Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Toby's Spring

Toby is sleeping in the other room and like the mother of  a newborn I keep quietly opening the door to check on him.  I guess, really, to just look at him and take comfort that he is there.  He leaves tomorrow, very early and I am trembling at the thought.

 He and David will get up at 4 AM for the airport bus to arrive in time for the two-hour check-in required before an 8AM international  flight.  There is a 4 hour layover in Dublin before Toby re-boards with all the Irish folk returning from a visit to  the homeland or headed to the US to see long-lost cousins or grandchildren not seen in at least a year.  He is most excited about the layover and plans to have a couple of pints of Guinness for breakfast.  The idea of drinking Guinness in Dublin inspires him as it would most 20 somethings - or his father.  I almost wish David could travel along to share the experience except that I will probably be a slobbering mess when they leave and will be happy when David returns to the flat to keep me company.

 Tavish, having studied in Dublin for a semester, has most certainly already had Guinness for breakfast, lunch, dinner and about any other time he could break away for one.  Within hours of first arriving at the college there, the students were taken on a bus to the distillery for tours and tastes, most likely in an ill-conceived plan to get the desire out of their systems.  I suspect it only threw gas on an already burning fire.

From Dublin, Toby will fly directly to Chicago where he  already understands all the twists and turns of the El and should easily, if not so quickly, make his way to the apartment on the north side of the city that he will share with  5 friends, all actors or students.  He has a job to get started while he looks for something a bit better and has already arranged for some standup gigs.  He is well on his way.  And I am sitting here bursting at the seams with pride, filled with excitement for his adventure and feeling like I will collapse into tears at any minute.

I feel all soft inside like the first time I held either of the boys.  It is strange to feel this way having said goodbyes with both of them so often over the years - summer camp, boarding school, college, travels.  Of course, I cried each of those times, usually big gasping sobs, but only always after I was out of their sight fearing that seeing their Mom in such a state night make them homesick. It was a silly worry as they each seemed to embrace  every new experience with gusto.  Oh, there were occasional difficult or teary times, of course, but many fewer than the norm I think.  My boys are resilient, inquisitive and if nothing else, fearfully independent.

 But somehow this is different.

This time I know Toby is going out on his own and  will never again live with us as our “little one” which I have always called him even though Tavish is much smaller.  Toby is the youngest and therefore by default perceived to be the most fragile, Mama’s little boy.  He is neither of those things.
 These six months, despite our almost constant disagreements, have been a gift.  I have watched him continue to grow and change in ways I didn’t expect.  And I have watched as he gained about 20 pounds, filled out, grew a beard and now looks much more like a man than a boy.  Fortunately he still gives me hugs without which I would surely collapse.  Perhaps that is what I most fear - losing the goodnight hugs, knowing he is safely home.  I will never have that again.  He is most surely now responsible for himself in ways I was not prepared to accept for another few years.

This is Toby’s spring.  The air, nature, even the length of the days are drenched in hope for his future.  I am in the late summer or perhaps even early fall of my own life - leaves a little droopy, too tired somedays to feel like doing very much other than just sitting and feeling the warm moist air around me.  Toby is like a new bud popping out of the ground, looking around and screaming, “Yippee!!  Look at all that room around me to grow into.  Wow, smell that air.  Hey, roots, let go.  I’ve got things to do.”  As Leo Tolstoy once wrote , he is “…a plant that has just opened and spread its leaves among all the other plants and is going to grow up simply, peacefully and joyfully…”  Well, that is what I hope for him.  There are sure to be some trials.

“Make way for this wonderful plant that is filling out its buds and growing in the spring”  Look out world,  her comes Toby. He is loved, and supported and will be missed terribly - but  he’s got a lot of living to do!

"You should always be excited about the next chapter of your existence" 

                               --- Toby McMullen

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dear Banana - or birthday advice to a 15-year-old that a lot of us could use too

A few weeks ago, the Princess to whom I am Fairy godmother, celebrated her fifteenth birthday.  I sent her a tiara.  It is time for her to learn to wear one properly.  Besides I spent nearly a year in Mexico watching many, many 15 year old girls celebrate their quincenearas and I learned a lot about the importance of a fifteenth birthday, and the tiara.

