Category: Childhood Development

When a Breakfast Sandwich is about Much More than Breakfast

Oddly, I stood in the cafeteria unsure about what I sure  be more surprised at; that the moment hit exactly the same way. Again. Or that I had the very same reaction to it, that I wanted to write it down. That I wanted to remember. That I needed to remember.

So, there I was again. Or, more to the point, there we were again.  Me and two little boys, Richard and Sam. (Not their real names) in the cafeteria at school. That’s when the universe hit me upside the head for a second time. But in this moment I reflected on the thumping reality of truth, and life. And wrote it down.

Anyway, back to the boys.

I had rushed into the south cafeteria at school, after dropping off Julia, furiously searching for some mental space to rest my mind before heading into work. My stomach growled. My head exploded. Then I heard the musical sound of a distinct speech pattern, the Queen English.  I froze. It was not only musical, it hit a note from way back. I turned. I search the sea of small, brunette, black and blond haired children. Until I found them, until I found Richard and Sam. It wasn’t such a surprise to see foreign-born children at  this school. It was a surprise to see these children at this school.

The last I saw of the boys, was a year ago last Christmas, my hands looped firmly around their mom’s shoulders. Christmas 2018 didn’t feel so Christmas-y. Roughly two years prior, when I asked their mom, while sipping a cup of morning coffee, how she was doing amazingly, shockingly stupefying, she told me the truth.

“Okay now , but later I’m having chemo.”

Admittedly, I was surprised at her candor but quickly fell into line. This wasn’t my first chemo convo.  One of my best and oldest friends from home had stared cancer down, and made it blink, twice, before the age of 50. I knew how to stand with a friend through this moment. I knew how to listen attentively when she gave the details of her care. I knew how to step back when she, or he, needed extra space during a cancer trial.  What I did not know was how to have that talk with another mom of small children.

“I’m glad you told me,” I said…”that way I can check on you.”

“That would be nice,” she said. We’d become fast friends. I dubbed her the Mom Warrior. A year later I learned just how much my game face would fail as things progressed.

“We’re moving back to England,” Mom W. said as we sat at the tiny tables in the caf. “I can’t get the medical treatment I need in America.”

I sat envying her duo citizen status, her fluidity, for a moment. Then an understanding bloomed. “You’re sure you can’t get the care here?”

She bellowed and said, “I’m sure. I’m a doctor.”

Another dumb mom moment. I’d never asked what Mom.W. did she did for a living. She always seemed so relaxed at school, so I assumed she was stay-at-home mom. I never assumed the cancer had kept her home bound.

“My family is there, and so is my husband’s. They can help us with the kids.”

“Well, that makes sense.” I knew on the days I didn’t see her sweeping through the halls at school, and a nanny led the boys to class, a round of chemo had taken my friend down.

She looked into the distance,  then back at me, and leveled her eyes into mine and said. “I’m probably going to die in London.”

I live in New York City where folks say and yell all kinds of shocking, deeply private, and plain old non-sense, at times, at the top of their lungs, any moment of the day and night. I’d never experienced such directness regarding one’s personal death. Her honesty was like a punch in the chest. So, while sitting in the too small kid chair, I began to cry like a baby.

“I’m sorry. I guess I’m just use to saying this. It’s okay. I’ve made my peace with it. And as a family we do therapy,” Mom Warrior said.

I smeared the dampness from my eyes. “No, it’s not okay. None of this shit is okay.”I always felt bad when I cursed at school. But today wasn’t one of those days.

She peered into my eyes. They produced more puddles.

“Don’t worry, it’s not happening for a few months. And its still the holidays.”

As the weeks wound down to the Christmas break, I saw the Mom Warrior more and more at school. She told me of the wonderful support she’d found through Gilda’s Club, a non-profit started after the death of the comedian Gilda Radner, by her then husband Gene Wilder. I once worked near the Soho office, and walked past its red door often. But I never, ever went inside. She told me about making memory books for the kids and writing letters for when the boys were older.  I suggested that she go to places she loved and making videos, so the boys could see and hear her thoughts about vital landmarks.’ “That’s a great idea, I could do that in New York and London,” she said.

And when the day came to say “see you soon,”rather than good-bye, I hugged my friend tight about her shoulder, her brown hair cascade down over my forearms. I waved good-bye to the boys and spared them the embarrassing, public display of affection. As they moved down the hall, I found myself trailing the three of them, like an asteroid held by their orbit. I couldn’t believe God was letting this happen, letting them go.

Christmas came. I traveled to Michigan with Julia. This was the season my mother hasdstarted, what turned out to be, her final decline. And the more my mom slipped away, the more I texted my friend across the pond.

Days would pass before I received a response;  funny pics of Richard and Sam in their new home; pics of the Mom Warrior sitting in the cushy chemo chairs, wearing a big smile.

“Who smiles while having chemo?” I texted back.

“Did you notice that my shirt matches the chemo chair?!” she asked.

