Wings (aka: Two Poems on a Winter’s Day)

Ode to a Caterpillar

 

Oh little caterpillar

who brought such color to the world!

How I remember

tiny fingers grasping

heavy Mason glass

swift

ready to catch, to observe

the free ones

the ones with wings

the ones who flew.

So much you learned, as you curled

safe

in your small, loved home

until today

fragile walls tearing loose

open crack of wide, wide blue

cupped in hands

to test new wings.

Oh butterfly

this world is yours.

caterpillar-to-butterfly

 

Night Angels

 

Eyes lifted toward darkened skies

strapped warm in leather womb

hushed voices mingle with

steady drone.

There I see it

flash of copper light

brief sight of wingless angel

flying in the night.

Warm sigh

fingers pressed, cold against glass

until

once more the darkness lifts

and angel glows.

One by one

on tall, steel legs

they dance

across the stars

halos burning in bronze glory

as my lashes droop

beneath watchful eyes.

street-lamps-shining

Roller Skates in the Kitchen (aka: The Late Bloomer)

old-fashioned roller skatesMy daughter is trying out her new roller skates in the kitchen. “You know Mom,” she says as she whizzes past me, “most moms don’t let their kids roller skate in the house.”

“They don’t?” I say, frowning. “Why on earth not?” For a brief moment, I feel a tug of concern. Maybe there is some good reason why other moms wouldn’t be okay with their teen roller skating in the house. But geez…if I had just gotten new skates for Christmas, then I would be skating in the kitchen, too!

It happens all the time. One of my teens will look my way with raised eyebrows and point out how “Other kids’ moms don’t watch Vampire Diaries.” “Other kids’ moms don’t do cartwheels at the park.” “Other kids’ moms don’t play video games/let their kids eat cookies for breakfast/play Nerf ball catch with their teenage sons.” My kids don’t mind, though. They rather like having a mom who’s like a teenager. A very mature, sophisticated, and responsible teenager, I must add.

I have always been a late bloomer. I played with dolls until I was fourteen.  I didn’t learn to drive until I was twenty-six years old. Although I had several so-called high school “boyfriends,” I went on my first real, actual date when I met my now ex-husband, during my third year of university.

Leo the late Bloomer childrens book

I’m not sure why I progress through life at such a slow pace, clinging to youthful interests. Maybe it is arrested development, due to fear of the unknown world of grownups. Maybe it is a genetic tendency — some biological indicator of slow aging. Or maybe it’s just that being young at heart makes life so much fun.

Aldous Huxley Secret of Genius quote

When I allow my inner child to roam free, I feel more content, at ease, and connected with life. If growing up means sitting in the sand and staring at the sea, then I would rather join the kids, shrieking and splashing as we jump and surf in the waves. If I must join the throngs of grownups in the dull, grey world, then I will be the one wearing a rainbow-colored dress, covertly throwing paper airplanes into the crowd.
I know, I sound like a female Peter Pan. And in a way, I suppose I am. I will never be like the “other kids’ moms” if that means I must leave behind that magical world of youthful fantasy. Why must I, when life is so much richer, and so much more adventurous when I balance with one foot in the grown-up world and one foot in Neverland?

I am a late bloomer. That is who I am. My kids are late bloomers too, I think, and that’s okay by me. Know why? Because the rose that blooms early also wilts early. And I have no intention of wilting anytime soon.

Never Grow Up Not Me

 

Rich Kids Had Disney Channel (aka: I Wanted My MTV)

1980s Television*Old lady voice* Back in the olden days, when boys wore mullets and girls pumped their bangs six inches high, my friends and I were hooked on two amazing new-fangled inventions. No, not the Wheel (very funny, kids). No, not velcro sneakers. More amazing. No, not personal computers…okay, a lot less amazing than that. Give up?

