Monday, May 23, 2011


Dear New Yorkers,

Let me tell you that yesterday I was not at my best.
I am normally pretty good at not looking like a tourist.
I know that yesterday I was carrying my belongings in a pillowcase, and I was standing on the subway platform weeping with frustration, and my hair looked like I had slept on a bus.

But let me explain that that was because I had slept on a bus,
and the New Century stop is nowhere near where they said it would be,
and is nowhere near the Lucky Star bus stop.
It was because the subway ticket machine charged $3.50 for a card that turned out to have no money on it,
and because the ticket lady disclaimed all knowledge.
It is because your subway platforms do not have their destinations labeled,
or if they did it was in a manner invisible to me.

In Richmond I realized how citified I had become at a yardsale,
under spreading oak trees across the street from my parents',
where a placid man and his little boy greeted me cheerily.
I realized I had my thumb looped protectively through my purse strap, lest someone yank it from me.
The habit I once had to turn on in cities
now has to get turned off in the suburbs.

I know how to live in Boston.
I don't get lost anymore.
I don't respond to men who try to talk to me.
I don't look at subway maps.

But you reminded me, New York,
that somewhere inside
I'll always be a bumpkin.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Project: circle rug

Or, what to do with all the fabric your mother is never going to make into anything.

Cut fabric into long strips. You can turn the corners so it's one long strip.

Crochet into circles. Crochet the circles together. I'd never successfully crocheted anything before, but these are pretty hard to screw up.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The unhomely house

I'm on vacation at my parents' house, which means my parents spend the day at work while I stay home. In the suburbs, there is virtually nothing I can walk to. I've crocheted two bath mats in the last two days. It's seriously boring around here.

The house is like a parody of a home. Now that all my grandparents have died, their furniture has come to roost in my parents' house. The house is full of furniture, only a few pieces of which are regularly used. The nearly-unused furniture includes five dressers, four desks, two kitchen tables, two sofas, two armchairs, and two enormous china cabinets full of china they never use because they never have people over because the house is too messy. The amount of house they actually use could fit into the studio apartment where Jeff and I used to live.

The house, designed for four or more inhabitants, has barely two. My sister and I are gone, and my parents spend their days working and sleeping. Not much eating and even less cooking goes on. The kitchen, which used to be stocked with actual ingredients, now contains mostly foods that are ready to unwrap or thaw. Last night I spent almost as long trying to find ingredients as I did actually cooking - there were plenty of individually-wrapped frozen tilapia fillets, but no pasta. Totally weird.

My dad always worked too many hours, but now Mom is doing it too. (As a preschool teacher! It's really unclear what needs doing in a preschool classroom for four hours after the children have left.) Dad hasn't cooked in twenty-eight years, so he comes home and crankily waits for Mom to come home and thaw him something. When I visit, I'm praised for anything I cook (partly, I suspect, as a backwards criticism to Mom). Today when I picked Dad up from work, the receptionist asked if I was "the French toast daughter." Apparently my dad finds my making French toast important enough to tell everyone at his office about.

I know my instinct to blame Mom for everything is sexist. Mom has mostly stopped doing the cooking, sewing, gardening, canning, etc. that she once did, but Dad never did those things. If he wants dinner before 11 pm, he could thaw it himself.

Ugh, though.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Jeff and I live with another couple who are expecting their first child in a few weeks. “Attachment parenting” is the current paradigm, and they’re knee deep in books about how to bond with your baby. Last night they were discussing how to get the proper skin-to-skin contact to encourage the production of prolactin and oxytocin while still allowing them to put the baby down occasionally. Some of these books imply that, as the dad-to-be put it, “If you break eye contact, your baby will explode.”

It’s sweet to see their preparations and their happiness, but at times I feel a little bitter. Jeff and I are planning to adopt children from foster care in a few years, and it’s a very different story. Kids in state custody have been removed from their birth families because of abuse or neglect. I can’t control whether their mothers took meth instead of folic acid. I can’t control whether they were breastfed. The ultra-cozy, ultra-responsive atmosphere that is in vogue right now is probably not what these kids got. And so, if you believe the books, they are probably hopelessly screwed up.

I have my fears, but I don’t really believe it. Every child who’s been removed from its family has trauma that will never fully go away. I work with kids who have been homeless, seen parents deported or jailed, who have gone hungry and underdressed because their parents were incapacitated by their own problems. That leaves a mark on anyone. But I’ve seen these kids grow and thrive once their circumstances change. I hear adoptive parents say, “At age three he was barely speaking, and they told us he was mentally retarded. Now he’s at grade level. He’s so excited about everything.”

It’s tempting to believe that if I could just control all the variables, I could make sure my children were perfectly healthy and happy. But no parent controls all the variables. You can take all the folic acid in the world and still get a child with autism or Down syndrome or anything. For me, part of getting ready to be a parent is letting go of the illusion of control.

(Also, coveting the tiny clothes and blankets that are scattered around the house. That’s another part.)