You Are Worthy: Thoughts for a Friend Facing Alcohol Addiction

It’s not going to be easy, taking ownership of the vice that’s destroying you. But I see you. I’m here, and your hard work is inspiring.

I know this is not how you thought 2016 was going to go down. Remember how strong you felt in January? Running your ass off, up and down mountains, across bridges? You’ve still got that. Now you have to channel that stamina into something new.

This isn’t the first time you’ve had to fight this dragon, I know. Addiction isn’t a light conversation topic while pushing kids on swings, but you’ve said enough over the years. I’ve always been impressed by how you own your past and celebrate who you are today. So many of us, including me, feel like we have to hide our mistakes. Or we pretend our biggest fault is leaving dishes in the sink overnight, feeding the kids cereal for dinner, or some other nonsense.

But struggle is what makes us who we are. One reason you’re so great is how real you are. Everyone around you can feel it. They are attracted to your candor and spirit, even if they don’t know why.

I wish I’d known how bad things had gotten. This isn’t about me, but I feel like a crappy friend. I’m sorry. I’m sorry you slipped back into bad patterns. I’m sorry you felt like you couldn’t ask for help. My heart hurts for you.

I’m proud of you right now, even with all the sadness. Proud of you for heading to rehab, leaving the kids, the man, the house – all of it – to get on top of things. Doing it instead of just thinking about it, talking about it even, hemming and hawing? That’s pretty bad ass.

Addiction is sneaky. Alcohol isn’t my vice but that doesn’t mean I don’t get it. My obsessions are different but equally unhealthy, emotionally. The way we talk about drinking is so messed up. Life needs booze! Have a drink! Relax, you deserve it! But not too much, obviously. Only losers can’t control their drinking, right? Never mind that we laugh when someone’s had too much, and use it as an excuse for letting go.

I don’t really know what to say to you. I don’t have a lot of experience with rehab. My brother went, for a whole year, and I know we’ve talked about it. All I could do for him was write – nearly every day just so he’d know he wasn’t alone. I can do the same for you. Even more, I’m here for after, when you have to try to take care of yourself and real life, too.

I can’t imagine how you feel right now. I don’t have to. Know I love you, even the broken and ugly and dangerous parts. Really. You probably don’t believe me right now. That’s the addiction talking, making you feel worthless. That’s the lie. You are worth so much, even drunk and falling apart and doing stupid things. You still have value.

Talk to me, stay silent, punch a hole in my wall, shave my head. I’m here. And I know you can do this.

What Happens When the Parent is the Picky Eater?

It’s not always the parent trying to coax the kid into eating more adventurous eating. Some of us are raising tiny incarnations of Anthony Bourdain.

At his favorite restaurant, a gaudy massive Chinese buffet, my son Owen fills his plate with baby octopi. He doesn’t just eat them, he dissects with commentary. For a picky eater like me, listening to descriptions of texture and anatomy is almost more than I can bear.

My first child ate virtually nothing after he gave up nursing. My husband and I are robustly built people who couldn’t get our little one to eat more than a bite or two, leaving us a very physically mismatched family. The kid is nine now and still considers food an annoyance that interrupts his life.

So when baby Owen arrived, I was ready for food fights once again. But from his first joyous bite of applesauce — no spoon, straight from a pile on his high chair tray — Owen has loved food. Not just treats, not just when he’s bored, not just when he’s hungry. The kid savors flavors and wants to explore them.

Miso soup is a favorite, full of umami and salt. “What are the white squares?” he asks.

I don’t want to ruin it for him so I’m wary answering. “It’s called tofu. It’s like…hmm.” I hate tofu so I’m at a loss for words.

Owen doesn’t wait for my explanation, though. He scoops a few cubes into the deep spoon, looks carefully at them, and then eats.

“It doesn’t taste like anything.”

The food adventures began as a male bonding exercise. My husband loves trying all kinds of food, especially the ones that make me squeamish. Owen learned early on that a willingness to sample new foods made his father proud. He was an early adopter of asparagus and artichokes, salmon roe and stinky cheeses, long before he could even tie a shoe. Father and son became a team.