See, back in those days, cable TV is what separated the Haves from the Have-nots. Pretty much everyone watched the same cartoons and sitcoms on network TV, or were maybe lucky enough to subscribe to HBO or Showtime. But at school, we gathered around the rich kids, our envious ears drinking in every morsel of their adventures with the cable channel only rich kids could afford – The Disney Channel. Oh sure, we sang along to Kids Incorporated. But we all knew that it was little more than a shallow imitation of the Mickey Mouse Club.

rich kids Disney channel 80sThen suddenly, thanks to the violent public riots and cries of “I want my MTV!” (Okay, maybe there weren’t any riots. Hard to remember — I was pretty young.) all the not-so-rich schoolkids became hooked on the two best channels ever – Nickelodeon, and his wild-and-crazy big sister, MTV.

At last! At last! We could run home from school and be entertained by green-slime-dumping shows like Double Dare and You Can’t Do That On Television. And…and…okay, that was pretty much it, since in those days, Nickelodeon had super lame shows, like Spartacus and Star Trek the Animated Series. Then at 5:00 each evening, Nick transformed into this kooky black-and-white world of Mr. Ed, The Donna Reed Show, and some show about identical cousins.

So yeah…sadly, those were not Nickelodeon’s best years.

I want my mtvMTV, however, was another story. Back then, MTV lived up to its name. It was all about music, all the time. After school meant the hottest music video countdown with V.J.s like Pauly Shore (Yeah buuuud-dy!), Adam “Amazing Hair” Curry, Julie “Wubba Wubba Wubba” Brown, and the other Julie Brown, who was witness to the great Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun massacre of 1980-something. Our fresh, gold-medal-wearing hip-hop crowd got to jump around the Yo! MTV Raps! And my hard rocker friends and I got to rock out to Headbanger’s Ball. And every New Year’s Eve, without fail, my friends and I would flip on the Top 100 Videos of All Time, even though they always ended with Michael Jackson Thriller.

But now, I don’t think anybody really wants their MTV anymore.

Now don’t take me wrong – I’m not the type to look back on the 80’s and call them The Good Ol’ Days, when everything was better. Honestly, every decade has its share of things excellent and bogus. Just look at Nickelodeon’s glorious conversion during the semi-recent Jimmy Neutron and Spongebob Squarepants era. MTV, however, seems to have lost its soul. Turn it on today, and you’re likely to never see a single music video. Instead, it’s all Teen Mom and True Life reality shows. Will this sad state of affairs lead to another violent uprising led by music-starved fanatics? I only have one response to that.

I don’t know. (Cue bucket of green slime).

* My apologies to you clueless rich kids who were too busy watching Disney Channel in the 80s to get that last reference. Wubba wubba wubba!

Stranger Danger (aka: Remember the Milk Cartons)

 

missingLike most kids who grew up in the 1980’s, I was terrified of strangers. The idea was drilled into our heads by paranoid parents and teachers: STRANGER = DANGER. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t accept candy from strangers. If a stranger asks you to help him search for his missing dog, run away and tell a trusted grownup. Because if you go with a stranger, you may end up with your face on a milk carton, just like poor Etan Patz.

Remember Etan Patz? He was a cute 6 year-old kid who disappeared one morning in 1979 as he was headed to school. His disappearance shocked the nation, and started the milk carton movement. Suddenly, that carton of milk next to our morning bowls of Sugar Crisp cereal became a daily reminder to kids everywhere: Talk to strangers, and you will wind up kidnapped.

Adam Walsh 1981

Adam Walsh, who disappeared from a shopping mall in 1981. His father, John Walsh, later became the host of the television show, America’s Most Wanted. 

Kidnapped. To an 80’s kid, it was pretty much the scariest thing that could happen to you. Besides the news stories filled with sobbing parents and neighbors scouring their communities with flashlights, there were cartoon episodes, chapter books, and school assemblies training kids to be aware of their surroundings, and to act in self-defense if a stranger tries to grab you. There were after-school specials and even full-length movies about real-life kids who got kidnapped and murdered while playing, like Adam Walsh, the boy who went missing without a trace. The names of the kidnapped kids haunted us as we walked to school — Michaela Garecht, Kevin Andrew Collins, Polly Klaas.

face on the milk carton

Was there a single girl who grew up in the 80’s and didn’t read this book?

