Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Worth

17/365


Let your heart be
cradled by someone
worthy of your
weaknesses
but who won't
limit you to them.
Let your soul be
fed by someone
who won't dismiss
your greatness with
a heavy shrug of

this is who we are,

but who grabs your
hand to leap into 
deep oceans of

look at all we can be.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Voice

Tonight at dinner, my youngest son (age 12) asked, “Why do so many little girls want to be princesses?” I opened my mouth to answer, but my husband beat me to it. “Because Disney told them to,” he said.

He’s not wrong.

I can honestly and truly say I never dreamed of being a princess—with the notable exception being Princess Leia. I wasn’t even allowed to have a Barbie doll as a kid, because my mother thought it would send me the wrong message about women’s beauty standards. This was in the late 70s and early 80s, and she was in the minority when it came to this line of thinking.

She wasn’t wrong.

As a child, the types of women I looked up to in pop culture—Leia, Wonder Woman, Jo from the Facts of Life, Mary Tyler Moore—were not Hollywood’s typical distressed female characters in need of saving. I admired their sass and cleverness. I was in awe of their independence and self-confidence. I wanted to be half as cool as any one of them when I grew up.

Then I turned 12, and I no longer saw myself as equal to boys. Instead, I let their opinions about me define me. I became precoccupied with how to be the most unique conformist among my peers. I wanted to be my own person, but I had no idea how to do that and still be accepted--especially by boys. So, I assimilated. And for several years, I pushed aside that plucky little kid who wanted to change the world and instead looked toward a list of vapid Molly Ringwald characters for inspiration. I ditched individuality for a decidedly John Hughes-ish definition of success: be different but not too different, be strong but not too strong, win the cool boyfriend, and live happily ever after. 

It took a long time to unlearn that.

In the meantime, I invested an embarrassing amount of time and energy to dating—and even, at one point, marrying—self-proclaimed punk rock stars. I logged thousands of hours over many years sitting in on practices, listening to demos, and going to shows in crappy bars six hours away in blinding snowstorms. I spent many nights helping load equipment into bars on the lower east side, and I spent equally as many early mornings driving back to New Haven from those shows. I racked up a lot of great memories and even some good friendships from those years, but most of that was centered around the art that someone else was creating. As bad or as good as it may have been, none of it was actually mine.

And even though I was a stereotypical skater Betty of the music scene, I didn’t even get a song written for me. I mean—come on. In all the years I spent lugging stupid cymbals and amp heads around—from high school through my mid-20s—I didn’t get a single song. I would have even settled for a cover. But no. I guess I didn’t earn it. I did get some legendary mix tapes from some non-musician guys that I dated. They were the guys my mother actually liked, so of course I managed to sabotage those relationships. But the guys playing three-chord punk rock behind the mic? Nothing.

It wasn’t until I went out with a decidedly un-punk rock guy that I was finally serenaded. On a sunny and hot August day, during a lunchtime date in Edgerton Park, he hopped up on a temporary stage used by the Elm City Shakespeare Company during its annual run of summer performances. The park was quiet. There were only a few other people there enjoying the peace of the afternoon, and this guy was about to pierce all of that in a way that only he could.

I held my breath, not knowing what he was about to do. And then he began singing. It took a few lines for me to recognize the tune: Elvis Presley’s “The Wonder of You.” He sang it well, and he sang it straight to me with a huge smile on his face. He captivated the small group in the park and bowed for them at the end of his show. It was romantic and sweet. But at this point in our dating, I also recognized it as part of his well-worn shtick, along with the roses occasionally left on my windshield. His serenade formally inducted me into a large club of women for whom It Would Never Work with this guy. Now, on the rare occasion I hear that song, it makes me think of just one thing: the beginning of the end.

Today, I’m married to a non-musician who falls into the “makes awesome mix tapes” category. For years, he DJ’d local parties, and the boy knows his wax and rock. I don’t get serenaded, and I’m pretty sure at this point that I’ll never have a song written for me. But I’m okay with that; I’ll write a poem for myself and call it a day. 

