10 Doors: Door #5

Hotel Quarantine

A continuation of Door #4…

The quickest way to minimize an emotional upset is to focus on physical protocol. No time for tears. Armed with hand sanitizer, wipes, masks and gloves we bravely entered into the buzz of an airport during a pandemic. As if I had sprouted more hands in the night, I was able to juggle two enormous suitcases, three carryons, a stroller, carseat and sleepy toddler—moving us through an invisible cloud of COVID-19. Sidestepping people, dodging coughs, jumping through airport rigamarole, and wiping surfaces, all while keeping a smile on my face—because even though no one could see it, I knew my kiddo could feel it. 

The self-check wasn’t working so I lugged everything over to the endlessly winding check-in line, but it was obvious that things were not working smoothly there either. It wasn’t even 5am so people were confused and short-fused, and those that were hired to help seemed to making things worse. People around us eventually started dropping like flies, having waited so long that they missed their flight. With every disappointed person in front of me, we moved one spot closer. I was thankful that we had given ourselves a solid two hours before our flight—make that three, the flight was delayed. Having pulled out all my tricks to keep Daniel entertained during our hour spent in line, I had nothing left to offer except the iPad. 

Two overbooked, delayed, unsettling flights later, we arrived into Burlington and a row of empty rocking chairs welcomed us to Vermont. Amazing how comforting the absence of people can be sometimes. We gathered our belongings, and found a van to fit it all into. The driver’s incessant chatter was a tad overwhelming after such a long journey, but luckily his friendliness was my first impression of Vermonters and not the hotel manager. 

From behind a plexiglass wall, the hotel manager eyed us suspiciously while she slathered on more hand sensitizer. She gathered together a large stack of papers and pamphlets and verbally gave me more information than my exhausted brain could retain. After filling out the necessary paper work, and signing the Certificate of Compliance for quarantining requirements, we were rewarded with a hotel card key and a pointer finger in the direction of our room.

I looked at the monstrous pile of luggage behind me, wondering how I ever managed to get it here from Oregon, and uncertain if I could make it all the way to our room alone. But the hotel manager continued to eye us from behind her protective shield, obviously annoyed that we were still standing in a public space. 

By wedging a suitcase to hold open the door, I managed to fit everything into the small elevator without any room to spare. The ding announced our arrival into a long hall, two straight rows of off-white doors stood like stained teeth, the breath of 20 years of smoking and drinking coffee still in the air. 

We counted down the numbers to our room and slipped the key card in the door. A little green light blinked on, invited us through Door #5 and into a small kitchen—beyond it the fixings of a dining room, office, living room, bedroom and bathroom, all sharing the narrow space between me and the retro mustard curtains. I pushed and pulled all of our belongings in behind me and shut out the rest of the world. The fire escape route on the back of the door accentuated You Are Here. Though I would have rather been anywhere else. 

Looking back on the challenges I’ve faced in my life, quarantining in a hotel room with a potty-training toddler is definitely high on the list. Thankfully we had food because my friend Ally, a former Portland neighbor, had been able to stock our fridge prior to our arrival. But food, though it does technically nourish the body, it often does little for the soul, and staying alive and living have never felt so separate. 

Quarantine was thick and heavy, like sitting under a block of white tofu, hoping that you don’t suffocate under the blandness. Living by the philosophy that only boring people get bored, I’ve never allowed myself to succumb to it. But in this hotel room the hours oozed together into a pile of nothingness, blending days together. The clock’s red faced numbers ticked by at an unnatural pace, mocking me from the corner of the room. 

I tried to stick to some resemblance of a schedule, for our collective sanity, but the different time zone threw everything for a loop. So instead of the schedule being based on the taunting clock, it became a loose daily routine. We started our mornings, whenever we felt like it, with maple syrup, hot water and milk— coining this beverage “Vermont tea”. Sipping our tea (mine with actual tea added) on the couch, we looked out of our “windy window” at a wall of green trees that often thrashed about, my single plant cutting sat in a glass on the sill. Art, playing, reading, TV watching, everything usually devolved into Daniel literally jumping off the furniture.

I encouraged the physical movement, and luckily the furniture provided lots of differing activities. The king size bed, for the classic jumping and flopping; the teal and tan couch for balancing along its back and arms; The yellow high back armchair for jumping, talking on the archaic corded phone, and making a tiny cubby fort; and the most fun of all, the office chair, combined with the desk for pushing off, for continuously spinning around and around. 

I got away with doing less physical activities because I was absorbed in thought. Continuing the online search for a home while consumed with worry that we had contracted COVID19 during our travels, kept me quite busy. I was constantly wondering if he felt hot, or if I could smell things. Was I more tired than usual? Was that headache the first symptom of doom? Or perhaps these were all normal reactions to being trapped in a single room with stale hotel air, poor lighting and the endless mush of quarantining.

When the fear of the pandemic, stress of moving and a pile of pee soaked toddler clothes started to burry us alive, I decided that for our sanity we needed to break the rules and sneak outside for some fresh air. Armed with our masks, hand sanitizer and sunglasses, I scooped Daniel up onto my left hip and we quickly and quietly made a break for it. We took the back halls and didn’t see anyone along the way. 

I flung the right side of my body against the backdoor, pushing our way out into the blinding July sun. Even through the mask, my first inhale of Vermont was lush and hot, the unfamiliar scent of unseen cows floated by and made me smile. We immediately ducked into the wild field behind the hotel, our presences kept a secret by overgrown plants that I’d never met before—tall fluffy sumac hung overhead and flowering burdock playfully grabbed at our clothing. 

We weren’t outside long. But the benefits of the warmth and moving air had put some sun back in my disposition.  We tried to sneak back in through the same door, but my keycard just kept giving me the red light. Admitting defeat and knowing that we were busted, we made our way around to the front doors and entered the lobby. Being greeted by an empty front desk, I kept shifting Daniel’s 35lbs from one hip to the other, not wanting to put him down. My relief at seeing the hotel manager turn the corner was met with her fear and disapproval at recognizing that we had escaped quarantine. 

I flew into apologies and excuses and she kept her distance slipping safely behind the plexiglass shield. She instructed me to properly dispose of my infected malfunctioning keycard and slipped me a new one through a small slit. Rushing back to our room, we again retreated inside, closing the door, removing masks and settling in for another eternity in isolation.  

Perhaps someone stronger than myself could have lasted longer, but when I learned that there wouldn’t be a reduced sentence from the possibility of a negative test (there were no available appointments within 30miles), I felt broken, and reached out for help. 

My mom found an Airbnb in Montpelier, which would at least bring me closer to where I wanted to be. Through the fog of isolation I couldn’t quite grasp how I could get from Point A to Point B and felt defeated and alone. “Just call the host and explain your situation,” my mom instructed me over the phone, “Maybe she’ll have some advice.” 

Though I was reluctant to do so, the alternative seemed impossible so I picked up the phone. A friendly voice answered my call and after I told her all about my situation with the magic words, “…stuck in a hotel room with a toddler…” she exclaimed, “Just come here! It will be so much better! I have so many toys and books for him! You’ll have a yard to go out in. I can do your laundry and get you groceries…” I was choking back tears at the thought of such luxurious support. 

During our phone conversation, Beth had suggested that I simply explain to an Uber driver that we’d been quarantining for the last eight days and needed a ride to Montpelier (40 minutes away) to finish up. I wasn’t completely convinced that it would work, but I packed us up and checked out, with adrenaline coursing through my body. Vermont has taken a self-policed, community pressured approach to the pandemic. So there wasn’t any fees associated with breaking quarantine, I just felt horribly guilty about it. On the other hand I knew that we couldn’t last another week there. 

The Uber driver turned out to be phenomenal. While we headed south, he filled me in on all things Vermont; I watched out my window, taking it all in: No roadsigns, no airplanes, endless trees, interrupted by pastures and a speckling of farmhouses. Daniel slept like an angel the whole time. When we arrived into this strange new land of Montpelier, our driver took the time to give me a tour of my new little town, making suggestions and pointing things out. And when we finally arrived, Beth was standing on the stoop, Door #6 open wide, inviting us in. 

Stay tuned for Door #6…

10 Doors: Door #4

My Best Friend’s House

A continuation of Door #3

There are some doors that lead you into places that you never want to leave. Those are usually the places that hold the people that you can’t believe you previously survived without. As I descended the steep stairs toward my 4th door, I was struck for the millionth time, just how lucky I was to have met Amy in 2014—when she had pink hair and I was a wide eyed newbie at the Portland Saturday Market. We’ve laughed about our first awkward conversation all those years ago, one seasoned jewelry designer to a beginner—but what could have formed into a rivalry, evolved into a lifelong friendship. 

