Sunday, November 25, 2012

Lines for Winter

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon's gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are. 
                          --Mark Strand

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Thing Is

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you've held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
                          --Ellen Bass

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Of the many things I never imagined myself doing in my late 30s, coaching soccer is right up there at the top of the list--alongside things like performing interpretive skate-dances to humiliate my daughter and her friends and explaining to my son why his penis "pokes out" in the morning.  But here I am, a few weeks shy of 37, and I've somehow ended up as not only a coach, but the U-8 league coordinator, in possession of a large Adidas duffle bag, a clipboard, several extra balls, and a newly-developed penchant for saying things like "hustle" and "drop back."

When I first enrolled Sydney in soccer, I checked the "Assistant Coach" box on the registration form, because I am just that stupid.  A few days later, the league commissioner called and left me a voicemail, explaining that they were short a few head coaches and would I be interested in stepping up?  "It's not that big a deal," said he. "The game really teaches itself."  Because I am not always completely dense, I understood that to mean "We are desperate to recruit the requisite number of suckers and we will say anything to persuade you.  Sucker."  I ignored the voicemail, knowing that if I returned the call I would end up not only agreeing to coach, but to manage their website or oversee the maintenance of the playing fields for the next twenty years.  That's how these types of conversations tend to go.  But he tricked me by calling back, from a different number, and I unwittingly answered, and the next thing I knew I was sweating my way through a coaches' clinic, dribbling through "minefields" and going 1 v 1 against men who I had just seen neck-trapping their kids' balls.  I told myself that I was doing it for Sydney, which I was: I knew she would be less ambivalent about playing if I coached her team.  Also, I am a total sucker.

The U-6 draft, where all the coaches (me and 15 soccer dads) took turns selecting players from the roster to assemble our teams, was eye-opening: I watched the more veteran coaches choose players based on age (the older the better) and then, it seemed, on the ethnicity suggested by the surname.  But the season turned out fine; Sydney enjoyed it immensely and the whole team had fun.  My learning curve was huge, but I do enjoy a challenge, and I'll admit to being a little sad when the season ended.  But mostly I was relieved, since Sydney would be moving up to U-8 in the Spring and there was no way in hell I could ever be persuaded to coach in U-8.

When the voicemails started coming, I studiously ignored them.  I braced myself for battle.  Sydney was firmly committed to the sport; my job was done.  They didn't need me! Look at all those dudes with their bulging calves and their Pumas!  They could totally handle it.

I successfully dodged multiple recruiting entities for a couple of weeks, and I thought they had finally given up when I got a phone call in the middle of a busy clinical day from a number I didn't recognize.  The commissioner was on the line, his voice thick with congestion.  He coughed loudly into the receiver. "It's really not a big difference from U-6," he croaked. "But I really can't do it this season," I replied. "I'm really very busy."  There was a pause on the other end; a child cried.  "I'm sorry, can you say that again?" he said.  "We all have bronchitis here and this fever is making me a little out of it."  I realized I'd been beaten.  "Send me the details," I said, and hung up the phone, realizing in that moment that I am a person who will never be able to say no.

While the U-6 draft had been a little disorienting, the U-8 draft was downright frightening.  Once again, I was the only woman in the room, and I watched the men (mostly dads who did not have sons) debate the relative merits of the players (6 and 7 year-old girls) as if they were auctioning cattle or something.  The therapist in me recognized all the uncomfortably hostile dynamics swirling around that dark little room, and when I realized I had ended up with a team full of young players, several of whom were openly disparaged by the veteran coaches ("she looks like she's never seen a soccer ball before"), I experienced a surge of resolve.  We will be the Bad News Bears.  We will suck, we will persevere, and then we will dominate.

And that's pretty much what happened.  We lost every single game, but kept working on finding open space and passing and holding positions, and in the very last game, we dominated.  Like a switch had been thrown, every single player on that team played very good soccer; they passed, they attacked and defended, they scored.  There was one player in particular, a shy girl who cried at the beginning of every practice and game and who often seemed lost on the field, who made tremendous progress.  At the beginning of the last game I took her aside and told her that if she played aggressively, I knew she would score a goal (she had never done so, and desperately wanted to).  And she did, she scored, and her parents cried on the sidelines, and I knew in that moment that I would coach soccer for as long as they would allow me to do it.

This season, I didn't hesitate to sign on to coach; I no longer needed to be persuaded.  So when the call from the commissioner came, I cheerfully answered, expecting to hear some details about clinics or drafts or something. "So, we're really trying to recruit more women coaches for the girl's leagues..." he began. "Excellent!" I said. "That's fantastic!"  "...And we think that having a woman as the league coordinator would really help."


