Posts in Tabula Rasa

On Beautiful Monsters

August 2nd, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa 1 comment

So, what’s up, primary caregivers of beautiful monsters who ask you questions and demand to be fed stuff for at least 12 nonstop hours a day? How’s your summer going? Good?  On vacation? How’s that working out for you? Relaxing on a beach and having candlelight dinners with your partner?

NO?

Me neither.

It started well. I followed the “let them be bored” mantra that has swept over the already exhausted population of summer parents. It seemed like a valid concept, but they forgot to mention that letting them be bored can be more tiring than entertaining them. But I stuck to my guns, pulled through, drank the KoolAid, felt proud of my accomplishment. His boredom led to a fascination with tiny Legos. Currently, I have an airport landing strip running along my living room floor, which I’m not allowed to move. There are heliplanes, fire truck garbage trucks, and bulldozer cranes on display, for anyone who dares to come visit us, which truthfully is pretty much noone.

During rest time, we began by watching “Sid the Science Kid.” The past week, two farting and burping larvae in the gutters of New York have been playing on Netflix all day. I have stacked my New Yorkers back into a corner, unread, and reached level 1000-something in Farm Heroes, which besides slowly killing my brain, has also affected my eyesight. A random burst of noise from the plastic electric guitar or our favorite harmonica, usually signifies that rest time is over. And it’s Lego time again. Today, I suggested we sit together while he builds his vehicles, and I read a few pages of my book. He eagerly agreed. We all know how that went.

Basic errands, such as buying two liters of milk a day for my growing angel, take hours instead of minutes. It’s reached the point where two different shoes on feet is completely acceptable, as is trying to carry Teddy, a coloring book, a sticker book, a fire truck and a little plastic bag of tiny Legos in tiny four-year-old hands and dropping them multiple times on the way to the car. All of these things end up in my handbag by the time we reach the entrance of the supermarket. The supermarket, another horror, was the place I began to teach my kid the value of money not so long ago. You know, the old song and dance about how we can’t buy things all the time, nor can we buy yogurt that comes with Smarties just to eat the smarties and throw the yogurt away. And then claim that we ate something healthy. Not so slowly, this deteriorated to us leaving with him carrying his own little bag of stuff. Tomorrow, when we go on the milk/wine run, I will offer to buy him something.

Then we have the lunch/dinner situation. When school closed, we sat down and made a schedule of each week’s balanced meal. I don’t know where that schedule is, actually, I ‘m not so sure anymore that we made it. And today’s lunch featured a donut from Starbucks.

Bedtime begins shortly after lunch time, for me at least, for that’s when I start thinking about it.

“Mommy, I want to do something exciting! Mommy, what are we going to do today? You know, like the zoo, or the trampoline, or the beach!”

We did all of those, multiple times. The zoo in 35 degrees celsius. The beach, where by 11am, there are hundreds of school-free little monsters, louder than mine. Grapes covered in sand, sand stuck in little pink gums, three bags of crap to haul back and forth from the car, hours to spend in the warm, shallow waters while getting a special back tan that leaves the rest of you as stark white as you were in December. The trampoline that opens at 3pm, not an ounce of shade, but a four-year-old doesn’t care, until sweaty and exhausted, he passes out in the car on the way back and bounces off walls till way after bedtime.

Bedtime, yes, that’s where this began. It finally happens, and you feel like something magical has occurred. You suddenly have options, such as do I shower, do I clean, do I pour wine now or later, maybe I should have a glass now, then shower and have another one, do I watch half an episode of a girlie, brainless show before the spouse comes home and assumes that that’s what I do all day, or do I play some more Farm Heroes?

You pick one, and then your partner comes home. Excited to tell him about your day, inspired by the fact that you have spoken to nobody all day but your child, you begin to recount things completely insignificant to anybody with any inch of sanity. When I personally do this, my husband sits and stares at me, blankly. As if wondering why he married me, or if this is really the person he married, or counting to ten, or 100, until he knows that I will stop rambling. Because really, I don’t have that much to say.

The highlight of my day today was running into my OBGYN at the local mall and explaining to my unprepared child that this is the woman that brought him into this world. Yesterday, it was telling the cashier at the supermarket that my mom is coming at the end of August. She doesn’t know my mom. Or me. But she asked. Probably something irrelevant to my answer, but she was a grown up, and she looked pretty sane.

