Celebrating Solstice

Every year the kids’ school spends the week before Winter Break in a flurry of activities that culminate in what is simply known by the school community as Solstice. Each grade presents a song or a poem or a dance; something to celebrate the lengthening of days and return of the sun. It’s a proud moment for parents at every grade.

This year was even more so… Audrey played in her marimba band to start off the show and I got a front row seat reserved just for the “parent of the Moon.” Stuart had said, three years ago, that when he was a senior and had the chance, he would be the Moon. And this year there seemed to be no question about it. No tryouts. No requests. He was the Moon, the antagonist of the story.

Stuart as the Moon with his minions.
The high schoolers getting ready for the Solstice celebration.
The power animals hanging in the Commons.

Each child and most staff members take part in creating a power animal, from kindergarten through high school. No sketching or scissors allowed. You simply tear your animal out of a folded sheet of construction paper. Inside, everyone writes a goal, hope or dream for the coming year then staples their animal onto the string. The scraps, left from creating the animal are used to write down the bad thoughts, habits and experiences you want to get rid of. Class by class these scraps are compiled into paper bags and on the day of the Solstice celebration, they are burned on the bonfire. A final farewell.

Mine was an octopus, but it never got on a string–the joy of being part of Special Ed and not a classroom. Instead it’s tacked to the wall by my desk. Inside I wrote: Don’t be afraid to accept new opportunities.

It's like a big hippie-fest with all the drumming and dancing.

Some 18-year-olds get cars

There are a lot of things a kid can miss out when they’ve only got one parent, but what my kids have missed the most wasn’t someone to play baseball with or someone to teach them how to shave or draw or make music. What my kids really missed out on was that second income.

Instead of being able to buy a car or even a bicycle for my son’s 18th birthday, I finished the quilt I’d started for him back in his younger years.

Stuart taught his sister how to swim.

It started the summer I had pneumonia; the summer I spent poolside, watching the kids play while I laid there wishing I had health insurance. It was a pretty miserable summer, with being so sick and the ensuing lack of income. They turned off our electricity for two weeks while I struggled to sell enough books and clothes to pay the bill. But I had a fabric stash and with his help, my son Stuart and I chose fabric to make him a quilt.

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Catching a Sneak Peek

Since it’s just down the block from their school and I needed to go anyway, I asked the kids to meet me at the grocery. The timing was perfect and I drove by them unnoticed. But I saw them–laughing and teasing with each other as they strolled down the block. It was a proud mother moment.

Things have been tough with the pre-teen and I was afraid the obstinacy and anger were permanent, but maybe they are just reserved for me. Whatever. It delights me to see them happy, together.

it’s just a number

September is always a difficult month for me. When I was in university, I never had any money until the financial aid check came at the end of the month. Working for the school system isn’t any better; they send checks on the very last day of the month. But of course, the kids’ school needs money for field trips and photos and school supplies–this year alone they are asking for nearly $500 this month.

Our Trio in 2006

There are six birthdays of friends and family that I can’t afford to buy gifts for and both of my kids’ birthdays are barely more than a month away. Add in the bittersweet anniversaries of both the day I struck out on my own with the kids and the day the divorce was final (a year later) and you’ve got a month that adds up to not a whole heckuva lot of fun.

Last year, we managed to enjoy our Trio Anniversary (being in Thailand for most of the month on our way back from Vietnam), but this year the anniversary struck me particularly hard. I tried to fake my way through it, pretend I was happy, but in reality when I say “It’s our eleventh anniversary as a trio!” what I’m really thinking is “Eleven years of being unloved.” Melodramatic? Silly? Sure is.

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pre-teen trauma drama

A. had spent the last hour moping around upstairs, sure that her beloved computer game was forever corrupted by her own barely considered and swiftly enacted change of her computer’s resolution. Click. Click. Black. It had happened too quickly for her to back out. Control-Z. Restart. Still black. It was at that point that she’d lost all touch on reality and the wailing started. Like the woman in mourning as her husband burns on the funeral pyre, A. reeled with grief, the tears and strained moans coming haphazardly. She had fallen into the black abyss and her brother came to save her.
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Day Eight: Los Angeles or Bust

Odometer Reading: 1025

I’d hoped to take the Pacific Coast Highway down to my sister’s, but after talking to Uncle Dennis and my brother-in-law Will, they convinced me that it was foolhardy to think we could make it down there in one day. It would slow-going and expensive, two things I didn’t really want. So, instead, we rose early and got back onto my least favorite highway: I-5.

