Storytelling as a Salve

For a while now (November 2016 perhaps?) this country has been a difficult place to be. And this summer, politics has reached a crisis level. The news is very very very difficult to contend with. Daily, gruesome cruelty towards people trying to enter this country, and the near constant gun violence, due to the fear, racism and the misogyny of those who support this administration, have been a terrible, dull, drumbeat. For a person like me, a woman who lives in a very comfortable world for the most part, this is such a heartbreaking and confusing time to be an American. I’m very anxious, like so many are, about where we are careening with this dangerous administration at the helm. It can be hard to just keep doing your regular thing, doing your best to parent and work and live with joy. I say this as a reminder to myself, when things I’m doing or thinking about seem futile and self-serving. It’s really just hard sometimes to exist in both places. My life is actually good and lucky right now, and yet more people are openly suffering and struggling than I’ve ever been aware of.

There is no snappy thing to say here, no immediate answers, other than that I am doing what I can to make sense of this moment. We have lost our way, but we all have to keep going, listening, learning the truths, amplifying the good, and hopefully we will get through this terrible time. 

This connects to my work on MILK. Though I’m taking a selective look at loss, through the guests and ideas and stories that are available to me, I’ve realized the transformational power of writing and talking through pain and grief, and creating narratives that are ours. The last several episodes of MILK have focused on storytelling and how writing or telling another person about your loss can help not only you, but offer a salve to others.

An organization like The Moth, a revered, powerful live storytelling organization, is run by artistic director Catherine Burns, and does such wonderful work. I was so happy to talk with her about working in a  space where she can coax healing stories out of people, and watch them transform a live crowd, and later, offer those stories more widely to people listening intimately to The Moth’s amazing podcast. Catherine has been through her own losses and shares her beautiful, optimistic take on her community and the joy she takes in her job.   

Molly Rosen Guy is a writer/editor/teacher/ who is using Instagram as a forum to write about her father’s illness and death, the end of her marriage and of her very popular wedding business. She is unflinching in her sharing, and tells the truths that she needs to tell. I loved talking to her about books, leading workshops, her own writing, about mothering two daughters, and about her dad, Robert. She is working on a memoir about him, and I look forward to reading it.

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Nadine Haruni has taken her experiences and used them to write books that help kids deal with transition and loss.  Her Freeda the Frog books help families deal with divorce, with blending families, moving houses and schools, and losing a loved one or pet. Nadine had always wanted to write books for kids, and worked hard to do so while practicing law full time, and raising two children after her divorce. She’s a force!

 

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Speaking of loss, I left my little boy in New Hampshire last weekend at overnight camp with his sister, who is there for her 5th year. It is the weirdest feeling, knowing that your kids exist in the world without you. This too, is of course a type of loss – from the time they are born, every phase and stage that helps them find their independence and move away from us is truly that. I miss them, but know the experiences away from us are important for us and them.

So, I’m connecting dots with this Loss Season and the other work I’m doing. Having the kids out of sight for the few weeks is helping me to do that.  Kids are distracting! But, we can learn so much from them! I recently hosted a new, wonderful podcast series called “How to Raise a Parent.” It’s a branded project from Slate Studios and Dairy Pure. I interview experts about how we can get back in touch with the purity and innocence of our own childhood, and what we can learn from our kids in the process. I got to work with my kids on some of the promos for the podcast, you can hear one here: 

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It was a blast and I’m proud of the series. You can see and hear the podcast here:

 Also, In case you missed it, my episode of ZigZag Podcast with Manoush Zomorodi ties together a lot of the topics I’m thinking on, and interviewing MILKs about this summer. The episode is about commodifying motherhood and what success means to me, the loss of certain media industries and how I’m personally pivoting. Its very open and honest and it made me think and make connections.

 Yours, in loss, love, success, honesty and parenting.

MILK Podcast: The Loss Season

February and March are not my favorite months of the year under the best of circumstances.  But this February, I tragically lost my friend Heather to fucking cancer, and this March, not as tragically but still devastatingly, I lost my dear Uncle Izzy to old age. This was just after the October massacre at my hometown synagogue, “Tree of Life.” After all of these gut punches, I settled into a moment of intense … not just shock, not just anxiety, not just depression, but like, this dull, encompassing understanding of what it means to be this age and know that there are zero assurances.

