Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mazel Tov! It's a Royal!

Ok, so it must be done. A few words about the royal baby... from someone who has been on the British tax rolls, and who likes babies.

During my second stint living in the UK, a few years ago, we brought some visiting relatives to all the regular places that you go with tourists. (Borough market: check. Tate Modern: check. London Eye: check). Even though none of us are royalty enthusiasts, we took a day trip to Windsor Castle. Because, let's face it: you can visit castles in other places. But there are few places where you can visit a castle that still houses a sitting queen.

The day we visited, the flag flapping in the wind above the ancient walls indicated that, in fact, the queen was in residence. On our walk through the public areas of the castle, we found ourselves in a grand room, all golden moldings and oversized equestrian paintings. A docent pointed to a set of locked doors and said to the children, "That door leads to the queen's quarters. She could be sitting right on the other side of that door right now." Their little eyes opened wide, as they imagined themselves running into the queen. Never mind that none of them would probably recognize Queen Elizabeth II if she was sitting next to them on the tube, unless she happened to be wearing a bejeweled golden crown.

As we recovered from our brush with royalty with pints of ale at a dungeon-like pub, decorated with chain mail, one relative expressed to me his absolute disgust with all this royal nonsense.  He reminded us that we fought a war so we wouldn't have to financially support the monarchy anymore. He found it appalling that the monarchy is still supported by the public, and that their vast properties are protected from inheritance taxes. "Why do the British put up with it?" he wanted to know.

When I asked the above question to a British friend of mine--a liberal populist--she had a quick, confident answer. The royals more than earn their keep, she told me, by acting as traveling emissaries of the British brand. She argued that the monarchy is the UK's most valuable export.

Which brings me back to the royal baby. The excitement around the world for Kate and Will's baby is completely over-the-top, and a bloody boon to the Brits. People are looking at England, and they're not, for now, talking about austerity. They're happily sipping PG Tips and letting scone crumbs tumble down their chins, as I did with my girls when we watched the royal wedding a couple of years ago. Because we commoners love pomp and circumstance, and this royal nonsense is (for a minute or two) damn entertaining. We all wish, on occasion, that we had a staff standing by our side ready to fulfill our most humble commands. The dream of being royal is an ancient fantasy, and the foundation of fairy tales.

I do feel for that baby, though. I can't say "poor thing," as that he is not, but I don't envy him, for his predicament of being a lifelong object of the public gaze. I suppose if he needs guidance, he could talk to Suri Cruise. Or, of course, his dad.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Pamper Your Camper with Words

As previously mentioned, having kids away at camp has created a daily pressure to find something to say to them in letters or emails. My goal is always to make them smile. I remember getting letters at camp. The happiest moment was often when the letter was handed to me by the counselor, but then there could be a slight let-down when reading the actual text. Because, let's face it, these weren't love letters. These were mundane ditties from the parents, who were leading their regular old boring lives. (Mom, don't you worry, I LOVED your letters, with nary a Finast visit omitted).

I've tried to amuse my girls with a few lines of rhyming poetry here and there. I offer here a sampling in memory of David Rakoff, whose new rhyming novel I can't wait to read, and Shel Silverstein, whose poems I associate with both childhood and (for some reason), summer. [For those of you in search of meter or rhyme violations, let me just reiterate that these poems were written for an 8- and 10-year old audience.]

So what in camp is fun to do? 
Is there anything that this year is new? 
In all of the pictures you look so delighted. 
There's so much, I see, that makes you excited. 
The summer back home has been somewhat boring. 
Perhaps Lou and I will do some exploring.
Today we will try a different new playground, 
Louisa will climb and slide and run around. 
Daddy's been watching the Tour de France all day. 
It's his favorite event, what can I say? 
Lots of love to you from your dad and your mommy. 
On visiting day, should I bring some pastrami?

I hope today at camp is fun 
And that you will often laugh and run 
Remember when it's time to jump in the lake 
Cold water will help to keep you awake 
If the food isn't yummy, at least it's nutritious 
If the food is great, then say, "wow, delicious!" 
Listen to your counselors, have fun with your friends 
Before you know it, the summer will end. 

I'll see you in less than a week! 
can't wait to squeeze your cheeks! 
I'm glad you love camp, 
Even though it is damp, 
And they don't serve steak or leeks.

