Saturday, August 29, 2015

I Did The Math

It was summer. We were in the dining area of my apartment. Jeremy was at work. I was giving my children breakfast.

Hannah was a curly haired three and a half year old. Noah was almost 18 months and seated in his high chair. Jacob was dead, but I always knew how old he was. Five and a half.

I was coaxing food into Hannah while trying to keep up with Noah's appetite. This was hard. He could feed himself but sometimes became frustrated because he was so hungry. I helped him with that.

A random idea popped into my head. This is nothing unusual. I ran with it at the same time I continued the breakfast activities.

Previously, I seemed to exist on two different planes with my children. One was that their childhood stretched long and expansive for as long as the eye could see. The time that they would not be children anymore was too distant and abstract to contemplate. 

Also small children keep you very busy, so maybe I didn't have the bandwidth.

This stood in stark contrast to another scenario. That story involved one or both of the children dying, Jeremy dying or myself dying. There was not a day that went by without my being fearful of one nuclear family member or another dying. When I wasn't experiencing my children's childhood as infinite in its scope, I was thinking of it being cut down by tragedy.

Sometimes one of us got sick. Sometimes one or more of us needed a check up.

Going to the pediatrician and the internist helped. It  took a number of sick visits and well visits and sick visits that were actually well visits and well visits that turned out to be sick visits for me to stop thinking about tragedy all of the time. 

That morning for whatever reason, a third line of thought emerged,

It is commonly understood that typical children live with you full time until they go to college. They go away to college then they are back and forth for a while. Then eventually they live on their own full time. 

This can unfold differently. Some kids live with you longer. Some kids live with you while they  go to college. Sometimes something not exactly tragic but unexpected unfolds where the usual course of things gets delayed. 

There are a lot of possibilities. But for the sake of simplicity, I really focused on the high school, college, then independence story, taking place more or less chronologically and in a classic fashion.

That's where the numbers came in. 

I am a person who claims to be bad at math. It is true that I am not good at math. But there are times when math and numbers are my friends. This was one of those times.

It is difficult to figure out exactly where childhood ends and adulthood begins. It's more of a gradual thing. However, for my calculations I decided to round it off to age 20.

Using this method, I added up the years I would be involved in intensive mothering. I started in 1996 because that is when I became pregnant with Jacob. Even as a fetus, he was under my care and he made himself known at that time.

Noah, my youngest would be 20 in 2020. 24 years of my life would be spent in the high involvement parenting stage of life.

I began my parenting journey at age 33. When Noah reached 20, I would be 57 years old.

Using math to further advantage I then figured that the  average lifespan for a woman who was not felled in her prime by tragic circumstances was around 80 years old.

This was significant.

What this math showed me was that statistically speaking, I would have at least as many, if not more years relating to my children after they reached adulthood than I would while they were children.

As I finished the breakfast part of the day and commenced the bathroom negotiations with Hannah and the diaper changing of Noah, I gave this matter some further thought. 

My first response was that of poignance and a bit of shock. Childhood was finite.

Moving on from something I couldn't and shouldn't  do anything about - growth and the clock and maturity being good things - my thinking went to a different area.

That area was of Hannah and Noah as adult children. 

Doing my math seemed to open the floodgates of opportunity. I imagined going on adult family outings, where we would meet at some agreed upon place - Tuscany? Santa Fe?

I imagined Hannah having a baby someday and me visiting  to help her. Maybe she would live close by and I could go back and forth. But  I did see myself getting on a plane close to her due date.

Mixed with graduations, grandchildren and trips were more everyday moments. Brunch. Babysitting. Watching TV.

Because this period of time with my children as adults had the potential to be long and important, I figured some advanced planning was in order.

In a nutshell, my children were required to have a relationship with me now. I was their mother. They depended on me. However, there would come a time when this was no longer true. 

If I wanted to be the kind of mother whose adult children and their significant others wanted to have brunch with, then I'd best be thinking of that now.

I was already gobbling up parenting books, parenting magazines and parenting resources. I was reading to my children. I was not practicing corporal punishment. I was speaking with them in respectful tones - most of the time.

Imagining the children as adults lent a little more pizazz to what I was already doing. Asking them questions about themselves, being patient and open and helping them see me as a person they could trust was something that was feeding a relationship that would hopefully last a long time.

If I wanted to be in my adult child's inner circle during a crises, then I'd better remain calm during their emergencies now.

If I wanted them to confide in me, then I should give them my full attention when they spoke to me now. However halting, however garbled, however repetitive.

