Category Archives: Blog

Fly Me To Japan

More than eight hours remain on this flight to Japan, a fact which seems improbable given that the five of us plus, oh, about five hundred other people, many of them wisely, if eerily, with their faces bedecked in surgical masks, have been trapped in this loudly humming metal tube for what already feels like forever. “I want to be in first class!” chants my five-year old after asking me why the people in front of us have beds. “I want to be in first class!” the distinction striking him as unfair, and of course it is unfair in a way. But really what, in a capitalist society, is fair, and perhaps these very thoughts of class consciousness are already seeping into his mind because he suddenly stands up, backs into my tray table and spills my glass of complimentary generic white wine — the very glass which only a few minutes ago he greedily grabbed and nearly gulped, mistaking it for apple juice — all down my pants, just narrowly missing my computer. When I tell him, albeit a bit sternly, that unlike him I do not have an extra outfit for the plane, he laughs, “Take mine,” and throws up his hands like some puerile billionaire making a show of giving away assets he never intended to use anyway.

Yes it’s time for the children to rotate seats – “Hello, Daddy!” – and yet even this diversion doesn’t count for much because in spite of the fact that I’ve had four short naps and the kids have watched about seven movies between them, eight hours remain of this flight, this decidedly not fancy fancy. Eight hours. It’s the length of one whole school day plus afterschool thrown in for good measure, the amount of time which more, or less, I each day dedicate to my own needs and work. In eight hours I eat my breakfast, write, eat my lunch and write, and yet, as I have just found out on another one of my desperate let’s- try-and-pass-the-time-by-strolling-to-the-back-of-our-not-at-all-remotely-jumbo-jumbo-jet, just one little meal is remaining. One. Meal. How is this possible? I’m not even a big eater and yet this fact is killing me, forcing me to raid the free snacks in the back of the plane, snacks which consist of the smallest bags of M&Ms you’ll ever see and biscotti which are actually not in fact biscotti but ginger bread cookies masquerading as such. Does United have the gall to send these “biscotti” on flights to Italy? I hope not. Talk about nerve, talk about offending cultural mores. Was it September 11th that killed the plenitude of American plane cuisine, or was it the economy and the rising costs of fuel? Unions? What? I’ve got eight hours to spare, talk to me, tell me, I’m more than willing to learn, I’ve an open mind.

An open mind. At least I like to think I have one, though to be fair, we are not headed to Japan on account of it. Nice as it would be, I do not currently have some pressing desire to show my children the world or introduce them to Japanese culture. And we are not, as you might suspect, going there on account of business so that at least one of our airline tickets and one of the two rooms we’ve booked at the oh, six hotels that we’ll (I’ll) be packing and unpacking our way through will be free (though, yes, this would be nicest of all). No, we are going to Japan because my husband lived there for a couple of years right after college, teaching English in Kyoto in the ‘80s. Do you remember that a Japanese company bought Rockefeller Center back then and that this was supposed to be a symptom, a sign of Japan’s inexorable rise and the U.S.’s concomitant inexorable fall? Well that’s why my husband went, that and because he was an anthropology major, and though of course this widely believed in Japan-U.S. prophecy never did come true and if anything it was the opposite, my husband has always dreamed of going back there, showing it to us and perhaps, I suspect, capturing, or trying to recapture, a bit of his carefree youth.

Back in the ‘80s my husband had a Winnie the Pooh earring (Are you wondering do I shudder? I shudder), spent ten days in a meditation retreat where he did not speak once (yes, now you see how we can be married, don’t you, opposites indeed attracting) and spent summers working as a groom at a bokujo, a thoroughbred farm up in Hokaido. Now my husband’s a boss in midtown, a portfolio manager who gets to meditate but five minutes a day if he’s lucky. He’s our family’s breadwinner, a fact of which I should perhaps be ashamed, given that I’m a feminist, but what can I say, it’s true. He’s got all these roles, roles which suit him well until those moments or days when they don’t suit him at all and they just turn into him a stress case. He turned fifty this year, and to him that seemed a good catalyst for the trip and so here we are, sitting all in a row, eating Pringles and innumerable, impossibly small bags of M&Ms in the unspoken hope that the energy we spend eating might some way, some how, make our trip go faster.

Just last week, in effort to give my children (and who am I kidding, myself) context for our trip I bought a whole slew of books about Japanese baseball players, the California internment camps, imperial life in Kyoto, Shintoism and intergenerational strife. Out of all these there was one book, a picture book, mind you, that I didn’t understand, not even a little. The book was Wabi Sabi, a story about a cat told vertically and in haiku, and just last night, while I finished packing, my youngest reread the book with my husband. “Now I get it,” said my son, happily running out of his room. “Simple beauty. It’s a way people think and live. Daddy read it to me. It’s in the front of the book.” Ah, yes, and then I remembered, a prologue I had skipped because it was long and we were reading the book past bedtime, so many other things weighing on me that night, so much else to do.

We have just finished flying over Alaska now and are crossing the Berring Sea. There’s just five hours and forty seven minutes remaining till we reach our destination. But forget all the temples and the mountains, the shopping and the anime, and whatever else awaits. I am looking forward to a hot shower, a clean bed and maybe even some sushi. Simple. Beauty. And then we will begin.

Where is She?

“Where is she?”

I was in the bathroom, having just come home from a late night out downtown with a friend, something I rarely ever do, when I heard my thirteen year old son asking my husband this question, “Where is she?” a hint of desperation, even a touch of exasperation, in his voice.

