Posts tagged " love "

On the Fire of Eclectic Human Superstars

September 25th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa 2 comments

I just spent a few days on a farm, unlike no other. To recall what it looks like, I need to swipe through the hundreds of photographs on my phone, because it wasn’t the Tuscan countryside, the greenery, the oxygen, that made it magical, it was the people I shared a roof and sky with, the people whose stories made my mind speed, shattering the everyday routine of a mother’s secluded existence that has marked much of my recent life. People from all over the world. Most of them were strangers, a few I hadn’t seen in 13 years, my friend, the bride, with whom we share epic stories of a lifetime, even though we met half-way through, and my new friend, the groom.

Getting married at 40-something, is very different to getting married at 20. You know what love is. You know what you’re fighting for. What you’re sacrificing, and why. You know the faces you want to see, the smiles, the laughs, the silence, and you know that they will be there. The friends and family that you’ve held on till then, are bound to possess the fire you’ve burnt to get this far, to be this brave. I want to tell you about a few of them.

I’m going to start with those I know, dad, mom, stepmom and cousin of the bride, after knowing me for 24 hours over a decade ago, made me feel like I was coming home. It was hardly a bad home to come to, warm bear hugs, and a freedom of jokes and laughter that you can only have with those that are not your family.

It was a partly Swedish wedding, thanks to the groom, (the other part a medley of New York, Boston, Italian-America), and the tradition there is to have two people run the show. They ran it as if it was they who were getting married.

The groom’s mother, the absolute powerhouse, bustling with energy, humor, and surprising warmth that suddenly appeared out of nowhere and kept me asking for more.

A perfect couple, with a perfect family, beautiful beyond the initial flash of perfection, brought together by a story that makes me want to put the wife on my shoulders and parade her cheering, around a town square.

And Lauren, the only person whose name I feel free to mention, for I finally found the person who can integrate the word “fuck” more than I can into a single sentence at inappropriate moments. We laughed so long, so hard, that I swear I could see the abs peeking out of my post-pregnancy 40-year-old pooch.

(The rest I will save for a future novel.)

We gave speeches at the dinner table, sharing personal stories, toasting the newlyweds, and at no point was there nobody crying into the freshly made pizza on their plate, even though the speech-giving lasted close to two hours. At the ring of the bell (yes, there was a bell), silence fell, gazes searched for the next amazing tale. Half-way through mine, I blacked out, as if I’d fallen onto a huge white pillow, listening to my almost incoherent babble, but it didn’t matter, I was there, I was part of it, I remembered who I am. I remembered what is real, what is true, what I live for. In an old farmhouse, in the middle of nowhere, in the darkness, surrounded by nothing by bright, burning, human balls of light.






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 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 Mom’s Spring Break

April 5th, 2017 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

It’s been a month since I hauled my suitcase up the narrow, steep stairs, slid the key into the door and stepped into the tiny, dark apartment that belonged to a stranger.

29 days since I sat on a West Village fire escape with a cup of hot coffee resting on the railing, at 4am, jet-lagged, watching loud friends in their 20s stumbling in high heels, hailing cabs.

28 days since from the same spot, I heard the blond woman, hair a mess-she’d obviously fallen asleep somewhere-loudly whispering into her cell phone, recounting the events of the night. I

27 days since I met up with an old friend and to the random melodies of magical jazz, filled the scarce silence with stories that we chose to tell.

26 days, since I walked the city for 12 hours, getting on and off the subway as if it were a free Disney extravaganza, and I, 10-years-old.

25 days since a late-winter blizzard buried New York under a few inches of snow, emptying the streets of anyone but brave tourists in soaking sneakers, subways transforming into makeshift homeless shelters for the day. I, schlepping bags of precious underwear and t-shirts I’d just bought, because not a minute can be wasted, through the evil storm.

24 days since I began to wonder when I will miss my son, when the separation anxiety that crippled me on my last trip will take over.

23 days since I accepted that it will never happen, that he’s finally old enough to be away from me, that I’m finally ready to remember who I am, even if for a few fast days.

22 days since I walked around Barnes and Noble and Union Square, taking deep breaths, as if I could keep their air inside me until next time.

21 days since I gave thanks to Saint Patrick’s Day parade traffic that kept me from getting to the airport quickly, for even Queens’ highways looked beautiful that day.

21 days since I wanted to stay forever, 21 days since my four-year-old boy ran to me with a bouquet of flowers bigger than him, 21 days since I realized a new chapter had begun.


On What is Ours

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

It’s been one of those weeks when I have so much to share with you, yet share nothing. From blinding snow storms, to nostalgia for the forests of little-known Latvia, to the maddening last days of Christmas vacation with a Paw Patrol-obsessed toddler, to the organizing of the Athens chapter of the Women’s March on Washington.

