Thursday, June 30, 2011

Farm Outing

Oh, alright, Mark. You want words. This is my daughter when she was 5, at her very first farm outing in kindergarten. She was utterly and completely in her element. She went to an elementary school that had a farm. I wrote about it here. Leaving the farm behind was, for every member of her unusually close-knit class, the very hardest part of making the transition to high school. They miss that place still. So do their parents. Maybe I put up this picture because, like that class when they had to move on from the farm, I am trying to make the transition that is looming before me. That class, including my daughter, will apply to college in the fall.


Monday, June 27, 2011


The simple grace that surrounds me, it is stunning. Though it was therapeutic to put feelings into words, I felt so exposed after writing that post on Saturday, I finally took it down, but your deeply generous comments, your thoughtful emails, were such support. And this morning, I received this text from my son:

"Hey mommy I love you! Remember you can always vent to me. I may be stubborn like pops but I'm also part of you. And don't worry your blog didn't worry me. I know you would never leave us."

Mommy. I feel humbled and newly awake. Fragile as a newborn. I can't quite explain.


Happy Campers

These are my kids. All of them could be found sprawled and asleep in my living room earlier this month when I would shamble out to make my coffee in the morning. Those great big boys are my son's brothers,  he calls them that, and they call my daughter their little sis, and they warm my heart when they call me Mom and my husband Pops, so I claim them as mine too. They can really fill a room at 6' 9", 6' 4" and my son at 6' 2" (although I notice he is level with 6"4" in this picture; did he grow?) and their energy is light and good. The young lady next to my son is his girlfriend; they met last summer when they were counselors together. She is gentle and soft-spoken, but no pushover, which I love. And that's our daughter on the right, a lowly CA (counselor assistant) hanging with the full-fledged counselors because they fold her in like that. Now they are all out in the woods for the summer, under an awning of green and beside a sparkling lake, working, yes, but out in gorgeous nature and with their friends since childhood all around. As I head off the work this morning after my week away, I'm positively envious! I wouldn't mind working in a woodland commune shoulder to shoulder with my friends for the summer.

Above, my daughter is reconnecting with her CA crew, kids she previously camped with and hiked with and biked through four states with, who will now be her coworkers. These will be the next generation of counselors. You can barely see her blue shoes in the center, so you'll have to take my word for it, she was lit up with excitement at being there. The first session camp kids arrived yesterday, so I know the counselors and CAs must be very busy getting them settled, tending to the ones who are a little nervous and homesick, getting the routines established, helping the kids get to know one another. Still, I've received three texts already from my girl itemizing things she forgot and could I please send, like a pillow and her mesh laundry bag and nail polish. Nail polish? In the woods? I can imagine her and her three tent mates (they're called "tenties") painting their nails by flashlight after a long day's running hither and fro. Her texts make me smile. 

I love that my children will be working together for the summer. Here's my son, taking his sister's suitcase up a small hill to her tent. She was settled in no time at all as the three boys grabbed her stuff and carted it to her bunk without being asked. Come to think of it, I don't think she carried a thing. They spoil her. To her credit, she doesn't assume they will. But I know my son will look out for her this summer. And she will look out for him. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Book of Everything

My mother has an ancient Bible, one that was given to her by her mother on the occasion of her wedding to my father. My parents read from that Bible every morning of their 47 years of married life, until the very day my dad died, and now my mother goes nowhere without that Bible. I can remember my brother and me kneeling with our parents around their bed after being woken up much too early for school, and my mother assigning verses for us to read, and then my brother and me closing our eyes and falling back asleep, pretending to be praying as my mother blessed our family, and her sisters and brothers and their families, and all who were sick and in need and on and on and by the time she was done she had blessed pretty much the whole world. 

Now her Bible travels with her on her trips to Jamaica, to New York, and back to St. Lucia, gathering cards, letters, photographs, notes, lists and other bits of paper along the way. My mother keeps everything in that Bible that she doesn't want to lose track of. She still reads from it every morning, and then she will leaf through and let her eyes rest upon whatever the pages fall open to. Last Sunday morning she shared some of those memories with my daughter and me. 

