parenting

Imaginary Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest in peace, sweet girl.

 

 

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.

Mama, Didn’t Mean to Make ya Cry

Empty nest or empty bed?

Empty nest or empty bed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chugga Chugga Chugging Along

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

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

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

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

Surely I'm trapped inside this cement mixer.

Surely I’m trapped inside this cement mixer.

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

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

Eggplant Parmigiana

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

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

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

Then into a panko/parmigiana mix.

Then into a panko/parmigiana mix.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hungry?

Hungry?

Wait, Come Back!

How does he manage to end the bottle of shampoo exactly when he's leaving?

How does he manage to end the bottle of shampoo exactly when he’s leaving?

Oh Summer, why do you always end so quickly?  Not quite over yet, but Nerd Child goes back to school tomorrow.  At this point I’ll be lucky to squeeze in one more beach day.  This is our ninth year of watching at least one of the boys pack for the beginning of the school year, and yet it never, ever gets easier. And this is a big year.  Art Child is going into high school, Nerd Child is in his last year of high school, and Man Child won’t be in school at all.  Almost three months past and still a huge thought, that my oldest is a college graduate.

Once August begins, posts from friends in other parts of the country begin creeping into my newsfeed, showing me back to school pictures and advertisements.  For the first week or so, I resent it–in New York we’re only halfway through.  But by the third week, I’m in countdown mode, insomnia increasing even as I remember soon enough sleeping late won’t be an option; knowing it’s only a matter of time before I’m frantically filling out paperwork, asking for the eighth time if he’s sure he packed enough shampoo to last him until Thanksgiving.   You’d think he was headed to Antarctica instead of New England, with no readily available drugstores.

I should be happy and excited for all of them.  Art Child is going to a school that seems like it will be a good fit for her, a small and welcoming community. Not an art school, but she can and will continue with her Saturday art classes. Man Child will be home for about a week, and then he’s off to Europe for several months, with a job and housing lined up.  Nerd Child is poised for an excellent year, and there’s no reason to think he won’t have at least a couple of great options for college once it’s all said and done.

Sure I’ll have a little more room when the amps clear out.

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I’d say I won’t find picks underfoot constantly, but that’d be a lie.  Those things multiply like Legos.

on the floor

on the floor

on the table....

on the table….

He should have begun packing this morning, but instead he headed downtown to the super sekrit, super awesome word-of-mouth-only luthier who made his guitar in order to get it adjusted.

Now he’s home, and should be packing. I should be yelling at him to pack. I should be reminding him to keep working on his application essays. But he’s playing, and I’m listening.

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Celebrate with Mrs Fringe

Here, have a café con leche on the terrace with me.

Here, have a café con leche on the terrace with me.

Yesterday was my 3 year blogoversary.

3 years isn’t that long and my number of subscribers isn’t very large in the context of the “big” blogs, but I can say, without reservation, it all feels pretty damned fine to me.

When I began, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted Mrs Fringe to look like, or exactly what it would encompass.  I said from the beginning (and have continued to say) I wanted a space to be honest, to feel like a whole person, and a spot to prompt myself to write with just enough pressure but no actual, strict obligations.  Maybe I thought it would scratch my writing itch.  It hasn’t, in terms of fiction; instead, it’s an addition. I didn’t know how much I needed it, or how important this blog would become to me, my sense of self, or the growing number of fabulous people I’d meet through blogging.  I didn’t know I’d grow bold enough to post fiction, organized enough to create multiple pages with permanent links under the header in hopes of making navigation easier for readers. I didn’t know if it would attract any readers, let alone regular followers and commenters, but it has, and I thank every one of you for taking the time, making the effort.  A huge thank you to WordPress, for offering a platform that even a luddite like myself could navigate.

It’s funny how blogging has become such a part of my world.  As I go about my days in real time/space, each experience becomes a possible post, every oddity that catches my eye something that has me reaching for the camera.

The other day I took Art Child downtown, for a free workshop for teen artists, sponsored/presented by Sprite and Complex, hosted by Pen & Pixel.

While we were on line waiting to meet Art Child’s friend and her mom, I thought this is what life on the economic fringe in New York means, this is what Mrs Fringe is about.

