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Family, Guest Posts

Through the Sand: A Driving Lesson From Dubai

July 7, 2017

By Kathryn Streeter

I posed a million-dirham ($272,260.72 in today’s US dollar) question: “Do the children of Dubai play in sandboxes?” Our family, newly transplanted from the Washington, DC area where sandboxes had provided our children with hours of fun in earlier years, mulled over this question the summer we moved temporarily to the desert metropolis of Dubai. Even with all of Dubai’s development, if one catapulted high enough above the impressive skyline, Dubai seemed not too unlike one massive sandbox with ribbons of various roads lying thickly near the coast and rapidly thinning out in numbers the further away from the sandbox’s edge of the Arabian Sea, until only interminable sand remained.

The subject of driving, however, quickly claimed our attention as it rapidly morphed to the level of top priority. This critical arena of living required quick-study because learning this new turf involved navigating Dubai’s roads, roads which often betrayed the foundation they were laid upon: sand.

From our company apartment’s location, we easily realized that we were isolated without a car. As urbanites, we had associated walking with city living. Going to a coffeeshop or grocery didn’t require a car. Walking the kids to school? No problem. Bike trails and sidewalks connected neighborhoods and ultimately, people. Not so in Dubai, where pedestrians were merely walking to their cars, that in and of itself often life-threatening because Dubai was built with cars, not people, in mind. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

Photosynthesis

May 24, 2017
paralyzed

By Halle Murcek

I kept the aloe plant on top of the microwave, housed in a little ceramic pot painted with sunflowers, fine lines of yellow and orange, dots of brown and black so meticulous they could only be painted by hand.  The kitchen got just enough sunlight to feed our plant, our “love fern” as I jokingly called it, at first.  It was no coincidence to me that my own grandmother grew them as well as my boyfriend’s mother, both of which had such similar qualities it was uncanny: the need to nurture, a green thumb, an abundance of recipes, the best baked goods, always warm, soft and rich, a kitchen always emitting some kind of luxurious smell that would soon take over your palate.  Remedies of hearty homemade broths that simmer for hours, jars of dried tea leaves, baskets of fresh vegetables from a garden, bottles of lightly scented lotions and oils to always keep their skin as soft as half melted butter.  The need to nurture.

The fleshy green body of our plant was still young but already stealthy.  I liked to think having greenery around kept my lungs healthy, recycled the old stuff I inhaled and exhaled through the apartment.  I imagined oxygen swirling and undulating like the clouds on a weather map you saw on the news.

Nick would meander into the kitchen each morning, sleepy-eyed, bare chested and stunningly pale, stretching toward the light that came in bands through the blinds.  With his toothbrush in his mouth he would approach the pot and press his callused fingertips into the soil, black as the grit permanently imbedded beneath his short fingernails from working long ours over a grill, feeding it, tending it then scrubbing it clean. Continue Reading…

Adoption, Family, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

Living the Mother

December 28, 2016

By Anne Heffron

My mother asked for me to read Mary Oliver’s poem When Death Comes at her funeral. I cried when I got to the last stanzas, not because they rang true, but because I felt devastated that, even from the grave, my mother wasn’t telling the truth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

 

This is the story I grew up with: after my mother had gone to Smith, she’d gone to New York and had gotten a job as a fact checker for Reader’s Digest. She listened to Kennedy give his “ask not what your country can do for you speech” and was inspired to do something she felt would help the world, and so she joined the Peace Corps and went to Nigeria. Shortly after arriving, she wrote a post card to a friend that described the conditions of Ibadan:

Dear Bobbo: Don’t be furious at getting a postcard. I promise a letter next time. I wanted you to see the incredible and fascinating city we were in. With all the training we had, we really were not prepared for the squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions rampant both in the city and in the bush. We had no idea what “underdeveloped” meant. It really is a revelation and after we got over the initial horrified shock, a very rewarding experience. Everyone except us lives in the streets, cooks in the streets, sells in the streets, and even goes to the bathroom in the streets. Please write. Marge. P.S. We are excessively cut off from the rest of the world.

 

The next day there was an uprising because my mother had dropped the card instead of getting it into the mailbox, and a Nigerian student had found it. The Nigerians protested the Americans and my young mother almost brought down her beloved President’s cherished organization.

My mother was sent into hiding and then flown home where my father met her at the airport and asked her to marry him. And so supposedly that was her happily ever after moment.

Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, Home

I’m Not from Here

October 23, 2016
home

By April Vazquez

I can’t tell if my husband’s unmarried cousins are lesbians.  Three or four of them put pictures of themselves on Facebook with other girls, faces pressed together, with posts about their undying love.  But in this country, where women friends hold hands in public and dance together at parties, I’m not sure what it means.