Now some would say that the whole Stranger Danger safety campaign went a little overboard. After all, the actual risk of a child being abducted by a stranger is pretty low. But thanks to media overexposure (and a ton of commercials reminding us to drink milk), we 80s kids grew up in a culture that compulsively promoted child safety, just short of locking us in the house and making us wear bubble wrap. Today, we try to be a little more relaxed than our own parents, easing off on the phobia-inducing Stranger Danger fear tactics with our kids.

Most of the time, I feel as though I’ve struck just the right balance of educating my kids to be stranger-aware. However, just the other day, my 10 year-old nearly gave me a heart attack. While out riding his bicycle in our neighborhood, he suffered a small crash and scraped his elbow against the pavement. In tears, he called me from a concerned stranger’s cell phone to inform me of what had happened. prevent child abduction

“Wait…whose cell phone?” I asked.

A stranger. And not just a stranger…a strange man who got out of his car and offered a cell phone. Those familiar feelings of childhood panic rose to my throat. My kid did not have proper Stranger Danger training. What if the stranger had been one of the bad guys who steal kids? My little guy’s face could have ended up on a milk carton.

And so, after we’d had a chance to clean up his scraped elbow, I sat my kid down for a good old-fashioned 1980’s fear tactic lesson on the danger of strangers and wolves in sheep’s clothing. It went something like this: If you are away from home and absolutely need help, and there is no police officer, security guard, teacher, or other trusted adult, then this is how to regard strangers:

Green Light: A mom with kids.

Yellow Light: A woman (older women, like grandmothers, because you can outrun them).

Red Light: Men. Just no. Run away.

Stranger Danger

Perhaps some people will consider this type of training to be over-the-top by 2015 standards. But I know that I am not the only grown-up child of the 80’s who still remembers what happened to Kevin Collins. Adam Walsh. Michaela Garecht. Polly Klaas. And many other unfortunate kids whose childhood was stolen from them. In memory of those kids, and of their families whose lives were ripped apart, I would rather pass on such safety lessons to the next generation, so that we will see a lot fewer kids’ faces on milk cartons, and a lot more outside, playing and riding their bikes.

 

Top Ten (aka: Handwritten Letters to C.J.B.)

Letters CJB (2)

Dear C.J.B.,

Remember me? Tiare/J.K./Princess? The girl you met at a forensics speech team competition in the Bay Area when we were sophomores at different colleges? The girl with the strange tendency to break out singing girl scout songs and commercial jingles, or quoting Shakespeare in a British accent?

I found your letters today.

There are so many. Dozens of letters, resting in their envelopes. All hand-written on paper in your familiar handwriting. All filled with little side notes and underlines and funny quips and movie quotes. Remember? We wrote about a little of everything, and a lot of nothing. Politics, school, Bruce Li. My obnoxious college roommates, and your family and Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Our faith, our friends, our life goals, and shallow TV shows.

Remember the letters I sent you? I wonder if you kept any. I know, I know..I went a little overboard by writing in every existing color of ballpoint pen, or using colorful stationary and confetti in every envelope. And I snet you stories, and poems, and shared every detail of my life as an independent 17/18/19-year old. But you went overboard, too. My favorite is the letter with the stick of chewing gum taped to the top (“Before you start reading, have a piece of gum.”). I also loved the doodles, and the corny jokes, and the way you wrote my name in a zillion silly different ways (“Dear Erait…”). When I was a counselor at camp one summer, you sent me a newspaper clipping every week of David Letterman’s Top Ten. Oh, they made me laugh so hard! This one was my favorite:

