Category Archives: Life

The Teddy Bear

Teddy Bear

A woman I’ll call Ana was tried for the murder of her 18-month-old son in Sacramento, California. A teddy bear should have been the least of her concerns, but it was always somewhere in the back of her mind.

Ana was the breadwinner of her household. She supported her infant son, the boy’s twin sister, their older sibling, and her boyfriend who was the children’s father. Ana worked in a restaurant in San Francisco where the minimum wage was higher. Because she didn’t own a car, commuting from Sacramento to San Francisco would have entailed a costly, twice-daily, six-hour ordeal involving the Sacramento light rail, a commuter bus, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), and walking. Ana made the difficult decision to sleep on friends’ couches and commute home to Sacramento only when she had days off – two to three times per month.

The coroner determined that when he died, Ana’s infant son had pneumonia, sepsis, and broken ribs that had healed. The infant was also malnourished. Police investigated for almost one year before prosecutors charged Ana and her boyfriend with murder.

After Ana and her boyfriend were arrested, social workers from children’s protective services removed the two remaining children from the home. As often happened with abandoned units, Ana’s apartment became an easy target for break-ins.

At trial, the prosecutor argued that Ana and her boyfriend were negligent in failing to get their son medical care that would have prevented the malnutrition and infection that led to his death. Ana’s attorney presented evidence that Ana saw the baby for only a few days each month, pointing the finger of neglect toward Ana’s boyfriend as the primary caretaker.

There was also testimony from experts that Ana was a battered woman who was not psychologically capable of standing up to her boyfriend’s decisions regarding the care of their children. Like most battered women, Ana had unconsciously recreated her past; her boyfriend was not the first man to abuse her.

Ana and her boyfriend were ultimately acquitted of murder, but her boyfriend was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sent to prison. Ana was released from jail but would not be reunited with her two young children who were now living with a relative in another state.

Weeks later Ana was at a store and saw a man and a woman who were her neighbors at the apartment complex where she lived in Sacramento. She approached them and asked if they recognized her. Not only did they recognize her, they were excited to see her. “We have your bear!” they told her.

What this couple really had was the urn containing the ashes of Ana’s son. Knowing that the urn was inside the teddy bear, the couple had taken it from Ana’s abandoned apartment for safekeeping. These neighbors never visited Ana in jail and never took time off from work to attend her trial, but they managed to perform an important act of kindness that brought someone who had been through hell a needed dose of comfort and happiness.

Long after Ana’s pain, anguish, excitement, and joy have faded, she will need hope to rebuild her life. Whenever Ana looks at her teddy bear, she will think of her son. She will also be reminded that goodness and kindness endured as she went through hell. And she will remember to hope.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

 

 

 

The Vintage Aesthetic

vintage

I know a young woman who has decorated her last two homes with vintage furniture. A faux fireplace with distressed wood and peeling paint. A dark brown armchair and matching ottoman with patches of cracked, faded, and thinning leather. An Art Deco-inspired vanity circa the 1950’s or 60’s with rubbed edges and glossy patina. A dining room hutch with raw wood showing through sanded-down finishes of chipped matte paint.

Walk through any home decor store and you’ll find faux antique clocks, wall hangings, and knickknacks that exude the charm and romanticism of days long gone. Vintage fashion, from high-end couture to budget-friendly interpretation, has inspired the opening of many consignment and thrift stores. Stores sell outdated cameras, typewriters, and telephones. Even meats and wines are aged.

Whenever I get the chance to walk through a flea market or antique store, I feel the thrill of the hunt for pieces of Hawaiiana (Hawaiian antiques and collectibles). Recently I “rescued” a large piece of tapa (or kapa), a Polynesian cloth made from tree bark and painted with plant dyes, lying on a tarp at a flea market.

We survey our homes and collections of vintage things and smile, but we furrow our brows when we look in the mirror and see our own vintage peeking through. We dye our gray roots. We spend money on foods, vitamins, cosmetics, skin care products, and surgical procedures that slow down and reverse the signs of aging. We exercise to stay healthy, of course, but we also know it slows down the aging process.

Some of us don’t mind the gray in our hair or the laugh lines on our faces – they give us character and reinforce our sense of individuality and self-confidence. It’s the dwindling of life energy that we abhor. It’s the wearing down of body parts that literally makes aging painful.

We have a shelf life on this planet. So rather than rail against the looks of our vintage, what if we surrender to it? What if we accept that our bodies will wear down and our energy will dwindle?

