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Life, Love, and Lunacy in the Big Easy.

Updated: 2016-04-05T06:11:26.450-05:00


To Evan, Who is Seven


My sweet boy--Last night I watched you fall asleep, clutching your big red Clifford, your face hidden under the mop of blond hair that we've let grow long this summer, Quinto cuddled up close next to you.  You were so excited about your birthday that I thought you'd never fall asleep, but you drifted off quickly and I lay there trying to process the fact that you would be seven years old today.Seven years old.  It's the the tiredest phrase in the parental lexicon, isn't it--but I'll be damned if it doesn't feel so painfully true that it seems like only yesterday that you were born, at 5:42 pm at Touro hospital, during an episode of Seinfeld (sorry, I needed the distraction).  You cried for a moment and then you settled into my arms and we watched each other and you were perfect, of course.  You fit perfectly.At 7, you are still a tiny person; I can still pick you up, and Sydney can still carry you around on her back.  You love to play soccer and at some point over the past year the Jesters coaches started referring to you as "Bossman," which is hilarious and adorable.  I love watching you strut onto the field in the team jersey you won during a World Cup party.  This year you started taking ballet, and ohmygod do I love watching you dance.  As I expected, you have a natural, graceful strength, and you love dancing and performing.  You adamantly deny this, but I suspect that you also love being the only boy in class (oh, how those little girls adore you).First grade was a tough year for you; you're one of the younger kids in class and you struggled with learning to read, and with the demands of being in a large class (32 kids!) with 2 teachers and so much going on all the time.  We had some homework tears, and you started to say things like "I'm not good at school" and "I'm not smart," which broke my heart.  But we developed some tactics and you hung in there.  I won't forget the night I walked into your room and found you reading a Magic Tree House book all by yourself--you were so proud.  I was, too.At 7, you are opinionated and outspoken, mischievous and silly.  You ninja fight and sing pop songs with your sisters.  You have zero tolerance for bullshit and have become quite particular about the kids you will hang out with (for the record, this is perfectly fine with me).  If a kid lies, you want nothing to do with him.  If a kid teases, no way.  Your best friend is still James, your first friend, and when the two of you get together it's like you have a secret language.  He's more rough-and-tumble than you, but I think you like that, and the fact that you can be your sensitive self with him and he will respond to it.  Your other best friend is Ben, with whom you share a love of all things electronic, and a sweet sensitivity.  You love your friends completely and intensely, and talk about them constantly when they're not with you.  You would do anything for them and to defend them.  True to your sign, you have the heart of a lion: noble and fierce.A few weeks ago you had a nightmare about "a lady with one black hand and one white hand who was trying to take me away" and since then, you don't like to be alone anywhere.  Not in the bathroom, not upstairs when everyone is downstairs and vice versa, and certainly not at night when it's time to go to sleep.  You insist that someone lay with you while you fall asleep and most nights I internally resist--I'm so tired, I have work left to do, I haven't had dinner yet--but I love those moments.  You have a gajillion blankets and stuffed animals piled on your bed and we snuggle into them and your little hand--still padded with the last remnants of baby fat--finds mine in the dark and you whisper "I love you, Mama" and Evan, there is nothing I love more than this.  I know that I can't protect you from everything, but I can love you with everything I have, with every part and piece of me; I can help you navigate a world that isn't always open to sen[...]

To Evan, On Your 6th Birthday


Evan,We spent the day today in Daytona, at Aunt Kate's new house with the brand new pool that was just ready this afternoon.  In the morning we went to Daytona Lagoon and got wristbands to play for as long as we wanted: laser tag, rock climbing, go karts and a thing called "Island Hopper" which made everyone's tummies feel funny. Then we came home and opened presents and busted the pinata and ate cake and ice cream and swam in the brand new pool.  Tonight, when I tucked you in, I asked you what your favorite thing was and you said "I don't have a favorite thing.  Everything was the best thing ever."Everything was the best thing ever.  This sums up your personality perfectly: you are such a happy boy, so in love with life and with people, so willing to face your fears (you're deathly afraid of heights, so the rock climbing wall was a challenge), such a Leo.  You started kindergarten this year, one of the youngest kids at a big, brand new school, without your best friends, and you learned what you needed to learn and got stickers in dance class and made friends with all of the 4th and 5th grade girls, which is not only adorable but a brilliant survival tactic.  You still play soccer and though you hate to lose, you're starting to understand teamwork. You love to collect tiny things and to play Minecraft, and you talk constantly.  You are tiny in stature, but have a gigantic personality.I thought a lot this week about the time leading up to when you were born, the anticipation and the imaginings.  Everyone told me that raising a boy would bring much less anxiety than raising a girl.  I accepted this as truth, because it made sense: girls are notoriously susceptible to relational aggression, body image issues, etc., and the mother-daughter relationship is always fraught.  And you were such a calm, easy baby, and have become such a kind, gregarious child, that it would be easy for me to continue to believe this.  But instead, I've come to notice your nuances of character, the things that surprise me, and pierce the narrative I've constructed.You love to dance.  You have the physique, light and muscular, and you are never as engaged and attentive as when you're dancing.  And yet, you're opposed to taking ballet because "ballet is for girls."  We can and will negotiate that treacherous and complicated territory, but there's a bigger picture here: boys can't do what girls do, at least not without some serious consideration and most likely, some real consequences. This has been a hard and scary lesson for me, because I want to protect you.  Because you are an incredibly sensitive child, easily wounded and deeply compassionate, but savvy enough to hide it from nearly everyone.  Because the world--at least our little world--does not yet make room for sensitive boys who love My Little Pony and Ninja Turtles and ballet dancing.  At least not without a fight.And so I worry.  Perhaps excessively.  Okay, definitely excessively, but I try hard not to let it effect my behavior and choices.  Right now, and for the last several months, you have a small red mark on your cheek, right under your right eye (a broken capillary, the scourge of the fair-skinned), and your peers often comment on it: "What'd you do to your eye?" "What's wrong with your cheek?"  "What's that thing on your face?"  And Dr. M said it was nothing to worry about, but gave me the name of a pediatric dermatologist who could zap it off with a laser (awesome).  I was planning to make the appointment when we got back from Florida, but the other night when I was putting you to bed you said "Mama, would you still think I'm cute if I didn't have my red spot?" and I thought that maybe I had misjudged the whole thing.Because you are strong and confident and fiery; you are both self-conscious and rebellious.  You're all Leo, full of contradictions.  You won't look me in the eye when I talk seriously to you, but you'll crawl into my [...]

