Tag Archives: friendship

Three. And happy birthday to you, girlfriend.

1. Three years ago today, on the Jewish calendar, I celebrated my Bat Mitzvah and read from Chayei Sarah, today’s Torah portion. I was already in my 50’s. Today, three years later, I went with my own daughter to what I am calling our kick-off of her 7th grade religious school class Bar and Bat Mitzvah year. It was our kick-off because the Bat Mitzvah today wasn’t the first of her class, but the first she was invited to and attended– and we will have many others in the coming months. It was especially meaningful because the Bat Mitzvah girl today, who I like so much, read the same Torah portion I did. She a girl with a disability who read Torah and led the service beautifully, whose father cried when he spoke to her from the bima and who spoke very eloquently about the meaning she found in the Torah portion. It is the 3rd anniversary of my own Bat Mitzvah, and one year ahead on the Jewish calendar– will be my own daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. She was reluctant to agree to a Bat Mitzvah, but decided she would do it when we told her she could choose to do the Torah portion I had done, parts of which she can chant already. Three Jewish women, three different Bat Mitzvahs. I cried quite a bit during our young friend’s Bat Mitzvah today and I had the feeling that was just the kick-off on that too– that I will cry more and more as my daughter gets closer and closer to her own Bat Mitzvah day.

2. My mother-in-law is 88 years old. She’ll be 89 next week. She has lost a son (my partner’s very beloved brother) and a husband in the past eight years. She is a devout Catholic and I love her though mostly we haven’t been especially close for the roughly 25 years her daughter has been my partner, my sweetheart. She is an important woman in my life and I admire how she has carried on in the face of such hard losses, particularly the loss of her son. Her understandings of the bigger world and in particular of me, as a Jewish woman, are limited–at least to my way of thinking. But something else I admire about her is the fact that she is a devout Catholic. Her devotion and Catholicism and her grit have carried her through and I admire her steadfastness. On September 2, this year she was living alone in her home, still driving, cooking, seeing friends, calling us on the phone, going to church and watching a lot of football. On September 3, she fell and broke her hip, and things got much more complicated.

My sweetheart, M., is a devoted daughter. When her mother broke her hip we agreed– she shouldn’t wait, she should go, like on the next plane. She has been back to her hometown three times in seven weeks and has seen her mom through partial hip replacement, a slow recuperation that involved a long stretch of struggle to regain her mind after anesthesia, physical therapy that is still ongoing to regain the ability to stand and walk and do things like go to the bathroom and get dressed. She has been in a rehabilitation facilty and then a move, given the crappiness of the options for older people, and her strong desire to stay in her hometown, to a nursing home. So far, she has not gone home since she fell (she was walking back to her house on a fall morning after being across the street with her neighbor) and I don’t know that she will ever go back home. Her fall and what has followed has shaken me up. Thinking about her, about my own mother who will be 82 this weekend, about what those later years will be like for us– for me and for my partner and for my sister and other women I love–it’s, well, unsettling.

It is a shake up that has moved me in a positive direction. I am reminded in a good way that life is not forever and it makes sense to look at the goodness around me every day. I have found a new/ old tenderness for my partner, and certain things that we have fought about over many years have dissolved into non-fighting, something closer, and with more laughter. I feel tenderly toward other people I love, and I have had four exceptionally close and beautiful fall weekends– just me and my daughter– three while my partner was away. Then we had one Girl Scout camping trip in the mountains tossed in there– another gorgeous fall weekend. In the midst of her mother’s struggles, M.got the news of a potentially difficult health matter of her own, but the recent good news on that front is another reason to be grateful and I am. Grateful.

3. I have an old friend. To say “old friend” doesn’t even begin to describe the relationship or the significance of her friendship in my life, but there are no other better, more specific words, really, to describe her, other than an old friend. Today is her birthday. We met a very long time ago (more than 30 years) as very young women in our early 20’s. We met in Israel and her love, her enthusiasm for me, her loyalty and humor and generosity toward me has always meant the world to me. She has loved me so well and so much for all these years, despite the fact that in our 20’s something happened between us that was, on my part, one of my life’s larger breaks with my own integrity. I have apologized over the years but I haven’t completely forgiven myself. It is my good fortune that over time she seems to have forgiven me and has remained one of my deepest friends. We are both lucky Jewish women to have each other’s friendship and sisterhood.

There are great things about being in your 50’s, one of which is that having a friendship of this duration, and having been through a lot together– means this is unmistakably a friendship that will last for as long as we are on the planet. She is a wonderful woman, warm and generous and funny. Our lives in the past 12 years have been further cemented because by some astounding miracle, after we both tried to get pregnant and I didn’t and she did– and then after my partner’s and my lengthy adoption process, we had two beautiful children. She with her partner and me with M. Her son and my daughter were born three weeks and a day apart and the two are now themselves, very close. They call each other cousins.

