Monday, December 31, 2007

"These I Loved"

My little one and me walking walking mid-day on a quiet street down to the forest where the deer lay. The rustling we hear, "Shhhhh, I think I see one." And off it has gone, a little one herself. Now we are off to pick some wild daisies, they are the prettiest in her golden brown hair that shimmers in the sun.The green grass prickles our toes as we walk barefoot down to the springs. the mist rises off the water as we dive in feet first. The ice cold spring water bubbles all around us as we imitate it. We laugh, we laugh so loud that our echos are heard across the vast lake. We hear giggling and screetching of joy bounce back towards us and I hear, "let's do it again." What sweet joy it is to be so carefree for such a time.

Inspired by a poem "These I Loved"

"What's the Weather"

"What's the Weather"
"What's the Weather"
"What do you see"
"What do you see"
"Tell me what the weather is"
"Tell me what the weather is"
"Won't you please"
"Won't you please"

This morning as I dress Mia, she sings a few verses of this song. "Mama, sing with me." But I couldn't sing this song because I did not know it. Just then I burst into tears, some happy tears, some not. My baby learned this song in pre-school. "Mia I don't know that song, sing it to me so I can learn", I respond. I guess part of the tears is because I was strong the first week school began as Mia learned to separate from me. She has been doing well and I am so proud of her, but there are several house a week where I don't know what she is doing and I will admit that scares me. She has been by my side for the last 2 years and 9 months. The only time I was away from her was when Luca was born. Other than that I have never been apart from her. I promised myself that I would not hold on too tight. But I just didn't expect this so soon. I struggled all summer with the decision to send her to pre-school. I have made much more difficult and profound decisions in way less time. But I know this is what is best for her. I love when I pick her up from school and she says ,"Mama you came back, and That was great." Oh, how I will treasure this time in her life.

I'm not Italian, I'm Upstate

The sun begins creeping in as I lift my boy out of the crib. He snuggles next to me and nurses himself back to sleep. He is nestled between both of us cozy and warm. As we drift back to sleep I stroke his golden brown hair.

We hear rustling in the bed next to us. She is rested and bright eyed as we hear "Luca's awake." She climbs into bed with us. All four of us lay safely in the small full-sized bed. The closeness brings me comfort. This is my family, we four are a family. Waking up on a weekend upstate, Papa asks his girl, "What do you want for breakfast?" Mia says, "Pasta". "Oh darling, you are Italian", laughs Papa. She adorably responds, "I'm not Italian, I'm Upstate!" Luca starts tossing and turning and POP - he jumps up to a sitting position as he does every morning. Mia looks at us and grins, "Luca's awake, good morning Luca."

Sunday morning, September 23, 2007

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Parents Rising (in Astoria)

Talking with my cousin, whose sweet daughter is 10 months old, I realized that there's a lot more that I could be and should be doing to advocate for parents. She is helping start an organization in her area that will hopefully lead to workplaces being more family friendly (places to pump at work/breastfeed, more tolerance for parents who want flexible time, etc), and also to help families get access to good quality childcare.

Yes, people have been having children since the beginning of time. And having a child at any time in history has meant sacrifice. Having a child, caring for children, becoming a parent and learning how to be a parent is hard work- and always has been. I don't expect it to be easy. I'm sure that it was not easy for my mother and father, and for their parents, either. But the family unit has been changing- women used to stay home and now often want to or have to work. Grandmothers and Aunts and extended families might have once been nearby. Today, families are often very spread apart.

I think that it's really important for families to help each other. Belonging to my meetup group has been great- I have met other wonderful families who have become my family here in Astoria. My neighbors have been helpful friends, also. I've learned about parenting and the ins and outs of finding childcare, schools, etc from my friends, co-workers, listserves and message boards. I've given advice when I could, also. It's so important to have these outlets when we are separated from our extended families, or just plain don't have any.

But I think that I could do better. I'm hoping to start a "momsrising"/"parentrising" group in Astoria. I'd like to talk to our politicians about finding ways for families get excellent childcare, family leave, paid sick days, good afterschool programs, and flexible work.

New York has some good programs in place, but life can be very hard for families here. For Astorians, we might be interested in finding out how to make afordable housing for families. And work on our daycares, schools and afterschool progams, too.

Also, I think that it would be a good place to start to find out ways how we could help other families in Astoria. I'm not struggling financially, today at least, but there are so many who are. And so many who need advocates so that they can have a voice.

I'm going to have a "parent's rising" party at my house in the next month or so- I ordered their dvd that can show us how to start- and I want to see if our Astoria chapter can set an agenda of items that are important to us. And we'll see how far we want to take it- we just may end up shooting off a few emails to some politicians, or we might really try to look at changing policies/schools/childcare around here.

I'll be posting about it on our meetup site, but want to include anyone in the Astoria hood who would be interested. Of course, all "parents" are welcome- momsrising has dads in it too! Email me.......

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Astoria McMansion Needed

I grew up in New Jersey- birthplace of the hiddeous McMansion. Not that I lived in one growing up- we had a 60's split-level (which is even more super New Jersey). We pretty much escape them in Astoria, thank God. Other areas of Queens have more modestly sized homes torn down for stucco and brick monstrocities.

Out of snoberry I turn my nose up at the McMansion. I hate what it represents to me- wasted space, grandiosity and a cookie-cutter display of greed. But, this weekend I finally see the need for them. A McMansion would hold all of the stuff that I've accumulated. How did this happen? Well, two little kids, a packrat husband and me, hoarder of books, arts and craft supplies and the spoils of working as a speech therapist for 10 years (toys, books, crates of papers).

