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Monday, June 24, 2013

The Empty Lot

The empty lot behind my house, where my kids flew on a rope swing and tobogganed on cardboard down the dirt hillside, 
Where Sweetie-the-dog went from pup to old lady to memory, 
Where the avocados drop from the tree and the pomegranate grow for free... 

Where we picnicked on the flattened grass where deer had slept the night before. 

And where I once found the perfect skeleton of a young coyote who'd died curled up, as if asleep with his head on his paws.
And the leg bone of a deer, who’d died much less peacefully.

The empty lot that we referred to as “the lemon store” in season,
Has just been sold and scrubbed of all life, and fenced off. 
I don’t know who bought it or what they plan to build there.  

I’d always meant to take one photo of it a month for a year to make a calendar, to show the folks back home in Michigan who think we don’t have seasons here. 
The empty lot went from a field of tender baby grass, 
to a mass of yellow flowers, 
to towering weeds that a pup could get lost in,
to a crisp tangle of burrs and dried seed pods. 
The perfect southern California field. 

Ah well. Another ending.

And my house was probably once someone's empty lot. 

Perhaps some day, I’ll be able to see it as a beginning. 
Maybe marvelous new friends will move in. 
Maybe the new place will have magic ponies, or... or...

But right now, I can’t imagine any replacement being an improvement over the birds, and butterflies and wild flowers and bunnies and deer and silence -- The full emptiness of our empty lot.

xo Amy 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Homage to Audio Books!

When I was a child, the only good thing about getting sick was being read to. 

My dad used to read the Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, and Dr. Seuss' The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins

My mom read me A.A. Milne poems, and Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline. 

Actually, my parents must have read other things to me as well, but those are the ones I still hear in my heart.

My fourth grade teacher read Hugh Lofting’s Dr. Doolittle to our class if we were good. I remember that as the best thing about being nine. 

And when my husband and I were young and newly in love, he sometimes read out loud on long drives. 

Once the babies came I read to them of course, but no one read back. So eventually, listening to stories because limited to talk-radio and the occasional campfire ghost story. This left many too many years of blank emptiness in my life where listening to stories should have been.

Then recently, my daughter, who lives six hours away, got sick and hospitalized. 

I had to make that drive several times, stressed, sleep deprived, jumpy and alone. Luckily, a librarian friend suggested checking out the audio book collection at the library. 

I rushed in, grabbed an arm load of funny books, and serious books, classics and contemporary short stories -- audio versions of books I’d been meaning to read, and others I’d read long ago. Everything was, of course, free.

All the way up north, and all the way back home, I listened. Being read to calmed me, distracted me from my anxiety, and kept me company. 

The readers never tired, they waited while I got gas, they resumed reading from exactly where they’d left off, and they weren’t offended when I cut them off to switch to another book. 

The stories carried me safely up and back, up and back, up and back. 

My daughter is fine now, and I’m regaining my balance. I’m grateful to medical science for my daughter’s recovery. For mine, I credit the healing power of audio books. Those stories got me through.     


Saturday, June 1, 2013


A friend of mine is being stalked by a mixed up ex-friend in college. 
The stalker has a history of troubles, and has been diagnosed, medicated, and locked up, but is currently off his meds, and on his own. In discussions of restraining orders and such, the conversation often turns to questions about his mother...

Where the hell is she and what is she doing about her son?

I feel for the mom. I had a paranoid schizophrenic uncle who blamed and tormented my mom all his life. Their own mother was dead, or I assume he would have blamed her instead. But my mom had to take her mom’s place. My childhood memories of my uncle’s calls and visits were of my mom’s helpless despair. 

That was when I learned that untreated mental illness was wildly contagious and could burn through an entire family, bringing the household to its knees. As a kid I only wished my uncle would get hit by a truck.

Every time my uncle got a new case worker, they’d call my mom wondering how any sister could be heartless enough to let her own brother wander around being so miserable and crazy. 

They’d barely conceal their contempt for her. 

After they’d tried to help him for a while, however, the accusatory calls would slow and eventually cease. There would be peace, until my uncle was either arrested again, or got a new case worker some other way. Then the shame and guilt inducing calls would begin again. Even the hospice nurses on his death bed judged us harshly.

So, where do I get off asking about this stalker kid’s poor mom? You’d think I’d take pity on her, and I do. But still, I believe there's a difference between sisterhood and mother hood.  

As my own mom once said; “You belong to your child from their first breath to your last.” There's no time off.

On one hand, I hate it that mothers get blamed whenever their kid does anything bad.
 On the other, I don't think moms are allowed to shrug and walk away. 
The stalker's mom doesn't get to say, "I tried, but this is hard and my kid is a mess, so I give up." Giving up on your kid is not an option.

Elsewhere in the news, (this may seem unrelated, but it's not) I recently had a gig teaching writing to "at risk teen girls." Today I learned that one of those girls, age 16, 17 at the most, has just become a mother.
To me this kid had seemed like an immature, semi-pathetic but not quite tragic girl with a crappy family and no particular skills or dreams. I know there are wondrous stories of people turning their lives around, but it’s hard for me to imagine this particular kid having what it takes to do much besides whine.
True, some moms leave their babies in dumpsters. Some species eat their young and there are times in every mother’s life when she totally gets why some moms run away from home. But for the most part, some super strength kicks in, and moms pull on their mom-pants, and do their best.  

I just hope my ex-writing student can Mom Up when needed. 
And I hope the mom of my friend’s stalker will, too.

xo Amy