Most women know the answer to that big question before it’s asked. I know, I thought about it. We even talked about it a few times.
Will you marry me?
He wrote and illustrated a short story, which ended up being the story of my life, and he left the rest of the pages blank. He asked in front of his family. It was the sweetest moment of my life. But he didn’t need the book, the audience, or the ring. I knew exactly what I wanted in life before he even asked.
At the time, I wasn’t sure if the timing was right, but I knew he was who I wanted to be with. Somehow, we’d make this work.
The same held true for the next big question he asked me, except this time he wasn’t so sure of my answer. This time, it wasn’t rehearsed or planned. There wasn’t an audience, but my answer was firmly on his side.
I wasn’t sure if the timing was right to move to California, but I knew he was who I wanted to be with. Somehow, we’d make this work.
What I didn’t know is that the “yes" to move to California would cause more immediate change than the “yes" I said to be his wife.
When we were married, I moved. I kept the same job and lived the same life, except I was now married. The blessings of the sacrament of marriage are slow spilling for most of us. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with Lucy and we experienced the hardship of losing my husband’s close friend, Shawn Kuykendall, that I learned what grace in marriage meant.
Then, soon after Shawn’s passing, we became parents of a breathing, screaming baby girl. Becoming a parent is a life event that you, sort of, fall into.
Life happens. We can say yes. We can say no. There will be consequences to every decision.
I said yes, got on a plane and hours later, stepped out of the LAX airport into thick, warm air. It was humid in a polluted way. I saw two palm trees poking vertically above the plain building in front of me. It was my first breath of a Los Angeles street.
I took a deep sigh. Today, was the first day of the rest of my life. Today, I was meeting my future. I felt like a new bride in a lot of ways. Everywhere I went, I was quick to explain that “I just moved here, all the way from Washington, DC!” I was lost in a whimsical way. People loved it, like admiring a young girl with a sparkly diamond. There’s a glow and excitement to someone new.
But the glitter of “new" fades, and then you just feel unforgivably lost. No matter the place, I was constantly arguing with my GPS. No matter the night, I woke feeling like I was in a hotel. I went to my midwife and the standard in Los Angeles is to test for HIV. I sullenly tested for HIV. Negative. I was scared of (harmless) homeless people. I saw an LAPD helicopter flying above my complex, hid in my apartment and locked the door. I always, always, always missed the turn to my parking garage.
And I felt like I didn’t belong here. I kept it going, though, trying hard to work it out like a machine, do my job and mostly feeling like a failure.
Then, one day, I drove to Trader Joe's without my GPS telling me where to go. I woke up to the familiar scent of lemon essential oil diffusing in my living room. My midwife called me by name and I called the homeless man on the street by name. I watched as an LAPD helicopter flew above me and I didn't wonder if we were in a state of emergency (the LAPD has the largest helicopter fleet, as far as US police departments go, and they always keep two in the sky). I turned into my parking garage without anxiously looking for the turn.
And I walked through the door of our apartment and heard the words fall surely and easily from Lucy's brave little mouth,
She sighed as she kicked off her shoes and climbed in her rocking chair, an upholstered charcoal rocker. It once sat in my master suite, made spacious for family living. Now, that rocker sits in my living room, sized for a bachelor, or a family, in Los Angeles.
I laughed at the sight, at the thought of her simplicity and joy, and my eyes welled with regretful tears.
You know that feeling; the one when you know you're failing as a parent. Then, your child comes to you full of wonder and mercy, and tells you something grand like, "Mommy, you're my favorite."
That's what it felt like.
All this time, I was sure I failed to create a home. I was pregnant and exhausted. There were boxes, empty walls, picture frames on the floor. The pantry was dysfunctional and mostly bare. Lucy had a small makeshift desk, the bottom half of a bookcase that didn’t survive the move. There were legos ... everywhere.
It was all a mess that I was unwilling and too afraid to call my home. I was above it all. Too good for it, but she knew better.
Meanwhile, she loved her little desk. She was settled, sure that this space was ours, content and cozy, and ready to give it all a try.
I managed to smile and say, "That's right, you're home.”
Pieces had fallen into a place of home.
The joke was on me. For all this time of worrying and thinking that I knew it would be too hard to handle -- It was a moment, much like watching a new surfer catch a wave, messy and lacking balance.
But I was doing it.
I was making a home in LA, not just visiting or vacationing. I was living here. The one thing I had anticipated for months, I was doing. Even though it didn't look at all like the California dream I had hoped for, it was real. It was ours. For Lucy, it was all quite successful. Then I saw, in plain sight, it was successful for me too.
Pride is often faulty. But I'll tell you this: If you move 3,000 miles away from a life that took you 28 years to create, and you find yourself smiling on another overcast day during an El Niño spring, you go ahead and be proud of yourself. Take all the pride and breathe it in deep so you can feel it warm your scared-cold heart.
And then exhale every last sticky string of it because this ain't over.
Making a home in LA is a unique piece of my motherhood, as unique as my individual children. It's taught me a lot in the past 6 months; the biggest lesson, so far, was learning that I could do it. I could make her a home in a new, unfamiliar place.
I look outside today. The sky is blue. My skin is tanned and we're debating whether we'll go to the pool or the beach after mass (No, we don't always spend time at the pool and beach, but I'm happy for the days that lead us there). I picked a sweet year of mercy to move to the beach, and mercy there will be.
Next week will be new and it will come with new challenges and new obstacles; battling the need to keep up with the east coast as well as make a life worth living here. My back will ache a new ache. The babes will cry new cries. Maybe it'll feel like home or maybe I'll feel exhausted from the unfamiliar. There’s a lot to learn. No matter the cause of frustration, depression or joy, I'm doing it.
I'm grateful for the courage of yes.
"Trust and trust alone should lead us to love”
— Thérèse de Lisieux