Too Hot Not To Handle


The air is still. So still I can barely hear the crickets chirp. The window is open wide to the sultry night and somewhere far down the street a dog barks. It must be midnight. Every now and then, the faintest, coolest breeze kisses my skin. The leaves sigh.

Softly he rests his hand on my arm.

“Don’t. Touch. Me.” My lips scarcely move. The words are a flat monotone in the dark.

His amused chuckle fills the heated space between us, and he rolls over.

It’s too hot. Too hot to touch. To be touched. Too hot to think, to exhale, to remember if I turned the dishwasher on. Even the whisper-soft breeze has stopped. It’s too hot to sleep and I feverishly wonder what tomorrow will bring. If it ever comes.


The sun scorches the trail we’re walking on, and a spotted lizard darts under a bush next to me. Its branches are crackly and brittle, and the dry leaves curl themselves like miniature cups, waiting for water. I take just a sip. It’s warm.

“I want to find the French Trail,” I murmur. I know that is the trail that is shaded and cool. It’s the trail where the trees are the tallest. They stretch and bend their skinny redwood trunks up up up toward the sun and they filter the light in leafy, holy patterns. G-d’s light.

But I am not usually able to find it. I take a wrong turn, start on the wrong path, or run out of time.

“Okay, so let’s find it,” he says next to me. He holds out his hand as we start to make our way down through the trees, out of the dusty, beating sun and over the thick roots and fallen logs. Something scuttles but otherwise all is quiet. The sky stretches white-blue above us and the sweat makes a slow trickle down my neck. I grab his hand. Too hot.

We walk carefully in silence for a while. The roots coil over each other in deceptive lines, and I worry he is going to twist his ankle. He asks if I’m okay.

“Here it is!” I can’t believe it. French Trail with an arrow that way.

I hadn’t wanted to go on a hike that morning. The heat is intolerable, insufferable and the sun bites my skin with iron-hot teeth every time I go outside. I am moody and cranky and only looking for ways to escape, not walk towards, any kind of inferno. Out there or inside.

And there is a grocery list at the bottom of my purse, and two essays waiting to be continued, and it’s an early dismissal day so even less hours to get this sweaty mess together. Who hikes when it’s 95 degrees out… at 9am?

But it is a rare morning of togetherness. A time that caught us both by surprise, when we could shift schedules and be flexible and walk and talk and breathe in nature and in light.

The light floats through the trees and we walk, close but not touching. This is where I want to be, I think, in this cool, shaded silence that smells green and full of hope. Hope that the drought will break, that the heat will ease, that this peace and calm will stay with us today and tomorrow and tomorrow.

And suddenly we are back in the sun, working our way upward to where we started. Because what goes down must always come back up, and it’s hard. The flies buzz around my ears and the dust is in my nose and I stop to gasp mouthfuls of hot, stagnant air every few feet. Slow-going.

“You are so noisy,” I mutter as he tries his own system of inhale exhale. My disapproval is as thick as the air.

“Just trying to survive,” he puffs as he strides past me. I knew he would say that. When I come around the next bend he is waiting for me. We are steps away from the car.

“It was so great until the last part.” I stop right there in the broiling sun. He nods in agreement. And even as the words are out my mouth I know that’s not true. It was great, even the last part. It is great. And it’s not over.

It’s time to say goodbye. To get on with our days, as usual. To try and stay cool, and remember that in the parched dust of our discomfort and in the breathtaking dappled light of love and ease, we are together.

“This was a good suggestion,” I say.

“I’m glad you were available,” he replies.


This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, where writers and bloggers gather together to share their versions of a completed sentence. This week’s prompt was, “Each Fall, I…” Hosted by Kristi of Finding Ninee, and co-hosted by Julie from Carvings on a Desk, and Danielle from Way Off Script. This is the Fall that does not yet feel like Fall, but every year around this time I notice a shift somewhere nearby.

What Did You Want to Be When You Were at College?

Her green-gray eyes always get straight to the heart of the matter.

“A journalist,” I promptly reply. Live on CNN. Big dreams.

“You could’ve been famous, Mom,” those eyes so earnest, so certain.

I smile at her certainty. At her pure eight-year-old belief that if only I had become what I wanted to be then, I would be famous.

“But when I’m a famous actress and singer, then you’ll be famous because I’m your daughter.” Pause. “NYU has an acting school, right?”

The notion of Fame is irresistibly attractive to her. Recognition, adoration, attention. She loves watching Disney’s “Austin & Ally”, the story of seemingly ordinary teens who rise not only to glittery stardom, but also to wholesome lives of friends and fun. As I watch her watching, I see the dreams behind those eyes, the twinkly smile that lights her face as if it were aglow in spotlight.

The ephemeral promise of flashing cameras and screaming fans inspires her to sit at the small, white desk in the quiet corner of her bedroom, hunched over pages of colored paper, writing songs she will later sing to the adoring audience of her mirrored self, hairbrush-ophone tight in her hand. But she is also driven by the good ol’ fashioned belief that if you work hard enough at something you love, you will undoubtedly accomplish success, praise, awards, celebrity. You will be famous.


It’s as simple and wholesome a belief as the freckles sprinkled faintly across her nose, and every time she imagines her future life out loud I feel warm and hopeful. Yes love, I want to say, it is as simple as that.

Of course, it’s not.

I wanted more than anything to be live on CNN. So I majored in drama and journalism, met a guy, married him, and moved halfway around the world to be a stay-at-home-mom with four kids. They’re the ones reporting live, from the minivan.

Maybe I didn’t work that hard. Maybe I didn’t want it as much as I thought I did. Maybe I got distracted, confused, overwhelmed.

Or maybe my dream changed.

