Relishing the Happiness

28 Jun

These days, it’s not easy to allow ourselves to feel happy. Often, I don’t even recognize when I feel content—I’m so used to feeling incredulity, rage, and fear (usually in that order.) When I do notice that I’m feeling good, my mind immediately tries to shut it down—after all, who am I to feel okay when our democracy is in peril, injustice is rampant, and so many are suffering?

Maybe you can relate to how I find myself in a quandary because I’ve been feeling unusually good lately. Born with a melancholic soul, my mood tends to gravitate toward the bluer hues in life, and I’m very comfortable with the weight of sadness that has perched upon my shoulders for as long as I can remember. Maybe my recent happiness can be attributed to the three miles of walking I’ve been doing each day, or that my garden is in the height of its colorful blooms, or that the weather on the central California coast has been glorious. Now contrast that with all terrible (and I mean terrible) shit that has been hitting the collective fan lately, and you can see why I would be feeling so guilty for feeling happy.

Case in point: in the midst all the traumatic events transpiring in our country, something really wonderful occurred for me personally: I finally had my book signing for my novel, Lost in Oaxaca at Chaucer’s, our local Indy bookstore in Santa Barbara. Now, I ask you, “Who in the world has a book signing a full two years after their book comes out?”  That would be me.

As far as I’m concerned, this event was one of the highlights of my life. It really helped to have a supportive bookstore who worked to keep my book alive during a two-year pandemic. It also helped that the person in charge of events (the wonderful Michael Takeuchi) really loved Lost in Oaxaca, and led the event conversation with engaging and interesting questions. Most importantly though, having a crowd of friends and family who came to show their love and support meant the world to me.

And today I’m happy to report that a brand new book has hit the shelves: Art in the Time of Unbearable Crisis—“a sometimes comforting, sometimes devastating, but universally relatable collection of prose, poetry, and art about living through difficult times like these.” My essay, “The Artistry Within Us” is included. All proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to the non-profit World Central Kitchen.

I hope that you will consider purchasing this lovely book featuring inspiring essays, poetry and artwork—all by women, and that it will move you and help you to cope during these trying times of strife and suffering. Please consider ordering it from Chaucer’s—let’s support our wonderful local gem of a bookstore!

As I lay Lost in Oaxaca to rest and move on to a new project, I’m thankful that my little book has done quite well for a first-time novelist. I’m going to make a conscious effort to allow myself to relish the happiness I feel for my success.

And I can’t thank you all enough for your support over the years—for reading and commenting on my blog, for purchasing my novel for yourself and your friends—and mostly, for putting up with my constant promotion.

As my very generous gift to you, I promise to stay quiet for a while.

In case you weren’t able to come and want to watch!

Meant to Be

17 May

Around this time fifteen years ago, my world came crashing down. You may already know my story— god knows I’ve talked and written about it extensively over the years: Mom of three almost grown kids finds herself unexpectedly pregnant at forty-two and gives birth to a fourth daughter, who at the age of two is diagnosed with leukemia. Almost three years of chemotherapy later, that daughter is considered cured, and life goes back to what it was before.

Except that it doesn’t.

I think about the woman I was before my daughter’s cancer diagnosis—unfulfilled, stressed, and oh, so judgmental. In my quest to be the perfect mom with perfect children, I was critical of everything and everyone around me. I wallowed in my unhappiness, preventing myself from experiencing the beauty and joy that was offered with each day. It took my baby girl almost dying to snap me out of it.

I want to go back in time and have a conservation with that young mom. I want her to know that despite the trauma she faced as the daughter of an alcoholic father, it was never her fault. I want to wrap my arms around her and tell her how incredible she is—that she is beautiful, smart and talented, and that her creativity has no bounds. That there’s nothing she can’t accomplish if she just believes in herself. I want to tell her to let go of the fear.

On June 7th, a book will come out entitled, Art in the Time of Unbearable Crisis. It is a compilation of essays, poetry and artwork exclusively by women. My essay, The Artistry Within Us will be featured. Here is the description of the book:

Art keeps good alive in the worst of times. In the face of ugliness, pain, and death, it’s art that has the power to open us all to a healing imagining of new possibility; it’s art that whispers to the collective that even in the ashes of loss, life always grows again. That’s why right now, in this tumultuous time of war and pandemic, we need poets more than we need politicians.

