May Day! Mothering Rough Seas

May Day! Mothering Rough Seas

For a few years, my son and I lived at the Jersey Shore with his stepfather, Jack, on the confluence of a fresh water river and a saltwater bay. The east-west Toms River begins in the swamps of the Pine Barrens, widens and swells its way east, eventually slamming into the Barnegat Bay. Sailors love the Toms River, especially during the summer’s prevailing southerlies.

I am not a sailor. 

In our family, swimming, passed down from one generation to the next, was a right of passage for a three-year old.  Water is in our blood. Our sandy backyard, bulkheaded rich brine that nourished vibrant sea creatures and, in turn, fed migratory bird colonies. Life on the water with my inquisitive six-year old was pure joy.

Jack arrived home one day with a used polystyrene Sunfish trailing his ’65 Mustang. For fifty dollars, the previous owner threw in a booklet on ‘how to sail’. A 1971 ad in Boating magazine called the thirty pound Sunfish the “Volkswagen of sailboats. A perfect learner’s boat” 

I called it a styrofoam bathtub.

Joe and I practiced our new book-learned sailing skills, 100 feet offshore, moored to the bulkhead. On our first untethered day at sea, Joe rigged the sails. We lulled away the dead calm until Joe spotted our German Shepherd swimming our way. As she approached the boat, I stood up, pointed toward shore and shouted “go home!” Which of course she did. She was, after all, a German Shepherd.

The next time Joe and I unmoored, we sailed expertly into the middle of the widest part of the river. We took turns at the tiller, successfully jibing and tacking as the wind took us west. But then we tacked to come back downriver. The sweet southerlies that had funneled us upriver suddenly turned on us like a mad dog turning on its master. The rogue wind bared its teeth. Thunderclouds whipped up the tide. And the sail luffed out of control. We. Were. Trapped.

The boat, too light for wind-churned waters, threw us around like a sea monster. I reassured Joe we were safe since we were both good swimmers. 

“We can’t leave the boat,” pleaded Joe.

“We won’t!” I assured him. But truth is, he’d seen the thought to abandon the boat cross my brow. I could swim to shore with one arm around Joe’s chest but I couldn’t pull the Sunfish with the other. 

Private docks, woods and marinas dotted the riverfront. I spotted a sliver of sand and rowed furiously. We pulled the boat up, tied it to a tree and ran to the door of a stranger who drove us home. The next day the Coast Guard towed our Sunfish home. 

“No markings on this thing,” the officer said. 

“You should name her ‘May Day.’”

At twenty-seven years old, I had no reason to believe motherhood would come naturally. All my choices to that point had been daring, radical, reckless.  Only four years before, I’d taken LSD, left toddler Joe with his father and trekked to Woodstock in a station wagon full of Rolling Rock chugging hippies. I was separated from them on the first night while swooning over Richie Havens’ performance of “Freedom”. During the muddy aftermath, I smoked opium with a stranger and hitched a ride home with him to New Jersey.

Ancestral maternal instincts swelled up out of nowhere that first day battering around in the Sunfish on the roiling Toms River. No matter how afraid I was, I had to show no fear, lest my six year old become traumatized and frightened by open water for the rest of his life. 

“Let’s try again,” I announced one day and we eagerly sailed into the prevailing southerlies on a sunny calm morning. Upriver, nature turned against us again.

“We need help,” Joe shouted in the sea spray. And we beached the boat once more.

Our sailing adventures made for wild-eyed good stories with our friends and family, but I feared my recklessness may have given Joe a subconscious dread of the sea  into adulthood.

I needn’t have given it a second thought. In his fifties now, Joe and his family leave their midwestern flatlands to vacation on tropical seas—snorkeling, bodysurfing and scuba diving. 

But.

No sailing.

Earth Day: Turn It Down!

Earth Day: Turn It Down!

