Quitting

She quit today.  Yanked her helmet off her head in the midst of tears and plopped her butt right down on the sidewalk, adamantly refusing to go anywhere at all, much less do it on the scooter that just catapulted her face-first into the concrete.

And I let her.  I let her quit.  No motivational pep talk, no bribes, no half hidden sigh of disappointment.  I picked up the scooter, helmet, her.  Squeezed her, brushed off her knees set her down gently on her feet, took her hand and walked the remaining 5 blocks home to the soundtrack of tears and that little voice crying “I don’t want to ride that again.”

But, yesterday, she didn’t.  She didn’t quit at all.  In fact, she made it all the way to the top of Cowles mountain (a solid 1.5 miles of rocky, steep terrain) solely by the light of her headlamp and her own two feet, just so she could howl at that Super Wolf moon and insist it was full of real blood.  All to the soundtrack of, “I got this mom.  Mom, I got this.” 

And I was caught in a bit of a parenting trap when opposing motivations hit me square in the face from this little soul within a 24hr period.  And I wasn’t sure what to say.  Because, parenting is tricky.  What could be important in one situation could be precisely the worst in another.  Because, I have a thing with quitting.  A stubborn, steaming, ‘totally not ok with quitting’ type of thing.  I prone to making a bigger deal out of it than it needs to be because quitting agitates me that much.  But, in that span of reveling in her determination and accomplishment one day and being thwarted by her lack of it the next, I was caught off guard.  Being caught off guard allowed me just to feel with her. 

And I know how it feels.  Some days I quit.  I am super strong and confident and ‘I got this' so many days in a row and then the ‘I don’t got this’ shows up because some days our scraped knees just hurt too much for us to get back on the scooter.  In that moment, more important than any lecture about not quitting was the fact that I just let her know the truth of that reality.  That things hurt.  That it’s ok to put it down and walk away.  One ‘quit’ doesn’t make her a quitter.  And in an instant I realized that I was shaping her in my every tiny reaction.  And in that same moment I realized that how I wanted to shape her was more important than wanting her to get back on her scooter.  I could only squeak out, “I know, Babe.  I know.”  And I came to grips with something in myself.

We are obsessed with a culture that says don’t stop, never quit, and on and on and on and we are missing out on the lesson learned from quitting.  

I want to value and boost up and emphasize all the times when she climbs the mountain, when she does something amazing, when her motivation exceeds her tiny body.  And may that be the driving force of how I parent.  May the highs of those encouraged experiences boost up any of the lows of the other ones.  May those moments of sheer accomplishment inform the next chance to push on and succeed far more than any parenting pep talk.  

May the moments that take our breath away and the ones that make us cry, teach each other.

The Day After

‘The Day After’ anything is always kind of let down, a day to be given away to moping and whining and recovering from the high of yesterday.  As a kid, our ‘Day After’ routine was met with a lot of cleaning, organizing, throwing things away, more cleaning, more organizing, a break for soup and grilled cheese (and maybe, if we were lucky, the last few remaining chards of broken Christmas cookies), and cleaning.  Wait, did I mention cleaning?  I owe it to my mom for doing most of it, but my siblings and I were given the ultimatum: clean and organize your room (including giving away our lesser used toys, books and games to make way for new ones) and then you can play with your new things.  The trouble was, I was so distracted by the thought of getting to play with my new things that the first part of that equation never really took shape.  On top of that (being the youngest of 3) my siblings were always smarter and quicker in putting their things away, which left me doubly distracted by my desire to play with my things and the actual spectacle of my brother and sister already playing with their things.  Needless to say, every day after Christmas I was a childish heap of a meltdown by 3pm and confined to my messy room until I could calm myself down enough to try to whole process over again.

Those memories are sharp, colorful, fragrant.  And I hope the ones for my kids will be, too.  I want these days to be filled with exploring, slipping through snow covered forest trails, decorating living Christmas trees, making rubber band loaded butterflies fly on a frozen creek bed and playing tag with trees.  Fortunately for me I still have one of three that is game for this type of ‘Day After’ excursions.  And I hope the mountains and trees and snow stir her spirit enough for her to keep this up as she grows   For the bigs, the day after is almost a hangover.  Waking up feeling like they got hit by a bus. The previous 12 hr day of constant cousins and sugar and hugs from grandparents and more sugar and forced ‘12 days of Christmas singing’ really takes it’s toll.  For them, the day after is full of quietly hand-lettering and drawing by the fireplace and staring into video-game-screaming devices and watching Christmas movies ‘till they puke.

And as much as I want everyone to be doing something together, some sort of family activity, I’m pretty darn content right now to just let everyone be.  As long as there isn’t the scent of windex or the sound of a vacuum all day, I think we will all make it through in one piece.