Uncle Izzy (Isaac) Benjamin, Los Angeles, CA 2018

Uncle Izzy (Isaac) Benjamin, Los Angeles, CA 2018

This led me into a kind of investigation of loss at a macro level. Because this kind of regular loss talk is happening amongst my peers. At some level, I do live with the constant underlying fear that something terrible will happen. And why is it that I’m kind of ok? How do I feel motivated to make things? It’s like I took a drug trip and learned something. It’s like I arrived somewhere, but in a Dorothy “No Place Like Home” kind of way.

Clearly, I’m in the midst of a moment. It’s midlife ish. It’s not a crisis, but there’s some urgency to it. It’s a loss thing. 

So it feels right to be launching this season of MILK Podcast, which I’m calling “The Loss Season.”  Yet I am living, and feeling life – from my MILKs, from my female friends, from my family, from my beloved neighborhood. All of these things, except the MILKs maybe, drive me crazy in as many ways as they give me pleasure, and they give me life.  I’m trying to look at loss as a positive in some ways, and have been exploring subjects and stories where loss can serve as a way to learn.

My first episode of Season 2 with writer Emily Rapp Black is up now. She lost her son at 2 years old to Tay Sachs disease, and she writes and speaks about it with such poise and passion, but is also frank and hilarious and cool as hell.  I’m editing a wonderful and informative show with  Chanel Reynolds, who put together a website turned book about getting your shit together so you aren’t caught completely off guard financially and legally if something untoward were to happen to you or your spouse. So smart and necessary! I talked to an incredible psychotherapist, Dr. Molly Millwood, about her work with mothers who struggle to maintain their marriages after kids – another form of loss to consider. I spoke to Caroline Schrank, owner of Down to Earth Funerals, about evolving from a career as an event planner and divorced mom of two to a funeral director exploring alternative ceremonies and serving those left behind.

Heather, my mom (as a frog), and Prince

Heather, my mom (as a frog), and Prince

I am so fulfilled creatively when I am meeting these women, and getting to share their stories and contributions. 

I’m also writing a book about loss – a kid’s book, and it’s hard. It’s really just very hard to get the tone right. I’ve done ten drafts and its still not there. But I’m plugging away at it because I think the way we talk to kids about loss and sadness and pain in general is not awesome. We need to give them space and truth to deal with the possibilities that things may not always be rosy. At Heather’s memorial service, my kids, and all of our friends’ kids, were so present and so empathetic and I was very moved by their ability to speak clearly and lovingly about Heather to her husband, daughter and parents. It showed me that children can handle emotions and pain, and that they are capable of exquisite love and support.

My kids have been working very hard this year, my daughter academically as she prepares for the rigorous NYC high school process and her Bat Mitzvah in the fall. My son is doing great in school and outside of school, but there have been some questions (mine, really) about what he can handle socially and emotionally. I am constantly, exhaustively, learning how to meet my kids where they are. I’m trying to be there with them as they navigate their worlds. My work life currently permits that, and I’m so damn grateful for it right now. I’m proud of them, and who they are.

There has been a lot of heaviness, this winter, but there has been beauty and laughter, too.  My female friends sustain me, with their text chains, conversations in real life, and women’s trips. I will never miss another one. 

Spring is here in Brooklyn, and those tough, grey months are behind me. But they will rest inside my heart always and shape how I move through this world. I won’t forget them. In the same way, I won’t forget the months of April and May in 2013 just before my mom died. That was the first major loss of my life, and it made me the mother and friend I am today.

Today is the first day of my kids’ spring break. As I type this, he is at his after school coding class, and she is volunteering at the library. Tomorrow night we will have a Seder. Today, my husband is making a brisket.

Life is sweet today. More soon, from my MILKs. 

