Category: Uncategorized

When a Breakfast Sandwich is about Much More than Breakfast

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

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

Anyway, back to the boys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She peered into my eyes. They produced more puddles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now she was back home.

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

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

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

I waited.

Nothing.

Then I received a text.

From her cell.

“It’s Jenine, it’s….”

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

She was gone.

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

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

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

I searched around.

“Well, hello!” I said, eyes wide.

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

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

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

The Richard Breakfast Sandwich
The Famous Sam Sandwich

To hell with dodging carbs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s in that?”

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

I smiled. “You bet; I’ll be here.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down to Zero

In the weeks that have past, my mind has kept up a proper intake of words from Toni Morrison and Tara Westover, the words of other writers, but none that wanted to come out of me.

I’m relearning, yet again that the path is never straight. And at the start of the week of June 3rd, last, four days before the end of school, a text came in to remind me. I picked up the vibrating phone from the coffee table around 10:30 p.m. and I read the words through sleep crushed eyes.

Then I reread them.

My brain rebooted.

I blinked. Hard.

However, the copy read the same; a mom friend of mine, my very first new Mom friend at Julia’s school had lost her husband to a sudden heart attack.

He was 55.

After a series texts, followed up by a midnight phone call, I finished up by sending a text stating that she should “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” By that afternoon, around 1 p.m., Jackie identified something I could help her with:

“I’m sending you Noah’s obit, if you have time, please review it and get it back to me by 5 p.m.”

My girlfriend isn’t Jewish. Her husband was, which means, the funeral would be held, by tradition, the following day; forty-eight hours after Noah took his last breath.

I stared at the word doc icon attached to the email, as a deep rumbling fear, built and bounded up into my stomach.  I feared clicking the doc open, afraid I’d make a difficult time for someone I cared for, even more laborious.

I texted a friend to ask what to do. “I’m sure Jackie would understand why you couldn’t do it,” she replied. So ,the real challenge was, could I forgive myself.  Rising to this writing needed to be an act I could do for my friend during a supremely difficult time.

Screen Shot 2019-06-19 at 3.32.44 PM
A fair representation of creative writing for me in  2019

I clicked on, the word doc, I peered at the first paragraph, on my computer screen.

SCHEINFELD-Dr. Noah Simeon, 55, of New York City, passed away unexpectedly in his sleep on June 3rd, 2019. Beloved husband of Jacqueline Marie Didier. Devoted father to Maximilian and Thomas. Son of the late Ellen (Rothstein) and David Scheinfeld, brother to Joshua (Lizzie) and Moses (Rivka), as well as uncle to eleven nieces and nephews.

Then it hit me. The last real writing I’d done was for my mother’s obituary. Moreover, I would now reenter Obit Land. This work wasn’t just creative writing; this was service. Perhaps it could even be a little cathartic for me.

As the only writer in the group of five asked to review the details of a life, the value of making a  narrative smooth, I sought a specific truth. As I read through Noah’s achievements, Harvard Medical, Yale Law school, Columbia U. undergrad, I could feel the pull of the words on the page, not the labor of them. I felt a strong need to put thought, ideas, details, in the proper place, in the appropriate order, at least what I considered proper to be.

One of my mom’s favorite quotes is, “Nothing beats a try.” So, for my friend, I tried my very best to make her husband’s obit sing off the page before they lowered his remains into the ground. As a deleted, transposed and crafted new words, I felt like an epaulette shark, a creature that is a not only a capable swimmer it can use its fins, during low tides, like legs. My writing legs hurt from the long stretch to reach the good.

Nothing in death is wasted, so says science; fallen trees become nourishment for new growth in the forest; mushrooms spring from invisible microbe; roadkill becomes a feast for neighboring birds of prey. It seems death is providing a compost foundation to get me back to the thing I so love, writing. Maybe it’s the call to help a friend that also calls me back to life, in a way.

“Get busy living or get busy dying,” Red, Morgan Freedman’s character in Shawshank Redemption, announces once he decided to find his way out in the real world, instead of ending his own life.

Maybe those are the words the dead whispering to me. And they’ve sent hints. A few weeks back, while watching Jane Pauley, the host of CBS This Morning,  serve up a broadcast from Florence, I froze my tracks. Once I knew Florence intimately, every street, every café on both sides of the Arno River. Seeing my old friend, embraced by another, from the Pizza de Michelangelo, I wept small tears into my morning cappuccino.

“Mommy, what’s wrong, what’s wrong?” Julia asked, her little face full of concern.

I miss my friend.

“What friend, Mommy?

“Italy.”

Little Girl Blue

 

A few weeks ago, on a Tuesday, under an evening sky of aquamarine set with a pearly China chip of moon set high, I headed to Barnes and Noble in Greenwich Village, in search of inspiration. Since late January, unless I was paid to do so, I haven’t written a word creatively.

The reason why? The passing of my mother.

Of course, I knew the experience would be difficult. What I didn’t count on was that shelved along with every other element of my existance would be my personal creative writing life, a connection that has held strong for more than a decade.

The craving to write takes place inside my head, in a certain part of my brain. I’ve come to realize that all memories of my mother lives in a section of my brain, too. To descend there and think about my words, to organizing them, to shape them into something wonderful, can’t happen because a sour sadness is housed there, too

“Plumbers don’t get plumbers block, I don’t believe in writers’ block,” Susan Shapiro, a mentor and former professor of mine famously tells her newbie students.

And as far as advertising writing is concerned, Sue’s edit holds true. I write every day using with my advertising head. Creative writing? Nope, nada, nothing.

To shrink-a-fy myself, I’m having an emotional block to the work that draws the greater emotion. People who write creative nonfiction love to dig down deep, unearthing nuggets of truth about their world and where they fit into that reality. When we return to the surface, we share those valued insights for all, but especially for ourselves. I just don’t have it in me to grab a shove and start digging. Ironically, last year was my best year yet for published work, I birthed three pieces into the world. This year, I might be barren.

So, on that Wednesday, I entered the Barnes and Noble, as if it were a temple, seeking  a path of enlightenment, connection. I boarded the escalator and road its silvery steps up to the fourth floor to peruse some literary journals and poetry books. I’d hoped just by touching the printed materials, by reading some fine writing, I would reconnect and warmth to the idea of work. I  rushed over to the bid of journals, selected an issue of Tin House, and held my breath. The pages flipped by, lines of copy, black rivers of ink, and I felt nothing but the weight of the magazine.

Next, I grabbed The Paris Review another fine literary journal, and thumbed through the pages, Typically, seeing the published works of others, the bylines of friends, acquaintances or even just writers that I admired, produces inspiration, at times envy, and most certainly a thrill. But that day, only more numbness set into my mind.

Next, I wandered down the aisles set with neat stacks of books and settled on a book of poetry. My eyes landed on a page, on the curve of a line. I found a  five-dollar word where a two-dollar selection would’ve served better. My saliva soured. I grimaced. I tried to shake the offense loose. I could not.

I closed the book and headed back downstairs towards the exit. One floor after another passed, miles and miles of books, the published works, the efforts of others, culminated into a sea of colorful hardback and soft covers, books of mystery, strange works that were culminated by strangers, created by the strange of writing.

I strode out of the door into the cool of the evening under that crescent moon. I looked over the Manhattan scape, a view millions of people around the world would offer up a limb to experience, and could think of one thought: in five days my first Mother’s Day without my mother would detonate. The bad would become worse. And with that, the tears began to flow.

When I got home I wrote to one of my mentor’s, the essayist and  poet Molly Peacock and asked her what I should do. Molly’s response came quick.

“I laid down on the sofa after my mother’s death for days and couldn’t move. It seems that it’s a normal response to the loss of a parent. You’ve returned to non-verbal kind of a pre-baby state.”

I love Molly.

She can make anything sound cool and interesting. Even a chronic yet functional depression. So, I continue on my nonverbal track reading a lot, walking a lot, trying to out run the fact that I miss my mom and can’t escape that thought, and don’t want to think of much else.  And I don’t want to look into my soul and remember just how much I miss her. I don’t want to face the feeling of being an orphan, even at this age.

I descend into the subway and saw a small figure, slim and brown skin, holding a sign that read, “Hungry.” I kept walking, sliding my MetroCard into the slot, pushing my thighs against the turnstile, heading home. But something nags at me. The small nagging grows into a big nagging.  I stop. And turned around to look at the figure again. Man? Woman? I can’t say.

But what I did know was this, I couldn’t move past this human being. Something held me there to do what I could do. I fished into my purse and pulled out a few singles

“Excuse me, excuse me,” I say, working for attention.

Under the roar of the trains, the stumping of thousands of shoes, the figure doesn’t hear m.e

I studied the form dressed in a jogging suit, and a knit cap pulled down over the ears, fifteen feet away. “Hey! Excuse me,” I say waving my arms, with the cash in hand.

The figure turns, looks at me with wide eyes, then head towards me. She’s tinier than I thought. Like a child from a war-torn country. Or someone who came across the border under the cover of an inky black sky.

“Here,” I say, and pressed the bills into her palm.

“Thank you,” she says soft, her voice accented

“You’re welcome,” is what I said. But what I thought is this: “You are lost. And so, I’m I.  I’ve found a sister in the world. But we are still orphans.”

So, I wrote this post as a Mother’s Day remembrance. Then, after the passing pop a few weeks, it slipped into a difference sort of Memorial Day piece, in my mind, Now, after a long weekend and I still didn’t get the damn this posted, I’m just pushing publish. This mourning has me so weighted down, it’s serious reserve just to point and click.  To send something out in the world.

Mommy’s Magical Mystery Tour

 

“You haven’t written anything on your blog in a long time,” Renita said through the Memorial Day heat.

“Been trying to fit it in, but I’ve been busy,” I said then ran through my lists of must-dos-and-get-it-dones: Julia’s chess tournaments, Julia’s first grade graduation, Julia’s ballet and tennis classes, every Saturday, all the moving parts of my single mommy hamster wheel.

Since Julia I and were only in Detroit for the long weekend, Renita got right to the point, something she’s done since we were in the 5th grade:

“I was thinking that you can write about how your mom and Julia are getting older, at the same time, in different ways…and how, at this point in your life… you’re watching those two things happen at once.”

It’s always funny when non-writers give writing prompts. Sometimes I discount them, into the-been-done-seen-it-before category. But more often than not, some ideas work their way back into my brain, like a great old tune I can’t keep off rotation spin.

And so, it did. And so, I did.

At the moment I stand at the intersection of lack and overflow, of a mother who is shutting down her vocabulary, paired with a daughter ripping the throttle open up on hers, each coming by it from her nature. Yet when I spot people in their nineties still chatting away and cruising through Central Park, in movie lines, at Trader Joe’s, seniors with more than ten years on my mom, I slam into the unfairness of it all. But when I think of my friends that have already lost their mothers, some before my friends reached adulthood, one that lost her mom and her step mom to cancer, all before my girlfriend reached the age of 25, then my pity-party-whine-a-thon shuts down. Sometimes, to ease the sadness in my heart of my mostly silent mom, I allow the wave of words that spring from Julia the moment she opens her eyes, carry me.

*

“Do you know when I go to sleep away camp, that’ll be the longest time we’ve ever been apart?” Julia said as we slid stacks of clothes into her purple roller case at crack of dawn Saturday morning.

Sure, I’d thought of it. I just wasn’t sure she thought of it.

“Yeah, that’s true Jules, but I’ll be here when you get back. Plus, you are going to have a ton of fun at camp.”

For the final month leading up to this milestone Julia quizzed me on my kid camp experienced. I told her about the marshmallow roasting, the bellicose singing that took place on overnight hikes, of seeing a darken sky so jammed with stars my eyes darted around in wonder identify constellations, patterns, beauty unseen in the city of Detroit.

Julia nodded and then said. “Okay, so what did you do on the second day?”

As I gathered the last of Julia’s things she bounced some much off the walls, so hard, I had to banish her from the apartment. “Go downstairs and wait for RPs parents, wait with the doorman!”

She happily bolted. If allowed she would have run all the way to Connecticut. By the time I came downstairs hauling one last pair of swim goggles, water shoes, and an errant backpack, the sea green SUV was packed tight with luggage, kids and RP’s parents. One space left for me. I tucked in. And we took off for I-95.

Two and half hours later, I settled Julia into her bunk, tucking the sheets and blanket on to her bed with the help of the camp counselor.

Julia, was already embroiled in a game of Go Fish.

