Parenting

Do the Right–Wrong!

Because what else would have been the perfect gift for Mrs Fringe on Inauguration Day, 2017?

Because what else would have been the perfect gift for Mrs Fringe on Inauguration Day, 2017? Thank you!

I’ve had this thought circling in my head for the past few weeks.  I talked about it a bit with Nerd Child before he went back to school last week, and today it seemed appropriate for musing on the blog after 1 full week of Trump & Co in office.  Yeah, I know, this isn’t a mom-blog and I already talk an awful lot about my kiddos, but bear with me, please.

Husband and I have always tried to do our best.  We knew that wouldn’t always work out as intended, but still, parenting is a commitment we take seriously.  A commitment to our children, but also a commitment to society.  We do our best, and hopefully offer decent, kind, well-adjusted human beings who care about others, themselves (raising saints and martyrs was never our goal), and the world at large.  How’s that for overblown navel gazing?  And yeah, we want success for them. Success doesn’t have to mean a job making a bazillion dollars a year on Wall Street, but for us it means that in addition to doing something they feel good about, we wanted them to understand it’s important to be able to pay your bills, and do better than we have, a little more comfort, maybe even own a house.

But have we screwed them in the process?  I’m looking around, taking stock of the past week, who’s taken office, been nominated, being confirmed despite (because of) no experience, no compassion, conflicts of interest galore and long documented overt racism; running the country, deciding to rip apart the social contract we’ve been building and trying to improve for over two hundred years….  Sure, greed, corporations, and selfishness have long been valued in our society.  It isn’t brand new, the results of this election didn’t come from nowhere, regardless of how many want to pretend it has.  There has also long been room for success from those who actually want to contribute, work with others.

Remember?  One of the first things we all teach all children is the importance of sharing, waiting our turn.  Husband and I taught our kiddos to do the right thing because it’s right, not because they might get in trouble, not even because of an afterlife.  But because this life matters, and every life of every person matters.  Trite but true, at the end of the day, can you look in the mirror? This week has shown us a whole different world.  At first I typed new. A new world.  It isn’t though, is it?

Today happens to be International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  And today, Nikki Haley, the new US ambassador to the United Nations,  addressed the UN and said, “for those who don’t have our backs, we’re taking names.” Trump is signing executive orders to begin building That Ridiculous Wall (the one that still makes  zero sense), still discussing a registry for Muslims, will restrict incoming Muslim immigrants (unless they’re from Muslim countries his companies do business with), and is denying entry to Syrian refugees.  No, not new at all.   No wonder they’re so enamored of that fascist “America First” slogan.

And by the way, in case you’re thinking all of this is being done in a (misguided) attempt to actually protect American citizens, ha!  This is the sneak-peak proof that this administration and the GOP couldn’t care less how many citizens are left without adequate healthcare in this country.  Why let people know they still have a few days left to sign up for a year’s worth of care? Sure the ads were already in place and paid for, but, well, fuck ’em. I can’t address the beginning of the dismantling of women’s rights and health care in this country.  Not yet.

So yes, in with all the other worries and panicking I’m doing about medicine and health care and civil rights and ohmygodhehasthefuckingnuclearcodes, I’m worrying about my kiddos; if they are prepared for this next page in American history, where might makes right and sharing their cookies is a notion as quaint and outdated as teaching them to use a quill.

Much of me is overwhelmed right now, certain we have said goodbye to American freedoms, the true American values of equality, justice, social mobility, education, progress, and democracy. We haven’t always hit those marks, and there’s no question and no excuse– our “equality” hasn’t  been equal, but we have had gotten better.  Now I have to believe we didn’t do them a disservice when we taught our kids they have to be able to look in the mirror, and I have to hope the mirrors they look into are true and clear.

 

 

Raise The Stakes

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When you write fiction, once you get past the technical/grammar/POV aspects, there aren’t a whole lot of rules. Guidelines, but those are flexible, boiling down to if you write well enough, if the story is riveting, you can “get away with” practically anything.  There’s one bit of wisdom that I believe is a rule: raise the stakes. What’s the worst thing that could happen to your protagonist, the biggest muck they could make of the situation in front of them? Make that happen.

I remember, about a thousand years ago, the catchphrase in the pop psychology/self-help section of the bookstore was, “we write our own scripts.”  Positive, empowering, offering the idea that we control what happens in our individual worlds. Imagine it for a second, with a laptop, a 99 cent Bic, or a pencil found in a goodie bag, we control it all.

Except we don’t.  Sure we control how we respond to events in our lives, and many situations are the result of choices we make, but sometimes not. Some of these situations are the result of other people’s choices–say, being faced with terror of potential loss of health care and special ed services for a medical needs kiddo because other voters decided tax cuts and a pro life stance were more important than social services, social justice, and the needs of children and adults who’ve already been born.

The holiday season is always a bit tricky for those who deal with chronic medical needs.  Those yucky viruses that are a nuisance for all can get complicated, more serious, and last longer than they do for the average healthy person.  We’re quite used to medical mayhem here in Fringeland.  It always sucks, but you do get used to the reality of a shifting normal, not necessarily expecting but being prepared for potential complications and unpleasant surprises. Or so you think.  Because sometimes you go to Dr Pediatrician who sends you to Dr Specialologist who sends you back to Dr Pediatrician who sends you immediately to another Dr Specialologist who sees and diagnoses something completely unexpected, that may or may not have an underlying cause, but regardless, threatens the vision of kiddo. The vision. Both eyes. Of kiddo whose all-things-good come from the visual.

Yeah, sometimes shit just happens, and it feels like some sadistic fucking wizard behind the curtain is writing a manuscript where you and yours are featured, and (s)he’s snickering at they keyboard because they figured out how to raise. the. stakes. for the next few chapters. If I were writing this manuscript, this novel (remember–by definition, a novel is fiction) and wanted to raise the stakes for an already challenged artist? No hesitation, I’d threaten vision. If I actually could control this, could write my own script? Absolutely, I’d get my butt back in the chair, at the keyboard, and write for twenty-two hours a day. But this isn’t a novel, and I sure as shit didn’t write this manuscript.

I may skip decorating the tree, and let the crying sap be my holiday statement.