The card below is a birthday greeting from her first grandchild, my 21-year-old niece who looks so much as my mom did as a young woman. The envelope says, "To Grandma" in my niece's 8-year-old hand. Underneath that, my mom has written, "From Leisa, very precious."

The photo that my mom is holding in the next picture is of her oldest three grandchildren and two St. Lucian friends, who also call her Grandma. Until two years ago, all these children spent every August at "Grandma's Camp" in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, just a few steps from the beach. When they got rambunctious, waiting for her to be done with chores or cooking or phone calls so she could take them to the beach, my mom used to send them to run laps around the house. Or she would set them the task of washing the car, which made them squeal with delight at the chance to get soaking wet from the garden hose as they turned the water on one another and made the little white Honda that my dad cared for so well, sparkle.

The summer this picture was taken, the kids liked to line up and sing "Stop! In the name of love," as well as various calypso tunes, with major volume and choreography. They aren't singing in the photo below. My mom was so impressed by their performances she made them pose for posterity. This was eleven years ago, now. The kids, starting from left, are 10, 6, 2, 8 and 8 years old here. That's my niece at left, then my daughter, and my son is the only boy. The girl next to my son is the daughter of my mother's long time housekeeper. She and my son are born two months apart. She is now 19 and stays with my mom in St. Lucia at night so she won't have to be alone. The little one is now 14 and taller than my daughter. I remember back when she was two and my kids arrived, calling "Grandma! Grandma!" she screwed up her little face wondering who were these impostors calling her Grandma by that name. My mom is still the only Grandma she knows.

The poem below is from one of the younger grandkids in Jamaica, written when she was 7 years old (she's now 10). It is titled, "A Welcome Poem," and it reads, "Welcome! Welcome! Welcome! Welcome back Grandma G. I hope you stay very long. Thank you for being able to be here for my birthday but next time please be here for Adam's birthday. You are a very special person and I am lucky to have you as my Grandma G." This poem, too, was carefully folded and placed between the pages of my mother's Bible.

Among the photographs the be found between the scriptures, I was surprised to find this one of me from when I was 11 years old.

As my daughter and I looked through all the papers and pictures with my mom, she told us the stories. "People call this my filing cabinet," she said after a while, closing the big book and holding it meditatively. And then she sighed, smiled, and placed it carefully back on her bedside table. That's when I got this last picture.

P.S. I love my mother's hands. Much like her time-worn holy book, they look as if the whole story of her life could be told there. 

Leaving St. Lucia

We're back from visiting with my mom in St. Lucia, and I'm emotionally wiped from the knowledge that we may never again be in that place together. My mom is so frail now, and when my brother comes to take her back with him to Jamaica on July 5, she may well be saying goodbye to the only home on earth that she feels is wholly hers. It is a bitter thing. I will write more later, or put up pictures. But right now I have errands to run as my girl will be going to her job as a counselor assistant at the sleepaway camp tomorrow. She will be gone 8 weeks, though she'll take a week off somewhere in there for college visits with us in tow. I got sick yesterday, a summer cold that came on hard and furious when I gave in and cried. My mom didn't see me. She was in the bedroom counting nighties and dressing gowns in case she had to go to the hospital. Her head and her heart weren't "feeling right" and she wanted to have a bag packed just in case. My daughter did see me cry, and she circled me with her sweet magic arms. After that, I had a cold. I think it is because I cannot cry my way through the day, there is too much to do, but my body knows I am sad to leave my mother so fragile and shaky and stooped with age, and it is releasing my tears another way. That's my mom in her favorite chair on the front verandah, from where she can greet and visit with her many guests. She is well loved. She is surrounded by people who want to take care of her. But no one can do what she truly needs, which is to give her back her mobility, her ability to do for herself. She bears it, though. She bears it with a dignity that is almost painful to observe. She is just beautiful.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Keep a Light On

View at dusk from beachfront restaurant in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia.

