"If you could reinvent yourself, what would you be?"

My neighbor asked me this last night at one of our frequent summer street parties. She's a teacher, now in an 18-month principal internship program, and I was envious of her. Not so much that I want to be a school teacher, or a school principal, but I deeply respect those jobs and what I envy most is her clear sense of direction. I listed some interests for her - things I can do - and she said "There are a lot of skills there!"

"I don't know," I finally said in answer to her question. "I don't know."

Next week I turn 38. 38 feels a little late to become a marine biologist (a fantasy dream in college) or an environmental lawyer (a mid-20s aspiration) or a professional artist (the high school plan) or an income-producing writer (always, but I've always ruled it out after talking to writers).

At a crossroads, wanting to find the next right path, I find myself, asking.


grass seed

At the garden store, he plugs the display fountains with his little fingers until new streams of water are forged out of the old, new streams that hit him squarely in the eye, which only makes him stumble backwards briefly and do it again. Soon his yellow t-shirt is soaked and the top of his overalls. His golden curls are dripping fountain water onto his full cheeks and jowls that hang softly off his hidden jawline like those of a small bear. He gives a little shriek and forces the water to hit his palm this time and jut out in all directions, providing a light shower to the potted plants and smiling pig sculptures around him, as well as his chest and impossibly small shoulders. A concrete frog sits zazen near his knee.  He learned these new skills under the tutelage of his sister, who promptly abandoned her observant apprentice to catch a butterfly spotted by a little boy whose mother scolded him to leave it alone.

I, of course, do no such thing, but I am thrilled about this chaste mother's restraint, so my little girl can catch it bare-fingered and traipse into the clay-pots section to show it off to Daddy. I can't let her out of my sight, so I scoop up my little wet guy and carry him inside under my arm, like a piece of luggage. He grins and drips on the floor like an errant washcloth.

Later in the yard, watering the new grass seed bought from the garden store and planted in rich handfuls by two muddy children, they get truly wet in the hose, the little one getting the hang of aiming  right at his sister while she screams and runs and he bears down hard on the trigger. Their screams and laughs in the late afternoon linger through bath time and bed time and beyond, in my dreams, of them swinging in the yard one day when the grass comes in. "Give it just a few weeks," says my husband, "to give it time to grow."


It's a Zoo Out There. Or is it a Circus?

OK, I thought my daughter's brilliance would transcend class barriers. I admit it. It sounds strange when you read the whole sentence, but when we got this really bright child, who at three weeks old I was fairly convinced was an intellectual and social prodigy, some part of my brain concluded that I no longer had to think of myself as belonging to a class, because I was now attached to a social exception. I'm not sure I was ever aware of that conclusion, but I couldn't deny it when this particular conclusion fell apart on Saturday as we hung out at the circus.

Not the circus perse -- that was its own mix of economic lust, pressure and freedom -- but the lobby of the circus. This lobby, really just a glorified tent corner, offered something more than Rihanna on the speakers and boxes of $10 light-up butterfly wands and stands with popcorn and cotton candy -- it offered one of those very, very rare moments in which children who are truly of different classes can stand among one another, just fleetingly. And in that moment, my hands on the little shoulders of my brilliant daughter, who by the way had dressed nicely for the circus yet suddenly looked like a wild rat compared to the very upper class children looking back at us - I came face to face with all my teeth-gnashing interior monologues about private vs. public school, expectations about the meaning of success, my unshakeable belief in my scrappy ability to figure out how to see the world from any perspective I feel like, including that of the profoundly rich -  because these kids just looked different. Already. Their hair….their skin…their eyes….something they radiated that was smooth and polished and nervous and pampered….what was it about them?

I felt a mix of emotions, ranging from unkempt and morose to lucky and proud; I channeled multiple personal influences, from my dad to Marx to Caitlin Moran; and I gaped in astonishment because, for all my thinking that we could send our sweet pea to private school and launch her on her brilliant way, I realized that she was already a product of us, whatever we are, and no matter how scrappy and self-determining I am, I cannot turn out a daughter that smooth, polished, serene, removed, buffed, puffed, ruling, calmly ruling, but with a little fear of these common people, especially the mother of the girls, how she had a little fear too. She looked around nervously, a little gleam of perspiration through her makeup made of gold, or whatever. And that's the thing we don't have, true, even when we should have it. We don't have that fear of other people. So I thought of that, and I thought of Obama, and Steve Jobs, and whoever defines success without being born into great wealth, and I took my daughter's hand and we just danced to what was pumping out of the speakers. She waved her butterfly wand in the air and shook her hair and kicked her feet around her and relished being on the very edge
the circus


The Movie

“Mama, I really want to see the movie, but if the next theater is sold out too, we could just take da train!” This was my daughter coping with disappointment. Her little face fell yesterday as I slowly comprehended and then explained that our race to the theater to see her first movie ever in a theater was for naught as the movie was sold out.  While she mulled gloomily over this news, the smell of popcorn wafting in through the doors, I called my husband, at home with our napping toddler, so we could do simultaneous web searches for an alternative. On his advice, I decided to take her to a theater in Cambridge so run-down and neglected that I’d vowed never to go there again. “I don’t know if you’ll like this, honey – it’s not a theater that I think is that great.”

