Everyone’s Past It


When Jube, who will be 12 in a month, walked in from school today, I asked if I could read him something for his feedback. He said sure in his smooth way, flipping his hair out of his face as he plopped onto the couch feeling important.

I first read out the title to make sure he remembered what and where Uvalde is. His scrunched face signaled the need for a reminder. Before I could finish my explanation, he blurted out: “I’m just saying… It might be a little too late to write this poem, Mommy. Everyone’s past it…I’m just sayin’, Mommy.”

To The Parents of Uvalde

In this time of uneasy
school drop-offs,
I stiffen at every blip and ping
of my phone to make sure
the kids are still alive.

Two lockouts in a week and I’m beat.
My bones ache with the what-ifs
parents in Uvalde never got to consider.

We rushed there when we got the news,
waited outside school to collect grown boys and girls
as if it were their first academic hurrah.

Numb middle schoolers met their parents’ watery eyes
with myths of men pointing guns and a heroic arrest:
some kind of Grand Theft Auto video game fantasy.

When it was just a man with dementia banging the door for an education,
the kids went back to their worlds unruffled. Almost pissed.
But we just can’t be careful enough these days, so…

I fret for the man lost, for our kids who forget too fast
But mostly for the parents of Uvalde:
The flavor of the month for thoughts and prayers.

Next month it will be another school 
in another formerly unpopular American town.
And I just hope ours remains forever nameless.
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Before the Hype: Say Hello to Old New York


I’ve spent the last 15 years thinking, talking, and writing about the way gentrification has changed my beloved borough of Queens. Arguably, Brooklyn natives have been the most hard-hit, as many new settlers bypass Manhattan altogether for Biggie’s borough. We have all  have seen our hometowns ravaged, restored, and/or  re-imagined (depending on how you look at it) in the last 20+ years. Many will blame “those damn hipsters” while eating artisanal foraged avocado-dipped ramps. Others, like me, will give up trying to afford the hype, pick up, and move to the ‘burbs (maybe I gave up too easily on Queens, but I argue that Queens gave up on me. Long story.) While we frequently get real accounts of just how awesome our formerly sort-of shitty-but-oh-so-authentic-and-lovable boroughs are now in the media, we rarely get a clear picture of what has been lost.

Luckily, one of my students, Cindy Medrano, beautifully captures what no newcomer or tourist will ever see in Williamsburg today:  Los Sures.

             Adios Los Sures by Cindy Medrano 
It was the smell that I first noticed. It came and wrapped you up like a cozy blanket, the sazon heavy with garlic and cilantro, the Perry Ellis cologne on the men playing dominoes in front of the barbershop, and the wet sidewalk combined with just the right amount of smog. It was the fragrant smell of my childhood in Los Sures, now called Williamsburg by the usurpers. These smells are all gone now as well as the richly cultivated identity those streets once had. This place is no longer home.

Growing up in Los Sures in the nineties gave you a bankable amount of street credibility. Drug dealers had stash houses, pimps and drug addicts made use of empty warehouses past Metropolitan Avenue and Grand Street. Summer nights we were serenaded by police sirens, loud cursing and the occasional helicopter. It wasn’t considered desirable to claim this neck of the woods; outsiders looked in and saw danger. Insiders saw the same neighbors they’ve known since they could walk in their baby Jordan’s and the same buildings where family holidays were spent eating morro de guandules with pernil, and laughing.

Sure we knew what else was in existence around us, but we were focused on the family we had built and the community, we formed a bubble south of Metropolitan. You had the village raising you. The bodegero who knew your school schedule by heart, the waitress at the corner pizzeria who knew the route you took Monday through Friday, and you knew that your mom expected you to go straight home after school. There was all eyes at all times, like a network of agents guarding from afar in case of any disturbance in the norm. Unless that disturbance was your mom whacking your younger brother down Bedford Ave, they let that happen, they knew the deal.

It wasn’t until 2001 when Mayor Giuliani got tougher on the city that changes began. As it always is the case a coffee shop popped up seemingly overnight. No one here knew what the heck one needed a coffee shop for since it was common knowledge that coffee was either Bustelo brewed at home or a regular coffee you grabbed in a hurry from the corner store to wash down the bacon egg and cheese. That one coffee shop led to an art gallery and a sushi restaurant within six months of opening. The sofrito in the air was overpowered by the roasting coffee beans that the hipster in blond dreadlocks and flip flops bragged came from far and exotic mountains, like we cared. Immediately signs went up claiming condominiums were going to be built, new developments were like a blazing warning sign of impending doom. This was colonization part two, except these colonizers were called hipsters; they brought with them their obscure Indie bands, the inability to parallel park, mom and dad’s money and Clorox to wash us away.

