creating place

I am not a woman who wants to stay in one spot- who nests and is comforted by constant routine. I would much rather be traveling and moving- experiencing this world and all that is has to teach. If I had my druthers, I would travel near constantly- setting up in a place for three or six months to soak up the sounds, taste and histories. I would record as much as I could before moving on to gather new stories and share new experiences from another place chosen by the muses’ whisper in my ear or random spin of a globe I found gathering dust on the shelf of a diner. There would be no set agenda in my wanderings. My ambitions only to talk to people; finding my way into kitchens and learning about food customs; spending days listening to the oldest residents share how the place had changed. Days structured only by mornings filled with writing, afternoons of found conversations, and evenings of processing what had occurred would guide me through this world.

For now though, and forever, I am a mother. I co-parent my child so for eighteen years I will likely stay in one city and the change I crave must be found in different ways. My child and I travel when we can and that is a joy for both of us on so many levels that I never considered. Watching her take in the world is an adventure in and of itself, for my child has shown, from her earliest days, the gypsy blood of her mother shares a strong channel to her heart as well. A wanderer even in her own body, she moves constantly, fidgeting even when sitting still- locked into dreams of travel as she watches National Geographic videos or learning about the world through avenues such as Vox and Now This. Her access to “what’s out there” is beyond what my imagination could handle at her age of eleven. More beautiful is that she has let it be known the videos are not enough- she wants to experience those places. She tells me she wants to find a job that will let her be on the road, but before that she wants to start working as soon as possible so she can save money for travel and buy a “short bus.” She will convert the bus for living and travel that she will do for at least a year before having to get a job after college.

She has told me, “Mama, I want the kind of exciting life you have had, but even more.”

The world is our heart, but for now, here we sit wings clipped by COVID-19. Not by conscious choice, we have both stopped talking about where we want to travel or what new adventures we can go on over the next long weekend. She will be dancing around the house and occasionally just groans really loudly and growls, “I want to go somewhere!” I will ask her where and there is no real answer, “Just anywhere. I need to travel.” I will tell her I understand the feeling and it is hard to be unable to move, but we know that it’s safer for the present. Then we dive back into cooking or reading or writing- searching out microcosms to explore within our confined space.

She often lays on the couch- staring into space, fidgeting with a pillow. When I ask what she’s thinking, the reply is, “Nothing, why do you aways ask me. I’m just sitting here.” I see she is a tween finding her own thoughts and I must patiently wait to be let in. So I am learning to wait. On other days she lays staring, fidgeting, and will let me into her thoughts, “Mama, how much money do you think people spend on sales tax in their lives?,” which leads to a conversation on tax percentages and the fact that our nation has many socialist values, even in the midst of declaring we are capitalist society, and how there is a variance to all political structures. Then she tells me how many tax dollars Trump has spent on putting up his personal guests in his hotels and she wants to know if he’d go to jail if we did ever get to look at his tax records. On another day, she wants to understand why kindergarten isn’t called grade one, because it is really school, so maybe it should be called grade zero because that’s the start of the number line. Her mind is a fertile field of adventures in questions and possibilities.

++

We are about to move from a house-share situation into a 624-square foot cottage, situated on a steep hill, with a back porch built of stone blocks, and a yard full of more weeds and rocks than workable soil. I didn’t find this cottage, my daughter did. After days, no weeks, of pouring over real estate listings. She had shared dozens of properties with me and we had long conversations about why different houses could be wrong or right for us. One day, I finally told her the timing was too far out and I couldn’t handle discussing more houses, I was exhausted by the discussions of “what if.” But she kept up the search. She came to me the next day.

“Mama, can you just look at this one house? It’s new and $100 dollars below our budget.” I moaned in her general direction.
“Make it quick, kid.”

The cottage was so sweet. Built in 1958, clean lines, renovated to reveal high ceilings that followed the roofline, painted white throughout, beautiful hardwood floors and so many windows. Also, very close to the junior high she will attend in fall- hopefully with real-life classrooms and teacher interactions and all the activities she needs to keep her active mind and body engaged. We decided to drive by and look in the windows- after being stuck in our house for weeks, it was at least something to do. The yard was huge and totally unkept. The cottage was so very small, not a grand space to be filled, but a respite to return to at the end of the day. It has so much potential to be an oasis. I wished we needed it at the start of May, but we couldn’t move until the first of June. As we walked to our car, a man came toward us.