I’m the only one angry that the house is in a state of perpetual dust and chaos because the builder, Raúl, doesn’t work on Mondays…  or other days, sporadically and without notice.

I can’t understand why to get residency here I’m required to provide a letter from the Consulate verifying my citizenship when, at this very moment, the Immigration official making the request is holding my United States passport in his hands.

I can’t make out why my two-year-old’s shoe was stolen within five minutes of falling out of the stroller outside the the park.  I know the shoe was stolen because when I went back for it, the lady who sells food there told me she saw another woman pick it up, but what I don’t understand is why, what she thought she could do with it.  Or is the impulse not to let anything–anything–go to waste so strong that it extends even to one tiny shoe? Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

The Difference Between a Father and a Dad

October 20, 2016

By Alisa Schindler

I call multiple times in the hope that when I arrive he will be outside waiting. There’s the wakeup call. The check in an hour later to make sure the wakeup call actually prompted some movement. The, ‘I’m getting in my car’ call, the, I’m ‘five minutes away’ call, and of course, the ‘I’m outside waiting’ call.

Depending on his coherency and agitation, I judge whether it seems sane to actually wait for him to come out. In about 1 in every 10 or so visits, I actually pretend that he might just walk out without my assistance, so I sit and play on my phone or read a few pages in my book letting the minutes disappear along with my hope, before eventually giving up and heading in.

Walking into his apartment my face immediately falls, but I am quick to pick it up because the floor is disgusting. Even with a home health aide there six days a week, he spends much of his alone time upsetting any attempts at cleanliness or organization she may have accomplished.

It is Sunday, the aide’s day off, and already the apartment looks ransacked. Pills everywhere – purple ones, pink ones, yellow and white ones dotting the floor like dropped M&M’s. Multiple red Solo cups darkened with colas, crusty mixes of yogurt and cereal and more pills stand up and out in the clutter of papers piled all around. Cabinet doors suspend open, cereal boxes ejected to the counter, Kashi and Cheerios strewn onto the floor. Clothes covered in food stains and old cigarette holes hang on the backs of chairs while a pizza box that was apparently used as a plate for what may have been his middle of the night snack of eggplant parmesan, remains discarded on the couch. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

The View From Here

October 3, 2016
birth

By Abby Mims

Four months after my mother died at 66, I was closing in on 41 and pregnant. Her dying had been long—four years—but my pregnancy had happened fast, only a few months of trying with no fertility drugs, narrowed down to one hectic shot in the right 24-48 hour window, and we had what could be classified as a minor miracle on our hands. I thought I was ready. I thought I was ready because my ovaries were ticking so loudly I could practically hear them in the quiet of certain mornings. I thought I was ready because I had learned to take such good care of my mother in the last years of her life. The cancerous brain tumor took her mobility and her speech and eventually, everything else, and because I had been the daughter least likely, but the only one left standing, I knew I could take care of a child. I thought I was ready because I believed that having a baby would cure my grief, that there would be a way to trade her death for his or her birth so that I would come out even. Whole again. But then the hormones hit, the reality, the heartbeat, the perfect spine lit up on the ultrasound at 13 weeks, and my loss was only magnified by this gain. Her absence, which was already taking up 90% of me, went for 100% and then some.

***

When I was in my early 20s, my mother gave me the book “How To Survive The Loss Of A Love” to help me get over whatever wrong boy had most recently dumped me. It had a cheery red cover that I thought didn’t quite match up with its outline of the stages of grief. It included a tidy graph of said stages—denial, bargaining, anger, sadness, acceptance—and I studied its ups and downs for the answers as to how and when I would feel better. Those jagged lines and plot points were comforting, because it indicated there was, somewhere in time, an end to my pain. Post-breakup(s), I would check in with myself: What stage was I in? Was I angry or bargaining? Anger was good, as that usually meant things were progressing; bargaining was bad, it meant I wasn’t anywhere near acceptance. Sadness was mind-numbingly boring and full of drama at the same time, with hours spent on the floor sobbing, promising myself I wouldn’t call him and calling him anyway, along with myriad lost afternoons (read: days, weeks and months, sometimes years) devoted to extensive forensic analysis of the situation with my girlfriends and my mother. And on it went, until I met the next wrong boy, who would conveniently stand in for the acceptance stage if I hadn’t quite gotten there yet. I believed the pain of losing those boys was the worst kind I would ever experience. I also believed that this roadmap out of mourning and grief was reliable, maybe even foolproof. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, storytelling

The Day My Mother Left

September 26, 2016
mother

By Kerry Cohen

The day my mother left, I was eleven years old. It was July, 1982. In just a few months I’d be twelve. And then thirteen. And so on. Life would move forward, even though my mother had left me. I could not fathom such a thing then. I would grow up. I would become a teenager, an adult, a wife, a mother, a divorcee. I would become all of these things, even though my mother had left me.

