Monthly Archives: September 2020

Candid, through a lens

I’ve only paid people to take our pictures twice in my life: once was for our wedding and the other time was this past April for The Front Porch Project, a donation-only situation with proceeds going to Covid relief (Charlottesville people, check out Robert Radifera if you’re looking for local photographical talent!). My sister-in-law, Caroline, who schedules photo shoots for her beautiful family much more frequently than I, decided that we needed to have a session done before Christmas 2018. She’s a very talented unprofessional photographer (and a very talented NICU nurse by profession), so we got a little dressed up and went over to my mom’s property to have Caroline capture the five of us. After we’d done a bunch of group shots, she said it was time for a few of just my husband and me. We’re both pretty awkward when posing, and the kids had been less than cooperative throughout much of this process, but Caroline guided us through it (“Now look at each other” and “Take off your glasses for this one” and “Lean casually against the fence”). When she delivered the very no-nonsense directive of “Look longingly off into the distance,” my husband replied, “You mean ‘the distant future’? Okay. Look! The kids all just went off to college!” It was so funny and perfect in that moment because one of said children was crying in the grass while the other two were running around in literal circles and screaming at the top of their lungs. The candid Caroline took in that moment is one of my favorites, even though both sets of our eyes are closed, because it shows us laughing at the conundrum of parenting in which both stark reality and sheer ridiculousness can coexist.

Now, not even two years later, the whole idea of sending kids to college makes me shudder. It’s amazing the kind of sea change half a year during a pandemic can cause. Sending my young ones, my little rule-minding, prepubescent, closely supervised and easily circumscribed children, to elementary school with their extra face coverings tucked into their backpacks and morning health screenings completed via iPhone app: it all feels so manageable, so controlled, so quantifiable–even during these times. Considering what the school has done and is doing to ensure that things can run smoothly and work safely makes it so easy for me to trust. By contrast, however, a week or so ago I learned that my little sister, half my age and away at college in North Carolina, has Covid. Sure, she does classes online and wears a mask and washes her hands and all of the things, but still. Being twenty years old and with no preexisting health conditions, she’s recuperating quickly and will be back to full health soon, but still.

This time isn’t easy for any parent with kids of any age(s). It’s stressful and terrifying in unprecedented and unanticipated and overwhelming ways, and just when we feel like we’ve achieved that frequency of stasis where we can find foothold, some new wave of surreality comes to kick us off our feet. But this I know: I’m so glad my oldest child is only ten.  I’m grateful that I don’t have to deal with the logistics and the fears involved in sending–or not sending–a kid to college. I remember being a teenager with an invincibility complex and that eclipsing streak of selfishness most young people possess. I was probably more responsible than many teenagers, but my priorities were far from being sensibly solidified, and the thought of having children that age right now completely freaks me out. I feel so fortunate that, these days, I can pack all the god-forbidden lunchboxes and sit baking in my seven-seater car in the pickup line and know exactly where my three little people are at all times. I’m so happy I get to sing the same Moana song at least once every damn night and complain about making dinner AGAIN for all of these picky people who are picky about different things. Because these people are HERE. WITH ME. Sure, I hope that some day they’ll go off to college if that’s the right choice for them. And I hope that a lot sooner than then, my husband I can close our eyes and throw back our heads and laugh at the prospect of being empty-nesters without a frisson of pandemic panic even entering our minds. But now, in this the month of September in the year 2020, I give thanks that I have little kids and not big ones just yet. For now, I’ll take the gummy vitamins going through the wash in uniform shorts pockets and the incessant interrogative imploring of “Mommy?” all afternoon and the piles of sticks on both porches in which every single stick is special. For now, I breathe a sigh of relief for the three unmade beds upstairs that will contain those little bodies every night–well, at least until the wee hours of the morning, when Arlo may or may not still find his way into mine.

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Inscription Fiction (IF) 1

Check out my Inscription Fiction (IF) page for what this is all about! Here’s the first of what I hope will be many forays into IF:

Kathy started it all with her wedding-invitation caliber cursive. That capital “F”! That capital “H”! The spacing of the “shly” in Ashlyn’s name! Ellen and I swooned via text about Kathy’s penmanship because we decided that hers was the hand that inscribed this hardback copy of Melisande by one of my favorites, E. Nesbit. (Commonly attributed to Einstein, the quotation “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales” guided me to this book selection. I’m not sure if Einstein’s assertion is accurate or not, but as it can’t logistically be disproven, I’ve taken it into serious consideration.) Now, Kathy, what’s with that final “n” in Ashlyn’s first of two first names? Did you almost forget it due to the fact that, when you say her name, the “n” in Ashlyn and the “N” in Nicole blend together because that glottal stop is just too clunky? Or is AshlynNicole one word?

