children

February 19, 2012

February 19, 2012

There’s a bittersweet quality to seeing my oldest son do what I once did – albeit, in an entirely new way. Naturally, I’m proud of him (see my October 14, 2006 blog for details of his torturous – for his parents, anyway – journey from sophomore high school drop out to valedictorian in his film school major at UCLA. It was for real – we heard him give the speech. He thanked his father, who majored in poli sci at USC, instead of me, a fellow UCLA film school alumni. Go figure.) As happy and proud as I am, part of me longs to stand where he now stands. It’s less about envy than nostalgia.

CD preparing to walk for graduation.
CD preparing to walk for graduation.
His mother, not mentioned, in the valedictorian speech
His mother, not mentioned, in the valedictorian speech
The Melnitz lobby facing the blank theater
The Melnitz lobby facing the James Bridges  theater

These feelings became acute the night John and I attended the screening of his Project 1 equivalent film. Melnitz Hall looks the same, at least from the outside – and the Jakes Bridges theater where I screened my Project 1 film is oh so familiar – but look closer and everything has changed.  I don’t recognize a single name on the faculty roster. Different people occupy all of my old professor’s offices.

The sculpture gardens outside Melnitz Hall.
The sculpture gardens outside Melnitz Hall.
The sculpture garden as I remember it.
The sculpture garden as I remember it.

During another student’s gory film, I took a breather and went into the lobby. Sitting there, by myself, sent me reeling through decades long gone. Memories of hours spent between classes in that very spot – albeit on funkier couches – flooded me. I half expected a classmate from my past to stroll up and say hello but that didn’t happen. As an old Madonna song might put it,  Melnitz Hall used to be my playground. Now, although it holds a place in my life and my heart, it’s not my world and it won’t be again.

Conferring with Dean (I think)
Conferring with Dean (I think)

On the bright side, writing – my area of specialization – remains essentially the same, at least in terms of skill set, despite technological advances such as computers instead of an IBM Selectric, printers instead of carbon paper, script delivery by email attachment instead of by messenger. (What happened to the messenger industry? Are they out of business?) I got on board with word processing early and it hasn’t been hard to stay on top of the curve.

CDR Valedictorian

I was faced with another transition shortly after CD graduated, when I was offered an opportunity to teach screen writing at Columbia College Hollywood. I’ve always identified as a student – in part because I enjoy and take frequent writing workshops to stay current – and now I’m on the other side of the desk. So far, I enjoy it.  Spending hours mentoring millennials is as close as I’ll get to re-experiencing my heady undergraduate days (albeit vicariously, from a different POV). There’s a palpable rush of creative energy that comes when I cross the threshold of a campus like UCLA or Columbia. It’s not a time machine or the Fountain of Youth, but it’s close enough.

February 13, 1969

Never miss an opportunity to gaze mournfully at something.
Never miss an opportunity to gaze mournfully at something.

February 13, 1969

In my senior year of high school, Mr. Cameron (my counselor) offered me the chance to be a counselor at the Redwood Glenn Science Camp for a week in lieu of attending high school. I didn’t think twice – sign me up! I’d enjoyed my weeks as a camper at Mt. Cross years earlier and I loved the movie Parent Trap, half of which took place at camp. What could possibly go wrong?

More sulking in the great outdoors.
More sulking in the great outdoors.

I forgot I was neither a nature girl or a science whiz, for starters. It poured all week long but despite monsoon conditions, we hiked all day every day and once at night. That was more than miserable enough,  even if the rain hadn’t roused armies of huge thick worms.

Sulking in the great outdoors with my nuclear family.
Sulking in the great outdoors with my nuclear family.

As if the worms weren’t enough, I had twelve angst-ridden 6th grade girls to shepherd. One leeched herself to me and never stopped talking. One was a bed-wetter, not a huge problem until the other girls found out and teased her to tears. She ambled along like a puppet loosely strung, everything about her limp, lifeless. Or was I projecting my lethargic depressed self onto her?

Brooding indoors, which I vastly preferred.
Brooding indoors, which I vastly preferred.

My duty as a counselor was to bundle them in and out of oversize rain gear, herd them on hikes, scrape uneaten or recently disgorged food off their plates, persuade them to shower so our tent didn’t get too ripe, and attempt to pay attention to them – something they all seemed sorely deprived of and were desperately needy for.

I did my best, but it was a bad fit. I regretted saying yes to this gig. Once again, I’d forgotten who I was – i.e., a curmudgeon who lacked rapport with children. I was too serious and impatient for my peers, forget little kids. And, in 1969, I was in the throes of clinical depression, so no matter how old my companion might be, the time spent with me was no one’s idea of a party.

