I married a cowboy hat-wearing pick-up truck driver from the Central Valley. And James married an environmentally conscious tree-hugger from Santa Cruz. So of course this has led to many years of friendly ribbing, especially when it comes to Papa and me. Fortunately, Papa can dish it out, but he can also take it.
Now Jake and Nate have spent their entire lives hearing about the drought. They’ve barely experienced rain. They know about conserving water and native plants and Energy Stars. As coastal California kids, they’re well-versed in reusable bags and parking lots shaded by solar panels and the composting complexities of worm bins. They’ve never washed a car in the yard.
So of course they’ve heard me questioning why acres of sprinklers are running at high noon. They’ve seen me fishing tin cans out of the trash and transferring them to the recycling bin. And they’ve clearly picked-up on me cringing as Papa leaves the sink tap blasting at full capacity as he putters around the kitchen.
A few weeks ago, as we drove away from our camping trip at Lake Lopez, Nate gazed out across the immense dried-up body of water and asked in wonder, “Do you think that’s because of Papa?”
Oh I can’t wait to tell Papa about this one…
During the last weekend of August we ventured out to the campground at Lopez Lake for a two-day, fun-filled outdoor cousin adventure. “Lake” Lopez is a bit of a misnomer. The drought has reduced it down to a brush-filled canyon. Jake and Nate know quite a bit about droughts and water conservation and native plantings given we really haven’t had much rain in their entire lifetimes.
Needless to say, the first night in the campground was rough. We ended-up tent camping at Blue Jay, which is primarily for recreational vehicles. Friday night is party night. All of our neighbors had a rip-roaring good time till the wee hours, playing corn hole, proudly putting up their Trump signs, and flying their Confederate flags (OK, to be fair, flag, but really?)… Let’s not forget I have not been interested in going anywhere near tent camping since the Great Bear Debacle of two-thousand-and-ten.
Devon and Bryan came Saturday, after we’d spent several hours braving the frigid waterslides of Mustang Water Park. There were hours of tent wrestling and tag and throwing flammable dishware in the fire. An adventurous weekend of s’mores and potato chips and Scruffy. A few pitfalls, as little unsuspecting boys appear to be drawn to RV sewer hook-ups, but all and all, a great success.
One of the most memorable parts of Lopez Lake was the plentiful wildlife. We saw hundreds of dear, flocks of turkeys, woodpeckers and even a little family of raccoons— the mom and her five babies lined-up along a tree as though posing for a calendar.
On Saturday morning Nate and I were quietly enjoying our breakfast when a young buck came into our campsite. He took a look directly into the boys’ yellow tent and then proceeded to make his way over to our picnic table. He came closer and closer, until he was looking directly at Nate and me from the opposite side of the table. That’s when I decide this young buck is gettin’ a little too big for his britches and I give him a good, “Go’on, go’on!”
He scampers out of our site and then, I’m not making this up, sways his rear-end from side to side in a very deliberate, exaggerated way.
I turn to Nate and Nate turns to me and I say, “What just happened?”
And Nate says, giggling in disbelief, “I think he just shook his bum bum at us!”
“Just shook his bum bum at us,” I repeat. “That’s exactly what he just did.”
Bizarrely, I remember every pair of teachers I had in elementary school: Mrs. Kinney/Mrs. Cahill, Mr. McGuire/Mrs. Crowell, Ms. Mizell/Mrs. Jones, Mr. Shepherd/Mrs. C. and Mr. Post/Mrs. Crowell. Crazy right? I think Jake might have had that many teachers just in first grade. Of course I’m exaggerating… but it was pretty close.
He started off kindergarten on a high note— Maestra Patiño was a miracle worker. Thirty some odd kids and absolutely no help. The color chart was clearly more than just a nice little behavioral aid… it was do or die.
Then Jacob graduated to first grade and that’s where things got a little squirrely. It started off really well with Maestra Arroyo-Pérez. She was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and…
A long-term sub. Something happened and her masters program found out she was teaching full time and she was ripped from our loving grasp. We had an English-speaking substitute, which clearly negated the point of a Spanish-immersion program. We received vague and unsatisfactory letters about the “search around the world” to find a qualified teacher. There was hope that someone had been found— a Miss America. Miss America! The epitome of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed— likely winning the global pageant with her inspirational vision of teaching young Pokémon-obsessed youth the finer points of the subjunctive. Everyone waited in anticipation, especially the dads, hoping she’d live-up to her name.
