My daughter Sarah. Just those words stop me. An now she is a mother-to-be, another pause for reflection. She is a 7th Grade teacher in Cambridge, Mass., and each Thursday she calls the homes of students, to tell their parents something good the students are doing. This is a flabbergasting development for parents and students alike. Sarah learned the habit from her first principal, a way to connect with parents and include them in their kids’ education. She is an evangelist for new and smart methods of teaching children to read. My daughter Sarah is a passionate teacher who spends a lot of the day these days feeling nauseaus. She drove me around Cambridge for a while as we looked for a place for lunch, settling on Ristorante Marino on Mass. Ave., where I had a decent spaghetti bolognase and she had a pizza marguerite. We talked nonstop, as usual. Her life is full, conscious, engaged, and purposeful. Listening to her, my mind enjoys surfing the speed and nuance of her thoughts, like enjoying a fine jazz piece. My daughter Sarah would be a fascinating young woman to know even if she wasn’t carrying some fresher part of myself wonderfully into the future.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

à la américaine

My French friend Jean-Marie Jacquième today e-mailed me one of his intriguing travelogue posts, from Marrakech, Morocco. Describing a ticklish conversation with a Moroccan who had proposed a trip to attend a wedding, Jean-Marie wrote: “Je fais donc direct, 'à la américaine' et pose une série de questions.” Or: “So I do it directly, in the American way, and pose a series of questions.” I loved this. Taking on the way of an American, Jean-Marie asked the man how they would get to the wedding, how much it would cost, and if it was clear that Jean-Marie would pay his own way there, but not that of his acquaintance. This information, conveyed “à la américaine,” led to “une échappatoire magnifique,” a magnificent way out, when the Moroccan suddenly decided that a weekend trip was too short to bother with and that he didn’t want to go to the wedding after all.

Of course, “à la américaine” means different things in Denver as opposed to New England, where I find myself today, at a Starbucks in Harvard Square. A Westerner, à la John Wayne, would pride himself on speaking directly, the fewer words the better, and he’d no doubt be suspiscious of the tricky locutions of a pointy-headed Harvard intellectual. But compared with France, America does seem to represent directness. This can be refreshing and useful, as it was for Jean-Marie, or it can be naïve and crude, depending on the circumstance. For myself, I would often do better to back off from my steely purpose and take the time to connect “a la française,” with small talk, with a bit of graceful ingratiation.

This spot where I’m writing this morning is a little brick building that 40 years ago was a store called The Prep Shop. I remember self-conscious, awkward visits here with my mother to buy new gray flannels, shirts, ties, and a blue blazer with the Belmont Hill School seal on the pocket. How I would love to see that little guy walk in here today, so worried about his future. I’d tell him, à la américaine: “Don’t worry, kid. Your life will make Riley jealous. Work on your French.”

Friday, July 29, 2005

Any Dream Will Do

An incredible theater experience: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, presented by handicapped amateur actors at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. We just walked back home on wet streets, amazed at what we'd seen--wheelchairs turned into magic chariots, actors who made us forget they were different at the same time that we never forgot their accomplishment. The troupe sang, danced and embodied the musical's theme, "any dream will do." Their disabilities included MS, Spina Bifida, deafness, cerebral palsy, blindness, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, and HIV/AIDS. During the unanimous standing, hollaring ovation they all seemed perfect, and so did we.

On the 16th Street Mall, a man crossed the street in the opposite direction from us. He seemed "normal" in all respects, except that I noticed his left hand hung limply, disabled. I felt an irrational impulse to thank him for something, to wish him a very good night.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Dog Days of Summer

I’m so goddam edgy. I’ve got to figure out what to do with my self.

I don’t get my new puppy, Claire, for 12 more days. Yesterday I read dog books all afternoon. Information should be good and calming, but after reading about the terrier temperament and the many health problems they can have, my stomach was in knots and I was pacing around the apartment unable to take the edge off my nerves.

I rant and rave to my husband about all the things that could go wrong:

--The dog will bark every time the elevator rings.

--The building manager will find out we have a dog and tell us we have to get rid of her or pay $100 a day in fines.

--We will be unable to housebreak her, and she will pee all over the apartment, especially on the new rugs.

--Her terrier temperament will make her impossible to train, and she will be a dog out of control.

--She will need constant care with her coat, her teeth, her toenails, her ears and eyes. It will be never-ending, and she will fight me whenever I try to do any of it!

And then there is the image issue. I hate to admit this, but I really care about what she looks like. Ninety percent of all Yorkies seem really ugly to me, with their straight, fine hair. Part of the reason I chose this particular puppy was that her parents are very calm and some of the mother’s other puppies have had her curly black hair. The problem is that you can’t tell what a puppy will look like until it is older. So add to my worry list: What if she’s really ugly?

Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted a white cat. After we were married, I finally got one, but she had some medical problems and the vet advised me to return her to the people I bought her from, because she would have to be put to sleep. The pet shop called to say they had a white cat with a slight patch of gray on its head. I got it, and I took my scissors and cut out the gray hair, and, you know, it never came back. She was an all-white cat after that! I am embarrassed to admit this, but it tells me how important it is to me, to have the animal look just the way I imagine it.

I hate those bows that you usually see in Yorkies’ hair! I want her to look like a dog. I imagine her with her shorter hair with a nice full feeling and a natural curl. I imagine her black, not silver, with sparkling eyes and ears perked up ready for an adventure. I imagine her ready to play but happy for a nap when she’s done playing. I imagine her quiet and content in her carrying bag as I take her out on errands with me. I imagine her sitting as I sew or laying on Len’s desk as he writes! She will be a good traveler, happy to ride in the car and to fly on planes. I imagine her liking Len best but happy to see me as well.

When I got my collie puppy nearly twenty years ago, I didn’t really know what to do with him, and I didn’t have the patience to be consistent with the few things that I tried to do. Now I’m older. I wouldn’t call me calmer, but maybe more patient, and I have a better understanding of what I need to do so we can all three live well together. Also, I have found people to help me start the training process.

My stomach is still in a knot, and I’m thinking of all the other things that I forgot to mention that could go wrong. I’m thinking of pulling out my sewing machine and making Claire a small blanket for her kennel.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

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