Posts Tagged ‘Musings’

When Negative Is Positive

April 8, 2011

First of all, the good news: my biopsy results were fine. “Your results were fine, no problems, everything looks ok,” the radiologist told me when I called.

I thought about ending this post there.

But I still have a bandage on my breast. I still have the image of watching a needle poke into some weird thing inside my breast seared into my brain.

So let me describe the procedure.

I arrived at the Women’s Imaging Center at Weill Cornell Medical Center on time for my 9 am appointment. Outwardly, I was calm. My efforts to think positive thoughts had convinced me that this was some kind of divine comedic error, yet another example of God’s Monty Python-like sense of humor.

Things happened quickly. Within 15 minutes of my arrival, I was lying on my back in a hospital gown on a table in the ultrasound room.

In the two weeks since my mammogram, an odd thing had happened: I was no longer able to feel the lump. I had convinced myself, therefore, that the thing – whatever it was – had disappeared.

I mentioned to the ultrasound tech that I could no longer feel the lump. She nodded and applied the gel to the ultrasound wand, and began moving it around on my breast. I was about to ask her, “What happens if you can’t see it anymore?” when she said,

“Oh! There it is. I definitely see it. And these pictures look exactly like the ones that __________ got last time.”

So much for it disappearing.

And then I got scared.

During my last visit, I had peeked at the ultrasound screen, but none of what I saw made sense. I was reminded of my pregnancy ultrasounds, where I could discern the baby’s head, spine and heartbeat, but not much else.

This time, I saw it clearly.

The it, the thing, the lump that was causing all this trouble appeared on the ultrasound screen as a gelatinous bubble, like the movie The Blob. I had a Blob inside me. Of course, in the movie, the Blob consumed whatever was in its path.

I reminded myself that The Blob was a silly movie about killer Jello. But I couldn’t take my eyes off that screen.

The procedure I had is called an ultrasound-guided needle biopsy. A nurse and a doctor soon joined the ultrasound technician. While the ultrasound technician showed the doctor the pictures she had captured on screen, the nurse cleaned my breast for the procedure.

Everyone – doctors, nurse, ultrasound technician – was great about explaining to me what was happening, in terms that were simple but not dumbed down. I watched the doctor use a long, fine needle to fill my breast with Lidocaine so I wouldn’t feel any pain during the biopsy. I watched her insert a second thicker, hollow needle into my breast. She showed me the needle’s spring mechanism and explained that she would be activating the needle with a loud pop! sound to collect tissue samples, a process that would be repeated 5 times.

To my surprise, the doctor also announced that she would implant a small titanium clip into my breast to mark the location of the mass, since it was so subtle and not easy to detect, for the benefit of future radiologists. I didn’t like the idea of a titanium anything in my breast, but I gave my consent.

And then I turned my attention to the ultrasound screen.

I watched the needle probing and poking the blob. I saw the needle tip penetrate the mass. Even before the doctor gave me the “one-two-three” warning that she was about to activate the spring-loaded mechanism, I held my breath in anticipation.

I didn’t flinch.

“You’re doing great,” I was reassured, over and over again.

Inside, I wasn’t doing so great. I was overwhelmed by the odd and unsettling miracle of watching a needle enter my breast and cut away tiny pieces of some unidentifiable thing inside my breast.

It dawned on me that, no matter who you are in life, at some point, you will wind up in one of these hospital gowns, submitting your body to some procedure or another, hoping to discover that for you, life continues.

I couldn’t conceive of any other result. My children have no one but me. Their father is, um, unreliable. Their grandmother is gone. The family they know is in Michigan, where my children don’t want to be. They barely know their relatives in Philadelphia. And I am no longer as close as I once was to the women who were their godmothers.

The radiologist commended me for being so “good” throughout the procedure. I thought only about not orphaning my children.

My breast was a bit sore after the anesthesia wore off, but physically I was fine. Mentally and emotionally, though, the three-day wait for results was torture. I kept myself busy to keep from dwelling on it, but the bandage on my breast reminded me that, in the words of Madeline’s Miss Clavel, something was “not right.”

And now I know. The negative result is positive. I am relieved.

OK and fine do not, however, mean everything is back to “normal.”

For me, there is a new “normal.”

From now on, I will have a titanium clip in my breast. I will need to be diligent and consistent about getting annual mammograms. The breast biopsy joins the growing list of procedures and surgeries I have had recently, a list that replaces the “none” or “N/A” I used to routinely tick off on medical history questionnaires.

But still – I’m fine.

I’ll take it.

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Upgrade Him? Girl, No

July 25, 2010

I was chatting recently with one of my law school friends about a classmate of ours whose marriage was ending in divorce.

At first I thought it was regular gossip about another seemingly happy marriage falling apart.  But as my friend filled in more of the details, I understood it was, instead, yet another example of the Negro Improvement Plan gone wrong.

And as my friend and I are veterans of the Negro Improvement Plan Gone Wrong War, we clucked our tongues and sent up prayers for what we both know lies ahead for this woman in her efforts to divorce her low-income spouse.

