Wednesday, November 21, 2007


I was 18, it was summer, and my friend G was driving us back to camp. We were counselors on a day off which we spent at our friend Denise's house on Long Island. It was a precarious time, the last vestages of childhood slowly giving way. It was G's birthday that day, August 5. At the time, G and I were merely a fragment of the friends that we are today, but friends enough to share a long dark ride to camp in comfortable silence.

She was driving, and suddenly, tears began to slip silently down her tanned cheeks. I was stunned, unable to imagine what was upsetting her. After all, she had the two things that I believed were the key to ultimate happiness: perfect skin and boys by the bundle.

I asked her what was wrong.

"I'm okay," she assured. "It's just my birthday. I cry sometimes, thinking about where I was last year, where I am now, birthdays gone by. It's just...alot."

I nodded, and probably did not say much more, though I hope that I patted her back while she drove, or smoothed her long hair.

The truth was that I did not understand the emotionality surrounding a birthday retrospective. Birthdays never meant much to me. I remember them fondly but barely at all. I can't tell you how I turned 21, or 10 or even 30. But Thanksgivings -- I remember Thanksgivings.

In the 70s and 80s, my family's Thanksgivings were regal. My grandma Flo would would cook up a storm. She was an incredible chef -- the rare breed who cook and bake equally well. Everything she created was divine. And she was fancy and immaculate -- silky napkins, crystal goblets, extravagant flower arrangements. The table was a sight to behold, sparkling and gilded. This was her way. Twenty years later, we would be tipped off to her dementia when the food she cooked tasted off and crumbs appeared in her corners. And now she is 93, as energetic as ever but with little memory of the time when she was Queen of the Kitchen.

In those days, family would gather from far and wide for Thanksgiving, where the table needed its extra leaves and kids sat at an adjacent card table in plastic chairs. When the dinners moved to our house and grandma Flo stopped cooking, the guest list shrank. Food was hearty but simple. The kids would bolt away as soon as dessert was served to watch TV. The opulance was over, but the togetherness was still there.

Later still, my maternal grandparents died. First my grandfather, the spiritual center of my family. He had been the one to create a holiday prayer, a religious moment in a secular holiday. Then my grandmother passed, in 2001, just a week away from Thanksgiving. When the day did arrive, we ate bland turkey take-out. In an effort to lift spirits, my uncle's girlfriend brought sprinkle-covered candy apples. I still haven't forgiven her.

Since then, Thanksgiving has been erratic. My brother missed a few, a doctor in his residency. We spent one at grandma Flo's nursing home, eating boiled turkey and cranberry jelly from tiny packets. Some have been good, some have been less. But they have all brought us together, for the sake of family if not for food.

Three Thanksgivings ago, I announced that I was pregnant with would-be Chloe after struggling with infertility. At his turn to share what he was thankful for, my husband passed the sonogram picture to my doctor brother, who yelled "No fucking way!". An hour earlier, I secretly told my sister first, and we cried on grandma Flo's gorgeous green velvet couch which now lives in my parents library. Last year on Thanksgiving day, the second line appeared faintly on the EPT test. That time, it would just be our secret, A and I, until we would receive that black fuzzy photo of the orb that would eight months later become Dylan.

Every Thanksgiving a part of me wept, thinking of where I had been last. Just like G on her 19th birthday, Thanksgiving was always bittersweet -- heavy with memories of simpler times, when family was young, robust and intact. This year was the first time where, aside from this post, I stayed firmly in the present, and happily so. Our table was once again full, and this time, there were three babies. My nephew, Jacob, was finally walking. My daughter Chloe, was eating with a fork. And my son Dylan cooed and smiled in a manner that was nothing short of miraculous, considering that he was relegated to a carseat on the floor. Grandma Flo held him, long enough to believe that she was still spry enough to babysit. My brother, a self proclaimed bachelor for life, was whispering into the ear of the woman he will soon marry, another doctor. My parents looked young and acted younger, likely because they chose to cater dinner this year. A took his Thanksgiving nap wrapped around Chloe in an upstairs room. In a word, it was great -- full of great. And I am grateful -- that this year, this time, I stopped looking back.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Help, I need somebody

The belated nanny post (3 months ago):

We have hired a nanny.

If you are neurotic about caregivers, the best thing you can do is have two children under two-ish. Things will get so crazy that you will leave consider leaving the the kids with a homeless person, the doorman, the parking garage attendant. Goodbye neuroses, since someone on a message board advised me to "accept help from anyone, even if you don't like them".

Well, luckily I did not need to make any deals with the proverbial devil because we hired a lovely woman who I will call E for the sake of this site. She immediately put me at ease, but it does not take much these days - a kind stranger wants to come to your home and give you a moment to, let's say, go to the bathroom and immediately your heart turns to goo.

The night before her arrival was particularly hard. My husband was away, and I was exhaused. I called him crying and reached him at the airport. I felt all at once guilty and resentful for needing the help that would likely bankrupt us and at the same time, desperate for her to start. "We are all good at different things," he said. "You were amazing at managing a whole department of adults. You need help with the home stuff."

It sounds condescending as I type it, but he is right. I love being a mother, but the accessories of the job overwhelm me. I am a sucky cook, my diaper bag is never stocked nor organized, and mess paralyzes me. I get it all done, but by the end of the day, the exhaustion and anxiety can rattle me. I long for time to cook dinner, to finish thank you notes, to organize closets. I don't enjoy any of these things, but leaving them undone in the face of pizza, overdue gratitude and drawers that don't close keep me up at night. It's tough to be a Type A underachiever.

Oh, and there's that part time job I took that seemed like a great idea at the time, and now, I cannot fathom when the hell I am going to get any work done that does not allow me to wear a ponytail and unclipped nursing bra. To make any of this work, I needed a hand...two hands...any hands...

E has no children of her own but 16 siblings, a kind voice, loving lap and was not terrified by a surly toddler who glared at her beneath lowered eyelids while kicking the couch. Her hands are always open, loving, non judgemental. And best of all, just as neurotic as I am!

So day one is over, and while I am more exhausted than ever after a carefully choreographed meet and greet, the kitchen is clean, the rug decrumbed, and I had the confidence to give both children a bath. We had our moments*, especially Chloe, and there is an innate awkwardness involved in the employer/employee relationship when the business is babies, but all in all it worked. We have a long way to go -- but for now, I am happy to embrace the unknown in the arms of a stranger.

*E still stuck around even after, in a fit of outrage, Chloe bit me on the breast. Yes, folks, I was changing her shirt and she bit me right atop Dylan's "plate", so to speak. Top that.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Past Sense

My childhood:

Sounded like: Sibling spats, singing "It's My Party" into a tape recorder, knocking on the wall that connected my sister's bedroom to mine, the garage door opening late at night when my father came home from work, Michael Jackson's BAD, Karma Chameleon, my parents rare and muffled arguments in our basement.

Tasted like: Broiled chicken, tuna fish in big pasta shells, grilled cheese with tomato, a dixie cup of M and Ms for dessert, my dad's frozen Three Musketeers bars, "bird in the nest", pancakes with blueberry syrup, Juicy Juice 100% juice, bubble gum flavored roller ball lip gloss, celery and peanut butter, Sunday night grilling.

Smelled like: Jean Nate, Ivory Soap, Flex and Pert shampoos, Debbie Gibson Electric Youth perfume, sweaty elementary school classrooms, cat, other people's cigarette smoke on my moms "going out" coat when smoking was still en vogue, my grandmother's Revlon lipstick, freshly cut grass, my mother's Chanel No. 5, my dad's Aramis or Drakaar Noir.

Felt like: Frizzy hair, boredom, itchy sweaters, fear of my closet (specifically the hangers),wanna be insecurity, the bliss before knowing heartache, cozy family in front of the television, believing my parents could heal anything, dreams of becoming a writer and a teen actress.

Looked like: Any anonymous suburb, perma-autumn, stable family, the mall, library, ugly duckling, spoiled rotten, a Judy Blume book.

High school:

Sounded like: A million mix tapes, Survivor's "Popular Girl", U2's "One", St. Elmo's Fire, Chicago, Christopher Cross, "The Search is Over", my voice screaming, door slamming, late night phone talking, belly-pain laughing.

Tasted like: Bagels with techina, Uno's Pizza, frozen yogurt, Zima, gin, Cadbury Eggs, gum, shitty beer, diner food.

Smelled like: Eternity for Men, cigarettes, Tamar's vanilla car freshner, peroxide, The Body Shop perfumes (esp. Dewberry and White Musk), many many cosmetics.

Felt like: Cold early mornings and dark nights at school, intellectual insecurity, deep heartache, desperate for something more, fear of boys and longing for them, 3:oo am at a diner, fear of bad grades, intoxicating independance, a sinking feeling that the best was right now, friendships as deep as romance, blissful time before body image issues.

Looked like: Long ugly skirts, penny loafers, too-tight sweaters, perfect curls and skinny body, too much makeup, surly teenager, safe rebellion, developing a taste for bad boys, notes passed in classes filled with song quotes


Sounded like: Gus(ter), Indigo Girls, stoned laughter, Spur of The Moment, Sarah Machlachlan, The Dave Matthews Band, Screaming fights, deep dark secrets, Sheryl Crow "God I feel like hell tonight", drunken declarations, pipe dreams.

Tasted like: Frozen yogurt, scooped out bagels, diet hunger, cheap sushi, Absolut Currant, Fresca, diet sprite and white zinfandel

Smelled like: Denise's Downy and Estee Lauder Beautiful, Jill's Paul Mitchell and Liz Claiborne, spilled beer, ashtrays, vomit, CK ONE, perma-winter

Felt like: The walk of shame, intellectual inferiority, popularity, high highs and low lows, longing, drunkenness, idealist images of adulthood

Looked like: The it girl clique, a clusterfuck, wasting parents money, learning between classes, peer pressure, friendships at their best and worst, self destruction, boring is better than bad.

Single in the City:

Sounded like: Club music, 80s remix, fighting roommates, the MTA, condescending bosses a mere few years older, Andrea Boccelli and "Everything You Want" by Vertical Horizon.

Tasted like: Cheap sushi and 60 cent peas, decadant dinner dates, vodka cranberry, eggs and home fries at 3:00 AM.

Smelled like: The cologne of a stranger, messy apartment, the xerox machine outside my cubicle, sweaty suits, Jean Paul Gaultier perfume, the gym.

Felt like: Cheap clothes, late nights and early mornings, regret, hangovers, multiple mistakes, girl fun, bank account poor and living richly.

Looked like: Sex and the City but without the sex and the Manolos. waiting for Mr. Right, settling for Mr. Right Now.

What is your past sense?