all the kids

all the kids

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Tiny Tots

I pick up Bess at school and we're listening to Christmas music in the car in September because that's the kind of family we are (and because I just discovered  the music section in our library), and Peggy Lee is warmly singing "tiny tots...with their eyes all aglow..." and I'm thinking of fireplaces, and cute little babies in their saggy Christmas pjs.

And Lilly says "How do tiny tots have eyes. Don't we eat them?"
I look at her. "Those are tater tots."

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Old Mother Hover

Let's check in with Old Mother Hover, shall we?

So it's been three days since Nathan left for college. Here's what we've done.

Since we had a terrible accident that ate our car and barely missed eating us, we've been down to one tiny car and we're not a small people. I was looking at Honda Vans on Craigslist until the screen was blurring, and either Nathan, B or I would dash out and see the cars all across town. Some cars, like some owners, were trashed and ripped and had pieces missing, and some were sleek and mobster and too expensive. Nathan and B finally found one in perfect shape, a 2006, blue, that looked like it had been put to bed every night in its own bedroom with soup on a porcelain tray and a linen napkin. Nathan and B loved the car of course, and told the tiny, wiry Asian owner (seriously, the guy could use match sticks for crutches. He might even be too big for them) - they said - we like the car, we'd like to take it to our mechanic. The guy got upset and said I AM THE MECHANIC. The boys said, backing away like we had to every other car, OKAY MAN. THANKS ANYWAY.

A day later, Asian Mobster texts me and says we can take the car to our mechanic if we still want to, he will make arrangements for someone to have the car waiting for us. Here's what he texts me, no lie: Go to parking lot in Van Nuys. Go inside Nail Salon. Ask for Kimberlina. Give her your key. She will take a picture of your driver license. She will give you key.

We drive to the place. I go inside. There is a lady in a massage chair with her feet soaking. Two Asian manicurists. One gets up.

"Kimberlina?" I say.
"You want maniure?" she says, smiling squeaky clean.
The lady  just smiles like I said nothing.
A mannipeddi is sounding really good sure.
"The car? We're here to see the car?"
The lady is not used to anyone asking for a car in the nail salon.
I know for sure this is all some sort of scam involving guns filled with nail polish remover. I start backing out.
"Kimberlina?" I try one more time.
A lady suddenly materializes from the back (I guess you have to say her name three times) and she's suddenly Kimberlina. How did the other lady not know her, she obviously works here and owns the place.
I really want a pedicure.
We get the key, we take the car to the mechanic. I'm paranoid, figuring as soon as we left with the car they called it in as stolen and I will be spending the night getting my ass kicked in county lock up.
Our mechanic says something he's never said to us in 20 years with all the cars he's seen of ours.
We drive the car back.
We make an offer to the guy. Way low. We make enough offers that finally he says yes to the number we wanted it to be to begin with. He says he can't meet us until the next night. I say no. I have jury duty. I actually have jury duty.
He says meet him at 8pm at the nail salon. Bring the cash.
We get there at dark. Everything is chained and locked up. I take a picture of B in front of the nail salon sign because I'm assuming we will both be murdered here and it's good to have one last picture. I tell him "let's tell him he can have the money in your pocket if he can answer this ONE RIDDLE."
The guy shows up. He looks like the kind of dog at the pound that hasn't eaten in a week and who also looks like he could bite your throat out. Nobody adopts this dog.
We sign the deal, we drive the car home. Which would be great if I wasn't terrified in the car from the accident now.
At home I have to call in and see if I have jury duty. I am feeling this hole what is this hole oh it's no Nathan. 18 whole entire years and now my first night no Nathan.
Emma leans over me crying because her AP Physics homework is so hard and she's the smartest person in California. I tell her to show me the book. She shows me the book and I start crying too because why, people. Life is hard enough, why make people learn this shit too. We call her brother Bruce who has a Bachelor's in Physics and he is now also crying. Oh, and Emma says, I want to take a class on Tuesdays and Thursday nights for two hours at the college. Calculus. And Lilly pipes up from the living room where her best friend, the ipod screen is. Oh tomorrow's my Back to School Night, she adds. And don't forget basketball practice.

