About Me

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Welcome! This is a blog about life after losing my mom (on April 7th, 2014), running (or not, depending on injuries), being a 'mama' to Grace, 13, Genevieve, 11, and Joseph 6, and teaching 13-18 year olds in Philadelphia. Thanks for being here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Reflections During Advent

Coming in from the back porch after my run tonight, I picked up James Vance Marshall's 1959 novel Walkabout, which for some reason had fallen off the bookshelf into the stuffed animals. Just looking at the cover, the silhouette of an Aborigine boy standing on a rock at sunset, I was back in my classroom at Central High in Philadelphia, where I taught two sections of freshman English. Walkabout was a summer reading assignment. The theme of our year was "Search for Self." My classes were great at Central: inquisitive, creative, enthusiastic, and bright. When I left to come teach at Masterman (where my classes are also great), we all promised to keep in touch, but of course the rushing river that is life soon swept us along and far from each other (or at least me far from them). They graduated last year and are now off at colleges around the country. But I digress.

I opened to the first page of Walkabout out of curiosity, as I hadn't read it in five years. "It was silent and dark, and the children were afraid," the book begins, "...the little boy nestled more closely against his sister. He was trembling." The story, as many people know (the book was a bestseller, and there's a movie, too), is about a brother and sister whose parents die in a plane crash in the Australian Outback, hundreds of miles from civilization. They meet an Aborigine youth on his "walkabout," a test of manhood, and must undergo a walkabout of their own in order to survive. This is of course the 1950s and the brother and sister, from North Carolina, have all kind of ideas about the superiority of their own culture, ideas of superiority that begin to dissipate throughout the novel. What I had forgotten before I picked up the book again tonight was that the brother's and sister's names are Peter and Mary. Two more Christian names there could not be: Peter, of course, being the disciple who in his fear abandons Jesus (and then goes on to found the church), and Mary, Jesus' mother, who stays with him even at the foot of the cross.

As we enter this Advent season I have my own little Mary on the creche on my fireplace. She is surrounded by the sheep, the hay, the three wise men, and Joseph. They all, of course, are surrounding the baby, Jesus. The scene is quiet and humble. It is not self-aggrandizing or coercive or critical, as "Christianity" or "The Church" sometimes appears to be (and I say this as a  Christian and a member of the Catholic Church). It is not smug. Nor is it loud. No, it is humility and love that I see in my creche on the fireplace.  Humility and love, of course, being the path to God. A path we're trying to clear this Advent season (and again, and again, and again throughout life). I believe in this humility and love. I believe in Jesus. But I know that, like Mary and Peter in Walkabout, if I only wrap myself in comfortable ideas about  my culture and my religion, I am moving away from the place of beauty in my soul that the manger represents. I am moving away from God.

In Walkabout, Mary does this, and despite her good intentions, her ignorance brings about the death of the Aboriginal boy. His last action is to smile at her. For me, it is the most moving scene of the book: "It was the smile that broke Mary's heart: that last forgiving smile. Before, she had seen only as through a glass darkly, but now she saw face-to-face. And in that moment of truth all her fears and inhibitions were sponged away, and she saw that the world which she had thought was split in two was one." As Christmas approaches this year, may we all prepare to see God face-to-face.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Running Again

After a Run, Happy Again
So, I've gotten dangerously close over the last few weeks to just being "Teacher Mama" instead of "Running Teacher Mama." Work was busy, the kids were needy, the house was messy, the weather was bad, etc. etc. etc. etc. Ironically, last weekend I attended the Haddonfield Sports Banquet because a former tennis teammate, Kim Lamaina, was being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Kim was an amazing player in high school, one who was known for her aggressive strokes and net game (she was invited to train in Florida and try to go pro at one point), while I was a workhorse doubles player who was known not for her impressive ground strokes but for "always getting the ball back" (very boring), so it's not like I was reliving my glory days by being at the dinner. But still, being there was a poignant reminder that, at one point in my life, I had been an athlete.

Usually, running is enough to remind me, in a good way, of that past, and to bring enough of it into my present life to keep me happy and sane. After a few days without running, the happy me starts to sink bit by bit into the quicksand of modern, frenetic life. Before yesterday, I hadn't run for 3 weeks, at least. Finally, yesterday, Anthony was home for Thanksgiving so I was able to get out for a jog around the river in the morning while he stayed with the kids. My body creaked and protested, but the light was beautiful on the river, the warm sun felt good on my back, and the cool air felt delicious. It brought me back to solid ground again. 

