A brown lady’s legacy: On guts, dreams and being great (already).

Dear Kid,

Everything you have you have because your family before you had not much of anything save guts and a dream.

Just ask Zeidy. Long before he’d spoil you with oversized pink teddy bears and pop-up books, he had this single pair of shitty old boots that was supposed to last him through his first winter in Philadelphia. When it didn’t, he made judicious use of plastic bags and tape. For the couple of hundred bucks Zeidy and Bubbie had between them when they arrived from Argentina, they had other priorities. (They hadn’t accounted for boots – and so boots would have to wait.) Zeidy worked his tail off. He did it for the boots. He did it for Bubbie. He did it for his three kids, one of whom would go on to become your dad. He did it for you, even if maybe he didn’t know it then. You’re a byproduct of that American dream.

On all sides of your family, it was like this: Your ancestors plotted course for the same destination. They pursued the same promise of a better life for themselves and their children; they simply followed different routes to get here. They were steely English Puritans, among the first European settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They were Poles and Russians who set forth for this place only the luckiest of their lot could imagine. And they were folks whose dream started off maybe a little bit like a waking life nightmare: The kind where your country is war-torn, opportunities are scarce, fear is abundant and you have your progeny to consider.

Probably that’s the way it was for your great-great-grandmother, Sithu. I would have liked to ask her about where she came from except she spoke lousy English, I spoke no Arabic and she died when I was a baby. For the brief time I hardly knew her, she was an old woman in a housedress with a tightly-fixed bun in her dark gray hair.  From time to time, I resurrect her memory: a hazy hodgepodge of actual memories of my great-grandmother informed by pictures I’ve seen, stories I’ve heard.

In this woman – one part real, one part imagined – I find a little strength.

Once, when I was barely grown, I boarded a plane bound for Amsterdam, where I’d spend a year living, working and studying abroad. And – Lord, child! – I hate flying. I hated it even before that flight when, at 37,000 feet above the Atlantic and somewhere off the Eastern coast of Greenland, a fellow traveler dropped dead beside my seat. True story.

For the next three hours, I sat across the aisle from his body, covered over with blankets and laid out in front of a row of vacated seats in the center of the plane. By the time we landed at Schiphol, I’d shed so many anxious tears for the dead man – and indeed for everyone who had the misfortune of flying with him on that journey to meet his maker – that I forgot the way that, just a handful of hours earlier, I left my sister and my parents at the end of a long hallway at the international terminal of Newark. I left clinging to the possibility that they might visit and knowing, deep down, that it was actually quite unlikely.

For the duration of that flight, I forgot to be homesick.

It only occurred to me when I landed in that place I’d never been, when I hailed a cab to a hotel nearby the flat that wasn’t ready for me, when I found myself lugging two suitcases the size of three grown men up the steepest steps of the narrowest staircase I’d ever seen, when I turned the key to that room on the fourth floor and it was empty and quiet, when I navigated my way to the grocery store that afternoon using a paper map (no cell phones, no apps), when the cashier spoke Dutch and I didn’t, when I slowly counted out the combination of cash and coins to pay for my purchase only to be told I owed three euro cents more (or had I overpaid, I wasn’t sure), when I meandered this incredible, cosmopolitan neighborhood that evening and stumbled upon a marvelous used bookstore, when – excited – I wanted to tell somebody (anybody!) about my discovery but when I came back to that hotel room it was still empty and still quiet and I was still alone.

That night, as I lay in bed listening to the sounds from the sidewalk below (incomprehensible chatter, bike tires and rain),  I soothed myself with my family’s stories, your family’s stories.

Sithu.

A long time before I boarded that infamous flight, your Sithu boarded a ship and crossed the Atlantic bound for a place she’d never been. She wasn’t going forth in the name of cultural exchange, in pursuit of learning or for a change of scenery like me. She was going because, mostly, she had no choice. Truth: She amassed a stockpile of shitty memories in her home country. She lost at least two kids to disease or bum luck. (That’s twice the number any mother should.) Her country was at war with its neighbors. It was a flipping dangerous place to be. And, what’s more, her husband said so. Let’s go. It was decided. She was going. And she was going to make the most of it.

In the early Twentieth Century, Sithu and her family immigrated to the United States from Syria. She joined her husband’s family for the voyage to America. Some of them never made it to Ellis Island. They were stopped up in France, redirected to Cuba. They had a trunk or two between them. And from those trunks they built their empire. Sithu raised six kids in America: business owners, factory workers, veterans whose kids and grandkids were even more successful than their parents.

