Thursday, October 13, 2016

Sometimes

Where have you gone to?
I wonder this, sometimes.
When the girls are off at school.
While scrubbing a stubborn pan that won’t
wipe clean.
When my mind is untethered,
idle.
I return to you in memory.
Back when you were rooted in me.
I want to pin you down there,
make you stay.
I return to you in a world imagined.
Warm and safe and content at my breast.
A place where you choose me.
I ache for that, sometimes.
Instead, you are elsewhere.
Instead, there's negative space in the composition.
But you float there
in the periphery.
Just at the edge of my awareness,
hanging there like a question.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Folded Wings

On my walk with Miles today, something stopped me.
There, in the empty parking lot, was a lifeless bird.
Eyes open, limp where it lay.
Green iridescent wings folded in, its spindly little feet open on the pavement.
It wasn't a gruesome sight. I suspect it didn't fall to its death,
this creature.
It looked too beautiful, no signs of trauma.
The only hint of emptiness were its eyes.
Dry and exposed, like two black pebbles.
Opaque, revealing nothing.
"Sweet thing," I whispered, pulling Miles's leash as he curiously inched forward,
wanting to know it.
Some part of me wanted to show the girls
a bit of beauty in the suffering.
The sunshine made its wings glow emerald.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Talking Without Words

After powering through back-to-back deadlines this morning, I finally pulled myself away from my computer long enough to realize that, aside from the girls, I hadn't spoken to a single person all day. In my line of work, this isn't so out of the ordinary. My days are usually pieced together with emails, research, writing, editing and brainstorming, with me puttering around the house in my pajamas in between. 

This is something I love, believe it or not. The solitude that goes hand in hand with the career that I've chosen. After years of buzzing around in hectic office jobs, waitressing gigs and teaching positions, I've come to treasure the beauty of being fully on my own. 

One down side, of course, is that it can also be a bit isolating at times. And with the girls being home from school for the summer, my work schedule often leaves them feeling stir crazy and crabby.

When it comes to quieting cranky kids, the pool is like magic. It's the one thing I've learned they will never, ever grow tired of. After suiting up and dropping a load of laundry in the machine, I wrapped up some work stuff on a nearby lounge chair while they swam.

We had the place to ourselves for only a minute or so before two little boys cannonballed in along with them. From there, it was all playful splashing and hearty laughter coming from all four of them.

The boys' mother, who looked about my age, settled into the chair next to mine. As our children became fast friends, we couldn't help but smile at one another. She broke the ice first, asking how old the girls were, but I had trouble making out her accent. She apologized—in a jumble of mixed-up English—saying that she'd recently moved here from Egypt and was just learning the language. The boys, she explained by way of gesturing, were also learning. It was only then that I realized our kids had been playing happily together without actually talking, the language barrier apparently a non-issue.

But their mother's struggle with the language was palpable, her thoughts coming out in clipped, clumsy bursts that stalled out in mid-sentence. Every time I shook my head to signal that I didn't understand, she'd take a breath, slow down even more, and then find whatever words she could to get the point across. It was in this way that she and I gradually got to talking.

I pulled my chair closer to hers and, in no time, we were soon speaking the common language of mothers—sharing our kids' names, the schools they'll be attending in the fall, and what our husbands do for a living. Before long, I was jotting down my pediatrician's name and phone number for her. All of this back-and-forth occurring with over-the-top hand gestures and very, very slow speech. People walking by must have thought we were caught up in some strange variation of charades.

Her face began to lighten the more we talked, her self-consciousness falling away as she got more comfortable. I soon learned that her husband was a business owner in Tampa and that she was a stay-at-home mom in this strange new place. That her oldest boy was thrilled to be in America. That she was terribly lonely and spent most of her days on her own. That her little one ached so badly for Egypt that he often cried himself to sleep, carrying on for his grandmother who was still there. 

She then turned the conversation to me, wanting to know all about my life. The whole exchange left me no choice but to pantomime who it is I believe myself to be. Reflexively, I gestured toward Lina and Gigi. "My girls," I said, bringing my hands to my chest. "They are my loves." This she understood easily.

What else was there to say? What else did I care deeply enough about that would be easy to communicate? "I write," I said, scribbling an imaginary pen in the air. "I'm a writer."

Her face beamed with recognition. "A printer!" she said, proud of herself for making the connection. "Yes," I answered, loving the way she described it. "I am a printer."

