Thursday, May 30, 2013

Red Light

I have become an Instagramming fool. My family and friends roll their eyes as I raise my phone, the possibilities everywhere, scenes that might appear mundane to our mortal eye transformed by cropping and filters. It feels a little like art, the most democratic kind, because everyone can do it, is doing it, everyone who can lay out for an iPhone that is, so maybe not so democratic after all. Here are views from three meals I sat down to recently. The way the color red shows up in these images enthralls me. And I love that the strangers caught here completely ignored me, entirely unfazed by my camera phone. Perhaps I will grow beyond this new obsession one day soon. But not yet.

News of the Day

It appears the boy may have got himself a job as a track and field coach at a high school in the city starting this Fall. He was recommended for the job by one of his former coaches who heard him giving pointers to a couple of athletes in pole vault at a track meet where he was working on one of his breaks. He'll have the perfect schedule to simultaneously pursue his EMS certification. His ultimate goal is still to get hired by the FDNY and become a firefighter. He leaves this Sunday to do his summer job as lifeguard trainer/certifier and waterfront director at camp. Anything that involves life preservation, he is amped.

The girl also got herself a job, or rather an internship. It's in her field so she will be able to get academic credit for the hours worked. She will be covering the restaurant scene in the city, writing reviews, following trends, doing best of lists, chef profiles, and reporting on food events in the city. Lucky girl. It was the job that had made her eyes sparkle when she saw it listed. She was a little behind the 8-ball as she didn't start looking for summer work till the end of school. Her dad and I tried to explain that most people have their summer jobs sewn up since the spring, having made good use of their college career center, which she has yet to visit. But, she showed us. She worked it out. She starts on Monday and will be able to mostly write from home. Did I say she's lucky?

The No. 1 southbound train derailed on its tracks last night, bringing an influx of fire engines, cop cars, TV news vehicles and helicopters to the neighborhood. My husband and I were meeting a friend for dinner on that very block. It was high excitement. No one was hurt but hundreds of passengers had to walk through the long line of subway cars to get back to the station. Meanwhile I was watching the swirling lights and listening to the piercing sirens and texting my daughter to find out where she was out in the city. I knew my son was at home with a friend, but she could have been anywhere. Turns out she was on the last northbound train before service was stopped and was walking out of the station just as the derailment occurred.

I get a little crazy at the sound of sirens in the neighborhood, which we hear often since there is a fire house, a hospital, and a police precinct all within a four block radius of us. I always want to know where my kids are when I hear sirens, to make sure they are nowhere near. And I don't actually sleep at night until my babies are back inside our door and safe in their beds, which is a challenge given that my kids are grown. My daughter and her friends hung out on the roof patio of one friend's apartment building until almost 3 a.m. last night. I was texting her constantly. She indulged me and mostly answered. I told her this morning, "I'm sorry your mother is sort of paranoid. I would like to tell you I'll change but I think that might be a lie." She laughed and patted my arm.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

But don't get me wrong...

Stuff and all, I'm thrilled to pieces to have them home.


I am a little overwhelmed. You would not believe the amount of stuff that travels with a college student home for the summer. They have had a whole life set up away from the little apartment where we live, all the artifacts of a home away from home, and now all those things, packed in bins or spilling out of suitcases and hampers, are just...there. My kids rooms look like a tornado swept through, and there simply isn't anywhere to put the stuff. Sure the clothes have been/will be repacked in drawers, and hung in the closet, but the comforters and lamps, the winter wear in plastic bins, the books, the random things that I can't even identify, where do they go? I am stepping over and around everything, and averting my eyes, and I clean the kitchen and tidy the living room with manic intensity, desperate for a corner of order in the house. But they are spread out into the living room too, my son's tee-shirt and shoes shucked off, socks soon joining the mess, books and cups and nail polish and magazines and laptops propped on every surface, comforters they wrap themselves in while watching TV trailing on the floor.

I've been trying to ignore it. The alternative is to bitchbitchbitch and they just got home. I'm trying to allow them to enjoy their reentry. I'm trying to just let life happen. At some point I suggest they clean up after themselves and they do. But I'm trying not to be the OCD police about it. And hope springs eternal that they'll just do the dishes and pick up after themselves without being prodded. People who live in houses with basements and attics and guest rooms and extensive counter space and closets are probably not so overrun, but we live in a small apartment and there is no space for anything extra, and I'm not sure what to do other than live with the chaos until summer ends and one of the two packs up her gear and moves back into the dorm, and that's not a moment that I want to arrive sooner than it has to. The other one will have to discard and give away a lot of what he brought home. There's just no other way that I can see for this to go.

This morning as I left for work, they mentioned that this friend and that friend might be coming over and I looked around the house, not quite believing they were contemplating actually bringing people into the mess, but I just shrugged and said, Sure, just clean up a bit will you? And they said, We will. And I know I might not notice any difference when they're done. Except my son did all his laundry yesterday, an impressive mountain of clothing, and he folded every single item, the neatness almost militaristic, and this morning he placed the folded clothes in careful piles on his desk (no, not yet in drawers), and that was something, a definite intentional start. But there are other items of clothing still strewn around his room. Are they the clean stuff? The stuff to be donated? How can one person have so much stuff? So yes, I avert my eyes.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

"I hope you see things that startle you"

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.” —Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

And me? I'm learning how to let things unfold in their own time in the lives of my children. Not the easiest of lessons for me, but necessary. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Life turns again

Everyone is home now. The kitchen is a mess, and my children's rooms are overrun with paraphernalia carted from college, suitcases with clothes exploding, plastic bins, shoes, comforters, sleeping bags, a lamp and a mirror artlessly leaning against a door. Music is pounding from the bathroom where my son is shaving and trimming his hair. I walk out of my bedroom and see my daughter in the kitchen, dancing from the waist down, her socked feet sliding back and forth across the hardwood in a kind of moonwalk while she leans her elbows on the counter, removing blood red polish from her fingernails. My husband lies in bed, reading on his Kindle after the long ride home from Ithaca with our son, who drove the whole way. They packed the car with his remaining bins, ate brunch in Collegetown, and stopped one last time to buy bottles of wine at the vineyard on the way out.

Our boy hadn't been  home one hour when his friends started calling, the very same friends with whom he has just shared the four-year-long college experience. His housemates from this year, five of them, live all around the city, in Westchester, in Long Island, in Connecticut. They are all getting together in the city tonight, unable to stay away from each other, in withdrawal from an experience that was all consuming. And his other friends, the ones from middle school, from high school, who did the academic march in lock-step with him, they too are returning to the city after four years away. They too are reaching out to one another, falling back on the familiar social networks of home.

Our daughter has been reconnecting with friends, too. The kids she spent those years going to the farm with, they got together for a sleepover Thursday night, so I didn't see her for almost two days. But today we had one of those soul-restoring girl days, the two of us together talking, sharing, while the boys had their bonding time on the road. Tonight I lay in bed next to my husband and said, "Listen to that." "To what?" he asked. And then we were silent, taking in the sounds in different parts of the house, the ambient noise where so recently there was only quiet. "That," I said, "is the sound of our lives, changing again."

My beautiful niece, my other daughter

We miss you already. There is no addictively bad television blaring in the background. Who's going to change the channel to Tabatha Takes Over and Say Yes to the Dress?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

On the mend

I've been sick all week. Coughing till my ribs ache, head thick and heavy, skin clammy and shivery, unable to decide whether it's hot or cold, knowing only that it's damp. Yesterday was so bad I contemplated calling the doctor, but overnight something changed, my breathing got easier, sleep deeper. I stayed home again today since my daughter was going to be home, but I worked on stories and attended a meeting via speaker phone. I'm feeling weak again all of a sudden. I think I'll head to bed now. Tomorrow my son comes home and the world outside my door will reclaim me. Goodnight, sweet friends.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"It's just Tetris."

These were some of the snaps I posted on Instagram this weekend—of the drive up to graduation weekend with my husband, daughter, brother, niece and son's best friend, of the graduation itself, of packing up the car with the belongings of not one, but two college kids, of my son, tired and happy at the end of it all. These pictures are fairly random and by no means a complete record. But I want to remember this moment in the life of our family, when it was so piercingly clear to my husband and me that our son, who is named after his father and his grandfather, the third in that fine line, is now a fully made man.

And the title of this post? That's what my daughter insisted when her brother complained that her stuff had taken up all the space in the car, leaving no room to pack his. In fact, there was not enough room, so my son and his dad will head back to Ithaca this weekend to get the rest of his belongings. The silver lining is the bonding time they will have driving there and back, just the men together. And my husband will have the experience of spending the night in the house where our son lived this past year, which our daughter dubiously dubbed "The Bro' House" because there wasn't a woman's touch to be seen anywhere. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

He graduated

Rain threatened, then a fine mist offered a compromise as the graduates marched. Our son didn't take it all too seriously; he mugged for our cameras and refused to stand still for the formal our-son-the-graduate pose, so we did the best we could, and this is as good as it gets. He didn't wear a tie, silly me, I forget to suggest that he should, and he wore sneakers, much to his cousin's chagrin, but really, I didn't care about any of that, because there was my boy, smiling, happy, not a care in the wind, the graduate.

It went off without a hitch, and with many hitches, it all depends on how you choose to look at it, and in the end, he picked up his degree and we went to dinner as a family, nine of us in all, and the next morning we packed his stuff in the car, which was already stuffed with his sister's gear, and his dad and himself will have to drive back up next weekend for the rest of it.

He graduated. We celebrated. It was so very good. My heart is full. And I also got the flu, but that didn't dampen a thing. So now I'm home, shivery and clammy and serene. My husband is back at work, my daughter is in the kitchen baking a vanilla marscapone blackberry cake with many many steps, my niece is helping her, my son is somewhere on the road driving the young woman who used to be his girlfriend home from college, and I am keeping myself quiet, grateful for all of it. It happened.

I will do another post with more candid snaps but for now, here are some pictures we did manage to get of our graduate in full or partial regalia.

With family

With his godmothers (my sister-cousins)

With some friends

Friday, May 17, 2013

Here and now

My brain is relatively quiet this morning, but it is not a peaceful quiet. More like an engine shrouded in heavy layers of cloth, muffled. My emotions feel as if they're on cruise control, yet I have a weird unsettled feeling, which probably comes from the fact that we have a big graduation weekend ahead of us, and I cannot direct it, I just have to let it unfold. It's that, and the fact of having to show up. Suddenly, I'm thinking, Darn, I should have trimmed my hair, I should have colored that gray along the hairline, I should have, I should have. 

My daughter and niece are at the hair salon this morning, getting washed and deep-conditioned and styled. My own hair is at that unruly stage where I'm simply clipping off wayward spirals in the quest for a uniform silhouette. But it's too late now for a proper cut; it doesn't look right till a week or so after a trim, so maybe I will just keep clipping and remind myself that graduation is not about me, it's about our boy, and those of us who love him are gathering to celebrate his achievements, him.

When I was a kid, my mother intuited my awkwardness and used to counsel, "Just dress yourself nicely then forget about yourself." Even back then, I thought, But you're graceful all the time. It's easy for you not to think about how you move into a room. It wasn't a resentful thought, just a self-aware one. I do wish to forget about myself more, at least leading up to an event. Truth is, once the actual event is in motion, I give myself over, I'm usually okay then, but I get so caught up beforehand in the whats and ifs and whos. Maybe I need a few more layers of soft cloth to swaddle that brain engine. Or else I'll just stay focused on the pure musical joy of this:

Home sweet home

Scandal finale. Oh Shonda. *smh*

Sister-cousins take on the city

Driftwood Artist

There's the artist who makes those driftwood sculptures along the river. His name is Tom Loback, and he's been doing these sculptures for more than a decade. “I’m not saying I’m making great art here,” he told the New York Times, “but it’s absolutely accessible sculpture. Anyone who doesn’t like it can climb down and change it, and it happens frequently.” I do think he's making some very fine art, and the ephemeral nature of it makes me even more grateful for his effort, and humbled by the imperative of the artist to create.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Freshman year is over!

Is it possible that her first year of college is finished already? Didn't we just drive her up to school and move her in? In fact, wasn't she just opening envelopes from colleges and figuring out where she would go? Sometimes when I am missing her I ask her to snap a selfie with her phone and text it to me. She will often sweetly comply. She is probably the only person in the whole world of whom I could ask such a thing. She's on her way home today with two stuffed suitcases in tow. She'll drive back up with the rest of us this weekend for her brother's graduation, at which point we will also pack up the rest of her things and move her home for the summer. I cannot wait to watch So You Think You Can Dance with her tonight! Excited!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A simple good day

It's a very good morning in my world. My dad-in-law is reported to be on the mend, having suffered a bout of food poisoning. The doctor gave him medicine to settle things down and he is starting to regain his strength. Deep relief and gratitude.

My husband, too, is on the mend from an achy breaky flu, and is home for a second day, regaining equilibrium. I was properly non-reactive last evening, and so I suppose he felt safe coming out of his cave, I wasn't going to go all nuclear on him (trust me, it has happened) and we are just fine.

The day is birdsong clear and blue, and all along the Hudson River on my way to work this morning, I saw intricate driftwood sculptures, created on the riverbank by some public artist I shall have to research. I love those found pieces of art he or she creates, and missed them when Hurricane Sandy blew them all away.

I'm all dressed up at work today because there's another awards dinner tonight and one of the stories I edited is taking home a prize. The cab driver whose taxi I rode in this morning told me cheerfully, "Your perfume smells so very nice." I actually wasn't wearing any but I answered just as cheerily, "Thank you!" Meanwhile my daughter will sit the last exam of her freshman year today, and her first grade posted is a big fat A. Nicely done! I see this as evidence she's mastered that "close reading" approach they're so big on in college these days and also that the paper she wrote on the bus to Boston two weeks ago was fully adequate, despite my being dubious.

And my son, well, the celebration continues, though it will have to simmer down starting today as the outdoor track and field team travels to compete in Regionals tomorrow. In the meantime, this is the sort of thing that is showing up on Facebook this week. That, my friends, is what senior week looks like. Seems like they're having some fun.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Everything all at once

I am in one of those fogs where everything is swirling together, and I'm feeling lots of things at once, having pricks of insight, but I can't pick it all apart to express it accurately, so I'm having trouble writing. I feel too full of everything, there is too much I want to get done, so much I intended to do in this year with my children away at school, and I managed little to none of it.

We have had a long stretch of good humor, my husband and I, of lightness and laughs and not making too big a deal of anything. But now, there is trouble back home, his dad is not well, his brother is taking him to the doctor today, and now my husband has plunged into that brooding cave he goes into when something is troubling him, his tone gets terse, and suddenly I feel as if I am on a familiar precipice again. I always think, when this happens, that I did something, and sometimes I did indeed do something hard to forgive, but this time I know for a fact it's not about me, so if I can just keep myself from reacting to the chill that descends, if I can just keep reminding myself not to absorb the darkness, not to wilt in the silence, I will be okay and we will be okay. Mostly, I hope his dad will be okay.

I know he's worrying. His passport was on the verge of expiring and so he sent it off to be renewed, it is out of his hands, in flux at some government ministry. How long will it take to make its way back to him? What if he has to travel at a moment's notice? He isn't talking about any of it, but the joints of his body began aching yesterday, he's fighting something flu-ey, I know this feeling.

photo by karrin

Meanwhile, on other fronts, my son is a happy young man right now, not a care in the world, celebrating senior week with his friends. Just a few more days and my brother will be here from Jamaica to attend his nephew's graduation. And my niece will arrive from Miami, and my son's best friend, just back from a semester in London, will also drive up with us, and my two sister-cousins from the D.C. area are taking a road trip together to also attend. They're sharing a hotel room with my brother which should bring all kinds of hilarity, as we gather to celebrate my boy.

I am so proud of him, so full and beaming when I think of what he has accomplished. Despite how smart and intuitive and clued in he is, school was never breezy for him. He didn't ever truly love the academics, though he does love knowing the material. And he has the sort of mind that once he learns a thing, he holds it forever. Still, he felt the pressure sometimes. He blew off steam through track, sometimes he ranted at injustices (chemistry *cough*), but he never quit. He believed in himself. And now we will watch him march.

Friday, May 10, 2013


My son just called. He had just completed the final exam of his college career. He said, "Well, I'm done. I am finished with college. I have not a paper, not a test, not another project to do. I am well and truly done."

Time stopped. I am so proud of him, the way he marched right on through these four years, which were not always easy, but he persevered, he rose above, he put his head down and kept at it, and he had some fun in the process, and now he's done. My son, the college graduate, with a bachelors in exercise science and sports psych.

I don't even have words right now. He said, "I have made this call to you eight times, because every semester I call you when I'm done with my last exam, and this time I am making this call to say I am done with college." And he breathed deeply. "You sound happy?" I said. "Ecstatic," he replied.

Here he is, singing. It's the closest I could come to his mood on the phone today. 

Status Update

My son' Facebook status this morning:

"Only one test between me and freedom. Can't wait to be done with my undergrad degree."

I thought about posting a couple of the photos also found there, but he's going to be job hunting soon, so nah.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Coffee Shop

“Along the way I stopped into a coffee shop. All around me normal, everyday city types were going about their normal, everyday affairs. Lovers were whispering to each other, businessmen were poring over spread sheets, college kids were planning their next ski trip and discussing the new Police album. We could have been in any city .... In spite of which—or, rather, all the more because—here I was, sitting in this coffee shop, drinking my coffee, feeling a desperate loneliness. I alone was the outsider ... Of course, by the same token ... I had never felt this loneliness there. I could drink my coffee, read my book, pass the time of day without any special thought, all because I was part of the regular scenery. Here I had no ties to anyone. I'd come to reclaim myself.” ―Haruki Murakami, Dance, Dance, Dance


Perhaps the thing I loved most about New York in the days when I was loneliest were the coffee shops. In my twenties, before I met my husband, before we had children, my salvation was being able to go into a simple diner and order a cup of bitter black coffee, the kind you don't try to dress up with cream and sugar, but drink it straight, like medicine. The server would keep refilling that cup for as long as you sat there, watching people come and go, locking eyes with the other ones who sat as long as you, who maybe also had nowhere to go that wasn't screamingly empty, and so you sat hunched over a notebook or novel, chipped cup of coffee cradled in your hand, connecting you to the pulse of the town. Coffee shops are much fancier affairs these days, artfully old world in decor, with pressed tin ceilings and wood-framed glass cases, marble counters and chalked menus on blackboard, and sweet things concocted in expensive ovens. But there are still those who sit for endless stretches of time, knowing no one will rush them. They still keep each other company, lost in books or magazines or laptops at their random tables. Mostly, they appear to ignore each other. Occasionally, though, they look around and meet each other's eyes with a quiet knowing, almost a welcome; it says, You are not alone and neither am I. Here we are.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Self-Portrait with Lipstick

I'm practicing wearing lip color. I'm not sure why I feel compelled, after five decades of indifference, to make friends with lipstick now. It's may simply be my small reinvention to mark another birthday.

I have been largely absent from blog world this week, as we have a friend in town and are dancing in a whirlwind with her. She leaves tomorrow, and I will miss her infectious laughter, her come-as-you-are generosity, the camaraderie that extends to my husband and folds him in like one of the girls. She is the woman who introduced my husband to me. She grew up with him in Antigua and decided when she met me that I would love him. She was right. She is now my husband's lawyer as well as our friend, the kind that feels like family, and she visits a few times a year. In advance of her arrival, boxes begin arriving from Nordstrom and Amazon and other favorite places. I love when we come home and see yet another box addressed to her leaning against our door. It means she will be traveling north soon, and we will once again take the city by the shoulders, and twirl and twirl, and we will laugh while doing it.

And some day soon after she leaves, this Saturday perhaps, it is possible I will stay in bed most of the day, finding center again in a quiet space. And that evening, we are invited to a party to celebrate the birthdays of two dear friends. I think I will wear lipstick.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Nothing but sky

I never tire of these photos my son's teammates post on Facebook. His collegiate track and field career is coming to an end. Just two weeks from now, my son will graduate from college and move back to the city. He's working away from the city for the summer, but come August, he will be back home and looking set himself up for the next phase of his life. I'm excited for him. He gets to paint this new canvas any way he chooses. He's a very responsible young man, so I think he'll make good choices and be just fine.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Bikini Body

My friend ellen over at existence of ellen quoted something on her blog yesterday that has me chuckling every time it runs through my mind. Which it has done a lot today. Someone sent it to her on Facebook and it goes like this:

How to get a bikini body: Put a bikini on your body. 

It sort of sums up my mood today which is vastly improved from the past two days. That line has inspired in me a jaunty who-the-fuck-cares kind of attitude and I mean that in the very best way. All that's left is to imagine me with my bikini body sipping frozen drinks with my love and taking in the sunset from those chairs.

Friday, May 3, 2013

We fifty-somethings

This is a picture of my mom when she was the age I am turning today. It was taken outside the house where we lived out some of our most charmed years, at the address for which this blog is named.

My mom is usually the first person to call me on my birthday, but this year, it was my daughter who called at a little after midnight. She was up celebrating the last day of classes for freshman year. This is the first year since she was born that I have not woken up in the same house as her on my birthday. But she was still the first to wish me a happy day.

This picture of me was taken this week in my office, where I spend most of my waking hours. People tell me I look like my mother, but I see so much of my father in my face, especially the forehead and around the lips. My mom and I have the same eyebrows though.

The fact that I am wearing lipstick in this photo is a sure sign that I am feeling my age. I saw a photo of myself the other day and my lips were so pale, almost the same color as the rest of my face, and I thought, You could use a punch of color, yo. My mother, the elegant lady, would approve.