I sit here now, in the silent darkness, with what I think is a tiny yellow Lego piece floating in my glass of wine, a slinky hanging off the banister, and another month ahead of me, and as every night, try to relive the amazing things that happened today. I taught him that “passing gas” is a much better version of “fart,” he made his first phone call to his best friend, he blew up his first balloon, walked around his room (way past bedtime) in the tacky, furry fuchsia flip flops he made me buy, and he hugged my neck right before he fell asleep with his little beautiful arms. My husband will be home any minute, and I think I won’t have to tell him about the OBGYN, at least not until later, because I’ve told you. Good night, primary caregivers of beautiful monsters. September is right around the corner, and some of us still have a family vacation to survive.

On Letting Your Hair Down

July 31st, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa 8 comments

I feel silly writing this, almost like a romantic 15-year-old, but sometimes a romantic 15-year-old is the most magical person you can be.

A couple of days ago, I walked through the gates of a building I hadn’t been to in 25 years. It’s unnerving, at first, to find yourself in a place you know so well, yet feel so estranged from. I looked up at the stairs that I ran down in glee, age 18, high on the future, the freedom, on the last day of 12th grade, graduation gown waiting for me at home, they looked less steep, smaller. Out back, on the basketball courts, an all-class reunion was underway, the setting sun shining its last rays on the familiar faces I found myself surrounded by. It wasn’t one of those rigid reunions where you sit at a table and exchange professional and family histories to elevator music. In fact, not a single person I spoke to that night, asked me that sort of question. We mostly hugged and smiled. A few old teachers came and went, tears in their eyes; I imagine their source wasn’t the joy of seeing us, but the realization of how much time had passed.
Two or three people from my graduating year showed up, most of the others were semi-strangers, faces I remembered, names that I did not, voices and laughter that shot me back to childhood. The laughter that day. I don’t know how to write about the laughter, it came from a feeling of sudden freedom, comfort, one where all filters are off, and all walls are down. We made fun of eachother, then and now, pointed at people we didn’t recognize, told stories about recess and class trips and dances and skip days and boyfriends and girlfriends and more class trips, trying to put together pieces of a collective memory puzzle.

The music got louder, the older crowd, whose walls and filters are much quicker to fall than ours, just stepped out onto the fake grass and got down. Next thing you know, we’re all with them, arms waving Ys and Ms and Cs and As, then singing the words to “Fame” as if our lives were really just beginning, as if we have so much time to make the world remember our names. Maybe it was the sense of safety, finding ourselves in such a sheltered environment of our past, maybe it was the wine, the warmth of friends, the kindness of strangers, a mixture of it all. A slight breeze blew threw my wet head (line dancing can make you sweat), and I remembered that my hair was straightened and free for the first time in ages. I immediately looked for an elastic to pull it back, but my head felt light, and I went back to dancing like a teenager; fearless.

Most of us headed to an old neighborhood bar once the music stopped. But the minute I walked out that gate, the magic was gone. I was back to being a middle-aged mom, looking at my watch, counting the hours I had to sleep, wondering if I should have another drink, and going home shortly after. I didn’t pull my hair back, hoping to keep the feeling twinkling inside.

The next day, I wanted to tell my husband about the unexpected great time I had at the reunion. But I didn’t, because every detail I thought of seemed silly, unimportant, banal. Ok, so we line danced on the court where I learned to play basketball, where I had fights with my best friend at recess, where I had my first crush on a boy, where I was a girl, where so many of the friends that I have to this very day grew up. It was interesting to nobody but me and those who were there.

It seems that childhood creates a bond that can last forever if we are just fearless enough to let it. I salute all you fearless people and love those of you that I even barely know, simply because somehow you are a part of me, and I am a part of you. Even if for those few hours, when again, we were 15.

On Proms & Pasta

July 27th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa 2 comments

Age: 43

Weight: 75 kg

Height: doesn’t really matter, unless very short or very tall.

This is how I have spent my life defining myself, in the dark corners of my mind. This is how most of the women I know define themselves. Women who like me, are not overweight, but women who are not perfect. Why do we choose to use those two criteria? Who taught us? We all know the answer to that; our moms, our friends, society.

