Month: April 2012

For the Love of Angie

After the firing and release of Donique, Julia’s first nanny, the universe, delivered Angie to my small family. From the start, my Mom knew Angie was the right woman for the job. However, in fairness, I had to keep my word, and allow all four applicants to interview for the position of nanny. My mom could give a hoot about fairness. She wanted to lock and load Angie for Team Julia.

As each applicant came through the front door, and took a seat at the dinning room table, my Mom sat across from them, her word search puzzle book game set in one hand, a ball point pen in the other, typically used to keep her seventy-five-year-old mind sharp, but in that moment, employed as a social shield. While I conducted the thirty-minute interview, Mom listened and then lobbed a question or two over her book at the applicant, then returned to her preferred preoccupation. After the interview wrapped, I’d escort the applicant to the front door.

“Thanks for coming,” I said say with a smile, closed the door and lumbered back down the hallway, mentally sorting over the pros and cons of the woman, settling into my chair to take a closer look at her resume. From behind the folded book, the voice of my Mom would exclaim, “She was nice. But she was no Angie.” By the time the third applicant had come and gone, Mom got testy, “Why are you even still interviewing people?” she said. “Just call Angie.”

I, like a jittery, burned bride that had been abandoned at the altar, sought certainty. I wanted to be sure as I could be about the new nanny. After I week of hunting I realized there was no 100% certainty in anything. 95% was as close as I would come.

The day before Angie started work, my brother Jeffrey called from Michigan. “You better tell the new nanny what happened with the old nanny,” he said.
“Really?”
“Sure. You don’t want her thinking that she works for a hot head, that if she breaks a plate or something then she’s out of job.”
Married moms have husbands. I have Jeffrey.

Following my sage brother’s advice, while I sipped the cold dregs of my cappuccino, on the morning of first day, I gave Angie the low down. Unvarnished. The Reader’s Digest version, sans fireworks. Any good writer knows the truth is dramatic enough.
“Well, first she said after opening the envelope with her Christmas bonus ‘Am I going to be happy after I count this money?’ Then she tried to tell me what her friends had received. Twice.”

Angie listened, her eyes low, her lids shielding her thoughts. Then looked up at me through her shoulder length wedge of light brown hair and said. “This lady who worked for you, she wasn’t Mexican was she?”
“No Angie,” I said child like, puzzled and curious to see where this question was leading. “She was Trinidadian.”
“I didn’t think so. No Mexican person would say such a thing.”

Less you think dear reader this response was an anomaly, a bit of goober smooching of  the new boss, know that three months later, when I offered Angie a small bonus, a lagniappe in the form of cash for taking such good care of my daughter, for being such a lovely consistent force in my home, Angie’s small, honey-colored hand, shot-up in the space between us like a stop sign.
“No. You pay me well, Jenine. I don’t want this money.”
“Angie, take it. Go out with your girl friends, have a nice dinner. Take it.”
“No. I did not earn this money.”
“Take it.”
“If I take it, I’ll just buy something nice for Julia.”

And with that Angie left for home, the bills still clutched in my hand, my jaw unhinged from shock. I went to my cell and dialed my Mom back in Michigan, and as best as I could, told her what had happened.
“I would have taken the money,” Mom said.
“Me too. Everyone could use an extra fifty bucks. I know Angie could.”
Mom sighed. It wasn’t heavy groan. For an expression of air over a phone receiver ,it was a light, breathy breeze. “You got the right one this time,” she said.
A sigh of relief.

Angie has reaffirmed my certainly of goodness in the world, that right finds right. Good connects to good. I treat her with fairness. She treats me with respect, and sometimes something even greater.

A month later, a week ago, I came home on a Friday, hauling a bag of Trader Joe groceries, a large plastic Buy Buy-Baby bag, containing a Talk and Learn Elmo toy, my work tote stuffed with files, print outs and books— my ass dragging through the door, twenty minutes late. By the end of business on Friday—between motherhood and the mayhem of advertising-my body is burnt down to the ground. I girded myself for the nanny backlash I’d become accustomed to with Donique; a poked out lower lip, a sour attitude, after all, I was twenty minutes late. On payday. But I just could not move any faster. Too loaded down to even send a “I’m running late” text.

