#NYCPOETRYFESTIVAL

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Just a quick post to say that I had the most magnificent day on Governor’s Island at the NYC Poetry Festival combining the three things I love the most: Family, Friends, and Writing.

I had the pleasure of reading some poems recently published in Newtown Literary Magazine and a new poem-in-progress—a currently crappily-titled poem for my husband (attached below after the pics).

I also got to hang with my boys, some of my closest friends and their kids, and I got to meet two new additions to our crew: sweet baby Rosa (pic below) and Charles, my friend Jen’s almost-husband. The consensus is that both are keepers. As if I needed MORE icing on my vanilla cupcake (a girl can dream), my awesome friend Nicole’s girls, Gabby and Nola, who came all the way up from DC, made some beautiful poetry of their own—also pictured below.

Thanks to the whole Newtown crew and to all my amazing people. Hearts, love, butterflies, and rainbows to you all!

Nola’s poem, age 8,

Gabby’s poem, age 10

My sweet friends: Jen, Jessica, Deb, me, Nicole, and Nichole (from left to right)

My little guys

That’s a couple that’s not married yet: the awesome Charles and Jen!

I finally got to meet adorable baby Rosa!

 

An Ode to Husbands Everywhere (or maybe just mine)

Oh sweet you, my West Virginia baby

Trailer park-born gold

butt slapped with apprehensive belts

by your adoring Pageant Queen mama

 

I kiss your coal-coated mouth in the Upper East Side apartment of our youth

where I learn the proper pronunciation of things important to you like:

“Butthole Surfers” and “Appalachia” and “No, not Western Virginia”

When your dad gifts me a can

of ground possum at our first meeting,

I ask if he brought the white lightning,

And he chortles the kind of big-bellied laugh

my people make sails out of for epic journeys.

Hair: blonde midswept wheat

Jaw: wide-ranging like your hometown’s mountains

Smile: rare, but present in the face of sarcasm where it matters

Purpose: quiet, slow-moving, but gracious.

When your mom starts repeating herself,

you respond to every litany

as if it is her first iteration.

Then I knew I was safe

Then I knew it was you

And when every single time you leave the house,

you kiss my forehead and tell me you love me

even if I spent the previous night drilling

my Greek-American Queens-girl verbal rotary hammer

into your soft Appalachian belly

And when I hear you teaching our boys

How to be gentle when digging for worms

To never let a shoe graze an ant

And how to gently ease flies out of the house with a piece of paper

instead of a deadly swat

And when I watch you, Daddoo, not Daddy,

whistle as your prepare

Chicken and hotdogs and steak

as your lentils and tofu suffer on an adjacent burner

Then I know it’s always been you,

My West-by-God Virginia baby

Hefty morsel of strange sweet love.

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My Byzantine Freak Show

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Onlookers frequently stare on as we walk the streets holding our candles gingerly, careful not to burn the hair of the person in front of us. Dressed in our Sunday best late on a Friday night, we march solemnly behind an epitaph heavily adorned with fresh flowers, symbolic of the death of Christ. Many members of this procession have been fasting for almost 40 days, so the mere idea of a hamburger is enough to make them salivate as we pass a diner. Growing up, we would have abstained from using knives or scissors today, and also from crossing our legs, eating animal-derivatives including oil since it was once kept in the skins of animals, watching television, listening to music, working, and cleaning (my mother never got an argument from me on the last bit).

A regular Byzantine freak show, this is Good Friday for Greek Orthodox Christians. My family and I, alongside the parishioners of Saints Catherine and George, walk in funeral procession style down 31st Street in Astoria (see what that looks like here), our old neighborhood where we still routinely celebrate Holy Friday with my godparents and my Thea Maria. It was a long stop-and-go ride to Astoria from Long Island today, my two younger sons are asleep in the double stroller my Catholic husband dutifully pushes, but despite my exhaustion from my increasingly busy job and life, I am glad to be here. The gaze of the hipster couple outside the trendy farm to table restaurant hardly bothers me this year (at best, I appreciate their curiosity), but it does remind me of why I have always been keenly aware, sensitive even, of my double place in the world, one I often interpreted as no place. It is on this Friday night walk that I feel proud of my otherness. As I straddle the street and the sidewalk, my stockings too tight, the wax from my candle drips onto the boots my mother deemed too casual for church. I share a fond memory with my eldest son about the time my cousin and I spent the whole Friday procession pouring and peeling candle wax off our hands in my mother’s Greek mountain village. He is intrigued and I feel sated that the hipster’s child won’t be privy to stories about waxy shenanigans in ancient Greek villages where Oedipus himself once lived.

Those who know me well are aware that I’m not particularly spiritual or a regular churchgoer. But there is something about Holy week that slackens my religious skepticism. While I am always a sucker for burning incense, bearded men in robes, and Byzantine chant, church for me has always been more of a chore, a time to analyze the phallic symbolism in the iconography, and scoff at marvel at the Greek-American obsession with fur (for real though-has the whole animal rights thing somehow skipped over the Greek-American community? Does the Greek diaspora think PETA is just another spelling for pita bread?).

