June, 2015: Ten Years from Now, we used to say

For the next few days I'll be posting highlights from 2015. This was originally published June 4, 2015.
In the beginning, it was just us.

It was us when I stood over the toilet with the pregnancy test in my hands. It was us when I fell to the floor with my head in my hands, cones all over the road I had just finished paving.

I had a plan.

And you did, too.

And you were here.

I am not ready for you, I said. I'm not ready for this.

But I was. I knew I was. I knew nothing except that I was.

And your dad, who I had only just met, he knew it, too.

I passed him the pregnancy test and we cried.

We cried because we didn't know what we wanted. Because we were strangers. Children. Stupid kids... Because life is strange. We cried because, "ten years from now... what will our lives look like ten years from now..."

That was the question we asked the day we moved in together.

And the day we got married.

And the day you were born.

We held you between us and counted your fingers and toes. 

When you're young, time is a pacifier -- an ocean at sunrise, seemingly infinite, extending beyond the constraints of our viewfinders... 

There is hope in the unknown. In the light that casts its last shadows, for tomorrow we will grow up a little more. Tomorrow we will be better. We will know more about ourselves and the world...

"Where do you think we'll be in ten years?" we asked you, fresh and young, bloated and scared, estranged and invisible...

But we never had an answer until now.

In February of 2007, when Archer was  a year and a half old, I wrote this: 

...It was a reflex, they told me. Hold your pinky out and he will grab on. He won't let go. And he didn't. And I didn't want him to. And sometimes he held my ring finger. Or my pointer finger or my thumb. And when he was learning to walk he would hold two fingers, one from each hand and I'd say, "come on! You can do it!" and he'd smile and fall on his face, his hands slipping from my fingers....Until he grabbed on again. Pulling himself back up. "Hold on tight!" Today, for the first time, Archer didn't want to take my finger. We were walking down the stairs outside our house and instead of grabbing my finger, he took my hand. My whole hand. So our palms were against each other and our fingers met and we continued down the stairs. For the first time, hand in hand. Because I think maybe his hand was too big for fingers. Because he is too big for fingers. Today he was.He doesn't have the finger-grabbing reflex anymore. It goes away when they get big. I know because night after night I put my finger in his hand and wait for it to wrap around me like a sea anemone and it doesn't. The finger reflex goes away. Just like the startling reflex when babies raise their hands and shake their arms when they're sleeping and someone makes a loud sound. One day it just stops...

I remember that day well. He was suddenly a boy...  holding onto my hand like a friend would... without clinging, without squeezing... and it broke me.

Because this is what happens now...

Babies become boys.

I have told Archer this story a thousand times by now.

"One day you held my hand instead of my finger..."

Last month, someone mentioned this Billy Collins poem in the comments of my post. And it broke my heart because, yes. Because, no. Because, fuck!!!

On Turning Ten
By: Billy Collins

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

- Billy Collins

I remember being ten years old and feeling the wind change like that. Ten was the year my diary went from "I love horses" to boys boys BOYS. Ten was also the year I stepped out of the shadows and into the light of my own truth. It was the year I started sharing myself with others, opening my diaries and reciting poems in front of the class.

Ten was the year I asked my friends to call me Bec. 

I didn't share the "On Turning Ten" poem with Archer. Too heartbreaking. Instead, as I do on every birthday,  I went through his baby book to weep for the childhood that was... except... for some reason... it didn't feel sad. It felt... I don't know... exciting? New? Significant, sure... but in a level way. Unlike May 23rds of the past, I didn't want to "keep him small" or "go back in time." I wanted to stand exactly where I was standing with my son exactly as he is.

I opened to the middle of the baby book and plucked one of the letters I wrote to Archer while I was pregnant with him.  Still sealed... unread... 

"Can we open one today?" I asked. "Just one?"

"Not until I'm 18, Mom. It says right here. Do not open until you're 18."

"But... that's a long time."

"Not that long, Mom."

Over the weekend, we celebrated Archer's birthday in Palm Springs. The boys (we brought Archer's best friend along) spent two entire days on their own, coming back to find us for lunch and then taking off again... It was the first time he was old enough to go out on his own with his friend and come back whenever... It was the first time I didn't worry about him as the hours passed.