"It's not really that big a commitment."

"I'm really very busy, you know."

"All you have to do is make sure we have enough coaches, and run the grading and the draft, and then make sure the season runs smoothly and everyone is following the rules and such."

What he neglected to mention at this point was that league coordinators get free beer from the concession stand.  I found this out later, after I had agreed to the job, and I guess if he knew me better he would have led with that perk instead of the whole "step up for the good of all women" thing.  Either way, I got suckered again, and am once again proceeding with gasping, stumbling steps up a steep learning curve.  I'm learning that some men really don't like when a woman is in charge, and they will get downright nasty about it, but that they will yield when that woman shows no mercy and no patience for the nonsense they try to throw at her.  I learned that in an Olympic year, every kid suddenly wants to play soccer, and that instead of 8 teams you can expect to have 12 in each league, and as league coordinator you will spend every second of your non-existent free time recruiting additional coaches and trying to usher 105 children through grading drills.  I've learned that it is in fact an excellent thing for these girls to see a woman in charge--especially when that woman is also not afraid to hug them on the field when they score.

But perhaps most important of all, I've learned not to be shy about saying "I'm the league coordinator" when the kids at the concession stand try to charge me for my beer. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

To Sydney, on your 7th Birthday

Last night you had your birthday party at The Bead Shop; ten of your friends came and made beautiful jewelry and listened to the “pop music” playlist you created on your iPod.  You love creating (and wearing) jewelry, and you’ve wanted to have this party since you turned 5—but since the shop has an age threshold for birthday parties, you had to wait two years.  It did not disappoint.

This was the first of your parties to be girls-only, with selected invitees.  Though it was certainly developmentally appropriate, it made me a little sad, as it seemed to mark the end of the first phase of your childhood.  You had your girlfriends, your playlist, and the parents were relegated to the back room for the duration of the party (you could literally feel the separation anxiety in that room—the collective sense of childhood’s end).  But the experience of planning the party, and the party itself, provided an extraordinary opportunity to get to know you better.  Let me explain.

From the moment you were born, you have been an intensely connected person.   As your primary caretaker and (to this date) your primary person in general, to me this facet of your personality has always been obvious.  As an infant, you craved physical attention—being held, cuddled, caressed.  You held eye contact at a very young age (2 or 3 weeks), and seemed to recognize voices and faces very early.  As a baby and toddler, all of your play was interactive; you created games that almost always involved exchange.  In preschool, you seemed to go through a more solitary phase (I would often arrive to find you playing by yourself in a corner of the yard or classroom), but when asked you knew exactly what all of your friends were doing, what they ate for lunch, who had a time out and who got a sticker, and who seemed sad/angry/excited on that particular day.  You wrote love letters to the important people in your life on a daily basis.  I worried about your transition to Big School, both because of your age—you just made the cutoff for kindergarten, so you are the youngest in your class—and because of your sensitivity and kindness, but you managed the transition with grace and strength and have seemed to do very well with all sorts of transitions since.

You’re imaginative and strong-willed, and the adults in your life—including me—are constantly urging you to listen, to pay attention.  The reports we get from school all say pretty much the same thing, quarter after quarter: something along the lines of “Sydney is a bright, happy child.  She just needs to work on her listening skills.”  And I’ve always sort of brushed those things aside with a knowing laugh: that’s my girl.  And on the soccer field, where you’ve put in so much training and are turning into an excellent player, your only real struggle has been with focus.  And we’ve had some battles, you and I, both on and off the pitch; as your coach and your mom, I’ve thought it my duty to help you hone your “listening skills,” to encourage your success.

Back to the party.  In the weeks leading up to the big event, we talked about all sorts of details; this was something you’d been waiting on for a long time, and we needed to get it right.  You were very concerned from the start about who would be attending the party—every day you asked me who had replied, and you kept an updated guest list, sorted into categories (coming, not coming, maybe coming), on your desk.  I assumed that you were anxious about whether or not your friends would come, but when I said something to that end you corrected me.  “I just need to know who’s coming,” you said, “so that I know what kind of party favors to get.  J. likes lip gloss, but G. doesn’t.  Maybe I could get them different favors?  And S. doesn’t like chocolate, so maybe we can have some cupcakes with chocolate frosting, and some with vanilla.  Also, if P. is coming, we should bring some extra activities, because she has a slow process and I know she’ll take her time making her necklace and we’ll all need something else to do so we don’t make her feel pressured to hurry up.”

I listened to this and watched you develop your party plan and realized, for the first time, what an intensely social person you are.  Relationships are your primary interest; you absolutely love people. Not only that, but you also have a keen awareness of the inner lives of others; you’re able to observe and interact, and then deduce what people will want or need based upon these observations.  Your friends had a wonderful time at your party, in large part because of your thoughtfulness—you were spot-on about everything. 