Easter is a time that Greek Orthodox Christians accept the Resurrection of Christ —it is by far, the most important holiday on the Orthodox calendar, and one that Greeks take very seriously. Growing up, Holy Week was all about fasting, very long church services, and my personal favorite—the resurrection mass on Saturday night of Holy Week: Anastasi. This is the night when all Greek Orthodox Christians come to church—even those who typically never step foot in a church all year, like me. Hundreds of folks gather outside church holding candles, eagerly awaiting the holy light the priest carries outside after mass at midnight. Children carefully clutch the beautifully decorated lambades (candles) bought for them by their  Nona or Nono (godmother or godfather), and parents tell their children the story about the girl whose hair caught on fire because someone wasn’t paying attention as they repeatedly touch the back of their own heads. At midnight, folks pass around the holy fire, and parishioners join the priest as he chants the Pascha Hymn, Xristos Anesti (see video below), a song that is repeated 12 times, after which point family and friends hug and kiss each other, share the traditional Xristos Anesti/Alithos Anesti (Christ is Risen/Truly he is risen) exchange, and go home to eat intenstine soup (magiritsa). I sing the hymn loudly (for me). Everybody does. There is something about that song that sucks the impatient little angry witches out of me, that pushes the hell out of my pores–that makes me feel like I belong.

 

Most academics are not avidly religious. It’s part of our jobs in a way—to look at everything so critically, to pick every little thing apart at the seams so much so that we cannot possibly believe that something just is. Faith is a hard concept for people like me to fully wrap their heads around. It doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God, it just means I question the way humans have represented God and what he or she or it is—and what God wants from us, if anything. That being said, church has never been high on my “places to go on a Sunday morning” list. Boozy brunch? Yes! Church? Do I have to?

I was the daughter who mocked the formal dress code at church, stared at other people who knew what they were doing there, the one who would chew gum despite the priest’s insistence that gum is an actual sin (I still don’t buy that one), and I was the one who never knew when to cross herself three times in a row (does anybody really catch every single one of those?). I am now the woman who bulges her eyes out at her children when they dare kick their feet at the pew in front of us, who helps them light skinny creme candles to place in sand, who lifts them up to kiss the icons of Jesus and Mary they stare at too long, who revels in their awe at the incredible artwork that bedecks the entire interior of the church (“Mommy, is that God watching us from the ceiling?”), and who smiles as her five year old takes deep inhales to fully consume the seemingly-magical aroma of the priest’s incense. It feels good to connect the traditions of my family to my own children; whether or not I believe or agree with everything that is said at church is sort of irrelevant. It just feels good to be here this year.

I will still roll my eyes at the sea of fur coats, the general intolerance and arrogance of some folks, and their position on the role of women within the church, but this year, it also just feels good to be here–and show my kids around.

 

Jube carefully holding his lambada on Holy Friday outside St. Catherine’s in Astoria.

The epitafio is pictured here. You’re looking at the “casket” of Christ, covered by a sacred cloth and then the traditional flowers that would cover any casket before burial. And there’s my very own godfather on the right serving as a “pallbearer”. He and other boyscouts, including his son, Billy, carry it around the neighborhood as parishioners follow to symbolize the funeral procession of Christ.

My sons’ lambades: power rangers, dinosaurs, and a nautical theme. So very sacred.

A picture from inside the church in Holy Cross, the church I grew up in Whitestone, right after the priest has shared the sacred holy light at midnight mass on Holy Saturday. People are heading outside to sing Xristos Anesti and then head home to crack eggs and eat magiritsa (intestine soup). My awesome mother makes a mean avgolemono (lemon chicken soup) for us too. Only my parents and my brother in laws are brave enough to slurp up the magiritsa.

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The Sham

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I wish I were telling you all something new, but sadly, this “having it all” business is a bloody sham. I’ve sacrificed a lot of precious time with my boys in the last few years to focus on my career and participate in a number of seriously fulfilling (alongside some seriously unfulfilling) activities while simultaneously compromising a lot of my career goals to take care of my family. It’s the modern day working woman’s crisis. Sheryl Sandberg can Lean In all she wants, but Anne-Marie Slaughter is right: Women Can’t Have it All. In our well-meaning and ambitious quest to embody both “mother of the year” and “radical (or at least liberal) feminist”, the only guarantee working women have is that they will manage to disappoint big and little people everywhere. In her 1997 book Fruitful—Living the Contraditions: A Memoir of Modern Motherhood, Anne Roiphe poses the inherent contradiction in the ability to fulfill the myth of the perfect feminist parent professional: “Motherhood by definition requires tending of the other, a sacrifice of self-wishes for the needs of a helpless, hapless human being, and feminism by definition insists on attention being paid to the self. The basic contradiction is not simply the nasty work of a sexist society. It is the lay of the land, the mother of all paradoxes, the irony we cannot bend with mere wishing or might of will.” Although Roiphe is speaking specifically of the ability to be a feminist mother, replace the word “feminism” with “academia” and the final word is this ladies: we’re fucked. And no, not in the good way.

I’m not relaying anything new. Gloria Steinem said it years ago: “’I’ve yet to be on a campus where most women weren’t worrying about some aspect of combining marriage, children, and a career. I’ve yet to find one where many men were worrying about the same thing.” Also, it’s not like there’s much pressure from society or anything to be a perfect mother. If my kid screws up, I’m sure people will judge my husband as harshly as they might judge me, right? After all, wasn’t Jackie O. talking to all Americans when she offered this gem: “”If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.” Right. I’m sure she was referring to fathers too. No Pressure whatsoever. (It does remind me though to use the word “bungle” more often.)

All of this bitter society-hating banter stems from possibly the worst semester of my life. While my classes were productive and energetic as usual, my professional world crumbled before my eyes a few weeks ago. Having put my time in the last few years as a tenured professor, I applied for the next step: associate professor (one step away from full!)—and I got rejected. Upon word of my “non-recommendation” to associate professor, dozens of colleagues consoled me and insisted that I was “robbed” of my promotion. One of my dearest colleague friends brought me a bottle of wine called “Oops” in hopes that the brief chuckle that would inevitably ensue would help ease the pain a little.  (It did. Thank you, Michael.) Those that work closely with me found it particularly hard to believe considering my campus wide leadership positions, diligent work on dozens of committees, and excellent teaching record. While I have presented at a variety of conferences, I haven’t published any peer-reviewed publications, and while that isn’t a requirement for promotion at community college, I’m sure that didn’t work in my favor either. Anyway, here I go again, trying to understand why and how this happened. Because those of us left out of the joy in promotion (about 50 of us) are unable to ascertain critical feedback until July, we are left to sit here and ponder  our apparent ineptitudes, looking inward, steaming, and feeling like we fucked up. (Let me add that some of my truly amazing colleagues who are not only talented writers, scholars, and teachers, but KIND human beings did get promoted this year, and not only does this blog have nothing do with them, but I am genuinely happy for every single one of them. They absolutely deserve it!)

For the simple fact that I have never worked harder or longer or more in my life, I was taken aback by this executive decision (not made btw by my department but by a college wide committee based on my department-approved application). That is the true paradox of motherhood or rather the true “fuck you” of working motherhood. Despite the fact that a mother is working double and triple time to get it all done the best she can, the various parties who require work from her don’t even know (or care) that each other exists. The kids aren’t praising mothers for doing “good work” and employers aren’t praising employees for doing ” good mothering”. It’s like working two jobs for one paycheck.

I remember crying in my Assistant Chair’s office the day I got the shitty blue letter in my mailbox, declaring: BUT I ALMOST GAVE BIRTH ON CAMPUS! HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN! This is true, but it doesn’t mean anything in my professional life. Nobody is going to take into account the fact that it takes me three times as long to get anything done, or the added stress of three little boys when comparing my application to another. The problem is that it means something to me. I’ve left my children crying for “MOMMY!” dozens if not hundreds of times so I could go to work. And in my head, those sacrifices should count for something. Having to clean up my own blubbering face after leaving my sad, angry, crying, or sick child is a hell that only the default parent knows. We are left to take care of the brood, try to look like there isn’t vomit or yogurt or a booger, intentionally smeared on by a three year old, on the back of your shirt, pick the lego out of your shoe, and go on with the show donning a smile and some tight jeans. Tight jeans always help.

As my students always say: the struggle is real, professor. I never know exactly what the hell they’re referring to when they say that, but for me, the struggle is “having it all”. More so, doing it all well enough that I can retain the respect of my colleagues, friends, family, and children. I hear so many older women throughout my campus talk about how they “took a step back” when they were rearing children, or that they waited to apply for promotion or take a sabbatical “until the kids were in school” “in college” “out of the house”. I am a damn good mother, but I’m also passionate about my work, and without it, I am not my authentic self. Why should I have to take a step back or hold off my professional advancements because I’m a mother? But I also don’t want to lose time with my boys at particularly junctures in their lives because I’m too busy with work. When is our country, college, and society going to realize that if women are in the workforce, they need systemic support and understanding—oh, and while we’re at it, maybe some maternity leave and a non-bathroom in which to pump milk. That would be nice, NCC. Even if I am too much “professor mama” or too little “serious academic” to the folks who rejected my promotion, I know that I worked my ass off to NOT get that promotion. And I yearn for the day when I can be okay with that.

After a conversation with my friend about some of her potentially serious (but hopefully not-much-of-anything) health problems, she crooked the topic of discussion and asked me how I was doing. There was a mild desperation in her voice, as if she were saying: get my mind off of my own shit and tell me something shitty about you!

I told her quickly how I didn’t get the promotion, and that my colleagues, and my chair in particular, were in shock and how we all couldn’t believe it blah blah blah. In a tired but loving way, she told me very quickly and uncharacteristically matter of factly: I’m so sorry, Stel. That’s awful. That was all I expected from someone who was grappling with her own problems. We peripherally chattered a little more about it, but I tried to quickly end the convo as I had already spent too many nights awake worrying about it (mostly, my thoughts screeched into that deeply self-conscience and scary space of disappointment, self-doubt, and the feeling that I was a “fraud” –unfortunately, an all-too frequent feeling women encounter in the academy).

Before we hung up, as if she had read my mind, she said this to me clearly and forcefully, without the usual sweetness she normally employs: “You are amazing at what you do. AND you’re an unbelievable mother. And an wonderful friend. You are an amazing person, so do not let this one thing change the way you feel about yourself.”

And there is was. That’s exactly what I’d let this do. I let a disappointment, one that many folks experience muitple times in their lives, define me. Or rather, redefine me. I’ve always struggled with confidence (let my future therapist write that story, okay?), and as I age, I’ve slowly come to terms with some of the superficial stuff, but here I was, in my late 30s, letting this one failure define me.

I cannot end this post by saying that I’ve figured it all out, that I still don’t feel like there was an injustice, or that I don’t feel like a straight up loser, but it does feel good to write about it. And that’s going to have to be enough for now.

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“I Want People to Know What Autism Looks Like”

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That is what my colleague and friend, Laura Sullivan, said to me in a text earlier today. And here, my friends, is what Autism looks like:

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Pretty handsome, huh? A year ago, this beautiful boy was kicked out of school, deemed “unmanageable”, hospitalized, and his mother was left with zero guidance as to what to “do” with this “problem child”. Today, as a result of his amazing and resourceful mother, and an excellent board-in school named Green Chimneys in Brewster, NY, he is not only doing well in school, he is happy (and reading for pleasure!! Look at the book in his hand!). Below is his mom, Laura’s, post  about his most recent achievement taken from her Facebook page (with her permission of course.)

