National Geographic Expeditions: Ms Christine Goes To Washington

I haven’t taken vacation in close to three years. It’s clear I have trouble relaxing. I decide in this Obama mania of Change, Change, Change that I will take five days off. What to do? What to do? I receive my National Geographic Expeditions catalog in the mail and decide to sign up for the DC four day photo-journalism expedition.

First, I can add simple numbers. It’s not four days. It starts Thursday night at 5:30 PM and ends Sunday at noon. That’s two and a half days. Duh. Ok, rise above accuracy in logistics and get with the program.

I tell my friend Paula about the trip, and she decides to join me. I love Paula because she always reads everything associated with anything she does, and I know she will have the whole thing figured out by the time we get there.

One Month Before My Vacation Expedition

“You have to get a Mac and download Lightroom.” Paula is on the phone after having received her kit in the mail that I received weeks earlier and haven’t read.

“Huh? It’s a photography class.”

“Yes it is, and you need Lightroom which costs three hundred dollars, and you should be on a Mac.”

I always follow Paula’s directions and order one Mac laptop, one major screen, one cordless mouse and keypad. I buy Lightroom and add $5,000 to the $2,000 cost of the trip. Well, I needed to move to Mac anyway; everyone who is really creative uses a Mac and after the class that will include me.

One Week Before the Class

I put my camera in the car and take it with me to be ready for a few practice shots on the days before the trip begins. You never know when the next Katrina can hit when you are driving to and from work the week before your first photo journalism class. My camera is stolen from the back seat of my car two days before we are heading to Washington.

I go to the camera store and buy a new camera and  lens that will serve as my “sure I know what I’m doing” calling card. $1,500. We are up to $8,000 for the trip. I’m realizing that perhaps there is a reason I never take vacation.

I’m ready to go. Bags packed. Check. New camera. Check. Batteries charged and ready to go. Check. DC here I come. On the way to meet Paula at the train station I make a mental note that I could be sent to Africa shortly after being discovered in DC as the best photo journalist discovered in a two and a half day class that so far costs $8,000.

Night One — Dinner with the Group

We head down to registration, drinks and dinner right on time and start to meet the group. No one talks about photography much, but instead get acquainted with where we are all from and what we do outside this trip. I look for those with indented shoulders thinking the professional photographers are worn from carrying bags, etc around the globe in their amazing assignments. Not too many are admitting they are photographers professionally. I start to relax.

We eat and then see a presentation by our PPL (Professional Photographer Leader), Mark Thiessen. He presents his work on fires and as he speaks I look around a bit wondering if anyone has the same thoughts as I do about how pyromaniacs love fires and perhaps the fact that for six years he pursued his fire story should be a tip off to the feds. That, of course, makes me wonder if we are going to shoot any FBI stuff and so the evening went.

Day Two: Really Day One After Night One

Everyone is stoked. We head over to National Geographic Offices. (Who knew they have three buildings and call Alexander Graham Bell their founder? Turns out that Bell left them a ton of telephone stock, and so they have plenty of real estate to call their own. I wonder what I will leave them when I win the Pulitzer for a shot I take after learning everything I need to know in the next four days, or two and a half depending on whether you are the payee or the payor.)

After breakfast we head up to the editing classroom we will be using. They tell us in the elevator that we are assigned seats. I say out loud, “Please let me be in the back row. Please let me be in the back row.” Everyone laughs but I know two things. You have to say what you want in life, and being in the back row means you can see what everyone else is doing on their laptops and know whether you should check out or not. We arrive, and no surprise to me I’m in the back row with some fabulous people.

Jack on the left, Martha, Kate and Paula who visited our row often.
Jack on the left, Martha, Kate and Paula who visited our row often.

Kate on my right and Martha on my left. Jack sits next to Kate, and they happen to have the same last name. We later dub our back row, Back Room Alley, and we know that we are the finest in the land for sure and support each other better than my Playtex bra in 1993 when I went through menopause and my breasts fell to my knees.

The morning is a presentation by Todd James, one of the editors at National Geographic. I’m sure he’s a very very nice man to have as a father. That said, his presentation was more a review of his favorite National Geographic stories over the past years (not sure but could be quite a few years).

