Monday, May 25, 2009


You know those dates in history when people remember exactly where they were when they heard the news on that day? Like JFK’s assassination, or the moment war was declared? My generation remembers where we were when the Space Shuttle Columbia exploded (sitting in a high school class, I remember staring at the speaker on the wall in surprise as the principal announced the news), or when we first heard about the attack on the World Trade Center (our friend who lived in Philadelphia woke us up and told us to go turn on the TV).

But there are other moments in life, completely opposite to these disastrous ones. These I call my Magic Moments. These are the ones in which suddenly I am completely aware of my surroundings and seem to wake up and notice the magic in that single, simple, unforgettable moment.

One of these moments happened at the dog park last summer. George and I were alone at the park and he ran around while I sat enjoying the quiet. A butterfly flew by me, its white wings glowing in the sun. Then there was another, and another, and before I knew it the air around me was filled with thousands of white wings, glimmering against the blue sky. The large "flock" of butterflies took probably a minute or two to fly by me, and I sat there the whole time with my mouth hanging open in surprise and a goofy smile on my face. I kept looking around for someone to share it with, but I was alone in the large park – the only one to witness the parade of nature passing by me.

My Mom once told me about the Magic Moment she had when she was about 25 and flew alone to Korea to stay with my Dad who was stationed there. When the plane flew over Japan she had a full view of Mt. Fuji from her window. It was so beautiful she kept thinking she should reach down and get her camera, but she didn’t want to take her eyes from the beautiful scene in front of her long enough to get it. It was that entrancing to her. Definitely Magic.

Other Magic Moments in my life:
  • Driving in a taxi in the middle of remote Chile and stepping out onto a dirt road to look at the stars with four reknowned astronomers

  • Sitting on a wall of the Acropolis and noticing the sounds of the city below me – an occasional dog barking, the distant hum of traffic

  • Walking in line to get my Master’s diploma during Commencement at Regis University in Denver and almost crying because it hit me how lucky I was

  • Sitting in the audience of a musical in Louisville when I was nineteen and realizing everything that truly mattered to me in life was right there in that building: Mom, my friends, and the theatre

  • Waiting in the wings in the white-blue light before my entrance in The Nutcracker’s Snow Scene, amazed that I was about to dance in the very show I had seen every year as a child

  • Waiting in my high school hallway, in line for our first commencement rehearsal, and hearing "Pomp and Circumstance" inside the gymnasium for the first time

  • Walking to the train station in Vicenza, Italy at 5am, through deserted cobblestone Medieval streets, hearing our footsteps echoing for blocks through foggy silence

Of course many moments in my life have been magical, such as getting married to my husband in Hawaii, getting my first professional theatre role, or simply being at home with my husband and feeling lucky to have what we have. Those are of course magical, but those aren’t what I’m talking about. My Magic Moments come out of the blue and hit me in the gut, awakening me in a different way. For me they come as a welcome surprise.

I'm wishing you all many moments of peace, butterflies, and Mt. Fuji.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Trust me.

There is a lot of mutual trust at the dog park. I trust the woman who gives George a treat from her pocket. I trust that George won't dig in the dirt and get muddy. I trust that the stranger sitting next to me on the park bench isn’t a weirdo. I have a tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt, and a general optimism about the world, which I learned from my mother.

Of course parents often know when their kids aren’t being truthful. It’s easy and understandable for parents to know the truth and demand it from their kids. But I feel that sometimes it’s also important for the kids to feel trusted. Completely. And I have a reason for this belief.

When I was a teenager, I wasn’t one who disobeyed the rules very often. Sure, I would stretch the rules and come home a little past my curfew, or I would talk on the phone too much or roll my eyes indignantly, but overall Mom and I trusted and respected each other.

One Saturday night when I was sixteen my friends Kat, Chad, and April (names not-so-cleverly changed to protect their identities) piled into my car for a weekend drive through town. After several loops around the town square, through the Pizza Hut parking lot, and up to our hilltop ski resort Paoli Peaks, Kat suggested we go to the Riverside Café, a tiny local bar where she knew she could pass for 21 and get us some alcohol.