“Negro Improvement Plan” is a term coined by my friend Stephanie to describe the phenomenon we began witnessing as one woman after another from our Harvard Law School class partnered up with lower income men.  The men were never just the construction workers, secretaries, mailroom guys, etc. they appeared to be.  Inevitably, he was “going back to school.”  In the rare cases where he wasn’t going back to school, he was starting a business.  Or he was a producer — for artists no one had ever heard of. 

The Negro Improvement Plan meant there was a plausible and legitimate reason for these Harvard-trained women lawyers to be marrying their Mr. Blue Collars.  He was going places.  He just needed a boost.  And his loyal, loving woman was going to be just the boost he needed to take him where he should go.

When more of us, including Stephanie and me, embarked on our own versions of the Negro Improvement Plan, we didn’t recognize that we had just joined the same club we had been so scornful of. 

The Negro Improvement Plan wasn’t always about trying to force the man into some sort of career change.  My ex was a construction worker when I met him.  I liked the sound of that, and was disappointed he didn’t stay in construction when I moved him into my Brooklyn apartment.  He decided he’d rather be working in an office, and I was OK with that, too.  I didn’t try to influence his career choices too much.

But from the day he moved to New York until the day he moved out of my Harlem brownstone, I rode him relentlessly for the way he mangled the English language, the fact that his subjects and verbs never agreed and his vocabulary was a bit “too street.”  He was a grown man from North Philly who had been speaking like a North Philly gangsta pretty much all his life, and he was very comfortable with how he spoke.  His friends were comfortable with how he spoke.  I was the only one who had a problem with it.  I told myself it was because I wanted my daughter to learn “correct English.”  I wasn’t honest enough to admit it was my issue and no one else’s.

I tried to upgrade my ex-husband’s grammar and vocabulary.  Other friends tried to upgrade their men similar to Beyonce’s “Upgrade U,” by putting them in Hickey Freeman suits, Pink shirts, Rolex watches and BMWs.  They tried to slot their blue collar men into their Pottery Barn worlds of 600-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, towels folded just so, a utensil for every kitchen-related purpose, and Jack and Jill for the children.

Stephanie had once snarked, “I guess he got tired of being bougie,” after one of our classmates’ marriages to a lower-income man fell apart.  But, as it turned out, Stephanie’s Negro Improvement Plan was the classic career changing  one.  She tried to turn her man into a small business owner.  The business failed, in part because her partner wasn’t a reliable employee of his own so-called business.

In all cases, including mine, the men enjoyed the perks of the upgrade efforts — the cars, the suits, the trips, the real estate — until they figured out their women expected those changes to be lasting.  My ex knew how to speak properly.  He was also very well-read.  Thanks to my nagging, he would correct his grammar in the presence of our children, but whenever I dragged him to some law firm function, he would reach deep in his storehouse of Ebonics and entertain my law partners, to my horror and frustration.  I was furious with him for deliberately fitting neatly into the stereotypes I assumed “they” held of “us.”

Once, I actually listened, and discovered he was carrying on an intelligent conversation, despite the Ebonics, with one of my partners and his wife about U.S. drug enforcement policy.  Later, the wife told me, “Your husband is a very smart man.”  I never knew if that was a genuine compliment, or if she was surprised to hear rational arguments coming from someone who spoke so poorly, like a dog sitting down to the piano and playing Mozart.

My ex-husband called me controlling, which I resented.  In hindsight, I realize most of our issues stemmed from a battle for control.  He already felt emasculated by my position and salary.  The fact that I would snark on his grammar was probably just a bit too much for him to stomach.  Embarrassing me at my law firm functions was his way of getting back at me.

It’s insulting and demoralizing to treat a man like, as my friend @HarlemWriter put it, stray animals or shelter rescues you can return when they soil the rug or chew on your pricey shoes.  You can’t change your mate.  You are supposed to love your mate as he is.  If you can’t do that, you are with the wrong partner.  Period.

Bottom line: leave the upgrading to Beyonce. 

And for the record, she didn’t have to upgrade her man, either.

My First Haters

May 31, 2010

 

I’ve always been opinionated, and I’m not shy about expressing my opinions, whether in a real-life discussion or on my blog.  I suppose it was inevitable, therefore, that some of my posts would rub some people the wrong way.

That doesn’t bother me.  I’m all for spirited debate.  Except . . . I haven’t gotten any.

It seems some of the people who disliked my posts, in particular the one about men, or the one about celebrity divorce settlements, chose not to post comments on my blog.  They also chose not to debate me on Twitter or Facebook, where I usually post my newest blog posts.

What they did choose to do was make cowardly ad hominem attacks on Twitter.

I’ve gotten one or two “you’re divorced, right? figures” comments on this blog.  I haven’t thought much of them.  What exactly does it figure?  Figures that I, a divorced woman, would be interested in the subject of divorce? 

Or does it “figure” that I’m divorced because I’m a bitter, unlovable hag, as evidenced by my writing and my opinions?

