Monday, May 31, 2010

Summer Kickoff

Memorial Day Weekend.
Two picnics.
Three days off.
Sunday morning long and leisurely family bike ride/beach combin'/playground excursion.
Summer buzzcuts for the kids in the backyard with their step daddy and some clippers.
Ice cream.
Kool Aid.
12-pack of seltzer downed in two days.
Kids in a hammock.
Fans in the window.
Warm, sunny house humid with the scent of freshly mowed grass.
Oriole overhead.
Yanks games on CBS radio.
Tired dogs.
Bare feet.
Late showers.
Wrapping Nolan's birthday presents.
Baking birthday breakfast muffins.

Nolan's going to be six. Unreal.

The money shot of the June 1 birthday boy, taken today by my great friend (and neighbor!) Mary:

Summer's just begun.


Friday, May 28, 2010

From 388 High Street, with Love

The kids outgrew their bunk bed a lot faster than I had anticipated they would when we bought the thing from Ikea two years ago. My husband, hateful of Ikea furniture and, even moreso, the assembly of it, felt like the kids should sleep in that bed forever simply for the sweat he put into it. But two years later, they're done.

Nolan was on the bottom and didn't mind it too much, except that he's growing and had begun banging his head on the base of the top bunk on occasion. And Sean.... Sean was, to use his words, "lonely up there". He didn't like not being able to see his brother when they chatted in the darkness before sleep. He didn't like having his brother stir every time he tossed and turned in bed--and Sean moves a lot when he sleeps. And he cried big tears several times because not one of our three dogs could cuddle with him up on the top bunk, while Nolan's bed was a veritable den of happiness.

It was time to replace the beds.

One thing was certain: I didn't want to replace one Ikea bed with two Ikea beds, if at all possible. And then I remembered something wonderful: In the basement of my ex-husband's house, two twin beds from my great-grandmother's house were being stored. I quickly emailed him.

"Do you still have the beds from Great Grandma's?"



They're old. How old, I don't know. But the thing is, they're real. No particleboard. No dowels. No printed instructions with a picture of a little guy and a question mark over his head. The beds are a matched pair of rock maple twins from around the 40s--maybe. The royal We (read: Ian) moved them from my ex-husband's house to ours, cleaned them up, and began the process of dismantling and reassembling the kids' room to fit the new sleeping arrangements.

Last weekend we tackled the beast, once and for all. The old bed came down; the new beds went up, and now the kids are sleeping in beds (well, in frames anyway) that I slept in as a kid when I used to visit my great grandmother up at her house in Webster, MA. Nostalgia kind of overwhelmed me, in a good way, when the room was complete and the beds were made. I clearly remember all the hundreds of times my grandmother and I would go visit her mother, and we'd sleep in the twin beds in the bedroom at the top of the wide staircase. I remembered leaping out of bed and running to the kitchen at the back of the house when I heard the train whistles blowing in the middle of the night, hoping to catch a glimpse through the trees of the freight cars shooting past at the bottom of the hill below the massive green Victorian on the corner of Hill and High Streets.

The boys love their "new" room. They love their racks of trophies and shelves of inventions. They love that their closet is now a secret hide-out. They love their new, "normal" beds. They love that the beds are an old part of our family. "Which bed did you sleep in, Mom? Which one did Grandma sleep in?" I slept by the one near the window, kid, whichever one that is.

388 High Street belongs to another family now. It was a spectacular home built in the 1890s by my cousins the McGauley's when they arrived from Ireland. My great grandparents raised a family there, and my great aunt and uncle lived on the first floor until the mid-90s. The wrap-around porch is gone. The clapboard siding has been covered in boring, beige vinyl. The hedgerows are unkempt. No one in the family likes to take a drive by there anymore, even if they find themselves in the area.

But the stories--and the beds--still belong to us. Last night I climbed the stairs and checked on the boys one last time before turning in. I could hear the echoing clang-clang of the buoys in the harbor. Not far away, a train sounded its horn as it approached Union Station. Nolan was sound asleep in the bed by the window. And Sean was sleeping snugly in his bed by the wall, with Cee Cee curled up by his side.


Thursday, May 27, 2010


I split from work for a half hour or so mid morning. It was sunny and warm. The perfect time to escape the workday cavern for a couple of errands. As I shot down one of the streets near my office, I caught a fluttering of white rising up out of the corner of my eye.


