Monday, December 31, 2012

Virginia Weekend

As soon as we arrived Friday night, the cousins fell into their usual "flow."

Aunt Maisy caught up with her grand-nephew in the living room.

My cousin, who is like my sister, posed with her godson.

Aunt Maisy was in her usual mischievous form, despite the late hour.

The next morning, I found my cousin and her husband talking their son and holding hands.

Game night on Sunday was a smashing success. 

We headed home at daybreak on New Year's eve, our son driving, our girl pensive. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

There will be laughs

We're heading out this evening to spend the weekend with our Virginia/ Washington, D.C./ Maryland family. Mostly we're going to see Aunt Maisy, my mom's middle sister who at 87 is battling late-stage lung cancer and heart issues. She is getting weaker. She is saying things like she's ready to go, that this will be her last Christmas. I remember the summer before my dad died, when he was cancer ridden, he looked at me pointedly and said, "One more Christmas." He died the following February. My Aunt Maisy isn't necessarily going anywhere soon, however. She likes to joke that although she is in the departure lounge, she is traveling by BWIA (British West Indian Airways), an airline that is so notoriously late that in the Caribbean we joke that the acronym really stands for "Bound to Wait in Airport" or "But Will it Arrive," or "Better Walk if Able." We haven't seen Aunt Maisy in a while, so we're going to spend the weekend with her, and my cousin, her daughter, has planned what she is calling a "game night jamboree" for Sunday, to which all our D.C. area family is invited. There will be laughs because Aunt Maisy loves nothing more than to share a good joke, she collects them for just such occasions, and she always laughs first and hardest at own her jokes. She can barely get them out sometimes she's laughing so hard, so that everyone around can't help laughing too because it's just so darn funny and good to watch Aunt Maisy laugh. That's my aunt below, the cool one in the shades, under my cousin's watchful eye. Can't you just see the next quip ready to burst out of her?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Why we tell

Rachel wrote these words: "My heart has felt like it’s going to explode all day, a sore throbbing under my ribs, a beat up leather mitt and I thought coming here to release the valve would help a little, but so far what’s troubling me has no way of getting out... There’s no hope of cutting out the things we’ve done, the people we’ve met, our experiences, griefs, triumphs. Right now I’m just trying to mold the aches into places more soothing than the surface of my skin."

Reading these words, I wondered if perhaps the melancholy that hides there underneath the ribs might be exacerbated by the expectations of the season. It demands we feel joy yet stirs up the darkest imaginings in me. There is always that sense of what has been lost, what has, of necessity or human frailty or merely the passage of time, been abandoned. I remember everything that used to be more perfectly than it ever could have been, and it makes me ache. I create worst case scenarios in my head, and hang them on the flimsiest notions. I came here to try and exorcise them by writing them out of myself but couldn't summon the words. So when I read what Rachel had written, within a meditation on the spiritual power of poetry, it was a gift. I felt somehow less afraid of being fearful, I could come out of hiding, I was not so wounded and alone.

There is a healing that can happen when we see ourselves in another's truth. Such is the grace I have found here, again and again, and thank you.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Someone posted these photos on Facebook of my son and his friend on the drive home from college, exhausted from finals, so ready to wind down. I love getting such unexpected glimpses of my children's lives away from me. I'd wager some of you will understand.

Christmas in Five Acts

Act 1
Wake up slow, call the parents and siblings, the aunts and cousins. Open gifts. Leave the crumpled wrapping paper all over the floor, the way my husband likes it, at least for an hour or so. My brother in Jamaica sends photos of my mother surrounded by everyone who comes to visit. He sends them by cell phone and keeps sending them all morning. This is his present to me.

Act 2
Make breakfast of sausages and scrambled eggs, with tomato sauce stirred in, and onions and tomatoes, cheese and diced ham, just the way my dad used to make it on Christmas morning. Then holiday movies on TV, with no one really watching; my son figuring out his new gizmo that tracks his every movement, sleep patterns, eating habits, activity levels (of course the family member who needs this device least wanted it most); my husband reading on his Kindle; my daughter napping on the couch; me watching episodes of Parenthood and taking and making phone calls.

