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The Soundtrack of My Life

30 Jan

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My father is singing Cat Stevens’ Moonshadow to me. I am 3 or 4 or 5 years old. I wonder about the limbless body singing until all the parts of him are gone and he is seemingly nonchalant, perhaps even grateful to be without eyes and a tongue. My father continues to sing the same song to me like a lullaby.

I am in a full body cast in a hospital. I am 6 years old. My mother is sitting, surrounded by sick children, with her ukelele, playing and singing Puff the Magic Dragon. I am proud and yet jealous. I do not want to share her with the rest of these patients. I want her to sing and wrap her oversized heart around only me.

I am in my Mustang convertible while Carole King’s Tapestry cassette plays on a loop. I am 17 years old. I am weeping. My boyfriend is going to college and every single song was written for me. I Feel the Earth Move, So Far Away, Home Again, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Where You Lead, Beautiful. My boyfriend makes several stops to say goodbye to friends while I wait for him in the passenger seat, disconsolate. He gets back in the car and gives me an inscribed locket I will wear until the picture inside is all rubbed out and he breaks my heart years later.

I am lost. I am 18 years old and without a sense of direction. I am listening to Van Morrison’s Moondance album. I am driving my car from Connecticut to New York and it is midnight. I finally find a commercial area where it feels safe enough to get out of the car and make a phone call. I call my father from a  pay phone. I beg him to rescue me. He tells me to find my way home and that it will be good for me. I get back in my car and blast “Caravan.” I circle who knows how much of the tri-state area before I pull into my parents’ driveway sometime after 2 am. I have found my way home.

I am standing amongst piles of boxes in my apartment in Brooklyn waiting for movers. I am 23 years old. The only thing not yet packed is my stereo. I am listening to Nanci Griffith CDs for hours as the movers have forgotten me. By the time they pick me up, I am distraught, fearing NYC condo regulations will forbid me from the late move and I will be temporarily homeless. Two men load up the packaged belongings comprising my life and offer me a ride uptown. I sit in the front seat of the movers’ truck as we drive up the FDR to my new home on East 81st. I lean my head against the window, listening to Nanci Griffith on my walkman, equally terrified and excited about this move. I dislike change even though this is a good one. My parents are waiting for me and it is all ok.

I am getting married. I am dancing with my husband to Ben Taylor’s version of The Beatles’ I Will. We are alone on the dance floor, moving in choreographed rhythm thanks to Ernesto of Arthur Murray’s East 86th Street studio. I can see him counting beats in his head as he leads me. We later break loose to The Emotions’ Best of My Love. We don’t yet know that both songs will feature prominently at the bar mitzvah of our first son.

I am in my apartment on East 75th Street. I am nearing the end of my 20s. I am pregnant with my first child. I am working from home for the day, listening to Counting Crows’ This Desert Life. My belly tightens and my son kicks and flutters every time this album plays. He has good taste. I know I will love him.

I am rocking in a glider in the bedroom of my baby boy. He is sleeping on my chest and I think I might never move. I sing him every song I know and love. It goes like this every night. Sweet Baby James, The Way You Look Tonight, Annie’s Song, An American Tune. I sing him Moonshadow and deposit him back into his crib. He tucks his legs beneath him, looks briefly at me, and goes back to sleep.

I am at the obstetrician’s office. I am alone. I am 7 weeks pregnant. My husband is traveling for business. For days I have had a premonition that my doctor will tell me he cannot find a heartbeat. The doctor squeezes jelly over my belly and after several minutes of searching, says “Lisa, I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat.” I am even sorrier. Sorry to be right. Sorry to lose a baby I already loved. Sorry. I listen to Eva Cassidy’s cover of Fields of Gold over and over, weeping until I tell myself I have punished myself enough and I turn it off.

I am again rocking in a glider but I am in a new room in a new house beside two new babies to love. I sing them the same songs I sang to my first baby. I sing them Moonshadow. I put them into the same crib so they know each other’s presence.

It is my son’s 10th birthday. I am listening to the Circle Game. I cannot believe I am at the second verse. I do not know where the time has gone. I know I will be at the third verse in six short years. I am dragging my feet to slow the circles down, Joni Mitchell.

