Sunday, May 15, 2022

Sunday morning coming down

 

I have been doing a lot of reading on Dr. Google this morning and have concluded that I am under medicated for my low thyroid function. My doctor decreased my dose three months ago, and since then I have been extremely fatigued and sleeping fitfully, but the very worst part is the dangerously dire moods, the dark thoughts that swirl inside my head, and now I am remembering that this is exactly how it felt right after my son was born, and my thyroid went out of whack, and it took seeing four doctors before finding one who didn't dismiss my exhaustion, lethargy, drenching melancholy, climbing weight, constant chill despite it being warm outside, and hair falling out in perfect half moons at my temples, as simply post-partum symptoms. There was nothing simple about it.

When the last doctor I saw finally diagnosed me, and put me on levothyroxine, a thyroid replacement hormone, I felt back to normal within a week. But recently, after my current doc reduced my dosage for the second time, I began to feel as if I was moving underwater with lead weights attached to my limbs, and I was also weathering all manner of catastrophic mind fucks, and feeling unreasonably emotional about the slightest and possibly imagined shifts in the  air. (Maybe that's why all the kitchen reno decisions felt so hard.) Three days ago, I went back to my previous dosage because I still had some pills left and the difference in how I feel today is marked. No longer do I feel (as I said to my son) as if I had covid and didn't know it, but am now suffering from long covid. No longer do I feel as if my most significant relationships are crumbling and my marriage is on the brink of divorce. No longer do I feel, dear God, can I say it, no I can't, it's too extreme to write, so I'll use the euphemism: No longer do I feel like what is the point of it all?

I was going to call my doc and request that she reinstate my previous dosage, which I had been doing fine on. She'd lowered it based on the results of a TSH test, which is only one of five tests needed to get the full thyroid picture, according to multiple sources on Dr. Google. When I told my husband my plan, he said, "Why don't you just go see an endocrinologist instead?" Duh. So I began researching who might be good, only to discover that in 2018 one of the city's leading hospital systems opened a whole treatment center devoted entirely to the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid disorders. They even take my insurance. 

And so first thing Monday morning, I will call to make an appointment with one of the doctors there, who specializes in thyroid, diabetes, and bone diseases (hello, arthritis and joint pain), and who has more than a hundred five star reviews. He looks ancient in his picture, but is apparently accepting new patients, so I shall endeavor to engage his expertise and see what transpires. In the meantime, I will continue taking the higher dosage of my thyroid meds, because not feeling like your presence on this earth is an affront even to yourself is reason enough. 

And that is my Sunday morning testimony.


Thursday, May 12, 2022

Overcast, but light breaks through

I'm having such a moody week. My girl arrived last night, bringing her sunshine with her, and that helped. But the grayness inside me I can't quite seem to touch. I am so weary of myself, this physical and emotional body, but not of this life, which has so much sweetness at the center, so the darkness that encroaches, it must be chemical, no?  I did email a therapist friend at 3 AM on Tuesday morning, asking for a referral. Time to shrink this noisy brain again, soothe this turbulent internal sea, make peace with what is. Whatever.

But my daughter, what a bright light she is. She went into her new office for the first time today, outfit carefully chosen. "Do I look like I work in tech?" she asked her brother and me, modeling the white jeans, shell gray top, moto leather jacket, and fresh white kicks. I was reminded of when she was in kindergarten and picking out her own clothes. She would run into her brother's room with an item of clothing in each hand and chime, "Do these match?"

"You look great," I told her this morning. 

"You look like you're ready to kick ass and rule the world," her brother agreed from his leg-braced perch on the couch. 

"Cool," she said. "That's a good way to look on the first day of school." 

And darn if she doesn't already have a friend, a young woman she met in her first week of working remotely from Boston, who is coming in from Long Island today so they can meet in person. Her new workplace has a hybrid remote work system, and they don't seem to really care how often people come into the office. Before my daughter sailed out the door this morning, she and her new work friend were busy coordinating a subway station meet-up, so they could travel to southern Manhattan and walk into the office together. I think my girl is going to be okay.

And my son, he's going to be okay, too. He took himself to physical therapy across town and back yesterday, navigating on crutches all the way. He firmly refused my offer (demand) to accompany him, insisting he could do it on his own. When the man and I picked up our girl from the airport last night, she wanted to know how her brother was doing post surgery. 

"Is he very needy?" she asked. 

"Not at all," I told her, "he's the opposite of needy." 

"He cooked dinner for everyone last night," her dad added. 

Twas good, too, southwestern style chicken breasts with peppers and onions and caramelized roasted sweet potatoes. He's always been our "I do it" child.

Lying in bed last night, the lights out, I whispered to my husband, "We have two very capable children." "Hmmm," he murmured, drifting into sleep. I lay awake brooding for a long time, staring into the dark, taking some comfort in these two souls, both so dazzling to me, who chose us to be their parents. 



Saturday, May 7, 2022

Thankful for the good

I made coffee in my own kitchen for the first time in a month this morning, and it tastes sweet indeed. And my son, on crutches, made scrambled eggs and bacon for himself and his love both yesterday and the day before. This morning, he made himself oatmeal. It's so funny seeing the habits in our children that endure from childhood. He hated eggs as a boy, and only learned to enjoy them on hangover mornings in college. And so when he was growing up, on school mornings I would make him and his sister oatmeal with strawberries and blueberries and a cut up banana, sprinkled with crushed almonds and dried cranberries and drizzled with a little honey. That was my version of making a healthful breakfast for my children so I could think I was being a good mother. And now he tells me that oatmeal is still his breakfast of champions.

His recovery from the ACL surgery is going so much better than last time. The pain is manageable, and he appears to be in much less distress. He attributes this to his surgeon being more exact and precise in performing the operation, and therefore inflaming the surrounding tissue less. Last time, three days in, his knee was massively swollen and looked, as he put it, like grape jelly from the bruising. This time it is about two thirds less swollen, and the bruising is minimal. 

