A Tale of Two Jennifers

When we had been in California just a few weeks I surprised Rob by sobbing myself to sleep. I have had many wonderful friends in my life, but I was particularly missing my great friend Jennifer. She’s the kind of friend who takes you just how you are. The kind of friend who invited me over for giant salads for lunch while the kids play and we chatted on the couch and folded laundry together. She was the woman I was doing the business of motherhood with. We traded piano lessons for my kids for doula support during her fourth daughter’s birth. My 6 year old stood on her porch in a temper tantrum and refused to take lessons from her. I almost had to catch her baby girl because she was birthing so fast the midwife nearly missed it. We have been in the trenches of life together.

brunch:jenniferI was lonely for her company and the comfort of knowing she was just 5 blocks down the road and I could meet her in the park at any time. I was sad that her sweet children would be growing up and I would only see it on facebook.

We grew close after years of hanging out with a wonderful group of ladies for regular brunches. We both lived in the same neighborhood so we had set up a weekly lunch on Wednesdays so we could have consistent babysitting for doctor appointments and such, and on the weeks we didn’t need a sitter we just enjoyed our time together. We took zoo trips and saw children’s theater performances. We canned tomato sauce and peaches. I loved all the women from our brunch group, but losing Jennifer’s company was like moving away from family.


It was quite a surprise to me when, after moving to California, I met another Jennifer who became like family. We met at a homeschool park day and we were both new to the area. I invited her family over to dinner because we were desperate to make new connections and I thought maybe they’d be lonely for friendships too. That first dinner together we became fast friends. We joked comfortably. Her husband Ben and Rob had a great time as well, and the kids trampled all through the patio playing like long-time friends.

beach:jenniferOver the course of the year and half I have known my California Jennifer our friendship has grown dear. Our kids are like cousins. She’s seen my kitchen loaded with dishes. I’ve seen her floor scattered with orphan socks. I can call her when I’m stuck in a horrible mood, and she can stop over for impromptu dinner on a week night. We have been in the trenches of life together. She’s not my only friend here in California, but she’s grown to be like a sister. Just like my Ohio Jennifer.

And just like my Ohio Jennifer, my California Jennifer and I will be living our friendship at a distance. Jennifer and her family will be relocating back to their beloved Pennsylvania. Though I am happy for them that they are going home, I am sad because they are taking a large piece of my sense of home with them.

So this post is an ode to the two Jennifers of my heart. Ohio Jennifer and California Jennifer. O.J. and C.J. My life is sweeter because you are in it, even if I will have to count on social media and phone calls to stay close.

Risk and Vulnerability

Our family generally rewards risk taking. We climb high things and say “yes” to opportunities. We watch YouTube videos of extreme skiing and sky diving. We homeschool and camp and drive cross country.

This week at our homeschool park day one of our daughters, E, was climbing a tree with a friend. She was about 3 stories high in a sappy pine tree and going higher. This is the child that fell 8 feet out of a tree onto her head last fall. This is the child that more than anyone else in the family needs to “save face” when disciplined in public.

I told her I was uncomfortable with how high she was in the tree and said she needed to come down. Her friend began to climb down, grumbling about how her dad would have let her climb the tree. E stayed in the tree. She wasn’t budging. I was trying as hard as possible not to lose my temper as she blatantly told me she wasn’t coming down out of the tree. I didn’t want to yell at her or threaten to take away her privileges, but she was not coming out of the tree and I was running out of patience. There was quite a bit of back and forth about getting out of the tree as my blood pressure started rising.

Finally, my daughter forced herself to say, “I can’t come down. There is something keeping me up here but I don’t want to tell you unless I can tell you in private.” I wasn’t going to climb a sappy pine tree, so we were still at a stalemate.

“Come down out of the tree so you can tell me in private.” I called.

“I can’t come down. I can’t tell you why.”

Finally, I asked her friend if we could have some privacy and she trotted away.  E immediately began to climb down out of the tree. She was really angry with me and was crying. “I couldn’t climb down because I didn’t want anyone to see me crying,” she said as I hugged her. “You have to let me take risks mom. I was being very safe up there and it felt really good to try to get that high.” I understood what she was saying, but I was just not comfortable with her climbing so high in a public park.

“I know, but if you had made a mistake and fallen it would have been really bad, and I didn’t want to let you take that risk.” I said. I stood my ground like a good parent should. I had said, “climb down” and I didn’t relent until she had climbed down.

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But I could see she was disappointed in me and confused about the whole situation. I’ve let her climb boulders that high on Mount Diablo and given her permission to ride a really high zipline. I always tell her to be brave enough to make big loud mistakes so she can learn. And now I’m making her climb down out of a measly tree?