Owen’s food love has grown past his father-son relationship. For his fifth birthday he wanted our friend to make him obento for lunch. I’d made arranged standard America fare into cute bento box style for months, but that wasn’t what he wanted. Hard-boiled egg cut into the shape of an animal, seaweed wrapped rice ball looking like a masked ninja, tiny sausages steamed into tentacle creatures. Our friend was thrilled to have a fan club so she went all out on my boy’s special Japanese lunch. It was easily his favorite part of the day, far surpassing the Spiderman festooned cake.

Seafood and Asian specialties are at the top of Owen’s list. The funkier the smell, the better. He enjoys his foodie identity as part of what makes him unique. I love this about him. He’s unswayed by the kids at lunch with their boring sandwiches. I pack him nori (dried and crunchy seaweed), Thai dried shredded fish, and cantaloupe.

I’m never going to be a brave eater. I abhor anything white or creamy and, honestly, this is fairly limiting. But each time Owen grocery shops with me we try to select a new food to try out as a family. Cactus fruit, cinnamon sticks, the olive bar with its dozen options, rambutans. The cactus, nopales, will not be coming back even with the spikes taken out. Some olives were more popular than others with their strong brine, though I find all varieties vile. But the alien looking spiky fruit spheres with a sweet gelatinous layer inside covering the enormous seed? I love those things! Without Owen, I never would have tried them.

I love to watch Owen overcome his fears – of food, of cockroaches, of anything – and surpass me in life. And it’s not just the food. I like to think my little son is more open to unfamiliar experiences in general. Will he bravely go off to science camp with strangers? Skydive? Choose an unpopular political opinion? I hope he’ll listen to his own voice – not just about what to eat, but what to think, and who to be.

We’re planning a family trip to Thailand soon. I’m excited to explore, and try new things. But I’m nervous too. Big cities, unfamiliar culture, unknown language, and the sheer mass of humanity. Oh yeah, and the pan roasted bugs I’ve heard so much about.

I know that with Owen’s guidance, I’ll step outside my comfort zone, order something more than plain steamed rice, and try to open up to whatever comes my way. Even if it once lived in the ocean, or worse yet, under a rock.

Your Kids Need You, Even If They Pretend They Don’t

Being the parent who your kids and their friends can count on is one of the best positions you can find yourself in.

My 10 year old didn’t want me to come on the big field trip this year, which is fine because I didn’t want to be on a stupid bus anyway.

At least that’s what I told myself. He’s still all snuggles at home, despite the legs and knees and elbows and sweaty head. But the hug in the parking lot after school is gone and he often walks ahead of his little brother and me. It’s part of life, I know, and I’m mostly fine with it.

I’m a little over the top with kids. I can admit this. I blame my many years in the classroom at the high school and community college. You have to let go of embarrassment to perform every day for hundreds of uninterested young folks. After that, elementary kids are easy, since they think everything is funny.

Imagine my surprise when my big kid told me all his friends love me. I felt like Miss America. Mostly because I was wearing a bra that day. And also, because I was happily shocked. It was so unexpected, did I even deserve such an honor? Was there some mistake?

“They think you’re awesome,” he told me. My face was frozen in a wide grin, wide enough to make a person think maybe Botox was on sale at Target. He wasn’t mad about it at all. He thought it was great.

Frankly, I want the classmates to think I’m great. And not just because I’m pushing 40 and work from home and maybe need to meet more people. These peers spend as much time with my child as I do – if you don’t count the hours when he should be sleeping in his own room but he’s not. 

I want to know what’s going on. I want to get the scoop from the fast kid, the one who zooms around the field. I want to hear about the kid always creating drama. I even want these loud, stinky, dorky people to come to my house.

That’s the only thing I know about raising kids: you got to be there.

I won’t bore you with tales about pregnant 9th graders and all that. And I know you can’t protect your kids from everything (most things). But you can know what’s going on. You can know when change is afoot, when a new crowd is the topic of conversation, when someone drops off the radar. And you can feed kids so you know they’re in a house with supervision. Yours. 

