Saturday, April 30, 2011

I am now the proud owner of a Movson

My friend, the sculptor and artist Janice Movson, held a viewing of her work last night. I was determined to purchase one of her pieces this time, having admired her work for so long. I finally decided that one should never feel too poor to acquire art, to feed one's soul, to contribute to an artist's continued ability to create. And I shall abide by this henceforth. Here is how I described Janice's work a year ago, when I attended another of her shows. "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." And now I own one!

That's my piece in the center, the girl with the bow atop her head, the suggestion of a panther's powerful leg and torso across her delicately sculpted center. The red dot on the wood block signifies "sold"—to me. I enjoyed the details of so many of the pieces, but I kept coming back to this one. Maybe it was the sweet bow that reminded me of the way my own mother used to tie ribbons in my hair when I was a child. And the power of the panther at rest. This piece spoke to me, and happily, I answered.

Janice taught our girls art for ten years, and that is how we came to know each other. Our two daughters were there last night, both of them exhausted from a long school week, and sort of laugh-happy, dissolving into giggles over everything. Janice and I watched them from the next room, delighting in the way they still play like they did when they were little, spilling across one another, like puppies we used to say.

Eventually, they both fell asleep on the couch, entwined the way they have never stopped being since they met in first grade. They were born ten days apart, the same year. Their mothers were born five days apart, the same year, but on opposite sides of the world, Janice in Durban, South Africa, me in Kingston, Jamaica. We see in these details, and the distance overcome, the assurance that our two families were meant to slip into easy comradeship and become fast friends.

Our host last night, a woman with the gentlest of spirits, whose son will be heading to Oberlin College in the fall, said something that pierced me. She said that now that her son was about to leave home, she felt such sadness, she felt like a failure, thinking of all the things she never did with him and now would never get to do. I knew exactly what she meant; I was so ready to go there. But another of our friends, the lovely mother of three daughters, noted that we need to focus on all the things we did do with them instead, all the ways in which we secured them. It was such a simple statement, but it turned our thinking all the way around, spun that melancholy thought all the way back to positive, which is where I still am today.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Who doesn't love a fairytale?

William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, with their wedding party.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dog Whistle Politics

So President Obama released his long form birth certificate yesterday, and now Donald Trump is puffing himself up, crowing that he got "that guy" to release his birth certificate. Saying that now he can call off his investigative team, the team that he previously said had told him the birth certificate was "missing." Of course, he immediately implied that the document might not be real. "I haven't seen it," Donald Trump said skeptically during an airport tarmac press conference. That's because, when a reporter pushed a copy in front of his face yesterday, he refused to look at it, claiming he would "examine it" later.

I'm sort of speechless.

Joe Scarborough this morning: "Donald Trump's birther campaign wasn't about helping Donald Trump win the presidency, it was about helping another candidate win, maybe his friend Mitt Romney." Someone else observed that a "rogue candidate" like Trump could whip up the Obama-hating right while allowing the real GOP candidates to stand back and not look too politically marginal, because you still have to capture the political center to win the presidency. 

Some people will never be convinced. Some birthers are already saying that the just released document is photoshopped. And then there's the question raised by my husband's coworker, a dipped in red right winger. "Why did Obama spend two million in legal fees to try and fight the release of his birth certificate?" Well, he didn't. He released the official document during the campaign as soon as the question was raised, the first time such a question had ever been raised in a presidential campaign (you draw the conclusion). But the official document didn't quell the madness, which is why he has now released the long form document, to try and put an end to the sideshow. The two million dollars of which my husband's coworker speaks, a number thrown out by conservatives, was the amount Obama paid his lawyers for the entire presidential race. 

People tell such lies. They just say anything they damn well please and ignore the evidence that disproves it. And now, the puffed up frog Donald Trump is blowing another dog whistle for the haters. Now he he saying no one knew Obama when he was at school in Hawaii, no one has ever come forward remembering him there. How do people get away with this? I have read so many articles in which Obama's boyhood classmates were quoted, heard his teachers from that time speak warmly of him, seen class pictures of him, seen photos of him playing basketball. Oh right, I forgot. The birthers claim those photos are photoshopped, too. 