She has her flaws, and I hope she will see both the truth and the tongue and cheek humor of this but one of those is simply that she doesn’t make enough time to see me, and she is too often in a hurry and we don’t talk– like really talk– enough. (I don’t make enough time to see her either, and I barely have time to talk, really, talk, but somehow, in my mind, that whole thing is her fault– why is that?). In any case, here we are in our 50’s with our 12 year olds, and again I feel grateful, very. Happy, happy, happy birthday, D.


It has been an extraordinary few weeks in ways happy, joyful, excruciatingly sad and also mundane.  Two weeks ago yesterday was the sudden and unbelievably speedy death of a long-time acquaintance, a good, good woman who I always liked in a deep way, and who in much more recent years became the partner of a closer friend.  G’s death– rocked my partner’s and my world into stunned heartbreak.  Last week was the second half of a week of Shiva  (the observance of a week-long period of mourning), and saying Kaddish (the Jewish prayer of mourning), for the woman who died and of rolling up our sleeves and doing things that were needed– particularly for L, the surviving partner.  My partner and I were both profoundly saddened and scared by this death– and turned both inward and outward– in our sadness.  We stayed especially close to each other and to others too.

There are many things I am not good at, but one thing I am good at is knowing who is the clearest thinker in a given situation and knowing how to follow the lead of someone who is doing the right thing.  My working class partner is amazing at knowing how to roll up her sleeves and do the work that needs to be done.  She does this often and without fanfare or expectation of thanks (something that she can and often does overdo, to her own detriment) but I always follow her lead when she is doing the hard work and the hard work is the right thing to be doing.  So we sat Shiva and then visited with people and then we did dishes, packed up food, rearranged the refridgerator, the furniture, carried out trash and recycling and went home.  There is nothing quite like doing dishes and cleaning someone else’s kitchen in the face of a death– and I mean this, without the slightest bit of irony.

On the more happy side of the ledger–one night I brought my daughter with me to Shiva.  She was understandably a little afraid to be there with all these grieving adults, but she did something at the Shiva for my friend, the surviving partner of our lost friend– that touched me so deeply and made me smile, I kvelled inside and a little bit outwardly too– my big-hearted, big girl/little girl.

We are also excited and hopeful as we are planning for a visit, coming this weekend– at which my daughter and we will meet, for the first time, her younger sister.  One day last week was her sister’s birthday.  It was bedtime when I told my daughter that it was her sister’s birthday and she disappeared into her room.  After a while she returned– with a pristine stuffed panda, a gorgeous jeweled, sequined little box with a ring in it, and several other objects– and she said, “I need a box.”

So we wrapped them all up and packed them all up and sent them off to her as yet unmet sister.  Sister’s mom called me the other night either in tears or nearly in tears– I could not tell.  She said, “your daughter has a heart of gold.  It was like opening a box full of love.”  What could be more reassuring for a mom (this mom, me), than to hear another woman talk about her daughter that way?  She is right, and nothing, really, nothing could be more reassuring.

And finally, my daughter had an unusually busy weekend with a Friday afternoon middle school dance, a Friday overnight at our synagogue and a day full of activities at the synagogue on Saturday, a sleepover with a friend of hers at our home when she returned Saturday night and then off to Girl Scouts for several hours on Sunday, so I barely saw her.

I miss her when she is gone and I am slowly getting my mind around the idea of returning to doing certain things I love and enjoy that have not so much been part of my child-raising years.  My partner and I both had busy weekends and not mostly together.  But we made it a priority to take a long, late afternoon walk together on the closed-on-weekends road in our wonderful, large city park.  On our walk we came across this, the kind thought, the imagination of some other thoughtful walker, a message to us and all others passing by– which made me so happy– the finder of a lost red fleece glove stopping to send us all this word of reassurance.

Peace sign, red glove on sapling, February 10, 2013

Peace sign, red fleece glove on sapling, February 10, 2013.

Poetry and Hope, for many reasons

There is quite a lot of inauguration buzz around me these recent days.  For me, the thing that stands out about this election and this inauguration is that in some major way we won.  An important win.  The racism of Mitt Romney’s and others of the Republican campaigns was so virulent, so wide open, so vast, so carefully calibrated to pull at people’s fears and confusions.  But it didn’t win.  We won.  

Two friends have pointed me to this recently.  One, a beautiful, tireless and hopeful activist, a close friend–posted this quote on her own website as she works, and I do mean works, at caring for herself and keeping life in order as she goes through treatment for cancer.  The second, another beautiful woman, a Jewish woman, just sent it to me this morning.

