Sunday, August 30, 2009

When Life Hangs in the Balance

I have lived in Southern California my whole life. The San Gabriel Valley is east of Los Angeles and nestled into the foothills. As a kid, I always knew that north was where the mountains were. And every fall, we entered into "fire season." The hot, relentless Santa Anas whip up and fuel any relentless spark and the mountains go up in flames.

While I am used to having some smoke in the air every once in a while in fall, I have never seen anything like this Station fire consuming La Canada/Flintridge. To exacerbate matters, I have friends who live near the firestorm. When the fire started on Wednesday or Thursday, I didn't pay it any mind, but by Friday night, it bacame evident that the spreading was moving more toward homes than away from them.

(photo by Robin Swanson from LA reader's photos)

This is what the fire looked like from the top of my hill, probably 10 -15 miles away.

By Saturday morning, my closest friend's family was evacuated from the canyon. Our house has become a respite and a hell for them. They have two kids, a cat, and tons of computer equipment as they both work at home. They don't know how dangerously their house is threatened. They can't get enough information on the news or the Internet specific to their exact area. They are sequestered, isolated, and even in the age of technology with iPhones and instant information in the palm of your hand, they feel so desperately unaware of how close to their home the fire is burning. Facebook is their only link to their friends still staying to fight or waiting until they are mandatorily forced out. The posts on Facebook are heart-breaking. Some people are leaving their homes for what may be the last time. Do they know if they've missed anything in their frantic rush to leave and keep their children from inhaling any more smoke?

My friend threw clothes in suitcases yesterday as the Sherriff's' cars were coming by to tell them to evacuate. She's amazing in a crisis. She has training in crisis management in a mental health setting, but when it's happening to you, you don't react as carefully. She managed on Thursday and Friday to pack all of the important papers, pictures, kids' baby books, etc. You know, the stuff you remember to take. But this morning, she cried, "I wish I brought everything." My heart sank. I can't possibly know how she's feeling.

The house is chaotic. The girls, my T2 and their 6-year-old are watching TV in the front; the boys, T1 and their 9 1/2-year-old are watching episodes of X-Men on the computer. We have make-shift beds in several rooms, make-shift offices in the dining room. Making meals is like a army KP production. Industrial quantities of paper plates at the ready.

As I support my friends, I think about how natural disasters leave us completely powerless. What would I do if I had to leave my home? I remember when I moved in here. I didn't like the house. I longed for my old house and neighborhood; as a mother with toddlers, I felt isolated and sadly lonely, away from my community. Now, five years later, we have built a circle of friends. We see our neighbors in town, at the store, and I can't imagine living anywhere else. If I had to leave I'd want to remember to pack the brick that identifies our family name near the front door, but, obviously, I'd have to leave the lemon tree. My friends worry that their house will burn in this apocalyptic fire. There won't be anything left to buy or rent in the neighborhood. They will have to start over, they fear.

I feel scared along with them because all parents live to preserve their way of life, their home and community, the routines that make their children feel safe. I am supporting them, hoping for the best.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Beaches and Theme Parks and X Games, Oh My!

Summers are different when you have kids. When I was younger, before marriage, kids, you know, responsibility, summers were for relaxing, sitting around, staying up late, reading lots and lots and lots. Now my summers are jam packed. I wouldn't necessarily call what we do in summer a "vacation." I remember my last "vacation." There was an over-water bungalow and the words, "Bora-Bora" on the hotel stationery....ah memories. No, now we take trips. Trips to theme parks, the beach, places with cotton candy and merry-go-rounds.

I love my summer "trips" with my family. Maybe they're not the most relaxing or rejuvenating, but they are FUN. The looks on our faces can attest to that. Here are some highlights:

Parrot talons in your shoulders do feel really weird.

Big hat is a must.

Always gotta find a place where the kids can go on one of these

At the X Games in Los Angeles, we watched the inaugural "Big Air Rail Jam" skateboarding event. These guys skateboarded down that giant ramp, landed on a tiny rail, jumped off the rail and came down another ramp. Pretty amazing.

Don't we look happy? I hope you had a great summer too. Back to school (and back to work) is just around the corner....

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Photo Tag

I have been tagged by clueless but hopeful mama to post a photo.

Simple Rules:
-Open your first photo folder (I took this to mean oldest digital pictures folder).
-Scroll down to the 10th photo. (okay, I'll have to use the 9th because there aren't 10 photos in the folder. I have photos from 2008 to now on this computer.)
-Post that photo and story on your blog.
-Tag five others (or more) friends to do the same.

This is my dad opening presents on his 80th birthday. If you look really close, you can see the really funny (read stupid) message on the shirt, meant to look like Japanese or Chinese characters. His sense of humor does tend to go the potty-mouthed, adolescent boy slant.

I really love my dad for a bunch of reasons. He's so self-sufficient, even at 80. Loves to do carpentry, computers, painting, gardening; he plays the trumpet, for God's sake. On his birthday, all of his cronies came out for dinner and we toasted his wonderfully productive life. He's a real renaissance man; keeps reinventing himself all the time. I hope when I retire that I want to be involved in half as much stuff as he is, so I won't be bugging my kids all the time.

Wish I knew 5 friends to tag for this post, but alas, I am new to blogging and don't know anyone, other than CBHM who tagged me. Stay tuned. Maybe I'll make some friends soon to tag here.

Summer Camp

I did not really like summer camp as a child. I remember I had to go to the YMCA day camp for a while, and then my mom sent my sister, brother, and I to Vacation Bible School at a Baptist Church. We were Catholic. Go figure. I guess if it's all Jesus, that's okay, right?

Anyway, the YMCA day camp felt very isolating. It was in this big, cavernous gym, with bunches of kids, none of whom I knew. We went on field trips and had contests--everything that should have made a kid thrilled. Not me. I was painfully shy and had trouble making friends. Mostly, I remember playing by myself and sticking with the counselors, who were like surrogate mommies to me, when what I really wanted was to be home with my mom, who was at work--like me now.

Fast forward to my own kids going to summer camp for the first time. I had a revelation yesterday that they are now forming their own childhood memories. These are the summers they'll remember as the "when I was a kid..." times. Oh, the responsibility of this makes me so nervous. What if they don't like camp? What if they have a bad experience that they remember forever and blame me for putting them there--for working.

I took T1 and T2 to camp for their first day on August 3. They knew 3 kids there from their previous pre-school. Long standing friends with whom they had fantastic relationships. There was even a counselor there from their pre-school. They'd be okay, I told myself. They had "people" there.

T1 has a similar personality to mine. He's sensitive, shy, and slow to warm. I projected all of my own childhood fears onto his experience. T2 will be fine, I thought. She's the social butterfly. No problems for her. I packed their lunches (special sugary treats included so they'd think fondly of me during the day. Why that works, I don't know), kissed them goodbye, and crossed my fingers for a good day. When I came to pick them up, the counselors' reports were all happy and upbeat. They had a great time! they said. T1 actually joined in the games and made friends faster and more easily than T2. T2 got into the game late in the day, but really, overall, they loved it.

You mean their lives aren't going to be the same as mine? Their childhoods will be different? As twins, their experience will always be different than mine. They will always have each other wherever they go together. I suppose that takes some of the pressure off. A week-and-a-half into camp now, and they're both loving it. And why not? Playing games, going swimming, and making new friends (friends that may last a lifetime, as other people tell me happens sometimes at camp) are infinitely more fun than hanging out with Mommy.

They're growing up.