ELLA!

My children’s book. ELLA, came out 3 years ago next month. I'm proud the book that made me an author still has a life, and that there are new readers aging into the story every year. ELLAs are everywhere, and OMG I simply love to meet them!

This weekend I was lucky to participate in two very different storytelling events. The first was at neighborhood bookstore Books Are Magic in Carroll Gardens. I’m in there a lot with my kids and they happily stock ELLA, which makes me happy in return. When longtime standby BookCourt closed suddenly last year just after Trump was elected, it seemed like the last straw in an impossibly horrendous moment for my country and more locally, my book-obsessed community. But Books are Magic came along and filled that void, and now it feels like its always been there. Trump … well, that’s a different book. 

books are magic brooklyn author mallory kasdan ella

BAM’s book buyer Abby Rauscher asked me to come in on Friday morning to speak to some local second graders about writing fiction and creating parody. I was thrilled to meet these awesome kids. The best part about writing and making art is the human connection that comes from sharing that art. When I get to talk to kids about their own writing and illustrations, their ideas and inspirations, it is the most energizing and connected feeling I can describe. Children are so honest, so earnest, and so damn imaginative and funny. It truly inspires me to dig deeper to create more.  

We talked about the process of making a book, from coming up with an idea, to shaping it with an editor, to handing the words over to an illustrator for his/her interpretation. We talked about printing, publishing and writer's block. We discussed parody, Eloise at the Plaza, and how The Local Hotel makes sense as a home for ELLA in 2017, and what it means to update something. It was wonderful fun, and the children walked out, holding hands with their partners clutching their ELLA bookmarks. 

Sunday morning was another event, wonderfully planned by new friend and fellow Brooklyn mom, Dara Fleischer, who works in events for Saks Fifth Avenue. She asked me to come to their newish downtown store in the Brookfield Place mall to read ELLA and host a cupcake decorating session provided by the fabulous Sprinkles cupcakes. It was amazing. I sat in a beautiful millennial pink chair, reading to the kids and surrounded by the most incredible women’s footwear. The lighting was wonderful, the coffee was flowing, and the staff at Saks was incredibly welcoming to all. I felt like Barbra Streisand! My kids were even impressed. 

saks downtown event author mallory kasdan ella eloise parody nyc

I met a bunch of ELLAs, a bunch of MILKs, and some dads too. We filled in Marcos Chin’s coloring pages, I signed books sold by Books Are Magic, and watched kids decorate and tear into some seriously gorgeous cupcakes. There were beautiful silver sparkly Saks purses as giveaways, which my son insisted on handing out to every child.

So thank you to Books Are Magic, and to Teresa Ward, Kristin Smith, Kaitlin Brown and Dara Fleischer at Saks, and Aiyana Coker from Sprinkles Cupcakes. It really was an excellent weekend for me, for ELLA, and for books and community.  And cupcakes.

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.

stay gold

Today I went to 47th Street to sell some gold for cash. Which sounds so pawn shop, so drug addict, so hawking the sax to pay for a fix. Really, I just went to sell some of mom’s jewelry, which she gave me last week and urged me to get rid of. It felt unsettling to sell it but she was so emphatic “with the high price of gold and all.” Plus she’s notoriously unsentimental, claimed she never wore any of it, and we could use the money to pay the deposit for next years preschool.

So I rolled up to 47th between 5th and 6th, one of those world within a world New York City blocks. Lit by neon signs and florescent window displays during the day, the overall vibe is nonetheless SHADY. I swerved to avoid packs of roaming Orthodox Jews, homeboys handing out cards, and swarthy men smoking cigarettes and muttering, gold silver platinum we buy everything, under their breath.

I had the name of a “guy” from a jeweler friend, but as I walked in the front door of the huge room divided into kiosks, I was instantly schmoozed by a cute young man in a kippah with the counter right by the door. Real estate is everything.

I’m here to sell gold for cash I said. We can do that he said.

Their father and son outfit was straight out of Central Casting: the father spoke in brusque Hebrew inflected English as he looked through his jeweler’s loupe suspiciously at another customer’s treasures. A little sleazy, definitely the bad cop, dad looked like he knew his way around a karat, while the son, quite obviously the greener, good-er cop, looked me in the eye and smiled with his big white teeth while he tested my gold to make sure it was real with this little scrapey chalk board thing and various liquids. The two of them ducked heads, whispered under their breaths, and gathered around the calculator, doing their dance for me and the hopeful customers from Westchester, with their silverware and gold plated charms.

