A Sense of Place

IMG_3942
Note the timestamp — 5:05 AM. The kids are sleeping “late enough” so that I can resume Early Morning Writing!

 

I’m back, after a bit of a break.  The seasonal transitions require stepping away, reflection.  Another school year closes for me and this year, for 3-year-old BRK as well.

The kids are finally sleeping “late enough” for me to resume 5 AM writing.  I’m grateful for this — it’s a meditation for me.

I’ve been taking a writing class and for a recent assignment, was tasked with describing a place.  I chose to describe the place of being with a 3-year-old before her bedtime, a place I typically encounter with impatience, but that on this day, I wanted to relish.

Here it is:

My body sinks into the couch, deeper than her 3-year-old body sinks into me.  But she exerts a weight on me, for sure.  A weight just heavy enough for my quadricep muscles to call out, “She’s not a baby anymore.”

The gray velvet of the three-piece sectional couch is soft and comforting.  I ignore the stray blue and purple marker streaks, the ones that sweat-inducing scrubbing couldn’t touch.  A dark triangle of space connects the piece of couch I lay on and the adjacent piece.  Every single day, multiple times a day, I align the couches.  And every day, multiple times a day, couch chaos elves undo my work.

Her head feels musty against my lips.  Her strands of curly hair damp from the bath, murmuring orange and rosemary into my nose, from the adult shampoo and conditioner I use on her.  Her head is still so warm, like, a baby’s.  I’m inhaling vapors from a greenhouse of toiletry scents.

Her hands feel warm and dirty against my face.  One holds fingers that inevitably just crawled into a nostril then climbed into a mouth, and now it rests on my cheek.  I miss her pale soft baby hands that even when encrusted in baby poop, somehow never felt dirty to me.

Her mouth opens and paradise spills out.  “I am a BIG. OAK. TREE.  Stuck in the GROUND. IS. ME.  If I had JUST. ONE. WISH.  I’d like to DANCE. LIKE. THIS.”  She strikes each note like a mallet to a tone bar.  Will she be a singer one day?  Will her brother?  Will we have a family band? 

I sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to her and she sings along.  Her voice matches mine, at times in a perfect overlap.  She clutches the tail of her lovey, the stuffed dog named Big Oof.  Big Oof’s wet tail brushes my neck.  I wince.  The tail smells like a garbage truck on a stifling summer day.  To my daughter, that tail plus her thumb in her mouth defines comfort.

She asks me if we can just rest here.  I say yes.  I never say yes.  I always say, “No, let’s go brush teeth and then you can rest in bed.”  But tonight is different.  Two nights ago the news shook me.  Yesterday I googled “middle school bullying”.  Today I was at the doctor for a lump on my neck, which turned out to be nothing more than muscle strain from dental work gone bad.  My tooth throbs, and it will until I go to the dentist tomorrow.

So now, in this moment, on this couch with my 3-year-old, I want to rest.  I want to bottle this moment.  The label would read, “Putting June to Bed, June 5, 2017”.

Those musty curls are dry now, soft silky threads scattered against my chin.  Her body rises up and down, faster than mine.  We are drifting, drifting . . . BOOM she jerks awake.

“Let’s go brush teeth now, bugaboo.”

And we do.

 

Why We Go To Concerts

Billy Joel and the Beatles provided the soundtrack to my high school years.  So, a few months ago when I peered out from under my parenting rock and saw Billy Joel was playing at Madison Square Garden this spring, I did everything possible to make attendance at this event happen.

With tickets and a babysitter secured, May 25 — concert night — was upon us.  I was just getting over yet another cold (the 15th or 16th of the year? This one probably caused by Owl sneezing into my mouth).  Combined with the horrific night in Manchester earlier this week, my enthusiasm for our Big Night Out to a Concert dampened.

Joining the throngs of people funneling into Madison Square Garden did little to alleviate my anxiety.  But I know we can’t just stay at home, even though at times it’s tempting.  I know if we do that, “the terrorists win”.

Armed with gluten-free beer (just as delicious as regular, so why not?) and chicken nuggets, we made our way to our seats, which were outstanding.  I began to relax.  The stadium filled.  It’s Fleet Week in Manhattan, and I noticed a row of US Navy uniforms directly across the stadium from us.  As did the man behind me, who said in a delightfully thick New Jersey accent:

“Hey! Look at the say-luhs! I bet he’s gunna do Good Night Cy-GONNNNNNNNNNNN!”