And this got me thinking about the “attention issues.”  I know now that you are, in fact, paying very close attention, all the time.  Maybe not to the instructions your parents or teachers or coaches are giving, but to what’s going on with the people around you.  When you win a soccer game, you’re distracted by concern about the other team feeling sad.  When your friend’s parents are planning an anniversary party, you spend your evening sewing presents for them.  And when you’re preparing for your own birthday party, you’re thinking about how to make the experience special and fun for everyone else.  I typed that last line and cried a little—you are such an amazing and beautiful gift.

Over the years, a lot of people are going to want you to focus on other things—they’ll try to distract you from your generosity of spirit.  Although I will occasionally be one of those people, I hope that you’ll fight back.  I hope that I’ll always catch you sewing pillows for people you’ve only met once, when you should be doing your homework.  I hope that you’ll continue to hug people on the soccer field (even though I’ll have to tell you not to).  The other day you hugged me and said, “I’m in love with you, Mommy.  I’m in love with the whole world.”  I hope you never fall out of love, that you never stop looking deeply into everything, that you're always immersed in your own slow process of discovery and connection.

I’m in love with you, Sydney--my sweet, thoughtful, creative, and all-around amazing girl.

Happy Birthday.


Sunday, August 12, 2012


Marathon training began in earnest last month, and with it the inevitable analysis of runs gone wrong.  Could I have been faster? Trained harder? Consumed more/less GU/Gatorade? Worn different shoes? More/less/different clothing? Could I have shaved a few seconds off my time if I hadn't wasted breath cheering on that red-faced dude who was walking in the 19th mile? And what about that weird, spasmy leg thing that happened in the last 10k? What was that about? On paper, my last marathon was a success: I didn't die, or injure myself, or unwillingly defecate.  What else can you ask from the 26.2? But I went into this one determined to do better--to finish faster and feeling stronger.

I thought I was being smart when I took some time to consider strategy--a more holistic approach to training.  I'd started to have a little trouble with my IT band, and felt good about the fact that I'd worked in some strength exercises to address that, in addition to a particularly gruesome but effective technique, recommended by a running buddy, that involved applying deep tissue massage to those areas with a frozen Nalgene bottle (for the record, that shit hurts).  The stress of the last year had left me about 10 pounds lighter, not weight I could afford to lose, and so I also started approaching nutrition deliberately (I have a tendency to forget to eat).  Pilates, strength training, deep tissue massage and icing, good nutrition: these are all elements of a sound marathon training plan.  On paper, I was good to go.

What I never stopped to consider was whether or not I wanted to dedicate myself to the endeavor.  I've been wanting to run New York for so long that when I found out I got in, the decision was automatic.  I registered immediately, giddily, and told everyone I knew, all of whom were excited for me and overwhelmingly supportive.  I made plans to take the train from my conference in Boston the night before the race, to stay with a friend in Brooklyn, to take the Staten Island Ferry the morning of.  I started training.

What I noticed right away was a profound ambivalence, which was totally new and deeply frustrating.  I didn't want to run.  I forced myself.  We all have days when getting out of bed to knock out some miles is difficult, but it was happening every morning, and I pushed through the runs with an antsy boredom.  At first I chalked it up to momentum: I needed some time to get in the groove.  But as the weeks went by, and I wasn't putting on weight, and I was getting sick more frequently and severely than I ever have in my adult life, and I was constantly stressed about fitting in runs before it got too hot, I was forced to reconsider my decision.

When you're the sort of person who says yes to everything--not out of an inability to say no or a lack of assertiveness, but rather a wish to stuff your life full of as much experience as possible--backing out of a commitment, even one that you only made to yourself, is almost unthinkable.  When people have suggested to me that perhaps I work too hard or push myself too hard or take on too much, it's always made me think about all of the things I'm not doing with my life.  If only they knew what I slacker I am!  If only they could see how deeply I've disappointed myself by not finishing that novel or learning to play cello or taking my kids on a Disney vacation or writing more letters to the editor or learning to sew or or or or or--

Sounds a little nuts, right?

I'm on the Board of an organization that's been entrenched in expansion planning for the past year; the last time we met with the developer, I asked him to identify our risks and vulnerabilities.   His answer? Taking on too much.  Trying to do too many things.  And this is the risk of every entity who wants to expand: if you take on too much, you risk collapse.  I say this to my Schweitzer Fellows constantly, as they wrestle with their community projects--most of them are passionate about what they do, they want to change the world, make a true difference.  And almost all of them try to do too much; their project descriptions inevitably read like Five-Year Plans, though they only have 9 months to implement them.  And my job is to gently direct them to simplicity and focus.  I somehow manage to do this well, though as is true of most practitioners, my personal endeavors reflect the exact opposite approach.