 It’s Adrienne Rich, but no one has yet been able to identify for me what poem this is from.  If you know where it came from please send the poem’s title and/or the title of the book it is from as a comment or email me privately if you prefer.  

On Monday at the inaugural ceremony we will hear from Richard Blanco– a Latino gay man who will read a poem of his own creation and mind.  I don’t know him or his poetry, nor do I know whether I will love the poem or not.  But I will love that there will be poetry there.  And with Obama’s inauguration and inaugural poetry, more hope and more poetry to come.

What would it mean to live
in a city whose people were changing
each other’s despair into hope? 
You yourself must change it. 
what would it feel like to know
your country was changing? 
You yourself must change it. 
Though your life felt arduous
new and unmapped and strange
what would it mean to stand on the first
page of the end of despair?

Adrienne Rich 1983

In my house, remember last Saturday, September 8– Integrity.

Before another Saturday goes by I want to mark something about this time and last Saturday.  My daughter has started middle school.  Officially.  It’s a big change; a big transition for all of us in so many ways.  I’m going to spend this school year delighting and marveling at certain things, shaking my head in despair at others, and trying to wrap my mind around 11 years old and middle school.  I don’t know exactly what all of you, who send your children to school in cities or suburbs or more rural or more uniformly middle class neighborhoods, or  more urban or impoverished neighborhoods are seeing.  Some of you went to middle school or junior high school a long time ago– some more recently– and I’d love to hear about your experiences– about your children’s experiences.

As we enter into this year there are new reminders to me, that though our school is considered one of the gems of our urban public school system — this is an inner city school with a slightly “lite” version of America’s “get tough” approach to young people and young people of color in particular.  Maybe this is going on everywhere.  I don’t like it much.  I am glad that our school doesn’t face certain of the harshest difficulties.   I love this school and I love many of the teachers and administrators, many parents and young people.  Still, the harshness toward young people as they become older young people, and the particular slant on this for young females (boys get a different and equally crummy version)– is more evident than ever.  It’s all right up in her face and in our faces– as her moms.

Despite all the good things there is an undertone and also not undertone, but such blatant  mistrust and constant disrespect of young people in schools, even the best of them.   There is less room, as your child gets older, to “opt out” or find individual solutions (“I don’t want my child kept in at recess for x, y or z behavior” doesn’t fly so much anymore.).  You can’t opt out, you can just resign yourself or … or organize for change in whatever ways you go about it.  Last Saturday my daughter reminded me of the strength we have in each other.

In the first week of school and into the second my daughter stopped eating to some extent.  She is nervous.  Her stomach is upset.  It happens to me too when I face something new and scary.  That in itself is ok– to take on a big new challenge, a big step in life and to face big feelings, nervous, scared feelings.

One night I was talking to her over dinner about what else she wanted to eat and about what she had or hadn’t eaten and then about school.  She started to talk about the new detention system.  I’d heard a bit about it already.  I’d heard that rather than start the year with a talk about the joy to be found in poetry, Spanish literature, the amazing worlds of science and exploration, math– they were getting a lecture from every teacher about the rules and the detention system.  Three “points” in one week and you get detention.

On this particular night I learned that they rack up points toward detention if they have to go to the bathroom during class.  And if they forget the right books to bring to class.  And if they bring their backpacks into class rather than leave them in their locker, and if they go to their lockers too often and…  I learned these things first from her, and then later that week from the 14- page booklet they sent home.  As a culture, we are increasingly harsh and punitive toward young people– as if teenagers are responsible for our problems in the world, as opposed to our bearing responsibility for theirs.  It’s among the more misguided things– a deep confusion–in our world– the idea of “fixing” our failed schools and our failures with young people through increased inflexibility, harshness, punishment, disrespect.  I decided to and did write to the principal talking about a number of concerns about the detention policy and though the policy hasn’t been changed, for a number of reasons I think my ideas and my letter were taken seriously and fairly well-received.  But I keep grappling with the fact that protests or suggestions from my partner and me alone are not really the stuff of change.  You need a bigger group to fight for something.

Fast forward several more days to this small but meaningful conversation that made me proud.  Made me want to kvell— (Yiddish for swelling, gushing with pride).  My daughter’s friend A. from kindergarten and the intervening years, has become a new best friend to my daughter.  Since the very end of the school year last year, their friendship has blossomed and it has been a joy for many reasons.  Last Saturday  A., was at our house for dinner after spending the day with us.  The twosome makes quite a duo.  One of the most hopeful, appealing things about them and their friendship, is their laughter.  They laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh.  Loudly. Uncontrollably. Hilariously.  Happily.   You never know what they are laughing about and often if you ask them, they don’t know either.  It’s so good.  So healthy.  Such fun.  They seem so much on the right track with each other and the laughter seems to grease the wheels for closeness and support and solidarity as two young female friends.

