Lessons from the Desert

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen

One saguaro, two saguaro, three saguaro, ten. Hundreds more lifelike cacti appeared as we made our way into the Sonoran Desert, away from the sunset, away from home.

The darkness was more comforting than usual as I lay my head against the cool glass of the car window.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of the night sky that looked less like a thin blanket scattered with holes and more like a thick, itchy wool one spangled with stars; the constellations drawn with light. 

There’s something about the desert that feels reliable while I’m unraveling. It’s resilient and can be held accountable. It’s consistent, tried and true. It knows all of the secrets.

Maybe that’s also why I can never seem to get away from it fast enough.

I’m not sure where postpartum ends and grief begins. Entangled ribbons of depression and anxiety. Words that sometimes feel too big and not enough. Words that grow in size when I say them out loud. 

Grief seems to amplify everything. Those uncomfortable particles of myself, old thought patterns and coping habits all come bubbling to the surface.

Those parts I dislike about myself seem to be readily available. But the parts I love, a little more hidden. Where am I amidst the brokenness?

I feel so much less understood in the world without my dad here.  He knew me and respected me; he was like me. We could relate to each other on a soul level.  He was someone who would genuinely listen to my travel itinerary or the intricacies of my work or other important things that many people would lose interest in. Without him here, it feels like one less person who is a mirror to my true self.

My acupuncturist reminded me today that brokenness is actually just a way for the light to come in. In Japanese culture, when a piece of pottery breaks, they seal it with gold in a process called Kintsugi, so that it’s actually worth more than before. Breakage is a part of the history of the object, not something to disguise. 

I like to think I’m being patched up with gold. That all of the light from the stars, all of the love from here and there is all slowly helping me put the pieces back together.

Someday I will feel as light as a road runner across the desert sand. I will feel as sturdy and confident as the Saguaro cactus. An arm here, a nub there, unflappable in harsh conditions…simply unbothered. 

 

Wish You Were Here

As we sat eating dinner at Panama 66 in Balboa Park, the sun had just settled in for the night and the iconic Museum of Man tower was illuminated with purple and blue lights set against the dusky sky. The kids were happy and we were happy. It was one of those beautiful moments where you sink a little deeper in your chair and let out a full exhale.

In the midst of so many fun-beautiful-exciting-adventurous moments in my life, even when he was alive, I would think, I’ve got to take my dad here. He would really love and appreciate this! We shared a passion for so many of life’s greatest, simplest pleasures.

As we were walking back across the string-lit bridge, I was telling Ryan how much I wish my dad was here to do things like this. To have a beer and enjoy the best of this life. To see his admiration and share in his well-deserved happiness. To return his love for me by sharing in life with him. I miss him so much.

In perfect synchronicity, Ryan looked down to see that someone had etched the words “wish you were here” into the concrete. I love when the universe matches on the outside how I feel on the inside. It makes me feel like everything is going to be okay.

Rainy Wanderings

Chartreuse, emerald, pickle, olive, pear. The trees, the hillside in between the trees, the grass, the shrubbery, the weeds. The truest, deepest shades of every color green.

We stumble between the long, swaying eucalyptus trees during a break in the welcomed rain. The vibrant scent fills us up like a warm cup of mint tea. Every individual leaf is bursting alive with gratitude. Oxygen for days. My childhood twirls around me by means of the cool breeze as I grasp my daughter’s hand. The rocks feel wobbly beneath her tiny feet.

I almost forget the other times I stumble solo through the eucalyptus trees. A different kind of storm brewing. Pushing down hard on the earth, I stomp and stamp. She pushes back, firm yet compassionate like a mother. Grounded. My tears as welcomed and needed as the rain. 

Sometimes I go out to be filled up. Other times I go out to be grounded. Every time I go out I get just what I need.

Coura’s New Head Gear

Coura is locked and loaded with her new head gear. After much deliberation and waiting for natural improvement, we decided to move forward with the recommended DOC Band to help correct her moderate plagiocephaly (flat side of the head) that she’s had since birth. While it’s primarily a cosmetic decision that impacts her head shape, facial and ear symmetry, it boiled down to this: I don’t want her to be a 15-year-old high school girl and have one more reason to “hate” me.