“Can I help you with anything?”

I told him we were just looking in the windows of the place- it was for lease. He said, “I know, I am the owner. You want to look inside?” We did. It was perfect. He was delightful and loved that she was about to attend the school down the road- that we wanted a place for at least three years. I told him it seemed perfect, but the timing was wrong. We wouldn’t be ready to move for another six weeks. He said he would talk to his wife and maybe it could work. That weekend we signed a lease. We could move at the end of May and he was okay with me working on the yard in the weeks between. It will be a place we can create adventures even when we can’t travel.

++

Gardening is about creating an oasis- a place to travel into other spaces without leaving the place you are rooted. Within the oasis, a garden grows and with time, you work with the land to create a space that will cycle through its own replenishment. With time and attention, additions of food and scraps that have broken down into nutrient rich compost, you turn dusty rocky soil into fertile planting beds. With gardening, you go nowhere physically, but create new worlds that are always evolving in place.

At this new space, we have be given the opportunity to start building our oasis before we actually move-in and building have we begun. At the front of the cottage, every time I turn over the soil, my shovel hits rock after rock. I am collecting the rocks, stacking them aside, making more room in the ground for rich soil to build itself. The rocks will become edges and we will paint them to make bright markers amidst the plants- warnings that things are growing there so please don’t mow them down. With time, I hope there will be nothing left to consider mowing. We will put in herbs and butterfly beauties and rains will come. Water will seep into soil and plant roots will stretch into the gaps and push into new space. With time, turning over the dirt, adding the nutrients, and water, the earth will call new insects and grubs will know it is a place they can breed and they will add to the land as well. With time, there will be new deep, rich soil in which to grow more and varied plants. We will see new butterflies and more birds, maybe a possum will drink from the saucer of a potted flower. We will eat the foods that grow and reserve a few of their seeds- allowing them to dry and wait out the season before the next season sees them set into the ground. Then, as we give back to the earth, we will ask, in return for our work as her custodians, for another season of growth.

We will read together and learn about herbs for food and healing. What does this part of Texas grow without interference? What do those plants have to share with us? What plants can handle the harsh conditions we have here? What are we willing to nurture and protect because it has a valuable property, but might not appreciate the intense heat that beats our summers down? What is not native, but grows around the world in climates like ours? Where can we travel in the garden we grow?

Like our travels, the oasis we create will not have a set agenda or borders. There will be a few “must do” plants, such as citronella and basils and squashes, but others will be experiments and some are both. The Hill Country okra seeds I just planted is one such experiment. I’ve planted it in front of my bedroom window, not just because it is a great producer, but because it grows tall enough that it will act as a cover for the bottom half of my window. By the end of summer, I hope to look out and see it’s bold flowers and purple streaked pods of green. I will say “thank-you” as I pick them, chop them, and braise them with tomato sauce and thyme taken from another corner of the yard- that spot that could erode, but will become stronger for the roots of the herb. Our little oasis won’t be everything we need, but as I envision what it can be I am not so anxious to find new destinations. As I walk around the yard that is three or four times larger than the little house, I envision the plants taking root, and can almost hear laughter from friends gathered to eat on the back porch- there is no room inside for a large table. Cool breezes rolling down the steep hill that cocoons the back of the property will ease us into staying for another glass of tea and just one more story. In all of this, maybe, just a little bit, I can see a side of me that might be okay with staying in one place for longer than a season.

young adults

Untangling from the person whose body created you-
the person who projects
how they could’ve done better-
how they wanted to be treated-
onto you.
Telling them, that’s not what I am thinking / feeling / doing.