In Mexico and many Latin cultures, the fifteenth birthday is a celebration of a young girl’s continuing growth from childhood to maturity.  If only the young girls waited that long in the US.  During a quincineara celebration, the father removes his daughter’s flat ballet-style slippers as replaces them with high heels in a symbolic gesture of her growing up.  Unfortunately for my tastes, I’ve seen way too many twelve-year-olds already in high heels for the transition to have much American meaning.

The celebration includes religious customs, usually a church service, and extols the virtues of family traditions and social responsibility. highlighting God, family, friends, music, food and dance.  The Quincineara is surrounded by a Court of Honor of her closest  girlfriends and usually 8 boys, her Chambela’n or Escorte.  In San Miguel de Allende, we would often see them all lined up for pictures on the church steps in their formal wear, the birthday girl looking like a bride, flowers and family all around just before climbing into limousines for the drive to the venue selected for the big party.

There was no religious component to the Princess’s celebration , for which I was exceedingly glad (even though I was thousands of miles away at the time).  I held her for her Christening 15 years ago after the  priest, in his role as representative of the Church, had accepted my involvement as a non-Catholic.  At that time, I personally accepted my role as her Godmother during the ceremony.  However, as the years have passed my discomfort with the Church has increased and finally when the news broke about the Pope’s personal involvement in the sexual abuse scandal I felt I could no longer condone my involvement, implicitly or explicitly, in the Princess’s association with such a misogynistic, greedy, misdirected and blatantly un-Christian organization as the Catholic Church. 

So I resigned  as the Princess’s Godmother. 

Whew! That really pissed off her Mom, my BFF and I definitely “had some ‘splainin’ to do” But as I said then, I can no longer in good conscience, or as an honest example, accept a role of encouraging the Princess to be part of the Church even if that is her parents’ wish, but I will always be her Fairy godmother (lower case ‘g’) with all rights, privileges and responsibilities thereto assigned.

In other words, I gotta help her grow up right.  And that includes how and when to wear a tiara --- and a lot of other things, as well.  I will only talk about that church thing if she brings it up. That is my compromise with her mother because I really want to tell her  all the reasons for my action.  That will come in time.  Anyway, all she really cares about at fifteen is the presents I send ( though invariably late), the summer vacation with me and that I am someone she can bitch to about her parents and know I won’t tell.  I hope she also feels that way about talking to me about boys.

I think as part of this growing up process it is time I begin to impart some wisdom.  There will certainly be more throughout the years and some of what is here falls more into the think- about it, or plan-for-it realm than the do-it- now phase.  More importantly, I want these to be some of the things we talk about while she is visiting in Florida this summer.  Well, that and a lot of BASEBALL!!!!

Oh ,and there is no rational order of these tidbits of wisdom and advice.  Just how things popped into my head.  Comments are welcome.

Dear Banana,

Happy birthday, again.  Here are some things I want you to think about.

You live in a man’s world and unless things change a  whole hell of a lot over the next few decades, which certainly has not been the case over the past millennia, you will continue to do so.  Just get over it.  Men, for the most part, are not very bright when facing a cute woman so, if necessary, make him think it was his idea, but never hesitate to get what you want.  As Maureen Down said, “I succeed in a man’s world  living by man’s rules but  I never forget that a woman’s first role is selecting the right shade of lipstick” (or something like that)

Always own at least one tiara, and never be afraid to wear it.

Always have your own money.

Save at least 10% of every single dollar that comes your way.  Starting today! Get a piggy-bank and always put all your coins in it. (Coins do not count as part of the 10%, they are “gimmes”)

Wear gloves.  Warm ones to keep your hands from getting chapped and classic ones on other occasions.

Develop a personal style - classic, bohemian, preppy, fashionista, outdoorsy, girly, dressed-up, dressed-down - but NEVER only dress in that style.  It is good to shake things up once in a while.

