New York and Sri Lanka

It is Sunday morning, and Mom, Dad, Jack, Ol, and I are on our way to the 9/11 museum and memorial. I lived in NY on 9/11 but have not visited the site since I moved two years later.

We are still in Brooklyn, it’s a beautiful morning, we are all happy and have had such a fun weekend. I sit with the horrific news from Sri Lanka, and suddenly it really sinks in. I have friends living there, a mother and son the boys and I know from school. She is Sri Lankan and they took a leave of absence to move to the country for two years to be with extended family, to travel, to let the boy, now a fifth grader, study in and experience a new place and school.

I message the mom: Just checking in. Are you and your family ok?

What are the odds, I think, and I turn my attention back to my family and the museum.

The incredibly thoughtful designers and curators of the tribute to 9/11 couldn’t have done a finer job. It is a weighty, moving place of course, my eyes prick with tears many times, but I never feel destroyed or frantic to leave. To an individual, the staff and volunteers are thoroughly trained, passionate, and kind. Please, if you feel overwhelmed, there are tissue kiosks and seats all around. Please don’t hesitate to let us know if we can help.

The boys take it all in, brave and respectful. And we talk about terrorism and hate but also the antidotes of love and tolerance. We talk about the lives that were horrifically taken and also the beautiful way New York came together afterwards. We talk about community and tending the ones we are part of. We talk about condemning hate and hateful actions but also about the importance of not judging groups by the behavior of the extremists within them.

After, I note that I’ve not heard back from my friend. This is odd. But it’s Easter, and I put the niggling aside to laugh with my boys and parents, to pack us up, to say goodbye.

We board the bus home and three hours in I hear the news: the boy has been killed in Colombo. The mother and grandmother are in the hospital but will be ok. They had been at breakfast together.

I gasp, and without thinking turn to the boys and tell them the horrific news. What?!

We cannot make sense of this. Jack had played chess with this boy and borrowed his hiking pants. He was a radiant, kind child of such intelligence. He was to return to DC in just weeks.

Our community is wrecked for the loss this mother has sustained. For the loss we feel, too.

Yesterday, as I drove Jack home from school, he, in uncharacteristic emotionality, said, “Mom, I don’t understand this evil. The world is shit right now.” He looked so distraught and baffled. I couldn’t disagree, but I am 43 and he is 12, and I desperately wish the world was a better place to grow up in because death and a deep awareness of the world’s ugliness and many failures is a lot to hold when you’re not even a teenager.

Please be the good. Be generous and kind and tolerant. Please offer to lend a hand, to give a hug. Please value fact and truth and honesty and character. Please fight fanaticism in every way you can, including the very real white conservative extremism, so often religiously-rooted, that harms us here in the States. Please honor this dear boy and all the others whose lives end entirely too soon. Please keep his mother in your heart and your thoughts. She needs a deep bench of love and support right now and for a long time to come. Many do.

"It's coming this way"

The kids are watching Looney Tunes during their quiet time. We adults have snuck away to various bedrooms and porches, much more in need of rest and silence than the children are. Like the best children's books (the Frances books and pretty much all of William Steig's works), rest time strikes me as a brilliant example of parents creating things as much for our benefit as our babies'. 

I am sitting on a rocking bench on the covered balcony off our room, feet propped on a side table. Across the street, just beyond the few homes over there, the inland bay starts. It's a lovely body of water, always calmer than the ocean on the flip side of our home. There, the waves slap the beach, minute after minute, during high tide and low. It's wonderful in a more tumultuous way.

This inlet though is largely waveless. Its movement is uni-planar, first sliding one way and then back from whence it came.

The sky over our house is blue and dotted with puffy white clouds. But they are hurrying away from something, and when I look across the little bay, I see a quickly-advancing wall of ominous gray. I can literally see it moving towards me, the wisps of black seeming to rush more quickly than the heavier charcoal shroud behind them. 

Zig-zags of lightning sizzle through the sky, slicing it cleanly before dissipating. The thunder is ear-splitting. I wait for it eagerly, but jump a little in my seat each time it erupts. My heart jumps a little too. 

The black wisps are circling now. They suggest a tornado, or for Harry Potter fans, dementors.  Gulls glide lazily atop the whimsical air currents, seemingly unconcerned about the storm that is definitely coming.

