And you were there – and you – and you…

The Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion

Happy Mother’s Day. Mark and I are moving kind of slow today at my house. This weekend marks the end of a very busy semester. Nine hours of grad school, two gallery shows, three magazine cover stories, and a wonderful community wide election that brought unlikely groups of people together to push forward in a new direction with some greatly needed school improvements. And it’s Mother’s Day.

While we have lots of images  of our blended family with all five of our fabulous kids, this one was on my mind this morning. Sterling, Jenni, and HalleyAnna — the three kids who helped me grow into who I am today.

I have had this picture on my computer desktop and in a frame on my desk for a couple of years. A quick shot taken at a rare moment when everyone was together somewhere, it has always made me think of that final scene in “The Wizard of Oz,” where Dorothy wakes up in her bed on the farm in Kansas and sees everyone around her.

“You were there, and you were there, and you were there,” she says, as she looks at the familiar family members with a different eye…as she remembers a technicolor dream of the adventure of her life.

And I look at this picture, I see my own versions of the  Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion.

The Scarecrow: Sterling is one of the smartest people I have ever known. In the third grade, he carried a well-worn copy of Thoreau’s Walden in his book bag, reading and quoting from it. He liked reading Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and books of lists and world almanacs and Texas maps.  He was a Duke National Scholar with high scores on the SAT while in junior high, and grew to be San Marcos’ first National Coca-Cola scholar and a presidential scholar. And along the way, he stumbled into more questions than answers and  started doubting his own ability – wondering how life would be  “if he only had a brain.” Ah, but he does.

The Tin Man: Jenni has been goal driven and organized since she was a toddler. She grew up overnight when Sterling was born and before she was two, she had stepped into the role of second in command in the mothering department.  A childhood on stage led to a successful career on the business side of music, a challenging, competitive, and sometimes  careless world. She has faced family illness and stopped her world to take care of others. And against common practice, she has put her artists’ needs ahead of hers, and taken on much more than what would normally be required. Through her dedication, her clients have become friends and those friends have become family. Though along the way, when  forced to make difficult decisions, she has confided, “I am sort of heartless, I guess.” I beg to differ.

And HalleyAnna, the Cowardly Lion. She learned to walk before she crawled -and always knew she wanted to keep up with the big kids. She has stepped up and stepped out of her comfort zone and made her own good decisions for a long time. She had heart surgery at the age of 13 to fix an extra electrical pathway, was hit by a car while riding her bike nine years later, and has traveled solo to New York City, Walden Pond, Costa Rica and across the Great Divide in Colorado, and got at tattoo of the state of Texas on her index finger, lest she need to find her way home from somewhere far away. As she prepares to release her second album and is packing her car to head across the southeast to promote the record, she thinks a lot about courage. And wonders what it would look like.

And so today as the dust settles after a whirlwind month,  I look at this picture of those  children who grew into adults while I was looking the other way, while I was busy traveling down that yellow brick road, fighting off flying monkeys and trying to figure out how to get to where we needed to be.  And I think of a million things I would have done differently —  and oh so much better — if I only  had the brain and the heart and the courage …. and time.

And if I had known  then what I know now. And the things I wish I had said while time was  slipping through my fingers.  I wonder if they know how much I love them – and how proud I am of who they are – deep down,  far beneath their own doubts and worries and questions.

Looking back, I think that that if I’d only had a brain… a heart… and courage, I would have passed  it all on to them.

But for now, I will look at this picture and think of that great adventure over the rainbow that was motherhood.

And I will be so very proud of who they are.  And who they have been all along.  Even if they don’t completely know themselves.

Happy Mother’s Day.

A Psychic Valentine

Okay. Here goes. A Valentine story.

Some years ago, my good friend, Mary Mikel, and I happened to be going through divorces at about the same time. Quietly, painfully, and not so much commiserating together, but sort of feeling our way through this new kind of normal that was single  at the advent of the 21st century.  And I had no interest in ever – EVER – getting involved in a relationship again.

And here came Valentine’s Day with hearts and flowers and Noah’s Ark pairing up of folks. Blah! Humbug! we said. Until Mary Mikel, who is quite adventurous, said – “Hey – I have an idea. But we have to scrounge up $75 and go to Austin.”

That was a bit of a struggle but she found some middle-of-the-month money, and promised me it had nothing to do with oiled dancing men and dollar bills.