I may be cool but I’m still not going to the end of the year pool day. That sounds like a watery hell. I’ll say hi to Cesar and Yeshua and Celeste and Samantha when I see them — at the movies, after school, at the fair, or wherever. I want them, and my kids, to know there’s nowhere to hide. In the best possible, least creepy way. 

We’re all in this life thing together. We have to use the skills we’ve got to care for our kids. I’m trying to use my weird humor to make them tell me who brought a beer to the sleepover. Whatever your skills are, use them. Let them know adults are out there rooting for them.

Hell, one of these kids is going to being my cardiologist someday, I figure I better get on her good side now and start building our relationship.

Why You Should Become an Education Activist

Making sure our kids’ schools fit their needs is the responsibility of every parent. Speak up. Advocate. Make change.

I am not an activist. 

I vote, but don’t campaign. I give money to causes I believe in, but don’t tell others to do the same. But in the past five years since I’ve had children in the public school system, all that has changed.

When I spent time in the kindergarten classroom and saw how cramped the space was; when I saw children were literally on the floor, under tables, crying – I talked to the teacher, then the principal. He was rudely unresponsive. So, I did some research about budgets and state law.  I contacted the superintendent, assistant superintendent, and five members of the school board.

I spoke at a board meeting, shaking with rage and nerves the whole time. I was on the local news twice, including one day when I hadn’t showered. And when all of those efforts made not one drop of difference, I moved my child to another school.

To choose a school with better chances of success in kindergarten, I asked everyone I knew about their experience. I called district offices where no one wanted to answer questions about class size. Finally, I called every elementary school in my city to find real numbers — not school averages, but how many five- and six-year-olds one teacher was expected to wrangle.

Before switching, I went to observe. I’d learned my lesson. The tone and tenor of one classroom, far from our home, was unlike anything else I’d seen. Immediately I knew it was the right place for my son.

It shouldn’t be this hard. I speak English as my first language, have my own transportation, work from home, and have a master’s degree. Even with these advantages, navigating the education system in my community was exhausting.

Fast forward a few years and my second child was set to begin kindergarten. We were at the same school where we’d found such contentment the first time around. With a wonderful teacher, we began the year. My son had some special needs – a chronic health condition – and a brilliant mind. I met with the teacher early on and together we figured out accommodations to make things work.

Despite the teacher’s best efforts, my boy was not thriving. One day I noticed he’d begun to count on his fingers, like his peers, something he’d not done since he was three years old. I recognized the need for intervention and began to confer.

I met with the principal, so unlike the first one I’d encountered. She was responsive to my concerns and came up with alternatives. Stymied by rules, she involved district administrators.  I spoke again with superintendents, even state legislators. 

I was treated by these officials with such remarkable condescension. I was told by many that my opinion did not matter, that every parent wants to think their child is special. In not so many words, the message was clear: suck it up.

The first time around, I was disillusioned and pained by how the system didn’t seem set up for student success. This second time I was heartbroken to see how nothing had changed, despite the amazing people in the real classrooms.

Something has shifted inside me over these five years. I’m up to date on state education policies, as well as national trends. I know the people involved in every level of leadership in my community, and know who can be taken at their word. I tell strangers they don’t have to take the status quo when I overhear them worrying in the parking lot.

I still hate meeting new people and hate how my voice sounds amplified through a microphone.  I don’t want to be seen as an agitator or loudmouth. But once it became about my kids, my preferences went out the window. 

I’m working with a small group of parents to get approval to expand our school. We’re hitting roadblock after roadblock. Some people want to give up, don’t think it’s worth the hassle. I get that. I just know that no one else will advocate for my children if I don’t. Special education parents changed the system over the past 50 years, fighting for every child. 

My quests may be less dramatic but the idea is the same: our kids are worth fighting for.

Secrets, Shopping, and Sharing on Amazon Prime

You know what couples aren’t obligated to do? Peek into every nook and cranny of one another’s consciousness.

