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Thinking of everyone who has lost a Valentine, a long term spouse or partner (and I have several family friends who have, this very year, said goodbye to the loves of their lives, partners for half a century and more). I’m reposting this–from a year ago–dedicating it to my mother, who misses Dad in her way as I do in mine. With love.

Lisa W. Rosenberg

When you lose someone you love, the loss becomes part of you.  As time passes the loss changes shape, weight, texture, but you carry it everywhere.  It’s experience that changes you, wisdom to share in measured doses, depending on how willing another is to receive.

My father died of cancer seventeen years ago today:  February 13th, 1995, the day before Valentine’s Day.  We sat shiva for just three days before we felt him urging us to get back out into the world and live—on his behalf, on our own.  I remember walking outside on February 17th and thinking what a lonely place it was without Mel Williamson.  Lonelier still for those who’d never known him.  And then something happened—I don’t remember what—I saw some interaction between strangers on the street: something Dad would have made a comment about or laughed at, and I remember smiling.  A private…

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Someone Else’s Nanny

My children’s babysitter, Monique (whose name I’m changing here), came
to me with just one reference, and no background check. All I had to go on was
a good feeling about her in my gut coupled with a sense of total desperation about finding a sitter.

When we lived in Brooklyn, until Zoe was a year old, I had enough family around to watch her when I worked. When we first moved to Montclair–I was working three days a week then–I was fortunate enough to find a sitter—a cousin of a friend’s sitter—who came once a week. My mother came out another day and my husband was home when I worked Saturdays. Then that sitter left me to become a crossing guard, explaining she needed five full days of work.

I needed help quickly. Someone who could work two long days a week but didn’t need five, who could manage a newborn and a highly opinionated preschooler, who could read with inflection (that was a must for me, since I had strict TV limits), who played games and could run around after Zoe with ease.

I found someone quickly, though it would turn out to be a dead end.  Candy was the daughter of a friend’s babysitter, twenty years old, with a one year old son–but assured me she had plenty of childcare for him.  I had misgivings about her age, but my daughter loved her and the girl seemed to have a lot of family support around town.  I hired her on a trial basis, and everything worked out well for about a week.

Then, five days before I was supposed to start working, Candy informed me that she couldn’t come anymore because her own childcare had fallen through.

Trough an agency, I hastily interviewed about ten different women, all of whom seemed far more interested in newborn Theo than talking, walking Zoe.  Then, on Candy’s second last day, she brought home a woman she’d met in the playground.   (A stranger, which shed light on Candy’s judgment, frankly.)

“This is Monique.” Candy said. “She’s a baby sitter.”

I barely looked at Monique, because I’d been up all night and had interviewed three  sitters already that day.  I was also nursing every two hours and coping with a jealous two-year-old who thought it was high time we sent the baby back to the hospital where it came from.

I said to Monique,  “Look, why don’t you come back Monday?”  Meaning–but not communicating well enough to convey–that I’d interview her Monday. Instead, Monique thought I’d hired her.   She arrived Monday ready to work.

I said we’d try it for a day, since I’d be home. But I stressed that I needed, above all things, for her to win over Zoe. Well, Monique did it. She was bright and energetic and attentive. In no time she had my daughter giggling, asking for another story. (Yes, Monique read with inflection.)  She was also wonderful with baby Theo, with whom she fell in love immediately.

It was a happy story. Monique wound up caring for my children, two days a week (the other three, she cared for the children of a friend) from eight until eight, for six years. She stopped only when I went on my hiatus to write. Monique still sits for my kids sometimes, still does my daughter’s hair if ever I need it braided (like we did for sleep-away camp). I consider her a big part of my childrens’ early years, a wonderful influence, someone we care for, who cares for our children. I was lucky, so lucky to have met her, and so were my kids.

We were all lucky.
The most important thing you do as a working mom–responsible for finding responsible childcare–once you have chosen that special person who will make your complicated life at all possible–is take a huge leap of faith . Every day that you leave your children, you must make a choice to trust this person whom you’d never have met if you hadn’t been looking for childcare.

This is a truth between nannies* and moms: if not for the children, if not for the mutual need for work—their lives would likely have never intersected.  Nannies and moms tend to differ in childcare style, culture, class, education level, and also frequently race. With all those differences, not to mention the odd check-and-balance of power (Mom has the money; Nanny has the kids), there is much room for tension and even conflict.

In such a complicated relationship, trust is paramount. And I mean Trust as a two way street. Mom trusts that her children will be safe and cared for and (best case scenario) truly loved by the nanny. Nanny trusts that she will be compensated for hours worked, warned if those hours are going to be drastically increased or cut, respected, treated like a valued human being and not taken advantage of.

Trust, respect, balance. Only when all that’s  in place can a mother breathe easily and finally begin to relax into the rhythm of her life.

