She's a Real Mother

Mutha's got eyes in the back of her head.

Sunday, December 25, 2005


My five-year-old snuggled up very close to me last night and said, "Christmas is the best! It is better than all the other holidays rolled up together!"

I could have eaten him up with a spoon.

So, here's to having a five-year-old who can snuggle up and share life's great truths with you. Thanks, my little man. And here's to that feeling -- the better-than-all-the-other-holidays-rolled-up-together feeling. There's nothing like it.

Monday, December 19, 2005

I Ain't No Dog Tied to a Parked Car #3

This space is dedicated to the art and science of staying with another person in a romantic relationship over a period of time. A loooooong period of time.

In the pursuit of usable insight, let's look at famous married couples. No, not real ones. Those are few and too far between -- and lots of famous people are boring way down deep inside. I am talking instead about famous fictional couples. Grab your coat, we're off to the movies.

The Thin Man series, featuring the fabulous combo of William Powell and Myrna Loy, depicts a private detective married to a filthy rich heiress. In a nut shell, they travel around and crime finds them. They always solve the mystery and have a heck of a good time doing it. No one ever really gets hurt, although William Powell's character is usually in for a sock in the jaw now and again. But get this: they don't fight. Well, occasionally they disagree, but it is along the same lines as the rest of the dialogue -- fast, witty and always forgivable. So, what's their secret?

Simply put, they drink. A pitcher of martinis is always being stirred and whether they are in bathrobes or formal attire, everyone is ready for another.

Then, there is the dog, Aster. A childless couple, they are able to speak to one another through the dog when need be, focus attention on it when they would rather not dwell on the moment's unpleasantness, and when it's time to go, the little guy gets put on a leash or tucked under an arm. Perfection.

Drinking and dogs. It seems the stuff tailor made to be featured on that pet cop show on Animal Planet. And yet, God Bless them, they make it work. Let's not judge. Let's just learn.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Mutha Loves That Dirty Water

I have lived in the Boston area for most of my adult life beyond college. Because I moved several times as a kid, it turns out that I have lived here longer than I have lived anywhere else. And so, as the song goes, "I love that dirty water. Oh, Boston you're my home."

Now, in that song, "that dirty water" refers to the Charles River, but it reminds me of a broader theme -- and one of the reasons I really love Boston: the fact that it is flawed. The city has a historic, messy, sometimes dirty and always complicated history on every level imaginable and wears it as if it were a heart on a sleeve.

I have worked for years in programs that serve families in crisis and Boston's poor. These experiences have brought me in contact with this messy history and the ways it has played out and continues to play out in the lives of real people. It has inspired me to develop a real affection and loyalty for the neighborhoods in which these lives go on: Mission Hill, South Boston, Jackson Square, etc. That affection and loyalty springs from the knowledge that these people are not cookie-cutter stereo-types. Everyone has a story, and it is usually a rich one full of trauma but also full of joy and triumph, love.

So, I guess it is no wonder that three of my favorite books are ones that capture my experience of Boston. I highly recommend them all:

Boyos by Richard Marinick
Marinick ran with the boyos of the Irish mob in South Boston (counterparts to the wiseguys of the Mafia) and robbed -- among other things -- armored cars. He got away with it for a number of years and then his luck ran out. After a substantial stint in prison, he emerged a writer, and Boyos is his first novel. It is billed as a mystery, but rather than a "who dunnit" it is more of a "Who's gonna do it?". Marinick creates the scenario of a crime organization unraveling and the reader is held spell-bound by the question: who is going down and who will take him down? Jack "the Wacko" Curran is the story's anti-hero and he sends us through the streets of Southie to reveal not only a part of Boston, but the sub-culture within. Artfully done and clearly the kind of meatiness born out of only the finest imaginations or from the individuals who live this life. Marinick gives his reader both.

