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wave

The finality and sheer volume of the moving water column underlies all of the dreams: a sense of suffocating inevitability smeared with an animal fear. But the circumstances are varied, concocted by an invasive fancy of a fixated mind.

We may be building sand castles. The whoosh-whish of the coastal wind shimmies the pebbles, dry reeds slither down the dunes and the sun bakes at high noon. Our naked backs are turned towards the water and then the seagull soundtrack stops, the shadow of the wall climbs gingerly over our toasted shoulders…we see it mount the ramparts of the castle. Before we have a chance to turn we feel it crushing down on the chaise-longues, plastic neon-green buckets, sunscreen lotions and bathers, and us of course. I gasp for air and jolt up in bed, coarse grains of sand in my mouth, tasting still the saltiness…

Or: I am in Estonia on the Gulf of Finland with my grandparents. Happy feelings as I clamber, hand over foot, carefully up the gnarled pine. Sticky sap leaves black stains on palm and knee, a soft breeze murmurs sweet nothings and bits of hair tickle the nape. Finally up high enough, I turn to look out to the sea and…the sea is standing. I utter a chocked “Ah!” and then the wall collapses over me, my grandparents, the stand-in chaise-lonuges and beach umbrellas. We all a-jumble are rushing with the water down a tremendous slope, and when we hit the bottom…

Or: I am in the city and it’s Independence Day, the movie. I am in the movie and the water comes as seen from a chopping helicopter. Velcroed to the road I tear a leg off and make an awkward, wide step away, then another. Then the water comes and I wake in a cold sweat, wrestling the tangled sheets and half-hanging off the bed, suspended by an unnatural balancing scheme.

These dreams started coming as I was coming of age: 14, 15, 16. I don’t remember that they started, only that it felt like I’ve had them for a long time. Before, I loved the ocean, frolicked fearlessly in the waves but now even the thoughts nauseated me.  Why? It was a mystery.

The pieces begin to fit together after Papa recalled, quite accidentally, an incident we had when I was maybe ten. We were on a beach in Massachusetts, Papa and I holding hands and diving into the waves while the rest of the family basked. An especially strong wave wrenched my hand from Papa and I tumbled dryer-style with the breaking wave, lost to him as he frantically searched the waters. Sure, within a minute I got footing and stood up and the swimming continued, but dad was shaken. For years he had recurring memories of that event, blaming himself for not holding tighter, for putting me in danger. I forgot the incident completely until he brought it up in my twenties.

Memory believe before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders. Kinship, genetics, unconsciously mumbled words – what is it that passes our fears to our children? The pieces are coming together and falling apart, oscillations of a pendulum, an optical illusion going in and out of focus. Dreams bring up the forgotten, the buried. But even – that buried by our parents.

In conversation with my ten-year old daughter we stumble upon night-time dreams. She shares that her scariest ones have to do with water. She dreams of tsunamis hundreds of feet high, crashing upon civilization. That interminable liquid wall, crushing her and everything around her. An excellent swimmer, always at ease in the pool, the lake, the river, the ocean, where did she learn to fear the wave? How did she know it was scary? Who told  her…?

Photo credit: Juniper Spring Photography

Photo credit: Juniper Spring Photography

Some things you only understand about your parents when you become one.

For example, my mama. She would often start cooking dinner when returning home from work, while still wearing her work clothes. Memories blissfully embedded in my mind have her facing the stove, barefoot but still in her nice business semi-formal, amber earrings, hairdo and all. I would wonder, in my practical, child-like mind, why not just change out first? What is the rush? Won’t Mama get her clothes dirty? Of course, all of us were very glad when dinner was ready, thankful and oblivious to the fact that it took actual time and effort to make it.

Now, all too often, I catch myself putting the water on for the potatoes, lighting the other burner for the fish (and forgetting about it when starting to peel said potatoes), and yelling for the kids to start setting the table all before I’ve even taken off my shoes. Well, maybe I’ll get one of them off. The having and the raising of the progeny has taught me that things always take longer than planned, and that hungry, grumpy kids and hungry, stressed parents make a volatile combination. I am thinking about us, and about them, and about getting something nutritious into the family before it begins convulsing with after-school activities. These last until 7 or 8pm, and only then do I remember to take my work badge off and hang those earrings.

