Names, Politics & Playing House

Paris is finishing her first year of college next month. She was home over the weekend because she is at the Model UN conference in San Francisco.

Over the past year she has demonstrated tremendous strength and determination. She has gone far and beyond what I would have expected and has entered into college life in a very deep and active way. She has always been a person of fine character, confident, smart and beautiful with a powerful intellect and sense of justice, but the way she has chosen to use these skills and integrate them has been stunning. She is very clear on her path, and has an amazing sense of direction for one so young. It has been interesting, to say the least, to watch her make her way in the world.

She is a political science major, a model UN delegate and a member of the student government at her college. She is definitely on her way, and the hard work, sacrifice and commitment required of motherhood is definitely paying off.

My girls and I share city themed first names, thanks to my late husband. He chose the city names and was adamant about them. When I resisted, he would offer alternatives like: Brenda, Karen or his favorite Billee-Joan, the combination of both of our mother’s names, he even threw out the name Nellie-Pearl after our grandmothers. Eventually, I acquiescenced to the city names, but for the record it was not my idea. The nameology suits us now that we don’t go everywhere together as a walking geography lesson. However, we were Siena, Paris, Sydney and Austin (Pari’s boyfriend) over the weekend as we together attended the pre-party for pictures and a dinner with friends after for Siena’s Campolindo Junior Prom.

Yesterday, I drove Paris back to the city for her conference. As she walked away, I realized she truly does have a life that I am no longer a part of. Even though, she is an adult, my love for her is never changing and she will forever be a little girl to me.

She has essentially not changed a whit since the first day of preschool when the other little girls wouldn’t let her play house with them. She told me at the time that she didn’t care because she wanted to be President of the United States instead.

She’s definitely heading in the right direction.

Love and blessings to all.

Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree

My daughter is home from college tonight because she is a delegate for Model United Nations in San Francisco. She flew in early, so she could terrorize my closet, and borrow my work clothes and shoes. I bought quite a few suits when I worked as an Analyst and my office overlooked Union Square in San Francisco. I burned a trail to Brooks Brothers on my lunch hour and purchased tailored cotton shirts and classic linen and lightweight wool suits.

I also have a beautiful collection of shoes from previous consulting stints, and because I love gorgeous shoes. My favorite are a pair of burgundy crocodile pumps. I’m not one to have a lot of anything, but what I do have is timeless.

She asked me if I stayed at the Red Lion when I was a delegate back in my university days. Ironically, her professor was in Model U.N. in Sacramento the same year I was there and we both stayed there. This is sort of odd, but what really strikes me is how my daughter is a Political Science major doing Model U.N. just like I did, and studying in London next year, just like I did.

She’s going to London to study politics and finance. She leaves next January. I studied, politics and economics and left the January of my Sophomore year as well.

I’m not sure if there is a name for this phenomenon. Maybe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree? Nevertheless, it is very surprising as I did nothing to encourage it. I actually gave up politics for banking, and then tech, and now I’m a clothing designer.

It does however make me miss my younger self. I was once so idealistic, just like my daughter who now stands in my linen suit wearing my crocodile shoes. It should come as no surprise that she is also walking in my footsteps.

Love and blessings to all.

Misnamed & Names As Colors

When I was a young girl I would occasionally meet someone and think they were misnamed. Their name didn’t suit them, and it would be hard to remember, or the opposite; some people were perfectly named, like my childhood friends; Hilary, Rosalee, Misty and Holly.  I also saw names as colors. Emily was decidedly blue, Sydney was red.  Paris, my daughter, is the perfect light parfait pink.  My mother Joan was green.

Recently, I’ve met a Nick and a Jen. These are yellow names.  And the people are not.  They are more light blue or green.

