Lesson

Everyone knows this about me but while surreal headlines hammer on about the Las Vegas shooter, the enormous power of the NRA, the voracious sexual appetite of a now-done Hollywood boss, cruelty in football and some senator calling the White House an adult day care center…you know what I’m doing?

Walking the dog. Down by the water. Always, seeking the water, under open sky.

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Nature makes sense to me. Running around the woods in Stony Brook with our ragtag gang when I was small, building forts and playing war in bamboo and mud meant that the place I know best is trees, dirt and sky. And the water. And the creek was my first water.

The creek off Erland Road — past the cut-through at the bottom of a rutted, sandy path meandering through pricker bushes and pokeweed — where I got carried away in the current in 1966.

My mom couldn’t swim. She sat on a blanket in her blue daisy suit and floppy white hat, talking to our neighbor who lay on a towel. Out in the water, my feet left the sand. My legs pedaled in deep water and I got pulled around the corner, first slow then fast into the main current. I was 5 and the only one in that day.

I remember the current pulling me down between narrow banks where grass grew. My head stayed above water. It was almost like being carried off on a cloud. There was symmetry there. I wasn’t afraid and didn’t think of drowning.

My mom must have, though. She must’ve stopped her chitchat to look out and see me suddenly being pulled away. She panicked. Our neighbor, just a teenage girl, ran down the bank and jumped in to rescue me.

I really didn’t know what the fuss was about. The creek had held me in the palm of its hand. The pull of the current was just nature teaching me another lesson.

Shadow and slant light balanced on leaves across the woods, the bead of the dogwood, the current pulling east off West Meadow Beach, these were my first and essential lessons. The ones I return to. To me there’s both chaos and order beneath the bramble, thorn and sand, in the smashed berry streaked purple across your arm. I’m just in it and it carries me.

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Knockin’ on What?

So the Early Girls, in the pic, are abundant in our garden now, and today was Tomato Sauce day in the kitchen. I kept it pretty simple, olive oil, shallots, basil and tomatoes. Will be nice to freeze some and pull out a jar in midwinter and remember all that summer sun and warmth that grew these humble little fruits…or is it a vegetable?!

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Oh, and beans. Anyone want some beans?!

I book-ended my summer with Memorial Day & Labor Day weekends up in the Skagit. I love it up there, the farmland and the mountains and the little main street are really a perfect antidote to this city living, with jobs and day schedules and traffic. When I go up there, I just really turn it down, and it’s so needed.

On Saturday night I was walking the dog on the channel walkway. The walkway is parallel to Main Street. The water’s to your right and all the restaurants and bars are to your left and you can spy all the pretty people sitting under tiny string lights inside Nell Thorn, the best table in town.

Keep walking and you hear the clinking of bottles and glasses with the low chatter and laughter from the bars. My dog trots alongside me and his tags clink too. It’s the only sound we make.

Keep walking and you hear the clinking of bottles and glasses with the low chatter and laughter from the bars. My dog trots alongside me and his tags clink too. It’s the only sound we make.

I hear some live music up ahead and come upon one of the bar’s outdoor patios. All the tables are filled and seem a bit crowded together, especially with the expanse of water to my right. A guy with gray hair sits at a keyboard singing Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. Beside him stands a fiddler in a long flowered dress. Her bow takes long draws, points and dips during lyric breaks. The tempo’s slow, and you get the feeling this song’s been going a long time. The mood is a little somber. It’s the last weekend of summer.

Ahead on the walkway, a couple leans against a railing, embracing, and everyone is caught up in the song. My dog and I wheel around the couple and keep going. We get to the end of Main Street where the only thing to do is turn around. I think to myself, I bet when I walk back, the same song’s gonna be on.

So we come back upon the same scene, and yes indeed, the guy is still singing about knocking on that good door. I’m glad I’m just walkin’ the dog because everyone in the place seems hunched over, glued to the singer and contemplating their own profound downfall. Not yet. Not for me. Or my dog. So we just spring right on by.

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door just isn’t the song to sum up my summer. If it was Dylan, it’d have to be Idiot Wind, an all-time essential song for me. If it was Neil, it’d have to be Long May You Run.

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door just isn’t the song to sum up my summer. If it was Dylan, it’d have to be Idiot Wind, an all-time essential song for me. If it was Neil, it’d have to be Long May You Run.

So, turning the page from summer, I’m happy to report I completed the two applications I set out to, one for a writer’s residency at Hedgebrook (99% doubtful for almost everyone who applies) and one more local artists’ grant. We’ll see. I’m really psyched I’ve applied as I need the next step to spur me on, on my writing journey. And what’s the soundtrack for that?

That’s easy.

She was an American girl/Raised on promises.

Public Spaces

I am so jazzed about Outdoors for All.

They’re a nonprofit that celebrates people with disabilities and gets kids out on bikes, kayaks, swimming, rock climbing, and in winter, on skis, snowshoes, you name it.