All Souls : A Family Story from Southie by Michael Patrick MacDonald
Many remember the Boston of the 70's by glimpses of filmed images. Some might remember Carlton Fisk willing his World Series homerun fair, but others remember the light blue helmets of Boston Police motorcycle cops. If you remember the helmets, you might also remember the images of rocks being thrown at horror-struck black children in school buses, and of the close-ups of the twisted expressions of anger on the faces of South Boston's white poor. The residents of Southie were cast as villains and that title has stuck. All Souls tells a richer story, making it clear from the first paragraph that no conflict, especially not the Boston busing crisis is that simple. MacDonald tells the unflinching story of not simply a community, but his community -- not a family, but his family. It is a love letter to his mother, brothers and sisters and a powerful message concerning real healing within South Boston, but also throughout all the neighborhoods effected by that violence and the difficult years that have followed.

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn
Nick Flynn worked at the Pine Street Inn, a shelter for homeless men in Boston. And then one day, not all that long after his mother killed herself, the father he had never really known walked in looking for a bed. It's tough to think of a premise that could live up to this title, but there you go. Flynn is a poet and his prose style shows it, spare and lovely even at it's most brutal. He tells of his childhood on the south shore, a thrill-seeking risk-taking adolescence, a devoted love for a complicated mother, and the thorough beating he withstands from the stark trauma of her suicide. Although Flynn rejects and then ultimately reaches out to his father, the story presented is anything but a pat tale of compassion in the face of adversity. Instead Flynn gives us an inventive, painful and often funny portrait of a man too close to drowning himself to try and save anyone's life.

Nick Flynn has reported that in other parts of the world his audience remains eerily silent or even openly weep as he reads passages from his memoir. This is true everywhere but in Boston. Here his audience laughs.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Mutha's Five

I recently read a blog where the question was posed: what five books would you take with you on a desert island?

Finding this an intriguing idea, I wondered what my answer might be. But instead of thinking about books it made me think about the island itself. I figured that, after all I like my life and I don't think I would run away to a desert island on my own accord. So I'm stranded on this desert island now...suddenly I realize reading would be the last thing I would do. Unless there were some conveniently vacated Swiss-Family-Robinson-type dwellings, Disney-esque island creatures that help me gather food, and an endless clean water supply, I believe I would be spending most of my time just trying to survive.

So, skip the panic attack, let's get back to the spirit of the question: What would I do with uninterrupted time? What an amazing idea...what would I do with the time to read and reread whatever books I wanted? So the question changed to what five books would I simply thoroughly enjoy any time, if I had the time (as opposed to the five I would save if the right-wing ran a muck and started burning the lot. Too much pressure. You can write about that on your blog)? hmmm...

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Very difficult to describe -- but an absolute beauty. Deep thoughts on spirituality, survival, the meaning of zoos, and how one might make friends with a tiger.

Fanny and Zooey by JD Salinger
Lots of folks think Salinger is a hack, but not me. He is a kind of hero to me (or anti-hero), has been since I first read him in junior high. Catcher in the Rye is what gets the attention, but I believe this story about the Glass family and its youngest two siblings is the true treasure. Full of debates on being real, the essence of art, experiencing loss, and how to survive when you've been raised a freak. Plus more cigarettes smoked than in any other work of fiction.

Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
A journey through history from ancient China to modern day San Francisco on the shoulders of women, Hong Kingston's ability to move seamlessly from fiction to nonfiction is true story-telling.

An Open Book by Ruth Gordon
Between Rose Mary's Baby and Harold and Maude, most people would agree Ruth Gordon was a pip of an old lady, but this book helps us understand that this woman was a pisser from the moment she hit air. Ms. Gordon shares a non-stop stream of consciousness on her life through her childhood in Quincy, Mass to her vaudeville days to Hollywood. Criss-crossing the country (and then the globe), broke over and over again, married several times, Ms. Gordon describes everything from what Lawrence Olivier was like in his twenties to the brown corduroy jacket she loved so much as a little girl. The book asks the question: what will you remember about your life when you are 80?

I know this Much is True by Wally Lamb
An unconventional love story, in that it concerns two brothers. Lamb makes damn sure we care about the people he writes about and this book will not leave you alone until you find out everything you need to know about these men.

