Monthly Archives: September 2017

Singing along with Mahler


There is something exhilarating about opening nights.  The New Bedford Symphony Orchestra began it’s 2017-18 season this past Saturday evening.  My FHB and I decided this past summer to do something which somewhat followed in the footsteps of my parents.  We became season subscribers to the symphony.  My parents had tickets to the New York Philharmonic for many years.  Like season ticket holders to the Red Sox, after a period of time you get the opportunity to get the better seats and you become part of an elite membership with a common passion for music, or for baseball, sometimes both.

The symphony welcomed a new conductor who brings energy and creativity and marks his territory for the future of the orchestra.  He started with a contemporary piece which was whimsical and surprising.  The second selection was by Leonard Bernstein and listening to it revealed other pieces I was more familiar with that were his signature works.  We had seats that gave us a full view of the orchestra and although my mind wanders and relaxes in a certainly mental harmony, I was very present in the venue.  My FHB took in the music with his eyes shut.  We both moved to the rhythm of the pieces.

After the intermission, the full orchestra began to play what I quickly realized was a piece I knew and heard repeatedly, if not weekly, growing up.  I never was particularly good at remembering which symphony was what number , or whether it was Mozart or Beethoven or Mahler.  I did not inherit my father’s almost savant ability to know a classical piece after a few notes.  It often bordered on obnoxious as he would then reveal the orchestra and conductor,  and his accuracy was remarkable.  Mahler was one of the composers he always taught us (my sister and me) would become someone who would “grow” on us.  He could talk of the composer’s development over time from early pieces to later ones.  As soon as the first minutes of Mahler’s 1st Symphony was played, I realized that I could hum each movement because it was imbedded in my memory after hearing it over and over, and over again.  It was like coming home.  I could not stop smiling as each note was played with precision and clarity.  It was just beautiful and such a gift.  It evoked memories of many moments of learning about classical music with my father as my teacher.

My sister has a memory for lyrics as did my mother,  and my youngest son is able to know composers, much like my father.  My older son knows classical music from his familiarity with it being played in movies and cartoons.  MY FHB knows who sang what song from the oldies (and he is more oldie than I am).  My musical acumen is in the area of knowing where I heard a song and being able to hum along, whether it is rock, pop or classical.  I don’t know who wrote it, or who sang it or what movie it was from.  The opening of the symphony found an opening in my mind and heart.  I don’t think anyone around us heard me hum along with Mahler, except perhaps my father who might have been sitting in what appeared to be an empty seat right next to me.  At least I would like to imagine he was there.



Love and Marriage and Laughter


“I love to laugh
Loud and long and clear
I love to laugh
It’s getting worse every year
The more I laugh, the more I fill with glee
And the more the glee
The more I’m a merrier me”
Mary Poppins “I Love to Laugh” , 1964
I love to laugh…but apparently I am not all that attractive when I laugh. so indicated by  the disapproving look on my FHB’s face.  I’m a barker and a snorter.  I am also a silent, shoulder and full body shaking laugh-er.  This evening there was a conversation during which something my FHB said catapulted me in a full hyena-like laughing fit.  The louder I became, the more incensed the look. It was a like a seesaw of laughter and irritation.  As I sit here and type, I am just about hitting the keys and recalling how wonderful it felt to just “fill with glee”.
Oh, that seesaw of married life….it can be a challenge.  Some days it is like driving on cruise control. It is automatic and regulated and the wind is in your face and hair and then the hair is in your mouth, and you start spitting because it’s gross and you’re making noises and the moment of harmony is gone with the wind.  Those are the moments when the laughter takes over.  Usually it is only funny to me and I just can’t stop.  Then all of a sudden my FHB is looking at me with a grin, trying to look like a grade school principal when the class clown is in front of him.  That moment when the clown knows he owns that moment.  That’s the moment that love reframes the annoyance and life goes on.  The clown wins the point.
The other morning, we actually left the loft at the same time.  My FHB locked the door and I walked ahead down the hall to hail the elevator.  In the morning it is often a wait.  When my FHB arrived at the elevator he looked down at me and said “Hey, cuteness, if my English teacher had looked like you I would have paid more attention”.  From 4’11″(me) to 6′ (him) I looked up shyly and beamed inside and out.  I carried that moment with me all day.  I was shielded by anything negative by that moment.
I don’t watch much television.  However, the television is on much of the time and somehow through some kind of synthesis, I have a sense of what is going on.  I try to corral my FHB when I get home, in an attempt to engage him in conversation about the world news, his work, or maybe tell him about my work.  He doesn’t ask because I usually preempt these moments by blathering on.  He begins to make a weak attempt at feigning twenty seconds of interest and then he goes into some type of suspended animation and barely blinks and his face turns back to the television.  The commercials are apparently far more interesting than my conversation.  That does not stop me once I am on a roll.  I am actually never offended since part of my oratory is my own need to just “drive” the conversation along, and he is like an inflatable dummy in the passenger seat.  The often surprising weird moments are when he references something I had said during one of my monologues, and I realize that he can listen and actually hear me.  I don’t acknowledge this because that might make these moments cease, so I just keep a mental note (book) and smile to myself.
On the nights that I write, he goes to sleep before me.  I often feel the need, when I take a break between words, to go and check on him and I stand over him and stare. I remember doing that when the kids were very little. It made me secure to watch the regularity of their breaths and comforted me. It’s similar with my FHB.  Earlier,  I just went in to take a look and get that feeling of comfort and then one eye opened, and he hissed at me…”What the hell are you staring at?”  I back away, snorted in laughter and thought to myself , he really loves me.

