Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Independence Day

Yesterday was a really good day for my son Will. He actually turned to me at one point and said, "Mom this is a really great day."

After meeting with Will's middle school teachers and guidance counselors the week before, we all agreed Will's primary issue at school was self-reliance.

To that end, we sent him off to school yesterday with a mission. He had to, on his own, find the after school Homework Club and navigate the late bus home. Mind you, last week I'd given him instructions not to take the bus home--that I would pick him up instead. It turned into a fiasco of epic proportions that ended with both of us crying, lost and finally reunited after about 45 minutes.

I began to get anxious around 3pm, the normal end of the school day. I was anticipating a call from someone along the lines of , "Hey we've got your kid here and you might want to pick him up." Instead, at 4:15 on the money Will came strolling off the bus with a big smile on his face. He'd done it all by himself!

Will is our only child and he's a gosh darn good one. My husband likes to tell the story of the moments right after he was born. Rod put his hand on Will's chest for the first time. He just sat there looking quietly up at his dad. Calm, happy, with thick head of hair that the nurses parted on the side.

I used to think I would have more input into how Will grows up, that my job was to mold him. Now I think Will was born the way he is and my job is to not screw him up.

I heard this interview on NPR last weekend. Michael Feldman's guest on
Whad'Ya Know? was screenwriter / essayist Paul Rudnick. Rudnick told some very funny stories about Hollywood and writing the screenplay for the Addams Family. He loved writing for these unconventional children Wednesday and Pugsley. Rudnick says this about parenting:

Also I'm a firm believer in the fact that anyone's personality is basically formed about 6 seconds after birth so parents should stop worrying so much. You know if your child is going to grow up to become a serial killer or Vice President or whatever it is so out of your control.  You know I say just treat'em like time bombs.
While I tend to agree, particularly now in this insane age of helicopter parenting, I think I was molding Will's behavior in a sense. Because I didn't have faith in him, Will was losing faith in himself.

I still believe Will was born the way he is and I should support that. But I can also see that by not supporting him, I was changing his personality. He'd gone from that first 6 seconds of serene happiness to self-doubt and fear.

As we were walking to school this morning, I said to Will, "I'm really proud of how well you did yesterday. I underestimated what you were capable of doing."

He said, "I know. I underestimated myself."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Georgia Couple Finds Safe Harbor in Connecticut

Christopher and Sandra Yarborough were in Connecticut to collect the Jenny, a 25-foot sailboat they bought from an owner in Southport. Shortly after setting out on their journey to Florida, their trip abruptly came to a halt when the Jenny ran aground at a nearby beach.

With a damaged rudder, no gas and no water, the Yarboroughs were in serious trouble. In the distance, they could see people running up and down the beach. Sandra Yarborough said, “The water was so big and it was very windy. If one of those waves hit us, we felt like it would turn us over. Then we saw the people coming out of their houses. They got us off the boat.”

Mr. Yarborough was shaking when the two were brought to safety. His rescuers were concerned he might have hypothermia but he was feeling fine within an hour. Both of the Yarboroughs have survived major health crises. Christopher Yarborough, 59, suffered a stroke in 1999, which paralyzed his left side. In 1982, Sandra Yarborough, 57, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and given only six months to live. Although she continues to move in and out of remission, her doctors felt she was fit enough to make the voyage. “I tend to beat the odds,” she says.

The Yarboroughs were housed temporarily in a nearby inn but they were anxious to get back to their boat and be reunited with their pets Greenie, a 3 year-old Jack Russell and Ralph, their 17 year-old orange cat. The Jenny, the couple and their pets are now safely berthed at the Fayerweather Yacht Club in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Club members have been working furiously to get their boat into shipshape for the trip from Connecticut to Cocoa Village, Fla. Timing is critical as the season is already beginning to change in Connecticut. Originally scheduled to set sail this past Sunday, some of the club members asked that the Yarboroughs postpone the trip for a couple of days to pull the sailboat of out the water and make doubly sure she is seaworthy.