At dinner, they were telling us more about the all-present detention system– and they were telling us that A. had racked up a couple of points toward detention– for laughing in a class they are in together.  She was laughing while they were all playing scrabble– a fun and assigned activity in their literacy class.   For those of you of a certain age and life experience I’ll say I feel a little Arlo Guthrie-ish, a little Alice’s Restaurant coming on here.  I mean we wouldn’t want a bunch of 11 year olds walking into class and enjoying themselves so much they start laughing would we?  It’s terrible, dangerous–downright nasty– all that laughter.

But here is the real story.  As we were talking about this over dinner, my daughter’s mood shifted for a moment and got serious.  She said very seriously  “I was laughing too.  And I didn’t know what to do.  It wasn’t fair that A. got the detention point and I didn’t.  So I wondered, should I ask for a point?”  I shook my head no, very quickly.  Too quickly– and it interrupted her own thought process.   And besides interrupting, I was wrong.  Then my brain caught up with hers, kicked in and overtook my protective side.

I said it was an interesting idea to go ask for a detention point for yourself if someone else got in trouble.  I spoke to them about how brave it is to back each other and to not leave alone someone who is being treated unfairly.  We talked about how banding together when things are unfair is usually the best way to change things.  We talked again about the ACT UP documentary– United in Anger that she had seen with me earlier this summer.

We talked for a minute about the idea of organizing all the young people in their class to ask for detention point anytime anyone gets one.  The idea passed quickly and the conversation shifted quickly– but I felt hope and pride about my daughter’s mind, her big heart and her integrity all week long.

Birthday gift

Yesterday– Monday– was my birthday.  Many lovely things happened over the weekend in celebration.  On Sunday, I did what I’ve done a few times in the past few years.  We invited a handful of people to meet me anytime they wanted over the course of two and a half hours– at my very favorite neighborhood coffee shop and we reserved the big table up front, reservation being a thing allowed only to old regulars like myself– and we sat for hours with different friends who came and went and talked to me and to my daughter and partner and to each other.  I drank two great iced decaf Americanos with half and half and talked to people I love.  If you are someone I love and weren’t invited, please don’t take offense– I didn’t do a thorough job with the guest list.  I invited people I don’t see enough, people who live really, really close by– and a few people who are really special to me, but not my regulars.  

Later, Sunday night, one of my oldest and best friends and her partner and son cooked a truly incredible dinner for me and we all talked and caught up after many months out of touch. 

Monday, on my birthday, for whatever reasons, I woke up too early, feeling so sad and needing a big cleansing cry.  I got a small cleansing cry a little later in the morning and I went to work.  I felt instantly better at work, in the nice cool air conditioning and with a purpose (work) and time to get organized.  It was far from my most productive day work-wise, but, I got a few things done in spite of myself.

At work no one knew it was my birthday.  My job is still relatively new.  And I’m a woman past 50 with an 11-year-old child, and even when I was younger without an 11-year-old child, I wasn’t someone– and I am definitely not now someone, to go to work in a fancy dress, saying, things like “oh, why am I dressed up?  it’s just my partner is taking me out to (name chic restaurant) for my birthday.”  I like other people to know it’s my birthday– but I had no natural lead-in and I couldn’t quite bring myself to just announce it to my colleagues.  So I enjoyed my birthday at work, in silence.

Elsewhere there was plenty of fuss.  My daughter baked an incredibly fabulous chocolate cake all by herself.  My partner spent three days making me feel so special and gave me a card with a beautiful note that she wrote.  People I love called and texted and emailed and even sent a card or two through the regular old-fashioned mail. And then last night our neighbors who are two of our closest parent buddies, just back from two weeks vacation, invited us to join them and their four daughters for dinner and my daughter contributed her delicious cake. So there was plenty of celebration.

At lunch time I walked over to an office building about 5 blocks away with the crashed hard drive from our old computer where there is a document recovery place.  (Now keep a positive attitude and maybe I’ll get my lost data back.  For 200 and not 700 bucks.)

Even though there was plenty of fuss, it turns out that sometimes, as you get older–the real gift is not the fuss, or the gift in a box, but the connection.  While I was out on my lunchtime walk, two things happened that touched my heart and with them, I was certain my birthday was complete.  First while walking back from the document recovery place, one of my best friends, out-of-town because her father was dying, called me and cried and cried into the phone.  For a long, long time.  Her mother began years ago, and now continues to torment my friend about her being a lesbian and this harshness and meanness continues through my friend’s father’s final days.  

