Tag Archives: vacation

Keep Being Amazed


We just returned from a weeklong family vacation to New England. We haven’t been to the ocean, when it was warm enough to swim in, in a year. The last time we were on the coast, was in January, when we visited Hilton Head Island, SC. 

I inadvertantly published a poem today on this blog. It has been at least a month since I’d written anything. Summer is a difficult time to write, these days. My children are growing faster than I’m liking. Time waits for no one. I remember reading last week something by someone brilliant like Maya Angelou, about being on the lookout for when we cease being amazed. When that happens, we’ve started to die. 

We must be dilgent in our protection of our naïveté; to disallow jadedness and to actively fight feelings of blasé.   

I recall the days when I first started writing publicly, calling the boys Thing 1, Thing 2, and Thing 3, to do what I could to protect their identity. That was 2011. They are 17, 14, and 11 now. Their advancements alternating between the feeling of sand sifting through my hands, and the feeling of walking through cold porridge. 

The oldest has taken his time learning how to drive, carving his independence, and venturing into the world. Getting his first ride home from school in May with a friend, something that seemed as natural as walking, was spent by me here at home pacing the house awaiting his safe arrival. I am betting I stepped as many paces as he could have to come home by foot. When he entered the doorway, I was all casual, “Hey! Have a good day?” as though I narrowly escaped being  busted rifling through HR files. He turned to drop off his backpack and get a glass of chocolate milk as I raced to the window to make sure his driver wasn’t some drug-addled ne’er do well driving a rusty van with blackened windows and satanic bumperstickers piecing it together. Do people still say ‘ne’er do well’? He wasn’t. It was one of his best friends, a classmate who is a French horn virtuoso and who will likely attend the US Naval Academy next fall. He was driving a tidy little Jetta.

Inside, I felt exhaltation, like when Kristen Wiig’s Target Lady character fist-pumps and shouts, “Approved!” when a customer’s charge goes through. That I’d instilled in my son a sense of ambition, a sense of seeking a tribal identity with growth and progress. The feeling of his belonging to a “good” group. 

Then I recall the myriad articles in the New York Times about student suicides, kids being drugged at parties, date rape, and I have to sit myself down and remember: those are the ones that stand out; those are the ones that sell newspapers; those are the ones that are cautionary tales; those are the outliers… he will be alright. It is out of my hands. 

Just like when Dr. Tchabo, my obstetrician very intentionally reminded me when my sons were in my womb… He held up his stubby index finger from that gifted hand and looked at me between his reading glasses and his eyebrows, smiling in kindness and wisdom. He said to me, in his thick Ghana accent, as we listened to my son’s heartbeat at 13 weeks, that watery wha-wha-wha-wha-wha coming through the doppler,  “D’ya hear that, Mommy? He tellin’ you, RIGHT NOW, he is his own guy. He is not you. He will have his likes. He will have his days. You are together, but he his own guy. Always he is his own guy.”            

He is. It is a bittersweet conclusion: he is smart, sensitive to energies, quiet and observant. Not much gets past him. 

He also forgets to look right one last time before slowly turning into traffic. That. “I just died. We’re in an ambulance now. The other car is up in those bushes, near the ditch. I loved you. I will watch you from heaven always. Go to law school…” I’ve said that a few times, half joking. I think it’s sinking in. I don’t care if he goes to law school. 

I am glad we are in our Sequoia. He prefers it because he can see everything. Its engine, a very powerful V8, is quite responsive and that takes some getting used to. “You’re commanding a 2-ton death machine.” I say, like a member of Darth Vader’s imperial guard. “Stay in your lane on those turns and don’t change lanes in the middle of an intersection. Idiots cross lanes like that.” 

We bought a new classical guitar for him a couple weeks ago. A model made by Córdoba. He was playing numerous models in the guitar store classical studio. Searching for his One. He was plucking around on the most expensive one — a $2400 model — and I looked around, thinking, Which one hasn’t he played? And this will sound crazy, but The One drew my eyes to her and whispered, “me. me. he hasn’t played me yet…” So I picked her up and patiently waited for him to end and I said, “How about this one?” 

The moment he started to check its tune, I felt electricity in my body. Like how it feels when a Spirit passes through a room. After about 60 seconds of playing a bit of “Blackbird” he calmly said, “I really like this one.” He continued, in his studious and exacting ways, about five more songs, some Bach, Cassini, and Clapton.  I was amazed. I didn’t want to leave. I did all I could to keep frm crying like a sappy mother right there. So I pretended to look at other guitars. It was no use. He sensed it. “You ok?” he asked, lightly self-conscious (one of the few times I’ve embarrased him in public, even though we were totally alone) and I said, “Yeah. Just feeling the feelings. I’m really proud of you.” 

Buck up, soldier, I said to myself. 

An hour later, we were out the door — the guitar in an upcharge-free, upgraded plush-lined travel case because someone in the shop (THANK YOU!!) sold the proper accompanying case to another customer who bought a lesser guitar. It brought me back to the days when my parents bought me my first violin with its own fur-lined case that was like all the other cases of the kids at school. I didn’t feel like a poor kid anymore with the tattered case. Image is everything when you’re a teenager.      

I asked my dad if he remembers teaching us, my brothers and myself, to drive. He does. I officially learned on a silver 1981 5-speed Honda Civic hatchback. That was the first car I’d been in with air conditioning. In Buffalo, you just didn’t need it. I started actually “learning” during the daytime in our driveway, however, at late 15 I think, by “parking” our family station wagon a silver 1977 Chevy Impala (later called “The Bentley,” due to an accident my mother caused) in different positions in the driveway or in front of our house. I recall those experiences as being adrenalized, probably because it was secret and completely verboten. It happened almost daily, and over time, I was driving around our street, a suburban cul-de-sac (that was a word I’d never heard until I left Buffalo) lined by little trees, newish unimaginative houses and pristine poured concrete sidewalks. I accomplished this “driving school” by two feats: my mother a) ignored me due to my insouciance or b) just gave up and was ripping out her hair, likewise due to my insouciance. The bottom line is that kids will pull shit on their parents. 

I was NOT an easy child, and having my second son, also a middle child like I am, has absolutely confirmed for me that karma exists. My middle son is ALIVE in every sense. He feels everything largely and without hesitation. He is a mirror of all my flaws and I love him for it. Intuitively, I absolutely love him for it. Practically, I want to run and hide from all he reveals to me, but I know there’s no payoff in that. This guy “goes there” with me. It can be a moment of utter mirth and hilarity, sincerely experienced by both of is in a dear and safe place, or it can be a red-eyed duel of two dragons, willing to maim and be emotionally maimed for their cause. We are intense. Or, as my therapist said, “avoid the empirical, use the conditional: We ‘can be’ intense.” And that’s about right: we can be intense. 

He sings. His voice is grainy, smoky and breathy. I used to think it was an a lá mode affect, but it’s not. He likes to sing ballands, and he does them well, but I called them dirges. I’ve since stopped because it’s not nice. That’s what I mean about his being my mirror — he just lays the cards on the table, and I have two ways of responding: by being a jerk or being nice. I’m learning. He’s an excellent teacher. He has two vocal coaches now. He argued about getting the second one, whom his father and I secured because he needs a much stronger foundation, something we sensed he wasn’t getting with his first coach. He likes it now though, this second one pushes him, makes him sing opera, and he can already hear its influence, and the ballads continue.  And he puts that stuff up on the Internet! 

He amazes me. He has big dreams, this one, and all of them achievable with a shit ton of dedication. He has the focus and the chops, but he’s young, very green, so we will see. His father and I will support him as long as he pushes himself. He had what I guess is a typical middle school experience socially: horrid, so we are hoping he’s learned enough to hit the books and ask for help. We also think that dragging him along to big brother’s college tours is a good idea, as his older brother said himself that he’d wished he’d looked at these schools sooner (oops).      

The youngest is cherubic still. His 11-year-old face, belly and arms rounding in preparation for a growth spurt. He rides his bike, super fast, without any awareness at all up and down our street, selecting the steepest driveways in which to turn around his 10-speed. He moans about having to wear a helmet, “I’m right here! You can SEE ME RIDE!” and I insist. He knows the drill, and he complies, but not without an icy glare and volcanic sigh. He’s a scorpio. Go figure. We have allowed him and his best friend to ride their bikes to the pool, they are both “red dots” which means they don’t need adults to accompany them as they have performed the water tests required by the life guards. 

Two weeks ago, he and his friend rode to he pool. When he was ready, he called me using out family’s floater phone to let me know he was on his way home. About a minute later, he called me again. Through the phone’s tiny hi-fi speakers, I heard screams and crashing sounds. My heart fell through my body and landed on the floor in front of me. “Your brother … Who’s screaming?!” I screamed, shouting his name, more screaming…  “OMIGAAAD!” I cried, and his older brother, the one who gives him the hardest time of all, took off and ran to the pool, a mile away, barefoot. He beat his father to the pool who drove. Everything was fine. The screams were peals of laughter, and delight from happy pool-goers. I watch too much “Dateline,” apparently. “I was fine, Mom. I butt-dialed you.” 

He dreams about programming, space and Jupiter. Standard academics bore him tearless. We worry about him getting lost in the cavernous middle school halls next year and having to use a locker with a combination. It’s a massive place, one of the largest schools in Virginia, and despite the school administration’s traditional insistence of “keeping things small feeling” for the youngest students, I know my little man will just get washed around. He already has been, somewhat at his elementary school. “He’s very bright, he tests strong, but he gets overwhelmed… So that’s why we don’t place him in the advanced classes…” Here’s me: you keep coloring inside those lines and cite your standardized algorithms, you savvy 21st Century educators. My son and I will be lying on our bellies on the floor looking at NASA videos and astronomy books. 

If we’re not looking at space from inside our house, we are lying on our backs, looking at apps in the nighttime, holding up an iPad to the sky.  We did that a lot in New England, where the light pollution was absent. Getting to our destination at night meant we had to cross this:


Those voids flanking the road is 6′-10′ of water, depending on the tide. “So you drive real slowly, with both hands on the wheel, but slightly loose, so the wheel can play a little and the car can correct itself,”  I hear myself say to my eldest, who is barely listening from the backseat.  

It’s been a great summer. I have judiciously used my phone to chronicle it, being mindful to not confuse the chronicling –that one step removed– from actually experiencing it. I’ve purposefully left the phone in the glove box or on the dresser, asking myself and reminding myself of the phone’s actual use: Do I need to communicate with from anyone right now? No. 

I’ve been rowing a few times, and it’s been glorious. I’m off from teaching yoga now until after Labor Day, which is really nice. The dogs are doing great and my husband is nursing a cold today. In May I did something to my left knee, my MCL, which is a bit frustrating because I can’t run terribly long on it. I’ve promised myself I’ll look into PT tomorrow, because I’m not getting any younger and I’m competitive as hell. 

Being away from this blog has been good and bad — I’ve been able to slow down and enjoy things instead of thinking about ways to share them on the blog; but it’s also made me lazy, I haven’t practiced much, and I do find myself censoring myself about things I’d like to share. There’s a lot of strange self-consciousness that permeates through a writer: we think you want to know everything about us, or what we have to say, yet we have a hard time actually believing that anything we have to say is the remotest bit interesting to you.  

I’m about to start a new book, reading one, that I read about in the NYT on vacation. “A Manual For Cleaning Women” is a collection of short stories by a now-dead writer named Lucia Berlin. She’s widely hailed as a “writer’s writer” and I’m enjoying the introductions so far. Reading her, and Anne Tyler, and Dorothy Parker has made me start thinking that the short story is where it’s at for me. I really like to write, but I know myself well enough  to know that I will get lost in my own verbal morass if I don’t keep things tight and fluid. I overpacked so much for the vacation (I wore MAYBE 12% of what I packed and bought a couple other things) that I know if I started a book, I’d just get lost. Like my youngest… in the Milky Way, but mine is made up of words. 

My father asked me recently if I edit myself. I said no. I don’t have a space requirement, no copy editors. I suppose I could consider it editing. I do know this, when I know exactly who will be reading what I write, say a person for whom English is not native, I will break down my content and be very precise in how I say things. Invariably, I’m reminded of my days in college when I worked at a bank, and I would speak louder and slower to a non-English speaking customer, because I thought that would help him better understand me. 

Well, I’m out… I want to thank you, as always, for reading. It’s an uncommonly beautiful day in August here, and we have a few more weeks before school starts, so I’ll go now. Remember to keep being amazed. Write it down, that which amazes you. 

Thank you. 

Driving Habits


I just returned yesterday from a wonderful week in Connecticut with family. We all had a great time: tons to do and the kids all got along. It was a mystical marvel.

When we left Connecticut at 12:30pm, the anticipated arrival time to my home via 95-south was 9:16pm.

That drive of 390 miles was almost entirely nonstop, save for two bathroom breaks and a fill-up at the Thomas Edison rest stop on the NJ Turnpike.

Here’s something from the Thomas Edison rest stop that I can’t believe still exists:

take 51 cents and get back something completely worthless. why didn’t i think of this machine?

I’ve done this before, driven eight hours alone but not with the specter of hideous, desperation traffic born of the summer’s last two weeks  and never on a Saturday. I took this challenge quite seriously and neurotically. I drove as if tailgating Captain Ahab; fixated on the threat of a six-day-long traffic jam looming just five minutes ahead. In fact, I think I left Ahab in the dust somewhere near Milford, Connecticut. With its phantom accidents and construction work zones, Connecticut was the one state that wouldn’t let me leave despite the fact that it was the one I wanted to get away from the most.

I had all three boys with me. Thing 1 who is 14 was riding shotgun and has proven himself to be an admirable navigator, GPS commander and DJ. Things 2 and 3 showed themselves to be excellent movie viewers, sandwich snackers, yoo-hoo drinkers and bathroom requestors.

Here are some things I learned about myself and my a*hem, driving habits yesterday:

1) I love the O/D button on my car. I drive a big Toyota SUV which seats 8. It has an “overdrive” button on the gear shift. That O/D setting is normally on, allowing for better “gas mileage” (please). The “overdrive off” setting allows for more responsiveness from the engine, which likely accounts for my 20.9mpg overall. The way up, last Sunday, we averaged 22.8mpg, as I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere. Yesterday, I just wanted to get the hell off the road and onto my couch. I am probably right when I guess that the drivers around me wanted me to do the same too…

2) Sometimes “south” on 95 isn’t actually “south” especially at 7:16pm when it’s clearly “west.” Just ask my retinas.

3) You know Bono (of the band U2)? His wife, Alison (high school sweetheart I believe) is rumored to require him to stay in an apartment in Dublin or wherever is nearest his family’s home for at least a few days after a world tour because he’s INSANE when he is finished. He’s overextended, exhausted and seeking attention and likely grunting, groaning, doing jack-knife jumps and wailing constantly. I think there needs to be a place like that for regular people who aren’t long-haul truckers: a room where we can retire our paranoid and furtive glances between the windshield, side and rear-view mirrors, speedometers and fuel gauges. Somewhere we can allay our spastic over-the-shoulder scans. Perhaps a studio with soft lights, zen fountains and quiet music where we can stretch our blanched knuckles, restore blood flow to our feet, release our talons from their “10 & 2” or “4 & 8” positions and simply learn to breathe again… wouldn’t that be nice? It could be some form of way station or detox program for drivers who’ve been cruising for eight hours averaging 73mph. There simply is no way to get off an interstate highway at 76mph and then be expected to drive 40mph for more than 100 feet (other than to get you beyond 65mph). When 55mph feels like you’re walking, as if you’ll never get home, clearly there’s a transitional problem. No one was safe from my “iForce V8” engine’s wrath.

4) Cruise control is my friend. I barely used the pedals to speed up or cruise yesterday. Bad idea? I mean, I did have to use the brakes every once in a while, but c’mon… My kids know from experience that driving with me means no stops for anything short of an organ explosion. I don’t do stretch breaks or “get a snack” breaks like their dad does; I’m all about forming a blood clot if it gets me where I want to be faster. Although, nothing’s faster than an ambulance, I suppose…

5) I flash my hazards when I’m approaching a high density area to alert other drivers behind me. It usually works. But it doesn’t stop me from wincing and saying, “pleasedon’thitme…pleasedon’thitme…”

6) Projectile vomiting from a rear passenger window in an SUV traveling at 78mph does not land on other cars. It lands all over the side of the SUV to the point where my vision was obfuscated by God knows what. I would have certainly pulled over had my son alerted me to his feeling nauseated before he booted. He did not provide me that luxury. “I just threw up out the window!!” is how I found out. He did however provide us the other luxury of using the power-washer in the dark when we got home. And just in case you’re wondering, no, it didn’t get it all off. The heat, 88˚ and 78mph must’ve had a geothermal nuclear effect on the vomit. The paint is still on the car, however, so we’re OK there. My apologies to Baltimore, Maryland, for my son’s atomized deposit.

7) Motorcyclists on 95 in the state of Maryland are: a) insane, b) dangerous as hell, c) known to travel in swarms. If you see one, there are at least two more coming, at 100mph (easily) all around you. I wince when I see them too. I was switching lanes to the right from the left lane after passing a car at 75mph and one came upon me at 110ish and we were separated by maybe six feet. It woulda been like a bug on my windshield. Later, I saw a group of them on the side of the road applying a combination teflon / kevlar glaze to their athletic bodies and I wanted to scream at them, “DO YOUR MOTHERS KNOW YOU DRIVE LIKE THAT?!” I immediately warned my sons that if they ever rode bikes like that they are out of the will.

8) My husband has a car that the boys and I call the “Old Man Car” because most of the people we see driving them are old men. Last night, on the stretch of highway alongside The Mitt Romney’s church, I was trapped behind a Small Woman driving an Old Man Car. She wove and slowed and careened all over the lane. I don’t think she could see over the steering wheel. I wanted to mow her down.

9) I’m a big believer in using the left lane properly: no loitering. You use it to pass and then you get over. If you happen to be how I was yesterday, on a mission, then you end up staying in the left lane to continually pass. That said, there are five stages to the left lane: 1) passing only; if you get behind someone who chooses to not pass, 2) you tailgate; if that doesn’t work 3) you back off and flash your high beams; if that doesn’t work, 4) you tap / stand on the horn and if that doesn’t work; you 5) ram them off the road. Thing 1 was waiting for me to initiate stage 5 on the Small Woman driving the Old Man Car near The Mitt Romney’s church. I didn’t. I waited for her to careen into the right lane because the road curved to the left as she was driving south (west) at 7:16pm. It worked.

10) I have friends who hate the bigger bridges near the D.C. metro area. I don’t mind them; I actually think bridges are beautiful and amazing engineering marvels. Maybe I’m naïve, but I have a ton of faith in their design and purpose. Wanna know what I hate? Tunnels. I’ll take a back-up on the Delaware Memorial or Chesapeake Bay bridge any day of the week instead of a back-up in the Lincoln, Holland, Bay Bridge or Baltimore Harbor tunnels. I have a theory, the “Pancake Theory,” about one bridge in particular, the George Washington Bridge in NY, however: When given the opportunity to choose an upper or a lower level of a bridge I will invariably choose the upper level. The reason being (even though I completely trust the bridge’s constructional integrity) that if the bridge collapses, I will not be “pancaked” like the cars on the lower level would be. I would be on the upper level, the upper pancake. The smasher not the smasheé.

11) There are five bridges between my house and my brother’s. Once we escaped left Connecticut and then passed his town, we started our traditional “five bridges to home” count. The first one was the GW Bridge. The last one the Woodrow Wilson bridge. When we crossed the Wilson, we LITERALLY howled like wolves when we saw our “Welcome to Virginia!” sign. We were so excited. At that point, it was another 25 minutes (according to the GPS) until we got home. I was going to make it in 20. When we were within five miles from my home, I had made back 58 minutes. As if the traffic gods were mocking me, we hit two red lights less than 2 miles from our house which supposedly cost me 2 minutes. When we pulled up to our house, it was 8:14. I shaved 1 hour and 2 minutes off the drive home. Our playlist for those last 18 minutes? The B-52’s “Planet Claire,” Led Zepplin’s “The Immigrant Song” and “Next to You” by The Police.

Oh… my apologies if you were in front of me yesterday. No hard feelings, huh? And if you were on one of those motorcycles, shame on you…

Thank you.