Speed Equals Distance Over Time

Living far away from family does funny things to what should otherwise be a straight forward equation. Especially when it comes to speed. And aging.

Yes, I’m quite sure speed gets ramped up when you factor in long-distances and divide them by time spent with family.

I see my mother and sister twice a year. Once here, once there. It’s not ideal, but it’s more than a lot of expats get, and so for that, I’m thankful. But when family visits are limited to bi-annual hugs and semi-yearly dinners, you notice the passage of time more acutely–etched out on a loved one’s face, in the gray of their hair or the stoop of shoulders. And that’s just me.

Each and every time I face it I am slammed with the inevitability of time. And distance. And the speed at which they seem to be colliding.

Time? Time is a wall I keep trying to scale, but instead of climbing it, I keep running into it headfirst, knocking myself most of the way to unconscious.

And distance? Well, distance is the one thing in my control.

I don’t get homesick very often, not anymore, but I do miss my family. I look forward to their visits, and to mine. In my head I map out great big plans to relax. We’ll laugh and have long conversations and go for long walks! We’ll spend quality time! The kids will be gracious and happy to see their family and actually converse with them instead of retreating behind a screen anytime I leave the room!

I worry that the reality is….less than great. Or relaxing. I think I may come across as…well, for lack of a better word, grumpy. Instead of being all hunky and dory, sometimes I get snippy and snappy.

Bear with me. It took me nine long years to figure this out.

I realized I must come across as resentful. Or annoyed. Or just garden variety grumpy-pants. The truth is, there’s often an emotional orgy going on in my head, decisions battling reality–decisions which benefit US, but sometimes come at the detriment of extended family.

So when I’m being snippy, it’s sometimes because I’m fending off  the guilt that come with choosing to live far away. Sometimes when it seems like I’m short-tempered it’s because I’m trying to gauge how long can I justify keeping the grandkids away. If it seems like I’m a bit low on patience, it may just be because I’m trying to calculate how much longer I’m going to ask my mother to get on a plane for Christmas. If it seems like I’m sulky, it’s probably because I’m trying to remember the formula to figure out how time speeds up when there’s a greater distance involved.

I think my brain switches into efficiency mode due to overload. And efficiency mode? Well, everything gets done, but sometimes at the expense of emotion. AI’s got nothing on me when I switch over to efficiency mode. Just ask my husband.

Sure, there’s Skype and FaceTime, and it definitely helps, but expats know that E.T. was right: phoning home is really just a substitute for being there.

Then the trips are over. Bags are packed, flights checked-in on, passports stamped. It takes me a few weeks to recalibrate my emotions, to pack them all back into the neat boxes they live in. I get caught up in day-to-day dramas and hourly ados and I’ll sit down to put my feet up and suddenly it’s Sunday, or summer or six months later. And I gear up to do the whole thing all over again.

I’m in the midst of all that now. Long enough removed from the family visit to be able to take a step backward and say “Ah! Of course that’s why I was such a miserable Mabel, because I worry about how our choice to live away affects you. And you’re getting older. And I’m getting older. And the kids are getting older. And oh, my God, for the love of all that’s holy make it stop.”

Eventually I guess the scales will tip one way, or another. But there are few weeks a year when they swing wildly from one side to another, bouncing up and down.

Every time I watch my mother say goodbye to my kids something small inside me dies. Like that flower in ET, the one that wilts and falters. But…. I also know this. You know the final scene of ET? The one when Eliot is crying and Gertie has snot running down her face and ET is about to get on his spaceship? He touches his light-up heart, then points his long, wrinkly finger at Eliot’s head and says…”I’ll be right here.”

It doesn’t matter what the formula is for calculating distance, or speed, or even time. Because that’s where we are.

We’ll be right here.



To My Son, Who is Turning Thirteen

Here we are, on the verge of big, bad teenagerdom.

I’m not going to lie, I’m scared. Not all the time, and not even about the big, bad things, but nevertheless, she persisted worrying. Have I done enough? Have I reminded you to please and thank you enough? Taught you how to tell a joke or to always deal cards to the left? Have I given you the confidence to do the right thing, even when the right thing isn’t the easy thing?

Most of the time I worry because I feel like I’m running out of time.

There are days when it seems you’ve already got one foot out of the door. I have to remind myself you’ve always had one foot out of the door, from the moment you were born. You were never mine, not really. You’ve always been your own. The universe merely placed you in my care for this dance, to make sure when you’re ready, you step through with both feet, confident and secure.

But that door? It will always open to you.

When you were an infant, swaddled like a baby burrito, you’d look up at me and I felt a million things surge through my blood all at once, like wildfire raging through my veins. Thirteen years later your eyes are nearly level with my own, but my blood still sings that same fiery song.