In our very own fairy tale, Ellen and I decided that Jack and Kathy gave this book to their granddaughter, Ashlyn Nicole, who was named for Kathy’s father, Ashley, and her sister, Nicole, a febrile youth who never lived to see her 18th birthday. When naming her baby, Kathy and Jack’s daughter changed “Ashley” to “Ashlyn” because her husband had had a previous relationship with someone named Ashley (it ended spitefully), and his mother’s name was Lynn, so they hybridized the names to neutralize a variety of situational hazards. Kathy has always been bothered by her father’s name being blended with her daughter’s mother-in-law’s name (she and Lynn never had seen eye-to-eye on things), so that diminutive “n” was intentional, a nod to that knee-jerk passive aggression that people of a certain generation are seemingly inured to. Ashlyn was turning six that year, so Kathy and Jack sent her this book along with a framed photograph of them with her and her parents taken on her fifth birthday the summer before. (That year they’d been invited over on the actual day to watch Ashlyn blow out candles and open gifts. This year Ashlyn had wanted a party with her friends, and grandparents were only invited to pay a phone call, so Kathy included the photo as a subtle reminder of this. Well, she thought it was subtle. Her daughter did not.)

As for Kaidrea and Shea, they were Jack’s beloved pair of bearded dragons. “Kaidrea” is a coinage paying homage to Jack’s dearly departed Italian father, Andrea, but also respecting Ezra Pound’s entreaty to “make it new” because Jack’s other love (aside from reptiles), is modernist poetry. Shea is so called because of the eponymous stadium, home to Kathy’s beloved Mets and the location where she and Jack celebrated his fiftieth birthday, the occasion on which she presented him with the lizard as a companion for Kaidrea. It was a very special day not only because Jack had officially existed for half a century but also because the Mets bested the Phillies, which Kathy would have delighted in seeing. Unfortunately, she suffered such hot flashes that day (early menopause, though she wouldn’t admit it) that she drank so many red aluminum cans of cold Budweiser that she and Jack both lost count, and he had to put Shea the bearded dragon in Kathy’s pocketbook and carry Kathy over his shoulder to the car.

And whatever happened to Ashlyn? Well, she just turned 32 after finishing her nursing degree and lives in Atlanta with her husband and two cats. They are expecting their first child, a boy they plan to name Jack. You’ll be glad to know that Kathy is delighted.

Allegory of the warm mango

One day I bought a box of Champagne mangoes at Costco because my daughter was on a mango kick. (Aside: I looked up Champagne mangoes because I felt I needed to understand them better, and whoever wrote the introductory paragraph on Wikipedia describes them as having “a somewhat sigmoid (oblong) shape and a gold-blushed yellow skin” and that “their buttery flesh is not fibrous, and they have a thin pit”. Next time I have a glass of actual champagne, I’m toasting this writer because that’s just a little bit of encylopedic poetry right there.) It was a hot day and I had other errands (this was pre-covid when I did things like errands), so the mangoes sat in the car for a while before I brought them inside. As soon as I did, Summerly (seven years old at the time) asked me to cut one up for her, and upon tasting it, she exclaimed in wonderment, “Wow! It’s so much better when it’s warm! Why does mango taste better warm?”

Of course there may very well be a scientific explanation including enzymes and amino acids and the molecular structure of fructose and taste receptors and how fluids expand in direct proportion to increase in temperature, but I know none of that. What I do know is what the purpose of fruit is, as it pertains to the plant that went through the perspiration of respiration to grow it, and this is to disseminate its seeds and perpetuate itself. I realized the conundrum of the fact that I was looking at my very own child while I was thinking these things in response to her question, and here’s a version of how I answered her (by the way, many of my answers to my kids’ questions begin with these first four words): “I don’t know, but maybe because the fruit of the mango tree contains its pit, and the reason that fruit tastes good is so it can attract animals to it for food. This way the animals will eat the fruit and leave the seed to grow a new tree, and thus the tree that grew the original mango has done its botanically biological job, which is reproduction. And the mango itself, at its pinnacle of deliciousness, is when it’s ripest and fullest and most enticing as a food source, and nothing tastes better than right after it’s picked, so the mango is doing its best job in that moment when the fruit has been given just the right amount of sun and water and balance of nutrients from the soil. At that moment, that tipping point after which the fruit will begin its path to decomposition (the second best route to regermination), when it’s gotten the best angle of sun on that most special of days, in that beatific moment when an animal would approach that particular tree amid a grove of other fruiting trees and select that particular fruit, the mango is warm. Maybe it tastes best to you when it’s warm because you are an animal and the tree knew, in the ways that all plants know, that to attract you was the means to an end with the objective of regrowth.”

And then, as my captive audience hadn’t yet left her seat, I took it one step further to say that maybe each of us is like a piece of fruit hanging on a tree, and if we could have just the right titration of factors to inspire every kind of our personal health, that is when we would be ripest, warmest, happiest. And when one of those factors is out of balance for us (e.g. too many worries or not enough sleep, feeling like the days are too short or wishing we had more time, missing people or wanting to be alone), the perfection of our happiness is compromised. Most of us most of the time are probably feeling more like a mango that’s either overripe or too green or frozen solid, especially these days. But I love the idea, utopian as it may be, that there might be a warm mango moment for each of us, at least once in our lives, when all the aspects of our bodies and minds could attain a nirvana-like balance. Thinking I’d done a bang-up mom job responding to a question that I had no precedent for answering and that was probably subjective anyway, I smiled triumphantly at my daughter, who by this point had moved onto the bowl of blueberries on the kitchen island, and asked her, “What do you think?”

“Mommy,” she said, “Look how many blueberries I can fit in my mouth!”

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