Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Frail

My sister in law called this morning to warn us that my mother is increasingly frail, that we should not be surprised when we see her, that my cousin visited her last night and commented as she left that she thought my mother was "declining."

I have felt and heard my mom's decline in her whispered voice on the other end of the line, but when I got on the phone with her this morning, she said, "I think this is my last New Year. I am glad you are coming," and suddenly I was in tears, unable to speak for fear I cause her to dissolve into tears, too.

After I got off the call, I told my son what his grandmother had said. He reminded me that she had once told him she didn't think she would make his eighteenth birthday, and now he was twenty-two. He reminded me that she had once said she didn't think she would see him graduate college, and now he is eight months out. And then he said, "But she's going to be ninety-two next month. One of these years it will be her last New Year." He said it gently.

I don't know what I will do without her when she goes. I feel stabs of guilt that have not been a good enough daughter. I have not been present enough. But my children have been a very good and loving with their grandmother. Here is my son helping his grandmother do her walking exercise when he visited her earlier this year. I have posted this photograph before. It is one of my very favorites.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Wisdom from Storypeople.com

My friend Leslie sends me these. They're always right on time so in the spirit of the New Year, I thought I'd share. I might be fairly absent over the next week or so, as I'm heading to Jamaica to see my mom and my brother's family for a few days. Whether I post will depend on the availability of internet, and how busy we get. Either way, enjoy the arrival of the new year in whatever way pleases you. And thank you, all of you here, for traveling this virtual road alongside me in 2013! Lovelovelove





Sunday, December 29, 2013

Rainy Sunday

We got dressed up and went to church
as a family. It was a Kwanzaa service.

Then we went to brunch at our favorite
restaurant. The food is Italian sumptuous. 

We love Bettolona. They act like they missed
you and are happy to see you every time.

My daughter tried to take a selfie with her
brother. He was typically uncooperative.

My heart son came over to watch football
with the men. And to just hang out. 

My daughter read while outside the sky
rained and poured. Inside felt cozy.

My son decided to make garlic knots.
Best I ever tasted. 

She has sunlight in her face.
Her smile never fails to make me happy. 

The house was a mess and we didn't care.
We did nothing except what we felt like doing.
Everything on a whim. A perfect Sunday. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The groove is the thing


My beautiful baker is back in her groove. That's a key lime cupcake, simple and small and perfect. She has a gift, that girl. It comes from her love of the art of it. Doesn't all inspired work come from love of the art and the craft and the doing? Most people I know do not understand how one can love editing, but I do love it, especially when I edit writers who are passionate about their craft. The connection in such circumstances can be sublime. I imprint on the voice and the intent of the artist with the purest heart. I don't know how else to describe it. I fall in love.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Vision quest


There are young adults sprawled under blankets all over my house. Four young women including my daughter are asleep in her room, even as the noon hour approaches. She texted me from a party last night saying three of her friends would be coming home with her and sleeping over. With that I turned over and fell into a sound sleep, happily assured that my girl would be traveling home in the deep of night with company. I don't worry when these girls are together. Even if one of them got in trouble of some sort, the others would take care of her, and they wouldn't hesitate to call the parents if they felt they were in too deep. They've known each other a long time and have seen each other through so many lovely and not so lovely stages.

They arrived home at just past 2 a.m, ten minutes after my son had arrived home from his shenanigans with his friend and fellow decathlete from college. They had got together with their other former housemates for a reunion somewhere in the city. The two young men slept in the living room. I have no idea why these young people so like sleeping in our living room. Maybe it's as simple as the fact that our only television is in there. The boys have already stirred, made breakfast, and my son's friend will be leaving the house soon to go and meet up with his parents.

I like that my kids feel so free to bring their friends home. I like knowing their friends.

