People…

HER TURN

2005

People just are who they are, and today, I was someone who did not want to go.

Soccer was his idea not mine–not to mention I had a three foot stack of orders I needed to invoice and get to shipping before the Fedex guy arrived at 4pm!  I did not want to go.  But I did.  Grudgingly.

Juan played as a child, and loved it.  He wanted our kids to love it too.

At the time, Lauren had been dancing on team, and Niko was a basketball player for the jr Lakers.  Kids were happy.  But they were only seven, and we were still open to trying new things.  My schedule was jammed solid with drum lessons, piano lessons, brownies, and cub scouts already; soccer would have to be Daddy’s thing.

As it turned out, our son was pretty good.  Our daughter?  Ha!

Can’t remember the position they assigned her, but she was down the field near the goalie.  Do recall her Daddy was excited though!  Even took her aside before the first game and gave her some pointers (I took the cutest picture of them).

So the ref blows the whistle and the little black and white ball goes flying down the field-fast, coming right at her!  Proud daddy looks over to his baby girl (who he is sure is going to be a natural!) and begins to yell, “Block it Lauren!” when he stops up suddenly, and looks at me (completely dumfounded), “What is she doing?!”

A smile spread across my face as I took in my baby girl doing a perfect pirouette, “She’s dancing.”

and then…”She’s a dancer.”  People are who they are.

Now Niko, he was a natural!  First time he ever played, our little athlete made every goal that season, except for three!  Playing both offense and defense, he left the other kids in his dust.  The three times our team lost:  we were out of town on vacation for one, he was sick for another, and the third game, I had to pull him out in the first quarter; his coughing and wheezing were dragging him down.

I waited to see if the coach would step in that day out of concern, but he never said a word.  In fact, he never acknowledged my boy the entire season except to direct him, “You’re in this quarter, or you’re sitting this one out.”

Our kid, who happily gave his all every single game, never got to take home the MVP beany ball either, but every other player on the team did.  One mom even remarked about it, but the coach ignored her.  Niko continued to play his heart out, because that is who he is, and I never said a word.  By the end of our ten weeks or so with the devils though, I hated that coach.

He wanted his son to be the soccer star, and when that didn’t pan out… I just reminded my son, people are who they are.

As you can imagine though, I was not happy about having to fill in that day when work pulled dad away from taking our boy to practice.  I was ticked actually.  But, I took a deep breath, switched gears, and focused on getting our kid to the field.

“Juan didn’t come?!”

I jumped!  She startled me.   Watching Niko whiz down that stretch of green grass with the ball ricochetting between his feet, I forgot there were others present.

My head whipped to my left, and my eyes settled on a pretty face.  I kinda remembered her from last weeks game.  Oh right, team mom!

We had spoken before; she stopped me to ask for our home address; needed to send out the Krispy Kreme invites for the teams “kick off ” party.  Excitement exuded from her; we were all getting together outside of the game and she couldn’t wait!

It was only a flash, but right then I recalled how her pretty face fell that day after my suggestion, “Oh no, save your stamps and just hand out the flyers at the next game.”  I could see this team mom didn’t care for my money saving solution, so I gave her our address, and went over and watched the game.

She did introduce herself but for the life of me…

Kneeling down now next to my lawn chair, her hand on my arm rest, and looking more than disappointed, she implored, “Where’s Juan?”

Um, I had to think.  “Oh, he had to work.  So I brought Niko myself.”

Her pretty face began to weep.  Like someone had flipped a switch.       I placed my hand over hers, and watched as genuine tears ran down her perfect cheeks, “Honey, are you okay?”

Through quiet, restrained sobs, and backward glances at her husband standing several yards away, she shared…  “I watch your husband with your son.  He is such a great dad.  He’s passionate and involved and…”  More tears.  “He reminds me of my dad–he was just like that!  He died two years ago.”  I could see her pain deepen and her body began to shake.   Reaching out, I took her in my arms.

I glanced over her shoulder at the man she was married to; the man who was not like her father, not like my son’s father.  With one glance, I believed her; her man had checked out long ago.  I felt sorry for all of them.

As the season progressed, her attention and feelings for my man deepened and the emails and the long glances she shot down the field got more frequent.   We skipped the end of season party and left that sport altogether too, but I did ask him , “You still hear from your soccer stalker?”  It wasn’t said in jest, it was a legitimate concern.

“Oh yeah.”

“What do you say to her?”

“I’ve never responded.  I’ve never even talked to her, except that time she asked me for our address, and I told her to ask you. ”

“But she keeps sending you messages asking to get the boys together?”

He nodded, then shrugging it off, “Hey, I can’t help it if she digs me!”  I rolled my eyes at him, but I knew she was serious.  She was stalking him.

I know she drove past our house at night too.  I could feel her.  I prayed she would find peace, and love, and strong arms to hold her.

Then I let it go.

Eventually the emails stopped.  I did see her at the market here in town, and her demeanor was exactly the same:  sad but keeping busy with the details of daily life.  We never made eye contact but I noticed there was a new baby in the stroller.  A new baby to love.  I smiled and continued shopping.

Here’s the thing:  team mom knew what she was doing was wrong, but I could see her pain, and often times when the ache gets too much we are drawn to those who are similar to the ones who brought us comfort in the past.  She missed her dad…she wanted him back, and sometimes, sometimes that makes us do things and say things that seem unfair.  Believe it or not, I could relate.  

I knew personally, people are who they are.

MY TURN

1984

Finals were over.  Freshman year of college was over.  Thank God!

My boyfriend and I almost ran to the parking lot.  Burger King and the beach were on the horizon!  Thought about throwing my textbooks in the trash on the way out–in fact, I almost chucked them!  Then I remembered I needed to sell them back to pay for next semester’s books in the fall, so I refrained.   Always the pragmatic one.

We could smell the Whoppers broiling from the Cypress College parking lot, and started to salivate as we exited the campus and rounded the corner of Valley View and Lincoln Avenues.

“Man, I starving!”  “Me too!”  We were famished and couldn’t get to the fast food joint fast enough.

