Valentine’s Day

My response to this week’s Daily Post Challenge: What’s Your Valentine’s Day?

Not being American I don’t want to dis the local customs – I’m reluctantly coming around to Halloween after all – but I’m afraid the holiday is more booby-trapped with relationship pit-falls than laced with love.

To be clear, it has nothing to do with having passed my 10 year anniversary  – a day for which there are plenty of cards for sale. In fact if there were more anniversary cards it might take the pressure off V-Day. “I’m so glad you didn’t tear up my number” or “Thank you for meeting my parents I can’t wait to meet yours,” would at least celebrate what you’ve already accomplished without risking it by pushing the envelope on what you hope might “evolve”.

No I love a bandwagon as much, if not more, than the next person. But long before I became one of Bridget Jones’ “Smug Marrieds”, Valentine’s Day seemed like a hastily contrived beta-holiday that someone should have focus tested before it launched. It’s fraught with awkwardness no matter where you are in your relationship.

Single? Do you accept a date or go out on an anti-valentine’s pride-night with your other single friends and end up shout-singing lychee martini infused karaoke to 40 sunken Korean barbecue tables-of-two? Much worse – if you’re newly attached what’s your gift:time ratio? If you think four months warrants a flower and a mixed tape and he’s thought out dinner beyond his part-time-job means, a gift and a moonlit walk around a glittering Sydney Harbour, one of you is in trouble.

But I’m passed all that and it’s all rosy in hindsight. Valentine’s Day could be a sweet reminder of how far we’ve come since then. It could be a bit of fun, sharing in the excitement of others. It really could! But there’s that email from school reminding us that this is even bigger for toddlers and primary schoolers and anyone who doesn’t help their kids make 20 of their nearest and dearest feel special is a party-pooper.

I am now trudging through frozen slush to Michael’s to stand in line for supplies.  Oh it’s for the kids, we say (which is why I’m coming around to Halloween, because it really is For The Kids!) But they’ll only be excited about the craft supplies and the prospect of more cupcakes at school. Ten minutes into it reality will hit even the most dedicated Handwriting Without Tears graduate.

“Dear [name], you are a great friend and I really like your [special talent]. I hope we can have a play date soon. Happy Valentine’s Day, Your friend [R or H’s name in curly colorful cursive]”

Will  become,

Dear [name], hppY valenties dAy. From [R or H].

Shortly after that H will ask me to print it all out on the computer so he can fill in the names and sign it. This year, we’re going up the class list in reverse alphabetical order, to make it fair.

So instead of smiling at burley blokes trying to maintain a swagger while carrying red roses and fluffy bears, my Valentine’s Eve will be spent forcing two house-bound children to get all their homework done quickly so they can stay at the table for even longer so they won’t look like the only ones with curmudgeonly parents.

It’s not the most romantic day on my calendar, but I’m so grateful to have others that are!


Spilled Rice

It was a snack-lunch on the move. A granola bar on the E Train from Grand Central to JFK. The kids were at school and prepped for a week without me – doing more than fine with the idea because having babysitters pick them up from school is kind of fancy, having a friend pick them up and take them to her place is fun and having Dad take the afternoon off to pick them up and hang out is just awesome.

I’ve cooked and frozen a few meals and done plenty of groceries for them but they’ll probably take the excuse to eat out and then tease me about what a treat my week away was.

By the time the train starts making local stops in Queens, the carriage is half empty – just a few people shrouded in lumpy puffer coats here and there. The girl next to me is reading but it’s on her iPhone so I can’t read over her shoulder.

A couple of women in the middle section chat intermittently, like friendly strangers passing the ride or reserved colleagues on their way home from work. Opposite me a very round boy drops off to sleep, his head lolling against the ad for Dr. Zizmore dermatologist and plastic surgery. A container in a bag on his lap falls to the floor and his grandmother, all angles and worn edges, snaps the bag from his hand and reprimands him in Spanish.

The girl next to me goes back to her e-book and the carriage, which now smells of a spilled Chipotle rice & beans, shudders towards Jamaica.

