Upsetting

photo(4)On my first official day of unemployment, for the first time in my daughter’s almost eight years, I joined her class for a field trip. It was unseasonably warm and sunny, and a few clusters of colorful leaves still held strong to the trees, trying to delay the inevitable. We went to Phillipsburg Manor, which as the website description states, was once a working farm that used to “rely on a community of 23 enslaved Africans to operate the complex.”

The night before the field trip, I wondered out loud to my husband how much discussion of these slaves would take place during the visit. We have not discussed slavery with L yet. We have not told her about 9/11, or the Holocaust, and a year ago, I made sure she did not hear about the massacre at Sandy Hook.

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Split Road I lost my job one week ago. It was not a surprise, in fact, it was something I had been wishing for. It was “not a good fit.” After just three months, my self-confidence was completely eroded, to the point that I no longer remembered that I knew how to do certain things, in fact, I was once considered capable and efficient, a valuable part of a team. Continue reading

Halloween – a short tale on how it’s impossible to please everyone

My 7-year-old daughter was Pippi Longstocking for Halloween. She made up her mind a while back, when we finished reading Pippi. She has recently devoured Pippi Goes on Board, and her infatuation with the eccentric red-head who lives alone with her pet monkey and horse, without parents, and with a suitcase full of gold coins, has only grown. For her costume, I ordered a used blue jumper dress (under $10, thank you). Sunday we set out to sew red fabric patches on the jumper. Both girls immediately demanded to help. I let Pippi draw the square-ish patches on the back of an old, red t-shirt.

Immediately, her forlorn 4-year-old sister, who wore a well-loved, hand-me-down Cinderella costume on Halloween, demanded: “What can I not do anything” This has been her preferred way of asking for things lately, asking why she can’t.

I devised a plan that allowed both girls to help me. Pippi  would pull the needle. Cinderella would hold the thread and scissors, and cut off the excess thread when given a cue. According to this plan, it would take us about 50 minutes to sew each patch (there were four). Cinderella did not stop whining for even a second.

“Why can I not help? Why can I not put the needle in? Why can I not cut when I want to cut?”

Clearly, sewing is an activity best performed by two hands, not six. “Why don’t we put this down for now and go to the store to get Cinderella’s crown and red hairspray for Pippi?” I suggested. Both girls got dressed quickly and we were off.

We got to Target, and there was exactly one Cinderella tiara left. I grabbed it, tossed it into our basket, and exhaled a bit. Next, hairspray. Which they didn’t have. This being the Sunday before Halloween, the aisles were thoroughly picked out.

Pippi put on a pathetic display of disappointment, followed by an enraging one of blame. “You said we were getting red hairspray, and now there’s no hairspray, and how can I be Pippi with brown hair? YOU PROMISED.”

I guess somewhere in my suggestion to go to the store she read promise that could never, ever be broken. “OK,” I said. “I have to tell you that you are being ridiculous. We are going to try the pharmacy down the street, but if they don’t have it, that’s it. You are going to have to wear brown braids.” He drove the block and a half to the pharmacy. Cinderella asked if she could bring her tiara into the store.

“No,” I said. “Why can I not bring my tiara into the store,” she whined. “Because they will think you stole it, and then they will take it away from you, and I am not buying another one.”  Miraculously, she accepted the explanation without further questions.

CVS had a few sad cans of color hairspray among other exciting offerings in the mutilated Halloween aisle (Creepy Talking Butler, anyone?). We scored a red can, paid, and got in the car. Cinderella asked if she could hold her tiara on the way home. Sure. Whatever makes the whining stop. Everyone was pleased, for a few minutes. Cinderella asked: “Mommy, can you cut the package open when we get to the house?” The moment I parked the car, she asked again. “Give me a minute to wash my hands and I’ll grab the scissors,” I said.

By the time I got out of the bathroom, Cinderella had taken matters into her own hands, but the $5 royal tiara was not nearly as sturdy as the plastic rings that held it to the cardboard package. It had snapped. There were tears.

