Wednesday, November 02, 2005

HALLOWEEN IS FRIGHTENING

Halloween morning, the kids popped out of bed early, ready for their breakfast candy. "Stop stealing from the trick or treat bowl. That's for later," Hepcat bellowed. Even Teen Spirit, who is historically difficult to rouse in the morning, was up and ready for high school in record time, his pockets stuffed with Hershey's kisses.

The Oh So Feisty One packed her cowgirl chaps in her pink backpack. "Just in case my teacher lets us put on our costumes." This was unlikely because her school prohibits any recognition of Halloween in sensitivity to the children whose religious beliefs prevent them from participating.

Smartmom tried to get some money work done on Monday but by 2 p.m, she surrendered to the reality that Monday afternoon and evening were for one thing and one thing only: Halloween.

First crisis of the day was the case of the missing cowboy hat: OSFO searched the apartment high and low. Smartmom finally unearthed it underneath Teen Spirit’s bed.

Second crisis: Teen Spirit needed a shirt for his impromptu pirate costume. "You can wear this black shirt of Dad's." Smartmom told him. "No he can't," Hepcat screamed from the living room. "That's my special shirt."

"it's alright, mom," Teen Spirit told Smartmom ever-attentive to Hepcat’s moods.

They did manage to find a billowy white shirt in the closet. Teen Spirit strapped on his belt, plastic sword, and the pirate hat he'd purchased at Rite Aid, ready to join a band of roving teenage pirates who were waiting downstairs.

Aargh.

Trick or Treating on Seventh Avenue, OSFO was, characteristically, driven to procure as much candy as she could possibly fit into her shopping bag. They were joined by Ducky, Groovy Aunt’s newly adopted one-year-old daughter from Russia, who was dressed in a zip-up bunny costume with little paw gloves and a cloth carrot.

Her first Halloween ever - god knows what Ducky was thinking. Big brown eyes open wide, she inhaled the crazy costumed scene from her stoller.

The group went back to Groovy Aunt’s for some apartment-building style trick or treating. Volume is what that's all about. "Let's see," OSFO calculated. "They've got six floors and eight apartments on each floor…”

OSFO hasn't learned her multiplication tables yet, but still, that's a lot of candy.

Third Crisis: OSFO developed Halloween fatigue mixed with an acute case of "not being the center of attention."

That darn baby in that darn bunny suit: Ducky was sucking all the attention out of the room with a straw. OSFO ripped off her cowgirl chaps and flung her Payless cowgirl boots across the living room and staged a a world-class snitsky. Arms tightly crossed, she faced a wall and snarled. The only remedy: a large does of alone time.

Rejuvenated by a few minutes of quiet and three mini Twix bars, OSFO was ready for a little trick or treating and the Halloween parade. "The houses with the Jack-O-lanterns are the ones with the candy," she said with the assuredness of a seasoned navigator. Racing up and down the brownstone stoops, she rang on door bells and filled her bag with more candy.

Crisis number four: By the time they got to the parade, it was over. The streets were filled with teenagers. Teen Spirit was spotted in front of Starbucks with a can of shaving cream - horror of horrors. Strange to say, with all her worries about sex, drugs and rock 'n roll, Smartmom never once imagined he'd be a shaving cream trickster.

Live and learn. Hepcat trailed Teen Spirit and the teenage pirates to Barnes and Noble and insisted that he be home by nine.

Before bedtime, OSFO weighed her Halloween treat bag on the bathroom scale: "I've got five pounds of candy. Don't anybody touch it," she screamed and then proceeded to stash it in her secret hide-a-way.

Halloween Crisis number five: The day after Halloween, Teen Spirit couldn't keep his eyes open during English class. He fell asleep on his desk. Smartmom hopes he didn't snore. Now that would be very distracting.

How was your Halloween?

Monday, October 17, 2005

TEEN SPIRIT GETS SERIOUS

Teen Spirit's band had a big talk the other night: sort of a group therapy session minus the therapist. The band just sort of thought they needed to get things out on the table. Problems were coming up. Personalities were clashing. Bad feelings were going unexpressed. Truth be told, the kids were getting annoyed with one another.

"We didn't play much music at last night's rehearsal." Teen Spirit said Saturday morning.
"Really, why not?"
"We just talked." he said.
"About the music and stuff?" Smartmom asked.
"No we talked about what's been going on with the band."

Smartmom was glad that Teen Spirit mentioned it. He is loathe to confide in her anymore. Well, he does from time to time. Just not as often as he used to. He knows she is nosy so she tried not to sound too interested in his revelations. "Uh huh. Oh really. That's interesting," she said intermittently as he told her what went on.

From what he said, it sounds like they were really able to express their feelings and get things off their chests in an honest and gentle way. Smartmom wanted to ask Teen Spirt what the band members had said about him.

"So what did everyone say about you?" she asked nervously.

"They said I'm a really, really good bass player. But that I need to learn some music theory. They think I need lessons."

Smartmom stayed quiet, dying to hear how he felt about their comments.

"So I want to take lessons. I need to learn more theory." Teen Spirit said after a long pause.

Smartmom was elated. There is nothing better, she believes, than for an artist to recognize for himself that he needs more technique. Obviously, Teen Spirit knows why he needs to learn to read music and understand scales, and chords and key signatures, and all that. He's a little paralyzed without it. Sure he's got a great ear: but there's just so far you can go with a great ear. Yes, he's wildly musical: but he needs to be able to jam with ease.

Later that day, Smartmom and Hepcat went right to the source: Craig's List, and looked for a bass teacher in Park Slope. They found two and e-mailed them immediately. One of them got back to them right away. Teen Spirit starts his bass lessons right in the living room this Tuesday afternoon.

And so it begins. Teen Spirit is getting really serious. Doing what he needs to do.
Learning what he needs to know.

Cool.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

THE RELIGION THING

The religion thing. It nags at Smartmom: Nag, nag, nag. Especially during the Jewish high holy-days.

It's not like she grew up religious or anything. Hers was a secular Jewish upbringing on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. In other words, she was brought up by atheist Jews who were, nonetheless, very committed to their Jewish heritage.

That meant Passover seders and the occasional trip to a synagogue for a service or a Bar Mitzvah. When Smartmom was ten years old, her parents decided that she and her sister needed to go to Sunday school. Her parents wanted to "give 'em some of that old time religion," she guesses. .

Whatever. It seemed hypocritical to Smartmom. And yet, it was probably a good experience even if they weren't happy about it.

Having to go to Sunday school meant no more Sunday morning bike rides in Central Park a cherished weekly family activity. Biking to the Sheep's Meadow, the Bandshell, the boathouse was one of the great pleasures of Smartmom's youth. Sitting in the basement of a synagogue discussing anti-semitism and Zionism was not.

They dropped out after a year.

And yet. And yet. Since childhood, Smartmom yearned for a spiritual connection. For reasons she still doesn't really understand, she wanted to fast on Yom Kippur, to eat only matzoh during the 8 days of Passover, to see the Hanukkah candles glow night after night. She once kissed a Bible after it fell on the floor.

Smartmom believe it was some sort of spiritual connection she was after. No doubt she felt exceedingly Jewish and exceedingly connected to the history and the culture. But she wanted more. And as a parent, Smartmom has struggled to instill a sense of Jewishness in her inter-faith children. She has tried to give them a real sense of their roots, their history, their connection to Judaism.

And she has suceeded to some extent. While her kids do celebrate Christmas with their Presbyterian relatives out in California, they also celebrate many Jewish holidays with their Jewish relatives in New York. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. They know that she meditates daily: a practice she values deeply; they have grown used to the small Buddha figurines around the apartment and her Tibetian singing bowls. This will either create great confusion or a multi-cultural melange that will be quite valuable.

Smartmom has never really found what she was looking for or an institutional religious environment she felt comfortable in. And oy has she tried. Over the last many years, she has been wandering Jew on the high holy days, going from one synogogue to the next, seeking an environment for her and her family that she wanted to make a commitment to.

But still, something keeps Smartmom from being anything more than a high holy-day Jew. That's when the urge hits her: Nag. Nag. Nag. She never makes plans in advance reservations. But she usually finds herself on the eve of Yom Kippur racing off to a Kol Nidre service somewhere. It's her favorite service of all -- for the music and the solemn, deep spirit of the evening.

The ritual of atonement seems essential to her. To take stock of the past year and atone (if not to God, then to herself) for what she is not proud of. It's such an important way to start the year; to help yourself grow as a human being.

So this Wednesday night as usual, Smartmom felt the urge to participate. She thought about it on and off all day and at 7 p.m., she googled Kolot Chayenu and found out that the Kol Nidre service was set to begin at 7:30.

Kolot Chayenu is a progressive Park Slope congregation of 250 members which bulges to such a big size on the high holydays, that they rent the Mission for Today Church on Sixth Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets right around the corner from Smartmom's apartment.

Fortunately, OSFO wanted to come along and they dressed up and ran over there in a teeming rain. They got there just as the service was beginning and saw a lot of people they knew; there was a warm and familiar feeling in the room. They were lucky enough to find a seat in the last rown right behind a pillar. Still they were able to hear the cantor's beautiful voice. There were other singers, as well as a violinist and a clarinet player.

OSFO got antsy about an hour and a half into the service; it was uncomfortable sitting on Smartmom's lap. Last year she lasted the full three hours. Smartmom didn't get to hear the most beautiful and moving part of the music, but she enjoyed what she heard and, as usual, she was glad to be there.

This year, as usual, Smartmom felt part of and not part of the service at Kolot Chaynu. I guess that's how she takes her Judaism. She is comfortable with marginality: that sense of belonging and not belonging (how Jewish) at the same time. Something compels her to connect with her fellow Jews on this night so that she can hear the stirring melody of Kol Nidre. Even if it means racing out of the apartment just minutes before the service: something compels her to belong.

SPAMMERS BE DAMNED

In the months that Smartmom has been away from Blogger, the spammers have come out in droves. They've taken over. They're ruining the blogosphere.

Less than a year ago, blogger felt like a giant and wonderful global vilage. It was so wholesome, so sweet, so friendly.

Now, these bloggers are using the lingo of blogging to get their stupid commercial messages across. "Hey I like your blog. Check out..."