Imaginary Friends

Mystery flower. I've got a whole container of these very real flowers, planted by an imaginary gardener.  Or the seeds dropped by the bluejay who comes to visit.

Mystery flower. I’ve got a whole container of these, planted by an imaginary gardener.

We all have those friends, who you meet and connect with, where within a short time you can’t imagine your life if you hadn’t met–but you know life would have been different; poorer, tea from a twice-used tea bag.  I have a garden of friends like those, a veritable field of wildflowers, though most of our shared tears, laughter, arguments, and wine have been cyber in nature.

I hate those memes that go around, the articles about clever art installations mocking our dependence on the internet and smartphones.  Do we miss the point, the moment, are we hiding behind our keyboards?  Maybe, sometimes.  But often we’re connecting, building new friendships and learning about points of view we wouldn’t otherwise see.  Those memes dismiss the relationships, the access to viewpoints and information that broaden our worlds.  They negate the very real support.

My first full online experience  was a forum where I met other parents dealing with the same issues as I was, asking the same questions, feeling the same fears and frustrations, laughing at the same gallows humor, sharing dreams, hopes, denial and acceptance.  Equally important were the adults I met in that forum who themselves had the disorder.  Also asking questions, sharing information, making jokes and living their lives.  If memory serves, before then my internet experience was limited to brief jaunts with Ask Jeeves.  Since then, I’ve been a member of several online communities with various special interests, and made some friends along the way in all of them.  But that first forum was special.  What a shock it was for me to discover not all forums were as wonderfully accepting and supportive, with statements carefully phrased so as not to be misconstrued and questions framed to help gather information, not attack.

Maybe the stars were aligned and the moon was in the seventh house, I don’t know.  What I do know is that we formed a tight, tight group that remains intact to this day, though none of us actually use that forum anymore.  We’ve supported each other through medical tests, diagnoses, hospitalizations, dance recitals, IEP meetings, divorces, jobs, life.  We’ve discussed fears of seizures being misinterpreted by overenthusiastic and undereducated police.  Many of us have been fortunate enough to meet a few face to face.  Imaginary friends who send real gifts, offer real advice, real laughter, provide an army of support to each other though various challenges.

Our children are ours.  Face to face or not, we’ve cheered successes and cried over setbacks, we’ve watched each other’s children grow.  Our online village.  Our community, not dissimilar to being a member of any minority group.  But not all of our children grow up.  Some have children that mature and leave home, some have children that will never be independent.   A few have children who have died, or will die.  Sometimes this is known well in advance, sometimes not.  We lost one of ours this weekend.  I’m not specifically close with this mom, she isn’t one of the women I formed a relationship with over and above our common bond, but her daughter was one of ours.

Imagine SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, what used to be called crib death) being a risk forever.  Imagine a life where there is no age where the doctor says you don’t have to worry about that for your child anymore.  In our world that’s called SUDEP (Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy).  Certainly not a common risk, but one that’s all too real.  I’m tempted to say it’s the fear and knowledge of SUDEP that brought our group so close together, but I don’t think so.  Many of us didn’t even know this existed until we were years into our common journey.

Imaginary friends?  Maybe, but much like the mysterious life in my planter, the flowers that have bloomed, flowers of laughter, love, tears, and mourning–are very real.

Rest in peace, sweet girl.

 

 

Hey Hey Mama!

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Of the million annoyances I encounter daily through life in the city, I’m old enough and defeated enough to realize 999, 997 have nothing to do with me personally, don’t effect me in any way, and are none of my business.  Sure, the number changes if you consider what I bitch about in my head, or to Husband, or even here on the blog, but to cause me to speak up and interact with strangers?  Not so much.

New York is always under construction.  Buildings going up, coming down, being renovated or refaced, streets being dug up or patched.  Interesting if you’re young or new to the city, hours of free entertainment if you’re 3, good news if you’re in contracting/construction.    I’ve heard people complain about “how much” construction workers earn.  I don’t complain.  First of all, the salaries vary widely–union/non-union, public or private project, white/”minority” worker–wrong as it is, last I read white guys earned an average of 20% more (I put minority in quotes because whites are not the majority in nyc), etc.  Second, these guys* work incredibly hard, back-breaking work in freezing cold, rain, heat and humidity that has most of us hiding inside, sometimes questionable working conditions, and often breathing in shit that I don’t want to think about.  Third, the majority of these jobs/workers are highly skilled, and their work is important.  Fourth, the risk of serious injury is high.  A few of the assignments on the sites aren’t labor intensive, they’re incredibly boring.  Like being assigned to open/close the gates and plastic bumpers for pedestrians to pass through in between cartloads of crap being hauled from the fenced in site to the dumpster in the gutter.  Boring, but they can’t blow it off or let their minds wander, because that would be a disaster, a law suit, and an unemployment line waiting to happen.  Often while working this mind-numbing task, they’re being berated and cursed by veryimportantpeople on their way to veryimportantmeetings who can’t contain their annoyance at being detained for 7 seconds so they don’t get a steel beam through their skull.

 

See? Look up or look down--construction.

See? Look up or look down–construction.

I pass several construction sites daily, multiple times per day, as I take Art Child back and forth to school.  The nice part of being a woman of a certain age who’s allowed herself to go gray?  I don’t deal with much catcalling anymore.  I’ve heard there are a few who find it complimentary.  There are also women who like to call their husbands/boyfriends Daddy and greet them at the door with a martini and a smile–but of course that all falls under the annoyances-I-keep-to-myself category, because it’s none of my business.  At best catcalling is a background annoyance, often it’s rude and dehumanizing, and at worst it can be frightening.  I see a lot of the same guys every day, they smile and say good morning, I respond in kind, and that’s the extent of it.

