Sunday, May 11, 2008

Children of Heaven

This may not seem like a Mother's Day post, but it is.

"Children of Heaven" is a movie my mother repeatedly recommended to me. For years. I didn't resist -- I just never got around to it. She wanted me to watch it for the running. I just watched it -- for Mother's Day. It was amazing.

Two Iranian children -- a boy, around nine years old, and his younger sister, maybe seven -- come from a very poor family. The film opens with the sister's shoes being repaired -- very worn pink mary-janes. The brother loses the shoes on the way home. So the two share his very worn white sneakers and never tell their parents. They could not afford a new pair. The boy's solution to the lost shoes: He enters a road race for school boys -- a 4K -- for which the third place prize is a pair of sneakers, which he promises to trade in for a girl's pair. The road race takes up a scant 5-10 minutes of film time.

The film is visually stunning and captures the nuances well -- like a good novel would: showing, not telling. The race was perfectly captured: quiet, with only some panting and soft music (no "Chariots of Fire" loudness -- though that has its place). The hills! The scrum of runners! The course markings! The race officials! The finish line! My body reacted as if I were running a race. I felt my adrenaline surge, my focus hone in on the runners and the road (though small on the screen). Such an odd feeling, especially since I was lying down with my 11-month-old. The context was completely off.

I loved the movie. Please rent it. Even if you don't often watch foreign films.

But why does this have anything, really, to do with Mother's Day? This is my first Mother's Day without my own mother. I am her only child. We were very close. I have been reading and gathering books she gave me in one place. The time had come to watch the movie she always wanted me to see. Thank you, Mum. Happy Mother's Day.

Monday, May 05, 2008

childhood home

I found this 1908 description of my childhood home on the New York Public Library online archives.

Here’s what I picture:

  • Two padlocked closets full of almost junk (sorry, Mom, I exaggerate with the word “junk”), the pots and pans and plates and linens my mother kept aside for her stays in the New York City apartment. Much of it from the bargain store on 109th and Broadway. Inexpensive and functional, not meant to last a lifetime.
  • A few boxes of her novels, which I must and want to keep.
  • Well-worn furniture to go to the Salvation Army or to Big Trash day (on Fridays – if memory serves).
I said to my mom, “I’m tired of makeshift.” She did makeshift well – putting those old milk crates and coffee tins to almost elegant use. But it bugged me when I was young – I went to a private school where some peers who had lots of money (yet denied being “rich”) had nothing makeshift. I also said it as I got older – but then it was less a criticism, more of a desire for the streamlined, the fresh, the solid.

I have four total days allotted to clearing out my childhood home at 404 West 116th Street. I think that is reasonable. But I also know it will be tough in many ways: I grew up there; my mother’s habits and life have left imprints there; and it will be my longest time away from my 4-year-old Iz. (I am taking 10-month-old Az with me – he is still breastfeeding, and I’ll need some family company – though he can’t help with any heavy lifting, he will be a comfort.)
I want someone to take over, plan for me, make decisions. I feel almost incapable – and alone. Yet I don’t want to have to ask for help – organize that help. So I go on feeling lonely in the midst.

I don't mean this as a total "pity party" post! But I am dreading the coming months – May, clearing the NYC apartment; June and July, the chaos of juggling work and a trip to Maine; August, to Sydney to clear my mom’s other apartment (which has all the important stuff – not “almost junk”). Maybe in September I will emerge from the fog. Wish me luck!

Friday, May 02, 2008

the boy code

My cover boy in The Gazette – our local newspaper. He is so not even trying to write the number on that calendar. I can tell by the way he holds the marker and that “I don’t want to perform for the camera” look on his face. He’s just letting Mrs. McGuirk guide his hand. But he looks good, right? I believe he is wearing a firefighter hat.

My non-performer. I so understand him – he’s a mini me. But he is such a boy, too. And already adhering to that stupid (yes, stupid) boy code. Recently, he has been physically bullied (perhaps “bullied” is an exaggeration and not an exact enough word – but for lack of a better one…). One incident: Another boy hit him on the head with a hard plastic drumstick. Now, none of us adults actually saw it happen. But the other boy quickly said, “He hit his head on that table,” while holding a drumstick aloft. Iz went along with it. Even though he was not near the table. Abraham, while comforting him, quietly asked if the other boy had hit him. He whispered, “Yes.” But that was all he would say.

Another incident: A boy at school scratched him badly on his right temple (notice you only see his left in this photo) – it was more than an inch long and bleeding – really red (I am not one to fuss over minor scratches and bumps). Iz would not talk about it – as if he was in trouble. He is not a big talker (see “non-performer” reference above) – and avoids talking about anything stressful.

I worry. I wish I could explain that he does not have to adhere to the boy code – but he won’t talk about it.