Letting Go

6 01 2013

December was a hard month for me. It was the culmination of my grief, not just of losing my mother, but of losing my whole family, really. Technically I have family still, but they are far away, literally and/or metaphorically. Growing up my family was the center of my world, and, while it wasn’t really a huge family, it felt big for all the love that was there. Holidays, birthdays, other events or not-even-really-anything-in-particular throughout the year, my family would gather and we’d laugh and fight and hug and make memories.

And then my grandma died. And we tried for awhile to stay close. And we did. For awhile. But then my grandpa went into a home and everything was different. And then there were various fallouts with various members of the family. And then my grandpa died and he was the last thing holding us all together. I am close with some members of my family, but it is a friendship in some ways, not a familial relationship. Really, I am on my own in terms of holidays and birthdays.

The holiday season has always been my favorite time of year. The lights in the darkness of Winter, the warm homes in the coldness of the night, the entire world celebrating together. It is still holy to me for all these things.

For all the turmoil of my childhood, we had a solid holiday routine. We went to Christmas on the Prado every year at Balboa Park. We visited the Gem & Mineral Society where my grandpa often worked, we saw the tree display that my grandma had helped the Garden Club with, we visited all the free museums, we drank hot cider, we listened to the choirs. We’d go see our city’s Yule Parade. Us kids counted lit-up houses anytime we drove somewhere. My grandparents would haul the boxes and boxes of decorations out of the garage and my grandma would sing “It’s beginning to look at lot like Christmas,” at us while we figured out where to sit the elves and the nutcrackers. Christmas Eve was our big celebration. My grandma’s house smelled different on Christmas Eve; it smelled of warmth, of food, of coats piled on the couch, of branches cut from the coniferous tree in the back yard and trimmed with decorations and lights. We’d spend all evening pestering the grownups about presents even though we knew we’d have to wait until after dinner. At the end of the evening we walked a block to Christmas Circle to see the houses all lit up. Christmas day was quieter, just my mom and I. It didn’t feel as celebratory. I wonder now, if that was my mother’s own self-esteem, and anger at her life? I wonder now if I internalized that attitude and now need to reconsider it?

At some point in the last seven years my family stopped doing Christmas Eve. It was very painful for me, and I tried to fill it with a new tradition. I never really found one, but the pain dulled as time went on.

But I’ve tried to keep my family of origin alive all these years by holding on to the traditions I can hold on to. The kids and I go to Christmas on the Prado every year, we watch the parade, we still visit Christmas Circle.

As this year went on, I began to feel, more and more, as though I am the last. My kids don’t know my grandparents, and they, frankly, aren’t really interested in learning their stories. But even if they were, or grow to be someday, I couldn’t stop wondering what the point was, anyway? What is the point of passing on stories that will, eventually, be forgotten? Is it an attempt to keep my grandparents and family close to me? Is it a primal fear that someday I will be forgotten by my descendants as well? Is it a desire to have someone to share my history with, so that I am not as alone as I feel? I don’t know. I just know that it hurts to let go. And that I have a desperate need to not let go.

So December hit me hard. The kids and I went to Christmas on the Prado. And it was OK at first. But it is so very different from what it was when I was a kid. It’s far more crowded. There are lines to enter the museums. There are vendors selling crappy merchandise and scammy vacation homes lining all the walkways now. We pretend not to notice the carnival that sets up every year. So it was OK at first. But then we went to the art museum. And I’d told my kids before we went that I really wanted to enjoy it with them. But then they didn’t enjoy it at all. They sat on the benches to wait until I was finished. And that wasn’t what I’d wanted at all. What I wanted was for my family – my childhood family – to be there with me. It was unfair for me to expect that from my kids, from my life in 2012. But I expected it. And when I saw that I wasn’t going to get it, I left the museum. The kids were upset that they had hurt me, but I knew it wasn’t them. I wasn’t able to put my finger on it, though. Not for a few minutes. And then I named it: grief. I was alone. My family, at least metaphorically, was dead. I was an orphan. I couldn’t handle the heaviness, and I sat down in the place where it hit me, just across from Santa Claus in his sleigh, and I wept bitterly. I cried like someone had just died right at that moment. And when my tears were spent, the kids and I got up and did a few more things and I think they had fun. But I felt dead inside. And I realized that I have to let Christmas on the Prado go. And maybe everything else that ties me to my childhood.

