Tuesday, May 24, 2011

RemembeRED: Becoming a Player

      This week's Red Dress Club's memoir prompt asked us to remember the games we played in our youth.    

Becoming a Player

       I married a player. No, not a playah, a player. A player of games: computer games, card games, games of strategy, board games and video games. Sadly, I am none of these things. When I was a little kid, playtime meant imaginary worlds for me. I would pretend to be a princess, a scientist, a teacher, or a squirrel. Yes, a squirrel. I liked games because of all those colorful pieces and dice and spinning wheels, but never wanted to actually play them. I loved my brother’s brightly-colored many-sided dice for Dungeons and Dragons. Of course, I loved them because they looked like jewels, not because they were part of a game. Games have rules. Imaginary play does not.
            There was however, one game I was obsessed with enjoyed. A game my otherwise non-competitive family played feverishly. Perhaps the only kind of game my husband isn’t a fan of: Trivial Pursuit. I loved those little pie shaped pieces and knowing the answers to completely random questions. Even though I ended up as a literature major and barely squeaked by my high school science requirements, my favorite Trivial Pursuit subject was Science and Nature. I spent a lot of time in National Parks as a kid so I stored up a wealth of facts about geology, botany and animal scat (that’s what park rangers and naturalists call shit). At ten years old I hadn’t yet started reading Thomas Hardy, William Shakespeare, or Virginia Woolf, but I knew igneous from metamorphic and coniferous from deciduous. Yes indeed I was an obnoxious know-it-all little scat.
            The love of useless knowledge runs deep in my family. We often joke that the most commonly uttered phrase in our house growing up was, “Did you know?” As in, “Did you know that you only use 10% of your brain?” or “Did you know chocolate chip cookies were invented in Whitman, Massachusetts?” or “Did you know Benjamin Franklin founded the first public library in America?”. I doubt many of us remember much from our math classes, but by God we know the first president of the Irish Republic was Eamon DeValera.
            I was never the greatest student in school. I was pretty bright, but I just didn’t work very hard. In my junior year I took Latin and barely passed. But much to my surprise I did remarkably well on the National Latin Exam. My teacher was dumbfounded. How could a student who couldn’t remember her conjugations do well? Simple. About half the test was trivia about ancient Rome.  I may not have known my es from my estes, but I knew the Roman pantheon by heart.  And I have Trivial Pursuit to thank for it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Good Stuff

            Most mornings, my alarm goes off before my kids wake up and I grab my journal and write whatever is on my mind. Sometimes, it’s dreams or story ideas and other times I write down thoughts that kept me from sleeping or a to do list. Often times I just write, “I’m so tired. This bed is so warm and cozy. I don’t wanna go to work. I wish a magic genie would appear with coffee.”
This morning I only got a few sentences into the journal when I heard the unmistakably wail of a child about to vomit. Again. It’s been an absurd year for germs in my house. In the past two weeks there was only one day both of my kids spent the entire day in school. Every virus that has floated through their school has landed in the intestines, stomach, throat or nasal passages of my children.
            But this is NOT a blog post whining about my sick kids—or the weather (since I’m convinced the constant damp is allowing these germs to breed out of control). After looking at the pictures out of Joplin, Missouri this morning, having a family come down with a few extra bugs just doesn’t seem that bad. So this is a blog about the good stuff. As Monty Python would say, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition” “Always look on the bright side of life”. So here are the good things I’m trying to focus on right now.

            1.) The eggs in the nest of cardinals outside my living room window have hatched. We have a constant biology lesson happening on the other side of the glass. The baby birds are tiny balls of fluff with giant mouths. Mama and Papa cardinal are constantly bringing them grubs. Cute doesn’t begin to describe the scene. Watch for pictures on Wordless Wednesday.

            2.) The sun shone brightly on Saturday for my boys Cub Scout Chuck Wagon Derby. The kids were able to spend all day in the fresh air doing activities that included archery and b b gun shooting. My no-guns-in-my-house-bleeding-heart was confused but proud to discover that Owen is an amazing shot. First time with a rifle in his hand and he hit the bull’s-eye three times. 

One sharp shooter and one kid who tries really hard.

