Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ghosts


I have been experiencing the phantom smell of smoke, on and off, for a few months now. Does anyone know what this means? My internet searches suggest seizures, schizophrenia, sinusitis, a damaged olfactory sense, so many other things. But I feel the same as I always have. Well, not quite the same. I have a cotton wool head at this moment. I'm sick with a cold, as are my husband and my daughter. We are all coughing and sniffling in unison. We joke that we are the sicklets. But I'm ready for us all to be better, the phantom cigar smoke to be gone, my limbs to swivel effortlessly, with no jarring spike of pain if I put down a leg without minding how I place it. This latest hip pain began the day of my cousin's funeral. I think it might be physical guilt at not having returned his call the week before he died. Somewhere he is laughing at this mischief. Let him laugh. That's the view from my kitchen window while it rained yesterday morning, before the snow fluttered down. I love being inside my house when it rains. I never get tired of this view.

Alma Mater

Yesterday, it rained and then it snowed. Two inches in October. My girl and I were visiting Barnard College. God, how beautiful the campus looked in the falling snow. We have toured colleges all over the Northeast and this little gem just up the street felt like a corner of heaven right in our backyard. I didn't go on the tour. I waited with my friend, whose daughter was also touring while her mother sipped coffee with me in the Liz Cafe. I didn't want to keep smiling at my daughter with an Isn't this just great? look on my face. I didn't want to trigger any resistance.

I went to that school. I loved it, and being there yesterday, I remembered it all. The sense of purpose and possibility. The freedom to express and explore. The connections with other women. The lovers and playmates with whom I roamed the city. The professors who provoked me to question easy assumptions and the thrill of a world expanding. I loved it all and yesterday, I wanted it for my daughter. But if she goes to that school, she will have to choose it for herself. She has resisted choosing it. She says, Really, Mom? A school just up the street? Not even another neighborhood? She wants to go away to college, which I fully understand. Which is why I laughed at the text she sent me halfway through the tour.

I hate myself for liking this so much. 

I am at peace now. All along I have been feeling there is a college she has not seen that will be perfect for her, and I am failing because I have not managed to bring it to her attention. Well, there are a few colleges she has seen that will be perfect for her. Including Barnard. Now she has seen it and I am at peace with whatever she chooses. I've done my part.


Heart Fire

For his birthday on Friday, my girl made her dad the richest salted caramel chocolate cake I have ever tasted, and we gave him the documentary, Fire in Bablylon, about the West Indies cricket team that dominated world cricket for 15 years in the eighties and nineties. My husband loves this film, which he sees as a story of overcoming, of unifying, of victory in the face of all odds. There was something about settling down to watch this film with him, listening to the cadence of Caribbean voices, West Indians' lyrical and always delightfully surprising way of expressing things, the cricketers pride and ability to persevere, to come back from humiliating defeat and to plan and work for the triumph, and then to sustain it for 15 years.

My husband's eyes glittered with fervor as he explained to our daughter and me that no other team in any other sport in the world had ever remained unbeaten and at the pinnacle of their sport for 15 years. He talked about the way that team united all the islands of the Caribbean in a way politics and culture had never been able to do, and about their overcoming the British colonial sense that cricket was a White man's sport, and that West Indians were not supposed to win, they were merely supposed to entertain, and how their story was the Caribbean people's Eyes on the Prize. Later, my daughter said to me, "I wish I could tape Daddy sometimes when he speaks. He is so passionate about his history." I was touched by her recognition and appreciation of who her dad is.

We also did a session on Face Time with our son, who had received his new iPhone 4S in the mail that afternoon, that was his birthday present. He told us how he was planning to impersonate the world-record holding sprinter Usain Bolt for Halloween. He has a track jersey with Bolt's name that he got for Christmas a couple years ago, and he has a huge Jamaican flag hanging on his wall (along with an Antigua flag and an Arsenal Soccer flag), so his plan was to wear the jersey, drape the flag over his shoulders and do the famous lightening pose that Bolt affects after smashing yet another record. I can just imagine my boy goofing around and enjoying himself and maybe also talking a little trash about the speed and dominance of the Jamaican sprinters.

Outside it was raining and inside it was a sweet, cozy family night. I asked my husband to show me his favorite photos of him with his children. These are the photos he chose.



