growing older

May 19, 2011

Lessons From Annual Daffodil Day

For the last ten years, my friend and I have taken our sons to the local Daffodil Park on May 1st. I don’t know how it happened, but I missed it this year. Daffodil Day? Not. Even. On. The. Radar….

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May 18, 2011

Guest Post by Eric Rumsey: A Wanna-Be Teacher Bubbles From The Back-Burner

Today’s guest post is by Eric Rumsey from the blog I Swear We’re Not Crazy. Some of you may know of him…

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May 5, 2011

Guest Post by Abby Fendler: In Memory of Ronnie

Today’s guest post is by Abby Fendler, a former student at Metairie Park Country Day School. Earlier this week, Ronnie Frazier, Buildings and Grounds Supervisor, unexpectedly passed away, shocking the entire MPCDS community. While Ronnie wasn’t officially a teacher, he sure did mentor a lot of people. That man touched lives….

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March 31, 2011

I'm With Andy Rooney

Well, check out this link that shows Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes. Turns out, I have something in common with the ole codger….

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March 21, 2011

Lessons From 6th Grade Health Class

The other day Monkey came home wanting to know how old I was when I learned about HIV/AIDS. …

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March 10, 2011

Lessons From The Great Gatsby

I just found out The Sands Point, Long Island mansion that is said to be author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s inspiration for his legendary novel The Great Gatsby is about to be demolished. And I am devastated….

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February 7, 2011

Lessons From The Dance Floor

For the record, the last time I went clubbing was when I lived in New Orleans back in the 1990’s, so you can imagine my surprise when I learned that there is, in fact, a joint less than five miles from my home where I could actually get down and get funky….

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October 11, 2010

Making Peace With Reading Glasses

I have to admit, I feel notably less sexy with my glasses on. I’m sorry, but it is true. I would rather look smokin’ hot in my red dress and stumble into the dessert table at somebody’s wedding than wear my glasses. And I don’t need them for distance, so I can’t wear contact lenses — and I am not a good candidate for LASIK, so you can stop right there with those suggestions. I am simply a latent hyperope. There is nothing for me right now except readers….

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June 14, 2010

Be Gentle With Your Graduates

My advice to parents during this time of year is an echo of a lesson taught to me by Professor Quinby over 20 years ago: Be gentle with your graduates, whatever their age or grade. Some of them may be feeling a little disconnected – particularly if they will be starting at a new school, separating from old friends, starting a new job, or moving away from everything they have ever known. And while you may not be able to tell it from looking at them, on the inside, they may feel a little bit like lopsided, three-legged tables. Okay . . . Just a little unstable….

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The magic in Lois Lowry’s The Giver occurs in Chapter 19 as the main character, the soon-to-be twelve-year-old, Jonas, realizes that everything is not as it seems in his seemingly idyllic community.

Up until Chapter 19, my l’il dude had been feeling really good about the community in which the characters lived their daily lives. He believed everyone lived in total equity. He loved how everything was shared communally, how everything was controlled by “the Elders,” right down to the vocations people were given, the people they were matched up to marry, and the children they received to raise. I think he was ready to up and move there.

Monkey didn’t seem to catch that individual identity had gone the way of 8-track cassette tapes, that no one had any emotions at all, and everyone was essentially just like everyone else.

In Chapter 19, Jonas makes a major discovery. The process of “release,” which is mentioned throughout the book, is nothing more than lethal injection. Needless to say, Jonas is horrified as he watches a video of his own father, a caregiver, performing the procedure on an otherwise healthy infant.

Monkey’s teacher asked the students to please keep the pace with fellow classmates for this book and asked them not to read ahead – something that was exceedingly difficult for my voracious reader.

I promised him there was a reason.

And then one day from the couch, I heard Monkey’s voice “Holy. Guacamole.”

I knew he had reached Chapter 19.

Sitting up, Monkey looked at me. “So…so…so… so… so if they kill people there must be other things that they do that don’t discuss, like who removes the bodies and what do they do with them? There must be tons of secret stuff that goes on.” He paused for a moment, “There are always helicopters flying overhead. I never thought about it. But maybe they are more about surveillance than transportation.”

He was putting things together, making connections. The synapses were firing.

“This book is creeping me out!” he exclaimed and then disappeared behind the couch again to continue reading.

A few nights after Monkey had finished reading The Giver, my son announced, at dinner, there had been a very lively discussion about the end of the book. Apparently, Mrs. English Teacher had asked her students the penultimate question: Do you think The Giver has a happy ending?

