Monthly Archives: September 2014

Happy Birthday, Daddy…

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Yesterday was my Dad’s birthday. I forgot all about it until my sister messaged me.  “He would’ve been sixty-five … and he would’ve been so grumpy about it.”  He hated getting older.

There was a short-lived period of time where I called him Pops. He nipped it in the bud immediately.

I always forget my Dad’s birthday.

Once, when I was in college I came home to find a message on my machine.

“Hello, Barbara, this is your father. I just wanted to call and thank you for the wonderful birthday card you gave me.  It’s so thoughtful and I love how you wrote that I was the best father ever, oh … wait … how embarrassing, this card is from your brother.  I guess I didn’t get one from you.  I’m sorry.  I guess I need to call my new favorite child.”

And then the message cut off amid snickering.

He was a funny guy. Each of us was his favorite.  He’d whisper it into our ears in front of the others by turns.  We watched him do it and, yet, believed him every time.

It’s been seven years since I had to write his eulogy. It took me a week before my pen would write the words “he was”, each day before my pen betraying me with “he is”.

I’ve had several dreams about him since he died.  It’s always a crowded space and he’s suddenly there.  And I run up to him to tell him everything, about how he’s a grandfather now, how I miss him, a new joke I think he’d like.  But he always hushes me and just beams with that quiet proud smile, never more proud than when he was speechless.  He’s never let me tell him anything.  He just smiles at me.

Happy birthday, Dad, you don’t look a day over fifty-seven.

I’ve got a new one for you:  “Why can’t you tell a kleptomaniac a pun? Because they always take things literally.”

Going Soft…

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I have a collection of wooden pebbles, bits of driftwood worn down until they’re round and smooth like stones. Due to some mystery of ebb and tide China Beach is where I find most of them.

I was searching them out the other day and began thinking about the mystery of being worn smooth, how more and more my edges become softer. I judge less, know less surely. More and more I shrug and empathize, yet have no counsel. More and more I cling to the person of God as judge because that means I don’t have to. Because I don’t know and I’m glad I don’t have to know. With all its exceptions and experiences, life has made me softer.

Mommyhood has made me softer, too. I have a soft Mommy belly where three kids’ growing bodies have stretched and pulled, kneading it soft, perhaps past redemption. I don’t know; I haven’t tried. I like being soft right now. I like when the baby lifts my shirt and lays his ear on my belly button as if he remembers, as if you can feel nostalgic at fourteen months.

Stretched and pulled like the sand between my toes, rocks kneaded soft by the waves. And then I saw the particles for what they were, bits and pointy edges worn off so many younger, surer stones. A beautiful long beach of opinions and viewpoints once held so firmly and discovered to be not quite as central as we thought. Not as central to what we believe, not as central to who we are, every one of them a moment of surprise when we discover it no longer attached and us still standing.

I’m enjoying being soft. I’m more comfortable and people are more comfortable with me.

In testimony I rub my fingers over my wooden pebbles without fear of splinters.

Women’s Lib…

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I kind of made an idiot out of myself in Bible study today. We were discussing the “wives submit” passage and I said a lot in favor.

But they didn’t know I was speaking with the passion of the converted.

They don’t know how many citations I got in elementary school for wrestling boys to the ground. Or the time I got sent to the principal’s office for pinching Ryan Progergevsky so hard he bled.

They don’t know that I organized and executed a sit-in when I was in sixth grade for equal rights for the girls. Or about how I disdained the idea of ever submitting to a man because I was never going to find one stronger than me.

And how would they know? Let’s face it, I’m pretty much a poster child right now for traditional gender roles. I’m a stay at home Mom of three kids, bringing in no income, and often, literally, barefoot in the kitchen. I’m emotional, hormonal, don’t touch the finances, and, indeed, due to the nature of his job often have no idea how much money is in the bank.

But the girl who once harbored the secret and dear ambition to be the first female player in the NFL did not become this barefoot Momma overnight.

You see, I exercised my biggest power in the most serious way when I chose my husband.

I found someone stronger than me, strong enough for me to break down on, strong enough to handle strong Barbara, and strong enough to handle weak Barbara. And he got someone strong enough to handle him, too. So, there.

I’m a scientist at heart, that is, I ask questions, experiment, and repeat. And I have tested again and again this whole “submission” thing. This is how it began:

We were about six weeks out from being married in a very fast engagement. I had long ago committed to being a virgin on my wedding night and it was looking like I may not make it. (He was hot!) I had an emergency session with a counselor who told me something radical, something that I would never hear culture say. He said, “Barbara, you gotta let him take the reins. You shouldn’t be in charge of that, he should. And if he can’t drive that cart then you don’t want to marry him. There are going to be a lot more difficult things in your marriage for which he’s going to have to take responsibility.”

