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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Four Generations


The problem with being away from this space so long is that it's impossible to catch up on everything. I'll just say that our family reunion at a place called Chillin in Jamaica was fantastic. The layout was perfect, 4-bedroom villas and 2-bedroom apartments, all with lovely breeze swept porches, arranged around a central grassy courtyard and pool area, with the beach steps away. And there were enough of us that we had the entire property to ourselves for four days. A few families arrived a day or so before and a few stayed a couple of days longer, but the main reunion dates were Wednesday to Sunday, July 20-24.

Each villa and apartment had a chef/housekeeper assigned to it, who shopped for and cooked whatever you desired for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Our chef, Sandra, was amazing. The first morning, she helped us come up with a menu of meals for our time there. We all wanted the Jamaican dishes we were raised on, so that breakfast was usually ackee and saltfish or codfish fritters, with festival or johnny cakes or bamis, breadfruit, plantains, jerk bacon, scrambled eggs (for my niece's bf who doesn't have the taste for ackee), and always a huge platter of sliced local fruit including mangoes, watermelon, bananas, cantaloupe, honey dew melon, oti-eati apple (correct name is otaheiti, which I didn't know till I just looked up how to spell this delectable fruit I grew up with) and paw paw. Lunch might be jerk chicken and rice and peas and salad, or oxtail and plantain and yam, and, well, you get the picture. Then the chefs for each unit would cook some part of the evening meal, which was served buffet-style outdoors near the pool, with tables set out on the grass, all of us gathering from our day's activities to eat a meal in communion with one another.

After dinner there were domino and kalooki games around the pool, or in one of the living rooms with good fans. And there was night swimming too. All week we wandered in an out of each other's villas, played in the pool, or just reclined on each others porches talking, being, loving each other and loving being part of this family. The Stiebels. That was my mom's maiden name, passed down from the German Jew who came to Jamaica and married a woman of African descent several generations back, the given name of the nine siblings, only one of whom made it to our family reunion this year. The other two sisters who are still alive are too weak to travel, but Aunt Grace was there, a week before turning 90, radiant.

Of my mother's generation, in addition to Aunt Grace, my Aunt Ruth (who married my mom's brother Donald) and Uncle Eddie (a first cousin of the nine) also came. The rest of those gathered were their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, the youngest, adorable Leo, only eight months old. And this wasn't even the whole crew. Only about half our number were able to make it, the rest either too broke, or too stringently employed or too pregnant to be there that particular week. Yes, there will be three more babies born in our family this year, all three of them great grandchildren of Aunt Grace; three of her eight granddaughters are currently with child, promising yet another generation of closely bonded cousins.

During the days, we all went our different ways, some families joining together for outings, others heading off solo, still others staying put at Chillin, liming out by the pool or dozing in hammocks on porches. I could really go on and on about the week that was, but maybe I'll just put up an album of photos instead, and let that tell the story. If you follow me on Instagram or are friends with me on Facebook, you've already seen a lot of these photos, but as I also want to have the record here. And let me say, if anyone's looking for a vacation venue where each family has their own lovely unit (with air-conditioned bedrooms) yet ease of mingling and being together, not to mention world class chefs who are lovely yet somehow manage to be so unobtrusive, look no further than Chillin at Old Fort Bay just outside of Ocho Rios, Jamaica. It's a place of simple comforts and utter charm.

In a few days, I might have the wherewithal to whittle down the sheer number of pictures here, but for now, I can't choose. All the moments were precious. I want to hold them all.


Leaving New York


Doctor's Cave, Montego Bay, the beach of my childhood


Abbe and Notta chillin at Chillin


The villas were lovely


Berry brown girl


Rare full length of moi


Beach towels drying


Aunt Ruth sipping pumpkin soup


I still see their baby faces behind their grown-ness


Aunt Ruth and her firstborn, on his birthday


Sister cousins


Brother cousins


My cousin and his heart-stealing son Leo


Kalooki masters


Me and my girls


Uncle Jeff was everyone's favorite pool toy


Saturday eve, everyone wore reunion t-shirts


Oldest (Grace, 90) and youngest (Leo, 8 months)


The General


The bottle challenge. Don't ask.


