Saturday, March 27, 2010


My girl turns 16 tomorrow. I had been feeling guilty over not planning something big, like a sweet sixteen party, to mark the date. I'm a terrible party planner. I can't recall a single birthday party from my childhood, though I'm sure I had them, complete with cake and ice cream and zooming sugared-up children in their Sunday clothes. As I got older, my birthday always fell during end-of-year exams, so it was just, happy birthday, smooch, smooch and on to school.

Then a friend told me about this great party space in the city that's not too expensive. Just $300 to $500 to rent for a Saturday night from 8 to midnight, depending on whether it's for a soft use (lectures) or a hard use (a teen birthday party). Feeling triumphant, I announced to my daughter, you can have a party! Invite all your friends! She said, Mom, I don't want a party. What?! It's a great space, I said. We just need to clear out carpets, set up a buffet table and seating and dancing areas, hang Christmas lights and bring in music. It's big enough for all your different circles of friends. Just go ahead and mix them! No, mom, she said patiently. No party. But why?! Too stressful, she explained. I just don't want to deal with who to invite. Okay, I said, I am done feeling guilty about this. She looked at me perplexed. Why did you ever feel guilty? she asked sincerely.

A friend of mine, a wonderful artist, is part of a ceramic art group show at Greenwich House Pottery in the Village. The show opened last night and runs through the weekend. Her work is just wonderful. She does Masai-like clay sculptures with very mysterious symbols and objects and drawings glazed onto the statue-like figures. You really have to bring your own sensibility to each piece. They are so exquisite and unusual. The feelings they evoke are not easily described. There is something so spiritual yet visceral about each figure.

Afterward my friend and another friend and I went to dinner at Olive Tree on MacDougal Street, which has chalkboard-painted tables and pieces of chalk in a bowl in case you want to draw or write something for the next patron. It was so crowded and all the way live. It made me silently vow to get back out into the city more. It is the best antidote to the wistful aimless melancholy that descends as your teenage children grow away from you, into their own lives and all-consuming preoccupations. We three friends had a lovely time. We all have children the same age who went to school together from the time they were 4 and 5. That's how we met and became close. But our friendship now extends beyond our children. I suppose it helps that we are going through our life stages at the same time, so it's always easy to relate to what we each are feeling.

The artist has a daughter who will be turning 16 in a week (Interesting note: She and I are born a week apart, and our daughters are also born a week apart). She said her daughter also nixed the party idea. She suggested that our children don't want sweet 16 parties because they don't know how to handle to drugs and alcohol that some of their peers might bring in. They know their own parents won't allow alcohol at the party and they don't want to be embarassed if we see fit to speak firmly to any friend who flouts that rule and arrives intoxicated, as has happened at other parties they've been to.

It's so complicated being a teenager in this time and place. One of our other friends worries that her daughter doesn't go out enough. Part of the reason is she doesn't want to deal with the drinking and smoking that pervades so many teenage parties. My friend told her daughter, just go and pretend to be high. Don't actually drink or do any drugs, just pretend that you did. I think it's genius advice, actually. It's certainly one strategy for keeping the pressure off--although my daughter did point out that no one is really trying to make you do anything you don't want to do. "They're not really that eager to share," she said wryly.

Anyway, no sweet 16 party for my girl. Instead we've made reservations at Collichio and Sons, which is Top Chef judge Tom Collichio's new restaurant right next to the High Line (an elevated New York City park that runs along the old railway tracks). It was what my daughter wanted. Just her dad, her mom and her cousin, joining her in a culinary experience, then talking a nighttime walk along the High Line afterwards. Sweet.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Yes, he did!

For 65 years presidents have tried and failed to pass healthcare reform. Every one knew that the system was broken, that the insurance companies had the American people over a proverbial barrel. This president is the first to achieve what he said he was going to do.
Pundits like Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchannan are crowing about the partisan nature of the vote, the ugliness of the politics. I think they're being disingenuous. Of course it was partisan. Of course it was ugly. That's what you get when the other side has no agenda other than to see you fail. When they have no interest in the needs of the people, only in their own reelection. When the protesters gathered use their first amendment protections to yell "nigger" and "faggot" at lawmakers walking into the Capitol.
Obama finally got past the bipartisan fairy tale. And the Democratics finally stepped up. This is historic. One former Bush speechwriter predicted it would be the GOP's waterloo. I don't know about that, but I hope the Democrats who voted for this bill run on the offensive in November's mid terms elections. I hope they hold healthcare reform up as the accomplishment that it truly is. I know the bill isn't perfect, but it gets us a long way to where we need to go. It's a start, a moment of vision and brilliance in the murky self-interest that is Washington.
And now the Republicans, the tea baggers, the far-right wingnuts are vowing to repeal the bill. Really? As Daily Kos asks: "What do you want to repeal first? Not discriminating against children with pre-existing conditions? Allowing children to stay on their parents insurance until they're 26? Insurance companies not being allowed to drop you if you get sick or capping the amount they'll pay if you have a catastrophic illness? Which ones are Republicans against? In other words, bring it on."
Gosh, I'm proud.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Begin Anew

After writing the last post, I felt like something of a fraud. Because it turned out to be a really good day for my son and me, with good, open conversation, humor, lightness of spirit and of heart. I had taken the day off from work and we did simple things. We watched TV, he drove us to Costco so he could shop for back to school supplies, and last night six of us went out to dinner as a family for my daughter's 16th birthday, which isn't for another week, but they'll all be gone back to school then. By "all" I mean my son, my niece and E., my son's best friend since they were babies, who lives in the building next door. My son and niece head back to college tomorrow, E. heads back to boarding school. He is a year younger than my son, and has recently been accepted at his first choice college, which is in Chicago, so he is now in the cruise control period of senior year, and he's happy.

Dinner wasn't so wonderful though. My daughter was moody because a boy at her school, whom she likes but said no to when he asked her to be his girlfriend, stopped talking to her. She's confused. She thought they were friends. I remember this so well. I remember when I was her age a boy I liked asked me to be his girlfriend and I said no, because I was trying to keep things in a lane that I could manage, and I knew he wanted to have sex, and I wasn't ready. That boy stopped talking to me, too. I now understand that he was trying to manage his ego, which is probably what the boy at my daughter's school is trying to do, too. But it still stings. My niece, the college sophomore, told her not to worry, this kind of behavior was coded into boys' DNA. Her cousin promised that the male of the species gets a little better with age, though not much.

Then, just before dinner, my other niece, the one who now lives and works in the city, had a huge yelling phone fight with her roommate over a carton of ice cream. My niece was entertaining old college friends this week, and her roommate was conveniently out of town. There was ice cream in the freezer, and my niece served to her friends, intending to replace it before her roommate got back. But her roommate came home two days early, and sent my niece a text saying, "I had ice cream in the freezer. Where is it?" My niece was at our house, waiting to go out to dinner with us all when the text came in. She was pissed, because other things, bill paying things, had been simmering under the surface of their relationship.

She called her roommate and explained that she had served the ice cream to her friends, but had planned to replace it. I don't know what her roommate said, but from there things went a little ballistic. My husband and I sat in the living room and listened to the yelling coming from the back bedroom. My daughter and my other niece were in the bathroom playing with makeup and pretending not to listen. It wasn't good. My older niece was literally shaking with fury after, and didn't want to go out to dinner anymore. She just wanted to go home and plunk down that carton of ice cream and tell her roommate that from here on out, they would buy and use everything separately. She planned to declare that there would be no more sharing of anything other than living room furniture and dishwashing liquid.

Truth is, the her agitation unsettled me and brought me down quite a bit. I'm so darned impressionable. I drink in whatever mood is around me. I have no boundaries. Eventually, my niece decided not to come to dinner. She said she knew she wouldn't be able to contain what she was feeling (in her position, I wouldn't be able to either). But I never really did recover the lighthearted spirit from the afternoon with my son. I was playacting the whole time, wishing for a perfect moment for my daughter, wishing I knew what to do to create it.

Anyway, it's a new morning. The sun is bright outside my window. In the playground downstairs, children are zooming around noisily. My daughter and her cousin just left to go shopping together at Forever 21, their ritual. My husband and the boys are watching March Madness college basketball in the living room. My niece texted me that things are a little better between her and her roommate. And I am meeting my friend for lunch.

Every day we begin anew.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Vaguely Sad

It's a beautiful, sunny Spring day. This kind of weather always makes me feel melancholy. Maybe it's because it insists that I go outside and be happy, and as I seem to do when anyone or anything insists on something, I opt for its opposite. I've heard there really is such a thing as oppositional syndrome.

Or maybe I'm sad about other things. My son, for example, is so often irritated by me, and it makes me sad. I cannot be anyone other than myself so this dynamic, which has been true for most of his teen years, is unlikely to change. We have moments of breakthrough, fleeting times when we are close and sharing our hearts. But those moments are so fragile. Always, I end of up making some innocuous-to-me comment that annoys and shuts him right down.

He is 18 now and basically a good kid. He's responsible and smart and in his own way driven. His temperament, ironically, mirrors mine more than it does the easy-going, shrug-until-you-can-do-something-about-it temperament of his dad. But my heart aches to have him under my roof and know that he will be going away again in a few days, and yet I can't reach him.

From the sidelines, I watch him with his friends. I interact lightly and laugh with the group of them, unable to truly connect with my boy. I do love his friends. One of them calls me Mom, and I adore that. I also love waking up in the mornings and seeing them sprawled across the couches, asleep and looking like the tender boys I once knew them to be. I realize their mothers miss them, too, when they stay over at my house. But I am glad my son feels comfortable hanging out in his own home. That is something.

At times like this, I thank God again for my daughter, who is so loving and so connected. Even when she is fighting to get her way about something (and often winning, I might add), even when she is challenging me on a position she doesn't agree with, she never withdraws her light. Somehow, by her very way of being in the world, she manages to make her tough yet fragile mother feel unconditionally and consistently loved.

Why am I crying?? I possess such a treacherous brain chemistry.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Paranormal Activity

There are five teenaged bodies asleep in my living room, on couches, on the floor, in the various spooned and spreadeagled poses in which they drifted off after watching Paranormal Activity last night. I guess they were too scared to separate into bedrooms and turn out the lights. It was my husband who turned out the lights and turned off the TV at six this morning. 

Or maybe they just love being a jumble of limbs and blankets and messy hair, all of them loath to leave the party in case they miss something. My daughter, the high schooler in the bunch, enjoys being a part of all this. (Plus she was thrilled last night when my niece and my son's friend told her that her brother talks about her all the time at college, saying how cool she is and how much he misses her. He denied it of course!) 

To add to the atmosphere, it is a rainy, grey, blustery morning in New York City. The wind is more than gusty, it's almost gale force. Outside my window, the trees are flailing furiously, swaying and bowing and circling way too much for comfort. I hear the teenagers stirring. My husband is making scrambled eggs and spicy chicken sausages for breakfast. I think he enjoys this as much as I do.

Friday, March 12, 2010


My son and my niece arrive tonight for spring break. Both will be in town for a week. My son is bringing a friend, a young woman, who will be with us for the weekend. They get in around 8 tonight. I'm still at work, waiting for final proofs on one last story, and then I'm out of here. Excited!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Freedom to Fly

This morning as I was on my way to work, driving down through Central Park in a cab, I saw a woman in a child's play area on a swing. Back and forth she went, pumping the air, wind streaming behind her. She flew high up, into the blue of the sky, and I could remember what that felt like, so exhilarating and free. I envied her on that swing, her ability to seize the simple joy of a spring morning. I wanted to get out the taxi and join her, but instead I headed to my job, where the first order of the day was a meeting that left me with a wild, almost inconsolable desire to flee this steel and glass prison and run for that soaring swing.

What I'm feeling in this moment calls back the words to a song I once fell in love with. It was a haunting Marianne Faithful song called "The Hawk" and the words in part went like this:

Gotta make your own rules, child.
Got to break your own chains.
The dreams that possess you
Can blossom and bless you
Or run you insane...

Storm on the mountain
Stars in the sky
Running for glory
Freedom to fly.

Friday, March 5, 2010

His Desk, Her Pearls

I've published four books in my working life, and edited and ghost written five more. There's a novel, a history book and two collections with my writing name on it, and a whole bunch more with my name in the acknowledgements. And in a closet at home is an entire manuscript, a novel about a homeless mother and daughter that was never accepted for publication because editors thought it was "just too sad." One editor was "appalled" by one of the characters, a hustler in the pre-Disney Times Square sex trade, who actually played a very sympathetic role in the book. I took my eight rejection letters for that manuscript, and tucked them in a drawer. I kept them because while they all said thanks but no thanks, they praised the writing. That was something. It helped justify the months I had spent with my characters rambling around in my head. It justified my effort to see their lives as honestly and with as much compassion as I could.

One editor was interested in publishing the book. We had a long breakfast in a Manhattan diner, discussing how to revise certain parts of the story. At first, I thought I would rewrite that book. But then I thought about the book tour, the reviews, the whole "after"of getting it published and it was even less appealing than it had been before. I was the sort who could take a glowing review that had one less-than-laudatory sentence, and I would forget everything in the review but that one sentence. Sometimes it was just one adjective! I have heard this is true of most writers, and that many don't even read reviews.

And the book tour. Someone once put it this way: You take people who have chosen to spend the larger portion of their days in solitary confinement with a computer, and then you ask them to get up in front of roomfuls of people and sell their soul. It's a disconnect for some writers. I know there are some who love that public part, but I never did. I was a nervous wreck every time. It always went well of course. As one publicist told me, "Most if not all of the people who turn out to a book signing are supporters. If they weren't, they wouldn't have bothered to come." It was generally true. And I usually managed to get comfortable once the reading actually started, because now I was committed, and soon it would be over. Ironically, I always felt heartened and affirmed when the event was done. But I never learned to love that public part. I'm too self-conscious and self-judging.

So I abandoned that book. The fact that my job became insanely pressured at about that same time (we got a new boss to go along with a corporate takeover) helped me walk away. And then, two years ago in June, I started blogging.

Back in the days when I used to talk to psychics, one told me he saw me publishing books into 2008. "And after that?" I asked. He said, "After that, you'll write for you." Another psychic (this was years ago in the early nineties) told me she saw me writing a particular kind of family memoir, where each chapter was about a specific thing, "my grandfather's desk," "my mother's pearls" were the two examples she gave. I think she saw me blogging before there was even such a thing as blogging!

Writing my life down (even fiction issues from your consciousness, so it's still your life in a sense) has been a way for me to keep sane. I'm not exaggerating. Ever since was I was eight, I've kept journals as a way to make sense of things. I think I only tried to publish books to justify a life of writing. But now I can practice my preferred form of therapy any time I choose, right here. I can reframe my truth as often as I need to, which makes me so grateful to have found this outlet. It is freer here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I'm posting the photograph above for those who hold special memories of this place. I think the picture captures a lovely aspect of the farm. Truth is, I sometimes want to go back to the time when it was central in our lives. I sometimes miss that time as much as our children do.