So today I put my younger daughter onto yet another plane for yet another great adventure — this one half-way around the world. We said goodbye at security, hugging, hugging, hugging, then hugged once more before she handed her passport and boarding pass to the agent. Then she slowly progressed through security, turning and waving, turning and waving, turning and waving. I worked hard not to break down in tears, and I succeeded.

I’ve written before about the durable, flexible umbilical cord that links me forever to my children. It’s a bond I can barely understand, much less describe. Right now, that red, ropy tether is stretched somewhere over the Pacific. I know it won’t snap. It’s made of tough stuff, supple and stubborn as it was when it fed her in the womb. My womb. The nest that hatched three children — weird, when you think about it — and dropped them into the world. Plop! Plop! Plop! A soft landing for each of them, straight into those striped white swaddling blankets found in every hospital.

I look at them now with wonder and gratitude: wonder that I had something to do with them; gratitude to God, their late dad and the mystical happenstance of timing for bringing them into my life. Had they been conceived one second earlier or one second later, they’d be different people: that, too, is weird when you think about it. Weirder still when I remind myself, as I often do, that my sister’s suicide in 1992 first inspired me to get pregnant. If she hadn’t died, Chris and I might have postponed baby-making for another couple years, and who knows which babies might have popped out then? Weird weird weird. When it happened, and she downed all those pills in her bedroom, I was clobbered by grief and confused by a universe that would snatch such a loving soul so soon. I wanted to fill it with another. It was that simple. I wanted someone new to love, some new life to cherish in the contorted face of death. This was a primal urge: procreate, woman! How better to shake my fist at the reaper than to usher in new life?plane view

And so I did, and there they are: my three enduring gifts. Some days, at my lowest, I wonder if I’m serving God as I’m supposed to, if I’m living and loving as I’m called to. I wonder about my failures as a human being, my woundedness, the way I strive but stumble through this world. I am not perfect. I try and fail, I love and lose, I grapple with my own pain in ways that end up hurting others. But when I look at my beautiful children, and I remember their beautiful father — so strong and passionate and compassionate and constant and loving and giving and good — I realize I did something right. Or something right happened to me.

Waving goodbye to my intrepid middle kid this morning, I said thanks to God and the whims of fate that timed my children perfectly. They are my three miracles. I’m grateful for them, and for everyone else I’ve been blessed to love in this world. For love has its own logic. Love has its own laws. At this moment, my love defies gravity and carries my daughter across the ocean to the vast unknown. I’m with her and I’m here, I’m earthbound and I’m flying, I’m nervous and I’m joyous all the same. Weird.



the things my father taught me

Frustrated beyond belief by a headache at work a couple weeks back, I pushed away from my desk and bellowed: MADONNA SANTA GIUSEPP’!!! Which doesn’t happen all that often. At least not at work. Not that loudly, anyway. And not within earshot of colleagues, who jointly turned in their seats to see who had issued the vociferous Mediterranean appeal to the Holy Mother and Saint Joseph.

My father issued this same noisy petition quite a lot during my childhood, and it’s ALMOST the only bit of Neapolitan I ever learned. ALMOST. I also know how to say “Shut up and start eating” AND “You are a tough, dry turd that someone had a hard time voiding,” although I’m happy to report that I have never uttered either in the Times Union newsroom. (And for the record, my father never uttered either to me.)

My dad was Eye-Talian. That’s how bigots of yore pronounced the word in polite company, or at any rate when they wanted to express distrust or disgust without resorting to “guinea” or “wop.” Eye. Talian. Always with a beat between the syllables. As a kid I found this odd, since no one I knew called the country of origin Eye-Taly, and I also found it odd that my American-born Daddy would take any heat from anyone for being, I dunno, FOREIGN. Yes, he was eccentric. And huuuuuugely expressive and impassioned and never exactly quiet. But alien? Not to me.

True, he’d grown up in Manhattan’s Little Italy, and yes, his first language was Neapolitan, but he passionately loved his country of birth and came to embody its dream. He worked hard, went to college, attended grad school, became a music critic, wrote books, studied etymology and linguistics, translated “The Divine Comedy” (though I suppose that’s about as Eye-Talian as literature gets) and befriended the likes of Eugene Ormandy. He was a good citizen! He voted in every election! He ate yogurt! He had a crush on Mary Tyler Moore!