He offered the following elements of editing:

Know your subject. Research Up; edit down. That was interesting. I’m not a strong researcher, but it makes sense. Learn about where you are going before going and then you will know the shot.

Find Meaningful Surprises. Are you kidding me? That’s like saying, “Make a lot of money,” or “Eat well and you will be thin.” How to find meaningful surprises would have been nice. Some examples of meaningful surprises would have been nice and how it wasn’t dumb luck (or was) would have been nice.

See what others miss. He’s kidding right? Todd, again, how does one see what others miss? How do you even know if others missed it? 

Photograph what you feel. I have spent thirteen years in therapy trying to figure out what I feel. By the time I figure out what I feel darkness has set in and the shot is lost. But I know what he means. I do. I know that I need to shoot people not places because I feel people. M on my left who aspires to be a photographer and is one already shows me a shot on day two where there is a line of WWII vets lined up at the memorial, and I start to cry as she remarks, “You know they won’t be around much longer.”

Use photography as a language to tell your story. I like that one. I try it on, “I speak English and photography.” Yes, that’s it for sure. I realize it was worth the morning just for that. And, there were some shots over the weekend that did just that. One in particular was a line from the military at Arlington taken by John I think (will try and get it to upload). The soldier on one side is barking out an order and his mouth is in a perfect O that reminds me of the carolers that I put out at Christmas. I know he means that order big time, and I can hear the picture. I can hear it.

So, I’m glad that Todd, the picture editor who still prefers film rather than digital, spoke to us. I learned a lot and also I know I want to subscribe again to National Geographic.

We have lunch and head off to our first assignment.  We are split into two groups; one goes to Dupont Circle and the other, including Back Row Alley, heads to Adams Morgan neighborhood. We are told to capture the culture of the neighborhood. The only thing I remember about Dupont Circle is in the movie An American President, when she keeps getting stuck in Dupont Circle, and I never heard of Adams Morgan. We are told that they are culturally diverse and that’s it. Now, I am a learner, and we were just told that we should research up and edit down, so I know this is not going to go well but I decide it’s all in the attitude. I put on my Geo (that’s what all the cool people at National Geographic call the company, and since I’m a photo away from my African assignment, I’m sure it’s ok to join them) hat, hop in a cab with Y whose bag weighed more than I do and he,ad out. I leave her at destination Adams Morgan Neighborhood so I can hear my feelings and stand on a corner for awhile waiting for my feelings to hit me. “Shoot what you feel. I speak Photographer. Editing down from researching up (liar!).” That goes on for quite awhile and I am starting to panic.

My boys in the 'hood
My boys in the 'hood

I see it. Four thug young boys walking down the street. They turn the corner away from me. I’m desperate. I call after them “Hey tough boys, walk toward me. You can kill me when you get here.” I swear to God. Desperation does something to a person. They turn. I start clicking. And, it worked. One of the four kept walking the other way, but the other three turn and start walking toward me with a mixture of tough and fun on their faces. I love them and will pay for their college education.

I spent some time talking to them. It was great. Promised I’d send the shot which I will do shortly.

We arrive back for the editing process and everyone is shaky – wanting like Sally Fields to really have their shots be liked. It was all very touchy feely during the review process and no real input from the professionals on what should have been done or what makes a good picture etc. I realize that two hours to edit (really meaning pick out four pictures to show the class) borders on a new level of narcissism. We in back room alley finish up in a half an hour and chat amongst ourselves as others painfully look at each of their shots over and over and over again to figure out which one pops. Truth is I only have one worth showing – my boys in the hood – and I feel good about it.

Kate starts doing some work on her laptop, and I see she is in pharmaceuticals. I tell her I’m all about the drugs, and she doesn’t offer anything under the table. Martha and I talk about her sherpa husband and the class.

We see each other’s images, and the next day’s assignment presented. We are to go to the Lincoln Memorial at dawn, shoot in the new light and then get shots of tourists and meet back for “editing” after lunch.