But alas, Miss America never materialized…
Finally they pulled this poor lady out of retirement to get them through the year. Another long-term sub who started and then left on planned medical leave for six weeks. There was yet another sub, or maybe the principal filled-in? And then Maestra Gonzales came back.
She yelled a lot. The kids all said she was “mean.” She told me, conspiratorially, that she yells a lot because she thinks boys respect a loud voice. Her teaching style was, well, old school. The kids were pointed to and each would read a sentence aloud in succession. Public humiliation seemed to be a frequent classroom management tool.
At least she spoke Spanish?
Jake had it a bit rough. He was seated closest to her desk— I’m sure he earned it. In the end, I do think he won her over. This summer, we were leaving an Earthquakes game and amidst the huge crowd, Maestra Gonzales spotted Jacobo in his Trace standard-issue navy hooded sweatshirt. The look on her face was pure joy to see him.
This school year, second grade and kindergarten are off to a much smoother start. We’re feeling pretty confident that our new school’s talent pool is significantly deeper. Nate has Maestra Irion (pronounced Iron) for Spanish and Maestro Browning for English. And Jake has Maestro Guardado for English and a different teacher for Spanish.
Two days in and there was some kind of teacher mix-up happening for Jake. Fortunately, he’s been well-trained in experiencing a multitude of teachers. He came home from school and of course I pummeled him with questions about his first day.
“So, Maestro Guardado is your English teacher— who’s your Spanish teacher?”
“I don’t know her name.”
“Is it Piscatella? Mrs. Piscatella?”
“No, that’s not it.”
“Are you sure? I think that’s what Mr. Guardado said.”
He’s shaking his head perplexed, but still in the negative.
And then it dawns on me… Piscatella is the name of the dictatorial prison guard on Orange is the New Black. Woops.
But really, after all that… can you blame me?
Santa Barbara is one of California’s undeniable gems— perfect weather, irresistibly quaint architecture, hipster restaurants, shopping, beaches. And yet, we’ve got a dark and sordid history with this beautiful town.
It all started back during my first visit as a tween. One day I was traipsing around the woods with my best friend, Esther, and the following weekend I was miserably trapped in this quaint town with half my face covered in poison oak. Grumpy doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Many years later, James and I planned a trip to Santa Barbara for his birthday— Jake was just 15 months old. All we really remember about that trip was a little, bald tyrant fussing and complaining while we tried to enjoy a beautiful dinner at the end of the pier. The following day we sat on a bench in a shaded paseo, debating our options for lunch as the tyrant continued his incessant malcontent. We gazed at the Panda Express, looming at the end of the passageway, and vividly lamented that we might never enjoy a lovely meal again. The only time I remember a smile on that kid’s face during the entire trip was our stop at the U-Pick Blueberry Patch, allowing him to pop $15 worth of blueberries into his mouth, and keeping him happy for 5 minutes of the remaining 4 hour drive home.
And then there was this weekend. We decided to visit the Santa Barbara Zoo, which was not much farther than our previous drive to San Francisco. The day was beautiful. The zoo was beautiful. But Nate? Nate was not so beautiful. Bouts of complaining and whining and refusing to walk. Hiding under foliage. Begging for piggy-back rides. He sat on the lawn and shouted, and I quote, “I’m never going home. I’m going to stay here for the rest of my life!”
Fine. Stay with your brother. Daddy and I are going to a beautiful lunch.
Childhood is full of many milestones that most of us have long forgotten: finger snapping, chopsticks, blowing a bubble.
Last week Jacob tied his first bow— on his swim trunks of course. I haven’t bought any shoes that tie as all shoes that aren’t KEENS are immediately transformed into trash that vaguely resembles footwear. And KEENS appear to be fastened solely via mini bungee cords, so his unfamiliarity with laces is certainly my fault. But those slip-on bungee cords have saved us countless hours.
About two week ago, after a Friday at camp centered around “wheels” and all manner of bikes, skateboards, and scooters, Jake came home and immediately removed the training wheels from his bike. He wasn’t able to master his Teenage Mutant Ninja turtle bicycle that day, but he was back on it last weekend. And just like that, he was riding. A few loops around the yard and he declares, “Look Mom, I’m already a pro.”
Next up?: whistling.
The boys have spent the summer in a traveling Y camp… traversing the entire county of San Luis Obispo. They’ve walked miles and miles to swimming pools, museums, fire stations, boats, grocery stores, gardens, parks, waterslides and pizza parlors. Everywhere we go, Nate sees city buses he’s ridden around town– Bus 4, Bus 2b, Bus 1! Although still not immune to complaining, the boys’ distance and stamina has grown considerably in just eight weeks.