When I was pregnant I met a woman who told me her daughter, Amanda had chosen the name. She came to a red light and hit the brakes and knew that was the right name for her unborn child. I felt the same with Paris. We had a short list of names we liked: Lauren, Madison and Isabell. One day, I told my husband we should just name her Paris if we were thinking of a city name. He agreed and that was it. It was perfect for her and she has loved it. We often call her Pari, or Pari Ann, or even just P.T.  When we named Siena it was a giant challenge as Paris was a tough act to follow. I was sitting in an investor meeting at work one day and the investors had just returned from Siena, Italy.  I told my husband, and then he added the middle name Annalise. Annalise was our neighbor when I was a tiny girl living on the Air Force base. She was the most stunning nordic beauty you could ever imagine with light blond hair in a french twist and tan skin. She was from Sweden and she was sweet as well as beautiful. I spent a good deal of time in her sand box with her kids. Annalise is periwinkle blue of course. And Siena is ruby red.

Color is a fascinating subject.  My daughter Siena was just at the Color Factory in San Francisco and said it was amazing.

I’ve wondered if anyone else sees names as colors?

Happiness Is A Choice

It’s been a busy few weeks, but finally I am home again in the evenings with my kids and pets. I’m excited about the terrific team we have built in Los Angeles for Ocean SF where our clothing is produced.  We’ve made eight prototypes of our signature jacket. It takes time to do things well, but it is paying off as we are now making some truly beautiful things.

My daughters have been busy too, and we are often more like ships passing then a family, but we are very close and throughout the day I am in contact with one or the other of them every few hours. I think our love for each other has continued to deepen and I am thankful for the close and loving bond that we share with each other. One of the positives of hardship is this type of closeness that is forged through difficulty. I doubt that anything could ever come between us.

Things are peaceful now like when the kids were little and we had predictable routines and the atmosphere was relaxed and enjoyable.

I walked my dog today, and Moraga is so full of beauty it is astonishing. I passed many happy people with their kids and dogs heading down to the park in the cool sunshine. I treasure my neighborhood and my neighbors. We had a wonderful Easter brunch with friends we met when my younger daughter played soccer a dozen years ago, and then a beautiful dinner with our neighbors around the corner that we met when Polly was a puppy a decade ago.

When the girls are home there is laughter, and when they aren’t home there is a happy silence as I walk through the rooms of our home. Our dog Polly is back to sleeping on the white sofa when no one is looking, and even she looks happy again. I feel like I’ve finally stepped into the happy future I so longed for.

Happiness is a choice. You have to choose it and you have to fight for it.

Love and blessings to all.

Five & 1/2 Hours Away

While I was driving over the beautiful Bay Bridge last week, I got the dreaded phone call. My daughters typically text me before calling, so a random phone call usually spells a car accident, or stomach flu type of emergency.

I think I always knew this call would come, because I pushed for my daughter to choose a college I could drive to in a reasonable amount of time. And, I got my way.

She blacked out in the shower and split her head open hitting the tile floor, she told me. I could picture the cool green tiles of the college dorm shower with the white grouting, the textured glass door, and the running water as she lay there unconscious.

“I’ll be right there,” I said calmly. I drove home and threw my clothes in the car. I arrived in Los Angeles at 10 p.m. and stayed for five days.

She looked pale, tired and scared. She was bruised and had butterfly stitches on the wound that ran through her right eye brow.

Three trips to the doctor for tests, some loving attention and she began to stabilize and look like herself again. Her skin again turned creamy and pink. Her blue-green eyes sparkled when she laughed. I followed her everywhere, and walked her to class. I had dinner in the student cafeteria with her friends.

She studied, and I worked on my laptop and had meetings with my pattern maker and production team in the nearby garment district.

I did her laundry and mopped her dorm room floor washing the blood away. Then, I brought her home with me. We drove through the Central Valley together. The valley is beautiful, with an intricate weather system and clouds that come in every color of the rainbow, and in countless shapes and sizes.

We played music. She slept. We talked. We’ve not been this close since she was in grade school.

Her doctor has referred her to a Cardiologist because of her medical history. We are hopeful all will be well.

As we drove through the Central Valley we encountered isolated storms. It would rain, and then the sun would come out. If you take the time to look, you will find there is always a rainbow. Always.

