A Second Chance

A babbling brook of whys and what ifs.
Where’s his second chance? His saving grace?
That miracle lying in wait.

So tied to our illusion of control,
we beg and plead:
he’s one of the good ones,
please use it on him.

In a single moment,
our road map diverged from His.
Propelling us off course,
no turn-by-turn directions home.

Eight months later,
some footing found.
Hints of knowing,
silver linings and signs of God all around.

And still, some days, anger interrupts again:
why didn’t he get a second chance?
This time,
A quick and knowing all-heart reply:

His first chance taken,
a life well lived.
A family, his humble heart,
full to the brim.

Why didn’t he get a second chance?
Because he didn’t need one.

I Found My Heart in San Francisco

This land is your land, this land is my land…

Pandora just happened to settle on these words chirped by Elizabeth Mitchell as we drove from Sausalito to San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge catches my breath every time I see it. At first just peeking over Victorian rooftops and then, in plain, awe-inspiring site. We rented a convertible, because why not on a 24-hour surprise birthday trip to San Francisco with no kids?

Looking up to see nothing but blue sky and “international orange” felt like a mix between Full House dreams and a rollercoaster to freedom. Ryan reached cruising speed and my hands caught the wind above. I was completely overcome by the near perfection of the moment.

The extreme joy I felt, coalesced with an extreme fullness of my dad. Then, a deep longing to have him there with me. To experience joy with him one more time.

If I closed my eyes under the warm sun, I could almost feel him right there next to me. He always said yes to a spontaneous trip. No questions asked, other than, “When are we going?”. Windows down, one hand on the steering wheel and his elbow resting on the side of the car. A baseball cap, Oakley sunglasses, chewing Trident gum, while giving me a half smile that perfectly said, “It doesn’t get much better than this.”

I felt my dad the whole trip. Ryan said he did too. On the flights as my calming voice: “It’s going to be okay. Just enjoy it”. In the butterfly that greeted us halfway up a long hill on our hike in Marin. In the solo mountain biker cruising amidst the expanse of empty trails. In a juicy orange. In the fog horn and the ocean bell.

It’s amazing that my dad was in San Francisco. It confirmed that inkling, that he’s in me. He’s in all of us. He’s everywhere.

So, listen to the songs he loved.
Go to the places he loved to go.
Travel 500 miles away and feel him.
But also, just be. He’s right here.

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.

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!

 

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.

32: Into the Wild

I turned 32 last week.  How does it feel? As my dad used to say, “It feels just like 31!”

Many things are the same.

Instead of perfume, I still rub “chill pill” essential oil balm onto my wrists and neck. The first time I look at my hair in the morning is typically in the rear view mirror of my car. I’m still getting comfortable crying in public and I’m still 97% afraid of the dark.

But one big thing is different. 32 officially marks my first age without my dad. 

Everything I wear or see has this “before dad died” and “after dad died” essence. I will see a shirt and think, the last time I wore this dad was still alive. I will watch a movie and think, the last time I watched this, dad was still here.

32 feels like that too. A transformative year. Before I was 32 and after.

This year is wrapped tightly in a big question mark. I don’t feel entitled to anything anymore; I’m not entitled to people or days or my health. I just damn well know to appreciate those things.

My friend Nicole said that God doesn’t waste anything. I love that sentiment and will continue to be on high alert as He uncovers the silver lining. I’m picking up the scraps of a shitty couple months, doing my best to make sense and make good out of them. I know I will be different, I hope mostly better.

Less fearful, more daring. Less anxious, more at peace. Less stuck, more in the flow.


It’s weird to think I’ve only been a mom for two years and some change. Of my 32, it feels like so many more have been in the motherhood. To my future forgetful self, this is what your family is like right now:

Maisley walked up to me while I was feeding Coura last night and casually stated: “What the fuck.” Just as breezy and matter of fact as if she were asking for a snack. I immediately called Ryan and told him we needed to implement that cussing jar ASAP.