Those times you think I’m staring at you, looking for something to criticize? I’m really looking to see if the angle of your jaw has sharpened between dinner and breakfast.

When you catch me standing outside your door, it’s not to simply to tell you to pick your clothes up off the floor, it’s also to hear if the timber of your voice has begun to deepen.

I’m terrified I’m going to miss something, afraid one day I’ll look at you and that tiny boy, the one we fought so hard to bring into the world, is going to be impossible to recognize in the face and body of the young man you’re becoming.

In case I don’t tell you enough, I am proud of you, the way you treat everyone with kindness, the ease with which you saunter through life, your even-temper. Do you remember the night we sat around the dinner table and asked, who is the least likely to lose their temper? Without hesitation, we all pointed to you.

Keep your even temper. It will be your greatest gift in life, the ability to take a situation and diffuse it, to find the funny, or the good, the silver lining.

You are so unbelievably fortunate. You have so much opportunity at times it’s almost embarrassing. Use it. Use it to speak out for those who have less. Don’t ever take it for granted or feel like the world owes you more than what you’ve already been bestowed, because those invisible gifts you’ve been born into–the color of your skin, your sex, the opportunities we’ve been able to give to you? Those things are not due to you. You do not deserve them more than someone else. So use them. Stand up for those who walk through life with less ease, with less opportunity, with less help. Be aware of your privileges and of how you can use them for good.

Find something you want to be great at. It doesn’t matter if you are great at it, but it’s important to have something to work at, to dream about. Don’t take the easy way out. Get better. Be better.

Take time to settle into your mold. You don’t have to know who you are or what you want to do with your life. You just need to live your best life. Not everyday, no one lives their best life everyday. If someone tells you that, ignore them. If you’re batting one for ten you’re doing ok. Some days life hurts. Some days it’s tough. Some days it sucks donkey balls. It will get better. Don’t think it won’t get better.

No matter how many eye-rolls or ‘whatever’s, how many door slams or a thousand other stereotypes I’m remembering from The Breakfast Club and my own teenage years, we will be here. Sometimes you’ll feel like you don’t need us. That’s good. That means we’ve done our job. We’ll be here anyway.

You’re going to think we’re dumb and out of touch. You’re going to think you know better. You’re going to think every sneaky trick you come up with to fool us hasn’t been tried before. You’re wrong on all counts.

You won’t believe me. I know. I didn’t either.

We’re going to argue. I’m going to be wrong. You’re going to be wrong. If it’s truly important, stand up for yourself. But choose your hills wisely. Make sure it’s a hill you’re willing to die on before you dig in.

I’m going to embarrass you. Mostly accidentally but sometimes on purpose.

You’ll want to do things we don’t think you’re ready for. Sometimes we’ll screw it up. Sometimes we’ll make shitty decisions. But even when we do, try to remember it’s coming from a place of love. You won’t believe that either, but it’s true.

The world is out there waiting. There’s a lot of shit going down, a lot of bad stuff. But so much good stuff too. Don’t let the scary stuff stop you from experiencing the good. Don’t let the good stuff stop you from trying to change the bad.

Don’t let anyone else define you. If someone tells you that you have to be or do something? If they want to change you or set conditions on their love for you? Run the other way. Fast.

Life is going to hurt. Life is going to sing. It’s going to flutter and fly and sink and sometimes you’ll feel like you are drowning in your own breath. That is life. All of it put together is what makes it worth living.

Most of all I want you to know it will never be you vs. the world. We are tied together, you and me. For nine months your heartbeat tangled with mine until it was hard to tell where one stopped and the other began. Yours dances to a different tempo now, but mine? Mine will always skip a beat here and there, making sure there is a space for yours to return to when you need it.


See You Next Tuesday

statue-of-liberty-torch-nycWith any luck my last political post will come sometime on Wednesday and will be about sweeping glass shards from the floor.

My moods during the last six months have see-sawed, as has my conviction that in January The United States of America will inaugurate its first female President. I’ve gone through heartbreak, confusion, anger, rage, grief. I’ve been horrified, delighted, uplifted. I’ve cried, both in joy and frustration.

If life is like a box of chocolates, during this election I’ve eaten everything from the caramel to the nasty candied cherry. I feel sticky, nauseated, and like I need to brush my teeth and eat nothing but salad for a week.

But…instead of watching the polls fluctuate and my anxiety escalate in this, the final stretch, I”ll be carousing around a foreign city with some fabulous females. I’m not bringing my laptop. I’m not checking the news. (Ok, I won’t be checking the new obsessively.)

I’m still worried, but this morning as I was packing, I had a sudden moment of calm. Perhaps I’ve entered the eye of Hurricane Election because suddenly I realized it was all going to be ok.

Because even if Donald Trump wins the election, the people who voted for him aren’t going to win.

