Friday, January 23, 2009


I’m going to bed 15 minutes later than I planned. Actually, an hour and 15 minutes later than I planned. It seems everything takes longer than I think it will these days. I’m not sure where the time goes, this time I’m certainly not frittering away. But it just goes somehow. And as I sit at the edge of the guest bed tonight, I am again surprised that it’s so late.

A congestion demon has invaded Eric’s head and chest, so I volunteered to sleep downstairs. A likely fruitless effort to avoid yet another virus. I run my hand over the cold cotton sheets with blue flowers and decide to sleep in a long-sleeved nightshirt.

I’m not used to sleeping alone. So I flank both sides with extra pillows and even stick one between my feet to stimulate warmth and help me forget I’m all by myself. I curl up on my right side, hugging a pillow with my left arm and closing my eyes tightly.

It feels so good to finally rest. I have been working late the last two nights — chasing adjectives and commas, SKU numbers and prices around black and white pages until way past my bedtime — and tonight I am so tired.

I snuggle in and start thinking about tomorrow’s to-do list, reminding myself of errands and phone calls. Then my mind drifts to the show I was watching just before I went to bed — the one I used to quiet the revving in my head after finally meeting my deadline. Then I’m suddenly thinking about a childhood friend who lost her sister last week due to a grave medical error. I grip the pillow tighter and clench my teeth. I am so tired. Why won’t my mind shut up?

I look at the clock. A half-hour has passed. I decide to roll over and try a trick my grandmother taught me when she would visit from Kentucky and sleep in my trundle bed. “Count exhales,” she would say when I couldn’t get to sleep. “It quiets the mind.” So I inhale deeply and exhale slowly. One. Again. Two. Again. Three. But then I start obsessing about the rate of my breathing, speeding it up and then slowing it down until I’ve forgotten to count altogether. I suddenly realize that I’m not getting enough air no matter how fast I breathe, and as I sit up, I notice my legs are ice-cold.

It’s now after midnight. I decide to put my sweatpants back on along with a pair of fuzzy socks, and while doing so, I notice the familiar pain in my right hip that came on with pregnancy and forgot to leave after the baby was born. So I reluctantly get up, pad across the family room floor, and pull the bottle of ibuprofen out of the pantry.

As I walk back into the guest room, I try to avoid looking at the empty closet with uneven stacks of boxes spilling out, the bits of Christmas decorations and file folders peeking out from haphazard piles. I ignore the clutter-hater in the back of my mind as it berates my lack of organizational skills. I remind myself that the next time I have a couple of spare hours when I’m not working, mothering, cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, throwing a birthday party, loading or unloading the dishwasher, or driving Josh to this or that practice I will finally go through this mess. I will throw things away, donate to the needy, and pack up the few treasured items into a neatly labeled Rubbermaid container. Yes, as soon as I have a couple of hours to spare.

Before I get back in bed, I decide to put on a sweatshirt as well. I know I’ll wake up sweaty in an hour (if I ever get to sleep), but at this point, I’m willing to try anything that might help me find dreamland. As I slip back under the covers, I remember reading somewhere that the part of the brain that enables imagination also enables dreams. So I curl up and try to imagine myself in my favorite place doing my favorite thing.

The problem is, I don’t know where that is. You’d think that with as much time as I spend some days thinking about where I’d rather be that this exercise would be a no-brainer. But I’m stumped. So I start guessing. How about back on the peaceful beach in Hawaii on a clear day? Nope. That’s not working. How about sitting at the kitchen table crafting something beautiful? Uh-uh. OK. Let’s think smaller. How about watching Josh laugh with reckless abandon? While that does make my heart smile, it doesn’t spawn any actual dreaming. I finally give myself permission to take a mental vacation, and I can’t figure out where to go. I’ve got nothing.

As I roll around and bemoan my complete inability to sleep, I suddenly realize my ultimate fantasy. Where I want to be most at this very moment is asleep. It’s so simple I can’t believe I missed it. So I assume my favorite cuddled-up position and decide to try to imagine myself sleeping — arms and legs sprawled out, hair smashed into my pillow, deep loud breaths flowing through my nose. I think about that warm tingly feeling I get as I’m falling asleep. I imagine weightless limbs. I picture my peaceful frame cozy and motionless. And then I think about…nothing.

I don’t consciously realize it, but I am no longer awake. And I won’t figure it out until two hours later when Josh wakes up screaming for no apparent reason, and I am roused from my deeply needed sleep to rub his legs and hand him tissues and quiet him back to sleep.

At which point, I will be restless once more.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Those three little words

"Mommy?" Josh says many times a day. It may be when we're sitting at the breakfast table, when we're riding in the car, or when I'm taking care of a basic need like pouring him some juice or wiping his behind. Sometimes it's when we're playing outside. Other times it's just as I'm closing his door at bedtime. But no matter where we are or what we're doing, several times each day Josh will say, "Mommy?" with a subtle wistful pitch. Then he waits patiently for me to respond. And when I look up from whatever it is I’m doing and acknowledge him. When I turn my full focus toward him and gently reply, "Yes?" He always says the same thing: "I love you."

