I Used to Know the Weather

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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 Evolutionary Wisdom of “I Don’t Like Vegetables”

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Approximately 25% of this meal was consumed. The vegetables were left in entirety.

BRK is always telling me she doesn’t like vegetables.  “Is it a vegetable?” is always the question when presented with a new food.  I now totally, TOTALLY get why my parents told me liver was “chocolate steak”, especially when they had two other kids at home to feed and were definitely not about to make two dinners or take any short-order cook requests.

BRK wasn’t always a fussy eater, and she’s still not too terrible.  But since she used to run, screaming into the kitchen with glee, at the sound of the blender, yelling “FISH YOGURT!!!!” (we’d mix canned salmon and plain yogurt), her incredibly shrinking palate is frustrating.

A fellow teacher at school — a biology teacher — has a daughter born on the same day as BRK and was telling me there was some evolutionary wisdom in kid food aversions.  So I was primed with interest when my mother-in-law sent me the following article:

“It’s Not Just Human Toddlers That Are Fussy Eaters”

The author describes the omnivore’s dilemma — the idea that in order to survive, our ancestors had to sample a wide variety of foods, but that some of these foods, especially plants in the tropics, could have contained poisonous toxins.  The author goes on to say that while at age 1 a child should generally be willing to eat whatever a parent provides, by age 2, a child’s behavior reflects the independence of a foraging child tens of thousands of years ago.  And that child’s odds of survival were much higher if that child was wary of plants, the notorious “vegetables” my daughter no longer likes.  The author goes on to say:

“Adults have mature biological systems for dealing with toxins in their food.  Eating the wrong plant might lead to an unpleasant stomach upset, but probably will not threaten their lives.  But in general, youngsters lack those systems, so eating the wrong thing at this age could result in death.   It would make sense for the omnivore’s dilemma to be at its most acute in toddlers — and almost non-existent in infants” (emphasis mine)

It’s a fascinating article loaded with studies and data in support of these points.  Two other notable parts:

1) According to the Utah Poison Control Center, the leading cause of poisoning among 6- to 18-month olds is eating houseplants.

2) Other species, such as gorillas and rats show a similar trend to what is observed in human toddlers: food aversions appear not in infancy, but later.

The author offers an alternative explanation for all of this.  It’s not that toddlers become picky eaters, Nicola Marples of Trinity College in Dublin says, but it’s that picky eaters in general make up most of the vertebrate population, whether we are talking about fish or quails or humans.  Such “dietary conservatism” should be advantageous to a population over time, but for maximum evolutionary fitness, a smaller proportion of the population should be composed of more “adventurous consumers”.  Marples thinks it may be advantageous for populations to contain both DCs and ACs.

Whatever the reason, it’s comforting to hear how “normal” it is for a baby who ate everything to suddenly gravitate toward to a smaller array of somewhat less healthy foods in toddlerhood.  And the next time someone tells me their 13-month old loves sautéed ramps with garlic, I would like to text them a picture of BRK eating raw onions and lemons as a baby with the message, “Just wait.”

“It Is Very Easy To Be Kind”

Last week we received four large boxes in the mail, from Newburyport.  I had selected the contents of these boxes almost two weeks ago when I was there — no worries, my AP English Poetry Project made the cut — yet opening these boxes yielded one surprise after another.  It seems once something is in a box, it is erased from memory, only to be discovered later as a treasure.  (Maybe next Christmas we should just put all of the boxes from our storage space under the tree?)

It was lovely to pull out my copies of Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic, to hold up a prom dress my mother sewed in 1994, to place a book about Polish immigrants that belonged to my Dad on my nightstand for bedtime reading, only to discover “Merry Christmas Dad, Love Sue, 2009,” scrawled on the opening page.

And in the midst of these accordions of memories, I came across “The Uncle Wiggly Book: The Rabbit Gentleman’s Adventures”, by Howard Garis.

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The cover of my childhood Uncle Wiggly book.

Oh, Uncle Wiggly.  My husband has no recollection of this certain Rabbit Gentleman, and so I wonder how widespread the Uncle Wiggly Fan Club really was.  (Was I the only one?)

How wonderful that someone decided to write about a Rabbit Gentleman.  And many other characters, including Uncle Butter, the goat gentleman who is  Uncle Wiggiy’s friend, as opposed to The Wolf, who is not Uncle Wiggily’s friend.

I vividly remember my mother reading this book to me, nightly.  It was published in 1978 and felt as good as new tonight as the pages almost seem to crack as I paged through.  I came upon a story that caught my eye — perhaps it had been one of my favorites as a kid?

It is entitled “Uncle Wiggly and the Sad Rock”, and the reader is encouraged to “Find out why the little stones would not talk to the Sad Rock”.

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I’m not going to give anything away here, but this story is a gem.  As you can guess, there is a Sad Rock, and this rock is sad because no one will talk to him.  At one point, after Uncle Wiggly talks to him and he begins to feel less sad, the Sad Rock thanks Uncle Wiggly for being so kind.  And here is the good Uncle’s response:

“It is very easy to be kind.”

These words stopped me.  Because it is easy, once you choose it.  But sometimes we don’t choose it, especially when we are stressed or in a rush or impatient, or have encountered someone else who didn’t choose it and we are subsequently infected.  Sometimes being kind isn’t my first choice and I think to myself you know what? Maybe it could be, more often.  I want to implant this nugget of Uncle Wiggly wisdom under my skin and recall it whenever I am in a situation when kindness is an option.

And, this is the essence of what I want in children’s stories.  No lofty lessons or empty repetition, but simple and true statements like this.  It is easy to be kind.  And Uncle Wiggly was no pushover (see “Uncle Wiggily’s Enemies”, the final story in this book).

These Uncle Wiggly stories are works of art.  The inspiring takeaways are woven into the details of rabbit bungalows and firefly lanterns, characters with wonderful names like Jimmie Wibblewobble and Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy, and the idea that adventures are to be found, versus had.  I think if everyone just read Uncle Wiggly on a sad, gloomy day, they’d feel a bit better.

That said, for those of us with gossip antennae that need tending, “Uncle Wiggily’s Enemies” beckons.  I’m going to refill my wine glass and dive in!

In Defense of Chemicals

Look at all the chemicals in this . . . lemon?

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Poster by James Kennedy

Sometimes chemicals get a bad rap.  But they’re in everything.   There’s no escape.  I love this poster on the all-natural lemon by James Kennedy, one of many he has made highlighting the long, chemical-laden list of ingredients in fruits.

He has a recent post I’m highlighting here, about Ava Winery and its synthetic wine.  The scientist vintners at Ava are attempting to re-create some of the world’s most celebrating wines not with grapes and fermentation tanks, but with an ingredient list, chemicals, and a bunch of lab equipment.

James writes:

The wines your great-grandchildren might one day drink on Mars will soon be coming to a bottle near you. Ava Winery is a San Francisco-based startup creating wines molecule by molecule, without the need for grapes or fermentation. With complete control over the chemical profile of the product, Ava’s wines can be created safely, sustainably, and affordably, joining the food technology revolution in creating the foods of the future.

The future is here, and I can’t wait to order a bottle of synthetic wine!

 

The Things We Find

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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

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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.