And that was how December went. As with grief, some parts were darker, but others were lighter and filled with real joy. Last year I wanted desperately to have my home filled with people for our holiday, but this year I was content to make it a celebration with just us. And it really was beautiful; even if it was small, it didn’t feel empty.

I wonder if I can find a line between remembering where I came from, and living my life for what it is now? I don’t know what that might look like. For now I am sitting with the idea of my Alone-ness, and what it means for who I am and who I will be, both the positive and negative aspects of that. I feel like, as usual with grief, December was transformative for me. I am seeing things differently, and that means operating differently. I’m letting go, at least of some things, and that can be freeing and can provide a fresh start. Maybe 2013 is the year my life begins?


Meeting The Internet, Part 3: The Bloggess

16 08 2012

they set her up in the children's section

Why do internet-famous people only come here during the summer? Two summers ago we met Jen from CakeWrecks, and last year we met Dancing Matt. This week we got to meet The Bloggess, and check another one off our list. (We’re almost done meeting the Internet now, right?)

So the kids and I picked up my aunt and we met Summer and Katie at the bookstore. We left earlier than probably necessary because I am scared of north county and also traffic in north county. Once on the road I realized I hadn’t triple-checked to make sure I knew where I was going so there was a possibility of adventure. A possibility which did not pan out because, as it turned out, I did know where I was going. (I know. Weird, right?)


So we wound up in the front row and had actual chairs and everything. We chatted and ate leftover camping chocolate (leftover. chocolate. I know). At some point a bunch of people took a group picture of themselves with metal chickens. This is normal stuff for Bloggess fans (we call ourselves Lawsbians). As the time drew near, the guy in charge of setting this whole thing up made some announcements including one that was all, “Oh and if you brought children, you should be warned that there might be some material unsuitable for innocent ears.” At which point I was all, “DUDE. Who are these kids and why are they calling me mommy? I know them not!” And also? We were all sitting in the children’s section. When Jenny got there she loved that bit.


So she read a chapter all about laxatives and possible rapists passing her notes under her bathroom door. And Margie may or may not be scarred for life. She told me later, “I didn’t understand any of it. It was just weird.” Elliott, on the other hand (the child I was positive I could count on not paying attention because he was drawn into his Angry Birds game), laughed heartily every time she said the word “bathroom”. Apparently, when bathrooms are involved, he can multi-task extremely well.

margie, possibly scarred for life

And now let me back up about 25 years for a minute. There was a night when I was a kid when my grandma became obsessed with the idea that I needed to pick a vase to inherit. As a nine-year-old, vases weren’t really my thing, so I kind of didn’t care, but she wouldn’t let it go. I remember being a little bit freaked out, actually, by her incessant vase-pushing. Looking back, I realize she was probably a little drunk and honestly that explains a lot. Who else pushes vases on nine-year-olds? She eventually picked one for me and stuck my name to it with tape so that when she died, everyone would know to make sure I got it. Years later, after she passed, I asked my family if they’d found my vase. Not necessarily because I wanted my damn inheritance, actually. It was mainly to fact-check myself. But no one knew anything about it, so I assumed it was some weird childhood hallucination.

there's a story that goes with this

Until last summer. When I found it sitting in my mom’s house. Now, one could assume she simply hadn’t noticed the tape on the bottom of the vase. Except that I found numerous references to the whole story in her various angry letters to me that she’d written on her computer and/or the backs of paper plates. Luckily I’m barely even scarred by any of that. In fact, I keep the vase in my living room where I think of drunk, vase-obsessed grandmas, and angry paper-plate-letters and chuckle about it to myself. Fucked-up families are totally the funniest ones.

the vase

Anyway. Back to 2012. I’d already bought Jenny’s book on my Nook, but since you can’t really get that signed (or I guess I could, but it might be very confusing while I’m reading Anansi Boys), I decided to buy my aunt a copy of the book. And I was going to tell her that she better make sure I get it when she dies (cause, you know, family tradition) when I had a better idea. I could have Jenny write it in there. Jenny thought it was brilliant. As I knew she would. THIS is why we need to be BFFs.

it's a family tradition

Summer and Katie weren’t going to participate in the book signing portion of the evening so they headed out after the reading was done. I kicked myself for that later, realizing that they should have at least stayed to get a picture with her. Oh well. She promises to write another book. So next time. My aunt, missing my mom, was drawn to the fact that Jenny’s sister, Lisa, was there with her, so she made her hop in the picture with us as well.

jenny's sister, jenny, luanne, elliott, and me

It was a great evening. Laughter, scarring my kids for life publicly, chocolate, and, of course, meeting the Internet.

