Monday, June 29, 2009

And So It Begins...

The Rosmarin's Summer of 2009 officially began today with the opening of Rosmarin's Day Camp. Though many of us have been trudging up to our bungalows for the weekend since Memorial Day -- and a devoted handful actually moved in over the past two weeks -- the start of summer camp signals the real beginning of the season for local folks and urban refugees alike.

This is our 15th summer as seasonal residents of this Catskills paradise, a miniature lifetime in which our family went from four to five people, a deft sleight of hand in which the 11-year-old camper became a writer in Berlin, his 7-year-old sister a rising junior at Goucher College in Baltimore and the newborn baby a counselor-in-training, working in the cooking shack.

Today dawned cold and uncertain. This June has been an excursion into surreality, an unsettling season out of sequence that nevertheless is struggling to end on a positive note. After the brilliant sunshine of the past day, there was the heart-sinking possibility that the weather would revert back.

Yet, valiant Monday conquered the weather gremlin, allowing counselors, campers and their parents to experience a classic hot and sun-drenched First Day of Camp.

By all accounts, it was perfect.

"How was camp?" I shouted up to the little Russian girls who were having dinner with their babysitter when I returned home from Manhattan.

"Great!" they sang in a chorus.

"How was camp?" I texted Little Babe at 4:45, minutes after the campers went home.

"Awesome!" he wrote back.

Walking from parked car to bungalow, hauling heavy bags filled with clothes and food from THE CITY, fifteen years' worth of perfect First Days of Camp merged into a collage of sunburnt cheeks, the jumble of running limbs, damp hair, wide smiles, friends, frozen confections, wet towels, water-sloshed shoes, tie-dyed t-shirts, eager plans, art projects, missing teeth, bathing suits slung over railings, scraped knees and elbows, permission slips that needed my signature.

When I first discovered this place, the young chef was a tadpole in my swollen belly.

When I first found this place, September 11th was just a date after the start of the school year, Bernie was a name associated with nice guys, high school boys weren't plotting to massacre their classmates, videos of killings and decapitations didn't flood the Internet, the Internet was in its infancy and the 21st century was an exotic destination that everyone was about to visit.

On the night of the First Day of Camp, I am sitting alone, thinking and writing; soothed by a rare peace borne of an ever rarer circumstance -- solitude.

In the back room, Little Babe slumbers, utterly exhausted by his full day of work, 90-minute swim and evening visit from his good friend, Morry. In the city, HOBB and Middle Babe share the urban bungalow with Alfie and Nala the Pomeranians, whom we dispatched to the city for a few days to reduce the level of (new, sudden and disturbing) hostility we're getting from a few of our neighbors.

Big Babe is out of the country, traveling in Turkey this week. Called to Manhattan for a compact day of meetings beginning at 9 this morning, I returned home in the evening, bearing steaks from Fairway and bags filled with the summer clothes Little Babe forgot to bring when he drove up this past Friday with HOBB.

The solitude that surrounds me is blissful. I sit on the edge of my bed with my computer on the folding table, unshowered after a late-night trip to the local gym. I ponder a return trip to the gym in the morning, still unshowered. The thought appeals to me. Why not? Don't Americans wash themselves far too often for the health of their skin and hair? And isn't it silly to wash now when I will sweat again early in the morning?

The quiet outside my cabin has a sound, like a white noise machine. I note, as I always do during the summer, how time expands when quiet prevails.

At this moment, I believe everything possible -- the books and articles I wish to write, the places I want to see, the adventures I yearn to have, the soul companionship I seek, the beautiful and balanced life I long to lead.

In one hour, the First Day of Camp will draw to an end. This moment is bittersweet, like the final hour of Shabbat or a birthday or Yom Kippur.

I want to live forever in the land of First Days of Camp, that precious, precarious moment when summer stretches before you, gleaming, endless and illusory, like the Yellow Brick Road.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Monday Night Howl

There are women who have perfected the art of creating a sanctuary for themselves, carving out a sacred, inviolable realm out of time or space.

