Riding Metro-North. Day 1 for (My) Workin’ Man.

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Thursday morning.
We’re on the 8:01 a.m. train to Grand Central.
Eric is seated across from me.
His head is leaning against the window.
His eyes are closed.
His body is swaying with the slow turns of the track.

I look. I take a long look. And I’m rolling back 17 years.

He’s clutching his Mother’s right hand, scooching to keep up, his oversized blue backpack bounces up and down.  Mom let’s go of his hand.  He looks back.  His lower lip is quivering. His arm reaches back for his Mother while his Kindergarten teacher welcomes him into the building.

Blink.

And so, here we are. Father and Son are commuting to Manhattan. Day 1 of Son’s first paying job.

I take inventory. From bottom up.

He’s wearing his Dad’s hand-me-down black, plain-toe oxford shoes.  45 minutes earlier he asks: “Do I need to polish my shoes?”  College student with a 3.95 GPA is looking down at the dust and scuff marks.  He doesn’t bother looking at Dad. 21 years of co-habitation and 21 years of absorbing sharp nips and tucks of Patriarchal coaching, instinct tells him that it’s a bad decision. Dad grabs the shoes and cleans them up. “Can I borrow your socks Dad.” “Take what you need.” [Read more…]

She’s 15.

The Magic of a Train

To the Editor:

Re “Our Trouble With Trains,” by Richard White (Op-Ed, May 19):

I love trains. I live in the suburbs of Chicago, and I ride the commuter train to and from my high school in the city every day. It’s been a year since I began taking the train; the charm hasn’t worn off yet.

There’s something magical about stepping onto the train — it transports you to a world where politeness is the norm. Talk in a lowered voice to avoid disturbing other passengers. Move your bags if someone needs to sit down next to you. Hold the door for the people walking behind you. The knowledge that choosing the train over a car helps the environment brings an extra rush of pleasure.

I adore this microcosm of etiquette and patience, and I feel that if more people experienced the satisfaction of a good train ride, they would be more willing to invest in passenger trains. Fixing our railroad system does not require us to suddenly leap to the level of the high-speed, luxurious trains in Europe and Japan; it could start with small improvements to the commuter trains that people take every day.

~ ALIA ABIAD, 15, St. Ignatius College Prep, 9th grade in Western Springs, Ill.


On May 15th, The New York Times announced An Invitation to High School Students, introducing a letter-writing competition where students were invited to submit a letter to the editor in response to a news article, editorial, column or Op-Ed essay in The Times.

Check out the other winners’ submissions here: The Voices of Students: The Winners Are…

MMM*: Their hope is so bright I can almost see it.

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My students still don’t know what they will never be. Their hope is so bright I can almost see it. I used to value the truth of whether this student or that one would achieve the desired thing. I don’t value that truth anymore as much as I value their unrest hope. I don’t care that one in two hundred of them will ever become what they feel they must become. I care only that I am able to witness their faith in what’s coming next.

~ Sarah Manguso, Ongoingness: The End of a Diary


Notes: MMM* = Monday Morning Mantra. Photograph: in-constancy. Related Manguso posts: Manguso @ Live & Learn

Cat’s Left the Cradle 2

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WEDNESDAY. 9:30 PM.
Medium: FaceTime.
600 miles away, Son sits in his dorm room.
(Technology. A Miracle)

Eric: Hi Dad.
Dad: Hi Eric.
Dad: When’s your interview?
Eric: Friday at 8 am.

Dad adjusts his grip on the iPad to get a better look at Son.

Eric: What are you doing?
Dad: Take your cap off.
Eric: Why?
Dad: Take it off.
Eric: Why? (Here he comes. Here he comes.)
Dad: I’m only going to ask you one more time. [Read more…]

Riding Metro-North. With our Kids.

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It’s 5:25 am.
A dark, windless morning.
14° F.
I’m stepping quickly in my 1/2 mile walk to the station.
Suit. Top Coat. Gloves. Black lace-ups. No boots.
Fear of: Black ice + Tumble = Face plant.
My right ear is tingling.
A dandy frost bite when I was 11. No hat. No matter how long ago, acts of stupidity are never far from consciousness.