We went on like this for an hour, sharing stories and photos as our children horsed around in the pool until their fingers grew pruny. "I so happy I meet you!" my new friend told me when we were drying off, and I said the same to her, really meaning it. After the short walk home, I settled back into the rest of the day's work, feeling a little less alone than I had a few hours before.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Why Kids Are Smarter Than Grown-Ups

“Joy is a divine quality of our true self, which is inherently lighthearted, playful and free. You can see the full expression of this joy in young children, who haven’t learned to worry or take themselves too seriously. They play and laugh freely, finding wonder in the smallest things. They are infinitely creative because they haven’t yet built up the layers of conditioning that create limitations and restrictions. They are in touch with their intuition, which is a form of intelligence that goes beyond the rational mind.” – Deepak Chopra

If you take a few minutes to observe young children just doing their thing, you’ll likely learn a thing or two. I’d actually go as far as to wager that kids are the keepers of life’s best secrets. If you watch them long enough, you'll begin to pick up on the intrinsic wisdom that only a child can bring to the table. The truth is that this wisdom exists in all of us, but it emanates most freely in our little guys.

For one thing, they’re completely uninhibited, at least my kids are. When I quietly watch my 3- and 4-year-old girls interacting with one another, the creative ideas run wild. “Let’s pretend to be kittens. No, wait – let’s be lost kittens that are looking for a family to adopt them. No, no, no – let’s be snow kittens!”

It’s like signing up for a Brainstorming 101 workshop. Or watching a brilliant improv artist who’s found their flow, that creative sweet spot where the ideas just come without any real effort. In simpler terms, they haven’t yet been taught to censor their thinking – to slap down out-of-the-box ideas that might be a little on the weird side. In fact, they love the weird side. They thrive on it, even. If my girls had it their way, they’d leave the house everyday in princess dresses and mismatched shoes. They don’t care, all they know is that they love how these things make them feel.

Unlike us grown-ups, they aren’t afraid to sound stupid, or let it be known that they need help or don’t understand something. They ask questions constantly, hundreds and hundreds of questions – How does the garbage disposal work? How far away is the moon? What happens to a bug when it dies? (Some questions are trickier to answer than others.) But the point here is that they let their curiosity guide them, a habit that many adults have long abandoned. I know that the majority of the questions I ask are preceded by an apology. 

I think that children simply find happiness more easily than the rest of us. They take great pleasure in the little things, enjoying them for what they are. (“Look, rain puddles – let’s jump in them!”) The more I sit back and watch my kids as a quiet observer, the more I can’t help but feel that this is the way we’re all meant to experience life. Untethered, in the present, with joy and ease. Many adults turn to therapy, drugs, meditation or destructive relationships in search of what our children seem to already have – happiness, which I believe is our natural state of being.

So what happens? As we grow older, how/why do we lose this? Few could argue that this doesn’t happen. The whole idea behind spiritual enlightenment is a return to this state, a return to wholeness. To find happiness within, to disidentify with the mind. To radiate love and light on this natural frequency.

Kids just seem to get this, and with no effort whatsoever. Little zen masters, they are. Maybe the rest of us are just overthinking it. Maybe if I can foster this as long as I can in my own children, they can stay in this state of static joy forever. Maybe they’ll hold onto it, instead of letting it wither and die in the act of “growing up.”

Ask any adult what they want out of life. Chances are, they’ll say to be happy. Ask one of my kids, and their answer will be more along the lines of ice cream. This is because, unlike adults, they are very much living in the now. Right now, ice cream sounds delicious. The problem with us grown-ups is that we often look to the future for salvation, for happiness. (“I’ll be happy when…”) Kids are smarter than this. They know that joy can be found right now, in this moment. Ice cream is just a yummy bonus – but their overall happiness is certainly not dependent on it. This is up there as one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from motherhood. I definitely haven’t mastered it. But thanks to my girls, I’m working on it.





Thursday, March 13, 2014

"Gigi No Need Help"

Since recovering from a particularly nasty cold, Giada still has the residual runny nose and lingering sniffle. The general yuckiness that sometimes sticks around after the worst of it has finally shoved off. Yesterday, I held a Kleenex up to her leaky snout and told her to blow. But before I could get the words out, she swiped the tissue from my hands and did the job herself.

“Gigi no need help,” she said, more than offended.


This is my little one’s mantra these days – Gigi no need help. When putting her pants on (which has become a ten-minute ordeal), when brushing her teeth, when shoveling mushy mounds of Raisin Bran into her mouth (and, subsequently, onto the floor)… Gigi no need help. And although she says this about 3,000 times a day, it still surprises me every time, this proclamation of independence. This assertion of will. Her anything-but-subtle way of telling me to back off, Gigi’s got this.


Hearing this from your baby can be disarming. But then I remember that she’s not a baby, a fact that continues to elude me on a regular basis. Not so long ago, I came home and asked Mike if he’d fed the baby. “What baby? Giada’s almost three.” My husband is right, what baby? Or, perhaps more accurately, where did my baby go? I could have sworn she was here just a minute ago, a swaddled little bug asleep on my chest.


Now she’s all, “Gigi no need help,” taking off on her own without me. 


But I suppose that’s simply the nature of growing up, the innate, frenzied desire for independence. Discovering the deliciousness of solitude. Experiencing the unexpected pride that comes with blowing your own nose without a hand from Mom. I get it.