Such crap. You get excited about having a comment and then BOOM. The comment has nothing at all to do with your site, nothing at all to do with your post, nothing at all to do with anything but CRAP.

Smartmom is disappointed that something so great has been co-opted so quickly. So nu? What else is new?

Of course, there are measures that one can take to banish those dreadful SPAMMERS. For now anyway. And Smartmom has finally taken them. You better believe she has.

The spammer problem isn't as extreme on Typepad, where Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn lives. However, OTBKB, doesn't get the personal, daily comments that Third Street did. It's a different kind of blog.

Smartmom says: "I don't want no friggin dog collectibles, wedding crap, and whatever stupid stuff you want to sell. Get away from here." It's like a nasty dog showin up in her garden. She just wants to kick it and tell it to: "GET AWAY FROM HERE! GO!"

It seems like years since Smartmom wrote THE GLOBAL BLOGGAGE, a post which celebrated the Blogosphere as a place where people could express themselves so freely: Calling out into the big, existential void: IS ANYONE LISTENING. HELOOOOOOOO.

Well, people were listening. A circle of really special bloggers came to visit Third Street. People from all over the world. It was a really special time. And the Blogsphere is still a wonderful thing.

If it weren't for those damn spammers.

But now these spammers - little robots that attack Blogger blogs, are everywhere. It is rampant.

Monday, October 10, 2005

DUCKY'S ARRIVAL AND THE OTHER SHOE DROPS

Ducky arrived in Brooklyn on August 28th. Smartmom was in California but on the phone with Groovy Aunt from the minute the plane touched down at Kennedy.

A few days later, when Smartmom and family returned from California, they went straight over to Groovy Aunt's to see the little red head. Nothing prepared them for her beautiful smile, her bright eyes, the cute way she sucks her thumb.

Yeah, they'd seen pictures. But seeing her in person was altogether different.

Right away, OSFO got in the crib with Ducky. Their bond was immediate. For the next few days, OSFO was at Groovy Aunt's side almost constantly helping her feed Ducky, pushing Ducky on a swing at the Third Street Playground, dressing her in all her adorable outfits, even watching her be diapered(though OSFO found that to be quite "gross").

It was immediately obvious to Smartmom that her niece was an exceptional child. Smartmom was smitten with instant love for this bright-eyed, world class smiler. She watched each day as she adapted to life in Brooklyn and made huge developmental leaps literally overnight. Smartmom also enjoyed being the elder statesmen of mothering. She gave her sister all kinds of tips, how-to's, this-might-be-of-help-type instructions.

Soon, however, it became clear that Gfoovy Aunt had pretty much figured mothering out on her own and was intimately attuned to just about all of Ducky's needs.

OSFO couldn't stop talking about Ducky. "Isn' she cute?" "Don't you just love her?"

The other shoe did drop about a week after OSFO and Ducky met. It was just a matter of time. OSFO got angry and jealous in spite of the fun she was clearly having around the baby. "Why are people only interested in Ducky?" or "Why is everyone talking about Ducky?"

No amount of, "You're such a wonderful cousin," or "You're such a big help." could quell OSFO's feeling of having been replaced by this 20-pound attention snatcher.

It occurred to Smartmom that maybe she had gone a little overboard in her reaction to Ducky's arrival. For days, they did little else but spend time at Groovy Aunt's or talk about Ducky. When they weren't with Ducky, Smartmom was putting together a 'baby brag book' of over 20 pictures of Ducky: Ducky in the garden, Ducky in her room, Ducky in her stroller, Ducky in a swing.

Smartmom showed it to everyone she ran into on Seventh Avenue. "Have I shown you my pictures of my new adopted niece?" she said. OSFO would just roll her eyes. "Come on mommy," she'd say.

Plainly, OSFO was going through a 'What Am I, chopped liver?' phase. And while her Aunt (and her mom) were still paying plenty of attention to her, it didn't feel like enough. Nothing was enough. Nothing. It felt that bad.

Groovy Aunt even managed to spend some time alone with OSFO, which helped a bit. But nothing really made the pain go away and more than a few visits ended with OSFO in tears. "Nobody is paying attention to me. I hurt myself and no one cared," she'd say rubbing an imaginary bruise on her knee. She even said that she hated Ducky and wished that she would go back to Russia.

Well the worst of that has passed. The turning point was the day OSFO and Smartmom babysat for Ducky. Being with Ducky without Groovy Aunt made it easier for OSFO to enjoy Ducky and it cemented the bond between them. When Groovy Aunt was around, OSFO had a tough time focusing on the baby because she was so busy feeling deprived of Groovy Aunt's attention.

That day, OSFO and Ducky had a wonderful time playing on the bed and crawling down the hallway together. OSFO even fed Ducky two containers of O'Baby banana yogurt. "You have to feed her really fast," OSFO told her downstairs neighbor as she expertly shoveled spoonfuls into Ducky's waiting mouth. "She got used to eating really fast at the orphanage. That's why she gets hiccups a lot."

It feels like Ducky has been here for ages. Amazing how she's become a regular part of everyone's life now. It a constant source of joy for Smartmom to see Groovy Aunt with her baby: pushing the stroller on Seventh Avenue or holding her in her lap at Connecticut Muffin, it's so nice to see a dream come true. And what a dream she is.

Friday, July 29, 2005

TRANSITIONS

Groovy Aunt and Bro-in-Law are off to Russia next week to get Ducky. It's been a long road but it looks like they will have their Ducky home by September 1st.

Excited and overwhelmed sums up Groovy Aunt's mood. Getting visas, airplane and hotel reservations, more doctor's letters. There's lots to do before the trip but Groovy Aunt seems to be taking it in stride. She's got her eye on the prize: Ducky will be in Brooklyn soon.

OSFO can't stop thinking about Ducky. Or more to the point, can't stop wanting to buy things for her new cousin. "Hey, these pink shoes will match those pants we got her." she said as we walked into Peek-a-Boo Kids earlier today. "Ducky doesn't have rain boots. She's gonna need these." she says holding bright red Wellies in her hands. "Look, Ducky and I can dress alike. They've got a party dress in her size and my size."

And on and on.

Smartmom is really curious how it will really be for OSFO when Ducky arrives. This is a major transition. When Groovy Aunt got married, it was a real adjustment for Teen Spirit and OSFO. Prior to her marriage, Groovy Aunt was available 24/7; she slept over all the time and particpated in many activities. After her marriage things changed a bit.

OSFO still gets upset when Groovy Aunt has to go back to her apartment. "You always have to go home to cook dinner for
Bro-in-Law," she'll cry as she clings to Groovy Aunt's arm. "Why can't you sleep over?"

So you can imagine what's ahead. Groovy Aunt's is bound to be preoccupied with her Ducky. It's gonna take a lot of getting used to. For both of them. OSFO is sure to feel that she's been replaced and will most likely experience moments of anger, even rage.

And jealousy. And jealousy. Imagine Groovy Aunt holding Ducky in her arms and kissing her big cheeks. And more: OSFO won't be the youngest in the family anymore. That will take some getting used to. All eyes will be on Ducky for a while and that's going to be hard to take.

And what kind of playmate will Ducky be? OSFO is probably fantasizing that Ducky will be the best playmate in the world. Wait til she finds out that she's just a one-year-old baby who may not be interested in doing what she wants to do.

There will be trouble ahead: you can bank on it. But Smartmom knows that OSFO will adjust. And having a new cousin will be worth the trouble.

Change is hard for everybody. Groovy Aunt and Bro-in-Law are on the verge of a huge change in their lives: they won't know what hit them. Whooosh. Good bye free time. Sleep. Quiet dinners. Movie nights. Time to think. For a while anyway.

Hello diapers, playdates and playgrounds. And loving someone more than you ever loved before. Welcome passion and fear and worry and protectivness.

OSFO's world is also about to change, too. So is Smartmom's. She's been the sister with kids for so long. And Groovy Aunt has been the Groovy Aunt. Everyone is going to have to adjust to their new roles, their new identities.

It's going to be an interesting time for everyone.

Monday, July 25, 2005

DAY CAMP FOR OSFO

OSFO is loving day camp and that's a good thing. At the beginning of the summer OSFO was anti-camp. She tried a day camp two years ago and said, "Never again," It was a gymnastics day camp and OSFO had big expectations: she probably expected to spend the entire day jumping on a trampoline and doing cartwheels.

Turns out, the kids had to do quite a bit of exercise in the morning. Warm ups. And OSFO wasn't too crazy about THAT. One time they went to a public pool on Douglas Street in Brooklyn and OSFO claims the water was really, really shallow: "Two feet high, Mom. Not so great for swimming." She didn't much like the kids either.

Okay, okay. Smartmom let OSFO quit after a week and OSFO happily hung around the house. Smartmom tried not to think about the hundreds of dollars wasted.

Last summer, day camp was, of course, out of the question. OSFO and Smartmom spent afternoons at the pool in the Mariott Hotel in downtown Brooklyn, where they enjoyed the sauna, the whirlpool, and a chance for OSFO to take swimming lessons.

As this summer approached, Smartmom wasn't sure what OSFO would be up for. When Smartmom found a chess camp at a place called "Let's Play Chess," a small storefront on Fourth Avenue between 8th and 9th Streets, she was surprised when OSFO said yes. For three intensive hours a day, it was chess, chess, and more chess.Smartmom signed OSFO up for one week as an experiment and the "anti-camper" seemed to enjoy it. But Smartmom only paid for one week - she wasn't going to get burned again.

At the end of the week, the teacher gave OSFO a trophy because "she improved the most of everybody this week." That was a big thrill. But there were no girls at the chess camp and just a group of slightly hyperactive boys. OSFO was itching to hang out with girls and to go swimming.

That's when she asked if she could join her best friend at a camp called Kim's Kids where they do swimming, hiking, and special trips.

"But you hate day camp," Smartmom said. "I know. But I want to try this one," OSFO replied. "Well, if I'm going to pay the money, you have to promise not to quit. You have to make an effort to like it," Smartmom said firmly. "I will," OSFO said.

Smartmom had to jump over hoops to get OSFO into Kim's Kids, which is run by a fifth grade teacher at PS 321 who really knows what he's doing. But Smartmom being Smartmom was able to do it. She begged, she pleaded, she filled out the forms and handed over a check for $475 dollars.