Boychick told me how he studied journalism and couldn’t quite believe he ended up in the family business. I could see the whole situation in a flashback – graduation day from Columbia, the fights, dad yelling that writers are losers and drunks and cajoling him to come to 47th street, it’s what WE DO! And now, son smiles at me confidently, salesman like, he really loves it.

Here’s what we can do for you said the son, and showed me the number on the calculator. Sorry there’s nothing we can do for you, said the father to Westchester. But we thought you were the experts, Westchester said as they slunk out the door.

I felt like I had won – my stuff was good. And as I readied myself to take the money and walk away from this Neil Diamond song come to life, I glanced at mom’s pieces of jewelry, sitting there innocently on the velvet tray after being analyzed and violated, not knowing what was in store for it. And I had another twinge: should I be doing this and will I regret this?

Because no matter how little this stuff means to my mom now, at one point it was on another velvet tray, housed in some other incarnation of a jewelry business, probably chosen for her as a gift from my dad. And it likely meant something. There was desire behind it or hope that she would like it. Plans for when she’d wear it.

Now it’s headed for the basement gold melting factory where some old bearded guy (probably the Grandpa!) cracks the stones with a hammer and melts everything into a giant cauldron of liquid gold soup, which is then somehow turned into a form (bars? sheets?) that some banker can buy and sell on a trading floor, and then after more travels and formations and incarnations I can’t even imagine eventually maybe finding its way back some day into a jeweler’s hand or factory and onto another velvet tray somewhere. For someone else to desire and dream about wearing or give as a gift.

Um, Happy Valentines Day?

culture

It’s fall, my very bestest time, and the season I most associate with being a productive citizen of New York City. I feel September shining on my face and pulsing through my heart – motivating me toward action on the one hand, and reflection on the other. I want to train for a marathon, go to a reading at the 92nd Street Y, eat something braised in a restaurant. Meditate.

(I also want to buy brown boots and a small black cross body purse that’s perfect for day but works at night.)

My children are sweet and small and delightful, but their presence has mostly eaten away at these nostalgic cultural montage shots of me lingering in bookstores, going to museums, learning something new that isn’t about where to take gymnastics or swimming after school. In the past 5 years I haven’t even gotten my shit together enough to get online on the day to buy tickets to The New Yorker Festival.

But suddenly, just as August slipped into September, I started feeling the fall fever. BAM. MOMA. WTF. TAL. Publishing. Music. Theater. Comedy. Radio.

I want back in.

So last night I forced Evan to get home early from work, skipped the second night of Rosh HaShannah entirely, and got myself to a bookstore a full hour and a half early to see my favorite writer read from his new novel. It felt like an epic motivation, and as usual I felt guilty for some vague reason, this time having to do with the lack of apples and honey for the kids, not doing enough to reinforce Jewish values in the home, etc.

I arrived to find a bunch of other nerds camped out against the wall to stake their claim, and I was overwhelmed with the thought of how much time I used to have to arrive somewhere early for a free event and just …. hang out and read my book, talk to strangers until it started. I met this adorable kid from Wisconsin who had just graduated from high school and is in his freshman year at Fordham. It was his first Brooklyn! We talked about Dave Eggers and Jonathan Franzen and Jennifer Egan. He was coming back for Salman Rushdie on Saturday. He was young enough to have the brain cells be able to quote lines from The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. He was the cutest ever but could actually be my son.

When Michael Chabon showed up I had that feeling I used to have when I worked in publishing and got to see an author I admired up close. At first it’s kind of awkward because everyone is there to get a glimpse and a taste, so there’s that worshipful, almost creepy vibe, and there’s the super chipper book publicist and the nervous bookstore clerk introduction of him, and he doesn’t really know where to look, and you’re standing in front of him because you got there early and you feel like you know him because you follow his wife on Twitter.

And as he read this incredible passage from “Telegraph Avenue,” I got almost a sexual charge because he is so talented and his dialogue and descriptions so delicious that it was truly a shiny special moment. I reflected back to all of those readings I went to in my 20’s and 30’s and I realized that I remembered every single one. These writers that I love — these Jennifer Egans and TC Boyles and David Foster Wallaces and John Irvings, they really are my true pleasure, and how totally thrilling is it that they continue writing and I get reap the benefits? So simple and obvious, but I really felt lucky grateful to them in that moment.