It is my birthday. 10,000 Maniacs’ These are the Days is playing on my desktop. We have just returned from dinner with my family and I am making my husband and sons dance with me in the kitchen. I will do this every year as long as they will. I turn up the music as high as it will go and watch my family in the reflection of the windows in my kitchen. They indulge me because it’s my birthday but I hope there is enough time in the song for them to feel how much music can lift you, how it can intoxicate you, how its joy is utterly contagious, how necessary it is to be in love with music: to let it infuse your heart, your mind, your soul. To let it literally play the soundtrack to your life.

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Happy Birthday to the Boy That Made Me a Mom!

19 May

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I was pregnant forever.

My son had no interest in leaving his comfy womb. And now that I know him, it does not surprise me at all. He may have had a laptop in there with Netflix streaming, or it may have been that he had a test he did not want to study for, or he just may have been enjoying another lazy morning. Regardless, he wasn’t leaving and he was already 10 days late. Apropos.

I knew, instinctively, I was going to have a boy and that he would look just like his dad. I was right on both counts. After a very difficult pregnancy and a genuinely horrific labor, I would finally encounter the baby that was creating all this drama. In an instant, we went from a married couple to a family on this day, 14 years ago, at 12:20 am, in a room that looked like a drive-by birthing occurred, after 23 hours of labor, and 42 weeks of waiting to meet our baby. My son was beautiful and perfect and sweet and calm and miraculous. And thanks to him, I was now a mother. Within hours, I was able to identify my baby’s cry when he would be rolled down the halls of the hospital. I was nursing him, I was studying him, I was loving him. My mom sat next to me on my hospital bed and said “enjoy him. Before you know it, he’ll be off to college.”

At the time I’m sure I thought she was being dramatic. There are moments so redundant they are suspended in time. They are simply palpable. I can tell you the playlist I quietly sang to my son by his crib every night (Sweet Baby James, Moonshadow, The Way You Look Tonight, the 59th Street Bridge Song, You Can Close Your Eyes, The Circle Game). I can tell you the lyrics of all the Wiggles and Laurie Berkner tunes we listened to while we played with blocks and stacking toys. I can tell you the way the sun fell across my son’s window facing 1st Avenue and East 74th Street each evening. I can tell you about all the things I packed in my diaper bag to keep my baby clean, and fed, and warm, and happy. And I can also tell you that my mother was right.

I cannot recall my son’s changing face over the past 14 years. From chubbier cheeks to the beginnings of a tiny pre-pubescent mustache to the emergence of small angles and large brows. The only face I see is the one that is always right before me: soft brown eyes, an honest smile, and the pronounced dimple that melted my heart when I laid eyes on him in that delivery room.  I am constantly trying to recreate those initial feelings of love and motherhood. I linger over witch hazel pads which perfumed the first two months of my son’s infancy. I obsessively smell my hands after washing them at my doctor’s office with the same antibacterial soap I used for the first year after my son was born. I keep many of his baby clothes with rags in my laundry room just so I can unfold them and look at them and imagine his tiny body filling them up all those years ago. My mother was so very right. She always is.

These memories have become part of the fabric out of which the tapestry of our lives is still being made. Days do become years and years seem to become decades. I find myself marking the lives of my children with milestones and events and hourglasses. My son will begin high school in the fall. He will get a learner’s permit in two years. He will take the SATs in three years. He will go to college in four. And I am clinging to those four years so hard that my heart aches. Perhaps they’re called milestones because they’re so devastatingly heavy.

My son’s voice is changing. He is becoming more independent. He is making his own plans and becoming a little man. It’s ok. It is what is supposed to happen. I just don’t know if I’m ready for it. It would be nice to dig my heels in, like a dog that doesn’t want to be walked, and just stop the world. But I want the world for him too and he deserves that much.

After all, he has been a gift every day of his life. From his first steps to his first “mama” to his first hug to his first kiss to his first bike ride to his first “I love you” to his first scraped knee to his first playdate to his first bus to his first day of school to his first year at camp to his first girlfriend to his first drink of Manischewitz to his first day of being 14, I have been there. And it has been an honor and a privilege and again, a gift. He has literally grown up before my eyes like a beautiful time-lapse film I never want to end.

I am fortunate. The people I love are doing all right and we are surrounded by a strong and very wonderful network of family and friends. And although I’m now several inches shorter than my sprouting boy, he nevertheless often manages to fit himself onto my lap and rest his head on my shoulder. He is warm and affectionate and sweet and generous with the hugs and kisses. He has not yet stopped coming into my room every evening to kiss me and say goodnight and I am hoping this is a tradition that will endure. Thankfully, it seems he still needs his mother because I know that I will always need him. Yes, he is growing up. But then again, so am I.

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