We live our lives crippled by various forms of minor eating disorders, and these disorders affect our lives to a much greater degree than our bodies. At my senior prom, I pulled on a bright red, tight, off-the-shoulder dress, cut my hair into a short bob, pasted on some dark makeup, and strutted out of the house and into a limo. My mother was horrified, not so much by my outfit, but by the fact that I was nearing 90 kilos at 18, and hadn’t noticed. I thought I was as hot as the skinny tall chick next to me. When she kindly told me to maybe control my eating, I began sneaking into the kitchen at 3am and eating peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon that could barely fit through its opening.

That was the “fattest” I have been, including my pregnancy. Yet, then, and forever, I became aware of the fact that I’d never be what I’m supposed to be. My 20s were a nightmare, for while wearing strappy, lycra tank tops from Zara, without a bra, I was constantly convinced that my stomach was too chubby. My obsession was validated by an owner of a bar who refused to hire me because I wasn’t skinny enough, even though I had hot legs, he said. And back then, we didn’t talk about our body issues as we learn to do into our 30s and 40s. It’s terrifying to live with the glitches of self-loathing that moments like this imprint on our minds.

About a decade later, obsessed with spinning to the point that I’d walk on the treadmill for an hour to warm up for two consecutive classes, my stomach still was not flat enough, because I ate too much pasta, my skinny friends suggested. I do love pasta. I will eat it straight out of the pot, with ketchup, with complex sauces, with canned sauces, in lasagne, what have you. And despite the non-flat stomach, I refuse to give it up. But whenever a low hits, I will eat such amounts of it, that even if I was a lean ballerina, I’d feel like the Michelin Man.

“I ate one half of a lemon,” I overhear a girl telling her friend.

“I had chocolate for breakfast and have to go to the gym for five days straight,” a friend tells me.

“I woke up in the middle of the night and raided the junk cupboard,” another self-loather says.

“I lost 20 kilos in two months,” a proud voice boasts, knowing that she will put it back on and plus some, in the next six months.

What is this? Why do we eat half a lemon? Why do we eat chocolate for breakfast? Why do we pig out in the middle of the night? And why do I refuse to give up carbs?

Maybe because we don’t want to. Maybe because we know that even if we do, we will never be that girl in the ad, that girl on the beach, and most definitely we will never be perfect enough for ourselves. We are bombarded by body image stereotypes, diets, exercise fads, glossy magazines are all over the internet, we don’t even have to spend money on them anymore, torture is free. And a couple of Dove plus size ads aren’t going to change that. It’s centuries upon centuries of conditioning, being told how we should look, how our weight and height must correspond. We measure our fat, for god’s sake. Measure our fat. And at the same time, modern life provides little leeway for eating right. You have to search the supermarket aisles to find something that’s not loaded with chemicals, sodium, preservatives, sugar, trans fat, this fat that fat the other fat. The vegetable section is where broccoli comes to die after its vitamins said goodbye in a fridge somewhere underground a week before it was put on sale. And I love broccoli in my spaghetti sauce, and in my veggie lasagne.

So ok, we’re over 40, we’re almost over this whole thing, we talk about it with our friends over some pizza. But then comes the day when even the most self-confident of us has to take off her clothes at the beach, or in front of a man. I know that even she, is overwhelmed with insecurity. Imagine the rest of us.

I remember laying on the beach in Mykonos in my late 20s, surrounded by three or four of my best friends. None of them perfect, me knowing that none of them were perfect. I remember that I tried to get from towel to sea as fast as possible, never sit in the half-seated position on the beach bed, always reading flat on my back with arms stretched above my head, because laying on my back was the only way to make my stomach look semi flat. I found a picture of myself during that very holiday today (picture in this post). And I wished I could go back in time and slap myself. And then, I realized, I should slap myself now, I should slap all my friends too, maybe even some strangers, for its such an unnecessary, pointless, petty, trip this ride we’re on,  to not even give yourself the chance to see who you would be, what you would look like if you’d just leave this obsession aside, to always try to be someone else, someone else that does not exist. Even if it’s for a few moments a day. And we all know, that it is so much more than moments.

Age: 43

Weight: 75

 

On the Group of Moms at the Playground

July 20th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa 1 comment

A post went “viral” today, you’ve probably seen it if you’re a mom, written by a mom who lists why it’s ok to be any kind of mom, and still be a good mom. To basically stop mom-shaming eachother.