The top photo was taken by our friend, the photographer Ozier Muhammad, and it ran in New York Newsday as part of a father's day photo essay. Our son was not yet a year old. The second photo I took on Christmas Day in Antigua on the gallery of the house in which my husband grew up and in which his parents still lived. Our daughter was 9 years old.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ghandi's 7 Dangers





Birthday Man



The man I love, who is the finest husband and father I could dream, was born on this day. A year ago on his birthday, my husband attended the championship final for our daughter's soccer league. We are there again. Our girl's team is going to the finals for the second year in a row, having put together a 15-2-1 winning record, placing second in the regular season. This is the kind of father my husband is: After her games, my daughter will run across the field and take a flying leap into her dad's arms, laughing. She knows that win or lose, he is proud of her. She knows she and her brother are the center of his world, that when they walk into a room, his eyes will light up, that he will always be happy to see them.

Happy birthday, sweetheart. I love my children so much I gave them you. I must have loved myself too, because here we are. Still holding hands.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Homework Night

A year from now, my daughter will be ensconced in college somewhere and ordinary evenings like this one will be a sweet memory. Seeing her hard at work on her English Lit paper last night, I suddenly wanted to record the moment. Everything is all blurry and soft but I prefer that to the cold blue light of a camera flash.


The painting above her head was done by one of her best friends. It's a portrait of the two of them, gullies for life, they say, and he painted it from a black-and-white photo of them laughing hard, and then presented it to her for her last birthday. Her dad and I were intrigued and charmed by the way he even captured the wayward tuft of hair that habitually shoots up from her hairline (although it seems to have been tamed here). She had another painting on that wall, one of glorious sunflowers, but she removed it and put her friend's painting in the honored spot instead.


In the middle of working, a song she was feeling came on her iPod. You can't really see it but in this picture, she's clapping her hands and rhythmically rotating her feet (see the blur of movement) and singing along, all while editing her paper. The girl knows how to multitask!


Finally homework was done and she was all, Mom, let's watch our shows, cue up the DVR, I want to be in bed by 11 pm. With absolutely no input from her parents, she now puts herself to bed by midnight each night, having determined that she needs a minimum of 6 hours of sleep to function well the next day. Here she is watching Survivor and marveling at a bone-headed move by Ozzy. I love that she ignores my camera. I wish the rest of my cohorts would do the same. Night, berry girl. Sweet dreams.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Malia's Dad


I think this moment is a thing to behold. 
She's growing up, but Dad still has her covered. 


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Morningside Gothic






This sculpture, known as the Peace Fountain by Greg Wyatt, is the centerpiece of the Children's Sculpture Garden at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the largest unfinished cathedral in the world, a grand and soaring structure I pass by daily. From this angle, the brass-cast sculpture depicts the archangel Michael slaying the fallen angel Satan, symbolizing the triumph of faith over evil. I've always found this particular sculpture to be the stuff of nightmares, yet there it stands in the children's garden, a dark and Gothic undertaking, a metaphor for life really. We are all children in this endeavor, making our way in the shadow of everything that scares us, trembling as we resolutely face forward, learning to feel the fear and do it anyway, as they used to say in the rooms.


Monday, October 24, 2011

The Class
























On the day of the farm festival, the kids never made it there. They had gone to A.'s homecoming football game, at which, in Bic pen solidarity, the girls all inscribed his number, 77, on their cheeks. Later, they met up with some other kids with whom they had attended school for the first ten years of their academic life and ended up in the Central Park playground where they used to go in kindergarten, climbing on the monkey bars and playing the games they used to play all the way back then. I marvel at how connected these kids still are. I hope they hold each other close forever.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Tension

The band we went to see last night was breathtaking. It was their album release concert, and the drummer, well, he was astonishing, his drumsticks wheeling through the colored air. We've known him since he was five and in kindergarten with my daughter. His mother is one of my closest friends. Last night, I just couldn't get over how they grow up, they seize the reins of their lives, they announce, I am here, and dammit, I'm brilliant. He is. The drummer boy is brilliant. Pay attention. You're going to know his band's name. The Tension. Stay tuned.




Saturday, October 22, 2011

Get a grip

The truth? The truth is a raging monster is casting a huge shadow on my doorstep but I effing refuse to open the door. What reason on earth do I have to be fighting back tears? A dishwasher put in crooked, glaringly misaligned, and no one but me can see? Please. This is not what most people would call a problem. Granted, most people aren't OCD. Then again, most people don't even have dishwashers. Some people have real problems.