After the first day at Kim's Kids, Smartmom knew it was a go. "It was great!" OSFO exclaimed, still wet from the beach with swatches of sunburn under her eyes. "And my counselor is really pretty," she added. All the kids look exhausted but like they had enjoyed themselves. Smartmom knew it was the kind of camp that even a avowed "anti-camper" like OSFO could enjoy.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

OUT FOR A WALK, BACK IN A JIFFY

On Friday night, Teen Spirit decided to stay up all night. Just for fun. It wasn't like he was gallavanting around Park Slope or running with a wild crowd. He was home and just decided to see what it was like to stay up all night.

Smartmom knew nothing about this until 9 a.m. the next morning. When she woke up, she found a note on the dining room table that said: Out for a walk. Back in a jiffy! It was signed Teen Spirit with a wacky smiley face.

Smartmom didn't know what to make of it at first. She looked around and was relieved to find Teen Spirt in the living room sitting on one end of the couch, OSFO on the other. "I stayed up all night..." he said openly. Smartmom held up the note. There was no need to ask any questions. "Oh, I went to the park at 6 a.m. I was swinging on a swing. I watched the dog walkers. It was very calm."

Okay. Weird. He's home safe. Thoughts bounced through Smartmom's mind.

OSFO said she was telling Teen Spirit the story of when Smartmom was a 10-year-old girl and she and BEST AND OLDEST had a secret club called S.U.A.N. or the Stay Up All Night Club. One night, they did indeed stay up all night and at 6 a.m. or so they left a note saying that they were going to Herman's Toys and Stationers on Broadway to buy some pencils. Instead, they went to a 24-hour market on Broadway called Merit Farms, bought some fried chicken, and had breakfast in Riverside Park. After their little picnic sitting on a rock in the park, they walked down Riverside Drive and saw Smartmom's Dad leaning out the window nine stories up. "Oh there's my dad," Smartmom said. "He doesn't look happy." He screamed at them to come home. His arm waved angrily.

"I knew that story before you were even born," Teen Spirit told OSFO. At which point, Smartmom chimed in: "So, I see you're a member of S.U.A.N. now?"

But really she was concerned and deeply curious about what he was really doing out in the park at six in the morning. She wasn't ready for a big speech and a reprimand, it was too early in the morning for that. She did say something like: "The park is too dangerous to be out there in the morning." To which he replied, "But it was filled with dogwalkers..."

It's a strange thing being the mother of a teen. Sometimes Smartmom just don't know what to say or do. Hepcat and SM plan to have a talk with Teen Spirit today. A long talk. There are a lot of rules that need to be set down. Rules they didn't even know they had to set down. Who knew that "Don't take walks at 6 a.m. in the morning" was something that had to be said. Teen Spirit is crossing all kinds of lines. Not in the obvious ways. But he's doing it just the same.

Book Tag from Little Light

Smartmom is coming back to Blogspot. And this seemed a good place to start. These kind of things usually drive Smartmom crazy. But for some reason, it was pretty easy this time. She just put down what came to mind. No big statements intended or attempts at self-identification. No showing off. Just what came to mind...There are some darn good books mentioned here.

Stay tuned for more tales of OSFO, Teen Spirt, Hepcat and Smartmom....

1. How many books have you owned?
Too many.

2. What was the last book you bought?
Collected Prose by Paul Auster

3. What was the last book you read? All the way through?
City of Glass by Paul Auster

4. What are FIVE books that have meant a lot to you?
Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism by Gershom G. Scholem
The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt
Herzog by Saul Bellow
Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
New House by Marc Kaminsky


5. What books should others read:
For the Relief of Unbearable Urges by Nathan Englander
The Architect of Desire by Suzanne Lessard
The Liberated Bride by A.B. Yehoushua
Age of Iron by J.M Coetzee
Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

Tag you're it:
Udge
Red Eft
Hepcat (He can publish his here).
Mamainwaiting

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

GROOVY AUNT MEETS DUCKY

Groovy Aunt and Bro-in-Law flew to Moscow on Saturday. They spent two days sightseeing in Moscow and then flew to Perm, two hours by plane from Moscow. After driving 2 1/2 hours from Perm to the orphanage in the countryside, Groovy Aunt finally met Ducky (her real name is Svetlana), the little girl she is going to adopt. What a journey it's been. Here is an excerpt from an e-mail Groovy Aunt sent Smartmom:

We went to the orphanage today to meet Svetlana. It was all a blur. We drove 2 1/2 hours on country roads that look like New England - Arrived at the "Children's Home" around 1pm - We met with the doctor and a social worker. It was quite intense. She basically went over all the information we already had

And then they brought her in. She's really cute. Very calm and serene, but also alert and liked playing with the toys. Her hair is definitely red. although he doesn't have much of it at the moment. She still has those big cheeks. We gave her some of the toys we brought and she enjoyed them a lot, and seemed very engaged in play. She also liked when I read the book that you gave me. The one about daddy. I held her for a long time. Meanwhile, we were trying to take her picture for Dr. A. and fill out that Denver questioniare. It was all really crazy, but also special and unique. I felt close to her.

She sucks her thumb, by the way - and starts crying when her thumb leaves her mouth. She also has a cold and possible bronchitis. The orphanage is fairly clean, and not too depressing. It is in an old building with murals and art on the walls. We didn't see any other children. They let us be with her in the music room - Apparently, she likes music although I didn't try serenading her on the piano. Some of the toys I brought make noises which she seemd to enjoy. I didn't really get her to smile. She kind of looks at me quizzically...

The pictures for Dr. A. didn't come out right so we'll have to take them again tomorrow. Svetalan has a nice young caregiver named Oksana - very sweet and pretty girl. After about an hour, they took her for her nap and we left. We gave them all the gifts and they seemed rather overwhelmed. It was a nice feeling. When we got into the car, jeff and I slept all the way back to Perm. It has been an exciting and frightening day. My mouth got incredibly dry when entering the orphanage. It is all strange and wonderful. I definitely feel like I'm lost in translation.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The In-between Moments

The 25th anniversary of Smartmom's college graduation is coming up this June. It's hard to believe it's been 25 years since the day the great I.F. Stone, that iconoclastic journalist and critic of the Cold War, McCarthyism, and the Vietnam War, spoke to her class of 1980 at SUNY Binghamton.

She can't remember a word he said but she does remember that his commencement speech was quite long and characteristically controversial, as it elicited boos from some parents in the audience. Their reaction disgusted and embarassed her.

Smartmom's twin sister, Groovy Aunt, went to a different college so Smartmom hasn't a clue who spoke at her graduation because their graduations were on the same day. Groovy Grandma went to Smartmom's graduation, while Groovy Grandpa went to Groovy Aunt's. They were divorced so it was probably better than way.

While Smartmom is not sure if she will be attending her 25th reunion in October, Groovy Aunt is planning to go to hers. She got a questionaire in the mail that asked something like: "So, what have you been doing since graduation?"

To Smartmom, it seemed like a horrendous exercise in personal reductiveness. A friend who went to college with Groovy Aunt said she took one look at that questionaire and knew that she was incapable of filling it out. "I'm having a mid-life crisis, I wasn't going to sit there and do it," she said.

Those kind of reunion questionaries invite boasting, whether it's about your spouse, children, career, or creature comforts. You feel like you've really gotta impress all those people you went to college with: Look how great my life is. Look at my kids. Look where I live. Look at my degrees. Look at my job. Look how much money I make!

But still, it got Smartmom thinking: WHAT have I been doing since the day I.F. Stone spoke to my class in the Broome County Arena? What fabulous resume can I whip out to impress my peers, what personal biographical detail will just wow them all....

Hmmmm.

Well...

Ahhhh....

Seriously, how does one honestly characterize a quarter century of one's life? Is it all really just a list of degrees, courses, jobs, projects, addresses, and names. Are we nothing more than our resumes?

What about the interstitial life - the life that goes on between the lines of all the other stuff. The little discoveries we make about ourselves; the conversations we have with friends on the phone; the surprising moments we have with our children on the way to the store; an inside joke told over and over; the words of a wise therapist; getting proposed to at Two Boots Restaurant on Avenue A; an ephiphanic walk across the Brooklyn Bridge; stopping at the National Poultry Museum while driving through Kansas; hearing Caetano Veloso and Ornette Coleman in concert and Patti Smith at CBGB's ; a memorable meal in a small Tuscan town; Teen Spirit and OSFO's first words...

What of the life we live concurrent to the resume life. The life of our hearts, our minds, our sensations? Our attempts to just BE.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Mother and Son

Smartmom popped out of bed at 1 a.m. hearing noises, thinking there was a burglar in the apartment. She tiptoed down the hall and realized it was Teen Spirit awake in the living room, listening to music on his iPod and absentmindedly clapping his hands. He looked appropriately tired for the early morning hour.

"Hi mom. Can I have something to eat?" Teen Spirit asked.
"Make it yourself," Smartmom snapped. Happy to see him, annoyed by the question.

She sat down at her computer and her son sat down at his - he checking his favorite Internet comics, she fiddling with her blog: OTBKB.

Eventually, he cajoled her to make him a bowl of Ramen.

"My throat hurts. I had a coughing fit earlier. Didn't you hear it?"

Lately, Teen Spirit vascilates between insolent and incredibly loving. One minute sharing a confidence, the next pushing his Smartmom away. It can be quite painful.

So this Mother's Day Smartmom is filled with questions about what it means to be the mother of a teenage boy. Will Teen Spirit continue with this push/pull? Or will he want nothing to do with her soon? Stay tuned.

Smartmom suspects that this too shall pass. How often has she said that to herself in the last fourteen years? Teen Spirit has been through so many, in retrospect, short- lived phases: Waking up many times in the night as a newborn. Teething. Finger sucking. Potty training. Tantrums. Night Terrors. Homework struggles. Power stuggles.

This is, no doubt, just the latest in a long line of developmental passages. But it ain't always easy.

This past year has seen such an explosion of identity in Teen Spirit.

His new style: black jeans, dark t-shirt (no stripes anymore, he said), brown leather jacket.

His hair: Long, stringy, a little rock n' roll. In his eyes like Violet in "The Incredibles."