They are pitbulls when it comes to guarding their personal schedules, baring their fangs, if gently, when a challenge to upholding their agenda arrives. Possessed of a spontaneous nature -- hard-wired to respond to external need -- I have a sudden and urgent need to learn how these women manage to have on-going Me Time.

Do they cajole, threaten, persuade, blackmail, seduce, wheedle, trick, negotiate, deceive or simply take what they believe to be rightfully theirs?

What is their MO? Their no-fail, tried-and-true tricks of the trade? And is this indeed a feminist issue or an equal opportunity occupational hazard, a symptom of our overscheduled lives???

It's not like I have no extra-curricular life, indeed my schedule is full to bursting both inside and outside the parameters of work. The issue right now is that I am finding it a freaking HERCULEAN UNDERTAKING to get to the gym on a regular basis...and practically feel like I should be awarded a Nobel Prize every time I manage to even enter the locker room of my local JCC. (Honestly, just the act of opening my combination lock improves my cardiovascular health...that's how eager, nay desperate, I am to achieve fitness.)

Tonight, after several day's worth of thwarted attempts at gym-going, which have left me misanthropic -- okay, homicidal -- I'd love a little self-centered horribleness to rub off on me.

This night, this minute, I want to learn the art of burrowing through work and family commitments in order to reach the open field of my own basic needs -- fully entitled and unapologetic, calmly stepping over protests and guilt trips, breezing out the front door with a see ya later on my lips and a song in my heart.
Of course, it is not just about going to the gym and of course carving out time for important pursuits is an age-old female quest. Indeed, I feel myself accompanied by the ghosts of grandmothers and great-aunts past-- hardworking women who also longed in vain for something that men claimed as naturally as breathing air: time for themselves.
But nearly ten years into the 21st Century, it irks me that attaining something so basic still entails a campaign of sorts, the bravery of the solitary soldier, a revolution of one.

And that is why I howl, late on a Monday night in the month of June, in the year 2009. A she-wolf is on the prowl. Thwarters beware.

Lost and Found

It has been a dislocating season, short on sunlight, stalked by rain.

Overwhelmed by wind. Unreasonably cold.

Spring has acted like a mean-spirited host who does snarky things to compel her guests to leave early: skimp on breakfast, cut off the hot water supply, play music loud late into the night.

The only saving grace has been the sense of en masse misery about the weather.

"Ya sure ya wanna go outside?" we asked winkingly in the lobbies of buildings throughout New York as umbrellas were unfurled and raincoats buttoned up. Next came "Lovely weather we've been having," with a sardonic roll of the eyes. That, in turn, morphed into wearily sarcastic pronouncements such as "Really original. Rain again," and now, weeks later, into a cri de coeur -- "Omigod!!! How long is this supposed to last??"

Despite the absolute certainty of rain, HOBB, Little Babe and I drove up to our summer refuge -- Rosmarin's -- on Friday afternoon with bags of food from Fairway, challah from Zayde's, a slab of fresh potato kugel, a pan of broiled chicken, a Rubbermaid container filled with teriyaki salmon and another with sauteed beef, ala Little Babe's secret Asian recipe, a chocolate babka, wine and grape juice and two-days' worth of clothes, books, newspapers, magazines and Alfie and Nala the Pomeranians.

Our bungalow -- 10B, in the lower section of the bungalow colony known as The Flats -- is on the edge of a lush woods that fringe Walton Lake. A grassy field stretches out from the front of our cabin to the main road of the Flats. Only two double units occupy our side of the road, providing much-appreciated privacy in a cozy summer community with hundreds of inhabitants.

Which is to say that when we arrived in Monroe just half an hour before Shabbat, we found our isolation compounded. Only one other car sat in the parking lot. No lights shone in any of the other bungalow windows. Near the edge of the forest, young bucks stood grazing calmly. The air was sweet with the scent of fresh rain.

Trudging through the squishy, saturated earth on our walk from the car to the bungalow while aggressive raindrops pelted our heads. we laughed nervously at our originality...or stupidity.