In response to the multitude of global crises we’re currently experiencing, Editor Stefanie Raffelock put out a much-needed call to her writing community for art to uplift and inform the world, and the authors of She Writes Press answered. Art in the Time of Unbearable Crisis—a sometimes comforting, sometimes devastating, but universally relatable collection of prose, poetry, and art about living through difficult times like these—is the result. Addressing topics including grief and loss, COVID-19 and war in Ukraine, the gravity of need and being needed, the broad range of human response to crisis in all its forms, and more, these pieces explore how we can find beauty, hope, and deeper interpretation of world events through art—even when the world seems like it’s been turned inside out and upside-down. 

Any and all royalties from Art in the Time of Unbearable Crisis will be donated to World Central Kitchen.

 

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=art+in+the+time+of+unbearable+crisis&crid=2Q1HW86SGH58U&sprefix=art+in+the+time%2Caps%2C218&ref=nb_sb_ss_retrain-deeppltr_1_15

Fifteen years ago, I never thought I’d fulfill my dream of becoming a writer, let alone publish a novel. And while I wouldn’t wish my daughter’s cancer experience one anyone—ever, it truly was the catalyst for changing me into the person I was meant to be. For this I am beyond grateful.

My youngest is seventeen now. She is everything I should’ve been at her age: proactive, poised, and confident. Fearlessly, she dives into the depths of each day, never considering how deep the water might be. She knows how to stay afloat.

And even though I spent most of my life dog-paddling in the shallow end, I was able to rise above my self-imposed limitations, and teach my daughter to swim.

Not Over Yet

19 Apr

About a month ago, I ran into a young woman who had attended Kindergarten through high school with my oldest daughter. I hadn’t seen her in years, and we chatted about how our families have been coping during the pandemic. I told her that I had published a novel that had come out right after the lockdown, and she said she’d pick up a copy at our local bookstore. I smiled and thanked her, figuring there was maybe a fifty-fifty chance she’d actually buy it.

Last night I attended a lecture at our local university (Father Gregory Boyle discussing Home Boy Industries—incredibly inspiring, by the way (https://homeboyindustries.org/) where this same young woman rushed up to me, her eyes shining with excitement above her mask.

“I was hoping I’d see you here!” she exclaimed. “I wanted you to know that the very next day after you told me about Lost in Oaxaca, I went down to Chaucer’s Bookstore and bought two copies of your book—one for me and one for my sister! I loved it so much!  I actually read it in like 24 hours, and now I really want to go to Oaxaca!”

She has no idea how much this meant to me. To be honest, I’ve been feeling a little lost myself lately. Tomorrow is the second anniversary of the launch of my Lost in Oaxaca, and I’ve been asking myself when I should stop talking about a book that’s almost two years old. Like a bride whose wedding got canceled with no hope of ever rescheduling it, I feel like the pandemic robbed me of my big celebration. I do realize it’s time to move on and dive into the next project, but this has been difficult because I’m currently suffering from pandemic distraction syndrome (I made that up, but you get it.)

I’m told that the average book has a lifespan of three years, so I guess I have approval to prattle on about Lost in Oaxaca for at least one more year. Like a proud new mother, I just can’t stop talking about my literary baby. I give you my full blessing to roll your eyes and shrug with disgust as long as you leave me a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

And if it’s not too presumptuous of me—maybe consider purchasing a copy for a friend?

Happy Anniversary, little book!

https://www.chaucersbooks.com/

Lost in Oaxaca: A Novel https://www.amazon.com/dp/1631528807/ref=cm_sw_r_em_api_i_E8XXZ79PMRATTEM09XH8

Passing it On

16 Mar

My daughter, Leah recently took it upon herself to organize the family archives (archives, you say? Oh, yes—we have archives!) After sorting through dozens of boxes of old photos and letters, some that are over 100 years old, I came across an old photo of my grandmother, Martha (my mother’s mother) with her mother, Leila, (my great-grandmother) and her grandmother Mrs. H.D. Weed, (my great-great grandmother.) The photo was probably taken in the early 1900’s in Jamestown, Ohio. Tucked inside the photo was a tiny letter, written by my grandmother to her uncle Harry when she was around ten years old.