Even when working to see your child-
stepping back to hear them and give them space-
even when fully accepting them-
still you see how you would’ve or could’ve done differently.

stepping back is so very difficult.
stumbling, apologizing and learning to keep your damn mouth
shut.

learning to let them be them.
watch them become bigger.

generations at war

In high school, to protest the first Gulf War, I sat vigil on a median while it snowed. In civilian clothes, for fear of retribution, soldiers from Ft. Carson joined our silent vigil. Thirty years later, American forces never truly left and oil continues to be traded for blood. Thirty years later, the guise of goodwill and nation building lifted, the profiteers and pilfering politicians have learned nothing but to send another generation into battle- saving their own children to inherit their place in political office.

America’s leaders, what is right about any of this? Being there does nothing to make us a better country.

At 19, because I protested so loudly before I could even vote, I joined the military to serve our country. From an first generation American grandfather who was dropped behind enemy lines in WW2, I believed in an America that protected the weak and welcomed the stranger. I had yet to learn the history behind the glorified ticker-tape of the victor. I joined the Navy to serve a nation based on freedoms for all. I served, to be able to always defend those who embraced our rights through protest at any cost.

I realize now, how delusional that was because the wars we fight now and forever in our history have had nothing to do with defending our rights. The wars were and are about the money and those who hold the power of industry and militarization. Even the idea that we must embrace our freedoms at any costs is ludicrous. Those freedoms- those inalienable rights- should not have to be fought for in repeated fashion. Furthermore, those inalienable rights most certainly have nothing to do with those who live on the land of the Middle East or what is under the crust of its land.

I once thought I would want my daughter to share my journey, to serve the country I believed in enough to go to battle for, but that is no longer my desire. I will never encourage my daughter to join the ranks of our military. Instead my daughter will know of my journey of protest. Though it seems a fruitless battle in opposing further invasion and murder for oil. We will join arms and let our faces be seen and voices be heard. It may be of little use, but it puts us on the right side of history.

The unfortunate continued battles for our freedoms are not won on battlefields. They are fought in the war-room living rooms of America, planned out by the most common, but bravest of citizens. Freedoms are won in our streets, at counters, in front of clinics, in schools each day. Freedoms are won by artists and writers who move people to action. Freedoms are won in jail cells and court rooms. Bullets and wars are made to create diversion and division- to sustain the status quo. Freedoms are held by the fearless. Those who hold their ground in the face of others who would rather draw blood for perceived differences and the mighty dollar than to sit and talk about our commonalities.

My daughter may go to war, but it will be for those who do not have a voice. The immigrant, the child, a woman’s reproductive rights, our environment and natural resources. Our fights are many and growing each day, but they are not in the desert lands of the Middle East. Our fights are in the streets, homes, and classrooms of America. Our fight is to recognize we are no better than the next person. Our fight is to regain the humanity that is quickly being lost.

holiday blues

My 7th Christmas was greeted by the death of the man I knew as my Dad. He had gone into to see the doctor for a flight physical, had a major heart attack and never came home. There was no goodbye, just an open casket and a mortician who forgot to sew Dad’s eyes into sleeping position. I saw his bright blue eyes and decided he wasn’t really gone. So long as I didn’t say goodbye, he would come home. As long as you don’t say goodbye, everything will be okay.

After that, each year, the holidays washed over me with a renewed sense of loss and sadness. I have lots of snapshot memories of moments during the holiday season, but no set memory until I was 19. I walked into my shop, joking around with my shipmates, carrying a letter from the woman I had begun to call my stepmom- my blood father, Ken’s, wife. As we laughed, I opened her letter and pulled out an obituary. My grandfather had died two weeks before and now I learned Ken was also dead. I was just getting to know him without my mother’s jealousy overshadowing our relationship. In fact, I had cancelled a visit, while I was home on leave to see my dying grandfather, because she was being overbearing. Ken had told me he understood- family is complicated- and we talked of plans to spend a week together during the next summer. He failed to mention his terminal diagnosis of throat cancer- thanks in no small part to a 2-pack a day habit.

I leaned against the lockers, everything was spinning as I slid to the floor in tears. The annual holiday blues had already hit that year and now another was gone without a goodbye. I was so far from anything that felt like me.

