Feeds:
Posts
Comments

girlfriends

last summer i had the unique experience of becoming connected to a new group of friends. families with children, during the summer, my magical time of year, on the beach (even better). it all started when i was sitting on the beach in sag harbor hills soaking up the rays while editing pages of a book that i was working on to celebrate michael jackson’s life. an old friend, heather, walked by and we started talking. i showed her the galleys and immediately she suggested that we have a party to celebrate. seemingly a blink later she introduced me to someone everyone thought i already knew. as it turns out judia became my guardian angel, opening up her home to me and a pretty large group of hamptonians as we honored the life and legacy of the king of pop.

while that event was amazing, what was even more memorable is what happened amongst our group. the husbands bonded. the wives shared stories. even the children played seemingly in harmony.

and as the summer wore on we all chose to spend more and more time in each other’s company. there were about 10 of us women who came together in various configurations. and, somewhat reminiscent of high school when females find each other and bond, we clung to one another. it was an oddly wonderful experience, particularly given how very busy all of us were and are. most of us are professionals, some of us are full-time moms. all are juggling crowded schedules. and yet, we chose to make time for each other again and again.

i came late to this friend party of women who live at least on weekends in a few different parts of the hamptons. there are three on shelter island, several in sag harbor hills/ninevah/azurest, and a couple who come and go. last summer my family and i laid our heads in the springs though we beached almost exclusively in sag harbor hills. for the women lucky enough to have worked out their schedules to be already on island come friday afternoon, there was the weekly gathering at 3pm on shelter island beach. occasionally men join the group, given that some husbands are out by that time. one friday my family and i joined the group. on a not-too-hot august afternoon, we camped out just to the right of the lifeguard station and shared cocktails, crudite and laughs, all the while relishing in the sweet experience of being in the company of people who shared a kindred soul.

that day was funny because george, carrie and i almost missed the party. we arrived on time, eager to join the group. but we went to the wrong side of the beach at first. we set up our elaborate camp that includes a UV tent we have had since carrie was born, our special plastic woven blanket from bali that is perfect for lounging without getting soiled by the sand, our umbrella, cooler, chairs, the works. as the time kept ticking by, carrie’s godmothers joined us and we were cool, but where were our new friends? how about 40 paces away in the other direction? never mind they shouldn’t have been hard to find. the group is primarily brown-skinned, and the population of shelter island beach is primarily pink. go figure.

we found each other and had a blast. when i noticed george out of my peripheral vision sharing tastes of last summer’s favorite drink–cafe patron–smiling broadly and saluting, i knew the magic was happening. the boys were connecting too!

it was a summer we will never forget for a thousand tiny reasons.  as the season came to an end, we reluctantly crept back into our full-on city lives. one friend shared the bittersweet truth that the connections often dissipate during the hibernation months. people are busy in the city and often don’t make time for each other the way they do in the summer. she urged me not to fret, that soon summer would come again.

a few of us stayed close during the chill, but she was right about the friend pause.

no matter. summer is back again. and we are connected, though unlike last summer my family and i are not out east every weekend, but we are there plenty. unlike last year, one smart mom, yvette,  had a brilliant idea–to create a get-together night in the city during the week when the girlfriend connections could continue to foster even for those who don’t get away out east come friday. and so she created rooftop cocktails, a weekly gathering of girlfriends who choose to commune like we did last summer, like so many of us did before we had responsibilities.

the first of these gatherings was last week, on a thursday, at a rooftop bar called harry’s that lives atop a hotel on park and 46th, i believe. what’s great about this spot is that it’s relatively undiscovered. quiet. a few patrons, a lot of stars. folksy. four of us came to that gathering. yvette, the engineer of the event, and her friends rachel and nancie plus me. even with new connections, once again for me, it was a fantastic experience. there’s nothing like meeting people through someone you respect. then you want to know about the person. you want to hear their story. you want to be there.

remember gertrude stein’s question: is there a there there? the answer in this case is yes.

the there in this gathering brought us back together only a few days later for another trip down memory lane. nancie is a writer (like myself) and she has most recently worked on the playbill for a summer of fun–a concert series being hosted in brooklyn that features some of the best artists we can name.

the opening act was the ohio players. the main course–george clinton and parliament funkadelic. when these gorgeous unassuming women–a wavy brown headed ponytail, a blunt-cut redhead, a black-stained wavy bob–casually stated that they were attending this concert the spiky-haired one (yours truly) immediately attempted to invite myself.

you’re going, really? i wanted to know.

yes.

and so i did what a child of the seventies has to do. i turned my schedule inside out and showed up on monday evening to bask in the glory of my childhood memories–for real.

thanks to nancie we had almost front-row seats. but we didn’t sit much. we were on our feet, grooving to “skintight,” and “fire” from act one. i was tweeting up a storm (my newest skill, i have to say) because it was so much fun. when parliament came on, though, i couldn’t even tweet. it was too good. we were up and dancing, singing.  marveling at clinton in 2010. gone are the colorful locks of yarn–on him anyway. one of his band members was wearing them for him! gone were the crazy costumes. honestly, george clinton looked mainly like an average aging dude wearing a sweaty do-rag. if you had seen him on any corner USA you might peg him for somebody about to ask for a quarter. instead he was conducting his 20 piece band and holding serious court to an audience of thousands of eager onlookers.

we sang, danced, and made high school fools of ourselves that night. we stayed up later than grown mommies are allowed on a week night, but it was worth it.

the best side effect of all, for me anyhow, is the future. thanks to yvette’s vision now i get two chances each week this summer to connect with a growing group of positive women, some moms, some not, some professionals, some not, some brown, some not, all thoughtful, kind and interested in celebrating the uniqueness that makes us women.

how lucky am i? i’m pinching myself right now.

Advertisements

summer camp

i am a bone fide city girl. i grew up in baltimore city. it is true that my neighborhood at the time was considered suburban (to city folk) but it was surely city compared to the experience that many people i knew had when they went to the country, particularly for camp.

i don’t ever recall wanting to go away to summer camp. it’s foggy as to how many of my friends and neighbors actually took a trip away in the summer for that purpose. for me, it was fun being at home. because my father really liked being at home he had set up our home to be a haven for staying. my mother loved the beach. my dad hated the feel of sand between his toes. his compromise? he built a pool in our backyard so that we could swim there. no more need to go to the beach, right? hmmm.

the pool was pretty great. it was smallish and shaped like a kidney bean. it was a stylized in ground concrete pool that had just enough length to do a few laps back and forth. my dad had our pool built when my younger sister stephanie was born. i vaguely remember the men who dug the earth and laid the concrete. but i was four so the images are like moving clouds, most not clear. once the pool was built, my dad hired a swimming teacher who came every Saturday to teach us how to move through the water.

my father was serious about safety.  he was a judge, after all. he had seen so much crime and sadness that he was overly protective about many things, including anything having to do with safety. he posted the “pool rules” and absolutely required us to follow them. if anyone disobeyed–any child or any guest–the person was immediately evicted from the pool. and that was that. no arguing. no pleading. no time out with reentry later. that day would be the day that your pool privileges were orevoked if you did something like run on the pool deck, urinate in the pool, rough house in the water (like jumping on somebody and pulling the person under). basic practical things. we followed his rules without fail.

rules and all, my sisters and i learned how to swim. stephanie, who was crawling when the pool was built, learned to walk herself around the pool hand over hand over the pool wall, including the deep end, so that she would have no fear of the water. we learned to swim, excelled at it even. and had tons of fun. we had parties and flirted with boys. i used to race the boys and almost always win. back then i was super-tall, much like now, and super-thin. my lean muscles were perfect for the long lines loved by the water. my competitive nature propelled me to figure out how to race and use my body to competitive edge.

i loved summer, still do.  most of my early summer memories are of moments with my family or friends in my neighborhood. my memories are attached to home.

one year, when i was probably in junior high school or maybe sixth grade, my mother enrolled me in sleepaway summer camp. it was affiliated with church, maybe my church, i don’t remember. but somehow she got it in her head that i would like to go to this camp. maybe because it was affiliated with the church, she thought it would be safe.

all i know is i didn’t want to go. at all. as i recall it i devolved from the fun-loving, happy competitor i often was in the bright light of the summer sun and wilted into an afraid kid who didn’t want to leave home. wasn’t working  for me to stay at my house (i was going to camp, according to my mother). somehow i convinced my mother to go with me to the camp.

bad decision. (kinda like the bad decision parents make today when they send kids to sleepaway camp with cell phones. ET, DON’T PHONE HOME.)

the city girl in me coupled with the scaredy-cat who had claimed her rightful space in my heart didn’t make for a great camper. having mommie there meant i could stay in that helpless space and milk it for all it was worth–although of course i didn’t understand that back then.

