Chapter One

For about thirty years I thought that I would write a book about the trip I took this summer. I didn’t think about it every day, but it was settled in my mind. An eventual fact. I pictured making the trip in the fall, and (I don’t know why) I thought I would drive alone. Slowly. Stopping whenever I wanted to. In my daydreams, I traveled in a silver Airstream, and for a really obnoxious couple of weeks or so I thought I wanted to find a typewriter from 1914 to bring along. At the end of every day, I’d park the trailer, crack open a beer, look at the old and new photos, and type up my story. The Airstream windows would be open as the southwestern sun went down, the breeze billowing the curtains as I worked at the typewriter, the paper coming out the top tinted by the fading orange light.

I know.

Look. I’m sure you have some sappy daydreams, too. I’m just being honest.

2014 was always so far away until it wasn’t. In 2012 I met a documentary filmmaker. Wouldn’t it be incredible, I thought, to make the trip with her? Or, maybe I could invite this really talented photographer I know, and also this blogger who does all these great interviews? We could travel together and each do our own project – me on the specific trip my great-grandparents took, and them from a broader, 100 Years Later perspective. Last year, a published author I know encouraged me to get a book proposal together for him to share with his agent and I started it and restarted it and picked up back up again so many times. A literary agent pressed her card into my hand and asked me to call. And I meant to. I honestly thought I would.

When I couldn’t get anywhere with an outline and book proposal I thought I just needed to take the trip first. How could I know what the story would be like (coffee table photo book? Memoir? Biography of my great-grandmother?) until I’d taken the trip and figured out what it was. I bought myself an extravagant, lovely journal so I could at least write about things as they happened, every day. I carried that journal through eight states (nine if you count changing planes in Texas) and it is still blank.

Now I’m back home with a couple thousand photos and so many thoughts and memories and feelings to process. The trip was an amazing success. It was nothing like I imagined it would be. It was better than I hoped it would be, missing sunset-lit Airstream and all. It was quiet and it was often ordinary, except not really. I am probably not going to write a book about it. I’m not saying never, but what happened that I can’t really explain is that it doesn’t feel like it needs to be anymore. It’s gone in my head from, This is going to be so cool! I should write a book about it! to That was one of the coolest things I ever did. I’m so glad I went. I’m not sure if I’m a flake or if I’m just content with the experience, but I don’t need to.

Of course I very much want to document the trip for myself my brother and my kids and anyone else who is interested, but I’ll do it here instead of on the URL I bought a few years ago. I’m tempted to kick myself for failing after being gifted this rare opportunity, but I don’t think any book ever written because it should have been came out worth reading. The only good ones are the ones that have to be written and I don’t have one of those.

IMG_2357

 

This is the first stop on my trip, though it’s not really part of the 100 years ago trip – the house in Liberty, Missouri my grandmother lived in when she starting dating my grandfather in the mid 1930s. Her father built the house, and this is taken from the side. That porch. Swoon.

I’ve been blogging for twelve years, and this is the first time I’ve been tempted to put a photo of my butt on The Internets.

Scuba has been skateboarding since elementary school, and he surfs and used to spend a lot of winter weekends snowboarding, so when he says that the bruise I got on my butt this weekend is the worst bruise he has ever seen on a person, ever, then let’s agree to all agree that it’s an impressive one. He said it looks like I have a big purple kale leaf stuck to my ass.

We took Ace on a five or six mile walk up to Lexington Reservoir Saturday morning before it got too hot. He likes to swim around in the lake, so we walked down the (no longer used as a) boat ramp to the water. The boat ramp is COVERED in gravel that goes from grit-sized up to golfball-sized, and we were both slipping around some, when I fell, hard, onto my backside. Onto a big rock sitting on the cement. I did not cry. Instead I got up and watched our LochNess Retriever swim around.

By the time we got home, I had a pretty good bruise going, but it was nothing compared to how it looked that night. I hiked up my dress to show the girls and Willow was all, ACK! I don’t want to see that! and Sophie was like, SHOW ME AGAIN! THAT IS AMAZING!

Anyway, no photos of my butt today, though I did tell Scuba he should take one close-up enough to not be able to tell what specific body part it was of. He just rolled his eyes at me.

That same night we had Sophie’s 13th birthday party, and I will admit that it was fun. (PROTIP from Scuba: Set up some charging stations if you’re throwing a party for teenagers. They will adore you.)

I love that photo of her with her pile of donuts. Here she is on her first birthday:

And her fourth:

Her sixth:

And her seventh:

We got her a little powder blue Fuji Instax that takes 2″x3″ instant photos. She got it out at the party and took a few shots. She got a really great one of Ace, and it was so fun to watch how happy it made her. I know that feeling very, very well.

The next day, Scuba and I were on our own, so we took Ace to the beach. On the way home Scuba surprised me by stopping in at the Pearson Arrow shop and buying me a fantastically gorgeous new board. I am wholly unworthy of it. Time for me to get more serious about having fun and get my arms in paddling shape.

new board

What makes me happiest about this isn’t the beautiful surfboard – it’s that he wants me to be able to surf with him. That’s the best I love you, ever.