In February, I did a text check-in. And after a long stretch of silence Mom Warrior texted to say she’d just completed a three-week term in the hospital. “I nearly died,” she wrote.

Now she was back home.

So, I went back to work, and upped my prayers.  I believed. I believed with all my heart. Even as my mom died and left this earth. I refused to believe it would happen to my friend across the pond. The very unfairness of the thing was simply too much to consider. How could a mother of two boys under the age of ten leave this earth? I couldn’t hold it in my mind.

February came. We buried my mom.  Then I was buried in grief.

By the time May arrived, and the sun’s rays began to lengthen through the days, and the air began to warm, I raised myself from a flat position and moved off the sofa. My far-away-friend crossed my mind.  So, I sent a text.

I waited.

Nothing.

Then I received a text.

From her cell.

“It’s Jenine, it’s….”

It was the Mom Warrior’s husband, texting from her phone. As I read his words, I had to put the phone down unable to see his words.

She was gone.

An announcement had been made at school, but with Julia and her boys in the different classes in different grades, I never received word.

I’m a big believer in positive thinking.  So, when outcomes aren’t right. Or at least not the one I wanted, the acceptance of that reality is one big, jagged pill.

And that leads me back to that school cafeteria in early September, on that frantic morning when the gears of my mind were stuck on I can’t, and I won’t and hardness of a life that I’d worked so very hard to create; the bump and endless grind of single mom reality. And as I gathered my coffee and headed to the hot tables for food, I heard the sound. The sound of accented Queens’ English with a child’s lilt.

I searched around.

“Well, hello!” I said, eyes wide.

“Halloo, are you going to have our special sandwich?”

For two years, I made a big deal of enjoying the same, bagel, cream cheese and bacon, breakfast sandwich creation, dubbed the Sam Sandwich, with the boys.  But that day, I was on my third day of dodging carbs. But miraculously I’d seen seen Sam, the brown-eyed, beautiful boy.

“Absolutely, I’m having a Sam Sandwich!”

The Richard Breakfast Sandwich
The Famous Sam Sandwich

To hell with dodging carbs.

I gathered my items, sat down, and said to the two older women seated at the table beside them, “I used to have this sandwich with the boys and their mom.”

And the lady with the strawberry blonde bob, and ruby red eye glasses gave me a weak smile.

I only mentioned the Mom Warrior once, but I felt it was important. She was here too. I could feel her heart.

“The boys’ father thought it important to bring them back to this school,” the strawberry blond said with an equally potent English accent.

I could see the enormous gift of it all.  To uproot your family once to let your gravely ill wife be close to her family. Then pry those roots away again, to bring your kids back to a different kind of home. But a home, nonetheless. A gift for the boys. But it was me that sat down  in clover. Sat down with the knowledge that God puts us where we should be, to do the good we can.  Looking at the boys’ bright shining faces, I could see their mom, their dad, and my path toward a deeper gratitude. For community. For connection. Richard and Sam’s dad hadn’t made the choice to return to school with me in mind. But I received the gift anyway. Presents, or breakfast sandwiches are like that. You never know when a good one will  pop up.

“Tomorrow, we’ll have the Richard Sandwich,” the older boy said.

“What’s in that?”

“The same as the Sam Sandwich, just with sausages.”

I smiled. “You bet; I’ll be here.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Power of Art and Eight-Year-Olds

Admittedly, I tried to talk Julia out of her mission. Day and night. For three weeks. But as any parent can tell you, talking an eight-year-old out of what they consider to be their mission is a hard lift.

“But mommy, I really want to sell my artwork outside of our building!”

“I’m not sure that’s possible,” I said and kept saying. “I’m sure I’ll have to get permission.”

(New York City condos and co-ops are funny that way.)

But the greater truth was this: I didn’t want to go out in the world and sale anything.

To be clear, it wasn’t that I thought my daughter’s artwork was lousy.  I just didn’t want to sit in front of my building beside a child with a hungry look in her eyes, pimping paintings. Granted Julia’s plan could yield her vital confidence building skills.  Still.

But then came a bright beautiful Sunday. We head to church, for the first time since June when Sunday school classes went on summer hiatus. I heard a nice, motivational talk. We had a nice brunch with Aunt Carmen, and another church friend, at Regional, our favorite eatery. Mommy had a mimosa or three. The golden sunlight was lovely against the cobalt blue day, perhaps last warm Sunday of September if my memory holds. So, after Julia said our goodbyes and we headed home. As a warm breeze whirled around us, and Julia’s braids bounced in the wind, I turned to her and said,  “Let’s go to the park and sell your art work…”

“Yippee!” Julia yodeled and ran into down the block and into our building.

“Where is she going so fast?” the doorman said.

“To get her artwork.”

Carlos’ brows arched.

While Julia retrieved her portfolio, I headed to the sideboard and pulled out a colorful tablecloth to use as a backdrop for her work, my second halfway decent idea. Then I grabbed my tote bag, a glass jar, bottles of water and my courage.