Clearly, the life of the party!
Clearly, the life of the party!

All that said, I believe they all had a much better time than I did and no lasting harm accrued to anyone. Those little girls would be 59 or 60 years old today. I wonder how their lives unfolded?

 

Yolanda’s Room

Yolanda forever in our hearts
Yolanda forever in our hearts

“Grief doesn’t have a plot. It isn’t smooth. There is no beginning, and middle and end.”

  • Ann Hood

A year ago today, we lost Crescentia Yolanda Hernandez – known as Yolanda, Yoli or Nana, never her given name Crescentia which she hated. Technically, her death wasn’t unexpected – she suffered from a rare, unusually virulent cancer. Statistically, her odds were poor but Yolanda – who came to the US from El Salvador in her early twenties and earned her citizenship – was a fighter. She wanted to live so desperately she endured chemo, radiation, experimental treatments, anything for a little more time.

Yolanda touched all of our lives with her boundless capacity for love
Yolanda touched all of our lives with her boundless capacity for love

There were so many things she wanted to do. She voraciously collected, clipped or copied recipes to cook someday, unaware she was already almost out of time.  She longed to visit her family in El Salvador but postponed it until she completed her current course of chemo, when she was in better health.  She didn’t know – none of us did – it was already too late.

Young Yolanda, far left, with her two brothers and sisters
Young Yolanda, far left, with her two brothers and sisters

Not a day goes by that my family – who embraced Yolanda as a vital part of that family early in the 32 years she lived with us – doesn’t want to share something with her. She wouldn’t be happy the Clippers traded Chris Paul and Blake Griffin but she’d definitely want to know. I’d like to say things I should’ve  said more often and sooner. How she changed our lives for the better, how much we love her and how we’ll always miss her. There’s an empty space in our lives where Yolanda lived. Her bedroom is always, only, Yolanda’s room to us. As long as we live here, it will be Yolanda’s room.

Forever in our hearts
Forever in our hearts

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not get over the loss… you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.”

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, (emphasis mine)

We offer this video as a constant reminder of the love and joy Yolanda brought to our lives.

https://youtu.be/g5YBloGLMDg

Yolanda, we will always love you.
Yolanda, we will always love you.

December 12, 1979

December 12, 1979

CD on his 3rd birthday - prior to the big hurl.
CD on his 3rd birthday – prior to the big hurl.

It doesn’t seem all that long ago although – mercifully –it’s been eons since I swabbed another human’s barf. (Dogs and cats on the other hand – yesterday or the day before. One of our seniors has a delicate stomach.)

Earlier in the day - he loved his Superman sweater (and his Superman costume)
Earlier in the day – he loved his Superman sweater (and his Superman costume)

We still celebrate our children’s birthdays, but rarely on the actual day. They usually make plans with their friends. I don’t begrudge them, after college I did the same thing – partied with my peers instead of my parents. As wonderful as my parents were, party animals they weren’t.

A long restless night.
A long restless night.

Celebrating on the correct day – and emphasizing the birthday person’s precise age – seems less important every year, at least to me. Besides, if we want the extended family to celebrate together – aunts, uncles and cousins – the logistics become more manageable if we select an adjacent weekend instead of a Tuesday or Wednesday night.

CD feels much better!
CD feels much better!

As challenging as this particular birthday was – and it was far from the only time the birthday child hurled over a birthday cake – my memories are warm, now that the vomit isn’t.

December 9, 1980

December 9, 1980

When the music died

He wasn’t even my favorite Beatle. That would be McCartney, by far. Lennon’s death erased any lingering hope the Beatles might play together again, as unlikely as that hope might have been. I stayed up all night, poring over my collection of Beatles memorabilia – old magazines, biographies. I didn’t want to let him go.

4-year-old CD mourns the passing of a star
4-year-old CD mourns the passing of a star
So do I.
So do I.

What interests me about crime (murder) isn’t the gore or mechanics – it’s the motivation and in this case, that was sad and senseless. Jared Leto gave a brilliant performance as the assassin in a small film called “Chapter 27” about the oh-so-ordinary but deranged kid who killed him. It doesn’t glorify the killer (who doesn’t deserve to be named) – it dramatizes his essential emptiness, which gave me a queasy feeling. While I didn’t identify with him, there weren’t as many miles between us as I might’ve hoped. I do know how it feels to be an obsessed fan, with no hope of breathing in my idol’s rarified air. I just didn’t take it to that love/hate dichotomy the guy doing time in the  Wende Correctional Facility did.