Have one trademark item that if left at a crime scene would immediately implicate you
- eyeglasses, a pen, a pin. a piece of jewelry, a hairclip, your gloves, a beautiful notebook, your phone, your wallet, a linen hanky you always carry - you’ll think of something.

Know what colors are flattering to you and don’t bother buying anything else.  This  makes shopping easier and keeps you from standing in front of the mirror for hours in that really cute top that just doesn’t look right for some reason.  Choose a basic “background” color and build around it  -like black, brown, navy, ecru, white.

Never wear white next to your face unless your teeth are at least as white as whatever you are wearing.

Less makeup is always more.

Whenever you leave the house - even if just for a quick errand - wear lip gloss and perfume.

Choose two personal scents - one for every day and one for more dressed up.  And be sure to re-evaluate every few years as your scent should grow up as you do.

Take care of your hair.  Don’t over process it and never change anything about it unless you are in a very good mood at the time.

Take advantage of every learning opportunity you are given - school, theatre, music, lectures, travel - whatever - Soak it in!

Never get bored and, even  more importantly, never ACT bored.  It is unbecoming.


Find an activity that you enjoy and can do throughout your whole life -  tennis, chess, backgammon, squash, cards, sewing, knitting, painting, drawing, photography, bird-watching……

Have at least one interesting topic of conversation for someone to whom you have just been introduced, your parents‘ friends or your friends’ parents.

Swear only when you intend to and make it count. And always use good grammar unless you are making a point.

If you don’t know how, learn how to play with kids.

Don’t  get drunk in public.  A little tipsy can be charming but drunk is just ugly - and dangerous.  Remember what Dorothy Parker said” One martini is nice, two at the very most, three I’m under the table, four I’m under the host.”

ALWAYS have a glass of water after each drink before you start the next.  This will allow you to “keep up with your friends” without getting sloppy or sick.  And if you really do this you may never have a hangover.

Never drink a lot of sweet alcoholic drinks of any type.  Stick with beer or wine to be safe. One shot is safe - after that it gets sketchy.

Get as much sleep as possible.

Develop a good skincare regimen and never ever go to bed without cleaning your face.

Wear comfortable shoes.  They don’t have to be ugly.  Remember no matter how cute a pair of shoes may be if you can’t stand up in them for an hour or walk comfortably for several blocks DO NOT BUY THEM.

Buy trendy clothes in trendy inexpensive shops.  Shop at thrift stores and consignment shops - especially for day-to-day things or the one- time wear stuff.   Save the big bucks for investment purchases.

If you shop wisely and take care of handbags and shoes they will last for years!!!

Know how to do your own manicure and pedicure but pay for one when you can.

If your budget permits choose waxing over shaving and laser over waxing.

Get your eyebrows shaped by a very good professional.

Eat your vegetables.  Skip bread and dessert whenever possible.  Women have eaten that way for centuries and stayed thin.

Get over over-consuming.  Want and waste is a bad model to set for your self and even worse for the world.  The less you can live with the more you can enjoy life.  Really, Trust me on this one.

Always have at least one outfit, a hairstyle and quick makeup routine that will have you dressed and looking cute in a flash.  A famous designer once said that  the difference between true beauty and just too-high-maintenance was the ability to get drop dead gorgeous in less than 15 minutes.

Don’t have sex until you are ready.  That means the first time should not happen just because everything gets hot and heavy and you are convinced he is the love of your life or definitely not because he tells you that is how to prove you love him (tell that guy to fuck off!)  When you feel like you can’t stand it unless it happens right now, STOP!  If you wake up tomorrow and still feel the same way then the two of you should plan a perfect time and place.

As soon as you even start thinking that you might  be gonna have sex get on birth control.    Do not pass go, do not collect $200.  Your fairy godmother has been pregnant 4 times and these were the ONLY times I did it without birth control and your mother got pregnant on her honeymoon.  This is not something you should mess around with.  Being smart should never be embarrassing. Ask me for help if you need it.

Always, always, always use a condom.  Get together with your friends and practice putting one on a banana.  Seriously. If he won’t use one - lose him!

Do not do drugs.  Period.  They make you stupid and vulnerable.
Also, understand that I do not consider marijuana a drug.  It does however reduce your inhibitions so be very careful when, where and how if you choose to use it.

