My Gift to Me

This is my week of vacation at the beach.  Well, it isn’t really vacation.  It is a change of scenery with my family and I don’t have to do professional work.  But it is work to keep SOS and his friends who are out here, too, happy and un-whiny.

Still, I have a gift just for me.  As much as I love picking a scab, I will not, shall not, cannot watch the Republican National Convention.  I haven’t even read what the pundits have written.  I don’t know if Chris Christie spoke yet.  My pre-ulcerating stomach and my righteous indignation need a rest.

I feel free and chilled out.  I am not even bothered by SOS’s whining about the unfairness of it all when we tell him that he can’t play on the computer because the day is too beautiful to waste indoors.

Then I heard about the hideous incident where GOP racist conventioneers were spewing hatred at a camera woman.  And now profound disappointment and anxiety about our future have come roaring back into my vacation.

Well, that chilled out feeling was good while it lasted.

What I Learn on Summer Vacations

At the beginning of each summer, I get so excited, and — since my descent into adulthood — I get so disappointed at its end.  A textbook example of crazy — doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  The lesson to be learned is that summer is for kids.  Especially if you are with your children on your vacation.

But I digress.

In less than 2 weeks, I am going to a camp reunion and one of the organizers asked us to write about what we learned at Camp Wingate that has stayed with us through the years.

Community; friendship; respect for nature.  Under these big themes are innumerable ways in which Wingate touched my life and brought out the best in me. But there is one thing in particular that comes to mind.

Every evening, after dinner, we would have Potlatch.  It was a meeting in which all — counselors, campers and guests — gathered for announcements and talk about evening activities.  It was a comforting ritual.  Pearl, the camp director, read out anonymous suggestions from the Suggestion Box.  Most of them were written by the older campers with double-entendres that us younger kids could only pretend to laugh at.  Sometimes there were serious suggestions.  A lot of suggestions started with: “Somebody should stop others from . . . . [picking bark off trees for no reason], [sticking gum under the seats in the dining hall], [leaving the art studio such a mess] or [teasing someone].”

Pearl would say, “whoever wrote this: why don’t YOU be that somebody?”

BE THAT SOMEBODY.  Take control.  You have power to change things.  You have a responsibility to change things. No, don’t look away.  Don’t wait for someone else.

Pearl, the special thing about girls’ camping, is that I learned that I am that somebody.  It means being a bull in china shop sometimes.  And, at 48, I am finally good with that.


The beginning of the roller coaster

SOS is 10 years-old.  Today, he discovered that YouTube isn’t just for videos about locomotives.  He was visiting my office from 2:45pm to 4:15pm while POB needed to be at a meeting.  It seems that between 4:15pm and 6:45pm, he discovered some erotica (and I am being generous here).

How did POB know?  It was eerily quiet in his room.  Computers are not allowed in his room.  Ahhhh, iTouch with wifi.  Smart little whippersnapper.  (Previously, if we were only in ear-shot (as opposed to eyes riveted on the monitor, he would announce if he found “inappropriate” videos and voluntarily turn them off.)

SOS was very embarrassed at the discovery and immediately spilled his guts and broke all confidences (I will miss this reflexive truthfulness as he becomes a conniving teen).

“Don’t be embarrassed, bud.  Women in swimsuits (and without) can be beautiful.  But not every video or picture is about beauty or love.  So you can’t have access to everything.  It is hard to explain where the line is between what is ok and what isn’t.  So, we have to decide that line.”

SOS nodded silently, still not meeting my eyes (which is a problem for him anyway).

He was particularly pleasant at dinner as if trying to make up for having ogled some naked women.  There was a part of me that was weighing the pros and cons of the situation because it was really so nice not having him critique his food and start negotiating about what he didn’t have to eat and still get dessert.

Still, that “some day when SOS is older” is today. Today, SOS is old enough that his not-so-nascent sexual awareness requires that we even more actively monitor his computer time.

I put on all the parental controls I could find on Google, Yahoo and YouTube.  And re-instated browsing history retrievals. My blog is probably off-limits.  The funny thing is that the head of some ultra-conservative movement and I probably have the same filters on our household computers.  How’s that for ironic.

We are now in lock down.  SOS now wears an orange prisoner jumpsuit and cannot be left alone.  He is wifi’ed and dangerous.