Someone on that street must train them to release (and, I'd think, return). I slowed down my car to a crawl in the middle of street, since no one was behind me. What a beautiful sight to see the doves circle the house together, several times. There had to have been at least 10 of them. Flutter, flutter, flutter.... disappear... Flutter, flutter, flutter... Bright white ribbons weaving in and out of sunshine between the trees.

It made me happy.

In other news, Sean has to carry an Epi Pen on him this summer at the camp he will be attending. The allergist said that eight years old is the perfect age to be able to self-administer; good thing, because he'll have to self-administer at camp. This has me nervous for the simple fact that historically, Sean's few major anaphylaxis attacks have been pretty swift and violent. I'm concerned he won't be able to respond appropriately once he realizes what's going on, or that he'll panic.

I was talking this over with Mike, the father of one of Sean's closest friends who will also be attending the camp. A friend and coworker of his runs the snack bar at the beach where Sean will be at camp. "He has guys fill in for him at work, and he's there all the time," Mike said. I know the guy. I make small talk with him whenever I see him at the snack bar in summer. He always waves when I'm out walking the dog(s) down there or around the neighborhood, and I used to live around the corner from him in my old divorced-mom apartment by the beach.

In short, I trust him.

And since he's a firefighter/EMT, it's reassuring to know that someone who knows how to handle a possible emergency allergic situation will be there for Sean. And I'm sure Sean's not the only kid with an allergy who will be at the camp this summer.

"I'll tell ya what," Mike said. "I'll introduce Seany to him, and maybe he'll even keep an epi for him in the back somewhere, just in case, even though Seany'll be carrying one." Hey, man. Why not? All of Sean's closest friends have epi's at their homes.

Perhaps the most challenging thing in all of this is making sure Sean carries his medicine with him, and that it's adequately shielded from extreme temperatures and light. So I've begun the process of browsing for carriers. Not just any carrier. But one that an eight year old boy won't think is lame and will actually keep on him. Wish me luck.

I've found a few, and I've considered just making one since I can drive a sewing machine pretty well. But the specialty fabrics required for insulation and UV protection are just as pricey as some of the carriers. Might as well buy something already made.

I'm grateful Sean is surrounded by lots of caring people. It makes the transition into greater autonomy and independence with respect to responsibility for management of his allergies all the easier.

But who am I kidding? I'll be worried. Every day. Despite the fact that the firehouse is three blocks away from the camp, and that the engine from that house spends most of its time down at the snack bar during summer anyway. I'm Sean's mom. He's got some serious food allergies. He's growing up and growing into his place in this world. I worry. It's what I do. I'm prone to anxiety anyway, something I've been managing for years. But like anything, this is a fear I must simply face, accept, float through, allow to pass. I can't control every aspect of Sean's life or allergy management as he gets older. I can't be there every minute. But I can prepare him for it.

Face, accept, float...

Flutter, flutter, flutter....


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Not Every L.E.O. is an A.S.S.

We've had some issues in town lately with a particularly rogue cop being rehired by the NHPD after initially losing his job due to some nefarious off-duty behavior in which he flaunted his status as a police officer. You can read all about it here.

I don't support the rehiring of this guy. At all. But I am also not among the legions of cop-haters out there.

The fact is, these guys and girls in blue never know what they're walking into when they respond to a call. (Drug busts be damned. Domestics can be some of the sketchiest calls to which they respond.) I will never forget the bust I called in when I lived in my old neighborhood. I watched from the window as Officer Lalli approached the "suspicious" vehicle (later found to have had more than $2k in heroin and $2k in cash in it), and I thought: "Oh my God. What if he gets shot at? What if the guy behind the wheel tries to run him over?" It flat-out freaked me out, maybe more so because I was the one who called it in. If something happened to the cop, I felt like it was my fault.

Nothing happened to Lalli. But in another New Haven Independent article today, I came across a photo that brought back that same anxious feeling I had a few years ago watching Lalli approach the car in front of my house. This photo (taken by the NHI's Zeke Miller) is of the NHPD's Lt. Velleca, approaching a residence in attempt to serve a murder warrant this morning.

Yes, some cops suck. So do some doctors. And teachers. And priests. And cable guys.

But to the cops who bring dignity to their role in (and out) of uniform, this taxpayer--and mother of at least one boy who wants to be a detective when he grows up--says thank you.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

It's All Local

Tonight I'll be heading down to the sleepy firehouse community room at Engine 16 for our monthly neighborhood management meeting, where we'll address the current issues facing our little community by the sea and the city in general. The city budget will likely be on the agenda in some form, and it is my hope to attend the final vote on the mayor's budget proposal next week. I hope to see it fail. There are better solutions than to raise our already obscenely high property taxes. And I resent the administration's push to scare the parents and children of New Haven Public Schools with the threat of cuts in education if the mayor's budget proposal is not approved as is.