            3.) When we returned from the Chuck Wagon on Saturday, Dan and I got to have a date! My friend Claire babysat for free and we went to see “Pirates of the Caribbean 4”. It was wicked fun. I’ll admit it, I love movies with period costumes and swordplay. I have no interest in heavy drama—there’s enough drama in real life. Make me laugh and entertain me, that’s what I want in a movie.

            4.) My son just brought me a picture he drew for me because he’s adorable. Those are Lego Ninjago figures (for those of you who don’t have 8-year-old boys). 

Lego Ninjago: the latest obsession in our house.

5.) I got the very last pair of rain boots in my size at Target last week. You can’t stop the rain, you might as well jump in some puddles.

Bonus: They match the kitchen floor & the kitty likes them.

            6.) I just finished reading Kristin Chenoweth’s memoir A Little Bit Wicked and it is hysterical and makes me want to hang out with her. I think we’d be best buds—us short girsl need to stick together (we’re both 4’11”).

            7.) Since the kids have been home from school so much and I’ve missed so much work, I’ve had time to sort though and throw out tons of stuff. There is something really satisfying about getting rid of stuff. My workroom is cleaner than it’s been in months.

            8.) I started tweeting on Twitter. Follow me and maybe I’ll say something funny or poignant or maybe I’ll just bitch about the weather.

            9.) One of the days James was home sick, he and I had fun doing math together. Math. Me. Fun. Weird.

            10.) Having lots of sick and rainy days has meant lots of snuggling under blankets watching movies. As much as I regret the fact that I’ve run out of paid sick time, cuddling with my boys is priceless.

            What are some things that give you joy on an otherwise bad day?

Friday, May 20, 2011

TRDC: A Light in the Fog

For today’s Red Riding Hood prompt about sloth, I’m returning to the story of a young widow named Michaela. I have been using some of the prompts to create a “back story” for what I hope will someday become a novel. This piece takes place about two weeks after the Peter’s* funeral. If you’re interested in reading more you can click on the page above titled The Story of Michaela.

*In earlier pieces, Michaela’s late husband was named Barry. The name wasn’t working for me so I've change it to Peter.

A Light in the Fog

            I walked into the empty house and locked the door behind me. Getting the kids onto the bus was getting harder by the day. I never had everything I needed to make lunches, there was never a matching pair of socks, and there was always a missing lunch box or homework folder. I somehow managed to get the kids off to school with full bellies and wearing matching shoes. Things should be getting easier soon, right?
In the kitchen I looked past the dishes in the sink and opened the refrigerator. It was packed with half-empty casseroles. I needed to wash them out and return the dishes to their owners. I closed the door. The pile of unopened mail on the table looked as if it was ready to topple over. I didn’t know where to start. When the kids are home I give them what they need. I feed them when they’re hungry, help them with their homework, and hold them when they’re sad. But the house doesn’t tell me what it needs the most. It just gets dirtier and dirtier.
            I poured myself a cup of tepid coffee.  I considered microwaving it but it seemed like too much trouble. I turned on the TV. There was a celebrity talking about the evils of gluten on one channel and a politician telling lies on another. I shut the TV off turned on my computer. I checked e-mail and Facebook. There was a lot to read, but I have no responses. I have nothing to say. Peter is still dead. I am still sad.
            The sound of the doorbell startled me. Through the window I saw Laverne’s car in the driveway.
            “Hey,” I said as I opened the door for her. “What are you doing here? Don’t you have to work?”
            “It’s Thursday,” she said. “It’s my day off. I brought coffee.”
            “Oh, thank God,” I responded. “This stuff is terrible.” I poured the remains of my coffee in the sink and tried to put the cup in the dishwasher, but it was full of clean dishes. I sighed and balanced the cup on the pile of unwashed dishes in the sink. It was one thing too many and dishes clattered across the counter. Embarrassment washed over me and tears rolled down my face.
            “Laverne, I don’t even know where to start.”
            “I kind of figured. That’s why I came by Michaela.” She guided me over to the table. “Start with the coffee. There’s an egg sandwich in there too. I bet you can’t remember the last time you had any protein.”
            “No, that’s not true.” I insisted. “The kids and I had chicken tenders and fries last night. I couldn’t stomach another casserole.”
            “Uh huh. How much chicken did you eat?”
            She was right. I had just nibbled whatever was left on the kids’ plates. I didn’t feel like eating.
            “You eat that sandwich skinny girl. Then you and I are going to clean this place up.”
            “Oh Laverne, I can’t let you clean my house.”
            “Honey, I’m not going to clean your house. But I’m going to help you. Miriam is coming by at noon with lunch.”
            “Oh my God Laverne. I can’t let her see this place like this.”
            Miriam was my neighbor. She was sweet, kind and absolutely dedicated to cleanliness.
            “Then we better get started Sweetie. You go through that pile of mail while you eat and I’ll get started on these dishes.”
            We worked for hours. When we stopped for lunch, my shoulders and knees ached and my hands were raw. I wasn’t tired, but I was hungry for the first time in weeks. My house began to look like a home again and I felt like I had taken one tiny step out of the fog.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

