Saturday, December 28, 2013

Happy New Year from the Gaos

 Dear Friends,

We want to thank you for being with us as we journeyed through 2013.  

I really mean that.  You were with us.  And we are grateful for that.  

You saw us be bold in 2013.

You saw us be beautiful.

You watched as we wandered the globe.  
(Some of you tracked our every step using Find Your Friends. It's all good.)

But, let's be honest.  You also saw us fall flat on our face in 2013.

You saw us struggle.

You saw us when we were afraid.

Some of you heard us yelling at each other.  

We're sorry about all the yelling.

(I just whispered that apology.  It felt appropriate.  In a too-little-too-late kind of way.)

Throughout the year, you were with us.  When we needed you, you showed up. 

When we called, you came.

You changed my tire at 6:30am.

You picked my kids up when I was stuck in traffic.

You helped me turn off my smoke alarm at midnight.

You healed my "sports" injury.

You showed up.

Via skype late at night.  

A quick text, first thing in the morning.  ("OMG it is freezing out there!  This is not why I moved to the South!!"

The early morning coffee dates. ("Okay, how are we going to get through this week?")

The sweet cards and letters.

 The heartfelt conversations over drinks on my deck in the evening in the summertime

Sometimes what you did was smile at us, at a moment when we really needed to remember that there are good things in the world.  

The point is, you were there.  
We were never alone this year, and neither were you.  
We did 2013 together.  
And we love you for that.  

We can't wait to see what 2014 holds for us.  All of us.  Us.  You.  All of us.
Full speed ahead.  
Pedal to the metal.  
Let's go get this thing stuck.  
What do you say?

(It really is going absolutely perfectly.  I know you know that.)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

the post that wrote itself

People told me not to blink.  They said one day I would wake up and she'd be in college and I'd wonder where the time went. 

None of that has been true for me.

When I think back on this day, it feels like an eternity ago.

Buddy took that picture when Audrey was four hours old.  Do you see that smile?  It's real.  She came out, she smiled at us, and then she faded back into a distant infant cloud and didn't peek through it again until she was about six weeks old.

But she came out and in those first hours she smiled at us.  First order of business.

Tonight we'll celebrate her 13th birthday with a few of her closest friends.  We're either going to be at the mall or else I'm taking the girls to a restaurant for a nice dinner.  It's hard to say right now. 

Because we haven't decided yet. 

Because the party is still 10 hours away. 

And because she is my daughter. 

If each day is a grain of sand, I am feeling the weight of this one in my palm.  So heavy. 

I don't know why. 

I wish I knew where I'm going with this post.  I wanted it to be a touching tribute to my daughter and her debut into the world as a teenager. 

And now it's about me and sand.  Sand?  Seriously, sand?  Where did the sand come from? 

I wanted this post to be funny and independent and radiant and smart, like Audrey. 

But, I can't seem to make it cooperate.  

Aren't you asking yourself right now what my point is?  Because I sure am.

Can I tell you something?  About a year ago, when she hugged me the top of her head used to fit right under my chin.  It doesn't anymore.  The top of her head is level with my mouth now.  Every morning I hug her and I push her head back down, hoping I can somehow get it to fit under my chin.  But it never does.  It doesn't cooperate any better than this post does.

It seems to have a mind of its own.  Non-plussed by what I want.  It is writing itself. 

And it occurs to me that I have no choice but to let it go out into the world.... 

A few minutes ago I was the author of this blog. 

And now, I am just the one who's going to hit that little orange box in the top corner that says "Publish". 

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Siren Song of the Red Bricks

It was the fall of 2012.  My baby niece Bliss was just about a year old and I was taking care of her during the day while my own kids were in school.  Bliss was in that learning-to-walk, I'm-so-adorable-no-one-can-resist-me phase. 

I was new in Nashville and was trying to establish connections in the corporate training world so I could get work here as a freelancer.  I was in that don't-know-anyone-in-town but would-someone-please-notice-how-capable-I-am phase. 

And I had scored a networking meeting with a very influential entrepreneur in town.  He was in that I-wear-Converse-sneakers-to-work and feel-free-to-bask-in-my-brilliance phase.  And his office was in one of those abandoned warehouse places.  The kind that have exposed brick walls and polished cement floors.  And he was willing to meet with me.  With me!

I arranged a back-up babysitter for Bliss but when the day of the meeting came, of course the back-up sitter had the flu.  And our Plan B sitter was out of town.  Plan C was having a root canal, Plan D had to study for a big exam and Plan E had moved to Cincinnati six months ago. 