I stuck around until the very end to get my book signed and I got to meet him and talk to him for a moment about growing up in Pittsburgh. Just getting to connect with that brain, and see that awesome hair up close, even for under a minute — I’ll never forget it. That’s culture baby. That’s September.

lice lice lady

There are certain things you don’t know about. Until you do. And then, if you’re like me, you’ll suddenly know way too much about said subject. You’ll seek out info, talk to everyone, see all the sides of the thing, and really just sink those teeth of yours into the meat of the issue. You’ll go there.

This week, that thing was lice. Totally, awesomely, sexy-ass lice.

Apparently, lice is the dirty (not so) secret of the school aged kid. And because young kids are mostly grubby little scumbags who never have any idea what’s happening to them, it’s clearly a much bigger deal and rite of passage for their parents.

They found it in school last Friday, where people from a lice checking company are contracted to come and pick thru the kids’ heads four times a year. Z didn’t even get sent home, because it was “just an egg.” It’s a Department of Health/Department of Education rule that teachers don’t have to send kids home with the eggs – just the live lice. Seriously, that is a stupid fucked up rule. Those eggs hatch into lice! I know I was only a B – student in biology but come on now.

But here’s the fun news – in New York City you can just call someone on the phone like you’re calling the deli for OJ and tampons and within hours, someone will come to your house, apply shampoo and special conditioners and comb the lice out of your kid’s hair. I was laughing with a friend about how our contemporaries used to call people’s pagers (remember life before cel phones?) to get pot delivery people to come over, and now we’re calling lice ladies. Business idea I would have appreciated in this particular instance: “Hits and Nits.”

Turns out, most of the women who do this for a living are observant Jews, so getting lice on Shabbos eve was not a great situation. I was freaking. I had already thrown everything in the washing machine and began my ten hour laundry marathon for the night and was convinced we were all infested. But Brenda, this nice Jewish lady who owns the company and sounded like one of my mom’s friends, talked me down and told me she could have somewhere there in about an hour and a half. A lice lady pimp.

I had heard from other moms I know about this one famous woman named Abigail, an Orthodox woman in Boro Park Brooklyn who is such the maven of lice ladies that she had a New Yorker profile written about her. Honestly, you cannot make this stuff up.

I was sad to miss the opportunity to meet any person who had been profiled in the New Yorker, but I needed action that night, and as I mentioned, it was Shabbos.

So Brenda sent us the lovely Svetlana, a tired, middle-aged, Russian bleached blonde who made her way over around 8:30 PM with her rollie suitcase full of magnifier lamps, combs, shampoos, lotions and oils. She had been working since 8:30 AM that morning, when she helped diagnose the many cases at my daughter’s school. Since then she had been to three people’s homes and combed out several heads. That woman needed a glass of wine, which I gave her after she checked us all, treated and combed Z’s hair section by section, and told us how to proceed with treatment over the next week. She even gave Z a little present – a compact mirror with a winking lady on it.

None of us had gotten lice, or eggs, besides Z, which meant we caught it early and were pretty lucky. Svetlana was awesomely Russian and blase and I totally love her. I tipped her ass off. She drained her wine, told us she’d be back Sunday morning at 8 am, rollie suitcased out the door, and went home in a car service to get a well deserved good night’s sleep. Because the next day she had to go to work “in the salon.” That’s where she works when she’s not combing lice out of school children.

So one thing to take away here is that you never really know what people are doing on the side. And its probably best that way.

fun on a stick

Nothing says sexy like a man and wife holding black leather satchels and twin Muji umbrellas, walking into a Toyota dealer to test drive a Prius wagon.

It’s like the opening to an urban legend told round the fireplace where the couple gets kidnapped, or the beginning of an embarrassing joke your uncle tells at Passover – just add a rabbi and some lightbulbs.

But for me and Evan, it was Thursday.

11th Avenue in Manhattan, roughly between 48th Street and 55th Streets is a bizarre corridor, where a slew of car dealerships occupy giant showrooms within walking distance. There’s also Larry Flynt’s Hustler club, some gross delis, and the studio where “The Daily Show” is taped. It’s a creepy and random area, especially on the dreariest, Marchiest day fathomable. But a good place to go look at cars if yours dies, mostly because you can take the subway there. Also, if you hang out on 11th Avenue long enough it feels like you are on drugs.