Exemplar: noun 
1. a person or thing to be copied or imitated; model
2. a typical specimen or instance; example
This status was given to my son, Riley today at his school.
Who would have thought that just a year and a half ago this same son was unable to sit in a classroom, was unavailable for learning and could not carry on an appropriate conversation? He was angry, frustrated, and fighting with everyone to be understood. He could not join activities, had no friends, and ended up being kicked out of school, hospitalized, and basically written off as to ever having a “typical” life. His Autism diagnosis was just another one of the many titles they wished to label him in addition to insisting he had anxiety, emotional dysregulation, and mood disorder. They wanted to medicate him into compliance and that I could not accept. I knew that boy was in there waiting to come out. He was not just his diagnosis.


It is never easy for a mother to admit that she cannot help her child. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to find him a place that could help Riley. I drove him there to visit the school and this was the place–I just knew it. I took a leap of faith and had no idea what was next. A part of me died the day I drove away from that school leaving my little boy in the care of strangers. I grieved for months wondering what I had done. Why couldn’t I help him? I realize now, that sometimes we must lose something in order to get it back–and that is just what happened.


Fast forward 1 year and 3 months: the same boy that was kicked out of school and hospitalized is now given the title of Exemplar, and he is someone that his peers look up to and imitate? This same boy believes in himself and his teacher told me is very eager to learn? People are calling my house and asking for Riley. He is participating in activities, and most importantly he is laughing and happy. I’m not saying we have a storybook ending–his least restrictive environment is still very restrictive, but it allows him to be RILEY. That is all I ever wanted for him. 


I am forever grateful to Green Chimney for helping him to discover his strengths and helping him heal and grow.
I am so proud of you, Riley, and love you more than you can ever comprehend.

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Laura with three of her four kids

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Twas the night before Kindergarten…

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When all through the Jarrell house

no boys were stirring, not even my spouse;

Jube’s backpack was hung on the coatrack with care,

full of too many pencils and glue sticks to spare;

And…I think that’s all I’ve got.

I could sit here and come up with a seemingly cute, but actually mean-spirited before school poem (look at these gems: here, right here, and over here), but instead let me just blurt it out: my baby is going to kindergarten and I’m a bit of a mess. I thought I was better than this. I thought I could be one of those super cool parents that feels immense pride, is happy for their kid, takes a picture or two, and moves on. But I am nervous. And jittery. And so so giddy that my Jube gets to embark on the amazing journey that is school (I’m not even being sarcastic. I LOVED school). It all also makes me just a little bit sad. Sad for the sandy sunshine-filled summer days long gone already; sad for the endless days when bedtime was an afterthought and my work was on the back burner. If only our carefree, splish-splashy summer could last forever. If only his preschool days could have lasted  little bit longer so that I could have him with me all the time and we could do whatever we fancied each day–even if that meant snuggling on the couch and watching strange youtube videos of adults opening up eggs covered in Play Doh.

Alas, this is not about me;  it’s about a five year old boy who beams and slightly brags to his little brothers as we pass his school that “this is my kindergarten” and is saving the new shoes my sister got him from Greece “special for my kindergarten because I don’t want to get them dirty.” All of a sudden, he is prefacing nouns with the determiner “my”—“my teacher”, “my school”, “my class”–as if to verbally solidify his new position in the world. And I’m ecstatic for him. I loved learning, and I can only hope that my enthusiasm for school will get passed along to my firstborn son. But I’m a staunch realist too.

As none of his friends are in his class, I fear my slow-to-warm-up babe might be apprehensive on the first day. I hate to think of him feeling awkward or self-conscious. I worry that his name might cause a bit of a hullabaloo (we are those stupid parents who chose to name our son one thing and call him another. Our “Jube” is actually “John”. Good thing he knows how to spell both but hasn’t answered to “John” since, well, ever). What if his teacher is the kind of adult who prefers gregarious kids (I’ve been around adults who haven’t been shy about their disdain for kids who don’t warm to them immediately—and it makes me want to slowly pull out their hair). But then I remember: He’s just five. And it’s just kindergarten. And I have probably thought about tomorrow way more than he ever will. And he will be just fine (right?).

My husband will get to ride the bus with him tomorrow on his first half day and I will get to watch them ride away as I pack the younger brood into the car to head out to daycare and work. After all, I have students to teach too–and I promise to not favor the gregarious ones with the easy names this semester.

(Good luck, Jubie. Mommy loves you more than the moon and the stars. I can’t wait to hear all about your adventure tomorrow!)

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My New Go-To Gal

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When I was a little girl, I would wave to my mother frantically from the school bus as it pulled away from the stop. I clung to every last second I was still able to see her face smiling back at me from the curb. Every year, when my parents make their annual visit back to Greece, I feel that same tinge of childhood attachment flushing back into my heart. Don’t get me wrong, I want my parents to enjoy themselves, their siblings and friends, and the homes they have worked their whole lives to build back in the “homeland”. But I also want them here, close enough to reach when I need my fill, or even a quick taste, of the comfort that only a mother can give to her daughter.

As kids, my parents would send me and/or my sisters to Greece in the summer, alternating  stays between my mom’s four brothers and my father’s sister, while they remained in New York to work.  We would swim endlessly in the picturesque beaches in my mother’s village, Domvrena, a small town in the larger city of Thebes and enjoy late night dinners in the village center where my uncle owned a cafeteria (think coffee, spanakopita, ouzo, and ice cream). One of my mom’s brothers, Theo Manoli, and his family would be my main hosts most summers, traveling Greece with me, showing me sights I never would have seen otherwise (secret beaches down cliffs, caves with ancient etchings, and many of the thousands of ancient relics Greece is famous for). He and his family helped me get over my homesickness with infinite swims in the warm sea and special birthday celebrations. With Thea Nantia, my father’s only sister (and the person who truly knows his soul as they weathered the murder of their father, exile, refugee life and the German Occupation in WW II together), we would sleep on the rooftop of her city apartment on hot summer nights and listen to stories of our mischievous young father. How could my parents NOT want to go back to the comfort of their beautiful homeland, filled with family and friends–especially now, when their home in the States slowly becomes more and more devoid of their friends and family?

