Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Brutally Mia, an average Mia, a real Mia

Does it happen to you? When I run into someone whose name is part of an idiom, I find myself compulsively using that idiom. I cannot talk to my friend Frank without saying things like "Well, to be brutally Frank ..." And the other day, I told a colleague named Joe, who had performed some office heroics, that he was "a good Joe," which isn't bad, but I know I'm eventually going to use the phrase "average Joe" in his hearing. I don't know anyone named Dick, but if I did, I would be sure to complain about "a real dick" and "every Tom, Dick and Harry."

It's a minefield out there: "smart Alec," "for Pete's sake," "for the love of Pete," "for the love of Mike," "keeping up with the Joneses," "the life of Riley," "a prostitute's john," "going to the john," "a round robin," "a tom cat," "a tomboy," "a judy girl" ...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

More homily grits, anyone?

I was saying a few posts back that one of the things I enjoy about yoga is the anecdotal method of many teachers. Weekends are when I indulge in an orgy of yoga, and going to yoga is sort of like going to services at the Unitarian church, with its uplifting messages and absence of outright religious references (indeed, the church I attended as a child had a giant branch of driftwood instead of a cross over the altar). The yoga homilies are simple and thoroughly spelled out, usually inoffensive if occasionally a little saccharine or New Agey. Still, pleasant to mull over when you're holding a gruelingly prolonged Viribadrasana 2 (Warrior 2) or attempting the nearly impossible Tittibhasana (Firefly pose).

In my Saturday class, scene of the attempted Tittibhasana, S brought real-life experience into the studio by telling us about how she discovered several amputees among her competitors in a recent foot race. It got her to thinking that our minds, not our bodies, are what set limits for us. So in our yoga practice, she asked us to investigate what exactly was holding us back, our genuine physical limitations or our mental limitations. Uplifting but not enough to lift me up into Tittibhasana (a pose in which the weight of the body is balanced on the palms of the hands and the legs are extended over the upper arms).

And on Sunday, G urged us to take our yoga out of the studio and into our real lives, telling us about having spent hours with her daughter making flowers (Or was it fliers? My hearing is poor) for an event she was hosting and placing them in a common area of her building. When she returned to the area, they had disappeared, presumably removed by her super. She freaked out and in her disturbed state stumbled into a bench, gashing her shin. It turned out that the flowers (fliers?) had merely been placed in another area of the building, and all was well. The moral: to take some slow deep breaths and assess a situation before taking action.

Good ideas, no?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cat ethics

When we adopted Iggy four years ago from a rescue organization, he had diarrhea for six months. Vet visits and medications and lab tests and special food for our "free" cat ended up costing close to $1,000. What with the expense and the endless mopping up (chronic cat diarrhea in a New York City apartment is grim) and the concern that whatever ailed him (parasites?) might be communicable to humans, we were at the end of our rope. At one point I told my daughter C—for whom Iggy had been a birthday present—that we might have to give him back to the rescue group or to someone who had "outdoor plumbing"—i.e., abundant acreage to sop up the mess. She shamed me by calmly responding, "Oh, Mom, I know you would never do something like that. You're not that kind of person." Well, I am that kind of person but couldn't bring myself to disillusion her.

We never found out what ailed Iggy, but one day, he suddenly acquired intestinal fortitude.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, he lost it again. He has been scooting (for the catless, that means using your entire apartment as toilet paper), barfing and peeing constantly. The vet says Iggy either has a bladder infection or is producing crystals in his urine that are painful or impossible to pass. The latter is more likely in a male cat, but the vet injected Iggy with antibiotics in a "process of elimination" (so to speak) to make sure it was not the former. If that doesn't clear up the problem (we should see improvement within four days), we'll need to take Iggy back for X-rays, lab tests, surgery, special diet, etc. In the meantime, I'm scrubbing the apartment down every morning (the scoots and barfs are nocturnal activities discovered when I step in them as I blunder to the bathroom on awakening—good morning!) and vacuuming scattered litter several times a day.

