Some exciting news around here- I got an invitation to take Mother Tongue to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and I just couldn’t turn it down. So it looks like I’m going to Scotland this summer, friends. I’ll be performing August 4-15 at Summerhall, which the Scotsman just called the Fringe’s “hippest new venue.” I’m both thrilled and terrified. It’s going to be a wild adventure.
Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled program of cute kid pics…
The other day we took T to LACMA to gaze at his beloved Metropolis 2, and to visit the Tar Pits (which he insists on visiting, only to run away screaming, STINKY! STINKY!) and the strangest thing happened: he wanted to see the art. Until now, LACMA trips have mostly involved trying to convince him to not hide and scare people in the mammoth Richard Serra sculpture.
For some reason, T wanted to take the Jenny Holtzer elevator to the third floor and actually get off, rather than just ride up and down sixteen times. He was utterly enchanted with the Robert Therrien sculptures we found there. As only T can, he threw his arms up and danced with glee at each new abstract form, declaring them WORMS! or A BIG ENORMOUS HUGE HAT! or A ROCKET! He had equally compelling observations about the more representational work. I’m tempted to write the artist and let him know that he should consider re-titling the above piece, Giants Eat Pancakes.
The experience reminded me of wandering the galleries of the Met with my father as a child. Those afternoons were so full of wonder. I sometimes bemoan the fact that it’s unusual for art to truly transform my world the way it did when I was younger. It happens, just not often. But watching T’s joyous response completely rocked the ground under my feet. I’ll never again be an eight-year-old frozen in front of a Jackson Pollock, or a fourteen-year-old, having my brain cracked open by Louise Bourgeois, but I can borrow my son’s eyes. Who knows what crazy magic I’ll find.
We didn’t see the eclipse- not really. The kids were all in the backyard and didn’t care much about the sun and the moon crossing paths. Not when there was wrestling and jumping and baseball to be had. They didn’t want to get in the car and drive to higher ground to see it. I know better than to try to force some big plan on boys with plans of their own.
Then, right about the time I had surrendered to not seeing the eclipse, we heard a buzzing in the trees. The power lines that run above our back fence began to spark, broke loose and fell through the palm trees into the yard. My friend Marti screamed the freaked-out-mom scream and ran for the baby in the swing. I hollered at the boys and terrified them. We got the crew inside, called the power company and eventually decided to move the party to Marti’s house. We parents all wore the grateful, stunned calm that comes from having narrowly averted something genuinely dangerous.
And sometime while we were in transit to Marti’s house, singing and if you can’t share your airplane it’s going to go away-ing, the sun was partially eclipsed by the moon.
But it was a gorgeous twilight, with cool grass and light that was amber and altered. There were shadows that seemed to melt into the driveway. There was iced tea and a friend to sit with and the kids were happy and safe. Sometimes you have to be content to face east instead of west, to feel the strangeness at your back and know that there will be other marvels. The world is full of them.
The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
That line leapt out at me when I had the privilege of seeing Elevator Repair Service’sGatz at The Public last week. In it, ERS performs the entire text of The Great Gatsby. It’s an eight hour evening altogether and I’d sit through it again right now if I could. While I was watching, I shifted between getting swept up in the performances and marveling at the text itself, the gorgeous glittering sentences.
That particular line sums up the way I always feel when I’m taking a cab into the city from JFK. On the one hand, I’ve seen it a million times before. On the other, it’s always new. I’m always a little girl, looking at the New York skyline and wondering what magical possibility is there waiting for me.
In an hour, I head home to my boys. I miss them something awful and at the same time, I have enjoyed the big lonely bed and the experience of waking up and facing no immediate responsibility other than getting some caffeine in my system. I admit that part of me longs for the freedom I used to have, even as I’m living a pretty free kind of moment. It seems a waste of a beautiful morning, this longing. But nevertheless, there it is.
We’re doomed to be like sailors. We survive months at sea, driven only by thoughts of home. Not long after we finally reach shore, we find ourselves gazing at the ocean again. But none of this gazing negates the fact that my family gives me all I’ve ever known of any real kind of happiness. So now I gladly go pack my suitcase to return to the chaos that almost certainly awaits me.
It’s been a wonderful trip, overall. There were stories told and words read and meetings had and dinners eaten and babies cuddled. There were late nights crying with old friends and late lunches at Barney’s (best people watching in all of New York). All the stuff I’d never do at home. Plus, a friend of mine must have bribed the president, because he somehow scored tickets for us to The Book of Mormon and I’m certain it’s the funniest show ever written.
I’m always sad to leave. I always can’t wait to get home.