Tonight, I was determined to make it two days in a row, so after putting the girls to bed I came downstairs and headed out to the treadmill on the back porch. I allowed myself to go slow and ran three miles listening to Bruce Springsteen. I ran the last mile to "Something in the Night" and "Candy's Room," and then walked a bit to the sweet, sad "Promised Land." I felt good.

The unmatched sock table. Another night ...
It's nearly 10:30 now and not much else will get done tonight, but that's ok. I'm running again, and that's enough for me right now.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Perfection

I arrived in Philadelphia this morning from Charleston, South Carolina, where I had been for a writing workshop with Guideposts magazine (wonderful experience--always is). I thought I would just meet Anthony curbside, but he surprised me and came inside with the kids. Grace and Genevieve ran and gave me huge hugs, then the books they had made (Genevieve's, titled "The Adventures of Genevieve and Mommy," was short and simple: "Once upon a time, Mommy and Genevieve were walking a dog. Then, they heard a loud crash!" The End). Joseph kicked wildly and reached for me, smiling that huge baby grin. It was lovely! After our mini-reunion I did notice that Grace and Genevieve clearly had not bathed or brushed their hair all weekend, and that Joseph was not wearing socks on a chilly November day, but I chose not to say anything. The kids were safe and sound, they had had a great time with their dad, and, after all, who really cared what they looked like? That was all superficial stuff, I reminded myself (though I did find a pair of socks for Joseph in the car). And I am trying hard in my life to not let the things that I want (a clean house, well-dressed and freshly bathed children... ) interfere with what I really, really want (a happy marriage, joyful children). You'd think this would be easy, but it's not.

At the workshop this weekend, Guideposts editor Edward Grinnan signed his book The Promise of Hope for me, and I started reading it on the plane. It's a great story. He talks about workaholic overachievers at one point, saying, "There is no greater toxin to the soul than the self-expectation of perfection." The expectation of perfection is a toxin to others as well, of course. So as I settle back into my "real life" after this weekend of refreshment, I'm going to try very hard to remember that imperfections are a part of life to be overlooked, and at times embraced, but certainly not polished over.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Princess Pirates and Other Dreams

Swimming and kayaking on October!
We spent last night and this morning at the beach, as the girls and I had off today for Columbus Day. Anthony wasn't scheduled for the store, so it was one of those rare family days. Rare, too, because it is October and we were able to kayak and swim in the ocean. Anthony, Grace, and I all went under waves. Genevieve stayed knee-deep on the shore. The water was clear, crisp, and invigorating. Later, as the girls played on the beach, a few monarch butterflies hovered, lingering before that long trip south to Mexico.

Jorgito and Malú in dance class at school
My parents were there, too. I ran with my Dad this morning, as we like to do when at the beach together. Down Long Beach Boulevard to Neptune Market we went, where we took a left and wound through the streets lining the bay before heading home. It's a brief three mile run but enough to get in some talking and some thinking. This morning, with Barnegat Lighthouse only a few miles to the north,  I started thinking about the movie Viva Cuba. It's a lovely little film about two best friends, Malú and Jorgito, who live in Cuba. Their families--one socialist and the other wealthy (or previously wealthy)--hate each other. When Malú's grandmother dies and her mother announces that they are leaving the island to move north, Malú and Jorgito run away together to try to prevent being separated. They think if they can only make it to Malú's father, who lives in the lighthouse at the southernmost tip of Cuba, and convince him to not sign the papers, that they can stay together. Their friendship is beautiful. Their imaginations--which allow them to dream that they might, against all rational thought, be able to stay together--are unbridled and limitless as only children's imaginations can be.  In the end, though, this is not enough. They arrive at the lighthouse and for a brief moment think they have been saved. Then the adults arrive. Malú and Jorgito run to the edge of the sea, where they embrace, knowing that it (their friendship, their childhood, their pure and wild dreams) cannot last.
Jorgito and Malú embrace at the edge of the sea.


