Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Remote Control

There is so much going on. My daughter left on Monday for Italy, my niece left this morning to visit her BF in Buffalo, then home to Jamaica, and my son is working his camp counselor job on a beautiful lake in the Connecticut woods, so it's just my honey and me, totally unsupervised! Woo-hoo!

But who am I kidding? I miss them all terribly, and haven't been able to speak to my daughter since she left, though we did get the "your child's group arrived safely" email. And my girl did call home yesterday at 11 p.m. Roman time, but it was just 5 p.m. in New York and I was still at work. She spoke to her dad. I was so jealous. I just called her hotel but her group was out to dinner. Once I speak with her myself, I think I'll be okay—as in, I'll be more ready to allow her to choose when to be in touch with us, and more ready to kick up my own heels and enjoy our couple time stateside.

In the meantime, I am forced to grasp the reality that I have absolutely no control over most of what I want to control, and I have to make peace with that. The intensity with which this truth is coming home to me feels piercing.

In other news, my cousin Pearl (not her real name) has agreed to go to rehab. After many, many phone calls to places that wouldn't take her insurance, we found a residential facility in upstate New York that happens to have been founded by a woman who is the namesake of her mother. They won't have an available bed until July 6 though. To complicate things, my aunt is being released from the hospital tomorrow, so my cousin will have to stay in a hotel until next Tuesday when she's supposed to meet the van that will drive her upstate. I can just imagine all the abusing of substances and selves that will take place in that hotel room for the next 5 days. The man who treats her so cruelly will undoubtedly hole up in the room with her, and I worry whether she will actually honor her word and take that bus to rehab. I know the man will be doing a number on her head, because he does not want her to get sober. She is his meal ticket, his source of money and drugs, so he will do his best to convince her not to go.

But if she doesn't go, she won't be able to come back to my aunt's house. Her brother, who put up his credit card for the hotel and has agreed to drive her there, plans to change the locks on the doors after she leaves. Because the emergency room doctor made an elder abuse report against her, by law my cousin is no longer allowed to live in my aunt's house, the place she came home to when she was born. That's why I pray she makes it to rehab. It's her best hope of setting up her living situation—more than that, her life—anew.

A promise is a promise

After seeing on my cell phone that I had a missed call from my mom this morning, I called her back.

Me: Hi, you called?
Mom: Yes, did you get my message?
Me: Not yet. I didn't check the voice mail.
Mom: The lady said she'd deliver my message right away!
Me: What lady? You left a message at my office?
Mom: No, the lady on your cell phone. 
Me: A live lady?
Mom: No, the recording. She promised she'd deliver the message right away.
Me: Um, Mom, the lady on the recording promised you this?
Mom: Explicitly.
Me: And you believed her?

At which point we both started laughing. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Sunset in Negril, Jamaica.
(Photo courtesy of The Siao Dynasty)

Now in my third summer of blogging, I've noticed that a lot of us get what my friend Kim over at mouse medicine describes as "blogger burnout" when the weather turns warm. A lot of the blogs I follow go on hiatus, sometimes announced, sometimes not. And when a blogger decides to close up shop entirely, almost invariably it happens in the summer.

I feel hints of burnout myself occasionally. I get tired of what I'm writing. I wish I could be more humorous, more surprising, more wise. Or else I start to feel that what I'm posting matters only in my little universe—and yes, I could put up pictures of my children all day long—or more properly belongs in a personal journal.

But then I remind myself, I'm the one making up the rules here. I can write when I want, or I can lie fallow for a while. I can post whatever photos I wish. I can be whomever woke up in my skin today. I can follow a thread, or not. I can process small or large sorrows, or not. There's no external judge or critic. There's just me, ever grateful for those of you who choose to chime in, making life here in blog world sweet indeed.

Now you see me. Now you don't. It's summer. And what I'm feeling at this moment is pure love.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ready, Set

I wish I were the kind of mother who could just sink into excitement about the adventure my daughter is about to have. She will be in Italy for the next five weeks, leaving on Monday evening. She will be in Rome, then in a village in the hills above Naples, then in the Piedmont region in northern Italy, and finally in Venice. She will do a family homestay and spend two weeks being instructed by slow food movement chefs in a famous cooking school. She will meet new friends. She has already begun talking to some of the kids in her group on Facebook. They are all foodies, a varied group geographically and culturally, and it should be great fun!

Unfortunately, I am the kind of mother who is bent on spending this last week before my daughter leaves trying to come up with every scenario that I need to prepare her for, some of them quite dire! Fortunately, my girl knows her mother, and is resolved to just indulge my fears and imaginings, patiently reassuring me at every turn. She just has to get through one more week of this, and then she'll be free to experience how life is lived on the other side of the world. Will I be able to think of everything she might need, everything I should tell her, all possible eventualities? Of course not. I have to do that thing my own mother has always preached with perfect, serene faith: Let go and let God.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Thanks to everyone for the concern about the situation with my elder aunt, who is still in the hospital, and my cousin.

My cousin has agreed to go into rehab, so my other cousin will sit down with her on Monday morning to call inpatient facilities to see who has a bed. These places want the substance abuser to make the call, as they think that shows a certain readiness for treatment. Except, we know she won't make a single call unless one of us is sitting at her elbow.

We have a list of facilities given to us by the social workers at the hospital where my aunt has been admitted to another kind of rehab, this one to improve functioning and mobility. My aunt is doing daily physical and speech therapy, which keeps her occupied in a way she misses when she's home just sitting in her chair. So that part is good. Her face looks pretty beaten up, though. When I visit her, I feel like the hospital personnel should vet me to make sure I'm not the one who did that to her. I do feel guilty that we allowed a situation where my cousin could take her out the house while intoxicated, ending with her falling out of her wheelchair.

I do hope we can find a placement for my cousin tomorrow. Most of the rehab places put applicants on a waiting list. Which is insane. Put an actively using addict on a waiting list, and by the time the bed is available, they've changed their mind, if you can even find them.

As far my cousin's older brother is concerned, his sister has had enough chances. He wants to evict her onto the street and press charges. We're trying to hold him at bay long enough to see if the rehab effort is going to work. It had better. I don't know where my cousin would go otherwise, except into the company of a very toxic and manipulative man who has abused her in the past. This is so not a good situation.

Friday, June 18, 2010

No More Training Wheels

My girl at 5. Remembering her determination
to master a two wheeler makes me smile.
My little girl is now 16 and off to Italy in a week! Wow.
And it seems I'm actually going to let her go.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

When do we exhale?

I have been reading Beautiful Boy by David Sheff. It is a searing memoir of his son Nic's addiction to crystal meth. Nic Sheff also wrote a memoir, Tweak. Same story, different shoes. I think I will read that one too. And of course, I have thought a lot about 18-year-old Henry Granju, who died on May 30 from an overdose and a brutal beating during a drug buy gone wrong in Knoxville. As his mother rocked him in her arms, he gave up the struggle to live. I visit his mother's blog, mamapundit, daily. I cannot fathom how she is getting through this. She is 9 months pregnant. Even as she is grieving for her firstborn, she must prepare for fragile new life. I am in awe. She reminds us that we can't just curl up and die no matter how much we hurt. We have to keep living. There are always others depending on us. We have to take the next breath, and the next. Sometimes, blindsided by pain, that is all we can do.

Henry and my son are the same age, born just three days apart. My son is off working as a camp counselor this summer. He seems fine. He's a little manic sometimes, which is why athletics are such a good outlet for him, track and field, soccer, basketball, swimming, volleyball, he does them all. Overall, I think he is managing his brain chemistry (so like mine). I think he is in tune with his body in a way I have never been. And he is less irritable with me these days, which is a nice perk of his growing older.

My daughter will be traveling to Italy for her slow food-culinary-travel program in two weeks. She will be part of a group of 12 American teenagers, who will start out in Rome, then do a two-week homestay in San Sebastiano, then a 12-day course in a well-known cooking school in the Piedmont region, then the final days in Venice. In Beautiful Boy, the author recounts his son telling him that he crossed into true addiction on a school trip he took to Paris. With no parental supervision, he drank continuously, and when he got home, began doing drugs more intensely. He was 17. Of course, as soon as I read this, I sat my daughter down and told her she had to indulge me, but I needed to tell her something. I begged her not to drink or allow anyone to convince her to use any mind-altering substances in Italy, not to follow anyone down this path. I encouraged her to plan ahead what she would say if confronted with such a scenario. I reminded her she would be far away, and I needed to be able to trust her in this regard. She rolled her eyes and said, "Moooom, I know. I know this. You have told me this a million times. I promise, you don't have to worry!"

When can we stop worrying about our children? How old do they have to be before we can exhale and believe they are finally safe?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

She is loved

I've been thinking a lot about my mom. I guess I've been missing her. She's usually in New York City at this time of year, in her little treehouse apartment across the courtyard (we call it that because of the way the trees dance at the windows). But she is more frail this year than last, and traveling less. She's in St. Lucia at the moment, planning to return to Jamaica to stay with my brother's two youngest while he travels to Houston for surgery in July. She won't make it up this way until perhaps August, when my brother's older daughter heads back north for college and can travel with her.

On June 11, my mom and dad would have been married 61 years. Here a photo of them as newlyweds in 1949, living in Spanish Town, Jamaica.

A couple of months later, they left for England so my dad could study law. They have been a traveling couple ever since, living first in London where my brother was conceived, then raising a family in Jamaica, then moving to Antigua and staying just long enough for me to meet my husband, and finally to St. Lucia, where my dad retired, and later died. My mom refuses to give up the house where she was last with him, even though she is so far away from us. But she has good friends of all ages in St. Lucia. She has people who love and take care of her like family. She inspires that.

Here is another photo I found while looking for the one of my parents as newlyweds. This is of my mother and me. I was not yet a year old.

Every time I look at this picture, I feel incredibly lucky. The delight my mother took in her babies is plain to see. Not every child is so blessed. I look at this and feel both gratitude for my own situation and sadness for children who never see this expression on a parent's face.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Perfect Lady

I am remembering the French doors leading from the verandah of the last house I lived in before leaving Kingston, Jamaica (the address of that house provides the name of this blog). The heavy curtains just inside the doors were a gold brocade that my mom also hung at the windows in her "formal" living room.

My mom grew up as one of nine children, and with so many mouths to feed the family didn't have much money. Her dad was a building contractor, her mom a seamstress. But my mom, who shared a room and a bed with two of her five sisters, grew up imagining herself in genteel surroundings. She applied herself to the mastery of social etiquette and teamed it with her unfailing sense of what was appropriate to every situation. Her sisters, all of them very practical and down-to-earth women, used to tease my mom about her impeccable manners and love of afternoon high tea. They told her gently that she was dreaming above her station.

Later, she married a law student, my dad. For an engagement ring, he gave her a letter inviting him to study for the bar at Lincoln's Inn in London. He went on to become an esteemed judge in Jamaica and the Eastern Caribbean, and was knighted in 1987 by the Queen of England. That made my mom officially a lady. The family joked that truly, she had been born to that role and the Queen simply woke up and smelled the coffee. Or rather, the tea.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Home Training

As it turns out, one of my daughter's friends, the young man, could not sleep over last night, so my son tidied his room in vain (or maybe his sister's friend needing to sleep there was just an excuse, so I wouldn't think I had actually won our ongoing debate about why he should clean up his room). My daughter's other friend, the young lady, did stay over, and they baked red velvet cupcakes with white sprinkle icing and watched the finale of Glee (love Sue Sylvester! Such a hard ass with a secret soft core).

At around 11:30 p.m. the girls bid us goodnight and I asked, "So are you planning to sleep late tomorrow morning?" They have no school today as teachers are marking their final exams.

"No, not late." my daughter replied. "We set our alarm for 10 a.m."

I just smiled.

When I was growing up, my parents never allowed us to sleep to such an ungodly late hour as 10 a.m. They dug us out of bed by 7 a.m. on Saturdays and holidays. And on Sundays, we had to be up at 5 a.m. to get ready for 6 o'clock service at church. It was painful for me to wake up that early, which could be the reason why as a mother, I never wake my children in the mornings unless they have an appointment to keep (like school). If they have a free day ahead of them, I let them sleep until they wake naturally, as I always wanted to do when I was a child. Given the way the generations flip-flop, I can bet both my kids will eventually be parents whose children are early risers!

Another flip-flop example: My mother had me in the kitchen helping to cook Sunday dinner every week. I can still do those recipes cold, but I seldom choose to. I have never ever asked my daughter to cook a meal. Never. And yet, she loves, loves, loves cooking. I think she watched her dad's enjoyment of it and wanted to share in that.

A third example: My mother made sure I was well schooled in the art of sewing. She taught me many different types of stiches, all the ones she herself had used to embroider the lovely tea cloths and hand towels that decorated our home. But even as I was learning the stitches, I knew they would be utterly useless to my life. Sure enough, when my school uniform hem would come undone, instead of sewing the thing I would simply make the repair with scotch tape. It worked better than you'd think! My daughter, on the other hand, refuses to let her favorite pair of jeans die. She has faithfully darned and stiched and repaired those jeans so many times that the other day, I actually found myself following her example and sewing the torn seam of one of my own garments. I marveled that she actually knew how to sew, because I had never taught her. In fact, I was more likely to show her how to cleverly hide a safety pin in a seam, and how silver duct tape could hold a hem a million times better than scotch tape.

All I have to say is I'm glad my children had some early exposure to their grandmother!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Room of His Own

My son and I are having a difference of opinion. He believes there is no reason why I should be concerned that his clothes are strewn all over his bedroom, on every surface, including the floor, and have been mostly that way ever since he got home from college.

He has done laundry twice since he got home, both times dropping the pile of washed clothes on top of his bed. And there they have stayed. Over time, items fall to the floor, tossed aside in the search for a desired piece of clothing to be worn that day. His bed cannot be used in the intended way, which he does not see as an inconvenience since his preferred place to sleep is on the living room couch.

But I find it inconvenient to pass by his room and see the hurricane of clothing in there. He says there is a simple solution to that, he will keep his door closed. I still see the chaos in my mind, I tell him. He argues that there is no reason to fold and put away his clothes only to take them back out to pack them this Friday (he leaves for his camp counselor job on Saturday). He refuses to accept my comment that the state of his room shows a disregard for the entire household. It's my room, he insists. The mess is not in anyone's way.

Why does it bother you so much, he asks me sincerely, as we debate the condition of his room yet again. I want to give him an honest answer, which requires me to pause and search around in my conscious and unconscious mind. It makes me feel that I have failed as a mother, I tell him. He calls me on the overstatement. He reminds me that he has kept his dorm room in relatively good order all year, even making his bed each day, a statement borne out by every Facebook photo I have seen of him cavorting or studying or otherwise occupied in his dorm room.

I try again. It looks like Pearl's room, I say. He understands my shorthand, my unspoken fear. Pearl (not her real name) is my cousin who is a decades-long active drug addict and alcoholic who lives with her now 92-year-old mother. In truth, my son's room does not begin to approach Pearl's room, which has half eaten slices of pizza and old moldy sandwich crusts and liquor bottles and cigarette ashes mixed in with the clothes, which are certainly not laundry-clean and fresh-smelling as my son's are.

So now, because my room is a mess I'm going to be a drug addict? my son challenges. No, I say. I back down immediately, unwilling to push that argument further. My son then assures me that when he leaves for camp this weekend, his bedroom will be clean and orderly, with all clothing that he does not take with him folded and put away. He won't leave the mess for anyone else to clean up, he promises. This is his olive branch.

Thinking it over later, I finally understand the real reason the mess in his room bothers me: His refusal to fold and put away his clothes for three weeks and counting now, is evidence that I can no longer just direct him to do a thing, I no longer have that control. I can merely solicit his cooperation, which he is not unwilling to give, but it has to seem reasonable to him. I can tell him to clean up the kitchen, I can demand that he put the living room back in order when he wakes up each morning, I can ask him to go to the store, I can even engage him to dust and mop his grandmother's apartment when company is coming to stay there. In all these instances, he is likely to oblige.

But he sees his bedroom as his domain, and unless I want to pick a fight about that, insisting it is part of my house, then I am powerless to make him do my bidding in there. And if I did choose to play that card, I know just how he would push my buttons in return. He would say, "Fine. It's your house. I'll clean the room. I realize I don't live here anymore. I get it."

So this is where I have landed: Who cares about a few strewn-about clothes? If that's the only real issue I have with my son these days, maybe I should just let it go?

Update: My daughter, who finished final exams today and has no school tomorrow, asked if two friends could sleep over, one girl, one boy, both of whom we know well. My son, hearing that a male friend of his sister would be spending the night, decided to pick up his scattered clothes, stuffing them all into an empty suitcase, so that my daughter's friend can sleep in his room, because no way was he allowing this young man to bunk in his sister's room. (He was actually shocked we said yes to a co-ed sleepover.) So now his room is clean! And just when I'd surrendered. There is a lesson in this somewhere. 

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Henry Louis Granju, 1991-2010

Yesterday, they laid their beloved boy to rest. This child's life and death haunts me. Ever since I discovered his story from a post on Thinking Out Loud, I have not been able to stop thinking about Henry and his family. Maybe it's because Henry was born 3 days after my own son. Maybe it's because his mother, Katie Granju, who writes the blog mamapundit, has posted photographs and told stories of her beautiful boy, and in them I see her love for him, and his love, too.

He was so cherished, this child, so full of promise and light. And yet he veered into darkness. He confessed to his mother at 14 that he had experimented with smoking pot. They talked, he was remorseful, she thought she had gotten through. But addiction is a deadly roulette. You just never know if the bullet's in the chamber when the gun clicks at your head. For Henry, the bullet was in the chamber. That early taste of escape led him deep into the stranglehold of addiction to lethal substances, and eventually it killed him. An overdose compounded by a brutal beating in a grocery store parking lot fatally injured his brain and heart. A month after his parents got the dreaded call that their son was in the hospital, he stopped breathing.

The day after he died, his mother wrote, "This is an unholy pain."

She had no more words. My heart just aches for her. She is pregnant, and must bury her firstborn while looking to the birth of a new baby girl in July. She was faithful to the end, sitting at Henry's bedside night and day, loving him, unable to make the past turn out any differently no matter how much she wished it and tortured herself with wondering what she could have done. There was nothing else she could have done. She loved this boy and did her very best for him at every step. In his eulogy, Henry's father wrote that perhaps he was too sensitive for this world, and tried to mask his naked emotion with drugs that harmed him more than they helped.

Henry Louis Granju, I don't know why your story moves me so. Perhaps it is because I know, I truly do know, how much you were loved. And I cannot take in that such absolute and unwavering love was still not enough to save you.

I pray for my children. I pray so hard that they never lose their way, that they never get suffocated by addiction, never lose heart or hope. They are 18 and 16 now, and I can no longer watch over them the way I could when they were babies. We have had many talks about drugs. I have asked them not to use. I have explained that we have an addictive strain in our family, I have pointed out our examples, I have shared our cautionary tales. Now, they must make their own choices, day after day. In college and high school, surrounded by peers who drink and smoke, they must choose again and again. I can't wrap them in a bubble and keep them always out of harm's way.

And so I remember Henry. I send love. And I pray.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Braces, Gone

With her friends in Greenport last weekend, my daughter flashed pearly whites that were divinely (to her) free of any metal encumberances. The braces, after three years and two oral surgeries, had come off the day before. She smiled a lot.

The girls swam in a cerulean blue pool and laughed with a manic and adorable baby brother and rode a scary high ferris wheel and read magazines while lazing on the dock. 

Later they ran up and down the beach and pretended that final exams were not less than a week away. Ah, to be 16 and joyously in the moment.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sweet Boy

My son complains that I never post pictures of us together. In fact, I post very few pictures of myself with anyone because I dislike how I look in photographs (although I'm starting to appreciate how I looked 20 years ago. Ha!). But here is one of my baby boy with his adoring mother. Bless this sweet and curious child, now 18, almost a full-grown man. I pray his feet remain steady and sure, that he never forgets how to laugh, and that as he travels, he can feel how surrounded he is by love.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


I am dealing with an almost perfect storm of crises. Hopitalizations, illnesses, money issues, apartment moves, scam artists, addicts, daddy issues and deep, complicated sorrow. None of these things, curiously, is happening to me in an immediate way. But they are happening to people I love dearly, and so I want to help them fix things. I want to make it all better. I want it now. I have no patience. My mother, who came home from the hospital today, used to say that having no patience is akin to having no faith. I'm trying to be patient and tap into the faith that all of this heartache will turn out right and reveal a purpose. But it is so hard to watch the people you love suffer.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Family Resemblance

My niece is living with us for the summer. My brother's daughter, she is said to look just like my mother, her grandmother, did at her age. The elder aunts, my mother's five sisters, remark on this all the time. "She has the same spoon face," they say, affectionately cupping her chin. Here are photos of them, both at 19 years. What do you think? I think they are both extraordinarily beautiful and precious to me.