If there is one thing I find in common about these books it is that they are all so fully realized. They present characters and settings, real and fictional, that are there for the taking. The stories they tell stick around inside of me -- and even better, make my own dreams more vivid. Desert island or not, what more could you ask for?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I Ain't No Dog Tied to a Parked Car, # 2

Another observation about staying with a person over time: you know, it's hard to beat a wisely-placed compliment.

The other night my husband and I were debating the general worth of Bruce Springsteen. We were watching a Springsteen 1975 concert (playing during the pledge drive of our local PBS channel) and I was very into to it. For the 1975 Bruce is my kind of Bruce. Way before Born in the USA (when he was muscle-bound and married to a model and doing videos with Courtney Cox), this concert showed him scrawny and wild-eyed -- and the E Street Band (although strangely enough, all dressed in what looked like Pimp Gear) was fierce. They were so good in fact that my husband, who makes it no secret that he is not a Bruce fan, felt compelled to comment on the fact that they were rockin -- BUT then added that he would like Bruce better if his songs sounded less like Meatloaf.

I was speechless. I am a Jersey girl after all, and Bruce in the same sentence with Meatloaf is...well, simply not right. So, I started quoting my favorite Bruce lyrics to him and he started reciting Paradise By the Dashboard Light to me. I pointed out my very favorite Bruce line, "You aint a beauty but hey you're alright.." And my husband used that oppotunity to mention that he found me beautiful.

Now, one might say that the boy knows how to get himself out of a corner. I would agree. But I think there is another piece to the puzzle here. He didn't just say it at the right time, he said it in the right way: he didn't just say it, he meant it. And that feels better than any ten minute rendition of Rosalita, any time.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Madonna Made Me Lose It

I had the misfortune of going to college at the same moment that Madonna made it big. Picture this: a 19-year-old with a "England Get Out of Ireland" pin stuck on her (in her? maybe) wearing a Hüsker Dü T-shirt, dancing in a bar. Then, the music goes from the Talking Heads' Burning Down the House to Madonna's Holiday in one cruel flick of the DJ's wrist. No amount of beer can make up for that kind of buzz kill.

So why talk about Madonna at all? Because I saw her on Letterman last night and found that my general lack of interest/blank space regarding her had swung back to the kind of full-on hatred I felt for her when I was 19. Was it the Farrah hair-do (nothing against Farrah. I know Farrah and let me tell you Madonna, you are no Farrah) or the way she discussed her recent fall from a horse as if it were a national tragedy? No. I think it was her vibe. A strong impression that she had something to say and meant something. At least when she was the thing that wore Boy Toy belt buckles, you thought she might get it. That she might at least be in on her own joke.

She announced that she does not allow her children to watch TV, that she is perceived as a strict mother and she just doesn't care what the rest of us think. So What?! I screamed at the TV, Do you make your children listen to HOLIDAY?! No? Well you made all of us freakin listen to it!

Some of those pains from your teen-aged years, you just never get over.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Stupid Fun

Silliness is undervalued -- this I hold as one of life's sad truths.

And so, I dedicate space to the pursuit of stupid fun. Granted, being around children between the ages of 2 and 15 (No! They are are mostly other people's children!) is an excuse for engaging in stupid fun -- but really, to fully enjoy it you have to embrace stupid fun as your own.

Suggestion #1
Pumpkin Rolling.
We kept one pumpkin uncarved this Halloween and the bugger stayed pretty untainted through Thanksgiving. Then we got the idea to roll it down the hill on our street. This proved to be so fun that we decided to make ramps out of fire wood and see if we could catch some air with the thing. Of course, it eventually cracked, which sent us into the second round: chucking pumpkin goop at trees. This prompted the plan to purchase a large specimen next year, for this purpose alone.

Monday, December 05, 2005

You Better Watch Out. You Better Not Cry.

One of my children declared to me over the weekend that he was "pretty all set with the Santa thing. But this flying reindeer thing is ridiculous."

He went on to describe how it might be more believable if the reindeer were like hypogriffs ( a mythological creature, half horse/half bird of prey, featured in some of the Harry Potter books) because at least they have wings. But the story as is was just silly. "I mean, what do they have, magic hooves?" he asked with a sarcastic laugh.