Love and blessings.

One More Day

After realizing that the other mothers weren’t lying about enjoying their days at home with their babies, I came to the conclusion that I was overdoing it a bit.

While my friends sat on their sofas yawning with their babies in their arms, and piles of unfolded laundry and dishes in the sink, I was out washing my car with my baby in her car seat. I even bought a lawn mower, assembled it myself, and mowed the lawn, so my husband didn’t have to do it.

I made my own fresh baby food. See the hand grinder on the table in the photo above? A handy invention, but I also made it in bulk in my food processor and froze it in ice cube trays.

If I had to do it again, I would do less and enjoy it more. I thought of what I was doing as a duty and turned it into a job. Motherhood is not a job, it’s not even the toughest job in the world as people often say. Motherhood is a spiritual activity. It takes from you nothing short of everything, and changes you in ways that can not be described. Even if you have a second child, and think it will be the same, it is a completely different experience the second time around.

My friend, Jennifer, used to say to me, you’re almost out of the woods: almost out of diapers, almost into preschool, almost into high school, almost able to drive, and now almost into college.

I did a guided meditation of walking through the woods. In this meditation I was in an alpine forest. This was no surprise, as I’ve spent so much time in recent years in the Tahoe basin. In my mind, I could see the pine trees covered and sparkling in snow. I find a stream and follow it down the mountain.

Had I just done this sooner, things would have been decidedly different and much more pleasant. But, I thought motherhood was more of a lesson in sacrifice than love. I spent a good deal of time wondering aimlessly in the forest, focusing on things that didn’t matter (although I still believe keeping a comfortable and well ordered home is worth doing).

However, we don’t know what we don’t know and once these lessons are learned, we are past the point of benefiting from our own, hard won, wisdom.

Once in a while, in a flash of nostalgia, I will remember holding one of my infant daughters in my arms. People often talk about how babies smell, but what I remember most is how they felt. The weight and warmth of their bodies. What I would give to have just one more day with my precious baby again.

We can’t go back in time, we can only look at the woman we raised and remember the innocent girl, and the tiny baby, she once was.

Love and blessings.

Masks & Motherhood

Clearly, I am now reaping what I have sown, but leaving work I loved to be a stay-at-home mother was not exactly a smooth transition for me. I’m not sure what components compromised this unease in my personal experience. It was definitely a combination of many factors I suppose.

Firstly, I didn’t want to be anything like my own mother who stayed home, but was largely absent nonetheless. Secondly, I used my skills and talents at work and easily fell into flow as the hours flew by making me well suited for the work I did. Lastly, my husband worked long hours and I had no family support, so I was often simply depleted and sleep deprived.

Although, I dearly loved my children, I abhorred the house work and not getting the sleep I needed. I had one child who quietly fell asleep at 7 p.m. while her sister ran around the house all night. My husband was up and out before 7 a.m. so I got up at 5 a.m. to write in the necessary silence. Writing is something I have to do for my own sanity, and that was the only time I could do it.

Napping was something no one did, as we are a family with a deeply hereditary FOMO (fear of missing out). However, I made everyone lie down for an hour, including myself, but there was no sleeping. With envy, I knew of countless children who napped for hours, some would nap through dinner and into the next morning.

During the fog of sleep deprivation I remember thinking the other mothers were lying about loving their stay-at-home lives. I looked at my silk blouses and other work clothes hanging in my closet with despair. Later, I realized they really did love staying home with their kids. The only one pretending was me. It wasn’t even the money I missed, it was the rhythm and sense of accomplishment that came from doing things well and having other people do what you asked of them without a timeout or a bribe of some kind.

There is no experience that trumps motherhood, however, and there is no work more important. Yet, motherhood extracts from us a heavy price for its blessings. It is often messy and chaotic, and I was a person uncomfortable with both, but that was also the gift of it. To this day, I dislike noice, screaming, dirt and unnecessary messes. I especially dislike buckets of sand being hauled up the stairs and poured into the made beds. Would I do it all over again? Yes, I would. Would I do it all differently? Yes, I certainly would.