A year earlier, my parents had divorced. Their split was ugly and destructive. My father ran first, an expert escapist, and my mother was forced to stay. She spent much of her time crying, sometimes even wailing. Her emotions were like a haze in our large suburban New Jersey house. They were everywhere. I couldn’t duck them. I couldn’t squeeze myself around them. So, instead I held my breath. I made myself invisible. I stayed on the edges, watching my mother’s every move while she did things like lay four tons of bluestone into a cement patio. She played racquetball and took up sailing. She drove us to school, her eyes wild with plans, cut off other drivers, yelled, “Fuck you, too!” when they flipped her off. I was terrified of what she would do next.

She took pre-med courses at Fairleigh Dickinson. Locals called it Fairly Ridiculous, but my mother didn’t find that funny. This was serious business. She was changing her life, no matter the cost. The things she did find funny made her laugh too loudly, too shrieky, too off-time. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, Home

Home

August 18, 2016
home

By Pam Munter

It takes some planning to get into the correct lane for the right turn off busy Sunset Boulevard to Hartzell Street in Pacific Palisades but I’ve been doing it since I was 16 so it’s automatic for me – even now. Hartzell is one of the “alphabet streets,” part of a grid developed early in the history of the Palisades, all of which were named after the founding Protestant missionaries.

I haven’t lived there in more than a half century. But whenever I’m in the area, I feel an irresistible cosmic pull to make the pilgrimage to the house where so much of my childhood and adolescence unfolded, the repository of my earliest self. Now when I drive the four blocks up Hartzell to the house, I hardly recognize the street. Almost all the cute little bungalows in this formerly working class neighborhood have been converted into multi-story McMansions. Luxury cars are parked on both sides of the street, allowing only one car to move through at a time. Gone are most of the prolific eucalyptus trees that proudly stood guard, no longer flooding the area with their rich, herbal redolence.

The house has been updated over the years but many of the external changes were accomplished much earlier by my handyman father – filling in the front porch to create a dining room, adding a large wing with a bedroom, bath, laundry room and garage. Subsequent owners have had a better eye for landscaping, which was an area that never interested my father.

Whenever I make that right turn on to Hartzell, I feel my heart start to race. It unfailingly takes me by surprise. When I was coming home to visit from college, it was due to hungry anticipation for a square meal. After I married and drove cross-country from Nebraska for vacations, it was longed-for relief from the fatigue. But even now I feel that jittery twinge of – what could it be – anxiety? Apparitional dread? Continue Reading…

death, Family, Guest Posts

Frosty Mauve

August 14, 2016
mother

By Kim Derby

The silence hits me in the face when I walk in. Free of beeping and flashing bright lights, her hospital room is nothing like what you see on TV, the monotonous drone of machines sprouting tubes, blaring alarms. Instead it’s stillness, and the creak of the door as it closes behind me. Daylight streams through a window across the room, lights up her face. I move toward the bed, cautious as if she had a virus I might catch.    

Hi Mom. It’s your daughter. I’m here.”

Her mouth is open, slightly ajar. A lip-gloss sits on the table next to her. Someone must have applied it recently because her lips glisten. I touch her cheek with the back of my hand. Ice. And I pull the blanket up around her neck. Hold her hand, I tell myself, but she’s tucked tight under the bedding. Swaddled. I hate myself for being too freaked out to reach under and take her hand. I reach for her cheek again, rub it softly with the back of my hand. Her 76-year-old face is bare, free of mascara or makeup. It glows, smooth like un-worry, free of wrinkles, contempt or scorn.

“Mom, your skin looks really good.” I think she’d like to know.

Saliva collects under my tongue and I’m glad I haven’t eaten in three hours. I step back from the bed, swallow. I think I’m going to be sick.  Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

Tough Questions

August 11, 2016
mother

By Joanell Serra

One night my eight year old niece and I find a quiet moment, and she springs a question on me I don’t see coming.   Which shows the depth my own denial.

We are two weeks into a long summer visit, my niece Molly and her six year old brother Ryan have travelled across the country to visit with myself, my husband, and our two children.  It is a chaotic but fun summer, a mixture of Northern California beach days and trips into foggy San Francisco.  I evoke the ghosts of my own childhood in New Jersey, as I drag the four children through city art museums and Shakespeare in the park. And avoid talking about the certain topics, even in the face of obvious evidence that something is very wrong. 