We unpacked hurriedly, gripped by hunger and the sudden fear that more extreme weather might cause us to move in from our screened-in porch. I lit the Shabbat candles. We sang Shalom Aleichem. HOBB made the kiddush.

We drank wine and grape juice. We washed and I said the ha-motzi, throwing challah to my husband and son, as per the Sephardic custom that I adopted several years earlier. We began our Sabbath meal.

The drops of rain hitting our bungalow's roof formed a friendly percussion to our conversation. We added sweatshirts and socks as the evening wore on. The dogs came to beg, tableside, and we lured them to the back room, where they barked and barked, indignant that the humans get the broiled chicken, the broiled beef.

The dinner concluded, uninterrupted. HOBB went to read in the bedroom and Little Babe and I played a summer-camp game, forming our own teams, competing to find lyrics that contained, first, colors and then boys' names:

"Don't it make my brown eyes blue"
"I see a red door and I want to paint it black"
"Three cheers for the red, white and blue."
"Sky of blue, and sea of green in our yellow submarine."
"Daniel's traveling tonight on a plane."
"Oh Mickey, you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind, hey Mickey!"
"Seein' me and Julio down by the schoolyard."

Soon, I noticed that HOBB had fallen asleep and Little Babe was yawning. I sent him for toothbrushing, we said the Sh'ma together, I kissed him goodnight and then sat in the Adirondack kitchen chair, reading Richard Yates deep into the night.

It is now two nights later. One hour ago, Sunday yielded to Monday. In my urban bungalow, to which we returned several hours ago, I'm still the only one awake...thinking, writing deep into the night.

My husband and youngest son and daughter are long sleeping. Our pooches crawled into my closet, collapsing atop the comfortable pile of discarded items of clothes that they fashioned into their nest. They were exhausted from our Father's Day excursion to Beacon, NY, hour-long visit to the boardwalk at Rye Playland and dinner at the home of FOBB and MOBB (father and mother of Bungalow Babe), where we were joined by Middle Babe, our daughter.

At this hour, my apartment is quiet but my mind is not. I am thinking of so many things -- of the lovely rain-saturated Shabbat we spent in the country, of the Scrabble game played Saturday afternoon atop our bed, of our bungalow friends from The Hill -- up on top -- who likewise journeyed up to their bungalow, despite the forecast; of Richard Yates's bleak world view, of the demands of the work week ahead of me, of the books I want to read and those I wish to write, of the often maddening modern artwork at Dia in Beacon, of the waning month of June, of Middle Babe's approaching 21st birthday, of the free-floating and diffuse sense of loss that I feel on this night.

I am thinking of the myriad unresolved hurts between people who love each other. I am thinking of the missed opportunity to love. I am thinking of the special lovability of those who are different. I am thinking of the challenge of loving those who are difficult.

I am thinking of how time is swept away, never to return. I am wondering if Big Babe, my oldest son, living in Berlin, is right to despair of discovering sincerity dwelling in the human heart.

I am thinking about the violence in Iran and the countless cases of missing children in this country, the sad fact that most are discovered to have been murdered. I am thinking about escaping to Paris. I am thinking of visiting my sister in the Holy Land. I think, happily, of the easy love between us.

As this Father's Day wanes, I contemplate a puzzle worthy of the Sphinx -- when is a father not a father? When is a daughter not a daughter?

I think of how I recently explained the essence of being adopted thusly:

Imagine a plant uprooted from its native soil, replanted in a beautiful grove. The new soil is hospitable to growth, but the plant is nevertheless the product of another grove, transplanted into foreign soil.

I am thinking that my adoption is a fascinating part of me but hardly the totality of who I am. For instance, I am so much more defined by my thirst for knowledge and adventure.

I am thinking about what hasn't yet happened and I what I would like to say.

I am thinking about making a point. I am thinking about breaking through.

I am thinking of nothing and everything.

And suddenly, what I have lost turns into what I have not yet found.