I will also be heading out soon. I have a meeting downtown, one of those networking lunches that so far have led to nothing employment wise but which I do generally enjoy. I wish I knew how to network. I'm sort of hit and miss with it, and I'll have to do better, because the job hunt is upon me now. I gave myself till the New Year to think it all through and figure out what I want. What I want most is to comfortably pay our bills and put a little away for the future. What I want second most is to do work that feeds me creatively and also politically, preferably in the realm of editing and writing. What I want third most is to work from home, at least part of the week, as there is no deeper sense of flow for me than when I am alone in my own space getting the job done, whatever the job might be. But now the New Year is nigh and I will have to get serious about making a living, even if I can't check all the boxes, even if that means heading back into an office full time. This freelancing thing isn't really taking off as I'd like it to.

I'm sort of down today. Not quite sure where I'm go from here. I'm back home from my lunch meeting and the upshot is, I think I don't dream big enough. I'm a nuts and bolts, down in the weeds, roll up your sleeves kind of girl. I'm the one the grand visionaries need to make it all happen. But perhaps what I need now is to be my own visionary, make that happen.





Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas This Year

Apple galettes made by the girl

Woke up slow, joked around, opened gifts, more modest than usual this year, but somehow just right. My son set up his gadgets, my husband his, my daughter read on the couch, I made phone calls to family, then we cleaned up the wrapping paper and bows and set about breakfast of scones and bacon, which ended up being just bacon before we ran out of steam. Then we started in on dinner. There were naps in between, and uproarious laughter over the new sitcom The Millers, an Arsenal soccer match, more reading, more napping, more phone calls, everyone still in pajamas.

At a certain point I got dressed and took gifts to Aunt Winnie and to her wonderful home attendant Sylvia. I visited with them for a while. Sylvia had strung lights around the window and set up a little table top tree was across from her bed and there was Christmas music playing. The atmosphere was softly festive, but Aunt Winnie mostly dozed and I wasn't really clear on whether she knew it was Christmas, or even cared. Then I came back home and everyone was bustling around and the turkey and stuffing and the ham were almost ready so I whipped up my corn and cheese casserole with lots of onion and garlic and not much else, and my daughter made gingerbread macarons with egg nog buttercream and apple galettes for dessert, and my son made mimosas, and we feasted, just the four of us, a good, easy day, cold outside, the streets eerily empty, but cozy inside with my family.

I don't have many pictures to post as my husband and son spent the day mostly shirtless, both of them Caribbean-souled men for whom shirt-wearing at home is overrated and unnecessary, but that doesn't make for very appropriate postings. Well, maybe just one of my son setting up his stop watch gadget thingy and wearing the college logo sweatpants my daughter gave him for Christmas, because he's young and beautiful and can get away with it.

I hope you had a merry enough Christmas, dear friends, and if you didn't, well, it's over and we can all move on. I do want to say a heartfelt thank you for helping me get through the year just ending. It was a fairly tough one, certainly a watershed year for me, and you scaffolded me with your caring words and practical wisdom more than you might ever imagine. I am deeply grateful for you in my life, and for this odd and lovely virtual community we create together, every single day.


"Some are broken but some are perfect"

Gingerbread macarons, cracked and not

Setting up his super track watch thingy

Men cooking the holiday feast


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

In my house on Christmas eve


My son isn't feeling well. He seems to be fighting the flu. He's been curled up on the couch under a blanket most of the day, sleeping while his sister and I went out and did last minute shopping. It's freezing cold out there. Now we're back home, most of the gifts wrapped, and we're puttering. At this moment my son is  watching Naruto on his computer. My daughter is on the other couch browsing recipes, and has decided on one that calls for almond meal. I have no idea what recipe this is, but she says it's very challenging and wonders if she's up to the task. "You know when he hasn't been to the gym and his race times are slipping because he's out of practice?" she explained, referring to her brother. "It's like that. I'm out of practice in the kitchen." But she seems to have decided to take on the challenge because now she's on the phone calling neighborhood supermarkets to see if they have almond meal.