Here’s my perfect soundtrack for a midnight ride over the Brooklyn Bridge. I get along without New York just fine- except perhaps in spring…
I’m in New York right now for some meetings and events, so I spent Mother’s Day away from my son, which felt like spending it without one of my arms. Something essential was missing. I was vaguely blue all day.
But the picture above is of my run this morning in the Catskills, so that was kind of amazing. As a child, I spent my summers in these mountains. Dredge that lake and you’ll find all my kid firsts and kid fears. The light through the leaves, the particular purple of the shadows the clouds cast on the mountains, the softness of the air in the early morning- all these things feel as familiar as the lines of my palms. I’m not sure if it makes me want to run away or move back here for good.
As I was running, I thought about the mothers in my life: my mother, my birth mother, all the women that have nurtured me in various ways. And I thought of my son’s birth mother and of the women that cared for him in the orphanage before he could finally come home. I thought of the mother I’ve managed to become, finally, and of the mother I haven’t managed to become, in spite of my best intentions.
I let all these thoughts rattle around in my head until the last leg of the run came and I tried to imagine that I was T when he runs. Because he doesn’t bother with some big reverie- he runs with nothing but freedom and joy.
PIL’s “Rise” started playing on the shuffle just in time for my final sprint. So, as John Lydon says, May the road rise with you today, my beautiful mommies.
Also- fuck Time magazine and all the corrosive perfectionism we’re called to embrace as mothers in this culture. Fuck the seeds of divisiveness that article sows. We’re stronger when we’re kind to ourselves. We’re stronger when we stand together.
I imagine that Maurice Sendak‘s spirit rose so fast, so high, buoyed by the collective love of the children in all of us.
My grandmother, a children’s librarian in the Newark, NJ school system, knew Sendak a bit. I took the signed copy of Higglety Pigglety Pop! that has followed me since my own childhood off the shelf this morning.
I have so little family right now and I often feel rootless, cast adrift. As if I’m still sailing in and out of weeks, somewhere in between the place where the Wild Things are and Home. But I held the book in my hands, a corner of it chewed by a much-loved puppy years ago, and thought of the moment it passed from Sendak’s hands and into my grandmother’s. The man who wrote the book passing it to the woman who taught me to love reading. And now it sits on my son’s bookshelf.
I have these books to give. I never need feel rootless at all.
I saw this video a week or so ago and it keeps coming back to me in flashes. I love these women.
A couple of weeks ago in the NY Times there was an interesting debate about the legalization of prostitution. For the record, I stand firmly in the legalization camp. But this video reminds me that while legalization is a fine place for the discussion to start, it’s hardly where it should end.
Healthcare. Safety. Trafficking. Indeed, these are the most pressing issues.
But I’m also interested in shining a light into the soul of the thing. Bodies as currency, as communication, as electrical conductors. Bodies as objects, as vessels, as recording devices. Bodies as rentals, as shrines, as homes.
I used to be one of those anti-gun moms. No weapon toys. Ever. You know- only developmentally appropriate wooden toys made by totally-not-oppressed elves, who live in a socialist eco-village in Vermont.
Tariku is four now and he wants guns and swords. He wants knights and pirates and battles. True, I do expose him to media like Puss in Boots, which features sword fighting. Maybe if he had never seen a weapon he wouldn’t want one. He saw that movie once and has been mock-fencing ever since. But I feel the instinct is more primal than that. He bit a piece of toast into the shape of a gun last week.
I make up stories for Tariku all day long and lately he’s been requesting stories of battle. I tried to tell him a story about how Puss in Boots walked him to school and they met a Tyrannosaurus Rex, who seemed really scary. But when they talked to him they discovered he actually was friendly and just roared so loudly because he was insecure about his little arms. Puss and Tariku and the dinosaur became friends and he let them ride on his back down Colorado Blvd.
And T said- that was a great story. Now can you tell me a story where Puss fights?
And here’s the thing- as a storyteller, I naturally gravitate toward stories of battle. Because all good stories are about conflict. And heroic stories often have sword fights. And if you’re going to tell a story, why not make it heroic? Tariku struggles with a lot, frankly. He has tremendous fears and challenges to face. Maybe battle isn’t such a bad metaphor for him, if I can place it in the appropriate context.
What broke me down finally? We were at a friend’s house the other day and Tariku got in a water gun fight. His friend had a WAY better gun than him. T had some lame foam shark thing that he had to reload every two seconds and he got massacred. That was all it took. I strapped him soaking wet into his car seat and promised him a better weapon next time.
It’s liberating to shed my big assumptions and theories- to open myself up to this aspect of parenting a boy. I’m curious see where it leads and if it can be channeled positively. I marched into Target the next day and bought the most bad-assed water gun they had. Actually, I bought two. One for me. It’s so on.