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5 Jan

Having a tween comes with highs and lows. The lows generally involve big emotions (hormones? the pandemic? personality? all of the above? something else?). The highs vary.

I decided that in 2021, I want to be better about doing #MeatlessMondays. I also thought it would be a good idea to get Michaela in the kitchen in a more intentional way. So I gave her a choice: Do you want to do #TweenCooksTuesdays or #TweenCooksThursday? (There’s no alliteration with the other days!)

She picked Tuesday and I charged her with coming up with something to make. She sent me this recipe for easy chicken ramen and said she wanted to make it; we had all the stuff on hand, so it seemed like a great choice.

Mike helped with the chicken. I supervised everything else. And it was a success! The soft boiled egg was probably the best I’ve ever had, and the broth developed a way better depth of flavor than I would have expected given the short cook time. Mike and I both really liked it. Michaela was on the fence. Which is actually a good lesson, and part of what I hope to impart through this process.

I didn’t cook as a kid. Most of what my mom cooked was from a box or a can, so I didn’t have a great example of cooking from scratch or culinary innovation. I’m hoping that by having Michaela cook more (and let’s be honest, there’s no way it will be every week), she will develop this important life skill.

Merry Christmas

26 Dec

Christmas was weird this year. I guess it’s to be expected. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. We can’t do anywhere or see anyone. My mom is dead.

We invited my dad and brother over for breakfast and present opening. That was before I remembered my brother had been diagnosed with COVID (can you tell we’re not close?). I ended up calling him on Christmas Eve to see what the deal was and he said his most recent test was inconclusive. When we talked, I could hear his seatbelt chime in the background so I asked what he was up to; he said he and the girl he’s dating were going to have dinner with friends. So I uninvited him.

I felt terrible thinking of him not being with family on the first Christmas my mom is gone. We should all have been together. But it didn’t seem like a good idea. In my opinion, he’s not behaving responsibly, and I don’t want any of us — especially my dad — to catch COVID because I indulged someone who’s making bad decisions.

So in the end, my dad came over and the four of us (me, Mike, Michaela, and my dad) hung out. Mike made and delivered from-scratch made cinnamon rolls to our favorite neighbors, and then we opened what felt like a million presents. We videochatted with Nana and Papa and opened each others’ gifts, and videochatted with our sister-in-law (Mike’s bro’s wife). By then it was practically noon and all we’d eaten was cinnamon rolls. My dad took off, we had brunch, and Michaela spent the next few hours playing with her new gifts.

Mike made a big dinner for some friends who’ve been going through tough times and we delivered that before settling in for the evening. We all had fun and enjoyed each others’ company. It was a nice day.

Making Lemonade

21 Dec

Michaela and I headed out last Friday, planning to drive across the county to deliver Christmas presents to my work colleagues. We’d gotten about 20 miles south, near the U.S.-Mexico border, when the tire sensor on my car went crazy. A minute later, there was a loud, urgent “thwap, thwap, thwap, thwap” sound that clearly had something to do with the driver’s side rear tire.

The part of town where we were didn’t have a shoulder to pull to, so we drove a few blocks until we could find a safe place to pull over. It was just in the nick of time, too, because the monitor showed my tired pressure ticking down like a second clock. I watched with grave concern as I waited for the light to turn green so we could pull over, and the sensor ticked down to nearly 0 PSI.

We pulled onto a side street and called Mike. After looking in the trunk, it was clear that my card doesn’t have a spare– not even a donut! (Ironically, the car does include a beautiful sturdy tire changing set and pristine white gloves so you don’t dirty your hands when working on your car.) So I called AAA, which dispatched a tow truck to see if they could fix my flat.

The person from AAA was super helpful, and the tow truck came quickly. The driver tried filling the tire so he could identify the hole, but the air came gushing out in a steady stream. He found a six-inch-long nail that had become embedded in the tire and told me he couldn’t fix it but we weren’t too far from a tire shop.

Then came the question of how were we going to get there. Because of COVID, you can’t ride in the cab of the two truck. Mike could have come to get us, but it would have taken him a good half hour (at least) to reach us. And it would have taken a while for an Uber to reach us, too. The driver said we could ride in the backseat of my car, on the back of the flatbed tow truck, so that’s what we did. It took some convincing– Michaela was scared (and rightly so! I am pretty sure it’s illegal at worst and a bad idea at best). But that’s what we did. We got into the car, were towed to Discount Tire, which was only a mile away, and the friendly team there got to work.