Tonight Molly and I are alone, doing her hair before bed. It’s a complicated process, that requires just enough (but not too much) conditioner in the shower and liberal use of detangler after a quick towel dry. Next I pull the brush carefully through the mass of her thick brown hair and braid it tightly so she doesn’t wake up with knots and frizz. This morning’s tug of war and tears as I tried to tame her locks motivates me to get it right this time. Continue Reading…

Eating/Food, Family, Guest Posts

Starved

July 8, 2016
weight

By Vincent J. Fitzgerald

A week prior to my father’s arrival for his annual ten day visit, I am stricken by a plague of hyperawareness about my shape, and as much as I long to see him, I fear judgments to come. On the day of his arrival I am bloated with turmoil while I drive to pick him up from the airport. I have failed to reach his weight expectations, and a glance at my belly hanging over my seatbelt distracts me. At 44 years old, his approval of me maintains its pricelessness, and bearing extra weight is the same as presenting him with a subpar report card. To discern which way best hides my shame, I alternate pulling my shirt down, then rolling it up while I wait for him to exit the terminal. He struts out the door all swagger and smile while I suck in my gut until spleen hits spine. He scans me from afar, leering at my midsection, and I feel objectified.

My kiss on his cheek is a lone dividend of a childhood marred by paternal detachment, and I am grateful for it. When he pulls back to assess me, I cover my midsection with his carry on, and wonder how much baggage he brought with him this year. Body weight has become his obsession in recent years, but the central focus is my weight, not his own. He executes scrutiny the way narcissistic parents do, baking criticism within supportive suggestions, and belching health warnings to induce fear. On the ride back to my home, I try to update him about my kids, career, and impending nuptials, but zone out to complaints about his wife and professed love of his dogs. The conversation takes its inevitable turn towards all things gastronomic, and his saltiness seasons our dialogue at random intervals for the ensuing ten days. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, The Hard Stuff

How To Move Your Mom Into A Nursing Home

June 27, 2016
mom

By Pam Daghlian

Buy a plane ticket. Rent a car. Pack warm clothes.

Weep in the airport.

Drive north for an hour and a half. Decide to take the route home around the lake instead of through downtown. Nod to the diner you waitressed (and bussed, and hosted, and dishwashed) at in high school. Turn up the radio. Let the memories flood.

Greet the dog. Hug your stepdad. Allow the awkwardness that the absence of your mother creates. Pull yourself up into the pick up truck, sit in the seat where your mom always sat. Say that would be nice when your stepdad says let’s eat out after. Realize the two of you have never eaten together without her.

Walk through the front door at the Senior Living center and see your mom sitting at a table in the dining area. Notice that she is the youngest, the most upright, the most doesn’t-belong-here looking resident.

See that she does not smile or say much, but know that inside she is beaming. You came from San Francisco to see her. In the snow. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

Dressage: The Story of A Father, A Daughter, And A Horse

June 19, 2016
father

By Mary Wysong-Haeri

My legs and seat move with the horse, absorbing his gait. My sits bones move with his rhythm: one-two-three-four is walk; one-two, one-two, is the power of the trot; and the canter is a waltz, one-two-three, one-two-three, as wind whips past my ears. It whistles like a kiss.

The power of his body moves through me and I try to look like I am not moving even as every part of my body is in motion. There is contact in the reins to control his shoulders and my seat drives his hind legs. Each of my legs moves separately to control his gait and keep him straight. I am always afraid on my horse: he has a mind of his own and I cannot be certain of what he will do at any given moment, but I ride him, I love him, the more for that.

***

I was lost when the streetlamps came on. There weren’t enough of them and, frightened, I ran from one circle of light to the next. I had promised my mother that I would walk home from my friend’s house. I don’t remember the name of the friend or what she looked like or where we played, in her bedroom or the yard or both. I know the sun was low and the sky darkening when her mother sent me home. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

Childhood Revisited

May 2, 2016

By Liska Jacobs

We end up at my mother’s condominium one Saturday, waiting out traffic. She’s at work and we have the place to ourselves so I begin going through cupboards, rummaging through the pantry and fridge just as I did when I was a child coming home from school. I find the burned DVD with ’84-85’ written in my father’s hand in the back of her DVD collection. The air conditioning switches on, there’s a comforting hum that we don’t have in our one bedroom apartment in Pasadena, and we’ve filled a bowl with Goldfish crackers, opened a bottle of sparkling water. We press play.

Fuzz and then a plump young dad, hardly recognizable—younger than either my husband or myself are now. He’s video taping his wife who’s even more unrecognizable, just a girl with big auburn curls and thin, thin arms. How could she have birthed twins? But there they are—my twin sister and me—two baby girls, one dark the other fair.

Then it cuts. They’re playing in a blow up pool now. Naked and splashing. The mother pours water on the dark one, the oldest, me, over and over because they both think it’s funny. Get back here Dolly, she calls to the dark one’s twin, who is pale and small and trying to climb out of the plastic pool. Where are you going?  This mother—face and hair so familiar yet alien—calls, splashing at my sister’s backside. Continue Reading…