My friend apologized to me several times for calling me on my birthday and needing me to listen to her.  But mostly she just really needed someone to listen while she cried and I was really happy and honored to listen.  I’d been out walking in the heat and stepped into a Payless Shoe store into their air conditioning– and sat down on a stool meant for sitting while you try on shoes and we talked for 20 or maybe 30 minutes.  Or mostly she talked and I listened.  It felt like a real gift to me.

Then, I headed back to the office.  I stopped in Starbucks, bypassing a man outside on the sidewalk selling our town’s newspaper of the homeless.  He had made eye contact with me on my way in, and I had nodded that yes, I’d buy a paper when I came out.  So when I left with iced Americano in hand, I was already committed.  I walked up to him and asked him to hold my coffee while I fumbled for my wallet.  He asked me how was my day going and I said, slowly, thinking it over, it’s a good day.  It’s actually my birthday.  For real?– he asked me.  Yeah, for real.  Really? he asked again, a little disbelieving.  Yes, really it is.  Well, happy birthday, he said.  I mean really, happy birthday.  We talked a little.  I told him that I was working and glad to be working again after having been unemployed for some time.  He told me a little bit about himself. 

He showed me an article about him in the newspaper he was selling.  The article says he was recently reunited with his children and thanks the people who helped him along the way.  He offers encouragement to other homeless people to work hard and that they can get their own place and get off the street.  He writes about homeless people who have reunited with their own children as he did. 

Somehow he managed during the course of a short interaction to say, happy birthday about four times.  And he said to me, maybe three times– Hey– you’re real pretty– you really are.  (A comment that was and felt sexist when I was younger and now, at the age that I am, feels or at least from him, felt, like something different– an affirmation of the beauty of women with gray hair and some pounds to lose?)    There was a kindness there on both sides–him toward me and me toward him.

I know that with this story, I tread dangerously close to all the white middle class racist stereotypes that would hold onto the lie that a white middle class working woman in the middle of a busy workday, stopping for a kind, human exchange with a black (formerly) homeless man is something for him to be grateful for.  Or even the racist notion that the same white middle class woman, mingling with a poor black man is enriching to us white people in a strange, distorted patronizing way– like being a tourist in a foreign land. 

But for me, it was a small moment where two strangers dropped that stuff about class and race and gender that divides us– the stuff that cannot really be dropped at all– but was dropped anyway, for a just a minute– and connected.  He stopped me because he wanted me to buy his paper.  I told him it was my birthday because I wanted him to wish me a happy birthday.  I wanted to talk to him as myself and not as another passing white woman.  And then we talked for real for just a minute.   

I paid for the paper and wished him good luck and I walked away.  Then a few steps up the block, I circled back and asked if I could take his picture and post it on my blog so I could remember him and my birthday wishes from him.  So here he is– my one-time birthday friend.  Thank you, Mr. Phillip Black.  I forgot to ask, but Mr. Black, Happy Birthday to you too– whenever it comes around.

Mr. Phillip Black

Farewell Charlotte; good, gentle, sweet neighbor dog

I’ve written about our upstairs neighbors in other posts, like Apartment House Snowball Fight; A Great Jewish Christmas Tradition.  It’s been just what I didn’t even know I wanted but did–that our relationship as neighbors with daughters about the same age in the building often means a blurrier and blurrier line between our households.  We live in the same tier as they– in the 3rd floor three-bedroom, directly below their identical 4th floor three-bedroom apartment.  Our girls wander in and out of our respective apartments.  Our neighbors often send a small bowl of cookies or something they cooked down to us; or they invite us to come for dinner at the last minute and we do the same.

Their sweet old dog, Charlotte is often petted by us and by others in the hall on her way out and then back in the building– before and after a walk.  In recent years, growing weary of the stairs to their top-floor apartment and growing more and more blind,  she would often wander into our apartment if our door was open.

We got word Charlotte died today.  Earlier this week, when our friends had made the difficult decision and knew the end was near, they invited us to a pizza party–at which Charlotte was the guest of honor.  We humans ate pizza and Charlotte got all the crusts she wanted.  (A favorite of hers.)  We all gave her lots of love and petting —  which she had had throughout her life.

Our friends’ daughter, A. lives in the two households of amicably divorced parents; the household upstairs and one a neighborhood over.  She cried hard as she was leaving to go to her other house for the night and we were heading downstairs.  She wasn’t the only one to cry.  Goodbye, sweet, doggie neighbor, Charlotte.  We miss you.

At Charlotte's party.