I was turning nineteen in August, so she must have just turned 9 in May.  He didn’t see her, but I did.  I screamed and lunged forward, bracing myself with my hands on the dashboard, as my books flew off my lap and onto the floor of the car.

I heard my voice yell, “Look out!” but he said he only heard a scream as he slammed on the brakes.

She was blonde and had a doll like face.  And we almost killed her.

It was like a standoff.  That little girl, stunned, staring at me; us staring in shock back at her.  I was certain we had hit her.  Then, like the flip of a switch she scampered off across the street into the strip mall.  She was gone.

“Where’d she come from?!”  We were turning into the restaurant parking lot and he was still in disbelief.  “Turn around.”  My voice was raspy but I meant it.  His head whipped around, “What?”  “Why?”

“That was my sister.  I want to make sure she is okay.”

This boyfriend knew I had a crazy mixed up family, but he thought he had met all of them by now.  Guess what?  There was more to the story.

I had seen Tanya and Jason too, at McDonalds, with my mother.  (That other time, they came through drive thru, they were with our dad.)  They hadn’t recognized me, any of them, either time though and so I felt safe as I watched my mother order that day.

My eyes took in everything about her.  Her feet were wearing sandals; my eyes told me I had my mother’s feet.  The every day knowledge most take for granted, some of us can only hope to one day learn.  I had her hands too (I thought so).  Comforting confirmation.

The sweet blonde girl and the dark haired cute little boy were well behaved.   After a clean sweep of my family, I made a clean sweep of the lobby picking up the dirty plastic trays, and walked right past my them all–and stayed in back cleaning them-until they left.

It had been a few years since the last sighting, and kids change a lot, but I knew it was her; I was positive it was my baby sister.

I asked my boyfriend again to please turn around and he obliged.

We parked in front of the liquor store.  And waited.  The little girl, with the doll like face had gone into the arcade.

“How do you know it was her?”

just know.

Then, I asked him to do something unfair, “Don’t scare her, but can you go in and see if she’s okay?  Make sure we didn’t harm her? Ask her what her name is if you can, but don’t frighten her!”  He was intrigued (I get that a lot when I share my stories).

The little girl was playing pin ball when he asked and she nodded yes; she was okay and her name was Tanya.

I knew it!

Soon, a little boy joined her.  Then, their mother came across the street too.  Only she didn’t go into the arcade; she walked right past us, as close to the car as Tanya had been, and into the store.

And I sat and watched.  I took my turn at stalking.

The woman reached out for the boy’s hand and guided him up and down the aisles.  She was carefree, and on a mission; there was no evidence she had been informed her youngest daughter, only minutes before, had almost been run over by her oldest daughter.

Sitting next to me my partner in crime whispered, almost reverently, “Man, you have her body.”

We both lowered the visors and watched as all three crossed back over Lincoln Avenue to the apartments right there.  I let out a deep sigh:  for the first time in a solid decade, I knew where my parents lived–and try as I might, I wanted to know more.

It wasn’t often, maybe three or four times over the next two years, but it did happen; I found my car taking the the long way home after school, hoping to see them.  But I never did.  Not once.  My efforts were in vain.  I lost them as soon as I had found them.  Just as well.

I could not have foreseen running into them (literally) that day.  It was sudden and terrifying.  Even as I write this, my heart is racing in my chest at the memory.  I was given a split second to make a lifetime decision.  I left instead.  I had to live with that.

I know it was wrong to sit and watch them that day, without making our presence known.  But I couldn’t speak.  I remember feeling frozen, between wanting them in my life, and not being able to fit them in my life–a desperate kind of fascination that was not functional in any way.   And fate settled the dispute.

Heres the thing:  I knew what I was doing was wrong.  But all that pain came rushing back, and often times when the pain gets too much we are drawn to the ones who brought us comfort in the past.  I missed my mom, and I wanted her back, and sometimes, sometimes that makes us do things and say things that seem unfair.   I’m sure there are others who can relate.

Maybe that’s why I gave comfort and grace to the woman who came later in my life; the one who did some stalking of her own.  Because, in the end, we all have times we’d rather forget, times we wished we’d acted differently.  Because, people are who people are, and we’re all a lot more alike than we’d care to admit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forget-me-nots

Woke up thinking about my Aunt Joyce today.

Earlier this year, I flew to North Carolina to see her.  I had never been to NC before, and always had wanted to go, but this wasn’t a pleasure trip.  My aunt was sick.  My Joycie was dying.

Larry, her son, and more a brother than my cousin, called with updates on his mom’s health, “She does have bone cancer, Nee.  But they say its a slow growing cancer.  The docs think she has some time left in her though. ” I listened and my heart ached; I wanted a little bit more of that time.   I needed to see her.

As I tracked my flight on the digital map in front of me, my mind wandered to the days, weeks and months I had already cherished spending with my aunt, to what I knew about my mama’s oldest sister…

Joyce came into the world when her mama was only 15 or 16.  She was Gram’s first child–a healthy bouncing baby girl named Glenda Joyce Taylor.  I asked, why Glenda?  Gram responded with a backhanded wave of dismissal,  “The mid-wife named her.  I couldn’t even say Glenda.  So we called her Joyce.”

That new baby girl came out looking just like her father too; a handsome stocky boy her mother met while picking cotton on his parent’s plantation.  He came from the wealthiest family in town, while she came from one of the poorest.  No, the boy’s mother was not pleased, but she did insist her son do the right thing and marry “that girl”.

Gram said she tried.  But after a miserable month or two of living in the big house, the new mama took her baby girl and went home to live in the little house; the house with dirt floors; not even a place she loved or even liked; but it was away from “that woman”.

Oh Joyce met her father a time or two over her childhood, and from what I had learned he was nice enough, but he had moved on with his life.  It was better she lived away from the plantation; from the resentment.

Joyce never married, but did have a son and two grandsons–that she often told me she thought were truly grand!  Before moving back to Arkansas, she spent a good thirty years of her adult life living in San Luis Obispo.  In fact, the time I spent with my Joycie was there, in San Luis.  Gram, Joyce, Larry and I all lived in a one bedroom, little green house on Lawton for about two straight years.