April 22 is Earth Day—a time to celebrate nature and to protect the earth against pollution. April also marks the beginning of the Noise Parade! Excessive noise is an often-overlooked cause of pollution. We are constantly bombarded by excessive noise—from gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers, motorcycles, loud car stereos, barking dogs, helicopters, airplanes, noisy neighbors, car traffic, helicopters, raucous restaurants, back-up beepers, honking horns tied to keyless entry systems, train horns, car alarms…did I mention motorcycles?

Noise pollution is real. Heart disease, high blood pressure, hearing loss, sleep deprivation, ringing of the ears, headaches, and chronic fatigue are more prevalent in acoustically chaotic neighborhoods. Excessive noise is a cause of reduced property values and decreased job and academic performance.

High-intensity sound harms Nature’s ecosystem. It can induce fear, causing species to abandon their habitat. Have you noticed the birds are chirping louder? They’re competing with the constant outdoor din. Since the 1960s, there has been a 16-fold increase in ocean noise—posing a threat to fish, dolphins, and other marine life.

Most noise makers are air polluters. Garden equipment is responsible for about five percent of the nation’s air pollution. An EPA study indicates that a gas-powered leaf blower creates as much nitrogen oxide emissions and volatile organic compounds in one hour as 11 cars being driven for one hour.

What can be done? Speak up. Ban gas-powered leaf blowers. Enforce noise ordinances, especially unmuffled cars and motorcycles. Turn down the decibel levels on fire engine, police and ambulance sirens. Reinstate the federal noise pollution control office. Join the anti-noise cause with Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet. 

And for god’s sake, turn it down!

Ode to Coffee

Ode to Coffee

Ernie’s voicemail says, you’re gonna love this…buy it ‘fore they go outta biness. Look atch yer email.

…each batch of coffee roasted on order. Shade grown. Bird friendly. Pesticide free. Vacuum packed. Ground. Arrives in seven days.

The payment plan for my $3,000 hospital bill is a hundred dollars a month. This month I click on Ernie’s suggestion and spend the hundred on coffee.

Dark roast. Single origin. Guatemala. The three most important criteria for a good cup. Makes no difference how you cook it after that. I do French press. Cold brewed French press. Spray cold water over six scoops to fill a plastic carafe at night and plunge the slurry mash in the morning. A lifetime ago I acquired a porcelain cup at the farmer’s market on the River Ilen, Skibbereen, West Cork. Nothing wrong with microwave coffee and a dollop of cream in that porcelain cup. 

The goofy fidgets move out as I sip my morning coffee. Am I a cliche? An old woman watching crows on the ledge, drinking coffee from her favorite souvenir cup? No screens. No radio. No TV. Henry the dog snuggling beside. The worries and the fears, in their moments, flitting away.

Oh coffee. 

You wake me up.

You settle me down. 

You take me to the cleaners.

Help Ukrainian Children

Help Ukrainian Children

If you’re anything like me, you are both riveted and repulsed by the images coming from war-torn Ukraine. At your family tables over the spring holidays, conversations about who saw what and who heard this or that may cause a stillness to the festivities.

Isn’t this as it should be?

We’re human after all. It takes a certain amount of fortitude, willfulness to look away, to turn the radio from the news to music. And yet, music soothes the sadness we feel for our fellows. We need it. And they need it.

Davide Martello, an Italian living in Germany, loaded his baby grand piano onto a trailer and drove fifteen hours to the Medyka, Poland border crossing. Everyday he plays tunes like “Let It Be” by the Beatles and “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen for people who cross over from Ukraine to the massive Polish aid station. Most of us cannot mount such dramatic kindness, but we can contribute in other ways. (See below).  

Janice, a Michigan resident and Polish American, writes again about the Warsaw children’s hospital:

Warsaw is now over 25% Ukrainian. Around 25,000 Ukrainians are still coming into Poland every day. The children’s hospital where I am very involved is overwhelmed by Ukrainian refugee children—almost 1/3 of the hospital patients are now Ukrainian.

This is clearly disruptive to us here in Warsaw. The atmosphere is intense, heavy, fearful. Yet also compassionate.  Our house is full, and not our own, as you can imagine. But after 5 weeks of several Ukrainian families, we hope we have found some other temporary housing for our latest family, so we can feel relaxed in our home. Though we still have Ukrainian friends visiting us with needs.

