Monday, December 27, 2010

Happy 17th Birthday, Hannah!

I love you so much, my beautiful, brilliant, hilarious daughter. May your last year as a minor be full of major creative adventure.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Thank you to my amazing sister Elizabeth for creating a public memorial to mark the one year anniversary of our mother's death. So much to reflect upon, to feel, today.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The piano

Last year, the house we rented in Redlands came with a piano. We were excited--Hannah had been wanting to learn to play, and we had been shopping for an affordable piano to no avail, so it was great to find a house with one already set up.

Around the time we last saw my mom alive--one year ago tonight--Hannah had been teaching herself to play "Kids" by MGMT. After my mom's death, I couldn't get the song out of my head--there are lines about "making mama so proud" that would bring me to tears, lines about a baby being born that would also move me deeply. The chords of that song reached right into my own heart and plucked some string that reverberated through my whole body.

This summer, I belly danced at the Orange County Fair. My troupe had performed there last year, and my mom had been in the audience--there are photos of her on Facebook still, clapping and looking so happy. While I was backstage this year, "Kids" came on over the loud speakers and I started to cry. My friend Nancy asked what was wrong, and I told her how that song felt so connected to my mom, how I wished she could be in the audience again. "She's here with you now," Nancy said. "She's showing you through the song." After we performed and were walking around the fair, a live band started to play that song; Nancy and I looked at each other, and I so wanted to believe that it meant my mom was there with us as we ate our corn on the cob, drank our fresh lemonade. Later in the summer, when we were shopping in Barcelona, the song came on over the sound system, and I started to cry again. My mom had so wanted to take the whole family to Spain, to explore the roots she had uncovered there. I like to think that this was her way of joining us.

About a month ago, I got a call from my former landlord, asking if we were interested in buying their piano. When we had given our notice, I had asked if they'd consider selling it, but they weren't ready to part with it at the time (it had belonged to the landlord's mother). Now that their own baby was due, they were ready to let the piano go. I wasn't sure at first--Hannah has a piano at her dad's house, where she spends most of her time now, and I didn't know if it would really get played here--but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted that piano. It felt connected to my mom, to the song, to the last night I saw her, to the way she keeps visiting me now. If I was going to have any piano in the house, I wanted it to be that one.

So now we have a beautiful Baldwin Acrosonic piano in our home, and Asher loves playing it (as you can see above). I love the way the sound rings through the house--big and rich, reverberating through my heart strings. It sounds like pain. It sounds like love.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy 1st Birthday, Asher!

One year ago exactly, I was one hour away from giving birth to my beautiful baby Asher. How has it already been a year? How has it only been a year? Haven't I known Asher forever? Time is such a strange thing. Especially in a year like this, the most epic, transformative one of my life.

I love this picture of Asher with my dad over Asher's birthday cake--they've had such a special connection from the very beginning, and this photo captures it beautifully. As Thanksgiving approaches, I can't help but remember last year's holiday; Asher was about 90 hours old, and my dad was 90 years old. The three of us took a nap together, me between them--I have never felt myself to be "middle aged" more powerfully or sweetly than that moment, sandwiched perfectly between someone so new and someone who has seen almost a century of life. Asher's newness has brought the whole family a healing freshness that has helped us weather our season of loss.

Asher, I'm so grateful for your sweetness, your curiosity, your knowing, your humor, your pure, simple, profound love. Thank you for bringing us joy, so much light, when we've most needed it. I love how you've always loved light, from the time you were a newborn and would stare and stare at the light framed in the high bedroom window; I love how "light" is one of your first words now--you radiate it, my sweetie boy. Happy, happy birthday--I can't wait to watch you continue to grow, to learn, to shine.

Friday, October 22, 2010

"It sucks"

I have been so moved by and grateful for the "It Gets Better" campaign started by Dan Savage and his husband, Terry Miller. I hope it will give countless LGBT young people the strength to get through profoundly difficult times. I wore purple on Wednesday to memorialize the young men who have recently killed themselves and support the end of anti-gay bullying; I wear a lot of purple anyway, but on that day--which was also Michael's birthday (interesting that three of the most important guys in my life have October birthdays! Happy birthday, sweetie!)--it felt especially meaningful. I was purple as Violet Beauregarde, all the way down to my skivvies. I felt as if I was wearing it to memorialize my mom, as well as the young men. I felt as if I was wearing it for everyone whose lives have been touched by suicide.

