Sunday, July 7, 2013

Surround Yourself with Strong Women-- Part One

Only the glasses and the soft gray hair sticking out from under the red turban where familiar as I approached the figure in the Aladdin style shoes, the bright, teal, billowing pants and the elaborately embroidered rich, orange tunic bent over a flower bed.

“Mrs. Rhodes?” my tentative 7 year old self asked. Mrs. Rhodes was our next door neighbor. Her husband had died years ago—they were artists who had lived in the city and moved out to this small old house next to our larger old house. I spent so much time in Ms. Rhodes’s house that I am sure I know it better than even my own childhood home.

From her tiny kitchen came the best bread, cookies and jams. In the kitchen we would sit at little table and have tea and cookies most afternoons. She would tell me about her travels—she had been everywhere. She had this beautiful Bauhaus teapot she picked up in Paris that was on a shelf above the table along with an eclectic collection other housewares from around the world—an ornate patterned dish from Turkey, a beautiful ceramic baking dish from England, a clay pot from somewhere else. Every piece had a story.

 She had just returned from months aboard where she had gone to Turkey and Greece with her travel companion, an equally old and robust woman. They had, of course, stopped in the Island of Rhodes creating quite a little commotion due to her last name. But today’s story was about Turkey. She smiled at me with her gardening trowel in hand—“Do you believe it?” she said, “this is what farmers wear in Turkey.

 I did believe it, because I believed everything that Mrs. Rhodes told me. She was a wonderful teacher and I credit my love of books and art to Mrs. Rhodes even more so than my own intellectual and artsy family. She was excited to show me her new found Turkish skill—spinning yarn with a spindle top. She brought back one for me too so we could make yarn together. She learned from an old peasant woman in a small village in the hills--Slowly out of a piece for fluffy lamb’s wool a string of yarn would appear created by the spinning motion of the top-like spindles at our feet. Mrs. Rhodes could not wait to knit something with the homemade yarn.

And that was the thing about Mrs. Rhoades—she was always traveling, always learning and always excited to teach a new skill to someone else. The best skill she taught me was to be a fearless traveler—people around the world are interesting and interested and it a big beautiful world full of amazing things to learn from people and it is all so much fun. I asked her once—why did she travel so far away? Why did she always go overseas—did she not want to see the United States? “Perhaps when I am older” She said.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Don't Be THAT Girl

“I always tell my daughters—Don’t be THAT girl. Don’t be that stupid girl who gets into the car with a stranger, takes a drink from someone you don’t know, walks down a deserted street…DON’T BE THAT GIRL—You Hear Me?!” My co-worker relates her maternal warning to me and The Beast. We are both quaking.

But that is how you feel as a mom—you see news reports, photos on milk cartons, stories in local papers about a girl…a nice girl, who was probably just being polite, not thinking and there she is…gone. Just the shattered family left behind. How could she have been so stupid, what was she thinking? But that is the thing—girls are taught to be nice and it is so easy not to think when you already know how to be polite.

The other day I was driving The Beast and her friend, The Bulldozer, into the city for a YouTube concert thang that I will not even pretend to understand and I was giving my pre-subway lecture for the benefit of The Bulldozer. " Don’t stare, if there is trouble in the car or some creepy guy—change cars. If someone actually bothers you—call out loud and clear: NO, Leave Me Alone! and New Yorkers will respond and help."

Thanks to my co-worker The Beast and I now just a code phrase to avoid the long lecture—"Don’t Be THAT Girl."  And I pray when the smooth talking guy pulls up in his car or a cute boy offers a drink or the short cut down the deserted street beckons that the fear of Being THAT Girl will overpower all other thoughts.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

"I Want a Divorce!"

“Shhhh!” I said to my friend who had called in a tizzy after a fight with her husband. “Never give them hope. If you mention divorce they see a light at the end of the tunnel. Just tell him that you want to go to couples therapy. Because, really, what is worse for a man than talking to his wife about his feelings…that’s right—adding a third-party.”

She was unconvinced, but then I reminded her about how difficult it is to move and who would lift the heavy boxes. “Let’s not go crazy. It is a tight real estate market again just try it--mention therapy, wait for the look of horror and then disgust to cross his face when it finally dawns on him that you mean he HAS TO GO TOO, then open a bottle of wine and see how responsive and nice he is.“

I hear her breathing calm… “I tell you—Therapy REALLY does work.”