Now, please know that this was not our normal weekend routine. We were nerdy theatre kids who usually spent the weekends at rehearsal or playing cards at our director’s house. But Kat was more worldly, more mature, and more daring. So we nervously sat outside, not thinking about the fact that we were in a small town where anyone could recognize my car and wonder why we were parked there. And what was I thinking? My Mom was a teacher – in the Bible Belt – where people who drank were marked as sinners. Mom used to buy her wine coolers in a town 30 miles away so people wouldn’t gossip, “I saw Mrs. Bradford buying alcohol at the liquor store today!” She had a reputation to uphold.

Anyway, that Saturday night wasn’t momentous. Kat bought a six-pack of wine coolers, we kept driving around town, and later I dropped everyone off at their prospective homes and went home. I never even had a drink. Like I said, we were nerdy.

The next Monday, Mom picked me up at the front of the high school at the end of the day, and I knew by her face that something was very wrong. Instantly my stomach turned to rock. “Look in the back seat,” she told me, her mouth in a hard, thin line. I turned to see the six-pack of wine coolers sitting defiantly on the seat. Kat and Chad had left them in the car! Quickly I searched for an excuse and put a confused look on my face. “Where did those come from?” Mom asked. “Um, I don’t know,” I said, stalling. I looked back again at the incriminating evidence and continued to look confused. Then I came up with a story. “We were up at the Peaks this weekend,” I began. “And I gave the car keys to Kat so she and Chad could hang out at the car while April and I were inside. Maybe it’s theirs?” Kat had a reputation for being a little wild, so I hoped my lie was convincing. Luckily, Mom accepted my story. After a few more questions we drove home, my stomach still in knots and her face still frozen in anger. We never talked about the incident again.

Looking back, Mom probably knew I was lying, but she gave me the benefit of the doubt. She trusted me, or at least gave that impression. And how completely different our relationship would have been without that trust. Deep down she knew I was a good girl, so instead of demanding the truth and instigating an argument, she accepted my story and left it alone. She gave me maturity and responsibility by accepting what I said. Instead of yelling, “I know you’re lying!” she questioned, listened, and then accepted it. After all, all the wine coolers were unopened, so how bad could we have been?

When I was tiny, I stole a pretty scarf from my Aunt Mary’s house and stuffed it in the pocket of my overalls. When asked about it later, I told Mom I had put it there “so I could play with it later.” Instead of forcing me to admit it was a lie, she made me go back to Aunt Mary’s, return the scarf, and tell her my excuse. I was nervous, but it taught me to fix my mistakes. And it taught me that Mom trusted me.

Some may read this and think Mom was too easy on me. Of course you can’t always accept the lies your kids tell. But sometimes, showing that you trust them is more important than demanding the truth. Mom and I had the greatest, deepest, closest relationship a mother and daughter can have. Don’t be afraid to trust your kids. Even if at times they don’t deserve it. Trust me.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A day for all of us

Working on my computer at Starbucks this week with George panting under the table, I overheard an interesting conversation at the table next to me. The portly man sat alone with his coffee by the entrance, talking on his Bluetooth, looking like he was talking to the air. “Yeah, it took me forever but I finally found a Mother’s Day card,” he said, shifting his flip-flop foot onto the chair next to him. “I mean, how can I find a good card for her when two days after Mother’s Day I’ll be telling her I’m divorcing her?” Interested, I tried not to look like I was listening. He continued complaining, adding that he had finally found a card that said a simple “Happy Mother’s Day,” without any extra sentimentality.

I wondered about this mother who in just three days would find out that her life was changing. I wondered how old their kids are and how this divorce would affect them. I hoped that this Mother’s Day would be extra good for her, so she could have one last good day with her family before her world crumbled.

Mother’s Day has become a day I prefer to ignore. My mom passed away nearly ten years ago, making the day an obvious smack-in-the-face of what I no longer have. And since we don’t have children yet after years of frustration, it’s also a day that emphasizes the fact that I am not a mother. I hate it.