But the other day I was walking with Art Child and her friend, and one of the workers (who I didn’t recognize, not one of the ones usually on the gate) made a comment to/about my daughter’s friend.  Well, of course not so much about her as about her body.  My daughter looks younger than her age, her friend does not.  Young teenaged girls.  Of course she’s attractive.  I shook my head, said “no,” and we kept walking.  This man–was he drunk?–kept on, calling after us and followed.  For the record, he was not a young man.  Definitely old enough to know better than to make these types of comments to a girl who could easily have been his daughter.  I understand, putting to the side the misogyny of catcalling, when it comes to girls this age, it’s easy to think they’re older, especially if you aren’t looking at their faces. I turned back and said very clearly, “she’s underaged, back off.”  Would you believe he kept going, commenting and following a bit more?  Of course you believe it, if you’re a female between the ages of oh, say, 10 and 100.  Was he delusional?  I offered him a couple more words and we kept going.  Why did I keep going? Because the girls were creeped out and frightened, and I wasn’t sure if this girl’s mother would be okay hearing about a confrontation afterwards.  If I stopped, I was going to get loud.  It’s a balance and a judgement call. Sometimes it’s good for young people to see adults doing the right thing, standing up for them and themselves.  Other times (when the option is there) it’s better to cool off a bit and deal with situations without young people present.

So I don’t know if this guy was drunk, delusional, or bitter about sweating his balls off in 90° heat.  What I do know is that he was confused if he thought this would pass without incident.  This morning I had a nice chat with the site manager/foreman, who was responsive, respectful, and took me quite seriously.

a)The word “underaged” holds more than a bit of power. Those 9 letters contain many implications; ethical, moral, and legal.

b) Site workers and managers pay very close attention when you stop and speak.  If you’re blocking the pass through, several workers have to stop what they’re doing.  Time is money after all.

Women, we don’t have to tolerate predatory behavior, and we shouldn’t.

Moral of the day:  Most annoyances can and should be ignored, some should be addressed head on.  Oh yeah, and don’t fuck with Mrs Fringe.

*I reference “guys” because while I do/have occasionally seen women working on construction sites, it’s still a field dominated by men–and I’ve yet to hear a female construction worker catcalling.

BS Parent Retrospective

Tunneling through a mountain to see your kiddo

Tunneling through a mountain to see your kiddo

In less than two weeks, Nerd Child will be graduating from high school.  (I suppose I’ll have to change his Fringie name at that point–the current one doesn’t feel so right anymore.)  It’s a big deal, not just for him, but for me, and not only in a two-down-one-to-go kind of way.  It will mark the end of an era for this mama as a boarding school (bs) parent.  The other night a friend of mine asked me about boarding schools because her child is interested.  These two things coming up together made me think it made sense to post about our experiences.  Disclaimer, I do not and cannot speak for all boarding families, all scholarship boarding families, or all boarding schools.  I will try to hit points that I think are fairly universal in the world of being a scholarship family at fancy shmancy boarding schools, but of course, this is all just our experience–and really, my perspective.    I know exactly zero about therapeutic, military, or single sex boarding schools (though I’ve heard great things about several of the all-girls schools), or even being a full-pay family at a selective bs.  After two kiddos attending two different boarding schools, visiting/touring/interviewing at approximately 30, and 9 years, I’m not an expert.

If you mentioned boarding school to me fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t have known what you were talking about.  As far as I was concerned, the term was either a polite euphemism for “juvie” or part of the fictional realm of glam and glitz novels.  Ten years ago I had a glimmer, but if you asked if my child would attend, I would have laughed.  Actually, I’m pretty sure I did laugh.  So how is it that I’m about to see my second child graduate from boarding school?  It wasn’t an accident, it didn’t just happen.  It was the result of tons of campaigning by Man Child, research and hard work done by me, Husband, Man Child, Nerd Child, and the middle school both boys attended.  That and the fact that our home had become the center of medical doom and gloom.  Husband wasn’t well, then Art Child wasn’t well, I had a bag permanently packed and at the ready for a hospital admit.

Both my boys went to a small, private middle school here in the city, a prep school that involved ties and dress codes, but not what jumps to mind when you think prep school.  This school is bare bones, for gifted, economically disadvantaged inner city kids, with an emphasis on personal responsibility and responsibility to the greater community.  Oh, and a no-dating policy.  Sound silly?  Not at all.  Remember, this is middle school.  Half the kids are relieved to put off dealing with romantic entanglements.  Half aren’t, it’s true.  But trust me, the kids don’t ruin their social lives forever by waiting and focusing on an inclusionary community.  Dating, by its very definition is exclusionary.  The staff/school has connections with the top high schools in the country; parochial, private day, and boarding, and they work hard to make sure each child gets into the schools with the greatest chance of success–and enough financial aid to make it possible.

Kids in NYC, particularly Manhattan, are well versed in the concept of applying to, interviewing for, and being rejected by schools by the time they reach high school admissions.  I realize this isn’t the case for much of the country.  Is it stressful?  Of course it is.  But it’s manageable, especially if you, as the parent, keep your balance and don’t convey to your child that any one school, or even one type of school, is the only option.  Their chances of getting into a “good” college, their lives aren’t ruined if they don’t get into school A (or B or C), regardless of how glossy the brochure is.  So.  What’s it like, opening to the possibility of boarding school?  It’s exciting, it’s an adventure, it’s a lot of road trips, it’s eight gazillion essays written by you the parent, and 32 gazillion written by your child, it’s fucking terrifying.

I’ve said it before but this can’t be said too many times.  BS isn’t for everyone.  Not for every family, not for every kid.  Your child has to want it.  You have to want it for them.  You have to know your child.  You have to believe your child is going to get up on time, and do their homework without you standing over them.  In my opinion, they have to already be doing these things–but I have heard from many parents whose kids weren’t already doing these things, but they figured it out and managed, with time very successfully.  You have to be able to take a breath when your child calls, upset over x happening, and figure out whether this is a boarding school upset, a high school upset, something that requires a call to their advisor, or an unplanned trip to eyeball them in person.  When/if you go tour, ask the staff, they’ll be honest about how quick they will/won’t be to contact you, it differs with different schools.

