Category: International Adoption

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

 

On the Magic of Clean Pages

 

Time is a definable point, which we note from our cell phones, computer screens, wrist watches, and for some of us, through our children. Over the past year I’ve been engrossed with the outside world through the march of time, with Julia and I leaving our old Pre K school and entering the next one, a K-12th grade institution for the long haul, with monitoring the election, the debates, and then mourning the aftermath.

The last post I wrote back in last Spring, the one I never posted here, regarded Julia’s view of transgendered folks along and the anti-transgendered laws in North Carolina, a funny story that happened to us having brunch. When it came together back in March or April of 2016, the essay seemed funny and wise. In the next moment, within a few days, as the political rhetoric rose, and the insults piled up, my post seemed quaint considering what was at stake in the world. Now with the transfer of power,  America has bigger issues to weather than what facilities people are permitted to publicly pee in.

So I’ve spent months away from the interior world of my blog. I’ve missed it. I’ve missed sharing some of the crazy things that Julia has seeded into the world. I  regretted not writing about my new mommy gaffs at our new school. But the competition was so stiff, my blog fell off.

But it does not mean I haven’t been hard at work on other projects. I’ve had two essays accepted into notable literary journals, as well as a piece published in an anthology that centers on writers views of psychotherapy: https://www.amazon.com/How-Does-That-Make-Feel/dp/1580056245

Still my blog stayed dark.

It’s happened before. During the summer months when I spend more time shuttling Julia from camp to camp, I stop. Then reawakened in September when the school bells start up. But this September new worries had nudged in, set down big stakes.

Words seemed to matter so much more. But they weren’t words I’d crafted. But certainly they mattered. And the truth, well like my blog, that’s taken a hit, too.

I thought about that after the election, as we headed to the holidays, especially while watching the Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. I love the film so much I own a copy of the DVD. But I didn’t have a chance to see it at home, way too much to do, in way to short a timeline. So when a work friend announced they’d booked a large conference room to gather a group for a Friday potluck lunch to watch this gem, I was honored to join them.

I know the film so well, I could act it out with hand puppets. But this year as I watched George Bailey’s life unfold for him with a new view. And it I received one too.

Deep down, after the election, I feared that I might have made a huge mistake. I brought my daughter to from Africa to America. To a new land. Now I feared for what this country could become, for how it would treat a brown skin girl, especially one that could be considered an immigrant. My greatest prayer has always been to live long enough to raise my daughter into womanhood. But what kind of America would comprise her world? One that disenfranchised her American dream?

But that afternoon, I sat in the cave of the conference room, silvery gray images flashing on the screen, along side 20 or 25 or so other people gathered around the long wooden conference room table, I saw my life, anew. George Bailey had just fished Clarence the Angel out of the icy water, saving himself. But he just didn’t know it yet. And as Clarence peeled back the layers of George’s life, showing him the value that could not be seen under the weight of his responsibilities or the pressures  of outside forces working against George, he realized, on the bridge, in his tears, that no matter what he faced, it is a wonderful life. And in that momment  I found that I, too, remembered the same.

I turned my face towards the white wall, hiding my tears from my co-workers, supressing sobs. I realized that no matter who sits in the White House, Julia and I have a wonderful life. A good life. One made of a family of two,  with Lego’s and a My Little Pony and Cheerios, seeding the living room carpet, a bathroom sink that greets my some of my mornings with a line up of her freshly shampooed dolls, the shocking joy of listening to her read a sign or a book, featuring words I wasn’t aware that she knew; Julia’s extraordinary sense of humor. Yes. Right in the here and now, It is a Wonderful Life.

*

Twenty or so years ago, after the sudden death of the man I loved from pneumonia at the age of 26, when I returned to work after dark mourning, someone pressed the above Op-Ed piece from The New York Times into my hands.

The original, writen to mark the New Year, has fallen apart, But this aged photocopy holds a place of honor in my office. On Friday morning I realized the clipping cast a new relevance. We have 342 days left to 2017. All of them blank pages. And the essay so wonderfully points out, “there’s no way to know what will appear on them eventually. No way at all.”