A group of us walk to a nearby place for dinner and decide to meet in the lobby at six to head over to the Memorial. I take to heart the research first editing remarks and Google Lincoln Memorial at dawn images and see that the light appears to come from the left hand side. I tell everyone that the next morning. Turns out it doesn’t come from the left, but no one suggests that I was sending them astray on purpose.

My shots of the memorial are not memorable. Martha, however, nails it with a shot of the Memorial with a man mopping the area. Kate and I compliment her shot, and we all marvel at Kate’s shots too. I have asked her to send me some to show.

Martha's Shot of Lincoln Memorial with mopper
Martha's Shot of Lincoln Memorial with mopper

I am grateful for the morning and my encounter with Reginald in the park. Paula and I go into the park near National Geo after the Lincoln Memorial, and he is sitting on a bench. I know he’s not all there but there was something about his face. I sit down next to him and realize that part of being a photographer is that you are not really you. You can do things like sit next to a schizophrenic on a bench and feel like you have something to say to him.

I hand him my large lens as I’m switching to something smaller, and he and I become friends. Reggie is trying to stay in the real world and in his mind is a great basketball player. He demonstrates his techniques which if I’d read the directions on how to work my camera I could have shot with repeat shutter controls, but of course I haven’t and so I am stuck with Reggie in one still.

My new friend Reggie
My new friend Reggie

I give Reggie twenty dollars. I tell him he earned it for helping me with my lenses He was so happy that he gave me a hug and a kiss. I won’t forget him.

When we got back to the editing room, our leader Mark gave a lecture on elements of good picture taking. It strikes me that having it at the END of the expedition was sort of strange, but whatever. he also shows us pictures from his personal collection. They are awesome. Kate notes that the Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns are all about the candles in them. The birthday cake picture is also all about the fire. She is so smart that Kate, and I tell her so, but she still doesn’t offer me any free drug samples.

We have our wrap up dinner and the helpers put together a video presentation (they are sending it to us and I’ll upload it when they do).  I realize that we all learned a lot. I took my first vaca in years, and I realized that it’s about getting out of the house, away from technology. I intend to do it more often.

Paula and I skip the last morning tour of Mark’s lab; I doubt we will be using it in the future. We have a nice leisurely breakfast and talk about our favorite shots from the group.  Great wrap. Great weekend with my friend.

Thanks to all for the great time. I would do it again in a heartbeat. 

And, check out the pictures from the Pulitzer winner this year. He knows how to take a picture. I am in awe.


Amtrak: Ms Christine Takes a Roomette

I recently had to go to a number of cities for business and family matters that were nestled across the country. “Self,” said I, “why not take the Amtrak challenge, write on the train and relax for two days going to Denver from New York?” Silly me.

Traveling is not wonderful during the winter months no matter how you go, and I was prepared for the inconveniences of Mother Nature. However, how a service deals with those inconveniences separates the men from the boys, and sadly, Amtrak, or AmCrap as my fellow travelers dubbed the company, clearly has to grow up.

You know when you arrive at the airport and it says delayed on the boards? Well, Amtrak says ‘on time’ until it’s a lie to be saying it (in other words, the departure time has passed), and then they alert you to the delay. I did ask at the counter when it was boarding time if the train was in the station and the man behind the counter was clear about the fact that it wasn’t.

“I see that it now says the train to Chicago is delayed. Is it in the station?”


“Oh, that’s odd. If they knew it wasn’t even in the station, why did they wait until departure time to change the ‘on time’ listing to delayed?”

“I dunno. It’s not even in the service area.”

“Oh, well how long does it take once it’s in the service station before it comes to the station to pick us up? Is there time for me to go out and run a few errands?”

“I have no idea.”

“Could you ask someone?”


Ok then. I head back to the lounge area and eat the soup that I bought just before they changed the marquee. I thought it would be cool to eat hot soup in my roomette (Isn’t that a great name, Roomette?)

We board an hour later, and I lug my luggage to the rail car where my first class roomette awaits. I have a large, heavy bag filled with papers etc. for the business part of the trip, and I stand looking at the gap between the car and the platform wondering how I can lift it across as it clearly can no longer be rolled. I am reminded in that great film  A League of Their Own when she is running next to the moving train and throws her luggage, the luggage of her sister and then her body onto the slowly moving train. She wasn’t embarrassed at all at her grunting and so I thought, “well if it’s good enough for Geena Davis, then it’s good enough for me.” I heave ho my bag over the Delaware Gap of Penn Station and notice the porter for my first class car standing just inside.