“How about we set up at the entrance of Central Park? Where there’s lots of foot traffic…”

I fluttered the bold patterned tablecloth over an emerald-green bench. Julia placed her work in two neat rows. IMG_0536.JPGI sat down and said a prayer in hope things would land on the plus side: “Please God please let her sale at least one drawing and keep people from being mean to my kid.”

Within a minute or two an older man behind a sturdy walker came to a stop in front of the display and asked, “What are you raising money for?

“Myself,” Julia announced.

IMG_0541.JPG
Julia’s first buyer, of sorts

Oh shit. 

“The homeless… we’re giving part of our proceeds to the homeless.”

“Well, I don’t want a drawing but I’ll make a donation,” he said.

And with that he flipped open his wallet, pealed out two-dollar bills and placed them into her tiny hands.

Julia’s eyes widen. A stranger had just handed her cold hard cash, “Thank you!” Julia said then stuffed the bills into a glass mason jar that we’d brought for the occasion.

Well, maybe this won’t be so bad.

As soon as I released that thought, like a ball player who acknowledges a hitting streak, we fell into a dry spell. A long parade of dog walkers hustling their four-foot-footed chargers, and stroller’ moms who cast down disparaging looks that read thusly, “Why would I buy the same crap from your kid that’s on my fridge!”

Julia was crestfallen. “Mommy, nobody’s stopping,” she moaned.
“But I told you not everybody is into art, some people walk with headphones on, and some people are in a hurry.”

“Mama, let’s get up and walk around with the park with the pictures…”

“Nooooooo.” I said and started yodeling, “Artwork for sale!”

Julia joined in, “Get some art work!”
A pale guy, with neat-cropped hair, slowed his roll down the path, and pointed to a flower drawing. “How much is this one?”

“The sunflower?  IMG_0516.JPG
“Yes…”
“A dollar…” Julia said.
“A bargain!” he said, his hand dove into his pocket, pulled out a buck, and placed it into Julia’s palm.
“My fiancé loves sunflowers.  And she’s on tour right now…this’ll be a nice welcome home present.”
Julia beamed.

IMG_0517.JPGAn older woman came out of nowhere, picked up a blue painting and said, “I’ll take this one …and I’ll make you my princess of water. I love what you’re doing.”

Julia was back in business.  About this time, I noticed the extended sound of water coming from a nearby fountain. There stood a woman, slim and brown- skinned, holding an object that she ran an under the low, arched stream. She rinsed and swished the water over the cloth. Then she twisted the water out, and tucked the cloth into her pocket.
Maybe she got ice cream or something on her clothes, I thought.

IMG_0521-2.JPG

But she welded an urgency in her movements, focused and tight.  I didn’t think much about the piece of cloth, until she pulled another item out of her pocket, until she started running it under the water.

 

I read once that objects under a microscope when observed moved differently. A testament to the energy of observation. Once she noticed me noticing her, the energy around us shifted. Like her moves, the air became tight. She turned her head towards me but kept her hands moving and scrubbing and twisting, and said flatly and clearly, “I’m sorry I have to do this here.”

Do this? Do what? 

Then all the details like a paint by number canvass filled in.

She’s washing her clothes in the water fountain

A blinked at the sight, almost unbearable to take it in. Like a super nova, it hurt my eyes.
Maybe I should pack up and move… I don’t want Julia to see. 

Then a new thought dawned, as bright and opulent as the day, and just as undeniable.
Well, we said we were going to give money to the homeless.  And there’s a homeless person. Our giving just became easier. 

“Let me see that jar, Julia.IMG_0542.JPG

It held, maybe eight dollars. I pulled out four.

“Go give this to that lady, Julia.”

She tepidly walked over to her…and announced “Here….”

The woman extended a wet, soggy hand,
took the cash and tucked it under her shirt, into what I could assumed was her bra. “Thank you,” she whispered.

I watched the scene, the girl giver, the receiver lady, in a matter-of-fact-stunned silence. This day was going its own way.

“You’re lucky that your mom and supports your art,” I heard a male voice say. I turned and saw a tall, lanky dreaded guy with warm brown eyes standing over the assortment. “My mom didn’t support me and I’m still an artist.”

IMG_0532.JPGHe was a man but I could still see the little boy hurt in his eyes. The cute girl beside him angled her head up towards him and smiled. I hadn’t seen a woman look at a man with such love in her eyes in a long while.

Until that moment I didn’t realize how much trying to give your child their hopes and dreams, really served as an on ramp to solving the mysteries of your childhood. I thought of how my mom managed my regular excursions to the Detroit Institute of Arts from our Westside home, once I fell in love with the mural by Diego Rivera in the 3rd grade. In my freshman year of art college school, when I invited her to go to the museum to see a show did I learn something new about my mom. “No, thanks,” she said. “I hate the museum”

“Then why did we go so often?” I asked shocked at her omission.

“Because you wanted to go.”

*

“You’ve got a great mom,” the girl with the loving eyes said, cradling a drawing.

