When You Can’t Shake a Feeling

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This is the last week of summer vacation for me and my team. Next week, routines resume and bedtimes will be argued.

Today, I took them all to get their hairs cut.

My youngest really didn’t want to do it; he was fearful because the last time I took him to a barber, the woman used scissors around his ears and cut his little ear.

But the older boys insisted on a barber; and so it was going to happen.

After about five minutes of telling my youngest, who is 11, that it was going to happen or that he’d lose screens for the rest of the break, he finally complied.

The barbershop doesn’t take plastic. Checks or cash only.

After my youngest was in the barber chair, in the care of possibly the kindest man I’ve ever encountered other than my now late father-in-law, I told the three of them I was off to visit the the bank in the grocery chain next door to get cash to pay the stylists.

While I was withdrawing cash, I asked the tellers to break a twenty so I could leave a tip for the barbers. I saw a man at the Western Union counter. He was short, a little younger than I am, and he weighed about as much as I do. He was wearing a summer-weight ecru suit, and one of those pork-pie hats, tilted to cover a bit of his face. As is natural for me, I told the teller I needed to break the cash so I could tip the barber next door. As I walked by the gentleman in the pork-pie hat, he zeroed in on me as I was leaving the store.

Up went my radar. I thought he might’ve heard everything I said.

I get to the barber and sit down nearest my kids. My middle son was up front near the door.

In walked the man in the pork-pie hat.

My oldest was directly in front of me, seated next to my youngest.

The pork-pie hat man sat facing me. His hat now removed. His face was hard, like its lines were a map to a forgotten place.

His eyes were intense. They blazed mint green, but were also bloodshot red… and his stare was fixed.

He asked for a #1 blade. All over. Which is basically what I like to refer to as the white supremacist cut.

My radar got sharper.

My oldest was released from his seat and sat next to me.

Immediately, I took out my phone. I started to text my son. Who was sitting right next to me.

He said, as he checked his phone, “Rats. My battery is dead.” But he saw that I was texting him.

He read as I typed:

That dude makes me nervous. Just saw him at Safeway. At Western Union counter. I feel like he followed me in here.

My son asked me to hand him my phone; he wanted to look something up.

He typed back:

He’s been looking at us up and down. He’s also had a moderately detailed cut, like a nice haircut, and now he’s getting it all buzzed. Definitely keep an eye on him.

We exchanged a couple more times and we both concluded that we were both feeling ill at ease and that it wasn’t just me.

My youngest was finished with his haircut, his ears were fine. He blushed and thanked the kindest barber ever.

My heart was racing. I just wanted to get out of there. The fact that the man got the simplest haircut of all made me more nervous.

I read the newspaper. People just shoot people for no reason now. Or things go down in a way, that a “wrong” look is interpreted as a stand-off. I don’t operate that way, but I also don’t back down so easily either.

I texted to my son, that if he were to follow us, that I would drive to the fire station just down the road and wait it out there.

So we walked up to the counter, I tipped the barbers and we walked out the door.

My middle son said, “Mom, that dude in the barbershop… He gave me the chills. I saw him watch you. It made me really nervous. And who would get a haircut like that? And…”

I hate that I still can’t shake that feeling. I wish I could trust people. I wish I could be more at ease.

The fact that my two sons felt something too, was oddly relieving. And also a bummer. The fact that my youngest felt nothing but taken care of and heard, is great.

What if we were all wrong? What if the man was just in from a foreign place and spoke perfect English asking for a #1 and …

I’m an imperfect being in an imperfect world. In yoga, we call it discernment (well, in all life it’s called ‘discernment’ but as a yoga teacher, there’s this thought or social concept that we are all like Jesus: super nice and open and giving of ourselves and that we have no boundaries and trust all…let me tell you: we aren’t like Jesus) and it’s an important gift to use.

Just in case, in the vein of discernment, we took the long way home.

Thank you.

Keep Being Amazed

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We just returned from a weeklong family vacation to New England. We haven’t been to the ocean, when it was warm enough to swim in, in a year. The last time we were on the coast, was in January, when we visited Hilton Head Island, SC. 

I inadvertantly published a poem today on this blog. It has been at least a month since I’d written anything. Summer is a difficult time to write, these days. My children are growing faster than I’m liking. Time waits for no one. I remember reading last week something by someone brilliant like Maya Angelou, about being on the lookout for when we cease being amazed. When that happens, we’ve started to die. 