There's lots of stuff- some I have let go of and some that I have to let go. There's some furniture in my garage (which is our current main storage space) of which I need to say "farewell". There are a few boxes of various "memorabilia" (keeper of that will remain nameless), and why does my husband seem to collect boxes of cables and wires for electronic gadgets- surely most of the gadgets are gone (or in a box in a garage), so why keep the cables? But he assures me that they are important to him, and so they are. There are things large: a stove, a window, a refrigerator. There are small things: boxes of papers, old notebooks. What is really junk, anyway?

And kids stuff! It's all over the house and the garage, too. As my baby outgrows his clothes, I quickly stuff them into bags- some I have distributed to friends and some I now need to find homes for. There is no room for nostalgia- I kept one little shirt from his early days to remember how little he really was.

But the rest is junk. I tell myself that I should pick a weekend and try to reorganize, prioritize and just get rid of it all. But when will I find the time? There are so many other things that I want to do besides clean my garage. So until then, I will have to live with my overflowing closets and garage.

Unless I decide to ditch Astoria and jumbo mortgage my way to a McMansion......

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Can't help it-I'm full of thanks this year.

Thank you, my mom friends, for keeping me sane, for bringing me back to reality when feeling like I was floating away,

Thank you to my husband, who gives me love,

Thank you, my two boys, who fill me with happiness and who help me see the world like a child again,

Thank you to my students, who make me think about the possibility of what can be,

Thank you to my father, who has been a great grandparent, and who has been a thoughtful parent,

And thank you to Astoria, for being such a wonderful place to be, to raise a family, to walk, to enjoy art and the outdoors, for the fantastic community here.....

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Love Maneuver

Sharing. This exercise was originally written for the Writers Discussion Group based on Rupert Brooke's poem These I Have Loved.

These I have loved

The past and the future that run continuous, perpetual.

Sadness and joy, and the body I cannot recognize in the mirror. Broken pieces.

The rusted wheel of the toy and the garden that seats placidly in my still life memories.

Physically blind eyes for a heart that beats possibilities. Embracing the state of being different.

The days that were golden and the childhood that holds the pictures on the wall. Yellowish smiles.

Love sublime and the wedding pottery at my mother's attic. The plastic hangers where I suspend my hopes. Daily rituals.

The waiting and the green light of the train tracks of my existence. Discovering humanity.

Polite silence and the rain singing melancholy. Empty sidewalks for daydream children.

The fresh pine scent of a postcard. Leaves falling apart and stars for a velvet sky. Tender affection.

Reminiscences and recollection. Food-feeding my soul and my senses.

The new and the old faces that surrender my pace. Of what I have really loved.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My favorite neighborhood

I’ve lived in New York for 21 years, since I was a freshman in college, and I’ve lived in many, many neighborhoods. I had a compulsion to move in my 20s--I was just never comfortable. Here are the places I’ve lived, not necessarily in the correct order:

• Morningside Heights
• Brooklyn Heights
• Upper West Side
• Lower East Side
• East Village
• Cobble Hill
• Carroll Gardens
• Chelsea
• West Village (6 years)
• Sunset Park

And now, Astoria, and in a few months, the Ditmars side of Astoria. And this time, we’re homeowners, so perhaps this will be my last neighborhood? Who knows.

But finding Astoria and moving here was a great revelation. This is by far my favorite part of New York, and I feel like I have the breadth of experience of having lived in a lot of places to really back that up.

I found Astoria via Sesame Street, where my husband works, and which shoots at Kaufman Astoria studios on 34th Avenue. We had been living in Sunset Park together and had just married that fall, and he was working in the studio on that season’s episodes. So every morning he left our Brooklyn apartment at 7 AM, and he came home most nights at 10 PM.

We had no children then and I was working late most nights. I was still on staff at an ad agency; I hadn’t yet gone freelance and regained control of my hours. So we were both stretched thin.

And we hated our apartment and we hated our neighborhood. But like most things you hate but that envelope you, we didn’t really consider changing. We had really low rent, we loved each other and we weren’t home that much.

But the neighborhood felt so unfriendly and desolate and downtrodden. I used to powerwalk (my knees couldn’t handle running, so yes, I became one of those silly-looking women—and when I start exercising again, I’ll go back) in Green-wood Cemetery, which was nearby, but they kicked me out (you can’t powerwalk in a cemetery, even if you bring along a bouquet of flowers so you look like you are going to visit a grave… that is how low I had sunk—pretending to mourn a loved one so I could work out). So I had to powerwalk through the streets, and it was so lonely until I got to Park Slope, and then it was too crowded.

So we just endured, enjoyed our cheap rent and rejoiced when Fresh Direct started delivering so we actually had okay groceries (there were no good restaurants near us either).

And then came the Sesame Street Christmas Party, which used to be a big extravaganza. It was held on the set (by Hooper’s store) with tons of food and a DJ playing eighties hits and disco, and a wild Muppet pageant, and singing, and alcohol, and some office hijinks. I’m not great at those parties but this one was fun.

After the party, the entire cast and crew were allowed to take Town cars home (big perk after months of late nights!), so we climbed into ours outside the studio and it took off through the Astoria streets. And that’s when I fell in love.

It was late December and late at night, and my husband and I were giggling at the drunken people (a mystery guest and one of the interns) making out in front of the studio (big gossip for the next morning!) and I looked out the window, happy to be in the car heading to our apartment.

And all of a sudden I knew I wanted to live here, in this neighborhood. It looked as though a family could be happy here, in these quiet streets. It looked as though people had real lives here, that they weren’t just camping out until the next best thing showed itself. It felt as though a life could be built here and enjoyed and treasured.

I mentioned how pretty I thought Astoria was to my husband and he sort of blinked at me. He had never considered it a neighborhood—it was where the studio was, nothing more and nothing less.

It was in Queens, and Queens, to young, ambitious people in New York, was very low on the totem pole. In fact, it was lower than where Brooklyn used to be. And yet somehow Brooklyn has become cool and desirable. Anyway, Queens just wasn’t on his radar. It hadn’t been on mine either until that moment. Plus my father had grown up in Jackson Heights, and he had talked often about escaping Queens. For me to actually desire to live in Queens was truly bizarre to my dad.