“Oh mama,” she said breathlessly as she trotted alongside me back to the car, “I’ve never been in a theater so it is OK if it is not as good – for me it is still good!” There was my just-turned-5-year-old again bearing her resilience.

“And we could always take the train!” “You don’t want to go to the movie?” “Oh, I do, I really want to go Mama, and I want us to go to another theater to find it…but if that one is sold out too and we can’t go today, we can just take a train ride.” She was reassuring me, squeezing my hand, offering another special thing we could do with a rare girls’ afternoon out.

We bought the tickets, hung around for an hour, and finally made it into the run-down theater (now with new ownership and new seats, thank goodness). She was too little to sit in the seats and still see the screen. But that was OK too. “I’ll just sit in your lap Mama” she declared after trying out seats in the back ten rows as I watched her silently from my seat in the middle of the theater. She’d already explained her calculus on rejecting the front half of the theater – “then I’ll have to look too far up” – so I knew she was busy calculating the gradient of the floor and the height of the seats. Oh, and people in them. I’d told her she could see from her seat just fine, but she’d accurately predicted the challenges of the future state “I can see now Mama but not when people come and sit in the seats.”

She sat bolt upright on my lap the whole time, full of laughs. The 30s-era Mickey Mouse cartoon made her laugh more than anything. But when the movie ("Frozen") started, she was immersed in it. Later on the car ride home, she said “Mama when I watched the movie, I felt like I was IN the movie!”

From her early questions “Why do dey call it a movie if you just sit dere?” “Well, people in pictures didn’t used to MOVE…” to her blissful smile as we left the theater to her gentle correction of my misworded recitation of a joke in the movie “Yeah, that was SO so funny…he said ‘I like it even more now!’” I was reminded of what it is like to experience something whole for the first time. Wholly new. And what a joy to be with someone so inquisitive, so alive, that every artistic, mathematical, or process experience in front of her is open to question. But the best part is, she's always got a way to make things work out.


Breathe, Believe, Receive: It's All Happening

There were a few moments today that I was near tears. It was my day with the kids, and one of them is running away as fast as he can as soon as his feet hit the ground. The epitome of dangerous beauty, he looks at you with those big deep eyes just before running off in the direction of a passing truck, or airplane, sounds he responds to on some level of operation that is beyond me. Nothing is just noise to him; it is all interesting, compelling, mysterious. Just as our girl used to hear firetrucks on the same frequency as a dog, literally a minute before I could hear them, he hears planes. Trucks. Birds. The world is awake to him, and he is awake to the world.

But me, I'm his keeper, and I'm tired. Our plumbing emergency happened 24 hours before our Weekday Dinner Party For Spousal International Colleagues, and it happened that the only person who was "available" to both manage the plumbers and procure ingredients and cook dinner was me. While caring for the small ones. Not only that, but the car was in service to the dinner party as well, and I'd be biking the kids to gymnastics.

I'd been asking my husband to worry less about every plate and bowl matching (we are out of practice for having a larger sit-down dinner due to the kids being under age 5) and experience gratitude for being able to have utensils, food, children, a house, interesting people to come to it. But it was something I struggled with too. I have been dieting, and the hunger that persists throughout my days, strongest in the late morning and late afternoon, often sharpens my senses but also makes me pointy in ways that hurt me - sometimes more so as I pour extra energy into trying to be gracious and receptive to my two little beauties. My internal critic gets a little tougher, my fears a little edgier. I have to calm her. I did battle with my own thoughts today. I obsessed about the potential for car accidents and other calamities. "I'm feeling vulnerable, " I thought intentionally, using a tool I learned in O Magazine. It worked. For a full minute.

My day had begun at 6 am, planning out a complicated presentation on leadership I need to make in a few days. The hardest presentations are those that occur in a quiet room between you and one other person - a hard critic who knows you very well. I need to be ready.  I was at my computer when Pea came down in the morning for breakfast, and as she pulled up a stool next to me she said, "You're working NOW? Good." I asked her, and confirmed, that she was glad because she thought me working now meant I was more likely to play with her during our one slack time of the day, the baby's nap time. Immediate Mama guilt. I'm part-time so I can be with her, but what if her main "bonus" experience of me is me ignoring her?

That afternoon, as I was chopping potatoes for the dinner party, watching my daughter play with the plumber's dog in the backyard, fall leaves drifting into her hair, her laughter inaudible through the glass but sparkling visually in the sunshine, my plumber and his assistant were drilling into the wall, chipping off the new molding to reveal a punctured pipe shattered ten months ago by a nail gun. A nail plugging the hole corroded slowly over ten months, metal destroyed by water in tiny increments, and we never knew until that one moment when water flooded onto the basement floor. It just happened to be on November 5. How many other parts of life are like that now, change happening literally under your own feet until you can't ignore it? When you have two children changing constantly, vividly, in technicolor, so much it hurts to rip your eyes off of them, for your boss on email, for your husband's colleagues at your dinner table, happy, sad, in love or not, uncertain or confident, their feelings a flood of the moment, you can't pay too much attention; change is absorbed into motherhood; and because you have to block it out, you can't shake the feeling that the changes happening around you are going to catch up with you.