Of course, the antibiotic shot may be the cure. But if it isn't, at what point can I ethically call it quits?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The pink mists of October

As the pink mists of October—National Breast Cancer Awareness Month—close in, blurring our vision and turning our disease into a kind of designer accessory, I'd like to direct any readers I have (two? three?) to a beacon—not of hope but of the clarifying light of common sense. I don't know why it took me so long to discover Barbara Ehrenreich's essay "Welcome to Cancerland," but I've found it now and want to share it with you:


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Yogis bearing the gift of gab

I suppose all good teachers are natural-born storytellers, but I'm impressed by the deftness with which some of my yoga teachers spin a simple yarn of sometimes pedestrian events into golden themes. Three examples of everyday patter from my last three classes:

On Saturday, to fulfill part of my in-service requirement for Yoga Alliance, I assisted a senior teacher, J, in a restorative workshop pegged to the equinox. She opened with a brief history of traditions associated with the two times of year when day and night are equal in length. She identified several common fall rituals, like thanksgiving and resolution-making, and then structured her subsequent teaching around those themes.

On Sunday, G began her "virgin yoga" class by recounting a psychology experiment in which newborn kittens were reared in an environment containing only horizontal lines or only vertical lines. By the age of four months, those raised in a horizontal-lines-only environment were unable to perceive vertical lines and would blunder into, say, chair legs, whereas those raised in a vertical-lines-only environment were unable to perceive horizontal lines. She cleverly turned this into an instruction about consciously enhancing our receptiveness to challenging postures. In a sense, she said, the horizontally raised kittens didn't believe in the possibility of vertical lines and thus couldn't see them. Similarly, you cannot move into an asana if you don't believe you can, so achieving a physical posture starts with forming a mental image of yourself in the pose.

On Monday, B opened her power-yoga class with an anecdote about being approached on the street by a man with his hands raised. Naturally, she tried to detour around him, but he pursued her. To her relief, rather than mug her, he high-fived her. She turned and watched him make his way down the block, high-fiving everyone he encountered. It made her day, she said. The point: to strive for an attitude of openness and refrain from letting our expectations limit our experience.

These aren't particularly brilliant—they're just a random sample—but they point to a few of the things I love about yoga: the resourceful use of language, the striving to unite the formal practice of yoga with the rest of life, and the infusion of meaning into physical processes.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cheating for atheists

If you're an atheist, as I think I am, the scariest thing is the notion of death as total annihilation. It may be cheating, but I've allowed myself to find comfort in a passage of Ram Dass's Still Here: "To be here for fifty to eighty years only to be annihilated at the end just doesn't make sense. Nothing else in the universe is that inefficient ... A Tibetan friend of mine, Gelek Rinpoche ... says that the universe is made of matter, energy and consciousness. How can we deny this when we encounter the existence of our own and others' consciousness every single day? And how can we assume that consciousness is annihilated just because the body, the matter, gives out? Matter and energy are not destroyed—just converted into each other. I'll bet that consciousness can't be destroyed either."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Matters of the mat

I would like to make a brief commercial interruption: The only really necessary piece of equipment for yoga is a sticky mat. In my personal opinion, a regular practitioner should have her own mat. Even if they are sprayed down after each use, the loaners at yoga studios and gyms are really not sanitary. Although the kinds of ailments you can pick up from a mat are relatively minor, who wants to get a fungus—one of the few living things that does not have a namesake asana.

In my decades of practice, I have tried a few mats. Unfortunately, the commonest ones are stinky as well as sticky, whether they're made of a synthetic or natural organic rubber. Many also start out slippery and achieve the desired stickiness only after a breaking-in period. But there is one mat that in my experience has none of these drawbacks. And that is the Wai Lana Golden Earth EnviroMat. It's a little pricey (about $40) and not easy to find (you might have to buy it online), but worth the money and trouble.