So my husband thought about it, and fairly quickly he agreed with me (transforming his commute from an hour to five minutes was a big incentive). And six months later we moved to Astoria, and a few months later had our first child. Astoria is where our family truly began.

I love it here. And it is the place I imagined it might be that night in the Town Car heading back to Brooklyn—yet far, far more.

I’d love to know how other moms found Astoria. It is my favorite part of New York City, and I wish I had found it years before.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


I have spent the last week trying to find the perfect cake to make for my son’s birthday party next weekend. I have tested so many recipes that it’s absolutely insane. I made my husband sit down and make a schedule for next week for who will clean what and when. My parents and sister are coming in to town and I’ve tried to schedule as many fun-filled events as I can pack into a long weekend for us all. And then there’s the party – inviting all of our friends and my son’s friends, getting the party favors, planning to make the food. I have four different lists going at the moment of what to buy and when, what goes where and how to do it.

Until this morning, when I thought of next weekend, I broke out into a sweat, stressing about everything. The funny part? My son is turning one. He cares nothing about cake or sparkly kitchen floors. He won’t know if his wrapping paper matches the party-themed napkins or if the cake is gluten-free, dairy-free or none of the above. So why am I doing all of this?

This is what I do. I’m a do-er. I like to do things and go places and cross things off of lists. And since I’ve had my son, my “do” addiction is out of control. It seems like as soon as I cross one thing off, three more things are added on. Cross off getting groceries – add on doing more laundry, calling to make an appointment with the pediatrician, and ordering diapers.

In my “other” life, I’m a Holistic Health Counselor. I coach people on how to make their own wellness a priority and to find peace and grace, yet when I look at how I’ve been living recently, I can honestly say that my life resembles neither peace nor grace.

A great man once taught me about “the magic of mirroring”, meaning that clients who are attracted to my practice will most likely have challenges that I have overcome or am dealing with currently.

So yesterday, I was listening with great pity to my client, who was telling me that she finds no satisfaction in achieving a goal, but rather takes pride in finding something new and more challenging to keep her mind active. I asked her when she was going to find peace in just “be-ing”. I challenged her to just be with her feelings for a moment and it was difficult for her to do.

Then, it struck me. She is my mirror. She has been adding things to her list long enough for her babies to turn into men. Is this going to be me when my son is grown? Still over-achieving? Still crossing off one thing, only to add three more?

In church, the pastor was talking about “earthly riches”. Reminding us that “ you can’t take it with you”. But what about my “to do” list? Can I take that with me?

And what about when my son is thinking back on his childhood – maybe talking to a therapist or a health counselor. Will he remember us “be-ing” together? Or will he remember frequently seeing the back of my head as I intently mix up cakes and fold laundry and email and…

…make him wait for me to complete my never-ending list.

This life is about “be-ing”. Being together. Being loved. Being a friend. Being a mom and a wife and a daughter and a sister. I can be a human “doing” or a human “being”.

So how do I break my “doing” addiction?

For today, I am different choices, and if it means I have to include those on my “to do” list, I will. Add cherishing every sense as my son nurses from my breast while falling asleep. Add choosing to sit on the couch next to my husband and hold hands. Add going to bed early enough to be open to what the Universe has in store for me the next day.

And I know I can’t “take it with me” -- but if I can, I’d rather take my son than a really nice cake.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

And then we almost moved to ...

During the past two, three months I was living in a reticent and reluctant world, I guess it felt like I was living in a box. Things were about to change. My in-laws were in town and we had a wonderful time together, but then again, back to normal life.
I packed myself up and lived day by day as if it was my last day here in Astoria. (there's a voice inside telling me how dramatic I am - so let's put this voice aside for a moment. I am what I am)
Moving puts us in a delicate situation in which we have to deal with practical things and abstract issues. In our case, we wanted to move because of Antonio's new job in Jersey City, because we wanted to have dad home earlier and enjoy him as much as we could. So we started looking for information about rentals in Jersey City and Hoboken. We actually visited the place a couple of times and as much as we liked the area, we disliked the rental price, the small-sized apartments and the quality of some of the schools near the areas we were interested in moving in.
Finally, yesterday we sat down and talked about this big step. We weighed pros and cons, and were very honest about our desires, fears, dreams and how the moving would affect them ... The fact is, it is hard to leave Astoria (this lively neighborhood) and the life we have here (and all the friends). And although I am not sure for how long we are staying, for the moment we are staying for good.
I guess now I can put the box away. Life is waiting and I don't want to miss a thing!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

I love my boys

Ok, I only have one son and I am pregnant with a girl. So who are my boys?

They include my son and his gang. I joined this mom's group when my son was only a few weeks old and went to my first meetup when Samuel was 7 weeks old. I was such a geek. I went with a notebook and wrote down everything everyone recommended: an indoor playcenter called bumbolee's, swim lessons at the Y, well it was a short list, there was not much around Astoria. I took notes on who I met- I'm horrible with names and I didn't want to forget the names- I needed friends desperately. Who would figure that these women would be such an inportant part of my life now?

What I never imagined from that first meetup was that my son would learn his first social lessons, from the babies I met at these first meetups. My son is growing up with his set of buddies. He asks for them by name. "Mami I want to see my amigos" and he goes on to list the names of those he wants to see today. When we leave playgroups he leaves crying like he's some poor neglected child who never gets to play with friends.