What if we look at vintage individuals the way we look at vintage things – as reminders of the past? Except vintage people aren’t silent, they’re living, breathing repositories of history overflowing with wisdom. What if we could appreciate vintage hair color, vintage skin, vintage posture, and vintage pace the way we appreciate the look and functioning of things distressed, weathered, and worn?

We could save all the money we spend on hair dye, makeup, cosmetic surgery, and anti-aging potions. More money to spend on vintage stuff. Just kidding. May you rock your vintage look. Aging gracefully is very attractive.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

Take Time to Smell the Roses

rombauer

Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

Today, Thursday September 22, 2016, is the first day of fall. The photo above is a split screen of a garden statue at a winery in Napa, California. The left side is a picture I took in May. The right side is a picture I took four days ago.

The pop of red in the garden was a welcome change to my eyes. Fall, with its cool weather and palette of warm vibrant colors, is my favorite season. The brown leaves that had already started to decay on the garden floor, however, made me feel a twinge of melancholy. It was yet another reminder of how quickly time – life – flies by. Another summer of precious memories has come to a close.

So, as this sweet statue reminds me every time I visit her, I take time to smell the roses. Unlike the bronze rose that the little girl in the statue holds, the roses in our lives don’t last forever. Life is beautiful, change is part of life, time is priceless, and every season brings its own gifts. Don’t wait to do the small but vital things, especially with the people you love most. Don’t agonize over letting things go and ending happy chapters of your life; new chapters and better versions of yourself are waiting to be discovered.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

Tortoises, Hares, and Empathy

Broken Ankle

Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

My adult daughter recently broke her ankle in a bicycling accident. She got a stainless steel plate and five screws surgically implanted into her leg. Now in a cast, she can’t walk or bear weight on her ankle for six weeks. Her orthopedist told her that even with physical therapy it will take about a year for her ankle to get back to normal.

Good friends rallied and got my daughter through her initial injury and surgery, and now I’m spending a few weeks with her to help her settle into her new reality. Before I leave, I hope we can figure out how she’ll get around her house and get back and forth to work by herself.

I have a theory that people are either tortoises or hares. I am a tortoise: slow and steady; evaluating a situation and creating an attack plan before I engage; methodical; analytical. My daughter is a hare: quick off the block; preferring to jump into a project and make adjustments as she goes; unconcerned with sizing up events as they unfold.

My daughter the hare misses being quick. Everything she does now takes so much longer than it used to.

My daughter the hare misses being fiercely independent. She now weighs the option of asking for help to get something done faster, or doing it by herself and taking twice as long to get it done.

Whether she’s on her crutches, on her scooter, or in a wheelchair cart at a store, my daughter the hare now moves slowly. I walk beside her or follow closely behind her and observe people’s reactions. Most people dart around her. Some people politely make room for her to pass. Some people make her wait while they finish whatever they’re doing before they let her go by.

My daughter the hare now gets tired because simple tasks are no longer effortless: getting in and out of the car; getting in and out of her house, office buildings, and stores; getting in and out of the shower; dressing herself.

My daughter the hare misses being outdoors, walking her dog, meeting friends for drinks, cooking, doing household chores, and all the other things she used to do quickly and easily.

Before her bicycling accident two weeks ago, my daughter the hare was running, hiking, and taking yoga classes several times a week in addition to working full-time and keeping a busy social schedule. My daughter the hare misses exercising her body.

I won’t sugarcoat my daughter’s situation. It sucks. It’s painful to watch her struggle through simple things like bathing and navigating the stairs in her home on crutches. It makes me ashamed to see people look inconvenienced by my daughter’s slowness because I’m sure I’ve had that look on my face when I’ve encountered a slow moving wheelchair as I’m rushing. It makes me want to cry to see the beginnings of depression lurking around my happy and energetic little hare. I can feel her frustration and her growing sense of isolation.

With every setback and bit of suffering that comes into our lives, we have the opportunity to grow. Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is something we can develop with each experience. As difficult as it is for my daughter, young, healthy, and fit, to adjust to living with her broken ankle, my heart aches for anyone with mobility issues who is older or in poor health. My daughter’s ankle will heal. Not everyone with mobility issues has the hope of walking unassisted again.

So the next time you see someone moving in the slow lane of life, please practice your empathetic skills. Be thankful for your ability to get around quickly and painlessly. Think about how long it took and how hard it was for that person slowing you down to get where you are now. Think about how lonely and isolating it feels for them to see people moving in the fast lane of the world as they get left behind.