Art + Animals + Accidents

It was an accidental friendship, if you ask me.  A selfish, cold-call business deal taking an all together different turn.  And you never quite know what’s just around the corner until you put your boots on and go for a walk.

I saw Emily’s art up at Coffeebar a few years ago.  A fluorescent giraffe stared at me in all his doodled and patchwork attitude.  I stopped mid-stride, my cup of tea sloshing onto it’s saucer, then onto the floor.  I just stared back for an inexplicably long time until the person stuck behind me in the aisle backed up and went around another way and I was jolted back to the present.  There was something in his face, in his stature.  Whimsy and realism all wrapped up into one statement-making, show-stopping, color-screaming package.  I was smitten.  Not yet, by the artist herself, but by her art.

A little background.  I don’t make much money.  The money I do make is spent on important things like butter, shampoo and school supplies for my kids.  Buying art is at the top of my ‘want’ list and at the bottom of my ‘need’ list.  But, that giraffe!  I came up with a far flung action plan, pulled out my computer and executed with an out-of-the-blue-from-a-random-stranger email asking if she would be willing to trade a photoshoot for a commissioned piece of art.  She said a resounding, yes.  Turns out that that type of thing is just up Emily’s alley and this random stranger with a camera morphed into a BFF overnight. 

If ever there were protocol for photoshoots, guidelines to be followed and logistics to be mapped out regarding location, timing, subject matter etc. they all fly out the window once you step on Emily’s property.  Every expectation you might have about how a photoshoot will go is instantly sabotaged by the singular act of greeting her at the door.  And I mean that with as much admiration as possible, because this totally works for me.  Expect the unexpected and you will be happily fulfilled.  

I’m not afraid of farm animals.  However, with the same amount of conviction that I write that I can also write that I don’t love farm animals.  It is a flat out guarantee, though, that if you make a deal to photograph Emily Reid and her art, you will damn well end up spending some time with farm animals.  And with that first step into their pen you can also guarantee that regardless of how many times Emily says they won’t bother you, you are very hesitant to leave yourself unguarded by raising the camera to your eye.  The end result is almost always a bunch of tilted, out of focus compositions from quickly darting away from the emu who is lunging at you with his ginormous beak and the quick and agile goat readying his horns for a friendly butt to your shin.  And I won’t even mention that one time, when traipsing around in the tumbleweed filled back lot and looking through the viewfinder wondering why Emily and Hattie have that shock and surprise look on their faces.  You hear the buzzing only a split second before hearing, “Run!”. 

And I love it.  I love every minute of it. Because it breaks the mold.  She breaks the mold.  A light filled soul who wants nothing more than to do good in the world and make people (or animals) happy.  She is quick to laugh, quick to encourage and never taken aback by anyone’s idiosyncrasies.  She is depth and roots and hard work.  She is sun light and packed earth and springs of enthusiasm.  

And I’m not afraid of accidental friends.  Especially beautiful ones like this.

P.S. I am the proud owner of 2 (soon to be 3) of her paintings. You should become a proud owner, too.

P.P.S. Check out her ongoing art displays at Sage 255 West Peckham, Reno, NV and Diavola 21021 Geyserville, CA, or sign up for an art class at Atelier in Truckee, CA on December 30th.

www.emilyreidart.com

Me at Them.

Every once in awhile we get a glimpse of ourselves that changes something, that calls up emotions from deep within and forces us to look ourselves straight in the face, unflinchingly, authentically and unapologetically.  A glimpse that actually moves us from one state of being to the next. 

And it scares us to death.  

We utter a few colorful words and colorful excuses to fog up the mirror a bit, pump ourselves up with a positive pep talk, and attempt to walk away with our pride still in tact.

But, when your 3 year old is still following you with your camera set on burst mode, it’s nearly impossible to walk away from the reality she is seeing not just through that lens, but each moment she looks at me. 

I loaded these pictures in my computer a few days ago.  I cried.  Not because I’m aging prematurely, decorated with day old mascara smudges and wearing a shirt I bought in the Junior’s section at JC Penney.  And not because my once-blonde-hair has turned a dull shade of taupe and hurricane force winds were whipping it around uncontrollably.  And not because my ‘group’ camping trip turned solo due to SoCal traffic and non-comital friends.

No.  None of that.

It was frame after frame after frame of the same thing.  The glimpse of myself on the other side of the camera.  It was the fact that this is the face that greets my children.  A face filled with exhaustion and tension.  An expression tormented with decisions, taut with seasons of holding back tears and laughter.  It’s filled with pseudo enthusiasm and muted annoyance.  Aloof at best.

And it scares me to death.  And I don’t want to move on knowing that is what they see.

I want to move on knowing that this is.

Julian

We went apple picking in Julian. 

