Tag Archives: Travel

Incident on a Plane

At the end of the flight, two boys sitting one row apart stood up and discovered each other. Neither of them could have been more than 7-years-old. One little guy held a Buzz Lightyear action figure; the other gripped a pile of Pokémon cards in his hands. While waiting for people on the plane to file out, they boys introduced themselves and chattered about their love for Minecraft and Legos.

“We have lots in common!” Jesse announced.

For a few minutes, the boys lived without fear of loving or not being loved. Neither was afraid of being rejected. They stood with their hearts open, unafraid of being hurt. And they were actually doing a pretty good job of it.

“Also, we both have something wrong with us.” Mason pointed to his mouth. Anyone could see the brackets and rubber bands on his tiny teeth. “I have braces, and you have those things on your ears.”

Jesse’s mother pressed her son against her hip. “Are you talking about Jesse’s Super Special Auditory Amplification System?” she asked. I could practically hear her inner monologue. Stay calm. He’s just a child. He’s not trying to be cruel.

hearing-aids-heart“No,” Mason shook his head. “I’m talking about his hearing aids.

The plane was emptying quickly and Jesse’s mother asked her son to take one last look around to make sure he had all his belongings. As Jesse bent down, she leaned in to say something.

“Work with me here, Mason,” she whispered. “One day, your teeth will be straight. This hearing loss thing is forever.”

Jesse popped up like a meerkat. He handed his mother some candy wrappers, which she pushed into her pocket. Grabbing her suitcase from out of the overhead bin, she guided her son out of the row so he could walk down the narrow aisle in front of her.

“Jesse!” Mason waved his plastic Buzz Lightyear in the air. “Bye Jesse!” But the boy with the Pokémon cards didn’t turn around, and Mason looked wounded.

“You shouldn’t have mentioned his hearing aids!” Mason’s mother scolded. Throwing her purse over her shoulder, she pulled her son out the door.

The boys didn’t mean to hurt each other.

They didn’t.

But mothers love.

And a mother’s love, which sometimes seems weak can also make us fierce. We want the world to appreciate our most precious people the way we do.

But isn’t this life? And don’t we, adults, sometimes find ourselves in these kinds of situations? Sometimes we make the wrong assumptions. We may inadvertently touch a tender place near someone’s heart. We may injure someone and never understand what it is that we did to hurt them. Or we may feel injured or rejected ourselves.

In airports, people carry suitcases and backpacks, but people lug around invisible baggage, too.

With friends, we like to think we have an inkling, but this is not always the case. Sometimes the feelings in our friend’s hearts are as far away as a distant galaxy or an exotic sounding destinations, like Kamakura or Fuzhou.

If only we could all activate our own Super Special Auditory Amplification Systems and really hear what’s going on inside each other’s heads. If only we weren’t so quick to believe the worst about each other.

Ever had an interaction with a stranger that wasn’t well received? How about a positive one? Do you talk to strangers on planes?

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Lessons From Eight Junes

Photo from dalesmith @ flickr.com

June is definitely a time for endings and beginnings. Proms. Graduations. Weddings. New jobs. June has got me thinking about all the Junes in my life. My parents started their married life together on June 23, 1963. My son will become a bar-mitzvah next June. One of my grandmothers died in June. And one of my friends, too. I tried to think about some significant Junes in my life, and this is what was born:

• • •

Once upon a time, a November baby learned that she loved June. She played with bubbles and chased butterflies, rode her bicycle, played kick the can, and stayed out until the fireflies guided her home.

One June, the girl snapped her well-packed trunk and clipped her khaki duffel bag ready to spend seven weeks at overnight camp.

One June, the girl went to a prom in a ridiculous dress with ridiculous hair.

Four Junes later, the girl was no longer a girl. She graduated from the college she’d loved and, as she drove west in her beat-up Plymouth Volaré to live with a man she loved – prepared to insert herself into his house and into his life – she was terrified that everything was going to be different. And it was.

One terrible June, the girl sat in a room staring at a casket, and no matter how many people told her that the air conditioning wasn’t on too high, it felt like winter in that place.