Boarding schools do offer tremendous opportunities.  Academics are top–in a way I couldn’t have imagined, ten years ago.  The teachers are truly passionate and caring.  They live there, with your kids, so believe me, they care.  Not just in the classrooms, but onstage, in the dorms, on the athletic fields, in the dining hall.  Class size is generally not an issue, they’re small.  The schools want kids engaged, working, interested, happy, and successful.  Trust me, there are many more applicants than seats available.  When we’re talking about kids on full scholarships, we’re talking about major investments, averaging btw $40-50,000 per year, per kid–and they expect these kids to stay all four years, do well, contribute to the community, and need the same money every year.  Your kiddo won’t be bored.  Ever.  Not to say there are never problems, they’re kids, life happens–but these kids are kept busy–a lot less room to get into trouble.  Your kiddo has been breezing through school?  So has every other kid in their class.  They stop breezing, and are challenged, while still being supported.  Your child’s dorm mates will likely be from all over the country, maybe their closest friend will from Beijing. Or Jamaica. Or Korea or Nigeria.  And I mean the friend, not just where the family is from.  Most of these highly selective boarding schools have large endowments, allowing them to offer generous financial aid packages–more than their equivalent day schools.  Your child will become independent, in amazing and wonderful ways.  That said, your kiddo won’t be 13 forever, growth and maturity happens regardless of what type of high school they attend.

There are commonalities among the highly selective BS, but there are many differences.  Some things to look at:  what are the dorms like? nice? cramped? mixed ages? are there Saturday classes? every week or just a few times a year?  are parents always welcome to visit? kids able to come home (if within a reasonable distance) for the weekend if they need/want to touch base or are there many “closed weekends?”  is there a way for the child to leave campus and come home by public transportation?  is there a dress code? how strict?  are meals formal? assigned seating? how is the food, anyway?  is there a religious affiliation/how prevalent? how large is the school?  some schools are very small, with a total of 300 kids or so, “large” bs are about 1200 kids, not that large compared to many public high schools.  what percentage of kiddos are receiving financial aid?  Is it needs-blind (needs-blind means the decision to accept or deny is made without looking at financial need, if they believe the child is a good fit/they want them, they offer enough financial aid)?  what is the percentage of kids of color?  –how does that break down (so called under/over represented minorities), and how much do you/does your child care?  are there day students?  what percentage?  a few schools are 100% boarding, but most are mixed to varying degrees.  what is the academic range?  are the kids friendly as you pass them on your tour?  how strict/what are the rules?  different schools expect varying degrees of independence, and offer varying degrees of structure. all BS have active athletic programs, and all kids are expected to participate–how much? do they have to participate in 3 sports each year, can they take a season off, do they have alternatives for kids who aren’t athletic by allowing theater to count as a sport, basic instructional classes, etc? Can your child see themselves there?

Are you ready for the judgement, assumptions, and hairy eyeballs of…everyone?  Seriously, everyone.  Some will assume you’ve been hiding the fact that you’re a bazillionaire.  Many will assume that your kiddo has in fact gotten into serious trouble with the law/drugs and are in juvie or a residential treatment facility.  People who have known you as a parent for years (including family members) will assume you are “sending your kid away,” don’t want to parent anymore, aren’t parenting anymore, and/or kiddo hates you–either because you “sent them away” or that’s why they wanted to go in the first place.  You can try to explain, but not too much because then it sounds like you’re making excuses or they’ll hear it as you judging them.  (I’ve even heard stories of teachers being openly judgmental when asked for recommendations for the applications, the assumption being you either hate your kid or think the local teachers are incompetent.)  If you have more than one child and they don’t all go boarding the assumption is you dislike one of them (either the one who stayed or the one who went, take your pick).  When friends/family talk about issues with their kiddo attending the local high school, it’s oh-those-teenaged-years; if you talk about the same issue with your kiddo, it’s clearly the result of your horrible parenting that enabled you to send your kid away.  This doesn’t ease up, by the way.  Most who don’t “get it” still don’t get it 4 years or 4 kids later, with luck they just learn to be quieter about what a horrible and unfeeling bitch you are.

Money.  It can’t be ignored, not in life, and not in bs.  I thought my boys were well prepared.  The staff at their middle school addressed this head on; and we live in Manhattan, in a building that is part of a program designed to keep working class people in the city, on a block that includes 9 million dollar brownstones and project housing.  Public school classmates that included families with country houses in the Hamptons, immigrants living in SROs, and families living in homeless shelters.  Yeah, no.  The level of wealth that can be found in these schools is a whole different playing field.  Not that every full pay family is a family of billionaires, many make significant sacrifices so their kiddos can attend, but seriously, some live in a world so different that even after being a part of the boarding school world for 9 years, I can’t grasp it.  But your kiddo will.  They will when they hear what the other kids are doing with their breaks, hear about familial residences, names they’ve read about in the papers/seen on tv, and when they realize those $20 music lessons you scrimped and finagled don’t mean shit compared to the opportunities and lessons some of their classmates have not only experienced, but live.  They may visit classmate’s homes, and then not feel comfortable inviting classmates back to their home, because now they feel the difference.  (maybe, depends on the kiddo) Financial aid only goes so far.  Speaking of, check those offered packages carefully, there’s a wide difference in how different schools define full scholarship, and those extras can add up quickly, you don’t want to be sitting in a dark house with an unpaid electric bill while your bs kiddo is taking notes in a $12 notebook he charged to your account at the school’s bookstore.

It isn’t about the end game.  If you’re only looking at bs because you think that will guarantee your kiddo admission to an Ivy, forget it.  First of all, the days of “feeder schools” are long gone.  Second, Precious Brilliant Talented Snowflake will be one of 3-1200 precious brilliant talented snowflakes, no one college is taking all of them.  Diversity, it’s a good thing–in high schools, in colleges, in life.  Third, boarding school is an end game unto itself.  The experiences, the growth, the opportunities, the relationships, the way it shapes the way your child sees themselves, others, the world and their place in it; these are valuable unto themselves, to say the least.  Bonus: If you’ve done the boarding school application process, by the time they’re applying to colleges the stress is greatly decreased, you and your kiddo have had tons of practice!  The flip side is that college tours are harder to schedule and frankly, less impressive.

Most of all, you miss them.  Even when you 100 % believe it was the best decision, at the best possible school for them, you miss them.  Some kiddos will call/text/Facetime/Skype all the time, and tell you all about their days, some won’t–it’s basic personality, they are individuals, it’s just how it is.  And you miss out.  Whether it’s a dance or a show or a game or a trip to the ER or an argument.  Even when you live close enough, if the financial aid office works with you to help you get there for a visit on parents’ weekend, even if you have a job with enough flexibility to go see the big moments, you miss out on a million small moments. When we dropped Man Child off for the first time, I sobbed all the way home.  Heh.  I had no idea how much I would/could miss him.  Every drop off after that was harder, I think I stopped breathing when Nerd Child left for the first time.  I couldn’t go with him, because Art Child had just started middle school the day before, and for the very first time in her school career, she wanted to go to school the next day. He was fine with it, I couldn’t comprehend how I was still walking around.