She's found one that has it and now she's pulling on her boots to go and get her ingredients. She's scrawled on the back of an envelope a shopping list so intricate it makes my eyes hurt. My husband, meanwhile, is at Christmas eve service, the church warden, having already done the grocery shopping for the dinner we will make tomorrow. It will be just the four of us, a quiet Christmas. I said to my daughter earlier, "Is it okay that we're having such a low-key Christmas?" She replied, "I don't know why you ask us that every year. We always have a low-key Christmas. It's what we do." Her response surprised me. I hadn't realized I fretted so habitually over the quietness of our Christmas day. I suddenly realized that the very simplicity is what makes me feel like a failure at this time of year. My son not feeling well is almost an excuse for me, a reason to embrace having a quiet, low-key day.

It's very different from the way I grew up, this simple Christmas. In my childhood, there were huge and festive family gatherings every day from Christmas through New Year, tables overflowing, adults laughing and telling stories, children racing through the house and around the yard. It was non stop celebration, and deep down, I feel my inability to recreate that for my children as a sort of failure. Never mind that we have very little family in New York now, just Aunt Winnie across the courtyard, confined to her bed. And the shape of things back home—in Jamaica or Antigua or St. Lucia, with elders frail or no longer with us—is forever changed. The cousins I am closest to, the ones who are like my sisters, all live far away, and so low-key is the way our Christmas is when we stay in New York. My daughter loves this. Her perfect Christmas, she once told me, is to wake up slow, open gifts, stay in pajamas till noon, then dress and cook an elaborate Christmas meal together, watching movies or ballgames or playing Wii games as a family. This is exactly the way my husband likes it, too. It's what we do.


Wimminz


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Good and Grown


My girl is on the road, driving home from school with some friends with whom she will share a house next year. She signed the lease and is very excited about the house, which she says has a renovated kitchen and huge bedrooms and bathrooms and lots of light. The house looks pretty rundown on the outside, in need of a good coat of paint, but that's how most of the student houses look, so I guess I have to just trust that it will all be okay. In any case, my girl took the initiative to move off campus next year, and given the matchbox sized room we are paying a small fortune for this year, I'm not mad at that. She dislikes this picture of herself by the way, though I cannot imagine what there is to dislike in the warm pools of her eyes, the indulgent humor in her smile. She's heading out to do lunch with The Six when she gets in, then she and I are going to have a Survivor marathon tonight. We'll watch the entire season that she missed while otherwise engaged at school. It's our thing.

Meanwhile my niece is still in the hospital and will likely spend Christmas there. She is stabilized while there, but the mystery of it all is still not solved. And so we pray.


Here's a photo I took of my son last night. I played with it on Snapseed, a photo editing app I like increasingly. His dad and I were lying on the bed reading, and he came through the front door, kicked off his shoes and flopped between us as he often does, presenting his head to be rubbed. That boy loves to have his head massaged. When he was fussy as a baby it would calm him right down. Last night, it put him to sleep right there between us, all six-foot-two of him, all muscular man but still our baby, catching a nap before heading out again into the night to for a friend's surprise birthday party.

He came home relatively early, before 2 a.m. When we asked how come so early he reminded us he had to be at a track meet by eight this morning and needed to be able to function. I'm quietly impressed by his sense of responsibility. He likes to have his fun, that is for damn sure, but he definitely manages his commitments. The indoor track and field season has begun in earnest and after the last meet on Thursday, I texted him asking how it had gone. He said most of his guys PR'ed (earned a new personal record) and he was happy. It's odd for him sometimes, because he's coaching althletes who would have been his arch rivals in high school, and he still sees his old coaches at track meets. It's all very collegial and good humored. But he had to get used to rooting for his new team, Xavier, against his old, Fordham, which won most of the championships when he was in high school.

The rivalry is so deep his Xavier guys didn't think he'd be able to do it, so he got himself a Xavier hoodie and wears it to show them his solidarity. He joked as he shrugged it on the first time that it was burning him. But his athletes are doing well, and he's enjoying coaching more than he knew he would. It helps that he's fit enough to demonstrate what he's trying to teach them. He told us how he "smoked them" in a 60 meters hurdles race last week, all because he had better form. He says it was a breakthrough moment. They'd all reached the first hurdle at approximately the same time but my son snapped his leg down coming over it while the other guys sailed high, and that was what he was trying to teach them, how many seconds they lost going over the hurdle too high, and they got it, even though this was something my son didn't master himself until college. I think he might be a very good coach, but he still feels the call of emergency medicine. Soon enough he'll be certified and looking for an EMT job to supplement his coaching job. My boy is a grown up.