The friend who I’d been out with happens to have a fourteen year old boy, and after more than a few cocktails we had spent much of our night commiserating about the neediness of our sons. Apparently my adolescent isn’t the only one who still likes to get backrubs from his mother, nor are he and I uniquely locked in a push you/ pull me embrace over how hard he should be working in school and why it’s important to always do your best work even when it “doesn’t count for college.”

Having recently celebrated my son’s bar mitzvah, I’ve been thinking a lot about his development, and at his party gave, I freely admit, one of those earnest but too long speeches in which I both endeavored to sum up the entire thirteen years of his existence and also implore him to use the, oh, next thirty or so years as wisely as he could. I had been writing the speech in my head for the past year every time I went for a run, and though I knew it was too long and even a bit too weepy, I was determined to give it anyway once I realized that the next time I would be talking to him in such a public forum would be at his wedding, and as he would already be in love by then with, yes, another woman, I had better get my thoughts across while I still had the chance and wasn’t yet irrelevant.

Back when my son was an infant, of course, I was anything but, and I remember, in a particularly exhausted, sleep-deprived moment thinking that his cries for me and my milk were his way of shouting “Get me my slave!” or, when I was feeling a little less bitter and exhausted, his way of saying “Where is that fool with the milk? She just keeps on coming back. . . . .”

Thankfully those days are long behind me now. And yet– But still– When I emerged from the bathroom the other night to find my son waiting for me like some kind of slightly deranged late-night stage door admirer, I knew that when he said “I can’t sleep,” what he meant, but was too embarrassed to say was, Can you tuck me in? I did, of course, and I even gave him a backrub. And by the time I myself was ready for bed I snuck down the hall and ever so quietly opened the door to his room. When he was a baby I would hover right over him to make sure he was breathing. But my son is big now, and so are his breaths. He was sleeping deeply, and soundly, and at least right then, there was no more need to hover.

September 11th Revisited

It was one of those beautiful New York fall mornings, sunny and breezy but not hot, the kind that makes you feel incredibly fortunate to live here and makes all the crap that you have to put up with to do so seem completely insignificant. I was walking through the park to get the subway back downtown, and it was there, on the subway, that everyone was talking about a plane, some people said it was two, having crashed into the World Trade Center. Had it been an accident? Surely it must have been an accident. But if there were two. . . . . It made no sense and this being the era before smart phones no one was getting real-time updates to solve the mystery. It wasn’t until I got back down to the West Village and put on the TV in my apartment that I began to understand what was happening. And it was a few more minutes before I realized that the phantasmagoric image of the burning towers that was on my TV was identical to the image that I could see from my southwest facing window just beside it. A view of the World Trade Center. It had been a selling point for the apartment, what I stared at each day as I sat at my desk. I began calling around to friends, confirming that they and the people they knew down there were okay. Most were. A few still hadn’t been heard from and though we didn’t know it then, never would be again. A solemn day whose magnitude and meaning I don’t know we’ll ever be able to fully grasp, but eternal gratitude to the men and women who rush into burning buildings, putting their lives at risk and sometimes losing them, in order to spare ours.

Remembering Oliver Sacks

For several years in the early 2000s Oliver Sacks worked in 2 Horatio Street, the building in which I lived, while I worked in the building next door, 14 Horatio Street, which was the building in which he lived. We passed each other frequently going back and forth between our homes and offices though I’m pretty sure he never took notice of me as I did of him. He was always quiet and kept to himself though I know he was well liked by the Japanese owner of the sushi restaurant up the street that we both frequented because one day the owner proudly revealed that Sacks had given him a copy of one of his books that had been translated into Japanese.

Bring your son to Sacks, my mother urged me more than a few times back when our oldest was about two years old and not yet talking. Write him a letter, he’s your neighbor. But of course I didn’t. What my son needed was a speech therapist not a neurologist. And one day, getting on the elevator with Sacks and a man with a rolled up stack of what looked like architectural drawings, my husband and I watched as the man began whacking the top of the elevator with his stack. He was trying to kill a fly, or so it seemed. But then he kept on whacking and we realized that the whacking was some kind of twitch, and that the man was Sack’s patient.

My son is now twelve and though he is the kind of kid who rarely tells me anything about what he learns in school he came home one day last spring and said “A neurologist came and spoke to us today. It was really interesting.” I have no idea who the doctor was, but I know just who I’m going to recommend he read next.

Just Joy-less

Was it only two weeks ago that I wrote a post about feeling joyful? Day camp for the two younger kids is now over, the oldest broke his wrist within less than twenty four hours of his arrival home from sleepaway and whatever hideously boring administrative details I’ve left undone for the oldest’s upcoming fall bar mitzvah have now caught up with me with a vengeance. Joyful? How about joy-less? Or as my five year old son so eloquently put it this afternoon after spending much of his day at home amusing himself with his siblings while I worked on said bar mitzvah, “Mommy, sometimes I wish you were a Buddist because then you wouldn’t scream so much.” Me too, darling, me too!

Just Joy

 

I hesitate even as I write this, but I think that after twelve plus years of maternal stressful joy — or is it joyful maternal stress? — I have at last come out on the other side: just joy. My youngest child is now four, turning five tomorrow, and though he is a little boy with a lot of energy and a fondness for mischief, this is the first summer vacation on which I have been able to relax without a young actress/ grad student/ or some other such quasi-disaffected quester in tow. The other day not only was I able to work while he, and my daughter, who just turned nine, played together in front of me, but I was even able to nap. Outside. During the day! Suffice it to say that this has never happened before, not even back when I had all that actress/ grad student help, a fact which would seem to negate the whole point of my having brought those girls along with me on vacation in the first place. To not having help and yet feeling anything but helpless.