These buddies I have seen since they were babes. As moms we've all shared in crying through the night, rolling over, crawling, walking, running, holy shit he won't stop running, and the lovely "dude can you leave my breasts alone already"? Now these little guys are making their own friendships and rules. They laugh, tease, hit, ok sometimes bite, hug, and love each other. When I see them together it is mayhem and complete joy. My eyes light up at not just seeing my son, but at seeing his friends. I am so proud of all these kids and their accomplishments together. Look at how strong so and so is. Look how far so and so is climbing. I can't believe how clever your son is to say that. Wow I can't believe how much energy so and so has. Dude your son is so gorgeous...

I really feel like bragging about all these kids like they were my own. So even if I never have another son, ladies thanks for making me feel like I have several.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Your turn, Mommy

Right now, I'm a favorite playmate. Not *the* favorite, but definitely in the top 5- for both of my kids. I'm very often asked to play trains, or cars, to paint or draw, and always to read books before bed. Also, though my singing is sometimes unwelcome, I am often asked to sing favorites-- right now it's "I've been working on the railroad," particularly, "Sing someone's in the kitchen!"
Outside, it's often- "Your turn. You roll, Mommy," and I obligingly roll on the grass. We can roll together, and my 6 month old is left to watch us confusedly. I'm asked to "swing" him by holding him under his arm pits. When asked to draw chalk pictures and letters or numbers, I'm happy to help. I am asked to ride bikes, too, but right now it's hard because I most often am carrying the 6 month old and we can't both fit. But I am helpful when it comes to taking worms carefully out of the dirt, and often asked to rescue bugs. We fill up buckets with water and pour it over the flowers or onto the driveway. We put leaves on the tiny rivers and watch them float away.
My 6 month old is also in love. All I have to do to get him to smile is smile myself. Or laugh, or tickle him under his chin. If I sing, he's ecstatic. I'm forever being groped- my hair is grabbed so that he can pull us more closely together and my cheeks and chin are used for teething. He yells and squeals to get me to look at him and he'd love to stay all day on my lap (and often nearly does).
I know that someday- hopefully not too soon- I will no longer be the preferred companion. I'll be *mom* and hopefully will fulfill other roles in their lives. During the days that feel like everyone constantly needs me, I have to remember that this, too, will pass.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Balancing Act

I second Karen's "back to work blues." There are only two more weeks left in my life as a stay-at-home mom. Whatever that means. I know few moms who just *stay at home*. And being at home is a very hard job. Most moms I know have if not formal jobs -part time or full time outside the house or work from home - they have some sort of consulting, or tutoring, or fledgling new business ventures. And if they are not currently moving toward these formal or informal work modes, they are in school, or are planning for school, or planning what they want to do in the 2, 3, 5 more years that they plan to be home with their children. And almost all of the moms I know wish that there could be a balance between having enough time with kids, and enough time to work on a career, enough money to take care of family finances, enough of a sense of self that going back to school, or a job seems to help fulfill.

I feel that it's a wonderful thing to make the commitment to be home with children. As many wise people point out to me, no one looks back on these days with our children and thinks "God, I wish that I hadn't stayed home while my kids were little." I believe this, and yet, I'm going back to work. My choice to work full time as a teacher for the board of education was long thought out, pondered upon and cried over.

After I had my first child, and the first blurry, exhausting and overwhekming month had passed, I thought, "What do I do now?" So many questions ran through my head. Among them: "What is my life going to be like now- when its just me and this baby for 12 hours out of the day?" and then: "How will we make enough money to survive in the city?" and "What's enough money to survive in the city?" That was point one: I had to bring some money home.

And, I wasn't so sure that I could hack it at home. It's really the hardest job when you are the sole caretaker for a little one (at last my husband would be home by 7 each night- I was lucky), let alone taking care of the house and everything that goes with it. I was so sure that I would want to work part-time as a contract speech-pathologist for early intervention. I had done it after my day job in the past, going from home to home during the afternoon and early evening hours. It was fun, the children I worked for made progress, and I really enjoyed working with families. But the reality of trying to make a family friendly schedule with just contract work proved difficult- most people wanted me at their homes in the afternoons and evenings, as did trying to find a baby-sitter willing to work my schedule. And I realized how much I liked having colleagues. Doing home therapy means that 99% of the time, you are the only therapist in the house and are working with the parents and child.

So I went back to working in a school and then to the department of education for NYC. Yes, there's red tape, yes, there are a few whiny teachers that I have to deal with once in a while. But, I love my job, I love (almost all of) the teachers I work with, and I really love the kids. For all of the bureaucratic nonsense, I feel like I have a lot of freedom in planning what I do. And, I can leave the job there when I come home. I usually do a little paperwork each night and plan a project or two on the weekends, but I am able to be at daycare to pick up my son by 3:30. And summers off are really sweet when you can spend the time with your kids! It took me a full year to reach that decision.

Still, I have conflicting emotions. It will never feel like "enough" time with my kids. And not that it's easy to do much housework with a six month-old who wants to be held all of the time, or keep up after a three year-old who unloads box of toys as soon as I clean up, but there will be even less time for house-work. I can do a little after they go to bed, but I'll also have paperwork and want to hang out with my husband. And I want to make sure that we have a little time together, too. And for me: time for friends, and family, and remembering to do things I love and spend time with people I care about.....on the weekends, after dates, day trips, cleaning, cooking, reading, church, and when am I ever going to see a play again? Go to a book reading?

I know that I'm lucky. I have 2 sweet, healthy kids and a wonderful husband. I have a job that is family friendly. Even though we've just been scraping by, I was able to take off six months to be at home.