One June, the girl found herself in New Orleans. She had finished her first year of teaching in a city that smelled like magnolias and crawfish. It was the hottest summer of her life and it lasted until November.

In a blink, it was June again. This time, she looked in the mirror and saw she was no longer a girl. She was seven months pregnant; her hands and ankles had swelled in the heat. As she fanned herself, she daydreamed about the future. Also, she ate a lot of watermelon.

One June, the November girl moved – along with her husband and her son – into a home nestled in a neighborhood with flowers and trees and children. And as she hung up her summer sundresses, she remembered bubbles and bicycles and butterflies, and she knew she was home.

This June, the woman knows there are wrinkles around her eyes – but she is less focused on herself. She sits at the computer and listens to her son, now almost 12, as he practices for his last piano lesson. The music is familiar. The clothes in the dryer bump around noisily in the background, everyone’s stuff mingled together. Hopefully, for many, many more Junes.

Can you share one particular memory from one particular June?

Guest Blogger Merrill Wasser on The Alphabet: A Mundane Topic?

photo of Merrill Wasser

Today’s guest blogger is a cousin of mine, Merrill Rose Wasser. She lived in Kunming for about a year while on a Fulbright Scholarship, researching ethnic minority handicrafts and their commercialization in relation to tourism (often Chinese government-sponsored tourism). She spent most of her research time in Western Yunnan, along the Myanmar border. Yunnan province, in southwest China, has over 25 officially recognized minority groups, and was therefore a fitting location for this type of anthropological study.

You will want to check out her travel blog which intelligently (and hilariously) depicts all the amazing experiences she’s collected from August 2009 until June 2010. She did it all: from losing her Passport to getting scratched by monkeys. From getting crazy sick on a wild bus ride to visiting a Little People colony.

Merrill currently lives in Hong Kong and works in digital advertising.

• • •

We eat alphabet soup. We sing the alphabet song. Little children learn to scrawl the letters out on lined paper in kindergarten class, and go home to their ecstatic parents who tape up the ugly, uneven lines on the refrigerator and coo over the achievement. I personally remember practicing my letters at home (somewhere between the ages of 6 and 8 years old), and even recall a serious spelling altercation at age 6, when I vehemently stood by my claim that the word “from” was spelled f-o-r-m.

But when we sit down and think of it, isn’t learning to spell an exciting, and even intriguing activity? Even more fascinating is the way people spell in different countries.

Google Images

Take China, for example.

There’s no alphabet in Chinese.

Just characters.

Each character is made up of a collection of symbols with recurring themes and meanings.

One character is one word.

And to those of us who are born and raised in the west, learning to read and write a native language without an alphabet is a seriously intimidating and amazing feat.

So the next time you think about the alphabet, remind yourself of just how powerful the human brain is. To us in the West, it’s just the alphabet – prevalent everywhere, even in our soup. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s just one part of the world’s way of expressing communication in writing and passing it down through generations.

Do you have a favorite letter of the alphabet above? Which character do you love? Tell me why!

Lessons From Annual Daffodil Day

Me, in the Daffodil Meadow

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

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

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

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

Monkey beside the old trees.

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

Daffodil Day?

Not. Even. On. The. Radar.

How did that happen?

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

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

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

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

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

“Where we goin’?” he asked.

“Just get in,” I said, “You’ll see.”

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

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

Where have all the flowers gone?

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

The whole area was under water.

This was something new.

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

Together.

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

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

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

It’s a pretty good dream, right?

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

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

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How The Struggle To Survive Spring Break Was A Lot Like The Jews’ Exodus From Egypt

The artist's rendering of Charlton Heston as M...

Image via Wikipedia

This year, Spring Break fell on the same week as Passover – the Jewish holiday which commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. (Think Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments.) This year there seemed to be so many similarities between Monkey’s heinous April “staycation” in Western, New York and the oft-repeated, seemingly never-ending Passover story that I simply could not ignore it.