If I wanted them to talk with me when they were older, then being judge-y with them now would be a mistake.

If I didn't want to become one of those cliched, terrible mother in laws, then I should choose my battles and not nit pick the mismatched clothes or the Spiderman costume my son wanted to wear.

If I wanted to be a mother who could remember what it was like to be 25, then I should dig deep and think about how I felt as a preschooler, even if I could only remember a little.

There are fleeting thoughts that last a moment and then they are gone. This thinking never stopped once it got started.

In retrospect, I've recognized how important that random thinking on that ordinary day was. 

For one thing, the train of thought and the math I did was beyond the present. I'd been mostly living one day at a time. The forward motion of my thoughts had hope for the future. I was making slow progress beyond the black and white tragedy vs. fairytale thinking. 

The adding up, the numbers, the making sense of them meant that I wouldn't be blindsided. I wouldn't wake up one day at age 50 and say holy shit! I have adolescents! This gig is almost over!

Or worse, bemoan the milestones and become a major drag remembering the simpler times when really I should be appreciative of every age and stage. I wouldn't be the sad sack sniffling at the birthday party.

Eventually, I started thinking more deeply about the quality of my relationships with my adult children. There are no guarantees. But there are plans we can make anyway.

One of my goals is to not just be a 70 year old with adult children but a healthy and vital one. I don't picture marathons. But I do imagine getting down on the rug to play with small children and then getting up again. I imagine hikes. I imagine a jaunty step through airports and a sharp mind.

If I get cancer or some other disease I want to be able to take it on.

So when it's hard to resist a second slice of cake or do the yoga or jogging I think about it. Then I think about it some more. 

There's this saying. I thought it was interesting the first time I heard it but by now 'm kind of sick of it. The days are long, the years are short. The days can be long, God knows. Some of them have been real doozies.

For me the days are long and the years are long. I mean that in the best possible way. 

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Monday, August 24, 2015

The Water Table

A horizon claps asunder
Torn by drench, then by torrent 
Only the drunken scent
Of slate blue steeped in aquarelle 
Bears sweet, sweaty memorial 
To what quickens and starts 
by furious exhibition.

Will it marry and bind us
To these fungal wetlands, this murk of  kettle pond
Our soupy, primordial diaspora?

Or will it cordon, wrap around the bog and carry us off
To summer  hope, melting on a stick 
The hint of September, the frugal crackle 
How fickle this fine drawn sliver!

Soon  the marsh comes for us again
With sickly sunlight and sloe fog
Reclaiming the land, the haze, our brittle faith gone with it
Leaving damp footprints in its wake.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Cold Soups: Part One

I learned so many good things from my mother-in-law Norma.

Early on in my relationship with Jeremy, I went over to their place for dinner. It was a hot summer day in NYC. The air conditioners were running at full throttle in the apartment.

Norma greeted me warmly. After some pleasantries, she announced that we would be having cold soup for dinner.

I had never heard of cold soup before.

I felt the little jolt that comes from what feels like an experiential non sequitur. It seemed like the very definition of soup was that it was either warm or hot.

Then again, there were plenty of new foods that I tried for the first time with Jeremy's family. Thanks to them, I now loved Chinese cuisine, vegetarian dishes, Kir Royale, and quiche. I'd also discovered traditional Jewish foods like chicken soup with matzo balls and Charoset at Passover.

My response to trying all of this was, where has this food been all my life? I had no reason to think that chilled soup would be any less good than a pie you eat for dinner or cold spaghetti with sesame sauce all over it.

My first bite of cold gazpacho did not disappoint. I had the same feeling about it then that I do now. A good gazpacho is the very essence of summer.

It took one encounter to make me a cold soup convert. My next cold soup was Norma's vichyssoise, as velvety, rich, and luxurious as gazpacho is bracing and tangy.

Later, I became a cold soup aficionado, making them at home every summer. There is something about food that you only make during certain times of the year that gives me another reason to love living in a place with four distinct seasons.

Mark Bittman's Traditional Gazpacho

Over the years, I've tried many gazpacho recipes and this one became my favorite. I make this a couple of times every summer. It gets bonus points for being, easy, refreshing and Weight Watchers friendly. Here's the recipe.

Silky Zucchini Soup
By Grant Achatz, July 2014 Food & Wine Magazine.

This is truly delicious, and since it can be served chilled or warm, multi-seasonal. Zucchini is especially plentiful and fresh at the Farmer's Market in the summer months and lends this soup a gorgeous color. Get the recipe here.

