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Beautiful, Inside and Out

30 Sep

Last December, I didn’t send out our annual holiday newsletter. This is unprecedented for me, as for over thirty years, I’ve always sent out a photo card showing our beautiful family of six, accompanied by a letter detailing the many accomplishments of my children. This past year though, I just couldn’t face it.

I was too overwhelmed. And a bit scared.

In 2019, some major changes took place in our family. Our oldest daughter moved back home; our second daughter got married, and our youngest daughter started high school.

And our third child, who was assigned male at birth, came out to us as a transgender woman.

Last summer, at the age of twenty-five, Cecily, who goes by Cece, realized that who she was on the inside did not match the gender originally listed on her birth certificate. For those of you who know our family and are slightly confused, I’m talking about our child whose “dead name” was “Nino.” From now on, I will only refer to my daughter as Cece, and use she/her pronouns because that is who she is, and who she has always been.

It’s so odd that for years, we perceive someone as being a certain way, and have absolutely no sense that they might be someone completely different on the inside. Society has taught my generation that gender is binary—either male or female—so we told ourselves stories about our children based solely on their bodies. We nurtured them as the gender we assumed they were, never realizing that we might not be honoring their authentic selves.

Then, when our children are courageous enough to reveal who they really are, we’re shocked. We’re sad. We grieve for the person we believe is no longer with us. We didn’t realize then how much we had to learn.

While I immediately accepted Cece as a woman, to be honest, it was far more difficult than I imagined it would be. As a perpetual people pleaser my entire life, I worried about what others would think and say about my perfect little family. I was terrified of rejection—not only for Cece, but for myself.

Societal constraints are often oppressive, and for her own survival, Cece unknowingly hid who she was—even to herself. For years she suffered from deep depression because she pushed her true self down for so long. And who wouldn’t want to hide? People can be unaccepting and unkind about what they do not understand.

Our family is fortunate enough to live in a community where people are generally well-informed about transgender folk. I’ve discovered that my kids’ generation is so much better at understanding the differences of others than my generation has been. From the moment Cece came out, her sisters have embraced her with pure acceptance and love. They are closer now than ever.

It’s not always easy, but our family is learning as we go. Our love for Cece has grown exponentially, and there’s no doubt we will continue to support her as she makes her way through life as the woman she was meant to be.

Cece is still the same person she’s always been—she’s just more beautiful now, because she’s finally able to freely show us who she really is on the inside. As for me—well, it took me a while, but I’m done keeping quiet. I’m flying that progressive rainbow flag with pride.

Ultimately, love is all that matters. I loved my child from the moment she was born, and that love has only grown deeper now that she’s given me the gift of knowing her true self. I am so proud to be her mom, and I celebrate her with all of my being.

Empathy

7 May

img_1375When I was in first grade, my mother bought me an adorable culotte dress splashed in pink and green that looked like an impressionist watercolor painting. Lovely as it was, it was probably not the best choice of clothing for a first grader. Shorts connected to a dress that zipped up the back might be fashionable, but it prevented my little arms from being able to wriggle out of it in a timely manner, especially when I needed to pee.

I think you can see where this is heading.

After two unsuccessful trips to the restroom where I nearly pulled my arms out of their sockets trying to reach the zipper, I decided to wait to relieve myself until I got home after school. Five minutes before the bell rang, a sheen of sweat broke out on my forehead. I suddenly realized I couldn’t hold it any longer. Right there in front of the entire classroom, a geyser of pee gushed out of me and formed a golden pool on the linoleum floor. I was beyond mortified. Gasps echoed around the classroom. My ears burned with shame.

Then I heard a little voice: “Poor Jessie. Oh, poor, poor Jessie.”

The classroom tittering ceased. It was Bonnie, a curly-haired girl with big brown eyes and an infectious giggle. She took my hand. “Oh, poor Jessie. I’m so sorry. It’s okay—please don’t cry.”

She took charge and alerted the teacher. All the while, she continued holding my hand, even during my embarrassment of watching the school janitor come in and shake a can of absorbent wood shavings onto the puddle. When I got home from school, I took off that urine-soaked dress and threw it in the trash.

I truly believe children are born empathetic. When they make their entrance into the world, their hearts are pure. It’s only after they watch and learn from adults that some lose the ability to be kind. For a long time now, we’ve seen so much unkindness. Hostility—even hatred—has been openly expressed from all corners of society.

Now with this Covid-19 virus, life has changed drastically for all us—probably forever. There’s been so much loss and pain—so much disappointment. And yet, there are also stories of incredible empathy and kindness demonstrated by so many in our communities. Our front line healthcare and essential workers are putting their lives at risk every day to help us survive. We have seen many in our state and local governments step up and take charge—working tirelessly to give us hope that we may get through this mess sometime soon. People are donating time and money to local food pantries. Neighbors are helping neighbors. Good deeds are happening all around us.

