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AN UNPLANNED LIFE

Poet Laureate Report 2017-2018
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notebook-2247352_1920For reasons that I cannot explain, the Poet Laureate gives his or her annual report to the Livermore City Council in February. (I was installed at the end of June 2017.) So last week I compiled a massive spreadsheet of my activities and presented it to the City Council. I couldn’t believe how much work I’d done.

Okay, maybe I could.

In case you, like most people, wonder what a Poet Laureate does, I’m including the summary here.

In the eight months since I was installed as Poet Laureate, I have:

  • Hosted 9 open mics plus 3 additional poetry events summarizes below.
  • Held a reading at the Civic Center Library called Meet the Poet Laureate. I read selected poems from my chapbook along with new work, and answered questions about my goals as Poet Laureate.
  • Curated an hour of classic and contemporary cowboy poetry for a community event held by the Livermore Heritage Guild at Hagemann Ranch. It proved extremely popular, so I’ll be doing it again this summer.
  • After six months negotiating with LARPD, I found a compromise so we could continue the Ravenswood Poetry Series. The 1st event, held January 21st, was a Tri-Valley Poetry Showcase featuring seven local poets plus myself. It was well-attended and well-received. Future events at Ravenswood will be held on the following Sundays: April 22, July 22, and October 28th from 5 to 7 pm. I’ll be announcing the featured poets for the April event soon.
  • IMG_5136Held 4 Teen Poet of the Month contests, with 3 more slated for this spring plus a public reading for the winning teens and honorable mentions scheduled for late May.
  • Received a mini grant from the Livermore Commission for the Arts so I could expand Poetry in a Test Tube: Livermore’s 2nd Annual Science Poetry Contest. We now offer cash prizes in 3 divisions: Youth (K-8th), Teen (high school), and Adult. Deadline for submissions is March 10th. The award ceremony will occur on Sunday, March 18th.
  • Wrote the poem, “A Place to Call Home,” for my swearing-in last June as well as the poem, “Eulogy for the Old Library, 1966-2004/2018,” for the recent ground breaking ceremony (and demolition).
  • I’m currently working on a poem for the Livermore Civic Center Library, as well as another dealing with autism. These will be read at Audacious April—an event celebrating National Poetry Month, Autism Awareness Month, and National Library Week.
  • I was selected to serve as Poetry Judge at the Alameda County Fair. On Saturday, June 23rd, I’ll be hosting a reading and teaching a free poetry workshop.
  • Represented the City at literary events in San Jose, Pleasant Hill, Oakland, and San Francisco.

There’s more juicy stuff waiting in the wings, but I’ll save that for later when I have more details.

In short, it’s been a busy eight months, and I expect the rest of my term to be just as full. And that’s a good thing because it means I’m spreading the joy of poetry and prose far and wide. I’m grateful that I took the plunge.

Until next time,
Cynthia

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More Cha…cha…changes, Part 2
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12973396_10154810270134816_8980740602952449345_oAfter an 18-month lapse in services and an autistic child in the throes of puberty, I was eager for a fresh start, behaviorally speaking. But my struggle to re-secure applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy for my daughter, Katie, hadn’t exactly worked out as planned.

The situation came to a head when, over two volatile therapy sessions, Katie kicked in the center panel on three out of four cabinet doors on the buffet in my breakfast nook. The third incident resulted in a bad break, with splintered wood flying in the air. I was so angry I wanted to hit both Katie and the therapist. Instead, I excused myself and went upstairs to cry. Then I called the supervisor, and voice shaking with unshed tears, told her I was done. From now on, therapy must occur in their offices.

For several weeks we had no ABA therapy, then the therapist left on a three-week vacation. By the time she returned, I was convinced ABA was making things worse, not better. Katie’s behavior, against all odds, was improving. Plus the skills I wanted Katie to learn, like using money and telling time, weren’t happening.

We had a meeting and put therapy on hold for a month. By the time the month was up, I’d lost all my sitters and a good chunk of my job. I told them I wasn’t sure how I could drive Katie to their facility in Concord, an hour away, on top of driving Katie to Menlo Park three times per week. We put therapy on hold for another month. Despite the lack of therapy, Katie’s behavior continued to improve.