I must admit, I admire such a skeptical boy's dedication to hang in there with Santa one more year. It is obvious that there are at least as many logistical issues in accepting his existence. After all, we have a wood stove, not a fireplace. How the hell is he supposed to get in -- really? But it is even more intense than that, because I found out that his classmates have begun to tell my kid that he is a dope for believing. And yet, he holds on.

Now, just like most parents, I would like to save my children heartache when I can. And so, my knee-jerk reaction this holiday season has been to ask myself, "What the hell was I thinking when I fed him this load of shit in the first place?!"

Oh yeah. I was basking in my family's traditions. I was loving the anticipation of the cookies being put out with the milk, and the mouth held open in disbelief upon seeing them bitten into the next morning. I loved the magic of it for crying out loud. But there is more...Santa is a threat like no other. "Are you being good?" has its own significant weight during this time of year. Not only is Santa magic, after all, he is a tricky old man who has spooky world-vision. And I must admit, along with the cookie ritual I have adopted my mother's own shock-of-fear on occasion as well: "I hope Santa didn't just see you do that!"

But I'm the one scared now. What will my child think when he finally gives up believing? Will he be angry with his dad and I? Will he feel betrayed? We're doing our best to prepare ourselves, trying in anyway to cushion the blow -- but really we are protecting ourselves. I can't get away from my own memory. My older brother debunking the whole story for me first thing Christmas morning when I was five, asking me incredulously, "What are you, retarded?" However my kid gives up believing -- it's gotta be better than that.

One Mutha of a Film Festival

Question of the day: Who would I have to kill in order to be allowed to plan my own film festival?

First things first, this is no one shot deal. It would have to be a festival that happened over a week and perhaps year after year. Did I mention I also have an insanely rich financial backer? Oh yeah. So, I can afford to show whatever the hell I want.

But I would have to kick-off with a line-up of movies I can't live without. Movies I could watch at the drop of a hat, any time, and love. A Mutha Hall of Fame, if you will. That first group would have to be:

Some Like It Hot
An amazing blend of silliness and comedy as high art. Tony Curtis gets to fall for the fabulous Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon can't help but be masterful as the "bridesmaid" in the scenario. Monroe is not only a vision in every frame -- she demonstrates comic timing that if you weren't paying attention, might seem like dumb luck. She also wears a dress in this one that defies explanation as far as wearability and how the hell it got past the censors.

Five Easy Pieces
This is Jack Nicholson at his best, before he started doing imitations of himself. There is a sixties edginess to this one, with Nicholson wound so tight he can make you nervous, even when he is playing the piano. It also features a supporting cast that is phenomenal and the infamous "What do you want me to do with the chicken salad?" scene.

The Philadelphia Story
Dialogue that is so funny and so tight you have to know it by heart to get every double-meaning and witty slant. My favorite characters and favorite lines change over time, but it is hard to beat a swoony Katherine Hepburn looking up at a mesmerized Jimmy Stewart, declaring, "Put me in your pocket, Mike."

The Last Picture Show
A movie so quiet and so beautifully shot it sets a template all it's own. Timothy Bottoms is a heart-breaker and every scene features someone else giving a masterful performance. Cloris Leachman though, may just be the one that steals the show.

It's a Wonderful Life
I simply can't help it, this movie slays me. Even after all these years, watching this Frank Capra masterpiece is like Christmas morning itself, opening gift after gift. And on top of everything else, the gym floor opens to a swimming pool.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

My Momma's Jam

If you grew up in the tri-state area (a commuter-length in any direction from New York City) in the '70s, you may have seen a Sunday morning show called Wonderama. It was a kind of kid variety hour with a singing host, named Bob McCallister. There were Beat-the-Clock-type stunts, sing-along sections ("Have you heard any good news today, today? I wanna hear what you have to say!" and "Kids are people too" were big time personal favorites), and a quiz show finale -- all with a live kid audience. It rocked. But, by far, the high point each week was the Dance Competition. Kids had the chance to have an open go-go time and then three kids were given the chance to go solo and compete to be the winner, decided by who got the most applause.