So this little post is to remind everyone that you have a voice. If you don't like what you see happening in your local--or national--government, step up and say something. One voice, no matter how small, cannot be ignored en masse. You'll likely find that many other share your viewpoint. And our country was founded on this notion that we can agree to disagree in public forums. Unfortunately, that means the likes of Sarah Palin will get equal, or even disproportionate, airtime in our current media. Ah, the media. A topic for another day.

As I gear up for the meetings that lay ahead, I'm proud of whatever small role I've had thus far in our city, from having face time with the mayor in protest of the NHPS annual registration debacle, or showing up at environmental presentations and budget hearings to display posters in opposition to the mayor's proposals. The next few months I will enjoy a more open schedule as our school-year committments die down. I'll be able to make it to more management meetings. I'll be able to put my energy into making New Haven just a little bit better of a city in which to live.

I know some people don't understand it, but I love New Haven. I don't want to leave it. But I can't stay here passively. Democracy is not a spectator sport. And as I walk a little further down the road of local politics, I'm making more friends and happily educating my children in the importance of the First Amendment. "I can't afford to love New Haven!!," Sean read aloud from the poster on our front door and on my car's rear window. "No tax increase!!!"

He looked at me. "Why does the mayor want us to pay more money to live here?"

"Because it takes money to run the city and its parks and all the other stuff the city offers, and he gets most of that money from people who live here."

"Why not just charge us less money and have less stuff in the city?"

Sean gets it. He's in second grade.


Monday, May 10, 2010

"Is there going to be a quiz on this?"

Catechism classes ended tonight. We won't meet again until fall. And I, the accidental teacher who fell into the first-grade gig by way of checking the "willing to volunteer" box on Sean's CCD application in August, will miss it.

I'll be happy to have my Monday nights back, at least for a few months. But I will miss teaching. I will miss "my kids". I'm sad they're moving on and also looking forward to the new crop of kids, which will include my son Nolan and several of his friends. I'll be better equipped to teach next year. This year, my students taught me so much. The only way to repay them is to pay it forward.

They taught me patience. They taught me that I had a greater well of compassion in me than I thought possible. They taught me that no matter what, there is always another way to look at something or a new way to teach a lesson. They taught me that it's crucial we don't lose the most important teaching in all of our dogmatic exercises: Love.

Being with my students every Monday night, hearing their questions about God and tending to the occasional hurt feelings and temporarily broken friendships among them all amounted to one thing: Love wins. Love is the only thing they truly understand. It's simple. It's uncomplicated. And kids don't understand why grown-ups go and complicate it with so many rules and parameters. God created us because he loves us. He gave us life, which is an amazing gift. What more do we need to know? (Well, we need to know a lot if we want to be little Judeo-Christian scholars and make our sacraments. And the more we know about Catholicism, the more we can understand other religions, too. But I digress.)

Love knows no dogma. Love knows no rules. It's unstoppable. It's powerful. It comes in so many forms. And my students taught me that I am capable of loving others without expecting a single thing from them. Yes, my own children have helped teach me this lesson, but my students helped me believe I was capable of it beyond motherhood. The truth is that pure, good love doesn't want too much. It's content with the gift of loving another for who that person is. It's content with watching that person grow and blossom and bloom into an amazing person. Motherhood began this wellspring; teaching furthered it. What a bonus.

I like to think it's something that extends to marriage and other adult relationships. I suppose it's possible, though when we tangle up our lives with others on paper with mortgages and such, the purity of love can get lost in the shuffle of files and signatures. Expectations are part of the package; and so unmet expectations are to be had, too. But if you step back from it all and see love for what it is--a thing that grows without effort or even much tending. A thing that flourishes if we nurture it just a little. A feeling that makes our hearts swell with something that can only be summarized in Jerry Maguire's cheesy way: "You complete me." Whether it's romantic love or a hug from a child, that pure level of sincere regard and affection is just mind-blowing.

So, I love my students. They frustrated the hell outta me some nights. They didn't always behave. But class met at 6PM on Mondays, and the kids were just six years old. They were tired. They were hungry. They didn't understand why they had to be in class learning about God, when they already knew that God is love. And that they need to show that same kind of love to each other.

They did want to know if there would be a quiz on all of it at the end of the year.

There was.