Top Ten Rejected Titles for the Movie ‘Speed’ – June 21, 1994

10. The Speedstones
9. Jurassic Park 2: The Exploding Busosaurus
8. Honey, I Drove the Kids Really Fast on a Bus
7. Faster, Bob Barker is Chasing Us!
6. Creepy Guy in the Window
5. Debbie Does Greyhound (Times Square Only)
4. El Autobus Muy, Muy Rapido
3. Dave Letterman’s Drive to Work
2. That Whacky Big-Ass Bus
1. Mrs. Busfire
Remember the few times we managed to get together in person? That time at Fisherman’s Wharf, when you gave me that adorable teddy bear, whom I named C.J. after you. And we visited all of the little cheesy touristy places, like the Earthquake Experience? And that time when I showed up, unannounced (how rude!) at your house in the city, along with several of my Girl Scout camp counselor friends, and met your family and (sweet) dog? And when you and my sister dragged me to that Star Trek exhibit. Oh my god! I totally forgot what a Trekkie you were, although you didn’t seem nerdy in the least. You even managed to talk me into trading shows with you — if I watched Star Trek the Next Generation, then you would drop your pride and watch Melrose Place. The hilarious thing is that I ended up (not hating) STTNG, and you became crazy about Melrose Place. (!)

I am sitting in my bed, filled with nostalgia, and smiling at the memories. You were one of my best friends. One of the few people who really got me — who looked beyond my unusual surface and saw a gem. And you were a gem to me, my old friend. You and your Jeet Kune Do and action movies and being an overachiever. I know…life changes. You are a successful lawyer now, just like you said you would become. And your wife is a brilliant doctor, and your daughters are absolute dolls. I could not feel more happy for you, and for how your life turned out. I will keep your letters, and the way you made me feel, forever. You were, without a doubt, one of my Top Ten.

Live Long and Prosper,

That Tiare Girl

Blue Candy Canes (aka: The Sophisticated Christmas Tree)

Playmobil train“This year,” said my two oldest kids, “we want a sophisticated Christmas tree. Not a kiddie tree.” Apparently, a kiddie tree is the type we have had every year since forever – a neon-bright mishmash of kid-made ornaments, mismatched balls, and twinkling colored lights, complete with a Playmobil electric train zipping around the base. And candy canes – lots and lots of traditional, red-and-white candy canes, for snacking on during the days leading up to Christmas.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “Our tree has always looked so lovely. And we have so many fun ornaments.”

“We’re sure,” said the kids. And so, we went out to purchase new sophisticated ornaments. Instead of plastic reindeer and smiling Santas, we adorned our tree with delicate bulbs and glass trinkets, all nature-themed and color-coordinated. If it wasn’t silver, gold, white, or blue, it was not allowed to hang on our branches. Our fragrant noble fir had been transformed into the beautiful snob-girl of Christmas trees. sophisticated Xmas decorations

The tree is as lovely as ever. But I must admit that my heart twisted just a little to see it. Yes, I know. Time marches on. Children grow up. Nothing can remain the same. And it was only a matter of time before my kids would begin to venture out of Neverland, and stop hearing Santa Claus’s magical sleigh bells. We still sang the old carols and decked the halls. We still munched on kettle corn and sipped mugs of thick hot cocoa. Our home is still filled with Christmas – but everything is somehow different. And our grown-up Christmas tree is a wistful reminder that childhood does not last forever.

“Wait! We forgot something,” said my fifteen year-old, studying the tree. “Where are the candy canes?” His smile faded as I explained to him that candy canes belonged on kiddie trees, not sophisticated trees. “Well,” he said after a moment’s thought, “maybe it’s okay if our tree is a little bit kiddie.”

blue and silver tree

This is not really our tree. But it looks very similar. Minus the sea horses.

My heart did a happy cartwheel. All is not lost. Tomorrow, I plan to purchase a couple of boxes of candy canes (blue, of course). Then maybe, I will try and talk the kids into setting up the non-sophisticated Playmobil electric train around the base of the Christmas tree, too. For old time’s sake.