I remembered when I was a kid we’d climb this enormous pine tree in the back yard. There were 4 or 5 kids all at the very top. We’d all hold onto different branches and take turns leaning back so the tree would bend at the top, and we would try to make the tree top spin around. We were at least 50 or 60 feet high. We were 7 or 8 years old. Our parents yelled. They grounded us from playing outside. We would try to pretend we hadn’t been in the tree but the sap smeared on our hands gave us up. We felt free. We were alive. When we were forced to climb down we were being crushed by tyranny and oppression, held back by uncomprehending parents. I had become that tyranny.

E wouldn’t look at me. She was really mad. She wanted to take risks. We value risks. Why wouldn’t I let her take this risk? Couldn’t she prove what she could do? I discovered something very true about myself in that moment and I decided to take the risk of being vulnerable with my kid.

“Hey!” I called to her as she walked away from me with a big pout on her face. “Come here. I wanted to tell you something else. I just wanted you to know that if we were in our own yard, and this was our tree I would have let you climb it. I really think you could do it. But the real reason I was uncomfortable and made you climb down is because I’m worried that the other moms at the park will think I’m a bad mom for letting you climb the tree. I probably shouldn’t care what they think, but I do. I’m sorry.”

“That’s OK, Mom. I understand.” She hugged me. She ran off and played. I don’t know if that was the “right” thing to do in this situation. But it seemed to me that taking the risk of honesty was probably a better choice than playing the tough guy when my kid was hurting.

What do you think? Have you ever been totally vulnerable with your kids like that? What happened when you did?

I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas?

One of these days I’m sure I’ll stop writing about how life in California is different than life in Ohio. Surely, the day will come, right? Until then, you must accommodate me while I marvel at each change in the season. Last year I was in such shock that I barely noticed the change from summer to fall. I spent a lot of time lurking on the Cuyahoga Valley Facebook feed, watching photos of red leaves and then of snow piling up before those red leaves were removed from the trails. I hardly engaged with Christmas here in my own life because I was still reeling from the move. Still focusing on how to stay afloat in our new routine.

This year I noticed the changes. The heat broke in late September making way for cooler nights. As fall crept upon us we’d wake in the morning with a chill in the house and snuggle under blankets or hurry to put on sweaters. The leaves began to change around Halloween when Ohio leaves would be in their peak. The delay was somewhat strange, but as Thanksgiving approached, fall took shape. The leaves around our park changed red and gold. The evening hour came earlier and earlier, casting a golden glow on the afternoons. We began eating dinner in the dark.

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Now the rain has come. Last year the drought was in full force and there wasn’t much rain to speak of. But the locals tell me that this year is more typical of winter in Northern California. Since the last week of November it has rained a little bit almost daily. Sometimes it’s still above 65 degrees in the afternoon, but most days we need a jacket. I’m adjusting to the change, and this wet weather is almost bringing that cosy winter feeling that I used to get as the snow fell outside. I snuggle into a sweater each morning and wrap a scarf around my neck before I head out the door. The girls still don’t ever wear socks, but they are wearing their fleece pajamas to bed each night.



Photo by my friend, Rose.

On our drive to enrichment classes this morning, the hills that usually glow in the sun with golden grasses, instead were a dusty green. It’s not the chartreuse spring green of Ohio in April. But the winter rains have awoken the grasses, drawing the cattle off the tops of the hills into the valleys to graze with a new enthusiasm. Christmas joy for cattle in Northern California comes as fresh green grass. For the humans it comes as turning off the sprinklers for the year, and donning rubber boots. Soon we should be switching our jackets for coats. And it may even get frosty over night.

2014-12-04 19.15.45But if we want to see snow we’ll have to drive to the mountains. Rob has never been a native Ohioan in spite of all the years he lived there. Snow doesn’t equal Christmas for Rob the way it does for the girls and I. He is feeling the winter spirit already. But even though I feel more in season this year, I still miss snow. As I write this a man just walked into the coffee shop wearing gym shorts and t-shirt. That would never happen in an Ohio December.

But we have our own signposts pointing to Christmas here. And as I look I notice them more and more. I follow the Yosemite facebook photos of the waterfalls. Snow is falling in the Sierra, promising an easier year for the drought. The hills are greening up, but the live oak that dot the hills are bare-branched. The trees in our park have lost most of their leaves, and as the rain continues more they should be bare soon as well. At night, the moon shines through a haze of clouds wrapping the orb in a circular rainbow. And the Christmas tree in the house brings so much joy to our girls that it’s infectious. We will have a green Christmas this year. But it will be Christmas indeed.