I don’t mean their candidate isn’t going to win. I mean the reasons why they chose to fill in the ballot circle next to his name aren’t going to win.

You can’t make people disappear. You can’t choose simply declare you don’t ‘believe’ in homosexuality or marriage equality like you choose to ‘believe’ in the Tooth Fairy. LGBTQ human beings exist. They take up space and other dimensions. Marriage equality is a thing. Transgender citizens and same-sex spouses are not going to suddenly disappear just because a bunch of people chose to elect a vice-president who wants to shift federal money to ‘gay conversion’ programs.

You think millions of women are going to lay down and allow themselves to be groped and degraded and discriminated against because a bunch of people chose to elect a party which, for all intents and purposes, want women to just go away and bleed quietly from their wherevers? You can spout all you want about the ‘myths’ of systematic oppression or the wage gap. But they exist and they’re not going to disappear in a cloud of magical smoke. Women aren’t just going to suddenly go away and stop demanding equality.

Those who are voting for Trump on the basis of religion can pray on pious knees until they are bloody for God to smote their enemy. It’s not going to happen. They can prayer circle around women who seek out birth control and abortion. It’s not going to stop them.

They can deny climate change. It’s not going to stop it. They can deny evolution. It doesn’t make it go away.

The reasons so many Trump voters are voting for Trump? Those reasons are NEVER GOING TO WIN.

The people who’ve been checking off the ‘other’ the box next to their identity don’t need to have their existence legitimized or FDA approved. Do you think they’re going to let you take their rights and stuff them back into some fundamentalist homophobic misogynistic cupboard and lock the door?

Women aren’t going to suddenly develop the urge to dig out their grandmother’s aprons and start mixing martinis for their husbands. Life is not going to magically revert back to some black and white television version of bucolic happiness which was only pleasant and happy if you closed your eyes and ignored the lynchings and the back alley abortions and the men and women being imprisoned for being gay.

You can build a thousand walls and they will still be breached.

You can build a thousand prisons and they will still be dismantled.

You can think of a thousand ways to hate and people will still love.

The United States has been moving forward for decades. Sometimes quickly, sometimes tortuously slow. It will continue to do so, even if it takes a backward step next Tuesday.

love-trumps-hateEven if they win this battle, they will never win the war. Because that kind of exclusion, that belief that there is only one, true way? It never wins. It is always defeated. It is always squashed.

Once I figured all that out, I felt better. I finished packing and dug out my passport and tomorrow, I’ll be off.

Oh, and Donald? CU next Tuesday.

15 to Life

02ce163afe978916dd6118dfeae68b65What does 15 years of marriage look like?


It is. 15 is like breathing. I don’t know any differently, only the space your body leaves for me to roll into. 15 years is fewer sharp edges to cut or slice. 15 is soft enough to absorb and blunt.

15 years is difficulty telling where I stop and you begin. It is mixing up histories. It is forgetting you weren’t there for part of my life and putting you there anyway; a cardboard cut-out photo-shopped in the back of my memory.

15 years is a sentence. More than a stint, less than a forever, fifteen to life. It is stranded between the rounded bookends of 10 and 20, a stepping stone on the way to 25. There are no poems that rely on 15 lines, no mysticism. But you can’t ignore it.

15 is too substantial to ignore, its bulk is too present.

15 is past settling, it is roots below the surface. It is sometimes forgetting to look because you think you remember what is in front of you, like your own reflection.

15 is elastic enough to stretch individual tastes and trust your history will snap you back together. 15 is separate vacations because 15 is knowing you don’t have to enjoy the same things to stay in love.

15 is occasional flowers, a snippet of love song, a note scribbled on the back of a napkin and left on a pillow. It is realizing random champagne is just as good as momentous occasions. It is annoyance and exasperation at the loudness of someone’s chewing, the way they say a certain word, the way they leave their things scattered about.

15 is grateful for the moments that still make you catch your breath.

15 is feeling your heart in your throat when you tell the story of how you met and realizing how very many things could have gone wrong.


15 is truly meaning you are the love of my life because no matter what cards fate has up her tricky sleeve, you have been the love that has been there throughout year ones and twos and sixes and sevens. Through the deaths and the blue times that seemed to spilled over and stain everything else. Through the nines and tens and nights on the couch. Through the laughs and the sing-a-longs and sleepless nights of babies. The fours and fives of longing, eights and tens of whirling around each other in a tornado twisting with change. Through the elevenses and twelves of  clickety-clacking to the top of the hill and thirteens of screaming down, stomachs dropping. Through the calm of fourteens.

15 in no longer planning for a future together but being smack dab in the middle of it.

15 is understanding the possibility that someday one will exist without the other.

15 is promising to make the minutes and days and months, all the in between thens and nows, count for something.

This is 15.