“Hi, I’m Christine, and in Roomette #5.”

“Well, it’s back there,” he says pointing.

“Oh, well is there a place to store my bag?”

“No, if you didn’t check it, then it has to go in your room. You are going to be crowded.”

I’m wondering why they didn’t tell me this when I checked in. I maneuver my way to my room and realize it just ain’t big enough for the both of us.

And, surprise, surprise, the porter for our compartments has disappeared.

The train pulls out; I’m sitting on the chair in my roomette with my legs on top of the bag which just fits lying on the floor. My knees are higher than my chest, however, and I’m concerned about sitting like this for two days and if the blood clots from sedentary sitting are worse if your legs are higher than your heart.

My door is open and a family of three from Australia is setting up in the roomettes next to mine. It appears that we are the only three in the car, but alas the porter is still not around to answer questions. I wonder where he can possibly be hiding. We are not talking about many places to get lost.

We chat for a bit, and I think this adventure is getting better. It’s agreed that we will go to dinner together. In the meantime I make some calls and watch the partially frozen Hudson as we run alongside it and the sinking sun. Very pretty.

We get to dinner and the first sign that this is not quite the first class dining experience we’re used to is when there is only one menu for the entire table and it’s all been crossed out with a pen with other entrees entered in with misspelled precision by the hand of someone who clearly couldn’t care less.

I’m quickly reading my turn at the menu when our waitress announces,

“You can’t eat breakfast here; we have no water.”


“Oh, well where will we be eating?” says the Australian father politely.

“You can get something in the back if you want, but other than that, I don’t know.”

We are then given sheets of paper to sign for our dinners which she leaves on the table.

“Don’t lose those papers,” she admonishes. “If you do, I’m docked $25 for each of them.”

I am starting to feel testy.

“Then don’t leave it here on the table,” I said with a hint of irritation. “I can’t take on this responsibility right now. I’m trying to unwind.”

“I have to leave them here until dinner is over. It’s the rule.”

About twenty five minutes later, four paper plates of still bleating lamb are slapped down in front of us just as the lights go out. I figure this is a gift from God, and I’m grateful. We eat in the dark for 15 minutes and then one of those neon wands is put on the table. You know the ones. They use them at concerts, and I’m thinking I might lift it up, wave it around and sing a heartfelt rendition of God Bless America.

I ask the waitress as she comes by for another diet pepsi.

“Not unless you pay $1.25 you can’t.”


“Ok, I will pay the additional funds. But could I point out that since you have no water to serve, it seems to me I should get the diet soda for nothing.”

“You can get water,” she says. “It’s on the shelf in your car just up there.”

Oh, I get it. I should get up from my dinner and walk to the next car and get the water there and bring it back. Right.

We are sitting making the best of a meal that only gets worse, and I’m drooling from stories from the Australian couple about the great trains in Europe and the train from Paris to London. We decide to rise above those around us, get my computer and watch a movie. I get the computer, come back and set in on the dining room table. 

“Oh, no you don’t!” cometh from the Amtrak Gestapo Waitress. “You ain’t watching that in here.”

We decide to retire to the rooms and head for bed. Somehow the festive mood is lost.

Our porter is no where to be found. It’s now 9:30, and I wonder about how tipping works and what exactly his responsibilities include. I figure out how to work the bed, lower it and get ready for the night’s adventure.

I lie on my berth watching the night pass and the lights of Ohio and Pennsylvania going by. I realize that the second diet pepsi which I had to drink all of to make my point is making sleep impossible. But the night is cold and the window gives me a doorway into sleeping America that I find very comforting. I watch the passing scenery as the train lumbers through the countryside. I am reminded of the enormity of this land of ours and how Amtrak transverses it daily like a mother walking through her den. I’m happy to be on the ride.

It’s the next morning, and I head to the dining car. I see that there are some women eating oatmeal, and I think all is not lost.

