Fleeting Beauty

Last Saturday, I stood by the window and watched the snow swirling over the evergreens and grove of bamboo trees.  It was a gazing meditation as I visually took in the scene, transfixed for twenty? thirty? more minutes?  I’m not sure.  A slight wind rustled the leaves, causing settled snow to move on to other leaves, or float to a final rest upon the earth.

A memory arose, taking me back to Japan.  Maybe it was the bamboo trees.  Or perhaps it was the snowflakes, so like the small, light pink petals of cherry blossoms that shake loose each spring throughout Japan and coat the ground beneath them in scattered beauty.  “Beautiful litter,” my husband calls it.  I’ve learned that cherry blossoms represent the brilliant but brief lives of Samurai — falling cherry blossoms are a common symbol of impermanence in Japanese poetry.

The image before me brought to mind one of my favorite works of literature, The Makioka Sisters, by Junichiro Tanizaki.  The novel’s title in Japanese, Sasameyuki, means lightly falling snow. If you have not read it, the story is about the declining glory of a great Osaka merchant family on the eve of World War II.  Four sisters, of old money and strict traditions, gather in Kyoto every year to view the cherry blossoms.  The novel begins as the elder sisters discuss vetting suitable husbands for their younger sisters and unfolds into a story of the extinction of an exalted family.

Copyright Masaaki Shibano

Copyright Masaaki Shibano

Isn’t it remarkable how observation of one thing brings to mind something else? How one image can transform into another, prompting memories, hopes, even yearnings?

Tanizaki’s book rests on my nightstand again.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Beauty of Youth

Somedays, I need a shot of joy from a good read.

I read the news daily.  In particular, I read the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, along with a few blogs.  Much of the content depresses me.  The news of the 14-year old Pakistani girl, Malala Yousufzai, who was shot in the head and neck in an assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen while returning home on a school bus last week, stuck with me.  What a cowardly, despicable act by extremists.  And what beautiful, indomitable courage in Malala.

I read the first of a five-part series in this past Saturday’s Times,  At The Corner of Hope and Worry.  The series follows Donna Dove, owner of a diner in Elyria, Ohio, and the economic struggles she and her customers face.  Elyria is a stand in for many towns in our country; different time zones, similar stories.   People are suffering locally and afar, and I am conscious of it.

So it is with great pleasure that a fresh, uplifting blog came to my attention:  Trunk Full O Books.    This young blogger’s innocence and exuberance uplifts me.  Sense the joie de vivre in what he writes:  “I think life is great, delicious, cool, entertaining, exciting, funny, fun, and rocking.”  Who can’t be buoyed by that?

P.S.  Dearest Beloved is taking a new tack on his Epitaph page…

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Don’t Say Anything…


M:  The children’s biological mother.

E:  My 16-year old stepdaughter.

Moi:  The silent Stepmother in the background.


E:  “Hi Mommy!

M: “Did you have fun at the movies?”

E: …”Yeah…”


E:  “Hello?”

M:  “I’m here.”

E:  “How are you?”

M:  “Fine.”


That is how E’s phone call with her mother went.  M’s tone was was curt and monotone. The exchange was punctuated with long pauses.  She wasn’t happy.  In fact, she was angry.  You could feel her sense of betrayal seeping from the phone. When M is like this, I surreptitiously study E, watch her face sink and harden into a frown, her eyes blinking hard.  She in turn becomes curt and monotone with her mother.

For the time being,  by court order, the children’s biological mother’s contact with her children must be supervised.  This includes phone calls.  That is how I get the great joy of hearing such conversations.  Dearest Beloved was away for the weekend.  Never sure how M will conduct herself on these calls, I’m on alert.  It feels as if a serpent has crawled through our phone line and entered our house, slithering its way around our feet, ready to strike at the slightest provocation.  No one is at ease.  This was one of those times.

E had spent her weekend at home, studying.  Most of that time was in her room, behind a closed door.  She does have a lot of homework these days.  Nevertheless, although she comes out for meals, I worry that she isolates herself too much.  Feeling the need to get her out for a change, I invited her to a movie in the afternoon, and an artsy movie at that: Samsara.  If her mind is in a relentless loop of sleep, rumination, school, rumination, study, rumination, and more sleep, maybe something new and unexpected could make her skip a track in the routine and give her a mental-health break.

