Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

A Half-Century

I was greeted with posters, potted plants and balloons around every bend. Beaming faces, banners and birthday music dotted the trail as friends and family members conspired to surprise me with an outdoor fiesta for my fiftieth birthday. Rob gave me a beautiful ring in a Tiffany box, following in the footsteps of my father, whose ritual present to Mom extended to me and my sister when we became adults. So Dad was there, too, in Rob's thoughtful gesture.

After more than a half-mile of gathering partygoers like pied pipers, we stopped at a colorful picnic table to toast and elbow-bump. The vaccinated among us even hugged. My family presented me with a priceless treasure, a book compiled from scores of letters, poems, and notes, embellished with photos of loved ones over the decades. A half-century of memories, backlit in bright pastels.

Fifty years may be short on the geologic time scale but it's lengthy for a human, for me. The breadth of my life now includes almost twenty-five years with my husband, almost twenty years of child-rearing, sixteen years with my friends in Colorado. I can look back over the landscape of my life and see the valleys that began with my mistakes, the torturous routes to climb back up to the heights, and the amazing individuals that stood with me along the way. 

As I attempted to tell my friends on Saturday, I have never spent so many years in one place, never been so vulnerable, so grateful for friendship that stood firm in the face of trauma, of near-tragedy. In joyful, yet heavy, gratitude for their support, I broke down in ugly tears that seemed at once out of place and yet totally fitting. 

The birthday miracles continued this week as I was able to fly to Montana to meet my mother and sister. They stood outside in the airport parking lot and I heard them shouting, saw them waiting, as soon as I burst out the doors into the wintry weather. After barely pausing to avoid a passing SUV, I threw myself into their arms and we stood blocking the path in a three-way hug where tears and joy once more danced a lopsided jig. Thank God for science, for doctors and nurses, as the vaccine made or reunion possible after fifteen months of absence.

My oldest younger brother surprised us that night, my sister mistaking him for an extremely late deliveryman and refusing to open the door. My Mom calmly walked to the door and unlocked it over Karen's protests, revealing John with a pink birthday card envelope in hand. Our collective amazement extended to the family zoom call yesterday, when John revealed himself in the background of our screen, to the shock and awe of remaining family members.

I can't help but compare this milestone birthday to others. I hope that I'm less selfish now, more loving, humble and aware of my own frailties, more forgiving of others'. I hope to regain some of the childhood confidence that I've lost over the past two decades of raising kids, to cultivate the creativity that's been subsumed by planning and list-making. Mostly, I hope to continue building friendships, spending time with loved ones, and holding gratitude for the ties the bind.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Mourning for Boulder

"Having someone taken through gun violence, surviving gun violence oneself, even hearing gunshots tears at our basic sense of safety, of security and of self."  - Madison Armstrong and Jennifer Carlson, New York Times

"The massacre in Boulder this week, which took the lives of ten of our neighbors, was an act of genuine evil carried out by a single individual. But societal evil flourishes whenever ordinary citizens surrender their moral duty, courage, and collective imagination to resist it for the sake of the common good." - Rev. Mark Feldmeir, St. Andrew UMC, weekly email, March 24,2021

What to say?

My daughter told me about the active shooter situation as she walked from class to home on Monday. "Don't worry, Mom," she said, "I'm safe. It's across town, and the police are on the scene." Aden knew the police were on the scene because one of her classmates had attended their meeting via Zoom, and the noise of sirens in the background drowned out her comments. The professor had to ask the young lady to mute herself, for which he later apologized. 

Aden's classmate lives across from the King Sooper's where a lone gunman murdered ten people.

Another of Aden's friends had been grocery shopping at the location, and left five minutes prior to the first shots fired. My daughter spent a long time on the phone with him on Tuesday, and with two friends who grew up with one of the young people who was killed. 

"It's harder for them," she said to me. "It's their first time."

It isn't her first time, or mine. The Arapahoe High School shooting occurred down the street from us when Aden was in (a nearby) high school, and she lost three classmates to suicide her senior year, including a childhood friend. She's angry, and sad, and numb. Rob and I spent several shaken hours responding to texts, phone calls and emails from family and friends asking if Aden was safe. Yes, I said, and no.

My Facebook feed thrust ironic memories at me whenever I braved the app this week (to ask politicians to act on guns): photos of Aden and I at the Denver march for gun control in the wake of the Parkland shooting. The juxtaposition of past and current events did little to calm my inner unrest. Nothing has improved in the last three years, despite marching, voting, protesting, and writing.

Supposedly, a large majority of America supports common-sense gun regulation. We support it, but we don't care enough to replace elected representatives who don't follow through. There's no political incentive for most Republicans to come out in favor of an assault weapons ban, or even for extended background checks. 