Best. Question. Ever.

Monkey reported that some of his peers thought the book had a very happy ending, that Jonas had successfully escaped from his community on his bicycle with Gabriel, a sick infant that his family had been caring for.  They justified their answers by saying they knew it was a happy ending because at the very end, Jonas was on a sled with Gabriel, and they were preparing to slide down into a cozy looking village where there were lights. Monkey said those students felt confident that Jonas and the baby were going to be able to survive in this new community called Elsewhere.

I held my breath.

Because that interpretation is soooooo not it.

Nervously, I asked my son if he agreed that The Giver had ended happily.

Monkey chewed his chicken about fifty times, then swallowed. Finally, he shook his head. “Not at all,” he said, adding that he thought that it was pretty much impossible for it to be a happy ending given that the vision Jonas had of his idyllic community was way too similar to a vision that the Giver had shown Jonas earlier in the book.

Monkey said, “Jonas was probably hallucinating and kinda holding onto one last bit of hope before he and the baby froze to death.”

Wow, if my Monkey was gruesome in his analysis, I didn’t really care.

He was spot on.

I asked my son if he had spoken up and stated his alternate interpretation of the ending and he said that he had. He said other students agreed with him, but a lot of people argued that Jonas had made it out and that he and the baby were going to be fine.

“Some people can’t face the truth,” said Monkey, sounding way too mature making me want him to go upstairs and re-read every book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

Whether or not all the kids agreed about the ending was not the issue for me. I was just happy that my son had turned the corner and gotten from the novel what I believe readers are supposed to get, the concept of dystopia. From the way he explained it, Monkey’s teacher facilitated an amazing discussion about culture and government, people and lies and truth, when people need to know things and when it might be in their best interest not to know things. I was so grateful that this discussion took place in a classroom with a responsible teacher there to facilitate things.

And while every teacher wants her students to have that epiphany about the literature, the reality is that folks will always have different interpretations of the ending of certain books and, frankly, that’s what makes those books delicious. In The Giver, one’s understanding is truly based on his intellectual and emotional willingness to accept that things are not always what they seem.

What makes The Giver a classic is that it is often the first piece of real literature that students read which allows them to look critically at our own government – which can be scary for kids. It forces them to ask uncomfortable questions: Has there ever been a time when our government has knowingly lied to us? Are there justifiable reasons for our leaders to withhold the whole truth?

As I washed the post-dinner dishes that night, I was happy that Monkey’s class had a great discussion and, from the way it was reported to me, none of the students were told how to think or what the “right answer” was. They were, instead, instructed to look to the literature to find the answers and then left to squirm in their own uncertainty, which can be a very good thing.

What’s got you squirming?

Tweet this Twit @RASJacobson

Me, in the Daffodil Meadow

For the last ten years, my friend and I have taken our sons to the local Daffodil Park on May 1st. The park is a gorgeous, secret jewel hidden right on the edge of our town. And each time we go, there is something that helps us to mark the passing of time.

One year, we saw a partially decayed deer carcass, and the kids poked the flesh and bones and fur with long sticks and made up stories about what must have happened to the deer. There was the time when Monkey, while walking too closely to the water’s edge, accidentally slipped in and ended up with a wet pant leg and shoe. There was the year where it was unbelievably muddy and we mommies, unprepared for such conditions, walked out of the park looking like two muddy swamp creatures along with our equally brackish boys.

Then one year was different, calmer. The boys were older. They came and went from our picnic blanket as they pleased. That year our children could reach the sign that reads: “Daffodil Park: Beginning May 1.” For years, they had jumped, trying to touch that sign with their fingertips – and then, one year, they could stand, feet planted firmly on the ground, and just push up the sign and release it with a bang. How did that happen? my friend and I wondered as we watched our sons frolic like young foals.

Daffodil Day has always been a lovely way to kick-off spring: a lovely way to pass time, a lovely way to mark our friendship. Each year, it is renewed. It is greener. Each year, a new adventure.

Monkey beside the old trees.

I don’t know how it happened, but I missed it this year.

Daffodil Day?

Not. Even. On. The. Radar.

How did that happen?

Part of me thinks that it is because the weather has just been miserable in Western, New York this spring. My husband has certainly grumbled enough about the lost rounds of golf. Even today, on May 19th, it is still overcast and cool enough for a light jacket.

But another part of me knows that Monkey and his old friend aren’t quite the friends they used to be. They have gravitated toward other people. Which is fine. It’s natural for friendships to change. But it is kind of sad, too, so I can mourn that a little.