This Saturday, millions of women will march arm-in-arm making their voices heard for the rights of all. What really thrills me is that so many young girls will bear witness to these events. What a glorious thing—for young girls to see women assert and validate themselves with their own voices. But I won’t be there. While I’d like to go, I’ve made the decision to stay home and see through my commitments as a mother this weekend. I will be providing food for 45 kids at my son’s fencing meet and cheering on the boys and girls who compete equally in their matches there. Then I will hop in the car and drive to my son’s hockey game, where I will support his team of 12 year old boys—and one 12 year old girl who is just as good as any boy on that team, and who is unafraid to show it.

It’s not rebellious. It’s not ground-breaking. It’s not monumental or historic. But it’s important. And me and my hockey mom voice will be there, cheering her on.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Saveur (13/365)

It is a talent to savor
the juice of life as it
pours into our open
hands. We rush
moments without
tasting the warm
candy of lips that
seek ours. We fear
shocks that tingle
spines and set
throats ablaze
when two eyes
hold ours across
a crowded room.
But what’s to fear?
That fire heats this
big world. We must
master it to survive.
So be alive to the
warm hand at the
small of your back.
Trust the fingers
that trace your jaw.
Treasure the promise
of your whispered
name, but don’t cling
to it, baby. Remember
that the story you tell
yourself is the only
thing you can claim.
Rewrite it. Dare to
release your grip on
the hemline of
expectation, and tilt
your face to the
the warm kiss of
today. That is all we
are given, anyway.
It is more than
enough if we let
ourselves enjoy it.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Notice

Notice (9/365)

Why do we allow
greeting cards to
tell us which moments
are of value? Sure,
we keep sacred the
gowns of baptism,
graduation, and even
marriage. But these
events are no more
or less holy than sitting
alone by the light of a
Christmas tree late at
night, or stretching
bare legs under favorite
sheets with no hurry to
rise, or the gut-busting
laughter of young brothers
as they talk in their room
after a long day of school,
or a 12 year old skipping
rocks on a snowy beach
beside a lighthouse with his
old, black dog. All these
things and so much more—
like real maple syrup on
Sunday pancakes, or
spitting cherry pits into
June grass, or the crack
of a bat, or the smack of
a hockey stick, or a warm
forehead kiss, or driving
alone and unexpectedly
hearing Bowie’s “Heroes”
on the radio and crying a 
little because, hey, there's
magic in that song—are 
what keep us alive again 
and again. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Reap

3/365

Reap

I never really know how it’s going
to turn out from year to year.
Overall, the garden usually yields
something decent, like teepees of
green beans for miles or bushels of
sungold cherry tomatoes that snap
in my mouth, sweet and warm
from the August sun. Lettuce does
better when confined to containers,
and the herbs should always be
potted, lest they overtake the yard.
But forgive me. I don’t really know
what I’m talking about. I’m still a
novice in the garden, with my
unturned compost and thirsty
marigolds. (I hear they keep the
pests away.) I try to learn a thing or
two from the neighborhood nonnie
and poppy who grow enough
zucchini and plum tomatoes for
the Amalfi coast, or at least for our
block. Same difference. There is no
compost in their garden. No mess.
Not a single weed. Plants stand in neat
little rows. Netting covers the fruit.
And a perfect robin’s nest is at
home just above the aluminum lawn
chair where poppy listens to his Italian
soccer broadcasts. It’s hard to imagine
squash withered by vine borers here or
eggplant flowers that fall, fruitless, into
the soil. But nonnie smiles, handing me
a brown bag of plum tomatoes. 
“Sometimes, you know what you get? 
You get nothing,” she says and shrugs, 
palms lifted the sky. “What are you gonna 
do? You just gotta try again. It’s a pain in 
the neck, I tell ya.” She laughs, tilting her 
face to the sun. “Other times we get so 
much, we gotta give it away." She sweeps 
aside this riddle with a small, strong hand. 
“It don’t matter, honey. Either way, it’s 
good to be outside.”  

Sunday, January 1, 2017

1/365, 2017

Happy new year and all that jazz! 

I have no profound words of wisdom to share for 2017. I have no major declarations or predictions. I only know what I’m grateful for: my children, health, faith, work, love, and friendship--the latter of which is measured in quality, not quantity.