Act 3
My husband and son go to the supermarket for Christmas dinner fixings while my daughter and I clean up the house, clear the wrapping paper, rescue the bows, pack the dishwasher, wipe down the counters, tidy the bathrooms and get everything ready for round two. My husband makes almost the entire meal of honey glazed ham, three cheese mac and cheese, barbeque chicken, caesar salad, and heats up the savory corn souffle I made earlier. Everybody dresses for company.

Act 4
While my husband finishes cooking dinner (God bless this man), my son, daughter and I go over to visit Aunt Winnie, whose gifts we delivered last evening. My cousin, the poli sci professor, is already there. My son helps her run a string of Christmas lights around the window and fairy lights around a little table top tree. She has brought a whole holiday meal for Aunt Winnie and her home attendant; I am to provide tomorrow's dinner. She has also brought a stuffed toy Santa and a raft of red poinsettias, just to make sure Aunt Winnie knows it's Christmas. Another aunt, who is 90, and her daughter, who lived with our family for a few years while we were growing up, are also there. We are unrelated by blood, but they are family. They will be having Christmas dinner with us, but have stopped by to see Aunt Winnie on the way. My mom calls while we are there and we put her on speaker phone and everyone talks at once, such a cacophonous crew, including Aunt Winnie, trying to get a word in edgewise. Finally, we all shut up so Aunt Winnie can have her say, even though we don't understand a single word of it. But her spirits are good.

Act 5
We walk back home, all of us together, and serve dinner, not standing on one bit of ceremony. Aunt Megan says this is just what she needs, everything low key. We watch a hard fought basketball game, Mimai Heat versus Oklahoma City, a rematch of last season's finalists. My daughter, the game fan, is fascinated by how knowledgeable her 90-year old aunt is about the teams. Later, my daughter and I go to see the 10:30 p.m. show of Les Miserables. The men clean up, having declined to leave to house at that hour. The movie is almost three hours long, and a good portion of the city has turned out for opening night. The line stretches down three flights of stairs, out of the theater and down the street to the next avenue. We are just now getting home. No critiques here tonight. I loved the film. I especially loved sharing the music with my daughter. It's 3:30 a.m. and the whole house is now asleep. Except for me, sitting here with my noisy brain, which doesn't drown out the happy.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Her Christmas Morning

My mother was standing at the shore, holding a child's hand in hers. The waves swirled high and close and she became aware that her other hand was being held by someone she could not see. She worried about the waves, that they would wash the child out to sea. She held on tight. She called out, "Help me with this child, please help me." The woman who helps her appeared at her bedside, asking if she was okay. My mother said, "Please help me with this child." The woman who helps her whose name is Mavis said, "There is no child Grandma, you were dreaming." It had all been so real my mother didn't believe her. She had felt the sand under her feet, tasted the salty spray, loved the sea breeze rustling her hair. "A dream?" she said, confused. And then she saw that she was in her room at my brother's house in Kingston, Jamaica, her nine-year-old grandson skidding down the hall, yelling, "Merry Christmas, Grandma! Grandma, look what I got!" And then she knew she had been dreaming, and it was okay.

Monday, December 24, 2012

While Wrapping Gifts

I mostly avoid posting pictures of myself here. Whatever it says about me, I don't much like looking at my own image. But I don't want to miss recording moments such as this one while wrapping gifts, when when my daughter put reindeer antlers with little red bows on my head, pulled on her Santa hat, then plopped in my lap, hugged me and said, "Daddy, take a picture of us!" The background's blurred because really, it was a mess, but my girl? To me, she shines.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Last night we had dinner with dear friends, one of whom dosed me with his magic potion of apple cider vinegar and honey for my cold. I think it's working. I awoke still feeling a little achy but my head felt almost clear. We all got dressed and went Christmas caroling at church. My husband wore a tie my dad had once given him from his own collection. I know he wore it for me. I loved seeing him rooted and professorial at the end of our row, singing the carols, reading the lesson, our spiritual center. Some of the carols made me teary. It wasn't sadness, just a rich nostalgic remembering those long ago Christmases when both my parents were here, and cousins and aunts and uncles were all around. I watched my son during the service showing his friend where we were in the program and explaining some of the rituals. I thought again that my boy knows instinctively how to be a friend. After church, we had brunch at our favorite restaurant, and then went Christmas shopping. The men went off in one direction and my daughter and I in the other and there was much texting subterfuge between the two groups as we crisscrossed the city, trying not to run into each other as we visited many of the same stores. Now we're back home, gifts stashed, everybody exhausted, my husband watching the Giants game, the kids intermittently napping. Later, we will wrap gifts and watch a movie and tomorrow my kids will still be here and I don't have to go to work. It is a fairly perfect Sunday.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Even Better

Last night was festive, with my daughter and three friends skipping up and down the hall between the kitchen, where they mixed up a batch of cupcakes after eating dinner, and her room, where they lounged on the floor looking at old photographs of themselves, and then on the bed, all of them pretzeled and reading magazines, talking and laughing and catching up. It was just four of them, but their energy was a lovely whirlwind, bouncing and skipping and laughing and talking all at once, and I lay on my bed, fighting a cold and watching Parenthood on Netflix, and I smiled at the sounds from all corners of my house.

In the living room the men watched Knicks basketball. Yes, the men watched sports and the women cooked and read magazines, but sometimes in our house the men cook, too, and the women watch basketball, so don't make too much of any of that. My son's friend from college, a kid from Taiwan whose flight home isn't until Monday, wrapped himself in a blanket and cheered the Knicks on with my husband and son. They did not move from their respective couches except to eat dinner, and then they settled back down, getting used to having nothing they had to do.

One of my daughter's friends slept over and I have no idea when they got to bed, as they were still skipping up and down the hallway when the rest of us turned in. I pulled the door to my son's room shut so his friend might actually get some sleep, as those girls sounded as if they were ready to go all night. My son, as usual, made the living room couch his bed for the night. I don't know exactly why he loves sleeping there, but this has been true since high school. I let him. Don't sweat the small stuff.

This morning my husband left early to go and get poinsettias to decorate the church sanctuary for Christmas service tomorrow, and every one else kept sleeping. Finally I got up, showered and dressed for the day, and checked on Joe, my son's friend. He was awake, politely reading in bed and no doubt wondering at the absurdly late hour of rising in our household. It was almost ten. I asked if he was hungry and he said, "Yes, actually," which probably meant he was ravenous. I told him come on out to the kitchen where he sat at the counter and I fixed him a cheese, tomato and onion omelet, the two of us chatting. Very sweet kid. Polite but not stiff, and very willing to share his story. As we sat there chatting, my son in the living room slept on, and it occurred to me that when my son brings a female friend home, he's always up before her, fixing her breakfast and making sure she's taken care of. But when it's a male friend, those boys are on their own.

Eventually the girls emerged. My daughter was rushing by then, because she was supposed to meet some of her high school friends to bake cookies and hand out to an AIDS hospice and a firehouse, something that particular group has done every year since 9/11. Apparently, they have decided to continue to tradition. My son and his friend left to go Christmas shopping shortly after the girls banged out of the house, and then it was just my husband and me, looking at each each other, laughing and not even having to explain what we were laughing about. The clamor and the noise. And then blessed peace. I love it all.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Rumpled Life

I am rather enjoying the sight of the rumpled bed in my daughter's room. And my son is right now on his way home, driving along the highway with college buddies who are also headed home. He arrives this afternoon and will no doubt waste no time in rumpling his room, too. He will have a friend with him who will be staying the weekend as his overseas flight home doesn't leave until Monday. The circus is in town for the next few weeks and I will be mindful in my front row seat, enjoying every act. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Twilight on 85th Street

Hey there. I couldn't stay away. Maybe I'll just post pictures here for a while. Even though I already have things I want to tell you. I suppose if they matter enough, they'll keep. In the meantime, I will try to stay still enough so I can figure out why I'm feeling so vulnerable. Sometimes our feelings get hurt for no good reason, and we have to find the grown up inside us, and speak from that place, live from that place, no matter how insistent the child voice might be.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hitting Pause

Maybe this week was too much. Maybe this blog has reached critical mass and I need to start a new one. In any case, I'm taking a breather to sort it out. I'm not going anywhere far. I'll see you over at your place. Please leave a light on.

Glass Houses

Yesterday morning my daughter and I caught up on Survivor, which has been our show since she was seven. Our whole family used to watch. My husband and son fell away after a few seasons, but my girl and I only bonded more deeply over analyzing the social and psychological machinations required to play the game. It's human nature in a glass crucible, usually set on a deserted beach. The finale is tonight and we plan to cozy up in blankets and watch all three hours of it.

And no, I wont muse on who are the true survivors in our world this week. There is already enough talk to go around, and I don't have anything to helpful to add. This article by the mother of an emotionally troubled 13-year-old made me ever more aware of how easy it is to stand on the sidelines and think we know. Even the backlash this mother now has to weather for putting her singular truth out there leaves me exhausted with not knowing.

So I'm just living my life today, being very consciously thankful for the children who I am blessed to mother. Also on tap: Christmas shopping and much needed grocery shopping, and then my daughter and her dad are going to get and decorate the tree. My son said it was mean to post photos on Facebook of his sister lounging around, because his final exams start tomorrow and he is deep in studying. One hopes. So I'm also posting a picture of him from Thanksgiving as a promise of what awaits him when his work is done. I can hardly wait till both my grown babies are back under my roof for a while. In a week such as this has been, it's all I want.

Elizabeth posted this poem yesterday. It says everything I cannot.

A Brief for the Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafes and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

From Refusing Heaven by Jack Gilbert

Saturday, December 15, 2012

She's off to The Ballet

Her young man's brother dances for Alvin Ailey and will be performing the lead in The Nutcracker this afternoon and they have tickets. When she told me she was going I almost blurted, "Oooo, fabulous! Can I go too?" But of course, I didn't. I remembered that I am the mama and said demurely, "How wonderful. Have a lovely time." And then I turned my camera on her as she rolled up her sleeves and donned her coat until finally she said, "Mom, I think you have about a dozen pictures now." Actually it was more. Life goes on, and I am grateful.

No easy answers

It is emerging that the shooter was a high-functioning autistic kid who had become increasingly unstable in recent weeks, according to a concerned friend. Four years ago, his parents divorced. He stayed on with his mother in the family home in a prosperous suburban enclave. His mother reportedly was an avid gun collector, who took her sons to recreational shooting ranges. So this troubled young man was a trained shooter with easy access to a range of legally owned guns in his own home.

There's no point in blaming his mother. I am quite sure she never saw this coming. I am also quite sure that if she had known how to help her youngest son, she would have petitioned the heavens to do so.

Now, we sift through the ashes to find the fateful moment, the spark that bloomed into a raging destructive fire. We try so hard to understand it, but it's not understandable. Perhaps the only people who might have shed light on what pushed a socially awkward young man with no known history of violence to shoot a schoolroom of children, perished in the flames.

As one of my friends noted on Facebook: "Yes, it's about access to guns, especially to handguns and assault weapons, but it is also about lack of access to effective care for the mentally ill. Let's get mad about that, too."

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Personal Best

It's a Christmas miracle! I texted my son, daughter and niece as I left home this morning. The scaffolds in front of our building are coming down!

Then I came into work and as I was walking past a coworker's office she beckoned me in. "Did you hear?" she whispered. "They're doing in layoffs in January."

Instant anxiety. Now I am wound tight as a drum, vibrating with stress thoughts.

But here's something. My beautiful daughter arrives home tonight. She's completed her first semester of college already. And she seems happy! She definitely thinks she chose the right college for herself, so that really worked out.

My son has one more week of finals, and then he will be home, too. He gave us a whole balance sheet about why he's moving out of his campus apartment and into an off campus house with his buddies, and how it will save us so much money. I was convinced. I made the requisite calls to the school to see if they would release him/us from the housing contract and since he is a second semester senior, they did.

Oddly, my husband isn't completely on board with this. He feels we made an arrangement for the year and our son should see it through. This is a man who honors his contracts, which I love about him. He said, "So strange. Usually I am the one saying, Let them go, but this time, you're ahead of me." It's probably nothing more than the fact that I lived off campus my last year of college while my husband was in dorms all four years.

In any event, I don't worry about the non-stop party I imagine our boy having with his housemates because who are we kidding? He doesn't have to live there to be a part of the festivities. But he does get his work done, and track season has started so the high jinks will taper off a bit now. I'm just glad my son cares about always improving his PR—his personal best—in track events. He is a heptathlete so that's seven PRs for him to work on. His body is his instrument, so he has to take some measure of care of it.

My daughter just texted me she's on the bus home. Wooo hoooo!!!

(Back to work.)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Rituals, Obsessions, Rules and Dreams

“This, after all, was the month in which families began tightening and closing and sealing; from Thanksgiving to the New Year, everybody's world contracted, day by day, into the microcosmic single festive household, each with its own rituals and obsessions, rules and dreams. You didn't feel you could call people. They didn't feel they could phone you. How does one cry for help from these seasonal prisons?” —Zadie Smith, On Beauty

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cliff Notes

I read an essay by Lydia Netzer about marriage the other day and in it she said that one should look at one's husband as if he is the sexiest most wonderful man in the world, whom you adore, and he will soon start behave as if he is sexy and wonderful and adored, and he will so adore that view of himself he will adore you for it. Maybe there is something to it. Especially if he is sexy and wonderful and you do indeed adore him.

The photo is of my husband and me before we were married. My friend, the woman who introduced us one magical summer, recently posted this oldie but goodie on her Facebook page. We were definitely both doing some adoring there.

Here's what else is on my mind this Sunday: The whole Fiscal Cliff debacle that is playing out in Congress. I am trying to get my head around the various outcomes. As I understand it, President Obama's non negotiable position is to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the 98 percent of Americans making less than $250,000 a year, while raising taxes on the rich, who can afford to pay a larger share. The Senate has already ratified this plan, but if the Republican-led House fails to reach an new tax agreement by the end of the year, then the Bush-era tax cuts will expire, and taxes will go up on all Americans, including the financially squeezed middle and poorer classes, and millions will lose their unemployment benefits come the first of the new year. But taxes will also go up for the top 2 percent, the millionaire and billionaire class, and all those new taxes will help to bring down the national deficit. On the other hand, if middle and lower income households have less cash flow, the argument goes, that could adversely affect the economic recovery. But would it? The tax rates would revert to what they were under Clinton in the nineties, when most Americans were doing better than at any time since. 

All this to say, it's possible going over the fiscal cliff may not be the unmitigated disaster it's being made out to be. After all, after his inauguration in January, Obama could then propose to lower taxes on all but the wealthiest, and if the Republicans in the House fight that, then they will be seen as fighting against lowering taxes for 98 percent of Americans in order to protect the very rich. I suppose Obama could also move to reinstate unemployment benefits. Of course there are programs and subsidies that stand to be snipped in any deal that is made, and how the nation fares depends on what and how much is cut in that regard. Still, it does seem to me that the President is holding better cards in this Fiscal Cliff scenario, which begs the question, why are the Republicans fighting so hard? Apart from their commitment to seeing this President fail, and their sycophantic relationship with the rich, what am I not seeing? And get this: Even the millionaires club is speaking up and telling Congress to just get on with it and tax them. So what is all the hubbub really about?

In other news, I texted my daughter, "Whatcha doin'?" She texted back, "Making paper snowflakes and half studying." And then she texted me this picture of her sweet bespectacled self.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Heart Opening Music

Elizabeth posted this of the British Paraorchestra today.

And Marylinn posted this of the Som Sabadell flashmob in Spain.

Watch them both. Don't even think about it. Just do it. 
My friend Tamara called this "heart opening music," 
the kind that makes you cry from the purest joy.  

Friday, December 7, 2012

Stomping Ground

This is the view from St. Paul's chapel on the campus of Columbia University where my husband and I were married 26 years ago. I love this campus. It was the place I came to when I first arrived in New York City as an untried 18 year old. I eventually lived in sixteen different places in that neighborhood, dorm rooms and then apartments. I have never left. My future husband and I shared our first kiss in the shadow of the old world lanterns that stood guard on either side of the steps to Low Library. My children played on the red brick and cobblestones of College Walk when they were small and climbed in and out of the fountains. I relish the fact that this hallowed place of learning with it's majestic past and present century architecture and students of all the world's nationalities is my literal back yard. And every winter, as the holidays approach, the tree lined walk becomes a fairy-lit wonderland, illuminating the city that I decided when I was just five years old and visiting Aunt Winnie, was where I was meant to be. Perhaps I already knew Aunt Winnie would one day need me, as I have needed her.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


The text my daughter sent this morning:

Will you still love me if I fail? I just want a yes or no.

I replied:

Yes. Of course I will. Want to talk?

After ten minutes or so, this:

Haha im okay mom, just going into a test. Cant really talk, still got studying to do. 

And then a minute later:

Love you tooo

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Flimsy Scaffolds

I haven't been writing and commenting much, there's so much going on and I can barely process it all. But this morning, I am twisting again with anxiety, I feel it slithering through me, and I need to get a handle on it all. Finances everywhere are so damn tight. I won't talk about mine, because all that happens is my son reads it and begins to deny himself basic needs in the name of saving us money. And that makes me crazy. Neither of my children is unreasonable about money. They're both conscious and responsible, and both got themselves jobs on campus without our ever directing them to do so. But my son has this instinct to deprive himself of things I think he needs just to function optimally and perform in an academic context. At the start of the year, he cut his meal plan to save money, for example. It thought it was a bad idea, and argued with him for a compromise. I also worry he's working too many hours. He's the assistant aquatics coordinator and sets up all the swim meets and schedules and supervises the lifeguards at the college's Aquatic Center. And he's a swimming instructor, too. He insists he wants nothing for Christmas, but I am incapable of not putting a gift for him under the tree. Yes, the gifts will be modest this year. Suffice it to say it's time to pay spring semester tuition for both kids, and we are counting carefully.

But the finances that really have me brooding this morning are Aunt Winnie's. She has now lived long enough that the money she has coming in for pension and social security is no longer enough to cover her needs. God, when I just wrote that, and looked at it in plain type, the tears overflowed. I had no idea I was about to cry. I realize I am scared and overwhelmed from trying to make her money stretch. Yesterday, the disability trust, to whom I submit her bills, called and said they didn't have enough on account to pay her phone and cable bill, which sent me into a round of recorded menu loops with the phone and cable company trying frantically to determine how many days she had left before they cut off her phone. Which she needs to service her pacemaker. Plus, a woman who can't get out of bed needs to have phone and lights and a working TV. We have 22 more days to bring the bill current. This means that I will need to pay her bill and have the trust reimburse me when her December payment posts. But that will create another shortfall. Meanwhile one of my cousins is giving Aunt Winnie's jobless daughter money every two weeks and she needs to be reimbursed. I feel like I'm screaming my head off but no one can hear.

The reason my aunt's money is tighter than ever is that our co-op has not only raised maintenance charges by thirty percent, they also added a six-month thirty percent assessment on top of that to pay for all the facade and roof repair and chimney and boiler replacement construction projects they have been mismanaging for the past four-plus years. At the same time, Citibank closed down my aunt's line of credit. They said they were cleaning up "outdated technologies" but I think they shut her down because she is old, and they think she's going to die soon and they don't want to be left holding the bag. Had I known they were going to close it down, I would have withdrawn every penny she had there, instead of trying to be so fiscally prudent on her behalf. Now, that safety net is gone, and her retirement income just won't cover everything. I don't quite know what to do, because I can't personally cover the shortfall. And everyone else in the family is having their own struggles. Besides, any contributions family members might make would only be a temporary fix.

My mom called this morning and asked could we send money to my cousins in Canada who are having it hard. And to my aunt in New Jersey whose family got so battered by Hurricane Sandy. I took a deep breath and for the first time ever I said to her, No, Mom, we can't. Not right now. In February, maybe, but not right now. I think I needed to write this down and look at it plain. I needed the release of crying.

This is how I know that the scaffolds around our buildings have been blocking out the light for going on four years. This photo of my son and my mom was taken in August 2008, on the morning we left to drive him to his freshman year of college. My son will graduate this coming May. I'm noticing in this photo that my son and my mom have the same high foreheads. How I love those brainy foreheads. Better that I meditate on this.

Monday, December 3, 2012

On her way!

My brilliant niece got into dental school today!
 This is her dream. And she's making it happen.
Joy all around, big smiles and deep exhales.

The photo of the dentist-to-be was taken by my daughter last August in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia. She had already sent in all her applications. I'm struck by how much she looks like a young version of my mother, her grandmother, in this photograph. She made her grandmother proud and happy today; her parents, her aunts and uncles, her sister and cousins and other beloveds too! Everybody here is walking on air. You'd think we were the ones who got into dental school!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Stars Aligned

The stars suspended inside the Time Warner Media Center change colors, from red to purple to pink to blue, all through the holidays, visible through the glass facade from Central Park, from the cars crawling around Columbus Circle, the colors dancing to Christmas music above the heads of shoppers. My daughter and I used to like to do our Christmas shopping there. It was never quite as insane as other shopping malls, and we could find all manner of gifts in the Borders bookstore, where we used to take a break and drink hot mulled cider and people watch. But now the bookstore is closed down, and so are other storefronts, making the whole second floor look shiny and forlorn. I think we'll shop elsewhere this year. Maybe we'll just stay in our neighborhood. I'm in the mood for a very quiet and low-key Christmas, just the family, puttering indoors, making a fine meal together. My daughter, when she was home last weekend, made her dad promise he would wait till she got back home after final exams to put up the tree. This is how it usually is. My husband and daughter bring home, set up and trim the tree while my son and I lounge on the couches and point out spaces in the light strings and baubles, maybe raising a cup of egg nog but lifting barely a finger otherwise. And everyone's happy, temperaments aligned.

Almost December

I found this photo of my kids when they were ten and seven, early one morning at the departure gate at JFK airport, waiting for our flight to be called. Our son was playing a Pokemon game on his Nintendo, his sister intently awaiting her turn. In our suitcases were Christmas gifts galore. I am remembering all the years when the arrival of December meant preparing to travel to somewhere warm, Antigua or St. Lucia and occasionally Jamaica, to spend the Christmas with one set of grandparents and the New Year with the other. We reversed the order of the islands from year to year, so that our kids would get to spend Christmas with each set of grandparents equally. And there were cousins and friends and beach days and family dinners with all the generations, and the kids were barefoot all the time, even jumping into the car with Uncle Bruce for a run to the supermarket to get an ingredient Nana wanted. And then everyone grew up. Two of the four grandparents passed on. The other two grow increasingly frail. Some bonds have frayed. Everyone is caught up in the immediate, every one of us poorer than before. But there's no use crying. Suck it up, buster. Be grateful it ever was. This is life. It turns and turns and turns.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mood Meds

Elizabeth asked in comments whether Brothers and Sisters is worth watching; she said she needs another series to hold her interest. Since she turned me on to two of the most enjoyably intense TV series ever, Breaking Bad and Friday Night Lights, and because I know that adrift feeling when you don't have a go-to series on Netflix, I want to give a thoughtful answer. I'm answering here rather than in comments or email in case anyone else needs a series to unwind with at the end of the day. Brothers and Sisters can be that, like an old tee shirt, soft with use, the comfort predictable and familiar when you want to just mentally float. It's definitely not heavy lifting, but it's diverting, occasionally funny, occasionally sad, occasionally silly, and it does have some actors I enjoy watching—Rachel Griffiths (formerly of Six Feet Under), Sally Field, Ron Rifkin, Matthew Rhys.

I also enjoy the large close squabbling chaotic can't-keep-a-secret family aspect of it, and its determined if superficial correctness on social issues (gay marriage, trans racial adoption, politics, motherhood, marital affairs, surprise offspring, foster care). And when I get sleepy I just turn it off mid-sentence; it never keeps me up at night. It ran for five seasons of 24 episodes each, so it can last a while. It's not anything like Breaking Bad, Six Feet Under, Friday Night Lights, Downton Abby, or Homeland in the way it absorbs and galvanizes my thoughts for hours after. It's not taxing like that, but I'd still recommend it for when you don't want to be taxed but don't particularly want to think about other things either. The series quite efficiently holds my attention and gives me a voyeuristic sense of living in a perfectly appointed house, too. I'm now two-thirds of the way through the final season and can tell things are winding-down.

Now Parenthood. Elizabeth, you mentioned you have been watching that. Several people have mentioned that series to me, and I got the sense that it's like Brothers and Sisters but slightly elevated as an ensemble drama. I was probably going to go to that series next, but in your comment you sound a little lukewarm about it. How are you finding it?

And everyone else, what series are you watching that you can't get enough of or simply find easy to return to? At the risk of sounding like a commercial, watching back-to-back episodes of an entertaining or thought-provoking series on my Kindle Fire has been like mood meds for me. Curling up with an ongoing series levels me out and keeps my noisy brain from yapping too loudly. So please send along those recommendations for watchable dramas that might quiet the noise. Thank you my loves.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sun Goes Down

It was a good weekend, the house straining at its seams with people from all the different corners of our lives, family members, college friends, childhood friends, raised-our-kids-together friends, and some who we were meeting for the first time, like my son's friend's friend who spent a summer with her in Israel and came into the city from her home in Long Island to meet her college friends. We went to the movies, the teenagers went Black Friday shopping, we ate leftovers and watched season one of Homeland, and every so often I looked around the house, at the towels piled on top of one another in the bathrooms, everyone's cosmetics crowded together on the shelves, the kitchen counter covered in food and drink and just emptied dishes, the sink perpetually full, the dishwasher going continuously, and the living room, rearranged for Thanksgiving, with pillows and cushions scattered on the floor, and bodies stretched out everywhere. Throughout, the college kids came and went, their animated talk and laughter announcing their arrival or trailing them down the hallway, and the younger cousins watched them leave and leave again, their eyes wistful, a feeling I remember so well from waving goodbye to adored older cousins in my own adolescence, and it occurs to me now how similar it feels when I wave goodbye now as a mother.

The college kids left first, falling over one another at seven this morning, a jumble of movement, stuffing clothes into bags and flat-ironing hair and pulling on sneakers and throwing used towels into the hamper, basketball style, and before I knew it they had assembled at the front door, overnight bags in hand, hugs and kisses all around and more goodbyes called down the hallway as they disappeared into the elevator, voices weaving happily because is there anything happier than to be with your friends heading off together when you're 21 and 18?

The rest of us watched more Homeland episodes, but for my church man, who went to services and then a vestry meeting, and in the early afternoon the rest of the cousins hit the road back to Columbia, Maryland, and the only one left now is my cousin who lives in Trinidad, who will be here until Tuesday. After finally marshaling the energy to clean up the kitchen and put everything back where it belongs, we are having a deliciously slow second half of the day, my cousin reading on her paperwhite, me watching Brothers and Sisters on Netflix, and my husband cheering and groaning over the Saints and the 49ers, depending on what's happening in the game. The sounds he makes, which broadcast how his preferred team is doing, are the ones my daughter says she most misses as the backdrop to her Sundays. I know what she means. Somehow those sounds convey all is easy and right in the world, at least in this little world we sometimes manage to inhabit on Sundays, when nothing needs to be more serious than football.

My son took the photo above from our apartment complex at dusk on the Friday after Thanksgiving. It reminds me of that song by The Wanted, which just about sums up how I'm feeling:

The sun goes down
The stars come out
And all that counts
Is here and now
My universe will never be the same
I'm glad you came
I'm glad you came

Saturday, November 24, 2012


All the college kids were home for the Thanksgiving break
Aunt Megan was here from Jamaica

Cousins and friends lounged on my bed chatting
My son made candied yams using his Grandma's recipe

My other cousin came in from Trinidad
The boys had a fine old time joshing with my husband

The girls found time to check the social networks

This year, most of my mother's clan gathered in West Palm Beach, Florida for a Thanksgiving family reunion, traveling from Jamaica and the Bahamas, and Canada and Virginia and Marlyand for the weekend. Meanwhile, we were an outpost in New York, receiving photos and texts from our relatives down South, with news of splashing in pools and playing inter generational soccer, while we took a meal together and generally enjoyed a low key Thanksgiving. Every person here was a soul I am deeply comfortable with, and so my usual angst and feelings of overstimulation abated, and I just let myself be in the moment, aware of the goodness of it all.

My husband cooked the melt-in-your mouth turkey and most of the rest of the meal, too, though I made my famous corn and cheese souffle and my son called his grandmother as usual to be talked through the steps for the candied yams, while one cousin made a potato salad and another acted as sou chef. Other family and friends arrived with plantains and blueberry cranberry sauce and all manner of pies, and it was once again a feast.

My niece was sorely missed, but she sent us missives from the reunion, including a picture of my brother's children cuddled with my 85-year-old aunt and the caption, "Aunt Grace smells so good!" My mother couldn't be there with the rest of them. Travel is too hard for her now, so she stayed in Jamaica with my sister in law. When I knew she couldn't go, it was then I decided that our family would just stay put as well and host our usual crew. We don't really have the funds for multiple air fares and hotel rooms, and the relief and happiness in my cousins on my dad's side, and my friends who usually do Thanksgiving at our house, made me really happy that we decided to stay home.

Our numbers were slightly reduced by the Palm Beach reunion, but a good time was definitely had in New York City as well. At midnight the party in both places was still going strong, and there were women I love lounged across my bed sharing easy meandering talk of our lives in the way women do. The photos here are kind of random. The lighting in our house was dim, and I didn't take as many pictures as usual, but that's what comes of just being in the flow.