There is no rain yet, not even a drop.  I glance at the bay and see tiny whitecaps racing toward the shore. The lightning is striking as wide as my periphery will allow- one zig, three!

The boy on the porch across the street yells, "The storm is comin'! It's comin' this way!" The neighbors next door are on their porch too, chatting and laughing and periodically saying, "Ooh, look at that one." One of the women there has the craziest fake-red hair and is always ringing her arms with hula hoops. Is she exercising? Is she a performer? She's heading down the stairs in an orange bikini and a purple, crushed velour jumper. It's backless and teensy. Wher e is she going now??

The winds are gusting with wild abandon, and the temperature must have dropped ten degrees. My hair is blowing across my face and into my eyes; I either need to pin it back or give up. 

The flag next door has wrapped itself tightly around its pole. Is it readying itself for what we all know is coming? One last gull flies away, and now I see no more birds. It is downright cold now, and still, no rain. The trees are blowing this way and that, beach towels hung out to dry are whipping the posts and rockers on which they perch. 

The clouds are still though, and it's eerie. How can my hair by flying back like I'm a supermodel on a shoot but the clouds are still?

Here it comes. The rain is spattering my legs, the can of selzter I had on the ground next to me is rolling away. Everyone is out watching. And waiting. Our anticipation is as palpable and electric as the lightning. 

I love thunderstorms. This promises to be a good one.

The days when motherhood blows: Rated R

Several hours ago, my lower back started to clench. Shortly after, my shoulders joined the game and seized up, angry fists pulling my neck down and into my chest. Nausea seeped in like a rushing Katrina tide, and a throbbing, electric-shock pain anchored onto my cranium like a bitchy vise. I hurried to get the kids to bed -please.just.stop. already- so that I could take a hot bath. I deserved it and I needed it. Undressed and eager, I stepped into the tub to find that only cold water remained. That disappointment pretty much sums up my afternoon (as well as motherhood-induced anxiety on the worst of days). Defeated, I donned some flannel PJs and poured myself a glass of wine. Tom is again going to be late. We see so little of him these days, and it wears on us. Nights like these, when I'm so wiped that I feel crazy, I don't know if his absence is a good or bad thing. I mean, it's no good for the kids, but if one more person asked me to look at or respond to something or make a fucking decision -what's for dinner? when? why? how?- I might crack.

As well, most people, T included after some long days, don't want to hear about the true dregs of life, and when he's gone, I can let out any sadness and frustration and anger slowly, as if I'm a delicate hourglass whose neck is so narrow that the sands pass through almost unnoticeably. Minute by minute, my upset lessens. My shoulders consider release, the nausea abates ever so slightly, the burning foam of anger sudsing on the interior of my skull begins to dissipate. I am NOT delicate, for fuck's sake, but my neck is narrow, so there you have it.

One of my best coping strategies on craptastic days like these is to reach out to and thank someone I appreciate or admire. A few weeks back, I wrote a fan letter. Seriously, I did this. Did y'all read Ellen Urbani's Modern Love essay in the SNYT? I thought it was spectacular and decided I would write her to say so. Did I expect to hear back? No. My reason for writing was simply to applaud her work and let her know that it resonated with me.

She did write back, so thoughtfully so and twice, and while both responses were beyond lovely, it was really just the gesture of appreciative outreach that I found healing. Had she never replied, I still would have felt good. The rest was two cherries on top.

I did the same thing today, a note of admiration to a woman I met once but have corresponded with frequently. She speaks her truth and her beliefs with such equanimity and strength. Whenever she posts something "brave," I love to read the commentary following because my faith in educated, reasoned, supportive dialogue is renewed.

As an aside, interacting with people like Ellen and Elan -funny how similar their names are- is what I love most about the internet, about blogging, about social media and the relationships forged through it all.

But to keep this focused (not always my strong suit), I find so much of parenting so very hard. I envy those who don't. I'm not a covetous person, but I covet, in the truest, most Biblical sense of that word, those women who just get on by most days, easily and happily and any other fucking adverb you want to tack on to that list. Those women whose shoulders never seem to clench and who never want to escape their kids. Those women for whom auto-correct and low-quality Scotch tape and idiotic CVS employees aren't the last straw.

I feel certain that I am not alone in this, and yet I'm repeatedly struck by how alone I often feel.