But as I lay down to (quickly) go to sleep every night, one image grazes in my mind. That of one of my oldest friends, and I’m talking 30-odd years, sitting beside my fireplace, while a woman, now her fiancee, looks at her like we dream for our partners look at us forever. And that’s not even the image. It’s the smile on my friend’s face. I hadn’t seen it since we were young, innocent, easily pleased, naive and reckless in love, watching that VHS tape of Dirty Dancing till it got fuzzy during our favorite scenes and finally snapped. Since she was last truly happy.

My son asks who this other girl coming to dinner is, I tell him she’s my friend’s friend. And immediately regret it.

He’s four, he lives in a country that just like most of the world, has nothing but a few bustling enclaves of acceptance and freedom. I’m just privileged to have lived in some of them.

A battle begins in my mind: I should have told him they are partners, just like mommy and daddy. He wouldn’t have even asked, he’s too young to ask, to unset in his ways, too open, too free, to accepting. And then I thought of his long hair, the clip I use to keep it out of his face, his sometimes bright green marker-painted nails, the sticker his wonderful teacher stuck on his earlobe, and the glances and comments it all evoked and evokes from surrounding adults. I imagine him telling his friends about mommy’s friends, imagine them going home and telling their parents, and tell myself it’s ok I didn’t tell him the truth. Even though the truth is beautiful and the rest is ugly.

On January 21st, hundreds of thousands of people will gather all over the US and the world to protest against racism, bigotry, against darkness, suppression, and hate. They will shout for freedom, acceptance and love. I will be standing in front of the American embassy here in Athens, Greece having gathered as many people as I can, to demand what is ours, rightfully, naturally, irrevocably. Love. And when that day, my son asks me where I am going, I am going to tell him. Because he has to know what is ours before someone or something tells him otherwise.

And after I do that, I will take him with me when I proudly stand next to these two amazing women and listen to them exchange their vows.


Feel warmth, it’s there if you let it lure you

December 24th, 2016 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

Feel warmth, it’s there if you let it lure you.

Get high on fresh air, it’s all around you.

Smile more, your days are full of moments that beg for laughter.

Love like a child, it’s the only way to do it.

Fear nothing, and there will be nothing to fear.

Hug, kiss, hold hands, be kind to strangers.

Be hopeful, inspire others, be an example for your kids, teach, learn, grow.

Celebrate these holidays as if you are a five-year-old kid, call your friends, stare at the blinking lights on your tree, for they are magical.

And believe, believe, believe.

Happy holidays, people. I’m grateful, today and forever.

On First Love

October 7th, 2016 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

We all think we remember it, that first love, I thought I remembered mine, but I’m starting to believe that our first true love stories may happen much earlier than we realize. They happen before we are even conscious of what love is, which is what makes these stories so real. Pure.

There’s a boy and a girl, I’ll call them B and G, they met a year ago in preschool, he was barely potty trained, barely spoke a word. She, a little older, ran away from him, then immediately to him. They shared an interest in trains and bulldozers, they shared a classroom, they shared the sudden flood of knowledge that only kids their age stay afloat in, grow from.

He began to speak, order her around, she bit his hand, then his arm, but he didn’t want to let her go, and with the guidance of his mom, forgave her. They each chose a bicycle, and at recess, rode with noone but eachother.

The summer split them apart, yet each asked for one another every day.
“Mommy, I miss G,” he said every night.

G came to school earlier than scheduled that year, the morning after a long flight, jet-lagged and exhausted, but demanding to go. They saw eachother and hid behind their moms’ legs for a second, then let go, and headed to the play dough station.

Their moms try to bring them to school at the same time each morning, so one or the other doesn’t stick their head out the car window looking to see if the other has arrived, so that one does not sit in the corner quietly until their friend finally comes in, and at the end of each day, they choose to embrace. The kind of embrace where you have no idea what it means, don’t care if anyone is watching.

It’s raw, unfiltered, forgiving, endless, unafraid, unknowing.

That’s what love should be, that’s what it really is before our egos outgrow our hearts, before we forget what it means to forgive, before we believe that one companion is not enough, before other people’s voices begin to have the power to influence our minds.

I find myself having silly, immature, romantic cliche thoughts. I imagine them as teenagers, still bound by this unconscious love, and wishing that we could all, as adults, feel like this forever. Hoping that maybe at least they will. So this raw love, it must still be here, buried somewhere, enticed to unearth itself as I watch two little people live what we all would die for.

On the Privilege of a Cold

September 30th, 2016 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

When I was younger, I rarely got sick. But when I did, I openly succumbed to the day or two that it would take me to get over it. I remember laying in bed, taking something like NyQuil to zonk me out, sleeping it off with nothing but the buzz of the TV in the background, maybe someone waking me with some chicken soup, and then life went on.

That was obviously a long time ago. The pre-child era.

Here’s how a cold or flu go in the current era.

One day, I go to school to pick up my son. The two kids that the day before had rivers of snot running down their cute little noses, has multiplied, the multiplication includes my son. He whines and moans and groans on the couch for a couple of hours a day, fever-free, and at school, symptom-free, and is soon back to his normal cheery self.