Oh, the fun we had, strolling in and out of dealers, waiting interminably while car salesmen said indecipherable things to us, then driving up the Westside Highway and back down West End Avenue in several vehicles. It took 7 hours. We ate no meals. We drank coffee and ate almonds and bananas instead, not wanting to pause in this disorienting experience of entering a building, talking to a guy, then waiting and driving and waiting and peeing and waiting. It felt like we were running a marathon of boringness. We talked to guys named Joey. We talked to guys named Darnell. We talked to guys named Chang. We admired waterfalls in the Range Rover area. We watched salesmen circle the floor like lions, and receptionist ladies with clickety-clackety nails flutter behind counters. We saw fake plants, fake marble, and real fish tanks. Our sinuses experienced new heights of air freshening.

At one point we walked into Nissan to compare a Murano to a Rogue, and a Scenario to a Sierra, or perhaps it was a CZX 65 to a ZW 3.14. A very shifty Latina man with the loudest “rhumba” ring tone I’ve ever heard hustled us over to a “pre-owned” version of the car we were looking for, and then promptly trotted off. As we sat in the smoke encrusted car from 2009 wondering where the hell he had gone, he reappeared with a signed head shot of Liza Minelli from 1990. “That car belonged to her assistant!” he exclaimed triumphantly. “She used to do errands for her in that car. Only 300 miles on there!” We tried to imagine what would make him think that Liza Minelli’s dry cleaning would interest us. We wondered if he had different head shots for different people – and did we look like Liza fans?

And then we decided it best to go.

There was Johnny, the spiky haired knuckle dragger with the spray tan and giant diamond earring at Chevy/Jeep/Chrysler. He wove us through the most enormous lot filled with cars being parked and repaired, and then couldn’t find that damn Chevy Equinox. He swore it was just there! It was like his white whale SUV. After almost getting hit by a minivan (never!), we thought it best to go.

When you get married, it’s the best you’ll ever look — all fancy and fabulous and glamorous and fun party party. But so much of being married is doing really boring adult shit in ugly and depressing places. Signing forms and figuring out numbers and making sure the dishwasher gets unloaded. And I think, I hope, if you’re still laughing and trying to figure out how to recover conversationally when a 22 year old sales guy is sitting in the backseat while you are trying to merge, tells you that he flipped his own SUV at 5 am after drinking and falling asleep at the wheel, well, I think you’re good. You’re still having some kind of an adventure, finding the funny in the terribly dull and weird. As mind numbing an adventure it is – you’re in it together. And it’s strangely awesome.

So, technically, you’re a boring yuppie with your stupid raincoats.

But still totally sexy.

mommy wars: humorless parents are the worst kind

I remember going on preschool tours for my daughter and watching some parents jotting down notes and asking earnest questions about educational philosophy and why they should choose XYZ Brooklyn Private Preschool over other expensive and coveted XYZ Brooklyn Private Preschool. And the conversation then devolving into this: will there be people helping to wipe their kids’ asses when they go to the bathroom? Will the school provide wipes? Will the wipes be organic?

Meanwhile, my husband and I were cracking up at the three- and four-year-olds picking their boogers and wiping them on each other, and the banter that ensued between the kids as they did so. We kept looking around at all these tightly wound parents wondering why others weren’t smiling or seeming to not find this all a bit absurd and hilarious? How could people even focus on asking their boring and tedious questions while little Ascher was pouring glue all over little Ava’s gluten-free sunbutter sandwich?

I’m not engaged in a traditional mommy war, but sometimes I do feel like I am fighting a (one-sided) war with humorless mommies (and daddies). When it comes to parenting, you just can’t have enough of a sense of humor. There are way too many moments ripe for parody. And, frankly, if you can’t laugh at the ridiculousness of life with kids and the situations you end up finding yourself in, then you’re not someone I want to chat with at the sandbox.

I mean ugh, is there anything worse than trying to converse with a totally humorless parent? One who isn’t merely competitive or boring, but someone who just doesn’t get the banality and absurdity of it all? And, yet, these people are everywhere! I know life is all about context and about trying to give people the benefit of the doubt. And maybe these glum and dour folks are going through a divorce or illness and can’t fake it that day. I realize I should be more compassionate towards them – maybe they just don’t want to share a chuckle with me, the Random Mom Smiling in the Corner. But, honestly, having kids is too hard and too intense not try to find some levity.

Last weekend, a friend of mine organized a music festival with several bands, headlined by a lovely kiddie singer-songwriter who teaches classes around our parts. Rain happened, so the music fest moved indoors. Singer-songwriter sent email to large list of parents announcing venue change, in a lyrical, poetic and sweet verse. It actually rhymed and was as charming as musician’s public persona. Seconds later, singer-songwriter sent another email to same large list of parents, this one intended instead for members of his band, lamenting the change of venue and using the f word and a few other non-kid friendly intonations.

