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Twenty years ago I heard a sound

Ben Cello


On this day twenty years ago today I was very pregnant.

I was uncomfortable in the best of ways.
My body was tuning for a symphony that has played on for winters and summers and falls and many, many revitalizing springs.
I have become, my 5’7” frame, wide thighs, strong arms- an orchestra hall with acoustic panels surrounding the conductor, my heart.
This symphonic alignment of my being began with a newborn devotion to love, to my husband and the possible future we conceived before we had an iota of an inkling of how this musical passage would alter the course, the texture, the foundation of our lives forever. Forever, that is, being from that moment until now which has every indication of momentum, of forward motion.
I have learned, while caught in this musical reverie, to be more present, to drop my prospective planning of future to settle in to the melody of now.
This journey, the playing of the symphony of motherhood in my life, in the concert hall of my body, in the acoustic sphere of my emotional life, in the reverberant sound waves that pulse into the world around me has called me in to a vivid kind of listening.
20 years ago, I found myself in the scarlet velvet seat of mothering and I have not tired of the changing melodies, the sonorous undertones, the minor keys, dissonance and cacophony yielding to mellifluous tones.
I have questioned at timorous times whether I could trade my seat for a better view or perhaps a different composition. I have wondered if I could just turn the sound off or at least lower the volume more than many times.
But this all penetrating, relentlessly consistent world of sounds is as steady as sunrise. It has the beauty of Yeats:

“I thought of your beauty, and this arrow
Made out of a wild thought, is in my marrow.”

photo strips957

The music is that close to me, so close it is within me. I pulse with it. Even twenty years in.

Poet Alicia Suskin Ostriker wrote in a poem,

“Oh young mamas
no matter what your age is you
are born when you give birth
to a baby you start over

one animal

and both gently, just slightly
separated from each other
swaying, swinging
like a vine, like an oriole’s nest”

I might doze through a passage, I may flat out sleep through an exciting part, but when I wake the symphony reels on, playing in and though and around me. Curious to me is the fact that no one else hears my symphony of motherhood. They witness the effects of its playing, catch wafts of sound when the breeze carries it just right, but on the whole, I am the only one who hears this sound. I venture to guess each of us have our own symphonies, the ones struck in to our mothers and fathers and the ones that are struck in to us each as parents. This symphony is an ocean of sounds waves that permeate every single thing I do.

So, when 20 years ago, my husband performed the ubiquitous duty of parking the car on 7th Avenue in Greenwich Village at 4:35 AM on a Sunday morning, I clung to a parking sign post that prohibited him parking right there, but provided me with an anchor. I was lost to all social decorum. Lost to the delicacies of how people behave on a city street, albeit the wild frayed edge of morning on a warm July weekend. My bare hot hands pressed in to the green metal, sharp-edged and evenly punched with holes that I could peer through between contractions.
I felt a wave of sound coming at me. I braced myself, as if that parking sign post was the mast of a great ship, bow heading right in to the wind, musical notes pelting me, an unfamiliar melody that now, 20 years later is the sound of my cells.

I sailed in to motherhood and I live in the symphony, square in the center of this haunting, startling, heart-breaking beauty.

This morning I was struck by this phrase from John O’Donohue’s book Beauty.

“Each of us is aware of certain threshold times in the lives of our hearts when such thoughts arrived and changed everything.”

Our son, my boy Ben, is in Munich, warm in the arms of our German family. If he cannot be here, eating blueberry buckle for breakfast, then him being there is a comfort and joy for us both. I will spend the day listening to the current measures of this music, the ones that carry his voice over the airwaves or the cadence of his speech in a text.

Hey Mom. Just wanted to hear your voice.

Mothering is about sound, about hearing, and about listening.

Thank you Ben for bringing this music to my life.
Happy Birthday.
Twenty is very good.
Very good indeed.


Suzi/ Mom

That segment of the Alicia Suskin Ostriker poem, Propaganda Poem: Maybe for Some Young Mamas, appears in her book,
The Mother/Child Papers, published by University of Pittsburgh Press 1980, 2009. You can find it here.

PS Subscribers to Laundry Line Divine have been given a chance to update your connection to this website. I hope you will continue reading me here, following the work I do and the events I produce. I am taking An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice on tour this August to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Stay tuned for news!