Tomato Soup with Feta, Olives and Cucumbers
By David Chang , September 2014 Food & Wine Magazine

This wonderful, multi textured soup combines elements of a Greek salad with a chilled tomato base. It's become a new summer tradition. Check out the amazing recipe.

Cold Avocado Soup

Avocados are one of my favorite foods so when the concept of starring them in a cold soup came up, I was all over it. The first recipe I tried was rather dull. I hit the jackpot with this one. It manages to be both light and rich tasting at the same time. I probably don't need to remind you how healthy avocados are.

I forgot to buy coconut milk once and substituted Ronnybrook Coconut yogurt. Lovely. This blog is one of my favorites. Here is the recipe.

Jeremy's Vichyssoise.
Adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook

This is one of Jeremy's specialties. He makes this one every time. Why mess with success? The recipe is here. Jeremy uses leeks instead of onions.

I've tried making many variations on the cold potato leek type soup. I've attempted to find something more friendly to the waistline, then came to the conclusion that this recipe is worth the extra Points Plus. It's what I like to call a worthy splurge.

One summer Norma was going through a challenging time. Jeremy would go to her apartment and make this soup for her. It's a sweet memory.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015


Name the sad, bereft of bitter.
Set the table, bounty with honey.
Line that high road with peony floral.
Plant these seeds in anticipation

Throw open the window.
Perfume away the rot, the rancid, the inner recoil.
The laying on of silk.
A short course with fine sandpaper.
When you finally sleep,
It will be in pure down laid by swans.

Mask the hard, the sweaty effort.
Behind this screen of sheer aptitude.
The facile, the triple axel, the words
That tumble out as if written by air.
The fumbles and missteps made dying, then dead.
By a calendar's wear of repetition and tire.

Push away the chair that's held you.
Rise up to meet the gilt,
The precious medal that swings from velvet
The pride, the expanse of landscape.
The thing you're owed, your one entitlement.
The prima ballerina in all of us.

Friday, August 7, 2015


It was summer. I packed up the double stroller with toys, sunscreen, snacks and lunches. I loaded the kids in and walked over to the playground.

Babysitters were there with their charges. One of them always brought a creative project for the kids to work on. While helping the kids with crafts she would talk with the adults about what she made for dinner the night before, or the dinner she as planning to make, in mouth-watering detail.

Another sitter was impressively fastidious. She cleaned every grain of sand off of everything before leaving the playground.

Moms showed up.  Some friends of mine were there with kids for my children to play with. I probably wouldn't be able to have a conversation but it was nice to see some friendly faces anyway.

There was a mom there who brought her kids but then ignored them. We watch our kids while God watches hers one mom liked to say.

There was an energetic stay at home dad who wouldn't be there long because he was always taking the kids on urban adventures all over NYC.

There were two other stay at home dads who were friends with one another but never spoke to anyone else. There was something lackluster about them. I guessed that they were stay at home dads by default rather than design.

Their kids played with one another, doing whatever they wanted. They may have had depressed dads, but they sure were having a great time.

I kept an eye on my kids, especially my son, who needed a little extra minding. When he was absorbed and playing nicely, I hung back, encouraging his independence. When he needed some light spotting on the equipment, I provided that. While he ran around I followed him around the perimeter of the playground so he wouldn't get hit with the swing while the big kids were there.

A man entered the playground. I recognized him as a police officer and husband of one of the moms. He wasn't working, so he was out of uniform. He was wearing shorts and a neatly ironed tee shirt.

After a brief hello to his family, the man began working out using the playground equipment.

He used the monkey bars do some chin-ups. He then employed the padded surface over the pavement to do some push-ups. He started with the regular, male kind. Then he challenged himself with clapping in the middle. He did an impossible number of sit-ups.

The kids gave him a wide berth. Even the littlest ones knew to leave him alone.

A hush fell over the playground. Even the stay at home dads grew quiet and watchful.  They knew that this man was a different animal from them.

There was an attempt by the moms and sitters to pretend that nothing unusual was going on. A masculine man was working on his already muscular physique.  He was perspiring and took off his shirt and threw it off to the side.

I was suddenly very aware of my skin. It was tingling. There was a subtle and unexpected change in the air.  If it weren't for the planes and the sirens and the sound of children playing you could have heard a pin drop.

It was impossible to deny the sight of a peacock strutting through the henhouse.

Several of the moms and sitters gave up the charade. They sat down on some benches and openly watched him. I did the same. In my case, my attention was divided. It was mostly on him, with breaks to intervene with one of the kids or help them with snacks.

