Category: Childhood Development

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.

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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.

The Mommy Faith Chronicles Vol. 2

On a beautiful day in New York City, Julia and I rode the subway, the car packed cattle-car tight, looking good and smelling good. She in her ruby-red Mini Mouse dress with solid white dots,

Julia in her Minnie Mouse dress
Julia in her Minnie Mouse dress

a gift from her God Mummy Kim, which I accessorized with sheer white tights with white dots, and a little red riding hood coat, a gift from Grandma, which features a midnight black lining set with dense white polka dots. I wore an orange and gold Indian print skirt circled by black elephants set trunk to tail, and an orange, gold and turquoise patterned coat procured from a Barney’s Warehouse sale, ten years ago, that still pulls compliments.

As a single baby mama have a lot of rules, self-imposed rules. I keep standards , meet standards, standards that my married and partnered mom pals can ignore if they so choose. “Don’t go to the doctor looking slap dash.”
“Don’t take your kid into the doctor looking slap dash.”
“Don’t deliver your kid to the school with either of you looking, (yes you guessed it), slap dash.”

Looking like the crazy mom, running wild down hallways, hair flying, wearing mix matched socks, toilet paper stuck to my shoes, oatmeal caking my kid’s mouth, her Pull- Up pooching out from pee-pee, is one of my primal fears.

So, back to the subway. On September 19th, as folks stood all around me, men and women, sitting and standing, rained down a whirl of wordlessly mouthed compliments, “she so cute,” “what and adorable dress!” I felt a deep well of pride rise up and soak my maternal heart. I mouthed back my thanks, brimming with pride, my hand pressed to my chest near the throat, head lowered, eyes demur, in modesty. And as the speeding train slammed into the station, as I prepared to gather my child up from the seat, as Julia paused from chugging Cheerios, she looked around at the gaping faces of wonder, widen her eyes a bit, leaned to the left slightly, and launch a man-sized, machine gun fart, way beyond a toot-toot of the polite passing of gas.

The train fell into a gap of silence then launched into a roar of laughter, I chuckling the loudest. Yet, above the den I could still hear the voice of God: “Don’t get bogged down by the unimportant, by the things you cannot control,” God said. “Parenthood takes a sense of humor.”

*

“Why they laughing?” Julia asked as I led her from the subway car, my eyes so filled with tears, I could hardly see my steps that led us down the platform, up the flight of steps, to the landing and on to Broadway.

“Julia, you surprised everyone. You’re not supposed to pass gas in public. We’ve talked about it, right? That’s something you do in private, in the bathroom.”
“Why?”
“It’s not nice.”
“But why?”
“You just don’t Julia.”
She pooches out her lower lip, her standard, I’m mad or I’m thinking position. “Okay, Mommy…but why.”
Now that Julia has started school, (pre-K so don’t panic time isn’t passing quite that fast), it seems both of us learn something everyday. I’m learning that train conductors are kind people and will reopened the doors for a mom running with a toddler clutched to her hip. I’m learning that every parent has that wide-eyed look of crossing a major milestone just walking into the school, pressing out our chests like Mick Jagger strutting across stage. Never have I felt such a sense of accomplishment before I entered work or sat before my laptop. Getting a toddler out of the house by 8:15 am is like launching a Tet offensive in Vietnam. It may take a village to raise a kid, but it damn near takes Navy Seal Team Six to get one out of the house to school, looking good and smelling good, before 9am. Then get up and do it all again.

Today, I crossed a new Mommy mania divide. Grandma sent Julia a pair of snazzy jeans with set with a flurry of tiny, cool studs around the front pockets. The pants are a 4T. Julia is a 3T. With her long legs, I’d hoped they’d work. The length wasn’t the problem.
“Julia take those off please, they’re a little big in the bottom…”
“Noooooo I wannnna wear them!”
“C’mon take ‘em off.”
Cue Julia flinging herself on the floor and kicking her feet.
The clock read 8:17 am. The departure clock sounded two minutes ago.
“Juliaaaaa!”
“No, I don’t want to.”
Across the living room I spying a gold ribbon, broad width, wire edged.
And reader, I turned it into a belt.
I grabbed it, folded it in half, lassoed it through loops of her jeans, and bowed it in the front.
“Julia let’s gooooo!
Down the elevator, across the lobby, blowing past the doorman, and on the street I spotted a lost traveler. I didn’t have time to help her. I stopped anyway. She had a better grip on her native Dutch or German, with a limited access on English. Together we worked out her travel plan. My mind was about 65% in the conversation, thinking of the clock, seeing the door of Julia’s classroom closing, but I took the time any woo. I couldn’t say way. It just seemed the right thing to do.

Ten minutes later, as Julia and I crossed Amsterdam Avenue, I figured out why. For the first time in a weekend a half, I saw the M11 bus bounding up the street. The bus we needed.
“Sometimes God delays you to help you,” I’d heard Joel Osteen say on a recent broadcast.
This wasn’t a new thought. But it was a new event for Julia and Mommy and the morning rush.
After we climbed aboard, Julia looked around at the row of seats and asked “Why we taking the bus?”
“Because like Everest, it’s there.”
Julia started blankly. When she gets older Julia will appreciate having a writer for a mom.

*

Julia, with her wonderful teacher, Mrs. S.
Julia, with her wonderful teacher, Mrs. S.

By God’s grace we hung up to Julia’s backpack in her cubby at 8:55. Five minutes to spare.
And after I helped Julia settled in—hands washed, and painting smock on—I took the last minutes before class began to explain her bizarre belt to her teacher, a woman so sweet, she seems sent from central casting to perform the role of Pre-K teacher.

