Wednesday, January 28, 2015


Toys That Teach

One of the most interesting moments of awareness I’ve had in a long time happened mere minutes ago. It didn’t involve another person, though, or a dog or animal of any kind, nor even a picture or video tape of another human. It took place between me and me alone. I’m not quite sure that falls within the Project 360 boundaries (moments of connection); but it affected me in such an interesting way, sort of a slap across the face, that I dropped the three other topics I was considering to let myself explore it a bit.

Put it that way, it sounds crazy exciting. It’s not, sorry. But it is interesting in a sort of evolution-of-me way. And considering I’m basically just a boring old mom with two teenagers, I figured it probably will ring true to a few folks out there in cyberspace as well.

Enough ado about nothing . . . 

I must kill an hour while my younger daughter is in her jazz class. When I’m feeling inspired, I’ll occasionally run to the gym down the street from her studio. Sadly, I’m not too inspired lately. But I AM inspired to write, so a warm and cozy Starbucks up the road seemed a perfect spot in which to write. Dreaming about my warm hot tea with honey, I pulled into the quaint strip mall, letting bundled shoppers cross in front of me out of the night, through my headlights, and into the busy Kroger’s for some last-minute groceries. Making a sharp right, I headed up to the parking area that loops in front of the Starbucks, a Hallmark store, a bagel place. As I rounded to the left, I saw a store, straight ahead, lights warming the sidewalk. Toys That Teach. Its sign hangs above on the low shingled roof, inviting and cozy in its child-like lettering.

Only able to get a glimpse into the closed shop, primary colors and endless shelves of games caught my eye quickly. I either said out loud or loud enough in my head to surprise me: I forgot about Toys That Teach!

And immediately, I was sad. I had totally forgotten about the existence of an imperative part of my daughters’ childhood. 

I can envision the aisles now, although I sit approximately 500 feet away under a speaker playing Ingrid Michaelson. Creative, mind-stimulating toys designed with minimal buzzing, blinking, sirening, these were the toys that were fun in the pre-technology sense of the word. Fake food for miniature kitchens. Three-dimensional puzzles, that traffic game (in which you have to rescue a white car from crowded vehicles of various sizes) that my younger daughter used to rock, while I sat beside her sweating out of anxiety, unable to find a way out. Pony sticks with stuffed heads. Toy animals of every size, shape, and color. Little scooters that perfectly fit tiny little pampered tushes. Fun carpet, sweet ladies behind the counter, tell-tale wrapping paper recognizable at any birthday party we attended from 1999 to 2012 or so.

Picturing all the stores vibrancy now, I easily, reflexively, see two little girls walking through the aisles, jumping from toy to toy with a frenetic energy barely matchable by their eager words. Pony tails and dimpled hands. Smiles with baby chicklet teeth or gaping holes. Mary Janes with cuffed socks. Happy, happy eyes. I picture my baby girls in one of their happiest places, a place we would head if they were “good” during errands, or after they split a bagel with cream cheese, or--most excitedly--when it was time to buy a birthday gift for a friend. 

The flood of it hurt for a second. Hurts even now, as I allow myself to remember a little deeper. 

I’m recognizing a pattern in my thinking lately, and I suppose it’s natural with one daughter in 10th grade and one heading to high school next year. It’s a pervasive feeling that things are changing too fast, without my say. Being a mom to my little kids was one lifetime ago, and here I am in another, raising teenagers who don’t necessarily think I’m the greatest person on earth any more. And who are slowly, necessarily discovering themselves without Mama as part of the picture.

Strangers in Target always warn you of this phenomenon, attempting to prepare people they don’t know for the inevitable: “It goes by so fast.” When someone tells you this as your three year old is lying on the linoleum floor screaming and your two year old is jumping out of the cart with green snot coming out of her nose, well, it’s hard to truly listen. You hear, but you don’t listen. Without warning, I’ve become that stranger. You’d think I would’ve seen this coming, but I don’t believe I did. Suddenly everything feels like “the third-to-last time we’ll vacation as a family over Winter Break,” or “the second-to-last time you have a first-day-of-high-school.” It’s a countdown I want no part of, both because it’s depressing and because it’d make my kids think I’m even more of an emotional weirdo than I am. But try as I may to stop the countdown, that damn clock keeps on ticking.

Forgetting about an icon of my babies’ childhood, even briefly, was a huge surprise to me, but you’ll be proud to know I’m handling it okay. I’m thinking, taking note, realizing that I better freaking enjoy the highs and lows and frustrations and wet towels lying on the carpet next to the bathroom door. I’m enjoying getting to know the people my girls are becoming. I like them. A lot. I guess driving by Toys That Teach just reminded me of the little ones I used to know, and I guess it’s okay to miss those little ones every now and then. 

Memory lane can exist in the form of a parking lot, after all. It feels more important now than ever to stay alert. Keep my eyes open. I never know what will jump out in front of me.

Monday, January 26, 2015


The Good Kind of Speechless

So, the past few days, I slowed my roll and let the flu and bronchitis take over for a bit. Try as I might, I didn’t feel like sitting up to type, nor could I form a thought anyone under the sun would really want to read about. (Let me tell you about the phlegm in my throat! Ever feel so dizzy you wanted to cry?! . . . doesn’t make for thrilling reading, fo’ sho’).

Anyhoo, I’m back. And it’s a moment I shared with the radiologist at the local Doc In A Box the other night that has inspired me to write this, so really the winter crud is a good thing.

I’ve written before about the ups, downs, difficulties, and interestingness of sharing information regarding my history with breast cancer with strangers. In my most recent exploration on this topic, I wrote an open letter to strangers, advising them to consider the age-old adage of “think before ye speak” when sharing superfluous stories. I still love that post, even though I did very little thinking during writing or editing after. It just all poured out, my only fear being that I sounded more negative or bitter than I truly feel. 

As I mentioned in that letter (entitled “A PSA of Sorts”), there’s always a slippery moment when you share with someone that you’ve had breast cancer. Will they be reminded of someone they love, whose battle has hurt them? Will they be inspired by the fact that I’m simply standing and want to talk about it a bit? Or will they simply change the subject, which is usually what I hope for the most, because we can both avoid interpreting any emotional complexities that the C-word invokes for each and every one of us? No matter what, usually I can take it--manage the response, especially if I’m feeling strong or the person is kind. And the farther and farther I get from my breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, the less I find myself even wanting--or, rather, needing--to bring it up. It’s slowly becoming more of a part of yesterday than today.

(I just knocked on wood for about two minutes straight.)