We ate cake, played hangman and shared our goody bags.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010


It's Food Allergy Awareness Week. I've posted a link to a video that I would like you to watch in honor of Sean, several of his friends and all of the little kids out there with life-threatening food allergies. The anxiety parents face when dealing with their children's food allergies is immense. And helping our children grow up in a world that can be so threatening at the end of a fork is sometimes overwhelming. The teen years and adulthood loom ahead. I just hope Sean and his friends learn to respect their allergies enough not to take unnecessary risks. For them, that means not getting a cone at Ashley's or joining other friends for Thai food. Or, as they get older, not kissing a girlfriend or boyfriend if that person has eaten peanuts, tree nuts, or shellfish, or whatever their particular allergen is.

To say I'm terrified is an understatement. But at the same time, I walk the tightrope between vigilance and acceptance. I don't want Sean to grow up to be paranoid and anxious when it comes to food or anything else. Nor do I want him to be cavalier toward his allergy. Already, at age 8, he must be able to self-administer his Epi-Pen at the summer camp he will attend. This will require a lot of practice with the tester, and a lot of hope that he never has to use it.

When Sean goes to friends' houses, it can be unnerving. But I often have the luxury of knowing that the parents of those friends either know how to use the epi becuase their children are allergic, or because one of the parents is a firefighter/EMT, since Sean's two closest, "bestest" friends are sons of firefighters. Providential, really. And uncanny.

So please watch this. It might help you have a bit more empathy for chidren with food allergies and their families. Or if your child is allergic, this video might help you, like me, feel less alone. I unexpectedly burst into tears watching it. It was comforting to know I'm not the only parent that worries every time I say goodbye to my child as he leaves for school, camp, or any activity where I can't monitor every single bite he takes. I just hope I've done my job well enough for him to make the right decisions thus far. I'm terrified that there will be some mistake, some slip-up along the way. But I can't let that fear rule my life or, more importantly, his.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Empty Nest

The trees are gone.

The tree guy showed up Friday and took down three massive, dead trees in our back yard, leaving only the tulip tree and a couple of tiny stragglers. The tree guy really wanted to take down the tulip. He was chainsaw-happy. "That tree is going to be enormous in just a few more years," he warned. But we're happy with it. When we're ready, we'll take it down. Right now, it's healthy. So it stays.

There are plenty of other trees around the perimeter of our property. Behind the property line is an urban classification of "woods": Roughly 50 yards of dense brush and trees. And my neighbor Mary's tree likes to hang out on our side of the property, dropping buds or leaves.

Or birds.

Late Sunday afternoon, Ian walked into the house from the day's spring heatwave and said, "Did you see the dead birds in the backyard?"

I was startled. "What are you talking about?"

"There are a dead baby birds in the yard, right by the house."

I went out and inspected, with Nolan by my side. Sean leaned into the screen of the living room window that overlooks the yard and chimed in. "Yep, I see them," he said, Wii controller in hand. "They look ... dead." Seconds later I heard Super Mario bleeping and blooping through the window.

Nolan and I crouched and examined the birds, which were identical except that one was very tiny, and the other was nearly twice the size. But both had only recently hatched. Their little bird bodies were featherless and had swollen bellies. They looked as if their eyes had never even opened.

"What happened, Mom?" Nolan asked.

"They were probably sick, or there was something wrong with them, and so the mama bird kicked them out of the nest," I said. We both looked up at Mary's tree. We couldn't see a nest, but it had to be up there.

I grabbed two trowels from my gardening bin in the garage and gently used one to carefully scoop the birds into the other. Nolan, my willful assistant, asked to serve as pallbearer and carried the birds to the spot by the garage where we would bury them. Earlier this spring we buried Timmy, our turtle, over there. Next to his cross, I dug a hole, and Nolan unceremoniously dumped the two baby birds into it. "Can we dig up Timmy to see if he's disintegrated?" Nolan asked.

"No. We just buried two animals. We're not digging up any bodies."

We said a quick prayer, covered the hole with dirt, checked out the tree once more, and then went inside to wash our hands.

A few hours later, after dinner, Ian walked into the kitchen from the yard where he was playing with the dogs.

"There's another bird out there."

I was incredulous. "Are you kidding me?" I threw on my gardening clogs and ran out, joined by Nolan decked out in pajamas and flip flops. There, in the exact spot where the first two birds were found, we found a third. But this one wasn't dead. He was still breathing. I looked up. I wanted to find this nest. I wanted to shake this mama bird and have her tell me why the hell she was throwing her babies to the wind. I speculated that maybe the nest was in one of our gutters. Ian crawled onto different levels of the roof to inspect. From every angle he could find no evidence of a nest.