The man finished his playground workout. He grabbed his shirt and left as unceremoniously as he arrived.

Eventually, the playground recovered. Conversations were resumed. I could ignore my skin.

But just for that day, it was like an invisible residue was left behind. It wasn't the scent of after-shave, cigarettes or beer. It wasn't the din of a televised football game in the next room. It was a feeling.

The feeling we had was bigger than anyone gathered at the playground. It was bigger than anyone who had ever been there. It started before people. And there was nothing our big brains could do about it.

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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Destination Library

This is the story of my love affair with a library. Actually, two libraries. The same library, but two different buildings. Let me explain.

I love libraries in general and all New York Public Library branches in particular. Every single NYPL branch has something special to admire, and I have been in and out of most of them.

I first fell in love with the Kingsbridge Branch of the New York Public Library in 2003. I would notice it from the bus ride with Hannah, and later Hannah and Noah, on the way to swimming lessons.

Seeing the Kingsbridge Library from the bus filled me with a deep feeling of happiness, sadness and longing. I often experience this mixture of emotions when I see a mid-century modern building, with clean optimistic lines, infused with a heady modernism, but gone to seed. It is a potent and poignant feeling. It is hard to replicate any other way.

This Kingsbridge library opened on January 23rd, 1959. I like to imagine that day. It replaced an old, rather stuffy looking building that had become too small for the growing population.

Eventually, I made a point to visit the library and got up close and personal with it as a library user. I was able to experience it inside and out in all of its faded glory. I used my imagination to mentally delete the out of date computers, a hodgepodge of ugly updates, the unseemly piles that were evidence of a space busting at the seams.

While book shopping I reveled in the Danish modern shelving and furniture still in use, the enormous windows which let in copious quantities of natural light through their smudged panels, the flooring, still pretty through years of scuff marks.

There was a big empty lot across the street from the library. Ground broke after many fits and starts on a brand new branch of the Kingsbridge branch of the NYPL. The construction took place behind large wooden fencing.

I was predisposed not to like the new library.

Jeremy and I joked that we wanted to buy the old library, lovingly restore it and then live there. Humor aside, if we could have done it, we would have.

My kids stopped taking swimming lessons. I forgot about the old Kingsbridge library and the new Kingsbridge library, until one day, a friend who I deeply respect told me she took her children there.  She said it was beautiful.

So I packed Hannah and Noah up for an outing. The kids were used to being taken to the library. We are a reading kind of family and a book shopping kind of family.

I couldn't help but notice the sad, but still beautiful empty shell of the old public library across the street, just begging Jeremy and I to move in. But the new library was splendid, expansive, modern and peaceful.

Whenever the NYPL renovates a library or builds a new library, it seems to fill it with brand new books. I don't know what happens to the old books. All three of us loved the new books. Noah shopped quickly, then wasted no time settling in to read. Hannah and I browsed longer.

This library is an oasis.

The kids have gotten older. They don't often go with me to the library. That's okay. I love them exactly as they are.

The Kingsbridge library, re-imagined by architect David W. Prendergast is now my favorite NYPL branch. It isn't within walking distance of anywhere I go. So once or twice a year, I make a special pilgrimage. I step in from the kinetic energy of 231st street to an elevated, breathtaking and Zen-like jewel. I am transported somewhere else.

While doing some cursory research for this post, I fell down a rabbit hole in my unsuccessful attempt to find the name of the architect who designed the 1959 building. I found surprisingly little about this little building on the Internet. It exists in a nebulous, misty place largely outside of Google. My first real research project  - with books - since college may very well be about the 1959 Kingsbridge library.

I am truly enamored with version 2011. The aging split-level structure across the way is now a physical therapy center, bowing from semi- neglect and a bastardized doorway.  But my romance with it is far from over.

This swoon worthy architectural rendering of the 1959 version of the library was one of the few treasures I found on the Internet. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Re-purposed and weary, my smitten heart says this is still a mid century gem.

The new building has much curb appeal.

I took a closer look at the beautiful detailing and textures outside of the entrance.

Light filled and dramatic, the library's design is at once magnificent, welcoming and calming.

I like to think that many of the details are a nod to the 1959 building, which served as the library for over 50 years.

Beautiful windows bring the outdoors in.

Books abound - of course!

Whimsy from the wonderful children's library.

Nothing was left to chance is designing this modern marvel. There is a rare and special relationship between the outer architecture and the interior.

Read more about the Kingsbridge library here.

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