When I’m faced with a situation in which I have to share my un-implanted bare chest with a stranger, however, the big C inevitably must come up. Thank goodness sharing my nudity doesn’t come often, as I don’t work in the adult film industry and I’m not an exhibitionist. At the Patient First the other night, though, I was instructed to take off my clothes from my waist up (“Including your bra,” came the familiar, deadweight instruction), put the smock on (“open in the back”), and head to the X-ray department to rule out pneumonia. I was greeted at the door of the small, sterile room by a short, rotund, serious woman in a Patient First polo shirt and elastic-waisted khakis. She reminded me of a brooding teddy bear.

Here’s where my instincts kick in and I think to myself, I’m going to freak her the f*** out  if she sees I have no breasts. I balanced the pros and cons of saying something, fearing the inevitable conversation that would result (would it be too chit-chatty? would it suck? would it hurt?), before quickly deciding I should spare her any future embarrassment by just putting it out there:

“Oh, by the way, I’ve had a double mastectomy, so if you’re wondering why I have no breasts . . . [nervous giggle . . .]”

She looked up at me and smiled. “Oh, that’s okay. I’m used to that. I only have one breast myself.”

I was relieved, immediately comfortable around one of the Sisterhood. I couldn’t help myself and reflexively looked down at her chest like an asshole, but she didn’t seem to notice. Unfortunately, she seemed to want to talk more, so I raised my guard a bit as she shuffled me around the room.

“Press your shoulders against the board here,” she directed. 

“I have a hard time with my left shoulder. Sorry.”

“That’s okay. Just do the best you can.” Adjust, adjust, adjust. “So how long ago did you have your surgery?”

Deep breath. “Oh, five years now. Five and a half, actually.”

Adjust, adjust. The response that came next was a a delightful, strange sentence:

“Oh. That’s not too bad.”

I’m rarely speechless, but she rendered me that way. WHAT do I say to that? No one has ever responded that way before. It was, frankly, awesome. No sympathy, no extensive discussion, no stories about relatives who have been re-diagnosed or friends who have passed. Just “that’s not too bad.” I loved it. I had nothing to say, other than just to nod and admit, “You’re right.”

Because, truth is, that’s NOT too bad. It’s pretty damn great.

She went on to tell me her surgery was three years ago, and I told her I hope she’s feeling great, and then the C-Word Conversation stopped. We went on to chat about my cough, whether my breathing treatment was helping, and all of the junk that brought me to her in the first place.

The moment she made me speechless, with no need to raise my shackles or protect myself or end up comforting someone I don't know, swallowing fear and gross memories in the process . . . it was a happy one. I’m thankful for it.

Turns out my x-ray looked great. Totally clear. In other words, damn good. 
Not too bad at all.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Sentimental Ode to a Friend

I know this here Project 360 is supposed to be about connections, micromoments between humans (or, as it’s turned out so far, dogs, or cats, or a combination of the three) in which something, anything is shared. Could be positive or negative, tangible or intangible, given or received. My goal in writing 360 blog posts in 360 days is to open my eyes, take a look at the friends, strangers, and family who make up our worlds; to see how I can learn from them and with them. 

More so, I hope that, throughout the next year, I can explore how we all can learn from each other, discover something new about ourselves in the most mundane, as long as we open our minds to feel the possibilities that exist.

Put that way, it sounds a bit too existentialist. But I suppose it is. Mainly, though, it’s all about connections.

The other night, even with my “open eyes,” I was surprised that my moment of superconnection came while sitting across a table from someone I’ve known for 25 years. I was eating dinner with one of my college “besties” in a small, cozy restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission district, having settled in to my Hip City Girl persona quite nicely after a few days’ visit. Lynne, having settled into her same persona some 17 years prior, looked like she belonged: chic, vibrant, and warm. 

Lynne and I met when we both transferred to the same University, she from a school that was much too large and me from a school that was a bit too small. A la Goldilocks, we ended up at the same place, same time, same dorm. I lived a few dozen feet from her and her amazing group of suitemates, all of whom are my friends today. Thank goodness I ran into Lynne almost immediately, and we hit it off even quicker, because I adopted that suite as my own (a haven from my own quiet and somewhat odd suite down the hall). All of suite 101-C’s residents were kind, funny, and there for me/anyone anytime. That year is a blur of laughs, repeated viewings (and subsequent memorization) of SNL’s 15th Anniversary special, bad late-80s hairdos, roadtrips, and more laughs. It was perfect.

Lynne is impossible to sum up in a quick blog entry. Hers is the type of personality that draws in gazillions of people, all of whom end up feeling like her best friend. That’s because she adores people and lets them know it with her stop-traffic smile and very real, very human, very funny way of interacting. She is not afraid to laugh at herself, which she does often, or with you when the occasion warrants (and it often does). But joking and play aside, she works hard. She works hard and is successful as hell (as I evidenced in San Francisco when visiting her office and viewing her impressive collection of never-mentioned fancy trophies placed in a corner of her cube), but never ever gloats about it. You wouldn’t know she’s dealt with a lot with her health unless you ask, and even then, she doesn’t dwell, doesn’t complain, instead turning the conversation to you. She adores her husband and her cat above all, with her big family and enormous circle of friends right behind. I’ll stop here, but I could go on, because she’s just a damn groovy person.

I don’t see Lynne often enough. A country exists between us, but once every year or two, I am reminded of why she’s so important to me when I see her face-to-face. 

What I was reminded of the other night, sitting across from our gnocchi drizzled with some kind of heaven, was the connection I put together long ago but have never told her. Lynne played a huge role in my development as a caring, loving person. Because in addition to being a friend, confidant, roommate, sorority sister, and fellow troublemaker, Lynne has served an important role in my life: she’s been a mother figure to me.

Growing up, like all families, mine had some quirks. My mom, who passed away suddenly and tragically three years ago, struggled with a number of issues I’m not ready to discuss here. She was a loving, wonderful mom in countless ways, but she raised us somewhat insularlly, not doing much outside of our family of five. The subtleties of the ways of the world, then, were a bit foreign to me as I ventured out beyond the mountains of Roanoke, Virginia. My sophomore year, I met Lynne, and I began to learn how to be a better person. 

That may sound dramatic, so let me explain. It wasn’t an overnight evolution (and, in fact, it’s very much still a work in progress), and Lynne wasn’t the sole factor in the Making of Tracy, for sure. But in little and big ways, she taught me how to be a friend. I took mental notes: send cards to let people know you’re thinking of them. Got it. Floss your teeth often. Check. Don’t put your butt on other people’s pillows (seriously). Good to know. Send care packages to my children when they’re in college (that, her mom taught me). Will do. 

There are many more. But the most important take-away is to never be afraid to let someone know how you feel about them. It makes a difference.