It was the same feeling I had last Friday, when my boss told me she was taking a different position. After 5.5 years of reporting to her, I've gotten pretty used to it. Maybe I've never been used to it - she's tough - but I always liked it. It's weird to think of taking the risks I take at work without her.

I looked up from the dog/girl scene to the leaves framing the blue sky and wondered how people living in places without seasons prepare for death. Is the East Coast darker, more sardonic, not because we have winter, but because we have the repetitive death of things we love in a gorgeous explosion of color? I swear that on Monday, driving the kids to Drumlin, I saw trees that looked like someone found the "on" switch. It was if light burst out from within them. But now everything is ending. All the life and joy and warm slow afternoons at the river. And when it starts again we'll all be older and different.

I was playing the Talking Heads for Joe, the plumber, and his assistant, Jessie, while they chipped off parts of the wall. Well, I was just playing it, because my daughter has started requesting them lately, and then Joe started singing along, and then I told him some of it was recorded in Maynard, and he told me about his kids, and insisted I was born in the 80s, and I told him I was 37, and anyway. I had a mountain of potatoes to chop. And it was when the three of us were listening to Mesopotamia after he asked me not to laugh but said the Talking Heads made him think of the B-52s, and soon we were cruising the album and singing "why won't you dance with me!!" ---it was around then that he said, from his position curled on the bathroom floor, "I'm having fun."

And I thought, you know, we're just three adults, dealing with what we have to deal with in this day, making the choices we can, doing the shit we need to do, and there are a lot of good things nestled in there, like when my son just wouldn't go down for his nap and instead chose to toddle over to the couch, choose a book called "Slide and Peek," and toddle back to snuggle into my lap, giggling and comfy, with his bottle tucked in his mouth. When he was crying in a room upstairs, I felt unhappy, but when kissing the top of his impossibly soft blond head, I felt...well, I felt gratitude.


Vermont 2013

Tree pose among the trees
We're reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at night
And listening to ravens by day
It turns out that
 the kind of balance I need
Is just more time with my little boy

Cause everyone else is an expert at getting my attention
And he is an expert at knowing his own mind
And it's a fleeting time to sleep wrapped up in his arms and he in mine
His full cheeks and lips at their vacation softest
In the room where he first smiled

So when they put me on a horse named Little Boy
It made sense that we would click
Both of us wanting a run up the mountainside
But him wanting it his way
And me wanting him to have his way without being too crazy
And so we ran
I asked and He ran and I held on
More accurately
 Falling fog

Lifting deer

Autumn haunting the treetops

But untouched ferns on the ground. And rocks all around.


The memory palace

I've been thinking a lot lately about memory. I am not on Facebook, but sometimes I get glimpses of old friends through the windows of my friend's accounts. I even reached out to someone, my old friend Molly, through a friend's account, but when she didn't respond I was reminded of why I don't like Facebook. For someone like me it creates more questions than it answers. And I already have lots  of questions.

The chief among them is almost a regret, at least on the surface. Why didn't I kiss more people? As a joyfully married mother, I look back and see an earlier version of myself who was scared of her sexuality. People who were delightful who were drawn to me were just friends I declined to know in that way, and while I look back on my early twenties and respect how I didn't want to ruin, or even threaten, friendships, I also have to face the facts of my life: there was a massive influx of people from 14-24,  when we all just trying to figure it out. And then the population in my life narrowed rapidly as I fell in love with my husband. It wasn't intentional. But I had a certain amount of energy, and by my mid twenties, I only wanted to devote it to a thriving, sparkling future full of love and joy.

Was that so wrong? When I think about it in the broadest terms, this question is the same as a more current one: why don't I take more risks?

Of course, I did kiss people. And I do take risks. I bike commute with children, for instance. I lead very visible projects at work. I teach fitness classes every week for which I do little prep and just go with it in front of dozens of people. With a mic. Even spending two days a week with my kids is a risk, and sometimes it feels too big.

But like the kissing, I think I let my fears of the unknown get the better of me during a narrow little window into life during which I might have learned even more and had even more fun. And now the stakes are higher: babies, careers, marriage. But I don't want to be ruled by fear. The stakes for that are high too.

I also have memories trickling through my consciousness like a clear stream that turns suddenly  away from the rest of the picture. When Jessica and I arrived in Harvard Square as teenagers, what were we doing? When my dear friend Chris Corsano met me at the bus station with a cardboard sign bearing my name, where we going? I don't even know how we all communicated before email.  I have glimpses into the relationships that made up my life. But I never have the whole picture. Now I am engaged in a near-desperate race against time to hold on to every passing minute of the childhoods of our son and daughter, who are growing so quickly that I can barely keep track. Already I look back at the most precious moments on vacation with  my girl, and I have lost what's happened when she was a toddler.

Most of the time, I just let these memories come back, let myself live apart from the Facebook memories, and have dance parties with the kids as often as possible. But when the time is right, I might give them some advice in college: don't be afraid to kiss people!