Locals know that if you say you went apple picking in Julian, all you’re really saying is that you are screaming for something to feel like fall; somewhere to pull on a sweater, a scarf, a pair of boots; some place to smell a tinge of woodsmoke in the air and watch radiant colors drift to the ground.

It was 92 degrees.  I wore boots, nonetheless, and traipsed around in parched aisles of picked-clean Golden Delicious trees; the pungent smell of smoke from a nearby brushfire stung our noses. I didn’t see even one colorful thing fall from the sky except the sparkly pink shoe of my youngest daughter that had been plucked from her foot by my oldest son and thrown maliciously at my middle daughter.

I’ve come to realize that family outings with teenagers are difficult.  Someone always demands to stay home, another someone always demands to stay in the car.  But, I also realized that if you temper the demands with a lot of bribery and the promise of apple pie and ice cream after standing in line for 68 minutes with the rest of the Fall-craving freaks of San Diego, then the hot 3 hour drive home in weekend rush hour isn’t all that bad, maybe even, borderline, enjoyable.





Obligatory Potty Training Post (for those of you who just tuned out, read it anyway, it's really not that dirty)

The past 3 months, I’ve woefully found myself sliding into the trenches of the ‘preschool mom’.  Don’t get me wrong, I have you all on the highest pedestal possible.  

Mothering is tough.  

Mothering young children is tougher.  

Up until Norah was born, I’d been so prideful and so extremely grateful that I didn’t have to engage in any form of potty talk with any of my children, other than warning them against the use of swear words or name calling.  When your kids come into your family at 6 and 7, they are fully capable of using the bathroom, tying their shoes, chewing and swallowing solid food, etc. etc. etc.  I was over the moon about all these things and gloated that I didn’t have to really teach my kids anything!  

Fast forward to ‘my youngest kid is already 3 years old and has zero interest in using the toilet’.  I, of course, still refused to engage in any form of potty talk, read any articles or books on toilet training, ask any friends for tips, etc. etc. etc.  “I am not a baby mom,” I tell myself.  “I am a teenager mom who also happens to have a toddler.”  Well.  Door slams in the face of said mom and at some point.  That point is now.  

I’ll spare you the details, but the extent of my potty training efforts was 1 1/2 hours of no diaper.  During the course of that 1 1/2 hours, toddler pees twice on the floor and poops once while attempting to climb on the table.  All hell broke loose for me as I attempted to catch the poop on a cardboard box I was holding while simultaneously sideways carrying said toddler to the bathroom. 

We stuck with diapers from that point forward.  Whether or not she was ready...I wasn’t.  

I know most of you have plenty of horror stories about bodily fluids from your children and, quite honestly, I don’t want to hear them.  That is why I have avoided you all for so long.  And I haven’t learned anything in this process about how to get your kid to use the toilet.  But, I have learned a lot about my kid.

Norah potty trained herself.  Just like she taught herself to crawl and taught herself to walk and taught herself to climb.  This girl is on a bit of a different time table than what is considered ‘developmentally appropriate’, and takes more time before she attempts things.  She’s a watcher.  She sits and observes without really trying anything.  She just watches things happen and when she feels like she’s ready, she just does it.  She didn’t ‘practice’ walking with 2 steps and fall, 3 steps and fall.  No.  She sat on her butt for the longest time and didn’t do anything while I was all huffy saying, ‘why doesn’t my kid want to move at all?’.  But when she stood up and walked, she took over 20 steps.  She actually walked, not stepped.  And that has been the pattern.  I kept nagging her about the fact that she needed to start using the toilet.  And she kept saying calmly, “When I get bigger I will, Mama.  When I get just a little bigger.”  

And my anxiety slapped me in the face one morning two weeks ago when she said, “Mama, I think today I’m going to use that potty.”  And she did.  And she has had zero accidents.  Zero.  We’ve had a few roadside/trailside potty stops, in the dirt on the side of the road, but who hasn’t?

So today, we celebrated the end of the diaper era by burning all our leftover diapers!!  (No, but I think maybe that will be my own devious private celebration.  Any other potty training parents who hate all this potty talk are more than welcome to join me).  For her, we celebrated by taking a road trip to the Jelly Belly Factory.  For some reason, against dentists good wishes, this girl has taken a liking to jelly beans.  And, for good measure, we used them as rewards for using the toilet.  (Please, no judgement here, you all know you did something...sticker charts do nothing for this kid). 

And, without further adieu, a few pics of the incredible workings of a candy store that spits out jelly beans faster than I can say Jelly Belly.  America, what is our fascination with anything and everything mass-marketable?!  And/or our fascination with sugar?!  

But, of course, this girl loved it so much she wanted me to take pictures of her dancing by the Jelly Belly car on the way out of the factory.  And, like any good mom does, I obliged.  