So, I told James what the counselor had said and I felt the greatest weight slide off my shoulders when I followed it with, “So, now it’s up to you. You know how important it is to me to wear that white dress. And you’re in charge.” He laughed and shook his head. I barely got a kiss for the next six weeks.

And then I married him.

We have a rule in our marriage, we concede to whoever is the most adamant. Often it works well. Often one of us feels significantly more zealous. But, there have been a few instances where we end up head-to-head and toe-to-toe.

There was the time he made me turn around and apologize to our boss after I lost my temper in one of the worst ways. That job was our house and our income for months more because I apologized.

There was the time he told me not to take my dream job. And I scowled and pouted, but called and refused the job. And the day before the job was supposed to start my Dad died. I had been so glad I didn’t have to worry about work that week.

And then there was the time he looked at me and told me it was time to have kids. Within weeks we were pregnant with our son.

What is marriage if not the beautiful image of how love alone can make two discordant people one? Like God the Father and Jesus, two as one yet obedient to the Father. As the church and Jesus are co-heirs of an inheritance yet under Jesus’ head?

And what kind of weakness is it in me that wakes up first, serves every member of my family before myself, and doesn’t sit down until nine pm every night? What weakness is it in me that can trust in the face of the unknown, let myself breakdown with another human being, and be master of my fears with loving obedience?

I am not lost in these submissions. I am doubled. I am tripled. And I am better for my role as wife and mother. I am more complex. I am stronger.

So, I know I don’t look like I’m doing anything for women’s lib. But it really seems to be working great for Barbara’s lib.

Parallel Parking…

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I was going to rage. There would have been spittle as I listed every reason why I should not have driven across the city. If only I had taken the bus!

Yes, if I had taken the bus I would’ve been calmer when I arrived. Yes, if I had taken the bus a certain pedestrian enjoying her music would’ve been slightly less disgruntled on arriving home from work. Yes, if I had taken the bus I wouldn’t have had to park on Van Ness amidst heavy traffic in front of a suspicious man looking boldly into my backseat. I locked it three times as I walked away. But he didn’t budge. I left him there, right next to my car, checking out the car seats.

Because really, I haven’t been driving much these days.

The other day the kids were screaming at me that we were late for soccer practice. This is funny because none of them can tell time. Nor did I see any of them cc’d on the e-mail that told when and where the practice was to be held.

But they were right and so I took the first parking spot I could find. This required parallel parking and, please remember, I haven’t been driving much these days. I corrected and corrected until further correction was impossible and I was still not correct. All this time my kids, the clock reading savants, were increasing my urgency.

And then I realized I had performed all of this very embarrassing maneuvering right in front of the new soccer team, right there, on the other side of the fence, facing me, with our new team in between, already well into their practice.

I pulled out, found an anonymous spot out of view and acted for the world as if I’ve never seen or heard of a gold corolla in my life.

So, it’s been a tender spot. And then today I had to drive across town at six pm. And I was fully prepared to swear off driving in this city forever.

Until, on the way back, I saw the 38L driving back on Geary, double bus fully loaded and packed with citizens doing their best to internalize their personal space bubbles and be okay with it.

And I was SO glad I drove.

Bubbles and Wildflowers…

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On the day of September eleventh thirteen years ago I painted a picture of bubbles. I was twenty-one, still new enough to life to miss the greater significance of the day. I’m still not sure why I painted bubbles. I think I was trying to understand something that was both incredibly fragile and surprisingly strong, something like innocence.

In the same vein, there’s always been something about wildflowers that resonates deeply with me. They are delicate, inclined to fail quickly when plucked and vased. And yet, they grow in those rocky windswept places and thrive in the unirrigated fields, propagating themselves on nothing but the wind.

I’d like to think there is something in me like that.

San Francisco also continues to surprise. We went on a hike with some other Moms this week, a point on the map named Interior Greenbelt. I parked where I was told to, 17th and Stanyan.

“Is this it?” I asked out loud.

But Google maps had already told me my destination was on the right and would not deign to repeat itself. I was in the middle of a residential neighborhood. There was no park fence, no signs, just homes. I looked around until I saw it, a small wooden stair running narrowly up from the sidewalk between two houses.

And this is what was on the other side:

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Mt. Sutro is a eucalyptus forest crawling with blackberries, poison ivy, and red dirt right in the middle of the city.

This week I’ve been feeling a little mysterious to myself, discovering vast expanses inside me that I didn’t know existed. I’ve run into secret reserves of pride I thought were conquered; depths of resolve I didn’t know I had. And I am left feeling incredibly fragile and incredibly strong at the same time, like the bubble made of suds wrapped around air that somehow manages to make it past the gable of a peaked roof.

What a strange life this is. What strange creatures we are.