I do, however, have one “child.” George. And there is no doubt that I am his mommy. He follows me everywhere, wants attention, cuddles with me, and sometimes is ornery. He has to be fed, disciplined, educated, and loved. At night he lies against me and lets me pick him up like a baby, limp in my arms while he’s sleeping. My doting on him may be annoying, but I don’t care!

The man next to me outside Starbucks still talked on his phone, but after a while his voice softened and got quieter. “I love you,” he said before he ended his call. Aha, I thought. Now I knew why he was going to leave his wife. So for all I knew, maybe the divorce would be a relief to her, after his lying. Even after he’s gone, she’ll still be the Mother. And that’s going to be more important than “Wife” for her family in the long run, isn’t it?

About five years ago my husband gave me a Mother’s Day gift of a large wooden park bench that I had wanted for our front yard. “But I’m not a mother,” I had told him, confused. “It’s a Future-Mother’s Day gift,” he had replied with a smile. That bench still sits outside our house, waiting.

But on this Mother’s Day I will try not to be sad. It can be a day to celebrate great Mothers we’ve lost; it can be a day for the single mothers who are soon to go it alone; it can be a day for Mothers who wait. What the heck – how about Mother Earth, too. Here’s to all of us.

Monday, May 4, 2009

George at 8,000 feet

I have lived in Las Vegas for almost fifteen years, and while I appreciate many things about it – fewer bugs, easier planning of outdoor events, and…okay that’s all I can think of right now – the Midwesterner in me desperately misses living somewhere with four seasons, trees, and real thunderstorms. So whenever I need to feel like I’m anywhere but the desert, my husband and I take a drive up to Mt. Charleston, a little mountain town only a thirty-minute drive from our house.

The drive out of town takes you past the last subdivision of Vegas’ cookie cutter houses, where desert shrubs dot the landscape across the expanse of valley, until you take a left at the sign pointing to Mt. Charleston. This two-lane highway twists and curves across the desert, and Lance and I always marvel at the houses out there. They really are in the middle of nowhere – ranches and modern houses with no neighbors and no trees - so stark and lonely as we fly by with George’s head sticking out the window.

Soon the drive gets curvier, the shrubs taller, and the distant mountains bigger until you finally reach the little mountain community in the desert. They have a fire department, elementary school, library, and church, but no grocery or gas station. Their houses are cabins nestled in the trees in the valley or perched on the side of the mountain far above, accessible only by scarily-steep roads with names like Kris Kringle Road and Jack Frost Drive.

Lance and I always drive to the very end of the highway, which climbs and ends at Mt. Charleston Lodge, where we have breakfast in the A-frame restaurant. This week we took George with us and sat at an outdoor table with a complete view of the tree-covered mountains around us (I like to pretend we’re at a lodge in the Alps.). This is where I come in October to smell the Fall air and see true Autumn color while Las Vegas is still in its Summer. (Fall-ish weather comes to Vegas in December!) Or we’ll drive up in January and throw snowballs so I can feel like it’s Winter. Or in the summer we’ll drive up and hike one of the many trails to escape Vegas’ hot months. On the trails, just 100 yards off the road all sounds of traffic are gone, leaving only birds chirping and the wind in the trees.

One Spring, desperate for an escape from the city, I drove up to Mt. Charleston and hiked on a path for a while with George. The snow was still lying in the shadows of the trees, so I had to step gingerly to avoid slipping. Finally I found a thick patch of snow covering a dry river bed, so thick it made a mattress in the sun. I took off my coat, laid it on the snow, and then laid down on it while George looked at me like I was crazy. But it was great. I could feel the warmth of the sun on my face and the cool snow through my jacket, and I laid there for a long time, trying to absorb the nature around me.

Lance and I ate our breakfast in our mountaintop seats and then took George for a walk around the Lodge, past the horses waiting for carriage rides and Native Americans selling jewelry, and through the small side streets lined with tall poles that in the winter let people know where the roads are when they’re covered with feet of snow.

George’s head was out the window of my car for the whole drive back to town. For a few hours, we had mountains, birds, towering trees, and an occasional chipmunk. Where do you go to escape?