It is a brand new challenge to figure how to parent while living in a city in crisis.
I feel slightly paralyzed about what to do, increasingly so as time moves on and things are still not back to normal. Faces outside look long and stricken. Tree branches block the sidewalks and lay over cars, and the danger of more falling objects has the park intermittently closed. We still cannot get to some places. Our own winter refuge, the Y’s Armory (our gym and the gym for Oscar’s school and a great place for the kids to gather) now houses hundreds of evacuees from area nursing homes, who live there side-by-side on cots set up by the YMCA’s awesome program leader, Sandy Phillips, and her amazing staff, with the help of Americorps and Red Cross workers from around the country.
I grew up Jewish with the specter of the Holocaust looming large. The fear that has been dredged up in me is the same as those I felt as a kid when I read “The Diary of Anne Frank,” a beautiful story Eli is reading for middle school.
Suddenly, instead of worrying about which of the five cafes on my block serves me the best Americano, I am forced to reckon with greater survival questions, with how I might garner the strength to handle life’s unexpected challenges, the realities of which are all too real right down the street.
I am resistant to reckon, though, resistant to force my kids to reckon. I want so badly to be the character Roberto Benigni played in “Life is Beautiful,” who could shut out all the terrible things that were happening around him.
Life is still beautiful, isn’t it?
When I spent an afternoon volunteering at the Armory, I realized it was.
“People will come and ask for things,” a volunteer coordinator said. “Some of them are very demanding.”
I worked retail all through high school, waited tables all through college. I knew demanding.
But I found them to be something else: amazing.
They came to the shelter with virtually nothing, and waited patiently to point through fencing at piles where they saw a pair of pants or a coat that might appeal to them or might fit.
I heard over and over again when I foisted a scarf or a second top on someone for fun, “I don’t want to be greedy…”
I loved working with Karen, who was searching for more soft cashmere layers among the piles, if I could please be on the lookout. And there was Rosalinda who I helped find a black and white checked winter coat with peplum at the sleeve that perfectly highlighted her silver hair. She preened and smiled. She looked beautiful.
“Thank you,” she said. “God bless.”
“God Bless you!” I said, with a zeal I felt in my heart.
I must tell my children the stories of Karen and Rosalinda and their ability to focus on beauty amidst the chaos.
I must learn from them and continue — despite deep survivor’s guilt — to shower and do my hair, to get dressed in clothes that make me feel good and to adorn myself as I usually do with beautiful found treasures.
I must continue to beautify my own house and invite people over to enjoy food and wine and company in between helping out around my great and challenged borough.
I must continue to teach my children by words and by action to live life beautifully and to inspire others to do the same, to help them do so when and where they can.
Grazie, Roberto. Life is beautiful. Thanks for the reminder.
Read Fearless Parenting every other Thursday on BrooklynPaper.com.