And so after consultation with my sister and her husband we resorted to Plan F, which was me taking Bliss with me to my networking meeting.

I know, I know.  I know.  

But let me tell you it was the exposed brick that led me to believe this was a solid plan.  I mean, when people choose an office space like that, doesn't it mean they are casual and laid-back and so focused on substance they don't even notice style?

The simple answer is: No. 

People choose office space like that for one of a few reasons:

A) They are 22-year-old millionaires.  They graduated from college at the age of 17, and have already created and sold a start-up and profited greatly from it.  They work in office space like this because it reminds them of the meat packing district in Manhattan, where they used to live.  They are too young to have children, much less any tolerance for them.

B) They are 30-year-old billionaires.  They have started and sold two start-ups and for them money is just a way of keeping score.  They have kids and they also have a stay-at-home partner who takes care of those kids so they can focus on substance as well as style at work.  They work in an office like this because it is in stark contrast to their home, which is child-proofed and fluffy and cuddly.  They come here to get away from all that.

C) Some other reason. I don't know what it is.  But I do know that it means they don't like having babies in their office.

When I checked in with the receptionist I explained to her that I had to bring a baby with me to my meeting with her boss, and she smiled graciously.  "Oh, he has a baby about the same age at home!" she said. 

Was it my imagination or did she emphasize "at home"?

As I looked around the office my illusions about the viability of Plan F began to fade.  All of the desks had metal frames, topped with plates of glass.  There were no IKEA bumpers on those corners either.  The walls were indeed exposed brick.  Blood red brick.  And the polish on the cement floor seemed especially slick to me. 

If offices were people, I was standing face-to-face with an anorexic runway model. 

Soon the CEO came out to meet me and when I apologized for bringing a baby to the meeting he said, "Oh, I have one about the same age.  At home." 

It wasn't my imagination.

He took me to the "conference room", which of course had no table.  Tables in conference rooms are so Gen X.  This one had two leather chairs and a small oil drum with a plate glass topper.   

The CEO and I started talking and Bliss began to crawl around the room.  The exposed red brick beckoned to her the same way you and I are tempted by the walls in those indoor rock climbing gyms.  She started cruising around the room, one red brick at a time, and I started to think this meeting might actually go okay.  The CEO explained to me how people abstract out their titles nowadays and he suggested I do the same.  Instead of being a corporate trainer, could I abstract that out to describe what I really do? 

But this is where I get stuck.  Because what I really do is train people.  In corporations.  But I wanted to be cool like the CEO so I started brainstorming.  Corporate storyteller?  Communications medicine woman?  Success diviner? 

Based on where I was heading with this, what happened next might have been for the best.

Just as you and I occasionally lose our grip on the rocks at the climbing gym, Bliss lost hers on the red bricks and crashed down on that slick concrete floor with a thud.  Then there was screaming, and consoling, and some ice in a bag, and then melted ice on the slick concrete floor, and as I shoved my laptop in the diaper bag the CEO said, "I guess we have to wrap this up now but send me an email and I'll introduce you to some people in the industry.  I have some ideas of people who might be able to help you." 

I shoved my laptop in the diaper bag.  Can we just rewind to that one frame?  Yes, the one where I'm holding a wailing baby in one arm and stuffing my laptop into a diaper bag with the other.  That one right there.  Yes.  

Can we please just sit here for a second and cry together?  

What made me think Plan F was ever going to work?  Curse you, red bricks.  Curse you.  

And I think this goes without saying, but let's take "success diviner" off my list of possible titles.

The next day I sent the CEO an email and asked if he could introduce me to those contacts he had mentioned.

"Thanks for the mail.  Remind me who you were again?" he replied. 

I told him I was the corporate trainer from yesterday, the one with the baby.  I figured that would jog his memory, if memory was indeed the problem here.  I also wondered if he was simply repressing all memory of me.  Corporate America's first PTSD victim.

I was also prepared for the possibility that he was blowing me off.  That I wasn't going to get any contacts from him and that the meeting had been in vain.

He responded, "And what did we talk about again?  Who was I going to introduce you to?" 

This was the point where I realized that I was definitely not going to get any contacts out of this meeting.  It dawned on me that with my misguided baby meeting, I might have offended someone who had the potential to tarnish my image in the city.  I'm not saying he had the power to ruin my reputation in Nashville, but he could give it a good ding if he wanted to. 

So in a truly humbling moment I admitted that my best option here was to slip away unnoticed.  To hope that he really couldn't remember my name or who I was.  That Bliss had hit her head so hard on those red bricks that even the CEO had lost all memory of that meeting. 

And so I responded with something kind and vague and I never bothered him again. 

And as far as I can tell, he didn't do anything vengeful.  My reputation in Nashville appears to be intact.  I started finding corporate training gigs in town.  Even my sister and her husband forgave me for the sizable bruise on their baby's forehead. 

But I will always remember that day as the one where Bliss and I were lured in by the siren song of the red bricks.  We both thought we knew how to walk, and we were both wrong.  It was the day we both fell hard and left crying.  But our bruises healed and we got back up and tried again.  Against all odd and perhaps better judgment, we didn't give up. 

But still.  Curse you, red bricks.  Curse you.  That one hurt. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

This is a Story About Nothing, Really

This is a story about a song that's running through my head lately.  It's called "Everlong" by Foo Fighters and it runs through my head all day lately.  It is the soundtrack for my life.

I've waited here for you.

This is a story about mac and cheese.  I was making some tonight and the water was already boiling when I realized I didn't have butter or milk.

Which, incidentally, means that the only ingredients I had to make mac and cheese were this box and, well, water.


This is a story about my neighbor's punk rock band.  Because happily, my baby sister lives across the street so I turned the water off and walked over to her house to borrow some milk and butter.  I took Cooper with me so he could get a little walk in.  On the way I passed my neighbor Chris, who was sitting outside and playing music with his punk rock band and I swear to you they were playing "Everlong".  Chris saw me and raised his beer can to me in a happy salute.  "Rock on!"  I yelled to them.

Sometimes I say something that I think sounds cool and then immediately hope the person didn't hear me.

I throw myself into
And out of the red, out of her head she sang

This is a story about real estate contracts.  My sister and her husband were reviewing one and their two-year-old daughter Bliss was sitting next to them on the orange leather sofa, happily playing with a laptop.  But my sister needed the laptop so she cleverly took the laptop away from the baby and handed her the iPad.  Which the baby cleverly tossed over the side of the sofa and smiled with great satisfaction when it hit the floor with a crack.

"Did you just throw the iPad on the floor?" my sister asked.

"No," said Bliss.

"But I'm sitting right here and I saw you," said my sister.

"No," said Bliss.

Did I mention she's two?

Bliss looked at me.  I looked at the floor, stifling a smile, which was mostly prompted by gratitude that my kids are not two anymore.

Then I remembered mine are tweens and I stopped being smug.

Come down
And waste away with me
Down with me 

"Are you smiling?" asked my sister.

"I need to go," I said.

This is a story about escaping.  I leaned in to give Bliss a kiss as I left and she swung her arms around my neck in a monkey-like embrace.  "Go with you!" she ordered.  Her parents said it was okay so I put her pink star shoes on her and she took my hand and I led her onto the front porch and away from any punishment that might have been related to that whole unfortunate iPad incident.

Slow how
You wanted it to be
I'm over my head, out of her head she sang 

This is a story about my dog being really poorly trained.  We untied Cooper's leash from the front porch but before we left he growled menacingly at my sister's 100-year-old dog.  My dog is so damn aggressive lately and I don't know where it's coming from.  My friend Glen said I need to get Cooper in this domineering hold and that will take care of everything in a matter of seconds but when he described the hold it just sounded like something you could get arrested for in the South so I settle for an overly-aggressive dog instead.

This is a story about the stars.  The three of us walked back down the street - a truly unruly dog, a headstrong two-year-old and a two-handed woman holding a dog leash, a plastic bag, a stick of butter, a small bottle of milk, and a sticky toddler hand.  My niece kept up a constant chatter as we made our way slowly across the blacktop.  Flag, car, sausage, grass, car, drive car, want drive car, want ride car, car.  Then she pointed up at the night sky and said "Stars!"  And yes, the stars were beautiful. 

Breathe out
So I can breathe you in
Hold you in 

Back at home my niece and Audrey and Grant giggled in my bedroom while I finished making the mac and cheese.  And the mango smoothie and the edamame.

And I wonder
If everything could ever feel this real forever
If anything could ever be this good again 

As I stood in the kitchen I really did wonder that.  Will it feel this real forever?  Will it ever be this good again?

This was a story about nothing.  About a day I walked down the street, and back.  And I'm sort of in awe of the fact that you read it, especially since I had such a non-compelling title.  But here you are and since you read it, you are also part of this story.  You are part of my story about nothing.  Which means you are also part of my everything.  Thank you for being here with me. 

Do you think it will feel this real forever?  Do you think it will ever be this good again? 

The only thing I'll ever ask of you
You've got to promise not to stop when I say when 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I can't believe I have an opinion on Miley Cyrus

Normally here at the Downtown Diner we don't talk much about pop stars.  When Janet Jackson had her wardrobe malfunction, we hardly noticed.  Kim Kardashian's 70-something-day marriage was a blip on our radar.  We recognize these events for what they are - probably staged and definitely trying to get us to buy gossip magazines.

However Miley Cyrus is tugging at my heartstrings for some reason today.  Maybe it's because of the hours and hours that Audrey and I spent watching Hannah Montana together back when we lived in China.  It was hard to find age-appropriate shows in English for her, and when we discovered Hannah we bought every season on DVD.  And watched them over and over until we knew every line by heart. 

Then I lost track of Miley and didn't think about her again until this week.  I didn't watch the VMAs and would never have known they happened, except that all day yesterday people were talking about Miley.  I heard things like:
"She is no longer a role model for my daughters."
"I'm embarrassed to share a gender with her."
"She has gone the pitiful, crack-pot way of so many child stars before her."

Personally, I wish I could give Miley a hug.  Because she is going through one of the most difficult transitions known to mankind - child star to young adult.  And she's doing it all with this huge spotlight of public attention on her.  If history is any indication, this is a tough transition.  Because I can't think of anyone, anyone, who has done it successfully.  Not Britney Spears.  Not Gary Coleman.  Not Michael Jackson.  Not Drew Barrymore. 

(Update: While I do love my brushstrokes broad, my friend John Lilly pointed out that many stars do make the transition smoothly.)

I don't know anything about being a child star.  But I do know something about transitions.  I know what it's like to give up something that is so intrinsic to you that without it, you don't know who you are anymore.

If I'm not Buddy's wife anymore, then who am I?

If I'm not the mother of this beautiful, intact family, then who am I?

If I'm not a manager in a Fortune 500 company, then what am I?
If I'm not patient, forgiving, tolerant to the bitter end, then what am I?

Miley, I know that these questions have the power to wake you up in the middle of the night.  And you sit up straight in bed, not sure of where you are or even who you are.

I get it, Miley. 

When you ask yourself those shattering questions about who you are, you are the only one who can answer them.  So you try a few answers on for size and you see how they feel.  Some will feel right so you keep them.  Things like:

I am courageous.

I am honest.

I am curious.

Some will feel wrong, and you will reject them.  But you only know they are wrong after you try them out.  Things like:

I am good at painting.

I keep calm under stress.

My hair looks good in pigtails.

My point is, this is all a normal part of transitioning from what you were to what you will be.  You're caught in between the "was" and the "not yet".

Let me tell you, your haters right now don't move from the "was" to the "not yet".  They stay where they are.  They're comfortable there.  They will tell you you're a bad role model.  But you and I know that throwing ourselves headlong into this transition is role modeling something they cannot even fathom.  And that's okay.  They don't have to get it.

But they will never get the heady joy of choosing the colors for their own butterfly wings.  You and I have that.  We always will.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

I do want to do something fun. Yes, I do.

“I want to go whitewater rafting!  Please, can we go white water rafting?” 

This is all I heard from Grant during the days leading up to our Chattanooga trip.  I tried explaining to him how dangerous it was.  How unprepared I am to take him and Audrey on a whitewater rafting trip.  How there are not going to be many places that will let a 10-year-old go whitewater rafting. 

But he pleaded his case with a Rainman-like tenacity.  “I want to go whitewater rafting!”

I called all the rafting places around Chattanooga and found the one that was supposed to be the safest.  The Hiwassee River.  It had Class 1 and Class 2 rapids, and there was one at the end that was a Class 3.  Devil’s Shoals. 

Devil’s Shoals.  Doesn’t that just sound like a place the Grim Reaper floats around on a black intertube, waiting for his prey?

I made a reservation for “funyaks” for the three of us, and secretly began praying for rain.

It actually was raining that morning when we woke up.  I looked out the hotel window and said a silent prayer of thanks, but the look on Grant’s face broke my heart.  “There’s no lightening!” he said.  “Maybe we can still go!  I mean, we’re going to get wet anyway on the river, who cares if we get a little more wet from the rain?”

I agreed to drive to the rafting station and hoped that the staff there would break the news to Grant that all rafting had been canceled due to rain. 