There are many, many things I wish I could do over in life, different paths, different choices.  But given the parameters I have, the life we live, I do not regret allowing my boys to go to boarding schools.  They each took exciting, interesting classes, pursued extra curricular interests we couldn’t offer here at home, enjoyed successes and failures they wouldn’t have experienced here.  They were safe, loved, and supported. They each had fabulous opportunities, cultivated real and wonderful friendships, received high school educations many colleges can’t match.  I didn’t send them away.  We let them go, each with a clear safety net and connections to home.

Good grief, this is the longest post I’ve ever written!

Our children; individual human beings, with or without boarding school.

Full House

amaretti

amaretti

Man Child has returned from Italy, bearing gifts, stories, love, and cookies.  Lots of cooking going on since he arrived, but the first night it only seemed appropriate to celebrate in traditional New York style.

Wine from Italy, pizza from NY, a perfect pairing in Fringeland

Wine from Italy, pizza from NY, a perfect pairing in Fringeland

The funny part is that this is our favorite local pizza, and while he was in Italy, the local paper of the small, northern town he was in actually had an article about this particular pizza place.  Husband and I got a big kick out of that when we saw MC post the article.

I think Italy was the perfect choice for a first big traveling experience for him.  Beauty, history, food, and the passion that comes from an ancient culture; yup, all him.  It’s kind of funny, despite the fact that English and Spanish are the two languages spoken here at home, Man Child never looks quite as natural as he does when speaking in Italian.

Just a few days after he arrived, Nerd Child came home for his spring break.  Do you hear that? It’s the little chorus of mama-angels singing, all 3 of my chickadees home at the same time for more than a day and a half.

Don't trip!

Don’t trip!

It’s been way too long since we’ve all been together, especially without the stress of just a quick stay or holiday preparations.  Art Child is thrilled.  Both boys!  Bonus, they’ve both been pitching in and doing some of the pick-up/drops-offs getting her to and from school.  Every morning I’ve woken up thinking back to when she was a baby, still not yet able to walk, but as soon as she was able to get herself out of her bed, the boys’ room was her first stop of the day; tiny fists beating on their door while she bellowed, “BOYYYYYYZ!”

I’m mom.  I see the similarities, the commonalities, the passion all three have for politics, humor, love of music, and certain gestures and facial expressions.  Certain things from Husband, certain from me, others I guess just from being raised in the same home.  That said, they’re each different in looks, perspective, and presentation.   Not that life has been all serious all the time, but Man Child and Nerd Child are both quite funny, and they play off each other perfectly.  Both use topical humor, self-deprecating humor (hmm, can’t imagine where they get that from), but Nerd Child is more deadpan, gallows type of funny, one quirked eyebrow to communicate the joke (if each one was born with a parenting manual, his would be titled “Brit-Humor Alert), while Man Child is more about parody, with just the right amount of timeless slapstick.  Art Child is quite droll.  So, the greatest common thread, in my opinion?  Laughter.  I have done more laughing in the past ten days than I have in a long time.

Because of school schedules, neither of my boys have been home on their birthdays in a long time.  The first missed birthday (on their part, there were others missed because I was in the hospital with Art Child) was Man Child’s eighteenth, his school was on break, but he was away on a service trip.  Nerd Child will be turning eighteen soon, but he’ll be back at school by then.  Nerd Child’s friend will be coming to stay with us for a few days this week, and he’ll turn eighteen while he’s here.  Poor guy doesn’t realize he’ll be subject to my frustrated mama sniffling.  So the other day when Man Child suggested he make a cake the following day, I told him to wait, we’ll make a cake for the friend’s birthday in a few days.  *insert awkward pause here*  Why awkward?  Because the following day was Man Child’s birthday.  Sure I realized it just after I said it, but still.  Bad, bad, mama.

Obviously, now I had to make a cake, and not just a cake, but a special cake.  I’ve been making lots of bundt cakes in the past couple of years, but Man Child isn’t enamored of those.  He’s young and energetic, passionate about all things food and baking, and therefore considers bundt cakes cheating.  What would be special?  What would everyone enjoy, that I haven’t done in a while, that wouldn’t break my back?  I used to make a lot of cheesecakes.  I actually own an entire cookbook dedicated solely to different types of cheesecakes.  Ok, I’ll make a cheesecake, and not just any cheesecake, a ricotta cheesecake.  Nice tie-in to him and his time in Italy, no?

That morning he took the girl to school for me.  I made the crust for the cake, and then went with Nerd Child for his eye exam and new glasses.  Afterwards I went and bought a new strainer (my old one is mysteriously missing) so I could get the cheese as dry as possible.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve always found ricotta cakes to be a bit tricky, the texture and moisture levels really have to be perfect.

Don't be deceived.

Don’t be deceived.

Surprise! About forty minutes in, I went to take a peek at how it was going, and I noticed a small puddle forming on the floor, under the right bottom corner of the oven.  I figured someone dropped ice cubes and missed one when cleaning up.  Hmm, this water is mighty slippery.  You could even say greasy.  Turns out there’s a small leak in my springform pan.  Not enough to be noticed when I pre-baked the crust for ten minutes, or when I poured the batter in, but just enough for a slow leak of butter from the crust.   In the space of the 38 seconds it took for me to notice the puddle and determine that it wasn’t melted ice, the oven, kitchen, and hell, most of the whole apartment filled with smoke.  Once the smoke cleared and the danger of fire passed, we stuck the cake in the fridge to chill, hopefully firm in the middle, and generally hope for the best.

Needless to say,

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didn’t quite work.  Not to mention the smoky overtones to the flavor.  As I said, there’s been a lot of laughter.

And this.

lots of this.

lots of this.

Maybe Nerd Child’s friend would like some chocolate pudding to celebrate his eighteenth?