i was terrified. like my dad, i never really liked to get dirty. i’m not a gardener. i swim, but i’m not interested in walking through woods. (well, at least i wasn’t until i met my husband, but that’s another story.) the more terrified i became the closer i clung to my mother. i’m sure she was freaked out, because fear was not a passion that ruled me when i was a child. so here she was, also a city girl, having to act like she was down with spiders and mosquitoes and bees and nature basically, to help me to be brave.

i remember going into the showers. there were communal showers at this space. i believe the showers were outside–sort of. they were fully enclosed, but nature was within and around them. wooden floor boards, and bugs. i freaked and wouldn’t go into the shower by myself. so, my mother ended up being drafted to shower with me in order for me to brave the water. (i have long been violently allergic to bees, and i think i overdramatized my fear of them to keep her so close to me.)

did i survive? let’s say i won a battle that i actually had lost. we left the camp early (thank God!). my wide-eyed wimpering prompted my mother to give up.

with only a few war wounds, a.k.a. bug bites, i was back home at 4801 forest park avenue sleeping in my bed, hanging out with my sisters and taking regular dips in the pool.

i don’t think i ever really thought about camp again until nearly 40 years later when my daughter started doing the camp thing. to be fair, her style of camp as a young child, does not involve sleeping over. but simply the concept of camp is something that hadn’t crossed my mind for decades. and then it was time for her to go. from age 2 to age 4 she went to school-like day camps that featured swimming, gymnastics, art, museum visits, and such. translation: great for her, peace of mind for me.

camps with all these amenities are expensive and exclusive in a particular kind of way. so last year i thought i would do two things. i would save money (very important in this crazy economy) and give some love to the neighborhood.

carrie has been having swimming lessons since she was 11 months old. we knew that since we love to go to the beach, and my husband is an avid swimmer (a skill he developed as an adult, about a dozen years ago, after surviving a major back injury), that our child needed to be able to swim in order to be safe.

for the past three years, she has been getting one-on-one swimming lessons from a wonderful teacher at a pool in our neighborhood. one day last year i went to see her swim, a rarity for me because at that time i was traveling nearly every week. as i watched her i noticed a man in my peripheral vision who had on a SUMMER CAMP shirt. BING. i immediately inquired and learned about the camp at her pool. it sounded too good to be true. [SIGN NUMBER ONE] it was crazy affordable for the entire summer. and, after i took the tour and learned every detail of the program, i believed that it would be perfect for my child. she would get a chance to go to an art camp that featured daily swimming in our neighborhood and therefore in the company of other children who look like her, something that hardly happens now in her private school world.

we enrolled. and sadly the best thing about the camp was “the brochure”. a few days in and she hadn’t yet gone swimming. one accustomed to a specific schedule, she was spending a lot of time sitting around with kids and doing nothing. at least nothing constructive. there were excuses about everything. no swimming because the camp counselors hired under the famed government stimulus package couldn’t swim, yet they hadn’t been screened for ability or willingness to swim when they were hired. huh?

but it wasn’t until week two. i was just back in town from my weekly trip to the midwest for work. we where out in the hamptons visiting with friends when carrie climbed up in my lap ready to go to bed. looking up at me with her big brown doe eyes, she said “mommie, i know the F word.” okay, so she was five years old at that time and my husband and i had worked overtime to keep profanity out of her life. i figured she was bluffing. how could she know? so i ask, “what is it?”

“Fuck”.

My mouth falls open. I take a deep breath and say, ‘We don’t say that word, Carrie.” To which she immediately said, “I don’t say FUCK, Mommie.” to which I say, “you don’t even say it to say you don’t say it. that is a bad word and we do not say it. for any reason. period. understand?”

“yes, mommie, i understand,” she soberly acknowledges.

but she doesn’t follow my wisdom. instead a couple of days later, she sidled up to my husband and told him about this word that she had just discovered. and my 6 foot 1 1/2 inch usually even-tempered husband began to bark at her. “we did not send you to this camp to come back home with bad words. is that all that you’re learning? we are sending you there to learn something. that’s why i expect you to bring home and share with us.”

i followed up reminding her that she must not repeat this word because it is rude and bad manners. as she was looking at me somewhat saddened, more perhaps perplexed, i say to her, “if you continue to speak this word i will take you out of camp.”

her answer: “good. i don’t like this camp anyway, mommie.”

took me right back to that shower in the country with my mom.

only this time instead of pulling her out–it was, after all, too late to put her in the camp she desired, and my husband and i work all day unlike my mom who could receive me back home–i worked with her to develop tools to be in that space without being of that space.

though the bugs in the woods are what scared me when i was young, i discovered that the barbs of the streets bothered me now. big difference, though, is that my fearless child didn’t need any handholding. she did not wither. she has a menu of confidence skills that shielded her from the foulness that i feared and helped her to navigate a kind of woods that will be important for her throughout her life.

she learned hand claps and jump rope at this camp–cultural skills she may not have learned anywhere else. she became an expert in hip hop and r&b radio hits. she enjoyed looking at and interacting with kids who look like her and whose hair curls like hers when it gets wet. she performed in a huge presentation at the end of the summer where parents and loved ones cheered them all on with love. she got to immerse herself in blackness, something that may ultimately have been worth the expletive after all.

this summer she’s back at her private school’s camp swimming nearly everyday and following an educational schedule that we all appreciate. but in retrospect i have to admit that i’m glad she got a taste of the urban woods. and i bet she will be ready to go to sleepaway camp when the time is right–without her mama!!!

to all the nightowls out there,

years ago it was recommended to me that if i truly wanted to be a writer that i needed to write everyday, no matter what. no matter how many words. just write. for most of my life i have followed that advice. and very often, indeed for most of my books, i have burnt the proverbial midnight oil–more like woodsy candles–and written.

i am an awake-at-night kind of girl. when i was a child, it was an enigma to my parents. why was harriette still awake? when i was in junior high school (yes, i predate middle school by as much younger as my sister stephanie is than i) i was assigned to write a paper, a research paper, about something. anything.

what in the world would i choose? as i thought about it, i remembered my favorite place to visit. it was f.w. woolworth’s, the most amazing everything store that ever existed, in my young way of looking at the world. i suppose stores like target or kohl’s or k-mart or walmart are kind of  like woolworth’s, but for anyone who intimately knew that store, not really.

f.w. woolworth’s was part of the world of five and dimes. those were stores that predated me. from my parents’ era. where things literally cost between 5 cents and 10 cents to buy, and i mean anything from beauty products to paper products to medical aids to candy, to holiday decorations and imagine anything else you may have desired. during my day, what was most compelling for me was a bookstand that was tucked carefully into a well-stocked corner in the near front of the store. on this bookstand were tiny books, miniatures (can’t remember what they were called other than pocket books. they literally would fit in a man’s shirt pocket or the back pocket of pants or jeans). i regularly perused this bookstand, fascinated by the broad range of books of all topics that it displayed. one day i happened upon a book about insomnia.

could my eyes be deceving me? there was a pocket book, about 15 pages or less, just large enough to stretch a bit beyond the space of my11-ish year old  hand, completely dedicated to insomnia, its causes, side effects and how to fix it.

only fixing never occurred in my life. back then i tried the things mentioned in the little book, that was, by the way, written for adults.

–no caffeine (i was in junior high school. i was not consuming caffeine. hardly drank cokes even)

–don’t eat near bedtime. (we ate dinner at 6pm every night)

–don’t bring work or books or anything into the bed. (but i really did like to read with that itty bitty light that was introduced to contemporary culture around that time. come on, my “bad” acts back then consisted of staying up late and reading. and you are going to deny me of that TOO?!!! i thought.

–think good thoughts. (great.)

i have found that writing at night is honest and revealing. the truth likes to push forth in the dark and claim its rightful space in conscious communication. i like that claim of rigorous honesty that the night requires.

i developed my ability to write the truth during years of unshared–largely–night musings.

today, as i reclaim the fullness of me, i have decided to share a bit more generously. specifically, in the space of my sacred revelatory time.

life is so amazing, everyday. somehow when you are willing to share your personal interpretation of reality in the moment it can allow for you to feel supported and guided to your truth. and it can also help others. that laying bare of soul and exploring of self is generous, in my view, as it is also absolutely therapeutic and right.

we receive from the universe. we give back to the universe.

here’s to that exploration. i welcome your comments and feedback. your musings. i am in search of truth in today’s contemporary and full=on society. to my knowledge, it reveals itself through engagement.

welcome to my public space of light and love and communication. come, share with me.

all love,

harriette