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This tattered old pocketbook (which probably wasn’t always old and tattered) survived Sithu’s voyage from Syria to the United States to a shelf in our library, where I’ll cherish it until it becomes yours to cherish.

And while, no doubt, few of your ancestors’ immigration experiences are enviable, Sithu and her lot bore an additional burden. They were brown: Brown like the sea of faces you’d see if your switched on the news tonight…people of ancient pedigree living in ancient cities, which are being destroyed along with their families. Brown like those refugees.

This is a great country, Kid. It was built on the backs of ordinary people overcoming extraordinary adversity, surviving, thriving, living to tell their families’ stories. No terrorist or maniacal xenophobe can trump that. You stand a chance because folks who came before you took a chance and because somebody took a chance on them. I hope you never forget that, that you give folks a chance, that you’re grateful, that you pay it forward. I hope you see yourself in the faces of those refugees, that you see yourself in the faces of people suffering sufferings you’ve never known, sufferings you hopefully never, ever will. I hope you see yourself in those faces because someday you’ll find yourself hurting (that’s a fact) and, when that day comes, you’re sure as hell gonna want somebody to be kind to you. I pray they are. You’ll remember their kindness, after all.

I pray the current events of now are long gone and never forgotten by the time you’re reading me. (Know that your Mama was on the right side of history. Know that I hope you are, too.) May you forever share your ancestors’ guts. Be a stranger in a stranger land and somebody’s arms wide open, and remember exactly how it feels to be both. Then dream your world even better.

Love,

Mama

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Fish tales.

Dear Kid,

What for having read all those books about how to raise children to be the harbingers of crunchy, progressive kick-assery, I, your loving mother, am gearing up to say something absolutely brilliant when you tell me (because, of course you’ll tell me) that you’re thinking about having sex for the first time, smoking pot, getting a tattoo of a dragon on your butt. (Spoiler alert. Two words. Think carefully.) But then shit got real.

Your dad left on this business trip and we were alone together, you and me and my insecurities about getting it all “right” – work/life balance, your routine, the ratio of structured to free play, a healthy, yet satisfying, school lunch. That day, our fish died. That day, I learned there’s nothing like untimely and completely unexpected loss of life to compel a growin’-up kid to start thinking critically, asking all the tough questions.

It was the barrage of questions that, at first, made me wish I had better answers, any answers, something more than sad speculation. (“Maybe ‘dead’ is like the part of sleep you can’t remember. But I don’t know. I’ve never been dead.”) WWYFS? What would your father say? I didn’t know. There was no time to phone a friend, either. So I scrapped “right” for the best I could do, and – so far as I can tell – it worked out just fine.

It went down like this: We walked together toward the back door. My arms were full of an over-sized pocketbook, your backpack and a couple of bags of groceries. Over the top of those grocery bags, I saw it. I saw it just as I heard your shrill scream: Oh, no! What’s happening? Mama! The fish! We have to save them!

The man-made, backyard body of water, our pond, had managed to spring a leak. The family fish were laying sideways in the little puddle that remained at the bottom alongside the grinding motor that controlled the fountain which ceased to flow. And there she was, our favorite fish, Georgine, taking the sporadic, deep breaths of a creature one fin flapping in that Great Ocean Beyond. Despite our Herculean efforts to restore water levels, by morning, when we went to check on her, Georgine was dead. The other fish would follow suit.

What’s the matter with her? Why won’t she wake up?

“She can’t. She’s dead.”

What do we do now?!

“We remember her.”

And we did. I made you turn your back while I scooped her slimy body into the paper cup that would serve as her coffin. And for the whole ride to school and the whole ride home some eight hours later, you wondered whether fish that are dead stay dead. And what about cats? And dogs? And people? (“When they’re finished living, they all die.”) Is dead like dreaming? (“Probably not.”) If a prince comes along and kisses you when you’re dead, does that make a difference? (“Only in story books.”)

The next day – ain’t no rest for the weary – you asked me about my favorite color – in people.

I was too tired to recollect all that best-practice wisdom I amassed while earning my Ph.D. in Self Help and Parenting Literature. My head was full of the latest NPR report about another case of racist brutality toward an unarmed black kid by a white police officer. I thought about the kid, his mother (his poor mother), the officer, the officer’s mother. Did the officer’s mother ever have a conversation with the toddler version of her son like the one I was going to have with my daughter? Was I? Was I really? And what was I supposed to tell you?