With the enthusiasm of giggling BFF girls, once we exchanged numbers we never stopped texting each other. I can count on one hand the amount of days in the last 7 years that we haven’t messaged back-and-forth. To have found that type of friendship, especially in our 30s, was surprising. Having the kind of friend who knows everything about you— your deepest secrets and what you ate for dinner—offers an entertaining narrative to the monotony of life, enriching the mundane and dampening stress. That type of dependable, unconditional, exceptional support elevates a friendship to “Best” status. 

Stepping down off of the last step, Amy, her husband Mitch, and little Lucca greeted us at a three panel glass French door. Walking into their home felt familiar and comforting, and my sigh of relief at arriving might have been audible. Obviously we hadn’t been able to see each other much since the pandemic started and we had all been looking forward to spending some quality time together. We had timed it out so that we could celebrate Canadian Day and Fourth of July together, out on their deck like we’ve done every year since they bought the house. 

The deck, from the perfect perch high on the west hill, had a direct view of Sellwood’s fireworks show along the Willamette River.  Fourth of July parties started before they even moved in—when the house stood empty, covered with shag carpet, the air still murky from the previous owners. Snapshots of us over the years, red, white and blue, capturing the progression of our lives changing as our baby bumps and then kiddos joined the pictures. 

I remember the year I was pregnant, sitting under a blanket, watching the fireworks and thinking back on the previous year when I had been the only single person at the party. Life can certainly change quickly and unexpectedly. I had wondered what the next year would look like with a baby in my arms, but there had been no way of really knowing how it would feel to hold Daniel, his precious little ears covered to the sounds of celebratory explosions. There is something about the powerfully loud display of colors that demands your attention and invites reflection; the darkness lit up in an expression of fleeting colors, the sparkle raining down to evoke a primal reaction of “Ooh” and “Aah”. 

Summers in Portland have always been a glorious time; the intoxication of endless blooming flowers and blossoms. Having to pack up and move away during my favorite season seemed particularly cruel. I hired a couple masked movers to help me with the big stuff, and then I took several days to carry out everything else, fitting each odd shape next to another, like an intricate puzzle, until both moving/storage cubes were filled to the brim. I accepted help in the eleventh hour from some good friends and purged what couldn’t fit— forming an epic free pile on the corner that was descended on, and picked clean. 

I watched my cubes as they were hoisted onto a semi truck bed, instantly fearing that my packing wasn’t good enough for their bumpy 3,000 mile journey east. It’s an unsettling feeling to see all of your possessions driving away, (hopefully) heading for storage somewhere in a random Vermont town, for an undetermined amount of time. But it certainly freed me up to travel lighter.

The worst part about moving this way was that I couldn’t take my beloved house plants with me. I didn’t really have an option because I knew that I couldn’t handle driving a big moving truck across the country by myself, with a toddler, surrounded by COVID19. Instead I took a single cutting to carry with me—a stalk from a dracaena that had been in all of my bedrooms, throughout my entire childhood and into my adult life, spanning three states. I had to give up my car, Howie, too. I had him washed and detailed before dropping him off at his wonderful new home. I finally checked off the last of my To Do List but there was more sadness than relief in doing so.

The emptiness of my apartment weighed me down, making it hard to breath. I felt heavy with mourning the loss of my Portland life, mixed with the wariness of the future, plus the anxiety of transition, amplified by a global pandemic. I collapsed into Amy’s house, emotionally and physically too exhausted for the next big challenge of finding a place to live. Thankfully Amy and Mitch were there to lean on, both extremely patient with me and this all consuming task. They got involved with the hunt, offered suggestions as I tried to form a plan from under the pressures of sadness, fear and excitement. We sifted through a seemingly endless supply of potential options, in towns I’d never even heard of. It was obvious that I needed to just narrow it down.

The main objective was finding a location that had all-season easy access to my family north of the border. That eliminated some of the smaller towns off the beaten path, or anything too far south. I did some more research, and it seemed that in general Vermont comprises safe towns, with above average schools and more trees than people. I wondered how small town life would be, and hoped that it would be exactly like moving onto the set of Northern Exposure or Gilmore Girls. 

Since I hadn’t had the opportunity to form a personal opinion—having only driven through Vermont on occasion—I decided to rely on the insights of friends. I knew two people in the whole state: Alan, a neighbor from my childhood home in New Mexico, and Ally, a neighbor from my time in SE Portland. I picked both of their brains and Montpelier (pronounced Peel-yer) sounded like it might be a good fit. As the state capital it had the accessibility and amenities I needed, with a friendly small town feel at less than 8,000 people. As a fan of Gilmore Girls, Amy supported my decision, and the narrowed search for housing was underway… though now we continually came up empty handed.

Despite having finally decided on Montpelier, the move itself continued to feel unreal, and the goodbyes just impossible. Outside, the boys rode scooters around the deck or splashed in the kiddy pool, stopping to lick dripping popsicles and yell “I LOVE YOU” into each others’ ears. Sitting on the ground, with one boy in each arm, Mitch rocked onto his back as giggles, squeals and 6 legs flew up into the air. Rocking back into an upright position, the boys cheered for more. And more. And more. Daniel soaked up the male energy and my heart swelled for him and this precious time together. 

Life during a pandemic is more complicated and more simple all at once. Our reaction is to try to force the expanse and pace of normal life upon it by continually making plans. But all that planning is futile, and everything will inevitably need to be canceled. My heart breaks for the important gatherings that were missed—my grandmother’s 90th Birthday Party (may she R.I.P.), two close family weddings and my Bonus Dad’s funeral. Amy and I booked a house in BC for a lady & baby get away. I made plans with some Australian friends and bought plane tickets to the south west and others to the north east; plane tickets down to Florida and up to Quebec. Canceled, canceled, canceled, canceled, canceled. It chips and tarnishes the psyche to be that heavily disappointed that many times. 

After I reluctantly canceled our flight to New Mexico, the date of our Vermont arrival was determined for us by affordable ticket prices. And as the days flew toward that date, I became increasingly self absorbed, fixated on apartment hunting in a town I’d never visited, feeling the disappointment of leaving a city that I love without being able to say a proper goodbye.

Before I knew it, it was July 15th, 2020 at 4:30 in the morning, and Amy was dropped us off at the PDX Airport. Unrivaled as the Best Airport in the US, it has served me well as the portal to 12 years of travel adventures; the first to welcome me home each time. I acknowledged the end of an era, with a knot in my gut and a lump in my throat. 

The final goodbye with Amy was lost in a juggle of luggage, masks and signs telling us to keep on moving. Our goodbyes had already happened the night before, as she made me a beautiful gift that I have worn on my wrist every second since. I had cried then, and cry again now, with the same heartache as that night. Our friendship withstands time and distance, but it represents a whole cherished chapter that I hated to see end.

Breathing through the lump in my throat, I gathered all of my luggage together: Pulling two huge rolling suitcases, tethered together, behind me with my right hand; a snack pack riding on top of them filled with sustenance for the uncertain journey ahead; a massive black duffle bag containing a carseat thrown over my right shoulder; while I steered the blue canopy stroller with my left hand; my flowered Marry Poppins duffle bag hanging off the back of it, containing everything but the coat hanger; and Daniel lounging in the stroller, his blue dinosaur backpack on his lap. Both of us masked up and slathered in hand sanitizer. There was no turning back now. Feeling brave and a little crazy, we took the leap, and splashed into the unknown.

Stay tuned for Door #5…

10 Doors: Door #3

The Sleepover Party

A continuation of Door #2...

Before packing everything we owned to move 3,000 miles, Daniel and I packed our suitcases and drove across town. Ascending the rock studded cement steps, we arrived at our third door—a shiny brass doorknob on a white framed glass door, opening up into the fun and artistic home of our friends Anissa and little Cece. The walls were decorated with Anissa’s talented artwork, rainbows danced at the breakfast nook, a cute bunny nibbled quietly in the living room, toys overflowed, fish swam, and if a unicorn had walked out of the back bedroom I wouldn’t have been at all surprised. 

Anissa and I met when she posted in our Single Moms By Choice Facebook group, offering childcare with her toddler daughter in tow. The four of us were instant friends. The kids were only a month apart in age, and she and I understood each other in a way that no one else could. There was relief and a thrill when we found each other, discovering that our stories were almost the same, and more importantly our outlooks moving forward. We had both been faced with an unexpected pregnancy before making the decision to embrace motherhood, and we continued to rejoice in it with every (exhausted) fiber of our being.