My daughter and I will be traveling to St. Lucia where we will spend the next week. I'm not quite sure what the internet situation will be at my mom's house, as her computer is ancient now. Perhaps I'll be able to post, perhaps not. In the event that I can't, I hope you'll keep a light on until we return. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Love and What She Wore

She's off on a college tour with her scholar group this week, and unlike when she has visited colleges with her parents (as in the photo here), she is required to wear dress pants or a not-too-short skirt or dress. Absolutely no jeans, the scholars were told. This presented more of a problem than you would think. She had dressy jeans and fancy dresses, but nothing that falls into the category of not-too-short business casual. And that meant last minute shopping on Sunday, to try and secure appropriate dresses and a demure top that she could pair with her one not-too-short skirt.

Not too short, by the way, meant nothing shorter than the tips of her fingers when her arms were held straight down at her sides. "But I have long arms!" she complained. Her preferred place to seek the garments was Urban Outfitters. On the way there, we passed a Lohmann's store that looked to me as if it would have perfectly fine dresses, but she grabbed my arms and said, "Please, please don't make me go in there, Mom," and I decided to laugh and indulge her. I can imagine if you're 17 and required to pull off business casual, you at least want to skirt the edge of hipster chic. We did in fact find three garments that fit the bill, a sleeveless navy blue number with eyelet stitching at the neck and hem ("I'll add a belt and this can be my interview dress," she announced), a sweet white top that looked great against her skin and will go nicely with any skirt, and a cream colored dress with a floaty skirt and lines of little gold studs on the bodice. The straps of the last dress are skinny and bare, so my girl will wear a light cardigan over it.

Tuesday night while she was packing we had a session of trying on outfits. She paired the cream dress with her purple sweater, the sleeves pushed three-quarter way up, and she added a thin, woven leather belt at the waist, a touch of urban that contrasted nicely with the silky swish of the skirt. She looked adorable to her mother, as if she wasn't trying too hard but hit the mark anyway. Next she tried on the white top with the blue and black aztec patterned skirt, and we agreed that she needed to wear her bike shorts under them, and under the cream dress too, just in case. Of course, to my eye, she was perfect.

She wore the cream dress when she left on Wednesday morning at 6 a.m. Her dad drove her to lower Manhattan to meet up with her group and chaperones and their bus. I didn't go with them. It was way too early for me. She wore brown leather gladiator sandals and had her slouchy battered leather bag over her shoulder, stuffed with notebooks and pens and iPod and the breakfast of a bagel with cream cheese and applesauce that I packed for her. She looked ready.

But for a brief moment, she was still my little girl. When I handed her the packed breakfast she melted. She said, "Aw, Mom, it's just like when you used to pack my lunch every day for science camp." And she hugged me. I felt a little misty and sentimental myself. And now she is out there touring campuses for the next three days, texting me here and there with cryptic messages that we will debrief about later, I suppose. I hope. On day one, "Wesleyan was good, but different than I expected. Yale was nice but I don't want to like it." Today they will visit Williams and Amherst. Tomorrow, Cornell and Colgate. She is so very on her way.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


"No choice but to grant her space
Crown her with sky.”

—Rita Dove


I woke up this morning with the deepest ache, and then my thoughts turned to the old ones, especially my mom and my Aunt Winnie, who are so frail and lonely now, and I don't spend enough time with either of them, my mom because she is overseas, and my aunt because I work too much, and come home after she is asleep for the evening. We used to talk by phone on such days, I would call her from work, but now we can no longer do that, she makes sounds I don't understand, they are speech sounds, and they really sound as if I should be able to understand what she is saying, but I don't. In her presence, I do better. I can understand whether she is speaking from a place of light or dark, depending on the arrangement of lines on her face, the playful humor or pinched regret in her still clear green eyes.

I wonder sometimes, do we feel the ache first like a chemical sorrow, and then we look for reasons?

More reasons. This month will make two years since my mother in law died. How is that possible? I lay in bed missing her so much this daybreak. She was the loving force that held us together, and I miss the way we all were when she was here. I realized this morning that my husband will be alone in New York on the anniversary of her leaving us. I want to be with him, it is the day after Father's Day, but there is somewhere else I need to be, and it is the only week I can get there. My daughter and I are going to visit my mom in St. Lucia for a week. This may well be our last trip to St. Lucia to visit with my mom in her home as she may finally be too frail to stay alone there.