“May you live in interesting times,” the English translation of a purported Chinese quote goes. As it’s often been noted, one can never tell if it’s a blessing or a curse. Let’s see together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Balloon Tale

Time flies. And then there are days that seem jet propelled. And in months that I haven’t written I’ve: visited ten independent New York City schools, attended 30 related events‑open houses, parent interviews, child interviews…opps I mean play dates, diversity nights, curriculum nights—mixed in with Christmas shopping, then the holidays with friends and family, and fought to assembled a two thousand piece, three-foot-tall My Pretty Pony Castle that Santa brought, and won.

( Okay, I was Santa, and it wasn’t that bad, in fact it’s pretty cute.)

CASTLE_SHOT
My Little Pony Castle

http://www.amazon.com/My-Little-Pony-Canterlot-Playset/dp/B00SOG4Q6G/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459965785&sr=8-1&keywords=my+little+pony+canterlot+castle

Cooking Christmas dinner for my family, hosting the Holmes Family Annual Jenga Tournament on New Years Eve, MLK Day, Presidents’ Day, and tax filing. So the time and attention that frequent went to my blog, went to, say, my life.

Then came 100 day at Julia’s school.

A day I’ll never forget. Not because I’m a closet arithmomaniac, but for the creation Julia and I made for the event.

“Remember Mommy we have to make our 100 project,” Julia reminded me at breakfast, in celebration of 100 days of school.

“I do. I’ll have Natasha pick up the materials to make our project.” Then I grabbed my purse, plucked out my wallet and pealed out twenty bucks then slid the bill on to the dinning room table‑‑for the purchase of a Mylar balloon and a bag of 100 count cotton balls.

We would make the sky.

The only hard part of the day I anticipated was ditching my annual co-op board meeting so I’d have the mental bandwidth to work with Julia. The meeting is held in the building’s lobby. And there’s one way into the building, through said lobby. So one has to do the walk of shame past the board members and the other owners, just to get home, to your child, to your second job.

The hardest part of being a single parent is my inability to divide myself. And while I wanted to attend the annual meeting which covers a deep dive into the building’s finances: how many gallons of heating oil the boiler burned this winter, healthcare costs of the doormen, future projects and more all that data would have to wait for me to receive the published report.

I had a date with my daughter.

I came in the house ready to dive in. As Natasha gathered her coat and purse, she said, “I purchased quick dry glue to make it easier,” then she headed to the front door.

I couldn’t image why she’d bought glue since we had glue in the house. About twenty cotton balls in, I understood. Cotton is surprisingly unwieldy. After an hour of teamwork, and the support of a glass of Cabernet for mommy, the blue sky with clouds was really taking shape. Another half an hour, Team Holmes had completed the job. By then Julia’s bedtime had arrived. Pajamas on, teeth brushed, when I went to tuck her in, I found her room empty.

“Where are you?” I called out.

I heard her patter down the hallway and pop into her room, all smiles. “I was saying good night to the sky.”

The next morning Julia shook me from sleep with a latest balloon report, “I checked on the balloon sky,” she said. “It’s dry!”

Quick dry glue indeed.

We had breakfast and dressed, then I searched for a large enough plastic bag to transport our work of art to school.

“No! I want to carry it,” Julia said, hugging the cloud to her tiny chest.

“It would be easier to carry in a bag.”

“No, Mommy, pleaseeeeee.”

Minutes later Julia was clutching the balloon like a baby seal walking out of the elevator into the lobby.

“Oooohhh, I like your balloon,” Carlos the doorman crooned.

“Mommy and me made the sky!” Julia announced.

Then we walked out of the building and into the bitter cold March morning. Our twelve minute walk to the subway station on Broadway wasn’t looking so fun.

“Let’s take a cab,” I said.

Seven minutes later we prepared to exit the cab in front of the school. The building is very close to the Hudson River so it’s always quite windy, even on mild days, a fact that I forgot although the taxi was being pushed and shoved by an invisible gale.

I passed the driver a twenty then instructed Julia to “get out and go to the curb,” while I waited for my change. And few seconds later I heard the sound of screams blasting against the taxi’s windows. Julia. I leapt from the cab and found her hopping up and down on the cement in a frenzy. No blood in sight. But silvery tears streaked her brown face, as she pointed down the block, at the sight, the Sky Balloon, tumbling and falling down west 120th street in the gale.

I’ve seen some shocking things of late: The rise of Donald Trump in his own global reality TV show, Pluto’s demotions from a planet into a plutoid, and Bruce transforming into Caitlyn the Vanity Fair Magazine pin-up girl, but seeing my child’s 100 day project manhandled by the wind, hemorrhaging cotton balls across the sidewalk, my daughter sobbing, crushed me beyond belief.

“Grab it!” I yelled.

Julia and I took off after the blue balloon tumbling across the grey cement. For a good fifteen feet I scrambled to collect the white wounds as the battering winds shoved The Sky towards Claremont Avenue, towards the destruction that passing car tires would levy.  Fear clutched my throat. I quickened my pace. Julia would not recover from seeing the death of her Sky. I had to stop it. I sprinted harder. But The Sky was too fast for me.

I spotted a man standing at the corner waiting for the walk signal, about twenty feet ahead. “Hey, HEY!” I yelled. “Grab that balloooooonn!!!!”

The man snagged the sky like a soccer ball, scooping it into his arms. I ran up to him and had to fight the urge to thrown my arms about him.

“Thanks so much!”

The man nodded, smiled then moved away. I sensed he was a parent, he knew the baby bomb was about to go off.

“It’s ruined!” Julia moaned, her face reddened and wet. “I’m the only one who won’t have a project!”

“No! I brought the glue! I can put them back on!”

“But it won’t be 100 cotton balls,” she sobbed.

I reached into the pocket of my jacket, and pulled out a wad of white.

“No, I got them all,” I lied, eyeing a few victims trapped in the near by storm drain.

Ten minutes later, after I dried Julia’s face and dropped her at the gym with her class, I was hard at work reapplying lost bits of cloud, using the top of her clubby as a work station. Passing parents eyed me curiously. I hardly noticed, my mind focused on the thoughts running like bulls through my mind. One in particular stood out, the most important balloon lesson of all: There will always be something, a lost balloon, a lost job, seemingly lost chances. There will always be something that threatens to upset the day, the child, the mom. Such is the life of a parent, especially a single parent. All I can do is make sure I have glue, and good prayers.

IMG_0959.JPG
The Sky Balloon finally at rest.

Twenty minutes later, I slid into The Big Sing, a monthly event the school holds, just in time to applaud the last two songs the children sang with my sticky, shiny, gluey hands. When the Head of School announced it was time for the grown ups to leave, and the children started singing and the “Goodbye Grown-Ups!” song, I made my way through the throng of people over to where Julia’s class sat.

“Have a great day, your project is on top of your cubby.”

“Why I didn’t see you here before?” Julia asked.

(Well her last name is Holmes, but still I found the question surprising.)

“I was upstairs fixing The Sky for you.”

“The whole time?”

“Yes, the whole time…Can’t be in two places at once, Jules.”

She thought about it for a moment.

“Well I guess putting the sky back together is more important than The Big Sing.”

I wanted to tell her that she would use that observation to put many things back together during her life, that she would use her spiritual glue to repair broken dreams and smashed goals. That she would one day again watch another beloved tumble way from her, trampling heart, and would have to decide whether to chase it down. Or let set it free. That wild winds would blow her good away, along with her faith in right and proper outcomes. And that she would have to make a choice every single time. Let it go. Or get out her bottle of glue and remake the sky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Single Parents’ Day to Me

That single moms were sinful was the underlying message I absorbed while growing up in my two-parent, middle-class home in Detroit. There were two things my parents couldn’t abide — bad grades and illicit pregnancy.

When I was sixteen, my mom and dad sat me down and explained their preferred version of birth control. “We don’t want you to have sex,” they said. “We don’t believe in abortion. If you go and get pregnant, you’ll be staying home to take care of it. That would mean no college.”

It worked.

After graduation, I headed off to Parsons School of Design in Manhattan and then into the working world. I made friends and forged a career in advertising. Along the way, I collected classic children’s books, baby quilts, and knitwear scored at yard sales in the Hamptons, but I never had a child. In my thirties, when a girlfriend hosted a baby shower and decorated her apartment with photos of newborns from her mom’s pediatric unit, I tucked away dozens in my purse.

I discovered I was pregnant at 39. After my first trimester, I shared the news with friends. Then the pregnancy failed, taking my three-year relationship with it. I’d put off telling my mom out of fear. I arrived home two days before Christmas, walked into her kitchen, and blurted out,

“I was pregnant and lost the baby.” I collapsed into a heap of tears. After a long silence, my mom said, “I’m so sorry.” I knew she was. I spent the holidays in a cocoon of her care.

My dad, eight years dead, didn’t get a say.

I survived, along with my baby lust. A few years later I met another man. After failing to conceive, we began discussing adoption and researching options. Then our four-year relationship collapsed.

Eight months later, my phone rang. “We’re calling everyone who signed into the meeting as a single,” the social worker said. “There are rumors that Ethiopia will close to singles.”

“When?” I asked.

“Don’t know. But if you start the process now, there’s a good chance you’ll be grandfathered into the existing agreement.”

To quote the writer Toni Morrison, “Freeing yourself was one thing; taking ownership of that self was another.” While I’d begun the paperwork to become a single mom, taking ownership and freeing that self from shame was quite another thing. While many historical figures were raised by single parents‑‑ Presidents Obama and Clinton among them – and the 2010 U.S. census estimated that 11.7 million single parents were living with their children, I couldn’t fully face taking on that label.

“You can have the life you want,” my fifty-something Jewish analyst said. “Just not in the order society tells you it’ll come.”

Even my mom now held a more pragmatic view: “You may start out with a man, but it doesn’t mean you’ll end up with them. So if you want a baby, go get one.”

Discovering that Morrison had raised two sons and made a career by getting to her computer by 4 a.m. to create works that led to her winning the Nobel Prize, helped me believe I could have a creative life while raising a healthy, happy child.

I’ve learned to ignore the scrutiny of strangers focused on my left hand, checking for a gold band, as hold my daughters’ hand with my right. And I mostly dismiss my own self-judgmental inner voice that tells me I could die without ever marrying. I know that if I’d remained childless, I would’ve ultimately died from bitterness.

Through the adoption of my Ethiopian daughter, I’ve formed a community with other single parents, two-parent families, and same-sex families. What I didn’t expect was the big wide love I participate in every day and the gratitude I feel just by being Julia’s mom. Sure, my daughter could use a dad. But after months of government red tape, it wasn’t a certainty that she’d have a mom.

 *

“Happy Single Parent Day early,” my friend Charlie said over a glass of red wine.

“That’s a joke, right?”

“No, it’s a real day. March 21,” he said.

That evening I searched for and was surprised to learn that Single Parents’ Day had been in existence since 1984, launched in an article by Janice Moglen, a divorced mother of two who hoped that it would share the same recognition as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

So how does one observe Single Parents’ Day?  For me, it’ll be the same way I manage every other day, by chasing my kid, cleaning up spills, and shuttling her to swim class. Folding laundry. Reading stories. Slaying dragons hiding in closets.

Wondering what to give a Single Parent on this remarkable day? How about offering to babysit for a few hours so they can get catch a nap?

Happy Monday

The good book states that God created the universe in six days. However, Monday was the start day of the Almighty’s party. Mondays are epic, in the best and worst ways. There’s a reason way doctors say more heart attacks hit on Mondays. Monday is boots on the ground day. Time to put up or sit your ass down day, pardon my s’il vous plaît.

For me, Mondays serve as the positive start to my week.

Monday is the only day the nanny takes Julia to school. Monday is the one day where I can count on a luxury of time to organize my closet, sort my books, and maybe even, work on my personal writing before heading off to work. I’m talking a whooping an hour and fifteen minutes of free time within the confines of home. Alone. In single mommy land, that is a gold mine of time.

