Dear Girls: On Being Brave

Dear Girls,

Last week I took you for a check up at the doctor’s office and you both got a few shots. Picture me sitting on the exam table one of you in each of my arms, clinging to me, hot and sweaty with tears and quaking sobs. My heart both breaks and swells into a million pieces in those moments, so strong is the love I have for you.

Afterwards Vera, I told you that you were very brave.

“No mommy,” you replied. “I wasn’t brave because I was scared.”

“But that’s exactly what being brave is,” I explained. “Doing something, even when you’re afraid.”

You didn’t reply, just nodded solemnly and stared out the window thinking about what I’d said.

I’ve been thinking about it too. I’d never quite put it to words like that before. This thing called bravery.

The truth is that I’m afraid all the time. I’m scared of everything.

I fear that I’m not a good enough mother, that there are a thousand missteps I’m making along our way. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to do all the things I want to do, write the books I envision, get to all the places I want to go. I’m scared that I’m not a good enough friend, that I fail to put others before myself. I fear for my work and my housekeeping abilities. I’m afraid of being alone. I’m scared that I’ll be lonely again one day. I worry about my health and my culinary abilities. I afraid of hurting people, of not being in the places I’m supposed to be. I’m afraid of being judged, afraid of judging. I worry sometimes that the words I write aren’t as real as they could be. Sometimes I realize I’m not breathing, and I’m afraid that one day I’ll stop altogether.

Yet.

Despite all of those swirling anxieties, I get up every day and plunge forth, wading through the thickness of my life. Leaning into it all as though there is no other choice.

So, by my own definition, is that bravery?

Living my life, even though I’m afraid to.

I sold my second book this month girls. It was a profound moment in my life. Vera, you were at school, and Jules you were taking a nap, when the call came in from my agent that Penguin had made an offer. I hung up the phone and wept for a solid twenty minutes.

Just stood in the living room by myself in the middle of the day, looking around, and weeping. All I’ve ever wanted since I was a little girl was to write books, to be a real author, and something about selling my second book, confirmed that dream as a reality.

I wept too, that my parents are not here to witness my accomplishments, the taste of that desire as bittersweet as you can imagine. And then I wiped my face, woke up you, Jules, with a hundred kisses, and picked up you Vera, from school, and swept you both off to the beach where the world was wide and wonderful and real.

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I’ve been traveling a lot these last few weeks. Leaving you both at home in the care of your doting father, while I head out into the world. It’s felt amazing to be alone. To be quiet, to be unsure and lonely and scared. To be in a hotel room in a strange city, tucked into a big bed, all by myself. To wake up in the morning and speak to no one for the first couple of hours. The opposite of motherhood.

I’ve missed you immensely on those days, in those places, but I’ve also gulped down those solitary moments, drinking as much as I can before returning to our life together. These days have been important to me, and I have this funny feeling that they’ll be important to you as well. Not just when you have these same experiences, but that your mother did.

There’s nothing quite like traveling alone. It requires bravery. Stepping off an airplane in a foreign city, renting a car and driving down a road you’ve never known, eating dinner alone in a restaurant, putting yourself to bed at night, only to wake early so that you can hike through an unfamiliar forest, the only sound your own footsteps.

If there’s ever a moment in your life when you’re feeling unsure of who you are, take a little journey like this one and you’re sure to remember.

I think that’s one of the bravest things you can really do in life. Remember who you are.

Love,

Mama

 

 

 

 

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On Ten Years Without My Father

Hat Trick

The last thing my father ever taught me was how to install a showerhead.

I was twenty-five years old and taking care of him at the end of his life in a small condominium in Southern California. The cancer had gone to his bones by this point and he was unable to get out of bed on most days, let alone install bathroom hardware.

So there I stood, barefoot in the shower while he sat on a chair in the anteroom of the bathroom, calmly giving me instructions in the same patient tone he had used with me since I was child.

My feet kept sliding in the tub and my bangs fell into my eyes as I scrunched up underneath the upper faucet, doing my best to work a wrench around the old showerhead.

I was tired, annoyed, and adolescently resentful of the task at hand.

The new showerhead was a detachable one with a nozzle hooked to the end of it so that when the nurse who visited my father’s house twice weekly needed to bathe him she could let him sit on a stool in the tub while she rinsed him off.

I grunted and winced as the wrench slid off the nozzle time and time again, growing more exasperated with each incarnation of my efforts. With one final exertion the old showerhead finally twisted into release and I stepped back, blowing the bangs out of my eyes with a noisy sigh.

“Okay,” I said, “so now I just screw this one on?” I asked, holding up the new showerhead.

“Well, first you need this,” my father said, holding out a small spool of shower tape. I looked at it blankly.

“Shower tape?”