Or, the work-out plan. Mama started going to the gym only when we were mostly grown. But she was always exercising. Doing a few stretches outside before breakfast. Downward Dogging it in the wee hours of the morning. Lifting weights. Forgetting weights on the counter. Feeding cat. Packing lunch for Papa, lifting a couple more times. Doing a couple more stretches. Why not just take half an hour out of the day and do a solid work-out routine, I wondered. It seemed to make sense – more efficient and more productive.

Ha! Somehow it doesn’t work that way with kids. Maybe it’s a learned behavior I’ve inherited from her (the exercising while doing everything else), maybe it’s the only thing left to do? The insight that I have now is that if I don’t do it this way, I won’t do it at all. I’ll wake up, make breakfasts for all, make lunches, sign permission slips, usher our joyful bunch out, drive them to school or rush to work, at work sink into the work things, and then we already know what post-work looks like. So I find myself dragging my medicine ball to the office with me. Leg-lifting while the children are telling me about this and that. Bending down to pick up trash with a straight back and lingering in that position a few extra seconds for the stretch benefit. Ultimately, all the body parts get a workout, only differently.

The truth of the matter is that, as children, we see our parents as two-dimensional care providers. They are fun, and strict, and warm, and comforting. They are the centers of our world, but we remain egocentric, and as such, we only see them in relation to ourselves. At some point, if we are the thinking types, we realize that parents are actual people, foibles, nose hairs, quirks and all. It seems that the only action following this revelation would be to get to know your parents as people – to ask them personal questions, to probe, to discover. Unfortunately, for us kids, that would mean that we would have to lose the parent, in a way. And unfortunately for the parents, few kids are willing to do this.

Camping...

Often I am taken back to the one and only backpacking trip I organized.

My friend May and I had this idea, and, naturally, as soon as we had it, we decided that we must realize it. The idea was simple: take a few of our closest friends for a three-day backpacking trip to King’s Canyon National Park. So, we started calling and talking, and it soon became clear that some of our closest friends were dubious of our plans, having never done anything like this before. We revised our call list and started reaching out further, to old friends from high school, to people who were only loosely called acquaintances. Eventually, we pieced together our team: an old buddy from high school whom we hadn’t seen or talked to in several years, a city-dwelling SoCal friend from LA whose idea of being out in nature was grilling burgers in the back yard, an outdoorsy, socially-awkward gothic pyromaniac in a complicated friendship with my sister Liza, the said sister, May’s good friend Lei, athletic and energetic and willing to give us the benefit of the doubt for a couple of days, May and I.

In our group, there was not a single person who knew all of the other people.

May and I tried to think of everything that we might need on the trip. Before our departure, I helicoptered around each participant, making sure they had their sleeping bags, tooth brushes, warm socks, water canteens, and floss. We also had to avoid any aromatic soap or lotion, because there were bears in those parts of the Sierra Nevadas, and bears like smelly things. By the time we packed in the cars and headed towards the mountains, it seemed we were set.

The first night, after throwing all of our sleeping gear into the one large tent and sitting around the fire, soaking in the last bit of warmth before the deep and cold high-elevation night descended upon us, we discovered what was missing. In all of the hustle, I had forgotten my own sleeping bag. Following the groans and all inevitable remarks, we had to come up with a solution. The only thing we came up with, besides abandoning the trip altogether, was for me to sleep together with Liza in her bag. We could only fit into the bag if we both lay sideways, so Liza climbed in first, I squeezed myself next to her and then we had to zip the bag up. For this, we had to take in a deep breath and not exhale until it was zipped. On the count of three, we would inhale sharply, Liza would command, “Zip!” and I would try to pull up on the zipper. We figured out that actually, we take up less space with our lungs empty, so then we would exhale and Zip! It was very funny, shouting Zip! in the dark. We also had a few other commands worked out, like “Flip!” and “Rotate!”

The fact that eventually our whole group was giggling and snorting didn’t help our dire situation. Surprisingly, eventually we managed to encapsulate ourselves and actually fall asleep.