Thursday, December 19, 2013

Destiny / Choice


I drew this portrait of my husband eight months before I met him. I just took out my drawing pad and chalk pastels one cold January night and sketched and colored and this face emerged. Eight months later, by the Penn Station information booth, there he was.

That was 30 years ago now. When I made the portrait I had just returned from visiting my parents for Christmas in Antigua, and in retrospect I think I had seen my future husband going up to the altar for communion with his mother and brother at midnight carol service on Christmas eve.


I had also dreamed him years before, when I was a teen still living in my parents home at 37 Paddington Terrace in Jamaica. I had dreamed myself in a bridal gown, veil blowing in the wind atop a hill, and I had looked up at the man beside me, his face at a great height from mine, and years later, I realized it was his face that I dreamed. 

At our actual wedding in August 1986, my friend Annie P. saw him for the first time and she said to me, "It's not so startling that you drew him eight months before you met him. You've been drawing that face all through high school."

I look at the chalk pastel portrait now and wonder why I made him so fierce looking. In reality, his eyes were soft when I met him, his lips teasing, his whole demeanor gentle and amused with a quick dancing wit.


I am thinking this morning how much we can know of the future even when we don't know it consciously. I love this man, this good and devoted father to my children, more today that I did when I married him. I believe I was always destined to love him. Almost twenty-eight years later, I choose it still.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Doll House

My niece went back to the hospital yesterday, fighting it all the way. There is still no sure diagnosis. The doctors are waiting for a test to come back positive or negative, they are waiting. Her parents' hearts are in shreds. Last night, after my cousin left her daughter 's room, after she exited the elevator into the hospital lobby, the sobs burst from her. Where was her husband at that moment, I asked her, hoping in the question that she had some comfort nearby. He was holding her, she said, and he was crying too.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Dear You

In the past year and a half I have binge-watched the following series, most of them on Netflix or Amazon video:

Breaking Bad
Friday Night Lights
Downton Abbey
Homeland
Brothers and Sisters
Parenthood
Prison Break
West Wing
House of Cards
Dexter

A few of these (Prison Break, West Wing) I abandoned halfway through while some (Breaking Bad, Friday Night Lights, Downton Abbey) absorbed me completely, with no attention left over to obsess about life's little tragedies. Now I need suggestions for other series that will hijack my attention and make the noise in my brain simmer down. What has caught your attention lately? What characters or story lines have you felt passionate about? I appreciate any and all recommendations—I'm a total binge-watching floozy when it comes to genres and it doesn't have to be high art for me to enjoy it (hello Brothers and Sisters). Movie recommendations are welcome too, so long as they can be streamed on Netflix or Amazon video! My noisy restless brain thanks you!


Small Victories

The caregiving blog Healing Hamlet honored me by asking to reprint one of my early posts. In lieu of my writing today, I'll just link it here.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Snow

I am falling apart today with no warm place to land. I miss Saint Eleta with all my heart. She was the magical therapist I went to in my twenties. My friend found her in the yellow pages. Everything felt like it was falling apart then too. But Saint Eleta took the pieces and dusted them off and held them up to the light. She gave me an instruction manual for how to use the glue gun and fit the shards back together like a jigsaw puzzle. The glue held for a long long time. But now, lying across my daughter's bed looking out at the snow, I feel like I might splinter again. Only there is no Saint Eleta to guide me back to wholeness.