But, selfishly, I think about the *what ifs*- What if I decide to stay home some day? What if I decided to change careers? What if I want to go back to school? And: What if I've made the wrong decision? What if I don't have enough time with my kids? What would ever feel like enough in my life to feel balanced?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Back to Work Blues

I've got the back to work blues. My baby is so little (well actually she's huge) and my son just turned 3 and is so much fun to be with, and here I am going back to work. How can I do this to them? How can I do this to me? Don't get me wrong, I love my job. And the best part is, I get to go back 3 days a week. So I consider myself lucky to have a job I love that is part-time so I can spend time with my kids. Sometimes I feel its the best of both worlds. Sometimes I find myself wishing my husband made more money so I could stay at home full-time. I have so much respect for my friends who are full-time stay at home moms. It takes so much energy, patience, creative thinking. My husband's job is out on long island and every year we talk about moving out there so that he would have a short commute and maybe I could stay home with the kids. I guess now would be the time to do it while they are small, but we love Astoria and love the life we have here, even if its not perfect.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Jena 6- Could it ever happen here?

I've been reading with outrage the news about the "Jena 6". You've heard of it, I'm sure: the six young men (who are black) are being charged with murder and assault and batttery after getting into a fight with another kid (white) at their school after weeks of escalating tension and altercations stemming from one black student asking an assistant principal if he could sit underneath the tree where the white students routinely sat (he was told, "You can sit anywhere you want."), followed by nooses being put in the tree, followed by black students being (rightly) outraged, followed by an altercation at a convenience store between some of the black kids and white kids, with one of the white boys pulling a shotgun out of his truck and one of the black boys taking it away from him (the black young man was charged with theft of a firearm but nothing happened to the white young man!), followed by the scuffle at school, in which a white boy got hurt (and was treated and released from the hospital that day) and the 6 young black men, who by some accounts may have not done anything during the fight other than stand there, will do time in jail.

here's some info from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

NPR has some photos of the town and some of the people involved in the case.

It's outrageous! It's disgusting! And I think, "that would never happen here," but of course it does!

The reason why these children are now on trial is because of a physical fight. But there was so much that happened before the fight, and the authority figures in these children's lives (teachers, prinicipals, police officers) should have stopped it then.

It should have stopped with the idiots who put nooses in trees. They should have been expelled and the principal and superintendent and police and whoever else should have been involved to help declare a "no tolerance" policy for racism. But that's not what happened.

We know why..... because people in that town tolerated the racism. What I mean is, the white people in that town allowed it. The racism had been unspoken, and when it was given a voice (the black boy asking if he could sit under that tree), acknowledging that the racism was real, then that was enough of someone "stepping over the line" for the white people and the beating back began. The white people allowed it to fester and grow (this town is 85% white). The people in town let it fester. I don't know if there were any black teachers or staff in authority at that school.....

here's a post by someone about being in the south and dealing with "stepping over that line".

I can't help but think about my kids. I mean my two boys who I gave birth to but also to the young men who I teach. Most are black, or "people of color." Could something like this happen to them? Yes, I bet that it could. (Many of my students lack the critical thinking and reasoning to always avoid situations that could turn out terribly! What I mean is, they don't know how to high-tail it out of there if something looks like it's gonna turn bad. And it seems to happen to them more often than most...) But I don't think that it would ever happen to them at our school. I'm not saying that teachers and principals in the NYC public schools are not ever racist and vindictive (I'm sure that there are some!), but I feel assured that at my school they are cared for by staff who do not feel that way. Our staff are very protective of our kids. We love them and care for them and do what we can while they are with us. (It's what happens once they leave us for the day that scares us sometimes) it also helps that though there are white teachers at my school, there are lots of "people of color," too (including our principal).

But I feel terribly sad for all the young men and women who now must feel betrayed by what happened at a place where they are supposed to feel safe: school.

I love being a teacher, and I do it because I love the kids. Yes, even when they are rotten to each other and rotten to me (on occasion it happens) or to another teacher or to themselves. But imagine being in a place that is for learning and growing, and not feeling safe!

Is it any better here? No, it's just different. One of the reason I moved here is the mix of people who live here. There are a lot of people who recently came to America from somewhere else- Brazil, Bangladesh, Honduras, Mexico, China, Croatia, Montenegro, Ukraine, England, and so on. Plus, there are people who are a generation or so removed from another country (who still have a few varying ties to the old place), and some who's people have been here for some time.

Also, there is a mix of money and social class (which is not the same thing!)- there are people just holding it together, and some who have a lot in the bank- there are people here who are the first to finish highschool and some professionals....There are a few hipsters and artists, civil servents (like me!), yuppies and lawyers and bankers and mechanics and construction workers.....

I'm not saying that it's a perfect mix- it isn't. And there are definitely mixed feelings about the mix....

When we moved into our house in 1999, I was gardening in my mini "yard" in the front of my house. An older woman stopped to say hello and told me that she was my neighbor. No one had said "boo" to us yet, so I was thrilled to talk to a real, live neighbor. She told me about how she and her husband purchaced their house when she was a bride, how nice the neighborhood was but how the place had changed. Oh no, I thought, here we go....

"There are a lot of Orientals living here now. I don't like them."

I thought to myself- "Lady, you're telling me!" Cause there were 4 of them in my house! (3 Japanese students were our tenants uptairs and my husband is Filipino)

There was no way that I felt like telling off an old lady (who has since passed away), so I told her how much I loved living here and how nice everyone was. I added, "A lot of people from all over the world live here and I think it's great!" And after I had my first child, she often stopped us during walks in the neighborhood and was always very sweet to us- including my husband!

Is there racism in Astoria? Of course! and classism and sexism.....
But I feel safe, and I think that most people I know feel safe.

But, I hear little kids say things to each other on the playground about color and race in ways that aren't endearing inside jokes (the way my husband and I talk about how are kids look "filipino," or "not so filipino"), but sound like deliberate, hurtful jabs. Could those jabs escalate and fester into a situation like that in Jena?

I don't know how the fight at the high school in Jena started, but I do think that there things are "black and white," and because that kind of racism is such a sick, insidious kind -the kind that created the situation that trapped the Katrina victims- that is passed down from parent to child.

this is a great post, too:

Do I know what it is like to be a person of color in America? Nope, I don't. But I know that I don't want to help continue racism and want to help fight it. I'm doing it for my kids- the ones in my house and the ones in my school (because they are all in my heart).

