Copenhagen 

http://books.hamlethub.com/booksink/local-writers/42741-my-life-on-the-post-road-temporarily-off-the-post-road

The thing that amazes me most about traveling, especially overseas, is how much my preconceived notions differ from reality. Even at this age, even after having visited five continents, I always have this almost fantastical idea of what I’ll encounter, simply for not having experienced a place firsthand before. I paint these images in my mind – be it of Seattle or deep space – based on what I’ve read, seen, or heard. I synthesize that information like so many pastels to conjure a picture. Maybe I envisioned blond-braided girls and leiderhosened boys wandering whimsically through fields of edelweiss as they make their way home toward their A-frame chalets to eat raclette and chocolate before I actually visited Switzerland, for example. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me.

But what inevitably blows me away once I land and settle in is how silly these stereotypical scenarios seem, although they do sell souvenirs. We all buy bears dressed as Beefeaters and miniature Eiffel Towers. I’m not sure exactly what I expected of Denmark, even though I’d read two guidebooks cover to cover. Danny Kaye, in his role as Hans Christian Andersen, sang in my ear “Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen, friendly old girl of a town…” I’d read Kierkegaard and revered Niels Bohr. But none of that helped me formulate a more concrete idea of what I’d find in Copenhagen other than a vague sense of a tall, blond, albeit little, mermaid eating Danish pastries and herring. Pretty lame, even for a lame caricature.

Of course what I (and my 21-year-old son) found were people, just like us, doing pretty much the same things that we do, with some striking similarities and some very notable differences.

Denmark’s capital city sits on the island of Zealand, itself surrounded by water. It is beautiful, clean, safe, efficient, and environmentally conscious. Everyone we encountered spoke perfect English and welcomed us with warmth. Here are a few things that really stood out for us about Kobenhavn (as they spell it):

  1. Everyone, and I mean everyone rides bicycles. Everywhere. In this relatively small city, 36,000 people commute by bike daily.  The city plows bike lanes before they plow the streets and strictly enforces cyclist safety laws. Two-wheelers park alongside almost every building, and two-, three-, and four-deep outside rail stations. Families travel in specially outfitted three-wheelers, with a sort of bin at the front where a mother often sat with a child or two while a father pedaled. Most had child seats; very few had locks when parked. This makes for less pollution, less reliance on fossil fuels, and more regular physical exercise.
  2. Every single inch of waterfront space (and there is a lot of it in Copenhagen) must provide public access. Boardwalks and concrete paths, most outfitted with some form of recreational equipment and seating, line the canals. We saw trampolines built in to the sidewalk on one stretch. The wooden walkway in front of our hotel had exercise equipment, ladders for swimmers to lower themselves into the jellyfish-filled waters, and ramps for skateboarders and bikers. The newly built theater overlooking the canal neglected to allow for access initially and had to go back to the drawing board and add a path around the building. A new port-side parking lot was constructed entirely underwater so as not to block views. Its large, flat roof will be developed as an outdoor performance area. Several of the bridges over the canals are exclusively for pedestrians and cyclists. The imposing national library, known as the Black Diamond because its ebony glass exterior reflects the water and glistens on a sunny day, puts lounge chairs out on its extensive deck area for public use. Even private residences must have public walkways if they abut the water. All this further facilitates physical activity and makes for very beautiful vistas at every turn.
  3. We spoke to a 22-year old college freshman on our first day. She explained that most students start university later than we do here, often taking time off after high school. Not only is higher education tuition-free, but students receive a stipend during their studies. She said that no one in the country is prohibited from going to school for financial reasons.
  4. The cuisine is amazing! There is a huge emphasis on organic, local, fresh, minimally processed food. The city boasts that 75 percent of their institutions serve organic food. A huge warehouse on the waterfront houses Copenhagen Street Food, an amalgamation of different stalls offering a wide range of international specialties, ranging from sushi to souvlaki. I enjoyed my personal favorite Danish specialty: smorrebrod, which roughly translates to spread bread. The dense, delicious Danish rye bread is served open-faced, covered with such delicacies as herring and onions, smoked salmon and egg, or chicken salad with bacon. Devon had a thin pancake made of egg filled with pulled pork and vegetables. We also enjoyed Torvehallerne, the more upscale food market with butchers, cheese mongers, and seafood vendors. The Danish consume more coffee per capita than any other country in the world, so we often found ourselves watching the world go by sipping joe in a sidewalk café. And of course, we visited the Carlsberg brewery and enjoyed the two free samples. Just to be polite.