And then he went on to tell the woman I assume was his wife all about the Billy Joel song, “Good Night Saigon”.

I marveled at how cool it would be to be visiting New York as a member of the service and go to a Billy Joel concert!

Around 8:30 the show began.  He opened with “Pressure”.  Killer opener and kind of a helter skelter light show to go with the musical interludes.

“How old is he?” I asked.  Eric phoned it.  68.  SIXTY-EIGHT.  I dream of sustaining a fraction of that professional momentum at 68.  His voice? Liquid and round.  The entire performance? Flawlessly executed, creative, packed.  He also treated us to two short, non sequitur, and completely perfect classical piano solos.  One was Gershwin.

He said 2017 was the 50th anniversary of the Seargent Pepper album.  I knew what was coming and deemed May 25 the best day thus far of my 2017.  Those building guitar chords . .  . . . and John Lennon was singing “A Day in the Life.”  Except it wasn’t John Lennon.  It was Billy Joel.  68-year-old Billy Joel, impersonating 27-year-old John Lennon.  I couldn’t contain my excitement.  Of course, then when the screen zoomed in on a woman waving a British flag, I think a number of eyes were no longer dry.

Every now and then you’d see 20 – 30 people sprint out at the beginning of a song presumably they didn’t recognize.  Presumably to the bathroom or to get more beer.  I saw the whole row of Navy and Coast Guard and Marines file out.  “Good for them! Drink up!” I thought.

A jarring helicopter rotor filled the stadium.  Here it was.  The beginning of Good Night Saigon.  AND ALL OF THE SERVICE MEN AND WOMEN WERE OUT GETTING BEER.  “Hurry back!” I thought.

We met as soul mates . . . . .  on Parris Island . . . . “ his full timbre saturated the stadium.

A few more lines in, I continued to feel so bad.  “They’re missing it!”, I said to Eric.

Then, there they were.  Filing onto the stage!  Forming a semi circle on the stage and swaying to the refrain.

At the end of the song, Billy Joel shook each one of their hands.

“Piano Man” closed out the concert.  Well, until the encore a few minutes later, which, after I shredded my vocal chords screaming, “WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE!”, opened with, “We Didn’t Start the Fire”.  Memories of trying to decipher the lyrics in pre-internet 7th grade flooded back.

It all made me think about why we go to concerts.  Before leaving that night, I questioned why we were going.  We could just, I don’t know, play all the music at home.  But being there, it was crystal clear why we go to concerts.  We go to support artists.  We go for inspiration.  We go for the collective experience.  We go to say FU to terrorists.  We go to see glimpses of these artist we can’t see on their albums, like Billy Joel playing Rhapsody in Blue.  Glimpses of their utter brilliance, talent, practice, dedication.  We go to remember how stupendously beautiful, joyful, and magical this human experience can be.

Blogging Blahs and Alternative Medicine

I’m in the blogging blahs.  Which is odd because I love this blog and I love learning that people are reading and enjoying it.  I think I’m more in the Everything blahs.  I am so tired!  Owl is sleeping but BRK is not (insert creepy photo of toddler standing by my bed at 4 AM).  And so, I am tired.  And we are at that 6-month mark with Owl which is kind of its own sigh of relief — I’m feeling some of that postpartum mania relax away and grant space to the fatigue.

IMG_3294
Used to be able to write at 5 AM “before everyone woke up” except now people wake up at 4.

(I did ask BRK last night to please stay in her room when she wakes up.  To please not come into our room and wake me up.  And she said, “Well, what if I’m really quiet?” and I said “No, I really don’t want you to come into our room in the middle of the night.” And then she said, softly, “But . . . sometimes I just want to see you.”  This is what they do.  They wear you down and then they say something like that and all you want to do is snuggle them forever.)

I’m going to do a little post today even though I am tired and blah-feeling.  And try to get back to regular Tuesday and Friday posts.

Have you tried acupuncture?  I have.  And I really like it.  So I was intrigued by a recent article in Popular Science about the efficacy of acupuncture and more broadly, what it takes for alternative medicine to cross the threshold to mainstream medicine.  The article sums up a recent study that set out to determine if acupuncture “really works”.  Patients with carpal tunnel syndrome were divided into three groups.  Group 1 received acupuncture at the site of the pain.  Group 2 received acupuncture at distal sites, sites that are allegedly energetically connected to the painful sites.  And Group 3 received what sounds like needles inserted willy-nilly.

