Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Game Changer

I just need to pause to note, with a measure of awe, that we have a Black president, and it is becoming less of a big deal day by day. We have a brilliant and committed man as president. A loving family man with a lively sense of humor. A supreme politician able to lower the temperature among rivals, and able to articulate the reason and vision behind his decisions.

Yet he is also a Black man in the White House, an event that even the most optimistic among us never thought we'd see. And I find it so remarkable that this amazing fact is becoming less and less remarkable every day. It makes my heart swell with wonder that we have arrived at this place. But while it is no longer such a big deal, it is still a game changer.

Little Black girls can look at the First Lady and her daughters and know that no matter how dark their own skin, how far outside of mainstream beauty standards they stand, they, too, can be stunning and accomplished and celebrated and loved. Little Black boys can look at the President and see at last a limitless horizon for themselves, and a reason to reach for the once seemingly impossible dream.

And Black families, so often portrayed as fractured and dysfunctional, can look at the Obamas and feel vindicated in the knowledge that there have been families like this all along, quietly loving and raising and educating their children, even as they hold down jobs and do their part in their communities. At last, we can see ourselves reflected. Part of the fabric of a society. Woven through. Both remarkable and unremarkable. As it should be.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

100 Days

To mark the 100th day in office of President Barack Obama, I'm sharing some of my favorite behind-the-scenes images by photographer Callie Shell. I am so proud of our president and his family, and I'm proud of the country for electing this stellar human being. Will he get everything right? Not possible. But I trust his best intentions and analysis and intelligence and humanity, and for me, that is everything.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Paris Boys

My son (center) and some of his crew, goofing around on the beach in Normandy. Apparently, what they miss most from their trip is watching the denizens while sipping cappucinos and eating crepes in Paris sidewalk cafes. All these boys are heading off to different colleges in the fall. For some reason, that strikes me as very poignant.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Rainbow Cupcakes!

My daughter is a cupcake baker extraordinaire. She bakes her cupcakes from scratch, and makes the icing from scratch, too. She trolls the internet for interesting sounding recipes, and tries them out, making them several times over the course of a few weeks until she's satisfied with how they come out. Then she adds the recipe to her recipe book and takes close up photos of the results for her records.

The cupcake above, which she was making for the second time, is a rainbow cupcake with blue buttercream icing. She made it to welcome her brother back home, but he was too jetlagged and sleepy to whoop about them last night. He made up for it at breakfast this morning, raving about them and interviewing her about how she gets the rainbow effect. Overhearing them, I gathered that she separates the batter into six portions, colors each portion (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple), then pours a portion of each color into each cupcake paper. The icing this time was blue, last time it was pink. The cake was light and crumbly and delicious. Success!

My girl sometimes says she wants to be a baker and a food photographer. She got into cupcakes because when she would make cakes, her family would devour them too quickly. She decided single serving portions was the way to go. My son says he'll finance her bakery as long as he can forever get her cupcakes for free. He even boasts about her cupcakes to his friends at school (which I find touching). One of them began calling daily to find out if his sister was baking that day. On the day he found that she was, he said, "I'll be right over!"

My personal favorite recipe of hers is key lime coconut cupcakes with vanilla icing. Never tasted anything like it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Fleeting Truth

This is why I write. Yesterday, as soon as I had finished that post about being depressed, it was no longer quite as true. It was as if I had put it in front of me, looked it squarely in the eye, and now it had a life of its own--outside of me.

Before I got married, I made my husband promise he would never read my journals without being invited. The reason was that I only wrote in them when I was depressed, so they gave a desolate picture of my inner life that was only partly the truth, because the moment I wrote in them, what I felt was transformed into something more managable. Which meant my journal entries were a fleeting truth. I did not want to be judged by them. Writing has always been therapy for me, the thing that keeps me relatively sane, even as it aims for the heart of a moving target, my fleeting, everchanging truth.

I'm also happy cause my boy comes home today!

Friday, April 17, 2009

She's My Hero

When my daughter was in middle school and coming into the perfect body that is her genetic inheritance, a boy in her class came up to her one day and said, "Your butt is a mansion!" To which my girl, not missing a beat, replied, "Well, yours is a shack!"

