family

Zero to Hero: Or Not

I know, I know, I haven’t been around.  First I was writing, which felt shockingly excellent.  Then I got sick, the flu maybe, which sucked. Naturally after I got sick, Art Child got very sick, and the battery for my camera has died, which means no new photos, and before I can blink, weeks have gone by without even considering a post, and a whopping dose of the blues, which means  you didn’t want to hear from me anyway. Trust me.

The other day I was web surfing, and came upon what looks to be a reputable writer’s conference that will be here in the city this summer.  Sure I haven’t opened the Mess-In-Progress in weeks, I’m not quite sure how I’ll work out the money or the logistics but ooh!  I’m considering it.  Maybe it will be motivating. Inspiring. Humbling.  Humiliating. Yeah, maybe I’ll put that thought to the side for now.

Why am I blogging today? I’m not sure. Maybe because I feel like howling at the universe, but apartment life means no howling allowed. This is not a mom blog, or a special needs parenting blog.  I do talk about my kids a fair amount because they’re a huge part of my life, but as I’ve said many times, Mrs Fringe is my spot to be me–all of me; the good, the bad, and the wacky.

I know Jimmy Kimmel did a beautiful job talking about all of this the other day. Heartfelt, honest, a perfect blend of hope and honesty, and I truly thank him for using his platform to talk about families who don’t have millions tuning in to their words, have millions cheering them on and praying for them. Even I teared up as I watched. He had a layer I don’t have anymore, that newness, that shock of how-did-I-get-here?

In parenting, there are moments that make your heart stop. I like to think I’m pretty good in moments of crisis, it’s afterwards, when you have time to think and breathe, when I’ll feel it most.  But yeah, there are those moments where no matter that part of your brain is telling you to move, to speak, to take action, to take a breath…the lobe that’s in control in that one moment is frozen.  I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, it hasn’t always been a huge crisis that prompts this, it’s the neat and perfect dovetailing of implications, suddenly unavoidable.

“Mom, the dark’s been darker than usual.” My heart, my brain, my fucking everything stopped when I heard that. Of course I needed to hear it, I need to know this, but I don’t want to. For the past several months, we’ve been seeing more specialists and adding meds to deal with the issue that’s come up with Art Child’s eyes. I can and will do everything possible to preserve her vision. We’ve been doing everything possible, knowing the odds are ugly, to say the least.  And then I heard that statement.  And the next day she came home with a different edition of a book she’s been reading because “the letters are bigger.”

And then I went online and read about the latest round of “How the GOP is trying to kill the citizens of America and torture the most vulnerable.” Excellent.  Even better, the individual statements of Reps and 45 supporters saying things like people who live “good lives” and “do things the right way” should pay less than those with pre-existing conditions. As another med-needs-mom friend of mine put it, yeah, if only our fetuses hadn’t been drinking and whoring while in the womb, they wouldn’t have those pre-existing conditions. If you don’t have experience with this stuff, let me say sometimes I think it’s a freaking miracle that the majority of babies are born healthy and neuro-typical, because yes, there are that many things that can and too often do go wrong. Another pro-tip for you, everything is genetic. Everything. And most of us will, at some point, develop something considered a pre-existing condition, because it’s coded into our genes. Or we’ll have an accident that will have lasting repercussions. Or old age.

So on one side we’ve got the people who are totally cool with anyone with treatable health issues dying because they can’t afford health care. On the other side (and sometimes, oddly enough, there’s crossover) there are the people who know they and their family were really lucky with the genetic jackpot, and they say things like, “I don’t know how you do it. You’re a hero. Your child is a hero.” Now, I get the whole hero thing when you’re trying to explain to a very small child who’s ill. “You’re a superhero! You’re going to kick cancer’s butt! Slaying cystic fibrosis! Show those seizures who’s boss!”  And I know there are some medical needs parents who find it helpful to think of their children (maybe even themselves, but I haven’t heard that regularly) as heroic in the fight against *insert cause(s) here*.  Or they believe they/their children were chosen. I’m too cynical for this, and frankly, it neither makes me feel better nor gives me strength to make the next phone call, agree to the next med that includes “may cause death” in the list of side effects.