All my life, I have heard my mom talk about how I couldn't leave the house when I was little without shouting, "Bye Mom! Love you!" This is a memory I'm sure she clung tightly to through years of sibling rivalry, adolescent know-it-all-ness, and inexplicable teen angst.

Now I know how she must have felt when she heard my small voice calling from the front door. Those words, spoken by my spirited son who depends on me for literally everything he needs each day, are truly the most rewarding words a mother can hear. And I can see how much he means them as they flow from his mouth.

But my favorite part of these exchanges is the tranquil, happy look on his face when I turn back to him and say, “I love you, too.”

Friday, January 9, 2009

Hanging ten

Josh spots the colorful boogie board in the closet of our rented condominium on the North Shore of Kauai and decides immediately he wants to learn to "surf." As he claws at the shelf for it, I turn to Eric and ask, "How old were you when you learned to boogie board in San Diego?" He shrugs. "Maybe four." I look down into Josh's eager eyes and lower the giant piece of styrofoam into his grasp.

We pack up a variety of sand toys, chairs, and towels from the generous closet and set off down the path to the beach. We don't know what we will find, but we're up for an adventure. We wind past well-kept tennis courts lined with guava and citrus trees, through a thicket of banyans — their roots winding up over our heads, from one side of the path to the other — and past a murky bog that's teeming with mosquitoes. When the path levels out, we run right into a construction site. We peek through the thick black netting at the landmark hotel to spy on the rumored remodel, and we find buildings stripped to their studs. We edge around the barriers and finally find sand, which we follow to the water's edge and away from the noise of bulldozers and buzz saws.

We set up camp under a large magnolia tree. It's yellowed leaves strewn here and there in the shade it offers us. I fold out chairs, set up towels, shuffle through the beach bag to find buckets and shovels for my enthusiastic castle builder. "Want to boogie board?" Eric asks Josh.

"Not yet," Josh replies, obviously having second thoughts. "Maybe a little later." And he glances nervously at the lapping water.

When I sink into my seat, I look around to find one of the most idyllic spots on earth. Lush green mountains curve from my left around the picturesque inlet of sparkling turquoise water. Directly in front of me, Puff the Magic Dragon rests his head on the surface of Hanalei Bay, mourning Jackie Paper's lost boyhood forevermore. Waves crash in the distance on a coral reef and then lap quietly up onto our beach, making the requisite ocean sounds yet alleviating motherly fears of undertow. Fifteen or twenty surfers ride three distinct sets of waves off to the left, many of them proficient enough to ride from swell to break before falling gracefully backward into the surf. A gentle breeze blows as Josh sits at my feet, carving out roads, filling up buckets, and digging for water.

Occasionally another beachcomber or two will pass by on their way around the shore. At one point, a petite lady stops a few feet from us and throws a large piece of driftwood into the lackadaisical tide for her black labrador to retrieve. But other than the intermittent interlopers who are always on their way to somewhere else, we are always alone in our paradise. We seem to have found an ideal pocket in time to occupy this peaceful spot: Lucky enough to miss the hotel guests during the renovation. Early enough to avoid the honeymooners, twentysomething travelers, and older families who are all still undoubtedly asleep. Boring enough to steer clear of the thrill-seeking wave riders who crowd the beach further down the way. And stagnant enough to be only a short-lived attraction to the movers and shakers warming up for their morning workout. Does it get any better than this?

Josh finally tires of the sand and musters enough courage to dip his toes in the ocean. He and Eric watch their feet slowly disappear as they both warm to the water. Suddenly, Josh comes bounding up the beach, grabs his new-found board, and dives head first on top of it on the sand. He goes nowhere. His patient engineer father shows him the best way to start, instructing him to point the board perpendicular to the waves, helping him stand with his feet shoulder-width apart and his knees bent, and quietly explaining things like balance and buoyancy while also warning about wipeouts and water safety. Josh listens astutely and follows every direction. He starts on the sand and then moves the board closer and closer to the water as he gains confidence and earns more kudos from dad — until he is dropping his flat slice of adventure on shallow water, kneeling on the board, and then hopping up to a surfer's stance.

As the waves lap under his floating toy, he learns to negotiate his equilibrium by leaning forward and shifting his weight. He finds success more often when he lets the waves come to him, so he begins hopping onto the board on sand and ever more patiently waits for the water to take him on. He rests his hands on his knees and turns his blond head toward the incoming swell. He is far from surfing — far from even throwing his board across the shallow tide and jumping on top for a free ride up the beach. But he is mastering the basics and learning a lot about balance and hydro physics along the way. Not to mention, he's having the time of his life.

When our stomachs finally beckon us away from our paradise, we make the uphill climb back to our home away from home. We are a chatty bunch on the walk back, each of us bubbling over with renewed spirits and newfound passions. "I sure did some great surfing today, Mom," my three-and-a-half-going-on-ten-year-old son says as we negotiate the hills that seem to have gotten steeper while we soaked up the Hawaiian sun.

"You sure did. You'll be hanging ten with the big boys before you know it."

Josh looks down and grins. "Yeah," he sighs and then skips ahead to catch up with his dad.

"Yeah," I echo wistfully as I adjust my pack and continue my unpredictable journey.
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