Posts Tagged 'daughter'

Soundtrack for a Caged Bird

When my daughter was small she was fascinated by birds. Unable to pronounce her r’s, she would call out “bi’d!” and then identify its type: “ca’dinal,” “spa’ow,” “’obin.” But mere bird watching didn’t satisfy her passion. She was determined to possess what she loved.

Foolish parents, we took her to a pet store.

“Our daughter loves birds. She wants a pet bird she can train to sit on her finger.”

The salesperson pointed to a lovebird without a partner, and said that a solo lovebird would be more affectionate, that it would transfer all its unrequited love to my daughter. With its electric blue feathers, this lonely bird was an attention-grabber with a heart-melting back-story. Sold, along with a cage, food and accessories.


Continue reading ‘Soundtrack for a Caged Bird’

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.

Continue reading ‘Dress Rehearsal’

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’

Backseat Driver’s Ed

Common wisdom says we learn best by doing, not by watching. So why does the Massachusetts driver’s education “curriculum” require six hours of observing another student driver? The six observation hours (in addition to 12 hours behind the wheel, 30 hours in the classroom) are mandatory for anyone under 18 applying for a license; a parent/guardian is also required to sit through a two-hour class and to attest to having supervised 40 hrs of road time with the child driving.

My daughter spent two hours today in the backseat of a blue sedan “observing” a boy her age drive. I asked if the instructor had given the boy any pointers along the way. “No, he was a pretty good driver already, so we all just talked about our Thanksgiving plans.” My daughter had brought along Huck Finn and had hoped to use the time to do some homework, since that’s what the kid observing her had done during one of her prior lessons. Instead they all talked turkey to pass the  time on their Sunday drive.

If she was getting a pilot’s license I could see the instructional value of observation hours, though I’d still rather she observed an expert pilot, not a novice. Same goes for obtaining a medical license; interns go on rounds and watch procedures before they are ready to make a diagnosis or wield a scalpel themselves. Teachers in training intern with veteran teachers.

But it seems pretty clear to me that driving a car, like playing a musical instrument or riding a bicycle, is a skill that really can only be learned by doing.

Would someone please tell the Commonwealth that this backseat driver’s ed is a waste of time?

(photo by sciondriver on Flickr)

    Postscript (11/22/10)

Daughter fell asleep while “observing” another driver today.
Parent class cancelled without notice this evening. Arrived at driving school to find 5 other disgruntled parents in parking lot.


You and your sister are trying not to look like tourists as you stroll down Melrose Avenue, toward the Urth Caffe. The Southern California sun has made you thirsty, and you are approaching a prime celebrity watering hole. Scanning the sidewalk crowd, you wonder: is that Robert Pattinson smoking at one of the sidewalk tables? Could the petite blond be Reese Witherspoon ordering a post-yoga smoothie? 

And then, from a few feet behind, you hear, “Wait. Stop a second. Let me just take a quick photo.” You are caught in the hunter’s cross hairs.

Rolling your heavily-lined eyes, you pause, pivot a slimming quarter turn, tilt your head just so, and smile for the camera — but not with your eyes, as Tyra Banks of America’s Next Top Model would be quick to detect. It’s hard to shake Mamarazzi.

No one can embarrass you like your mother, especially when she’s armed with a digital SLR, stalking you like a celebrity. Continue reading ‘Mamarazzi’

You Go, Girl!

On the second anniversary of my mother’s death, I am posting a piece I wrote in 2006. It doesn’t have anything to do with E.B. White, but I think both he and Mom would appreciate that I spent an evening revising it, “omitting a few needless words” from the original version.

There’s a first time for everything. In my mother’s case it is attending her first rock concert at the age of 89. “Rock” as in Bonnie Raitt, not Guns N’ Roses. Let’s not split hairs here – this will be Mom’s first concert not involving a symphony orchestra or a big band.

Mom’s giddy anticipation has dominated our every phone conversation for the two months since I surprised her with the tickets and one of Bonnie’s CDs as an 89th birthday present. The birthday read, “You’re just a young person that a lot has happened to.” I fly in for the concert from my home near Boston, bringing backstage passes secured by my husband, an old friend of Bonnie’s from her time at Harvard in the late ’60s. Continue reading ‘You Go, Girl!’

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