Monday, December 8, 2008

Who's your Daddy?

It is the sad lament of most single mothers that the first word most kids say is "Daddy". In Phoebe's case, she's been saying the sound for "Da" (usually directed at Jeff) since she was five months old. These days, as a very blabby, if incomprehensible, toddler, Phoebe is saying lots of words and is on the verge of making whole sentences. She knows 'flower' and 'ball' and 'trumpet' and 'socks' and 'shoes' and 'hot' and lots of others. Our attempt at teaching her baby sign language has paid off giving her a wider range to her vocabulary. She can sign 'more' and 'all done' and 'please' and 'jump' and 'ouch' amongst others. We're working on more all the time because she gets frustrated when we can't understand what she's trying to tell us. But "Daddy" remains her best word- perfectly annunciated and, as of late, directed as almost anyone she loves. I am definitely Daddy. Jeff is too. But so is my Dad, Grammy, Michael, Antonia, Jordan and Chloe and various others. She will sound out Ma-Ma every now and then, but not in any clear, directed way. So despite the fact that she has no official, legal Daddy at the moment, Phoebe has decided she has lots of them. It is most certainly a term of endearment, if one that makes me laugh. I'm happy if she's happy. I guess that's how parenthood goes.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bombay Burning

My bare feet were being lapped by the warm Puerto Rican waves when my cell phone rang. I was walking along a sunny beach with my man and my baby, happy for the warmth and the time away. I had no idea what was happening half a world away. It was Lalit on the phone- one of my favorite Indians, the consummate partier, the creative film maker I had dated long ago. His voice was rushed and panicked. I could hardly make out what he was saying. Turn on CNN, he pleaded. Bombay is under attack.

When I lived there, the Mumbai of today was still Bombay. Hindu nationalists had made a push to rename everything that had been named by foreigners who once ruled them. They changed V.T. train station to Chatrapatti Shivaji Terminus, though the cabbies still took you to V.T. People laughed at bringing Mumbai back into the lexicon- they thought it wouldn't stick, but it has.

The city I knew ten years ago is not the same after a brutal siege by terrorists, thug criminals who took over parts of town where I spent most of my time. When I did get in front of a television, I saw the flames coming from the Taj Hotel, the place I went weekly for dinner, drinks or dancing. The place I put my parents up when they came to visit. The Oberoi, where many Ex-pat friends I knew lived (Kim & Raju stayed there for 9 months when they first arrived in the city) Metro Cinemas, where foreign films were shown and the Train Station that everyone has passed through at one time or another. The only place I did not frequent was Leopold cafe, favorite of Shantaram and the backpacker crowd and ironically, the Jewish Center. For three days these mad gunman shot at Indians and foreigners alike. They held off police and commando teams. They brought a free city to it's knees. Perhaps it was that freedom, the democratic openness of South Asia's most vibrant, multicultural capital that made it such a prime target. These men did not opt for the anonymity of suicide or car bombs. They wanted the up close brutality of armed combat.

I frantically emailed all my friends to make sure people were safe. Many of my friends not only frequent these places, some live only steps away from the prime targets. With grace and luck, it seems everyone I knew there survived, yet like the days after 9/11 here in New York, every one knows someone who was not quite so fortunate. One friend's sister was trapped on a train in VT with her children huddling on the floor until 3am. Others were locked down in their homes, listening to the gunfire wondering when it would all end.

I think the terrorists hoped to spark renewed cross-border hatred with Pakistan, but it has not worked. Pakistan has been quick to cooperate and denounce these acts. People I spoke with are angrier at India than at their old nemesis. They see is at a failure of their own government to keep them safe. The protests in the streets after the shooting finally stopped were for resignations within the government. Some have already stepped down. It remains to be seen what will come next.

