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March 11, 2007

My world stopped

Kristine_as_liong Every year on a late-winter evening, you’ll find me, my kids and my out-of-town friends sitting and laughing in lawn chairs along Kearny Street in San Francisco, taking in the Chinese New Year parade.

We’ve been there in the rain, huddled under garbage bags we made into slickers. It’s been so cold I had to hold a couple of toddlers on my lap the whole time just to keep myself (oh yeah, and them) warm. This year was perfection – a gentle warmth that made us sit on our blankets instead of huddle beneath.

Despite our lack of Asian roots, we love the parade because, well, who wouldn’t like all the dragons, the lion dancers, the color, firecrackers, marching bands, stilt walkers, sword twirlers and all the city dignitaries waving at us from convertibles (“You have a female police chief?” my friend exclaimed. “Go Heather!”)

This year – the Year of the Pig – featured dancing piglets in lame, papier-mâché, tinfoil and vinyl. It doesn’t get a lot better than that (though the Year of the Dragon is pretty amazing!).

I love the parade, but what I like better is going there with friends.

Kathy was my boss way back in 1990 when we were both pregnant with our first kids. Both boys, both 16. She has a fascination with all things Asian, having lived in Hong Kong in the years after college.  She and her family started coming over from Salt Lake City to see the parade a few years ago. I think it was the year of the monkey (wow, what a pesky year that was – we were all glad to see that mischievous monkey go.)

This year, Kathy coaxed our friend Sheri to come along.

Sheri’s kids were preschoolers when we worked together, they are both finishing up college now and her description of her times with them sounds like exactly what I want – good friends who happen to be my children. She threw the most amazing baby shower in history for me way back when.

These two were my friends during my early professional life. They advised me on work. On my new marriage. One of them got me hooked on Nintendo.

Something connects us still. It could be our uniquely hilarious cynical outlook on life, our love of whimsy, our deep love of family and good friends. It could be left over from the searing bond that going through a fertility struggle forges. (One we successfully prayed our way through -- I'll never forget the moment Kathy told me she was pregnant -- we were standing in a back room against a large, dusty heating pipe when she whispered the words: "I'm pregnant.") Whatever it is, something bonded us and we can go months without talking and start right off with Deep Thoughts as if we'd had coffee that morning.

We’ve remained in touch despite the career hops I've taken from our home in Salt Lake City to Washington, DC, to Michigan and now to Silicon Valley.

This year we all stayed at the same Financial District hotel, right on the parade route. I put my three to bed across the hall, put on my pajamas and creeped across the hall around ten. Laughing commenced at 10:01. Two bottles of decent California red made time slow into a soft haze, but before long it was nearly 3 a.m. and Sheri suddenly announced: “You two have to go now.” We knew exactly how she meant it and took no offense.

parade was great, treks to Chinatown and Berkeley were fun. But once as we discussed where to go next – more shopping or more eating or more walking – I offered to stay behind with my little kids so I wouldn't slow them down.

“You came to sight see,” I said. “You came for the parade.”

“We didn’t come for the parade,” Sheri said in that way she has that brooks no nonsense.

"You have to admit, the parade was a lot like it was last year,” Kathy pointed out in her own droll tone, though she did acknowledge there were a lot more pigs this year. “It’s pretty much the same every year.”

“We came to be with you.”

With those words, my world stopped and my eyes filled with tears. I couldn't speak for a minute, I just nodded and hugged in the warmth of the moment. I’m still cuddling and caressing that thought a week later:

They came to be with me!