Leaving my child by boat, like my ancestors did

P1040960I had never left

My first boy

In such an ancient way:

By boat.

Shiny, modern airports

Have always been the scenes of

Our parting.

Tears in the security line,

And then the suddenness

Of a plane trip

Away from my boy.

And a mere few hours later

I’m eight time zones,

One ocean,

And half a continent away from my son.

This time was different.

This time, at the end of our

Big family trip through Europe

The five of us

Said good-bye to Victor for

His summer in Finland with his dad,

And we got on a boat

In a harbor in Helsinki,

And set off into the

Baltic Sea for Germany,

Where we would fly home.

Once on the ferry,

After the craziness of getting

The rest of the kids out of the

Car hold and

Our stuff deposited in our

Cabin for the 30-hour trip,

Joe took the kids

And I had a few minutes alone.

I sat on the bed and

Watched out the window as

The boat chugged along the

Pine-forested coast of Finland and

Out into the Baltic Sea.

The steady rate at which the boat moved

Me away from my boy

Felt humane and natural

Compared to the

Otherworldly shock

Of the airplane lift-off.

With every few meters and

Knots the ship moved,

I acclimated to my boy’s

Physical absence.

It was a slower,

Gentler parting.

And I realized,

As I sat cross-legged on the bunk

Watching the sea swirl and foam,

One that I’m not the

First in my family to have made.

At the turn of the century,

My Finnish great-great-grandparents

Left for America

By boat,

Leaving behind their

Teenaged daughter–

My great-grandmother Selma–

And her younger brother Toivo.

A year later, in 1906,

The siblings would make the

Trip together:

A 16-year-old and a 12-year-old,

Traveling for weeks across the

Atlantic to

Meet their parents in

Their new homeland in 1906.

So as I sailed away from Finland,

Leaving my son behind for the summer,

I thought of my great-great-grandparents

Doing essentially the same thing

110 years earlier.

My situation,

Of periodic, international separation

From my little boy,

Feels abnormal from my

Low-boil heartbreak perspective.

But I know it’s actually not.

Parents and children

Are separated in our world

All the time,

And they always have been.

Whether through

Wartime chaos,

Arbitrary national boundaries,

Military service,

Difficult circumstances and decisions,

Sickness and death,



Parents parent from a

Distance as best they can–

Or are unable to parent at all.

I think about the

Parents I know who

Don’t experience separation from

Their minor children

Sometimes with envy,

Until I remember that

Those of us who do

Endure it

Are only experiencing a

Premature and


Version of what every parent

Eventually has to do,

Which is



And turn our children over to

The world and

The universe with

Trembling hands.

Whether they’re eight or

Eighteen or


It has to be done.

What was that like for my


I wondered as I watched the

Sea pass beneath our ship.

Did parents experience the

Maternal and paternal instinct in the

Same way back then

And back there,

When infant mortality was

30 times higher

Than it is today

And many families lived in

Third-world conditions?

I imagine they

Loved and grieved their children

With the same ferocity

As we in first-world modernity,

But perhaps there was a

Certain resignation

We don’t have today

To the fact of

Tragedy and pain,

Such as through separation from

A child.

It’s always been a comfort to me

To know that,

Though it feels like it sometimes,

I’m not the only one

Enduring the absence of my child

In this world.

The idea for

The novel I just finished the first draft of,


Comes from the stories of

Undocumented worker parents in our country


Leaving their children behind,

Sometimes separated from them


Those stories hurt my heart

So I wrote about them to

Soothe myself.

I’m fortunate.

I know I can get out my credit card

And my passport

At any time

And be with my boy within

24 hours, if I really needed to.

Not every parent in my

Situation has that luxury.

And certainly my

Great-great-grandparents didn’t.

In a few weeks, it will be time to

Go to the airport and

Wait outside the frosted glass

Sliding doors of

International arrivals,

Craning my neck to watch for him

Every time the doors open.

Maybe this time I’ll

Think about my great-great-grandparents

Waiting at the train station in

Waukegan, Illinois for their

Children whom they hadn’t seen in

More than a year.

