The Neighborhood Table

Kindness tip for the week:

He's the Man!

It’s okay to ask for help.

Allowing help gives a chance to shorten the distance between loneliness and a life shared.

A few Christmases ago I asked for a new kitchen table, the current “table” was about to disband into dust. The Husband, Keith, found a very cute table and chairs at Wal-Mart online. It was delivered with “some assembly required” about a week before Christmas to our neighbor Jeff’s house.

We have the family Christmas Eve dinner at our house. The four ‘fancy’ plates we got for our wedding come out to play for this night because there is never a worthy occasion to use them. Since we only have the four, it takes awhile to make the table look like it was arranged with a plan in mind. I spend about an hour, choosing the tablecloth and napkins, setting the table, arranging the seating and centerpiece until we can all fit, if we keep our elbows in, and I’m reasonably happy it looks magical. After baking and cooking all morning/month I thankfully disappear to finish wrapping presents behind closed doors while something cooks slowly in the oven. Egg Nog may, or may not, be invited in. Every year this is my schedule. Every. Single. Year.

This particular Christmas Eve, as soon as I closed our bedroom door to tackle speed wrapping, a silent mayhem began in the kitchen. The Youngest,Talia, having memorized exactly how the table was set, took everything off as quickly and quietly as she could, The Husband and The Oldest, Hannah, immediately sent four texts to neighbors who were on stand by to help assemble the table and chairs, run them to our house, silently set them up in our kitchen, dispose of the old table and chairs while The Youngest perfectly reset the new table to look exactly like the old one as fast as was safe.

I heard nothing.

The crew all excitedly waited in the kitchen for me to come out. Two hours later, I did. By that time, the neighbors had left and everyone else was annoyed with me. I didn’t notice the new table for way too long, even with all the beaming faces glaring at me. Since everything looked exactly like how I left it…no need to comment.

Finally, The Youngest sarcastically bellowed, “NOTICE ANYTHING DIFFERENT IN THE KITCHEN??” I looked quickly around from my perch in front of the sink, “Ohhhhh! New chairs!” This was met with a simultaneous group sigh. If I just hadn’t gone with a tablecloth that year, I would have seen the new table and we would hardly remember this even happened.

The whole Christmas Eve shenanigan uprising is priceless to me; the new table that wasn’t crumbling down, the group effort with their commitment to sneakery (should be a word), The Husband who had the thought and generosity to pull this off, the family that is sheltered at this table. Buying anything large at that point in time was a huge committment, even though we needed it, we still were anxious about the choice. It was a screamin’ deal though.  My husband propped up a poem he found in the middle of the table. I still can’t read it without tearing up. (You can read it below.) The words in this beautiful piece, gave our lives purpose and comfort that a table is a worthy investment.

This gift was way more than a new table from Wal-Mart. It was a step back to barn-raising’s and a step forward to neighbors taking care of their own in times of flooding and fires and shootings and innocent Christmas magic.

We can never get rid of this table.

Try to love your time with your family this week and with all of those who have landed near you. In my experience, time together as a family went faster than I could fathom. Well, on most days, some days time actually went slower than originally fathomed.

Do you have a story? Please share it! Everywhere! A positive story can change the course of any day.

The poem that was placed on my magical Christmas table:

Perhaps the World Ends Here

BY JOY HARJO

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

 

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

 

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

 

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

 

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

 

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

 

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

 

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

 

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

 

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

 

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

Where we learn to be human. And the fancy plate is the first one on the right. 🙂
“Perhaps the World Ends Here” from The Woman Who Fell From the Sky by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo.

Neighbors For Good

I see a world where we continually define ourselves by the way in which we are divided.

Our family moved to Chandler, Arizona from Los Angeles 18 years ago. We found a nice house we could almost afford in a safe neighborhood. My husband and I had two small daughters at the time. I suggested leaving L.A. the day helicopters were hovering over our house bellowing repeatedly through a blow horn for everyone to lock all doors and windows and stay inside. An armed robber was thought to be hiding in one of our backyards after shooting the owner of our corner grocery store. I love LA, but life in Chandler has been way less “survival of the fittest.”

The first day of house shopping brought us into 20 identical, beige, stucco houses in 20 different neighborhoods between Scottsdale and Chandler.