It was the happiest time of my childhood…

My aunt had a laugh that could fill a room with warmth.  She loved her mother too.  Deeply.  We all lived together, not in harmony, but well.  The living space was small, but we liked each other.  It worked.

She had a heart for tender moments too:  I wouldn’t have a cassette of my own sweet little girl voice today, if she hadn’t opened a tape recorder she received on Christmas eve and decided it was me she wanted to talk to, to record then.  I wouldn’t have a single photograph of my grandmother and myself both smiling, laughing, enjoying life either if Joyce hadn’t thought each of those moments was special enough to pick up a camera and freeze them in time.

I wouldn’t have a transom into those rare, precious memories of my life if it weren’t for her.

The last time I had seen my aunt was 14 years ago, when she flew out from Arkansas for my twins first birthday.  My kids were her great-niece and great-nephew–and she really did think they were great!  It was a fabulous time for me; I felt like for the first time since having my kids, I had family to help me out–family who was concerned.  It was only a week, but it meant the world to me.  My aunt adored the twins.

Over the years, love and adoration continued to arrive often in the form of cards, phone calls and emails; long distance forget me nots.  I returned her love with phone calls, cards and emails of my own–often long emails packed full of my life as a mom, and the funny musings, remarkable anecdotes and deeply loving things my kids would say.  I wanted to share my life, and I know she appreciated my efforts.

One day we were talking and she said in her pretty southern drawl, “Hun, I want you to know, I just looooove those stories you’ve been writing about your babies.   AND, I’ve saved ever one of them–EVER ONE!  I got me a scrapbook too, and I printed them out and they’re all in there; cards, pictures, stories–everthing!  Oh, I just love your stories!”    

I went out to the garage this morning and pulled that scrapbook out; that scrapbook I brought back with me from NC.  There they were as promised:  page after page of snapshots, holiday cards and printouts of everything I had sent her over the years; a perfectly preserved treasure trove of memories of my children and their childhood.

In honor of my Aunt Joycie, and her gift to me I think I’m gunna share some of those “stories” I wrote back then, here, from time to time.  The following is just a random one I picked out, but it does mention her and that is cool.  Hope you enjoy…

TREASURE TROVE

Its been a very long night.

It’s May 6th and it’s very late. Or maybe it’s very early.    Either way, it’s 4:13 am and I find myself on the 15th floor of a lovely hotel overlooking Central Park and Fifth Avenues.  It’s only two feet wide, but a surprisingly comfortable window seat that’s just long enough for me to be convinced the architects of the Plaza hotel designed it just for me.

From my vantage point, I can see the yellow taxi cabs still driving around down there like matchbox cars, which is just the benign kind of distraction I need right now.

We arrived to NYC earlier this afternoon, and my baby girl spent a good portion of the evening burning up with fever.  I’ve been watching over her, and even though the fever has broken, I don’t think I will sleep at all this night.

My aunt Joyce asked me recently, “Did you have any idea you would love your children so much?”  I didn’t even have to think about my response, “I always knew my children would be the greatest loves of my life.  What I did not realize was how vulnerable I would feel.”

Whether they are laying a few feet away fighting a fever or simply struggling to tie their own shoe laces, that sense of not being able to make it all better leaves me with an ache I am trying to learn to live with–and just when I am convinced I know exactly what’s best for my little angels, I find they have put their sweet heads together and decided I am wrong and their way is best…

It used to be, “Okay guys, bedtime.”  and Niko would say, “Mommy, can you lay with me until I fall asleep?”  I knew how to respond to that.  Now when I say bedtime, I turn around and find my five and half year olds standing in a united front, “Uh mama, Niko and I were talking and we think it’s too early for bed.”  Who taught them to talk?

A few days ago, it was bath time and naturally neither felt they needed a bath either.  I stood there considering my options, “Okay, let me smell those feet”.  I chose to pick up my girl (the duo’s spokesperson),  and I lifted her feet to my nose and took a deep sniff– and then pretended to faint.

Lauren giggled but held her ground.  I said, “Hmmm.  Those feet are stinky.  Your poor toes.  If we don’t wash them, they are gonna jump off your feet and run away!”  That did the trick.  One down, one to go.

“No!  I am NOT STINKY and I won’t take a shower!”  Tried the same sniff and faint with my boy, but he wasn’t budging.  “Niko, take off your jammies please and get in the shower.”  I received a loud and firm, “NO!”  …Little stinker.  (His defiance kinda made me smile).

“Okay then.  With or without your clothes, you WILL take a shower. Your choice.”

In an effort to maintain my position of authority (and keep this quick and easy) I reminded myself to choose the laughter–and before he could run away, I scooped him up–jammies and all–and plopped him right down in the middle of running shower.  He stood there stunned, with his shoulders hunched over and head and body and clothes getting wetter by the second.  Then he looked up at me, water dripping off his nose, and he started to giggle.  Then his sister started to giggle. Then we were all giggling and Niko said with a big grin, “Yep!  I’m pint-sized fun!”

He is fun, and so is Lauren.  I so enjoy them! And I can hear the taxis starting to honk their horns down below and the sky is beginning to lighten so it must be nearing dawn.  Everyone will be up soon.  Thank you for helping me get through this vigil with my coping mechanism:  writing.  Made the night go faster.

Oh–and after bathtime that day, I was cleaning out my closet for the neighborhood garage sale and Lauren came into my room and asked, “Mom, can I sell Niko at the garage sale?”

Lauren woke up at NOON the morning after her rough night in NYC, “I feel much better mommy.  You take good care of me.”  and Niko, well, we opted NOT to sell him at the garage sale–after all, he DID take his shower.

———-

I did make it to NC earlier this year, but not soon enough. My dear Aunt Joyce passed away a few hours before I landed.  I was devastated.  Did see her at the mortuary, and I held her hand, and said goodbye.  It was hard.  Really hard.

I take comfort in remembering though we had good times together, and good times far apart-together too; I have a scrapbook to prove it, and I think she’d love that I’m sharing our treasure trove of forget-me-nots here with you.  <3

Just a thought…

WORD

Did you know I’m a rap star?  Well, maybe not a star in your world, but I am definitely a star in my world.  In fact, I can out-rap any Jay Z or Run D.M.C. out there!