I wore purple again today--it didn't have any significance when I first got dressed, but now it feels appropriate. I found out today that a friend's father killed himself last night; earlier in the week, I learned a friend from college took his own life. My heart is aching for the families of both men, for the shock and grief and complicated emotions they are suddenly forced to face. I wish I could tell them it gets better--because it does, but then it gets worse again, and back and forth, and nothing is ever quite the same. Maybe a campaign for those who have lost loved ones to suicide could be called something like "It sucks". I think it's important to acknowledge how much it sucks, because it's not spoken about enough. It sucks big time. But you'll get through it. And you'll learn, and you'll grow even though you'll fall apart from time to time. And there will be people to support you, whether they're wearing purple or not. That's one of the biggest gifts I've received through the chaos of my mom's death--the support that's come from sometimes unexpected places. I hope that's what those touched by these recent suicides will find--steady arms to help guide them across newly unstable ground. I am reaching mine out now.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

belly dance

Belly dance is my salvation these days, my creative outlet, my connection to the world. Because of life with a baby, I haven't had as much time to write as I would like (or email--if I owe you an email, please know I'm not ignoring you--I'm just woefully behind.) Somehow, though, I seem to be able to find time to dance.

Until 2008, the last time I had performed as a belly dancer was when I was six months pregnant with Hannah, seventeen years ago. Then, shortly after I separated from my first husband, my incredible friend Nancy invited me to dance with her troupe. It was such a generous gesture--dance was a way for me to work through all the confusion and grief of that time, and find my way back into my body. Belly dance continues to be such a lifeline for me; the women I dance with are, too.

One of my most powerful dance experiences was last weekend, when Nancy and I performed a "pre-funeral party" for the father of a friend; George knows that he is dying, and wanted to host a celebration of his life, surrounded by his many friends and loved ones. It was such a beautiful event to begin with, and the best audience I have ever performed for--I have never felt so much love and joy radiate from a crowd before. At some point, George joined the dance (you can see him above in his motorized scooter festooned with a smiley face balloon); later we invited others to join us, as well, and most people were shy, but below you can see the young man with Downs syndrome who grabbed my hands and led us into some wonderfully spirited twirling.

Nancy had been encouraging me to choose a dance name (hers is Saahira; our troupe is Saahira's Gypsy Soul). I had originally decided upon Ghaliya, which I liked because of its similarity to Gayle, but then I learned that it is also a type of lamb stew, and it didn't suddenly didn't seem as appealing. I ended up choosing Nasheeta, "full of life", the night before we performed for George. I have to say that most of the time I don't feel so lively--I am exhausted and overwhelmed a fair amount of each day--but when I dance, the energy kicks in, and my heart opens up and I feel fully alive, so in that way, the name seemed like a good fit--certainly something to aspire to.

At George's celebration, his daughter came up to us and told us that her dad had wanted the party to be about life and she was so grateful for how much life we brought to the event. It made the name I chose feel all the more meaningful.

Lately, a snippet from a poem by Wyatt Townley has been running through my head--"We are here so briefly, weather/with bones". Why not take that brief time, this transient weather, and dance?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy 91st birthday, Papa!

Happy birthday to the most amazing 91 year old I know (it's wild that the picture above--one of my favorites--was taken 41 years ago!) I don't know how I got so lucky to be your daughter. Thank you for teaching me kindness, teaching me playfulness, teaching me goodness (not to mention the proper way to toss a salad) :). I am humbled and inspired by your example, and love you with all my heart.p.s. Your harem sends their love, too. We are all so glad you were able to come watch us dance on Saturday!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Happy 20th birthday, Arin!

I can barely believe it's been 20 years since I first became a mama. Happy birthday to my amazing son, Arin. May you always be as exuberant as you are in this video (thanks to your beautiful girlfriend Prany for putting it together). I love your zest for life, your kindness, your all around wonderfulosity. Thank you for being who you are--I love watching you soar.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

laying Jette to rest

The real reason for our trip, of course, was to lay Michael's mom's ashes to rest. I can honestly say that I have never experienced a burial as a "laying to rest" before now; when I have seen coffins go into the ground, I've always felt a sense of panic and claustrophobia that had nothing to do with rest. When we scattered my mom's ashes in the harbor, they bloomed and billowed under water, full of motion; I can't think of them resting, per se, because they're part of something so dynamic and grand. But Jette feels at rest, at home, now.

I have never seen such a beautiful cemetery--it felt more like a garden than a graveyard, so green and lush, each family's plot surrounded by its own little row of hedges. Michael tells me that when he visited Denmark as a child, his mother would always take them to the cemetery to visit the family plot; his great grandfather had been the mayor of Struer and has an impressive headstone (which you can see below). The small hole waiting for Jette's urn was surrounded by coral colored roses and sunflowers; it looked festive and inviting, more welcoming than any grave I've ever seen. While there was a heart-aching finality to the burial, there was also a sense of homecoming, of her being where she wanted to be, where she belonged.
Earlier in the trip, we stopped at the amazing Roskilde Cathedral, which was originally built in the 12th century and has been the main burial site for Danish royalty since the 15th century. One of the more contemporary tombs incorporated three sculptures that so perfectly captured the experience of grief, I was brought to tears (you can see one of them behind Michael and Asher.) I was also brought to tears, for other reasons, in the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona, but I'll write about that and more of our trip in another post. If there was a statue above Jette's gravesite, though, it wouldn't look like this. Michael and I have talked about maybe putting a small stone sculpture of a bird on or near her grandfather's stone to represent Jette, something peaceful, something that looks like it's home.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Our journey

We've been home for about a week and a half now, and already our trip feels like a dream--a dream full of vivid sensory detail that sneaks up on me during the day, nipping at the edges of my thoughts.

It was a beautiful trip, as meaningful and enjoyable as I could have hoped (even with the brain-crushing jet lag.) Here are some scattered memories that I'd like to capture before they slip away...

--Asher's baptism the day after our arrival. I never imagined I would baptize one of my babies, Jewish heathen that I am, but it is a tradition in Michael's family, and we thought it would be cool to honor that tradition in the same historic Copenhagen church where Michael and other members of his family had been baptized. We approached it in the spirit of family ritual rather than religious significance; thankfully the priest understood that's what we were doing (and knew that I was Jewish) and he didn't get lecture-y and dogmatic about it at all. I couldn't understand the service (which is probably for the best) but Michael tells me he asked the babies if they wanted to get baptized in water or Fanta, so it's clear the guy had a sense of humor, too. :) Hannah's job was to wipe the holy water from Asher's head after the sprinkling; she said that she liked to think of it as wiping away the baptism. I must say I was relieved to hear that the baptism doesn't "stick" unless the person is later confirmed; otherwise, as my sister joked, Asher would get awfully lonely in heaven some day. ;) It was actually a very sweet experience; the priest asked the whole family to put our right hands on Asher's head to bless him after the ceremony, and it was a lovely moment of honoring our sweet boy (who was a champ of a traveler throughout our trip.)

(here's Asher getting the baptism wiped off) :)

--The Danish tradition of eating bread slathered with a thick schmear of butter and a thin slice of Havarti for breakfast. I find myself craving it now, but the butter here is nothing like the butter in Denmark, which was so incredibly rich and creamy. They say the Danes are the happiest people on earth; I have a feeling their cows are the happiest, too (despite the whole California "Happy Cow" campaign. I've seen the packed, depressing cattle yards here; those cows have nothing on the cows that dot the Danish countryside.)

--As long as we're talking about food...the pastries. My favorite quickly became the Danish Crown with vanilla cream and thin slices of hazelnut. I tried it in several different bakeries, and do you know where the best one was? The 7-11. Shocking, but true. They had the freshest, yummiest pastries there. Now why don't they carry these at the 7-11 down the street?

--And okay, since we're still on the subject of food...the fruit. Sadly, I didn't get to eat as much of it as I would have liked. We passed many amazing looking fruit markets, and I kept telling myself that I wanted to try the spherical little strawberries (I've never seen anything like them) and the tender looking Santa Maria pears, but somehow it was never quite the right time to pick up fruit. Our first meal on the airplane home featured a fruit plate that had one of those little round strawberries, though, and while I'm sure it was not as delicious as the more fresh ones in the market would have been, it was yummy (best airplane food I've had, for sure.) A funny thing about the naming of Denmark, oranges are called appelsin, which confused me on menus. Also, pineapples are called ananas--at a buffet (and wow, the Danes create lots of beautiful buffets), there was a pitcher of ananas juice, and I was surprised to learn it was much more acidic than banana juice would have been!

--My favorite meal of the trip had to be the dinner we had at Michael's cousin's restaurant, Blue Bird, in the Danish countryside. Klaus had taken all the tables in the small, lovely space and created one giant table down the center of the room, then covered it with candles and a gorgeous feast he had made for all of us and some of Michael's other relatives. I felt as if I had stepped into a gorgeous foreign film as we passed large bowls around and clinked wine glasses and communed.

Okay, this is getting long, and I'm tired and there's still so much to tell, so this will have to suffice for now. Be on the lookout for a non-food-related (well, at least lesserly-food-related) post about the rest of our trip soon. :)

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Tomorrow morning, we leave for Denmark to bring Michael's mom's ashes back to her homeland, and inter her in the family plot. The reason for the trip is sad, but I hope it will be a beautiful, meaningful journey. I am eager to meet Michael's relatives and learn about this part of his history, Asher's history. Hopefully Asher will weather the plane trip, jet lag, etc. with his usual aplomb. Arin and Hannah will be traveling with us, as well (Arin's actually been in Europe since early August, visiting his girlfriend who is studying abroad.)

We are also taking a short side trip to Barcelona, which feels like a way of honoring my mom, as well. She loved Barcelona the one time she visited, and had been wanting to take a large family vacation to Spain to explore our Spanish roots (supposedly her father's family emigrated to Russia from Spain with some time in England in between.) I am sorry we'll be there without her, but I know she'd be happy that we're going at all (even though we're not going to live out her fantasy of trying to reclaim the Bailen Castle!)