Maisley. How do I put that girl into words. She’s more of a feeling, a motion, a dance move, a splatter of paint. I remember when she was a baby thinking that I could never be mad at her because she was too sweet and perfect. As it turns out, that wasn’t true, but I do love her even more than I did in that blissfully ignorant moment. She is whip smart and remembers everything, even the things I hope skip in one ear and out the other.

Ryan told me that Coura is the most optimistic person he knows. I’m oddly obsessed with her contagious joy right now. Her smile is so big that it looks like someone is pulling on her cheeks to stretch them as wide as they’ll go. When I pick her up, she leans slowly into my chest and if I’m lucky, brings my face close for open mouth kisses. She is already trying to crawl because as Jordan says: it’s survival of the fittest around here.

Ryan is the most optimistic person that I know. He hasn’t once complained about doing double the work right now; around the house and on the job. He is my safe place for processing grief and never lets me dip too far into never-land. He has mastered the art of Elf on the Shelf and is fired up on projects around the house. Rightfully so, his fuse with two kids can be as short as the colored Christmas lights we just strung, but his frustration leaves as quickly as it came. He is home to me, always has been, always will be.

32; into the wild we go. 

 

Crickets

This electric nervous energy has me levitating lately. Everything around me is just out of reach. Gravity is nowhere to be found and I’m trying to grasp and hang on to anything I can.

Sitting in a state of grief has opened me up to smaller nuances and things that I might not have noticed before my dad died. I am on high alert, paying close attention to any signs of him that may appear. 

So far, all I’ve been hearing are crickets.

My mom and dad had pesky little crickets in their house when they first moved in together 30+ years ago. Right before my dad left for his very last bike ride on September 29th, my mom yelled something like, “We need to get rid of these crickets in the garage!”

Since the day my dad died, crickets have been showing up at just the right time.  At first we didn’t want to believe it, hoping for something a little more glamorous than a cricket as his spirit animal.  A hummingbird perhaps? Shooting stars?

But the crickets are prevailing, in little, pay attention or you’ll miss it kind of ways.

At the end of the night at Lindsey and Brandon’s rehearsal dinner, the lights went out for a scheduled blackout and then silence; crickets. I came home for the first time after he died and what was chirping in our garage?

The crickets are also emerging in bold, clear as day kind of ways.

I had started a class on Tuesday nights in early September, a course on unblocking creativity through the workbook, The Artist’s Way. The week after my dad died I couldn’t get myself to go. I couldn’t drive anywhere, let alone think about anything other than my dad. The following two weeks I kept wanting to go, but didn’t have it in me.

Finally, I went. I was anxious, but looking forward to it, as the class had been a breath of fresh air every week. New people with unique perspectives, wild imaginations and a zest for life.

I walked in early and sat down next to our instructor. A few minutes into our conversation she paused and said, “There’s that cricket again! It’s been here for the last three weeks and we can’t seem to figure out where it is.” Three weeks, which means, the week I stopped coming, my dad had been holding court at the Soul Flow Art Studio in my place (and let me tell ya, that wouldn’t normally be his scene).

At first I thought she was joking because it was so perfectly orchestrated. I couldn’t stop smiling. He’s still guiding me, telling me to keep going, keep writing, and to stay on this path. I felt comforted. A quiet nudge, just as he would do. Thanks Dadio, I see you.

Crickets seem to suit him. We can only hear him in the quiet. He is peaceful, unassuming. He brings us good luck. He always used to get so mad at us for talking over each other a million miles a minute so he implemented a talking stick. Now he is still telling us to be patient and listen.

Yesterday I had this overwhelming sense and understanding that I now have my dad right next to me every day. Like a four leaf clover in my back pocket, Dad is with me through every big decision, every cheers, every airplane ride, and every down day; all of it. Our relationship is different, but maybe it will be even stronger somehow than before.  There’s no calling or texting, he’s just there. He’s got my back, him and God, and that makes me stand a little taller.

When I start paying attention, I feel myself slowly drift back to Earth. There is magic in the quiet. Crickets.