When I came in, the man who helped us said I was the cheeriest person who had ever come in on the back of a tow truck. I’m pretty sure I beamed. No one ever calls me cheery!

But that really speaks to the power of perspective.

We could have been on the freeway when I got the flat. It could have been a blowout. We could have been in an area with no cell reception. We could have been far away from a tire shop. And, as I learned last year, my car could have caught on fire with us in it.

So yeah, you can bet that a flat tire didn’t worry me too much!

We got to Discount Tire at the perfect time. They took my car right away, took the tire off and checked it out, and were able to patch it in addition to cleaning and checking the tire pressure in all my tires. And it was completely free! A half hour or so later, Michaela and I were on our way.

My mother-in-law said poor Michaela would probably grow up to avoid driving after these car-related issues. But I hope she’ll instead take from this that keeping a cool head in a time of crisis can get you a long way in the face of automotive disaster… And that it never hurts to have AAA.


13 Dec

Michaela turned 11 yesterday. ELEVEN! How is that possible?

Pre-birthday, Michaela was feeling bummed. She couldn’t have the party she wanted with friends at a paint-your-own-ceramics place. And the back-up plan of having a friend over for a sleepover and then a tea party in her treehouse ended up not working out, too. She wanted Uncle Michael to come over for lunch, but he tested positive for COVID, so that was also out.

Having a birthday in the pandemic sucks!

(I remember thinking back in March and April, when everyone was doing drive-by birthday parties that I was glad Michaela’s birthday is in December and she wouldn’t have to deal with that. Boy, how wrong I was!)

Anyway. The other thing that was on her list was having Cousin Maggie come over to hang out. Fortunately, we were able to make that happen.

Michaela woke up to a house full of happy birthday swag– banners and pom pom garlands and streamers and more. Our neighbors had chalked happy birthday messages on our driveway, so when she went outside to meet a friend who dropped off her favorite bagels, Michaela was surprised by those warm wishes.

Michaela requested I make savory breakfast monkey bread, which I obliged, and Maggie joined us for breakfast before the two of them went for a hike in the canyon behind our house.

She also opened a mountain of presents, which included two Nerf guns and hundreds of Nerf bullets (the kids on our street typically have battles, and Michaela hasn’t been able to participate), a meal-in-a-mug cookbook (Michaela’s obsessed with making mug cakes; now she can expand her repertoire), the new Wimpy Kid book, oodles of art supplies, several craft kits, a new scooter, and more.

My biggest concern was making sure Michaela had a good day. This year has been rough and I wanted her to know, pandemic or not, that she’s loved and that this milestone is worthy of celebrating. And, thankfully, that’s how it turned out. Michaela said it was a good day and that she really enjoyed herself.

At the end of the night, I told her that the fact that so many people has thought of her that day was a testament to her being a good friend and a good person. I told her I was proud of her for that. She replied in a sarcastic tone, “Aww, what a nice inspirational speech.”

The tween spirit is strong with this one!


27 Nov

We have gotten into the habit as a family of taking a two-week international vacation at Thanksgiving. Last year, we went to Costa Rica, the year before, the Philippines, and before that, we did a Mediterranean cruise. Most of Mike’s family doesn’t live here, mine does but doesn’t like to do family gatherings, and it’s a nice off-season time to see the world.

This year, because of COVID, we’re stuck at home. It’s been really hard, because travel is my favorite thing in the world, and my preferred escape. And frankly, there’s been a lot I’d like to escape from this year.

We invited my dad over for dinner. I hated the thought of him sitting home alone eating dinner by himself (my brother was working), even though I also hated the idea of doing a family holiday dinner without my mom.

Mike cooked up a storm. Probably his best Thanksgiving dinner yet. Spatchcocked turkey, creamed corn, totally-from-scratch green bean casserole, twice-baked potatoes, and more. Michaela made the cranberry sauce. I tidied the house and did dishes.

Dinner was pleasant. We ate and chatted, and sent my dad home shortly after finishing because he doesn’t like to drove in the dark anymore.

I tried to have a positive attitude yesterday, focusing on what I have (my dad is still alive and we get to spend time with him) and not what I don’t have (my mom, travel). I realize we are so, so lucky — we have each other, we’re healthy, we (me and Mike) have good careers and a good teacher (Michaela). We have been riding out the pandemic in a big, spacious house. We have plenty of food on our plates. Too much, actually!

I’m hoping that approach will carry me through Christmas, which I expect will be much harder.


8 Nov

My mom was interested in a lot of things. She was passionate about a handful, especially in the realm of sports and politics.

Rafael Nadal, her favorite tennis player. When my mom died, I found a scrapbook she’d made with clippings of articles about his matches.

The Los Angeles Lakers, her favorite basketball team. My mom had a ton of Lakers memorabilia, and going to exhibition games when they came to San Diego was a highlight of my childhood.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, her favorite baseball team. When I was a kid, we would spend summer afternoons having picnics in front of the TV, watching Dodgers games with the creaky old box fan blowing to keep us cool. And when she was sick, my mom enjoyed watching Dodgers games when she was stuck in bed.

A woman’s right to choose, combatting climate change, expanding educational opportunities. My mom was passionate about liberal causes and, as an old hippie, wanted to leave the world better for me and Michaela and all who might come after us.

And she hated Donald Trump.

As crappy as this the last few months have been, there have been little things here and there that make me happy, knowing how happy they would have made my mom.

Rafa won the French Open. He is, after all, the king of clay.

The Lakers won the NBA championship.

The Dodgers won the World Series.

And yesterday, barring monkey business with the Electoral College, Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election.

All of those things are bittersweet. I celebrate them for my mom, but I wish desperately she was here to celebrate with me. Today is seven weeks to the day my mom died. I’m hoping with more time, there will be more sweet than bitter.


1 Nov

Thanks to COVID, this year’s Halloween celebration was atypical but still fun.

The neighbors who are doing a distance learning pod invited Michaela to participate in their festivities. Michaela joined them for a walk to the park, where there was a scavenger hunt for prize packs, and then a drive-through parade at her old school. She seemed to enjoy seeing her old teachers, and it felt (to me at least) like a nice way for her to be part of a school community, which she isn’t getting given our homeschooling situation.

That night, a neighbor with two small kids had a Boo Fest. Costumed kids on our street went from driveway to driveway to get candy and then there was a socially distanced pizza party. I kept up the Watson tradition of giving out full-sized candy bars, and it ended up being the only candy I handed out because I took Michaela trick-or-treating on Halloween night.

Another neighbor had a Halloween party for families on our street (yes– yet another neighbor. We live on an extremely social street!) on Halloween night. I skipped it because I wasn’t into the idea of being around a lot of people, but Michaela went and enjoyed the “kids playing outside” portion of the party. When it got dark, she came home and we went out to trick-or-treat.

I wasn’t sure what to expect but knew that some people would be putting out candy or accepting door-to-door visitors. It was fewer people than I thought, but still plenty. Lots of folks decorated their yards and put tables out with candy on them, and some hung out in their yards and greeted us from a distance. We only say, maybe, four other groups (families) of trick or treaters. It was weird! But I actually loved it.

Michaela is getting older. Next year, she’ll go trick-or-treating with friends. If she goes after that, I know she won’t want me around. So being able to spend this time with her, on a quiet night when we weren’t jockeying with other people or having to make conversation with others, felt very special.

There was one thing, though. And I’m guessing my white friends don’t do this?

Over the years, I’ve heard people make snide remarks and I’ve seen people complain on NextDoor and social media about “outsiders” coming into nicer neighborhoods to trick-or-treat. The grumbling usually has subtext of “poor brown people” and sometimes is accompanied by comments like “I heard them speaking Spanish.” Have you seen and heard this?

As a result, I have a Halloween habit of pointing out that I belong in my neighborhood. In practice this means that when we ran into people who were sitting outside giving candy, I would make comments like, “yeah, we live around the corner and didn’t have many people coming by” or “We’re over on Bounty Street, and I was surprised by how slow it was.”

I didn’t think it was particularly noticeable, but Michaela asked me, “Mom, who do you keep talking about where we live to all these strangers?”

And while it was in no way as important as The Talk, it comes from the same place. I am dreading the time someone questions her presence, and I want her to be armed with strategies to handle it when it happens. I want Michaela to survive and thrive in our neighborhood. Most desperately, I want our society to change so — when she takes her kid(s) trick-or-treating — she doesn’t have to do the same thing I do.

Hanging in There

7 Oct

I have been going through my mom’s things little by little, each time I go to my parents’ house.

I found a handwritten note with an unattributed poem called “If I should Go Tomorrow”. That made me cry.

I found the original version of the poem she wrote in 1976 about naming her daughter Music. That made me cry.

I found print outs of emails I sent my mom from Mexico City when I studied abroad there. I found pictures of random pets and of me and my brother and of Michaela. I found articles she cut out of the newspaper about the tennis exploits of her favorite player. I found old address books from throughout my mom’s life. Those mostly made me smile.

I ordered my mom’s death certificate. That made me cry.

People keep asking me how I’m doing. My go-to response is “I’m hanging in there.” It’s mostly true. I’m fine except when I’m not.

Mike and Michaela are hitting a good groove in terms of homeschooling. Today we had a conference with our education specialist, who invited Michaela to walk her (and us) through her learning. Michaela talked about each of the subject she’s studying and reflected on how homeschool is going. She was very positive about it, particularly the flexibility and fact that she doesn’t have to be on Zoom for hours every day, and said her favorite thing is doing Fix It! Grammar with Mike– probably the first time a 10-year-old kid has ever said their favorite part of school was studying grammar.

I’m so proud of Mike, who is doing a great job teaching Michaela. It’s hard to figure out the best way to teach each subject; on the occasions when I’ve had to jump in to help with school, it’s been rocky. And the fact that Mike is going that while still making great videos for his clients, supporting his team of employees, and doing a lot of work on/around the house is just that much more amazing.

Michaela’s taking a STEM class and this week, she’s supposed to build an elevator out of the parts of her choosing. My dad was a machinists who spent his career building elevators on Navy ships, so Michaela had the idea to ask my dad to work on the project with her. My dad is super excited about it. He talked to her about some different options and bought some supplies. She’s going over this afternoon to work on the elevator, which is going to have five floors and be made out of a tissue box, construction paper, and popsicle sticks, among other things.

I call my dad once a day, just to check in. He likes to be busy. He’s always got something to do, even with COVID. That’s coming in handy now that he’s on his own. He and Michaela are also working on a project where she’s helping him put ads on Craigslist for the classic car parts he sells. They worked out a deal that she does the ad (takes the picture and types up the description he writes for her) and he gives her 10% of anything that sells. He called last night to announce his first sale and tell Michaela she just made $40. He sounded so happy! It was beautiful.

We had dinner as a family last Friday — my dad, brother, me and Michaela. Mike had a shoot so had to miss it. I sort of figured we’d tell stories about my mom or something, but it didn’t go in that direction. We talked about today and tomorrow, not yesterday. Which may just be my dad and brother’s way of hanging in there.

I went away for an overnight in Palm Springs (actually La Quinta) with a couple of girl friends last weekend. It was a little weird to be out and about like that — especially when we saw dumb drunk twenty-somethings bunched up at the resort’s adult pool like COVID isn’t a thing — but it was also really refreshing to sit by the pool and read, the bob around in the water, and to eat Mexican food with friends. Especially in the last week or two of my mom’s life, I was responsible for so much of her care that it was really nice to be away and not responsible for anyone but myself.

Now I’m dying to go back to the resort with Mike and Michaela. Because as nice as it is to be footloose and fancy free, I also love my little family.

Nearly a Week in

26 Sep

Two days ago, I found myself clutching a pair of size 7.5 Nikes, sobbing. They were my mom’s shoes, and I was donating them to a charity that operates a closet where transgender youth can get gender-affirming clothes.

My mom would have been happy her barely-worn shoes were going to someone in need. I was happy they were going to an often-overlooked segment of our community. And yet.

There was something so final about giving those shoes away.

I thought about keeping them but decided not to, because if I kept all the physical things that reminded me of my mom, I’d be hoarded out of my home. I have memories, and I have the songs she loved, and I know that will be enough. Eventually.

So for now, I squirreled away a pink hoodie my mom loved, and the perfume she wore when I was a kid, and poems she wrote in the 70s.

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a week since my mom died. I keep thinking, “this time last week, I was…” and then filling in the blanks. I was laying next to her while she slept. I was dissolving Ativan in morphine, so she wouldn’t be in pain. I was realizing her death was imminent.

My house is full of flowers. I have been so touched by the kindness of my friends and colleagues. Every day, I’ve gotten a card or a bouquet or a meal or a text or message from a friend. I keep saying this has been awful, but knowing so many people are there offering support has made it slightly easier. The sad part is, I keep wanting to tell my mom about it and of course I can’t.

