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After 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.
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.”
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.
Christopher was correct. It was the best date ever. Until our next….
I’m grateful I trusted the process.
Until next time,
By 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 my faith that I would ever find a stable, long-term relationship.
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.
Later 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.
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,
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.
“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.
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,
Back 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.
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.
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,
It’s 2018! How in the heck did that happen?
Wishing you a peaceful, prosperous, gratitude-filled year.
I’ll see you in a week with more of my Unplanned Life….
Katie and I wish everyone a peaceful and relaxing holiday season.
I’ll be back in three weeks with more of my Unplanned Life….
“You have to. I need help.”
They can’t really help you, Nate.”
“Your dad can.”
“Yeah, maybe. But not my mom.”
“Just do it, Cyn. It’s kind of an emergency.”
I stalled as long as I could, then I sucked it up and called my parents’ house. Dad answered, and when I explained what was happening, he said, “Your mother is watching Outlander at your sister’s house. She won’t be home until after 9.”
“Dad, what part of emergency don’t you understand?”
He sighed. “I’ll call. She may not answer.”
Apparently Mom and Jen take Outlander very, very seriously.
I called Nate back, but by then the tantrum was winding down. He and Jennifer got Katie on the swing and soon she was ready for bed. By the time Mom and Dad showed up, Jennifer was leaving to return to Santa Cruz. Katie had climbed into bed, thoroughly exhausted, so my parents stayed outside on the front porch, talking to Nate, then left.
I’d spent most of my final evening in Truckee stuck on the phone, talking to Jennifer and Nate instead of my college friends, listening to my child curse, scream, and cry. This is pretty much the opposite of fun. I was wiped out and feeling guilty. Plus I was convinced that Jennifer would never work for me again.
That would have been stressful enough, but when she returned home, Mom felt compelled to send a string of nasty texts. I was a bad parent for taking time off. My child was out of control and required medication. I was using Nate. Why wasn’t I doing more to help Katie? I was selfish and irresponsible. Why had I left Katie with people who were clearly in over their heads? Nate had a scratch on his face. What was wrong with me? When I responded that her comments weren’t particularly helpful and could she please stop, she texted: THEN START ACTING RESPONSIBLY!!!
By now all of my girlfriends were asleep in their rooms, so I called a friend and cried on the phone. She told me my mother was an idiot. She asked when was the last time I’d left Katie overnight. I said other than a few days at camp, the last time was for a masters writing workshop in 2007. My friend sighed and told me I needed more time off, not less. The fact that Mom couldn’t understand that was the problem, not my actions. She reminded me of all the ways Katie was making progress, all the sacrifices I’d made for her. She told me I was an excellent mom. It helped. But I didn’t sleep much that night.
In the morning, I told my girlfriends what had happened over a quick breakfast. They agreed with my friend and hugged me. One suggested that if my parents couldn’t help in person like they did for my sister Jen, then perhaps they could pay for someone to give me time off. Which, although unlikely, was an excellent idea. (Didn’t I tell you these women were amazing?) Then we all scrambled to pack up and leave.
It had snowed overnight, and the roads were slushy. Once I reached Donner Pass, I was glad that I hadn’t attempted the drive at night. The visibility was poor even in daylight. I took it slow and called Nate once I reached Colfax. He said Katie had slept in and now they were eating pancakes. Everything was fine.
I was relieved, but still worried, depressed, and exhausted. I was grateful for my weekend in Truckee, but to say that Katie’s meltdown had put a damper on my enjoyment was an understatement.
I arrived home forty-nine hours after I left. It seemed much longer. My home was a little worse for the wear, but otherwise everything was fine. Katie was glad to see me. And anxious to repair the holes.
I pieced the story together after talking to both Jennifer and Nate at length, but I still can’t identify what triggered Katie’s meltdown. It’s possible she was anxious about my continued absence and had no way to ask for reassurance. Or perhaps she was pissed that Jennifer wouldn’t let her take a longer shower. Or something else entirely that we all missed. Whatever the case, although I’m thrilled that I got away, I’m not sure I’ll be doing it again anytime soon.
Jennifer, thankfully, was willing to return. When I finally worked up the nerve to ask, she said, “Of course! I don’t blame Katie for what happened. I just feel bad that I couldn’t calm her down and had to call you.”
Which, I will admit, made me cry. It was the best gift I got this holiday season.
Until next time,
After the incident in the shower, Jennifer, my respite sitter, struggled to keep things under control. But my daughter was in a rage fueled by anger, puberty, sensory dysregulation, or a combination of all three. Katie kicked the mirrored closet doors in her bedroom, then began kicking the walls. Unsure what to do to de-escalate the situation, Jennifer called Nate, my ex-boyfriend, once again.
By the time Nate arrived, there were several holes in the drywall (we’d find more later) and one of the closet doors was cracked. Jennifer was panicked. She’d never encountered this kind of behavior in almost four years of working for me. Nate saw the state of the walls (and calculated the amount of time it would take me to patch them) and decided to restrain Katie until she calmed down to prevent further destruction.
Nate had pinned Katie to her bed when Jennifer called me in Truckee, almost in tears. I calmed her down and tried to decode what had happened. I could find no clear trigger.
The problem with restraint is that it often only serves to make the child angrier. In other words, it makes a bad situation even worse. Which is precisely what it did that night in my home while I was a nearly four-hour drive away.
Katie was thrashing around on the bed and screaming like she was being murdered. Nate, who is a big guy, was having trouble holding her down. I suggested Jennifer help him by pinning Katie’s legs and then walked her through the breathing technique that I use to help Katie calm down. It worked a bit, but the minute Nate lessened his grip, she turned on him.
