The Stoop

red house crop

STOOP: a porch, platform, or entrance stairway at a house door 

The function of the front stoop

was not proportionate to its size

Forty square feet, and yet

a port of entry

a place of commerce

and the site of historic partings

Brown banister smoothed by hands

and the feet

of those with forgotten \keys

or unapproved midnight excursions

Offering the needed boost

to the always ajar bedroom window

just above the lower roof

The stoop didn’t judge

it just offered assistance

to hands and feet in need

Red floor boards were dented

with the steps of salesmen

religious zealots

girl scouts

and local elementary students

peddling wrapping paper for library books

That stoop witnessed goodnight kisses

that should have been but weren’t

and kisses that shouldn’t have been but were

In the end

it was crossed more times in anger

than in love

The second to last step wiggled

from the stomp of angry cowboy boots

eventually rotting from exhaustion

having been stomped down one too many times

as he left for weeks

months

years

forever

I wonder if the new owners realize

that sturdy new step

is a monument to love gone sour

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Annual Update

ANNUAL: happening once a year; covering the period of a year

I’ve seen holiday letters appear just after fruitcake on a list of things that dampen the holiday spirit.  If holiday letters dampen your spirits, run.  Otherwise, please proceed.


 

Happiness is a way of travel – not a destination.1

I am thrilled to report that this was the year family vacations and weekend travels became more fun than work. We went to Disneyland early in the year for our second time as a family. It was much more fun without the 100+ degree fevers we had the first time. We enjoyed a weekend away at an old fishing village on Camano Island with Gil’s folks in the spring and spent Memorial Day camping near Walla Walla with forty of our closest friends. For our summer vacation, we road tripped through Oregon – from the coast sands and lighthouses (Cannon Beach and Cape Lookout) to city sidewalks (Bend) and all the snowy vistas (Crater Lake) and deer-filled campsites (Wallowa Mountains) in between. We ended the summer with another group camping trip to Fort Ebey State Park on Whidbey Island. On each of these trips, the four members of the Cerise family had fun – simultaneously. In other words, miracles happen.

If we accept and internalize the fact of our own mortality, then, by definition, we have to deal with the essential questions of how we live and spend our allotted time. We have to stop procrastinating, pretending that we have forever to do what we want to do and be what we long to be.2

Those of you not teething in the ‘80s may laugh, but the clock of mortality started to tick louder for me this year. The reasons for not pursuing writing (what I want to do) and having the courage to call myself a writer (what I long to be) were no longer as compelling as the reasons to take a chance. So, I did. I swapped my job at the law firm for a job at the kids’ school that leaves more time for writing and freelance editing work. It’s a scary and exciting experiment in choosing passion over practicality. Gil’s promotion to Principal Planner was well timed to keep us off a regular diet of ramen.

A wedding anniversary is the celebration of love, trust, partnership, tolerance and tenacity. The order varies for any given year.3

We celebrated our 10th anniversary this year. We can’t decide if that feels long or short. Mostly, it just feels right. Much is still the same: we still laugh together at things we shouldn’t; I am still the reigning Scrabble champion; and Gil still makes up news stories that I fall for. But, some things have changed: Saturday mornings have more sidelines than headlines; vacations rarely involve passports; and lattes are now a perfectly acceptable substitute for roses.

I love these little people; and it is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us.4

It remains our great privilege to love and be loved by Colin (an active, thoughtful, curious 8 year old) and Caitlin (a creative, joyful, determined 5½ year old). Each stage with these two is more fun than the one before. Colin continues to love sports. Tennis remains his favorite but soccer, baseball, and basketball were also enjoyed this year. Sadly, second graders are beginning to master the rules (fewer wrong goals and no clockwise base running) but there were still some bloopers to spice up sitting on the sidelines. Gil coached Caitlin’s first season of soccer and it was everything you hope for from kindergarteners. There were plenty of “other way!” shouts from the sidelines and Caitlin’s preferred means of travel up the field was skipping. Caitlin moved from four wheels to two this year and Colin moved from two to one. Both children mastered a new language and are now fluent in English and Pokémon.

 

1Roy Goodman  2Surya Das  3Paul Sweeney  4Charles Dickens

Casting Shadows

shadow of young family holding hands

SHADOW: an imperfect and faint representation; a source of gloom or unhapiness

You ask us to tell our story. We want to, but stories require scenes and scenes require details to make them come alive.

Our story is a story of shadows. Our memories are only available dimly lit and slightly out of focus.  Even when we squint we can’t see them clearly.  We see outlines – of violence, of tension, of disappointment so deep it forms unbridgeable chasms – but the details never come.  The past won’t (perhaps can’t) reveal itself with clarity.