My boss said, “What the hell happened?,” and I handed him the envelope. He read it, handed it back, “Go clean yourself up. You can’t get home, so you best get to work.” I did as he said and the next hours were spent methodically ratcheting bolts off a tailpipe- there were 96 and I was small enough to do the job with the engine still in the plane. It was a job I hated, but a godsend because tears could silently stream down my face and no one would know.

Many years passed before the next holiday death. My marriage of  9 years ended on December 19, 2013 and three years later my grandmother would die on the morning of December 19, 2016. We weren’t close and were often at odds. I accepted I did not have a “grandmotherly” grandma. Stories from my mother and her siblings, made me grateful I never had to live under her roof. That being said, I sat with her that Saturday and spent a couple hours doing what I could to make her more comfortable. I rubbed her once strong legs that resembled the bark of a dying tree, and combed her hair because I knew she liked to be pampered. I dampened a cloth with her favorite root beer and placed it to her dry, cracked lips. I told her I knew we were never close, but she is why I was here. She birthed my mom and for that I would always appreciate her life. Both the passing of my marriage and my grandmother were truly more of a relief than deep sadness. Those losses were filled with a grief for the hope of the worlds they represented more than the the actual relationships.

For so many years, I used a big emotional shovel to push through each day of December and it didn’t get much easier. Over the last decade, my daughter’s uninhibited joy has helped, but the days can still drag. All that said, we are in another December and this year is finally a bit better. I am in a place that is the end of an incredibly purifying couple of years. The whole mythology of being burnt down so a phoenix can rise- yeah, that shit is painful. I can’t describe it in only a few words, but suffice it to say it might be an emotional grease burn that has been lanced, come close to healing, then reinfected, finally scarred over, and the scar is finally nearing a healed state. Yeah. That pretty much sums it up.

At the beginning of the month, my daughter caught me crying. She put her hand on my shoulder and asked, “Mama, why are the holidays so bad for grown-ups? Everything is so beautiful, but grown-ups are sad and mad.” I told her that lots of things happen in life and, at least or me, some really big, emotional things have all happened during the holidays so when the lights go up my heart gets heavy. She sighed, “But that all happened then. Now we have each other and the holidays are magic.” With that, I promised her I would find the magic again.

This month has been spectacular. The first Christmas I can recall being truly happy. We put up a big tree, I hosted a Solstice dinner, will go to Christmas Eve midnight mass with friends and spend Christmas with family I love. I’ve said a lot of prayers and a few final goodbyes. I opened my heart to greater forgiveness and the true possibility of new love. I have no idea what is in store for the next year, for we are only promised today. There may be more loss or there may be only good things, but I do know I’ve done the work and I have the support and tools to hold the course, whatever that course might be.

childhood dreams

What I hate is when I am walking through a park with friends, feeling really on top of life, then I trip over a branch … And my fall is broken when I wake up and find myself trapped in my kid’s bed, arm locked under her sweaty little head and I have drooled all over her favorite stuffed bear. But now I’m awake, at 11pm. I decide to have a bath and a glass of wine.

With ninja-like stealth, I extract myself from her bed and stand up, on our dog. He howls, I cuss, apologize, and shush him all at the same time. As that is happening, I trip over the towel my kid left on the floor after her bath time and stumble into the wall with a thud.

At this point, my kid throws her arm across the bed and dream-sings, “All you’ll ever be is mean,” and I wait for it. That moment where my night goes from finally able to relax to being re-trapped in the cycle of Putting The Child To Bed. But somehow she stays asleep and I send a little prayer to saint Taylor Swift, because her song has made my child’s dream world exciting enough to sleep through the chaos of my parenting and kept her away from dark dreams that are shadows of our reality.

One night, at 7 years old, she woke terrified because she had been left on the side of the highway and I had been taken by the police for speeding. This was in the weeks after Sandra Bland was arrested and soon found dead in her jail cell.

The next truly scary dream came in the midst of the ICE raids in 2017. One night, after listening to coverage on the radio and hearing me talk with friends about documenting the raids, her sobs woke me. From another room, I rushed to her and had to work to wake her from the fear.

“They were taking undocumented immigrants away and we were helping the immigrants, so we were running, too. We were all camped in the woods with the pecan trees. But they found us and people were running and there was a field, so they ran to the field and the people chasing us were spraying a smoke that if you breathed it you would die.”