Lynne is one of dozens of dear friends who have helped to shape me into the Tracy of 2015, seven of whom I spent last weekend with in beautiful California. Past and present, they surround me, and I'm lucky. I’ve learned to open my eyes and ears and enjoy more than just laughs with them, and I believe it pretty much all started with Lynne. Sitting across from her at dinner, between laughs and catch-up conversation, I watched as she welled up a bit, telling a story of a friend who was sick. My first response was to feel sad for her, but almost immediately, my second response came, and I said to myself, She feels to her core. That, right there, is the number one thing she has taught me through the years. To care. And I do. I let myself fall in love with my family, friends, and even strangers. This can bite me in the ass occasionally, but it’s pretty much become who I am. Or, rather, who I strive to be. It feels right, and it feels good. 

I pray I can pass Lynne’s lessons on to my girls. And I wish all of you could know her, but you can’t. So I hope for you to have someone(s) in your life who show you the same gifts. Whose maternal presence makes you a better person. They’re out there. We just have to open our eyes. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Priority Status

This morning, in foggy San Francisco, I wheeled my way up to Virgin America’s check-in counter, dropped off my pre-paid bag, and sauntered cockily over to the “Priority” security line. Not only did I have no idea what the Priority line meant or afforded, I had no idea what prompted the Airline Powers That Be to bestow me with such a status. So needless to say, despite my shaky nerves, I started off my trip on a positive note.

When I got to the Priority Entrance, I had to shuffle around a couple, a young man and woman standing in the middle of the hubbub. They were each thin and beautiful, in the way that 87% of San Francisco’s population is, and they were locked in a long, tight embrace. He was a few inches taller than she, and her mane of dark hair was buried in his chest. 

I’m not sure how I noticed all of these details. Was I standing and gawking? Maybe. I do enjoy some good people watching, and these two quickly had me entranced. After what seemed like minutes, she pulled away her head, but not her hug, to look up at him. The look on this mid-twenties-something girl was one that wore such intense emotion that I recognized it immediately. It was pain. She didn’t want to go, he didn’t want her to go. Her eyes were sparkling, puddled with tears, and they lingered there, looking at each other. Suddenly, I felt like an intruder, a passerby who had stumbled into this moment of longing and obvious love and cluelessly overstayed her welcome. 

I veered to the left, Priority Pass in hand, to take off my boots, get my full-body-sexy-scan, and go on to my gate; but I couldn’t stop thinking about the couple. My imagination spun wondrous webs of fantasy: she had come looking for a job so that they could be together, but couldn’t find one and had to trudge back alone to the East Coast. He was ill, and she had to leave him in a city with good medical care until she could save up enough money to support them both. They were forbidden from being together, because their families were in a Montague-Capulet war and forbade their love.  Mostly, though, I couldn’t stop thinking of that hug.

The way they were intertwined and leaning on each other spoke of a closeness, of a young passion, that was so familiar from times past. Times when no one was hurrying out the door to head to work or carpool to dance. Times when the most important thing was the person in your arms. But it was the look in her eyes when she pulled away that really got me. I said above that I recognized it immediately, and I did, with a jolt. It was such a look of longing and love, that it instantly transported me to the early and mid-1990s, when I was a young woman who allowed myself to feel that connected to another soul. 

I guess you could call it “young love.” A love unmuddled by hurrying, rushing, carpooling, meeting deadlines, balancing children on hips and in calendars. When it was not only okay to, but natural to devote yourself entirely (deeds, words, looks) to the person you loved. Nothing else mattered in the world today in that one moment for those two people. It was insanely special to witness. In that young woman’s eyes I saw me, the passionate, goofy, intense young me I used to know so well. Who felt love so deeply that it hurt. It mattered. It pervaded moods, emotions, words. It made me a richer, more passionate person. It rounded me out.

I’ve thought about it all day long, in the air, on the drive home from the airport, and now, as I write this. Perhaps I need to make more time to linger in a hug. To forget about email or calendars or Facebook statuses for a bit. Instead of pushing aside that intense part of me until there’s “time” to show it, maybe I should let it out whenever it feels like it, in the form excited giggles or spontaneous dinners out or even just a lingering hug.

Because life is a life worth living, but it’s nothing without love. To feel it should be to show it.

Now that should be the Priority.

Monday, January 19, 2015


Mountain Mama

The Mountains Are Calling Me
And I must go.
--John Muir

I grew up surrounded by Virginia mountains. Rolling, rambling borders around the valley that I called home. Ever-shifting shades of color depending on the time of day or time of year. Purple at twilight, piercing, layered greens on hot summer days, black silhouettes below a blue velvet night sky. My back yard proffered an astounding view of a giant mountain that felt close enough to touch, spotted with peach orchard trees that turned cottony in the spring. "My" mountains mesmerized me and comforted me. Made my world feel smaller while somehow teasing me to explore what lay beyond.

I miss them every day.

While I live in one of the nicest cities I imagine there exists in the world, and there are certainly dozens of lovely parts, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t long for the beauty that surrounded me in my youth. I followed a childhood in Roanoke with a college-hood in Harrisonburg, just up the highway, watching amber and pink sunsets behind the surrounding Blue Ridge. Mountains were just another piece of me. 

Now, when I see them, which is not often enough, they elicit a visceral reaction in me. I suppose it’s because of their immersion into my DNA at a young age. But I guess it could also be that they take me back to a time and place of simplicity and happiness. Plus, they’re just so beautiful. They make me happy.

This weekend, I’ve been surrounded by California mountains. Whereas Virginia mountains remind me of hot summer misty mornings and meandering drives down honeysuckled roads, California mountains simply bring one word to mind: majesty. They are majestic in their beauty, each one different, peppered with trees or grass or even mud, but crisp and ripply underneath. If you haven’t been to Northern California, it’s hard to describe them satisfactorily, to provide the image you need to appreciate their beauty. Just picture majesty. I adore them.

Yesterday, the ride from Carmel to Big Sur, the subsequent hike, and the further subsequent lunch overlooking the Pacific to one side and said mountains to the other summoned that familiar peace.  I mean, after all, it cannot get more majestic than to face one direction and see a whale jumping in the endless waters, and the other to face a crystal-clear stunning mountain of incredible height. We, the seven of us, had to stop our walk under these mountains at one point to let five or six deer cross our paths and bound into the beauty. As the sun set over the Pacific a few hours later, the mountains shifted in shape and color, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off of them.

And for one second today, driving with my college roommate north toward San Francisco and her new home and baby just beyond, I found myself distracted as we talked. We turned and came upon a stretch of mountains in the distance, seemingly linked by bridges and bays. It actually took my breath away for a moment, because the beauty of it was, I don’t know, almost shocking, completely different from that of my youth but just as profound. Something stirred in me again, and I think that something was happiness. I became even more acutely aware of just how important beauty can be in someone’s life, especially if it’s your own definition for your own reasons triggering your own memories. 

