Friday, January 10, 2014
|Elmo is over|
Two things with Grace: This week she stopped asking me to carry her to school, which is one block away. She does this funny kind of skip-gallop-prance walk while holding my hand. It made me a little sad, but after all, I'm the one who hoists her up and says, "Someday you're going to be too big and Mommy's not going to be able to carry you to school." Maybe that day came. I don't want to think about a time when she doesn't bear hug me in her towel when I lift her out of the bath, or when she stops putting her little arms around my neck to try to get me to stay a little longer when I put her to bed, or when she no longer sighs a sleepy breath when I climb in next to her and hold her hand, her tiny fingers curling around mine.
Last night, as we were cleaning out drawers of clothes she's outgrown to give to her friend Piper. Grace held her Elmo doll for a moment, and then put it on the pile of clothes. "It's Piper's turn to have Elmo," she said. "Are you sure?" I asked, "Elmo's been a great friend to you." "Yes, I'm sure."
Elmo is over.
I bought a tiny rosebush with small buds, some open, at Trader Joe's tonight and the girl at the checkout asked me if I was buying it for myself. I nodded. Then she told me, "Pay attention to the open ones." And then she looked deeply into my eyes. We had some kind of momentary connection, and after I paid she shook my hand and said she hoped she'd see me again. I am not sure what that means or what the metaphor is here, but, OK, I will pay attention to the open flowers.
After Trader Joe's, I went to an event for a super cool and funny writer named Cindy Chupack. She worked on a couple little shows you may have heard of, like Sex and the City and Everybody Loves Raymond. She wrote some books. As she signed mine, I mentioned to her that I just had a piece published in Motherlode about Grace's birth parents moving in, and that I was so inspired by her talk and wanted to figure out how to keep that momentum up. And she asked me to send her the link. Which made me really, really happy. I decided in the parking lot on the way out that every day, I will do something, even if it's a little thing, to move my work forward.
On the drive home, I missed my dad and wished he could be around to read my stuff, to tell me to fight for better contracts, to give me the hug I haven't had for 10 years. As I got off the 2 to the 134 West, I realized I'd absently had been holding my fist up, curled around my dad's fingers, which I imagined coming from somewhere above.
Tomorrow I go blonde.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
|This is Grace's portrait of Bridgett and Bill. Which is so crazy perfect, if you know them.|
1. My dad died 10 years ago today. You don't really recover from something like that. I was really sad for the past couple weeks and felt all "dumpy mom," and couldn't quite put my finger on it, but duh. Of course. Then, some magic. My older brother, Ilya, in ISRAEL, made a concert of this beautiful, ethereal music with some friends. We set up a Skype call and I watched/listened for a couple hours as I worked. It was truly beautiful and brought me to tears. Ilya is amazing. You should look him up when you go to Israel. He will march you through the Sinai, naked, and teach you to play drums with Bedouins. And you can all laugh at German tourists together.
2. I have been sadly neglectful of my blog and the 40licious activities because I took a screenwriting class. And now it's over and I have an outline for a super cute movie that involves a faked pregnancy and an oyster-shucking showdown with some French people.
3. 40licious is pivoting. I am re-branding and calling it "Swerve" because too many women on either side of 40 said they like what I do, but they don't feel either 40 or licious. Look for new logo etc. in January.
4. I am really trying to be really nice to people who, frankly, have been super sucky to me. Or even a little sucky over and over again. It is hard to not escalate it or match snark for snark. But I can sleep better knowing that even when my side of the street wasn't clean all the time, I tried to make it all right. It is a new paradigm for me.
4. My daughter's biological parents, Bridgett and Bill, have recently become homeless. They were in a shelter and then in a tent on the street. At first I was "helpful" by giving them blankets and movies and whatever else I thought they needed. And then it got cold in LA, and very rainy. And now they are staying with me and Grace for a while. I have learned a lot of things in the past week. Like how I have some pre-set Middle Class White Girl ideas and control issues. And that people are really, really, really big-hearted. I put a post about B&B on Facebook and for the past four days, bags of clothes, a $20 bill here and there, and bunny supplies have shown up at our door. Oh, did I mention they have a bunny? She now lives in our kitchen. Someone I don't even know is sending a bunny cage from Michigan. See, that's how amazing people are.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
We used to be kings. Not real royalty, but cultural kings. By “we,” I mean our family. By “place,” I mean the world. And by “world,” I mean New York. My dad, Pat, and his brother Mike, in the 1960s and ‘70s, owned the fucking place.