Amazed at the lack of trees or anything green and the sheer amount of people that chose to landscape with beige rock, I decided we should stay in LA and  take our chances. But, we tried one more house, at the urging of our eager realtor, and there, gleaming like a diamond rising up through beige stucco were the most beautiful cherry wood cabinets. We would never be able to afford cherry wood in LA, so we moved. And stayed. And planted grass and trees and painted our house a rebellious taupe. We still live in the same house we bought 18 years ago in the Fox Crossing/Ocotillo neighborhood of Southern Chandler. We landed in such a good place.

Here is what I have grown to love/sometimes find annoying about living in our ‘hood:

OUR NEIGHBORS!

Across the street is Danielle’s family. Danielle calls me on occasion just to see if there is anything she can do for me. I teach her daughter how to play the piano. Danielle and her husband helped us move furniture we inherited from my sick mother into the house at an ungodly hour one Saturday morning. Their son has rescued our flight risk of Chewiethedog at least 3 times just because he saw her fun by his driveway. On his own initiative he hopped on his bike and ran her back home. He’s not that old. This family inspires me to reach out beyond my driveway. Every neighborhood needs a Danielle and fam.

Jeff and Katie are the neighborhood welcoming committee. Friendly, always ready to lend a hand or a tablespoon of chillies, and well, they’re so much fun. Jeff own’s a pool service, works early hours, comes home for lunch and is frequently home to play with his kids when they’re done with school. He loves his stunningly beautiful and wise wife, Katie. Katie, Jeff and Danielle are incredible examples of, well, the perfect neighbors. So, I’m trying to be that too….it’s a work in progress.

Here on our cul-de-sac we are divided by fences and garages, politics and income, interests and age. But, I’ve noticed that here on our little street we are better defined by our similarities. We are all humans, we are all a part of a family, we are all neighbors.

If you had told me when I was 10, 20, 30, that I would want to live in a suburb one day, I would’ve never spoken to you again. But now that I’m here I see that suburbs are essentially good, and therefore valuable. We take care of each other here. We are defined by the commonality of being alive.

Neighbors are anyone who you happen to be standing near. For today, I’m going to define myself as a neighbor first and try to let the rest of the crap go, i.e.: politics, interests, keeping up with the Joneses, age…barking dogs (not that our dog doesn’t bark too).

It’s nice here in Fox Crossing. I’m so grateful the cherrywood cabinets yelled at me.

Is your neighborhood this nice? Do you like your neighbors? Do you want to like your neighbors? I’d love to hear how your ‘hood is working out for the good of it’s inhabitants.

If your neighborhood is not this nice, I suggest that you through a party in your driveway and invite every single neighbor. We have a fire in our driveway for Halloween and place invitations on every house the week before. It’s been a game changer. If you try this, let me know how it goes!

This is Jeff’s business! Hayden Pool Service! He’s really good at this stuff! If you call him, tell him I sent you.

Thanks for stopping by for the read.

“Hi” never started a war.

My Name is Mom, Not God

This is the same story as told in: “It’s Been Five Days Since You Left, But We’re Still Here and You’re Not and It Is So Quiet.”  But, I sought help from Kevin McGeehan and this is how it evolved. I just wanted to put it out into the world beyond the one storytelling event I was brave enough to enter. Which was my event. I produced it. So, not really all that brave.

A different take on the same event:

There are six of us in this tiny space: proud grandparents, anxious parents, Hannah-the-Freshman, and Talia-the-supportive-little-sister who is singlehandedly organizing what appears to be a closet. Everyone is shoving “necessary” items wherever they could fit, except for me. Overwhelmed by debilitating fear I am useless in this chaotic room. I just stand in the middle of chaos clutching my favorite pair of Hannah’s shoes. All motherly devotion seems irrationally transferred onto these shoes. 

I’m jolted out of my inertia when Hannah’s new roommate, Christine, suddenly pitches into the room, drunk. Christine, all tanned boobs and short shorts squeals “HANNAH!!!” and lunges forward on her stiletto’s to give Hannah an insincere hug. Christine is the embodiment of every parental nightmare: a partying freshman roommate. The predator.

  Not knowing what to do, I do what I do best. Freeze. This is not my first time lost in motherhood.

When Hannah was a week old she got an audition for a commercial. At the time,  we were actor’s living in L.A. Hannah booked the job and at ten days old shot a national commercial.

  She was adorable during the casting: alert, quiet. Perfect. On the day of the shoot though, she wouldn’t stop screaming. I didn’t know what to do, I just stood there, frozen, listening to her cry and wincing at every dirty look from…everyone.