When it's hot in camp, here's how to stay cool 
Sorry, but you can't go swim in the pool 
Stand by the mist-er and jump in the lake 
Stay in the shade, for your own sake! 
Eat lots of ice-pops 
And wear your new flip-flops 
Don't think about the heat 
And summer will be sweet!

Soon it will be Shabbat 
Remember to rest a lot 
While you are praying, 
Know soon you'll be playing 
With all those great friends you've got.

Camp is almost done. 
I know that you had fun! 
When you get back 
I'll help you unpack
And hugs? I'll give you a ton. 

It's hard to believe that Ruby is coming home on Sunday. She wrote me a poem in a recent letter:
Camp is great, I'm having fun.
I'm seeing lots of sun!
I've been here for three weeks.
I don't have much more to seek!
I miss home very much.
Are you bored and such?
Then she wrote: "Like my poem? I'm not as good as you! Your the best Poet I know!" (Take that, meter monitors!)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Trying to Breathe

I'm trying to breathe, which ain't easy as it's hot as Hades here in New York, and will be for days, and there's no way to escape the oppression and the heaviness of this heat, nor the feelings of injustice that make the air seem toxic.

I'm trying to breathe. Trying to understand how, in this country, we have lawmakers who enact laws that pretend that we are all equal, when in fact being white and having a gun makes you more equal than anyone else; trying to understand how it is that Trayvon Martin was the one who was sentenced, while his killer was set free.

I'm trying to breathe. Trying to know why George Zimmerman was permitted to silence the boy forever, preventing him from telling his side of the story, so it doesn't matter if he felt scared, or if he felt threatened, or if he wanted to stand his own ground when approached by a guy who was obviously out to get him. The boy is dead, so he doesn't have a say. His killer chose not to take the stand, and yet the kid didn't have a choice--he couldn't say a word, so it was he, the victim, who was convicted of the crime--of scaring an older man, who was in the safety of his own car, until he chose to get out of it. The circumstances are so confounding, one can hardly understand how it occurred, nor how it took six weeks for the murderer to be arrested. Though I may try to find them, there are no words.

I'm trying to breathe. Trying to refrain from blaming the jury, as they did not write the laws that protect gun owners and shooters, and that governed the admissible evidence and limited parameters of the trial. But like those jury members, I am a white woman, and so, like them, I can't possibly understand what it is to be the mother of a boy who is born vulnerable. Had I any sons, I would not be obliged to have "the talk", in which black parents teach their sons to be obsequious to law enforcement in all encounters, as a matter of protection.

I'm trying to breathe. Trying to take all this restless, pessimistic energy and not lose sight of hope. If you have to have "the talk" with your sons, I wish you and your boys strength and courage. If you don't, here's what I wish for you: I wish you also would have "the talk" with your kids. Talk to them about the fiction of a post-racial society. Make them consider what it would be like to be Trayvon Martin. The only thing that will ever fix the seemingly intractable problem of prejudice is love, empathy and understanding. Call me a hippie if you like, but this I do believe.

I'm just trying to breathe.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Why I Wrote This On a Tablet. A Paper Tablet.

I wrote the first draft of this post on a writing tablet. Not an iPad. An old-fashioned writing tablet. Actual paper and pen. Why? I'm finding the computer very distracting.

Writing on a pad instead instead of a computer is freeing because:
A) It's disposable (now that I've typed it and put it on the web, these words may live on forever: not always a good thing)
B) No banner ads
C) No beeping
D) No link to must-read stories
E) No photos of someone else's glamorous vacation
F) This is the way I've been writing since I was seven. Head goes up, you stare into space as you think, and then your focus goes back to the blue lines that you fill with your thoughts and words.

 I've been thinking lately about technology, and all the ways it changes how we relate to the world. Maybe it's all the letter-writing I've been doing this summer to my kids at camp. It's bewilderingly low-tech to write a mundane letter on a pretty note card, and know with certainty that it will bring a smile to the recipient's face. I've been enjoying my kids' letters, too (yes, I have by now received letters from both girls!).