And the Oscar Goes to...

            About ten years ago I ran into a former dance teacher while I was at my cousin’s wedding. I LOVED her dance class. It was called “Creative Movement” and it was a part of the after school program at my elementary school. It was very low-key and had none of the discipline and barre work of a ballet class--which was probably why it appealed to me. I loved to dance as a child, but wasn’t a big fan of hard work.
At the year-end recital we had the opportunity to perform a solo dance we choreographed ourselves. Choreography may be too strong a word—I’m pretty sure that term suggests doing the same movements each time you perform the dance. The only thing that was consistent in my number was the sweeping-down-on-one-knee-dying-swan move that ended the song every time I danced to it. Yup, that move pretty much summed me up as a seven-year-old.
            The dance teacher was my aunt’s neighbor in those days. So when my cousin was married, she was on the guest list.
“Vickie?” she asked me.
“You probably don’t remember me, but I’m Mrs. J. I used to live next door to your Aunt D. and taught…”
“Creative movement!” I said excitedly.
“You do remember! I have to ask you something. Do you still perform?”
“Yes. In fact, I’m singing in the wedding.”
“I knew it! I could tell by the look on your face when you were in second grade that you would always be a performer.”
            As the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I see it in my son James. He hasn’t expressed any desire to be on stage yet, but that boy is an ACTOR down to his bones. Right now, he’s sitting on the couch playing his Nintendo DS instead of sitting in a classroom because I can’t decide if he’s faking it or not. Yesterday he was definitely sick. He was running to the bathroom all day. This morning, I can’t quite tell. He’s been complaining of stomach pains, but I haven’t seen any “evidence” so far.
            I should be able to tell. I’m an actor myself, I’m a director and I’ve been a mom for almost nine years. But this kid has talent. He’s even stumped the school nurse on occasion—and there is no one tougher to fool than a seasoned school nurse. She and I have had a lot of conversations this year.
            I considered being a tough guy this morning and sending James to school. But I have a feeling he’ll end up getting caught short running for the bathroom or throwing up in the cafeteria. At least I had today off—I had to leave work early on Monday (because Owen was sick) and called in sick on Tuesday (because I was sick) and Wednesday (for James). I am in desperate need of a sunny, warm, germ-free day.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Tweet Tweet

It's cold and rainy outside but the signs of Spring continue to show themselves. This is who is living right outside my living room window.

Mama Cardinal in her nest.

She doesn't let me get too close before she flies away. When she does, I can see these...

Can't wait to see what develops.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

RemembeRED: Taking a Break

 This week's RemembeRED prompt:

"I think we've been too nice to you.

It's time for another image prompt.

Write about the first (or second) memory that comes to mind when you see this:"