Those Moments

Quintessential Guggenheim

Quintessential Guggenheim

The NYC public schools were closed this past week for the February break.  I’m cursing this break when school is still in session at the end of June, but in the moment?  Yeeees, so necessary.  For the most part, the girl and I spent the week resting and ate half-priced-post-Valentine’s Day chocolate.  But yesterday morning Husband needed to get new glasses, so Art Child and I went with him to help pick frames.  Since we were going to be on the east side anyway, I figured it was a good day to hit a museum.

The Upper East side has been (marginally) more resistant to change than most other residential neighborhoods in Manhattan, so there are still a few old gems left to wrap me in the nostalgia of remember when.  Like this one.

Almost makes me wish I liked egg creams.

Almost makes me wish I liked egg creams.

Art Child and I said goodbye to Husband, I grabbed my camera, she grabbed her sketchbook, and off we went.  The Guggenheim isn’t one of the museums we visit regularly, it is not one of the suggested donation institutions.  Those types of museums can quickly blow a week’s budget.  Eat before we go.  No, we aren’t buying anything in the gift shop!  No, we can’t go again before the installation leaves. The saving grace is that flat admission price doesn’t exclude any of the temporary exhibitions.  If you’ve never been, the building itself is well worth a visit.  All curves, you spiral your way up a continuing ramp to see what’s on display.  Certain floors branch off to more permanent exhibits and/or smaller installments.

Every time I go I think of being there with Man Child when he was a little guy, an installation of motorcycles.  Very cool, even if I still don’t understand why they were there.  Mostly I think of it because Nerd Child was an infant.  They didn’t allow strollers/carriages along the ramps, and Nerd Child was a champion puker–one of those babies where every spit up looked like an audition for The Exorcist– so Husband and I took turns carrying him while zig-zagging around the bikes.

The current primary exhibition is a retrospective, a collaborative effort from Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss that spans over thirty years, “How to Work Better.”  Huge, the sheer number of sculptures, photographs, videos, and instillations left me overwhelmed at times.  Art Child tells me I’m supposed to be.  Some of it I really liked, some not so much.  The first thing you see is the costumes the artists wore while making their films THE POINT OF LEAST RESISTANCE and THE RIGHT WAY.  umm, ok.  I didn’t take a ton of photos, I was busy trying to understand what I was seeing, but I’m glad we went.

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Here's where I love the tourists, they remember the views over the park are part of the intended experience.

Here’s where I love the tourists, they remember the views over the park are part of the intended experience.

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In the Thannhauser Gallery there are an assortment of paintings by Picasso, Van Gogh, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Cèzanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, and others.  Regardless of what else is on exhibit, whether it’s something I enjoy, understand or not, I’m moved and satisfied sitting in that gallery.  I love Picasso, his paintings, his etchings, his sculptures.  Not all of his work, he starts to lose me with swaths of his Cubist period.  Does that mean I’m déclassé?  Maybe just a peasant.  That’s ok, I don’t mind.

One of my favorite paintings is there now.  Sorry, I must have knocked the dial on the camera right before I took this photo, it’s way too yellow.

 

Woman Ironing, by Pablo Picasso.  Can I say it again? I love this painting.  From his Blue Period, there’s something about it that has always drawn me in.  I don’t remember the where (pretty sure it wasn’t the Guggenheim) or when (I was a child, for certain) I first saw it, but I will never be tired of this woman.  When I hear people refer to a work of art speaking to them, this is one of the paintings that comes to the forefront of my mind.  Maybe I always knew I was destined for drudgery.  And scoliosis.  And shadows.  Take a closer look with me, the shadow along her neck is delicious, makes me shiver.

Everything you can't see in her eyes, but see in her curves and angles.

Everything you can’t see in her eyes, but see in her curves and angles.

This was the first piece of the day that Art Child chose to sit and sketch.  I can’t say what I enjoyed most, being able to sit down and enjoy the Ironing Woman, the girl sitting at the end of the bench and sketching her, or the museum visitors stopping to watch her sketch for longer than they looked at the painting in question.  Perfect moment.

After we had moved on, and were back to Fischli and Weiss, I felt my phone buzz.  A text from Nerd Child, frustrated and disappointed about a lost opportunity.  No fault of his own, one of those life-happens things. Still, I’m a mom, which means through the life experience that enables me to understand the whys, hows, and frequencies of disappointments, my heart aches for each of my kiddos, every time they’re faced with one.  In the middle of the gazillion clay sculptures I happened to be standing in front of a representation of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot.  I walked past the donkey to the inner wall of the museum and looked down.

Something had clicked for me, and the artists’  spent Rat and Bear costumes lying on the lobby platform made sense. Trying to make sense of a world that doesn’t, philosophical questions that don’t have a right answer–or any answer at all, dreaming about success.  Yeah, these are the things we need to do, to experience, the questions we need to ask.  These are the moments we need, perfect or otherwise.

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Testing, Testing, 1,2, Oh, ‘Murica

Surely you’ve read about it, or at least heard about Ahmed Mohamed, the 14 yo boy arrested at school in Texas for bringing in a clock.  Just in case being a new high school freshman isn’t terrifying enough.  I’m not sure I can come up with any new or brilliant commentary on this, but I couldn’t bring myself to let it pass without mention.  The school to prison pipeline grows ever shorter, while the concept of American public schools being about anything other than testing and warehousing grows more fantastical.

When we moved into this apartment, I dumped or donated most of the no longer used toys and build-your-own kits that clogged the shelves.  But I looked into the boys’ closet this morning, and found this:

Contraband?

Contraband?

And now you know the truth, Mrs Fringe and Husband are subversive enough to have encouraged our kiddos to use their imaginations, and *gasp* learn outside the classroom.  I would say I’m going to send the pinhole camera kit to Ahmed Mohamed, but since he built his clock using his brain, imagination, and spare parts, I’m guessing he’s advanced well beyond this type of thing.