We truly fell in love with wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen. We did pass the Little Mermaid statue during a pleasant boat tour. But I’m happy to say that we didn’t see stores dotting the city selling replica statuettes and T-shirts emblazoned with her image. Yes, many things felt familiar. Yes, people everywhere work, eat, spend time with family, and sleep. But in this Danish capital they seem to do so with great respect for each other and for their environment, with style and an appreciation for aesthetics.

I’m happy to be back to My Life on the Post Road, but I miss Copenhagen already. I look forward to replacing my caricature of my next destination with the tangible reality of a new adventure.

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The Most Wonderful Time

http://books.hamlethub.com/booksink/local-writers/42734-my-life-on-the-post-road-the-most-wonderful-time-of-the-year

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” One of my favorite commercials has nothing to do with the holidays. A father pushes a bright red plastic shopping cart, practically pirouetting with joy, following glum children down the aisle of a Staples office supply store.

I couldn’t agree more, but not because I was so happy to see summer end and the school year begin (although I was). I still feel gleeful at this time of year, even now that one of my boys has graduated college and one will soon start his senior year and buys his own supplies.

It is because of the promise: of crisp white unfilled notebook pages; of new sharp pencils with unmarred pink erasers; of black and blue BIC round sticks chomping at the bit to let their ink flow; of all that potential for learning and thinking and writing.

And it’s not just as a parent that I tingle starting in mid-August, as the yellow school buses appear anew navigating their route’s trial runs. I was one of those nerds who loved the start of school. I eagerly awaited the first day, carefully planning my outfit – oh, those fall clothes shopping trips with my mom – and arranging and rearranging and color-coordinating new notebooks, folders, and markers. The excitement was almost too much for me.

When the boys and I shopped for school supplies, or, I should say when I shopped for school supplies for them (they did not share my level of sheer delight for some reason), I always bought more than I needed. I can resist a new lined notebook as well as I can resist a square of dark chocolate. I’d pass by a pair of new pumps, on sale, on my way to the mountain of loose-leaf paper. I had a small stationery store of my own in our pantry: graph paper (my personal favorite), yellow legal pads, spiral notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers…you get it. I set up the boys with military-precise back-to-school packets, even thinking of the appropriate color for each subject (green notebooks and folders for Environmental Science). Such a dweeb.

When I moved from the house to a small apartment I had to let a lot of the stash go. I tried to find good homes for everything. Spare backpacks and multi-subject binders went to Human Services for new students in need.  My ex’s seven year old got trash bags full of crayons and markers. The boys took some notebooks for their creative endeavors. I kept only a minimal amount of just-in-time inventory.

Now I keep driving by Staples with its red siren façade: “come on in, Diane, the water’s fine!” it calls to me. But, like a hoarder in recovery, I don’t dare go in. I doubt I could resist the mountains of multi-colored marble notebooks and matching folders. But I could use a blank notebook for my upcoming trip… I could stop in for just a minute, right? But I don’t.  I drive on in search of a square of dark chocolate.

Sometimes, I Yell

Sometimes, I Yell

 

I started studying yoga and meditation when my boys were still young. I used to joke that I’d still yell at them, but at 5:00 pm rather than 4:00 pm.

By Diane Lowman

My mother was a screamer. If she thought we did not hear her, did not understand her, or did not change our behavior quickly enough, she just shouted louder. I know, now, that she shrieked to be heard. To be acknowledged. It had nothing to do with toys on the floor or the still-full dishwasher.

I, beaten down by the raised volume, vowed to be different. To speak softly, without the big stick. But, as often is the case with parenting traits, we inherit them, whether we want them or not.

My outbursts may have been neither as frequent nor as thunderous as hers – after all, I was a product of two gene pools, the other quite quiet – but I did often default to a raised voice as a discipline device. It was as ineffective with my boys as hers was with us. I regret having hurled it at them at all.

Fifteen years ago, after earning a black belt in Tae Kwon Do (my way of venting the pent-up aggression, perhaps?) I took up yoga. I liked that it helped me to cultivate the same qualities of calm and focus as the martial art, without subjecting me to hand-to-hand combat. I studied the history and philosophy of this ancient practice, and now I teach it.

I don’t believe we can fundamentally change who or what we are with any activity, drug, or distraction. What I have learned through Asana and meditation is that changing ourselves is not the goal. What I have learned on the mat is how to recognize and radically accept myself, foibles and all. Including the proclivity to shout when frustrated, provoked, or dissatisfied. I notice, more quickly, those signs in my body that tell me I’m about to blow, and watch them with curiosity and kindness.

“Why, Diane, are you so irate at that moron in front of you who cannot seem to find the gas pedal, ever, when the light turns green?” I might ask myself as I white knuckle the steering wheel on, ironically, my way to yoga class.

This is not to say that I don’t get annoyed at stupid little things, or yell at the moron anyway eventually, but I might wait longer and I certainly notice it more.

I started studying yoga and meditation when my boys were still young. I used to joke that I’d still yell at them, but at 5:00 pm rather than 4:00 pm. But that’s something.

If I was particularly short-tempered or agitated they would ask: “Mom, have you gone to yoga today? Do you need a class?” And if I thought for a moment before admonishing them, the answer would inevitably be “No, and yes.”

In her 50s, my mother went back for her associates’ degree in early childhood education. She had found and was following a better path later in life, as had I. She would call me, almost daily, to tell me something she learned in class, and “what horrible mistakes I made with you girls. I wish I had known this then.”

“Mom,” I’d say, “We do the best we can. You were and are a wonderful mother.” Yet she continued the self-flagellation all through her formal education. Maybe she couldn’t change how she parented my sister and me but she was the best, most patient, most attentive, and most fun grandmother ever to my boys and my two nieces.

There is no gold mommy star shining over my head just because I shifted my path ever so slightly. And I would never take away the gold mommy star that now shines like a halo over my mother’s head just because she shouted. She was a saint; she earned it many times over.

I, too, often feel not heard, not seen, and not acknowledged, as she did. I just wish I’d started working on better ways to earn my star earlier.

Focus

http://books.hamlethub.com/booksink/local-writers/42726-my-life-on-the-post-road-focus

I sit in Starbucks trying to write (I could open every essay with that sentence), but I find myself distracted by and surreptitiously watch and eavesdrop on a woman in the large distressed leather chair catty-corner from me. She is distressed, too. Multitasking, she balances an open black leather portfolio and iced coffee on her knees, thumbs awhirl on her iPhone.  Her purse – really more of a tote bag – leans agape at her feet, and shifts as she motions to a man calmly drinking coffee at the milk bar. Chunky faux gold necklace and dangling earrings threaten to entangle her cup as she thumbs through papers. Her part, visible with her head bent down, speaks of either not enough “me” time or the decision to go back to her natural hair color. Two dark inches creep up on the cheery bottle blonde.

She’s managed to gesture enough between texting and rifling to catch the man’s eye – husband? client? – And she mouths with large jaw movements to convey urgency – “We have to go to the bank. Right now.”

I avert my prying gaze as she juggles her paraphernalia and stands up to make a precipitous get away with still-calmly-sipping-man.

I write until I need to leave to meet a friend for lunch. As I comparatively more coherently organize my things, I spy busy lady’s wallet on the floor by her vacated chair. It must have fallen out of her tilting tote.

I pick it up quickly; fearing someone else might grab it. Quickly running through my options (drop it at the police department? Where is the Norwalk police department anyway?), I just decide to take it and try to contact her directly. It occurs to me that security cameras might be recording and misinterpreting my every move.