I also know what I’ve promised myself, and I’m definitely not sharing all of that here. Nope. That’s just for me. But one of those promises is to write something every single day, and some of that work will make it into this space. I thank you for reading whatever makes the cut, whatever it is that I am brave (or foolish) enough to share. 

2016 is history, kids. We made it.


1/365, 2017

Today,
I stop
and look
at the grey fingers of
naked, branches grasping
at January’s blue sky.
Today,
I notice
the bittersweet pop of red
and orange polka dots amidst
tangles of brown vines.
Today,
I hear the soft honk of
geese as they make their
way from here to there, always
together.
Today,
I feel the steady, strong
beat of my own heart, happy
for another run,
another day,
another year,
another chance,
to see, to hear, to feel,
to get something right.


Friday, December 16, 2016

Repair

They say you should never go back to the thing that broke you. But what if what broke you is something that also makes you whole? What if it’s something that’s actually good for you—and one of the few things that makes you free, alive, and unlimited? Does its benefit outweigh the fear of failure in going back to it? And what if I told you that, instead of being broken, it was through your own carelessness that you had broken yourself? What then? Do you learn from that and try again? Or do you limit yourself with excuses about why you were destined to fail in the first place, and then spend a lifetime of longing for something that makes you happy to be yourself?

Not a single one of these thoughts went through my head a few weeks ago as I laced up my skates at Ingalls rink. Instead, I wondered if my skates were sharp enough for the ice because I hadn’t skated since January—January 30th, to be exact. That was the day I fell and dislocated my elbow coming off the Olympic oval in Lake Placid. I was simply moving too fast as I exited the rink onto a snowy path. Call it skater error. Call it a foreshadowing of 2016. Either way, I went up, up, up—and then down, with my left elbow bearing the full force of impact.

As physically painful as that experience was, what most upset me was that it prohibited me from skating for a long time. Skating brings me unparalleled joy, and I missed the ice in the weeks and months that followed my injury. I couldn’t even do yoga during that time, since the torn ligaments and tendons of my left arm couldn’t support any weight. I was, however, cleared to run. So, two weeks after my fall, I resumed a long-abandoned running routine and embraced a newfound freedom and lightness in it. I’m grateful for that. It may not have happened had I not injured myself. In fact, I run so much now that my body craves it if I miss more than a couple of days of my usual neighborhood route. I now run an average of about four and a half miles each time I head out, and I’m slowly—oh, so slowly!—working toward running a 10K, followed at some point by a half marathon.

Still, I missed skating. And after 10 months, several physical therapy appointments, and a hefty dose of humility, I was ready to get back out there. Nevermind that it was the Yale Youth Hockey family skate night and that I would be lapped by hotshot hockey players. I wanted to skate. I needed to skate.  And the only person who could make that happen was me.

I’d be lying if I said wasn’t scared, though. I simply did not want to get hurt again. I had hoped to borrow one of my son’s elbow pads, but it reeked so badly of Hockey Smell that I passed on it. Instead, I placed faith in myself. Rather than trust everyone else around me to be safe, I trusted my own skills and balance. Hardly foolproof, of course. And I still need to get an elbow pad for myself. But at the time it was my only option. I wanted to get back on the horse and ride it. My injury was the kind of thing that would prevent many 40-somethings from ever going on the ice again. I wanted more than that. I enjoy skating too much. Someday, God willing, I’m going to be an old lady. And that old lady is still going to be teaching, writing, and doing yoga. She will still go to college hockey games on the weekends, still run 5ks, and still enjoy the occasional open skate at Ingalls. But I had to take the first step.

The ice was packed with middle school boys racing each other and showing off spray stops. Even some older, yet boyish coaches dominated the rink with their competitive antics.  A few younger children looked like Fred Flintstone out there, legs rapidly moving while stuck in one spot. Parents hunched, skating backward while holding the hands of toddlers who complained of the cold. In the midst of this, with my husband having disappeared into the crowd far ahead of me, I stepped onto the ice. After several unsure and cautious steps, I found my stride. I was home.