Chapter 27

 

November 25, 1993

November 25, 1993

John and Michael challenge Jimmy at chess.
John and Michael challenge Jimmy at chess.

In the early years of our marriage, John and I alternated holidays between my family and his – Thanksgiving in Fresno, Christmas in San Diego, reversed in the following year. Gradually we spent more holidays with my family because my parents and sisters all moved within five miles of my home.

Cindy, Aunt Mary and Flo Rowell
Cindy, Aunt Mary and Flo Rowell

I don’t recall when both of our mothers stopped volunteering to host Thanksgiving but they powered through longer than I could’ve. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve hosted Thanksgiving at our house, largely because when the question arises – “where are we doing Thanksgiving this year?” – I’m hiding in the bathroom.

CD and cousin Jeff Rowell
CD and cousin Jeff Rowell

Fortunately, my failings as a cook and hostess are compensated by my sister Janet and her husband Jim McCann, who do Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas ninety percent of the time. They are an indefatigable team, toiling from dawn till dusk to present the perfect meal without complaint (not entirely without complaint – but within civilized limits.) My contribution? Diet Coke and sparkling water.

Sam, John, and Evie Rowell
Sam, John, and Evie Rowell

Their house is well-suited to entertaining, with its vast rolling dog-friendly lawn. Singles and stragglers are always welcome.  A good time is had by all.

Jimmy and Alex Rowell
Jimmy and Alex Rowell
Richard and Chester (Chet) Rowell
Richard and Chester (Chet) Rowell

Although I have a thousand photos of Thanksgiving at Jani’s, this blog is ostensibly about Thanksgiving in 1993, the first and last time I hosted the Rowell clan at our house.  I’m posting those photos today to prove it.

Chet Rowell and Mary Lawton
Chet Rowell and Mary Lawton

November 12, 2013

November 12, 2013

I remember this dinner, which might be impressive if it was more than 4 years ago. It was one of the last relatively healthy celebrations of my mother’s birthday. There was no way to know it was one of the last although the fact it was an 88th birthday might’ve raised a red flag for some.

My mother's birthday in 2013
My mother’s birthday in 2013

Not me. The prospect of my parents not being here was too unbearable to consider. Would occasions like this be sweeter or more painful if we knew it was the last time?

Out for a meal with the family.Out for a meal with the family.
Out for a meal with the family.

In 2013, my mind was on more mundane matters than mortality. I noticed how differently my children act in restaurants compared to my sisters and I. My parents never suggested we couldn’t afford to eat out, but all three of us intuitively ordered the cheapest entree on the menu and requested water instead of an expensive soda. How did we all receive the same explicit message without words?

My sisters and me.
My sisters and me.

My children didn’t receive it. Two out of three never so much as glance at prices. Apparently, they feel worthy enough to order what they want to eat or drink. No crisis has ensued. On the contrary, my father smiled and picked up the tab for the whole group (usually numbering 16 to 20 depending on how many significant others accompany their grandchildren.)  He probably would’ve been equally accepting if my sisters and I ordered appetizers, drinks and other extras, but even today I’d call myself a cautous diner. Other people might call it cheap.

My kids and I - looks like a family meal at the now defunct Marie Callendar's.
My kids and I – looks like a family meal at the now defunct Marie Callendar’s.

It would’ve been fun to rehash these silly observations and memories with my parents, now that it’s long ago and far away and we’re all adults. I wish.

Another big family dinner.
Another big family dinner.

 

November 7, 1976

November 7, 1976

I was the same age as my mother when she gave birth to me when I gave birth to CD (a month after this shower, 16 months after J and I impulsively got married, in case anyone’s counting). Since I was an infant, I cannot testify to my mother’s state of mind or level of maturity but I strongly suspect she was more responsible and together than me at the same age.  Living through the Great Depression– as opposed to the Summer of Love– would tend to mature people quickly.

Pregnant with CD

John and I always planned to have children, just not in 1976.  He was in his second year of law school and before learning I was pregnant I quit my job at USC, leaving us no health insurance.  I doubt many people pay cash to give birth in hospitals today but it was possible then. These financial issues paled next to John and my psychological readiness to be parents.

8 months and counting

Our parents made it look easy; we thought we had it wired – even though we lived in a world without children (unless you count USC students as children). My friends from college were appalled when I told them I was having a baby – “Are you crazy? You’ll ruin your life.”

Let me help you

It did cost me the life I’d led until the birth of my son – because the world and my place in it shifted – but my life wasn’t “ruined.” That said, I’d be lying if I claimed things got easier – for a while, everything – including our marriage – suffered from an overload of change and stress. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. No regrets.