My friend has remained in her hometown near Doline, Ukraine, helping the orphanage/emergency housing center. This western part of the country has received 6 million displaced Ukrainians from the East. The East is poorer and many have died, thus these refugees are really desperate. Plus, and I must add the most heart-wrenching, is that there are thousands of orphaned children. God help us.

There are many kinds of evils and wars in this world. We can only try to gather and spread love.

When will this war end?

Please consider making a contribution to the Warsaw Children’s Hospital. It will go directly to help the refugee children of Ukraine.  

NPR: Davide Martello plays the piano at the Poland-Ukraine border: 

Refugee Kids of Ukraine

Refugee Kids of Ukraine
U.S. President Joe Biden in Warsaw, Poland on March 26, 2022. (AFP/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden visited Ukrainian refugee families in Warsaw, paying close attention to the children. You may remember Joe’s own heart wrenching story about his wife and toddler daughter dying in a car crash. Two Biden sons survived the crash and young Joe suddenly became a single parent, grieving himself and comforting his small boys. President Biden delivered a speech in Warsaw after his meeting with the Ukrainian women and children. He ad libbed, “for God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

And who doesn’t think this?

TV viewing grandmothers everywhere clutch at the sight of little ones in their puffer coats and backpacks walking out of war torn Ukraine. Some have the great fortune of direct action in helping refugee kids. 

A friend in London texted: “so I raised $25k. Ray contacted the Gov. we went to medical supply warehouse in an East EU country. delivered goods to the border, where Dr and crew drove them 250k back to her 60 bed hospital in Ukraine. We are taking two families of refugees-teachers with three children including a 6 month old…”

Another retired friend activated a network of Eastern European contacts, flew from Chicago to Kiev and set up a food distribution center. 

Janice, a Polish American I met on the beach in Michigan a few years ago writes from her home in Poland. Check out her donation page below. 

Notes From Janice in Warsaw March 16, 2022

Now we have 1.6 million Ukrainian refugees in Poland. In Warsaw alone we have 400,000. This is about one quarter of our population. We personally have a Ukrainian refugee family staying with us in our home. Warsaw has only been able to accommodate so many. People have opened their homes, fed them, bought their medicine. It’s a private endeavor. Supposedly money is coming to help, but there is absolutely nothing happening. No housing, no public food money.

I’m involved in the children’s hospital, providing care and medicine to the Ukrainian refugee children. I’ve been actively on the board of this children’s hospital foundation for years. We already have hundreds hospitalized and there will be an onslaught of need.There are 200,000 Ukrainian refugee children here in Warsaw. If you know anyone who wants to donate just the cost of a lunch or dinner, every bit helps.

DONATION page. Funds will go directly to Ukrainian children medical care:

https://fundacjaprzyjaciol.org/en/become-a-friend/#donate_button_hook

Please also pass to others. This money is desperately needed. People are sending money to help at the border, but the refugees are there for only 1 day, then they come to live here in Warsaw and other cities in Poland. This is where the need really is, where they are residing and need full services.

P.S. The Ukrainian family is very sweet. They don’t speak a word of English, not a word. Nor of Polish. So I am trying to learn Ukrainian.

I dream of having a moment around the fire on the beach in Michiana. 

Just a moment of joy and peace.

________________________________________________

Thank you for any help you can give to the Ukrainian children in the Warsaw children’s hospital. Watch for more Notes from Janice in Warsaw in the coming days.

Belfast

Belfast

In September 1998, President Bill Clinton and Hilary celebrated the Good Friday Peace Agreement in a whirlwind swing through Ireland. The White House Advance Office called to say Hillary directed them to ask Irish-Americans in the Administration to staff the trip. I turned catatonic with excitement. My responsibility? Wrangling a group of Congresspeople to piggyback on President Clinton’s schedule. I simply had to make sure they got to events on time.

The code word for Congressional Delegations on foreign trips is “CO” “DEL”. The CODEL to Ireland consisted of six Congresspeople. Limited space in official vehicles and tight security meant none of them traveled with staff.