CrazyBy the time the second month had elapsed, I knew what I had to do. All behavior is communication, and Katie’s behavior was screaming, “No more ABA!” It was tough to let go of therapy I’d fought hard to secure, but it wasn’t working. We needed to move on, find treatments that worked. With therapists who treated my daughter like the teenager that she was.

Before we could leave, the Program Director needed to complete a progress report. It was a standard one that I’ve done countless times before. Some of the sections, such as verbal communication, were a breeze to complete because Katie could do almost none of the tasks. But in other areas, such as life skills, Katie could do much more. The Director kept saying, “Oh really? She can do that?”

After more than a year, the ABA team should have known this, and that was part of the problem.  But the real issue was that ABA has never worked well for Katie. Certainly not anywhere near as well as the Rapid Prompting Method.

So we’re going to stick with what’s working and build on that. Katie needs a social skills group and horseback riding to start. Special Olympics track begins next month (go Rockets!). Maybe we’ll try some yoga. Or more hiking. Another mom started a specialized social group to practice using a letter board with peers. We’re going to try it all and see what Katie enjoys, what improves her skills. I can write goals, and I’ll hire sitters who can help.

Whatever happens, it will be better that watching Katie color on command.

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What tough decisions have you made lately?

Until next time,
Cynthia

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More Cha…cha…changes, Part 1
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12973396_10154810270134816_8980740602952449345_oWhile Christopher and I were settling into our new relationship, I had a tough decision to make. After fighting for 18 months to secure applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy for my daughter, Katie, I was now struggling with how to proceed.

Our previous ABA team had been invaluable—helping to curb much of Katie’s negative behavior and solving countless autism “mysteries.” But we lost Mia, Brad, Juan, and the other team members when Katie’s insurance changed. (Yet another reason for single-payer health insurance. Disabled kids shouldn’t lose services for huge chunks of time simply because of a change in insurance.)

After an 18-month lapse in services and a child in the throes of puberty, I was eager to hand things over to the new team. I assumed we would brainstorm goals and then they would develop a plan to meet those goals. I’d be assigned “homework” as the previous team had done. In short, I had high hopes that the new ABA team would help me tackle the problems that had come with puberty.

It didn’t work out that way.

For starters, it often felt as if I knew more about autism than the new ABA team. Plus the supervisor kept calling Katie “Cat,” despite my constant corrections. And why were they treating teenage Katie like a preschooler? It would be one thing if she didn’t know her colors, but Katie did—had known them for years.

Katie had a meltdown at the social skills group due to an inexperienced aide combined with far too many people packed into a tiny space and no sensory equipment. As a result, they postponed Katie’s participation in the social skills group. When she lost it at a park due to sensory overload and a different inexperienced aide, they banned community outings. Stuck at the kitchen table for three hours straight, coloring as instructed, Katie began to rebel. And my home, once again, bore the brunt of her wrath.

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For several months I debated what to do. It seemed wrong to drop the one therapy “proven” to help those on the autism spectrum. Plus Katie desperately needed a social skills group, and unlike our previous team, this provider had one. And yet, ABA now seemed to increase Katie’s negative behaviors rather than decrease them. Was I making excuses? Mom insisted I was. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that ABA was making things worse, not better.

I kept going around and around in my head, unsure what to do.

explorer-gear-377x269-300x214When the supervisor asked me to repurchase Candy Land and Chutes & Ladders—well-used toddler games I’d recently donated to Goodwill—I refused. I asked for alternatives, and they sent me a list of other toddler games. Were they kidding? Why would any 13-year-old want to play toddler games?

I asked my college girlfriends over lunch in Truckee, and within five minutes these non-experts had brainstormed a list of age-appropriate games with simple rules that didn’t require much talking. Why hadn’t the so-called autism experts been able to do that?

But more importantly, what was I going to do? Where could I find the answers I needed?

To be continued…

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Cha…cha…changes
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change-948024_1920No sooner had Christopher and I started dating, than other changes started flooding in.

First, Lora, one of our terrific new weekend/evening sitters, announced that she was going back to school to become a nurse. Her anatomy class fell on the two nights that she worked for me. I swallowed my disappointment and asked when her class started. “Next week,” she said.

So this would be her last day. Great.