For me, this means mountains. It means getting away whenever I can afford to, whether for a few hours to the west in my home state or a few hours away in a plane. Seeking beauty wherever I can find it. And how lucky am I that flat, mountainless Richmond offers enough beauty in my friends to tide me over in between. And being surrounded by old friends and majestic mountains for the past few days has been a gift. 

It has been a beautiful weekend.

Saturday, January 17, 2015


Alone Isn't Lonely

Yesterday, I walked.

My girlfriend had to head into work for the day, so I had a rare and blissful day to myself. As mommies all over the globe can attest, Alone Time is not exactly the chief perk of motherhood. It typically comes in snippets, in the minivan or walking across a parking lot, for instance. And that’s exactly why I value Alone Time so very much: because it’s rare. It affords silence and the ability to shut off to-do mantras and “listening ears.” Alone Time feels a lot like a snow day. When it happens, and I never seem to know for sure when it may, I relish the shit out of it.

Here’s the hilarious part that will make moms all over the world want to punch me in the mouth: I don’t even work full time. I tutor part of the year, work in University Admissions during the winter, and try to get some freelance things going on in the spring and summer. I know moms who work 40 plus hours a week, come home and run a family, and squeeze five days’ worth of laundry, cleaning, errands, shopping, organizing, family time-spending, counseling, husband-dating, and more into the measley 48 hours they have off on the weekends. Some do it with multiple children and others do it with the additional weight of being single and having no one to share duties with. It boggles my mind.

So I hope it doesn’t come across that I’m bitching about the rarity of my Alone Time. I’m not meaning to, because I know how freakishly lucky I am. I relish it solely because when I am alone, I finally give myself permission to not be doing. To slow down, think about nothing if I feel like it, and just be. This is somewhat new to me, and I’m struggling with the concept a bit. When I am at home, sometimes this not-be-doing attitude leads to what some (like everyone who knows me) may call a lack of productivity. After all, I’d much rather read my book than do a pile of dishes in the sink or shampoo the upstairs carpet. DVRd episode of The Bachelor or put away the pile of clean clothes in my room? Roses, please. Quick 2 or 3 (or 13 or 18) rounds of Trivia Crack? Yes, I can squeeze that in. But even during those times alone, I’m weighted down with my whispering in my own ear that I should really get up now and be productive. Eventually, and reluctantly, I move on to my duties and get some stuff done, like a true grown-up and like gazillions of moms (and dads) everywhere.

But times alone are not the same as true Alone Time, and yesterday, I got plenty of that rare gift. I got up when I wanted (blissful), took my time getting ready (aaah), and meandered out the door to get some coffee at a local cafe (delish). Then I set off for my four-and-a-half hour self-guided walking tour of stunning, vibrant San Francisco. It was a cool, breezy morning, and I started by walking along the Bay, on the Embarcadero. I shopped in the Ferry Building, people-watched my heart out, and listened to three episodes of Serial (a fantastic podcast you should check out). I was a city girl, and I was loving it. I trudged up the impossibly steep hills, toward the marina district, feeling so proud of the workout I was giving my thighs. I watched an inner city Middle School play yard full of uniformed students, while almost run over by a separate P.E. class running their laps on the sidewalks around the school. The kids looked so different from children in our neighborhood schools (most had dark hair and what appeared to be Asian and Hispanic heritage), but they were identical in their giggles and teenage silliness. I walked past bars, pastry shops, laundromats, and row upon row of cool, old houses. Once in the Cow Hollow area, a few hours later, I turned off Serial and went in and out of shops, listening to tourists and neighbors alike. I sat outdoors at a small bakery and had such an amazing ham and cheese croissant that my mouth is watering again just thinking about it. Grandmas pushed babies, friends laughed loudly, a guy in a Giants tee-shirt talked to himself in an alarming way. I skirted the tents of the homeless and smiled at an old lady I helped out of a cab. It was an amazing day.

The one second of the day that I remember most was as I climbed a monstrous hill lined with houses so huge and gorgeous that they appear to be on the verge of teetering over and rolling down into the Bay. The hike was burning my legs, and my lungs were screaming for a little break, so I sat down on the edge of a brick wall at the base of someone’s driveway. Turning off my iPhone so I could hear the world around me, I opened my eyes and looked around. There I was, at the top of the world. The Bay, with its boats, seals, and crumbling Alcatraz were far away in my sight line. Roofs of house after house spilled out below me. Directly above my head drooped tree limbs of a tree not seen in Virginia, green and gorgeously curved and complex. Life was moving and stirring everywhere below me, but it was so, so quiet. Suddenly it hit me that in the expanse of all that lay before me, below me, and around me, I did not see one other human being. I was, for that second, completely alone in one of the largest, most beautiful cities in the world. No one knew where I was. This second was completely mine.

As I trudged up the rest of the hill, I started missing my girls, wishing they had been with me. I began to wonder when my friend was getting off work and what time we were hitting the road to meet our hilarious girlfriends for the weekend. My Alone Time need was quenched in the most exquisite of ways, and I was thankful for the replenishment of spirit it gave me. 

I hailed a cab shortly after and spent the next fifteen minutes getting to know my driver.

Friday, January 16, 2015



it’s tricky to write late at night. that much I’m learning fo’ sho’. I’m more of an early morning girl, any way you look at it. It’s when I’m most aware, sharp, able to carry on a conversation with other human beings. When I set my alarm for 5:00 and methodically trudge downstairs, I can roll through my routine of making coffee and turning on the news and taking the dog out in the 20-degree weather, no problem. Then I settle down with my warm cuppa joe and write. 

But when life necessitates that I wait until the evening to write, it ain’t so pretty. My brain cells fire at approximately 1/15th of the speed at which they normally function, and my creativity sinks to an unattainable level. That’s on a good day. On a day full of traveling, a long plane ride across the country, and a late night out for dinner with one of my best friends in the world whom I haven’t seen in two years . . . .well, then when I wait ‘til late to write, it’s actually 1:50 a.m. East Coast time; but I’m now on the West Coast and barely know what I’m saying. 

I’m excited to learn these nuances of my writing habits because that means I actually have writing HABITS. For me, a romantic fool who fancies herself one day writing something that means something to someone in the world, that is ginormous. But the fact that I just had to re-write the word “actually” in the first line five times means that I best stick to what I know: writing when my brain works, early in the day. 

So if this post is feeling a little like a waste of your time, I apologize. I simply wanted to make sure I write every day to complete the 360 circle. Traveling across this beautiful, chaotic, diverse country means seeing glimpses of life and culture everywhere, so it’s been a fun day of being aware, eyes open, gratitude deep. Choosing what to write about tonight was tricky, because there has been so much on my radar the past 18 hours, so instead, I’ll just feel a little more grateful for running into Dave, my cab driver, who safely (and quite speedily) maneuvered me from SFO airport to my sweet friend’s apartment.