I’m such a sap

My sister got a ridiculously cute puppy.

Tonight at dinner I was so tired. I sat there after everyone got up, just kind of looking at the dishes and trying to do the math of how I could get up and wash them. Scuba did a chunk of them and then I kicked him out of the kitchen since he still had other things to do and he’d already done a ton of stuff in the yard when he came home from work.

Anyway, the kids were in the dining room, all crowded around an iPad, watching a totally inappropriate video and figuring out the dialogue so they could come up with a script and act it out. I didn’t ask them to help me wash up, because they were getting along really well. Before we know, it Lex will be out of the house probably and they will all do so, so many dishes in their lives. So, I kept at it, listening to them, appreciating their togetherness in that moment. When I ran out of room on the counter to put anymore washed dishes, they were winding down, so I made Lex come and dry. He didn’t complain, he never does. He dried all the bowls and put them away, talked to me for a little bit. This is all I need to be happy.

Cooking therapy

Sophie’s first try at risotto. Success!

Without getting specific and too talking-behind-her-backish, I can say that Sophie is in 7th grade and we all remember middle school and how uncomfortable it is going from being a little kid to a big kid.

SophSelfie

Everyone makes jokes about girls her age and their ubiquitous, obnoxious selfies. I do, too. I also see the tenderness in them, though: tell me I’m okay, tell me you like me, tell me I’m pretty, tell me I’m good enough. Like me. We can tell our daughters 24/7 that their looks don’t matter, that it’s what’s on the inside that’s important, that it’s all about how good of a person you are and how you treat others and how hard you work. And even if we truly believe it, and even if they truly believe it, they will see over and over and over again that physical beauty is hard currency and that in the big picture presented to us by all the different types of media we’re surrounded by, women who have it seem to be valued (and envied) more than the rest of us.

Mostly, I think, in the small and personal interactions middle school girls have all day long, they come to learn that there are many things more important than being the prettiest. They choose their friends because they are funny or smart or caring, or all of those things. But still. There’s that message coming through that the prettiest girls are better than the plainer ones. As they go from being little girls to young women, how could they not want to see if they can be in the more exclusive group? If their whole world at this age is about seeking approval from their peers, why wouldn’t they want what seems to be the highest approval?

So, I don’t know, I watch my girls taking photos of themselves in our backyard, and it’s sweet and kind of heartbreaking watching them try on looking sexy and beautiful instead of little and cutesy. I often tell them they’re beautiful. They shrug it off because I’m their mother. I say things to them like, Lucky for you, you’re not just beautiful, because that’s nice and all, but it’s not enough. You’re also whip-smart and funny and so thoughtful. And your singing voice is awesome. You’ve got the whole package.

Last night I asked Sophie to help make supper. She got out the copy of The Silver Spoon for Children that my mom gave her awhile back and started reading things out to me: Spaghetti and Meatballs? Homemade Pizza!? Risotto?

We have stuff to make risotto, I told her. Make that. Beyond helping her with the onion when it made her cry, I didn’t really help. She stood there and stirred and stirred for an hour. It came out great and I am not sure if it tasted better to her or to me, but I do know that it didn’t have as much to do with the saffron as it did with the fact that she made it on her own and everyone liked it. Even her brothers.

Don’t forget to validate your parking ticket and your parenting style.

This opinion piece that ran in the NY Times a couple of weeks back is so up my alley.

I am not, by nature, much of a punisher or rewarder, which is mostly exhausting, but maybe I am on the right track? At any rate, I’ve read this through two or three times, especially the parts about guilt and shame, modeling generosity, and expressing disappointment rather than using punishments. I don’t have anything to add other than my agreement and the acknowledgement that, YES, it sure does feel great to find examples of some of my (sometimes very unpopular) parenting choices being backed up.

On Saturday, Scuba and his mom and Willow and I went to see the San Jose Giants play.

She made it onto the Jumbotron a couple of times and absolutely went berserk. I had to get out my phone and text her best friend’s mom so she could let her know. Twice.

After the game, which we sadly lost after 11 innings, the littles got to run the bases.

Watching that kiddo have a great time is the best. I get all verclempt and stuff.

Sunday Scuba took his mom and my mom and me out to lunch and the opera for an early Mother’s Day celebration. (On the real Mother’s Day, we have to be at soccer at 8 a.m., and then we are driving 143 miles to take the girls to see five or six bands at the fair in Roseville because it’s close to Sophie’s birthday and her favorite human, Ed Sheeran, is performing. Taking one for the team (the kid portion of our team) this year means that next year I can probably line up breakfast in bed AND some kind of indulgent spa time, right?) Lunch was really good, the opera was even better and not just because I was the youngest woman there. I’m not qualified to bust out an opera review, but I can say that the performers were all really good actors with amazing voices and the sets and costumes were lovely, and the guy who played Leporello, Don Giovanni’s servant, was especially funny. I loved it.

Near the theatre parking was $30 for the day, but we went to a garage around the corner charging $5, which is great, because have you ever bought a giant foam finger? Shit sets you back, I’m telling you.