Taking a Break

            I was sitting in my little black Honda Prelude fiddling with the sunroof control. It was too cold in the car with it open and too hot with it closed. A lot of other drivers had gotten out of their cars to get some air. I looked at my watch. It was almost 7:00. Curtain was at 8:00. A police officer was walking along the row of stopped cars.
            “Any idea how much longer it will be?” I asked him.
            “No idea,” he said.
“I’m in a play at Marist at 8:00,” I said. Strictly speaking, I wasn’t in the play. But I was the makeup person. I needed to make a 22-year-old college student look like an aged King Lear. For now I was stuck in some side road off of Route 9 waiting for the President Clinton’s motorcade to pass by.
“You knew the president was going to be in town,” he said unsympathetically.
He continued walking down the line of cars until he was out of sight. I held back tears. The actor playing Lear was going to be pissed.
            It was the early 90’s and only doctors and lawyers had cell phones. They were the property of the well to do, not standard equipment for students like they are today. Even if I could walk to a pay phone, no one would have been at my house. They would all be at the theatre.
            I hunted around in the floor of my car for a cassette (remember those?) to listen to. For some reason the only tapes I could find were The Rolling Stones and Beethoven’s 9th. Neither matched my mood so I sat in silence—angry at myself for not planning better, the police for keeping me here and the president for being delayed.
            We were finally allowed to move our vehicles at 7:45. The curtain was scheduled to go up at 8:00. I drove to the theater, parked my car and ran to the green room. When I arrived, another member of our group had begun Lear’s makeup. He looked profoundly relieved when he turned over his brushes to me. Lear’s base had already been done. I needed to use a darker make up to create contours in the space under his eyes and paint on his age lines. As I moved the brush closer to his face, he grabbed my shaking hand.
            “Go have a cigarette,” he said.
            “But the curtain time was five minutes ago,” I said.
            “We can wait. Go have a cigarette.”
            “And I don’t smoke”
            “I don’t care. Go have a cigarette.”
            I was at the time, one of the few members of the theatre group who didn’t smoke. I had grown up in a house smelling of smoke and it just didn’t interest me. I took the proffered cigarette and went out on the loading dock and lit up. Taking a moment and stepping out of the situation was enough to make my hands stop shaking. There were a number of things that would have had the same effect—going for a walk, eating some French fries, getting a hug from a good friend. I crushed out the cigarette and went back inside. I finished Lear’s makeup and the curtain went up only a few minutes late.

Monday, May 16, 2011

An Open Letter to a Deliquent Season

Dear Spring,

            Here in the Northeast, we miss you terribly. Some people tell me that you’re already here. Yes, I have noticed all of the signs that suggest your presence: the date on the calendar, the bright green leaves on all the maple trees, the gaggle of goslings produced by the Canada geese down the street, and the cardinals who have built a nest and laid eggs in my rhododendron. But, my friend Spring, the thermostat suggests March, rather than May. The temperature has only flirted with the 60’s since the Vernal Equinox.
You know the old saying, “April showers bring May flowers”? Well, Spring, it’s May 16th and May showers bring nothing but mud and standing water. You know what that brings? Mosquitoes. Which begets Eastern Equine Encephalitis and West Nile Virus. Is that what you want your legacy to be?
            I know, I know, after this winter I swore I wasn’t going to complain about the weather as long as it doesn’t snow. What can I say? I’m weak. My kids have had more viruses this year than I can count. I’m beginning to believe the school bus has turned into a giant Petri dish.
            James’ T-ball game was cancelled tonight because of the rain. Do you know what my children are doing instead of playing outside in the fresh air? They are watching Veggie-Tales. Sad. Pathetic really. If you don’t show up soon, Summer is going to steam roller right over you and you’ll miss your opportunity to shine.
            Do come back soon Spring. I promise to take long walks and runs in your sunshine. We’ll take the training wheels off the boys’ bikes and go for a ride. I’ll even weed the garden!
            Missing you dreadfully,


Friday, May 13, 2011

RDC: My Midnight Glutton

This week’s Red Dress Club prompt is to write about gluttony—my personal favorite of the seven deadly sins. I love food and drink and had dozens of ideas of how to take this prompt. This is the one that flowed the easiest. I think I've been getting sentimental lately...

My Midnight Glutton

            I awaken at 11:58—just before you begin to cry. It’s become so routine over the past few weeks, I’d probably get up to check your breathing if you didn’t call for me before midnight. I slip into my light blue milk-scented bathrobe and stumble down the hall to the nursery.
            Your cries become louder just as I reach the crib. You feel my arms around you and crane your head forward in search of your next meal. We sit in the old maple rocking chair and nurse. This midnight feeding has become your biggest meal of the day. No longer a newborn, you’re becoming interested in the world around you. The excitement of your big brother during daylight hours fascinates you and you’ll latch on for only a moment or two and then turn away to see what he’s doing.
            I can’t blame you. Owen is two years old and he makes lots of noise and plays with colorful toys. How can a person focus on milk when there is so much excitement going on? Don’t worry Sweet Baby James. It wasn’t that long ago that your big brother was waking me for a midnight snack. Now he can run and climb rocks and kick a soccer ball and finger paint, and blow bubbles. And it won’t be long before you will too.     
As we sit together in the dark room I marvel at how different you are from Owen as a baby. Nothing could distract him until he rolled away in sleepy contentment with milk running down his round chin. I wonder if that is a clue as to how your personalities will be like later on.
            You finish nursing and the look on your face tells me you don’t want to sleep. Sorry pal, Mommy can’t play peek-a-boo at midnight. I put you up to my shoulder and softly sing the Tommy Makem songs I can remember my dad singing to me. Half way through “The Leaving of Liverpool” you surrender to sleep. I lay you down with a silent plea that you’ll let me sleep for a few more hours. 