"He's fine. He's having fun. He's doing his thing..."
It was a milestone.

Like learning to walk.

Like letting go of my finger.

Except this time it was he who brought it to my attention. With his eyes and his words and the proclamation that THIS? This, was "the trip of a lifetime..."

No more Runaway Bunny... 

"This is the other side of fear," I thought. "This is where we learn to love the idea of letting go."

And I did.

Run free, kid. Go forth and waterslide. 

Archer didn't want to turn ten. He told me this a dozen times leading up to his birthday. He wants to stay a little boy in single digits. At his age, I wanted to be older so badly that I prayed for it. I wrote it down in diaries. I threw pennies in every fountain and closed my eyes

If only I were older...

If only I were a teenager...

If only I were in my twenties...

It's different for boys, I think. Or maybe it's just us...

"I wish I didn't have to leave fourth grade..."

"... go to middle school."

"... become a man."

A couple of weeks ago, Archer called me into the dining room after school. He had finished the song he'd been working on for a school project and he was finally  ready to share. (I'd been asking to see his lyrics for weeks and he refused to show me. "Not until it's finished," he said.) 

We gathered around him, sisters included, and waited in silence as he pressed PLAY. We knew it was going to be the greatest song we'd ever heard but we didn't know how great until we were listening with wet cheeks. I tried to play it cool but I was in pieces. 

He didn't mind. 

"The inspiration for this song was one of my first memories. I was a baby and I was in my crib and I didn't call for my mom to get me.  I didn't try to climb out either. I just looked up at the ceiling and thought about life," Archer said when he presented his song to his class and a room full of parents.

I thought about what he said about not wanting to grow up... 

And then I listened to him answer his own questions and comfort himself with his own words...his own voice. 
"Ten years from now..." we used to say.

Not anymore. Something happened in the course of a decade. We all grew up a little bit and instead of gazing out at the unknown, turned toward the moment. Toward him.

I stopped mourning your youth as something lost and instead learned to celebrate the young man that was suddenly emerging.

"This is the year I found my power," you told me, in passing. "This was the year I became unafraid to REALLY sing..."

It would be impossible not to look back on days like today... on the last day of fourth grade with my newly double-digited son, and not feel that certain sense of longing... for days past and milestones long behind us. And yet, for the first time, my longing for yesterday has been eclipsed by my willingness to stand on the edge of this moment and see Archer as he is now, anticipating, with great excitement, the young man he is becoming.

I catch glimpses of the young man in the same way I catch glimpses of the little boy... the baby with his watchful gaze. The light seems to catch him at different angles these days. There was once an urge to trap that light... to keep it to myself... to savor it and protect it and shelter it from the inevitable. I don't feel that way anymore. I see his prism and want to pull every wall from around him so that his light can shoot clear across the land. I want him to go forth...

And come back.

But also to go...

I'm not afraid of his skinned knees because I know he is capable of bandaging them. I am not afraid of his sadness because sadness is joy's before and after and young love is like walking on the moon. Because there is magic in complexity and treehouses are forever. Because I know he sees the same light in himself that we do. And on the days when he can't help but draw his own blinds, I know that he knows that we're here, with our mirrors and our flashlights and our letters. 

Perhaps this is what it feels like to prepare for the inevitable, I think, strapping training wheels to my sides...  pushing forward on a bike it will take me another eight years to learn to ride.

But I'm ready.

I even tell him so.

Transitions are beautiful places to sit and talk.


"How does it feel to be ten?" I ask him on the morning of his birthday.

"I feel exactly the same," he says, "even though I'm not."

I lean back in my chair on the other side of the kitchen table.

"I know exactly what you mean."

And in this moment, it is just us.

Without a plan.


I tell him the same story I do every year on his birthday. I tell him about the morning he came into our lives ten years ago and how... and how... and how...

...And then I sing his song back to him at the top of my lungs as he corrects every lyric I get wrong, until he, too, is singing... our voices bumping up against each other in the late morning light.

April, 2015: A tree house, a free house, a secret you and me house

For the next few days, I'll be reposting highlights from 2015. This post was originally published April 23rd. 
"A tree house, a free house,
A secret you and me house,
A high up in the leafy branches
Cozy as can be house...