I spent 45 minutes on the ice before taking off my skates. Wiping away snow from the blades with my pink terrycloth skateguards, I was proud of myself for having followed my heart back out there. It was more than worth it, and I can’t wait to skate again. Now the only thing standing between me and some sweet ice time is all this work and hockey mom business.

Maybe my fall on the ice at the start of the year wasn’t all that bad. In fact, I’m looking back at 2016 and thinking (crazy at it seems) that maybe it wasn’t the worst year ever. Lots of great things happened this year. My older son was accepted to an amazing high school, where he is happy and doing well; my younger son is excelling and happy in every corner of his life. I landed a new and fantastic job with great colleagues and amazing students. What’s bad about any of that? 

The concept of a bad year versus a good year is just a function of our human desire to categorize everything. And while so many people—including me--have valid reasons to believe this year sucked (four personal losses, Bowie, Trump, Aleppo, to name a few) there is so much good to be savored. There is great beauty in the small moments. In pink moons heavy over horizons at sunrise. In birds lightly steadying themselves on branches. In the warm arms of sleepy children and the sprawling wit of gangly teenagers. In the crisp smell of tomato plants and the earthy promise of salty beach sand. There is truth and timelessness in love and forgiveness and in the steady gaze of someone who truly wants to be present with us. There is a whole world in need of us to live from the heart and trust others with it if we are ever to heal from anything. But first, we need to trust ourselves with this privilege and stop fearing our own vulnerability. We need to stop listening to the voices so eager to tell us all the limits of who we are and instead embrace the spirit of who we want to become. 

Lace 'em up! 














Thursday, November 10, 2016

Until We Make It

Until We Make It

The opossum’s body curled 
like a tired fist while our 
great horse of a puppy
hovered, 
barking, 
whining,
confused paws splayed in
vain hope of play with the
sad sack of fur.

We called him inside with
whistles and treats, then
watched from the window
still, silent
just like our new friend,
heads bent together.

My husband’s voice cut
through the darkness.

“You won’t see anything.
He won’t move for a while.”

We turned and shushed
him, glancing at each other
and rolling hazel eyes like
synchronized swimmers,
my youngest son and I. We
turned back toward the yard.
“You’ll see,” I whispered,
more to myself than to
any man in the house.

Ten yards away our old,
black dog kept watch over
her land, over this opossum.
Resting in a pile of leaves,
she looked away from us
and gazed toward the trees,
blinking into the chirps of
crickets, as if to give the poor
creature the privacy it needed
to come back to life.

Suddenly, earlier than promised, 
a twitch. The opossum’s tail 
sprang forward like a Chinese 
yo-yo.We gasped and smiled, 
noses pressed against the old 
window screen, inhaling rusty 
aluminum and the bewitching 
warmth of an October night.

“It’s okay, little guy,” my son
whispered to the creature. 
“You’re safe now.”

Slowly, the opossum began to
soften from the grip of its fear.
Its legs stretched as if to greet
a new day. Its little face
turned and raised as though
waking, dazed, from a long nap.

“He’s so little,” said my son.
“He’s so young,” I replied.

Staggering to its feet beside the
azaleas, the little critter gently 
shook its head, peered into 
the darkness and paused.
Then, unfazed, it toddled toward
the fence and into the night. 
Close by, our old girl sighed 
and settled her grey muzzle 
between muddy paws.  





Saturday, October 8, 2016

From the Top

The fire’s not catching. The wood is good, but on humid nights when fall refuses to yield to its crisp promise, there is only a weak draw from the chimney. And so, the fire is simply not. It just won’t without more effort than it’s worth. It is a pile of smoldering, seasoned logs that beg me to wait until some other time. A colder night. A drier night. Any time but now. And so, for now, I’ve given up on it.

And therefore I find myself in the living room listening not to the crackle of logs, but to the scratchy tick-tick of logs that have given up and that have been given up on. And crickets. So many crickets singing a slow round of fall’s inevitable triumph.