 

How I Spent my Summer Vacation

I spent June and July working on a podcast project about preparing parents and kids socially and emotionally for the back to school transition. I loved working with Slate Studios and Target as the host of “Coffee and Crayons,” and I’m proud of the result. Check out the 3 episodes, including interviews with Amy Webb of “This Little Miggy Stayed Home,” Joy Cho of “Oh Joy,” and Morgan Neville, the director of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” here, or anywhere you get podcasts. We talk about inclusivity, creativity, and compassion, and how to infuse transitions like back to school with those components. Do let me know what you think! And please share, subscribe, and rate if you can.

Coffee and Crayons is an extension of my work with MILK, and I’m really excited about it. Even though the episodes are up and living in the world, and many kids have started school already, my family and I are still in the midst of our treasured summer vacation, hanging on tightly for the next few weeks until Labor Day.

Last week we went to Northern California for a cousin’s wedding and then on to Los Angeles to see my husband’s great uncle. This week, after picking up my daughter at overnight camp in New Hampshire, we are with my dad and sisters and kids in Maine. I’m writing from a screened in porch where the rain falls steadily and soothingly. 

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In California, we were super active in a short amount of time – driving and hustling to events surrounding the wedding of a terrific couple, Aaron and Jessica. My son M can be sensitive to his environment, and yanking him around a lot outside of his normal schedule can often end in tears (his and mine). But we had our very supportive and compassionate family surrounding us that weekend, and that made it totally lovely and adventurous instead of treacherous and overwhelming, as busy trips with him have often felt to me in the past. Also having one kid to give our attention to (our older daughter goes to overnight camp for a month every summer), allows the time to feel precious with our son. Plus, less sibling bickering.

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The experience of going to a wedding with my partner of 18 years (married for 14 this fall), was such an interesting one. Wedding are the ultimate in hope, and such slowed down, present, beautiful moments in time. I love the presence of love and choice in every moment. I love watching people dance. I love cake. I love weird speeches. Its just good stuff. I’ve said before, however, that a couple could really use a wedding like 6/7/8 years into a marriage, where speeches and celebratory words and dancing could do a world of good to a couple living in the thick of what marriage actually is.

And though I do love a good horah, the highlight of the California trip was seeing our Uncle Izzy (Isaac) in Los Angeles, who is my husband’s father’s brother, and the last surviving member of his generation at age 96. He and my kids began writing longhand letters to each other a few years ago, and the relationship between them has blossomed into something beautiful and poignant.

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He writes often, in his beautiful, careful hand, about his own childhood, our family history, and about sports and any other subject that might engage M and Z. I saw these letters as something very dear and very special, and decided to compile them into a photo book for him. To say that he appreciated the book is an understatement – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone more moved by a gift. Honestly, it made me want to find a child pen pal for every older person out there! So therapeutic and wonderful for all of us involved. 

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After returning home to repack our suitcases, we headed north to pick up our daughter at overnight camp and our foursome became whole once again. I always relish retrieving Z at her beloved camp, and seeing how her face and manner has changed in a month's time. She’s always tanner and older and more and less familiar at the same time. We all swayed, arms around each other, sang “Leaving On A Jet Plane,” loaded her stinky duffel bag into the car and headed to Maine, where we are now chilling for the next few days with my sisters, nephews and dad. 

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It has been a while since my sisters and all vacationed together with our families, but we are making it work! It's always evolving since we lost our mom five years ago, and I’m very grateful we are together in this beautiful spot, drinking gin and tonics, and remembering that we can be good to each other and that our kids can grow their own relationships. My last post was about the strength of friendship, but family too, is everything. 

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See you soon for more MILK action. 

Mothers of Reinvention and Connection

The last few weeks have been intense, but in a positive way. After May, and the schpilkes it tends to bring (Google it – it’s a good Yiddish word to know), June has felt sunny and busy and productive and present tense. Not just a time to get through, but a time to be IN. How are you, people asked, like today at my younger one’s field day, and my answer is  “CONNECTED.” I feel, and I hesitate to even write this down for fear of the evil eye, that at the moment, all areas of my life are overlapping in a very affirming Venn Diagram kind of way.  