Nah, not really.  But POB and I have cross-checked our seat belts and made sure our life insurance is paid up because one of us might not survive this roller coaster ride through the next eight or so years.

Why It Matters

Why does it matter who is president?  Aren’t they so close on so many issues?  Can either really make the changes he says he wants to?

Yes, it matters.  It matters “big time” (to quote Dubya).

It matters that we push back against the forces that just said no for four years, watching this country flail around in order to make a transformative president look weak and ineffectual.

It matters that we don’t elect a man who takes the position du jour, as long as it pleases most of the people for some of the time during the 24 hour news cycle.

It matters that we don’t elect a party beholden to extremists in that party who would claw back women’s rights, leave the young and the old at the hands of “free enterprise” as it rolls back the safety net — the very beacon of light and hope that is the definition of American exceptionalism.

We applaud personal heroism but we don’t leave a man behind enemy lines.  We take care of the wounded, the poor, the terrorized, and those who have fallen on hard times.  Years ago, when we were a young country, we knew that one year’s good crop could be next year’s dust bowl, so when we were helping the poor and the stranger, we were helping ourselves because there but for the grace of G-d . . . .

Do the Bible Belters even read the Bible anymore?  At my Bat Mitzvah, I read from Leviticus, “when you reap your harvest, you shall not reap the corners of the field.  You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger.”

Where is that social compact now?  I believe in those words.  That is why it matters.

I stand on the shoulders of our Greatest Generation, who relied on the GI Bill to become professionals.  And they stood on the shoulders of those who made the voyage to America to work hard and make sure their children had a good life.

I am the product of the greatest social compact in modern times.  The other part of the social compact is that I pay taxes.  Lots of them.  I would pay for the stimulus money and bail-outs and I would pay for ill-conceived wars, were they not put on a credit card.

Why would I pay for these things? I do not want to pay for the follies of the rich or oil-greedy.  But I am an American and we pay our debts.

Because we are in this together.

So, I will pay for the Iraq War, the bail-out and the stimulus and you pay for education and renewable energy.  You know that I will foot the bigger bill.  But this is America.

And we are in this together.

And so it matters who is president next year.  The very soul of our nation — our identity — depends on it.



Our Camper

After a summer of day camp, SOS’s last week at camp was sleep-away.

He was adorable in his red baseball hat and red shirt (that was his color-war team) and his blue shorts.  Our little boy sleeping away from us.  We kissed him good-bye on Monday morning, in the house, because we simply couldn’t in front of his friends.

Sidebar:  I learned the “no-kissing” rule on the prior Tuesday, when I walked him to the bus pick-up and SOS turned to me as we were in the middle of 110th Street, “E-Mom, you can leave me here.”  “DUDE, I am not leaving you in the middle of a busy two-way street!!!” As he was harrruumphing, I walked him to the sidewalk, said hi to his counselor and waved to him as he was off with the other campers.

Our hearts’ heaviness at his being away was, however, immediately lifted by the sheer elation of being untethered to a child’s schedule and needs.  Recall that when you have children under 12, parents can’t spontaneously go for a romantic walk (ok, not so romantic in the sweltering heat of New York City) without having planned for a babysitter.  Which then defeats the spontaneity.

The camp has a website where parents can email children and see pictures of the days’ activities.  We saw SOS in that same cute outfit day after day after day.  While we later learned that he showered and changed his underwear, he still thought it was ok to put on the same muddy clothes each morning.

He is a boy and this is camp.  There is hope:  he changed his clothes for the Thursday night dance with the girls.

Gee, I cannot wait for adolescence.

The Basic Foundations of Wingate

In less than one month, many women will revisit the summer camp they last saw when they were, for the most part, properly called “girls”.  For me, 30 years have passed.  I went to Wingate from 1971 through 1981 (with one year off).

We have traveled far and wide, maybe not in geography, but in life experiences, choices, non-choices, successes, failures, love, family and illness.  And we cannot suddenly morph into those girls and young women of decades ago.

But those friendships made at Wingate shaped who I would become.  And it is precisely those friendships that are the homing devices calling us back to dust off our memory banks, leave home our daily armor we wear against the world, and see if we can’t laugh about the past and learn about each other’s present lives.