If you share an Amazon Prime account with your spouse, you will have to explain: Jelly Belly Peas and Carrots Mellocreme Mix, 1 pound bag.

You’ll have to explain how it seemed like a funny idea to put peas on the plate at dinner for everyone discover they were candy, not mushy vegetables. All for the low low price of $9.95.

You will also, perhaps, have someone notice that your favorite Rhodia Steno Lined Notebook is an item purchased several times a year at a price triple what a regular steno pad would cost.

Heaven forbid you put books in the shopping cart. You’ll have to explain the books. Books you don’t need right now, but definitely want to read at some point. Books the library doesn’t have.

You might say, “No, I don’t need 642 Tiny Things to Write About at this moment, but it will be good when I am out of ideas. Same goes for The World According to Star Wars which, honestly, I thought you’d enjoy, honey.”

Money is shared in our house, and that’s great. But mostly I’m the one who handles the bills and the banking, the buying and the saving. And I don’t really like having my compulsive online shopping habits examined.

Should they be? Probably. Maybe. 

I have been married – to the same person – for seventeen years, and I’ve had to revamp my expectations about what information should be shared between two people. Oh, how things have changed. I used to quiz this poor man, asking him for “top 5” lists – top 5 things he loves about me, top 5 places he’d like to go, top 5 favorite movies. I would also, in my sweet naïve innocence, want to know what he was thinking at any given moment.

You know what I’ve learned? No couple needs to peer into every nook and cranny of each other’s consciousness.

Fifty percent of my online shopping doesn’t even result in purchasing. It’s browsing and relaxing. It’s imagining the life in which I need dish towels that cost as much as a pair of shoes. A life in which every season has its own dessert plates, and I buy different lotions for different parts of my face.

Of course, this is not how my husband relaxes. His web browsing focuses heavily on cars and weird science things. When I glance over his shoulder I try not to react. I try not to say things like: Of all the things in the universe, this is how you spend your time?

I’m a bit defensive of my online habits, recognizing how many diseases I could cure if I dedicated my efforts more productively. But I’m a writer, not a scientist, so I probably wouldn’t be much good trying to annihilate herpes. I definitely enjoy spending money more than I think a person should and constant connectivity makes it nice and easy…too easy.

Sure, my husband and I can share an Amazon Prime account. He can note the streaming videos I watch without him. He can raise his eyebrows about the piles of books. And I can pretend the boxes that arrive, addressed to him, are all presents from his devoted wife.

After all, the nearly $100 I save by not having my own Prime account sure can buy a girl a lot of swag.

The Scars of Motherhood

My body holds the internal scars of motherhood, and also bears its own external record of bringing these babies forth and taking care of them, day or night.

Most scars of parenting are internal, the ways we can’t fix things for our children, the way they stop wanting to hold hands in public.

My body holds these internal scars, and also bears its own external record of bringing these babies forth and taking care of them, day or night.

[su_spacer size=”60″][/su_spacer]

Stitches isolated on

[su_spacer size=”60″][/su_spacer]

Without lipstick or summer tan, the centimeter scar on my upper left lip is barely noticeable. If I run my tongue over the area I can feel something, a small bump. Close to the midpoint between bottom and top lip, where it starts to rise toward the bow in the center, a raised sliver of flesh.

The toddler is in bed with my husband and me, having started out in his own miniature convertible crib. He has his hard red plastic transparent sippy cup, cushioned blue handles attached for easy grasping. He’s in a night terror, screaming like he’s being stabbed or abducted or whatever haunts his tiny nightmares. 

I try to soothe my son, my long awaited surprise baby. I pat his back, try to hold and comfort him. He flails, all four limbs wild. The cup smacks my face again with sudden velocity. I’ve never been punched. Is this how a fist fight feels? Like my flesh has actually split open? There’s a hole in my face, blood pouring into my mouth,

At the 24 hour clinic, I feel like a fraud. My 6’4” linebacker husband seems the more likely culprit for my injury than my two year old son. Whatever notation goes in my file doesn’t stop the physician’s assistant from giving me two wee stitches to hold together the gap in my lip. 