Because the choice to be a solo parent came during the pregnancy and not before, we both had slight impostor syndrome when we hung out with the Single Moms By Choice group. They were an impressive bunch of strong woman, most of which were in their late 30s-40s with successful careers to show for their years. These woman who, for one reason or another, decided that they either didn’t need or didn’t want a man to have a baby with. The majority of them had experienced expensive and complicated fertility journeys, overcoming the odds with determination and grace.

I had been interested in the SMBC group, long before I found myself at potlucks with them. As I entered into my 30s, I become acutely aware of the fact that I seemed to be surrounded by incredible, ambitious, beautiful women—the majority of which were single. It struck me as odd. Individually the ladies fell on all spectrums of the story, some had escaped bad relationships, some had never found a lasting one at all. I landed somewhere in between, having found a great guy, but we had decided to end the engagement before the wedding. Collectively, we were all actively searching and coming up empty handed. 

I once went on a date with this Swedish guy. He was sexy and smart and only in town for the weekend. We practically spent the whole time together. When I mentioned my observation to him he said that he had noticed the same phenomenon in his own country and had some thoughts on the matter. He believed that the strong women who don’t need a man, come across as not wanting a man. The shift in gender equality and easy accessibility to birth control, had meant that women had the opportunity to focus on their education and careers instead of creating families. Consequently, traditional gender roles, which historically gave everyone a place and a job in the household, had been disrupted. Uncertain of where they belonged, intimidated, and feeling inept at successfully wooing an empowered woman, men were left floundering. And, as years tend to sail by quickly, having not made room for a man, women remain infinitely alone.

At the time, I was personally on the fence about having children, caught between a blaring biological clock, and the joys of pressing snooze to sleep-in indefinitely. With the birth rate on the decline, what felt like a personal dilemma was actually a global crisis. It seems that Sweden had put significant attention into raising their fertility rate, though both of our countries fell below the threshold of 2.1/per woman—the minimum to maintain an equilibrium between the elderly and young. The power to make personal decisions often comes with a collective price. Though the logical brain has the power to override instinctual impulse, perhaps our inability to settle hinders our ability to settle down. 

Making the decision to have a baby is only the first step in the large expanse of parenthood. Afterwards there are a million decisions that one must make, most of which can be contradictory to what your friends have done, without making either of you a better or worse parent. Anissa and I navigated parenthood with a similar mindset, making the same choices on things like co-sleeping and nursing. The four of us fit together effortlessly. 

There was an excitement about spending this time together—Like one long sleepover. Daniel was so happy! His sweet friend Cece, with her Shirley Temple curls and frilly dresses, brought out his gentlemanly side. He often just tenderly rested his arm around her back, or held her hand, soaking up the feeling of closeness. 

In the afternoon we took our cold drinks to a patch of sunny lawn outside their apartment, and the kids played in the blue kiddy pool, warmed by a long day. Some of the water made its way to the lush orange and green nasturtiums, by way of a pail green watering can—Daniel’s little toddler body straining under the weight of it. But always up for a physical challenge, he successfully hoisted it up, pouring the water out on the happy plants. 

It was from this yard, one late afternoon, that we heard the chanting of a Black Lives Matter march off in the distance. We felt the beat long before we could make out their words. Neither of us needed any prompting as we scooped up our kiddos and made a run to catch up. Our kids are just barely still small enough to run with, mine already much more than half my size—the neighbors smiled at my effort. We managed to catch up just at the very end of the long stream of masked protester, and walked parallel on the sidewalk, remaining COVIDly conscious. Those that didn’t have signs, had their empty hands raised, “Hands up, Don’t Shoot, Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”. Charged with their energy, we joined in the wave of chanting and the electricity of the group made the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. We marched up the hill with them, the intensity maintaining. When they turned right and headed on, we turned left and headed home, talking to our kids about what we had just experienced and why. It doesn’t feel like two is too young to start the conversation—Cece is biracial and Daniel is a white male—The future starts here. 

There is vast comfort in knowing another solo mom who always seems to be on the same page. In a parallel universe we would have just moved in with them and raised our kids as a team. Anissa is by far one of the most patient, creative, beautiful, mindful, Super Moms out there. She took us on smoothly and graciously, making dinner or watching Daniel, whatever she could do to help. The support took a huge weight off of my shoulders, while I bore the pressure of tying up all the loose ends. I was immensely grateful. Especially when everything is always more complicated and stressful than you anticipate. 

For example, my car, dubbed Howie, just wouldn’t start one morning, foiling my attempted to rush out the door. Waiting for a jump from AAA became a test of composure, forcing me to breath through the wasted time. Eventually I arrived at my apartment, but made the mistake of parking in the driveway and the battery died again. A face-off between the inevitable delivery of the shipping cubes, and the eventual arrival of a mechanic to replace my battery, had me anxiously waiting with sweaty crossed fingers. Miraculously, the mechanic finished just as the semi-truck arrived, and I slipped my car out, as the fork lift brought the cubes down into place by my garage.

Before I loaded everything into the shipping cubes I set an appointment to call Bio Dad. There was a small part of me that hoped that if I told him that we were moving so far away that it would be the catalyst that he needed to come meet his kid—he might even beg me to stay. Maybe just threaten to take me to court and force me to stay. Or send the cops to the airport and detain us. I’d fight him. He wouldn’t have the right— he’s not even listed on the birth certificate. I’d win in court, but it would be a dragged out show down. It would probably be super expensive; definitely be dramatic and stressful. I really just want the freedom to move away, peacefully. He picked up on the second ring. “How are you? ….Moving?…. Oh, where? That makes sense… That’s good… I’m glad that you are making the best decision for you and your child.” 

We chatted for another 40 minutes, like we tend to do once a year. We always go a couple rounds of slaps but no punches. He touches on my decision to keep the pregnancy— and how he’ll never understand why. I touch on his decision not to be a part of the kid’s life— and how I’ll never understand why. We don’t get too deep into it, but emotions rise for a moment, and then one of us always eventually stops the loop and changes the subject. He makes jokes, I laugh easily, the tension loosens. We always remind each other that we only want the best for each other. We remember why we liked each other so much, and acknowledge how complicated the situation is. And then we leave on a high note, addressing each other by name to say goodbye. He always sends a little bit of money. Not as much as the court would have him give, but he does it without prompting and consistently on the last day of every month. It helps him sleep at night. And it puts some food on our plate. Mostly it’s just an acknowledgment, a nod to the fact that Daniel is here and he hasn’t forgotten that. Life is long and their story is not over. At the end of the day, I’m just relieved that there is no drama, and I maintain the freedom to move.

Packing, purging, planning and posting my beloved house plants for sale, every day becomes a series of tasks and hoops. Feeling nervous about trying to sell Howie during a pandemic, I was surprised to be reminded that things often have a magical way of working out—a benevolent benefactor not only wanted to scoop him up for a generous price, but also allowed me to keep him while I was still in town. Putting one foot in front of the other, I try not to think too many steps ahead, because it doesn’t take much to feel overwhelmed. Our time in Oregon is starting to come to an end, but we have one more Portland door to enter, before heading to Vermont. Daniel and I pack up our suitcases once again and head into the SW hills.

Stay tuned for Door #4…

10 Doors: Door #2

Our Portland Home

A continuation of Door #1…

Standing back at the glass door of our Portland apartment, my fingers automatically type in my code on the chrome keypad. At the sound of the lock releasing, I swing the door open and a whiff of home floods me with memories: Of waddling in during my third trimester, my moving boxes piled high; welcoming my son home from the hospital, his three doting grandparents in tow; my brother standing at the stove, a dishcloth over his shoulder; the trials and tribulations of new parenthood with two solid years of sleepless nights; the warmth of countless guests and cups of tea; and daily life with our next-door neighbors, Rebecca and little Edison. I had returned, only to pack up and leave forever. The thought was absolutely heart-wrenching.

The kid in me had rejoiced over my deepest wish coming true, to be neighbors with my childhood best friend, Rebecca. Thirty years prior, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I had found myself in the middle of 1st grade, painfully slipping behind in literacy. I couldn’t move past the fact that everyone else looked at the curve of a C, the sharp point of an A and a long stem of a T, and formed a furry cat in their mind. It seemed like magic to me. My teacher saw my struggle and paired me with the quiet, dark haired, no-nonsense girl, in a pink jumper, named Rebecca. 