This tortoise mom will notice, and she’ll be grateful. Someone else might be smiling at you as well. If God has to be either a tortoise or a hare, I’d put Him in the tortoise column. God is forever. He’s in no hurry. Which lane do you think He’s moving in?

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

The Work of Winter

Seasons

Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

My back yard got pretty ugly this past winter. Fallen and partially decaying leaves created a mess on my patio and pool deck, making me think twice about going outside. The pool, sprinkled with leaves and pine tree needles, went from a sparkling shade of blue to a pale shade of pond green. With the lack of sunshine added to this sad picture, I constantly found excuses to stay indoors to avoid yard work.

An easier and happier activity was a visit to one of my favorite wineries in Napa Valley, California, on the cusp of winter and spring. This winery has a charming terraced garden that overlooks a meadow and offers views of the valley below, but I was struck by how bare and brown the garden appeared. Trees and plants had been cut back, leaving gapes in the lush screens between the garden’s levels. New growth was just starting to peek out from the earth, leaving dirt and woodchips fully exposed.

The lack of groundcover allowed me to study a particular garden statue from top to bottom. This statue of a little girl wearing a dress and a hat captures the simple pleasure that comes from smelling the fragrance of a flower. The girl is smiling sweetly, and her eyes are closed. She is oblivious to anything and anyone else in the garden for that moment that she is enjoying the scent of the flower in her hand. This little girl is living in the moment, taking time to smell the roses.

When I went back to this winery a few weeks later, spring was in full bloom. The garden was no longer sparse; green leaves and colorful flowers hid the dirt and woodchips. The little girl was now an island in a sea of green, visible only from the waist up.

Recently it occurred to me that my life has been cut back and pared down. While my kids were in college, I could still parent them by exercising some supervision over their lives and by taking care of them financially. Now that both of my kids have graduated, they don’t need or want my supervision anymore, and they are financially independent. I’m entering a winter season of my life, and I am an island in a sea of brown dirt and woodchips.

People think of winter as a time of inactivity and rest, but it’s really a time for work and growth that happens deep down, away from the view of others. Raising successful, independent adults sounds like something to celebrate, and I do, but if raising my kids is my greatest accomplishment to date, will everything that follows pale in comparison? I hope not.

It’s time to cultivate the next version of myself, time to study the foundations of my life and to choose what things I want the next season to yield. Like cleaning up my back yard in winter, this project probably will get messy at times, not to mention a little scary, but I’m motivated. With visions of lush greenery, fragrant flowers, and a girl who takes time to smell the roses, I begin the work of winter.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

Can High Tech Do That?

 

Dock Piling

Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

In this high-tech obsessed world where toddlers have computers and grade-school kids have cell phones, I often feel like the only person on the planet who can still be impressed by things that don’t require a battery. I took this picture of a piling at a San Francisco bay pier because I was astonished that a plant had turned the piling into its own pot and decided to grow.

You probably recall from grade school science that birds eat plants with seeds and redeposit seeds at new locations when they poop. The organic matter of the wooden pilings, water from the rain and air, and sunlight gave seeds in bird droppings everything they needed to take root and grow. This micro miracle was brought to us by nature – no battery required. As I took this photograph with my digital single-lens reflex camera, I thought to myself, “Can high tech do that?”

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

The Destination

Path

                                                                Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016. 

We spend our lives getting to a destination, a destination that lies around a bend in our path. When we make the turn expecting to see this destination, we find yet another bend, another “S,” before us. Anticipation renewed, we start again, thinking our destination will surely be around the next bend.

With our eyes focused on every coming bend, we rarely look up, down, or around. We don’t notice the trees reaching toward the sky, its branches giving shade to everything below and giving shelter to birds that fly and squirrels that climb. We don’t appreciate grasses, shrubs, plants, and flowers along our path. Insects and critters living among and under these plants go unnoticed. We don’t hear the sounds of insects buzzing, birds chirping, wings fluttering, and perhaps water flowing in the distance because they’re drowned out by the sound of our own breathing and trudging. The only time we might notice a breeze or rain is if it serves to cool us off or dares to annoy us.

We want to get there. We want to arrive. We want to see what is there. Life will be so much better, perhaps complete, once we’re there. We’ll be happy once we get to our destination. All this means that we can’t focus on what is in front of us. We can’t invest time or energy into caring about what we are passing by or passing through. We can’t relish here and now.

 What if we never get to the end of the path? What if the last thing we ever see is another bend? What if our final destination isn’t even on this planet? What if all we ever have is here and now? What if our journey on the path is the point? What would we have to show for our time on this path?

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.