Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fingers crossed

My kids jumped around me as if on springs. “Did you see me cartwheel?” asked one. “Did you see me do a headstand?” the other interjected.

“I saw, I saw,” I promised, crossing my fingers behind my back.

Gymnastics is like that: A gaggle of kids twirling and bouncing as their parents “watch.”

“I'm surprised my daughter isn't attempting to do the flips,” said a woman sitting next to me. “She's always liked those.”

“I think that's my daughter,” I say, squinting my eyes. “... but I can't tell for sure. They're both wearing ponytails and turquoise pants.”

We laugh and go back to chatting about the “weather” or “things” or “nothing at all.”

Any time I actually witnessed “the headstand of perfection” during the 90-minute class it was sheer luck.

It's pretty much the same with dance class and soccer practice. I was pondering this when a question came out of left field.

“Are you homeschooling your kids?”

Had I been drinking milk at the time, the question would have undoubtedly caused a river of moo juice to gush through my nose.

But as it happened, my laughter and discomfort at the thought of such an insane notion, caused an equally painful reaction.

“Oh … I only asked because I was home-schooled,” she continued.

Then I felt like a knee-jerk, emphasis on jerk.

I didn't mean to denigrate homeschooling as a means of education, I just couldn't see myself as educator.

My children, who had already decided by age five and two respectively – before their own school careers had truly begun – that I knew very little about the greater workings of the world because I couldn't operate the car's GPS. How could I be trusted with reading and math and the inner workings their their expanding minds when I could not be trusted to get them home from a neighboring state without stopping to ask for directions?

They didn't even believe me when I told them today was a Sunday.

Can't say as I blame them.

Surely a day as rainy as this should be called a rain day.

Surely they know by now that when they ask me how it's even physically possible for milk to shoot out one's nose if one happens to be laughing and drinking at the same time, I will have to consult Dr. Google.

And even then I'd have to read from the entry verbatim.

“That flappy thing at the back of your throat lets stuff up when it should go down,” somehow doesn't feel quite adequate.

They certainly know from my lamentations over homework directions – having Googled some of those as well – that teaching isn't one of my strong points.

And even when I'm right, I'm wrong.

For instance, when Ittybit stacks three numbers for homework – 201, 54 and 5 – and comes up with a sum of 905, we both end up with big, old goose eggs.

She has ZERO interest in me telling her where she went wrong and I have ZERO interest in fighting with her over doing it correctly.

We might as well be standing on our heads.

At this point, however, I could probably have to do it with my arms tied behind my back.

Fingers crossed.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


You hear it all the time: “People like him …” “Someone like her ...” I say it, too.


It's how we organize our lives and form thoughts. We categorize the people we know in general terms. The nice guys. The sweethearts. The needlers. The drama queens. The friends. The acquaintances. The rivals. The folks we'd just as soon not see.

But then one of them dies. Unexpectedly.

Only it wasn't just Someone Like Him. It was him.

And everything changes.

Generalities are replaced by memories that are quite specific.

“You know … I don't have a single bad memory of Robert,” said a woman I recognized from happier times. She greeted me by smiling and joining her arm in mine. “Well, except this one.” We laughed at his funeral.

But it was true. Not a single bad memory. And not because we limited our exposure to the possibilities.

He was just that sort of person. The sort of person who looked on the bright side without negating the tarnish.

His encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture. His love of music and mirth. His ability to pinpoint a problem and separate it from the chatter of false fixes. His unwavering ability to be kind without ever losing his edge.

Bad news would always be followed by good news -- you just had to squint a little harder to see it.

As I stood with a roomful of his friends and family mourning his loss, the thing that struck me was how in all of the memories they shared I could picture him vividly. As if he were in the room. It was so much more comforting than I could have imagined.

And all the specifics came flooding back.

I remembered when we met ...

My friend's new boyfriend. Her fiance. Her husband.

In lockstep our lives seemed parallel. Marriage. Children. Career. Political affiliations. Hope. Setback. Hope. There were also long absences born of geography and obligation …. Our lives have a tendency to take us away from each other from time to time. Of course there were struggles, too.

But inevitably there was always a phone call that brought us back together. An appointed time and place, a new libation to share and something to celebrate. There is laughter and much preaching to the choir.

We all have these experiences, and the existentialists would say that we are all here in some giant circle repeating a life already lived. The heaviness of our existence is the weight of history bearing down.

And maybe it is true that in general our experiences are identical. We are born. We live. We die. Except that it's all new to us.

That each person we meet is not exactly like the next. My friend was unique as are his wife and his children. And his loss is as tragic for them as tragic can be.

My eyes sting whenever I think about the epic sadness of this moment. The uncertainty of this certainty.

In church, during the mass, I found myself tilting my head back to keep tears from spilling over. I was doing just as I waited outside of the church waiting to hug my friend. And that's when I saw it. A word, written in brick, on a building across the street. “Forward.”

A direction and a sign. A moment of pure understanding that going forward doesn't mean letting go. It just means traveling onward. Because when a person Like Him gives the gift of friendship, that gift only lightens the load.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sweets and savories … and politics

He came downstairs from his lair the morning after the elections and rubbed his eyes. Hair sticking up all over. It looked as if he'd been up all night (or slept on his head at the very least).

"Who won?"

I considered changing the subject.

"Cheerios? Banana bread? How about chocolate for breakfast?"

Who won? Met Romney or Rock Obama?”

Such is life with a five-year-old boy who owns a "presidential blazer" the day after election day.

See, on November 5, the day before the 2012 presidential race, the child had decided he was betting the horse farm on the Republican hopeful.

There we were, comfortably ensconced in the living room: I was sitting on the couch, quietly inspecting the insides of my eyelids and basking in the warmth of the wood stove. He was building imaginary cities out of LEGOs on the coffee table.

"I frink I want Met Omni to win," he said, forcing my eyes open and into a cycle of rapid-fire blinking.

"What?" I stammer. "Why do you want Mitt Romney to win?"

He smiles his best Alex P. Keaton grin and lays out his logic:

"Well ... I think that Met Omni will be better for kids. I heard he's going to cut the school day, what would be good for me because I only want to go to school in the morning time and for gym."

I love that he's interpreting information and finding his opinion among the facts and soundbites, but it's not as if I can remain speechless. It reminds me of my own childhood introduction to politics.

Apparently (as the family lore goes) I had informed my father that I would be voting for Mr. Reagan over Mr. Carter because no Red-blooded American child would EVER pick peanuts over jelly beans. It would be an abomination.

And as any red-blooded Kennedy Democrat might, my dad explained in no uncertain terms why I was deluded.

He shook his head and then said something about unions and poverty, trickle-down economics and cavities. “Everyone wants the sweets, but all you get for it is holes in your teeth.”

I didn't care. All I cared about was the candy. Teeth, schmeeth.

Fine, but if you want to vote for Reagan, you'll have to go and live with the neighbors.”

He laughed. I laughed. But we both knew he was serious.

My son could probably sense the same sincerity as I tried to explain to him about how candidates make all kinds of promises during elections they don't always intend to keep. And how sometimes they make promises that, if they were to uphold them, might be bad for us.

To my way of thinking, The Champ's shorter school day (with no-way-of-telling how many sugar-saturated snack breaks and lack of raising one's hand he'd added for good measure) would be detrimental to his education.

He didn't care. He'd rather have more free time and less math time.

Fine, but if you want to vote for Romney, you'll have to go and live with the neighbors.”

Poor kid. His eyes did some quick calculating: If he added up all the free time he was going to have from a truncated school day; subtracted the area of his bedroom and all of the toys inside; and divided that by the number of friends he'd wouldn't be able to invite over for play dates …

He came up with a different candidate.

I changed my mind. I'm voting for Rock Obama.”

I wasn't convinced. He'd had the night to “sleep on it.” His decision could have changed.

Well? Who won?”

Barack Obama,” I said hesitantly.

Yeeeeesssssssss!” he punched the air as he shot past me toward the breakfast table.

I won.”

I know. It's great. … Now what do you want for breakfast?”

I'll have a peanut-butter-samwich. Can I wear my presidential blazer to school?”

And then it hit me: He'll probably grow up to be just like his grandpa.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

No one likes a quitter

I know there are so many more problems in the world than as-it-happens news coverage of major natural disasters. But as large swathes of the East Coast tuned in last Monday for information about Hurricane Sandy as it slammed into lower Manhattan and wrecked havoc along the Eastern seaboard I had to ask, aloud … and to a room filled with husband and dog, (the kids had already gone to bed and were pretending to be asleep) if it's finally time for major news organizations such as CNN to get rid of (or at least diminish the presence of) people reporting live and on-camera from the storm surge.

I mean ...


Every time one rain-coated anchor split screens with another rain-coated reporter who -- screaming against the wind –- was remarking about how eerily dark the city was or how high the waves were, I was almost angry.

On the edge of seething, even.

Houses on fire. A facade collapse. A hospital generator failure that was sending workers into the street with premature infants.

And in my living room a guy was clinging to a road sign and fighting gusts of wind for the limelight, all the while telling viewers that no one should be traveling around (like he was). I was slack-jawed as another reporter -- after I'd switched channels -- recounted how many injuries his crew had suffered. The result, he said, of blowing signs and debris -- even though they were "taking precautions" and being "safe".

The talking heads inside the relative safety of high-rise studios don't seem like much of an improvement with their oh-so-helpful banter: “Please tell that guy to bring his dog inside,” said one anchor to her storm chaser in Battery Park as a man walking a dog glided through the shot.

I shook my head, picturing Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, delivering the disagreeable answer: “Yes... I would love to be back inside, on the hardwood floors, for me to poop on!!!”

I should learn to let this roll of my back. Like rain.

Arm-chair quarterbacking. Backseat driving. Why am I complaining?

It's not as if any of this is scripted. They're all just telling it as they see it and repeating an earpiece full of Googled facts, hoping for something new to report. Something -- anything -- that will shift the dialog to something more substantial.

I start flipping channels. Clicking screens. Scrolling through the all the new networks at my disposal.

"What about the hospitals?"

"What about the fires?"

"What about climate change?"

"Why is CNN wasting time with some guy in front of a casino on a mostly deserted street?"

"Do people REALLY want to see this person swept away?"

My husband just shook his head in abject disagreement with my indignant frustration … and chuckled:

"I'll tell you what I want to see. I want to see an alligator from the sewer swallow him up."

"Or a shark ... washed in from the river?" I offered in jest.

"Better yet."

I'd just settle for the rain to stop.”

No one likes a quitter.”