He also tore his calf rushing to rescue a neighbor from a fire, and years later, he rescued a little girl from drowning. He once talked two men out of a knife fight on the subway (“brothers! brothers!”), once talked a mugger out of stealing his watch (“My late mother gave me that! Are you sure you want to take it? Won’t you feel terrible afterward?”) and, during World War II, got into an argument with a fascist barber while the man held a straight-edge to his neck. That’s the sort of Eye-Talian he was. One who saved lives, opposed violence — he gave up boxing after his buddy went punch drunk — and hated Mussolini.

Daddy died 23 years ago, but the gifts he gave me still endure: love of music, love of language, love of peace. I got those from him. Those, and the reflexive Southern-Italian blurt-outs invoking the Holy Family, which, okay, are just a tad blasphemous, especially when Jesus gets tossed into the mix (MADONNA SANTA GIUSEPP’ GESU!!).

If only I’d learned a little more of my father’s native tongue. Madonn’, I wish I had.

my sister’s voice

lucy coma typeface

You never really lose the people you love. When my sister Lucy killed herself in a psych-med overdose at the age of 31 in 1992, I feared forgetting her. I needn’t have worried. She was unforgettable, the most complete human being I’ve ever known: her kindness matched her brilliance matched her humor. She was my big sister. I was the “twerp,” her kid sister Aiminolde, the less-gifted one, the klutzier one, the one always struggling to find her place in that family of geniuses. She understood my many foibles, and she never treated me with anything but enveloping compassion and hilarious wit. Despite her intellect, which whizzed her through tests and off to Harvard, I never felt stupid around her. I only felt loved.

I knew I would never stop missing Lucy or sensing her near me. I knew I would always know her and call her my sister. But I also knew I had limits, that I couldn’t bring myself to pore over all the sheafs of notes she’d left behind detailing years and years of depression, hallucinations, suicidality, hospitalizations (13 or 14), medications (dozens) and misdiagnoses (countless) that led, finally, to the correct one: Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, a complex neurological disorder compounded by severe psychological fallout.

Lucy was always writing — hypergraphia often goes hand-in-hand with TLE — and churned out poetry, timelines, essays and meticulous accounts of her life and illness. I was aware she’d been working on an autobiography when she died, but I had no urge to track it down and read that or anything else she’d written. The thought of diving headfirst into her pain terrified me as much as the reality of living without her. Someday, maybe, I’d be strong enough and removed enough to go there. Just not yet. Not when my own pain was fresh.

Twenty-three years later, I felt ready. Why did it take me so long? Grief is strange. My own became stranger when I lost my father two months after losing Lucy, when I lost my mother two years after that. Then life took over; there were babies to raise, jobs to do, my own books to write. Near the end of that stretch I lost my husband, my second mother and my best friend, and each loss dredged up the pain of old ones.

My sister was present in these cyclical bouts of grieving, just as she was present in every moment of joy after her death: the births of my children were attended by their Aunt Lucy, whose love resides in my heart and warms theirs, too. They know her through me. They know my parents through me, the ad hoc preserver and channeler of memory. That’s what the Albany Med chaplain promised me, that day when Mama lay dying and I sat in the chapel weeping.

I wrote my first memoir for just that reason.  Still, even as I wrote it, I could not bring myself to dig deep into Lucy’s papers. I got as far as a list of her medications and a description of her seizure-induced hallucinations, and that was it.

Then, a few weeks ago, I started reorganizing the attic storage space, and I found a big cardboard box of Lucy-centric materials. Since then I’ve been poking through it, gingerly at first, more boldly as I dipped in and read and found myself crying, yes, but also grateful to reconnect with this beautiful, tortured, impossibly good creature that I was blessed to call my sister.

The first major piece of writing that startled and moved me was a handwritten autobiography that she produced during one of her numerous, unsuccessful stays at McLean, the leafy and collegiate-looking psych hospital outside Boston. The second discovery, which I happened across just yesterday, is the first few typewritten chapters of her book. She opens with a poem (“. . . this twisted life / why has it been given to me”) and then moves on to describe, with breathtaking honesty and insight, her emergence from a coma after her first suicide attempt in 1990:

I don’t remember going into it; the last thing I remember is Mama screaming to the woman, “No, she’s blacking out already; don’t you see it’s too late for her to vomit?”