We must be dilgent in our protection of our naïveté; to disallow jadedness and to actively fight feelings of blasé.   

I recall the days when I first started writing publicly, calling the boys Thing 1, Thing 2, and Thing 3, to do what I could to protect their identity. That was 2011. They are 17, 14, and 11 now. Their advancements alternating between the feeling of sand sifting through my hands, and the feeling of walking through cold porridge. 

The oldest has taken his time learning how to drive, carving his independence, and venturing into the world. Getting his first ride home from school in May with a friend, something that seemed as natural as walking, was spent by me here at home pacing the house awaiting his safe arrival. I am betting I stepped as many paces as he could have to come home by foot. When he entered the doorway, I was all casual, “Hey! Have a good day?” as though I narrowly escaped being  busted rifling through HR files. He turned to drop off his backpack and get a glass of chocolate milk as I raced to the window to make sure his driver wasn’t some drug-addled ne’er do well driving a rusty van with blackened windows and satanic bumperstickers piecing it together. Do people still say ‘ne’er do well’? He wasn’t. It was one of his best friends, a classmate who is a French horn virtuoso and who will likely attend the US Naval Academy next fall. He was driving a tidy little Jetta.

Inside, I felt exhaltation, like when Kristen Wiig’s Target Lady character fist-pumps and shouts, “Approved!” when a customer’s charge goes through. That I’d instilled in my son a sense of ambition, a sense of seeking a tribal identity with growth and progress. The feeling of his belonging to a “good” group. 

Then I recall the myriad articles in the New York Times about student suicides, kids being drugged at parties, date rape, and I have to sit myself down and remember: those are the ones that stand out; those are the ones that sell newspapers; those are the ones that are cautionary tales; those are the outliers… he will be alright. It is out of my hands. 

Just like when Dr. Tchabo, my obstetrician very intentionally reminded me when my sons were in my womb… He held up his stubby index finger from that gifted hand and looked at me between his reading glasses and his eyebrows, smiling in kindness and wisdom. He said to me, in his thick Ghana accent, as we listened to my son’s heartbeat at 13 weeks, that watery wha-wha-wha-wha-wha coming through the doppler,  “D’ya hear that, Mommy? He tellin’ you, RIGHT NOW, he is his own guy. He is not you. He will have his likes. He will have his days. You are together, but he his own guy. Always he is his own guy.”            

He is. It is a bittersweet conclusion: he is smart, sensitive to energies, quiet and observant. Not much gets past him. 

He also forgets to look right one last time before slowly turning into traffic. That. “I just died. We’re in an ambulance now. The other car is up in those bushes, near the ditch. I loved you. I will watch you from heaven always. Go to law school…” I’ve said that a few times, half joking. I think it’s sinking in. I don’t care if he goes to law school. 

I am glad we are in our Sequoia. He prefers it because he can see everything. Its engine, a very powerful V8, is quite responsive and that takes some getting used to. “You’re commanding a 2-ton death machine.” I say, like a member of Darth Vader’s imperial guard. “Stay in your lane on those turns and don’t change lanes in the middle of an intersection. Idiots cross lanes like that.” 

We bought a new classical guitar for him a couple weeks ago. A model made by Córdoba. He was playing numerous models in the guitar store classical studio. Searching for his One. He was plucking around on the most expensive one — a $2400 model — and I looked around, thinking, Which one hasn’t he played? And this will sound crazy, but The One drew my eyes to her and whispered, “me. me. he hasn’t played me yet…” So I picked her up and patiently waited for him to end and I said, “How about this one?” 

The moment he started to check its tune, I felt electricity in my body. Like how it feels when a Spirit passes through a room. After about 60 seconds of playing a bit of “Blackbird” he calmly said, “I really like this one.” He continued, in his studious and exacting ways, about five more songs, some Bach, Cassini, and Clapton.  I was amazed. I didn’t want to leave. I did all I could to keep frm crying like a sappy mother right there. So I pretended to look at other guitars. It was no use. He sensed it. “You ok?” he asked, lightly self-conscious (one of the few times I’ve embarrased him in public, even though we were totally alone) and I said, “Yeah. Just feeling the feelings. I’m really proud of you.” 

Buck up, soldier, I said to myself. 