Speaking of wishing she had a helmet….

In the middle of a crowded piazza in Little Italy, San Diego, Maisley took off running and was nearing a main street. My sister took off after her and then I instinctively did so too. I was wearing Coura facing forward in the carrier and I tripped on my flowy pants, falling hard onto the concrete. I fell mainly on my side and caught myself with my arm, but Coura hit her head on the ground. Every well meaning lookie-loo in town was by our side within seconds. She was okay, thank God, minus a little bruise. It was terrifying, but one of those “could have been a lot worse” moments. 

There’s always that one moment, that one thing that happened to you as a kid that your mom always talks about. “I will never forget that one time we lost you in JC Penney’s. I was worried sick!”

What will theirs be? What visible and invisible scars will become our stories?

Coura: for the record, I think your head is perfect. I think you are perfect. The real reason we got you the helmet is so that you would be indestructible to older sisters, hardwood floors and clumsy moms. 

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The Story of Poppi

I sweetly overheard Ryan the other night telling Maisley the story of “A Boy Named Poppi”. It gave me the idea to write my own bedtime story about Poppi’s life for the girls to always have. Unlike our other made-up stories about “Sammie the Kangaroo dog” and “Wolf Girl” on her flying scooter, this one is as real as I can remember. 

A few moons and many stars ago, a little boy named Poppi was born amongst the strawberry fields at the crossroads of America. His mom first said, “He looks like a little bird!”. Other people would later say, “He was just born good”. He was second in what would become a family of six kids. Three boys, three girls. His tiny school was shaped like a house. He never showed up late and always followed the rules.

One day, his family decided to pile into their station wagon and head west. All the way west; across Kansas and Colorado, through Nevada and into California. They eventually settled at 521 Mountain View Place, a small home with a bigger front yard than back. All six kids shared one small room. Gigantic avocado and grapefruit trees lined the grass while rose bushes and birds of paradise colored in the edges of the lawn.

They had a neighbor named Henry who would periodically peak his head over the fence and bring them handmade wooden toys. And a scrappy dog named Dino (pronounced deeno) who was infamous for sending the family on treasure hunts for missing belongings.

Poppi’s first job was riding his bike around the neighborhood, throwing newspapers onto front porch mats. Getting an extra scoop of mint chocolate chip Thrifty ice cream for his beautiful baby blue eyes made him the envy of every kid on the block. Poppi had an arm for baseball and fingers for the piano. Family vacations were mostly spent around a campfire, telling stories and making memories he would live to tell later. Life was simple.

One time, on his 13th birthday, Poppi shot his new bow and arrow up into the sky, struck a cloud, and as luck would have it, rain fell out of the sky! Another time, he had to walk up hill both ways in the snow to school. Only one of those stories turned out to be true. 

Poppi was 5’1 and 105 pounds of wiry grit when he started high school. His strawberry blonde hair flipped up at the end like the lip of a wave. He grew into his strength and eventually became a wrestler whose name appeared in the local newspaper a few times.

Poppi graduated from high school and continued to learn at Cal State Fullerton. Outside of the classroom he was a craftsman; helping to construct things around the house like a new garage and a finished attic. He was a quiet leader, loved planning a good party and always raised his hand to help someone.

In his early 20s, while Poppi was playing baseball one night, a wild Italian named Nonni was serendipitously sitting in the stands. She looked out onto the field and to her surprise, thought, “I’m going to marry him someday.” And she did. It was a match made of teamwork, hard work, sarcasm, adventure, fun and unconditional love.

Also around that time, Poppi, Uncle Chris and Popster opened the doors to Aliso Heating and Air Conditioning. Poppi was a bootstrapping entrepreneur who modestly made it to the big leagues. He loved sales and getting to know people. Poppi and Uncle Chris were the first people in and the last ones out, every single day.