My parents have recently lost countless close friends and relatives. In the last six years alone, my parents have lost two brothers, three dear sister in laws, and a myriad of friends. My father lost his only brother, Niko, a Clark Gable look-alike with a calm, sweet demeanor and a love for children, and a long list of lifelong friends. My mother lost her best friend in my Thea Eleni, Theo Niko’s beautiful wife . To say they are saddened by these losses is an understatement. When we think about our parents aging, we usually think about them dying and lament our own loss. We never think about how our parents will feel as the “survivors” of the inevitable end of life that their loved ones have already, many prematurely, faced. At the recent baptism of our youngest son, my mother, despite wanting to be happy, confessed that the event was slightly depressing for her as there were so few of her nearest and dearest people left at the “grown up” table. Before, our events were filled with (sometimes too) many tables of my aunts, uncles and parents’ friends—you know, the “older crowd”. This year, at Marco’s baptism party, there was only one table of “grown ups”.

In a recent conversation, my mother was complaining to me about something, and quickly apologized, telling me she was sorry for burdening me with her feelings: “I don’t have anyone to talk to anymore,” she confessed. “I used to tell Thea Eleni all this stuff, but now that she’s gone, I have nobody left.” The truth is, I was happy to hear what she had to say. I felt honored to be the keeper of her otherwise-private emotions. I felt honored to be her friend. I believe that sharing the role of mother is what has bonded us recently, beyond that already ultra sacred mother-daughter connection–into the realm of true friendship.

Sharing the intimacy of motherhood with my own mother is a precious experience. One I am grateful to experience and one that I will never take for granted. When I need to tell someone something, it’s my mother I call. She’s my number one go-to gal for most topics (I do save some special topics for friends and sisters of course). Who else is interested in what my post-pregnancy body is doing or the inevitable sadness that ensues when I have to leave my tiny baby to go back to work? Who else cares when three kids are vomiting all over the place and all I can do is cry and wait for my husband to return from work? Who else wants to know the funny little things my kids say day in and day out? Who else wants to see picture after picture of my kids doing everything from breathing to going on their first boat ride? I know not you, Facebook friend who has probably blocked me for the plethora of pictures of my spawn. But my mom cares. The boys’  grandmother. Their yiayia who feeds them cookies and chocolates at 9:30 am just because she can.

I connect with my mother over the phone mostly every day; in person usually once or twice a week. We live thirty minutes away from one another, but her lack of a driver’s license and my busy schedule precludes much more time spent together than that. In a really lucky week, we’ll see each other three times. Still, even if I only see her once a week, it’s usually a rather long visit where we only leave if someone is having a meltdown. Our weekly visits sometimes go from morning to night. Other times, I confess to my husband that I feel badly I haven’t spent more time with her or my dad; there are sometimes weeks that go by that our schedules just haven’t meshed or the kids have been sick or something–life happens. So we talk on the phone a lot. Sometimes for too long and I forget about my own mom duties. Once, Giorgie literally had to puke all over the couch before I felt like it was okay to hang up with my mom (complete truth). You see, she has become my go-to person. Besides my husband, there is nobody else in the world who is genuinely interested in the daily going-ons of my children. When Marco says a new word, Giorgie makes a new discovery, or Jube reaches a new milestone, it’s my mom that actually wants to hear me go on and on about it. Moreover, she’s the person in my life who understands what it’s like to me a mom to three kids—she gets the everyday battles and victories of raising three little people. Unlike most people, she is super happy to have a one hour long conversation discussing the many uses of vinegar, sharing what and how we’re cooking for dinner betwixt various cries for help from a 1, 3, and 5 year old. She is unfazed by the boys’ interruptions, and typically has a bit of advice for handling the issue at hand. For that reason alone, she has become my best friend. And I think I have become hers. And despite our difference of opinion in raising kids at times (she SWEARS chamomile heals all wounds and thinks that babies sans undershirts are waiting for an illness. My kids are usually barefoot and naked. You do the math…), she really demonstrates respect for me as a mother. And I appreciate that so much. Goodness knows I have learned everything about mothering from her (the 40 books I read when Jube was born shy in comparison to the lifelong lessons she has taught me). And I am also there for her, to listen to the iterations of a woman who has led a life full of beauty and sadness–and to support her when her own friends have left her for that other, most peaceful place.

I have a slew of wonderful friends, who have been with me forever and will likely stay with me until our old bodies are ashes in an urn somewhere (please don’t snort them, boys), but the truth is that many of my closest friends don’t live nearby. As busy professionals and moms, we often don’t find time to connect in person or over the phone as often as I know we would like to (except my college bestie, Maura. Somehow her techno-unsavviness has kept us on the phone-realm–thank goodness!).

Who knew the woman who used to yell at me every single Sunday before church because my outfit was unsatisfactory (who said ripped jeans, a Nirvana t-shirt and black lipstick WASN’T okay for church?) would become my go-to gal? Who knew the clean freak who used to pull my hair in frustration because I just wouldn’t clean up my f#$king room (not that she ever cursed) would find comfort in me—her messiest daughter? My best friend has been there all along. She was just too busy raising me to inform me of her impending friendship. I’m glad I waited.

