Archive | Children


IMG_2282.JPGFall is Harvest Time: apples, squash, pumpkins, the last of the lettuces. The Greenmarket in Union Square is a mecca for cooks, both serious and amateur; for photographers, who exclaim over the brilliant colors (causing the farmers to snicker); and for urban wanderers, who wander among the stands and pretend they’re in bucolic-ville.

I go to the Greenmarket several times a week, hoping somehow to instill in Liam and Caleb the awareness that food doesn’t come from Fresh Direct boxes.I’m not sure it’s working (the list of what my children won’t eat is a daily testament to my failure as a mother), but I persist.

This summer, I even went so far as to plant my own vegetables. Three vegetables, to be precise. No, not three types of vegetables, just three vegetables: one pot of carrots (didn’t grow); many pumpkin seeds, which turned into one thriving pumpkin vine for June and July, spawning great thoughts of Halloween carving, until mid-August, when the vines wizened and died, looking much like the legs and feet of the Wicked Witch of the West, post-house collision. And sweet potatoes, which I plant mostly because I like the bright green vines – I  twine them around the fence of our terrace in an effort to make things look a little less institutional.

(Yes, we have that most precious of New York commodities: outside space. Across the hall from our apartment is a concrete fenced-in terrace that runs the length of the building; it gets sun until about noon at the peak of summer, as well as a steady stream of noise and bus exhaust.)

The vines grew and grew and I kind of forgot about the potatoes down there in the dirt, until I was cleaning up the flower pots this weekend, doing an urban version of readying the farm for winter. On the 15th floor, winter preparation involves throwing away the dead plants, saving the potting soil in plastic bags to be reused for next year, and taping black garbage bags over the two rose bushes, in hopes that they might bloom again next year (I’ve got my doubts).

But as I cleared out the long window box with the vines in it, I discovered that voila! I had grown two potatoes! The boys were amazed – and a little horrified by the coiled length of reddish vine I pulled from the soil. 

I had some vague doubts about actually eating these things – god only knows what kind of New York city toxins filtered into the soil – but I figured whatever it was wouldn’t kill us in such relatively small doses. Besides, whatever was going into the dirt was going into our lungs every day anyway, and we’re not dead yet, as they say in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (a comment that comes verbatim from Daniel Defoe’s Journal of a Plague Year. Swear to god).

So we peeled the potatoes, sliced ’em up, and made french fries! They look pretty good, right? Nicely crispy, a little sprinkling of Maldon sea salt…


The boys each ate about two and then Caleb asked if we had any tater tots.

What’s the growing season on a tater tot, I wonder?

Continue Reading · on November 10, 2008 in Children

Black and Blue

timesheadline.jpg6:32AM, the day after election day.

“Mommy, Obama won, he won!” The same four little hands as yesterday, but this time chilly from already having gone downstairs for the paper before I was even awake.

The boys want to know the score, because of course if someone won, then there’s a score. Once I’d gotten some coffee into me (don’t I realize that I’m too old to start drinking champagne at 11PM? I guess one must suffer for history), I realized that there were, in fact, a whole lot of ways to answer that question:

  • The electoral college score: 349 to 173 as of mid-morning, with North Carolina still uncalled.
  • The voter rolls: more than 3 million first-time voters
  • The international opinion meter: way higher than on November 3rd
  • The national optimism meter: WAY higher than on November 3rd
  • The correcting-history score: off the chart

Because I live in Manhattan, I could be pretty sure of encountering equally elated citizens this morning as I went around doing my errands after dropping the boys at their respective schools. (Okay, so Caleb has maybe just a little glimmer of a fever, but Mommy has Got Stuff To Do and it doesn’t involve pushing a four-year-old around in a stroller all day.) At the grocery store, the farmer’s market, Staples … everyone had a little smile, and the “have a good day” exchanges seemed particularly meaningful.

For someone like me, who has a pretty cynical worldview (and okay, I’m often bitter, too, but without the guns and religion), what seems perhaps the most unreal about today is the emotion bubbling inside me. I think – dear god could it be? – I think I feel … patriotism. Actual patriotism: pride about what my country represents, about what it did for itself last night, about the amazingly peaceful transition that just took place and that continues to unfold. Think about it: an entire regime has just been deposed without a single shot.

It’s true: this liberal cynic feels patriotic, dammit, like maybe I should be wearing red-white-and-blue, or a flag pin or something. I am, frankly, amazed that my country, which so often takes pride in its xenophobia and ignorance, and which has for so long clung to narrow and parochial views of difference, managed to shake off its blinders and move forward towards something – dare we say it – that has the potential for magnificence?

Last night, in his amazing speech in Grant Park, Obama said “that’s the true genius of America, that America can change.” We needn’t be trapped by tradition, or convention, or the bleaker parts of our own history. Let’s revel in this particular change, shall we? Here’s an image that will bring a smile: imagine Dubya trying to make that speech – no, not write that speech, we all know that’s impossible – just trying to get his mouth around all those elegant, powerful words – those elegant, powerful ideas.

