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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Jewels in the Garden

Motherhood. I've been thinking quite a lot about that lately. It's the very reason that this blog "evolved" into what it is today. Yes, I started it as a means to keep at bay the insidious grip of depression. But it changed, over time, from "The Abyss" to what my friend Hot Toddy called "the perfect mix of comfort and shenanigans". Then, I noticed, that it went back, for a time, to the playground of those tenticles from the deep. What happened? The kids grew up. With the growth of their wings, which we encouraged as their parents, came their flight into adulthood. Sure, two-thirds of the offspring still call our "nest" their home, but they are, for all intents and purposes, independent. Perhaps not completely, but in mind and body; thoroughly independent.

For decades, my worth was wrapped up in parenting. Too quickly came this era of my life where I am now asking myself; "What now?" It's now a kind of limbo, but without the fun music and my back and knees won't really let me "play" the game anymore. The everyday details and frustrations are unimportant. What IS important is the reality of my lessening role, which became all TOO real this past weekend.

Easter with the family was wonderful. These days, it's more difficult to arrange because, as with all families, schedules can be tricky. But once it is set in stone (which more often than not, is sandstone) it is joyful and rewarding. This year, my niece had the pleasure of playing host. She is at that stage in her life where I first began journaling my path in parenting. She's a young wife and mother, enjoying her role as stay-at-home caregiver to her two beautiful daughters, and all the joys and frustrations that brings. She's honestly quite amazing.

I watched her throughout the day, interacting with her girls, playing hostess, wearing the many hats that that entails. She did it with grace, patience, delight, and a never-fading smile. Truth be told, I'm not sure I was ever that well put-together. I know I tried. But it occurred to me that you never truly know the measure of your success until your offspring are grown and well on their own. Which brings me to my niece's mom, and how lucky my niece was to have that great influence in her life.

My sister-in-law was the consumate role model to me. I didn't have that kind of mother. My mother raised me with the spectre of fear. It is perhaps how my mother was raised, I know she didn't have a role model either. There is no blame and I am not bitter or angry. It was what she knew, therefore, it was how she "mothered". I wanted to please her, but that was because I was afraid that if I didn't, there would be consequences. If there was hell to pay, despite my earnest performance, I would pay it. I knew from this, that when I grew up, I would resolve to be the best mother that I could possibly be. I would raise my kids, above all, to know I loved them, unconditionally. When I met my sister-in-law, I was 19 years old. She was a young wife and mother. I loved watching the way she interacted with her children. I loved their family life. I wanted my family life to be like theirs. So many of the jewels of parenting that I learned, I learned from her. I gleaned the jewels and put them in my treasure box for when I became a mother.

Six years later, with Averie's arrival, that time came. Indeed, I opened that treasure box that my sister-in-law started for me. Now, these decades later, I watch as my now-grown niece doles out her own jewels that she probably gleaned from her mother as well. Of course, as life progresses, we sow and gather our own garden of jewels, many of those grown from heirloom seeds, and some from new hybrids. You weed the garden, you water the garden, the garden flourishes under your care. You hope the sun shines and blesses your garden. You protect it from scavengers as you can and you allow it to blossom.

These days, I feel kinda like the scarecrow in the field. I still have a small purpose, but I'm a bit powerless to do anything. My hands are useless at this point. I've done what I can. My sister-in-law is a grandmother now. My niece is a mother. I am the watcher in between. I now observe and gather jewels which may become useful to me as a grandparent if that time comes. But I also observe how very amazing it is to watch a young mother who had a mother who nurtured her. In this way, I feel a twinge in my heart. Did I do my job as well? Do my children look back and think about those amazing things we did together when they were little and their own little life gardens were bursting with wonder? Did they feel fear or love? Sometimes, it's difficult to know. I know I did my best. Is my best enough?