Giving Motherhood A Voice Poster

Who is a Little Cuckoo Clock?

Ben and me at Bartholomew's Cobble 1995

Today is my son’s last full day of high school.
When I woke this morning I was singing a song he and I learned in our
first Mommy & Me class at the Children’s Aid Society on Thompson Street in Greenwich Village.

Tick tock Tick tock, I’m a little cuckoo clock.
Tick tock Tick tock, now it’s striking one o’clock.

(Prepare for cascade of giggles and drool as you toss baby up the air with each striking of the hour. Doubles as upper body work out)

If I attempted any such tossing I would be seriously injured today.
My little cuckoo clock is 18 years old and he is 10 pounds my senior.
He did grin a tiny little special grin when I sang this song to him on his way out the door.

And, my little cuckoo clock- (How could I have missed this when I was wiping milk stained slobber off my nursing top back on Thompson Street?) – this cuckoo clock’s gears are whirring with nervousness, excitement, bravura, kindness, anticipation and major projections and no more drooling.

I however, am a tiny bit sad and a lot of bit happy. I am the lady that appears out of the doorway in the Swiss Chalet atop that cuckoo clock, happily waving as the clock chimes, one, two, three, prom is in a week, graduation after that, and then a summer till college starts. My little cheery arms are levering up and down with joy. If I cry too much my gears will rust. Must keep this arm waving. (More upper body workout. Who knew mothering provides such great exercise?)

Anne LaMott comforted, challenged and made me fall off the toilet laughing back when Ben was this little cuckoo clock. And now, when I am a little cuckoo being the mother of a boisterous and bold teenager who is really a young man and no longer a child, except when he needs me, Anne has swung in alongside me again in her recent book Some Assembly Required.


Here is the section I highlighted. Heavily.

 “And what do you do in the face of this powerlessness? As a parent?” (Anne)

“You get to be obsessed and angry,” Tom said. “And they get to be the age they are, and act like teenagers if they want to. There is a zero-percent chance you will change them. So we breathe in, and out, talk to friends, as needed. We show up, wear clean underwear, say hello to strangers. We plant bulbs, and pick up litter, knowing there will be more in the twenty minutes. We pray that we might cooperate with any flicker of light we can find in the world.”






Today, I am cooperating with light.

I am preparing for Rites of Passage, a play my words and art are in the Pittsfield in June.

And I am planting my window boxes which will hang below the window through which I appear, again and again, waving, smiling, waving.

I hope your day is filled with light, just the kind you like.















Fired Up, Ready to Go: First Family, My Family

@barackobama and #greendrink for breakfast. #firedup !!!!

I just have to stop looking at the election night photographs.

Have you seen these?

Or have you looked at these?

This video-

inspired me to do this:

we accept certain obligations to one another

This election and every election since I was first able to vote in 1976 have engaged me. Many years have passed with feeling I have no place at the national table. I am too unpolished, undereducated and not well placed. Though Jonathan and I have done hours of service in our lives for candidates and causes, it has not been until President Obama’s campaign and years in office that I feel there is representation in the Oval Office that has anything close to my life experience.

Could it be I was born in Evanston, Illinois and somehow, those years in the Chicago area link me to the Obama family?

Or is it that I have a newly minted United States citizen in my life, Ella Rose,  who shares things with the Obamas that I will never share, for instance her skin color or lineage? Here she is in my sister, her adoptive mama, Elsa’s arms with Judge Shelley Gaylord in Madison, Wisconsin.

Or is it Michelle? The rock star “first Mom” who, if we knew each other I’d be picking her girls up from soccer and we’d be gardening together in the schools.

Or is it that this family, who looks something like my family with an athletic lawyer daddy, a multi-dimensional mommy and two kids who look like they spend a bit of time away from televisions and doing cool stuff every day, this family seems to operate as an energized source of real time vitality in a world that is so formal and divided from real life. I think this may be what has rocked my world today.

Listening to Clinton's DNC speech. This is an #Obama grocery bag from the #congo. XoS

In November four years ago, our daughter, Catherine, invited her entire class of 25 kids to celebrate her birthday by creating a mural of welcome for the newly elected President Obama. The kids filled their sections with wishes for him and his daughters, ideas for his presidency like stamping out plastic bags and getting a family dog. The mural was so full of innocent urgency for what they felt was important to them at that time, the environment, pets and friends. We rolled the mural up and mailed it to the White House. By Christmas, Catherine had a signed photo of the President on the wall in her room. No personal note as she’d hoped for nor a picture of Sasha and Malia looking at the mural, but she understood the arrival of the form letter thank you. It was her first message that people in the political arena may appear to be in her immediate world, but operate in a sphere we can hardly imagine.