His artwork: Notebooks filled with sophisticated cartoons, evolving characters. working ceaselessly to teach himself shading and other drawing skills.

His music: Playing bass with his band, Cool and Unusual Punishment has become a central focus over the last six months or so.

His interests: Nieztsche and Chinese history, Family Guy and National Public Radio. He's even started reading the New York Times and the articles, not just the cartoons, in the New Yorker.

Smartmom finds herself wanting more from him: more details, more information, more conversations like the conversations they used to have all the time. She cherishes her confidential chats with OSFO about her social life, her feelings, her fears. She worries that she won't be having those with Teen Spirit anymore.

So sitting at their computers in close proximity in the dining room, Smartmom and Teen Spirit share an uneasy hour in the middle of the night. She the intruder who makes Ramen, he the i-pod listening, cartoon artist drawing with his stylus pen

He thanks Smartmom profusely for the bowl of Ramen and immediately goes back to his music, to making his art.

He has bigger fish to fry than talking to his mom. Even on the eve of Mother's Day.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Note to Readers

Smartmom has been really busy over at the new place: Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn. So she's been slow to update Third Street. She apologizes to her friends and readers and hope they'll keep on coming to Third Street anyway.

Smartmom still loves it over here at blogger. And the Third Street site really means a lot to her. Heck, this is where she "met" Udge, 32 Poems, Ellswhere, Savta Dotty, Unenchanted Rant and all her other blogger friends. And old face to face friends like Oswegatchie and Laments of the Unfinished have their blogs on Blogspot, too.

Blogger is where Smartmom discovered her inner-blogger. It's where it all began. So she has no intention of abandoning her roots, as it were.

Third Street has a very different feeling from OTBKB. It's Smartmom's personal place to really vent and share what she feels, what she sees, what she observes about this life.

All of this is Smartmom's way of saying: Keep on reading while things are in transition and Smartmom finds the time to spend some time here. At this point, she is mostly re-working posts from OTBKB - but that's just for the time being.

So keep visiting: it would mean a lot to her. It really, really would.

See below for a bunch of new posts...

The House That Jonathan Bought

Smartmom has actually been inside the house. The house that authors Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss are buying for $6.75 million. It was on the Park Slope House Tour years and years ago. As everyone knows, those house tours are a form of real estate porn. You get to be a voyeur, to see what it looks like inside those houses you walk by day after day. Fantasies abound as you pass. Ah the envy, the longing, the sense that such wonderful lives are lived beyond the stoops of those brownstone and limestone glories.

It's a nice house the house they're buying. And not only that: the yard goes from Second Street all the way to Third Street. That's right. It includes the empty lot you pass when you're walking to Prospect Park on Third Street (close to PPW). The current owners keep their SUV in the vacant garden lot and they have a fancy wood playground set there. Every time Smartmom and OSFO walk by, OSFO invariably says: "I really, really want to try that playground one day. There's no-one ever in there." And then I have to explain that it is not a public playground but a private yard for a boy and a girl who never use their fantastic playground equipment.

The thought just baffles OSFO's mind. Smartmom figures that they're at their Hamptons beach house most weekends so they just don't have the time to use that glorioius playground that OSFO wants to try.

The house on Second Street that the Foer-Krauss' are buying is super deluxe; a to-die for brownstone. The decor, however, is ugly, ugly ugly. Overdone wall treatments, expensive appliances, bad art. Way too much money combined with way too little taste. That was Smartmom's feeling, anyway. But the house has what you call great bones. Really fantastic bones, she would say and lots of historic detail. Smartmom would be MORE than happy to live there. And so would you.

But that yard. It's a yard where a house might be. It is so super duper luxurious to have all that space. In Brooklyn. What a garden it could be. What flowers. Trees.

Smartmom is kind of excited about Jonathan and Nicole moving there. I bet they're going to do wonderful things to that house; big, comfortable writing rooms, a library or two with shabby chic sofas, no doubt. A voluptuous living room, an inviting kitchen with a view of their gigantic backyard.

She's glad that place is going to a couple of talented writers - maybe they'll even use their gigundo backyard. It'll be great for daydreaming, star gazing the Brooklyn sky, and hours and hours spent reading on a hammock.

That's what Smartmom would do.

Brooklyn Backlash

As she usually does, Smartmom read with interest Bob Morris' weekly column in the Style section of the New York Times: "The Age of Dissonance." This week's really hit home. Titled, "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" he opened with the revelation that local literary luminary (a dime a dozen around here) just sold one Park Slope House for more than $3 million and bought another one for $6.75 million.

"Maybe Brooklyn can finally stop the need to promote itself as some kind of hip equal to Manhattan. Here is a loaded celebrity author who could afford to buy anywhere - who doesn't have children who would need extra bedrooms and a yard - and he has chosen Brooklyn over Manhattan."

He goes on to say: "Paying $6.75 million to live a half-hour subway ride from Greenwich Village. That tells the world that you're not an outskirt. You're a mecca."

At this point in her reading, Smartmom's blood pressure is rising. And the quote from Marcellus Hall, the illustrator of the New Yorker cover that got Marty Markowitz schvitzing all over the letters from readers page of that tony publication, really pissed h er off: "It's all just insecurity."

Who says that Brooklynites would rather be living in Manhattan? Smartmom is born and bred Manhattanite - grew up on Riverside Drive no less and she chose to be here. Granted, she was priced out of Manhattan back in 1991 - but that's besides the point. She didn't know better. She thought she was settling when she was actually doing something better. And that doesn't come from insecurity.

Every choice comes with a price. Sure, Brooklyn is half-hour away from the village, forty-five minutes to Chelsea, and an hour door-to-door to the Upper West Side. But so what?

As Morris says, Brooklyn has become a world-class mecca, a destination not a place to escape from (as it was for Groovy Grandma's generation). She always said, "Growing up in Brooklyn makes you an over achiever. You have to cross the bridge."

Teen Spirit and OSFO aren't itching to escape from Brooklyn the way Groovy Aunt's generation was. They love it here and they know it has a great deal to offer. They don't feel gipped that they're not in Manhattan. They know they're living in one of the great communities in America.

And that doesn't come from insecurity, Marcellus Hall! That comes from a wholehearted appreciation of a really special place.

Real Estate Blues

It keeps coming up again and again. In conversations on Seventh Avenue, on the radio, in the local media. It's definititely on Smartmom's mind: the reality that New York City has become a rich person's town. If you don't make a gazillion dollars a year, you can't live here anymore. Well, you can live here - but you can't buy a house or an apartment where you wanna be. Those who have chosen career paths far away from Wall Street - in the arts or in the non-profit sector - are being squeezed out of this city.

Smartmom finds herself feeling marginalized even in her own neighborhood where real estate is on everyone's lips. It hurts to have been one of the early settlers in Park Slope and to feel like there's no place left for me.

Back in '91, when Smartmom moved here, she and Hepcat were priced out of Manhattan. She , for one, had to be dragged kicking and screaming to their first apartment on Fifth Street. You see, they needed three bedrooms because they had a new baby, a boy who is now nearly 14 years old. Their needs exceeded what they could afford and find on the other side of the river. They didn't buy because they weren't even sure if they were going to like it here. It was Brooklyn afterall.

But Brooklyn enchanted. The red brick, the brownstone, the afternoon light on the dogwood-lined streets really struck a chord with me. Smartmom fell in love with the scale of the neighborhood, its architectural integrity, its beauty.

So here they are all these years later: enthusiastic members of this community. They've had their financial ups and downs and downs but have still managed to make a satifactory life for ourselves. OSOF and Teen Spirit are in the local public schools, we're card-carrying members of the Park Slope Food Coop, and they buy most of their books at the Community Bookstore.

But times are a-changing here: Brooklyn is, once again, in transition. Only rich refugees from Manhattan can afford to buy a gorgeous limestone, or fill all those new condos along Fourth Avenue. Everything is up for grabs: Sunset Park, the Atlantic Rail Yards, Kensington, Fourth Avenue, that crazy garage on First Street and Fifth, the Gowanus. Everything that made this neighborhood special is now just a real estate developer's dream. It's a land grab out there and everyone's got a price, an offer they can't refuse.

Smartmom wishes she could say that they'd had the foresight to invest. Wish they'd had good real estate karma. But they don't and I guess it wasn't meant to be. And that makes her sad...

Smartmom never thought she'd say it, let alone think it: but even she, diehard New Yorker born and bred that she is, may be getting fed up with this town. Even Smartmom is losing her taste for a city that's built on greed.

All Along I Had What I Needed

After a weekend spent channeling Isadora Duncan, swimming like a dophin and yelping like a whale at a Berkshires retreat called "Coming Home to Your Heart," Smartmom took away a simple message

"All along I had what I needed. It was enough."

These words came out of her almost unconsciously as she recorded her thoughts on paper after waking from a dream. She wrote about the sense of scarcity that she feels in her life; it's a primal feeling she's carried with her for years. But it also connects to her fear of not being able provide for herself and her family - now and in the future. A common fear many of hold at this stage of life.

The anxiety, the sense that there isn't enough - money, time, space, talent, love, things, attention, goodness, nurturing. In so many ways she focuses on what she doesn't have.

Back in Brooklyn, Smartmom has been thinking about those words over and over. It's become her mantra as she goes about her business in the Slope - walking to the office, to the school, to meetings, to the gym, to the Park. What does it mean really? Or to be more exact: how many things does it mean?

"All along I had what I needed. It was enough."

This morning in the shower, Smartmom felt some of the fortifying solitude she felt during the silent breakfasts in the Berkshires. A revelation came to her: she could wake up just 15 minutes earlier each morning and be alone, shower luxuriously and meditate. She has the time that she needs. She just needs to use it.

On leaving for school with OSFO this morning, Smartmom couldn't find her keys. The usual panic set in. And no, they were not on the handy key hook that's right by the door. An hour later a neighbor called, "I have some keys, they may belong to you..." They were in her apartment all along: she'd left them on the stoop. All along she had what she needed...

And now, facing a congested day, Smartmom some calls, moved some appointments around and has made it possible to get done all the things that need to get done today.

"All along I had what I needed. It was enough."