On Friday, another captain, Bob Butler, took Sandra Yarborough out on his boat, the Whisper to guide her though the route they’ll be taking next week. “The trip gave me a point of reference that I can see, so I’m not just navigating from charts,” said Yarborough.

The voyage from Connecticut through New York City can be tricky, including navigating the treacherous Hell Gate passage between the Bronx and Queens. The Jenny will make her way through New York's East River, sailing under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and on to New Jersey.

Their newly found friends in Connecticut are concerned for their safety but recognize the grit and determination the Yarboroughs have to make their trip South. To that end, the members of Fayerweather Yacht Club have banded together to support the Yarboroughs in their dream. The boat repairs, gas for the boat, and housing the boat have all been paid for by the yacht club. Club members have also donated $300, a GPS system, autopilot system and new battery. When the Yarboroughs set sail next Wednesday they will be surrounded by well-wishers, people they might never have known if they hadn’t run aground in Connecticut.

The Yarboroughs first stop is just past Executioner’s Rock near New Rochelle, New York. Prior to the Revolutionary War, British soldiers brought colonial prisoners to the spot to be tortured and ultimately drowned. Sounds scary but the Yarboroughs aren’t spooked. “No. I’m not really nervous. I have my faith. The Lord has never given me anything I can’t handle,” said Sandra Yarborough.

As Georgians, the Yarboroughs might not have expected to be greeted with this outpouring of Northern hospitality. When asked if she was surprised by the kindness of strangers in Connecticut, Sandra Yarborough said, “I take people on how I meet them, not on what I hear about them. These people, they claim they don’t have wings. But I see their wings all the time.”

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dooce in Twitter Smackdown

In the PR biz, you know at some point your client is going to take a hit. A product is not well-received, an executive says something stupid or your numbers hit the skids. It's just a fact of life. One thing I've always told clients at this critical juncture is, "Don't worry. Americans love an underdog."

After all, we are a nation that watched Rocky four times. Or was it five?

Right now, as we speak, one of the biggest mommy bloggers out there, Heather Armstrong, is in an all-out war on twitter Beloved for her brutally frank writing about mommyhood and marriage, she has over a million followers. Maytag recently learned their lesson when they tangled with Dooce. After a negative experience with one of their washers, Ms. Armstrong repeatedly twittered DO NOT BUY MAYTAG, revealing she'd been offered machines for free by other vendors.

In this very astute piece about Dooce vs. Maytag, writer Anna asks if this is Brand Bullying. She calls out Dooce's recent change in bahavior from twitter "broadcaster" to conversationalist. Before most of her tweets were just sent out there into the universe or she would occasionally reply to @blurb (her husband) and other close friends. Suddenly she began engaging her audience, using the @twittername convention to give a shout-out to readers and followers.

Tonight, there is something else afoot in twitterland. A few bloggers @lydahl and @namechanged began making negative comments about @dooce. It may not seem like it, but this is either courageous or downright crazy. It's like David messing with Goliath.

Twitter at this point is still primarily populated by people on their best behavior. You get the occasional porn bot (or more than occasional) but for the most part people are using good manners, smiley faces and exclamation points to show their enthusiasm.

Tonight, that went to hell in a handbasket. Dooce instigated a program called "Monetizing the Hate". The idea is to take all the trash talk written about Dooce, put it in one place and then "litter the entire thing with ads". So aside from the mommy blogger swag, speaking engagements, book deal and other revenues enjoyed by Ms. Armstrong, she would also make money off her hate mail. Ingenious really.

In all fairness, Dooce has said she planned to donate all the money from Monetize the Hate. Still, the idea did not sit well with some of Dooce's followers like @lydahl and @namechanged who called Dooce out in a public forum on twitter. Then Dooce's husband @blurb got involved in response to @lydahl calling their behavior #douchebaggy, saying "Stop being insecure."