An hour later, we were out the door — the guitar in an upcharge-free, upgraded plush-lined travel case because someone in the shop (THANK YOU!!) sold the proper accompanying case to another customer who bought a lesser guitar. It brought me back to the days when my parents bought me my first violin with its own fur-lined case that was like all the other cases of the kids at school. I didn’t feel like a poor kid anymore with the tattered case. Image is everything when you’re a teenager.      

I asked my dad if he remembers teaching us, my brothers and myself, to drive. He does. I officially learned on a silver 1981 5-speed Honda Civic hatchback. That was the first car I’d been in with air conditioning. In Buffalo, you just didn’t need it. I started actually “learning” during the daytime in our driveway, however, at late 15 I think, by “parking” our family station wagon a silver 1977 Chevy Impala (later called “The Bentley,” due to an accident my mother caused) in different positions in the driveway or in front of our house. I recall those experiences as being adrenalized, probably because it was secret and completely verboten. It happened almost daily, and over time, I was driving around our street, a suburban cul-de-sac (that was a word I’d never heard until I left Buffalo) lined by little trees, newish unimaginative houses and pristine poured concrete sidewalks. I accomplished this “driving school” by two feats: my mother a) ignored me due to my insouciance or b) just gave up and was ripping out her hair, likewise due to my insouciance. The bottom line is that kids will pull shit on their parents. 

I was NOT an easy child, and having my second son, also a middle child like I am, has absolutely confirmed for me that karma exists. My middle son is ALIVE in every sense. He feels everything largely and without hesitation. He is a mirror of all my flaws and I love him for it. Intuitively, I absolutely love him for it. Practically, I want to run and hide from all he reveals to me, but I know there’s no payoff in that. This guy “goes there” with me. It can be a moment of utter mirth and hilarity, sincerely experienced by both of is in a dear and safe place, or it can be a red-eyed duel of two dragons, willing to maim and be emotionally maimed for their cause. We are intense. Or, as my therapist said, “avoid the empirical, use the conditional: We ‘can be’ intense.” And that’s about right: we can be intense. 

He sings. His voice is grainy, smoky and breathy. I used to think it was an a lá mode affect, but it’s not. He likes to sing ballands, and he does them well, but I called them dirges. I’ve since stopped because it’s not nice. That’s what I mean about his being my mirror — he just lays the cards on the table, and I have two ways of responding: by being a jerk or being nice. I’m learning. He’s an excellent teacher. He has two vocal coaches now. He argued about getting the second one, whom his father and I secured because he needs a much stronger foundation, something we sensed he wasn’t getting with his first coach. He likes it now though, this second one pushes him, makes him sing opera, and he can already hear its influence, and the ballads continue.  And he puts that stuff up on the Internet! 

He amazes me. He has big dreams, this one, and all of them achievable with a shit ton of dedication. He has the focus and the chops, but he’s young, very green, so we will see. His father and I will support him as long as he pushes himself. He had what I guess is a typical middle school experience socially: horrid, so we are hoping he’s learned enough to hit the books and ask for help. We also think that dragging him along to big brother’s college tours is a good idea, as his older brother said himself that he’d wished he’d looked at these schools sooner (oops).      

The youngest is cherubic still. His 11-year-old face, belly and arms rounding in preparation for a growth spurt. He rides his bike, super fast, without any awareness at all up and down our street, selecting the steepest driveways in which to turn around his 10-speed. He moans about having to wear a helmet, “I’m right here! You can SEE ME RIDE!” and I insist. He knows the drill, and he complies, but not without an icy glare and volcanic sigh. He’s a scorpio. Go figure. We have allowed him and his best friend to ride their bikes to the pool, they are both “red dots” which means they don’t need adults to accompany them as they have performed the water tests required by the life guards. 

Two weeks ago, he and his friend rode to he pool. When he was ready, he called me using out family’s floater phone to let me know he was on his way home. About a minute later, he called me again. Through the phone’s tiny hi-fi speakers, I heard screams and crashing sounds. My heart fell through my body and landed on the floor in front of me. “Your brother … Who’s screaming?!” I screamed, shouting his name, more screaming…  “OMIGAAAD!” I cried, and his older brother, the one who gives him the hardest time of all, took off and ran to the pool, a mile away, barefoot. He beat his father to the pool who drove. Everything was fine. The screams were peals of laughter, and delight from happy pool-goers. I watch too much “Dateline,” apparently. “I was fine, Mom. I butt-dialed you.” 