I glance at my watch. It’s tight. I step up my pace.
Way (WAY) short on sleep. Mood: heavy. Dark.
There will be retribution for the arranger of the 7 a.m. meeting in the City. Matthew 5:38: Eye for an Eye. DK 1:29:2015: Arm, Leg and Eye for an Eye.

There are days when you need to read with paper in your hands. With something real touching your fingers. Yet, I’m conscious of being the only one in a packed train car crinkling a newspaper, shattering the silence of fingers swiping digital pads. The commuter next to me is asleep. I work on folding the morning paper.

It’s maddening that I’ve never been able to hold and fold a newspaper like many commuters. I can’t roll my tongue. I can’t wiggle my ears. The genius who set up this 7 am meeting is going to feel the cold chill of the Juno aftermath.

I pan through the front section and my eyes lock on 4 lines. I have no expertise in this area. Zero fundamental knowledge. But I know what I see. I know what I feel. We’re in trouble.  [Read more…]

The most impressive students I had over my 30 years of teaching were…

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…The most impressive students I had over my 30 years of university teaching were those I encountered when I first began, in the early 1970s, who almost all turned out to have been put through Catholic schools, during a time when priests and nuns still taught and Catholic education hadn’t become indistinguishable from secular education. Many of these kids resented what they felt was the excessive constraint, with an element of fear added, of their education. Most failed to realize that it was this very constraint—and maybe a touch of the fear, too—that forced them to learn Latin, to acquire and understand grammar, to pick up the rudiments of arguing well, that had made them as smart as they were…

..So often in my literature classes students told me what they “felt” about a novel, or a particular character in a novel. I tried, ever so gently, to tell them that no one cared what they felt; the trick was to discover not one’s feelings but what the author had put into the book, its moral weight and its resultant power. In essay courses, many of these same students turned in papers upon which I wished to—but did not—write: “D-, Too much love in the home.” I knew where they came by their sense of their own deep significance and that this sense was utterly false to any conceivable reality. Despite what their parents had been telling them from the very outset of their lives, they were not significant. Significance has to be earned, and it is earned only through achievement. Besides, one of the first things that people who really are significant seem to know is that, in the grander scheme, they are themselves really quite insignificant.

~ Joseph Epstein, A Literary Education and Other Essays


Thank you Michael Wade for your recommendation of Epstein’s new book: A Literary Education and Other Essays. I’m half way through and loving it.  Joseph Epstein, 77, was born in Chicago. He is an essayist, short story writer, and editor. In 2003, he was awarded a National Humanities Medal by the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Our hearts beat faster

Rachel-2014

The collegiate alumni chairperson of Rachel’s sorority asked the parents of graduating seniors to write a letter to their daughter, which was read out loud to them by their little sister at the traditional Senior Send Off event for the sorority.  The event was held this morning. Here was Rachel’s text to us.

Rachel-text-message

Here’s our letter to Rachel:


Dear Rachel:

Let’s just say that you were difficult from the get-go. Your Mom and Dad tried for 9 years (9 YEARS!), and we almost gave up.  And then you just appeared. Voila! A tadpole on a monitor.  Roll the tape forward 9 months plus 23 hours of labor (23 HOURS!) – – your Mother threw up her hands and Doc pulled out the scalpel.

They say that all babies are beautiful. Hmmmmm. The forceps stretched your head. Your eyes were disproportionately LARGE and bulging. You were WAILING. I had to double pump the scissors with my trembling hands to untether you from your Mother. I was flooded with images of E.T. – – “E.T. Go Home!”  I needed assurances from Doc that all of this, this, was normal.

You had colic for 6 months. You started up when I arrived home from work and stopped during our long walks down Biscayne Blvd.  You were strapped in a papoose tight to my chest. With the fronds on the palm trees clapping in the gentle evening breeze, there you were looking up at me.  Sobbing, then sniffling, then quiet.

We’d come home. I’d turn on Annie Lennox – – “Walking on Broken Glass” – – and you would settle. I would slump down on the couch, exhausted, and let you sleep on my chest. The little hair that you had, was matted and glistening with sweat. Your cheeks and eyes, swollen and red.  Your little fingers clenched my t-shirt. Your heart pitter-pattered on my chest. And your intermittent, puffs-puffs of baby breath – – you, all of you, a miracle.