“Hmm…” Collect yourself, Ma. And…go! “Why do you ask?”

Because people come in different colors, and I want to know what color you like: Mine? Or Nina Simone’s?

Mississippi, goddamn: Yep. We just had the death talk, and now we were going to talk race. You were swiping through the album art in my iTunes library. And there she was, Nina: whose songbook you learned in lieu of lullabies – young, gifted…and black. You could sing the words to those songs. Songs you didn’t understand. Not yet. Soon. Soon enough. Soon you’d “understand” through the lens of white privilege. But still. It was official. You were no longer “color blind.”

This – this delicate, if mildly uncomfortable conversation – was an opportunity. It was the beginning of an awareness, an acknowledgement of difference, the start of a dialogue about privilege, bias, oppression of black people by white people. We’d get there. This was good. But first I had to answer your question.

“Well, I like them both. You know how I told you I don’t really have a favorite flower because every flower is beautiful? That’s how I feel about people. Every one is so different and so beautiful it’s hard to choose. So in this house, in this family, we don’t pick favorite colors in people. We have some friends who look a lot like us and some friends who don’t look like us, and they’re all our friends, right? Because they tell good stories or make us laugh or because we have fun playing with them.”

One of your best friends is brown, you reminded me – not the same as Nina, more like Buffy Saint-Marie – and you like her because you have the most fun playing dollhouse with her. That’s why she’s your favorite.

“You two are good friends.”

You’re my good friend, too, Mama. Mama, who’s stronger? A girl or a boy?

In the lead-up to bed time (how I worked for bed time!), we had age-appropriate conversations about gender, sexism, economic disparity. I stopped lamenting what I might have gotten all wrong. I started rejoicing in the opportunity to notice, to wonder, to respond, to navigate the messy and the marvelous – together.

Your dad would be home in the morning. A week later, he’d fill that pond with dirt and flowering plants. In reality, a cheap fix. Also, a garden in Georgine’s honor.

“Goodnight, Elbee.”

Goodnight. [Pause] Wait!!!

“What is it?”

Do you think I’m beautiful?

“I know you are.”

That was an easy one,

Mama

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Twirl.

Dear Kid,

You weren’t yet three when some bubble-headed brat (or, more probably, the daughter of one) told you you couldn’t be her friend because you wore “the wrong clothes” to school one day. Your major offense: A pair of pants.

A. Pair. Of. Pants.

In other words, not a dress. And in pants, said this pint-sized waste of air, you just can’t twirl. (The twirl: The measure of the princess. The princess: The measure of your worth as a preschool-aged girl.) You were ostracized from the Fisher Price playhouse, spent recess kicking around wood chips with – heaven forbid – some boys.

So you insisted that tomorrow you’d wear a dress to school. In a dress, you said, you could really twirl. In a dress, you could play princess. In a dress, the Queen Bee of Preschool would be your friend. But in pants…

And then you uttered the five words that that child who knew no better would have you believe and the five words I’d make you regret: “You can’t twirl in pants!”

There it was: The first – and certainly not the last – time in your life someone tried to dupe you into thinking you can’t when you can. Thinking you shouldn’t when you should. Thinking there is one right way – and it isn’t yours. Thinking that yours isn’t good enough. Thinking yours is less than, not equal to.

Look, I get it. I really do. This one time when I was a lot older than you are now – a sophomore in high school – I stopped off at the bathroom on my way to class. I was still settling up when I overheard a couple of older girls chit-chatting outside about a something I wasn’t supposed to hear: My new yellow loafers. (And, Jesus, I loved those shoes. Which, apparently, went perfectly with my super funky, “butch lesbian” haircut.) They speculated the reason I missed the semi-formal that year was because the school wouldn’t allow me to bring my girlfriend. The truth was, I didn’t want to waste even a single second with these people. They suuuuuccked. But in those days, and, indeed, for a long time after (because, the thing is, it takes most of us who ever live our authentic selves a too-long time to come to our senses and do it), I wished I overheard them saying something complimentary. Or, hell, true. As it was, I only put my yellow loafers to the floor once I was sure they’d gone and couldn’t see them. And, from that day forth, I only wore those shoes on the weekends.