The first full day of backpacking was mostly uneventful. We stopped by the Visitors Center and picked up several large, brown barrels where we were to store all of our food items to protect them from the bears. This was mandatory for everyone entering the park for back-country camping. Despite the minor anxiety over the scratches and teeth marks on the barrels, morale was overall high and the adventurers were mostly normal. Towards night, we broke camp on a gorgeous outcropping overlooking the rugged valley of the park, with steeps peaks snow-capped in the distance, and a gurgling creek terminating in a spectacular waterfall 20 feet from our tent. We joked around about not sleep walking on this cliff, and attempted to settle for the night.

Well, more Zipit! silliness ensued, followed by complaints that we set the tent up on quite a steep incline, as a result of which, at every movement, the people uphill slid towards the people downhill. The tent wasn’t that big in the first place, and with seven of us already packed in like sardines, people started slipping on top of each other. At one point in the night Liza and I woke up after another failed iteration of “flip!”, and found the other five campers piled on top of us, all bunched up together in the lowest part of the tent, snoring and sighing in their sleep. Shoving sleeping people in the dark up the hill of our tent floor was another adventure altogether.

Later that night, when everyone was back to wheezing peacefully, a piercing “Die, vermin, die!!!!!” jolted us awake. The pyromaniac goth, with his uncharacteristic expression of emotion, jumped out of his sleeping bag and rushed outside. The sleepy sister, who crawled out a bit later to inquire, found him sitting on the edge of the cliff, a lighter in one hand and a tick in the other. Apparently, the tick had nuzzled into his back during the night, and now it was time for sweet revenge.

The following morning, as we packed up and headed further along the trail hugging the cliffs, I could sense a sort of unraveling happening. May and Lei were perfectly happy and oblivious, while our friend from high school and our friend from LA were showing the first symptoms of civilization withdrawal. They were anxious about toilet paper and surprised that the only thing on our agenda for the day was to walk some more and enjoy mother nature. After his explosion during the night, the goth friend was back to his sullen self, but more withdrawn than usual, Liza was suffering from deep mis-communications and drama that was mostly in her head, and I was concerned about the bears.

Another eventful night and the next day brought an end to our exotic adventure. I think we were all more than a little relieved. Looking back, though, memories tint the trip many different colors. I took away the breathtaking grandeur of Kings Canyon and the wonder of how people we seemingly know can be transformed in unfamiliar settings. May remembers the silliness. Liza remembers the turmoil and brands the experience as the worst backpacking trip of her life. Jason remembers the interesting guy from my high school and how his legs hurt after hiking for five hours straight with a backpack. I don’t know what the guy from high school remembers, because we never saw him again. The pyromaniac we saw many times, and Liza kept in touch with him over the many years that elapsed. But what he thought about the trip will go down to the grave with him, because he isn’t much of a talker.

I had always been weary of doing the right thing and then being sorry I did it. Especially when this concerned making sacrifices for the family and then unconsciously holding a grudge against them because I still regretted not getting to do something else, something so vital to my own sense of fulfillment and meaning in life. I didn’t want to have those grudges, and so, my mantra became: no regrets.

Let me develop that. You can regret something that you did, and you can regret something that you did not do. I always opt for regretting things that I do , instead of avoiding potentially wrong choices altogether. Because at least this way, you know how it would have turned out. Regretting not having done something is the most torturous kind of regret, because of all the “could have been”s.

So how has this been working for me? Mixed results. I went to Paris and married a young man that I fell in love with, four months after meeting him. And spent the better part of the next six years regretting it. What was I thinking when I married him? Well, I didn’t want to live with the regret of not having married him; of letting an absolutely unique and talented individual become a stranger when he wanted to weld his life with mine. Did I consider for a moment that we were incompatible, literally unable to function as a single unit? No, I didn’t think about it. See, I was all about no regrets.

Went to graduate school when my kids were 2 years old and 1 year old, pushed through so that I wouldn’t regret not having obtained an education due to the fact that I had young children, and unconsciously hold a grudge against them for life. Do I regret it?

Maybe.

And then there is the vending machine predicament. I stare at the variety of death treats, wondering, if I get a reeses, will I sit there eating it wishing I had gotten cheetos instead? Listening to my inner gut, I try to discern what it wants. My mind says, stick with the peanuts. But I don’t want to regret not having gotten the Snickers…Ultimately I end up regreting whatever I get, and when I get nothing…well that never happens because that would be the cardinal sin totally negating my mantra.