Meredith and I met in 7th grade, years after the treehouse was built by her father, Randy. I went home with Mere after school one day and as we came around the driveway through the gate, my mind blew through the sky like a shot.

"How is this... "

"My Dad built it before I was born..."

"Where do you..."

"There's a ladder on the other side of the trunk..."

"Can we, like..."

"Of course. Follow me..."

We slept up there often, and when we were older, snuck boys in,  made out under blankets damp from sea air and climbed through the skylight across the suspension bridge to smoke Marlboro lights under the stars.
my dad crossing the suspension bridge, three stories high
It was a fantasy world and although I truly appreciated it at the time, looking back on those quiet years of loud emotions, I feel a sense of wonder, awe and gratitude that dwarfs the love I had for this place as a teenager.
Fable chills in the treehouse's king-sized bed

I may have appreciated it in those days, but I didn't know how good I had it. I didn't know that waking up in a treehouse many a summer morning would be one of my great life privileges. And it wasn't until I saw it again, reflected back at me through my children's eyes, did I SEE it see it.
"This is where some of my fondest memories live," I told them, looking up.
... But they were already gone, sewing the seeds of their own memories, their eyes wide with "whoa..."
I know I've written about the treehouse a hundred times through the years, but I'd never featured it, here. I've never spent an afternoon there with my children. I've never shared Randy's story... the builder himself, who in the last twenty years has added an extra room to the main house as well as a third level and an elevator.

"It was getting too hard for me to climb up without it," he explained, "So I built a new way up."

Randy fell out of a tree in his early twenties. He should have died but he didn't. He should have been paralyzed but he was not.

The story becomes almost biblical in nature after that. Randy, after making a near-full recovery from his injury, decided he wanted to build a house in the eucalyptus tree in the backyard of the house he was (at the time) renting. And although he would never walk the same, he kept walking. And climbing. And building.

"It started with a platform and a fireman's pole... and then, over the years... I kept building."
Randy met Mere's mom soon after and later purchased the house they rented together, one block from the beach. Through the years, Randy added on to his treehouse.... the platform became a full-on house, followed by a suspension bridge that led to another level.  Then another. And then one day Randy taught himself to make stained glass and filled his treehouse with the most glorious rainbow windows...
What almost killed him became his magnum opus. And indeed it is. 
I realize I am in no way an authority on treehouses. However, I would venture to bet a million trillion dollars that in all the Architectural Digests in all the land, no treehouse has been built with the hutzpah this one has. Randy's story is one of fearlessness, determination and magic... and the treehouse (hell, the entire yard!) reflects that...

Build your world. 
Build it slowly over time. 
Build it well. 
Build it fearlessly. 
Randy also makes his own neon because of course
(read it backwards)
Neverland would be jealous. 
I wasn't fully aware of Randy's story as a teenager. I guess I didn't ask or maybe I was too busy trying to sneak boys up into the main house with Meredith, but listening to Randy as he re-introduced me to his magical world, I began to see his house through new eyes.
IMG_7278IMG_8552Meredith and the boys, on the other side of the suspension bridge
IMG_7286Our boys.
Randy Becker's treehouse lives as a reminder of many things -- the magic of childhood, the growth of a personal dream... but perhaps, most importantly, it stands as a lesson that a great fall inspires an even greater climb.

And when the climb becomes too difficult? Build a new way up.  
I am ever so fortunate that my adolescent memories will always include within them such a magical place. And that my children, all these years later, get to experience it, too. Thank you, Becker family. Thank you, Randy.

...A street house, a neat house,
Be sure to wipe your feet house
Is not my kind of house at all- 
Let's go live in a tree house.” 

- Shel Silverstien

March, 2015: As their hands went over their hearts, the sun came down

For the next few weeks, I'll be reposting highlights from 2015. This post was originally published March, 5th.  
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Our first night in Lima, I went for a walk. I was exhausted and under-caffeinated and I was dying to explore Barannca, where our Bed and Breakfast was located.

