Coming back to Portland last July was one of the easier decisions I have had to make. I had everything worked out so well. Or at least I thought I did.
It wasn’t the easiest return after all with the house, job, boyfriend, home-life, etc. all disappearing beneath me as I landed back in Portland.
Six months later, life is settling into place and I’m loving my job at Fabric Depot. I work with some of the nicest, most understanding people I’ve had the pleasure of spending eight hours a day with. My daughter and I are getting settled (ever so slowly) in our new apartment. My son is busy traveling the globe and I’m getting ready to kick off all sorts of fun plans for 2015-16.
I have to thank Portland for my happiness these days. We’re stuck in the middle of winter and yet there are days like today when I get the opportunity to join my good friend in the sky and see this city I love so much from a whole other perspective.
I’m sort of awed when I see it like this, a city with so many memories, hopes, and friends. I’m so very, very happy to be home.
It’s nice when there are things to be happy about.
I got to celebrate my dad’s 63rd birthday with both my parents, my daughter, my sister and her kids. I know an awful lot of people my age who have lost one or both of their parents, so it makes events like these even more precious. Plus Nate and Samantha both got to be there, not in the hospital like they have been so often lately.
Second thing? The GuyFriend and I are patching things up, making amends and trying to craft what was actually a very good thing when it worked into something even better. The daughter and I have been moving our stuff into his place (which he kindly shifted around for us) this past week and so far, so good. I know there will be rough patches, but in all honesty, I think it’s good for all of us.
And last, I found out that my WordPress-hosted blog that I started this on was still active and therefore I hadn’t lost all my posts as I’d thought. Triple Whoop just for that one.
Life is crazy with work and sewing and kid and living. But I like it.
There are few people who have affected my life as much as this lovely woman. I met Dijuan Coates in 1985, the year I met the teenage boy who would become my husband. He would visit her, his grandmother, amid travels and then he and I would hang out, tromping through the hazelnut orchard that surrounded her house at the outskirts of Newberg. He gave me a rose from her backyard once. Then his younger brother came along to eat off the bloom. It was in that yard that years later she showed Brian and I photos of her life, of Grandpa Coates, of her boys when they were young.
Over the years, his grandma became my grandma. We divorced and have barely spoken, but Grandma Coates has been there for me and my kids the whole time, never wavering. She was kind and gentle, loving and compassionate. We rarely spoke about the divorce or her grandson. Instead she spent her time reminding me how much she loved me and the kids. How grateful that she was that I hadn’t ignored her post-divorce. What she never understood is how much I appreciated her not abandoning us.
While we were in Vietnam back in 2007, she’d had surgery and her eyes were bad. I wanted to visit, but clearly distance was an issue. I emailed my mom to see if she’d visit in my stead and she did. I will always be grateful to both women for that visit. My mom spent a couple hours catching up with her, sharing stories of our travels with Grandma, sending our love.
In Summer 2010 we were able to take a road trip to California and visited Grandma at her new home in Gilroy. We got to share an evening with her, Uncle Dennis and Aunt Jackie. having dinner as a family. I brought her photos and the kids got to see her, tell her how much we loved her still. I’d hoped to go again this past summer, but with the unemployment the cost of a trip made it impossible.
I knew Grandma for 27 years. She showed me how to love family, even when it isn’t easy. She lives on in my heart and the memories of my children who were lucky enough to know their great great-grandmother.
Grandma passed away on Monday, after a thankfully brief health crisis filled with a stroke, massive heart attack and a destructive skin infection. A memorial will be held soon.
There are times when I have loved being a single mother. There hasn’t been anyone to argue with about what I think is best for the kids. No one to tell me what to do or where to go. I don’t have to okay anything with anyone; their father gave up that right years ago. It is just me making decisions.
And that means it is me taking the blame, too.
Ask anyone what it is like to have a teenage daughter and they will rant on about the disrespect, the rude behavior, the attitude. I’ve talked to plenty of mothers over the last year or two–“Is this normal?” “Is she supposed to hate me so much?” “Am I really as stupid as she says I am?” Every mother nods, smiles and reassures that it’s just teenage girls; they are a force to be reckoned with.
Logically, I know that. I realize her frontal lobe isn’t developed, that teenagers generally do think the world revolves around them. I know that she is just saying it to upset me. And day after day, it does. It wears on me and I wish I had someone to hold me up when she shoots me down who could come in with a deep, masculine voice full of authority to tell her it’s no way to treat her mother.
I have friends, dear friends, who support me and remind me that it the daughter isn’t the authority and even when she makes cruel assertions, they are just the spouting of an 8th grade girl. They remind me to take deep breaths and let it roll off my back like a duck in water.
So I try. I inhale through my nose and fill my lungs, exhale slowly, purposefully through my mouth. And again. But there are days when those breaths dissolve into sobs and I ache for someone to step in, help us manage these treacherous waters. Those are the days the anger boils over at events long past, at relationships since faded and I wish more than anything that this young teenaged girl had two people to guide her. Two people who loved her and each other, to be the object of her wrath — instead of only me, alone.
My family trio became a duo last week when my son moved out of his bedroom and into my sister’s house–1009 miles away.
I’d been expecting him to go, he was going to bring her kids home after their summer vacation with family. He would accompany them on the flight, stay for a few weeks and come back home. But life never quite happens like I expect and wham,bam Stuart suddenly had a job at my sister’s dental office.
If he wanted it.
He has spent much of the summer looking for a job with no luck beyond the small landscaping gig he’s had for years now, but suddenly there was a nearly-full-time position just waiting for him. In southern California.
He accepted, said his goodbyes to family and friends, then boarded a plane with his ten- and five-year-old cousins bound for LAX.
His room sat empty for two days, waiting. Maybe he’d change his mind. Maybe the job wouldn’t actually exist. Maybe we could still be a trio.
A week later, he’s getting settled in his new room and his sister has taken over his old room. Her computer is on his desk. Her sheets are on his bed. Her toys and books are on his shelves. And maybe in another week or two it won’t seem like they are his desk, his bed, his shelves, his room. Maybe it will feel like they are really hers.
Perhaps in a few weeks we will have morphed into a dynamic duo, instead of feeling like a tripod with missing leg. I feel this imperative to bond tightly now or we will simply fall apart. So I’m spending more time with her, talking more, being together more.
This is my five-year-old nephew’s favorite line this week.
The first time Alex said it was last Friday as we left the Oregon Zoo. We’d spent four and a half hours roaming though the zoo, ogling the fruit bats as they devoured broccoli and bananas, meditated on the giraffe’s less-than-graceful gait, rumbled along the train tracks to and from Washington Park, and visited every wildcat, monkey, bird and insect cage we could. With all the cousins living far apart, it’s rare that they all get together. But my youngest sister had left her two here with family and we took full advantage of it, enjoying the zoo, the train, the park and a picnic lunch.
Alex wasn’t far off the mark–I might not argue for it being the best day, but it was, at the least, a very good day.
The next day we propped the tent on the back porch and watched old Spiderman cartoons on Netflix and had grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. When he snuggled up to me long past dark, he told me again: “Today was the best day ever.”
“Better than the zoo?”
“That was the best day, too.”
It didn’t really matter what we did to him, as long as we were all together, it was a great day, a best day.
The simplicity is childlike and, I’m prone to think, slightly childish. How can every day be the best day? I know it can’t really be the best, but maybe there’s something I can take from his sweet declaration. These months of unemployment and lack of income have taken its toll on me and on my readiness to experience any real joy in the day to day drudgery. I am more prone to say it was the worst day ever, on those days when I get notice that my petition my was denied, that someone else got the position, that unemployment insurance doesn’t cover people like me.
The struggle continues but I’m going to try to remember what Alex said. I put his picture on my computer desktop, a big grin bending his face, his eyes into a happiness that is almost palpable. I put it there to remind me that it isn’t so much about what I have or don’t have or what exactly I’m doing, but it matters that I have family and love.
At the beginning of February, I’d just lost/quit my job at the school and I was eager to put more effort into my book project and into my work at a local PR agency. My part-time job in social media had potential, I figured. Life had been so stressful working the two jobs on top of the solo parenting, holidays, birthdays and friendships. It felt like a new beginning to be free of that job and it was a perfect moment to celebrate the lunar new year. We had friends over and ate pho and hoa qua dam and banana flower salad. We exchanged gifts in red boxes and toasted to the Year of the Cat with lemongrass and coconut sake.
A week later things started to fall apart.
Audrey had first noticed a wet spot on Stuart’s floor a month earlier, but we chalked it up as a mystery–maybe a spilled drink, a footprint still wet from the shower. None of us really cared. When she noticed it again, the floorboards were already starting to buckle. The water had been seeping in through the cement walls that abut the soil on the southwest side of the house. A downspout, never connected, and a disjointed driveway had combined forces to funnel rain into the area around Stuart’s room. The cement became saturated, then leaked into the room. Up through the floor and in through the walls. Moving his bed away from the wall, we suddenly realized this was a much bigger problem than we’d thought.
So, Stuart started sleeping on the couch, waiting for the contractor to come and fix the walls, replace the flooring. But the couch is a small IKEA version, too small for him and too uncomfortable to sleep on night after night. He hadn’t been feeling well for months and adding in the back pain from limited sleep positions was too much for him. Instead, he slept with the door open on the longer couch in his own room. I didn’t want him on the bed.
Two weeks went by before the contractor finally came to take a look. Then it was worse news. It wasn’t just in the area that we could see and it was the bad kind of mold. Two entire walls and all the flooring had to be removed. Disturbing the mold made it even worse and within just a couple of hours of their arrival and dismantling of the wall, I knew we had to leave. My lungs ached. My head was pounding. I picked up the kids from school, we came home to pack a couple sets of clothes and headed out. A friend had offered to let us stay until the house was breathing-friendly again and I took him up on the offer.
Five weeks after our harried arrival, we are still at his house.
Well, Audrey and I are here. Stuart has been staying with his own friends, making it to school by himself and behaving like the adult he technically is. He is feeling a million times better, away from the deadly black mold that had infiltrated his room. Thirty-five days later, the room is still being de-humidified. The floor is bare cement, the wall are covered with insulation, awaiting complete dryness before they are covered with sheetrock. Nearly everything that was in Stuart’s room is now in the living room; one mattress is in the upstairs dining room. The other leans against the wall of the living room. It’s complete and utter chaos, and there is no end in sight yet.
So we stay here and his home has become our home. I cook dinner for everyone and make sure the kids get off to school before starting my PR agency work. It’s become the new norm and, to be honest, I like it. But it isn’t going to stay this way for long. I have to find more work. I have to get us into our own place. He’s been kind enough to let us stay indefinitely, but I worry that the patience will wear thin and I’d like to leave on a good note, not with anyone being angry or exasperated. But there’s just no telling.
In this month of craziness, we have enjoyed ourselves though. We had a surprise snow day.
The girls, mine and his, have learned to like each other.
I got a new-to-me desk (borrowed from Stuart’s room) set up at the friend’s house.
And we’ve learned to really enjoy being together whenever we can. With Stuart living elsewhere, it’s given both kids the opportunity to miss each other, to truly appreciate each other. They see one another at school and share lunch a time or two each week.
And I have realized what it means to have a best friend, someone who is there for me (and my kids) no matter what, and I am incredibly grateful.
Since last November when I started working two jobs to make the ends meet, it’s been almost as hard on my 13-year-old daughter as it has been on me. The long hours and the inattention when I am home make her feel a bit neglected: “You always say ‘Sorry, but I have to work.'”
She’s right; these days I spend most of my time working. On top of the PR job and the school job, I also head up a twice-monthly writing group and a monthly brunch club with friends. I’m still working intermittently on my book about our adventures in Vietnam. Add in friends and blog and laundry and, God forbid, sleep and there’s no time for anything, especially the mothering that I had so prided myself in.
All the work will, in the end, provide for me to return to the orphanages in Vietnam and my kids to have summer vacations with family afar. There’s a pay-off in the end, but in the meanwhile our trio isn’t as tight as it used to be. I don’t have the time to sit and watch movies, go for a walk or hang out at the mall. But sometimes I just have to have a break.
So that’s what we did.
On Saturday, we invited Audrey’s friend along to join us at the Northwest Chocolate Festival, a celebration of all that is cocoa-based. We tasted all sorts of chocolates and caramels and truffles, drank a bit of sipping chocolate and just sat around enjoying the serenity that can happen in a crowded plaza. The girls went their way for a while and I went mine, finding our way together again before too long and pleased to be together.
There was something lovely about being out of the house, away from work and just enjoying being with my daughter and her friend. Something that I haven’t had in what seems like a very, very long time. Being an attentive mother has taken a back seat and I don’t like it. I find myself stressed out too often, frustrated by the tiniest things, frustrated by myself.
I don’t know what to do to fix it though. If I quit a job, we’re back to not being able to make ends meet, but I’ll get to be the mother I want to be. My daughter will be happy to only see me at home, not in the halls at her school. And yet, for so long we’ve struggled that I don’t want to do it again.
Decision-making is never easy; either is parenting.