This is how the story ended: Cinderella wore her broken tiara, sort of repaired with some strong tape, just for pictures. Daddy held it the rest of the evening. Pippi was offended that the red hairspray got everywhere, not just on her hair. She trick-or-treated with brown braids.

A Happy Halloween was still had by all.

Fashion Goldilocks

If you were to walk into my 4-year-old daughter’s room any given morning, around 7am, you would find a partially dressed little girl, and two or three rejected articles of clothing puddled around her ankles, or tossed, inside out, over her bed. Black leggings with pink kitty cats that are “too stretchy,” striped cotton pants that are “not stretchy enough.”  Jeans that are scratchy. T-shirts that are “too hot,” “too summery” or tight. My child is the Goldilocks of fashion!

This sad scene usually takes place after I have exited her room in utter frustration, desperate for the soothing powers of my cup of coffee. What happens is I wake her up, we have sweet moments of cuddling in her bed, then she asks me to help her find something to wear. “Is it hot or cold today,” she asks. My answer bears no relevance to her choice of outfit, by the way. I may say “it’s chilly today,” and she will show up to breakfast wearing a skort and tank top. I have tried offering her a couple of options that are seasonally appropriate and match, to give her some level of control. She will reject my suggestions and declare: “I want to pick the options!”

This is where I can either fight, or walk away. In the past, we fought. We fought because I held fast to the notion that striped pants did not go with polka-dot T-shirts, or that skirts looked ridiculous over sweat pants. The more I tried to explain with reason, the harder she held to her fashion choice. Ultimately, there would be tears, breakfast would be delayed, and I would be late for work. Why did I care? I am not the one who drives her to school, so I don’t even have to face the public with my awkwardly dressed child. She, clearly, does not care. Maybe it was important to me that she show up put together especially because I am never there? Visual proof that I am a caring and involved parent?

Clearly, this is my issue, and It’s not worth the war. I have limited hours a day with my husband and children, and it’s a giant waste of everyone’s time to argue with a 4-year-old over fashion (or anything, really). This is not the Oscar’s. As long as she is comfortable (not too warm, not too cold), and dressed to play, I just don’t care what goes on her body. Not anymore.

My new goal is to get her to  “pick her options” without unfolding half her closet every morning.

A little Self-Pity to End the Week

My entire family is now gathered in Buzios, Brazil, for a cousin’s wedding.  I am not there. For many reasons (financial, new job) I was not able to go, and now I wonder if any of those reasons was really good enough. This Sunday is also the 9th anniversary of my father’s death, and I wish I could be there, with other people who knew him and miss him. Whine, whine, whine. I am not too pleasant to be around today.

Last night I read my girls a book about immigration, part of their ever-growing collection from the PJ Library. Ages 7 and 4, they related to the story in totally different and age-appropriate ways. D, the younger one, searched in the pictures the elements in the narrative that she was hearing, and was interested in the idea of Zissie doing something “naughty” and getting away with it.  7-year-old L, as always, had a million questions about immigration. Starting with “what is an immigrant?” This is treacherous territory – at what point, in a Jewish child’s childhood, must we reveal that large groups of Jews adopted new homelands because they were not exactly welcome or well liked?

I am a strong believer in the idea that when a child is old enough to ask a question, I have the responsibility to answer, hopefully in a clear and non-threatening way. When L asked why Zissie’s family were participating in a fundraiser to bring their loved ones from Poland, I gave her my basic answer: “Jews were not treated very well in Europe at that time. They wanted to have a better life here in America, where they would be safe and free. But it cost a lot of money to come, sometimes they had to leave everything behind.”

“Oh, so they were poor when they got here, like in the Emma Lazarus poem?” she asked. L relates every immigrant story to me: “Mommy, where you alive when this was going on?” Gasp. “No, honey, I was born in the 1970’s.” After she recovered from the shock of her old mother having been born in the “19’s,” she asked: “If people weren’t being mean to you in Brazil, why did you move here?”