All three groups reported amelioration of symptoms, in the form of, “I feel better.”  Huh.  Here’s where it gets cool, and why doing this with carpal tunnel syndrome was key.  Unlike most painful conditions for which improvement is judged by a person saying they feel better, carpal tunnel syndrome can be objectively measured by observing the rate of impulse transmission across a particular nerve.  When this was measured, only the groups that received actual acupuncture, (Groups 1 and 2) showed improvement.  And the improvement was the greatest for Group 1, the group receiving acupuncture at the site of pain.

The article goes on to discuss placebos in general, and how willy-nilly acupuncture is still a physical intervention, and so not quite as placebo-y as a sugar pill.  The article cites other examples involving knee pain in which physical interventions (debridement, arthroscopic lavage) are done because patients report improvement in pain, even though these interventions are often short-lived and far from cures.

My favorite part of the article comes next.  The author states:

“. . . despite the fact that there wasn’t any evidence that they actually worked, the surgical procedures were routinely done because patients reported feeling better. Ironically, that is the exact opposite of the stance that we take with acupuncture—even though it’s less invasive.”

Here is an example of alternative medicine being held to a higher standard than traditional, mainstream medicine.  And should it be?  I’m not sure.  Probably? Maybe? No? I don’t know.  But it’s certainly interesting to think and talk about.  And important if we are talking insurance coverage and all that real stuff.  Because, as the author goes onto to say, despite a 2002 study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that debridement, arthroscopic lavage, and “sham surgery” (making a cut, doing nothing, and then sewing it back up) all resulted in an equal reduction in pain, the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) lists both debridement and arthroscopic lavage as “recommended therapies” for knee osteoarthritis.  I wonder what US doctors recommend and insurers cover.

Probably not relevant in the case of the knee interventions, but with acupuncture, I wonder about the benefits of simply taking a nap!  Because that’s what you do.  Someone sticks needles in you and you get all warm and cozy and take a nap.  Maybe just the indulgence of a nap during the day has some real benefits.  Ahhhh.  A nap during the day . . . . .

I Used to Know the Weather

IMG_3271
My nightmare, formerly known as a flea market.

It would be a futile task to consider all the things that change in life after you become a parent.  Many of them are big and meaningful and emotional; some are mundane.  I think of two especially mundane changes in my life often when I’m out walking the city streets.

I used to always know the weather.  I would spend hours poring over various weather websites and blogs.  My husband and I mused about becoming tornado chasers.  I vividly remember a prenatal yoga class when I was about 7 months pregnant with BRK.  A fierce snowstorm was howling and blowing and covering everything with a white fur.  My yoga teacher, who was expecting her third, shook icy snowflakes out of her hair and said she had no idea it was going to snow.

No idea?  I thought.  I had known about that snowstorm for 4 days, back when it was an upper level disturbance over the Rockies.  How could anyone have “no idea” it was going to snow? 

And now . . .  I get it.  I find myself surprised when raindrops begin to soak my face, no umbrella on hand.  The last big snowstorm?  I found out when my school principal announced over the PA that tomorrow would be a snowday.  What is going on?  Am I too busy now to spend hours poring over weather websites?  I think that would be an easy explanation, but it’s not true.  I am busy, but I also do a lot of different things with my time.  I could watch less of Big Little Lies and more Weather Channel if I really wanted to.  Perhaps I’m living more in the moment, not because of some inspirational quote but because it’s easier to do that right now, and I don’t want to think about the weather 5 days from now.  Or maybe it’s that storms now stress me out.  A power outage with small kids really sucks.  Like the one we had in January for almost a whole day during which I couldn’t operate the breastpump.  I don’t know the reason, but I do know there’s been nearly a 180 degree shift in my behavior.  I wonder, will weather re-emerge as a hobby down the line when my kids are grown?

Another thing I used to love? Flea markets and second-hand stores!  For everything! Clothing, knick knacks, furniture.  Safe to say I bought most of my material things from these sorts of establishments.  I would spend hours poring over vintage purses, finding the perfect one for $3.  Shortly after BRK’s birth, I went to a few second-hand stores and flea markets.  And then at some point, I just stopped going.  My interest in them diminished to nearly nothing.  Now, they actually create anxiety.  I think I have a better handle on the reason for this shift.  Basically, I feel like we are living in a chaotic mess at home most of the time, and the thought of spending my precious leisure time looking through what amounts to other people’s messes is just not appealing in the least.  Having children has made me into a minimalist.  I don’t own a lot of clothes and jeans and a T-shirt is sort of my main uniform.  Empty horizontal surfaces bring me to a place of Zen.  In the world of parenting entropy, I crave simplicity like never before.

Might I re-embrace the weather and flea markets at some future date?  Perhaps I’ll be 75 years old, poring over an old mariner’s weather chart at someone’s yard sale.  But for now, I’m happy in my world of weather surprises and flea market avoidance.

The Things We Find

IMG_3005
One of my “original poems” from my AP English Poetry Project, 1995

I discovered this original work within my spring 1995 AP English “Poetry Project” binder.  There are some companion pieces I will save for a later date.  I’m struck by how angry I was in general, and by my strong opinions on commuter flights.  Why was I taking so many commuter flights at age 17?

Thinking about my Dad and Newburyport

IMG_2266
June and Dad, April 10, 2016

I wrote something for my Dad . . . about my Dad . . . after he passed away in January.  I’ve been back to Newburyport twice since, and this last time involved saying goodbye to Newburyport as my home.  It hasn’t been my true home in a long time . . . my home is here, in New York City.  But this new home emerged without the old home ceasing to exist.  And now that the old home’s days are numbered, I reminisce about things I will miss (jogging on High Street) and things I won’t (winter that persists into April).  My Mom’s new home will be better in every way for her, and so, this new chapter is right and good.  But all this makes me want to marinate in that world of memories, memories of my Dad and memories of Newburyport.  To honor all of it as I say goodbye.

A Poem for Dad

I’ve been playing with the ratio of cream to coffee this week

trying to replicate the color of the coffee I’d sip, sitting on Dad’s lap

early in the morning

after I tricked him by sneaking a squeaky mouse toy into his back pocket

his bellows of surprise would ring out when he sat down

part of the game we played day after day when I was 5.

 

He taught me how to skate,

And how to peel an apple in one motion so the entire peel would fall to the ground

and form the shape of a letter.

Usually an S, sometimes a U, or an M;

Always delightful anticipation.

 

Long walks on the Big Wheel to Aunt Charlotte’s on Wednesday afternoons.

Long drives to skating lessons and then to summer camp.

Long talks about history and growing up.

We agreed 4th grade was a significant leap from 3rd.

 

Afternoons in the office on Liberty Street

playing with the Check Machine and other antiques.

Saturday night walks from Grammie’s to get candy

and twice, to get a pet cat.

 

He sat in the car during Friday afternoon piano lessons,

in the bleachers during Thursday night figure skating

and with me in a booth right after, for Conehead Sundaes at Friendly’s.

And the snow I volunteered to shovel for community service? He did it, before I woke up.

 

In high school Dad sustained my pack-a-day sugarless gum habit

and refused my request to drop me off 3 – 5 blocks away from school.

Perhaps because we were in the “new car”,

the 1985 black Chevy Monte Carlo with red stripes,

as opposed to the “old car”, the 1981 black Chevy Monte Carlo with red stripes.

 

A constant stream of coffee, jolly ranchers, and giant blueberry muffins fueled his

marathon leaf-raking sessions.

He had a wallet full of quotes

and a closet full of personal affects he’d proudly announce were 50 years old.

Like the old suitcase I sneered at as an adolescent,

the same suitcase the hipsters in New York City gazed at with longing during a recent

visit.

 

Six years ago, in New York City he left the hotel and made his way to Rockefeller Center,

on foot,

asking strangers for directions.

We rode the subway together to Brooklyn.

 

“No vacancies!” he’d holler, when relatives would pull into the driveway for a visit.

“Be Brave”, he said, when removing the splinter from my heel at age 7.

“You have a good brain,” he said enough times to convince me I did, even during those

times in life when we convince ourselves we don’t.

Then, 8 years ago, “Go forth and live the life you always wanted,” he said, quoting

Emerson.

And last July, sitting in the car, parked outside of the Starbucks on Liberty Street,

“You have a beautiful girl, and you’ll have a beautiful boy, but I won’t meet

him.”

That was when we said goodbye.

Dispatches from the Road, Entry #1

Our Trip to Newburyport, February 2017

On February 1, BRK and I set out on our first solo trip, to visit my mom (Grammie) in Newburyport, MA.  We had taken a short just-the-two-of-us trip — a 40-minute train ride to have lunch with my brother and then back — nearly a year ago.  That was not what I would call Fun.  If it hadn’t been for processed starch I may have returned with a concussion from pounding my head into the train walls.

So, I didn’t have the highest of hopes for this trip.  However, after recently journeying in a car as a new family of 4, somehow a trip on public transportation as a duo sounded easier.  On the train you can walk around, eat, and relax, and buses are less likely to make small people carsick.  Our itinerary was as follows:  Train from New York City to Boston, Bus from Boston to the Newburyport Bus Station, and Grammie’s Car (complete with my Carseat Installation Practical Exam) from the Bus Station to Grammie’s House.  We traveled light — 2 backpacks and a fold-up stroller for the 36-hour trip.

The train experience was exceptionally smooth, other than a constant refresher course on Newton’s First Law every time BRK would attempt a sip of water.

Some highlights of our travel day, transcribed from my journal:

7:52 AM: BRK’s first escalator ride, without being carried!  I asked the stranger behind me to please hold my coffee so I could hold the railing with one hand, and BRK’s hand with the other.  I was struck by how meaningful and anxiety-inducing it was to watch her take her first step onto an escalator, nearly leaving the other foot behind in trepidation.

8:18 AM: (on the train)

BRK: “I want some water.”

Me: “I don’t have any water.  When the Cafe Car opens, we can go buy some water.” Eyes glaze over, marveling that I forgot to pack water and snacks, and the sky hasn’t fallen.  

BRK: “I want some of your water.”

Me: “I’m drinking coffee, not water.  Coffee isn’t for children.”

20-second pause.

Me: “Well, you can have a small sip.  After all, it’s decaf!”  (Yes, I get a buzz from decaf)

BRK takes a sip and a huge grin spreads over her face.  “Yummy!”

10:17 AM: a bit more than halfway to Boston.  So far we’ve made two Cafe Car trips (water, more decaf for me, pretzels for BRK) and one bathroom trip.  BRK eats snacks as if she were underwater, so that helps.  She played with her new sticker book for a grand total of 12 minutes.  Currently entertained by the pretzels.  I’m saving the iPad for Emergency Use.

11:06 AM: BRK eats a pretzel that was dropped on the floor an hour ago.  I wonder if the truly alarming germs come out around 5 – 7 hours.  Her sneakers make their way to the window.  I tell her No.  She tells me she doesn’t like it when I say No.  That makes two of us. Turns out this interaction was as close to a meltdown as we got.  Lucky.  

11:20:  I try to teach her tic tac toe.

11:23 AM:  The female half of the Japanese couple sitting across the aisle from us hands June an origami rattle, and then crafts an origami boat for her out of a napkin.  I am moved; BRK is entertained.  We are nearly there! Twenty more minutes on the train.

IMG_2417

12 noon, on the bus: “I think I’m going to a little bit carsick.”  — BRK.  No verb needed for full comprehension.  I hope no one else on the bus heard that, I think, as I line small garbage bags with paper towels I had the foresight to pack!

At this point I stopped taking notes.  She did not get sick — dream come true — and other than a wrestling match with the Immigo carseat in Grammie’s Honda, the rest of the day proceeded without a hitch.  We had a lovely visit except for one brief Grammie vs BRK standoff when I went out for a jog the next day.  Apparently there had been an argument about holding hands when going down the stairs.  These moments are so gratifying — when a doting relative gets a glimpse of the wrath of your toddler.

Daniel Tiger on the iPad did play a starring role on the way back — on the bus and on the train.  At South Station, BRK got to use the Penny Press machine (she selected an image of the Boston Tea Party), have a ride on the luggage cart, receive a variety of special snacks and a hug from the Red Cap, and sport a special Amtrak Junior Police Officer sticker.

IMG_2450

Is it just me or are people so much nicer when a child is accompanied by only one adult?

All in all it was a fantastic trip.  BRK and I grew closer.  We were a team.  And I grew more confident as a parent.  In fact, a friend saw us as we walked home from Penn train station Friday afternoon.  She was in disbelief at our minimal luggage and breezy dispositions and called me “Mom 2.0”.  I’ll take it!

Very Important Post-Script:  I wrote this post a while ago and was waiting for the “right time” to post it.  No day better than today, the day of our second solo trip to Newburyport, when things literally could not have been more different.  Tantrums, constant demands, whining, time-outs, ill-timed potty breaks, late connections, car sickness, rude fellow travelers, you name it.  That first time was beginner’s luck!