And then …

A news story breaks, horrifying and gruesome.  About a nanny on the Upper West Side of Manhattan who was found, her own throat slit, apparently by her own hand (which still held the blade) and the two small children left in her care, both fatally stabbed. About their mother, returning home with their  sibling in tow, who found the above scene.

I can only imagine what must have gone through that mother’s mind, the disbelief, the anguish, rage and profound despair. As a mother myself it is impossible to think of this mother’s feelings without tearing up. The father, too, who was away on business, and who—hearing about the tragedy—could not immediately put his arms around his grieving wife or bewildered, surviving child.  (Of course, the therapist in me cannot help thinking of that surviving child herself, wondering how her life will be, how they’ll wind up parenting her—the whole family reeling with grief, guilt, fear and other residue from the trauma.)

I wonder too about the nanny in question, the suspected murderer, who was loved by the family, who loved the children. The family had visited the nanny’s home in the Dominican Republic and had met her extended family—an experience cheerfully blogged about by the mother. I can only imagine the brutality of learning that someone you thought you knew–someone you trusted with your heart and soul–is the ultimate monster.

But something else gives me a great sense of foreboding about the case: the implications for every other nanny in the tri-state area. Going forward, what will life be like for these women?

As noted in Saturday’s New York Times, nannies will hereafter be under intense scrutiny.  I can only imagine the mistrust, the questions forming that no parent wants to ask, but has to for the safety of their children. This was a family who thought such a thing could never happen to them.  Yet it did, which makes it seem like it could happen to anyone.

How then, does a good nanny prove she is who she says she is? How can she convince them: that will never be me, I will never lose my mind, I will never put your children at risk.  How can she make them believe?

For now she can’t. Good women will be doubted. Mothers will hesitate before hiring. When they do hire, they will still be wary, thinking: It was someone else’s Nanny, but it could have been you. Could still be you. Suspician and resentment, and finally guilt–because no one wants to feel these things–will pervade the playgrounds of New York, where both nannies and moms can be found. The aftertaste of this unspeakable tragedy will haunt them for months, years, to come.
*Where I live, in Montclair, NJ, I have never heard a mother refer to her kids’ baby-sitter as a nanny.  I use the word here because it is the word used in the New York Times describing the case.  Monique always prefered “babysitter.” Nanny, to her–to us–felt too formal and old school.

What Having a Child Does to a Man

Just a Photo and a Thought for Father’s Day … How do you think having a baby changes a guy?

A mid-morning bottle on the beach at Cape Cod, MA 1966.

“Ghost Blog” or “Please Stand By …”

Okay, so this post is mostly for my followers, who may or may not have noticed that I haven’t even touched this blog for a really long time.  The June 15 deadline for finishing a draft of my YA novel still stands, which is why I’ve been focusing only on that.   (Oh yeah and my kids.  And husband.  I meant kids and husband.)  This is just a quick post to share a few awesome things that have happened in the interim.

  •  The Edgemont school production of Annie, for which I was honored to do choreography, went off last week, not only without a hitch, but so splendidly, I cried at all four shows.  Both casts were fantastic, but the Friday cast was especially dear to me, because my own Zoe starred as the curly, carrot-topped orphan herself.  (Though not-especially-carrot-topped in this case!)  Her photo tops this post with friends in “Hard Knock Life.”
  • My unpublished-unagented-but-finished-for-now novel, Birch Wood Doll was named a finalist in the Nilsen Prize for a First Novel competition.  This was so exciting I actually screamed when I realized the email wasn’t a form “thank you but no thanks” rejection.

Dr. Susan Swartwout, the publisher of Southeast Missouri State University Press, who sponsors the contest, gave me some wonderful feedback which I will use when I revise again, which I have decided to do.  

  • Last but not least, a very special friend of mine who will remain anonymous just gave me the thrilling news that motherhood is in her future. 

Anyway, I’m on target to finish my draft and will return to more regular blogging, reading and commenting very soon. 

Versatile Blogger, Beautiful Blogger!

I am very excited to announce that I have been nominated for two more blog awards:  the Versatile Blogger Award …

And the Beautiful Blogger Award:

I am so honored and grateful to the spiritual and creative Julie Hansen, who nominated me for both awards.  Julie is a clairvoyant and Reiki Master who uses her gifts in the service of helping others heal themselves. Read her inspiring and spiritually invigorating blog: Julie Hansen Intuitive: Channeling Clairvoyant Insights and Energies.  Thank you, Julie!

So here are the rules for the Versatile Blogger Award:

– Thank the blogger who nominated you.

– Share 7 random things about yourself. (My list is at the end of the post)

– Nominate 15 fellow bloggers.

– Inform the bloggers of their nomination.

– Include the Versatile Blogger Award image in your blog post.