This morning, through my bout of self-pity, I recalled this conversation and felt ridiculous. I had the luxury to move here in search of better educational and professional opportunities, and a lifestyle that suited me better. I was not escaping persecution, poverty, hunger, or oppression. It was my choice, which I would probably make again. I will try to keep the self-pity and whining to myself.

On Books and Feelings

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“Spider on Web Munching” by MiniMised under a Creative Commons License

“Mommy, is Fern in all the Charlotte’s Webs?” It took me a few moments to process my 7-year-old’s question. We had just read the first two chapters of Charlotte’s Web, which I had grabbed from the library shelf in a huff, in reaction to her selection of yet another Pinkalicious book from one of those “I Can Read” series, which at this point is not exactly challenging.

“There are no Charlotte’s Webs,” I explained. “This is a really famous book, a classic, kids have been reading it for years and years.”

Charlotte’s Web was not a part of my childhood, in English or in translation. I first read E.B. White in college (The Elements of Style, still very much beloved, and a compilation of New Yorker stories, as writing to aspire to in Journalism classes). Yet, I knew exactly what the book was about. Friends, through the years, discussed how much they loved the book, hated the book, were traumatized by it. It was clearly a childhood milestone.

This was not the first time I considered getting Charlotte for my animal-loving, sensitive, 7-year-old. She is a child who feels things deeply, with abandon. We tried reading the first book in the Little House series, and she was so offended by the frequent descriptions of hunting that the book was returned to its box on the shelf (she had received the whole set for Chanukah), where it remains. She vows never to look at it again.

We took on Charlotte’s Web a chapter or two at a time. She was incredibly upset right off the bat when Wilbur’s life was at risk, then relaxed into the animal politicking in the barn. The writing is so clear and incisive, yet she did not see it coming. She was so happy that Wilbur was OK, she missed all the clear hints that Charlotte was the one who wasn’t going to make it to the end of the story. As we read the last chapter, I could see her eyes filling with tears. She held it in pretty well until the end, when she let out heart-breaking sobs, completely out of control.

“Why did you make me read this book? This is a horrible book,” she said, with a stuffy nose and blotchy face.

“The fact that you are feeling this so hard, it means that this is actually a good book. You know animals don’t really talk and plot, and spiders don’t write words on their webs, but you are still feeling something. This is how good books work, they make you believe,” I said.

“I don’t ever want to read a good book again,” she said. She will, of course, read good books, watch good movies, and feel.

The next morning, her little sister stomped out of her room screaming “Daddy, there is a spider in my room. Come kill it please!” I swear this actually happened.

You can imagine what happened next. My daughter dissolved into ugly sobs again. Her little sister was very confused, as my husband transported the spider safely  to the backyard.

“I hate feeling like this, Mommy. Do you ever feel sad like this with any of your books?”

“Sometimes,” I said. The truth is, not so often, not anymore. Real life’s brutality has brought me to my knees in the last few years, and I have been either actively avoiding upsetting literature, or it has failed to upset me very thoroughly. I did not tell my girl that I prefer her sadness continues to come from fiction, stories made up by other people, and not the complexities of our own lives.

One Morning in September

This morning, at 8:46am, the commuter train conductor asked for a moment of silence. Commuters looked up from our newspapers, paperbacks, Candy Crush, and into each other’s eyes, briefly . The silence was so profound, it felt alive. Seconds later, there was some sniffling here and there.

How many of my fellow commuters were in this very train 12 years ago? That morning, the trains stopped, then turned around, away from the City which would never be the same. Today, I saw my children off to second grade and Pre-K and hoped today is not the day they learn about that morning. Not yet.

Two years ago, I reminisced about my experience of that morning, ten years earlier. I share it again, in loving tribute to our City, which continues to stand tall and strong.