I have a great mom, too. I thought. She exposed me to the act of art that freed me art but as a child selling goods had crushed me. As a kid, I was petrified of selling Girl Scout cookies. Annually, my troop called upon every girl during the cold hard months of February to meet a specific dollar amount by selling sweets. That way every girl could attend camp regardless of her family’s economic status. My stomach started knotting up in January.

After selling cookies to my neighbors, and my immediate family, my proceeds of 30 or so dollars still fell far short of the goal. Still, no matter how much my parents hounded me, I refused to pimp anymore cookies.  Just couldn’t do it. The humiliation. The hawking. Aggh. In the end, every year around March, my father wrote a check and gave it to the Troop leader. My family and I ate from the cases that lined the walls of the dining room for until it became shorts weather again.
So, as Julia plotted to sell her work, my childhood traumas blazed back. Fear that people would be mean to my kid. Or even worse, fear that they would dismiss her efforts. Dismiss her. I hadn’t known it until I sat on the faded green bench just how much I feared having Julia out in the world, feared her laying it all out there.

As a creative person, I do it all the time. But frequently a cocktail comes at the end of a particuluar bad mission. In grad school, during one tough season, if I received notes back on my writing in the morning, I’d hold off my review until the end of the day. So, I could crack open a Cabernet, and read with a glass of comfort.

As Julia expanded the territory of her sense of self through her creative efforts and shared them with the world, I had to sit there and bear witness to it, a sort of reverse art therapy that left me in a stunned-silence. In that moment, the realization hit of all the beauty I would’ve missed by refusing to let go of the past.

“I’ll take that colorful one,” a man with crown of curly hair said, “You’re quite the artist. It matches my tattoo.” IMG_0528.JPG

“Look how much money I have Mommy!”

The mason jar was fully a vibrant green.

“That’s great Julia, let’s go give some more money to that homeless lady.”

We looked towards the fountain. And then down the path that led deeper into the park. She’d vanished.

“I see her down the street!” Julia said.

We gathered the remaining drawings, the tablecloth, glass jar and ran out of the park then down the street.

We thundered up to her. She jumped back on the bench, a little startled.

“Hey, I bought lunch meat and cupcakes with the money you gave me…” she said, almost as if she felt she had to report to us what was purchased with the cash we’d given her.

“That’s great, here’s some more,” I said, pressing dollars into her hands.

She smiled at us, her thin face seemed to fill in a bit, maybe it was the light of being seen, fully seen by another human being, not stepped over, ignored. Then she pointed that gleam at Julia.  “Would you like a cupcake?” she said.

Julia’s eyes met mine.

“Don’t you dare,”  ny glare read.

“Well, can I have a treat at home?”

“You bet.”

*

The writer Paolo Bacigalupi once said, “I’m particularly interested in black swan events: unprecedented surprises that destroy the conventional wisdom about how the world works.”

Through Julia I’d experienced my first black swan in a long while. All the beauty and kindness of the day, I nearly missed, delivered by the bravery of an eight-year-old. And as Julia put her hand in mine, and we headed home, I felt the burn of salt across my eyes, a wash that threatened to appear, but I kept at bay, at least until we reached home.

 

 

 

 

 

How a Technophobe Single Mom Found Her Groove with the Amazon Echo

 

In my previously, pre-mommy life, I would have no words for the Amazon Echo. None would be needed. I’ve always favored Crayola’s over computers, even while growing up beside two Joy-stick-addicted brothers in a middle-class Detroit home.  I maintained my creative bent right into attending undergrad at Parsons School of Design, thanks to the support and financing of my parents. No A.I. for me, thanks.

When motherhood arrived through the adoption of an eight-month-old Ethiopian girl, my position didn’t alter. When my twenty-something nanny nudged me toward internet-ready lullabies, I declared my Manhattan apartment a techno-free zone and clung to the human version. My daughter’s toys weren’t low tech, they were no tech. However, my brother Jeffrey pushed me past my semi-luddite tendencies regarding the TV.

“You’ll be watching more movies at home…so will Julia.  You need to upgrade to a flat screen and surround sound.”

I huffed into the phone,” Alright, only because I get a good deal through work.”

Days later when the system arrived, I called him tech support back in Michigan.

“Great, let’s get it hooked up now!” Jeffrey said, his voice all amped up from tech-induced adrenalin. An hour later, I plopped in a disk, grabbed the remote and clicked on the DVD button. Sound boomed from the speakers, twin dark maws, atop the TV cabinet.  Images whirled across a screen so bright, so big, it seemed the neighboring apartment across the way had a good shot at enjoying, Aliens, too.  “Wow,” I mumbled.

Jeffrey chuckled. “Welcome to the new world.”

But one flat screen TV does not a revolution make. My eight-month-old blossomed into a classic American kid, one captivated by all things electronic. I banished PlayStation and Nintendo determined to guard my seven-year-old against mind-numbing entertainment.

On an evening in June as hot as August I entered the cool of a West Side apartment to the twang of techno. My daughter and her seven-year-old pal tumbled across the Serapi styled rug in the living room. Silvered light slid through the west windows. All seemed beautiful, until, on a side table, among books and bowls of snacks, I spotted the source of the music, a dark tower, about two feet high.

“You have an Echo!?” I said jabbing the air.

“Sure,” the mom said.

“Don’t your kids talk to that thing non-stop?”

“Nah, they mostly play music.”

Unconvinced, as Dee hunted down loose socks and crumb-coated bowls across the living room, I quizzed her husband.

“Andy only asks about sports scores, hasn’t figured out that he can do anything else.”

“Don’t you want him to find information on his own?” I asked with a tone that implied the fall of democracy wasn’t far behind.

He smirked. “Why not both?”

Julia and I made our good-byes then headed home. But as she skipped over a subway grate, her long, lean brown legs twisted and thrilled in the simmering heat. Her mind was still back at the Richardson’s apartment.

“Mommy, can we get an Alexa?”

“We don’t need it.”

“But mommy, I lovvvvvve music and I can’t play it.”

“I know Julia.”

“Please mommmmmmy.”

In the days to come I thought of how Julia, as a baby, crooned in her crib, creating her own music, of how my own musical DNA, formed by the foundation of my dad’s Detroit record shop, had been shelved once when I became a Single-Mom-in-Chief.

The parcel arrived two days later. Inside, the always-on, Bluetooth speaker. Built Artificial Intelligence. But not enough to assist me in hooking it up. After thirty-minutes I called for backup.

“Try unplugging and replugging it Ma’am,” the Amazon tech said.

Getting Ma’am, did not help matters.

“Try reinstalling your Wi-Fi password.”

I groaned, and put the Echo in a choke hold.

“Ma’ma, let us update the software from here…don’t talk to Alexa for at least an hour,” he said.

I stared at my cell. Did he just refer to a machine using a proper noun?

“Sure, I can do that.”

Three days later Julia looked up from her morning bowl of Honeynut Cheerios and asked, “Mommy, is Alexa ever going to work?”

I’d spent my days eying the shipping carton in my closet, considering sending the Echo back to the Mothership. Tech support had been a bust. Jeffrey, the early adapter, didn’t have an Echo. Besides, I needed a smart kid, not a smart home. But as I regarded my daughter’s pleading eyes, I felt something different. Something new. Shame.

I clicked off the flat screen, re-juiced the Echo, then tapped the app on my cell. I reinstalled my Wi-Fi password and preferences, then studied the setup video. Again.

“Give Alexa a prompt,” the final super read.

I winced. “Alexa, what’s the weather?”

“It’s 72 degrees in New York City.” A female voice alto. Strong yet warm. Ish.

Julia’s spoon clanged to a halt. “It’s working!?”

I smiled and nodded.

Julia squealed and said, “Alexa, play ‘Shake it Off!’”

“Playing Shake It Off by Taylor Swift, from the album 1989.”

And with that she jumped up and launched into a frenzied dance of gratitude.

Screen Shot 2017-11-07 at 11.55.17 AM
The one and only. Even if you don’t have a kid, it’s pretty cool.

 

The next morning, I awoke, in bed, alone. A rarity. I don’t have an alarm clock. I have Julia. I slipped on my robe, crept down the hall, and found her twirling around the living room in the pale sunlight, to the strain of strings; The Nutcracker Suite.

“Look Mommy, I’m doing ballet!”

I blinked.

“And Mommy watch this…Alexa…what’s your favorite color?”

“Julia honey, it won’t…”

“…My favorite color is… infra red.”

Julia beamed.

Clearly, the Echo programmers were parents.

That evening when Julia mentioned a book she’d read at school “Charlie Parker Played Be-Bop,” I realized Parker’s music could round out the story.

“Alexa, play the best of Charlie Parker,” I bellowed from the kitchen, over the rattle of pots.

Be-bop bounced through the air. A vitally important example of intelligence, I now shared with my daughter. A teaching moment was underway along with dinner. As bedtime approached, Julia absently, slowly, gathered her shoes and dolls from the floor, I looked to Alexa for help. “Alexa, play the Barney Clean-Up Song.” Barney bumbled on. Julia picked up the pace. I marveled. Muscle memory is a beautiful thing.

The writer Arthur Clarke declared that, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Julia would agree. Alexa is lending a hand in providing resources for daughter’s creative passions. That’s help I welcome. And since the world has made tuning into the news a cautionary pursuit, I value Alexa in new ways. Once the goal was to protect Julia from senseless video gaming. Now I need to shield her from a world where even nature has turned conflicted and violent. Alexa is magic. Just not magic I thought I’d need. Even depend on.  Perhaps, that was Clarke’s point all along.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XCM9LJ4/ref=ods_gw_ha_rr_p_gray_st?pf_rd_p=ec378801-b35e-47de-848d-9f9c9cae3900&pf_rd_r=39MAW7PND4T2YJA87A40&th=1

The Help Most Every Mom Needs

The marathon that is motherhood has many runners in the relay, but few water stations and shade. So, I when received a new newsletter from the writer KJ Dell’Annonia about the value of ignoring some of your kids rants and raves, I had to look beyond the unwashed pot of mac and cheese, loose socks and rings of crushed Cheetos in the carpet, and click on this value advice.

Julia’s verbal skills are off the charts. So, therefore, so is her ability to launch an epic and relentless Whine-a-Thon: “The corn on the cob is too hot…. The subway car is too cold…Why can’t I have marshmallows for breakfast.”

And her biggie:

“Mommy, why can’t I have a brother, or a sister, or dog or a dad,” she said breaking it down for me as we walked to the subway station, headed to her pre-school. “Everyone in my class has at least three living things in their house. And I’m the only one…”

“Julia, that’s not true.”

“It is true mommy!”

I countered with the two other two single parent adopted kids in her class: one mom, one kid, one house.

“Theo has a dog, and Tamir just got two cats,”

I came back with the one single, divorced Mom in Class 715.

“Okay, Olivia lives with her Mom…”

“…And her Abuela.”

Aghhh.

Not only did she use the Spanish word for grandmother for her Latina pal, Julia locked her argument with a closer, “I would have asked for a cat but I know you’re allergic.”
Two days later I gave in a got her three fish, Pinkie Pie, Blueberry and Cory, adopted from our local Petco. Three Beta fish. Two years later, only Pinkie-pie is still standing, or, umm swimming.

“You put three Meta fish in one tank,” my co-worker bellowed.
“No one at Petco told me you couldn’t! They just took my American Express Card.”
Today, it’s a sense of pride that the nicest, least-aggressive fish is the lone survivor.
Thanks to Pinkie Pie and KJ’s words, now I’m taking that same tack. I’m just trying to stay ahead of the whinny barbs, ignore more and talk less, and wait for the tide to turn. I penned a note of KJ to thank her for the assist.

“It’s not easy,” she wrote back.

Boy, was she right.

Then I remembered something I heard Whoopi Goldberg say on The View some years ago. That her kid was such a crier she used ear plugs to tamp it down.

“But what if she needed you?” another host asked.

“I could hear her enough,” Whoopi said.

Since we live in New York City, with a bottomless supply of audio assaults, screaming sirens, dog wars, and buildings that multiply conversations, so clearly I can hear every word from my bed, eight floors above, I’ve used Mack’s Soft Ear Plugs for years. Soft, pliable, and effective, they can be had at Amazon for $2.25 for six pairs.

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 12.22.41 PM

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003LZQGN6/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s01?ie=UTF8&th=1

Now I employed my sleep support as Mommy sanity support.

So, on the third day when the whining and whirled, I left Julia on her metaphorical soap box in the living room, headed down the hall into my bedroom, grabbed my ear plugs from my night stand and jammed them into my ears. Then I smoothed my hair down to conceal them. Then I grabbed her gear for day camp: tennis racket, lunch box, water bottle (half ice, half water) then I palmed my door keys and shouldered my purse and work tote.

“Okay, let’s go.”

“I don’t want to go to tennis, it’s too hot.”

“…..”

“The bench is hot, and the other kids have a towel to sit on, I don’t have a towel. I don’t want to take one of our black towels because nobody has a black towel. They all have towels with Sponge Bob and Mulan and Trolls on them…”

“…..”

“And Coach Simone makes us play too long.”

“Julia did you just complain about playing a game too long, I’ve seen you hang at the playground for hours…”

“But Mommy, that’s different.”

Back to radio silence.

These wonderful ears plugs got me to wonderful Harlem Junior Tennis Program, 30 minutes away by subway and bus, with a much larger portion of my sanity intact for a morning drop off. As we entered the park, Julia bolted away to join her pals warming up with rackets and bright, techno yellow fuzzy balls. I pried the plugs from my ears and popped them into my purse.

“Good Morning,” Coach Simone said, her beautiful brown glowing skin luminous in the sunlight, framed by her hot pink tennis dress. A handful of brown, pink and tan kids whacking balls into nets, some over the wide white band. The orderly pale lines of the court. The rich green field. Why hadn’t I noticed this in three days.

“Yes, it is a good morning,” I said, and smiled, wished and well, and walked away with my secret.

To receive KJ Dell’Annonia weekly email on “raising a family, having a life and loving (almost) every minute of it,” in your inbox, subscribe now,  http://kjdellantonia.us12.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=101be682cae125f8735451df8&id=80abd93691

 

Changing the Morning Mix

“Mommy, is it time to get up yet?” Julia yodeled from her room.

“No,” I yelled and lowered my sleeping mask back into position. The sky had just began its morning blush over the grey shadow of trees in the park. But I knew it was brutally early without checking the time. Julia wakes up the birds up that wake up the rest of us.

After thirty minutes more of listening to her sing and converse with herself, I pealed back the silky mask and rechecked the horizon. It held a slit of sunlight. The air pushing through the window smelled like hope. The clock read 6:33.