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Prisoner Release

I actually went out Friday night! It took some doing - my 3 year-old was fighting sleep as well as my 5 month old, but as soon as the bigger one was down and the little one passed out in my arms, my husband gently took him from me and said, "Go! Now!" I grabbed the car keys and ran out of the house. The dinner I was trying to get to had started at at 8, and it was now 10, but I arrived before the check and got to have post-dinner coffee. It was literary night. OK, fine, call it "book club" if you must, but really it's an excuse to go out to dinner. The books are always discussed at some point during the meal, but never the focus. The focus, really, is getting out of the house without your children, and though I love the very rare times that I am able to go out with just my husband, I also am thrilled to go out with my friends.

I am 34, and had lots of "me" time before having children. I used to go out a lot and work a lot, and did just about whatever I wanted to do when I wanted to.

After 2 kids, I think, am I still me? Of course I am. And yet, I am changed in many ways. Life changes happen all of the time (relationships start, or end, our parents die, we feel transformed by a cause, by the need to help others, a new job, or we move, travel), though there are few that cause as many changes as having and caring for children. My life now happens along with and because of (at least primarily) my kids. I'm still "me" because I want to feel like I am.

I think that having a sense of "self" and being "myself" is feeling contented with the choices/things that have happened to me, invigorated to act by the things that excite me or that I feel need to change. Of course it's no longer- "just about me"- it's about my family - my kids, my husband, and my extended family too (including friends).......

After my first son was born, for the first 5 weeks, I no longer felt connected to anything- my friends were working, or lived far away, and my family is scattered across the country. I felt very alone and did not want to be. My life had been centered around going to work, seeing friends, going to lectures and book readings, movies, rock shows, and the occasional play, dance performance and political rally and protest. And I was now alone (during the day), caring for a crying baby all day and barely sleeping at night. There are no breaks once you are a parent- no nights off or just an extra hour of sleep in the morning. I was completely exhausted and overwhelmed.

I finally met some other new moms in the neighborhood and joined a "moms group". It is such a good feeling to get to be with other people who understand where you are coming from- a lack of sleep, a feeling of disconnect, and also coming to the realization that everything has changed.

And now I have made lots of wonderful friends who are also moms in my neighborhood who I would not have met (probably) if I did not have kids and had not had the need to reach out to other moms.

I'm grateful in the ways that being a mom has made me more "myself". I get to love, and be loved. I get to experience life as my children experience it. I get to learn with them (and from them). I love being a mom.

I'm so lucky! So lucky that I have met these wonderful, fun, smart, caring, compassionate moms (and some dads) who I spend time with- in playdates, during our literary nights, at the park and playground..... And I have met fantastic women who are moms and lawyers, and activists, and artists, and teachers, and writers, and who are tons of fun to be with to boot.

Being with these moms inspires me to experience more- I want to make ties in my community, I want to help raise money for causes, I want to volunteer my time, I want to write, and create- and I can. I finally have a community, I finally have causes that I really, deeply care about.

I realize that having children has not made me less of myself, but more of myself. I can feel true love- the love of a mom for her children. I have reached out to others when I used to be reserved. My life is not just about me, but it never really was supposed to be in the first place. And a life of just me was not a rich life at all- my life is really much richer for knowing these great people - the moms who I have met have become great friends, and because being a mom gives me the impetus to want to make these connections. And because being a mom has made me feel so deeply for my children, and husband, and family, and friends.

And of course, out of these changes arises "mom blogs," or "parent blogs," the need of those forever changed by a child and exiting the life of me and entering a life of me + we to share it with the world.

It's a much better life, at least for me. And though sometimes setting up the train tracks for my 3 year-old for the what feels like 100th time that day and trying to soothe my screaming 5 month-old for the 50th time (literally) that day causes me to feel like I am in a place I can't escape from, I am also grateful that I am here. I may seem like a prisoner in self imposed mom jail, but this is the same place that also gave me the freedom to feel like I could fly.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

What are you gonna be?

So my dear son is really happy and exited about starting pre-k this week. You know his father is a teacher so for him going to school is like having a "real job". A few weeks ago he asked me if he was gonna get paid to go to pre-k.

This afternoon our conversation went as follows:
-Am I going to teach to the other kids? No honey, you are going to be a student.
-Is my Dad a student sometimes? I said yes, when he goes to Pace he is (he is working on his masters).
-Am I going to be a teacher when I grow up? --You can be whatever you want honey, a teacher, a doctor, an engineer, an artist...
-What about a race car driver or a MUFFIN MAKER!!-- You can also be that, honey...
(Little pause)
-Mom, what are you gonna be when you grow up?--I still don't know baby.

And I truly don't know. Sometimes I think it is unreal that I am married, and that I am a mom to 2 amazing boys. That I have a kid that is going to start pre-k and next year he will be in kindergarten! I mean, my oldest one is only 3 1/2 and I am learning so much from him, he is an incredible person, a great brother, so caring and worried about all of us, me his dad, his family. And he always wants to learn, to know stuff. I just feel so blessed to have him. And my little one, he is 2 already and he loves to make me laugh and whenever he sees I am not feeling well he offers me a band-aid. So cute, so loving. Being a mom is nothing like what I signed up for, is way more challenging, every second, I feel like am being tested on something.
I know am going to go back to school, I've been wanting to change careers for a while now. I still haven't decided what I want to study. But it doesn't matter what else I choose to do, I never imagined that my best teachers were going to be less than 4 feet tall and that they would snack on goldfish and juice.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Books, letters and maternal feelings - Part II

I am here, looking at the computer screen trying to understand why I am writing this post. Thinking "Am I being selfish or silly?". There is always a maybe for every question we ask ourselves. There is always a thought nourishing a mother's heart. So please, once again, excuse my deviations.