I grabbed a coffee and walked west toward the ocean where the sun was starting to set and the local people were taking their seats on blankets, spooning against trees, riding their bicycles around the sharp curves that hugged the bluffs. In the distance, a spattering of islands. An illuminated cross...
photo 1photo 1-1
I was alone, and as it so often happens in moments of solo-missionness, everything happened. There must be a word for this -- for moments that happen while wandering or waiting, going left instead of right, ending up somewhere, someplace... 

Like stumbling upon a treasure and having nobody to share it with, but, like... in a good way, because you realize as it's happening that you probably wouldn't have noticed the magic had you had shared it with someone else. Because... that's how these things work. I used to travel alone and that's what it was like -- I would turn to a friend because "DID YOU SEE THAT!? ARE YOU SEEING THIS!?" and realize that I was the friend.

I was the only person I knew on the subway.

Or on the bridge.

Or on the Spanish Steps when all of the people suddenly held hands and sang We Are the World in five different languages.

And so. The stories live on in my journals and blog posts... in the suitcases I refuse to unpack in my heart.

The last time I left North America was 2003. I spent the first five years of my adult life traveling, mainly alone. I had forgotten what that felt like until those brief moments on my walk to get coffee across the street.

There was music playing as I set off to explore. I followed the sound to a party being held down the road...

...When I stood on my toes I could make out the band, their instruments slung across their chests as they sang from the balcony overlooking a makeshift dance floor.

I kept walking...

...toward the trees and a coastline that resembled La Jolla. The sky was beginning to change and the music, though faint, still bumped with a bass it would have been impossible not to walk to.

Bam and step. Boom and step. Bam and step. Boom and step. 

Bikers rode and mamas pushed strollers. Couples held each other from behind, pinned each other against trees to kiss... A woman stood with her face against the sun. Voices hummed quietly. Everything glowed.
photo 2-1
We're all the same, seems to be the takeaway of travel. Even when we're not. Even when lives look so completely different to the ones we have in our worlds, we're all the same. We all marvel at a day's end. We all glow under the fading light. We dance... 

The light was heaven and I made my way down the winding path, past the bougainvillea which blooms in Lima in the most unlikely places, draped around walls and fences, pink and gold just like the sky.

It was on this path that an older couple, arm in arm, caught my eye. They were deep in conversation as they slowly walked, not to the beat of the music but to their own rhythm, left together right together, left together right.

I followed them, of course. When you're alone you get to do that and it doesn't seem weird. You just make it seem you're on a mission... to... the... fence? I mean... the tree? I mean... the... here. I'm going to stand here and pretend I'm invisible...

And I did.  I followed them down through the garden, where tulips grew in patches, and I watched the light change as the sun fell through their hands...

Which were lifted. High above their heads as the sun came down.

And then, the moment the sun disappeared, they pulled their hands from the sky and placed them over their chests. Inhaling the moment, digesting the day, pulling the last bit of light into their hearts.

I tried to remain invisible, although I did manage to get a few pictures. I watched in disbelief. Turned to my... self and said, "THIS."

And my self turned back and said, "DUDE."
It's been three weeks since that evening, and for every sunset seen since, I've thought of them. I've thought of their hands and their hearts and what it feels like to watch a day end. To stand back as the light passes over the horizon, becoming someone else's dawn.
IMG_0543photo 5
I think of all those years traveling and how many times, since, I've wanted to crawl back in time and pull at the heels of old adventures. How frustrating it is to get old and to commit to staying put. To standing in one place as the tides taunt us with their breath, in and out and in and out and back and forth and everywhere. But also, how rewarding.

Because for those few minutes, standing behind the couple, I watched the sky become a dozen different versions of itself. I would not have noticed how quickly and how different everything looked had I turned around, crossed the street, climbed down the mountain.

Standing still can be just as adventurous, for the fading light cannot help but change our tones.
photo 4photo 5-1
It is perhaps the most poetic time we have in our day, the end of light, the beginning of darkness, the collision of color that occurs between scenes. The magic hour exists in every day -- and it isn't day or night that makes it so but the in between. And everyone gets that to some extent because every day, our reminder is painted across the sky.
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Moments after the sun came down, as the sky slipped out of its blue jeans and into its violet evening gown, the old couple, removing their hands from their hearts, joined arms and turned around.
photo 2-2
"Don't ever forget this," I whispered.

"I won't," I whispered back. 
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