The fact is, the summer months are hard. Kids are home all day. That’s more than 12 hours of awake time for some us, 12 whole hours to feel like a failure. There’s lots of time for self-shaming, let alone the result of that awful but innate habit, judging other moms. But it’s more complicated than that. To stop judging eahcother, we must stop judging ourselves and the choices we make in raising our kids. And to openly talk about our feats, faults, failures, successes.

There is a playground close by here. At 6pm, daily, it fills with the same group of moms and their kids. When we first moved to the neighborhood, I’d take my son down there every now and then. The only mom who spoke to me was one with an autistic kid. Back then she wasn’t sure autism was the problem, so she kept swinging him on the swing, rhythmically, smile on her face, talking to her child non stop. Look, there’s an airplane, look, you’re eating a cookie, look, that little girl is playing with a truck. She was so deep in self-shame that I didn’t even know what to say to her, blaming herself for something that was completely out of control, not seeing that she is a hero, opening doors for others to judge her.

Another mom, twin boys, toddlers, terrible twos that seem to be stretching well beyond  that age, gravel in the air, in other kids’ faces, fighting, crying, screaming, she too exhausted and ashamed to tell them what they are doing is wrong. Again, and again.

The semi-foreign mom, who hears my child speak English and ask to play with her kid’s bulldozer, pretends she doesn’t speak English so she doesn’t get edged out by the rest who stare at me as if they’ve never seen a foreigner before. He even says “please,” but nothing. I tell him that it’s ok, we have a bulldozer in the trunk of the car, in Greek, but nothing.

The grandma who is way too old and tired to be tending to two kids, doing it for the unconditional love for her son or daughter, given little choice by the conditions of the country we live in, asking me which building we live in, on which floor, what school my son goes to and speaks the “xena” (foreign).

All of you, I’m just as freaked out as the rest of you, none of us knew what we were signing up for. I could mom-shame you as you do me, I see you stare at me in disdain as I open my phone and play a round of Candy Crush, as I take my son by the hand and take him home for bath and bed hours before any of you do. And I let you be, because I know you do it because you see parts of yourself in me, parts you wish you could be, as I do in you.

It’s ok, I understand, as I’m sure somewhere deep down inside, you do too. Mom-shaming is just self-shaming.
You haven’t seen us in a while, and you probably never will, for I no longer take my kid to your playground, there’s no room for us. I take him somewhere we can breathe, unashamed.

On Freedom Night

July 17th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

A girl’s night out can be a tricky thing. In our 20s it usually resulted in drunken stupor followed by black outs and hangovers. In our 30s, they become rare, as everyone slowly found their elusive other half and spent nights cuddled up on couches, gaining weight by the kilo per Saturday.

Then came the babies.

For the first few years, nights out are events that we planned months in advance, trying to work around toddlers’ schedules. When and if we succeeded to meet up, the result was pretty close to the nights of our 20s, minus the fun and the all-nighters. The drunker we got (end of drink one), the more we complained about diapers, walking, crawling, puke, poop, lack of sleep, and by the end of the night (end of drink two), the conversation had shifted to how beautiful all our children are and how lucky we are to have them even though we get no sleep and no alone time. The friends without kids that originally joined us, slowly chose to not attend. And us, well, we opted to avoid these nights, dreading the sleepless night, followed by a gallon of water per each drink consumed at 6 a.m. the next morning, accompanied by the angelic screams of our kids.

And then we got used to all that. And suddenly, the babies and toddlers became kids that can turn on the TV without our presence before sunrise. And even more suddenly, so much so that it caught us off-guard, we got to have a real girl’s night.

It was a Saturday, at the house of two moms, whose kids got dressed up to greet the guests, and eventually, relatively painlessly went to bed.  I was so stressed about the possibility of a “pass out” occurring before 11pm, that I actually took the second nap of my lifetime that day. And everyone showed up, and stayed up. Friends I hadn’t seen without kids hanging off their sleeves in over five years, friends who had never left their children with a babysitter before, friends without kids who decided to give us another chance, friends who I see every week but suffer from not exchanging an adult conversation with, ever. We sat around a table, by a softly lit pool and talked. Listened to old music. The one that has words that make sense to accompany the tune. Moved chairs to be close to someone else, and talked some more. Some of us had dressed up, because we could, some dressed down because they could. Nobody cared, nobody got wasted, nobody fell asleep, nobody took their clothes off to jump in the pool, (though I must confess, I’d hidden a bikini in my bag), and children talk was limited to a five minute burst that faded as quickly as it had blown up.