I was interviewed last week for the “Spawned” podcast with Liz Gumbinner and Kristen Chase from Cool Mom Picks.  I’ve long admired their site, blog, and podcast, and not just because Liz and Kristen are funny and excellent talkers who you feel like you’ve known forever, but also because they offer practical and useful advice about what to read, what to try, what to cook, and what’s happening in the world of parenting. They cut through the noise – whether it’s a tech issue, a parenting fail or win, or a great idea for teacher’s gifts, they are an excellent resource and always seem to know what’s up. I had a terrific time being interviewed, and it’s instructive for me to hear what seasoned pros bring to a medium (podcasting) I’m working on myself. 

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The episode is called Mothers of Reinvention, and it was really cool to talk about the ways we've shaped our careers around our families. In talking about my "reinventions," from book publishing to voiceover work to children’s book writing to podcasting, I realized that so many of the MILKs I’ve been attracted to are authors because of that initial book publicist living inside me. Just this month, there are two MILKs with new hardcover titles out, and two with paperbacks. I know how much work it takes to write a book, and though their subject matter is all very different (Essays on marriage, juicy contemporary fiction, middle grade fiction and essays about women and ambition), I am so happy for all of these friends.

My interview on Spawned also helped me realize that years of hanging around actors, musicians, audio people and other creative hustlers really opened me up to questions about how people get from point A to point B, gave me confidence to try things that were non-linear, like podcasting, and how the people I've met in my work travels are all a part of this journey.

So it made sense, last week, that I was invited to attend a women’s collective through two other MILKs, Amanda Harding and Alessandra Olanow. We gathered at Alex’s beautiful home to pool resources, with the idea that what one awesome creative woman can bring to the table, another might need and so on.  It was inspiring and freeing to admit that many of us, working alone on projects and businesses, need community too. As Amanda, a wonderful person who works so hard as a teacher to create a community that gives back, always says, making connections is what it's all about. And Alessandra is such a talented illustrator – check out her work here.

Books by MILKs Ada Calhoun, Julia Fiero, Lisa Greenwald, Liz Wallace & Hana Schank

Books by MILKs Ada Calhoun, Julia Fiero, Lisa Greenwald, Liz Wallace & Hana Schank

On the mommy side, last week was my little one's 8th birthday, which then brings me back to MILK, and to this week’s episode with Journalist Angela Garbes. Angela is a journalist based in Seattle, and her wonderful book is called “Like A Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy.” I hadn’t read about or thought much about pregnancy and new motherhood in a very long while, as most of my MILKs have been more mature moms, but her book is fascinating, super well researched and feminist AF. I was grateful for the opportunity to talk to Angela about how different paths bring us to the same powerful, and vulnerable spaces as mothers, and how we can truly listen and support each other’s stories and choices.

Angela’s interview came at an interesting moment personally, as things tend to do these days. I loved having the opportunity to reflect on my son's birth story, and reconnect with that side of myself – remembering what my body is capable of and celebrating not just his life, but also my life as his and his sister’s mother. Motherhood, as commonplace as it is, is truly miraculous, and it is worth pausing to remind ourselves of this simple fact. 

So it’s full circle with the MILK connections right now, and it all feels lovely.  Happy summer!

May Day

May and June are major months for parents of the school-age. There are class trips and gifts for everyone, dads, grads, end of year concerts and performances for every damn activity. As the mom (usually), you gotta show up, be celebratory, organized and sociable. It’s all so intense and condensed that you actually have to laugh at the absurdity à la Kimberly Harrington. (Her book is amazing and you should get it).

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Since I lost my mom, the period between Mother’s Day, her birthday (May 24), her deathiversary, (June 6), my son’s birthday (June 8), Father’s Day (June 15), and the end of school (June 20 something), shines a light on how surreal grief can be, about rituals and niceties versus how you, me, (everyone!) really feel. The seasonal calendar just does its thing -- flowers bloom and the sun finally shines after a seven month winter, and all I can remember is the anxiety, this time 5 years ago, of knowing that she was at the end.