After my grandmother tired of waiting for her world-traveling UPI reporter husband to come home to Port Washington, Long Island, she upped her three good-looking, quick-witted boys to Paris, where she studied painting and took quite a lot of dancing lessons with a much younger Frenchman. A few too many, it has been said.
Pat and Mike went on to Yale (their younger brother, Seamus, attended Harvard, and has since become a creator of reading programs for kids, a host to vacationing scuba divers, and “gentleman farmer,” for the oysters that spread out in a magnificent rocky carpet on the stretch of beach where he's lived as long as I can remember, in the home my great grandparents built). What they lacked in old money they made up for in Irish charm and intellectual revelry. Dad took a Yiddish class to meet cute Jewish girls, and parlayed his Russian studies into a job as the Newsweek bureau chief for Moscow. His photo of a very sad Nikita Kruschev, head down in half-light, made the cover when John Kennedy was assassinated.
At Newsday, Mike, became, among other things, a feared and celebrated movie and food critic, and his columns on pacifism became a book, “A Dove in Vietnam.” Noticing the formulaic success of Jackie Susann and others who did well with badly written potboilers, he corralled 26 of his co-workers to each pen a chapter (if it was too good it was sent back) about a slutty housewife, which became one of the world’s greatest literary hoaxes, “Naked Came the Stranger.”
Dad turned his talent toward health and medical writing, following French doctors to the Bahamas where they pioneered radical work with placentas and chicken eggs to decode the secrets of youth. He hobnobbed with Dr. Joyce Brothers, Dear Abby and Masters & Johnson.
Pat and Mike, together and separately, loved the world and the world, and its beautiful people lusted right back after them. There were parties with movie stars, bestselling writers, diplomats, beautiful wives. There’s a picture of my cousin Sean as a baby, delighted at being tossed in the air by Jack Kerouac.
I remember sitting at their regular poker game, too young to get the jokes but laughing anyway. Cigar smoke, gin and beer. A rotating cast of broken geniuses.There was Uncle Speed, a craggy old fisherman who lived near Mike’s Northport home. Perpetually tanned, big-eyed, big-haired Stella, a chain-smoking divorcée with a perpetually tan décolletage.
In 1978, Pat and Mike became the first two brothers in history to make the New York Times’ bestseller list. Dad had co-written “The Pritikin Program for Diet and Exercise,” which prompted America to eschew fats and sugar for high complex carbohydrates and lean meats. Mike penned porn star Linda Lovelace’s biography, “Ordeal,” hailed as a feminist tome that shed light on the particular perils of sex work.
Anything good comes with a price. Dad died in 2003, overweight and losing a battle with diabetes, after he threw a blood clot from a knee replacement he probably shouldn’t have had. Mike was rendered speechless by a series of strokes and lived his last few years in a nursing home, where he could barely feed himself. My cousins and I recount the laughing, the scandals, the ribbing that never crossed the line to being mean-spirited. On Thanksgiving, we cry and howl in the way that only Irish cousins can do when they’re together.
There is a picture of Mike and Pat that ran in People magazine when they were on the bestseller list together that I keep on my office wall, wherever I live. They are sitting, crossing arms, typing on each others’ IBM Selectrics. Twinkling, confident, sharing a private joke. It is a snapshot of our family’s invincibility. I would hope that in the event of a fire I’d remember to take the picture with me on my way out the door, but I know in reality, people take meaningless things when they panic, like a sweater or the bottle of detergent they just bought but haven’t put away.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
The morning of her first day, I ask if she is ready to go to school. "No. I want to go to the other playground."
She is alternately fussy and exuberant, eating only a few bites of her scrambled egg.
Watching me pack her lunch, she carefully selects a blueberry yogurt and puts it in the new Hello Kitty insulated lunch box, purchased during a special trip to Chinatown for this very occasion.