During Both The Exodus and Spring Break, People Got Creative: When Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, made a law that every male, infant Israelite be killed, Moses’ mother got busy. She wove a little  basket, put her son into it, and floated him down the river, hoping he would be found among the reeds.

The first few days of April vacation were fine, but by Sunday evening, Monkey and I were done with our Game-a-Thon. We had played dozens of games, but after thirty-two arguments about his iPod Touch usage, Hubby and I decided to confiscate Monkey’s Touch for the remainder of the week. From that moment forward, we had conversations so similar in content, I was ready to stick Monkey in a basket and float him down the River Nile. They went something like this:

Monkey: Can I go on the computer?
Me: No.
Monkey: Can I Skype someone?
Me: No.
Monkey: Can I use my iPod Touch?
Me: No.
Monkey: Can I watch TV?
Me: No.
Monkey: Were you born this mean?
Me: No, I minored in mean in college.

In an effort to keep Monkey away from screens, on Monday, I took him to the library. We brought home Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane. I figured he would read while I rolled matzah balls for the chicken soup. After 40 minutes, Monkey set down his book and wandered over to me.

Monkey: Colin’s really good at Super Smash Brothers Brawl.
Me: Cool. Wanna help me cut some carrots for the soup?
Monkey: If I cut carrots, can I get my iPod Touch back?

During Both The Exodus and Spring Break, People Were Tested: On Monday night, we had the first seder. There were only nine of us this year. We got to the part about how God spoke to Moses in the form of a burning bush.

Monkey: If someone came down from a mountain today saying he had talked to a burning bush, that person would be considered insane.
Me: There has always been a fine line between mystical experience and mental illness.
Monkey: There’s this cool computer game called Portal. Can I get it?
Me: Not in the middle of the Seder.
Monkey: Well, can I show it to you on the computer after the Seder?

Two cups of wine later, Moses and his brother, Aaron, go to Pharaoh to explain to him that the Lord has commanded that he let the Israelites go. Pharaoh becomes furious, sends the dynamic duo away, and proceeds to treat the Israelites worse than before. At this point, Monkey announced to everyone: “Mom’s kind of like the Pharaoh. She won’t let me have my iPod Touch.”

Nice.

During Both The Exodus and Spring Break, There Were Bizarre Events: In the Passover story, after the Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go, God inflicted ten horrible plagues on the Egyptian people, most of which involved weird supernatural weather. I mean, The Lord turned the water into blood; He made skillions of frogs hop all over the place; He brought on boils and swarms of locusts and – gasp – lice. He even caused the Egyptian’s animals to get sick and die.

Well, weird shizz happened here over the vacation, too. First of all, it was mid-April. Normally, by mid-April it is usually kind of warm. And by warm I mean, it is not ridiculously cold. But it was cold. Ridiculously cold. Over Spring Break, it snowed twice, hailed once, and – not for nothing – but it actually rained so hard that people’s basements flooded. The creek in our backyard (which never overflows) overflowed and nearly took out one of our trees, dragging a bunch of soil and mulch into our neighbors’ yard.

During Both The Exodus and Spring Break, There Was a lot of Hurrying: When the Pharaoh finally decided to let the slaves go, the Jews did not wait around. They grabbed what they could carry and got out of Dodge, guided by a cloud (provided courtesy of The Lord). When the Israelites reached the Red Sea, they saw that Pharaoh was pursuing them with a large army. The Jews were afraid, but God commanded Moses to raise his rod and the waters parted so the Jews could reach the other side in safety.

When the Israelites saw that they were safe, they sang a song of praise to God.

Monkey: Wanna hear a song that will get stuck in your head?

During Both The Exodus and Spring Break, People Complained: After the Jews escaped and had traveled for some time, they started complaining to Moses because he brought them to a land where they did not have enough to eat. (I imagine it was a little like Survivor without the camera crew. They probably formed alliances and wore buffs made out dust and rocks.) But God was good and sent the Jews quails and manna. And when the people were thirsty, God commanded Moses to touch a rock with his rod and water poured out of the rock, so the people would stop their bitching.

