Category: New York City

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 Poetry, Death, Running and Kid Power

 

This past weekend a magical vortex was created in New York City. The axis created by Halloween falling on a Saturday night, the NYC Marathon the following day, with an extra hour of much needed sleep tossed into the sweet spot center thanks to the arrival of daylight savings time.

After we slept off our Trick or Treating fun, and before Julia and I headed to an uptown Marathon viewing party, we made our way to church Sunday morning. And it was at Unity of New York that a reminder came that this Sunday, too, was different.

“Today is ‘The Day of the Dead’,” Barbara Biziou our guest speaker said. “When most of the world honors its ancestors. Let’s all take a moment and honor the shoulders we stand upon.”

Since September, my town has celebrated and honored our special dead. We face 9/11 feeling the heaviness of the past as it extends into the present. We try to shake off the day, to a certain extent, going about our meetings, and our days, and our lattes as we had on September 10th.  But we cannot, not fully.

Annually, the city is asked to pause at 8:46 am for a moment of silence at the time the first tower fell. We stop for the reading of the names televised at the annual memorial service at Ground Zero. We see the portraits of friends and family, loved ones lost; the stained grief on the faces of those left to mourn. And we know, as New Yorkers, everyone of us lost someone that day.

And on Marathon Day 2015 those lost on 9/11 came back to me in a fresh way, rekindled by a poem I’d read from Next Door to the Dead, a collection from Kathleen Driskell, a Kentucky based poet.

The volume gets its name from an interesting fact. Driskell and her husband purchased an old church and renovated it into a cool, modern home for their family. Still, one of the most salient features of their repurposed home is its backyard cemetery. The family was assured that the cemetery was no longer in use. But, soon after Driskell, her husband and children moved in, a funeral party showed up, and dismantled that idea. So be it, Driskell probably thought. Artists take their inspiration from many sources. Even death.

 

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 4.07.36 PM

Unused Grave

While time and elements refilled

you with nothing but your own red dirt,

have you thought long on who managed to skirt

your fixed and final embrace?

A solder’s miraculous recovery

from the bluing fever of Spanish flu?

 

Or knocked cold by the back hoof

of an ornery mule,

the blacksmith, hair slicked neat and combed,

and his only suit, nearly nailed

into the box but for a pallbearer

who saw a finger twitch?

 

Or perhaps the remarried wife,

whose last letter cut deep,

revealing she’d really rather sleep

for an eternity next

to her first husband?

 

Or perhaps when excavated,

you sprang a leak and your bottom

became a bay where no one wanted

to launch a loved one’s final ship.

 

No matter. Whoever’s escaped you

has now long been caught.

 

The anniversary of 9/11 reminds every New Yorker of the grave we escaped that day, of the graves that still lie at the edge of Manhattan, the graves of loved ones elsewhere, and those that wait for us all.

Then, in September, Pope Francis came town. Followed by the runners. And citizens took to the streets, to remind one another of our better selves; that we can do better. Love better. “That our best days are ahead of us, not behind us,” as I heard from the pulpit of Unity of New York.

Image by Bryan R. Smith/ Associated Press /www.wsj.com
Image by Bryan R. Smith/ Associated Press
/www.wsj.com

“Why do New Yorkers come out so strongly for the marathon?” Friends across the country ask. “Why do you watch for the last runner to cross the finish line under darkness from the comfort of your couches on the eleven o’clock news? Why do people who’ve never even laced on a jogging shoe care about a 26.2 mile race? Because the runners that travel from all over the world to pound it out across our five boroughs remind us of the importance of moving forward with positive intent. To live fearlessly and well, for ourselves, our families, friends, and the nearly 3,000 lives that perished. That raising our collective voices in support of another is one of the greatest ways to celebrate the Day of the Dead. And to leave the pondering about graves to the poets.

Infant Daughter, Marcus 2 Years Old,

Myra 8 Days

Among these tiny grave markers, I think of my own

little terrorists, my budding suicide bombers.

They shriek against inoculations, squirm, refusing

the spinach on their plates, try to swallow marbles,

run from the care of the woman who is

CPR certified. They smile when they see me

watching their plump fingers fingering the cord.

Every day, with such joy, they threaten

to blow apart my heart so utterly.

 

And as I watched Julia and her tiny pals lining the street of upper Fifth Avenue in Harlem, the bright sun and their inner glow lighting their faces, I thought of the above poem. And as each runner approached their awake, the children raised a rainbow of hands–tan, pink and brown–to deliver high fives, tiny, soft prayers of support, I saw their affirmations against suicide bombers delivered to all those present, running or not.

Next to the Dead by Kathleen Driskell

Available for purchase at amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/Next-Door-Dead-Kentucky-Voices/dp/0813165725/ref=sr_1_16/188-6114239-5611955?ie=UTF8&qid=1431390411&sr=8-16&keywords=next+door+to+the+dead

 

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.

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

What Moms Talk About When We Talk at Playgrounds

“Since Yelcin listens to Turkish at home he’s taking his time learning English. While my mom was here she only spoke Turkish. Now his English is getting so much better,” Servgi said as we shared a green bench in Central Park together.

The first virgin fresh breezes of Spring stroked our faces. Our hands sat nestled on our laps, warmly, sans gloves. Here, in the calm of a Saturday morning, I welcomed the chance to share time with Servgi, mom to boy in Julia’s class. With the daily hustle of getting ourselves and our toddlers out of the door and into school, a grinding five-day-a-week paramilitary operation that left little time for parents to connect. Saturdays were another social animal all together.

“I had same the fear,” I said with a grin, relieved the danger had passed. “I thought Julia was going to be speech delayed and that she’d need a language therapist. She was a late talker. After all, she listened to Empiric the first eight months of her life.”

A blank backwash set into Servgi’s face then splashed back on me. I’ve told the story of Julia and me and Ethiopia so often our back story sits way back in my mind. Yet, it’s so firmly apart of our identity its slips my mind that others only see a mom and a little girl. They write their own narrative. Everyone does. They’re viewing the first Star Wars movie. Julia and I are on Star Wars IV, Return of the Jedi.

“I adopted Julia from Ethiopia, at eight months old. I thought I had told everyone that needed to know in class.” Within class 616 out of twelve kids, three were adopted, two by single women. Another kid had two mommies; one set of parents were composed of a South Asian and an American; the diversity of New York City worked triple time in our little Pre K class.
Servgi stared straight ahead. Her eyes crinkled, then blinked. She turned and set them into mine “I just knew you were a single mom. I didn’t know how that happened or anything. My sister’s thinking of it. I knew other kids in the class were adopted, and she wanted me to ask them about the process. But I didn’t feel comfortable.”

I remembered the sister’s aching days well, longing for information, searching for a more knowledgeable mind to mine for facts and help. The road to adoption is fraught with the paving stones of heartache and losses and preconceived biases. Without help it’s so difficult to see beyond that long stretch of potholes and off ramps and jack-knifed-tracker-trailer-trucks and car fires littering the road. It’s Mad Max: Welcome to the Terror Dome. And it’s you’re life.

My shrink used to say, “You can have want you have just not how society tells you it will come.” I quoted Dr. Sickles often. But what does someone do that doesn’t have shrink logic to access? They do a Blanche DuBois. They depend on the kindness of strangers.

“I went to Spence Chapin,” I said, starting out slow. “I heard good things about them and their office was close to my home, just on the other side of Central Park, on the eastside. I picked an agency that was easy to get, so wouldn’t drag my feet. I’d had seven years worth of set backs.”
Servgi sighed.I sat silent, allowing the first set of data to load in. Servgi and her husband have one biological child. A son. Yelcin, a boy who is clearly the sun of his parents’ universe. And Julia’s too, I thought as I watched them they giggle and glide into a make shift game of tag on the cushy-matted area of the playground. My daughter has good friends. Julia is a good friend, for the most part, when sharing comes ease. For a very long time, ten years to be exact, it seemed as if I’d never do something so basic, so human, as sit on a Manhattan playground and watch my kid, my daughter, play a chasing game. I chased that dream for a decade until I snared and caught it. Yet and still, I have settled into my crazy ass busy life, I have to poke my memory into dredging up my Biblical Job like journey.

“Tell your sister there are a lot of kids out there that need homes. I just read that UNICEF estimates that there are roughly thirteen million orphans in the world, with 95% of all orphans over the age of five.”

“Wow that’s a lot of kids.”

“I think the article stated that in 2013, there were nearly 9,000 international adoptions to the U.S, with older kids coming in at 30% percent.”

“Did you think about that, adopting an older kid?”
I chuckled. “I raised my age to two years with the idea that it would speed up my adoption. When Becky called from Spence Chapin, and said they had two-month-old, I was floored. “I requested a two-year-old, remember? I skipped the baby section of the T. Berry Brazleton book.”

“Becky laughed and said, ‘I suggest you go back and read it. With luck you’ll bring her home at six months.’” “At some point you just want a kid, little else matters.”

Servgi let loose a rumbling belly laugh. The universe setting its own intention never fails to get a giggle. “ My sister wants to adopt from Turkey, where we’re from.

“That’s lovely…Spence Chapin could probably help her. They work in Bulgaria, Columbia, and work with other countries…a few hundred adoptions to the States.

“It’s a good place for her to start.”

“And they regular information meetings, so she can go and check out adoption without making an appointment.”

“I look at the news I see kids all the time,” Servgi said as a little girl with a curly Afro scooted by us on a purple three wheel. “It’s just sad.”

I sighed then turned my face toward the gray cement ground. “Once you let go of having your child, your way, once you realize it’s about the eighteen-years after they come out of the womb, not just the nine months prior, that changes everything. Then the wonderful ladies at Spence Chapin can help you figure out what works best for you.”

I looked up at the tens of kids, brown, yellow and pink buzzing about the playground, spun by the frenetic energy of youth. How happy they were just being, just running, just laughing. Playground energy is powerful. Effervescent.

“I tell people, first you’re afraid that you can’t afford it. Then you move forward. You travel to meet your child and see the tiny faces in an orphanage, kids beyond the one you came to meet. At moment you realize, you have everything a kid wants. Someone who cares. You can see it in their eyes. Becky and Stella were there for me day in and day out, affirming with me that one day I would become a mom. You need that from a lot of channels to keep moving forward.”

“Mommy, mommy watch me, watch me,” Julia sang out from a high point atop the rope climb. “Mommmieeeeee!!!” Yelcin now crooned with her. Servgi and I turned towards the ring of voices. The shinning sun crowned our heads. The park was alive with children, running, jumping, throwing, catching, digging, pulling, and some crying. Today is a good day. Today I can share. Today I am a light.