I don’t have to work at it either.  I can be brushing my teeth, or driving my car and someone around me will say something that hits my trigger and BAM–the Run R.L.D. in me  takes center stage answering in a rhyme and rhythm story sure to blow you away!  Sometimes, I can’t stop either.  I go on and on and until my kids are buckled over holding their sides in laughter.  Juan used to try and out wit me, but clever as he was, he always conceded in the end, “Man, you’re good.”

Some of us just miss our calling in life.  Ah well, I guess I’ll just have to be a  blogger instead.  🙂

You know that song, “Its all about the bass?”  Well, for me, it’s all about the WORDS:  My  laptop tells me I have written 5,499 words since I began putting fingers to keyboard just 14 days ago–and my handy dandy stat counter tells me I’ve had over 1,000 page views!!!

Woot woot!!!

Truly, I am stunned.  and deeply appreciative.  Thank you, sincerely, for taking some of your time and sharing it with me.  Btw, I have read each and every comment you left me, and I’ve responded.  Not sure, if you got the reply’s but they are posted.  I hope you continue to read.

I will continue to write.

Since I began my stories originally on Facebook, I’ve been getting the same questions:  “How long have you been writing?”– “Do you edit?” —and “Are the stories true?”.

First:    How long?  All my life.  

Some kids play an instrument, some play sports, some watch tv; I wrote.  We didn’t have the money for music lessons, I’ve never been athletically coordinated, and the only television I remember watching as a young child was Captain Kangaroo.  My gram taught me to write.

I can still remember my first day of first grade:  gram and I showed up hand in hand.   We were early-in fact, we were the first ones there.  My teacher’s name was  Mrs. Foot and I was excited to meet her.  She was young and new to teaching and I warmed to her instantly.  Gram introduced us and the pretty nice lady asked, “Can you find your name on the wall?”

I looked up and saw a path of feet made of red construction paper, each one labeled with a student’s name.  Took me a moment, but I found my foot with “Renee” written in black marker, pointed to it, and felt my heels rise in victory.  I knew how to spell my name, how to read my name, and I even knew how to write  my name–and that moment, that very moment, I fell in love with words.

Second:  Yes, I edit.

Don’t know anyone who doesn’t.  Often times too, I will end up with an entirely different piece than what I thought it was going to be.  It’s fun to play around with the words though.  I get giddy actually.

Third:  True?  ABSOLUTELY.

Every single thing I have ever written is TRUTH.  Don’t know how to write fiction.  THAT would require huge amounts of effort on my part.  These stories I relate here, and on Facebook, and the stuff I’ve written over the years–they are MINE.  I’ve earned every word.

JUST A THOUGHT

Took my girl to Barnes and Noble yesterday; her happy place.  She was given gift cards a few weeks ago for her birthday and was chomping at the bit to use them.  Found two books she hadn’t read and today she tells me she has already finished reading the first.

She loves books.  She loves reading what others are thinking.

My girl can write too; her fourth grade teacher called Lauren her “writer girl”–and encouraged her to read the Harry Potter Series. Lauren enjoys fiction; both reading it and writing it; she devoured the imaginative writings of Scotland’s amazing wordsmith, JK Rowling, and by the end of her time at Hogwarts, my girls vocabulary skyrocketed!

Her approach to learning:  when she’d bump into a word she wasn’t familiar with, she’d look it up and write down the definition on an index card–and refer back to them until she had the meaning down. Still has the stack of cards.

By the sixth grade, Lauren’s teacher reported she had tested at a 13.1 (first year, first month of college) reading level at 12 years old!  I know her time spent reading others thoughts was time well spent; it only made her own thoughts that much more interesting; her own writing fuller, deeper, stronger.

My boy is like me.  While its true, he enjoys the written word, he prefers non-fiction.  Give him an article on Rafael Nadal and his current reign over the French Open and you will have his complete attention.  Hand him the same Harry Potter books as his sister, and they will sit there till they gather dust.

Niko writes too.  His seventh grade teacher gave the class a prompt the first week or so of school and was so impressed with his paragraph she went and found him at lunch, “Niko, you are a really good writer!”  He was mortified.

His mom writes.  His sister writes.  Writing is for girls.

His friends were standing there listening to the praise being showered on his teenage self, and he wanted to disappear.

As it turned out, she became his favorite teacher that year, and I told her, “That’s okay.  He doesn’t have to love writing.  But I’m delighted he showed you he can write.  So much of school, of life, is being tested on expressing your thoughts; my goal for my children has always been, when they are handed an assignment that requires the written word, they can confidently respond:  cool.  All I have to do is write. ”

I’m glad we’ve reached that goal.

Reading and writing are so important-to every one of us–even if we are only doing one or the other.  My gram taught me: write what you are thinking.  I did, and you are reading it.  Some even respond with written comments–and you make my day!  The thoughts and opinions of others are part of an every day kind of life I want to live.

After all, isn’t that what we all want to know?  What all the other folks in our world are thinking?

We cannot turn on a television, the internet, our phones, or even our stereos without feeling the anticipation we are about to hear someone else’s thoughts.  We scan editorials, emails, and texts, or Facebook, Twitter, blogs–all in the hopes we can take in what someone else is feeling, hoping, desiring.  We purchase books, attend seminars, and join self help programs for healing and growth–all the by product of experiences and visions of those who’ve already thought it all out.

We want to laugh and cry and commiserate and sympathize.  We listen with our eyes and our ears because we want to feel the messages, to connect; to be visually and verbally held for awhile.

I know I do.

I’m thrilled too to hear I’ve been inspiring some of you to blog yourselves, or begin to write down your stories in any form at all.  We all have something to share, something to learn, something to write.  I can’t tell you how to inspire others, and writing is writing no matter where it lands–but writing a blog is working for me!

You may want to give it a shot!  I dunno, just a thought…  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Jason

Went to a bonfire last week.  It was lovely.  Lots of old friends, fellowship and laughter.  It was already kind of a  perfect evening, when my friend Lydia said, “I am such a fan of your blog, Renee!”

I hugged her.  Yes, I’m a hugger.  Went four years without any hugs in the foster home; four years without any physical contact all.  Long time.  So now, I hug.  A LOT.