Nonni and Poppi had four daughters. He was such a proud dad. When other people would ask if he had wanted a son, he would kindly reply, “I always wanted four daughters!” Poppi lived for soccer games, track and swim meets. His feet traveled all over the world; to the wildlife jungles of Africa, the cobblestone streets of Italy, the glaciers of Chile and the Remarkables of New Zealand, to name a few. 

But do you know what Poppi loved even more than all the wonders of the world? The tiny souls that gave him the name, that made his heart “Poppi”.

When all of his work here on Earth was done, Poppi took off into the sky to join God and the rest of his family waiting for him. When you look up at night, he is the brightest star shining right near the big dipper. You can pop open the door to Heaven and talk to him any time, anywhere.

Good night, Poppi, we love you!

 

Word Walk of Shame

As I sat on my bed in a rare peaceful moment, looking out the window to the eucalyptus trees, the movie reel in my mind started to rewind. It hasn’t even been a year since we moved in and yet this room holds both Coura’s birth story and the hardest moments of my grief. I see the wall I slammed my fists into because I had nowhere else for the anger to go. I see the corner where my birth tub was set up, where she took her first breath. I see the floor that has held me on my knees in tears, prayer and in gratitude. I see a space of total surrender.

I don’t think about birth and death every time I’m in my room. In fact, most moments are spent in the everyday. Brushing my teeth, getting dressed, going to sleep.  

Someday, when we move out of this house, this room will be the capsule of some of my greatest expressions of love; for life and for death. My imprint and moments spent here will suddenly be extra-ordinary. Sentimental.

Similar to these years when our babies are babies, or to my relationship with my dad. It’s normal and even mundane some days, until it’s passed me by and soared into the nostalgic realm of “was”. At which point, it turns to gold.

I wonder what she will feel like, the older me. I wonder where I’m at right now in my grief. I wonder in five years, when I look back to now, if I’m further along than I think or just getting started.  

I recently read something on the topic of vulnerability and how you shouldn’t share until you are out of whatever you are in, until you have learned what you need to learn. Will I realize some greater truth down the road and be embarrassed by my ignorance? Will I be doing a word walk of shame? Deep in the throes of a vulnerability hangover?

I started thinking about why I write. I write to heal. I write for fun. I write to connect and make sense of my experiences. I write because I feel like it’s my responsibility to honor the thoughts and narratives that desire to be made real. I write for him, for me, for my sisters and my mom.

When I write and then share, my words become free and weightless. Maybe someone else will grab on to one or two and find companionship and solidarity in my experiences.

Until I meet future me, I’m working on finding magic in the ordinary. Appreciating what I know now and panning for gold in the present moment before it’s gone.

Out of the Grey

As I continue to find my footing, my voice and my self in this transformative season of motherhood, I’ve been mostly comfortable living in the middle. Extremes haven’t really been my thing. I’ve been taking in all sides of the story and experiencing a little bit of everything, all from the safety of my moderate mind.

The girl who once jumped out of an airplane and another time yelled at the mailman was a different Jenna who existed in a life I sometimes can’t recall.

When death came marching along on September 29th, it swept the grey right out from under my feet.

Everything is mostly black and white now. No cruising decibels, no cruising – period.

He was here and now he’s gone. I love my daughters, but damn I need a break. I want to be grounded and also free. I wake up in either vivid hope or with anxiety wrapped around me like a girdle.

The comfort of grey is no longer. The luxury of never having received “that” phone call is gone.

How long have I been scooting by in the in between? Now sitting on the edges, is this where I am made to be?

I think everyone feels the magnetic duality of life. We choose one path, but often are half in, half out because of the luster of another way of life. Something feels missing.

Sometimes I resist motherhood, I resist being a homemaker, I resist working, I resist working out, all because I want everything, I want the opposite thing. If we don’t fully embody one of the selves we desire, where does that leave us? Overwhelmed? Stuck? Maybe committing to one of our selves actually creates more mental space and time to embody pieces of our other self. 

Unlocked by death, the outlier in me is seeking the winding edges of my path. An undefined, yet seemingly more concrete way of life.