After what felt like a few years had passed, the director called to “remove the crier.” A surely assistant director handed her over like a bag of squid. I grabbed her, ran out into the hallway and clutching her to my chest begged her to forgive me. I didn’t rescue her. I’m the Mom and I blew it. When her gasping sobs stopped, I held her out to look at her scrunched up little face.

 I swear she smiled at me. I stopped breathing for a second. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. “I promise I will never leave you.” I swore this would be my last mistake as Mom.

  18 years of mistakes later, the day has come to move out of her childhood home into her freshman dorm. On the sidewalk in front of our house, a sobbing Hannah could not let go of Andrew, the-stunned-soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend. About to attend universities in separate states, it didn’t look good for the long run.

  Hannah and Andrew dated during their senior year and, of course, he asked her to the prom. Hannah bought her dress with her own money, a sparkling, soft pink, strapless gown. It cost four times what I was willing to pay for a prom dress.

  I bought her shoes, and because Andrew is not tall, Hannah, in a shocking turn from her usual CFM’s was determined to wear flats. We found a pair of Steve Madden sandals with rhinestones imbedded in clear plastic straps and a beige plastic sole. They looked pretty cheap in the box. But when she put them on the clear plastic straps disappeared and the sparkles wrapped around her feet as if held on by magic. They were the most beautiful shoes I’ve ever seen.

I borrowed them once. I felt magical. For a moment, Hannah and I shared these pretty, pretty shoes. In a moment, I must relinquish the girl with the memory of a sweet dance in beautiful shoes with a handsome boy.

  Back in the dorm room the magic shoes seem cemented in my fist. The perfect place to leave them doesn’t exist. Christine might want to borrow them. Christine could ruin the shoes.  

  Of the two girls who are about to live in this dorm, I love one so very much, but I relate to one of them so much more.  I was Christine when I was 18. I know this enemy. It used to be me.

  Without looking at anyone other than Hannah, Christine slurs “Nice to meet you” to the room in general and is gone as fast as she came. Watching Christine leave I realize I have no control over this situation. I probably have never had control over any situation ever. Because I am only Mom. Not God.

18 years ago I had no idea she would be the one to leave.

  I step on the printer to climb over the mini-refrigerator and sit next to her on the long, single bed. I reluctantly hand her our pretty, pretty shoes. “Please. Stay. Strong.  Do not lend these to Christine. I would like to see them again.” Hannah just laughs, “Mom, the shoes and I can both stand up to Christine.”

Our time is almost up. “If you ever need anything Hannah, you can always come crying to me. I think I’m ready for you now.“

  Out in parking lot the proud grandparents drive away first. The sobbing, mascara stained sisters cling to each other as our existing world changes forever. There is nothing my husband and I can do to ease the pain of their separation. We can only stand aside and watch. What I want to say to my pair of beautiful girls is, “I promise I will learn to let you go.”

What I actually say as I hug Hannah goodbye, “Take your vitamins and be gentle when you break up with Andrew.”

  College, it’s the real world transition for the parents, not just the kids.

Shoes pictured are not actual size. Or the actual pair mentioned in post. Just really pretty and very similar to aforementioned sandals.

 

It’s Been Five Days Since You Left for College and We’re Still Here, But You’re Not and It Is So Quiet

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Soooo…my 18-year-old daughter moved out last Thursday…The daughter who graduated with high honors and was voted “Best Personality” of her senior class. The first child. The test kid. The experiment in parenting. The first heart to leave the house for longer than just a week away in L.A.

You know – the moment I’ve waited impatiently for through 18 years of living with the “best personality.” The unexpected moment of such overwhelming grief and pride and insecurity that…was just more than a little surprising in it’s intensity. I am happy for her adventure. I am thrilled she got in to a good school. I am haunted by the mistakes I made along the way. Sincerely and truly. It was the sobbing, mascara stained, sisters clinging to childhood, that my hand to God, stopped our existing world.

Give her space. Don’t call. Don’t text.

But, if I don’t contact her how will I know…how will she know…how will we go on?