Autumn is a tough transition for me, a die-hard summer girl. September might actually be my least favorite month, despite its spectacular blue skies and bright air. The month begins with my total denial of summer’s end, and it concludes with a quiet, resigned acceptance of pumpkins and foliage. October is a bit better. For one, I’ve already said goodbye to summer on last month’s calendar page. Secondly, it brings with it the familiarity of newer school routines, post-season baseball, and the dawn of another hockey season. It’s the month I finally jump headfirst into fall, whereas September leaves me clinging to idyll and hope. October is for kettle corn and cider donuts. September is a swan song, with the last lobster rolls, the last summer ales, the last bathing suit beach days of the year.

There are constants, though. In my small city of New Haven, some things transcend seasons. In fact, they make the changing seasons more bearable. The heavy roast of Willoughby’s Coffee is just one example. The beach at Lighthouse Park, another example, is one of my favorite places to go during the coldest, snowiest depths of winter. And the summit of East Rock is like a beacon no matter what time of day or year it may be.

I find great comfort in the fact that my new classroom faces the monument, the Angel of Peace, atop East Rock. Pulling into my parking space at the base of the rock each day, I have watched the summit disappear into the mists of muggy September mornings, and I have watched it emerge from the same fog in the heat of early fall sunshine. In the past week, I have savored the slow shift of the summit’s leaves from lush to faded to fire. East Rock is more of a ridge than mountain, its jagged, striking fa├žade a metaphor for all the city that claims it. From the parking lot, my classroom, and the teacher workroom on the third floor of my building, I gaze upon the summit at all times of the day. I see the tiny figures of bodies that have walked—or driven—to the top of East Rock, and who gaze upon the city. Upon me. Upon all of us.

What do they see? Do they see the city as a whole, its diverse geography of rolling hills, rivers, and the Sound? Do they see a jigsaw of neighborhoods—like the ‘Ville, the Hill, and the 8? Do they see the grey rooftops of buildings, a patchwork of industry, academia, wealth, and poverty that exist in the 06511 zip code alone? Or do they look instead for where the town lines blur into the sprawl of surrounding suburbs, the towns where people who like New Haven—but who may not necessarily love New Haven—call home?

There is a lot to see from the top of East Rock—if you want to look for it. Some people might only look for the city’s landmarks and notable spires. Others may look for their homes or the old neighborhoods of their families. But do they really see our city? Do they see New Haven—and New Haveners? I like to think that from the vantage point of the summit we are all equal. I like to think that somehow, beneath the gaze of the Angel of Peace, the transient Yale grad student and the sixth-generation townie are the same; that a gang-banging wayward teen is no different, no less worthy, than the Ivy-bound child of a visiting Professor. I like to believe that a tight-knit multi-generational Italian family sharing a two-family house in Morris Cove is no more worthy of respect than a newly-settled refugee family served by IRIS.

I know my own roots beneath the gaze of the monument and what they mean to me through my own lens. I know that, while they are part of my story, they are not my story. I know that I identify with all of them and none of them at the same time. My great-great grandfather was Postmaster General of the city in the late 19th century. My great grandfather was a beloved pediatrician in town during WWII. Another great-grandfather, William Connelly, was a rough-and-tumble Fair Haven Irish fireman in the 1930s (as were all of his brothers) who dropped dead in his kitchen after working a big fire. One of my grandfathers ran an Esso station on Broadway. Another never fully realized the magnitude of his intelligence, privilege, and education in the long shadow of Yale. And the women? Journalists. Teachers. Social activists. Some were all of the above. All of them were New Haven, each one of them stronger than the next.

The view from atop East Rock is constant throughout the seasons, and the only constant about the seasons is change. Whether I am looking at the monument from my classroom or upon New Haven from the summit, I am certain of several things: I love my city, I love its promise, I love the people who live here, I am proud of my family’s history here, I love living here, and I love working here.

And I love it all that much more in summer.




But I guess fall is nice, too. 



Friday, September 9, 2016

Commit

What is commitment? Is it a promise to successfully complete something? Is it a contract to see something through all the way to the end no matter what? Is it a pledge to be unwavering, unfaltering, unfailing in the pursuit of some goal or reward? Is it clear and obvious when that goal has been met, or the thing has been seen through or completed? Is it worth enduring no matter what?