“What else is there to say about that day, ten years ago? I’ve read so many beautiful, touching posts and stories on 9/11. This is a day to remember. Ironic, in a way, because ten years have passed but the memories of the day are still fresh. The feelings, the sounds, the smell. I was a completely different person ten years ago. Only 27 years old, single, in graduate school in the world’s greatest city. As thousands of people began their work day at the WTC, my goals for the day were to register for unlimited yoga at the NYU gym, then buy some school books. I was an intern at a dance company. That evening, the company was going to perform in the Evening Stars festival, at the World Trade Center.

I took the subway downtown because the line for PE activities at the gym was usually pretty long. There was a man clipping his nails into a ziploc bag in the train. People were disgusted, and some switched seats. I got out of the train at Broadway-Lafayette. The moment I stepped out into the bright sunny day, I saw it. There was a large fire at one of the WTC towers. Groups of people gathered on Lafayette Street, watching. Nobody knew it then. We all thought it was an accident, that the fire was going to be put out and everything would go on as planned that day. I went into the gym to register for yoga. I did. I realize that sounds completely ridiculous. We didn’t know.

Waiting in line with fellow NYU students, I heard that it was a plane. A small private plane, an accident. I wondered if our performance at Evening Stars would go on that night. The tech people were probably already on stage, setting up lighting and sound. I got out of the gym, headed to the bank. That’s when I saw the plane hit the second tower. It was like slow motion. It was a large plane, and definitely not an accident.

Stunned, I continued on with my errands. I can’t explain that, maybe I was trying to hold on to life as it used to be even as it careened into a new reality. I stood inside the Citibank branch and saw on a TV that the Pentagon had also been attacked. At that point, I decided maybe it would be prudent to walk home. Walking across Washington Square Park, heading toward Fifth Avenue, I heard a horrible sound, nothing I had ever heard in my life. That sound meant destruction, a bomb perhaps? I started running and briefly looked back. The tower fell. That huge, magnificent building that I used to orient myself in the City – I have a notoriously lousy sense of direction, and often looked for the Towers, for I knew that way was downtown.

I ran up Fifth Avenue. My roommate, who was supposed to get on a plane that day, said my phone had been ringing and ringing. We were among the lucky. Everyone we knew and loved was accounted for that day. By afternoon, friends gathered in our apartment. My mom, who had been in NY days earlier watching an Evening Stars performance with me, was frantically following the day’s events in Brazil. She wanted me out of here. She suggested I rent a car, drive to Canada, and fly home. Just come home, she said. Crazy logistics aside, I just wanted to stay put.

I went to bed with the television on, afraid there was more to come. We woke up the following morning, and the smell permeated everything. If you lived here then, you remember it. A horrible, chemical, burning smell. There were ashes on the windows. Our apartment was very close to St. Vincent’s Hospital, where they expected the hundreds of injured victims. It was eerily quiet with no traffic below 14th Street. We could hear the occasional ambulance, bringing a rescue worker to the hospital. There were no victims to treat.

That week, the City that never sleeps slowed down, and people looked each other in the eye, checked on their neighbors and friends. The missing posters stayed on bulletin boards for months. We were all a little hesitant to get back into the subway, or any crowded space. The mayor urged everyone out, we should frequent restaurants and Broadway shows.  The tech crew for the dance company never made it to the WTC stage. They made a stop at the Joyce Theater to pick up equipment, and missed the first plane.

Within a week, I was back in classes and at work. I never left the City. Instead, I committed to building my life here. Six months later, I met my soul mate, and as we strolled during our first date, we saw the blue columns of light where the Towers once stood.

Our hearts ache for the families. Mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children. I think of them often. Thousands of people who got dressed and went to work, and never came back. One day we will have to explain that day to our children, who will grow up with the Memorial, instead of the Towers. How do you explain such senseless violence?

In loving memory of all those innocent people, and as a tribute to our strong, vibrant New York, our TV will remain off today. We will hug each other and our children tight, and be grateful for their lives. We pray they grow up in a safer, kinder, more peaceful world.”