I still had days left on the beach after I saw the images coming out of the city I once called home. I was in Puerto Rico to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. It is the time of year Americans stop and think of all we are grateful for in the year that has passed. I am grateful that my friends survived this attrocity. I am certain that Mumbai will weather this storm too. I hope that even more people flock there now to support it's free society, to see it's vibrancy, to meet it's amazing citizens. Those who attacked it may have prevailed for a few days, but in the end, they will not win. Bombay and it's inhabitants will come back stronger and with more resolve to live as they have; freely and openly. My welcoming city will once again invite the world to it's shores. I hope it's not too long before I can return to Bombay. It is my special, other home. In the place where I was once jokingly called "Nancy Singh" I will go back to the Taj, back to Metro Cinema, Back to the Oberoi and give the city and my friends there a long, overdue hug.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Like a Giant Tree

Yesterday, Jeff and I took Phoebe up to see Michael in Westchester. Jeff took us to Muskoot Farm, a working farm and museum where they had every animal I had ever sung to Phoebe in 'Old MacDonald had a Farm' (e-i-e-i-o.) But these were real sheep and ducks and cows and pigs. It was a city kid's moment to see an actual farm with genuine animals. (Squirrels and dogs are our general fare.)

While walking back to the car, Mike was holding Phoebe and we were singing "We are a family, like a giant tree" from Dreamgirls. Mike said he hadn't be able to get it out of his head. And here we were, an unlikely new family, but a family none-the-less. The song goes on to say, "... branching out to the sky. We are a family, we are so much more, than just you and I."

Moments like these don't escape me these days. Every day feels momentous and precious to me. There have been rougher days, when all I felt was fear, all I saw provoked anxiety. But this was not one of those days. On this sunny Sunday in November, I felt like part of a family. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I've already spent more than half my life living far away from my siblings. Other than living abroad, I've always lived close to my parents, but our circle only widened to include our whole brood on holidays. When I started working on bringing Phoebe into my life, it was as a single woman, preparing to be a single mother. You and me against the world, kid. But it hasn't quite worked out that way. It's only gotten better.

Jeff has now been in my life a long time. Longer than any man. He's been my handsome hero and my love. Now, he's not just in my life, he's in Phoebe's too. Without fail these days, her first word of the days is, "dada". She looks around for him anxiously and smiles with glee when she finds him. (I get that :)
But with Jeff, has come a whole new family. Phoebe is now lucky enough to have 2 sets of Grandparents, two older brothers as well as several Aunts, Uncles and cousins. All of whom have welcomed us into their lives with open arms.

Yesterday, I felt it. We are like that giant tree now, branching out all across the country with people who love and support us. Today, I feel nothing but gratitude. I sometimes can't believe my good luck. Jeff feels it too. We try to appreciate it and not take it for granted because we both know this moment is rare.

Tomorrow, is another momentous day. Tomorrow, we vote. On Tuesday, November 4th, whether we like it or not, we are getting a new President. (And yes, we like it- 86% of Americans are happy to see the current President go.) Hopefully, it will be President Obama. Perhaps, with that sea change, a new wave of optimism will sweep over the country and give us some strength for the tough times ahead. When those times, or any of life's difficult moments invariably come, it's good to feel a part of a family.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

'Bama Baby

Phoebe's a Democrat. At least until she tells me otherwise. What is parenting if not impressing our ideals and beliefs onto our children?

When she's old enough to argue with me about the state of the economy, I'll have to deal with the fact that her ideas and mine might not always sync. Until then, I feel compelled to have her know that I believe strongly that we're about to elect an incredible leader to the highest office in our country. I'm so over feeling embarrassed that my President can't form an English sentence, let alone make one decision that has benefited our country. The anti-intellectualism that has become popular in our country has not served us well. What is so wrong with wanting our leaders to be smart, well-traveled and literate? When did we start choosing leaders we want to have a beer with and not one that might have more important things to do with their time?

