family

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,

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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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The Kitchen is now Closed

Jawfish poking his head out of his cave to see if it's all clear

Jawfish poking his head out of his cave to see if it’s all clear

I hope everyone is having a happy holiday season.  Remember my last post, my big stand about refusing to make any rolled cookies in hopes of preserving my back?  Yeah.  I stuck to not making any rolled cookies, but as it turns out, if you make enough drop cookies while still up and down the train steps for 12 trains a day and add in cooking regular food, that doesn’t actually mean anything.

First came the molasses cookies.

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Then came the oatmeal cranberry chocolate chips.

Photo by Art Child

Photo by Art Child

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Pause to absorb some tank serenity.

This cracks me up, the snail has some type of algae (that I don't see anywhere else in the tank) growing from his shell.

This cracks me up, the snail has some type of algae (that I don’t see anywhere else in the tank) growing from his shell.

clown trying to convince the urchin to move

clown trying to convince the urchin to move

On to the chocolate crinkle cookies.

IMG_6864 IMG_6868 IMG_6873

Now for my favorites.  Honey nut ball thingies.  They have the flavor profile of a Greek/Middle Eastern pastry but in a cookie. They’re kind of a pain to make, lots of steps but well worth it.

The first step is the killer. Chopping and chopping

The first step is the killer. Chopping and chopping

End of chopping, walnuts on left, pistachios on right

End of chopping, walnuts on left, pistachios on right

Glaze of honey, oj, cinnamon sticks and cloves

Glaze of honey, oj, simmered down with cinnamon sticks and cloves

The filling=nuts mixed with orange peel and a little of the glaze

The filling=nuts mixed with orange peel and a little of the glaze

not so secret ingredient for the dough

not so secret ingredient for the dough

By this time I was grateful for a dough that didn't have to be mixed by hand.

By this time I was grateful for a dough that didn’t have to be mixed by hand.

End result, drizzled with the glaze.

End result, drizzled with the glaze.

Last batch, pumpkin cookies with a cream cheese frosting.  Simple and pretty fast to throw together, these are almost like little cakes.

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Added up, somewhere between 15-20 dozen cookies, less the couple dozen that were casualties to the residual nerve damage from my fall last spring.  Lots of dropping/kitchen accidents now–I have to start remembering it’s just to be expected when calculating how much I need to prepare.

Christmas dinner I tried to keep things easy.  Ham, curried lentil/cauliflower/almond pie, and a baked spinach and pea risotto.  I’ve never made risotto in the oven before, but I saw a few recipes online, and it seemed like a great back-saver.  Blech. Let’s just say I won’t repeat that mistake.

The curry pie was also new for me, but this I would definitely make again. If I can remember what I put in it.

The curry pie was also new for me, but this I would definitely make again. If I can remember what I put in it.

Mini pies with the excess curry and crust

Mini pies with the excess curry and crust

Man Child wasn’t with us last Christmas, either, but this year we’re really feeling it.  Maybe because last year he was here right before and after, maybe because we know he’s much further away this time.  In any case, he’s been missed.  On the bright side, he definitely knows the routine/timing for us, so he and Miss Music (visiting him in Europe for the holiday) called to video chat on Christmas morning.

For you, Man Child--in case you were missing our Christmas breakfast. ;)

For you, Man Child–in case you were missing our Christmas breakfast. 😉

So yeah, I’m done.  I don’t want to mix, measure, chop, sauté, or bake anything else. More than anything, I’m sick of smelling like the inside of my oven.  Why oh why does anyone think it’s a good idea to create grown-scents and lotions that smell like food?  As far as I’m concerned, it’s a successful adult day if at the end of it I don’t reek of garlic, onions, cinnamon, or vanilla.

One of the best parts of this season has been having Nerd Child home.  Not just here, but relaxed because the college app hell is over.  This means I’m getting to hear lots of fabulous music.

Yesssssss

Yesssssss

Because of El Niño, instead of gray skies and ice we’ve seen quite a bit of fog in the city this winter.  Unfortunately, late December is still far from the end of the season, and I’m afraid we’re going to be slammed with early spring snowstorms.  This of course is based on nothing other than my pessimism.

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For most of us, winter weather is, at worst, a nuisance.  Our recent high temps have meant it didn’t “feel” like it should be time for Christmas shopping, but it was more pleasant when we had to.  Feeling beat and smelling like holiday cookies is solved with a shower at the end of the day.  But for all too many, this warmer than usual season means everything.

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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.