Hill-Shmill

I’ve been avoiding writing this blog for several days now even though it’s been floating around in my head for much longer. Although honestly, I’m not sure why – I have nothing but good things to share. Maybe it’s some deeply hidden malaise, or maybe it’s fear of tempting fate, or maybe it’s just laziness. I’m tending toward thinking it’s the latter in which case, I should just get on with it.

So what do I have to share? Well, quite a lot actually. For starters, here is a cover of my fourth book due out shortly:

what echoes render

It’s a little creepy and I love it – don’t you? There is something about seeing little kids near fire that just kind of makes me cringe and think “oh, boy, what’s coming next.” Of course, I could tell you what comes next, but that would just ruin the fun. You’ll have to read it to find out ☺. But what I can tell you is that I’ll have more information coming soon regarding early readers and release dates!

So what else is there to share on this lovely day? Well, today is my birthday – yay, me (well, really I should say “yay mom and dad, thanks for having me” but you know what I mean). Yep, today I turn forty; four decades of life is now complete. It’s been a mostly great four decades – a little heartache here and there, but for the most part, I’m more lucky/blessed/grateful than anything else. Like sixteen and twenty-one, there is no denying that the fortieth birthday has social/cultural significance – even if you believe forty is the new thirty (which I don’t, by the way. Don’t get me wrong, I like thirty well enough, but I like forty better).

My life isn’t perfect. I wish I could get in a little more exercise, sometimes I wish I had just a little more patience and a bit more wit, and sometimes I want to just get away from it all and hole up in some cabin by myself and have no responsibilities toward anyone or anything for even just a little while.

But the truth of it is, I have a husband I still love after almost sixteen years of marriage, two kids I both love and like, parents and family I’m close to, and friends that make my world shine. I also live somewhere extraordinarily beautiful, have a job I like, work with people I respect, and my fourth book is coming out soon – really, how cool is that?

So while I am grateful and thankful for everything the last four decades has brought me, I’m not going spend today focusing on being grateful. I’m going to spend it celebrating – you might think it’s the same thing and maybe it is. But in my mind, I have a lot to not just be thankful for but a lot to celebrate, a lot to enjoy, a lot to laugh about, and, if the past forty years were anything to go by, a lot to look forward to. Cheers to you all and I hope you have lots to celebrate, too!

Three years since…

I don’t tend to write sentimental non-fiction. But I give you fair warning, today will be different. It will be different because three years ago today, my mother-in-law passed away from complications arising from malaria. Yes, malaria.

She was a remarkable woman. No, she wasn’t a political maverick or a corporate icon. She didn’t head every volunteer effort under the sun. In fact, there was a lot she didn’t do that I and my generation tend to take for granted, like girls’ nights, two piece bathing suits, and drinking. (Okay, that last one was a stretch, she did enjoy a little vodka and orange juice every now and again. And maybe a margarita or two.)

But in her sixties, she up and moved from India to the United States, not to start a new life for her and her husband, but to help my husband and I start a new phase of our life. And she didn’t just move countries, she moved into a house with a culture that wasn’t her own. Into a house with her white, American born daughter-in-law.

When people find out that my mother-in-law lived with us for nearly ten years the reaction tends to be some variation of this sequences of events: they draw back their heads, their eyes widen, and they ask “How was that?” And then when they find out that my in laws are Indian they shrug and say something along the lines of, “Oh, well.” As if that explains everything.

But the thing is, it doesn’t. Yes, it’s true that in her generation it was common for parents to come and live with their son’s family, but in my husband’s generation it isn’t common at all. In fact, I think he may be one of the only person in his group of friends whose parents actually lived with him. But I digress. Sort of.

The truth is, the cultural and generational gap between us was huge. We also had different views and ideas about raising the two boys who by then toddled around the house. We also had different relationships with our respective husbands, each as foreign to the other as you can imagine.

But what we did have in common was family. And family formed the foundation of the relationship we developed over the years we lived together.

Today it’s been three years since she passed away. Like many people who have lost someone they love, I still think of her often, maybe not every day, but several times a week. Because even though family is what brought us together, there was so much I learned about her and about myself just by being present together.

She had a quite kind of grace that doesn’t seem to exist very often anymore. Or if it does, it’s drowned out by how loudly the rest of us tend to live our lives – even when we don’t want to.

She loved beautiful things – it might have been a vase, or the sunrise over the pyramids, or a sunny day by the ocean. And she found beauty in so many places that I can still hear her take a small breath, smile, and say “It’s so beautiful.” She didn’t effuse, she didn’t exclaim, she just quietly absorbed. And loved.

That was how she was with us, too. She didn’t argue, she didn’t shout “bravo” when one of the kids did something great, she didn’t punish with anything harsher then soft shake of her head. But she was there, loving us. Loving the life we were sharing together.

I know our move to the countryside of California wouldn’t have been easy for her – she was a very social woman. But I also know that she wouldn’t have just ‘made the best of it,’ because that wasn’t the way she lived. She would have immersed herself here. She would have appreciated the roses, laughed at the turkeys, and marveled at the smell of the orange blossoms. She would have loved watching the boys swim, enjoyed sitting outside with her coffee, and maybe even enjoyed a margarita or two at the several good Mexican restaurants around us now.

I learned so much about the power of quiet from her. She wasn’t formidable, she didn’t demand, or challenge. But she shaped me. She created a space that made it okay to slow down, to look around, to explore, and to allow a question to be just a question, not a judgment. In her own gentle way, she opened up the world to me – she opened my eyes to its beauty, to its possibilities, and to the importance of being kind.

There is so much more I could write about – about how we blended our cultures, learned to cook and enjoy each other’s food, figured out how to raise two boys so that we supported each other’s unique relationship with the both of them, and how we even ended up in a magazine that published an article on the “Changing Nature of Family Ties”.

But more than anything, I am more grateful than she will ever know that she was such a big part of my boys’ early life – that they had someone so unconditionally loving to help them grow from babies to pre-teens. And as for me, every time I appreciate a deep breath of fresh air scented by oak trees or stop and watch a hot air balloon rise above the Napa hills, I know she lives on in me in ways I never would have anticipated all those years ago when we first met. I’m the better for knowing her and so is our family.