We were us. But a different kind of us. An us that is not afraid to cry, to laugh, to scream, to be real, an us that is aware, accepting, embracing. An us that has spent our 20s and 30s together, and us that now has nothing to hide, an us, whether with four kids, two boyfriends, divorced or alone, sees things clearly.  An us that is free.

On Hookers, Bras, and Struggles

July 14th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa 2 comments

It’s 4pm on a hot summer day and I stand a block away from my house, hiding in the shade of the shadow of a stop sign, waiting for my son’s school bus to drop him off. A man drives up, in his 30s, flashy Mercedes, shirt, tie, pop music, and tells me to get in.

I’m 43. I’m wearing baggy jean shorts that have survived motherhood for over four years, my hair is in an unruly, smelly pony tail, I’m sweating, miserable, grumpy. Why he mistakes me for a hooker is beyond me. Maybe it was because I was leaning on the pole. But with that logic, any woman who leans on anything on a street is a hooker. I’m no MILF, no cougar, none of those flattering names that women my age are given by damaged members of the opposite sex. And definitely not remotely appealing at that time of day to the undamaged ones.

I live in a country, in a world, where a man slaps his wife in the middle of a sold-out concert that’s raising money for the hungry, and she sits back down next to him. In the country that founded democracy, at the stadium that saw the birth of the modern Olympic games. All I can think of is what must happen at home, for a palm across the face to be accepted in front of 20,000 people.

A six year old girl wants to wear a bra. Probably because some other kid in school convinced her mom it was ok to wear one.

An 11 year old, a crop top and hot shorts. Because 11-year-olds are 20-year-olds of my generation.

Neither see the reasoning in their mothers’ objections. Both innocent enough to not realize that society has already sexualized them, stripped them of their core identity, or not even given them a chance to form one.

I watch the bad excuse for a man that the American people elected to lead them this week, and squirm. I’m like those bugs that turn into balls when they’re scared, roly polies, that my son is so fascinated by. I watch him blatantly demean the first lady of France. I wonder what she replied to his ageist, sexist comments behind the scenes, and hope that she used wisdom and swear words.

People keep writing parenting advice articles to moms to teach their sons to respect women. It’s not the moms who need to do that, it’s the dads. And by respect I do not mean open doors and pretend to listen to their opinions. I mean raise them in an environment where at no point in time, in their entire childhood, are they even given the of hint of the possibility of the idea that any woman is a lesser or weaker than they are. It’s that simple, it’s common sense. I know plenty of dads out there more than capable of such a feat. And many more, capable and insisting on the complete opposite.

But we’ve come so far, the voices of women everywhere shout at me, angrily. Yes, angrily. Because we are still angry. How can we not be? Is this a fight we can even win? If so, why is it still such a fight? There are so many of us, we are all screaming, our words fading as if background noise to deaf ears. And so many more of us, choosing to remain silent.

 

On all That is Really Left

July 10th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

There are days like this, when there is nothing left. Days when I’ve eaten plain spaghetti without salt for lunch, sprayed with questionable ketchup for the last two bites, wore unmatching clothes, left on nail painted on my hands. When pulling my bra through my sleeves as I rest my back on the hard floor, is even too much. When I no longer have answers for countless questions, especially ones such as “mommy, why do all children grow up.” When a morning at the beach day felt like a week’s worth of manual labor; hauling gear, changing wet bathing suits, reapplying sunscreen, digging holes, fetching juice, washing sand off the grapes, feet, hands, feeling my back burning as I spend hour two in the shallow water chasing a beach ball against the current,  on my knees.

It’s only the middle of summer and I already know nothing is left, my strength was gone before it started.

I promised myself I’d be better than last year, I’d be more patient, more organized, I’d allow time for boredom, spend time outdoors, blow my fuse at least half an hour later than normal, insist on healthier eating habits without nagging, limit screen time, and all this while not letting the scorching Greek summers dictate our day. No wonder I was tired before it all even started.

Today, all I managed, was the beach. With only one incident of voice raising. For safety reasons.

I know I’m not alone, there are a million moms on the verge of a summer vacay meltdown every second of the day. And for most of that time, we, I, are alone. Even if someone is with us.