Why? If we care about our broken society, our traumatized young people, our sense of self, we need to vote politicians who will take weapons of war off the street in to office, and we need to fire politicians who do nothing to stop the unending massacre of our citizens.

This is normal in America, but it should not be normal. It should shock, wound, sadden, and steer us to action. Where is our will, I wonder, when my young daughter says to me, "it's worse when it's your first time"?

Monday, March 22, 2021

Monday Confessions

I've been mostly awake since 3 am when the snowplow cruised down our side street, throwing out it's bright red and white lights. It was snowing when I went to bed, and the forecast called for anywhere from 2 - 6 inches overnight. Uncertain snowfall complicates my Monday morning coaching gig. 

Not knowing whether I would be outside or inside, or whether I should cancel entirely, my stress level penetrated my dreamscape. In my nightmare, I was chewing on my mask in the middle of CostCo, horrifying surrounding shoppers and my own subconscious ('you weren't wearing the mask?!'). In reality I was just chomping on my bite guard, but this panicked pre-dawn wakeup kept me hyped on adrenaline until it was time to leave for the pool just before 6:00.

The downward cascade of actions resulting from lack of sleep:

- Plugging in my race-day psyche music just to summon energy to run errands and get my hair cut. The pounding beat of Evanescence certainly surprised the nice older lady parked next to me at the salon.

- "Borrowing" my son's Pre-workout powder to survive my own swim practice. That was my fourth shot of caffeine, which combined nicely with the bass of my soundtrack to give me intense jitters and make it difficult to tie my sneakers.

- Smuggling my green avocolada smoothie into the house inside of my swim bag so the boys couldn't see it.  I could rationalize one special drink for lunch but didn't want to spend the extra $20 for everyone else to get one, too. As a result, I had to finish it in my bedroom, but I thought the subterfuge worthwhile.

What mother smuggles a drink into the house under a wet towel so her sons don't notice? This one. I'm all out of excuses. The boys probably won't ever read this blog post, so if you don't tell, my secret is safe.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Spring break, Spring forward, or Something

Rob and I moved to Denver from California in 2004. For over sixteen years I have known the time difference between Pacific Standard Time and Mountain Time - one hour. That's not a hard number to remember. On Wednesday, however, this pedestrian fact slipped my mind and I was convinced that my 3:00pm (PST) Zoom call would take place at 5pm my time. As I headed out the door for my afternoon walk around 4:00, my subconscious mind broke through the mental fog with a frenzied flag-waving: "Check the time! The call is now, you dummy!" So I raced to the computer to Google "What time is it in California?"

A new low, my friends. Not only did I have to Google the present time, but I narrowly escaped missing the family Zoom call. I abandoned the walk, slipped behind my desk, and pretended I was on top of things. (I didn't fool anyone, partly because I confessed within the first five minutes). Has my mind gone on spring break with the boys? Blame it on spring break, spring forward, or on the year anniversary of COVID life. The newly extended daylight strikes me like a slap in the face, as I stagger around every evening bleary-eyed, wishing it was dark so I could just go to bed.

I'm tired of making decisions about the health and well-being of my family every hour of every day. This re-entry period when vaccines provide hope is almost more difficult - mentally - than extreme lockdown.  We let our youngest go on a small mission trip to southwestern Colorado with church this week, despite some fear of his contracting the virus en route. Last summer we pulled him from both his mission trips, but I couldn't cancel again. He was excited to go, and we needed a break from him sitting at the computer, phone, or video game console at all hours.

Next week our older son heads to a swim meet in Phoenix. All of his big meets since February 2020 have been canceled, and this may be the only chance he has to race at sea level, for... well, ever. Despite lingering fears of infection, we said yes to that trip, too We're tired of saying no. I don't know if we're right or wrong, but we had to make a decision (yet again) and this one seemed like a no-brainer. Which is a good thing, since that term accurately describes me at our present moment.

We're all hanging in there, clinging to hope yet concerned about letting go too fast, too soon. Something about the emotional fatigue, the decision overload, has temporarily short-circuited my brain and required a great deal more coffee. At least it's Friday, and I've almost adjusted to the time change. When I can't blame spring break or spring forward any longer, I'll just have to fire up those neurons and force my brain to work once more.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Shoveling Out During the Big Melt

My apologies to Colorado meteorologists for doubting their accuracy. Winter storm Xylia delivered Denver's fourth largest snowfall and left tens of thousands of people without power, as well as many stranded on roadways. Despite arriving a day late, the storm dumped over 27 inches on our city and more in the surrounding areas. On Sunday morning, when the rate of snowfall was greatest, it felt as if we might be buried alive. 

Aden and I went out to snowshoe on Sunday afternoon when the wind and snow had died down, braving the slap of wind and stinging snowflakes to the face in order to tramp through our white greenbelts. Unsurprisingly, we saw three other sets of people out on snowshoes and a handful of folks walking their dogs. This is an adventurous neighborhood where no one stays cooped-up for long. Upon our exhausted return we tried to shovel the walkway to our front door and remove over a foot of snow from the cars parked in our driveway.

Yesterday, "the day after" or "the big melt" depending on who you read, saw neighbors out in force to dig out vehicles and clear driveways. In our family, we tag-teamed shifts with the shovel; wet snow weighs a ton and Rob and I aren't spring chickens. We should have sprayed the shovels with Pam or other cooking oil to keep them slick, but instead resorted to banging them against the nearest tree to dislodge snow, thereby releasing heaps of snow onto our head and shoulders. The brilliant sunshine reflected off high drifts, made us blink like startled owls, and the birds sang their delight at clear skies.

This morning I have a hard time lifting my arms above shoulder height and my back is telegraphing unkind messages. Rob slipped on ice toward the end of the day and fell, landing in a frigid puddle and worrying his bad knee, but he seems unharmed this morning, or at least unwilling to discuss his shoveling injuries. Last night I confessed to him that shoveling out was more than just physically difficult, it was emotionally tricky to let go of our family-full three days of sheltering at home. 

Shoveling out after a storm is like going back to old routines after isolating and distancing during the pandemic. Though I miss our comings and goings, resuming our normal calendar means saying goodbye to Aden, heading back to the grocery store, and picking up with our modified rat race of activities. I need some psychological equivalent to cooking spray to grease my mental shovel and clear my way through the blockade of pandemic restrictions and forward to our new life.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Winter Storm Warning

Denver and its surrounds were supposed to be smacked upside the head this weekend with a whopper of a winter storm called Xylia. First projected to start Friday night, the slow-moving storm didn't actually get going until Saturday at noon, and nothing "stuck" until Saturday night. We viewed anticlimactic green and brown lawns through our rain-streaked windows until last night, when the temperatures dropped below freezing. Now we have a pretty accumulation of fifteen inches but it's far below the three feet that meteorologists projected. I'd love to have a job where I could be wrong much of the time and still be richly rewarded in salary and side-deals.

Grocery store shelves were empty by Friday and suburbanites suffered post-traumatic stress as the run on groceries recalled the pandemic terror of a year ago, when shoppers around the country rushed stores for canned goods, cleaning products and toilet paper. The pandemic has created a scarcity mentality in us - or at least in me - when I'm in fear of serious repercussions much of the time. When the worst has actually happened, there seems to be no reason for it not to happen again.

I convinced Aden to stay with us this weekend as her roommates were going to be out of town and Boulder was projected to get at least two feet of snow. She rolled her eyes when she came downstairs yesterday and saw the bare roads, but made the best of writing a paper in her room and whipping up chocolate chip cookies after dinner. We played music and games each of the last two nights, recalling the days of March 2020 when we felt alone in our sinking ship and made the best of it. 

After the past twelve months, I may never lose my instinct to circle the wagons when a threat emerges. My senior son, William, warns me that he is not coming home once he sets off for college, and tells me not to expect his presence during future emergencies. I cross my fingers and secretly hope that he ends up in Boulder with his sister, so I can at least get updates on his health and wellbeing from an outside source. Though I really do want the kids to grow up and away, become more independent and less stressed as time distances us from the COVID year, it's difficult to return to my pre-pandemic mindset of trust in the universe. Not every disaster is anticlimactic, and at the moment I'm in a state of suspended animation, waiting for the other meteorological shoe to drop.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Interview

 "It has always been easier to elevate one family to a fairy-tale life of luxury than to do the dreary work of elevating every single family to a decent standard of living." Hamilton Nolan,, 3/9/21

I didn't watch Oprah's interview with Harry and Megan, though the fact that I use only first names in this sentence indicates their widespread following. Many millions of people did watch as both Harry and Megan described racism and persecution from members and staff of the royal family. I was, and I am, irritated by the constant news articles around this family drama, though headlines pop up frequently in my feed, so I must jump at the click-bait often enough. And, I'm writing about it now so I admittedly follow the drama despite my irritation.