How much taller would they be?

Was everything okay on the trip?

And most importantly,

Which train car would they step off?

There my boy will be,

Bigger and wearing new clothes,

Pulling his suitcase and

Pushing his glasses up on his face.

When he sees me

His mouth will twist up into the

Sly, embarrassed smile he gets with a

Rush of strong feeling.

I’ll squeeze his bones like a

Bundle of long sticks

And lift him off the ground,

Which I can just barely still do.

On the car ride home,

I’ll tell him about his

Great-great-grandmother’s journey from

Finland to America.

He’ll probably have questions about the

Boat and the


Logistics are important to him.

And he’ll know

That he’s not alone

In this family by

Splitting his life between two countries.









Our epic trip to Europe, recounted for your reading pleasure

We’re back from our trip:

A three-week tour of Europe

That we’d planned for nearly two years.

Here’s a brief outline of some trip highlights.

Arrival: Munich, Germany.


Trey, Joe and Victor feasting at a Munich beergarden.

Hotel concierge directed us to a

Beergarden where waitstaff wore lederhosen,

And we feasted on pretzels, meat and sparkling water.

Next day, Neuschwanstein castle

Which the Disney castle is based off of, and our first


Cassidy, Trey and Victor with Neuschwanstein castle in the Bavarian Alps.

Taste of castles being at the top of a hill

You have to walk up.

Kids were troopers on a hot day.

Germany surprise:

Joe’s high school German

Bubbling to the surface, and

He as astonished as anyone that he could

Read a few signs and

Understand snippets of overheard conversations in German.


The R.V.

Next day: picking up the R.V.

From a company with the baffling name McRent,

And getting lost trying to leave Munich by

Relying on an offline maps app I’d downloaded.

I literally realized we were

Going the wrong direction by the

Angle of the sun.

And later that night,


Postcard of Prague at night.

As we drove into Prague at midnight,

I was using landmarks like the

Havra River and the Prague castle to navigate by.

Which were lovely at night, BTW.

Prague is magical,

Even when it is midnight and

You’re driving an R.V. down

Questionably narrow cobblestone streets with a

Car full of strung-out, jet-lagged kids.

Spent our first night in the R.V. in a

Parking lot of an apartment complex

Because our campground had

Locked its gate for the night.

Next day: Prague.


Us on the Charles Bridge, Prague.

Wandering the Old Town,

Charles Bridge up to the castle.

Hot, and again,

Castle at the top of a hill.

Kids troopers.

Souvenir of the day:

Green Bay Packers Russian nesting dolls,

Number 12: Aaron Rodgers.


Rocky, Cassidy, me, Trey and Victor having lunch in the catacombs of a Prague monastery.

Lunch of pork shoulder,

Dumplings, sauerkraut in the

Catacombs of a medieval monastery.

Delicious hot shower at the campground.

Next day, I asked the campground owner to

Show me on a map

How to drive to Krakow, Poland.

I wanted highway numbers,

But he laughed and shook his head.

“Here we don’t use highway numbers.

Just follow signs to the

Next town,

Then the next town,

Then the next town

Until you’re there.”



But it mostly worked.

We stopped at a Tesco hypermarket

On our way out of town to load up on groceries

We didn’t really end up eating

And got to Krakow before dark.



Cassidy, Trey and Victor in Wieliczka Salt Mine in Krakow, Poland. Chandelier and floor and everything is made of salt.

Joe and the kids were intrigued by the

700-year-old Wieliczka salt mine, where

Miners had, over the centuries,

Carved sculptures and cathedrals 200 feet underground,

So we went there first.

Konrad the tour guide picked us up at our

Campground and drove us there.

He informed us that

We could go home after Krakow

Because it was the best city in Poland.

The salt mine was strangely interesting,


Sculpture of the seven dwarfs carved of salt in the Wieliczka Salt Mine, Krakow, Poland.

Enough to keep the kids occupied for

2.5 hours on a guided tour.

The tour guide kept saying the miners had

Carved all these sculptures and

Underground chapels and a cathedral in their free time,

And I was surprised to think miners had

That much free time.