I don't know if I'll have a chance to post while we're away, but hopefully I'll have some stories and photos to share when we return on the 31st. Be well!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Annie Oakley and Family

When Michael and Asher and I were up in Sacramento a couple of weeks ago to promote Delta Girls, we happened upon an old timey photo place. Since Michael and I first met doing a production of Annie Get Your Gun, we thought it would be fun to do a portrait as if Annie Oakley and Frank Butler had a baby (they never did, although they were spouses for life.) Here is the resulting picture--isn't Asher a natural cowboy? :)

Monday, July 19, 2010

First Anniversary

It's hard to believe it's been one year since our wedding--in some ways, it feels like it just happened last week; in other ways, it feels like a whole lifetime ago. So much has happened in this last year, my head spins just thinking about it.

Happy anniversary, my sweet Michael. I look forward to sharing the top of our pear cake tonight (hopefully it will thaw out in time!) and many delicious years to come.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Shadow Dancers

Some friends used our house for a belly dance rehearsal last week. After we got Asher to sleep, Michael and I came downstairs and added our own little background touch to the dance (I had no idea he was doing this until I saw the video!)You can get a bit of a glimpse of our crazy house in this video in addition to our crazy dancing. :)

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Today, I got a pedicure for the second time in my life. The first time was four years ago, when Hannah was about to graduate from sixth grade. She wanted to get a pedicure before the graduation, and when I brought her in to the nail place, the receptionist asked if I wanted a pedicure, too, and I thought, why not?

Today's decision was more pre-meditated. Two people--my sister (who I get to see tomorrow--yay!) and a dear friend both mentioned getting pedicures within the last week; my sister put it in the context of taking care of herself, and my friend said that she felt reborn afterward. I felt I could use a little of both. I definitely have not been focusing on self care since the baby's been born, and I am feeling the repercussions of this deeply. I am tired and achy all the time, and am really not doing anything to remedy the situation. My feet, especially, have been paying the price. Every morning, it takes them a while to get going. They are stiff and sore and heavy, as are my hands when I wake up. This concerns me greatly--I worry about arthritis, I worry about potential loss of movement (although I hope I'll always find a way to dance, to write.) I finally set up an appointment to see a foot doctor in a couple of weeks, but I wanted to do something else to take care of myself, something to thank my body for all it's been doing, my body that feels like an unfamiliar home these days. Something, too, to celebrate Entertainment Weekly calling Delta Girls a "best new paperback." If that doesn't call for a pedicure, I don't know what does.

I was worried I wouldn't find a place open on the 4th, but the first place I called, a place I've noticed a few blocks away, said to come on in.

Soaking my feet in hot water while sitting in a massage chair was lovely. I loved the foot and leg massage. I said yes to a bunch of extras they offered--foot mask? Bring it on. Leg waxing? Sure; my legs, which I only shave sporadically, had grown pretty weedy. The only thing I didn't agree to was eyebrow waxing. Three different women asked if they could do my shaggy, untouched brows. Looking at the thin lines above their eyes, I had to say no.

The pampering brought up a lot of stuff for me. Feelings of guilt, of unworthiness. Feelings of vulnerability, of exposure. Feelings of missing my baby and husband, my big kids, too. And feelings of missing my mom. With the baby, I don't get a lot of time to just sit quietly with my thoughts, and my brain quickly filled with a wild rush of emotion. I thought of how my mom used to get pedicures, how that's something she and I never shared together, since I generally shy away from such indulgences. I found myself wishing that she and I could have gone to a spa together, wishing that I could talk to her about having my second pedicure. Every song that came on the radio seemed to be about missing someone, and each note just about tore my heart out.

The women there took great care of me. When I told them I had a seven month old baby, they turned more tender; my scruffy feet suddenly made more sense. I spent much of the time there holding back tears; I probably should have just let myself cry, but I didn't want to have to explain. As soon as I got in the car and called Michael, though, the tears began to flow.

I know I need to take better care of myself--go to sleep earlier so waking up with the baby doesn't take such a toll, go to the chiropractor, etc.--I just hope I'll be able to do it without guilt. Maybe as my pearly green toenail polish (which looked better in the bottle than on my feet, I must say) starts to chip, I'll remember that I need to do a better job of keeping myself whole.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Hannah took some pictures today

Here are a few of my favorites. :)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Today would have been my mom's 71st birthday. We reached the six month anniversary of her death over the weekend, as well, so it's quite a charged time, full of grief and remembrance. Our own series of memorial days.

It's hard to believe that it was just one year ago that Michael and I made this video to honor my mom's 70th. I'm so grateful that my dad encouraged me and my sister to do something extra special for our mom's birthday (my sister put together a gorgeous album of our mom's younger years.) We took a brunch cruise around the San Diego harbor to celebrate, and even though Michael got a bit sea sick, I remember it as a festive and delicious day. I'm glad her last birthday was a good one.