That was about 30 seconds, wasn't it?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The bottom of my handbag

I'm probably the most irreligious person I know. It's not just that I'm ignorant or that I don't believe in God, it's that I actually hate the very idea of God. I deliberately steer clear of considerations of "spirituality" or belief in a "higher power," those thinly disguised clones of religiosity, because I really don't want to hear about it. Not sure why I detest the subject so much. After all, I'm an enthusiast of yoga, which many people would classify as a spiritual practice. Maybe my resistance is a holdover from the '60s or a failure to evolve beyond adolescent rebellion against authority figures. Maybe it's my Unitarian upbringing, in which God was rarely mentioned and Jesus was considered an ordinary man with extraordinary virtues. Maybe it's my literal cast of mind: if I can't see it or taste it or smell it or feel it, I don't get it—and being told it's there just pisses me off.

So why is it that the bottom of my handbag (it's a great handbag, by the way, an Ellington microfiber purse that instantly converts into a knapsack with the tug of a strap) is littered with superstitious talismans: a green polished agate given to me on the completion of my yoga teacher-training last summer, a St. Agatha religious charm (she's the patron saint of breast cancer, whose breasts were amputated by a spurned admirer), and an amulet embossed with the image of the Buddha? Lost in the shuffle when I transferred my stuff to this new handbag: a St. Francis medal given to me by a friend, and an Indian good-luck totem made of woven horsetail given to me by another friend. And why do I wear a "lucky" shirt embroidered with the hand of Fatma, which wards against the "evil eye," and earrings with ankhs (symbols of long life) and infinity signs (ditto)?

Isn't superstition just the underbelly of religion? Or are these merely tchotchkes? Or are they the adult equivalents of an infant's teddy bears and "blankies"—just cute things to hold close?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Give me your tired, your poor

Something curious is happening in my neighborhood: the bums are coming back. When we first moved into this Bowery neighborhood 26 years ago, it was off the mental map for most of our friends. Even though it was obvious enough where it was—on a numbered street, crossed by a well-known avenue—none of our friends could quite place it until they had been here once. We loved that sense of isolation, of being off the beaten track. There was something surreal and serene about the garden we created on the deck in back and the air of quiet desolation of the ramshackle buildings in front.

Alkies festooned our stoop then. They were not very threatening—except when they tried to help me up the steps with the strollers or wanted to kiss the babies—and we were on familiar, friendly terms with several regulars in the half dozen shelters within a block or two of our house. Indeed "Mike the Bum" has been an almost parental figure to my kids, admonishing them to stay out of trouble and telling my daughter C's male friends that he will hurt them if they hurt her; one Christmas I received a silver roadrunner pin from J sold to him by Mike. "Crazy Curtis," who used to play coffee-can-lid Frisbee with great joyful balletic leaps into the street and made wonderful sculptures out of accretions of found objects like grocery carts and broomsticks and eventually had a gallery but was absolutely nuts, was the kind of sweetly eccentric uncle beloved by kids. One of my daughter C's great treasures is an octagonal hat box Curtis gave her from his trove of junk. And then there was the couple who lived in the recessed doorway of the abandoned building across the street and organized the entrance as neatly as if it were a tiny open-air studio apartment; we became somewhat chummy with them after we took them clothing and bedding and leftovers from our Thanksgiving dinner one year. I wish we had had the courage to invite them to the table.

It was difficult to know how to deal with the hordes of panhandlers. We didn't have much money in those days, but it was impossible to ignore the destitution around us. I finally developed a system of pocketing any change from purchases I made throughout the day and distributing that change until my pockets were empty. That meant I did not have to expose my wallet to view every time I gave out money, and it put a cap on the amount I distributed. Other was more generous. He gave away bills. Actually, I did too, but only to women.

There were tragic and macabre occurrences. Like the van that was abandoned one night outside our house. A disheveled woman soon took up residence in it. She had clearly seen better times: her roots were growing out, and her fingernails retained the vestiges of a professional manicure, and she wore business attire, albeit ragged and soiled. One day as we passed we noticed through the flung-open van doors that she was passed out atop a vast bed of bologna sandwiches—thousands of them. A day or so later, she and the van were towed away by the city.