As we put another page in our book of memories on Sunday, and we enjoyed the company, the laughter, and the joy, I admit there were moments I found myself lost in thought. I watched my kids with their aunt and their uncle, who really were more than an aunt and uncle. They were the grandparents my kids never really had. I watched them with their cousin, who despite now being a mom, is still always their cousin, full of fun. I found myself very grateful. I have to count on a certain amount of uncertainty, for sure. But I also have to know in my heart AND my head that I did a good job. That the jewels that I nurtured in my garden create a work of art that I fully adorn myself with. I didn't do it alone. I did it with a lot of help, I know. However, there is something so definite and pure about being a mother. You just don't always know how it's gonna turn out until the garden gate is opened and another gardner walks in.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Lattice & The Morning Glory

It was an anniversary, but I'm not quite sure which one. I think it was the 10th. I know it was a tough time. My hanai mom had just passed away only a few weeks before and I just felt like my world had caved in. I could neither be a good wife, nor a good mother. I remember Charlie asking me what I wanted to do for our anniversary and I said; "I just want to be a kid. I want to pretend there is nothing in the world but you and me. I want to laugh to remember what it feels like. I want to take care of no one, I want to be responsible for nothing. I want to play in the sun. I just want to be a kid." The day of our anniversary, he gave me this card:

The note said; "I will be your lattice if you will be my morning glory. I will always be here to support your search for the sun. Lean on me." Inside were two tickets to Disneyland. Not five. Just two. Charlie's not a big fan of amusement parks. So I know it was a sacrifice for him. That's always been his pattern. Sacrifice with love. Of all things that are uncertain in life, this one certainty I know; my husband knows sacrifice. He also knows how to love me better than anyone. This is the thing that I try to remember when things aren't going quite the way we anticipated. Which brings us to the big anniversary surprise weekend.

I will begin by admitting that I was completely wrong in my thinking that I knew my husband so well. There are those constants that after 32 years together, you just know. Like the toilet paper thing. Or throwing the dirty clothes ON TOP of the hamper instead of IN it. It is what it is. You just accept it and move on. They're not dealbreakers. But this time, I was way off. In my defense, Charlie's little suspense building game, backfired. Or perhaps it worked too well. I was so SURE about where we were going and what we were doing, that I packed for a cruise. He kept slipping "cruise lingo" in there. Everyday. By process of elimination, I was quite confident that I would soon be lounging on the Lido Deck sipping a Drink of the Day and waving goodbye to the poor landfolk we were leaving behind. After all, one of the very poignant things he did say to me was; "I know it's not New York with Marc and Jess liked we'd hoped, but it's 30, and I wanted it to be REALLY special." He also said it would be "VIP, all the way, Baby!"

The thing is, I know what our budget is. The ONLY way Charlie could affordably "Go VIP" for a weekend would be something all-inclusive. He tends to be a creature of habit, so he would go with something he knows, something familiar. I was pretty sure he had either "cashed in" some Harrah's credits and we were going on a "comped" Vegas weekend, or it was a cruise. I had made a passing remark about how it was supposed to be better than the all-you-can-eat buffett at Caesar's, and he poo-pooed the very thought of that. "You think I'd take you to Vegas on our 30th anniversary? Oh ye of little faith!" So, in my head, it was a cruise. My head was happy.

The first seed of doubt came the day before departure. I was flitting around doing some last minute things and both Caris and Bryson were home. I threw this lure out into the air to see if anyone would bite; "So hey, do you guys know where we're going?" They were both fully engrossed in their laptops at the time, so neither was really paying much attention. Caris didn't respond at all. She just kept her attention focussed on whatever she was doing. Bryson, on the other hand, without even hesitating a second, and without looking away from his computer, blurted out "Santa Barbara." I quickly looked over at him. "What? Really?" The "Oh SHIT, what did I do?" look on his face told the story. Then, he quickly added "I don't know, Napa? Um, San Francisco? A cruise?" But he wouldn't look at me again. Hmmmm. Charlie had what I thought to be an off-the-cuff conversation with our friend Nikki about Solvang, Santa Barbara, Buellton, at our last pub trivia night. Why would he talk about that? Hmmmm. It suddenly occurs to me that he's probably doing a "replay" of our Honeymoon. Cute. Romantic. Thoughtful. Very Charlie. I'm still holding out hope and packing my cruise card lanyard.

Departure time arrives. Right up to the last second, he leads me to believe it's a cruise. Until he changes lanes on the freeway and we are driving AWAY from Long Beach and on to Los Angeles. I try not to look disappointed. He's smiling like a crazy man. Why? Because he's so happy he fooled me. I turn on the radio and for a long time, there is nothing but the sound of Charlie's giddy banter about all the planning, and his success at diverting me. I let him chatter on, because I'm trying really hard to talk myself out of my disappointment. Damn expectations. He's chattering, I'm smiling and nodding. After about twenty minutes, he realizes I haven't said anything.

Charlie: So? Any ideas now?

Pua: Well, it's obviously not a cruise. I can see that. So, I'm guessing Santa Barbara, Solvang...."

