In Honor of Princess Twyla

It has been three years since we lost dear Twylee, at age 19. In The Huffington Post, one of our most enlightening moments…Click here

No More Grilled Cheese

In the summer, you have to make lunch. At the table. You have to make lunch, just like you make dinner. It is a good time to eat, better than later, the experts say. But it is a bad time to be in the kitchen. It just interrupts everything. Kids have to eat lunch, though, so when it is summer, and they are home, you have to make it.

Yesterday, school began. It is now 12:22 pm. I have just experienced my second day of not making lunch in the kitchen. It feels like a vacation, not that I don’t enjoy feeding my children. I do, I just don’t like the plates, and the dishwasher. I’d rather keep bees than empty the dishwasher.

Anyway, here is a story about that weed lady I told you about months ago…(Click here)

When Parents Argue

A study done by researchers at Montclair State University in New Jersey says that parents who stay in high-conflict marriages cause more harm in their kids than if they split up. If kids witness years of yelling and arguing, they will suffer in the end. Better to see less strife. But we knew that already.

It is a scary thing to decide to go separate ways, if there are kids to consider. It is hard to predict future effects. I have always maintained that since people on earth disagree and argue, kids should see people disagreeing and arguing. And they should see them settle differences, compromise, find solutions and shake hands. Sometimes, people can’t shake hands. Sometimes, they never settle, or agree to disagree, or play fair, or show good sportsmanship. So, that is why this study makes sense. 

I think that in these cases, it is better to explain to kids who will one day choose mates how to choose mates who can argue and disagree and then figure it all out. Ta da.  

Relationship School

We watch The Bachelorette on Monday evenings. There, I said it. This is the first season that we’ve tuned in. At first, I thought it would provide silly summer entertainment for us gals. During the school year, everything is pretty serious. Clearly, there is no television on Monday nights. So, we heard about the roses and the cute boys and the dates in foreign lands and decided, Count Us In. 

I must say, watching the show with a twelve and fourteen year old has been a surprisingly valuable experience. A tutorial, really, in basic social interactions that girls will someday need. Boys 101. We have learned, for instance, how to trust your instinct, how to sense deception, whether to give someone a second chance, how to recognize narcissism, and yes, which haircuts look best on which face shapes, which is important to know, too. We’ve also learned about which traits are essential in a mate, and which ones are necessary for each one of us.

It helps that the people on the show, for the most part, do not seem insane, like they do on other such programs. The Bachelorette appears smart, hard-working, appreciative and kind. The six contenders who remain seem like terrific guys, clever, fun, funny. We don’t like that one of them says “like” a lot, but we think he does it when he is nervous. We also wonder how six men can fall in love with one woman, and how one woman can date six men at once. We are learning about the television business, too.

Meantime, we understand that next week, people cry about something. Kissing, laughing, crying…The Bachelorette covers it all. 

If The Sweatshirt Fits

When my kids aren’t looking, I wear their clothing. Well, sometimes they aren’t looking. I think it is supposed to be the other way around. When you are 12 and 14, and girls, you go into your mom’s closet and borrow the things that make sense to borrow. Small things with appropriate necklines. I borrow small things with appropriate necklines, I’m afraid, yes I do. It is not for any reason other than that they have some garments that I don’t have, and why buy them for me, when I have already bought them for them.

It should be noted that I do not borrow fashion items, anything recognizably current amongst the adolescent set. I do not wear the clothing that you would see in the middle school hallway. Fortunately, for my daughters. I could, and would, except for them. I just borrow athletic gear. Not one to really buy my own athletic gear on a regular schedule, though I am athletic on a regular schedule, I was utterly thrilled when it occurred to me that I could vary my sweatshirts and Ts. I have a tiny collection. I can’t buy sweats, I don’t know why. Or short-sleeved shirts. It seems silly. I only buy  real clothes.

So, when I have rotated my two Ts and two sweatshirts, I hit the racks.

“Mommy, is that my shirt?” they say, getting into the car after school.

“Yes, I love it. Can I borrow it?”

“Yes, you can,” they say, slowly, reminding me that it is already on my body. 

I am careful to select from only the items that my kids do not really care about. I do not pick anything new, or newish. I limit my choice to clothes mashed in the back of their closets. Yesterday, I discovered a fleece pullover with a one-third zipper. Powder blue, in a dusty sort of way. Subtle. Fab. Just fab. My older daughter had outgrown it and given it to her sister. I hadn’t seen it on either of them in months. I wore it all day, really enjoying the thinness of the fabric, which they use now, the designers. They make thin material that keeps you as warm as thick material. This was a technological marvel, this powder blue shirt. I felt very scientific in it. I felt like a lab animal. When I went outside in it, I noticed the other lab animals, in green and blue, with zippers, without. Who is warmer, I wondered. Does the zipper create a draft?

Today, I did not borrow anything. I put on my own fleece shirt. It is not thin, and it has buttons. It is also not blue. It does not keep me as warm as the blue one. There is nothing technological about it. It is a Dark Ages sweatshirt. If I remember, there was an orange one that was purchased with the blue one. I look forward to trying it on tomorrow.