A few Monday’s back, I had plans, big plans. At 8:15 as Angie entered the house, I’d strap on my sneakers and exit. Then loop the Central Park reservoir and hit my lobby by 9:00. Shower, dress (apply my make-up in the subway like every other female gangster fashionista in New York City, and have my butt in my office chair by 10 am.

Well, best laid plans, of women, mice and men. For that Monday, 15th of May ,started with a plague in my home; a reign of destruction that arrived with a George Bush style shock and awe.

Plagues pretty much serve as plot twist in the bible: locusts, floods, and the much promised, fire next time. Of late

America has experienced its share of plague-woes. News reports in the past weeks have made testament to citizens caught in wild hell fires in the west, devastating floods in the Midwest, and the whirling funnel of death that cuts through the nations’ midsection, thought homes, churches, schools, and lives. Plagues hit and they hit hard.

And so it was with me. Dressed in my running tights, sweat wicking tee-shirt, and a smile I opened Julia’s door with a big ”Good Morning!” Then choked on the fumes.

“Mommy, I poo-pooed,” Julia said sitting in the middle of the floor surrounded by a thousand white islands made from baby wipes.

Julia had pulled tee-shirts and undies from their drawers, to enlist in the clean up effort. Soiled piles rose in small hills across the floor, too. Further back, the potty seat liner was ajar. And at first glance, I swear, green Ghostbusters like fumes were waffling out from the top.

“Julia, when did you poo-poo?” Trying to determine when the poopnado touched down.

“This morning, and I cleaned my body,” she said.

And she had, in manner of speaking.

Julia had done her part; it was just that the poopnado covered a wide area of her room: the potty seat, and the surrounding low line areas of clothes, even the rug. And while Julia had made a deposit in the potty, devastation still lay in her pull up, across the once white islands of wet naps, and swath that ran up her back.

Much like the great Johnstown Flood of 1929, it was a poopnado of the likes I’d never seen.

And so did what any good parent does, I put my head down and put my back into cleaning up. I made adjustments for a new Monday. Like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, I accepted what was instead of what might have been. I tossed Julia into a hot bath, got down to job of sanitizing her room’s surfaces, then gathered the soiled clothes and dumped them into the washer and started the machine. Then I returned to the room and broke out the cans. A fog of Lysol and Febreze clouded the air like napalm. Lastly, after a good soaking I scrubbed Julia down, took her from the bath, dried her off, dressed her, and fed her. With two minutes to spare the doorbell rang.

“Buenos dias,” I said swing the door open.

Angie spoke on a delayed timer. She always studied my face not the tone of my voice upon arrival, to see how things are going in the Holmes household.

“Come sta?” She asked as she moved across the threshold.

“We had massive a poop,” I said,

“Yes,” she said wrinkling up her little nose, “I can still smell it.”

I bid them good-bye, and said adios to the thought of running, too worn out by the poopnando, but not to the idea of a bit of yoga.

The air calmed. Outside, through the windows, golden sunlight danced through dark green leaves. And it was on move six, after downward dog, after I’d placed the flat of my feet together and straightened my spine, and closed my eyes that an odor flared up my nose. An odor that was out of place in my psychic happy place. I cracked open an eye. And glanced down. And there on my right heel, caked over the smooth tan skin, I discovered a thick crust of ca-ca.

I sat at the crossroads.

Do go the way of the ca-ca? Do I allow the poopnando to carve a path through the rest of my Monday? Or do I set a new path.

The French, I recently read in a book, seem to accept that “life is messy,” especially when you have four-year-old; a truth for single and coupled baby mamas and papas, a like.

“Having a two-year-old is like having a blender that you don’t have the top for,” Jerry Seinfeld
once said. Make that a double with a four-year- old.

So, I went forward with more downward dog, keeping the ca-ca as far from sight, and nose as possible. I knew that a good scrubbing would take care of everything. I knew Julia had got off the school smelling like rose. I knew my Monday was still mine. My spiritual intent held its ground. The poopnando had claimed nothing.