We tried to hang on to Los Sures as much as we could. The community only supported the businesses that had paid in sweat and tears to survive, but the fight was unbalanced. For every dollar used to buy piraguas from Luis (passionfruit is the best, let’s not argue this), they spent six at the Mast Brothers Chocolate. The lines at the butcher was still ripe with abuelas, but the usual regulars started disappearing. Landlords sold properties and upped rents resulting in a mass exodus of have nots so the haves can be closer to Manhattan. The bodega that was the hub for good chisme, potato chips and plántanos was closed. A grocery store, carrying gluten free kale chips and kombucha, paid nearly double the rent for zero of the history. They took the hair salon where my hair was done once a week, every week, where I got styled for prom and where I left over thirteen inches of hair and streaky black tears after a breakup. You know what’s there now? Another coffee shop! They specialize in bullet proof coffee! Gran Mierda! Like that can ever replace the feeling of a fresh wash and set/vent session with Teresa and the bachatica in the background!

What hurts the most is that these people with their avocado ice cream, and scruffy designer everything will never care about what they erased. They won’t know that when Tomas had a heart attack the community took turns helping his wife take care of him, bringing food, driving him to appointments and sitting with him outside to get him some fresh air. They won’t care about the candlelight vigil that took place that cold Christmas Eve night when my family died. They didn’t see how I came back from South Carolina, too broken to brush my hair and too tired to speak; that Elsie put me in a bear hug and whispered how much my dad was proud of me. They don’t care to know that St Peter and Paul was our local parish and we all did our first communions and confirmations there before they made that another luxury apartment building. We are invisible. They won’t think about it when they walk down these streets and go into their doorman buildings, the families they displaced and had to start over. Nope, they won’t.

The last time I walked down Bedford I stood frozen in my tracks. I felt my eyes stinging and my throat starting to hurt. It smelled like a mixture of sterilized street and traces of cigarette smoke. They ripped out the tree we planted made of our hopes and dreams, covered it over with cement and made it a Whole Foods. Our kids got pushed out of schools so little “Juniper and Fitz” can feel at home. They pulled us up by the root like you do a wart.
Just like Columbus, they came, they saw and they conquered. Los Sures was gone like she was never there. We couldn’t say final goodbyes, just hope to keep her alive in our minds. They buried her before we could, they pulled the plug on her and pretended she never was. Yet she was all we had, we tried to give her CPR, but we got shoved aside for bigger pockets and ray bans. I hope she haunts them.

                 Dominican Words Glossary

Sazón: Seasoning. Usually adobo and bouillon cubes, every Dominican household has their own measurements and ingredients.

Morro de guandules: Rice with peas cooked in it, the rice made for holidays in any respectable Dominican household. Delicious because the sazón is point!

Pernil: Roast pork. The main star of any holiday table, the go to protein when you know the night calls for dancing and drinking (helps hold down the liquor with the morro) trying to resist the crunchy, juicy flavorful delicious-ness is impossible.
Bodegeros: The guy behind the counter at the corner store. Always has the 411 on everything, but he doesn’t snitch.

Bustelo: The only brand of coffee that is universally acceptable to older Dominican palettes. Anything else and you might as well not offer it.
Sofrito: The one recipe you must master before being allowed to call yourself a proper Dominican. Made from blending raw garlic, onions, peppers, olive oil, cilantro and fresh lime juice with salt to taste. Use as marinade or base for meats and beans. Smells DIVINE.

Abuelas: Grandmas

Chisme: Gossip, best heard while sipping on Bustelo; the bodegero or your abuela is always the best source.

Plátanos: Plantains, Dominican MVP of produce.
Kombucha: no clue, hipsters love it.
Gran Mierda: Literally Grand Shit, used in the way of big deal, who cares.

Bachatica: Bachata music is the most depressing, usually about messed up love situations. Best when listened to while drinking alcoholic beverages to get the full effects. Mandatory at all Dominican social events.

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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


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 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 of Holy Cross in Whitestone, my childhood church, 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


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”


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:


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.


Laura with three of her four kids

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Twas the night before Kindergarten…


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


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


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?



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!


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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