Ladies of the House

We got the Sylvania in 1970. It felt big in all ways, a monolithic cube of wonder to ten year old eyes. Until the television arrived, crossing the threshold of our suburban split-level like jetsam from a futuristic ship, we were happy enough with the standard appliance in the corner of my parents’ bedroom, even if you had to nudge the antennas every third minute to clear out the picture. But this bit of technology promised more than we ever thought could emanate from a machine in our house. We were part of progress. We had a color TV.

Its predecessor went to the basement. The Zenith, a black and white. MaryJane lived in the basement. She was the second maid to live there. Not housekeepers, but maids. There was a distinction, I presume, but I could not define it then. Betty was the first, hired two weeks before my mother and I both began kindergarten, she as a teacher and me, a student in puffed sleeves and tennis sneaks. One of Betty’s hands was missing fingers, but she could tie shoelaces and attach safety pins and chop whatever needed chopping for dinner. Betty lived in our finished basement from Sunday evening until the following Friday, when she left by taxi to go somewhere, home, maybe. Three decades of black women followed her, making the weekly trip from a New York borough to Westchester, by train or bus, or both, earning money to send to family in “the islands” or elsewhere. Sons, daughters, husbands, in-laws…we never quite knew, or knew why.

MaryJane worked in a beer factory before moving to New York to clean houses. It think it was Milwaukee. She was in her twenties, slim and efficient. We played games in a spiral notebook after school sometimes, word hunts, mainly, in ball point pen. The basement was a large rectangle, with a trapezoidal alcove cut into one of the walls, long enough for a twin bed, wide enough for a dresser. My mother had provided bolsters for the bed, so it could pretend to be a couch during the daytime. The Zenith sat on a gold metal stand, with wheels and a basket underneath. On the front of the set, MaryJane taped a square sheet of pliable plastic, striped in a rainbow of colors. The black and white images behind it turned yellow or turquoise or green, but without regard for what they were. A person’s face could have been half-purple, half-red. An apple, orange. An orange, blue.

MaryJane wasn’t part of the progress, I sensed, then, in my wood-paneled cellar in New Rochelle, New York. But she wanted to be.

It wasn’t long that it began to bother me that maids, and only black maids, worked in our home, a liberal home, an intellectual home. I didn’t like that they ate meals after we did, by themselves. I didn’t like that they never used the phone. I started to go into the kitchen, early, and help them prepare, and afterwards, clear as many plates as I could carry. I learned their daily schedules and hurried to make my bed and straighten up my room before they came upstairs. No toothpaste hit the bathroom sink. I didn’t like that the women served me, and I didn’t like that the women were black. My parents didn’t choose them because they were black, clearly. They just were. All of them were, lined up in chairs against the wall at Mrs. B’s, the domestic agency in Larchmont where Mom went to pick them up their first day.

I’ve come to realize that my notion of race and equality was formed early, in my childhood house, and because of the presence there of Betty and MaryJane and Winnifred and Annie, women who straddled culture and class and burned in me, a white child from an affluent family, the necessity of respect.

The ladies who lived in my house–the employees, companions and quiet witness to our family dynamics–served my psyche, I know now, more than anything else.

Find Me, Idea

It has been cold here, so the 1 pm walk/run has been eradicated from the schedule. Instead, I hop on the Stairmaster, but only if it is 40 degrees or above, as such hopping requires a dash across the yard to the back house. In Texas, some houses have back houses, separate little buildings that could have been garages or extra bedrooms. They are also called “quarters,” the kind of quarters for guests.

All of this is irrelevant. Except for the cold part. I have lost my tolerance for it, I am embarassed to say, and even a trot across the little lawn is too unpleasant at 39 degrees. So, I stay inside and exercise in my bedroom. I do aerobics in my bedroom, in front of a mirror, just like the eighties.

“What did you do today?” my daughters will ask.

“I did aerobics in my bedroom,” I tell them. They look at each other, thinking, “What. What have we been given in this person. What does it all mean?”

Anyway, when I do aerobics in front of my parents’ antique oak mirror, which has moved as many times as I have, I think of other things. That is because aerobics is boring. I should inject, here, that I do not do the traditional Jane Fonda-style work-outs, but have my own modern take, more dance, more Fosse, more moi. The ideas that pop into my brain when I do this are generally very good. I learned a long time ago that when you are a writer, you are always writing, even when you are at the movies or having a little snack or doing aerobics in your bedroom.

Today was terrific. I’ve been working on a nonfiction book that today became a “concept.” A whole “thing.” Not just one, but many. It could be many. I am not going to say what it is. It is going to be a secret. When I got the idea, I was finished exercising. That is how it works because then, you have to do the idea. But since I needed to go to my daughter’s basketball game in fifteen minutes, I had to shower before doing the idea. In the shower, if you can believe the wealth, I had another fabulous jolt of creativity. Yet another something poured out of the head into my head and I had to stay there until it was finished. It was a long shower.

I tell the girls to hurry up in the shower. The younger one uses enough water for a small nation. Maybe I should permit it, I am thinking now, as long as she emerges not only clean, but inspired.