Apparently I’m supposed to believe the latter.

Sorry, but no.  Anyone else who wants to believe that about me, believe away.  And feel free to believe, based on a few blog posts and tweets, that you know all you need to know about my marriage and my divorce.  As long as I write about divorce and custody issues, I guess it’s understandable that people would try to construct a story about my own divorce.  Until and unless I choose to publish my divorce story, good luck with that.

I’m just disappointed that the people in question chose to resort to personal attacks, instead of making rational counter-arguments to the positions with which they disagreed. 

In the end, though, I’m pleased that people are reading and reacting to what I write.  Thanks to everyone who visits my blog and read my posts.  Whether you agree or disagree, I appreciate your readership. 

I do not, however, tolerate personal attacks, on me or any of my commenters.  As long as you keep it respectful, debate away.

What is Blackness?

May 3, 2010

Thomas Chatterton Williams’s recent post on The Root, “What Obama and Drake Have To Do With Being Black,” attempts to explore what he refers to as the “vexed zeitgeist in which, for African Americans, racial integrity overwhelmingly equates to embracing the narrow values of the black street culture of the past three decades: hip-hop culture.”  To do so, Williams compares and contrasts President Barack Obama and the rapper Drake. 

Williams theorizes that “the shadowy figure of the mulatto” is the most poignant illumination of blackness.  This theory assumes all biracial people have the same experiences with race and are forced to choose an identity from a finite set of options, a proposition that is easily refuted.  In fact, apart from being biracial and male, President Obama and Drake appear to have very little in common.  As a result, Williams’s attempts to find similarities in the two men’s backgrounds often feels forced.  For instance, Williams says that both men were raised in “staggeringly un-black settings,” even though Drake’s hometown, Toronto, has a sizeable Afro-Caribbean population, unlike Obama’s hometown of Honolulu.

It is clear that Williams views Drake as a poser.  This mostly seems to be because Drake is half-Jewish: “he had a bar mitzvah!,”  Williams amusingly notes.  Apparently one cannot be both Jewish and black.  Somebody better tell Omar Wasow.

Williams scolds Drake for choosing an identity that Williams finds inauthentic:  “Drake, in his professional choices and his public demeanor–and most certainly not in his inherent physical attributes or ethnic background–has packaged himself to fit neatly into the contemporary vision of what blackness must be–or, at the very least, must worship….[H]is presence on the black scene, unlike Obama’s, has done next to nothing to challenge the ingrained prejudices of a culture that consistently prizes street knowledge over book learning, being cool over being disciplined, and elevates hustlers and criminals to the highest positions of cultural importance.” 

But why should Drake be expected to challenge anything?  Just because he’s biracial–and half-Jewish, at that?  Drake is a rapper.  It stands to reason that, regardless of his ethnicity, his public image and stage persona would embrace hip-hop culture.   There’s no more reason to expect Drake to “challenge the ingrained prejudices of a culture that consistently prizes street knowledge over book learning” than, say, Lil Wayne.

Writer Danielle Belton, on her blog The Black Snob, says that Williams is really talking more about American anti-intellectualism than blackness.  Perhaps his arguments would have been more coherent if he had focused on anti-intellectualism.  But Williams, who is himself biracial, mistakenly assumes his own Imitation of Life racial and cultural identity crisis illustrates a universal experience.  He writes that “mixed-race blacks–while occupying a position in the culture that is at once privileged and cursed–are the physical incarnation of a racial dilemma that all blacks inevitably must confront: To sell out or keep it real? That is the question.”

Williams’s narrow definition of blackness undermines whatever point he is trying to make.  “To sell out or keep it real” is not a universal black dilemma.   Williams conflates blackness with hip-hop, and whiteness with education and upward mobility.  The fatal flaw in his reasoning is that he frames his arguments using the same false dichotomies he attempts to deconstruct. 

Blackness and hip-hop are not, of course, one and the same.  Hip-hop is only a part of the black experience, and a relatively small one at that.  Therefore, the notion that all black people are forced to choose whether to identify with hip-hop and remain authentic, or “sell out” and thereby become less black, is ludicrous.  Moreover, associating education and upward mobility with “whiteness” is dangerous and offensive. 

It is true that young, middle-class black males often gravitate to and imitate images from hip-hop culture that bear no resemblance to their day-to-day lives.  I’ve seen it within my own family, and it’s one of many aspects of black American culture that Aaron McGruder spoofs in The Boondocks.  And yet, many of these same young men also go to college, take jobs with Fortune 1000 companies, and live otherwise unremarkable, upwardly mobile lifestyles.  Indeed, it is entirely possible to be black and embrace hip-hop, while also being middle class, educated, suburban, and well-read, all at the same time.

Williams has fallen into the trap of what the novelist Chimamanda Adichie eloquently refers to as the danger of the single story.  In a speech recorded at TEDGlobal, July 2009, Oxford, UK, she said: “That is how you create a single story: show a people as one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” 

There is no single story of blackness, no single concept of the black experience.  Throughout history, persons of African descent have struggled to tell stories that reflect the richness, uniquenes and variety of our experiences.  In doing so, we must also avoid the trap of the single story ourselves, by not insisting that those stories fit solely within the framework of the largely negative mainstream vision of “blackness” and black culture.

John Mayer and the Magic Vagina

February 11, 2010

By now, John Mayer has been hashed and re-hashed to death, his “David Duke cock” and “nigger pass” comments analyzed from nearly every angle.  Except one.  While most people have focused on the racial aspect of Mayer’s statements, few have focused on Mayer’s remarks about women, sex and relationships. 

Take, for example, his comments about Jessica Simpson, his off-and-on companion for 10 months.  Mayer spoke at length about having sex with Simpson.  He referred to sex with Simpson as “a drug,” specifically “crack cocaine,” and said that their sex was “sexual napalm.”  

Strikingly, although he said a lot about having sex with Simpson, he said nothing about her.  Although it was a bit déclassé for Mayer to expose details of his sex life with Simpson, it wasn’t shocking — it’s a Playboy interview, after all.  And almost everyone I know has some sexual napalm in their past.  The problem is, in reference to Jessica Simpson, Mayer spoke about nothing else.  It’s as if she didn’t exist for him as a person beyond the amazing sex.

This is nothing new for the juvenile and emotionally stunted Mayer, who once listed “a vagina you can just camp out on…the Joshua Tree of vaginas” as one of the key qualities in a potential mate.  His remarks about Simpson reminded me of a comment (from a man) that showed up in my Twitter feed well before Mayer’s Playboy interview became public:

“Once a weak brother gets a taste of some powerful punanny, his ass will kill 4 his next hit.. Its Heroin 4 his ass.” 

Like Mayer, this man used the language of addiction to describe the power of a woman’s sexual attractiveness.  And as Mayer said, “drugs aren’t good for you if you do lots of them.”  Addictions are unhealthy — scary, dangerous and life-threatening.  Addictions make people weak, because they will do anything to secure their next fix. 

But according to the tweet, only a weak man is unable to resist becoming addicted to the powerful punnany.    By likening the vagina to a drug, a man can enjoy getting high off the good stuff, as long as he doesn’t form any lasting emotional attachment.  In fact, objectifying the vagina makes it easier for the man to insulate himself from emotional attachment.

Women tend not to understand that (some) men think this way.  Ashanti had a song, “Good Good,” where she boasted that her man would never leave her for another woman because she “put it on him right, every night.” 

I wouldn’t suggest any woman take relationship advice from an Ashanti song.  Having that good good, or as I like to call it, the magic vagina, may keep a man coming back for sex, but not much more.  If  the sex is habit-forming, a man who’s addicted eventually may decide he needs to break the habit.

Several years ago, I was involved in a brief but intense relationship.  The man was my sexual napalm and I was his crack cocaine.  He also had all the qualities — looks, intellect, sense of humor, shared goals and outlook on life — I wanted in a partner.  We got along great, in and out of bed.  I didn’t start ring shopping, but I did start thinking this man and I could have had a future together.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.  For years, I wondered why.

I ran into him again a few years ago.  The attraction was still there, dangerously so.  But he was married, and rekindling the old flames was not an option.  Nevertheless, we met for drinks, and finally talked about our past history. 

He was kind, but spoke of our sexual chemistry with a mix of awe and fear.  I suddenly understood why he hadn’t viewed me as a potential partner.  For him, I had been the magic vagina.  And he had been addicted.  The lies and half-truths he told — including the “I love you’s” — were his way of paying the dealer (me) to maintain his supply.  He had enjoyed using, but was now happy to be clean.

He made no mention of any of the things that I had always thought made us so compatible.  For me, the great sex was a sign of compatibility, reinforced by the time we spent together.  For him, the wining and dining and first class treatment were means to an end.  I was the Five Star Jump Off — the one you take to restaurants with Michelin stars instead of McDonald’s, but a jump off still the same.  I was grateful to know why it hadn’t worked, but saddened at the same time.

Mayer touches on how good sex can lead to misguided feelings in his Playboy interview:

MAYER: Here’s what I really want to do at 32: fuck a girl and then, as she’s sleeping in bed, make breakfast for her. So she’s like, “What? You gave me five vaginal orgasms last night, and you’re making me a spinach omelet? You are the shit!” So she says, “I love this guy.” I say, “I love this girl loving me.” And then we have a problem. Because that entails instant relationship. I’m already playing house. And when I lose interest she’s going to say, “Why would you do that if you didn’t want to stick with me?” 

There are lessons for both men and women in all of this.  No one, especially women, should mistake great sex for love.  A guy who can make you come five times in one night is . . . a guy who can make you come five times in one night.  If he makes you the best spinach omelet the next morning, that just means he can cook.  Even if he says the “L” word, be careful — if there are other warning signs, he may just be loving you loving him.  If it’s just great sex without any real commitment, it’s probably best to leave the great sex alone.

Easier said than done, I know.

Leave Me Alone

July 19, 2009

Most days, I love Harlem. 