I held her closer, kissed the top of her head, still damp and sweet with childhood sleep filled with lost innocence, “You are with mama. We are in our house. It’s safe baby. You can finish if there’s more. Let out your story.”

She snuffled hard, took a breath, and continued, “There was also a hole in the ground and my teacher was trying to help people, but there were chains going into the hole. If you fell into the hole, you could only get out if you climbed the chains. But you had to sign a paper with one hand to say you belonged here while you climbed out with the other hand. And there were portapotties and I hid in one. Then, you woke me up.”

Our media culture seeps into the subconscious in some mighty fierce ways. But it is a media that is covering what our world has become. My daughter is ten now and she can ask enough questions to keep her dreams safe, but the fact that she has to ask those questions breaks my heart. The fact that when she was 8 her subconscious figured out that staying in this country as an undocumented person and working to become legal was tantamount to climbing up a chain, out of a pit, with one hand with a toxic gas encroaching on you. The fact that she hears enough reports of police taking people to jail over traffic violations and innocent children being killed or abandoned that she dreamt of being left on the side of the highway. Scared and alone.

As a parent, my one job is to keep her safe and alive – that she may become a good person with a full life. I think I do a damn good job of that, but having to go up against a world full of discrimination and hate makes my job way more complicated.

I’ve had people catch their breath when they learn that she was allowed to see the making of Lord of the Rings at 6 and we started watching Gray’s Anatomy when she was 9. “That’s all so graphic, so adult. She needs to keep her innocence,” they gasped.

I don’t know where these people are getting their news, but from what I’ve experienced, NPR during the 7am drive to school is far more disturbing than make-up artists explaining how they created the Orcs or Meredith Gray laying out the trials of relationships.

wealthy

Mama, what is wealthy?
Wealthy is having shelter, said the mother with no roof

Mama, what is wealthy?
Wealthy is not being hungry at night, said the mother who gave the last piece of bread to her child.

Mama, what is wealthy?
Wealthy is hot water on a cold night, said the mother heated water on the stove.

She’s not a pretty thing

She’s not a pretty thing.

There is no clean packaging or simplicity.

We share a bath and her voice becomes loud in the still, wet darkness.

I do not try to drown her with positive affirmations, but just sit and listen, I become terrified.

Her rage grows, I try to shrink away, but choose to keep the space.

Sobs overtake and she shakes my core, pounds the water and I hear my screams through tears that haven’t fallen in too many months.

It’s too much. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t do this. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t be the sole bread winner and parent. I can’t keep up with everything. I can’t just let things go. I can’t keep keeping the peace and being the balance. I can’t do it.

My mind won’t stop, I feel like I can’t do it. I can’t do life, not this way, but I have to do it. I have to keep moving forward, my daughter needs me. I can’t lose my mind, but the noise won’t stop. I grab pen & paper and muddle out. “You can do it. Let the anger forge a path. You don’t have to keep doing it the same way. You don’t have to keep hurting. Change your story.”

I sit with my anger and she finally knows it’s safe to surface and fill the space we share.

I sit with my anger and she is allowed to express.

Instead of imagining what I could do but not acting on my ideations, because “I’m not that kind of person,” I free her. Anger grabs for whatever is within reach- soon the room is smashed. Shaving cream and shampoo and soap are thrown against walls, the trash can is knocked over, and, as if watching myself, I get out of the bath. I see photos hanging on hallway walls. Faces with false smiles look back at me- pain relived everyday in hopes of creating balance.

Pictures are burned. My story begins a new chapter.

unexplainable mysteries

Kids who are touched by unexplainable mysteries –
The ones who know of conversations they haven’t heard –
The ones who talk to the people whom their homes were built atop –
The ones who share memories with strangers in grocery stores, stories only people who have died would know.
These souls we raise, souls touched by unexplainable mysteries will baffle us with ancient wisdom. Then scream when they can’t tie their own shoes.