Nate began complaining about being tired. I explained that once he decided to restrain Katie, he needed to follow through until the meltdown ended. And eventually, after an hour, it did.
Never have I been more grateful for the end of a meltdown. I’m sure Jennifer and Nate felt the same. I sighed, thanked them both profusely, and hung up. It had been an exhausting and emotionally draining hour on the phone. An autistic meltdown is always bad, but it’s ten times worse when you are hours away and unable to help your child.
Half my college girlfriends had headed for bed, but Anne and Dawn were still up. They poured me a glass of wine and asked what had happened. I wasn’t even halfway through the story when my phone rang again. Katie had lost it once more.
The phone reception in Truckee wasn’t good, and the connection was lost. I looked at Dawn and said, “I should go home.”
“No,” she said. “Whatever is happening will be over long before you make it back. You need to stay here and get some sleep. Head home early tomorrow like the rest of us.”
I sighed. She was right. Driving over Donner Pass alone on a snowy night wasn’t a good idea. Especially considering my night vision isn’t as good as it once was. Why had I pushed my luck and stayed a second day?
The phone rang again. I took it upstairs where the reception was better. Once again I talked Jennifer and Nate through the worst of the meltdown, and they managed to get Katie into the body sock, which usually helps to calm her down. As Jennifer counted with Katie, Nate got on the phone. He explained that he was worried Jennifer wouldn’t make it back to Santa Cruz in time for her morning class. (Later he would tell me he was more worried that Katie would hurt her.) He had agreed to spend the night at my house so Jennifer could drive back that night without traffic. But like Jennifer, he had never seen Katie in this state and he was concerned.
“You need to call someone. Jennifer has to leave soon, and I’m not sure I can handle this alone.”
To be continued…
Until next time,
Speaking of gratitude, I am beyond grateful that the University of California saw fit to introduce me to five of the most amazing friends a gal could have. We met in Sereno Hall at U.C. Davis (UCD) in the fall of 1982. Mary (Semmelmeyer) Gagliardi was my roommate. Helen (Nazar) Bishop and Renata Ruettimann-Erpen shared the room across the hall. Anne (Gowan) Weaver and Dawn (Kellenbarger) Vollmar lived with their roommates a few doors down. Despite time, distance, jobs, marriages, and kids, we have remained friends for a shocking thirty-five years. How in the hell did that happen?
These women have known me my entire adult life, and when we get together, the conversation picks up right where we left off. Renata went to Switzerland after college and met a wonderful Swiss guy who she married. Her parents remain in the San Francisco Bay Area, so whenever she visits them, we make a point to get together for lunch or dinner.
Last summer, I saw a photo in the UCD College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences alumni magazine. It showed seven women who met in the late 1950s at UCD and have taken a trip together every summer since graduation. Now in their 80s, the women looked healthy and happy. Funny. Vital. Interesting. As in, women I’d like to have coffee with and discuss their world view.
Mary and I were the only ones who would receive that particular magazine, so I scanned the photo and emailed it to my girlfriends. For a caption, I wrote, “This will be us in a few years! Well, maybe more like decades, but you get the idea. Lol.”
My friends quickly responded. They loved the photo as much as I did. As we exchanged comments, we realized that 2017 was the 35th anniversary of our meeting in Sereno Hall. Even better, Renata was planning a trip to California in November!
We decided to spend a weekend in Truckee at Renata’s family vacation home. For my married girlfriends with high school or young adult children, this was a relatively easy thing to do. For me, a single parent with a special needs teen in the throws of puberty, it was a different situation entirely.
As luck would have it, Jennifer, my long-time respite sitter, was free that weekend and willing to tackle an overnight. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” she said. “No worries. It’ll be fine.”
I was so excited about the prospect of a weekend away with girlfriends, I didn’t ponder the many ways this could go horribly wrong.
I purchased snow boots and wool socks as well as a pair of cute embroidered jeans. I recruited Nate, my ex-boyfriend who knows Katie well, to serve as the emergency point of contact while I was out of town. Just in case, I told myself. I really wasn’t expecting anything to go wrong. Neither was Jennifer.
And nothing did—-for thirty hours. Thirty hours in which I drove to Auburn on a crisp November day to rendezvous with my friends. Thirty hours in which I ate cheese fondue and dark Swiss chocolate while drinking wine and relaxing. Thirty hours in which I hiked and talked and shopped and talked some more. Thirty hours of pure bliss with my dear college friends.
I checked in with Jennifer and she told me to stay the second night. She and Katie were having a blast after several months apart. “Smooth sailing,” she said. She sent me photographic proof.
My girlfriends and I were thrilled.
Then for reasons neither Jennifer nor I have been able to uncover, Katie began to unravel. At the park her behavior was erratic enough to cause Jennifer to call Nate. He stopped by, but the problem seemed to have resolved itself.
Back at home, Katie manipulated Jennifer into letting her use my shower. After thirty minutes—and most of my shampoo and body wash—Jennifer asked Katie to turn off the water. Katie refused. Jennifer said that Katie could get out herself or Jennifer would come in and make her. (This is a classic autism technique that Jennifer and I have both used successfully.) Katie reluctantly shut off the water … and then kicked my custom (read expensive) shower doors.
Jennifer hustled her out of the master bath, but from then on, the situation eroded.
To be continued…
Until next time,
Katie and I wish you a relaxing and abundant Thanksgiving!
I’m terrifically grateful that the City of Livermore selected me as its fourth Poet Laureate. It’s been an amazing journey, and I can’t wait to see what unfolds in the remainder of my term.
What are you grateful for?
I’ll be back next week with more of my Unplanned Life….