I texted Miss B to see if she wanted to pick up Lora’s hours. She didn’t respond. I realized she hadn’t answered my last text either. I called and left a message, asking if everything was okay. No response. So my second weekend/evening sitter was missing in action. Even better.

Two days later, when I was relaying this information to Melissa, our tutor/sitter/Girl Friday, she got a funny look on her face. “What is it?” I asked.

“Umm, I’ve got something similar to tell you.”

Turns out the other mom Melissa worked for wanted her full-time. Melissa might have pushed back, but part of the reason for the increase in hours was that Nicole and Melissa were going to begin Italian lessons together in preparation for two months in Italy over the summer.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for me and the girls,” she said. “I can’t pass this up.”

I sighed. A special needs mother had poached a sitter from me—a fellow special needs parent. There should be a law against that. At least Melissa was giving me a month’s notice and promised to help find her replacement. But it didn’t change the fact that in less than a week, I had lost all three of my essential childcare providers.

How was that even possible?

When I remembered to check the dating app, the two guys I had met online in addition to Christopher had both closed their accounts. Apparently they had each met someone on New Year’s Eve as well. This came as an unexpected relief.

But when one of my major nonprofit clients—the most steady, consistent one—called to inform me that due to funding cuts it was closing its doors, I started to worry. Now the loss of childcare providers didn’t matter so much because I was essentially unemployed. Or close to it. What in the hell was going on?

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I told Christopher what had happened over lunch in Menlo Park and repeated my refrain. He said, “You opened yourself up to change when you said yes to a date with me, and now the changes are rolling in.”

I said, “I’d be totally panicked if you weren’t here to calm me down.”

“And I’d be a wreck dealing with my dysfunctional workplace if it weren’t for you,” he said, holding my hand. “But together, we’re the chill couple.”

I laughed. “I’m not exactly known for being mellow.”

“Me either,” he said, “but I’ve never had a relationship this effortless. We’re gonna keep going with the flow and see where it takes us. I think everything will work out.”

And damn, I believed him. Everything, including relationships, seemed easy with Christopher.

“I’ve been thinking for a couple years that it’s time for me to have a career again. And if I’m totally honest, my child got lost in the shuffle when Melissa began working for that other family last fall. Maybe this is a chance to push the reset button.”

“See?” he said. “It’s going to be fine.”

Within a week both of us had new job possibilities that we were exploring. Shortly after, I found Emma, a sitter who clicked with Katie, and for two months (or more), could cover all my childcare needs.

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I don’t know where this river of change is leading, but I’m doing my best to flow with it rather than fight against the current. I’m curious to see what unfolds in my unplanned life.

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Trust the Process, Part 2
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12973396_10154810270134816_8980740602952449345_oAfter walking the labyrinth, I grabbed some hot chocolate and stood in the peaceful courtyard, talking to friends. They all commented on how beautifully my daughter had waited. For whatever reason, Katie has always loved attending the labyrinth ceremony. Tonight she had sat calmly, wrapped in a blanket, while I walked. Still, just the week before, we had had a minor meltdown at my sister’s house on Christmas, and we’d been banned until Katie “learned how to behave.” The contrast between that evening and this one was a stark reminder that Katie’s behavioral issues were occurring less and less frequently. I needed to stay the course and trust the process. We would get there eventually—even if it didn’t happen fast enough to suit my family’s timeline.

Katie and I had just returned home when Guy #3 (aka Christopher) texted: Happy New Year from the Midwest!!

I texted him back and for two hours we carried on a conversation while he packed for his early morning flight. Finally it was midnight in my time zone. Happy New Year from CA!! I wrote. And then this: It feels like I spent NYE with you.

I know, he said, it feels like that for me too. I’ll call tomorrow when I get back to CA. I can’t wait to meet you in person. :)

When he called the next day, I explained that I needed to drive up to Sea Ranch to retrieve my daughter’s missing iPad. He laughed. “You have no idea how many miles I’ve driven to retrieve lost technology.”

So Katie and I left for the coast. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was driving in the wrong direction.

We quickly fell into a pattern: texting all day, and then when Katie got into the tub to soak, talking on the phone into the wee hours. We had both been single for more than a decade, so in addition to the tragic tale of our respective divorces, we shared dating horror stories and single parent moments. We rambled through our childhoods, discussed our children and careers, revealed goals and dreams. I haven’t laughed that hard in years.