He dreams about programming, space and Jupiter. Standard academics bore him tearless. We worry about him getting lost in the cavernous middle school halls next year and having to use a locker with a combination. It’s a massive place, one of the largest schools in Virginia, and despite the school administration’s traditional insistence of “keeping things small feeling” for the youngest students, I know my little man will just get washed around. He already has been, somewhat at his elementary school. “He’s very bright, he tests strong, but he gets overwhelmed… So that’s why we don’t place him in the advanced classes…” Here’s me: you keep coloring inside those lines and cite your standardized algorithms, you savvy 21st Century educators. My son and I will be lying on our bellies on the floor looking at NASA videos and astronomy books. 

If we’re not looking at space from inside our house, we are lying on our backs, looking at apps in the nighttime, holding up an iPad to the sky.  We did that a lot in New England, where the light pollution was absent. Getting to our destination at night meant we had to cross this:

 

Those voids flanking the road is 6′-10′ of water, depending on the tide. “So you drive real slowly, with both hands on the wheel, but slightly loose, so the wheel can play a little and the car can correct itself,”  I hear myself say to my eldest, who is barely listening from the backseat.  

It’s been a great summer. I have judiciously used my phone to chronicle it, being mindful to not confuse the chronicling –that one step removed– from actually experiencing it. I’ve purposefully left the phone in the glove box or on the dresser, asking myself and reminding myself of the phone’s actual use: Do I need to communicate with from anyone right now? No. 

I’ve been rowing a few times, and it’s been glorious. I’m off from teaching yoga now until after Labor Day, which is really nice. The dogs are doing great and my husband is nursing a cold today. In May I did something to my left knee, my MCL, which is a bit frustrating because I can’t run terribly long on it. I’ve promised myself I’ll look into PT tomorrow, because I’m not getting any younger and I’m competitive as hell. 

Being away from this blog has been good and bad — I’ve been able to slow down and enjoy things instead of thinking about ways to share them on the blog; but it’s also made me lazy, I haven’t practiced much, and I do find myself censoring myself about things I’d like to share. There’s a lot of strange self-consciousness that permeates through a writer: we think you want to know everything about us, or what we have to say, yet we have a hard time actually believing that anything we have to say is the remotest bit interesting to you.  

I’m about to start a new book, reading one, that I read about in the NYT on vacation. “A Manual For Cleaning Women” is a collection of short stories by a now-dead writer named Lucia Berlin. She’s widely hailed as a “writer’s writer” and I’m enjoying the introductions so far. Reading her, and Anne Tyler, and Dorothy Parker has made me start thinking that the short story is where it’s at for me. I really like to write, but I know myself well enough  to know that I will get lost in my own verbal morass if I don’t keep things tight and fluid. I overpacked so much for the vacation (I wore MAYBE 12% of what I packed and bought a couple other things) that I know if I started a book, I’d just get lost. Like my youngest… in the Milky Way, but mine is made up of words. 

My father asked me recently if I edit myself. I said no. I don’t have a space requirement, no copy editors. I suppose I could consider it editing. I do know this, when I know exactly who will be reading what I write, say a person for whom English is not native, I will break down my content and be very precise in how I say things. Invariably, I’m reminded of my days in college when I worked at a bank, and I would speak louder and slower to a non-English speaking customer, because I thought that would help him better understand me. 

Well, I’m out… I want to thank you, as always, for reading. It’s an uncommonly beautiful day in August here, and we have a few more weeks before school starts, so I’ll go now. Remember to keep being amazed. Write it down, that which amazes you. 

Thank you. 

Poetree

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I want to write a poem about my Birch tree

Yet I feel my observations might besmirch me

To you, my fair reader, who had no temptation

Of reading my barking without compensation

The birch, she’s a three-trunk, a trifecta of trees

Who’s named for each son I’ve bounced on my knees

She’s a good forty feet tall, and provides perfect shade

For the vendors who park out front when they’re bade

  
To my home to address one thing or appliance

Which exists in the house, but not in compliance

But she’s shedding herself always, her green DNA
Without warning or notice on each blessed day
If it’s not ripe yellow leaves, then it’s buds, or it’s pollen

Abundant enough to shut your eyes swollen

Or branches or twigs, for they fall all the seasons

She shares quite a lot, she’s a tree, needs no reason!

Lo, the trimmers, they stalk 

To approach and begin talk 

Of topping her off, limb by limb!
” ’cause she’s too close to the house!