Cheers to you, baby girl, on your journey in underwear and cavities!

Reunions

Somehow, 20 years just passed me by without even knowing it.  And the fact is, even though my body may think differently, I’m still living in 1998.  I still love the music, the clothes, the trends, the slang, the whole thing.  At times, it’s honestly hard to believe that I’m an adult, let alone a mother of teenagers.  Growing up is way too overrated.  

Standing in a room full of high school classmates (who, shockingly, look identical to their high school mug), I can guarantee I’m not the only one who felt that way.  I was taken back in the best possible way, with meaningless old traditions made new among long lost good friends that are ever so slightly more mature than they were back then, but still live in the moment.  They retain a certain spark of adolescence that is magnified by us all being together and living out memories of an unforgettable developmental period of impulse driven stupidity and selfish insecurities; of laughter beyond laughter, of coming-of-age drama and fleeting teenage crushes.  Whether we all liked each other or not, the fact remains that we were brought together by force from all different areas and backgrounds during a very crucial period of development.  And for that reason alone, we are forever connected.

Suffice it to say, 20 year high school reunions have a certain stigma about them,   superficiality being the top bidder.  As I talked about the event with a classmate who couldn’t attend, I realized I felt none of that.  There were no obvious comparisons, no ‘you look great, you look terrible’.  No shameful feelings about having a suboptimal job or getting a divorce or gaining 50lbs.  Seriously, nobody cared about that.  We just needed to be together again.  There was absolutely no flash to our event, whatsoever, no emcee, no video, no program to move the event along.  We simply spent 5 hours talking to each other and were all in agreement that 5 hours was far too short.  Yes, we drank more than enough alcohol and spent time on the dance floor when we couldn’t figure out any other way to interact, but that all characterizes our class and was perfectly inline with who we are.  And I loved that. 

And quite honestly, I had a huge hangover the next day and it wasn’t from drinking.  It’s the type of hangover that lingers in your heart for a few days.  A feeling of let down; of wishing I had said more to more people, of missing a ‘hi‘ to people I care about because I completely didn’t even see them, or because they didn’t attend in the first place; of feeling like I wanted to connect more and further and realizing that I have missed out on 20 years of good people’s lives because time has a way of separating us.  And, that made me sad.  Our graduating class is made up of good people.  People who are generous and gracious and successful and kind and mature and creative and hardworking and damn smart.  Of people who are willing to grab your hand and dance with you like they are your best friend or shake the hand of a marginalized classmate or tell you how amazing you look even though you know they are lying; or look you in the eye and say they are totally struggling being a stay at home mom.  Of friends who will put a drink in your hand and tell you they are sorry for throwing rocks at you when you were young or offer heartfelt condolence over the recent passing of a loved one.  We are good people, ’98.  Believe that.  Live that.  

There is no shortage of ways to redeem ourselves, to make something out of nothing, to pocket an inner feeling of angst and give into our far reaching feelings of nostalgia.  To make good on a promise sealed by a pinky swear or a kiss or a blue ball point pen.  To actually follow through with all those ‘KIT‘ yearbook signings.  ‘You are so sweet’, and, ‘We’ll have to keep in touch this summer’, and, ‘Call me if you want to hang out’.  Because life is far too short to let these things pass you by, to let circumstances get in the way of people who could mean the world to you, who at one time did mean the world to you.

Thanks, ’98 for some good memories, past, present and future.

Train Tunnel

The Donner Pass Train Tunnel is unique, to say the least.  A marvel of vision and manpower coming together to connect the East and the West via railway and construct something that is often touted as ‘one of the best advancements of all time’, ‘a miraculous partnership between vision and labor’, ‘a dangerous but honorable task that highlights the best of America’.   And as all stories go, there is always two sides to the coin.  

Truth be told, as amazing as this job was, blowing tons of granite out of the side of the mountain and building all sorts of walls and supports and everything to keep the whole thing from caving in on itself, the roadside placards displayed sharing the history of the tunnel do a massive disservice to the laborers involved.  And as much as I love taking friends here, I can’t help but mention the darker side of the story.  One of the history markers sites the visionary response to using the Chinese to construct it.  It says that originally he was hesitant because of the small stature of the Chinese, but realized, “Hey, they built the great wall didn’t they?!”  And the stereotypes and prejudice and blatant effort for ‘cheap labor’ scream out from all these snapshots of history.   

In the 1860‘s, 12,000 Chinese workers were brought to Donner Pass to construct the tunnel.  They were underpaid.  Working conditions were incredibly dangerous and the weather was terrible.  Their camps and food were nothing like their white counterparts and the number of Chinese that died during construction wasn’t even documented.  When the tunnel was completed in August of 1867, all credit was given to the chief engineer of the Central Pacific Railroad, Theodore Judah, for his enduring determination to take the risk of going through the mountain and constructing the final leg to make a railway to the pacific ocean possible, discounting the countless lives that were unwillingly sacrificed.