Definitely better than that. She made appointments for us with Madame Ruth, The Psychic. Yes. What a hoot. We got the full-meal deal – for a whopping $75– which included the tarot cards, the palm reading and the (you have to say it with Madame Ruth’s accent), “Kleee-stal” Ball.

Not actually Madame Ruth.

Ever the reporter, I took a notepad and told MM that I would write down notes for her and she could do the same for me.  It was fun and goofy and we came home no worse for the wear, but not exactly feeling like we had a life-changing experience.

Mary Mikel had written the words Madame Ruth said as she read my palm:
“You will marry again. The man you will marry is in your circle of consciousness now but you only see him as a casual friend. Be open to a life that is different from what you know. Be open to that relationship and let him into your life.  I see five children: three girls and two boys.” (At this point I think I snorted -as three kids was plenty for me, thank you very much.)
“And I see some juggling and struggles  but it will eventually work itself out so be patient because it will be worth it.  And I see laughter in your eyes, and joy in your heart.”

Time passed. MM soon married her college sweetheart, and they are living happily ever after.   I was still not too interested in the drama of dating. Much less marrying – or having more children – God forbid! I was actually kind of loving being “woman-hear me roar” and celebrating a new, albeit struggling independence – while savoring the last remnants of HalleyAnna’s childhood as she entered high school.

Several years later, Mark and I had just gotten married, after  kind of a whirlwind romance that  started in July with a wedding the following April.  We were combining households – selling my small bungalow in SM – moving to and renovating his rustic cabin at Gruene to sell so we could get something we could all fit into.  As I went through boxes in the garage, I came across that note pad from Madame Ruth’s visit.

Madame Ruth was long forgotten. We were boxing my world up to put into storage units, and moving into Mark’s 1000 square foot cabin with his 14 year old son and my 16 year old daughter. I came across that notebook. “You will have five children,” was the phrase that jumped out at me.

I counted our wonderful, truly blended family of Jenni, Sterling and HalleyAnna + DeLynn and Patrick, who had fallen into the coolest bunch of friends anyone could dream of for any siblings… and I said, “Hey Mark – look at this.”

Yes. He had been in my “circle of consciousness” for a long while. We had known each other at the time of Madame Ruth and long before – but only casually- I had been an editor at a couple of area newspapers, and he was the news information director for the university – and, in fact, we had worked for the same paper at different times  but we had never worked together. And all the way back in our 20s and early 30s, we sort of knew one another by name or occupation, as we’d managed bars only blocks from each other — Cheatham Street for me and the Long Branch Saloon for him.

At the time of Madame Ruth’s Valentine’s Day, we were in a quasi-professional organization that met for lunch about once a month to discuss public affairs and local rumors.   He was struggling  to raise his two kids alone.  The LAST thing on his mind was a relationship with anyone.  He was up to his neck in being the best single parent he could be.

Time passed. Long after Madame Ruth and that Valentine’s Day. To that day in the garage when I found that notebook.

Weird. But I have to admit she hit the nail on the head. Today, I do have laughter in my eyes and joy in my heart.   And this life is certainly different – 180 degrees from before. Crazy, right?

Psychics? “Klee-stal Balls?” They are for people like Loretta Lynn and Nancy Reagan –  and the National Enquirer. It was a hoot. And kind of spooky – but in a good way – like Ouiji boards at slumber parties. And  it was a Valentine’s Day to remember.

And I guess this is where I say, “And they lived happily ever after.” 🙂

It’s true.

But mostly I think Madame Ruth had good advice when she said, “Be open to a life that is different.”

Happy Valentine’s Day.

My Heart In Your Hands

"The only dream that mattered had come true..."

It’s a simple red, leather journal, thick with memories and promises, dreams, and dares, and the opening chapters of a happily-ever-after love story.

The unedited version.

Once in a while, I read back through the pages of this book.  My gift to you on the occasion of our first Christmas together. Our first emails and notes are glued to the pages, quilted together with song lyrics and poetry and notes in the margins.

Our paths had crossed many times before we started dating. More than a parallel universe, at times it seems we traveled two lanes of the same highway, heading in the same direction.

In those early days, we grew together as friends  as we cautiously mended our broken wings and cynical hearts.  With baby steps, we carefully introduced one another to our worlds.  We had doubts along the way. We wondered if it was worth the effort. And we laughed. A lot. And I learned that love can be easy. And  life really can be seamless.

In our wedding vows, we said to one another, “You are my best friend, my last first kiss, my coat from the cold, and the great love of my life. In all ways and forever. And nine days. That is my vow to you.”

Today, we celebrate seven years. And truly, I’d wish for seventy more years in this. Realistically, we know we won’t get that, but we have had a chance to see what all those folks have been painting and dancing and writing and singing about for thousands of years. True love.   It’s easy. And it’s worth it.

“Let the world stop turning, let the sun stop burning,
Let them tell me love’s not worth going through.
If it all falls apart, I will know deep in my heart
The only dream that mattered had come true.
In this life, I was loved by you.
– Mike Reid, Allen Shamblin

As I archived and clipped and glued and scribbled notes in the margins, I came to the last pages of that journal.  I couldn’t – no, wouldn’t think of a way to fill the final page. It is a book of beginnings.

Someday, I hope our children and their children will stumble across this story of how we came to find the great love of our lives. I wish for each of them one true love. And the chance to feel – if only for one moment in forever – the way I feel about you.

Happy anniversary, Mark.

Happily ever after. We’re living the dream.

Listening to: Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – “In This Life”

Spring Cleaning

This dreary, misty week has given me a chill.  And maybe the oak pollen casting a yellow cloud over everything in the Texas hill country has something to do with it. But I am not thinking very clearly this week.

For instance, I am obsessing about Spring Cleaning.  Here.  Now.  Get-‘er-done.

As Mark plans to watch Virginia Commonwealth in the Final Four this weekend, I am making a To-Do List.  I am bound and determined to get things in order. And I am making a plan.

As I grow older, I think I am showing signs of early-onset hoarding.   I like stuff. I have a hard time letting go. I need to nip this in the bud. This weekend.

What was Patrick’s room until he fled the nest, is now completely empty unless you count the new permanent home for the ironing board, which I quite honestly have not used since the Bush Administration.  HalleyAnna’s room still has a few things in it.  I will  make a schedule and start at that end of the house.

Should not take long to pick up the remnant rolls of Christmas wrapping paper,  the Scotch tape and scissors and ribbon left over from the holidays – trimmings that transformed Patrick’s room into the  holiday staging area. Two stray Christmas stockings are still tossed across the ironing board. Somehow, they missed getting packed away in the attic with the other holiday trimmings. So I’ll  stash them somewhere,  and wonder where the heck they are next December. 15 minutes.

Then I will take another run at excavating HalleyAnna’s room. She has taken everything she wants for the new digs in Austin. The Weezer poster and her high school letter jacket didn’t make the cut. Well-worn CDs that long ago lost their jackets are dealt like a hand of cards on the floor next to an old jam box. Kacey Chambers. Cake. The Best of Hank Thompson, Vol. II.  No time to dilly-dally. I can come back to reminisce later. 15 minutes.

Next up, my office. It looks like a cyclone hit. Receipts and tax forms are still sorted and piled, waiting to be filed away. But clutter reigns in a cozy way in this little corner of my world. I’ve been meaning to go through the stuff in that footlocker… and organize my CDs… and, is that my Flannery O’Connor anthology? Ah, so that’s where I put that box of Aunt Helen’s old letters and pictures.  Been meaning to read throgh those letters. Maybe I will save this room for later.

On to our bedroom. Open the windows. Dust and vacuum. Fluff the pillows and swifter the ceiling fan blades. 30 minutes.

And then into my closet.  Really, does a political tshirt ever become a collector’s item?  How many San Marcos High School Band Booster Mom shirts do I really need?  Do I really think I am ever going to fit into that “skort” – or want to wear it?  What was I thinking when I bought that awful  linen cropped pant suit?  And that short denim jacket was on triple markdown sale for a reason.

But I am not throwing out my dream jeans.  My skinnys.  No, not  those trendy “skinny” jeans of today.  Just a faded pair of old favorites that I can’t bear to think will never fit again.  And exactly  when does a single digit dream become fantasy?  Enough. Forget about the pile o’ shoes for now – it’s time to move on. 45 minutes tops.

What do you call the bathroom counter? The Vanity sounds so – well – vain. Dump the drawers and sweep off the counter top.  I am giving it 10 minutes and a large garbage bag.  This accumulation of product has got to go. I have seen how I look when I leave the house. It can’t possibly take that much product to get there. Open drawers and dump.

And then, back to the office. Take a break time. A frosty Topo Chico with a squeeze of lime will be in order.  Shove that pile of stuff off the sofa. Stack those magazines in the corner.  5 minutes.

Crank up the iTunes and settle in with Flannery for a while. Enough is enough.

Listening to: Bob Seger- “Old Time Rock N Roll”