Looking out the window yesterday – beyond the raindrops that drizzled down the glass – I decided missing Daffodil Day is wrong. Even if my friend and her son didn’t join us, I decided to take Monkey on a muddy field trip. (This time, at least I’d be prepared.) I planned to take pictures of him in the usual spots. The yellow flowers would be gone. The yellow heads would be brown and shriveled. (I was mentally prepared for that.) But Monkey and I have always liked to get dirty, liked to get caught in rain-showers, and there is a bench in the park where I figured we could just sit and chat. Without phones or any electronic devices that ping or beep. Except maybe my camera.

Because I decided I am not ready to give up that ritual. Not yet.

When Monkey came home from school and announced he had completed all of his homework, I was elated. The sun had poked out just enough for me to feel hopeful. I told him to put on his worst shoes, that we were going for a ride.

“Where we goin’?” he asked.

“Just get in,” I said, “You’ll see.”

In seven minutes, we arrived and I pulled my car over to the side of the road and intentionally left my phone in the car.

Wordlessly, Monkey and I walked down the rocky slope to the Daffodil Meadow holding hands. We walked .2 miles and quietly noticed everything. Monkey was the first to comment on green everyone was. He noticed that the water in the stream seemed lower, which it did. He noticed that a lot of the old trees had rotted more. Slapping his neck, he noted that the mosquitoes were out.

Where have all the flowers gone?

And as we made the familiar turn to the spot where thousands of daffodils usually stretch their necks upwards with a kind of sunny glow, Monkey and I marveled in unison: “Whoa!”

The whole area was under water.

This was something new.

I pulled out the camera and took pictures of him and then he took some of me. And then, because we were alone, we realized we weren’t going to have any of the two of us.


“It’s okay, Mom,” Monkey said. “We’ll come back next year. We’ll always come back.”

And I hope this is true but it occurs to me that, one day, my soon-to-be-teenaged son might not want to accompany me to the Daffodil Park. Indeed, he might not want to accompany him anywhere. He is becoming someone new, to himself, to me.

Strange as it sounds, I fell into a weird little daydream where I imagined myself a very old woman, being pushed in my wheelchair by my son on Daffodil Day. I dreamed he had made a simple picnic – a basket filled with cheese, crackers and fruit – and together we looked quietly out at the water, the trees, the flowers. I allowed myself to consider for a moment that maybe my son was not wrong, that maybe he would “always come back” so that one day, my grandchildren might bring their own children to the Daffodil Meadow.

It’s a pretty good dream, right?

I think I’ll cling to it for a little while, if you don’t mind.

What are some non-traditional family rituals that bring you joy?

Tweet this Twit @RASJacobson

Today’s guest post is by Eric Rumsey from the blog I Swear We’re Not Crazy. Some of you may know of him as Bob the Builder. After all, that’s his handle. But Eric has been hiding his true identity. Like any superhero who works all day cleverly disguised as the Average Joe, Eric toils away secretly waiting for the time when his superpowers can emerge. You see, Eric wants to be a teacher. But, somehow, life got in the away of his dreams. In my mind, Eric’s dream has simply been deferred. I like to think, one day, he is going to get that classroom. Lord knows, we need more teachers who sound like he does. And with a family chock-full of educators, he definitely knows, it ain’t all wine and roses.

Photo by Eric Rumsey: "Bridge To a Dream"

For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a teacher. I still do. I think, at first, it was because I would have summers off. More recently I’ve realized it’s because I have a need to fill young people’s heads with knowledge. Here I sit, in my tiny, cave-like office, contemplating just where it is that I went wrong and why I’m not a teacher. There were many factors involved both in my wanting to be a teacher and the reality of me, at this moment in my life, not being a teacher.

The high school years: Where I learned to love teaching.

I had just come from a small clique-y school where I was terrorized for 2.5 years in junior high. I had the chance to start fresh. My freshman year was fairly typical. Nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary, no new ideas for what I wanted to be when I grew up. My sophomore year, two things changed: One was the second worst English teacher I’ve ever had. The other was the best math teacher I have ever had.

My English teacher gave me a C for a children’s story project we had to write and illustrate. At the time, I was babysitting my neighbor’s twins, so I wrote the story about them. They loved it. She hated it. Looking back, I don’t give a damn what she thought.

My math teacher was the best. She got through the haze and the bull to my core. She made me work harder than I ever have before. If her hair hadn’t already been grey, it would have been after a year of dealing with me and my crap. She finally got so sick of me not showing my work that she had me come up in front of the whole class. She put this huge equation on the board and said to me, “If you can do that in you head, you don’t have to show your work for the rest of the year.” Minutes later, she said: “You son of a bitch. I can’t believe you got it right”.

That was the first time I really connected with a teacher.

My senior year, I applied to colleges and universities with excellent teaching programs. It’s the only thing I wanted to do. I had no aspirations to be rich, powerful, or famous. I wanted to teach, dammit!

The college years. Or where things went wrong.

Suddenly I was a second year student, married, with kid #1 on the way, and I was going to change the world by teaching Environmental Science. A few years later, I was eligible to graduate with my Earth Science degree, yet I still had not finished my teaching classes. I now had two kids, a wife who was bartending, working until 3AM to support us while I attended school and worked part-time at various programs. I thought I could just graduate, put off getting my teaching certificate for a year or so, and work to buy us a house.

Working to Live.

Seven years and two jobs later, I’m still dreaming of teaching. I’ve worked as a surveyor and a town planner. Seven years that I’ve put my desire to be a teacher on the back burner. Seven years that I’ve watched my brother, his wife, and my parents grow closer as they spend their summers together at the lake, while I’ve worked my tail off. Seven years of trying to pound planning information into my clients’ heads. Sometimes I pretend I’m teaching them; however, it’s not the same.

Who says teaching isn’t a drug?

To get my “fix,” I’ve been coaching soccer. I have watched my soccer team grow from young kids who had almost no idea which end of a round ball to kick, to brilliant, smart, calculating pre-teens who kick butt and take names. Through them, I get the satisfaction of seeing their eyes light up with excitement as the concepts I have been coaching them finally all come together and they score those winning goals.

I also have two wonderful kids who a voracious learners. It is because of their desire to learn that we have taken some wonderful trips over the years, all in an effort to encourage their desire to learn.

Inspiration and reflection.

So what is it that has kept a simmering pot on the back burner these last seven years? Is it my dad – who is a teacher of kids at risk, those in danger of dropping out – and the brilliant things he’s accomplished? Is it my kids and their desire to learn? Is it my family, most of whom are teachers, or work in schools in some capacity? Is it my soccer team that actually wants to learn what it is that I can teach them? Is it the excellent teachers I’ve had over the years? Is it the crappy teachers I’ve had who make me pledge to NEVER be like them?

I’d like to think it’s all these things and so much more. I am confident that, at some point, I will go back to school and complete my certification courses, leave this tiny, cave-like office, and become a sculptor of minds. I have this feeling that I’ve left something undone. Like I’m unfinished, sitting here wishing I could be in a classroom full of kids making them love to learn like I do.

Today’s guest post is by Abby Fendler, a former student at Metairie Park Country Day School. Earlier this week, Ronnie Frazier, Buildings and Grounds Supervisor, unexpectedly passed away, shocking the entire MPCDS community. While Ronnie wasn’t officially a teacher, he sure did mentor a lot of people. That man touched lives. My condolences to Ronnie’s wife, Rubie – whom Ronnie adored.

Photos courtesy of Sarah Choquette

How many people can say that their school janitor was – without a doubt – one of their best friends, heroes, and idols of all time? Rest assured, thousands of students, graduates, faculty and parents of Metairie Park Country Day School in Louisiana, can.

Born in Ferriday, Louisiana in 1957, in a town of 5,000 people, Ronnie had an English teacher aunt who stressed the importance of reading. As a result, Ronnie grew up articulate, politically acute, and knowledgeable. The day after he graduated from high school, he joined the army and, after his stint, he came to New Orleans looking for work.

“There weren’t many jobs available,” he said, “so I took a part-time job working in a grocery store warehouse, but I wanted to get into management training.” Although there were many stumbling blocks to his being admitted into the program, he persevered and eventually became assistant manager. Only then did he discover that the job did not pay a livable wage. Through a friend, Ronnie heard about a position with benefits and the possibility for career advancement at a well-known private school in the city, Metairie Park Country Day. “I felt that I’d found what I was looking for. In the past, I had only held jobs for short stretches of time, but at MPCDS, I felt like I could be happy,” Ronnie said.

Ronnie’s official job title was “Building and Grounds Supervisor” of the Metairie Park Country Day School in Louisiana, but Ronnie was also the head of maintenance, a bus driver, a woodworker, and a do-anything-and-everything-man-for-anyone-and-everyone on campus guy; in actuality, he was every student’s greatest hero – a real life “Superman.”

Graduate Traci Berger said, “Not one student at Country Day thought of Ronnie as ‘just the janitor’; he was like every student’s unofficial psychiatrist, funny uncle, favorite teacher, and best friend all wrapped up in one enormous, smiling package.” To the people who knew Ronnie, he was not merely a maintenance man; he was a fixture of the community, the real heart and soul of Metairie Park Country Day School.

An imposing figure at six feet five inches tall, dark, muscular and two hundred twenty-five pounds, Ronnie was a commanding presence at the school. Mallory Bohn, a thirteen year veteran of Country Day, remembers her first encounter with Ronnie Frazier as a kindergartener and new student:

I remember carrying my new “Barbie and Ken” lunchbox and an empty “My Little Pony” book bag, and from what I remember there was no one around to help me, but just as that first tear rolled down my cheek, Ronnie appeared from out of nowhere with this gigantic, welcoming smile. He’s was always around, to high-five when you were up and to commiserate and help when you were down.

Every faculty member and student has a fond memory of Ronnie Frazier. In 2004, graduating class president, Ben Fendler read these words in his speech. “I learned many things at my school – Math, Science and English – but the real lessons of life were those that I learned from watching Ronnie Frazier. He works hard without whining or complaining; he never quits. He’s a confidant, but not a snitch. He shines at a job that many would consider beneath them, and makes it all worthwhile and even enviable. Ronnie says that to succeed in his job requires diplomacy, flexibility and level-headedness, and that the kids make this easy for him because of all of their energy and inherent goodness. Although I think all of you would agree with me that it is not the children but Ronnie’s own character that accounts for his success.”

Ronnie worked at Country Day for 20 years. He once said being a member of the Country Day community was “like a vacation” because he was able to make a good living and get to watch wonderful kids grow up. “I get to drive them around, watch them play their [sports] and get paid for it. And, at the end of the day, I get to go home and know that I may have helped a student… That makes me so thankful.” Ronnie said. “I may not have the highest paying job in the world, but nothing is as rewarding as knowing that a child looks up to me and that, in his or her eyes, what I have to say really does make a difference.”

Does anyone recall having a bond with a person who worked at a school? Not a teacher but someone else who made a difference in your life? I’d love to hear your story.

Tweet this Twit @rasjacobson

Andy Rooney
Image by billypalooza via Flickr

Remember when I wrote about e-Books? How I asked everyone which e-book I should get? How you told me what to get? (The Kindle) And how I ignored you? How I tried the Nook, and I hated it?

Well, check out this link that shows Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes. It’s just over a minute.

Turns out, I have something in common with the ole codger.

Who knew?

So what do you think? Could Rooney be reading my blog?

As you get older, what are you starting to get cranky and rigid about?

The Red ribbon is a symbol for solidarity with...
Image via Wikipedia

The other day Monkey came home wanting to know how old I was when I learned about HIV/AIDS.  (He’s learning a lot in his 6th grade Health class.)

I told him I learned about HIV/AIDS at the end of high school, that I vividly remembered the Surgeon General at the time, the white-bearded C. Everett Koop, coming on television in 1985 to talk to the American people and explain how scientists believed the disease was being transmitted.

“It was a scary time,” I said. “People were getting AIDS from blood transfusions and worrying you could get if from kissing.”

Monkey started schooling me about how HIV/AIDS was a virus that attacked the immune system, that it was not passed via “kiss-spit,” but by blood and urine and other bodily fluids, like sperm. Frankly, I was pretty impressed by what he had learned in school.

“You know,” I said, “HIV/AIDS is still a huge problem in Africa and in other communities. It hasn’t been cured.”

But Monkey didn’t want to talk about the world’s AIDS crisis. He had other designs. Squinting at me from the opposite side of our kitchen island, he turned on me.

Monkey: So when you met daddy you both knew about AIDS?

Me: Yeah, it was pretty big news back then.

Monkey: And you met in what year?

Me: We met in 1990 and started dating in 1993.

Monkey: And when did you get married?

Me: In 1997.

Monkey? So you were together for 4 years before you got married?

Me: Yup.

I could feel his wheels turning. He was going to ask me something big. I held onto to kitchen counter trying to steady myself. Was I going to have to confess that his father and I lived together in New Orleans, that we shared an apartment before we married? And where would that take us? Would he assume we had separate bedrooms? The questioning continued.

Monkey: Did you get AIDS tested?

Me: Can we talk about this when daddy gets home?

Monkey: Answer zee kveschun!

(Actually, he didn’t say it like that. It only felt like I was being interrogated by the Gestapo.)

