“You do realize that you’ve made me write more than any other teacher. In real school, I only had to write three essays, at most, every year. This year, you’ve made me write twenty-one. TWENTY-ONE! All I do is write. And I’m NOT in college.” This has become my son’s mantra. Every day he grumbles, but of those twenty papers he’s referring to, two of them are short stories he chose to write and one of them is a historical poem. Have I made him write more than any other teacher in the history of school? Possibly. But in all fairness, each of those papers served a purpose. Since he has my undivided attention all day, and since my motivating factor is his success and not a pay check, I’ve been able to have higher expectations. Teachers in classrooms can’t expect as much output from their students because they simply don’t have the time to revise and grade it all. If a salaried teacher gave out assignments the way I do, she’d be overwhelmed with work and would have absolutely no time to indulge in a private life. She’d probably even have to give up sleep.
If you simply look at the volume of work my son has done, yeah, you’d agree. It’s a lot. But with me he has probably spent less time doing work than he would have if he were in real school. The difference is that with me there has been no busy work. Everything has been designed to sharpen one skill or another. And he hasn’t just written in English class. He’s also done a fair amount of writing for science and social studies.
Besides, except for reading, my son never has homework. I tried it early in the year and it didn’t work. Being his teacher and his mom isn’t always easy, and at times my head spins trying to play both roles simultaneously. And homework blurred the line between mom and teacher. Homework was a mother’s domain, but when I set aside my teaching hat for the day, I wanted to be done with my teaching duties. That included homework. Somehow reading was the one exception because it’s impossible to read a book and not discuss it with someone who has read the same book. Not to mention the benefit that literature gave us something to talk about. We couldn’t exactly chat about our day over dinner. “So tell me, G3, how was your day at school?” Yeah, that doesn’t work when you haven’t spent ten minutes away from each other in eight months. But questions drawn from the books we read, that gives us something to discuss. And now, apparently writing is also something he wishes to do with me — outside school hours — provided he choses the topics and the writing is all creative.
His latest essay, however, was a “boring stupid comparison and I’m tired of writing comparisons.” His words. He hated writing it so much that he informed me this afternoon as he made his final edits that it was his least favorite of all the papers he’d written this year. I wasn’t at all surprised because it was the hardest one to get him to write. Each sentence was painful — for me. If only he complained a little less, he might have been able to complete the assignment in half the time.
I am having him read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins because I wanted to end the year with an easy book. After reading three classics and a non-fiction book, I thought it might be fun to read something that might be less taxing on the brain. And while The Hunger Games is not exactly light reading — there is a great deal to unpack and discuss — the actual reading isn’t difficult. Besides, in my quest for diversity, I did want him to read at least one woman author. It was when I started to reread the book — in order to teach it — that I remembered sitting in my freshman high school English class and reading Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” I hadn’t read it in years. In fact, I remembered the premise of the story but not the actual story itself, but the premise was enough to realize it was the perfect way to introduce The Hunger Games. After all, the reaping in some ways is simply a retelling of “The Lottery.” And that is what I asked G3 to explore in this “twenty-first essay,” the essay that prompted record breaking complaining.
When G3 finally completed his final draft around 11:00 this morning, he bitterly declared, “You worked me too hard this year. I am tired of school. Tired of essays. Tired of math. Tired of taking stupid notes.” Then, he sprawled out on the floor pillows and promptly fell asleep.
Here it is, his essay on Jackson and Collins:
Death By Chance
Many times you will see similar stories in the books and short stories you read. “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson, was published in 1948. Then exactly 60 years later, The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, was published. I believe that Collins got her idea for the reaping from Jackson. In literature, there are only three main story lines: man against man, man against himself, and man against nature. We obviously know the just mentioned stories are man against man because people kill people. In “The Lottery,” the winner will be stoned to death. In TheHunger Games, the winner has a chance of survival. But in both these stories the odds are never in your favor if you are chosen.
Imagine living in a community where on a certain day death is not only welcome, but is wanted and necessary. A day where a name is picked from a box and if it’s your name your friends, family, and coworkers hurl stones at you. They bash in your skull, tear your side with the serrated rocks, and cripple you. If you lived in these communities you might have gotten to know this sort of human sacrifice as “The Lottery.”
I think Collins got her ideas for the reaping from the just described torture. The reaping takes one boy and one girl between the ages of 12-18 from each district and puts them in some sort of wilderness. Then, the Gamemakers put bladed and metal weapons in the arena and they make the young people fight to the death. If this does not sound as bad as “The Lottery,” imagine you and your best friend face to face with only maces. One of you will live, the other won’t. So, would you drive the heavy spiked ball into your friend or would you let them kill you? Oh, I almost forgot, you have to search for water and food so you could choose to die by thirst or hunger instead.
Now that we know what both stories are about, I will talk about their similarities. To start, we all know that someone will be killed in these events either by a mace to the head or a rock or the head. However, let’s talk about the more acute examples of similarities. One thing I have noticed is that you can’t run away because in TheHunger Games there is a force field not letting you leave. In “The Lottery,” if you run away, the townsfolk will just chase you. Another thing is both Panem, and the town in the Lottery have a mining industry. “The Lottery” just briefly mentions its mining industry, but in TheHunger Games it is mentioned throughout the book. It is important to the plot that Katniss’s father blew up while mining because that made her a good hunter.
Both events involve choosing a name from a “hat.” This shows a level of how the government doesn’t care who it is they just want to see death. Both traditions are just engraved in people’s minds, people take it as obvious. I know this because in “The Lottery” Old Man Warner says this is his 77th lottery and he argues against doing away with the lottery because it has been around so long it is a part of their culture. While talking about another town which gave up their lottery, Warner says, “Pack of crazy fools…listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves.” (pp. 4-5) In TheHungerGames, people in the seam take the reaping as an every year thing. The towns people hate the tradition, but they don’t speak out because if they do they may die.
Due to “The Lottery” being a short story and TheHungerGames being a novel you will obviously get more information from The HungerGames. In “The Lottery,” Jackson may have said that the townsfolk do not know why the tradition started in order to make the story shorter.
In the book, you get the back story of why the Hunger Games started. The reason the games started is because the districts lead a rebellion and the districts lost, so as a reminder, the capitol sentences twenty-three of their children to death every year.
Characters act differently in both stories. Tessie Hutchinson wants her daughter to be in the final draw, but she can’t because women have to draw with their husbands. She also wails, “It is unfair. It is unfair.” But when Effie chooses Prim, she walks solemnly to the stage. Katniss, instead of being happy she wasn’t chosen, decides to take Prim’s place because she loves her sister.
If you are chosen in “The Lottery,” you don’t have a prayer of surviving. Twenty-four people are chosen in the Hunger Games. You have a week to train in many different things. Then, when you get to the arena, you are able to pick people off and defend yourself. One way you could play the Hunger Games is to wait for everyone else to kill each other, then you could kill the last one. Another way you could play is to kill everyone and be the victor.
If you talk against the government in Panem, it is considered treason. And you guessed it, treason is punishable by death. In the novel, Katniss talks about how people take bets to see to who will win. She goes on to say, “Most refuse dealing with racketeers but carefully, carefully. These same people tend to be informers and who hasn’t broken the law?” (p. 17) This shows how people are scared of talking against the government. In “The Lottery,” people speak freely about the slaughter because it will not cause the government to hurt the people. In a conversation between Adams and Old Man Warner, Adams says,”They do say…that over in the North Village they’re talking of giving up the lottery.” (p. 4) This also shows how people are not afraid to speak their mind in this short story.
Now that I have described the differences and similarities of the two stories maybe you can read them and see if you can find more. I wonder what story you’d like better. I preferred The Hunger Games because it has children and more action.
Since Dad died, I’ve often found myself in a position where I feel I have to choose between being a good daughter and being a good mother. No matter which I choose, at any given moment, I end up feeling guilty. I’m the type of person who often tries to do the ‘right thing,’ but I’m learning that the right thing isn’t always black and white. To complicate things even further, I often find myself asking, “What would Dad want me to do?” He taught me to be present and doting parent. But he was also a doting and caring spouse and I know he’d want me to take care of my mother as best I could since he isn’t here to do it.
Yesterday was one of those days when I felt torn. I couldn’t be both the filial daughter and the present parent. I had committed to taking my mother to the Queens COVID Remembrance Day, an event that I also wanted to attend in honor of my father. As luck would have it, it was also the Tournament of Champions — a qualifying tournament to mark the end of the taekwondo virtual season — and my son qualified in both forms and weapons. My original plan was to drive him back to New Jersey on Friday night and then return to New York the following day. All of his other tournaments were early in the afternoon, and I had hoped this one would be early as well. But as you know, luck is rarely on my side, and he was slotted the latest time he’s ever been given. The late start time would not give me sufficient time to battle traffic over the bridges to make the 7:00 candlelight vigil. My son wanted me at the tournament, and I wanted to be there. But I also really wanted to go to the COVID Remembrance event. I suggested that I drive into New York early and watch the tournament on Zoom. When it ended I could go with mom and then return to New Jersey late at night. My son didn’t like that idea, and my mother didn’t want me to miss the tournament. She was adamant that she could walk up to Forest Park and attend the event on her own. But I was still torn: Do I take my mother to honor my father? Or do I go with my son? I couldn’t decided what the right thing to do would be until Mom said, “Your father would be angry with you if you missed the tournament. Your place is with your son. I’ll be fine going to the event alone?” She’ll be fine. The last coherent words my father spoke to me where, “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.” Those words now haunt me. But ultimately, I decided to take my son to the tournament and then tune in to the live stream of the vigil.
Maybe it’s a good thing I decided to attend the tournament. My son did not do as well as he had done in previous tournaments. He didn’t place in the top three in either event and when the tournament ended and he bowed out, he cried as he hasn’t cried in years. There was no consoling him. He felt like a failure despite our telling him we were still proud of him. I love being there to see him do well, to celebrate his victories, but it’s it just as important that I’m there to hug him and try to pull him back up when he loses. But a part of me wondered, if I hadn’t been there, if I had opted to be with my mother and father instead would have done better? Was his poor performance a result of me not making the right choice.
As for Mom, she did go alone to the Remembrance Event, but she wasn’t alone very long. Okay, maybe I need to back up a little bit here. If you remember, I reconnected with a friend from high school when Dad got sick. He had brought me ginger when I was battling COVID and he offered to pick up groceries or anything else Mom and I might need. Tragically, his father got sick and died shortly after Dad died. Much like I have holed up in my study to write and pour my soul out onto the screen in an effort to deal with my grief, he has found a far more admirable way of handing his grief. He’s thrown himself into advocacy, bringing attention to COVID and the losses so many of us have suffered. He and his mother, along with other grieving families, planned the Queens COVID Remembrance Day. When Mom arrived and found the picture of Dad on one of the many empty benches, it was my friend’s mom who found her and sat down to chat with her for awhile. My friend also talked with mom for a bit. Then, when the vigil started, a Columbian family sat with mom, one of the woman — who lost a sister to COVID — held mom’s hand as they swapped stories about their loved ones. One of the speakers commented that last year we were all grieving alone, but at the remembrance event they all mourned together. I’m glad — since I opted to be the dutiful mother instead of the dutiful daughter — that other people were there to share Mom’s pain and offer her some support. When it ended, my friend’s mom kindly drove Mom home so that she didn’t have to further tax her bad legs.
Today, we went on a family hike. Last month we drove south to Cape May and stood on at the Southern most point in New Jersey. This morning, we drove to the northern most point and went hiking at High Point State Park, which is also the highest point in the state. We were going to take a short hike, but inadvertently ended up taking the longer route — opting for the lollipop instead of turning around and retracing our steps once we reached the monument. Despite the ominous dark clouds and the treat of a downpour that materialized in nothing but a drizzle, we had a pleasant day. On the way there, we once again listened to the Hamilton soundtrack. My spouse hasn’t taken it out of her car CD player in over a month. It plays on an endless loop — she has completely redefined the word “obsession.” She knows most of the lyrics and sings along. While she sang, I read, still picking my way through Hamilton’s biography. And it’s really hard to read with the music blaring in the background. I might have gotten through five pages in an hour. Anyway, when we started hiking, my spouse was still singing, and in between songs, I filled her and my son in on the Whiskey Rebellion, a rebellion launched by residents in Western Pennsylvania who were pissed off at Hamilton’s Whiskey tax. My commentary, mixed in with my spouses rapping, prompted my son to comment, “I find it really funny that Mommy is the one obsessed with Hamilton, yet Mama is the one reading his biography.” I must admit, the most fun part of it is being able to correct the facts in the lyrics my spouse sings. I suppose that’s the teacher in me.
While hiking, I have long joked that my son is a mountain goat racing up hills, bounding from rock to rock, and gracefully skipping over streams. My spouse is a turtle moving slowly, at times awkwardly navigating through treacherous terrain, and occasionally getting stuck. Always, I’m in the middle offering assistance to the turtle while trying to convince the mountain goat to move move slowly and take more caution. But today, I finally figured out what my spirit animal is on the trail. I’m the pack mule, carrying the oversized rucksack filled with water bottles, lunch, discarded sweatshirts, camera, and everything else we might need. It’s my one assent — strength. I think that’s why the keep me around. I lighten their load.
We stopped to each lunch on a small wooden bridge that crossed a tiny stream. It was a quiet peaceful place to eat, and since the clouds had finally dispersed, we could eat without the fear of getting drenched.
Back in the car, my spouse turned Hamilton back on and my son commented, “You know what I love best about listening to this CD. I can sing along with all the curse words.” Okay, I thought we were teaching him history, educating him about the one man who had a greater impact on our government than anyone else, but no, my son decided to embrace the lesson of curse words. I suppose I can file this one under the category “Parenting Fail.”
On another note, the spring issue of Ovunque Siamo was released today. Within the issue is my review of the book Dispatches From Lesbian America which was edited by Xequina Berber, Giovanna Capone, & Cheela “Rome” Smith. You can read my review here: https://ovunquesiamoweb.com/spring-issue-2021/reviews/
For the last several months G3 has been working on a short story. It was not an assignment, just something he felt driven to write. Every day, at his insistence, school begins with twenty minutes (although sometimes he requests extra time) of free writing. He had been using that time to work on what he called his “Oyster Bay” story. It’s long — for an eleven year old — and I was impressed that he stuck with the story for as long as he did. He never wrote more than a paragraph or two a day, but he kept at it, adding a little more each morning until he had a complete draft. He then gave it to me and asked me to please make comments and fix his grammar. Yep, his writing has come a long way, but he still has a long road to travel with grammar. At least his sentence structure is pretty sound. It’s commas he needs to work on the most. Commas and sticking to one tense. It drives me nuts the way he fluctuates between past and present — sometimes in the same sentence.
The dogs, Emma and Lily, are based on his Uncle’s dogs. It’s remarkable how well he captured their personalities. Apollo is a golden retriever because Fireball — the dog Dad loved — was a golden. Now, here’s were I’m not sure if I’m reading too much into this story. Apollo, in my opinion, is based on Dad. He certainly has Dad’s personally and his relationship to the little pups is a mirror of Dad’s relationship with G3. Do I think G3 intended this? Absolutely not. I think the comparison to Dad was completely in G3’s subconscious. Perhaps his way of working through his grief. I don’t think he meant for Apollo to be his grandfather, but it’s hard to miss it once you see it. That’s why the ending did not trouble me as much as it might have otherwise. Yes — spoiler alert here — the ending is sad. But — okay, I may be the only person to actually sit and analyze the writing of a fifth grader — I do believe the man in the “cameo suit” is a metaphor for COVID.
I won’t say more. I’ll let you read and decide for yourself if you think I’m crazy in my interpretation of G3’s work.
A Gush of Wind and a Howl
Out on a vineyard in Oyster Bay there was a young golden retriever. His name was Apollo. Every morning, he loved to lay on his master’s porch and watch the boats come in and out of the harbor. Apollo always danced around when he got his chicken meals and back rubs. He took walks around the neighborhood with and with out his master. His master’s name was Reynolds, Master Reynolds. Since Apollo was a good dog, his master loved and trusted him to be very independent. He loved to take naps in the vineyard with the crickets. Crickets were his own little orchestra.
This story begins on a damp night in late August 1939. All day, Apollo had been scaring crows away from the grapes. Apollo loved the taste of grapes and he would always get one before bed if he kept them safe from birds the whole day. The sun was setting which meant his master would be home soon smelling like fish since he enjoyed fishing. When the dusty red convertible came up the driveway and pulled into the carriage house Apollo could hear a faint snore from within the automobile.
His master walked out of the carriage house and up the porch stairs carrying a basket with a blanket covering it. He did not smell like fish, but when Apollo thought for a moment, he realized Master Reynolds smelled like dog. At this point, Apollo was truly confused. Master Reynolds started to lightly skip over to the back of the house still holding the basket, nothing like his usual routine. Apollo followed.
After he reached the back, Master Reynolds immediately headed to the grapes. As he reached the middle of the grape field, Apollo’s master turned around and congratulated him for keeping the crows away from the vineyard. “Why get a scarecrow?” he said to himself. “I have Apollo.” Then he plucked off two red plump grapes to give to Apollo. He plucked off two more and put one on each side of the the inside of the basket. Apollo thought, why put only two grapes in the basket? Why not fill it to the brim? After this quirky move, Master Reynolds headed toward his house. Since he was in an unusual jolly mood he began to sing, “John Jacob Jingle Heimer Schmitt his name is my name to…” Apollo did not know what to think of this. His master smelled of fur, he put only two grapes in the basket, and he was singing!
Apollo was so lost in thought that he forgot he was walking back to the house. When he came back to reality, his master had already unlocked the door and was calling for Apollo to come inside because it was getting too damp to sleep outside. There was also the possibility of rain because the clouds grew dark. Even though it would be a slow cricket chirp due the humidity, which Apollo preferred, he chose not to sneak back outside because he was dying to see what was in the basket.
Inside the house, there was wallpaper with yellow trees and a green background. There was a trophy case with all of master Reynolds’ awards to map out his accomplishments in baseball when he was young. A trophy also was there which declared his was the third best winery in New York State. Master Reynolds was competitive, but he had a loving heart. This case was one of his most valued possessions. Master Reynolds took very good care of his house. He would always clean it every Saturday.
“Hey Apollo,” Master Reynolds called, “I’m gonna take a bath. When I come back, I have a surprise for you.”
When Apollo heard the water running he headed straight for the basket. He knew that if he looked now, he might not get in trouble. He slowly poked his head above the basket and saw four brown ears under a blanket. “What,” he thought, “are ears doing here under a blanket?” He lifted his front right leg to lift the blanket, but before he had a chance, two small white and brown pups came dancing out. For the third time that day, Apollo was confused. And, according to the looks on the pups’ faces, so were they.
“Who are you?” was the first thing they asked Apollo? “I’m Lily.” She was the one with no spot on her head. “I’m Emma.” She was the one with a spot on her head. After that, Apollo told his name. The three dogs began to have a blast playing tug of war with a pillow, rough housing, and playing many other games. After a few minutes, Master Reynolds came out of the bathroom tying his bathrobe, and if he didn’t sweep all the time, his bare feet would have been incredibly dirty. “Ah,” he said, “I see you have meet Emma.” His eyes were directed to the less energetic pup. “And Lily,” his eyes moved to the energetic one. “Emma and Lily, this is Apollo.”
Master Reynolds started a fire in the fireplace. It was cold in the den (for an unknown reason). Emma did not have much energy until master Reynolds went into the kitchen to cook. Lily soon worked herself into exhaustion because she had been playing like a highly caffeinated gerbil. The game she enjoyed most was who could do the better impression of Emma hungry. The golden retriever had not known Emma long, but one step in the kitchen told him all he needed to know. Emma was addicted to food. Apollo could not wait to catch a mouse for the pups tomorrow so Master Reynolds could put it in their meals. Mouse was better than that terrible venison.
Lily curled up on a pillow on the sofa and tried to go to sleep. She was shivering even with a roaring fire. But maybe she was shivering because she was scared of the roar and the crackle of the fire. Whatever the reason, Apollo jumped onto the sofa and curled around her little body. Master Reynolds came out of the kitchen with two bowls of food — one for Apollo and one for Lily. Emma had already eaten because she would not stop begging. He didn’t have a chance to speak because Emma saw that Apollo and Lily were asleep and she started begging for the extra food. Emma eventually got more food, and when she was done eating, she hopped up onto the sofa with Lily and Apollo and went to sleep.
When Apollo awoke, the first thing he saw was Lily with her muzzle squished up against the arm of the sofa. When she moved away, her muzzle was still squished. He looked out the window and saw that the sun was not already up, so by the time they got out side, it would be the perfect time to hunt a mouse. Apollo gently awoke Lily and then Emma. As they got up, Emma fell off the side of the sofa, but popped up very stirred, as if a small tsunami hit her while she was awake. It took Lily a little bit longer to wake up (for she had not fallen out of bed). However, when they had all risen, the sun was slowlycoming into the sky. Across the room, Master Reynolds sprawled on his recliner. When he sleeps that way, he stays in that position all night and sometimes into the morning. This meant that Apollo could teach them how to hunt mice. He lead them out of the back door to the vineyards. It took a little while to get Emma and Lily all the way to the back of the vineyards because they had to look at everything, and who could blame them. It was their first time seeing the outside.
“Okay, who should I teach first to hunt a mouse?” Apollo asked.
“Why not teach both of us together?” Lily questioned.
“Because mice don’t usually come out in pairs,” Apollo replied.
“I am older,” Emma told Apollo.
“We are twins,” Lily responded.
“I’m two minutes older.”
“I’m cuter,” Lily spoke with confidence.
“Hey ” Lily loved to tease her sister.
“Stop copying me.”
“Stop copying me.”
Apollo just laughed because he never had sibling squabbles. This reminded him of two seagulls fighting over an oyster.
“Aright, alright,” said Apollo raising his voice over the pups. “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”
“Yah, okay Lincoln,” said Emma.
Emma knew who that was because Master Reynolds was drafting his historical novel about Abraham Lincoln. Last night, he spoke to himself while he was cooking. Of course, Emma heard him because he was working with food. Apollo knew Lincoln because he once read some of Master Reynolds’ novel when he fell asleep typing it.
“Who is Lincoln?” asked Lily.
“A president who freed the slaves,” replied Emma.
“Impressive,” said Apollo
“What are slav-“ asked Lily.
“Shhhh,” Apollo shushed them. “A Mouse. Watch me,” he tiptoed up, then pounced on it. One little squeak and it was gone. “Go on,” he told Emma and Lily. “Taste it.” Lily wasn’t sure sure she wanted to, but Emma, the food lover, almost ate the whole thing before Lily took a taste. Lily took one bite and she instantly liked it. She would have loved a second bite, but Emma had already finished it.
“Emmaaa,” cried Lily, “I didn’t have dinner last night and my stomach is earthquaking.”
Apollo laughed some more.
“Hey, stop making fun of me everybody.”
“You’re not having an earthquake in your stomach.” Apollo told Lily still laughing. “You’re just hungry. Try to catch a mouse and I might be able to stuff it with grapes like Master Reynolds stuffs one for me on my birthday.”
It took awhile for both pups to catch their own meal. Once they caught their mice, Apollo got annoyed because Master Reynolds makes stuffing grapes in a dead mouse look so easy. Those dang opposable thumbs he thought. Finally, he got the two mice stuffed with grapes by sun-high. The grapes were all mush, but it would still taste the same, hopefully. Emma and Lily began to like scaring away crows. (And Lily had to scare Emma away from the grapes once or twice because she was worse than the crows.) Apollo handed Lily her mouse first so she would not have Emma begging, but Emma begged anyway. Emma inhaled hers in five seconds. When she finished, Master Reynolds was calling. Lily was already running and she announced, “Last one there is a dead mouse.”
Not long after Lily won the race, Apollo and Emma came up right behind her.
“I see you have already eaten breakfast,” Master Reynolds told the three dogs. (Apollo had eaten some grapes and one acorn.)
“Let’s take a drive,” he told the three dogs.
They followed him over to the other side of the house, but not knowing what a drive was Emma and Lily were not exited. Apollo was as happy as Emma was with food. Master Reynolds had to go inside quickly to get his shoes because every one knows you don’t go out in slippers.
Emma and Lily had no clue as to what they were looking at. But Apollo knew what they were looking at. “Apollo,” Lily turned her head to look at the golden dog, “Is this what we came home in?”
“I believe so,” answered Apollo.
It was a newly polished red convertible with leather seats. Apollo loved to go for rides in the convertible where he would feel the wind in his face without having to stick his head out the window. Getting his head out the window was a hassle. That is what Master must have been working on when he woke up, polishing the convertible for the drive today.
“Hop in,” said Master Reynolds to Emma and Lily as he opened the door. Apollo was too big to jump into shotgun with the door still closed. Emma and Lily were smaller and sat in the back seat.
Emma and Lily enjoyed their ride. They had never seen seagulls and they liked to tease them for being cowards and for running away when the automobile came around. The two had a tug of war with a rope that always recoiled. Emma wondered if the tiny cups in front was meant for storing food. When they reached Roosevelt Bay Beach, Master Reynolds stopped, grabbed a ball, and then got out of the car and threw it. The ball flew over tiny little rocks and green fur that went on forever. Then it hit the salty water. Apollo chased after it. Emma and Lilly had no clue what was going on so they did what Apollo did, they chased the ball. At first, Emma and Lily found this stupid, throwing a ball and then expecting a poor dog to pick it up. Although, they soon found it enjoyable. They did not know why? It might have been because Master Reynolds threw it into the water, and whenever they chased after it, they got a cooling swim. Or maybe it was because it was whoever retrieved it got a scratch behind the ears. Lily and Emma did not know how to swim so they never got the ball back to Master Reynolds until a while later. The way they learned to swim was by watching Apollo.
After an hour or two, the three dogs were drenched and tired. Master Reynolds knew that they wanted to take a brake, so he went back to the automobile, took out three towels, and dried each dog. He did not worry about combing them because they were just going to take a bath later and be combed then.
“Apollo,” said Emma “My stomach is earthquaking again.”
Even though her stomach was not earthquaking, Apollo knew what she meant. He went over to Master Reynolds who was playing tug of war with Lily. Apollo made puppy eyes and his Master instantly knew what he wanted. Whenever, Apollo made puppy eyes, it meant he wanted food. However, in this case, Emma wanted food. There was no surprise there.
As they were leaving, Master Reynolds realized Lily was no where on the beach or in the water. They began looking and eventually they found her in the weirdest of spots. She was buried in sand and all that was visible was her squished little black nose which looked like every rock on the beach. Master Reynolds thought a wave knocked her over and like any wave it picked up sand and covered her with it.
After each dog was in the car, Master Reynolds drove along the coast. The only building in sight was Bobs Delicate Treats — in this sense delicate treats mean delicate dog treats. Lily did not know how to read, but for some quirky reason Emma could. Apollo did not need to read. He knew where he was because he recognized the smell of dog ice cream and dog treats.
When the party went in, Apollo went over to his favorite treat, a dog apple turnover. Emma had no idea what to get, but when Emma found the bacon biscuit she immediately fell in love. Lily did not love food as much Emma, but she was hungry. She decided to get an ice cream sundae. Before they went inside, Apollo told them they should stand by the treat they wanted. This was so that Master Reynolds would know what treat to get them.