Smartmom is looking forward to discovering all the things that means.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Smartmom escaped Park Slope for the weekend and everyone seems to have survived in her absence. Hepcat was telling those who asked that she was off being a goddess, dancing in a barn

Not far from the truth. But not quite.

Suffice it say, it was a "mindful" weekend with plenty of rest, quiet, inspiration and the good company of a small group of interesting women. It was, to say the least, fortifying.

Smartmom can't pinpoint what she appreciated most about her retreat in the Berkshires. But boy did she liked those "silent breakfasts."

Smartmom slept in a room with rustic, antique furniture in the book-filled Race Brook Lodge, a 200 year old post and beam barn at the base of the Taconic Mountain range. She woke up with no one waking her, no sleeping child beside her, nothing to do for anyone else but her.

Each morning, Smartmom got to spend an hour or so simply getting ready for her day: showering, meditating, writing down my dreams, thoughtfully putting on her clothes, brushing her hair...

She found that in the quiet, she could easily remember her dreams, and spend time contemplating them. Sometimes it took 20 minutes or more, but details came back to her: little by little voices and images came to consciousness as she quietly began her day.

At 8 a.m., she went downstairs to the sunny breakfast room. Everyone in her group was quiet, sitting at tables reading, writing, eating and drinking coffee or tea alone. There was delicious food to choose from: fresh fruit salad, homemade muffins, bagels, eggs, cheeses, cereals, muesli, orange juice, cranberry juice, water, Stonybrook yogurt - you name it.

Smartmom selected her breakfast with great care, trying a little bit of many things and sat by her self, smiling, nodding hello to her fellow retreaters as they came into the room.

The silence was anything but awkward. It was required, which made it easy, so easy. It seemed completely natural and such a soothing way to begin.

At 9 a.m. the retreaters walked up to the barn, a huge open space with enormous windows framing the woodsy view, the brook outside. Overhead, there were huge white Japanese lanterns. No longer silent, some talked, some stretched, some read or wrote in their journals.

When it came time for the dance to begin, they got into a circle, put their right hand over left, held hands with those to either side and waitied for the music to begin.

And then, the group of ten women danced a simple Greek dance to the music of Nina Masouri - a soulful song with a heart wrenchingly beautiful melody.

Even this morning, back in Brooklyn, Smartmom can't get that song out of her head, or the simple steps out of her body. Nor would she want to.

Smartmom would love to try the silent breakfast approach around here. And a simple Greek dance before everyone goes out the door would be great way to begin their hectic days. But somehow, she doesn't think it's gonna work. Just don't think so...

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Sleeping Teens

Three teenage boys slept in Smartmom's living room on Sunday morning. God knows what time they actually fell asleep. One was sleeping on the couch, one in a sleeping bag on the floor, and Teen Spirit was squeezed into the red club chair, his legs hanging over the side, covered in his favorite blue comforter.

They were snoring, drooling, generally lost in sleep.

Smartmom went to bed around 11 p.m. and they were, of course, awake. She woke up a few hours later, maybe 1:30 a.m., and they were still up. She said something like, "You guys should really think about going to sleep. You must be tired." One of them, a tall redhead said, "We're teenagers, we never get tired." Red was listening to thrash metal music on an iBook, the other boy (Best Buddy) was noodling on an unplugged electric guitar, and Teen Spirit was reading a Japanese pulp classic called, "Battle Royale," which, he explained, is about a class of junior high school students who are taken to a deserted island, provided with arms and forced to kill one another.

The guys were together all day. They're in a band called "Cool and Unusual Punishment" and they were recording some songs onto Best Buddy's iBook over at Bed his apartment. They were particularly excited about a self-penned, acapella tune called: "Onomatopoeia."

Smartmom always knows when Teen Spirit wants a favor when he says, "Hi Mom," in a really cute English accent. When he called at 10 p.m. last night asking if his two friends could sleep over in the living room (because Teen Spirit's bedroom is too small for sleepovers), she didn't say no. "Why are you letting them sleep in the living room?" Hepcat screamed when he got home from a late night shopping trip. "I was planning on doing a lot of work in there." But what was done was done. It was a good opportunity for Hepcat to get a good night's rest for a chance.

Besides, the boys look so innocent when they're sleeping.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Dried Flowers

There's a woman on Smartmom's block who lost her husband last September. A small, stocky woman, she waddles a bit as she walks up Third Street. And she  looks like the loneliest person in the world.

Her husband was much taller than she, handsome, with a full white beard. Barrel chested, he always looked so robust. Smartmom was surprised one day when she saw him coming out of a yellow cab looking so weak, his wife had to help him out of the cab and over to their stoop. At first Smartmom thought the man might be his father. He looked exactly like her husband just much, much older.

Smartmom mentioned this to Hepcat and he said he knew something was wrong. He'd seen him talking to someone about selling the BMW motorcycle he kept in the front cement yard of their building. "That bike meant the world to him. I thought it was strange that he was selling it," Hepcat said.

They learned that he had cancer soon after from neighbors on the block. One day SM saw two of his sons sitting on the bench in their yard and somehow she knew.

Smartmom never knew him at all. She only observed his comings and goings on Third Street. But she liked him: the way he looked, the way he talked to his adult children, his friendly, deep-voiced hellos, the closeness he emanated with his wife. Smartmom guessed, in that way you conjecture about neighbors,  that they were longtime Park Slopers, progressives, political-types. Through their front window, there was evidence of a former hippie life - Indian-print fabric, abstract paintings, cermaics, stained glass. To Smartmom it brought to mind: civil rights, New York in the 1970's, "We Shall Overcome." 

Infused with grief, his wife looks lost, aimless, sad all the time now. She still smiles at Smartmom on Third Street. But they've never been in the habit to stop and talk. Besides Smartmom doesn't know what to say. Clearly, this woman is trying to find her bearings in a world without her bearded man. The other day Smartmom noticed a vase of dried out roses in her window.

It made her sad just to see them there.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Balabusta

It never ceases to amaze Smartmom how very connective the Internet is. She has "met" so many people through this blog.

Just today a woman from Chicago wrote to say that she'd like to use SM's "balabusta" poem as part of a wedding shower gift. She also wanted to know if SM had any other balabusta poems.

SM is delighted that this woman, a 67-year-old former English teacher at the University of Wyoming and Iowa State University, wants to use SM's poem as part of an elaborate shower gift she is giving to a colleague's daughter. SM is also incredibly impressed that she asked in the first place. That seemed pretty classy.

And no, SM doesn't have any more balabusta poems.

Balabusta is a Yiddish word that means terrific homemaker or super-efficient housewife. There's an exclamation in American Jewish that goes: "such a balabusta you are." It's something you would say after a wonderful and effortful meal. Or when admiring an immaculate apartment. 

SM also wondered how exactly this woman from Chicago found the poem in the first place - it appears on the Internet in two places, but still. So SM googled "Balabusta" but there was no link to it there.

Hepcat also known as Mr. Knowledgeable, suggested SM try "Balabusta Poetry" and lo and behold - there it was, number 2 on the google roster, which directs surfers to the Poetry Superhighway, where the poem was published in January 2005.

This Chicago woman and SM have exchanged a flurry of e-mails. She sounds very nice. She even asked about Hepcat's photography: "we are always looking for new talent for our publications," (she now works in public affairs, communications and fundraising for an environmental organization ).

Ooooh, SM thought, maybe something more will come of this connection. So she sent her a link to No Words_Daily Pix by Hugh Crawford because, as she said in her last post: "God works in mysterious ways."

Here is the poem that the woman from Chicago admired.

Yiddishe Mama

Such a balabusta
I am
bringing this tin
of homemade cookies

More fodder for
your extravagant elucidations
your theoretical be-bop

Chewing them slow
you savor the X-ray view
swallowing the id of me

Flavorful, rich
Freudian frosting
Purveyor of
phantasmic erogeny
and childhood suffering

I whipped up these
mnemonics of small
sweet longing
in my hot basement kitchen

For your plasir
and your analysis, of course

Sugar on your lips
you lean forward
eyes shut tight
receptor of
psychoanalytic radio signals

and riff radiantly on my
unconscious confections

Take them for what they are

my cookies
are yours

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Siblings-R-Us

Smartmom senses that her piece, "How the Other Half Lives" really hit a nerve. And she thought she was the only one with sibling issues. Hah.

It's nice to know (or sad to admit) that others have this kind of domestic rivalry with their siblings.

As rich as. As neat as. As talented as. As loved as... These are the questions that siblings grapple with endlessly.

It's the way of the world and unfortunately, sibling rivalry is a fact of life. Siblings compare themselves to each other in so many ways throughout their lives. Birth order and sibling competition can define people.

As babies - siblings fight over their parents love. As they grow older they measure, judge or elevate themselves based on the accomplishments of their siblings.

Here's what some of the readers of Third Street had to say:

From Udge:
"That sibling rivalry is quite a thing, isn't it? Watching my father and his brothers suggests that it nevers stops.

My sister's house is in a similar introspection-inducing relation to mine as MIW to yours: she has the knack of making a place that's truly "homey", whereas I just live somewhere. It is a style to which I could gladly aspire, but I am too messy to live it as she does, and I suspect that the non-mess is a large part of the success. I'll have to work on it."

From Red Eft:
I'm more of a HodgePodge Lodge sort myself. It's cozy.

From Little Light:
"It's funny how we all perceive what others have differently. My thought was that Mamainwaiting has all new things because they just got married and moved into that apartment. And of course, it's easier to keep a house cleaned with no children in it.

I think my situation is beyond comparing - my sister lives in a big, beautiful house in Iowa - I live in a 250 sq. foot studio in Manhattan - c'est la vie."

Even Groovy Aunt, pleased as she was to see a photo of her immaculate bedroom on the blog, shared her thoughts after reading Smartmom's piece.

"I enjoyed reading your impressions of our apartment and how we live - I don't think Bro-in-Law's closet is alphabetized, but I guess it might as well be ... I'm glad you enjoyed your stay and were also able to appreciate that there is no place like your own home."

Siblings are us. The only way to avoid these issues is to be an only child. And I'm afraid it's a little to late for that now. A little too late.

Living on the Street

Smartmom knows it's spring on Third Street when she sees her neighbor's faces for the first time in months. Last night before sunset, Third Streeters were out in force, sitting on the steps in front of their buildings, watching the kids play, seeing who was walking down the street.