Don’t worry, I don’t stalk anymore.

18 07 2012

Legally I cannot tell you whose house I am standing in front of.

So last night I confessed on Twitter that I once stalked a celebrity. This was, for some reason, not only accepted in my family, but encouraged. I was also encouraged to stalk all the boys I ever liked, and unfortunately for them, I worked in the school office so I had access to their addresses and phone numbers. Also, I provided my friends with the personal information of their crushes. One year, on Rene’s birthday, we were picked up from school in a limo and we told the poor driver to drive past Howie’s house like 40 times. Poor Howie*. Poor limo driver.

The whole stalking thing is pretty upsetting to me now, as I can see it as a major invasion of privacy. My penance has been to mainly avoid celebrity gossip, and I’m certain that it will play a large role in my inability to ever approach anyone famous ever, even if they are at Comic Con and, at a table signing autographs FOR the fans. It just makes me feel guilty and stalky. I may be slightly neurotic.

Anyway, when I was a young teenager I saw a movie and it had an actor in it and I developed a crush on him. And, as we all know, I don’t do obsessions half-assed. I won’t say what movie because it’s embarrassing, but the actor went on to be in Empire Records and That Thing You Do. The names and places in this story have been changed to protect the innocent. We’ll call the actor “Ethan” because that is his name (I’m not very good at this, am I?), but we’ll change all the other names.

I knew, through extensive research (Bop Magazine), that he lived in Paradise California (the fictional one by the beach, not the actual Paradise out in the desert somewhere… which doesn’t sound paradisey at all), right on the beach, and that he surfed every day. So my mom thought a great idea would be to drive up there and go to the beach. My grandma was game, too. It was a good old family stalking road trip. Ah. Memories.

At some point we stopped on the way up, maybe to stretch our legs or something, I don’t remember, and my grandma and I walked down to the sand where I saw this graffiti which amused me. But my grandma controlled the camera that day and refused to take a picture of funny spray paint (frivolous!) unless I stood in the picture. Just look at that retro sports bottle. Probably filled with Diet Coke, because that is what I was raised on, and I didn’t discover other good sodas until high school.


The houses just above us in this picture all fell off cliffs the following winter. Because California does not handle weather very well. And rich people keep insisting on paying shit tons of money for houses that are just about to fall off cliffs. If I ever buy a house, you better believe it will be far away from cliffs. And valleys.

We arrived in Paradise and didn’t see him surfing anywhere. We did see a stretch limo truck, though. This was before every other limo was a Hummer, so we were excited enough to stop and take a picture of it (also with me in it, because, that’s how my grandma rolled) that I can’t currently find. *sigh* But we weren’t stalking Limos of Unusual Size, so we found a phone book and looked up Ethan’s parent’s names. Interestingly, we found his mom’s name at the same address as an office listed as his dad’s profession. BINGO. It wasn’t in Paradise, though. It was in Oxnard. (No, it wasn’t. I just watch too much TV.) Despite his dirty lie, we tore the page out of the phone book (you know, to protect him from dangerous stalkers. Also for a souvenir), and drove off to find the address.

Which, now that I am spoiled by GPS, I’m not sure how we did. But my grandma was a whiz with a map so I bet that’s how. (Before the internet, my grandma WAS my MapQuest. Also she did my taxes.)

So we find the address and, THANK GOD, no one was home. I don’t remember how we knew. Maybe we knocked on the door? At some point some neighbor kid came out and asked us if we were looking for “the boy from the movies” and we said yes. He assured us that the boy was “really nice” and then we took a picture of him, too. (But, dammit, I can’t find it right now. Maybe someday I will.) And also of some initials carved into the curb right in front of the house which were probably famous initials.