I’ve seen many comments to the effect of “oh, Texas.”  But it isn’t “just” Texas, this type of lunacy, this profiling, this purposeful stifling of children’s minds is everywhere.  Test scores test scores, who needs learning? Or creativity? Or ingenuity?  We do.  Who needs to question school rules, what’s being taught and valued in our schools? We do.  Who needs to speak up and say racism and fear has overtaken common sense? We do. The teachers in Ahmed Mohamed’s school failed him.  The first teacher he showed his clock to who told him to hide it, and the second teacher who reported him to the principal.  The principal who called the police. The police officers who arrested him, fingerprinted him, questioned him without his parents or attorney present, stated that he was passive aggressive because all he would say was that it was a clock, they failed him. Not just him, but every kid who attends anything other than the “elite” schools where science and creativity are encouraged.  Schools with precious few seats where you either have to test in, win a lottery, live in the right zip code, or pay tens of thousands of dollars per year.

We send our children to school with the assumption and reassurances that the adults in charge will do all they can to keep our children safe.  Safe, first and foremost.  Before academics, before test scores, before athletics. This boy wasn’t kept safe, he was terrorized.  My heart aches for his parents, trying to imagine what his mother must have thought and felt when she first heard.  Anyone else remember being taught that old trick about principal/principle? The principal is a pal. Not to a kid who’s brown. Or poor.  Or smart.  Or questioning.

I’m guessing most of us have been faced with at least one moment in our lives where we made a decision based on fear.  Those moments don’t generally result in rational thought and educated decisions. But yesterday’s incident was based on pure, willful ignorance and prejudice. It isn’t an honest debate about the advantages/disadvantages of high stakes testing,  if it’s worth having our schools look and act like prisons complete with lockdowns, metal detectors, and bars on all the windows, or even whether or not girls should be allowed to wear belly shirts in school.  If you’re thinking Mrs Fringe doesn’t sound impartial and unbiased, you’re absolutely right–because Mrs Fringe is a blog, for my blatherings, not a fact-checked news source.  If only we were teaching our kids to tell the difference.  But I suppose that would also be suspect; mustn’t question what’s on the screen in front of you–unless of course you disagree, and even then, don’t question, just attack, facts be damned.

I read something yesterday, a comment on a Facebook thread that referred to his arrest and suspension as science-shaming.  WTF?  This doesn’t need a pretty and politically correct label, it needs to be called what it is.  Bullshit.

This morning everyone is gleefully celebrating the support shown through the #IStandWithAhmed hashtag on Twitter.  President Obama invited him to the White House, he’s being celebrated and receiving invitations from the techiest of the big tech folks.  That is wonderful for him and his family, and honestly, I hope they win a huge judgement in a lawsuit.  But I can’t quite celebrate, because this shouldn’t have happened, and no matter what opportunities come his way, I imagine being criminalized for making a clock will shape every decision he makes from now on.  Him, and every other young person who saw this news.

Mama, Didn’t Mean to Make ya Cry

Empty nest or empty bed?

Empty nest or empty bed?

I think it’s just an empty bed, because the nest surrounding it is filled with the laundry that gets washed but doesn’t go in the dryer, so there’s a forest of detergent-scented shirts and undies to hack through.  And of course, I still have one child at home.

But let’s go ahead and talk about the empty nest thing.  The other day on Facebook, I saw a short video meant to tug at the heartstrings and tear ducts of women my age and up (all with gray or white hair, yes!!) giving individual answers to what they’d have done differently.  All said some variation of they’d have slowed down, appreciated the small moments, snuggles, hugs, bedtime delays, etc more than they did.  Ok, fair enough, and it was a nice little video, but my immediate thought was, I did all that.  I did all that, and I wish I had done a little (not a lot, but a little) less of that.

When I was a kid I swore that when I grew up, I was going to have children, keep them, let them feel how loved they were, know they came first, devote my everything to them while encouraging independence.  Check. I’m glad I’m a mom, glad I spent the time, feel somewhat confident that I’ve done and continue to do the best I can.  Mistakes made? Check. Decisions I regret? Check. But I not only adore my kiddos, I like them, like spending time with them, love hearing the laughter, and feel like the most miserable, useless human being on the face of the earth when they cry. When they were little, Husband and I practiced attachment parenting; holding them until they fell asleep–in our room–,  I breastfed for a combined total of 8000 years, and agonized over which toy, what rules, which foods, and on and on.

I thought, because I was aware and making a conscious choice to center my world around them, I wouldn’t lose myself.  To some degree, that’s been true.  I wouldn’t resent them. That’s certainly true.  I remembered to maintain my friendships and get “grown-up” time. I didn’t stop listening to the music I loved, didn’t stop reading anything other than the Scholastic Book catalogue, didn’t let my life be ruled by playdates and mommy and me classes. Still, looking back, I wish I had nudged myself and my writing just a little higher on the to-do list.

During those early years, I heard a fair amount of backlash.  “you’re pregnant again?” “you’re still nursing?”  And of course the whispers I wasn’t meant to hear but did, “those kids are never going to be independent.”  “never going to wean.” Yawn.  The same whisperers who swore my kids would never be able to fall asleep without me let alone become functioning adults, murmured again when each boy left for boarding school.  “I can’t believe she’s sending her kids away!” Yawn.  For the 492nd time, I didn’t send them away, I allowed them to go.  Not just semantics. Boarding school isn’t the best choice for every kid for many different reasons, but it was for two of mine.

So this video has stayed on my mind.  This morning I saw a link and discussion about another video.  I didn’t click the link, just read the discussion, about a commercial being aired (in Asia, maybe?) about a mom sitting alone, miserable because her nest is empty and the kid(s) hasn’t called, even though she devoted her every everything to this ingrate.  Call your muthah.  The discussion was all about how terrible it is for women to center their lives around their children, it’s their own fault, unrealistic expectations, excessive guilt trips, and a few posts about this-is-why-I-choose-not-to-have-children.  Fair enough.  There are many reasons to choose not to have children, and I believe all should be accepted.  #1, it’s nobody else’s fucking business and #2, parenting is long and hard no matter what parenting philosophy you subscribe to, with absolutely no guarantees about anything; not whether you’ll enjoy it, feel good about it, have a good relationship when all is said and done, or whether or not those kiddos will be healthy and sound enough to grow up and become independent.

The other day was my birthday, and I have to say, it was an excellent day.  I woke to flowers from Husband, Art Child made me a fantastic card, Man Child messaged me from Italy (unexpected, I figured he’d still be jet lagged and getting his legs under him), Nerd Child not only called me, but happened to be with someone I’m a big, long time fan of, and the man got on the phone and wished me a happy birthday! I stayed in my pajamas until the afternoon, got several texts and phone calls from friends, and my buddy El Fab came over for dinner.  Would I have been angry if the boys hadn’t remembered and contacted me? Given them lectures, guilt trips, and slide shows about why they should have? Nope, but it sure was beautiful that each remembered me.