Before we left for school this morning, Liam and Caleb were working together (see? Barack does work miracles) on a lego fortress/castle/poison destroyer. Liam was sing-songing to himself as he worked: “we have a president and his color is black, we have a president and his color is black.” Every now and then, Caleb would chime in “and blue!” because he’s very excited about the Empire State building being lit up in Democratic blue tonight.

I guess you could say, then, that today, for a change, black-and-blue are the color of victory. 

Continue Reading · on November 5, 2008 in Children, Politics

Going Away…and Coming Back

Thumbnail image for partridgefamilylogo.jpgThere’s an old Partridge Family song that my college roommates and I used to sing on roadtrips – a song best sung at a bellow, accompanied by expansive arm gestures: “Point me … in the direction of Albuquerque… I want to go home…I want to go ho-ho-hommme.” This past weekend, in a happy conjunction of a 10th wedding anniversary and an academic conference, Husband and I pointed ourselves in the direction of Albuquerque for four days without our children. My mother – who is soon to be canonized – stayed with the boys in New York. 

Ten years of marriage. A decade that encompassed, in no particular order: two tenures, a mother with pancreatic cancer and liver failure (and subsequent death, after a year in bed); the near-death of one child, a miscarriage, another mother’s divorce and subsequent re-marriage, 9/11, eight years of Dubya (about whom we said, in 2000, “how bad could it be?” thus proving that one should not ask questions to which one doesn’t really want answers), the birth of a second child, two unpublished books, two unproduced screenplays, major reconstructive knee surgery followed by two months on crutches, innumerable academic conferences, three published books, several handfuls of published articles, and living for more than a year in a two-room apartment with one (very small) closet.

Frankly, sharing the closet came the closest to breaking us.

So there’s been a lot of water under the bridge in these last years, which is perhaps why it comes as no surprise that we’ve not gone away together, without the boys, in more than eight years. Each of us has had little solo jaunts, and we’ve had a few overnights here and there, but a string of days, just the two of us? 


It’s been eight years of sleepus interruptus, of endless rounds of meal preparation and clean-up, of sounding interested in the Bernstein Bears, or Thomas the Train, or Jedi, Pokemon, Batman. And on and on.

This is not to say that as a family we haven’t taken trips together but as a very wise cousin of mine pointed out, there is family trip and there is vacation. Vacation is what you do when you go somewhere without your kids, even if it’s into the hospital for a routine tonsillectomy.

Being on vacation means that even when our flight from O’Hare to Albuquerque was delayed by more than an hour, I didn’t care. I didn’t have two small children pulling on my hands in opposite directions; I wasn’t asking anyone to stop sliding into third base along the polished concourse floor; I wasn’t cramming three bodies into one bathroom stall to pee before we got on the plane.

I traveled with my laptop, a magazine, my conference papers, and a paperback book. Everything fit beautifully in my shoulder bag, which is not I realize, news in and of itself. But do you know what was NOT in my bag?

children’s motrin
fruity dentyne
small bags of pretzels
hard candies
sticker books
crayons, markers, and things to glue
portable dvd player
binder of dvds
changes of underwear
a diaper-just-in-case

This list is crazy long and I know it’s symbolic of my travel madness; one day, I suppose, when my children are closer to being people than to babies, I will not have shove every possible eventuality into my carry-on bag.

So you can imagine my state of mind – and my non-aching back – as I walked through the Albuquerque “Sunport,” as they call it, and out into the Land of Enchantment (it says so right on the license plates), where the sun shines 310 days a year.

We had a glorious weekend – visited cousins in Santa Fe (where my cousin’s wife Laurie just opened a lovely little shop), went for two long hikes in the hills, had great food – and oh yeah, the conference was good too.  I love Santa Fe, always have (which is not saying much, I know – doesn’t everyone? The real surprise would be falling in love with, say, Detroit. Or Duluth).

I wish I could tell you that Husband and I fell madly in love with each other all over again, or that we’re still glowing in the memory of our trip, or that I found my spiritual center somewhere on Big Yesuque trail, north of Santa Fe. 

I didn’t. I mean, Husband and I remembered that we are capable of conversation that extends beyond discussions of logistics and schedules, so that’s good; and grimy loud LaGuardia didn’t completely destroy the memory of wind in the pines at ten thousand feet, so that’s good too.


IMG_2120.JPGHere is what I discovered:
I was happy to leave my children.
I was happy to come back to my children.

And I suppose even if I left Manhattan to live in Santa Fe, I would bring that paradox with me: it’s where all parents live.

Continue Reading · on October 22, 2008 in Children, Parenting

An Alternative Bailout Plan…?


Chipmunk2.jpgA grey and chilly Saturday morning, about 10 o’clock – not inviting weather for playgrounds, too early for running and screaming in the hallway outside our apartment. Caleb has a pile of cushions in his arms and a few of my old scarves.

Caleb tries to entice his brother into a game:  “Leeeaahm, plaaaay with me. Pleeeezzzze. We can play money…”

Liam: “Okay, all right, stop bothering me. We can play money. How do you play?”

Caleb: “First we kill the good guys. Then we take the money and run around like chipmunks.”

Liam: “Cool. Let’s do it.”

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Continue Reading · on October 4, 2008 in Children

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