I was it.

The White House travel office expanded the CODEL up until the last minute to include a few Cabinet Secretaries, heads of Agencies and VIPs.

I corralled the twenty CODEL in the lobby of a waterfront Belfast hotel. Scheduled to leave midday, I asked the hotel to ring all their rooms with a post-jet lag reminder. During the hour-long bus ride to Armagh, the Irish-American CODEL understood that their lives had been accorded a peak experience. Some used their phones to share their excitement. Some, unnerved by recent violence in Northern Ireland, prayed silently.

As for me? I found myself reaching for the microphone to give an ad hoc history of Armagh I’d learned mostly in Catholic grade school.

“St. Patrick established the town as the center of Irish Christianity in the third century.”

Just outside Belfast I pointed out the notorious Long Kesh prison, a reminder of the 1980s hunger strikers and Irish republican Bobby Sands. He was elected to the British House of Commons while in prison and died at twenty-seven.

“Margaret Thatcher refused to classify the hunger strikers as political prisoners,” one Congressman piped up, “she made sure they were criminals with no special rights.”

“Ten hunger strikers died,” said another.

At Armagh the CODEL crowded into their VIP seats next to the stage on the Mall, a sprawling meadow at the foot of two cathedrals both named for St. Patrick. One Catholic. One Protestant. CODEL members kept asking me where Clinton was. No one around us nor on the phone revealed anything—not the senior staff, the Secret Service, nor our Irish counterparts. Fear that something ominous may be stirring hovered over the crowd. Violent dissidents had wanted the peace process to fail.

Two weeks earlier a car bomb had exploded in Omagh, a town thirty-five miles from where we sat, killing twenty-nine people. Bill and Hillary Clinton, Tony & Cherie Blair, secretly arranged to meet with the families of Omagh victims on the way to the peace celebration in Armagh. They were an hour late.

On that stage, on that night, Bill Clinton roared to thousands, “…in the face of any act of madness born of hatred over religious, or racial, or ethnic or tribal differences, people everywhere can shake their fists in defiance and say, ‘Do not tell me it has to be this way. Look at Northern Ireland.’”

On the Road to the OB

On the Road to the OB

Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey appeared on the list of required reading in my high school. One book a month. Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

Mark Twain emerged as the only fun author. Other equally lofty and more disturbing classics were listed. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the inevitable adolescent eye-opener, marks my first trip into the world of an anguishing conscience. I became personally familiar with that angst as I fully fledged. My favorite was and still is Dickens’ Great Expectations. But Thornton Wilder? His book had more presence and greater standing in my hollow, blossoming thoughts.

Thornton Wilder had lived in my neck of the woods near the Jersey Shore during or after his Princeton years. No one knew exactly. His old farmhouse stood on a v-shaped wooded lot on the road to the Ocean Bay Diner. The “OB” was a popular teenage hangout for those who had cars or, in my case, those with friends who had cars.

Every time we passed it, someone would say, “that’s where Thornton Wilder lived” as if it was his ancestral home. Until I read his 1975 obituary, I thought he grew up in that house at the intersection of Ocean and Beaver Dam Roads. Driving past it once, the smartest girl I knew piped up from the back seat, “He wrote The Bridge of San Luis Rey there.”

Don’t take that as gospel. I have no idea where he wrote it. And I have no idea what I thought when I read it the first time. Except this: I wanted to write like him. I admit the fact that passing by the house where he may have written it gave weight to my desire.

“Did you ever read The Bridge of San Luis Rey?” Veronica asked me last year. Her book group read it.

“Oh yeah, in high school.”

“Do you remember any of it?”

When I confessed I didn’t, she suggested I pick it up again. Months passed before the Kindle version loaded in. Settling into another one of my many pandemic iPad slouches, I finally clicked into it.

Immediately my old muse ignited anew. Here’s why I wanted to write like Thornton Wilder. The bridge in the title is a centuries old Inca rope crossing in mountainous Peru. Wilder hadn’t been to Peru when he wrote it. At age fifteen I could easily picture myself creating stories about places I’d never been, based on descriptions in the Encyclopedia Britannica or travel brochures.

Wilder concocted fables of the five people who died when the bridge collapsed. I could develop that skill. I told good stories.

Or at least good lies.

But oh, the writing. Was I capable of dreaming up sentences like “It is on this visit to the theater that further matter hangs.” ? I thought so then. And perhaps it would be so now, had I started earlier than age sixty-five!

First Time

First Time

In 1963 the Eastern Air Lines Shuttle regularly flew my father back and forth to Washington for business. No reservations. No check-in. No boarding pass.There were no security checkpoints or assigned seats. Cost? Fifteen dollars. He paid cash after he boarded. The Eastern Shuttle was the talk of the town. Seats were guaranteed. If the plane filled up, they’d roll out another. Flights left every hour. The Shuttle also flew to Boston.

As for me? Flying the Eastern shuttle from New York-LaGuardia to Boston was a quick and easy way to sneak off to see my boyfriend. He lived off-campus as a sophomore at Boston University. At age sixteen I moved in with my father in midtown Manhattan after running away from my mother in New Jersey. One Saturday I told my father I was taking the train to the Jersey Shore for a party and staying overnight with a friend. I lied but I’m sure he was not deceived. No questions asked. 

1963 fare was $15. No booking. No check-in.

I travelled in a logan green wool skirt trimmed in dark brown leather, with a matching heavy wool coat. The ensemble was part of a larger purchase from Henri Bendel’s, gifts from my father to show his love. A string of pearls that my father had brought home from Mexico a few years before set off my olive cashmere sweater. 

The bus to LaGuardia left from Grand Central Station, an easy cab ride from our home at the Delmonico Hotel at 59th and Park Avenue. I never imagined I’d be prevented from boarding because of my age. I was certain my clothes, modern hairstyle and lipstick made me look older. And besides, I smoked cigarettes like a sophisticated woman of the world.

The Shuttle was the busiest service in the Eastern terminal.  Signs were easily visible. It had multiple counters and gates. I never feared I’d get lost. I walked right onto the plane and grabbed the first seat. 

At Boston-Logan Airport I flagged a cab to Boylston Street and flew into the arms of my true love, a tall dark-haired green-eyed boy, whose name I cannot remember. 

We drank up all the beer and wine in his place, had sex and walked to a college party. When we returned to the apartment a charming exuberant roommate greeted us with the notice that we were out of booze and he was broke.

What to do? I needed my remaining cash for the air fare and the cab rides to and from the airport. So I gave the roommate my pearls to cash in for more liquor. 

I made my way back to New York with no memorable mishaps. Since my father was battling his own alcohol demons and unsure of his role in my life, he made no effort to question the particulars of my trip. 

The Boston boyfriend? He flew down to New York on the Eastern Shuttle to see me once or twice. 

And that was that. 

The Last Time I Saw Him

The Last Time I Saw Him

The last time I saw my father was in a La Salle Street law office. The confrontation was inevitable but I’d hoped he’d die before I ever had to see him again.

John the lawyer had told me a few weeks earlier that it was time. “We can’t put it off any longer.”

Herb, my old friend and lawyer, met me in the hotel coffee shop that morning. I’d flown in from Washington to Chicago the night before. My official notice requested a day off for personal business. 

Personal business. The words are both too formal and too benign.

Herb flagged a cab on Michigan Avenue because my legs were too wobbly for the short walk to LaSalle Street. Two years had passed since I’d last seen my father. I came voluntarily to confirm fraud accusations against him. The thought of it kicked off spasms in my coffee-filled stomach.

Herb kindly offered to escort me from the hotel rather than risk my running into my father alone on the street or in the lobby or god-help-me in the elevator. 

Are these extreme feelings legit? Why was a grown woman so afraid of her father?

He was such a good liar. Forty-five year old me could still remember that twisted smile from behind the cracked door of the upstairs bedroom the first time my mother called the police.