But when we got there, a chipper teenager named Mandy happily informed us that all rafting was ON!  She had to stop kissing her boyfriend Travis to tell us this.  She quickly gave us our life jackets and explained that the truck would drop us at the top and that we would raft our way back down to the store, where we would get out of the water and return our funyaks.  I asked her how we would know that we were back at the store and she said what rafting people always say.  “You’ll go under a railroad trestle and then you’ll see it.” 

I hate it when people say “you’ll see it.”  Because sometimes?  I don’t see it.  I really don’t.

I pressed Mandy for more details but she was once again lip-to-lip with Travis. 

On the drive to the top of the river our driver Dale told us that the reservoir was over-full from all the rain and they were going to open the dam and release more water into the river.  Instead of the usual 2350 cubic feet per second, there would be 8000 CFPS.  I asked Dale what that meant for us on the river and he said the Class 1 and Class 2 rapid would be covered in deeper water, and it would be easier than usual to get over them.  “But Devil’s Shoals?”  He simply shook his head.

“Devil’s Shoals what?” I asked.  Again, he shook his head.

I looked at the river, down and to our right.  It looked more menacing than I remembered it. 

“Has anyone ever died on this river?” Grant asked. 

“Yeah but that lady, she was old and was probably going to have a heart attack anyway,” Dale answered.  

Ignorance, I liked you much better.

When it came time to launch into the river I had to decide how to divide our family.  We had a 2-person funyak and a 1-person one.  I finally decided to put the kids together in one, and I would be more mobile in the single funyak and could help them if they needed me.  As we passed our first rapids I realized I was the one who was going to need help.  Since my funyak was lighter I got stuck on the rocks and had to push myself off with my oar, inch by inch.  Meanwhile the kids floated on ahead of me, dutifully obeying my order not to try to help me, and yet looking seriously concerned. 

I did finally free myself from the jaws of the rapid and we floated onward.  It was raining steadily but Grant was right, we were so wet from the river anyway that it didn’t matter. 

I want to insert here, casually and yet poignantly, that it is awful making decisions about how to divide your family.

And onward we paddled, alternating between placid stretches of stream and choppy rapids.  I remained ever-vigilant, trying to keep myself and the kids safe on each set of rapids.  We also laughed together and enjoyed this afternoon in nature.  But Devil’s Shoals was never far from my mind.  I knew it was going to be the last set of rapids before the end of the tour, before we “saw it”, but I didn’t know exactly when we were going to hit it. 

We came upon a group of kayakers who had a professional guide in a canoe.  “Paddlus Erectus” was stenciled in white spray paint on the side.  This looked like their leader and someone who knew the river.  I paddled alongside him and asked, “Do you know how much further we have to go?  And have we already gone over Devil’s Shoals, or is it still ahead?” I asked, hoping against hope that maybe it was not as big a deal as everyone said it would be and in fact we had already passed it.

“You have about a mile to go and Devil’s Shoals is still up ahead,” the guide said.  “Are you alone with those kids?” he asked.

“Yes I am,” I answered.

“Are you tired of this shit?” he asked.

“Yes I am,” I answered. 

“Well why don’t you just stay with us?” he offered.  I told him I would feel bad because clearly these kayakers had paid him to be their guide and I had not.  They all said that it would be fine and they were the Tennessee Scenic River Association and we should stick with them.  And so we did.  And when we went over the next set of rapids I noticed that not only was I vigilantly watching my kids pass over the rocks, but at least two men from the kayaking group were doing the same.  And I don’t know for sure but I think that when I went over, they were watching me too.  And suddenly I felt a lot better.  Suddenly, it wasn’t all on me anymore. 

In the distance we could hear the agitated rush of Devil’s Shoals.  Paddlus Erectus looked at me and the kids, a twinkle in his eye, and said, “Do you want to do something fun?”  Before we could answer he pulled our funyaks to his canoe and told us to hold tight.  Another kayaker paddled up to me and hooked herself to my funyak.  We were four boats linked together, sort of like a raft.  And then we hit Devil’s Shoals.  It was white and frothy.  We bumped and crashed over the first rocks but I soon realized that we weren’t going to crash.  We were too big to crash, too buoyant to flip over.  And suddenly Devil’s Shoals became an enormous, aquatic roller coaster for us.  We hooted and yelled as the rapids tossed and banged us along.  It was the most fun I’ve had in ages.

And then, amazingly, I actually did “see it.”  I saw the rafting station and that meant our ride had come to an end.  We thanked our new TSRA friends and got out of the river.  We returned our funyaks and life preservers and got our keys from the store, where Mandy was still kissing Travis. 