He must have realized instantly his mistake because moments later yet another sheepish email came in apologizing profusely. And then, on cue, email from outraged parent who demands to be taken off the email list. But who happened to REPLY ALL in order to publicly shame poor lovely singer/songwriter/teacher. Does this music teacher use that mouth with his students? How dare he! Do you know who I AM!? TAKE ME OFF THIS LIST! And then, of course, the lovers and protectors of singer-songwriter step in to his defense. People make mistakes! All along, all these people, replying all. Really funny stuff, but mostly because who on earth would be so humorless as to think a grown man who plays music for a living might curse in the presence of his band? How do these people make it though their days?

Life is totally ludicrous and terrifying random. Today I saw a very old friend who told me a bit awkwardly that he had lost his wife to leukemia two years ago. And another old friend got in touch recently and caught me up ­– he has completely lost his sight due to a rare disease. What do I feel in these moments of hearing of others’ extreme pain and loss? I just feel force of life, so scary, so painful, but also so overwhelmingly wonderful, just tearing at me. And I look at my kids, and all kids, and they are so pure and so alive and so freaking funny. So that’s how I cope and make it through the day. Whenever possible, I laugh.

who needs a backyard? a city girl speaks out

We live happily in the city – Brooklyn, to be exact – but whenever we head out of town into the great expanse of lawns, big-ass grills, backyards and double garages connected to the house (!), my husband and I get disoriented by our attraction to suburban life.

We start doing calculations to justify our existence in the crowded and expensive place where we reside:

Urban lifestyle = ten options of capoeira lessons for kids + late night delivery of Vietnamese food +/- the possibility of witnessing crazy and beautiful moments constantly = having your own damn swing set and not having to negotiate the politics of one tire swing in the park with John and Jane Public and their kids Jade and Jude + good public school options for all – a certain soul = Suburbs.

It’s a special form of calculus we do.

We’ve tossed the city vs. suburbs debate around at home and on road trips to visit family and friends in their houses with more than four rooms. It’s not as bad a dilemma for us as its torturous sister discussion: private vs. public schoolbut you can definitely drive yourself mad trying to figure out if you’re doing the best by your kids rather than holding on to something because you’re selfish.

So why do we like it here in the city? The convenience of having small kids in a densely populated place keeps us sane, for one. We’re talking play dates with other kids in our building in the dead of winter, a 24-hour deli on the corner and a superintendant that saves us the convenience of calling for a repairperson every time something goes haywire. We have neighbors and friends just outside the door to watch the kids if we need them. There is always something cool to check out with the kids – a concert, a museum, even just a walk down the street can be entertaining.

However, as our kids get older, and certainly when summer arrives and the playgrounds are roasting and our city pools have intimidating rules, I see obvious benefits of living in the ’burbs – camping in the backyard, grilling on the patio and of being that much closer to hiking, biking and beaching. I get lifestyle envy for sure.

We often meet people who are happy they made the leap an hour or two out of town, but are almost uniformly wistful about missing the energy and the randomness of the city. Most seem to have a complex about leaving it behind. I understand how they must feel. Everything about having kids is a trade off and deciding what’s best for each family is absolutely dependent upon each one’s unique priorities.

I understand the convenience of having everything for your own family be your own. I get sparkling supermarkets with wide aisles. And I totally get wanting to be around grumpy and opinionated people breathing all over you on the street. I know you can expose your kids to many wonderful things when you live outside of a city.

But I think I’m kind of screwed because I am addicted to city life. I like feeling hyper-aware and on my toes. I love how the highest achievers co-exist here amongst the regular Joes, and the spirit that courses through the city’s veins. It’s grotesque, hilarious, inspiring and overwhelming all at once, and that vibration or energy, or whatever you want to call it, keeps me from being complacent. Not to mention the constant visual, aural and oral stimulation. (Though some of the smells I could do without.)

And I must be insane, but I want my kids to grow up with all that energy in their lives, and have the understanding that there is always something inspirational to look for every day. But also that there are problems and people who are helpless and lost, and that they exist right next to you on the train or in the next neighborhood over.

I do hope I still feel this energized about my home in five years when my kids are older and new challenges arise. We shall see. But, for now, I will enjoy simply visiting our friends and family in the ’burbs, trying to envision my very urban husband pushing a lawnmower or me driving a minivan to Costco. I’ve accepted that the grass is probably greener in the suburbs, but my heart – and family – belong to the city.