To me, one of the best reasons to vote for Obama is not just that he would change the way America sees the world, but it will change the way the world sees America. If this financial crisis doesn't convince people how inter-connected we are with the rest of the world, I don't know what will. Our problems are their problems. Our market crashes and theirs follows suit. Electing Barack Obama will give us a fresh start in the world. A chance to show that we want to move on from the past 8 years, that we are a peace-loving country and not one that starts wars to destabilize the world and enrich the richest among us. Obama spoke up about the Iraq war and said what many of us were thinking- that it was unjust and unwise and it would brankrupt us financially and morally. With him at the helm, we will once again denounce torture, end the war responsibly, and get back on a path where our Allies can once again support and stand by us. This is a moment in time where the world needs to be able to look to us again, to lead people out of the financial and military messes we are in. This is no time for more of the same. I had a lot of respect for John McCain before he got tugged so far to the right he can't see the center any more. His choice of Sarah Palin was nothing more than cynical strategy. Sadly, it has worked on many levels. She now has her place in history, I just hope it's as a footnote and not a headline.

With the election just a month away, tensions are rising in this country. Every one is on edge watching the stock market, wondering how they will pay their bills or stay in their homes. In just one month, we will have a new President. My wish is that Hope wins over Fear, that race can finally not be a factor and that people all over America will vote for the only man in the running who can change the broken record we've been listening to for the past 8 years.

Hopefully, by the time Phoebe is old enough to vote, this time of crisis will be a distant memory of a time when we lost our way, but found the path back into the world by electing an American who represented the very best of our country at a time when we needed it most.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Baby's first 9/11

Phoebe was born six years after the towers came down. She won't be one of those New York kids who is defined by this tragedy. I'm sure she will learn about it, eventually, but what will I tell her about that day? At the time, it was so gigantic, so overwhelming to think people would plot to do us harm. Before 2001, we lived in a bubble of American inertia. We knew full well that the world is full of terror and the people who peddle it, but never quite believed it would strike us so forcefully. The fact that the Towers had been hit in 1993 and that our embassies and ships had been targeted did not wake us from our slumber. 9/11 did. And now, seven years later, the day that was supposed to change everything is starting to fade in our public consciousness. Despite the fact that the collective grief and anger we felt that day launched two wars, two terms for George W. Bush and the subsequent demise of our economy and our standing in the world, our outrage seems to simmer only on the far left. We are on the verge of electing a new President, and yet the policies of the government that brought us our current disaster state seems to be paying little price. Both candidates have co-opted the mantle of change- because they know that is what people want- yet change may come in a package that looks like more of the same. Yet on today, of all days, if people cannot see how we were manipulated, lied to, and brought into a deep state of debt, they will never see until the empire has gone the way of the Aztecs and Romans and Egyptians who once ruled the world and lost it all to hubris and arrogance.

This is my first 9/11 as a mother. And since Phoebe came into my world, I want nothing more than to protect her from all harm. She is someone who came from a country who outlasted us (and many others) in wars on their soil. She is a survivor, as are we all. I brought her here because I think New York City is the greatest city on earth to live in. It is a place where all outsiders are welcome, where every color of the rainbow is reflected on the faces you see every day. New York represents the ultimate freedom to be and say and do what you please. In truth, it is the ultimate American City for those ideals, and yet, it is not an accurate representation of America. Most towns are not as diverse. In the big open places of America they love freedom too, but often value sameness. They might think their values are different than ours, but we are the true Libertarians; be what and who you want to be. Accept those around you. Do good and do well. In theory, I'm sure most people would agree. And yet in a season of Political change, fear seems to to rule over ideas. My optimistic heart holds out hope for real change this time around. To live to see a Barak Obama at the top of a ticket and even Sarah Palin as the no. 2 on hers, shows how far we've come. Sadly, politics divides the country every time. People back into their corners and hunker down for the fight. At least on 9/11 we can try to remember that we're all on the same side.

Someday, I will tell Phoebe about that day. I will tell her how the whole world watched and how everyone came together. I will tell her how our apartment was filled with friends who had to leave their homes and how kindly her Grandparents were treated in France when they could not return home from Paris. I will tell her how I cried in Union Square looking at the posters of those who were missing and how I sang Amazing Grace on the boardwalk with complete strangers who mourned like one family. Many bad things did spring from that day, but the good in people could be seen everywhere. I'll tell her that.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Carol's Girl

The day Samantha Claire was born was a very long day. It started early on Tuesday, August 19th, 2008. But as Grandpa Jerry predicted, his new grand daughter would be born on his father's birthday- August 20th- nearly a century later. She arrived at 2:27am by C-section. I was lucky enough to be there with Carol from start to finish. They let me suit up and sit next to her in the operating room, holding her hand and trying not to pay too much attention to the group of doctors working away on the other side of the curtain. When Sammie came out, she cried with life and we knew it would all be okay. I was the first to hold her after they checked her out and cleaned her up. I held this light little bundle, so small and perfect close to Carol's face so she could see the amazing being she just made.