During my first visit to the obstetrician post-birth, I learn that my previous doctor has left the practice and I’ll be seeing someone new.

“Ooh, who did your stitches?” the doctor asks from between my legs.

“What?” I’m nauseated, near blinded by the fluorescent lights, my rear end hanging off the end of the table, freezing cold in my paper gown. And now I’m confused.

“This is a nice looking scar. Someone really did a nice job.”

She’s complimented my most private of stitches – the sewing done while a team of very silent and efficient doctors and nurses whisked away my not-crying newborn baby. Stitches the doctor took his time on, chatting and trying to distract me from whatever was happening out of my line of vision.

[su_spacer size=”60″][/su_spacer]

Stitches isolated on

[su_spacer size=”60″][/su_spacer]

The second child slept easily in his own crib, from early on. We struggled as I made myself say I love you each day, out loud, to his face, whether I felt it or not. He was small and frequently sick, his lungs alert to every germ and his intestines refusing to poop. 

As a family we travel to Costa Rica with our six month old baby and the four year old big brother, ready to be intrepid despite parenthood. I carry the kid on my chest, facing out in the Baby Bjorn, through misty rain forests, and around the sweltering base of a volcano.

We return home after a night of plane delays and a five hour drive from LAX. I’m wedged in the back seat of our two door Honda Accord, trying to calm the overtired kids while barely keeping my own eyes open. At last in our driveway, my husband tilts his driver’s seat forward and I try to climb out with the baby in my arms.

Instead of a smooth exit, my foot catches on the seatbelt and I fall to the cool concrete, twisting my body to protect the baby’s head from the brunt of the impact. Lying there, trying not to scream at the angle of my knee and the pain ripping through me, I curse motherhood. I curse the instinct to protect a child and sacrifice my own leg. 

Over the months of barely walking in a massive brace, the years where I can’t properly kick in an aerobics class, I think back to that moment. The moment I cared more about my child than my own self, even in the midst of a dark depression where I wasn’t sure I could be his mother.

[su_spacer size=”60″][/su_spacer]

Stitches isolated on

[su_spacer size=”60″][/su_spacer]

I lick my lip while eating ice cream and feel the tiny mark from when my children’s needs were simpler. I ice my knee when the barometric pressure changes, laughing as my boys mimic Michael Jackson dance moves.

Scarred or no, we’re doing pretty good.

A Decade of Poop

From the first hours of motherhood, you are told to care deeply about poop.

Black poop from your baby should not be horrifying — or a sign of him eating blueberries and/or black jelly beans. It is natural, much like your fear of pooping after pushing a child out vaginally.

You swore it wouldn’t happen to you but over the course of the first year, you and your partner begin talking about poop with ease – while eating, on a date, before falling asleep. Neither of you are bothered by this and accept it as valid, fascinating conversation.

You say the words, “come look at this diaper,” and are not making a joke.

Really, the poop doesn’t smell that bad. It is kind of weird.

Year Two

A child who eats solid food is much grosser in the poop department. Still, your kid can barely walk so it isn’t like there’s any hope of poop not being your responsibility.

The kid can tell you when he needs a new diaper. You become adept at scheduling activities based on likely poops, for baby and yourself.

You have officially spent enough money on diapers and wipes to earn a free flashlight, valued at 17,000 points, from your credit card company.

Year Three

The kid is now interested in your poop. It is hard to be chill about this. Sometimes a woman just wants some damn privacy. Getting the job done in the bathroom is harder with guests.

The moment your kid seems slightly interested in not sitting in his own feces, you try to potty train.

This does not go well. Cleaning poop off underwear is somehow much worse than diapers. Wiping poop off a standing up person is horrible. You want to throw up sometimes.

You consider toilet training habits you’ve heard about from your hippie friends. You let your child wander naked for a whole day. When you accidentally step on a turd, you realize you don’t want to be a hippie. You want to be a person who never touches poop again.

Year Four

One day you wake up and realize your child uses the toilet on his own almost all the time. You can wipe that little butt while on the phone and brushing your teeth at the same time.