Lydia said as she warmly held both my hands,  ” You should put all those stories you’ve already written on your blog too. ”   Often times I’ve found, our maker’s guidance comes via messages delivered through those closest to us–and I make a habit of listening.

Super idea!!

I wrote the following five years ago…

FOR JASON

We were the bookends of a very sad story.  I, the oldest of seven siblings; he the youngest.  We never lived a single day together, but soon discovered, for most of our childhoods, tragically, we traveled along the  same path.  And, of all the kids in our family, he and I were the only ones who were interested enough in the story of how it all came to be, to write it down.  Maybe we could comfort each other?

When Jason asked me about my time with our parents, I recalled many stories (in fact, I even started writing a book for him) and he shared too.  Pretty quickly I realized he and our sister Tanya had it worse off than I and our other siblings ever had.

Our parents never drank, took drugs or hurt us with their hands.  They loved us.  But they did neglect us, and when I read Jason’s stories, it broke my heart to learn our parents still hadn’t gotten it right.

I wanted him to know he wasn’t alone.  So I began to write for him.

After I sent a few chapters his way he sent me a note, “…seriously, this is good stuff.  You really have a knack for writing and I think you could even do it professionally.” Made me want to write more.  So I did.  The following is an abbreviated version of a chapter in my book, I wrote just for him,  and some of his responses, simply titled…

CHAPTER 3

It was more like the crack of a shotgun, than an explosion.

I focused on the dark, late night sky scanning and searching as the unexpected glory of a spectacular blue-white flickering caught my eye, and instinctively I braced myself as a brilliant sheet of lightening backlighted an army of cumulous clouds.

“BOOM!”

The thunder was trailed by a crackling of pops and flashes of light that reminded me of fireworks–scary fireworks.  My breath caught in my throat and I flinched; curling into a ball, my legs and torso bare; blankets lost sometime during the night in a battle of siblings fighting for warmth.

Most nights, the four of us were like keys on a keychain, each finding a spot on the ring, side by side, wherever we happened to be.  Tonight should have been different though; tonight was supposed to be a treat.

Our father had checked us into a motel room near Disneyland.  It wouldn’t win any Architectural Digest awards, but clearly it was a space of our own, if only for the night–and this  double bed room was clean, dry and warm.  It should have been a night to remember.

As it turned out, it was.

Earlier Sean had taken a pillow and found a spot on the floor to sleep (old habits die hard).  With baby Kasha on the other bed next to mama, it stood to reason I would be granted a little space of my own, yet my baby brother Timmy (a snuggler by nature) had backed his rear end up, inching towards me horizontally across the bed, until he found me; his anchor in the mayhem, and parked his haunches right up snug against my lower back–and it was just adding to my misery.

Violent wind continued to snap back and forth outside, and I began to shiver.

It was late.  Too late for a child to be awake.  Hard as I try though, the cruel combination of a terrifying thunderstorm and a body still reeling from a nasty case of food poisoning earlier in the day, left me suspended in the moment, unable to escape from the thoughts of either.   And feeling weak.

Before the storm moved in that night our day was filled with a semblance of comfort and daddy smiled, “Alright, here’s a dollar for each of you.”  Our eyes widened with anticipation as we watched our father place one crisp dollar bill into each of our tiny pair of hands.  “Go up to the office and that vending machine there and get yourselves something to eat.”

Then he slapped the palm of his hand with the back of his racing form and looked at me, “Nee, you watch your brothers and sister okay?  Let your mama rest while I go out for awhile.”  We all watched in silence as mama turned her head away.

The spiffy vending machine had small, single servings of hot food: weiners, spaghetti-o’s type stuff and they came out HOT.  Sean and I had to juggle them back to our room so as not to get burned.  We giggled and tried not to drop them.

My can was tasty going down but not so much coming back up.  Something rancid settled in my stomach, and then erupted.  Awful.

Funny thing though, a family.  Years spent in the same immediate vicinity, repeating our days like robots, makes one take notice of even the most subtle of nuances.  Almost from birth, we learn what to do, and what not to do; in almost every situation, from our parents.

I learned my place was to care for my siblings, and my mama.  Daddy told me so.  Jason said Daddy told him so too.

Jason:  The last two chapters are very good.  You’ve really pegged them both–right down to the “slapping of the racing form” and the indifference in almost all of her actions towards him.   We stayed in motels a lot just like you guys, in fact, I too have a penchant for sleeping on the floor like Sean (I preferred to sleep under the sink in the back though if there was one, as it felt safer) …

Tanya and I used to share the back seat in a few cars too.  If I got the clothes just right, I could make it pretty flat, as if the huge bump in the floor board was not there.  I gave her the cushy part.  Mom would lay across the front and Dad would be out, probably wasting more money than you may ever realize.  I feel so bad about what I did to enable that.  I confided in my wife this weekend I had seen check registers from two men showing they had each given “DAD” millions of dollars.  Millions of dollars.   He was a pure grifter, and very good at it.  Had he not needed to throw even one score away we could have paid rent on a house or apartment for a year, and he scored probably twice a week. 

I thought about what Jason wrote and tears pooled in my eyes.  I knew his story.  Intimately.  I wanted to hold him.  Cry with him.  But he was across the country, in Connecticut now; as far away as he could get physically from his childhood.   Instead, I did what I do, and I shared a little more of my words, hoping he’d get that I felt his pain…

Our mother passed away when Jason was nine.  He was just a little boy.  I got his pain; his big sister understood.

I was nine that night there in Anaheim, across from DIsneyland, when the storm raged outside our motel room, and inside my tummy as well.  I was nine that night when I lay awake and listened while the smell of cigarette smoke filled the air and my parents soft voices filled the room.  I was nine when my daddy said, “She’s really sick isn’t she?” Then, after a deep sigh, “Social services will take them…look, we have no choice.”

Daddy must have lost big at the track that night because … the next day, they gave us away.

I was nine when I lost my mom.  and my dad too.  Just a little girl.            I knew he got my pain too; my little brother understood.

 

 

 

 

 

The Song Remembers When…

Spent last night back in the 1980’s–and it was wonderful!