The Beautiful Blogger Award rules are similar in requesting seven random things about yourself, but only seven other bloggers.  Since, like Julie, I am combining the awards, I am choosing fifteen bloggers total.   You can accept one award or both awards, but please don’t feel obligated to do so.  I really just wanted to share these honors with you and share your beautiful blogs with my own followers!

Here is my list:

(it is always hard to choose; there are so many great blogs out there!)

  1. Jodi Aman, Heal Now and Forever Be in Peace
  2. Laura Susanne Yochelson
  3. Hooked
  4. By Design Interiors
  5. Elizabeth Young
  6. Maureen Doallas, Writing Without Paper
  7.  Finding Josephine
  8. Beyond The Brush
  9.  Gilly Gee, Lucid Gypsy
  10.  Monica’s Tangled Web   
  11.  Boob is Just Bob With an “O”
  12. Nikky’s Strength and Weakness
  13. Nicole Gray, Drinking Coffee All the Time
  14. Fi Phillips: Fi’s Magical Writing Haven 
  15. Eloise Currie’s Memoirs and Other Artifacts

And here are my Seven Random things:

  1. I make a mean seafood jambalaya, though I almost never do because my kids still don’t like their food “mixed.”
  2. In the eighties, I wore gold and silver eye shadow on my eyes and lips.  Just because it was the eighties. (I also word gold and black braided headbands.)
  3. When I was pregnant, only jellybeans cured my morning sickness (why do my kids have sweet teeth??)
  4. When I was dancing, I wore my pointe shoes over bare feet—no tights, only band aids—otherwise I thought I couldn’t feel my feet. (Pain equaled normalcy.)
  5. I once hitch hiked in California.  I was twelve.  It’s a long story I’m saving for a future post.
  6. In 1989, I auditioned for the role of Theo Huxtable’s girlfriend on The Cosby Show (and met Bill Cosby who told me I wore way too much eye makeup.)
  7. I love big roller coasters, but nowhere near as much as my daughter loves them.

Once again, thank you Julie, and congratulations to all the above on your versatile, beautiful, and sometimes just plain fun blogs!

Sunshine Award Nomination!

I am delighted to say that I have been nominated for The Sunshine Award by Laura Susanne Yochelson who blogs so honestly and courageously about eating disorder recovery.  Thank you Laura!

Here are the rules of this blog award if you are nominated: Include the award’s logo in a post or on your blog (see flower photo above)
. Answer 10 questions about yourself.  (As far as I can tell, you can use the questions below, or switch out a few and include things like favorite motto or favorite number, or something like that.)  
Nominate 10-12 other fabulous bloggers. 
Link your nominees to the post and comment on their blogs, letting them know they have been nominated. 
Share the love and link the person who nominated you!

So here are 10 things about me:

  1. What are your favorite things to do?  Being with my husband and children, writing and reading. 
  2. Where would you most like to travel to?  Australia.
  3. Who would you most like to meet who is still living? Michelle Obama.
  4. Who would you most like to meet who has passed away?  My paternal grandparents, maternal grandfather and, most of all, my dad’s favorite brother, Stan.
  5. What do you think is the hardest thing to do?  Let your kids make mistakes, stand back and let them learn from them.  (Also, one of the most important things as a parent.)
  6. What is your favorite non-alcoholic drink? Coffee.  Lots of coffee, made in my own special way.
  7. What is your favorite charity?  Heifer International.
  8. What are you proud of? Being a mother to my two terrific kids, a wife to one amazing husband, finishing a novel.  Helping my former psychotherapy clients get closer to their goals.
  9. What ambition do you still have?  Getting published, revamping my therapy practice.
  10. What is your favorite flower?  Sunflowers, though my husband thinks they’re creepy-looking, I think they’re beautiful.  Also blue and white windflowers that grow in Sweden and are “awluffy wild” (as described in Astrid Lindgren’s Noisy Village books.)
These are the amazing blogs/bloggers I am nominating:
1. Dionne Ford, Finding Josephine
Best wishes to you all!

Other Side of the Lake

My Dad and me at another lake at an earlier time. I think I'm two.

The summer I was ten, my parents and I rented a big yellow farm house which was a stone’s throw from a clear, blue lake. Everyone with a weekend house in the vicinity used the lake; it was the main attraction of the place.  It had a soft (more likely than not, man-made), sandy bank and a wooden raft anchored in the middle that you could swim or canoe out to.  People would lie out on that raft and just sun themselves for half the day.  No one worried about UV rays back in the seventies; people slathered themselves with baby oil and Ban de Soleil–sometimes held those aluminum sheets under their chins–and baked copper-brown in the sun, myself included.  (I know many people of color who were cautioned as children to stay out of the sun–to keep from getting darker.  My mother, who valued a nice tan in those days, was envious of how easily I browned.)

Our second week at the house, a group of boys arrived at a nearby estate.  There were ten of them, all about thirteen, all black, hailing from a place called “Inner City,” of which I’d never heard.  These boys had been awarded this special trip as a prize for academic excellence in a program which was basically for smart kids from rotten schools.  In addition to staying in a huge, old manor house and having access to a lake and the beautiful country, the boys were also taking enrichment classes in all the major academic areas.  Sort of like The Fresh Air Fund meets Prep for Prep.

My dad loved to observe these boys as they play-wrestled and exchanged insults involving one another’s mamas.  They were loud and wild and splashed a lot.  Most of the well-heeled regulars stayed away when the boys came out to swim—Inner-City-brand hilarity not being the vacationers’ speed.   The boys always greeted my dad with respect.  They could tell he understood them, though they didn’t know what to think about our family.  The boys seemed surprised that my mother—The White Lady—wasn’t afraid of them.  She spoke to them like a teacher would, even stepping in when their routine scuffles got out of hand.   They certainly didn’t know what to make of me.  Once the boys saw that my parents had no problem with them—didn’t clutch me and flee when they arrived, like the other parents did—they felt it was safe to approach me.  They never asked my name, but addressed me as “Little Girl,” referred to me as such amongst themselves.  As in:  “There go the Little Girl, y’all.”

The way I talked, which was nasal and squeaky with prominent r’s, amused them.

“Hey, Little Girl, you better watch out: Jaws is in the water.” (The film had been released earlier that summer.)

“No he’s not,” I’d say, not realizing they were trying to get a rise out of me.  “This lake is fresh water.  Sharks only live in salt water.”

They’d howl and slap each other’s hands as someone else would come up with a question for me, just to hear me talk.

The reason my dad got such a big kick out of these boys was that he had been one of these boys.   He had grown up in the thirties on the South Side of Chicago, part of what was referred to as “The Black Belt.”  His father—whom I never met because I was born too late—was a Pullman Porter, which meant he was always employed, even throughout the Depression.  So compared to those around them, my father’s family was not poor–my grandmother even took to leaving meals out on their front porch for those who had none.  Nevertheless, they were still black; they still struggled and faced the same kind of pervasive racism that all “colored people” faced back then, regardless of class.

It was immediately apparent to everyone that my father was a smart little boy, taking after his brother, Stan, who was eleven years his senior and clearly headed for University.  My father wore glasses from an early age, which no doubt helped people take his intellect seriously.  But it was more than that.  By seven, he was reading everything he could get his hands on; by ten, under his brother’s tutelage, he could differentiate Mozart from Beethoven from Schubert.  In Nineteen thirty-seven–seventeen years before Brown versus the Board of Education–my father was one of a very few black students who began attending a white high school, where he joined the staff of the school newspaper, ultimately becoming its chief cartoonist.

Still, his friends were the boys from his neighborhood.  They splashed around in their lake—Lake Michigan—and derided one another’s mamas just like these boys did.  Of course, the mobile sunshine delineated the white section of their beach.  If the sun moved while my father and his friends were in the water—which it invariably did—the racial divide moved.  That meant trouble.   As Dad would ultimately write:

‘No one had ever designated which sections of the beach were for white and black.  There were no signs as I had seen south … saying “white only, “ or “colored.”  But rigid segregation prevailed.  And the group of pugnacious white men and boys was always there at some arbitrary dividing line, with bats in their hands, watching us.  It was a different group every time we came to the lake, but they always looked the same.  Thin, fat, or muscular, narrowed eyes, tight little mouths and hard frowns …

If any black swimmers lost their sense of direction, or place, they would hear the shouts and curses and racial epithets.  If that didn’t do the job, into the water the group would come, eager for the attack.’[1]

Watching those boys at the lake that summer brought my father back to his beginnings: what it was like to be young, black, smart and way out of place wherever he went.   He never talked to me about those days when I was a kid, only when I found drafts of his memoirs later on and asked about them.  What stories he did tell me of black life in the 1930s on the South Side of Chicago involved a world very far removed from my own.

I spent my whole childhood without a single overt incident of racism—that I noticed.  I know I was raised in a bubble: a city where biracial was common, a private school where the black kids were no different socioeconomically from the white kids.  I had no frame of reference for relating to my father’s tales of segregation and fear.  Also, my father’s job in publishing meant later hours and more business trips than those of my mother, who was a teacher.   Mom was with me more, meaning I negotiated the world accompanied by a white, educated woman.  We may have gotten more than our share of looks when we went places together, but that was an easy trade.  No matter where we went, my mother’s race provided access.

Still, the trials my father endured as a youth, the character they built in him, paved the way for me to have a very different sort of life, in a different sort of time and place.


[1] From Untitled Memoir by Mel Williamson (The manuscript is undated, but he worked on it continuously between 1985 and 1994. ) This excerpt takes place in the summer of 1940.