Rebecca was studious and I was gregarious and somehow our teacher saw the compatibility in our differences. We weren’t an obvious pair—the fact that she would rather do homework than play was incomprehensible to me, and she couldn’t fathom why I’d want to spend my recess kiss-tagging with boys. It’s doubtful that we would have gravitated toward each other naturally, but before I knew it we were inseparable.

That first best friendship planted itself deep in my heart, an unconditional life-long bond. Even though life managed to physically tear us apart, those formative years we spent together, set a foundation for who we became, and carved out the way we’d always fit together—our strengths and weaknesses complementing each other, forever making us stronger together. 

It was no surprise that she grew up to be a successful business woman and I grew up to be an artist. But thankfully both winding paths eventually led us to Portland, Oregon. And when I unexpectedly became pregnant in our 30s, with the overwhelming what-ifs making me feel like I was free-falling, Rebecca caught me. She was in the position to offer me stability and security—low rent in a wonderful neighborhood. 

She owned twin condos in the inner NE quadrant, their modern aesthetic pressed up against each other, towering three stories and punctuated with a rooftop garden. With two main houses and two separate ground floor apartments, she had styled each space to perfection. The apartment on the north side was clean, quiet, dark and safe, the perfect place for me as a new solo parent living in a fog of exhaustion. 

She had a son, Edison, the year before I got pregnant. And after her divorce she moved down into the apartment on the south side. We converted our garages into bonus living spaces, and in the mornings we would grab our tea, open our garage doors onto our conjoined astroturf lawn, and watch the boys play. As exaggerations of us, they didn’t instantly click, but the sweet moments shared felt even more precious. There is a contentment that comes from sitting beside someone who you’ve known since childhood, while you watch your children form their own friendship. 

I thought we would have countless more mornings together. But without warning it ended. As we all mourned the loss of our pre-COVID schedules, I started the process of letting go of the Portland life that I had cultivated and adored for over 11 years. Not being able to really say goodbye to our friends was the hardest part. The salt in the wound was watching the 20-somethings across the street, giving zero shits, pitch their beer tent and throw a casual, unmasked, corn hole playing, day-drinking party. I longed to be that reckless. To embrace my friends and squeeze them close. But I loved them too much to take the risk. So I settled for awkward social distanced goodbyes—a poor substitute for the rich friendships that I was leaving behind. 

Starting over in a new place, without those friendships and without that neighborhood, was a challenge that I didn’t feel ready for yet. I strapped Daniel’s blue helmet to his head and he shot off on his bright green scooter. The familiarity of our neighborhood was comforting, not a single sidewalk crack would come as a surprise. Turning right we passed by the neighbor’s house, their golden raspberry bushes were growing back in nicely. We cautiously looked both ways at the intersection, where we’d once helped a bicyclist to his feet after a hit-and-run knocked him down. Safely on the other side of the street, we passed the chickens with their gray bunny roommate and arrived at Daniel and Edison’s Montessori/Reggio Emilia influenced preschool. We stopped to smell their organic roses and with a final full inhale of the perfume, Daniel pushed on ahead, scootering under the canopy of leaves, and popping out into the sunlight beside the urban ZZZ Goat Farm. We made our way around the block to eat tart scarlet cherries from a neighbor’s tree and crouched down to pet the resident black cat.

A block away sat N. Williams Street, with its eclectic assortment of delicious foods, cute shops, workout studios and a natural foods grocer boasting in large letters, “The Friendliest Store In Town”. I appreciated everything that my neighborhood had to offer, but over the years I had felt guilty for that, as I’d witnessed the continual gentrification of a historically Black neighborhood. My favorite restaurants had filled in the empty buildings that had long since been jazz clubs. Old craftsman homes had been sold and mowed down—big modern buildings now stood in their place offering delicious vegan options. My head spun in the dichotomy, knowing that for one to exist the other couldn’t and my gain had been someone’s loss. That evening, after Daniel was asleep, I could hear the chanting of the Black Lives Matter protests as they marched down N. Williams, the beat of their feet, the volume of their collective voice, shaking the history loose from the newly paved street. Since I couldn’t join them, I wrote. (Read it here). 

Either by conscious choice or by circumstance, things have started to change. I don’t think the points would have hit as poignantly had we all not been stopped in our tracks by COVID-19. There is a general uneasiness that comes with living in a pandemic, a rawness. Even mundane, every day chores, can bring about anxiety. The constant stream of updates and mandates, shift and evolve as we doggie paddle further into these uncharted waters of the global pandemic, trying to keep our heads up. Sometimes it feels like if just one more thing gets piled on, we’re going under.

For me, one of those added stresses had been about Daniel’s dental work. What had started out as a tiny chip in his tooth, had dragged on into a frustrating, bureaucratic, narrow minded, economical class disparity, western ideological, single-mom shaming, blatant disregard for the fragile development of a baby’s brain, ordeal. And despite all of my conscientious efforts it had brought us to the point of needing oral surgery. Willingly heading into a hospital during a pandemic was not my first choice, but I was very much looking forward to having the whole thing behind us. 

Our appointment was finally scheduled for the same hospital that Daniel was born in, pending a negative COVID test. I had been warned that the test would be extremely uncomfortable, as the cotton swab would have to be inserted far enough up the nasal passage that ancient Egyptian embalmers would be impressed. Lucky for us, this torture was conveniently set up in a drive-thru tent in SW Portland. I hadn’t remembered that Daniel’s Bio Dad lived a block away until we innocently drove right past. The already present knots in my stomach did a flip, and I made a mental note to give him a call about the move. Then I allowed myself 20 full seconds of a pity party that I had to face this steaming pile of challenges alone. 

A couple days later we rose before the sun to make our way the few blocks to the hospital. We waited our turn in a 6’ bubble for the COVID screening of questions and temperatures and, once we were checked in, we skipped the waiting area, and were led straight into a private room. Our shoes squeaked down the quiet brightly lit halls, and I wondered if it was timing or virus that had emptied them.

Daniel was being brave and sweet, instantly winning over the medical staff. I was strong and friendly too, until they wheeled him away and I was alone. Then I cried, feeling the helplessness that comes when there is nothing to do but wait. Thankfully the oral surgery went smoothly and my brave little boy was returned to me with two less teeth, two caps, two crowns and a sticky face from a grape popsicle in post op. I pulled him close, snuggling into his sweetness, the smell reminding me that my labor there had been fueled by endless sips of grape juice.

Once we returned home, Daniel’s recovery was almost instantaneous. The Tooth Fairy paid up and his smile was still just as contagious. With that finally behind us, I got to work on making a list: a game plan for sorting, packing, purging and tying up loose ends before our 3,000 mile move. I didn’t want to make Daniel feel unsettled by living in a sea of boxes and chaos, so we hatched a plan to move in with friends while I packed. First stop was to the home of Anissa and her daughter Cece.

Stay tuned for Door #3

10 Doors: Door #1

The Bend House

Continuation of 10 Doors: Threshold…

After 2 weeks of isolation and potty training, I emerged like a newborn fawn, shaky on my legs and timid to the world. But a plan had begun to form. First step was joining forces with a family in central Oregon. Somehow I mustered enough courage and packed up my little Honda with everything that could fit in the Fit. I buckled my toddler into his carseat, tucked somewhere between the crate of books and the perishables, stuck a cutting of my favorite houseplant in the cup holder and hit the gas for Mt. Hood Pass. We left without knowing when we would/could return. 

I was white-knuckling it from the second I grabbed the wheel. There was snow in the forecast for the mountain pass, plus rumors that I could be stopped by police for attempting to “travel”. I thought that I masked my anxiety well, but Daniel feels everything. “Careful, Momma,” his cute 2 year old voice chimed in from the backseat, warming and breaking my heart all at once. These must be particularly hard times for those that don’t understand why the world changed overnight.

160 miles later we arrived in Bend, Oregon, and at the First Door—panels of natural wood and fogged glass, opening up into the beautiful modern home of our friends Ida, Alex and little James. As they invited us in, our eyes sailed through the living room with high vaulted ceilings, passed the large open deck and beyond into an endless expanse of blue skies and fluffy tops of ponderosa pines. A joyous feast after quarantining in a North-facing ground level apartment. But even more than the view, it was the luxury of sharing in the stress of life during a pandemic. I felt like I could finally take a deep breath of fresh air. 

When you first meet someone, you never know where the twists and turns of life are going to take you. When Daniel was still an infant, and after all my helpful visitors had returned home, I sought out the camaraderie of local Mom’s Groups. I stumbled upon a post in our neighborhood’s Buy Nothing Group offering a free space for new moms to gather. When that afternoon arrived I rang the doorbell of a lovely family home and was invited into a living room bustling with moms and tiny babies, all of which would quickly become our friends. There was no way of predicting that the woman laying out along the couch, in a particularly lovely nursing dress, feeding her blond haired baby boy, would become one of the most significant people in our lives. 