I wished somebody, anybody, would have saved me lots of years of giving a fuck by uttering this one simple truth: Very often, it gets better. One day, it’s going to be 15 years in the future and you’re going to see a picture of one of those gals from the bathroom. She’s going to have short hair. She’s going to be wearing loafers. And it’s not going to matter to you if she’s a lesbian. (True story.) One day, something or someone is going to help you put your priorities in perspective the way you did for me the first time I beheld that grainy white blob on an ultrasound screen and a radiologist said “Congratulations.” I’d like to tell you that people will grow out of their shallow or lose their stupid eventually, but sometimes they don’t. And like that wise sage Taylor Swift once said, “The haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” And, baby girl, when they do? You just gotta shake. You’re the key to unlock your own happiness, your own potential.

So I put down that thing I was making for dinner, stared at you standing there, lamenting your sweatpants.

What did you just say?” I asked.

You repeated yourself: You can’t twirl in pants.

“I thought that’s what you said.”

So I took you by the hand, led you outside to some wide open space and, stone-faced, whispered a one word edict: Twirl. You stared at me, quizzical. Tw-irrrl. I repeated with exaggerated slowness, the slowness of a mother who means serious business.

You did. Also slowly. Watching me out of the corner of your eye.

I copy-catted.

“Arms out, like the propellers on a helicopter.” I modeled the motion. “Now faster!”

We picked up speed until, at long last, mother-daughter whirling dervishes, collapsed in dizzy giggles.

I told you that the next time aforementioned someone tries to tell you what you can’t do, who you can’t be, you show them you can and inform them that they don’t know what they’re talking about. For lots of people, the very reason they don’t achieve their fullest potential is because they stop believing they can, after all. This isn’t to say you can actually do everything. But it is to say you should at least try if it’s important to you.

Oh, honey, you can twirl! You can twirl despite and in spite of whatever some know-nothing says. You twirl. You twirl so fast and so free you catch the whole world up in that spin: good people, interesting places, exciting opportunities. Leave your impact. Leave like wreckage anybody, any place, any experience that threatens to halt your motion. You just go. Go, go, go! Go in sweatpants, in dresses, in your birthday suit. It doesn’t matter. Just keep it moving. The only stopping you is you.

Love,

Mama

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The Proposal.

Dear Kid,

I was proposed to for only the second time in my life this week.  My special someone told me she loved me “soooo much” before planting a sloppy kiss on my cheek. She gave me her favorite snap bracelet in place of a ring. “Marry me!” she said, and, before I could respond, “Will you be my mommy forever?”

Different from but just exactly like the time your father proposed: I thought my heart would burst with all the love it felt. So I told you.

I love you soooo much, too, Elbee – even if I can’t marry you. And, yes. I’ll be your mommy forever. 

For better or worse, I thought.

Someday – someday too soon – there will come that moment when you’ll forget why it is that you liked me so much. And I won’t be able to shake the way you used to. I’ll give you advice you never asked for, praise your accomplishments in front of some kid you were trying to impress by the way you’re super cool, embarrass you for my taste in “terrible” music. You’ll wish you had some other mommy  – but you’ll be stuck with me. I promise.

Additionally, I vow:

  • To hear you, to really listen. From the start, I’ve found you impossible to ignore. From those sweet little kicks in my swollen belly to new baby cries to temper tantrums to school friends to first loves to the first time somebody breaks your heart to the thing you tell me because you just want someone to be crazy-proud to the 2:00am phone call when you’re off and on your own but not alone. Not really alone, right? Please not alone. Somewhere there’s a mother… She sleeps light.
  • To respect you, your experience, your perspective. There isn’t a doubt in my mind I won’t always get it. But I’m going to try. The other day you told me you wanted to be a princess: the kind who wears a tiara and a pink dress. Look, I’ve never aspired to the crown (except for those couple of weeks when I was five and somebody bought me a She-ra costume). By the power of Grayskull, I aspire to be a supportive mom. And so I asked a lot of curious questions about your castle and made believe I was one of your minions. You were overjoyed for the opportunity to boss me around. And you were stunned: “But, Ma, you’re usually a superhero.” I’m always a superhero, kid. My superhero name is “Mama.” My special power is mothering. The thing is sometimes, as when I know how much it means to my child, I make-believe I’m a duchess. I’m really terrible at it. You don’t seem to notice.
  • To say yes to experiences that will cause you to feel, to think, to grow. To expose you to people and things and places and moments that challenge and inspire. To get the heck out of your way, to stand back and admire your life unfolding just exactly as it should. Paint a picture. Play a sport. Get a job. Make a friend. Study abroad. (I’ll visit. You’ll show me around.) Apply to grad school.
  • To let you fail sometimes. Raised your hand in class and provided the wrong answer? I’m proud of you. You. Raised. Your. Hand. You had something to say. And I’ll wager you’ll get the answer next time. Tried out for the lead in the school play and wound up in the chorus line? Great: You tried out, didn’t you? I’ll be as proud and cheer as loud when the curtain falls. Applied to some fellowship and got waitlisted? Nice. You applied. You did that. And may no child of mine spend her days what-iffing. The pursuit of dreams is something special.
  • To say no. To put my foot down. To pick my battles. Can I have this Barbie? Hell no. What about a tattoo? I’ll think about it. My “no’s” are strategic, rendered where I suspect (or have absolutely no doubt) that they’re in your best interest.
  • To observe appropriate boundaries. I don’t need a hug. I just want one. Also, I’ll only read your journal if I have grave concern for your life, health or safety. I make no pretenses: Some things really are none of my business. And some things that are now, won’t be forever. Read: When you move out this house, go ahead: Treat yourself to that Barbie.
  • To tell the truth. There are some things you learn in elementary school that, if you promptly forget them, won’t matter in the grand scheme of things – except it’s too soon to tell what those things are, so it’s a good idea to pay attention. That pet isn’t living on a farm somewhere; he’s living in your memory. Texting while driving is dangerous. People get sick sometimes. When we’re through living (and sometimes when we’re nowhere close to through living) we die. Nobody really has a clue what happens next. Some people think they know. They call that faith.
  • To tell my truth. And speaking of marriage, I think it’s between two people who can hack it. Straight, gay…G-d love ’em. You’ll find your place where you put it. Hillary 2016!
  • To be right here waiting, no hesitating, to catch up once you realize I’m maybe not so bad and Big Country’s “In a Big Country” is the greatest single of all time. I think you’re alright. I probably-definitely always will.

I love you, ladybug,

Your mama forever.

Posted in Humor, Parenting/Toddler | Leave a comment

Oh, brother, where art thou?

Dear Kid,

There was a time, a brief interlude not so long ago, when you scarcely noticed the stuff other people had that you didn’t. Your basic needs were satisfied and so were you. And then just like that…

You’re special, see? And you’re just like everybody else.

You wanted a train set because there was one at school you liked that you had to share with other kids – who were shitty at sharing. (We got you a train set.) You wanted a teddybear you saw in a catalog I left in the bathroom. Some stranger-kid in the ad made it look so fun to hug. (Your grandmother brought one for you on her last visit. It was twice the size as the one in the catalog. Plus, it was pink.) You wanted to go camping because Peppa Pig did. (We’re actively planning a camping holiday for when/if the weather breaks. And, spoiler alert: You’re getting a sleeping bag for your third birthday.)

Then – and here comes the show-stopper! – you wanted a baby brother because, legit, all your little friends were having siblings. And all you got was…disappointed.

It went something like this. Your friends’ parents had kids – kids roughly between the ages of two and four, like you – who were growing up right before their very eyes. These parents stopped spending so much money on diapers. Or they bought some shoes that were a totally different size from the pair they bought their child just yesterday when her feet were still small and she had those itty-bitty triangle-shaped toenails. Or these moms and dads got a good night’s rest. Or they looked at some baby pictures. Whatever. Then it rained. Or it snowed. Or they drank too much wine with dinner one night and nine months later…

I know all this because sometimes I miss my little baby, too. The difference is, even if it rains, or snows or I drink too much wine with dinner, it won’t matter. That baby brother is something your dad and I can’t provide – at least not without extraordinary effort.

Now, look, you know us: We’re neither lazy nor unmotivated. So, perhaps, if we’re being honest (and we’re being honest) even if siblings were simpler to come by, you’d still be an only child. Because, turns out, we embrace the fact that no amount of rain/snow/wine/sex is going to make a difference. We like our family, a family growing in its own right, as is. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

So there will be no baby brother.

But, chin up, here are some things there will be if you want them (and sometimes even when you don’t). These aren’t your consolation prizes, kid. These are your blessings.

Your teachers. One or two are going to absolutely blow your tiny mind. They’ll teach you things that you’re never going to forget as long as you live – some directly related to some lesson plan, others not. At all. (In fact, some of your “teachers” won’t be trained educators.) They’ll inspire you. They’ll mentor you. They’ll challenge you. Your favorites won’t be the ones who sling easy A’s or excuse lack of effort.