I had never read this before. On delving further into Chapter 1, I learned other things that Lucy and Mama had never told me: that she exhibited little neural activity; that the doctors predicted she’d be brain-dead; that she announced mid-coma, “I have asthma” and “I have to pee”; that she’d forgotten she’d tried to kill herself but felt, drifting in and out of nightmares, that she had made a wrong choice.

I cried and read and cried and read and cried and cried and cried. Of course I wondered, as I read, whether Lucy felt this same, floating regret in her last moments in a fetal position two years later. Of course I wondered, as I always do, whether my husband had split-second flashes of remorse on his descent from a roof in 2011. I know my father regretted his suicide attempt in 1974; I found evidence of that in another attic find, though I haven’t found a firsthand account of his own coma.

But mainly, I read Lucy’s narrative with relief, rejoicing to hear again the quirky, radiant soprano that always spoke so gracefully of wanting to live while wanting to die. No one tried harder to make it through this mortal life. She documented that struggle with a transparency, a crystalline brightness, that makes me love and miss her even more.lucy

It’s all so Lucy. She’s all so there. She’s doing what she always did, saying truths that I need to hear, however belatedly, with uncompromising candor and love. And patience: She waited all this time to tell me. For more than two decades, her voice sat mute in a box in my attic, biding time while that fumbling twerp of a sister finally got around to listening.

I’m going to do something with this. I have no idea what. I have no idea where the other chapters are, or if there even are others; probably there were, at one point, but they’re long gone now thanks to my own negligence and fear.

But I’ll keep looking. I’ll keep reading. Lucy’s voice has a story to tell, and I plan to listen, preserve and channel.

i found it

mine, all mine!

mine, all mine!

One of our longstanding Easter traditions is the egg hunt. This is true of many families with children. Only problem is, I no longer have children in the sense of having “children,” i.e., beings of great youth, smallness, inexperience and pliability in the face of random parental dictates. I still have children in the sense of having self-ambulatory, independent offspring, two of them recognized by the state as adults, but I no longer have the sort that holds still for diapering.

Anyway. The egg hunt. My youngest is now 14, and I wasn’t sure he’d be up for the usual race around the brown grass and bushes in our back yard, but I didn’t want to disappoint the fellow, either. I wanted to give him the option. So the day before Easter I bought those cheapo plastic eggs and the only remaining seasonal bagged candy left on the shelves, i.e., little malted milk balls and tiny ovoid butterfingers.

Easter day, while I was cooking and cleaning and screaming and flinging cast iron pans around the kitchen, I asked my daughter Jeanne to fill the aforementioned eggs with the aforementioned candy. She’s an adult, so I knew she was capable of this complex task. And not only was she capable, she came back to me about 10 minutes later with a startling innovation: “Mom,” she said, “this year, let’s do an egg hunt for the grown-ups.” She pointed out, and wisely so, that her dutiful teenage brother probably didn’t want to search for eggs while 13 other people watched. “He’s too old for that. So we’ll hide them. You guys can hunt for them,” and by “you guys” she meant all available relatives who fall within the boomer demographic and had not taken part in an actual, valid, run-around-the-lawn Easter-egg hunt for several parched decades of sad paschal deprivation.

When the time came, the grown-ups were beckoned into the back yard, front yard, street and sidewalk, where my clever young progeny had squirreled away shiny plastic vessels in devilishly sneaky hidey-holes. I’ve always been terrible at such things and only found two eggs, both thanks to my son and his theatrically resonant throat-clearing. (“MOM. AHEM. AHEM,” he said, bouncing on the cracked plastic base of a basketball hoop. “MOM! MOM! AHEM! MOOOOM!” At that third AHEM and fourth MOM, I noticed the egg within.)

The candy, once I cracked it open and sampled it, was awful. But the real pleasure lay in watching everyone scatter across the grass and the pavement, peeking under bike helmets, poking noses gingerly in bushes, all of us old farts behaving for all the world like the eager children we once were — and, I guess, still are. My three offspring followed us around, laughing at the spectacle of middle-aged hunters and huntresses in pursuit of precious booty. At the end we clutched our plunder to our chests, grinning. We’d found it. The kids had given us the freedom to be kids again.


mama and lucy
The other morning, while driving to work, I twirled the radio dial over to WMHT just as the announcer was cueing up the honeyed opening allegretto to César Franck’s A major sonata for violin and piano. I yelped quietly with thrilled anticipation. Yes. Yes. I turned up the volume. Gripped the steering wheel a little harder. Leaned toward the speaker. And there they came, those first, quietly inquisitive chords on the piano. That lovely, lilting answer on the violin. The dialogue that followed between the two instruments and their players (Jeremy Denk, Joshua Bell) was performed with an exquisite and subtle joy that made me weep.