To Sydney, On Your 8th Birthday


My sweet girl,You are eight years old today.  This morning you corrected me when I told you that I couldn't believe you were eight; you said "I'm not quite eight yet, Mom, because I was born at night."  Fair enough.  But you are intellectually generous and so you paused and looked at me and said, "Well, I guess for all intents and purposes, I am eight."  And then we laughed, together, as we often do when you use big words and fancy phrases.You have grown so much this year.  You're taller and leaner, so strong and physical; you play soccer at recess every day (though you're growing frustrated because none of your female classmates will play with you), and you're in your last season of U-8.  You're mad at me for not moving you up to U-10 this season.  This summer, you flew to Florida by yourself and went to surf camp with Ethan, and you were catching waves by the second day.  You went to horseback riding camp and were such a natural that they assigned you to your own horse, Buttercup, and made you camper of the week.  You are athletic and brave and constantly in motion.  I'm sorry I fuss at you so much for all the couch gymnastics.You've grown to love mysteries, especially the Encyclopedia Brown series.  You're a voracious reader.  You and your friend Josie have decided that you want to open a "spa and relaxation center" on the Mississippi River, so when you get together you practice by setting up a massage and guided imagery studio in her bedroom. You like to sing and often conduct entire conversations with me in libretto. Your patience with Evan has grown immensely, and in turn he's began to allow you to nurture him a bit; the rest of that energy is spent on your hamster (Milkshake) and your baby dolls.  I hope you always love your baby dolls.But your biggest change this year has been internal.  Over the last year, you've developed a calm assuredness, a self-possession that is markedly different from the in-your-face confidence you've always exhibited.  You speak to adults, now, not just in response to their questions or comments, but spontaneously--you ask them questions, you offer details about yourself and your life, you express your thoughts and opinions.  It's hard to explain how extraordinary this is to witness; it's like the unfolding of your true self, the person who is discerning and inquisitive and thoughtful, who is truly interested in always going deeper, who loves people immensely and isn't afraid to demonstrate it.I've written stuff before about your generosity and the intense love you have for the people in your life, but it always takes me by surprise.  One of your old teachers from Abeona House is moving to Houston, and when I told you this you cried and cried and cried.  Later that day, you came to me and asked if we could go to the craft store to get supplies for a "special project" you wanted to make.  And so you spent the days leading up to Ms. Aliza's going-away party painting and decorating a small wooden box, which you brought to the party, instructing guests to write love notes on the small pieces of glittery cardstock you'd prepared, and you had them sign the inside with a special marker.  What an beautiful gift you made for your teacher, despite your own sadness.  You are the most beautiful gift I could ever imagine.You've developed a rich inner life; sometimes you prefer to be alone, to work on art projects or read or play with your stuffed animals or do "science" experiments (I've learned that it's better if I don't ask).  I was worried about this for a minute, as you've always liked a lot of one-on-one attention, but I understand now that this goes hand-in-hand with your self-assuredness.  It's the enrichment of that inner life that's enabled you to connect more deeply with others.  It's also served you well in your academic pursuits.  At a recent conference, your teacher told us that you asked to create a "quiet s[...]

To Evan, On Your 5th Birthday


My sweet boy,Last night, as we lay in your bottom bunk after reading stories, you made up a game wherein you moved your arms into various poses and my task was to mimic the pose as quickly as possible.  True to form, your poses quickly became silly, exaggerated, goofy, and when we were both good and giggly you stopped, put your palms on my cheeks, put your little nose right up against mine and whispered "How about we just stay like this, Mama?  I like just being close to you."I hear parents talk all the time about how they don't want their kids to grow up; how they wish they could stop time; how quickly kids grow up and then the sweet moments are gone forever, lost in the ether of memory and nostalgia.  I've never really felt that way.  I've enjoyed every bit of your young life, and am excited to think about who you'll be five, ten, twenty years from now.  But I must admit, moments like those make me almost desperate to freeze time, to hit pause, to take and stretch them out as wide and far and long as I possibly can.Because you are an absolutely amazing child.  You are affectionate and snuggly; you love to hug and kiss and cuddle and wrestle, and you like to offer backrubs, which feel like a tiny bird prancing across my shoulders (you're also very gentle).  You're very silly and have a keen and sometimes offbeat sense of humor.  A few months ago, Sydney was on a knock-knock joke kick; in the car one day on the drive home from school, you chimed in from the backseat: "Knock knock." Who's there? we answered.  "Camel." Camel who? "That camel is an asshole."Yes, you also have a bit of a potty mouth.  Not sure where you get that.  And no, there was not a camel in sight.You started playing soccer last year, and even though you are small in stature, you're quick and have incredible control.  If you get the ball at your feet, you're taking it all the way to the goal.  You are fiercely competitive (again, not sure where you get that) and if you don't score as many goals as you think you should, you often become inconsolable.  We're working on this, but my hunch is that you have the heart and mind of an athlete, and will learn to cope with the wins and losses.Your favorite things are your friend James, pizza, visiting family in Florida, your sister, Legos, ninjas, donuts,superheroes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, dancing, and board games.  You don't like swimming, or grapes, or wearing pants, or the song "Eleanor Rigby," because it fills your head with sad thoughts about all the lonely people.  You like to problem-solve, to help, and that song is about resignation and helpless observation, which you abhor, even at this young age.You recently acquired a Roborovski (dwarf) hamster and you named her Sugar Cookie (Sugar for short).  Your middle name is Manning but you want to change it to "Cool Dude." All of your stuffed animals are named Evan.Next week is your last week at Abeona House.  You really love your school and your teachers and friends--you're particularly disappointed that you're leaving just as the brand new playground is being constructed--and it's difficult to imagine you at another place, but I think you'll handle this new experience the way you've handled others: with curiosity and confidence and a sweet vulnerability. In just a couple of weeks you'll be off to kindergarten, a big boy at Big School, toting your newly-acquired Angry Birds backpack that is absolutely gigantic on your tiny shoulders.  I'm going to try really hard not to be that mom on your first day.  I am going to try.I remember with such clarity the evening you were born.  You were so calm, seemed so confident and relaxed from the very beginning.  I remember the first night, when the nurse came and offered to take you for a couple of hours so that I could sleep, and though I let her, I didn't want to.  I didn't need to; it felt so right to have you here with [...]

Be Kind


Early Sunday morning, I left my grandmother's house for the last time; it was the house where I spent a large portion of my childhood, wandering the hot, quiet residential sidewalks, swimming in the YMCA pool, chasing grasshoppers in the backyard. The house has been sold and we went there to say goodbye. I rose before dawn that morning for a last run on the neighborhood trail, and choked back tears as I packed the car.  Just before turning onto the highway, I realized I didn't have any cash for the toll roads, so I made a u-turn in search of an ATM.  Stopping at a red light, I noticed a bank to my right; as I was in the left lane, I flipped on the turn signal and gestured to the woman in the car next to me--gave her the universal signal for "I have found myself in the wrong lane.  May I turn in front of you when the light changes?"Her reaction astonished me.  Instead of waving me on, or simply ignoring my request, she went into a wild, exaggerated pantomime of acquiescence: throwing her arms out in front of her, sweeping them around.  Then she rolled down and her window and shouted "You fucking idiot!  Just go on ahead, don't mind the rest of us."  And all the while my children watched from the backseat, confused and horrified.I was already on the verge of disrepair, struggling to contain the emotional upheaval of the week's goodbyes, and her behavior pierced me.  In response to my children's queries, I simply responded "She's probably having a bad day."But the thing is, no matter how bad my day is, I don't do things like that.  It never occurs to me to act with cruelty and derision, especially to a total stranger.  And the whole encounter got me thinking about the origins of cruelty, and how incredibly easy it is to pass down to our children.A few weeks before, sitting at another red light somewhere in Uptown, I spotted a man running on the streetcar line; he was dressed absurdly, and his gait was wild, and I chuckled to myself.  Sydney--who I have come to believe is constantly watching my every move--asked what I was laughing at and without thinking, I told her.  And then I caught her expression in the rear view mirror: it was one of absolute confusion, and I felt instantly ashamed.  She had no idea why that was funny. Because she doesn't laugh at people, except when they are trying to be funny.At her school, they have a thing called "Project Pride," which is basically a socio-emotional curriculum that emphasizes kindness, respect, and responsibility.  The best thing about this, and what distinguishes it from traditional anti-bullying campaigns, is that it's woven into the fabric of the entire environment--it's not a separate class or lecture or module.  It's not something the guidance counselor comes in once a week to talk about; it's something the teachers model, and incorporate into science and literacy and math lessons.  The "first rule of Lusher" is to "Be Kind," and I'll be damned if it doesn't work.  These kids are kind, and the ones who slip up are reminded by their peers--not their teachers--about the first and all-important rule.  It's the thing I love most about the school, and a framework I've started using at home with both my kids.But how important it is to model the behavior.  Because our kids are watching us, constantly, they see how we treat strangers and friends and family and people who hurt us.  They notice if we're shitty to the server who screws up our order, when we quickly roll up the windows upon spotting a homeless man on the street corner, they overhear when we gossip about someone on the phone.  And when we laugh at someone who is trying to be healthy.  I don't ever want either of my kids to be that woman at the stoplight on Princeton Avenue.  I want them to react with kindness, always, not because they are insecure or unable to assert themselves, but because they unders[...]

