Monday, November 23, 2009


Just got home from a long tedious day in the ghost town that is my office. I opened my front door and found three big ole men in my living room, my son and two of his friends. They are 6' 9", 6' 4" and my son at 6' 2" is the short one. Two of the young men are in college and the third is a high school senior, my son's best friend who's been a regular in our home since before both boys could say their names. They are watching Kung Fu Panda. I can hear them laughing and laughing out there.

For some reason, I find this comforting.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Two of my daughter's gang of six at a dear friend's 50th birthday party, Saturday, November 21, 2009.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


My son is home from college for Thanksgiving week. He arrived this morning around 8, looking happy and hale, with a tattoo in the center of his back, between his shoulder blades.

After an hour or so of chit-chatting, he whipped off his shirt, then sat with a quizzical smile on his face, waiting for us to notice. I saw something, a shadow on his back, and asked him to turn around. He did readily, his expression proud and nervous. I guessed he was proud of his art but was nervous about what we would say, because he still cares.

His tat was his birthday present to himself, which he actually had done on his dad's birthday. It is a black and white piece, a stone cross surrounded by angel wings. It is not too big, not too small, nicely centered left to right, not too high, perfectly placed. And the art is lovely, not at all cartoonish, done by a steady, professional hand.

"It's beautiful," I said, and he melted.

"Ahh, that's the word I was hoping for!" he said, and then he hugged me.

"What does it mean to you?" I asked him.

"It's a symbol of faith," he said, "of the way you raised me. A reminder that God has my back."

I thought of my dad, and my husband's mom, my uncles, all the loved ones on the other side, watching over him. I believe he thinks of them, too.

I spoiled it a little by asking him not to get any tats on his neck or forearms, nowhere visible in job interview clothes. I even noted I could be just fine with this one tat on his perfect body that I birthed. My husband, at that point, told me (nicely) to back off, cool it. My son just smiled. His mom is his mom, and that was okay with him at that moment.

I was touched, really, that it mattered to him that we liked it, even though I know, if we had given him grief, he would have shrugged and pretended he didn't care.

I'm glad he cares.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Three Little Birds

You can tell this picture was snapped by someone trusted and loved by the people in the photo. My son is 12 here, my daughter 10. Their dad took the picture.

And now, on top of everything...


Today is parent visiting day at my daughter's school, which means parents are invited to stand in the backs of classrooms and see where their tuition dollars are going. Our daughter asked us to come. She wanted to show me her photography porfolio (she got a solid A in photography, by the way). I wanted, so wanted, to be there, but today is also the day that two major stories are due in, and I have to edit and move them to my editor in chief by the end of the day. One is likely the be in good shape, the other is from a writer I have never worked with before, so I have no idea what to expect in terms of the work needed to get it to a place where I can send it to the editor in chief for her sign off. She is very invested in both stories, and both are potential legal nightmares, so both require careful and hyper attentive handling.

Today is also the last day in the office for the people who got laid off, and I and a couple of the other editors are supposed to be taking the woman I worked so closely with for 11 years to lunch. A goodbye lunch. I could miss it, I guess, but it would look callous and fickle. I want this woman to know how much I have appreciated her as a colleague and as a friend. Today, with her spirit still reeling from the "why me?" questions, I really need to be there to show her this.

I can't find the words to convey this to my daughter. The sentences that come to mind just sound as if I'm putting everything else ahead of her. I know this is what it means to be an adult, that one is always faced with these hard choices. But I wish I could be standing in the back of her classrooms today, watching the light dancing in her face because she is happy that her mama is there.

I wish I could be as pragmatic as my husband. When our daughter stood in the dark at the foot of our bed at 6 a.m. and asked her sleeping parents in a plaintive, guilt-inducing voice, "Are neither of you coming to my school today?" he had no problem saying no. Even though she looked crestfallen, he didn't follow her around as she got dressed trying to make sure she understood the reasons why neither of us would be there. When I asked him, "Don't you wish you could go?" he answered, "Of course not. This is high school. Who wants their parents hanging around?"

And yet, my girl wants us.

Guilt. It feels like self-recrimination and sadness. Useless and maybe misguided. But there.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

In the Weeds

Everything is ramping up at the magazine since we lost so many good people. Another person quit yesterday, in protest over the 18 people who were let go. You can do that in your twenties, quit your job in protest, because you don't yet have too many bills and no dependents other than yourself who count on your paycheck.

Anyway, the point of all that is that between long hours at work and being there for my mom and my aunt, 87 and 91, I feel like I barely have time to formulate a thought, much less a whole post. And then there is my 15-year-old daughter, who is not so happy about the way school is going right now. Which of course makes me worry (my default) and sends me into a tailspin wherein I try to figure out all the worst case scenarios so I can get busy preventing them. It's exhausting!

So please forgive the quoting of whole exchanges from my life. It's all I can do to record them. I have no mental space or emotional energy left over for the sort of analysis that helps me gain perspective. But thank God for good friends with similar overactive imaginations, who can contribute some analysis when you're lacking the ability to provide your own.

What follows is an email exchange from this morning between me and one of my friends, the brilliant mother of an academically gifted and charismatic 7-year old girl.

Me (responding to a question my friend posed that had absolutely nothing to do with my daughter's schooling): Jeannine, why am I so stressed at this moment waiting for my daughter's first quarter grades? I know she's not happy with them because she usually texts me them as soon as she gets out of the advisor conference. Why does this matter so much? Life is a long distance race and I keep getting caught in the weeds by the side of the road. So what if she didn't do that great? What am I making this mean? Sorry for going off on a tangent. I feel consumed with worry about how this might be the beginning of a downward spiral. A vivid imagination is not always a good friend.

Jeannine: What grade is she in again?

Me: Tenth.

Jeannine: If she's having a hard time then you can address it with a tutor or whatever. It's not the beginning of the end. The (potential) beginning of the end is if she's doing drugs, or pregnant, or suffering from depression. If she got bad grades one semester it's fixable. Even if she flunks out it's fixable. There is almost nothing that happens grade-wise in one year of high school that can't be addressed. I failed almost all my classes for three years of high school and ended up on the dean's list in university.

Maybe she senses your stress and it's stressing her out. I remember not showing my father my grades just because I thought he was too invested. I refused to show him my grades for my first two years of university (and I was doing well). Just something to consider.

But, I do understand. My kid's teacher wrote on her report card that she reads at "grade level," which is totally inaccurate and I am obsessed with how to show him the truth. I almost suggested she take The New York Times to school to pull out during quiet time.

I laughed so hard over that New York Times bit. I could totally picture her 7-year-old pulling the paper out and settling down to read. And then I took my friend's advice. I'm backing off with the worry. My daughter has such a well-honed sense of responsibility already, and she wants to do well so much she put herself on a Facebook diet for a week. It's true that Facebook is back interrupting homework again, but I think I will trust her to figure it out and just be there if she comes to me for help. The other part, of course, is that she is testing her chops socially right now, and as my friend pointed out when we talked on the phone later, it can be really hard to do the straight-A thing while trying to discover who you want to be socially.

I suspect my friend and I are members of a generation of nervous, overinvested parents. I think that we have bought into the baby boomer myth of scarce opportunities. And as parents of children of color we worry that the chances they get may be even more limited, and so they have to be super prepared. But the pathways to success are as creative and serendepitious and limitless and divine as individual definitions of success, and I don't know why I keep forgetting that.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Social Wise

Last Wednesday, at about four in the afternoon, my daughter sent this text message to me at work. "Oh mom school today was just horrible. Social wise was fine. Can I go out friday night?"

Me: "Why was it horrible?"

My girl: "Because school just sucks. It requires you to tolerate never sleeping and then working and I cannot tolerate that."

She has been sorely sleep deprived. The tenth graders have just been slammed with work this year. Their teachers weren't kidding last year when they said it would get hard. But what makes me worry is that my daughter might be starting not to like school, which until now has been a source of fun and mastery for her. I don't want her to let go of her "good and responsible student" self-image, one that she has held comfortably from kindergarten until now. That was why the phrase "school just sucks" was worrisome.

Then I looked at the first message again. "Social wise was fine."

She's not lost to high school yet.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Scorched Earth 2

So last week Wednesday, 18 people at my job were given "The Talk" and an innocuous envelope that held their severance package. As it turns out, I am not among them. But I am devastated by some of the people who were, including the woman I work most closely with, my "work spouse" of sorts. I don't really understand them letting her go. She brings talents to the table that no one else has, a head for coverlines, a way of packaging stories, and an editing style that often irritates writers for its pickiness, but that inevitably makes you think of dimensions you'd overlooked, questions you'd neglected to nail down, and always makes the piece stronger.

I counted on her as a human being, too, her calm equanimity, her quick but never cruel wit, her refusal to give in to the free-floating fear and paranoia that is a constant in my workplace. I am still in shock and denial that she's leaving. We shared the same job title and backed each other up seamlessly. Which makes me also ponder the fact that they must have put us side by side and said, Okay, which one? I wonder if they chose her because I waived my medical insurance coverage with the company, going with my husband's instead. I wonder if it came down to the fact that I cost the company less.

I feel like we're all on a conveyor belt, except none of us knows how close we are at any given point to toppling off the end of it. We can't see what's ahead, we only know that conveyor belt just keeps on rolling, and we could get to the end at any time. There are so few of us left now, and so much work to get done. I'm not afraid of working hard and I love the nature of the work I do. But the losses we've sustained could break your heart.

Sweet Dreams

I've been looking through old pictures recently, browsing through boxes and reacquainting myself with images stored on multiple CDs. The emotions these photos kick up for me are the subject of another post, another day. But I wanted to share a photo I found last night, just because it made me stop and stare at it for a long, long time.

I snapped this photo in the fall of 2000, before we moved from our old apartment. Our son had fallen asleep in our bed, and my husband was lifting him up to take him to his own bed. I saw this expression of pure and reverent love on my husband's face, and wanted to preserve it so our son, then 8 years old, could share the moment, even though he was asleep when it happened.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Here we are again

The word is that there will be layoffs at my job this week. Which means everyone is walking about with breath sucked in, uneasy questions in the silences between their words. Am I valued here? If I am let go, how will I make do? What about the people who depend on me?

A year ago, when we were last at this pass, my son used to tell me goodbye in the mornings with a line from the reality TV show Survivor (our family has watched since season one). He'd say, "Don't get voted off today, Mom." We'd laugh about it, and somehow it would make me less anxious.