 

Mom with her parents on her wedding day * January 1967

Almost 50 years later, Mom with Dad, her three daughters, three son-in laws, two granddaughters, and four grandsons circa 2016

My mom and I in front of the Christmas tree in Astoria circa 1978

Mom and Jube 2011

Mom and Giorgie 2012

Mom and her youngest grandchild, Marco, in 2015

 

 

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Putting Bedrest to Rest: A Reflection of Beginnings and a Very Welcomed End

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It’s been a busy few weeks between the end of the semester, Memorial Day, the kids being sick, Jube’s preschool graduation, and Marco Finn’s First Birthday (Happy Birthday, Baby boy!).  We enjoyed his birthday weekend with a little kite flying (a first for this city girl) and an intimate barbecue (poor third babies…I think we had 60 people at our house for Jube’s first birthday). Despite its lack of extravagance, the celebration felt extra sweet. While Marco’s birth on May 22, 2014 marks a significant beginning, the start of life for my third son, it also marks the end of a particularly dark period of my life: Bedrest. For anyone who has been on bedrest, you may understand when I say that although the joy of my beautiful brand new baby was certainly one of the most exciting events of my life, the end of bedrest was almost as exhilarating.

Marco Finn was due to be born on June 18, 2014, incidentally my husband’s birthday. As our second child , Giorgio, had been born almost 6 weeks early in 2012, we certainly didn’t ignore the possibility of another early baby, and we secretly hoped my husband would get to retain the one day a year he gets to do what he wants (which usually involves too much beer and hiking-not necessarily in that order). Still, I didn’t expect the contractions to start almost three months before my due date, in late March.  After a series of contractions one Thursday night that followed me into the next morning, I ended my 9:30 am Women’s Studies class early and went straight to see my OB. I was positive what I felt were just Braxton Hicks (“fake” contractions that most women get during late pregnancy), but I did want to be cautious. After all, I was considered “advanced maternal age” (I was only 35 for goodness sake).  After a series of exams and an emergency ultrasound, the doctor informed me that I was already 2 cms dilated and almost 75 percent effaced at 30 weeks. I was shuffled to the hospital where they performed more tests, gave me a steroid shot, and put me on meds to stop the contractions. In his most stern tone, my doctor  made sure my defiant spirit understood the “rules” of bedrest. I could take a 2 minute shower daily, walk to the bathroom, sit on a couch, lay on a bed. And that was it. No shopping, no working, no picking up, putting down, no cooking, and definitely no cleaning (yes, there were some perks). The only thing I had left with which to govern my life was my mouth. Yeah, that thing.

What happens to a woman who must run her household solely by the utterance of words? It’s bad. Really bad. Jube decided that he, too, was going to go on bedrest during this time. On my lap. Literally, as soon as I became incapable of really caring for him, he decided he wanted nobody BUT me to care for him. He went on a strike against all other caretakers and I can tell you that not only did it break my heart, but it wore me out and made my lose my temper more than daily. Giorgie was the hands-down winner of bedrest. He grew closer to his daddoo, understood when I couldn’t help him, and snuggled me when I needed it (thank you, Giorgie bear). Jeremy was worn out and silently resentful. My mother was the same. My dad yelled at me the second I tried to lift a finger and I’m pretty sure my sisters walked on eggshells around me. Yeah, I was that asshole.

Before I was prescribed bedrest, I had seen the prognosis as a sort of vacation. When I gave birth to Jube in 2010, I shared a room with a woman who was on hospital bedrest.  I remember thinking how wonderful it must be to sit on your ass, read books, catch up on the news and television shows, and be waited on hand and foot.  Little did I realize the complicated psychological effects of relinquishing control of your life to someone else. Bedrest is a clever misnomer; while there is a lot of physical rest involved, the mental distress doesn’t allow for any genuine peace. I never felt rested despite having made dents in many a couch during this time.

The effect of bedrest for me was like a paper cut: it hurt way more than it looked like it should. It ignited emotions that ranged from sadness and frustration to panic and. To tell a woman who runs around like a lunatic most days (and secretly loves it) that she cannot do ANYTHING anymore is like taking away her purpose. The doctor told me that I couldn’t stay home with my children alone. That was probably the worst part. Jeremy  took over the household and did the best he could to manage our life from preparing meals he thought the boys and I would like (a vegan cooking for a bunch of omnivores is certainly a challenge) to taking the boys to their activities to making sure we weren’t living in filth. My mom took over the laundry, cleaned when she came over, and was our go-to girl for absolutely everything three days a week when the boys and I stayed at my parents’ house. She cooked the most amazing meals, wiped a LOT of butts, and lifted a lot of booties up and down wherever they needed to go. She took it like a champ because, well, she’s been doing all that stuff for us for most of her life anyway. My father drove us all around and my sisters helped as much as they could in between their own busy lives. Still, I fought with all of them. Despite the fact that my mother and Jeremy in particular were running the show, doing double or triple the work they normally do, I picked fights constantly. They weren’t doing things the right way, they were being too slow, they were being too fast, they were being insensitive, they didn’t care enough, they cared too much. There also weren’t playing with the kids enough, they were taking the kids away from me too much…I mean, the list was endless.

The thing is I had a lot to worry about and I had no control over any of it. At any moment, my unborn child could literally be born. I was having contractions on a daily basis, some of them painful, and some of them went on for an hour or more. They mimicked real birthing contractions and they scared the shit out of me–particularly in the early weeks when Marco’s fetus was still just 30 weeks old. I feared the prospect of the health problems a premature baby could face, and I feared that somehow, I had done something wrong to make this happen. I took care of myself during pregnancy, never drank even a sip of wine, and I ate relatively healthy. Okay, I ate more full fat yogurt (Liberte is the best thing in the universe) than a normal person should eat, but it’s not like I was stuffing my face with Doritoes and coke for 6 months.