Charlotte with pizza crust

Rewrite. My life in music and my old friend I’ve never met. Paul Simon.

I love music.  I think most of us are wired to this language of feeling and memory.  When I was very young my parents had albums of classical music that affected and moved me to unstoppable tears.  I would often ask them not to play that music, because it made me too sad.  Too sad for a five-year old without enough of a venue for the heavy tears I seemed to need to cry.

Later, I discovered my own varied and eclectic musical taste and I chose things I liked and I listened a lot.   Music is  and often the backdrop that allows me to face grief and loss fully and honestly.  But music is often part of the scene when I can really feel that the world is good and that it is good– I mean extraordinarily good– to be alive.  I think I approach each day from the perspective that it is really good to be alive.  But I don’t think I am someone who actually feels that joyful, good-to-be-alive way every day.  Or even most days.

As I see my daughter getting older, facing the struggles of her world– which are big struggles– the struggles of class and race, the struggles of female internalized oppression and the harshness among girls, the struggles to learn and try new things and fit it all in and stay close to us and others and not get discouraged– I have been fighting myself, to be in touch, more and more often with a genuine, hopeful, it’s-great-to-be-alive feeling.  I do it for me and I do it for her.  Listening to music often helps me turn my mind toward the goodness of my life and of the world even with all its harshness and horror.

Paul Simon is one musician of my era, whose work I’ve loved since I was very young.  I was a lot younger and he was a lot younger when I first heard his music.  As I have grown older so has he and so has his work.  His music and something about his Jewish and generous and quirky sensibility all feel like reassuring, old friends to me.

The other day I heard on NPR, a great talk by a pop music critic about some of the critic’s favorite music of 2011.  Among many artists and albums the critic mentioned was a new album of Paul Simon’s– released earlier this year, “So Beautiful or So What”.   I had not heard of it.  (Do people still say “album”? or is that a total anachronism?)  But I digress.

I have always loved Simon’s music and his songwriting;  his interesting, intelligent and sometimes poetic, sometimes narrative, and often funny, lyrics.  His beautiful melodies, easy to sing along with but unpredictable and complex.  I love his voice, acoustic guitar, his use of whistling and every conceivable instrument.  He has done some remarkable collaborations with other singers and musicians.  Listening to his music makes me happy and the very fact of another human being engaged in the endeavor of making the kind of music he does, makes me happy.  Good-to-be-alive kind of happy.

And Paul Simon is definitely a big commercial success but he has eschewed a the of commercialism that seems less and less possible for younger musicians to eschew and still be heard.  He has pursued for more than 40 years, a kind of artistry that stands out our increasingly commercial, logo’d, PR’d, photoshopped, advertised, bought-and-sold world.

I fell in love with the song that was reviewed, called “Rewrite”.  Then I got curious and learned that Paul Simon turned 70 in October.  I must say there is something fabulous about a still-very- talented- popular singer-songwriter at 70.  And something ironic, poignant, and a little close to home–about his singing “Rewrite”.  After all, if we’re honest, don’t we all, especially as we get older, have parts of the story we’d rewrite if we could?

After “Rewrite” are three videos with Paul Simon, literally half his lifetime ago, on the Graceland tour in Zimbabwe, which was recorded and performed in collaboration with an astounding group of African musicians and singers; including Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masakela and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  The recording and tour were set against the backdrop of a turning point in the world’s history– as freedom fighters were on the brink of ending apartheid in South Africa.

Under African Skies

Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes

On the “it takes a village” chain of things.

Thirteen years ago, I  was (well actually we were) trying to adopt and it was spring.  I was talking to everyone who would talk to me and who knew anything about adoption.

That spring I would often walk from my car to the apartment building after work, and often I would see a woman, a white woman, with the most beautiful, alive, smiling little baby girl–sometimes sitting on their stoop, sometimes walking around the neighborhood.  Her daughter was not white– and I assumed single mom and adoption.  Eventually I found a way to start a conversation and we got to know each other.  I was only half wrong– she was a single mother by choice, of a biracial, African American daughter– born to her, J.

Back then our two families added up to four and we all turned out to be pretty crazy about each other and got to be friends.  We went to some birthday parties, got together sometimes, and for a year we took J. to preschool once a week, when her mom, a school teacher, had to be at work early.  When my daughter was born and came to us, J. was four.  She and J. adored each other from the start.  Ours was the doorbell they rang years ago at 3 a.m. when their apartment building caught fire and was completely gutted.  Now J. is about 5’8″– taller than I am by several inches– and in eighth grade at the same K-8 school where my daughter goes to school. Sometimes she babysits.  I like her a lot.