Sunday, July 29, 2012

College Crazy

“Your life will be completely taken over by this one obsession.” The deep, dark voice of doom echoes across the small wood table as I sit down to the lunch special at the sunny and cheerful local Chinese restaurant on the Upper Westside. He continues with in a heavy Boston accent; “Every minute will be consumed by the quest of finding the right college, strategies to get in, and then creative financing to pay for the stupid school.”
The possessed man who sit across the table from me was, at one time, a happy-go-lucky guy whose only concerns were NYC real estate and art. He is another friend who is part of the One Perfect Daughter Club. His strikingly beautiful, blue eyed, blond haired daughter was adopted from Texas. The little troll of a man with his piercing dark eyes and leprechaun beard said—“yes, yes—we tried to play the race card because, you know, my wife is Cuban, but the kid looks like some corn-feed cheerleader from one of those square states.” He said with real disappointment in his voice.
“Yeah…that beauty is a real millstone around the neck--if only she looked like you, she might have been awarded the Lord of Rings scholarship.” I said in an attempt to cheer him up that was unsuccessful.
Another friend tells a tale of college admission intrigue….
“I don’t care what else you write” she said to her son” —you just better get in there that you have two mommies. The admissions people will overlook the fact your parents’ names are Suzy and Betsy—so write about it and make it good. “ said my friend as she related the story of prepping her son to write his college essay.
Apparently it is not until you are in the mix do you really get caught up in. Mr. Troll, I thought, would never get involved in something as trivial as college selection, but low and behold—he talked of high school summer programs leading up to the college applications, special trips to Cuban for that fruitless race card…and all the other strategies that the REALLY “crazy” parents were trying. And you have got to wonder—is all worth it?
Although I live in a town where many parents have been thoughtfully building a clear trajectory for their children from preschool to Harvard—we, of course, have not. We want our child to be successful in life, but what is success? If the path to a successful adulthood leaves out childhood— what is the point?
As The Beast approaches college age her interests are varied—writing, world history, international travel, online design communities, Japanese anime, Chinese language, music, cooking…to be honest…we are not even really sure anymore—we can only hope her eclectic interests point her in the direct of a college that is ideal for HER….with lots and lots of scholarship money.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Texting and Boyfriends

“Do you read my text messages?” The Beast asked feigning nonchalance, but I could tell there was anger behind the question.

“Sweetheart, I can’t even manage to go on the school’s Parent Portal to check whether or not you handed in homework. I am not even sure if I can turn on your phone.”

“You can’t” she said triumphantly “It is locked” and then added with pride—“with a very difficult password.”
The Beast is just like her father—smart and annoying with all things electronic. I, on the other hand, would still be using a rotary phone if I could find one anywhere.

Not sure what started this line of I decided to asked one of my own: “Should I be reading your text messages? Is there something I should know, but you don’t want to tell me?” I tried to sound concerned, but not panicky—the way I really felt.

“Zoe’s mother read her text messages and found out she was dating Craig and she told Zoe she had to break-up because she was too young to date.”

“Really? Did Zoe break-up with Craig?!” I said—intrigued by the power.

“Of course she did.” My daughter said—with anger clearly in her voice. “ Her mother said she had to.”

“Interesting.” I said. “would you break-up with someone if I told you to? Even if you felt I was wrong?” trying to gauge just how much power I had without knowing it.

The Beast looked straight ahead through the windshield as we passed the strip malls and the odd accountant offices on our way to the orthodontist’s office—not saying yes or no. The husband and I raised a polite and honest, but hard-headed child so I did not expect an answer.

It is strange about our car conversations when we go to the dentist—it is just far enough away from our house to provide the beginning of the a good story, but never quite long enough to get full satisfaction. We pulled into the parking lot and, of course, we were late and the conversation could not be rekindled.

But I guess these are the questions:
How much can you dictate your child’s life?
Why didn’t Zoe ’s mother know she was dating someone before her stealth text reading?
What works better--an iron grip or constantly reminding them—that we love them and want them to be safe.

So I said to The Beast on the way home. “ I want to tell you ‘ No drugs, no sex, no alcohol’, but these are things I can’t stop you from doing…I can only hope (to quote Ms. Churchlady) that you make good choices.”

I have mixed feelings about the whole texting scandal…I am not sure if I am more angry at—Zoe’s mom for reading her daughter’s texts or for Zoe for blindly obeying her mother. Does she not know that “Good Girls Seldom Make History.”