A group of girls from my high school got together to visit and play bunco.  I was invited, and I was excited to go!  Been feeling this a lot lately (but especially with Facebook): what is it about old friends that makes us feel young?

Music does that too.  Trisha Yearwood wrote a song titled, “The Song Remembers When…” that talks about how a song can instantly transport us back to a time we’d never think about otherwise.  

When I sit down to write I always click on my iTunes icon and pick a song from the decade I’m focusing on–then hit repeat.  Today, it was my favorite song from the 1980’s:

The Ghost in You, by the Psychedelic Furs

and the memories came flooding back.

Big hair, shoulder pads, Izod shirts and 501’s.  Penny loafers, leg warmers and Members Only jackets.  Millers Outpost, Tower Records and Drive in theaters; driving, making out, and one telephone that hung on the kitchen wall where everyone in the house knew when you received a call from a boy!  Ugh.

For those of us who went to high school in the early 80’s, I think we’d agree, it was a special time, but I think the music was my favorite memory.   I’ve always loved music.

Shortly after I was adopted my new dad came home with a little black square shaped radio.  Panasonic, I think.  He could see adjusting to my new life was slow and painful for me; I kept mostly to myself.  One night, he knocked on my bedroom door and held out his sweet present, “I know you like music.”  It helped; I played it all the time.

(Have I mentioned how much I love my dad?)

New Wave Music was all the rave back then, and if you tuned your transistor radio to KROQ at 106.7 on the fm band, you’d hear the very cool DJ Richard Blade play it all:  The Smiths, The Cure, Erasure, The Ramones, INXS, and Depeche Mode just to name a few.

Anyone remember Jed the Fish?

Such cool airwaves…

Being teenagers in the 80’s meant we were also old enough to know our country was doing well, and through our parents we learned life could be rewarding–if you wanted to work for it.  I didn’t come to know anyone who was spoiled.

I felt that all over again last night.  Every single one of us has worked hard to bring our lives to the places we are at today; creating warm loving homes for our children, cherishing our responsibilities as parents, taking an interest in our country, our communities, our churches–and acknowledging all the frustration and exhaustion that goes with it just made it that much more real for all of us.

The thing I see in my mind when I look back on my class of ’83:                  the smiles.  Everyone was always smiling at our high school.  I’m sure it helped that we went to CIF like for every sport our senior year, but it was more than that.  We were hopeful.

Where we lived, in Anaheim (and across the country) homes were affordable–nice homes too–with 3 or 4 bedrooms, 2 car garages, and big grass covered front yards and back yards.  The boys moved the lawns and took out the trash, and the girls vacuumed and washed the dishes.  Life became a routine of calm consistency, and I was in awe.

My perspective on schools changed too.  By the age of 12,  I had attended five different schools–kindergarten and the last half of third grade and the first half of fourth grade never happened.   My daddy had this need to move A LOT that I never saw sated.  Suddenly, I was attending the same school two years in a row.  I held my breath.

I learned our public schools were paid for by the parents of the children who attended them–and if someone needed help, it wasn’t hard to find.  Our teachers weren’t overburdened by impacted rosters, constant budget cuts, and waves of needs having nothing to do with academics.  Back then, teachers taught and the parents raised the kids.   Logical accountability all around.

The sky in this new world was the same pretty blue as my old world, but the colors on the ground were much more attractive.

I went from being family-less to family-full in a short one mile car ride.  My foster home and my adopted home were the walking distance from Beach Blvd to Western Ave, but it felt like a new country.  I now had adopted brothers, foster sisters, and aunts and uncles and cousins coming out the ying yang.

I had spent the previous four years somberly in a warm, clean, very quiet, safe foster home with an older deeply religious couple that were nice enough–but I always knew it was temporary–which was fine.   That “foster kid” spotlight grew bright and hot after time.

So, when I entered this new home with its revolving door of friends and neighbors and family; so many people now that wanted to welcome me in, to be my family–truthfully, it kinda freaked me out, but I was ready for the change.

By the time I enrolled in high school, I had friends–great friends.  And I was ready to participate in life. My grandmother told me once , “I didn’t know I could speak until I was thirty–and after that, I never shut up.”

For me, I learned to speak at Western High School.  I found I liked to get involved and if I wanted to go on the ski trip to Utah, it was suddenly a reality I could consider.  If I wanted to run for Senior Class Secretary I now knew I could count on being there to fulfill my duties.

Life changed for me, and I began to dream, not of my biological parents returning to claim me, but of a life I could have in spite of them; a life of my own choosing.

As that song from the 80’s played one last time today, I thought back on that teenager who was just trying to get through each and every day without letting the world know how truly scared she was; how sure she was that it would all just crumble.  I thought of that girl who never spoke of her past, but one who dreamt of her future, of all of us last night (who didn’t have the early experiences I did) but still needed to put one  foot in front of the other for the past forty nine years, and make life happen.

My 49 years have been good, I think.  Not all of my dreams did come true, but sitting at those bunco tables and catching up on the past thirty years with those lovely ladies left me with a feeling that I did okay, that we all did more than okay–and with the certainty that history, connections and those that cross our paths in life matter…

that old friends are truly the best friends, and I was grateful.

Love you gals!

 

 

 

 

 

who cares?

I so enjoyed reading all your comments, texts and emails yesterday.   Thanks again, for taking the time to read my stories, knowing you carry them with you–letting me know I have a place in your hearts.

I think that’s the imperative,  don’t you?   That no matter what  is going on in our busy days, that we stop long enough to let each other know:

WE CARE.

One of my subscribers (and now dear friend) sent me a private message the other day after reading my last post (and allowed me to share) :

“Hi Renee!  Loved your blog!! I get so into it, I visually picture your story in my head, that I have a couple of questions if you don’t mind?”

I never mind!  On Facebook, here on my blog, or if you bump into me in the supermarket (or even the loo!) –if you have a question, about anything, ask me.  I want to share, and I like to think I’m approachable.

My friend went on to write regarding my post, “How old were you during that time, and how long did that last for you and your family?”

