At 10pm, I dropped off the book Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus, a book by Tom Angelberger in the Origami Yoda series in the Little Free Library near our son Theo’s school. I was so unimpressed by this Giveaway that I decided to make it a little more interesting by sneaking in three pairs of lightly used boys’ socks in the hope that the next person who looks in there happens to have a son younger than mine who need more socks! You never know, right?
I am now two thirds of my way through My Giveaway – eight months down, four to go, 244 days down, 121 to go! I have given away a lot of belongings in these months and am starting to see a real difference in the amount of clutter in the house. There are fewer little piles of things on countertops, my closet is more streamlined, cupboards and drawers are more organized, and I can find things more easily. But I still have more to give. I have a few bags of items in the back of my car. However, I don’t think those add up to many more than 20 items, which means that for the last 100 days, I am going to have to dig deep. I have given away most of the clothes, books, CDs and toys that were easiest to identify as “unnecessary.” From now on I will have to look harder and make tougher choices, giving away things that at the start of this project I might not have considered parting with. I have a feeling, though, that this might not be too difficult because the satisfaction I have been deriving from giving things away far outweighs that of owning something I never use.
Today was my friend Rebecca’s birthday. This Rebecca I met when I was 16 and had just started Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge. I had moved with my family from Canada to England and remember missing my Canadian friends and being anxious about meeting new friends in England. Rebecca was one of the first friends I made at Hills Road. I was dazzled by her. She was tall, slim, had long, thick, dark brown hair and probably the brightest blue eyes I have ever seen. They sparkled when she told stories, and I’m sure my eyes were sparkling too. Her stories were always so hilariously witty and often followed by a hearty laugh. She had attended a local private girls’ school called The Perse, but wasn’t stuck up at all. Instead she was very warm, friendly and welcoming, one of the group of girls at Hills Road who made me feel ok about living in England.
Today, our son Theo tried out for AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization) soccer (football, dammit, for my non-American readers!). This came as a bit of a surprise. After years of claiming soccer was his favorite sport yet refusing to join local soccer teams and opting for baseball instead, he suddenly wanted to play the beautiful game. Perhaps it was because one of his coaches in sports camp a couple of weeks ago told him he was surprisingly good at soccer for someone who doesn’t play. As many of us well know, a single compliment from someone we barely know can be a powerful thing. A week or so ago, I was talking with the father of one of his friends, who happens to be one of the local AYSO coaches. When he told me the tryouts were this weekend, I asked Theo if he’d be up for it, and he said, “Yeh, sure” with a relatively enthusiastic tone in his voice. So, today we headed for the tryouts at the grounds of the local middle school.
Today I had my son Theo be my Giveaway pinch hitter. Like most kids these days, Theo has way too much stuff – too many toys, too many books, too many clothes even. He also has too much baseball stuff. Because he played baseball for 3 years in a local league, as well as the shoes, bad, helmet, bag and gloves, he also accumulated three uniforms, a couple of which we have already given away. For two years running he was on the Dodgers team, so wore local LA colors. We have already given away one of his shirts but he somehow had three Dodgers caps, so today I suggested he give away one to a friend who will be leaving Los Angeles and returning to Korea tomorrow.
Today, we experienced Los Angeles at its best. Since October 10, 2010, the City has been closing down some of its streets for a day a couple of times a year and allowing cyclists, skateboarders, roller bladers and pedestrians to take over these thoroughfares in an event called CicLAvia. Originally started in Bogota, this event has had a profound effect on a city dominated by cars and car culture, and it can clearly be seen on the faces of the thousands of people who take to the streets on their non-motorized vehicles of choice and heard in the music many of them blast from speakers built into their vehicles. Today as my husband David, my son Theo and some of our good friends joined the thousands of people traversing some of LA’s widest boulevards erased of cars, we passed jazz musicians, hip hop DJs and church volunteers giving out bottled water. We rode alongside people riding penny farthings, unicycles, bikes transporting entire families and skateboarders punting themselves along the road using long poles. Children and adults alike wore costumes, face paint and carried pets. The mood was of a carnival, a festival, a joyful revolution against the car that dominates so many of our lives here.