The kids and I got in the car and although it was July in the Southland we turned the heat on full blast and tried to warm up and dry off.  And I amazed myself when I thanked Grant for getting us out there for that adventure. 

Looking back, I realize how much this trip was a metaphor for life. I  mean, how often do we get ourselves into something that is scary and risky and we don’t really want to be doing it, but also we look back and see that we are there as a direct result of the choices we made?  And we find ourselves embarking on a journey that gets more dangerous as we go along but we have no choice but to keep going?  And just when we think we can’t handle one more cubic foot per second, someone with a nickname soaked in Latin innuendo extends a hand and says, “Want to do something fun?” 

And suddenly, the thing that was scary and risky is still scary and risky but it is also fun.  It’s fun because we’re not alone. 
I do want to do something fun, Paddlus Erectus.  I do.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Red eye flights suck

I’m sure that when pedophiles get their one-way ticket to hell, they go there on a red eye flight.
Red eyes are like the pet rocks of our generation.  The infomercial looks so good (“I’ll be home the next morning!”) so we buy them, then when they get delivered to our doorstep we think, “Who ordered this crap?”
Here is how I survive them.
I get to the airport as late in the evening as I can.
I treat myself to a nice dinner.  Salmon and a lemon drop and even dessert.  Fruit cobbler.  I’m going to need my strength. 
I board the flight, make the usual snoring jokes with the person next to me, and settle in for the long  flight.  I try to sleep but don’t.  I doze.  I toss.  I turn.  I probably even snore but I don’t get anything that resembles rest.  I just pass the time with my eyes closed. 
And there is a lot of time to be passed. 
Finally my ears start to snap and hurt and that means we are approaching my first stop.  Maybe it’s Atlanta, maybe it’s Minneapolis, maybe it’s Detroit.  Most of the time I don’t know and don’t care.  All I care about is gate 49 or 16 or 13A.  I walk through shiny gray hallways with huge windows.  I pass Starbucks and curse them, because the last thing I want right now is caffeine.  I don’t want to be awake, don’t want to be aware.  I don’t want to remember this airport or anything about it.  I only want to be as awake as I have to be to get to my gate. 
I pass the duty free store and curse it because who can even think about alcohol at a time like this?  Damn capitalists. 
I pass a large dinosaur skeleton and curse it, although if I were in my right mind I would stand in amazement at how big it is.  Its femur is taller than me.  Its femur!  I curse the dinosaur and I curse most of America for not knowing that “its femur” is written without an apostrophe.  Our country’s  language abilities are crumbling apostrophe by apostrophe and it drives me nuts.  I don’t think there is a bachelor or bachelorette left in this nation who knows why the sentence, “Things are so good between she and I,” is wrong, wrong, wrong. 
I’m not sure I want to live in a world like that.
Oh yes, things are getting bad at this airport.  Once I start ranting about our nation’s war on proper grammar, even I know things are bad. 
I get to my gate and promptly fall back asleep.  I put my subconscious in charge.  I ask her to wake me up when they call for my flight.  She usually waits until the final call, or even that moment when they say, “Paging Passenger Gao, Passenger Melanie Gao.” 
She is freaking hilarious, my subconscious. 
The last leg is generally an hour or so.  I refuse any food or drink from the flight attendants and that is entirely out of self pity at this point. 
When I arrive in Nashville it’s the crack of dawn.  I stop at Starbucks and I get a large latte.  It’s not that I want to be awake now, but I do see the necessity of it.  I have a long day ahead of me.
I walk to my car in the long term parking lot and find the bottle of water that I left for myself in the drink cup.  That was thoughtful of me. 
I drive to my sister’s house, where my kids are just waking up.  They stumble out of bed and give me a sleepy hug and tell me about all the bad things that happened while I was gone.
Grant stole my iPad charger.  The kids at camp said bad words.  Grant lost a tooth.  Audrey got a brush stuck in her hair and couldn’t get it out.
And then that song from  Diamond Rio  starts playing in my head.
“One more day.  One more night.  One more sunset, baby, I’d be satisfied. That’s what I’d do for one more day with you.”
And suddenly I remember why I bought the pet rocks.  I am their rock and I need to be there to hear about the charger and the bad words and the tooth and the brush.  I want to be there for all of that and more.  All the cursing and tossing and turning and grumbling is all worth it because I get one more day with them.
That’s what I’d do for one more day with you. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Night Your Spotlight Saved Me

Tonight I was sitting in a jam-packed, stuffy auditorium at Grant's school watching him perform in the school's spring musical, Disney's Jungle Book.  My baby was an elephant.  I could see him scanning the crowd looking for me.  He would look in my direction and I would give him an excited wave, but it seemed like he missed me every time.