In our house, after several days of matzah consumption, everyone began to complain of gastrointestinal unrest. Such moaning, you would not believe.

Monkey: Do we have any raisins?
Me: I think we are out.
Monkey (moaning): Prunes?
Me: We can put them on the grocery list.
Monkey: How about my iPod Touch? Can we put that on the list?

During Both The Exodus and Spring Break, People Got Frustrated: Just as the Jews wandered the desert – in the heat, without showers, without a GPS to guide them – Monkey wandered the neighborhood looking for something to do and someone to do it with. It ain’t easy being Jewish during Spring Break. Especially when Spring Break falls the same week as Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Monkey was frustrated to learn that most of his friends had gone to visit relatives or jetted down to warmer climes. I got to hear about it.

Monkey (pleading): Can I please use my iPod Touch?

Please note, Monkey never once said that he was “bored.” He made this mistake once when he was in 3rd grade and he quickly learned that – if a person announces he is bored – well, there is always a toilet that needs a good scrubbing.

Anyway, the Jews wandered for forty years in the desert. Having sand in your underpants for four decades is enough to make anyone cranky.

During Spring Break, I tried to take care of Monkey’s needs just as God (via Moses) took care of the needs of His people. One day a friend called, and we discussed taking a road trip with our sons. (Read: My friend was going insane with the “staycation” crap, too.) On that day, we packed up our three boys and took them to the Corning Museum of Glass where they proceeded to act like the proverbial bulls in a china shop. During a short glass blowing demonstration, our children so pestered the artist, he actually dropped the delicate, glass elephant he had been crafting for fifteen minutes, and the little pachyderm broke into three pieces. Most people left the demo at that point.

Not us.

Monkey: Schnarf!
Monkey’s Friend : Can we wander around now?
Monkey’s Friend’s Brother: Can I have that elephant’s legs?

After being constant companions for nine days, Monkey and I maxed out on each other. We glared at each other from across rooms. K’Nex creations began to look like viable weapons.

During Both The Exodus and Spring Break, There Were Miraculous Moments: Spring break wasn’t all bad. There was one particularly endearing moment when Monkey and I were wrestling – something we like to do during commercials (especially during long vacations from school). Anyway, he’s getting stronger now that he is almost 12 years old. It wasn’t as easy to take him down as usual. But I got him. I managed a completely ridiculous totally smooth backward roll, and I pinned him to the floor. We laughed hysterically until our show came back on the air, and we returned to our couch-sitting silence. As my son adjusted his hair (good hair is very important at almost age 12), Monkey said, “Mom, you are a really good wrestler.”

It was a tender moment.

Kind of.

Both The Exodus and Spring Break Ended. And then suddenly, magically, it happened. Just as God said: The Israelites arrived at the Promised Land.

And Monday morning, the middle school in my backyard lit up like… well… like a school. And I thought to myself: Huzzah! The Promised Land. And as Monkey set off, I watched him until he disappeared around the corner of the brick building, then I took his iPod Touch from out of the cupboard, plugged it in, and thought to myself: Amen.

Lessons on Valentine’s Day

Early 20th century Valentine's Day card, showi...

Image via Wikipedia

Picture me in third grade, roller skating with a certain someone special. Yummy Boy Billy is shorter than I am, but he is an awesome skater, and we are zooming around the rectangular gymnasium to The Bay City Rollers’ (what else?) “Saturday Night.” Suddenly, Yummy Boy decides to cross his right skate over his left on the turn. He falls, dragging me down with him. I was wearing my favorite pair of Levis, and they tore at the knee. I was so pissed. It was over before it started.

Fast forward to high school, a much beloved boyfriend got me one of those Cabbage Patch dolls for Valentine’s Day. Had I asked for a Cabbage Patch doll? No. Those suckers were creepy. (Still are.) But he gave me one, and in exchange for his gift, I gave him tongue. ‘Nuff said.