Dear Harry,                                        Jamestown, Ohio, Jan. 1, 1913

I am writing you to tell you how much I liked your present. I think that this letter will get to you, before Hellen will get home. I got four books, three boxes of kf, a sewing box; and lots and lots of things too. This is New Years day, I will have to close.

Yours Sincerely,

Martha Smith

P.S. Aunty Kate was here today with Uncle Ed and Bernerd. Thank you              for your present.

Give Hellen my love. M.S.

 

Kisses xxxxxxxxxxxxxx                             Hugs oooooooooooooo

M.S.

 

 

On the back of the envelope, her mother, Leila writes: I don’t know what is in this as she did this all herself. We are having winter for sure her this morning. Leila

Martha Smith Green. My grandmother. Reading her tiny letter in her delicate cursive lettering, I realize that she was once a precious little girl who was deeply loved by her family. I only knew her as a frail old woman in a mink coat, doused in Chanel No. 5, wearing too much red lipstick, her stooped body draped in colorful silk scarves and gaudy jewelry. She always had a cigarette in one perfectly manicured hand and a glass of whiskey in the other. She lavished me with presents from her world travels, while completely ignoring my two brothers. At the time, I thought she just didn’t like boys. Only later in life did I discover why she didn’t interact with my brothers. I also learned that she carried so much pain and trauma in her heart, that for decades, she needed to self-medicate with alcohol. She died of cirrhosis of the liver when I was ten years old.

Over the years, my mother and I have had many conversations about my grandmother, Martha. That she had a brother who died in childhood. How she had a career as a concert pianist, but gave it up when she married. How three of her babies died (two late term miscarriages and one full term birth) before my mother was born. That she and my grandfather refused to do anything to prepare for my mother’s birth—no crib, no diapers or layette—because they believed that my mother was most likely going to die, as well.

Five years after my mother’s birth, Martha had another child—a boy—named Johnnie. He was the light of her life. When he was five, he ran out into the street between two parked cars, and was hit by a speeding car. He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. My mother, who had just argued with Johnnie and told him to drop dead saw it happen. In her ten-year-old mind, it was her fault.

Neighbors removed Johnnie’s clothes and toys from the house the very next day and my grandparents kept my mother home from the funeral. One day he was there, the next, he was erased. No one talked about Johnnie’s death. One afternoon, my mother walked into her parents’ bedroom and witnessed her dad methodically banging his head against the wall—over and over and over. When my mother was a senior in college, her dad died of a heart attack. She thinks it took him ten years to die of his broken heart. My grandmother took longer, but still died at a very young sixty seven.

Generational trauma. The sadness, the loss, and the secrets become part of who we are. For years, I never knew my mother even had a brother. I always thought she was an only child. Throughout my own childhood, my brothers and I were never allowed to speak negatively about anything. Everything had to be wonderful all the time, even when my dad’s own childhood trauma (he died before I ever had the understanding or maturity to ask him about it) turned him into an alcoholic and wreaked havoc in our own lives. My parents couldn’t handle any kind of conflict, grief or sadness, so they wouldn’t allow us to, either. We had to pretend everything was okay—when it wasn’t.

My own childhood trauma manifested in anxiety and depression that I’ve fought for years to overcome. But what I’m now learning in therapy is that my anxiety may have actually been a good thing—it prevented me from turning to alcohol and drugs to dull my pain. Because my anxiety is based on a fear of losing control, I never liked how alcohol made me feel, so I avoided it. My husband and I made the mutual decision not to drink, so our children never had to deal with any family alcoholism.

Of course, we gave our children trauma—all parents do in some form or another. But I at least broke one cycle that won’t haunt them for the rest of their lives. And I’ve broken the cycle of keeping secrets, as well. I’m an open book (sometimes without a filter) and will freely admit to my foibles, vulnerabilities and shame. I will talk until you tell me to shut up.