Me: Yes, we both got tested.

Monkey: Before you got married.

This came out of his mouth as a statement, not as a question, so I didn’t feel the need to tell him that his father and I were AIDS tested about 3 months after we started dating –  waaaaay back in 1993.

But Monkey was satisfied and announced we had acted responsibly and added he planned to wait to have sex until he’d married, too.

I smiled at my 11 year-old son who had grabbed a plum and wandered off to do his science homework. Here, I thought he was about to grill me about safe sex practices and demand to know if his father and I had remained chaste until our wedding night.

I am not ready for that talk.

That same night, I saw an episode of Glee where the father, Burt Hummel talks to his gay son, Kurt, about sex. His monologue was short and sweet and brilliant.

Frankly, I think all parents should be required to memorize this speech before leaving the hospital on the day their child is born so they can use it later.

Here is what Burt Hummel said to his son (with a few gender changes):

For many people, sex is a thing we want to do because it’s fun and it feels good, but we’re not thinking about how it feels on the inside or how the other person feels about it. But it’s more than just the physical. When you’re intimate with someone in that way, you gotta know that you’re exposing yourself … You gotta know that it means something. It’s doing something to you, to your heart, to your self-esteem, even though it feels like you’re just having fun.

When you’re ready, I want you to be able to do everything. But when you’re ready, I want you to use it as a way to connect to another person. Don’t throw yourself around like you don’t matter, because you matter.

Here’s a link to the whole video, if you care to see it.

Watch: Kurt and His Dad Have a Gay Sex Talk on ‘Glee’ Video.

At some point, probably sooner than I think, Monkey might ask me to clarify the status of my virginity prior to marriage. Lord knows, that boy can ask me answer any question that might be roiling around in his brain.

I think I just bought myself a little time.

And next time, we are definitely waiting until his father gets home.

The House Where Gatsby Lived

I read The Great Gatsby for the first time in 11th grade and promptly fell in love with Gatsby: His decadent parties. His fancy cars. The flowers and champagne he showered on his friends. The opulence of the time. I understood Gatsby’s romantic notions and tortured love for the wilting Daisy Buchanan. I loved how Gatsby stared across the water at the flashing green light, clinging to a dream because, for Jay Gatsby, for a time the world was green with possibility. The narrator, Nick Carraway, realizes Gatsby’s dream is  seriously flawed – and Nick walks away one night leaving Gatsby alone in the moonlight “watching over nothing” (153).

Anyone who has read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel knows that Gatsby was all about illusions. He was stunningly good-looking, which can get you pretty far in America. He was born James Gatz, the son of unsuccessful farmers, but he reinvented himself. An officer; a gentleman; a businessman.

Gatsby was the lover of ideas. Fancy ones. He had the audacity to believe in the American Dream, where anything was possible. But his thinking was terribly flawed. He believed in things that could never be.

For all his faults, Gatsby was beautiful because he was so very vulnerable.

Oh, how I wept.

(I don’t mean to sound dramatic. Any student who has ever sat beside me as I watch the film version knows I weep like a baby at the end of Gatsby.)

A few days ago, a former student told me The Sands Point, Long Island mansion – that is said to be author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s inspiration for his legendary novelis about to be demolished.

The 24,000-square-foot, 25-room home, which in the 1930s used to be the scene of lavish parties by celebrities, is now a deteriorating shell of its former glory.

After sitting on the market at $30 million, the home — called Lands End — is set to be knocked down, and plans are in the works to split the 13 acres of land into five lots worth an estimated $10 million each.

“The cost to renovate these things is just so overwhelming that people aren’t interested in it,” Lands End project construction manager Clifford Fetner told Newsday. “The value of the property is the land.” Source

It’s all just so damn symbolic.

I know we are struggling right now – as a country, as individuals – but like Gatsby, we have to have hope. There were many tragedies here, to be sure – but to take this magnificent house and demolish it? Call me sentimental, but it seems a little short-sighted.


Ain’t that America?

I wonder if anyone will show up for the funeral.

What do you remember about reading/seeing The Great Gatsby?

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Macmillian Publishing Company: New York. 1991. Print.

Outside of Taylor's Nightclub & Bistro

Last Thursday afternoon, my husband took Monkey to a fencing tournament in Arlington, Virginia. While they were at The Capitol Clash, I spent hours working on my book. I didn’t eat or watch television; I simply wrote. And it was fabulous.