I’m a regular old gal. Really. If you walked past me on the street, well, you’d walk past. Normal. Regular. Average.  You might notice Art Child because she’s fabulous and beautiful, but that might be my bias talking.  You’d probably walk past her too. And my boys. Man boys, who do indeed have ten extra levels of strength, calm, and compassion because they grew up in a house with medical needs.  But you’d walk past them. And that’s all okay. I love a good cape, and so does the girl, but I feel no need to slap on a mask and gadget belt. I just don’t want to be a villain, either, for wanting the best possible chance for the best possible outcome for my child.

 

Magical Thinking

Reality or Magical–What do you see?

Yes, it’s been a while.  Again.  First I was working on a post that’s still sitting in my drafts folder because I couldn’t beat the words into sense, and then life.  Blah blah, medical mayhem, lots of waiting rooms and doctor’s offices, suffice it to say I’m pretty sure any vision test I take from this point forward is null and void– I’ve seen so many while sitting with my girl, I’ve got every chart memorized. Thank you, my fellow Dems/Liberals for being diligent and insisting on being heard about how disastrous the proposed health care bill was, and thank you, GOP, for being in such a mess that you’ve had to put your we-want-you-to-suffer-painfully plans on hold so I can keep doing this.

And oh yes, I’m writing again.  A secret unless you a) read this blog post or b) follow my twitter feed (which you should, because on the thrice annual occasion that I remember to log on, I retweet with the best of them).  It might be more accurate to say I’m rewriting, because this isn’t a glittery new project, this is the rusty old wreck I tabled a few years back that I’ve already talked about reworking.  I figure I *might* be able to use half of what was there, and overall I don’t yet know if I’m taking something that was meh and making it better, or taking something that was meh and puking weird and unidentifiable bits of acid all over it.

Takes a bit of magical thinking to write a novel, regardless of genre.  More than a bit if you’re writing with an eye towards publication.  If you’re looking at trade publishing (as in–not self-publishing) I’m pretty sure the odds are 843,000,000,000 to one.  A couple of years back I blogged about the need for big brass ones in order to believe this could be done.  Despite regular polishing of my metaphorical testicles, here I am, still one of the unwashed and unpublished wannabe novelists.  Clearly, in addition to working diligently on the MIP (Mess in Progress, since I’m still unsure if I can call it a Work in Progress) the answer is to sprinkle some eye of newt into my word cauldron, maybe wave a bit of sage, and wear my very pointiest hat.

Whatever we’re wishing for, I think most of us engage in a bit of magical thinking.  Like, say, this woman.  This is a hell of a story, an excellent snapshot of why supporting 45 and his merry band of fascists was a bad idea.  She’s an American citizen married to a not-quite-undocumented Mexican immigrant.  She voted for our current regime, because she thought they only meant they would deport the “bad ones.”  Her husband wasn’t in hiding, checked in with ICE when he was supposed to, gainfully employed, paid taxes, legit, provisional Social Security number.  Needless to say he is currently in jail awaiting deportation because ‘Murica.  I’ve seen a lot of people comment on this story, some gleeful at her comeuppance, some who feel sorry for her.  Me? Shrug. I take no pleasure in what has to be a painful and terrifying experience for her husband and their children, but I don’t feel sorry for her.  He was very clear about his beliefs and vision, started his whole damned campaign with racial slurs about Mexican immigrants. This is an example of dangerous magical thinking; belief that no one can see you behind a clear shower curtain, that it’s ok and safe to wish harm on others; ok to strip rights, dignity, even humanity because other.

There were never any real plans offered by this President and his administration regarding how they would make things great. The closest they came to concrete plans involved who they were going to vilify, and how he could do whatever he wanted while keeping his supporters and increasing his net worth.  His net worth, not yours.  I’ve said this many times already, once you say it’s okay to dehumanize this group and that group, it’s a guarantee that more groups will be added to that list, and yours will surely be added sooner or later.  I hope no one reading this is surprised and hurt to discover this, but 45 and his cronies don’t see you as a human being.  You were a vote. If you voted for him, he’s done with you, if you didn’t, you never existed in the first place. Let’s go back to that disastrous bill, HurryUpandDieCare.  This is from a meeting on Thursday night, with a no holds barred attempts to squeeze votes out of those who thought it was still too generous a plan.  “Forget about the little shit.”  The little shit is you, me, and the woman from Indiana whose husband is sitting jail.