Children are spontaneous and full of love and excitement. It was simultaneously magical and beautiful as well as emotionally and physically exhausting. Looking back, I see there was a lack of balance. I didn’t prioritize myself into the equation like I should have. I honestly didn’t know how. I fell hard for the little darlings and could scarcely say no. I was patient and giving to a fault.

My husband often called me a martyr mother and I think that was true. I didn’t know how to not give everything I did 1000%. Over the last few years, I’ve made it a point to make sure my kids know that I matter too, and I think we’ve all readjusted to this idea, although it took some doing. I’m still not great with messes and noise, but I’m better about these things now, knowing that love and the relationships far outweigh peace and quiet and everyday orderliness. Plus, I know my limits now and I make sure I’m taking care of myself too.

My daughter was home from college for the weekend and it’s obvious I’m reaping the rewards for my hard work. Both children are poised, polite, and dedicated human beings. I’m very proud of them on so many levels.

For my birthday they bought me a gift card for a spa day. Impressively, they paid for it with their own money. Sometime in the near future I will be found waiting pool side for my heated stone massage. The martyr mother is gone for good, and thank goodness.

Love and blessings.

Steep Cliff

When my second daughter was born I was the marketing director for a music software company. If this sounds glamorous, it was. I had a large salary, stock options, and countless benefits. Plus, apart from the creative aspects that being a director of marketing afforded, this position married my two favorite things; technology and music.

I was also in the fortunate situation of having a husband who earned enough money that I could stay home and raise my own children if I wanted to. And, this is what I eventually did.

Did I love it? No, I did not. However, I was in the unforeseen predicament of having gotten exactly what I had wished for.

Early on, I realized that I had an opportunity to be, for better or worse, a role model. So, I tried to display fairness, kindness and compassion in my everyday interactions. I took up volunteer work, and quit sneaking cigarettes behind the pool house. I stopped swearing, I exercised and took my vitamins. I tried very hard not to gossip, although this was difficult.

From the beginning, I took being a stay-at-home mother fairly seriously. I made my own play dough, packed organic lunches in reusable containers for play group, and kept my house as neat as a pin. I adored my children, but I missed the excitement and accolades of my career and professional accomplishments.

Now, I wonder if I made the right decisions? I treasured my time with my daughters now 17 and 18, but I wonder if all the sacrifices I made personally were really necessary? Where would I be now if I had not opted out of work in favor of being a full time wife and mother?

At the time, I remember thinking these were brutal choices. At that point in history, there was a very steep cliff in terms of work. My job was a 60 hour per week commitment. Marketing Directors did not work from home. My husband worked this many hours or more. We found it impossible to find a nanny who wanted to work 12 plus hours per day like we did. With a two year old and an infant the choices were limited.

I think about these choices as I help to prepare and educate my own daughters as they move into adulthood. These are important questions to raise as they consider careers, and hopefully motherhood and families of their own.

My hope is to raise these topics, among others, and have this conversation in my weekly column for News 24/680.

Love and blessings.

Lamorinda Arts Council

The Lamorinda Arts Council has sponsored its 15th Visual Arts Competition for High school students.

Denise Nomura is the chair and she does a wonderful job of organizing and displaying the 250+ original pieces.

I spent a cold and rainy day with her, and the other volunteers this week hanging the art in the Orinda Library Gallery. I organized the paintings and drawings by color. Grouping the work into warm and cool colors and helped to place them in such a way that complimented the beauty of each.

What an amazing array of talent we have in our young people. I couldn’t help thinking what they might do in the future. I hope they all continue to create and not lose their love and interest in art.

Of course, my own daughter entered an oil painting. She recently decided to replace soccer with art, the other passion of her early childhood.