Call me Pollyannaish, but I believe empathy is returning. We are learning to value what is truly important: family, relationships, and most importantly, love. I believe that many of our hearts are starting to default back to the pure state we were born with. At least I hope that’s the case.

Let’s all try to be like that innocent six year-old girl who didn’t point her finger and laugh or judge—but merely took the hand of her friend and told her everything was going to be okay.

The Story I Choose to Believe

29 Mar

 

img_0720Life is different now. The mundane has abruptly become meaningful. Today, a trip to the Starbucks drive-thru actually made my heart flutter with anticipation. My ten-second interaction with the girl at the window was almost exhilarating.

I don’t know about you, but my moods are swinging like I’m in a hammock when a sudden windstorm hits. One moment, I’m serene and relaxed—the next, anxious, agitated, and holding on for dear life. I try to act like everything is okay, but I can’t get comfortable in my mind, because I have no idea how long the storm is going to last. I can’t even laugh at my kids’ jokes without feeling a sense of guilt, thinking about the thousands of people suffering—even dying, from this insidious virus.

My heart hurts for the people who have lost their jobs, many of whom already live on the edge. The weight of not being able to pay their bills or put food on the table will undoubtedly make them feel suffocated with a sense of despair. I feel so sorry for all the brides and grooms, graduates, and those with upcoming birthdays who will have to cancel their celebrations.

Every day, I try my best to look for the good. And there is so much good to find! People have shown their true colors during this Covid-19 crisis. So many have stepped up—especially those who are on the front lines: the health care workers, the first responders, the food service employees. I’m so very thankful for them. They have demonstrated what true grit and selflessness is all about; they’ve put their own lives at risk to help us. In my book, they are the true Americans.

As I have, perhaps you’ve noticed that you’ve been growing closer to your family and friends—virtually or in reality. Being home has allowed you to eat meals together again, or maybe you’re sharing cocktail hour through FaceTime. The art of conversation has returned. Reading books is “in” again. We are certainly more present with each other.

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Virtual Family Togetherness!

We haven’t faced something like this before, but I have faith we will get through it. Our routines will be different for a while, and it be a struggle, but our lives will eventually go back to normal. Hopefully, when the chaos and confusion has lessened, our fear will subside. Perhaps when we are able to gather together again, our mutual joy will be the thing that is infectious.

This virus does not discriminate. It affects every single one of us. I’m hoping that this shared experience will teach us to view each other in a more positive light. Maybe—just maybe, the animosity we’ve felt for such a long time will be replaced with love, gratitude, and a deep sense of appreciation for each other.

In any case, that’s the story I choose to believe.

 

 

So Legit

14 Oct

slang photoI’ve reached a point in my life where I’ve mostly become irrelevant when it comes to my fourteen year-old daughter. It doesn’t help that I had Isa when I was 42, which pretty much makes me a geriatric mother. Now, that is a scary thought for both of us. These days, I’m lucky if she even talks to me. It’s not that she’s mean, or rude (well, sometimes she’s rude)—it’s mostly that she’s indifferent about what I have to say. She will speak to me when she needs a new dress for the homecoming dance, or to tell me she has absolutely no shoes, and can we please run out to Rite Aid because her is skin is so dry that if she doesn’t GET THAT PARTICULAR FACE CREAM RIGHT NOW her face may fall off.

Mostly, what I’m having trouble with is her vernacular. I often have to concentrate really hard to understand what she’s talking about. Honestly, if I hear her say low-key, legit, or chillax one more time, I may scream. And don’t get me started on the memes:

Scene One (of many)

Isa: laughing uproariously with her phone five inches from her face.

Me: (smiling) “What’s so funny?” (This question is usually asked three times before there is any verbal response.)

Isa: “You wouldn’t get it, Mom.”

Me: “Yes, I will. Just show me.”

Isa: (rolling her eyes) shows me a disjointed video of something that moves by so fast I can’t even register what it is. I watch it three times before handing the phone back to her.

Me: (frowning) “You’re right. I don’t get it.”

Isa: (letting out an almost imperceptive sigh while continuing to scroll through Instagram) “Tol ya.”

Now, I don’t mean to diss my kid—(is “diss” still acceptable?) She’s actually an extremely lovely child who gets good grades, has a robust social life, and is wittily hilarious when we do have the occasional convo (hey, give me a little credit—I’m trying.) And if I’m lucky, she’ll open up and actually tell me what’s going on in her life. I’ve found that the best way to get her to talk is when we walk the dogs or ride in the car together. Initially, if I just shut up and don’t ask questions—the conversation will start to flow. Before long, we are legit talking to each other, and it is da bomb.

