Thursday, June 30, 2011

Into the Mainstream

I'm humbled and touched by the comments my last essay on the New York Times' Motherlode blog received from last week about Jamie mainstreaming. Only one person felt that they had to teach me that I wasn't a "special needs mom" and that Jamie wasn't a "special needs child." That's all well and good, but the truth is-- or should I say, my truth is-- adapting to this label and assimilating into that culture to meet my son's needs as a first time parent many years ago was overwhelmingly an identity-changing phase in my life. I like to think that it will forever offer me a sense of understanding into the particulars of every child's challenges, whether deemed "typical" or "special."

I don't offer any particular value to any title or diagnosis that labels a child, but what I have learned is that living as an advocate for mine has been an active choice that at times has required the support of those categories in order to push forward. I feel privileged that I was led, circumstantially, into the understanding that there was another way. Jamie didn't have to be ostracized in school. He's brilliant and sensitive, and most of all, valued in a school environment that recognized and gave him what he needed.

If you haven't had a chance to read my essay, check it out here:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Swapping Part of the House Swap

I don't care that there are near-strangers in my home for six weeks, because we're in theirs. I know what it means, because we're also rummaging through drawers looking for things, stumbling upon the surprising and sudden ant infestation in our new jar of honey, downloading a washing machine manual in English so I can figure out how to keep it from banging too loudly. Oops, there's not a stove after all.

In our New York apartment there is "a" mouse, and most certainly a few baby cucarachas. It's summer, after all. There is also a desk piled (neatly) with personal papers that I couldn't bother to put up, up and away, just like they didn't put away theirs. We swapped our good for their good. Our good is a bathtub after long days of walking around New York; their good is a kitchen window overlooking the entire city of lights, from the Eiffel Tower to the archway at Champs Elysses to the crazy and outdated colored pipes that wrap themselves so brazenly around the Pompidou. Our good is a large-for-New-York children's room complete with cozy comforter and toys; theirs is a child's bedroom complete with cozy comforter and toys. It's just that her toys speak French. "A bientot! A bientot!"

This trip we're not traveling up and down the country, which essentially doubles our length of time in Paris since last year we spent three weeks moving our way from Normandy to Marseilles to Anzio to Rome and back again. This year, we're recovering from the end of the semester (Jamie's and mine) slowly with lots of walks and cooking and climbing the stairs in Monmartre. It stays light here until 11 p.m., so the days are long. We work. Jim continues to steer jobs from far away ("you can find that color of paint at the Janovic"), and I already have a new pile of copy writing to hit. Somehow the work makes the idea of living here more real. The structure of it seems to be good for everyone, and I love the quiet mornings when I can wake up before anyone else and work for a few hours. Jamie loves visiting different playgrounds not once but twice a day, his scooter or soccer ball close at hand. We found mini frogs in a playground yesterday! Stick around somewhere long enough, and you'll spot some too.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Northern Dispensary, Founded 1827

My favorite thing about not working full-time for one person or company is that I can work where ever I want to. This means picking which cafe I want to work from in the East Village or West Village, the truth being that with a couple of rare exceptions I always head west. Coffee shops that cater to freelancers are like pop-up art exhibits: here one day, gone tomorrow. I've fallen for, and lost, a small handful of little communities who would gather to work outside of their apartments, usually because the rents are too high for these generous spirited cafe owners to support themselves from cups of coffee sold.

My latest find is a bakery called Corrado Bakery, on Stonewall Place where Christopher Street meets Waverly Place. In other words, I find myself smack in front of a giant picture window that overlooks the Northern Dispensary building, an old clinic that was founded to serve the poor in 1827, but which stands empty and neglected today, its future quite uncertain despite the sounding of drums from the Greenwich Village Historical Society. I've walked past this building for years and years, and always marvel at what a rarity it is to stumble into such a diminutive corner building, made from red brick. The streets that it finds itself woven in between create one of the more confusing parts of the Village, in large part because of this triangular plot of land which intersects three different streets into a cacophony of traffic patterns, the like of which I'm sure gave a few Urban Engineers quite a headache.

The lore of this building can't be underestimated: young doctors cut their chops by healing impoverished factory workers, most of them women who worked in the nearby factories. In fact, I just read and learned that Waverly Place used to be called Factory Street, which you can see in the old illustration above. Edgar Allen Poe was allegedly treated here while he was living on the block with his 13 year old wife. Click [here] to read more history about the building.

If I could close my eyes and go back in time, I'm sure I'd be astonished at how different the edges of the streets are now from what they were then, but also how very much the same they are with the tenement style apartment buildings surrounding the still-standing Dispensary. Most different would be the way the people look, milling about among horses and buggies and unpaved and squalid streets. It's possible that life was much simpler back then; maybe the factory workers wore optimistic expressions as they kissed their kids goodbye and left for their long shifts, leaving them to play in the streets and fend for themselves. There was certainly no PS 41 around the corner, the public school with the largest PTA coffers in the city. I think I'll come back to this window often, and hopefully not to the shock of large cranes and bulldozers, a site not uncommon under Bloomberg.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Welcome To My World

I just got out of my last therapy session until September. My therapist, who shares my name, has steered me through anxious waters for over a decade. One "theme" is that the expectations I have for myself are ridiculously high. I think most moms feel this way-- I'm trying to soften the conversational floggings I give to myself.