I found it immeasurably hard to take a back seat to my own life and let other people take control. Melancholia was my default status and I felt a pretty constant sense of sadness. It was like I was 16 again, strumming teen angst songs on my guitar, and etching “Kurt” into any crevice possible (yes, Cobain. Don’t judge me, jerks). It’s hard to relearn how to live and I can’t begin to imagine how people who have suffered from a stroke or other illnesses relearn how to live their lives. I dealt with it horribly and although I don’t want to be too hard on my former self, I am slightly disappointed at my general dissatisfaction with my life at that time. During the twice weekly 2 hour doctor visits, I was impatient, and I must have asked the doctor a hundred times when it was safe to “get off” bedrest.

You see, I saw my pregnancy as the last moments in which I would be able to be with my current two sons 100%. I couldn’t wait until the semester was over so Jube, Giorgie, and I could do whatever we wanted until the baby came. When the boys come into our bed in the morning, each would take position in one of my armpits, Jube on the left and Gio on the right. I was so unsure of how another little body would fit into our two kid household routine, and honestly, I wanted to REALLY savor those last few months. Bedrest prohibited me from doing so. Instead, they got a mom who sat on her booty for 90% of the day, who was usually bitter about something, and as much as I tried, I couldn’t get creative with activities. My patience was shot and I don’t think I was particularly pleasant to be around. Jeremy’s patience waned too, and we spent a part of my bedrest at odds with each other. I think it became difficult for each of us to really understand each other’s predicaments.

After 6 weeks of living a melancholic existence, I defied Jeremy and my doctor and said fuck it, I’m going to work. As president of the parent advisory committee (think PTA) at the kids’ daycare (The Greenhouse), I had to say a few words of thanks at the Preschool graduation. The director of the daycare, Janet, insisted it was perfectly fine to opt out this year, but I decided that, at 36 weeks pregnant, I was going to drive myself to the Greenhouse and fulfill my duties. And that is just what I did. I yelled something at Jeremy as I walked out the door and flew into the car. As soon as the preschoolers sang their final song and the crowd began exiting the auditorium, I stood up to talk to a fellow parent and I had a rather poignant contraction. Nothing I wasn’t used to. I thought, “Let me just sit down for a minute.” Ten minutes later, I made my way across the street into the Daycare center, where the families of all the graduates had gathered for a post-ceremony celebration, sat in Janet’s chair in the main office and began to labor. The blind pianist who accompanied the children, who is also a fellow professor and a father of four, sat with me and helped time my contractions. They went from nothing to 3 to 2 minutes apart almost immediately. I tried to not freak out as my hands became numb and I labored in public in front of people I work with on a daily basis. As the contractions became more painful, one of the children’s grandmothers, an RN, came in to tell me to calm down (HOW THE FUCK CAN I CALM DOWN?) and to open my eyes that I closed because of both the pain and the embarrassment. “Open your eyes and focus on an object,” she told me. That got me through the next hour and half of being carried out of the facility into an ambulance (mind you, the daycare center is ON the campus where I teach. Not embarrassing at all), being checked by a hesitant EMT in the ambulance, and having the hospital staff find me a room STAT. Long story short: the graduation ended at 7:15 and I gave birth at 8:42. My husband had to get our 85 year old neighbor to watch the boys as he ran to the hospital to meet our new son. Thankfully, he made it 10 minutes before Marco Finn was born: a perfect, beautiful ball of sweetness. At 36 weeks, he was the picture of health. Thank God. All the pain of bedrest was erased, and my husband and I shared those precious early moments of life together with our miraculous boy. Marco’s entry into the world literally made everything good again. Thank you, my angel.

This year, I attended the Preschool graduation again, said a few words again, and most importantly, celebrated my eldest son, Jube who graduated, sang songs, and was a total champ of a 4 year old graduate. Thankfully, I didn’t almost give birth there, again. As I exited the auditorium, this time filled with joy instead of baby, I saw the chair I sat in last year as my contractions worsened. All I felt was gratitude for all the amazing people around me and for a healthy baby. Goodbye bedrest. It was too real…

Taking a break from flying kites over Memorial Day weekend

Taking a break from flying kites over Memorial Day weekend

 

Marco's first birthday. Teething is hard and complicated for a one year old...

Marco’s first birthday. Teething is hard and complicated for a one year old…

Is that cake on fire?

Is that cake on fire?

OUR GRADUATE!

OUR GRADUATE!

I couldn't leave this cutie out of the barrage of pictures...

I couldn’t leave this cutie out of the barrage of pictures…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Maxine, the Graduate!

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She did it!  Last Thursday, Maxine received her Associate of Arts degree from Nassau Community College and walked at graduation. Despite the struggle of juggling a toddler, pregnancy, and birth without the help of a partner, among other things, she still managed to do well in all of her courses. Congratulations to a true super mama!

She’s on to bigger and even better things with plans to attend Stonybrook University in the spring of 2016 with a major in Women’s Studies. Maxine’s eventual goal is to study and practice Feminist Legal Theory. Our very own Gloria Allred is on her way, folks!

Maxine inspires  me daily and I know she will continue to do GREAT things!

The graduate!

The graduate!

 

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Congratulations Amy!

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Last week, I had the pleasure of watching four students, who also happen to be mothers with children at our campus daycare center, be celebrated for their academic achievements. Each of these women won a presidential award for highly competitive scholarships. Not only am I thrilled that they will be receiving some much-needed money, but also that there was an event in which we had the opportunity to celebrate them. Those hard working student mothers. The women who put their kids to bed, stay up until 3 am studying, pass out on the floor, and get back a few hours later to do it all over again…

And one very special mom earned not one, but TWO coveted scholarships. Guess who? Our very own Amy. Yes, Amy from Amy’s Story. (She told me that when she introduced herself to a member of the Alumni Association a few weeks ago, he responded by saying, “Amy? Amy from Amy’s Story?” She’s famous!)