I limped through the door, carrying a broken smile on my face. I’d read that Maya Angelo said, a child should always feel when parent looks at them, after an absence, that they are the light of the world, no matter what happened at work, no matter what ad concept was bashed, or what panhandler was doing their stage show on the Uptown B train, as you cling to the last minutes of adult reading time. So at the threshold I gave my daughter the light she deserves. As Julia did her welcome home dance, her tiny little samba of joy in the hallway in front of me , I let the bags and the weight fall to the floor then scoped Julia up into my arms. Angie studied the scene closely.
“I’m late, sorry,” I said. “It was the best I could do.”
“I’ve been meaning to tell you something,” Angie said.
I braced my shoulders, my will, my resolve.
“I so proud of you,” she said. “You’re such a good Mom.”
Instantly, my eyes flooded; fatigue and flattery, a potent mix.
“Angie, you’re going to make me cry,” I said, blinking back tears.
“No. You do every thing around here. Take care of Julia. You make the money, and pay the bills. Really you are taking care of the three of us. You do a lot.”

I pulled Angie close, and hugged her tight, simply because I didn’t know what else to do. Grateful. No. It’s more than gratitude. Angie has become a new north star, a fresh illustration of divine order, that the universe has intelligence, knowledge of what I and my daughter need. And in what order we needed it. When I came to Julia, Donique did a lot of good. But Angie does a lot of good for both Julia, and me.

I never knew at the onset of motherhood, that the small village I told the judge in Ethiopia I had back in the States, that among my great supportive friends and family, Angie would be at the center.

Julia vs. Jesus

Sunday, the first day of the week, can be the most challenging, for me. Of all the tasks of being a single mom, I never once considered attending church would become the most taxing.

About a month ago, around the age of 18 months, my darling daughter, ceased to find zip lock bags filled with gold fish crackers or kid-size containers of sliced bananas, enough to hold her attention through a complete Sunday service. The smiles and goofy looks of other attendees, seated behind us at Unity of New York, no longer held the mystery they once did. You see dear reader, Julia had found her voice. And was set on using it.

As a championship talker myself, I respect anyone making their voice heard. However, two weeks ago, when, in the midst of Paul Tenaglia’s talk, Julia chortled out a loud and long, “HEYYYY!!!!! to the delight of everyone in attendance at the service, except her mortified mother.

“Yes, there’s one of God’s amazing gifts right there in front!” the minister said.

Laughter and applause rolled down from the rear of sanctuary, the balcony, from my right and my left. And Julia applauded too. As I watched her tiny palms crash together in delight, I knew my days in the main sanctuary were numbered.

I tried taking Julia on a walk about in the back area where the books and fliers and welcome table are set up. After thirty minutes of watching her roll like a log across the carpet during the meditation, by the end of the service, I knew there was no going back. Toddler-hood had hit.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Carla, my church pal said. “ Sure baby’s talk, everyone accepts that. At least you weren’t that woman with the crying baby. Did you see they asked her to step out?”

Carla always sees the Unity side of things. Problem was, although Julia typically keeps her whaling to a minimum, I feared she’d have a sudden change of personality. After all, every time the minister asked us to “go within” Julia went without, with a yodel, a yelp, or a “HELLO!” to our nearest neighbor.

“You know, I just didn’t go out when all of you were young,” my mom said all the way from Michigan once we return home. “And when you guys became old enough for Sunday school, I sat down there with you.”

Funny, I don’t remember Mom sitting in Sunday school, but clearly remember my brothers and I housed in the basement of New Bethel Baptist Church, me with the itchy crinoline biting into the backs of my thighs, wishing I could spend the money my mom had allotted for the collection plate on candy after the service.

Since the days of having an Easter speech to memorize and Spring dresses to wear and bear in the lukewarm spring days of Michigan, the act of attending church, for me, has become vitally important.  Unity Church of New York is my spiritual and creative haven. Lead by the magnetic and frequently hilarious Paul Tenaglia, church is a weekly event I rarely miss. Aside from the sense of community, it’s the one place in New York City where if you tell a member you plan to the write the next great American novel that will break all records for down loads on The New York Times, Amazon and Barnes and Noble, combined, and they are happy to affirm that vision with you. We run a can do church.

My not attending service wasn’t an option. However, attending church wasn’t working out either— with the wee lass.

Maybe there’s hope. Last week, Julia did half the touring around she did two Sundays before.  And a lot less yodeling. Maybe because I had already given up something: my preferred seat, of eight years, down in front, first row, left hand side. I made camp in the back of the church, near the restrooms, in the Baby Ghetto, where the other parents of small, new walkers, new talkers, tiny explores set out see new lands, were held up.  I kept ear cocked to hear the word of God, picking up 50% at best.

So far Julia, Jesus and God are neck and neck.

Only fourteen more months to go until my kid can attend Sunday school. Until then, I’ll keep prayed-up, as the old folks say. After all if Jesus could turn water into wine, he can help me find a way to keep Julia entertained, at least between the hour of 11:00 and 12:30 on Sundays.

Well, it’s 10:45. Time to mount up.