Summerfield Road


In a couple of weeks, my grandmother's house will be sold, for cash, to a faceless and hopefully kind and responsible family.  I'm taking my kids to Florida next week for one last visit, and to help my sister pack for their move to the beach.  It's a good and happy ending: Kate graduated as a nurse anesthetist and landed a great job in Port Orange.  Tons of reasons to celebrate, for sure.

And yet, I am swamped in sadness.   As I grow older, the endings are piling up, and will inevitably continue to do so, but this has been my home for my entire 37 years.  My mother's family moved there from Chicago in the early 70s, when my grandfather got a job in Central Florida; my mother quit college to follow her two younger, developmentally disabled brothers there.  She soon met my father, had me, and not soon after, my grandfather died in the garage of a massive heart attack.  A few years later, I spent the night there while Kate was being born; I remember that night so vividly, the anticipation and excitement, my uncles clamoring for news of the new baby.  My grandmother's toast with strawberry jam, the sound of my parents' car pulling away en route to the hospital.  My grandmother died there in 2004, and I brought Sydney home there in 2005, 2 days after she was born, during our Katrina evacuation. I remember one night, 2 or 3 weeks after her birth, sitting awake and alone with my restless baby, in my grandmother's old recliner, talking to her, beseeching her, feeling her presence so acutely.  Like she was sitting there with me, chatting away the lonely midnight hours.

Being musically inclined, I tend to associate memories with sounds--and Florida sounds have a unique timbre.  The sound of screen doors whistling and slamming in the breeze; the crickets congregating at night; splashes and shouts from the neighbor's pool; the eerie silence of a hot summer morning.  I can still hear my grandmother's voice--she always sat in her recliner directly opposite the door to the living room and would call out my name when I walked in (always without knocking).  My Uncle Jimmy's sweet mumbles, Uncle Jack's catcalls.  The sound of the door shutting behind me.

I've been told to remember that it's just a house, that "home is where the heart is."  But what if your heart resides in a physical place?  What if that place--not just the house itself, but the neighborhood, the running trail, the high school, the entire landscape--is so deeply embedded in your memory and in your person that you can't imagine it belonging to someone else?  What then?



Growing up, I always laughed at my mother's annual birthday litany. Every year, on the morning of the last day of November, she would recite the details of the day of my birth; as the years go on she does so almost apologetically, though we both know I'd be disappointed if she didn't.  And of course, as these things tend to go, I've started the same tradition with my kids--though I feel a bit more justified in telling and re-telling Sydney's extraordinary story.Ya'll know she was born 3 weeks after Katrina, right?  We'd fled to Houston, 38 weeks pregnant, and settled in there for the long haul, with doctors and delivery unit tours and multiple Target runs (we'd left everything in New Orleans, except the car seat).  When Hurricane Rita came to Houston, I was 3 days overdue, and we had to flee again--I remember looking back through the rear window and seeing the long line of gridlocked traffic behind us as we moved towards Arkansas.  It took us 3 days to get to my mom's house in Orlando, arriving late on that Friday night; Sydney was born the very next day.  When Hurricane Wilma tore through Fort Lauderdale, 6 weeks later, and destroyed the building where Cade's company had set up a temporary office, we packed up and moved back to our quiet, ruined city. The Red Cross truck brought me lunch every day, and the National Guardsmen stationed at the end of our block helped out with all sorts of post-Katrina dilemmas.  It was a sad and scary time, but also a relief: it looked like our city would survive, perhaps even thrive.Look at those cheeks.January came and it was time for me to return to work.  Problem was, the childcare sector in New Orleans had taken a huge hit; about 15% of the centers in operation before Katrina had survived the storm (some had flooded, others had to close due to lack of income).  It felt like an impossible situation--how can you live, work, and raise a family in the city you love, when said city has no childcare? I could have chosen not to work, but as a social worker felt compelled to do so, given the enormous psychosocial tasks that lie ahead.  Employing a nanny was neither cost-effective or aligned with what we wanted for our daughter--we wanted a community, wanted her in the company of other Katrina babies.  Also, selfishly, I was hungry for company and community.Luckily, I'd stumbled upon a group of parents who, in November 2005, had come together with the crazy idea of opening their own childcare center.  I remember being a little mystified by the endeavor; how do you just...create something like that?  Where do you even start?  But they had--they had permits and licenses and a little cottage on Oak Street, and a Board of Directors and bylaws and even an Executive Director.  It was the real deal.It took a few months of ramp-building and teacher-hiring and painting and collecting second-hand toys and furniture, but a little less than a year after the storm, Abeona House opened.  Here's a picture of Sydney from the opening day.On the first anniversary, we had a "birthday" party and unveiled our fancy new sign:There was also ice cream.Just after our second anniversary, I joined the Board of Directors.  I was immediately surprised by the challenges that remained, and impressed by the creativity and resourcefulness of the community.  It was obvious, early on, that we'd have to get bigger if we wanted to survive--but expansion still seemed like a pipe dream.Meanwhile, Sydney thrived, and Evan was born (those 2 events are not connected, trust me).Taken seconds before he spewed in her face.Abeona House thrived, too.  We had Mardi Gras and Halloween parades, art shows and concerts in the backyard.  Sydney graduated and moved on to Big School, I witnessed her self-possession and compassion in that new environment, and I knew it was in large part becaus[...]