My mom has worked out a system where someone comes in and stays with her at night, but the days are lonely. Her sainted housekeeper of many decades is occupied taking care of her husband who suffered a stroke two days before my mom returned to St. Lucia this last time. She didn't tell my mom what had happened until she arrived, afraid that my mom would decide not to return home. But of course, she has to attend to her husband, my mother wants her to attend to him, but now there is no one to help my mother most days except kind neighbors and friends who may or may not drop by. Like me in New York, they are trying to keep up with their lives, with work and raising children and managing their households. I get it. But I ache for the way my mother's life has been reduced by her waning ability to do for herself.

She can't really lift a plate from the microwave to the table, so even though her meals are lovingly prepared and left for her, she still needs the help of another human simply to dine. My brother is coming to get her to take her back with him to Jamaica in early July. My daughter and I decided we needed to get there before my mother leaves her beloved house next to the beach in St. Lucia, where she and her grandchildren spent so many charmed summers, just in case it is the last time.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Come summer, I begin to doubt what I am doing here. I don't know why the warm weather brings that on, but I begin to I feel as if I am just navel-gazing, who cares anyway, and I start to write less. I'm there now. What happens then is I start to post pictures, because this blog is still a place to put photographs I want to hold on to, which I imagine will be somehow safer with a home online. Our external hard drive at home is caput, we think it must have fallen over, and now it merely whines when we turn it on. Ironically, that hard drive was bought to serve as the backup for everything on our computers, and if we can't somehow retrieve its contents we will have lost years and years of images, documents, files. So I will post pictures and maybe write down the memories they evoke.

This photo above is of my cousins, five of the seven children born to my mother's oldest brother Percy. This was taken about a decade before I was born. My cousins are on the verandah of my grandmother's house at Little Kew Road in Jamaica. I am jealous sometimes that they knew my mother's mother, who is the stuff of legend in our family when the stories are told. She died when I was three. I have a single memory of her. She was ill and declining and we went to visit her. She was bedridden and as we walked into the room, I crouched against my mother, who coaxed me to go and hug and kiss my grandmother. I didn't budge. I just huddled under my mother, aware in that moment of her disappointment in me, her feeling of hurt that her child would not embrace her mother, whom she loved so dearly. I remember my grandmother, we called her Mama, just looked at me gently, a smile in her eyes and she said, "Let her be. She will come and kiss me when she is good and ready." I don't know that I ever did, I hope I did, because I remember feeling that her eyes were the kindest I had ever seen, and her love for me shone from them. She made me, a child already of aware of being awkward in my skin, feel completely whole and right. It is my only memory of Mama, but from the stories, I know she managed to make everyone feel exactly that way.

The second photo is another snapshot of cousins, two generations later. I've posted this picture before, it's one of my favorites, but today it seems to want to accompany the black and white image above. This picture was taken at Sea World in Orlando on a massive group vacation we took in the summer of 2001. Seven family units are represented here. My son is in the green cap and white tee, he is 9 years old. My daughter, wearing the blue striped top, is trying to get her little cousin to look at the camera. She is 7 years old. My niece in the khaki cap and blue tee shirt, is the oldest at 11 years. I feel so embraced by my family. If we choose our incarnations as some faith systems suggest, then clearly I chose this big rambling family so I could have a place to belong. And indeed, apart from my husband and children, it is among my cousins that I feel most at ease in my skin. We are all intentionally trying to foster that for our children as well.

Pro Patria Et Gloria

My daughter posed her friend against a war memorial in Central Park as part of a final photography project for English to illustrate the effect war on the individual. The project was in connection with the books, Mother Courage and Ruined, and my daughter titled the photo essay and process paper "Flesh to Stone." I won't get into her symbolism and reasoning, which I found fascinating and sensitively expressed. But they are not the point of this post. I just want to put up one of her photographs, because I think it is so beautiful of her friend, and reveals an intentional eye behind the camera. You can see earlier photos of my daughter and this friend here and here. I love how these six girls willingly step up as subjects for one another's artistic assignments. They show up en massed for one another's plays, photography shows, dance concerts and other events as well, even though they all attend different high schools. Their friendship is not uncomplicated, but it is tested and true. And now, they are all about to apply to college. I have no doubt they will weather that further separation, too.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