Over summer break, I don’t think our son Theo misses his friends. I scheduled playdates with most of them whenever they’re in town and available and although there are a couple who he doesn’t see much of, he seems fairly satisfied with the amount of playtime he has with his buddies. But I miss my friends! I have made lots of lovely friends among the fellow parents at his school, but not all of them are the parents of Theo’s closest friends, so when we break for summer, I don’t see some of these friends for the whole break. I miss being able to sit for a coffee and chat after drop-off with interesting, creative, funny grown-ups. Over the summer, because I’m at home a lot with Theo and his various playmates, I have too few in-depth conversations with articulate adults. I honestly believe that if it weren’t for all the writing I’ve been doing lately, I would losing my adult vocabulary. Undeniably. Indisputably. Irrevocably?
Last Friday afternoon, my son Theo reported to me that he had had his best morning ever that day. For a second, I was a little sad because he had been at school this “best morning ever” hadn’t included me, but once I’d got over my initial disappointment, I wanted to hear more. Apparently, after the kindergarteners had finished their performance for the school’s International Week, the school’s resource specialist Mr. Bird had got up on stage with the school’s dad band and sung the Coldplay song, A Sky Full of Stars, which is one of Theo’s favorite songs. It wasn’t just that he sang the song, but after a couple of verses of it, he invited all the students to get up and dance to it. This was the first time Theo had experienced a whole school full of people dancing, and it was clearly a magical moment – one he may indeed remember for the rest of his life. Later we saw the video that our friend Patty showed us of the performance (because her husband John is in the dad band), and it was indeed special. Not just the music, but Mr. Bird’s hilarious commentary between the verses and his comedic interactions with the other dads on stage. (He is also a dad at the school, and his son is in Theo’s class). But it was neat to see footage of the kids throwing themselves into the music.
Today my husband David and I met with Mr. Bird, Theo’s teacher and a school psychologist because we’ve been concerned about his lack of motivation and focus at school. It was a helpful meeting and we all seem to be on the same page about the extra help that Theo might need to attain his potential. Mr. Bird in particular, was extremely helpful. Mixing wit with warmth, and adding the perspective of both a teacher and a fellow parent, he was able to give us the reassurance we need that the school will do its best for our little fellow. After the meeting, I asked Mr. Bird for another minute. I told him about my Giveaway and explained that I wanted to give him something as a thank you for giving Theo his “best morning ever.” It was a yellow Lakers t-shirt that Theo had been given at a Lakers game David took him to last year. Theo will never be big enough to wear it and Mr. Bird is a tall man with an interest in sports (as well as kids’ special ed, music and comedy!), so it seemed like it might fit.
Right now, as I type this, Theo is sitting in his room playing a video game on his device (he had spent the whole day without a screen, I want to point out!). Every few minutes I can hear him singing to himself, “You’re a sky, you’re a sky full of stars…” and somehow, I am filled with the feeling that he will be all right.
I just turned my calendar over to June. That’s five months of the year gone already. Time is flying by too fast, as it always seems to, but this year I’m more ambivalent about the passing of time than usual. One reason is that I was told by my doctor that it typically takes 3 months to recover from whooping cough, so at times I have been wanting those 3 months to pass by quickly so that I can feel healthy again. I’m almost at the 3-month mark now and I am feeling the difference, so I am thankful for the passage of my unhealthy time, though I mourn the loss of so much productive time. Also, my Giveaway project is a commitment that requires action each and every day of this year, so, like the illness, it changes the way I look at the year. At this point in the calendar, although I can tell myself I’ve completed over 150 days of this project, I still have over 200 days to go, which can seem daunting some days. And on those days, I sometimes find myself wishing I could fast forward to the last month of the project so I can be closer to achieving my goal more quickly. But, that would be a big chunk of life – a whole six months full of interesting, painful, beautiful, challenging, heart-warming, heart-breaking moments – gone, just like that. So, no, I really don’t want the year to go by any faster than it already is.
Today was a day that seemed a little slower and a little fuller than most – mostly because I allowed myself to relax and also to be spontaneous. I lingered and savored my afternoon at a wonderful jazz performance at the Japanese garden where I am helping. I perhaps relaxed too much and neglected my family and my Giveaway a bit. But then when I got home, I chose to invite our friends, Patty and John and their son Harry (who is friends with our son Theo) over for dinner fairly spontaneously. We’d all had a busy day, but somehow it worked. Theo and I rushed to the grocery store, David tidied up and set the table, Patty and John brought wine, and while the big boys chatted and the little boys played, Patty and I prepped the food and chatted. I decided not to worry that I hadn’t made my Giveaway and focus on enjoying conversation with Patty, who is a terrific conversationalist – wise, worldly and witty too – as well as being a creative professional and another mother of an only boy. As we finished prepping the food and got ready to take it outside onto the patio, she asked me if I could lend her a sweater. Again, spontaneity was our friend. I had a purple, paisley-design shawl I knew I wanted to give away. I offered it too her and she loved it. My Giveaway was done painlessly and we were able to get back to dinner and spend some quality time together. And that’s the key. One of the few things in our lives that is inevitable is that time will pass, but, as I am realizing 150 or so days into this year and this Giveaway, we mustn’t let it pass us by.
What has been so encouraging over the last few weeks is the realization that I may be feeling poor in health right now, but I am blessed with a wealth of caring, generous friends who are willing to drop things, projects and even their own children to help me out when I need it. Today, Michele left her own two children (10 and 15 years old, so they were ok!) at home and came to mother me for what is usually the shakiest time of day, the couple of hours of the morning when my body and my cough are trying to determine who’s going to be in charge today. Right now, by body seems to have the edge, but with just one tickle in my throat, my bronchii can suddenly spasm and launch me into a coughing fit that can cost me my breath again. At 8am, just after David had left for work, Michele appeared at the front door, looking like a Greek goddess with her shoulder length brown curls and wearing a long cotton dress finished with a metal buckle belt. I’ve known Michele for over 4 years now, despite the changes she has gone through in her own family and professional life in this time, she has always been a very thoughtful, supportive and loyal friend, vehemently reminding me of my strengths and not allowing me to undermine myself. If she compliments me on a dress I’m wearing and I mutter something like, “Oh this. Really. I’m not sure it looks quite right,” she will cut me off immediately and say, “No. Just say ‘thank you!’”
In our conversations over four years or so, either walking along the lake or at the coffee shop, or occasionally over a spontaneous bottle of wine, we have covered a lot of ground, from kids, marriage, men, poetry, art, politics, sexuality, and mid-life transitions, some subjects getting more air time than others depending on the string and timing. Since I have known her, she has gone through a divorce, lost a job and had to move house, and although I know that she has felt overwhelmed by it all on many occasions, she has never wavered in her devotion to her kids, who she is determined to bring up as good people. To her credit, they are both well rounded kids, both academically and athletically gifted and socially functional too, so her focus has paid off for them. However, just as she worries that I don’t appreciate myself enough, I have at times worried that she may have neglected herself a bit throughout her trials. Today, however, as I forced her to talk about herself as I did my breathing treatments and tried to eat, I started to sense that she is stronger and more contented than she has been in a long while. I have always admired her tall, statuesque figure and her elegant posture as she makes her way through the world. I decided to give her a light brown, flowy sweater top that would fit her frame, fullness and feminine style far better than mine. It looked perfect on her. As I hugged her goodbye and thanked her for looking after me, I hoped that her strength and confidence will continue to build in days, weeks and months to come, and that for years to come, we will be there to remind each other of how terrific we both are!