I have been meaning to write about our new house, and I will with a later post, but I do want to say that every day I feel sad that she'll never get to see it, and every day I feel grateful for the work we're able to do on the house thanks to her thoughtful foresight.

May this post be a virtual candle to honor her birthday and share some of her light.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Asher, sleeping

Asher recently started flipping over onto his tummy to sleep. I was worried about this at first--I keep hearing that babies should sleep on their backs to reduce the threat of SIDS, plus the second night of tummy-flipping, we were staying in a hotel with a big marshmallow of a foam bed and I was worried his face would get swallowed up--but my sister assured me that once babies start turning over on their own to sleep, they're ready for it.

I love watching Asher sleep (I love watching him awake, too. I just love watching him, in general.) Since he was born, his arm has been a barometer of the depth of his sleep. He will often fall asleep with his arm sticking straight up, perpendicular to the bed, as if he is hailing a cab. As he descends into slumber, the arm lowers to the mattress, sometimes with such incremental, controlled slowness, it looks like he is doing yoga, or maybe even a Noh dance. It is amazing to me that a baby's arm can have such controlled and graceful movement, especially while it's fighting gravity. Sometimes, though, his arm will drop to the bed with a sudden thud, and the thwack of it will wake him back up.

Now that he is sleeping on his tummy more, the arm-as-barometer isn't happening as often. I'm going to miss it when it's no longer part of his sleep repertoire. It's funny how I'm already nostalgic about Asher's babyhood; I was at a store today and sighed when I saw the three month clothes. It all happens so quickly; I can't believe he'll be six months old soon (and he's already wearing 9 month outfits). My sweet slumbering boy.

Monday, May 10, 2010

My two sons

Mother's Day

What a bittersweet Mother's Day this was, so soon after Michael and I both lost our moms. We wanted it to be a meaningful day, so we had our soul sisters Nancy and Jenn and their older daughter Britt, and Michael's sister Mette and her two boys over for breakfast and a tree planting. Michael had dug a 4 1/2 foot hole the day before, and we dropped the placenta from Asher's birth at the bottom (Nancy and Jenn had been storing it in their freezer for us. We originally had it in our own freezer, but Hannah refused to eat anything in the fridge while it was there.) I said a few words about how the placenta had nourished Asher and now it will nourish the pear tree we were about to plant, and thus nourish and mother our new home (and all of us) in the process. Jenn had bought the pear tree for us shortly after Asher was born, and it had been sitting forlornly in a pot in our old front yard for months; it looks much happier now in the soil (which we enriched with the worms and compost from our vermiculture bin.) I hope we'll be able to take good care of it--I haven't had much luck with plants in the past, but this one is very important to me.

Later in the day, Arin came over (so good to be with both my sons--the big one rocking copious facial hair, the little one rocking his first two teeth! My girl was off gallivanting with my sister and her family in Toronto; her flight gets in later tonight--I am excited to see her and learn more about her adventures.) Arin helped me unpack some of my mom's paintings in the basement and we brought the one above up into the living room. My mom had titled it "Death and Transfiguration"; each letter represents a loved one who died (her parents, six of her brothers and one of her sisters, all connected with bloodlines on the canvas, and a young love). I had never noticed before that the letter G, for her mother Gertrude, is covered with gold, metallic paint, while the other letters are all more of a matte mustard color. It felt meaningful to discover this detail on Mother's Day--my mom was very close to her mom and considered her her guardian angel. It makes a lot of sense that she would make her mom's initial shimmer. That glitter takes on extra meaning for me because the book I'm working on about my mom (more in my head at this point than on the page, alas) is tentatively titled Golden--the title has nothing to do with the painting, but now the painting makes it feel even more apt.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I miss you.

Monday, March 22, 2010

RIP Jette

My mother in law Jette passed away tonight, two days after a catastrophic heart attack. I never could have fathomed that Michael and I would lose our mothers within four months of one another. Both of our mothers could be difficult women, but they were our mothers, and they loved us, and we loved them, even in the midst of complicated relationships. When you have a mom, it's as if someone is standing between you and the cliff's edge; being a motherless child, you have a better view of the abyss. I am grateful we are here to shelter one another, to give each other the love and support and nurturing we need to turn away from the cliff, feel the sweet ground beneath our feet holding us up.

I have to admit, it took me a while to warm to Jette. I adore my former mother in law and miss her terribly, and Jette was nothing like Patricia. Jette could be cantankerous and opinionated and intolerant and fearful, and I often had to bite my tongue around her. But my heart started to open to her over time, especially recently. Jette had really turned a corner in the last couple of months, had started to be more positive and active in her life. She began an email correspondence with me about a month ago, and through those emails, I could see a side of her I hadn't seen before, a lively, thoughtful side--her humor really came through, and her love of language and literature, and her deep love for her family. I am so grateful I had that window into her spirit (although I did catch glimpses of it before. She always lit up around Asher, and he lit up around her, too--he always smiled and laughed when she shared Danish rhymes and songs. And of course she raised a beautiful, wise son.)

Michael has been amazing through this whole painful experience, strong and philosophical and tender, letting himself feel the whole gamut of emotions he needs to process. He feels some peace knowing his mom is at peace now, and knowing that her life ended on a high note. And like me, he is so grateful we have Asher to help us get through this time of grief. After my mom died, a friend told me that Asher was born to be a healer. It certainly feels that way now; he brings us so much joy, even in the midst of the most wrenching experiences. He was like that even before he was born--if I started to feel worried because I hadn't felt him kick for a while, he would give me a good jab, almost as if to let me know he was okay. Of course I don't want to saddle him with the burden of always being there to reassure us--he is here to walk his own path, not bolster ours. I hope it will take him to amazing, fulfilling places. He is four months old today, and has another cold, which is worrisome, but all in all, he is such a robust, thriving, happy, hilarious boy.

Michael said something today about how with our mothers gone, we have to really grow up, to become our fullest selves. A challenge I know we are up to, even though it feels a bit scary, and very sad.

Rest in peace, Jette.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

good thoughts, please

There is so much I've been wanting to blog about lately--my new book (out this past Tuesday), the work we're doing on our new house before we move in, etc.--but I've just been too busy to post. Now I am popping in to ask for your good thoughts. My husband Michael's mom Jette had a heart attack this morning and is on life support now. We are reeling and numb all at once. Thank you in advance for your support (or tak, I should say, in Jette's native Danish.)

Monday, March 15, 2010


Until I have a chance to post a real blog, let me leave you with this picture Hannah took of Asher today. :)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


My sister was just in town from Toronto for a few days; it was so wonderful to be able to spend time with her and my dad--our time together after my mom's death was so intense and profound, both painful and beautiful, and we all needed another dose of that communion.

Her last night here, she and Asher and I were driving back from dinner, and my car started to stutter and slow on the freeway. My gas light had been on for a while, so I figured I must have run out of gas (which made me feel like a dodo, especially since my sister had asked if we should stop to get gas at the start of the drive, but I assured her we had enough to get back.) I coasted to the shoulder of the off ramp where the car conked out completely. It was a long off ramp, and we were near the top, so cars were whizzing past us at freeway speeds as they exited, rattling the car, rattling my nerves. Asher was asleep in his car seat in the back, blissfully unaware, while I imagined cars smashing into us.

"We should probably stay in the car where we're strapped in, huh?" I said to my sister, who agreed. A seatbelt might not do a whole lot if a car going 70 hit us while were were parked, but it seemed better than being completely unprotected. I called Michael, who said he'd come get us. Then the hazard lights turned off, and the interior lights started to fade after I turned them on so drivers would be able to see us, and I realized we were dealing with issues beyond an empty tank; I was worried that people wouldn't be able to see the car, so we got out and stood on the edge of the shoulder, which probably made us even less safe. I asked my sister if we should climb down the embankment next to the ramp, but she wisely noted how steep it was, and that it probably wasn't a good idea to pick our way down it in the dark, carrying a baby. Asher had woken up, hysterical, before we got out of the car, but being out in the cool night air calmed him down (of course I worried about him getting too cold after getting over pneumonia--he's doing much better, by the way--but we had a little blanket to cover him up.) We eventually decided it would be safer to just get back in the car and put our seat belts back on, so we did, much to Asher's distress. I sat in the back with him and tried to stretch the seatbelt enough to be able to lean over and nurse him in his car seat, but unfortunately that didn't work.

Michael was taking a lot longer than I expected, and I was getting more and more rattled by the huge trucks barreling past us, so I gave him a call. He had stopped to put gas in a gas can, but something was wrong with the can so he had to get a new one and no one at the gas station was able to open it for quite some time. He was on his way, though, and would be there soon.

It was such a relief to get into his car after he pulled up, but as soon as we started to drive, gas fumes began to choke us. We cracked open the windows, but the smell kept getting stronger. "Do you think it spilled?" I asked; Michael pulled into the driveway of an apartment complex to check. Sure enough, the trunk of the car was full of gas. We got out of the car again and sat on the curb of the driveway as Michael tried to clean the gas out with a towel he happened to have in the trunk. I didn't feel right putting the baby back in the car with the fumes, so we called a cab company, which said they'd have someone pick us up in about twenty minutes. As I huddled on the curb nursing Asher, I imagined I looked like a refugee, but then Michael smiled and reminded me "This is a comedy, not a tragedy" and even though I had been laughing, mostly nervously, throughout the experience, it sunk in that he was right. We would be home soon, safe. This was just a comedy of errors (unless someone walked by with a match near all that spilled gas. I couldn't seem to get my worrying self to quiet down completely).

The cab showed up and my sister and I hooked Asher's car seat into the back and piled in on either side of him while Michael drove the fumy car home. The cab was warm and the driver was nice and my sister and I sunk back into the seats, laughing, and then crying about our mom a little, and soon we were at my house, safe and sound.

I realize how many times I've used the word "safe" above, and how scary it felt to think our safety was compromised. I think about my mom toward the end of her life, when she thought she was being followed, being poisoned, being drugged, being sabotaged, and it breaks my heart to think of how afraid she must have felt. Going through her house afterwards, I found a letter she had written to one of her neighbors when she thought another neighbor had installed some sort of surveillance equipment on their roof to monitor her. "I feel unsafe", she wrote toward the end, and that simple sentence has haunted me. It was awful to feel acutely unsafe for about an hour, but she had started to feel that way all the time. We'll never know exactly why she chose to end her life--her last note to us wasn't suicidal; in fact she was asking for more time to prove her allegations--but I have to take some comfort in the fact that she is no longer afraid.

Friday, February 19, 2010


One powerful thing about experiencing personal pain is that it can open us up to the suffering of others (that's the exact definition of compassion, actually--"to suffer with"). I am grateful that CODEPINK let me write this week's alert about Afghanistan in my own voice. You can read it here and hopefully follow the link to write to NATO to ask them to stop bombing innocent Afghan families.


Salon recently ran an essay about a woman's experience with PTSD following childbirth. It was only about a year ago that I realized I had a touch of PTSD myself following Arin's emergency c-section 19 years ago; I used to have obsessive thoughts daily about the c-section and everything leading up to and following it (especially waking up in recovery not knowing if I had a boy or girl, not knowing if the baby was alive, the recovery nurses not knowing, either.) It got better over time, but it was really only Hannah's birth, three years later, that healed that situation for me completely.

After reading my last blog, a dear, wise friend suggested that I might have some PTSD following my mom's suicide. I hadn't thought to label it that, but it makes perfect sense. Her death and all that led up to it were definitely traumatic, and I've had similar obsessive thoughts about it since. Another dear, wise friend told me that I had been blindsided by my mom's death and often when people are blindsided, they become hyper-vigilant, hence my sudden germ phobia. This also makes perfect sense. There is a therapist in Redlands who does eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, which is supposed to be helpful for PTSD (yet another dear, wise friend found this very healing after she couldn't stop thinking about a murder across the street from her house); I may give it a try.

Asher's cold has morphed into pneumonia, which is so scary--in fact, it's one of the things I had been most afraid of. As a writer, I often want to move toward the things that scare me most, but that doesn't mean that I want life to hand me the scariest things! He is doing remarkably well, given the circumstances; he is still full of smiles much of the day, which is a huge relief. We caught it fairly early, so hopefully the antibiotics will kick it in the butt now. The doctor also detected a heart murmur, which he said could be from a small hole between the chambers of Asher's heart. Of course the thought of anything being wrong with my sweet baby opens up a huge hole in my own heart, but the doctor and my dear, wise midwife sister have tried to reassure me that this is common and usually self-healing and I shouldn't lose any sleep over it (unfortunately I already have, but then again, I lose sleep much more easily than I find it). He wants us to see a pediatric cardiologist once Asher is feeling better, and hopefully that visit will set all our hearts at ease. I'm pretty tapped out in the trauma department as it is.

In happy news, it looks as if we're set to close escrow next week. I'm very excited! I so look forward to being in the new place and making it our own, a place of comfort and calm and fun, a house that will embrace us through every season of life.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Asher has been feverish this week, and I've been a nervous wreck. He's doing okay--the doctor at Urgent Care (the first doctor he's ever seen in his life) thinks it's just a cold; his ears are fine, his lungs are clear, etc. I should be relieved, and a good portion of me is, of course, but I find myself catastrophizing the situation, thinking of all the horrible things that could happen to him. I did this to some extent when Arin and Hannah were little (I remember having awful obsessive thoughts about accidentally stepping on Arin with ice skates when he was a new baby) but it seems worse this time around. I have become a real germaphobe, freaking out inside if someone coughs near him or touches his hand and he puts his hand in his mouth before I can wash it. I want to keep him safe and healthy and happy and it makes me crazy that I can't protect him from everything, that all it takes is a tiny little bug breathed in at a supermarket to wreak havoc.

Of course I realize that this is coming from dealing with the utter chaos of my mom's death (and the weeks preceding it, which were also chaotic and scary as her delusions got progressively worse). I find myself wanting to keep things as simple as possible now. My nerves are still so raw, so blasted open, and I cringe at the thought of any further upheaval (plus it breaks my heart to think of Asher suffering in any way.) I have never been the type of person who wants to be in control--I have always been more of a go-with-the-flow gal--but right now I want to be in charge, be a superhero, keeping germs and other mayhem at bay with the force of maternal fierceness. And I know there is little I can do but remember to wash our hands. We are ultimately so small in the face of the world, a fact which often gives me comfort, but which also sometimes creates a hole for me to fall into.