Shower Games2

My children aren’t rushing into things like I did. My youngest is older than I was after my third child.  Statistically, you’d think my odds of grandchildren would be high, with three adult children, but my youngest sister Joyce will soon have two and I have none (Waaaa!). Not that I’d ever want to pressure my children or anything.

Shower Games3

Tick tick.

October 19, 1994

October 19, 1994

A. Martinez and Perry King on left; Felice Gordon and myself on right. A mystery, beyond that.
A. Martinez and Perry King on left; Felice Gordon and myself on right. A mystery, beyond that.

 This was the first and only time I traveled to the set of one of the MOW’s I wrote (other than shows that shot in LA, in which case I might drive ten miles – to Occidental, for instance, where they shot “She Cried No”). I’m not complaining – it’s boring on set unless you’ve got a job (and maybe even then, just saying). I was excited about a trip to Minnesota, especially with Joe Maurer, Brad Wigor and Felice Gordon, three producers who became friends. The fact they issued the invitation to me at all speaks volumes about how well they treated their writers.

A. Martinez, Me, Connie Selleca, Felice Gordon
A. Martinez, Me, Connie Selleca, Felice Gordon

In Minnesota, I sat through a table reading of the script – an extremely high-tension exercise for me. It’s mortifying when a line I wrote – especially a line intended to be funny – dies in front of the full cast and crew. There’s no ambivalence; it’s not a judgment call. Lines work or not and the thud is deafening when they don’t. I say nothing, draw a skull beside the clunker in the script, and slink down further in my folding chair.  If I don’t die of humiliation, I’m expected to fix what I failed to get right the first time – fast.  This close to production, every wasteful delay bleeds money.

Someone failed to focus this shot of me and Joe Maurer.
Someone failed to focus this shot of me and Joe Maurer.

After the reading, I accompanied Joe, Brad and the director – Bill Corcoran – on a location scout. By sheer coincidence (or cosmic design, you decide), we drove past Bethesda Lutheran, the hospital where I was born. In honor of this karmic connection, Corcoran insisted I leap out of the van and pose for a historic photograph (see below).

Me in front of the hospital where I was born.
Me in front of the hospital where I was born.

I sat by Felice on the return trip to LA and – along with other fascinating facts – discovered Felice was Jean Shrimpton’s manager when Jean was the ultimate supermodel girls like me longed to look like.

Me with Felice Gordon
Me with Felice Gordon

As if this wasn’t enough excitement, my youngest hit double-digits and turned ten.  Too much was happening, too fast. And I loved every minute of it.

A very happy birthday to Alex!

 

Birthday boy with his grandparents.
Birthday boy with his grandparents.
Alex with his cousins.
Alex with his cousins.

October 13, 2007

October 13, 2007

 In my diary blog two days ago, I congratulated myself for being a good mother and exposing CD to new things. It’s ironic that in today’s entry, I chastise myself as a bad (let’s revise that to less good) mother even though I did essentially the same thing for different reasons. In the ‘81 entry, I was all about cramming CD full of life experience and knowledge. In ’07, it was more about getting myself out of a life experience by foisting it on my daughter.

TThe Knutsens - Christmas 2007

In my defense, treating an adult child to spectacular seats at a Genesis concert hardly qualifies as child abuse and apparently Sam had a good time. I might’ve enjoyed the show if I’d gone – why not give it a try?

Sometimes I hit social overload and fear I’ll die without alone time. In the above entry, my urgency leaps off the page – “couldn’t stand” “just unbearable.” Looking back, it was a weird over-reaction to a rock concert and dinner. Unfortunately – for Sam, not me – she’s even less extroverted than me but at least she’s a better sport.

Sam, Alex and cousin Carly
Sam, Alex and cousin Carly

In the spirit of true confession, my youngest recently recalled my most egregegious bad mother moment.  Alex and I were outside when we spotted a demonic possum drinking out of our dog’s water dish. Beyond phobic and hysterical at the sight of anything with a rodent tail, I shrieked, vaulted inside and double-locked the door behind me – stranding Alex on the wrong side of my barricade, face to face with a hissing possum. Alex hurled himself at the door, pounded it with his fists. “Mom! Let me in! Let me in!”  I was too distraught to do so until the possum departs.

J, Alex, Me and Sam
J, Alex, Me and Sam

Alex emerged unscathed, aside from the psychological damage of believing his mother valued her personal safety above his life. First, his life was not in mortal danger. Possums don’t kill suburban homeowners and their children (yet).  Second – I’ve got nothing.  (Other than sheer terror shot my adrenalin up to fight or flight levels which disabled my higher brain functions. Otherwise, I would’ve remembered possums can’t jimmy a lock.)


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