Remember the song:

The basic foundations of Wingate are expressed in what we advocate, be kind to others and know oneself, value knowledge and strive to create. Make bonds of friendships and hold fast to the aims which the summer has cast. The wonders and beauty of nature leave thoughts and memories a lifetime shall last. The ideals and aims which we make here shall be goal toward which e’er we shall steer. Along the different paths we choose to follow, Wingate’s spirit shall last through the year.

Yes, Pearl, it lasted not for only one year but for decades. You have gave us a gift for the ages.

Goldie, thank you, for bringing us back to the place where I learned about friendship, kindness and, yes, a little mischief.

And we will be complicated adults returning to a place where we had (more or less) uncomplicated friendships.

How many therapists are on staff for this weekend?

Another Gut Check Moment in New York City

I don’t take cabs as much any more — economical and environmental reasons — but so often when I do take cabs, I learn life lessons from the drivers.

Thursday night was no different.  The driver had a French African accent I found hard to understand and identify. After we both understood our destination, I asked, “Where are you from?


Where in Africa?

Burkina Faso.”  This was the first time I had ever met anyone from there.  And now that I am used to the cadence of his English, he is very well-spoken.

I have heard of it. It used to be called Upper Volta.” I said more for my benefit as if telepathically showing to my parents — one dead, one alive — that there was something to my liberal arts education after all, even amid the four years of debauchery.

Is your family there?” I continue.


That must be hard. Do you see them?” (Of course, I make that inappropriate assumption that others have families like mine, whom I would dearly miss.)

Ten years.

How long have you been here?

Ten years.

Do you have a family here?

I come with my friend.

My friend. Ahhhhhhhh.

I am a lesbian; is your friend a man?

Yes.” He says with openness but no relief.  We weren’t navigating the great divides between our lives.  We were just able to be less vague and more truthful.  I was still a white, well-heeled American sitting in the back of his cab and he was the refugee driving me around and trying to make a life in a strange and, at times, harsh city.

And you can’t go home?

I would be killed.  Even by my family.

We reached our destination.

I am glad you are here and I am sorry that you had to leave your home.”  Not a brilliant sentence but heartfelt, even if for a stranger.

It is the punishment.

“It is the punishment.”  As much as this man traveled to be free, he carries the homophobia inside.  Two people in the same car, worlds apart.

An Olympian Lives Here

SOS loves watching the Olympics.  He is the quintessential spectator (he asks me to play Wii so he can watch) and really gets fired up for the underdog or the athlete who achieves something truly outstanding. 

Of course, I think if you make the Olympic team (except maybe the Jamaican bob-sledding team) you have a superhuman athletic ability.  The level of perfection, the absolute control over mind and body and the punishing practice schedules of these athletes simply amaze me (and it ooks me out a little).

The differences are measured in centimeters, in milli-seconds and toe position. Listening to the commentators — “ooh, a toe went off the mat and this athlete has stumbled in her pursuit of the gold” — can make you want to scream.  When was the last time a “toe fault” deprived you of a career-crowning accolade?  And it didn’t matter which toe — big toe or pinky toe.  In this type of precise competition, one would think that there would be no detail left unparsed when docking an athlete points on a performance.

But I digress.

Because it is the Olympics fortnight, we let SOS stay up later than usual to watch parts of it.  The combination of days at camp running around and late nights spectating with an intense concentration inevitably leads to a bit of a tired-boy tantrum on about day 10.  (It also happens during the winter games.)

Day 10 arrives. POB is already in her jammies and reading a book and I am trying to archive photos in date order.  So, we are ill-prepared for the bi-ennial ritual.

I walk into his room amid the tears and lamentations (biblical, really).  “Dude, listen to me!! Listen to me!! This is awesome!! This is an Olympic-quality tantrum!!  Mommy, come here QUICK!!”

POB runs in:  “OMG, [SOS] you have surged past everyone in your class!!”

I say to him, “The winner from the United States of America, [full name of SOS].  Please stand as the national anthem of the gold medal winner is played.”

SOS looks at us like we are crazy.


He has medals from camp lying around, so I put one around his neck (without throttling him).  We all stand with our hands over our hearts and belt out the Star Spangled Banner, changing some of the words to reference just how he is torturing us.

As we finished the anthem, I guide him to the bathroom to wash up.

I bet he fell asleep before his head hit his pillow.