Tuesday, October 02, 2012

And suddenly, I _was_ the one

My iPhone threw this song into a Genius mix I started with TLC's "Waterfalls." I was riding my bike as it played and when the music started I could immediately picture the choreography from "Center Stage." It was an oddly satisfying solution to my lifelong desire to be a ballet dancer without actually putting any effort into being a ballet dancer--I was pedaling hard, moving through space, and in my head I was dancing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Not Having It, At All

So, Helen Gurley Brown is dead at age 90. I'm torn about acknowledging it because all the other people I've eulogized on Watering Place were personally important influences. I've always been aware of Helen Gurley Brown, and I have read a few Cosmopolitans in my time, but I'm definitely not a fan and her heyday was arguably past before I hit anything like maturity. My husband is horrified by Michael Bloomberg's laudatory comment on her passing, and I tend to agree that she did more harm than good.

I had thought that my mother read Having It All when it came out in 1982 (and that seemed odd), but then I found this New York Magazine article which contains the particular piece of information that I remember my mother mentioning repeatedly: that David Brown was allowed to lunch with other women as much as he liked, but never at 21 because that was HGB's turf. As I remembered it, David Brown was actually allowed to have affairs but couldn't parade them at 21--the way it's described in the magazine is more innocent and I may just be remembering wrong. Speaking of innocence, in the same article HGB predicts that herpes--herpes--will drive everyone to be faithful.

So that's my salient memory of Helen Gurley Brown. I'm intrigued by the title of that book, since "having it all" has now morphed to include having children, as in the Anne-Marie Slaughter Atlantic piece I already referenced but will probably never organize my thoughts sufficiently to write about.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Time is a Goon, but Facebook is a Spirit Realm

I've been making a conscious effort lately to get away from screens and back to the realm of the books that were my first and are my greatest love. I've recently read and enjoyed The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, Shadow And Bone, The Night Circus, Something Fresh, and today I finished A Visit from the Goon Squad. I was aware of the buzz around this book even before it won the Pulitzer, because I knew the music business setting would appeal to me,* and that Jennifer Egan is close enough to my age that (despite the wide chronological range of the book) I would probably be able to relate to her viewpoint, the reflection of her personal experience, however refracted by fiction.

I was right. I love this book for the reasons I thought I would, but also because one of the themes--THE theme--is one that I've been thinking about a lot lately. "Time is a goon," two characters say, and time strong-arms everyone in the book, takes them on trips they didn't expect to take, ending up in places they didn't expect to be. Quite a few of them are happy, but not happy in the way they expected. I especially like Egan's subtle portrayal of the near future in the last two chapters--the consequences of climate change (although I think she may overplay that), national security concerns, economic woes, and above all, social media.

In an earlier chapter Egan has some of her characters, NYU students in the early 90s, out on the town. Bix, a grad student in electrical engineering, is often on his computer, sending messages to other people on computers to the mystification of his friends. One night--one of those crazy college nights when it gets really late and you end up in a group of people who are indirectly related because your direct connections have gone home or elsewhere (okay, in the book this is also fueled by Ecstasy with which I have no experience)--a character says "Let's remember this day, even when we don't know each other anymore."

"Oh, we'll know each other forever," Bix says. "The days of losing touch are almost gone."
"What does that mean?" Drew asks.
"We're going to meet again in a different place," Bix says. "Everyone we've lost, we'll find. Or they'll find us."
"Where? How?" Drew asks.
Bix hesitates, like he's held this secret so long he's afraid of what will happen when he releases it into the air. "I picture it like Judgment Day," he says finally, his eyes on the water. "We'll rise up out of our bodies and find each other again in spirit form. We'll meet in that new place, all of us together, and first it'll seem strange, and pretty soon it'll seem strange that you could ever lose someone, or get lost."