99, 100 – Ready or not, here I come

Bea & Baby EdMy great-grandmother, Bea, and great-uncle, Ed, in Arizona’s Petrified Forest, 1915. 

About a hundred years ago, my great-grandparents took an incredible trip in their Buick, with their baby, sometimes on roads and sometimes on wagon tracks, across a big chunk of the U.S. My great-grandfather, Edgar, was (among many other things) a photographer. He took photos along the way and developed them at night as they camped out with a tent connected to their car. Many of the photos were made into postcards that he and the other travelers sent to their loved ones.

To Miss Kitty WilliamsDear Kitty: Rec’d your letter and since then have been to San Diego fair and expect to start to Ventura Thursday (21st) roads were fine and if it does not rain think we can make trip in auto fine. If anything hinders will drop you a card tomorrow eve (Wed)  If we have good luck will get there some time Thursday evening. Ella Morris. 

In less than two months, I’m going to fly to Kansas City and then drive with my dad’s siblings along some of what’s remaining of the route their grandparents traveled. We are compressing two separate treks taken over two years into seven days on the road. We’re going from Kansas City to Colorado to Utah to Southern California to the Grand Canyon to Santa Fe. We’ll have air conditioning and sleep in hotels and yet not be nearly as well-dressed as they were. We will stop and take photos in as many of the places they did that we can, and we are hoping to meet up with some of my great-grandfather’s other descendants along the way.

When I was a teenager in the 80s and thought about taking this trip, the thing that struck me most was how OLD I would be – I couldn’t imagine it. All of a sudden, here it is and here I am, ready to go.

Sweet peas, drought-resistant wildflowers, poppies

These sprouts are growing in an old egg carton in our kitchen windowbox. For the past few mornings I’ve looked at them as I made coffee and cleaned up the breakfast dishes and thought, Okay. Today I’m going to get outside and plant these little guys. And every day for the past few days I haven’t made the time. It’s important, I think, to frame this correctly: I haven’t made the time vs. I don’t have the time. I do have the time to plant these seedlings, to put away the clean laundry stacked up on my dresser, to run to the pharmacy and pick up my medicine. I could be doing any of those things right this very now instead of staying in bed too late this morning with my laptop and coffee, but I have not made the time to do those things – yet.

The difference between the two doesn’t seem like much, but I’ve been really considering how I talk to myself since I’m stuck listening to myself all day, all night. I am, unequivocally, a Very Busy Person, most of the time, but I’m more of a helpless, life is happening to me person if I say I don’t have the time for something. Saying that I’m not making the time gets me out from under the wheel. I’m not really too busy to plant the sprouts – the sprouts just haven’t reached a high enough spot on my priority list.

From last January

You can’t tell from this shot, but there were SO many people at the beach with fancy cameras when I took this photo. Scuba and Ace and I got there in the mid afternoon and before the sun started going down all these people appeared with tripods and Serious Camera Lenses and started setting up, carefully, at the edge of the water in front of the opening in this rock. So, I left our blanket and brought my fancy camera over to see what all the fuss was about. Then the setting sun poured all this liquid gold through the rock and onto the water and the smaller rocks on the beach and the sand and everyone’s skin. And I understood.

Everyone was pretty quiet as the sun set. The ocean is loud at that beach, but other than that it was just the shutters clicking away, some whispering. A few birds. The light was so dense and so there, like it could be gathered up in a jar and saved for later.

My girls

I remember, so vividly, the moment that each of these two girls were born. So, so different – Sophie at home, as the sun was coming up, with just my mom and my friend and the midwife. The lights were low and it was quiet and after she was wrapped up and in my arms we opened the front door and the breeze came in, smelling like flowers. Willow was born seven weeks early by emergency c-section, and after I touched her cheek one time before she was carried off to the NICU, we were kept apart for the first day and I cried and cried. But all that stuff aside, the first moments of being with each of them were very alike. I was captivated by every aspect of them. Their tiny fingernails, their eyelashes, their fingers curling around mine. Those tiny rosebow lips. The yawning. Love and pride and disbelief at their beauty. Astonishment. When I was making this video of them at the beach the other day, I can’t say I was feeling any of those things. We were happy and laughing and very in that moment, but oh my god when I watch this video without any sound I feel completely all those things I did when I first held each of them.

Laundry

My grandmother’s washer and dryer were in her yellow kitchen, right by the back door. One afternoon, when my cousin and I were teenagers, we were in the kitchen when the dryer buzzed and our grandmother took out a fitted sheet and began folding it. We both walked over, watching, as she folded it perfectly. Michelle said, Okay. You HAVE to show me how you did that! And my grandmother was, I’m not even exaggerating, astonished. You mean you girls don’t know how to fold a fitted sheet? We both shook our heads no. So, she showed us how she put her hands inside two of the fitted corners and then joined them, folded the sheet, laid it flat on the dryer to smooth it out, and and then folded until it was perfectly done.

I still can’t really do it right, but every time I fold fitted sheets I think about being in her kitchen and I’m glad that no one else had taught me how.