Your friends. Go ahead. Have as many as you like. You’re going to do you: smart, silly, weird, wonderful. You’re going to embrace difference, withhold judgment. For their parts, they’re going to be themselves and flipping love you – even when you drive them crazy. For yours, you’re going to forgive them when they piss you off. Together you’ll play and celebrate, struggle and mourn. If you’re in a jam (and, chances are, they’re in it with you), they’re not going to get you out of it. They’re going to help you help yourself. They’re going to encourage you to live your best and let you know it right away when you’re acting like an ass. Because obnoxious. Because your mom is going to be horrified. Because friends. The family you choose for yourself.

Your family. They’re where you came from. You’re where they’re going. They’ll share their traditions. You’ll pass them along. You’ll call them your own. When you’re together, you’ll have this special history. And you’ll have “home.” And if you catch yourself lamenting not having the opportunity to look after that little brother in your imagination, check up on a first cousin. (You know them. Three of them. All boys. Two of them older than you.) Probably/usually they’re going to be pretty grateful you have their backs, too. Except for when you’re grateful they have yours.

Us. We, your dad and I, are among your teachers/friends/family, sure. We are so proud, so grateful, to have been a part of your beginning. We promise to prepare you as best we can for your middle. (We hope we might take a step back, watch it all unfold.) And then, if we’re very, very lucky, we’ll be long gone for your end. And your “little brother?” He’ll be an afterthought. You’ll be surrounded by so many people whose lives you’ve touched along the way. And you haven’t even met them yet.

Forever,

Mama

Posted in Parenting/Toddler | 3 Comments

The homecoming.

Dear Kid,

Once upon a time, we bought a big green house. I could stop there. But I won’t. Because I’d like to tell you the story of that green house that, by the time you’re old enough to read this, you’ll probably just call “home.” This is the story of our homecoming.

Ten years ago, I was traipsing around the Bronx fresh off the heels of an interview for my dream job. All my life was for this: To be a single girl in the big city, eating roasted chestnuts out of a wax paper funnel and listening to some old man playing jazz saxophone from his front stoop. Except for, of course, it wasn’t. And that feeling like there was something, someone, someplace else waiting on me is the reason I decided if (when, it turned out) I was offered that job, I’d politely decline. And that’s precisely what I did.

A month later, I moved to metro Boston somewhat on a whim (my great-grandma and her grandmother and her grandmother before her and so on and so on all the way back to the Pilgrims lived there so maybe there was something to it). I took a job that was different from anything I thought I wanted – until I did. I worked a 2:00-11:00pm second shift doing impossible work for next to no money  – right alongside this guy who’d grow up to be your dad.  I had just enough to cover the rent for a studio apartment in a left of nowhere town nearby my job and no one I really knew. Not in those days. My unit was sandwiched between a sex offender on the right and a family, newly-arrived from India, on the left: eight people in 400 square feet, whose cooking always smelled better than the Ramen I microwaved for lunch. In that space, which your grandparents helped to furnish, I used to watch late-night TV by myself. I used my renter’s insurance (the infamous Leak Flood of Thanksgiving Weekend 2004!) for the first time there. I lost my favorite necklace in the parking lot. (It was a thin gold chain with a charm shaped like a windmill with moving parts, a souvenir from the year I lived in Amsterdam.) I never found it. I still miss it. I hosted boys for an overnight (your dad and this weird/wonderful kid named Eric, after a moe show). They splattered shake-and-serve pancake mix on the wall. I was still cleaning up after them when I moved out.

A half hour away, on the outskirts of Boston, your dad was living in a one-bedroom, second-story walk-up, which he leased from an Indian-American family whose cooking always smelled better than the cigarettes he still smoked in those days. It had black-and-white barber shop vinyl floors and Dead Head tapestries for curtains. There, we used to sit on a futon in front of a tube TV and eat dumplings.

The next year, more in like but not having uttered those three magical words that, by our moral compasses, justified cohabitation, we decided not to live together – just closer together. I moved into this even smaller apartment in a brownstone down the street from him. I spent next to no time there (ah, young love!) but loved it when I did. I loved that I could hear people talking at the bus stop below my kitchen/living/dining room window. I loved the way I could snag a Thai tofu wrap at 2:00am. I loved the way I could walk to the T. I loved the way your dad and I didn’t have to commute a half hour to have a sleepover. Around that time, we both changed jobs that – if we’re being frank – were probably a little less fun but paid appreciably more money for working the standard nine-to-five. We ate dinner together almost every night. (We graduated from Ramen to Zateran’s jambalaya.) We used to take walks to a place called Prospect Hill Park. On the Fourth of July, we saw fireworks that shot off so close to the crowds that we left covered in ash. In that place, on the nights we were apart, we used to message one another on the “AIM.” That was a thing. In that place, I opened the mail to a law school acceptance letter. In that place,  we agreed it was time to share one. We finally said “I love you.”