One more semester to go for Amy before she completes her nursing program. I couldn’t be happier for her and all the other hard working student mamas.

CONGRATS MAMAS! Your perseverance seriously humbles me.

There's Amy in the middle with the President of the college and some other important folks. Who are we kidding? AMY is the most important person in this pic...

There’s Amy in the middle with the President of the college and some other important folks. Who are we kidding? AMY is the most important person in this pic…

 

 

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8 Reasons to Say “No” to Just One More Baby

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As I fold up baby blue newborn onesies and pack away fuzzy green and yellow sleep sacks, my womb starts to feel empty and my right boob starts to leak a little. I am longing for just one more baby. Although my youngest son is barely a year old, long gone are the precious early days of life: that brand new love, the feeling that I could hold my baby close indefinitely, the sweet sound of suckling—and of course, that new baby smell. Marco is cruising and playing like a big boy now, and as wonderful as that is, he’s not my tiny baby anymore. I start to silently weep when I think that he will never let me hold him again endlessly, that I won’t feel that spectacular bump on my abdomen that, despite all its hardship, was also a symbol of pride and joy, and that I won’t ever be able to “break the big news” to my husband, family, and friends ever again. As I wipe away a particularly heavy tear, I get up to find my husband so we can lock ourselves in the bathroom while six little hands pound on the door asking us “WHAT ARE YOU GUYS DOING IN THERE?”

And then I find my fucking mind because I obviously lost it a minute ago. Having another baby would be wonderful in so many ways, but do my tired bones need another reason to ache? Considering all the complaining I do about the three kids I already have, another baby may very well be self-imposed torture. I fantasize about how my life will be so good in a few years when all my kids can walk/sleep/read/write/tie their own shoes/cook/clean the house/earn their own money. Getting in and out of the car sans assistance is also a HUGE one.  Why would I want to set myself back another couple of years just for that new baby smell? I’m sure plenty of friends will continue to have babies whose heads I can borrow for a quick sniff. (Right?)

In order to get that “I want another baby” idea out of my head, I had to come up with a few reasons why I shouldn’t. And well, I came up with a lot. Below are eight benefits of never having any more kids:

  1. “Are you going for a girl (or boy or twins or insert stupid assumption here)?” will never be asked of me again.

When I was pregnant with my Marco, my third boy, too many people asked the above question, and people said the rudest things when I told them it was another boy. The worst by far was: “I’m so sad for you. How awful. Are you totally depressed now?”…Yes, jerkoff. I’m depressed I just wasted my time talking to you.

  1. My boobs are officially my own

No more tugging for milk, running into the office bathroom or some other unacceptable work facility for a pumping session. This also means no more messing with crappy nursing bras. They belong in a dark underworld along with my husband’s ex girlfriends.

  1. One word: Birth

I gave birth to Marco not quite an hour after giving a speech at my kids’ daycare’s graduation ceremony (after laboring in their front office for a half hour as a male professor timed my contractions and a hundred people watched from a distance. Yeah.). Giorgie came six weeks early and entered the world not even two hours after my first contraction. My husband got lost on the way to the hospital, parked in the farthest spot possible, made me walk all the way to ER, and scolded me as I fell on the floor in pain. When I pushed Giorgie out 12 mintues later, I am pretty sure he felt bad (he was SURE it was false labor). Jube made me miss my cousin’s wedding (where I was supposed to be a bridesmaid), and after 12 hours of labor, 4 of which were spent pushing, I had a c-section. That still makes me really sad.

Besides the trauma of birth itself, the fear of impending birth is also beyond frightening. Questions like “Will I be numb enough during the C-section?” “Will I be in the news because I had to pull out the baby on my own on the side of the road?” or the one I obsessed about: “Will I (gasp) poop during labor?” don’t ever have to keep up at night again.

  1. Sleep

SLEEP! Hallelejuah! At some point in the near future, I may get a chance to actually sleep. When my husband and I casually talk about having a fourth boy (with three already, we know the next one will have a penis too), we typically retract our excitement when we realize the realities of more sleepless nights.

  1. REAL SHOES!

I had Flintstone feet for the last two months of my first pregnancy. While I’m not a fan of heels or uncomfortable shoes in general, I also don’t want to HAVE to wear flip-flops everyday. And if I want to go buy some really impractical shoes now, I am free to!

  1. The Prospect of Predictability

With the exception of some random moments, there will be a sense of knowing what the day will bring with older children—I guess until they become teenagers anyway. No more scheduling around naps or two-hour tantrums over the wrong kind of socks.

  1. WINE!!!!!!!

Sacred, gift-from-the-gods nectar (or beer or tequila or whatever your poison). ‘Nuff said.

  1. I can FINALLY GET RID OF SHIT

No more “well, if we have another baby, we’ll need that swing that takes up most of our attic”. I just gave away a bunch of baby stuff and boy does it feel good.

Okay, so I won’t get a sweet baby at the end of nine months, but I also won’t have as many headaches and as many little voices screaming “MAAHHMM!” (like Norman Price in Fireman Sam). And when the kids get sick, there won’t be as many rounds of sickness. As I’m going through round three of an illness now, I just don’t know if I could handle a fourth (or god forbid fifth or sixth)! And even though I won’t be able to go on any more no-guilt ice cream binges, I also won’t ever have to deal with poop as black as coal and sticky as glue.

And every time I feel the urge for another baby, I will read this post to set myself straight. Feel free to do the same.

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