She poses for a picture in front of the school's yellow banner. She meets her teacher and plays with small cows, Play-doh, a spatula. She hands the only other girl in her class a Lego and calls it a "robot."
They will be friends.
Still, when I tell her I have to leave for work, she cries. Fat salty tears bump down her perfect pink cheeks. "I wanna go to work! I wanna go to work!" she says, as she clings to my neck like it's a buoy, like she will drown into a cold dark sea if she lets go.
I peel her off and hand her to a woman I have known exactly 35 minutes.
The girl wails as I walk past the sand pit and out the gate. I hide behind a wall. For what, 5? 10? minutes she uses a year's worth of breath to scream her displeasure.
When she finally stops, I peek in through the gate. She is sitting on a stoop, alone, sucking on the green and pink butterfly blanket her grandmother made her, watching the kids play in the sand.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
I had an eccentric Great Aunt Vida, who lived in a sprawling home that slinked around a prime piece of Hood Canal coastline in Washington state. She was a bit formal, had married well and widowed young, and was in no way comfortable around children. When my cousins came to visit, she gave them the standard speech as they prepared to jump into her indoor pool: "I have a special chemical in here that turns red when you urinate, so don't, or I'll know it's you."
The kids, in their elementary years, solemnly nodded and proceed to jump in the pool. After several minutes of splashing about, the youngest, Liam, yelled out, "Aunt Vida? That chemical? It's not working!"
I love this story because mostly when my Aunt Corinne (Liam's mom) tells it, it's really really funny, each and every time. But I also love it because it makes me think about how brave and bold Liam was as a little kid, completely unaware of his own vulnerability as he spoke a truth that he thought would be helpful. Not sure what Vida's reaction was, but it likely involved a thimble of sherry to soothe her nerves.
I recently watched this Brené Brown TED video on vulnerability, and it has made me think a lot about the offer-reception dynamic of ideas. In order to have a truly innovative idea, you need to risk failing, because it hasn't been done before. You are putting the work of your mind and heart in the hands of others who will help it succeed -- or not. How the idea is received is just as critical. Nearly every organization or manager will tell you that failure is treated as a learning opportunity ... but how that is actually handled will vary greatly. I've worked for some bosses who have been so enthusiastic and welcoming for my ideas that I couldn't wait to fail for them again, if it meant having excellent feedback and the chance to build an even better rocket ship. I've had bosses who've sent such cryptic, critical emails that I spent entire weekends downing Ativan to keep a panic attack at bay, certain I'd be fired Monday morning, but then nothing was ever mentioned again.
I've been fortunate enough to have a career based on ideas, where my creativity has funded my home and car and makes me look good on paper for government bureaucrats. I've also been lucky enough to help develop ideas from others and collaborate to make them into real things. Because of that, I offer this:
If you're proposing your idea -- whether its a better way to clean the coffee pots at the wait station, a rerouting of the entire metro transit system so it runs more effectively and efficiently, or handing over your life's work, laced with sweat, tears and a little merlot -- these approaches may help:
- Find a good time to propose your idea -- when the recipient has space to hear you, and is in a good mood. Also, think about your format. Is it scrawled on a napkin, or did you go to the trouble of making a trailer for it?
- Preface your presentation with what you hope to accomplish, and how far along you are in your idea. If it's just an initial draft with lots of flexibility for change, or if it's pretty much baked as is, let the person know.
- State exactly what you want. Is it an approval to take it to another level of management? Are you looking for collaboration? Do you just want some feedback on a particular angle?
- Really understand what the response is. So if the person said, "I love the idea but I'm wondering if you can make it puppets instead of real people," and you heard, "Your idea stinks, go away," you may miss an opportunity to make your idea happen ... just not exactly as you'd planned. Sometimes puppets are better.
- Realize the person offering may have invested a lot of hope and love in this. Treat it accordingly. It's hard to be creative, like handing over your fragile little heart in a paper cup, hoping someone else will help it keep beating.