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So, the year after that, we moved together to a place right down the street from my brownstone and dad’s one bedroom with the barber shop floors. The ad described it as a “not-to-be-missed, old, Victorian home!” Note the exclamation mark. (We were excited, too.) We sold our futons on Craigslist. We bought couches. We grew tomato plants in pots on the porch. We continued our walks to Prospect Hill. We talked about things like, “Well, if we ever get engaged…” We hosted our first seder. (In the infamous Pesach Grease Fire of 2007, the shank bone went up in a blaze of glory!) Our parents, your grandparents, met over Thanksgiving dinner. In January 2008, we got engaged. That August, we got married. And when we decided to take the suburbs for a test drive, that “not-to-be-missed, old, Victorian home?” We missed it. Plenty.

We rented a two-bedroom with a garage at the end of a cul-de-sac in a burb west of Boston. We moved there for the excellent school district and because (could it be?!) we might have our first child there! We walked someplace new: a “peaceful spot,” a perch overlooking the Charles River where you could sit and watch folks canoeing. We walked there a lot. We talked about things like, “Well, if we ever have a baby…” We hosted our parents for Passover. Nothing caught fire. I graduated from law school. I passed the bar. We changed jobs. We bought a dining room set. We tried to get pregnant. We tried again and again and again. (Ewww, Mom! Please, G-d, no.) It didn’t work. Again and again and again. There, we confronted Infertility. In that place, we were so happy. In that place, we were so sad.

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We pressed on the way we supposed we were supposed to. If we were grown-up enough for Infertility, we were grown-up enough for home ownership, right? Trouble is, we couldn’t afford a place of our own in that excellent school district in the burb west of Boston. So we moved back in the direction of the old, Victorian home and we did the very best we could. Which was pretty freaking good. We bought our first place, a town home off the Minuteman Trail, a proper urban retreat. We spent almost no time reveling in how dope it was that we didn’t have to ask anybody’s permission to paint the walls. We were too busy trying/failing to get knocked up.

There, in the place Bubbie dubbed “la casita” – a euphemism for “Holy shit, this place is small!” – our office was a pop-up shooting gallery, that spot where your dad mixed meds and I injected myself with fertility drugs. In that place, we were Infertile. In that place, we were pregnant. In that place, we weren’t. In that place we were pregnant (and so on and on). There, we told your grandparents the whole sordid story. We told them the news of you. They cried. They cheered. Before it came to be that my belly was an obstruction and my legs couldn’t hold us, we took long walks along that bike path and talked about things like, “I wonder what this kid’s going to be like?!” and “I can’t wait to meet her!” (Eventually, we resumed those walks from our town home to the “coffee store,” walked there every day, day after day, pushing a carriage, until you were eleven months old and I returned to work and, after that, every single weekend.) We ate Jade Garden. Your dad painted the office, your nursery, lime green. He pieced together your crib. We spent a night in labor on the couch in the living room, you and me.

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Dad and I brought you home. There, I was your mom. There, we were parents. There, we were Survivors. There I used to snuggle you and rock you and feed you. There we scratched your initials in wet concrete below the back porch. There you were a baby, a toddler. There, you paid daily visits to a neighbor’s wee little garden to see the clay owl and hedgehog statues she situated among the shrubbery. (We couldn’t leave the house without first saying goodbye. Our last goodbye was tough.) There, you went trick-or-treating. There we hosted your grandparents and great-grandparents for birthdays and long weekends. There, we dreamed about that someplace where we’d never have to tell you to shush because your neighbors wouldn’t live close enough to wake. Our family was complete and it was growing. Every single day it grew because we did. We three? We knew. We knew in our guts we’d outgrown “la casita.”