Some days I feel as if I am on a strumming tightrope, and balance is a fragile and iffy thing.

On a brighter note, the girls have gone shopping. They left out of here skipping chirping laughing happy. I'm going to try to be more like them. We are going to a concert tonight. Just us three chickadees. Yes.



Happy Birthday, Daddy


All the men I love most in this world are born in October, my dad, my husband, my son. That's all three of them in the photo above, taken at my Aunt Winnie's house on New Year's Day 1994. I was seven months pregnant with my daughter.

My dad is not exactly still in this world. He died 15 years ago, and how could he be gone so many years already? But he is still in our stories, the one who always made a way. He was the man who instilled in me that I should always be able to take care of myself, I should educate myself, have a career, I should not depend on a husband or anyone else to take care of me. He is the one flirted shamelessly with my mom until the day he died, giving her rude eyes from his hospital bed, loving her more fiercely and gallantly than all the romantic heroes in all the storybooks in the the world.

He was my silly dad. The boys who came to visit me in high school thought him so serious and scary, which always confused me, because he was the man I could always make laugh, could always play grade school hand games with (have you ever ever ever in your long legged life met a long legged sailor with a long legged wife...), collapsing with laughter when we got through the whole thing flawlessly. He was the man who walked me down the aisle to meet my husband, who was knighted for his work as a judge, who was diagnosed with cancer the same year, who lived eleven years more, long enough to see both my children, to laugh and be silly with my son, who was four when he died, and to rest his head on top of my baby daughter's curly crown, breathing in the blessing of seeing her, too.

This man is the reason I never go too far off course. I hear his voice in my head, coaching us on how to live with integrity, with independence, how to face down battles and make peace with missteps and fear. In temperament, I am like my dad. I am so lucky to have had him, and to have his voice in my memory coaching me even now, to have the vision of his head thrown back in laughter, his eyes squinting with enjoyment.

Happy birthday, Daddy. Today you would have been 89. I'm glad you were ours.



Thursday, October 20, 2011

Forces of Good

Ahh mom its all good dont worry

The text I got from my daughter just now.

She is on a college overnight visit in another city at a school she might want to attend.

Have I done enough?

Did I ask the right questions? Emphasize the right things?

My son and my niece are trying to talk me down from the ledge. They are home from college for fall break. They both settled down on their preferred couches and slept for a good long time this afternoon. Before that, they had worked on chemistry assignments. My niece is a chem major and my son is trying to decide if he wants to be pre med. She is the teaching assistant for his chem class. She looks like twelve years old but she was giving him clear and firm instruction on what he should do. He listened and I loved it.



Escapism


Every morning during the time I spent at Yaddo, this is what I would see when I opened my eyes. I remember thinking, This must be someone's vision of heaven. Today, it is mine.




Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Random Family






Just a few pictures from last weekend.

1. After the service last Friday, the girls grudgingly consented to being photographed. They looked really pretty in their church clothes.

2. On Saturday, my son kept covering his face and messing up the photo I was trying to get of him and his dad. My husband, for once, ignored me. The football game was on.

3. Here, my Aunt Grace is telling my son, "If I could catch a star for every time you make me smile, I would hold the evening sky in the palm of my hands." I think he's going to use it on his girlfriend. (Sorry, Isla!)

4. From left are my brother, my Aunt Grace, my mom, my niece (that's her dad in the purple polo), my daughter and my son. Finally, some compliance with the photographer's wishes! In this picture, I keep noticing everyone's hands.

5. On Monday morning, before my mom and Aunt Grace left for the airport, they went upstairs to tell their big sister goodbye. They were worried Aunt Winnie would cry, but she looked at them serenely and said, "I'm so glad you came." Like the lady of the manor. It made them all laugh. They are so devoted, these sisters.





Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Slow Down

How can one hold such sadness inside the awareness of being so smiled on? I think I am an introvert set down amid the clamoring multitude that is my family. I am grateful for it. It forces me out of my natural tendancy to ruminate, insisting I take part in all the action. It invigorates me, but it overstimulates and fries me, too. Just ask my children who knew this past weekend to put their hands on my shoulders again and again and say gently, Relax. But now the crowd has left and my heart is like a desert, brushed dry as sand, worn out from aching at the things that are merely my life, the flip side of my blessings. I wish I could stay home today and recharge.