He looks at me, quite surprised.

Charlie: Um. Yeah. How'd you jump from a cruise to that so quickly?

Pua: I'm good like that.

As we drive along, I realize I have GOT to be grateful. Be happy. He went to so much trouble. He's so excited. Look at him...he's like a little boy. Encourage him you twit! The battle between my disappointed Pua and my "happy to be away from home" Pua raged on inside, while I struggled to smile and put on an excited front. Soon, I would be fine. In fact, the drive along the coast is always calming to me. Everything would be wonderful. We were together, just the two of us, taking a road trip in a fun little car that wasn't rented, and I had that little thought in the back of my head that this would be better than our poor kids, bare-boned honeymoon. He said I had "VIP" things to look forward to. So it couldn't be Motel 6 and MacDonald's like it was on our Honeymoon, right?

Santa Barbara was overcast and cold. But it was still beautiful. I have to admit, I've always loved Santa Barbara. I love the wharf, I love the town, I love the feel and the vibe. Okay, I'm good with this. This will be a nice weekend. He drove out on Stearn's Wharf and we had a wonderful lunch. As I'm enjoying my oysters and thinking that this weekend was going to be alright after all, he pokes a hole in my happy bubble.

Charlie: We're not staying here. We're continuing on. But we will be back here eventually.

Pua: So, this isn't it? We're not staying at that cute little hotel we stayed at before?

Charlie: (smiling) Oh no. This is just the beginning. The adventure continues...

He's awfully smug, I'm thinking. The "game" continues. Finally, I just say; "Honey, why don't you just tell me what to expect? I mean, let's be done with this guessing game."

"Nope. Got more surprises in store for you."

Back into our Auburgine Steed and off we go. I'd say we were driving into the sunset, but there was no sun. So, yeah. I'm going to paraphrase this for a bit and tell you that we did not stay on the coast. We headed up into the mountains. Now, remember that I now know that we are quite possibly doing a honeymoon replay. Only it's a Charlie version. Which means that he might not remember everything exactly as it was. Don't get me wrong, we had a fun honeymoon. Kinda. And this is where the Charlie the Optimist version, and the Pua the Pessimist version comes in. My sweet husband ALWAYS remembers the good stuff and forgets the bad stuff. This is an admirable trait, but sometimes, it's scary. Why? Because when he DOES remember the bad stuff, he remembers it too late. Like when we're so far into the thing, that there's no turning back. Also in the Charlie version of rememberance, things from other times may get confused and lumped together. This is what was about to happen. When he starts heading up into the mountains, I know instantly where he is going. A little hideaway up in the hills that we went to before, but NOT on our honeymoon. Also, Charlie forgets that I don't travel curvy, mountainous roads well anymore. As I get older, I get more anxious in the car. Curvy mountain roads do me in. It's not pretty. I tried so hard to keep my head up and keep a smile on my face as Charlie happily drove along, asking me if I had any clue yet, but I think somewhere at so many thousand feet, I started to turn a little green. THEN, I knew we'd have to be on a very primative dirt and gravel road for a little bit. Finally, he looked over at me.

Charlie: You okay?

Pua: Actually, I'm not feeling so well. Maybe it was the oysters.

Charlie: Then I guess you're not hungry?

Pua: <...erp> Honey, this is very sweet of you. I enjoyed Cold Spring when we came here on that trip, but I couldn't eat a thing right now. If I'd known, I wouldn't have eaten those oysters at Stearns Wharf.

Charlie: It's okay. We don't have to stop. We can just look and reminisce.

Pua: So, we're going back down to Santa Barbara now, right?

Charlie: Ohhhhhh noooooo! More memory lane fun to come!

Pua: Oh god help me.

I leaned my head back against the headrest, closed my eyes, and told Charlie I was going to rest a bit. He could just let me know when we were down off the mountain. It was right about then that he suddenly remembered that I don't do well on these kinds of roads and it wasn't the oysters at all. This is now 4 hours into our first day. It was hard not to think about how I could be soaking up the sun on a lounge chair with a cold, umbrella drink in my hand. Snap out of it, Pua. It'll get better. Right?

The next road sign we came upon said Solvang was 23 miles away. It'll be over soon. We'll be there, we'll check into our hotel, we'll find a nice pub, we'll relax, we'll laugh and we'll start to have some fun. Everything's gonna be alright. Charlie tells me the name of our place. I think to myself; "Great! It's all plushy VIP from here. It'll be a nice bed and breakfast. Or maybe a winery resort." I need to remember to stop talking to myself.