After the salt mine,

Konrad the tour guide

Drove us to Pod Wawelem restaurant in the

Shadow of Krakow castle where we


Cassidy and Trey about to dig into their massive fish platter at Pod Wawelem restaurant in Krakow, Poland.

Feasted on pierogies,

Sauerkraut, beef tartare,

Polish mushroom soup,

Fresh fish and weinerschnitzel for a total of about



The two-floor kids play area at Pod Wawelem restaurant in Krakow.

And the kids played in the

Two-floor indoor play area.

After that,

We strolled around the Krakow main market square,


Main market square in Krakow, Poland.

Which is delightful.

Krakow, like Prague,

Was spared during the war because

Hitler didn’t consider it Slavic

As opposed to Warsaw, which was utterly destroyed–

And rebuilt.

That night at the campground,

We watched the Netherlands-Spain World Cup upset

With a bunch of Dutch campers who had

Decorated the outdoor T.V. viewing area with

Orange streamers and who

Passed around shots at

Every goal.

The next day, we drove to Gdansk,

Stopping at Lodz where we got

Turned around at a gas station with a


Chinese restaurant with Route 66 sign at a gas station in Lodz, Poland.

Restaurant attached that had a

Route 66 sign but which served

Chinese food from a Polish-only menu.

Joe ordered number 12

(Aaron Rodger’s number),


Trey, Cassidy, Rocky, me and Victor in Gdansk, Poland.

We spent the next day in Gdansk,

Parking the R.V. in a lot outside the Old Town and

Walking in.

The Old Town is lovely,

And we all bought souvenirs and


Cassidy feasting in Gdansk, Poland.

Had our second-to-last gluttonous restaurant feast

Before taking the ferry that night to Scandinavia

Where only Arab royalty and

Russian oil magnates can afford to

Feast in restaurants.

When we got back to the R.V.,

We had our only minor disaster of the trip:


Attempted R.V. break-in in Gdansk, Poland.

Someone had tried to break into our R.V.

By jimmying the side door open.

They didn’t make it in, though.

The damage would cost us the 500 Euro deductible,

But at the time we just chuckled at the

Incompetence of the would-be thief,

And we were glad we’d brought our passports with us that day.

On our way to the ferry,


Victor, Trey, Rocky and Cassidy frolicking on the Baltic Sea beach in Sopot, Poland.

We stopped in the resort town of Sopot on the

Baltic Sea which looked like a

Communist-era resort town for

Party higher-ups.

Sopot was the only place we

Drove the R.V. too deep into a

Narrow dead-end cobblestone street and had to

Slowly back it out of the trap.

It was an overnight ferry we took from Gdynia, Poland to

Karlskrona, Sweden,


Buffet feast on the overnight ferry from Poland to Sweden.

On the ferry, we feasted at the buffet before

Jerry-rigging Rocky’s pack-n-play between two bunks in our cabin

And passing earplugs out to Joe and the kids against the

Drunk Euroteens squealing and pinballing down the hallways.

The next morning, we drove to Gothenburg on the west coast of Sweden,

Where Victor and I lived in 2006-07.

I haven’t been there since, and


Caroline and me in front of St. Andrew’s church in Gothenburg, Sweden.

I got a chance to spend time with my

Dear friend-of-Bill’s


Who had seen me through the

Scary, wondrous months of early sobriety and the

Uncertainty of divorce.

We went to a 12-step meeting at St. Andrew’s Church,

Which is where I attended my first 12-step meeting on

Oct. 1, 2006.

The next day, we drove north along the Swedish coast to

Oslo, Norway,


Therese and me.

Where lives my best girl and muse,

Therese, whom I hadn’t seen in more than six years.

As we drove toward Oslo, I was telling Joe

All the parallels between Therese and me:

How we’d met and became close friends,

Working together at a magazine in Minneapolis in 1999.

Me a reporter and her a graphic designer,

When she was married to her American husband, Noah.

How we’d both moved to Scandinavia, her to her native Norway,

And me to Finland around 2003.