My husband still instinctively cradles our son's head the way he did when our boy was a baby and his whole head fit in the palm of his big sure hand. I love their comradeship, their camaraderie, the way my husband just "gets" our son. Our boy is away at camp for the summer, along with his girlfriend and several of his closest buddies in the world. All the counselors are there now, setting up the platform tents in the woods, building new unit porches, servicing the boats and other equipment, cleaning up the waterfront, making everything pristine for when the kids arrive at the end of the month. And this week, our son will also be training the lifeguards. I watched him getting his paperwork ready before he left. He was serious as a judge, no playing around. I miss him.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


I didn't want to go to work today. I wanted to stay home and gaze at the kids, so grown and competent, making breakfast, making plans for the day, not needing me to organize or facilitate anything, a glorious crew of four, my son and daughter, my son's girlfriend who's in town for the week, and his best friend, emerging one by one, freshly dressed to meet the day, so brilliant with youth and possibility it almost hurt to see it, except it didn't, it just made me want to sit and marvel and stay where everything was shiny and cheerful and for the moment carefree. My daughter, who sat her last final yesterday and has no school today while the teachers grade exams, will finally get to join the adventure, to roam the city with the college kids. They're going to walk the High Line, follow the path in an elevated park created along an old railway line, where the plants are allowed to be wild and exuberant, much as they are. A new section of the park opens up today. They will be there to inaugurate it and sit on the grass and who knows what else.

A billboard reflection in the glass wall of the High Line

Now I'm sitting in this meeting, wishing instead to be out in the world, weary at what lies before me this day, the stories that aren't working, the rewrites being asked for on the day before shipping, the need to reconcile the minds of the two, they don't agree, I don't agree, the tiredness in my center, in my heart place, a heaviness, a feeling of being hopelessly trapped, staccato breath pushing its way up and out as I feign calm capability, no problem, it can be done, it will be done, I am a worker among workers, even if I don't agree with you, I will make it so. Give me this day a fight that matters. The rest is process.

As for reasons, there is this. When I saw it just now, I remembered, this is why.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

That for which I am grateful

This girl

and this girl

grew up to be the best of friends, 
even though there was an ocean 
between them when these pictures 
were taken. It didn't matter. 
They found each other anyway.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Writers' Colony

Dierdre asked me who am I, what am I hiding, in response to my noting in the last post the desk where I wrote my first book. The answer is I am nobody you ever heard of, I wrote a few books that a few people read, and now I work as an editor and raise my children and do for my elders. And I blog.

But Dierdre's question reminded me of something my son once said. His sister, then four years old and newly a reader, had just noticed a book in the house with her mom's name on it. She said, "Mommy, you wrote a book?" At which point my son, age seven, piped up excitedly, "Yes, she did write a book! Didn't you know? Mommy is famous, it's just that nobody knows it!" We still laugh about that. And it's still true.

Another memory. One year in November, I spent a glorious few weeks at Yaddo, a writer's colony in Saratoga Springs, New York. The way it happened was pure magic. A letter arrived out of the blue. Some influential person, whose identity I sought but have never been able to discover, had identified me as someone to receive an invitation to take up a residency at the retreat. I was invited to come whenever I wished, and to stay as long as I wished. At the time, my son and daughter were still young, nine and six, so a residency of longer than a month was out of the question. Passing up the offer was also out of the question, so my mom flew north to help my husband care of our kids while I was gone.

Truman Capote wrote his first novel at Yaddo.

At Yaddo, I rose at seven each morning and walked up a hill to the next building for breakfast. All the artists in residence took meals together in a dark wood paneled dining room full of gracious antiques. After breakfast, we stopped by the kitchen to pick up lunch boxes that had already been packed for us, then went back to our studios to work. I had been assigned an expansive old world room with a wall of windows looking out onto the woods, a room I was told Truman Capote used to prefer. I would sit at the white-painted desk and write, or lie on the chaise and think, or wander the gardens allowing my characters to whisper what happened next, watching them play out the action across the screen of my brain, and it was the most comfortable I have ever felt in my skin, except for when I am mothering. I was working on my second novel at the time, the one that never got published because my editor back then found the homeless mother and child at the heart of it "too sad," and found one of the characters, a young hustler, "appalling." Yet never have I felt so in the flow of the creative process as I did in that place.

At four every afternoon all the artists would put down their work and gather in one of the living rooms where we would sip red wine and talk about our progress in the completely absorbed and unselfconscious way of people who have total assurance that their listeners will not sigh inwardly or suppress a yawn because they are genuinely interested in your process and they understand. It was like being safely enfolded in an amniotic sea where the light was filtered and perfect and the world beyond lay waiting, but you didn't have to go there yet, you could stay here for a while with people who knew just how you were made, because they were made that way too.

Appearances didn't matter. The men had stubble on their faces and the women barely combed their hair and our clothes were rumpled and often mismatched and it mattered not at all. We would crowd into each other's rooms late into the night, talking and laughing and reading from our work or showing short clips of our films, or we would troop to one of the artist's studios to view an installation or listen to a piece of music still being composed, and I remember feeling that these were my people, these were the ones who knew me at my core and I didn't even have to try and explain. 

If I could go back there, I would write fiction again. I would reenter that world and allow it to claim me again fully. Until then, my concentration is too fractured and captured by all the things I want to capture it—my husband and children, my elders, family and friends—and also by the thing I often wish I could escape, the need to make a living, but of course the latter is necessary to support the former and that's the way it is and I don't rail at the fates about it, because I am so freakin blessed and I know it.

And so I blog because as my husband knows better than anyone if I don't write I will wither away. The gifts of blogging are unexpected. I can go to Paris. Or hold my breath at discoveries made in an art museum in Chicago. Or visit with friends in Ohio, Florida, New England, the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, somewhere in Canada or Antigua or New Zealand or a gorgeous spot on the California coast where I can almost feel the spray of the surf on my skin. And this is where I have found the people who most remind me of that November at Yaddo. Everything is so immediate and relentlessly unfolding, life as it happens pierces right through, and this is how it is to be alive, to feel everything so keenly yet not come undone because there are people who even if they don't understand exactly are willing to bear witness. It is sustenance.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sprucing Up The Place

This was the view from our kitchen while I was making coffee early this morning. I couldn't resist the green outside the window after looking at bare grey branches all winter. You can see the ghost of my reflection in the window in the next picture.

So, inspired by Mark, I thought I'd do a process piece to document our efforts of the past two weeks. The main challenge with apartment living is clutter. There is never enough storage space, so objects eventually begin living out in the open, piling up in corners, on chairs or against walls. Our son took a stand against the pile-up when he cleared out his room before leaving for England. We have been trying to follow his lead—and do a little sprucing up—since. 

This was my son's room after the great purge. He got rid of practically everything, but for his medals and bed and desk and dresser and a few books and sports equipment that he stored in the closet. The room looked pretty empty and dejected when he was done, which was not helped by the fact that the walls hadn't been painted in almost a decade.

This is how the room looks now, after my daughter and I got finished with it. The walls are freshly painted in decorator's white (it's what we had in the hall closet), we got a new bigger bed for my man-sized boy, and brought in a new chair and shelf from Ikea and wall decor from Home Goods. We debated whether that wave-patterned comforter from Crate and Barrel looked too feminine, then I saw it was reduced from $159 to $40 and decided it went with our beach shack inspiration nicely. The orange and green painting on the far wall is one my son did back in middle school.

My husband says the room looks like someone who watches too much HGTV got hold of it. I beg to differ. If I had painted that wall behind the bed in an accent color, as I wish I had, then he might have a point. The lifeguard painting is supposed to symbolize my son's core desire to guard life. It's a good metaphor for him, and it works literally, too. He is not only a certified lifeguard, but this spring he also got certified to teach life-guarding, for which he will earn extra this summer.

