Category: Upper West Side

On the Power of Art and Eight-Year-Olds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To get her artwork.”

Carlos’ brows arched.

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

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

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

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

“Myself,” Julia announced.

IMG_0541.JPG
Julia’s first buyer, of sorts

Oh shit. 

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

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

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

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

Well, maybe this won’t be so bad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0521-2.JPG

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

 

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

Do this? Do what? 

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

She’s washing her clothes in the water fountain

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

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

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

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

“Go give this to that lady, Julia.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Because you wanted to go.”

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Look how much money I have Mommy!”

The mason jar was fully a vibrant green.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julia’s eyes met mine.

“Don’t you dare,”  ny glare read.

“Well, can I have a treat at home?”

“You bet.”

*

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

The Mommy Faith Chronicles Vol. 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

Wherever Two or More Are Gathered

Two years ago, when an Ethiopian judge asked how I proposed to take care of a baby alone I repeated, after my panic subsided, an old African proverb:“It takes a village to raise a child; and back home in New York City I have a small village.”

My words came back to me, with the news that Julia will attend the same preschool as the son of  another Single Baby Mama cohort. And amazingly, another S.B.M.’s son will join our 3’s group.

So as I clutched the acceptance letter in my hands in front of the wall of mailboxes and read the crisp, page-length text, two, three, four times, as the words washed into relief, washed deeper into me, as my jaw stopped its throb and ache from the lock of stress, a new thought bloomed and brightened in my brain; we Single Baby Mamas will now connect and share the realities of our lives and our children’s lives, daily.

The next day, as we three moms stood on the chilled Central Park playground watching our kids zigzag around the wild zone of free play, I announced, “I’m just so happy Julia got into a good school.”
“I hope you’ll all love the school as much we do,” Single Baby Mama #2 said.
“It’s great that they’ll all be together,” #3 added.
Single Baby Mama #2 smiled. “It maybe selfish,” she said, “but I’m glad there’ll be around single moms there. Usually I’m the only one.”

I’d experience the same unruly feelings for the first time a summer ago, after I bolted from the house with my then one-year-old, through the 100-degree July heat, rushed down and then up the steps of the subway and through the doors of a birthday party for a three-year-old only to discover I was the only mate-less parent in attendance.

As the birthday celebration worn on to its inevitable conclusion, as Julia stuffed chunks of chocolate cake into her mouth, I worked to remember that I nearly didn’t get a child to experience this awkward, odd feeling.

Sometimes the logic holds.

I want Julia to have the best of everything, and yes that includes a father.  God required two adults to come together and make a baby for a reason, I believe. However, for now, the best will consist of a great school, a great home and good mom. And I have a great example to follow. One of Julia’s God Mothers (yes she has two God Mommys Eula and Kim between their survival spirit and unsinkable faith my daughter will be well armed in the world. The search for a God Father continues.)

Still, in this case I am the one learning by Kim’s example.

Over the years I’ve watched Kim, for the most part, raise a wonderful daughter, Jenny, my God Daughter, on her own. Kim never complained, never doubted, at least outwardly. She has supported Jenny as she has grown into a lovely, smart, accomplished young woman; a woman we are all very proud of. And just when you thought the universe had done enough for Kim, a loving, smart accomplished man arrived into her life, a funny, handsome doctor no less, creating a miraculous second act in her life. Kim’s wonderful husband came with a young son in tow from his first marriage. Kim’s bond with the boy, and he with her, is so strong, so seamless, it would seem to strangers their union was formed in blood.

A few weeks back The New York Times ran a piece about a village of women in rural Vietnam, who, lacking marriageable men in their community, or had husbands who did not returning after the war, set out to create, birth and rear children on their own, at great risk to society and economic pressures. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/15/world/asia/in-vietnam-some-chose-to-be-single-mothers.html.

During the dark years of waiting for Julia’s arrival I asked the adoption agency for the names of other single moms and dads to be.  To me, this small community of women is vital. We don’t just survive, we thrive. And, so do our children.

Now looking at the wind worn wrinkled face of an older woman in the Loi providence from the curve of the newsprint, her red sweater clad grandson curled in her arms, I realized, over my morning cappuccino that I was face to face with an older, long-lost sister.

