December 27, 2018

Out of the Clear Blue

Every night, a million words hover and swirl around my head before my eyes close. They blink in and out, alternating in bold whites and varying shades of gray -- as if in competition against one another. The competition goes on for what seems like hours, and by the time my lids fall like lead, I can never tell which word finally prevails.

I guess that's why people who can pick out one single word to encompass New Year's resolutions, hopes, dreams and themes amaze me.

There are just too many words. At least for me there are.

The last Thursday of the year, I went through the usual morning motions: made the bed, brushed my teeth, refreshed the dog's water dish and poured a cup of coffee with just enough cream so the color matched my skin. I sneaked a cigarette and, coffee in one hand, phone in the other, sat on the porch despite a biting wind that came with morning rain.

Words, in list form, blew in and out with cold blasts of air, and I fanned them away in favor of the tree across the street whose skeletal branches were in sharp contrast to gray sky. A solitary bird was perched on a weird angle, not resting atop a branch, but along the tree's trunk.

Now, from time to time, you can hear woodpeckers around our neighborhood, and on the rarest of occasions, you can see them. Was this little guy a woodpecker? I trained my eye to see the little bird's color, but gray skies suck the color out of everything around them.

I don't know -- maybe gray skies are jealous of cardinal red, royal blue, silky brown or fiery orange. Or, maybe colors just don't have the strength to fight against them when gray is the backdrop that hovers over everything colors are and do.

A clear blue sky, on the other hand, pulls disparate colors into laser focus, like tiny green buds that pop from momma branches in May, or earthy yellow grass patches in need of TLC, or the elusive woodpecker that you hear and rarely see.

In my little corner of the world, the past 360 days have brought more overcast gray skies than blue. Oh sure, there's been days filled with joy, thankfulness, inspiration, struggles and belly-laughs. But if I'm being honest, I've let the gray seep into and tinge these colorful days.

Instead of a word, I'll choose a color to guide the upcoming year.


...and gold and umber and evergreen and charcoal and all colors in between.

No, blue won't help melt the weight others have lost and that I've found. Blue won't magically pull me out of debt; and it certainly won't help me become an organization maven.

Blue won't help any of those things, but the thought of this simple color will help me clear gray clouds from time to time, and see reality -- be it political, spiritual, familial, cultural (and all the other als, ials & isms) AND ME -- in their technicolor differences.

I guess I'm hoping blue will help me see more clearly...and remind me not to let gray color all the colors.

Whether you choose a word or a color for 2019, I'm wishing everyone a Happy and Colorful New Year.

December 7, 2018

We Didn't Name Her Pearl

It's a girl, mom. We had a girl. my husband sniffled as he told his mom the good news. She replied Are you gonna call her Pearl? My mother-in-law is an educated woman with a wicked sense of humor. She knew it was the 61st anniversary of Pearl Harbor, so yeah: pretty funny.

I giggled at that and felt joyous...and also empty. As I was hooked up to monitors and watched the nurses wash and clean this new life, I wished that somehow, someway in the middle of all the celebrating and praise that goes on in Heaven, that my mom got the memo about the birth of her granddaughter.

But that's not what this is about.

We didn't name our daughter Pearl. Instead, we named her after an aunt who after her presence was a fact, was named, and died shortly after. Our kiddo's middle name is her grandmother's -- my mom. I like to think that's from whom her wisdom-beyond-her-years and discernment comes.

As I celebrate and weep and get teary over the person I see my kid become; and as I worry and wring my hands over screwing her up or being the "right" kind of mom, I also know there are people who are walking through the reality of grief of a child gone too soon. Like one of my daughter's namesakes.

There's part of me that feels the same emptiness I felt on my daughter's birth day.

I giggle and am joyous over her texts telling me this particular birthday is going AWESOME. But the giddiness and joyfulness is tempered.

I know there is a hole in the hearts of moms whose child won't see a super sweet sixteen or milestone birthdays like 30 or 40 or that their kid won't ever call them with a grandchild's birth announcement. That they won't have the chance to ask Are you gonna call her Pearl?

Don't get me wrong. I'm over the moon in joy over the gift we were given today and that I got picked to be my kiddo's mom. I realize it's a blessing to have her in my life, even as tomorrow isn't promised for me -- or her.

Happy Birthday, Babygirl.

December 3, 2018

Tis the Season of Pinpricks

I get knocked down, but I get up again
You're never gonna keep me down
I get knocked down, but I get up again
You're never gonna keep me down
I get knocked down --

We get it Chumbawumba, we get it. Even as you read this, you're someplace on your way up again and prepping to get knocked down. Again.