I have been surprised at the surprise I feel. I had three months to prepare for this. I was the one who, throughout my mom’s illness, kept having to remind my dad, “She’s dying.” And yet it still was so unexpected. Even as I laid next to her during her last few days, even as the hospice nurses said death would happen soon, I just wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready when she took her last breath, I wasn’t ready when the nurse pronounced her dead, I wasn’t ready when they took her body away.

People keep telling me grief is like an ocean, that it comes in waves. That I have to work through it. That sadness will hit me when I least expect it, and that eventually I’ll be able to focus on the good memories we shared.

I’m nearly a week in, so I guess we’ll see.


20 Sep

At 6 on Saturday morning, my mom was restless and seemed to be in pain. I gave her some morphine.

She spent the rest of the day… sleeping? Not really sleeping, of course. But it sounded like she was snoring. She didn’t moan, didn’t move, didn’t open her eyes.

My dad laid with her in bed for hours. My brother came over and sat with her. I unfolded her arms, which had been pulled tightly to her chest, and rubbed lotion on them and on her legs. I moistened her lips with a sponge. I stroked her forehead. I put on the Rome Open so she could “watch” her favorite tennis player, Rafael Nadal, play.

Mike brought me dinner and my dad took his spot in my parents’ bedroom while we ate. When Mike left, my dad said my mom had been coughing. I hadn’t heard her coughing at all, all day, so I rushed in. I heard her snoring but nothing else at first, then there was a kind of sputter. A very alarming sputter. I listened more closely and felt cold.

Hospice provided us with a comfort kid of medicines to use in various circumstances. It comes with a chart that says, for X occurrence, use Y medicine. One of the occurrences was “end-of-life gurgling.” Was this end-of-life gurgling?

I called my brother, who was at work, to let him know what was going on. He didn’t answer so I texted him. I also messaged Mike, to keep him in the loop.

I called the Kaiser hospice line and was on hold for what felt like forever but was really 3 or 4 minutes. I explained the situation to the call screener, who said a nurse would call me back as soon as possible. A few minutes later, a nurse called. I walked her through the situation and she asked me to take the phone into the room so she could heard the sound my mom was making.

“That is definitely what we call ‘terminal secretion,” she said. End-of-life gurgling.

The nurse said we could try sitting my mom up, which might help drainage if for some reason there was some liquid in her throat. My dad hauled her up as best he could and we propped her up with some pillows. I gave her some Ativan and morphine, in case she was in pain but couldn’t communicate it.

I called my brother again. Again no answer so I texted with the update. Didn’t hear back. Asked Mike to call. He tried, no answer. So he called my brother’s restaurant and got through to my brother, thankfully. My brother said he would come after his shift ended. Which I do not understand. AT ALL.

Since they say hearing is the last to go, and since my mom loves music, I put some on for her. A shuffle of songs by The Beatles. I sprayed some of her favorite perfume on her. And my dad and I waited. Waited for my brother to arrive. Waited for my mom to die.

I hope to forget the sound of my mom’s death rattle — make no mistake, that’s what it was. Clogged and liquid and rattling. Horrific.

That sound continued for a long time. Just before 1 a.m. on Sunday, I went into my parent’s bedroom to give my mom her hourly dose of morphine. My brother was in there with her. I turned on the light and was shocked to see she was foaming at the mouth. My brother had noticed it and gotten a washcloth to put under her face, clean her up, but he hadn’t said anything to anyone.

I immediately called hospice, to speak to a nurse. When I got through to someone, she said to turn my mom onto her side, so we re-positioned my mom. Hospice sent a suction machine, like a miniature version of what they use at the dentist, which arrived around 3:30 a.m. We never used it. The foaming stopped.

The rattling continued throughout the night. I slept from about 4:30 to 6 a.m.

At 6, I got up and checked in. My mom’s breathing had quieted. At first, she was breathing every four seconds or so, but not as deeply as before. Then her breath slowed. After she took a big, shuddering breath, I put the pulse oximeter on her finger, to see how many beats per minute her heart was beating. It wasn’t picking up a pulse. I ran and shook my brother awake.

The three of us — me, my dad, and brother — crowded around my mom, straining to see if she was still breathing. I couldn’t feel a pulse. For a brief moment, she had a weak pulse. Then I lost it. I asked my brother to try. He couldn’t, either. Just like that, she was gone.

It was about 6:25 this morning. I’m glad she’s no longer in pain, but it’s still surreal that my mommy is gone.