The Franck Sonata is one of those pieces that always prod my tear ducts into action. The last movement of the Sibelius Fifth is another. The Ode to Joy. The Moldau. A bunch more. But the Franck is special for me, because I first heard it one winter sometime in the mid-to-late 1970s, when my brilliant violinist-mom and just-as-brilliant pianist-sister started prepping for a recital together in the summer to follow.

It took place one breezy summer day in a barn-like hall in Litchfield County, Conn. They split the program between solo works — Beethoven for Lucy, Bach for Mama — and a duet. The Franck. It was the one piece that Lucy hadn’t memorized, so I had been recruited to turn pages. This was the only time I ever appeared on stage in any capacity with either of them, and the experience was transporting. I was terrified of screwing up. How could I not be?

And I did screw up, just once, early on: I was late on a turn, and Lucy had to reach up and whip the page herself in a blur of sudden motion. But my blunder didn’t stop them. They kept playing as though music were the only thing that mattered, lighting that allegretto and the movements that followed with a fierceness and a delicacy that carved out beauty from the air. And as those lush and liquid motifs spilled around us, the music overcame not just my fear but my ego, too, arousing within me a sense of art as something larger, more layered with meaning, more perfect than its most imperfect parts.

That performance of the Franck was the most beautiful work of art I’ve ever played a role in, no matter my feeble contributions. It still is. Nothing I’ve written comes anywhere close to it. It was the moment when I first spied the divine and felt myself a part of it, no matter my human fears and shortcomings. This is the gift of all great art.

So of course I never forgot that afternoon on stage with my mother and sister, two of the most profound musicians I’ve ever known and heard. And of course I’ve often pictured them together in Some Otherworldly Place on Some Otherworldly Plane drinking Otherworldly Tea, shooting it through their Otherworldly Noses as they cracked each other up with Otherworldly Awful Puns. Maybe, sometimes, they join in on Otherworldly Music with Otherworldly Instruments.

But until Monday morning, tooling along in tears as Denk and Bell became Lucy and Mama through the magic of radio, I had not imagined them playing the Franck in heaven. I think they must be. I think they have been all along. I think they were that day onstage in that distant Connecticut summer, when I screwed up, and they kept playing, and art transformed us all.

vita nuova

vita  nuova page 1

After my father tried to kill himself with sleeping pills in 1974, he spent nine days in a coma, attached to a snarl of tubes as his body and his brain flushed out the toxins. Then he spent six months in pure talk therapy at the Institute of Living in Hartford, Conn., where his mind and his spirit did their best to purge despair.

I remember visiting the place with Mama and my sister Lucy. The grounds were lovely and collegiate and lousy with overfed squirrels who ran right up to us and boldly demanded snacks. We would visit once a week, if memory serves, walking the grounds with my father, curling up on his bed with him (“Drink him up, girls”) and meeting fellow patients who called him Lou and smiled with thanks as he gave them candy. He always gave everyone candy; Daddy’s magic pockets were full of peppermints and crystal blues and doodads, rubber bands and paper clips and stamps.

One young man there truly loved him, gave him a copy of an Elton John album that my father never listened to (he was more of a Beethoven and Tin Pan Alley man) but I did. I remember huddling over a little blue record player, the kind that closed with a buckle, and listening to “Your Song” until the words entered my pores and then my bloodstream and finally my heart. I can’t hear that song now without thinking of Daddy, his time at the Institute, or the pale, sweet boy who gave him this record with the aching ballad of love and blue eyes (or green). I still have it somewhere. I’m not sure where.

I have other reminders of those days. The little ceramic rabbit he made in art, for one. For another: every memory of my father that followed his hospital stay. Because he came home. The talk therapy stuck. He was always a little strange after that, and the coma, combined with some other form of dementia, did a number on his short-term memory. But he never attempted suicide again. He lived another 18 years, dying at age 85 from heart failure after a fall.

Just tonight, digging through an attic drawer in search of a working pen, I found something else: Some of the notes Daddy made during those six months in Hartford. What caught my eye in particular were four small, pulpy sheets torn from a pad and covered with his idiosyncratic (to say the least), borderline-illegible handwriting. But it’s legible enough, this time. And it’s profound: a beautiful, powerful statement of life and hope from a man who had given up on both. Its title, I’m guessing, is an homage to Dante’s “La Vita Nuova” (“The New Life”), not surprising for an author who pored over the classics, worshiped the written word, worked his tongue at 16 languages and translated “The Divine Comedy” out of sheer love of poetry.

I cherish this little scribbled document — this determined scrabble of light and gratitude in the wake of terrible pain. It says all anyone has to say about the will and the need to keep moving and loving with purpose. I’m glad he lived to say it. I thank him for it. I love him for it. It gave him new life, and it gave me my father. It’s my Vita Nuova, too.

Vita Nuova
-To be grateful for every breath.
-To be interested in everything concerning and absorbing humanity.
-To be doing something or other, preferably constructive and progressive in development — but to be immersed.
-To learn to concentrate for longer and longer periods and perhaps always a little more fruitfully.
-To value every moment with my dear ones as a precious jewel, unique and irreplaceable.
-To be of help, in small or large matters, whenever possible among my fellows in other settings and gatherings.
-To get back, with new glasses — badly needed — to reading — linguistics, etc., anything, even murder mysteries, for puzzles and relaxation.
-Perhaps to plan a book about word origins, backgrounds and relationships.
-To be grateful for today — to dwell happily on the thoughts of tomorrow, and placidly on the problems of yesterday.
-To learn from my mistakes, particularly the MISTAKE, and know such impulsive, undermined behavior is completely buried in the past and beyond repetition.
-To be ever grateful for the love others bear me and return it with warmth and pride.
-TO LIVE! And to help others live more fully.


full house

As I write this, my three offspring and I are all under one roof. My roof. Theirs. Ours. The steep peaked number we’ve occupied (or two of us, at any rate) since the fall of 1993, the exact weekend when I was due to give birth to my oldest child. I was huge. Emphatically huge. HUGE HUGE HUGE HUGE HUGE. So huge that total strangers often commented on My Emphatic Hugeness, then followed it up with some comment about the twins or triplets or dodecatulpets I was storing inside, then followed THAT up with some OTHER comment, usually a choked expression of disbelief that I was only actually storing just the one. (NO WAY!! Are you SURE? Have you had an ultrasound? You have?!? I don’t believe it! Snort. Really? Ha! Gasp. Spit. Wow! HAHAHAHA.) This Emphatic Hugeness did not prevent me from playing basketball at the hoop that came with the house that my late husband, my large belly and I had just moved into. It was a habit I assumed in the hopes that all the repeat hoppity motion would perhaps joggle the baby out of its inertia and down the birth canal with a nice, wet, swift, gurgling whoosh.

Of course no audible whooshing occurred in the birthing of that baby or the two who followed. For a time, as the kids were growing, the three-story house shrank in size, filling up with the kids and their friends and their noises. Then they began to grow up and past the phase when all their friends, as well as their noises, spent so much time at home. They started to live some of their lives under roofs less steep. Then their father died, and the older two whooshed themselves right out of the house for most of the school year, and the resultant sucking sound almost deafened me. My youngest and I have managed pretty well; in the last several months I’ve become accustomed to schlepping and shopping and cooking for two, and we have our little nightly routines. He’s good company. I’m not complaining.

But it’s all so strange and novel, just as everything at every point in parenting is all so strange and novel. We use the word “newborn” to describe that squirming thing of beauty we rock and feed in our arms, but since when do our children stop being new, stop being born? When is loving them and watching them grow NOT a revelation? When is saying goodbye to them NOT a stab in the heart? People talk about the “empty nest” stage as though every stop short of it isn’t a major life adjustment. The first time you set them down for naps and leave the room: that’s killer. Then you hand them off to a baby sitter. Drop the dribble-nosed urchins at preschool. Kiss their heads, inhaling that sweet powdery perfume of childhood, on their first day of kindergarten. Say goodbye to them at summer camp. Trust their chaperones on an overnight field trip. Trust your teens behind the wheel when they first get their license. Watch them graduate high school. Watch them move into college. Watch them leave. Wait for their return.

One day they flock home, and the house fills up again with the kids and their friends and their noises — until, late at night, they curl up on their beds and breathe under a single roof.

It’s happening right now. And it’s huge.

at arthur’s seat

photo (42)
Last week, visiting my oldest on her semester abroad, my kids and I hiked Arthur’s Seat — the hill that looms like a mountain in the middle of Edinburgh. As we hoofed along the leafy path to its periphery, I thought of my last visit there in 1986 — at the close of a post-college year spent living, teaching, eating chips and tripping on cobblestone in the lovely gray eminence nicknamed Auld Reekie.

My sister Lucy had flown in for my last week in Edinburgh, and I brought her up Arthur’s Seat for one last view of that ancient and spooky and perpetually damp city. Heading back down, I almost died. I’m not exaggerating. When I say I almost died, I mean I LITERALLY ALMOST DIED, by which I mean I nearly fell +/- 800 feet down a near-vertical sandy face into a roadway. I’m certain I would have LITERALLY ENTIRELY DIED had Lucy not talked me down from a second height and a steeper one, my own vertiginous panic.

I was scrabbling at the sand and brush — madly, uselessly — after taking a wrong and wrongheaded shortcut down from the summit. For some reason, I won’t even attempt to explain why, I didn’t want to return by the proper footpath. And I wasn’t just scrabbling; I was scrabbling one-handed, as my left hand was busily gripping my precious umbrella. Early on during my year there I had learned not to leave the house without my brollie, and we had bonded, the two of us. We were inseparable. It was my best friend. I refused to leave it behind.

“Ame,” Lucy said. “Ame. Let go of the umbrella.”

No. I wouldn’t. No. I had bought it at a shop off Princes Street, and it was covered with sheep, and I wanted to bring it home with me. No.

“Ame. Let go.”


As my hand and feet slid against the sand and loose brush on the face of Arthur’s Seat, I started shouting. Hyperventilating. Freaking the hell out.

“Ame,” Lucy said again. She sounded calm. Facing the same sheer crag with the same loose dirt, the woman who had struggled for years with the urge to kill herself was relaxed and in control. Hundreds of feet below us, a police car pulled to the side. Two dots emerged and started waving their arms, an unmistakable gesture that said: GO BACK, DUMBASSES. IF YOU DON’T, YOU’LL LITERALLY ENTIRELY DIE.

“Ame. It’s okay. Slow down. Breathe normally.”

I can’t breathe normally.

“You can. You can.”

I tried.

“Now, see that bush? The one up there, by your head? Grab it. Let go of the umbrella and grab it.”

I wouldn’t let go of the umbrella. I wouldn’t.

“Grab it.”

I grabbed it, still clutching the umbrella.

“Ame. Now slowly. Use your other hand to grab that root over there. Pull up.”

I can’t.

“You can.”

I did. In this manner, one root and shrub at a time, she talked me up and away from danger. At the top I thanked her for saving my life, and she laughed. “No, I didn’t.” Yes, she did. She did. We both knew that she did. She saved my life.

Had I only been able to do the same for her six years later, when she swallowed a shitload of meds and curled up on her bed to die. Then she might have joined me on my return to Arthur’s Seat last week. She might have laughed at the summit with her “Little Amys,” a term coined by her shrink for the children he hoped I would have someday — anchors in the world for her to love. When I got married, he wanted me to start popping out babies immediately. He thought they might keep her alive.

A year and a half after Lucy’s suicide, my oldest was born. She never got to meet her Little Amys.

On an impossibly sunny afternoon, no brollie in hand, I emerged from the woods opposite Arthur’s Seat and stood at the base, staring at that same, sandy cliff, while my three miracles horsed around below. I asked them: Did I ever tell you guys the story about hiking Arthur’s Seat with Aunt Lucy? I had, but it was worth telling again. And as I did, it hit me: They wouldn’t be here if Lucy hadn’t talked me down that day. These Little Amys would never have been born. In a way, she had as much to do with their presence on this world as I did. Her role in their lives was just as generous, just as loving, just as real, and no matter that she never mussed their hair or pressed her lips to their foreheads.

I stood there weeping, but only for a moment. The kids asked if I was okay. Yes, yes, I assured them. I’m just grateful. I said a quiet thank-you to Lucy, picturing her bright purply-blue eyes and springy black mass of hair, and then hiked with my children to the summit. Auld Reekie looked as lovely as ever. Heading back down, we stuck to the path.

just doin’ my job

photo (41)Every now and then, I threaten to embarrass my children. I don’t often carry through on this threat, although I’ve inadvertently embarrassed them plenty over the years. Which is fine. As their mother, it’s my job to make them cringe on occasion. More than my job, it’s my duty, my métier, my calling. Singing in public once sufficed to embarrass them. Singing behind the wheel at a red light along with some moronic, auto-tuney, overproduced pop song while writhing to the beat in herky-jerkalicious nerd-o-mom convulsions still suffices, although they swear it doesn’t.

They also swear they HAVE NO MEMORY of those many times, recalled quite vividly by moi, when I and/or their late father danced in public. I remember doing so at the Victorian Stroll in downtown Troy one December. Right on Second Street, I think it was. The sight apparently caused the three of them so much physical and psychic pain that they blocked the memory for good, or at least until they undergo hypnotic regression therapy at the age of 50. (I see. . . my mother. . . . shaking her booty. . . near a hairy old man in jingle bells. . . someone, help me. . . )

I haven’t danced in the street in a while. What I do enjoy, on occasion, is expressing a desire to purchase some hideously awful item of clothing, especially shoewear, with the suggestion that I might actually walk around near people in it. I had some fun back in the mid-2000s when I declared an interest in purchasing rocker-bottom sneakers, and I was so convincing in this declaration that my No. 2 daughter howled NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO until her eyes bled. I think. Or something like that. It was a little scary. And then, if I recall correctly, she made me participate in a pagan blood oath with sharp kitchen implements while I throat-sang I PROMISE NOT TO BUY SKECHERS SHAPE-UPS in Tuvan overtones.

I never did buy them. But last week, I was with her when  I saw this awesome pair of Adidas hi-tops, and I mean awesome, all tan and suede and ringed with fringe. Fringe! No fooling! On a pair of sneakers! David Crockett’s own, baby! Who wouldn’t want to wear those things?

Oooooooohhhh, I said as though I meant it (and I’m not saying whether I did). Ooooohhhh, look at these! I want them! I need them! I’m gonna buy them! Yes!

And my No 2. daughter howled NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. I think. Or something like that. Although her eyes didn’t bleed this time. Also, this time she added, just in case I didn’t get the point: MOM. IF YOU BUY THOSE, I WILL BURN THEM.

I didn’t buy them. The shoes had already served their purpose — and I’d already done my job.







On Sunday I saw Daughter No. 2 off to college. It was nuts. I mean, it wasn’t nuts — this wasn’t aberrant or unsettled behavior, and aside from the traffic heading into Manhattan, it wasn’t likely to incite violence — but on the other hand, it was nuts. These separations from my children always feel nuts. It felt nuts seeing Daughter No. 1 off to Ecuador for her gap year, nuts seeing her off to college 12 months later. For that matter, it was nuts seeing both of them, and their younger brother, too, off to pre-K. It was nuts kissing their moist heads, inhaling their fresh, intoxicating eau de enfant, and leaving them for the first time with a babysitter. It was nuts each time I left one of them in a crib and shut the door for the night. Nuts.

From the moment of spasmodically painful, downright sloppy and altogether ludicrous squirting-out that we call birth, we’re ripped in two by the seismic rupture that violently separates mothers from children. We spend nine months carrying them around, caring for their every need, feeling their every jolt of an elbow or heel inside us, and then: boom. They leave. It’s awful. And beautiful. And awful. And life-changing. And awful. And nuts.

Parental love is truly a form of madness. It changes everything. It alters your view of the world, your ordering of priorities, your reason for being, your definition of love, your willingness to fight and live and die for another human being, and your tolerance for Barney, sleeplessness, Barney, screaming, Barney, vomit, pee and shit. Not to mention your tolerance for getting vomited, peed and shat on. Simultaneously. On three and a half hours of sleep. While watching Barney. And loving every minute of it, even when you’re not.

The days of shit and Barney don’t seem so long ago. The tug of an infant at my breast, the scrape of a stroller against pavement, the scare of a burning forehead in the middle of the night: these aren’t memories. They’re presences — pressing, pulling, sensory realities with a weight and force that remind me, as if I could forget, that my love for my children is more solid and immutable than the aging frame that bore them.

Hugging my daughter goodbye on Sunday, I held her face in my hands as I hadn’t since she was tiny, and I marveled — as I so often do when I regard my kids — that a creature of such beauty entered the world through me. What if I’d refused to let her go, way back when? What if I’d shut the gate and barred her from passage? Would she still be stuck inside me?

I had to let her out. I had to let her leave me. I couldn’t make her stay.

But still. It’s nuts.