And Trump is also saying that our president was a terrible student at Occidental, and yet he got into Columbia, where he was also a terrible student, so how did he get into Harvard? Why, Trump continues, won't he release his college transcripts? How did he become president of the Harvard Law Review, Trump wants to know. There's definitely something fishy there, he says.

Now he's calling for Obama to release his college transcripts. Are you kidding me? Trump really is, swear to God, saying these things. Based on nothing. Now that Trump can't beat the birth certificate drum any more without looking like an idiot (except to imply it is a fake, an idea that some people will no doubt quickly latch onto), he's implying the president got preferential treatment. Really, the whistle he's blowing for those who can hear it is that if it weren't for affirmative action, we wouldn't be saddled with a Black president.

This hurts my head. It does.

Never mind that Obama is fucking brilliant. The man is quicker of mind than most of the population of the country of his birth that elected him president. And he has more grace and charm in his little finger that Donald Trump has in his whole blowhard body. At a fundraiser in New York last night, Obama flashed that famous smile and greeted the crowd thus: "Hello, my name is Barack Obama and I was born in Hawaii, the fiftieth state. I am president of the United States, and I am running for reelection. By the way, no one checked my ID on the way in." The crowd laughed as Obama winked and added, "But just in case, I do have it."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Public Faces

At one of the colleges we visited in Maine, there were these student paintings in the reception room. I was drawn to the straightforward, almost photographic approach of these portraits, and their rich use of color and distinctive posture. I feel as if I would recognize these people walking down the street. They have their public faces on. They seem so guarded in a way, so watchful and reserving judgement. And yet the artist caught something of their internal world, too. I called the school just now and learned the name of the artist is Julia Rice, who did these portraits as her senior thesis in 2007.

Here is a photo my girl, filling out the paperwork to attest that she visited and toured the school, and that she does lots of fascinating extracurriculars and is a worthy candidate in case she decides to apply. I don't think she will choose to apply. She's wearing her public face, too. The school felt isolated to her, despite the fact that our tour guide was a Jamaican student of Indian descent, who went to the same Kingston high school as my niece. This vibrant young woman turned out to be one of two people of color we saw all day. The other was an Ethiopian student studying in the library, with whom I struck up a conversation. She shared that she sometimes felt lonely, but the professors were top-notch and her financial aid package very generous. The photo below is how my daughter looks when she is in self-protected observer mode.

And here she is with a member of her girl crew, back in the city, just before they met up with a group of their long time friends. They went for ice cream at Shake Shack and compared notes on college visits and everything else. Such lightness here. Nothing like the assurance of being in a place where one is sure of one's welcome.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Our son's ankle is apparently all healed and once again supporting him in flight. The photograph below is from last weekend, taken at a meet in which our boy qualified for States in 110 meter hurdles, high jump and decathlon. But after much soul searching, and trying to quiet the part of himself that never wants to be a quitter, he's decided not to compete in decathlon because it will mean missing the last two classes before finals of a course for which he is intent on achieving a certain grade. He would also have to miss a lab that he cannot make up. So he will compete only in hurdles and high jump, which he's used to because he's been doing those events since high school. It was hard for him to come to this decision, but he knows that not only would he miss two crucial classes, he would also be exhausted after doing twelve events the weekend before finals, and he can't afford to sacrifice his longer term life goal for one track meet. He says his coach was disappointed but that he understood. He said, "I get it. Academics is the priority."

I just listened as he processed all this on the phone with me last Thursday. It was gratifying because I got to hear his thought process and to hear how balanced he was in weighing this decision, how much he knows himself and his tendency to take on too much, and how, for the first time, he has had to come to terms with the fact that he isn't superhuman, he can't do everything at the same time, he to make choices. My heart was eased too because he sounds calmer and more balanced than even a year ago. My God, he's growing into a thoughtful, measured young man. His energy, so full of spikes and sudden dips and curves throughout his adolescence, seems to be settling at last. He is beginning to own his choices, his actions, his future. He is becoming himself beautifully.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Devoted

I have been away, looking at colleges in another state with my girl. It was a productive trip in that she saw one school she liked a lot that she had never even considered—we only visited it because it was in the general area of the other two we planned to see—and two schools that she agreed were perfectly "nice" with very beautiful campuses and buildings and facilities, but they helped her understand very clearly that she didn't want to go to school "in the middle of nowhere," there had to be a fairly bustling town with coffee shops and cafes and funky little shops attached.

And she's begun to contemplate other aspects of the college equation, too. In church this morning for Easter service, she kept noticing the little kids, which she always does, because she is very gentle and natural with little kids, they delight her, and there was one boy in particular who kept squirming and mouthing to his mother, "I'm bored, I'm bored," and he looked like he could barely remain inside his skin, he was so eager for the service to be done, and my daughter kept laughing under her breath because she thought he was so adorable.

Walking home, she said, "You know, maybe I am a kindergarten teacher." And then after a few more steps, she said, "Or maybe a child psychologist." And as we rounded the corner to our block she said, "Hmm, a child psychologist. Maybe I should look into that some more." We just nodded and listened and made assenting noises and her dad made a joke about nuts making good shrinks and we asked a question or two very casually, because really, she was having a conversation with herself and we just happened to be there which allowed her to have it out loud. Who knows what she will do with her life? Who knows what path will beckon her ultimately? We met an admissions officer at the college she liked and he told her, "Remember, you don't need to know what you want to do yet, you just need to know what you're passionate about." I think she is lining up her passions.


My husband did the altar arrangements for church today, as he always does on Easter, in honor of his mom who loved Easter services and often did the flowers for her church when she was alive. It was something they shared, as he would often assist her. His mom used to teach classes on the subject when he was in teens. Flowers were her art, her creative passion, her divine gift, and so my husband honors her by doing the flowers on this day. They were beautiful triangle arrangements of white roses and greenery that graced the front of the church. And every time I looked at them, I could feel how much he was trying to say, how much he misses his mother, how even now he wants to make her happy and proud. He doesn't talk about it. It's not his way. But now, on the morning before Easter Sunday he rises before dawn and heads down to the flower district to pick out his blooms. And he quietly and patiently creates the altar arrangements, holding his mother in his heart, wordlessly expressing his love.


When my mom is in New York, she and my husband go to church every Sunday together, my husband holding my mother's elbow so she doesn't fall as she pushes her rolling walker into the church and takes a seat in the pew. I prefer to wake up slow and putter in the Sunday morning stillness of my house. Lapsed churchgoer that I am, I am still always so moved me to see my husband and my mother all suited up and leaving together for services on Sunday morning. They are partners in faith, both devoted to that little Episcopal church across the street from the police precinct. They are part of its band of activist worshippers who march for worthy social causes and the inclusion of all God's children and welcome everyone into its pews. My husband likes to say it's a little church but it casts a big shadow. At church, they think he is my mother's son. My mother doesn't correct them. She loves him so.


At the beginning of the service this morning, a church regular I had not seen in a while (because I hadn't been to church in a while) walked in pushing her rolling walker. I was stunned and saddened to see how much she had aged, how frail and stooped she'd become. For some reason, seeing her brought home to me how aged my mother and all my aunts are, how any one of them could go at any time, and there are six wrenching services ahead of me. Silently, I promised myself to be there for every one, no matter what, no matter when, because these six women, my mother and my five aunts, have been my life's example of devotion and selflessness and a love so deep I can't even convey it properly. They have loved each other through everything, and now they are all declining, physically growing smaller before our eyes, battling cancer and tired hearts and leached bones and limbs that refuse to follow their commands. Their humor is as fertile as ever, but their bodies are wearing out. 

Lately, the sisters have been journeying to New York to see their oldest sister. Last week, the middle sister Maisy came from Virginia on her off-week from chemo. This week Aunt Grace, at 84, made the trip from Toronto to spend a few days with her sister. They have heard how diminished she is, and they can no longer hold conversations with her on the phone, so they have to come in person and look into her eyes. We all ate a meal together at Aunt Winnie's home this afternoon, with yet another sister, 82-year-old Fay, arriving from New Jersey with her family and her oxygen tank to join the gathering.

Aunt Grace told me that she and Aunt Winnie were both awake at 4 this morning, and that Aunt Winnie was trying to tell her what to do about her funeral arrangements. "She is so used to being in charge," Aunt Grace chuckled (the sisters don't do maudlin). "She's afraid we won't know what to do. I told her not to worry, we'd blunder through." Then Aunt Grace told me that Aunt Winnie's face crumpled and she said, "I can't even move my  body. I've stayed too long. I'd rather die than live like this."