In the car I examine the once rich, but now worn, purple leather Tory Burch clutch wallet, large raised logo front and center. It is weighty; stuffed to bursting, with a zipper as barely closed as my skinny jeans on a fat day. It has a similar bulging muffin top around the edges, too. I unzip it with some effort, and poke around tentatively, not wanting to invade her privacy while looking for ID. It is crammed full of credit cards, three deep in their slots. Cash and a cache of receipts compete for space. I gingerly remove her driver’s license, like I’m afraid of getting prints on it, and Google her thankfully long and unusual name and her hometown (New Canaan). Small business and a realtor sites come up; both show the same cell number. Bingo! How scarily easy it is to find people.

I text and leave a message on her voicemail; she calls back, frantic, about six minutes later.

“Hi!  I got a message that you found my wallet? I didn’t even realize it was gone until I got your text. Good thing I didn’t drop the phone too.  You saved my life!”

“No problem. I was sitting across from you at Starbucks.” I leave out the eavesdropping part. “And I saw it on the floor after you left. I only looked inside to get your license to contact you,” I explain as if guilty of something.

“Oh, no problem! Thank you!”

“I’m on the Post Road near Whole Foods if you want to come by and pick it up.”

“Oooooh noooo! I can’t do that. I have two closings and eight showings today. I’m a realtor.” (I know.) “We had to run to the bank to get a cashier’s check.” (So client, not husband.) “Can you believe my client thought he could use a personal check at the closing?” (No, I’m just dumbstruck.) “I am swamped all day. I’ll call you when I can pick it up.  Thanks again!” Click.

“OK,” I say to no one.

The afternoon passes with no word from her, and I feel odd about carrying her wallet with me. What if I lose it? It begins to feel ever so slightly like a burden.

I check my phone at 8 p.m., after teaching a yoga class, and finally there’s a text:

“Hi, Diane. Where by chance do you live, so I can pick up my wallet! I just finished my last showing of the day. PHEW. 2 closings. 8 showings.”

I tell her, and she replies, “I can grab it tomorrow, once done showings at 10:30.  Would that work? You’re (sic) life sounds less stressful than mine.  Haha.”  Presumptuous and a tad arrogant, I think.

“Sure,” I text. “I can meet you at the library in town at 11 a.m.”

“OK. Library in Westport around 11. Got it. Thank you. You’re a life saver.”

I sit dutifully and early at the library the next morning, At 10:58 she texts “I’m here!” I’m sitting right in the café at the main entrance just where I told her I’d be, “Just trying to find out where to go,” she texts again at 11:06.  She doesn’t find me until 11:15.  It’s not that big a place.

She stands and looks down on me, iPhone in hand, and tosses her tangle of keys on my table, right next to her plump wallet. She neither greets nor thanks me, but says, thumbs hard at work, and eyes on her phone:

“Sorry, it’s my daughter texting me about her ACT scores. She wants to know how to get into the system. How would I know? I’m telling her that. How would I know? You know it was funny when we got to the attorney’s office – it wasn’t my usual attorney – it was the seller’s attorney – I thought my purse felt light and then I got your call and oh my god I didn’t even realize. You saved my life, really you did.  We had to go to the bank because my client thought he could write a personal check for the closing. Right?!? A personal check? And I said, no, oh sh*t we have to go to the bank. So I grabbed him and just ran out of there.”

She stops for a moment. Even competitive deep-sea divers have to come up for air at some point. She glances up from her phone.

“Well,” I begin, seeing a chance for the edgewise word. “I just noticed it on the floor as I was leaving…”

She picks up the business card that I’d put next to her wallet. I’d reasoned that she might want to know who I was. She holds it between her middle and pointer fingers and looks at it as she begins to text again.  “Wow, your name sounds like a movie star’s name! Lowman! Like it’s not your real name and you picked it!  Is it your real name? I used to do yoga every day but I don’t do it every day now because I’m too busy. I’d like to get back to doing yoga every day. Where do you teach? Maybe some of my friends and I will come to one of your classes.”

“Yes, it’s my real name. I do privates and I teach…”

“Oh, great, really, privates? That would be great to do a private. You know it’s funny I was going to get gas last night when I was done with the showings but I realized I had no credit cards! I almost called my husband to come meet me but I decided to wait until today. I’m so glad you found it and you were honest; you saved my life honestly. I don’t know how to access her ACT account! I already told her that!”

