Tag: Single parenting

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.)

My Little Pony 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.

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.










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.


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.

The Mommy Faith Diaries. Volume 3: The Pinwheel Principle

Last week, on the 11th of December, as I struggled with Julia to get her coat on, to leave the house and head out to school the anger rose up in waves like a flocks of birds, circling my stomach. And swooped in again.

The battle of the winter coat has been waged since the first chill hit in mid November and reached toxic levels that morning.

“If you don’t wear your coat then you just won’t go to school.”

“But I want to gooooooooo.”

“Then let’s go.

Into the elevator Julia and I stomped, down eight floors to the lobby, the doors opened but her coat did not go on. So I decided to let Mother Nature help do the convincing.

“No I don’t want to she flailed around the cement, kicking and screaming, one sleeve of the pink coat on, the other trailing like a battle worn flag. The doorman and I watched Julia’s performance. Then, after a few minutes, I gather my daughter up.

The three of us heading back into the building, back into the warmth, Julia under arm like a slack of laundry.

Eventually the coat went on, Julia and I went to school and I went to work but the anger did not subside, did not leave until, the afternoon when I clicked on my Facebook app update at work, discovering that my friend, Peter Saint John, at the age of 43, had taken his last breathe.

It was the kind of blow to the gut that it takes weeks even months to recover, to regain faith in the workings of the universe.

Peter was a good man. Now a good man no longer walked the earth. Back in September, Peter’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was in remission, a cause for celebration in an Upper West Side eatery, until six or so weeks later, I discovered through Facebook the beast had come back.

Later on that evening as I shopped for a dress to wear to an office Christmas party, I slumped past Macy’s on 34th Street, its mile high south facing facade ablaze with a single script word, set in cursive script, three or four stories tall.

“Believe,” the warm white letters chided me in honor of the Christmas season.

“I had believed,” I whispered and it didn’t work, tears glancing my eyes, channeling the cold. Now I didn’t know what to do with my belief.

It took a week just get back to God knows better than I do. “God’s way not my way.” But didn’t make it hurt any less.

But the loss did do one thing: made me see the events of that morning didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that Julia reached school on time, or how the day went because I was still having a day, because Julia was still having a day, because we were still alive.

We still walked the earth.

Peter Saint John’s  funeral mass was Saturday the 14th, a day before the of his birth, amid a raging snowstorm. As I made my way up the slippery steps, a homeless man bunked-out there asked, “Are you looking for the memorial?”

“Yes,” I said then nodded trying to shale the shock away, shocked of seeming level of care

“Be careful, it’s slippery here,” he said then settled back down on his soiled green blanket.

I opened the big-bronzed door of the beautiful church on East 76th Street, and found the pews filled nearly to the brim, at least one hundred strong. Boston Strong someone would later say, a nod to Peter’s hometown and family. Only a great man would make so many people make their way out in the raging snowstorm to say thank you for being my friend.


In the week since the news of Peter’s departure, getting Julia to school has gotten easier. I try harder to just go with the moment. Like Improv.  Julia’s coat went this morning, in the apartment, no problem.

Something to Make a Winter Day Better

” Can take my toy to school?” Julia asked softly, trying not to set off the trip wire of “no”.

“Only if you keep up with it and bring it back home, promise?”

“Kayyyyyy, Mommy…”

Turning west, the wind really picked up.

“ Wow, Mommy look!”

And Mommy did. She did not look at her cell to check the time. She did not think of other moms who shepherded their toddlers to school with less drama, and fewer tears, ahead of them on the streets of New York City. I looked at the pink pinwheel whirling in my daughter’s hand, and I silently gave thanks, thanks that I have a daughter to see, and wisdom to take the time to enjoy the view.