Sprite Corner: Obey Your Thirst, yes

Sprite Corner: Obey Your Thirst, yes

Life on the fringe has its own set of stresses and stressors.  There are so many, many opportunities here in New York, often closed to those of us on strict budgets.  But sometimes you fall into something that’s cool, and free, and you actually get your shit together and register early enough to get your kiddo into this cool, free opportunity, and haul yourself on the 2 train to the N train to the J train, to a neighborhood that can’t quite decide if it’s going to gentrify or remain industrial, and it’s worth it. They’re running several events out of this pop-up storefront this summer, this one was a Photoshop/Design workshop, but they’re sponsoring others in music, comedy, cooking, and film.  It’s about supporting and enabling creativity in young people.

Tattoo while I wait?

Tattoo while I wait?

Free (good!) pizza offered for the kids before entering.

Free (good!) pizza offered for the kids before entering.

I thought there would be a spot where I could sit out of the way, or go in for coffee, while the girl was in the workshop.  Hmm, my choice seemed to be browsing industrial-sized cooking appliances or blowing a week’s budget in a chi-chi juice bar.  But then one of the execs came over to my friend and I as we were saying goodbye to the girls (I get it, parents hovering over the kids at the computers isn’t exactly the photo ops they’re looking for, plus he wanted to confirm Art Child was within the age group they’re insured for, she looks younger) and offered to buy us coffee. Nice.

By the time we were seated and our orders were taken, coffee became wine and a lovely food plate, and I had put in a plug for Mrs Fringe–I really need to get better at this, if I’m ever going to truly grow this blog–and we spent an hour talking about parenting, cyberbullying, encouraging teens and young adults, raising girls, and S&M.

Sometimes life in Fringeland leads me to some pretty interesting moments and people; thank you for sharing them with me.

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Exhaustion: It’s What’s for Dinner. and Celebration!

On the road, parenting style.

On the road, parenting style.

On Friday morning, Husband, Art Child, and I got in the car to head north for Man Child’s college graduation.  College! Graduated!  I did it!!!  Err, I mean, Man Child did it. And in all seriousness, he did it well.  Congratulations to you!  Naturally, life being what it is here on the Fringe, Nerd Child and all his stuff needed to be picked up from his school on the same day, a mere three and a half hours from where Man Child was graduating.

So we drove.

I've always had a thing for log houses. Wonder how one will look on the beach in HI. ;)

I’ve always had a thing for log houses. Wonder how one will look on the beach in HI. 😉

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You have reached your (first) destination!

You have reached your (first) destination!

Lovely petunias in flower boxes outside our motel room–a mere one state away from where the college actually is.  Apparently the good mommies book their rooms six-nine months in advance, the fringe mamas end up 35 minutes away, across state lines, and pay a completely unreasonable amount of money for one of the most questionable motel rooms I’ve ever stayed in.  Not to fear, we shooed the five bees we found in the room back outside to the flowers, and established that one of the five lamps in the room was indeed working. Then Husband got back on the road to pick up Nerd Child while Art Child and I rested (or in my case, waited for the painkillers to kick in so I could straighten up),  got ready for the evening’s festivities, and sent panicked texts to Man Child regarding who would pick us up to take us to the school. His college puts on a lovely graduation, splitting it into two days so you’re never sitting for an unreasonable amount of time.

Man Child and Miss Music picked us up, I admired his new blazer, he admired my new (to him) cane, and we arrived in time for the dinner and speeches.

Thank you weather gods, for not being too hot or rainy.

Thank you weather gods, for not being too hot or rainy.

IMG_4181This is a small, arts focused but not arts exclusive liberal arts college.  I met several of Man Child’s friends–so full of talent, energy, and optimism.  Dancers, artists, biochemists, one I’m certain has a great future ahead of her in comedy writing, another who’s written a Japanese opera. Together this means I saw some fabulous fashion, spectacular hair colors, had plenty of vegetarian options to choose from, and *drumroll* Gloria Steinem was the featured guest speaker. Can a 40,000 year old woman squeal and fangirl? Yes, yes she can.

First the speaker from the senior class gave her speech. Clever, well timed, full of hope and witty comments about attending a not-quite traditional school that prizes individualism. This young woman is a writer, graduating from a school that has more than a few successful and prize winning writers among its alums. During her time at the school, in addition to her coursework she finished a novel and interned at a literary agency.

This is about when I started becoming very interested in the structure of the tent.  So much harder for the glassy eyes and sniffling nose to become full-on sobs when trying to determine how the cloth is joined to the poles.