In the same store, there was a blonde haired, tall, skinny, middle-aged man. He wore a green kilt, a tie, and a vest. He was talking to a young worker about where to find a beautiful retriever. At times, Apollo thought he was looking at him. Master Reynolds and the blonde man walked out together. Master Reynolds introduced himself, but instead of replying, the blonde man went over to a Mercedes-Benz’s 680s Torpedo Roster. Master Reynolds was really impressed because he had never even seen 680s in real life. It was the most expensive car.
Before getting in the car, the blonde man took one last look at Apollo. Even though the man got in his car first, Master Reynolds drove away first. The sun went to bed while the party of four drove home. The three pups ate their delicate dog treat along the way. They had the road all to themselves, except for two headlights a mile or so behind them.
Tonight was much warmer than last night, which meant Emma and Lily would be able to sleep outside and hear the cricket orchestra. The two pups fell asleep before Apollo. To keep them warm, Apollo covered them with crisp dried leaves.
The moment Apollo fell asleep, the trees woke up and began to dance along with the orchestra music. The rabbits were burrowed and the birds slept in their nests. Nothing was more peaceful.
It was eight hours of peace. At the crack of dawn, the the birds usually woke up and chirped their sunrise warble. But today there was no song. Everything stood still, as if holding their breath, waiting for something. The grass was the only thing that moved. In all this quiet, the dogs could sleep forever if possible.
Then, as if an alarm went off, there came a tug and a howl so loud it woke Master Reynolds, Emma, and Lily. Emma woke up in seconds. The image she saw (and that she would never forget) was a rope around Apollo’s neck. When she traced the rope back to its beginning she was confused. It traced back to a moving tree. In her few days of life, she had seen trees sway and dance, but she never saw them move their roots. The master threw himself out of bed and ran to his casement window on the second floor. He threw it open with such power that the glass shattered. He knew at once that it was not a moving tree at all. It was a cameo suit. For he used them all the time in the War To End All Wars. He sprinted out of his room grabbing his kukiri. Then, on the way out, he grabbed his pump action rifle. He only ever used it in situations like this. He brought two bullets with him. But he wasn’t in shooting range of the man yet. Although, he was able to tell the man in the suit was tall and skinny. “Alas,” he said out loud, “It is the man with the 680.” Due to the fact that the other man was fighting a strong dog, Reynolds caught up to him.
Lily and Emma began running on their short stubby legs towards Apollo. They were yapping and trying to save him. When Master Reynolds fired the first shot the bullet only grazed the man’s ear. Blood poured onto the suit but he kept moving backwards. Before Master Reynolds had time to pump his rile for the second bullet, the man with the cameo suit pulled out a marking knife and thrust it through Apollo. Seeing this, Master Reynolds shot the man right in the stomach. He dropped the gun and grabbed the man’s collar and spoke these three words, “Sic Semper Tyrannis.”* The cameo suit replied, “Amittas.”** At this, Master Reynolds threw the cameo suit aside and rushed over to Apollo. Lily and Emma already stood there speaking to Apollo. Now, if you were a dog, this is what you would have heard them say.
“Don’t go,” they cried, “You still have to show us how to stuff a grape into a mouse.”
“No, no I don’t. You saw me do it. Now, if you love me, you won’t cry over me. You will live your life with joy and excitement. Oh, and Lily, try to not get covered in sand. Emma…” with these words Emma turned her head away in sadness. “Emma, if you don’t want to become like Chunky Tom down the road, I would recommend not eating so much.” This made all three of them laugh
“We will miss you,” they both wailed.
“Well, I will be here in spirit.”
Those were the last words this dog spoke, but it was not his last act. A few seconds after the tragedy, there was a gush of wind. This made the front door of the house slam open. When the gush of wind got to the forest, there came a majestic howl. Whenever Master Reynolds or Lily or Emma were in grave danger or in need of help, there was always a gush of wind and a howl and all their problems were resolved.
Today, instead of school, I took Mom and my son out for a day of caching. There were two more of the Adventure Lab caches nearby and I figured while we were out we could pick up a few traditional caches as well. Mom, having heard us talk about the Adventure caches, was curious and she wanted to play too. She even asked me to set up a geocaching profile for her. It was only when we were in the car heading to Riverhead that she told me she used to have a geocaching profile. Dad had set it up for her several years back when we had all gone out together. But she could remember neither her name nor her her log-in information. Since I couldn’t exactly ask Dad for help, I guess it was good I set up a new one for her.
Mom really struggled to walk today. She brought her cane and seemed to rely on it more than usual. Each step looked heavy and painful. She stopped a great deal, and there was an undercurrent of sorrow that followed her like a shadow. At times she tried to smile, but it never reached her eyes. I held back with her as she walked — so much slower than usual — and my son raced ahead to find the questions and to answer them before we could catch up. The locations for the Riverhead Adventure were all relatively close and we completed the set rather quickly. While Mom told me several times that she was having fun, I wondered if it were true or if she was just compensating — wishing that if she said it enough maybe she’d start to feel it.
Several new caches had been placed at Indian Island Park so I suggested that we go there. It was a familiar park, one that we had gone to many times with Dad. I knew there were places Mom could sit if she were in too much pain to walk. The last thing I wanted was for the day to be taxing. But Indian Island turned out to be a bad idea. The moment we entered, we were caught under an avalanche of missing. There were so many memories, so many times Dad had been eager to bring his grandson there to hike, or cache, or have a picnic. As sad as I felt being there without Dad, Mom felt a billion times worse. She didn’t say anything, but I could see it in her her shoulders which bent heavily forward, and the way she limped down to the water. As much as I miss Dad, Mom misses him so much more. She’s consumed with missing, wishing desperately for one more day with him.
Down by the beach, a swan out on the bay spotted us. He paddled over the sand and walked right up to mom. He must of have gotten within two feet of her. “I think your father sent him,” she told me. “Your father loved the swans. I don’t think the swan would have come so close to me if your Dad hadn’t sent him to say hello.” While Mom made friends with a swan, my son found a turtle and he must have spooked the poor thing because the turtle had pulled himself into the shell so tightly there was no coaxing him out.
After collecting several caches — all easy and fun finds — we ate lunch at a picnic table. As I ate, I kept thinking back to Dad’s first Father’s Day as a grandfather, and the picture I had taken there at Indian Island of his holding my son. And my son could have been reading my mind when he broke into my thoughts to comment, “I remember being here and playing at the playground with Grandpa. Grandpa always pushed me on the swings.”
From Indian Island we drove to Southampton to do one more Adventure cache. I do hope they put more out on the Island because they are fun. I didn’t realize that Southampton had been settled so early — just twenty years after the Mayflower landed in Plymouth. And one of the early pilgrims to settle there built a house that still stands — it’s the oldest house on the South Fork.
While walking along one of the main streets, my son stumbled upon one of those Zoltar fortune telling machines outside one of the shops. Crossing the street to get a better look, he exclaimed, “I always wanted to try one of those machines. I wonder what my fortune would be.” Well, I thought it was a waste of money and didn’t mind telling him so. My mother, not wanting him to be disappointed, gave him a dollar to find out what his future held. The automaton rattled off some cliched phrases and then the machine spit out a yellow ticket. And damn! Maybe there is something to those stupid machines after all. My son’s fortune seemed as if it were aimed at all of us: “You have been holding onto the idea of something or someone in your life that no longer serves you at this time. Doing this is not productive. You hold on because you are afraid or don’t know what’s next for you. Heed my advice dear one: as soon as you let go, the path reveals itself. It is time to embrace the next stage that life has planned for you. Believe me, it is much better than what’s behind you.” Okay, so I honestly can’t believe that something coming would be better than Dad. But maybe there is something to the letting go part. Not forgetting, of course. But maybe it would be best if I tried a little harder not think of how much better things would be if Dad were still alive. If I didn’t dwell constantly on everything my son and I lost. Maybe we’d find happiness a little sooner, if we didn’t continuously make comments like, “Dad would really have loved this. How great it would be if he could share it with us.”
I’ve kept my promise to G3. We’ve only been having school four days a week instead of five. Today — since the weather forecast said it would be the warmest and sunniest day of the week — we skipped school and drove out to Montauk. The last time we were there was ten years ago — May 2011 — when G3 was only a year old. That day, you decided to take the ferries across instead of driving. You claimed it probably wouldn’t save us any time, but the ferries would be more fun, and it would be a new experience for G3. That’s what you enjoyed most — expanding his world by taking him to see and do new things. At the time, he enjoyed being on the boats, watching the water pass under him. But the day lives only in my memory, not his. He was too little to remember it.
When we went, the lighthouse was closed. However, the attached building was open and we went inside. While we were sitting down, a woman walked up to us. She said she was a teacher and that she noticed the brightness and intense look of concentration in G3’s eyes. She said it was an indication that he was smart, and she encouraged me to cultivate his intelligence. You beamed, thanked her, and said that I was already tending to his education, that books were a big part of our lives.
I missed you today. I have been to Montauk several times. Mostly when I was a kid. Always with you. This was my first trip without you. The first time I actually had to drive, and we drove instead of taking the ferries because it was cheaper. While G3 didn’t remember the ferries we took when he was a toddler, he got to experiences ferries last summer on Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, so I figured we could skip them this time.
Our plan for the day was to do the Adventure cache located near the point. There were five locations. We had to drive to each of them, but the distance between each wasn’t far. They were all off Route 27. You would have greatly enjoyed this cache. We did. I think it was my favorite Adventure one because it had the perfect blend of history, nature, and hiking. The first location brought us to what was once a sacred place for the Montaukett tribe. Not only was it a burial ground, but the giant rock — now in the center of a traffic circle — was a meeting point for the thirteen local tribes.
The second location took us to Shadmoor State Park. During World War II, soldiers were stationed there to protect us from a possible attack. The buildings in which they lived and the artillery was stored are still there, but they are in a crumbling state of disrepair. The site was also significant during the Spanish-American War. Returning soldiers camped there. Many of them suffered from Malaria, which they contracted while abroad. Pictures on the sign showed Theodore Roosevelt with his Rough Riders. Since we were there, G3 and I decided to hike into the park. We were curious about the World War II barracks and wanted to see them. G3 was impressed. He had no idea that Long Island had any war history at all. I didn’t either. There was one traditional cache off the main trail so we stopped grab it. It was a quick and easy find.
Stop three brought us to one of dozens of beaches on the South Fork where we learned that East Hampton was first settled by the British in 1648. The following stop took us to the oldest cattle ranch in America. It dates back to the decade following the settlement of East Hampton. If you had been with us, you probably would have insisted we go inside and go horseback riding on the beach. G3 would have enjoyed that, but I didn’t even get out of the car. I knew — based on how expensive everything is out there — that a horseback ride would not be within our budget. I felt bad, but I couldn’t snap my fingers and make the money appear.
Our final cache destination took us on a forty minute hike through Montauk Point State Park. We took the Seal Haulout trail in hopes of seeing seals resting on the beach. They can often be found at that spot in late winter and spring. I wasn’t surprised to find that luck was not on our side. G3 was extremely disappointed that we didn’t see any seals. We did, however, find the answer to the final question which awarded us credit for the cache. While we were hiking, I called G3’s attention to particular spot in the woods. There was a pond full of silvery gray stagnate water, and it was surrounded by trees. There was plenty of semi-open space to sit and think. And the branches of the trees were unique in the way the twisted at odd angles out of the tree trunks. I commented that it would be the perfect setting for a scene in a novel or a short story. He loved that idea and immediately started to spin an Edgar Allen Poe type tale. Before our hike was complete, he challenged me to a short story contest. We each have to write a story set in that particular spot and then find judges to determine whose story is best. I’m going to do it, because I think it will be fun. But I’ve no doubt he will beat me. He has a much more vivid imagination than I do.
Once the cache was complete, we drove to Montauk Point to see the lighthouse. Did you know it was the first lighthouse built in New York State. George Washington authorized it to be built in the late 1700s. After stopping in to the gift shop — you know how much G3 loves looking at touristy things — we took a walk on the rocks down by the beach. As always, G3 was a little mountain goat bounding over the boulders. I think he enjoyed the walk.
Before heading home, we stopped to grabbed a couple more traditional caches. It was getting late — going on five o’clock and we still had an hour and a half drive ahead of us — or we would have gotten even more.
G3 spent most of the car ride reading Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Do you remember how much he loved that movie? I lost track of how many times he watched it with Mom. For Easter, she bought him the novel since he said he wanted to start reading some of her books. He’s really enjoying it. I loved hearing him discuss the differences between Christie, Doyle, and Poe. According to him, Christie and Doyle are great at the mystery part of the story. They solve the crimes. But Poe shows the crimes being committed. He gets into the heads of the murderers. On our walk near the lighthouse he told me, “If I’m ever a successful writer like Poe, I’ll have you to thank.” That’s the closest I’m going to get to a compliment from him.
The big news in America today is that Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd. You missed it. You died before Floyd was killed, but his death sent people across the country into the streets to protest police brutality. Finally, a cop has been head accountable for his deplorable actions. Hopefully, this will force cops to realize they are not above the law, that if they want to be treated with respect, they need to treat everyone respectfully.
The other big news is that after a year of being a white belt — in taekwondo — my spouse has gotten her orange belt. We have graduated from an Oreo family to a Halloween family.
Thursday was my anniversary (sixteen years) but the day came and went with no celebration. It was just another day. My spouse and I — more so me than her, I suppose — joke about what an awful day we got married. When you look at the “This Day in History,” you see nothing but tragedy. Lincoln died. The Titanic sank. Boston was bombed. And taxes are due. Of course, it was the day before, April 14th, that Lincoln was shot and the Titanic hit an iceberg. Since last year, I’ve been trying to figure out how my life fits into that equation. April 14 — Dad died. April — 15 my wedding anniversary. I guess it doesn’t really matter, except to say that my anniversary will forever be marred by Dad’s death. That is the event that will be foremost in my every April.
Having Dad’s funeral was supposed to bring some sort of closure. But it didn’t. When I said that to my spouse she responded, “I’m not surprised. The only the thing that would have brought you closure was the hug you never got.” I think she’s right. I will spend the rest of my life feeling cheated, as though Dad were stolen from me by a God so cruel he wouldn’t even let me say goodbye.
I went walking early in the morning on Thursday, right around dawn, like I walk every morning. As I strolled through the local park, I smelled Dad’s shaving cream. The smell was so strong, I put my book down and looked around wondering where the smell came from. But there was no one anywhere near me. The smell transported me to high school, when I used to ride the bus with Dad every morning. I’d sit next to him and read a book for school. He’d flip open the paper to the sports section and scan the stats. For a good fifteen minutes, the smell lingered, and by the time I got home, I felt such an oasis of emptiness that I found it difficult to push through G3’s homeschool lessons.
Yesterday, G3 competed in a virtual tournament. He didn’t place in the top three for weapons, but he did take second in forms. He was disappointed that he didn’t do better, but he has another tournament to look forward to coming up in a couple of weeks.
My arm isn’t getting any better. I’m angry that in everything I had read and heard about the vaccines no one mentioned excruciating and lingering arm pain. It’s been a week since I got the shot and I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever get the use of my arm back. I can’t lift it. I can’t even undress myself. I can’t pull anything over my head without my spouse’s help. And even with her help, the pain is blinding. I’m furious that I can’t do taekwondo (and I’m supposed to have a mid-term this week). I can’t life weights. And chores, such as doing the dishes, hurt. I am now in Long Island. I may not shower until my mother gets here next week, because I can’t take off my own sports bra. When I try, the pain is so bad I have to lay down and wait for the wave of nausea to pass. I have no idea how I will do laundry. There is no dryer out here, only the old fashioned clothesline. But hanging clothes with one hand will be a challenge.
This morning, my son and I drove out to Mattituck. Being at home I just felt so overwhelming sad that I had to get away. But I’m not sure being here is any better. In some ways it might be worse. I’m missing Dad more, not less. And thinking about next year only exacerbates the emptiness. I lost my job due to Covid. But this year I’ve kept myself busy teaching my son. It’s given me purpose. What will I do in the fall? I hadn’t been able to find a full time teaching job before Covid. With so many districts cutting their budgets, my odds of finding something aren’t getting better. It would be lovely to think maybe my wish would finally come true and I’d find a way to support myself with my writing, but I’ve been completely disillusioned. Those sort of fairy tale events happen to other people — not me. And how will I survive another year in a state I don’t like? This year, homeschooling my son meant we could escape often. Next year, I won’t have that luxury. I’ll go back to feeling completely trapped and miserable.
When we got out here this afternoon, my son asked if we could go to the beach. He wanted to sit looking out over the water and paint. I was just happy to be outside. To feel the wind. To hear the water rolling onto the sand. While my son painted, I read. I now know more about Hamilton than I ever cared to know. But I’m finding his life interesting. More interesting is the fact that he was brilliant and did so much for our country, and yet he’s not much more than a footnote in the textbooks.
On another note, Caustic Frolic, an online literary journal supported by New York University, accepted my essay titled “Lent.” It was the blog post I wrote on Ash Wednesday. But then I took it down when I realized it worked as a stand alone essay. Journals don’t publish work that’s already been published and many of them lump blog posts into that category. It’s slated for the spring issue, though I’m not sure when the release date will be.
It’s been a year since Dad died. It still doesn’t seem real. I keep hoping that reality will readjust itself, that I’ll wake up and this whole pandemic will just have been a bad dream or a horrible movie.
This morning we finally had Dad’s funeral. In order to get to Mom’s house before mass, we had leave during rush hour. I do not do well in traffic, which is why I often plan my travels around rush hour. This morning, there was no way around it unless we left at 5, and that was just too early. As expected, we got slammed with traffic on the BQE, although the gps did say we were on the fastest route. It took a little over two hours to get to Queens.
When we arrived, I gave Mom the pictures I printed of Dad and she arranged them on the cork board. Together, she, G3, my brother, and I walked to church. It was a sad solemn walk. When we arrived the priest was kind and friendly. He offered words of comfort to me and G3. He assured G3 that his grandfather was still with him, and that he would still be a part of his life.
The funeral felt surreal. I’ve never been to a funeral without a coffin, but we did bring Dad’s ashes because Mom wanted the priest to bless them. I’ve also never been to a funeral that took place so long after a person died. I had difficulty paying attention to the sermon. My eyes kept wandering to the pictures of Dad, and my mind kept drifting to happier times. I remembered sitting in that same church when I was kid, and dad joking about one thing or another when he was supposed to be listening to the homily. I kept expecting to hear his voice. But, of course, I didn’t.
It’s been so long since I’ve been to a Catholic Mass. But after years of indoctrination, I expected it all to come back to me, and it did. Except, I was surprised to find that they’ve changed some of the words. I was happy I was wearing a mask. No one could hear my muffled responses that would have been correct twenty years ago, but were now slightly off.
Toward the end of mass, my son and I were called up to the alter to deliver our eulogies. Technically speaking, I suppose they weren’t eulogies since a true eulogy is supposed to touch on a person’s entire life. Both of us spoke about Dad the way we knew him best. I was proud of G3 for wanting to write something about his grandfather. I was even prouder that he got up in front of the church to read. He did a beautiful job, and I admit I was a little jealous that he was able to get through it without a single tear. He was brilliantly composed. I, on the other hand, was a blubbering mess. I sobbed from the first word and couldn’t stop.
After mass, I was happy to meet some of my dad’s former colleagues. They had kind words to say about him. Many mentioned his laughter. Dad certainly did laugh a lot, and loud. And he had a great sense of humor. One of his friends gave G3 pictures of Dad and the guys he used to hang out with. G3 once commented that he didn’t think grandpa had friends because only kids had friends. The pictures showed him that Dad did have a close circle of people who cared about him.
Friends of my Dad’s from my brother’s Boy Scout days were also there. One woman also suffered a terrible COVID loss when her husband died. Her touching words — remembering my dad and thanking me for my stories — brought me touch of comfort which I desperately needed.
Mom’s family also came and I’m glad because they brought Mom some comfort.
So thank you to everyone who came today. Mom and I greatly appreciate you being there. And to those of you who couldn’t be there, thank you for your thoughtful emails and messages last night and this morning.
G3 and I did not go to the repast. I think Mom was a little disappointed. But it was going to be at a restaurant and G3 is not yet vaccinated and I’ve only just had my shot. We’ve been so over the top careful with G3, I didn’t want to take any chances now. Since we didn’t join the group, Mom gave me money and told me to please buy G3 lunch when we got back to New Jersey. G3 and I agreed that the only appropriate lunch on such an emotionally taxing day was ice cream. We each got a banana spilt. I think Dad would have approved.
Speaking of my shot, my arm is in terrible agony from the vaccine. I didn’t sleep at all last night. The pain so was so excruciating that Advil did nothing to quell it. All night I kept trying to readjust my body, trying to find a position that would alleviate the pain. I didn’t succeed. When I woke up, the pain had spread to my lower neck and my chest. At least the other side effects I was feeling yesterday — back pain, nausea, dizziness, fatigue — were practically gone today. My back still hurts, but not as badly. Driving — a manual car —with one arm was a bit of a challenge. But I managed. I can now lift my arm at least high enough to type comfortably, and the pain my neck and chest has shrunk back to my shoulder. Hopefully, tomorrow the pain will subside a bit more.
I’ve been asked to share the eulogies that my son and I wrote, so here they are.
Through out my life my grandfather loved me.
He quit his job for me. He paid for things I loved for me.
Before I was born, he got me the book The Fourteen Bears of Summer and Winter. We it read almost every night.
He gave me a house to spend my summers in, splashing around in the water.
In the house, we had Easter and talks about going to Disney
One time, when I came home from a playdate, I asked him if we could go to Disney. When I came out of the shower the plane tickets were booked.
I later was able to convince him to to go back two years later.
He always made waffles and pancakes in BB-8 and Micky mouse shapes when I came over.
He paid for my taekwondo gear and if he hadn’t sent me a text that said, “I will be there in spirit” I may not be #1 in the virtual world for weapons.
He made a coin collection for me. I have added 4 more quarters to the collection.
When we went to the Museum of Natural History he got me a wonderful bald eagle stuffed animal.
One morning, I asked if we could go to a Mets game and in a few more days the tickets were paid for. We went twice. Before the games, we would go to a diner for pancakes.
He and Nona bought most of my Ralph Lauren clothes.
We enjoyed doing legos together to make things like an At-Ats and Batman’s car.
He took me to a shooting event for Cub Scouts
Some of the last gifts he got me was a bike, a radio, and a tablet
I love my tablet. I ride my bike all the time. And my radio is good for music and decor. I can listen to Billy Joel in my room and think about Grandpa.
I’m a writer. This should be easy. Finding the right words to convey my feelings are what I do best. I always have something to say, and maybe that’s what’s making this a challenge. I’ve been writing about Dad for over a year. I’ve taxed my memory and told every story I could remember. You’ve heard about our endless summer days at the beach when I was a child. You know that Daddy always bought Mom daffodils on the first day of spring. You’ve read about Dad taking me sledding and the sled that he excitedly passed on to my son. So how do I take thousands of words, hundreds of memories, and distill them down to a few important remembrances. I can’t. It’s not possible. So I will tell a story instead.
As a child, Dad always wanted a grandfather to love. One who would spend time with him. It always saddened him that he missed out on that experience, that relationship that would have meant so much to him. As he grew up, he promised himself that if he were someday fortunate enough to have a grandchild, he would be the grandfather he always wanted. He kept that promise and until he got sick, he and my son were practically inseparable. I’m not sure two people ever loved each other more. My son only had to make a wish and Dad granted it. One of the things they enjoyed doing most was watching movies. They both loved superhero movies. If my son saw a trailer for one, he’d immediately turn to me and say, “I’m going to watch that with Grandpa.” There was never any question. It was just a matter of when. Mostly, they watched Marvel movies, and when Dad died and we got Disney Plus, my son watched the movies over and over again until I suggested that we watch them together. My son was surprised. I’m not a movie person. I especially had no interest in superheroes, but Dad wasn’t here and my son needed someone to fill the void — even partially. I could never replace Dad, but Dad wouldn’t have wanted my son to watch any new movies alone. He needed someone to share his interest.
As a father, Dad always took an interest in the things my brother and I did. He coached my softball team for years. After long exhausting days at work, he’d come home, change into jeans and take me out to play basketball or have a catch. And he always came to watch my games. For my brother, he went camping with the Boy Scouts. Of course, I couldn’t go on those trips, they were for boys only. So all I remember is him grumbling about them. From where I stood as a child, I seriously thought he hated camping. So I was surprised years later — when my son joined Cub Scouts — to hear my father speak fondly about those trips to the woods. A few years ago, my father sent my son to Cub Scout day camp at Baiting Hollow out on Long Island. That spring, before registering him, we went to visit the camp. My father lit up the moment he stepped out of the car. He reminisced enthusiastically about his time there years ago with my brother. His excitement was infectious. But still, I couldn’t understand how he could go from grumbling about camping to being so sentimental about it.
What I realize now, is he may have hated camping, but he loved his son and he wanted to spend time with him. Camping was not something my father ever would have done on his own, but over the years, being able to share those moments with my brother enabled him to find some joy, some pleasure in the activity. I didn’t fully understand this until about the eighth Marvel movie I watched with my son cuddled up next to me. I expected to hate the movies, but little by little, aided my by son’s enthusiasm, I found myself drawn in to Marvel Universe.
Over the years, Dad taught me many things. He taught me how to hit a baseball. He taught me how to drive. He taught me to love traveling and history. But most importantly, he taught me how to be a loving and present parent. And a big part of that is taking an interest in things that otherwise I would have wanted no part of.#
Over spring break, we listened to the Hamilton CD non-stop. For four days in the car, as we drove through New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, it’s all we played until we knew most of the songs and could sing along. Yes, I know, I can hear you in my head making fun of how awful I sing, well, I’ll tell you, I sound even worse trying to rap. We all sound pretty horrible, but it was still fun and we kept the windows closed so no strangers had to suffer.
As we listened, I found myself utilizing way too much data on my phone as I researched people — Hercules Mulligan and John Laurens — I’d never heard of before despite considering myself well versed in history. I also found myself looking up details of Hamilton’s life trying to separate out truth from fiction. As remarkable as the show is, in order to fit Hamilton’s life into three hours, Miranda did have to play around with some of the facts. After about my twentieth search, I got frustrated. There was only so much information I could find online, and even that had to be vetted to determine what was historically accurate. Why bounce around going from one website to another when there was a far better solution. The nerd in me won out, and I ordered the Hamilton biography by Ron Chernow, the same book that inspired Miranda to write the play. It’s a brick. When we got home from our adventure, it was waiting for me in puddle — thank god for plastic envelopes — on our stoop. Again, I can hear you chuckling and laughing about how slow I read. Yes, this book — at the rate of about ten minutes per page — might take me an eternity to complete. If I’m lucky I’ll finish by Christmas. But I’ve started it, and so far it’s interesting. Chernow doesn’t write like many historians. His writing isn’t dry; it’s actually rather engaging.
What is most endearing, is listening to G3 sing and rap when he is in the shower. (He’d kill me if he knew I heard him. He’d really kill me if he knew I was writing about it.) It would have made you smile to see — or rather hear — him appreciate Broadway. He is especially adorable when he attempts to rap Lafayette’s part, accent and all.