A little magical thinking might carry me through months of work on this MIP, enough to (hopefully) craft a cohesive and interesting story, maybe adding the tears of a baby dragon will get me through the querying process. It won’t get me published. Magical thinking got 45 and company into office, it won’t make them responsible, compassionate, or skilled–and it surely won’t protect us from the damage.

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.

 

 

All the Best People Are

Me, as drawn by Art Child about 4 years ago, age 11

Why yes, that is my avatar

It’s funny, isn’t it?  The small things that catch hold in your mind when something big and bad is going on.  Maybe it’s a defense mechanism, to avoid the brain shutting down completely.  Kind of like the grotesque show that begins today, Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017.  For the past few weeks I’ve been alternating between reading every newspaper article I can and shutting down the laptop and zoning out with Netflix. I’m sure I don’t have to detail how I was losing my shit, reading and watching clips from the Betsy DeVos hearing.  I think the democratic senators did a great job, demonstrating through their questions, how wholly unfit and inappropriate she is for Education Secretary.  I also think it doesn’t matter.  She, and the rest of the Billionaire Club, will be approved, because all prior rules of engagement, like knowledge, qualifications, and at least a pretense of ethics have been suspended for the foreseeable future.

A couple of days ago a friend posted a picture on Facebook, a piece of art from a popular artist promoting women’s rights and being offered for download.  What caught me wasn’t the art, it was the comment (not from my friend) that artists should keep their political views to themselves.  Oh my.  So terribly, woefully ignorant, a perfect case-in-point to what has gone wrong in America.  Art is political.  It makes you feel, it makes you see, it makes you connect, it makes you understand.  Doesn’t matter if we’re talking about visual art, poetry, prose, music, or performance.  All art is political.  And art is what endures.

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My home is not what some would think of when they imagine a family of artists.  The apartment is perfectly ordinary.  Look at the sketch above, Art Child drew it about four years ago, one of her very first pieces after she began, magically, miraculously, to draw.  That’s me in the sketch, perfectly ordinary.  We struggle with bills, we struggle with chronic and debilitating health issues, we struggle with the bits and bobs of life.  And we each love music and art and poetry and food and theater and literature, each with our own draws and, if I may be so bold, talents. Husband hears distinctions and nuances in music that are an entirely different dimension than I hear.  He can turn anything into a drum and create an irresistible beat.  Man Child creates art through food, and when he’s on a stage, it’s truly captivating.  The math he loves, “pure math,” incomprehensible to me, is another language, music in its own right, a language that has no borders of origin.  Nerd Child is a musician, a director, an orator.  Listening to him on his guitar makes me want to dance and weep at the same time.  He creates new worlds we all want to live in as he directs, and when he speaks, people listen. Art Child has developed her skills and talent, creating charcoal sketches and paintings that leave not just me, but others, strangers, talking about her work long after they’ve seen it.

Me? I write. I did write.  I tried to write.  Characters that are so everyday they’re more than a bit off, think you’re going to yawn and end with an oh! Settings that begin next door and then twist into the what the fuck.  My favorite “genre” is magical realism.  Not for escape, but for exploring the difficult and often ugly realities through the fantastical. Perfectly ordinary.

I am afraid of what’s to come tomorrow, next month, next year.  I’m a woman, on the downside of middle age, a self-proclaimed sort-of feminist, unsuccessful, a big and nasty mouth with a latino family.  By definition, not who our new administration wants to see or hear from.  We are ordinary people, caught in what looks to be an extraordinary time.  I don’t expect to become the next Salman Rushdie. I’m neither brilliant nor brave enough.  Let’s be honest, at 40,000 years old, dreams of acclaim and awards are long gone, but in those moments where I let myself dream, I still dream of being able to earn a dollar from my fiction.  Not because of the dollar, but because of the validation, because it would tell me I did, in fact, have an impact and speak someone’s truth other than my own. It is my belief that it is our obligation to continue to use our chosen mediums to explore and document what is happening, how it happened, why we are here.  Now is the time to be political. Create.