5 years ago, on Valentine's Day, my Uncle Jimmy died.  He wasn't old, or sick; he choked on a sandwich in the bathroom of the sheltered workshop where he spent his weekdays.  His life started out difficult and ended sadly, but these days, on February 14th, when I think of him and his legacy, I'm reminded of the absolute power of pure and simple love. Both of my mother's brothers were born with Fragile X syndrome, a genetic condition that mostly affects males (since the mutation is carried on the X chromosome, females can be carriers but have a "normal" X to make up for it). My Uncle Jack is older, and less severely impacted: he can write simple words, and operate basic appliances, and groom himself and cook (he's also obsessed with show tunes, but that's another story).  Jimmy was born small, and as an infant had difficulty latching and sucking, so my mother--who was 11 years older--spent the first several months of his life spoon-feeding him sips of milk until his tiny muscles got the hang of sustenance.  From there, their bond was indestructible; they adored each other.  In the 1960s, before all the nifty advances in genetic research and testing, when people with intellectual and developmental disabilities were called "retarded" and relegated to sub-human status, there was little room in polite suburban Chicago society for a family like theirs--yet my mom's stories of childhood are like anyone else's, filled with sibling rivalries and escapades.  But Jimmy was the baby of the family, my mother his protector, so when my grandfather's job took them to Central Florida, my mother left college and followed them to the Sunshine State.Jimmy had a lopsided smile and a habit of close-talking; he'd get right up in your face and ask you questions in his incongruously soft voice (he grew to be a very large man).  His questions usually centered around whether or not you'd drive him to the store for a "beer," a tradition that started when my father, during visits to my grandparents' house, would inevitably make a run to the 7-Eleven, taking Jimmy along with him.  Jimmy didn't drink alcohol, but long after my parents were divorced, my Dad would stop by and take him for a ride to the store for a soda.Jimmy called me "Snork," because that was the sound he heard me make when I was a baby.  He loved to bowl, and was of such powerful stature that everyone in his general radius would reflexively recoil when he sauntered up to the lane with his bowling ball.  He was a man's man, he loved tools and could often be seen walking around the house in his toolbelt.  He was in the garage workshop when my grandfather died there, instantaneously, of a massive heart attack; Jimmy was never really the same after that.My uncles lived with my grandmother until she died in 2004, at which point they went to live in a group home.  They worked during the week at a sheltered workshop--which sounds awful and sweat-shoppy, but was actually a hugely rewarding experience for them, for a long time--and one day, Jimmy went into the bathroom to eat his lunch (he had a tendency to be secretive around food) and they found him, a while later, unconscious on the floor.  He was taken to the ICU, where my mother lay next to him until they discontinued life support.I flew home for his funeral, 4 months pregnant with Evan, and I was terrified.  I was afraid of how my Uncle Jack would deal, how my mom would handle the loss.  I was not prepared for what happened at the church, the standing room only, the absolute flood of people who came out to pay tribute to his life.  My Dad was a pallbearer, and I saw him cry for the second time in my life.  Fr. Robert, a long-term family friend and Franciscan priest, came from out of town to stand at the altar, though it wasn't his church.  People from Jimmy'[...]



We eat king cake for breakfast, and take baths when it's convenient. 

We are Mardi Gras.

Our fingernails are dirty and we have too many swords. 

We are Mardi Gras.

We want that cup, but when the boy behind us steals it, we let it go.  And we hand him the next cups we catch, because we're cool that way.

We are Mardi Gras.

Our homework is half-done, and our Moms don't care.

We are Mardi Gras.

We know the rhythms: drop back to the curb for the marching bands, rush forward once they're past. But not too far forward.  Let the riders know you're there.

We are Mardi Gras.

When that awesome throw comes flying, the one we've been waiting for, and it rolls under the float, we wait. We know better. 

We are Mardi Gras.

Our siblings are smaller, and quieter; we know what they like.  We yell for them.

We are Mardi Gras.

We never throw coins at Flambeaux.  We hand them bills, and make sure our hair doesn't catch.

We are Mardi Gras.

We link arms and sing pop songs en route to the parades.  We are young, like this night, full of possibility and joy.

We are Mardi Gras.

Lines for Winter


Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon's gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are. 
                          --Mark Strand

The Thing Is


to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you've held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
                          --Ellen Bass



Of the many things I never imagined myself doing in my late 30s, coaching soccer is right up there at the top of the list--alongside things like performing interpretive skate-dances to humiliate my daughter and her friends and explaining to my son why his penis "pokes out" in the morning.  But here I am, a few weeks shy of 37, and I've somehow ended up as not only a coach, but the U-8 league coordinator, in possession of a large Adidas duffle bag, a clipboard, several extra balls, and a newly-developed penchant for saying things like "hustle" and "drop back."When I first enrolled Sydney in soccer, I checked the "Assistant Coach" box on the registration form, because I am just that stupid.  A few days later, the league commissioner called and left me a voicemail, explaining that they were short a few head coaches and would I be interested in stepping up?  "It's not that big a deal," said he. "The game really teaches itself."  Because I am not always completely dense, I understood that to mean "We are desperate to recruit the requisite number of suckers and we will say anything to persuade you.  Sucker."  I ignored the voicemail, knowing that if I returned the call I would end up not only agreeing to coach, but to manage their website or oversee the maintenance of the playing fields for the next twenty years.  That's how these types of conversations tend to go.  But he tricked me by calling back, from a different number, and I unwittingly answered, and the next thing I knew I was sweating my way through a coaches' clinic, dribbling through "minefields" and going 1 v 1 against men who I had just seen neck-trapping their kids' balls.  I told myself that I was doing it for Sydney, which I was: I knew she would be less ambivalent about playing if I coached her team.  Also, I am a total sucker.The U-6 draft, where all the coaches (me and 15 soccer dads) took turns selecting players from the roster to assemble our teams, was eye-opening: I watched the more veteran coaches choose players based on age (the older the better) and then, it seemed, on the ethnicity suggested by the surname.  But the season turned out fine; Sydney enjoyed it immensely and the whole team had fun.  My learning curve was huge, but I do enjoy a challenge, and I'll admit to being a little sad when the season ended.  But mostly I was relieved, since Sydney would be moving up to U-8 in the Spring and there was no way in hell I could ever be persuaded to coach in U-8.When the voicemails started coming, I studiously ignored them.  I braced myself for battle.  Sydney was firmly committed to the sport; my job was done.  They didn't need me! Look at all those dudes with their bulging calves and their Pumas!  They could totally handle it.I successfully dodged multiple recruiting entities for a couple of weeks, and I thought they had finally given up when I got a phone call in the middle of a busy clinical day from a number I didn't recognize.  The commissioner was on the line, his voice thick with congestion.  He coughed loudly into the receiver. "It's really not a big difference from U-6," he croaked. "But I really can't do it this season," I replied. "I'm really very busy."  There was a pause on the other end; a child cried.  "I'm sorry, can you say that again?" he said.  "We all have bronchitis here and this fever is making me a little out of it."  I realized I'd been beaten.  "Send me the details," I said, and hung up the phone, realizing in that moment that I am a person who will never be able to say no.While the U-6 draft had been a little disorienting, the U-8 draft was downright frightening.  Once again, I was the only woman in the room, a[...]

