Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Small Town Girl

The first time I saw Frederick, it was love at first sight. It was summertime and we had spent the weekend camping with Josh and Abby. (It was Evie's first camping trip and I was pregnant with Lucy, which meant that I could carry nothing on our hike to the camping site, Toby could carry Evie on his back and Josh ended up with a backpack that towered over his head and must have weighed more than he did.) On the way back to DC, Josh and Abby suggested that we stop in Frederick for lunch and maybe even catch a baseball game. I had no expectations, but as soon as we pulled in to the Norman Rockwell-looking street (appropriately named Rockwell Terrace), with beautiful old houses with large front porches, flowering trees and sidewalks, I turned to Toby and said, "This is it. We're moving here." Less than a year later, we did. It wasn't rational. Toby would have a horrible commute and we knew no one and pretty much nothing about our new town, but our decision wasn't necessarily based on reason. After my first date with Toby, I wrote in my diary that "I would marry Toby if he asked me today". I believe in love at first sight.

Last weekend, we visited Frederick after nearly five months away. This time, we arrived in the dark and the trees that line the streets were bare, but I was still taken back by the beauty of the small town we had called home for four years. We are used to the lights of Los Angeles, so driving through the historic downtown against the backdrop of a black sky felt like we were going back in time (back by years and years, not merely five months.) When we first saw Frederick, we wondered if we would relate to any of the people in such a small town. This time, driving into town, I knew the people in the houses - knew that they are home to a group of our friends - a group of intelligent, progressive people who have chosen this mellow lifestyle and are passionate about living in and continuing to improve their town.

We spent the weekend at pot luck dinners and brunches and meeting up in the park. The girls played with their friends, who feel more like family to us now. Some of them had lost teeth, some had grown new ones. The babies especially had changed. Noa, who had seemed just a tiny baby when we left, was walking. Apparently we've changed some too - the girls are taller, Noni has grown more hair.

Leaving this time was hard. When we left in June, it was in a whirlwind of packing and excitement. We didn't know what to expect but we did know we'd be coming back in five months. This time, it will be nine months before we return for another visit. We know what to expect and in many ways, it's better than I had imagined when we drove to the airport last summer. We have made friends that we care about. We have spent weekends at the beach and on incredible hikes. And I can honestly say now that all three of the girls are happy in California. Before I left, I went to Evie's school to collect her homework for the week and her teacher said, "I will miss her smiling face even for just a couple days. Evie is my happy girl. She is always happy." I kept thinking of that when I was watching her with her old friends and thinking about how she would be leaving them again.

There are things I love about Los Angeles - in Frederick, I missed my run up the canyon, the warm, sunny weather and of course the friends that we've made. But having grown up on a peninsula in a small town in Vermont, I am not sure I can live in a city forever. Being back in Frederick made me realize that somehow or other, we will get back to this little town in the mountains that still feels like home.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fire, fire on the mountain

The valley is burning. Or rather, a lot of it is. 800 homes have been destroyed and more than 50,000 people are displaced from their homes. We are fortunate that we live on the other side of the valley. We can see the fires from our street, but we aren't in any immediate danger, unless we do something crazy like, say, breathe.

The air quality is terrible. Yesterday I went for a run in Freyman's canyon and could see the smoke billowing from the mountains from my run. My lungs were stinging and I came home with a headache.

Today it has gotten worse. I have woken up to a blue sky nearly every day since we moved here. Today the weather forecast called for another hot and sunny day in the valley. Instead it stayed cool and the sun was hidden from the smoke. We decided to venture to Malibu for a breath of fresh ocean air. The photo I posted here is from the beach, where it stayed in the mid-seventies on a day that was forecast to be 89 degrees. The red sun looked eerily like it should have been setting, yet it was high in the sky at 1 o'clock. When we returned home, the air looked more smoky than it had when we left.

Last night, we had a dinner party and had a small fire in the outdoor fire pit to stay warmer on a cool November evening. We joked because the wind seemed to follow one friend and he kept having to breathe in smoke. Today it's as if we are all on the bad end of a bonfire, breathing in the smoky air.

