Tuesday, February 14, 2017

February 14

Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you had a nice one. Tonight, instead of romance, Alexi and I divided and conquered homework and hockey practice duties, though we did celebrate over the weekend. And this morning I made heart-shaped biscuits, along with eggs and bacon, for breakfast. In this house, nothing says I love you like bacon.

Speaking of love, a few days ago Alexi and I attended a party to celebrate the release of my friend Sarah Jio’s eighth (!) book, Always, which is about love in Seattle in the nineties. It will be my airplane read later this week.

Sarah and I became friends through blogging. After I mentioned that I have a BRCA1 gene mutation, she interviewed me about it for her Glamour column. I talked about my experiences with breast cancer that led to the discovery of my cancer gene and the preventive surgical choices I made, but not about the terror that sometimes still filled me whenever I had an unexpected pain somewhere, or noticed anything that might be abnormal about my body. At the party I remembered how I'd felt at the time of that interview, in 2009, a few years after my BRCA1 diagnosis. Now, I can’t remember the last time I felt afraid.

Alexi and I started dating just after Valentine’s Day in 1998. This picture was taken a few months later. You wouldn’t know it from looking at us, but I’d just learned that I had a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer. We were on the ferry because Alexi and his father, who was visiting from Nova Scotia, were going fishing. We traveled across Puget Sound and then through rain forest and alongside miles of primeval shoreline, finally arriving at the motel where they would be staying. I returned home in order to meet my oncologist the next morning; they spent the night in Forks, Washington and then fished the Bogachiel River with a Native American guide in his drift boat. A few days after they got back, I had surgery and then a month after that, I began chemotherapy. After my hair fell out, Alexi shaved his head and kept it that way until mine grew back. Seven years later, we went through it together again, this time with a baby and a toddler. I’ve learned that life isn’t about avoiding hardship; it’s about creating meaning in the circumstances you find yourself in.

In our years together Alexi and I have experienced long, uneventful stretches of everyday life, times of dislocation and crisis, and bursts of joy. This year, for the first time, our oldest son, Abbott, celebrated Valentine’s Day with someone outside our family. I feel a catch in my throat when I think about what he doesn’t yet know about love.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

that part of the story

Yesterday afternoon Cal’s homework was to come up with a word prompt for each letter of the alphabet for something he could tell a short personal story about. His list began like this:

Doctor (telling about NHL)
Eagles nest
First time to grandma’s cabin (cow poop)

The next step of the assignment will be to write some of those stories. I can’t wait to read his work.

The other day I realized that the school year is more than half over – how did that happen?!? I was thinking about Cal’s first week of middle school, and the night when he was enraged with me because of the binder I’d bought him: it had been difficult to set up in class, very embarrassing, and nobody else had one like it. He said he just wanted to be “normal.” I fumbled my way through soothing him, trying also to get across why it’s important not to worry too much about being like everyone else. I hope the experience of writing about his life, and hearing his classmates' stories, reinforces for him that it’s ok, more than ok, to be himself. And I hope that he always has people in his life who accept him as he is.

My aunt Doris is one of the people who does that for me. She’s the second from the left in this picture, next to my grandmother Lorene. To her right is my dad, then my uncle John, then my grandfather Bill, my aunt Linda, and my uncle Donald.

Doris met her husband, Roger, because he lived two doors down from her. He saw her coming and going and wanted to meet her; one day he worked up the courage to ask her to go bowling. They got married on February 26, 1961, and moved from Texas to Colorado. Their house sits on what used to be a sunflower field, and in the summer sunflowers still volunteer all over the neighborhood.

It was around the time I started this blog that I really got to know Doris, and by extension, Roger. She used to email me their responses every time I posted something. Now we mostly text. I send her pictures and updates, usually about the boys; she sends me news about my cousins and their kids, and what she and Roger have been up to, and commentary about whatever sporting event they saw that day (“Watched Texas Tech TCU football game in Ft Worth. Both teams needed their try not to suck t-shirts on...”). She’s the only person I hear from every day, aside from my spouse and kids. She has – they have – helped me keep things in perspective as I'm parenting, offering the long view about what matters, and what doesn't.

I took this picture when they came to see us, in 2011, at the beginning of hockey season. I love that they got to see the boys play.

Doris once wrote, when I asked what they were up to, “Roger and I are just being retired. Best part of life, except you're old.” She makes me look forward to being old with Alexi. They grew old inseparably together, traveling and watching sports and spending time with their family, but I always pictured them growing older together.

Roger’s health declined over the past couple of years, and then almost exactly a month ago, he fell and was admitted to the hospital. Although it sounded bad from the day he got there, I tried not to think too much about anything except his getting better. But he never left the hospital. On Monday morning, February 6, Roger passed away, with his family around him.

I hope, when I'm gone, I'll be known for having made Alexi as happy as Roger made Doris; for being as involved in the lives of my children and grandchildren as he was with his. One of the albums I used to listen to when I was Cal's age has a song I've thought about a lot the past couple of days.

I know all your life you wondered
about that step we all take alone –
How far does the spirit travel on the journey?
You must surely be near heaven
and it thrills me to the bone
to know Daddy knows the great unknown.
-- Rick Springfield

I like thinking about Roger knowing that part of the story none of the rest of us knows yet.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Women's March

Did you march on Saturday? What was it like for you? It was an incredible weekend, people taking to the streets everywhere. Did you see this inspiring slideshow of marches around the world?