I’m having a relatively minor health problem but am feeling more than a little punk.  The big bear of standardized testing is going on this week at school, so timeliness is essential (not always our strong suit), and there was a driving rain going when it was time to leave for school.  On top of that I wrongly accused my daughter of getting glue all over a favorite backpack of mine that she borrowed– just as we were leaving.  All this to say that very grouchy, rushed and crabby was the flavor-of-the-day as we left for school.  We got into the car.

When we came around the corner in the driving rain, we saw J. who walks to school on her own, on her way.  Walking with a friend of indeterminate gender.  Both in hooded cotton sweatshirts (not great in a rainstorm) and J. towering in height above her friend.  J. was also carrying an umbrella which was inside out from the wind.  I said to my daughter, roll down your window and call to J. to come ride with us.    It took us two tries for me to position the car and for my daughter to summon a loud enough voice, but we got her attention and offered a ride.

J. hesitated– then said, well, can my friend come too?  Of course, come, come get in the car.  They sloshed into the car, my daughter moved over and the smaller person turned out to be the son of my partner’s wonderful co-coach of the 4th an 5th grade girls’ basketball team.

We drove the next six blocks, made our way around the fleet of SUV’s and minivans and other huge vehicles dropping children at school and I found a spot to pull over.  J. and her friend got out and took off running before the hard “g” in g’bye” made it out of my mouth.  My grouchy daughter and cranky me looked at them flying through the rain, looked at each other and cracked up.  She leaned over and kissed me (not an always thing these days) and ran into school.

Stay-at-home-mom redux. or What? Sexism?

Last year, after my first posts to this blog– I got a bad case of eczema– something I had in babyhood but hadn’t had for a long, long time.  My dermatologist said “who knows why these things surface?”  I think it had to do with fear that rose as I put myself out there.  You are a small and supportive group of readers, but nonetheless, I think i got scared and eczema was what showed.  I want to speak my mind out here in the world; and at the same time there is some terror about being truly visible in any way.

One of the next most terrifying things I have done, other than to begin writing this at all, was to write, a couple of weeks ago, that for now what I am is a stay-at-home-mom.   The feelings that clambered up in me after that post were– well stunning, on the internalized sexism meter.  I felt as though I had written– “Hello world, I am a failure.  I don’t know how to do anything.  I am a trivial, insignificant woman and I don’t earn a paycheck.”  Even though I am exactly the same woman who has done many, many things and is very competent.  I have often known I am very competent at many important things– including paid work and unpaid work and including mother’s work.

But after that post was up, I thought seriously, for the first time, about pulling a post off the blog after it went up.  Hmmm.

Related topic, different setting.  I have a great, close friend, D.– who has been one of my closest friends since our early 20’s.  I have started whole pieces about her, because she figures so prominently in my life and in my heart too.  But for now I will leave it at this.  She is a fiercely competitive, very successful, tough, feminist litigator.  She also loves me deeply and enthusiastically and is deeply loyal to me– and I always know that she loves me.  She loves me for qualities of mine, entirely unrelated to the interests, skills and focus that have made her an excellent litigator.  I’m a heart person for her; a poet, an unwavering safe harbor.

Nonetheless D. and I do lawyerly things together once in a while and she asked me to go with her yesterday to hear oral argument in the Wal-Mart sex discrimination case which was being argued at the United States Supreme Court. (Yes, you can figure out from which city I am writing.)  I’m a lawyer.  I am actually admitted to the Supreme Court Bar though I never have and never will argue before the Supreme Court.  I decided to go–not at all for any networking or future job-finding purpose, but because I am still stunned/outraged by the depth and breadth of sexism and I thought this a pivotal moment, at least in one arena, in our national history on the sexism front.  I thought it would be a good thing to witness.  Also I love an adventure early in the morning with D. and we had to get there and line up early.

As it worked out D. and I stood in line a long time and had long, separate conversations with different people.  A woman who is also (besides D.) a long-time feminist litigator– and a long-time acquaintance of mine– showed up.  I was deep in another conversation– but she slipped in next to us and started talking and eventually she asked me where I’m working these days.  I said “I’m not working right now”.

On a bad day I might have felt embarrassed or depressed, but yesterday the cherry blossoms were out, I’d had an amazing conversation with a Somali cab driver on my way to the Court, and I was feeling good– very good, about my life, my past career as a lawyer, and hopeful about whatever I will do next.  I was happy to be going to the Supreme Court and happy to be coming home again to do writing and mothering things.  Just happy.  I answered enthusiastically that I was doing well, had left a job that had never been good and was not working now while I decide what next.