Shot through the Heart

I thought after viewing the morning news at the dawn of last Wednesday my next post would focused around Steve Martin was becoming a first time Dad at the age of 67 and the second coming, so to speak, of Alex Baldwin’s fatherhood as he and his third wife await their new baby.

abcnews.go.com/Health/alec-baldwin-wife-pregnant-fatherhood-time/story?id=18494143

I though I would craft prose around the disparity between the treatment of over forty moms verses dads, how society gives older fathers nearly visible high fives, and few snickers behind their backs at their news of “a bun in the oven,” while many first time over 40 Moms, receive wide eye stares, and looks reserved for Hollywood alien spacecraft landing on suburban lawns. Two years ago, a Whole Foods cashier not once but twice, integrated me during the same transaction about my claim of motherhood to Julia.
“ You sure you’re not her grandma?” The girl with the Kool-Aid colored red hair and pink slacked lips, asked.

I thought I would write about the documentary I’d seen a few months back featuring an Indian woman who finally achieved motherhood, at the age of seventy year-old, through an egg donor program and a willing doctor.

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/28112285/ns/health-pregnancy/#.USYl5Y7FX-Y

I thought I’d write of her glowing pride, as she held her baby, while her wrinkled, brown-skinned husband nearly levitating off the floor. “Now we are no longer ashamed, now we have a child,” he said, the curse of childlessness had ended. I knew for sure I wanted to write about the broken pride I held for this Indian couple, half a world away.

Then I clicked on an email around, noon and I found out Julia did not get in my first choice school for her, St. Hilda’s.
Even before Julia came home, even before the miscarriage that led to the journey of adoption, riddled with stories of bribes and terrors, I braced myself for the private school process in New York City. Five years earlier a Wall Street executive, Jack Grubman was brought down, not by the Feds or a money mismanagement scandal, but from his attempt to bribe his way into an Upper East Side pre school. http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=123782&page=1

Every nursery school ,that I know of, our home is private, requiring an application and “play date test.” So if I must pay, why not give Julia the best, what I considered the best, what I had seen as the best. For the past five years I’ve watched two extraordinary boys at my church grow into talented, smart young men before my eyes, through the efforts of their parents, and St. Hilda’s. I wanted St. Hilda’s before I wanted Julia.

But the email said “ We sincerely regret”

I had prayed. “that we were unable to offer your child”

I had affirmed. “a place in our school.”

I read the e-mail, and let out an audible gasp reserved for witnesses to a pedestrian mowed down by a drunk driver.

I haven’t felt this low since my adoption of Julia was almost annulled.

*

“You know, after everything you and Julia have been through the past three years, this is just a blip on the screen,” my brother Jeffery said. “ Sure, schools matter but the parents matters more.”
I stood staring at the sea of Manhattan traffic trying to figure out just when my baby brother had become so brilliant, so statesman like. Gandhi of Michigan.

*

I walked into my home Wednesday night, and before I removed my coat, I removed a bottle of wine from the sideboard.
“St. Hilda’s said no,” I told my nanny’s curious eyes, the answer to the why’s and what for’s of my actions, my opening and pouring a beaker of wine within minutes of entering the house was unseen in the year that she has worked for our family.

“But we had the second playdate!” she yelped.

“Yeah, that seemed a good sign.”

*

“I’m in shock, did they say why?” My mom asked.

“They never say why,” I explained. “It’s like a mob hit., two to the chest, one to the head. And adios.”

*

Julia’s not quite three years old; plenty of time for disappointments, more than enough time to learn life uses them as paving stones. This I know. But this was a new variety of a disappointment. Disappointments of mine, I can weather. Disappointments for my girl, my Julia, well, talk to me in a month.

*

“I’ll see what I can find out about other pre-schools,” Ronda offered, later that night.

“Sure,” I said, and took another gulp of wine. The Cabernet burned its way down my throat. This is not a wine consumption enjoyment moment. This was self-medication.
“A blip on the screen.” Really?

*

The next morning, remembered the date, February 14th. A shot to the heart and your to blame, your give love a bad name.