Not much changed on this side of the room. That's the faithful old desk at which I wrote my first book, and where my son later dawdled over hours of homework, often falling asleep there with his head on his books. The pink and green stick in the corner is a pole vault pole he broke during a track meet. For some reason he is attached to it and brought it home from college. He told us that when he fell from that great height, he lay on his back for a while thinking, Okay, are you alive? Check. Can you move your torso? Check. Okay, dude, you're going to be okay.

His dresser is still a repository for myriad medals and trophies in track, soccer and basketball. Below are a few photos from the day when everything was thrown out, which was also prom day for my daughter.

My son managed to convince his sister, cousin and best friend to help him with the decluttering. The atmosphere was almost festive, with music on Pandora pounding in the background.

My son's best friend, a neighbor who has been a regular in our home since both boys were toddling around in nursery school, scored the navy blue chinos he is wearing in this picture. He declined the brightly colored shirts, however. My son generally introduces his friend as his brother, which confuses people and causes them to look cross-eyed at my husband. But really, we do think of him as our other son.

The clearing out unearthed a wood-shop bowling alley and movie theater mall that my daughter's five best friends made for her in fourth grade to cheer her up on a day when she was moody. Here she is showing her cousin the levels of the construction. The bowling alley is in her hand. Underneath it is the movie theater, carefully crafted seats and all.

The mall continued to delight my girl all afternoon. But it's a challenge to store, which is how it ended up in her brother's closet. It has now found a new home in her room.

Food break. My daughter is holding up the boutonniere that she would later forget to take for her prom date. Her brother and cousin had gone to get it for her the day before. Her brother even paid for it. And now it lives in our freezer, with my daughter conducting an experiment to see if it will last indefinitely, maybe even till next year's prom.

The preferred snack of the day was grilled cheese panini on organic rye with butter and extra sharp cheddar. For some reason, this really hit the spot for the workers. The bags held clothing and toys to be donated to our church. Many more bags of stuff went into the dumpster behind our building.

My daughter later got inspired and decided she had stuff to clear out of her room too. She winnowed her stuffed animal collection by half, not that you would notice the difference. There is still a small country of them hanging out in her room. Below is my daughter's room before we rearranged it to fit the twin bed that used to be in my son's room. Yes, her space was crying out for attention.

Here is her room after some tender loving care. The second bed will come in super handy for my niece, who always opts for the living room couch rather than the trundle under my daughter's bed. Somehow they were always too lazy to pull it out.

One thing is sure. We have a lot of space for company now. Which is good, because company arrives today. My son and his friend are in flying from London to New York as I write this, arriving this afternoon. My cousin who lives in Trinidad, will be staying with us next weekend. And our friend from Antigua, the woman who introduced my husband and me, arrives the week after. We need as many sleeping spots as we can get in this house. 

We still have half a wall of cluttered bookshelves to tackle in my daughter's room, but we'll get to that when she finishes final exams next week. Come to think of it, she is always doing final exams in the midst of a major household chaos brought by the college kids coming home. I wonder what her grades would be like if she had peace and calm during finals every year. Okay, I'm off the tidy up the rest of the place and get some flowers to greet our guest. Later, y'all. 

Friday, June 3, 2011


Photograph by Leslie Gartrell

This was the moment it became real for me. We were all sitting around with friends in the roof garden, drinking sangria and eating pot luck gourmet. Within the easy overlapping conversations, someone mentioned Jim's tattoos. Leslie, his wife, reflected that he had had only three when she met him, and while they were married she had sat for countless hours watching him get inked with countless more. Did you know what each one meant, someone asked. She did. She explained a few of them, the symbols of bands that he had avidly followed. Down at the other end of the roof garden, our teenage children sat together around a table, talking intently. Over their heads, a beach ball sun lowered itself into the Hudson River, a bleeding glory of orange light. We all fell silent for a moment, looking at the sun making haloes around our children, our hearts full at the sight of them, there for one another after all these years. After a while, Leslie noted softly, "All those tattoos are gone now." That was the moment I let it in.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I found this picture recently. It's my girl on a seventh grade class trip to Chinatown. She had just turned 13 years old. I love the grown up cool of the sunglasses and the self-conscious tilt of her head paired with childish bubbles on her careless self-made braids. This picture makes me happy.