A few samples of the exchanges going on in the twitterverse:

@apuraja: @blurb @dooce are you guys really so corporate sellouty as it seems? Ducking for cover as poop is thrown my way.

@juliamstewart @blurb @dooce don't worry if you have old fans complaining, you have new ones like me enjoying everything

@sunnyhunt @blurb douchebaggy? No. Do I feel a growing disconnect? Yes. Love reading you and Dooce but growing harder to identify and enjoy lately.

Douchebaggy? Sellouty? Like a twittered down version of cursing. For now, a few little-known bloggers have become the underdog, joined by others if only in our chicken-shit minds. But the tide will likely turn at some point and @dooce will become the underdog. We are a society that can't abide too much love. Every once in awhile, we like to knock our heroes off their pedestals.

NB: @namechanged isn't an actual twitter username. After seeing this post, she sent me a very sweet missive asking me to mind my own (f-word) business. Sending smiley faces to you @namechanged.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Juan Martin

I rarely watch tennis because I prefer to play. Last night was the men's final at the US Open and while I hadn't planned it, I did watch the match. Juan Martin del Potro played Roger Federer. Del Potro is from Argentina and quite a lovely specimen. Unbelievably del Potro came back from losing the first set and being down in the second set to win.

While watching, I was also twittering and pulling for del Potro. Roger is a great guy and all but come on. He hasn't lost a match in years. So del Potro, in reality the person pretending to be del Potro, started following me on twitter. The real del Potro I found out sadly is @delpo

I ran upstairs to tell my husband. about my new follower. "Del Potro is following me. He's following me," I said.

"He's not really your type," my husband said. "With the facial hair and all."

Honestly, I could overcome my aversion to facial hair with JMDP.

To allay his fears that I might run off with Juan Martin, I said, "You don't have to worry."

He said, "I'm not."

My husband has a thing for those old school girls like Angie Dickinson and Barbara Eden.

So I said, "Hey maybe Angie Dickinson will follow you."

He said, "Isn't she dead?"

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ebb and Flow

Friday was 9/11, always a sad day particularly the closer you live to the City. I ran into my neighbor who was going camping with his little girl. I remarked that the rainy weather was not ideal for camping. He explained that a group of guys and their kids go every year to commemorate friends and loved ones lost on that terrible day.

My son had some homework to do on Friday afternoon. I came in the room and heard him chatting on the phone with one of my friends. He had her on speakerphone and she asked that I take the phone from him. She wanted to speak in private. She was having a miscarriage and wanted my advice.

Her doctor advised going to the ER but she felt that was extreme. Under any circumstances, the ER is a place to avoid. Particularly during something as emotionally difficult as a miscarriage, hanging out in the ER for hours is not ideal.

I suggested trying to find another OB center that had the sophisticated ultrasound equipment her smaller town doctor did not. She did find a smaller ER and was able to get in and out in a few hours versus the many that it usually takes.

My friend had arranged to come visit the next day. I assumed she'd want to cancel but she felt the distraction would be a good thing. So the trip here was still on for Saturday evening. On Saturday afternoon, I had a baby shower for another friend. This friend is having a baby by surrogate. I've never met anyone who's done this before so it was an interesting day.

When I arrived, I actually sat next to the surrogate mom. I was sort of wondering who the lady was in her Laura Ashley conservative dress versus New York hipster moms that made up the rest of the shower attendees. We spoke briefly and I found out that she has two children of her own and this is her second time acting as a surrogate.

Such a strange experience that must be to carry a child for someone else. In fact, the surrogate mom carried twins the first time and then gave them up to another family. The loss I felt after miscarriages and the loss my other friend was experiencing losing this pregnancy, it seems so vivid to me. I can't imagine how you mentally come to terms with bearing a child and then giving that child up for adoption.

At the end of the shower, the mom-to-be was opening all of her gifts. This is Westport so we're talking extravagant gifts--two Tiffany teething rings, endless onesies, toys and books. My friend said at one point, "What the expression? A cacophony of riches?" An embarrassment of riches. That's the saying she was looking for but couldn't find.