To Sydney, on your 7th Birthday


Last night you had your birthday party at The Bead Shop; ten of your friends came and made beautiful jewelry and listened to the “pop music” playlist you created on your iPod.  You love creating (and wearing) jewelry, and you’ve wanted to have this party since you turned 5—but since the shop has an age threshold for birthday parties, you had to wait two years.  It did not disappoint.This was the first of your parties to be girls-only, with selected invitees.  Though it was certainly developmentally appropriate, it made me a little sad, as it seemed to mark the end of the first phase of your childhood.  You had your girlfriends, your playlist, and the parents were relegated to the back room for the duration of the party (you could literally feel the separation anxiety in that room—the collective sense of childhood’s end).  But the experience of planning the party, and the party itself, provided an extraordinary opportunity to get to know you better.  Let me explain.From the moment you were born, you have been an intensely connected person.   As your primary caretaker and (to this date) your primary person in general, to me this facet of your personality has always been obvious.  As an infant, you craved physical attention—being held, cuddled, caressed.  You held eye contact at a very young age (2 or 3 weeks), and seemed to recognize voices and faces very early.  As a baby and toddler, all of your play was interactive; you created games that almost always involved exchange.  In preschool, you seemed to go through a more solitary phase (I would often arrive to find you playing by yourself in a corner of the yard or classroom), but when asked you knew exactly what all of your friends were doing, what they ate for lunch, who had a time out and who got a sticker, and who seemed sad/angry/excited on that particular day.  You wrote love letters to the important people in your life on a daily basis.  I worried about your transition to Big School, both because of your age—you just made the cutoff for kindergarten, so you are the youngest in your class—and because of your sensitivity and kindness, but you managed the transition with grace and strength and have seemed to do very well with all sorts of transitions since.You’re imaginative and strong-willed, and the adults in your life—including me—are constantly urging you to listen, to pay attention.  The reports we get from school all say pretty much the same thing, quarter after quarter: something along the lines of “Sydney is a bright, happy child.  She just needs to work on her listening skills.”  And I’ve always sort of brushed those things aside with a knowing laugh: that’s my girl.  And on the soccer field, where you’ve put in so much training and are turning into an excellent player, your only real struggle has been with focus.  And we’ve had some battles, you and I, both on and off the pitch; as your coach and your mom, I’ve thought it my duty to help you hone your “listening skills,” to encourage your success.Back to the party.  In the weeks leading up to the big event, we talked about all sorts of details; this was something you’d been waiting on for a long time, and we needed to get it right.  You were very concerned from the start about who would be attending the party—every day you asked me who had replied, and you kept an updated guest list, sorted into categories (coming, not coming, maybe coming), on your desk.  I assumed that you were anxious about whether or not your friends would come, but when I said something to that end you corrected me.  “I just need to know who’s coming,[...]



Marathon training began in earnest last month, and with it the inevitable analysis of runs gone wrong.  Could I have been faster? Trained harder? Consumed more/less GU/Gatorade? Worn different shoes? More/less/different clothing? Could I have shaved a few seconds off my time if I hadn't wasted breath cheering on that red-faced dude who was walking in the 19th mile? And what about that weird, spasmy leg thing that happened in the last 10k? What was that about? On paper, my last marathon was a success: I didn't die, or injure myself, or unwillingly defecate.  What else can you ask from the 26.2? But I went into this one determined to do better--to finish faster and feeling stronger.I thought I was being smart when I took some time to consider strategy--a more holistic approach to training.  I'd started to have a little trouble with my IT band, and felt good about the fact that I'd worked in some strength exercises to address that, in addition to a particularly gruesome but effective technique, recommended by a running buddy, that involved applying deep tissue massage to those areas with a frozen Nalgene bottle (for the record, that shit hurts).  The stress of the last year had left me about 10 pounds lighter, not weight I could afford to lose, and so I also started approaching nutrition deliberately (I have a tendency to forget to eat).  Pilates, strength training, deep tissue massage and icing, good nutrition: these are all elements of a sound marathon training plan.  On paper, I was good to go.What I never stopped to consider was whether or not I wanted to dedicate myself to the endeavor.  I've been wanting to run New York for so long that when I found out I got in, the decision was automatic.  I registered immediately, giddily, and told everyone I knew, all of whom were excited for me and overwhelmingly supportive.  I made plans to take the train from my conference in Boston the night before the race, to stay with a friend in Brooklyn, to take the Staten Island Ferry the morning of.  I started training.What I noticed right away was a profound ambivalence, which was totally new and deeply frustrating.  I didn't want to run.  I forced myself.  We all have days when getting out of bed to knock out some miles is difficult, but it was happening every morning, and I pushed through the runs with an antsy boredom.  At first I chalked it up to momentum: I needed some time to get in the groove.  But as the weeks went by, and I wasn't putting on weight, and I was getting sick more frequently and severely than I ever have in my adult life, and I was constantly stressed about fitting in runs before it got too hot, I was forced to reconsider my decision.When you're the sort of person who says yes to everything--not out of an inability to say no or a lack of assertiveness, but rather a wish to stuff your life full of as much experience as possible--backing out of a commitment, even one that you only made to yourself, is almost unthinkable.  When people have suggested to me that perhaps I work too hard or push myself too hard or take on too much, it's always made me think about all of the things I'm not doing with my life.  If only they knew what I slacker I am!  If only they could see how deeply I've disappointed myself by not finishing that novel or learning to play cello or taking my kids on a Disney vacation or writing more letters to the editor or learning to sew or or or or or--Sounds a little nuts, right?I'm on the Board of an organization that's been entrenched in expansion planning for the past year; the last time we met with the developer, I asked him to identify our risks and vulnerabilit[...]

To Evan, On Your 4th Birthday


My sweet boy,As I write this, you are falling asleep in your brand new bunk bed, with the Beatles playing softly through your stereo.  Your class at Abeona House has spent the summer studying the Fab Four, and true to form you have become a connoisseur.  Your favorite tunes are 'Help' and 'Eleanor Rigby,' and we've had many discussions over the last few weeks about the meaning behind the lyrics--you really seem to connect with "all the lonely people." Where do they come from, Mama? Why are all the people lonely? How do people get lonely and how can we help them?Needless to say, you're a heartbreaker.You've grown so much in the last year, but you're still the same loving, empathic, powerful, funny, and observant little boy.  J. is still your best friend; you still love Legos.  You're still endlessly affectionate and exquisitely sensitive, and rambunctious and wild and talkative and bossy. You are perfectly happy to play alone, creating elaborate "bad guy" scenarios with your Legos or drawing or looking at books, but you also love your friends and family and talk about them constantly.  There is a quiet, commanding wisdom that surrounds you (maybe it's the Force?) and coupled with your tiny stature, it gives people pause.  People often ask how old you are; they can't quite believe that such a powerful person could exist in such a small body.You are precocious.  The other day, I came home from a run and you followed me into the bathroom while I washed my face.  Positioning yourself on the stool next to the sink, you rested your chin on your hand and said, "So. How's your running going?"You are super affectionate.  You have this thing where you like to squeeze "lovings" into other people and at any given time you apparently have "4 and 5" lovings in your body.  A few weeks ago I asked you for a hug and you said, "I can do that, Mama.  I have a lot of lovings in my body."Your nickname at school and home is "Red Sprite." This came about when you watched your sister and her soccer pals order their team drinks after games; you were fascinated by the various sodas and one week at school, when you all had the opportunity to identify your fairy/spirit names, you chose Red Sprite.  And it suits you perfectly: you are all impish fire.  This spirit, coupled with your natural empathy and compassion, is so incredibly compelling--you're a force of nature.You've started to talk about what you want to be when you grow up.  Right now it's a tie between astronaut and baseball player.  Although you've never attempted either endeavor, it's thrilling to watch you consider your future, and your identity.  You're also interested in ballet, which makes me excited, but I know not to push you too much--you have a natural tendency to balk against expectations.Oh, but you do love to dance.  Whenever Sydney plays that Katy Perry song you drop whatever you're doing and shake your money maker; I apologize in advance for the humiliation that I will be unable to refrain from showering upon you in your young adulthood.This year you will play soccer, and practice writing your letters, and learn about the Solar System (you and Syd have plans to make one from scratch), and visit your cousins in Florida, and draw ninjas, and get ready for big kid school.  You'll grow out of your clothes and stop using your binky.  You'll fight with Sydney, testing your burgeoning identity against her solid strength.  You'll help me make banana nut muffins--your favorite snack--and before we know it, you'll be 5. Tonight, over your birthday dinner, we had a long talk about the 'Neverending Story.' You had[...]