And chit chatting.

On Third, Smartmom and her neighbors spend much of the warm months out on the street. The 8-unit limestone apartment buildings, of which there are ten or more, have these large, gated front yards that are perfect for hanging out.

Unlike those with brownstones, there are no backyards on Third Street, so Third Streeters do their outdoor sitting, eating, lounging, reading, watching our children play in plain sight. This adds a pleasant social element to their outdoor recreation. There's lots of spirited talking over the fence at passersbys. "Nice bike," someone might say to a neighbor's kid. Or "Is it possible that so and so is going to college. When we moved here he was just six."

On summer weekends, the people in Smartmom's building bring out canvas umbrella chairs, green plastic turtle-shaped pools and barbecues: they do a great imitation of suburbanites. They even have impromptu building-wide pot-luck barbecues, which include marshmallow roasts for the kids and lots of beer and wine. For the grown-ups.

"Anyone up for a barbecue?" is all it takes to motivate Smartmom's neighbors to check what's in the fridge and cook dinner outside.

For the next few days it'll be like old home week. If the weather stays warm, Smartmom and her street-neighbors will shoot the breeze with friends they haven't shot breezes with in ages due to cold weather and rain. Everyone will be in a slowed down, "isn't this a lovely day," kind of mood and they'll hear the latest news, all the Third Street gossip.

And they'll be out-of-doors for a change, back to living their lives out on the street near the window boxes and the garbage pails.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

How the Other Half Lives

Now Smartmom knows how the other half lives. Literally. Her other half. While their friends from Kingston slept in their apartment on Third Street, the Smartmom clan slept at her twin sister's a few blocks a way.

Groovy Aunt and Bro-in-Law, who were away for the weekend, have an immaculate place - no clutter, no mess. And everything is brand new - coffeemaker, televisions, stainless steel refrigerator, granite counters. It helps that they don't have kids yet (they're adopting a little girl from Russia in a few months) because they're both neatniks and everything has to be just so.

Much as Smartmom would love to live this way, it just doesn't seem possible in her apartment, with Hepcat and Teen Spirit and OSFO. Their pad is chock full of things - clothing, books, computer equipment, school papers, toys. They're four people with lots of combined interests, activities and STUFF.

Smartmom would be lying if she said she wasn't jealous of the way Groovy Aunt lives. It's so calming to be there. There's nothing to distract you from the lovely colored walls, the Arts and Crafts pottery, the framed prints on the wall, the view of Prospect Park out their window.

In this regard, Smartmom and Groovy Aunt more different. Or maybe they just made different choices. Groovy Aunt has always been the more visual one. Even in elementary school - she was the artist and Smartmom the musician (violin and later guitar) Now Groovy Aunt is in the film biz and Smartmom is writer. They've always staked out different areas to throw ourselves into. It was a coping strategy, a way not to step on each other's toes.

Their husbands are quite different, too. Hepcat is a lovable packrat with an inability to part with even the most mundane piece of paper. He collects cameras and computer equipment, books, and strange things like Greek diner coffee cups.

Smartmom's brother-in-law is compulsively neat. His closet says it all: suits, shirts, pants and ties are arranged in something akin to alphabetical order. He has not one, but two dressers full of perfectly folded clothing, and his shoes are lined up on the closet floor.

Suffice it to say, Hepcat has an very different approach to things.

Serenely elegant, Groovy Aunt and Bro-in-Law have a sumptuous brown leather couch, an entertainment armoire, built-in bookcases, a dining room set - it truly could be featured in a magazine. It's that nice.

To be honest, Smartmom's place is a little more rococo, decorated as it is with antique furniture handed down or found on the street. There are a few items, like the green leather sofa from Ikea, and the Noguchi coffee table, that they actually picked out and bought. It's a hodge-podge at best, a well-intended one, but a hodge-podge just the same.

So Smartmom spent the weekend comparing herself to Groovy Aunt; a natural thing for siblings to do. But it's not really all that fun as it bring up subtle shades of sibling rivalry. It wouldn't be that hard to redecorate, she kept thinking, to throw things away and organize what we have...

So despite the calming decor and the world's most comfortable bed, Smartmom didn't sleep that well at Groovy Aunts. The traffic noise on Prospect Park West and the rain on their bedroom air conditioner had her up at one-hour intervals. It's always strange sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, with unfamiliar noises.

Smartmom had to conclude that even if it's not quite right, there's no place like home. Simply because it belongs to you.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Visiting Brooklyn

Red Eft, Dadu and the family came down from Kingston for the weekend. They used to live in Park Slope so it's always nostalgic for them to revisit the neighborhood where they spent the first few years of their children's lives.

They moved almost exactly three years ago. It was in April and their friends gathered at Ozzies to say a noisy farewell just hours before they drove off in their overstuffed blue Volvo.

Over time, they created a new life for themselves in a yellow Victorian house on a grand, tree-lined street in a small upstate city.

It wasn't easy at first. They renovated their house and Dadu, a lifetime non-driver, had to learn how to drive. But eventually, they settled in and made friends through the strong homeschooling network in Ulster County, and the local Unitarian Church.

The kids thrived with a huge backyard and ample space for creative activities and imaginary play.  There's nothing like a house with two stairways to make a childhood fun, particularly for games of Hide and Seek.

Still, it's sad to have them so far away. And in some ways, they are still Brooklynites at heart. They miss the Food Coop, the Botanic Gardens, the street life, and the friends they made here when their children were small. The kids reconnect almost instantly. It's a raucous time - they seem to bring out the LOUD in each other.

As for the adults, the distance seems to have intensified the friendship and proved to  them all that it wasn't just being neighbors that pulled them together as friends.

Tomorrow they'll  do all their favorite Brooklyn things: lunch at the Taqueria, the Carousel in Prospect Park, First Night at the Brooklyn Museum, a visit with friends from pre-school, and a walk down Seventh Avenue just to see who they run into.

On Sunday, they'll go back up to Kingston restored by their weekend in Brooklyn. Filled up with the things that they miss the most, they'll return to the sane, non-Brooklyn life they've created in the new place they call home.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Waiting for Sonia

Once again, Groovy Aunt writes about what she is feeling on the long, windy road to adopting Sonia in Russia. My heart goes out to her: she has no idea what to expect and a deep longing to be with her adopted girl.

This adoption process has been far more stressful than I ever imagined. I didn't spend a whole lot of time deciding whether to adopt: my infertility treatments had failed and I was very, very sad. The whole experience had been very intense with many ups and downs - moments of hope followed by crashing disappointment and dispair. What I did know at the end of it was that I still wanted to be a mom and to create a family.

So adoption seemed like the logical next step. I knew there were many risks, but I did what I often do - I closed my eyes and dove in.

So here we are a little over a year later waiting to meet our Russian baby, Sonia. We have her photograph, which was taken when she was 3 months old. Now she is 8 months old. When we see her, she will look very different than she looks in her picture. I have no idea what to expect.

I met a nice woman who told me that she felt attached to her adopted daughter from the Ukraine the moment they met. And the little girl, whose name is Elana, almost immediately began to hang onto her and hasn't let go two years later.

There's lots to know about life in the orphanage. The children don't necessarily drink milk. And they eat very strange foods like fish soup every day. When we get Sonia, we'll have to be very sensitive to her diet and not introduce foods that she may not be used to like sugar or milk. Some of the childrens' eyes are very sensitive because they are not taken outside very often; Sonia may need to wear sunglasses when we go out to Prospect Park.

The woman also suggested that we introduce Sonia to Russian speaking people as a way to gage her orphanage experience. If she enjoys "talking" to the Russians, it means that she has fond memories of her time in the orphanage - if she recoils, then, perhaps, she does not. She also said we should start looking for a speech therapist because Sonia will most likely need one.

So there are a lot of things to think about. She also said that one of the first things we will probably do at the orphanage will be to read to Sonia because it helps the bonding process. She also said her daughter is so attached to her now it makes her laugh to think about all her worries about Attachment Disorder.

So what did I do? I went to Barnes & Noble and bought "Good night Moon" and "Pat the Bunny". I also bought some developmentally positive rattles and toys. I couldn't resist a cute pair of little, pink shoes called Robeez. These are the small things that are helping me prepare to be a mom - to assuage my worries and to imagine my new life.

Labor of Poetry

Smartmom edits Pandamonium, PS 321's poetry magazine, and it's mostly a labor of love. But it's also a bucket-load of work. Since 2001, she's headed up the team of parents who type, design, scan, proof read, edit and fundraise for the 70-page magazine, which features one poem from every child at the school; 1300 poems in all. It's nothing if not inclusive and that's what she loves most about it.

From pre-K to fifth grade, there's a wide range of subject matter, quality, and style. You can learn a little bit about the teachers through the poems their students write. Some classes produce lots of poems about "rain going pitter pat." Other teachers help kids dig deep for content and forms of expression.

There are so many interesting poems, it's hard to pick a few to mention here. Smartmom enjoyed a vivid poem about an asthma attack, a humorous piece about a boy not wanting to "practice, practice, practice" his horn, a sad poem about the divorce of a girl's parents, and one called: "When Alliteration Hits Me:"

When Alliteration hits me / I/ Marvel at Monkeys maliciously/Mashing Mangos making/Metropolitan Museum Mummies/Melancholy/When Aliteration hits me...

The end of March is always crunch time for Smartmom. She's been holed up in her office for the last five days doing a final proofing before sending the file to the printer. She feels like she's going blurry-eyed making sure that students' names are spelled correctly and that there are no typos or punctuation errors.

Much as she can't wait for this laborious task to be finished, she does enjoy these long days spent sitting on the floor in her office, reading the poetry of children. It is a rare chance to get inside their heads and find out what makes them tick. Like this excerpt from a poem by a fourth grader:

Me


Violet purple
sleeping flamingo pink
pony-tailed brown hair
dirty sand brown eyes

My hometown Brooklyn
Florida, I come from
Jamaica, I come from
Barbados, I come from
Africa, I come from

but love is what I have

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Rainbow

Hepcat's aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer not long ago. A school teacher in Northern California, she is a bright, shining person full of life and love. A widow since the early 1980's, she is no stranger to life's difficulties. But she is a great person with a great disposition, two loving children and three beautiful grandchildren.