I love seeing the historic Apollo Theater every morning as I go to work.  I love passing it on my way to the gym. 

I love that the Magic Johnson Theater on 124th & Frederick Douglass Blvd. is still thriving.  When it opened, Magic wanted to prove that multiplexes in black neighborhoods could profit without attracting undue gang violence.  (Now, of course, he reps for Rent-a-Center, helping them bilk our communities out of millions of dollars.) 

I love that in Harlem, 6th, 7th and 8th Avenues are named for important black historical figures — Malcolm X (6th Avenue), Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (7th Avenue) and Frederick Douglass (8th Avenue). 

I love that there are two Starbucks on 125th Street, within a block of each other — one on 125th & Malcolm X Blvd., the other on 125th and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. 

But when it comes to exercising outdoors, I really, really hate being in Harlem. (more…)

Waiting

July 9, 2009

A day at Family Court is a day of waiting.

Although the cases are calendared, there is no set time for your case to be called.  You wait until you are called, which could, and sometimes does, take all day.  This type of waiting requires Zen-like patience.

Most of the people in Family Court — poor, uneducated (or under-educated), lower-class — are not patient.  So Family Court is noisy and uncivilized. 

It is also not a place where people dress like they are in court.  Unlike the U.S. federal or New York State Supreme Courts, only the lawyers and court workers wear suits, skirts and dresses.  Women wear tight tees stretched over sagging bellies and explosive muffin tops, their thighs and hips sausaged into low-rise jeans.  Men wear baggy jeans.  Everyone is tattooed. 

Most overheard conversations include liberal doses of the “f” word.

I have to go to work after I leave court, so I am one of the few petitioners or respondents who is dressed properly for a court appearance.  My dress and heels feel wrong on the benches with the masses.  I feel a greater kinship with the lawyers and caseworkers than the people sitting on the benches with me, waiting like I am for my case to be called. 

I feel out of place.

For the last sixteen months, I have been coming to Family Court every other month for a hearings in connection with a visitation petition filed by my ex-husband.  As the case is still pending, I will not comment on the merits or any of the specifics, except to note that  in those sixteen months, there have been approximately three or four face-to-face visits between my  husband and our kids.

I comply with my legal, moral and ethical obligations to appear on time for each court appearance, and to come back, and back, and back, with no end in sight.

Family Court is the only time I see my ex-husband.  I strongly prefer it that way.

Seeing him incites no feelings of nostalgia for our moribund relationship, no stirrings of attraction towards the man with whom I shared a bed for eight long years of my life.  My memories of our relationship are generally unpleasant.  The few fond ones have nothing to do with romance. 

He looks at me with disgust, and I look at him with confusion, trying to figure out, once again, how I ever wound up with him.  It is plainly obvious to me now that we simply never should have been together.  The mismatch is so clear to me now.  I can’t help but wonder how I overlooked it for so long.

There was a time when I wouldn’t look at him at all, fearing that he wanted to intimidate me with his glare.  Now, I stare openly at him as I try, in vain, to figure out what I ever saw in him.  I do this not to understand the past, but to avoid making that same mistake in the future.  He’s the one who drops his eyes to avoid my gaze. 

I notice he is reading The Daily News and carrying a book as well.  For a minute, I think, “well, that’s it — he always did read a lot, and I always admired that.”  But I don’t think I was desperate or shallow enough to marry a man just because he was literate.

We wait.

One of the men on the benches walks up to him and speaks.  He rises and greets the man with the universal not-a-hug, not-a-handshake gesture that seems peculiar to black men.  Or at least, black men of a certain ilk; those who have been steeped in black culture.  My 8-year-old son has not yet learned that gesture from his father, and won’t learn it from me.  I am not OK with all the ways that I can’t teach my son how to be a black man, but since I wasn’t planning to be a single parent when he was conceived, I accept it.

The gentleman speaking to my ex is not anyone I ever met while we were together.  I guess that the man is the same age as my ex, although he looks much older and, in his baggy low-rise shorts, dresses much younger.   He is of a type that became familiar to me during the time I was with my ex.  My ex is a substance abuse counselor, and many of his friends are recovering addicts.  On the man’s weathered, limping legs are legions of scars.  Healed injection sites.

I am not sitting close enough to overhear their conversation, but my ex has made a few covert gestures in my direction.  I imagine he is categorizing all the different types of bitches I am, especially since I have dared to not just roll over in these proceedings.  He doesn’t introduce me to his friend, nor do I expect him to.  We are not friends; I’m not sure we ever were.

We wait.

We are both pro se in these proceedings, meaning we are each representing ourselves, without benefit of counsel.  Although I am a lawyer, I do not practice family law, and my legal training gives me no advantages here.  I have done nothing to prepare for this routine court appearance.  There is nothing to prepare.  At this point, I can anticipate — accurately — what will happen.  Hiring a lawyer for this would have been a complete waste of time.

Today there will be no surprises.

We wait.