I’m also realizing that life is not meant to be happy every single minute of every single day. Society has fed us this big lie that we MUST be content all the time or we’ve failed. It’s just not true. If anything has taught us that life is not always easy, it’s these past few years. And it looks like it’s not getting any better real soon. Yes, there will always be great pain in life; but there can also be great joy. Often, it’s somewhere in the middle.

And good or bad, this too, shall pass.

The Three I’s

17 Feb

This summer I will turn sixty. It won’t be too life-changing, as I’ve settled comfortably into middle age. I love my job, my kids are nearby, and I’ve worked hard to make my lifelong dream of becoming a published author come true. I’m the first to admit that I’m one of the lucky ones.

They (and who the hell are they, anyway?) say that “sixty is the new forty,” but I’m not the only one of my women friends who would beg to differ on this. Actually, most of us have never stopped feeing like teenagers in our hearts and minds, but whether or not we care to admit it, our bodies are telling us another story as we get out of bed each morning.

Aside from the sore knees and sagging bottoms, women my age also begin to face other non-health related issues as we head into our twilight years. I like to refer to them as three I’s: invisibility, irrelevancy, and inferiority.

Let’s start with invisibility. If you’re a woman my age, you’ve undoubtedly felt invisible at one time or another. I usually experience invisibility when I’m standing in line, waiting to order my coffee/salad/donut, and the counter person, (usually a cute college guy) has been bantering flirtatiously with a young, dewy-eyed coed ahead of me in line about some party/college course/road trip for close to five minutes. He does not care one whit that I need my caffeine/ roughage/sugar fix before I collapse onto the floor. Yes, it’s true that I’m becoming more impatient as I age, (this is not unreasonable considering my time here on earth is limited) but to not even acknowledge my presence with an “I’ll be with you in a minute,” is dehumanizing and unfair. Sure, my eyelids and jowls sag, but loose skin has not affected my own extraordinary bantering ability that I’ve honed to perfection over the years. It’s not fair—I want to banter, too!

In addition to being invisible, Irrelevancy has now profoundly entered my life. No matter what I’ve accomplished over the past six decades, I’m pretty much irrelevant now. I get that no one cares that I know all the lyrics to every James Taylor/Simon and Garfunkle/Beatles song ever written, but it’s difficult to face I’m just an old boomer who has ruined the planet (seriously sorry about this) and can’t remember anything past 1989 when I had my first kid. While my adult children still adore me, they have the habit of schooling me at every turn. I can hardly utter a sentence without an exclamation of “MOM! You can’t say that!” or “Careful…” While I truly appreciate their constant and pertinent education on social issues, once in a while I’d really love to sound like I know what I’m talking about.

As of late, I also think I’m regressing somewhat, and find myself experiencing some intense feelings of Inferiority. Whereas in junior high it was an overload of hormones surging through my body that caused me to feel inferior, I now think that it’s the recent lack of hormones that has contributed to the questioning of my fragile self-worth. If I’m lucky, I only have a good thirty years or so left on this planet, and I want to enjoy every last minute. Watching my body change so drastically exacerbates those constant feelings of not being good enough, and this sucks the joy right out of my life. I want to be confident, sassy and interesting, but society is not letting me.

Wah!

Okay, that’s enough, Jess—you’re being a big baby. It’s time to grow up and stop giving a shit about what you perceive others think (or don’t think) about you. It’s time to celebrate your middle-aged self; appreciate your life experiences, and be grateful for that still-functioning body.

It’s time for a sixtieth birthday road trip. Middle-aged women need only apply.

Wine and snacks included.

Leading the Formation

19 Jan

I went to my dear friend, Corrine’s sixtieth birthday party this past weekend. Caveat: it was a small event held at a winery in Paso Robles with lots of open outdoor space and everyone got tested beforehand. It was a delightful affair, where the love for my best friend flowed as generously as the wine.

I first met Corrine when I was an anxious seventh-grader who was terrified of not finding someone to eat lunch with in junior high. Corrine swiftly took me under her wing and together with eight other girls we formed a tight girlfriend formation that has flown together through weddings, births, and funerals, for close to fifty years.