In college, I dated a guy who insisted that Valentine’s Day was an excuse for capitalist pigs to convince the masses they needed to buy ridiculous items to convince their companions of their undying love. Yeah, he was a cheap bastard. Our first Valentine’s Day together, he bought me a slice of pizza. For our second Valentine’s Day, he bought me a pencil with a heart eraser on the end of it. (Was he frickin’ kidding me?) For our third Valentine’s day, he bought me a fish tank. Why? Because he wanted fish. Still, it was better than nothing, and the bubbler turned out to be a lovely, relaxing way to fall asleep. We stayed together for one more year (what was I thinking?) but I believe things actually ended on or near Valentine’s Day, so he found a way to get out of that rather nicely. Oh, and when things went south, the fish tank stayed with him. Nice.

My knight riding a white ass.

Husband is much better at Valentine’s Day. When we were in the “I-so-want-to-impress-this-woman” phase of our relationship, he made an amazing dinner at his friend Brian’s house. (Okay, maybe Brian made the dinner, but I’m sure Husband helped). We ate escargot and filet mignon and a green salad. And we drank wine. It should be noted that this was around the time that I punted a wineglass across Hubby’s living room floor causing it to smash against a wall into a zillion little pieces and, as an added bonus, coat the wall in a fabulous shade of blood-red. You would think someone would have thought to hand me a plastic glass, but no. That was the Valentine’s Day that I smashed an irreplaceable wine glass (hand blown in Germany and borrowed from Brian’s mother) against Brian’s stereo. (For all you young’uns out there, a stereo is a device we old folks used to use to play our music.) Anyway, Hubby wasn’t mad at me. Brian’s mother probably was, but Hubby made me feel okay about being human.

Over the years, Hubby has brought me flowers and made me breakfast. We’ve gone skiing, seen concerts, done great dinners. Lots of stuff. I don’t know what we’re doing this year, but Hubby did teach me that I am worth slightly more than the cost of a slice of pizza or a pencil. And for that, I am grateful.

I am also grateful to know that I do not have to work that hard as Hubby is genuinely happy with a bag of York Peppermint Patties – and a little tongue. ‘Nuff said.

My Weird New York State of Mind

Photo from Skyline Park in NYC

I am terrified of New York City. There I said it.

This has nothing to do with the recent bedbug scourge; I have been afraid of The City for at least 20 years. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love watching movies about New York. I think the first film with scenes shot in New York was called The Thieiving Hand. I learned about it in a Film class in college where we also saw Citizen Kane and The Pawnbroker. None of these were particularly uplifting movies: to the contrary. But they made me feel that New York was the place where people could start revolutions, where broken people came to start new lives and reinvent themselves.

So pretty!

As a kid, I loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and 42nd Street and who doesn’t love Miracle on 34th Street? At some point, I saw Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which is when I think I started dreaming of going to New York one day and locating the store with those lovely blue boxes. I imagined myself a little like Dolly (in Hello Dolly!), always surrounded by friends, no matter what the circumstances. Later, I fell in love with “ethnic films” like Shaft and Super Fly, The Jazz Singer and everything ever produced by Spike Lee, especially Do the Right Thing. I was already in love with John Travolta, so put him in a movie about New York with the music of the Bee Gees (Saturday Night Fever), and I was in. I memorized the dance moves from The Wiz and All That Jazz and belted out Annie so people could hear me at the top of the Chrystler Building. I laughed at Tootsie and,more recently, I obsessed over the television series Sex in the City, living vicariously through the four friends who made their way in the Big Apple.

On film, New York always seems so romantic. Remember watching the child run from one parent to the other in Kramer vs. Kramer in the blindingly bright sunshine of Central Park. Seeing Harry meet Sally again and again and again… until they finally realize they really were meant to be together and kiss. Sigh. And I love Sleepless in Seattle when Meg Ryan (aka: Annie) flies to New York to meet Tom Hanks (aka: Sam) where they finally meet on the top of the Empire State Building and kiss. Sigh. And I love when finally, finally, the cyberspace relationship between Meg Ryan (aka: “Shopgirl”) and Tom Hanks (aka: NY152″) from You’ve Got Mail turns real and they meet each other at Riverside Park and kiss. Sigh.