When I asked what she planned on painting I was surprised to learn it would be inspired by the song, California by Joni Mitchell. The lyrics are about sitting in a park in Paris, France, giving peace a chance, and pretty people reading Rolling Stone, reading Vogue. The chorus is about coming home to California.

She listened to the song over and over while painting. Her painting is nothing like anything I might paint. Although, she painted over a canvas of mine, and used my brushes what she created was uniquely her own.

And, in the words of Joni Mitchell, wouldn’t it be nice if we could finally give peace a chance? Maybe, this next generation will.

The winners for the contest will be announced on Wednesday, at the 7 p.m. reception. How the Council will select a winner, I’ve no idea. For me, the art is impossible to compare or categorize as it is all astonishingly individual.

I recommend stopping by The Orinda Library Gallery to see it for yourself. The exhibition runs through March 26th.

Love and blessings.

18 Month Roller Coaster Ride

It’s a societal error to believe that it takes a year to grieve a loss. I believe it to be possibly twice as long.

I am only now starting to begin my days without having my loss be the predominant thought in my mind. There are many layers to a long term marriage that you do not completely understand until it is no more.

If you remain in the shared residence you can move through any room in your house and find this to be true. Even if you have packed up the personal belongings there is beyond that another layer. Like the rings within the trunk of a tree or the sentiment in a rock formation there will never be a time when the marriage is not a part of you. From the art you collected, and the wine you drank, to the file cabinets full of pay stubs and tax records. There are also diplomas, and trophies, and letters in boxes; signed baseballs and scrapbooks to contend with. There are unread books and tennis rackets and random car keys. I let them remain because they are the artifacts of a life, and I hold this space, where my late husband resides, not for myself, but for my children.

Yet, even beyond this, there is another less tangible layer; the table we sat at the country club, or the special grocery store we stopped at on every trip to Tahoe, or the music we listened to, and the movies we watched.

You learn after a time not to notice these things so much, they do eventually recede into the background as new endeavors, people and hobbies fill the spaces left behind.

At the country club I sit at a different table now, I prefer the back left corner with windows overlooking the pool and tennis courts. I bring new friends there, and eat different things; like fish tacos and lamb chops. Or, I go to Napa with different people, and create new memories.

I am dating now, so I am looking at my usual haunts through a new lens. I was at the Legion of Honor, Museum of Fine Art, in San Francisco over the weekend, seeing the Klimt exhibit. We sat outside on the patio in the cool sunshine among the olive trees in the salty air. We had wine with lunch. I’ve been there so many times before, but I had never done that, and it was wonderful.

Undoubtedly, I am moving forward with my own life. However, for me the biggest impact, by far, has been in the area of parenting my fatherless daughters. Typically, in divorce, children have a second parent for emotional and financial support. For better or worse, there is a second sounding board, someone to push against, or disagree with, until a compromise is eventually made. Because it’s just me, I don’t have the luxury of being the tough parent. My parenting must be subtle, protective, and gentle. I am not allowed a bad day, or moments when I am simply short tempered. I have to be soft at all costs while maintaining the necessary parent-child boundaries.

I am the sole guiding force and role model, or as they’ve called me recently, their fearless leader, although, I am fearful at times.

As one who was orphaned in their 20’s I know how important it is to have dependable, reliable, and loving people to lean on. I was blessed with a large extended family. When my mother died I had her five sisters, and my grandmother on speed dial. There was always someone to talk to. If I was ever really lonely, I could pack my bags, head North across the Canadian boarder, and stay with my aunts or one of my 24 first cousins on both coasts, and I often did. I certainly never had to be alone.

My mother’s family is very demonstrative and they never fail to tell me how much they love me, or how beautiful I am, or how talented, or even how proud they are of me. Even my cousins will remind me of what a catch I am.

Of course, they are very clear on the fact that all of these attributes are contributed by our shared side of the family, and they can not stress this enough.

My children are not so lucky however, but what they do have is a network of long term family friends, and a highly engaged and supportive community, as well as their own friends. We are certainly surrounded by love. And for this I am very grateful.

Love and blessings to all.