The same happens at night. I get ready for bed but then my husband invites me to a game of chess. Can I say no? But then I will never know how the game could have turned out. And sleeping is always so predictable…

But wait.

I know this. Peeling out of the covers before the crack of dawn, hurridly taping my drooping eyelids to my forehead, really far back for that EXTRA bushy-tailed look, peering in the bathroom mirror only quick enough to say, “Oh boy…”, I know exactly how each late-night game of chess turns out. And the mystery snack options all yield the same yucky aftertaste, and the what if’s get more and more predictable.

Still, I vote for no regrets. Now though it comes not as a result of my action or inaction, but as a natural consequence of the decision I make, when I have the strength of spirit, to not regret things.

It’s that simple.

Well we took the fam, or the fam took us, and headed up to Big Bear Lake for the Independence Day weekend. To make this simple(r), here’s a list of

Characters:

I…………………………… Yar
Daughter…………………. Little Miss V
Son ………………………. Mr. Fatty Pants
Mom………………………. Mamma
Dad ………………………. Dad
Sister ……………………. The Lizard
Brother ………………….. Lyosha
Grandma ………………… G-ma
Grandpa …………………. G-pa
Sister’s fiancé ………….. Seanster
Husband …………………. SIH (Stayed In Houston)

So most of us headed up in two cars from San Diego,and the Lizard and Seanster met us there, since they were coming from home and had a much longer drive. This was the first time that we had the fam in this combination (as in, everyone living on this continent minus Hubby ) in one enclosed spot for more than several hours, and it was…educational. To say the least.

Highlights of the trip:
Cruising around Big Bear Lake in a rented platoon. The weather was superb, albeit quite breezy, especially in the middle of the lake, the sun was shining, the air was fresh and crisp as mountain air should be. We rented a platoon that comfortably fit all 10 of us and enjoyed the morning cruising around the lake, looking at dream properties, taking pictures of beloved family folk, and Lyosha and I even went swimming, very briefly, in the lake.

The beautiful San Bernardino Mountain Range on the way to Big Bear...and me.

PushUps for GrownUps

PushUps for GrownUps (Silliest Picture Prize)

Cruising on Big Bear Lake - Lyosha and I

I really wanted to swim in the lake more than just the few minutes, but the platoon kept on drifting away from us and the water was a tad chilly (17 C) to remain in there comfortably for more than two minutes. Lyosha and I jumped in twice each, and then it was time to get moving, get defrosted, warmed up and on with our day.

The thing about spending any amount of time together makes you realized is that at one point, you were one cohesive unit. You were so familiar with each others’ ways that basically in a family you didn’t even notice that each person had their own “ways”, their own quirks and preferences. But since the family has grown, the Lizard and I moved out, spending less time with the parents and Lyosha and the g-parents…and we obtained our own quirks that are different. Lizard got a lot from her Seanster. Now they have many inside jokes and preferences for doing things, from washing dishes with extra soap, to frying their meat on the rare side.

The grandparents have also…grown. Which means that they too have their own way of doing things and are painfully inflexible. Nobody would want to cause them discomfort, and it’s perfectly respectable that at their mature age of 85, they should have the comfort of being surrounded by familiar things or at least of following familiar rituals: dinner preparations, taking medications, bedtime routines…the list goes on.

And I of course have gotten married and had two kids. Which changes things. Mainly though it changes me. I have become more flexible and patient, hopefully, yet I get more irritated, on the inside, and I feel harder somehow, more weathered, as married life has not been easy. On the flip side, I feel a tremendous need to just chill, and find that every squabble is needless and every cause for worry is unworthy of the stress it brings. On this trip I was trying to remind people to just relax. Seeing everything in a new perspective, I realize that ultimately, what matters is feeling joyful and relaxed and sharing good times with dear ones. Period.

Fabulous ladies - me and Little Miss V

The REAL Big Bear

The REAL Big Bear

Now we’re back in Sunny San Diego, I am on a continued mission to find real chillage, heading up to speak my poetry at the Open Mic hosted by Radiance , a group of christian artists of all caliber that the Lizard and I were part of years ago, when we lived here….

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