Charlie tells me he thinks this place is very nice because the reviews were "decent" and he paid handsomely. I felt my heart skip a beat. The excitement was setting in. And then he said the thing you don't want to hear with regard to hotel reservations..."Besides, this was the only place that had a vacancy." My heart, which was only seconds ago skipping beats, has now stopped and is sitting in the pit of my stomach with the oysters. "Wait...what? What did you just say?" I think I'm gonna be sick.

We pull into the EMPTY parking lot of theRoyal Copenhagen Inn. Yes, it has a very quaint Danish charm, just like every other place in Solvang. After all, that's why people come here. Okay. It's cute. I can live with this. It's not what I expected, and as Charlie passes by larger, more plush resort type facilities one after another with "VACANCY" signs out, I can see it's not what he expected either. Nope, no valet here. We get out and go into the office, which is about the size of a closet. There's already a gentleman in there, so we step back outside to wait. When we finally get to go in, the desk manager tells us that our room is not ready and won't be until after 3PM. It's now 1. We have two hours to kill. I'm smiling. I'm smiling. I'm smiling. At least we don't have to pay for parking. And I saw a brew pub a block away. We'll be fine. It isn't hard to kill two hours having a pint and watching people. Unless the pint is full of skunky beer. Which is why I drink Jack.

Two hours later, we return to "Valhalla". Charlie comes out of the office with our keys and informs me that we're on the second floor. This is basically a motel, so there's no elevator, and we drag our suitcases up the stairs. We couldn't seem to find our room. We wandered around the corner, to the back of the building, but no #207. We wandered back the way we came. There was one door open. That was our room. We had walked right by it because it was open. You know how you try not to look into rooms as you walk by them. That's what we did. Turns out, the wide open door was our room. But why was the door wide open? At this point, I just don't care. I just want to go in the room, lie down for a minute, and then map out a course for the evening. We put a few things away and then both of us threw ourselves onto the bed. BIG mistake. That bed was as hard as a rock and every spring SCREAMED bloody murder with every, single move. I started laughing so hard that it turned into sobs. I was devastated. I couldn't put on the happy face anymore.

Pua: How long did you say we were staying here?

Charlie: Two days.

Pua: Is this part of that VIP stuff you were talking about?

Charlie: Well, there is more to come later. I promise. But, I did have higher hopes for this.

Pua: Please tell me you didn't pay much for this. Because if you paid more than $89 or $90, and that's taking into consideration it's a tourist town, you got majorly ripped off.

Charlie: I was afraid you'd say that.

I'm going to skip stuff and tell you that the night didn't go much better. This little town pretty much rolls up its sidewalks at night. There's really not much to do here. Every shop is the same. Kinda like every ABC store in downtown Honolulu. You CAN have too much tchotchke. The truth is, once you've been to Solvang, bought your Danish cookies and eaten your fill of Aebleskivers, there's just not much to do here. After many apologies from Charlie and a very good cry out of me, I resolved to do my best to help my sweet, well-meaning husband salvage the rest of the weekend. Then, we went 3 miles down the road, back to the Chumash reservation and hit the casino. Yeah we did. Because when the sun goes down in Solvang, there ain't shit to do. That's the truth.

The next morning we were both up at 4. We couldn't sleep. That mattress took care of any thoughts of a "good night's sleep." We got in the car and took a long drive into the wine country, scouted out all the good wineries..then went BACK into town, left our car in the motel parking lot, and walked to all the tasting rooms in town. If you drink enough wine, you don't really notice how much your body aches. After the second or so tasting room, it became a very happy day. We giggled a lot and laughed about the horrific bed and the overpriced room. We stayed away from the motel as long as we could, but when we finally did go back, we had lots of wine with us. And a bucket of Danish cookies.

On Sunday morning, we couldn't get out of Solvang fast enough, both of us agreeing that we don't need to come back here anymore. Yes, it was cute on our honeymoon. But, we're passed the cute stage and we'd already been there a handful of times, before we met each other, with each other, with the kids. I don't wanna go there anymore. EVER. We headed back to Santa Barbara along the coast, NOT through the mountains and I began to feel a sense of calm returning to my psyche. BUT, I noticed a little twinge of concern in Charlie's face. Now, HE was putting on the smiley face, but I could tell there was something...