And as we are often reminded, grief is not linear, and it is not clearly demarcated as to when it will flare. I’ve been good lately, trying to focus on my own family, to be more honest and explicit about my needs, less angry and more positive. I feel like I’m getting somewhere with my personal and professional goals. I’ve been trying to contribute and to not be devastated by the direction our country is taking.   

Still, I was anticipating this would be a tough Mother’s Day. I’m deep in the mommy content biz now because of MILK, and on May 1st it was like a Mom Bomb went off: MOTHER MOTHER MOTHER MOTHER MOTHER. Not quite in the same way I believe I have been exploring the nuances of motherhood through art, kvetching, honesty, and the comedy of it, but rather through any product or company that can corral the concept of birthing children into an excuse to buy this thing. Mother’s Day (and motherhood) always comes with a side of marketing, but especially now that I’m tuned in to those channels, those books, those movies, and especially those emails about how to make Mother’s Day perfect if you just buy that thing, contribute to this charity, read this book. Dude.

But, I made it. I am a mother and I don’t have a mother but I’m here today, at my desk. I feel relief that I am back to a normal day with no pressure on it to be anything, except Monday. It’s all just a little much, right?

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Speaking of moms, (yeah I know) I read The NY Times Styles reporter Katie Rosman’s memoir-ish about her mom, “If You Knew Suzy,” maybe a year ago, after I tried to get Katie interested in writing about my children’s book, ELLA for the paper. I realized she had also lost her young, healthy mother to cancer, and had written an investigation into her mother’s life, to try and gain some peace about her untimely death. I relate so much to the desire to uncover the how of someone’s life, there are no good answers to the why. Her book is wonderful, and I was so excited to have her in the studio. Her episode will be posted next week.

Reading Katie’s book inspired the current MILK episode interview with Roslyn (Roz) Neiman. I’ve talked to Roz and my mother’s other dear friends many times about Judi, my mom, in person when I go to Pittsburgh, on the phone, and on Facebook, but the formality of having Roz in the podcast studio felt like a new frame, to go back and try to fill in certain gaps about my mom’s life the way Katie did with her reporting.

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I love this episode with Roz, because it is my childhood. I get to re-hear a lot of the stories I know, and then hear for the first time some things I did not know about my mom as a friend, a support, an adult person and not just a mother I took for granted. Roz reminds me in the interview, how, at 14 years old, I was dumb enough to wear my mom’s brand new, super 1980’s mother of pearl hoop earrings (that she told me not to touch) into the store she owned at the time. She wrestled me to the ground to take them off of my ears. What an ass I was, but how funny that my mom pulled a professional wrestling move on me!

To paraphrase Katie, “you need to embody and remember the life, not only the circumstances of the death.” That’s what Roz’s interview feels like to me – an opportunity to embody and celebrate the life of my mom. It prepped me for that sad, incomplete feeling of Mother’s Day,  but connected me to the mom figures I still have, like Roz and my cousin Phyllis, and others from their community. It helped me focus and not be too sad, to think about Judi’s terrific life, how many Mother’s Days we had together, or random, regular days when I could call her and bullshit with her about things my kids did and think nothing of it.

Also, I bought a dress and some sunglasses for myself on Mother’s Day, which is shallow and right in the pocket of the marketing that told me I’m worth spending money on. But I think Judi would have approved, as would Roz. I’ll wear them to the last day of Hebrew school event or the karate belt test or the class trip to Coney Island, which I need to put in my calendar ASAP before I forget.   

Totems

I see my tween daughter from down the street, long hair flying, giant backpack hoisted, sheathed in my mom’s dark brown hooded winter puffer -- size XS. It always makes me catch my breath for a moment – seeing Z in that jacket.

When we divided Mom’s closet between the three sisters, there was plenty to go around. Our mom loved clothes. My middle sister took the full length fur coat, which was weird but made sort of sense. My youngest sister took the loud blazers and some of the evening wear. I’m the oldest. I took the nightgowns and some purses. We divided the charms on the necklace she wore everyday.