So, I pour over the photos from last night, enjoying how the Vice President is so energetically physical in his contact with the President, communicating to us how they must spar over issues great and small, with some kindness and humor and integrity.

Or I look at the Election night video and see how Malia pointed out a section of the audience to her dad, the newly re-elected leader of our nation, and urged him to turn around to face another cheering mass of joyful humanity.

I see people who are living in a world that is filled with relationships, where families are valued and cherished and where the ideals of our nation are headed up by the word ‘LOVE’. Have you ever heard an elected official mention ‘love’ in any way other than the fist pumped “I love the United States” victory cry- President Obama said this:

“What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth. The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That’s what makes America great.”

Right now snow is flying past my window. My husband is napping off 4 days spent in Ohio assisting the Board of Elections in Cuyahoga County. His experiences will filter in to all of us, the energy of his adventure folding in to our family legacy of standing for our values, no matter what.

My son #voted for his first time today! XoS @barackobama @benbaum3

Yesterday our 18 year old voted for the first time in his life. Catherine, and his best friend and I were there to see him navigate the swarm of people at the Great Barrington Fire Station. When we first arrived at the voting place, the boys commented with glee “there’s trucks!”. What better way for these kids to enter the world of citizenry, in a building with much loved fire trucks where neighbors were using their hard worn right to vote in an election for a person to lead our nation.

And, that leader, when chosen, celebrates his victory with grace, arms around his family, voicing gratitude to all who helped him to this place in history and urging us each to work with him. I have tears of joy for the opportunity this Presidency lays open for our children, who see this path of leadership as attainable and important and who feel included in the composition that is our democracy.

Thanks to Bruce and Jay-Z and Katy Perry for rocking us in to the election. In the Berkshires, James and Kim Taylor were working the polls, making calls and handing out treats to the workers with their two boys.

And, all of us, for whom celebrity is something we pour over on Huffington Post and MSNBC to see, today we feel a parting of the veil between celebrity and real life as Barack and Michelle invite us each to do our part and participate with them in creating our more perfect Union.

Now I can get to work.
Heavy snow now.
xo S

It’s my birthday (month) ! Corks up!

I am a bit tearful here, on Tuesday, September 25, two days after Bruce Springsteen’s birthday. This month is peppered with birthdays of even more of my favorite people, like Jaq Belcher– who’s art just stops me in my tracks and Mary McGinn, who as Kitty Cavalier challenges women to own their sensuality in a beautiful way. It is also a month of anniversaries, like my friend Melissa Rankin’s. Her blog, Owning Pink is four years old this week.

But, you may know, it is also my birthday month and though I have been showered with birthday love from my family and friends, I think it best for you to know a few things that have transpired this year and most notably, this month. As I looked back over my birthday wishes for 2011, I realized they have all come to pass. Here’s the first two in bold and the stories that follow tell you how it all happened.

1. I wish for this year to hold magnificent health, healing and transformation for my family and me.

I am so grateful that this year I was vibrantly healthy all year with only one sinus infection. My girl and I continue to research green drinks. We are enjoying Kris Carr’s recipes this month. I think that makes a big impact on my well being.

@femailartnews on the road to #northadams and #PRESS!

Our son had a ski accident this year, which changed the territory of our winter and in a completely unexpected way, brought us all closer together. Speed and boys on skis are a natural fact. What happened for us, as we navigated his accident and healing, was particularly poignant. I would say, in spite of the great pain, agony and challenge his broken leg brought to him, we will all hold this past winter and spring as a very special time for us. The love that flowed towards us from our family and community, the stand our son took for his learning and his integrity to complete the work of his junior year and the very fabric of our family strengthening throughout those months were unexpected gifts.

As for transformation?