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Then Ms. Steinem spoke.  I’ll be honest, she could have stood and read her grocery list and I’d have applauded and proclaimed her brilliance. C’mon, Gloria Steinem, forty feet in front of me! But she didn’t read her grocery list, and her speech was wonderful, inspiring to the young people (men and women) sitting and listening. I was thrilled to listen, but I’ll be honest again. I didn’t feel inspired. I felt smaller, further on the fringe, more frayed and broken. Plain old old. After telling everyone I hoped to meet her, when the speeches ended I walked away from the line formed immediately by those who wanted a chance to meet and take a photo with her.

After a few minutes of fresh air, Man Child encouraged me to go back and get on line. I realized there were just as many moms waiting as graduates, so I summoned my old mosh pit moves and got on line. We joked and waited, and then I was face to face with this woman who represents so much. Not only what she did do, but what she continues to do. I said hello and told her how pleased I was to meet her, and mentioned that I had told a mutual friend how much I was looking forward to this opportunity. She politely asked who the friend was and how I know her. And that’s where I metaphorically found myself on my face. Not my friend’s name, of course. But she’s someone I met through dog walking. I walked her dogs for years, she herself is a known, successful, talented journalist and feminist, and we have become friends.   Standing there, though, surrounded by all that youth and hope and talent; with this successful, brave, powerful woman in front of me, the only image in my mind was dog shit in the rain–and rejection letters oddly addressed, “Dear Fraudulent Feminist,”  I mumbled something about dog walking and fringiness, grimaced for the photo and slunk off.

When we got back to the motel, Nerd Child and Husband had arrived, and were already 2/3 asleep. I pretended for a few minutes that I’m a reasonably mature and graceful woman before Man Child and Miss Music headed back to school and I collapsed into the sleep of self-pity.

It rained all night, and was still quite cool and gray in the morning. Somehow, New England manages to be bright and beautiful even under cloud cover.

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The commencement ceremony itself was beautiful, and aptly positioned (for us) right outside the financial aid office.

Afterwards, of course, were more photos, and a celebratory lunch. Once again the deadbeat mom, it hadn’t occurred to me that in a small town, reservations would be needed way in advance when an entire senior class was there with their families, all going out to eat. We ended up back across the state border, in a restaurant not far from the motel we had stayed the night before.  While having lunch, Man Child brought it up.  Yeah, we know each other well enough that he knew all the speeches and creative youth would hit that melancholy nerve in my heart.  You can’t stay mired in self pity on such a beautiful occasion, and when you have an adult child who knows you well enough, and cares enough to acknowledge mom as a person. Said our goodbyes, then headed to yet another state to drop off Nerd Child at a friend’s–because they were going back to their school the following morning to cheer on senior friends for graduation (not theirs, thankfully, that’s next year).  With any luck the contents of his dorm room will find their way out of the car and into his bedroom before the end of the week.

We couldn’t be more proud of Man Child.  It isn’t easy to be a kiddo raised on the fringe.  For whatever opportunities he’s had, help and sacrifices offered and acknowledged, it sucked to be the one listening to classmates talk about fabulous vacations, watch others go off on school year abroad while he plowed through. He’s worked hard, not just in the classrooms but outside; connecting with others, joined the greater community and created opportunities for himself.  I’m hoping he enjoys this summer in New England, continuing to work in the restaurant he’s worked in for the past three years, now as a new graduate. He’s heading to Italy in the fall, so exciting!  Bottom line, he’s doing what I wish for all three of my children; not living by “I will,” all too quickly followed by “I would’ve/should’ve,” but living by “I am.”  May your future blogs never include the tag “downward mobility,” in any language. All the best and all my heart, Man Child, not just on ceremonial days, but every day.

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Irrelevance: Evolution on the Fringe

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The other day I received an email from a friend that was so en pointe it was a bit frightening.  Why? Because she used the word I’ve been thinking (feeling?), but afraid to say out loud–or on paper,–irrelevant.  Sure, the thought has crystalized in reference to my fiction, but as important as writing has always been to my sense of me, it is only one part. I was thinking it walking dogs, thinking it more these past weeks as I’ve been unable to walk. Thinking it as I speak with my kiddos, as there are fewer issues that I can actually help them with.  (Mom, you can’t help, you never took calculus.) Thinking about it as Man Child approaches his college graduation.