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So, that summer-turned-fall-turned-winter, with Dad working in the center of the state, with you pre-schooling there, with a hankering for a place, the place, as large and warm and wonderful as our love, we listed “la casita” and commenced a search for our new forever someplace, the home in which we’d become older people, then old people, then memories, then curiosities. It wasn’t easy. Our first almost-forever-home was a cape on a huge plot of land on a rambling country rode. (The inspection revealed well water contaminated with other people’s poop.) Our second almost-home was a mid-entry in a planned community with an average-sized yard abutting others just like it. (What set the place apart was the crazy-ass selling it. At long last, he decided to push out our closing date in an attempt to screw over the wife we didn’t know he was divorcing until it was too late, until we were way in it and so, so sad to see it slip through our fingers.) We’d go on to visit dozens and dozens of other perfectly lovely places before doing our due diligence by one we’d bypassed altogether early on in a busy, downtown historic district: an oversized, hunter green colonial across a cobblestone courtyard from a two-story barn of the same color. Your “farm.” Circa 1812.

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On your third night in this place which will serve as a backdrop for lots and lots of those things you’ll remember about being a little kid, you professed to love it here. “My new green house.”

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It was built by curiosities, owned by women – a long line of women (recall the Nineteenth Century, behold my surprise)! – who raised daughters, whose daughters grew up and called “the green house” a memory. Their names were committed to a scrap of looseleaf paper by the previous owner. (An orphanage? A boarding house? A place for scarlet ladies both isolated and on display?) Women. And it strikes me as special, it strikes me as powerful, that you should share it with them.

In this place, which stands on your parents’ memories, in this place which is mysterious and familiar, we are home.

Welcome, child.

Love,

Mama

Posted in Humor, Infertility, Parenting/Infant, Parenting/Toddler, Pre-Conception, Pregnancy | 1 Comment

All good: Lessons in grown-up gratitude.

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Dear Kid,

We were this close to the farm. This close to selling our town home in the city and sealing the deal on a beautiful cape on a couple of acres of land in the center part of the state. (A nice backdrop for your future and/or good place to plant some tomatoes.) In any event, in one week in August 2014, we learned more than we ever cared to know about fecal coliform (look that one up/don’t: it’s bacteria found in crap), negotiated our right to clean drinking water, saw our buyer walk without another word and promptly re-listed the town home, which has seen a trickle of prospective buyers since but none so committed to the idea as to write us an offer. At present, the future of the cape on those couple of acres of land in the center part of the state, the one we’re buying contingent on the sale of the town home in metro Boston, is at stake. Lots of our things are in storage including, most noticeably, my cool-weather clothes and a second couch so that, every night, Dad and I squish sideways on the sofa and complain about our aching backs.

Meanwhile, you like it here. You really like it. Here is the only home you’ve ever known.

I think we can learn a lot from you: The way you proclaim to be “almost there” when you hit the Concord rotary 20 minutes away, the way you announce your arrival in the parking lot (“Elbee’s house! I’m hooooome!”), the way you point out the mundane and familiar and get excited to see them – bus stops, recycling trucks, “the coffee store,” our neighbors. You don’t mind the way we’re uprooted at dinner time because someone wants access to our place (“I love going to my restaurant! It’s so fun!”) or the way we’re forced at all times to keep our house like the Pope is coming to dinner even when it’s unclear why he’d frequent the table of a random Jewish family. You keep on singing your “clean up” song and organizing your puzzles. It’s all good.

It really is, too.

The other morning, you woke before the sun. You told me you wanted to listen to the pigeons out the window, but it was dark and it was raining so that even the rodents of the bird family had the good sense to keep to their nests. We peeked out Mama’s little bedroom window overlooking the street, stop lights in the distance – not much to see –  and listened to it rain. I wanted to say it, but you said it first.

“This is so nice!”

Of course, the house had nothing to do with it. The house didn’t matter. What mattered was our little family: that time we spent just being, just being happy.

I remembered back to when, before there was you, Dad and I reached the place where, convinced there was going to be no you, we knew we were going to be just fine anyway. If we never met, we wouldn’t have any idea what we were missing. Now that we have, we know our world will never be the same.

So if our “farm” remains the garden window (the dwarf sunflower we grew to prove to ourselves we had green thumbs), if your back yard is the park you share with playmates you just met, if a drive to the country (or, um, Lexington) is special for the way you get to see the stars and hear the quiet, if the sound of traffic is your white noise and if navigating a too-crowded coffee shop is so second nature that, even at two, you get right in line and wait your turn because – guess what? – it’s coming eventually… it’s all good.

Let go, let G-d. And while (S)He’s getting to it, I’m glad we’ve got each other.

XO,

Mama

Posted in Infertility, Judaism, Parenting/Toddler | Leave a comment