Yesterday, they held an Adaptive Bike Day at the park where kids with disabilities were invited to ride 3-wheeled bikes. Seeing those kids looping around the park on bikes made me realize Outdoors for All says to kids, clearly and boldly: YES YOU CAN.

It’s just so cool because a lot of places still say NO YOU CAN’T to people with disabilities. We’re still fighting for our rights in public spaces, like school, for one…

And what did you do today, Ms. Sweeney?
Oh! I’m glad you asked! I spent half of it composing a letter to our school principal & Special Education teacher with a cc to the school psychologist, outlining ways in which the Special Ed students can be more involved in the full life of school, and not so isolated, in their separate classroom with their separate activities.

You spent half the day writing a letter?
Well, words count, and I have to put things just so for the principal & our teacher, who I happen to like. For instance, even though school isn’t doing enough to integrate the children, you have to position it like they’re making a good effort. You can’t start on the attack.

You have to tell the story of the bike day above, and say things like “I’m sure we agree that school is also a place that should say to him: YES YOU CAN,” when in truth you could rattle off 5 ways they muffed it up last year. You have to ask so nicely if they’re considering Unified Drama, and point out that the high school runs it, when inside you’re screaming “Why don’t you have this yet? Why were there ZERO kids from Special Ed in the school play last spring?!?”

You have to tell the story of the bike day above, and say things like “I’m sure we agree that school is also a place that should say to him: YES YOU CAN,” when in truth you could rattle off 5 ways they muffed it up last year. You have to ask so nicely if they’re considering Unified Drama, and point out that the high school runs it, when inside you’re screaming “Why don’t you have this yet? Why were there ZERO kids from Special Ed in the school play last spring?!?”

Unified Drama?
A Unified activity is one that blends all kids and is a great friendship builder. It grows out of Special Olympics — Unified Sports.

I’m just making the point that as parents, we have to spend more time trying to set up activities that celebrate and include our kids — and then we have to monitor them to make sure they succeed. The General Ed parents don’t have to take the time to do this.

This may sound harsh, but unless you too, are busy filing appeals to the health insurance company or asking the Disability Administration for money, filling out forms, checking wait-lists to see if you can get the therapy yet, going to talks at hospitals and begging school for better services, you really don’t know what raising a kid with a solid disability is like.

That sounds like a lot. Well then, with the 30 seconds we have left, any closing thoughts, Ms. Sweeney?

Take a tip from Outdoors for All. They get it, and they get your kid. You don’t have to start from scratch, explaining, with them. I’m super grateful they’re in our city. For the kids that don’t have supports like this yet, I want to say YES YOU CAN. YES YOU CAN be accepted in society with your disability. YOU ARE NOT BROKEN AND YOU COUNT. In fact, you are the one that changes minds when the others see how hard you try and how your loving heart guides you in a world that still shuns your gifts. I say yes to you.

Take a tip from Outdoors for All. They get it, and they get your kid. You don’t have to start from scratch, explaining, with them. I’m super grateful they’re in our city. For the kids that don’t have supports like this yet, I want to say YES YOU CAN. YES YOU CAN be accepted in society with your disability. YOU ARE NOT BROKEN AND YOU COUNT. In fact, you are the one that changes minds when the others see how hard you try and how your loving heart guides you in a world that still shuns your gifts. I say yes to you.

4th of July Weekend Checklist

We have a 4-day weekend!!

  • Blast Sandinista while walking the dog on the Burke…smile at many people, get smiles in return…Somebody Got Murdered all right…Chicago, North Carolina, Seattle…Lightnin’ Strikes Old New York & all that
  • Exercise for at least 1 hour each day
  • Talk to Dad
  • Facetime with J
  • Start Hedgebrook application
  • Drive to the Skagit, see Ma, swim in Shelter Bay pool
  • Jack’s swim lesson, Jack to the driving range
  • Sparklers in the backyard
  • Grilled salmon & blackberry pie
  • Rent a pedal boat on Greenlake (goofy but SO worth it)
  • Finish reading Trumpet of the Swan to Jack
  • Own it own it own it

 

2 Haikus for a Peaceful Summer

We stayed at my sister’s house up in the Skagit over the weekend and it was great to get out of the city and relax. Jack and I did our reading together, he, Charlotte’s Web and me, Love 2.0.

In the morning Jack sat on the couch with his legs up and book perched on his lap and I sat in the window nook, wrapped in a blanket, occasionally gazing out on a gorgeous day heating up.

He eventually drifted over to me so we were two in the nook, cozy and calm. Two haikus came out of this weekend.

Pictures of seashells
cedars on blue sky outside.
Settle, breathe, relay.

Fingers race through counts
as we tally up things. Shift.
The heart’s breath steadies.

Happy Birthday Eddie

Oh Ed! you’d mimic in our co-worker’s tone, feigning annoyance because you always got the best of him and your talent soared over the rest of us.