As I read Dhuoda's handbook for her son William, I keep thinking about my own book of letters. An attempt. That one for Estela. Thoughts of failure that like fog keep me away from doing things that I like to do. And the motherhood routine that fulfills me in many directions.

My great concern, my son William, is to offer you helpful words. My burning, watchful heart especially desires that you may have in this little volume what I have longed to be written down for you, about you were born through God's grace.

When I started writing the little book, my grandmother was still alive and so were my hopes. When Dhuoda started writing her guide, her son William was also alive. A mother's desire is atemporal and universal.
Unfortunately and because life is a never ending circle, my grandmother passed away. And the letter was discontinued. Period.
The Carolingian scene doesn't go any further than mine. Dhuoda's husband was executed by Charles the Bald, and her son William was killed in an attempt to avange his father. A much worse conclusion.
Hers, was a lonely text.

Sometimes I believe that our noblewoman was fortunate. Fortunate and providential not to have known about her son's loss while she was writing the book as, in my modest opinion, it was a form of redemption, a lament for her personal circumstances. The only way she could probably express her most secret feelings, fears, love and beliefs. It is hard to imagine how life was for a woman of the ninth century whose lineage - "cutting throats, but endowing churches" - was the ideal example of the Frankish aristocratic values. It is even harder to conceive the life of a mother who was separated from her children.

My curiosity and knowledge regarding the Middle Ages tend to be very romantic and immature, fed by fairy tales, picture books and movies such as The Name of the Rose. So reading the Handbook for William is helping me to expand my repertoire, my point of view and my admiration for those brave women from the past.

Her handbook throws welcome light on women's history, the history of childhood, and the self-perception of the Frankish nobility. The Carolingian Renaissance (...) left many literary remains that testify to the liveliness of its intellectual life, but the overwhelming majority of ninth-century books are the works of male clerics. Dhuoda's work, a married woman's book, makes at least a partial break with that monopoly.

Below, two of the Dhuoda's basic and precious advices on conduct:

(From Book 8)

11. For those who were truly good:
For those who were truly good, we offer thanks.

12. For those who were not truly good:
For those who were not truly good, propitiation.

Listening "In heaven (lady in the Radiator Song) everything is fine." Pixies

Thursday, August 30, 2007

On time, frivolity, and the five year promise

“Maybe I’ll take a yoga class today,” my best friend from college said to me last weekend, as my 3-year old daughter shoved another book into her arms and climbed into her lap. “I’m sort of stiff.” Then she bent her head and read One Fish Two Fish to my daughter.

She had been telling me about her summer—surfing in Far Rockaway, her house on Fire Island, her incredibly interesting job, the dates she had been on. And I was listening intently. I love hearing about her life and she loves playing with my kids. But this one line—an unplanned yoga class—blew the top off my brain.

I used to do that. I used to go to yoga classes when I was stiff. No one cared if I went. No one needed childcare arranged. And that time hadn’t been already promised six times over to at least three other people. It was just yoga on a slow Sunday afternoon. Nothing more, nothing less.

When I had my first child, I resolved to keep some of my old life. Not all, but a little. I tried to see my friends. I tried to keep up with gossip and go to a few of the parties. I even tried to exercise. But with a full time job, it became clear that I didn’t have time to do everything. And as my child got older, I got less interested in those pursuits, and then I got pregnant again. And therein went the rest of my resolve.

With the birth of my second child (3 months ago), I just gave up. This year, at least, was a wash—I wouldn’t even pretend I was going to exercise. I decided to have lunch with friends but not bother to plan any dinners. I needed to get home and be with the children. I whittled down my priorities to my family and my job. That was it. Everything else, if it happened, was gravy. I was not going to try.

And a huge weight lifted when I stopped trying. If this was giving up, so be it. It felt great. I wasn’t exiling myself to total loneliness. I still had friends, though certainly not as many as I had when I went out a lot. I just didn’t do the things I had done as a single person.

On the subway I found myself listing all the things I don’t do anymore. Knitting with friends, having oysters and wine at the bar with friends, exercising, talking on the phone for hours, shopping for fun (!), taking long walks with friends, getting really expensive highlights, playing squash and tennis, going on vacations and not worrying about anyone’s nap schedule, going to bad parties and meeting unpleasant people and then talking about them the next morning on the phone and analyzing just why they were so unpleasant.

And most of those activities, I realized, would still be possible in five or so years, when I’ve been told things slow down. (Is this true?) I will someday knit again with friends! I will play squash. And that is enough to keep me going on bad days.

But will I ever have time to just spend on whatever again? Because that is the part I find most heartbreaking, the thing I fear I won’t regain in five years, or even ten years or ever—time as something I am free to waste. Because it’s a heavy burden—as anyone with little children realizes—to always be accountable, to never feel okay about saying, “the hell with it, I’m spending the afternoon at the bar, or at the gym, or on the couch, or on the phone talking about nothing.” Because at this stage in my life, choosing how to spend time is always a choice between a number of things that absolutely must happen.

I do remember, during my single years, the burden of too much time, of empty time, of afternoons that loomed open and terrifying, when no one really cared what I did. And that wasn’t fun. But that feeling is harder to conjure lately.

Even if the five year promise holds true, I can’t believe I’ll ever take time for granted again.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Parents, children and parents...

Olivia’s birthday party was in full swing, the will-it-won’t-it rain panic had passed and the kids managed to stay in one place and join in with Allison and the aardvarks. I took a mental step back and looked around. My beautiful daughter in my arms, my gorgeous son by my side and my friends and family all around. It was a moving moment. It was also an emotional one. Both my parents are being treated for cancer (dad-kidney/mum-pancreas) and neither one was feeling their usual selves. My dad sat quietly on a chair and my mum flaked out on the sofa. They missed the songs and the birthday cake.