Maybe, the next time we talk, I’ll throw in a little of my own 1970’s slang. I’ll say that something’s bad when I really mean good. I’ll end each description with to the max or tell her that the situation is totally bogus and that dude is bitchen.

Then again, maybe I’ll just be quiet and let her do the talking. . .

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Isa, then. . .

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And now. . .

Friends in High Places

24 Sep

img_5986Recently, I made friends with a green Lynx spider in my garden. Which is stupid, because spiders and people can’t really have relationships. But we humans love to anthropomorphize the creatures we come in contact with, so in my mind, “Lynxie” and I were friends. I’m sure our friendship was the furthest thing from Lynxie’s mind; she probably considered me a nuisance, if not a predator, as I spent a great deal of time examining her up close.

I was drawn to Lynxie because she was spectacular: a beautiful green color with an intricate geometric design on her back. She had made her home on a large black-eyed Susan plant, as her green color exactly matched that of the leaves. After I posted a photo of her on social media, friends on Instagram and Facebook set out to discover what kind of spider she was. In a matter of hours, I knew all I needed to know about my new best friend: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peucetia_viridans

For weeks, I checked on her each morning, watching with fascination as she waited patiently for her prey (mostly bees and moths) to get close. My family got involved as well, making it a habit to check on her every time we walked by the flower bed. Soon there was an egg sack attached to the stem—and we were thrilled—babies were on the way!img_6052

Days passed, and she stayed put, but something was different: she was no longer catching and eating her prey. She began to shrink, and her vibrant green color began to fade. It was as if she was putting all her energy into her babies. I began to worry about her.

Yesterday morning, I stopped to check on my friend. She was gone. Panicked, I inspected the entire plant to see if she had moved to another leaf, but I couldn’t locate her. Did she move closer to the ground to have her babies? Had another predator spied her egg sack and thought it was a delicious hors d’oeuvre? Or even worse, was she sick of my constant scrutiny and decided to flee?

Whatever her reasons are for ghosting me, I wish her luck. She brought me and my family great joy, and I don’t regret a single moment we spent together.

Proof that her sudden disappearance has affected the entire family:

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Profound

3 Jun

img_2435Lately, I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time sitting front of the computer, trying to think of something profound to write. This is not easy, considering the amount of distractions I face. At this moment, the dogs are downstairs barking at some felonious trespasser who is currently walking past our house. Coming from the obnoxious yipping being produced, this interloper is a serious threat to my life. Next door, the sound of the chainsaw from the tree-trimmers grates on me like the whine of a dentist’s drill. In my direct line of vision, there is a hot-pink plastic laundry basket full of dirty laundry that I was supposed to wash last night, but I fell asleep watching House Hunters before I got around to it. It’s literally hissing at me from across the room.img_5554

Then there’s that device we can no longer live without, dinging with all those notifications every few minutes, alerting me to the fact that Trump has a new hair style, or someone has now broken the all-time Jeopardy winnings record. I can’t help it—I hear the ding. I drool.

Here’s the real truth: It’s me. I’m the distraction. I don’t think I can write anything profound because in my mind, I don’t believe I have anything profound to write. This may be because I suffer from “Impostor Syndrome,” which is when a person doubts their abilities and is afraid to be exposed as a fraud. As a fifty-six year-old woman who is becoming more invisible in society as I age, my relevance fades a little more each day. So when someone praises my talents as a writer or musician, the voice inside my head immediately tells me they’re lying.

I think many of us (especially women) fight these internal battles every day. We’re always trying to keep up with this ideal that society has laid out for us—that we’re not good enough unless we (and our children) are beautiful, slim, and successful. Whatever that means. So even if we have wonderful lives with fulfilling jobs and loving families, we come up short as we compare ourselves to others. And here’s the rub: all of those perfect, beautiful women whom we’ve placed up there on that pedestal most likely feel the same way we do—unworthy and vulnerable. They’re just better at hiding it.

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What happened to that young warrior girl?

I’m really trying to change, although it’s not always easy after being programmed to view myself so untruthfully for much of my life. Coming from a generation that judged women on their physical beauty, I still struggle with my own self-image. As a product of this generation who considered it conceited and vain for a female to be proud of her own accomplishments—let alone openly praise herself, I still struggle with acknowledging that I am indeed talented, smart, and worthy. I mean, I f***ing wrote a novel that’s going to be published. This should erase my self-doubt, not increase it. Ugh.