CARDS

I stood in awe of knowing that through the recommendation of my friends I had made a good choice for my daughter. This would be her best summer ever. We said our good-byes. I hugged Julia tight. From the corner of my cracked eye, I saw three small heads, one in braids, one blonde, one brown curled, pulling a Sheryl Sandburg, leaning in, heavy. As my arms unfolded and released my daughter, a small hand reached in and grabbed Julia’s wrist.

“C’mon Julia we’ll show you the woods!”

And the threesome vanished.

I skipped down the steps of the bunk, took a right turn through the woods and headed down the paved path, sending a text to RPs mom along the way.

“All done, headed to the car.” I felt good leaving Julia in a place where she’d already made friends, where it was so green and lush.

TREES

As the road sloped down, I admired the light though a thick stand of trees. I heard a small voice rise up behind me, “Mommmmmyyyyyy….”
I froze. I turned. There was my spud of a girl, gaining on me.

“Mommmmmyyyyyy….,” she yelled with a mix of longing and love.

“Hey, Julia!”

She ran up, arms and braids flying. “Mommy, why are you still here?”
I let out a snort from shock and hilarity, then said, “Jules, I’m walking as fast as I can back to the car.”

“Okay,” she said and skipped off.

As I neared the parking lot I met a couple that described pealing their kid off them to leave, I felt doubly grateful for my happy girl.

And that gratitude would extend further, 45 minutes later into our drive back to the city, on the outskirts of New Canaan, on a sleepy road, when RPs Dad’s car malfunctioned. I won’t go into the details here. I’ll want to do a deeper dive on this event later. But suffice to say that when the tow truck driver later surmised that it was a “Good thing we weren’t going 65 miles an hour when it happened because you guys would have flipped over,” his words held whole heap of weight.

That night, even after servings of medicinal wine, I dreamt about how the whole thing could’ve gone bad in so many ways. At breakfast, I dined with the ghost of that event, too.

“Not your time,” my friend Joi texted.

But what I heard in my head was Julia’s words:

“Mommy, why are you still here?”

Sure, raising Julia to adulthood is high on the list. And I need to get my daughter ready for school on a different level of work next semester. But beyond sending writing projects out into the world that I’ve hung on to, I know there’s other stuff that I need to tend to. But what?

Since that transformative experience on the Merritt Parkway I’ve made it my mission to catch up with old friends. I’ve been to Brooklyn twice in one week which is a record for me. I’ve had extraordinarily good time reconnecting, even running into an old friend I haven’t seen in three years, randomly, in a restaurant, while on a catch-up dinner. I haven’t eaten out this much in my own town, since like, never.

But I know it’s time to focus.

“Mommy, why are you still here?”

All I can think of to do is listen.

Mostly I hear silence. It reminds me of my mom. She seems attentive some days and some days not. But she’s still here, her mission complete. For more than 25 years in the Detroit Public School System her goal was to free as many Special Ed. Kids as she could through attentive, focused education, to get them back into mainstream classrooms. She filed her retirement papers three times. And twice new parents came to her classroom and begged her to wait until their kid passed through her classroom.

“We hear your goal is to get kids back into regular classrooms.”

And twice my mom pulled those papers back.

“You can’t save all those kids,” my dad told her again and again over, at times, tense dinner table discussions.

My mom’s response was always the same, “Well, John I’m going to save as many as I can.”

And she did.

My friend Jenny had a take on the stating of things: “Your mom did everything she wanted to do and saw that you and your brothers, and your kids are in a good place. Now maybe she just wants to eat what she wants and talk when she wants. She’s done so much for all of you.”

I heard Jenny all the way from Boston. And her edict will have to do because it gives me something else to think about other than hoe much I miss the sound of my mother’s voice. Now maybe I just need to listen. Then move my feet in the right direction. Whatever the heck that direction is.

Plenty of single moms have made, culture-altering achievements: J K Rollings created the character Harry Potter entertaining and delighting the world. Bette Nesmith Graham invented liquid paper saving typist tons of time and making herself wealthy enough to fund other single moms and artist. (If you haven’t read her bio check out at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/11/obituaries/bette-nesmith-graham-liquid-paper.html

I just hope God doesn’t tell me to move to India and open up a writing school for girls or something, at least not until Julia’s in college. Her school is just too good for us to leave just now.

 

 

 

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