I BECAME AN AUNT! I have a new niece, named Ella Rose Mujiinga Banks and she is an excellent niece. She lets me swing her, sing to her, make her green smoothies and is an all around magnificent addition to our family. I am eternally grateful to my sister Elsa for bravely and against many odds, adopting Ella Rose from the Congo. I am grateful to Elsa for sharing her journey of motherhood with my family and me. Here is her latest finger grab shot with some other shots. Don’t get me going about missing her. Geri Miller took two of these shots. That is another story.

2. I wish for complete patience and humor as I parent my teen-agers. May that humor buoy me when I loose my patience.

Well, we have two teen agers here in this house. And a few more in Germany and from these Berkshire Hills who grace our table round with their immense good humor and sparkling individuality. I am grateful for each of them, and in particular our two kids who witness me every day. Here is Catherine with our German Anna and me with my German son David.

Now for the story:

There we are, driving from the airport in Nice, France (yes, it is very very nice there) to our destination in the hills above the Mediterranean, a small ancient village called Grimaud, which is the home of our friend. This friend had given us a driving route through the mountains, which appeals to my car-crazy husband. My daughter and I are in the back seat, ogling the view at one moment, studying the Michelin map at another, imploring him to slow down while our son crows in warning for each car he can only sense is approaching us on this one lane road from around the next curve.

Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, right? Not at that moment. Thrilling, yes. Chilling? Nearly.

So. We make it off of this road that brought us to vistas made for postcards.

We drive happily in to the next town, where we hope to find bathrooms and food and solid ground with no precipitous edged roadways. Plan de la Tour supplies all of this.

We sit down to a simple lunch of bread and cheese, grilled to delicious ooziness and toasted with our sparkling water. Always on the look out for botanical noteworthiness, I see we are sitting in welcome shade beneath one of Ferdinand the Bull’s cork trees! It is a teaching moment! Right here, fresh from near death on a road high above the crystal blue vista and rocky drop offs. What joy!

I reach down to pick up some of the chipped bark in the well around the base of this old, craggy tree. Presenting it as a test to my children, who are used to feeling stems of plants to identify them or to sniffing some garden marvel to assure me they know jasmine from honeysuckle, I ask them, “Do you know what tree we are sitting beneath?”

Our 18 year old, is always on the lookout for cracks in my logic or loopholes in my reasoning. He nabs me for leaps of factual faith that I often take, stretching what I know to the next near outcropping of what I hope to know and anticipating an intellectual connection. Ben says, “obviously a tree that grows corks ready for the wine bottle, stamped and everything”.

While Ben and Catherine double over in convulsive laughter and recount my botanical gaffe to the recently returned from the doubla-vey-cey, Jonathan, I dig my glasses out of my bag. Did I mention how much I hate to wear my eyeglasses these days? In particular, I hate to wear them after near death experiences. I like to soften my vision to take in only the big shapes and skip over the tiny hairy details of things, like skinny pale blue lines that stand for roads through mountains. I have hilariously, (to some), skipped over the details on this round cork under what is a cork tree, which has printing on it and certainly did not spring directly from this kind old tree.

Well it is true what they say about your kids keeping you humble. We all had a very good and a little-too -long laugh about wine bottle corks growing on trees in France. I let the teaching moment turn itself back on me. There were in fact, bits of cork from this very tree, but it seems at this little café, they also toss used wine bottle corks in to the well around the base of the tree. (…What? for safe keeping?) I let it go, I promise you. (Writing this is helping me immensely.)

When Ben was tiny, we wandered the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, where we saw one such ancient cork tree that served as the photo backdrop for hundreds of visiting school children. The Amur cork tree, #143-A, once hosted years of group photos of kids spread like monkeys along the thick branches of that strong limbed tree. Sadly, that tree died in 1995. It had been a gift to the collection at the Arboretum in 1874 and had lived a long life there along the path. I remember picking up bits of cork from the base of that old tree to slip in to my pocket. I did not need my glasses then, and I assure you there was no printing or the vineyard’s blaze on those small bits of cork.

So. The laugh was on me.
And, I was, as I so desired in Birthday wish #2, buoyed by a cork to a sea of laughter with my children and husband, exhilarated by being alive together in that small, dry, quiet town.

Here are some photos I took that day.

And here, to celebrate his birthday, his brother-in-law’s birthday and mine too, is our own Bruce Springsteen.
Thanks to YouTube and some concert-goer, we get to shake it up with the Boss and his own mother, who he honors with humor and joy.
Go to full screen and turn up your volume.

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