Archive for January, 2011

Dress Rehearsal

If all the world’s a stage then I have begun dress rehearsals for an off-off-Broadway drama, entitled Empty Nest. It’s a familiar, timeless story; I once played the ingenue in a dinner theater production starring my mother. After making a sweeping exit in Act I, I waited backstage for my cues as a voice-over in anxiously-awaited phone calls and letters to the leading lady.

Now, preparing to assume the lead myself, I am called upon to improvise, as the original script is still undergoing extensive re-writes. In the updated version, the ingenue, played by my younger daughter, is scripted for an encore; with her senior year and college applications looming, the dramatic tension mounts toward a second, more final, send-off. And, while the writer-gods debate my character’s ultimate fate, I have time to rehearse how I would like the action to unfold. Comedy or tragedy? I’ll look to the unsinkable Molly Brown, not Hedda Gabler, for inspiration.

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Joint Custody Dog

I didn’t want a dog.

In 1998 I was a single mother of three young children (ages 4, 7 and 9), trying to find my emotional and financial footing following an explosive divorce. I had just started a new job as a real estate agent, and was trying to juggle being on call 24/7 to my clients with the demands of motherhood. Space and privacy were at a premium in our 1,000 s.f. condo, and we shared a postage-stamp-sized back yard with our upstairs neighbors. It was early summer, and the kids were out of school and in day camps; I worked until about three o’clock and spent afternoons ferrying them around to play dates and playgrounds and running errands while compulsively checking my office voice mail.

I didn’t have time for a puppy.

But seven-year-old Cecily never missed an opportunity to remind us she wanted-deserved-couldn’t-live-without a puppy, and that summer she finally wore her father down. George informed me that he had decided to get a puppy, and proposed that we share it. I reluctantly went along with the plan, so long as this “joint custody dog” was small and non-shedding. We settled on a cockpaoo (or “cockerpoo” — there’s no consensus on what to call a cocker spaniel-poodle mix). George picked out the puppy from a breeder and left it in a friend’s care until the following weekend, when he planned to surprise Cecily with “her” new puppy.

I remember the puppy’s entrance into our fractured family as vividly as I do the days when my children were born. The kids and I were waiting on the front porch for George to pick them up for the weekend. He climbed the steps cradling something small and yellow, which Cecily initially mistook for a stuffed animal. All three kids squealed when they realized that it was a real dog, one not much larger than the Beanie Babies they collected. Soft, cuddly and button-eyed, “Teddy” all but named himself.


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Toothing with Mimi

As what would have been my mother’s 94th birthday (January 18) nears, and housebound by the Blizzard of 2011, I am thinking of her, and of my snowless childhood in the Sunshine State. I wrote this in 2009.

In my early childhood, many days included a trip to the beach with my mother. Some days I came to swim or build sand castles, but often the churning sea was a decorative scrim, remarked only for the state of its tide — low tide being ideal for “toothing.”

By accident of prehistoric geography, the Florida beach town where I grew up is rich in fossilized sharks’ teeth. Vacationers line their suitcases with a bright array of scallops, clams and oysters, bivalves that the Atlantic disgorges split in half. Staunch shellers, pilgrims to the beach-combing meccas on the Gulf coast, would spurn the relics of a Ponte Vedra vacation.

Mom and I left mere shelling to the sunburned tourists whose blissful ignorance of sharks’ teeth worked to our advantage. Let them clamber over conchs with the ocean’s roar whistling inside: we kept our eyes peeled for more valuable unburied treasure. Make no mistake: our sharks’-toothing was a competitive sport, one where an 8-year-old and a 50-year old were evenly matched.

Beach Picnic, 1963

Heads down, we would pace the sand, eyes laser-focused to zero in on sharks’ teeth, black specks on the orange carpet of coquina. Trained by hours of toothing, Mom and I could readily distinguish all sizes and shapes of the tide-polished teeth from other black shells, imposters that conspired to fool our practiced eyes. To keep from poaching each other’s territory, we would hunt at a respectful distance, calling out triumphantly each time we scored a tooth. Occasionally I would feel a twinge of guilt when my younger, keener eyes gave me an edge over my acutely near-sighted mother, whose relative height put her farther away from the bounty at her feet. I eventually learned that it was unseemly to over-enthuse upon finding a small tooth, even though logic might argue that it was the proverbial needle in a haystack. In toothing, size definitely mattered, and the possibility of finding “the big one” was what kept us in the hunt day after day, year after year. Arriving home with stiff necks and sand between our toes, we would tally our respective takes before pooling our loot in a communal jar, claiming a proprietary interest only in exceptional specimens.

On my 18th birthday Mom surprised me with a gold necklace fashioned from one particularly fine tooth in our collection. I have worn it almost continuously since I left Florida for college and never looked back, and in the big cities where I’ve lived strangers regularly remark on my necklace. I enjoy their surprise when I tell them the tooth belonged to a shark millions of years ago and that I found it on a beach. Continue reading ‘Toothing with Mimi’

Only a Hat?

Investing meaning in an object is a risky proposition, not least because losing the object poses an existential danger beyond its material worth. And, of course, making assumptions about a person’s values based on, say, what they are wearing can be misleading.

And with these caveats in mind, I present Exhibit A: a mink hat that, for me, is freighted with meaning and weighted with contradictions.

Cecily Rocks The Hat (1999)

When I acquired The Hat in 1993 I could not have predicted that, 18 years later, it would become a potent symbol of my own personal and political evolution. At the time, I was a young mother living in Manhattan. My regular route between our apartment and my son’s nursery school took me past an upscale thrift shop on Third Avenue, and one winter day I stopped in to browse. The Hat caught immediately my eye from inside a display case. I remember asking the sales lady to take it out, and hesitating when I saw the price tag: $75 was more than I was prepared to pay for an impulse purchase. But when I tried The Hat on I felt a sense of destiny; it fit perfectly, and the color of the fur exactly matched my hair. Sold! I wore it home. Continue reading ‘Only a Hat?’

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