Ok, so here I am, addicted to my computer, and I've sent my kids off to a camp where they can't stream videos, or watch TV, or call me. At all. What a relief for them! I heard a recent piece on WNYC about a renegade sleep-away camp director who is allowing campers to use tech gadgets all summer long.
'"They don't know a world without a smartphone," said Matt Smith whose family has run the camp for nearly four decades. "Ultimately, what we want to do is give them skills to manage their access to their devices."'
Ugh. I couldn't disagree enough. Give them a break from their devices, and it will show them that they can live without them. Where else will they ever have the chance?

So then I saw this story in the NY Times about a camp for grown-ups to detach from their devices and connect, in person, to other human beings.
'By removing the things that supposedly “connect” us in this wireless, oversharing, humble-bragging age, the founders of Digital Detox hoped to build real connections that run deeper than following one another on Twitter or “liking” someone’s photo on Instagram.'
Now, this is something I could get behind. Sign me up.

Summer is, blessedly, a slower time. I spent last weekend chatting with family in my parents' country backyard, sipping home-made fresh fruit cocktails, and dipping in the pool. All of that could have happened two or five decades ago. There is something to be said for pursuing the basics.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Correspondence With My Campers

Writing letters to kids at sleep-away camp is a strange experience. What in the world do I have to tell them? Nothing's happening. And even if something IS happening, like you're summering on a yacht in Sardinia (sadly, for me, not so much), you're not supposed to tell them anything that will make them homesick or jealous. The idea is to write boring letters, so the kids don't think they're missing anything and they're glad to be in camp. "We hung some pictures today. I went to the market. I took Louisa to the park." Yawn.

Especially surreal are those first few letters that we diligent parents send before the kids leave, so that they'll have a letter waiting for them on the first day. There you are, writing to your kids who are sitting right next to you. "Dear Child, How's camp? Are you on the top bunk or the bottom? Who are your counselors? What activities did you get?" etc. Then you have to sneak off to the mailbox without said kids noticing that you're posting a letter...to them.

I've been writing almost every day--either a letter, or an email, which are printed out and distributed (the kids can't email back). There is so little to write about, that I've taken to writing poems. I think of myself as the epistolary-poet-mom version of Dr. Seuss (or the secretary from Moonlighting):

In the city all is well 
There isn't really much to tell 
Loulou and Eli played in the park 
She went to sleep before it was dark 
Dad and I are about to eat 
We're having rice and veggies and meat
I can't wait to read the letters you'll write 
And I think about you every night. 
Your first Shabbat in camp has come 
I hope it's filled with rest and fun

The letters back from camp are like golden nuggets from the world beyond. I'm telling you, even those photos on the camp web site don't measure up to a few words from the kid herself.
Dear Mom,
Teva [nature] was so FUN! We decorated pots and planted beans. We sat in a circle and put one of the bunnies inside. He climbed into MY lap first! He's 2 months old. Tomorrow, in Teva, we're going on a hike in the woods. We're gonna learn about poison ivy. I'll FINALLY know what it looks like! 
Love, Ruby  

If you get a letter like that, you breathe easy. If you get a sad letter, you worry. But if you get no letters at all, you're in camp correspondence purgatory. I know this acutely right now because to date I have received four letters from Ruby, and only one from Bella. The one letter I received from Bella was the required pre-addressed postcard sent on the first day:

Dear Mom, Dad and LouLou,
It is the first day of camp and I am sitting and waiting to have a marp walk. [infirmary visit, i.e. lice check] There are 15 girls in my bunk. [change in ink color] I had to stop writing the letter a while ago and now we have to rush to finish these because they have to send them. (we are in the middle of unpacking.) 
Love, Bella
I have received nada since then. It's been over a week. So, basically, I have no information about my kid. Now, I know what you're thinking. She's only been away for a week. No letters means she's having a great time, stop worrying, yada, yada. But this child is a writer. Last summer she wrote to me almost every day, usually long letters with drama in them. I know something's up, and in fact I contacted one of my spies at camp (her aunt), who told me that Bella says she already wrote three letters. Either the postal service is failing epically, or Bella has been writing the wrong address (very possible considering we just moved--I wrote it down for her, but that doesn't mean she's looked).

So, the waiting continues. I'm not exactly biting my nails. I mean, she looks okay (another spy):

But I'd love to hear from her. The camp gods are punishing me, I think, for sending her away. They are making me feel what real separation is like.

Meanwhile, Ruby is proving to be a loyal correspondent. She even wrote me a poem: