Category: Upper West Side

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.

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.

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.

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.

Power to the People

As more parts of the city regained power, as Julia and I walked past the entrance to the great park on Central Park West and 100th Street, the nearest playground to our home, an area less than fifty-feet away from the barricade remained closed-off with crime scene yellow tape and a gang of dull metal gates.

The closed entrance to Central Park on Friday.

The trees I had spotted with snapped limbs and angled trunks, pulled up by their roots from the force of the hurricane were long evacuated by workmen the day after the storm. And still the park did not open to the stressed out public in need of some mental nurturing from nature instead of the kick in the face we experienced days earlier. So, I begin to think all this park safety was not for the citizens.

As the city hastily prepared for the 42nd New York Road Runners Marathon, the annual love fest for the world’s runners hosted by the city, The New York Post reported on Friday that four generators were set-up in Central Park to power the media coverage of the race, powerful enough to light 400 homes, each. New Yorkers love a party. but this was a party that should not go on. After I and thousands of people mounted up their Twitter accounts and Facebook pages and posted their rage at this misuse of power, as our fellow New Yorkers still trapped in the devastation of a ravaged Staten Island calls for help went unanswered, on Friday afternoon, the marathon committee canceled the race.

Mary Wittenberg, president and CEO of New York Road Runners, calling off the marathon at a Friday press conference, after days of pressure.

Power to the people.

Truth is, on some level I understood why they wanted to hold the race. I am a runner. Julia and I regularly hit Central Park, she in the jogging stroller, me as the running mommy, working to stay connect to a sport I have loved since McMichael Junior High.

But each day since the storm blew out, it  became clear that the city was not ready emotionally, nor physically to host this marathon, that the marathon hit the runner’s wall just as Hurricane Sandy rolled out Tuesday morning, and the rising sun revealed the devastation left in her wake, a fact that Mayor Bloomberg did not want to concede to anyone or anything until the media+social pressure became too great. Became too loud, powered by the people.


So, no cheers at the finish line in Central Park today. No classic shots of the last marathoner valiantly struggling across the last few miles, alone in the dark, accompanied by the NYPD to finish the race now cloaked in darkness. But plenty of cheers as the power was restored to more homes across more and more of New York City, witnessed while I watched the local news last night. Plenty of smiles as misplaced marathoners donated their time and delivered food and water to those in need Sunday afternoon.

The collection of pull-ups, like the water, is mounting.

I  do not think, as some do, that Mayor Bloomberg is an insensitive lout. Bloomberg, just like many New Yorkers, believed so strongly in his will of accomplishment. So much so, he could not see the big picture, the complete road ahead for his city’s recovery.

Sort of like a single baby mama who decided, after months of harassment from her mother who ships pull-up diapers from Michigan, non-stop , so Julia could begin the potty training my daughter’s pediatrician said was still six months away, so I could “ have them on hand,” grandma had proclaimed, I decided to start potty training Julia, on Monday, during a state of emergency on the east coast of the United States. And I learned, in no uncertain terms, a whole new level of what the phrase “state of emergency” means.

Good News, Bad News

Good News.(G.N.) Julia and Mommy are fine, high and dry on the Upper West Side, on day one of the Hurricane Sandy aftermath, Julia decides to done her spare Bumble Bee costume. And Mommy learns the power of play in the tough, emergency situation, an unprecedented event in New York City. Grandma calls three times before noon.

At least Julia’s having a great time through these stormy days.

Bad News. (B.N) Thousands of fellow New Yorkers and many of our friends can not say the same regarding their situation. While Julia naps Mommy sends out text messages. Few come back below from friends and loved ones who live below 30th Street. The Dark Zone.  Mommy remembers Eddie, a co-worker who lives on the water with his family.
G.N. Julia enjoys having Mommy home for days at a time, wondering where the Mommy who runs out of the door each morning has gone.
B.N. Mommy turns off a Baby Einstein video to check the news and tears start to crest in her eyes.

G.N. Julia looks at the same news reports and with each sight of crushed homes in water, broken boats in water, broken people standing in knee-high water, she points to the TV screen and shouts ” Agua! Agua!”

“Yes, lots of agua,” Mommy says and clicks off the tv screen. Then looks out of the living room window at the dancing trees.

While Julia naps, Mommy has a phone conference with her grad school professor regarding Mommy’s thesis, and Mommy remembers she is a writer.

Day one, after Sandy dropped by

Day 2.

B.N. Mommy got cabin fever and she and Julia leave the house.

G.N. Once outside, Mommy  recalls she and Julia are high and dry on the Upper Westside, tons of people are out walking, jogging, sipping Starbucks coffee from clean paper cups with belly bands, chatting like the day was just a normal one in the queue. Almost.

B.N. This street view reminds Mommy of the days after 9/11 when life on the Upper Westside continued on, even with the odor of death riding the air. This time destruction carries the smell of salt water.

GN. Julia enjoys the walk about. When we return we call the nanny and sing Happy Birthday, together, over the phone. Afterwards, Angie’s voice cracks, knowing we remember her important day. Mommy reads The Very Busy Spider for the 49th time, this time acting out all the voices of the animals.

Julia takes her stroller for spin while her conditioner goes to work.

Day 3.

GN. Mommy and Julia have a morning of beauty. Julia, a shampoo and deep conditioner. Mommy applies a Clarins moisturizing masque to her face that she hasn’t used in a year and tries to remember what occupied her mind so much last week, before the storm came. She can not recall.

The Real Nannies of Manhattan

Writer’s Note: After the last post, three subscribers wrote to suggest I not use the names of the nannies in my essays. After some reflection, I agree. Therefore, from this day forth I will use the terms, old nanny and current nanny, ( C.N.) in my writings. JSH

After fifteen plus years of working through enough ad agencies that have rendered AMCs Mad Men unwatchable for me—finding too much fact in their fiction—I was certain I had seen much of the drama there was to see in the world. Then I learned that right in the heart of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a new Mafia had out a stake in the ground: The Nanny Mafia.

“Well, I was on the playground with Julia,” my current nanny said as she fed my daughter sliced bananas, “and Julia was busy chasing her ball—the one with the lady bugs printed on it—when I looked up and saw three women, coming straight toward me.”

“What happened”?

“ They pointing to Julia and asked me, ““Are you her nanny?”’ “I’m thinking, of course I am who else would I be. But I just said yes. Then they asked me, ‘How’d you get this job…?’”

And with that I about spit out my coffee. My C.N. (current nanny) now had my full attention. I’d heard stories from other moms about the territorial natural of some city nannies.

I’d read And Nanny Makes Three: Mothers and Nannies Tell The Truth About   Work, Love, Money, And Each Other by Jessika Auerbach a full discourse on the nutty stuff that happens between New York City nannies, working moms and stay at home moms, but a playground front off? This was epic.

“I told them, I applied,” C.N. said. “That’s how I got the job.”

“Then she asked me, ‘How much you make?’” “I didn’t tell them my pay. That’s none of their business.”

I didn’t tell my C.N. that I’d other moms had shared that rogue nannies would sometimes watch you with your kid, observe your natures and, if you seem pleasant enough, inquire about the family’s pay scale, offer their services, and if need be under cut the family’s current nanny, if they had one. After all, for nanny’s seeking out a new job could put your current gig in jeopardy. A slight of hand was needed. But I sensed, this was a different game.

“Then, the tall brown skinned one, she looked at Julia and said, “‘They live around here?’”

“ Yeah,” I said, “110th street, to throw them off. I’d never say where you live. Then they asked “‘what her parents do for a living.””

My eyes widened. A blast of heat radiated from my forehead. “And?”

“I told them I didn’t know, something to do with writing. Then they asked “”what the dad did,”’ and I said Julia didn’t have a dad right now. She’s adopted.”

I nodded and slipped my now cold coffee. I wasn’t angry that she had told strangers Julia’s adopted. It’s an open fact. What pissed me off was the level of integration these women were leveling at my C.N.

“Then they went really crazy, ‘She’s a single mom and she lives around here…’” Then the light brown one asked me ‘is her mom white?’”

Now I was official shocked.

“So, told them, ‘no her Mom’s African American.’”

“She’s black!” The shorter one said.

“No, she African American,” C.N. said, her shoulders level and straight. “ She wasn’t using the right term. And she’s suppose to, right?”

A whole lot wasn’t right about this information shake down. But what fell into the positive column: C.N. had held her own. Although she stands at only 5’2”, a tiny woman that even wears an even tinier shoe, size five but she’s feisty with good instincts.

Thank God.

About three weeks after the playground information shake down, last Tuesday, C.N. texted me at work. Nothing-unusual there. Happens a few times a day. But the content of her text? That was off the charts.

The library was fine.

 But we saw Julia’s ex, there, at the reading.

Julia’s Ex? Wait, Julia has an ex? She’s not even out of diapers. Then it came to me. I stopped crafting ad copy and lunged for the phone.“She was there!”