But still, watching time pass as it tends to do can be an oddly unsettling reality. Like the youth of your children (along with your own youth) are slipping behind you, becoming woven into the story of your past, buried in memory. I worry there will come a day where it’s hard to remember the girls as they are now. I imagine, years from now, that I’ll struggle to conjure the collective sound of their voices echoing from the playroom together. I’ll forget which girl loved Elsa and which one rooted for Anna.


I often have to remind myself to get out of my own head, to be more present. To resist the urge to escape the now. Then Gigi calls me to help her on the potty and the fact that she still needs me is enough to bring me back.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Life On The Other Side


After much talk and loads of debate, we finally went ahead and did it. We moved our brood out to Los Angeles. It's been about two months since we made the jump, which feels like the proper amount of time it takes to really begin settling in to life in a new place. And after spending the last eight years in New York, I'd all but forgotten what it was like to feel the energy of a different town. To put on the skin of another city and walk around in it for a while. For a not-so-well traveled person like myself, getting acquainted with my new home has been pretty dang cool (and also kind of scary, but LA and I are still just getting to know each other.)

So far, my view of southern California ain't so bad. The people are friendly enough and the mountains are so divine and jarringly surreal, they almost look as if they've been painted on the skyline as part of some elaborate movie set. As you'd expect, the film industry dominates this corner of the country, with everyone from the dog walker to the dry cleaner trying to sell you his screenplay. While Manhattan is filled with dancers and dreamers and artists of all stripes, you can't swing a stick in LA without knocking over ten screenwriters. At this very moment, I'm at a restaurant eavesdropping on two men sitting at the next table who are genuinely surprised that some guy named Chip liked a new storyboard. 

"I mean, I just didn't think he'd go for taking the project in that direction, you know?" 

Truly, this guy can't believe it.

These are the snippets of conversation I hear everywhere here in LA. (I'm a chronic eavesdropper, always have been. The natural storyteller in me can't help but pine for all the details. Who's Chip?! Is he an asshole? And what's so terrible about the new storyboard?!)

It's a funny place, Los Angeles. One I'm still introducing myself to. On the surface, we may very well be unlikely pals. But then I spend five quiet minutes on the Pacific, with the mountains stretching out into the ocean until they almost disappear completely. My hand shading my eyes as they struggle to make out where the hills begin to fall away, wondering about all that might lie on the other side.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Kids Are All Right


I'm not sure when it happened, exactly, but Lina is a full-blown kid now. She's ditching the sippy cup and getting dressed on her own and cracking jokes and everything. She tells me she wants to be a taxi driver when she grows up, which I'm not one hundred percent sold on. But when she offers to drive me "to the airport and everywhere" I soften to the idea and nod my approval (the same doesn't apply when she says she wants to be a garbage lady, which I think means sanitation worker).

The point I'm making here is that she's becoming her own person, with her own ideas and questions and logic. I feel like she's beginning the journey of figuring out who she is and how that idea fits in with the rest of the world, a quest that for most of us endures long into adulthood. For now, I'm just watching her at the starting line.

As parents, we're tasked with this monumental responsibility – to shape our little ones into happy, well-balanced adults. To teach them the importance of being kind. To help them uncover their calling in this life, and then nurture the crap out of it so that they'll never know the bitter taste of dreams that go unfulfilled. Basically to steer them away from becoming garbage ladies, I guess.

It's a lot of pressure for me as I watch my oldest daughter gradually grow into the person she will become. Mike seems to take it more in stride, which isn't all that surprising. Instead, I find myself drilling my dad for all the answers. I feel like he and my mom did a pretty bang-up job in the parenting department. Surely, he must know some secrets, right? But leave it to my father to oversimplify the complex business of raising kids. "You have to just trust them," I remember him telling me once. "You know your kids. If you love them and set a good example, they'll make good choices."

The idea here, according to Lou Hayes, comes down to trust. And all trust is, really, is an offshoot of love. Could it really all be that simple?

Last Saturday, the girls and I took our weekly trip to our neighborhood library. While waiting for storybook hour to start, we passed the idle minutes by reading Dr. Seuss's Star-Bellied Sneetch book. You know the story. It's the one where all the sneetches without stars on their bellies are cast off, passed over for being different. None of the elite star-bellied ones will associate with these lower class Seussical outcasts (who are cruelly left out of everything from frankfurter roasts to marshmallow toasts, just because they don't look like everyone else). We were still in the earliest pages when Lina cut me off, genuinely appalled by the treatment of these poor sneetches.

"That's not very nice," she said. "You should ask everyone to play, even if they have no stars on their bellies."

With that, my heart swells with pride as I pull her close and kiss her head. “That’s right,” I tell her. Reassured, at least for the moment, that my girls are growing up just as they should.