Don't Tell Anyone


We had been married for six or seven years
when my wife, standing in the kitchen one afternoon, told me
that she screams underwater when she swims--

that, in fact, she has been screaming for years
into the blue chlorinated water of the community pool
where she does laps every other day.

Buttering her toast, not as if she had been
concealing anything,
not as if I should consider myself

personally the cause of her screaming,
nor as if we should perform an act of therapy
right that minute on the kitchen table,

--casually, she told me,
and I could see her turn her square face up
to take a gulp of oxygen,

then down again into the cold wet mask of the unconscious,
For all I know, maybe everyone is screaming
as they go through life, silently,

politely keeping the big secret
that it is not all fun
to be ripped by the crooked beak

of something called psychology,
to be dipped down
again and again into time;

that the truest, most intimate
pleasure you can sometimes find
is the wet kiss

of your own pain.
There goes Kath, at one PM, to swim her twenty-two laps
back and forth in the community pool;

--what discipline she has!
Twenty-two laps like twenty-two pages,
that will never be read by anyone.

(Tony Hoagland, 2012)

New York, New York


The Boston Marathon is the holy grail of most distance runners: it's difficult to gain entry, and the course is challenging and competitive.  If you're the proverbial Type A runner (no walking, no chatting, no "good enough" races), once you start doing marathons you set your sights on a BQ.  In recent years they've lowered the qualifying times, making it even more difficult to gain even a chance at entry, which only fuels the fire for people like me.  You're gonna make it harder?  I'll see your qualifying time and raise you 20 miles per week.But the New York City marathon has always held the most allure.  The crowds, the scenery, the intoxicating spectacle, the idea of running through the 5 boroughs in late's almost too much to bear.  Every year, I read about the elites who will be competing, and I watch the live coverage with an odd mixture of boredom and rapture (not unlike the experience of actually running a marathon).  Sometimes, in the wee hours of my training runs, when the only sound I hear is my own breath, my own footfalls, I entertain myself with fantasies of running NYC: boarding the ferry to Staten Island just before dawn, shivering in my second-hand sweater (which I would discard in the second mile), compulsively checking my bag for adequate Gu and pre-race banana and bagel, standing with the 45,000 other runners at the start, trying not to work off too much nervous energy.  Running through Brooklyn, scanning the crowds for my friends' faces; finishing, triumphantly, arms raised overhead, in Central Park; celebrating with old friends for the rest of that day in the city I love almost as much as my hometown.  It's an almost painful fantasy--one of those that hurts too much to think about never realizing.Last year, I entered the lottery for the NYC marathon and waited with a profound ambivalence; my previous marathon attempt was an abysmal jumble of injury and disappointment, and I wasn't sure I wanted to wreck my New York fantasy in such a dramatic way.  And so, when the lottery results were posted and I saw that my number hadn't come up, I felt relief: not this year.  At the same time, though, I started searching for other races, and I finally settled on Pensacola--I needed a corrective experience.  My training for Pensacola was riddled with insult and injury, but I stubbornly persisted, and on the morning of the race I awoke at 4 a.m. from a dream in which I'd missed the race by almost 3 hours--in the dream, I'd spent the evening playing the party circuit, and at gun time I found myself at a bowling alley drinking beer straight from the pitcher.  Some faceless person in the dream pointed this out to me and my response was "Oh well.  It's not like I'm running New York."I awoke from the dream, dressed in the dark in the tiny hotel room where my children snored precariously, brushed my teeth and grabbed my gear.  It was a 3/4 mile walk to the start from the hotel, and it was fucking cold outside.  I headed towards the water, nibbling my bagel and sipping my orange juice, ignoring the pickup full of drunks who tailed me for a few blocks, plotting my strategy, calming my nerves.  At the start, I chatted with a woman who'd had a baby 6 months before: she looked my age, and her goal time was 25 minutes faster than mine.  I wished her luck and turned my thoughts to the road.Everyone says that the marathon is psychological.  They're right, of course, but it's like childbirth: you don't really know the truth of it until you've been through it.  You can sort of appreciate it, from[...]

Eggs and Fishes


Syd has become a voracious reader in the last several months.  She reads in the car, during meals, before bed--given pretty much any opportunity.  Lately she's been working her way through "Ramona and her Father," which has generated some interesting questions about job loss, family security, tobacco addiction, and religion.  The latter subject was broached after I finished reading loud the last part of the book's final chapter, in which Ramona takes part in the church's Christmas pageant.  There's a lot of stuff about Beezus looking "holy" (try explaining that concept to a 6-year-old at 9:10 p.m.) and bits of some hymns, which I sang with relish (those church songs are transportational--I could practically smell the incense).  As I closed the book, Sydney gave me a shy look and said, "I don't know about the apes and fishes thing, but I definitely believe in God.  I'm sorry, Mama."It was a strange moment, on several accounts.  At first I had no idea what she meant by "apes and fishes"--until I remembered that we'd had a talk about evolution a few days before. Now that was a loaded exchange, given that a few days before that she'd insisted I tell her where babies come from ("And don't say "the daddy gives something to the mommy," I want to know exactly how") and I'd used the term "fishies" to describe sperm (I know.  Kick me. Hard.) and she had visibly recoiled.  Fast forward to the evolution talk; we can all probably imagine her struggle to understand the intersection between sexual and evolutionary fish.  And the God thing? What do you do with the God thing?It wasn't that she professed belief; I'm more than fine with that.  Supportive, actually.  It was her apology that threw me--the fact that she clearly sensed a betrayal.  Sure, her Dad is a staunch atheist, but her Mama?  I've always considered myself pretty open with my kids; I'm happy to let them find their own ways, and I'm more surprised when they show similar proclivities to my own than when they digress.  For example, last week Syd came home from her first day at Jimmy Club and told me about a cheerleading class in which they'd learned a cheer that ended with a triumphant "we're number one and we'll beat you!" She told me she felt bad about potentially hurting the other group's feelings and tried to get her group to change the ending to "we're number one and so are you."  She was voted down but said she was going to ask her counselor about it again the next day.  I was insanely touched and proud: talk about strength of character!  But at the same time, I recognized how incredibly different we are; when she'd recited the chant my first thought had been "That isn't hard enough.  It should be more like "we're number one and we'll crush you."Point being, we're very different people, Syd and I.  And that's an excellent thing.The religion issue is no different--I'm happy to see her considering the issue, and I'd love for her to find her way into, around, or away from it.  Not only that, but I had an incredibly positive, enriching, and at times life-saving experience with organized religion when I was myself a child, and what kind of asshole parent would discourage her kid from seeking out the same?  When my mom was terribly ill, when we had no money, when I wanted to learn to play music, when I succeeded and when I failed, when I thought no one loved me, when the other kids were asshole bullies, the church community was there--and not in a creepy "come to Jesus and he will heal you" kind of way.  J[...]