Taking advantage of this newfound fortitude, two weekends ago we had the most wonderful Sunday. It started with breakfast at The Market, our new go-to barrio bistro. It’s not quite Pasta P, but they do have mint It’s It’s and good wine. Nate rode his bike and Jake rode his scooter all the way to Avila Beach on the Bob Jones Trail. About 2.5 miles into the trip, I realized both Nate’s tires were flat… poor kid. He only crashed once down the hill onto the golf green. A stop to pump-up the tires and a quick refuel, and the boys made it all the way back. Then we enjoyed a delicious lunch in AG and wrapped-up the afternoon with gourmet coffee and a spirited match of Battleship. Of course I lost to the Reining Connect 4 King.
This past weekend we hiked Poly Canyon to check-out the Architecture Graveyard… the covert location of many college parties, and a place I’ve always wanted to see. Over the years, architecture students have constructed projects up this remote canyon on an open, grassy hillside— from artistic sculptural concoctions to a suspended boat prow to an open-air house inspired by the inside of a conch shell. As one would expect, most are in disrepair with varying levels of spray paint, vandalism and poison oak.
We climbed and explored each structure with an appropriate level of precaution and enthusiasm. In the middle of the large geodesic dome were the remains of a frequently used campfire, strewn with broken beer bottles.
Nate surveys the campfire and affirms authoritatively, “Indians. Must’ve been Indians.”
A few weeks ago we were spending hours and hours in the car… driving all around California for various moving activities and parties and holidays. At one point I think we had banned iPads due to various infractions and were rewarded with the following:
Jake: “I spy with my little eye, something that is yellow.”
Nate: “A car.”
Nate: “That sign?”
Nate: “The sun.”
Nate: “I dunno… I give up. What is it?”
Jake: “A Trump!”
Nate: “What’s a Trump?”
Jake: “I don’t even know… do you?”
And then a fit of giggles…
Nate is at least six good months into his “Whaboutif Phase.” Meaning that every day, most conversations involve him venturing further and further into imaginative what-if scenarios and preposterous proposals. He asks things like:
“Whaboutif you had three eyeballs?”
“Whaboutif it flew into the sky and then hit the moon and then crashed into the planets and exploded?”
“Whaboutif there is hot lava in the whole entire earth?
“Whaboutif a little fish comes through the pipe into the swimming pool? Whaboutif a BIG fish does?
“Whaboutif I shot my hamburger up into the sky for the buzzards to swoop down and eat? Or a mermaid?”
And then sometimes he’ll quickly and authoritatively pipe-up, “That could happen!”
And Jake will confirm with a confident and all-knowing nod, “Everything is possible.”
Over the last few weeks, the boys and I have been creating a fortress around our fenced garden where I’ve been trying to start a compost pile. We are in desperate need of a soil replenishment strategy as much of our property is covered in moon rock.
Unfortunately, every few mornings I’ll go out and I can tell that some kind of animal has magically alluded our barriers and eaten the buried “Mother Nature”… also known as kitchen scraps. Jake and Nate did a superb job of piling rocks up along the fenced perimeter and helping me to block any possible culprit from squeezing in through any nook and cranny. It was a real-life Minecraft building project.
Then yesterday morning I caught it on video. A little gray fox that is able to leap a six foot metal fence like a cat-like ninja. She is cute and flexible and loves her breakfast compost. Meanwhile, this weekend I was dive-bombed on our back deck by a drunken yellow jacket who stung me and caused my eye to swell shut. In an act of revenge, my new yellow jacket traps have attracted several hundred insects.
So I was thinking… “Whaboutif I add two hundred yellow jackets to tomorrow’s compost and bury it and then the little fox comes for her morning breakfast and then eats them and it causes her to leap onto the roof of the barn?”
That could happen.
Years and years ago, back when James and I first got married, we dreamed of one day moving to San Luis Obispo and building a Spanish-style house. We envisioned a beautiful view and room to entertain and we called it Casi Cielo… “Almost Heaven” in Spanish.
But then we found ourselves the perfect little 1930 Spanish-style bungalow with all of its original details on an idyllic tree-lined street in the heart of San Jose. A neighborhood with a beautiful new library and a new elementary school, historic homes and an inviting rose garden, Peet’s and Pasta P, all within walking distance. I took one walk around the entire house, noted the milk delivery door and the mail slot and knew it was exactly what we were looking for. Baby Jakey rolled over for the first time on a clean blanket covering the filthy matted dining room carpet.