Teenage sleepovers at Corrine’s were epic, as her house in 1974 was like walking into a hippie commune. Vibrant color was everywhere— dozens of oil paintings in bright greens and yellows hung on the walls, Creeping Charlie trailed from macramé hangers, and the coffee table was actually made out of a large railroad cable spool of some sort. It was shocking to me at first— was nothing like the dull avocado and gold hues of my own house. Walking through Corrine’s front door was like walking into a magical land where Fleetwood Mac played in the background and the faint scent of marijuana smoke seeped out from under a back bedroom door. The healthy snacks in the cupboard were mostly unpalatable, but we didn’t care—711 was just down the street, and Corrine’s mom was away at work all day. As long as Corrine completed her daily chores, we had the freedom to make as many prank phone calls as we could fit into an afternoon. Compared to my tension-filled home, hanging out at Corrine’s was like Nirvana.

Corrine and I were inseparable in high school, where she was a theatre geek and homecoming princess, while I practiced the piano and crushed on the boys she dated. She had (and still has) this unique gift of drawing a wide variety of people into her life; she was so easygoing, accepting and non-judgmental that she made friends with everyone.

Corrine’s path was a bit different from mine. While I headed off to study music in college, she got married, moved to Colorado and had two beautiful girls right away. Her marriage broke up, but she subsequently had the good fortune to find the love of her life, Daniel, who became the real father to her daughters, Jaylene and Shelby. They worked hard for years to develop their successful business and make a stable life for their family. It paid off. Her children adore her, she travels constantly, and most enviously, she’s the only one in our group who has grandchildren.

If I didn’t love her so much, I’d hate her.

For several years now, the isolation of the pandemic, coupled with the widening dissimilarities in our political beliefs has caused the perfect V-formation of our girlfriend group to fracture somewhat. We are not flying in sync as we have for so many years. For me, this has been quite painful.

But as I watched Corrine’s friends and family surround her with such love during her party, I realized that I need take a lesson from Corrine—that maybe loving others without judgement is the key. That it’s in my wheelhouse to let things go if I choose— that we all are different, but we are all beautiful. Perhaps what I’ve found so unacceptable right now will not always feel so significant in the future. There is hope for healing.

As I celebrate Corrine on her sixtieth, I realize I’m right behind her. When we were twelve, it never crossed our minds that time would run out. Now we understand that we must make each moment count.

Thank you, my precious Corrine, for leading our formation with such grace and love.

With your example, we will soar.

 

Avoidance

17 Nov

For the past fifteen minutes, I have written at least ten sentences and then immediately erased every single one of them. They were terrible sentences— all of them trite, dull and uninspired.

I’ve gotten up from my desk four times; once to run downstairs to watch the cat stare out the window at the birds snacking at the birdfeeder; another to switch a load of laundry (because those sheets gotta get dry), once to pee, and finally, to bring the portable speaker upstairs so I could play some Spotify music, which I somehow believed would inspire me to write beautiful and moving sentences.

I wake each day with the purest intentions of doing what I love—and often hate—more than anything: write. Yet, for the past year I have found the feeblest of excuses to avoid doing just that. I did start writing my second novel: a shitty first draft of chapter one is actually down on my computer—yet the rest remains sequestered in my head. The story wants to come out, but unfortunately my avoidance gene has been vibrating in high gear as of late.

I’m an expert at avoidance. I’ve practiced it my entire life. I used to do it with not practicing the piano; I did it with not completing assignments in high school and in college. Maybe it’s a form of ADHD—a trait that runs in my family—or maybe it’s a learned behavior. Either way, my brain is wired to tell me that I shouldn’t bother, because whatever I do, it won’t be good enough. That I’m nothing but a big fraud.

So it’s just easier not to try.

I think many of us avoid following our dreams for this very reason. We worry about others criticizing or rejecting us. Society has bombarded us with these unreasonable expectations of what success is—how our bodies should look; what possessions we own; what we should have already accomplished in our lives. Even though most of us are savvy enough to understand the false beauty of the images we see in advertising or social media, we still compare ourselves to that impossible standard. And if we can’t reach that standard, WHY BOTHER?

If I don’t try, then no can tell me I’m not good enough. And while I’ve embraced avoidance as an easy alternative to facing the pain of this imagined rejection, I know in my heart that it will ultimately kill my creative soul.