And so, I've withdrawn from the marathon.  I'm taking a hiatus from running, as well, as I think that particular form of exercise only promotes my tendency to push myself excessively.  I'm going back to yoga and pilates, and though the mere thought of that makes me squirm with impatience, I think that's the exact reason to do it.  I'm tired, and I'm slowing down.

This somehow feels like a huge risk (what if I slow down a little and completely stop doing everything?), but I've looked around at the people I admire and all of them possess the ability to simplify and focus, to essentially say, I can't do that right now.  It seems paradoxical, still, but in my gut I know it's true: if I want to feel stronger, I need to quit.

Hooray for quitters.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

To Evan, On Your 4th Birthday

My sweet boy,

As I write this, you are falling asleep in your brand new bunk bed, with the Beatles playing softly through your stereo.  Your class at Abeona House has spent the summer studying the Fab Four, and true to form you have become a connoisseur.  Your favorite tunes are 'Help' and 'Eleanor Rigby,' and we've had many discussions over the last few weeks about the meaning behind the lyrics--you really seem to connect with "all the lonely people." Where do they come from, Mama? Why are all the people lonely? How do people get lonely and how can we help them?

Needless to say, you're a heartbreaker.

You've grown so much in the last year, but you're still the same loving, empathic, powerful, funny, and observant little boy.  J. is still your best friend; you still love Legos.  You're still endlessly affectionate and exquisitely sensitive, and rambunctious and wild and talkative and bossy. You are perfectly happy to play alone, creating elaborate "bad guy" scenarios with your Legos or drawing or looking at books, but you also love your friends and family and talk about them constantly.  There is a quiet, commanding wisdom that surrounds you (maybe it's the Force?) and coupled with your tiny stature, it gives people pause.  People often ask how old you are; they can't quite believe that such a powerful person could exist in such a small body.

You are precocious.  The other day, I came home from a run and you followed me into the bathroom while I washed my face.  Positioning yourself on the stool next to the sink, you rested your chin on your hand and said, "So. How's your running going?"

You are super affectionate.  You have this thing where you like to squeeze "lovings" into other people and at any given time you apparently have "4 and 5" lovings in your body.  A few weeks ago I asked you for a hug and you said, "I can do that, Mama.  I have a lot of lovings in my body."

Your nickname at school and home is "Red Sprite." This came about when you watched your sister and her soccer pals order their team drinks after games; you were fascinated by the various sodas and one week at school, when you all had the opportunity to identify your fairy/spirit names, you chose Red Sprite.  And it suits you perfectly: you are all impish fire.  This spirit, coupled with your natural empathy and compassion, is so incredibly compelling--you're a force of nature.

You've started to talk about what you want to be when you grow up.  Right now it's a tie between astronaut and baseball player.  Although you've never attempted either endeavor, it's thrilling to watch you consider your future, and your identity.  You're also interested in ballet, which makes me excited, but I know not to push you too much--you have a natural tendency to balk against expectations.

Oh, but you do love to dance.  Whenever Sydney plays that Katy Perry song you drop whatever you're doing and shake your money maker; I apologize in advance for the humiliation that I will be unable to refrain from showering upon you in your young adulthood.

This year you will play soccer, and practice writing your letters, and learn about the Solar System (you and Syd have plans to make one from scratch), and visit your cousins in Florida, and draw ninjas, and get ready for big kid school.  You'll grow out of your clothes and stop using your binky.  You'll fight with Sydney, testing your burgeoning identity against her solid strength.  You'll help me make banana nut muffins--your favorite snack--and before we know it, you'll be 5.

Tonight, over your birthday dinner, we had a long talk about the 'Neverending Story.' You had a lot of questions about The Nothing, and the Swamp of Sadness, and the bullies who hound Sebastian.  You are amazingly perceptive: you wanted to know why the horse sinks in the swamp, while Atreyu survives. You identify with those characters--Atreyu and Sebastian, who are one in the same--because they share your beautiful mix of strength and vulnerability.  We talked about the threat of sadness and the power of imagination and beauty, and you seemed to accept it, to hold those things together.  I hope that you always feel comfortable bringing these questions to me.

Evie, I love you.  So many people love you.  I've learned enough about life to know that sometimes the weight of other peoples' love and expectations can be so burdensome, but I hope that when you read this some day in the distant future you will know that our love comes without expectations or burdens; that we just want you to build a life for yourself that is beautiful, and full, and true, and creative.  Like the Lego sets you own: each comes with a set of instructions, which we dutifully adhere to, only to end up with a jumble of parts that we (you) joyfully retreat to each morning, assembling pieces into new and amazing configurations--an endless source of re-creation.