In the movies, New York totally works for me.

In real life, not so much.

In July of 1990, I went to New York for a friend’s wedding reception. It was a sloppy event as it was raining and muggy. My hair was a wreck. Everyone wore shiny, slinky dresses, and I felt like I’d worn the absolute most wrong thing – ever. I knew no-one other than the bride, and I had already suffered through hours of ostentatious name dropping, so I decided to leave.

Disaster!

Here is where the trauma starts. I got lost. Really lost. I found a subway station and planned to take a train back to my hotel which was about 40 blocks away. At that time, I felt fairly confident (less than 50%) that I had picked the right train. I sat down and watched the streets roll by. For a little while, I was heading in the right direction, but suddenly, to my horror – instead of stopping at the street I’d expected, the train just kept zooming on. I asked a woman where the train was headed and she said Connecticut, and that it was an Express train.

“No stops,” she said.

Somehow I’d gotten onto the completely wrong train and was forced to make peace with the fact that we would not stop until we “landed” in Connecticut.  I felt like I was in that book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. (You know, where the kids escape their home in Connecticut and go to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and discover the secret behind a mysterious sculpture?) Only I was going the wrong way.

Exhausted and scared, I cried. A man on the train took pity on me, got me turned around, and wrote out elaborate directions regarding where I needed to go and which stop I needed to be sure to get off at. He warned me to stay alert, watch for pick-pocketers, and avoid talking to strangers.

“Not everyone is as trustworthy as I am,” he told me as he pushed a $20 bill into my hand. “In case you get in trouble, use this for a cab.”

I don’t think I ever got past that whole train thing because in real life, everything about the New York City scares me. I am one of those people who was not born with any kind of built in GPS system, so no matter how many times people tell me that the Aveues run this way and the Streets run that way, I always smile and promptly forget. The information doesn’t stick; it simply evaporates like piss on the sidewalks.

Nevertheless, each summer I fly to the Big Apple to and force myself to try to conquer my weird phobia and to learn to negotiate the City by myself.

You know how psychotherapists make people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder touch doorknobs to prove to them that nothing bad will happen to them? That’s kind of what I’ve got going on when it comes to New York. I have to go there and try to push through my fear. My theory is that if I deal with my NYC phobia the way people deal with other phobias, perhaps things will eventually be easier for me.

The advent of technology has allowed me to go to New York alone. If I didn’t have a Smartphone, I wouldn’t even try; the Yelp app has helped me find everything from restaurants to public washrooms.

My friends in New York are very accommodating. They are patient when it comes to my fear and always tell me to call them from where I am and that they’ll come and get me.

“It’s faster,” they assure me, “and no trouble at all.”

When they find me, they take me to their favorite places – which is awesome because I’ve seen some places that are really off the beaten path.

Shortly before Person A has to go, I call Person B who asks me where I am and tells me to stay put. Can you imagine? So much delicious learned helplessness.

Central Park is divine!

Maybe some day I’ll be brave like one of those cops from NYPD Blue, exploring the internal and external struggles of the fictional 15th precinct of Manhattan. Or perhaps some day I’ll become a purple-haired assassin (like the costumed vigilante Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass), fearing nothing. Until then, I’ll live New York City mostly vicariously  — through the movies.

But for real,  just know that all of you City dwellers are endlessly fascinating to me. To me, you really do know everything: where to find the best gazpacho and the best sushi; you live in tiny apartments, stacked one on top of the other, paying crazy rent — but you know the nightlife makes it all worthwhile; you know where to go for tea and which laundromat has the best dryers. You know which car service is the best to get to the airport. You have survived terrorist attacks. And you know how to take underground transportation, daily, without ending up in Connecticut.

What scares you and how do you attempt to conquer it?