The last train passed through this tunnel in 1993, when railway service was rerouted through a new tunnel just south of this one, ironically through a mountain that bears the visionaries name, Mt. Judah.  

In my mind, every time I visit the train tunnel, I see it as more of a memorial.  A slice of history with a nod to the true dedication of the people working in these dark, damp corridors.

Family Camping Trip

A week of boating and sunshine and dirt and gooey, sticky things roasted over an open fire?  A week of tan lines and cousin snuggles and sunset paddles and full moons?  A whole week of chocolate and whiffle ball and big, cushiony, springy-seat bike rides?  Of scooters and hats and sunglasses and milkshakes?

Yes, yes please.  And also, no, no thank you.

I’ve come to grips with a part of myself that has been aching to be known, to shake hands with, to look me in the eye.  Two things, actually.

 I recharge by being active.

 I recharge by being alone.

Those two things can be very dangerous on an extended family camping trip when the goal is to sit around in a beach chair, drink, and talk to your family. 

And quite possibly this should be an apology letter for how misbehaved I was.  How much I removed myself from all the potential conversations and relational opportunities and found something to busy myself with.  Or, quite possibly, maybe I should just stop apologizing and take it for what it’s worth.  And the takeaways are important.  

Family, no matter how put together we are, we are also so broken, but that doesn’t make it unbearable. 

Watching kids play together is completely fulfilling, especially when it comes with fun noodles, blow up things and things with wheels.

The courage to try something new, overcoming a previous fear and succeeding, makes my heart bounce out of my chest and my smile overtake my entire face.

A Hike A Day Keeps The ______ Away

Our mantra this week: a hike a day keeps the _________ away.  And our fill in the blanks bordered on pysochotic episodes and hinted at our biggest struggles; boredom, crazy, anger, tantrums, fun (you may have guessed who this one belonged to), lethargy, mental blocks, sugar bugs (again, you may have a guess as to who added that one), bad attitudes, and on and on and on. 

I was at our cabin near Donner Lake with just my girls this week (hubbs and son still in San Diego for football practice).  My experiment with “a hike a day” came with no other motive than to get outside as much as possible and explore the mountains.  However, knowing full well that my oldest daughter is prone to lots of eye rolling and exasperated sighs and full on verbal assaults when asked to do anything involving outside activity, (in particular, hiking), I also thought it might be a chance for her to actually experience the benefits herself rather than me just forcing them on her.  I actually thought (silly me) that on day 7 she might be wanting to go a few more days, asking where we were going to go next with a bit of enthusiasm.  Maybe, just maybe, after 7 days of nature walks, pretty wildflowers, beautiful views, sunshine, and swimming in cool mountain lakes she might have a change of heart; she might realize that doing all that is actually a good thing and does relieve a bit of inner angst.  

I was wrong.  Dead wrong.  Only 2 out of the 3 of us made it to day 7.  And all that ‘hike a day’ bologne looked me in the face with squinted eyes and a sly and sarcastic smile and said, “how are you going to make me do anything”.  And parenting fails commenced and they have taken their toll on all of us.  And I would like to say that it all worked itself out, but it hasn't yet.  And we're still face down in the weeds.  And this week looked much different than I wanted it to.  But I have to say, that even in the midst of all that failure, and dust in the face, there was a bit of success.  Maybe small ones, baby steps...or should I say, toddler trips on rocks and tree roots.  My littlest one actually came off the week with a dirty face, bloody knees, bruised up shins and small bits of gravel in her palms.  And I call that a good week.  This girl has been so cautious these first 3 years, taking her time to try new things and never doing anything that might involve falling.  Well, I can say with new confidence after a week of hiking, that we may be building up a bit of adventurousness and bravery and, dare I say, a little tiny bit of toughness in the young one.  She was all gusto and no holding back, swimming naked in icy lakes, climbing every bit of granite she could find and running on almost every packed part of trail.  And every once in a while, completely at random, “Mama, isn’t it so amazing out here?” and “Mama, thank you for taking me to so many places.”

And a fail with one might also be a success with another.  As much as I want everything to be a win-win, I’ve got to roll with the punches and do my best to come out better on the other side.  

[photo disclaimer: these were all taken on my very, very, very crappy phone camera, so I apologize for the poor quality.  However, I don’t apologize for the fact that I left my ‘real’ camera at home intentionally this week.  Sometimes, my passion for photos takes over everything I do and I have trouble living in the moment.  I wanted to be present as much as possible and not fidget with and focus on making the best picture instead of playing with my girls.  There will be more times for great pictures.  This week, the time was for all of us to just be together...so phone snaps will have to do!]