By bedtime, our patience has reached superhuman levels, our fuses have burnt out, faded, we can almost smell them sizzling. The lights are off, the stories have been read, the mess almost tidied up, and we lay there, sit there, waiting for the melodic sound of their sleep breathing, they all have a different tune, and suddenly they’re out and we are free.

But free to do what?

“But grown ups don’t play, ” he says before he finally falls asleep. And then decides, “I’m going to play when I’m a grown up.” Hugs my arm, turns his back and goes to sleep. My arm is twisted, hurting, but it’s the sweetest pain. And all that is really left.

On the Road Constantly Traveled

June 27th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

For two years, twice a day, at two different ticks of the clock, I took a twenty minute drive along an identical route. I wasn’t always aware of my surroundings, rarely paying attention to what was going on outside my window, mostly answering my son’s questions, ranging from “what is god?”,  to “where was I before I was born?”, to my favorite “are we there yet?”.  It was repetitious, boring, a chore. I no longer drive along those roads, and now so clearly remember what I saw.

The smell of an aromatic cigarette in the elevator, and the plump lady that smoked it every day, lighting it outside her door downstairs, walking with it to the bus stop down the street.
The old man, in the garden of the building next door, oxygen tank in hand, cigarette in mouth. Sometimes I’d see him in the cab always parked in the same place, without license plates, sitting in the driver’s seat with the engine on.
The Pakistani man walking through the line of traffic at the lights, selling tissues, cutting flowers for my son from the weedy sidewalk. The first year I was cautious, afraid, uncomfortable. My son would roll down his window, smile, say thank you, and wonder where the “nice man” was on rainy, cold days. One day in spring, I saw him hand out daisies to an entire school bus, little hands sticking out the cracked windows, and my fear turned into warmth.

The trucks and bulldozers that we’d count on the road when he was only two-and-a-half, terrified of the new, strange place that took him away from mommy. The counting grew into the number of pigeons resting on the electricity cables above our heads, then red cars, and finally into sing-a-longs to favorite songs on the radio.

The posters randomly stuck on the streetlights before our final turn, changing in accordance with the political climate, weekly call to strike, local concerts; they layered them, one on top of the other, glue on glue, a medley of Greek society.

The amazing boy, almost a teenager, being lifted on and off the school bus for kids with special needs. Paraplegic, happier than any child I’ve seen, especially when his father scooped him up from his wheelchair every afternoon, cradling him like a baby, holding him close. I teared up every single time, reminding myself of how lucky most of us are, holding on to the moment as if a reminder of that beauty, tenderness and love are the most important thing in our routine, they keep us going, steer us down the same roads, bring us back.

The little boy, that after a few months of crying “mommy, don’t leave me,” ran through the doors of his preschool with glee, and dove into the box of plastic insects with his best friend.

The old, sick woman that was placed on an uncomfortable chair on the balcony of the house next to which I’d park. “Hey! Come up here!” or “Hey, throw this away!” she’d yell every day, either motioning me to the chair next to her, or throwing a bag of garbage onto the curb.

“Be quiet, Fotini, leave the woman alone,” her caretaker would say.

The peace, sometimes magical, sometimes lonely, as I gathered bits of breakfast and legos from around the house, estimating the hours I had before I’d have to go on my journey again.

 

On a Happy Place

June 23rd, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

When I was seven, my mom led me into the classroom in my new school. In a new country. I sat down at the desk assigned to me, next to a boy who is my friend to this very day. My knowledge of English was limited to “hello,” so I said it to him, almost in slow motion, with a heavy Russian accent. “Toilet” was the other word I knew, and even though I had to pee, I decided to save it for later.

It was a dark, cloudy September day, the classroom was in the basement, our desks a worn pistachio green, the light yellow, electric. Pine trees outside swayed to the early autumn tune of the breeze.

I wasn’t scared.

My mom was. She stood outside the old door, staring into its little window. She left when she saw my “hello,” knowing it was her cue, leaving me to figure out my new world on my own, even though all she wanted to do was stay and help me.

Now, it’s my turn.

