Monday, October 29, 2012

Waiting for Landfall

What am I feeling? I don't know. The elation of knowing I wouldn't need to go into the office today or tomorrow, the cosy feeling of shacking up away from the world, turned in a moment, and I didn't even notice it was happening. It was ridiculous in its suddenness, the way the darkness outside, the storm clouds hovering over the city seemed to seep inside me, and I can't even figure out why. Maybe I miss my children being here in my house, where I can keep them safe. Or maybe I just feel cranky, certainly the word of the week.

The city is empty, waiting for Hurricane Sandy to make landfall. The subways have closed down, the buses are parked, the supermarket shelves are empty, after the near hysteria of yesterday. The checkout lines snaked to the back of the store, up and down aisles, and the batteries were sold out, but the birthday candles I needed were right there for the taking, and bottled water was being replenished continuously. I didn't pick up enough canned food, according to my brother in Jamaica, who called to share tips on hurricane preparedness.

He warned that it wasn't the storm, it was the aftermath that might be tricky. The power outages for days. The loss of water that is delivered to our high rise apartments via electric pumps. I'm thinking of venturing outside to see if the 24 hour bodega on the corner of my street is still open, and if they have canned things I might buy.

This is how the streets look right now. The city is silent, except for the rustling of trees, and at the shoreline, the sound of the tides, rising.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Best

Today is my love's birthday and he has the flu. It is the first birthday he has celebrated in 21 years without at least one of his children part of the festivities. Even when we just got a cake and sang Happy Birthday just the few of us, it was a party. In the photo above, our son was eagerly helping his dad to cut the cake. It was 16 years ago now. Our son had just turned four and our daughter was not yet two. They were so tiny, and yet the house was so full of their presence. It's a lot quieter in the house this year, no sound of just awakened children padding out of their bedrooms, wrapped in blankets, falling into their dad's arms with happy birthday morning hugs. We miss them dearly but he is philosophical. They are getting on with their lives, and that is satisfying to him. He is a pragmatist, not a man to wring his hands, ever. With or without our children present, and even though he is feeling under the weather (no pun intended despite the monster hurricane/ nor'easter/ cold front moving in with great fanfare tonight and shutting down the whole wide subway system) there will be cake. And I will wrap my arms around him and let him know how much we all adore him, how even though the house is a littler quieter and so much neater, the love for him is all around, threading the very air, because he is the best father, the best husband, my best friend. Happy birthday, sweetheart. And many more.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Two More Weeks

This is me, 
not talking politics, 
keeping the faith 
and letting it be. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Moon Woman

Ms. Moon's wonderful post today, about sense memory and the light in October, holds these lines in its spacious arms:

Pain catches but simply hold still. Breathe in and out, it melts away, there is nothing at all to fear.

And she offers these instructions:

Wrap your body in blue linen that flows around your legs like water, your arms in softest cotton which holds them as gently as a lover's arms, warm under the covers. Feed your mouth sweet apples and bitter greens and look upon your feet, strong as a dancers', having yes, danced, through all these years. Comb your hair and tie it up above your neck which holds the head which holds the brain which holds the thoughts collected in all the cells through all the years. Ignore at your leisure, review at your pleasure, wear all your jewelry like queen's gold treasure around neck, around arms, around fingers, dripping from earlobes, fat like Buddha's, perhaps, or not.

And this:

And if there is pain, simply be still and breathe in and breathe out feel it melt away, softened and changed and then gone. 

Repeat and repeat and repeat as necessary.

Then rest.

There. See?

My husband and I have been rereading Khalil Gibran's The Prophet, and rediscovering the wisdom in that slim volume. We had each first encountered his words when we were teenagers, islands apart, me in Jamaica and him in Antigua, and as we passed out of our teens, we both dismissed those ideas that had so resonated in our questing hearts, adopting the mistaken notion that those words must have been trite to have moved us so, because after all, we were so young, what did we even know?

Turns out we knew what spoke to us, speaks to us still.

Thank you, dear Mary Moon, for these words that speak to me today.

There is nothing at all to fear.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Happy birthday to my dad, Lascelles, who would have been 89 years old today. I miss you, Daddy. I will be forever grateful that it was you who were my father, my role model, my protector, my champion, my guide. My life's blessings, too many to count, have issued from you and your beloved Gloria, my mom. That is forever true and I am forever blessed. Amen.

My dad was in his usual mischievous form a week after walking me down the aisle.

My mom keeps this photo of my dad, dashing on a motorcycle, next to her bed.