DAY ONE: Summit Lake Trail

DAY TWO: Lollipop Tree via JP's

DAY THREE: Lake Azalea via a portion of the PCT

DAY FOUR: PCT to Lookout Point

DAY FIVE: Brockway Summit Trail

DAY SIX: Long Lake

DAY SEVEN: Donner Memorial State Park and Campground

Summer Gold Rush + The Truman Show

I re-watched the Truman Show recently, a movie made in which the main character, Truman, is raised inside a simulated television show watched by the world around him 24 hrs a day.  Only problem is, he doesn’t know it.  I wouldn’t say it’s one of my favorite movies, but it always gets me thinking; thinking about reality, about humanity.  And my take away this time was deeper than other times.  Christof, the director, of the Truman Show (in the movie) makes the comment, “We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.”  And I couldn’t help but couple that with my already hot-headed opinion about social media and the ‘reality’ we see and participate in every day.  And the collision of those two things really messed me up this time.

Three years ago my littlest child was born.  That event was the sole catalyst of what I’m now calling, “My Great Undoing” (which will be the title of a series of blogs sometime in the distant future where things work themselves out on paper and in my spirit better than they do now).  But, I mention it here, because in the process of that, I have been forced to dig into myself; an inner mining season (if you will) rivaling the best California had to offer during the famous Gold Rush; cart loads and cart loads of rock and debris before actually finding something of merit, something worth more than the time, energy and money it took to find it deep down there in the first place.  But in the meantime, it’s hot and musty and dark.  I sweat a lot.

Somewhere, in the line of carts being hauled out, is a cart full of vices, of idiosyncrasies, of shameful motives and dark jealousies.  And as much as I’m grateful to be hauling them out, sometimes I’m not sure what to do with them, or where to dump them or how to not fill up the hole they came out of with more of the same thing, covering back up what I was looking for in the first place. 

And how any of that has to do with the Truman Show may be a stretch for some, but it all made sense for me.  Social media, Instagram, Facebook, the like, tempts me to fill back up with the things I’m trying to get rid of.  The ‘reality‘ of the world with which I am ‘presented’ becomes a far more perfect and better place than the reality of the world I really live in.  And I hate that.  I hate that I want to look at, participate in and spend countless time thinking about ways I can ‘present’ myself to ‘the world’, rather than focus on sincere and authentic time with the world I exist in.  I know, I know.  It is actually a very useful and fun way to keep up with distant friends and family, and I completely agree with that and totally participate in it, too (and probably will in the near future).  But currently, it’s detrimental for me.  And I have to be honest about that.  And I don’t think I’m alone.  As happy as I am that people are choosing to document their lives through photos, I’m just as unhappy about how that has shaped us; about how we experience people and places; about how we’ve created an entirely new vocabulary for our social world.  We, like Truman, have become an actor in our own life story without even knowing it.  No, not all of us.  There are plenty of responsible and completely authentic Instagram-ers who don’t struggle with it at all.  But for the rest of us, keep reading.  

Spoiler alert: I’m about to tell you what happens at the end of the movie if you haven’t seen it already (which you should have considering it was made 20 years ago).  After a giant storm at sea in which he is almost killed, Truman recovers and sails his boat in what seems to be the middle of the ocean, blue skies, sunshine, the whole deal.  Until surprisingly he runs into the wall of the set, poking a whole in the sheet rock making up the sky of what was the world he has lived in his whole life.  And the emotions that play out after that make me cry every time.  Best scene in a movie (from 1998, of course).  

All he wants at that point is to get out.  To experience life, real life, and life to the full; to know real friends and real love. 

And I want that, too.  

So, with that long winded explanation of my summer social media hiatus, I can help but exit the same way Truman did, “...in case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening and goodnight.” 

And, of course, a little extra disclaimer: I will still be blogging and I hope you will still be reading.  I’m posting new blog posts in my story on Instagram because I haven’t taken the time to figure out a blog subscription from my website.  But, please don’t be a stranger.  Even more than that, in fact, be a friend.  We have an incredible cabin up near a pretty mountain lake in the Sierras.  I’d love to share it with you.  For real.

 

Unicorn Piñatas and Other Birthday Chaos

With the amount of streamers, balloons, banners, confetti, ribbon, sprinkles, frosting, melted candles, glitter, piñata parts and silly string I am still picking off my cabinets, pulling out of my garbage disposal and sweeping up under my couch, I have realized there has been an utter lack of revelry in my life lately.  It takes 3 birthdays (4 if you count my nephew) in 10 days to help me realize this.  And it was a lesson that needed to be learned, regardless of the mess.  

We need to party.  We need to feel the freedom to celebrate and be celebrated; to say important things to people we love; to eat a lot of sugar; to spend money on things we normally wouldn't; to take a day off of school or work; to go big or go home. 