I know I’m not alone, I see other moms of young kids who just either “graduated” nursery or kindergarten, panicking about how in a couple of months their munchkins will find themselves outside their comfort zone in a new school, a new classroom, surrounded by people they don’t know, just when they’d finally fallen into the comfort of their happy place. My son’s little school closed its doors today, forever. Stricken by the financial crisis, they opted to retire. Two years ago, I had walked into this place, my second stop in what I thought would be an endless road of research, and knew that it was it. It was the place where my barely two-and-a-half year old would never wear a diaper again, where he’d meet his first best friend, where he’d have his first fight, heartbreak, glorious laugh, where he’d learn his first letters and numbers, where he’d spell the “S” in his name backwards with a red marker over and over again on both sides of a piece of paper. It was the place that became the center of my daily social life, because come on people, we all know that moms of young kids can’t make it outside their homes past nine o’clock, especially on school nights. It’s was the place that I learned to trust strangers, to listen to them praise or criticize my son, it was the place that embraced him every morning for two years. It was his happy place, mine too, our safe place.

The thought of him getting off a bus and walking into a school ten times the size, terrified me at first. I almost started googling articles about how to help your kid deal with the change. But I didn’t. Because I don’t have to. None of us have to. They’re kids, they’re resilient, they adapt. I was the only one in the car crying today, as we drove away for the last time. He was laughing, bouncing his red balloon on the closed window and asking for ice cream. He’s not afraid of going to his new big school. I was. And if I made it through the day with a “hello,” anyone in his place can make it with a “hi.” He’s only four. It’s just the beginning. There will be more happy places.

“Mommy, why are you crying?” he asks, giving the balloon a hug.

“I’m excited,” I reply.

On Special Strangers

June 22nd, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa 1 comment

A little over four years ago, a very pregnant woman walked into the offices of a weekly shipping newspaper. She had an interview with the editor, a woman looking to retire, after 30-odd years as a journalist. The pregnant one was almost 40, the editor did not like to reveal her age, though her endless devotion to her career and her fight with cancer may have given it away, if it wasn’t for her mischievous smile, and the jokes she made every time the preggo ran to pee during the interview.

The pregnant woman was offered the job; a few months of training and she’d eventually take over as editor of the Athens bureau. She didn’t really believe it, she was thinking the older woman was just being nice, knowing that she’d never take it, even though she never had children of her own, and devoted her life to journalism.

After the official interview, the older woman suggested they go for a drink, she gathered up her stuff, left the rest of the staff with directions for the rest of the afternoon, and took preggo for a glass of wine at a bar down the street. They talked and talked, about things that two strangers don’t usually discuss, the younger woman had a cigarette, the older one chased the snakes of smoke with her nose, joking about her cancer-ridden lungs.

“I really want this job.” preggo said. “But I don’t know if I can leave a newborn at home to chase shipowners and their stories. I want to be a mom. But I want to have a career and this is the best chance I’ll ever get.”

“I can’t help you make that choice.”

The younger looked into the eyes of the older, trying to read what was behind that sentence, but found nothing. There was no answer, no pity, there was no secret knowledge, there was no regret.

Eventually they hugged and went their separate ways.

That night, the future stay-at-home mom sat on her kitchen counter, legs spread to let her massive belly breathe, and cried. She cried for what she knew she was giving up, she cried for the amazing person that touched her life for a mere three hours, she cried for what she was never going to have, and for what she soon would have.

Cancer finally won, as it tends to do, a few weeks ago, a little over a year after the older woman finally decided to retire.  The younger woman went to the memorial service, having seen her only twice in her life–once at the scene described, and again at a dinner a year or so later–for no reason other than wanting to say goodbye to an almost-stranger who helped her make a decision that women all over the world are faced with,  by saying nothing. That day, she showed her who she could become, but did not judge who she would be. It was at an Anglican church, unlike any funeral, wake or memorial that she’d ever been to, people kept getting up between hymns and prayers, telling stories, recalling memories, talking about her smile, her passion, her wisdom, her impeccable career. She wanted to get up and tell her story, but felt that she didn’t really belong, almost feeling privileged to keep her few hours with this woman to herself.

Rest in peace, Gillian Whittaker. I am sure that I am not the only almost-stranger whose life you have touched. It was an honor.

 

Pieces: a novel

“Pieces” is the winner of the silver medal at the 2017 Independent Publishers Awards (IPPY), and a finalist at the USA Best Book Awards and International Book Awards.

When Clouds Embrace: a children's book

All proceeds from the sales of "When Clouds Embrace" will go to Giving for Greece, a foundation that works to help the hundreds of unaccompanied refugee minors in Greece.