Texts that would like to be sent:

Do you like your roommate?
Did you finish hanging up your pictures?
Have you made anyone laugh?
Are my favorite shoes having a good time in college?
Have you looked at the 52 page photo/quote album I made you and left for you to easily find the moment I returned to your childhood home and left you in the wilds of a college dorm?
Have you read any of Dad’s “Phils-osphy” book?
Are you flossing?
What’s the bathroom like?
I guess technically they’re your shoes, even though I paid for them.
Are you always with another person when you walk on campus at night?
Good night.
Are you carrying your mace?
Good morning.
You should see your bedroom here. You actually do have carpeting.
I miss you.
Can I come down for lunch on Friday?
Or dinner?
Have you thought about coming home this weekend?
They’re just such pretty shoes.
Your replacement, Chewiethedog, keeps stealing your Minnie Mouse slippers and your Minion.
Your Dad wants to keep your bedroom door closed.
I won’t let him.
I love seeing the carpet…
Did you apply for a job yet?
Are you getting all of your books? Legally?
Do you miss home?
Are you sleeping enough?
How often have you gone to Starbucks?
Your sister misses you terribly.
It is so quiet.
The mayonnaise and ranch dressing are taking up too much space and remain unappreciated in the fridge.
I’m considering moving.
What are your teachers names and do you think you can hang in the university collective of intellectuals?
What are you reading in English? Have you written anything yet?
Please. Stay. Strong.
How many parties have you been to? Any of them Campus Crusade for Christ?
Are you scared?
Are you free and happy?
Excited for your potential to be exposed?
Frightened you don’t have any?
You do. BTW.
Please don’t lend the pretty shoes to your roommate. I’d like them to visit someday. Soon.
Do you want to stay?

What I actually text after letting an agonizing 24 hours pass:

Get vitamins when you go to Target.

That’s it. Well, more followed, in yet another 24 hours that felt like 3 weeks, but the vitamins seemed to be the least….overly-protective.

Now, let go. And let God.

But,

It is so quiet.

(She likes her roommate, all books purchased legally, she looked at the photo album I made her, she had a sandwich today. That’s all I know as of now.) 
(I’m going to try to not go see her tomorrow.)
(Hoping to hear good news that the pretty shoes are having a wonderful time. Quietly in her closet.)

This Last Year

It’s 12:15 pm on a Wednesday and she’s asleep on the couch. Again. After two hours of this unconscious state, she will send 42 texts about, well, hard to say. With great difficulty she will then tear herself off of the couch, rearrange her tangled hair and within a split second be “ready” for work. She will drive 15 minutes to the mall to sell teensy strapless t-shirts and jeans for three hours to the same demographic she has been texting.
It’s day 47 in my daughter’s high school senior year. 
This is the last year I get to watch her sleep.  “Hush little baby don’t say a word, momma’s gonna buy you a mockingbird…” Well that explains a lot. I should not have promised her a mockingbird for her silence. She now expects that mockingbird to land in her lap. And why wouldn’t she? I have set her up for a life in which she won’t cry out loud and gets rewarded for every little thing that disappoints her. The bird won’t sing – here’s a diamond ring. The ring won’t shine – how about a diamond mine? And if that diamond mine runs dry, mama’s gonna bake you an apple pie. I didn’t know all the lyrics…so I made some up…a parenting style…make up what you don’t know. As usual, I can trace every act or inaction to my failure as a mother.
Why does she sleep so much though? It’s almost ironic. 17 years ago trying to get her to sleep consumed my very existence.
“Yes, she sleeps through the night and takes three naps.”  I proudly told my friends, not mentioning that every time I peeked into her crib I prayed she was still breathing. Always petrified I couldn’t keep her alive and well back then. Now, I just want her to stay awake long enough to ask why she keeps falling asleep.
I check to see if her chest is rising and falling and whisper, “Sweetie, why are you so tired? Are you bored? On drugs? Scared? You know, you can’t hide here forever.” Maybe she just has senior-itis and some free time.
Although, last Thursday, when I asked her to do…anything… at all, a mini-explosion occurred “You know, I don’t think you appreciate the fact that I’m not doing drugs. I don’t sleep around. I have nice friends and I’m a good person!” she said rather emphatically.
            After an uncomfortable silence she continued, “All we ever talk about anymore is college!”
“Oh, my sweet girl, I am thrilled and relieved about what you don’t do. Deeply. But, what are you doing? Are you scared? About leaving? About going to college?” I replied.
 “Yes!”
“Do you want stay home?”
“Yes!!!”
The thing is, I can see she’s scared. And as much as no drugs, no sex, nice friends, good morals will get her very far in life, I know these fabulous qualities aren’t enough by themselves in the long run.
Except that there was another school shooting in Colorado today. So, I want to wrap her and her sister, into my arms and tell them they are perfect just as they are. And protect them. From depression and violence. And fear. I want to lock the front door. From the outside.
But, maybe this isn’t the moment for protection. Maybe we are in the moment of lighting fires under butts to send an educated, hard-working, morally strong woman out into the world. Maybe my fear needs to stay silent in order to quell hers. For the moment, sleeping is her only escape from the fear of growing up.
“Why am I standing over her forecasting her aimless descent into a frivolous life?” I ask the ever-present dog. Thank God we have a dog, frequently she is the only other living being who will listen to me with her wise, unconditional, blank stare.
There just hasn’t been enough time in-between napping and texting to guide her into the kind, fearless, delightful person she promises to be almost every day. Sadly, this is not true. I’ve had 17 years of opportunity.  What have I been doing? Oh, right. The laundry. And the dishes. It’s the regret that’s doing me in.