I am writing in my journal when he approaches me, wordlessly, and hands me a cold bottle of Poland Springs from an unseen vending machine.  I accept it and say, “Thank you.”  He does not respond.  Perhaps he grunts a response I don’t expect, and so do not hear.

I make sure the seal is intact before I open it and take a sip.

It dawns on me that I haven’t yet seen the law guardian assigned to represent the children in our case, and I realize her absence is the reason we are still waiting.  I know she has been ill, and I hope she’s well enough to attend today’s session.   If she is not there, the case will be adjourned and re-calendared, and I would have missed a morning of work for nothing. 

Just as I complete that thought, I see her.  She looks well.  We chat briefly, and I look around for my ex, who is convinced that she and I are conspiring against him.  I know the sight of the two of us chatting fuels his conspiracy theories.  I don’t see him.

Finally, our case is called, and it goes exactly as I expect it to.  In sum — nothing happens.  We are scheduled to return in September.

The court officer hands me a slip of paper with the date and time of our next scheduled appearance.  I try to take my time leaving the courtroom, but when I reach the elevator lobby, he is still there, waiting for the next elevator down. 

I walk past him and duck into the ladies’ room.  I stand in the full-length mirror, adjust my dress and admire my calves until I figure enough time has passed for Elvis to have left the building.

He is gone when I return to the elevator lobby, but still I take my time to get downstairs.  He is not smoking a cigarette outside, not waiting to ambush me as he has done in the past, but still I wait. 

I take out my journal again, writing as I watch and listen to a man and woman arguing about how he treated their kid during his last visit.  It isn’t long before the argument settles into a tired, worn groove of arguments past:

“You spend all day at the beach instead of working,” she says. 

“You can’t hurt me anymore,” he says.

I put my head down and keep writing.  I no longer feel out of place.  I used to have these arguments with my ex in the hallways outside of the courtroom during my divorce proceedings.  My advanced degree didn’t shield me from this drama.  My ex and I don’t have these arguments anymore, because we simply don’t talk at all.  

However, I would never tell him he can’t hurt me anymore, because he can — by hurting my kids.  They are hurt most by the lack of a meaningful relationship with their father. That’s why I continue to participate in these proceedings, hearing after hearing — because I hope that this will somehow lead to some type of renewed relationship among my ex and the children.

But I am tired of waiting.

I’ll Get It!!!

May 13, 2009

I wrote this piece when my daughter, who is now 12, was 8, and just starting to talk to her friends on the phone.  Now that she’s 12, I find that things have turned out pretty much as I predicted back then…

“I’ll get it!” my daughter shouted over the din of the TV, some wannabe singer screeching out something on American Idol.  She practically jumped off the top bunk down to the floor.  “It might be Nick!”

Before I could say anything, she had answered the phone and was talking into it.  “It’s me!  Hey, Nick!”  Then to me: “Mom, I’m going to go get the other phone.  Can you hang up when I pick up?”

I nodded, still shell-shocked.  This child, who just a few minutes earlier had been arguing with me about the Idol wannabes (“Mo-om, Carrie soooo can sing!”), was no teenager.  She wasn’t even a pre-teen or tweener.  She had just celebrated her eighth birthday two months earlier. 

Granted, there was the whole early puberty thing — she had just undergone a whole series of tests to determine why she was already budding breasts and sprouting hairs, and earlier that week I finally had to stop denying her the right to wear the little training bras she had received as a Christmas present from her former babysitter.  (I still don’t know what a training bra is “training” the breasts to do.)  But I wasn’t ready for her to fly off the bed and grab the phone because she was expecting some boy to call.  And as I half-listened to my daughter’s side of her conversation with Nick, I was both satisfied that the conversation was entirely innocent, and disturbed by the harbinger of things to come.

My daughter has always found boys easier to befriend than girls.  Boys tend not to judge you based on what you’re wearing, or what clique you do or don’t belong to, or how cool anyone thinks you are.  At the same time, she has always longed for that one true girlfriend.  This eighth year of her life has been especially difficult, because with all the changes going on already in her body, she seems to need that elusive best girlfriend now more than ever.  Eight-year-old boys, who are silly and irritating most of the time, are a poor substitute.  

In my daughter’s case, with the simmering hormones of precocious puberty stirring up all kinds of emotions she can’t yet identify, let alone name, it’s inevitable that she’s going to start becoming truly aware that the boys she chats on the phone with, hangs out with after school, and has playdates and even sleepovers with, is a bona fide member of the opposite sex.  And, come to think of it, they’re kind of cute.  In my experience, that recognition usually blows the friendship to pieces.  I’m grateful she’s too young for that recognition to occur, but I know it’s going to happen — and when it does, I suspect (and fear) some of her male friendships won’t survive.

I listened to my daughter in the other room, talking to Nick about school, other kids and parents.  She spoke in cool, calm tones, without any of that exaggerated language, copied from Nickeledeon and Disney Channel tween-focused shows, that 8 year olds use when they want to talk the way they imagine teenagers do.  There was no “what-EVER!,” no “Oh.My.GOD!!!!”  It all sounded frighteningly grown up. 

After a few minutes, I had to see what was going on, because suddenly I couldn’t hear her side of the conversation.  Her voice seemed to have dropped an octave or two, and that’s when I knew it was time to get her off the phone.

“Okay, Cami, five minutes,” I said anxiously, trying to be fair, but wishing I’d just told her it was time to hang up.

“Okay!” came the again-audible response.  Phone privileges were still pretty new to her, so she was unusually malleable.

A few minutes later, I again couldn’t hear my daughter’s voice.  “Cami, time to get off!”

“I’m already off!  Nick’s mom told him it was time to hang up already!”

I smiled.  I knew there was a reason I liked Nick’s mom.  I was glad at least one of us hadn’t wimped out of our responsibility.

The next day, as I was leaving my daughter’s school after dropping her off, I ran into Nick and his mom. 

“So, our guys have become quite the little phone pals, I see,” I said.

“Yeah,” she grunted.  We shared a knowing smile, an unspoken expression of relief that they were still only 8.  Nick was oblivious to the parental disdain going on above his head.  But he didn’t call that night.  Fortunately, being only 8, my daughter didn’t even notice.

Zen and the Art of Blackberry Poker

April 8, 2009

 

A couple of years ago, I attended a poker night for professional women – an educational, networking and team-building event sponsored by a friend’s law firm.  The event was based on the theory that poker teaches essential business skills that can be difficult for women to master – such as reading the competition, being aggressive and learning how to take risk at the appropriate time.  We were given poker lessons by a leading professional woman poker player, received a stack of chips, and played rounds of poker for fun.

 

As an attorney, I consider myself to be a tough negotiator who is good at reading a competitive situation. That night, I bet small, folded often, and lost all my chips fairly early in the evening.  I had neither the stamina nor the interest to keep playing round after round until there was a final winner.  But I refused to believe this was due to some innate deficiency I had as a woman.  I chalked it up to an abundance of good wine and good sushi, and a complete lack of knowledge about poker.

 

Still, the idea that most women are not naturally aggressive, calculated risk-takers stuck with me.  So when I saw that my new Blackberry came with a Texas Hold ‘Em game, I was determined to test out the theory and prove it wrong.

 

The first few games were meaningless – I lost money while I familiarized myself once again with the basic rules of poker, learning the hard way that a flush beats a straight, a high straight beats a low one.  Once I got that down, it wasn’t too hard to figure out, at the margins, when to hold and when to fold. 

 

When to bet and how much to bet, was a bigger challenge.  Frequently, I would find myself with great cards, but the courage to bet only a small amount.  I was constantly afraid of losing all my money, although it wasn’t real money.  Sometimes, my ego would trap me into staying in the game, even when I knew I had no chance of winning.

 

Unconsciously, I found myself replaying patterns that played themselves out in my life as well.  Lacking the courage to take bigger risks, staying in a bad situation because I was already in it. . . . I played round after round, losing it all over and over again, with increased frustration because I just couldn’t seem to figure it out.

 

My daughter showed no interest in my new poker fascination, but my son took to it instantly.  He watched me play a couple of hands and then offered some advice.

 

“Mom, what you should do, is bet a lot of money sometimes, to scare them off.”

 

My son is 7.  He had never played poker before seeing my Blackberry game. But his instincts was dead-on.  I was amazed that he seemed to have an intuitive sense of the game, and knew what I needed to do to prevail.

 

The gender theories were being proven right in front of me.  My son had suggested that I bluff, make aggressive moves and take risks as strategies to succeed.  I hadn’t even attempted to bluff.  I strictly played the cards, and lost hand after hand, round after round.  My son got bored watching me and went back to playing his Nintendo DS games, where he could be much more of a risk-taker than his Mom was willing to be.

 

I learned that the poker instructor really had been right – the cards were not the end point; they were the starting point to figuring out what you needed to do.  The cards merely informed your decision.  Each time, you had to take a chance that either your cards would either beat everyone else’s cards, or your betting would intimidate people with better cards into making unwise choices, like folding instead of holding.  Sometimes, a perfectly rational decision resulted in a loss; other times, a riskier decision resulted in a huge win. The subtleties of when to stay in the game and when to get out were a lot tougher to master than the broad strokes of understanding that three of a kind beats two pairs.

 

Finally, I had a breakthrough.  I was in a battle, with $14,000 to my virtual opponent’s $2,500.  I had a hand that I knew should be a winner, but I nearly convinced myself to fold.  I worried that I would be down by a substantial amount if I lost — despite the fact that I would still enjoy a huge advantage over my virtual opponent.  And yes, I actually worried about this – to the point I had to shut down the game and walk away from it for a couple of hours.

  

I told myself I was being ridiculous.  I kept reminding myself it wasn’t real money.  It was a stupid Blackberry game.  In real life, I would be no poorer either way (except for the time lost spent playing Blackberry poker). 

 

I had to close my eyes to place the bet.  When I opened them, I discovered I had won.  The game told me I needed to go to a higher stakes table.  I felt as if I had actually won nearly $20,000.

 

I am hardly a poker master now, but I am now sitting on a bankroll of $32,000 virtual dollars.  I draw it down in $500 increments, and I use the game to practice bluffing and taking calculated risks.  Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose, but I take none of it personally. 

 

I don’t think I would be able to stomach playing poker with real money – I would wind up thinking of each pot lost in terms of my kids’ college fund.  But learning not to be afraid to take calculated risks, and to keep on trying if I lose, are important real-life lessons.  If a silly Blackberry game can improve my ability to do both, it will have been well worth my time.

 

A version of this post was originally published on NYC Moms Blog.

Running – In the Moment

April 6, 2009

For the last several months, I have been trying to finish Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.  I have found the book enlightening on several levels; I have no idea why I can’t finish it.  Tolle’s explanation of ego is unparalleled.  His discussion of aligning with and living in the now resonates with me intellectually, but I have had a hard time putting it into practice in my own life. 

Years ago, I used to meditate.  It was a Taoist meditation based on circulating energy, or chi, throughout the body’s main meridians, or chakras.  I can’t meditate that way anymore.  I read Eat, Pray, Love, and tried to meditate on a word, on breath, on nothing, on everything.  That didn’t work, either.  I was starting to feel like I’d never get to experience what Tolle describes as “inner space” ever again.

A wise friend told me not to worry about “failing” at meditation.  “You will find the perfect way to meditate for yourself as you are now,” he told me.  I loved the thought, but I didn’t believe him.   I kept focusing on breath.  I kept falling asleep, or stopping to check my Blackberry.

Then, on Sunday, April 5, I ran the City Parks’ Foundation Run for the Parks 4-mile run, in Central Park.  As I lined up in the starting corral with the other runners in my group, making small talk with a woman from my New York Road Runners classes, my mind was completely clear.  Unlike previous races, I made no attempt to imagine how the race would go, or map out in my head a strategy for the course.   I simply moved when I was supposed to move, noted the sensations of wind and chill and the small twinges of discomfort in my tendinitis-challenged right ankle, and waited for the race to begin. 

As we inched closer to and then crossed the starting line, I started my watch timer, wished my classmate good luck, and picked up my feet in accordance with the rhythm of my breathing.  I was conscious of nothing but the movement of my feet and some intermittent but minor pains shooting through my ankle.  I was aware of the runners ahead of me, but didn’t focus on any of them.

Early in the race, my breathing felt labored.  I adjusted my pace, wondering if I was already overheating.  Then I saw we were going up a hill.  I recalled the advice of my instructors, and began pumping my arms to propel myself up the hill.  It was only as we neared the apex of the hill that I realized this was, of course, Cat Hill — the hill we used for training runs in class, the hill everyone dreaded.  The dreadful and dreaded Cat Hill didn’t seem so dreadful anymore.  Somehow, by not thinking about it, by not battling an image of how hard it was, I ascended the hill without too much trouble. 

As other runners passed me, I kept my own pace.  I looked around a few times for other people I might know; seeing none, I kept going.  As I began to pass other runners, I asked myself whether it was my pace or my ego that was driving me to pass.  If it was my pace, I kept moving forward.  If I determined my ego wanted me to pass someone that my pace wasn’t ready for me to pass, someone my ego decided was inferior somehow — whether because of weight, age or some other characteristic — I held myself back and waited until pace, not ego, propelled me to pass.

A race volunteer announced a water station at Mile 3. I dutifully stopped for water.  At Mile 3.5, my stomach reminded me I hadn’t had breakfast.  I acknowledged being hungry, and kept running.  Soon thereafter, I saw another NYRR classmate.  We spoke, and she introduced me to her friend.  For a moment, I thought of slowing my pace to run with them, but decided not to.  I had a good pace, the finish line was near, and my ankle was no longer throwing off warning signals.  It was fine.  I was fine.  I kept going.

Finally, with the finish line in sight, I pushed myself to go faster, to run harder, no longer concerned about running out of steam.  I finished strong, faster than my previous fastest race time.  I enjoyed another drink of water, considered and then reconsidered taking a bagel or apple from the boxes and boxes of post-race carbs, and then just decided to go home.

And on my way home, it occurred to me: during the race, I experienced inner space.  My friend was right.  I had found my perfect way to meditate.  Running was my meditation.  When I run, I focus on nothing other than finishing the workout.  As soon as I find myself comparing myself with other runners, I start to falter.  When I return to focusing on absolutely nothing at all, I achieve my goal.  Sometimes I’m last, never first, but I finish.

I’ve decided to work on remaining in the moment.  To resist the temptation to check Facebook repeatedly throughout the day and night, to watch television while the kids are telling me a story about their day in school, to feel as if I’m idle if I’m not attempting to do three or four things at the same time. 

I’ve already seen some benefits.  Today at work, I got through a backlog of old emails for which responses were long overdue.  At home, I finished two blog posts in time for the start of the NCAA Championship Game.  I don’t expect perfection.  The effort itself is worthwhile.