The cousins worry that as soon as one of the sisters goes, all the rest will follow like dominoes. It's as if they are joined by an invisible thread, a force of devotion that we took for granted when we were younger. But now we know better. Now we understand that theirs is a love so fierce that not many get to witness its kind up close. It has a tensile strength that will outlast us all. And that's what Aunt Grace told Aunt Winnie in a way. She said, "The body dies, my love, but the soul goes on, so you won't be rid of me ever." At that, Aunt Winnie 's face fell open and she laughed. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


My Aunt Maisy, 86, traveled up from Virginia to spend a couple of days with her sister Winnie, 92, this weekend. They just sat next to each other for long stretches of time, talking little. But Aunt Maisy touched her sister often, and every time she did, a smile flickered to life in Aunt Winnie's eyes.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Like totally, for sure

The six when they were still the five. The sixth member of their soul cluster joined them in fourth grade. I have no idea what they are doing here. I just think they are so darn cute! Oh wait, was this when they did that talent show cheerleader chant in second grade? "Like totally, for sure, I just got a manicure..." I know their mamas remember. The youngest of these beautiful girls just turned 17.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bike Ride

Now that the Spring weather is here, my daughter wants to ride her bike all over the city. How can I send my child to Italy and South Africa for weeks at a time, and not allow her to ride her bike in the city? But it makes me insane with worry. If she rides on the street, there are all the cars. If she rides in the park, well, who knows? I can't manage to quiet my brain. Never mind that she is one year away from being completely on her own in college, when she won't have to call me at work to ask me for the combination for the bike room lock. And what's this? Just asking for access to the bike room, but not for permission to ride all by her lonesome? Did we miss a step here?

Years ago, a horoscope I read said that Taurus mothers are great when their children are young and cleave to them, but they cope less well when the youngsters become adolescents and insist on independence. As a Taurus mom, I'd say they got it just right. I do understand that she wants to be out in the middle of awakening nature, that biking is awesome exercise, that she feels completely able to navigate her world. She promised to be home before sundown. So I'm doing my level best to occupy my noisy brain with the pile of page proofs on my desk until I see the light starting to fade in the sky. That's when I can call and make sure my girl is home safe and sound, or on her way. This is hard. They don't even know.

Of course she returned home in good time, flushed and happy from her ride along the river in the afternoon sun. It's 9 p.m. now, and she is fast asleep on one of the couches. Fresh air and wholesome exertion will do that.

Still Life

"We are all committed to the
unending work of steadying 
the rocking boats of self."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Very Berry Girl

My very favorite thing to do on this blog is post pictures of my family. I can never get enough of them. I want to remember every hour, every fleeting look, every burst of laughter and silliness and concentration and love. With my son away at college, it's harder for me to capture those moments now, and he is also less willing in front of my little red Canon. My husband, too, makes faces when I raise the camera, or waves his hands in front of his face and is generally uncooperative. But my daughter has learned to ignore me when I point the lens at her, and that is a mother's dream. Thank you for indulging me, sweetheart. Here is the latest, taken last evening while you were lost in homework, or was it Facebook chat? Child of mine, I love you.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Good Morning

What a feast last night. My husband made the richest, most robust French onion soup with lots of red wine and bubbling swiss cheese over cut bread that floated effortlessly on top of the caramelized broth. And he surprised me with it. I heard him in the kitchen chopping and stirring, and I saw that his orange dutch oven was in play, and soon the aromas just filled the house but I thought beef stew or something, and I was on the phone with  my mom so I wasn't paying that much attention except to call out "Mmmm, that smells wonderful." Then my mom asked to speak to the new church warden, my husband has just been elected to that position, which thrills my mom no end, so I took the phone to the kitchen and there he was carefully arranging swiss cheese slices over the steaming bowls of soup with ovals of bread on top and I jumped and squealed to my mom like a 10-year-old, "He's making French onion soup!" I knew it was because he knows I love it. I knew it was because he wanted to give me a thrill. And to borrow Maggie May's beautifully apt words, that's why it's him and no one else.

After dinner my daughter got into the act. Martha Stewart anything is the theme today at her cooking club at school and so all yesterday afternoon she was scrolling through Martha's online recipes looking for the one that would be her inspiration that evening. "Martha is my girl," she was saying. "You know this has to be good!" (Do we discern a little competitive spirit?) She finally settled on key lime squares, which after preparation had to sit in the fridge for four hours so we didn't taste it till midnight, when I was already asleep and she woke me up gently to ask if I wanted to try a small square. Oh yes. Perfect key lime flavor, not overly sweet with just the right kick of tartness, and I will say this: Nobody—nobody—makes a graham cracker crust like my daughter!

And now, I have just finished cleaning up the onion-soup-key-lime hurricane that hit our kitchen last night. My lovely cooks did move things in the general direction of the sink, but there just wasn't enough space on the adjacent counter to carry through on the pretense that they'd cleaned up after themselves. I tell my girl that if she really wants a food business part of the deal is scrupulous clean up, to which I get the usual, "I know, mom, I know." But for now, I am happy to be the clean-up woman as I happen to enjoy wresting order from chaos and besides, nobody in this house has ever required me to cook.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Bearable Lightness of Being

Our son is back in competition today, running in his first meet since rolling his ankle back in March. His trainers have judged it not yet strong enough to bear the impact of hurdles, so he is running the 100 meter and 200 meter races today, and also doing javelin. He is currently a pentathlete but his coach wants him to do decathlon, so he has been adding discus, shot put and pole vault to his arsenal. Trust him to be an all-rounder! It is so in his nature to want to cover all bases.

He called last night from Bethlehem, PA, where the team was ensconced in a hotel for the night before today's meet. He said he's been in a bubble all week, hadn't been checking the news, and only last night realized the government might shut down due to the budget impasse in Congress. "What the hell?" he said. "Can a government really just shut down? And what does that mean exactly?" So we talked politics for awhile, and generally caught up in a very pleasant convo.

He is letting himself draw closer to me lately. I think he no longer feels as overwhelmed by my visceral need to control and know and fix—traits I haven't always controlled very well. But it appears he has has finally slipped the knot, growing into the knowledge that really, he is the only one who can place his steps, no matter how much I might wish to help guide them. Mostly these days, I am able to just listen, which allows him to process out loud the twists and turns and choices he is facing. He is doing well, I think. He is definitely a fun-loving college student, but I think track gives him some boundaries, helps him not get too wild.

I asked him about Bethlehem, since one of the colleges we're supposed to look at for our daughter is there. I asked him had he seen any Black folks around, because I want my children to go to college in places that are racially friendly and socially progressive. He said, "No, I'm the only one I've seen so far, but we got here at night, so I'll let you know tomorrow how the town feels." How the town feels. I wish I didn't ever have to put my awareness to such things. As we talked more, realization dawned that he's the only student of color on the travel team. He's fine though. If ever there was a young man who could navigate his circumstances, that's my son. When he was a child, we used to call him "the ambassador" because of the natural way he converted strangers into friends anywhere we went.

I shared that his sister was going to be taking the ACT at his old high school this morning, the fabled Fordham Prep. He said he would send good vibes there for her. My husband drove our daughter there early this morning, and after he dropped her off in The Commons, he called me from the parking lot. "It's so familiar, as if no time has passed," he said. "I feel like I should know all the faces here, but there isn't a single one I recognize." He had tapped right back into how much we loved our son's high school, and how much of a community it was. Our son loved it, too. He made lifelong friends, there. It's a rare thing to feel so positive about any high school experience, but he managed it, and in retrospect so did we.

Here is photo of our boy and some of his high school track buddies. Our son is the cool dude with the sunglasses on his head. The boys were at a meet at Ichan Stadium in their senior year, just before they all scattered to different colleges. My husband went to almost every one of our son's high school track meets, but I didn't understand how fast the time would be gone. Looking back, I wish I had worried less about other things and watched him run more.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Another Room

"There are things known 
and things unknown and 
in between are the doors."

—Jim Morrison

A little while ago, I was getting lost in images of luxurious unmade beds. I knew it was because I was tired. I wanted to sink into those beds and not wake up till I was good and ready. But of course, life goes on and we run with it. Now I seem to be fixated on doors, and in fact, they may be a perfect metaphor for where I find myself at this moment. Some doors are opening for me, letting in a fresh breeze, but as yet I am standing just back from the threshold, face turned into the warmth of the sun, content to be at a remove. And yet, something is calling me forward. I am hovering, trying to discern what it is. Right now, the half-light of the room I am in offers a moment of respite, a quiet corner in which I can breathe and take stock. But the sun keeps rising in the sky, and the day beckons, all smiles.

The room in my mind looks something like the one above. I found it on a lovely visit to Nancy Norton in a just discovered corner of the blogosphere. French window views just slay me. I think I need to go there with my love.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

So Much Noise

Donald Trump needs to just stop with this birther thing. He is on Morning Joe going on and on about our president having been born in Kenya. He sounds like a lunatic when he gets up on that soapbox. Problem is, he's using his huge reality TV platform and celebrity status to advance this argument, since most of the other birther hucksters don't seem to be breaking through. This birther thing has been investigated down to the last detail. Consider: Any Fox News affiliate would give their right arm to prove that which cannot be proved because it is not true. Our president was born in Hawaii, people! Last time I checked, it was still a state. So why do so many right wings pols feel that their only strategy to plant the sense of Barack Obama as The Other. Huckabee even managed to suggest that he was a Mau Mau rebel sympathizer back on "the dark continent." All he betrayed was a woeful ignorance of history. I think the right must really be scared. And so now we have Trump climbing aboard this bandwagon with gusto. Sweet Willie Geist just said it all: "Donald Trump, you may have a problem when even Pat Buchanan is shooting holes in your birther conspiracy theory." This is why so many people are going about their lives with their hands covering their ears. The screeching 24/7 news chatter has become just so much noise.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Show and Tell


I had the occasion to be photographed with some other people today. The make-up artist they hired to help us out told me, while stroking my face with her sponges, that I should ditch my glasses and wear contacts. "You have a show face," she said in her impossibly elegant British accent. "Some people have show hair, some people have show height, you have a show face. Show it." It sounded very much like a command.

She also explained to me the difference between being English and being British. I had asked her what I thought was the obvious: "Are you English?"

"I'm British," she replied crisply. "The Queen and her family are English, because they have always been so." She went on to clarify that people born in England who have any other heritage mixed in, are British. What about the Spanish and French and other Euro cousins who have intermarried with the royals through the centuries, I did not ask because now she was painting my lips with a sticky shiny cream. And of course, I knew that wasn't the kind of "otherness" she was talking about. "If you are of West Indian parentage as I am, or if you are Jewish or have Asian blood, you are British," she continued. "Not many people know that. Naomi Campbell runs around saying she is English and people laugh at her."

"Maybe she's making a political statement," I mumbled stickily.

The woman laughed, and then we both agreed: Maybe she should be.

Worlds Within Worlds

My daughter seems to have had a deeply satisfying time in South Africa, and has come back feeling happy and comfortable with herself and what she and her group were able to do. They worked extremely hard, she said, but their teacher chaperones were all just "ah-mazing" and helped make the trip spectacular. In the picture above, I am drawn to the little kid in the lower corner. I almost didn't see him at first. What does his expression say? I'm also drawn to the kids in the center of the frame,  of course.

My girl picked up a cold on the plane coming home, and she quickly passed it to me. It's a fairly mild chest thing, just enough to mess with your vocal chords and make you sound really croaky and sick, and to bestow passing waves of dizziness, and for 24 hours, a very sore throat that makes it hurt like hell to cough. But it's also the kind of sick that makes you want to just wrap up in a blanket and watch movies and sitcoms and laugh and laugh and feel happy to be so cocooned away from the world. So that is what my daughter and I did yesterday. She stayed home from school—I figured with her jet lag and cold she might as well take the day and get all the way better—and I stayed home from work, calling in sick rather than emailing because my voice made it so darn obvious they didn't want to be around me.

We had work to do, she had history homework still waiting and I had to edit and move two stories to research, and there was all her laundry from South Africa, so we did all that in the morning, and then, feeling very righteously productive, we settled down to the truly fun part of our sick day. We caught up on hugs and silliness and our DVR'ed shows, Modern Family, Survivor, the Top Chef finale, the singing episode of Gray's Anatomy (which had me riveted) and then switched to Netflix and watched the premiere episode of Brothers and Sisters, a series we will probably continue since it's one of those shows that provokes conversations about the twisty threads of human interaction, which we do enjoy. My girl crashed out by 8:00 P.M., the jet lag still with her, and was up by 5:30 A.M. this morning, dressed in her "new" cashmere sweater that she scored at the flea market on Sunday for ten bucks. She sang goodbye as she went out the door and I think she's pretty happy today.

In no particular order, here are some pictures from her time in South Africa. She gave me permission to grab these from Facebook.


My daughter took this photograph of a little girl in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. There is so much in that sweet face.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

London Child

When I was four, my father, a jurist in Jamaica, was granted "long leave" for a year, a sabbatical with passage paid for him and his family to England. This was a clause in the employment contracts of some civil servants in what had until recently been a British colony, and my parents had decided just what to do with the year. My dad had studied law in England. He and my mother had moved there right after they were married, and spent their first years together in a small flat in London. My mom worked as a secretary while my dad went to law school, and that period of their lives remained a sweet memory for them.

My brother was conceived in England, and his godparents became the older white English couple who lived upstairs and were my parents' landlords. This couple, the Dixons, were surrogate father and mother to my parents during their years as a young married couple in London. A decade later, when my father qualified for long leave, the plan was to return to their old flat on the ground floor of the Dixon's home at 22 Studdridge Street. They would enroll their children in school and while the Dixons watched over us, my parents would travel the continent, visiting countries they hadn't be able to afford in their student days, and also spending some time with a dear friend of theirs in Ireland.

As I recall it, my parents came and went and were never away for more than a couple of weeks at a time. And I had my older brother with me, who was six years old to my four. But the loneliness I felt when they were gone was abject. The Dixons, so dear to my parents, were strangers to me, so formal and mannered and foreign in their ways. I became a shy, locked in girl, unable to find her voice, dreaming in the cold front parlor and peering out the corner of the heavy brocade curtains at people passing on the street.

Imagine taking a four year old used to running in the yard after school and climbing trees and using a capsized wheelbarrow as an armchair as I chatted at the fence with the Azan children next door. Then take that child and deposit her for endless months in a dark, narrow English townhouse filled with uncomfortable Queen Anne couches and claw foot antiques. And on the walls, portraits of somber-faced men and women who looked nothing like my sprawling, exuberant Jamaican family. I remember the bathroom was freezing cold and everything tiled and white and fluorescent bright, and I hated to go in there. To make matters worse, I have barely a memory of anything before that time. There were vague images of laughing aunts and uncles and hide and seek at birthday parties with cousins against which I compared the circumstances in which I now found myself. But those images were blurred and dreamlike, while that year in London remains sharp in all its details, the moment the clock started for me in terms of knowing myself.

And then there was school. Peterborough Primary School, the back gate for which was just up the street from the house where we lived. From upstairs, we could look over the brick wall that marked the end of the back garden and see the expanse of asphalt and the huge, imposing, crumbling stone castle of a building that was the school. And just beyond the wall, right on the other side of it, were the outdoor bathrooms the kids used during recess. I am sure there must have been bathrooms in the school building as well, but I never found them. It never occurred to my four and then five year old self to ask. If I needed to go, I used the ones at the far end of the playground, the ones I could see over the wall from the house where I stayed.

The stalls were on one side of a long stone corridor open to the sky. There were about ten covered stalls with wooden doors that had once been painted blueish green but now were faded and splintered and decrepit, and there were no locks on any of them. Whenever you were inside one of the stalls, you could count on mischievous schoolchildren running down the row and banging open all the doors and laughing maniacally at the fact that they had seen you with your pants down. I never got used to it. I used to slightly wet myself so as not to have to go.

This was the period of my life when I began to feel that something was wrong with me. Everything about me was wrong. I began to notice that I was a fat dark child among fleet blond pink-cheeked children racing around the school yard. I felt ungainly when I ran, which was seldom, because no one asked me to join their games and I didn't know how to find my own way in. In class, there was only one other child of color, a dark-skinned Pakistani boy who did befriend me. The way he did it was in art class one day. The other children at the table had agreed that he and I should be given only the black crayon to color with. This boy kept sneaking other colored crayons from the pile and holding them in his lap. I was sitting across from him, and I realized what he was doing when he started passing me the other colors under the table, until we had most of the crayons between us, passing them back and forth and drawing and coloring to our hearts content, and none of the other children were the wiser. After that, I considered him my friend, though I can't recall ever having a single conversation with him.

I now understand that four and five year old children are at the age when they are classifying things, and this boy and I were visually different from the other children in the class. Their neglect of me may have been based on little more than that, combined with my painful shyness at the time. And yet it left its mark. Especially since my older brother was having none of these problems. He was the prince of his class, the new boy everyone seemed to be fascinated by, the one everyone fell over themselves to befriend. I remember twin girls in pigtails and plaid pinafores who seemed always to be on either side of him, except when he was whizzing past me on the playground, at the center of all the games. Well, my brother was dark complexioned and foreign like me, so that clearly wasn't the cause of my aloneness. Maybe it was because I was fat, I thought. I found all kinds of other reasons, too.

The absolute worst day of that whole year was the morning our teacher handed out a short paragraph and asked us to underline all the verbs. Perhaps it was the English accent in my Jamaican ear, but I thought she told us to underline all the words. The exercise made no sense to me but, obedient child, I did as I thought I had been asked. When she collected my paper, she stood over me and exclaimed, "You stupid girl!" and I don't recall what else she said, just that for the rest of the class I was made to stand on a chair at the front of the room with my face in the corner for my transgression. I think it is no mistake that I grew up to be a writer and an editor. Because as lonely and lost and locked in as I felt that year, in some untouchable part of me, I knew I knew that teacher was just plain wrong.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Home Again

We picked up our girl from the airport at 7:40 this morning. She and her South Africa crew all looked fresh and awake and cheerful, definitely not as if they had just spent an entire day traveling. I am always so taken aback by how beautiful I find my children. I see it anew whenever I have been away from them. So much life force in them. God, they make me happy. When all is going well with them, it is the deepest peace.

So we had a birthday cake set up and flowers and wrapped presents for our newly-minted 17-year-old, including a gift from her cousins Alexis and Danielle that arrived in the mail on her birthday. Our girl deposited her bags in the hallway and went straight to the gifts!

We didn't light the candles and sing happy birthday right away because it was still only 9 a.m. But we did eat for breakfast the seafood ceviche my husband made last night as a welcome home treat for his daughter. After the gift opening and the eating, my girl immediately settled herself on the couch, eager to end her two weeks of being electronically unplugged. She is now scrolling through literally hundreds of happy birthday messages on Facebook, reading long missives sent to her inbox, clicking links, laughing to herself, reading some of the messages out loud for our enjoyment. She will be there for a long while, I suspect, reconnecting. She doesn't even care that her mother is buzzing around, fondly snapping pictures. Those fingers move crazy fast.

At around 11 a.m., the birthday girl looked up and said, "Is it time to eat cake yet?" She wanted to light the candles, and why not, since she is the master of all things cake related in our house. Then she conducted us as we sang Happy Birthday, closed her eyes and sucked in a breath as she made a wish, and blew out all the candles, cheering for herself when she was done. My wish, unspoken, was that she would get her wish, because it seemed from the way she held herself when she was making it to be deep and heartfelt.

Later she went out and had a late lunch and hung out with friends, then came home and ate more cake with another friend who came by to hear all the stories. This friend is the daughter of a South African mother, and she spends summers there, so she knew whereof my daughter spoke. Here they are, indulging my camera.

They stayed up chatting and laughing and catching up on their two long weeks apart until well past the hour when my jet lagged daughter should have been awake. And then at a certain point in the evening, she just crashed. One minute she was talking to us, and the next, she was stretched out and dreaming. Ah yes. I missed this. Welcome home, my sweet girl.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Wooden Doors

"I thought how unpleasant it is 
to be locked out; and I thought how 
it is worse, perhaps, to be locked in."

—Virginia Woolf

There is a story to these doors. I saw them and they took me right back to another time in another place. I was five years old, a schoolgirl at Peterborough Primary School in London, England, where our family was living that year. I have no time to tell of it now. I am so very busy at work, in a way that brings home to me that I had been treading water, executing diligently but without true engagement, which I think was my way of protecting myself. Engagement is a whole lot harder! But I will be back to sort through the splinters probably, because today I see all kinds of connections between these doors and who I became. Childish acts can leave such indelible marks on a life. And yet the children are only being children. There is no one to blame.