Hepcat's Aunt and Smartmom have always had a special connection. They see each other no more than once or twice a year depending on the frequency of family events, celebrations, and meetings when Smartmom is out in California. She visited New York City over 14 years ago and they had fun painting the town together.

Smartmom and Hepcat's Aunt have been e-mailing eachother quite a bit of late. Just yesterday she sent Smartmom this missive.

"God sent me a rainbow this morning! Just after daybreak, as I walked (for the first time in a long time) with my dear friend, Sally, we saw a trace of a rainbow, down low in the west. Then, suddenly, arched across the WHOLE SKY, we were looking at the most magnificent, incredible, awesome rainbow either of us has ever seen....all 180 degrees of it.....breathtakingly brilliant.........and I knew right then that this was MY rainbow - my own personal, private rainbow - filled with God's glorious promise of hope. I'll carry that hope in the memory of my rainbow with me in the coming months...along with my deep gratitude for each of you and your love, and your prayers and the little piece of you that I carry along with me on this journey."

In her e-mail reply, Smartmom asked for her latest cancer news and Hepcat's Aunt sent this:

"I got news last Thursday that I didn't like very much. : ).. I must have two rounds of chemotherapy before I have radiation...so I will likely be in treatment from now through summer. I will lose hair in the first round, fingernails in the second round...I will try to keep working through it all.......but of course, one just doesn't know how one is going to tolerate any of this!! In the meantime, I am hanging on to my rainbow!!!"

In addition to Hepcat's aunt, two other friends of Smartmom were recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Both have now completed their treatment and are moving forward with their lives. One of them kept working right through the treatments and had a wig made that looks exactly like her own hair. In characteristic fashion, she learned everything there was to know about the disease and the treatments that exist. And she made choices based on knowledge and the intuitive trust she felt for certain practitioners. She said the chemo went much better than expected and that the new anti-nausea drugs are amazing.

The other friend took to her bed for the duration of the treatments: she figured that she needed to take good care of herself. A natural redhead, with long, lustrous hair, she had two or three wigs made in styles and colors she thought might be fun. One day she wore a short blonde wig to pick up her daughter at school. She swears no one said a thing.

All of these women are heroes to Smartmom. They are going through what all women fear, with courage and the zig zag of emotions one might expect. Smartmom has so much respect for Hepcat's aunt and her rainbow. Smartmom knows that what she is facing isn't easy. But with karma like that, Hepcat's Aunt is sure to make it through with her wonderful spirit intact.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Ghosts

There are ghosts around here. And Smartmom isn't talking about the spooky kind. They're friendly ghosts, like Caspar: ghosts of friends who have moved away from Park Slope for greener pastures elsewhere.

These friends have left behind pieces of of themselves that appear from time to time when she walks past their apartments or the well-worn spots on Seventh Avenue where they used to stand and talk.

Some of these ghosts are good friends, people she tries to stay in touch with. Friends who, regardless of the fact that they have abandoned her for, say, a huge Victorian in Rockland County, she continues to love.

Smartmom's friends from across the street fall into this category. They're here but they're not here. She checks their window everytime she leaves the building. What she is checking for is anyone's guess. Now that it's spring she half expects to see her friend weeding her flower boxes, or pulling her shopping cart chock full of Food Coop bounty.

And then there are the friends who up and left Smartmom for a big Victorian in Upstate New York. She still dials 718 when she calls them on the phone. Yesterday she addressed a postcard to them and wrote Brooklyn, New York instead of...

There's also the family downstairs, whose kids were best friends with hers. "I'm going down to Eddie's," was Teen Spirit's constant refrain until the day Eddie moved away. Eddie and his sister were like family, as were their two younger siblings, and their parents. Even if they were wildly different in their approaches to things, the two families found common ground on Third Street.

This block is also full of the ghosts of people that she never got to know but still wonders about: the single mother with the adopted son from Viet Nam, the woman who writes T.V shows for PBS and her husband and son, the two moms with the two kids who moved to Montclair, the family from Yemen with the spunky daughter (does she wear a veil now that she's grown up?). And there are more. Plenty more. And they're all still here in their way.

It's been hard to figure out how to be friends with the friends who have moved away. it takes time, a year or more, to accept that their ghostly apparitions are just that, and that they're NOT coming back to the Slope. Denial can be deep.

The next step is learning how to be friends at a distance. Phone calls, addresses and email must be memorized. New conversational topics must be substituted for the old standbys: local real estate, 321 teachers, Coop gripes, and Third Street gossip. The ease of shouting up to a window Brooklyn-style, must be replaced with the effort of picking up the phone

But it can be done. First come the good-byes. Then the ghosts. And then, after a very long time, the acceptance that they're no-longer in their too-small apartment in Brooklyn, but a suburb or town that's really not that far away.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Disappointment

Things don't always turn out the way you want them too. And Smartmom has learned that lesson again and again.

Needless to say, Teen Spirit didn't get into the high school of his choice. It looks like he may be going to private school. He really liked the place - the alma mater of his beloved Groovy Aunt. This could be a blessing in disguise.

Smartmom has a strange personality combine: she has bad luck AND an incredibly optimistic outlook. It's really a survival mechanism. Maybe she's had it all her life. Things aren't that great but they have to get better.

Which isn't to say that she doesn't do her share of self-pitying rants and tears. Because she does. A lot. And she had a few good cries yesterday (not in front of Teen Spirit, of course) because she was disappointed by the outcome AND because she felt that she had, in some way, disappointed her son.

Like many a mom, she took it on herself: the blame, the sense that it was fundamentally HER fault that Teen Spirit didn't get into the high school of his choice.

THE JUDGE was around from the moment Hepcat read the letter to Smartmom over the phone. Nastiness oozed from his tongue: "What did you expect, Not-so-Smartmom? You're not an A-list kind of person and neither is he." (Ooh that hurt, is it any wonder she despises THE JUDGE?)

SHOULDA WOULDA COULDA, appeared too and chimed in with: "You coulda been more savvy, shoulda found an "in", coulda been more strategic, shoulda prepped him more."

And wouldn't you know it, MS. MEAUREMENT stopped by too - "So and so had better grades, so and so had better scores, so and so looks better on paper. And so and so GOT IN."

Smartmom let them follow her around for hours. She was listless, tired, without the energy to force them away.

Fortunately, she began to feel her inner-optimism emerge during her late-afternoon workout with her wonderful physical trainer. Lifting weights made her feel strong and powerful, like the fighter she is. ("I'll drop these ten pound weights on you, JUDGE, MS. MEASUREMENT, SHOULDA WOULDA COULDA. Shoo Shoo. I'll punch you all in the head.)

Her inner-optimism came in strong after two, count 'em, two Margaritas at the Miracle Grill with Groovy Aunt. In her semi-drunken state, it dawned on her that she knew Teen Spirit's top choice was a long shot; she'd prepared herself for months for the eventuality that he might not get it. It's a de-humanizing system, she reasoned, 5000 kids applied to the school he wanted to go to. 5000 little universes reduced to cold, hard statistics.

So what was it that was making her feel so sad, so put down, so ANGRY.

The power that the piece of paper had to make her feel like a failure. The power that the piece of paper had to make her feel like her son was a failure. The power that the piece of paper had to make her feel like moving out of the city and living in a trailer in California. The power that the piece of paper had...

She ripped it up. Right there. And set in on fire in the ashtray.

Not really. Resaurants don't have ashtrays anymore. But she did burn it. In her head She really did. She burned it. In her head.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Mean Girls

Second grade girls can be pretty mean. What they call Grade Recess over at OSFO's elementary school might just as well be called "Lord of the Flies."

Is it diabolical or just developmental?

OSFO has been coming home with stories that would make your skin curl. And she's no innocent victim. But Smartomom worries that she is being manipulated into mean girl behavior by alpha girls that don't seem to know better.

OSFO seems a bit confused by it all. "She makes me be mean to people I actually like," says OSFO about another girl who seems to be the center of the action. "I really hate her but I also want to play with her..." OSFO adds, obviously confused by the attraction and repulsion she feels toward the mean girl. It's a double bind.

Smartmom is struggling to figure out what to do. She's talked to her teacher - who says that she's going to have a discussion about it in class. And she's talked to other parents who have girls in the second grade. One mother, who has an older girl as well, has been through it before and says that you have to do a lot of work at home to counteract what going on. You can't necessarily change the world of the playground but you can instill moral and ethical thinking in your child.

One or two moms have tried to speak to the mother of the most alpha girl of all but the mother apparently doesn't want to get involved. Apparently she got quite exasperated and said, "Leave me out of this," she told one mom. "Let them figure it out for themselves."

While that is often Smartmom's attitude about more benign childhood squabbles, this seems to be a problem of a different magnitude. What goes on in that playground is settting the groundwork for emotional issues that could last a lifetime.

This is Smartmom's first exposure to the world of mean girls. Teen Spirit never had problems like this at the playground. He had other problems but nothing quite this scary (though he might disagree). Smartmom better read the books, see the movie, do a little homework. Time for a little consciousness raising for mom and daughter. You can't start too early, she says. Can't start too soon.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Blue Sneakers

As Smartmom put on her sneakers this morning, preparing to take another run, she took a long, hard look at those well-worn shoes. They are like old friends those blue and white nylon Sauconys with the small hole in the right toe and the frayed thread around the edges.

Those sneakers and Smartmom have been through a lot together. And they look it. Dirty, worn down, worn through, they've pounded pavement in the snow, the ice, the mud, and the grass. They've been with her on snowy nights in Prospect Park when snowflakes the size of ping pong balls covered Smartmom's wool hat, and nylon jacket. They were with her when she ran the Cherry Tree 10-mile race and the 11-mile practice a few weeks ago. And they were with her again, in the early ocean light on the Boardwalk, the amusement park boarded up and mute, the runners raring to go.

Smartmom also put on the official Brooklyn Half-Marathon t-shirt, given to the runners with their New York Road Runners Club registration bag. It's a soft cotton white long sleeve shirt that says Brooklyn in blue

The shoes, her race number, a piece of paper she pinned to her shirt, her nylon jacket, pants, the Road Runners shirt: these are the concrete reminders of Saturday's glorious race.