The gift that most touched her was a little quilt handmade by the surrogate mom. In one corner, she'd embroidered, "Carried with love, forever in my heart." The mom-to-be broke down in tears.

An embarrassment of riches, it's true. Another very fortunate baby will grow up in Westport, Connecticut. Maybe the surrogate mom feels an embarrassment of riches. Because she can have children, she's decided to carry children for women who can't.

She sat there amongst the glitter and glam in her simple dress, giving what is priceless to my friend. For one friend, a baby is coming. For another, a baby is lost. I remembered the poem Joe Biden read during Friday's 9/11 ceremony.

"Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on."
--Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11, 2009

New York strikes me as a City of low simmering kindness. It's not overt by any means. My brother tells a story about taking the subway in New York. The first time Clay came to visit me in the City, he decided to take the subway to my apartment in the West Village. He was standing in the middle of a busy station holding a map. According to legend, a young man was running past on his way to work. Without breaking stride, he asked my brother where he was going. "Christopher Street," Clay said. "Take the 1 or 9 downtown," said the New Yorker, and he kept on running.

My husband and I were together in New York for our first Christmas. We were standing in Rockefeller Center, surrounded by the throngs. The sun was going down and the lights were coming up. My husband kissed me under the tree. A woman turned to us at that moment and said, "It's nice to see two people in love." Her accent was unmistakably New York.

Maybe New York could only offer the smallest acts of kindness before September 11th. After all, the City is such a big place with so many people living in so many different circumstances. I have seen kindness seeping through the cracks of her tough veneer. On September 11th, those kind gestures flowed freely.

What to do on this anniversary? I'll say prayers. I'll cry no doubt watching survivors at Ground Zero. I want to find an appropriate, respectful way to mark the day in my own life, now outside the City.

I have decided to be openly grateful for my family today. I'm going to try like hell to be kind to my husband and my son. And when I find myself losing patience with my son for spilling soda or my husband for not putting his dishes in the dishwasher, I'll try to remember what others have lost and wish they could have again.

I am wrestling now with the concept of courage in my daily life. What am I capable of doing in spite of fear? I cannot imagine the courage of standing by a disabled friend unable to make it down the stairs of a burning building. Or being disabled and realizing that to attempt the stairs might prevent others from making it out alive. What must go through the heart of a man at that moment?

Today I hope I can muster the courage to be vulnerable. Let kindness seep through the cracks of my own guarded self.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Bus

I'm reading a bunch of stuff now about New Orleans for this screenplay I've been working on with two friends for longer than any of us can remember. I know Rosey's had two children in the process and Lou Lou adopted Lillian.

Just finished Plenty Enough Suck to Go Around by Cheryl Wagner and moved on to New Orleans, Mon Amour by Andrei Codrescu. First of all, I love Andrei. Second, I love that he writes one and one-half page essays. I mean that's my format. That's my sweet spot only I'm missing some or much of his talent.

Codrescu wrote this essay entitled Two Americas. It's about taking the bus because he doesn't drive. Personally, that is my preference as well. I hate driving especially here in the Northeast where everyone is, pardon my french, un cul. You can figure it out...

The essay begins, "There are two Americas: There is the America that drives, and there is the America that takes the bus. If you watch television, the only America you see is the America that drives. The America that drives lives on the other side of the TV screen from the America that takes the bus."

That's me. That's my life. I'm not taking the bus but I'm here in the only part of Fairfield where buses are a part of life. Fairport we call it. The edge of Fairfield near the city of Bridgeport. Bridgeport is the porta-potty of Fairfield County. There's no other way to put it. There are parts of Bridgeport that are nice. And there are so many other parts that we think, "Wow. I bet that was a lovely home once."

But for the most part, if there's crime in Fairfield County, it's in Bridgeport or was perpetrated by someone in Bridgeport. The thing is here in Fairport, we're just on the edge. Surrounded by really some of the nicest people you could meet, young and old, cool and stodgy, but we are a band of brothers battling petty and not so petty crime.