I was about five or six when I noticed the stars.  And living without shelter?  That went on and off the first nine years of my childhood…

We had places we could go.  Places where no one would notice our car parked all night.  Summers were hardest though.  Sometimes, we’d have to wait, often in stifling heat, for the sun to go down and windows to go dark before we crept in along a curb, under a heavily tree lined street.

There were times daddy would pull in behind a KMart or a Zodys and find a spot in the dark; grocery stores never worked because the wee hours of the night were routinely filled with the comings and going of diesel delivery trucks unloading their stock.

Cul de sacs didn’t work either; folks chose to live on streets with only one way in or out, for a purpose.

My beautiful friend ended her note yesterday with, “Breaks my heart reading this.  I wanted to take you and your family in as I’m reading it!  And I can’t believe no one seeing you guys sleeping on the bench in the cold didn’t do anything to help!”

The thing is:  we got help all the time.

Our entire dirty, hungry, tired brood was always landing on someones’ doorstep.  I remember one friend of daddy’s who (in hindsight) was probably a fellow grifter, but sympathetic enough to open the door to all five of us (even if it was with hesitation) late one blistering hot night.

Searching out the shadows in our car parked along the curb he asked, “They hungry?”

He talked funny.  His wife and kids were gone–to Germany, he said. He seemed nice and he invited us in.

It was even more unbearably hot in his kitchen than our car.

But we didn’t complain.  Instead, my brothers and I stood by and watched reverently as the kind man with the funny words spooned out small even servings of sticky white  bits of rice and minced ham. He handed us EACH our own spoon, and then,  remarking almost to himself, “I wish I had more…”  as he tipped the empty pan towards us.

I was savoring my clump of that delicious salty spoonful of carbs stuck to the roof of  my mouth when daddy said:

“Ah, no.  They’ll be fine. ”  Daddy was never quite as concerned as I would have hoped; the severity of the situation, of starvation, never seemed to hit home with him as hard as it should have.

WHO CARES?

Apathy does exist, but I believe it’s more a response to those who repeatedly take advantage, than a lack of concern.  Most of us want to live a life of self-reliance, of dignity, but many simply have lost their direction and need help.

Charity exists too.  I’ve seen it firsthand.  In fact, if it wasn’t for the goodwill of strangers…  But poverty, homelessness and hunger haven’t gone away:

17 million kids in our country alone go hungry every day.                                That’s 1 in 5.  That’s 1 in 5 too many.

50 million households every single day are at risk for hunger.  Childhood hunger–hunger period, is at crisis level in America.

The good news is:  Lots is being done to aid/end this unthinkable reality.  If you’d like to get involved/sponsor/donate a meal I’ve taken the work out of finding some solid reputable charities:

I’ve been watching Jeff Bridges do wonderful things with NoKidHungry.org

Saw a commercial for Unilever’s ProjectSunlight.org.  Looked into it. Kids, young leaders becoming advocates to end hunger.  I signed up!

FeedingAmerica.org  with Sheryl Crow is the largest allocation of food banks in America.  Donate or serve.  Both cool options.

Blessing Bags!  Just saw this on Facebook (I always have my eyes open) –keep large baggies filled with items such as protein bars, fruit cups, toothpaste, and keep in your car to hand to the homeless.

Many of us do simple thoughtful things every single day to “help” out those in our immediate world–like make a casserole for a sick friend, or sending extra cookies to school with your kids labeled “share”- like I did this past week.   If you’re looking to touch someone’s life that you don’t know too (one of those anonymous random acts of kindness), I hope you look into one of these wonderful organizations. You’ll will feel the blessing.

When folks ask me, “Who cares?”  I love to respond, “I care.”

Hope you do as well.  🙂

 

 

 

a dozen night lights

A dozen night lights

Mama reached into the city trash can and pulled out a newspaper.  It wasn’t wet; it would do.  The night was chilly.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the public bench outside the YMCA, in downtown Los Angeles, was cold to the touch.  But we were tired and needed to lay down.

My brothers and I watched as our mother opened one section of the paper and laid it carefully across the seat of the long bench.  Then another, and then another until the entire thing was covered in paper.

“Okay, come here” she said, as she turned around and sat down in the middle of the bench.   Sean curled up on the left side of her, and I on the right.  Timmy, our three year old baby brother stood there, waiting, when I reached out and spooned him up close to me.

We all rested our heads on mama’s familiar lap and once she saw we were settled in, she opened more newspaper and covered us.  Then we felt her arms reach out and rest heavily on us, keeping the sheets in place.  Newspaper for sheets.   It wasn’t like what other people used to keep warm at night; like the people we’d visit sometimes, but it would do.

Sometimes I could fall asleep pretty quickly–probably from emotional exhaustion, but that night the brightness of the stars caught my attention.

Looking up, I counted to twelve; twelve scattered stars shining down on us; a string of dot to dot light in the darkness of my night.

My gram always told me the stars were there to wish upon.  I focused on this as my mind wandered…

Daddy was inside, up on the top floor mama said, trying to hustle up some money.  I think she said he was playing poker.  We couldn’t go inside because it was for men only.  I wished upon the stars that he won.  Then, as my eyes grew heavy with the cold, I imagined us sleeping inside somewhere.

That was always the question of the day:  would we be inside or outside that night?

I never had my own room as a child (I really wanted to be one of the Brady Bunch sisters and have a room like them), nor did I get a pony (see, i do have some issues-ha!)  what I did gain though was perspective–even as a young child.  That night on the bench, I remember being cold and stiff and longing for warmth, but I don’t remember feeling fear.   I felt safe because I was with my mom, and my siblings; my family was all there and we had the stars, with their comforting light and hope, watching over us.

NOW THEY CALL THEM NIGHT LIGHTS

I walked into my own daughters pretty room tonight and let out a deep sigh:  her carpet needs to be replaced badly.  We’ve lived here ten years and she has danced those threads bare.  We’re gonna redo her room too.  Gotta get to that–and quickly.  I realized today that in just one short year and a half both my kids will be seniors in high school.  Seniors!

I don’t know the colors or even what she wants for the redo, but I’m pretty sure it will include one of those big fuzzy love sacs and a shiny crystal hanging lamp.  My book lover can curl up and read to her hearts content–how blessed I feel to give her this.