Heading home


I was sitting at the beach at the entrance to the harbor, watching the sailboats, scallopers and fishing boats heading back to safe waters.  It was dusk. Soon  we would be leaving to head home.  I thought of E.T.’s famous ” Phone home”.  Having moved fourteen times in a span  of forty years seems like a lot to me but  the designation of home didn’t shift as often.  For a long time it was where I grew up in New York City.  Home was Apt.  5G for the first third of my life. Even after I left the “City”, going home meant going back to New York for a visit.  After my parents’ both died, there was less reason to return.  If someone  asks me “where are you from”, despite living in the New Bedford area for over forty years, I will offer the explanation that I grew up in New York but my home is in New Bedford.

Currently, asking the question of where someone is from can provoke fear, insecurity and suspiciousness.  It is provocative because it seems like a benign question and yet it is questioning someone’s origin and figuring out where they belong.  I recently stopped, in my work at the school, asking where do you live.   I now say where is home.  It seems gentler and less intrusive. It allows my students to tell me their story, often with no clear conclusion and with missing sections because there are things that are hard to talk about when you are explaning how you got from point A to point J.  Many of our students don’t have an identifiable home.  They couch surf, or live in a shelter or with family where they are living temporarily.  I never make any assumptions.  Children migrate from parent to parent or grandparent and back again.  They are a check away from homelessness, if the check comes, or the landlord decides to raise the rent and oh well, you’ve got to move. It’s complicated beyond the obvious.  Often, they just feel like luggage or less.  It stinks in plain English, as my mother would have said.  She left her home in Germany which was more an eviction to spare her life, and a step toward safety, than moving to a great new place.  She was a teenager,so she tried to be brave and see it as an adventure.  When she and her siblings and parents settled in New York City, it was more relocations to a place that did eventually become home.  Yet, she would admit that she was from Germany, but that she lived and lived her life in New York.  Once settled in Apt. 5G, she would remain there for fifty-eight years.  She romanticized moving to the “City” i.e. Manhattan but she became a creature of habit.  As my paternal grandmother would say “home is home”. It didn’t really translate from the  German but it denoted a feeling of the place that you belonged.

A storm is heading this way according to the weather people.  When the fishermen know a storm is heading in this direction, they bring their boats to shelter in the safe harbor beyond the very large hurricane wall.  In 1938 the southcoast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts were decimated by what became the “Hurricane of ’38”.  It resulted in the creation and building of a harbor wall to protect the residents, the fishermen and the coastline.  As the storm heads north, the boats are welcomed to tie up and ride out the storm.  The floodgates close and we talk about it after we know it has passed and we are all safe.

That’s what we do here.  We keep an eye on one another.  We offer up a safe place.  At school we want to convey the importance of connection and a safe harbor.  We want to help the students ride out this storm and feel as though this is their home and they don’t need to leave.  Home is a metaphor for that place that always opens the door, no matter how late it is.  In German there is a word “Gemutlich” which I grew up to understand as cozy, warm and friendly.  It is a perfect word in a not so perfect world.



FullSizeRender 17

I take a picture of a tree every  work morning as the school year starts,  from essentially the same location.  This morning the world was gray and foggy.  I woke up and realized the mornings begin in darkness again.  Turning over and going back to sleep was not an option.  I wasn’t in the mood for Friday. I got ready for work and headed out.   Something was just gnawing at my brain throughout the day and it took a while to figure it out.  It came to light midmorning when I realized that I had put my underwear on inside out.

The earth did not leave its orbit as a result of my error.  In fact, I somewhat liked knowing that something was amiss and no one else knew, till now.  The art of the reveal.  I like when things are funny to me and I don’t share it but savor it.  It probably would have been inappropriate to speak of such things in a workplace environment the way the world is, so I didn’t.  The day continued with no significant drama and I gratefully drove myself home as the sun was blazing in the west, blinding me as I drove east, for the three miles from the office to the loft.  I came home to the cat and my FHB.  After dinner, I turned to him and asked “Have you ever worn your underwear inside out?”