Finally neither of us could stand it anymore. We needed to see each other in person.

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I broke it to Katie gently. “I know I said we would spend the whole week here, but I met someone, and I really want to meet him in person.”

“A date,” Katie said.

“Yes, a date.”

“I want to see Nate,” Katie said.

“You can still see Nate, but not while I’m on the date. That would be mean. To Nate. But you can hang out with Lora or Miss B, maybe even Jennifer, okay?”

“Jennifer,” Katie said. “I want to see Jennifer.”

“Okay, we’ll text Jennifer and see if she’s free.”

Katie stared at me for a long moment. “A date,” she said.

“Yes, a date. But not with Nate. His name is Christopher.”

“I want to see Nate.”

“I know you do, and you will. I promise. But Nate didn’t want to live with us, and this guy has good daddy potential.”

Katie considered this. I could see her desire to stay at Sea Ranch competing with her life-long yearning for a father. The latter won. “I pack the bag.”

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The next day, after much debate over location, Christopher and I met at Uncle Yu’s in the Vineyards for drinks and dinner. After a few minutes of awkwardly staring at one another at the dark, sultry bar, we picked up our conversation. For dinner, we took the plunge and ordered the chef’s secret tasting menu with wine pairing. Halfway through our incredible meal, the waitress asked which anniversary we were celebrating: 10th? 15th? Possibly our 20th?

We laughed. I said to Christopher, “Should we tell her?” He nodded, and I said, “It’s actually our first date.”

“No,” she said. “That’s impossible. We gets lots and lots of first dates in here, and you guys are not throwing off a first date vibe.”

“It’s pretty much the best date ever,” Christopher said, “but it’s definitely our first.” He grinned. “I don’t think it will be our last though.”

“No,” I said. “Definitely not our last.”

“Oh my god,” the waitress said. “You two are the best!”

The sommelier brought us a phenomenal port to pair with the decadent chocolate cake, and the owner printed out our menu and invited us back for future anniversaries. Then they left us alone. We talked until we realized we were the only remaining guests.

We wandered through downtown Livermore comparing Chinese fortunes. Then we sat in the Bankhead Plaza and talked, and kissed, and talked some more. We went back to my place and sent the sitter home. Then we stayed up all night talking.

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Christopher was correct. It was the best date ever. Until our next….

I’m grateful I trusted the process.

Until next time,
Cynthia 

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Trust the Process, Part 1
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12973396_10154810270134816_8980740602952449345_oBy early December 2017, I had decided to let Raymond, the man I thought I’d waited for all these years, go. But letting go is never easy. Yes, I was miserable. Yes, I hadn’t seen him in over four months, hadn’t communicated with him in two. But he was so perfect for me! Except for one fact that was now impossible to ignore: he was a workaholic who couldn’t make time for me.

Yes, I felt wonderful in his presence, but those precious hours were few and increasingly far between. Plus, did I really want to live with three autistic kids? Sure it made a great story, but that was hardcore even by my admittedly warped standards. Yes, his boys were high functioning. Yes, I’d always wanted three children. Yes, Raymond had always wanted a daughter. But did that make us soulmates?

Would I feel so lonely if he was my soulmate?

Did I even believe in soulmates?

I felt like I was back having the internal “am I settling?” debate that I’d had when I was dating Nate. (You can read about that here.) Once again, I confronted the fact that asking these types of questions probably raised a red flag (or two). Even so, I struggled with letting Raymond go.

As you, my readers, are aware, this was not my first rodeo. I knew I needed to get back in the proverbial saddle. But it was harder this time. After more than a decade of being single, I was losing faith that I would ever find a stable, long-term relationship.

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By late December, however, I had three men chatting with me online. One was a short, pompous Indian guy who thought he was far funnier than he actually was. I could tell he would bore me quickly. Maybe he already had. The second was another tragically short man. But he was funny and smart and knew how to flirt, which goes a long way in online dating. The third was tall, but had photos that did him no favors. I could tell he wasn’t ugly, but had no idea if he was, in fact, cute. Still, like Raymond, he could write beautifully, and before I knew it, we were exchanging long emails.