How we’d been pregnant at the same time with our


Milla (wearing a Minnesota Rollergirls cap) and Victor, both born in 2005.

First babies, Victor and Milla, born in 2005.

How we’d both gotten divorced and then

Remarried to men who had two older kids.

How we’d been pregnant at the same time with our


Liv, wearing her American (and Norwegian) colors in honor of our visit, with Rocky. Both born in 2012.

Second babies, Rocky and Liv, born in 2012.

The highlight of my trip was

Sitting at Therese’s kitchen table

After the kids were all in bed and the

Husbands watching World Cup,

Drinking tea and talking


It’s still there:

That otherworldly connection of a

Good friend.

Therese, Milla and Liv

Took us around Oslo,


Vigeland Sculpture Park, Oslo, Norway.

To Vigeland Sculpture Park,

The largest sculpture park in the world made by one artist,

Depicting family relationships in

Various forms.


Rocky, Joe, Trey, Victor and Cassidy in front of Joe’s favorite statue at Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo, Norway.

Joe got a picture of himself with a

Statue of a man juggling

Four babies,

Summing up,

He said wearily, his life.

(Poor guy).


Trey and Cassidy with a 16th century Norwegian barn at the Norwegian Folk Museum in Oslo, Norway.

We also went to the

Norwegian Folk Museum

An outdoor facility with buildings from various points in

Norwegian history,

Back to a Stave Church built around 1200.


Cassidy and Trey with a Stave church built around 1200 at the Norwegian Folk Museum in Oslo.

As a history geek,

I love this kind of place,

Standing in a centuries-old farmhouse and

Imagining the daily tasks and

Worries and small joys of the long-gone inhabitants.

I could’ve spent a whole day there.

We left Oslo the next day,


Victor, Rocky, me, Therese, Liv and Milla about to say good-bye in Oslo.

An easier parting since

Therese and her family

Will be in Minnesota next summer.


We drove across Sweden to the east coast,

North of Stockholm,

Where we caught an overnight ferry to Turku, Finland.

This ferry wasn’t as fancy as the first one.

It was mostly for truck drivers.

And there was no internet,

Cass and Trey noted.


Entering Finland!

Then, Finland!

Victor had been asking through the whole trip,

“When will we get to Finland?”

And once we drove off the ferry,

He sighed, “I love Finland.”

This is where he was born,

And where he spends summers with his dad.

It’s one of his homes.


Victor, Rocky and Trey and Victor’s grandparents’ country home in southern Finland.

We spent that night,

Midsummer Eve,

At the country home of Victor’s grandparents,

Where Victor’s dad presented him with a real crossbow,


Cassidy and Rocky in the sauna.

And we took our first Finnish saunas

In the beautiful sauna Victor’s grandfather had built.

In Finland,

The sauna is a sort of sacred,

Meditative place,


Joe in the sauna.

And it’s where you bathe,

By soaping up and pouring water over yourself.

The best is to get really steamed up and

Then go stand outside to cool off.

It’s not for everyone.

Cassidy was a good sport

And tried it out

But it wasn’t her thing.

Joe, Trey and Rocky liked it.

The next day we went to a

Railroad museum where you can

Joe, Victor, Tapio, Cassidy and Trey taking a break from pumping along the tracks in southern Finland.

Rent the two-man train cars you move by

Pumping with your arms.

That evening,

We went to my cousin’s summer cottage and

Had a sauna there


Joe taking the native sauna plunge in southern Finland.

And jumped naked in the cold lake.

We had a delicious meal of

Smoked fish, vegetables and small, Finnish strawberries.

And watched World Cup soccer with my cousins.

Next day was the family gathering at another cousin’s house where I


Katri, me and Jenni , cousins, in Turku, Finland.

Got to see my Finnish cousins and good friends,

Katri and Jenni,

Whom I first met in 1997

When they came to Minnesota during their trip to America.

I got to meet some new cousins, and was

Treated to my cousin’s Iina’s lovely hospitality.


Midnight in southern Finland in late June.