The memory of that first day I was left alone with a one year old and a one month old, comes careening around a corner of my brain, “Just pray we’ll all be alive when you get home from work.” I begged my husband as he dragged me clutching his left ankle out to his car. If we hadn’t been so broke, I wouldn’t have let him go.
When he walked back in at the end of the day he found all three of us upright and laughing. “I’m relieved,” he said. “Alive, standing up, and laughing at the end of the day was more than I expected.” This set the bar for the rest of their childhood. Upright, alive, and laughing…a gracious way to live. But, has it been enough?
There is less than a year to be alive and laughing together at the end of the day.
Yesterday, when she came home from school she announced, “I’m going to the prom for the special needs kids! I’m so excited!” She glowed. It’s the happiest I’ve seen her in a long time.
“I am in awe of how you love these kids. Please never lose your tender heart.”
“Okay Mom.” She replies with thinly veiled sarcasm, covered up in that sparkling smile.
The expression on her face when she talks of these special kids is beyond gut wrenching. Her tender spirit is vulnerable here. Maybe she should stay on the couch. It’s safer than what lies on the other side of the door.
“I can probably borrow Taylor’s red dress from homecoming to wear. Oh, and Taylor, Evan, Anthony and Katie are coming over to watch Elf tonight. Okay?” She is still beaming.
             “Okay. That sounds like fun. I’m gonna miss those guys when you’re gone.”  I can’t bear the thought of the silence you will leave behind.
She is so much more than I ever believed would come from me. It’s a good thing we had her father around. Maybe we’ve been a good combination in child rearing. Mostly, it’s Grace.
Can she survive on what she’s yet to learn in half days of high school, afternoons on the couch and evenings selling clothes at the mall? I guess I survived doing almost exactly that. Just not the survival I dreamed of when I was asleep on the couch in high school, or the life I envisioned for her when she smiled at me the first time.
Beautiful young woman, face smashed into the side of the couch cushion, displaying the one, adorable dimpled cheek she arrived with. From her apocalyptic bedroom, I retrieve her well-loved, yet barely recognizable stuffed monkey, and tuck it gently under her arm.
As I watch her innocence sleeping peacefully on the couch, I ponder the best way to get her up. Smoke alarm? Change all the clocks to 6:00 AM and then gently bellow “YOU’RE LATE! ” (I really want to do this one….)
Maybe I should be nice and just pull the couch cushions on to the floor and start vacuuming near her head when she and the cushions hit the ground? 
I’m wasting more time than she is by standing here staring at her. I wish I had spent more time sitting next to her than standing over her. This is ridiculous. I will be the good mother who does not let her precious daughter stay coddled in the coziness of her embrace. I will force her to grow up and relinquish childhood gracefully. I will bring about a good, strong person who is ready to live a good life. I will absolutely…wake her up.
I will absolutely say:
“Wake up! You are sleeping away your life and if you don’t get up now, you’ll be here forever!”

But, I don’t say it out loud. I tickle her instead and there is an explosion from the couch. Hair heading in every possible direction, glaring, with eyebrows furrowed, she hands me the stuffed monkey with an eye roll. Muttering “goodness gracious” under her breath, she slides into her flip-flops, grabs her phone and on her way out of the door texts me “I love you Mom.” And drives to the mall. Well, at least she’s up.
In the silence left behind, I text back, “I’ll miss you. I love you too.”
For both of us, to be known in this moment and still loved, is enough for now. I have less than a year left to say something else. Out loud. I remain petrified that I won’t be able to keep her alive and well. Even though I know, deep in my soul, she is going to be just fine. In fact, I know she is going to make a sparkling difference somewhere in this world…when she is brave enough to wake up and walk out of the door that I will unlock, on her own.
Next year will be the last year for her little sister. Another last year to survive. How? How to let go of childhood? The childhood I hope I gave them that prepared them for life.

I pick up her monkey and lay down on the couch.