“ Only I knew who she was, because you told me what she looks like. She walked over to us, after the reading was over and just stared at us for a long time then said. ‘Julia you’re getting sooooo big. She looked up from Julia, right at me and said, ‘I use to be her nanny.”’

“What did Julia do.”? I said, then held my breath, silently praying.

“ Julia, she just stared at her.”

“She didn’t… go to her?”

“No, she stayed by me.”

Thank God. Again.

I knew the old nanny’s game. She wanted to shame the current nanny, make her feel she had lost control of her charge.  Her status. That Julia was still connected to her.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Me, I’m fine. Julia’s Ex doesn’t bother me.”

I blurt out a four-letter word that sounds best in triplets, thanked her and said my good-byes, I slammed down the receiver and stared out of my office window, to the northern sky, thinking about the randomness of life, thinking of my Dad. One of his favorite quotes in life was “ Every good-bye ain’t gone.”

“What’s wrong,” Yvonne, my office mate, said from behind her massive black computer monitor.

“My old nanny confronted the new nanny at the library reading hour. She tried to get Julia to come to her.”

A silence landed in the office, collapsing all the oxygen. “Did she?” Yvonne asked.

“Thank God, no.”

“Man, who knew nannies were so complicated,” Yvonne said over the click of her computer keyboard.”

Who knew indeed?

All I did know was this: when life puts more than two people together, complications can arise. From bad breakups to intimate working relationships that derail to office meltdowns— social schisms were a fact of life. What I hadn’t counted on was the rage I’d feel when it came to Julia, and our C.N., how I needed to know no harm would come to either one of them. I know the world can be a cruel place. What I didn’t know was how deep The Nanny Wars went.

“You kind of scared me on the phone today, I never heard you mad before,” C.N. said as she slid on her jacket, at days end.

“Well, that’s more of my work side. Besides I don’t like bullies.”

After all the show is called Mad Men for a reason.

Julia vs. Jesus

Sunday, the first day of the week, can be the most challenging, for me. Of all the tasks of being a single mom, I never once considered attending church would become the most taxing.

About a month ago, around the age of 18 months, my darling daughter, ceased to find zip lock bags filled with gold fish crackers or kid-size containers of sliced bananas, enough to hold her attention through a complete Sunday service. The smiles and goofy looks of other attendees, seated behind us at Unity of New York, no longer held the mystery they once did. You see dear reader, Julia had found her voice. And was set on using it.

As a championship talker myself, I respect anyone making their voice heard. However, two weeks ago, when, in the midst of Paul Tenaglia’s talk, Julia chortled out a loud and long, “HEYYYY!!!!! to the delight of everyone in attendance at the service, except her mortified mother.

“Yes, there’s one of God’s amazing gifts right there in front!” the minister said.

Laughter and applause rolled down from the rear of sanctuary, the balcony, from my right and my left. And Julia applauded too. As I watched her tiny palms crash together in delight, I knew my days in the main sanctuary were numbered.

I tried taking Julia on a walk about in the back area where the books and fliers and welcome table are set up. After thirty minutes of watching her roll like a log across the carpet during the meditation, by the end of the service, I knew there was no going back. Toddler-hood had hit.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Carla, my church pal said. “ Sure baby’s talk, everyone accepts that. At least you weren’t that woman with the crying baby. Did you see they asked her to step out?”

Carla always sees the Unity side of things. Problem was, although Julia typically keeps her whaling to a minimum, I feared she’d have a sudden change of personality. After all, every time the minister asked us to “go within” Julia went without, with a yodel, a yelp, or a “HELLO!” to our nearest neighbor.

“You know, I just didn’t go out when all of you were young,” my mom said all the way from Michigan once we return home. “And when you guys became old enough for Sunday school, I sat down there with you.”

Funny, I don’t remember Mom sitting in Sunday school, but clearly remember my brothers and I housed in the basement of New Bethel Baptist Church, me with the itchy crinoline biting into the backs of my thighs, wishing I could spend the money my mom had allotted for the collection plate on candy after the service.

Since the days of having an Easter speech to memorize and Spring dresses to wear and bear in the lukewarm spring days of Michigan, the act of attending church, for me, has become vitally important.  Unity Church of New York is my spiritual and creative haven. Lead by the magnetic and frequently hilarious Paul Tenaglia, church is a weekly event I rarely miss. Aside from the sense of community, it’s the one place in New York City where if you tell a member you plan to the write the next great American novel that will break all records for down loads on The New York Times, Amazon and Barnes and Noble, combined, and they are happy to affirm that vision with you. We run a can do church.

My not attending service wasn’t an option. However, attending church wasn’t working out either— with the wee lass.

Maybe there’s hope. Last week, Julia did half the touring around she did two Sundays before.  And a lot less yodeling. Maybe because I had already given up something: my preferred seat, of eight years, down in front, first row, left hand side. I made camp in the back of the church, near the restrooms, in the Baby Ghetto, where the other parents of small, new walkers, new talkers, tiny explores set out see new lands, were held up.  I kept ear cocked to hear the word of God, picking up 50% at best.

So far Julia, Jesus and God are neck and neck.

Only fourteen more months to go until my kid can attend Sunday school. Until then, I’ll keep prayed-up, as the old folks say. After all if Jesus could turn water into wine, he can help me find a way to keep Julia entertained, at least between the hour of 11:00 and 12:30 on Sundays.

Well, it’s 10:45. Time to mount up.

The Big Bang Theory of Nannies

It happened. Out of the blue. (People always say that, but it’s a cliché for a reason) In just a few words, and my happy mommy train was knocked off the track:

“I’m I going to be happy with this money after I count it?”

This simple sentence, uttered by my nanny, imploded our system of supply and demand. What she was supplying, I wasn’t buying anymore. Namely, her services.

All over the amount of her Christmas bonus. A bonus. A gift. Not a given.

As a writer I treat words more seriously than civilians. So, when my nanny made what she considered a simple question, there was no going back; her greed, her ingratitude, now exploded across the Holmes Family universe.

So, from the last of December when I informed her that “ I wouldn’t be needing her services in the New Year,” ; the search for a new babysitter began, lasting until the third week of January, thanks to an assist from my Mom who came from Michigan to help care for Julia, with my sister in law in the wings waiting to provide coverage, while I worked and interviewed new child care workers on the side, in the evenings, I thought of the gift my former nanny had given me.

For a long, long while I believed the goal in life was to get all my ducks—or sippy cups— in a row, with all the tops matching, aligned then everything in my life would be ducky. Once Julia came home, I thought my Mallards looked marvelous. I’d hired a great nanny. My job was going well, my grad school thesis, accepted.  Things seemed to be going along swimmingly until that sentence was launched from my nanny’s mouth, when she revealed her true self. And in that Big Bang I understood, there’s no perfection. No time when the machine runs without a hitch. There’s always, a Big Bang waiting to expand the universe, to stretch it, pull it into a new definition of life. And reality.

Change is eternal in life, especially true in the Big Bang Theory of Life and Nannies.

Childcare workers, like all people, are complicated creatures. An email reply from another mother from my Upper West Side Mom Yahoo Group put it best,” This is person who’s giving your daughter examples to live by when you’re not around. Get rid of her.”

Life as a money-grubber is not on my Julia list.

Little Drummer Boy? Nah, It’s All About the Little Cello Girl

After twenty plus years of living in New York City, I would like to  believe I don’t shock easily. I have kept a game face when the guy with the beat up saxophone comes into the subway train I’m riding in and proceeds to press all the keys with no rhythm, rhyme or reason, producing offensive honks and hoots to exort money…ah, I mean to elisit donations from passengers. I have managed to keep my head buried and focused behind a book when gymnastic, break dancers work their moves between subway stops, and passengers, landing inches from my feet. And in some cases, my lap. However, a recent photo sent by my nanny of Julia broke my streak.

The short of the long is, at the age of forty, I began studying the cello. I love its rich, lush sound—a tone my teacher once described as the closest in tonal quality to the human voice than any other instrument. While the act of playing gives me great satisfaction, I’m no Yo-Yo Ma. I just go at it in my living room, sans audience. And unless you’re hot-guy-single-guy, don’t even ask to listen in. In fact my daughter hasn’t seen or heard me play, for anther reason than shyness. Since Julia came into my life, my extra hours go to writing, not, at the moment, playing Bach.

Miss Julia's First Recital

So, a few Tuesdays ago, music class day on the Upper West Side, when a fresh new image landed on my iPhone, I didn’t even check it right away.( I was in a meeting.)  My phone always pings around 11:30, with an image sent from the nanny. But this shot made me gasp.

Look at that bow hand!

That posture!

I’d always had a little fanasty that one day, I’d play my full size cello, and my kid, a quarter-size model, that we’d create music together…seems like that vision is catching up to me. Sure, Julia might be sawing on might  a violin, and not a mini cello. Maybe. But either way it leads me to wonder what other tricks does Miss Julia have up her onesie.