*I have a weird relationship to music. I like to sing and to play the piano, and I like to listen to music--sometimes to one song, obsessively--but I never really learned how to talk about it. Partly I don't seem to want to know how the sausage gets made. Mostly when I read reviews or music journalism I can't get what my brother-in-law calls "eye traction." I need a personal connection. That's why I can read CoolDad Music, and that's why--despite averting my eyes from the real music business--I always enjoy fiction set in the music business. I had a tiny bit of experience sitting in on rehearsals and going to shows and being on the fringiest fringy fringes of punk, too. That goon, time, dipped me there before he flung me here. And the people who were there with me are my Facebook friends and my IRL friends.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Arts August

This is the second year we've had it in our family: the month in which one child does intensive musical theater--appearing in a show after about 48 hours of rehearsal--and another does intensive art, commuting to the city to study Graphic Design six hours a day for two weeks. Last night we saw S.'s wonderful performance as Flounder in "The Little Mermaid, Jr."; today M. and I go to the city to see the Show of Work by the students of Parsons Pre-College Academy. After that M. and I will shop Soho and the East Village, at her request. Blogging has been light, but I'm doing a lot of living.

Thursday, August 09, 2012


I missed a day. And I've missed a few runs and food journals too. But I'm not giving up.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Bonus Link Post

As you may know, I am a devotee of Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project. I eagerly await her new book, _Happier At Home_. In this post


Jessica Lahey blogs about bringing Gretchen's precepts into her classroom, and her mother-in-law's distillation of her five favorite happiness tips.

Alice Trillin's Policy, and Mine

"By now, my wife's policy on attending school plays (a policy that also covers pageants, talent shows, revues, recitals, and spring assemblies) is pretty well known: she believes that if your child is in a school play and you don't go to every performance, including the special Thursday matinee for the fourth grade, the county will come and take the child." Calvin Trillin

Luckily (but also sadly) for me, my daughter's next production is a one-night-only event. It's also the first time she's broken out of the two-generation typecast we've had going: Connie in "Good News," The Abbess in "The Comedy of Errors," Catherine in "Pippin,"  Glinda in "The Wizard of Oz," executive secretary Joyce Edwards in the little-known "Going...Going...Gone With The Breeze"--all women who serenely dominate the end of a play and tie up its loose ends.

On Thursday night, though, S. will be playing a ten-year-old boy, er...fish--Flounder in "The Little Mermaid." She'll have to actually act--and she's going to be on wheels. I can't wait to see it.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Why I Love August

It's the month in which I was born. When I see it approaching on the calendar, when I think about August, I have a feeling like coming home--like the last turn of a long drive, when you're on your own street.

It's the back-to-school month. I tried to hide it, because it wasn't cool, but I loved school. I was good at it, too--much better at school than I am at Life. I love school supplies. I love fall clothes. I love fall, and the fun of planning for fall when it's hot as blazes outside. I loved the August issue of "Seventeen," Bible-thick and full of promise: ads for clothes and shoes (lots of tartan and loafers and blazers and boots) and articles about organization. Reading about getting organized is even more fun than actually getting organized.

It's the month of my father's birthday and my grandfather's birthday, so my grandmother used to have one big Sunday dinner on the screen porch for all of us, and it was such a big celebration.

It's the month of my first daughter's birthday.

It's usually the best beach weather of the summer, but also the month of some big waves as hurricane season begins.

The Nineteenth Amendment became law on August 26, 1920, and my mother watched a commemorative parade out the window of her hospital room fifty years later. She told me when I was growing up that she never concerned herself much with feminism until that day, when she saw the parade and thought about her brand-new daughter and what she wanted her life to be like.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

I wrote this for Father's Day

Don't know how many years ago, and I don't know why I didn't post it. But it's a summer Sunday, and the father of my children has been in California for two days. As we eagerly await his return:

Five reasons I love my husband:
1) He thinks I'm a great writer.
2) He thinks I look sexy in my painting clothes.*
3) He looks sexy in his Scoutmaster uniform.
4) He let me paint our bedroom rose-beige, and only complained a little when it turned out considerably more rose than either of us expected.+
5) He never seems to lose sight of the goal of being a good person.

Five reasons I love my father:
1) He thinks I'm a great writer.
2) He makes me feel good about screwing up.
3) He introduced me to Twyla Tharp, J.D. Salinger, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, The Roches...
4) He considers it a treat to babysit my kids.
5) He's a good man, and when I went to find one of my own, I knew what to look for.