The most interesting fallout appears to be the damage to the monarchy. As Hamilton Nolan writes in the NY Times, it's easier to worship one family, to read the fairy tale, than to actually lift up families on the ground with more basic struggles. The monarchy is an expensive distraction, and Harry and Megan succeeded in shattering its burnished image, one that has had serious cracks since the tragic death of Harry's mother, Diana. The institution is outdated and insulated, self-preserving and unnecessary. One thing Americans did right, says Nolan, is to abolish the monarchy in this country (not that we don't have plenty of other problems).

Megan also took her hammer to the idea that marrying a prince ensures a woman's "happily ever after." Again, Diana's sad story fractured this idea in the 1990s, but Megan has really shattered the myth. There's no prince, no fortune, no family that will guarantee one's happiness. Sometimes - many times - a woman is better off alone. In this case, Megan's prince got her into the biggest trouble of her life, though he also helped to get her out of it. 

But there's no "get out of jail free" card for any of us. In the Bible, all God promises us is that we will face trouble. S/he also says that we will not be alone, but that's the sum total of comfort offered. Harry and Megan have sundered bonds with one family and institution, and all I can think about their interview (aside from the fact that Oprah made a ton of money) is they wanted to reach out and connect with new people, in new ways. Fairy-tale marriages aside, we only survive this life in connection with others, though living in a family or any community is messy and difficult, we cannot go it alone.

Saturday, March 6, 2021


 We've had the "quarantini," the "quaranteam," and now the "quarantinaversary," a bittersweet notation of one year in the bored/panicked/sad/hysterical timeframe since COVID first upended our daily lives. For those who have experienced great loss, for whom the time has been purely bitter, I am truly sorry. For the rest of us, who have experienced inconvenience and fear but averted catastrophe, we recognize our fortune while at the same time wrestling with an amorphous sense of loss. 

Our children have lost some of their education as well as socialization skills and abilities. Cherished rites of passage such as baptisms, confirmations, proms, graduations, birthday parties have been moved, removed, or observed in stripped-down, somber variations of the normal. We all miss loved ones, physical contact and a sense of optimism. 

But that optimism is creeping back, sending smoke signals above the horizon, which we might see when we venture out of our homes and bunkers. Many members of my masters swim team have vaccine appointments and on this sunny Saturday morning they compared notes about which vaccine they will receive, and when. My sister got her first vaccine last week, in the nick of time before the kids come back to school. In our district, all of the teachers and staff will be fully vaccinated and safe two weeks before they bring the children back to middle school and high school full time, to finish out the school year with a semblance of normalcy.

So this anniversary marks not only our sorrow at a troubled year but our perseverance in conquering its obstacles. We helped those in our communities, we celebrated health workers who toiled beyond the limits of human endurance to help us, we elected a new administration and embarked on a more hopeful path. Every person reading these words has struggled through difficult days, clawed his/her/their way out of bed when bed seemed like the only safe place, and made the world just a little bit better for those around them.

As we mourn those we've lost, as we recognize the trauma felt by a nation, we can also celebrate our strength and collective determination. We can proceed with caution, with masks and distancing, even as we allow the bubble of hope to swell within us and buoy us through the remaining struggles of the pandemic. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Tears at Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's employees are some of the friendliest folks you will meet in public, especially during the pandemic. The cashiers and baggers never fail to say hello, ask how my day is going, or comment on my food choices. The gluten free chicken tenders always get a comment, I think one young man has told me three times how he likes to eat them in a sandwich with the gluten free waffles.  So I was surprised yesterday when the women checking and bagging my groceries talked furiously to each other and failed to notice me for several minutes.

After filling a bag full, the blonde lady at the cashier looked me straight in the eye and said, "I'm sorry - how is your day going?"

Reassured that our regular programming was now on track, I replied that my day was fine, the weather was lovely, etc.  Then my cashier said, "My youngest son just surprised me in the checkout line."

Her friend, who was bagging the groceries, added, "She didn't know he was coming. He just surprised her with a visit from California - showed up in her line out of the blue."

Blinking back tears, the blonde said, "I haven't seen him in over ten months. He's the baby of the family, and when I first saw him, I almost didn't recognize him. I mean, I wasn't expecting to see him!"

Now all three of us were in tears. I exclaimed over her wonderful surprise and expressed my wonder that she was still at work. Her friend said, "I keep telling her to go home!"

We laughed, wiped our eyes and looked back down at the groceries or payment kiosk.  "I haven't seen my mom in over a year," I said to them. 

"Me either," said the woman putting my bananas on top. 

It's a solemn thing, to tolerate the absence of our loved ones, and a joyous one to reunite. As my family members start to get vaccinated, we all hold on to hopes of a gathering this summer. As my brother says, "I miss us. I need my mom's real hug." I hope we can all feel those arms around us soon.