I started thinking about how I want to show this movie to my 9th graders this year because they also read Romeo and Juliet, that other story that so well captures the completely irrational yet pure and beautiful dreams of youth. These dreams are fantastic. They shine. And they cannot last. (It is because they cannot last, of course, that they are so achingly beautiful. When I used to teach Romeo and Juliet, we always had a good time imagining what would have happened had Romeo and Juliet actually lived to get married.)

My Dad and I, along with Joseph in the jog stroller, ended our run at the walkway on the end of our street, with a view of the Atlantic Ocean, far from where Jorgito and Malú, desperately trying to hold onto something, embraced in Viva Cuba, but it was an ocean nonetheless. I took Joseph out of the stroller and carried him back to the house, where the girls were playing Crazy 8s with my mom. Later, on the beach, they pretended they were princesses and made castles for themselves. They followed this with a game of pirates. When I asked them which one they were, a princess or a pirate, they stated matter of fact: "We're princess pirates." Then, the October light shining, they ran to the water laughing and chasing each other, their arms raised, unaware of me standing behind them with an ache in my heart.
The Princess Pirates

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Don't Drown In a Glass of Water!

No te ahogues en un vaso de agua. Don't drown in a glass of water. I start every class I teach with a discussion in Spanish of anything important that might be occurring that day (birthdays, anniversaries, exams in other classes, historic events, athletic competitions), and a saying. No te ahogues en un vaso de agua was Thursday's saying. I've been thinking of it ever since. In class, we talked about how the glass of water is really a stand-in for our problems, and how, like the glass, many of these problems are small. We just can't see that because we are so frantically trying to get out of them. How wonderful (and desperately needed) perspective is, and how hard to gain! The students decided that there are, of course, some truly huge problems that aren't just a glass of water: no tener comida (not having food), no tener una casa (not having a house), no tener ropa (not having clothing), y no tener el amor de familia y amigos (and not having the love of family and friends). Other than that, most things (though not all things, I know) are small potatoes. So when I had to take care of and clean up after a sick child Thursday night and couldn't mark the papers I needed to, I took a deep breath and told myself: No te ahogues en un vaso de agua. When Joseph needed a diaper change and Genevieve refused to put her sneakers on this morning at the exact moment we needed to leave for her soccer game, I felt myself getting a bit frantic. We are always late. Can we ever not be late for something? Why did you just take your ponytail out? Just put on the shoes! But no, I took a deep breath, I listened to Genevieve explain why the shoe needed to be taken off and put on again to fix a little uncomfortable spot by her toes (and then, again, a second time), and I stepped out of the little glass of water. And you know what? It felt good. (For the record, we were truly late --15 minutes. Genevieve's coach gave her a high five when she arrived. It was a lovely game).
My little late soccer player. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Brothels, Birthday Club, and Cookies

"Spent the day at Daulatdia brothel, population 5000, where Save the Children Australia is providing education and protection services for the children of sex workers." So reads the latest Facebook update from one of the first friends I made my freshman year at Princeton, Liz Pearce. She's now the Education Director in Bangladesh for Save the Children. She's amazing--Nicholas Kristof-esque--and I am so proud to know her. We met in Spanish class (Friday mornings, 9 am!) during fall semester and both lived in ridiculously small doubles that were actually converted singles in Walker Hall. We often went running together late at night, and Liz leant me an outfit to wear to my first job interview, at Bloomberg in New York, when I had nothing professional to wear. She was kind and good back then, too, and always had her act together. You knew she was going to do great things. And she is!

Later that night, while running alone on the treadmill on my back porch after putting the kids to bed (ah, how life changes--no more cool evening runs around Princeton's beautiful campus for me), I was thinking about Liz and her work, and then about my own work, teaching. I have some great students this year: full of enthusiasm, funny, compassionate ... But of course each year there is also the loss of the whole graduating class and all that they brought to the school. Last year we had a senior who, on a whim, created "Birthday Club," the whole point of which was to recognize every single student in the school on his or her birthday. Birthday Club would enter the student's advisory (like a homeroom), sing a song, and give the celebrating student candy. I like to think of all the students whose day was made because of this start to it. Birthdays can be great, but also lonely. Such a simple, sweet idea. Organized kindness.