And then the frames would pass. Minutes, days, weeks and years.  All accelerating.

You left home to go to College. We cried on the long drive home.

You lit up sharing your experiences with Special Olympics, Habitat for Humanity and St. Jude Children’s Hospital – – freezing me in place as I listened to your Sunday night updates. I have yet to find my God, but I could feel something working me through you.

My chest swelled when you were named President of your Sorority. When you made Dean’s List. When you landed your Summer Internships. When you received your first job offer.  (I just cut the cord. We just dropped you off for your freshman year. Where did it go? Sand slipping through my fingers.)

I know you are listening – listening to these words – sitting among your friends.

It’s time.  Time for me to put on my headphones and play “Walking on Broken Glass” in a loop.  And roll the time back to remember the beautiful moments in between then and now.

I can feel you.
I can feel your fingers clenching my t-shirt.
I can feel your puffs of breath.
I can feel your heart beating.
And when your heart beats, my heart beats faster.

Love you Honey.

Mom & Dad


A Message to Mom

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“Mom, this might be my last chance to tell you I love you.”

– A text from a high school student who was aboard the ferry that capsized yesterday off South Korea’s southern coast. Four passengers were killed, 55 were injured and more than 280 are missing. (via latimes)


Photograph: Yvette Depaepe; Quote source: Larmoyante

Cat’s left the cradle

Eric-before-after-2012

He returned home for Thanksgiving.  My strapping 6′ 3” son walked into the waiting area.   He had grown.  Looking down on his Dad from a higher elevation.  Adorned with knee length gym shorts. (47F outside.)  Sweat shirt with hoody.  And his hair.  Wow.  Only a Mother can love this slovenly look.  And she does.  I let it ride.  For about 24 hours.  Do you think just maybe you could trim it up?  Dad puts up the fences and guardrails.  Empathetic Mom breaks ranks.  Intuitive Son notices his parents on opposing sides.  Mamma’s boy digs in and expects full cover.  With leverage waning, I grab the last lifeboat …when one feeds at the trough, respect the farmer.   Outcome: No haircut.   And, I now have a Son using hair elastics and headbands aka hair accessories.

He returned home for Christmas.  There he was waiting for us at the airport terminal. Same knee length ratty gym shorts.  (39F outside).  Same sorry sweat shirt with hoody.  And his hair. All intact.  Clothes, hair, shoes…looking matted, dingy and need of a hot shower and wire brush.  Mom first.  Then, Dad gave his Son a hug. Zeke, electrified, and in the midst of a full head-to-toe body wiggle, finally settled after Eric kneeled down to hug him. Of course, Zeke needed to be part of the greeting party. [Read more…]

You must go at it with monastic obsession…

John E. Smith @ strategiclearner is a frequent inspiration stop for me.  Here’s another one of John’s great shares.  Henry Rollins speaks to college students in this clip however I believe his remarks are inspirational to all of us.  He shares an important message that needs to be heard, shared and passed along. It’s worth 5 minutes of your time.  You’ll find the transcript below.

Transcript of Henry Rollins’ remarks:

Young person, you’ll find in your life that sometimes your great ambitions will be momentarily stymied, thwarted, marginalized by those who were perhaps luckier, come from money, where more doors opened, where college was a given–it was not a student loan; it was something that Dad paid for–to where an ease and confidence in life was almost a birthright, where for you it was a very hard climb.

You cannot let these people make you feel that you have in any way been dwarfed or out-classed. You must really go for your own and realize how short life is. You got what you got, so you have to make the most of it. You really can’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about his. You really have to go for your own. If you have an idea of what you want to do in your future, you must go at it with almost monastic obsession, be it music, the ballet or just a basic degree. You have to go at it single-mindedly and let nothing get in your way. You’re young. That’s why you can survive on no sleep, Top Ramen noodles and dental floss and still look good.

All the people you admire, from Mohamed Ali to any politician, they work and work and work. Your president right now is a man who got where he is through very hard work and scholarships, mainly hard work and application and discipline. If these people can do it, why not you? [Read more…]

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