Our time together was tentative.  It has been that way since she moved in with us four years ago.  Not much discussion between us, try though I do.  The specter of her mother hovers above us always.  When I’m driving and she’s with me, I ask questions to draw out a conversation.  She replies with one- or two-word answers, cordially enough, while she faces her window.  Even her body is half-turned away from me.  If I don’t say anything, we drive in silence.  It is frustrating, but I don’t push it.  So it was on this day as well.

E has cut back on her social life lately, so she surprised me by asking if she could spend the night at a friend’s that evening, after the movie.  The timing meant she would miss her weekly scheduled call with her mother.  I offered to email M to see if we could schedule an earlier call.  I mentioned the movie in the email.

I suspected that would be a problem.  However, I don’t want to hide our activities, either.  E and I haven’t done anything wrong.  She lives with us.  She has a right to enjoy her life in our home, just as she has a right to enjoy time with her mother.  You and I know, though, that what should be and what is are two different things.

Sure enough, M’s conduct on the phone made it clear to E – and me –  that she was displeased about our time together at an afternoon movie.  The call was short.  E said goodbye with an “I love you.”  M didn’t respond in kind.  “Bye,” she said, and abruptly hung up.

“She thinks I’m in your camp now.”  E turned away and plodded upstairs to her room.  She shut her door hard.

In the following days, she barely greets me.  When she does say something, she tends to turn away from me, and mumbles her responses.  I have a hard time understanding what she says.  Is she thinking in terms of camps?  I wish it weren’t so.

Moms tell me that teenage daughters are tough.  They can be sweet and charming one day,  sullen and unrecognizable the next.  Maybe that is all there is to it…typical teenage-girl behavior.  But it is hard for me to ignore that our circumstances have an added complication:  a biological mother who resents  a warm relationship between her children and me, and we all lose out as a result.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Happy New Year!

Summer draws to a close, and our family turns to the start of a new academic year.  Ever since the kids came to live with us,  I tend to view this time as our “new year.”  January 1st is now “mid-year.”

In the tradition of new year resolutions, I began thinking about change.  Then a dear friend shared these words with me:  read, mark, and learn.

I realize these words come from the Book of Common Prayer.  Whereas I don’t consider myself particularly religious nor a reader of Scriptures, the prompting to “inwardly digest” that which inspires and directs us resonates within me regardless of faith or lack thereof.

This dear friend recently attended the funeral for the father of one of our writing workshop classmates.  Listening to the loving tributes shared with the attendees, she thought about this man – a man whom she had never met – who he had been, what he had accomplished, and what he meant to his family and friends.

The experience made an impression upon her.  Ideas in the tributes urged her to add in who he was to who she would work to be going forward in her own life.   This would serve as a guide to her actions, in deeds and words, starting NOW.  Indeed, she’s embarked on a graduate writing program, a long-held dream.  “Get cracking,” she told herself.

And that, in turn, made an impression upon me.  I missed the opportunity to hear the tributes which so moved my friend, but from her recounting of the event, I got the message nonetheless.  “Get cracking,” I told myself as well.

At this time of annual transition, I’m getting going by getting up earlier to make more use of my day.  Although not on the scale of my friend’s, it is a start because it alters my mindset.  You productive early-risers out there may snicker, but this takes commitment on my part.  I am naturally a late-to-bed, late-to-get up type of person, but that simply does not work with our current lifestyle and daily obligations at work and home. Believe me, I’ve tried.  If I want to fit in those activities that challenge, invigorate, restore, and direct me, then getting up earlier to get a jump on the day is where I start life differently this year.

Not a big splash per se.  But one change leads to another and, in ripple-effect manner, to larger ones.  I’m working toward those.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Oh, How the Gods Must Laugh at the Plans We Make

I’ve felt like this dog looks.

Children demand a lot of time and energy. (Duh.)  I know this is true for all parents, but if you don’t have children of your own, and never planned to have children of your own, and suddenly, unplanned, you find yourself raising someone else’s children full time, that time and energy feels like it’s been snatched from you without your consent.  On top of that, countless books and well-meaning people tell you that you have to accept this graciously.  The children’s needs come first (so I’ve been told innumerable times).

What people didn’t tell me was how challenging it would be when – *Poof!* – one-on-one time with my husband disappeared.

We were newlyweds when my stepchildren came to live with us a few years ago.  When I met my husband, the kids were living with their mother in another state. She had fought hard to keep them after the divorce and my husband had finally acquiesced.  Since you know that the youngest two children live with us now, you can figure out that things didn’t go well with their mother.  (I think I said that rather respectfully, don’t you?).  Several anxiety-inducing child custody battles in family court (truly a black hole if ever I found one), and plenty of “you’re not my mother”- type comments and behavior at home drained us as dry as raisins.