Happy Birthday, my beautiful boy.  We look forward to all of your creations.



Thursday, June 28, 2012

Don't Tell Anyone

We had been married for six or seven years
when my wife, standing in the kitchen one afternoon, told me
that she screams underwater when she swims--

that, in fact, she has been screaming for years
into the blue chlorinated water of the community pool
where she does laps every other day.

Buttering her toast, not as if she had been
concealing anything,
not as if I should consider myself

personally the cause of her screaming,
nor as if we should perform an act of therapy
right that minute on the kitchen table,

--casually, she told me,
and I could see her turn her square face up
to take a gulp of oxygen,

then down again into the cold wet mask of the unconscious,
For all I know, maybe everyone is screaming
as they go through life, silently,

politely keeping the big secret
that it is not all fun
to be ripped by the crooked beak

of something called psychology,
to be dipped down
again and again into time;

that the truest, most intimate
pleasure you can sometimes find
is the wet kiss

of your own pain.
There goes Kath, at one PM, to swim her twenty-two laps
back and forth in the community pool;

--what discipline she has!
Twenty-two laps like twenty-two pages,
that will never be read by anyone.

(Tony Hoagland, 2012)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

New York, New York

The Boston Marathon is the holy grail of most distance runners: it's difficult to gain entry, and the course is challenging and competitive.  If you're the proverbial Type A runner (no walking, no chatting, no "good enough" races), once you start doing marathons you set your sights on a BQ.  In recent years they've lowered the qualifying times, making it even more difficult to gain even a chance at entry, which only fuels the fire for people like me.  You're gonna make it harder?  I'll see your qualifying time and raise you 20 miles per week.

But the New York City marathon has always held the most allure.  The crowds, the scenery, the intoxicating spectacle, the idea of running through the 5 boroughs in late's almost too much to bear.  Every year, I read about the elites who will be competing, and I watch the live coverage with an odd mixture of boredom and rapture (not unlike the experience of actually running a marathon).  Sometimes, in the wee hours of my training runs, when the only sound I hear is my own breath, my own footfalls, I entertain myself with fantasies of running NYC: boarding the ferry to Staten Island just before dawn, shivering in my second-hand sweater (which I would discard in the second mile), compulsively checking my bag for adequate Gu and pre-race banana and bagel, standing with the 45,000 other runners at the start, trying not to work off too much nervous energy.  Running through Brooklyn, scanning the crowds for my friends' faces; finishing, triumphantly, arms raised overhead, in Central Park; celebrating with old friends for the rest of that day in the city I love almost as much as my hometown.  It's an almost painful fantasy--one of those that hurts too much to think about never realizing.

Last year, I entered the lottery for the NYC marathon and waited with a profound ambivalence; my previous marathon attempt was an abysmal jumble of injury and disappointment, and I wasn't sure I wanted to wreck my New York fantasy in such a dramatic way.  And so, when the lottery results were posted and I saw that my number hadn't come up, I felt relief: not this year.  At the same time, though, I started searching for other races, and I finally settled on Pensacola--I needed a corrective experience.  My training for Pensacola was riddled with insult and injury, but I stubbornly persisted, and on the morning of the race I awoke at 4 a.m. from a dream in which I'd missed the race by almost 3 hours--in the dream, I'd spent the evening playing the party circuit, and at gun time I found myself at a bowling alley drinking beer straight from the pitcher.  Some faceless person in the dream pointed this out to me and my response was "Oh well.  It's not like I'm running New York."

I awoke from the dream, dressed in the dark in the tiny hotel room where my children snored precariously, brushed my teeth and grabbed my gear.  It was a 3/4 mile walk to the start from the hotel, and it was fucking cold outside.  I headed towards the water, nibbling my bagel and sipping my orange juice, ignoring the pickup full of drunks who tailed me for a few blocks, plotting my strategy, calming my nerves.  At the start, I chatted with a woman who'd had a baby 6 months before: she looked my age, and her goal time was 25 minutes faster than mine.  I wished her luck and turned my thoughts to the road.