That night back at Tapio’s parents’ country house,

Victor, Trey and Tapio played army in the woods

In the late night dusk

Before taking one last Finnish sauna.


Me, Riikka and Victor with the Helsinki cathedral.

The next day we spent in Helsinki with Riikka,

Victor’s aunt, and we went to Suomenlinna, an island fortress

Off the coast of Helsinki


Victor and me in Helsinki, about to say good-bye for the summer.

We said good-bye to Victor for the summer–

Always hard and sad.

And then me, Joe, Cass, Trey and Rocky got on our last ferry ride

From Helsinki to Germany,

30 hours through the Baltic Sea,


Rocky on the ferry from Finland to Germany.

I was ready for a break from touring

And it was nice to sleep in and nap in the

Ferry in our room,

And take a long sauna, and watch World Cup.

When we arrived in Germany, we drove through the night to


Cassidy, Trey, Rocky and me in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany.

Rothenburg, a medieval, walled town

Where we spent our last full day of the trip

Wandering cobblestone streets,

Feasting and

Buying souvenirs.

Everyone but me was ready to go home,

And Trey got a little homesick.

We spent the night in an R.V. parking lot

Just outside the walled down where we saw a

Huge R.V. with a Florida license plate.

A little foretaste of home.

The next day we returned the R.V. and

Flew home where

Rocky waited until we were in line at

Customs and immigration to have his only

Epic meltdown of the trip.


Overall, the trip was lovely.

I loved seeing the sights and

Eating the food and the twice-daily ice cream.

But as I’d hoped,

The best part was the


Everyone on the ferry to Suomenlinna in Helsinki.

Quality family time.

No devices,

So we had to interact,

And it was fun to come up with inside jokes:

“Is that a bird up there?”



“Crabby card.”

“Suomi in my belly.”

I had never spent that much time with my

Stepkids and I enjoyed having these new experiences with them.

It was gratifying to know that we could

Make this happen

With some planning and saving,

And I’m inspired to do something like this again,


Keep those passports handy.

Now that we all have our passports…


Midlife crisis? But I’m not… oh fuck

dbe02bc194a8af59659c70c4466378e2412209fa6e94806369f84b5212b12813I did the math

The other day.

I was assuring myself of

The vast stretches of time

I have left to

Accomplish all the things I’ve

Set out for myself,

And I was thinking,


I’m not even

Middle-aged yet.

I have plenty of time.

But then I thought,

Wait a minute.

If an “age” is,


Ten years,

And the actuarial tables say I’ll live to 86.

The range of me being

Middle-aged is about

38 to 48.

And I’m 38.


I used a cat meme

As the photo for this blog post.

Oh my God.




I was talking to

My friend the other day

About how I was

Regretting old,

Highly impactful decisions,

Panicking that I might not

Accomplish everything I mean to,

Feeling envious of friends

Who seemingly have

More more more

Than me.

“Sounds like you’re

Having a midlife crisis,”

She observed.


It’s true.

I have been ruminating on

Decisions I made at





Which at the time

Looked like little adjustments but

Which sent me off in the most

Head-scratching trajectories.

I can see it now:

The decisions I made that were most

Impactful of my life

Were made

Completely impulsively.

On a whim.

Just because.

Or even out of spite.

My trajectory has been a

Bizarro one,

Leaving in its wake

A couple of unpublished novels,

An international co-parenting arrangement,

Membership in a recovery program

And a resume that takes longer to

Explain than to read.

I heard someone recently read

Robert Frost’s

“The Road Less Travelled”

And I was swooning until

I realized mine is the

Road Never Travelled.

I bushwacked my way into such a

Heart of darkness

Of life experience that I could

Barely find my way out

(Once I’d sobered up enough to

Get myself turned back around.)

And I know I sound insufferable.

The saddest part about a

Midlife crisis is

You just sound so whiny and


But the most painful part

Has been this new


Watching other people

Blast off in a

Straight line toward

More money,

Bigger houses,

Better careers–

Or at least it looks that way in


The envy is




It hurts

In my chest and my gut.