While I never had a room of my own until I was 16, my daughter (and my son too) have always had their own space.  At first, hers was frilly and princessy and pepto bismol pink (the price you pay when you let them choose).  Then it was yellow (cuz Grace had a yellow room) and then it was lilac (cuz we both loved the color instantly).

I made sure it had all the comforts a little girl could want:  soft mattress, pretty bedding with canopy and ruffles; a tea table in one corner where she served her daddy and niko and spiderman and Raggedy Anne cookies and “tea”;  stuffed animals (she called her babies) fought for space at the foot of her bed and lined the walls too, and even her closet was filled with half a dozen Disney princess dresses, and the books–oh lots and lots of books.  It was her haven!

But she was afraid to sleep in there when it got dark.  All she wanted was her mommy and a little light.  Her lamp was too bright though, and the dark was too dark,  so we got her a night light.  It helped, but I knew what she really needed was what I had: a dozen night lights in the form of sparkly stars above her head.

I called the young woman sewing her curtains and asked her to alter them:  “Please shorten them.  I’d like you to leave enough of the window above the curtain free, so my daughter can see the stars.”

I never had all the comforts my children have had but sometimes, if you look real closely, there are gifts hidden in the most unlikely of situations.  I didn’t have a room like the Brady Bunch girls, but I did have a dozen night lights, and years later, so did my daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why blog?

Why write a blog?

My friends on Facebook tell me I should do it for myself–even if no one else ever reads it.  I hope others read it, but I think they are right; I’ve needed to purge my story for a long time.

My son has never read any of my writing.  He has heard me share some of my stories however out loud, but its painful for him.  Some day he will be ready to read this though, and maybe, just maybe, he’ll get answers to important questions he never knew he had.  Can you imagine if your mom or dad had written down their life story?   How much fuller your visions of them–your understandings of them would be!

My daughter, on the other hand, has read some of my Facebook stories over the last year and said recently, “Mom, you are such a good writer.  I like how, even though the stories are sad, you write with such optimism.  You could help a lot of people.  You need to write your blog.”

So here goes…and if you decide to stop by once in a while, or better yet- SUBSCRIBE to my blog, I will be thrilled!  My plan is to share the stories of my journey (both past and present) of a little girl who learned fairly early on that the only way to survive and thrive (in spite of life’s imperfect situations) is through grace;  forgiveness and mercy, in all matters, come easier if you can summon up even one drop of grace.

WHO I AM…

I had just gotten the job at Warner Bros and the admin department told me I needed to order a name plate for my desk.  Simple enough task right?   Just list my name, and hand in order form.  Yet, I hated having to think about something so many others took for granted.

My name has always been Renee Lynn DeMont.

But very few knew that.  My adoptive parents thought it was Dobranich, and then later my husband thought it was Duenas.

A writer on the tv show I was working on walked past my desk one day and said, “Renee Duenas…Duenas?  That doesn’t sound right.

What’s your maiden name?”  Dobranich.  “No, that doesn’t sound right either.”

I smiled, trying to solve the puzzle for her and offered, “Well, my birth name is DeMont” … “That’s it!  Renee DeMont.  Sounds like a movie stars name!  You should go by that.”

I liked Jeannette.  She made me smile.  But she didn’t realize how hard it was for me to say no to my parents, my husband.

I remember looking down at that form again and thought maybe I could just enter my initials “RLD”  and leave the rest off–that would cover all my bases right?  Make everybody happy?  After all, through birth, adoption and marriage the one thing that remained constant were my initials.

But I wanted to write:  DeMont.  That’s who I really was.  Or was it?

When I was little girl I had fine hair, which meant I had fine eyebrows. They were a disappointment to my  mother.  She would sigh and say, “Nee, come here”.  She’d lick the back of each of her thumbs, grab hold of my face, reach up and slick the tiny hairs above my eyes back into place–and then one time (while still holding my face) she said something I’ll never forget:

“Remember, you are a ten month baby.  You won’t understand that now, but some day you will. ”  Um, okay.

Years later, I was sitting on my grandmother’s couch in her cozy, warm home in West Tennessee having a heart to heart when I shared my mother’s odd remark, “Do you know what she was trying to tell me?”

(I didn’t realize until that very moment how much I desperately needed to know the answer to that question).

Gram took a long drag off her cigarette, and with a nod of her head gave herself permission to say, “I think I might.”

“You’re mother ran away on Thanksgiving day.  I know it was Thanksgiving because the police officer knocked on my door during the dinner, “Ma’am we found a red mustang registered to you.  It was abandoned down in Los Angeles.”

She told me my mother had run away with her car and apparently drove it till it ran out of gas.  It was at the impound.  Gram couldn’t afford to go down to LA and pay to retrieve it, so she just let it go.

She was angry at losing the car, but she seemed to soften when she recalled what prompted my mother to run…

Mama had been a senior in high school, getting good grades, had her drivers license and had fallen deeply in love with a soldier stationed there at the military base in San Luis Obispo.  A week before the holiday he was in a bad car accident.   “Your mother spent that whole week by his side in ICU.  She never left the hospital. ”

I asked her, Did you know him?  “No, not really.  I worked nights then, but I knew she cared for him.  When he died, it was, I think, more than she could take.  She ran away just a day or two later.  I thought she’d come back but she met Dick pretty quickly and that ended that.”

The junior detective in me started to put it all together and my heart ached for my teenage mother:  November she lost her true love…I was born in August…ten month baby.  Her soldier was probably my father.  She must have been heart broken and terrified.  I wanted to hold her; I wanted to hold my mom because I knew no one had.

I found out later his name was Richard Lewis.  But thats all I knew.

Am I his child?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I wish I knew.

I will keep a warm place in my heart for him though because my mother loved him deeply.  I’d like to think I was a product of true love.

But since I don’t know for sure, and that little girl in me has always liked the sound of the “movie star” name listed on my birth certificate, I’ve decided that while I am grateful for those who wanted to share their surnames with me during different chapters of my journey, its time for a new chapter in my book of life — a chapter written by:

Renee DeMont

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Renee DeMont