gratitude-a-thon day 2054: everything changes: emerson park

I lived in a converted brick Victorian condo when my son was born. A perfectly renovated three-story walk up, so beautifully and stylishly restored, I wanted to marry it. When I first saw it, I said to my husband, “Nothing bad could ever happen to us if we lived here.” But of course, I was wrong (I lost my mom to brain cancer, my mother-in-law to her high school boyfriend and my fertility to endometriosis), but loads of good things happened to us there too, just as I’d thought, like (after a three year battle with my female anatomy) I gave birth to my sun (and yes I mean sun), Jake.

We didn’t have a yard at my perfect little condo, but what we did have, just one long block away, was Emerson Park, named after Ralph Waldo and boasting scads of green lawn, flowers, decades-old trees, a sprinkler to run around in and a playground with swings, slides and climbing structures, featuring a sandbox with a colorful pirate ship made of wood. Argh!

I had no idea, when I stepped foot into the park for the first time, that it would become a second home, a place for me to, bleary-eyed, connect with other mom’s to find out if I was at all normal, or if my child was, to make friends that would be in my life, until forever, to eat dinner on hot nights with a picnic basket of great food, or a pizza delivery and lots of juice boxes and wine, to gather for birthday parties, to discuss sleepless nights, politics and potty training. I never suspected this would become a place for celebrations, last days of school, play dates and even a source of much needed and familiar comfort on the night of 9/11 when we all wondered if the world was ending.

My children played there, peed there, partied there. It was at this Town Center of sorts, that my kids learned to share toys, to pump their legs to make a swing work, to throw and kick balls, to practice soccer, to climb without falling, to run fast, to ride their bicycles. On that ground, my children made friends, learned about being good citizens, fell down and very importantly mastered how to get back up.

And so it was with a pit in my stomach that I watched a renovation of the park begin a year ago (when Jake was two, we moved just three blocks away from my original condo–even closer to the park, which was where Ally was born and our love affair with Emerson continued). They dug up every corner of the space, leaving not a trace of the original land my children had, like time-lapse photography, grown up on. I felt a certain sadness as I’d walk my dog around the perimeter, watching each phase of the massive construction, while movie clips of the past popped into my head– the time Ally fell off the top of the climbing structure and had to have stitches in her you know what, the castle cake at a party that took up an entire picnic table, the time Jake had to compromise over a beloved truck in the sandbox, the days of worry I had when I felt I was working too much, or not enough. I secretly wanted some of the dirt–dirt my kid’s tiny feet had touched. It seemed a brutal daily reminder that my children were no longer little and that I had no idea where all that time had gone.

At 23 and 20, my children’s childhood is over, and so too, is the original Emerson Park. Interestingly, and perhaps, appropriately, they seemed to coincide. Don’t get me wrong, it opened a few nights ago, with loads of celebration and it is gorgeous! The town did a fabulous job of updating and beautifying. I walked through with my third baby (Riley, my dog) last night and had a smile on my face right up until I exited. There they were, the new crop of Jake and Ally’s, accompanied by worried parents, just like me, who wondered if they were doing it all ok, how they might get their kids to sleep through the night, what pre-school they should go to, glorying in the site of their toddlers toddling, climbing, swinging, pretending, while fending off the deep exhaustion of parenthood.

Twenty million sippy cups of gratitude for what that park has given to me. And even though it’s all spanking new, I’ll remember the old landscape and knowingly smile at the new generation who presides over it now. “I was once you, and you will be me,” I want to say to the mommy’s, but they’ll find that out soon enough.

Sooner than they can ever imagine.

gratitude-a-thon day 1027: small town

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The thing about the little corner of earth I live on is that you can walk everywhere. The other thing about it is that I have lived here a long time, so I have watched kids go from uterus to University (in what seems a half a second), seen neighbors  come and go (literally and figuratively) and been witness to the small miracles and tragedies of a  community (there have been many).

Yesterday, while walking the dog, on a warm and sunny day, in the park I literally raised my kids, and where a whole new bunch of babies show up every spring to remind me that life is a big, fat circle, I bumped smack into my friend Sharon, who I totally adore, but never see. It’s ridiculous that I never see her, given how much I love her, and the fact that we live approximately 10 minutes from one another, if that, but there it is. She is on the radio, so sometimes I think maybe I see her when I don’t, on account of I am listening to her voice. The thing is, she never speaks directly to me……

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The two of us were talking like it was our last day on earth, and an hour and a half passed (with poor Riley wanting to poop, but me forcing him to sit with us and eavesdrop) without even noticing the time. We covered everything from the unbelievable nature of politics (with the two of us shrieking and making wild and large hand gestures) to our work, writing, aging and kids. I finally had to go, because I promised I’d make my dieting husband, who has been craving french fries, fake bake fries, and I knew they would take a while to cook. But let me tell you, we could have talked all night, into the morning, and I could have gone to work with her, where we would have continued to talk while she was delivering the news.