Dave’s name is actually “Dev,” he spelled out for me, but pronounced like the American counterpart “Dave.” A young, early-twenties-ish dark-haired guy, he and I struck up a conversation as soon as I got in the cab. As my family can tell you, that’s a bonus, and perhaps another time, I’ll address in more detail the beauty of reaching out to strangers, ‘cause it’s a philosophy that is pretty much central to each of my days,, but for now, I’ll just say I was grateful for my brief, 20-minute conversation with Dev, who lives here, far, far away from his family in Nepal, making a life for himself, going to school, experiencing cultures and opportunities and a life so insanely different from the one he knew as a boy. I asked him questions about Nepal, and he asked me questions about Virginia, telling me only after a while that he went to college in West Virginia for a while before transferring to Dallas. Now, living on the West Coast in beautiful California, he hopes to establish residency, so he can soon go to Berkley, where he’s been accepted but cannot yet afford.

I found myself rooting for Dev/Dave more and more as the fare increased. When I wished him well at the end of the trip, I meant it (and was secretly wishing he’d keep in touch and tell me how his future goes). Dev showed me so much more of the world than he knows in that short cab ride. It wasn’t just a commute from the airport to the city; I walked away being able to picture his family (with three older brothers and a younger sister, who will never leave home because she’s too close to her mother), loving each other in tiny Nepalese village. I pictured a boy brave enough to start a life for himself on the other side of the globe, one who has become well-spoken, kind, interested, educated. Fear has always stopped me from making a move so huge, so I am inspired by him in so many ways, as well as humbled by him for even more.

Ahead, the next few days holds a girls’ weekend with friends I met more than 20 years ago. I can’t wait. But I think I’m going to hold that short cab ride pretty close to this sleep-deprived heart for a long, long time. For now, I'm heading to sleep, sweet memories of a simple cab ride zooming in my head.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


And the Other’s Gold 

There’s something so, I don’t know, comforting about being with people who know you inside and out. Or maybe more than comforting, which implies an action of some kind, it’s comfortable. Comfortable encompasses goes deeper than a surface action. It starts in the face with eyes and lips smiling and spreads inwardly, toward your heart. It’s a state of being, and it’s a rare one at that. Being comfortable with someone means it’s effortless to be you. There are no pretenses, no concerns about positivity and negativity and the dueling roles they play in comments and deeds. You can relax and take something as complex and important as love for granted, because you know it’s just there. 

That’s how it is with old friends, or at least how it should be. With folks who carry memories along with you, so that neither of you feel their weight. There’s a subtle energy in that comfortable feeling. It’s soothing, yes, but it also tickles at your past with the softest of feathers . . . reminding you, for just a little while and so subtly, of where you’ve come from. 

Old friends are the best souvenirs, because they typically don’t take up space in your attic or overcrowded closets but still bring back countless recollections with just a laugh or a hug. So they’ve got that going for them, too: they’re alive, literally and figuratively, accessible any time we slow down enough to call, text, email, have dinner with, or simply remember.

Tonight I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours with a couple of old friends. I “married into” these two beautiful ladies; they were Mike’s friends in college, and for the past twenty or so years, I’ve been able to call them mine, too. They live in the DC area, so I’m two hours too far from running into them in the grocery store or routine get togethers over Thai food, and truthfully, that makes me sad and potentially even a little jealous. I would love to see them on a daily (or weekly) basis, to be a part of the minutia of their lives, gossip about quirky neighbors, vent about kids’ schools, go for a quick walk on a beautiful day. As lucky as I am to have friends like these of my own in Richmond, I’ll occasionally feel such a longing for old friends (be them from high school, college, or since) that it can transform into a bit of melancholia if I don’t keep it in check. Perhaps it’s just the extrovert in me, but I don’t think so. Rather, I believe it’s because connections that last through history strengthen the proverbial “ties that bind” and remind us of what we hold close to our hearts.

For a second tonight, I felt deliriously happy, just sitting between two broads in a hotel restaurant. 

At dinner we laughed. A lot. We jumped from topic to topic without completion and left answers to questions dangling between us, hung up on the energy that kept the conversation moving at an uncatchable pace at first. But then we got into a rhythm, the words flowing as easy as the second glass of wine, and three hours later, I really didn’t want to leave the booth.

However, eventually it was 11:00 p.m., and this Cinderella usually turns into a pumpkin long before that, so we said fun, happy goodbyes, knowing we’ll do it again soon. And we will, because we know that as the kids are getting older, we’re going to need each other in new and different ways. And that’s the thing about old friends: I’m lucky enough to know they’ll be there the next time, in just the same way. THAT I don’t take for granted at all.

Tomorrow I’ll hop on a plane. Well, first I’ll take a xanax, then I’ll say a gazillion prayers, then I’ll hop on a plane. I will head to San Francisco, to see a group of old friends I see a whole lot less than those I saw tonight. Eight of us will spend the weekend together, traveling from East and West Coast cities, and if I had to sum up all the group activities ahead into one word, I suppose it’d have to be laughter. I know we’ll laugh, and just like tonight, I know it’ll be a lot. But I know all the other stuff will come along with it, too, not the least of which is the comfort. Not so tangible, not feel-able, but so awesome to be felt. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Wanted: Brain Cells

I like to fancy myself a somewhat intelligent human being. I’m no Einstein, but I watch the news, listen to NPR every so often (when there’s not a good song on elsewhere), and have my “home screen” set to the New York Times (which I will occasionally peruse). Although I avoid political discussions because 1) an intense fear of being/looking/acting ignorant and 2) Mama shies away from conflict, I can hold my own in conversations about the world around me. For the most part. I read my fair share of Entertainment Weekly, true, but I also read real-live books that usually do a pretty good job of exposing me to the world.

So yesterday’s second came as a fascinating, unsettling surprise. 

Last night, Mike reminded me of a conversation we had with our family friend Aashish the other day. Aashish’s family is Indian, and we were talking about where they were from, who’s still living in India, and so on. He mentioned something about Bombay, and then quickly corrected himself: “I mean, Mumbai.” Something clicked inside my head, something either telling me to listen up and learn something or whispering to me, “What? WHAT?” 

You see, that was THE first time in my life I’ve heard that Bombay as a named city no longer exists. I’ve heard of Mumbai, don’t get me wrong, and my husband has even traveled there quite a few times for work. When I first heard of where he was headed, I thought, “Oooh. Never heard of that city! How exotic. Tell me about it.” But that’s about as much as I knew, clearly. The other night, upon inquiring further, my ignorance was exponentially exposed. Calcutta? Nope, not Calcutta any more. And the list goes on, of course, as most intelligent, informed citizens of the world should rightly know.