The boys, circa 2004

Monday, May 9, 2011

RemembeRED: Sand

Here is a little piece of memoir written for The Red Dress Club’s RemembeRED meme. This week’s prompt was to write about sand. That’s it. That’s the whole prompt. This is what I came up with…

Dear Owen,

This morning, when I sat down at my computer, I accidentally open up IPhoto. I ended up spending almost an hour flipping through the thousands of pictures we’ve taken since you were born. I was supposed to be paying bills and renewing my library books. Instead I watched you go from being a huge, healthy perfect baby to a quick and inquisitive toddler to the thoughtful and articulate elementary school student you are today. It’s hard to remember when you were this guy:

            When this picture was taken, I was seven months pregnant with your little brother. Our house was being renovated to make room for him. We expanded the second floor to create two new bedrooms. Part of the bedroom you now use was once my walk-in closet. Your bunk bed sits in the exact location where I kept an array of suits and silk blouses. I gave up that closet and those fancy clothes when you came along—it was one of the best choices I ever made.
            We couldn’t live in our house while the work was being done so we stayed in little red cottage that my grandparents had built many years ago. There wasn’t a lot of room to play inside the cottage, but it was very close to the beach. We were there for most of March and April, which isn’t ideal beach weather in New England. So we had the beach to ourselves most days. You didn’t mind the cold. To you, that beach was a giant sandbox. All you needed was a pail, shovel and a plastic truck or two and you would stay busy for hours. When your lips turned blue I would bribe you with a cup of hot cocoa to entice you to go back to the cottage.
            You didn’t have a lot to say back then (times have really changed) but you asked a lot of questions. Or rather you asked the same question many times. “What zat do?” You would ask at the hardware store. “What zat do?” you would ask at the car repair shop. Once a week, we would visit our house so I could see how the work was going and drop off a check. “What zat do?” you would ask about the reciprocating saw. “What zat do?” you would ask about a nail gun. Keeping you out of harm’s way amid all those fascinating tools was no easy task for your very pregnant mother.
            It’s not only strange to think of you back then because you are so much more grown up. It’s also strange to think of you as an only child. Maybe it’s just a bad case of mommy brain, but I can hardly remember a time when you weren’t a brother. I never really thought about how you and James would get along before he came into our lives. I never weighed the pros and cons of having more than one child. It just seemed natural that after we had one child, we would have another. I never could have imagined how close you would become.

I hope you realize what a blessing you have in each other. Every night I pray that you always have that. I am so proud of how you’re willing share your allowance with each other. I love seeing your huge goodnight hugs. And I’m always touched at your concern when the other one is sick or hurt. You compliment each other so well. One of you is extroverted and one introverted. One of you is emotional and the other logical. One of you jumps into life with both feet and the other considers his path carefully. One of you likes to build sandcastles and the other likes to knock them down.

            Love, Mom

I tried desperately to NOT write about the beach. The beach just seemed so obvious. I even came up with this great memory about the time I narrowly avoided stepping on a rattlesnake while hiking with my family in the desert. But then I realized that it wasn’t desert so much as plains and therefore grassy rather than sandy J. I’ll have to jot that one down for another time.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Date Night

