference, and feeling like home again.

I came home from my first BlogHer conference, heavily influenced by the people I had met and the panels I had attended. I thought of my career goals. I flew back home on the plane, unable to settle into my seat, because I never thought that I would find people like me.

I was at my second BlogHer, looking for more ways to grow into what I hoped would bring me what I then thought I wanted. This time, I was in New York, and I ticked off activities and get-togethers, cobbling together and leaving only time enough to sleep. I was determined to find a way to see my stories published. Again, my intent was to learn and absorb.

On my third BlogHer conference in Chicago, I had come feeling more prepared. I was going to tackle the technical side of what I felt I needed to know, Search Engine Optimization, Coding, Pinterest, Google Plus, maybe even learn about video. Could I self publish? All of this was offered, and all of this, I took in.

Last year, my fourth BlogHer, I arrived for the first time feeling that I had something I could offer. In the five years since I first began blogging, I had learned that technique, technology, networking, tips, tricks, and contacts are all lost in the wind without the most important net that pulls everything together. That of belief in your words. It was this realization that I wanted to share with the conference that had given so much to me over the past four years. I was given the incredible honor of saying exactly those words of encouragement, and gratitude, as a keynote speaker for BlogHer's 10th year anniversary. The moment I had on stage being part of celebrating what BlogHer has accomplished, remains one that is surreal.

We constantly change. We are dynamic, not permanent or unaffected by our world. We are works in progress. And our lives are something we look at from the stance of moments that have passed. Our experiences are our process, and the people we see and meet are all part of what shapes us. Just as Polly did with me from that first BlogHer meeting five years ago.

It's been over five years that I've been writing on my blog. Some days I fear that I'll run out of the gift, the quickness of words that fly off my fingers. I had a dream once. I was unable to recognize the shapes of letters and I couldn't understand what I was looking at on the pages of a book. It left me terrified.

I arrived this year at BlogHer, my fifth conference, with an appreciation of what I can do. Once, I thought that anyone could write, and keep doing it. You just had to sit and type. But BlogHer has fostered a respect for myself and an awe, for what I do. I do something and have persevered at something, and this is what gives me my good days. I began BlogHer conferences wanting to learn how to write. I never imagined the trail would lead to recognizing that I had achieved the dream I had so cautiously wished for myself when I was four years old and held my dolls as I fell asleep.

At the closing party for this year's BlogHer, I sat on the pier, inhaling deeply of the night air. On either side of me was an amazing, intelligent, generous woman. As the sun set, I listened to the waves rise and fall, much like my Abuela's voice so many years ago. It was so much like what these six years with BlogHer have been. Stirring, moving, calming and powerful, water so deep and beautiful, and part of an evening that was as close to perfect as you can get.

BlogHer, thank you for reminding me why I write, and for motivating me to keep on writing. Thank you for holding the mirror of confidence in front of me, the one I have never seen before this year. One that reflects back what I have always hoped to see, the face of a writer.
 * * *


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