Last night, on the ride home from the mall:

S: Mom, McDonald's must want to make a lot of money.  They have signs everywhere.

M: That's definitely true, honey. 

S: Why do people eat there if it's so unhealthy for your body? 

M: I'm not sure, honey.  I think because they like the taste and because it doesn't cost a lot of money.

S: (thinking)

S: But what makes it so unhealthy? Because it's fried, right?

M: Yes, and other things.

S: Like what?

M: Well, you know the chicken nuggets?  They only have a very tiny bit of actual chicken in them.  The rest is beaks and feet and bones that are all ground up into a paste, which they mix with chemicals and a thing that is sort of like the gas we put in our cars, to make the nugget.  They do this because it's cheaper than using mostly chicken.

S: Wait a minute, wait a minute, can you pause for a minute?

M: Sure, why?

S: Because I have to scream for a little bit.

The Gaze


For as long as I can remember, I've used reading and writing as a means of palliative care.  As a very young person, I read everywhere: in the bathtub, in the car, during meals, as I fell asleep and when I woke up.  I preferred pastoral narratives, particularly those in which the child protagonists engaged in solitary acts of adventure and survival (I still have the warped paperback copy of 'Farmer Boy' that took a plunge into the bath one sad, lonely evening).  In 3rd grade, when my folks were finally and dramatically splitting up, Mrs. Galloway allowed and encouraged me to spend class time writing plays, which I would teach to selected peers at recess.  In 7th grade I discovered poetry when an ambitious teacher exposed us to William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow;" it was my first attempt at analysis and I loathed the endeavor, the dissection of beauty into little bits of reason and explanation (funny, I would go on to do exactly that as a music theorist).  From then on, writing was a permanent fixture and, along with playing music, my primary coping mechanism.  While other kids were getting high and drunk and screwing and all that other fun stuff, I was writing poetry and stories and essays and discovering I could play pretty much any piece of music without looking at notation. I considered myself a "creative" and felt pity for those who didn't have access to those types of expression.It was that way for a long time; even after coming to terms with the fact that I wasn't going to write or play or teach music for a living, I still wrote every day.  And then I became pregnant with Sydney, and the writing stopped.  It's not that I got lazy or overwhelmed; I simply could not write.  Every writer, amateur or otherwise, experiences blocks, but this felt less like a block than it did an absence: that thing had gone away.  I didn't have anything to say.After Syd was born it gradually resurfaced, and I started writing a little, though hesitantly (I was shaken by the gestational episode).  I started this blog and that seemed to help a bit, and I gradually got back into some more creative rhythms. I became pregnant with Evan and had another episode, but with less anxiety attached, as I assumed--correctly--that it would pass at some point after he was born.  Funny thing was, I never stopped to consider why it happened--a strange thing really, for such a navel-gazing introvert.It took this latest episode to turn my gaze back inward.  Why was this happening?  There are a ton of books out there on writer's block and I've always been suspicious of every single one.  The answer I'd constructed for myself--that the effort and energy of creating a life sapped whatever other energies I otherwise possessed--seems now like complete bullshit.  Now, I'm forced to confront my block with true honesty, not the superficial and placating self-reflection that often poses as honesty.  I'm forced to admit that I avoid the inward gaze the way most of us avoid dental work: we know it's necessary and ultimately healthy, but it's scary and painful and costly.  So we don't call, or we make an appointment and skip it.  The way most people avoid therapy.I'd like to change this.  I'd like to embrace the gaze, but the problem is this: the problem is pain.This year has been the most brutally painful time of my entire life.  I didn't lose a child (knock on some fucking wood, ya'll), I have my health (mostly, though that is seriously neglecte[...]



If you've had the unfortunate experience of reading this blog over the last several years, or if you have the even more unfortunate experience of knowing me personally, you know how I feel about a certain Reggio Emilia-inspired childcare center here in my favorite city in the Universe. You may have read my thoughts about it here and here and here; maybe you've even donated money to the place (thank you very much, by the way). You probably know how much Abeona House means to me and to my children (insert gratuitous picture),and that it is a perfect example of how love and hope and community can spring from ruin and despair. And if you've had the very wonderful privilege of meeting my children (get ready for more manipulative photo-inserting),you probably know how happy and empathic and creative they are, and that I attribute so much of that awesomeness to the years they've spent at Abeona House.But do you know that we moved, last November, to a large, wonderful building in Mid-City? That we doubled our capacity?Did you know that we now have a kitchen and hired an incredible chef, who prepares amazing meals for our kids each day at no extra cost to families?You probably don't know that expanding our capacity allowed us to serve a much broader and more diverse community, and that we're now eligible for the CCAP program, which enables low-income families to access quality childcare. Isn't that awesome?If you helped us move over Thanksgiving weekend, or stopped by the Open House we had in December, you saw the huge yard and play equipment. And if you know my son, you understand the importance of green space (lightsabers need a wide, wide berth).If you're an astute reader (and of course you are), you probably understand by now what I'm about to ask for. You know about our annual Crescent City Classic fundraiser, which we affectionately refer to as the Reggio Run, where we all ask folks to sponsor us (read: donate money to the school) and then we dress up in ridiculous costumes and run or walk the 10 kilometers that make up one of the largest road races in the country.What kind of ridiculous costumes? Glad you asked!Last year, I ran 10 Kilometers, in 85-degree heat and suffocating humidity, in this polyester Princess Leia costume. Yes, I ran the whole way with the blaster. Yes, that's my real hair in those buns. Yes, when I started to sweat it was totally and completely see-through. Yes, every male under the age of 65 asked me to stop and pose for a photo.I also raised close to $900 for the school, and collectively we raised over $8,000. That money was vital to keep our small operation alive, and allowed us to grow bigger, to reach an economy of scale that improves teacher quality of life, enables true diversity, and has made us more financially solvent.(Also, the fundraiser was an excuse for me to force my children to star in a ridiculous, poorly-edited video. Please watch it--it's for the children.)This year, we're raising money for our Scholarship Fund, which is an absolutely essential resource for a large number of our wonderful families. Every penny is tax-deductible. Think of it as sponsoring a family, or if you have the unfortunate experience of knowing me personally, you might think of it as an affirmation of the hard work and total devotion I've shown to the organization. Or, if you're in the questionable position of loving New Orleans, think of it as supporting the continued growth and revitalization of the city. Or, do it just to shut me up--because this won't be m[...]

Existential Crises



  • Music Professor
  • Novelist
  • Pot smoker
  • Broke
  • Sporting a kick-ass full-color sleeve on my left arm
  • Famous


  • Married
  • Mother of 2
  • Runner
  • Afraid
  • Soccer Coach
  • Psychotherapist

Search and See


6 years ago, a group of parents got together in the middle of a ruined city and decided to form a childcare center. After Katrina, there was a dearth of childcare, which posed a serious threat to the future of New Orleans. If folks couldn't go to work, they wouldn't come back or they wouldn't stay.

Abeona House was born.