            Our fifteenth anniversary was last week. We celebrated by wolfing down Chinese take-out, going to a tee-ball practice and then a Cub Scout meeting. That my friends, is the difference between your fifteenth anniversary and your first anniversary. Fortunately, we had a chance at a “do-over” last night (which was a double celebration since it was also my husband’s fortieth birthday). My cousin, her husband, and their four kids invited our little guys for a sleep over so we could go away for the evening.
            It was a lovely change to sit through a dinner without saying, “Please chew with your mouth closed” and “There is no toilet talk at the dinner table.” We didn’t need to bring crayons amuse ourselves and neither one of us ordered chicken fingers or mac and cheese. We were able to savor our dinner and sip our cocktails—which was not easy since the food was fantastic! We dined at a place in Falmouth called AƱejo, which bills itself as a Mexican bistro and tequila bar. If you find yourself vacationing on Cape Cod, I highly recommend it. Try the pomegranate margarita—as delicious as it is intoxicating.
            I love my children beyond words, but a night without them was a treasure. There is a stereotype that married couples go away and spend all their time talking about their kids. Of course, we talked about them. They are the center of our world. But we also talked about a million other things that we just don’t ordinarily have time and opportunity to say. More importantly, we were able to share a few quiet moments. In a house with two energetic little boys, there is very little silence. We enjoyed this rare treat immensely.
            The next morning over breakfast (Nope. I’m not sharing any details about the night in the hotel room with the hot tub and the king size bed. My mom reads this blog you know—wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) the waiter asked us if we were in town for anything special. When we told him we were there for our 15th anniversary, he said, “Shut up! You look so young!” Maybe he was fishing for a big tip, but I’m inclined to think a little time away from the kids took a few years off our faces.
Will and Kate have nothing on us (except, wealth, fame & youth)!

Friday, May 6, 2011

RDC: Turning the Tables

            This week’s assignment from The Red Dress Club is: “Aaah...jealousy. We all have it. We all feel it. And now we'd like you to write about it. We'll leave it open: you can write about something or someone you envy, or a time when your jealousy got you in trouble, or maybe how it makes you feel to be envious. Whatever you want.”

Turning the Tables

            I played with the ice cubes in my gin and tonic, trying to keep myself from gulping it down. I didn’t want my brain to be fuzzy when I saw Sheila. Our twenty-year high school reunion was coming and like a lot of people I haven’t thought about in years, Sheila “friended” me on Facebook.
Sheila and I were classmates, but not friends. Back then her shiny black hair was styled into a perfect Aqua-netted poof while my brown frizzy curls were always in my face. Tall and slim but curvy, Sheila looked fantastic in a huge array of Jordache jeans and Benetton sweaters. My homemade and hand-me-down clothes did little to hide my short and boyish body. She was never one of those “mean girls” who pick on other girls, but I always felt eclipsed by her. As bookish as I was, I’d have given anything to get the kind of attention she got from boys back then. When Sheila suggested we meet for a drink, I was too curious to say no.
I looked at myself in the mirror behind the bar. I have a few lines around my eyes, but my hair is still brown thanks to L’Oreal and I’ve managed to keep my weight in check. My wardrobe has improved significantly. My clothes are flattering and classic. I still look bookish, but that’s who I am and I’m comfortable with that.
            “Stephie?” Sheila squeals. “I’d know you anywhere!” She wraps me in a hug that seems natural for her and awkward for me.
            “Sheila, it’s so good to see you.” I tell her. “You look great.”
            She’s heavier than she was in high school, but she’s gained weight in all the right places. A number of men in the bar are checking her out (some things never change). She’s wearing a purple silk blouse that reveals a little of her lacy bra when she leans forward and a black skirt cut to make the most of her curves. We sit and she orders a cosmopolitan and then turns to face me, “Tell me everything. Are you married? What do you do for a living? Have any kids?”
            Wow, in thirty-seconds, she’s shown more interest in me than she did in four years of high school. I tell her about my husband and my work as a researcher and writer. It’s a life that I love, but I don’t want to bore her so I turn the tables before she loses interest.
            “How about you Sheila?” I ask. “What’s keeping you busy these days.”
            She tosses back the rest of her Cosmo and signals the bartender for another one. “I sell real estate and I’m doing pretty well,” she tells me. “I had a few rough years after high school, with Dad in the slammer.”
            “Slammer? You mean, like jail?” I ask stupidly. I can picture her father and his extravagant gifts—a diamond tennis bracelet when she turned sixteen and a red Dodge Daytona when she turned seventeen.
            “You didn’t know about that? It made the papers in the early nineties. You were probably away at school. You name a white collar crime, he got nailed for it—tax evasion, embezzlement, fraud.”
            “Sheila, I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”
            “I’m surprised your folks never told you.”
            “Well, they don’t like to gossip.”
            “True. Very good people your parents.”
            “I didn’t realize you knew them that well.”
            “They let me stay with them when he got taken away. The government seized everything. I had to leave college. Your parents took me in for a couple of weeks until my aunt came and helped me out.”
            “I can’t believe they never told me.”
            “Me neither.  I stayed in your room. I think they even gave me some of your clothes. I’m surprised you never noticed they were missing.”
            “Clothes were never that important to me,” I said thinking how strange my castoffs must have looked on such a fashionable girl.
            “I know. You were so lucky, you know? My Dad thought that love meant buying me stuff. Your parents taught you that clothes weren’t that important. I can’t tell you how jealous I was of you.”