The middle of the night I can't sleep, I'm a bereft zombie, I am missing Nathan so I put one of the library movies in that I rented, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof because I wanted to know what the big deal was with this play and Paul Newman is a babe, you could just watch him standing there saying nothing and Elizabeth Taylor's bra should be in a concrete museum. I'm finally actually watching one of the library movies, usually I rent them, don't watch them, return them late and pay the fee. It's sort of an extra business I've started. I keep wanting to watch with Emma but she's got like 40 classes and carrying around her giant brain in her dancer's body keeps her from doing stuff like watching seriously old movies with people like me.
So I text Nathan and say I miss you. Lilly is sleeping in your bed.
And he writes back, She's me now.
This "letting them go" shit is exactly that.
I text my older fake son phD student Bruce: I miss Nathan bro. He's the only one I like around here.
He texts me back: You tried to hatch 3 friends. 1/3 pleases you. In school that's an F, but in life it might be like a B/B-.

Nathan is happy. He has friends there. Maybe he won't come home as much as he thought he would. Oh that feels terrible.
So all these millions of moments I've had with this boy, I am missing piling more on. It is what I do. I kept him close.
So I write a short play about a mom who goes to Urgent Care because her son is leaving for college. Because an aching heart is an Urgent matter.

I fill out lawyer paperwork about the car accident. I make the nightly call: I don't have to show up for jury duty. I snuggle in with Emma, my few fleeting minutes with her, curled up with her computer on her chest.

For now I will just climb in my new Asian mafia car that has never seen a McDonald's French fry or a spilled In n Out Shake, and I will feel lost. I will drive safely and I will wait, I'll be okay.
Til I see him again.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Nathan Wavery

So I drove through farmland and one wavy road, like we were in Nebraska and then winding down to the sea and there I left the little boy who has been with me for 18 perfect years.

Except for when he was 7 and for one whole year I thought he was he most annoying person who ever lived.

But back to the real boy.

He was in my stomach about to bust out and I would swim in the lake with the bikini top, the big round belly, and bikini bottom and the dog, Jed. There were alligators in the lake, it was Florida, it was August, and I always wondered if the alligator would eat the old dog or the pregnant chick first.

Then the hospital and some AD from the crew's pick up truck got us there, it had been the middle of the night and I had mild contractions, so I walked around and ate a red popsicle, and then when they were like 5 minutes apart I said hey. Hey let's go I think the incubus in here wants to get out. (I didn't say that.)

So then I walked the white walled halls and I waited and in that big room there came the little person who stopped my one whole singular life and started one whole new expanded version life. I disappeared, joyfully, into that new, kind, tiny person. The way anyone should who wants to come out, 18 years later, with a Nathan.

We took that baby everywhere. If I was doing it, Nathan was doing it. We got no sleep, except together, in bursts, and all there was was nursing and Nathan. For nine whole months. Then a little Emma was starting up in my stomach, and then I was sick and then Nathan was 18 months and then Emma was on the scene, as serene as the boy before her. So then everywhere that Nathan and I went, Emma went too.

We didn't get very far. We mostly just made food, took naps, took walks. I basked in the children like a spa. Not like The Sound of Music, like a spa where I did all the maintenance. But the music was in the aftermath.

Then Lilly was born in the middle of elementary school, and the kids in that middle time where they're still tiny but they're running with friends and learning how to stand in lines and everything is sober and serious and farts are everything and Christmas is everything, and reading at night in bed is everything, and baths are everything and believing is everything.

Now here we are and Nathan can drive and Nathan lifts heavy stuff for me and Nathan says "let me get that Mom," and Nathan is this strong, secure force in our wavery life. He's smart and not worried, and good to people, and gentle, and mischievous, and loud and quiet. When I look at him, I feel the ocean move through me. We're friends with the ocean, the ocean is our people. He is bigger than that, all that vast. He fills us up.

I made his bed at home which is never made when he's here. He got the send off, pizza, grandparents, sheets, soap, we invaded his dorm room, he didn't talk much but he walked with us, he showed us all pieces of his tiny campus, his postage stamp of school in the middle of the farm land. Maybe it will be too small a school for him. But maybe he will pick up his shovel and play happily like he always has.

Mostly I left the little boy there because he is made for the world. We sifted him together with sand and every day driving him where he needed to go and talking to him when he was hurt or lost. We built the best person we could with our fragmented, limited selves. We tried not to get in the way of who he wanted to try being. We kept his stomach full and made him laugh and made him look at other people as places to learn stuff from, and listen to, and think about. I don't think if you knew Nathan you would ever want him to be anywhere but right over there, on his phone, at night, right nearby over there, the sound and pulse of him, at the end of the day.

He's only an hour away. He'll be home on Thursday.

I'm just saying, we pushed him off on his trike and he's running, and that wind he makes, just breathe it in, he's so beautiful.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Our Van, Our Uterus

Dear Blizzard,

How could you have let your ass get crushed just to protect our 4 little fleshy asses. You just stood there, and left your big white ass out there, wide, like a catcher’s mitt, saying hit me here, lady. Right here in the fat back left corner. Here I am, chunky and strong. Pop my innertubes from the beach, but hit me right here. Don’t go two inches further, where the littlest Opper is sitting without her ipod because she got in trouble for resisting picking up Becky’s poop on the beach. Where we were just sitting. Still. Waiting and not knowing what was coming from behind.

We won’t forget your broken air conditioning vent in the back. The sticky part of the wall where the cloth covering had come unglued and disappeared. We won’t forget all the trips we took in you – to Santa Cruz, to Disneyland, to Costco, to bagels, to the beach, the beach the beach. Nathan packed you carefully, and cleaned you carefully. You liked the beach, you waited in the salt air, and just waited there, like a momma hen, because you knew afterwards would be In n Out, where we’d bring many cups of ice water, the sandy dog, the salty fries, the wet oceaned hair, the soft chatter of people on the way home who are soothed by waves, water and sun and wind. You got to hear us at our best, as our kids grew up inside you. I guess they started in me, and then were born directly into the van. First on my legs, then on their legs, then on your wheels. Our van, our uterus.

You gave us views outside of traffic and brown hills, you carried Poppa to his 100th birthday. You packed in 15 people at Halloween after trick or treating, all sitting smashed in and peppered with candy and costumes. You brought us downtown to be filled up with all the santa’s workshop toys and mugs, excitement for not only our kids but bringing surprises to a school full of 300 kids.

You never talked, so you were the silent white ghost, and we feathered into your robes. That last day. It was a beach day. You didn’t make it all the way to giraffe time, the actual giraffe we could see from the 210 on the way home. You were done with giraffe time.

You were the mother car.  We served you. Your air conditioning broke, your transmission broke (twice), your windshield had a nice new trailing crack from a rock. Your sliding doors broke. Your tire blew out on a snowy road in chains. We drove you through snow, rain, hail and hot Palm Springs. This was your last Palm Springs, our last great parking space at the Trader Joe’s there,  just you and me, the yawning hot mountains, the quiet, the sweat.  You were white, and silent, and waited while we filled you up, emptied you out, filled you up. All the teens packed their bikes in you and went to Santa Monica to ride around at night. All the teens thought it was uncool to drive the big minivan.

Driving the big minivan and you leaving your big white rear out to catch the lady hurtling at us on the freeway going 50 miles an hour while we were stopped – your white ass saved us. You crushed in like a strong metal flower, you curled backwards right to the edge of summer blonde Lilly’s seat, her head turned to look at me as you held off death.

In eleven years, you held us safe. You saw the kids go from sledding in snow and taking naps as babies on the way home, to teenagers with their loud friends laughing and screaming, all safe in your metal cradle arms.

We didn’t forget you Blizzard. You’re here with us. We’re here now because of you.

Dear Blizzard.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Fireworks of Ham

I sent my little Florida blonde baby off to college. The little guy, born with the bump on his head. The quiet baby who never spoke for years, just observed.

It's just orientation. He'll be back tomorrow. But he has to spend the NIGHT. Away, like a grown up, out at the college near the beach, out there, like in the direction he's going. I'm hoping the road will curve around, the one he's building, and he'll follow it and it'll have branching off places like back to here, where I'm waiting. With a lot of ham. That worked with Becky the dog, she never wanders away when I'm on the trail with the horses. She stays right with us because when I first took her out, I threw down handfuls of ham sometimes. She knows the fireworks of ham could happen at any moment. Ham keeps her near.

I don't even bring the ham anymore when we go riding. I mean to, but I always forget. But she still stays, loyally. Half because she likes me I think, and half hoping with some vague ham memory.

It's also Lilly's 11th birthday, yes today, this same off to college day. That tiny baby born into the middle of our already life, the chaos of big brother and sister, handled and mishandled and dropped and shoved into the middle of all of us on the bed at naptime. This is a person who has never known quiet. She'll be at home on a crowded dance floor in a NY City nightclub. She'll own the Staples Center when she plays professional basketball in front of packed in millions (if she adds tall to her already fierce). She'll never know fear of crowds. She made us a crowd. She crowned our crowd.

I slog through the days of graduation and moving on and birth and rebirth, with people doing it all the time around me, (does it have to happen all at ONCE, she sighs), celebrating with balloons and bank accounts and dressing up clothes and cheers. But I am in the center of that hurricane, and I'm still holding the ham.

I hope it works.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Grad Glad?

Being a mom. Huge love, and terrible, all at once.

Friday, June 1, 2018


So after 13 years at our little elementary, it’s the last volunteer thank you brunch.

I was always looking forward to this, because I knew one day it was going to be MY year, the year that wrapped everything up for me, where I’d served my kids all these years at this school, and not just my kids, but everybody’s kids – I had used myself well here.  Our family had run the Santa’s Workshop every year, and the Book Fair all by ourselves – I bake cookies, and bread in classrooms not even just my daughter’s class, but other rooms. We helped run talent shows with the famous Ms. Eick. At easter I bring the bunnies in to all the classes for kids to pet and see. I once even brought a newborn goat named Elvis.

So it’s finally MY YEAR, where I get to sit there and hear them say my name and maybe they’ll say something like thank god for Julie, she’s been here. She’s done her time. People are better because of her. The school is richer, the kids are happier.

I have this tiny thought in the back of my head, oh, but it’s a new principal. She doesn’t actually know me too well. But she did see me do the Book Fair at least. Then another little thought, oh, but now all the teachers have eaten and gone back to their classrooms, so actually all the people that know me and are grateful to me aren’t even in the room. I’m in the room with half of Venezuela and the PTA I abandoned, and one retired tiny voiced teacher I know. I shoulda maybe considered my Oscar audience here.

So they’re calling out names and people are getting little paper certificates that say “You’re an Idiot for Volunteering but Thanks” basically, and three people clap, and yes, this is how I end my 13 years at Stonehurst. Just like that. 3 people clap, most people are eating pineapple, and I go back to my seat and that’s the end.

There’s no gushing. There’s no crying. I pass the special ed grown up kid who comes to volunteer with other similar dudes from the adult special ed school up the street, they come and make copies for the teachers and stuff and he’s always so happy and he’s holding the same exact paper I have and he’s SO HAPPY, he’s saying “I have NEVER gotten a certificate for ANYTHING in my life before!!” And there’s me with the same paper, chagrined, and laughing at myself.

Right before this lunch, we had seen Lilly’s last dance festival of her life at this school, where the 5th graders do a dance in shirts they tie dyed themselves, it’s a tradition to do the Pata Pata dance and wear the tie dye, and I was videoing it and a tear sliding down my face and then slowly more tears because this and everything here at this little school has raised me and my kids into the people we are, 13 years later. I had some curly headed little 5 year old blondes that became taller blondes, and these were the halls we walked and the gentle people we knew and the teachers who nurtured us. Growing up up and away. I realized that it doesn’t matter what piece of paper you get, or who claps for you even though that’s the way it looks in the movies.

I did Santa’s Workshop because my kids liked it, and I could sell a lot of things out of my garage there. And because all kids really like fart putty and who else was going to get it for them to buy except me. And because little kids brought me fists of money to buy things for Christmas and they were so excited. I didn’t know that was my applause because it looked different and sounded different. It looked a little bit like work, and felt loud and busy. But the moments in the crowded library, immersed neck deep in kids, that was my applause.

I did everything because I wanted to do it. I wanted to be a part of it. It grew me this huge heart as a by product, which doesn’t sound anything like applause.  But weirdly, that’s what it is.

So going into that lunch I didn’t know that I was already a walking award, what did I need with another award. Another award would be WEIRD.

So in this case, I did what any mother would do. I hugged the people who mattered to me. I felt without really seeing, the familiar walls and trees and classrooms and kids, all around me. I perused the free buffet and packed a bunch of cookies in a plastic cup to bring to my kids later. Because they’re always hungry.

I mattered, I gave, I have happy kids, I got some cookies.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Up Kid Creek

We have a fifth grader leaving elementary and a 12th grader leaving life as we know it for college. It will be the first time the little school down the street is no longer our school, belonging to us. My kids grew up around me like trees. I only planned for the little sprouts. Now they're growing all over the place, taking over the garden.

I was in the river with the horses which has been my replacement for kids, disappearing into the trail and the jungle nearby. It's only a dirt path through the woods with a creek running through it, but it's quiet and there are birds and the sound of water there. One of my moms was texting me and we were talking about how the kids grow up and all that love you give and they grow up because love doesn't stop that from happening, it might even assist that. You do it anyway, because you have to, you are love's prisoner, and yet here I am at  the end of whatever this ending is, this new section, and there's all these handfuls of sadness, dripping out from between the fingers. No way to contain it, like their whole lives really, like grabbing handfuls of water and not being able to hold any of it. It's ridiculous, really.

But I'm still coming to the water, here and at home. Because I can hear it, and smell it and see it and feel it, and there's comfort in it. Because of all the beauty and overgrowth. I come here because I belong here and it calls to me.

Like my mom said to me, even though there's all this heartbreak and bittersweet feeling as it changes, and grows away, you're not sorry you did it. You'd do it again, you'd give everything again even though there's nothing you can show that you've gained from it. Except that hulking soul, raging around you, fully fed, and your heart eighteen times huger and well lived in like your favorite family living room couch.

You're solid, you know yourself, the love hurts because it's been given freely and continues to flow out with no way to stop it. It's funny, the way things that are out of control are funny, because of the danger of being so open. How many chances do you get to do that, in life, where you give because you can't see up ahead where you might be in a lifeboat surrounded by ocean and no one else in sight. Because you don't care where you end up. Because you have that little baby in your arms.

And your little 12th grader. He is six feet tall. He is still that little curly haired baby, nestled next to me.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Drawing Outside the Lines

My self is dripping all over my shoes.

There's the biggest boy going to college soon. The middle girl going to put people into space with her math abilities. The smallest one still lets me wash her hair.

There's me so loud inside and no one can hear me. There's classes of kids all around me and they're so loud I can't hear myself. There's a movie I made that is funny. There are a million chickens at my house.

I have built a huge, wobbly life, and part of me is flattened under it, like where is David Hasselhoff (ew) to come pull me out and set me right. And now suddenly I want to do everything, and be everything and hurry up put the coin in and go on the ride because what if a tsunami comes and we're all wiped out? I have to do it ALL, and right NOW.

I have enough zen master in my mind to tune all of that out and breathe and wait. Find out what all the fuss is. There is a wave of motion running through me. Sometimes the me in me gets bigger than the outline of me can contain. That's when I usually aim it all into a writing project, so you know, I don't mangle myself or others. Aim the feelings and something beautiful takes shape, over there, made of words.

If you don't hear from me, I will be writing. Summer is coming. I wonder what I'll be building.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Blue Juice

I've been subbing in special ed for 4 days now. When I get home and my kids talk to me, I'm amazed to see them moving their mouths and hearing complex things coming out. They walk around like, unsupervised, and they can move all their limbs AND have a conversation like it's nothing, like they're sailing in San Francisco Bay with their hand on the rudder, trailing their other hand in the water.

This living without pretty much any complications except for the usual bills and home and life is like the neon blue juice they pour on your icey snowcone at a Farmer's Market. It is impossibly bright and it is so sweet.

I get to walk out of there in a few days, done with my job there and on to the next school and group of people. But that little group is there forever, working in their tiny circle of ABC's and writing their name and playing bingo. While my kids are expanding outward, flying forward to college in Camarillo, swimming deeply and happily in Advanced Calculus, editing videos about what's important to a ten year old here in Shadow Hills, in 2018.

I'm grateful I got the chance to sit with this group and I race like hell to get home after work and see    my life, regular and layered, people look me in the eyes and they know themselves, and they can walk alone and get where they're going, safely. I remember when Bess was little and wanted to be Peter Pan so much. I hoisted her in the air and held her up in the sky so she could fly. "Now let go," she said, fully expecting she would take off flying.

These kids, they're already all flying, I didn't know it.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

One Brave Finger

Ever wanna wake up feeling rolled over by a 50 thousand pound greasy Italian sausage? Try to direct a short film you wrote.

Not just a short film but a silly, incredibly personal true to life accounting of why you are a failure in relationships. And you know what, invite a bunch of people over to a cramped apartment bedroom where you will shoot it and they will spend 13 hours tromping all through your words and your heart. Some people will be spewing your words, which sound excruciating by the way, after the first five minutes. Some people will be just putting equipment or running equipment, or dragging heavy things all over your words. Some people will be putting up drapes and fixing the colorful lamp, and hammering shit into your words. Everyone except for two people will be incredibly nice and helpful and seeming to enjoy themselves somehow.

One of the 2 people not enjoying the scene will turn out to be mental and leave, and the other person is you.

I've been on sets my whole life because of my dad. He just slapped words on paper like peanut butter, smashed it all together, copied it, gave it out to everyone including studio heads who chomped fat cigars and shoved it back at him and said YES! LET'S SHOOT THIS! He spent his whole life just slapping on the words, shoving it all out there, and then tap dancing on the set because it was all so easy.

I spent my life around movies, but that quiet girl over there in the corner writing everything down and then just keeping it all to myself because I was happy just with my OWN reaction to my stuff. Audience of one. Why not? I was hilarious.

But yesterday there I was, with my helper co-director who was like a whole Olympic ice skating team, she had scrambled eggs for the crew, she ran the set, she talked technology, well oiled herself, she easily oiled everyone's creaks. And for everyone else, the set was like any set. There was lighting, and people running in and out fetching apple boxes and a warm fake family feeling that I love and a weird sound person and jokes that made you laugh because you were so fucking tired. The only tiny difference for me was that my chest was ripped open in the front, stretched out around the whole apartment floor, nailed into the corners, and then everyone was walking all over it until all the human fleshy squish was gone and it was just a shredded, helpless floor. This took several dozen hours. I thought I was okay and then at lunch eating a burrito on the stairs with Nathan I was wondering why I couldn't taste my burrito, and why I could barely swallow it because of some weird huge lump in the side of my throat that turned out to be OHH anxiety. Hello friend, I didn't know they made you in throat balls size. Just hiding over there because I was so busy. Didn't want to bother me, but happy to finally be noticed. Hey. This is the real you, paco. Letting you know. Something is wrong.

My friend texted me in the middle of the shoot when I said it was taking so long and he said "it's all about the process, baby. And a little about if people think it sucks."

So no matter how I felt, putting myself on that set and being there as a walking representation of all that I have been up to now, everything I had, I got in the car, brought and gave, hopefully, humbly and at some points numbly. 

Most importantly I put my little paper boat in the stream, pushed it with one brave finger, and watched it go.