Five reasons I loved my grandfather (the only one I knew):
1) He had a great memory for poems and songs (and serial numbers)
2) He married my grandmother because she was smart and a good talker.
3) He thought it was significant and highly admirable (indicative of Irishness) that I loved mashed potatoes so much.
4) He considered it a treat to babysit me and my brother.
5) He was a good man, and he taught my father how to be one too.

*Can't remember the last time I painted anything, but he must have said that at some point.
+That was a whole house ago. This time our bedroom is painted a sort of mauve-beige. It had "sand" in the name. It's...mauver than expected, but pretty neutral really. Progress.

Why so much paint content? I don't know. Color is important to me?

Saturday, August 04, 2012


Here, off the top of my head, are the songs from my own era with which my children and their friends seem most familiar.

It's The End of the World As We Know It (REM)
Celebration (Kool and The Gang)
Hot Hot Hot (Buster Poindexter and his Banshees of Blue)
Iron Man (Black Sabbath)
Don't You Want Me (Human League)
Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now) (C+C Music Factory)

Note: This is a resurrected draft published almost untouched, except that originally I felt funny about claiming 1990 as part of my own era. Yes, a few years ago some part of me thought I had already been passé when still in college. Wow, a lot of temporal movement in that last sentence.

You can see how these drafts get left in the box.

Friday, August 03, 2012

They're Also Brave Who Work Inside the Gate

I don't often see movies in the theater anymore, but I made a point of seeing "Brave" shortly after it was released. After all, it was the much-heralded, long-awaited first Pixar movie with a female lead--and a quasi-Scottish medieval setting as a bonus. I enjoyed "Brave," but most people seem to have a vague sense that it lacks something: heart, or unity, or the courage of its convictions, or...convictions. There is a lot to like about a movie that focuses on a girl, explores the mother-daughter relationship, and doesn't end with a wedding or even the promise of one; but within those promising parameters a problem developed. It's a so-old-it's-new "problem without a name" that increasingly concerns me, and it happens to be the same problem I had with the Atlantic's most-read article ever, which came out at about the same time.


We first meet Merida, the heroine of "Brave," as a little girl enjoying a birthday picnic with her family, receiving her very own bow and arrow. When a bear threatens them, her mother escapes on horseback with Merida while her father stays and fights. So far, so good; everyone in this scenario is being brave. In the next scene, years have passed and Merida is a young woman with three little brothers who run wild while she is constantly exhorted to behave herself and learn the many skills and accomplishments expected from a young woman of noble birth and high position. Her mother is the bad cop in this scenario, and her precepts keep Merida from doing what she wants to do, which is run wild herself, i.e. ride her horse through the woods outside their castle walls and shoot arrows with pinpoint accuracy. Worse yet, Merida learns that three suitors from loosely allied clans will soon arrive and engage in a competition, and she is expected to marry the winner.

Side note: this post is about sex, not class, but I just want to mention that while Merida is pitching a fit about this situation, her family is being served at table by a woman who brings tons of food to the table which was presumably prepared by a substantial kitchen staff, and will be cleaned up by servants, etc. Leaving the anachronistic questions of arranged/political marriage and women as chattel aside for the moment, I kept hoping that Elinor would explain to her daughter that her extreme privilege came with a duty to all the people who work her father's land and fight in her armies, but that was silly of me.

When the suitors arrive, Merida chooses archery as the determining event, and then on the day of competition announces that she also will compete (shades of Atalanta); of course she wins and throws everything into chaos. When her mother yanks her inside to remonstrate, she picks up a sword and makes a cut through her mother's prized possession, a tapestry-in-progress depicting their family. Merida figuratively cuts herself out of the picture and then literally leaves the house for her beloved woods, where she meets a witch. Merida asks the witch for a spell that will change Elinor, which she believes will then change her own fate. I was terrified that Elinor would die, but instead she just got transformed into a bear. Then she did almost die because her husband, and the assembled representatives of four clans worth of crazy Scots, were determined to kill her: remember from the beginning, a bear represents THE threat to this society's security.

At this moment the story had a lot of promise, and a lot was squandered. Merida smuggles Bear-Elinor out of the castle and into the woods. They spend a night sleeping rough, and when Merida wakes up her mother has already, with her clumsy bear claws, prepared a foraged meal and set a table complete with makeshift twig forks. "GREAT!" I thought. "Changing Elinor's form doesn't change her, and she has standards that won't be compromised by misfortune or changing circumstances. She will create a home and maintain civilization wherever she is, because it is important." But, no: this was just an opportunity for some comedy, because outside is Merida's domain--dumb old Elinor picked poison berries, and the water is full of creepy-crawlies. Merida teaches Elinor to fish, because foraging is dumb old women's work anyhow, and hunting and fishing are cool.

So now I've tipped my hand. Why, for a woman to be a heroine, does she have to reject traditionally feminine values? Why are we so excited about Katniss, who is not only an accomplished archer/murderess but also, if you read the books, has an emotional IQ around 50?

Merida does meet her mother in the middle, somewhere. She ends up having to exercise some wisdom and diplomacy to fix the political disaster she herself engendered back at the castle, and in the process she learns that her mother's job is harder and more complicated than it looks, and that her father depends on her mother in many ways (although the hapless, hopeless dad is another problem trope, and luckily for me one that many others have already addressed). Elinor sees that her daughter is turning out okay, and agrees that they can indeed change her "fate" of early strategic marriage. That's all great, and I applaud the message that mothers and daughters should respect each other, listen to each other, and be flexible about the future and what life holds.

BUT in the last scene, Merida and Elinor are out together on horseback, which suggests to me that Merida is supposed to have, in some sense, "won." Elinor's domain is the castle, civilized society, the enclosure: Merida has rescued her, taken her out into the open air, away from that pesky tapestry project (which, I forgot to mention, Merida had to mend in order to break the spell, and despite what must have been at least 12 years of oppressive training had little clue how to do it) and into the wild. No matter that Elinor may enjoy creating--what's valuable is to shoot, which is (in however small a sense, as the arrow hits its precise mark) to destroy. And the HAIR!

Merida, of course, has the much-vaunted red, curly, untameable hair. For most of the movie Elinor's dark hair is in a long, sleek, thick braid. When Merida meets her suitors her hair is stuffed into a suffocating wimple attached to a tight white dress, which is stupid, by the way--my impression from my extensive reading of historical fiction, which I know is no substitute for historical research, is that young maidens in medieval times showed their hair and married women covered it up. At the end, Elinor's hair is loose, blowing in the wind. I bring some personal baggage to this image. I cannot stand having my hair touch my face--a sensory integration issue, no doubt. If I know my hair is going to be blown by the wind I take extra precautions--a braid and a headband, perhaps a hat. So seeing that just set my teeth on edge, because being forced to set your hair free is no better than being forced to keep it under control.

And one more thing: in the first scene, Merida sees will o' the wisps. Elinor tells her that some legends hold that the little lights lead travelers to their fate, and her father scoffs. It is the wisps that lead her to the witch. Women hold the magic in this movie, and that's because women's traditional domain is magical. Cooking is magic that turns ingredients into sustenance; babies are magic in so many ways; needlework turns fiber into art. Home is a repetitive, predictable place where we renew ourselves and from which we draw our power; but the theme drops, bounces and fades away.

I know that a feature-length movie about the adventures of creating a peaceful and beautiful home wouldn't make it even on the indie circuit. But we should all think about the consequences of privileging the world over the domestic sphere, public over private, action over contemplation, and destruction over creation in so many of our narratives.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Some Business

Turns out that BLAugust is actually NaBloPoMo. I had no idea, as my blogging has been so light in recent months...ahem, years...that I don't pay any attention to BlogHer. The last time I was aware of NaBloPoMo was four or five years ago, and the last time I even tried to participate was six years ago, and it was in November, and it was a grassroots thing started by Eden Kennedy. Now it's a big institutional thing with a theme and badges. So I put the badge on my page, and I listed myself at BlogHer, but I'm still calling it BLAugust, so ha!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

A Day Late and a Dollar Short, on the First Day of BLAugust

 This isn't the post I wanted to write. I was going to start yesterday, and write a really good, long, literary, reflective post. But, hurdles, you know--I had to take T. for an EEG, which I must say gets easier and easier. When he was a baby and barely moved and basically slept through the whole thing, I used to dread future EEG's. He's still not very mobile, so that's a way in which my prayers were unexpectedly, and a tiny bit horribly, answered. However, what made it the easiest yet--in addition sheer experience--was the [warning, product plug:] SweetPea3 mp3 player loaded with music and stories. Also his sweet personality.

All that to say that while the EEG itself gets easier, the hours between the end of the EEG and bedtime, which reflected the fact that neither T. nor I had enjoyed his usual afternoon nap, were the opposite of easy. Also daughter S.'s pet rabbit died last week, and the hutch and equipment I listed on Craigslist were snapped up so quickly that I unexpectedly had to spend some time half-heartedly cleaning them before they get handed over this morning.

And, laziness, and tiredness, blah blah blah. Excuses.

So I'll go with one of my backup plans, which was to sift through the abandoned drafts of 7(!) years of blogging and finish one. I'll probably dig up all of them before the month is through but I'm not sure I can do anything with the post that reads: "Borges. Filling out forms Allentown. At bay. Stags At Bay."

I do know what "The Corncob Principle" means, though. That's the title. The text so far reads simply "Hi! I won't fill up space with a lot of apologies and explanations about my eight-month absence." Thanks, MomVee. You just did.

The Corncob Principle

My mother's friend S. has a daughter K. who is about six years younger than I. When she was in kindergarten her class did a group project at Thanksgiving: they created a cornucopia, with each member of the class making a different food item out of clay. K. made an ear of corn, and she described it to her mother while it was in process, eagerly and in great detail. She was forming, she reported, each kernel individually for maximum realism.

When the display was dispersed and the ear of corn came home, it proved to be a rather misshapen, vaguely cylindrical piece of clay into which some holes had been poked at one end with a toothpick. When S. told me and my mother this story we all burned with sympathy for K., although she--being five--was satisfied with her product. We all knew too well how hard it is to produce anything remotely like the ideal you had in your head when you began a project.

What is the age when you begin to realize it? It probably differs for different people. A more important question is, how do you go on? This isn't just about the impossibility of being perfect. It's the difficulty of realizing goals that you can visualize or define so precisely, even those far short of perfection. And then, once you're acquainted with the corncob principle, it can be hard to even get started on a project. Or, as my beloved Dorothy Parker put it:

If you're going to write, don't pretend to write down. It's going to be the best you can do, and it's the fact that it's the best you can do that kills you.

Any other readers have this problem? Any advice?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Coming up in...BLAugust

I'm doing that thing they say not to do, where you try to improve yourself and establish new habits in a bunch of areas all at once.

See, a week and a half ago, I pulled myself over a (15 foot?) wall with a rope, among other things. You may remember from my last post that I feared the "water, fire, barbed wire, and mud." Ha! Those were nothing compared to the wall--but, of course, that's how hurdles work. I know it's a total cliché, but it made me realize I could be doing a lot more. Two days later I moved a recliner couch from one room of my basement (and up a step) by myself. Trust me, it was challenging--but all my life I have watched my 5'2" mother use simple machines to move things, and I have learned a thing or two.

So I am using the simple machine of rules to get a jump on that back-to-school feeling.

  • I am going to go for a run every day for a month: a really, really crappy run, but that's okay.
  • I am going to keep a food journal, which I know from experience instantaneously shames me into eating much, much more healthfully.
  • Since there is a LOT of eggplant coming out of our garden, I resolved to eat eggplant every night this week. We're on Night Five.
  • I am going to do an Extra Thing every day. The Thing that keeps the Sisyphean Blues away, so you don't go to bed thinking, "Well, we had dinner and some of the clothes are clean, so...great job?" Some examples: reorganizing/cleaning out the pantry, putting together a potting bench, painting the workshop floor, making pickles...nothing revelatory, just something extra.
  • And...for the month of August, I'm going to blog every day. Two things in store for you are my thoughts on "Brave," and the long-promised, now-almost-definitely-disappointing Meg and Melanie essay.

Wish me luck!

Friday, May 04, 2012


It's funny how things are in the air, or maybe it's funny how I connect the dots.

My older son--not-so-little-R.--runs track. He's a much better athlete than I ever expected him to be. Not-so-big-R., my husband, is a good athlete; but my superficial and totally non-scientific observation is that bad athlete genetically trumps good athlete. But that's another story. NSLR is pretty good, it seems, and one of the coaches has casually told NSBR that our son could be great if he focuses on hurdles. He doesn't have the genetic gifts to be a lightning-fast sprinter, but the significant speed he does have can be put to good use in hurdles, which require a) strategy (i.e. brains or at least an interest in applying them) and b) heart. Hurdles are heartbreaking. NSLR hates them a lot of the time.

So that's one thing. Another is that I've been trying to get back into running. Other people's training is a very boring story so, briefly, I took up running seven years ago and since then I've lost and gained the same 15-20 pounds three times, got so I could run a hilly 10K under an hour, and now find myself back almost where I started around a 12 minute mile. On Monday I checked into a local park on Facebook and my friend who works for the park system said I should stop by. He asked if I had gone for a run and I said, "Sort of," and described my predicament. He nodded, sympathetically, knowingly. Then I told him that one of my other high school friends is trying to get a group of gals to do this Warrior 5K, and that I had agreed, signed up, and then read the description of the race only to discover that it is a 5K obstacle course, featuring such things as water, fire, barbed wire, and mud. He again chuckled sympathetically, then observed,

"The thing about those obstacle 5Ks is, with the obstacles, you're never running for very long--lots of breaks."

That made sense, although I do find that I personally have a problem with taking a break to walk, which is that I never want to start running again.

Then I went home and watched my friend David's latest video blog:

In recent years, I have watched David's growing interest in his faith with, well, interest. I like to learn about spiritual journeys in which people engage with--okay, I can't find the word. I initially said "nuts and bolts," but that turned out to be the opposite of what I meant, despite my vision of a drawer heaped with mixed nuts and bolts. Then "trappings" but that sounds so dismissive. Minutiae? When people engage with the finer points of their religion. Both Judaism and Catholicism have a lot of fine points, including "smells and bells" as my home team would say, and some people view those things as points of connection with God and some view them as...obstacles.

So, above, Dave makes a conscious--conscientious, even--decision that he cannot knowingly break one of the ten commandments by praying to a statue of Ganesh, who, as it turns out, is both the creator and the remover of obstacles. Dave hit an obstacle between him and his Judaism, and he removed it by creating an obstacle between him and his love for kirtan. Then he was able to find a way around--or through, it doesn't matter. Between this and the diving Wednesday this place is just a forest of mixed metaphors. See what I did there?

So I was thinking about all those things, and then today my friend Jim blogged about Mariano Rivera and his possibly career-ending injury:

 The key to his success was that nothing that happened on the field ever knocked him off of his feet.


We should all live like that.  It's just baseball.  It's just a game.  It's just one test.  It's just work.  Tomorrow is another day.  I try to do it, and much of the time I can't.  This guy did it on one of the world's biggest stages every day.  I know Mariano Rivera is a very religious guy, and maybe that's what allows him to approach his work, his life this way.  I'm not religious, but I think the key is finding something to grab onto that's bigger than you.  Your family, maybe.  Your writing or your music, if that's what you're into.

So there are a lot of possible strategies for these hurdles in life, and jumping over is just one. Trying not to let them break your heart is another. I have no real answers, but I'm glad we're all in this together. And I love the brave new world that lets us share it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012


Note: I wrote this a year and a half ago for an essay contest. Some of the content--especially the diving story--will be familiar to longtime readers. It's out of date, but as I began to write the post I had planned to write today, it struck me that it might be helpful to post this first. Also easier.

           In the winter of 2008, my youngest child was halfway through kindergarten, and I was beginning to feel like myself. I had taken up running, lost 20 pounds, and written a novel, and now I was looking around for some more projects. Some of my friends were doing triathlons, but before I attempted a triathlon, my swimming needed work. I grew up near water, and I love to submit to the power of the ocean waves and gaze out at the intricate beauty of the river. Nevertheless—despite years of lessons—I could never swim laps without the distinct feeling that I was drowning. By the way, this isn’t an essay on “I never thought I would do a triathlon.”
            So I looked at the Adult Aquatics offerings at the YMCA. They offered three levels: 1) For the total beginner 2) To "become more comfortable in deep water" 3) Improve your strokes. I decided on option two, although I was equally comfortable in shallow or deep water, just unable to swim in either. On the first day of class the instructor asked what my best stroke was. “Um, I don’t really know any strokes other than freestyle, so…freestyle?” He looked dubious. “Let me see you swim a lap,” he suggested, “but we may need to bump you back to the beginner class.” Somewhat to my surprise, I swam a lap. “Actually,” he said, “that was great. I think you should switch to Level 3.” I looked over at Level 3, where a woman was barking something like “8 laps butterfly GO!” “No thanks,” I said. The other people in my class were, in fact, afraid of deep water and almost totally unable to swim; but there was no level 2 ½.
            Two weeks later my class had a substitute teacher. She was great—for some reason I clicked with her much better than my regular teacher—until she asked, “Any interest in learning how to dive?”
            I had interest in learning how to dive when I was about ten. I spent some time at the side of the pool with friends vaguely trying to do it, and some time with my mother trying to teach me, but it just didn’t happen. Then I got too old and self-conscious to be a beginning diver. So when the question came up, I looked away and didn’t answer. My classmates, however, all said “Yes!” brightly and without hesitation. Really? I thought. Really, Miss Literally Clings to the Side of the Pool, you want to learn to dive? You know you’ll be diving into deep water, right?
            I went along, though. The silver lining of self-consciousness is that, at a certain point, not trying becomes even more conspicuous than trying. I learned to dive that day. After class, I hopped in the shower, and as I began to rinse off, I found—somewhat to my surprise—that I was crying. I think diving into the pool moved me to tears because it was something I thought I would never, never do. I thought that door was closed. I thought I was too old. I thought I was too scared. I thought I was too embarrassed.
            But this isn’t an essay on “I never thought I would learn to dive.”
            Just a few weeks later, I discovered that I was pregnant with my fourth child. I was excited, because I felt as if I really knew how to do parenting now. I knew what to worry about and what not to worry about, how to nurse in an unsupportive chair and that this too shall pass. I knew all the good jobs in the PTA and how to make dinner from a nearly empty pantry and I had finally found a good pediatrician. Unfortunately, my body, which had been delighted to see me through three uneventful pregnancies, betrayed me this time. The 20-week ultrasound showed that the baby was not growing fast enough. Thus began a year in which I repeatedly struggled to my emotional feet only to be hit by another baseball bat. My blood pressure went up. I went on bed rest. I was hospitalized. My son was born eight weeks early, tiny but perfect: “a feeder and a grower,” they said in the NICU. He was struck by a Group B strep infection at less than one week old, hemorrhaged in his brain and lungs, and nearly died.            
            He recovered, came home, but showed developmental delays. An MRI uncovered extensive brain damage. We began to worry that he could not see well. We saw a rock-star neuro-ophthalmologist, who confirmed that he could not see at all. The hardest blow? Less than a month later, he began having seizures—the kind that come with a likely prognosis of severe mental retardation and behavior problems. Nine months after that he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
            I never thought I would have a child with special needs.
            There is a new pool to dive into almost every day.
            I have to explain to acquaintances who ask brightly, “How’s the baby?” that the baby is disabled. Or I decide not to explain, answer weakly, “Great,” and hope someone else brings them up to speed before we meet again.
            I have to meet with a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a developmental intervention therapist, a feeding specialist, and an assistive technology specialist, observe what they do, and try to implement all of it into our daily schedule. I go to neurologist appointments, ophthalmologist appointments, physiatrist appointments, orthotist appointments, and rehab technology appointments, then try to balance the sometimes-competing prescriptions for my son’s treatment.
            I have to consider the future. If we move, it must be to another town with good schools and good social services. How far might we have to commute to a school for the blind? How will that affect our other children? Might there come a day when we can’t care for our son at home? What financial plans do we need to make?
            I cannot just submit to these waves, and I cannot just gaze out on the patterns of my life. I must act, day after day, and be an advocate and an administrator and a teacher for my son in a way that is totally new to me. I cannot be too old, too scared, or too embarrassed to be a mother to my son with special needs; but I do not know how to do this kind of parenting at all. Some days I stand on the block for a while, shivering and gazing down into the blue water, and then I step off, wrap up in my towel and go home. Most days I manage to dive in. I don’t know if I’ll ever have that watershed moment when I cry in the shower, when I get to rinse off the fear, the worry and the regret.
            I did finally manage to finish a triathlon last month. The swim was the hardest part. On the way out, I had to fight big waves. On the way back to shore, I tried to use them to my advantage. I didn’t cry at the end, because I thought—I knew—that I could do it. Once I dove in, I had to do it.