Eight hours later, we rolled into Los Angeles swarming with people and pollution. Just being in LA makes me a little insane and I’m sure the kids were completely baffled by the dramatic rise in my stress level, but the highways just mix and mingle and get all backed up and I feel like I might just lose my mind. I’m sure it has to do with the fact that I’m the driver; I didn’t stress out in Bangkok, Hanoi, Boston or New York City, but I never had to drive there. In LA, I really feel like I’m gonna blow my top. Music turns off. Kids keep quiet and my knuckles turn white on the steering wheel.

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Day Seven: Sardines and San Juan Bautista

Odometer Reading: 878

Moving everything up a day, we decided that we’d visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium while staying in Gilroy since it was close enough and besides, then we wouldn’t have to pull out all that camping gear yet again. So, for an hour I bugged the kids to get up and at ’em, hoping they’d be a tad more excited about seeing what is supposed to be one of the world’s best aquariums. We managed to get out on time, though and headed further west to the ocean.

California beaches aren't what they're said to be

Unfortunately as we reached the shore, there was nothing great to be said about it. It looked remarkably like an Oregon beach: cool, grey, cloudy and it stank. Luckily, we weren’t going for a day of sunbathing, we were there for the aquarium, but it sure would have been nice to see the supposedly-beautiful California beaches that people ramble on about.

Pictures after the jump
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Day Five: Day of Rest

After not getting to bed until after 11 p.m. and having spent the entire day either walking or screaming, we were all exhausted. I couldn’t even bear to wake the kids and let them rouse on their own schedules. By 11 a.m. everyone was awake again.

It was also nearly 100°F outside. Somehow we’ve landed in Sacramento during their first real extended heat wave. Awesome.

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Day Four: Screaming is Fun

When I was just barely six years old we moved from Sacramento, CA (near my father’s family) to Newberg, OR (to be near my mother’s family). I don’t know how soon it started, but it became a tradition that nearly every summer, I would go down to Sacramento–first with just Marcella, then when Stephanie was old enough, the three of us–to stay with Grandma. We’d visit Aunt Carolyn and Uncle Carl. We’d go stay with Aunt Diana for a few days. And they would take us places: parks, the Sacto zoo, Disneyland once and several times we went to Marriott’s Great America.

Aunt Diana and the kiddos

Back then it was owned by Marriott, the hotel chain, but after several name/owner changes, it is now called California’s Great America. I have some fond memories of riding the rollercoasters and the freefall ride, the carousel that greets visitors and being there with family. So, when my Aunt Diana, who was hosting us in Sacramento, asked whether we’d like to go to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom or Great America, the decision was easy for me. We all went to Six Flags on our last big California trip in 2002 and there was something nostalgically wonderful about Aunt Diana taking another generation, my kiddos, to the same park we’d enjoyed twenty years ago.

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Day Three: Leaving the Desert

Odometer Reading: 367

As soon as the sunshine slipped through the trees, I got up, rolling my sleeping bag and getting the kids to walk up and do the same. I had hoped that the chill of the morning would keep the mosquitoes at bay for a while, but, again, as soon as I opened the trunk with all our bags of clothes, they were all over me. So, while the kids did their things, I got the food back into the car, then their sleeping bags as they ran for the safety of the car. Stuart and I broke down the tents, not bothering to clean them off or even get them into their cases. We just shoved them into the trunk; I’d take care of them when we hit Sacramento.

Lily at the roadside breakfast; Scoop Away=portable kitchen

Still dressed in their pajamas, we left Crater Lake National Park and drove south toward Klamath Falls. Along the way we passed long and shallow Klamath Lake. According to our Only in Oregon book, it’s more than 20 miles long and 8 miles wide. Somewhere past the lake and past the city proper, we pulled off onto a side road for breakfast. There, in the gravel, we pulled out our kitchen box and the ice chest. The kids ate cereal and I prepared another round of hot cocoa on the propane burner. It was all fine, despite Audrey’s worrying that we’d get in trouble. In fact, the electric company guys waved as they drove by. As we ate, falcons flew above us to their nest.

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