Mike was somewhat stunned by my ignorance on this particular topic, as well he should be. After all, I play Jeopardy each night with such zeal that I occasionally push family members out of the room, and I take the “Adult On-Line Test” each year, religiously. While Mike was stunned, I was simply . . . disturbed. How did I miss this? This huge, immensely important international evolution of one of the biggest, most intriguing and beautiful countries on the planet? Something tied so tightly to the citizens’ heritage and identity and culture?

I could blame it on information overload--too much going on all around us all the time--but that’s no excuse. After all, it’s been a slow evolution of renaming and respelling, certainly not solely since I began my career as a carpool driver and baby raiser. But I think it’s simply that I cannot keep up with the changing news, world, geography, around me; that worries me a bit. Thank goodness I have my daughters, ten times smarter than I was at their age, to keep me informed. Did you know there’s another OCEAN, for God’s sake? Yup. Found that out not long ago. And they will undoubtedly continue to be my keys to the technology vaults of understanding that surround me, having some sort of innate ability (or is it lack of fear?) that makes them able to solve the most maddening, scream-inducing problem with a simple click or swipe. 

But the fact remains: the other night, I was so embarrassed. I guess I should settle down a bit, not let it upset me. Look at this flub on my part as a reason to remain engaged, involved, and ever-inquisitive, like the person I used to be and still fancy myself as most of the time.  An active citizen of the world, even if the only exploration I do is through online news or the television. 

Actually, maybe more than embarrassed, I was intrigued. We’re surrounded every day by the NEW that makes up our future by altering the past. That’s exciting, dynamic. Keeps us on our toes. It’s intriguing to me when, at the age of almost-forty-five, I learn something I’ve never known before. As I get older and become more and more aware of the beauty, life, suffering, and sadness in the world, I’m compelled to keep trying. After all, it's important. It means something to be informed about the cultures, world, people around us: it means we care.

Better brush up on my World Geography for a start.

Monday, January 12, 2015


Better than Success

After many anniversaries together, Mike confided in me that when we first married, he had some concerns over my culinary abilities. I picture him weighing the pros and cons of me, and I imagine top of the con list was my general lack of imagination and talent in the kitchen. Sure, I could whip up a mean bowl of Success rice. My salads consisting of only iceburg lettuce and Ranch dressing were legendary. And no one could touch my mastery of the Chef-Boy-Ardee boxed pizza. (I’m not kidding on that last one. Mine were stellar.)

Now, however, I love to cook. I love to be in the kitchen with four burners going, leaving a giant counter mess in my wake. Part of the excitement is the timing, the thrill of planning for three or four pieces to come together in the prep puzzle at the exact moment. Even writing this, it makes me happy. Another part is the creativity it takes. No, it’s not like I’m the next Matisse, nor will my decision of whether to use basil or thyme change the world, but it’s just fun to play with meal ideas in general or ingredients in particular. There’s a momentary surge of delight when something new comes to mind to try, or I stumble on a recipe that I could actually tackle and my family would actually eat.

I also love to play with ideas or experiment. In my repertoire, there exist a few mommy-created dishes that have become family favorites. Mommy’s Mexican Lasagna, Mommy’s BBQ Pot Pie, Mommy’s Quiche. The amount of pride that elicits in me is downright goofy. 

Now, before I invoke images of Julia Child, let me make it clear that I cook on the most user-friendly of levels. I won’t touch a recipe if I don’t recognize words in it. I couldn’t identify chard in a line-up, and I wouldn’t even know which aisle contains truffle oil. Blanching a vegetable is beyond my capabilities, as is using a simple food processor (I prefer to chop). My meat options are primarily limited to chicken and turkey because of my daughter’s recent insensitivity to beef and my family’s dislike of most seafood (a situation I try to remedy from time to time when I feel strong enough to handle the groans that come with serving it). In fact, if you have to categorize my favorite “genre” of  food prep, it’d be more “down home cooking with a healthier flare” than gourmet, for sure. Truthfully, there’s nothing special about my meals or my cooking.

It’s just that I love it. The evolution from culinarily awkward to culinarily cocky came over time, but most notably after our daughters were born. When I was a stay-at-home mom to two babies and then two toddlers, being in the kitchen to make dinner meant being by myself for almost an hour to think, use my brain, not be responsible for anything but my creativity. I fell in love with the execution of it first; the fun of planning and the need for preparation followed. Slowly but surely I learned core “must haves,” items necessary to make up something last-minute or used in the Lynch family dishes often. Through the years, my confidence grew, as did my range of standard creations. I found that cooking was fun.

But more than that, I’m inspired by one thing and one thing alone when I cook: the response of those at the table. My nephew and niece love my cooking, which propels me to try new things for them or make their favorite dish. My brother comes for dinner a couple of times a month, and I feel compelled to provide something delish for this bachelor. For some reason, and I’m not sure what empty void this fills in me, I delight when someone says what I made tastes good. Perhaps it’s the primal urge to provide sustenance for others, or dole out love through a serving of something homemade. For whatever reason, eliciting a chorus of yummmmms makes me feel solidly accomplished, good at something important, even if for just a few minutes. I guess that’s what pride is.

Lest you fancy me a domestic goddess, let me make a couple of things clear: I leave the kitchen a hot mess, which my husband graciously helps me clean. And I am a mom, after all; there are at least two, usually three (and sometimes four, let’s be honest), when I’m too tired or too busy, so it’s leftovers or Chipotle or dollar-taco-night at the nearby Mexican restaurant. Dance carpooling at all hours will occasionally necessitate a Chic-fil-A run, and of course we revel in the “Breakfast for Dinner” plan (which is really just a parent’s ruse for having nothing in the kitchen and no brain power left with which to think). But even two good meals a week makes me happy.

All of this is relatively silly in the grand scheme of the world’s problems and solutions to fix them. Mommy’s French Toast with Caramel Sauce is not going to bring world peace or end global hunger, as much as I wish it could. It’s just that for one second last night, when Mike was cleaning up the dishes and proclaimed, “That was really, really good, hon” and the girls echoed in agreement, I felt that primal, prideful joy. The kind that encourages me to keep trying, keep shopping in crowded grocery stores, spending way too much money on organic foods, keep planning and doing in the kitchen. Keep filling my babies’ bellies for as long as I can.

Sunday, January 11, 2015


People in your Neighborhood

For a second today, I got a glimpse of the future. Or so I hope.