While it might be too late to change the image I carry around about myself, I can certainly change the way I perceive others, especially in my own home. Thanks to my older millennial children who have taught me so much about my outdated perceptions of the world, I am slowly evolving. Instead of praising my fourteen year-old daughter’s physical beauty first, I now tell her how proud I am that she works so hard to achieve her success. Instead of commenting her that her shorts are too short, her yoga pants too tight, or her crop-top too revealing, I tell her that she should be proud of her body, and if she feels good in that outfit, then by all means, wear it.

It’s exhausting judging people all the time. It’s so much easier just to love them. And that goes for loving me, too. Change. What a concept.

How’s that for profound?

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The older and wiser warrior.

 

Accomplished

23 Apr

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Photo credit: Pine & Sea Photography

Throughout my life, I never really considered myself to be accomplished. Sure, I’m good at stuff—I might even be pretty great at a couple of things. But I never thought I was the best at something, until last week, when my daughter, Leah, got married.

Leah is the second of my four children—one of three daughters, and the first to get married. I didn’t have anything to do with the planning of her wedding; not only is Leah creative and artistic, she’s a skilled organizer who puts Marie Kondo to shame. Her now husband, Jeff, is a talented graphic artist, so the two of them (with some help from their talented vendors) were able to pull off a truly amazing wedding celebration without any help from me. Seriously, all I had to do was buy a decent dress and find some pretty shoes that didn’t hurt my feet. I found the dress; the shoes, not so much. Ouch.

It would take too long to list all of the wonderful details and touches Jeff and Leah included in their wedding; let me just say it was beyond anything I could’ve imagined. The venue, the flowers, the music, their vows, the brunch fare (including Krispy Kreme donuts instead of wedding cake) were sublime, in my opinion. And walking Leah down the aisle accompanied by my husband, René, was one of the most joyous occasions of my life (right up there with giving birth four times.)

What impressed me the most over the course of the wedding weekend, were my children. Leah,— it goes without saying—wowed me with everything she managed to do in preparation for the celebration. But my three other kids impressed me as well. They were kind and helpful; solicitous to Leah and her needs, welcoming to Jeff’s family and friends, and generous in so many ways: monetarily, and with their time. What touched me the most, though, was when Nora and Nino gave a toast to Leah during the reception. Standing up together, they expressed their genuine love and appreciation for their sister on her special day. Not only was it humorous, it was so heartfelt that the entire room was in tears.

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Rene, Isa, Nora, and Nino

The love that my children have for each other is inexorable. They support each other fully; they are kind and generous toward each other, they laugh uproariously together. They can always count on each other, no matter what the circumstances. Any most importantly, they love being together—along with us. How lucky are we—that our kids actually enjoy spending time with their parents?

So what I discovered at my daughter’s wedding is that I really am the best at something: being a mother. Somehow, with all of the mistakes I made parenting them, I accomplished something pretty remarkable to have created such lovely children. Perhaps Rene had a little to do with it, too—I guess I’ll have to give him a little credit.

The interesting thing about being the best at being a mom, is that it’s not all that hard. And most of the time it’s kinda fun.

Love you all so much: Nora, Leah, Nino, Isa and now, Jeff.

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Yes, there were dogs involved.

 

Middle Aged Bliss

29 Aug

img_3203These days, my head is in the clouds. I’ve completely lost my motivation to get anything done. I’ll sit down at the computer to write, and the next thing I know, I’m on Facebook, sobbing over clips of returning soldiers reunited with their dogs, or the smiling faces of babies fitted with hearing aids for the first time. I’ll put on my tennis shoes to go for a walk but before I even get out of the yard, I’m busy picking a bouquet of flowers for the dining room table. If I glance at my phone to check the time, I may lose thirty minutes scrolling through Instagram or Facebook. Don’t even ask about watching CNN at the top of each hour. I mean seriously, the day will be gone in an instant.

Some days, I lie on the couch listening to James Taylor snuggling with my two dogs. Other days, I’ll spend three hours binge watching a British detective series. I crave sweet and salty snacks. I get cranky and pick fights with my husband. I press my thirteen year-old daughter for stories of junior high drama, but damn her, she’s above all that teenage gossip stuff. I long for weekends away with my girlfriends. Nothing pleases me more than having the house all to myself.

Oh, Lord. I’m heading toward sixty and I’m turning back into a teenage girl again.

Perhaps my behavior is in response to getting older. In my head I count how many more years I have left on this earth. Thirty, forty? However many, I’m afraid it’s never going to be enough. I’m having so much fun being an adult. Even though my knees ache as I climb the stairs, even though white hairs snake up out of my head like Medusa, and even though I have actual jowls, I truly love my life.