Prostitutes plied their trade in the cars of the parking lot beyond our deck in the back—there were no uniformed attendants then—and we would hear howls of outrage when one got bilked or perhaps beaten. Our downstairs neighbor would sometimes charge over with a baseball bat to drive the misbehaving johns off. His rescues were not always welcomed by the women, and noisy brawls would erupt.

Then the crack epidemic hit. The sidewalk below our stoop was littered with tiny multicolored crack vials that would waft and eddy about our ankles as we walked through them. My son, then about 5, began collecting the different colors—according to lore, each color represented the wares of a different dealer. The crack whores turned tricks (for just $5 a go, we heard) in the doorways along our block. Occasionally we would pass an act in progress in broad daylight—bottoms bobbing in the shadows. The abandoned house where we'd fed the homeless couple a few years earlier became a stolen-goods depot, and there were continual fires. I often saw weapons on the street and was once followed home by a drug dealer with his knife drawn. I think I looked too nosy, and he wanted to scare me.

Then, suddenly, a few years ago, the crack dealers and crack whores vanished, replaced by celebrities and wealthy wannabes. And to longtime residents, they have been the most alien immigrants. Their decadent glamour, in-your-face cleavage, sidewalk-clogging smoking and cell-phoning, ostentatious overconsumption, party-hearty raucousness—we hate them. And it has been depressing to watch the neighborhood change to accommodate them—luxury highrises, fancy bistros, designer hotels, exclusive boutiques, fashion showrooms.

But in the past few months, I've been seeing an influx of the old demographic. And sad as I am to see people sleeping on the streets again, I welcome them too. I feel commonality with them. No matter how much money I make, no matter how comfortable my little apartment has become, I will never shake the feeling that I'm just one misfortune from the street myself, so I identify with these new neighbors.

And I'm wondering whether just maybe they'll drive out the rich, in a case of reverse gentrification (otherwise known as urban blight, I guess). Am I crazy to wish for that?

"Give me your tired, your poor,/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/ The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./ Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,/ I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Friday, September 12, 2008

From error to terror

I remember clearly the day seven years ago when error turned to terror in just a few short minutes. I was in my gym on the exercycle when the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8:45. There was consternation and concern over the apparent pilot error. A few minutes later, at 9:03, the world changed forever when the second plane hit the south tower. For many New Yorkers, memories of that day have mellowed. But I distinctly remember feeling that despite the so-called national mourning, Americans didn't really care about New York. The city was too weird, too pushy, too ethnic. There was a feeling of abandonment, which has only intensified as it has become clear that the city's residents were lied to about the danger of the pollutants released into the air in the aftermath of the attacks and as localities unlikely ever to be targeted by terrorists have gotten disproportionate allotments of Homeland Security money.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Poetry of yoga

One of the many things I've grown to love about yoga is the language used in teaching it. Because yoga is largely ineffable, instructors resort to metaphor and simile and anecdote and allegory. And much of the historical literature is in the form of legends and aphorisms and sagas and poetry.

I know the New Age over- and undertones are offensive to some, and they were once to me too, but as a longtime practitioner, I've come to savor the lingo. "Open up your heart center" is a subtler instruction than "Stretch your pecs," and it feels different when you do it. Indeed, it's difficult to maintain a meanspirited, hateful, judgmental frame of mind—no matter how cranky you were when you unrolled your mat—when you are lifting and exposing your vulnerable beating heart. Unlike "Look up and cross your eyes," "Gaze into your third eye" makes you feel as if the spot between your eyebrows actually had the gift of sight. When you "breathe into the stretch," it feels, incredibly, as if air were being gently pumped into an area of tightness.