At Cafe Fidelio, you’d emerge at the top of the steps, up from the kitchen, brandishing a layer cake. Or a quiche. Or a chocolate torte you had just made. You’d put it on a cake stand under a glass dome, eyeing me in my apron behind the bar with that mischief that ran with you. And then we’d be ready for customers.

You called me Blair Sweeney Todd the Demon Espresso Girl of Spring Street. Because that’s exactly what I was, but not so demon. I pulled espresso shots and rang up croissants for all the pretty Soho people in their crisp shirts with the Times folded once under their arm on their way to the C train.

You quoted Bette Davis and Joan Crawford like nobody’s business, and when you moved to San Francisco your boyfriend’s last name was actually Wright and you’d always tell me, over the phone, how you’d found Mr. Right.

I remember the black & white photos we took the day we rode bikes on the West Side piers that were crumbling and reeked of tar. I wore my green and white striped bandanna. And the time we brought a picnic and champagne in when we went to see Valley of the Dolls on St. Mark’s Place.

Later when you were a busboy for about a second on the Upper West Side, you’d clutch forks, knives and napkins in one hand, and with the other you’d tear off some butcher paper and trail it behind you to the table you were setting crying, “Hit the sky!”

You made my mom mincemeat at Thanksgiving and she loved that. You guys were like schoolgirl best friends together sitting on her sofa in Sty Town, sipping vodka tonics.

And then in Chelsea when it was all falling apart, you’d always leave our little party around 11 and go out looking for more, always more.

So we lost you for good and for real, but your face, your laugh and your gorgeous black curls — always with us, Ed. My dear Eddie. We’d sit across from you in a booth at the Elephant & Castle, cracking up as you held a fake phone up to your cheek and ran through the lines:

I want to order some liquor. It’s Jane Hudson.

What do you mean, you can’t fill any more orders for me? My sister did?

Well — well, wait a minute I’ll — I’ll put her on…

Riding It Out

Sometimes in life you gotta ride it out. In the short-term and the long.

Today is Saturday. We woke up early and I had an idea to go to our old favorite park, Carkeek, in the neighborhood we used to live in. Turned out to be a great idea.

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See, we used to live up the hill from Carkeek, in a townhome on Greenwood Avenue when Jack was young. I always say, “Jack grew up in that park.” Because we didn’t have a backyard so I took him down there all the time. In boots, sweatshirts and rain.

In the fall, we’d find maple leaves as big as a giant’s hand, pick them up by the stem and wave them around. The meadow would also be dotted with mole hills, just these little mounds of fresh dirt, and Jack would go from one to the next, stamping at each of them in his red boots with tiny yellow animals on them.

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To get to Carkeek, you drive down a long, windy road with overhanging trees at all angles above you. You park, and walk along a path with the stream on your left and wide grassy meadow on your right that the robins like to hop around on an early spring day like today.

You hear the stream and the birds chirping. You pass stands of cedars and a willow tree.

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You cross a little road and enter a woodland trail. There you may hear the train rumble through, the west coast BNSF coming down from Canada and going on to Oregon along the eastern ribbon of Sound. You can go left over a man-made boardwalk that crosses back over the stream, straight to the railroad tracks, or right, up a little diagonal hill which we usually take.

This brings you to another path that hugs the park road leading you up to the railroad trestle. You cross. The trestle is bordered by chain link for safety. The tracks below smell like tar and beam. The view of the Puget Sound opens up. In the western sky, the Olympics are in full view when there’s sun. Today they only came out for a few minutes, full of snow amid cloud. After crossing the tracks you go down steel steps and make sure you don’t fall. Then your foot hits the soft sand. We’ve roamed the low tide flats and played with pails and water wheels on this beach many times.

So Jack’s had seizures in this park. I remember the exact spots. Once in the meadow in the secret little side trail along the stream. He just fell over and started shaking. Once on the beach at pretty low tide, and I had to carry him all the way back up with our pail and shovels because he always sleeps so hard after a seizure.

Today, after being gone from Carkeek for so long, I could really see just how far he’s come. No longer did I need to corral him to not dart out into the roadway. He has more self-control. He can manage that huge set of unforgiving stairs himself. Still a bit sway-y going down but I wasn’t grasping his arm and pulling him into me for fear of tumbling. Because there used to be a lot of tumbling and red, dented knees. What’s clear now is that he’s come out of those early years not unscathed but strong and spirited.

There were no seizures at Carkeek today. Just rediscovery of mud to stomp your boots in along the rutted path. Sand to scoop in your pail at the wide wide water’s edge. And a strong southwesterly beating against your cheek blowing away the cobwebs of the week, the month, the year.

We rode out that time, that time of failing medicines and slow realizations. We’re in junior high now, and we can see the future a little more steadily.

Carkeek will always be Jack’s park. In sickness and in health have we enjoyed that grass, those trees, that sky. And when the railroad rumbles down from those northern tracks, we’ve lifted our heads and waved out to the conductor who blows the horn two times, calling us to the moment.

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