Archive | family

Maybe Freud Was Right

freudAfter this conversation last month, I realized that Husband should probably start sleeping with one eye open.

Caleb: Mommy when I grow up I’m going to marry you.

Mommy: But I’m already married to daddy, so I can’t marry you.

Caleb: How ‘bout after he dies?

Mommy: Oh, you don’t want Daddy to die. That would be so sad.

Caleb: No. But he’s getting old, you know. He’s almost FIFTY.

Continue Reading · on January 15, 2010 in Children, family


2009_1222_125545We’re in the Florida Keys for Christmas, a vacation primarily courtesy of a wonderful brother, and while we’re swimming in the pool on Christmas Day, Caleb thinks back on our visit to Santa at ABC Carpet, two weeks ago.

“I got my Playmobil,” he says, “and Liam got Yugio, like we ordered.”  He paddles around for a minute or two.

“So Mommy, why didn’t Santa bring Liam world peace like he asked for, too?”

Good question.

Let’s bracket for a minute the question of why my son thinks that Santa is some kind of short-order cook who rustles up toys according to customers’ orders and think about this world peace question.

Clearly Santa and the elves were fresh out of world peace, alas, but today was nevertheless one of those counting-blessings days (and yes, Oprah, I know I should do that every day but what can I say. Some days, blessings just seem far and few between).

But here goes: blessings:  two children who (despite regular efforts to kill one another) are healthy and happy; a partner who (despite my regular efforts to Improve Him) loves me; a brother who (despite regular teasing about his day job) is willing to be the primary financer of a holiday vacation; an extended family who (despite regular tiffs and snits) loves each other enough to brave blizzards, airports, and general holiday travel mayhem in order to get together. 

Blessings: basically the people I love and who, against all odds, continue to love me.  As Bill McKibben once wrote, if we all really loved one another as we loved ourselves,  much of the ill-will in the world would become impossible.

Whether it’s Christmas or Kwanzaa or Hanukah or just another day in December, I hope that peace finds you all, and that we all find peace.


Continue Reading · on December 25, 2009 in family


IMG_3546.JPGSometimes, frankly, it seems like everything is just going to hell in a handbag: violence, poverty, hunger, disease, pollution…and that’s just in New York.

We need this day of Thanksgiving – a pause that makes us remember all that we do have, reminds us that we can fight back against the sludgy tide of greed, inertia, and despair.

To that end–a poem by Mary Oliver:

Wild Geese
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.



picture taken by Caleb at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden

poem reprinted from Mary Oliver Online Poems

Continue Reading · on November 25, 2009 in family

Two Families…

sendak.jpgI didn’t want to go. I hated the very idea of the movie, was all doesn’t Hollywood ever know when to leave well enough alone?

But then today–Saturday–was very cold and very gray, Liam had played a morning soccer game and an afternoon soccer game, and Husband needed time to finish packing for a week-long (week!) business trip. I like to say he’s going to “Arabia,” but in fact he’s going to the much more prosaic (although still very far away) Abu Dhabi (which is not Dubai).  So when two mommy friends asked if we’d join them at the movies, I said yes (okay, in part I said yes because one promised to bring me candy corn from Economy Candy and I will do just about anything for candy corn).

Thus it was that I found myself, with a 5 year old and a 9 year old in tow, in a very crowded movie theater for the 4:30 showing of “Where the Wild Things Are.”  If nothing else, I thought, I could hide my iPhone under my bag and make lists for the upcoming week: having Husband out of town for a week takes our already complicated schedules into a defcon four status that hurts my head to think about.

But you know what? I didn’t even look at my phone once. The movie is…good. Actually, it’s quite beautiful. Actually, many of the parents in the audience were snuffly-eyed at the end of it (you can decide for yourself if that’s good or bad), and so were some of the kids.

It’s not perfect, and it’s not true to the letter of Sendak’s book, but it’s pretty close, I think, to the spirit of the book: the conflicting desires that we all have for anarchy and order, independence and dependence, adventure and safety.

The opening twenty minutes or so, which situate Max in “real life,” enthralled Liam and Caleb. I think they saw in his life elements of their own, particularly the ways in which Max’s world conspires to make him feel powerless.  And I saw myself in Max’s mom–the belated tag-on of “please” to the shouted command to “get your stuff off the table now….”  and her attempts to deal with her tantruming son while she has company–the initial attempt to discipline said child with whispered commands through gritted teeth and a fake smile, the plea for good behavior so that fights don’t have to take place while there are witnesses…oh yes, that’s familiar territory.

But then Max takes off, and we are on unfamiliar ground. True, his room doesn’t grow over with vines, but there is still a magical transformation, an epic journey “across a year and a day,” and a violent stormy landing on the island of the wild things.

Much has been made of these wild things–their fuzzy costumes, the animatronic faces, the fact that they have individual personalities and, clearly, back stories: Judith and Ira are lovers, KW and Carol have had some kind of fight, no one pays attention to Alexander, Douglas and Carol are best friends…And the wild things talk about these relationships, fret about their emotions, and hope that discovering a King will Make Everything Better.

I would have thought that the five year old would be fidgeting and squitching during all the talky bits about these relationships, but it was the nine year olds who wanted to get on with the scenes of fort-building, mudball fighting, and, of course, the Wild Rumpus. Caleb sat entranced and when we got home, I realized why: after he dropped his coat on the floor (isn’t that where it goes?”), he squatted down by his knight figures that he’d put down when we left for the movie and was immediately back to staging daring rescues and epic battles. The rest of us, as far as he was concerned, were completely invisible.  So Max’s world, with some variations, was Caleb’s world, while Liam and his friends have already left that world behind, for the (far inferior world) of computer games and sports.