As I was buying a posterboard the day before, my cashier asked if I was planning to attend the March. When I said yes, she thanked me, and my eyes welled. Leaving the store, I noticed another woman in the checkout line holding a white and a pink poster.

Early-ish Saturday morning, I drove to my friend Aran’s house and we headed to the starting point together, where we met up with a group of friends. People were pouring out of buses and the light rail as we arrived, well in advance of the start time. Friends who live on Vashon and Bainbridge Islands sent pictures of their packed ferries enroute, a sea of people in pink hats.

It was chilly and drizzling as we waited, typical Seattle-in-winter. But the crowd was buzzing with energy, and there was a pervasive sense of positivity and hope that I hadn't felt since the election.

As we began walking the sun broke through the clouds and shone brightly (I'm not making this up!), and the bells rang out from a church just outside Judkins Park. Seattle’s mayor, Ed Murray, and Washington’s governor, Jay Inslee, were present, along with about 175,000 others. Being a part of this throng of people was exhilarating and also incredibly moving. Everyone we encountered was respectful and warm. Cell phone service flickered in and out; I kept taking videos that I texted to Alexi and the boys whenever I could.

Seattle's March concluded at the Space Needle. As we got coffee and rested, we watched people take selfies and group pictures, and laughed at some of the signs we saw. I didn't want it to end.

Moving forward:

Jerry Brown’s State of the State address. Just what I needed to hear today, feeling gutted by what's happening in our country. "California is not turning back. Not now, not ever."

The Indivisible Guide.

The organizers of the Women’s March in D.C. have launched a campaign, “10 Actions in 100 Days,” with suggested acts of civic engagement. First up: “Write a postcard to your senators about what matters most to you — and how you’re going to continue to fight for it in the days, weeks and months ahead.”

How to follow the news.

Thanks, Jenna Wortham, for this.


Friday, January 13, 2017

January 13

Tomorrow morning, Abbott and I will leave the neighborhood while stars still glimmer overhead. His hockey team plays in a Canadian league; most Saturdays since October we’ve been on the road. (Alexi helps coach Cal’s hockey team here in Seattle while we’re gone.) For three weeks running, I’ve made a batch of these muffins to take with us.

It’s a lot of time in the car, but it’s okay. I’m used to it: I’ve been taking road trips through Canada since I was seven, when my family moved to Alaska from Texas before audio books, and all I had to amuse myself with for 4000 miles was a Strawberry Shortcake scratch and sniff sticker book. And we eat well in British Columbia: kimchi poutine and a lot of butter chicken. And I hear from Abbott in a way I wouldn’t, otherwise, if we were home, getting things done in separate corners of the house; about how it felt when he asked someone to go to the dance with him and she said yes, and how easy and fun it was for them to be together, and how they danced until they were sweaty and then how they drank milk from the machines in the school cafeteria when they got thirsty.

On one of our recent trips we watched a Canucks game. It was days after George Michael’s death, and before the game began Faith reverberated through Rogers Arena, and tears ran down my cheeks. My teenage life was set to the soundtrack of George Michael and the other greats of the late eighties. When I watched him on MTV in my basement in North Pole, Alaska I hadn’t yet been in love, or even had a boyfriend, so I could only imagine most of what he sang about; feeling big feelings without really knowing why.

Last Saturday was one of the best days I can remember. In between Abbott’s two games we drove through spare landscape and snowy, fallow farmland to visit a bird sanctuary on the Fraser River estuary. In the dimming daylight, we watched ducks slipping and sliding as they landed on the frozen water, and fed the waterfowl right from our hands.

Happy Friday, everyone. I hope you and yours are well.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

the happiest

It’s been nine years since we moved into our house.

On Christmas Day, I realized this has been my home longer than anyplace else. We wandered to the eagles’ nest about a half mile down the road just as the light was starting to fade, and perched on nearby branches in the freezing stillness were the two resident eagles. After I described how they’re always near the nest at dusk, my brother-in-law asked how long we’ve been here. This place determines the rhythm of my daily existence and has worn tracks in my consciousness.

When we moved nine years ago, I was recovering from surgery. I’d had my ovaries removed to reduce my risk of cancer, because I'd learned I have a BRCA1 gene mutation. I still remember what fear closing in feels like; the way I spun out of control before my hormone dosages were sorted out.

Nine years ago my grandmothers were still alive. I regret that they never got to visit me in this house; their days of traveling were over by the time we moved here. In the panhandle of Texas, where they lived, the sky is total. I wish I could have shown them the shapes and shades light can take when it reflects off the water.

My grandmothers would have enjoyed the ways Abbott and Cal are becoming like them. Both boys have my grandmother Lorene’s sense of humor. My grandmother Louise would have loved seeing us yesterday afternoon when we walked the beach; Mt. Rainier loomed grandly, and the city's lights were starting to twinkle, and all three of us took out our phones to take pictures, just like she always used to do.

These years, here, are the best years of my life, though they won’t be, for Abbott and Cal. They’ll find spouses and have sons or daughters, and someday in the future they’ll feel the way I do now. The happiest time in their lives, if they’re lucky, will be when they’re raising their own families.