Then your child gets sick. The flow of poop is constant. If the kid wasn’t so pitiful, you would be seriously upset. But how can you be mad when your little one can’t stop shitting? You realize there are worse things than a slow pooper who wants to talk while sitting on the potty.

Year Five

Your child attends some sort of preschool program. This person who has to use the toilet every hour at your house somehow goes the whole year without once pushing out a turd for them.

Every day your child comes home, starts to pick up toys, and then has to poop. You suspect he is reading in the bathroom but never catch him. He must take off all of his clothes to poop.

Year Six

Your child does not want help wiping his bum any longer. This is unfortunate at he doesn’t quite get all the poop, despite using half a roll of toilet paper.

You become friends with a plumber.

You stop trying to clean underwear. If it is even mildly gross, you throw it away.

Your go-to answer for any discomfort in your child is asking when the last time he pooped was, even though you know the answer.

You know the poop schedule of everyone in your house. You wish you did not have this information so readily available.

Year Seven

Your child refuses to poop unless at home. You go on vacation. Five days in, your child spends two hours in the bathroom. You hope he has learned a lesson. He has not.

The bathroom smells horrible when your child uses it, like he’s a grown man with huge elephant scat or something. Your child likes to describe his poop, still.

Year Eight

Your child closes the door when he poops. He leaves you alone in the bathroom, as well.

Your child can say he has an upset stomach rather than give details about consistency, frequency, or color of feces.

You smile when mothers of younger children talk about poop. What’s wrong with them? Don’t they have a life?

Year Nine

On a camping trip, your child is able to balance in a squat and poop in nature. You feel that you can die now and your child will be able to make it to college.

You and your child can discuss animal poop without laughing, in a scientific manner of observation rather than a grossfest.

Year 10

You have not thought about poop for two weeks. You realize your own bowel movements are remarkable only for being regular and indistinct. Your household has returned to a stable level where poop is not a topic of consideration.

Now you begin to wonder if you made it all up, if poop really was your whole life there for a while.

A New Variety of Parenting Conundrum

I can’t prepare my sons for every situation that will come up in life. That scares me at times. But I can help them learn to listen to their conscience.

My oldest son was just five years old when I was faced with a new variety of parenting conundrum. Here’s what I wrote back then:

“There’s an 8 year old boy in our neighborhood who frequently comes by to play with Cole. He seems not quite right–he doesn’t leave when I say Cole is gone or can’t come out, and bangs on the door for half an hour sometimes.

Saturday, when said child came by, Cole told me that he doesn’t want to play with him. Something about it tuned me in and I asked Cole if THE CHILD made him feel uncomfortable. He started crying and said yes. I told Cole to listen to those feelings and that I would take care of it.

I knew I had to go talk to the parents. I didn’t want to be mean, but if Cole and I both were getting a vibe from this kid then we are done. I decided I would frame it just as the boy being too old for Cole.”

Yesterday the boy and his mom’s boyfriend came by together. I told them that Cole wasn’t going to be able to play since he is only in kindergarten. Neighbor child didn’t get it. Adult male asked if something had happened or just the age thing. I assured him the kid hadn’t done anything, though it seems weird that he asked. Man seemed to understand and handled it well. The kid did not.

I’m a bit older now and have a bit more experience. I still feel sympathetic to this neighbor child and hope he is doing well. But as a mother, my priority has to be with my own kids. Any doubts I had back then about listening to the whisperings of spirit are long gone.

I can’t prepare my sons for every situation that will come up in life. That scares me at times. I can help them learn to listen to their gut, their conscience, God—whatever you want to call it. Those instincts are powerful and can guide them when I’m not around.

Many get off track when they ignore the niggling sense that they are doing something wrong. Over time, their foibles grow and they become desensitized. I’ve seen it happen with members of my own family who have quieted their conscience so much that they seem to have no moral code.

Around the age of six, children are ready to discuss more formally how to listen to their conscience.

How can I teach my children to listen to the quiet impressions, so much less dramatic than loud music or television advertising or even the chatter of conversation?