- Take a cue from improv: Don't shut down another actor. Say, "yes ... and ... ." As in: "Yes, I think you are really on to something, and I'm wondering if there's a way we can include puppets because I know that's what the network is looking for and we'll have a better chance of making this happen."
- If you love the idea, be a champion for it. Be brave, it makes people like you better. If you don't like the idea, find a way to make it better. There might be a seed in there somewhere.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Grace is pretty much the TA at her daycare, which is run by our fabulous, big-hearted and beautiful neighbor, Valentin, out of her apartment. There are two smaller kids, and Grace "helps" to feed and change them. It's been the absolute perfect situation and Grace is madly in love with her daycare family, as they are with her. This summer Grace and I spent vacations and free moments in other people's yards and pools, and I noticed how much she needs to run around. I notice that she counts a lot of things ("one, two, fwee, five, eight!") and whenever we pass a school, she wants to go there. I suspect that the playground has a lot to do with it. So I asked her if she's ready to go to school, and she said yes. I told her that it would be a little different than daycare and that she'd have a teacher and she'd have a lot of other kids there. "OK Mom." Every time I followed up, her answer is the same. She wants to go to school.
So we looked at several nearby preschools that were willing to take 2-year-olds who were unmotivated in their potty training. One place was great but a little far. Another was horrific, with a 12:1 student/teacher ratio and an industrial bleachy odor ("We clean four times a day!" chirped the director as she toured us around the cavernous building). Out in the vast concrete
Finally we found a school a block away that's attached to an Episcopal church. There's a Noah's Ark mural on the outside. Lots of space to play. A charming director. Organized but not mean-spirited. They say prayers of gratitude for parents and play kitchens, and learn the Bible's greatest hits. For a spiritual but non-religious person, I am OK with that.
However. The kids have to bring their lunch. That news sent me reeling back to childhood lunchtime trauma. We were raised by my dad, who, in the late 1970s, was in the process of writing what would become a New York Times best-selling diet book. Our food became limited to Pritikin Program low-fat, high-carb fare, which, living two blocks from Zabar's, was a unique kind of torture. Gone was the nightly ice cream, our babysitter's Southern fried chicken, the Oreos my dad reserved for "company." Instead, we made due with baked potatoes adorned with some plain yogurt my dad made himself. There were some passable oatmeal-raisin "cookies" sweetened with apple juice concentrate. And garbanzo bean quiche. Seriously. I am not making this up, nor would I be able to. Garbanzo-effing-bean quiche.
Lunches were less than creative. An endless stream of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on wheat and maybe a brown banana shoved into a rumpled brown bag, or worse, a huge brown grocery bag. Day in and day out. (I remember one particularly heinous incident of a cheese and butter sandwich, which I brought home from day camp and insisted my dad try. He conceded that it was crap.) Lisa, my best friend, would get ham and cheese on Wonder bread with a Twinkie, a soda wrapped in foil to keep it cold, and a Thermos of soup all tucked neatly inside a Snoopy lunchbox. I so desperately had entree envy for Lisa's lunches, and also, the snacks her parents stocked at home, which was conveniently located one floor below us. Nutter Butter cookies. Yoo-hoo chocolate soda. Triscuits.
Something must have worked its way into my hard wiring, though. Today I get most of my food from the farmers' market, and then Trader Joe's for the milk and not-so-bad prepared food. We limit sugar and anything processed. I spent a good deal writing about food for many fine publishing outlets, and was even invited by Japan to come write about the incomparable food the country has to offer. I can work my way around a fridge and stove pretty well. Gracie and I sit down to a good breakfast and dinner every morning and evening. Lunch is whatever is happening over at daycare, and because the dad is a baker, I know it's going to be good.
BUT. Here's my point.
I sense an unforeseen issue with having to pack Gracie's lunches at her new school. I know my instinct will be to shove last night's leftover Trader Joe's pakoras in a baggie and call it good. I'm insecure that after three days I'll run out of ideas, and I won't be prepared. I don't want her to have entree envy with the kid who brings the bento box with all his favorites, and Grace will make a grab for it out of desperation. I'm feeling like I've already come in last in what's not even a competitive sport, lunch-making.
Pakoras can fit into a bento box, right?