NEVER NEVER get into a car driven by someone who has been drinking, smoking weed or doing drugs.  This includes family members and yourself.

Keep your “space” - room, desk, handbag, book bag, whatever - neat and orderly.  It reduces stress in your life in so many ways,

Learn to meditate.  Seriously.  Look for a teacher.

Learn to appreciate different kinds of music and art. Study it.  Read about it.

Learn to dance both popularly and properly.

Look people in the eye and speak up!

Stand up straight.  Nothing exudes confidence more than good posture.  And this includes sitting properly too.

Learn how to properly use a fork and knife and what the other utensils are for.

Avoid any group or activity that purports to make you more popular.  It is always bullshit. No exceptions.  Popularity is over-rated anyway.  I mean, do you even like those people that everyone is trying to be like?  You are so much nicer as yourself.

Depend on your parents.  They are your allies and always have your best interests at heart.

Do risky stuff like drinking or smoking weed with you sister and/or brother first.  They will look out for you.  They will also laugh at you if you over do and never let you forget it.

Learn to plan an amazing party.  I am EXCELLENT at this.

Learn to cook.  I mean really learn to cook.  It is fun and everyone always appreciates it.

Read good books - not just junk fiction (although junk fiction is also good too, just not as the only thing you read)

Read a newspaper every day  - and on Sundays, meet some friends at Starbucks and share the New York Times.

Learn how to properly order a drink, a beer and most importantly wine.  You can drink legally at 16 in many European countries and it is awful to look like either a stupid American or an unsophisticated clod.

Learn to read menus in French, Spanish and Italian - and ,of course, English.

Travel everywhere you can.  Each new place will teach you something about the world and something about yourself.

More will come as the time goes by.  I love you.

Your Fairy godmother

Saturday, April 24, 2010

I Should Be an Upper Class Brit…..

I love hats.

Haves you ever seen a good British, or better yet, Scottish, wedding?  ALL the women wear hats whether or not they are in the bridal party.  Of course, the bridesmaids will all be wearing head coverings ranging from huge and patently absurd to small and dainty depending on the location and the time of day.  Like in many American weddings, shoes will be died to match dresses which will be matched in color with hats.

Stand outside the church, hotel or hall and observe the guests as they exit the venue to stand around waiting for the bride and groom.  Yes, stand and observe, it is part of the custom.  The wedding is like a well orchestrated show for all to see, even those that weren’t invited.  Feel free to gawk, make quiet comments or even snap a few pictures.  I think this is all the result of  years of practice observing royals do various things.

As the guests emerge it looks like a box of crayons -all brightly hued, mostly solids, in jewel tones.  Even the female guests are dressed in ensembles of matching shoes, frocks and hats, standing in contrast to the dark suits or dinner jackets of the men. Often , the hats are HUGE, with veils or other embellishments as though at Ascot or a Derby party where a prize will be given  for best chapeau.  One wonders if these hats will be worn only once as they are so striking as to be noticeable should they reappear at the next function.  Perhaps there is a “Great Hat Exchange” that I have yet to stumble upon.  In any case, the guests create the peacock’s plumage around the bride dressed in white or ecru ,a meringue of tulle and lace or yards and yards of soft flowing embroidered silk, wearing a tiara and elaborate full, fluffy veil or a graceful hat cocked to one side to which a veil is attached.

Only at a full Scottish wedding is there competition  - from the groom and his men in kilts with proper cravats and  chalk striped morning coats or  short black Prince Charlie coatees with silver buttons catching the light.  Even the bride can sometimes pale by comparison.

Once back from the honeymoon the bride and groom take up residence in their new home. Although more often than not these days they would have been living there together for months or even years prior to the wedding.  Each will have his or her own room and this is where I think upper class Brits have really got it right.

David and I have often discussed the relative merits of separate bedrooms.  Now let’s be realistic people.  We have been married for almost 30 years and are way past the fucking like rabbits stage, so sleep is the goal here.  It is easy enough when planning sex to decide in whose room it should take place - if not on the kitchen table any  longer.   We do like to cuddle or spoon but inevitably as soon as one of us begins to drift off, the other moves  away and rolls to the other side facing away.

We have friends who never had a particular side of the bed on which each slept.  They had been married for years and each night whichever got to the bed first just took the side that seemed most comfortable.  I think that is weird!  This couple is now divorced and I have to believe that this is at least part of the reason.  I mean if you haven’t even staked out your side of the bed how in the world can you negotiate anything else in the relationship?

But I ramble…

I sleep on the left side of the bed (right if you are  facing from the foot) even when I sleep alone.  If  I am on my left side I expect to be facing the wall or door. On my right, I either have a vast expanse of bed available to me, if alone, which is rare. or I can feel David’s breath on my face.

Now here’s the rub.  He snores.

I know lots of people snore and lots of others sleep though it  but I am a well-tuned Mama-Machine and since the birth of my first child 25 years ago I startle at the slightest noise during the night.  And after the 1:30 AM call from Detective Fazio of the New York City Police Department while Toby was living alone in NYC when he was 17, it has only gotten worse.  So every time David huffs, or snorts, or blows out a long sigh, I wake and have to try again to sleep. Last night I did not sleep at all.  That tends to happen at least once a week these days.

At this age sleep evades most women on a regular basis.  We do not need the added disruption of a snoring bedmate to disturb our precious, coveted ZZZZZZs.  So when David and I arrive at the comfortable 2 bedroom, 2 bath condo in Florida that our dear, wonderful, amazingly generous, awesome, spectacular (you get the point) friends are letting us use from late June through November, I will be claiming one of the bedroom as my own.  David can choose the other room or the sofa, whichever he prefers.  If this works out, where we go next will be required to have two bedrooms.  A second bath is optional - I like double showers.  Besides it saves water.

Oh, and Madison will be sleeping with me.  I actually prefer not to sleep alone and, like a good, well-bred, upper class, wee thing,  she doesn’t snore.

Thursday, April 15, 2010



I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Monday, April 5, 2010

To Infinity and Beyond.....

The Space Shuttle Discovery blasted off this morning with seven astronauts aboard.

As a life-long space junkie, I was watching for the story and barely found it mentioned on NPR. However, the BBC carried a video of the blast-off with a story alongside that Soyuz had lifted off from Kazakhstan on Friday. Both stories.  Hmmm, must be space envy.

Discovery is hauling equipment and supplies to the International Space Station in one of its last missions before the program is shut down at the end of the year. In a rare and wonderful sight, the space station passed over the launch site about 15 minutes before launch and was easily visible as a bright star passing by the moon.  I am so sorry that I wasn't there to see that.  David and I have observed several shuttle launches from our balcony in St Petersburg all the way on the other side of the state from the Space Center.  It is is a chilling experience every time.

Soyuz docked with the ISS yesterday and apparently three astronauts, including one American, have transferred to the station for several months where among other things they are working on experiments left there by the Japanese.  Apparently, two of Japans three astronauts are in space at this time.
I find it interesting how we can cooperate on the exploration of space and yet seem to have so much difficulty working together on the problems of earth.

There are no plans for what to do after the shuttles are parked for the last time - no proposals, no budget, not even much discussion.  POTUS is planning a trip to Florida while the shuttle is still in orbit to look things over and discuss options, but he is pretty much already on record that this is waaaay down on his priority list.  His trip is most likely related to addressing the 6000 jobs that will be lost when the program is ended.

Too bad no one has considered expanding the program and inviting say, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan to participate.  Maybe if we were all working on the space program together we could start a dialogue that would teach us how to talk to one another about other things.  I mean if it worked with the Russians, who knows? And hasn't anyone in charge of all this ever watched Star Trek?

For the first time ever there are three women on this shuttle flight that will rendezvous with a fourth woman on the ISS  That is quite a change from the days of Neal Armstrong and Buzz Aldren or even Sally Ride, and the sad loss of Christa McAuliffe and the astronauts on Challenger and Columbia.

A few nights ago I watched a documentary about the wives of the Apollo astronauts.  I had forgotten that the disaster that took the lives of Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chafee was the first planned three man mission in a series designed to take man to the moon.

The fire occurred during a pre-flight test.  Subsequent investigations indicated that the accident was likely preventable but much was learned that allowed NASA to meet JFK‘s call for putting a man on the moon within the decade of the 1960‘s. If you are interested in how truly screwed up all the planning and processes around space flight have been and continue to be I recommend reading The Challenger Disaster.  If Obama is putting off further funding until the problems with the system are fixed then he is correct and I hope we can re-instate a well planned and expertly run program soon.

Did I tell you that I have always been a space flight junkie? 

I remember watching breathlessly as John Glenn circled the globe for the first time and cheering when it was announced that he was going up again in his 70s. I wish I had grown up even 10 years later when someone might have encouraged my math and science capabilities and suggested that I could strive to be an astronaut rather than just an astronaut’s wife (although the latter was never on my wish list either). Or at least a flight controller or meteorologist who helped plan the launches.  Yeah, that is what I should have been - a way to combine my fascinations with weather and space.

Roger Chaffee’s widow was one of the women interviewed for the documentary (her first name was never shown)  She was amazingly supportive of the other wives and space travel in general considering that her husband had been turned into toast in the capsule before his mission even got off the ground.
This was all that was left after the 100% oxygen environment ignited .  The remains of the capsule have never been displayed and are warehoused near the launch site at the Cape.  The  launchpad itself still stands, deserted, as a grim reminder of the terrible events of that day. There is some discussion of burying the capsule there.
As I watched and listened to the film of these strong women I kept thinking how much the success of the space program had depended on their commitment to the program and to their husbands.  Before the end of the Apollo program more than 75% of the astronauts’ marriages had ended in divorce, generally with the men leaving their wives for younger women.

Those were heady times for the space cowboys and many chose to take advantage of the women and even men who offered up themselves for the cause - if you know what I mean.  Apparently the high oxygen filled atmosphere around all the training centers fueled lives of partying , fast cars, sex, and high risk.  And through it all the wives stayed home, raised the children and kept themselves looking just right for the many TV interviews that they were expected to perform. They were even given instructions on just how they should appear at all times.  No running out for milk and eggs unless your hair was done and you were wearing makeup and nice shoes.

The Apollo wives lived at a time when men could be men because the women were women in a defined, accepted and expected way.  I can’t even imagine standing six miles away and watching as my husband sat atop a bomb and was blasted to god knows where while I held the hands of our children - children who by the way were afforded only standard military pay, benefits and pensions regardless of consequence.  But the wives knew they had each other and that the American people were behind the extraordinary efforts that they and their husbands were making.

Those early space wives stuck by each other, providing support during the long months of training and the anguishing days when the men were in space.  Americans held ticker tape parades and greeted the men as heroes and applauded the sacrifices of the wives.  And today I can’t even tell you the names of the seven astronauts that are hurling through space much less whether they are married, single, gay, or divorced.  In the early days knowing all of that and more was always a part of the package and after what I can only assume was space insanity that drove what’s-her-name-the-astronaut-in-diapers to drive all night to hunt down her husband’s lover, it continues to fascinate. It points out how truly stressful preparing for going into space is for both the women and men whether you are the one training to be shot into the darkness of space while strapped aside a fuel-filled rocket in an airplane covered with faulty heat- resistant tiles that are as likely to fly off as to do the job for which they were intended -  or you are the one staying home to help re-pack the suitcase upon your partner’s return.

Too much has been invested and sacrificed for the space program to just S.T.O.P.

It has filled the imaginations of millions. led to amazing discoveries and holds promise for so much more.  We need to go back to the moon, and beyond, and if our recently-proved- to-be-totally-stupid-Congress can’t understand it from that perspective, perhaps they could be persuaded to fund NASA out of the inflated Defense Department budget with the idea of promoting peaceful cooperation among partners on earth toward a mutual goal in space.  Maybe it is time that Obama proposed a “Prime Directive"

In words similar to those of the mission director this morning,

"It is time for [us] to rise to orbit.  Good luck and Godspeed."