Ida matched her baby, with the same sunny hair, rosy cheeks and hard-edged glint in the eye. Though you couldn’t tell by listening to her, she was born and raised in Sweden, married an ambitious American named Alex and settled down a long way from home. She spoke several languages effortlessly and always took special care to speak to her baby in Swedish so that he’d be fluent too. She introduced me to Elimination Communication and the Instant Pot and we took infant CPR and baby swim lessons together. 

Before the boys were even mobile we split our weeks trading them back and forth, giving us each a few hours of baby-free time. The two of them were always mistaken as twins in the double stroller, and we spent the good part of two years parenting along side each other. Little Daniel and I joined them for dinners, holidays and even a ladies’ soak in their hot tub while Alex watched the kids. 

They had been spending an increasing amount of time in their 2nd home in Bend the winter before the pandemic hit, so it wasn’t any surprise that they were now almost exclusively living out there. Ida and I had been talking about the challenges, fears and developmental concerns we had for our growing toddlers in isolation, and when she mentioned that there was plenty of room for us out there with them, we made the plan to move in. 

The 5 of us lived together for 2 months, though we were never sure if it would be for a week or a year. We planned out our month, as best we could, on a white board calendar, using 5 colors to accentuating holidays and divide up the responsibilities of childcare, cooking and cleanup. As we planned out our meals, Ida and I flipped through recipe books, getting excited about what delicious things we wanted to cook. We compiled a pretty hefty grocery list, and in trying to shop less often, we sometimes filled up two shopping carts.

When it was my turn to do the grocery shopping, I felt woefully unprepared. I pulled into the parking lot and chose a spot away from everyone else. Sitting in my car I took in several long breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. I pulled my hair back and up into a big messy bun and slipped my hands into some surgical gloves. Another deep breath, in through the nose and out through the mouth. I pulled an N95 mask down into place and pinched the metal band to fit my nose. I caught my reflection in the rearview mirror and my eyes watered. There’s nothing like feeling as if you are risking your life just to get food. 

It felt like I hadn’t gone grocery shopping in years, certainly not since the pandemic started. It seemed silly to be scared, but the mask restricted my view, restricted my breath, and I felt my anxiety level increase. I grabbed a cart from the clean side, and slipped in through the sliding glass doors. 

I don’t know what I expected to find in there, but somehow I was shocked to discover a brightly lit, colorful, friendly grocery store with bountiful options. I gripped my shopping list and narrowed my focus to the mission: getting everything on the paper and getting out as quickly as possible. At the checkout counter the woman’s smile could be detected by a slight rise in her mask, as friendly wrinkles appeared beside her twinkling eyes. She asked me if I had found everything all right and I teared up under the enormity of a casual human exchange. I looked away with a, “Yes, thank you.” 

Arriving back at the Bend House the decontamination process began. We always washed everything that we brought into the house. And what couldn’t be washed was put into quarantine in the garage. I put my contaminated clothes in the washer and scrubbed every inch of my body, always hoping and praying that I had done everything right and hadn’t let the COVID leak in.

When we weren’t braving the outer world, we juggled the challenges of raising two toddler boys. Having been best buds practically since birth, their friendship took on a whole new level as roommates. They fought, fussed, played and loved each other like siblings. And, though a little more tactful, the three of us adults had our own conflicts to overcome. Those few rough moments tied us even closer together, a team against the turbulent world outside that door. 

It was on the expansive porch, overlooking the ponderosa pines, that I learned of my Bonus Dad, Leo’s, death. The blinding blue sky, and butterflies playing in the subtle breeze felt impossibly pleasant and I forgot the phone pressed up against my ear. Death steals from us what we hold precious above all else. But no damper can be put on love. In fact, in some ways it takes that love to another level, as our dead now speak inside us and through us, an intimacy that isn’t possible as two separate people in the turbulence of interpersonal communication. Leo and I had never been particularly close, but I know that he loved me like his own flesh and blood daughter, and since his death I’ve cried, laughed and felt his presence more clearly than when our complicated relationship was still malleable. He’s now with me daily, when before we’d easily go months without speaking. 

Being given the space and support to mourn his death, was one of the biggest gifts of our time in Bend. As April’s giant Pink Super Moon rested on the horizon, I was able to walk out the door alone, to fill the moonbeams with my tears without worry of scaring my child. The tenuousness of life never feels as precarious as it does when you’re tottering in a world where people are dying by the thousands, and one of your own is taken from you. What strikes me is our ability to compartmentalize and push forward into a new day, regardless. We are extremely resilient. 

Our society’s general disconnect between life and inevitable death, felt particularly obvious to me during the spring holiday season. I welcomed the levity of deviled eggs and haroset and set out a fun Easter basket of gifts for Daniel. It is Swedish Easter tradition to dress the children up like little witches with red round cheeks and a brown speckling of freckles. I found some wood glue in the garage and made the boys two little brooms to ride around on. We set the backyard up for an Easter egg hunt and the toddlers excitedly ran each bright plastic egg back to the basket upon discovery, finding more pleasure in the retrieval than what was inside them. 

As the weeks continued to pass, life at the Bend House was good and we felt lucky. My little budding extravert continued to grow (and pick up some more Swedish) because of the social stimulus. The fresh air and the companionship took some of the sting off of having to continually cancel big plans and plane tickets, as the pandemic continued to get worse instead of better. The hardest part was not being able to gather together with my family for a funeral. The US/CA border extended their closure. 

With everything shut down and canceled it was ridiculously strenuous trying to get Daniel the dental work that we had been told he needed days before COVID closed their doors. I had been calling for several weeks with no return call, before I finally got an actual human on the phone. She told me that they were booked out solid for several more months, but had I thought about having the procedure done at the hospital instead? The relief in finally being able to schedule his oral surgery hit me with a flood of emotions. The timeline for the next step in our journey had been decided for us. We would be returning to Portland for his appointment and then packing up our apartment for our big cross country move.

Once again I tetrised our belongings back into the Fit, leaving behind my plant cutting which now lived happily in a pot. We began our difficult goodbyes to three very important people. The sadness in leaving was comforted only by invaluable hugs. The preciousness and rarity of human contact during a pandemic can never be taken for granted. As we drove away I tried not to think about all the goodbyes ahead of me, all the friendships that couldn’t be punctuated with an embrace. Leaving Portland was going to be astronomically difficult. 

Stay tuned for Door #2: Our Portland Home

Accidentally Happy

I stand alone. My hands cup the subtle rise of a three month baby bump and a smile takes over my face. I hold for a picture that I know will be seen with shock, but I’m bursting with excitement to finally share my news. I post the image on social media with the words, “Cooking up my next creative endeavor! Grand reveal: January 2018!” and the responses immediately start flooding in. 

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not in the ideal situation. There is no doting husband or white picket fence. I had envisioned a brave and supportive partner, embracing me as I cup the baby bump, both of us beaming with excitement to welcome our first child. I mourn for what I don’t have. 

But sometimes life is unpredictable and accidents happen. I learned a long time ago that change is usually uncomfortable. Sometimes “mistakes” are really miracles, and it is our choice how we see them.

I knew that my news would be shocking, but the huge wave of unconditional love, support and excitement has given me the courage that I need to share my story. And there has to be a story! A beautiful, suspenseful, surprising, bittersweet story. Almost as if it was written for the movies…

                                                                      .    .    .

The events that lead up to me being accidentally happy began about a year ago at my grandfather’s 90th birthday. We sat in a circle around the fire pit, 3 generations of my family, rarely in one place, creating music and laughter as we roasted too many marshmallows. Maybe it was something about the hypnotic fire, or the rise and fall of my family’s laughter, but I found my mind wandering off into a hypothetical future. How would I like my life to be when I’m 90? There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted that. I want to be surrounded by several generations of my family, each of us a branch of the same Family Tree, sharing roots that deeply bind us together.

After I returned home it was obvious that something had shifted inside of me. It was a strange feeling, as if wobbling on the cusp of inevitable change. I became hyperaware of every moment and began conscientiously enjoying every aspect of my freedom: going out with friends every day, staying up all night, laying around for countless hours, consuming whatever my heart desired. And I decided that I must immediately complete one of my life goals and see my 50th state, Alaska, but now I’m jumping ahead in the story… 

I had been bravely putting myself out into the modern dating world for over a year at that point, but it hadn’t yielded a life partner, so perhaps I had been going about it all wrong. I decided to ground myself from dating for a whole month and reset. I called it No Member November, and it was torture for a boy-crazy girl like me. But I spent the time reflecting and questioning how it was that I found myself alone in my 30s.