Here’s the thing: I’m so much happier now than when I was as a teenager. My body may have been perfect back then, but I was an insecure wreck, always caring about what others thought of me. Today I have the luxury of not worrying about what I’m going to do with my life because I’ve already done it! I have an awesome career. My husband adores me, my kids love me, and I have so many wonderful friends who like to go out to lunch with me.

Middle age rocks.

So I’ll take an Advil or two and plop my butt down on the couch. I’ll text a girlfriend and arrange a lunch date. Maybe I’ll daydream about my future grandchildren. And then there’s that new Netflix original movie based on one of my favorite novels (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society, if you must know.)

It’s time to watch it for a third time.

Enough

11 Jul

Every time I turn on the television, I think it can’t get worse. Then it does. I’m scared for our country. I’m scared for our democracy.

I’m scared for human kind.

I’m tired of watching clips of people treating others unkindly. I’m tired of folks calling the police on people because of the color of their skin. I’m horrified about what’s happening at the border. I’m exhausted from the anger I feel very time the president opens his mouth.

My head is about to explode. I’ve had enough.

Today, I’m taking a break.

For the rest of the day, I will try my best to focus on all the good things around me. Because right now, it’s all I got.

Here are a few photos of the things that bring me joy.

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She’s going to kill me for posting this, but I will anyway. This face makes me happy, even when it’s looking down at an iPhone screen. Oh, to be thirteen again!

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Pink, cotton candy smoke coming out of our chimney. 

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The view out my upstairs window. My neighbor probably won’t appreciate me taking photos of her house, but the color of this Bougainvillea is just so beautiful.

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My younger brother recently gave me this adorable handmade birdhouse for the garden.               I love it.

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Leo pretending he doesn’t care who wins the World Cup.

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My husband’s family at his sister’s recent memorial. No matter what you think about immigration, this is America. 

Good always conquers evil. And there is so much good to see if we just look for it. Tomorrow is another day and when I turn on the television, I’ll probably find myself angry again.

But not today. Today, it’s all about finding the good.

Maybe take a moment and find yours.

Engagement

28 Mar

img_2367As I grow older, I find myself becoming more reclusive. When many of my close friends are excitedly planning their next big trip to Asia or Europe, I prefer to stay home, puttering in my flower garden or lying on the couch reading a good book. The thought of planning a travel itinerary and lugging suitcases through busy airports exhausts me. Introverted as I am though, I can occasionally be talked into taking a short road trip. Especially when my teenage daughter, Isa uses her formidable powers of persuasion to convince me to get out of the house.

Isa chose San Francisco. Before long, the entire family had decided to go along for the three day trip. Then, a few weeks ago my daughter’s boyfriend pulled me aside during a weekend visit.

“Just so you know,” he said, “I’m planning to ask Leah to marry me. I know she would want you all there and I think this trip to San Francisco is the perfect time to do it.” He did add a caveat that he wasn’t asking us if he could marry her. After all, Leah is her own person and not our property. He knew if would go against her principles if he asked our “permission.” This guy knows my daughter well. All in all, a very good sign.

An elaborate plan was set in motion. Although we were as secretive as we could be, Leah had to have known something was up because she happily agreed to go along with every suggestion we made. We somehow managed to get her to the beautiful San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts where Jeff was nervously waiting with the ring, their two dogs, and a professional photographer. After weeks of heavy rain, the day, though a bit chilly, was gloriously sunny. We got to hang back and watch the entire event unfold. Pure magic.

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Our trip was a blast. Other than a slight snafu which included not realizing that the Airbnb we had reserved was “owner occupied” and that our hosts would not be leaving, everything went smoothly. Did I mention that our hosts decided to cook garlic and cabbage at 10 p.m. on Sunday night? And that the smell was so strong we had to sleep with the windows open? It was the one and only time I actually welcomed the frigid San Francisco air.

We took the ferry to Alcatraz, walked over the Golden Gate Bridge, and spent too much money at the renowned City Lights Bookstore. We visited the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. We had an unbelievably delicious lunch at Nicks, a vegan Filipino restaurant in Daly City. We drove down the coast to Big Sur’s The River Inn for another lovely dinner by the water. With the recent rains the scenery was popping with vibrant color.

 

I continuously count my blessings that my children are my friends. There are no other people I’d rather spend time with. And now we are beyond fortunate to add another son to the mix. Luckily, Jeff possesses the exact amount of crazy to fit right in. And he loves my daughter, which makes him a crazy genius.

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                                Love, in all forms, is what allows us to breathe.

Congratulations, Leah and Jeff. Now, let’s plan a wedding!