Hush

Conflicted Slippers

Conflicted Slippers

I don’t think I ever owned a pair of slippers before, but this Christmas, I requested and received these.  Nice, right?  Damn, these are comfy, cozy, and all kinds of aaah.

With the country seemingly on the verge of implosion by capitalism-run-amok, and rising uncertainties about, well, everything, the little things are feeling very important.  Small kindnesses, small comforts.  And then, three days ago, even these ridiculous looking fluffs took on another meaning.  Trump, PEOTUS, tweeted a thanks to Linda Bean for what appears to be a questionable donation, and of course, telling everyone to support LL Bean. ’cause that’s totally what the President should be doing, right? Good grief, is there no respite from this bullshit–even in the privacy of my home, in my goddamned pajamas?  No, no there isn’t.

Which brings me to my point.  This week, as promised, the GOP took their first steps towards repealing the Affordable Care Act.  Oh yeah, they also began clearing the path for future cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.   Needless to say, I and many of my friends have been freaking out.  No, this wasn’t a surprise to any of us.  This is *exactly* what the GOP and Trump said they were going to do.  That doesn’t make it any less horrific, terrifying, and downright immoral.  And it isn’t just us, this “small”  percentage (14%, last I saw) of families who have a child with medical needs.  It’s everyone who has a preexisting condition, might ever develop cancer or other catastrophic illness, might have a serious accident, use birth control, or, yanno, would like to be able (legally and financially) to make decisions for our health–even if we’re women.

It’s true, I’ve seen a few posts and comments here and there from people who voted for Trump who are surprised and unhappy.  Why yes, the ACA is the actual name for Obamacare, so you just voted to cut your own healthcare.  You’d have known this if you read full articles and didn’t rely on memes and rally soundbites as the sole source of your information.  Why yes, the Medicaid you were able to get because of Medicaid Expansion, part of the ACA.  Why yes, your young adult child is able to stay on your health insurance until the age of 26 because of the ACA.  Why yes, you were suddenly able to get health insurance you could afford despite preexisting conditions because of the ACA.  Why yes, you/your child will continue to be insured and receive life-saving treatments that can carry a sticker price of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year because of the ACA–because yes, with the old “lifetime caps,” there were many who exhausted their lifetime benefits within 5-10 years of treatment.  I would like a law that says people who voted for Trump and GOP lawmakers cannot identify as pro-life, they must identify as pro-birth, because they’re happy to watch all those babies die after they’re born.

Oh, I’m sorry, did you believe Trump and the GOP when they said they’d keep the parts you liked?  I can only quote our PEOTUS, “Lies.” That shit was magical thinking, not a binding pledge. But many comments I’ve seen and heard from those on the opposite side of the political spectrum aren’t expressing surprise or outrage.  Quite the opposite, they’re still celebrating, “the swamp is being drained.”  Yes, and as it’s drained it’s being refilled with the raw sewage of unprecedented conflicts of interest, overt greed, racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, possible treason, and plain old hatred of the less fortunate.

Most of the comments I’ve seen and heard are the ones that prompted this post.  They’re the ones that say, “relax.  Being upset doesn’t help. Wait and see, nothing has happened yet.”  Oddly enough these are the comments I’ve heard the most because I’m hearing them from both sides. It’s true, being upset doesn’t actually solve anything.  Very logical, thank you, Spock.  Guess what? Neither does burying your head in the sand.  I’m no political pundit, but I’m pretty sure that philosophy/methodology is what got us here.  You know what else?  As the parent of a child with medical needs, the wife of someone with preexisting conditions, I don’t get to step away from this or wait and see, because those medical needs are every. fucking. day. and things are indeed happening.

The ACA is certainly not perfect, and there are people who have been faced with premiums that are unsustainable long term.  Seems to me logic would say fix it, don’t set that shit on fire. Our social contract is rapidly becoming a social disease.