I resurfaced from No Member November more determined than ever to find the man of my dreams to help me cook my eggs before they went bad — but also a tad discouraged and insecure. The quickest cure for that was to force myself on a date with the hottest guy I could get my hands on. (We’ll call him “J”.) Getting myself out the door that night was a Herculean task. That pesky inner voice wasn’t on my side, but luckily some friends were and I stopped by for a glass of wine before walking down to meet J. The cool winter breeze painting my cheeks with an attractive glow, the wine and fresh air putting a little bit of confidence back in my step. Or at least I could finally fake it.

J arrived a few minutes after me, and positive first impressions quickly gave way to undeniable chemistry. It was simultaneously intense and comfortable. Laughter undulated as conversation flowed, weaving together in effortless banter. It was as if we had always known each other, with the excitement of first time discovery. 

If life was a movie, the playful montage of the evening would have faded into a scene of us still sitting across from each other, dishes emptied and abandon, the rest of the room blurred out with insignificance, our bodies straining to be closer, our faces innocently unaware of our all too obvious future. We chatted at great length about DNA and Family Trees and anyone watching would have become painfully aware of a foreshadowing that we were oblivious of: We were destined to conceive a child, the following year, on National DNA Day.

When the pull between us grew too strong, and the table between us too large, we excused ourselves from the restaurant and spent the night together. It was magnetic, stronger than logic and larger than us. Kismet. When we finally made our goodbyes, he was so taken with me that he tripped over his exit, ran into the rose bush and stumbled his way toward my heart. “In case you couldn’t tell, I really want to see you again,” he wrote later. And thus started one of the most significant connections of my life.

4 months later, I awoke next to him on a redeye flight to Alaska, opening my eyes to the Aurora Borealis dancing around us. It was his idea to join me for my 34th birthday and to see my 50th state, and it goes down in history as one of my all time favorite adventures. The trip itself is an exciting story, but for our movie theme the significance of a simple inside joke becomes the main point. Somewhere along the way we had started joking about “our children”. We had “willed one out of existence” one morning so that we could stay in bed a little longer. “That one was a jerk anyway,” J joked, “We can do much better than that!” Later he mentioned that we could only will one child out of existence, the next one we would have to keep. Somehow foreshadowing is only obvious in movies. Be careful what you joke about!

Our incredible Alaskan adventure ended in a beautifully intimate moment where I summoned the courage to ask if he would like to be official. His face lit up, but he hesitated. And for me that was the beginning of the end. I wanted a yes or a no, but what he needed was more time. 

I challenged myself to live in this unknown instead of forcing a decision. But I didn’t even last 2 weeks before I forced an answer out of him, and it wasn’t the one that I wanted.

It was another 2 weeks of not talking before I had successfully flipped the friend-zoned switch, and he and I resumed our friendship. Our “soul-friendship” as we affectionately called it — giving it more value than just your average run of the mill connection. And it was 2 months after that, on the fated National DNA Day, that we went out for our weekly Taco Tuesday and our lives were changed forever.

The next day, as I jumped into my car, my whole world shifted. Try to suspend your disbelief, because if this was a movie the camera would have revealed a warm golden glow radiating from my abdomen, flooding the car with light, and taking my breath away. My logical brain was already desperately trying to rationalize the experience. But I had this overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t alone anymore. I had just experienced conception, and it was nothing shy of a complete miracle.

I spent the next 28 days lost in thought, teetering between I definitely am! and How could I possibly be?! pregnant. When I told J he held me tight and told me that no matter what we would get through this together. “It’s your body, your choice,” he said as we walked hand in hand under a canopy of green leaves, through an old growth neighborhood.

My choice? My choice. The weight of that was intimidating, but I knew that I needed to make a decision, even before the results were definite. Deciding on what I would do if I was pregnant was the only thing that was going to offer me any relief. I wrote about it every night, looked at my options from every angle, weighed the pros & cons and tried to picture all the different potential paths of my future. I spent half the time in denial and the other half marveling over the changes in my body. All of the sudden I could smell every spring flower on the block.

At the soonest possible moment I walked down to the store to get a pregnancy test. I had made my decision. No matter what the test said, I realized without a doubt, that I wanted to be someone’s momma. Even if that meant being a single mother. My life was never going to be the same again, and it felt so right!

The next montage would be of me, crouching on the cold bathroom floor tiles, every morning for the next week, as I counted down seconds and waited with bated breath for a pink line that never showed up.

“Well, there’s a 99% probability that you are not pregnant,” the nurse said holding the stick and giving me an apologetic half-smile, her confidence in the test almost convincing me that my body was making the whole thing up.

Mother’s Day morning, as I crouch once again on those cold bathroom floor tiles, a clear line began to emerge. I stared at it with a unique combination of shock, excitement, fear and relief that the wait was finally over. Turns out that we are the 1%. Happy Mother’s Day to me.

The next bit would most appropriately be depicted by a series of flash moments: 

J and I in the doctor’s office, my belly smeared with jelly, our eyes glued to the monitor as the sonographer searches with the wand. J reaches for my hand. And then there it is! A tiny little being; a head, a body and a tail, its little heartbeat fluttering on the screen. I’m in love!! I can’t stop beaming at it, a big goofy grin taking over my whole face. J’s still holding my hand, but he feels miles away.“How are you feeling?” I whisper over to him. “You don’t want to know,” he whispers back.

Us at lunch. J telling me how scared he is. How unready he feels. How he already loves the baby more than anything in this world and how unfair that seems. Me reassuring him of how capable we are, what a wonderful team we will make, and how incredible our little one already is! 

Me alone on an evening walk. Smiling at all the children and pregnant ladies that I pass in the park, secretly already part of their club. I start envisioning my own little one and all the things that I want to experience with it, even on a neighborhood walk like this. 

J and I sitting at our usual table for Taco Tuesday. I tell him about my potential plans to move into a one bedroom apartment in my childhood best friend’s condo. He suggests that we buy a house together instead. 

J and I on a walk together, our arms around each other, leaning on each other, physically and figuratively. 

“One of the biggest downfalls of our country is that men aren’t stepping up to be good fathers to their children. I’m 99% sure that I want to be an active parent to this child.” “I know how big that 1% can be,” I answer. We laugh. 

J and I cuddling and laughing about baby names. 

Hours spent reading and writing letters back and forth between J and I. Like an onion, one layer being peeled back to reveal another, most of it making me cry. Our childhood, fears, hopes, possible futures, and desires all being reflected on.

“There are going to be some challenging moments ahead. It’s really important to me that, no matter what is going on, we continue to get together once a week to share a meal,” J says to me, his eyes serious with concern.

J and I laughing together, our empty dinner plates abandoned. Once again the rest of the world is blurred out and insignificant. 

J and I in counseling. We sit on different couches, a million miles apart. “So I think what is important right now is that J decides if he is in or if he is out so that you can both move forward,” she’s saying to us. We can’t even look at each other.

Morning sickness lasting all day. Constantly thirsty, peeing, eating, napping or attempting to work. I’m starting to really show. I turn sideways and smile at my reflection in the mirror. 

“You’re bringing my child into this world without my permission. This could ruin my life! Please please please please don’t ruin my life.” As he repeats the word please, his pleading begins to awaken the Mama Bear in me. I start to see that his inability to man-up will be this innocent child’s deficit, and I can’t believe how selfish he is. But instead of attacking I invite him to leave. He does so without argument, pausing at the door to give me one last look. Our eyes exchanging all of our memories, emotions and wishes without words. This is the last time that we see each other.

Cutting ties on social media and speaking to lawyers. A beautiful friendship is lost, and we both feel it go. My hand on my baby bump, a wave of bittersweet relief comes over me. This next period of waiting and not knowing is finally over. It hurts my heart that this little one won’t know its biological father. Maybe if I had said the right words, or been more patient perhaps he would have stuck around. Or maybe this was always how it was meant to be. 

                                                                      .    .    .

I stand alone, my hands cupping my growing belly. I hold a smile for the camera and my happiness radiates from deep in my soul. I may be the only one in the picture, but I’m not lonely. The space where he could have stood invites a whole village. Friends, family and other single parents gather to embrace us both. It’s not ideal, but somehow it’s just perfect.

10 Doors, Part 1: The Threshold

I moved to Portland, Oregon, during the Great Recession of 2008 and left during the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020. At both points everything around me seemed to crash and burn. Like a phoenix dramatically rising from the ash, a new chapter began.  