Daydream believers


My daughter and "Little Beyonce"


This was only half of the group


On the front porch of our villa


Back in Kingston, we gathered to place Mom's ashes


Pepper shrimp at Hellshire Beach


My man at Hellshire

And as for the honeymoon photo of us in Dunn's River Falls that my darling husband wanted us to recreate, he decided we could do a perfectly lovely job of it using photoshop. I'm cool with that.



Sunday, July 17, 2016

Chillin'


I'll be away for a couple of weeks, chillin' with family in some cottages on a beach in Jamaica. My son won't be with us, as he'll be in New York getting administratively enrolled in the best pension plan in the city, and being fitted for his FDNY EMT uniform and starting his new gig with the fire department. The rest of us, my husband, daughter, niece, and niece's bf, along with my brother and his son, plus assorted other cousins, nieces, nephews and significant others, and our beloved Aunt Grace, who will be 90 in August, will be together in this place. I kind of like the vibe. I'm starting to get a little excited. They have hammocks!



Thursday, July 14, 2016

Processing


I'm traveling next week. Could that be why I feel so churned up. I don't know what to do with myself. I am between jobs, but there are two sure assignments in my future, so I should not be anxious about that. I should be relaxing into the freedom of this moment, relishing it. Instead, I am wound tight as a fist, the fist locked around my heart, and I don't know what to do about it.

I'm traveling next week to a family reunion in Jamaica, all of us in sweet cottages on the beach, and I shall have to put on a bathing suit, which fills me with dread, no, to be more precise, with loathing. How can I be so at war with the body I am in? So unloving. My husband wants to climb Dunn's River Falls with me, to recreate a photograph we took on our honeymoon thirty years ago, the one about which our daughter said, "Daddy, you look so happy." He does not truly understand that my left leg is little more than window dressing, a prop that requires careful positioning at all times, with no cartilage in the hip, bone on bone, nothing connected, unable to support me, and so I do everything leading with my right leg, and try to pretend away the pain in my left. I don't think I will be able to climb the falls, and—the feeling pervading my week—I feel like a failure because of it. He has this romantic idea, and I love that he does, but it might not fit the reality of who I am now, which makes me feel like a killjoy, an encumbrance, and kind of lost.

I cannot walk without pain. Climbing stairs is excruciating. There, I said it.

I'm kind of fucked, really.

Why? Because I'm too fat for a hip replacement, and will need to lose about a hundred pounds to be assured of success. And don't hip replacements only last fifteen years or so? Does that mean I'd need another one down the road? Never mind that I am actually terrified of having a hip replacement because my cousin, who was the age I am now, died during his recovery from the same operation four years ago. Just slumped down off the chair in his apartment alone, and stopped breathing. A blood clot, an embolism, something happened. They found him the next day.

My own left hip suddenly jarred with pain at his funeral. I'd been running around all morning, moving tables and chairs into position for the repast, and at a certain point I took a step and crumpled with pain, the hip suddenly locked. That must have been the afternoon the last piece of cartilage wore through. But I was in denial. I limped along. At the time, I was primary caregiver for my bedridden 92-year-old aunt and also for my 89-year-old mother, whose health and mobility were precipitously declining. It was months before I actually went to a doctor. And now here we are.

My doctor told me last year that my left hip is already at end stage, and so won't get worse. That landed for me like a bit of good news. Okay, I thought, so this is what we're dealing with. Okay. It was a shard of certainty.

So now you know why I write this blog under a pseudonym. I'm an over sharer in the worst way, because I need a place to work out what I'm feeling, to look at it cold, and this space allows me to do that. Even just writing this, which might sound like a self-pitying whine, has settled me a bit, helped the churning inside me to gentle itself down.

Thanks for letting me share.


Monday, July 11, 2016

I want


Some days I love my house. Some days I look around my house and feel like a failure. I want one of those HGTV houses with pristine walls (my house hasn't been fully painted in a decade; handprints are everywhere) and artfully unmatched furniture pieces and a designer kitchen with cupboard doors that are not forever coming off their hinges.

I want a gleaming finish on hardwood floors, not these scuffed, battered boards underfoot. I want a farmhouse dining table to replace the rickety one by the window that my father and husband screwed together while I held my now 24-year-old firstborn as a babe in arms, and chairs sturdy enough for people to actually sit and dine comfortably, rather than balancing dinner plates on their knees while perched on lumpy matching brown couches in front of the TV.

I want storage space in this small New York City apartment, so that everything lined up on my counter or on chairs in the corner or just out of the way on the floor can have a place to live. I want.  It all feels too much, this wanting, this feeling that somehow other people are able to manage these things while I just sit here feeling overwhelmed. Not knowing where or how to start. Feeling that even if I started my choices would be all wrong. Wishing one of the Property Brothers would just come in here and accomplish this home makeover feat for me. So many emotions. So much self-judgment clouding the fact that everything I truly need, I already have.

Here's what I really want. My children to be happy. But sometimes they are not. This is called life.

And so I obsess on the things that theoretically are within my control—the state of the house—to distract myself from the things I cannot control—the state of our hearts, the reach of our dreams, the proportion of light and shadow in our days.

Hello Monday.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Our dreams for our children are all the same

Against the backdrop of last week's horrific news, we kept doing our lives. We didn't take it for granted. On Friday night, some friends held a graduation party for their son, and most of the kids who went to school together till eighth grade were there, all of them having just graduated from college. They've made other close friends through the years, high school friends, college friends, camp friends, scholar program friends, summer job friends, neighborhood friends, friends of friends, but this group remains tight, and watching them together on Friday night, it was apparent why. They know themselves to their core with one another, and they know each other that way too. They are fully themselves when they are together. I never cease to marvel at how great a gift that is, to have friends who know you nearly as deeply as you know yourself. It's nice that their parents can enjoy each other's familiar company, too. We've been doing it now for going on twenty years, and choose it still.

There's something about the way these young people glow when they are around each other. The lack of artifice. The sense of comfort and shared history. The awareness of being fully seen and fully loved. It is too rare a thing in this world. Perhaps all that we ever need to combat hate and intolerance is to get to know each other, to spend time in each other's company, to learn each other's hearts, to discover that our dreams for our children are the same. There are too few places in our siloed world that facilitate that, which makes the bond these children forged at a school where differences were celebrated, not ignored, one to be cherished. It is not a fragile bond either. It has been tested through the years. And somehow, the tests have strengthened their friendships, individually and collectively, and shown them the depth of their connections.

Then, on Saturday, we met our son's girlfriend's parents for the first time. They took the train into the city from New Jersey, where they live, and we visited and chatted in our home for a while, and then all went out to dinner at our favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant. It was a lovely evening in every regard. Such warm and openhearted people. We mothers laughed as we admitted we'd been nervous to meet each other, and how relieved we were at the immediate ease we felt. When you get to this stage of life, and your children begin getting serious with other people, you start evaluating what it will be like to share grandchildren with the families of their significant others. I have no idea what will unfold for my son and his girlfriend, or my daughter and her boyfriend, but if they should remain with these relationships, then my husband and I are in a very good place. Shhh, don't tell them I said that.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Dallas

I am heartsick about what happened overnight in Dallas—11 cops shot, 5 of them dead, all by sniper fire after what had been a peaceful rally protesting the deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota. It was a rally attended by all races, ages and creeds in Dallas, and as it wound down people were feeling a degree of hope about how they would move forward together. Police had marched alongside the protesters, clearing the way, protecting, serving.

It was a moment that reflected the dream of what could be, law enforcement officers as members of the community, not in opposition to it, despite the fact that the coming together was in the wake of so recent tragedy. And then the shooting started from somewhere above. And five more were added to the murder toll, the deadly unending roll call fueled by implicit bias and outright hate.

Last night at well past midnight, my daughter was watching with me as the horror unfolded in Dallas. "How would the whole history of humanity be different if guns had never been invented?" she asked me. I tried to imagine such a world.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

And this


I hate having hate at the top of my page, so I'm posting this too because sometimes, for survival, for sanity, you have to look away. But when you look back, read When Black Lives Stop Mattering by Roxane Gay. She says everything.

Tweetstorm







Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Wednesday

I may have a new project. It's just at the proposal stage, but the email inquiring about my interest came in right after I pressed send to deliver the last project. I mean, right after. It's not definite yet, nothing is signed, but still a good sign, right?

For no good reason, here are some randoms from my good lucky life.

The bench where I sat and turned my face into the breeze

The flowers I saw spinning without a care

The puzzle my 92-year-old aunt, her daughter and I did, while sipping Prosecco

My son, strumming his ukulele

The girl made of light, and sometimes shadow, too

Plain yogurt, oats and quinoa, raspberries, blueberries, pomegranate seeds, yum

The blanket his grandmother gave him, that he wraps himself in daily

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Lost


I'm so lonely. When I'm working, especially under the pressure of a tight deadline, I am distracted from that, but when I stop writing, I look around myself and I feel bereft. This has nothing to do with my family. There are here and they are lovely. But my husband goes out to work all week and is quite happy to be in his home come the weekend, and my children of course have their active lives filled with friends and plans, and I am an island unto myself. Today I feel as if everyone I know is out somewhere, doing something with other people, and there is no one to call. I know this isn't true, but I am feeling friendless. My husband has been to church and he came home and made a beautiful summer salad for us, with watermelon cubes and basil and mozzarella balls and spinach leaves and cherry tomatoes, all tossed and drizzled with balsamic. Now he is dozing in front of the history channel, and I have enough presence of mind to be grateful that the man I married thirty years ago next month is content in his home. But today I have this churning inside me. Other than taking a walk, which I will do after this, I have no imagination about what to do with myself. I could go all sorts of places, but I hate how I look, and therefore don't want to bring myself to those places. So pathetic. I think this is why I am a bit of a workaholic. It allows me to escape myself for a while. But only for a while. I'm lonely. I feel lost. Today, out of nowhere, I miss my mom. At moments like this, I could always call her and feel connected to something indestructible and true. Her love for me. Mine for her. Now the tears.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

My son, the medic

The FDNY just called and offered my son the job! He starts with the Fire Department in three weeks! First, the new EMT recruits have to take a two month refresher course at the Academy and then he'll be at the end of 911 calls in the rig. He gets fitted for his uniform on July 20. He's wanted this since he was 10 years old and never lost sight of the goal.

He was so happy when he told us. "This was not easy to do," I said. "You had to be very intentional at every step." "You're right about that," he agreed. And then he said, more to himself than to me, "I did it." Almost a whisper. "I did it." Now he's one of New York's Bravest, and I couldn't be happier for my boy.


Friday, July 1, 2016

Projects


Yesterday, I made the final delivery of the book I was working on, a ghost project that no one will ever know I wrote. The family of the subject raved about what I had written, and I confess my ego kicked up a bit, and I wished that the world could know I'd done this. It turned out well. I supposed I should just be happy that my subject is happy. This anonymous role is, after all, the deal I agreed to. So now it's time to call in the next project from a benevolent universe. This freelance life is a relentless walk of faith.

On the good side, I'm going to Ikea with my kids today, and that should be fun. My daughter is looking for full time work and my son is in the gap between quitting his last job two weeks ago and waiting for the notice from the FDNY (and Oh Lord, it had better come), so we're all free as bluejays. My poor husband is toiling away, but the rest of us are reimagining our living spaces.

My son wants to get an entertainment wall unit for his room, which makes me think he's getting quite cosy in there. My daughter wants to look for a bed frame for when she moves into her own apartment. And I want to look at kitchens. I am dreaming about redoing mine. It is hard to commit funds to such a large scale project when your paycheck is intermittent, however. Still, I'm gonna dip my toe in the water, see what things would cost, see what I might like.

Of course, if I'm thinking of redoing the falling apart kitchen, I'd also have to paint the whole place and rethink the battered living room furniture. The sprucing up endeavor just snowballs.

But I can dream.


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