Now, even at seven years old I could tell which kids watched American Bandstand and which ones watched Soul Train. This was, of course, many years before MTV and so these two shows were where you had the chance to catch popular bands, as well as the latest dance moves. Dick Clark (pre-mummy stage, but already too old to be on the pulse of America's youth) hosted American Bandstand and it featured a theme sung by Barry Manilow. Soul Train was hosted by the exceptionally cool Don Cornelius and featured a James Brown-style howl of the show's title as it's intro ("It's time for Sooooooooooooooooooooooullll Train"). Kids usually were devoted to one or the other, but I loved them both. And so I was able to observe that week after week the kids who knew the Soul Train moves won the Dance Competition on Wonderama. This observation led me to hold this style of dancing in the highest regard. The Robot, the shimmy, the grind, I would seek to master them all.

Many years later, I worked in childcare and had the chance to observe that toddlers are thrilled by the invitation to dance. This inspired our own dance parties, which started whenever the spirit moved us. Most babies would jump or bob or clap, but I had one toddler named Dalia who, even at 2, had Soul Train moves. One day, Dalia jumped to her feet when a song came on the radio, exclaiming, "That my Momma's jam!" and proceeded to launch into her most impressive moves yet. "My Momma go like that!" she demonstrated, "And like that!" It was an inspiration, and the rest of the babies and adults joined in.

This leads me to my present day thought, which is this: when do children stop being thrilled by adults dancing and become embarrassed by it? I distinctly remember one of my sons being fine with my spontaneous supermarket dancing when he was 6. He would even put his hand out and insist on being twirled. But somewhere around 8 that all changed. We listen to a wide range of music in my household and I reserve the right to dance along to it, whether it be the Clash or Charlie Parker. If my son walks into a room in which this is taking place though, he will immediately turn around and leave. If I ask him to dance with me, he will give me the unmistakable look of someone who wishes to do nothing but become invisible.

This is of course the way things are supposed to go, right? We think our parents are the center of the universe and then they slowly become more and more embarrassing until they hit a point that is excruciating (I believe the peek for me came at 16). It is only then that they can begin the slow climb back to what may be "okay". And so, I understand it-- but it also makes me a little sad. Momma's gotta have her jam too, after all.

When You're a Boy

"You can wear a uniform
When you're a boy
Other boys check you out
You get a girl
To say all your favorite things
When you're a boy."

Bowie/Eno from Boys Keep Swinging

I was watching a group of third and fourth grade boys on a playground recently. They were cracking each other up, being silly and just having a general good time. All at once, the group took off running with all the grace and spastic energy eight and nine-year-old bodies possess. In what seemed like pure enjoyment of the moment, one boy grabbed his friend's hand. The friend pulled his away as if he had just touched a hot stove, and the first boy stopped dead in his tracks, the grin wiped clean from his face. "Don't hold my hand!" the friend yelled, continuing to run with the other guys. "Sorry," the first boy mumbled, and tried to catch up.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

"I aint no dog tied to a parked car"

This quote is from a Lou Reed song. He says it in reference to his desire to stay married and it has always stuck out to me -- even when I heard it first in my very early-twenties. Why? I think it is because lots of books, songs, poetry, etc are made in the name of the first blush of love and just as much, it seems, describing the experience of love ending, but very little describes the in-between: the staying together. There is ofcourse the amazing Al Green's Let's Stay Together as an exception and, to be honest, some pretty hokey-shit movies with "Aaaaaaaaah" endings. But not a bunch describing the day-in and day-out of loving someone long-term. Causing people to say "Wow, how do you do it?" if you have managed to pull it off past ten years -- but behind that wonder is the understanding that the answer is probably frighteningly dull.

I don't believe that to be the case. So, I wanted to devote a little space regularly to this question: What is it like to stay together? How do you keep it going?