Finally, this got me thinking about all the lovely acts of unorganized kindness I have been on the receiving end of. One of the kindest things someone ever did for me was bring me cookies and hot chocolate. I had just gone back to work full time, and I had a six-month old and two year old at home. I also had three preparations, including a 9th grade English class I had never taught before. I was hardly sleeping or eating. I honestly prayed for snow every day, even in September, and didn't know how I was ever going to make it through the year. This was where I was one October morning, after a long night, a long commute, and no breakfast (no lunch packed, either), when Sheila Gerson, an aide who had sometimes, in the past, sat in on my Spanish class during her break, showed up at my room with the warm hot chocolate and cookies. "Thought you might like these," she said with a smile. I could have cried. Even now, five years later, I can recall the desperation I was feeling before she showed up, and the gratitude I felt when she did.

So, here's to all those who are bringing much needed love and light to this world. From the truly incredible work of Liz in Bangladesh to the simple kindnesses of my students and colleagues, there are so many good people doing good things. Thank you to you all!

Monday, August 29, 2011

What Motivates

What bestselling author Daniel Pink says in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us makes a lot of sense to me. True motivation, he contends, comes not from rewards or punishment, but from our "deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to better  ourselves and our world" (straight from the book jacket! I read more of the book, but this summed it up nicely, as book jackets tend to do). The introduction describes a 1949 experiment by a psychology professor studying primate behavior in which monkeys were given puzzles to solve. Without any prompting, the monkeys began to focus on solving the puzzles almost immediately, and they were successful. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, too. In other words, the simple gratification of completing a task, or attempting to complete a task, was reward enough. Even more surprisingly, when the monkeys were given rewards for solving the puzzle, their success rate actually decreased. The offering of a reward (food, in the case) served to distract and disrupt them! Interesting ...

And I agree, because I know it to be true for myself. I like being rewarded (and hate being punished) as much as the next girl, but I know that what really motivates me is something deeper, something truer.

Genevieve, exploring the floodwaters after Hurricane Irene. She didn't want to come but we promised her a bowl of Pirate's Booty and a movie when she got back. She came. 
So, where did I go wrong with my own kids? How do I know I've gone wrong, you say? Perhaps it was the fact that I "motivated" the girls to walk to the library with me to get this book with a lollipop, or that I overheard Grace saying to 8-month-old Joseph the other day: "Say mama or I won't give you this Cheerio!" (he didn't say Mama). I routinely threaten the girls that if they do not get in their pajamas and brush their teeth with a little more urgency that I will not stay in their room a moment after lights out, and maybe,  on a really bad day, I once hinted that if they didn't start helping around the house more I would have to leave and go live with Nana and Poppa Ty. Movies, shows,  computer time, and sweets are rewards. Praise, too. Lack of the above, and timeouts, are the punishments. And I'm not about to get rid of all of this. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to survive. But ... but .... I want to keep Daniel Pink's ideas about intrinsic motivation close as I try my best to shepherd Grace, Genevieve, and Joseph into lives that are ultimately rich and satisfying, and as I begin the new school year with high school students who are conditioned to work for the A but who may or may not enjoy coming to school and learning. Because doing something for the sheer joy of doing it--as baby Joseph still does--is ultimately the best way to go.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sea Glass and Love

Anthony and me, in New Orleans, January 2010. The last time we took a trip just the two of us!

It’s the last day of July, that firework, watermelon, sparkler-infused month that marks the true beginning of summer, and I am thinking about sea glass and love. Love because July is the month of anniversaries in my family. Anthony and I celebrated nine years of marriage on July 20th, and my parents celebrated 40 years together just four days later, on the 24th. Sea glass because I’ve been at the beach a fair amount this summer, and on my last trip I saw a basket of sea glass in Andy’s, the Barnegat Light store that sells sea shells, tourist trinkets, and old-school glass Coca-cola bottles. I take the girls there after every time we climb the Barnegat lighthouse. The sea glass intrigued me. I remember looking for sea glass on the beach as a child, but you don’t see it much anymore.