I’ve lived in New Jersey way too long, and before that I lived across the river, and I had never been to the site of the duel that ended Hamilton’s life. That needed to be rectified. And so, I suggested a family pilgrimage on Saturday to Weehawken. It turns out that the precise site of the duel isn’t known. One website said that the train now runs through the field where the duel occurred. Another website said that the dueling site was somewhere below the cliffs where the bust and plaque now stand. Either way, we can now say that we were there and knock one more historical site off our “to see” list.
Since it took nearly an hour to get to Weehawken, I wasn’t keen on turning around so quickly after snapping a photo of the dueling grounds. G3 suggested that we pick up the four caches in the area. I was game. My spouse, not so much. I’m not really sure what she dreads more, geocaching or battlefields. She did walk with us for a little while along the river and then she sat on a park bench to wait for us while we collected the caches. One was no longer there. Not surprising since it was a magnetic micro in the middle of the city. The other three we found easily enough. While searching for the last one, we ran into other cachers looking for it. I found it first. It turned out to be a brand-new cache, so I let G3 sign the log before me so that his name appeared first. Oh, I should tell you he changed his caching name. It used to be TeenyTinySpider, which is the name we gave him when he was a baby. We named him after my father-in-law, ImSpider, who randomly stumbled upon the game one afternoon while hiking on Garret Mountain. But G3 felt he had outgrown the name and he wanted something to honor you as well. Your caching name used to be MattituckMan, so G3 changed his name to MattituckSpider.
Now that we have been to Weehawken, we would like to visit Hamilton’s house in Manhattan. However, driving into Manhattan and finding parking is a horrendous ordeal. So we will have to take the PATH. But not until G3 gets vaccinated. Once we can get him vaccinated, we’ll feel more comfortable with the idea of taking mass transportation. At least it’s something to look forward to in the hopefully not too distant future. Of course, it would have been more fun to look forward to it if you could have come with us.
When we got home, because our interest in Hamilton is now boarding on an unhealthy obsession, G3 asked if we could watch the musical again. We said yes, and surprisingly we all enjoyed it quite a bit more than we did the first three times. Now that I had done some research and now that we knew the lines and who the characters were we could follow along much better. I wish you had seen the play. I’d have loved to know what you would have thought of it — especially Jefferson’s character. I think his role — and the actor who played it — was spectacular. But he was sort of painted as the bad guy — obviously not at bad as Burr — and I’m not sure that would have sat well with you. It seems every day you’re gone, I just have more questions for you, questions I’ll never get answers to.
Anyway, after the show we had a camp-in at G3’s request, our first in the new place. Despite sleeping on the hardwood floor, I surprisingly slept very well.
I am vaccinated, but unlike so many other people posting on Facebook and other platforms, there is no joy in it for me. I can’t even claim to feel relieved. My shot comes two days shy of the one year anniversary of Dad’s death. Instead of thinking about what this vaccine will mean for me, all I can think about is that it came way too late for my father. The virus killed him before science figured out a way to beat it. Friends are posting pictures of the hugs they’re finally getting, the reunions with people they haven’t seen in over a year. But the only hug I want, I’ll never get. I won’t have a reunion. All I have is a sore arm and a slight bout of nausea.
Of the three available vaccines, Johnson and Johnson was the one I did not want. But I’ve been trying to get an appointment for a month and I hadn’t had any luck until Friday when we were driving home from Spring Break. I found an available appointment at a Walgreens up in Paterson. Sure I could have gotten Pfizer or Moderna but that would have required me to drive two hours, and I sure as hell wasn’t driving that far — twice — just to get a shot. It’s not like Paterson is close, but it’s a much quicker drive than Atlantic City or the other half dozen places that others had recommended to me. Nor was I keen on going to a megasite. From what I’d read, the process at the pharmacies is much smoother and shorter. To complicate matters, there is a Johnson and Johnson shortage which means New Jersey will be receiving significantly fewer vaccinations than expected this month. This, combined with the fact that Murphy — despite the shortage — is still opening up vaccines to everyone next week, means that getting an appointment for the vaccine of my choice would have been nearly impossible. I wasn’t up for the headache or spending countless more hours online searching. So I figured I might as well get it over with even though J&J isn’t as effective as the other options. (And don’t tell me it’s just as good. Yes, it’s 100% effective in preventing death and hospitalization but only 66% effective in preventing infection. That’s really not good enough for me. Remember, I neither died nor ended up in the hospital last time, but my lungs still haven’t recovered.)
The process was quick an easy. I certainly have no complaints. I arrived early and I didn’t have to wait at all. They took me immediately. The woman who gave me the shot was super nice and friendly. She did warn me that I will probably feel sick tomorrow — headache, fever, chills. Great! Nothing like having flashbacks to my COVID days the day before Dad’s funeral.
Even though I really didn’t want the J&J vaccine, I will force myself to focus on the positive — I don’t have to go back for a second shot. One and done. This is good because I’m never sure when I’m going to be here or in New York, and since I’m homeschooling my son, I don’t have to worry about scheduling something around my son’s schedule.
My spouse was teaching from home today — her school is virtual all week — which meant I didn’t have to worry about dragging my son with me. This morning, I worked with him on the subjects he needed hands on attention with, and then I left him a list of assignments he could complete on his own — including math which is my spouse’s department anyway.
Now, if only they would hurry up and get a vaccine approved for kids I’d be happy. Even though I’m vaccinated, I won’t be able to go anywhere or do anything different since my son remains unvaccinated. Hopefully, they’ll have something for him before school starts in September, although a vaccine before summer would definitely be preferable. If nothing else it would give me peace of mind when we went on vacation. Although we plan to sleep in a tent and avoid people, it would still make eating a tad bit easier. If the vaccine isn’t available by the time school starts up again, we may have to begin the year as we spent this one. I wouldn’t mind extending the homeschool curriculum. I don’t think my son would mind either. But he does miss having friends. There is also taekwondo to consider. While virtual tournaments are better than nothing, they sure don’t beat in-person tournaments. And those crowds could be deadly for those not vaccinated.
On the way home from Paterson, I stopped at the photo store to pick up prints of Dad for the funeral. Mom had asked me to prepare pictures of Dad to display. It was an easy task considering I’ve been photoshopping pictures of him all year for various memorials, essays, and posts. Still, it was sad to comb through them, remembering all the fun times we had and being reminded, yet again, that we’ll never do anything together ever again. When I got home, my spouse gave me professional pictures of my parents from our wedding that I had completely forgotten about. Neither one of them had gone to their prom, and at our wedding — or rather our reception, which was the month after our wedding — Dad had commented that he finally got a prom picture. I’ll give the pictures to Mom on Wednesday when I see her. I think she’d like to have them.
On a side note, I should not have Zoomed in to taekwondo class this evening. My arm is in agony. I’ve had many vaccinations throughout my life and none of them — not even when I got two at a time in the same arm — did it ever hurt this much. I moved in slow motion and held my breath in an attempt to stifle the pain — it didn’t work. Now it hurts so much I’m even struggling to type.
I must add that it is now morning and the pain in my arm is the sharpest most acute pain I have ever felt. Breaking bones hurt less.
For once — due to the fact that I’m homeschooling G3 and get to make the rules — my spouse’s and my son’s spring break coincided, which meant we got to escape New Jersey for a couple days. You know I love to get away and travel even if it’s still fairly close to home. Due to the pandemic and our finances, we didn’t go far. My father-in-law allowed us to stay a few nights in his house in Delaware, which opened up Maryland and Virginia for day trips.
On Tuesday morning we headed south. When G3 was a baby and a toddler, I often read him the board book Good Night New Jersey. In the years since, we had visited every landmark and attraction mentioned in the book, except for Lucy the giant elephant. Both of us had been wanting to see her, but it was a long trip just to see the oldest roadside attraction in New Jersey. However, I had also wanted to visit Cape May. After sixteen years in this state, it was the only town I hadn’t been to that held any interest for me. Therefore, we decided we’d begin spring break with a trip to the Southern tip of New Jersey and on the way we’d pay a visit to Lucy. Lucy was closed for the season so we couldn’t go inside and climb the stairs to her back which doubles as an observation deck. I didn’t mind. With COVID still a threat, I wouldn’t have wanted to be inside tight quarters with other people anyway. Simply seeing her and taking a picture with her was enough to knock it off our bucket list. I can’t say the visit was terribly exhilarating, but I’m glad we went.
From the Lucy we continued on to Cape May. It is a quaint beach town, much like every other beach town I’ve ever been too. But as G3 commented, it wasn’t as nice as Cape Cod or even Greenport. But I’m not sure anything will ever be better than Cape Cod, and since Greenport holds so many memories of you, I think it will be hard for G3 to find a beach town he likes more. You kind of set a high bar for him. Whenever he’s near the beach he’ll probably always think of you.
My father-in-law introduced us to a new geocaching game called Adventure Lab. We all seemed to enjoy it more than traditional caching. Instead of searching for logs hidden away from the public, this game brings us to tourist attractions. The caches are in sets — usually of five — and they have various themes. The first one we did was Haunted Cape May. It took us on a walking tour to five buildings that are allegedly haunted. To play the game, you have to approach a specific location with your cell phone. Once you get within seventy feet or so, a question pops up. The question is usually simple, like “How many windows are on the front of the building?” To get credit for the cache all you have to do is correctly type in the answer.
G3 loved playing because we let him go off on his own. He enjoyed the independence. Once we all correctly answered a question, he raced ahead to the next location. After all the hiking and traveling we have done through the years, he’s very capable of reading a map. And we aren’t too worried about him being alone. It was broad day light, and he is well trained in self defense. Plus, he had a cell phone, so he was never more than a phone call away.
Once we completed Haunted Cape May we drove to the beach. Water makes me happy. We didn’t stay long. It was getting late and we still had nearly a two hour drive to Delaware. But I figured, we couldn’t get that far south and not see the ocean. When we left I said, “Now that I’ve seen Cape May, I’m ready to leave to New Jersey for good.” My son laughed and responded, “You’ve been ready to leave for years.” Yep, that is true. But now I’ve seen all I wish to see.
Day two of spring break found us in Virginia at Manassas (The Battle of Bull Run) battlefield. Oh how my spouse hates battlefields. She finds them incredibly boring, but G3 and I enjoy visiting them and seeing where history unfolded. Of course, the first thing G3 needed to do upon arrival was visit the gift shop. It was small, but we bought him a souvenir patch for his collection. While my spouse took a brief nap in the car, my son and I walked around where the first Battle of Bull Run took place. I didn’t realize it was the first major land battle of the Civil War. Local residents gathered for a picnic to watch the battle from a distance. That seems rather grotesque to me. How could anyone enjoy a meal while people were being slaughtered? But this was a society that also enjoyed gathering for public executions.
We stopped at the statue of Stonewall Jackson and G3 wondered why this statue of a Confederate had not been removed. We discussed the difference between statues built to idolize a particular person and statues in a museum and concluded that museums, including battlefields, are important to remember history as it happened and the people who participated in it. Near the statue was a sign that explained that it was there in Manassas that he earned the nickname Stonewall, because he held his troops steady like a Stonewall during the battle.
In the early afternoon, we — the three of us — took a ranger tour of the Deep Cut. In 1862, during the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Union and Confederate armies fought here at the sight of the unfinished railroad. The Union lost. At one point, short on ammunition, the troops resorted to a rock throwing skirmish. The tour was okay. The guide had a great deal of knowledge but he was a rather bland story teller. The best ranger tours are with the men and women who can tell a story with a great deal of animation and bring the events to life for the audience. I applaud my spouse for sticking it out even though she was thoroughly bored.
After the tour, we did another Adventure Lab cache which brought us to different key locations on the battlefield. One site was the surgeon’s pit, which is where the surgeon discarded all the amputated limbs following the battle. I enjoyed this set of caches because it was a mini history lesson.
On our last day, we drove down to Cambridge, Maryland to visit the Harriet Tubman museum. The museum was really small, and we didn’t learn anything new about either the Underground Railroad or Tubman. But we did see an amazing mural of Tubman. The artist painted such a realistic portrait, it seriously looked as if Tubman was stepping out of the side of the building. We also took a leisurely stroll down to the water to visit the harbor. I couldn’t be that close to saltwater and not see it. Following our walk, we did another Adventure Lab cache, this one with a Harriet Tubman theme. The last stop was most interesting. It brought us to field that was once a farm where Tubman toiled before she escaped slavery and ran away to the north.
On our way back to my father-in-law’s house, we did one final Adventure Lab cache. Like the Tubman one, we had to drive to each location, but it brought us up the coast of Delaware to some picturesque places.
I wish you were still here. I think you’d also enjoy the Adventure Lab caches. More than the caches themselves, you would really have enjoyed doing them with G3. There are a few of them out on Long Island near Riverhead. If you were alive, I know you would have been excited to do them with G3.
As always — at least since you died — I took a picture of every empty bench we encountered. By the third or fourth bench my spouse started to joke about it. It hurt my feelings. She thinks it’s silly to take pictures of empty benches, and maybe it is. But at the end of the day, she got to see her father. She got to have a real conversation with him. All I have left are memories, and the conversations I wish I could have with you.
Shortly after Dad died, I started taking pictures of empty benches. Initially, they were in places that reminded me of Dad, places that he should still have been visiting with me. Each bench represented countless memories, so many wonderful experiences we shared together. But then my family and I took a road trip, and my photography project morphed. Whenever I came across an empty bench in even a semi-scenic place I took a picture. Those benches came to represent all the conversations I’d never have. The moments I desperately wanted to share with Dad, but no longer could. I wanted to tell him about our swim in Lake Huron when it was only 59 degrees, about my son’s excitement when we went kayaking on Lake Superior, and even about our random detour to Indianapolis to see Benjamin Harrison’s house. There were so many adventures, so many stories and I wanted to reach for the phone every damn time.
When we got home, the adventure ended, but not the stories. And so I’m still taking pictures of empty benches, one for each story I’ll never get to share. Each time, my son rolls his eyes. He thinks I’m crazy. I’m his lunatic mother who runs around with a camera looped around my neck taking pictures of things no one cares about. No one except me.
Shortly after the new year, my project morphed again. This time, I started adding text to my pictures. Instead of keeping the stories — the ones I couldn’t tell Dad — bottled up, I began writing him letters. Letters he’d never read, but somehow the pictures seemed more meaningful when paired with words. Still, my son makes fun of me, “Writing a letter to a dead person seems stupid” And so, instead of arguing with him, I suggested that maybe he’d like to participate. Take a picture of an empty bench or chair and write a letter to his grandfather. At first he grumbled, “Wherever he is now he sees everything anyway. Why write a letter?” But I kept taking pictures and writing and soon he wanted to be part of it.
On Easter, he took his Easter basket to the beach for a photoshoot. I guess that was his way of trying to be a little closer to his grandfather on such a sad day.
I really miss you. I miss going to Mets’ games and going to get McDonalds together.
I got my Arrow of Light last month for Cub Scouts. It was very exhilarating, happy, and sad when I bridged over to Boy Scouts. This was happy because it felt like a big accomplishment and sad because I had moved on. On every arrow, you get stripes of different color tape depending on the electives you did. The pack master almost ran out of room on my arrow because I had the most electives. The arrow hangs above my bed, and if I become famous, it will one day be in a museum.
Last year, you texted me,” I will be there in spirit,” when you could not come to a taekwondo tournament. It really helped me this year. I know you are still with me in spirit. I am number one in the world in my age group with the weapons form! I have competed in every virtual tournament this season. I have decided that the oh-sung-do (the one handed sword) is the best weapon for me. I beat my arch nemesis T.J. Knox in traditional forms. He is my nemesis because he won first place in almost every tournament. Also in taekwondo, Mama got her black belt and mommy began doing classes again. I have now been a black belt for almost two years. In the autumn, I will test for second degree.
Mama is actually interested in Marvel movies. She watched every movie and show with me. WandaVision was great, but Mama cried at the end because Vision’s and Wanda’s children died/disappeared. I would have preferred watching it with you because it would have been more fun. There is another Thor movie, a Black Widow movie, and another Spider Man movie coming out. There will also be another Iron Man movie. This Friday, The Falcon and the Winter solider is coming out on Disney Plus.
We have moved to a small town called Middlesex. I have my own room. I am going to get my own desk. I am able to set up the telescope you bought me to look at the night sky. I bought a beanbag chair and a nest chair with my own money. They are really comfy. We are having company on Sunday. In the summer, we might be able to have barbecues. My moms allow me to bike around the town by myself. Since I have $78, I can go to Ritas, Seven Eleven, D&D, and Wendys on my own. I am now walking distance from my school. This means, next year, I can ride my bike or my skate board, or I could walk.
My moms got me a bow and arrows for Christmas. Don’t worry, I have not shot my eye out. Every Friday, Mama and I go to Taco Bell to eat then we go to the archery range to shoot.
Last summer, we went to all of the Great Lakes. My favorite was Lake Superior. Mommy got obsessed with the rocks there due to the smooth round edges and the bright colors.
This year, Mama is homeschooling me. I have read The Hobbit, Born a Crime, A Christmas Carol, and Treasure Island. The book we are now reading is Hunger Games. It was written by a woman, so according to you, it might be too descriptive. I have also written a short story called “The Wooden Horse.” I got the idea from one of Uncle Gary’s wooden horses. I have just finished a second short story called “A Gush of Wind and a Howl.” It is about a golden retriever named Apollo. He is based on Fireball. Emma and Lily, Uncle Gary’s dogs, are in it.
Last night was awful. I hardly slept. Every time I drifted off to sleep I saw Dad’s face pressed against the window of the back door. The handle would rattle, but he couldn’t get inside. I’d rush to the door, eager to let him in, but each time I woke up before I could reach the lock.
I have completed a full year of holidays without Dad, and this last one was the saddest — only because previously it had been the best. Technically, last Easter was my first without Dad, but he wasn’t dead yet. We were clinging to hope as one might cling to a life boat, but our boat sank. Mom really had a rough day. She walked with shoulders slumped and heavy steps as if the weight of missing Dad was simply too much to carry. It was pressing her into the ground.
Yesterday, Mom, my son, and I drove out to Greenport. I had hoped a day out would be fun for all of us, but Mom was sad the whole time we were there. We walked through the motions, doing what we so frequently did the day before Easter, but without Dad there was no joy. However, my son was happy to get a few more rubber duckies to add to his collection. Mom offered to take us out to a restaurant we often ate at with Dad. It has seating outdoors right on the water, so depending on the crowd, I might have felt okay eating there. But they were still closed for the winter season. Perhaps it was better. Eating fried clams without Dad would have only made us feel worse.
In the late afternoon, my spouse arrived to spend Easter with us. She made Mom happy by fixing the toilet which had been broken for months. Mom was relieved that it was an easy fix and would avoid her having to call a plumber. Upon arrival, my spouse was exhausted from another week of teaching school via a hybrid model. Anyone who thinks teachers have been on vacation during the pandemic doesn’t have a clue. Cases in her school are increasing. Almost daily letters get sent home to parents advising them of new cases. Apparently, school sports aren’t exactly safe. If they were, there would be less cases. My spouse, however, will get to teach from home the week after Spring Break. Why it’s only a week doesn’t exactly make sense. Students will travel, they will come home infected, and then they will return to school and infect others. It seems to me that they should be virtual for at least two weeks, but alas, parents wouldn’t tolerate it. They need their babysitters.
My son was cranky last night. Everything seemed to irritate him. When I asked him what was bothering him he told me he wanted everything to be perfect this year because it would be his last Easter in Mattituck. But he felt like nothing would be quite the way he wanted it to be. Not surprising. How could anything be perfect without his grandfather here?
After ten Easters in this tiny house, my son finally learned all the places I hide the eggs. His hunt took him less than four minutes — he timed it. Except for the one egg I did hide in a slightly different place — that one took him a little longer to locate. My son’s favorite part of Easter morning is searching for the presents we hide outside. It’s a tradition Mom and Dad started years ago, one my son was very adamant we continue this year. Mom wraps the presents. My spouse writes out clues as to where my son can find them. Then I hide them around the yard — by the shed, in the barbecue, by the cars, in the garden — and my son follows the clues until he finds them. I mean, he doesn’t really need the clues. We recycle the hiding places year after year, but the clues are tradition and my son wouldn’t have it any other way. Mom also puts money in plastic eggs — money my son can use to buy souvenirs when we go on our summer vacation — which I also hide around the property. He had to circle the house at least four times before he found them all.
During breakfast, I put out the bunny bread and crumb cake and cut slices for everyone since Dad wasn’t hear to do it. The egg smashing contest wasn’t the same without Dad, who almost always won. However, I must have been channeling his energy because I did nearly as well as he used to do. After breakfast, we took a walk in the local nature preserve. Mom couldn’t go far. Her legs were not good on the uneven terrain, and as I said early, her footsteps were too heavy, heart too sad.
Back at the house my son wanted to play a game. So while we played, I once again I took on Dad’s role and got everyone drinks and prepped the appetizers — both of which were always Dad’s favorite part of a holiday meal. But even the alcohol had no taste. It was another day of going through the motions, trying to make my son happy when all I wanted to do was curl up into a ball and cry, which I did while mashing the potatoes because once again that’s Dad’s job.
My spouse left after dinner. She doesn’t like it out here and never stays long. But at least she was here for a little while on the holiday.
Tomorrow we go home so that we can take our son on a brief spring break trip — a change of scenery that we both desperately need.
When my son was little — four or five — I was telling him about my grandfather (my mother’s father) and I told him that Poppy was the best cook. My son got mad. He wrinkled his brow and scolded me, “You’re wrong, my grandfather is the best cook.” I countered, “Nope, my grandfather definitely cooked better.” And for a good five minutes, we went back and forth arguing as to whose grandfather was the best cook. At the time, my grandfather had been dead for twenty-five years, but my father was very much alive. Thinking back on that debate today made me sad, because now my son’s grandfather is also dead.
I loved my dad, but I’m objective enough to still claim that my grandfather’s cooking was without a doubt better. To this day, I do not like going out to eat at Italian restaurants because the food is always disappointing. I’ve never eaten Italian food — the exception being when I was in Italy — that could compare to my grandfather’s cooking. I still miss it. But my son is also right. When it comes to breakfast food, my Dad was the best. His egg sandwiches were delicious. I refuse to eat waffles anywhere but home because no one ever makes them as good as Daddy did. And then there’s the crumb cake — which is entirely what my son was basing his judgement on all those years ago.
Today (our first day of spring break) in memory of our grandfathers, we baked. First, the three of us — Mom, my son, and I — made pizza rustica in remembrance of my grandfather. He used to make it during lent — though earlier in the season and I have vague memories of him bringing it over to house. It’s one of my favorite dishes. And whenever I eat it, I think of him, and miss the smell of his kitchen. My son had fun rolling out the dough, though the dough was not cooperative. It kept pulling apart until we gave up and patched it together on the pie. It may not have looked pretty, but it tastes amazing.
After we put the pizza in the oven, we left it with Mom and my son and I went to the beach for a short walk. It was windy, cold, and raw and even though we bundled up, it didn’t take long before our fingers were frozen. Usually it rains on Good Friday, but not this year. However, the sky was gray and it felt rather dreary, but that may have been more my mood than the weather.
Back at home, my son and I made a crumb cake in remembrance of my son’s grandfather. Last year, when Dad should have been home making the cake for us, he lay dying in a hospital. But my son enjoys continuing the tradition of crumb cake for the holidays. Maybe someday, the cake and the memories will make me smile. Now, I’m just an emotional mess.
Speaking of crumb cake, an essay of mine titled “Crumb Cake” will be published later this spring in a British zine. The essay — as all my writing lately — is a tribute to Dad. After accepting it, the publisher asked me to participate in an online live launch of the issue. I’m looking forward to it, though I’m not quite sure I’ll be able to get through the reading without crying.
Another piece about Dad, titled “Lent,” has also been accepted for publication by a journal that rejected a different essay last year. But considering the journal is supported by NYU — and I did graduate from there, twice — I really wanted to land an essay with them, so I submitted again.
I’ll post the links when the issues are live. Of course, not everything gets accepted and as if to prove it, a third essay was rejected (today) by an anthology that called for the worst experiences in 2020. I have to wonder, what were they looking for? If death isn’t the worst, what is? This is the second time I’ve been rejected by calls that specifically asked for pieces addressing the horrors of last year. Maybe they were just inundated with death and got bored of it quickly.
This entire week has been challenging. Mom has been overrun with emotion. She’s been really depressed which is completely understandable. (I haven’t been much better — so no judgement there.) She has reached a point where she watches televisions all day, from the moment she wakes up until she falls asleep. I guess she is trying to keep memories at a distance. The more she watches, the less she has to think. And she’s been talking about selling the house. Her next door neighbor spoke to her a couple of days ago saying that he wanted to buy it. It would be a lovely piece of property to rent. I love this house because there are so many memories encased in the walls. He wants it for an investment. I wanted to cry.
This was going to be an impossible holiday, but Mom making plans to sell the house is making it even harder. As if Dad dying during my favorite season wasn’t bad enough. It’s like I’m losing him again, or rather, I’m being reminded of all we have lost because he is no longer here.
I was thirty-four when I had to write a research paper for the very first time. Yep, you read that correctly. I made it through high school, college, and my first tour of graduate school (keep in mind I attended NYU for both my undergraduate degree and my degree in education) before I finally landed in a program that required it of me. And then I got slammed. On a whim, I had applied to the history program, figuring a masters degree in history would expand my job opportunities. The more teaching certifications I had, the more desirable I’d be. Right? Wrong. I learned that the hard way.
Anyway, when I first learned that I would have to write a research paper, my spouse and I were backpacking through Nicaragua. We stopped in at an internet cafe one afternoon so that we could both check our email and find out if we were missing anything pressing at home. We weren’t. But, I did have the syllabus for one of my upcoming classes in my inbox. I scanned through it, saw that the course would culminate in a ten page research paper, and I promptly started to hyperventilate. It was as if an invisible hand had cranked my anxiety up to a hundred percent. There was no way I could do it. I didn’t know the first thing about writing a research paper. And it had to be ten pages. That was it. I might as well drop out now. By way of support, my spouse suggested we go out for a glass of wine. Sure it stopped my hands from shaking, but the nightmares continued for another month.
On my first day of classes, I learned that I would have to write not one, but two ten page research papers. That’s a total of twenty papers. I was definitely not up for it. Nope! No way! It wasn’t going to happen. But before completely giving up hope, I decided to visit one professor during her office hours. It just so happened that my first visit with her fell on my birthday. Battling an awful case of social anxiety, I boldly walked into her office, introduced myself, and proceeded to ask for help. I desperately needed guidance. I mean I was so clueless, I didn’t even know how to use a database. And once I found articles and books, how did I go about shaping an argument?But first I needed to settle on a topic. Even that was overwhelming. What the hell was a historiography paper? I had no idea. Yes, I had attended a fairly prestigious university once upon a time but it had left me completely unprepared for doing anything useful.
I must have been in my professor’s office for a half hour or more. After some discussion, I decided I wanted to research something regarding Cortez’s conquering of the Aztec. Great! Step one accomplished. But when I asked, where to do go from, here my professor got angry. She leaned forwarded, glared at me, and said, “What, do you expect me to write the paper for you?” Angry, mortified, and hurt, I grabbed my things and stormed out of her office. Completely despondent, I found a bench and cried. That was it. I was dropping out of school. I had no idea what I was doing so why bother even trying, especially when the words, “Please help,” scored such a awful and painful response.