One answer is: have a more varied social life in your mind.
In my childhood, Jimmy Carter was nailed by the press for "lusting in his heart" (Jesus, and Bill Clinton thought they were after him). A parlor game I play based on this notion is "Who are you dating in a parallel universe?" In this game, one entertains the idea that it is possible to date people in your mind. Time travel is also possible in this game, which is terribly convenient if you want the chance to date someone who is now dead. It is also a way to date folks much younger than yourself guilt-free. So, if you found you had a crush on, say, the kid who plays Harry Potter (Uh, I didn't say I lusted after Daniel Radcliff, at least not out loud), in this parallel universe you could also be 16 and avoid run-ins with the law all together.

To be honest, my husband wasn't all that happy about this game at first. He found it disturbing. That was until we saw a Byonce video together and he declared, "Damn, I'd date her. Who the hell wouldn't?" Which of course, I couldn't argue with -- so we both added Byonce to our lists.

I found something interesting in playing this game though. After my husband saw a picture of poet Nick Flynn, one of my parallel universe guys, he made the observation that Nick resembled the guys I used to date in some key ways. Mostly, he looked like he might need a good meal and a bit of care. And I had to admit, this was the one element (along with a kind of anti-hero esthetic) that described the other wise very different members of the "Guys I Used to Date" group. (DISCLAIMER TO MR. FLYNN: I am in no way suggesting you are not well fed or cared for. Infact, I think you are very talented and...only ever reading this in my imagination.)

Now I am no dummy, I got the fact that my husband was also making the point because he breaks this mold all together. He did not look like a stray when I met him. He was quite capable of taking care of himself. In fact, I may have married him because he was able to help make sure I was taken care of --- what a radical idea. So, this was an added benefit to the game and another reason I recommend it.

I welcome anyone's own list.

"I'm comin out of the kitchen, cause there was something I forgot to say to you."

I was recently told that my blood pressure is not good. My primary care physician shared the news that she did not "like my undercount." All other possible physical contributers seemed to be ok, so she asked what might be causing me stress. I explained that I have two young children, a full-time job, a husband with a full-time job and a house that seemed great 3 years ago and now seems to be crumbling beneath us, each day in a new way. I also explained that beside all this I am a writer. She then told me "Well, something has to go." What an odd thing to say...nothing can go.

Unfortunately this led me to a tearful couple of days inwhich I decided the only answer was that I would have to stop writing. After all, the kids aren't going to take care of themselves, I get a kick out of my husband, my job is not merely thrill-seeking but pays the bills, and the house...well it gets really cold in Massachusetts long about this time a year. It comes in handy.

Then my spouse had a radical idea -- he asked if I could maybe do something different with my writing rather than getting rid of it. Huh. How moderate. And so this blog is part of that notion. Writing allows me to relieve my stress. The stressful part comes in getting the stuff published, and while some of my work is out there, other pieces sit festering in the wings. And so blogs appeal to me in a "power to the people" sort of way. Screw publishers. I have something to say.

In this spirit the blog will be loosely organized around this process, namely that I will try to download my brain each day in a way that will be helpful to me. As many people who find themselves parents many of my thoughts involve children or child-rearing -- but I am also a teacher so I think about other parents and other people's children a great deal too. So, much of this blog will be about the adventures of parenting in the real world. BUT, I also have a brain that stretches beyond this stuff. I think about books, music, art, film, popular culture, current events, Jesus...maybe even cooking if I gave it a shot (nah). I also have this sneeking feeling that some people might read this blog and might have their own thoughts to share. Now that's radical.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Once when I was a little girl, I asked my mother, "What will I be..."

Will I be pretty? Will I be rich? This is what she said to me: Que sera, sera. What ever will be, will be. The future's not ours to see. Que sera sera.

Why these lyrics to begin my blog? Because other than merely mentioning a mother/daughter conversation, it was featured in an important conversation between me and my very own mother. In fact, my mother sang it to me. And why would she do that, you ask? Was she late with her medication that day? No. She sang it to me because I had told her that I wasn't sure, but I thought I might be pregnant. Did I mention that my mother is Roman Catholic? I think Que Sera Sera might be the Roman Catholic anthem for possible pregnancies.