This year on my anniversary I watched my wedding video, something I haven’t done in several years.  So much has changed. People we loved, dancing and smiling on the video, are no longer here. My grandmother. Anthony’s mom. Everyone is younger, some noticeably so.  And, I think, we had no idea what we were doing, getting married. Or little idea. We were young. We were in love (and had been since we were sixteen), and we just wanted to be together. We hadn’t even begun to imagine what losing someone we loved would look like, or what it would feel like to hear a child call us “Mom” or “Dad” as she stretched her chubby little arms up, wanting to be held (and then, much later, to have that same child tell us, “Mom, Dad, stop fighting!”). Even more so, we had no idea about how the mundane could wear away at love.  That things like leaving wet towels on the bedroom floor (me) or dirty dishes on the kitchen counter (Anthony) could matter.  That love was not impervious to the bills, the car payments, the old and new jealousies, the anxieties about the future, private and shared. We had no idea that, yes, of course, these things would shape our love. But here we are.  We know now. So how does it feel?

Some sea glass, I’ve read, comes from the champagne bottles broken to christen a boat, and I like this idea. First, the celebration. Then, the broken chards. Finally, years later, the sea glass. Softened and smoothed by decades underwater, sea glass is beautiful precisely because it has been tumbled in the deep, led by currents to far-off beaches (or close, perhaps). In a lovely little article I found in the Washington Post archives--Look What the Tide Brought In, by Jura Koncius, Thursday, August 11, 2005—I read that authentic sea glass is now quite a treasure. Lots of boaters use plastic now instead of glass, and even those who do use glass aren’t so quick to throw it overboard (a good thing, I suppose!). And once glass is on the ocean? It takes 10 years for a sliver of glass to show significant etching, and 20-30 years for it to be completely polished and rounded. The process cannot be faked.

This is how it feels. Sea glass and love. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Being nice

There're finally not bickering. Asleep, and snuggling, as they do every night, the injustices and insults of the day come to rest. They can be sisters in the best sense, taking comfort in the simple presence of the other. Today was a bit worse for bickering than other days because we were suffering the aftermath of Grace's amazing day yesterday. Yesterday, my sister took Grace, for a late birthday present, to Sahara Sam's, an indoor water park that, in Grace's words, was "AWESOME!" Genevieve stayed home with me and the baby. She was quiet as Grace described the park. And though I thought our game of Zingo (squeezed in between feeding the baby and putting in a load of laundry) was pretty fun, I'm aware that it was no Sahara Sam's. Still, there was no bickering yesterday because Grace was so, so nice to her sister, and to all of us. Yesterday, Grace was practically glowing with how awesome her life was. She shared, she complimented, and she didn't tattle, not even once. Today, not so. But I forgive her, not because she is my child, but because she is a child, and that's what children do. That's what I do, too, for that matter. How easy it is to be pleasant and loving when everything is going our way. How very, very hard when it's not.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cooking


 So, I’ve been reading Alice Waters’ cookbook The Art of Simple Food recently. I imagine I read it the way some people read romance novels, for escape and novelty. The cookbook was a Christmas gift for my husband, Anthony, a few years ago, but as he is an excellent cook, he has little need for it. His cooking is both a blessing and a curse—mostly a blessing, but a curse in the sense that it has blunted the development of my own culinary skills to the point that I consider heating up some Bell&Evans chicken nuggets and McCains smiley fries an accomplishment. Ah, but Alice Waters! As a former literature major, I appreciate the poetry of her writing. Even the lists are lovely. Consider the list “Other Butters,” in the chapter on ”Four Essential Sauces”: parley butter, anchovy butter, black pepper butter, sage butter, basil butter, chipotle butter, nastorium butter. Or perhaps the list of spring and summer lettuces (in “Salads”) reads better: Rocket (arugula), Green oak Leaf, Red oak leaf, mache, red salad bowl, lollo rosso, buttercrunch, tom thumb, little gem, romaine. Reading this gives me such pleasure, though I can’t even begin to imagine what lollo rosso lettuce is—nor nastorium butter, for that matter! Still, I like to imagine a life in which I make chocolate tartlets from organic chocolate and braised anything. It could happen! Tonight, actually, inspired by the fact that Joseph, at 7 months, is supposed to start sampling real food, I decided to make Alice Waters’ recipe for Italian meatballs. My sister was coming over with her three kids and cooking for her was less intimidating than cooking for my husband or any one of his very talented siblings. I used the grass fed beef and the day old country-style bread, as well as milk from a local farm that Whole Foods sells in glass containers, just like the old days. I grated the onion and chopped the garlic, added cheese and parley and egg and oregano. I baked the meatballs in the oven and then added them to the sauce (tomatoes, garlic, onion, olive oil) for extra flavor. I served everything over fresh linguine. And guess what? It was good! I enjoyed myself too. So I’m not sure what happens now.  Cooking: it could be just a crush, it could be true love, but only time will tell.  As Alice Waters suggests: “Taste as you go. Keep tasting and keep practicing and discovering.” Okay!
Post-meatballs.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Cure for Grouchy Kids (and Me)