We’ve learned to rely not on our ability to see the details of the past, but rather our ability to feel the shadows pass over our present. We grope along, trying to notice when the air cools and we are walking through the shade of something that remains from a time we cannot see.  When we observe contrasts – constant vigilance for turmoil despite peaceful surroundings, self-doubt and feelings of unworthiness despite having accomplished all we set out to do – we are the closest to understanding what is hiding in the blur.

It is a strange thing to have a story of shadows.

The blur provides both freedom to improvise and bondage to doubt.

We have begun to fill in the details based on murmured apologies and implied regret, but the details are still filtered, cropped, and edited before they are given to us. And, to be frank, our desire to see the details is waning.

We are reluctant because too many of us with stories in the shadows have begun to cast shadows of our own.

When we tell the stories of their unwarranted anger, we see reflections of our own tempers. When we tell about the promises they didn’t keep, we must acknowledge the times we have failed to follow through.  When we talk about living in the tumultuous wake of booze, it’s hard not to notice several glasses at the table have been topped off multiple times.

We laugh darkly at the craziness we survived, but cringe at the legacy.

The shadows they left still shade our lives and more times than we’d like to admit we’ve cast shadows of our own.

We subscribe in varying degrees, or not at all, to the Bible as truth but there is not one among us who would disagree that the sins of the father are visited upon future generations.

Blurry Pictures

blurry dad

BLURRY: lacking focus

I flip through my childhood photo album searching for pictures of him and find exactly three. There are some photos that might have a piece of him – an elbow or shoulder captured by the camera’s peripheral vision that could be his – but he is mostly absent.  Conspicuously so.

There is no visual record of our first meeting. No proof of adoring gazes or football holds.  There are no images of outstretched arms to coax early steps.  No bedtime stories or morning snuggles memorialized on film.  He does not hover while I blow out candles or look on while I open gifts from Santa.

There is only a trilogy of appearances – less than one per year featured in the album.

In the second photo, he is stuck in a hospital bed and I am perched on his belly. Presumably, he wants me there but even if he doesn’t he isn’t in a position to protest.  He needs to save his strength to protest against the wheelchair in the corner of the frame that some naïve nurse thinks she’s going to convince a proud cowboy to sit in. I want to think that he is looking at me, but it’s possible that he is looking at a TV just to the left of the picture’s edge.  That interpretation is better aligned with my memories.

In the third photo, I sit atop his shoulders looking happy and at home. The red stripes on the trailers and giant elephants in the background tell me the photo was taken at the circus.  The ballpoint scrawl on the back tells me this moment of daddy/daughter normalcy happened in the spring of 1983.

I came to this photo album looking for photos that would add clarity to my blurry memories. But, it’s not the clear photos that draw me in.  Instead, it’s the first picture in the trilogy that speaks to me most.  The photo is extremely blurry – the kind of blurry that would be considered a camera malfunction and discarded without a second thought in a family where pictures weren’t so hard to come by.  But of the three, the blurry photo best captures the man I know.

I see a man in cowboy boots. I’m not sure if I know they are boots because of the brown triangles barely visible through the haze or because I know that boots are the only non-military-issued footwear he has ever worn.  I see a girl reaching out for the dad she loves and a dad reaching back.  And, of course, I see the red cup.  The red cup is the clearest part of the picture.  This seems inevitable.  I don’t know what’s in it, but I can make an educated guess.  The fact that he has a cup in one hand and my hand in the other is a Cliff Notes summary of my childhood.

As I sit on the couch looking through old photos, I know now that the red cup will win for most of the decades in our story. But it’s fun to imagine for a moment being the diaper clad toddler walking on the beach with her dad not knowing what happens next.  Knowing only that there is a hand to hold.

Ten is Truth-Tested

Wedding Day

VOW: a solemn promise, specifically one by which a person is bound to an act

Once upon a time, a boy and a girl exchanged this vow:

I enter into a marriage covenant with you

secure in the knowledge that you will be

my constant friend, faithful partner, adventure buddy and one true love.

On this special day, I give to you in the presence of God

my sacred promise to stay by your side

in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow,

through the good times and the bad.

I promise to love you without reservation,

demonstrate honor and respect,

grow with you in mind and spirit,

always be open and honest with you,

and cherish you for as long as we both shall live.

The vow was written when their love was new. The vow was written when their future was bright but blurry.  The vow was written by a girl who desperately wanted a marriage that worked and a boy who loved the girl enough to think it would.  The vow was glued around a candle and placed on an alter one rainy day in September.

The candle was moved from the alter to their dresser and placed just to the left of the alarm clock – the aspirations of young love juxtaposed with the demands of daily life.

The vow once spoke of hope. But, as time passed there was less hope.