Monday, March 05, 2012

A Meme to get back into the swing

This meme courtesy of Jay.

Here's the fine print, copied and pasted: Post a picture of yourself, tell us 11 things we might not know about you, then write 11 new questions and tag some friends to play along (let them know you tagged them!)

This is a photo of me in costume (but not makeup) as the dinosaur in The Skin of Our Teeth in the fall of 1986. I had a very bad attitude about this role; I was not a trouper. I also felt that I looked terrible all the time, particularly my hair. If I could time travel, I would go back to 1986 and slap myself.

Jay's questions:

1) Sunshine or starlight?
Tough one. If only one encountered real, undiluted starlight more often. Sunshine, generally. But ocean swimming + starlight is a winner.

2) Do you have a pet? If not, would you prefer to have one? If so, would you prefer not to have one?
I have an Exotic (part Persian, part American shorthair) tabby cat named Strider. He is a genius of love and makes all of our lives better, except when he suggests I feed him breakfast before 5 a.m.

3) What food have you tasted that you will never eat again?
Spaghetti squash and mizuna, although I maintain that they are not really food.

4) What food have you not tried that you'd like to taste?
I've had plenty of pork, but I'd like to taste roast suckling pig as it is described in Laura Ingalls Wilder books.

5) What's the farthest you've ever walked?
There used to be a charity walk called the Walk For Mankind. When I was around 12 I did half of it and then my dad came and picked me up and drove me home. I think it was 20 miles total, so I guess I walked about 10.

6) What surprises you the most about your life now?
Surprises me at this moment or surprises Past Me? A lot of things surprise Past Me. I don't work for wages. I have four children. I'm Catholic. Not much surprises Present Me anymore.

7) What's the best concert or performance you ever attended?
I saw Barbara Cook perform in a very small community college auditorium, with her long-time accompanist Wally Harper, around 1983. They sang "It Was," their signature duet. I only wish I had fully realized at the time how lucky I was.

8) How do you feel about speaking in front of groups?
I always think I'm fine with it, and then when I actually begin to speak I am almost paralyzed with fear. I'm certainly better with something on paper in front of me, but I get that rushing in my ears and when I sit down afterward it's like I've been astrally projecting and have just returned to my body.

9) How old is the oldest person you ever met? Who was that?
My Aunt Dada, who was not my aunt and was not really named Dada (needless to say). She was one of many Ancient Danish Relatives in our family and she was living at the same Masonic Home for the Aged as my great-grandmother, in Burlington, NJ. Dada was 99 years old and she had the most enormous ears I have ever seen. She told us (me and my parents) that she was much too old, in her opinion. She died the next day. True story.

10) Who's your favorite comedian or comic actor?
Alec Baldwin. I really admire him for rising from the ashes of his leading man career and turning out to be a comic genius. His work on "30 Rock" is so much fun.

11) Do you own a functioning record player?
I certainly do! I have a magnificent stereo, including turntable, that my husband surprised me with on, I think, my 35th birthday? We have over 200 albums--partly because my parents just offered me all of theirs, but even before that we had well over 100, perhaps even 150. There's nothing like vinyl.

And my questions:

1) If you could time travel, what would you do?
2) Who is your most surprising friend?
3) What is your lifetime favorite article of clothing?
4) If you had a terrible earworm, what song would you sing to try to get rid of it?
5) Is there a celebrity whose death you would mourn with unusual depth?
6) What's the best thing about your home?
7) What is your most vivid memory about learning to drive?
8) What do you think about ironing?
9) Why did you choose the picture you posted above?
10) When did you first feel really grown-up?
11) Where do you want to travel but fear you never can?

I tag Ergo, Heather, and anyone else who wants to play. If you do, let me know.