Good for you. But that ain't me. I'm trying to get up again and flinching at everything that might possibly could maybe, who knows, knock me down.


It's been a long November, a month in which I had planned posts on daily affirmations of thankfulness, perhaps a countdown to my daughter's birthday / my mothering day and maybe a post about the minutes I've been missing my parents since all the way back to 1987.

But I got knocked down by a lot of things.

The knowing that so many friends of mine were newly missing loved ones in the season of giving thanks that leads into the season of celebrating family and friends. It's one of the worst feelings I can imagine. And I acutely knew no words can salve that wound. So my brain clenched up. And so did the words.

Then there was the knowing that people desperate enough to leave home and walk thousands of miles in hopes of sanctuary were greeted by tear gas in the name of law and order. Law and order hides behind too many sanctioned injustices. Even in my own family.

The knowing that my daughter looked at a form of racism in the eye, and that I had to handle it as best I could as a parent, while giving her the tools to handle what I couldn't when she's an adult. I mean, she'll face it on her own soon enough. Too soon.

No, Chumbawumba. The knocking down had me really knocked down.

Now I'm looking for pinpricks to pierce the darkness -- maybe we all are, I don't know. So for me, Advent -- the waiting on The Light -- is right on time. So is Hannukah -- light itself being present in a miraculous way.

Even in the darkness, I've got hope -- no matter how tenuous -- in this season of light.

There. Is. Hope.

After all, I got a lot of stories to write about.

hums to self: I get knocked down, but I get up again...

September 24, 2018

I'm Keeping this Folder Open - In The Heights

In my brain, I've got folders in which I file stuff. Some are memories that need to be tucked away for safe keeping. Others are within reach for easy retrieval: what meeting is when, what activities my daughter's got going on or when which bills are due.

Still, there is another folder that holds memories or experiences that pack too much punch to process immediately, like the few years around my mom's sickness and subsequent death, and more recently, our family's trip to Missouri to retrace the steps of tragedy that eventually led to my great-grandparents' resettling to here in Milwaukee.

The most recent addition to that folder is the Milwaukee Repertory Theater's performance of In The Heights.

When I went, all I knew is that I needed distance from our bonkers reality as well as its effect on my emotional health. Given that the musical centered on residents of The Heights who are mostly Hispanic/LatinX -- many immigrants or first generation -- there couldn't be a wider distance between my reality as a Milwaukee-born black woman married to a white guy and mom to a biracial daughter.

We met Nina. She was back for summer break from an Ivy League school. She's her family's bright and shining star who puts on a good face for her family and her neighborhood, but deep down, she feels like a failure because despite scholarships, she's dropped out of college.

Nina and Benny. Their relationship is, as the kids say, Goals.
Photo Credit: Michael Broslilow
I knew Nina, and sometimes I am Nina. No, I'd never gone to or dropped out of an Ivy League school, but I know what it's like to fall short of successes that others dreamed for me. I ached for her and cheered for her.

We met Nina's immigrant dad Kevin. He's a guy desperate to do whatever he can to make sure his daughter has a different, easier life than his own. I knew him too.

I'm a mom who will scratch, work three jobs and do consecutive backflips down the middle of a busy street if that's what it'll take to make sure my daughter's life is richer, smoother, unhindered by racism and more confident than my own. I wanted to hug Kevin, weep alongside him and tell him I understand.

And then we met Abuela Claudia who has a humor and wisdom that only age can bring. It reached from the stage and touched me as I sat mesmerized in the sold-out theater. I listened to her soaring vocals and wondered about all she might have seen in her younger years. Then from time to time, she'd talk about life back in Puerto Rico and remembered the past for her neighbors in The Heights.

Abuela Claudia and Usnavi.. He's so lucky to have her in his life.
Photo credit: Michael Brosilow
I got a catch in my throat because she's the grandmother I wish I could've known. Her immigration story made me reflect on my family's trek from Missouri to Milwaukee.

By the show's end, I could see myself as a version of her in a future life, telling my stories to my grandkids, my neighbors or anyone who will listen.

There are times when opening some folders feel like too much for me to process. But this performance, with its joy and hope despite the characters' day-to-day struggles is worth opening up and reliving from time to time.

The awesome, joyful cast of an awesome joyful show.

In The Heights runs through October 28 at the Quadracci Powerhouse.
You gotta see it. Click here for tickets. You'll be glad you did.