Once the guests had left and the chaos had subsided, they both awoke from their naps, feeling a little better, and joined us for the present opening. Again I took a step back. This time I realized how blessed I am to have what I have and how fragile life is.

Until we have children of our own, we are the children. Our parents are our parents and we fit nicely into those roles. Having children changes that dynamic, as obvious as that may seem. I am the middle piece of the puzzle, I hold the other two pieces together. The picture would not be complete with one piece missing.

I’m confident that my mum and dad will come through the other side of this ordeal healthy and happy. There are a lot of birthday parties to come. Not to mention barmitzvahs, graduations and weddings!

I just want to be selfish and say that I need them to always be there, just like they always have been, just like I now am for my own kids.

Books, letters and maternal feelings

"You cannot open a book without learning something."
(Confucius, 551 - 479 BC)

My calendar says I have two more weeks to finish reading The Accidental for our book club. And I know I'll be extremely disappointed if I don't finish it in time. However, today I had to postpone my reading (and of course, come up with something smart to entertain my guilty feelings) because of a book about the Middle Ages that I had ordered a couple of weeks ago.

Some of you know that I want to start my Master degree next year. Meanwhile I thought it would be nice to take a fall course in Literature, Arts or whatever course that would match my daughter's schedule at her school. After intense research, and by intense I mean spending hours and hours at the Internet browsing through catalogs and trying to understand how to navigate in sometimes confusing websites, I finally found out that the only course I could take without having to change Estela's schedule was Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance.

"Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance?", I asked Antonio about it.
"Well, I think it's a very interesting subject. Go for it", said my husband trying to bring some sense over my negative thoughts.

And so I did. It was the only option I had, right? The night I enrolled in it I ordered from Amazon a book called Handbook for William - A Carolingian Woman's Counsel for her Son. Needless to say my motherly side spoke louder. When I first placed my eyes on the book I could not think of any other use for it than its historical connotation, even knowing it was a book written
by a mother to her son. But much to my surprise the book reveals itself in its first pages, evidencing the uniqueness of a handbook as the work of a lay noblewoman of the ninth century:

I send you this little book written down in my name, that you may read it for your education, as a kind of mirror.
I wish you to hold it, turn its pages and read it, so that you may fulfill it in worthy action. For this little model-book is a lesson from me and a task for you.

At the end of my first year living in Astoria I decided to start a handbook for my daughter Estela as a result of living in a foreign land and away from my parents, so later in her life she would be able to understand our choices, learn from our experiences and about our relatives.
I wanted this book to be made of a collection of letters describing our family back in Brazil and discussing the aspects of being far away in a different society. The first and only letter I was able to write was entitled "Appreciating Grandparents".

To be continued ...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Outside with the kids.......

Please indulge me in discussing myself and my love of all things Astorian.

I like living in Astoria. A lot. I'm the type who gets defensive when people who live in other places make disparaging remarks about where I live (or am I just being defensive?) or who do not give Astoria the praise I feel it deserves. To be fair, I'm sure I would want to feel that wherever I chose to live was the best place- at least for me (and for my family). But really, I choose to live here because I love so much about it.

May I tell you why Astoria is so great? I feel like it's the best of both worlds because we are in the "city" (an in an outer borough of NYC), and we are really close to Manhattan (from 2-7 subway stops away from midtown), but it is also its own distinct and rich neighborhood. And of course there are plenty of other neighborhoods in other outer boroughs that are their own individual neighborhoods, and close in a commuter friendly way to Manhattan. But we also have so many cool things to do......

And I realize that I sound a lot like a travel brochure, but I have to brag about some of my favorite outdoor spaces. A very good argument, I feel, against living in the city and particularly raising children in the city, is that there is not a lot of space to run around in, or explore, or just go wild in. Yes, we have playgrounds, but there is not a lot of nature there, just asphalt and rubber padding.

Some places to play outside.....

My favorite park, the Socrates Sculpture Park, is a kind of wild space. There are cool sculpture exhibits, sure, but there is lots of grass and places for kids to romp. They have family art activities on the weekends (and offers art workshops to community groups at other times) in the summer. There are outdoor movies, bands play there. Also, they throw great parties......

I love Astoria Park too, it's a huge space! You really can't beat the view over the water, between the two bridges...tons of boats to look at and there's lots of grass, and hills to run down. In the summer, their beautiful pool is open.

Did you know that you can kayak on the east river?

When I think to myself, "Is it fair that I'm raising kids in a city? They have no "backyard" to play in...I grew up with a backyard, and we could move somewhere that has more space if we would stand a longer commute and live somewhere much farther away...." it makes me feel much better. Yes, they have to share their "yard" with other people, but there are beautiful spots here to play.

There are lots of wonderful things about living in/raising kids in the city, also.... which I will ramble on about later......

If anyone else wants to chime in about great outdoor spots in Astoria, or about raising kids in the city (arguments for and against)...........

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Astoria Moms- Urban Family Planning

We, the moms in my mama writing group, decided that we should make a blog. Enough talking about it- Let's Do It!

We have a lot to say, since we're a chatty bunch. We have opinions, absolutely, on what is the best grocery store to take our strollers into, and where to get good kids shoes. We also love to talk about all the very cool places we go to- in the city (Manhattan), in the 'hood (Queens, baby!), and beyond both near and far (Brooklyn, Long Island, England, Israel, Peru!).

We also have opinons on politics, literature, art, racism and sexism. We have really strong opinions on what it feels like to be a mom, struggling to balance keeping a sense of self with being a good parent.

And of course, dads, grandparents, guardians, aunts and uncles and those without kids (we once were just like you!) are always welcome!

But our blog, as a whole, reflects what it is like to be a woman with kids in Astoria, Queens, NY, and our adventures and thoughts thereof.

We welcome submissions and those who would like to join!