Anyway, the nature of living in a small community is that you get to have these kind of unplanned encounters. We had a rich and awesome conversation, that filled me up past my forehead.

We think about moving all the time, but it’s this kind of thing, randomly seeing someone who has watched you raise your kids, and lived with you day in and day out, that makes me wonder how I could ever possibly leave this kind of magic behind.

gratitude-a-thon day 31: my neighborhood

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We’re just 20 minutes on the T from Boston.

My neighborhood is kind of great. I live on a one way street, and everybody is actually nice. Kids play in the road. We have block parties in the summer. There is a fabulous park a block and a half away that has concerts every Wednesday night when it’s warm, and a sprinkler and playground, where mom’s bring their kids to play, and connect with each other to save themselves from forgetting how to speak (my kids WERE LITERALLY RAISED AT EMERSON PARK.

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This is where my kids grew up. And so did all the rest of the neighborhood kids, too. Now, it’s where I walk my dog!

We went there day and night. We had lunches, picnics. We even spent the shell-shocked night of 911 there with our good friends, pizza and a lot of wine, while our kids ran around untouched by the new world.) We borrow ketchup and eggs, and pancake mix from each other. We walk to our schools, because we’re just a few blocks away from our grammar school, a few blocks away from the high school. We live near our quirky little town center called Brookline Village, where my one of favorite restaurants in the world is located–

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That’s Sam, THE BEST BARTENDER ON THE PLANET. go ahead, see if you don’t think so.

Pomodoro, (AND MY FAVORITE BARTENDER IN THE WORLD IS, SAM.) And where you can find my fantastic personal trainer (who has saved my back, and my life), Colleen Quinn at Eutopia, and the cool little pub,  Matt Murphy’s, and the incredible sandwich shop Cutty’s and

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You gotta get the eggplant sandwich. NO, REALLY, YOU GOTTA.

the super awesome cafe KooKoo, owned by the equally super awesome Elie and Ali (who also own the fabulous Innerspace Yoga Studio, and apparently NEVER SLEEP). And there’s all sorts of other  stuff in the Village too, like the post office and the T, and Starbuck’s, to name a few. And we all live close to one another, so there’s a lot of respecting one another’s privacy, but basically it’s a bunch of good people, and I think we sort of all know that we have a pretty great thing going on.

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Happy big five ooooooooooooh, Martha!

The other night I went to a birthday party for one of the neighborhood legends . It was her 50th and a lot of the hood was there. It was kind of an astounding thing to think of all the time I’ve known Martha. Because in that time, we have witnessed our kids go from babies to teenagers. I met her when she was walking her twin boys in their stroller, all smiley, cheerful new mom, and I was walking my daughter, all cranky, my-baby-never-stops-crying, semi-psychotic basket case MOTHER WHO CLEARLY SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ALLOWED TO PROCREATE. In that first encounter, when we exchanged pleasantries, as you do when you see someone who has a baby around the same age as yours,  I told her how difficult my daughter was because she cried all the time and she didn’t sleep through the night AND NEITHER DID I. I was immediately thinking, THIS IS A MOTHER OF TWINS, SHE WILL GET MY MISERY LIKE NOBODY’S BUSINESS. But it was not to be. Big smile on her sunny face, “They’re really good, and they sleep quite well, ” she said, of her twins, in some sort of words, which I can not exactly recall, BECAUSE I WAS ABOUT TO GET MY OWN WING AT MCLEAN’S, plus I was trying to hold back my arm from hitting her across the face with my hand BECAUSE SHE WAS CHEERFUL AND WELL RESTED, in the face of MY TOTAL AND COMPLETE EXHAUSTION AND PROJECTED FEAR THAT MY BABY WOULD CRY FOR THE REST OF TIME. Anyway, I didn’t know it then, but now that I’ve  known Martha for 14 years, i can tell you that  she’s just that kind of person. Perhaps that’s how they make ’em in Canada, which is where she grew up. You can pretty much throw anything her way, and she will spin it into gold. And the thing about her is, that it’s GENUINE. She is totally genuine, real deal, no artifice. She believes in everyone’s best. She thinks everything is possible. And she will help you to make whatever you’re thinking, happen. She’s a connector of people and a nurturer of ideas. She’s a cheerleader and a true believer. She will show up for you. She’s the person you’d like to be when you’re at your best, but rarely are. (I’m sorry, I’ll speak for myself, here.) She will bake you a cake if you’re sick. She will whip up a cute little gift for your birthday and leave it on your porch, when you least expect it. She will write you an inspiring email to thank you for doing something at school. This is a really, really, unusually kind person. The kind of kind person we would all be lucky to know. And she’s part of what makes my neighborhood so great. Happy 50th, Martha. Canada’s loss. Our gain.