The names of the poses—the cat, the cow, the dog, the crow, the pigeon, the frog, the fish, the eagle, the peacock, the cobra, the tree, the hero, the warrior, the half-moon, the sun—are wonderfully evocative and down-to-earth at the same time. The silliness of the name "downward-facing dog," for example, lets some of the air out of yoga's holiness (as does sticking your bottom up). And consider the apt image of the tree, the name of a pose in which the feet root into the ground as the arms and hands reach skyward, swaying with the trunk to achieve balance. And of course, the corpse pose, the lazy woman's favorite, is just so ... corpselike.

Life as a fixer-upper

From time to time, ever since I was a little girl, people have taken it upon themselves to fix me up—not with a guy but with a style. There's something both insulting and flattering about this attention. Insulting because clearly there seems to be something unsatisfying about my appearance, flattering because there appears to be an assumption that a little tweak here or there would make a difference.

Thus in junior high, my best friend AS taught me to apply liquid eye liner, bruised-style a la Dusty Springfield and the Beatles' girlfriends. In high school, a very beautiful, voluptuous girl named M (can't remember her last name) took me on as her special project, inviting me for sleepovers during which she would patiently groom my chlorine-greened and -frizzled hair with special rollers, apply powder to my nose and white lipstick to my lips and dress me up in her frilly clothes. In my freshman year of college, a theater major named B face-painted me into a goddess.

But by my sophomore year of college, what remained of such efforts unraveled when I put my bra in the drawer and left it there and tossed out my mascara wand, my hair rollers, clippies and dryer, and became a natural woman. And I've pretty much been a natural woman ever since. I dyed my hair (or rather, got Other to dye it) for about a decade (I still remember my puzzlement over going gray before any of my contemporaries and then my realization that everyone else had just been quietly coloring their hair for years), but I've never been good at cosmetic culture. Makeup makes me feel dirty, creams and unguents likewise. Hair products cause my scalp to itch. Fungus phobia rules out mani-pedis. I like clothes, but synthetics make me sweat, and tight garments give me gas—I'm not kidding.

When I was younger, the natural-woman style worked, sort of, I think. Or it passed as a look at any rate. But now, without the fresh-looking skin and the abundant hair and the flawless figure, it's frumpy. Do I care? A little, though not enough to exert myself. Sometimes my daughter C will take me on—clean up my toenails, apply my makeup, weed out my wardrobe, urge me to risk the carcinogens and color my hair. And not long ago my friend RR sent me bronzer and a brush, which I used faithfully—for a few weeks. But soon enough, I fell into my old lazy ways. So here I am writing this barefoot, in a tunic T shirt bought at least 15 years ago at Daffy's, underwear from Hanes and a pair of frayed Levis identical to the ones I wore throughout college. My face is clean but bare-of-makeup pale. My nails have a few raggedy splotches left over from a long-ago afternoon in C's care. My hair is grizzled from the humidity. And I feel wistful for the days when the bloom of youth would have made this get-up o.k.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Blogging, the slo-mo meditation

I started blogging out of curiosity piqued by my friend RAK's plunge into i-sharing. What drove me on at first was that I set myself a 12-step-style challenge of 90 posts in 90 days. I've already crapped out a few times, so I won't meet that goal unless I double up on some days, but doubling-dipping feels like cheating—and then, too, even the most faithful of my readers (both of them) have their limits. I continue now because, well, I've become addicted to setting down my thoughts, no matter how random or trivial—or especially when they're random or trivial. It has become a kind of meditation.

Most meditation techniques (that I've heard of) rely on concentration on a single locus—the breath, a mantra, an image—and observing and gently dismissing the thoughts that vie with it for your attention. Since my diagnosis of breast cancer, I've had a severe case of so-called monkey mind. Guided imagery and particularly yoga have been helpful in giving me respite from the blur of impish little half-thoughts flitting in and out of my consciousness. And blogging is serving as a sort of slo-mo version of the observation-and-dismissing part of meditation. Stopping and looking full on at the fleeting, fragmentary mental activity that continually fires on the periphery of my brain, examining it thoroughly enough to translate it into words, committing it to a written record so I don't have to try to remember it—all that is helping me somehow.