Teens Leavin’ On a Jet Plane

photo from Rob! @ flickr.com

In 1985, when I was a senior in high school, my parents allowed me to go on Spring Break to Ft. Lauderdale with my four closest friends. We flew on (the now defunct) People’s Express for $39 each way. (I know this because I still have the ticket stubs in my old scrapbook.) We stayed in an almost completely unfurnished condo, some of us sleeping two to a bed; we shopped and prepared an amazing spaghetti dinner which we cooked for ourselves (careful to put placemats on the floor so as not to get sauce on the new carpet). Now, we were “good girls,” so we didn’t get into too much trouble — but we did do some things that I am kinda sure our parents would have deemed questionable. (I will not post the evidence here.) I will simply ask:

If your 18-year old child asked if he/she could go and spend a week somewhere with friends — without any adult supervision, what would your answer be?

Stuck Behind a Bus

photo by Thomas Hawk @ flickr.com

Ever been stuck at a red light behind a school bus? Of course you have. You know that moment when the kids suddenly realize, Hey! We’re not moving! And there’s a car back there with a person in it! And then they all start frantically waving?

It’s definitely a decision moment.

There are non-wavers who live among us.

I just don’t happen to be one of them.

Recently I found myself stuck behind a school bus, facing The Rowdy Boys, and I had one of those flashback moments a la Wayne’s World when I remembered my time spent at the back of the bus. These days, most school buses (in these parts anyway) have two parallel rows and an aisle with an emergency safety exit in the back; in the 1970s-80s, on the buses at my district’s alma mater, the back seat of the bus was one long row that extended from one side of the bus to the other. (If there were ever an emergency, I think we were supposed to kick out the rear window with our feet and jump out.) Or something.

A “walker” from kindergarten until fifth grade, I wasn’t introduced to school bus culture until middle school. In sixth grade, I made sure to sit in the front of the bus — close to the driver, but by eighth grade, I was definitely back seat material. I was soooo cool, wearing my cool jeans that pressed against the aged, red cushion where generations of cool kids sat before me. I sat with the smokers and the naughty girls and the angry boys. I read graffiti scribbled on the walls, watched people carve their initials into the metal bus walls, felt the bus move and sway beneath me. We tried to figure out the lyrics to The Sugar Hill Gang‘s “Rappers Delight.” We exchanged dirty jokes. We made plans to hang-out out after school.

But the bus I trailed the other day was peopled with elementary school aged innocents who smiled and laughed  and acted like goofballs, making faces and sticking out tongues. Separated by a little metal, glass, and asphalt, they probably felt like I did in eighth grade: Cool. Maybe a little bit naughty. Waving to a stranger in her car? What would their mommies say?

I made them work for it a little bit. They flapped their arms furiously, and I smiled. Eventually, just before the light turned green, I waved. Because I always wave back. And, of course, they loved it. I saw them whooping it up, high-fiving each other, as if they’d placed bets on whether or not I’d return their advances. (Maybe I am underestimating those elementary schoolers. Maybe they did place bets! Maybe that kid in the red Old Navy shirt won a lot of money because I actually waved.)

For kids, the bus is a buffer, a zone between the world of school and home, and the ride serves a dual purpose. It is a convenience (read: Mom doesn’t always have to be the chauffeur), but the bus-ride also provides time for kids to mentally shift gears from school — the land of increasing independence and increasing work and increasing expectations — and home, the land of dependence, where they are not the boss and there is homework to be done and sports to prepare for and instruments to practice and parents who still want to hear about every detail of the day, even if the kids themselves aren’t interested in sharing.

When you see kids on a bus, know they are between worlds. Time-traveling, if you will. And, if you are stuck behind a bus and the kids actually recognize your acknowledge in a positive manner, be glad. Just like adults, some of them have had fabulous days filled with glitter-glue and rainbows. But some of them have had lousy days. Dark days. Days where they have been mistreated and misunderstood. Maybe they have been bullied or made to feel small.

I say everyone should wave to kids on school buses; it’s such a little gesture, a little reaching out. It doesn’t cost anything, and it can bring so much joy.  Oh, but here’s a quick tip; only do the waving thing if the kids initiate it first. Otherwise, you’re just a creepy dork in the car behind the bus.

What do you remember from your school bus days?