“It’s nothing, Officer,” he smiled. “Just a quarrel over money. You know how it is.”

Years later, after they’d separated, he sobered up. But that smile. The one where his bushy eyebrows turned inward toward his pooled eyes; where his bottom lip turned up but his upper lip remained still, imperceptibly quivering. If you hadn’t known him all your life, you’d never know that smile was a dead giveaway that he was lying.

Having lived most of his adult life in Gucci loafers and posh apartments, he became desperate for money in his seventies. We’d been close. Until friends of mine let me know he’d approached them to back a questionable business deal. He needed enough money to live comfortably until the end of his life, which was not too long as it turned out. At eighty he died of lung cancer, a diagnosis he never revealed to anyone.

Before I moved to Washington, I’d been in the room many times listening to my father on the phone hustling potential investors. 

 “Just need a few more thousand,” he’d lie, “Then we’re ready to go.” 

A friend of mine he’d contacted without my knowledge took the bait. He gave my father almost a million dollars. Later, the friend sued. 

In the conference room Herb objected to those bushy eyebrows taking a seat across from us. I locked eyes with the lawyer interrogating me. Two weeks before, a crony offered me $10,000 to not testify. The week before, my father called my boss growling I couldn’t be trusted.

After the deposition, I backed away from my oncoming father. Herb stepped between us.

“Don’t talk to her,” Herb warned.

And he didn’t.

Happy Valentine’s Day to US Women

Happy Valentine’s Day to US Women

Women in the #MeToo movement in 2017 exposed patriarchal  employment agreements that protect sexual predators in the workplace from legal action and public shame.

And women led the effort to end those practices. Four days before Valentine’s Day, 2022, news hounds woke to hear that the bill, “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act” had passed the Congress in rare bipartisanship.

“DID YOU SEE THIS?” Women everywhere texted each other in all caps asking if this surprise news flash could possibly be true.

Forced arbitration clauses are fine print boilerplates hidden in agreements and contracts. They’re concealed in the terms and conditions to enter a nursing home, start a new job, become a patient or rent an apartment. These clauses have prevented survivors of sexual abuse from holding the abuser accountable in a court of law. They require the accuser to submit to secret in-house arbitration.

This new legislation allows employees to expose sexual misconduct to the public, a gigantic cultural shift that will prove to be the deterrent to workplace abuse.

Before this act was passed the sexual abuser could have the accusing woman (or man) fired or demoted. Well, watch out abusers! In the future, your deviant sexual behavior and bullying tactics just may end up splayed all over the news.

It’s been reported that more than half of the US workforce is under forced arbitration contracts. As a pensioner, I greeted the news with mixed emotions. How different would my life have been if fear of reprisal hadn’t stopped me from reporting former bosses and co-workers? Would I have turned in the bigwig who showed up at my apartment building over and over to work on the latest project? Or the guy who thought he had a right to fondle my breasts at work when no one was looking?

I honestly don’t know what I would have done if I’d had the guts and the legal avenue to report them. I know one thing. I shied away from proximity to sexually aggressive men and missed opportunities for better jobs as a result. I tolerated bosses who treated women as replaceable sex objects and male co-workers who pestered women with sexually charged jokes, remarks, and teasing.

Mandatory clauses in nursing home contracts require that any dispute between the family of a resident and the facility be submitted to binding, confidential arbitration. According to the Administration for Community Living, 20,000 sexual abuse complaints were filed in nursing homes over the past 20 years. That’s about three residents every day. Most nursing home residents and their families are unaware they’d waived their right to sue over sexual misconduct when they signed the required paperwork. The new legislation allows these cases to be brought to court and adjudicated in the light of day.

I missed opportunities to bring abusers to justice in my working years. Now that there’s a legal obstacle to abuse, I need not fear if I end up living out my days in a nursing home.

Thank you women. Thank you RAINN.org. Thank you advocates. And thank you Gretchen Carlson, the Fox News host who publicly accused Roger Ailes and never left her courage at the door.  (video of Gretchen Carlson: https://wapo.st/3oGT4tY)