Everyone says that the marathon is psychological.  They're right, of course, but it's like childbirth: you don't really know the truth of it until you've been through it.  You can sort of appreciate it, from a distance, maybe you think you can understand the pain and exhilaration of it, but until you do it, you can't possibly know.  I ran the first 17 miles of Pensacola in a pleasant fog; it was a comfortable, predictable pace and pain.  I chatted with a woman who'd shattered her pelvis in a previous marathon and had spent the last 18 months in physical therapy; she seemed resigned to misery.  Since it was Veteran's Day weekend, a strange melange of ROTC kids lined the route, and they were intermittently aloof and frighteningly aggressive; around mile 20, when the terrible despair started to set in, one of them got in my face, ran alongside me for several yards, and yelled, "YOU'VE GOT ONE MORE 10K! YOU CAN DO THAT IN YOUR FUCKING SLEEP!" (Yes, it helped.)

The last 10k of that race were nightmarish; my body was failing me, I felt my right leg disintegrating, my will collapsing.  It was hot and I was thirsty and nauseated.  But at mile 26, when a woman cheered in my face, I didn't want to punch her; I actually smiled, and I cried.  I knew I was close to my goal. I wanted to finish the race in 3 hours and 45 minutes--my Boston Qualifying time--and though I wasn't wearing a watch, I thought I must be close.  And even when I crossed the finish line and saw that I'd missed my mark by just 2 minutes (2 minutes!), I didn't feel anything close to disappointment.  I felt relieved, and proud, and incredulous: my body could actually do this? For real?  Look at that woman, who was going to crush me, limping tearfully towards the aid station--that could be me, but it isn't.  Not this time.  This time, I'm going to enjoy my second place finish.  I'm going to drink beer and eat 3 cookies and some boiled shrimp and collect my prize and take my kids to the beach.  Today, I am whole.

Like most great races, the feeling didn't last long.  After the new year I started the feel the itch again, and thought about running the Mardi Gras marathon.  I ended up settling for the half marathon, and had a great race, and then I had another, and with a sort of fuck-it-all resolve, I entered the NYC lottery once again.

And guess what?

I got in.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Eggs and Fishes

Syd has become a voracious reader in the last several months.  She reads in the car, during meals, before bed--given pretty much any opportunity.  Lately she's been working her way through "Ramona and her Father," which has generated some interesting questions about job loss, family security, tobacco addiction, and religion.  The latter subject was broached after I finished reading loud the last part of the book's final chapter, in which Ramona takes part in the church's Christmas pageant.  There's a lot of stuff about Beezus looking "holy" (try explaining that concept to a 6-year-old at 9:10 p.m.) and bits of some hymns, which I sang with relish (those church songs are transportational--I could practically smell the incense).  As I closed the book, Sydney gave me a shy look and said, "I don't know about the apes and fishes thing, but I definitely believe in God.  I'm sorry, Mama."

It was a strange moment, on several accounts.  At first I had no idea what she meant by "apes and fishes"--until I remembered that we'd had a talk about evolution a few days before. Now that was a loaded exchange, given that a few days before that she'd insisted I tell her where babies come from ("And don't say "the daddy gives something to the mommy," I want to know exactly how") and I'd used the term "fishies" to describe sperm (I know.  Kick me. Hard.) and she had visibly recoiled.  Fast forward to the evolution talk; we can all probably imagine her struggle to understand the intersection between sexual and evolutionary fish.  And the God thing? What do you do with the God thing?

It wasn't that she professed belief; I'm more than fine with that.  Supportive, actually.  It was her apology that threw me--the fact that she clearly sensed a betrayal.  Sure, her Dad is a staunch atheist, but her Mama?  I've always considered myself pretty open with my kids; I'm happy to let them find their own ways, and I'm more surprised when they show similar proclivities to my own than when they digress.  For example, last week Syd came home from her first day at Jimmy Club and told me about a cheerleading class in which they'd learned a cheer that ended with a triumphant "we're number one and we'll beat you!" She told me she felt bad about potentially hurting the other group's feelings and tried to get her group to change the ending to "we're number one and so are you."  She was voted down but said she was going to ask her counselor about it again the next day.  I was insanely touched and proud: talk about strength of character!  But at the same time, I recognized how incredibly different we are; when she'd recited the chant my first thought had been "That isn't hard enough.  It should be more like "we're number one and we'll crush you."

Point being, we're very different people, Syd and I.  And that's an excellent thing.

The religion issue is no different--I'm happy to see her considering the issue, and I'd love for her to find her way into, around, or away from it.  Not only that, but I had an incredibly positive, enriching, and at times life-saving experience with organized religion when I was myself a child, and what kind of asshole parent would discourage her kid from seeking out the same?  When my mom was terribly ill, when we had no money, when I wanted to learn to play music, when I succeeded and when I failed, when I thought no one loved me, when the other kids were asshole bullies, the church community was there--and not in a creepy "come to Jesus and he will heal you" kind of way.  Just a straight up, we-got-your-back, salt-of-the-earth, kind of way.  I'd love the same for Sydney.  My girl is a social animal; she is kind and loving and gregarious, she craves love and affection--and maybe she'll find that in a religious community.  And anyone who dares to suggest otherwise can kiss my agnostic ass.

So why does she doubt my support?  Why does she need to apologize?  In some small ways I must be suggesting disapproval--which is strange, because aside from shit like bombing abortion clinics or doing this, I would enthusiastically support my kids in whatever they choose to do.

It's astounding, the inner lives of children.  Goes to show you never can tell.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


Last night, on the ride home from the mall:

S: Mom, McDonald's must want to make a lot of money.  They have signs everywhere.

M: That's definitely true, honey. 

S: Why do people eat there if it's so unhealthy for your body? 

M: I'm not sure, honey.  I think because they like the taste and because it doesn't cost a lot of money.

S: (thinking)

S: But what makes it so unhealthy? Because it's fried, right?

M: Yes, and other things.

S: Like what?

M: Well, you know the chicken nuggets?  They only have a very tiny bit of actual chicken in them.  The rest is beaks and feet and bones that are all ground up into a paste, which they mix with chemicals and a thing that is sort of like the gas we put in our cars, to make the nugget.  They do this because it's cheaper than using mostly chicken.

S: Wait a minute, wait a minute, can you pause for a minute?

M: Sure, why?

S: Because I have to scream for a little bit.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Gaze

For as long as I can remember, I've used reading and writing as a means of palliative care.  As a very young person, I read everywhere: in the bathtub, in the car, during meals, as I fell asleep and when I woke up.  I preferred pastoral narratives, particularly those in which the child protagonists engaged in solitary acts of adventure and survival (I still have the warped paperback copy of 'Farmer Boy' that took a plunge into the bath one sad, lonely evening).  In 3rd grade, when my folks were finally and dramatically splitting up, Mrs. Galloway allowed and encouraged me to spend class time writing plays, which I would teach to selected peers at recess.  In 7th grade I discovered poetry when an ambitious teacher exposed us to William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow;" it was my first attempt at analysis and I loathed the endeavor, the dissection of beauty into little bits of reason and explanation (funny, I would go on to do exactly that as a music theorist).  From then on, writing was a permanent fixture and, along with playing music, my primary coping mechanism.  While other kids were getting high and drunk and screwing and all that other fun stuff, I was writing poetry and stories and essays and discovering I could play pretty much any piece of music without looking at notation. I considered myself a "creative" and felt pity for those who didn't have access to those types of expression.

It was that way for a long time; even after coming to terms with the fact that I wasn't going to write or play or teach music for a living, I still wrote every day.  And then I became pregnant with Sydney, and the writing stopped.  It's not that I got lazy or overwhelmed; I simply could not write.  Every writer, amateur or otherwise, experiences blocks, but this felt less like a block than it did an absence: that thing had gone away.  I didn't have anything to say.

After Syd was born it gradually resurfaced, and I started writing a little, though hesitantly (I was shaken by the gestational episode).  I started this blog and that seemed to help a bit, and I gradually got back into some more creative rhythms. I became pregnant with Evan and had another episode, but with less anxiety attached, as I assumed--correctly--that it would pass at some point after he was born.  Funny thing was, I never stopped to consider why it happened--a strange thing really, for such a navel-gazing introvert.

It took this latest episode to turn my gaze back inward.  Why was this happening?  There are a ton of books out there on writer's block and I've always been suspicious of every single one.  The answer I'd constructed for myself--that the effort and energy of creating a life sapped whatever other energies I otherwise possessed--seems now like complete bullshit.  Now, I'm forced to confront my block with true honesty, not the superficial and placating self-reflection that often poses as honesty.  I'm forced to admit that I avoid the inward gaze the way most of us avoid dental work: we know it's necessary and ultimately healthy, but it's scary and painful and costly.  So we don't call, or we make an appointment and skip it.  The way most people avoid therapy.

I'd like to change this.  I'd like to embrace the gaze, but the problem is this: the problem is pain.

This year has been the most brutally painful time of my entire life.  I didn't lose a child (knock on some fucking wood, ya'll), I have my health (mostly, though that is seriously neglected), but otherwise it's in shambles.  But there's a funny thing about suffering: when done properly, one can emerge victorious.  I know this because I've witnessed it in many of my clients, and it never fails to amaze me (and them).  You suffer tremendously for a period of time, you cry and scream and destroy your health and ruin relationships and your work suffers from lack of attention, but if you're honest, if you gaze openly into the weeping void, you learn.  Maybe you learn that life is hard and sucky and maybe you hate your parents for forcing it on you, but more often than not you learn astounding things about yourself.  You learn that you are deeply flawed.  You learn about your capacity to hurt the people you love in terrible ways.  You learn that you are vulnerable, and you learn to have compassion for that vulnerability.  You look at photos of yourself as a young child and realize that that little person deserves love, and affection, and forgiveness and compassion.  And if you've done the work properly, you learn how to give yourself those things, instead of insisting that everyone around you provide it.  Because those people are flawed, too, and they will always let you down.  Sooner or later, no matter how much they care.

Writing has always been my honest gaze; even when I'm not writing sappy shit like this, it has forced me to turn inward and use only my own words, my own thoughts--to turn a jumble of nonsense into coherent narrative.  And I see now, I see it very clearly, the reason why I've avoided it.  We're all, most of us at least, afraid of the gaze.  That's likely why the incidence of substance abuse is so high among those types we like to label as "creatives:" the pain of the gaze is intense.  It illuminates the darkest parts of us, the parts we never want to acknowledge, let alone show to anyone, ever.  It fucking hurts.

But it's essential to growth and happiness--I've learned that much over the past year.  And although I'm not a particularly spiritual person, I'm using these words from Thich Nhat Hanh as a guide through whatever remains of my miserable journey:

“At any moment, you have a choice, that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


If you've had the unfortunate experience of reading this blog over the last several years, or if you have the even more unfortunate experience of knowing me personally, you know how I feel about a certain Reggio Emilia-inspired childcare center here in my favorite city in the Universe. You may have read my thoughts about it here and here and here; maybe you've even donated money to the place (thank you very much, by the way). You probably know how much Abeona House means to me and to my children (insert gratuitous picture),

and that it is a perfect example of how love and hope and community can spring from ruin and despair. And if you've had the very wonderful privilege of meeting my children (get ready for more manipulative photo-inserting),

you probably know how happy and empathic and creative they are, and that I attribute so much of that awesomeness to the years they've spent at Abeona House.

But do you know that we moved, last November, to a large, wonderful building in Mid-City? That we doubled our capacity?

Did you know that we now have a kitchen and hired an incredible chef, who prepares amazing meals for our kids each day at no extra cost to families?

You probably don't know that expanding our capacity allowed us to serve a much broader and more diverse community, and that we're now eligible for the CCAP program, which enables low-income families to access quality childcare. Isn't that awesome?

If you helped us move over Thanksgiving weekend, or stopped by the Open House we had in December, you saw the huge yard and play equipment. And if you know my son, you understand the importance of green space (lightsabers need a wide, wide berth).

If you're an astute reader (and of course you are), you probably understand by now what I'm about to ask for. You know about our annual Crescent City Classic fundraiser, which we affectionately refer to as the Reggio Run, where we all ask folks to sponsor us (read: donate money to the school) and then we dress up in ridiculous costumes and run or walk the 10 kilometers that make up one of the largest road races in the country.

What kind of ridiculous costumes? Glad you asked!

Last year, I ran 10 Kilometers, in 85-degree heat and suffocating humidity, in this polyester Princess Leia costume. Yes, I ran the whole way with the blaster. Yes, that's my real hair in those buns. Yes, when I started to sweat it was totally and completely see-through. Yes, every male under the age of 65 asked me to stop and pose for a photo.

I also raised close to $900 for the school, and collectively we raised over $8,000. That money was vital to keep our small operation alive, and allowed us to grow bigger, to reach an economy of scale that improves teacher quality of life, enables true diversity, and has made us more financially solvent.

(Also, the fundraiser was an excuse for me to force my children to star in a ridiculous, poorly-edited video. Please watch it--it's for the children.)
This year, we're raising money for our Scholarship Fund, which is an absolutely essential resource for a large number of our wonderful families. Every penny is tax-deductible. Think of it as sponsoring a family, or if you have the unfortunate experience of knowing me personally, you might think of it as an affirmation of the hard work and total devotion I've shown to the organization. Or, if you're in the questionable position of loving New Orleans, think of it as supporting the continued growth and revitalization of the city. Or, do it just to shut me up--because this won't be my last ask, believe you me.

If you're inclined to donate, you can do so through our website:

Or, if you're still paying for stamps, you can mail a donation to the Center: 3401 Canal Street, New Orleans, LA 70119.

Every little bit helps. If you donated before, please do so again. If you haven't donated before but will consider it if I force my children to star in another poorly-produced film, I will gladly pimp them out. Just say the word. After all, it's for the children.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Existential Crises


  • Music Professor
  • Novelist
  • Pot smoker
  • Broke
  • Sporting a kick-ass full-color sleeve on my left arm
  • Famous


  • Married
  • Mother of 2
  • Runner
  • Afraid
  • Soccer Coach
  • Psychotherapist