Some of Judi’s more flamboyant pieces I gave right away to Zoe, who was seven at the time, for dress up: like the light pink cardigan with a pink fur collar and rhinestone buttons, white jazz shoes (?) and plenty of high-heeled boots to totter around in when friends came over. 

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I hung other things in Zoe’s closet gradually as she grew, mostly sweaters and long sleeve t-shirts.  Such happy/sad, private moments I have with myself every time Zoe walks out of her room in something of Judi’s. A lavender cashmere cardigan, a pair of dangling silver earrings, or a purse I had forgotten about that Zoe now sports so proudly.

In June it will be five years.

The nightgowns are what are most important to me, still. I slip on my mom's nightgowns and I feel …  like a mom. Zoe and her brother snuggle with me in our king sized bed, under the covers, propped up on pillows. We watch “This Is Us,” “Gilmore Girls,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” shows with a nostalgia component. I wish I could talk to my mom about these shows, or watch with her. But me and the kids, we’re cozy. I like holding them next to me, in her nightgowns.

Anyone who has lost a person has had to contend with the stillness of things left behind. Recently, though, I feel strongly that given time, these items can have a rich and almost kinetic power. They have waited, patiently, and respectfully, and now they are ready to live again.

My sisters and I can refer to the clothes and know exactly what the other is trying to convey. I wore the red shiny trenchcoat to vote for Hillary in the primary. Youngest will wear a loud blazer, with gold buttons, uncharacteristic of her regular style, to lead a conference. Middle will wear pantyhose under her doctor dresses, which is weird but we get it.

We are all moving forward in our adult lives now without my mom, and we manifest her, every day. My younger sister is an advocate and policy maker for under served communities, just like my mom. My middle sister is an oncologist and forward thinker about alternative cancer care, inspired by our mom’s disease and her shortened life.

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I take notice of the memories and the stories, and document how the clothes connect us. Since Zoe is the sole female grandchild, or the one most interested in fashion, she is the one to embody most of these totems, at least for now. She understands this inherently, and it squeezes at my heart that she does. She gets it. 

Zoe shines bright. She can argue like no one I’ve ever seen, except for Judi. Like her grandma, Zoe has charisma. She also has many pairs of size 5, brightly colored, slightly worn flats, which she will be wearing all spring long.

Evaluation

My son has “stuff.” Stuff that allows him to be in a special program in an (awesome) public school. Stuff that creates exceptional behaviors and skills in some areas, like intelligence, memory, reading and writing, and deficiencies in others, like processing language and understanding social cues. Some stuff I worry about, and some stuff I don’t.

Today and yesterday from 9:30 am – 3:30 pm, I sat in a room while a brilliant woman tested him and made conclusions about how his brain works. It was fascinating and exhausting, definitely for me, and most likely also for Miles. The neuropsychologist, who I’m obsessed with, was excited and animated. She clearly relishes her intense job of detailing and understanding children’s complex, beautiful brains. She knows A LOT. I think I might love her. 

My son has it much better than so many. First of all, he has me, and I am a stone cold killer when it comes to protecting him and his sister. I believe in him with all of my Mallory-ness, and I’m obsessive about getting him what he needs to learn and to be safe and happy. I won’t be able to always arrange things for him in this way, and right now it is seductive to think that I can.

Then there’s the fact that he is a kind, soulful and hilarious guy. He doesn’t always know that he’s being hilarious, but he is seriously interesting, and all that know him agree that he is a deep dude with a lot of panache. 

And the fact that he has this stuff: this language processing stuff, this executive functioning stuff, this attention stuff, this social cues stuff, well, it has just been super eye opening for me as a parent and as a person living in this world, just how many people have stuff. How many kids I grew up with had stuff.

I truly don’t know what is normal anymore. I don’t think I even like normal. 

For a while now I have been struggling with the language to write about my son’s stuff. I have been trying so hard to articulate this stuff, because it’s important for me to be to be able to understand him. Certainly, I will continue to struggle with my own stuff in order to communicate on his behalf, as he gets better at communicating and advocating for himself.

commute

My son is 5 years old with humongous eyes and a way of processing information that is unique to him. His developing brain is a fascinating thing to watch.