Picking raspberries at Mood's Farm, Mullica Hill

Go outside! Get some exercise! I used to hate it when my mom said this in response to my complaints of boredom, or anger, or tiredness, or any other ailment. Still, when I found myself with three grouchy kids yesterday morning, there were my mom's words, the only possible answer to a teething baby and pinching, whining big sisters. We went for a nature "scavenger hunt" first, walking down to the river and collecting acorns, bark, leaves, a rock. This helped some but as it lasted only 20 minutes we needed another adventure. Grace mentioned picking blueberries; Genevieve said that she didn't like blueberries ("They're disgusting"), and so we decided on raspberries at Mood's Farm in Mullica Hill. We hit unexpected traffic on the way, the baby cried, and the girls bickered to the point that I had to make the dreaded threat ("If I hear whining one more time, I am turning this car around"), but eventually we made it to our exit off Route 55. In the fields lining the road grew corn, lettuce, and blueberries, of course. As we got close to Mood's Farm and its trademark orange windmill, peach trees took over the fields. The baby was quiet--he had fallen asleep--and the girls excitedly commented on the landscape rather than poking and prodding one another. At Mood's, they weighed our containers, gave us a picking permit, and told us how to get to the raspberries. Though the market was crowded, we were the only ones in the  raspberry field, as most had opted for the easier to pick blueberries. The raspberries, we soon discovered, were difficult to find and needed to be just the right color and size so that they didn't fall apart at our touch. But there was something deeply satisfying about working to find just the right berry and hearing  the soft plunk it made when we dropped it in our container.

After about an hour, when Joseph seemed to tire of the Baby Bjorn and Genevieve certainly tired of the heat, we headed back to the market, where we bought nectarines, peaches, and freshly made apple cider donuts in addition to our raspberries. Everyone was feeling much better, myself included, showing me, once again, that my mom may not have been right about everything, but she was right about a whole lot of things. Go outside! Get some exercise! included.
Joseph in the car afterwards. He had napped and eaten and was a happy boy, finally. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ambition

Genevieve, normally not the ambitious (i.e. competitive) one



Is ambition good or bad? I used to discuss this with my freshmen English classes when talking about Homer's Odyssey. On the one hand, ambition is what set Odysseus out on his great voyage in the first place--without ambition, there would be no story--and on the other, ambition causes him to miss 20 years of his son's life, not to mention the pain and suffering of poor Penelope, his wife, who had to stay home and wait (and weave) while her husband was out having all these adventures (some people think Homer  must have been female because The Odyssey so well depicts the peculiar suffering of women). In any case, I used to be extremely ambitious, and competitive. Sports, school, family board games ... I liked to be first. Eventually, I mellowed (thank goodness), but Grace, my oldest, seems to have inherited the trait. We could be singing along with the radio in the car, having a fine old time, and suddenly she'll decide that we could all have much more fun if it were a competition. And she was upset when Joseph recently started crawling, at six months, because, well, she would like to hold the record for youngest to crawl in the family, thank you very much. Genevieve, on the other hand, was not born itching to compete. She takes things in her own time, whether walking (14 months), talking (only 7 words at age 2), potty training (I won't go into it, but it was a struggle), etc. She still has the training wheels on her bike, while Grace took hers off before her 4th birthday (a fact she likes to remind Genevieve of). It's not that Genevieve's not capable. She just likes to think things through before doing them. So I wasn't sure what to expect when I signed Genevieve up for swim lessons in our neighbor's pool across the street. Her teacher, Olivia, was wonderful,  but I know Genevieve. Indeed, despite being excited about the first lesson, she decided, right before the second lesson, that she didn't want to go. Going under water was too scary. But I talked her into walking across the street just to say hello, and Olivia talked her into staying for the lesson. They just had fun. I watched Genevieve afterwards, though, as Grace bragged about how she had done laps and jumped off the diving board during her lesson. She didn't like it one bit, this feeling of being "second." And it turns out Genevieve had some ambition of her own. This past week, when I came to pick her up from the lesson, she amazed me by jumping off the diving board and swimming, by herself, to the side of the pool. She was thrilled. "I wasn't scared at all, Mom," she told me. "I just talked to myself and told me I could do it." Then, she wanted to know if her cousin Eddie, also her age, already knew how to swim. I told her he was taking lessons, too. "Because if he doesn't know how, I could teach him, Mom," Genevieve offered. She was beaming, breathless with her pride. And then she jumped in one more time to show me what she could do. So for the moment, though I know ambition and its sister competitiveness cause heartache at times, I was so grateful they had taken root in Genevieve to push her to take this leap. Perhaps we all need a little rivalry and ambition at times in order to help us do what we didn't think was possible before.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Grace