5 1/2 years ago, I found myself on the front porch of a small cottage at the end of Oak Street, chatting with another parent as we sat nursing our infants. I felt lucky to be on the opening list but overwhelmed by the tasks that still needed to be done: painting, ramp building, gathering toys, supplies, furniture, wiring and plumbing, etc. Was this really going to happen? It seemed a little impossible.

5 years ago, Abeona House opened. I carried Sydney through the doors the first day (she was not quite walking yet) and left her in what was probably once a bedroom. I vividly remember the emotions in the building that morning: excitement, relief, trepidation, awkwardness, and the elephant in the room: would we be able to stay open?

4 years ago, I joined the Board of Directors. We were still open, but in order to be truly sustainable we would need to grow. Economy of scale and all that.

3 years ago, Evan came along and when I carried him through the doors for the first time, when he was one week old, and saw the sign on the door welcoming him to the world and watched how every single person in that building--teachers, kids, parents--made sure to give Sydney extra love and attention, how attuned they were to the needs of our family, it really struck me: this was our community. This was our place.

1 month ago, we signed a lease on a new property in Mid-City--a much larger building with tons of green space, a garden, and a kitchen. On the night of the first open house, I watched Sydney play with the child whose mother I sat with on that first day on Oak Street; theirs was the comfort of old friends, easy and unspoken, and when I told my kids it was time to leave Sydney hugged me and said "But why can't I go to the new Abeona House?"

Today is our last day on Oak Street. We're moving out all the furniture, stripping the walls of cabinets and decorations. The kids are excited and anxious. I'm probably going to cry all day as I move boxes and cribs across town.

Albert Schweitzer wrote, "Search and see if there is not some place where you may invest your humanity." I have found that place in Abeona House. It's an incredible and important gift, to have the opportunity to love something, to believe in it fully, to watch it grow and struggle and expand, to watch your children learn how to develop as individuals while retaining a sense of community, of being a part of something bigger than themselves. I really have been searching for this place to invest my overabundance of passion and energy, and I am so fucking grateful to have found it.

Search and see. It really is worth it.



It started with New York. In a Spring volume of my running magazine there was an article about the famed NYC Marathon, with its spectacular crowds and perfect weather, and on a whim I entered the lottery. New York has a tiered and generally impassable lottery, which starts with elite athletes, moves on to members of the local Road Runners club, and eventually gets to everyone else. The results of the lottery would be announced in early April, and so I waited anxiously, not sure what I was hoping for. If I got in, I’d be looking at 4 months of a brutal and time-consuming training regime, in the sweltering summer heat—not to mention the prospect of another ridiculous injury and the subsequent, patience-depleting recovery. I’d had a vague notion that I would run another marathon, someday, but by all reasonable standards this was not the right year. I’d started a new job and was contemplating starting a private practice; I was chair of the Board of Directors for an organization that was expanding significantly, and had joined another Board in March. I was over-committed and ambivalent. But when the lottery results were announced and I found out my number hadn’t come up, I immediately started looking for another race. Turned out the Savannah Marathon was the very same day as NYC, and 2 of my friends from high school indicated they’d be up for it. And so I signed up, click, and immediately began looking for a training plan. Most runners use a plan when training for a significant distance, like a half or full marathon. Plans generally span a 16- or 20-week schedule and prescribe distances and types of runs (tempo, easy, long, speed work) to be done on each training day. I’d used a couple of plans for other long races but wanted something new, something that would push me beyond the slogging drudgery of the typical training regime. And then I remembered a story I’d read in the magazine several months before, written by a 41-year-old runner who’d set a marathon PR (personal record) by using this batshit-crazy training plan created by two brothers from Michigan. The Hanson Plan is characterized by extremely high weekly mileage (about 25% more than the average plan for regular runners) and brutal workouts (no “easy” runs on this plan). The sheer ambition of the plan intrigued me, as did the emphasis on total weekly mileage over the dreaded 20-, 22-, and 24-mile long runs that form the apex of most marathon plans (the Hanson plan tops out at several 16-mile long runs). The Hansons believe that the distance of the long run matters less than does the cumulative effect of intense and fatiguing training; in other words, in Hanson training you’re preparing yourself, both physically and psychologically, to run the final 16 miles of the race, not the first 16. Anyone who’s ever run a 26.2 will understand this distinction. I’d read the article the first time, many months before, with fascination and fear; I’d looked at the training plan and my reaction was something along the lines of “fuck no.” But after I committed to Savannah and started seriously thinking about the training, thoughts shifted to questions of efficacy. Sure, it had a certain insane appeal, and the theory made sense, but did it work? The author of the article was a believer, after running his fastest marathon ever, at the age most runners are beginning their slow and insulting decline. I found fo[...]

To Sydney, On Your 6th Birthday


My sweet girl,As I write this, you are sleeping soundly, in the bottom half of the bunk bed that PaPa made for Daddy so many years ago. You wanted to stay up until 9 o'clock tonight, and though you gave it your best shot ('Sound of Music' is a really long movie--good choice) you only made it to 8:18 before limping up the stairs and falling into bed. And who could blame you? It's been an incredibly full year.Since you turned 5 one year ago, you have learned to read, to add and subtract, to jump rope and hula hoop, tie your shoes, ride a bike, snap your fingers, chew bubble gum, roller skate, and solve for x (Ok, the last one I made up. The rest are true.) You found a tiny kitten in the Spillway, hiding under a rock, coaxed her out with a shrimp you got from a nearby fisherman, and talked us into letting you keep her. You named her "Alice Sparkle," and the name stuck even after we discovered that Alice is actually a boy. You managed kindergarten with total grace and confidence. You have grown a foot taller, your hair is several inches longer, and your face has lost all traces of toddlerhood. You're a big girl now.In many ways, you are exactly the same as you've always been, from day one: strong, loving, inquisitive, creative, fierce and passionate. You still love your baby dolls and will occasionally spend a full hour dressing, cuddling, and arranging them for sleep. You spend the majority of your free time drawing and making jewelry, and since you acquired the ability to read, your creativity has extended to writing and illustrating stories. Your friends are very important to you, and you go to great lengths to make them feel happy and special. For example, when your friend J. lost a ring at school the other day, you spent who knows how long investigating, quizzing classmates who may have seen it, talking teachers into searching the campus in spots where your subjects indicated they may have seen it. You were very upset when, at the end of the day, the ring still had not been found, and you spent the evening trying to talk me into buying J. another one for her birthday. When I explained to you that J's birthday is not until December, you went into your jewelry box, found one of your favorite rings, brought it to school the next day and gave it to your friend. So that she would feel better.Generosity is a value we try to instill in you and Evan, but you really come by it naturally. You would give your last cookie to any kid on the street, and in fact you often do. You have such a beautiful spirit, strong and genuine and kind. Sure, you have fears, but you don't let them impede you--you walk out into the world every day with amazing confidence and a stubborn persistence that will serve you well in life.I don't want to forget to talk about fashion. At morning meeting the other day, one of the other parents commented on how "well put-together" you always are and asked how I managed to get you looking so beautiful every morning. I had to explain that I have absolutely nothing to do with it, that you take tremendous pride in your appearance and how each morning after breakfast, you close your bedroom door and emerge 15 or 20 minutes later, impeccably dressed, immaculately coiffed and accessorized. You carry yourself with incredible poise, almost as if we'd sent you to one of those horrible etiquette courses, and sometimes when I see you walking towards or away fr[...]