"Never catch yourself in untrained mirrors"

It's been almost a year since I started blogging, and it's curious how the process changes. When I started, this was my hidden territory, a place where I could comb through the random thoughts and emotions operating in the background of my day, all that turbulence that no one ever really fathoms, because I have been socialized to function, no matter what. Now my husband and children have access to this blog, and so do other people who know me in my other life. I find I have to fight to be honest about what I am feeling these days. I don't want to blow up anyone's privacy.

Spring is always a hard season for me. We shed our winter coats, we head outside, and I always feel newly exposed, overweight and unacceptable. I've been waking up these days with a pervasive sorrow in my chest that makes me want to clutch my pillow, pull the comforter over my head and go back to sleep. The curious thing is, I can't quite pinpoint the root of the ache, which makes me think it has many roots, reaching down into my unconscious and stirring up this darkness that engulfs me in the brightness of morning.

I thought I would try to set down what haunts me, because that what it feels like, a haunting, a theft of light, a deception.

1) I'm still as fat as ever. My friend Debbie once advised, never catch yourself in untrained mirrors, and I do my best to heed that. But yesterday, while walking to my company's annual awards ceremony through a mirrored hallway, I could not help but notice my reflection, and it was a gargantuan effort after that to smile and make small talk with all the thin beautiful magazine and TV people gliding through the pre-dinner cocktail reception. I won an award for one of my stories, by the way, the only one our magazine received, and all I could think was please let our editor in chief go up to receive it so I don't have to parade myself in front of all these people. Thankfully, she did. Some of the people in the room knew me when I was in my twenties and a normal size, even though back then I thought I was hideous too. I look back at pictures now and realize I was cute in those days, and why didn't I ever know and appreciate it?

2) My son is leaving for college. He's away on a trip this week, which gives a preview of what that will be like. In a word, lonely. Even when he's sleeping on the couch in the evenings, my daughter still feels like she has company as she does her homework, on the floor, in front of the TV, her books and papers spread out around her. This week, she's alone out there, and even if she doesn't feel it, I feel lonely for her. His crazy funny energy is missing, and I am lost without it, even though when he's here, I sometimes have this nervous need to try and contain it, as if it is just on the brink of getting out of hand. It's boy energy, my husband tells me. Let it be. I miss him already.

3) My mother and my aunt are so frail, they can't be the strong, dominant, self-propelled women they used to be, and it pains them, which pains me. Also, to be selfish, I'm seeing daily where I'm headed myself, and how quickly I'm traveling there, and it scares me, depresses me, makes me sad. I won't dwell here.

4) After two decades of raising our kids, will my husband I be able to get back to ourselves? This thought has been pressing on me lately, especially on nights when both kids are out with their friends and my husband and I are in separate rooms, doing separate things. I remember when we were first married, we used to follow each other from room to room, we just couldn't get enough of each other. Will we be able to recapture that?

5) I've reached the stage of life when the only people who see me on the street are men seventy or above. I am invisible. Which is sometimes okay.

6) My family and friends are scattered and consumed with their lives, as I am with mine. The bonds of community we had when we were first married, and when our children were in elementary school, have come undone. I am at a loose end so much of the time now. My kids are out in the world and I don't know what to do with myself. I feel alone.

All of this, I realize, is a cliche. Maybe it's just hormones and chemistry, the body evolving, doing it's thing. Maybe this is what happens when you turn 50, and you grasp that there are more years behind you than ahead of you. Knowing this doesn't stop the ache.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Of Paris and Privilege

My son is in Paris on a school trip. This picture is from the website of where he is staying. It's an apartment-hotel, and he and three of his friends are in a one-bedroom suite. He called last night. London was a bust, he said, but they can already tell, after just an afternoon, that Paris will be much better. "I am looking at the Eiffel Tower from my window right now," he said, "and it sparkles." I could hear his friends whooping it up in the background, sounding somewhat as if they might be jumping on beds. I don't think they actually were, but the sound was of that sort of exhuberance. At this moment, he's loving his life! I'm glad for him, but I hope in the midst of that love he pauses to understand that he and his friends are pretty darn privileged.

This, I Know

Raising children will make you pray.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Talk about the sandwich generation. Suddenly I have a multitude of forms and documents to fill out, file, send, follow up on, and none of them are for me! Well, except for our taxes, but the reason we have to get those completed pronto is so I can send them to my son's college of choice by May 1 (and of course, the government wants to see that jammy too). 

Then there is the fair hearing to file for my aunt, endless documents to fax to her eldercare lawyer, summer camp forms for my daughter and corresponding health forms (which means making an appointment with her doctor--I forgot that detail), and my aunt's monthly bills (with disbursement forms for each one) to be organized and submitted to her disablity trust, and college deposits to send and room selection forms to be completed, and insurance coverage to be bought in advance of my sons England-France trip tomorrow (talk about procrastination; that call will have to happen this morning), and travel arrangements for my kids visit to their grandmother in St. Lucia in June, and on and on and on. And then there's all the stuff I have to get done at work. My head is spinning. 

My dad used to say, "He who has no memory makes one of paper." Thank God for wise fathers and "to do" lists.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Crew

My two are first and third from the right. The rest are five of my nephews, who with their parents were visiting us from Florida and Virginia this weekend. Soccer in Central Park. Lake views from Belvedere Castle. Sunset on the Great Lawn. 

We have always loved traveling en masse with this crew, like the time we spent a week on an Assiniboine Sioux rez in Montana, and slept in a huge and wonderful tee pee during their annual pow wow. I remember someone said, "What is wrong with this picture? The Indians are sleeping in tents made in China and the Jamaicans are sleeping in a tee pee." My cousin in law, whose rez it was, was determined that his Jamaican family would have an authentic native experience. Late that night, as we all settled down in sleeping bags on ground covered by fluffy comforters, we could see the stars through the opening at the top of the tee pee and hear the drummers still beating their skins across the meadow. There was something magical and otherworldly about the experience, as if we'd gone back in time. 

We went from the pow wow to South Dakota, where we pitched our own tents made in China in a public campground and ventured out to national monuments by day. The Crazy Horse Memorial was a highlight. So was the steak we ate that night at the campground, best we ever tasted, cooked over an open flame by the son of the campground owners. 

Pictured above are seven of the ten children who were with us on that 20-person vacation in the summer of 2003. We traveled in two rented vans and joked that we looked like a church outing. I love these people!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

$3.49 a Year

My 90 year old aunt got a letter today saying her medical assistance would be discontinued on April 13 because the cost of living increase she got from Social Security on January 1 had pushed her income beyond the allowable limit by $3.49. I kept reading the black type over and over, sure I wasn't seeing it right. She is making $3.49 a year too much to qualify for Medicaid benefits, and so they are taking away her home care and hospital inpatient care and doctor visit coverage. I had an instant headache. If you disagree, the letter said, you can file a fair hearing to protest this. Now I have to get the lawyer involved again and spend months untangling this so my aged, completely disabled aunt who cannot do anything for herself, who can barely get words to form in her mouth, who cannot shuffle from the chair to the bed without someone there to catch her, who cannot bathe or feed herself or recall if she took her medication, can be cared for. Just $3.49 a year is all it takes to send the whole sham house of cards crashing down. Seriously?

End of Story. Beginning of Story

My son went to Washington, D.C. for a college overnight visit with two of his high school friends this week. On the bus on their way back home, he had a lot of time to weigh his two main options, the last two schools left standing. By the time he walked in the front door at 9 p.m. last night, he had decided. He sat down with us in the living room and ticked off his reasons for choosing A, the smaller school upstate that selected him for its scholar program.

"I just think there's more for me there," he said. "Yes, B is my perfect campus and it's in a city I love, but I feel more relaxed at A. I like that the kids keep their doors open and hang out in each others rooms. It just had a great vibe. I've met all these kids I like there, my cousin is there, and I'd be able to travel and do global projects there. I have the rest of my life to live in a city. I don't mind a small town for college."

He added: "I thought I wanted a big university, but actually, it felt overwhelming. In the dorm, kids keep their doors closed and you can live next door to someone who you don't know and don't even say hello to. Don't get me wrong, B is a good school and I probably would be fine there, but I already know so much more about A, and what I know, I like."

He also said: "I get the sense that the college experience everywhere gets played out after a couple of years, and after that, what you have is your program and your friends."

And: "I think I'll be able to manage money better at A. In the city, I'd be tempted to spend all the time."

I saw he had thought a lot about this and was at peace with his decision, and so now I am at peace with it, too.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Sorting Through the Clues

He got it! Our son got selected for the scholar program (which we and twenty-seven other families learned last weekend is not really full tuition, but close). He was thrilled. He came home from school on Wednesday just in time to meet the Fedex man at the door. They sent out his acceptance into the program the day after his interview!

He called me at work. "Mom," he said, "I got it. Let's just tell them yes. Let's just end this." No, I insisted, let's wait for the financial packages from ______ and ______ and ______, three schools you had been very interested in, one of which has told you they'll match the best offer you get. "No," he said. "I want to go here. Let's just do it."

I heard and admired his resolve. I congratulated him and let him know how proud I was of what he was accomplishing. My husband did the same. And to the men in my family, that was that. Decision made. End of story.

Of course, for me it's more complicated, because tonight the school that he described as having the ideal campus (it's in a city), the one he never did let himself get too hopeful about because he thought it was a "reach" school, a crazy-hopeful shot in the dark, not only accepted him but offered him a staggering amount of money to go there. This, by the way is the most expensive school in the country, but once they give you a financial package, it's set for all four years. They guarantee your cost of attendance will never increase, and your financial package will never decrease. It might go up if, say, you lose your job, but never down. What they offer in return for their high-end degree is a little certainty. And major financial packages. The award they gave our son brings our out-of-pocket costs for both schools into the same ballpark.

So what do we do? I'm wondering. Go with the smaller, less fancy school with solid academics and engaged faculty in a lovely part of the country, where he would be in a program with some thoughtful, motivated kids? We met them last weekend, and to a young man and young woman, they were an impressive crew. We left there not at all sure our boy would be selected, the competition felt incredibly stiff. Plus, he didn't really speak up in the larger group. Not once did he raise his hand as the other kids were offering insightful and provocative and humane observations about the state of our world. I sat across the auditorium from him (the kids ditched their parents in favor of one another from day one), silently willing him to raise his hand while simultanously counting how many other kids still hadn't spoken up, how much company he still had. There weren't many. He was one of maybe three out of twenty-eight finalists who didn't stand and deliver.

But maybe the staff and faculty and deans of the program (who we also really liked a lot), were watching the other interactions, too. Our boy may not be so comfortable as a public speaker (yet), but he is a connector. In the smaller groups, his charisma and curiousity about other people, kicked in. Whatever group he was in, the kids all ended up talking animatedly. At other tables on the first day, the kids tended to be reserved with one another. But at our son's table at lunch, and again at dinner, we watched him introduce himself to his companions, then introduce them to each other, and then the conversation would begin. That's what he does. He makes people feel seen and valued and a part of things, and he has a quick sense of humor, and he's also a great conversationalist (My mom has always said this about him. Even when he was five, he was a favorite dinner companion. "You're never bored with him at your side," she said).

And apparently, on the overnight, when we stayed in the hotel and he stayed with his hosts on campus, all the kids really bonded, both the kids already in the program, and the kids hoping to be selected to enroll in the fall. These are the students who would be his cohort group if he goes to the school. Serious minded but fun loving at the same time. These are the kids he would travel abroad with every single year.

I guess it's becoming clearer where I'm going to land, here. I should say to my son, Good choice. Yes, go for the school where you've had not a single negative encounter so far, met not a single person, adult or student, who you didn't feel you could embrace, the school that made you feel wanted from the get, gave you a good package, then chose you to be part of a program that offered you an even better one. The fact that your cousin who you've been spending summer vacations with since you were six and four also goes there, is pure gravy.

So is this the school the universe is pointing us to? Why else would everything just so gracefully unfold? I think God held off and letting us know the financial package from the other fancy-pants school because God knew I would get confused.

But I'm still confuzzuled. What do we do?