And so I’ve forced myself to write today. I’ve pushed through the avoidance and spilled out some words, and I feel different now than when I first started. There is a tiny seed of accomplishment growing inside of me—that maybe something seemingly insignificant has grown into something more meaningful. Maybe I’m not a fraud after all—that the voice in my head telling me I’m not good enough is the real liar.

Perhaps it’s not what we accomplish that gives us the real joy, but the process of doing that gets that dopamine going in our brains. Finishing something feels good, but the pursuit of getting there is where the real rapture lies.

Thank you, my dear readers, for helping me get to where I need to go.

On to chapter two!

The view from my writing desk.

Mess

7 Oct

I hate mess. Clutter is my enemy, and I spend an inordinate amount of time picking shit up off the floor. When I’m anxious, I don’t pour myself a large glass of Syrah—I run around the house with the Swiffer. The scent of bleach during a good bathroom scrub calms me right down.

Children react to trauma in different ways. I blame my boomer childhood (particularly my poor alcoholic dad) for turning me into a semi-psychotic clean freak. Like my father, I was born an introvert, and our family’s generational trauma and dysfunction only added to my need to find peace. My bedroom became my safe haven—an orderly space filled with light, plants and books. I could close my door, open the window wide, and breathe—away from the football game blaring on the television. Away from the cigarette smoke. Away from the festering rage of my dad.

Unfortunately, life is sometimes a little messy (actually a lot messy! Pandemic, anyone?) Let’s just say that over the past couple of years I’ve had to learn to be more flexible—to welcome change instead of resisting it.

Case in point: Two weeks ago, my daughter, Leah and her husband, Jeff moved in with us. They wanted to get out of Los Angeles, and try to save some money to buy their own home someday. We have the room; we love having them around. It was a win-win.

First let me mention that Leah leaves me in the dust with her masterful skills at organizing. She’s a diamond chip right off the ol’ block. But filling a dumpster of decades of accumulated crap, while combining two households is a massive undertaking. Then there was an epic yard sale. For several long weeks, the house and yard were a mess. A HUGE MESS.

I didn’t freak out. I didn’t get anxious. Well, maybe I got a little anxious. I repeated my mantra, “This too, shall pass,” while reassuring Leah that I was not bothered by the chaos. To be honest, it was difficult at times, but something my therapist said really turned it all around for me.

“You know,” she said, “You might want to consider that every open cardboard box, or every pile of stuff left out, or every item out of place—is a reflection of their love for you—that they feel safe and comfortable enough to move in with you. That’s pretty wonderful.”

That’s why we have therapists.

It is indeed wonderful. The house is put back together, and trash has all been hauled away. We are an organized home bursting with people and animals, but life is fuller than I ever imagined it would be (no pun intended.)

And should I begin to feel anxious, my Swiffer is right within reach, hanging from its very own special hook on the wall of our newly remodeled and organized laundry room, compliments of Leah.

Feeling Settled

18 Aug

I’m not even sixty yet, but lately I’ve experienced a weariness that reminds me of how I felt after giving birth. It’s my own fault—I spend way too much time worrying about other people’s problems—mostly those of my elderly mother and my four grown children. I have this ridiculous habit of immediately making other people’s problems my own.

The other day, I mentioned to my daughter that I must be a serious empath, and she gave me a look. You know that look—where your kid thinks they know more than you?

“Mom,” she said, looking me squarely in the eye, “Maybe you’re not really an empath. Maybe you’ve just spent your whole life thinking that it’s your job to fix everyone.”

Woah. My kids are definitely smarter than I am.

Growing up in a dysfunctional alcoholic family, I honed my role as middle daughter/worrywart/peacemaker at an early age. On my little shoulders, I carried the blame for the chaos and drama that permeated our family, thinking that if I did everything right, I could fix it—and life would finally feel settled.

Settled. What does that even mean?

My eighty-five year-old mother (who lives with us) recently spent three weeks in the hospital for a massive abdominal infection caused by diverticulitis. She had to have major surgery, and for a time we were worried she wasn’t going to make it. Coupled with the stress of possibly losing my mom, I had to take care of her three Dalmatians. In the flurry of getting Mom the care she needed, she neglected to tell me that her thirteen year-old Dal, Fiona, was supposed to be taking daily medication for arthritis pain. Seeing the rapid rate at which Fiona declined, I seriously thought I was going to have to call the vet to come put her down. Imagine having to tell your mother that her precious dog died while she was in the hospital! Eventually we figured it all out, and with her meds, Fiona is back to her old self.