But I didn’t drop out. I muddled through. With help from a wonderfully patient librarian and two other professors, I taught myself how to properly do research and write a paper. In fact, I did such a brilliant job that both professors that required me to write a research paper nominated my work for the Graduate Paper of the Year Award. Ironically, my paper on Cortez won. (As an aside, I won the same award the following semester and then I went on to win best thesis for a paper that I eventually published.)
I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t give up. But I still wish learning how to write a research paper hadn’t bees quite so traumatic. Since I would never want my son to endure the same pain that I experienced, I set it as a goal for this year to make sure he felt comfortable writing them. As much as my son grumbles about doing work, he never complains about research. In fact, he told me it was easy and aside of fiction, it was his favorite type of writing assignment.
Earlier in the year, he had written two science papers. But now that we had finished the fifth grade history textbook, I wanted him to research something historical. Yeah, the focus this year had been on American History, but I didn’t want to put any restraints on him. I wanted him to find something he was interested in and learn something about it.
My son settled on the Hundred Years War and there was no swaying him to something a little less daunting. But the entire war was far too broad of a topic. Therefore, I asked him to focus on a particular aspect of the war. He chose weapons. The boy is a walking stereotype when it comes to boys and weapons. If it were up to him school would include a class for learning about them. These class would be broken down into three parts: the history of each weapon, how to make them, and how to properly use them. Well, as long as his goal isn’t to actually wield them in every day society, so be it.
Going into this paper, I knew virtually nothing about the Hundred Years War. In fact, all I knew was that the British captured and killed Joan of Arc, transforming her into a martyr and a saint. But alas, I did go to a Catholic school where learning about the lives of saints trumped all other relevant information. In the end, I enjoyed this paper as much as my son did. It’s always exciting to learn something from your student.
I shall bore you no more with my babbling. Here is G3’s paper on Weapons of the Hundred Year’s War:
The Turning Point for Weapons: The Hundred Years War
I have chosen to research the weapons of the Hundred Years War because during the time it took place there were many break throughs in the technology of weapons. At the beginning of the war, the knight stood proudly with his sword and shield. Soon, the longbow came into play, then by the end of the war, the cannon was the ultimate weapon. The knights were displaced by the archers because the longbow was more effective and more deadly. The longbow was also the reason that the English won the early battles. But since the French took in the guns before the English, it meant that they won the war. Now, if you haven’t already guessed, I will talk about knights, longbows, crossbows and canons and how they affected the war.
The war began when England’s King Edward III declared that he was the true king of France because he was the nephew of the dead French king. Phillip VI, the heir, was only his cousin. When Edward III declared this, the French government made it a law that the crown couldn’t be passed through a woman, nor could it be passed on to a woman. During the hundred years of fighting, there were five reigning kings on each side. Before the war, the Flemish joined England because the French monarch made it illegal for the Flemish to trade with England. Since this was how the Flemish made their money, they joined Britain. Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt, and Orleans were the major battles of the war. The first three Britain won with the longbow, but the last one the French won with the canon. During the timespan of the war, there were treaties ending the war but it kept beginning again. Also, the Bubonic Plague swept through Europe which put the war on hold for many years.
Knights are one of the most famous things in the Western World. They appear in picture books, novels, and movies. They have been romanticized to be dragon slaying, princess saving, and later, kings. This never happened, and I mean, never. The history of the knight most likely began during the Holy Roman Empire. Knights were trained in many weapons. These weapons were lances, spears, swords shields, and many others. The knights learned how use weapons on horseback. It was hard for them to march long distances due to the steel plates they wore. These plates also put an end to the shield because the steel protected them far better. The plates allowed knights to trample enemy lines with using only their feet. The plates were 60 to 80 pounds so the normal man would have to put padding under his armor. Every suit was specially made for the user. Chain mail was put where steel plates would hurt. Since no man was able to put on their own suit, it was a common job for a squire to help. If a squire was able to prove himself worthy on the battlefield, he would be knighted. The basinet was the most common helmet. It had a point at the top and at the mouth so arrows would slide off of it. The great helm was a cylinder shaped helmet. At the Battle of Againcourt, the French knights drowned in mud due to the heavy armor.
The longbow was made from ash, elm, and sometimes yew. It was a welsh invention. The bow was six feet tall. When it was in a damp or wet area the bow was kept in a leather sheath and the string was kept in the user’s hat. Every fit man had to practice the longbow incase they were drafted. Once someone knew what they were doing, they would be able to nock ten to twelve arrows in one minute. If the archer was close enough (50 yards), they would be able to pierce a knight’s armor. The French never got the longbow. They feared an insurrection. If the men were trained, they might rebel against the government. During the war, people thought the archers were more important than knights so they were given respect. The archers became more respected because the weapon they used helped win more battles. Battles the longbow won for the English were Agincourt, Poitiers, and Crecy.
During the war, the French hired Italian Genoese crossbowmen and also used the Genoese crossbows themselves. This weapon was proven to be no competitor in the battle of Crecy. The Genoese ran away when they saw the longbow arrows flying at them. The men who were not shot were executed for their cowardice. The crossbow was a wonderful tool for hunting and it could penetrate harder than a longbow. The other good thing about the crossbow was that men did not need training to use it like they did to use the longbow. In total, one bolt could go 400 yards. However, you could only nock three bolts a minute. Unlike the longbow, the crossbow could not easily stay dry. During the battle of Crecy, the water from the rain loosened the crossbow strings. This meant the bows didn’t work well.
Gun powered was invented by the Chinese and the first gonnes (guns) were made in the 1200s. They were made out of bamboo and steel. Europe got guns from Byzantine traders. In the 1300s, people thought of guns as dark magic. The early cannons were as dangerous to the user as to the victim due to explosions in the canon.
Historians did question the use of canons at Crecy. When farmer in the mid 1800s found a metal ball while plowing his fields — the same field where the battle occurred — it proved that there were canons at the battle. There is a receipt for a purchase of canons in the Tower of London. It says, King Edward bought canons due to his love of drama. Many people experimented with guns to make them easier and better to use. Archers and knights thought canon teams were different and weird. As result, they were not accepted as equals.
Overall, this war took a major step in the development of weapons. When the war began, the knights were in shining armor and at the peak of respect. Then came the longbow-men who let the English win almost all of the early important battles. This lead to the fall of knights. Gunpowder had proven its worth in Asia, but had not yet proven its worth in Europe. At the end of the war, the French had adopted to fighting with cannons which meant victory. The English still used longbows, but they had proven not as effective as guns. In the Hundred Years War, many weapons had risen and fallen. In recent history, nuclear bombs have proven to be more effective than guns. This shows weapons will always be around and will always become better. The only thing we can do now is ask when and where will the new best weapon come to be.
“Hundred Years War.” Encyclopedia Britanica.
“LongbowsandCrossbows.” Gale Encyclopedia of World History, Gale,2009.
“Full Steel-Plate Armor.” Gale Encyclopedia of World History, Gale, 2009.
“Knights.” Gale Middle School Online Collection, Gale, 2018.
Dykas, Andrews. “Hundred Years Saw the Canon Evolve From a Novelty to a Decisive Weapon.” Military History, June2001, Vol. 18, Issue 2.
Friday, I woke up so dizzy and nauseous I couldn’t even stand up. I almost never miss my morning workout, but I simply could not get out of bed. When I finally forced myself up to go to the bathroom, I threw up. My head felt like it had been used in a soccer match. The pounding was unbearable. I hadn’t been that sick since I had COVID, and since I was experiencing some of the same symptoms, I was worried. The last thing I wanted was another bout with the virus, especially after we have been so damn careful. However, despite my concerns, I also figured it was more likely that my emotional state was manifesting itself in a physical manner. March 26 — the day I couldn’t get out of bed — was the one year anniversary of the day I knew for certain Dad was really ill. The day his voice wasn’t his and I feared something awful. The day I begged him to let me take him to the hospital and he refused. Emotionally, the last several weeks have been difficult. If I weren’t homeschooling my son, I probably wouldn’t have gotten out of bed at all. And the added stress of obnoxious and rude neighbors and other selfish unkind people I’ve had to deal with didn’t help.
My spouse offered to stay home. But our son is old enough that he can operate at least semi-independently. He can boil water and use the toaster oven unsupervised — but only when we are somewhere in the house. As for school, since we have finished the standard curriculum and are operating now mostly on an independent study model, he didn’t need me hovering. He is revising two writing pieces — one for social studies and one for English class. Since I had commented extensively on both drafts, he was able to work on the revisions by himself. When he had questions, he knew where to find me — in bed, trying to ignore the sun coming through my windows. For reading, he sat next to me and we discussed the latest chapter in Hunger Games. As for math, he only needed to complete a chapter review which was easy enough for him and didn’t require me to teach a lesson. The day ended early since I didn’t have the strength or mental capacity to do anything, but he didn’t complain about that. When the work was done, I managed to move into the living room where I exchanged a bed for the couch. The newest episode of The Falcon and the Wither Soldier was out so of course we had to watch it. It was fantastic. I can’t believe I’ve become so enthralled with Marvel. When it was over, we watched Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. It’s homework. My son has to watch the Pirates of the Caribbean movies in preparation for an upcoming essay.
For dinner, my spouse made chicken soup. I know, I don’t eat meat or much meat, but it was chicken soup, my mother’s recipe, and everyone knows chicken soup is the best medicine when you are sick. My only fear was that I might not be able to keep it down since I had hardly eaten anything all day. But not only did I keep it down, I woke up on Saturday feeling almost completely better. Which proved it wasn’t COVID, only a physical manifestation of my internal turmoil.
Saturday — March 27 — was the anniversary of the second worst day of my life. The last time I ever saw my father. The day Mom called and woke me up at 4:30 in the morning, asking me to please take Dad to the hospital. We expected him to die that night. He didn’t. In the morning, he rallied, but he only held on for 19 days. This year, was better day — minus the agonizing memories. The regret that still hangs over me, the regret that I never hugged Dad goodbye.
My son competed in another virtual tournament. Just before the tournament started, the wifi in his taekwondo school cut out. His instructor got it back up but it pooped out again. Anxiety tore my son apart. It’s the last thing he needed before competing. Since the wifi in the school wasn’t cooperating we couldn’t rely on the school’s computer and camera. Therefore, we logged into Zoom using my phone. It wasn’t ideal. I didn’t actually get to see my son perform his traditional form or his weapons form. Nor could I take pictures as I usually do. Instead, I was trying to hold the phone at an angle that enabled the judges to see him best. I also had to make sure I kept him in frame. But the screen was so small, that to me, he didn’t look like much more than a white dot with a black stripe bouncing up and down. Obviously though, I did my job well enough. My son placed first in both events. The first time he’s ever done so. As a result, he continues to be ranked number one in the virtual world in weapons. Walking out to the car, my son smiled and said, “I really think Grandpa was with me in spirit today. He seems to be with me more and more.” To celebrate his victory, he and I biked to Rita’s and I bought him a cherry ice — his choice.
Today, my son and I drove into Queens to pick up Mom. We then had to run some Easter errands — we had to pick up chocolate and bunny breads — errands Dad should have been running. Errands that depressed me because Dad wasn’t here to do them. Errands that I wouldn’t have run at all except Mom and I can’t cancel Easter because my son is looking forward to it. Once the errands were complete, we drove to Mattituck. All day the weather was a mirror to my mood. The rain matched my depression. It’s going to be a long week. And for once, being in Long Island might make me feel worse instead of better. But my son asked if we could please have one last Easter at the beach house. I couldn’t say no. But being out here for Easter there are so many reminders of Dad’s absence. This will be the hardest holiday. Not only is it the time of year Dad died, it also used to be my favorite holiday. Besides, Thanksgiving and Christmas were only one day each. Easter always stretched out over a long weekend. Dad took us to the beach. He took us out to dinner on Holy Saturday. He took my son to the town Easter Egg Hunt. We played dominoes. So instead of it being one intense day of missing, it will be many.
(I hit 200,000 words tonight in the Pandemic Diaries. Not bad for a year in which I feel I haven’t written much or been productive.)
G3 thought of you today. Actually, whenever he sees a goose he thinks of you. He loves reminiscing about the story you told him — oh so many years ago — about the time when you were little and a goose bit your butt.
Today, after we finished our homeschool lessons, G3 wanted to go to Dunkin Donuts. He has a couple of gift cards he’s been wanting to use. And he is excited that we live close enough that we can bike there. (We live close enough to walk — but, as you know, walking is something he avoids at all costs.) After he picked up a donut — strawberry frosted with sprinkles — he wanted to bike over to the local park and eat it. I followed him down Route 28 and when we got to the park, he pulled off the path, parked his bike, and walked down to the edge of the brook. As he ate his donut, he watched several geese swimming and playing. Foolishly, he broke off a tiny crumb and tossed it into the water. Two geese feverishly fought over it. The losing goose and another goose partnered up, turned around, and paddled as fast as their feet would carry them toward the bank. Without slowing down, they waddled up onto dry land and charged after G3. Immediately, — remembering you — he popped the rest of his donut in his mouth and he grabbed his butt with both hands. To avoid the birds, he started to run away. The geese were not deterred. They hissed and chased after him until they stood between him and his bike. Picking up speed, he called over his shoulder, “Get my bike.” Oh sure, I thought, let me brave the geese. But I wasn’t the one with the food. They didn’t even waste a glance on me. I rolled his bike over to him and he took off out of the park. I jumped on my bike and followed. Before we turned onto the street, I looked back and the geese were still in pursuit.
The one year anniversary of Dad’s hospitalization and death, combined with Easter and funeral preparations is the perfect storm for a serious depression. For weeks now, every time I tried to begin composing Dad’s eulogy in my head, I didn’t get further than a sentence or two before tears washed the rest out of my head. And it happened often, multiple times a day. Things could be going well, then I’d start to think about what I was going to say, and that was the end of whatever peace I might have been enjoying in the moment. Last night, I forced myself to sit at my computer. For twenty minutes, I starred — eyes blurred with tears — at the screen, having no idea where to begin, until I settled on the obvious. The most honest: “I’m a writer. This should be easy. Finding the right words to convey my feelings are what I do best. I always have something to say, and maybe that’s what is making this a challenge. I’ve been writing about Dad for over a year.” Once I got started, it only took me about forty minutes to write the draft, forty minutes of continued crying. Even when I wrote the last word, added a period, and shut down my computer I couldn’t stop crying. I cried myself to sleep, and when I woke up in the middle of the night, I cried some more. My eyes and face were puffy this morning. Of course, the minute I stepped outside and started to walk, my mind drifted back to Dad, back to what I had written and the tears started in again. Sadly, I couldn’t even get through the day teaching my son without sobbing interruptions. It’s a good thing much of the work today he could accomplish on his own with little help from me. I think in the last twenty-four hours I’ve set some sort of crying record.
Tomorrow, during the time slot set aside for writing, it will be my son’s turn to write a eulogy for Dad. I will give him as much time — as many days — as he needs to complete it. He’s been writing all year, it shouldn’t bee too difficult, but like me, he’s feeling more pressure about this assignment than any other. (I will post both eulogies in their entirety after the funeral.)
As disappointing as it is that my son no longer believes in the Easter Bunny, part of me is relieved. This season would have been even harder if I had to keep up the facade, pretend that there is really a benevolent bunny that hops around the world bringing candy to kids. Ironically, it was Easter last year that finally clued him in to the fact that there is no Easter Bunny. In his words, “If the Easter Bunny really existed, he would have brought me the same treats last year he always bought, and he would have hidden eggs.” If you remember, last year I was sick with COVID and quarantined from him. And Day lay dying. My spouse tried, but my son was too smart not to notice that without Dad Easter didn’t exactly happen. We had so hoped and prayed that Dad would come home. We had so desperately wanted to believe that we were only postponing Easter until he could be with us. Now, I want to cancel it because he will never be here again, and Easter will forever be entwined with the reality that God didn’t care enough to save him. But I can’t cancel it because my son is still young enough to look forward to it.
A year ago today, I raced across state lines to bring my father Tylenol. When he accepted my offer to drive an hour an a half to bring it to him — an an hour and a half back — I knew he was really sick. He would never have consented to such an inconvenience if wasn’t very ill. I thought my act of kindness would help, that he just might get better. He didn’t. (https://jaegerwrites13.wordpress.com/2020/03/24/mama-day-8/)
I still can’t get past the fact that I never got to say goodbye — not really. I don’t count the facetime monologue. Perhaps it was better than nothing, but I was robbed of a final hug. I was robbed of being able to sit at his beside to let him know that he was loved. And I can’t tell you how angry it makes me when people complain about the stringent rules regarding the pandemic. When parents complain about their kids missing sports or school, when kids complain that they missed their prom or spring break it makes me furious. Their complaints are so shallow. Rules kept me away from my father in his final days. Instead of being able to be with him, I had to sit at home, waiting endlessly for updates from the doctor. I had to watch my father’s decline via a phone screen. At the time, I tried to be understanding. They didn’t want us at the hospital because they were trying to stem the tide, trying to flatten the curve. I got that, but now people are demanding that restaurants and schools open, they want to travel and meet in large groups and public opinion is shifting. People are tired of the pandemic. They want their lives back. Well, I want my father back and that’s never going to happen. I think everyone else can wait a little longer to have their luxuries returned to them. When cases continue to rise in certain areas in conjunction with rolling back restrictions I want to scream. I should have been allowed to be with my father. I should have been allowed to say goodbye, and instead of lessening, my anger continues to swell. People are so fucking selfish, they are complaining about not being able to have parties when they never had to watch a loved one die while being barred from being with them. Dad died a fucking year ago and we were not allowed to have a funeral. Again, at the time, I tried to be understanding. But now in retrospect, I’m pissed. I am so goddamn tired of trying to think of other people, trying to recognize that sometimes personal sacrifice is better for the group when everyone else cares only about themselves. My father was denied religious services, but I should be respectful of the parent that wants a free babysitter.
I’m finding that I’m not so happy here in Middlesex. On Saturday night, our neighbor had a party outside. I didn’t sleep because the music was so freaking loud. It looked like a group of college kids congregating around a fire pit. Not one of them was wearing a mask. I wanted to call the police so that I could sleep. My spouse wouldn’t let me. She told me I have to suck it up and deal with it. Am I the only fucking person on the planet that can’t sleep when asshole neighbors play their music loud late at night. Today, it was a warm beautiful day so I was homeschooling my son outside. While we were doing school work, my neighbor came out, sat on her deck and proceeded to blast her music. We ended up having to go inside because there was no freaking way I could teach when the music was so loud. Why do people have to be so self absorbed? She was by herself. Why couldn’t she put headphones on? Why do people always feel they are entitled to force their music on other people? My spouse told me to deal with it. I can’t. So I’m leaving. After spring break, my son and I will move out to Long Island for the duration of the school year. My spouse claims it’s me. I can’t get along with people. But I honestly don’t see how I’m in the wrong here. Why does my neighbor have a right to blast her music, but I don’t have a right to homeschool my son in peace? Oh well. That’s life — I guess. Nothing is fair. Life sucks and then you die. I’m happier in New York anyway.
About a month ago, I wrote that I was at the end of my rope. I cry more now than I did when Dad died. I’m angry and cranky all the time. I’m going to explode. It’s only a matter of time. And I’m still walking around in fog. I lost a part of my brain when Dad got sick and I’m beginning to think it’s gone for good.
Since social media does nothing but incite my anger, I’m taking a hiatus from it. I’m tired of watching other people get breaks. Tired of the news. Tired of people complaining about the pandemic when they haven’t lost anything of substance. Mostly, I’m tired of everyone else’s selfish behavior. There’s enough of it in the real world, I don’t need more of it online. Kindness and compassion never got me anywhere. Maybe I should take a stab at being selfish. Maybe then I’d have a change of fortune. Maybe then I wouldn’t be so miserable.
My son has completed the fifth grade curriculum. Therefore, starting this week, we will operate only on a four day work week. Four days of classes and one day to go out and do something fun. Today, my spouse had off from work so we headed into Pennsylvania to go hiking in Wissahickon Park. It was a gorgeous day to be out — sunny and warm. I started the hike in a sweatshirt, and after ten minutes, I stripped down to my tee-shirt. G3 had fun. We stopped periodically so he could explore. During our move, I found my old binoculars which I gave him for bird watching. He enjoyed sitting on boulders and looking out at the river, studying the birds. He also found a rope that swung out over the water. He grabbed on, took a running start, and for a moment, as he flew over the water, I had a vision of him splashing into the river. But he didn’t. He held on tight and managed to stay dry each time.
Despite having a good hike and spending time with my son, it was a rough and depressing day. A year ago, Dad first got sick. The Covid symptoms started in his stomach, and by dinner time, he couldn’t eat anything. When Dad texted me to say he felt nauseous, I experienced a moment of acute fear. Never in my life had I ever felt so terrified. I knew in that moment it was definitely Covid, and I dreaded the worst. My fears, unfortunately, were not ill founded.
As if fate really wanted to taunt me, I started the day with a rejection email. Usually, I avoid calls for submissions that revolve around themes. But this one call had the theme F**k 2020. How could I not submit. I sent in an essay about my dad. In the rejection email, the editor told me my piece wasn’t selected because their were other essays and stories that were more in line with the theme, pieces that more strongly conveyed the misery of 2020. Seriously, I sent in an essay about Dad’s death and the awful aftershocks that still rock the family a year later. What could make the year more terrible than the death of a loved one? I took this rejection far more personally than I usually do. It really hurt. Not only was my writing not good enough, my loss didn’t measure up. Someone else’s misfortune was more important than mine. More meaningful. And of all days to have the essay rejected — today was rough.
Mom also had a hard morning. Between coming up on the one year anniversary of the worst experience of our lives and having to prepare for his funeral, it’s been too much for her. The emotional toll is crushing.
Easter is in less than two weeks. I’m not looking forward to it, not even a little. I was able to muster up a bit of holiday spirit around Christmas time for my son, but for Easter, it won’t be possible. Everything about Easter reminds me of Dad, which only exacerbates his absence.
Tomorrow, my son and I will be starting the Hunger Games in school. I’m really looking forward to it. I think it will be a fun book to teach. There’s so much to discuss, so much to pull apart. At least teaching my son will help somewhat to focus my thoughts away from Dad and the events that transpired a year ago.
What I’d really like to do is go to sleep tonight and not wake up until April is over. After making such a fuss about my son and I both being able to give a eulogy at Dad’s funeral, I’m suffering from writer’s block. I don’t know what to say. I’ve been eulogizing Dad for a year now. I’ver written pages upon pages about him. How to I shave that all down to five or six hundred words. How do I encapsulate it all? I thought writing a eulogy for my grandmother was difficult. I had such little material to work with. But now I’m realizing having too little to work with is far easier than having too much. I need one story to convey how special he was, and I’m not quite sure which story will say it best.
One year ago today, my son, my spouse, and I all had our first virtual day of school. It did not go well. I knew immediately that I would not survive the semester. My son was cranky and irritable, and halfway through his assignments I was already talking about pulling him out of school. Watching him watch a video about how to write a paper was the epitome of ludicrous. I was a writing professor. I could do more than a video. But it was only supposed to be for a month. We were originally told we’d be back in school by the end of spring break, and so we all settled in to make the most of it.
By the end of the day, I had the insane idea to start a blog. We spent so much time complaining, screaming at each other, and hating life that I figured it might be cool if my son and I used writing as an outlet. We could bitch all we wanted on the screen and then someday, when it was all over, we could look back and laugh. Laughter and posterity had been my intention. As it turned out, there would be far more tears. What was meant to be a light hearted project morphed into being an outlet for my anger and sorrow. I expected my blog to last a month, maybe two. I certainly didn’t expect it to run through the summer. In the back of my head, I figured maybe I’d keep it going until G3 went back to school. I certainly didn’t foresee him still being out of school a full year later. As for posterity, I’m fairly certain I will leave behind a complete testament to how horrific this pandemic has been for my family. Some future scholar may find something of value within its pages.
Earlier, I emailed a friend and said that sometimes I feel as if this year has dragged, other times it feels as if it has raced by. Mostly, I feel as if I’ve lost an entire year. My life had been so different last March. How could I have been so flippant in my first post? How could I have thought that some day I’d look back and smile at our pandemic experience? How could I not have realized that all the tears and explosive tantrums could be perceived as foreshadowing? But that’s how foreshowing works. I never pick up on it in a book the first time I read it. I need to know how the story ends before the foreshadowing makes sense. (My first post, a year ago today: https://jaegerwrites13.wordpress.com/2020/03/16/mama-day-1/)
I certainly don’t feel as if I’ve been productive this year. I’ve been revising a novel now since September and I’ve hardly made any progress. In fact, I’m ready to scrap the whole project. I’ve written a few essays about Dad and my son and I’ve been lucky to have them published. So not a complete waste of year — artistically — I suppose. Despite feeling unproductive, I guess one could argue I’ve written more this year than any other. This blog alone — my Pandemic Diaries — is nearing 200,000 words and I’ve hit 400 pages. Other failures though still haunt me. An even longer list of literary agents who have rejected me. My attempted literary journal for kids completely died. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get it off the ground. No one wanted to submit, and so I buried the project. But out of its ashes I started a new one, a literary journal titled Conversations on the Empty Bench, which grew out of my grief. I’m still struggling to build it up, get out the word, and have people submit: https://conversationsontheemptybench.wordpress.com/about-2/
Lastly, a year ago tonight, my parents landed back in New York. They were home and I was looking forward to seeing them, but first we had to wait two weeks. My son and I were going to close ourselves off to make sure we weren’t infected and I hoped that in two weeks my parents wouldn’t get sick. Two weeks at the time felt like an eternity and twelve days later, that’s exactly what it became. Aside of brisk hello and a frantic drive to the hospital, I never would see my father again. My son would never again cuddle on the couch with his grandfather. One year ago, we had so much we were looking forward to as a family and now, I still can’t believe it all ended the way it did. Of all the people on that Viking ship, why did my father have to be the one to die?
Yes, we are now coming out of the pandemic. Vaccines are available, though getting an appointment is impossible. Mom is getting her first dose on Thursday. I still can’t find an appointment, neither can my spouse. As for children, who knows when the vaccine will be approved. But when it is, I’m sure the distribution process will be a nightmare. Rich kids and kids with connections will be the first to get vaccinated. The rest of us will wait on an endless line with our children. But eventually it will happen. The world will get vaccinated, but somehow the idea of a return to normalcy exacerbates the emptiness caused by Dad’s absence. Everything will go back to the way it was, except I’ll still be fatherless — and jobless.
My son thinks I work him too hard. Maybe I do. Maybe he’s just used to having classmates around to take away some of the attention and pressure. Maybe it’s a combination of both. But I imagine it can’t be all bad for him. I rarely assign homework, and he hasn’t had a test since October. But unlike real school, with me, there are no fluff days. No periods to sit and do busy work.
A few weeks ago, after complaining about the latest assignment I had given him, he told me, “School would be so much more fun in only you let me watch movies.” Ah, careful the wish you make. I thought about it for about two seconds, smiled, and agreed. Why not watch a few movies? After all, movies have characters and plots just like novels. Wouldn’t a character analysis of movies teach many of the same skills as a character analysis of novels or short stories?
Having only one student, I have the freedom to cater my lessons completely to his interests. As my student’s mother, I know him far better than most teachers ever know their students. My son loves movies. If I allowed it, he’d watch movies all day. The characters that draw his attention, the characters he talks about non-stop are the bad guys. Antagonists make him pay attention. And often, when he claims a character is “good” he isn’t talking about the good guy, he’s talking about the depth of the bad guy.
Once, my son told me that a movie is only as good as the bad guy. If the bad guy is mediocre, the movie itself won’t be great. I thought that was a fabulous argument for a paper and so I gave it to him as an assignment. I asked him to pick his three favorite bad guys. That was the easy part. He chose Grindelwald from Fantastic Beasts, Terry Silver from Karate Kid III, and Ivan Vanko from Iron Man II. I then told him, for homework, he had to watch all three movies — and he was happy that I agreed to watch them with him. While watching, he took notes, identifying the main character traits of each bad guy and analyzing exactly what made the characters interesting and exciting. From there he made a chart on which he compared the three men. Finally — and this is where he started to grumble — I told him to write the paper. I helped him with a very skeletal outline and then he dismissed me, “You can look at it when I’m done. I don’t want help with this one.”
And just like that, writing a paper became a simple task. He worked on the initial draft for a couple of weeks, writing about twenty minutes a day. When he finished, I was impressed. Here’s the thing, you have been reading his work all year and some of you have complimented his work. But you see the finished, polished draft. I see the messy, sometimes disjointed work. I read every draft and comment on the drafts the exact same way I commented on the drafts produced by my former college students. I ask him to rewrite certain sentences. I tell him where to provide more detail or where to add specific examples. And of course, I add in all the commas and apostrophes he misses. You don’t see the messy work, the revisions and rewrites. But I do. And that is why this paper impressed me. Sure there were mistakes. Yes, he needed to rewrite, revise, and add to what he had already produced. And his comma skills — or lack of them — might be the death of me. But overall, the initial draft demonstrated a great deal of improvement in his work. I could see how far he has come since September. There is still much he needs to learn, but he is definitely a better writer than he was at the start of the school year.
Now, this is what I would love to do — my dream job, so to speak. Okay, writing is really my dream job but since no agents are knocking down my door, I’ll switch gears for a bit, although, this new dream job is probably just as much of a fantasy, if not more so. I want to be dropped in a very low performing district and I want the ten to fifteen worst students. The troublemakers, the stubborn kids, the ones who everyone else has given up on. And I want to teach them history, writing, and literature for a year. Obviously, this would never happen because no one would be willing to pay me a full time salary just to teach ten or fifteen kids. But if they were, I’m sure I could motivate, if not all of them, most of them. I would love the opportunity to take fifteen kids who are failing, and bring them closer to grade level. I bet I could do it. But since there is never any money for challenges such as this in the academic world, I’ll stick to teaching G3, and I’ll enjoy watching him grow as both a student and a writer.
Here is his latest essay on bad guys:
The Bad Guys: Grindelwald, Silver, and Vanko
To start off, I am a movie addict. When I wake up, to the time of my slumber, I watch movies. Unlike most people, I like the bad guys. Directors always begin with the good guy and make it look like they are good and the people fighting them are bad. To me, there is more to bad guys than what people tell you. What I am saying is that bad guys make the story. They drive the plot. Bad guys invoke feeling whether good or bad. Finally, they make you more interested in them and the story. In this paper, I will be talking about Terry Silver from Karate Kid III, Gellert Grindelwald from Fantastic Beasts, and Ivan Vanko from Iron Man II.
Bad guys drive the plot by making the story happen. I say this because it is not like the good guy will attack the bad guy. In Karate Kid III, you slowly learn that Terry Silver isn’t just doing what John Kreese wants him to do. He actually wants to inflict pain on Daniel LaRusso. This adds to the story by showing how psychotic Silver is and how much he wants to hurt Daniel. Silver drives the plot by making Daniel get hurt. The main example of Silver hurting Daniel is when he makes Daniel’s knuckles bleed on a hard wooden board at Kreese’s request. Silver actually makes Daniel agree to his pain by making him think that this is the best way to win the upcoming tournament. In Iron MAN II, you learn that Vanko isn’t just making a weapon, he is making a weapon to kill Tony Stark. The major battle is at the end of the movie. First, Vanko commanders War Machine’s suit to try and kill Stark. Then he sends thirty two war drones at him. Finally, he comes himself with electric whips to kill Stark. This keeps the movie going by having constant fights. In FantasticBeasts, it is very interesting to learn about the creatures. But Grindelwald keeps the story going. Almost every half hour there is a fight. Even within the first five minutes there is a small battle. Grindelwald has consistent talks with Credence (a deadly obscura) to persuade him to Grindelwald’s side. This keeps the audience tuned in, wondering why did he pick Credence to find the obscure.
All three bad guys in this paper are clever. Grindelwald and Silver need followers so they are masters of persuasion, whereas, Vanko is just smart and works alone. Silver persuades Daniel to trust him. He does this in small segments. One example is when he says Kreese has died (but he hadn’t). This helps because it makes Daniel feel bad for him. Another example is when Silver shows Daniel how to do a front sweep. This makes him look like a good guy. He looks like the good guy because he is encourage Daniel to do the tournament and he shows him how to do new moves when Miyagi won’t. Grindelwald doesn’t persuade people to trust him, but he says that he knows what’s best for them. In the first and second FantasticBeasts, he tries to persuade Credence to join him. He eventually does. At the end of the second movie, he convinces many good people to join him. In the very first scene IronManII, we see Vanko, without any help making what looks like electric whips. This shows that he is a wonderful physicist. One hour later, we see Justin Hammer — a terrible engineer and less interesting bad guy — thinking he hired Vanko. As time goes on, we learn that Vanko wasn’t woking for Hammer because once again all he wants to do is kill Stark. Vanko only joined Hammer Industries for their resources. This time, instead of making just electric whips, he makes them and a giant suit.
Bad guys also invoke feeling. Most of the time it is anger, but sometimes it is something else. In KarateKidIII, Silver has hired a kid who is great at sparring. One thing Silver made him do is destroy Miyagi’s Little Trees shop. Anyone with morals would never do this unless they knew they could get away with it. This is always how it is: the rich (Silver) think they are better than the poor (Miyagi) and they get away with whatever they do. That alone makes me angry. Grindelwald annoys me because he baits good people. Then they join him and are obviously not as kind as they used to be. Imagine if you had a very close brother but Grindelwald messed with his mind. It would be like loosing a part of you. This is infuriating and annoying because he should only take bad people and let the good stay good. I guess, if he did not recruit good people, there would be a story, it just would not be exiting. In the beginning of IronManII, Vanko’s father died. This makes most watchers feel sad for him. The reason he died was because Howard Stark, Tony Stark’s father, exiled him to Siberia because he was going to make more money. Vanko’s father later died because of the cold temperature, drinking, and depression.
Good bad guys make me think more about them. In FantasticBeasts: CrimesofGrindelwald, I learn that Grindelwald was best friends with Dumbledore. This makes me wonder, why did he turn bad or why did Dumbledore stay good? These kinds of questions, about who are the characters and who do they side with, make a good bad guy by giving them a back story. Terry Silver and John Kreese have a connection from Vietnam. The movie script mentions the war many times. But the question that keeps coming back to me is how and where did they learn karate? Another thing is Silver is a psychopath. This makes me wonder why is he like this. I think it was the war that did it to him. One main question I have about Vanko is, where did he learn everything from? Was it his father? Or was it something else? Another thing is, why does he always tell Tony Stark that he lost when Vanko clearly lost?
These are my four reasons for why good bad guys make good stories. Now that you have read this, I hope I have convinced you that some bad guys have very interesting roles. I want you to watch all three movies and/or other ones and see if you see what I am taking about. 🙂
Friday, March 12, marked one full year since my son has been home from school. Schooling this year has been a nightmare for so many families. Children across the nation are falling behind. But in this year of absolute misery and sorrow, my son’s education has been a bright spot. While other parents are pushing schools to open, I’ve embraced the role of educator for my son. Yes, my background has made it easy and it helps that I’m married to a math teacher. But beyond teaching, I have valued the extra time I’ve gotten to spend with my son. He’s getting older. He’s reached the age where being seen with me in public is embarrassing. He doesn’t even like me to speak to him when we’re out riding our bikes. Soon, he will be off with friends and I’ll be a footnote in his life. So I’m happy that I get to have him a little longer. Sure we haven’t always gotten along, but someday, I’m sure I’ll miss even the arguing. And I know he’s ready for sixth grade. He’ll be able to jump back into school and he won’t need to spend any time catching up. There is no doubt his social life has been disrupted, but not his academic one. Well, maybe he will have a bit of trouble readjusting to tests. I gave up on tests early on. They seemed a waste of time. And seriously, it’s not like I could objectively score my own kid. He might also struggle to readjust to having to operate with the parameters of a particular box. I have never been one to think inside the box, and my teaching style reflects that. I’ve encouraged my son to think critically, and that will benefit him in real life. In school, however, it may be more of a liability.
Yesterday — almost a year to the day since her last taekwondo class — my spouse returned to the mat. Last year, March 14th was picture and pie day. Our instructor had arranged for a photographer to come in to take pictures. He also planned to have a pot luck pie party. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic that seemed to swoop in out of no where —due to our incompetent president who kept denying its existence — he canceled the pie the night before. On Saturday morning, we — my spouse and I — took the adult class and then my son and I stayed for the forms class. While we were warming up, I had a conversation with another parent and mentioned my anxiety about my parents. I told her they were on a cruise down in South America, and I was more than a little worried about them getting home. Getting home proved to be easy. Surviving is what proved impossible for Dad. The following day, everything shut down. We thought, hopefully, optimistically, that the taekwondo school would be closed for two weeks, maybe a month. Since none of us were keen on taking classes via zoom, we all put our memberships on hold.
I returned first, when Dad was close to death. I guess I desperately needed something to distract me, something positive to strive for. My son took a little longer. But by September he too was back. My spouse — who had only started taking classes a month before the shutdown and had never even had the opportunity to graduate beyond her white belt — has been far too busy with work to even consider returning. Work during the pandemic — teaching virtually, in-person, and hybrid students — has absorbed all her time. She works longer hours than ever and is exhausted by the time she come home. But my son really wants her to advance and so he offered her a deal she couldn’t refuse.
When we go on vacation during the summer, my son and I enjoy visiting historical places, but much of what I put on our itinerary bores my spouse. Three years ago, she decided that for every president’s house we visit we would also stop at a winery. My son hates this idea. Wineries bore him as much as history bores my spouse. And he complains every time we stop. So, this year, to convince his mother to return to taekwondo, he told her that if she gets her orange decided belt he would allow her to visit eight wineries on our vacation — eight wineries and he wouldn’t whine one bit. She took him up on it. And that’s why on Saturday, nearly a year to the date of her last class, she ended up back on the mat.
Today, we took my son shopping for funeral clothes. He used to have an entire closet full of dress clothes: suits, button down shirts, sports jackets. He used to enjoy dressing up for school. But for the last twelve months he has worn nothing but sweats. Lounging around the house, he hasn’t needed much else and so he has outgrown all his dress clothes. Though we had to visit many stores, we did eventually buy him an outfit to wear to Dad’s funeral mass. We couldn’t find black pants, but gray will do. The only thing my son didn’t need was a tie. He has plenty and we’ll let him select the one he wants to wear. I hate shopping for clothes under the best circumstances. Shopping for Dad’s funeral completely drained me emotionally.
A year ago today, the first New Yorker died from COVID. A year ago, I had no idea that in month, my father would also be dead. A year ago, we were disappointed that we couldn’t eat pie. If only that was worst COVID had done to us. If only that was all it had stolen from us.
My mom asked me to post the information about Dad’s funeral/memorial mass. So here are the details:
April 14 (the one year anniversary of his death)
Sacred Heart Church
83-17 78th Avenue
Glendale, NY 11385
Today has a been a bad day — actually the whole week has been difficult. We are back in March and each day brings a haunting reminder of where I was and what I was doing last year at this time. I cry for no reason while I’m trying to teach my son. It’s gotten to the point where he just looks and me and rolls his eyes. “You’re crying again,” he comments, stating the obvious before returning to his work. Seriously, Treasure Island is NOT a novel that would ordinarily make me cry, but while discussing it with my son he’ll make a comment about his grandfather and the tears take over.
A year ago today, I got word from the university where I was teaching that when students returned from Spring Break classes would be virtual. I was not happy about it. I grumbled on facebook: “And the person who is completely incompetent in regards to technology now has to teach classes online.” The virtual teaching did not go well. Not at all. We didn’t have the technology to support it. Our condo was too small for three people trying to work online. And teaching while being a full time mom — my son eventually went virtual as well — proved impossible. But I truly wish that had remained my only frustration. In retrospect, it was a very minor inconvenience. Now, here I am a year later — sometimes it feels like yesterday, other times it feels like a century — and I have no job. Will I find a new one when the pandemic ends? It would be lovely to be optimistic but while people claim there is a teacher shortage, I never seem to be the candidate anyone wants. And, well you already know, losing my job sucked, but a year ago Dad was still alive. If only I knew what the next month would bring, I’d have embraced those technical challenges. They were the high spot of this entire ordeal.
Also a year ago, I sent my father and my cousins a message on facebook uninviting them to my son’s taekwondo tournament. My son was supposed to compete on March 28 up in New Hampshire. For four months, we looked forward to that day with anticipation and excitement. We — my spouse, son, and I — were going to leave work early and drive up the day before. We were looking forward to seeing family as much as we were looking forward to the competition. But by March 10, news of the pandemic was starting to look exceptionally grim. Large gatherings, especially for older people, were becoming deadly. I uninvited everyone because I didn’t want anyone to get sick or die. But it ended up not mattering that I told everyone not to come. A few days later, the taekwondo organization suspended all tournaments. But March 28 eventually arrived, and instead of bringing joy, it brought heartache. It was Dad’s first full day in the hospital. It was the beginning of the end. I’d never see or speak to him again. How could a day that was supposed to make everyone happy, a day that my dad looked forward with more enthusiasm than any of us, end up being a day that will haunt me forever?
While I was messaging everyone not to go to the tournament, Dad sent my son a picture of a rainbow over the water with the caption: “A rainbow but no rain.” Rainbows are supposed to bring good tidings, not bad. They are supposed be symbols of hope not sorrow.
Yep, I’m still falling to pieces over here. I suspect I’ll only get worse as the days continue to conjure up memories of last year — where I was, what I was doing, what I should have done instead. My mood is definitely darkening. I’m snapping at everyone and everything. It’s probably good we’re still in a loose modified lockdown. It’s easier to be alone. This way I’m less likely to accidentally offend anyone.
I had gotten so used to you being here that sometime I feel like I simply can’t function properly any more. How many times had I called you up asking for parenting advice or to calm G3 when he didn’t like a decision I made?
G3 joined the Boy Scouts and now he wants to dive into every activity. If it weren’t for COVID, I would completely support that. If COVID wasn’t still infecting and killing people I’d have already signed him up for the upcoming camping trip and summer camp. But with COVID still lingering, I am not going to send him to summer camp, and I don’t exactly think it’s safe to go on a weekend camping trip either. Boys will be sleeping in close quarters — how do I know none of them are sick? Yes, things are opening up and we’re being told that everything will be done safely, but in America business carries more weight than science. Are campsites opening up because they are truly safe, or because the government decided they’d put the health of businesses before the actual health of people? School sports resumed play after being told it was safe, but kids are spreading the virus to each other on the courts and the ice. And if it was really safe, if there was absolutely no danger of a kid getting sick, would they have parents sign a COVID waiver? Probably not.
This past year, I have gone above and beyond trying to keep G3 safe. I pulled him out of school. We lived practically in isolation for months. We don’t eat in restaurants. We don’t go to playgrounds. There are days we are ready to kill each other but still we push through because him being home with me means he’s less likely to catch the virus. I admit I might go to the extreme. Parents — some parents — think I’m crazy, but I know all too well how deadly the virus is. I know the long lingering effects it can have. Nothing irks me more than hearing people say that for most people the virus isn’t that bad. It hardly effects kids. I’m not a scientist, but I do have questions. For starters, where is the data that proves kids who are exposed and mildly sick today won’t develop complications in the future?
After the Boy Scout meeting this evening, I was speaking to my spouse about camp. I said, “This is where, in my former life, I would call Dad and ask him his opinion. I’d ask him if he thought I was being overprotective or wise.” But then I paused, and fought back the tears, before adding, “But the fact that I can’t call him, the fact that COVID killed him seems the only reassurance I need that I’m not making a mistake.” And it’s not just that you’re dead. My lungs are not what they used to be. I used to be healthy. The odds are, G3 wouldn’t die if he went to camp. But would he end up with a depilating problem? That I can’t answer as confidently.
He’s going to be angry when I tell him he can’t go. I wish you were here. You were the only one who could reach him when he was upset. You were the only one he would listen to. If you were here, you’d convince him that I was acting in his best interest. You’d promise him summer camp next year. You’d promise to join him on on camping trip when it was safe.
But if you hadn’t died, would you also think I was being too protective? To severe in the COVID rules I live by?
Last year, on this day, you sent G3 a picture of penguins in Patagonia and you were looking forward to seeing the Falkland Islands. I was looking forward to hearing you talk about it, but you died before you could tell me anything about your trip. A year ago, you went on a cruise and it killed you. I wish you hadn’t gone. And next year, I don’t want to be sitting here thinking, I wish G3 hadn’t gone to camp. Because camp will be there next year — and the year after and the year after that— and he’ll still have plenty of time to earn enough merit badges.
The truth is, I can read countless articles and listen to the doctors and scientists on television, or listen to other parents’ perspectives, but ultimately, it’s my own experiences that will speak the loudest. How can I ignore a reality I live every day? For many people, COVID is an annoyance. We have not been that lucky.
So many nights I don’t sleep well because in my sleep I’m trying to have a conversation with you and you can’t answer. I fear this might be one of those nights.
After reading about my frustration over not being permitted to have two speakers at my father’s funeral, my cousin suggested I contact the deacon. She reminded me that he and my father had corresponded after connecting on a neighborhood Facebook page. I took her advice and sent him an email. There was no anger in the message I sent, only sadness, regret, and disappointment. I asked if he could please make an exception to the rules considering the awful circumstances surrounding Dad’s death: the fact that we never got to say goodbye in-person and the fact that we have had to wait so long to have a mass. He responded saying he spoke to the priest and they agree that an exception would be made. Both G3 and I will be able to give a eulogy. I feel better. Now, the anxiety of writing begins.
We had a busy weekend. On Saturday, my son missed his first in-person Boy Scout meeting. It was the same time as another virtual taekwondo tournament. We asked him which he preferred to do and he chose the tournament. It was a double points tournament so if he placed, it would help him in both the state and world standings. Plus, I think he really enjoys competing — the competitive streak is one thing he definitely gets from me. He wanted to arrive at the school an hour before his ring was to compete so that he would have time to warm up and map out where he needed to start each form so that he would remain on screen. As always, my stomach was a wreck before — and during — the competition. I get so much more nervous watching him compete than I ever got competing myself as a kid. But there was no reason for me to be anxious. He placed second in forms and first in weapons. It was the first time — I believe — that he placed first in that event.
When we got home from the tournament, I searched through all the boxes that are still packed searching for clothes to wear to Dad’s funeral. I thought I had thrown away my dress shoes when we moved, but luckily I didn’t. I also found the dress pants and the shirt I intend to wear. G3 has outgrown all his dress clothes. He’s been home all year with no occasion to wear them and so we haven’t bought him anything but sweat pants and sneakers. We’ll have to take him shopping. It’s a good thing we have several weeks. It might take that long to find him clothes he likes since he is very particular about what he wears.
Today, while my spouse ran some errands, G3 and I drove up to Tourne County Park to go hiking and caching. My son finds hiking boring, but when coupled with caching his interest level increases. I had been out of state for several weeks and didn’t realize how much it had snowed up north. Neither of us were prepared to hike in the snow and ice, but it didn’t stop us. However, after two hours our feet were drenched. Despite having wet cold feet, we had an enjoyable afternoon. G3 had fun finding the caches. I look forward to going out with him again now that the weather is warming.
Mom and I went up to the rectory at Sacred Heart Church today to finally schedule a funeral/memorial mass for Dad. It’s going to be on April 14, the anniversary of his death. The secretary gave us the standard packet of forms to fill out in which we have to select the hymns and readings. She told us that we could have one person give a eulogy if we wanted. Mom said that wouldn’t do because both G3 and I were planning to speak. The woman said those were the rules, one person only, and he or she could speak for no more than five minutes. That’s the thing about the Catholic Church, they’re all about the rules. And if you don’t like them, too bad. There is never any room for discussion or compromise. But it’s not like they are saying this mass our of the kindness of their hearts. This isn’t an act of community service. We’re paying for the mass. Us! Our money! But the Catholic Church is all about making money. They were capitalists before capitalism was even a thing. For them the bottom line is cash. It always has been. Seriously though, why can’t both my son and I give a eulogy. Would an extra two minutes really hurt them? Have you ever gone to a Catholic mass? Have you ever sat through a homily? Priests can drone on for ages and say virtually nothing. They’ve put me to sleep numerous times. But I’m being told to keep my thoughts down to five minutes for my dead Dad. In all honesty, I don’t think I’d be able to write a long speech anyway. Well, I guess I’ve been eulogizing him now for nearly a years so yes, I could write volumes, but a eulogy requires speaking and Lord knows I won’t be able to get three words out without crying hysterically. I cried when I gave my grandfather’s eulogy and again when I gave one for my grandmother. She and I weren’t even close, and still I sobbed throughout the entire piece. Now, if my dad were here and I could ask him what his thoughts were, I guarantee you he’d say he would prefer a shorter homily and a little extra time for his daughter and grandson to say a few words. That would be most important to him. I know this because when my grandmother died no else in the family wanted to say anything about her. Dad thought someone dying and having no family member speak was awful. To have a lived a life where you didn’t touch anyone deeply enough for them to say something sentimental was dreadfully sad. So he volunteered me to do it. He’d definitely want to hear me and G3 — sobs and all. The priest is just the priest. Okay, I’m sure that was all blasphemous and sacrilegious and would earn me a stern talking to by anyone in the church, but it’s all true. Mom’s going to try to persuade them to let two of us talk if we promise to still keep it short. If they hold fast, like they always do, I’ll of course let G3 speak. He really wants to do this and I won’t take it from him. The Catholic Church would totally stomp all over the heart of a child, but I won’t.
And if the one person, five minutes, rules weren’t enough, the secretary went on to say that the eulogy must be written (or typed out). Before anyone can speak, the priest needs to look at it. Damn! I thought being censored by the Catholic Church ended when I graduated high school. This rule must be new because both times I eulogized my grandparents it was in the same church. And no one cared about what I was going to say. Or maybe the woman took one look at me, thought heathen, and decided I needed boundaries. Not that I’d ever say anything bad in church. Okay, maybe I would, but definitely not on a day that is supposed to be all about Dad. I wouldn’t embarrass him like that.
This evening, as I was helping mom with the dishes we started talking about G3 joining the Boy Scouts. Mom grew silent, her eyes glassy, and after a moment she said, “You’re father was really looking forward to camping with G3 and the Boy Scouts.”
I nearly dropped the dishes. “What? He hated camping with my brother. He complained about the cold and the fact that he couldn’t sleep all the time.”
“Yeah, but he knew how much G3 enjoyed their boys outings. He might not have gone every time. But if they still had the father and son camping trip, he definitely would have done it.”
And I couldn’t stop the tears, because G3 would have loved it if his grandfather had gone with him. He heard the stories. He knew how much grandpa grumbled, and therefore his presence would have meant that much more. But alas, god — if there is a god — refused to allow it to happen. My son has been robbed of so much.
To think, the church would now deny him a two minute eulogy on top of everything else. As I said, the church was never in the business of compassion, only the business of making money.
I have reached my breaking point. I am completely falling apart. The last time it was March and I was writing, Dad was dying. Since last year, COVID had taken:
My Mother’s Happiness
I think losing any one of the top three would have put my over the edge, but combined, it’s too much. And no matter where I look, no matter where I go, there are constant reminders. There is no escape. Memories of Dad’s death are everywhere, and the virus is still very much in news, still very much a part of everyday life. And I can’t escape. I can’t go anywhere because no job means no money. I can’t even get in the car with my son and just drive for a week or two to escape the world, and the crush of my emotions. I can’t afford hotels, or gas, not to mention entrance fees to places that G3 would love to see. As for my health, every time I go for a walk I’m reminded that my lungs have taken a major hit. I used to be able to hike for hours, now I walk up one hill and I’m huffing and puffing.
Earlier in the week, my son had his first virtual Boy Scout meeting. He found this acceptable because he is able to keep himself on mute and the camera off. It’s like he isn’t even there, except he can hear everything. New parents were asked to dial in as well so that we could attend the orientation. The man running it said he hopes some of us would consider being leaders or helping out when possible. The catch is volunteers are asked to pay an extra fee. Yeah, the parents who what to be involved, the parents who are willing to give their time for their child are asked to pay more money than the parents who rather maintain a hands off approach. My anger surged. I was infuriated. COVID stole my job. I am unemployed. I have no money — none, zero, zip. But I have time. Yet, in order to participate there is a fee. Why isn’t this fee passed onto the boys whose parents refuse to volunteer? Maybe since they don’t want to be bothered giving their time, and they expect others to do for their kids, they should pay a little more money. Yes, my anger was a bit extreme. The first sign this week that I have reached my breaking point.
When I got off the phone, after I put my son to bed, I wanted so badly to talk to my father. He had gone on Boy Scout trips for years with my brother. And it would have been really cool to talk to him about it. But he’s dead and so I cried. I cried so much I couldn’t even write. And that night I barely slept. Every time I started to drift off to sleep, I found myself trying to get to my dad. I’d call and the line would disconnect. Or I’d get in the car and traffic would completely stop. I couldn’t get over the bridge. All night, I continuously woke myself up frantic that I couldn’t get to Dad. The next day, I was cranky and miserable because I was so tired.
What infuriates me most are the people who are whining that they can’t go to the movies, or have a wedding reception, or hang out in their favorite bar. How dare they complain about missing things for a year, when what I’ve lost I’ll never regain? I’m also infuriated by the the push to open schools. Parents are pissed off that schools are closed, they are bitching about the fact that they have to watch their own kids. Seriously, how goddamn selfish can you get. You don’t want to be bothered with your kids so you are pushing teachers to work in unhealthy conditions. Maybe parents should be forced to spend a few hours in a COVID ward in the hospital. Perhaps that would give them an indication of how awful the virus can be. Instead of complaining, they should be happy that the pandemic hasn’t killed anyone in their families, grateful that they get to spend more time with their children. Why do parents act like they are getting punished when they have to babysit their own kids. If they hate caring for their own kids so much, why did they have them in the first place? And it’s only a year. Soon things will bounce back to they way there were. Soon, peoples’ lives will resume, return to what they once were. At least people who were lucky, those who aren’t grieving or living with the debilitating effects of COVID.
When the pandemic ends, my lungs won’t automatically start working properly again. My father won’t resurrect so that he can keep his promise and take my son to Disney. Maybe I’ll find another job, but it may take awhile before colleges start hiring adjuncts. If all you really want is to go see the next Marvel movie in the theater and then grab a beer with friends, I think you can wait. Waiting won’t kill you. Eventually, it will happen.
But some states are saying, “Fuck you world,” and lifting their mask mandates while doing away with all restrictions. People are going to die. I can’t tell you how much this irresponsible and selfish behavior pisses me off. Thanks to Trump’s lies, my father never had a chance to protect himself. And now, we know how deadly the virus is but Texas and Mississippi are say, “We don’t care if you die. We only want to make sure you have the freedom to go out and get that cold beer while teachers provide the free daycare you are literally willing to kill for.” Yep, parents, you are literally willing to kill in order not to have to care for your own kids. What a messed up world we live in.
And if I haven’t lost enough already, yesterday, I started packing up my room in the Mattituck house. That’s been my room, my space, my happy place for thirty years. I found tee shirts from high school, letters from college friends, a card from my ex-boyfriend. From the wall, I took the parchment painting my parents bought me in Egypt less than a year before Dad died. There are so many memories tucked into the crevices of that place. So let me revise. COVID has taken:
My Mother’s Happiness
My Summer Home/ My Sanctuary
I won’t ask if things can get worse. That question only welcomes disaster.
This afternoon, my son and I drove to Queens to spend a couple days with Mom. When we got here, she asked me to please upload the pictures from Dad’s camera. Pictures from the trip that killed him. I had to rummage in his desk drawer for a cable to connect the phone to the computer. Part of me hoped I wouldn’t find one. But I did. And as the pictures uploaded and I saw my dad smiling and happy in Patagonia I cried again, tears forming puddles on the kitchen counter.
And of course my son and my mother still can’t seem to get along. They get on each other’s nerves leaving me — constantly — to have to mediate between them, and I’m tired it. I don’t have the energy because as I’ve already said, I’m done. I’ve hit my breaking point and I can’t take any more. I am completely crushed.
My son loves the stars. He enjoys going to the beach at night in the summer, and pointing out the constellations he recognizes. There are just a few he knows, and sadly, I’m not much help. Unlike my son, I’ve never been interested in astronomy. But for his sake, I try. One year for Christmas, his grandparents bought him a telescope, and so I set it up for him so that he can stargaze. Still, I’m not entirely sure how the telescope works — beyond pointing and looking — or what’s he looking at when he focuses on a particular bright spot. Even Venus and Mars look like stars — to me. Still my son enjoys exploring the heavens. And maybe at this juncture in his life that’s enough.
Last summer, we went to Michigan for summer vacation. While camping in the Upper Peninsula, and then in Northern Wisconsin, we spent a great deal of time outdoors at night. The sky — unless it was cloudy — was brilliant. Without the presence of light pollution — street lamps, excessive headlights — the stars seemed infinite. My son and spouse spent countless hours sitting around a campfire marveling at the stars and even contemplating the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe.
Along with astronomy, my son enjoys reading and learning about mythology. It all started several years ago when he devoured the Percy Jackson books. They introduced him to the Greek gods and his interest in mythology exploded, expanding to encompass other cultures and religions.
When I asked G3, last month, to select a new research topic he immediately chose stars. But stars is a broad topic. As he started to look for online sources at the library, he narrowed down his topic to study where astronomy and mythology intersect. What role does mythology play on the interpretations of our sky?
Surprisingly, my son doesn’t grumble about doing research papers. Sure he grumbles about practically every other assignment I give him, but research doesn’t stress him out. In fact, he went so far as to say, “I really like writing this paper.” I smiled. That’s a huge win. Not only because it makes me happy, but because doing research and writing research papers is a useful skill. Reading articles and extracting information, taking notes, and compiling it all into a cohesive essay are skills that aren’t focused on nearly enough in middle school and high school. And if he’s enjoying it, even a little at this stage, school will be that much easier for him as he gets older.
The most challenging aspect for him at the moment is finding material because his reading level doesn’t match his interest level. Sure he’s reading is where it should be for fifth grade, but he wants to know things on a deeper more intricate level than is available for middle schoolers in the database.
Oh and I think he really wants to be British because he refuses to spell color like an American. So the misspelling is intentional. Hey, there are bigger battles to fight. I’m not getting caught up in a war over a ‘u.’ It’s totally not worth it.
You can read his essay about constellations here:
Myths and Stars
In what way do giant gases heat and energy collided with stories of old? Stars make constellations which are pictures of the stories found in myths. Constellations are the basis of my research paper. To me, constellations aren’t just stars, they are stories to many people. The reason I wrote this paper was because I love myths and astronomy, so constellations are perfect for me. My favorite constellation is Orion, The Great Hunter, in Greek myths. He is the only constellation in the universe to have three consecutive stars.
Stars are giant balls of gas and dust. Over time, gravity pulls together a ball of gas and dust. It heats to more than 10 million degrees kelvin. Then nuclear fusion makes the ball so energetic it gives off heat and light. Some stars shine for billions of years. The sun is the only star in our solar system. Some stars began their light travel to earth millions of years ago.
A star can die one of three of ways. After a star has reached its main point in life, there are two paths to death.The first is that it becomes a white dwarf like Happy in Snow White. After the white dwarf stage, there is the black dwarf stage, then it just fades like Obi Wan Kenobi when Darth Vader killed him. The other path a star can take is it blows up. When it blows up it can be reborn into a neutron star or it can become a black hole.
All different stars have different colours unlike my mother’s mood which only has two —yellow for mellow and red for anger. The more colour a star has the cooler it is and it is likely to live longer. The less colour a star has the hotter it is and the more it is likely to live a shorter life. A blue star can be 100 time brighter than the sun. The sun is a yellow dwarf. In about 10,000 years, it will grow so large it will suck the in earth. Then it will become a white dwarf.
Before everyone had a GPS sailors used the stars as navigation. In the north, they used the North Star. In the south, they used the Southern Cross.
Stars are the constellation’s body. Myths are its soul. Ever since the first humans on Earth, people have looked into the night sky. When they did, they remembered their creation stories and their myths. The people thought they had proof of their stories and made more stories based on the stars. The ideas they had are now called constellations. Constellations depict gods and heroes from religions all over the world. Astronomers recognize 88 constellations.
In many religions, stars represent the home of gods or Heaven. Xilbalba, or the Milky Way, was a road to the afterlife according to the Mayan people. The Yakut people of Siberia thought that gods looked at them through the stars which they thought might be windows. In America, the Navajo thought that the Coyote threw a blanket of crystals into the night. This made the Milky Way. Villagers in the Pawnee tribe created their villages to look like constellations. Ursa Major, according to the Seneca people, is a great bear that is hunted by six men across the sky. Paiute people thought that the Moon was the stars’ mother. She ran across the night sky with them, but when day broke, the stars’ father — the Sun — came out and ate them.
Everyone has a connection with stars. Each month has a horoscope and each horoscope has a constellation. Since every birth is during one month or another, everyone has a horoscope. Every horoscope has a personality and some people think that is where a person’s personality comes from. Take myself for example. I was born in January so my horoscope is Capricorn. My traits, according to Capricorn, are nosey, reliable, and caring.
Now you see why stars and constellations are special too many people, including me. These stars made villages and back up stories of old.
“Stars” Gale Middle School Online Connection, Gale, 2020.
“Constellations.” Science Weekly, vol. 11, no. 13, 8 Mar. 1995, p. 1.
Blackwell, Amy H. and Elizabeth Manar. “Constellation.” UXL Encyclopedia of Science, 3rd ed., 2015.
Topash-Caldwell, Blaire. “Connected With the Sky: The Constellations of the Neshnabe.” Michigan History Magazine, vol. 104, no. 3, May-June 2020, p. 36+.
Wickersham, John M. “Stars. ” Myths and Legends of the World, Macmillian Reference USA, 2000.
Daddy, don’t go. Please, don’t go. Stay home and be safe.
I wish I could travel back in time. If I could, I’d go back one year and beg my father to cancel his vacation. It was exactly a year ago today that he and Mom flew down to Chile. They had been so excited about the trip. They had no idea that it would be the last one they’d ever take. They had no idea what the consequences of that cruise would be.
The concept of time travel is something that has appealed to people throughout the ages. Books and movies are written about it. My son and I have often talked about it. If he could go back in time he’d want to visit Ancient Egypt. Seeing the construction of the pyramids would be fascinating. He’d also want to experience the high class life of Victorian England. As for me, if I had been asked that question prior to 2020, I’d have liked to visit a Sioux village on the eve of westward expansion. Or maybe I’d go back further to join in a Viking raid. But as intriguing as history is, as much as I’d love to see it unfold first hand if only for a brief moment, if I were a given access to a time machine today, I’d set the dial for February 26, 2020. I’d sit my dad down and tell him that he was about to make the worst mistake of his life. I’d beg him to reschedule, insist that as gorgeous as Patagonia is, seeing it wouldn’t be worth all he’d end up sacrificing.
But even if I could make the trip, even if I could find my way through to the past, would he even listen to me? Would he simply have told me not to worry, that he would be fine, the same words he spoke to me the night before I rushed him to the hospital? Daddy, don’t go. Please, don’t go. How many times have I cried those words in my dreams? How many times have I woken up sad because he didn’t listen, because I couldn’t get to him in time? Even if I had the benefit of a time machine, there’s no guarantee I’d successfully convince him to listen.
It’s been more than ten months since he died, and yet, most days it feels as if the pain hasn’t lessened at all. Tears still catch me at the most random moments. I’ll be in the middle of folding laundry an image of Dad will pull into focus. Before I can stop myself, tears are dripping on my clean shirts. In the early morning when I walk, I still struggle to concentrate on my reading. Words jumble and blur when my eyes fill. And music, how many times am I singing along in the car only to hear my son in backseat, “Why are you crying?”
I think Dad’s death would have devastated me regardless of how he died, but the suddenness of it is what makes it nearly impossible to accept. Not only didn’t we have time to say goodbye, we didn’t have time to tick off any last minute items from his bucket list. And the bucket list wasn’t in the abstract, things resting somewhere in the back of his mind. They were activities planned and marked on his calendar. Disney was booked, as was universal. He couldn’t wait to go to another Mets game with his grandson. He also couldn’t wait to connect with cousins he hadn’t seen since childhood. But the dates came and went while we sat in isolation, dealing with a modified lockdown and the unexpected hole our lives. It’s as if our plans are suspended until Dad comes home — which he won’t. So every hint of the activities he intended to do makes me want to lash out at the world and the unfairness of it all. Why do some people get to resume their pre-Covid lives while I have to live with the emptiness and Dad’s unfulfilled dreams?
There was a time in my life when the first hint of spring made me smile. But lately, I want to shut my ears to the birds and ignore the melting snow. Spring no longer brings the anticipation of something better. It ushers in a period of mourning. A reminder that God can be cruel. Maybe if I pretend spring doesn’t exist, I can skip right to summer.
Lately, as spring beckons on the horizon, little things cause me to curl up inside myself. The faint scent of my son’s soap — the same soap my parents used, and therefore, the same soap I washed with while I stayed with Mom when Dad was dying — causes me to spiral. The smell instantly shoots me onto Mom’s couch where I sat, anxiety ridden, waiting for the doctor’s daily updates on my dad. The faintest whiff of grass carries me back to Queens and the local cemetery where the gravediggers worked overtime to meet the demand. And the warm air on my skin taunts me. I catch myself whispering a prayer only to realize Dad’s already dead.
In short, I time travel in snit bits every day, but the journey propels me back to the angst and pain, never to a point at which I could actually change the outcome. Three hundred and sixty-five days ago Dad was sitting on plane flying south. He had no clue that he’d never again see his grandson. The suitcase he packed, he wouldn’t live to unpack. The souvenirs he brought home he’d never get to enjoy. And the pictures he took are still in his camera. Dad never had the opportunity to upload them.
Part of me is still waiting for him to come home. Still waiting for this nightmare to end. Still waiting for Dad to take us to Disney because he always kept his promises — until he couldn’t. But what I want most is hug, just once more I want to feel the comfort of his arms. If only there were a time machine, even if I couldn’t convince him to stay, I’d at least be able to have one final embrace.
Two years ago, the breaks on my car died. The car was fourteen years old and it had served me well. But it was too dangerous to drive any more. I could have saved the car with new breaks and probably gotten thousands of more miles out it However, my part time job as an adjunct professor didn’t pay much. The paltry salary didn’t provide me with the luxury of being able to afford new breaks. My dad insisted on buying me a car. His generosity made me cry. I was too old to be getting handouts from my father, but too poor to turn it down. He tried to make me feel better by saying he was motivated by selfish reasons. If I didn’t have a car, he wouldn’t be able to see his grandson unless he drove into New Jersey. By accepting the car, I was sparing him the misery of horrific bridge traffic and a visit to his least favorite state.
That summer, I planned to take my son to Quebec and Acadia National Park for summer vacation. We had little money, but with a tight budget and cheap lodging, I knew we could make it work. My spouse had her concerns. “Isn’t your dad going to be upset that you are spending money on vacation when he had to buy you a car?” Her question made me pause for a moment in an attempt to connect the dots the way she saw them, because in my family, we’ve always connected them differently. Vacation isn’t merely a time to rest and relax. It’s a time to explore, to learn about different places, to time travel by visiting historical sites, and to grow. “No,” I eventually answered. “Dad would be disappointed if we didn’t go away. He wouldn’t want G3 to miss out on any opportunities.”
I’ve often joked with people saying while I have several graduate degrees, I learned far more from traveling than I ever learned in school and backpacking cost me a fraction of what tuition cost. If I had just stuck to traveling, I wouldn’t be drawing in debt. Apparently, my son is also beginning to realize that learning outside the classroom is more enjoyable than simply learning from texts. When we reached the Civil War chapter in his history textbook he groaned. “Do we really have to read the book?” He asked. “You know I already know everything in the chapter.” Yes, he was being a smartass, but he wasn’t exactly wrong. If the textbook had gone into detail and explored the cause of the war and the battles more comprehensively it would have held his interest more. But he’s right, why waste time reading what you already know. So I offered a proposition. We’d breeze through the chapters and I wouldn’t make him outline or answer questions if he wrote an essay explaining why he found the text boring. He proceeded to contrast seeing a place with reading about it, and went on to explain that going somewhere will always be better than being stuck with a textbook.
So Dad was right. G3 proved it. Vacations, road trips, and weekend adventures are vitally important. Of course, we wouldn’t have been able to go anywhere or do anything without a working and safe car.
Anyway, here is G3’s essay on real life verses school:
Learning from a textbook is very boring compared to going to the actual place where history happened. In a textbook, you learn common facts. History is a string of names and dates but these names and dates need a story behind them. The story makes history fun because you get to know conspiracies and uncommon facts. Another thing that makes historical sites fun is the tour where you can ask a professional questions. In this paper, I will talk mainly about the Civil War sites.
Two years ago, during Christmas week, I was frog sitting for my class. I was disappointed because on Thanksgiving weekend we had planned to go to Harpers Ferry but that week it snowed, so we couldn’t go. However, after Christmas, my mom looked at the weather and said that it was going to be beautiful in two days. We could go to Harpers Ferry after all. First, we had to get someone to babysit the frog which we found easily. Next, we had to call my grandfather to tell him we were staying the night because the drive would be too long if we started at home. He lives in Delaware, half way between N.J. and West Virginia. I slept on a blow-up tempur-pedic bed at his house. When we woke up my grandfather was gone because he goes geocaching every morning. We ate bagels on the road and got to the destination in about an hour. When we got there, the first thing we did was go into the old town that looked like a boom town. The reason I say this is because there were two rows of buildings and a river with a large bank where people may have mined for gold, if there was gold. There wasn’t. After we explored for a little while we ate disgusting cold cut sandwiches. I hate the taste of cold cuts. Then my annoying mom — Mama — made us go for a hike.
On the way home, we saw a sign for Antietam Battlefield. When we came upon the exit, my other mom — Mommy — complained because she hates battlefields more than anything else. She hates them because she says it is just a field. She stopped because she did not want us to complain that we did not get to go. First, we listened to a ranger talk for information. She said that someone died every second during the battle. Then we took ANOTHER walk. We saw a monument that said more people died in this battle than The French and Indian War, The Revolutionary War, and The War of 1812 combined. Before we went home, I wanted to get a pocket watch but my moms disagreed. We got ice cream for diner. My grandfather let us spend one more night before going home to get the frog.
About eight months ago, my family was coming home from a four week road trip and we were driving through Ohio. It was annoying because there were so many president houses that we could not visit because of COVID. My mom in the passenger seat — Mama —did find out that we could go to Grant’s house. It was his birth home. A locket with his actual hair was in there. We found out that his childhood home was also close. We went thirty miles across beautiful terrain and later came upon the other house. In it, there were more artifacts and the guide seemed more knowledgeable. She told us Grant was pulled over for speeding his horse twice. His father was a leather maker so he grew up hating the smell of meat. By the time he died he was a vegetarian. The school was just fifty yards away. That would be the worst home in my life because I would be so close to school. There was a crazy Trumper across the road. I know this because there was a sign. This is important because he is racist but Grant fought to free black people.
Text books are boring compared to having fun at a historical place. A lot of people may say traveling and seeing historical places is boring, but if you go to places of historical value you can see where people died or where documents were written. This is exciting because you stand we’re famous people stood and you might look right at them years ago.
When I went to Washington D.C. I was really exited. I was dressed as Lincoln and older kids needed a photo of someone impersonating Lincoln. It was funny because they where depending on a six year old for a photo. We let them have it, then they moved on. First, I wanted to go to the Lincoln memorial. Then we went all around. It was hard for me with six year old legs to walk around a big city. We went to Fords Theatre where John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln and shouted Sic semper tyrannus at Lincoln. This means “thus always to tyrants.” It means bad shall always befall tyrants or in this case the north. Booth technically said the south is avenged. It is also Virginia’s state motto. After that we saw where Lincoln died.
If you read a textbook about historical events you may be board and in a cold school. If you go to the real place you can walk around, take photos, and eat. This is better because you are not trapped in a brick building but enjoying being outside. This way instead of falling asleep in class, you are making memories.
After you go somewhere you want to learn more about it because you want to learn all the facts. You want to learn more because you saw where history unfolded. For me, after I went to Grant’s, I wanted to read his biography. Even though I had to wait a few more minutes because we had to go to the bank to get money to buy the book. I also wrote a paper on Antietam the year I went there. I wanted to learn more because it was the bloodiest day in American history.
After I read Grant’s biography, I realized that Grant and Washington were alike. I made a connection not because I was told to, but because I went to both of their houses. They both made a new nation, they were generals of an army, and they became president. When I was at Antietam, I learned that the battle was the bloodiest day in American history which might be helpful on a test someday.
I hope some people now know history is fun if you see where it took place. For the people who hated school, textbooks may limit you but the world won’t. I hope I go to the Hermitage, Jackson’s home, soon because I have already seen the homes of Washington through J.Q. Jackson is next.
I didn’t want to teach today. I’m tired of teaching. No, that’s not true. I enjoy teaching G3, but I’m tired of constantly being the one in charge. All day, every day, I toggle between being G3’s mom and being his teacher. I’m constantly telling him what to do, what not to do, and getting frustrated when he doesn’t listen or when he complains. But can you blame him? I’m the only one issuing orders and giving commands. Is it really surprising that he doesn’t listen to me? He has never been a good listener. He’s never excelled at following directions. However, in the last couple of months it’s gotten worse. There are moments when it seems like he completely zones out when I speak, as if some internal device shuts down his hearing every time I talk. It’s not easy being two authority figures rolled into one. Last year, he could go to school and complain about me — his mom — to his friends, like every other kid. And then he could come home and whine about his teacher to me. Now, it’s just us. And the only one he can complain to about me, is me. Yes, when we’re home he has his other mother, but she’s been busier this year than ever before having to teach her students virtually and in-person. Even though we share the same living space, work takes up all her time, so even there, it’s mostly me and G3.
As much as I didn’t want to teach, G3 didn’t want to read or write or look at another math problem. He needed a break. And today was warm and sunny. The perfect sort of day to be outside. So I canceled school. I just didn’t want to make any decisions. I wanted to abdicate all responsibility and have fun. I wanted a few hours where I didn’t have to be a mom or a teacher. What G3 and I needed was time to forget the rules, to set aside work, and simply enjoy each other’s company. I know how you feel about school, and how you never approved of missing a day for anything — unless it meant G3 could spend more time with you — but it’s only February and G3 has already finished the fifth grade history textbook. He only has a chapter left in math and as for writing, he’s written far more than he probably would have in real school, so I promise you, he didn’t miss anything important.
We ate breakfast on the beach in Mattituck. I had an egg sandwich and G3 had a chocolate chip muffin. When we finished eating, we drove out to Greenport. We took a short hike in Arshamomaque Preserve. Have you ever been there? I don’t remember ever being there but my memory is far from flawless. There were still some patches of snow on the ground, but where it wasn’t snowy it was muddy. Since it’s still winter everything looked dead. The branches were all bare. There were no leaves, no flowers, no splashes of color anywhere.
After hiking, we walked around Greenport. The carousel was closed, though I’m not sure if it was closed because of the pandemic or because it was a weekday in the middle of winter. The ice cream shops were also closed. But the toy store was opened so G3 was able to pick out a couple of the rubber ducks — a leprechaun duck and a nutcracker duck —which he loves so much. While we were out, he suggested we look to see if there were any geocaches in the area. There were, so we picked up a couple. It was the first time either of us thought to go caching since the pandemic shutdown the entire world.
On the way home, late in the afternoon, I decided to detour to Nassau Point to pick up one final cache. Did you ever take G3 to Nassau Point? You took him everywhere, all over the North Fork, but I have no memory of you taking him there. I asked G3 if he had every been there with you but he just shrugged, “Grandpa took me to lots of places.” It’s really bothering me that I don’t remember. It bothers me even more that I can’t simply call you up and ask. It’s like there’s this missing piece to an important puzzle and if I don’t find it the puzzle will always look askew. When I look at it, I’ll only see the missing piece, even though that piece is so incredibly tiny compared to the entire canvas.
We picked up banana splits at Magic Fountain and then cuddled on your chair to watch Jumanji. I had never seen it before, even though you and G3 saw it together multiple times. The day must have exhausted him because he feel asleep earlier than usual. He had been read a Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but when I went in to check on him the book was open on his chest. I marked his page, kissed him good night, and shut out the light. Sometimes I wonder if he dreams about you, but when I ask, he’s always evasive.
On Saturday, G3 bridged over from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts. Due to the pandemic, and restrictions on indoor gatherings, they did not have a Blue and Gold Dinner. The Cub Scout master had a short ceremony for the boys outside at Duke Island Park. It was freezing and snow covered the ground, but the boys didn’t seem to mind. Before the ceremony, they were running around and throwing snowballs at each other. G3 had been looking forward to getting his arrow — representing the Arrow of Light — for months, and when he finally had it in his hands, he was all smiles. He and the other boys walked over the wooden bridge, but unlike in prior years, there were no Boy Scouts to greet them on the other side. The pandemic — and the need to keep the numbers low — kept them away
I cried when G3 crossed because I knew how much you had wanted to be there to see him. Two years ago — before we had any idea that a pandemic would sweep across the world and totally upset our lives — you told me that when G3 moved up to Boy Scouts I needed to get you and Mom tickets for the Blue and Gold Dinner. I probably would have gotten them for you anyway — if life had turned out differently. Damn, you hated driving into New Jersey. But you would have done it just to be there for your grandson. When G3 and I were discussing the event earlier this week and how badly you had wanted to be there, he said, “Even if there were tickets Grandpa wouldn’t need one. He’ll be there with me. I know he will.”
Since you couldn’t come, Mom came. We left Mattituck early and grabbed bagels for breakfast on the road. During the car ride, G3 spoke obsessively about his arrow, and Mom reminisced about when Middle Gary had his crossing over ceremony. Of course that reminded her of you which made her sad. We stopped in Queens so that I could take Mom grocery shopping. She didn’t plan to come back out to Long Island and I didn’t want her to be without food. Once she put the groceries away, we continued on to New Jersey. We got there with a little time to spare. Luckily traffic wasn’t too bad. In Jersey, Mom saw our new place. I think she liked it. She said it was a cute house, and commented that we had more room than in the condo. After G3 gave her a tour of the house she sat down in the living room and asked me to turn on the television. Lately, she can’t seem to function without the TV. Perhaps it’s because you aren’t here, and the constant chatter on the box makes the emptiness of your absence seem less oppressive.
My spouse drove to Duke Island. I was happy to take a break from the wheel. You know how much I dislike driving. Some of the boys wore their scout uniforms, other did not. G3 didn’t. After the move, I’m not sure where it is. No, that’s only partially true. His shirt is hanging in his closet, but I’m not sure where I packed his hat. Hopefully, we’ll unearth it soon. I didn’t think it really mattered that he wore jeans and a long sleeve tee-shirt. He was bundled up in a warm hat, jacket, and gloves. The group picture would have been nicer if everyone had been in uniform, but it was too cold.
Following the ceremony, we went back to our place and had pizza for dinner. We then got back in the car and returned to New York. I dropped Mom off at the city house and G3 and I continued on to the beach house. Luckily, again there was no traffic. I drove more than six hours only to end up where we started from. But it had been important to G3 and therefore, it was worth it.
I’m not sure when G3 will actually join Boy Scouts. He hates all things virtual, and the weekly meetings are held virtually. But the scouts are meeting more frequently now in-person on Saturdays. Initially, G3 said he wanted to wait until the pandemic was over. Wait until he didn’t have worry about Zoom. But now I think he is reconsidering. Seeing his friends on Saturday reminded him of how much he misses being with kids his own age.
It snowed in Mattituck today. The snow began falling as we started our morning homeschool lessons. By noon, the snow must have been three or four inches deep — light and fluffy. I promised G3 that as soon as he finished today’s classes we could go outside to play. You know how much he enjoys the snow. Unlike most days, he flew through the material with only a few minor complaints. He’d be thrilled if I just skipped math a couple of times a week. I suppose that’s my fault. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t generate the same enthusiasm for numbers that comes naturally to me for the humanities. But it’s too important not to do, and so we muddle through together.
When we finally got outside, shortly after lunch, G3 helped me shovel the driveway. He worked hard and it didn’t take us long at all. But once the work was complete, he was disappointed. The snow was not good for packing which meant no snowman. It also wasn’t good for a snowball fight. He plopped himself down into the snow, “I wish we could go sledding.”
I know. I wished I could take him sledding also. But we didn’t have a sled here and I didn’t know of any hill that I could take him to, which is why I didn’t think to pack a sled in the first place. “How about we take a walk,” I suggested.
“You know I hate to walk,” he grumbled.
“Yeah, but it’s better than sitting around feeling sad. Besides, I’ve never seen the inlet on a snowy day.”
Begrudgingly, he joined me. The inlet was pretty outlined in snow. The water was partially frozen, though not thick enough to walk on. I brought my camera — no surprise there — to take some pictures. G3 rolled his eyes as always. The walk to the inlet is short. It didn’t take long to get there and back and since I didn’t want to go inside just yet, I suggested we keep on walking to the preserve. G3 threw his arms up into the air and sighed, “Only you would be crazy enough to want to hike in the snow.” But again he came with with me. We followed the tracks of a snow mobile for awhile until we came across some blazes and decided to follow them instead. It wasn’t long before G3 broke from the trail. “Follow me,” he commanded. I might have been worried about getting lost, but our tracks in the snow clearly marked our way.
And it was there, wandering off trail down a hill, that G3 found an old discarded blue sled half buried in the snow. With a shout of surprise, he pulled it free, “Yes!” He looked at me, expecting, I suppose, me to tell him to leave the sled alone. Instead, I pointed to the hill we just walked down, “Go ahead.”
“Really!” He seemed more surprised that I was encouraging him than that he found the sled.
He raced up the hill, sat down on the sled, and came zooming down, powdery snow spraying him in the face. When he came to a stop, he looked up into the heavens, waved, and said, “Thank you Grandpa for the sled.” And then he took off, running up the hill again.
Later, as we were walking home he told me, “Grandpa always gives me what I want. He knew I really wanted to go sledding. So he led me to the hill where he had a sled waiting.”
He knew you well. You really did make him happier than anyone else. But was it you who found a way to get him that old sled? Or was it a coincidence? G3 would give you credit either way.
I had planned to pick Mom up on Saturday to take her to Mattituck, but she was having a mass said for you on Sunday — the ten month anniversary of your death — and she wanted to go. So I told her I’d pick her up on Sunday instead. Since we were going to be home on Saturday, G3 competed in another virtual taekwondo tournament.
The tournament rings are small compared to what they used to be for live tournaments. Virtually, there have been anywhere from four to seven boys, whereas when they were live, there were sometimes twelve or thirteen kids competing. Considering the region is comprised of the entire Eastern part of the country, I expected there to be more interest. But I supposed most kids like sparring best, and since you can’t spar virtually, those kids have opted not to participate. G3’s strength has always been in forms. He has a natural rhythm and a memory for detail that has always impressed me.
Since interest in the the online tournaments is paltry, G3 has competed against the same boys each week. One boy — a second degree black belt while all the other boys are first degree — has repeatedly placed first in both forms and weapons. It has been a source of frustration for G3 that the same kid wins all the time. I told him complaining about it wasn’t going to change the situation. If he wanted to beat the kid, he had to practice harder.
On Saturday, we got to the taekwondo school early and I made sure G3 warmed up. When he is warm, his kicks are high and impressive. His balance is also better. In the last tournament, his warm up left much to be desired. This time, I got on the mat and warmed up with him. Then he ran through both forms — traditional and oh-sung-do (one handed sword). He was ready.
As always, he was calm when he was called to perform. In contrast, my nerves were exploding. Did you ever get nervous before my games? I can’t believe that I get more nervous as the parent of a competitor than I ever got when I was competing. Anyway, G3 did well enough to tie for first. It was a three way tie — G3, the kid who always placed first, and another boy. In the tie breaker, G3 place second. He was ecstatic that he finally beat the second degree. When he stepped off the mat, he walked up to me, his smile reaching into his eyes. “Grandpa was definitely with me in spirit today,” he said. “I beat him because of Grandpa.” I laughed and cried. I’m glad he felt your presence, but oh how wonderful it would have been if you could have been there, watching on zoom. He would have loved to have you celebrate with him.
After taking second in traditional forms, he placed third in weapons. I think he needs to work more on building up the strength in his arm. If he can wield the sword with a firmer hand, I think he will do even better. But what do I know.
Today is a doubly bad day for Mom. Not only does it mark 10 months since Dad died. It is her first Valentine’s day in nearly 50 years without him.
Ten months! I can’t believe he has been gone that long. It still feels so unreal. I’ve been watching WandaVision with my son. A few months back I promised him I’d watch all things Marvel with him. Marvel movies had been something he and Dad shared — oh how they both loved their boys outings. Not having his movie buddy was only one of many voids Dad’s absence has left in my son’s life. I knew I could never replace Dad, but I could try to fill that void, even a little. When I started watching the movies with him, I expected it to be painful. I’ve never been interested in superhero movies, but by the third Iron Man, or maybe it was the second Thor, I had to admit the movies had begun to suck me in. It was no longer, I’m doing this for Dad. It was more like, Oh, what can we watch next? So when we heard about WandaVision, I was just as excited as my son to see it. The first episode disappointed me. At first I liked the fact that it was a spoof on TV from the 50s, but the harder I tried to see how it fit in the Marvel Movie universe the more puzzled I became. The second episode puzzled me more. But by the end of episode three I was captivated. The idea — spoiler here, so if you haven’t seen it and don’t want me to ruin it skip to the next paragraph — of Wanda creating an alternate world to bring back first her dead boyfriend and then her dead brother is crazy. Something I never would have bought into in my pre-Marvel obsessed life. But watching it on the heels of Dad’s death has been very unsettling. For several nights now, I’ve been unable to sleep. I doze for awhile but end up having bizarre dreams. I don’t remember the details, only shadows, images of Dad and trying to reach him but not being able to. I wake feeling horribly sad and lonely. Then I lay in bed unable to fall back to sleep, and when my alarm goes off I struggle to find the strength and motivation to get up.
Every year on Valentine’s Dad — or on the weekend preceding it — Dad took Mom out to dinner. They would often go to the Porto Bello Restaurant out on Long Island, one of their favorites. Today my son said, “We should take Nona out for dinner.” Yes, we should, but due to Covid I’m out of work. I can’t take someone out to eat with no money. Plus, Covid. We can’t go out to eat when doing so isn’t safe. But at least the weather cooperated today and allowed me to drive across state lines so that she didn’t have to be alone.
After picking up Mom in Queens, we drove Mattituck. Mom has been worried about the house. Between us moving and all the snow we’ve gotten, I haven’t been able to get out here sooner. But it’s a bittersweet visit. Mom has decided she is definitely selling the house. She feels awful about it. Dad loved this house and it’s full of so many wonderful memories. But she doesn’t drive, and as she told a neighbor, “I can’t rely on my daughter to bring meout here all the time.” Damn that hurt. I’ve tried to be extremely reliable. But I can’t drop everything all the time. And once my son is back in school, and his extracurricular activities pick up, getting out here monthly would become more of a challenge. Tomorrow, I’m taking mom to Home Depot to buy boxes and packing tape so she can start packing up the house.
Before reading with my son tonight, he asked me to mark his height on the door frame. He’s grown quite a bit this year — two inches since the early part of the summer. As we were studying the marks, I pointed out the last time he and Dad were here together. Out of curiosity, I measured the distance between then and now — three inches exactly. He has grown three inches since November 2019. Three inches since they both sat at this table together. Three inches since they cuddled in the reclining chair together. “Oh no,” my son said, looking directly at me. “You’re not going to cry are you?” Too late. I was already crying. Those three inches mark so much absence, so much loss, so much that Dad has missed. But I know my son still thinks about him because this morning he told me, “Grandpa’s ghost always kisses me goodnight.”
As you already know, my son begrudging read Born A Crime by Trevor Noah for English class. He rebelled against it. He didn’t want to like it, but his laugher, as he read, told me that he didn’t quite hate it as much as he wanted to. Not even close. When he finished the book, he asked me if there was a sequel. He was ready to buy it immediately and dive right into it. When I told him there wasn’t one, he looked crushed. “Maybe I should write him a letter,” he mused aloud. “If he knows how much I liked the book, maybe he’ll write another one.” And so, he sat down at his computer and started typing. He’s going to mail the letter tomorrow. But I’ll let you all read it first:
Dear Trevor Noah,
Hi, my name is G3. I am 11 years old and I have just read your book. My mom is homeschooling me this year due to the pandemic. My favorite things to do after school are archery and taekwondo This year, I have read The Hobbit, Christmas Carol, two Edgar Allan Poe short stories, “The Little Match Girl,” and Born A Crime. My mom thought I had to have more diversity than only dead white men. That’s why we read Born A Crime. To be honest, I thought it would be boring, but by the end of it, I wished there was a sequel. My mom did have to scratch out a few words. She did this because the content was inappropriate. After reading the book, I wrote an essay about how education is a tool for racial oppression. In the chapter “The World Does Not Love You,” I found it interesting that the police pulled you over because you are mixed. Since my mom is addicted to CNN (explicitly top of the hour) I see the same thing going on in America today. One example of this travesty is George Floyd. It is sad people are still judged by the color of their skin.
My favorite scene in the book is when you pooped on a piece of paper and your mom thought it was a demon. It just boggled my mind that people would even consider that a demon pooped in their trash. My other favorite scene was when you were finally at the Matrix Dance and your date did not speak any language you knew. My question for you is: how did you never have a conversation with your girlfriend?
I found it interesting how you made your book funny but also serious. I initially thought I was just going to learn about your life, but in the end, I learned all about Apartheid. One fact I found interesting was how people had more jobs during Apartheid than they did after. The one thing I found most interesting was not clearly stated. Apartheid was worse than slavery. In America, slavery is taught like it was the worst thing that could happen to black people. American children never learn that Apartheid was much worse. I say that because slavery was part of Apartheid.
My mom’s friend has a little house in the back yard and she lets us use that for homeschooling. It looks very much like a hippie style apartment. There is a little table and floor cushions. There are Indian type pillows and a Buddha statue. They have a little guitar and drum. Sometimes after my home school lesson my mom and I climb up into the loft and watch your show. I loved when you made fun of Jarvonka. The reason I am allowed to watch your show is because that was the only way my mom got me to read your book, which I later loved.
I look forward to seeing more of your shows and I hope you write another book.
This afternoon, I tested for and earned my black belt in taekwondo. Oh how I wish you could have been here to watch. During my whole life you had been my biggest fan when it came to sports. You were always there in the stands cheering me on. Just knowing you were there, standing in my corner always made me feel important, as if I could succeed at anything. Last year, when I decided to get back into taekwondo, when I realized I could no longer live with the regret of not having finished what I started in Korea, you were excited me for me. At the time, I had no doubt that you’d be there watching me test, no doubt that when it was over you’d be here to celebrate with me. And if you were alive, I’ve no doubt that you would have zoomed in to see the test. But your absence has made the experience bittersweet. I think I cried more today than I have since you died. When it was over, and Mr. Peterson tied the black belt with my name on it around my waist, I was crying. G3 noticed my tears and asked why I was crying. I told him it was because you weren’t there. My first athletic accomplishment in a post-Dad world.
I was so incredibly nervous this morning. G3 kept telling me to calm down, that I had practiced so much there was no way I could fail. But it wouldn’t have been the first time my anxiety defeated me. A catch-22 I suppose. Being nervous that my nerves were going to cause me to stumble or completely forget my form, or not break the boards. I marvel at how calm G3 is during the testing. (He midtermed today and also passed.) Nothing seems to rattle him. But he’s also used to competing, and in the ring during tournaments, the standards are much higher.
Due to the pandemic, two of the kids testing for black belt had to use the bag during the sparring portion of the test. I was lucky. I got to spar G3. He went easy on me, although he did kick me in the head once. I think he enjoyed that. It’s not every day he gets to beat up his mother and not only get away with it, but also earn points for doing it. You’d have gotten a good laugh at it. More than that, you never would have let me live it down. G3 and I also got to partner up for the bahng-mahng-ee techniques. Doing the disarms is so much easier — and more fun — when you aren’t trying to disarm an imaginary opponent.
I didn’t do my form as well as I had hoped. I lost my balance a couple of times. And according to my score sheet, my technique needs work. Also, on both my form and the bahng-mahng-ee, I lost points for lack of rhythm. Oh yes, you would have laughed at that too. You always made fun of me for having absolutely no grace. Again, that’s something G3 outshines me in. His performance is much cleaner and sharper than mine will ever be. The forms are like dancing, and you know how poorly I dance.
As for the boards, I crushed them both on my first try. I knew I had the power, that was never a question. I knew I would break the board with my hand, it was the aim and balance of my kick that I was worried about.
When kids earn their black belts, the instructor asks the parents if they’d like to say a few words. Since I’m not a kid, he asked my spouse if she’d like to speak. However, she thought G3 would like to say something about me instead. He began, “When my mother first started, I wasn’t even an idea.” I laughed. He was correct. The first time I stepped on a taekwondo mat it was 1996, right after I graduated college. My joints were better, my muscles not so easily pulled or injured. Physically, so much was easier back then.
After the testing, we went out for ice cream to celebrate. I thought of you. So often you used to take me out for ice cream after a big athletic victory. We went to a place in Somerville. It’s not nearly as good as Eddie’s Sweet Shoppe, but it is one of the few places open around here in the winter.
When I first re-embarked on this journey, I intended to only go to classes until I earned my black belt. That’s all I wanted to do. Put that one huge regret to bed. But I’m sure you are not at all surprised that I now plan to continue. I enjoy it too much, but more importantly, I enjoy the bonding with G3. I know you understand that. I’m looking forward to G3 helping me learn the first degree form.
Last year, while you and Mom were on that fateful cruise in South America, the founder and editor of Ovunque Siamo — an Italian-American Literary Journal — asked me to be the book review editor. It’s a non-salaried position, but an honor to do it. I was excited and I accepted the position. I couldn’t wait to tell you and Mom, but I wanted to wait until you were home. On vacation you were off having fun, and when we Facetimed — as you passed through the Straits of Magellan — I wanted you to be able to tell G3 all about your adventures. (I can still see you sitting by the window with your arm around mom. Both of you were happy, having a brilliant time. It was the last time I saw you smile. The image will forever remain embedded in my memory.) I figured, my news could wait until I saw you again in person. I was wrong. When I saw you again you were dying. My news seemed inconsequential.
For the first few months in the position, I was incapable of doing anything. My every moment was absorbed with thoughts of you. But slowly, I’ve been able to get back to doing other projects. For the latest issue of the Ovunque Siamo, I even wrote a book review. Remember how much I hated writing as a kid. I’m not sure what I detested more, reading or writing. And when I had to do both, the result was explosive. Book reports were definitely the bane of my existence. Each one caused me so much anxiety. And now, I enjoy writing reviews, which when you think about it, are a grown-up book reports. Oh the temper tantrums I threw when I had reading or writing homework. I know, G3 definitely gets it from me. But now, if I can’t find time in my day to read and write I’m cranky. I can’t live without words. It’s incredible how things change.
If you are interested, you can read my review of Mike Fiorito’s Falling From Trees here:
Writing essays is boring. My son makes that declaration at least once a day, if not more. I admit, I have put far more emphasis on writing than most teachers. There are several reasons for this. The primary one being, I am a writer. I enjoy the process of expressing myself through words and I think it’s important for any child’s development. No matter what field my son decides to pursue, writing will help him excel — especially if he does it well. Also, I have only one student which gives me the luxury of being able to work with him one-on-one every day. I’ve been able to help him organize his thoughts, and figure out how best to convey them. When his drafts are complete, I can read through them thoroughly making detailed comments which I can then discuss with him in even more detail. No teacher with a room full of eleven year olds has time to invest that much effort in each student. There aren’t enough hours in the day.
We are only half way through the school year and already he’s produced more work than he ever has before in a year’s worth work. He’s written a research papers, comparison papers, personal narratives, persuasive essays, and a book review. So when he asked, “Can we please do some fiction? Can I please write a short story?” I didn’t object. I promised he could have as much time as he needed to draft a story and then we’d go from there.
His first draft blew me away. If his short story had been written by one of my writing peers, I might have pulled it apart more. I might have made him dig deeper and explain more. But he isn’t an adult with a degree in writing. He’s an eleven year old boy. The last thing I want is to discourage him. But I made some comments, asking him to add more detail or explain a few things that I found unclear. I also had him edit some of his grammar — sentence structure, commas, capitals, word choice, apostrophes. No matter how many times I review it, the kid can’t seem to remember to use an apostrophe to indicate possession. It’s a minor problem, but if I lose my sanity by June you’ll know why.
I admit, I’m completely biased. Not only am I his teacher, but I’m also his mother. However, I’m more than a little impressed by his first venture in the world of short stories. His eye for detail is incredible. I know adults who struggle with adding this level of detail to their stories. After reading his work, I think it’s clear — when you take into consideration the age/experience difference— who the better writer is in the family.
The inspiration behind this piece is a toy wooden horse that used to belong to my brother when he was young. My mother saved many of mine and my brother’s favorite toys in the hopes that she would one day have a grandchild. My son inherited everything and when he visits her he still pulls out the old toys. While on a recent trip, he rediscovered the horse and spun this story around it.
You can read “The Wooden Horse,” here:
The Wooden Horse
There once was a boy named Charlie. He lived with his mother in a one room shack in London. In that shack was the boy’s only possession, a wooden horse. He was not made from walnut or oak but a simple pine log. His name was Pine for his wonderful scent. Its eyes were just little holes in the wood. For the man who made the eyes was far too lazy to make the two separate. Mane? It had none, only little wavy slits on the left side of the neck. There were only three legs. One had broken off. This was it. A pine horse with three legs. This horse was the boy’s heart and soul. The horse also loved the boy because he always had someone to play with and put him to bed. His favorite game to play with Charlie was where Pine would “fly” and make sure all the ants of London would be safe. Charlie loved the horse and said so. But the horse could never tell Charlie he loved him in return. Pine could barely see the boy. If you remember, the eyes were just small holes in the wood.
Every time the boy and his mom were out, the horse would wander around the shack. Once, he found a thing with very large leaves with verses and stories. Late one night, he heard the mother tell Charlie to get his best clothes to go to a Christmas Eve sermon. The horse did not know what Christmas Eve was but the boy looked happy, so it must be good. This also meant the horse could snoop around the shack more. Not long after the boy and his mother left, the horse stumbled on a box with a sliding door. In it were sticks with red ends. On the front of the box it said “Strike against side.” The horse guessed that meant to strike one of the small sticks on the side of the box so that’s what he did. He grabbed one stick in his mouth and swiped it on the side of the box. Right when he did, a red orange and blue demon came out dancing from the end of the stick. The demon turned to him and said, “I have not long to live.” He said this with an evil cackle, and yet, his voice seemed true. “I am Monsieur Faiseur de Souhaits and I make wishes come true. Ahhh what is your wish Monsieur Cheval.” There was a break in their negotiating. The reason for this was, just like anything else, you would take this to heart and think. Finally, Pine replied, “I wish I was able to… talk.”
“Oui, Monsieur,” and with that he vanished, leaving only a trail of smoke.
That night, the wooden horse saw Charlie come home with a small box shaped present wrapped in newspaper that his mother got him. “I want to open it tomorrow on Christmas day,” he told his mother. He put it under their Christmas bush which was decorated with scraps of old clothing. On the following day, the horse and his boy slept late because they had stayed up late.
Pine woke before Charlie. He wanted to see what was in the newspaper so he nudged the boy slightly to wake him. Charlie slowly got up. It was obvious he was still tired because he was yawning and rubbing his eyes.
When Charlie opened the present, the wooden horse could not believe his eyes. There stood a four legged, polished oak wooden horse. Was this the demon’s plan, “Let me be able to tell the boy I love him but think that Charlie loves the other horse better?” Now he was just too timid to try talking. The boy smiled at his mom, as if saying thank you. “I am going to name you Oak,” Charlie said in a caring voice. “What.” Thought Pine. “He used the same idea for his name that he did for mine.” As he thought this, Charlie ran out the door to play with his new toy (even though it was freezing) not even remotely thinking about Pine. The last thing he saw of Charlie that day was through a window and Oak was the one saving the ants.
That night, Pine thought only of the day’s events and of what had happened. Pine could not wait till the next time he could confront Monsieur Faiseur de Souhaits. This demon had conned him. He knew that Oak was made out of a better type of wood than Pine and that Charlie would rather play with a more expensive toy, one with four legs. Not a cheap three legged toy.
He could finally talk, but all that he ever wanted to say would be meaningless. Pine thought, if he tried to talk to Charlie, he would get scared. Jealousy overcame him and he wanted revenge. He was going to get revenge on Oak. He started to walk over to Oak who was laying on a nice bed of leaves. He never got a nice soft bed. He oh so regretted nudging Charlie awake to open the present. When he got over to Oak, instead of nudging him, he bit his ear. Oak gave a frightful neigh. “What was that for, Three Foot?” He neighed in reply. Instead of answering, Pine just swung his leg and hit Oak’s. This felt good for Pine, but he could barley feel a small pang of guilt as well. When he was done, there lay Oak’s front left leg right in front of pine. “I just wanted to wake you up before I broke your leg,” he explained.
When he got back to his wood chip bed all he could think about was when he could next talk to Monsieur Faiseur de Souhaits. He had heard Charlie’s mother say (at sun high that day) he should not be outside long because they have church tomorrow. Maybe that will be when I can confront Monsieur Faiseur de Souhaits.
When Pine awoke that next morning, he looked around from the shelf where he slept to see if anyone was home. No one was. He felt kinda guilty kicking Oak’s leg because he heard Charlie crying in the middle of the night. Charlie and his mother were probably at church. Since Oak wasn’t here, Charlie probably brought him along. At first, Pine thought this was good that he had all the time in the world to talk to Monsieur Faiseur de Souhaits. But then he thought, they could be back soon. So maybe I don’t have much time. He was starting to panic, but he knew he had to stay reasonable and think smart. The first dilemma was that it would take too long to walk down from the shelf. Instead, he decided to just roll out of bed, off the shelf, and onto the floor. This hurt, but he fell almost right to the box with the sticks with the red tips. He began to smell a slight burning smell, like the one he had smelled when he lit the first stick. All he thought of this was maybe someone outside was smoking a pipe. Pine looked out the window and only fifty tree lengths away was Charlie and his mother. He had to light the stick quickly. He took one out of the box and struck it against the side.
Out came the demon. He was glowing more than ever and his chuckle rang in Pine’s ears as Pine recalled his last wish and how he ended up becoming more lonely than he began.
“Ahh Monsieur Cheval, I see you have come back. I shall tell you that I only have one match left until you can never see me again, unless, of course, you find another way. What do you wish?
“I wish for you to go away forever and for me to spend more time with Charlie.”
I will go, but not forever. And with that, he vanished. When Pine looked out the window, he saw Charlie and his mother looking at the house as if they had seen a ghost. They began to run away. Pine looked behind him and saw that Monsieur Faiseur de Souhaits was on everything. Pine barely made it out of the shack alive, but he could never find Charlie. Pine could also not find a new friend until a small canine came and picked him up. As for Charlie? He and his mother lived in an abandoned house they found. Charlie played with Oak till the end of his childhood. One day, Charlie thought he saw dog with a small wooden horse in his mouth. And that just might have been the end of Pine’s story.
My son will always remember this move — the first night in his new home. Yesterday, after racing against the weather we settled in for the blizzard. Overnight, we got more than a foot of snow and when we woke up it was still snowing. I canceled school, giving my son a snow day and we utilized some of the time this morning to start unpacking. The place is a mess — boxes and bins everywhere. However, since we have no intention of staying here long (yeah, I know, we weren’t supposed to stay in the condo long either) we are not planning on unpacking everything. The first order of business is to decide what we need and what can remain boxed up.
We don’t have a stove or an oven which really sucks in the middle of snow storm. It’s not like we can go out to buy food, or even order take out. The new stove was supposed to be installed today, but due to the snow, it wasn’t. Our landlord brought over a hot plate, but there is only so much you can cook on one, especially when everyone in the family likes different food, and it’s not unusual that we have all four burners going at once. Since we knew this was going to happen, once we heard the weather forecast, we bought appetizer food — mini-hotdogs, pizza bagels, spanakopita, and taquitos — that we could easily cook in the toaster oven. Yesterday, we put it all in the freezer. This morning, we realized the new freezer isn’t working. Things were cold — but not frozen. And so we had to throw away all the food. We are angry. Not only did we throw away all that money, but we now have nothing to eat, except ramen. My spouse spent much of the afternoon on the phone with the landlord’s daughter (the landlord speaks little English) but with the snow, there is nothing they can do. The woman called to find out when the stove installation can be rescheduled and she was told not until February 9. That’s more than a week without being able to cook, which is completely unacceptable. We can’t live with nothing more than a hot plate between now and then. As for the refrigerator, the woman suggested we put our food out in the snow. Well that might keep frozen food frozen, but food that is to be refrigerated (because the refrigerator isn’t keep things cold enough either) will freeze. You can’t drink frozen milk. By the time this is done, we will be sick of ramen.
This afternoon my son and I went out in the snow. By the time we got outside, the snow had switched over to freezing rain and the wind was harsh. The only thing I really liked about our condo was the hill in the back. My son spent many wonderful storms sledding there. But here, there is no hill within walking distance. However, 7 Eleven is only a half a mile away. When we first looked at the place, my son said the one advantage to living here was that he’d be able to ride his bike to 7 Eleven on his own to buy a slurpee. Today, he decided it was close enough to walk as well, so he suggested that we walk together. Always up for a walk, I agreed. I thought, considering the wind, snow, and freezing rain he might want a hot chocolate or something else, something not cold. I was wrong. He walked in and headed straight for the slurpee machine. I chuckled but happily bought it for him. And he enjoyed every drop of it. But when we got home he said, “I don’t think I can play anymore. I’m too cold. I need a hot shower.”
My son asked if we are going to have a snow day tomorrow as well. I told him no. There’s no reason not to do some work. I did promise that if he worked diligently and didn’t spend the morning complaining or rushing through things (which is when he makes mistakes) we could be outside playing shortly after lunch. He grumbled, but I know him. If I gave him the day off, he’d spend some time in the snow but more time watching movies. I can’t, in good faith, give him time off to stare at a screen. Yes, in his words, I’m mean.
(I wrote this Sunday night but I am delayed in posting because we didn’t have cable until ten minutes ago.)
We moved. We finally got out of the toxic environment of our condo. I feel a sense of freedom as if I am no longer stuck. I’m still in New Jersey, and I’m by no means in my dream home, but it’s as if the glue has come undone. After years of being miserable, we’ve taken a step in the right direction. And we didn’t buy a place, we are only renting which gives me the sense of temporary that I need. Now, I can focus my energy on more good things coming to me in the future. In not being depressed, in no longer feeling suffocated, I can breathe and start believing in a better, more positive and optimistic tomorrow.
Last night, while we were packing up the kitchen, I came across a tiny bottle of liquor from Portugal. You must have brought it back for me when you and Mom took the Viking Cruise to Iberia. I don’t know why I never drank it. Maybe I was saving it for a special occasion. Well, moving seemed as perfect a reason as any to open it. So I did. I poured a glass and whispered a silent toast to you. It was good. I enjoyed it. Thank you.
This morning, we had to race against the weather. Thankfully, my spouse insisted on hiring movers or we never would have gotten here. The movers — three young guys — were fantastic. They were fast, efficient, and extremely personable. The lead guy amazed me. He took apart G3’s loft bed, the one for which we had to custom order the wood and assemble ourselves. We didn’t think it would ever come apart. But he did it without difficulty and then he reassembled it without directions as if he’d done it dozens of times before. The entire move took less than six hours. By the time they finished, the snow was coming down heavily. There was more than a coating on the ground.
Before we could even begin to unpack, we had to drive back to Bedminster to clean up the condo. They are doing the walk through tomorrow and we are closing on Tuesday — weather permitting, I guess. I had wanted to say goodbye to the neighbors we liked, neighbors who had been kind to us, but the weather forced us to flee before we could.
When we finally got back to Middlesex, our new neighborhood, it was well past five and the roads were getting slippery. Before we could settle down for the evening, we had to pick up some groceries so that we would have something to eat during the storm which is supposed to last all day tomorrow. The weather men are calling for up to twenty inches which has G3 very excited. You’ll be happy to know I canceled school for tomorrow. It’ll be his first day in the new place, with a backyard to build a snowman. If I made him do any reading, writing, or especially math, he’d never forgive me. After picking up food, we made one final stop at the liquor store. We can’t be snowed in without wine. But while we were in the store, I saw Gary’s Good Vodka. I’d never seen that brand — ever. It seemed a sign, if signs are a thing, because if you were ever going to send me any sort of sign that you were looking down and smiling, that you were happy for me, it would definitely come in the form of alcohol.
The minute me we pulled into the driveway, happy to be home, our neighbor across the street shot out the door and came running over to us. She asked if we needed a shovel or salt for tomorrow. We have both but we thanked her and she told us to let us know if we needed anything. I thought that was kind of her.
Earlier today, a friend of mine who lives less than a mile away, dropped off a care package. My son spotted it the moment we pulled up to the house. In the box was homemade bean soup, bread, and eclairs. Her note said she wanted to welcome us to the neighborhood and figured that after a long day of moving, dinner would be the absolute last thing we’d want to think about. She was right. It was late when we finally sat down to eat, but the food was delicious. Much needed after a long cold day.
G3 is super excited to have his own room. Finally, there are enough rooms for me to keep my desk in an office. I no longer have to invade his space when I want to work. In preparation for the move, he bought a lava lamp with his own money. He also used his own money to buy a beanbag chair. We ordered it from Amazon, but it won’t arrive for another week. He can’t wait for it to get here. As soon as we finished our errands for the day, he started setting up his room. The lava lamp is cool. It lets off a soothing reddish glow. One of the first things he pulled out was his cd player, the one you bought him two Christmases ago. On his dresser are all the lego figures you and he did together. He was so happy to have his own room — which by the way he calls his man-cave — that he put himself to bed early. As soon as he finished eating, he said goodnight and disappeared into his room where he fell asleep listing to classical music.
G3 competed in a virtual tournament today. I wish you were here. You and Mom would have been able to watch via Zoom. You don’t know what Zoom is. You got sick before it became a thing. It is a way for people to interact on-line. Mom is still learning the basics of technology so Zoom would confuse her. You would have been able to figure it out and you both would have enjoyed watching G3.
While we were waiting for the tournament to start, one of the instructors mentioned her grandfather and how he is still very much a part of her taekwondo life. I smiled as she spoke about him, but I was concentrating on not crying. Because you should have been able to be a part of G3’s life longer. You should have been able to watch him compete in more tournaments. By now, you would have understood enough of the sport that it would have made more sense to you.
G3 placed fourth in forms. He tied for third and for the first time he lost the tie breaker. He was disappointed not to medal. I think this might make me a terrible parent, but I believe losing might be good for him. When it comes to forms, he has a natural talent. It comes easy to him. And there are so many things he makes look effortless. But because it comes easy, and because he has become accounted to medaling, he doesn’t practice much on his own. He wants to compete. He wants to do well. Eventually, he wants to qualify for higher level tournaments, but he balks at putting in the extra time. Whenever I gently tell him that success only comes after hours of sweat and hard work he brushes me aside. If you were here, he’d listen to you. He always listened to you. Often you were the only one who could reach him. But you’re not. I can’t even call you up anymore to ask your advice on parenting. And lately, I sometimes feel like I’m floundering. G3 refuses to hear what I say. So I’m left thinking maybe a poor placing is what he needed. Maybe it will teach him the lesson I have been unable to teach him any other way.
However, after a not doing well in forms, he placed second in weapons. You would have been proud of him. In the last tournament he came in third, so this is an improvement for him. But all week, when I got him to class early and suggested he practice, he only practiced his sword form. So I’m hoping he begins to see a correlation between effort and success.
When I told G3 that I would be homeschooling him this year, he declared that for English class he only wanted to read classics. Great, I thought, until I really thought about it. The classics were written predominantly by dead white men. As much as I loved his idea, I couldn’t go against my own principles. We could do some classics, but diversity was too important to ignore. I decided we needed to mix it up a bit. I asked a librarian friend of mine to recommend some books written by people of color that my son might like. There were some incredible authors on the list she sent me, but one stood out: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. I had read it a few years back and really enjoyed it. Culture, history, comedy, and an incredible relationship between a mother and her son. There would be lots to discuss, much to teach. I immediately added it to my curriculum. The only real decision was: Do I read the original book or the modified young adult version. I had no doubt that my son could easily tackle the reading level, it was the content that concerned me. But he has seen rated R movies (at least movies that are rated as such due to violence or language) so I figured if he could hear all the bad words he might as well read them. As for the content that might not be age appropriate, that’s what sharpie markers are for.
Since it’s just me and G3, I don’t stress about lesson plans. I stay at least one chapter ahead of him in the reading to make sure he has a list of vocabulary words to define before reading the chapter himself. And there are questions to accompany each chapter. But otherwise, I take it all day by day. This is how I operate best. Even when I had a real teaching job. The only problem there was I had parents and administrators to deal with — people telling me what I could or couldn’t do and demanding lesson plans be formal and well thought out. But when you plan in advance, you can’t so easily pivot when a better idea strikes.
Early in the book, Trevor Noah discusses the difference between Mission schools and Bantu schools, highlighting the difference between English racism and Afrikaner racism. Reading about the Bantu schools reminded me of Fredrick Douglass’ essay “Learning To Read And Write.” Having taught it to my college classes, I knew it would be too difficult for G3 to digest on his own, so we read it aloud together. I was able to help him break it down, and understand exactly what Douglass was explaining throughout the piece. When we finished, I asked G3 to write a comparison between Bantu schools and eduction under slavery. He upped the ante. He wanted to be able to write not just about eduction, but about the men who defied the systems, so he asked me to buy him the Who Was biographies on Fredrick Douglass and Nelson Mandela.
The result is an essay about education and the way it has been used historically as a tool of oppression. You can read it here:
Unjust Educational Systems
Throughout history, black kids never got the same education as white kids. I will talk about slavery in America and Fredrick Douglass’s education. I will also talk about Bantu schools in South Africa and the African hero Nelson Mandela. Fredrick Douglass illegally learned to read and write. He changed many minds by using the knowledge he acquired to give lectures on how bad slavery was. Nelson Mandela learned in a Mission school were black kids were treated with some respect and got a better education. Nelson Mandela used this knowledge to overcome one of the worst tragedies in world history — Apartheid.
According to Trever Noah, Apartheid was slavery, America’s terrible treatment of Natives, and American segregation combined. During this time, there were public schools for white kids and Bantu schools for black kids. Bantu schools taught black people agriculture and how to be a servant. One reason for this is that Apartheid rulers didn’t want to teach them academics. The reason they never taught them academics was because under Apartheid they would never use these skills, and if they became smart, they could challenge the government. Full grown teenagers, if they were lucky, would learn multiplication in songs like this: “4×2=8, 3×2=6, fa la la la la la la.” Before Bantu schools, there were Missionary schools that taught black kids writing and reading. They were better than Bantu schools but worse than white kid schools.
Education under American slavey was harder for slaves then trying to make a chicken lay an egg from its mouth. The reason it was this hard was because it was illegal for slaves to learn. Reasons for this were: if they learned to read they could realize how bad slavey was or write their own pass. If they learned how bad slavery was they would want freedom and then run away. Since white people wanted to keep slaves, they made education illegal. This was almost like Bantu schools but worse.
When white men made education for slaves illegal and when other white men designed Bantu schools they knew if black men or women got too knowledgable they could overthrow the government. These systems were made to not let black people learn. Both systems were made by the white man to oppress the black man. The white man wanted to be superior and when you’re in power you make money. But each system was defeated and did not live to modern day.
At a young age, Fredrick Douglass wanted knowledge. Master Hugh’s wife, Sophia, began to teach him some letters and words. He was treated as a son. Mistress Sophia did not know that it was illegal to teach slaves and that you were supposed to whip and be cruel to them. Eventually, she did do this, but she had already given Douglass a taste of freedom and he wanted more. Every time he was commanded to run an errand, he would bring a book. He would finish the errand quickly, then go up to a poor kid in town and trade a piece of bread for a lesson. At night, when the master went to bed, Douglass would light a candle and read.
When he escaped, Douglass used what he had learned to change the world. Even before he ran away, he did his best to teach other slaves to read and write. He gave lectures in America and Europe about the effects of slavery. He even gave lectures about why women should vote! All the money he made went to Anna, his wife, so she could support the family.
Like Douglass, Nelson Mandela used his knowledge to make equality for black men and women. Before Apartheid, South Africa was ruled by England and had Mission schools that gave black children a better education than Bantu schools. Nelson Mandela learned in one of these Mission schools and with the knowledge he earned, he changed South Africa.
When Mandela was a lawyer in South Africa, he defended black men and women who were in trouble with the government for no reason. Nelson protested, and to not get caught, he disguised himself as different people. When he was in prison, his friends would travel the world telling people about Apartheid. Soon, no country did business with them. When he was released, De Kirk (the president of South Africa) and Mandela ended Apartheid and won the Noble Peace Prize. After prison, he became President in 1994. He donated much of his presidential salary to help poor kids who were struggling to have food and an education. He realized how important knowledge is.
Throughout history, the white man has taken away knowledge from the black man to oppress him. The white man was clever because knowledge is power and if the black men learned they could overthrow the government. A few people, such as Douglass and Mandela, actually learned and with their knowledge, they changed the government to make more just and fair societies.
You even see microcosms of inequality in education in schools today. The good schools have no diversity and the diverse schools don’t have the best academics. The reason I noticed this is because I am moving and I want to have diversity but also knowledge.
Douglass, Fredrick, “Learning to Read and Write.”
Noah, Trevor, Born A Crime. One World, 2016.
Pollack, Pam, and Meg Belviso, Who Was Nelson Mandela. Penguin, 2014.
Prince, Jones, April, Who Was Fredrick Douglass. Penguin, 2014.
This evening, I came home from the archery range and before plugging my phone in, I checked facebook. As I was scrolling, I learned that my dad’s cousin’s wife’s mother died this morning from COVID. I’ve only recently connected with Dad’s extended family, and only last month did I meet his cousin and his cousin’s wife via zoom. Though I never met the woman who died, the moment I read about it, I started to cry. There have been so many deaths since Dad died. So many lives that could have been saved if only we had a rational and caring government. And every time CNN does a tribute to someone who died I cry. With each death I relive Dad’s final moments. The awful way in which we had to say goodbye. Biden finally acknowledged the pain Americans have suffered, but nothing will bring back our loved ones. They can light candles from now until eternity, but the pain of missing will never go away. The sorrow, the holes left in our hearts will forever be there. For those of you who have been lucky enough not to be touched by this virus, those of you who haven’t had bury a loved one, can look at the number — 420,000 — and shake your heads and perhaps experience a moment of sadness, or even anger. But for me, every time I hear of someone dying, I see Dad. The hole in my heart gets ripped open again and I cry for my father, and in sympathy with everyone else who has lost a loved one.
Tonight, please keep my father’s cousin’s family in your prayers. And pray that this will all soon end.
Yesterday would have made you very happy. You would have enjoyed Biden’s Inauguration. I know how much you wanted him to be president. Five years ago, you were disappointed when he opted not to run for president. You were upset because you thought the DNC had discouraged him. “It’s a woman’s turn,” you told me. “The Democrats put a black man in office and now they want to champion a woman.” Maybe you were right. If that’s the case, they made a mistake. Hillary was too flawed. During the early days of the primary last year, we bickered over who should get the nomination. From day one you supported Biden. I thought he was too centrist, not nearly progressive enough. In the end, I voted for him. How could I not? It wasn’t even an option. He had to win. And despite the fact that he wasn’t my first choice, or my second, or even my third, ultimately, at this moment in time, he is probably the best man for the job. After the abuse America suffered under Trump, we need a leader who is compassionate and kind.
I wonder how you would feel about Kamala Harris being the vice-president. After the debate in which she went after him regarding his position on busing years ago, you didn’t like her. You were angry at her for being so vocal. So forceful. But Biden chose her as his running mate, therefore, he must have forgiven her. He must have seen something vital and necessary in her fiery spirit. I think, if you were here, you too would have cheered the election of our first female vice-president.
Before Biden was sworn in Jennifer Lopez sang “This Land is Your Land.” The moment they announced her, I started to cry. I know how much you liked her, and knowing you weren’t here to listen made me sad.
During Biden’s speech, he paused for a moment of silence, a moment to pray for all the COVID victims. By then I was balling. G3 looked over at me and rolled his eyes. It doesn’t take much to get the tears rolling and he loves to make fun of me for it. But the prayer was touching. Though my faith has slipped greatly these last ten months, I appreciated it. It means a great deal that Biden cared enough to think of you. Of course if you were here, I might not even have noticed the moment of silence.
After the inauguration, I read an article that said Biden replaced Andrew Jackson’s portrait in the Oval Office with Ben Franklin. I remember when Trump hung the picture of Jackson. G3 was only seven, but he and I had discussed the Trail of Tears enough that he knew Jackson was a bad guy. “If Trump likes him, that means Trump is going to be a bad guy too,” G3 observed. I think we all thought that. We — you, me, mom — knew he was going to be horrible. Four thousand Native Americans died on the Trail of Tears. A massive human tragedy. But I don’t think any of us thought Trump would end up killing 100 times that many people through his lies, neglect, and incompetence. And we certainly never even imagined that you would be among them. Now, Biden has switched out the villain for your all time favorite American. When I read the article, I reached for my phone. I so wanted to tell you. But before my fingers touched it I remembered that you are no longer here. Do you remember when you first told G3 that Ben Franklin was your favorite American? He got so upset. At the time he was maybe four years old. “Grandpa,” he scolded you. “I’m American. And I’m your favorite person. So I have to be your favorite American.” You couldn’t argue with his logic and when you assured him he was right he smiled and fell into your arms for a hug.
Two weeks ago, on the morning of January 6, I opened G3’s social studies textbook to begin our lesson of the day. It just so happened that we had recently finished the unit on the American Revolution and were now studying the Constitutional Convention. My son — having watched Hamilton, gone to the National Archives in Washington D.C. and see the Constitution, and having visited James Madison’s house down in Virginia — already knew most of what was in the textbook. In fact, he was so well versed on the topic, he complained the textbook left more out than it included. “They didn’t mention the Federalist Papers at all,” he observed. “And why didn’t they talk about Madison being the Father of the Constitution? They didn’t even say he wrote the Bill of Rights.” The breakdown of the Separation of Powers he also found extremely underwhelming. “You do realize,” he pointed out, “I’ve lived this all year. All you ever do is watch the news and I have to listen to it. Trump, McConnell, Barrett. If I didn’t live with you, maybe this textbook wouldn’t be boring.”
When we got home later that afternoon (my friend has allowed us to use the little house in her backyard as our schoolhouse) my spouse had the news on for background noise as she worked on her lesson plans for the following day. Serendipitously, not long after I walked in, “Breaking News” flashed across the screen. The cameras showed Trump supporters storming the Capitol Building in an attempt to prevent Mike Pence from certifying the election. In shock, I turned up the volume and the three of us — son, spouse, and I — watched the riot unfold. None of us could believe it was happening.
The following day, back in our Somerville schoolhouse, I asked my son to reflect on the Insurrection through the lens of what he had learned the previous day. In short, what would the Founding Father’s have thought of the attack? As always, he grumbled that it was too hard, but he eventually sat down at his computer and over the course of several days he wrote a brief essay. This morning he finished his revision. The last sentence of the essay will only make sense if you have seen Hamilton. Otherwise the reference will appear confusing.
Here is his essay:
On Jan. 6, 2021, it was 1814 all over again. I thought of this because it was like when England had invaded and was burning down the White House. This incident happened during the War of 1812. It was the only other time the Capitol was stormed. This year, thousands of rioters stormed the Capitol and broke into offices of Congress while Congress was confirming Biden as the winner of the Oval Office. They called themselves protesters, but they were terrorists. These terrorists committed treason, trespassing, and one stole mail. Five people died. In The Constitution, Article II says there will be a single Executer, and the Executer should transfer peacefully. Throughout our history of 245 years, every President has transferred power peacefully, until now.
That donkey, birdbrain, numskull, nut job, fool, and dullard orange idiot has caused 400,000 deaths. He has also let police get away with killing black people and black supporters. He has also put kids in cages. It is a bad thing that his species — Trump Supporters — still have a long way to go before extinction because uneducated Trumpers will be around for a long time.
I wonder what George Washington would have thought of this insurrection? Hamilton wanted Washington to be king, but he said no. There was no reason for him not to be king. But he retired after two terms. He was trying to set an example for future presidents and to show that the president should not get too powerful. When he retired, even King George respected him.
The Founding Fathers knew there were flaws in the Constitution and Trump has exposed them. Trump has no respect for the Constitution at all because he is trying to overturn the election and get rid of it. Washington was once displeased with Adams so he stopped inviting him to Cabinet meetings and that’s how the Vice President got less power. However, in March 1797, when Adams won, there was still a peaceful transfer of power between Washington and Adams. Four years later, Adams and Jefferson hated eachother, but again there was still a peaceful transfer of power.
If Washington was alive and knew how to use a television, he would have said that democracy was “Goin’ off the rails on the crazy train.” As I have said before, Washington stepped down and did not run a third time to set an example for future presidents. Trump has taken that idea, chewed it up, spit it in the blender, and burned it. The one good thing about this is that Trump may have lost some calories worrying that he might be removed from office. Anyway, Washington might feel as if the example he set was for nothing. Washington would have felt sickened by the terrorists and he would let his thoughts be heard. Gouverneur Morris, who wrote The Preamble to the Constitution, would think that “We the people” turned into “Me the people for Trump.” Adams would say, “Get the hell up, lick your wounds, and get the hell out of office.” This might be said because Adams also lost to someone he hated and also served only one term. Jefferson would sing, “He’s never gonna be president again, he’s never gonna be president, again,” while dancing around him throwing copies of the Constitution up in the air.
It was a year ago — last Martin Luther King Day — that my son saw his grandfather for the last time. We drove to Queens on Saturday afternoon after our taekwondo classes. By the time we got on the road, it was snowing. By the time we reached the bridge it was coming down hard — and I hate driving in the snow. I drove slowly, and luckily we arrived at my parents’ house safely. As always my son was excited to see his grandparents. On Sunday, Dad took us all to see the new Jumanji movie. It wasn’t a movie I had any interest in. Usually, when Dad took my son to the movies I stayed home and wrote or took a walk. But that afternoon, at the last minute, I changed my mind. I couldn’t explain why. Maybe some intuitive sense knew it would be the last outing I’d ever take with Dad. I’m glad I went. The movie was better than I expected. When we left on Monday morning, as soon as I pulled away from the house — Dad was waving at my son and making his usual funny faces — my son said, “I miss them already.” I smiled, and said, “I know, but we’ll see them again soon. I promise.” But I was wrong. It was a promise I couldn’t keep. If only I had known, I would have turned around and let my son play hooky from school for a week.
A couple nights ago, I had a dream about Dad. He showed up, smiling and when I saw him I exclaimed, “But you’re dead.” He looked hurt, disappointed, and responded, “No, I’m not.” Not really believing him, I reached into my pocket and said, “Then I guess you want your wallet back.” (He had recently bought a new one, and mine was really old and worn, so when he died I asked Mom if I could have it.) I held it out to him, but he shook his head and then disappeared.
On Saturday, my son competed in a virtual tournament — the first of the 2021 season. He still does not enjoy classes as much as he once did. Even live classes aren’t the same as when he had friends to talk to, joke around with, and spar against. Most of the times, if he takes the kids’ class there is maybe on other student in class with him. Sometimes he takes the adult classes with me, and well, he already feels like he spends too much time with his mother. Anyway, it’s the competition he enjoys most. The tournaments that drive him. So I’m glad they are having the tournaments virtually. They may not have the same energy, the same level of excitement, but it’s still something to look forward to, something to keep his spirit from getting crushed by the pandemic. And he did well. He placed second in forms and third in weapons.
We found a house to rent in Middlesex. It’s small, but the entire inside has just been renovated — new carpet, new appliances, fresh paint. If I had my choice of where to live, Middlesex would not even be the top fifty. But it’s only for a year, a place to live until we find something in a place we like more. And I’m finally getting out of this condo, which means I can leave all the misery behind me. I will be walking away from the condo with a smile that will spin into better things to come.
After eleven days off for winter break, G3 found it difficult to return to our homeschool routine this morning. The fact that he had trouble falling asleep last night didn’t help. When we arrived at our New Jersey classroom, he was tired, cranky, and in absolutely no mood to do anything academic. Around noon, we stopped for lunch, and within seconds he was sound asleep. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t sleep enough at night and your classroom happens to be one of the most cozy places you can imagine. Sleeping, he looked so sweet an angelic so I didn’t wake him up. We had all afternoon. There was no rush to get our work done. However, about twenty minutes after he closed his eyes, he woke up crying — upset that he was technically still in school and still had to finish his lessons for the day.
Last month, he had written a poem for fun, a poem about the Battle of Bunker Hill which really took place on Breed’s Hill. We had recently learned about the battle in class which is what inspired him to write it. When he finished, he asked me if I could have one of my wring friends critique it for him. I am not a good poet. Poetry is by far my weakest genre and I’ve never shied away from admitting it. So when he told me he didn’t think I’d be as helpful as my poet friend, I wasn’t insulted. I reached out to her and she was kind enough to read the poem and make comments on it, the way we comment on each other’s work for our monthly writing meetings. After lunch today, my son finally studied her comments and set to work revising. He addressed most of her comments, but he struggled with metaphors. He really wanted to do what she suggested, but the metaphors were frustrating him. Looking at me he sighed, “I don’t think I can do it. Maybe next time.” I didn’t want to push. How could I when I’ve been writing for many more years and metaphors still trip me up. The poem also has no punctuation. That’s intentional. According to G3, “If I add punctuation it will look like prose. Please don’t make me add it. Not yet. Let me have fun. Don’t forget I’m not in college.” Okay, it was a semi valid argument. The last thing I want to do is discourage from enjoying poetry like my teachers had discouraged me.
Here is his historical poem:
Battle on Breed’s Hill
Prescott’s fort was
Forged by earth
1,000 of us
2,000 of them
For we were a militia clothed in rags
We stood on Breed’s Hill
All right and ready
The British were approaching
With red coats and muskets
Like lobsters in a bright blue sea
Do not shoot till you see the whites of their eyes
Overall, my son seemed to be handling his grandfather’s death rather well. We had gotten through several holidays, and Dad’d death didn’t seem to blight them for him as they did for me and Mom. Then we rang in a new year, wished him a happy birthday, and the sorrow settled in. Without being able to have a party, we had wanted to do something special, but in the middle of a pandemic, with cases on the rise — everywhere — what could we do? Briefly, we thought about taking a road trip. But where would we stay? It was too cold to camp. Besides, everything would be closed. Staying home seemed our only option.
As always, my son was exited on New Year’s Eve. When the ball drops in New York City, we shout “Happy Birthday” instead of “Happy New Year.” As a young child, he thought the ball dropped for him, and to this day, he will always say his birthday is his favorite holiday. Once we slid into 2021, none of us felt like going to bed. So we watched Death to 2020. It was funny, and the laughter kept the sadness at a distance.
In the morning, however, Dad’s absence seemed heavier than ever. I kept waiting for him to arrive, to knock on our door, to announce his presence, and envelop my son in a hug. Of course, I knew it wouldn’t happen. But it was supposed to. That’s how things are supposed to go on my son’s birthday, and my son seemed to feel it as deeply as I did. He was mopey and sad, and after he opened his presents he was on the verge of tears. He slumped down on the stairs and when I asked him what was wrong, he answered, “I miss Grandpa.”
It was Netflix that salvaged the day. They moved up the release date of Cobra Kai to January first, and my son announced that he wanted to spend his birthday watching the entire season. It was a poor replacement for Dad, but it distracted my son, enabling him to find some happiness in the day. It’s a show we all enjoy, and so we put on our Cobra Kai tee-shirts (gifts from St. Nick) and had fun watching people beat each other up. I’m not much of a TV person, but even I’m hooked on it. It was the Karate Kid that made me — and half the American kid population — want to learn martial arts oh so many years ago. My parents had said no, probably because it was expensive and they couldn’t afford it. But once I got to Korea, I found taekwondo instead. I probably wouldn’t be working so hard to earn my black belt now if it hadn’t been for the Karate Kid. Therefore, it seems appropriate that we became obsessed with Cobra Kai as my testing date draws near. I hated Jonny so much in the movie. What does it say about me now that he’s the character I like best, the one I relate to most?
This afternoon, we went shooting again. Instead of the archery range in Branchburg, we headed to the range in Easton, Pennsylvania. When we checked in, the man behind the counter pointed to my son and asked, “Is that your daughter?” My spouse and I said,”No, he’s our son. The long hair seems to confuse everyone.” He then asked us if he was our adopted son or if one of us was the biological mother. When we asked why it mattered, he explained that the rules were different for adopted and biological children. Biological parents don’t have to prove they are the parents, but adopted parents do. Initially, we just said I was his biological mother and went off to shoot, but as we were shooting, the anger started to build. In eleven years, no one ever asked us if our son was adopted or biological. How can such a question be legal? I always thought once a parent adopted a kid they were considered the “real parents,” end of question. This baffled me. If we were a traditional family with a mother and a father, would the question even have come up? Do they interrogate all parents? Or just queer parents? From now on, I will refuse to answer the question. I will say he’s my son. If they push for more information, I’ll call them on their discrimination policy. I guess we should have expected this. In entering a shooting range, we are entering Conservative Republican territory. Our morals differ greatly. Several cars in the parking lot had Trump 2020 bumper stickers. I suppose that should have told us everything we needed to know.
We close on our condo on February 1. The good new is, I’m finally getting out of this condo. My son will no longer have to attend Bedminster School. The disconcerting news is we have no idea where we will move. We have nothing lined up. We are too poor to buy a house and I will never ever live in another condo. As far as I’m concerned, living in a condo is the worst of owning and renting all rolled into one. There is not a single thing I liked about it. Our specifications for renting are very stringent. My spouse needs to be within a 30 minutes drive to Roxbury where she works. My son needs to live within a thirty minute drive to Branchburg which is where his taekwondo school is. Yes, there are taekwondo schools all over the state, but he wants to remain in an ATA school and there are none up near Roxbury. Besides, we like our instructor and rather not go elsewhere. We want a good school district — and poor areas are the ones with poorer schools. Which brings me to our biggest limitation of all — what we can afford. Teachers are paid terribly, and I lost my job thanks to Covid. Yes, this is supposed to be a temporary move, which means we should be a little more lax in our demands, but the last time I agreed to move somewhere temporarily I got stuck there for fourteen years. As a result, I can’t agree to something that’s simply tolerable because with my luck I’ll be stuck there until my son goes off to college.
As for my writing, my year started on a fantastic note. Global Poemic: Kindred Voices on the Era of COVID-19 published my prose poem “Fallen.” It — like everything else I’ve written lately — is about missing Dad. You can read it here: https://globalpoemic.wordpress.com/2021/01/01/fallen/.