I woke early and went into the living room to turn off the TV. Both my children were out there asleep, one to a couch, each covered by a fluffy comforter dragged out of a closet, the TV blaring over them all night. I watched How Its Made for a minute, mesmerized as usual by the precision of industrial machines, and the idea that someone had to design them so they function just so. But it was barely daybreak, so I clicked off the set, gazed a minute at my children, and went back to my room. My husband was still sleeping softly, so I climbed back into bed. And then I dreamed. I was running along a street, flying past my daughter, looking over my shoulder to make sure she was keeping up. I ran effortlessly, and my girl waved me on. I had more running dreams, not the anxious sort where you're trying to escape from something, but the exhilarating kind, where the wind rushes by you, and your head's thrown back, your throat's exposed, and you're laughing. I woke up, marveling. I don't think, even when my body was at its optimum, running ever felt quite like that. What did it mean? Perhaps nothing more than that I've been watching the Olympics.
Yesterday, our whole family joined my son's gf's whole family in New Jersey for the day. Her brother and sister-in-law's brand new baby was there, such a good-natured peaceful little Buddha, and we all held him, and when at one point he started to fuss, my husband took him, and he quieted right down, perhaps never having seen the world from such a height, and he rested his head on my man's shoulder and my husband patted his back gently, the way he did with his own children when they were babies, and the little one went right to sleep. "You still have the touch, Dad," my daughter said, because that shoulder of my husband's is widely known to put babies right to sleep. And that sweet little boy just slept on that big man's shoulder until his mother arrived a half hour later. As soon as she walked through the door, her baby's head popped up, even before he heard her voice. We all went to dinner together then, ten of us, and it was lovely.
Today we're heading back over to New Jersey, this time to my elderly aunt's house, where there is a birthday party for my cousin who is turning 50. The relatives from all over are driving in to be there, and it will be a mini reunion as my aunt, who is ailing, was not able to make it to Jamaica this summer, though my cousins Facetimed her in several times that week.
My son got 96 percent on his final exam this week. He said, "I wish I had done this in college." And then he added, "But to be real, no one has ever asked me for my college grades since graduating. So who cares." I know he's doing so well now because he's truly interested. I read once in a book about raising boys that our job as parents is to get our sons through school with their self-esteem intact, no matter how hard they struggle academically, because then they will grow up and find the thing they are passionate about, and at that, they will excel. But only if they have not been made to feel like failures in a school system that asks them to be experts in everything. My boy has found the work he loves, and he's thriving. The book was called Raising Cain, and I hung on to that particular promise for dear life some years. And now look.
I met the extraordinary Rebecca Loudon last night. It was as if I already knew her, which I suppose in a virtual way I did, but looking into her eyes, her warm, loving, laughing eyes, it felt as we'd known each other for aeons, and the entire feeling of it was there you are, at last. Did you guess Rebecca has laughing eyes? With mischief in them, her intelligence and wit out to play. She so whip smart, that woman, funny and generous and beautiful, her heart on her sleeve, her arms enfolding you. She is just a sublime human, not to mention a fantastic poet with a devoted following in New York's arty hipster underground. So many poets have been hugely inspired by her, and a lot of them were in the room last night as she read from her Henry Darger poems at KGB Bar, a "literary watering hole" in the East Village. Rebecca was brilliant, absolutely mesmerizing. At different points in her reading she sang, barked, rumbled, inhabiting the poems, bringing us with her inside them. I was in awe, my mouth hung open, and yet I felt none of the agita I often feel when meeting new people. I was immediately at ease in her arms, because that's how we greeted each other, arms thrown around each other, laughing. It was the strangest thing: I wanted to just sink into her, rest my head on the curve of her shoulder and stay there. She said, "My family is here now." She meant me, but more so her son Page, who had traveled with her. He's a gentle artistic soul, his camera slung around his neck, his whole demeanor quietly accepting of the world. I loved him, too. He took our picture. And even though Rebecca and I could only talk in snatches, because she was the star of the evening, and everyone wanted her, still, it was a moment, like finding family, as she said. I confess I thought from Rebecca's blog that she'd have more sharp edges, and I'm sure on some days she does, don't we all, but last night, there was only cushiony joy in her company, there was art and humanity and love.
I went to the doctor today. As I left her office, I just wanted to curl into a ball and cry. I felt sorry for myself, so hopeless. There is so much wrong with me. I have a long road ahead, and I wish there were someone who could just inspire me to set my feet upon it, but in fact, I must inspire myself. I'm exhausted already.
I saw that red door on the way home. I liked the shade of red. I felt a strange desire to go inside, to explore what lay behind those stone walls. What I was really feeling was a desire to escape myself, escape into an entirely new body, but not to escape my life, I love the people who are around me in this life. But I am so impaired. Some things might not be fixable. But I have to try.
That's where we sat, four women friends up on the roof at twilight, sipping sparkling water and wine on a sweltering summer evening, our faces held up to catch the whisper of a breeze, the evening sky putting on a lightening show. There was thunder in the distance but no rain came, and so we sat, one of us recently returned from South Africa, London and Berlin, sharing her stories, and the four of us talking about our lives, about changing jobs after fifty, how complicated that is, about marriage and aging and glorious misspent youth, and about our children, who are newly employed, or traveling the world, or contemplating getting engaged, and all of us just exhaling, cares set down for the moment, free to be.