I wake up the next day unable to move, breathe, think. I take him to school, the teachers see me, and split to different corners of the room.

“You go rest,” they say from afar.

“Yeah, ok,” I say. You know nothing.

Your kid gets sick and everyone is all “Oh, careful you don’t get it.” What does that even mean. They will drink from your glass. They will drool on you. They will sneeze in your face, cough everywhere.

I spend six days planning what time I need to pop two Advil to go to the supermarket, cook, pick up my kid, and put him to bed without the pills’ effects having time to wear off. I eat vitamin C until my stomach issues a warning to stop.

“Do you have a fever?”someone asks.

Of course I don’t, I’ve taken so much ibuprofen that fever never even had a chance.

I cook meals that taste like nothing to me but like too much of something for everyone else. After-school cartoon marathons become the norm, as I lay under a duvet in what is still summer, surrounded by toilet paper rolls because I’ve run out of Peppa Pig tissues, which my son cuts into little pieces to make forts and blankets for his teddy. Bedtime stories are constantly interrupted by nose blowing and coughing, but as he falls asleep, I know tomorrow I will be better.

But I’m not. I begin to research strange viral outbreaks on the internet, thinking I may have missed a news story, yet nothing, so I go back under the duvet and watch a movie, simply because I cannot do anything else. Nothing.

“Are you better, mommy?” he asks today, noticing that the duvet has been replaced by a thin blanket.

“Not really, baby,” I say.

“Here, take teddy, you will feel better,” he says covering both of us with a sheet of toilet paper, intertwining his fingers with mine.

On What I Will Miss Most

September 15th, 2016 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

As I find myself slowly waking from the stupor of early motherhood, falling into back into the rhythm of toddler-free humanity, I already know what I will miss from these exhausting, yet miraculous years.

The smell of Crayola crayons.
Soft couch pillow forts.
The pain of him running and ramming into my chest when I open the door to pick him up from preschool.
The feeling of those tiny hands wrapped around my neck, “I missed you mommy” whispers tickling my ear.
The magic of the words “disonaurs” and “sumic.”
Referring to boiling spaghetti as cooking.
Getting away with putting elastics in his hair, while accepting his refusal to get a haircut. Because it does not matter.
The freedom of things not mattering.
The sound of that pure, innocent laughter.
The awe and amazement of everything new that I see through his eyes.

There’s a reason all mothers say their kids will always be their babies; the touches, sights, sounds, and smells are so potent and powerful during the first years, they last forever.


On Dough

July 8th, 2016 Posted by Tabula Rasa No Comment yet

When I was a kid, every month or so, on a designated morning, my mom and aunts would gather in the kitchen, clear the table, sprinkle it with thick, white dust, form a couple of volcanoes in the middle, add stuff to the craters, and begin to knead.

Later, rolling pins and wine glasses would join the setting, while they stood over their dough balls and rolled them out to the desired perfect thin. Using the wine glass rims, they’d cut out perfect circles, throw perfect teaspoonfuls of minced beef and onions, maybe garlic, I don’t remember, and tie them into perfect pelmeni (

I remember their white-goo-covered hands holding cigarettes while they took a break, their obsessive counting of how many pelmeni they’d made, as if it was a competition with last month, the bags full of the frozen dumplings in our freezer, but most of all, their sweat and the hours this activity consumed. And then, how little time it took everyone to eat their efforts.

I must have been around 10 when I silently swore to myself I would never do anything like this, especially not for any man. Plus, I hated the stuff. Eventually, I was forced to join this sacred ritual, though I was only ever entrusted with the wine glass cutting part. My lack of enthusiasm and no thirst to learn were soon accepted, though with frowns and head shakes.

Fast forward yourself to an odd three decades later. I’m in my mid-forties.

Picture me in my kitchen, a few minutes after I’ve finally put my toddler to bed. There’s flour, there’s a volcano, there’s olive oil, salt, and sugar. And I’m kneading. Only my mission is to create the perfect pizza dough ball. And this is no sisterly social event, it’s just me.

The memories above came like fireworks during the second or third time I picked up that rolling pin. I’d rummaged through my mom’s kitchen to find it, we obviously did not have one in the house. I think it’s the same on she used back then, and I will never give it back because she has not used it since she left that house. I could suddenly hear their chatter, smell the mushroom soup that was simmering on the stove behind them, smell their smoke, feel their pain, listen to their thoughts.

I stand and knead, drops of sweat bounce of my perfect dough ball, its a hot summer night and no matter how many years go by, my Russian makeup just can’t stand the heat. I know it’s just water and salt, I smile as I picture my family and friends nibbling on a slice tomorrow, and I gloat about my history, my past, the women and men that have kneaded me into what I am right now; a stay-at-home mom making dough. For we are all one perfect recipe of our past.

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.