Archive for August, 2011

August 17, 2011

Ode to Mercury

It’s a gray morning in the East Village. I had to wait until 10:30 for my parking space to become legal. I’ve parked where I will pick up my son later tonight. Meanwhile, I have a full day and evening planned in mid-town and then Soho.

This morning, I forgot the pants I had washed out to wear to this evening’s event – left them sitting in the dryer. One exit before  the bridge to Manhattan, I had to turn around and go back home. “Mommy, I’m gonna be late for camp,” my son complained. “Don’t worry, honey, we have plenty of time.” Got the pants, and took local streets back to the bridge to avoid parkway traffic. Got him to camp on time.

Had to sit in the car for half an  hour waiting for my perfect parking space to become legal. Spent the time on the phone with my friend, ruminating on how to take the high road in some challenging business interactions. We both agreed on a good strategy. He was also sitting in his parking space waiting on it to become legal, when someone hit his car pulling into the space in front of him. I heard him exchanging angry words with the man, then get back on the line with me, “I guess we’ll talk more a little later.” “OK,” I said, and then he hung up.

(Sigh) Gray Tuesday morning in New York City.

The East Village. Not what it used to be. I crave its simpler essence as I remember it from decades ago. I stop at a shack-like add-on to the outside of a Mexican restaurant. I need something savory. They make homemade empanadas and Bustelo coffee. I opt for a turkey, eggs and cheese sandwich.

As I’m waiting, I realize I have no cash. I must walk to the next avenue to my bank, and come back again. They keep my sandwich warm for me in the meantime.

The man who was sipping his coffee by the stand is still there when I return, his cup now half empty. “Bustelo,” I say. “It’s rocket fuel.” And he nods, smiling, and we share a laugh. He says, “They say it helps protect you from the sun. Bad for your stomach, good for your skin.” We laugh again. “Maybe I should rub it on my arms,” I say.

On the way to the subway uptown, I walk past my bank. Again. Then, I pass an impossible number of new looking bars/restaurants crammed onto 2nd Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets. I wonder, how can they all stay in business? Where are all the regular people eating? Where are they living?

Last night I had to get tough with my son, who is actively fulfilling his job requirements as an 8-year-old by forcefully pushing against boundaries at every turn. I find I must train him like a puppy. Good behavior gets rewards. Bad behavior gets scolding and other negative reinforcement. Very simple. He reminds me of myself at that age. Actively attempting to rationalize his way out of every situation he doesn’t like. I will teach him the concept of accepting personal responsibility for his choices if it’s the last thing I do. It’s like trying to break a wild horse.

I wake up tired from sad dreams, feeling the heavy burden of parental responsibility on my shoulders. But he seems to have learned the words, if not the full lesson… he says, “I shouldn’t speak sarcastically to my mom.” We’ll see.

In the meantime, I think of the scores of people I’ll interact with between now and tonight, when I pick him up. I ache with love and compassion for him. I’m still learning the same lessons I’m teaching him. I hear the voices of my past very loudly today, whispering to me from memories of my dreams, the moody songs on my i-pod, the puddles in the streets and the slow, regular steps I take down the block to my building, to my office, up the elevator, across the hall, to my desk, my chair, my computer, to get another day started, readying myself for another burst of my future, approaching quickly.

Photo courtesy of unit25

August 14, 2011

Santa Claus and the Death of Innocence

A few nights ago, my 8-year-old son looked me dead in the eye and said, “Is Santa Claus real? Tell me the truth.”

I kind of froze. I wasn’t ready.

It all started with a question about the elves. You see, years ago, my husband started it all by continuing a tradition that had begun when he was a child. While Christmas morning always brought presents from Santa Claus, Christmas Eve morning began with gifts from the elves. These were usually stocking stuffers and other small things, but as with so many of Ivor’s traditions, they grew bigger with time.

Over the six Christmases Ivor and Josiah shared together, that holiday had evolved into an epic expression of childhood fantasy, not to mention adult extravagance. Ivor would begin researching catalogues months in advance, strategically mapping out a multi-pronged approach to satisfying all of his son’s creative, educational and fantastical needs and desires, real and projected. (To say it was over-the-top and rather overwhelming for me would be to put it lightly, and would definitely be the start of a whole other conversation).

The salient point is that we always went with the whole fantasy – the half-eaten cookies on the plate in the morning, the magical appearance of a room full of toys, along with the requisite wonder and mystery of how did it all really work?

And now, his dad is gone, and our son is asking me to tell him, yes or no, I’ll be OK with either answer, I just want you to tell me.

This past Christmas, the second one without Ivor, was a tough one for a lot of reasons. First of all, I had just barely gotten past a period of being out of work for nearly six months, and though I had recently started a new gig, I had not yet begun to dig myself out of enormous debt. Gone were the heady, glory days of Chritmases past. That kind of extravagance (which had become increasingly unsettling to me anyway), was definitely not due for a replay any time soon, and I was cool with that.

However, another kind of malaise had settled in – the realization that I really had to shoulder the burden of creating these magical holidays for our son all by myself, and with that, a feeling of being completely overwhelmed and understaffed. I actually could have used some elves of my own!

When Josiah woke up excitedly on Christmas Eve morning, I looked into his bright little eyes and realized I had made a terrible mistake not preparing anything. I mumbled something about the elves having had some problems the night before, but to hold on, because I think they might have left something… and then, while he waited patiently in his room, I scrambled to get some of the smaller items I had purchased into the stockings I had hung up. It was a close call, but I managed to salvage the moment.

For some reason, that incident was the subject of his inquiry the other night, and I was suddenly faced with this very seminal moment in his development. He was demanding black and white answers to questions that, in my mind, are more metaphorical in nature.

How could I explain the concept of Santa Claus and the elves to an 8-year-old? How could I explain that mommy and daddy haven’t been lying to you, we’ve just been providing you with a magical experience? How do I explain that there are mysteries in life that we can’t explain, but we nevertheless believe in them because they help our lives make sense and bring us joy and fulfillment? Belief is such a relative thing, and yet we all have our own, some more provable than others.

I’m pretty sure that what upset me most as I looked into those glistening brown eyes, wide and open with trust and dependence on me and my word, was that I saw that my little boy was growing up. I saw in that moment, that I might potentially say something that would crush his trust in me, or his belief in magic, or his joy in living and embracing each new day with wonder and anticipation.

He begged me for something. He wanted a yes or no. I said, “What do you think the answer is?” He said, “My spirit tells me no, but my heart wants it to be yes.”

Now I realize he was only asking me about the elves, but he was already making the connection to Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. In fact, that also happened to be a night when we had placed a tooth under his pillow, and I had made sure to have singles in my wallet in anticipation of making the tooth/money exchange after he fell asleep. When he began connecting the dots to all of these other things, I said, “I’m not ready for this conversation now,” and he said, “OK, we can save it for in the car tomorrow.” When I began to cry, he said, “It’s OK mom, I’m here for you.”

I left the room momentarily to go wash my face. I thought I’d be more composed when I returned, but it didn’t happen. I couldn’t get it together enough to read to him. Instead, we opted for me holding him and just talking. We told some stories, starting with me remembering the magic of him as a baby. Of course that led into talk about the magic of us naming him years before he was even born, and that let to remembrances of Daddy, and then to his tears. It was a teary night, indeed…

What is lost and what is gained as we move from innocence to insight? We were all children once. How did each of us navigate the transition to adulthood, the yearning to know more, the willingness to continue believing in magic or not? When I communicate about these things to my son, how much is about me? How much is about him? What is the truth? Is there a truth?

My truth is much more complicated than he needs to be concerned about. For him, all it needs to be about is feeling safe, feeling loved, and feeling heard and understood. I want him to know that I am here for him, and he can trust me. And I suppose, now I need him to know that life changes, and continues to change, and his perception of the world, and life and love will continue to grow and change. And magic? Well, I know I believe in magic. I want him to believe in it, too… So did his Dad. And that’s kind of how this whole thing started.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The next morning, I noticed that despite the appearance of $3 under his pillow, Josiah seemed kind of lethargic. I decided to pick up our conversation and try to explain a bit about how we change the way we think of Santa Claus the older we get. I also explained to him that he was getting older now and with age would come more of an understanding of the world, an increased opportunity to take responsibility for himself and his choices, and the chance to experience more and more grown up kinds of adventures.

Somehow this seemed to reassure him, and he perked up tremendously. He also remarked that the Tooth Fairy must be really busy to be able to get around the way she did to all the kids who were losing teeth. It seems we still have a little time to enjoy some of that innocence together after all.

Photo courtesy of flickr4jazz

August 1, 2011

Moment to moment: the mystery dance

Last weekend I had a couple days out of town. Nothing major, just a quick trip to visit with friends in Philadelphia, chill out in a nice hotel for a spell, take a short break from work. I love getting away from it all, as a way to see it with fresh eyes upon my return. I’m always amazed at my change in perspective, refreshed and renewed by the phenomenon of viewing my life from afar. It happens every time, in ways that never cease to surprise me.

For instance, when I left, some major things were happening to people in my extended circle. A friend’s father had just died and my cousin and her girlfriend were about to become one of the first legally married couples in NYC, while another friend was off on a major extended family vacation in Italy with three generations of parents, siblings, children, nieces and nephews. One friend who was preparing to get partial dentures was advised to pull out her few remaining teeth to instead opt for full dentures, another couple was coping with a father’s steady decline into dementia, and then he passed, while my younger sister is busy making last-minute preparations for her wedding next month.

Outside my circle, a Norwegian extremist had just shot up hundreds of his own people because he felt threatened by their politics, while a Hasidic man in Brooklyn had recently murdered and then dismembered a young boy for no reason I could even begin to understand, let alone articulate. Against this backdrop, I continue my own struggle to regain financial footing after last year’s disastrous bout of unemployment, while at the same time, the start-up company I’ve been working for over the last year has been steadily gaining a foothold as we strengthen our product and our brand.

Hope, horror, excitement, joy, grief, anxiety, stress, happiness – how is a woman supposed to maintain her footing in such shifting times?

If you think I have easy answers, think again. I have boxes filled with decades-old self help books. I save them because they belonged to my mother. They are a collection of recipes for success. I see them as simplistic attempts to articulate the complexity of life’s ongoing struggles for people who are afraid of not knowing. Most of the time, I am just keeping my fingers crossed and hoping I retained enough facts to get through until tomorrow.

I “know not” a lot. I sometimes lose track of basic facts like which is the right brain and which is the left. I just keep forgetting, or I don’t care enough to find a secure place to hold them in my head. I am comfortable in the haze of not being sure. It affords me that little extra added bit of suspense, and then allows me the satisfaction of figuring out the solution to a problem.

I think I could do with a little more certainty, though. Even though I’m not looking for a magic miracle, a bit more serenity would be nice. You know, as opposed to random bouts of panic, which are never fun.

I’ll share this tidbit. My house is a mess right now. We’re in the midst of getting rid of a lot of stuff. Selling, donating, a general purging, a clearing out. It’s created a big mess, and that has in turn stimulated my sense of inner chaos. But you know what I think? Tomorrow, after I’ve had a good night’s sleep, I’ll wake up a little early and clean one corner of one room, and that will be a good little step in the right direction. Oh, and did I mention? I’ve been really, really happy lately.

Photo by tanakawho