Once in Santa Barbara, I told him that if he didn't have any rush-rush plans, there was a place that I would like to go and in keeping with his "Honeymood Redo" theme. The Enterprise Fish Co. had been a favorite of ours then, and it was still here. So why not? OMG. What an ordeal. Our GPS could NOT figure out how to get us there. Santa Barbara is full of one-way streets. We could SEE the smokestack of the restaurant, but we just couldn't seem to hit the right one-way street that would take us to it. I think we were both about to give up in exasperation, when after about 20 minute of driving in circles, Charlie finally hit it just right. We pulled into the parking lot and laughed our asses off.

Charlie: I'm suddenly having flashbacks of our honeymoon.

Pua: Which parts?

Charlie: The part where you get a kidney infection and we have to find a doctor. And the part where I get an abcessed tooth and we have to find a dentist. Then there was that time we stayed at the "Bates Motel"...Then there was your brother telling us to meet him in Oakland and us getting lost there...then...

Pua: NOW, you're remembering! Our honeymoon just wasn't that great, Babe. I hate to tell you, because I realize what it is you were trying to do, but our honeymoon was just some "time" we had. We were poor and the only reason we even went anywhere is because we made a few bucks by having a money dance at our wedding. The good part was being together, not where we were or what we did. Which is what I've had to tell myself this weekend. You built it up so much and my expectations were so high, that this just isn't the VIP treatment I was expecting for a 30 year celebration. I know that's selfish of me, but you have to admit, you kinda worked me over.

Charlie: Yeah, from now on, I really should leave the planning to the expert.

Pua: That's not what I want. You did fine. Let's just do it TOGETHER from now on. Okay?

Charlie: Deal. Now let's go eat, drink, and be merry. And dear god, let this place we're staying at tonight be awesome.

Awesome doesn't begin to describe what happened in the next 12 hours. When we eventually found our hotel, I could see the instant change in Charlie's face from worry to relief. For me, when we pulled up and there was a valet, a lobby, happy faces to greet us, I was in heaven. This was a gorgeous place. A nirvana. I was going to be very, very happy here at The Canary Hotel. We never touched our luggage, we checked in, we went to the elevator, we were shown to our room, and when he opened the door, I knew I never wanted to leave this place. The bed looked like fluffy cloud heaven. Charlie was anxious to check out the rooftop view, which we did. Everything was falling into place. There was even a beautiful lounge and restaurant in the lobby. The bar called our names and two barstools became our oasis. We enjoyed chatting with the two adorable bartenders, and the equally adorable couple at the bar next to us who, little did we know, would change the course of our weekend. They turned our hot mess into sweet bliss.

J and B were not celebrating an anniversary like we were, but they were together 23 years, which J tells me is equivalent to 90 something years in straight years. They told us what yummy things on the menu they had tried and loved, and we told them what yummy things we had tried and loved. We talked about their sweet Labradoodle at home, and we told them we had kids at home, but we were less worried about them than we were about how our dog was faring without us. Off and on throughout the evening we would run into them either on the rooftop or down in the bar. We shared stories of family, and tattoos, and moving, and nonsense lyrics to pseudo-Hawaiian songs, and life, and long relationships. I mentioned how meeting them had saved our weekend. We were missing a special anniversary with my sister, brother-in-law, and dear friends, but this was softening the blow. Charlie told them how his best laid plans had not fared so well. J left us for a few minutes, and when he came back, our dinner bill was paid. A sweet, and serendipitous surprise. We laughed a lot and the sweet sound of that laughter filled the night air. When we finally parted company, the hugs were warm and genuine. Charlie and I felt we'd made friends. After they'd retired for the evening, we lingered by the fire.

Charlie: Well? Did I do okay with this place at least?

Pua: Sweetie, you couldn't have done better. And meeting J and B was icing on the cake.

Charlie: (wry smile) Oh good. Because I TOTALLY planned that. I just wish that I'd booked the whole weekend here.

Pua: (laughing) Ah, let's not look back. Let's enjoy this now. Savor every second. Besides, like you said; one day, we'll look back on all this and laugh. We're just laughing a little sooner than I expected.

We watched the fire, looked at the stars, and snuggled up. I thanked him for a wonderful weekend. No, it wasn't what I expected, and yes, there were moments I was really unhappy. But these moments passed, and I did keep telling myself that I was a lucky, lucky lady. There will always be ebbs and flows, but the one constant is that no matter what glitch may come, Charlie is always the lattice that helps morning glory me reach for the sun. I am ever grateful.