And it puts up walls between

Me and people I care about.

It has helped,


To just acknowledge what’s

Going on.


I’m having a midlife crisis

Because I’m middle-aged.

I keep thinking of the

Motto for G.I. Joe

(Which my brother and I used to play

Three decades ago (!)):

“Knowing is

Half the battle.”

Just a little reductive,

But it’s true.

Knowing is truth.

I’m in this

Perfect storm of

Wisdom and experience

Shelf-clouding against my old naivity

With lightning strikes of

Overwrought survival instinct.


I’m having a mid-life crisis.

I don’t know much

(That’s part of the whole

Wisdom piece)

But I do know that what I’m

Freaking out about–

Stuff and money–





I’m pretty sure I know why

I was put on this earth:

To create kids and books and friends,

And sidle up a little closer to the

Force that made me.

These days,

My decision-making is much easier:

Will it help my kids and friends

And help me write books and

Get me closer to my higher power?

If not,

Then no thanks.


Life happens to kids, too

photo-56Maybe I’m just trying to soothe my


Over the decisions I’ve made.

But I was cheered by a radio program

On which a

Child psychologist argued that

Some adversity

Is good for kids.

They learn resilience and

Independence from having some


And we don’t do them any favors by

Protecting them from life’s trials.

“They are hard-wired for adversity,” she said,

“As long as they are loved and supported through it.”

I thought of Victor

At the airport,

The scene and symbol of his own


He was leaving for the summer

To be with his dad.

He didn’t want to go.

In the security line,

Tears were leaking out his eyes and

He hid his face in my stomach.

No wailing,

No tantrum,

Just quietly in my ear when I knelt down next to him,

“I don’t wanna go,


But he had to go.

And he knew it.

Kneeling down,

So my face was at his level,

I saw him prepare himself.

Widening and then blinking his eyes to stop the tears,

Looking off toward security,

Where he was going.

Not looking at me.

Closing his mouth into a

Straight, grim line.

Ready to go.

Six years old!

I was proud of him.

And you know what?

I’m grateful he has this experience.

A special challenge,

His own journey.

The urge is to protect him from these




But life happens to kids, too.

And I think these

Plane rides and

Doing what he doesn’t want to do,

Will help him be resilient,



As long as he receives

Lots of love on

Either side of the ocean,

I think this trial will be part of his


Not part of his problem.

Getting the wanderlust back?

You wouldn’t know it from listening to me know,

But I used to love to travel.

I grew up in a road-trip family:

My parents were both public school teachers,

So we spent summers hoboing around the country,

A beige plastic luggage container

Clipped to the roof of the Oldsmobile.

We went to California via Seattle and back home through the


French Canada via Niagara Falls,

Florida via New Orleans,

Washington, D.C.,

The Black Hills.

(We flew to Mexico ’cause I guess you don’t drive there.)

I’d watch out the car’s side windows for hours,

Lulled by the rhythms of the power lines and the

Pavement breaks.


We camped.

My mother in a red bandana making breakfast on a

Wood picnic table in a

Grove of pine trees.

My dad standing on the inside of the

Car door frame,

Loading the tent and sleeping bags and tarps into the

Bug-encrusted luggage container.

In high school,

My brother and I chose to use our fresh independence to

Road trip together to the Black Hills

In the Chevy Lumina my parents loaned us.

And summers in college

I was always driving off somewhere–

One summer to work on a guest ranch in Montana,

The next to rent a little apartment and wait tables in

Spearfish, S.D.

A little time,

A little money,

And my friends and I were off on another

Camping road trip.

In my early 20s,

I would take off alone on a Saturday or Sunday:

No map,

No time constraints,

And I would just


My mind got

Clear and calm with the

Pavement rushing by beneath me.

I did a couple trips to Europe, too.

First England,

Then the continent.

Some of the best naps I’ve ever taken were

Seated upright on a train,

My stuffed backpack in my lap,

My head resting on it.

Back then I loved traveling.

It was the pure joy of movement,

The wonder of the different.

I just went,

And then came back.