Suddenly the boy is standing in the middle section of the carriage, shouting and crying. His grandmother drops a napkin over the pile of rice at her feet and goes to the middle section nearer to him. He hurtles to the back doors and sobs and shouts again.  The train stops and my heart slows. He’s much too old for tantrums like this but too young to get off the train on his own. Grandmother goes to the other end and sits a distance from him but he stomps back back to stand by the door next to my seat. A tear trickles past the arm of his glasses, which he’s outgrown and now dig into his cheeks. He wheezes and pulls himself together with a faint groan. He’s too young for this.

The two women sitting in the middle exchange a “one-of-those-days” half-smile with the grandmother, but I don’t think this is one of them. Kids who have enough good days don’t react like this to bad ones.We’ve all been overtired and perhaps over-reacted to a mess. It happens and I won’t presume to know their story from one scene. But this scene jars. A boy who’s not coping,  a grandmother possibly overstretched but strict in all the wrong places and a family that can’t give or receive comfort when it’s needed. Would the boy receive a hug even if it was offered?

They get off – together, at least. I see her follow him up the stairs a few paces behind him and when the doors close the meaty food smell dissipates as the food congeals. At the next stop a girls in scrubs gets on and sits in their seat, her feet astide the meal that to her, has no story to tell. Three more stops to Jamaica, then on to Australia.

When I get back I’ll roll my eyes at the food that wasn’t eaten in my absence. I’ll let them tease me and ham up my redundancy. But I’ll cook something nice and let the smells seep through the house and some day something will remind them of those smells and our apartment and feeling good. And if they’re having a rough patch it’ll give them the resilience to ride it out.

My response to a January lunch time challenge from the Daily Post #dpchallenge

Happy New Year!

It’s September. Back-to-School last week was closely followed by a sudden cold snap this week. In the northern hemisphere, this is the real New Year.

That means the 3/4 of the year that I dedicate to my own pursuits began a week ago and already, the mental list I was making over the summer is fading.

The list went something like this:

Write daily, blog weekly. Run every second day. Stretch. Be more generous with my time. Correspond. Listen more and speak less. Stop thinking and start doing. Finish Things!

The problem, according to my friend the life-coach, was that my list wasn’t SMART (specific, measurable, action oriented, realistic and timely). My list sounded like a mantra for a mouse-wheel. My friend’s most recent newsletter, Summer with Einstein, hit the nail on the head.

Let’s not head into September like last September, or the one before. Take a cue from Einstein. After all, he was able to get a few things done.

It’s great advice. I’m working on a new list… Tonight. At 8pm. It will have numbers and dates on it. It will contain verbs. It won’t include the words “try” or “aim”. I’m not sure how I’ll check off “realistic”, so for now, it’ll be SMAT.


I miss running. Not training, or exercising. The running you do because you have some energy to burn and 40 minutes before you have to be anywhere.

I ran like that once this spring, just as Central Park’s blossoms peaked. It revived the buzz that brought me out to The Jacqueline Onassis Reservoir the first time I ran – here or anywhere. The buzz that set in motion a small addiction.

That first run was at the end of our first New York winter. I had that New Year’s feeling that brings with it the need to move. I ran faster than I could sustain for a full loop, as if shaking three months of red wine and apartment living from my legs and six months of first impressions through my system. My headphones crackled with the dry air but I left them on with Chris Martin wailing to St. Peter about ruling the world. A school group huffed past in the four-four time of long distance pacers as I ran under a half-pipe of cherry blossoms, which all but closed out over the fence.

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I rounded the eastern edge and stopped short. The sun had paused behind the chunky pre-wars on Central Park West. Squares of sunset appeared like dropped stitches through the silhouetted El Dorado. Its rosy light skidded across the reservoir, into the upper-storey windows of Fifth Avenue behind me. Then the sun shifted. Dusk settled and darned the El Dorado’s western facade. I moved on.

I could have cried. Maybe I did. Only for a second but there probably was one tear that fell warmer than the ones already tickled out by the snapping wind.

I had to come back. Another loop, a longer path, more hills. Running gave me time in the day that didn’t exist before. It gave me a different view of the city. A soundtrack. By the the Fall I had paces to set and finish lines to cross. I even had other exercises to do to help me run! It could have been a slippery slope towards the squads of watery-eyed fresh-air junkies huddled over post-run coffees at Joe.

But it wasn’t the running. When I went out again recently, this time in the thick of the season, I realized it was just New York’s goading promise: Stick around for one more twilight. One more spring, autumn, dawn or dusk – those firsts you come to rely on when you’re away.