Next door, Mary ran out onto her deck, seeing me visibly upset from her side of the fence. "What's wrong?" she exclaimed, thinking something might have happened to one of the kids. When I explained the mystery of it all, she disappeared to get her binoculars and returned, as eager as me to figure out where the nest might be.

While Mary scanned the branches for empty nests, I once again grabbed two trowels to gingerly scoop up the baby bird. The heartbreak! The little bird silently opened its mouth in fear or pain when I gently rolled him into the trowel. He never opened his eyes, but his great big, yellow mouth was fixed in a smile, though I don't think he was very happy. His breathing seemed labored, and he appeared to shiver. There was so little we could do for him, except try to make him comfortable. I tore an enormous tulip leaf from its stem and made a little tent around him in the trowel, hoping that maybe it would make him just a little less cold.

Nolan asked a lot of questions and was full of suggestions to fix the situation. "Why did he fall? Why is his sick? What can we feed him? If we can't throw up food into his mouth like a mama bird, maybe we can find a mama bird who will. What if we give him really clean, mushy worms? Can he eat those? Maybe we should go to the pet shop and get a mama bird and a bird tank and he can live with the new mama bird in the bird tank." Bird tank. Melt my heart.

I had to break it to him that the bird wasn't going to make it, but I didn't have the heart to tell him that no other mother would want to care for it. Besides, that wasn't true. I wanted to care for it. I just wasn't equipped to do so.

We never found the nest. Night was closing in and the sun had set. After staring at the little bird for a long time, I decided it was time to put him somewhere relatively safe. I refused to bury him--he wasn't dead yet! But we couldn't keep him. So Nolan and I opened the gate at the back of our property, and gently placed him on a nest of sorts--a pile of leaves and grass in the "woods" behind the house. "Give him his blanket!" Nolan said, concerned. I covered the bird with the big tulip leaf, and we said goodbye.

Today I scooted home at lunch to let out the dogs and take Cee Cee on a quick walk in the brilliant afternoon sunshine. As we headed back toward home, I enjoyed a welcome sight: an empty, broken robin's egg lay on the sidewalk. I smiled. Somewhere in the branches above me, a baby bird was warm and cozy with its mama.


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Trash Night is Trash Night

Grandma turned 81 last Monday. I swung by her house to pick her up on the way to lunch with my mom. We were getting a good dose of April showers Monday afternoon, and I sprinted up the driveway from my car to her back door. Grandma was ready to go, but not without first pointing out the garden. "Look at the tulips," she instructed.

We stood under the cover of the back porch admiring the back yard together. The tulips were in full bloom, with the daffodils standing a sleepy sentry just before them around the entire perimeter of the circular garden. "The daffodils are just going by," Grandma said thoughtfully. "But the tulips!"

I had planted those tulips and daffodils in October 2007, when Grandma was first diagnosed with liver cancer. I remember the fall sun warming my back as I dug in the dirt while Grandma lay in the house, tended to by visiting relatives and Hospice nurses. I stayed in the yard, digging, planting and hoping through muddy tears that Grandma would make it through winter to see the bulbs bloom in spring. I had no idea that not only would she see another spring, but that she would be one of the lucky 10% to beat liver cancer, and to beat another round of a different cancer just last year.

Eighty-one years. That's a long time, although Great-Grandma (Grandma's mother) lived 17 more than that. I sometimes look at Grandma and consider all that she has lived through--so much beauty and some spectacular hurt and fear--and admire the grace with which she has hung on to this life for more than eight decades. When Grandma was my age, 37, it was 1966. Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were still alive, and we hadn't yet reached the moon. Only seven years later I was born, and although she became a grandmother at a tender age, she's always seemed wise beyond her years.

My next-door neighbor, Florence, also turned 81 this week, on Thursday. As the boys and I headed down the sidewalk from school, we saw her bringing her garbage to the curb. "You're bringing out the trash on your birthday?!" I kidded her. She laughed, "I've always done it. Why stop now?" I mentioned this to Grandma early the next morning as I picked her up from the mechanic, where she had dropped her car for a tune-up. She smirked. "You know, Monday was trash night for me, so tell Florence I put out the trash on my 81st birthday, too. Trash night is trash night, birthday or not."

So there it is, the secret to gracefully riding life's wild waves. Garbage is a fact of life. Haul it to the curb as needed, and then carry on with the celebration. And pause to admire the tulips along the way, remembering that someone once planted them in hopeful prayer of another spring.