But by Friday late afternoon, I got antsy and started thinking it would be kind of a good idea to get out of bed and move my body a little bit, maybe go dancing. For the record, the last time I went clubbing was when I lived in New Orleans back in the 1990’s, so you can imagine my surprise when I learned that there is, in fact, a joint less than five miles from my home where I could actually get down and get funky.

So I started asking (and by asking, I mean begging) friends to go dancing with me that night. After hours of foolishness spent on Facebook (and the phone), I realized that there was simply no one willing or able to go with me. My first rejection came when my bestie sighed and said that, while she loved me, she was going to have to let me down. This was followed by a handful of other friends who felt compelled to tell me everything they were doing with their children that night that prevented them from going dancing with me. As the hours passed, my beloved neighbor emailed to let me know she was already in her jammies while another buddy reminded me of her back injury. Finally, at 9pm my pal Lisa said if she hadn’t blown out her knee she would have totally gone with me.

“Really? I asked.

“No, not really,” she giggled, “That place is gross.”

Even my gay friends declined.

Dejected, I crawled back into bed and wrote prolifically until just after midnight, at which point I flipped off my light. As I lay there in bed, I thought to myself: Why didn’t I just go alone? What was there to be afraid of? I didn’t need an entourage. I wasn’t going out to get laid. I just wanted to shake my groove thing a little. Snuggling into my comforter, I decided that I would go the next night.

At 9:30pm Saturday night, I gussied myself up (and by “gussying myself up,” I mean I put on a pair of clean jeans and a black short-sleeve t-shirt) and headed over to Taylor’s Nightclub and Bistro – which, by the way, is a total misnomer. Taylor’s is no “bistro.” When I think “bistro,” I conjure up a small, informal restaurant that serves wine – usually found in France. Let’s be clear: Taylor’s is a dive. No one is serving bread or wine or olives at Taylor’s. Which, by the way, was fine. All I wanted to do was shake my groove thing.

A blustery Saturday night with about four inches of fresh, slippery snow on the roads, I was surprised to see that the place was, in fact, packed. One dance floor featured an eclectic (read: skanky) mix of women wearing really short dresses and really tall heels doing a lot of bumping and grinding. Sure, there were men on the prowl, but they were harmless enough. There was even a cluster of older moms, laughing and enjoying a night out together.

I made my way to dance floor number two where a disco ball turned and strobe lights flashed. It was much less crowded. The DJ played hits from the 70s and 80s on a warped turn-table. Much more my speed.

I warmed up to “White Lines” and “Cold Hearted Snake” when (gasp) Janet Jackson’s “Pleasure Principle” came on. Sidebar: You have to understand that in 1989, I memorized every single move in that video and I still remember most of the sequences, so I started going full force. It all came back to me. My God, I thought, I am even wearing the black shirt and jeans. (Note: there were no chairs or microphones to topple or throw, so I had to improvise during those parts, and while it was tempting, I did not tie my shirt into a front knot.)

Anyway, near the end of the song, Janet starts throwing her head around and striking these tight popping poses, so I dug deep into my old repertoire and tried to recreate my old moves.

Keep in mind that I had not had one single drink.

Not even a gingle ale.

But suddenly the room started to tip, and I started to topple. You know when you have put too many towels in your washing machine and it starts making that kachung-kachung-kachung sound and you know things are unbalanced, and then you have to go in the laundry room and move things around so that things run smoothly again? Well, it was like that.

Except I was alone in a bar, so when I grabbed the wall for support, I am sure I looked mad drunk.

And the sensation  wouldn’t go away.

The DJ actually announced something like: “If you’ve been drinking, for everyone’s safety, please stay off the dance floor.”

I am pretty sure he was talking to me.

And then, I felt a vibration in my back pocket. Retrieving my phone, I saw that it was my husband, texting to say the airplane had landed. I had to get them at the airport, but I was in no condition to drive. I grabbed my coat, prayed the cold night air would make me feel better, and staggered out into the snow (and by staggered, I mean I zigzagged across the parking lot). If a police office saw me, he would definitely have demanded I take a Breathalyzer. It was embarrassing.

Once in my car, I waited for the weird swirling feeling to stop completely (which it did, thank goodness), and, as I drove to the airport to pick up my family, this twit had a sad epiphany: At forty-sumthin-sunthin years old, I can no longer channel my inner Janet Jackson.

From here on out, as Billy Idol once sang, I’ll be “Dancin’ With Myself.”

Probably in my own living room.

Anybody else miss being in their 20s, even once in a while?

(If you’ve never seen “The Pleasure Principle,” please enjoy Janet’s moves from 1989. Just imagine my face on her body.) 😉


photo by kiwikewlio @


Allow me a vanity moment. It has happened. My husband – an ophthalmologist – warned me that the day would come, and it finally did. I now have reading glasses.

It happened quickly. One day, I was churning through my students’ papers unencumbered, and the next well . . . we were sitting at a restaurant and I was complaining about the fuzzy print on the menu.

“Fuzzy print?” husband asked.

“Yeah,” I said, “Can I see yours?”

He generously handed over his menu.

It’s blurry, too. I’m confused.

“Time to make that eye appointment,” he guffawed.

Six months later, I have reading glasses stashed all over every corner of my life: the night-table drawer, the kitchen desk, in the computer room, in the library (read: bathroom), in my car, in my purse. None of these reading glasses are pretty as I purchase them in Val-U packs of three (or more) from Target. I have this one pair of thick black frames that I would never wear in public because when I wear them I seriously look like Drew Carey‘s sister.

I have to admit, I feel notably less sexy with my glasses on. I’m sorry, but it is true. I would rather look smokin’ hot in my red dress and stumble into the dessert table at somebody’s wedding than wear my glasses. And I don’t need them for distance, so I can’t wear contact lenses — and I am not a good candidate for LASIK, so you can stop right there with those suggestions. I am simply a latent hyperope. I don’t exactly know what that is, but it sounds very high-maintenance. Apparently, there is nothing for me to do except try to “make nice” with my new reading glasses.

“Eventually you are going to need to be fitted for a lovely set of bifocals,” my husband recently teased.

Alas, I didn’t know what I had until it was gone. 😉

What surprises have you learned about yourself as you’ve grown older?

photo by

When I graduated from Hobart & William Smith Colleges in 1989, Professor Lee Quinby made a poignant speech and reminded audience members that another word for graduation is commencement and that commencement means “to enter upon” or “to begin.” She described commencement as a hopeful word, and it is. But she also went on to remind us that whenever there is a beginning, there is also an ending.

I have held onto these words for all these years because they have felt true to me. For example, I understand that when a man marries – while he adores his bride – he may simultaneously long for his bachelor days: the time he used to spend with his friends, unfettered by the responsibilities that come along with being a husband. When a woman gives birth to a child, she is no longer alone; she now must care for the needs of another person. And while she may revel in her child’s newness, she may simultaneously grieve the loss of her independence. When a child moves from one grade to the next, he may be excited about moving to another level of education, but he may be nervous about new expectations. Children may secretly mourn friends they know they will not likely see again; they may become silent and withdrawn or explosive and nervous.

Professor Lee Quinby presenting, recent

Professor Quinby suggested that we consider allowing ourselves to grieve a little bit as commencement can be a scary time, an uncertain place, that middle place where one doesn’t know where one is going yet. We only know where we have been.

My advice to parents during this time of year is an echo of a lesson taught to me by Professor Quinby over 20 years ago: Be gentle with your graduates, whatever their age or grade. Some of them may be feeling a little disconnected – particularly if they will be starting at a new school, separating from old friends, starting a new job, or moving away from everything they have ever known. And while you may not be able to tell it from looking at them, on the inside, they may feel a little bit like lopsided, three-legged tables. Okay . . .  just a little unstable.

George Eliot wrote, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” So don’t worry if you see your graduates begin to reinvent themselves a little bit over the summer: The rule-following boy who was so kind throughout elementary school, may become a little meaner as he enters middle school; the introverted girl who has always done everything her parents asked may suddenly seriously consider getting her belly button pierced, despite their protests. It’s okay, they are morphing, becoming, and this starting over can make all the difference in the world.

At one time or another, we all want to be someone else. The smart kid. The pretty girl. The cheerleader. The athlete. The guy with the cool car. It’s what children want – and what we grow out of, if we are lucky.

So let them change. Let the star football player put down his shoulder pads and try out for a play, if he wants to. Let the ballerina trade toe-shoes for track shoes; let the drummer try a little yoga. Feed their dreams. Help them discover all the various, untapped parts of themselves. Support them, but don’t rescue them from their jitters as new strengths will come from the discomforts of the middle place. Transition takes time. Give them time.

But for heaven’s sake, don’t baby them. And don’t buy them crap for graduating from kindergarten (“We’re so proud you can finger-paint!”) or elementary school. (Gag.) Instead, give the age-appropriate responsibilities as rewards for their new stage in life.

And trust me when I say that your graduates are going to be fine. Lee Quinby told me so a long time ago and, in my experience, she was right.

What do you remember feeling about graduation?

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