Besides the obvious pride and general the world-is-waiting-for-you momstuff, I’ve also been excited about his graduation because one of my feminist heroes will be speaking, and I wondered if I might have a chance to meet her and say hello.  Then I thought, what would I actually say?  “Thank you for being brave and paving the way. Thank you for remaining active and relevant so young women can see the possibilities of who they can be.”

And if that imaginary conversation moment occurred, then what?  “Who me?  No one.”  Not the representation of possibilities, but the caricature of women of a certain age, right down to the busted pelvis from a simple slip on the ice. Irrelevant.

No, hon, I never took calculus.  In fact, when I graduated from high school, my father commented on his surprise, they didn’t think I’d do it.  He wasn’t being snide, it was just a fact. My school experiences left me at a bit of a loss dealing with my children’s school experiences.  I never wanted to make a big deal about grades, I was afraid they would interpret it to mean that was all I cared about.  Now I’m afraid they think I don’t care about their efforts. I try, and tried, to stress learning, and school as a tool for a better life. I don’t think I’ve been as successful as I hoped, but no doubt my boys are in a much better position than I was at their ages.  I want Art Child to continue finding success through her art.  I want them to have enough, to feel they are enough.  I hope none of them will feel irrelevant when they’re forty thousand years old.

No one is ever going to confuse me with Hillary Clinton or Sandra Sotomayor; Arianna Huffington or Maya Angelou. Why do I even want to meet this woman at Man Child’s graduation, when I have nothing to offer? No degrees, no pedigrees, no byline or book jacket or contract. I’m a reefer who’s never been snorkeling or scuba diving, a self-proclaimed feminist without a career. Ridiculous. Then I remembered.  This isn’t new.  Mrs Fringe, a peripheral life.  There’s a reason I don’t blog as Ms Important. I thought about my first post, almost three years ago.  My space to be me, not “just” a mom, and not “just” someone trying to get published, either. The blog has evolved, I have evolved–hell, we even got that three bedroom apartment–but I am who I am, and life is what it is.

Regardless of how much Virginia Woolf I read I don’t have a room of my own, but I now have a desk, something I didn’t think was possible a few years ago.  From it I see my beautiful reef, where I watch the interactions of all the critters, and remember how important even the simplest ones are to maintain the balance of the system as a whole.  I’m not writing the Great American Novel, calculating royalties, or reading fan mail when I sit at this desk, I work on the occasional story and post some silliness or a rant here on the blog.  Sometimes, just when I’m devolving into thoughts about my lack of success, moaning about not knowing the best way to encourage my kids, and ready to break out a tape measure to torture myself with how much I’ve sagged; I get a note from someone out there in cyberland, telling me one of my posts resonated with them, or made them laugh.  That is pretty excellent, and fucking relevant.

Turbo snail eating algae off the glass.

Turbo snail eating algae off the glass.

Cleaning the sand under the plate coral.

An unlikely pair, but the turbo and the plate coral stayed snuggled together for two days.

City Angles, a birthday pilgrimage

Every year around Art Child’s birthday, we head downtown to the big art supply store so she can get some new supplies.  This year I brought the camera.  Note the green metal panels over the windows in the alley shots.  I was told those were to protect the residents in case someone dropped an atom bomb on the city. Along the lines of being told to get under your desk in case during the old air raid drills.  Not that I would remember such a thing, of course.

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Since Husband drove us, and we were already downtown, heading over to the village for a slice was a given. Later shots are along the West Side Highway, headed back uptown.

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And a few more random photos taken on my way to PT.

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Happy Friday, Fringelings, have a great weekend!

 

It Is! Friday.

My week, in a tissue box.

My week, in a tissue box.

It’s been a long, disjointed week. Art Child has been sick, pneumonia.  Yah, good times.

We’ve pretty much been trapped in the apartment. One afternoon, I looked down from the balcony and saw this:

seemed perfect for the mood.

seemed perfect for the mood.

But then yesterday, the light was amazing.  Not a sunrise or a sunset, just a beautiful moment.

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So I took a long, long shower,

I'll be honest, I wished I could stay in the steam until next week.

I’ll be honest, I wished I could stay in the steam until next week.

 

and opened the file with that short story I’ve been staring at for months.  “Pigeons.”

I hope everyone has a happy Friday Night Madness.  I’ve given you a head start with the madness.    

Above, its own page labeled Fiction III will take you there.  One of these days I need to reorganize the pages, figure out a better way to lay out the shorts I’ve got here.