“Well,” I say, pretty sure this would go on all day unless I assert myself, “I need to get going soon. It was nice to meet you. I’m glad it all worked out.”

“Yes, thank you, I really have to go too! I have three showings today! Can you believe it? In the summer?” She begins to walk away.

“No. No, I simply cannot believe it. It’s the most amazing thing I have ever heard in my life,” I don’t say. “Um. Wait.” Is what I mumble and she backtracks. Her wallet still sits on the table.

“Oh my god I can’t believe I almost left my wallet! That’s hysterical! Oh my god! Well,” as she grabs it, “thanks again.”

“You’re welcome.” And she turns again. “Um. Wait.” I’m incredulous, and sound repetitive. Her key cluster still weighs heavy on my table.

“Oh my god can you believe it?” She giggles. “Yes. Yes I can,” I don’t say. “If my head weren’t attached…” her voice trails off as she leaves, finally, with all her belongings.

I sit for a moment, stunned and amused, and trying hard not to think derogatory thoughts about blondes, realtors, or blonde realtors. And pack my stuff up to focus on a walk at Compo.

The Real Empty Nest

The Real Empty Nest: After The Kids Graduate College

Helicopter ParentsAround this time of year anxious parents flood the aisles of Bed Bath & Beyond, pushing blue shopping carts, with their bored high school graduates in tow. They peruse the mind-numbing selection of products intended to maximize storage capacity, minimize chill, and mimic home as much as possible in cramped, sterile dorm rooms. Moms sing a silent dirge: “Where did the time go?” while kids count the days until independence.

“Mom. I don’t care what color comforter. And yes. One hundred hangers is enough. Can we just go?”

“Ok, honey, I just want your room to be nice…”

Thus begins what parents both dread and desire, the proverbial emptying of the nest. But after all the preparation and packing, the lugging and hugging, and the teary goodbyes… they come back! For fall break. For Thanksgiving. For the holidays. And so on. And in between, we text, Skype, and FaceTime. While we may cook less, it feels like we actually spend more on food because we send them so much on Amazon. While we may get to see the occasional movie during the week, we seem to spend as much time monitoring and managing their academics, social life, and travel logistics as when they were home.

Little fledgling hatchlings may flutter and sputter on their own at first, but they don’t come back for months at a time and stay out late, make a mess in the kitchen, and expect their parents to resume laundry duty for four years.

My boys are 21 and 23. The eldest graduated from my Alma Mater last year, and has settled in Nashville to pursue a music career. The other will be a senior at his father’s Alma Mater in the fall.

Now at the precipice of another milestone – having both boys graduate college – I realize that this moment (notwithstanding the boomerang gang) is the real moment of truth.

While dropping the kids at college requires emotional and physical adjustments to the end of the hands-on childrearing days, those sharp, whirring helicopter rotors don’t quite sever the cord.

But once they move out to move on in life, parenting takes on a very different shape. Since my son moved, I’ve seen him three times. I text him frequently, but don’t always get a response. We talk less. I have a broad idea of what and how he’s doing, but I miss hearing about the minutiae of his life. When he left after a recent visit, I cried more than I did when we dropped him off for his freshman year. Then, I pretty much knew what he could expect and broadly what the next four years would hold for him, and I knew that we’d return in a month for Parents’ Weekend. This time, I know much less about his path for the next four years and beyond, and I have no idea when I’ll next see him.

While I saw my youngest, the budding photographer and filmmaker, over the summer, I know that this time next year I may be looking for cheap flights to visit him in Los Angeles.

My boys are adults, and their lives, as it should be, are their own now. While a part of me would love to live nearby and cook family dinner for them every Sunday (Wait. Who am I kidding? I don’t cook. I’d order in pizza every Sunday), I realize that now it’s really time for me to step aside and be their moon rather than their star. The college drop off was only a test flight. This is the real thing. The echo that reverberates around my quiet apartment is deafening compared to the chatter and chirping of the college years.