I said to my friend, "I wish I didn't have all these feelings. Psychopathy must feel like blessed silence." She said, "That's tweetable!" But then I realized that I still had it wrong because it wouldn't FEEL like blessed silence to a psychopath. It would just BE blessed silence. I don't know what is wrong with me today. My eyes leak and leak. I feel all alone in the snow.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Daughter


“That's what makes it so right. Your eyes—your soul is there, but the rest of you is still so undefined. That's the beauty of childhood. The eyes show everything you've seen so far, but the rest of you is still so open to possibility, to whatever you might become.” —Bree Despain


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

'Tis the season


If you send two men to get the Christmas tree they will bring home a towering specimen and you might have to punch a hole in the ceiling to stand it upright in your living room. But that tree will be majestically full bodied and perfectly symmetrical and robustly green and you will consider saluting it every time you walk into the room.

My son insisted that he and his dad should get the tree together this year as it has been his dad and sister managing tree operations for the past several years that he has been in college. And last year, when both kids were away at school, my daughter called in the midst of finals week to instruct her dad not to get and decorate the tree till she came home, and he was obedient and waited.

This year, the men went alone and brought in said majestic specimen. I said to my son, "So now you're going to decorate it?" to which he replied quizzically no, he was leaving that for his sister since she particularly enjoyed it. So why did they get the tree two weeks ahead of her coming home, I wanted to know and he merely shrugged. His part was done. And so my dear husband has begun the decorations all by his lonesome, enjoying it as a multistep process that he is recording nightly on Instagram for our girl. Last night he strung the lights. Tonight, the first of the baubles. And so on.

My son, meanwhile, will do his first EMT overnight rotation at a hospital ER tonight and he's pretty stoked. So tree decorating is not his thing (nor is it mine). He has other gifts.


Monday, December 9, 2013

I blog therefore I am

It's gray and overcast in the city today, the trees bare of leaves, everything leached of color. Last night it snowed, then rained and now the ground is a crust of ice. In our house, my son is quiet and pensive I wonder what he is working out in his mind. I can never quite get used to how unknowable our children can be at certain moments. There are times when they share what feels to me like their whole hearts, and times when they shut me out completely. This is no doubt normal but I don't have to like it.

In other news my niece is on the mend, responding well to treatments. She may well go home from the hospital this week. She has been there since before Thanksgiving. Her mother reports she is coming back to herself. Her mother is weak with relief, finally allowing herself to admit the terror she held at bay as she fought to get her daughter the tests and treatments she needed. There is a whole story there that I am not at liberty to tell fully. But I wonder how many people have been locked away in psychiatric wards when in fact their apparent psychosis was due to an underlying medical condition that might be entirely treatable if caught early enough but that many doctors don't even know to check for.

If you're curious, the book Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan explains more. My niece finally got the tests she needed because a nurse who saw her in the ER the night she was brought in was reading the book. That nurse called her mother at home the next morning to tell her to insist on medical and neuro exams looking into the possibility of an autoimmune encephalitis. That nurse went above and beyond and may well have saved my niece.

Here's a photo I found. It was taken on Thanksgiving a year ago, when everyone could be here. Looks like there was another paparazzi moment happening when I took this picture. We all brandish cameras around here. I adore these children.





Friday, December 6, 2013

The Whole Coin



“There are four basic and primary things that people in a society wish for: to live in a safe environment, to be able to work and provide for themselves, to have access to good public health and to have sound educational opportunities for their children.” 

— Nelson Mandela, 1918—2013


Dear Madiba, you have earned your rest. 
You were unbreakable and without bitterness.
You led by deeds and by example. 
Thank you, Sir, for everything. 




Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dancing with the possibilities


So here's the thing: When I go out and meet my life, it's such a rush. The reintegration of self continues—really, that is what it feels like, gathering all the scattered pieces of me, all the parts of myself I have ignored for so long, and bringing them together, putting them right where I can love them again, or for the first time. Weird.

Today I met an old friend and former colleague for lunch at a French Vietnamese restaurant and we talked for hours. We worked so well together back in the day, 19 years ago now, when I was a book editor and he was a designer and the one I preferred to hire above all. He would get started on the work before we had even signed a contract, because we both understood that neither would ever screw over the other. He had such a magnificent eye, and his work ethic was impeccable. He was just a good person, married, as I am, and we had our first children, both sons, not even a year apart. He and his then very pregnant wife had my husband and me and my son, just months old, over for dinner when I left the publishing house to go to the magazine where I would submerge myself for the next 19 years. I can't for the life of me figure out why I didn't keep in touch. Not just with him, but with all the people I worked with from before I went to the magazine, who I am now reconnecting with in such life-expanding ways.