He loves the subway, as do many kids like Miles, but what’s fantastic about riding the train with him is how his struggles to interpret social cues often seem to bring out the very best in people. He has given me a chance to reclaim what can be the dreary experience of 20 + years of riding the train, because he is so excited to simply be there, look at the map, to discuss which trains are local and which are express, where the F train begins and ends and where you can pick up the G.

The unspoken NYC Subway etiquette famously does not encourage smiling, eye contact or direct engagement, but to Miles it is just a giant grouping of people going places. He asks the questions many of us wonder as we make up stories in our heads about people while touching limbs and sharing air. His little voice as he asks aloud about his fellow passengers, or regurgitates something that happened to him earlier in the day is pure. I have seen countless charming and surprising interactions between Miles and even the most intimidating characters on the train.

Last week, after the first day of Kindergarden in a new school, where he had fallen in the park and opened up an old boo-boo, we were riding home. It was a hot day and he hadn’t eaten his lunch in the overwhelming swirl of new sensations of the first day. On the train he had calmed down but was working it out in full voice how I cleaned the blood from his knee on the playground and applied a band-aid. While he went over it for the second or third time, a middle-aged, kind of tough looking dude with an earring and a cycling cap across the train was smiling and nodding encouragingly at Miles.

Miles: What’s your name

Man : Victor

Miles: Which stop is yours?

Victor: Jay Street

Miles: Is that your home? Or are you going to work?

Victor: I’m going home.

Miles: Today was my first day of Kindergarden. I fell and hurt my leg.

Victor: I fall all the time Miles. You’re gonna be all right my man.

M: OK. (and with my prompting) Have a nice day Victor.

That’s nothing to most people in most normal places, but in New York we don’t do these little captive chats most of the time unless there’s a reason for it. I actually live for these moments, because to me it is evidence of some larger spirit, or kindness, or curiosity or energy that binds us all together. You can try to squelch it, put it in your giant purse, make a tough face and pretend you’re not watching or listening. But it is always there. And sometimes it can take a child who isn’t familiar with social graces, or is too inquisitive to care to wake us to the fact that we are all perfect beings who seem to be on our way somewhere, but actually, we have already arrived.

Children, with their needs and wants can tax and worry us so much that we forget to see the wonder in their eyes, the amazing in their brains, the beauty in their difference.

lasts and likes

Yesterday was the last day of second grade. Z’s class watched the Smurfs and Jessie apparently. I know this because after pickup Z and her friend both tried to recount the plot of the Jessie episode and I had to tune them out. Hearing Jessie plots breathlessly rehashed by two seven year olds is actually worse then watching the show itself. But that’s fine. They learned things this year. Just not, you know, in the past two weeks.

So, it’s summer again and the seasons they go round and round, painted ponies and all that. It is pretty easy to get sucked into weeping and feeling panicked that this life is speeding by like one of those TV renovation shows where there’s a dump of a house and then suddenly everyone’s fixing it up in a 2 minute montage and then a backsplash and an accent wall and built ins and books arranged by color all emerge. We don’t see the bathroom breaks and the walks around the block and the lunches and the gossiping about the contractor. We only see the doing, edited down to barely anything.

But life isn’t really that. These milestones, these beginnings and ends, they have this heightened emotional quality, because we try and get a handle on things and highlight them because otherwise, what ARE we doing? Of course, we record them — the end of year performances, the moving up thingies, the last hugs with their teachers with our ubiquitous phones held up in front of us while we half watch the performances, distracted by the idea that we might not get the shot. Because if we don’t record, will we forget? Will we not feel the preciousness of the moment unless other people give us a thumbs up on Facebook? It almost like we think we CAN hold onto any of these fleeting moments if we only record and catalogue and share. Then at least there’s documentation. It’s something.

With all of this mad documenting though, the result can be a racing feeling, an anxious feeling, and sometimes an out of control feeling. It’s almost too much at times. Scary world + innocent kids doing adorable things = please god let this all go well for them. Or something like that – math isn’t really my thing.