It seems natural, logical to me that at the other end of this parenting gig (sure, you’re a parent forever, but there is usually a point where the kiddo develops their own life, be it from the basement apartment, across state lines, or on another continent) and there’s a period of, dare I say it? Wondering what’s next.  Maybe even feeling a bit of emptiness.  When someone spends years building a career and then stops working,  it’s the subject of good natured teasing, maybe even compassion, “(s)he doesn’t know what to do with himself.”  I don’t hear a whole lot of “I told her not to make so much damned money…be such a dedicated worker…if he had put more into it, he wouldn’t be miserable now…eventually she had to retire!”  I definitely haven’t seen any videos floating around chastising retirees.

We are all individuals, same as our children are. I know parents with adult children who speak to their children every single day, see them twice a week, and live within spitting distance of each other, can’t conceive of going a month without seeing each other.  They’re living their lives, and happy.  I know parents with adult children who speak once a week, see each other once every month or two, live a couple of hours away from each other, living their lives, and happy. Some live in different countries, speak when they can, and are thrilled if they see each other every year or two. Others live around the corner from each other, or thousands of miles away, and don’t speak at all, too many years of anger and resentment.  And then there are some who have experienced the terrible, unimaginable heartbreak of losing a child to illness, drugs, or violent crime.  Yes, we can (do?) all look back and see moments where we wish we had made different choices.  For ourselves, for our families.  I sure as hell can’t look back at someone else’s life from my living room and my perspective and tell them what they should have done.  Does this make me a bad feminist as well as a bad mama?

After all these years of mama-ing, hindsight leads me to this one question:  When are we going to stop with the judgmental bullshit?  Call me crazy, but I don’t think there’s one right way to parent, one right way to live, one right way to be independent.

Chugga Chugga Chugging Along

Blur of colors, faces, and heat inside the train.

Blur of colors, faces, and heat inside the train.

No more denying, this year has begun.  I know, for most the year begins in January, but for me, as a parent and summer worshiper, the year begins in September along with the public school year in New York.  Nerd Child went back to school first, Art Child began last week, and Man Child left for Italy two days ago.

Art Child has begun high school.  I think the fact alone confirms I’m in my dotage, but in case it’s questionable, I’ll assure you I feel it. By the end of last week–three days of school–I had taken approximately 43,000 trains and climbed 9 billion subway steps bringing her to and from.  By Friday, she and I both fell asleep on the couch before dinner, and she was already trying to fight off some kind of virus/cold.

Surely I'm trapped inside this cement mixer.

Surely I’m trapped inside this cement mixer.

Ahh, the stresses of mamahood.  Man Child will be away for six months.  Very exciting for him, and quite strange for me.  Before he left, I guess he was feeling a bit nostalgic, because he was talking about and requesting the dishes that were staples when he was younger.  I made a huge batch of basic tomato sauce, we had spaghetti one night, baked ziti another, he made a simple (and delicious) rice and beans with roasted chicken, and he and Mother-In-Law baked an early birthday present of Dominican Cake for me–guayaba filling, of course.  The apartment felt very quiet once he left; he’s a young man with great energy, both of my boys laugh easy and often, and by yesterday morning I was already missing the seemingly constant simmer of something on the stove.  I still had a container of sauce left, was feeling a little nostalgic myself–not to mention envious of the foods and flavors Man Child will certainly be experiencing, so Art Child and I went to the store to purchase an eggplant.

Between time constraints, dietary restrictions, generally fewer people at the table, and a shrinking capacity for standing, most of what I cook these days is a healthier and quicker variation of the dishes I used to prepare. But what the hell, one old-school dinner to kick off the start of the new school year.  I purged the eggplant.  Purging is slicing, salting, and weighing down the slices to draw the bitterness out–then rinse, pat, and begin your dish.

Eggplant Parmigiana

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I season the flour with a little garlic powder (granulated, not the stuff that gives clouds of garlic dust) and fresh ground black pepper.  Some people add their seasonings to the egg, but I find it adheres better to whatever you’re coating when in the flour, instead of sinking to the bottom of the bowl.

After a light flouring, a quick dip in the egg/water mix.

After a light flouring, a quick dip in the egg/water mix.

Then into a panko/parmigiana mix.

Then into a panko/parmigiana mix.

Use your hands and get your fingers dirty.  Panko crumbs make for a lighter, crisper coating than regular breadcrumbs, but need a little help to make sure you get a nice mix on each slice, not just the grated cheese.

Fry (yes, I said it, fry) in olive oil.  Not a super light extra virgin, something heavier that will hold up.

Fry (yes, I said it, fry) in olive oil. Not a super light extra virgin, something heavier that will hold up.

I like to get them a nice gold color, about 2 minutes on each side.  Yes, my stove is dirty, I have no shame. Probably what tipped the scales to have me make this–it needed to be cleaned anyway.

I had one zucchini in the fridge, so I dredged it and added it to the eggplant.

I had one zucchini in the fridge, so I dredged it and added it to the eggplant.

As they finish, layer the slices on a paper towel lined and layered plate to absorb excess grease. Now try not to eat all the eggplant before you make the casserole.

A little sauce on the bottom of your casserole/baking dish.

A little sauce on the bottom of your casserole/baking dish.

Good quality cheese is everything, and fresh mozzarella is so much better than the dry, yellow, pre-packaged stuff.

Good quality cheese is everything, and fresh mozzarella is so much better than the dry pre-packaged stuff.

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Start layering.  Eggplant, mozzarella, sauce, and then a little fresh grated parmigiana or romano.  I prefer romano for this step.

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Repeat the layers two or three times, depending on the depth of your dish.  There should be enough sauce so every bite has some, but too much will leave the whole thing kind of gloppy and you won’t taste the eggplant at the end.

Bake.  Not for too long, everything is pretty much cooked already.  350 or 375° for twenty minutes covered with foil, then uncover and bake another 10 minutes.  Done.

Hungry?

Hungry?