I’ve been thinking about the concept of commitment a lot lately as I’ve transitioned to a new teaching job at a different high school in town. Although the move is the right one and a good fit for me on pretty much every level, I had concerns that I would be seen by some as a district job-hopper. That worried me, because that kind of opportunistic, career stone-skipping is so far from my intention. The truth is that in the last several years I’ve learned a lot about what kind of teacher I am, what kind of teacher I hope to be, and what kind of environment best supports those things in order for me to do my best work for my students. It is, after all, support that helps us truly thrive as educators.

So here I am. I have new school colors, new colleagues, new students, and new school hashtags. But does that mean I’m not committed to this work? Does it mean, as I swap out purple and yellow swag for the peppermint red and white school spirit of my new building, that I am somehow less credible and reliable because I didn’t stay somewhere simply for the sake of staying?

It’s not that anyone has suggested as much. But I have asked myself these questions, because I’ve hit some personal milestones this past year. For starters, my second marriage has officially outlasted my first (there’s something bittersweet about that). Also, August marked eight years that I have lived in my current home. That is the longest I have ever lived anywhere since I lived with my grandmother as a child. After that it was hop, hop, hop, with six years being the longest I had spent anywhere else. Finally, my years as a teacher are nipping at the heels of the time I spent as a business reporter and freelance writer in my post-college and pre-divorce years. I dare say I’ve almost settled down. But still.

All that change. All that movement.

All that growth.

I admire people who stick to things without faltering. Some people are really good at it. They drive the same car for 15 years, live in the same house for 25 years, keep the same job for 30 years, and get a nice, gold Cross pen for their efforts when they’re done. They might even keep the same spouse for 50 or more years. I find these things admirable because I know that not everyone can see things through to the end like that. Especially me. I lease a new car every few years, because I’d rather pay on the front end than on the back end for maintenance and repair. Besides, I like new cars. I also like new phones. I have switched careers and houses a lot. I've been married twice. 
.
Does that make me someone of less integrity, less commitment?

I guess that depends on how you look at it. Just because someone sees something through to the end doesn’t mean they’re committed to it. It might just mean they feel trapped, or they fear change, or they don’t want to deal with the hassle of that change. Longevity and endurance do not equal commitment or quality of effort. Sometimes they are congruent, but they are not the same. 

I’m committed to quality. I’m committed to effort. I’m committed to excellence, not perfection. I’m committed to growth, not stagnation. I’m committed to living my own truth. I’m committed to nudging myself out of my comfort zone, because outside of it is where the magic happens. I’m committed to (usually) learning from my mistakes, and I’m committed to being the best version of me that I can be—whatever that means for today, because that definition will and should change. I’m committed to love and to the process of growing in that love. I’m committed to friendship, kindness, and forgiveness--and to the process of discovery and evolution in all areas of my life and in the lives of others. I’m committed to my work. I’m committed to my children in every possible way, and I’m committed to the idea that things can and should change, and that we should walk beside one another through the beautiful mess of it all.

Time waits for no one. Embrace change. Love life. Commit yourself to it in all of its forms, grab it by the reins, and ride that sucker. For some, that means committing to a place or person or cause for their entire lives. For me, it means committing to my truth. Sometimes it’s a flash in the pan. Sometimes it endures. Sometimes I wish it would endure, but it’s out of my control.

As I pulled up to the stop sign at the end of my street on my way to work today, I paused and rolled down my driver’s side window. My oldest son, now a high school freshman, stood at the stop sign waiting for his painfully early morning bus to take him across town. He popped out an ear bud. 

“Hey,” he said, sleep still cracking his voice. 

“Hey,” I said to my little boy, who just yesterday was a curly-headed toddler who held my hand everywhere we went. “Have a good day, sweetie,” I said. “I love you.”

He nodded, putting the earbud back into his ear. “Love you too, Mom.” 

I drove away. His lanky frame in the reflection of the rear-view mirror was just fine without me.

I arrived at school 15 minutes later, and a former student of mine (who transferred to my new school two years ago) greeted me in the hallway with open arms. “You did it!" he cheered with a huge grin. "You switched it up, Miss!” 

Once my kids, always my kids, wherever I may find them, and whoever they may be. That is my commitment.