These children – touched by unexplainable mysteries – are a different kind of gift. Transmitters with emotional antenna who receive pictures in clear colors from another spectrum, pictures that become wavy and fuzzy, then clear again. As guides to these little transmitters, it’s our duty to be patient through the waves and recognize their pictures may one day become full color.

Some will keep the the ability to witness spectrums that are not for all of us to see. For others, skeptical doubts from naysayers, may erase their vision and they will simply have an aching feeling there is more to this world. A feeling that they should be able to get just beyond the space they occupy. Regardless of their future sight, while we are keepers of their direction, patience must prevail. Protect their spectrums and listen to their ways.

The spectrums we cannot see have lessons we should hear.
We should work not to cut off access to what we don’t understand, but to guide it, raise it, and help them learn to keep those connections alive. Our children who are touched by unexplainable mysteries should have their sights loved and honored. They should be allowed to connect to worlds to which they have privileged access. Let them be the bridges and make the connections that has been dulled within so many. For in these children there are stories and solutions that have faded from view, but continue to connect through parts of our universe we don’t all know. In these children there is a future beyond anything we might understand.

forks in the bathtub

My daughter found a fork on the ledge of our bathtub.

“Mama, what’s this doing here?”
“The other night, I ate dinner while showering.”
“Why?”
“I trained at the gym, then had to get to open mic. I was short on time so I ate while I showered.”
“But how?”
“What do you mean, how?”
“Where was the food?”
“Well, I had chicken strips so I just stacked them on the fork, like a kebab.”
“Oh, that would totally work. I thought it was something weird.”

This is our normal.

the return

harsh beauty

We returned from an epic 10-day road trip out to Los Angeles. The road had been good to us. Our guest house was a cache of LA history, and our desert adventures were even better than our beachside time. While it was brilliant, we had to return. I️ came home to laundry that needed to be done, groceries that had to be bought, a dog that needed to be pickup from the kennel, bills asking to be paid, preparations for the next day’s re-entry to school and work. Plus, we only had 18 days to prep & pack and do all the associated shit we needed to do to move out of our home of three years and into an apartment. I had bought the home with the idea that, “real estate is the best investment ever,” and while I still believed that, the responsibility of owning a home as a single mom was just too overwhelming. Apartment life was simple and compact and useful people were paid to be available when things go wrong. Apartment life would help me keep my sanity, which was then even more important because we had also returned home to a crime scene. Upon dropping our suitcases in the entry, I found a dried puddle of blood next to the television, a blood splattered trailed down the hallway, and random feathers scattered around the living room and between couch cushions. Ghost, our cat who disappeared about three months ago, was back. All of this stood before me and I felt completely overwhelmed, but took care of what had to be taken care of and held it together until we were almost finished grocery shopping.

When I slammed my hand in the back door the back home blues kicked in hard. I️ began bawling in the grocery store parking lot. My daughter ran to my side and hugged me. I told her I’d be ok, but I just couldn’t stop crying. I got into the car and through my tears and snot, I said, “Sometimes everything just gets overwhelming. It’s so hard to do it alone – to live such a full life with no one to help you through it.” She put her hand on my shoulder and with complete sweetness offered, “But mama, you have me,” which made me cry all over again.

She reminded me so much of myself at 9. Such an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. It killed me. I️ loved it, but I️ also hated it. I️ wanted her to be a kid and usually she was totally carefree and led a wild childhood, but then I️’d find us in a parking lot: me sobbing like a baby and her being a little adult. Then, as if the day hadn’t seen enough, there was more blood. My nose erupted and I️ held tissue against it as I️ told her there are some things a child shouldn’t have to help with – like crime scene cleanups and paying bills or simply being nearby to curl up against when it’s all over so you can have a good cry. All I could think was, children shouldn’t have to see so many tears.

That night, I️ fell asleep putting her to bed. I was too tired to cry anymore or make lunch for her, but nonetheless I dragged my ass out of bed and made her lunch. Then, as I watched the clock tick past 2am, I poured a glass of wine and a hot bubble bath, because the truth was I did have a terrible day, but it was for a beautiful result. I had the life I choose every morning and a daughter who was learning that tears are ok. More importantly, she was learning the importance of knowing your worth and handling your life even when everything feels too big.