What I’ve been doing to counteract my larger existential anxiety when things are moving too fast in this way is to try to stand there in it, in those lumpy throated moments when the kids perform a World Cup dance on a stage and I feel like I simply can’t bear the sweetness and the wonder of this fleeting innocence. Or when they lope around the park after school, I see them from behind scootering away from me and watch their once tiny bodies stretch into tall big kid bodies. I try to just be in it, to just go: wow, they are changing every second and I am changing too. I’m not 22, even though I feel that way sometimes.

Because of course I am older, not because people call me ma’am in American Apparel, but because we are just aging and that’s what we fucking have to do. No one can make it stop, and no one can really take care of us except ourselves. And this past year in particular has held a shift for me, as I truly let go of the need for someone to turn to in that role.

This is sad, but ultimately good. I think maybe I’m a better parent to my kids now that I’ve internalized that control really is an illusion, that I can only do so much, and that luck will play a huge role in all of it. We can only try as hard as we can and love as much as we can and the rest is sort of not even up to us. Being as present as possible seems the only salve for feeling out of control.

Last year at this time, things really were spinning off of their axis. I really did feel like parts of my body were in danger of falling off. I was so tormented about every bit of life moving forward without my mom. Everything felt painful and impossible.

And now I cry a little less easily, and there is an acceptance now that I am the parent – to myself and to these other two people — one of two adults in this house taking care of business. They need me and I need them and this is what this is — all this is. Of course it’s still sad that I don’t have my mom to witness Z’s punk song she performed onstage, or M shuffling down the hall every time he has to pee with his pants around his ankles because he just can’t figure out the order, but it will be ok. And not just because I take the videos and pictures and share them with my friends, but also because these things really happen every minute and I notice them and I feel them and then we move on.

seven

My daughter’s recent birthday has ignited my memory of being her age. Her intonations, tics and tricks are so familiar to me. The pouting, the scary emotions that overpower her sometimes, her otherwise infectious enthusiasm and mostly good nature that result from a happy home and mostly good natured parents who try their best. I remember trying all on all of those moods and attitudes I see her working through myself, like outfits, or hats.

Besides being my daughter, Zoe is this dimension of my own childhood self, just as I, as a mother, am a dimension of my mom’s mothering self.

I have my baby book that my mom made. The title on the cover is “Your Baby Age 0 – 7.” I look at it a lot lately, in sadness and in wonder, because the idea of the book is such a contradiction to what I thought was her lack of sentimentality in later years. It’s filled with details about my lost teeth, my doctor’s visits, my first words, and upbeat descriptions about each of my birthday parties. I was glancing through it yesterday, looking at a photograph of my mom at 26 holding me in the front seat of the car coming home from the hospital, searching her eyes for clues about what it felt like to be her, holding me in her arms. Ready for the adventure and not knowing what the future would bring.

And today, as I look through pictures of myself bringing Zoe home from the hospital on my computer, with my hopeful and much less worried looking eyes, I simply can’t believe Zoe is the age I was when I was no longer my mom’s baby. This loop of life, moving through it sometimes seems truly miraculous.

Seven was also the age I turned when my youngest sister was born. I remember what our house on Linden Lane felt like physically, the light in the downstairs hall and the smell of concrete and Tide in the basement and how the house was changing. Rules, once rigid, were becoming less so. I imagine my mom was tired, maybe overwhelmed? Sugar cereal, once outlawed, began creeping in.

The office with the yellow, brown and green wallpaper was peeled down and painted, yellow I think it was. Or pink? There was a gilder. A slide. A changing table. We were intrigued, but after a bit, bored and ready for the next thing. Nine months seemed an interminable amount of time to wait.

I remember going to the hospital at the end of the summer to meet her, and it all seeming unreal to me, how tiny my sister was, and like, where the hell did she even come from? I remember we got to go to Sea World with my dad the week right after she came. I know it happened because there’s a picture of Lanie and I on my dad’s lap holding twin Shamus, pink faced and white-blonde haired. And I remember too that it was my birthday five days after Lex was born, and I was extremely pre-occupied with what I would get when we returned from Sea World. Because that’s seven.