She said “Oh”.  I can’t capture the tone in a blog.  But it was that kind of “Oh” that revealed that she felt startled, glad she wasn’t me and like she needed to quickly summon some way to act positive, polite.  It was an “Oh” that couldn’t have carried more unspoken meaning than if I had said, “Actually I was recently convicted of a crime of moral turpitude and am leaving directly from this very Court to spend the rest of my days in prison– that’s what I’m up to”.

There was a sad irony getting this “Oh” right there in line to hear a sex discrimination case argued at the Supreme Court, from this woman who has been a fierce and successful fighter for women’s rights.  A woman who, somewhere in her heart of hearts, apparently doesn’t think much of women who do anything other than litigation.  (And, to state the obvious, women who do things other than litigation are– well– almost all women throughout the world.)

was annoyed, but I don’t write this to be snarky to that woman. My point is that internalized oppression sits there– like the unseen roots of some huge tree– just like the sexism that sits there unseen by either Wal-Mart or the Supreme Court, and yet is so obvious.  Stark.

Unfortunately the day got only sadder on the ending-sexism front once I had listened to most of the Justices’ questions (some hostile, some so oblivious I wondered what world they inhabit) of the plaintiffs’ lawyer in the Wal-Mart sex discrimination case.  But that is a blog post for another more lawyerly day which may or may not ever arrive on this writing, thinking, reading, activist, organizing and mothering blog.

Purim 5771: notes of a tired woman late on a Saturday night. Preschool, Purim and Mother tongue.

We have had two lovely days here.  My daughter had no school yesterday and I planned with my close friend, A.– to take her son and my daughter to visit for the morning at the very special preschool where her son and my daughter went to preschool and where the two of them (her son and my daughter) and the two of us, the women, met and became friends.

It proved to be a wonderful thing to do and it was one of those perfectly good, good days in a life.  The weather was beautiful, my daughter both happy and cooperative, but also just a little clingy with me– just as she often was, many years ago, when she was enrolled in this preschool.  I enjoyed the visit, and truth to tell, I enjoyed every cling.  Lately I am acutely aware that this time of her childhood with me in the center of her world, is fleeting.  I savor each of these days when I get to do something funny or sweet, all day long, with my daughter.

If you don’t know the Jewish holiday of Purim, I apologize for not creating many hyperlinks here to help you out, and the one I’ve given you really isn’t the best–but suffice it to say that Purim is a raucous holiday involving costumes, in many settings– a lot of alcohol (in many settings, not in my world), and general partying.  As Jews, we celebrate our victory in a close call– near-annihilation of the Jews in Persia a long time ago, that ended well.

My family went to the Megillah reading (the reading of the story of Purim) at my synagogue for Purim tonight.  No one especially felt like going, but I wanted not to miss this Jewish holiday that is so centered on young people and silliness and play.  We convinced (with no difficulty at all) my friend A., and her husband and son (with whom we’d spent Friday and some of Saturday) to come too, so we went as a pack which I always like. Somehow my Rabbi, Cantor and several others, created a Purim story that utilized– well– an amalgam of Purim, the plot and songs of West Side Story, as well as current politics.  Queen Esther was Esther Pelosi, Vashti was Vashti Palin (complete with a hilarious rendition of “I Feel Pretty”), Haman was Haman John Boehner; the music was both rag-tag and wonderful and everyone from age 3 to 75 laughed a lot.  I know my Rabbi isn’t afraid to take a stand, but he is also thoughtful and doesn’t insult people.  I guess he was pretty confident that there are no tea-partiers or even Republicans in the congregation.  You probably had to be there, but it was hilarious.

But the best was this.  On the way home from synagogue, my daughter asked to listen to our soundtrack of In the Heights– about which you have heard much if you are a regular reader of this blog. We were listening to the song, Carnaval Del Barrio, which is noisy and funny and energetic and sung mostly in Spanish.  She and I were both singing along with a fairly adept command of both the melody and the words– in both English and Spanish–but there were many Spanish words she was singing that I didn’t know.  So I asked her what one meant, and she translated easily for me.  And another– and she translated easily.  And a third word, and this time she translated– but it was one of those words for which there is actually no literal equivalent in English.  She explained easily, and with a great command of poetry, nuance.  I was beaming inside and my partner gave me a glance– enough to convey that she noticed too, but brief enough to not interrupt the moment.  We’ve won.  She has Spanish, her first mother tongue.  Her first mother’s tongue.  In a flash we know she will likely have the easy access of language that she needs to have easy access to her people which is exactly what we have hoped for.  As we parked behind our building, my daughter asked us to bring the CD into the house, so she could fall asleep to it and she did, singing along more and more softly as her eyelids closed with her proud and tired mother looking at her good face watching her fall into sleep.