At Buckingham Palace, he received a knighthood for his work as jurist.

People we love dearly—my parents and brother (age 6); my husband and his parents.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

This Year At Farm Festival

The drummer, the baker, the comedian, the rebel. 

Our daughter came home for the weekend, having made plans with several of her friends to meet up at Manhattan Country School's annual Farm Festival on Saturday. The kids in the photo above, all college freshmen, have been friends since pre-K/ kindergarten/ first grade.

With their first grade teacher, Laura. 

Until they graduated from 8th grade and dispersed to different high schools, the members of that class bonded through the years of farm trips—barn chores and planting days and afternoons spent roaming those grassy hills, splashing in the stream and the frog pond, building snow forts in winter, playing manhunt in the pitch black night, sharing clothes and laughs and tears. 

Joined by Maiya, who guided them through their high school apps in 8th grade. 

Back in the city they navigated the happy chaos of small classrooms, and did spontaneous group therapy sessions huddled on the fire escape, especially during fifth grade, the year of the girl wars. They fearlessly stated their hurts and learned to accept each other's truths, and through all those years of shifting and regrouping, they came to the seventh grade autobiographies, in which they examined their young lives and excavated a conscious understanding of just how lucky they were to have each other. They promised to hold each other close. And they have.

This group of 9th graders, newly minted high schoolers, also returned. The bonds are real.

And so a handful who could, who attend college in state, came back to the city this weekend. There they were, wandering that lively harvest festival on a block where they spent their most formative years, startling their old teachers by how grown they are, the friendships as easy and flowing as when they were five, seven, ten, fourteen. 

One more. I love all these kids. And their parents, too. 

Then last night another one of their number arrived in town, this one all the way from Ohio where she attends Oberlin. When we opened our front door to her at almost 11 p.m. last night, she literally jumped into my daughter's arms, wrapped her legs around her and cried. The third of them looked on, twirling her hair. "Are you really crying?" she said. And soon they were all laughing and crying together and telling stories of their time away. I don't know how late this went, because my husband and I went to bed.

This morning, I stumbled into the kitchen to make coffee only to see two of the girls asleep under comforters on the couches, having drifted off watching Malcolm in the Middle on Netflix. And now my daughter has left to meet up with another friend (in the striped tee) to take the bus back to their college town together. There is nothing in this world like being accompanied on the journey.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

I just love the picture

That's Beyonce's little sister Solange and her son Julez in their Brooklyn dining room. Love the colors and the airiness and the attitude. The image on the wall is by Malick Sidibe.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Homeland 2

Homeland, season two—who's watching? Holy moley, is this show intense. I can't say anything more because I don't want to spoil anyone's viewing pleasure. I'll just say, every week I watch this show, and I have no idea where the writers will go next, nor where they can go. Every episode so far is as twisty and suspenseful as a season ender.

The show doesn't make you wait for answers, and that's part of its genius. That and the fact that for every question answered, for every exhale, there is another sharp intake of breath, a new question formed, and the acting is muscular and shaded.

Secretly bipolar CIA operative Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and former POW turned Congressman Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) will probably win Emmys for this season's performances. I wouldn't be surprised. This week, the show's writers took both characters to very dark places. Every week on this series, it's the end of the world. And then it not. And I keep watching.

Toxic 24/7

I really think the 24 hour news cycle is toxic. These pundits and talking heads yap and opine and whine incessantly, filling the endless minutes with a manufactured narrative, depending on the political bent of the news channel. Forget the Super Pacs and their flood of money and trash political ads, it's the 24 hour news cycle that is really going to decide the fate of the nation. They're going to decide it by what they cover, and what they ignore, by what they screech about, and what elicits nothing more than a shrug. Like the man in that tee shirt, for example. Why on earth is that okay? Oh right. Free speech is protected. No matter how hateful.

People who didn't watch the first presidential debate or the vice presidential debate think they know what happened. They've watched the news clips, they've seen MSNBC's Chris Matthews so operatically offended by the president's low-key civility in the first debate, they've heard Fox News commentators speculate on whether Joe Biden was drunk or suffering from dementia (he doesn't drink by the way) in the VP debate, they've dissected swing state polls ad nauseam, and I am so very tired of the prattle and hype, and dismayed by the degree to which people take what amounts to sensationalism and entertainment, as facts.

Speaking of facts, or the lack thereof, why isn't everyone deconstructing the misrepresentations and lies issuing from the Romney-Ryan camp? Why are pundits mildly amused by Republican senators who imply or flat out insist the positive jobs numbers last week were tampered with? Why won't commentators call the assertion what it is—outright treason. Why aren't they calling out the hateful tone of the Romney-Ryan base? Why aren't they jumping up and down about the efforts to disenfranchise anyone who might cast a ballot for the Democrat, an open, galling, in-your-face campaign to steal the election from voters.

You already know my political bent, and if you don't it's not hard to discern. But I think the whole tone of the media narrative right now is irresponsible in the extreme. Only a few commentators are making sense to me, young guns like Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes and Melissa Harris-Perry, who are doing the research and putting actual thought into what they report. As for the rest, let's just say I'm talking back at Joe Scarborough and his circle of men in suits on Morning Joe this morning. God, there's just so much noise. 

Update: Well, the Supreme Court upheld early voting in Ohio today, so kudos to them. I have to admit I thought they'd strike it down, especially since those bringing suit  to preserve the right cited Bush vs. Gore (oh, the irony). Happily, I was wrong. Still, I wonder if I can bear to watch tonight's presidential debate? I'm not detached enough, not remotely close to achieving the proper state of zen. Oh, who am I kidding? I will be watching anyway.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Happy birthday to the woman who raised the man who is the love of my life, the woman who was such an amazing and wonderful Nana to my children and a gentle, loving and generous presence to me. My husband made floral arrangements for church, as he always does in honor of his mom's birthday. This year they were lavish red gladioli sprouting from freshly polished gold pots, set off by palms, in perfect symmetry on either side of the dark wood altar. I like to imagine his mom, from whom he learned the art of flower arranging, looking down and smiling, knowing that her firstborn's simple wish was—still is—to please her.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Brain Tripping

The photo is of our daughter on the five-hour drive to college last August. She's been there almost two months now. Funny how it seems so much longer. At first, she said she felt as if she was at camp or on a summer trip and would be home in six weeks. Now she says her dorm room feels like her other home. She called this morning as she walked to the library, her first excursion there since she got to college. "You're going where?" I asked her and she laughed. She said, "I might as well do some work as I've already caught up on all my shows." I asked her which library had she decided on (she goes to a large university with many schools and libraries) and she said the one near the outdoor farmer's market she works at on Thursday afternoons, because someone told her it has the best food. Whatever works. She has a lot of work and she's getting it done, but she seems to be managing the stress, too.

My cousin mentioned to me this week that her daughter is not good at taking tests, that somehow her memory deserts her. It made me recall a science project my son did when he was in the fifth grade, which of course I followed very closely. The project was about brain-hemisphere dominance. He asked each of his classmates to do a series of tasks (throwing a ball, answering a phone, looking through a pinhole, kicking a soccer ball) to determine which brain hemisphere, right or left, was dominant for sight, sound, handedness and footedness.

He had learned from previous research that the left brain controls the logical, analytical, objective functions while the right brain stores the spatial, artistic, intuitive data. The majority of the kids he tested were a mix, meaning they might be right brained for sight but left brained for handedness, and so on, storing data across hemispheres depending on how it came to them. But one girl tested left brained for every task, and one boy was right brained for every task, and don't you know, the girl happened to be the leading scholar in the class and the boy was the student who struggled the most in the class.

As my son delved deeper into the subject (prodded by his mother who by now was deeply interested in what he was learning), he discovered that when highly stressed, a person has access only to the dominant brain hemisphere because the corpus collosum, the pathway between the two hemispheres that allows information to pass back and forth, shuts down, effectively gridlocking traffic. Given that exams generate their share of stress, this might mean that a child who can always access the logical and analytical part of the brain will likely do better on tests, since most schools are set up to test the logical, objective and analytical strengths of students, valuing those abilities over the artistic, subjective and intuitive. And that right brained child, like my cousin's daughter who is a budding photographer, will often have the experience of walking out of a test and suddenly knowing the answer to every question, perplexed as to why she couldn't bring up the information while in the exam room.

This is a generalization of course. I'm sure neuroscience is infinitely more nuanced than could ever be expressed by the learning acquired for a fifth grade science project. But since then, I have always felt that my daughter did well in school because she started out in a progressive setting that didn't overemphasize test results, relying more on experiential and project based instruction and unconventional ways of storing information. My husband called it "stealth learning." He always remembers one particular parent visiting day when our girl was in first grade and the students were given the task to act out their number facts. The kids were so busy coming up with wacky ways to act out "7 + 8 equals 15!" that they mastered the number facts as a byproduct, scaffolded by the memory of the group's enjoyment of their performance.

I also think the smart management of student stress is why my son's high school turned out to be perfect for him, after a rather intense middle school with a homework load that near burned him out. His high school, while traditionally structured, dispensed the lessons with a dose of humor. It was an all boys school and the teachers seemed to understand that boys like my son needed to expend excess energy, to find the levity in their circumstances, to not make everything too deadly serious. Not that the school neglected to discipline the boys when it was called for, but discipline was in the form of JUGS, which stood for Justice Under God (it was a Jesuit school), and might entail running backwards around the football field—on one leg.

Once, when my son's class was particularly unruly at an assembly welcoming that year's freshmen, refusing to stop clapping and cheering as each new boy's name was called so as to extend the assembly and shorten first period class time, the principal gave the whole class of juniors a JUG, requiring them to return to the assembly hall after school. There, as he called out the names of each student in the junior year, the class was required to clap and cheer as they had that morning, resulting in a two hour detention that sent all the boys home with endorphins boosted. Down the line that evening, their Facebook status updates were the same: "Best JUG ever."

I don't know where I am going with this. I think I am just happy that my children seem to be managing the demands of college right now. I pray things continue to go right, and that they are able to meet their challenges philosophically, with diligence and hard work, but without debilitating stress that might cause them to temporarily lose access to whatever useful and needed data might be stored in their brains.

Speaking of school things, my niece (who was helping my son with a vexing chemistry assignment in the photo above) had her first dental school interview yesterday (shout out to Grady doctor's alma mater!). She loved the school, found the students and faculty to be interesting and warmly inviting and Nashville to be more livable that she'd imagined. She said, "Two days in Nashville and I'm already reading signs with a Southern accent." Her grandmother on the phone this morning had a good long laugh at that one.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Last Weekend

We went shopping, my girl and I. She needed "business casual" clothes, which she complains are not at all casual and do not effortlessly fit her shape, which to me is very beautiful, but more curvy than most pencil skirts allow. She has to wear business casual every Friday when titans from the food and hospitality industry come to speak to her freshman class. This daydreamy girl who thrived in the hands-on engagement of progressive schools is learning to hold her focus in a large lecture hall. It helps, she says, that the speakers are talking about things that interest her.

She is only just figuring out what business casual actually means, but I think she's ahead of the game because I still haven't figured out how to dress in that way. We managed to outfit her with a few staples, including a navy blue pencil skirt that made her exult "It does exist! The pencil skirt that fits me perfectly!" She also got a fabulous white jacket with threaded edges that can take her to any professional event, and a few tops and button downs.

My girl is in business school y'all! She's mastering all those icky math concepts that her mother avoided with great commitment. It's the hospitality business that she really wants to master. She'll spend a year at the Culinary Institute of America as part of this joint degree program, which she tells me she is enjoying. She said, "You'll be happy to hear I love my school." I love that she knows I'll be happy to hear that.

That blurry photo of my girl saying bye to her dad is the best I could get since I wasn't prepared. Maybe you had to be there, but it was lovely and funny, the two of them rocking side to side and acting goofy as they do. The day after she left, my cousin and her husband (whose heart is once again stable, thanks to a pacemaker and meds) and their boys came to spend a couple days with us. Her oldest is looking at colleges in the New York area. The cycle turns again. This is the cousin who is raising my Aunt Winnie's grandson. You should have seen Aunt Winnie's face when he walked in. It was like the light just exploded in that room.

My cousin and her youngest son have an amusing relationship. He is always trying to convince her of things she refuses to be convinced about. Here they are in a skeptical moment in our kitchen.

And here is my other nephew, the one who is looking at colleges. He wants to pursue music production. It is probably the only thing he is interested in other than being in a band a playing his guitar. He is a very mystical child of the seventies, despite being born in the nineties. He is totally channeling Hendrix and Marley and rocking out a huge stop-sign afro that becomes corkscrew curls after he showers because his dad's straight thick Native American hair is mixed in there. Both are great looks for a musician. His mother is tearing her hair out, though. He's not the least bit interested in anything other than his music. He is a tender, artistic soul.

I snapped this photo of my cousin's husband stroking his youngest son's head. It was such a familiar, unconscious and loving act as the men lounged about watching Sunday afternoon football, jumping up periodically to yell at the screen.

It was a good weekend. I did other things, too, like have lunch with two of my women friends on Saturday and see that Lee Daniels movie, The Paperboy, which I found disturbing for no ultimate reason. And now it's just my husband and me in our cosy nest once again. He is my playmate in the sand box, the company I keep, my lover and best friend who propels me home every evening. Life is good.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Night Travel

She decided to take the 1 a.m. bus, which got into the city at around six this morning. It's fall break for her school, and several of her friends were on the same bus, with plans to share a cab home from the terminal once they arrived. I went to bed knowing that when I awoke I would see my girl, I cannot tell you the joy. She let herself into the apartment while we slept. She put down her bags and then dived onto our bed, landing with a thud and an exuberant laugh between her parents. We woke at once, our arms reflexively encircling her, a big glad family bear hug as the dawn slipped through the blinds. I said her name over and over, breathing in her warmth, the solidness of her in my arms after these long months. I thought, I am a mother again. I am a mother.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mr. and Mrs. O

Watching the debates last night, it seemed to me that President Obama was pissed but knew that he could not afford to come off as the Angry Black Man. He had to walk that line that no other presidential candidate has ever had to even know about. And he overcompensated. I believe he had that moment when the absurdity of the game was just so clear, on his twentieth wedding anniversary no less. Pity it happened on national television. Whether it will hurt him remains to be seen.

But you know, I still prefer the guy who maintained some civility in the face of truly bad behavior. By my lights Mitt Romney was rude and contemptuous, a bully who interrupted repeatedly and lied like there was no record to underscore his sheer gall, and he rolled right over the old guy moderator like a rich entitled corporate suit who believes the rules simply don't apply to him. Dang, he even fired Big Bird and Jim Lehrer—doing I suppose what he and Donald Trump do best. Well, you know where I stand. Nothing new here. Obama is my president. And I'm pretty sold on Mrs. O, too.

Birthday Boy

Today is our son's birthday. He is 21 years old, the age of majority. We love him so.

At age 1

I can remember him as little boy, a perpetual motion machine, always with his bear whose name was Cat, his churning brain noticing everything, asking everything, curious and mischievous and laughing and sweet.

Age 6

When he came home from college two weekends ago, just showing up on our doorstep that Friday night, clearly pleased with himself for pulling off the surprise, I realized more than ever that my boy is now a man. One clue was the way he straightened up the living room after himself on Sunday, carting cups and plates he had used to the kitchen where he unpacked and then packed the dishwasher and took out the garbage and wiped down the counters. Without being asked.

Age 11

And then, before he had to catch his bus, he and I went to the Apple store to get his sister a promised iPhone 5 so he could take it back to her at college, but they were sold out, so my son and I just walked down Broadway, talking about everything, and he made me concentrate on how I walked, the particular gait I have that over the years has caused injury. He says I need to relearn how to walk, that I walk from the hip, with the knees locked like a wooden soldier, which is why things are wonky, why I have pain, and he carefully coached me on walking through the knees, bending and lifting them, so basic really, and it was indeed less painful but very awkward. He said, let's just walk like this for a while, so you can practice, I've got you, and he took my hand in his big one, held it firm, and I felt as safe and taken care of as a 5-year-old, no longer at risk of tripping over my own two feet, or an imperceptible bump in the sidewalk. He walked beside me for more than a dozen blocks, my son, tall and rooted, a good and strong and steady man.

Who does like to enjoy himself.

Age 18

Later, when I dropped him off at Port Authority so he could catch the bus back to his college, where he is a senior majoring in exercise science and minoring in sports psych, he kissed me and jumped out the cab, gracefully weaving his way through the crowd, and I felt tears on my face as I watched him disappear into the terminal, so grateful for the time we had shared, the communion, neither one of us irritable with the other, both of us expressing the purest form of love, the kind that allows each other's quirks, acknowledges and embraces them, even smiles indulgently at them. I think I cried after he left because I realized how much he loves me after all. As I love him.

When I said this to my husband later, he said, Of course he loves you, as if the thought that it could be otherwise was supremely silly. And I suppose it is.

Happy birthday, my darling son. There is no other boy in the world I would rather mother. I love you with all I am, forever.

Age 20

Monday, October 1, 2012


Sometimes, I catch myself putting a spin on things, acting as if it's all peachy. I realize now I did that yesterday, talking about my job. The truth? It changes every moment, and today I'm clenched because the control freak in me is having to surrender as usual to the litany of undecided and unresolved and unknown. Nothing sticks. It's all in flux every moment. Like life itself, I suppose. Which means yesterday was good because I deluded myself. Or perhaps I just managed to stay in the moment. Today, however, reality is kicking my ass. Can I go back to bed now? I'm thinking some place that looks like this.

This bedroom is in one of the houses on Strawberry Hill, a retreat in Jamaica's Blue Mountains. It might be the most beautiful place on earth.