His dad took him to his first physical therapy appointment yesterday, and at home, he is faithfully doing the assigned exercises, and icing on schedule. The part of him that is fascinated by the body's ability to heal itself is rather enjoying marking his own progress. I cannot tell you how relieved I am by the way this is going so far. I pray it continues like this. Plus, he is great company, our boy. And next week, our daughter is coming to town for a few days to go into her new office for an in person day, and to attend the bachelorette weekend of one of her closest friends since they were four. My son's finacee will be in Mexico attending a wedding in Cabo in which she is a bridesmaid. It will be the  just the four of us in the house again, the way we started out. "I think the four of us balance out each other's energies," I said to my daughter. She guffawed and said, "Keep dreaming, Mom."

 

We're still slowly setting up the new kitchen, and trying to release a lot of excess stuff as we go, but here is a picture showing the under mount lights glowing softly from behind a strip of wood installed along the lower edge to shade the naked filaments from the eye. I think it works perfectly and am so happy that I pushed for it. The contractor came up with the most elegant solution possible, it simply looks as if the cabinets were made that way. He will be back next week to add some white wood filler to the seam where the new strip of wood meets the lower cabinet edge, to block out the thinnest bleed of light through it. I love that he is such a detail person, a soul after my own heart. Also, the backordered cabinet came in and was installed yesterday, as you can see on the upper left. 

Only the tiniest details remain now: one door is going to be replaced because the contractor says it is warped and can't be properly aligned with its partner, and the floor molding next to the new fridge needs to be squared off and painted. And then we are done! Despite all my hang wringing in the early stages, I judge the entire project a great success. Thank you, dear friends here, for holding my hand through this. I promise to stop trying your patience and bending your ear about it now. My mother would say I possess too little faith, and it's true, I do tend toward catastrophic thinking. In this case, happy to say, it was wholly unwarranted. But I still appreciate having been able to process it here.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

What obtains in my tiny corner (in the shadow of the unconscionable SCOTUS ruling)

 

My son and his love came over on Tuesday evening for my birthday, and since it was the night before our boy's knee surgery, and his dad was to take him to the hospital in the morning, he and S. stayed over. Yesterday, the ACL repair went well. When his dad picked him up from the Hospital for Special Surgery at six in the evening, he wasn't feeling much pain, as the nerve blocker they'd given him hadn't worn off yet. New York being the structurally inconvenient city it is, S. met him curbside and helped him upstairs while his dad went to park the car. He was feeling nauseous, and barely made it to the bathroom before puking violently. He felt a little better after that, and I fixed him a sandwich, as he now needed to eat so he could take the meds his dad had picked up for him earlier.

He had a much better first night this time that he did the last time he had this surgery, he thinks because he deployed the pain meds more strategically, staggering the two different kinds of pills instead of taking both together as suggested. I guess when you're a certified paramedic you know how to adjust these sorts of things. Now he's on the couch with a big brace on his leg, icing everything with a very sophisticated contraption that his insurance wouldn't cover last time. This time, as a member of New York's bravest, he has the best insurance in the world, and he's geeked by the whole technology of the therapy machine with a sleeve that fits over his leg, running icy water over the surgical area and timing everything as programmed. 

Last night, he reflected on how different his experience has been this time, how his medical care has been top of line at every step, and how frustrated it makes him that everyone isn't afforded this same level of care. He said his surgeon was excellent and that she told him the last ACL fix was poorly anchored and it was always going to be just a matter of when, not if, it would tear again. Thank God it didn’t pop while he was climbing into a fire, and that he has the good fix now. Recovery protocol is different this time, too. They told him to put weight on the leg immediately whereas last time they told him to stay off it for a week. He also starts home physical therapy exercises today, and clinic PT tomorrow. 

He's using crutches of course, but moving around quite well, and feels confident that ultimately, he'll be better off than he was before, and that re-tearing his ACL was a blessing in disguise. But it’s a nine month rehab process. He says he's going to use his time on medical leave to study for the fire department's Lieutenant's exam. As my husband always says of our boy, "He's the sort that when he climbs a mountain and gets to the top, he looks around to see where the next mountain is that he can climb."

__________

Widening the lens to record developments in the larger world that affect us all, there was the leaked Alito decision from the Supreme Court, indicating that the majority of justices will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to be the sovereign of her own body. In some states, like Louisiana, there is already a move to characterize abortion as homicide, while the Supreme Court and Fox News are up in arms trying to identify and punish the leaker of the upcoming Roe decision. Yet these same people only shrugged at the revelation that the wife of a sitting Supreme Court Justice was instrumental in planning to overthrow our government before and during the January 6 insurrection. It's like we're heading back into the darkest ages of this American experiment with democracy, or maybe we're already there.

__________

On the kitchen front, it is just about done. The contractor really pushed to have it in usable condition before my son arrived home from surgery yesterday. There are still fine-tuning fixes, like perfectly aligning a couple of the cabinet doors, and a few tiny touch ups to the molding. I am also contemplating adding a strip of molding in front of the undermount cabinet lights, as they are fully visible along the lower edge of the cabinets. My husband and the contractor actually like how that looks, but I have this notion that I want the lights to glow down softly from behind a thin facing of wood. My husband imagined task lighting while I was thinking mood lighting, and I suppose that's the difference. However, when the contractor brings the molding and holds it against the cabinets to see how it will look before installing it, if I find I don't like it better than the visible lights, then I am resolved to eat the cost of the already purchased molding. It will have been worth it to me to feel sure of my choice. 

The man and I also had a difference of opinion about getting a new fridge. It's wasn't too contentious, but he did exclaim at one point, "Dear God, is money burning a hole in your pocket?!" You see, I wanted a wider, counter-depth fridge that would fit the alcove originally built for it, which meant donating the perfectly functional Kitchen Aid unit he'd bought when our old fridge conked out on Christmas eve six years ago. The fridge he bought was much deeper than the depth of the alcove, and the door, when opened, extended far enough that it hit and was stopped by the front of the dishwasher. He rolled his eyes and capitulated, and now we have a new, double-door unit that fits the space perfectly and soothes my visual OCD. 

Last night, before his pain blocker wore off, our son stood on his crutches inspecting the new fridge, which had been delivered while he was in surgery that morning.  "This a really sweet fridge," he finally pronounced. "I'm sorry to tell you this, Pops, but Mom was right." My husband only grunted because he knows that I know full well that he really likes the new fridge, too.


Here's a picture of the kitchen taken a couple of days ago, before we started moving things back in, and another one showing the counter and backsplash detail. I do love how it all turned out, though I will now need to add my own touches of color. The new cabinets are less deep than the ones we had before, and overall, I think we have less total storage space, but I don't mind. Everything feels a bit more spacious, and we need to get rid of stuff anyway. 

My cousin in Orlando, when she saw this picture, said "I see pebbles on a beach!" Now that she mentions it, maybe that's what I was subconsciously reaching for. Those island memories live deep.


Monday, May 2, 2022

Dallas dispatch


My darling niece held the grand opening of her dental practice in Dallas this weekend, though she has been working out of the practice since its soft opening in February. But this weekend was the hoopla and fanfare, the balloon arch, the grazing table that looked like food art, the partnership with a local plant vendor whose greenery for purchase made the space look divine, the champagne and music and entertainment, all of it following the official ribbon cutting. 



All her siblings came, meaning her older sister and my son and daughter. Though my niece grew up in Jamaica, she and my children forged a full sibling relationship through the years, courtesy of summers together in New York and at their grandmother's home in St. Lucia. She had no idea my daughter and her love, and my son and his love, would be in attendance. They flew to Dallas from New York and Boston on Friday morning to surprise her. She was at work when they arrived at her house, but her husband, who was in on the surprise, took this picture and texted it to her, and that's when she knew they had come for her grand opening.


They all spent the weekend together, and my girl sent me random photos so I could share vicariously in the fun. 



I'm so proud of my niece, and the way she has marched to her own tune and become the owner of her very own dental practice. That's my niece with her dental assistant and front desk receptionist, all of them in their neon pink scrubs. My niece adores and cannot resist brightly colored scrubs, so she's probably in the right profession.


We watch our little ones grow and pursue their becoming, and yet so often, we don't quite grasp the full measure of their power in the world. And so they show us who they are, year after year, resilient, determined, and if not always sure, then at least resolute, imaginative, brave. I'm in awe of these young people, every one of them, and I love that they show up to support one another always.



Thursday, April 28, 2022

Lovely things


My son, his fiancee, and her parents did a walk through of their lakeside wedding venue a couple of weeks ago. Her mom sent me that photo of the happy couple on the dock where they will say their vows five months from now. The trees will be fully leafed then, and in a perfect world it will be a clear September day, when the lake is crystalline blue, the light brilliant yet gentle, and camp is at its most beautiful. My son grew up on that lake, and the friends he made during camp summers there have become his most faithful fellow travelers through life. Yet it was his love who wanted to hold the wedding there. She fell in love with that rustic place, too, and the way the camp people just folded her in. My daughter likes to say that camp is like a cult, but an exuberant joyful one that throws its arms around everyone. I'm getting excited! Now if only the rather zaftig mother of the groom can find something spiffy to wear.

In more immediate happenings, the kitchen reno is, as everyone predicted, going into overtime. It was supposed to be done by my birthday next week, but now that doesn't look likely. The end is in sight, but the punch list of final details is endless, and triggers my undiagnosed OCD. It helps that the contractor is a detail guy. He notices things that even I don't see, and I appreciate his perfectionism. No "good enough for government work" attitudes there, but of course, everything takes time. I do love the countertops I chose. I didn't need to get used to them, I was immediately happy. They are very understated, a light polished gray with thin seams of white running through, the lines far enough apart that it doesn't look too busy to my eye. I do see now that plain gray would have been boring—inoffensive, yes, but definitely less interesting, because those white seams remind me of the delicate foamy ribbons the surf leaves behind after waves kiss and then retreat from the shore. I'd show you a picture, but the countertops are covered by drop cloths right now to protect the surface while the backsplash is being installed. I'm told the backsplash will be finished today and grouted tomorrow. I do believe I like it fine, too.

 

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Why I pray

The news was devastating. On Sunday, inside a flaming house in Brooklyn, four firefighters became trapped when the ceiling suddenly collapsed. Three of the firefighters managed to make it out alive, but the fourth could not be rescued. One civilian also died at the scene, and five others were injured. The city is now grieving the loss of one of its Bravest, Timothy Klein, who is my son's age, who had been in the fire department for six short years, the same length of time as my boy. My son spent three years on the medic side, and has been on the engine and ladder side for only three years, and he had never met his fallen comrade. Still, he lost a brother, and we lost a young man who didn't hesitate when the inferno raged. I cannot imagine the pain of his family at the loss of this son of a retired firefighter. They all knew the risks, but prayed he would be as lucky as his father. At moments like this, the reality of what my own son does for a living comes crashing in, and I have to take myself in hand, sitting in silence and circling him with all sorts of protective light, and this is why I pray. Rest in peace, brave Timothy Klein. May your brothers and sisters who are called as you were, who run into burning buildings to save the rest of us, be safe always.


Sunday, April 24, 2022

Chaff and grain

My friend and I sat on a bench across from that red Japanese maple excavating our lives as mothers, partners, workers, women of a certain age holding life’s quiet traumas, the two of us emptying our carousel of cares. 

When the spring chill began to overtake the late afternoon sun, we walked home slowly, both of us feeling lighter from the soft sifting of worries, the rueful laughs, and grateful for friendship, especially the kind women share.

As a teenager in the age of "Desiderata," I and my friends at Queens High School for Girls used to write pithy quotes on the covers of our subject notebooks, most of them trite and transient, but there was one quote that I carried forward through the years. Though I’d first encountered it on a garish day glo poster on someone’s wall, even back then it felt true to the bone. It went like this: 

“A friend is one to whom one may pour out the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

I later looked up the original quote by Dinah Mulock Craig:

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person—having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

The breath of kindness, yes, but the safety, too, is such an important part. With a true friend, one feels safe.

 

Friday, April 22, 2022

(Re)construction

The kitchen reno continues, more or less on schedule. One upper cabinet next to the window is on back order, and will have to be installed later. The countertop guy came and measured and made a template yesterday; I had no idea they made a template before cutting the actual stone; they never show that stage on HGTV. The cut countertop slabs will be delivered and installed on Monday. They took down the heavy plastic sheeting that was blocking off the living room, so things feel a little more open now. Dust somehow managed to find its way under and around the plastic anyway, and I will have to do a thorough cleaning of surfaces, nooks, and crannies once the construction is done. Everything in its time.

I am thankful this job will be finished by my birthday, May 3, as our son will be having a knee operation on May 4, and will need to stay with us for about a month after that. He lives in a third floor walk up, and won't be able to navigate the stairs immediately after the surgery. He tore his ACL again, the same knee, it happened at work, so he is now on medical leave from the fire department, and seeing all the best doctors to get him back into fighting form. The department knows how critical it is for firefighters to have strong, intact bodies, and they offer the best medical care to ensure it. I am grateful he is getting good care, but heartsick that he will have to undergo that surgery again. 

I remember how excruciating the recovery was last time, especially the first night, when our boy awoke crying silently in the hours after midnight and his dad just held him, the two of them watching the clock till he could take another dose of meds, even though in the beginning, not even those pills could touch the pain. He healed quickly though. In six months he was fully restored, despite that the recovery period is said to be nine months. His fiancee pointed out that he is six years older now, and to give himself the full nine months. He may have to, because the department won't put him back in shift rotation till their doctors give him the all clear. In the meantime, he still shows his face at work for house activities like clean up-day. He is not a shirker, that one.

Yesterday, since he had free time, he met up with some of his future in laws—nephews, sister, aunt—at the Museum of Natural History, where his dad works. It was spring break, and my husband had got the family tickets to the dinosaur and butterfly exhibits and shows, and he also gave them his now famous behind-the-scenes tour of the ichthyology department. The boys were fascinated. 


There's my son with one of his (future) nephews, showing him a cleared-and-stained fish specimen—the fish are treated with certain chemicals that render the flesh gel clear, leaving the bones red, and the cartilage blue, allowing an unobstructed view of those aspects of their anatomy. My kids grew up helping their dad with such processes when they went to work with him, and they loved showing the magic to their friends. Now a new generation gets to enjoy what happens behind the curtain of a great natural science museum.

Afterward, my son came home with his dad, and we got to spend time with him for a couple of hours, chatting, dining on pad Thai take out, and watching Survivor together in the dusty makeshift space of our living room. I hate so much that he has to have another surgery, but the fact that he will be under our roof for a few weeks afterward, and we can nourish him from our brand new kitchen, is a sweet silver lining.

 

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

A spirit of acceptance

This photo of my girl was circulated at her new job to introduce her to new colleagues. Her start date at the new company is May 2, but she will be able to work remotely from Boston until the end of June, when she and her love will move back to New York City. They found a great apartment in a lively artsy Brooklyn neighborhood dotted with sidewalk cafes and hipster joints like the drag bingo bar where my niece Dani and her friends can be found every Monday night, and where practically all of their closest friends already live within walking distance around them. 

The kitchen renovation is proceeding on schedule, the cabinets are now almost all installed, and tomorrow someone will come to measure the dimensions of the gray quartz countertop, which will take 2-3 days to cut and deliver, which means the counter will be installed by early next week, and the backsplash the same day, with grouting to be done the day after. I continue to be completely unsure about every choice I have made, but however it turns out I have decided to simply be okay with it, because my husband stated very clearly that while he is fine with whatever I decide (except when he isn't, and then he gives his opinion and we make another choice), it will drive him bananas if, after everything is done, I am constantly second guessing the process and moaning that I should have gone with some other decision about a particular detail instead. I say that's fair. And so however the final kitchen turns out, I am resolved to be at peace with it, because it will be a safe, bright, and functional new kitchen and what a privilege to have wished for that and then be able to make it happen.

As for the contractor, I have no complaints. I suspect I might be a difficult client with all my hand wringing and self doubt, but he has been unfailing kind, informative, and accommodating, offering choices until I arrive at one I might be happy with, and never making me feel rushed or bamboozled. I do know that we have different aesthetics—I like warm lighting for example, and he is cool LED lighting all the way; he also likes a few bells, whistles, and flourishes, while I like simplicity and clean lines. And so I have to be my own designer, which is where the self-doubt comes in. I wish I knew how to throw in a dash of art, say in the lighting fixture over the kitchen island. I played with the idea of getting an art glass fixture, but I didn't have the confidence to choose something dramatic and bold, so I went with a simple three bulb cylindrical light with white frosted glass and brushed nickle hardware. My husband, son, and daughter all liked it, and I did too, but it was a moment where I could have gone with drama and flair instead, and I didn't. On the other hand, this apartment was built in the 1950s. It's lines are simple and unadorned, so perhaps a simple unadorned kitchen is a perfectly good canvas for what can come later.

I did get the backsplash I was mulling over in a previous post. I hope it looks as good as the picture. Honestly, I worry that the smaller hex tiles will look too busy, but it's too late now, I've settled on them, and if I find that I don't love them, well, I will keep that to myself. My husband is a patient and easy going man, but one thing that he cannot abide is people getting all worked up about circumstances that are essentially fixed, and not of astronomical importance in the scheme of life anyway. He is philosophical that way. "Done is done," he might say. Another famous one of his lines: "You play the hand you're holding." I guess I'm writing this post as a way to process and practice a spirit of acceptance about the outcome of this kitchen renovation, given that every material choice along the way has been mine. One of my aphorisms? "Live and learn." I am definitely doing a lot of learning. I am also looking forward to purging so much stuff as we set up our new kitchen!


Saturday, April 16, 2022

Community


It's Easter week. Usually a melancholy time for me, for reasons that have to do with the gulf between how such holidays were celebrated in the close-knit family of my childhood and the loneliness of now, with almost all of my beloved elders gone, and the rest of my extended family living far away. I will go to church with the man tomorrow. Our minister came down with Covid this week, but will be out of isolation in time for the Easter service. Her wife sent a message through my husband to let me know she will be looking for me on Easter Sunday, as she knows I am "one of those good Easter and Christmas church goers." It's our little joke. She is an ordained minister herself, yet she is in church as seldom as I am, and our minister and my husband like to riff about their "recalcitrant spouses." 

I actually love our little church with its super liberal, multi racial, multi faith, gender fluid, artsy, academic, streetwise, non-proselytizing and gloriously oddball congregation. Everyone comes as they are, even the agnostics, and feels seen. Though I had been inside the sanctuary maybe once since Covid lock downs started in March 2020, I went last week for Palm Sunday, as my husband was playing the role of Pontius Pilate and also the soldier who takes Jesus from the Garden of Gethsemane in the passion play. It was a serious piece of theater, directed by a vestry member who is a university professor of the performing arts in her other life, and she meant for her passion players to do the material justice. 

Last year, she and my husband sat around our dining table for many many hours taping the passion play as a piece of Zoom theater. This year, it is once again live, as everything is now reopened, and I figured I should go and support my husband, after all his stories about our friend Celia (the director) looking into the actors' eyes and asking intently, "What do you think this person is really trying to say here? From where do you think this arises inside them?" Or questions of that sort. My man did a wonderful job of emoting, as did all the players. When I walked in at the start of the service, Celia came over and hugged me and then issued a warning: "Don't you dare wave at your husband while he's on stage." "I wouldn't dream of it," I assured her.

The thing that was so lovely about last week Sunday was that even though I had been so scarce for almost two years, everyone welcomed me as if I was a part of it all, and I remembered what my Aunt Winnie used to say about that church. Back when our son was born, and my husband was looking for a place to have him baptized (he hadn't established a New York City faith home yet), Aunt Winnie sent him to investigate a little Harlem church where the White minister was a member of the Black Panther Party, and had marched with Dr. King (and played the role of Tom Hanks father in the movie Philadelphia) and where Aunt Winnie said, "No matter how long I stay away, they always remember my name."

So it's Easter. My husband rose bright an early to go down to the flower district and choose his blooms, as he always creates the altar arrangements for this day, in honor of his parents. It is a cheerful task for him, evoking memories of doing Easter arrangements with his mother that lighten his heart. I on the other hand awoke with an aching nostalgia for my family of origin, the gathering in each other’s homes after Easter morning services, playing with my cousins in the yard while our parents prepared the feast, the huge circle of us saying grace, rituals I had no idea that I’d so sorely miss, back when I was living them without understanding how surrounded by love and care I was. But I have community still, people who always remember my name and welcome me in, and I recognize the gift that is, the door held open for me, no questions asked, no matter how long I have stayed away.

__________ 

Update on Easter: That's my husband getting ready to take the traditional Easter day "family photo" of the congregation and our lovely minister in the foreground, wrangling everybody. After the service and photos there was a pot luck and coffee hour in the garden, and then the man and I went to brunch, where I got quite plastered on half a margarita, which occasioned a delicious afternoon nap once we got back home.

 



Tuesday, April 12, 2022

It's just a kitchen

A kitchen renovation is stressful, y'all, and not for the reasons you might think. The construction noise as they took everything down to the studs was the least of it. Living in our bedroom for three weeks because the living room and hallway are blocked off with sheets of plastic to protect their contents, and the other bedrooms are overrun with boxed up kitchen ware, is less constricting than you would think. Thankfully, my husband is generally very easy to be around. Not being able to cook anything, but having to order in meals instead, is expensive, but how lucky we are to have the option of doing that. The contractor finding all sorts of janky electrical wiring and plumbing workarounds and what-were-they-thinking gas lines behind the walls isn't even the the worst of it, because all of that is now being brought up to code. But let me tell you, the decisions—that's where the storm clouds gather.

So many choices to make, and I realize I don't trust myself to make them. I'm not a designer. I can't envision beforehand how things will look, so I have to just make my best guess about what I like and go on faith that it will turn out to be pleasing once installed, or at least, inoffensive. My husband, bless him, is no help. It's all okay with him, whatever I want. He will tell me if he really doesn't like something, but beyond that, he insists he's fine with whatever I decide on from the remaining universe of possibilities, and it's sort of overwhelming. Countertops, backsplashes, light fixtures, hardware, sinks, faucets, pantry widths, appliances, you name it. I worry that the outcome won't look like the pictures of light airy kitchens I see on Pinterest, because I didn't make the right choices. My friend Lisa said some wise words to me on the phone just now, as I was bemoaning how worn out I am from all the decision making, and how anxious about getting things wrong. She said, "You know what, hon, it's just a kitchen." It was exactly what I needed to hear.

I remembered, as I did before when I was choosing couches to replace the broken and torn ones in our living room, that in my twenties, I was sublimely sure of my tastes, never second guessing myself. Where did that confident woman go? I have lost my own voice, allowed it to become muffled by decades of trying to gauge what it is my loved ones might be wanting, so that now I am no longer in touch with what I might want.

Weirdly, I think I also miss my old kitchen, if only the cabinet doors weren't always in danger of falling on our heads. There was some good energy spent in that kitchen. But now we will have a clean, functional, safe kitchen, and so what if I don't have a clue how to bring color and drama to the creation of it? So what if all I can pull off is neutral and simple? That is okay. As my friend Lisa reminded me, “It's just a kitchen."

Later: Just to put everything in sharp perspective, I’m just now hearing about a violent attack in a Brooklyn subway station this morning. Shooting and undetonated smoke bombs, thirteen people injured, five by apparently random gunfire. The shooter ran up the stairs and disappeared into the streets of Sunset Park. A citywide manhunt is underway. The city is starting to feel again like it did in the 1970s, when crime was rampant. This is not the New York my kids grew up in. Everyone is rocked. 

Thursday, April 7, 2022

The daily

Here’s the text I sent in the family chat this morning.


Also today, Justice Katanji Brown Jackson was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the first Black woman to sit on that high tribunal, which for the first time in its history will not have White men as the majority of its justices. I hadn’t focused on this somehow. No press story I read mentioned this until after she was confirmed today. It was as if the entire media colluded in this omission so as not to give the Trump Republicans in Congress another reason to lose all sanity. Had any of you focused on this fact before today? Am I just late in doing the math? I’m so happy she was confirmed. She is a justice who I believe will make us proud. 

In other news, the kitchen demo is done. The adventure has officially begun. 


Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Material fatigue

I am in such an anxious place. As my daughter moaned when she signed the contract two nights ago for the new job she was offered on her birthday, "Change is hard, Mama." I can tell you now that she's changing jobs. She told her boss yesterday, the two of them cried. She loves her current boss, but just felt that in order to grow she needed to take on a new challenge. She's been working at that nonprofit since she graduated college in 2016, and they promoted her three times, so as her mother, I felt she was safe and appreciated there. But safe is overrated when it comes to growth, so I applaud her stepping into the unknown.

Meanwhile the demo on the kitchen begins tomorrow, and we are not yet done packing up everything. I am once again gobsmacked by how much stuff we accumulate in our lives. We use perhaps five percent of what is in our kitchen, so why do we have all those things. I’m drowning in material possessions. It sucks up all our air. Also, the man and I aren't as young as we used to be, we don't power through physical tasks as we once did, which means I'm feeling extremely overwhelmed. And anxious. And lonely. Why lonely? Decision fatigue is real. Self-doubt is real. Relinquishing control and daring to trust an outcome that is in the hands of others to execute when you’re not that clear on your own vision is hard. At least it is for me.

My son just came. He immediately got busy throwing out a lot of expired containers, with not a moment of doubt or angst. Thank you for that, son. I don’t even care what went in the discard box. You are a prince.
 

Monday, April 4, 2022

Vision board

 

I have trouble settling on backsplashes I like. I seem partial to plain white subway tiles, but I think I also like this one, which offers a little more oomph, but is still subtle. This could work with white Shaker cabinets and some sort of light gray countertop, no? Thoughts?


Sunday, April 3, 2022

I love this girl




My son and his fiancée spent the day with us yesterday. They came over to help us pack up the kitchen, so that demo can begin this week. Or rather our son was going to help us pack, as his love works on Saturdays and was doing her job remotely from our living room. My boy and his dad went to Home Depot to get boxes and bubble wrap while my heart daughter and I had a lovely time chatting about everything, and when work claimed her attention I watched Single Drunk Female on Hulu, actress Ally Sheedy’s new show that is wonderfully inclusive, not just in terms of race and ethnicity but also in terms of bodies, sexuality, gender identity, life itself. 

Later my son’s fiancée’s best friend came over, her maid of honor, who got married last November herself. The young women were so much fun together, two musical theater kids now working in tech, doing an impromptu rendition of “Satisfied” from the musical Hamilton, all the lyrics and dance movements, I loved it so much and wanted them never to stop. They also caught me up on all the wedding planning, which seems to be proceeding well, though not without its moments of angst. I opined that it seemed so much simpler in my day, without the ubiquitous eye of social media. But was it really? Or was I simply more equal to the challenge of it all than I am now?

Meanwhile in Boston my daughter and her love were taking a few steps toward the future themselves. It was an eventful week for my girl, a big work win on Monday, which was also her birthday, then she and her partner learned they got the apartment in Brooklyn they wanted, for the price they counter offered (people seem to be making rent bids on apartments in New York City these days—what is going on??) in the neighborhood they love. They’ll be moving back to the city at the end of June. Amid the madness of the world, life in microcosm seems to be humming along. 

We still have to clear out the kitchen. The man and I were having so much fun just socializing with the young folks yesterday, and watching the March Madness basketball that we never got around to actual packing. We’ll do it tomorrow, now that needed supplies have been laid in. I can hardly believe that after 21 years of living with poorly installed kitchen cabinets forever coming off their hinges, and me always worrying about a door falling on someone, we’re finally going to have new solid, sturdily installed white Shaker style cabinets, with pot drawers rather than cupboards in which plastic Tupperware containers get lost at the back for eternity. 

Don’t mind me. I’m busy counting my blessings over here. That beautiful stout hearted young woman in the pictures above, she’s one of them for sure. 


Monday, March 28, 2022

Happy golden birthday to our beloved daughter!

 

Apparently your golden birthday is when you turn the age of your birth date, which means our girl is celebrating her golden birthday today. She has a huge case study to present for work this morning. She worked on it through her birthday weekend, in between bunch with her girls on Saturday, a birthday party with friends on Saturday evening, after which they all went roller skating, then brunch with friends again on Sunday, followed by a basketball game in the evening. She still got the deck done for her presentation. I know because she FaceTimed me last night near 11 PM, exhausted, hoping I would consent to stay on the call with her as she worked through final details. She calls it body doubling. Her love was behind her on the couch, no doubt also worn out from so much extroverted activity all weekend. They're both introverts with extrovert tendencies, meaning they can party with the best of them, but they need to recharge away from the madding crowd afterward. At that moment, her love was also gaping in shock at the unfortunate Will Smith-Chris Rock spectacle being broadcast from the Academy Awards stage. But my girl couldn't focus on that yet. She needed to finish up her presentation deck and email it before midnight.

I'm brain dead and out of words, she moaned. But I need to write a little something about myself and why I'm interested in this case. 

Why did you leave it till so late, I asked her, trying to assess whether I was brain dead myself at that hour.

Not helpful Mom, she said ruefully.

Dig up some old cover letters for jobs, I suggested. See how you presented yourself in them, and crib from that. 

That seemed to spark a crack through which words could flow, and in no time she had composed three short paragraphs, which she then read to me out loud so she could hear and fix word repetitions and phrase echoes. I saw the final version of the deck she created. It was appealingly designed, beautifully OCD in the layout of each slide. Maybe my real calling is graphic design, she said when I complimented the appearance of the work. I'm sure the content was on point, too, but it had to do with  conclusions drawn from marketing profiles and data points and might as well have been written in Urdu.

I think you should put your head shot on the right because of the way you're leaning, I suggested for her required opening slide. 

I know, she said, but the next slide has a big graphic on the right, so the eye needs some relief before that. 

Can I tell you how much it thrills me that she takes such care not just with content, but also with how her work is visually presented? She got that from me, I told my husband with no false humility after I got off the call. With no pique whatsoever, he agreed.

But what makes me happiest right now is that she seems to be in a happy and connected period of life. She weathers her stresses, wades through her anxieties, but overall, things seem good for her in this moment. For this zest for life and sense of joy to always fuel her days is my primary wish for her on this, the golden birthday of our golden daughter. 


Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Queen Ketanji

 

Talk about suffering fools, not gladly, but with mind-bending grace, patience, and poise. The SCOTUS confirmation hearings this week are enraging to listen to. I find myself just screaming at the TV before I come back to myself. But I did love the way Senator Mazie Hirono revealed Josh Hawley's diatribe to be the hollow thing it was. My favorite tweet on her brilliant dismantling of his arguments about nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson having handed down what he tried to characterize as the soft sentencing of a child predator was this: "Mazie Hirono just put Josh Hawley in the trunk and drove him to an undisclosed location." She did, too. And what is it with all these Republicans crowing about child predators when they did nothing about their emperor president and his pedophile friends, or about the child abusers sitting next to them on the GOP side of the congressional chamber. I guess they just want their out-of-context sound bites for Fox news and social media, to be swallowed whole by their Q-conspiracy base, no matter how absolutely idiotic they sound. Hello? Tom Cotton? I sat watching him with my mouth hanging open, wondering how this actual idiot managed to bumble his way into the Senate. I can only imagine the thoughts rolling through Ketanji Brown Jackson's brain at some of the Republican judiciary committee members' ridiculously irrelevant, spectacularly ignorant, yet breathtakingly entitled and aggressively racist questioning. On the other side of the room, Senator Cory Booker tried to balance the scale. His voice quavered as he told the nominee how proud she made him, how she was the dream of their ancestors, and a great American. Judge Jackson’s eyes welled and a  tear spilled over. I was so moved by Cory Booker's full-throated support of his sister in arms. But I also knew the emotion in that moment was born of trauma, the shared trauma of walking through America in black skin. Hang in there, Queen. You're so far above and beyond those vile little men who came at you with such shriveled souls. You know who you are. A supremely qualified soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice, that's who you are. I'm proud of you, too.
 

 

Monday, March 21, 2022

Monday at the office

I added some new art to that wall above the big comfy couch. Never mind the skewed camera perspective, the frames are straight and the lamp doesn't have a spout on one side. When I sent that picture to my daughter to get her opinion, she texted back, "Caribbean colors, looks like you, love it!"  Caribbean colors—I hadn't consciously decided to reflect that, but I suppose those are the colors in which I dream. As for the curtains, I have tried different ones in the past weeks, variations on white, linen, teal and blue, but none of them pleased me as much as the bold red that currently hangs at my windows, and so now, I'm pressing pause on the buying and returning of drapes and letting those red curtains be. Besides, I like a pop of red when I stumble out each morning to start my day.

I turned in my manuscript last Thursday. Now I wait. My subject started reading on Friday, and texted me within fifteen minutes, saying "Hey YOU! OMG! This is so good! You captured my voice so well!" I was immediately and joyfully filled with love for this woman, who took the time to let me know that her initial response at least, was positive. It was such a kindness. I texted her back and told her how much I appreciated her letting me know her early impression, how it's always nerve-wracking turning in a piece of writing. She texted back, "Girl, I get it. I'm a writer too. I felt so guilty not writing my own book, but I could have never turned in something like this." She is so busy all the time, jumping on planes almost every day of the week, yet she made time to be generous and affirming. I have no idea if her first impression will be sustained throughout her reading of this first draft, but she took me a bit out of my misery, bless her. I still have to wait to see how it lands for her agent and the book editor, but whatever revisions might be needed from here, the heaviest lift in this memoir writing process is done.


A
nd now it is Monday again. The man and I are at the table by the window, working away. Stories for the new issue of the magazine are hitting my queue, so I better get cracking on editing them. Thank God for work (she said with feeling).

 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Memory



Imagine being from that beautiful place, Antigua, my husband's birth land, my children's birthright, my parents' late-in-life home. The photo is by Jervez Lee. 

Awash in nostalgia as vivid as the colors of that sunset, I ran across this quote from Katherine Anne Porter: "The past is never where you think you left it." 

Even so, my memories do not lie. The things I remember really did happen, even if they never will again.





Sunday, March 13, 2022

It finally got them

My girl and her love have the Covid. They were supposed to travel on Friday but instead are quarantined at home. He has no symptoms, but she was pretty sick with fever and body aches, sniffles and a dry cough, but she's on the mend now, enough to be suffering from cabin fever. "How did we do this for a whole year?" she wanted to know. Some of us did it for much longer, I told her. She walked her dog Munch in the rain yesterday, and is reading Harry Potter again to pass the time till she's sprung from isolation. Fortunately, the company inside is congenial.


Thursday, March 10, 2022

Time it was

Last Saturday, I joined several of my former LIFE magazine colleagues for lunch, as many of them had traveled to the city from as far away as California and Bangkok to attend a memorial service for the venerable Dick Stolley, founder of People Magazine and former managing editor of LIFE, and the man who, as a young journalist had been the one to track down and secure the famous Zapruder film of John F. Kennedy's assassination, the one we've seen again and again on history reels, of Jackie Kennedy in her pink suit and pearls with her husband's bloody head staining everything red. 

I didn't go to the memorial, in part because even though Dick had been my boss and had been a legendary newsman, the Friday of his service fell on the seventh anniversary of my mother's death. Seven years already. Some anniversaries hit harder than others. This year, I just wanted to spend the day quietly. Both my children called me to make sure I was okay. I was fine, and so touched that they remembered their grandmother on that day. We all shared lovely reminiscences about her.

Anyway, on Saturday, there was a plan for some of the reporters who had worked for one particular editor, Mary Steinbauer, to get together with her at a restaurant near her home in the Village. There would be six of us, two of whom I hadn't seen since leaving LIFE when I was twenty-nine, and the other three I had seen only twice in the intervening years, once at a reunion of the old staff in November 2013, and again when we got together for lunch with Mary and our beloved former Chief of Research, June Omura Goldberg, the following day. 

We reporters were a wild bunch back then. At lunch on Saturday, we remarked on the fact that we were not only work colleagues, but also each other's social group, which was to be expected since we worked till ten and eleven at night, or on closing nights, two or three in the morning, waiting for our stories to come through the editing rounds, and decamping to each other's homes to imbibe and smoke and be giddy with exhaustion and abandon afterward. My fellow reporters, two in particular, were my best friends during those years. We were each other's everything for a while, because if we weren't burning the midnight oil in the offices on the thirty-first floor of the Time Life Building, we would be traveling with an assigned photographer for weeks at a stretch to report stories and create photo essays for the magazine. We had so little time left over to develop outside friendships. I have never worked more intimately with another group of people since. 

All that to say, as socially anxious as I was to show up on Saturday, as soon as I arrived I was at ease. The conversation flowed, so many memories were dredged up, and we all gave Mary her flowers for the calm way she had guided us excitable young whippersnappers back then, when we would call from the road with unforeseen challenges to be solved or on-the-fly plans to be approved. She demurred in her usual gracious way and said, "I got so much credit for the stories we did, but I always told people, it was you reporters who made them happen. All I did was say, 'Go.'" She shared that she had turned over all her papers from her decades as a senior editor and then Assistant Managing Editor of LIFE to the New York Historical Society, so if we ever wanted to visit our stories and the voluminous files we created in service to each one, we could find them there. 

Mary was famous for taking us all out to long margarita-soaked lunches on the day after a big story or a special issue shipped, and we recreated that vibe on Saturday, toasting with round after round of margaritas. Having met up at noon, we were still sitting there at four that afternoon, calling back one riotous memory after another. I loved the way each person around the table had evolved to become even more fully themselves. Each of my lunch companions could have been the inspiration for a fascinating literary character in a Truman Capote or Joan Didion narrative. It was close to five when we finally roused ourselves and walked Mary back to her apartment building before the rest of us jumped in a cab and regrouped at another former staffer's home on the Upper West Side. It reminded me of the way we used to roam in clusters back in the day, going from one gathering place to the next, one person's house to another, loath to let the party end.




We are all older now, so the party on Saturday did end. I went home to my husband as darkness fell, all the memories we unearthed sticking to me, calling back the way I used to be, reckless and footloose, jumping on planes to far flung places at a moment's notice, anxious before every new adventure, but feeling the fear and wrestling each new story to the page anyway.

This photo was taken as the sun came up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where photographer Michael O'Brien and I were doing a series on "New Americans," recent immigrants who were making a go of life in their new country. In Fort Wayne, we reported on a large Ethiopian family who had opened a parachute factory, after a harrowing wartime escape from their homeland. Michael was my absolute favorite photographer; we worked so well together that our editors paired us on numerous stories, and his wife, also a reporter, was one of my closest friends. He liked the light coming in through the blinds that morning as we sipped coffee in the airport cafe while waiting for our early morning flight home. So he raised his camera and took this shot. 

As the years accrue, it hardly seems real anymore that I lived all those stories, that my young life was so enriched by the people I encountered from all walks. But on Saturday with my old LIFE crew, I touched again the young woman I was, reporting stories in almost every state in the union and navigating to places as far away as the Falkland Islands, now called the Malvinas, the southernmost inhabited land mass in the world, and yes, it was me who went all those places and met all those people and built enough trust with them that they allowed a young Black woman who grew up in Jamaica and came to New York as a college student to literally camp out in their lives. My God, I really did that. Memory is an elusive shimmery thing.