She might let in a big mouse

Through the gash she’ll create on your shingles!”

But her sweet narrow limbs, so wispy, so thin, 

I impart a sly grin, 

I’ll not pay you to help your purse jingle. 
She’s been here since ’03, she replaced a sick fir tree

Infested with mites and decay

A neighbor says she’s too big, to close to my house

I think, “Did I ask? I don’t care what you say.”  
She’ll outlive us all, for her roots are quite spread

Beneath grass, grown anemic and thin

‘Cause she sucks all the water and drains nitrogen
Her older bark is quite rough, but her newer like paper

That my sons have used to write me notes

Of greetings and devotion 

Based on instance, or notion
For in her long lifetime

We are just a vapor.  

=-=-=-=

Update: Oops. I wrote this in June. I haven’t written anything since, and I pushed the wrong button, apparently when visiting the WordPress app this morning… no matter. Maybe publishing this has loosened my writer’s block. There are no mistakes. :) 
Thank you.   

A #Mocha Thing Happened on the Way In to The #Ritz

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Over the 4th of July weekend, my family and I jaunted up to Philadelphia to see my nephew race in the “Independence Day Regatta” on the Schuykill River. My dad was there too, it was a family thing, reminding me of my many weekends spent at boathouses as a child watching the rowers glide by.

We left home around 5:45 and, got to the river around 8:30am to watch his qualifying heats, then we all went to the Ritz-Carlton to check in.

Before you start thinking I’m dripping with cash, let me edify you: we are not. We aren’t doing much traveling this summer and decided to splurge on ourselves for a weekend.

It was a splurge. Trust me.

What happened to me, however, was so “Mom’s holiday from home” -esque (read: no such thing as a mother’s holiday from home, even at the Ritz).

After we pulled up to the valet parking (in our 11-year-old super trusty MomCar / SUV) we started to unload our hansom. My kids are not seasoned travelers. For our 2.5 hour jaunt up to Philly, they packed as though we were planning to leave Earth and never return. Pop-tarts, blankets, pillows, water, extra things…

It was just 180 minutes in the car.

Along an interstate highway.

Traveling between three major metropolitan areas.

We unload.

Because my children learned all their best practices from me, I have my shit to get out of the car: my drinking vessels, my Kindle, my car / lap pillow upon which my hands rest whilst I read my Kindle, my reading glasses, my new prescription sunglasses, my new prescription seeing glasses, my mini-fridge, and my apocalypse gear.

Just for an overnight, mind you.

It reminded me of the countless times my family and I would cross the border into Canada as a child, listening to the questions from the Canadian Customs officer, among them, “and how long will you be staying in Fort Erie?”

“Just an overnight…” and the officer would surveil through the glass windows of our loaded Volvo wagon, rest back on his heels, take in a breath and say, “Ok…” and wave us through. 

As I was putting my rations in a duck cloth bag, my catastrophe-grade travel coffee mug (which my beloved gave me last Christmas) managed to leak the recently begotten mocha latte I bought from an amped-up sales dude at the Peet’s Coffee nestled inside the Maryland House rest stop. Unbeknownst to me, mocha latte was forming burnt-sienna coronas all over the Ritz’s marble floor as well.  I was a 21st Century Gretel, instead of breadcrumbs, it’s a latte. I’m a little ashamed… my decanter has been a super reliable device. So I blame the Ritz. All that pressure to be poised. Anyone would leak.

However, it wasn’t until we had walked in through the breathtaking three-story, marble lobby with its dozen or so 30-feet, 4′ columns and gleaming crystal chandeliers that I managed to smell the experience before seeing it. “Mocha?” my nose said… I looked down and witnessed the dark chocolate watery fluid flow through the seams in the bag… A further glance down revealed it had dotted my son’s seersucker pillowcase.

“MOM!” He sort of hissed at me, with as much class as possible, in the lobby. “My pilllllllowwwwwwww….” The bellman noticed what was going on and I asked him where the nearest restroom was. He directed me. I unhooked the soppy bag from the luggage trolley weighed down with our steam trunks and rucksacks, and I was gone.

A trail of mocha latte giving me away.

My husband, who was smiling and nodding, dealing with the front desk and being handed his flute of complimentary champagne upon check-in, was oblivious to my “situation.” My other children were getting their bottled water and chocolates from a statuesque hand servant bearing a tray with all manner of vittles for the travel weary 1%.

Like scullery maid, I got nothing.

To the left, down the hall on the left… restroom.

It was not a room of rest.

Not for me.

Oh, it was glorious: byzantine marble everywhere, byzantine byzantine everywhere. Gold handles, paper hand towels so thick you’d think they were deerskin. My destination was a bank of sinks. Two to be exact, the farthest from the doorway possible.

With a murky mocha trail behind me, I dropped my leaky bag into the sink basin, and exhaled.

Out came all my items. First, the travel mug, that little shit. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know HOW it happened, but my mug betrayed me. 

 

judas. et tu, Stanley?

 
Then the eyeglass cases, all three of them. Two are hard and one is soft. The soft one looked like a biscotti, dipped in the mocha. Then the Kindle, its polka-dotted case besmirched by Peet’s coffee. Then the pillow and my headphones (forgot about those), and then my water bottle: containing Tazo passion tea and a now-clump of chia seeds.

I have my wits about me: I know this is not a real issue, a true tragedy. I know it’s not bankruptcy or cancer. I get it: I was in the bathroom of a Ritz-Carlton. But just… it sucked. I didn’t know about the free champagne until my kids asked me later, “Mom! Did you get your champagne? They were giving it away to adults in the lobby when they checked in …” 

So I started to stake my turf in the bathroom. I turned with my back to the corner, eyeing all I could claim, reasonably, as I imagined a meth addict would as she scoped out where would be the best place to … do whatever it is meth addicts do in public restrooms.

In the sink on the left went all the most inoffensive things that were covered in sticky, opaque, and overpriced coffee.

In the sink on the right went the bag.

To the left of the left sink was the stacked chamois-like disposable hand towels.

I took two.

Then four.

Recalling crisis data from my early motherhood days, I determined to go after the biggest, the source spill first. Dabbing furiously at the interior of my duck cloth bag, I realized my endeavor was feckless. The bag had a liner, which was all cotton, but which was also coated in sizing which makes it semi-impervious, causing the mocha to bead and collect, like quicksilver.

I had to turn the bag inside out. I was wearing white. I started out wearing white. I felt like Peter Graves in a 1960s Mission Impossible episode trying to defuse a bomb. Carefully turning the bag inside out and daring to not to let the now almost-funky smelling mocha spray all over my white shorts and dress shirt, I held it like dirty diaper dusted with uranium.

Get more napkins.

Dab dab dab…

Now, we can begin to rinse.

The faucet. Not the right kind of faucet. It was an infrared faucet. I had to get my hands directly beneath the faucet, just so, and hold them there in order to manifest a flow of water. 

I was begging the water to flow. 

But I had to turn the bag to get the other areas cleaned too.

But the faucet would turn off.

And then on.

And then off.

And then not back on.

And then stay on.

But I needed it off. I wasn’t positioned correctly.

It would turn on when I didn’t need it to and turn off when I needed it on.

And then off.

And then on.

And off.

And still off.

Off some more.

On?

No. Off.

Was I a meth addict?

Yet?

Same with the soap dispenser. It was automatic.

“Fuck it.” I said to myself.

Harkening back, for some really strange reason, I heard the last few lines of the Serenity Prayer’s  “… and the wisdom to know the difference…”

I decided to work on the things I could.

More paper towels… and I started to clean off the eyeglass cases and the Kindle and the pillow.

I’m full on now… GSD: getting shit done. In the zone.

Never mind I’m a mom in the bathroom of a 5-star luxury hotel… cleaning out my travel bag in the marble sinks … constantly checking my clothes to make sure they’re not getting filthy, cleaning the cabinets beneath the sinks and wiping down the counter… suffering under the whims of the infrared faucets and LiquiSoap dispensers… there are no holidays for mothers… 

Scrub a dub, making progress … In walks four of the most beautiful women, all related, I’ve ever seen in one place.

My hair… it’s in a “bun” but Medusa style; my arms are covered in soap and my gear is taking up one sink while my canvas bag is inside out, dripping brown goo into the sink to my right. I swear I look like a meth addict. A new one. One who’s not totally savvy to carrying shit around in canvas bags.

Two empty sinks and my vast unease separate me from the other women.

“Mmmm… it smells good in here. Like a Starbucks…” says one of the younger girls.

“Peet’s. From Maryland House.” I say. With no irony whatsoever.

The mother of the group, she turns and smiles.

“What?”

“Peet’s coffee. It’s a mocha latte. I got it in Maryland. It’s all over my bag here. I’m cleaning myself up. I’ve been here for about 10 or 15 minutes…. Feels like an hour. It’s hard. These faucets… they don’t stay on…”

“Oh, yeah. They’re the infrared ones…” said one of the daughters.

“Yes. They are. They’re moody little minxes too…” I said. Trying to laugh. Trying not to cry. “My family is upstairs in our rooms. We just got here. My mocha leaked all over the lobby and I had to come in here to clean up…All over my son’s pillow case too, here.” I hold it up to show it to them. (WONDERING: WHY DID I DO THAT?) Watery mocha drips onto the floor again. I grab another towel and wipe down the floor again. “I think I got it all…”

“This is one of the times I’m really wishing I had a daughter right now, because she could’ve come in here with me and likely one of us would’ve gotten someone to help us…”

The mother squats down with me, looks at me and says, “How can I help you? I know you don’t know us, but we could stay here with your things while you get assistance… This is no way to start a holiday weekend…”

I wanted to cry. She saw that. She was about my age, maybe a little older. Her daughters were about 19, 20. Her sister was there too.

“No. I’ll stay. Thanks. Could you ask someone from Housekeeping to bring a plastic laundry bag to me? So I can clean this up in the privacy of my suite? So I can work with a faucet that stays on and soap that doesn’t stop flowing?” I asked, relieved that someone saw me and heard me. Feeling like a human again. I figured a plastic laundry bag in the Ritz isn’t such an insane concept.

She knew what I was talking about. “I’ll do just that. A plastic laundry bag… I’m on my way…” And she did. Her daughters smiled at me, wisely kept their distance. Who knows what else could manage to spill from my bag… and they all left the room.

I felt as if I sent up a flare. RESCUERS!

Two minutes later, which seemed like an eternity, a tiny 30-ish year-old woman from Housekeeping came in, empty handed (AGGGHGH! ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!) and with a face full of confusion and … contempt? Did I recognize contempt in her squinted eyes, sneer and open mouth? As though I was interrupting her from something super NOT housekeeping-y? Did I look that bad?!

“What is it that you need? I didn’t understand. A plastic bag?” She asked.

“Yes. As you can see here, I’m a little compromised. I need a bag. A plastic laundry bag? Like the kind people use after they swim? Or even a garbage bag. Like that one beside you. I don’t care. Something to put all this in so it doesn’t drip …” Now I was looking at her with contempt: YOU STUPID LITTLE GIRL.

My inner Walter Mitty wanted to add “…Or I could just let it drip all over your lobby and elevator and hallways.”

Just then, my husband texted me. “Where are you?”

“Rest room.”

“Are you OK?”

“I need a plastic bag. It’s a mess.”

“Oh.”

“Housekeeping is getting one. What’s our room number?”

“We are in 802 and 803.”

Who knows what he thought was going on… He later told me he feared I’d soiled my armor. I had to laugh. 

In less than a minute, she returned. With the bag. And she watched me pack up my mocha shit and then walked away. Leaving me in the restroom to wipe down her counter.

I needed champagne. I wasn’t about to ask for it, because I didn’t know they were giving it away in the first place.

I ascended to 803. It was a lovely room. With a huge bathroom with a bar of soap and a tub. The water stayed on when you turned it on. I went to work. Again.

“Mom? Did you get your champagne?” Thing 2, who is now 14 and two inches taller than I am, asked enthusiastically. “They were giving it away in the lobby…”

I sighed. Looking up from the tub, I turned to him and said, “No. I’ve been in the bathroom… it’s a long story.”

“Here?” He asked, incredulously.

“Ha. No. In the lobby… ”

“All this time? With the coffee? Alone?”

“Yes. Alone. Until a lovely mother with sympathetic eyes came to my rescue and did me a favor.”

I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I just wanted to clean up and get out. It was only noon. We had a nice weekend in front of us.

The bed was lovely and the room was noisy. The windows aren’t insulated against the sound of traffic in a city as large and as active as Philadelphia. The chocolate on the pillows was tasty. When we left, on the Fourth, the door staff couldn’t tell us how to get out of town (because the roads were all closed off due to Independence Day parades). That was a little surprising. Two people had to tell us how to get out of town and they sort of couldn’t agree. Other door staff were practically high-fiving each other over photos on their smart phones. And thinking back, the bellman who first noticed the mocha spill should’ve taken care of the whole thing right there. I would’ve GLADLY paid $50 in cleaning fees to avoid the feckless attempts in the lobby bathroom.

There were a few more lapses in professionalism and hospitality that I couldn’t really believe I was witnessing in an operation as lauded and as supposedly fine-tuned as the Ritz-Carlton. For instance, when we sat in the lobby after tooling around the city and visiting Reading Terminal Market, one of the staffers placed a menu on the table we were seated around and said nothing. Ever. We all looked at each other and blew him off. We were already guests in the hotel. So if you’re going to propose an item on the menu, invite us to enjoy our stay and let you know if we’d like to order something… It all felt very entitled: as though WE were imposing.

On the way home from the weekend, my husband and I decided to call the local property leadership to discuss it with management. If I were in that business, I’d want to know.

I’d need to know.

I called, and the woman who answered the phone ran through her courteous opening script and then I said, “Yes, I’d like to speak with a manager please.”

She flatly asked. “Which one?”

Suddenly I thought I was dealing with the housekeeping woman. Her crisp on the phone right there was enough to push me into third gear.

“I suppose the general manager, thanks.”

Her response, “Mmmm, oh-kaaaay….”

My jaw hit the floor.

So I left the general manager a message. But later, I thought, “What if this attitude is endemic at this location? What if the manager is part of the problem?” I really hated the way the receptionist treated me.

I went up a notch. To corporate. Y’see, the thing is: when you make a reservation through the toll-free number for staying at ANY Ritz-Carlton, you will deal with calm, modulated, highly polished and exquisite hospitality engineers. “My pleasure,” and “Of course Mrs. Field,” and “Absolutely, not a problem,” and “Please hold for a moment while I connect your call” and “Is there anything else I can do for you?” and “We look forward to seeing you on July 3 ….” are all part of the code and the culture one would EXPECT from a R-C experience.

Not here. Not Philadelphia. Things got downgraded to a Best Western, or worse, Red Roof Inn attitude.

It really was surprising. At first, I thought, “Oh… we all make mistakes…” and then I started to remember how demoralized I felt in that restroom waging war against those faucets and then the attitude on that housekeeper. Then I began to think about our hotel bill, and how much we were looking forward to our stay and how exciting it would be for my kids 11, 14, and 17 to stay in a Ritz-Carlton (my first time was last week!)! And that I wanted to try a robe… maybe buy one…

There is a romance behind that brand. A promise and an expectation that you will be treated with care and pampered. None of that happened.

When I called corporate I did get the kid-glove treatment. The manager on the phone was perfection. He never interrupted me, he waited for me to pause and then asked me if I had anything else to add, and he couldn’t apologize enough. I told him we didn’t get to wear a bathrobe, that there weren’t any in our room, our our kids’ room, and I could hear him gasp. Then I told him about the lobby experience with the silent waiter. Then I hit him with a right hook: “I didn’t get any complimentary champagne. Ever.” And it was as though he were strangling a teddy bear on the other end of the line.

The next day, the executive assistant of the Philadelphia general manager called on his behalf. I suspect she also heard from the manager at corporate and did a little background investigation on her own. We had a wonderful conversation. I had just come back from a glorious row on the Occoquan and the weather was perfection.

In retrospect I feel like I did the right thing. We need to stand up for ourselves. We easily dropped a grand that weekend.

Two days later, my husband received a note from the EA, she wrote of her conversation with me, calling me “quite lovely” (gushing) and thanked us for our valuable feedback. She also added 50,000 points to our Marriott Rewards account, which is effectively a total reimbursement for the rooms we stayed in at the Philadelphia location. So good on them.

I’d like to go back. I’ve had tea and brunch at a few of the Ritz-Carltons here. They’ve all been really lovely experiences. I want to say that this one was the exception to the rule.

The next day, Thing 2 and I decided to grab a milkshake from the McDonald’s drive-thru after running a litany of errands. The young man on the other end of the order intercom was STELLAR. He said, “My pleasure” after every opportunity and then, “Your total is 50,000 Marriott points…” [just kidding.] Please drive forward.” When we got to him, he was super professional, sincere and grateful for the work. My son noted, “He has better manners than those dudes at the Ritz….”

True that.

So let this be a reminder: 1) there is no such thing as a holiday for mothers and 2) tell people what’s on your mind.

Thank you.