On December 31st, Guy #3 (aka Christopher) asked for my phone number, email address, anything. He was staying in St Louis at his parents’ house with his four—FOUR!—children, and well, the dating app was less than discrete. His kids, and maybe even his parents, were wondering what was up. I laughed and sent him my phone number.

The self-described family man and nerd had managed to ask for my number before two other potential suitors. Interesting. The other guys checked in via email before heading off to parties.

A Chartres-styly labyrinthLater that evening, while I waited for my daughter to swing, Christopher texted and asked what I was doing for New Years Eve. I explained that I was just about to join some friends at a year-end labyrinth walk. It’s about letting go and requesting what you need going forward, I wrote.

“Interesting,” Christopher replied. “Go do that and I’ll be in touch later.”

Katie finished swinging and we went to the labyrinth. There was an unusually large crowd in the candle-lit courtyard, but Katie said hi to the people she knew and calmly sat on her favorite bench, near the fountain. I bent to pick up a polished black rock at the entrance to the labyrinth. Each is engraved with a single word, and this evening, mine read: TRUST.

Interesting, I thought, not realizing until later that Christopher had said the same thing just moments earlier.

As I paced slowly through the Chartres-style labyrinth, I focused on letting go of Raymond plus everything else I had struggled with in 2017. I thought about the word on the rock. What or who did I need to trust?

When I reached the center of the labyrinth I looked at the icy winter sky, glittering like diamonds, and heard my internal voice: Trust the process. You’re on the right path. Everything will be fine.

I knew I’d made the correct decision to stop waiting for Raymond. I silently said goodbye and wished him well. Then I walked back through the labyrinth, calling in what I desired for 2018: courage, laughter, adventure, ease. I asked for effortless self-care and all the help I required. I asked for guidance in solving Katie’s challenges, plus joy, creativity, peace, patience, financial serenity, and abundance. And don’t forget the man I’d been waiting for, one who would make me a priority. As I said it in my head, I heard the word TRUST repeat again and again.

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I reached the labyrinth entrance and looked at the stone in my hand, finger tracing the bold letters. Okay, Universe, I thought. Bring it on!

To be continued…

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Dating Daze, Part 2
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wine-690299_1920After I sent Raymond my bold email, I didn’t hear back for two days. I worried that maybe I’d been too forward. But then I received a message: Ha! Okay. What are doing later this week?

We were both free Thursday afternoon, and unwilling to jinx it this time around, immediately scheduled a date in San Mateo at Kingfish, a restaurant he liked.  He wrote: See how easy that was?

I was early for once, but he got stuck in traffic and sent an email that said simply, I’m sorry. Please wait. Then another: Call me.

We chatted on the phone while he inched along 101. He asked if I could cancel my evening meeting. I said it would annoy my fellow board members and he asked about my nonprofit. I hedged. He pressed. Finally I said, “Well, I’m not sure if I told you this before, but my daughter has autism. I started a nonprofit called Autism A to Z.”

There was a long pause. Then he said, “No, you didn’t tell me. I would have remembered that because my twins are on the spectrum.”

“What? Did you say spectrum? As in autism?” I was so stunned I couldn’t think clearly. I suspect it was the same for him.

“Yes,” he said.

online-dating-300x199“Are you kidding me? In addition to bipolar spouses, we both have kids with autism? How is that even possible?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “But it explains why you didn’t bat an eye when I said twin boys.”

We were still talking about this strange coincidence when he strolled up behind me. “You can hang up now.”

I whirled around, and there he was. The chemistry was palpable. I stood there, staring at him, and thought, so this is the man I’ve been waiting for.

We had an amazing first date, and when our meal was over, he walked me to my car and we made out like teenagers, exactly as he had promised three years earlier–even though I’d forgotten. Three weeks later, we met for brunch and he showed me his beautifully remodeled home. “I bought it because of the trees,” he said, which is the same reason my ex and I had purchased our fixer upper. His dog wanted to sleep in my lap.

Three weeks after that, we had dinner in downtown Mountain View and shared tapas and sangria. He apologized for not being much of a drinker and I said, “You have no idea how happy that makes me.”

He said he thought of me before he fell asleep every night and again when he woke up. One of his sons loved my poetry chapbook so much that he hid it so Raymond couldn’t find it. I happily gave Raymond a second copy because he was the man I’d been waiting for.

Because we both had children in our homes full time, being alone together was a challenge. We planned a romantic weekend while Katie was away at summer camp. We were both excited to have 48 hours of adult time, but a few days before we were to meet, he canceled due to work. I tried to play it cool, but I was upset.

We never had another date. For months he promised to find time to see me: in early September, then mid to late September, then in early October to attend a wedding. Before the wedding I tracked him down, only to learn he was in Texas again. Another emergency. His sister was in a medically induced coma. He said he would explain everything in a few weeks when things calmed down, and after crying for an hour, I went to the wedding alone.

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No email or phone call came, so several weeks later, shortly before I went to Truckee in mid-November, I wrote Raymond a letter, explaining that I could no longer remain in limbo, stuck between dating and not dating. I told him I needed to feel like I was a priority, that it had taken me fifty years to be able to say that and believe it. I asked him to work with me to find a solution.

I told him I knew our story wasn’t over. It couldn’t be!

Apparently I was mistaken. I waited—I’m still waiting—but Raymond never responded.

Until next time,
Cynthia

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Dating Daze, Part 1
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wine-690299_1920Back in November, when I was in Truckee with my college girlfriends (you can read about that here and here and here), I entertained my long-married friends with dramatic dating tales. As always, they were enthralled. I filled them in on what happened with Nate, my ex-boyfriend, and told them about the basketball coach with the infected toe and the police officer who reunited with his estranged wife (but still wanted to sleep with me. No thanks!) Then I told them the wondrous story of Raymond, boy genius, but even then I was beginning to doubt if the tale would end as happily as I had once hoped.

I met Raymond online in 2014, shortly after Michael 2.0 and I broke up, but before I met Nate later that year. We immediately hit it off, and began sending each other longer and longer emails. I called his “word candy.” He called mine “literary crack.”

We desperately wanted to meet in person but had trouble finding the time. His work schedule was insane. I had sitter limitations. Then after six weeks, his emails abruptly stopped. I was deeply disappointed, but figured he had met someone younger, hotter, or both.

After several weeks, a message arrived. He was sorry. There was an emergency. He was not sure how much longer he’d be in Texas. A week, maybe two.

I knew this guy was stressed. I suspected he had full-custody of his twin boys, who were then seven. From my own experience, I knew he was grappling with the enormous difference between being a working parent and being a single, working parent. I was a few years ahead of him on that learning curve, so I decided to cut him some slack. I told him not to worry. Just give me a call when he got back to California and we’d set something up.

online-dating-300x199I never heard from Raymond again.

Three years later, in the spring of 2017, six months after my break up with Nate, I was once again trying to muster the energy to date. My daughter was at the park with the sitter, so I had the house to myself. I pulled up the online dating app, and there at the top of the recent visitor list, was a face I recognized.

His hair was longer and more silver, but it was definitely Raymond.

I’m not sure why, but I fired off an email asking him how online dating was treating him. Was he still flitting around and sampling the wares?

He immediately responded that he was flitting, but not doing much sampling. He knew I hadn’t been on the site much, so he figured I was dating someone. He said he had sent me good thoughts over the years.

I learned he was in Seoul, Korea, keynoting at a conference. It was 2 in the morning and he couldn’t sleep. We chit-chatted until he dozed off, and then, with nothing to do, I searched for our old emails.

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It was a riveting read, sparks flying off the page. I got a third of the way through and wanted to kick myself. Why hadn’t we dated? I had never had an exchange like that before or since. Before I could stop myself, I sent Raymond an email stating that we might be smart, but when it came to dating, we were TOTAL IDIOTS. I insisted that we go out when he returned to California, so we could finally discover if we had as much chemistry in person as we did on paper. I apologized for being bold and bossy, but said I needed closure on this issue.

I simply had to know. Didn’t he?

To be continued…

Until next time,
Cynthia 

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Happy New Year!
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It’s 2018! How in the heck did that happen?

Happy New Year

Wishing you a peaceful, prosperous, gratitude-filled year.

I’ll see you in a week with more of my Unplanned Life….

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Happy Holidays!
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Katie and I wish everyone a peaceful and relaxing holiday season.

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I’ll be back in three weeks with more of my Unplanned Life….

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