“Well, that’s a great solution,” Mrs. S said, in the sweetest softest voice.
“I just didn’t want you to see her wacky belt during a potty break and be puzzled.”
The rose-cheeked, round woman with a voice that could charm children from bowls of candy, a voice you can’t image uttering a curse world, or being welded in anger, said, “ Well, Miss Holmes they say, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’.”
And that’s when I remembered God has a fine talent for using the simplest acts to create our greatest lessons, that Julia and I were in our right place, with the right people, that they wouldn’t find our actions opportunities for ridicule or the fodder for gossip or an example why single mothers fall short, that Julia and I, in a very real sense, in a very way had found a new home in the world.

The Eternal Classroom

On eve of the first day of school for Julia, I awoke twice in the night, rose from bed before dawn, made a double cappuccino, dressed, guided my daughter from her bed, helped her dress, gave her a breakfast of yogurt and fruit, marched her a few blocks west, and together we hopped the subway to enter her new phrase of life.

Julia took to the classroom like a fish to agua. That act did not worry me. However, as I watched her play with new friends, and interact with new toys, new teachers, new ways of learning and being in the world, I could not help to think one thought: My daughter had dragged me towards a new level of understanding, yet again. Everything in life is impermanent.

Children are Zen Buddhists in Pull-Ups. Just when parents become accustom to one phase, the wee-set is off to the next. And as I watched the wide faces of wonder woven into the flesh of other parents, men and women who studied their kids like a newly discovered geo-fossil, I remembered; shifting sands of change are the foundation for life. Julia’s job: to keep that insight front and center.

Just so I did not miss the point, the universe, on this very important day issued a few more reminders. It began, around 1pm, with a ringing phone.

In the rush to get Julia to school on time, I left, on the kitchen counter, my lunch. So, I called in my sushi order, my favorite “I forgot my lunch,” treat. At the other end of the line, the phone rang and rang and rang. Odd. So odd, I decided to walk to the eatery. Eight to ten minutes into the trek, twice my mind tried to nudge me to other take-out places, the first deemed too pricy, the second, its order line, so long, it trailed down the length of the small shop and out the door on to the street. So, I kept moving.

As I rounded the corner, on Seventh Avenue I saw the chairs, glassware and oval-shaped plates out on the tables lining the walkway in front of the black and red-painted wall of the restaurant. “Maybe they had a flood in the kitchen,” I thought working to reassure myself, for a few moments until I reached the entrance. The laser set note attached to the rectangular glass read:

“Dear Loyal Patrons of Ido Sushi.
We regret to inform our dear customers and friends that we have decided to close this beautiful establishment due to rising costs and the impact of hurricane Sandy. Unfortunately, we are unable to raise prices as this would go against our beliefs in providing great food at great prices.
We are happy for those great moments we have experienced and…

And I could not read any further.
“They closed last Saturday,” an older man supervising people through the selected wears said.
“When they didn’t answer the phone I feared the worse. But kept walking over here. I had to see,” I answered. “I could just cry.”
He shrugged. “Lots of people have come by saying the same thing. They announced online they were closing on the 8th. Fifty opera singers came to say good-bye.”
This news made me even sadder. From the photos on the walls, near the sushi station, and set above a tiny stage, I knew opera singers frequently, after a working gig, came to Ido to sing for their supper. But as my backup lunch joint, I rarely ventured downtown on weekends. Ido Sushi closed on a Saturday. September 8th.
The man’s white hair flipped and flopped in the heated gale; a pale-sail as he looked down at the loose collection of liquor bottles—gin, apple-flavored vodka— resting on an angled side table. “Today is their daughter’s birthday. They just wanted to enjoy it. So they just decided to put the rest of the stuff outside.”

The Ido Presentation Board
The Ido Presentation Board

Out of the Demetrius of a ten-year old business, I spotted a large, lacquered wood cutting board/ sashimi presentation server. I pulled it out from the shelf and tucked it under my arm.

When I discovered four, pearl-hued desert dishes—unchipped and smooth, tucked on in their sides inside of a brown paper box—I asked the handy guy standing watch to help me guide them into a plastic bag. I took a funny turquoise and crème colored shaped ceramic bowl just because.
I headed back to my office, the wood of the worn board heating up against my palms in the liquid humidity. In my mind, in the ninety-degree temperature, the large board grew heavier. Time alters the weight of all things.

Holding the curve of the wood, studying the lacquered grain, at each stop light, I thought of the hundreds, maybe thousands of people who had dined from it, toasted above it, maybe stolen a kiss over it.

Ido Desert Dishes
Ido Desert Dishes

I picked up a Cobb Salad, and managed to run into not one but two old friends, women I had lost touch with over the last six or seven years. Today mementos walked the streets of Manhattan.
Walking further south down Hudson Street, past the food trucks and lunch seekers, from the burger truck, Frites and Meats, the scent of fire-grilled beef, fried onions, and Detroit summers, hit my nose. The sound of “Hotel California” by The Eagles slammed against my ears. The famous guitar riff, known by Eagles fans and those who could not even pick out a member from a line up, delivered an old memory. I had watched a man, my serious last boyfriend, play this tune many times, with a righteous flair, to my delight, to my awe. But no more. Four years ago, like fine Japanese pottery, we broke.

But today I did not receive pain or loss or longing in the lyrics, in the guitar licks. I found something new and fresh to ride over the heated air of another September 11th in New York City. Entertainment and forgiveness. Here in Manhattan where no matter what we do on September 11th we do in memorial to the lost.