I jumped out of bed, and headed into Julia’s room. “Pick up your room and get dressed, We’re going running.”

“Whatttttttt? I’m not going to school?”

“Sure, after we run.”

I jumped into my clothes and then jumped her into hers.

“But I’m hungry Mommy,” she said as I slid the first sneaker onto her foot.

“I’ll get you a banana. Eat it on the way,” I said determined as MacArthur was to take Normandy.

One of the great challenges to motherhood has been maintain my running. All my life I’ve lived to run, high school track and 5Ks and 8Ks in adulthood. When one of my best friends, Beryl, gave me a Bob’s Revolution Jogging Stroller for my baby shower, I choked back tears when the beast arrived in the mail.

” Of course I bought that for you, ” she said, “you’re one of my oldest friends.”

The beast cost $450 bucks. The stroller known among the mommy set as the SUV of strollers was one large, expensive piece of equipment, one that I didn’t mind taking up room in the apartment.

And that stroller saved me mentally, for the first few years. But by the age of three, when Julia would announce “ Mommy why did you stop running?” every time I took a break on a rocky hill, or at a red light, or when I paused to change the song on my iPod, she sounded more and more like Coach Smith, my high school track taskmaster. So, I decided it was time to let go of the stroller. Besides, at 42 pounds it was getting to be a tight fit for Julia.

After that I ran sporadically and hated myself for it. I grabbed a sitter here and there and did a half-ass job of maintaining my running through the fall. Then the Snownado of 2015 hit the eastern seaboard.Then my life revolved around red wine, pasta Bolognese, and Babar books. During the last weeks March and the first signs of Spring were even more welcoming, more alluring. By mid April just the sight of a jogger either brought envy to my heart, or tears to my eyes.

“ Just take her with you,” Beryl said at dinner a week later. “I used to go ice skating with my mom and I loved it.”

“ I really prefer to run alone,” I said, “ but I guess running with Julia is better than not running at all. Two weeks ago, she and I did a loop of the bridle path in Central Park, me on my legs, she on her scooter. But because of the rocky parts and inclines she produced more tears than scooting time.”

“Try it again,” she said.” Without the scooter.”

I ached to run. So on Thursday April 30th I decided to put an end to the ache.

*

Julia and I exited our building. The air was cool and silky. I love the smell of sunlight in the morning. I’d forgotten how beautiful the world looks before you start hustling through your day. We crossed the street and strolled into Central Park. Julia munched her starter breakfast, while looking around puzzled at the emptiness of the typically bustling playground we favored, at the massive number of adults running and biking.

“Why are there so many grown ups in the park and no kids?” she asked.

“This is the time adults play, before work.”

An overhead view of the Central Park Reservoir which hosts a 1.6 mile dirt running track.
An overhead view of the Central Park Reservoir, which hosts a 1.6 mile dirt running track.

And with that, she finished off her banana and tossed the peal in the trash receptacle. We headed up the bridle path toward the loop of the reservoir. A quarter of the way around the 1.6 miles, Julia, a child who runs like freed slave every time she hits New York City pavement, lodged her first complaint.

“Mommy. my legs are tired,” she moaned.

“Okay, let’s take a rest and headed into walking,” I answered somewhat annoyed.

When I started jogging again. She seemed pleased. Then Julia kicked up her heels and zoomed past me. Surprisingly. I liked it.

A mid thirties woman jogging towards us looked down at Julia and then yelled out, “She’s fast!”

“Did you hear that Mommy?!” Julia said. “She said I was fast! Then she kicked into another gear.

I studied Julia striding beside and in front of me, her long yet tiny legs,  her Ethiopian-ness in full view. Images of the last top ten finishers of the NYC Marathon, a healthy mix of Ethiopians present danced in my head. For a moment I could see my daugher crossing the finish line, the tape breaking across her chest, me there, waiting and cheering, bathed in tears. She would take a bow, a victory lap then head back to her studies at Yale Medical School.

The dream set, I got back to the job at hand. That morning my goal was to get back to a sport I love, at the time of day I love, by any means necessary. What I had not planned on was the pride I’d feel watching my daughter run in the sun beside me, and how each moment she passed me, her legs pumping away, her heels high, that joy grew and speed, and broke, to begin again. How I’d wear the glowing smiles that other runners cast other at us like garland throughout the day. That I would watch my daughter dash under the sun, taking the bend of the track just above the dark stones where the white cranes nest during their season, and box turtles sun themselves, and think this is how a love affair begins.

 

 

Finally, Happy Halloween

In the rush and fury to get Julia to school on Friday after she fell to the lure of a large, brown, cardboard box and clear popcorn packing sheets from a delivery, the kind of magic no kid can fight, as we rushed and ran to the elevator and out the door so she could ring the bell and announce, “Time for Morning Meeting!” Julia’s class job for this week, I grabbed a colorful scarf from my closet to guard against the late October chill.

“I like the scarf,” my super said, as George greeted us outside our building, “you look nice, ready for Halloween.” I glanced down and saw the orange tails of fabric set against my black coat. Only then did I realize the day.