Close to the end of the movie, as Max says good-bye to all his Wild Thing friends on the beach, Caleb turned to me and said, with whispered indignation “this a sad movie!” And then, when Carol comes lumbering onto the beach just in time to howl a bereft good-bye to his dear friend Max, Caleb whispered “Max has two families.The monster family and th’other family, wit’his mommy. I t’ink he loves both.”

I was going to say something here about the whole power of imagination thing, or about hanging on to our inner child, or some blahblah like that, but Caleb’s comment sent me in another direction. I went back to the logistics list that I didn’t make because I got so caught up in Max’s journey, and in the Wild Things’ amazingly beautiful buildings, some of which resemble the sculptures of Martin Puryear.

My list of How I Will Manage While Husband Is Away include one friend who will pick up Caleb after school on Tuesday, another who will bring Liam home from after-school on the day I work late, a third who will watch Caleb for a few hours on Wednesday, and the long-time babysitter who said she’d walk Liam to school every morning (okay, true, I’m paying her, but she’s a college student and I’m asking her to haul ass out of bed and be here by 7:45 every day, no small feat when you’re 19). In short, this group–my other family, you could say–is saving my bacon this week. 

Caleb hit it just on the head. Max sails the vast ocean alone in his wobbly little boat, but at each end of his journey, there is a family. So too with us, don’t you think? Two families: One we are assigned by the vagaries of blood and fate. The other we create for ourselves, but we love both.

Continue Reading · on October 17, 2009 in Books, Children, family

I read the news today oh boy…

I lived in Massachusetts for a while, but that was in the college and post-college years, when I wasn’t paying attention to–well, to much of anything, actually. Because I never thought of Teddy Kennedy as “my” senator in those years–and because I’ve never been one of those people who pays much attention to the whole Kennedy legend thing, the fact that I start to cry every time I read about Teddy in in the paper totally surprises me.

A facebook friend, who lives in Massachusetts, eulogized Kennedy quite beautifully in her status update: she said she owes Kennedy the Cape Cod National Seashore, the paid leave she got when she gave birth to her two children, and the ongoing dignity of her marriage (to another woman).  Seems to me to sum it up quite neatly: the environment, the family, the individual.  Her post also made me cry; I seem to have an inexhaustible pool of tears these days.

Truth be told, I suppose my tears weren’t entirely for Teddy. The thought of losing a parent has been hovering dangerously close this summer, as my mother got ready for her heart surgery earlier this month.  She came through her operation with the proverbial flying colors and is already home–but the memory of how she looked when she woke up in ICU after the operation reminds me of her mortality–and how completely unprepared I am for her to shuffle off the coil. The quality of care she received at the Cleveland Clinic stunned us all–in ICU each nurse tends to only two patients; every cardiac patient moves to a private room after ICU; every cardiac patient is attended by a veritable squad of doctors, nurses, therapists, and god knows who else. I suppose that Kennedy, in the months after his diagnosis, received care as good as that and probably better…which of course raises the question of what would happen to the rest of us, if, god forbid, we are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

We all hope, don’t we, that the phrase “life-threatening illness” never enters our lives, that it stays confined to news reports and melodrama; that we never sit staring at the  table wondering how this happened to us.  One moment, you know, you’re going along all Teddy K., bipartisan and feisty, and the next moment whap, brain tumor; whap, you’re in a wheelchair; whap, you’re in a flag-covered coffin in the Kennedy Library.  Whap whap whap.

Friends of my mother’s are reeling right now from their own whap: their wonderful daughter-in-law, A., was just diagnosed with what Teddy Kennedy died from. He had a level 4 cancer, hers is level 3. She’s 51, happily married, and has two children, 14 and 12. Whap, whap, whap.

I know, of course, that evil sadistic horrible people get cancers and die but somehow, I never hear about them (perhaps the transformative power of death or near-death–I’m sure that the Kopechne family has a darker picture of Teddy than the current golden-hued portrait playing in the news). I think about A., and her family–who, luckily, have great insurance and lots of resources, all of which will be brought to bear on her illness. Or another friend, whose father has just  been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia…

Where do we find hope, in the midst of being buffeted by fate into the stone walls of disease and despair? The papers say that Kennedy surrounded himself with family, singing, religion; my mother, in the hospital, talked about her “magical band of allies”–her group of friends and family whose love, she claims, allowed her to make such a speedy recovery. (The phrase comes from a guided meditation CD she listened to in the week before her surgery.)  And perhaps  A. will defy augury and live for years–certainly anyone even peripherally touched by A.’s story is invoking all manner of magic and faith on her behalf.

In a collection of essays called The Woman at the Washington Zoo, the journalist Marjorie Williams writes about her own diagnosis of liver cancer, at the age of 43. Her doctor tells her she’s been “struck by lightning,” and gives her only a few months to live. Williams writes with heart-breaking eloquence about leaving behind her life–including her two young children–but she also talks about the “supple blessing of hope” that sustains her through her first cycles of chemotherapy. Williams does defy augury: she dies at almost 48, instead of 43. Her book seems to me the literary equivalent of Dickinson’s description: hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul. 

So if a woman diagnosed with liver cancer can find hope, who am I to cry reading Teddy Kennedy’s obit over my morning coffee? I think it’s because of A.: I hear the whap of fate, smacking someone who should be much further back in death’s line and I realize, with bone-deep certainty, how unready I am to say good-bye to anyone in my “magical band of allies.” Nope, thanks, rather not, not a good time for me, sorry, come back again in like sixty years.

I’m crying for Teddy Kennedy but I think, really, I’m crying because it’s when confronted with death that we realize how much we love.

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Continue Reading · on August 28, 2009 in family, Politics

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