I hadn’t sought out the next global crises to make my big move, in fact I was just as surprised as everyone else. There hadn’t been a single clue that I would be uprooting my toddler and myself from a perfectly wonderful life and moving 3,000 miles away to a tiny town in Vermont. If moving can just happen to a person who is in complete control of that decision, then that’s exactly what occurred. I simply allowed myself to get swept away in a very unexpected direction. 

But lots of big unexpected things happened in 2020. My first hint of the impending pandemic came on February 26, 2020, the day before my birthday. I was in a big department store, casually browsing right up next to other browsers, innocently touching everything with my bare hands and casually touching my face whenever I felt the urge, when my ears perked to a very quiet voice. A petite Asian-American woman was asking the lanky white sales guy where she could possibly find some face masks, please and thank you. [I’ve gone back and forth about whether to include their races in my description. At the time I did not think that race played a role in their interaction, but in light of the appalling increase of racist hate crimes against people of Asian descent since the beginning of the pandemic, I now believe that it did.] It was their body language that really narrowed my attention: She was tilting toward him from about 6 feet away instead of just stepping closer, and his voice came out much louder than expected, an explosion of fear or anger, “We are ALL OUT!” His reaction was almost as if he had been asked that very random question 100 times. 

I was curious enough to keep my browsing to his aisle to catch what he’d say to his co-worker after the customer walked away. As soon as she was out of earshot he lowered his voice and explained to his coworker that not only were they completely out of face masks at the store, but so was their supplier— they were backordered with no ETA. I immediately googled “Face Masks Portland” and the first mention of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 popped up on my phone. 

Of course, in those early moments, our government was successfully downplaying the situation. There was more talk about far off lands, and less of an imminent threat. And though I didn’t think that I was in immediate danger, something seeped deep into my subconscious. The next day felt heavy, a panicky fluttering knot of anxiety deep in my gut. I tried to brush it off as a common case of the birthday blues, or perhaps an overdose from that second cup of coffee. 

I attempted to focus on the gorgeous weather and my birthday festivities. My attractive date smiled at me over a seemingly delicious meal at my favorite lively restaurant. When I first met him, that smile was all that he had been wearing. I’m not in the habit of dating people I meet at the spa, but we were inexplicably and uncomplicatedly drawn to each other. We hadn’t shared many meals in those months, but his presences always made food taste even better— except that time. I went to our spa for my birthday treat of a soak-massage-soak sandwich, and hoped that my sunglasses hid the disgust I felt for the general level of health and cleanliness of the people marinating in the hot water beside me. When I left I didn’t feel my usual floaty self. If a sunny day and a pampered body didn’t make me feel better, then something was decidedly wrong. 

By the following week that feeling was more tangible. The germ jokes and playful elbow bumps from the previous week’s dinner party, had turned sinister with the constant pummeling of COVID-19 news and menacing virus particles. All day long I got notifications of booking cancellations on the 4 properties that I hosted on Airbnb, and I watched as my entire income slowly and steady slipped away.

Simultaneously a countdown began for my Bonus Dad’s brain surgery. As an important part of my life since I was a toddler, it was impossible not to be worried— though Leo always seemed to sail through with flying colors. His neurosurgeon had told him that he was a cat with many lives, and I longed to be there with my family in Montreal to help him land on his feet once again. 

As I looked into travel, I saw news articles and clips of complete pandemonium in international airports, as people fled in all directions. Frantic and frustrated, they were crammed shoulder to shoulder, creating an endless sea of bodies, waves of people smacking up against borders as they began shutting down. It seemed impossible, but there were rumors that even the land border crossings between Canada and the US would be closed by the end of the week. I made the hard decision not to make a run for it with a toddler in tow, but instead stay in the safety of our home.

And then I was asked to move out. My landlord had some intel that somehow things were going to get even worse. As a smart business woman she decided that she needed to try and sell one of her properties asap. She simply invited me to move into the identical apartment next door. It’s amazing how a little shake can have the power to turn everything upside-down. 

I started thinking: Was this really the best place for Daniel to be raised, so far away from familial support? He was growing up so quickly and spectacularly that it seemed a shame to be the only one watching. And what if my little aches and pains turned out to be cancer and sudden death. My fragile body was Daniel’s entire world. He deserved more than just me. 

I had loved ones speckled throughout the North East. If I wanted to be closer to family, but still on this side of the US/Canada border, that narrowed my search down to Vermont. Great, I knew a couple people there! Somehow packing up all my things to move on the other side of the wall, or the other side of the country, felt comparable in effort. I tried not to think about what I would be sacrificing to make a move like that. I felt scared and guilty about getting excited. I stayed up late thinking. It seems that my craziest ideas often start forming under the cover of darkness.

The glow of my phone cast my shadow along the headboard as I scrolled the internet, putting together pieces of promises that could potentially be my new Vermont life. My shadow watched over my shoulder silently, the only witness to this wild new idea. I had traveled through the state a small handful of times, with no lasting impressions of it. But I had been a fan of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Darn Tough socks for years. And Bernie Sanders. Vermont’s not so bad! I kept scrolling. The Vermont travel sites all looked quaint and quiet. There was some excitement in the challenge of a cold white winter, a successor to a dazzling show of autumn colors. Wikipedia filled in some more details: Safe, small, good schools, low crime. Not to mention lowest number of cases of COVID in the US. They must have been doing lots of things right over there! I stopped scrolling when I noticed the cold chill creeping up my spine. Oh my goodness, I’m moving to Vermont. My shadow disappeared into complete darkness as I finally put my phone away and drifted off to sleep. 

My Poppa’s visit from New Mexico came before they closed schools but shortly after the beginning of The Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020. He hadn’t even made it out of the car with his suitcase before I blurted out all my new thoughts about moving to Vermont. His wisdom and support has always been instrumental in my decisions. And I was also hoping for relief from the compiling guilt. I spent my entire childhood, 18 months to 18 years, trying to perfectly split my time and energy equally between my parents— which is an impossibility that eats at a kid. The familiar childhood fear that a parent would be hurt thinking that I was favoring one over the other, was in my gut again. 

But the core of my decision wasn’t about them anymore. Or really even about me. My attention was directed in the other direction of our family tree, down the branch to young Daniel and his future. Though my roots will always be in New Mexico, I felt such promise beckoning us to New England.

Shortly after my Poppa safely returned to New Mexico, Portland issued a Stay At Home order and life hasn’t been the same since. The world no longer felt small and accessible. Borders closed, cities closed, doors closed. We all masked up and stepped 6 feet apart. As my life flipped, so did our entire world. We sat separately in our homes, each of us a part of this unprecedented shared experience. The isolation made me crave large holiday celebrations and casual family dinners.

Like most people, we waded through our days in murky uncertainty and fear, a limbo that we had never felt before. We passed the time with increased levels of baking and TV watching, and I tried to limit my intake of the news. Despite my best efforts, Daniel immediately picked up on the stress and refused to sleep, or do anything at all that didn’t involve physical contact with me at all times. With lack of school and playdates, my social butterfly morphed into a wild beast, climbing the walls— or more accurately, my body. I often just settled with distractedly dragging him across the floor with my leg. 

We gravitated outdoors to a pocket of spring sunshine located between the garage door and the hood of my car. In the months prior, my landlord had rolled out some astroturf and our sons had claimed the makeshift yard for playing. Thankful for the green at our feet, and the rising temperatures, we pulled out blankets to lay on and let our days slip away in an intoxicating cloud of blooming daphne.

Since we were home anyway, it seemed the perfect opportunity to potty train my 2 year old. On our first day, Daniel placed the potty insert on top of his head and giggled, “My hat goes Chugga Chugga Choo Choo!” I was so grossed out (and stressed out too) that I didn’t even get his train-ing joke until the following day. At which point it gifted me endless chuckles.

Waiting. Worrying. Cleaning up pee. Repeat. For the first time since Daniel’s birth we didn’t have a social swarm of friends to buzz around with. It only took a couple of days for me to realize that being isolated from my community wasn’t sustainable. People stepped up to drop off groceries and other essentials, while others generously sent money. Their kindness hit hard. It’s embarrassing to realize that you’ve let your shortcomings hang out. Graciously accepting help, is one of the hardest lessons that I have had to learn. It was a privilege that my first thought was that of gratitude instead of worry. And it is a profound truth that it takes a village to raise a child.