Hope is the language of wanting.  Of desiring.  Of wishing.  Hope implies unmet expectations. As years passed, the vow no longer spoke of hope.

Instead, it spoke of truth. Of a thing obtained. Implemented. Grasped.  Realized.

They never took this for granted. They knew that to love and be loved was a marvelous thing.  They also knew that to know and be known and still love and be loved was, quite simply, a miracle.

Remember Is A Verb

twin towers

Remembrance: something that is done to honor the memory of a person, thing, or event

Today, I will

tell my kids, explicitly,

about the power of kindness.

Today, I will

seek an opportunity

to show courage where it is needed.

Today, I will

look around me and notice

the good, the beautiful, and the lovely.

Today, I will

hug those I love and bask in the privilege

of another day in their presence.

Today, I will

look at the faces I pass and know

that we are more alike than we are different.

Today, I will

breathe deeply and sit with fear and uncertainty

then exhale

and do my best to let it go.

Recalculating the Handsome to Hassle Ratio

Dr. JD

DENTIST: a person whose job is to care for people’s teeth

I am fortunate to live in a walkable urban neighborhood.  There are countless coffee shops and bakeries within easy walking distance of my house and errands to the drug store, library, post office and grocer can (though may not always be) done on foot. Our kids walk less than two blocks to school and many of their friends live within ten minutes of our front door.  I consider myself a thoughtful car user and try to consolidate car errands and keep the vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in our single car low.  But, for the past decade I’ve been needlessly logging miles back and forth to the suburbs twice a year to see an especially good-looking dentist. 

To my credit, I’ve loved him since before I realized he was handsome.  He was my childhood dentist.  He’s seen me through big bangs, hammer pants, and the early elementary nickname that brings to mind pom-poms and/or stripper poles.  When I was young, he was just a friendly dentist that my mother seemed especially fond of.  As I aged, I began to understand. 

During college, it seemed perfectly reasonable to schedule dental visits during school breaks when I would be back in my home town.  All my peers did the same – though, perhaps, with less delight and primping before their appointments. 

When I returned to the Northwest after my post-college travels and mountains-without-water (Colorado) experiment, I was happy to return to my dentist.  I had a job in the neighboring town and was a responsible, young professional taking advantage of my employer-paid healthcare benefits.  It was all perfectly reasonable. 

However, when I moved to Seattle – nearly an hour away – I had to dig deeper for justification.  Husband looked dubious when I told him loyalty was my primary motivation for driving to see my hot (oops, did I say that out loud?) dentist.  

Justification was harder once I had kids.  As any mom knows, two hours in a car with children is nothing to take lightly.  The promise of a two minute dose of handsome small talk was no longer enough to elicit my prompt response to the post card reminders that I was due for a cleaning.  I started to evaluate the hassle to handsome ratio and question if the drive was worth it.  The postcards would languish on my counter while I weighed the effort of the drive to the suburbs against the effort of transferring my files to a local dentist of inferior beauty.  I began receiving the overdue for a cleaning postcards – the ones where the reminder turns from friendly to firm.  Good looks won, at first.  But then, the scales began to tip.

The loss of Cheryl, my favorite hygienist, was the beginning of the end.  She had been my hygienist as long as I can remember.  She kept great notes in her chart – presumably about the health of my teeth but also about the stuff that really matters if you are going to spend half an hour having a conversation with someone’s hands in your mouth.  She tracked my travels, relationships, and ambitions.  Thanks to her request for an x-ray, she was the first person (other than Husband) I told I was pregnant.  Cheryl always stayed current on my name preferences; she never slipped up and reverted to the cheerleader/stripper name.  Because my mom still saw the same dentist (and hygienist), Cheryl had a pretty good finger on the pulse of my crazy family.  She was great at asking interesting questions that made me want to talk – even around gloved fingers in my mouth.  Her reclining chair was better than any psychologist’s couch.   Cheryl’s retirement was a blow. 

But, my last two visits are what finally tipped the handsome to hassle ratio in favor of a dentist in my zip code.  My appointments started with thorough cleanings from nice-enough-but-no-substitute-for-Cheryl hygienists. Then, a LADY DENTIST came in the room.  The first time, I was told that Dr. Good Looking doesn’t work on Fridays.  My mistake.  The second time – after I made sure to avoid scheduling on a Friday – the same scenario repeated itself.  My teeth were cleaned by someone who wasn’t Cheryl and then inspected by the LADY DENTIST.

And that is why the overdue postcard is languishing on my kitchen counter and my to do list says “transfer dental files.”

So long hot dentist.  I will miss you.  I’ll think of you longingly during the brief walk to my new, local lady dentist.  ‘Cause if I’m going to see a lady dentist, I’m not going to get in the car to do it.