I sat in the pew at my cousin's funeral last Friday, listening to my brother give a moving eulogy to my cousin, filled with wry and loving cousin memories, and at the end, his words stuttered, his voice broke and he finished through tears. It was the point at which the whole church dissolved. My children, sitting with their cousins in front of me, sobbed freely. My son leaned back and whispered that I was not to say anything to his sister, just let her regain herself, because she had to read the lesson next and she was nervous. If you touch her, she will cry harder, he whispered. She read beautifully. She rushed at first, but then she remembered her Grandma telling her to slow down when they would read the Bible together during the summers they spent with her in St. Lucia. She said she heard her Grandma, clear and strong in her head, saying Slow down, my love, and she did.

The church was full. Almost everyone in my maternal family came. My cousin's daughter wept when she saw my son and my niece had come home from college to attend. It meant so much, she said, that they had come to honor her father. They also came to be with their grandmother, who they knew would be leaving New York in three days. My son stayed by her side all afternoon, helping her maneuver her rollator up ramps and around pews, into cars and out of elevators. He said to her, "I'm yours today, Grandma. Whatever you need." She felt so taken care of, she told me later. So beloved.

As always, when the family gathers, I remember how sewn in I am to this community of souls. I am so much myself with them. There are so many. In the church, cousin after cousin went up to the lectern to give a remembrance, childhood stories about my cousin's fiercely competitive nature, his lifelong connection to family and his roots in Jamaica, despite being born and raised in America. After the last sat down, the minister joked that he was going to rewrite the line, "In my father's house there are many mansions." He said for our family, it should read, "In my father's house there are many cousins." We laughed. It was that kind of service, where you laughed through your tears.

My mother was born into a family of nine siblings, including the six sisters, all of whom are still alive. The nine gave birth to 28 children, my first cousins on my mother's side. We call ourselves "the generation of the 28," except we are 24 left alive now. The moment that thought crossed through me is when I felt most desolate, because sitting there in the church, I thought to myself, we are going to have to do this again and again, six more times for the elder sisters, and 24 more times for the cousins, and untold more times for the elders and the cousins on my father's side, and all our spouses and the families we have married into, and so on. It felt like a great weight, suddenly. No matter. It is a price I will willingly pay for the laughs I have shared. For the rich sense of belonging to something. For the privilege of loving and being loved.








Here's a picture I managed to make everyone sit still for this past weekend. That's my mom and her three oldest grandchildren, ages 21, 20 and 17, on the couch in her little tree house studio. It sits empty now. My mom returned to Jamaica yesterday. Her other two grandchildren, ages 10 and 7, are right this minute crawling all over her and her spanking new iPad, which is my mom's new toy, her fancy bridge player, book reader, picture capturer, and child magnet. She loves that thing, even though she's still using only 10 percent of its brain. I'm sure her grands will show her the full range of its wonders.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Son's Offering


My husband's mom's birthday was on Friday, October 14. As he does each year to celebrate her, my husband rose early on Saturday morning and went down to the flower district to choose blooms for the Sunday service altar arrangements he had committed to making. He arrived back home just as the house began to stir, all our out-of-town guests slowly surfacing from the depths of comforters and dreams as he wrapped the stems and carefully placed each flower. I could imagine his mom looking down from her heavenly perch and seeing these lovely red and pink anthuriums, picked and arranged by her firstborn's hands with so much filial adoration. Happy birthday, dear Nana. We love and miss you always.





Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Faerie Dance


Left Behind



Thank you who commented here for feeling this photo. I took it in the spare bedroom at my mom's home in St. Lucia. The state of the wallpaper told me more starkly than any words could that she would soon be living elsewhere, because she could no longer manage this house on her own. If you knew my mom, you'd know what this peeling wallpaper meant. It was a hard moment, one that surfaced again for me in the sad events of this week. And yet I was happy my mom was here with us in New York when we got the news of my cousin's death. The spirit that she has, her proactive faith, made the planning of his service seem somehow loving and familial instead dark and tragic. And the conversations she had with my cousin in the weeks before he died left us all feeling that he had arrived at a good place in his own life and conscience, that he left this earth with a heart at peace.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pretty


This is the set-up my cousin in created for the party to celebrate her older daughter's passing her bar exam. My cousin's taste is exquisite as usual. I wish she were here to help us plan the events of this week.


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The Fire This Time



"The things that tormented me most were the 
very things that connected me with all the people
who were alive, or who had ever been alive."

— From The Fire Next Time 
by James Baldwin


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