I've always loved birthdays.  Not necessarily birthday parties, but birthdays.  A birthday is different than any other occasion as it is in direct correlation with the person having it, not something they've accomplished or a role that they play or a goal they have reached, but a unique and specific celebration of that fact that they exist; that the act of their birth (however uninvolved they were with it) is enough to spark an entire celebration and something to look forward to for the other 364 days out of the year.  A birthday is a perfect excuse to dish out every ounce of love you can on one person, because you value having them around. 

This year was no different, except for the fact that we actually had parties, too.  It was a big birthday year for our family.  16, 13 and 3 all seem to be milestone birthdays and we didn't want to miss the chance to make a ginormous mess in our house for the cause.  We had a joint birthday party with our cousin, who turned 17 the day after Perez, and his family.  We have spent many, many birthdays with them and it is so fun to have kids that were born in the same month.  Combining a 17 year old birthday with a 3 year old birthday was something to be noted.  Indoor skydiving for the bigs (Norah backed out 30 minutes before flying but wanted to wear the suit anyway) and blue hair and a unicorn piñata filled with Pez for the little (although I think the bigs may have had more fun with that)!  Sleep over, pool party, water balloon fight and cake decorating for the now 'teenager' and morning rounds of jumping on the bed coupled with a beach day and cupcakes for The Nugget.  

All in all, it was a weeks worth (or more) of parties and a kick in the pants reminder that parties need to be planned...for birthdays or 'just because'.  

And I think I just might be leaving those entryway streamers up to indulge in a little revelry all year until those birthdays roll around again next year. 

Fuego and San Miguel Deuñas

[Blog post from Guatemala written March 20th, 2013]:

"Spent the day documenting the daily activities of a family that lives in a very poor area of a town called San Miguel Dueñas.  Single mom of five kids, the 14 year old boy works construction all day to make money for the family and goes to school all night.  She sells tortilla's to make a little extra money, at most $2 a day.  Only two of the five kids go to school.  She can't pay for the third school aged boy.  I have about a 25 frame picture story of the day spent with them.  Still working on it.  I feel like in order to really document this family, it would take repeated visits over the course of a few weeks or possibly months.  So for this project, it is just a day in the life of  a family in need.

(note to photographer friends: these are very raw and un-edited...sleep deprivation has overtaken me)."

 

On Monday, Volcan Fuego or 'Fire Volcano' erupted in Guatemala with one of the most violent volcanic eruption in more than 100 years, spewing ash, mud, gas and lava into surrounding communities.  San Miguel Dueñas was one of the towns hit the hardest.  I spent a few days there in 2013 along with another photographer friend, documenting the lives of 2 families living there.  Living in the ring of fire, volcanic eruptions are no new thing for many Guatemalans.  Fuego erupts repeatedly, puffing gas and smoke every 15 to 20 minutes.  But this.  This was no puff of smoke.  This was a massive eruption followed only hours later by a rocking 5.2 magnitude earthquake that hit the coastlines of Central America.  Many of you are reading headlines, watching news, and trying to get a grip on the damage and what can be done.  And to some of you, it's old news, considering all the other hot off the press events right now in the world.  But for the past few days I've been searching for photos, scanning maps, and seeing if there is anything I can do to find out if the families and children I spent time with in 2013 and again in 2015 are alive.  This has hit home in my heart and it's so hard to be distant from it and to hear news from afar.   Guatemala is hurting and quite possibly, so are the families and kids in these pictures.  Quite possibly their homes are buried, crops destroyed, family members dead, children dead.  I don't know.  And that's what makes it hard, to be heartbroken, but essentially helpless.  

To all of you in Guatemala that I have called my friends, eaten with, had drinks with, told stories to, cried with, ridden in the backs of flatbed trucks with, dug through trash with, played soccer in the street with, ate dulces and pan together and allowed me to dig into your lives with my camera: may the Lord give you peace in the midst of this chaos.  When the smoke clears, may you find a way to continue on.  May you find a way to honor and remember those you have lost and may you be helped and strengthened by the good of others.

 

[Gallery from 2013.  San Miguel Dueñas, Guatemala]

Zion

So much happened over the course of the last 60 hours that it’s really hard for me to make sense of it all.  And I’m not talking about what we actually did, I’m talking about what actually happened.  Logistically, we hit 4 states and 5 destinations.  Including California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah.  Visiting Calico Ghost Town, Seven Magic Mountains, The Hoover Dam, Zion National Park and Kanarra Falls.  As far as how many actual miles on the road or literal vertical feet climbed, I don’t have a clue, but metaphorically, we moved mountains.