Maybe once I met that guy, what I really wanted was to marry him, have kids and stay home to raise them.

In the humdrum of normal, everyday life in which success is defined by whether I get dinner on the table at a reasonable time (as in any time before bedtime) and by how often I mutter “Stop that” to the boy opening and closing the drawer with his foot, where my claim to fame is the chocolate mousse I make on special holidays, and the only journalism I’ve done in recent-ish years is edit the school newsletter, it’s easy to lose myself in the dreams that didn’t come true. It only takes a small question – What did you want to be when you were at college, Mom? – to stir up immense wistfulness about the great big plans I had for myself. But then, you know, life.

I’m not famous in the world out there. I’m not chasing leads or breaking news or reporting live from anywhere. But here at home? Definite star power. I’m famous for surprise tickles before bedtime, for homemade meat pies, for practical solutions to complicated problems. Their faces (mostly) light up like thousands of camera flashes when I walk in the room. Recognition, adoration, attention.

I look at her intent face, at her little self dressed much like me in black leggings, a tank top and slouchy sweater, and even as I answer that 20 years ago I wanted to be something I’m not, I realize I am exactly what I wanted to be. I wanted to be this.

Please switch to airplane mode

Leaving now. Luv u

It’s 5am. I was just falling back to sleep. But I reply:

Luv u

Four, five, six hours later:


K. Thanks

He travels a lot. Almost every week, at least three days a week, all over – Seattle, Cleveland, Dallas, Chicago. He takes red-eyes so that he doesn’t have to waste a day, often going all the way to New York for one meeting, returning to San Francisco the same day. There are days when the exchange above is the sum total of our interaction. At least I know he’s alive, and somewhere. Airplane wifi is the greatest invention ever.


He’s always traveled, even before we were married and we were living in South Africa with our parents. He would travel to the U.S. and we would have blow-out phone arguments at $2 a minute because I felt alone and abandoned, and he was in meetings all day and couldn’t call exactly when he said he would, and there were two continents and ten time zones between us. I’m sure our parents thought our engagement would be over before it had a chance to begin!

And now there are days when neither of us even notices that 14 hours have passed with no contact. Not because we don’t love each other, or don’t care to talk to each other, but because of L.I.F.E. It was evening, it was morning. And it was good.

Before Kids (B.K.) I hated being alone when he went out of town. Days were busy with work, friends, yoga, dog walks – but the nights… yuck. Long. Lonely. Monica, Rachel, Ross and Joey were pretty good company (remember the one with Fun Bobby?), along with Dr Ross, Nurse Hathaway and nebbishy Paul and Jamie. That was fifteen years ago – I didn’t know to really savor my alone time. B.K.

Six weeks after our first child was born, he went out of town – far out of town. To Taiwan. My mother-in-law sent a sweet email: “Nicki, now you won’t be lonely when he travels.” She was referring to the baby who would keep me company, and to the as yet unknown three future babies who would join us when he left on the gazillion future trips.

I wasn’t lonely – she was right. I was completely stressed out. I had to do everything myself and by myself, from morning till night and through the night. No relief from crying babies, changing diapers, preschool drop-offs, grocery lists, bedtime stories, teething pain blah blah fucking blah. I think I hated him… and then loved him more than ever when he would finally come home.

Until the night of the revelation.

Kids all bathed, fed and miraculously asleep by 7.30pm – thank you very much, there’s nothing a mother can’t do single-handedly! – I inhaled a bowl of cereal for dinner (fish sticks and apple slices have never appealed to me), got into bed, and watched Private Practice… by myself. Alone. Not lonely. Happy! He hated that show, always gave me a hard time about watching it. But that night, I didn’t have to answer to anybody about what I was doing, and why I was doing it. No unrealistic expectations about who was reading to whom, whose turn it was to clean up the kitchen. Only me to expect anything of – so I did it. Or I didn’t. And got into bed. With a book. Or Don Draper. Easy.

He never travels on the weekend. He always makes it back home in time for Shabbat dinner. It is easy, and we’re all used to it. His weekday schedule is unpredictable, and I never know if he’s going to be in town from one day to the next. So I assume he’s not. No expectations equals no disappointments equals happy wife equals happy life. And if he can accompany me to the JCC event, even happier wife.

But I’ve noticed something lately. Something I didn’t notice before. Or it wasn’t there. Or I wasn’t paying attention while I was wiping noses, and cleaning up after the dog, and keeping that one awake while putting this one to bed.

He anchors me.

When he’s not in town, I am not quite here either. I get it all done, and I eat my cereal, or skip dinner, or go out with my girlfriends, or attend the barmitzvah solo. And it’s easy. And even fun.

But I feel like a big red balloon that’s been let go, left to float above the leafy trees of responsibility and accountability. It’s big and blue and airy up there – and kinda scary. Actually, a lot scary. Not because if anything happens to the kids, G-d forbid, it’s all on me. Not because if anything happens to me, G-d forbid, one of those kids will have to figure it out for a bit. Not because it’s exhausting, emotionally and physically, being mom and dad for those days. All of that is true, and for single parents everywhere that is indeed the reality every day, not just some days.

It’s scary because I’m alone with me. I switch to airplane mode. I disconnect.

Because, after 16 years, four kids, one dachshund, two countries, a bunch of schools and home loans and jobs, two minivans and a gazillion flights, he is the tether that keeps me grounded. Gives me perspective. Keeps it real. Even when real is not pretty. And those blow-out arguments are still happening, with stakes now way higher than $2 a minute and we are breathing down each other’s necks instead of transatlantic phone lines.

But pretty or not, real feels better than auto-pilot.

If it’s Thursday it must be LA. But that seatbelt sign will go off.

And airplane mode will switch to fully functioning 4G.