I Feel the Earth Move (aka: California Earthquakes)

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love living in the state of California. There is so much to love about my state – from the breathtaking scenery to the world-class cities, our Hollywood legacy, Disneyland, amazing wines, and even our quirky politics (How many other states can claim that they’ve had both a U.S. president and the Terminator as governor at some point?). Now I know, there are some people out there who are perfectly happy living in cornfields in the middle of nowhere, who think of California and shudder. “But California is so expensive and snooty! And think of the earthquakes!” And okay, yes, you have to pretty much be rich to move here. But I swear that we Californians are not snooty! (Okay fine, maybe the SoCal people are on the pretentious side). But to avoid California for the earthquakes? Come on, where’s your sense of adventure?

“I lived through the Great Loma Prieta Quake of 1989.”

“Oh yeah? Well, I lived through Loma Prieta and the Northridge Quake!”

We Californians wear our earthquakes like scout badges. We love to swap stories about where we were and what we did during each quake. And of course, there are extra points if you managed to ride it out with the same level of cool indifference as the characters in the movie L.A. Story. “Oh please, that quake was barely a 5.0 on the Richter Scale. I slept right through it!”

I have lived through around a half dozen noticeable earthquakes in my life. Most of them were the usual small tremors that strike the Bay Area from time to time, like thunderstorms. Such small quakes did nothing more than cause the walls to shudder and the chandelier to swing back and forth for a few minutes. Big whoop. But then came the Great Loma Prieta Quake. Now that was memorable. Every Northern Californian you meet will have some great story to tell about what they were doing the day of that big earthquake. Epicenter of 1989 Loma Prieta Quake

Let’s see…it was late in the afternoon, and I was in my high school theater, rehearsing for an upcoming musical. Suddenly, the stage floor began to shift, and the lights above our heads quivered dangerously. “Everyone out of the theater! Now!” came our director’s voice. He didn’t have to tell us twice. Everyone in the cast raced outside.

“Wow, it’s like surfing!” someone said. Sure enough, our paved high school corridors were rolling like ocean waves. Forget all that earthquake safety training. We did not drop to the ground and cover our heads. We held out our arms for balance and rode the waves, cheering with enthusiasm. Earthquakes were so awesome! It was almost disappointing when the tremors subsided.  Earthquake Safety Rulesimage

My friends and I headed home on the public bus, chattering with excitement about what had just happened, and singing at the top of our lungs:

I feel the earth move under my feet
I feel the sky tumbling down…

I arrived home, still smiling, and ready to watch the next game in the World Series. At the time, I was a huge Oakland A’s fan, and I was hoping to see them crush the San Francisco Giants and win the series. However, when I turned on the television, there was no baseball game. It seemed that, while my friends and I were busy surfing and singing, the rest of the Bay Area had erupted into chaos. Candlestick Park had been evacuated. Buildings had crumbled. A section of the Bay Bridge had snapped. And the worst part: a mile-long section of the Cypress Freeway had collapsed, trapping hundreds of drivers in the rubble. Collapse of Cypress/Nimitz Freeway

Just like that, the Big Quake stopped being awesome. There’s nothing fun about seeing people get injured or killed. This was far worse than some quivering walls or swinging light fixtures. It was like Mother Nature had attacked our home with a natural bomb. Luckily for our family, my father, by some miracle, had decided to commute home by way of the Golden Gate Bridge that evening, or he, too, may have gotten caught in
the rubble of the Cypress Freeway. But many other people were not so lucky.

Okay, maybe I am not helping to paint a positive image of California here. Oh boy – killer earthquakes and broken freeways! Okay yes, sometimes…but hey, we still have Disneyland. And great beaches, and redwood trees – mustn’t forget those. And amazing wines – although the Napa Valley, where those wines are produced, was just hit pretty hard by a 6.0 earthquake two days ago. Where was I when that big quake hit? Oh, well, I slept right through it. Extra points for me.