This past February my sister and I took our parents into Philadelphia to see a performance by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for my Dad's birthday, which is January 6th. I was thinking about the amazing performance yesterday, because I found myself singing "Wade in the water,/Wade in the wa-a-ter./Wade in the water/... Rock a my soul in the bosom of Abraham" as I put Joseph to bed (not the signature bedtime fare, but he had been baptized the day before, so perhaps that's why). In any case, this is the song that ended the February show and also the performance that made Alvin Ailey Dance Theater famous to begin with. In February, there was a video before the dance where people talked about their memories of seeing this incredible choreography for the first time and how it had changed their lives. There were lots of young African American girls at the performance with their mothers, and I remember thinking how wonderful it would be to bring Grace (though not African American) some day. She would love this! I thought. I know she would.
Alvin Ailey Dance Theater performing "Wade in the Water" (http://southernperlo.wordpress.com/2011/02/19/decoding-wade-in-the-water/)
So when the Kimmel Center for Performing Arts catalog came today,  I was so excited to see a November performance by PHILADANCO, a high-energy group that promotes African American dance traditions. Even better, the show featured a world premiere from a current Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater member! Grace was lying on the floor, coloring. "Grace! How would you like to go see an amazing dance show with me this fall?" Just me and her, I thought. It was hard to get enough time one on one with each other. This would be great!

Grace didn't look up. "Um ... no thanks," she responded.

Perhaps she didn't understand. I explained further about the show and how great it would be. "Well, maybe," she humored me.

Joseph, in his baptism outfit, with Grace this past Sunday
This in first grade? She is still so sweet, playing pretend with her younger sister one moment and telling me she loves me the next, but I can see walking towards me, from a distance, a Grace who doesn't always want me by her side. The way that I was with my mother, and the way my mother was with hers, I'm sure. Grace, sweet Grace ... I'm booking the tickets tomorrow.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Welcome Summer!

Mimosa Lake after the rain. June 22nd, 2011.
The view from my sister's back yard. 
My last day at school was Wednesday, and as I packed up my belongings I came across a lovely little book called Drink Cultura: Chicanismo by José Antonio Burciaga. In it he writes short, entertaining essays on everything from jalapeño peppers to chicano heroes such as Cesar Chávez and Luis Valdez. One of my favorites is his essay on the Poinsettia flower, whose original Aztec name was cuetlaxochitl (coo-eht-la-soch-itl), or "flower that whithers, mortal flower that perishes like all that is pure." It was Ambassador to Mexico Joel Robert Poinsett from Charleston, South Carolina who introduced the flower to the United States in 1825, years after the Aztecs first cultivated it (Poinsett was chased out of Mexico in 1829 for meddling too much in the country's affairs, but that's another story). In any case, I wasn't thinking about Poinsett but rather the lovely definition of cuetlaxochitl as I began my summer by driving from Philadelphia to Mimosa Lakes in Medford, NJ, where my sister lives. My mom was there with Grace, Genevieve, and Joseph, as well as my sister's kids: Emma, 6, Eddie, 4 (almost 5, as he will tell you), and Tyson, 1. They are all best friends and were certainly not thinking about any withering flowers when I arrived, but rather joyfully splashing in the lake (everyone but Joseph).