So, dear readers, when I natter on about something mind-bogglingly inconsequential, know that it's in service of my sanity. I'm sorry if it's playing monkeyshines with yours.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

My shit doesn't stink

My shit doesn't stink, and neither does anyone else's these days. It has been three weeks since I got this cold, and although I've regained my hearing—or the little I had before the cold—I'm still missing my sense of smell. It's a strange absence, one that leaves me wistful. At my sister-in-law's house in rural Massachusetts, I couldn't smell the roses even when I jammed my nose into the petals and everyone around me was in raptures over the divine fragrance. I can no longer wake up and smell the coffee, though I can again hear the roar of the grinder.

The missing sense (scents?) makes it impossible for me to know whether I've got B.O. or a cantaloupe is ripe—or the cat box needs attention. For reasons too silly to recount here, I am responsible for changing the cat litter and washing the box (o.k., it was my decision to get these cats, and in order to procure them I had to promise to be the box minder in perpetuity since I had stubbornly and selfishly refused to have anything to do with caring for Other's now deceased kitty). But since I can't smell a thing, I have to ask Other whether the time has come. Here is Other's finely nuanced weather report today: "You'll need to change it sometime today, but it's not an emergency. There's a little odor, but it's not strong unless you're raking it. It's getting soggy though, and the pellets [we mix odor-absorbing tubules in with the clay gravel] are starting to disintegrate, so you can't put it off till tomorrow." Could I ask for a more precise description? Can you not visualize the exact state of the kitty toilet? And does it not make you want to wait till tomorrow to visit us?

It's ironic that I'm now dependent on others (especially Other) for odor reports, since my previously fine-tuned nose has always cast me as the paranoid sniffer-dog in our house. It was I who, days before anyone else noticed, knew with certitude that something was rotten in the state of our refrigerator. It was I who could not stop looking, despite everyone's assurances that the stench was all in my imagination, till I found the fragrant skidmark Iggy had deposited on some rug or floor. It was I who detected under the camouflage of perfume and breath mints the guilty whiff of smoke in C's hair. I was the odor police. And now I have to rely on the kindness of Other to tell me which way the wind blows.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Still here

On September 4, Other and I took our daughter C out to dinner to celebrate her 18th birthday. But it was more than just her 18th birthday we were toasting. Over the past year, she has graduated from one of the toughest high schools in the country (in addition to C, its graduates include seven Nobel Prize-winning physicists, the most of any secondary school, and five Pulitzer Prize-winning authors), passed her road test on her first try (proudly outdoing her brilliant and accomplished brother, who has failed five times and still counting), was admitted to an excellent liberal arts college (actually several)—and now appears to be making the transition to same.

But it wasn't just my daughter's achievements that I was celebrating. It was also that I was there to celebrate them. Three years ago on September 4, I found a lump beneath my right breast that turned out to be a particularly lethal form of breast cancer. Back then, I didn't know whether I would live to see any of my daughter's successes (or her brother's—and he's no slouch either, despite the failed road tests). I resisted making long-term plans, in part because it felt like tempting fate. I'm still a little superstitious that way.

I know that three years is a significant milestone—most recurrences for an aggressive cancer like mine take place early on—but I know I'll never be carefree again. I also know that cancer is no more deadly than the afflictions borne by many of my friends—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, which can result in a far faster death. They're all crapshoots.

But as I enter checkup season—oncologist on Thursday, radiation nurse and ovarian-cancer specialist (breast-cancer patients are believed to be at greater risk for ovarian cancer) a few days later, dermatologist (ditto for skin cancer) the following week, breast surgeon a few weeks later, a general physical that I still need to schedule—I taste the fear again, the adrenaline-soaked knowledge that an abnormal blood test, a suspicious ultrasound, a tiny pimple-size growth (and who isn't covered with wens at my age?) can put me back in the wrestling ring with death.