Child rearing expert and author Dr. William Sears says we must start by teaching right and wrong. Starting from birth, children learn about acceptable behavior by observing others. “Think of conscience as an internal “bother button” that goes off if a child thinks or acts contrary to the code he’s internalized. There’s also a positive side to a conscience—a child feels good inside when he makes good choices by himself,” writes Sears.

Around the age of six, children are ready to discuss more formally how to listen to their conscience. I’ve been trying to point out when my youngest son, Owen, feels bad because he’s done something wrong. He often starts crying from shame, rather than from punishment, when he’s taken something from his brother. I’ll say something like, ‘You feel bad because you know you made a wrong choice. Listen to that feeling.’ I want him to recognize that prick of conscience.

Ideally, each of us would pay attention to the feelings of our hearts and use such promptings to guide our behavior. Think of times you’ve gone with a gut instinct, even when unsure of why. When we are trying to listen, we’re open to help from outside sources.

Teaching my children to access that assistance is one of the best things I can do as a mother. Knowing how? Just a little harder, requiring sensitivity of my own.

 

The Best Piece of Furniture We Own

My family spent the weekend in a hammock. There were other parts too, but basically we were suspended in the air on a web of cord.

My family spent the weekend in a hammock.  There were other parts too, but basically we were suspended in the air on a web of cord.

It was awesome.

Hammocks are usually vacation worthy, hanging from palm trees on beaches far from real life.  We never had one when I grew up, probably because of all the snow.  I’ve considered buying one over the past few years but we don’t have a good spot to hang one.

Then I helped a friend clean up a rental property.  The renters absconded, leaving a horrible mess behind.  And a hammock stand, with a perfectly serviceable hammock swinging on top. 

“Is this yours?” I asked my friend.  I’d never seen it before, but maybe I missed something.

“No.  Do you want it?”

My eyes lit up with glee—Christmas early.

After two loads of trash and branches and weird plastic blocks getting a ride in the dump, my husband went to pick up the hammock.

Two days later, after realizing how easy it was to assemble and disassemble, we head out to the desert.  Hiking, campfire, stargazing—the whole reason we live in the southwest is for the autumn.

Before it gets dark, the husband sets up the hammock ten or twenty feet away from the fire pit.  It looks funny to have a bit of furniture in the middle of nowhere, nothing but scrub brush and ocotillo cactus with arms like Medusa.

I hate to say it was perfect, because I’m sure it wasn’t.  But with a fire to one side, a chill in the air, and a boy under each arm, I watched the stars.  We snuggled, we shouted for shooting stars.  We speculated about satellites and planes and alien life. 

Things got a little heavy when I switched out and my husband got in with the kids.  Then they talked universe expansion and galaxies and black holes and how the sun will kill us all in a billion years.  That sort of thing stresses me out, but the males in my family eat it up.  So I stared at the flames and moved just a little further away from the serious talk behind me.

I wondered if the hammock would be like so many other things—fleetingly great, then shoved to the back of a closet.  So far, we’re all still in love.  I’ve caught people out there reading in the sunshine, napping, even coloring in chalk nearby. 

There’s something about hanging in a hammock that makes it pretty hard to stress about things.  If I want to yell, I’ve got to sit up.  I can’t see the tasks that need to be done around my house when lying horizontally.

Looking up is something we don’t spend enough time doing.  Whether you gaze at stars, imagine what clouds look like, or just gaze into the blue, there’s a peace that comes along.  The hammock makes me slow down and notice. 

Here in southern Arizona we won’t be getting any snow this winter.  It will get a bit chilly though.  I’ve got the perfect hammock blanket in mind, one we sit on at the beach or park for random picnics.  It is sturdy in the wash, super soft from decades of use.  And big enough to cover at least three people comfortably. 

Our terrier hates the hammock—he’s not so comfortable without feeling a solid surface beneath him.  For the two legged part of our family that suspension is part of the magic.  Carefully climb in, breathe deeply, and just let go.  It seems to work on 6 year olds and 43 year olds alike.