It seems like most people I meet from South Jersey have a story about Medford, or Medford Lakes. My father in law remembers swimming clear across one of the larger lakes years ago, and my own father swam here as a boy as well, as the picture of him and his father, the grandfather I never met, attests to. My grandmother, Nana, the Grace Elizabeth that my daughter is named after (though my grandmother went by "Betty"), used to be a camp counselor on these lakes during the summer. Once she told me a story about a huge thunderstorm in the middle of the night, and how she had to run out in the rain to secure the tent. She still remembered the feeling of the rain soaking through to her skin, the lightning illuminating the night sky, more than 60 years later.

Grace, Emma, Eddie, and Genevieve. 
My own children and nieces and nephews were ignorant of this history as they simply enjoyed the eternal pleasure of a cool lake on a hot afternoon, their shouts echoing across the lake, pine trees almost imperceptibly swaying in the slightest of breezes. They had already showered and dressed when the clouds rolled in and a sudden rainstorm began, announced by one year old Ty, who was standing at the front window keeping watch, with an excited "Woah!" Within minutes, even as it continued to rain, the sun came out brightly, and everyone ran to the back porch to see if there was a rainbow (there wasn't). Still, the kids couldn't resist grabbing their umbrellas and playing.

After an hour or so we came in for a pizza dinner on the screened porch, and then pajamas were put on for the long ride home. Summer is here, and though it can't last forever, I'm looking forward to the afternoons of swimming, the morning bike rides, the evenings catching fireflies, and the overall unhurried pace of life unscheduled that it provides.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Running Cooper River Park

This morning Joseph woke at 5. Everyone else in the house was still asleep, and Joseph, after nursing, was wide awake, so I decided to put him in the jog stroller and run the river loop. I'm not a morning person, so this is something I rarely do. Joseph settled in for the ride and sucked his thumb, looking at me occasionally and smiling, and I got a nice calm start to the day: rowers on the river, a few people out walking their dogs, families of geese feeding on the grass. Towards the end of the run Joseph had enough and needed to be carried. He snuggled in like a little bear cub, and I cooled down before getting home and showering for the day. Though I'll never be a morning person, I was reminded today of the pleasures of an early run on a summer day.

 The picture below is of Joseph with big sister Grace, taken today on our front lawn.


Below is a blog I originally wrote and posted on ourprayer.org when Grace turned 5 two years ago. How fast time goes!:

For my daughter Grace’s birthday a few weeks ago, my parents gave her a refurbished two-wheel bike complete with streamers, a basket, and an “I love my bike” bell. Now one of Grace’s favorite activities is riding around the four mile trail that begins right at the end of our block. I follow behind, pushing her younger sister Genevieve in a jog stroller (Genevieve inevitably hates this and screams to get out and run the whole time, but what can you do?). The trail runs along the Cooper River, popular among rowers, sailors, and kayakers, and it has a great view of the Philadelphia skyline. On the far side of the river there’s a playground, where we often stop for a few turns on the slides and swings. The park smells like honeysuckle and barbecue, and it sounds like salsa music and laughter. I’ve always loved it.

Grace must have inherited this love, because as we made our way around the park last weekend, she let out a little whoop of joy, and then a “Woohoo!” It was a beautiful evening, with the sun low in the sky over the city, and little wisps of white clouds scattered across a pale blue sky. The air was cool, and lots of people were out for an evening stroll. Even better for Grace, she was able to ride so fast on her new bike that I could barely keep up.

Suddenly, just as she reached the bridge to cross to the other side of Cooper River, Grace brought her bike to a screeching halt. As I caught up to her, huffing and puffing, she looked at me seriously. “Mommy,” she asked, “How long do I get to be five?”

“You get to be five for one year, just like every other age.”

“Only one year?” Grace exclaimed, truly shocked and dismayed, “Oh, man!” She thought for a moment more, still straddling her bike (Genevieve had fallen asleep in the stroller).

“How many months do I get to be five for?”

“Twelve,” I answered.

Grace opened her mouth in amazement.“Twelve whole months!” she shouted. “Yes!”

She thought for a moment more. “How many days?”

At this answer, 365, Grace was back in her glory. She sat on her bike again and started pedaling, a huge smile on her face. 365 days to be five! Could life be any better?

Life can be long, and life can be short, but, as Grace reminded me, living it day by day and moment by moment is always the best way to go.