I'm scared, but it's a forced kind of fear, like probing a cavity with my tongue to flirt with the pain. It's also prophylactic: If I'm scared enough now, the crazy side of my brain thinks, I'll get to feel foolish instead of prescient. Or I'll have built up the emotional muscle to deal with any horror that awaits me.

No matter what happens in these or future checkups though, I've had three years, and bad as they sometimes seemed, they were a gift.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Getting lost

Last night I had an experience that proved once again that I am not cut out for country life. It's not just the ticks and mosquitoes—about which I am phobic—it's the dark and silent nights. Other and I spent the night alone in the country house of our friends DP and JS in one of three bedrooms on the second floor. It was so quiet I felt as if I were wearing foam earplugs and so dark I felt as if I were wearing eye patches—only I couldn't remove the deafeners and blinders. At first it didn't bother me. But in the middle of the night I had to pee. I somehow teleported myself in the dark (didn't want to wake Other) into the bathroom across from our bedroom. Then ... I couldn't find my way back. Afraid that I would tumble down the stairs, I got down on my hands and knees and groped around for the correct doorway. I couldn't find it. So there I was in the middle of the night, 58 years old but crawling around like a baby, patting furniture and door lintels and fingering carpets and getting rug burns on my knees, trying to visualize where I was. The longer I crawled around, the more disoriented I got. I considered curling up where I was and waiting for dawn, but that seemed insane even to me. After about 15 minutes—really, that long—I found myself back in the bathroom. I reached up and turned on the light just long enough to aim myself toward the correct bedroom, where I launched myself back into bed. Lying there, trying to calm down, I was washed by doubt that I had installed myself in the right bed. I reached over and touched Other to reassure myself. There he was, fast asleep. He'd slept through the whole drama. So much for experts who recommend complete darkness for optimal sleep. I'll take the melatonin-crushing ambient light of city life anytime.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Buying retail

I have scrimped and saved, bought wholesale or on sale, sent my kids to public schools, encouraged them to wear hand-me-downs, bought them toys at Odd Job, got our books from the library, avoided buying what we couldn't afford, put off renovations, collected furniture off the street, lectured them on thrift. My daughter C has always hated the cheapskate in me. Buying bargains made me feel rich, but it made her feel poor. So finally, we have sent her to the Barneys of colleges—and we're paying full freight. She seems bewildered, and perhaps a whiff suspicious. What's the catch? There really is none. We just want her to accept the gift, not turn it down, feel rich at last.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The delivery

Just as it was in giving birth to my daughter, the transition was hard but the delivery was easy when Other and I dropped C off at Skidless yesterday. All day (all summer, truth be told) we had steeled ourselves for the traumatic parting, and then—nothing. We hugged goodbye, and she and her new friend EM walked off together to dinner, as Other and I headed for our car. Bewilderingly uneventful. But a little sad, because unlike childbirth, delivering your child to college means you go home with empty arms. Fortunately for us, we had our own dinner plans—at the country house of longtime friends who had just dropped their two daughters off at school. So we were in sympathetic company. We stayed up till midnight talking kid. Hope I got it out of my system. I'm looking forward to having space in my brain now for some new thoughts that have nothing to do with parenting.

This fancy liberal arts college C's going to is a little like a gated community. It's cut off from the town by sprawling lawns and grand landscaping and an invisible shield of security cards and codes. Like a fairy-tale princess raised by peasants, she alone has keys to the ivory tower she now inhabits. We low-born parents can enter only at her indulgence. Indeed, if we were found wandering the campus unattended, we would be evicted by one of the 70 guards installed to deal with riffraff like us. She is fed, fostered, mentored and given as her magic wand an i.d. card with which she can fulfill every whim (or at least every whim chargeable at the college store). We are left behind in the dust of the great juggernaut that is bearing her onward to the glory of her intellectual flowering. Goodbye, sweetheart. Think of us sometimes. Try not to look down on your rude beginnings ...