And then we drove home. With the phone book page. It’s dangerous to allow a teenage girl raised by stalkers to have the phone number of anyone stalk-worthy. I annoyed his family. Repeatedly. *sigh* At some point he wrote me a very nice letter, two pages long. His handwriting was small and neat. He told me about the movies he’d just finished and the ones he was about to start. In between the lines I think were the words, “Please, for god’s sake, leave me alone, you scary girl. Please?” And I think I did. But I’m not totally sure because all this happened 100 years ago. At SOME point I obviously stopped stalking him because I don’t even think I have that phone book page anymore. And also the area code probably changed like 67 times since then. Cause that’s how we roll in California. I also lost the letter he wrote me. We didn’t find it in my mom’s house, so it must have been lost for many years now. Or maybe it’ll turn up again. Who knows?

Years later, when I was in London (which I still can’t link to because I still haven’t written it) I halfheartedly tried to stalk Douglas Adams. I think I kept that phone book page, too. I am such a vandal.

But I’m done now. No more stalking (probably). So, Ethan, if you ever happen to come across this blog (which would be… surprising), I’m sorry. And I hope I’m not the reason you changed your last name. *cough*

*This particular Howie is not the Howie I currently know. Just to be clear.

The Jack Tygett Performing Arts Center: It Happened

29 01 2012

I wrote about this just over a year ago, our hopes that they would choose to name the brand-spankin’ new performing arts center after Mr. Tygett. And guess what?


It was a ridiculously difficult year, fighting against a biased committee and a corrupt school board. No, seriously. A few weeks after this was finalized, most of the school board was arrested. But in the end, we won, and the man I honestly feel is most deserving got his name on the building.

There was a celebration two weeks ago at the center. The day was declared Jack Tygett Day in all of San Diego county. People spoke or sang or danced to Mr. Tygett. We all cried a little at one point or several. The Chula Vista High dance group performed the chimney sweep dance from Mary Poppins for him and I think I will forever tear up at that scene from now on; it was beautiful.

i cried

After the show was over we got to say hello to our former teacher. Apparently he has moments of clarity among moments of confusion. When I spoke to him he was fairly clear. I told him I’d been his student in 1996 and he told me I looked familiar to him. He asked me if I’d gone on to do anything in the arts and I felt a little guilty to tell him I had not, but he seemed to understand that and he told me that most people don’t. He squeezed my hand and we took a photo together. I’ll always cherish it. Later when my friend Liz talked to him he didn’t know where he was.

After the ceremonies, and another tour of the building, we joined some alumni at a local pizza restaurant. It was like a mini-reunion, a chance to see old friends without the stupid politics and high cost of an actual reunion. We sat through a football game and a half catching up and then a few of us went and grabbed some coffee before finally heading home.


It was a magical day. Although, I suppose any day that can make me tear up at “Step In Time” would have to be magical. I’m so glad Mr. Tygett was honored the way he should have been. I’m so glad he was there to enjoy the celebration in his name. I’m so glad I got to see and catch up with old friends. Magical.

Stuff I Became Obsessed With, Part III

10 12 2011

Cause you know what I didn’t mention last time? Babysitter’s Club Books.

Oh, by the way, this is yesterday’s prompt. See? What was your favorite children’s book?Niki

Naturally, I had a lot of favorite books over a long childhood, and one of my first choices was to write about The Monster at the End of this Book because it’s still one of my favorites, but A) I just wrote about Muppets, B) everyone else seems to be writing about that one, and C) I’ve forgotten what my third point was, but I’m sure I had one.

So the next book that came to mind was The Ghost at Dawn’s House.

I read my first BSC book at a time when my life was probably getting quite hard. It was fourth grade, probably sometime after my mom lost her job and sanity. The first time I read one I was hooked. These girls had strong and deep friendships, they were responsible and smart and funny, and they lived normal lives. And so I read all of them. And then Ann M. Martin wrote more so I read those, too. And I read all of them many, many times. But none so much as The Ghost at Dawn’s House. It was my first ghost story and it was so scary (not so much it’ll make it into my list of Shit That Scares Me). I read that book until the pages started falling out. And, honestly, I have nothing much more to say about it now that I’m an adult because it’s kind of terrible. All those books are kind of terrible. I’ve tried rereading them. It hurts too much.

I should have written about Deenie instead.

But it was the BSC I was obsessed with. I remember somehow acquiring a map of Stoneybrook, the neighborhood they lived in, and pouring over it, wishing so much I lived there. To this day I can name you all of the Pike kids, quote you some jokes (“Let’s get them!” “Pimples?”), or tell you about the time they got stranded on an island. I even still want to go on a Disney World cruise someday, all because of the BSC. They got me through a hard time in my life, those fictional friends of mine. And they set the stage for a lifetime of fictional relationships, apparently.