The crazy thing is, we are both older, both grayer, I am fatter, he is still lean, still a runner, he is balder, and with all of that it was as if no time had passed, we knew each other still, in a way that had nothing to do with externals, but instead was based on mutual respect and recognition of  a similar way of understanding the world.

We shared all the news about our families, too, each of us with a fairly inexhaustible capacity for hearing about the other's offspring, discovering all the ways in which their histories have overlapped. There was a sense of wonder at the realization that our sons had attended the same high school, and our daughters are both sophomores at the same college! And then we began tracing the last 19 years only to realize we had done this married-with-children thing in lockstep, with so many of the same experiences, so many people we both know. And we are also both in the very same place at this moment, he having just closed his design firm and opened a new one out of his home, and me embarking on this new self-employed venture as an editor, writer and book coach working out of my home. When I told him I was giving myself till March to see if I could make this work, he said that was too soon, I should give myself a year, that it takes about that time to really get things going at a steady clip.

I left our lunch reminded that my life has become wider and more vivid since I transitioned to working for myself. Some days the financial prospects are scary (we talked about that, too) and some days, like today, it's exhilarating to truly know I direct my own life and can dance with the possibilities.

As for my gimpy left leg, the physical therapy finally feels like it's having an effect, and that combined with slow but deliberate weight loss, will bring about a healing. I'm putting that out there. I will be healed. So it's been a good day so far, lunch, then physical therapy, and now I am heading back out to attend the going away party for an editor at the magazine where I used to work. She got herself another job and is moving to another city to do it, and life trundles on.




Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Melancholia

Moody as all get out.

What does that even mean?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Mirror mirror


Why are we so drawn to the ones who are sad, who struggle so mightily for security, for equality, for healing, for peace? We want to wrap our arms around them, and whisper our love, and we mean it from the deepest part of ourselves, because we know, we know, in some parallel universe, close enough to touch, their struggle is our own, and maybe we hope that there are people in that other reality who will wrap us in their love and whisper about hope and take action on our behalf. The Bodhisattvas know we are bound by a gleaming silver thread, all of us one, wandering in the illusion of separateness. Our paths may differ and yet we're all just doing the best we can, lying awake at night in the naked humanness of it all, listening for the whispers. 

Back to School


She's headed back to school. I miss her already. 

They'll be well hydrated with cranberry juice. 

He introduced us to his pet hedgehog.

One photo of the crew for the road.

And now she's gone again, my sweet girl, driving back to school with her friends. She has several friend groups, this child. They are of all descriptions and she mixes them happily together. She's having a very good year so far, socially and academically, and may it continue thus. Here in the city, my husband and son are quietly reading and watching football, the house serene after the hubbub of the weekend. My husband's cousin from Barbados and his wife and in laws visited with us last night, and it was wonderful to reconnect and for our kids to get to know another branch of the family.

Meanwhile, a few states away, my niece has been moved from the community hospital to a larger research hospital where they are better equipped to perform certain tests she needs. The ordeal continues. But at least the doctors seem to be on the case at last. My cousin feels much better about the new medical center, where the doctor greeted them on arrival and sat with them explaining what was to come. We live in parallel universes, so many life stories playing out at once, and sometimes the parallel lines grow so close together they seem to run as one. That is where I exist right now.

A new week starts tomorrow. My work life feels completely unresolved. I am starting to feel the seductive call of predictability, a hankering for something certain. I am not really in financial straits yet so why do I feel so insecure? My wonderful accountant has arranged for me to meet with his financial planner, so I can properly assess my circumstances. I am not very good with that which is unresolved. Perhaps that is the lesson of this passage I'm in. Is it foolhardy to simply trust that everything will turn out okay?


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