I think it all changed when,

Instead of being a tourist,

I tried to go live there.


A few places in Europe.

Living somewhere is a

Completely different proposition than


You’re not just there to observe from the outside;

You should be a part of it now.

Instead of consuming,

You should produce.

But I would move there with a

Tourist mindset:

No reason or goal

Or plan.


Here I am.

I’m ready.

Instead of the new city

Opening itself up to me,

Its opportunities were a puzzle I couldn’t solve.

I would get menial jobs

And watch the natives

Negotiate their homelands easily.

It was hard.

And not very fun.

But I kept at it.

Seven years I wandered around,

Five of them in Europe,

Squelching the nagging question,

“What the hell am I doing here?”

With another drink, and another.

Until my thinly stretched life

Unraveled with an

International divorce and

Excruciating child custody decisions.

Now, flights across the ocean are exercises in

Emotional restraint as I

Count the last hours of a months-long

Separation from my son.

Those backpacking college students in

Reykyavik airport?


And irritating.

I want to sit down at their cafe tables,

Elbow aside their egg sandwiches and jet-lag beer,

And tell them like it is:

“Everything you think you’re looking for?



In front of you.

Cut up your credit cards

And go home.”


I guess so.

My travel life

(And vacation time

And extra money)

Is now is confined to these

Shuttles across the ocean

And of course,

Business trips.

Which I

Dread because,

Says this former flower petal

Who once drifted on the wind,

They take me away from


But wait.

This bitter rant has a hopeful ending.

I was in NYC a couple weeks ago

On a business trip,

And I was ready to do my thing

Which is to attend the requisite events,

And then hide in my hotel room

And wait for it to be over.

When one night at dinner,

Tickets to a Broadway musical

Popped out of the breast pocket of someone’s blazer,

And we were off:

Tromping through Times Square,

Getting lost and then

Turned back in the right direction,

So that we arrived at the theater

Just as the lights were going down.

And suddenly,

An old familiar wonderment

Came over me.


I was energized in that weirdly calm

NYC way,

Where you know you haven’t slept enough,

But somehow, it doesn’t matter.

You’ll be fine,

You’ll have more than enough energy for what’s about to happen.

This naif had never been to a

Broadway musical before,

And the musical,




Like a child,

I never wanted the

Singing and dancing to end.

It was



I had thought

That I had maybe



Into a homebody–

That the wanderlust had been

Stunned out of me by my

Naive decisions and mistakes

In trying to go


Where I maybe should have just


But in the plane back from NYC,

As I settled into my window seat for a delicious nap,

I thought,

Maybe not.

Maybe not.

Airport reunion: My small boy and his dad

On Wednesday,

My small boy’s


Flew into town for the

Boy’s spring break.

The dad and his boy,

They hadn’t seen each other since


It’s our life,

Shared and separate:

One of us,

His father,

Who lives in Finland,

Or me,

Is always living through

Days and weeks and months of

Our son’s absence:

Walking past a




Toys neatly in their boxes,

Bed smooth with laundered sheets;

Twisting open the blinds to

Let light in,

And then closing them again at the

End of one more day

Ticked off the calendar.


A season will pass,

Or even two:

A melting or a shedding of leaves,


And then:

The airport.

On Wednesday,

I had taken off work early and

Arranged to pick the boy up from school

When we learned the plane would be late.

So we scurried around town a bit,

Holding hands to run across streets and

Jump over puddles,

And arrived at the airport at

10 p.m.

Late for a small boy

And for me.

Strung out on


Time-killing errands and

Fluorescent lighting,

We waited,

Watching travelers descend an escalator behind the

Sliding glass doors of the airport’s

Secure zone.

Victor scampering around on feet and hands like a monkey,

His dad,

To be sure,

Striding down the wide, carpeted

Terminal corridors toward us.

Not allowing himself to jog

After months of disciplined pacing,

You can’t lose your rhythm on the

Last leg of the journey.

And then,

There he was:

People who speak more than one language

Two Saturday mornings per month,

My small boy goes to

Finnish class.