All this sturm und drang meant finding some alone time with Dearest Beloved to remember why we got married in the first place was critical.  But trying to fit that time in without interruption by the kids was like trying, and failing, to pull the winning lottery ticket for one of those Powerball lotteries.

Now, just so that we’re clear on this:  yes, I recognized that the kids needed time with their father.  They were desperate for his attention in first couple of years of their transition to our household.  I accepted that, somewhat begrudgingly at first I’ll admit since it meant I had to sacrifice my time with him,  and I made room in my heart for it.

It isn’t like I didn’t expect that the situation would be difficult.  Going through it, living it daily, though,  can wear on you.  Constant dropping water wears away a stone.

We set up a date night once a week.  When you’re used to adult time all the time, anywhere, it is an adjustment to schedule dinner out together just to capture adult time for a couple of hours.  We stuck to our schedule even if we felt too tired to go out; as we all know, you’ve got to have your own time together,  out of the house and away from the kids.  It wasn’t as much time as I wanted, but it was better than nothing, I figured.

I learned to make do with less time together for now.

For now.  Two magic words with a big payoff.  I say this because I also learned that life is in the present moments.  All that ruminating about the past, or dreaming about the future keeps us out of the present, and when you are out of the present, you don’t see what you are missing.  As John Lennon sung, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.  

Sure enough, the present is changing, and the changes are remarkable. Less drama, more routine.  My stepson will be joining my stepdaughter in high school this year. They often  seek Facebook and Tumblr and their friends rather than us, or specifically, Dearest Beloved.  We find ourselves alone more, even in the house.  Once they start driving, my husband says the kids won’t stay home much, and I believe him.  Lately they’ve become glued to their laptops – their portal for socializing – for hours.  Dinner at home is still, and will remain, a family affair, but once dinner is done, the kids are antsy to leave the table, especially when we begin discussing “boring” topics like politics or the economy.  In fact, mentioning Obama or Romney is just about guaranteed to send them skedaddling to their rooms.  Talk about the consumer price index leaves skid marks on the floor.

The dog’s face in the picture above can be interpreted many ways, as can my familial experiences these past few years.  For the time being, I’ll keep an eye on the here and now.

(And, yes, DB has a new epitaph).

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Is it a Dream?

Today President Obama’s executive order on the Dream Act goes into effect.  That means that undocumented immigrants who were between the ages of 15 and 30 as of June 15th, 2012 will be able to apply for deferred action.  This does not mean citizenship nor amnesty.  Instead, those who are eligible, i.e, minors brought here by their parents and raised here, will have the opportunity to obtain immigration benefits and not have removal proceedings brought against them for two years.  After that, who knows?  Much depends on who will be our next president and how Congress will act.

Why do I bring this up? Because of the controversy and fear generated over this executive order.  Yes, immigration is a hot – and sensitive – issue.  To me, it seems much of the current anti-immigrant bias I see and hear seems to be anti-Latino.  That is not to say that everyone sees it this way, of course, nor that Muslims nor Indians don’t suffer from a similar bias lately.  Nor that people of other ethnicities, faiths, and races, for that matter,  haven’t experienced their share of hostilities.  Surely, many have suffered.  However, as a Latina, I can’t help but notice the anti-Latino nature of the current debate on immigration.  Often it happens in front of me, without the speakers aware of the fact of my ancestry.  I seem to “blend” in as “American.”

I think about Latinos in my area who maintain our lawns and carry away our empty plates at restaurants.  We interact daily, although few, if any, live in my town.  I hear Spanish, in its varied regional dialects, spoken as I go about my day.  Many of the speakers I assume are immigrants – documented and not.  Some look quite young.  Many are hard workers in menial jobs.  Perhaps they are invisible to some Americans, but at the same time they have become integral to our lives, doing the work most of us don’t want to do ourselves.  How many of us wonder about the conditions in the hometowns of many immigrants, or of the journeys they made to get here?  Or of their working conditions here in the States?  Does this mean people should be allowed to come in illegally?  No, not necessarily.  But compassion and understanding can be part of the overall picture.

Aside from all that, I feel an affinity for Latino immigrants; protective, even.   And yet, at the same time, I really have nothing in common with people from Central or South America;  I don’t know Guatemalan  or Columbian cultures any better than I know Native American culture.  To complicate matters, my Spanish is woefully lacking in fluency, despite Spanish being the first language I learned.  But when I hear anti-immigrant/anti-Latino rhetoric, my instinct is to feel defensive and united, somehow, with ALL Latinos simply because we are Latinos, no matter citizenship status or country of heritage, or even individual ethics and values.   I then find myself thinking in terms of “us” and “them.”

That’s not good.  This differentiation between “us” and “them” prevents mutual understanding and promotes division.  In the worst cases, it dehumanizes groups of people.   And we are witnesses to terrible acts dehumanization can lead to.

Which brings me to this point:  as multi-faceted and complex as the immigration debate is, regardless of individual background, we’re all human, equally deserving of being treated humanely and with dignity.  This is something we must bear in mind as our country wrangles over a controversial issue.

I don’t know how Dream Act Lite will pan out, and maybe it is political pandering to Latinos to have signed it into existence during an election year, but maybe – just maybe – it can be the first step in comprehensive immigration reform.


P.S.  On a lighter note, Dearest Beloved has done it again on his Epitaph page.  Go check.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Mommie Dearest

When you are a stepparent, you can often find yourself in awkward positions. I’m sure this may happen with biological parents as well, but I’m not one of those and can’t really speak to that.  Alas, I don’t have children of my own.

That last sentence sounds funny.  “Children of one’s own.”

Being a full-time stepmother is pretty much as close to having children of one’s own as you can get IF you didn’t give birth to a child or adopt one.  You have to do what other parents do in the normal course of the day when raising children:  make sure they eat and get to school, drive them to sports activities or to the orthodontist’s office, nag them to do their homework, follow up on their chores, separate them when they are squabbling (daily), and get them to bed on time.  That is just for starters.   You (step)parents out there know what I mean.

And you have to love them.  If that fails you, then at least accept them, despite the resistance you feel.  Even when they say they hate you.  I know children say this to their biological parents in fits of anger, but somehow it feels true when you aren’t their “real” parent.  Who are you but the adult in the role they don’t want you to play?

Play?  Who said this was play?

Perhaps I’m thin-skinned.  “Disengagement” is the oft-heard concept that is trying to take root in my head and swath me in barb-repelling armor.

Although the kids and I do not share the same blood, we do live together with the one person they and I adore and love and count on:  Dearest Beloved.*   The one person we all want for ourselves.   Our common bond.

With that bond, we persevere as a family.  Blended family, as is the term du jour.

But back to the where I began with all this.  Recently I took my stepdaughter to the DMV for her learner’s permit test.  The clerk kept referring to me as “mom,”  as in:  “Have your mom fill this form out and sign it.”  Or, “Mom, are you ready to have your daughter on the road soon?”  This was awkward because my stepdaughter knows, and I know, and you know, but the clerk did not know, that I am not her “mom.” Yet, there I am doing the mundane activities a typical mother does for her children.

That “mom” versus “stepmom” terrain is tricky.  We’ve made a few wrong turns, I can assure you.

This time, we didn’t correct the clerk.  Neither did we look at each other.   We let it float there, amidst our thought bubbles filled with conflicting utterances.  Yes, indeed, a (step)daughter of my own.

*By the way, Dearest Beloved is at it again.  Yes, he has a new epitaph on his page.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

On a Warm August Day, How Inviting Does this Stream Look?

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

You’re Welcome.

What happened to that phrase?  I don’t hear it much anymore, if at all.  Do you?

I hear other replies to “thank you.”  Nowadays, people on the radio, TV, and in person respond with their own “thank you,” or “yep, no problem.”  All polite enough, without question, but that is different.  Changing times and all, I guess.  Call me old school, though.  I still use “you’re welcome” regularly.  If you do something for someone and they thank you, then why would you thank them back? Doesn’t it make more sense to reply with “you’re welcome?”   With that phrase, aren’t you conveying that you were happy to provide a favor or service?

As you know, Gore Vidal passed away today at the age of 86.  Tonight, on PBS Newshour, Jeffrey Brown interviewed Jay Parini, the D.E. Axinn Professor of English and Creative Writing at Middlebury College, about Vidal.  Parini and Vidal were friends for over three decades (charming interview, by the way; you may want to check it out if you are so inclined and are a fan of Vidal.  Another interview here).  At the end of the interview, when Brown thanked Parini for his time and thoughts, Parini responded, “you’re very welcome, Jeff.”

I was just about dumbstruck.  I liked the sound of that.  Parini is a man after my own heart…that is, if Dearly Beloved were not already using the phrase himself.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

On a Perfect Summer’s Day

Sitting outside with a glass of iced tea.  Nice, no?

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment