On the Magic of Clean Pages

 

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

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

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

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

Still my blog stayed dark.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Balloon Tale

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

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

CASTLE_SHOT
My Little Pony Castle

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

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

Then came 100 day at Julia’s school.

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

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

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

We would make the sky.

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

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

I had a date with my daughter.

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

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

“Where are you?” I called out.

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

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

Quick dry glue indeed.

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

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

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

“No, Mommy, pleaseeeeee.”

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

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

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

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

“Let’s take a cab,” I said.

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

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

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

“Grab it!” I yelled.

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

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

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

“Thanks so much!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0959.JPG
The Sky Balloon finally at rest.

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

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

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

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

“I was upstairs fixing The Sky for you.”

“The whole time?”

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

She thought about it for a moment.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Poetry, Death, Running and Kid Power

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 4.07.36 PM

Unused Grave

While time and elements refilled

you with nothing but your own red dirt,

have you thought long on who managed to skirt

your fixed and final embrace?

A solder’s miraculous recovery

from the bluing fever of Spanish flu?

 

Or knocked cold by the back hoof

of an ornery mule,

the blacksmith, hair slicked neat and combed,

and his only suit, nearly nailed

into the box but for a pallbearer

who saw a finger twitch?

 

Or perhaps the remarried wife,

whose last letter cut deep,

revealing she’d really rather sleep

for an eternity next

to her first husband?

 

Or perhaps when excavated,

you sprang a leak and your bottom

became a bay where no one wanted

to launch a loved one’s final ship.

 

No matter. Whoever’s escaped you

has now long been caught.

 

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

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

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

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

Infant Daughter, Marcus 2 Years Old,

Myra 8 Days

Among these tiny grave markers, I think of my own

little terrorists, my budding suicide bombers.

They shriek against inoculations, squirm, refusing

the spinach on their plates, try to swallow marbles,

run from the care of the woman who is

CPR certified. They smile when they see me

watching their plump fingers fingering the cord.

Every day, with such joy, they threaten

to blow apart my heart so utterly.

 

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

Next to the Dead by Kathleen Driskell

Available for purchase at amazon.com

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

 

The Single Baby Mama’s New World Order

When the universe the universe hands you a gift, you grab it with both hands. And I did just that when Julia’s sitter, oops I mean Julia’s Personal Assistant arrived to the house early. Natasha rejects the terms nanny or sitter.

“I’m here crazy early,” Natasha said after I opened the front door of the apartment still sporting my ruby red bathrobe.

“I’ll just drop off my bag and go do an errand,” she said.

And that was the plan until Julia caught on.

“I want to go! Can I come? Please Tasha!”

“Sure, come on Jules.” Then Natasha turned to me and said with a sly smile. “I’ll give you a little time to yourself before you go to work.” Then the two of them scooted out the front door and into the warm morning.

I thought of putting this luxury of time towards hauling out my fall/winter clothes, or pruning down the books I’ve deemed unimportant enough to keep, for about seven minutes. Then through the living room windows I caught a glimpse of the honeyed light. I peered down eight floors, and sported a woman clad in tights and a tank top jog along side Central Park.

After four years of running with Julia while I pushed a SUV-sized Bob Revolutionary jogging stroller, and now with her running beside me, I can say, alone time while running was a huge gift. So I jumped in tights, tee shirt and sneakers and bolted from the apartment, crossed the avenue, and podded into Central Park. Normally I don’t run on cement. This was no normal morning.

Autumn in New York is a beautiful time in the city. Trees are still green and lush. The air smells a little fresher because of the moderate temperatures, mostly rising only to the low 70s. There was a reason why Vernon Duke was inspired to write a song about autumn here.

An overhead view of the Central Park Reservoir which hosts a 1.6 mile dirt running track.
An overhead view of the Central Park Reservoir which hosts a 1.6 mile dirt running track. One of my favorite places to run in the world.

So I ran and ran until my barely charged iPod burned down. I kept ran until I could not run another step. Forty-five minutes later, I crawled out of the park, towards home, sweaty and happy. As I reached the entrance of the building I noticed the doorman talking to the porter a bit further away from the door, on the grey sidewalk, standing in the sun.

Everyone seemed to be enjoying the day, I thought.

I pressed my key into the lock, opened the front door, and pealed off my sneakers and socks as I clambered down the hall.

“Mommy’s home, Mommies home!” Julia said running up to me, lassoing her thin arms around my knees, Then she stepped back and plopped her hands onto her skinny hips. Natasha stood next to her and did the same.  They glared at me.

“We want to talk to you,” Natasha said.

“Yeah, Mommy!”

“We didn’t know where you were when we came back from our errands. Your phone was here and iPad so we knew you hadn’t left for work. But we couldn’t find you. We went down to the recycle area, we asked the building porters, and still couldn’t find you… so then started think that maybe it was episode from Law and Order SVU.

Stared at them both blankly and chuckled. They didn’t laugh. They were dead serious.

“We thought something happened to you.”

“Yeah, Mommy!”

Natasha leaned in close. I wasn’t sure if she would hug me or slug me. Heat radiated off her skin. “We were really worried we didn’t know where you were.”

“I went running.”

“But you didn’t tell anybody.”

The thought did cross my mind to send her a text but I didn’t because the fact is: I haven’t had to tell anybody where I was going for a long time. As the only adult in my house. I make and execute the rules around theses parts. But with a new sitter, opps I mean Personal Assistant for Julia, everything is clearly different. Albeit in a good way.

“I’m sorry guys I made you worry,” I said and hugged them both, sweaty and all.

“We went down to the basement and called out,” ‘Jenine Holmes answer if you can hear me.’ “Then we finally went and asked the doorman had he seen you, Carlos said you went jogging.”

Geez, if I had spoken to Carlos he could have warned me that I was in deep doo doo at home. 

“Really guys I’m very sorry.”

“Mommy you deserve a butt spank!” Julia said with more than a little bit of gee.

“She sure does!” Julia’s PA said backing her benefactor.

I smiled. “Okay Jules, I’ll take my medicine,” I said, bent my bum over and braced myself.

Let’s just say, for a five-year-old kid Julia has quite a wind up and a heavy hand.

After a few hundred swats Natasha pulled Julia’s tiny hand away, “Okay, Jules that’s enough.”

But it would never be enough. There was so much love in the swatting, some much love behind their angry eyes. It was right then and there that I knew. We three, on a serious level, had formed a real and vital bond. All summer I worried about finding a sitter who could work with Julia’s longer days at school, worried how this child care scenario would play out with Angie  leaving our home seeking full time work. Who knew the universe already had the answer? Already had the new world order worked out. A new lesson for the Single Baby Mama. I just had to step forward, and say yes.

Changing the Morning Mix

“Mommy, is it time to get up yet?” Julia yodeled from her room.

“No,” I yelled and lowered my sleeping mask back into position. The sky had just began its morning blush over the grey shadow of trees in the park. But I knew it was brutally early without checking the time. Julia wakes up the birds up that wake up the rest of us.

After thirty minutes more of listening to her sing and converse with herself, I pealed back the silky mask and rechecked the horizon. It held a slit of sunlight. The air pushing through the window smelled like hope. The clock read 6:33.

I jumped out of bed, and headed into Julia’s room. “Pick up your room and get dressed, We’re going running.”

“Whatttttttt? I’m not going to school?”

“Sure, after we run.”

I jumped into my clothes and then jumped her into hers.

“But I’m hungry Mommy,” she said as I slid the first sneaker onto her foot.

“I’ll get you a banana. Eat it on the way,” I said determined as MacArthur was to take Normandy.

One of the great challenges to motherhood has been maintain my running. All my life I’ve lived to run, high school track and 5Ks and 8Ks in adulthood. When one of my best friends, Beryl, gave me a Bob’s Revolution Jogging Stroller for my baby shower, I choked back tears when the beast arrived in the mail.

” Of course I bought that for you, ” she said, “you’re one of my oldest friends.”

The beast cost $450 bucks. The stroller known among the mommy set as the SUV of strollers was one large, expensive piece of equipment, one that I didn’t mind taking up room in the apartment.

And that stroller saved me mentally, for the first few years. But by the age of three, when Julia would announce “ Mommy why did you stop running?” every time I took a break on a rocky hill, or at a red light, or when I paused to change the song on my iPod, she sounded more and more like Coach Smith, my high school track taskmaster. So, I decided it was time to let go of the stroller. Besides, at 42 pounds it was getting to be a tight fit for Julia.

After that I ran sporadically and hated myself for it. I grabbed a sitter here and there and did a half-ass job of maintaining my running through the fall. Then the Snownado of 2015 hit the eastern seaboard.Then my life revolved around red wine, pasta Bolognese, and Babar books. During the last weeks March and the first signs of Spring were even more welcoming, more alluring. By mid April just the sight of a jogger either brought envy to my heart, or tears to my eyes.

“ Just take her with you,” Beryl said at dinner a week later. “I used to go ice skating with my mom and I loved it.”

“ I really prefer to run alone,” I said, “ but I guess running with Julia is better than not running at all. Two weeks ago, she and I did a loop of the bridle path in Central Park, me on my legs, she on her scooter. But because of the rocky parts and inclines she produced more tears than scooting time.”

“Try it again,” she said.” Without the scooter.”

I ached to run. So on Thursday April 30th I decided to put an end to the ache.

*

Julia and I exited our building. The air was cool and silky. I love the smell of sunlight in the morning. I’d forgotten how beautiful the world looks before you start hustling through your day. We crossed the street and strolled into Central Park. Julia munched her starter breakfast, while looking around puzzled at the emptiness of the typically bustling playground we favored, at the massive number of adults running and biking.

“Why are there so many grown ups in the park and no kids?” she asked.

“This is the time adults play, before work.”

An overhead view of the Central Park Reservoir which hosts a 1.6 mile dirt running track.
An overhead view of the Central Park Reservoir, which hosts a 1.6 mile dirt running track.

And with that, she finished off her banana and tossed the peal in the trash receptacle. We headed up the bridle path toward the loop of the reservoir. A quarter of the way around the 1.6 miles, Julia, a child who runs like freed slave every time she hits New York City pavement, lodged her first complaint.

“Mommy. my legs are tired,” she moaned.

“Okay, let’s take a rest and headed into walking,” I answered somewhat annoyed.

When I started jogging again. She seemed pleased. Then Julia kicked up her heels and zoomed past me. Surprisingly. I liked it.

A mid thirties woman jogging towards us looked down at Julia and then yelled out, “She’s fast!”

“Did you hear that Mommy?!” Julia said. “She said I was fast! Then she kicked into another gear.

I studied Julia striding beside and in front of me, her long yet tiny legs,  her Ethiopian-ness in full view. Images of the last top ten finishers of the NYC Marathon, a healthy mix of Ethiopians present danced in my head. For a moment I could see my daugher crossing the finish line, the tape breaking across her chest, me there, waiting and cheering, bathed in tears. She would take a bow, a victory lap then head back to her studies at Yale Medical School.

The dream set, I got back to the job at hand. That morning my goal was to get back to a sport I love, at the time of day I love, by any means necessary. What I had not planned on was the pride I’d feel watching my daughter run in the sun beside me, and how each moment she passed me, her legs pumping away, her heels high, that joy grew and speed, and broke, to begin again. How I’d wear the glowing smiles that other runners cast other at us like garland throughout the day. That I would watch my daughter dash under the sun, taking the bend of the track just above the dark stones where the white cranes nest during their season, and box turtles sun themselves, and think this is how a love affair begins.

 

 

Lessons in Swimming

Easter weekend, on a bright Saturday morning, I sat poolside studying Julia and her friend I’ll call T, taking their weekly swim lesson. With Passover and Easter falling over the same weekend, the poolroom was still and empty, except for Mr. T’s mom and me‑‑ and our kids.

Coach D with some of his other students. Julia is the furthest from camera, at the end.
Coach D with some of his other students. Julia is the furthest from camera, at the end.

Julia and Mr. T bobbed in the water beside their coach, a kind-hearted, cocoa-skinned mid 40s man, who melded the art of swimming with the mellow teaching style of Yoda. Coach D has a way with kids and the water. Still, after a year of lessons, on this morning, we discovered a different side of his coaching style

Mr. T. wasn’t into jumping into the pool, even at 4 feet. Coming in around 3 ½ feet, or so he probably didn’t think it was such a great idea. Additionally, bodies of water appear deep no matter where you stand, at least to me. And possibly him.

But Coach wasn’t having it.

“Do you mind if I give him a little assistance,” Coach D said to the boy’s mom.

“Sure, go ahead,” she said.

Then Coach called out, “I need some help out here.” His assistant, a lean tan, twenty-something Latino man sporting swimming trunks, peeked out from the office door, beyond the far end of the pool.

“Can you come here, please?” Coach asked.

The man moved forward, towards T and Julia with a slowed kind of walk that didn’t suit him. Far too tentative and measured to be his norm. He rolled to a slow stop and stood beside the boy.

“Toss him in,” Coach D said.

“You sure?” his assistant asked.

“Okay with you, Mom?” Coach asked again.

“Yes.”

Then Julia’s kid alarm bells activated, no doubt brought on by the boy’s large, round eyes that now leaked tears that streaked his face.

“C’mon you can do it, just like this,” Julia said and raised her thin brown arms up into a mock diving move. But still the boy clung to the edge of the tile anchored by his toes and his fears.

Now Mr. T’s mom and I began to cheer him on using the typical “ You can do it!” and a few “It’ll be fun, c’mon!” thrown in, to no avail.

Coach D stood in the waist-high water, alone, waiting. “Do you think I would ask you to do something that would hurt you? he asked the boy.

The boy shook his head from side to side. Then a sob escaped from his throat. And a lump formed in mine.

“Then come on, jump,” Coach said.

And still the boy did not move.

“Okay, Mike do it,” Coach D said.

And with that the boy flew through the air like a fallen bird, and crashed through the smooth, blue surface of the water.

 ***

I thought of all the times I’d been pushed into the brink by life. People have call me brave for adopting a child on my own, for being a single parent. But like Mr. T, I felt the fear, and clung to the edge of the known world, too. How would I be perceived as a single parent? How would I care for this child economically on my own? Then, the social worker called with the notification that Ethiopian might close to single adopters.

I spent two days in my apartment, clinging to the edge of the pool. On the third day I called the social worker and said, “I will come in and fill out the paperwork to get started.” It was wide in the air. Then I touched down. My body bobbed and quaked in the chilled water. And then I began to swim.

And like Mr. T, once I started swimming. I kept swimming, for three years, until Julia came home. In a way, as a single parent, I still swim quite a bit, however it’s mostly with the tide. And by now having water-soaked skin and damp hair is my new normal. But some days the water holds a North Atlantic frigidity that make me forget that I know how to swim, temporarily.

***

Mr. T  splashed towards Coach, slicing the water with smooth toddler stokes, completed his lap then pulled himself free of its grip. Cheers reverberated off the tile walls like symbol crashes at the symphony, delivered by four happy adults and a thrilled little girl. T’s little chest billowed out, proud and round. His eyes shorn bright. It was thrilling to see him, the whole of him, happy and pleased with himself, his feet planted on new ground; a new Eden of accomplishment. He reminded me to look around at where I stand, at my daughter, at our lives and take pleasure and pride in the same.

Finally, Happy Single Parents’ Day to Me

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

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

It worked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 *

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

“That’s a joke, right?”

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

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

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

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