I felt like one of those scuba divers who was inadvertently left behind after a deep sea diving excursion, and the helicopters were back hours later searching for me but their searchlights criss-crossed right over my head without ever spotting me among the black waves.

Maybe that's a little melodramatic.

Anyway finally Grant's spotlight zeroed in on my frantic waving.  For a moment he looked straight at me and sang just for me, his Mama Gao.  That is his nickname for me lately.  Mama Gao.  I had a huge grin on my face, so happy to be serenaded by my boy, my elephant, my Baby Gao.  So happy that God saw fit to let me give birth to this special kid and bring him this far, to this play, to this night, to this music-filled jungle.

After the show on our way to the car Grant told me how some kid had thrown Grant's costume into "a thing that was really big" and he couldn't reach it.  But he said, "Jameson, he's such a good friend, he crawled in there and saved my trunk for me."

Now that, friends, is an act of kindness you just don't see every day.

We got to the car and I opened the door for Grant and as he got in he said, "Oh yeah, and I was sooo happy to see you in the crowd!  When you looked at me, that made me so happy.  I wanted to go, 'Look, there's my Mama Gao!'  But I couldn't because I was on stage.  But I wanted to.  Thank you so much for coming.  When I saw you in the audience, it just made my day."

With that, he slammed his door shut and continued to chatter on to Audrey about the madness in the dressing room after the show.

I needed to get in the driver's seat but for a second I had to stand outside the car, softly biting my knuckle and crying.

Somehow through my tears I noticed the ceiling of the deck of the house that was right next to us.  It's painted in three colors - blue, yellow and green.  I thought how thoughtful it was of them to paint the ceiling of the deck.  Most people would just leave the deck ceiling as it was, or stain the wood perhaps, but this family painted their deck ceiling and it was so beautiful.

It made me think how thoughtful it was of God to let me have that moment tonight with my Baby Gao, where he was singing to me and I was grinning back at him from the audience.  Tonight could have been just any other Thursday evening.  We could have done homework and had spaghetti for dinner and then taken the dog for a walk.  He could have left tonight plain and drab, or maybe just stained it for me.  But tonight God gave Grant and me a moment we will never forget.

He painted tonight the most beautiful shade of love and joy for me.

And it was so beautiful.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Meanwhile, I've never been in a funk that couldn't be helped by a good self-portrait

This afternoon we went for a walk along a river that flows through the city.  It's flanked on both sides by cherry trees, which are in blissful bloom right now.  We slowed down every time we passed under a pale pink cloud of blossoms, just to stay in that moment of fairytale beauty a few seconds longer.

Grant spotted some koi fish in the river and he quickly fell under their spell.  One in particular caught his attention and he soon declared that he and this fish were friends.  "He's really friendly," he said.

It is so damn easy to make friends with a 9-year-old boy.

Sensing that Grant and his new friend wanted some time alone, Audrey and I sat down on the stone steps at the edge of the river and watched the pastel cherry petals drift by on the glassy surface of the water.

"What do you think a fish does to make itself appear friendly, or unfriendly for that matter?" I asked her.

She rolled her eyes and we both laughed.  Then she leaned in a little closer to me.  "You laugh more in Japan," she said gingerly.

"I don't know if that's because we're in Japan or because we're on vacation," I said.

Grant ran over to us and said, "Sometimes he swims this way, then he turns around and swims that way.  It's like he doesn't know where he's going."

"Maybe he's not going anywhere," I offered.

I began thinking out loud with Audrey what it means to be on vacation.  Especially a vacation where we're visiting with family.

Since we came here last week, I haven't planned a single meal.  I haven't gone grocery shopping.  I haven't cooked.  I haven't washed a single dish.  I haven't washed any clothes.  I haven't fed the dog, haven't walked him, haven't cleaned up after him.  I haven't done a minute of homework with the kids.  I haven't run a single errand.  I haven't dialed in to a single conference call, haven't taught a class, haven't pushed myself to meet a deadline.  So much of the pressure of everyday life has been lifted from my shoulders.  Maybe when the everyday pressures vanished, that created a vacuum in my soul and laughter rushed in to fill the void.

Grant was back.  "He's so big!  He's really huge.  How do koi fish get so big?"

"I don't know if this is true but I think I read once that koi fish will get as big as the space they're in.  If they have lots of space, they'll get really really big.  But if they're in a small tank they won't grow very big," I told him.