It was after 4am when they were in the recovery room, ready to sleep off all Mama and baby had just endured. I didn't want to leave Carol there, but when I looked at her holding her baby, I knew she would be just fine. Carol looked so calm (and tired) but completely ready to start her life with her daughter. I went home to my own little girl, the first night I had spent without her. Luckily, Jeff was there to welcome me home and ask how it had all gone. Just perfect, I would say. Another wonderful little girl had entered our lives.

Now Mom and baby are back home in the West Village, getting in their groove and doing just great. Can't wait for our girls to meet and to start their new lives as sisters in our very special extended happy family.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Phoebe Turns One!

August 17th, 2008– an absolutely beautiful day in New York City. My Mom and I had planned a picnic in Phoebe's honor, to be held in our local green haven- Carl Schurz Park. All week leading up to the party, we were not only hoping for sunny skies, we were also hoping that Carol, Phoebe's Godmother and TiTi would either give birth in time for me to attend my child's first birthday, or hold out until after the celebration. I had already assured Carol that this time, her child's birth would trump my child's birthday. Phoebe could have her party anytime. Her little friend, yet to be born, needed me a little more that day. I was Carol's birth partner, and was determined to be there for whatever she needed. We have been on our journey to motherhood together over these last few years. As single women, choosing this path, we have become each other's life partners- true sisters in this life we've been given.

As luck would have it, Samantha Claire would wait another 3 days to be born and we were able to have a fantastic first birthday filled with friends and food and a cloudless sky. We were also joined but some unexpected, but welcome guests. The film maker, Beth Cramer, who I had met three years earlier, was continuing her documentary on single women choosing motherhood (Plan B). She had profiled me in her first effort when I was just starting out in my quest to become a mother. Soon after we met, I became pregnant (on my very first try) and was ecstatic at my good fortune. Sadly for me, that pregnancy would not last. I became the sad story of her film, the cautionary tale of the perils of fertility after 35. When Beth called me to say she was continuing her documentary with some of the women she had met earlier, I was thrilled. Now, I had the chance to document the happy beginning of my life with Phoebe and Jeff and the rest of the people in my life. She also had a chance to talk to Carol and to Jessica. How wonderful that so many women in our lives have taken this path. It is truly a mark of our time.

So wile the cameras rolled, Phoebe was celebrated, blew out her candles, and toddled around the grass socializing with all her guests. Lots of our cousins were in attendance from Kathy, Jess & Matt to Felicia & Rob and the Rosenfields too. Of course our family is filled with 'fake' cousins too who we love and cherish- Alana, Jimmy, Beth and their kids Emily & Jonathan just back from camp in Maine (Go Green Team!), Jessica and Sam, and of course, Carol and her belly, just three days away from a whole new life. As well as Birches and Yates (our new family) and friends who give the sweetness to our lives.

It was a perfect way to start Phoebe's next year. How very lucky we both are.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Swimming, swimming

One of the great pleasures of our Summer in NYC is having a rooftop pool at our disposal just 8 blocks up the street. Thanks to Grammy and Grampy Horowitz, who had the good sense to move into a fabulous building, we have been swimming regualry and loving every minute. Phoebe especially likes it when strong friends and relatives like Jeff, Mike, Dan, Alana or Robin come along. She loves to splash and get tossed up in the air, a water baby all the way. We took a swim class in the winter at Asphalt Green, which was a great way to get started. Now we just stroll up the block and jump on in. What lucky ducks we are!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Freelance Mom

To work or not to work? Most people don't have a choice when it comes to that question. I've been lucky enough to have worked a little and saved a lot over the years of my career, allowing me the luxury of having this precious time with Phoebe. She's only going to be this little once and I'm not quite ready to miss all the amazing moments that come with the territory. But this week, thanks to Jeff, I got a meaty freelance assignment at his office on healthcare concepts for one of his brands. I worked at their Herald Square office 4 days this week. That means that for the first time ever, my (wonderful) babysitter, Antonia, spent more waking hours with Phoebe than I did. I had serious pangs handing her off in the morning to another woman as I rushed around trying to remember what it was like to be a working person. I've been un-officially "retired" from Advertising for 7 years. In that time, I have done a number of consulting jobs in digital and traditional media, not making very much money, but trying to stay in the game just enough to be able to go back someday if needed. In that time, I was hoping that one of the 4 novels I've written would get published. No such luck. I did, however, write a children's chapter book that should be published this year with the Author House, a digital publisher that prints 1 in every 4 books in America right now. Sounds good, but self-publishing was never my goal. My hope was to sustain myself as a writer of fiction. Perhaps, that day will still come. In the meantime, my coffers are dwindling and any freelance job sounds great right about now.

It was quite a treat to ride the bus into work with Jeff, to hold hands and sleep on his shoulder while I tried to find the energy to be a working person again. And though I've had freelance gigis over the past few years, this is the first as a working mother. What a trip. I am pleased to report that the work came easily and it was really fun working with Stephanie, a talented young art director on Jeff's team. Coming home at night and having about an hour or so with Phoebe gave me a vision of what it might be like to be working full time. I'm not sure I liked that vision very much. I missed her desperately and wanted to eat her up in the moments we had before I'd put her to sleep.

But today, on the last day of the working week, I was given a gift. Alana was over a for a visit and Debbie came by from next door to say hello to her favorite girl. The three of us were hanging out with Phee in her little play space. She loves to stand these days and is great at cruising and moving her self around the couch. But today, she stood in the middle of the room and took a step unaided, and another and maybe one more before our excitement made her sit down. She had a huge smile on her face as we cheered her accomplishment. (She knows she's amazing :) I got the vision that these two special "Aunts" in her life will be cheering her on through many life passages. How lucky we are to have them. I was so thrilled they were there to see her first steps with me.

So I guess both Phoebe and I are taking baby steps back into our futures. I'm not sure mine will include working again, but this little step was enough to give me a reality check of what it might feel like. I'm still processing that. All I can say is that I'm just so happy to have sen those steps. What a treat, what a milestone. There's certainly no stopping us now.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Green Mountain State of Mind

Ah Vermont.
Every time I have the good fortune to go to our family house in the Green Mountains, I feel nothing but blessed. We have had the house on French Hollow Road in Winhall, VT since 1973. Just the fact that a boy from working class Brooklyn (my Dad) (whose Russian immigrant parents might only have thought of skiing as a fast way to flee angry cossacks) thought of buying a ski house in Vermont is truly amazing. He and my mother had the vision to find a place to get us away from New York and into the country side. They weren't nature buffs, they just had a feeling that it would bring us closer as a family. With no TV, a party-line phone and lots of games to keep us entertained, we thrived there on weekends and fell in love with the place.

Our little ski house with the ten bunk beds upstairs has expanded a bit since those early days. They have renovated the house to the north, south, east and west, adding a master suite, screened porch, two car garage and a lovely new basement suite built with me Jeff and Phoebe in mind. It was there that we retreated from the city this July 4th week to spend some time away and at leisure.

We were joined by my parents, my Aunt Judy and Uncle Jerry and Jeff's son Michael. The weather was warm and the heat made us happily lazy. We didn't do a lot other than see friends and hang out and take walks on our country road. We attended a July 4th celebration at the temple and caught up with all our Vermont friends. Phoebe was a star, as always, charming everyone in her American flag dress, a true Amercian girl now on her first Independance Day holiday.

15 Year old Michael was just great with Phoebe. They seem to have a real connection. At one point in the weekend, I heard him tell a friend on the phone, "Phoebe is my little sister. Technically, practically." That just filled me with love and warmth for him. I had often wondered how Michael would process this new person in his life. I had hoped he would come to think of her as a sister, but the fact that he got there himself endears me to him even further. He is a great kid going through some hard stuff and managing it all in his own way. We are lucky to have him in our lives.

It took us a good week to get back into Phoebe's sleep groove when we returned to New York. I hadn't realized I might have to endure 'sleep training' again, but as soon as I let her cry it out a couple of nights she fell back into her good sleep habits, giving us all the rest we need too. Either way, Vermont is worth the trip every time.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Slow down, you move too fast

All of a sudden, I can feel time moving quickly. Phoebe is pulling herself up on everything in the apartment. She wants to walk so badly and it won't be long now before she does. She has two teeth now (we proudly call her Queen Two-Teefa") and more are ready to come at any moment. She is eating solid food and drinking water from a sippy cup and is beginning to know her power at how to rule our roost. The only way I can think to slow this moment down is to write about it, so when I'm onto another amazing phase, I'll be able to remember that this one existed. I'm happy to report that she is mostly sleeping through the night, which is so nice for her mother. It gives me the rest I need to run after her as she crawls/pulls/rolls herself across the apartment.

I had two "babyproofers" in this week to give me estimates. (a job that did not exist when we were children.) We grew up in a world without seat belts or helmets. One where our mothers smoked unabashedly in our faces and where safety for babies meant keeping an eye out and hoping for the best. We were lucky to have survived. These days, the babyproofers rule and for a small fee they can help your apartment turn from a snake pit into a soft-cornered, baby friendly play pen. I'm happy to sign up for the program. Anything I can do to keep my little dare devil as safe as possible. And since walking is just around the corner, I better get on it.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Gimme that old time religion

I have always had an uncomfortable relationship with religion. Especially my own. What did it mean to be a Jew in New York when I was not kosher, did not attend services and most importantly, did not believe in God as others have defined it in our culture. When I was little, I had a morbid fascination with the afterlife, imagining myself in my single bed, lying perfectly still, as if I was in a coffin six feet under. I envied my catholic friends who seemed to have it all figured out. When their Grandparents passed away, they were sure they were up in heaven dancing with the angels. Sadly, I did not buy it. I shared my confusion with my Mother, telling her I was not sure I believed there was one God looking over us all. She sagely told me that being Jewish, had nothing to do with believing in God. And for her that was true. For her, and there after, for me, being Jewish was about a shared culture and history, it was about food and family and tradition. It was about remembering that we are survivors and never forgetting that there are those in every millenium who have tried to do us harm, to wipe us off the map, to extinguish the threat we somehow pose to them.

When I was interviewed by Maureen Reichart, my social worker, for Phoebe's homestudy, she asked me what I thought Phoebe and I had in common coming from two very different cultures. I said that the Vietnamese people, very much like the Jews, had prevailed against threats from outside forces. They have never lost a war, beating the Chinese, the Mongolians, the French and the Americans. As a culture, they are survivors, just like us.

So it was with all these thoughts in my head that I decided to make Phoebe a proper Jew. I want us to share an identity. I want to be able to say, when she asks, "what are we?" that we are Jewish. I didn't want her to have to think about it any further. As far as I am concerned, she can be anything she wants in this life. (except maybe a Republican, that might break my heart :) She can follow the Buddhism of the Vietnamese people, be an Atheist, or a Hindu. But as as far as the Jewish powers that be are concerned, as of last week, she is as Jewish as an Orthodox Jew.

With the help of David Woolfe, my parents and I took Phoebe to a Mikvah in a small house on the South Shore of Long Island. I was nervous all day, and kept questioning whether I was doing the right thing. The Rabbi, Stanley Platek, welcomed us warmly and showed us into the small pool in the basement of the house. The water was warm as I carried in my daughter and listened to the Hebrew words being spoken. In three dunks and a prayer it was all over. Phoebe, who loves the water, didn't seem to mind very much at all. She stayed in my arms and didn't cry. She seemed fascinated by the people around her, as she always is, and took it all in. In less than fifteen minutes, we were done. The papers were signed, the blessings were given and Phoebe Horowitz is now a true Horowitz indeed.