I didn’t do this trip for my kids.  I did it for me.  But I think it’s fair to say that there were takeaways for all of us.  And most of that is internal.  I wouldn’t say this was the most fun we’ve ever had together or  the coolest thing we’ve ever done.  But, I will say that even trying to figure out how to write about this makes me get a bit choked up. 

The full rundown of the trip is totally worth a conversation and I’d be more than happy to share a table and a few drinks with anyone who wants to listen.  Let’s just say I lost my kids in Zion.  Or they lost me.  Or we lost each other.  It’s not everyday that I make the decision to leave my kids on a 1,488 foot gash of sandstone jutting out of a desert valley.  But when I do, I make the most of it by hanging out at the bottom for 3 hours while they hang out at the top, just for added emphasis.  

In all fairness, I suppose it wasn’t an actual decision as much as it was a miscommunication.  There is a fine line, or should I say, an awkward foot-stepping-on-toes dance while my teens and I figure out the nuances of necessary independence and off leash activity.  I realize, in hindsight, the top of a mountain 5,790 feet above sea level isn’t the best place to try this out.  Needless to say, Mom and Toddler in backpack are determined to hike to the very tippy top edge of Angel’s Landing, managing a somewhat sketchy chained section; regardless of the number of people up there on a spring Saturday that make the passing slightly more dangerous; regardless of the number of people turning around telling you to turn back because it is too crowded and is taking triple the time it should take to reach the top; regardless of the number of people telling Mom and Toddler they shouldn’t go because it is bad mothering to do that with a baby on your back; regardless of Son insisting that they turn back; regardless of Daughter who has already turned back.  

Something happened to me up there.  All those voices have been there my entire life.  And I have listened to them for the sake of keeping the peace; for the sake of not being the cause of an ‘inconvenience‘ for anyone and for the sake of putting others before myself.

And I listened this time, too.  I said ok and started back down.  And three steps later I stopped dead in my tracks.  And as if no one else was on that mountain but my son, my toddler and me.  I turned back around to him and said, “I didn’t come all this way to do something I’ve been dreaming of doing to make it ‘almost‘ all the way.  I will be kicking myself in the shins for the rest of my life if I don’t do this right now.”  And thus was the catalyst of the miscommunication.

“Fine.  But I’m waiting here until you get back,” Son says.  Other Daughter shows up surprisingly out of nowhere and says, “Mom, you’re going out there?!  No, you’re not.  Ok, you are, but there’s no way I’m going out there.  I’m going back down.”  “No, you’re not,” Son says to Daughter.  “Mom, I’m keeping Norah.  You go by yourself,” Son says to Mom.  “No, you’re not,” Mom says to Son.  Mom is walking up the mountain with Toddler on back and shouting over her shoulder, “You guys figure it out.  If you decide to walk back down, don’t get on the shuttle.”  And out of earshot Mom went.

Nearly 5 hours later, a lot of ‘mobile service unavailable’ messages and waiting on a park bench at the base of the hike while Toddler sleeps sweaty and fussy in my lap and shuttling back to the car in hopes that Son and Daughter are there and back to the park bench and waiting and talking with people who are completely unhelpful and cussing at the fact that there is no better security in a place like this and cussing at the fact that you made yet another stupid mom decision and being pissed at the lady sitting next to you telling you that a 13 year old died last week falling off of that ledge and deciding whether to hike back up or wait at the bottom or go back to the car again or finally break down because you have no clue where your kids are and it’s all your fault and...with some help from the US Park Rangers, we are all reunited at the base of the hike. 

I played it cool the whole time and I knew they were going to blame me and be pissed that we wasted all that time just sitting in two different places waiting for each other.  But what happened is nothing I could have contrived on my own in any other situation but what went down.  In their fury, thinking I was just hanging out at the top enjoying the view, they both hiked the sketchy section looking for me.  They bonded as brother and sister, they problem solved, they (most importantly, Maggie) did something she didn’t want to do and never thought she could do.  And, regardless of all the voices telling me otherwise, I’m so glad we were all lost.  

There is so much more to be learned from this trip.  And it wasn’t all fun.  In fact, I’m not really even sure anyone, but me, actually had fun.  And maybe that’s completely beside the point.  We didn’t really eat a full meal, we slept in our car, we went higher than we wanted to and farther than we wanted to.  We went without naps and food and breaks and froze our feet off in the river to the point where you feel like you are stepping on needles when they thaw out; always to the point of wanting to turn back and always to the point of being urged to go just a little farther.  

I could do this everyday.  But for my kids, it’s a new experience, and one I wouldn’t trade for the world.  There is something so valuable about reaching a breaking point and learning how to glue yourself back together enough to get yourself out; to finish what you started.  

Life doesn’t magically lift us out of the narrows when it gets too hard and too cold and we are too deep and we are ‘oh, so, done with this’.  But, something does.  And I can only hope to leave a trace of whatever you want to call that, with them.