Yesterday’s Yesterdays

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The other night I went for dinner with a friend I haven’t seen in (well) over twenty-five years.  I’ll admit to being a bit, umm, nervous? before going.  Completely silly, because I was the one who initiated the plans, but there you have it.  What would I say? Talk about? Edit? Would she roll her eyes as I yacked about my non-writing, much as I was determined to not talk about it?  Would the evening be a minefield of awkward pauses, as I thought about all. the. things. it would be best not to discuss?  Would I recognize her (also silly, I’ve seen the Facebook photos)? As it turns out, I knew it was her from a block away, and she told me I haven’t changed. Aah, the beauty of aging vision.  In any case it was a lovely evening and we gabbed for a solid four hours.

In keeping with the week’s theme of living in the past, pretending Nerd Child is not headed to college in three days, we went to New York’s Ren Faire yesterday.  Because we are a family of nerds, this is something we’ve always enjoyed, and it’s been several years since all five of us were able to attend together.  Who am I kidding, I love this freaking event, I don’t go “for the kids” and if I had the money I’d go every year–several times. Though not one of those who go and camp for the season.  Mostly because

Privy my left foot, I know a port-a-potty when I smell one.

Privy my left foot, I know a port-a-potty when I smell one.

Why do I love this bit of nonsense?  It doesn’t make sense, I couldn’t even read historical romance (when I read romance) because I couldn’t get past thinking about things like lice and scabies and body odor and the lack of indoor plumbing in days of yore.  Seriously, imagine what that knight smelled like when he removed his armor. I’m thinking weeping, festering body sores.

Still, it’s a romanticized era, with heroes and fantasy blended together (because so much fantasy is set in a fictionalized medieval-like setting), fancy feathers and dresses wrapped in great gusts of dust and mead.

It’s true, the fantasy aspect in these fairs is stretched to the limits, and while some of the booths and displays, and actors work hard to achieve authenticity along with comedy, you definitely don’t attend for the historical accuracy.

leather breastplates sold next to

leather breastplates sold next to

pirate costumes next to

pirate costumes next to

bet you never knew renaissance royalty liked a good pho with their turkey legs

bet you never knew renaissance royalty liked a good pho with their turkey legs

camel rides. They gave every camel a break after each ride around the ring. This guy was having the best time playing with his hay.

camel rides. They gave every camel a break after each ride around the ring. This guy was having the best time playing with his hay.

I need a dragon. To keep my unicorn company, of course.

I need a dragon. To keep my unicorn company, of course.

All kinds of crazy, fun, and interesting sights.

We spent quite a while watching the glass blowing demonstration.

We spent quite a while watching the glass blowing demonstration.

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Pickle vending pirate?

Pickle vending pirate?

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Man Child spent a long time speaking with the blacksmith.

Man Child spent a long time speaking with the blacksmith.

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I finally realized what the magic is for me, as I was talking to Man Child.  Sure, many of the actors, attendees, and vendors are young and beautiful in the modern way–after all, it’s roughly 600,000° in that heat and it’s a seasonal gig for the majority.

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Hell, the women at the booth selling hair ties downwind of the camel ring should be getting hazard pay.  Many attendees go in costume, and there’s something about being there that makes people who are otherwise sensible decide that it’s completely appropriate to spend $3-800 on a full costume.  That said, everyone is beautiful at the fair.  Much like my Brooklyn beach, you can feel it as you walk around–everyone feels beautiful.  Young, old, skinny, heavy, doesn’t matter. Full figured women are sensual, middle-aged men who haven’t seen a gym since their high school days in chain mail buying swords; if you haven’t had your wrinkles stapled into your hairline, if life has left you a bit ragged, well, so much the better as you shout, “Huzzah!”

Sunset, Manhattan Style

I needed a little break from all the ugliness  these days.  “Manhattanhenge” is something that occurs about twice a year, I think, when the sunset lines up just so with the grid that makes up our city streets.  I didn’t make it down to the streets that have the best views, just walked south with Art Child and my Mother-In-Law until we were able to have a decent vantage point.  This amounted to me standing in the middle of the intersection every time the light was red, Mother-In-Law calling out the seconds I had left, and Art Child looking at us both like we had lost our minds.

Mrs Fringe:  “Just this one next light, and then I think that will be it.”

Mother-In-Law:  “Yes.”

Art Child:  “Didn’t you say that last time?”

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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,

IMG_7400

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?