This is a work of fiction. The only bit of truth is my curly brown hair is still getting in my face and I do love a gin and tonic now and then.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Heavy Things

            Last fall, my eight-year-old son Owen came home from school with a lot of questions about September 11th. We had never discussed it. I guess I never thought he was old enough to hear about it. They had been talking about it in school and he had a lot of questions. I did my best to answer them. I fought back tears and tried to explain what happened on that day. I did about as well as any parent would do considering how unprepared I was to discuss something so difficult—which is to say badly. I can only hope I handle the birds and the bees talk better than I handled the September 11th talk.
When I was in eighth grade, we had an assignment to ask our parents if they could remember what they were doing when they heard the news of JFK’s assassination. On September 11, 2001, I thought to myself, someday my kids are going to ask me what I was doing today. I remember every detail of that day—the perfect clear blue of the sky, watching the second plane hit the World Trade Center live on television in the trading room of the investment firm where I worked, wondering if any of my former classmates were among the thousands running in terror from ground zero (there were several), watching one particular stock broker I had always thought of as heartless falling apart as he watched, seeing a woman in the same wine-colored suit I was wearing as I walked from Cambridge to South Station because I was afraid get on the subway, and trying to call my parents from my cell phone for the entire walk. Ten years later, I still cry when I think about it.
            Knowing that the death of Osama bin Laden was likely to be discussed at school on Monday, I thought we’d talk a little bit about it before hand. A few years back, Owen had seen a brief scene on the news of American forces in the mountains of Afghanistan. He couldn’t have been more than five or six years old at the time, “Mommy, what are the Army guys doing in the mountains?” he asked me.
            “There is a man who did a very bad thing before you were born,” I told him. “Those soldiers are looking for him.”
            “I want to help them find him,” he told me.
            “You have to be eighteen to join the army. They’ll probably find him before then.” I said.
            Since Owen never forgets anything (except things like homework and putting his dirty laundry in the hamper), I knew he’d recall that conversation. So on the walk to the bus stop this morning I asked, “Owen, do you remember asking me about the soldiers in the mountains?”
            “The ones looking for the bad guy?”
            “Yes. His name is Osama bin Laden. They found him and now he’s dead. I thought it might come up at school today and I thought we should talk about it. A lot of people are very happy he’s dead. But I don’t think it’s okay to celebrate someone’s death.” Of course, I started tearing up.
            “Are you crying because he’d dead or because of what he did?”
            “I’m crying about what he did. I wouldn’t celebrate his death, but it doesn’t make me sad either. He caused the death of thousands of Americans and we’ve been looking for him for a long time.”
            “What did he do?”
            “Do you remember learning about September 11th? That was his idea.”
            He asked me a lot of questions—really good questions. Sadly, I didn’t have answers for all of them. I doubt anyone does. By the time we reached the bus stop, we were both a little teary. I said to him, “There is something I always want you to remember Owen. There are some bad people in the world. But for every single person who is willing to do something this awful, there are a hundred people who are willing to put themselves in danger to save someone’s life. That’s what we need to focus on and be grateful for.”
            I hope the end of the search for bin Laden brings closure and comfort to those who need it. I am relieved that the search for this embodiment of evil is over. I hope this means some of our troops can come home to a grateful nation. But I won’t celebrate this news. I’d like to share this quote a friend (who is a New Yorker to the core) posted on Facebook yesterday:

 “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that” MLK Jr.