This was already way more of a project than I’d bargained for. Was shower tape really necessary?

“We don’t really need that, do we?” I asked.

My father set his jaw and silently held the tape out to me again.

The look in his eyes flashed me back to a thousand different moments over the last twenty-five years of his careful instructions. Learning how to tie my shoes, or  how to do long-division, or when he taught me to parallel park a car.

My father was an engineer, his mind automatically breaking things down to their parts in order to navigate new sums. He loved building things, figuring out how to make something work, how to take it apart, or how to make it better.

Once when I was in ninth grade he showed me how he had calculated the exact speed he needed to reach in the car at a very precise location in our neighborhood in order to coast an entire 1.2 miles back to our house.

My father couldn’t not think about things in this way.

I was always the opposite. Messy, impatient, unwilling or unable to pay attention to the details of a thing.

I stared at the shower tape in his hand, and he stared back at me. A face-off.

“Fine,” he finally said, withdrawing his hand and the tape. “Just put on the showerhead and see what happens.”

“Fine, I will.” I replied impetuously.

After another ten minutes of grunting, wrenching and bang blowing, the showerhead was installed. I was triumphant.

My father watched carefully from his perch in the bathroom as I stepped out of the tub.

“Give it a try,” he said and I detected a note of mischief in his voice.

I turned the handle slowly and immediately water began to spray in all directions from the base of the showerhead. Not the actual showerhead, mind you, but the part where they were screwed together.

“Ack,” I screamed, as myself and the walls around me were drenched with cold water.

After I’d blotted my face with a towel I turned back to see my father, once again, holding the shower tape out to me.

“That’s what this is for,” he said.

My father died just a few weeks later, never having even taken advantage of the showerhead I so carefully installed (twice).

A month later I moved into a new apartment. For the first time in my life I didn’t have a roommate or a boyfriend to help me set up the place and one of the first things I noticed the day I moved in was that there was no showerhead.

Once again I found myself barefoot in the tub, wrench in hand, bangs in my eyes.

But this time a thin spool of shower tape sat carefully balanced on the edge of the tub next to me.

Next week marks ten years since my father died, and an entire decade of being parentless. I’ve never ceased to be grateful for the things he taught me, and not just for what he taught me, but for the way in which he taught me them.

Now that I am a parent myself I often sit back, watching my daughters’ exasperation over something I am trying to teach them, a certain little smile on my face, as I eventually recall my offer and let them try to figure it out on their own, let them find their way back to my assistance when it’s needed.

On four occasions over the last decade I’ve had the need to install a showerhead and each time I’ve dutifully bought a little roll of shower tape, grateful tears in my eyes.

Dad, I miss you.

Dad Mountains

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Happier Hours = Happier Lives

I met Aidan Donnelley Rowley, as I’ve met a lot of amazing people in my life, online. A friend told me about Aidan’s blog, and after reading it for months, and then reading her first novel, I reached out to her, sensing that she was a kindred woman I wanted to know beyond her words on my screen. We traded emails, books, and then finally met in person for the first time when I was in New York on book tour last spring.

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(Taken this spring when I was the guest of one of Aidan’s Happier Hour salons.)

Aidan is one of those women who is easy to like, not because she’s pretty and intelligent and gracious (she IS all of those things), but because she is accessible. When I say accessible, I mean it in the way that has made me fall hard for my favorite people in this world. Aidan is accessible because she walks the truth of her life. She is honest about her faults, her struggles, her happiness and her desires and her doubts. She always lets you into her world and in doing so, allows you a new window into your own world.

A few years ago, Aidan began hosting a series of salons at her home in New York City, called Happier Hours. Each gathering revolves around a female author who’s work encourages discussion and growth. The premise is that we could all be happier, and that even if we can’t be happy all the time, we can strive to create moments and hours in which we are happier, hence gathering a bunch of fabulous women together to get inspired. This concept exemplifies exactly what Aidan embodies; the message that perfection is an illusion and that embracing who we are is the real key to finding true satisfaction.

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Okay, enough gushing about Aidan…

The reason I’m writing this post is to say that I couldn’t be more thrilled to announce that I’m partnering with her to bring Happier Hours to the West Coast. This coming weekend I’ll be hosting the first-ever Happier Hour brunch in Los Angeles with Meredith Maran, author of Why We Write, as the first guest. The brunch will take place at the home of my friend Maria D’Angelo, president of an incredible nonprofit called The Children’s Lifesaving Foundation. Meredith’s book is a fascinating read on what it means to write, and where the drive comes from. Sure to inspire an enriching afternoon.

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My life has been unduly complicated as of late, with a lot of stress and uncertainty, so I cannot tell you how very much I’m looking forward to a Happier Hour.

 

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