Monday, June 29, 2009


I said once here, and oft in 'real life' that I love raising my children with a somewhat elastic notion of family.

Part of that is choice, and part is necessity.

In our family, there is one grandparent on one side, and four on the other.  There are two fully biological aunts and two such uncles.  There is the uncle that is the half-brother, and the uncle that is a step, the aunt that is a step - and all the spouses.  Four godparents are not biologically related. 

There are 12 cousins.  Two are mixed race. Two speak English as their second language.  One has no siblings and a lot of sports. Nine have only one sister.  Two have just one brother. Two have two brothers.  One is an actor. Two are adopted. Two are teenagers.  One attends boarding school. Four are five and younger.  Two are in middle school. Six live in-state.

Add 'em up and it's a lot more than 12.  Nobody can be just one thing.   And we have two sets of friends the children call "cousins"and we don't necessarily correct.  
An aunt, an uncle, a grandmother, and two godmothers have no children of their own- so ours get to be a novelty.  

We have one GED, so far. And we have some crazy number of advanced degrees, including three PhD's.   We go to different churches, those of us who go, and we live in different regions of the U.S.  For stretches of time, at least two relatives are in different countries altogether.  One is half Icelandic. We are many different shades of human.

We are a big, bizarre jumble - and our kids are truly excited when distant relatives emerge, and plans expand.  Fascinatingly, the question "how exactly are we related?" has really never come up.  Not even with Bass, who is 9, and questions everything.

Two degrees of separation- from us to others- bring together wholly implausible combinations of people.  

We are bi-coastal, bipartisan, biracial.  Biologically connected, and not.

A family should stretch.  It should embrace.  Children should be around adults from different places who do things differently than their parents.  They should know there are Special people, people for whom they should be willing to do anything.  The bonds to those people formed before many were even born.  

I love that we can look around our extended family and, making no excuses, see true and loving organic diversity.  I love the differentness and celebrating the sameness - common histories and common nows.  I love that people call, and drop in - and stay awhile.  

We are, even those among us who don't know what they believe about such things, truly blessed.  All of us.  

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Looking at a friend's pictures of NYC - you feel such crazy longing. Knowing that nothing you can say about New York will be original, you have to say it anyway. You feel compelled.

While there, the wind would whip, and the walk home from the subway seemed prohibitively long and every Single Thing took eight or ten extra steps and you tired of subway rattling and the rats had to be made 'lucky' because there were so damn many of them and you needed something to make them stop being so startling, to make you stop yelping every time one skittered across your path.

Babies' limbs had to be stuffed into so many layers and they fought strollers or they needed them when the strollers were left at home or lost wheels. Small apartments shrank on wet sloppy cold gray days and there were never enough quarters for laundry.

But the harder parts of it, even if - when measured by conventional means: clocks and calendars, watches and sundials - many more minutes were difficult than graced, they aren't so clear now. Because it's magic, is what it is. That city, if you choose it - or if it chooses you - it takes over. Your memory, when you leave, is erased. That big green lady points her flame at you and wipes it clean of the bad stuff.

It is unexpected beauty and promise. When you are there, no view is the same two days in a row, there is nothing mundane or predictable to relax your brain with. Time marches forward and that one year commitment grows to two, and reluctantly wraps up at three.

When you look back, you remember Central Park. And the jaw-dropping discovery of a quiet cobblestone street, or a lush garden where one shouldn't be, or a cabby with a brilliant and informed world view. You remember the silence of a true snow day.

With months upon months of gray days (so you are told) what you recall is green. Lush, warm days in parks: Riverside, Morningside, Central. Always 78 degrees, high clouds. Green.

And you remember, foggily, crowded apartment playrooms with linoleum floors on soggy or cold days and you remember, vividly, Saturdays when you would just Leave and trip into festivals and street fairs and musicians better than anything you would pay to see.

And the darkest day of your life is re-imaged to be interesting, fascinating, and full of en masse love in the aftermath.

You remember a plane, and how you watched it dive into a building at a fighter-plane angle over the Statue of Liberty.

You remember the ground shaking, later, while you stood outside trying to recall what you were supposed to do in an Emergency. Trying to remember who your emergency floor coordinator was, and recognizing how insane the question. Registering, then, that a rumbling ground is Not Good.

But you remember that where you were, no one ran. That it was quiet. That, there, 7 or so blocks north, there was no debris - that 'surreal' was the only word that came to you. That then, walking further away, there right close to the Chelsea Pier, you paused with Mike-the-coworker and watched one building fall.

And you had no words. And you kept walking and walking and the sky stayed blue and the temperature settled in at 78 degrees and the clouds were still fluffy, and Riverside Park was never greener. And you saw that one guy, covered in ash, on the curb, by the pier, holding his face in his hands, his briefcase by his side, crying harder than you had ever seen a man cry.

And you remember vendors, with iced tea and water - free. And you remember park workers with their trucks' radios on, stationed throughout the park, so you could hear news. You remember hearing snippets of other crashes, other planes, and you tried to wrap your head around the notion - are we being attacked?

And you watched another tower crumble, and you tried to make sense of what you were seeing as the dust started to settle and there was - in seconds - nothing there.

And you remember talking to Mike-the-coworker and saying, "what are we supposed to feel?" And while still walking, you were already remembering - with the gut-wrenching realization that 30 minutes before the first tower fell, the competent, confident, beautiful fire fighters in over-packed trucks streamed one after another south down Westside Highway, toward certain death.

And you remember returning to home, and the two 18-month olds that were running circles around the 600 sf apartment squealing. And the nanny, and the best neighbor friend, and the Big One, all watching the 17-inch TV, waiting for the piece of the puzzle that would make it Make Sense.

And you remember vigils. And wanting to cry. For days and days and seemingly days trying to access any emotion at all until you had to turn off the TV. Had to listen to silence. Had to dryclean the smells out of your jackets you wore to work, where the air quality was tainted - where smoke billowed for weeks in your sight line. Where no matter which subway stop you took, you were hit by that smell. And you sought those vigils, you looked for the place and time and people that would let you, make you, cry.

And you remember peace. And kindness.

And you were growing another baby that day. And she was born. And she weighed 9 pounds 11 ounces.

And when on the generous 4-month maternity leave that took you right up to the one-year anniversary of 9-11, people knew your son's name when he entered their stores, and gave him doughnuts and candy. Ladies on buses and in stores that would bless the baby girl in multiple languages, trying always to connect - to humanize - to welcome.

You recall the humanity.

The humanity of New York. The humanity that was not homogenized or pasteurized or normalized. That spoke all those languages and wore all those clothes and sang all those songs in subways on streets in alleys in groups or alone. That talked to each other, or called out to you.

You remember how quickly fear and horror and sadness evolved into chest-bursting pride and solidarity. And the guilty feeling that, for all of its tragedy, you would not have wanted to be anywhere else in the world that day, and after.

It is magic. And you miss it. And you are so grateful for the crazy convergence of time and space and age and willingness and ability and fandango that enabled you to live there in that tiny apartment full of not-so-tiny people. For the friendships sealed by horrible happenings and brilliantly collaborative meals in implausibly small spaces. For peace after tragedy and babies born in impractically complicated places, in irreconcilably complicated times.

For the blue skies, for the green lady, for the few years at the start of the millennium where we were all promise and possibility- and beauty could be anywhere at all. And for David's handful of perfect pictures, posted on Facebook.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Not enough can be said about old friends. Connecting with people, people with whom you have connected before or still - both versions providing a panacea from all the newness that is sometimes life - life in the David Byrne "this is not my beautiful house" way that being a grown up is all about.

A weekend of friends - various friends from various times - all from impossibly long ago (since, when I paused to realize I have known the newest friend of either group... for ten years..) came after a smidge of social panic, a year of avoiding hosting anything....

The weekend served to 'get my head right.' I feel alive and grown up and grateful and relieved to be the person I am with the experiences I have had in the place where I am right now - with a rich melange of friends. Fun, funny, interesting, compassionate, good people who didn't care that the cobwebs were still on the porch.

(I noticed them at Saturday's cook out. Then noticed them again at Sunday's. It's Monday night. Along with the folding chairs thrown out to seat folks on the cooler side of the house... they are there still.)

I like my littles to see us with other bigs, and I like to see them scrambling with other kids, both known and not - their own age and not, in and out of the house, toys strewn and loud noises up and down the street. I like nerf gun battles and scooter races, sidewalk chalk and competitive kick-the-can.

I like to imagine, when they see us laughing aloud with people they don't really know, that they are baffled a little by the 'real' us, by the normalcy we must've projected once - before we yelled and maintained and instructed (and, sometimes, ignored). Before we were -gasp - Parents.

After the weekend of magical guests, I got up my littles all went to day camp to give me two weeks of working peace. That seemed a small miracle in itself. A quiet house, and a to do list that got... done.

The house is clean again, and I am starting my own scramble, some - to put the rest of the summer into place, and to figure out how to get more adults in my world. So I can remember who I am - which seems to leave a whole lot more of me for my Littles.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Not quite sure what to do when I flounder.

When I feel like, maybe, I have no idea what I am doing.

This was that sort of day - an epic clash with Sebastian, when he was mean to his siblings in succession, then mean to me.  I got mean back.  He got meaner.  And none was resolved by more of the same.

I know I am supposed to be the 'grown up,' but I can't always remember what that looks like in every situation.  I have never been praised for my measured discipline.

I am so grateful to others who do it right, or do it wrong and know it - and talk about it, and blog about it.  I am so grateful to those who step in - to my mother-in-law, who has him tonight for an impromptu sleepover.  My mom, who knows him so well and talks me through my most frustrating parent moments.  To his Aunt Agatha, who loves him unconditionally and gently guides.  To his favorite teachers, who ask, tell, and nourish.  

Never have I met a child who needed those teachers more.  For whom knowledge, and learning, were actual life-sources - like breathing, or water.  

When he was littler, I would say that he was just too big for his britches.  That he was born a 30-year-old lawyer and it would take time for him to grow into the role.  Now, 9 years later - he's been in practice for 9 years.  So, he thinks he is entitled to the partnership, an equal vote. Compensation fitting his elevated role.   

I burst with pride when a teacher has the chance to recognize who he is, stops and gets him still long enough to catch a glimpse of his very old soul.  He had two of him this year, and they saved us all.

There is nothing he won't read.  No question he won't ask.  No science show he won't watch.  No answer he won't attempt to give, himself.  He is smarter than me, and I have always known that. He is smarter than me, and he has always known that - which is tougher.

He is so sensitive, intuitive, and scary smart.  He is so insensitive, volatile, and impulsive.  He rocks my world, daily. All this at 9.  What will be left of me when he is 11, 17, 35?

Oh, sweet Sammy Butterbean.  My original pain-in-the ass.  The one person who always laughs at my jokes, and sings along to the same songs on the radio.  You taught me to be a Mom.  And I am still learning.