Her race number is already in the special cabinet in the living room along with other small, special things like her grandmother's sewing kit, her hospital braclets from when Teen Spirit and OSFO were born, her mothers 8mm movie camera, her grandmother's driver's license, the funeral card from Dave Fontana's funeral, the pin from Beautiful Smile's 60th birthday party, the handmade love note Hepcat made on a menu when they went to the Tonga Room in San Francisco in 1989.

These special keepsakes hold a place of honor in what they've dubbed the Cabinet of Wonders. OSFO and Teen Spirit like to look in there and hold these family treasures that are imbued with good stories and family history.

So what to do about those blue sneakers. Smartmom knows she needs a new pair. But she's not ready to part with these well-fitting, worn-in shoes. They say you're supposed to replace a pair of running shoes every 800 miles. That may be salesmanship, it may be true. Who knows. That hole in the toe isn't going to get any smaller.

If they fit in the cabinet of wonders, she'd put them there. But they won't. So that's that. She'll just have to find another way to honor these overused, loyal friends.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The After Race

Savor, dictionary definition: to appreciate fully,enjoy or relish. To taste or smell, especially with pleasure.

Smartmom wanted to savor the sweet triumph of her half-marathon finish. And she did. Once she got home from the race, she took a long, hot bath. Hot. Her legs stretched out, her back against the porcelain, the steamy water soothed her throbbing muscles.

Oooooooh. It felt good after the pounding her body took. She didn't have any scary pain. But her body ached.

Eyes closed, she re-ran the morning over and over in her mind. The Eastern Car Service ride with T-leaf and Ed to Coney island; a long drive on the BQE thinking: and we're going to run all this way. The smell of wintergreen infused the car. Smartmom didn't know what it was. Turned out to be Ed's BenGay. A baseball field of runners changing, stretching, men putting Vaseline on their nipples to prevent chafing, lines forming at the Port-a-Johns for one last pee.

And then the race begn. No gun. But what was the sound? Eyes scrunched tight, she could not recall. You're not timed until your sneaker, with its electronic chip, touches the starting line. No need to run to the start. Smartmom walked until she had to run.

Warm water on her face, her chest, her tired, tired limbs.

Smartmom remembered the early morning light on the Boardwalk, the Wonder Wheel on her right, the ocean on her left. Turnaround at 36th Street. The Wonder Wheel on her left, the ocean on her right. The patterns of the wooden Boardwalk made her dizzy, a weird kind of vertigo. It zagged and zigged like Op Art as she ran carefully, trying to avoid falling down.

In the tub, moments flashed back to her. She wondered what happened to the woman who tripped on the boardwalk and was down for the count. Smartmom saw her sitting at a picnic table looking pained, massaging her calf, a cop standing by.

Smartmom laughed thinking of Coach Cane as he ran past her on the Boardwalk. Seeing her holding her trusty bottle of Poland Spring he yelled: "Get rid of the bottle. There are water stations all along the route. You're already running crooked."

You're already running crooked. Smartmom said the words to herself over and over, a mantra, an easy rhythmic phrase. But she didn't feel crooked. And she couldn't let go of her bottle of Poland Spring. Security blanket, transitional object, insurance policy that she would not go parched.

Smartmom finally ditched it after the hill in Prospect Park.

Quiet, heartfelt words of encouragement helped her along the way. "You look great. You can do it." Just a little more and you're there." "Keep it up!" Voices yelling from an Ocean Parkway window: "Go runners go. Go runners go." also egged her on.

The mile markers flashed by on Ocean Parkway. At seven miles, Smartmom knew that Prospect Park wasn't far away. Her familiar familiar. P.O.C. (piece of cake) one we get to the park, she thought. it'll be P.O.C.

The bathwater helped her limbs return to some version of normality. As she soaked, she saw the finish line. Is that it, is this really the end? That goofy guy with the megaphone was on the sidelines near the finish. Drat. Smartmom winced at the memory. Why did he have to be there nagging her agressively in thick Brooklynese: "Come on, just a little mawh. Yews can do it. Come ON. Ya almost dere. Come ON!"

He seems to be a fixture at Prospect Park runs. So be it. Another hardship to overcome in the 13 mile journey.

Once out of the tub, Smartmom lay her head down and slept for fifteen minutes. Only fifteen but it was a sweet, restful, essential fifteen.

Did I really do all that, she thought. Pinch me now if it's true. Did I really run all the way from Coney Island?

All the way.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Brooklyn Half

Smartmom, along wth hundreds of other runners, nearly missed the start of the Half-Marathon waiting on one of the many long Port-a-Potty lines in the field next to the Coney Island Boardwalk.

After a bit, she decided to bag the whole idea and joined the eleven-minute-milers on the Boardwalk. She was sure not to get stuck near the really fast runners - a great way to get trampled.

A pitch perfect day for a run, the sky was blue, the air was crisp and the ocean was right beside them as the race began. The amusement park was desolate and boarded over as they ran past Astroland, the Wonder Wheel, Keyspan Stadium, and the newly repainted Steeple Chase with its red, yellow and green scaffolding.

But it was seeing Beautiful Smile on the Boardwalk that nearly made her cry. Standing at East 30th Street with her daughter and two grandchildren, Beautiful Smile was smiling, waving and cheering Smartmom on. Smartmom ran up to East 36th Street and saw Beautiful Smile again on her way back down the Boardwalk.

The run down Ocean Parkway past fancy Orthodox Jewish homes and Yeshivas was long and flat. Going in reverse alphabetical order from Avenue X all the way to Avenue C with lots of names streets in between - who knew there were so many streets - seemed endless.

Only the mile markers helped Smartmom gage where she was in her run. When Smartmom saw the 7 Mile sign she knew she had only 2 miles to go until she reached Prospect Park - her home turf. That made the Parkway go faster. As did the conversation with T-Leaf, Smartmom's good friend and running partner. They talked about everything from their boys, who are best friends, to theater, the movie "Garden State," their future plans and more. It made Ocean Parkway speed by.

The Parkway was closed to cars and there was a big traffic jam on the service road beside the Parkway. A man yelled at a cop "I've got a woman in labor and I've got to get to the other side." Smartmom never heard the end of that one. People cheered from apartment building windows and some street corners. Others watched as they walked to shul for shabat services. One group of bystanders had a sign that said, "Keep the Pace," which Smartmom initially thought said, "Keep the Peace."

After Ocean Parkway, the runners got on the Prospect Expressway - Robert Moses' parkway to nowhere, and exited UP the Park Circle off-ramp. It was an unexpected hill, the only one so far, but Smartmom knew Prospect Park was coming soon, which took the bite out of it. Home turf. Even if she did have to run up the hill after the Zoo, it was a hill she knows very well. Coach Cane had them run up and down that hill five times at one practice. Smartmom would be in her old familiar and that would be all the motivation she needed to get to the finish line.

Prospect Park also meant she'd be seeing her friends and family. Hepcat was waiting at Grand Army Plaza with his camera. He cheered her on and gave her a big kiss as she passed, a wonderful uplift for Smartmom's sagging energy. At First Street Groovy Aunt and Bro-In-Law were cheering and waving, shouting and saying funny things. And at Third Street, Smartmom saw Real Fruit Jelly who was leaving a message on Smartmom's voice mail: "I think I missed you. I'm really sorry. Omigod, I think I see you now. Yes. There you are..."

Smartmom's fitness trainer called on her cell-phone near Ninth Street and kvelled over her progress. "Congratulations. You sound great!" On the way down the hill on the south west side of the park, some bystanders wearing crepe paper hats with big signs ran next to Smartmom, "What's your name?" they asked. When Smartmom told them they started to sing: "We are fans of Smartmom and she's looking great. Really, really great" The sang and ran with her for a while and then turned to another runner coming down the hill.

The last mile or so was through the transverse next to the lake, one of the most exquisite vistas in the park. A woman on horseback cantered in a horse run as Smartmom ran over an idyllic green bridge. Post-race runners were walking the other way, cheering on those still running.

Crossing the finish line after a 13 mile race is everything it's cracked up to be. Triumphant, anti-climatic, a much needed rest, a reckoning with what's come before. Hepcat was there - snapping a shot. He told Smartmom she ended strong. And she felt strong. Smartmom cooled down walking to the water table, eyeing the bananas that were the runners' reward, drinking plastic cup after cup of cold water. Soon, she realized how bone tired she was, how much her legs hurt, how much her body had just been through.

And she felt like she'd just run a half-marathon, which is exactly what she did.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Pink Shoes

OSFO's 8th birthday is on Saturday. And you can just imagine the anticipation pulsing through her little body. Yesterday she told Smartmom, after Smartmom promised not to get mad at her, that she sneaked a peek inside Smartmom's closet and saw a big American Girl Doll shopping bag. Smartmom didn't get mad at her. She knows how hard it is to resist spying on one's gifts.

And OSFO knows very well Smartmom's sad childhood tale. Just days before Christmas when she was 8 or 9, Smartmom stood on a chair in a coat closet and found one of her Christmas presents: a pair of pink patent leather Mary Janes from Saks Fifth Avenue. They were EXACTLY what she wanted. A few minutes later, her mother found her in the closet, grabbed the shoes away and reprimanded her.

On Christmas Day, there were no pink shoes. None. Smartmom's parents did, however, give her the shoes a few days later.

Lesson learned.

That story has become a cautionary tale around Smartmom's apartment. If she tries to get hints from Hepcat about her birthday or Mother's Day gift he says: "Pink shoes, pink shoes. Remember the pink shoes." Same for Teen Spirit and OSFO when they ask about their birthday presents: "Pink shoes," Hepcat will say. "Pink shoes;"

And yet as a cautionary tale, "Pink Shoes" just doesn't hold water. Instead, it makes you angry at the parents who felt they had to punish young Smartmom for something so innocent, so human. "Pink Shoes" is not a cautionary tale at all but a poignant reminder of Smartmom's terrible punishment for her delight at finding the gift she so desired.

Shiny, pink, glowing with potential: it was impossible not to hold those shoes in her admiring hands. Even if it was just days before Christmas.

Smartmom was surprised that OSFO peeked at the big, red American Girl Doll shopping bag. But really not that surprised at all.