“I’ll have the oatmeal please.”

“No oatmeal. We have no water.”

“They have oatmeal,” I say pointing to my neighbors.

“Well, we had water a while ago and now we don’t.”

Another woman walks up and asks if I want oatmeal.

“I can get the water from the car up there and make it.”

I look pointedly at Gestapo Lady and ask her what her name is.

She answers, looks me straight in the eye and says. “What’s yours?”

My neighbors arrive and sit down. He wants the egg and cheese sandwich and the oatmeal.

“You can have one or the other, not both. And if you want the cheese sandwich you have to go the car back there and order it with the rest of the passengers.”

Could I possibly make this up? By this time it’s about National pride and dignity. All I can think of is the stories from the night before about European train service and I’m ready to pull out my flag and show them how this country works.

“Ok,” I say looking right into her eyes. “Let’s review. You can’t serve us the breakfast we paid for because you have no water. Now you are telling this nice man that he can’t have what he wants which is available for breakfast. This is not working for me. Who is in charge and please ask them to come to the table.”

We see her walk back and talk with the other waitress and another woman at length, clearly explaining the situation. Now I become Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail when he’s trying to get the woman at Zabars to take Meg Ryan’s credit card.

She walks to the table, and I make the case.

“These nice people from Australia paid – as I did – $1,000 for tickets on this train to ride first class from New York City to their destination in California. You can’t serve them the breakfast they paid for. We understand that the water isn’t working because the pipes froze. But, now you are telling him he can’t have both oatmeal and an egg sandwich? If Amtrak can’t give them what they paid for, then the way Amtrak needs to respond, like this. “We are so sorry for the inconvenience. How can we make it better? You want the egg sandwich from the back and Oatmeal? I’m on my way.'”

She looks at me and starts to explain.

“No,” I interrupt holding up my hand. “Explanations are over. Are you going to help him or not?”

“You are not listening to me explain our procedures and how they are just following the rules.”

“No, I’m not listening. I’m the client and your job is to murmur, say you are sorry and to recognize that we are at our wits end.”

To her credit, she looked at me, said she would take care of it and did. I thank her from the bottom of my heart for showing them that in America, reason can prevail. The message to AmCrap? No wonder you are in the state you are. Wake up, smell the roses and change your rules. They aren’t working.

We arrive into Chicago two hours late. Our porter is all over me with helpfulness when we pull into the station. I tell him that I find this insulting, and I hope he has a nice life. I have just enough time to run to a museum I want to see before the next train takes me to my final destination of Denver. Maybe that train will be better.


Cheerios, Who Knew?

Remember when Cheerios was just a cereal? You always had it in the cupboard. I’m not saying it was the fun cereal or anything. Frosted Flakes, now that was a fun cereal. You could eat Frosted Flakes with milk or without. Either was still sensational, but Cheerios were just there, like the quiet sister. You couldn’t really put things on Cheerios; like blueberries for example. But let’s face it, fruit on cereal really belonged to Corn Flakes.

Anyway, the reason I want to talk about Cheerios is that they have become so much more than a just a staple cereal in your pantry.

First, they will now cure your heart disease, and if you don’t have heart disease, they will lower your cholesterol, and if you don’t have a cholesterol problem, voila, Cheerios will assist your digestion. These are the important things Cheerios can do for you. But it doesn’t stop there.

When my daughter was a toddler, I had plastic sandwich bags of Cheerios with her at all times. I had them in the diaper bag, in my coat pockets, in the car, and in her room. It was the perfect snack. No fake coloring and you could pretend they were healthy. A generation later, I see mothers still using them when I’m out and about. Oh, we also played counting games with them, and while she is not in mathematics, she tests well in math, and I’m sure I have Cheerios to thank for that.

Today, I received an email that gave me a ‘recipe’ for making a bird feeder out of Cheerios. Apparently, birds like and need Cheerios as much as we do, and if you make it for them, they will come. Who knew? I am not going to make the bird feeder because I don’t want bird kaka on my small terrace, no matter how much it will help them.

A few week ago, I read that girls were making Cheerio necklaces and giving them to friends to wear and eat the Cheerios one by one during the day. Every time you see the guy you like, you eat one and voila (this is really cool), he will like you back. I have no idea who is doing Cheerios’s marketing, but Obama should bring them to the White House.

Cheerios has a history, even though you probably don’t care about it. Cheerios was first produced on June 19, 1941 and was marketed by the General MIlls cereal company as the first oat-based, ready-to-eat cold cereal. It was called Cheeri Oats at first, later changed to Cheerios because of a trade name dispute with Quaker Oats. The new name fit the “O” shape of the cereal pieces. Now, aren’t you glad you know that?

Personally I liked it better when they tried to sell you cereal by giving you fabulous things in the boxes. Like Cracker Jacks, but your mother didn’t mind buying it. Someone actually wrote a book about it. (Just goes to show you that you can write a book about anything and if you are first to market, you can create a market. Strange.) The book is called Cereal Boxes and Prizes, 1960s : A Tribute and Price Guide, and you can buy it on Amazon. I was going to download it to Kindle so I could tell you what some of them were, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. If any of you buy it, let me know what the prizes were. I can’t remember. I do remember, however, that the first to open the box of cereal in my house got the prize. You shook it until it came out, even though we weren’t supposed to do that. We were supposed to wait and when it fell out naturally into someone’s bowl, that child would get the prize. Let’s be real. Setting up those kinds of rules, sets your child up to become a cheat. But, that’s another blog which I’ve already done.

I am done with the Cheerios Chat. But even though you are probably saying I am running out of things to blog about, you mark my words. You will never look at Cheerios the same again, and you are going to notice them now in their new forms.


Credit Card Free Me

I’m fifty-six years old and tend to think about things – even financial things – from a perspective not based on facts and figures but rather actions, feelings and opinions. I buy stocks based on a company’s ads, and how I think they will be perceived by consumers. It drives my Wall Street friends nuts. I vote from the gut. And those whose opinions I value usually mirror my own. I was lying in bed pondering how it was that I have to bail out individuals who took on more debt that their entire life’s income potential, and it came to me.

When I was a kid, my mother paid for everything by either writing a check or paying with cash. My mother’s wallet was a small thing; mine has no less than fifteen slots for credit cards. I do not have any idea how much money my pay check brings to my bank account with direct deposit. My father used to give my mother his pay check for deposit; and he handed it to her carefully, with pride and care.

credit-cardsI remember the advent of VISA and Master Card and American Express. I think my mother’s generation, who grew up with cash and checks, handled the credit card better than my generation. On some level they realized that it was still money going out. I do not think of credit cards that way, and my daughter’s generation surely doesn’t. When you arrive on a college campus, you get a Citibank credit card. Need I say more? It’s not real money. When I pay with a credit card (and I don’t carry credit card debt), I don’t really think about the money going out. When the card statements arrive for payment, I often shake my head at my depth of spending, most of which I never really think about. An American Express bill’s balance always feels like a surprise. If I had to write a check or pay cash for that ridiculously priced handbag, I would at least pause before laying it on the shelf at the cash register.

So, I got up out of bed, and I cut up all my credit cards except my American Express (which I have sworn I will only keep on hand in case I need to flee the country). I even cut up my debit card. My deal with myself is that I have to go into the bank and cash a check, or pay by check. My accountant might say I don’t need to do this, but inside me I know I do.

The new credit card free me went shopping over the weekend. I was on my way to the counter with a pair of pants for my daughter when I glanced at the price tag to see if I needed to pay with cash or a check. The pants were $250. Wow, thought I, making a U-Turn in the store. Wow. Another pair of black pants? I don’t think so.

So, I headed to another store and was paying for something (on sale) with a check. The woman at the counter looked at me strangely and said, “A check. We don’t see many of these.” I explained my new philosophy, and she actually looked as if a light bulb had gone off and said she was going to do the same thing.

I went into the bank last week to cash a check. I’m picking an amount each week as a budget of cash. Since I cut up my debit card, cashing my check meant I had to go home and get my passport to provide the two picture ID’s needed. This setback notwithstanding, I liked walking out of the bank with my cash, and I actually thought I would say hello to the teller next week when I go back and she might remember me. After all, we had a moment with me explaining that I don’t want another debit card; and that I didn’t lose it, I cut it up.

They say that Barack Obama is arriving in Washington owing no one anything. They say the average contribution to his campaign was under $100. Because I signed on to give an amount a month on one credit card or another, I have no idea what my contribution turned out to be. Whatever. The bottom line is it’s a new world; some just don’t get it yet. Owing is no longer cool, and we are all going to be the better for it.

I actually like this new lighter me. I like the mental energy I have to expend mental energy now figuring out my money things. I’m sure it’s assisting my efforts to ward off Alzheimers. I feel freer. Ok, yes, it’s only been a few weeks, but they say after twenty-one days you can imprint new behavior. I should be firm just in time for Christmas shopping.


Applying to Nursery Schools

It was fall, just like it is now, when my now twenty-two year old was getting ready to apply for her fast-track-to-educational-success nursery schools in New York City. I dutifully joined the Parent’s League in an effort to gain the information I would need to be successful in securing her one of the prized places. Surely it was a sign of my commitment to motherhood. I am normally not a joiner of Leagues.

That was eighteen years ago. I remember clearly the meeting given each year by the Parent’s League, explaining the application process and how to approach it. It was attended by three hundred mothers of her competitors, many of whom I’d seen and chatted with in those nursery prep classes like Gymboree or Baby Time.

That day, we looked different. I never saw us look so good. Gone were the jeans and toddler-stained tee shirts of yesterday, replaced by the uniforms of our pre-baby lives. There were suits, full flowing skirts and long blouses or pants and silk blouses, depending on whether the goal was Dalton or Friends. With a variety of careers behind me and no predetermined notion of where Sarah should go, I wore a navy blue blazer over a long flowing skirt. I guess I should admit that I also like to cover all bases.

The first thing they said that smacked of import was that each and every child would get in — somewhere. I distinctly remember furtively searching the crowd, looking for that brat’s mother, the one who let her son hit my little darling with his Ninja sword a few weeks earlier in the park. Surely, his mother wasn’t there, and if she was, I could safely go back to worrying each and every night about Sarah having no where to go the next September when all her buddies were heading off to their schools. They weren’t lying. I know this because a search through the Mommy Phone Network League proved it. By the way, I recommend joining that league, it’s very informative and gives you something to do while your four-year-old is napping.

There was another surprise announcement that topped the first. That our children would be happy with the school that accepted them. We were told that the NYC private schools actually know what they are doing. They pick children and parents that mesh well together, regardless of whether or not we think they are capable of assessing little Sarah or Sam with the same certainty that we could.

There were a few children that have transferred out of the school we chose that didn’t look all that unhappy to me. If fact, in the two cases that I recall it was more the parents who were unhappy. The kids were learning to read and write, eat those God awful lunches, fill up after school calendars with play dates and tie their shoes at the same speed as the other children. I was surprised when their mothers said they were bored. But that’s another story….

After those reassuring statements, the interview process began at stafford nursery. I was more nervous for those appointments than if I was OJ being interviewed by Nightline. And with good reason, I might add. Sarah didn’t respond well to being taken on parade. Looking back, maybe it was her mother’s anxiety that made her uncomfortable.

At the first school she visited, my three-year-old took a doll, put it in a saucepan and started to cook it on the stove. I think she said she was going to boil it into something or other. I saw the “observer” furiously writing on her clipboard, and I knew we were doomed. She came over to me and actually asked if Sarah did that often. “Well” I replied, “She loves to play with dolls, and she loves to cook. I haven’t actually ever seen her do this before, but I can assure you she’s not making her into fudge, but something healthy, like broccoli.” As I held Sarah’s hand on the way out, I realized that I had crumbled under the pressure and let down my little girl down big time. If I could respond today, I’d say something more along the lines of “Let’s discuss quietly where you can take your clipboard and shove it.”

At another interview, we walked in the door and Sarah immediately asked for a cookie. The woman said they didn’t have any, and Sarah explained that all the other places we’d visited (dare I say exactly how many places that child was dragged to?) had cookies. She then turned and walked out the door. I smiled my best apologetic smile, hoping they’d see the value added in accepting a child that wouldn’t suffer from separation anxiety. I inched my way toward the door, mumbling something about bringing her back in and was told that wouldn’t be necessary.

You have a lot of time to think about things you should have done differently while you watch your child throw Harvard away in fifteen short minutes at the age of three. I chose to ponder important things, such as why we picked such common name for our child. If we’d named her Diamonda, or something unique, they would remember her over all the other children. Forgive me, Sarah.


NOW & Kennedy’s Endorsement of Obama

Ok, now I’m mad. NOW’s announcement today that Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama means he doesn’t support women is so outrageous that I’m compelled to take pen to paper and set the record straight.

Have women sunk so low that we have to attack those that do not support Hillary as anti-women? Can we not believe, truly believe, that Hillary is the best because her ability to lead and attack the terrifying issues of our time is the strongest among those running?

Must she be handicapped to win? And, if so, what does that say about us?

I remember my now ex (having nothing to do with this conversation) explained to me that after his investment banking firm spent millions to train a woman, she generally left before making partner to have a family after marrying one of the partners. I realized he was right; why should the company waste money training those that really don’t have the fire to be a partner simply because of their gender. Run the numbers. Bankers make decisions on numbers, not on the feminist issues of our time.

My daughter’s first horse show was the Hampton Classic where every youngster riding in the lead line division received a blue ribbon after the real blue ribbon was given out. I remember being disquieted thinking that she should not think because she showed up she deserved to win. Isn’t that part of the entitlement issue in this country?

Hillary must earn this nomination – if it is to be hers – because she is the candidate that we voted for over others based on how she handles herself; what she stands for, and the belief that she is best to lead us forward.

So far, I’m not impressed and will not support her. And, it has nothing to do with her gender. Are you NOW going to tell me I am not a supporter of women because I refuse to make this a gender issue and support Obama over a female?

Shame on you and any woman who votes for anything other than the person who she thinks could do the best job. And, if Hillary is elected because she’s a woman, we have set back our freedom much farther than those that seek to take away rights that are inalienably ours.

Please can we get back to issues and hope that she can run on those instead of her pant suit status?

Movies & TV

Ode to Joel Siegel

Joel Siegel died yesterday, and while he wasn’t a friend, he spent time with my family when my daughter was three or four. He dated my sister, and they spent time at our house in the Hamptons. I haven’t seen him since then, but I cried when he died.

There are people who have a positive outlook on everything. I think he was one of them, and I didn’t realize it until he was gone. No one was mad at him at the end of a bad review. He made you laugh about terrible movies. And a letter to my sister made me cry to. He said that hearing her laugh in the movie theater next to him was as good as the movie.

He took Ms. Sarah to The Little Mermaid and then used her in his review. She watched him on TV mentioning her with glee, and kept saying what fun she’d had with him at the movie. This of course was long before bring your daughter to work day.

He struggled. His wife died after struggling with cancer, and his sister had cancer too.

So, he’s gone now and so is his brilliant humor and approach to that which can often be taken too seriously. And, I’m surprised that I want to mention him here. But happy too, because what could be better than to touch a person long ago and have them mourn your leaving years later.

Great legacy Joel Siegel. Great Movie, fabulous ending.


Mother’s Day Epiphany

Ok, so it’s Mother’s Day again — and I’m sitting here contemplating something I heard on the Oprah Friends Channel on XM.

Alice Walker Quote
“I looked for my mother’s garden, and found myself instead.”

It sounds so great, doesn’t it? Find the garden and figure out your life. How hard could it be? Look behind the childhood garage that sits outside in the back of my soul, overgrown a bit with the ivy of the present? Not sure. Not sure.

Remember the movie Mother? Sarah (the one whose mother I am) and I laughed and laughed and loved him as well as her. Well, he wasn’t so great. Totally self absorbed and she’d checked out. My long term shrink (should I mention he’s blind — yes, yes, I went to a blind shrink to see myself better. Helllloooo?), told me that the only thing you aren’t allowed to do is check out. You can be angry at your child. You can be cruel sometimes, but you can never check out. I never have.