A Letter From My 18 Year Old Self

28 10 2011

I haven’t been blogging lately because I’ve been burying myself deep in boxes and boxes (and boxes and boxes) of old papers. Of particular interest (not really) were all the phone bills from 1972-1979. And then I came across this letter. I remembered writing it and being quite proud of it, but I haven’t seen it for 15 years and I wasn’t sure what I’d think when I came across it again. Turns out, I was kind of brilliant even back then. (Also, I was just as humble as I am now.) The only thing I’ve changed is to leave out the last names of my witnesses. To protect the innocent, of course. Enjoy!

To whom it may concern,

I am sending you this letter in order to prove to you that I do, indeed, exist. It may or may not be hard for you to realize, or even comprehend this, but it is true. I hope that you, in turn, will attempt to confirm your existence for the rest of your fellow human beans.

The first example of my existing that I will give to you deals with witnesses. I have an uncountable many witnesses that can attest to my existence. Among them are Alejandra, Sofia, Melissa, Kathy, Tamara, Summer and my mom. You may question any of them as to the subject of my being, for, they have all, at one point or another, used their five senses to know me. A person can only know what exists via their five senses.

The second example I provide you with is this letter. A letter cannot spontaneously generate out of nowhere, it must have a writer. Just as a dinner must have a cook, a heater must have a heater-maker, and a dog must have a mom. Therefore I give to you evidence of my existence.

The third and last example of my being are my belongings. A non-existent person has no belongings, it would be stupid them to have any. A dead person may have some, but they, at least exist-ed. I have too many belongings and I therefore exist, I suppose, too much.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I hope this clarifies the issue of my existence for you, and I hope that you pass the word around so as to stop any ugly rumors before they start. Thank you for your time, and keep this in mind for yourself in case anyone questions your existence.


Birthday Party Pictures You Wish Belonged to You

2 09 2011

Back in the olden days of New Wave and sixteen channels available on cable and when we had to walk seven miles uphill in the snow* to the drugstore to have our photos developed on film which cost money so you’d only take like three photos at any given birthday party and hope for the best and not find out until several months later that they came out like, well, like these. Despite the length of that sentence I don’t think I ever finished it. But I ran out of breath. So: Back in those days you never knew what you were going to get.

(Fun thing to try at home: take out a toy or vintage camera and take photos of kids with it and then try to explain to them why you can’t show them the photo right away. Hint: It’s more fun if there are other adults around to laugh at how very old you are for understanding that there was Life before Digital.)

Anyway. These are some of mine.

Second grade:

The most horrific part of this birthday was clearly the cake. No. The most horrific part was my reaction to the cake:
i loved this cake so much it was creepy

I’m gazing upon it with such adoration you’d think rainbow fluffy bunnies** were about to hop forth from it’s creepy ruffly frosting loins. And this isn’t to say that my mom didn’t do a rocking job, because she totally did. But, as with so much of what we tragically considered awesome in the 80’s, the time for doll dress cakes has come, thankfully, to a happy end.

birthday with notes

This year’s photo was great. We all stood and smiled, Julia even waved. But wait. What’s Gina doing down there in the corner? Being awesome. I love her face so much I want to make that into some sort of icon and plaster it all over everything. I told her to make it her Facebook profile picture but if she doesn’t I might just use it myself. I am jealous so hard that it isn’t me being that awesomely… well, awesome.

But my first grade birthday party picture caused my mother distress. I imagine that around May, or whenever the roll of film was finished and returned, she opened it, expecting to see a photographic delight of six sweet girls all smiling just like we would if we were fictional kids on a soap opera. And, instead she saw this. And where I see so very many opportunities to laugh, she felt only frustration at our collective failure to be Perfect. And yet, I am pretty sure this picture wins some sort of prize for Best Birthday Party Photo in the Whole Damn Universe.*** I present to you… First Grade:

best birthday picture ever. with notes.

*Well, snow for you. It hasn’t snowed in my town since 1968. True story.
**Not possessed by demons.
***This prize is given out at the same time as the award for Most Gratuitous Use of the Word Belgium