Suicide of course is an attempt at control. A way of choosing one's own fate. It's been hard today to hear about the suicide of Alexander McQueen (my daughter's favorite designer) especially because he chose the same method of killing himself--hanging--as my mom. I imagine his death was more premeditated than my mom's, which appears to be have been an act of desperation, in a parking garage far from home, but it's similar enough to give me chills (and the fact that he did it so closely after his own mother's death gives our stories a strange connection, as well. Not that I have felt suicidal since her death--if anything, I feel more of a mandate to LIVE, as fully and openly as possible now.) There is so much pain in the world, and ultimately the desire for control leads to more pain, I believe. But how can we not want to keep our loved one's safe? How can we not do whatever we can to keep chaos at bay for as long as we're able? We offer infant Tylenol, offer a breast. We whisper and sing words of comfort. We pace the floor for hours. We wait for the fever to break.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I have moved three times in the last two years. It looks like we're about to make it four.

This Sunday, we found out that the offer we had made on a house in Riverside was accepted. We were having lunch with my dad in Oceanside at the time, about to bring a U-Haul tuck to my mom's house to pick up the things we wanted to keep before the estate sale. Michael and I had spent several days sorting through drawers and boxes and closets, an experience both painful and enlightening; it felt like an archaeological dig, excavating what remains of her life. I found I was looking for clues, evidence, some hint of when her mind started to turn against itself. I brought boxes and boxes of papers and old photos home with me to do further excavation, further inquiry. I doubt I'll find any definitive answers, but I want to flesh out her story for myself as much as I can.

It breaks my heart to think that my mom will never see our new house; it's a pretty amazing house, much bigger than anything we thought we could afford. It was built in 1939 (the year of my mother's birth, which I find comforting--it makes her feel connected to the place) but was redone in the 70s, and has traces of that decade throughout (including four of those foresty photo wall murals I coveted as a kid; the whole place feels like a ski lodge inside.) The night after we first looked at the house, I had a dream I was in the kitchen there, and received a note from my mom. It was a note from her true self, not the delusional and paranoid person she had become at the end. That felt comforting, too--it also gives me a kind of memory of her in the space. And the fact that we found out about getting the house the day we had the U-Haul truck feels important, too--I was able to take some of my childhood furniture that we wouldn't have kept otherwise, since our current house can't accommodate it. It almost feels as if my mom helped orchestrate the deal; it certainly feels bashert (Yiddish for "meant to be". Another reason it feels this way is because we had been looking for a house to buy in Redlands for months without any luck, but we found this house the first day we started to look in Riverside). Of course we still need to get through the home inspection, etc, so I don't want to get ahead of myself, but for now, it seems to be moving forward. It should be a fun house for Asher to grow up in; lots of space to play and dream.

I'm not looking forward to the actual move, but I've done so much moving recently, I know it will be okay. In December, I realized that I had experienced so many things that are on most people's "most stressful experiences" list since the previous December. Between those two Decembers, I had officially gotten divorced, moved twice, gotten pregnant, gotten laid off, gotten married, given birth and lost a parent. And now we're adding buying a house to the list. I definitely have more white hair to show for all of it, but it's been a good--and nearly continuous--reminder that life is about change, that nothing stands still (but we can still remain standing in the process. And life is full of beauty even in the midst of the most devastating changes.)

Monday, January 11, 2010


It's been seven weeks since Asher was born, six weeks since my mom died. Time has become strange--a crawl and a blur all at once. I often don't know what day it is. We're doing well for the most part--Asher is amazing; he has started to smile and coo and continues to bring us so much joy, even in those moments of heart-stopping grief that have a way of sneaking up on us.

I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support and love after I announced my mom's suicide; it has buoyed me more than I can express. I owe a lot of you emails and phone calls and Facebook messages; please forgive my lack of communication--it's been hard for me to keep up with everything, both because I have a baby in my arms most of the time and it's not easy to type one-handed (as I'm doing now) but also because I've been in cocoon mode and doing anything beyond nursing Asher and talking with my family and remembering to eat every once in a while has been overwhelming. I'm starting to feel as if the fog is lifting and I'm more ready to be part of the world again (the picture above is from Asher's first outing to a park this weekend), but it's going to take a while to catch up with everything. I'm so grateful that UCLA and Antioch were understanding about my decision to step away from my online teaching obligations this quarter--it was a difficult decision to make (I love teaching, love my students) but there is no way that I could have kept up with the work right now.

There is so much more to share, but maybe I'll wait until I can type with both hands. Please know that I'm doing okay and am so thankful for all of the kindness I've received. There have been many gifts in these last few intense weeks; your support is among them.