He did his eye roll and responded “No, I am pretty careful about stuff like that.”  He didn’t ask why, which is no surprise at this point in our marriage.  I smiled  to myself.  If he only knew what a mysterious woman he is married to.

Good night.


The Dance of September


In New England, after Labor Day, the beaches return to their “rightful owners”, those of us who are not fickle and are starlwart even in the deepest days of winter.  We visit the beaches like a child returning to their loving parent, knowing that they are always there, ready and willing to embrace us at a moments notice.  To visit the beach in September is to know the best days when the water remains warm and the air is light with a hint of a chill, so you dress in shorts and you layer yourself in a sweatshirt and carry a blanket.  You peel away the layers as the sun shines on you, knowing you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in that moment.  It is familiar and you’ve waited all summer for these days.  You share these days with just a few people of like mindedness.  When you see one another, you smile, because you just know.

As my FHB and I drove to “our” beach yesterday afternoon, we rode in silence.  It is a feeling not unlike approaching a place of worship. There is a reverie and sense of anticipation and peace ahead.  We parked and carried our chairs, our books, a blanket and cups of coffee, hot for me, cold for him.  I’m always cold and he is the opposite.  Synergy at its best.  We walk and have our pick of real estate as we settle ourselves into our patch of sand.  Though there are others on the beach, the only sounds we hear are the cries of the gulls, who welcome us or at least the snacks they hope we are delivering. We hear the lapping of the waves against the shore, gentle and rhythmic like a slow tango.

While my FHB dives into his book, I sit back and survey all that greets me.  In the not so distant view, I see a couple walking along the edge of the water.  They appear to be elderly, she in her blue bloomers and he in a khaki style pants and jacket.  They are both bent over and I see them each taking in a view of the sand, searching for some unknown objects.  They don’t actually look at one another but in a cadence all their own, they walk, and almost bow in step, a minuet without all the ornamentation.  Their bodies move toward one another and then away in a very familiar pattern, as though they have done this  with one another, forever .  It is joyful to watch and I realize that I have been absorbed by their performance for over thirty minutes.  It is like watching the mating of whooping cranes with dips and rises, so prescribed and lovely.  Time seems to stand still. I am mesmerized.

I turn to my left and watch my partner read with great intent.  As I do much of life, I rush at times and read quickly (but with great comprehension) so that I can move on to the next book or article as though I am starving and can’t fill myself up enough.  While I can stop and savor a meal, with books, I must slow myself down.  My FHB, once again, is the polar opposite.  He eats quickly and reads very slowly.  I turn back to the “dancers”.  I sense a few other beachgoers arriving and finding their spot.  Few words and quiet tones as they settle into their “pew” although the service is ongoing with no beginning and no end.

I breath to the pull of the tides.  I breath to the steps of the couple  as they continue with their work.  They never bend down to collect anything and yet they seem to be intent in their pursuit.  I memorialize their dance with my camera.  It is time for us to depart.  As we collect our things I think that this day, this moment, embodies the sign that reminds us in nature to “take only pictures and leave only footprints”.  I turn for one more glance as the figures now seem a part of the landscape.


Space Shot


My children grew up being told “I don’t make deals with kids”.  My father used to say “This is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship and I am in charge”.  I guess I adapted his parenting technique but used different terminology. It was the 1980s and parenting was more clearcut.  I had rules like “No breakdancing until after breakfast” and “If you fall off your chair you can stand and eat” and “hot dogs every night won’t kill you but if you ask for it you’d better eat it!”.  My firstborn son was the poster child for whirling dervish ADHD.  He was absolutely angelic in appearance with massive curls and big eyes but while he appeared to be looking at you, he was scanning the perimeters of any location and was planning some sort of Spiderman like  moves.  He rode his tricycle like the child in “The Omen” and those were the exhausting years.  At about 2 years old he opened the car door from his car seat while I was driving on the interstate  and declared “Mommy, wind!”.  By seven he was engaging the principal of his elementary school in conversations in her office despite being told to sit silently.  She would call me and tell me that she could not keep a straight face when disciplining him.  She retired soon after.   By ten he was climbing onto the roof of the house.  Trying to keep at least a couple of steps ahead allowed my brain to reengage with my sanity.  I’m still here and he’s a wonderful dad, gentle and patient to his 16 month old daughter.  I see his face in her face and I see her smile and calculating glances, that look all too familiar.