We moved-in in October, after scraping together enough to renovate the one full bathroom and redo the hardwood floors. We saved and spent, saved and spent, one project at a time until seven years later, the house was exactly what we knew it could be.
And over the years, we brought Baby Natesy home, too. And we filled that house with memories… every nook and cranny brimming with stories of our baby boys:
- The back door, where Jacob could barely walk and already knew how to take my keys to try and unlock the door and leave. He was mad and wasn’t getting what he wanted.
- The kitchen floor where we spent hours playing… Nate perched in his high chair as Jake put on a show.
- The boys running circles around “the track”– the loop that was naturally created between the living room, dining room and kitchen.
- The unfortunate view from the kitchen table of little Nate in the half bathroom.
- Coming home at night and Nate rushing to open the front door for me. And making me re-close it if I opened it myself.
- Seeing the boys watching TV, always cuddled together on the couch or in a chair– their little blond heads just inches apart.
- Reading and ‘nuggling and “telling stories with my mouth” in the bottom bunk every night, just the three of us.
- The boys hiding plastic snakes and cockroaches in my unsuspecting luggage as I packed for business trips.
- The little pebble pit by the back door where I had to start storing the “bootiful wocks” Nate would bring home for me every day from St. Lizzie’s.
- The boys splishing and splashing in the inflatable pool in the backyard, and later on, watching movies outside as we curled-up under a blanket.
- Thursday play days with Grandma and Granddad.
- Bathtub shenanigans.
- Hot summer days, laying on a picnic blanket in the front yard while the boys dug in the dirt in their diapers and their birthday suits.
- Eating play kitchen meals and playing games of Old Maid and Magna-block building challenges.
Packing-up the house and saying goodbye was much harder than we anticipated and really, it’s because we weren’t just saying goodbye to our beautiful little home and our jobs and our family and friends. We were also saying goodbye to Baby Jake and Baby Nate– recognizing that their babyhood is already over and now they’re bigger than ever.
Yesterday the sale closed and we said one last mental goodbye to Shasta… finally realizing we had already lived-in the Spanish-style house we dreamed of so long ago… our Casi Cielo.
It’s a bit of a seven year saga that I’m not really in the mood to rehash… but long story short, Jacob has what is called sugar sensitivity. In a nutshell, his blood sugar is highly volatile and what he eats tips his biochemistry out of whack, wreaking havoc with his emotions and his self esteem.
As a baby he rarely cried. He was super happy. And he was eating every three hours on the nose. Then as his eating habits evolved, he became a little ticking time bomb… first we thought it was just the terrible two’s. But then it was the trying three’s. And the tantrumy four’s. And what my sister-in-law has started calling the “effing five’s.” His meltdowns were epic. They came out of nowhere and seemed to last forever. We tried so many things— Time outs make it worse. Is he over-tired? Too much screen time? Transitions are a challenge. He’s just the most stubborn and willful child on the face of the planet… it was an emotional roller coaster and he had us all along for the ride.
Then, about six years into this, we were in the driveway of what has now become our “mountain house.” One minute Jake was happy and talkative, and the next minute he was refusing to get into his car seat and was crouched on the floor of the car. I checked my watch: 10:15am. Almost exactly three hours since breakfast. Every Saturday around 10:15am Jake’s personality switch flips. I think I’m on to something…
It was August, after a particularly horrendous weekend, when I started googling things on my phone desperately searching for answers. I literally cried on the platform of Caltrain when I finally found Dr. Kathleen DesMaisons write-up on sugar sensitive children.
And so we started focusing on food. Especially breakfast. And protein. And feeding him “enough and on time.” It hasn’t been a silver bullet… but it has certainly changed our lives. I traded in my diaper bag for the orange insulated snack bag… emergency provisions that I never leave home without.
This weekend we were headed up to Great Grandma Terra’s 80th birthday party and I was driving and singing along to the radio. James found my new lyrics to Old Dominion’s “Snapback” country song particularly funny:
Those stars need to be wished on
Your skin needs to be kissed on
My eyes baby they’re fixed on you and your snackbag
T-shirt of your favorite rock band
Checkin’ your make-up in my Ray Bans
Breakin’ hearts like only you can and your snackbag
Woah oh oh oh
Woah oh oh oh
Woah oh oh oh
And your snackbag
Even Jakey now exclaims, “Mom, Mom– Snackbag!” when it comes on the radio. I can totally see the YouTube video…