Knowing that we are stronger together, we decided to combine forces with another family. Since infancy Daniel and James have been best buds, and his parents became close friends of mine. They were living out in the small city of Bend, Oregon, with an abundance of fresh air and sunshine. As we began to make plans to join them there, I learned that there had been some complications with Leo’s brain surgery and he was fighting his way out of a coma. The helplessness that I felt was nothing compared to that of my mother’s, as the pandemic restricted her ability to be at his side. 

Under the stifling weight of waiting, the uncertainty that engulfed us all, I put one foot in front of the other and began to sort through objects that we didn’t want to live without. The first step was to pack the car for life in Bend. We had no idea when we would return, at the very latest when the place was sold. At which point I’d be forced out the door toward the unknowns of Vermont, whether I was ready or not. 

But as they say, when one door closes another one opens. 

Or in our case, 10 doors opened, lighting the way over the threshold from life in Oregon into our new life in Vermont.

Stay tuned for Door #1— The Bend House

The “Perfect” Storm

The muffled sounds of protestors with the buzz of drones and helicopters blanket the night as my toddler sleeps soundly in the other room. I’ve opened up my computer to write about myself but the words seem sidelined by sheer insignificance in comparison to the weight of the world. Before I can return to writing about my tiny life’s big move, I feel compelled to share a personal journey that I’ve been on. 

As someone with such an affinity for sentence structure, I’ve certainly been at a loss of words. Protestors gather for the 17th consecutive night and I’m thankful that so many people have found their voice as I still search for mine. I don’t want my silence to be misconstrued as compliance or violence. There should be no doubt that I believe that Black Lives Matter. But standing behind those three words, without really doing the homework, feels like a copout.

When hard at work, I often spend more time listening than talking. More time sitting quietly with myself instead of taking loudly to the streets. I spent several days in the discomfort of my white guilt, fear, pain and bewilderment. I want to make a good ally. I thought I was already a good ally. 

We’ve each spent our lifetime gathering our own truths and translating them into how we interact with this world. I grew up in New Mexico and my high school was the most diverse in the nation at that time. I didn’t see a significance between the tone of my skin and that of my friends. It’s only 20 years later that I’m realizing that’s part of the problem—not acknowledging race and taking into account the history and the continued disparities in almost every aspect of our paralleled existence. As a woman who has based a lot of my self worth around being empathetic, how have I been so removed from the suffering of my friends? I am devastated and disillusioned and am putting mindful effort into improving. 

I’ve been having lots of aha moments, though they are more of the soul crushing, sob inducing, shock and anger type of moments. I have a lot of catching up to do because I’ve spent the last 3 years purposefully in a protective bubble—carefully avoiding watching depressing news and intentionally steering clear of anything to do with Trump. Just happy thoughts and positive energy while I cocoon, creating my tiny innocent child. Oh, aha, that is White Privilege. Even though I am a single parent, I am “a pretty white girl” and my parents are my safety net, society will catch me, the police will protect me and the “Universe” will always provide. Pardon me while I have an existential crisis over here. 

The mind is an unreliable source. (Side note: have you ever watched the show Brain Games? If you haven’t, you totally should— it’s a fun Netflix series that shows you just how susceptible you are to being unconsciously influenced.) My son turned two in January and we started preschool at the cutest little Montessori/Reggio Emilia influenced school, in a house with an organic garden, 400ft away from our front door. Another 400ft away is a Head Start school in the basement of a church. After my kiddo’s first week of school, as we’re walking by, I see a group of kids outside playing, everyone is having a grand time, not a white face among them. Aha. I hadn’t thought for a second about putting my child in that school, hadn’t even considered it an option. Instead I stuck my white kid in a white school with white teachers and gave it no thought. 

So how’d that happen? I was raised in a non-racist family and have collected and connected with people of all different shapes, sizes and colors. But I’m realizing that society has still managed to whitewash my brain into thinking that I am not a part of the problem. Like somehow not making conscious racists decisions excuses my participation in the continuation of segregation. If I believe that the school that I chose will provide the better education, then shouldn’t that set off even more alarm bells— for doesn’t that mean that we are already setting our next generation up to have the same disparity gap as all generations before? Like so many other white people I thought that being non-racist was enough. But it’s clearly not. We must gather together as mindful anti-racists to actively make changes. 

A Black friend of mine was telling me how jarring it was that all of a sudden all of these white people are so aggressively jumping on the Black Lives Matter movement. A Black guy, walking by at that moment, without missing a beat, echoed her bewilderment. To them it’s hard to see why today is different than yesterday when it comes to the subject of race. There has been COUNTLESS deaths and injustices, so why are white people just now seeming to notice? They are rightfully concerned that it’s just a passing phase; lip service to a bandwagon. 

Well, as one of those whiteys just now REALLY clueing in, I whole-heartedly believe that there is potential for real change, now more than ever. We’ve all spent the last several months sitting alone in our rooms, struggling with fear, loss, sadness and isolation. People cross the street when they see us coming. Many of us have the added stress of financial insecurity and the future feels so uncertain. From what I’ve grown to understand, this is how it has felt to be Black in this country for hundreds of years. They say that the best way to understand someone is to walk a mile in their shoes, and this mile has been excruciating. I’m sure that I am not alone when I say that I feel completely raw, disillusioned and devastated.

We have all been forever changed. And it is this destruction that has primed us to rebuild into something better. To join forces with others, to feel a part of something bigger, something more important than the self. Add in some super graphic videos, heart wrenching photos, a name like “George” that is already synonymous with firsts in American history, an approachable face for the masses and you have the perfect storm for active change.

My knee jerk reaction to the first time I saw the words “Black Lives Matter” was to say “But wait, All Lives Matter!” If you’re still stuck on that you need to learn more and think more. The BLM movement isn’t saying only Black lives matter— it’s not giving something worth by taking away from everything else. It’s about finally amplifying a voice that has been drowned out by white noice. It’s about acknowledging the struggle, the discrimination, the violence and the injustice. It’s about making their fight our fight and actively working toward a better future. Together. Not segregated. Change. Is. Possible. 

**Image of June 2020 protests in East Point, GA. Check out more of his powerful images on his website at www.colehowardphoto.com **

The Storm

The storm hit in the middle of the day, building quickly and dramatically. The wind gave little warning before blowing through and demanding the release of pollen from every single ponderosa pine for miles around. A chartreuse yellow cloud began to grow– blocking out the view and the sun in one determined swoop. The future generation of pine trees tried to get lucky with my eyes and nose, but only managed to tickle out a series of explosive sneezes. Thankfully the build gave warning and I was able to brace myself for impact. Motherhood has many gifts but carefree sneezing is not one of them. 

As dramatically as possible, lightening coupled with thunder to announce the storms proximity— though, I’m sure it already knew that it had everyone’s attention. A few drops of rain to test the ground, then it just let loose and wild. Hail. Loud and rhythmic. Tiny little jawbreakers dancing on the deck, drowning out all other sounds. So deafening that everything felt silent. And dark as night, in the middle of the day. 

The tempest was a welcomed distraction from my packing. In its demand for my attention, it gave relief to my thoughts. To the continuous monologue between my ears. The endless list of preparations and packing and purging and planning. The constant effort to stay focused on the logistics, instead of the self inflicted heartbreak of leaving this good life that I have created for myself in Oregon, for the unknowns of Vermont. 

Tomorrow feels like the first step in that journey into the unknown. Tomorrow I’ll finish packing everything back into my little car–somehow tetrising “the essentials” of a single mom and a 2 year old boy, back in the same way it came out 2 months ago. Small potted plant in the cup holder, little stuffed bat in the door handle, snacks an arm’s length away, and a pile of crates and suitcases so big I have to avoid switching lanes. 

Like the storm, the pandemic hit smack-dab in the middle of Life and demanded our attention. The moments before it hit I was completely content with my life, and if you would have asked me, I was certain that I would be spending the rest of my days in Portland. But the craziest part about a disruption in the smooth sailing, is that it shakes things up. Though I have formed so many priceless friendships, there is now this undeniably strong pull to be closer to family. The sacrifice is astronomical, and I haven’t allowed myself to even imagine how it will feel to pack up my life of 11 years without a proper goodbye. But as the tears start creeping toward my eyes, I must continuously shift my gaze and keep my eyes on the prize. Big family dinners and mundane weekends. New England winters and maple syrup. The land of Ben & Jerry and Bernie! 

I’m scared shitless. 

So I’ll just get back to my lists, and try to focus on one step at a time. First step is packing up the car, saying goodbye to some extraordinary friends at the “Bend House”, and heading back to Portland to face the real challenge. The packing. And purging. And planning. And preparing for this next huge chapter in my life. 

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