My thoughts are with the people who lost their homes and with the firefighters, who hopefully will get the fires under control so we can all breathe again.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G

I have always thought that my first kiss happened in France, the summer after eighth grade, with my host family’s cute neighbor, Yannick. A recent look through my elementary school diary let me know otherwise: apparently I “kisst” my own neighbor, Justin, at the ripe old age of eight. I don’t know if my parents knew about the kiss. If they did, they probably weren’t too concerned. I doubt the kiss elicited much passion since I don’t even remember it and as for Justin, he started dressing in his mother's clothing and never showed any interest in kissing a girl again.

So why am I talking about first kisses all of a sudden? The other night, Evie announced to me that at lunch that day she had leaned across the table and kissed her friend Ehden. She paused a minute and then announced, almost defiantly, “On the lips!” She waited for my reaction. I thought to myself, play this one cool, but in my head I was thinking, WHAT? Seriously? I mean you leaned across the table? In front of everyone? It’s such a bold and impulsive move for Evie, I couldn’t believe it. Later, the story ran its obvious course. In tears, Evie told me how the boys in her class had teased them and told them they were going to get married and have babies and sang all the typical songs. I felt genuine sympathy for her, but to be honest, I also had to cover my smile. It’s just so perfectly, wonderfully typical - the rights of passage of childhood - that I sort of love that she is experiencing it.

This seems to be boy week all over because yesterday I was looking for Lucy on the playground at school and her teacher said, “Just look for the boys. She loves the boys…and they love her!” Of course Lucy loves the boys. They are wild and there’s nothing that she loves better than finding someone to be wild with her. Today, I watched as she chased her friend Max all across the playground after school. Another mom told me that the word on the street (the pre-K street, which probably looks something like Sesame Street) is that Lucy and Max are getting married. So there you have it - according to their classmates, both girls are accounted for already.

Two months ago Evie turned seven and tomorrow Lucy turns five. Clearly, they aren’t getting married for years to come and they are both a long way from their first real kiss - the one that they’ll rush home to tell their friends about, the one they’ll remember. But all of a sudden they are also a long way away from being infants or toddlers - or rather, it has happened slowly, but it feels all of a sudden to me. They are fully immersed in childhood and, while I miss their baby days, I love watching them embrace this new and wonderful stage of life.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Proposition 8: no place in 2008

Today wasn’t an all good news day. I’m still celebrating - nothing can take away from the excitement of electing Obama - but California’s vote on Prop 8 to constitutionally ban gay marriage shows that while a majority of voters in our country just elected a black president, discrimination is far from over.

In Los Angeles, the ads and the signs supporting Prop 8 seemed almost comical. Driving on Laurel Canyon yesterday, a group of young adults held “Say NO to Prop 8”. I pressed down on the horn to join in the noise - it seemed as if every car driving by honked. Further up the road, a lone man held a “Vote YES on Prop 8”. The cars passed by silently and I almost felt sorry for him standing out there by himself. Little did I know.

Meanwhile, as we passed by these signs, Evie and Lucy asked for an explanation. I told them that some people were trying to pass a law that would make it so that men can’t marry men and women can’t marry women. Evie responded, “I just don’t get it. Why would you pass that law?” I told her I didn’t get it either. She was silent for a minute and then said, “It just doesn’t make sense. I mean, it’s not like they’d make someone go to a hospital or something.” I was trying to figure out what she meant when she said, “I mean, why would a man marrying a man hurt anyone else? Why would they care? It doesn’t hurt them, so why do they care?”

In an ad that aired before the vote, a little girl asks her mom, “Guess what I learned in school today? I learned how a prince married a prince." The girl’s mother looks as if horns have just sprouted out of her child’s head and a voice says: "Think it can't happen? It's already happened. . . . Teaching about gay marriage will happen unless we pass Proposition 8." Think what can’t happen? That a teacher might teach a child to be tolerant and accepting of others? Or what? That suddenly the little girl will go running to her mom and say, “I heard about the princes and now I’m gay too!” And what would the mom say then? That she should have kept it to herself? Or would she break out her own book about a prince who fell in love with another prince but, knowing that his mother the queen was intolerant, he decided to live an unhappy life instead of ever acting on his feelings?

I will confess that, upon my explanation about the diversity of relationships, Lucy announced that she will be marrying her friend Gabriella. Evie turned to her and, in an authoritative big sister voice, said “Well, Lucy, then you’re going to have to go to a sperm bank to get a baby.” Apparently in some parts of California, this is where a voice over would come into the car saying, “It’s already happened!”