After my haircut, I wanted to get something to eat for lunch. In a bustling little corner of Richmond, commonly referred to as Libbie and Grove (the primary streets that cross there), lies a perfect tiny, old-fashioned grocery store called Libbie Market. I like it so much because deep-down I fancy myself as a big-city girl, and when I walk inside Libbie Market I can imagine that I am walking inside a corner grocery in New York City. Libbie Market is bigger than that, but just barely. Packed with yummy pre-made foods, all sorts of sundries (organic and not), and local neighbors, it just feels good in there. 

Part of the reason is that the people are just so gosh-darn nice. Busy, but nice. Both employees and customers, who represent an assortment of the nearby neighborhoods and schools: preppy teens from the nearby girls’ school, sharp looking gents from the boys’ school down the road. A couple of business folks wander in for lunch and out of their small offices that are typically old, converted homes. And pristinely dressed old people. Lots of adorable, friendly old people who look like they’re out on their day’s adventure, with nowhere else to be any time soon. They linger in the aisles and in the small cafe, seated in some of the handful of tables, reading or chatting with neighbors or just sipping their coffee. 

They are my favorite customers to watch while I wait for my sandwich to be made. While I am tempted to check my phone for texts or open my email to be productive in my few minutes before I head back to work, they are not tethered to such devices or obligations. For a moment, I think of times gone by, and it makes me nostalgic for a grown-up life I never led, just observed. My grandparents sitting and talking at their kitchen table or my mom reading and watching soaps for hours on end. What would it be like to be without all of this modern technology that leads my life? To have to stay home if I’m expecting a call? To have to reach out to folks for actual conversation instead of a brief text that disappears into nothingness with a single “delete?” I imagine it would be a little something like walking into the Libbie Market.

As I hustled out, I walked through the tiny cafe area, through a crowd of lunchers. Suddenly I heard singing, and it took me by surprise. I turned to see three or four tiny tables pushed together and a group of older women, perhaps in their late seventies, huddled closely in the crowded room. The eight or so women were singing a soft rendition of “Happy Birthday” to a blushing woman who sat in the middle of the table. She shook her head in embarrassment, which caused girlish giggles from the occupants surrounding her. The ladies were dressed in their birthday-lunch finest, hair perfectly coiffed, smiling broadly. One even clapped in time. 

They were close, you could tell. How much had they been through together? How much had they seen, done, felt, worried about, celebrated, lived? In that moment, I thought of my friends, those who make up my world today--neighbors who bring a little bit of love into every passing in Food Lion or school parking lot or Friday night wine session. It made me happy to hope for future lunches with my silver-haired friends.

I walked through their party and into the rush of cold air outside, feeling a bit warmer.

Friday, January 9, 2015


Since she was about two years old, my younger daughter Cammie and I could communicate without words.

Wait. That sounds a little stranger than I mean it. What I’m trying to say is that she can read my mind and I can read hers.

That didn’t help. Still sounding a bit crazy-lady.  But it’s true. It’s not all the time, and it’s certainly not to a Twilight Zone level of eeriness. It’s just really, really cool. Sometimes I know what she’s thinking just by the look on her face; that’s the most ordinary way our telepathy occurs. She knows how I’ll react to a comment, a jerk in traffic, a joke on Jimmy Fallon. I know what she’ll think about a certain movie preview, or how scared she is about an upcoming performance, no matter how much she tries to hide it.

All of that sounds pretty normal, natural for a mother and daughter who are as close as I’d like to think we are. Those kinds of nuances, moments of connection, are really just how well we know each other, how similarly we think, how deeply we feel. But the strangest part is this: our connection, our super-duper mind-reading capabilities are more complex than that. In fact, they can be downright creepy every once in a while. 

However, I love these little moments we share, and I treasure their sporadic nature. Out of the blue, I’ll ask, “Did you . . . “ and she will say, “Yes, yesterday,” answering correctly before I even asked the question. We will see something on the street while driving around the ‘hood, and it will remind both of us of something that happened in another city at another time ages ago, and we’ll both start talking about it at once.

One time, to test the reality of this zany form of communication, I asked a five-year-old Cammie, tucked in her booster in the back of the minivan, to play along with me:

“Cam, I’m going to think of someone in the world. Anyone. Famous or not. Anyone at all. Think for a second and tell me who you think of.”

I crunched my brain cells together hard and thought of her pediatrician. We hadn’t seen him in months, so I knew I was safe. No way she'd get this. I knew she’d say Laurie Berkner, the children’s singer, or Daddy, or the Wiggle in the yellow shirt.

“Um. Dr. Rowe?” she said loudly, answering in the form of a question.

I almost swerved off the highway. I can still remember the exact spot where she took all words out of my mouth.

We’ve not shared any crazy random connection like that ever since (and believe me, we’ve tried repeatedly), but you get the idea. She can read me like no one else, and she’s only thirteen years old. Sometimes, she guesses at what is making me tick at a given moment, and she’s off, but that’s rare, and she’s usually in the right ball park. Same is true for me, of course, but usually, I get it at least partly right.

Knowing what Cammie is thinking is not a mere superpower. It is a gift, even if it is one that is shared only occasionally. When that connection happens--that moment of insight when I know precisely what is worrying, delighting, antagonizing, or confusing her--I am grateful. Sometimes, it’s a lot of pressure. I feel like I need to fix or change or lighten the load or kick a bully’s ass, when really she’s just being her moody self, and I know should recognize that the moment is fleeting. When it happens the other way, and she figures out what is swishing around in me at a given moment, I feel good, understood. She will fill in my sentences or get frustrated with me before I speak, or we will crack up in absolute silence. And I just love it. It’s a soothing constant, a secret between us, a blessing. It is safety.

Last night, we shared a look. We were sitting close in a high school auditorium, watching fine arts dance students perform for rising freshmen. Our elbows touched lightly as we shared the armrest, and the room was lit only with the lights from the stage. All of a sudden, I turned to her and she to me. I could see her eyes, although their hazel was dim, and she mine. We smiled soft, tiny smiles, and in that moment, I swear I felt my heart open. I knew we were doing it, having one of those moments, one of those seconds in which we say everything and nothing at all. 

We smiled, we said it, we looked back at the stage and the moment passed. While I can’t be sure of the exact transcript, and I haven’t even spoken with her about this moment yet, I think it went a little something like this . . . 

I can’t believe you’re going to high school, my baby. I can’t believe we’re here.

I know, mom. I know.

I think this hurts a little.

I know, mom. I know.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


This will be a brief one, for a variety of mundane, exhausted-mommy-related reasons, not the least of which is that it’s 17 degrees outside (windchill of 4, thank you very much), and my warm bed and snuggly dog are calling my name.

Actually, it’s the dog I want to talk about, about a second shared with him today that tugged at my heartstrings a bit. I’m sure that, following my exciting life the way you must be compelled to do, you read about the cat guest we had in our home yesterday. It appears that my slightly neurotic, keenly anxious dog, Fergus, may have fallen in love. And now that she’s found her right place in the world again, he’s sad.