In getting ready for this trip to Paris, I've realized that being organized and being a perfectionist are not the same thing-- and yet being organized seems to alleviate my unrealistic perfectionist self-flogging. When I'm not organized, I feel like everything is getting away from me (which it is), and so the pressure mounts and I can't see things task for task. I bubble over into overwhelmed and unrealistic visions of what I'm capable of doing. Joan of Arc only without the helpful God voices? On the other hand, when I can plan far in advance and steadily chip away at trip planning, research and stories, not write a syllabus at the last minute but pull it out from time to time, organize a closet here and a drawer there, I'm much happier. So in the spirit of Holy BeJeezus there's just one week till we leave for six weeks, I'm going to acknowledge a few things I've taken care of far, far in advance. I still have a full week! Except for Saturday, which has sacredly been turned over to a wedding which is being held one day before we depart. Mail will be stowed at my post office for two weeks over the maximum time limit because Jimmy, the mailman, will have his palm greased when I see him next. The bank account that doesn't charge extra fees for every transaction abroad has been open since last summer. Housecleaners are coming on Thursday so I can focus on writing this feature for Parents before I go instead of... scrub the grout. Our house swapping French family is coming over tonight and we shall meet and have a glass of vin rouge (or rose? it's hot again). Did I lose twenty pounds and become fluent in French before this summer? No. Did I complete a semester of teaching three courses, publish a couple of handfuls of stories, get my orange belt in karate, work on starting a business with a colleague for the last six months (check out our beta site, a work in progress, deal with my emotional misgivings and gently help Jamie embrace his cultural Catholicism to feel at one with his class in their year of First Communion? Yes, and I also found an Episcopalian Church with the same mass, practically verbatim, some booming Bach on their new organ, a priest named "Mother Shelley", and a diverse population who's "25% gay, at least-- we even hand out water bottles on Pride day!" (or so the coffee server Michael explained to me before I got a chance to ask). All the stodgy formal hymns from my childhood are coming back to me and Jamie can feel like he's doing his Catholic thing. A book may be born from this experience, and it's stewing. Oh, I even treated myself to my favorite cute summer dresses by finding a wholesale clearance sale at a Casino in the Poconos. I took a Casino bus from Port Authority, got $30 in gambling money, gambled away the $30, shopped, ate a crappy sandwich, and came home again. The quiet! It was lovely!

I have so much work to do, but it will get done because it always does.

On a bright note, I have an essay that's coming out in an anthology this July called Welcome to My World. It's written by moms who write. Some are working moms, some stay at home moms, some (like me) are work from home moms. Should be an interesting look at how women are finding balance (or not finding it). I can't wait to link to the book once it's out. It's an eBook; odd, since I don't have, nor do I want, a Kindle or nook. But that iPad... there's the rub...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


My sleep schedule has been severely whacked by my coffee intake.
It started with a messy apartment. I kept looking up from my computer in between copy writing bursts, thinking about the gazillion things I have to do. Piles of paperwork to file; clips to scan so I can stow my piles of magazines away; mice to escort out of my apartment; sorry geraniums to water (or do yellow leaves mean I'm watering them too much?); and piles of laundry.

So after much procrastination and frustration about not having enough hours in the day, I decided to pack it in every morning after the school bus pulls away to hit a cafe for a few hours. It helps me concentrate, and I've found several places that I seem to be welcome to hang out in for more than one cup of coffee, not to mention an endless stream of free electricity and Wi Fi, if I'm lucky.

My psychiatrist reminds me that I do better with half-caff. He's right, of course. After moving back in that direction, I found in just two days that I was able to sleep straight for 6 hours, rather than wake up at 3:30 or 4 in the morning, unable to get back to sleep for an hour or two. Just a few cups a day and it seems I wake myself up with caffeine withdrawal; most coffee drinkers underestimate the withdrawal and don't realize that it's not morning coffee that wakes you up and makes you feel better; it's the fact that you're not in withdrawal anymore. I learned that 40 mg of caffeine has the same benefit to those symptoms as 100 mg, so it's okay to cut in half. I won't feel better from drinking more caffeine; it's the same as half.

In the wee hours of the morning, I'm worried about a lot of things that add up to feel big. Packing for another summer away, going once again to a place where I don't speak the language, having a kid who's growing up so quickly, stories that needs to be written, including a huge feature that I need a solid chunk of time to devote to. Leaving my apartment in the hands of a family who I've yet to meet. In the daytime, these worries become tiny microcosms of themselves, and everything is solvable. I can chip away at work. I'm raising the white flag and getting some help around the apartment. I know Paris now so much better than I did last year, and we're going to the same neighborhood. We're choosing to keep things far more simple this time around by doing much less traveling, and far more exploring the strange-to-us urban backdrop.

I'll be blogging about our trip for several different places, wearing several different hats. My teacher hat will blog on occasion for Parsons. My creative and entrepreneur hat will blog at, a new blog I've begun with my New School colleague Kathleen Sweeney about creativity, using New York City as a creative backdrop (and Paris, of course). I'll probably be picking up where I left off for PublishingPerspectives, and blogging about fun bookstores and book-themed ephemera. Finally, dear handful of readers, I'll be blogging here. Somewhere I'll find time to sleep, but whether I'll stick to half caff in Paris remains to be seen.