I think that's true.  At any rate it's something that I want to be true.  It sounds so good.

As the sun set the river water grew darker and darker, until finally the water and the slate-grey koi fish swimming in it blended into one slippery shadow.  The three of us quietly rose and gathered our things and walked back to the train station in the enchanted darkness.

Hours later, back in my hotel room, my mind keeps coming back to that koi fish that grew big because he was in a big space.  That means something to me but I can't quite put my finger on it.  Does it mean something to you?  If so would you leave me a comment and tell me about it?  I would love to read that.  Maybe you can help me figure it out.

I blame the police officer

The kids and I wanted to go to a 100 yen shop this afternoon so we asked a police officer for directions.  He was having a hard time explaining it, and frankly, his directions didn't make any sense at all.  But I thanked him politely and set off in the general direction that he had been pointing, mostly just to give him face.

We walked around for a fruitless 15 minutes and finally I told the kids that we were going to have to give up.  Maybe their grandma could take us to a 100 yen shop tomorrow.  She knows the area better than I do.

"Can you just give me one last chance to try and find it?  I feel like I can," said Audrey.

"Knock yourself out," I replied.  I let her take the lead and Grant and I followed behind.  Clearly I make things look too easy sometimes, this would be a good chance for her to learn.

Within three minutes we were standing in the 100 yen shop.  And that's when the relentless teasing began.

"I found it!  I found it!  I don't even speak Japanese and I understood that policeman's directions better than you did!!" Audrey hooted.

Grant joined in, "She's the master now!  She's the Number One Master and you're Number Three!"

"First of all, I am not Number Three, I am Number One," I countered.  "Second of all, how did I slip from Number One to Number Three?  What happened to Number Two?" I asked.

"That's always been me," Grant said.

"Mommy will you please write about this on your blog?" Audrey begged.  "Please write on your blog how awesome I am and what a loser you are!"

"Yeah, tell everyone you're a loser!  The Number Three Master!" Grant challenged.

"So I'm going to write a blog post about what a loser I am and how great you are?" I asked.  "Not happening.  Get your own blog and write whatever you want.  I'l tell you what's going on my blog tonight is that picture of you guys with the kimono girl in the train station.  That's what's going on my blog tonight."


Saturday, March 23, 2013

It was her pumpkin tempura that first caught my eye.

I was at the sushi bar next to two older women, Girl Scout leaders who were just coming back from a regional meeting. They had elected their district leaders and all the political hoopla had left them famished so they came right away for some sushi. The older one, who was next to me, had ordered too much food.

I didn't realize how much food this was going to be,” she apologized to the sushi chef, who was busily clapping out sushi for the lunch crowd. I love the sound it makes when they dip their hands in the salt water and then clap their hands together, then grab another bit of rice and pat it into shape. “You went to all this trouble to make it for me,” she said. He shook his head, as if to say that she shouldn't worry about it.

I looked at that pumpkin tempura and thought what a win-win this could be. She was too full to eat it, but she didn't want to insult the sushi chef by leaving it on her plate. I wanted the tempura but had already ordered something else.

She looked at me, looked at the tempura and said, “Please, if you'd like it, go ahead.” 

Good grief, how had she known? I looked hesitantly at the tempura. “Really please, I don't want it to go to waste,” she said.

I did a quick risk analysis, a habit I have never shaken after my days as a program manager in high tech.

How likely was it that she had sneezed on her food before I got there? Not impossible, I guess.

How likely was it that I would pick up some other germ if I ate this pumpkin? Sort of likely but then again I also have a very strong immune system.

How likely is it that pumpkin tempura tastes awesome? VERY LIKELY!

I hesitated for a few polite seconds before finally scooping the tempura over to my plate. 

“Put some salt on it,” she instructed. “It makes the sweetness of the pumpkin come out.” I did as she said - there is enough of a Girl Scout left in me to follow instructions from a leader. “But not too much!” she said. I stopped apparently before a salt disaster occurred.

These lovely ladies went on to tell me about their adventures with the Girl Scouts. They had recently returned from a trip to Korea with four scouts. The trip was ten days, and then they came home and were so tired they slept for two weeks straight.

It was such a pleasant little chat. We laughed about Girl Scouts and cookies and Korean food. The sushi chef listened to our chatter as he continued to fill lunch plates for the crowd. The world was a friendly place where smiles were bountiful, where food was shared among strangers and where conversation flowed freely. 

And that pumpkin tempura was every bit as good as I thought it would be.  It really was a win-win.