This morning, upon picking up the kitty at the vet and before her owner picked her up, we made a little kitty suite out of our upstairs bathroom. This bathroom gets few visitors, because it’s on the third floor, tucked around a corner. It’s big and bright and a nice warm spot for a temporarily homeless kitty. We made the mistake of letting Fergus accompany her up to her new digs (which she occupied all of 45 minutes). Because Fergus is the most intelligent canine on the planet (ask anyone), he remembered that’s where she was . . . all day.

I first discovered his lonesome pining when I got home from work and couldn’t find my sweet boy. Odd that he wasn’t greeting me at the door with gallops and spins. So I called him. Did not come running. Also odd. Went upstairs. Nothing. Finally, I heard the quiet jingle of his collar coming from the 3rd-floor landing where Fergus had planted himself, outside the closed door, waiting for his lost love. My older daughter found him up there earlier this evening, and my husband did just now. 

Poor Fergus. His lady love has disappeared. 

Just that second, finding him waiting outside a closed door, reminded me of a fact that once seemed silly to me: Dogs feel love. Perhaps in this case, it was simply intrigue (a mysterious lady all in black swooping in with all sorts of fancy smells and sounds is bound to wrap a boy’s brain in knots). But there’ve been a thousand times over the past six years when I’ve looked into his goopy little eyes and known that he loves me. Loves all of his humans. 

This amazes me. Dog lovers may be shrugging their shoulders, having known this for years, but it’s all new to me, because I’ve never loved a dog before. At the best, I tolerated them, and at the worst, their saliva created a wide assortment of hives all over me. The smell, the shedding, the licking . . . just never had an appeal. Until we invested our time, money, and hearts into welcoming our little hypoallergenic hero into our lives.

Fergus is so much a part of our family that none of us remember what it was like without him. His capacity to give and receive affection can save the crappiest day. What would we do without his crooked smile, nasty breath, and wet kisses? As all dog owners know, there’s nothing like coming home to a dog; be it a five-hour trip or a five-minute walk, the joy that awaits your return makes you feel like the most loved person on earth. 

Unless you’re a cat. Then you’ll have to settle for just knowing that a little lover is on the other side of a door down the street, pining away. Kitty, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


So, today I kidnapped a cat. 

It started while my older daughter and I were unloading groceries in the late afternoon “arctic megablastinator” or whatever the current meteorological name is for bitter cold. Ky, extremely cautious about most furry creatures, stated, “There’s meowing!” I had to ask her three times what the heck she was saying before I heard it too: repeated meowing coming from somewhere in our detached garage. Clearly, there was a little animal trapped inside. 

It was getting more and more blastinatious outside, so I sprang into superhero action quickly. I will spare you all the details of the stressful four or five hours that followed, mainly because there’s a lot to write and I'm still feeling a bit fragile, but they involved the following:

beautiful black kitty came to me instantly. . . she was a lover, a purrer, and a nudger . . .Fergus, the dog afraid of his own shadow, even liked her, and they followed each other around downstairs . . .panic set in as I realized, Holy Crap, I have a cat in my house and a daughter whose allergy will send her little asthmatic lungs into a state of chaotic phlegm . . . hives started forming on my forearms and legs because I guess I’m a little more allergic than I thought, too . . . sun was setting, things were closing, and I was at a loss . . . 

contacted HOA, sent them a picture, did same with Facebook. . . . feeling a little panicky, sent a more urgent Facebook request asking for advice from cat-loving friends . . . took the cat on a ride around my neighborhood to see if anyone was cat hunting in the freezing dusk . . . then, out of desperation and with the advice of a friend, took it to my vet.

I will most definitely leave out details there, because, well, it wasn’t that pleasant. The front desk folks did not share my concern, or so it seemed, and I definitely got the feeling that I was intruding. No, they could not keep her overnight. It wasn’t their policy. They searched her for a chip, then advised me to call Animal Control.

Like a mature, intelligent, and rational 45-year-old, I then begin crying with a shaking, nervous cat in my arms (hives be damned). Where was I to put this cat when I couldn’t keep her? Finally, they must’ve felt sorry for me and figured it was time for my meds, because they agreed to keep her, but only until 7:30 in the morning. They left me with a half-ass, “good luck.”

Thank God my friends on Facebook and in real life were much sweeter and could sympathize with the inner crazy cat lady I had chosen to discover as the sun set. Peeps were checking on the situation via text and offering advice on my post. One friend assured me, absolutely, that the cat could die in temps like we’re expecting tonight (below freezing with wind chill), and that was all I needed to hear. I still felt tense but had more of a sense that things were going to be alright.

My brother came over for dinner, and that was great. A glass of wine helped, too, but still, I was unsettled. What the hell was I going to do at 7:31 a.m. Could I call in to work saying, “Um. Can’t come in. Have a cat.” That didn’t seem like an option. Homework help was being requested, dishes were piling up undone, Christmas and Hanukkah gifts to open were being ignored. It all felt a tad zany. Thank goodness Facebook friends were chiming in with ideas, making me feel more normal and less like I had just stolen a cat and ruined its life. 

And thank goodness for number THREE: the second a stranger offered to help.

A text came in from a number I don’t know; she had gotten my information off the neighborhood email that was circulating about our little Kitty (now a capital K). She asked if I had found a place for her. I told her I had for the night. We exchanged quite a few texts about what I was going to do next and I started getting a little anxious all over again. Then she informed me, simply, that she’d bring me a spare litter box, kitty litter, and food, just in case I needed to keep her for a bit in my laundry room or in some Survivor-inspired tent construction I imagined myself having to whip up the next morning.

This stranger showed up just as the temps were entering the teens, wind rattling the kitty litter and food bags she juggled up the steps. Lisa lives in another neighborhood in our subdivision, one that goes to a different group of schools. I didn’t know her and she didn’t know me. But I greeted her like I needed her. And you know what? I did. Her kindness, the act of reaching out to a random stranger to help a cold animal, was exactly what I knew I needed to sleep tonight. If I have to shove that poor little kidnapped cat in a bathroom or wherever tomorrow for a temporary fix, I’ll make her a comfy bed, and she’ll be able to eat and poop to her heart’s content. All thanks to Lisa.

The second we connected, Lisa showed such kindness and selflessness that, when I shut the door a few minutes later, I knew I had learned something great. 

I can’t really put it into words right now, but I know it had something to do with helping others, strangers or not. And memories of Kitty’s warm purring next to my ear made the hives, juvenile tears, and melodrama nothing more than whispers of an eventful evening.

Lisa put things into perspective. No catastrophe after all. 

(Get it? I’ll be here all year.)