When you live on the edge, it's sort of a strange place. Like I used to live in Southeast Capitol Hill when DC was the murder capital. I lived in New Orleans when it was the murder capital. Maybe the fact that I'm in town creates a "murder capital" type environment. I don't think I should tell the neighbors.

The first time my Dad visited me in DC, my friend and roommate had just been robbed and beaten. Dad immediately went to the hardware store and installed a new deadbolt, this on top of the metal bars that covered every opening in our apartment. I'm sure he was afraid for me and if I'd had any sense, I would've been too. When you live in the shit, you learn to navigate the shit. When you live on the fringe, it seems okay...until someone gets robbed.

Our neighbors, one my my faves, put up a For Sale sign this week. I think they've had enough between a tacky quasi-commercial property across the street and possibly the news of a stabbing/baseball incident at the Subway about a block from their house.

They moved here from New York with a daughter and a son on the way. No doubt thinking surely Fairfield will be a lovely place to raise a family. Unfortunately, like many of us what they could afford at the time was Fairport. Not quite apple pie, not quite crack den. Somewhere in the middle.

But tonight, I'm looking outside watching typical suburbia. My neighbors are cooking out, spraying the hose and learning to ride a two-wheeler. It doesn't get more apple pie than that. Maybe it's possible here on the fringe to accept the two Americas: the people who drive and the people who take the bus. Or at least learn to live with it.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Middle School Blues

My son's first day of middle school. I didn't want him to go. Not in that, "Hey maybe home schooling is not that bad after all" kind of way. I just wasn't ready.

When my son was three, we enrolled him in a Montessori school. He was still little but my husband and I were both working full-time and couldn't take care of him during the day. Let's just say, he was not a willing participant.

Every morning I would drop him off and he would cry and cry. Then I would cry. There's really no worse feeling than walking away from school seeing your little boy crying in the window. Finally my husband started dropping him off because I couldn't take it. Of course, when he dropped him off, Will went happily on his way.

This morning I was starting to tear up thinking about Will going to middle school. My husband would have to take him to the bus stop. Plus I figured it would be totally uncool to have both parents at the bus stop. But I knew I would start crying and that would be way uncool.

I went to two middle schools. The first was Huntington Middle School in San Marino, California. I loved that school. Then mid-way through seventh grade we got the news we were moving again (thanks IBM). My second middle school was Bedford Junior High in Westport, Connecticut.

My friends know the story of my starting at
Bedford. My mother decided to take the train cross-country. Unfortunately, she didn't anticipate the blizzard of '78 and getting stuck in New York. Unfortunately for us kids, my dad was in charge of getting us ready for school. Dad took us to the Army Navy store to buy new clothes. My OP shorts and Vans weren't cutting it in the frozen tundra. Granted there was no Gap back then, but the Army Navy store? Basically my brother and I could've posed for Bowhunter's Quarterly...that's how cool we looked.

So I showed up at
Bedford Middle School in my camo pants and greenish-brownish down jacket. Thankfully, I had the Cali thing going for me - the mystique of the California girl. Then they found out I was really from Texas and said pin instead of pen and tin instead of ten. Teased unmercifully, I finally eliminated any trace of a Southern accent. Mostly what I remember about middle school was sort of this strange balance between utter happiness and naked fear. There was the whiff of sexuality, the stirrings of mischief and the occasional misdemeanor. As the perpetual new kid, I learned pretty quickly how to navigate the water. That's a useful skill for blending in but it's not really helpful when it comes to standing out. I'm learning that now in my forties.

My son Will called out to me, "We need to get going." Then he walked out the back door. Even in fifth grade I gave him a kiss every morning before he got on the bus. They'll be none of that in middle school, I'm sure. As I watched him walking off, I held back tears. Looking at him walking confidently toward his future, I felt sentimental for my little boy. But he's not a little boy anymore. And I have to let him go.