My darling girl got the job. It happened as soon as she finished clearing out her room, which had been overrun with four years of college paraphernalia ever since she got home in June. When I fussed, her brother told me, "Mom, it's not a mess in there. It's a work in progress. She is trying to curate 22 years of her life." So I tried to back off and let her chaos be. And then, one night she just packed up everything she didn't want to keep and took it to the basement. "This is good funky shoo," I told her when she was done (funky shoo is what my husband calls fung shui). "Everything's going to start flowing to you now." I was joking, but maybe I was on to something. She's happy as can be.
Simone Biles has won the last four consecutive US national titles, the last three consecutive World titles, and has more World medals than any woman gymnast in history, fourteen in all, ten of them gold. In fact, since winning Nationals in 2013, she has never lost a meet. And now, at 19, after thirteen years of intensive practice, she's earned what has been called the jewel in the crown, the coveted all around Olympic gold. NBC commentator Nastia Liukin, the 2008 all around gold medalist, called her "the greatest gymnast of all time." And there's more to come next week as she has qualified to compete in the event finals for vault, uneven bars and floor. Exciting stuff! I'm also enamored of the rest of the team, who together took team gold last weekend. USA women's gymnastics coordinator, the legendary Martha Karolyi, has built a fierce dynasty indeed.
Aunt Grace turned 90 on Sunday, and there was a big party for her at her daughter's home in Kingston. Even though I couldn't be there, I was grateful to have been with her just two weeks before at our family reunion. Aunt Grace posted pictures on Facebook, because she is a Facebook whiz these days. She'll call you on messenger early on Sunday mornings and then tell you to turn on video so she can see your face. When you say, "I just woke up, I'm not decent," she'll say, "You think I care?" She is my mother's sister, the one closest to her in temperament, their voices so similar even their children couldn't tell them apart. At 90, she's as vibrant as ever, the only one of the three remaining sisters still able to travel, which is good because her three children live in Kingston, Nassau and Vancouver and she is based in Toronto. And three of her granddaughters are pregnant so she has three new great grandchildren on the way to join the six she already has. The pregnant granddaughters didn't make the celebration. They're all are staying close to home so as not to risk exposure to Zika. For them, as for the rest of us, these pictures are the next best thing to being there.
Aunt Grace with her daughters, my cousins Maureen and Sharon, both glamorous, charismatic women whom I idolized in childhood when I was the chubby, awkward, younger cousin. In our family, we call these two The Generals, because they don't know how to not run the show—and they always do it brilliantly.
The party was under a tent set up on Maureen's front lawn.
Aunt Grace's granddaughter, Arianne, oohed at Aunt Mavis's stylish heels. Aunt Mavis, who is also 90 years old, is a close family friend and was the doctor who delivered me into this world. At my mom's 93rd birthday in January of last year, she told me the story of how my mom saved her marriage. She and her husband had argued, and she left him and came to my mother's house, vowing never to go back. She said my mother said to her, "Mavis, you are not welcome here. You need to go home and talk to your husband." She has always been grateful for that night, she told me.
All these friends of Aunt Grace have passed the 90-year mark. They still play bridge together.
Aunt Grace's grandchildren, Arrianne and Matthew, were teaching their beloved Gaga the basics of taking selfies.
USA women's artistic gymnastics Olympics team, from left: Aly Raisman, 22, Simone Biles, 19, Gabby Douglas, 20, Madison Kocian, 19, Laurie Hernandez, 16. I'm rooting hard for these athletes. Gymnastics is hard. They say the only sport more dangerous is football. But Team USA is talented. They're likely to bring home gold. Plus, I just like the picture. The camaraderie. The fun.
If only I could pray as hard for myself as I do for my children.
My son is entering week three of his refresher course with the firefighter EMT academy, apparently the best EMT training program in the country. He's also already applied for the next step, the year-long course to become a paramedic, and they will train him while still paying him a salary. Much better than the ten or twelve thou it would have cost to get this certification otherwise. He's exhausted most of the time; he has to do written and clinical tests every day, as well as an hour and half of physical conditioning, starting at six in the morning, two sessions a day. It's a quasi military boot camp; they have to be properly uniformed, boots shined, shirts tucked, faces clean shaven. He wakes at four each morning to fix himself a protein breakfast, make and pack his lunch, and study whatever material he will be tested on that day. He's doing very well in the tests so far; he knows that medical stuff; he's a natural at it. He does worry about the part of the course where he will have to drive the ambulance rig, swerving through a series of cones at 40 miles per hour, forward and then in reverse, using no brakes. I expect they will train him beforehand.
My daughter is still enjoying working part time as a chef instructor at the eating disorder treatment center, while looking for a full time job. I pray it's the one that called her back for round three next week. I'm praying that it has her name on it, because it's one she'd love to do. In the meantime, her life is pretty good. She and several college friends crashed at her boyfriend's brand new apartment in the city last night. He had a housewarming, a mini post graduation reunion, but the party didn't start till after midnight, as apparently everyone had other events beforehand. I can imagine the scene from my own twenty something years—definitely memories worth making.
As for me, for the next seventeen days, I'll be parked right in front of the TV watching the Olympics, especially track and field and gymnastics. Do you know this American athlete? Simone Biles, who's being called the best gymnast in the history of her sport. She has quite a story and a laugh that sounds like a trill of music. She takes a lot of joy in what she does. If you haven't heard of her, you will very soon.