“Okay,” I thought, “Fiona is good—now things will settle down.”

The day we went to the hospital to pick Mom up and bring her home, I was optimistic that we had made it through the hard part. But no. Ready to leave, with of her belongings stuffed into plastic bags, Mom began vomiting. It turned out that her intestines were not functioning properly (a common hiccup that occurs early on with this type of surgery, but Mom’s symptoms came much later in the process.) She ended up staying another four days in the hospital.

Definitely not settled.

Mom finally came home and is now miraculously regaining her independence. “Yes!” I thought, pumping my fist into the air, “Back to normal! Now I can finally settle down and relax.”

Not quite. More changes are on the way in the Mireles household. One kid is moving out, two more are moving in (along with two more dogs and a cat!) Household projects are in the works—the chaos ensues.

Life is always offering us lessons. There will be no settling down around here for the time being—and this is definitely something I need to learn. The truth is, I need to recognize that feeling settled is not about having peace and quiet, but it’s about feeling supported. Feeling settled is having your grown kids around to hug you and tell you it’s all going to be okay. Feeling settled is watching the reaction of my mom’s dog see her for the first time in three weeks. Feeling settled is making a face and laughing while changing my mother’s colostomy bag.

Feeling settled is accepting that I AM NOT IN CONTROL.

So I’m just going to stand up tall, hold my arms out wide, and try to catch all the good stuff that’s being thrown my way.

Here’s one example:

Proud Mama

29 Jun

The other evening while I was on my knees digging in the garden, a woman riding her bike by our house stopped and circled back. I assumed she was there to admire my colorful flowers, as my “Covid” garden has become quite an attraction for local passersby as of late. Although she seemed familiar to me, with her helmet and sunglasses, I couldn’t place her.

“You’re Jessica—right?” she said, removing her glasses.

I nodded, still unsure of who she was.

She smiled. “My daughter went to elementary school with your son, (dead name)!”  

My shoulders tightened. Up until that moment, I had been relaxed and in my element, enjoying the early evening light with my hands in the soil. I didn’t want to have to stop and explain to this woman—a mere acquaintance from over a decade ago—that my former son was now my daughter. Hearing my daughter’s dead name, let alone saying it aloud, is quite painful for me.

“Oh, hey—hi!” I stammered. “So good to see you!” Before she asked any more questions, I decided to launch into my well-practiced monologue. “Just so you know, my daughter, who now goes by “Cece,” has come out to us as a transgender woman. Until recently, she hid who she really was, and our family is so pleased that she’s now able to live as her true self.” I pointed to the large progressive pride flag we have affixed to the front of our house. It waved at us in the evening breeze.

The woman didn’t bat an eye. “Oh, that’s wonderful!” she exclaimed. “I’m so happy that you’re being supportive. My mom tried really hard to fix me when I was young.”

“Fix you?” I was confused. “What do you mean?”

She looked right into my eyes. “She sent me away to a camp to try to make me straight. It almost worked, too.”

When I knew this woman, she had a husband and two small children. “Wait—you’re no longer married to your husband?”

“Not any more. I’ve been in a relationship with a woman for over ten years. We live just a few blocks over.”

Wow. What a surprise.

We talked for a while—reminiscing about our kids in elementary school and what they’re up to now—the “usual” mom-talk. She told me her daughter was about to have her first baby. I told her about my four daughters, all of whom identify as “queer.” Probably not a conversation we would have all those years ago.

Times are changing—not quickly enough, in my opinion—but it’s moving exponentially faster than it ever has before. My children’s generation is largely responsible for continuing the legacy of those brave people who strived for inclusivity and equal rights all those decades ago.

When people begin to open their minds, society begins to change.

It’s simple, really. We’re all part of a beautiful garden of varieties and colors. Unique and exceptional on our own, but so much more vibrant and beautiful when we are all together.

Happy Pride Month!