My younger son, arrived seven years and seven weeks after his brother.  I thought perhaps I would have learned some new skills and techniques that would not create havoc and give me some control over this next child.  This one was less physically hyperactive but verbally a non-stop conversationalist.  He questioned everything.  He was a particularly picky eater who, if I were to have drawn him as a child, would be a stick figure. He still has those stick figure legs, at 30.  He was my allergic child who, when in the presence of peanuts would begin to develop alien puffy eyes.  We spent a lot of time in the emergency room.  He would look at dinner and ask “do I like this?” and when I would say “yes, you LOVE this!” would tap his head, in a V-8 commercial like move and respond “Oh, yes!  I forgot”.  Eating out with him, as a younger child, meant he would peruse the menu carefully, and be the last one to order.  He only had three items on his playlist, grilled cheese, tuna melt and a cheeseburger.  I learned patience.  He learned to peruse the menu, each and every item.  I took him on the train from Providence RI to New York as I had done with his brother, years before.  He informed me, as we got close to Penn Station that we would never have to do this again.  No good deed goes unpunished I told myself silently.  Now he would tell you it was a really good time and it is one of his  favorite modes of transportation.  He, too, is an amazing human with inordinate compassion.

So, back to the rules and the picture of the parking lot.  Raising the boys was like finding the right parking space, walking away and when you return, you notice that you parked most of the time, over one line or another.  I tried and I try.  Adult children are interesting creatures.  They have created their own adaptation of your rules, when you were the ruler.  Your opinion matters most when you agree with them.  So, I try to be reasonable and agreeable.  I have given up the ruler for a measuring tape because it is more flexible and bends to the curves of life.  When I left my office this evening I walked to my car. It was the only one left in the lot.  I looked at the car with my head cocked.  I had taken up a part of one space and a part of another.  Raising kids is the theory of time and space. You put in the time and give them space and hopefully they will park themselves close to your heart.


My Inheritance

When I was a little girl and it was time to leave the beach, my father opened up his plaid thermos and told me to go to the car, with my mother and my sister, while he collected the ocean and put it in his thermos, to save it for another day.  I remembered, in my little girl mind, that I believed the power of my father and his thermos and that we owned the beach.  It was magical to think that all that I could see at the ocean’s edge,  fit into a thermos.

Today, as reported by every newscaster, newpaper and prognosicator of weather,  it was stated that it was the “unofficial end of summer”.  Let the masses believe that, because I know better.  My FHB and I headed to a nearby beach to survey the water and people watch.  The wind was kicking around and if I didn’t know the date, it seemed like early August or maybe late July with small crowds of families and couples and beachcombers.

What I am willing to admit is that looking back on my list of things I planned to do this summer, I recognized that “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” to quote John Lennon.  Of my list of 13 accomplishments/hopes/desires, I got to about 5 of them and some of them were adaptations or iterations of my original list.   I never found my penpal but did find out that Lisabeth Feijoo is a very popular Filipino name and the source of that information was someone who was helping me with a credit card question and she was in Manila.  I had asked her if she knew Lisabeth and unfortunately, her answer was no.  I did  read the complete novel “Moby Dick”.  I liked about 360 of the 740 pages.  I would recommend the Spark notes but the language is flowery and repetitive. Spoiler alert.  The whale dies and so does Ahab.

I never got to the JFK Library, but did see a colorful Matisse exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  I tried swordfish and amazingly, I hated it.  That did propel my FHB and me  into a week of vegan eating including a surfeit of veggies and beans and a delicious dark chocolate cake.  I neither tie dyed or created food dyes but the fall and winter are close at hand and I now have the materials should I be motivated.  I never got my car detailed but does getting it washed count?  I visited Lizzie Borden’s house and the only thing that is haunting me are the daily emails to invite me back.  We never made it to the Saint Lawrence Seaway but that was easily surpassed, though not a competition, by  a phenomenal trip to Norway and Denmark.  I used my passport, but did not get my German one.  I saw several Norweigan sunrises and the jet lag contributed to some lovely early mornings.

One of my wishes was to swim in the ocean this summer.  The weather and my schedule never seemed to coincide, but today I walked into the warmth of Buzzards Bay.  I went in with my flipflops  (very rocky terrain) and stood a few feet from the edge and felt the sand between my toes. The waves lapped at my legs and  I burrowed my flipflopped feet deep into the sandy bottom.  A little bit of heaven.  Check it, sort of, off my list.

I collected a few shells like coins in my pocket.  I didn’t have a thermos to gather the ocean and take it with me.  Once the summer people are gone, I can feel, as I walk back to my car, my father standing on the beach, thermos in hand. I hold my imagination in my heart.  Thanks, Daddy, for giving me a wonderful forever gift.