{Written for Alameda Shorts: September 2018: Theme: Change}

It’s 10 a.m. and I still have no idea what I’m going to write for tonight.

I slide my card into the meter and wonder if I could sell 1,000 words on how nice it is to not have to carry around change for parking.

That turns into guilt about not having change with me for the barista. I forget cash is better for servers and always add the tip on my card. So even when I tip 20%, I manage to feel bad about myself … and

That’s not boring at all.

Dammit. I can’t. I’m grasping at straws. I have already given up on two other false starts since I woke up. The angry rant aimed at my dead uncle careened into dangerous waters way too fast, and the hilarious story about changing planes in a busy airport with a squeaky wheel on my rolling suitcase and 8 minutes to get to a gate three zip codes away was not funny at all.

One subject triggered rage and the other triggered anxiety. And I am not in the mood to indulge in either – because I’m walking in to Wescafe to drink coffee with my daughter and catch up while we address her wedding invitations.

She’s getting married in February and moving to San Diego in March, and if that isn’t the lowest hanging fruit about change you have ever heard, I’m not sure what is.

Of course that’s change. I have been in a swirling eddy of change for a couple of years now. When did my son go off to boot camp? How old is my grandson? Big changes keep coming, one after another, and while the wedding is a huge deal, it’s just one more change signified by a big event and I feel like I’m beginning to take these things in stride.

So I waltz into Wescafe, order my drink and kiss the top of my daughter’s head. She’s got her back to me, but I can picture her face – the slight surprise and giggle and the sideways slide of her eye that says, “My mother is such a cuckoo clock.”

This is my middle child, and when she chose to live with her father at 16, it felt like death. She moved from my house on Bay Farm alllll the way to his house in Alameda, and every inch of those 5 miles was paved in six feet of solid grief. I mourned the absence of her laughter from my home more deeply than I mourned the death of my own father.

My time as her mommy had died. I was no longer a part of her daily life, her daily habits. Like death.

Sure, the two of us drove all over the state for her volleyball games that summer, and we went to the Classic Movie nights at the theater for years, and she makes me watch White Christmas every stupid year, and she randomly snuck into my house a bunch of times when she was in high school.

She would sneak out of her dad’s house and right into mine. And she thinks I’m weird.

Well, really, she called me crazy when I stopped the crying. Being weird and goofy helped me make it through, but that’s not what the cool moms did.

And for years and years she would barge into my home to unload about terrible coworkers, asshole teachers, thoughtless friends, demon siblings. She would rant and rant and not let me touch her or say a word because I was so dumb and she hated my voice and I could NEVER say anything right and then she’d exhaust herself and collapse into my arms and I’d finally be able to soothe her.

And eventually, make her laugh. At me. But it was laughing.

And maybe today, if she really needed me, she’d do it again and we’d watch Gilmore Girls on the old couch and I’d make her hot chocolate. But she’s 24 and strong in herself. Independent. Her own woman. Meeting for coffee is the new cuddling with cocoa.

That’s why it’s now 11 a.m. on the day of Alameda Shorts and I have nothing to show for it.

Except, of course, for the animated redhead sitting across from me talking about her fiancé and how she had to force him to choose a color for his suit in the wedding and good lord, “gray” is not a choice! Does he even know GRAY?

She waggles my charcoal Embassy Suites pen “this is gray.” She points at the marble table top, “this gray.” And she waves her dark gray sleeve in my face “AND THIS IS GRAY!” “Gray is not an answer!”

“That pen’s a good color for a wedding suit, though, no?”

She squints at it. “I guess. Maybe. I know you always have pens with you but come on. Why so many today?”

“I don’t know. That one’s from the SF Writing Workshop, and that one’s from the train retreat last year, and I found that one in your brother’s room after he moved out …”

“Wait. Do all these pens have a story?”

“Yyyyesss.”

But why …?

“Some people, it’s shot glasses. Me, it’s pens. What?”

“You’re so weird.” But she smiles when she says it, like she knows this pen I’m using on her invitations now has its own story.

I’m also here to audition for the role of sign-maker for the wedding.

Invitations done, we scroll through her Pinterest and I do my best to copy her favorite fonts, but she really wants my style to come through – don’t copy exactly, mom. I just want this idea in your writing in this way.

Did you hear that? She still loves my handwriting. After all these years. It tickles me that my little girl is a big girl and she’s getting married and she wants her mommy’s handwriting all over everything. Did I say tickle? I mean thrill. It thrills me in all the ways.

It’s creeping up on noon and now we’re just looking at her home decorating Pinterest board – she has also asked me to make a mosaic drinks tray for her wedding present, and I want to get it right.

Because, this is the kid who rejected me the hardest and called me crazy for not being like everyone else’s mom and held my weirdness at arm’s length for so long.

She wants to know the theme of tonight’s Alameda Shorts and when I tell her it’s Change her face lights up and she says, quick thinker that she is, “I feel like you have to write a story that’s just a guy changing his shirt over and over. But each time he changes his shirt he’s suddenly in a different place.”

I am so proud of her. “That is SO Doctor Who of you! That is so Erica Peck of you!”

She’s not done “Or OR the whole story could just be about a guy changing shirts. And everyone’s waiting for the punchline and waiting for it and waiting for it and you end it with, ‘he decided to wear the blue striped shirt.’ And walk away.”

Whaaaattt … ? Fuck with the audience just to fuck with the audience? This child is more me than she ever wanted to be.

I gather my things. “I wish I could write that. It’s brilliant. But Roberta already wrote hers about changing clothes and I’m supposed to take an angle no one else has. I was thinking about coins. Change. You know.”

She wrinkles her nose. Quarters and pennies. Dimes and nickels. I’m not feeling it either.

Outside on the street, we hug and go separate ways. I really need to pee now, thinking about Roberta’s story, which makes me think of Sam’s story, which makes my bladder shriek hysterically. I’m walking hella fast. My bladder won’t let me waste time going back to Wescafe; I MUST GET TO MY CAR and DRIVE HOME to Bay Farm ASAP.

It’s been about 28 seconds and I suddenly remember a helpful tip about my daughter’s work thing, so I call her. She wants to know why I’m out of breath, so I tell her how bad I have to pee and I can hear the eyes rolling in her head.

The thing is, I want to hear her voice, and hold on to being in mom mode, and of course remind her how weird I am.

Because I’m not going to change. And I feel like she’s cool with that.