For many years, October 31st marked a solemn time, a new trail of tears to join a long, curved, bumpy road. This was day, two decades ago, I learned that the man I’d planned to marry had, after complications from pneumonia, died.

Art was 26.

The first few years I’d take time off from work and held up in a cocoon of mourning at home. It was an odd state of existence. As New York City revved up for its biggest party of the year, second only to New Years Eve, I curved and clasped on myself, on my hurt. For years I dreaded the hell of All Hallows Eve. Yet, this Friday I was reminded how differently I experienced Halloween, and nearly everything else now. It all came back to me when I read the Daily Word for October 31, 2014:

ENDINGS

I MOVE FORWARD INTO GREATER GOOD.

When we stand at the end of one life experience—the conclusion of a job or relationship, moving away from home, graduating from school, or retiring from a career—we remember that every ending is also a beginning. Saying goodbye to what has been, we welcome what will be.

We may be tempted to keep looking back, but once we turn our eyes to the path ahead, we find new opportunities awaiting us. We are beginning a new phase of life, a new way of fulfilling our purpose, a new way of serving God and the world.

In truth, we don’t leave anything behind; we carry it with us. As we bless our past, we build on all we have learned and continue on our life’s unfolding journey.

Halloween 1
Julia Treat or Treating, 2014

Halloween 2014 served as the launch of Julia’s costume; her candy procurement route; and my plan to stash the loot in our apartment before my kid hits the crack-sugar-zone. Mourning did even make the list.

“Time heals all wounds,” I’d heard from family and friends. But Art’s death left a crater-sized wound.

To become a mom I had to let go of the idea of marriage before motherhood, the belief that my mate would be by my side as we welcomed our child into the world, that I’d have someone to poke in the ribs when a cry pierced the stillness of the dark and say, “Honey, it’s your turn to go see about her.”

“You can have what you want in life, just not in the order society tells you,” my then shrink told me over and over again. I’m so grateful that I believed her.

*

On the way home Friday after work to pick up Julia and take her Treat or Treating, a baritone voice started up in the subway crooning,“A Change is Gonna Come.” The A, C and E trains seemed to still in relevance. The crowd stopped its shuffling for position on the platform. The chords echoed through the subterranean tunnels creating a chapel like atmosphere. This tune sung by Otis Redding or Curtis Mayfield, given the odd mood, can shape a walnut size lump in my throat and wetness my eyes I cannot blink back. On Halloween 2014, I settled into the song, into understanding that change does come, and some times it even brings along a measure of peace.

 

Umm, Where was I?

It’s amazing how differently an adult experiences summer when you are the parent of a small child. Sure, time still moved, it just moved less and less in my general direction, towards my writing.  Much of my waking hours ticked by while running the Julia circuit: Saturday swim lessons, birthday parties, play dates and other dates that always held a nucleus of children.

Gone are the days of my dashing out to the Hamptons, hanging out on the white sandy beaches or sitting among a huddle mass of my friends, planning the menu for our long, languid Saturday night dinners. Of course I know such a house will come back, say, in four or five years, when Julia is a bigger girl. But that future summerhouse experience will be a family house, not the casa di gourmand. 

Ready for fishing with her Barbie pole and life vest, courtesy of Uncle Dan
Ready for fishing with her Barbie pole and life vest, courtesy of Uncle Dan

Meanwhile, Julia had a great summer. She went upstate to The Adirondacks and    got in touch with her inner fisherman. She traveled to the Catskills for a stay at the  Manhattan Country Day School farm through the invite of friends and got to touch with her inner farmer. And one morning she also got in touch with her inner her big girl, as I discovered while running around the house in my underwear, working to get ready in fury. That morning Julia reminded just how fine tuned little eyes can be.

Historians deemed 1967 The Summer of Love. But in the Holmes Household 2014 was the Summer of Change.

B_Girl final
Mommy, look what I made

Our wonderful nanny married the love life of her life, Julia start riffing out communiqués in complex sentences and making up her bed, while I experienced the power of what half an Advil PM can do for the single parent monkey mind that refuses to shut down at days end.

 

Julia enjoying the fresh air fun of a working farm
Julia enjoying the fresh air fun of a working farm

 

Julia on the big day
Julia on the big day

 

 

 

 

 

All in all Julia’s toddlerhood is a thing of the past. She a little girl, a little person with thoughts and opinions and ideas about everything including how she should dress. And that’s okay. It’s the order of things. Yet, a part of that order includes the inability for me to rise early enough, say 6:30 a.m. to write before Julia awakes. Now she’s the official morning greeter around these parts, knocking on my door and announcing Good Morning! with a verve only a four-year-old can serve up. I was never a morning gal, as my mom and college roommates can attest. But to have that sparking salutation, to see that beautiful auburn face, to receive the first injection of love at the start my day, well I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I will say this: welcome fall. Welcome autumn with your golden light. Welcome back school. Welcome. Welcome back to the land of the scribe single baby mama.