During the class,

We parents hang out in a room next door:

A brick-and-tile space with a

Circle of mismatched chair and couches and a

Scrap of coffee-colored carpet on the floor.

We sip hot morning beverages and chat or read magazines and books.

Last Saturday,

I was cutting out


For our wedding invitations,

And vaguely listening to three moms

Finnish women living in Minnesota—

Chatting in low tones.

At first they spoke Finnish,

And for practice I tried to follow along.

One of their parents had a sailboat,

And spent the summer

Sailing around the archipelago islands

Scattered off the southwest corner of Finland.

One of them said a phrase in English,

Slowing down and emphasizing the words slightly like

Verbal italics,

And then the conversation


Switched into English.

Two of the women had mild accents,

And the third spoke with no accent at all.

They carried on in English for awhile,

Talking about their next travel plans

To bring their children to Finland,

To their families’ summer cottages.

And then,

Again spontaneously,

One of the women switched back into Finnish,

And the conversation went on in that language.

I know,

From my bi-lingual friends,

That people who speak




Flow back and forth between languages

In the same conversation

Sometimes in the same sentence


Without even realizing they’re doing it.

If I had pointed out to these

Three women that they had switched back and forth

Between Finnish and English,

They might have been surprised to hear it.

I am always awed by the

Vast potential of the human mind

When I witness this.

And the coolest part:

My son can do it, too.

Garlic soup in Prague

Photo credit: visitingprague.org

“What is something you miss about

Living in Europe?”


My first reminiscence is


In Prague for the blustery month of January

I discovered garlic soup:

Russet beef broth with tiny chunks of garlic mince swirling around,

Warm, gooey strings of melted white cheese,

Small coral-colored squares of ham.

One guy in the class I was taking

Ate so much garlic soup,

That he exuded a

Garlicky reek through the pores of his skin,

And I swear that,

Like a skunk,

When he got excited or animated,

His body released a puff of the odor.

We all avoided sitting next to him in class,

And someone eventually had to speak to him.

Perhaps one of the instructors who had lived there for awhile.

Riding the coach away from Prague to my next destination,

I had packed up some groceries for the journey and,

Not knowing Czech well,

I had accidentally bought two large bottles of


Rather than

Still water.

(I love that phrase,

“Still water.”

It calls up calm, deep, cobalt pools in

Pine-forest clearings.

And “sparkling” is a lovely word, too.)

I forced myself to drink it for hydration–

The merits of which I doubted.

It tasted to this American like

Diet Coke without the flavor.

Now, finally,

Nearly a decade later,

I understand sparkling water.

It’s the

The post-pop,



The Europeans get it, of course.

“Sparkling or still?” they ask in restaurants.

“Sparkling,” I would say now.

With a lime squeeze.

How to appreciate snow

Photo credit: finlandlive.info

In Finland,

I learned to be a

Connoisseur of winter.

There, near the arctic circle,

Over generations of plodding survival,

Folks have passed down small

Observations and


About winter, snow and cold

That they carry with them like

Small, warm nuggets in their pockets

To wrap cold fingers around.

One thing I learned:

Snow makes darkness bearable.

In a place where you might not see the sun for weeks or months,

A coating of white snow

Suffuses the murky black nights and

Tentative gray days with sudden

Brightness and


From the ground,

Like the earth is glowing.

Writing in Helsinki

My second book I wrote in Helsinki.

We had a one-bedroom apartment

Above a YMCA,

And our windows looked out on

Snowy pine trees.

The entryway to our apartment was a

U-shaped staircase with a landing,

And above the landing was a huge window and wide window sill.

I would sit in the window sill and paint wine bottles.

For writing,

I would move the rocking chair to the top of the staircase

So I was facing the window and the snowy trees,

The stairs falling away below me.

It gave the illusion that the





Like I was floating toward the

Snowy pine trees

With my notebook in my lap

And a pen entwined in my fingers.

I finished that book in a different apartment.

Less geometrical.

But by then I was


And my growing belly gave the space

The dimension it needed.

I finished the novel Aug. 20

And my son was born Aug. 22.

Creating, creating.