In Obama’s speech last night, he mentioned Ann Nixon Cooper, a 106-year-old woman. He talked about her life, saying: “She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons – because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.” Now, in that same lifetime, she is witnessing a black man elected president. I hope it doesn’t take a lifetime for my girls to see our nation embrace marriage between two loving partners of the same sex.

Thank you Obama, thank you America

Last night, our family headed over to a friend's house to watch the election results come in. Sarah was prepared with champagne, but I don't think any of us dared believe we'd pop the cork until the words flashed across the television screen: Obama wins 2008 Presidential Election. Then there was jumping, screaming and tears. I'm so glad that the girls got to participate in the excitement and hope they remember witnessing this historic event.

Today I am just feeling thankful. Jamie Lee Curtis expressed her thanks better than I could, so I'm just adding the link here:

Monday, November 3, 2008

Orange, black, red, white & blue

I have always loved Halloween. I’m not into goth or scary costumes and, as a mom, I don’t enjoy the overload of candy, but I love the creative spirit of a holiday where everyone hits the streets in costume. Over the years I’ve celebrated Halloween in many different ways, but the spirit is always the same.

Growing up, my mom would spend weeks making us elaborate costumes for Halloween. One year I was an oyster. She fashioned a giant shell out of chicken wire, covered it with grey fabric and then put a white swim cap on my head so that I’d be the pearl inside the oyster shell. My sister was a lobster that year, with huge claws towering over her, made in a similar fashion. Usually, however, the costumes went unseen as we marched around the neighborhood on the bitter cold Vermont October evening with our costumes hidden under parkas and hats. My parents like to tell the story of how my sister returned home one year with an empty bag of candy, having eaten each piece after it was handed to her.

In college, I remember one year where I decided that I had too much work to celebrate Halloween. At the last minute, however, I couldn’t resist and painted my face red, put on a red swim cap, red spandex and a shirt with a large spider on it and ended up heading out as Spider Man, more decked out than ever. I dressed up for Halloween in places where they don‘t even celebrate it, albeit unwittingly. Becky and I spent our Halloween in Ecuador at a bar, dressed in black and covered with black spiders (drawn with magic markers) only to find that no one else dressed up. If we didn’t stick out enough as a blonde and freckly red-head, we certainly did that evening.

In Frederick, our friends started a new tradition. Instead of candy, they hand out chili to friends and neighbors. People gather at their house, enjoying warm cider and a hot meal, and then walk together to collect candy on their street.

My first Halloween in California was spent in the Castro in San Francisco, where we partied with men in elaborate costumes who had all sorts of body parts showing. This year’s California Halloween was a bit more kid-friendly - an all American Halloween meets Hollywood. When we headed over to a neighbor’s at 5:30, kids were already pouring into the street. We filled the kids’ stomachs with healthy food (pizza) before heading out in a big group to tour the neighborhood. We stopped by a house with a “live” cemetery scene, where the corpses jumped out at the kids (most likely giving the local child psychiatrists a boost in business), one with beautifully carved pumpkins, and numerous homes with impressive home-made Halloween decorations. We decided to pass by the line outside of Jimmy Kimmel’s house, but did stop to watch as he handed out cabbages and filmed the kids’ reactions. Evie got her Hollywood moment when Bill Nye the Science Guy handed her candy. After about an hour of running up and down the sidewalks with their friends, all three of our little witches began to feel tired, so we headed home to hand out candy and put the girls to bed.

It’s easy to feel cynical about the holidays these days - the over commercialization and over consumption can leave even the most enthusiastic feeling disenchanted. But this year I realized what it is that I love most about Halloween: where Christmas and Thanksgiving are celebrated around the table with families eating or exchanging gifts, Halloween is celebrated in the streets with neighbors and friends. Families that normally spend their evenings glued to televisions or computers in their own homes, suddenly head out into the streets to greet each other and interact. It struck me this year that this is what America is and should all about, the “real” America if you will - people celebrating together and appreciating each other. Or maybe that’s just me, feeling patriotic on an evening when the hope of a new president and a new future for our country is just around the corner.