To Honk Or Not To Honk: A Parenting Victory

Looking back over the years, as I am doing right now from a newly empty nest, I had one intuitive parenting victory that I want to share with you who still have your kids at home so that down the road you too can rejoice and not kick yourself:

I did not honk my horn at my children. 

I get that some people are honkers; for them an aggressive laying on the horn is just a great communication tool, and they’d be surprised anyone thought any deeper about it. But for the rest of us . . .

Sunday morning. The girls were off to college, only the boy was at home, and because his bones grew an inch a month, or so it seemed, he slept like the dead. And even deader on Sundays. He seemed to understand it was the day of Sabbath rest.

He didn’t really ‘wake up’ as much as slowly surface, like a log released from a river bottom. All that rapid bone growth required hot abundant protein in the morning – like eggs and cheese and bacon. But he only had time to grab a granola bar along with his tie, belt, socks, and shoes, all to be put on in the car.

Six feet, three inches plus his hair, folded in half, and accessorizing in a Fiat.  I rode to church with Mr. Bean.

I assume he grabbed the granola bar; I never saw him do so because I was always sitting in the car by that time waiting, and that is the point of my story. I like to get to church early, especially if I am teaching a Sunday school class. I talk to a lot of people on Sundays, and my nerves just need my ducks in a row.

Anyway, I waited, chomping at the bit, and every Sunday I had to make a choice while sitting in the Fiat. To honk or not to honk, that was the question. He was inside feeling no sense of urgency whatsoever, and my legs were both cramped from holding down the clutch and the brake in first gear, ready to go. And I waited, and the back door never opened. Whether t’was nobler in mind to wait it out or honk the heck out of the horn, aye, there’s the rub.

Preaching to myself, I would say, “Just be patient. Honking is rude and dehumanizing. Civilized people get out, go in, and say mildly, ‘Are you coming?’” But once buckled in to the AC’d car, I wasn’t getting back out, civilized or no, so I would decide I had every good reason to honk and reach my hand to do it, and then decide not to, and Civilized and Uncivilized would war for awhile before the back door would finally slam and he would appear, grinning and at peace with the world. And I was always glad I hadn’t honked.

But I was never so glad I hadn’t honked as I was the first Sunday he was off to college and I walked out the door, got in the car, backed out, and drove to church. Oh the sad, sad, convenience of it all. Oh, the untethered, unwanted earliness. Woohoo, I didn’t have to wait! Boohoo, I wished I had to wait! And as I mourned freely all the way to church I comforted myself knowing that I had not honked my horn at him. At least I had that.

DSCN6081 DSCN6078


A Mom In Transition

P.S. (One week later – wearing huge photo-booth party glasses and popping a confetti cannon) Empty nest is fun!!  “Limbo, limbo, limbo, cha-cha, limbo . . .”

P.P.S. I read a recent good article urging us to be careful writing about our children.  I used care with this and meant to spotlight my retrospective relief rather than the college boy’s foibles.  Some context was necessary.

Ode To August And An Incoming Class


In August, I watch
Tall children-students flower right in front of me.
And it is marvelous. A late-summer garden,
Juniors walk in and blossom into seniors as I hand them a syllabus.

Mysteriously, gracefully, they step right in
To the gap left in May
By a group that seemed irreplaceable, and certainly was so.
But this new class has its own feel,
Its own paths to tread of the infinite number possible
From a single starting point – like Beowulf.

So they pick different flowers on their own path,
Similar species picked by those May graduates, but a crimson sunflower,
Or a zinnia bent on proving that we underestimate zinnias, which we do.
Different flowers from the same story. And I am reminded
God’s good earth is inexhaustible.

And they learn to listen; and they do listen.
They talk of last year’s storytellers and their stories.
And I can’t be impatient with them
Because they are never impatient with me,
“It has to go through the app, Mrs. Sieg. See that blue square?”
We’ve come full circle; Mrs. Smith taught them blue squares
On their K5 carpet squares,
And now they teach me.
And they notice my new shoes and that I wore my hair up today.
And they ask questions bigger than one answer,
‘Why?’ ‘How?’ ‘Why?’
I walk up to the question in my new shoes and give it what I know
And hope it’s a beginning for them.

They are held together by their age, their moment,
This year’s variety,
But they welcome me to listen.
I love their words – the forming words they put on the trends of the minute.
I borrow their energy, their foreverness.

It is August. August is possibility.

Annual Pictures At The Green Door


Adios, Spanish Harlem

Our Tito Puente stairwell. Can you see the top?  Neither can we when we return from a day of trotting the concrete.  But it does offset the caloric intake which is substantial.

Here we are playing the parking game.  This is our limited understanding of it:  On Mondays and Thursdays the north side of the street gets swept and all cars must be moved between 9:30 and 11:00 am. On Tuesday and Friday, the south side is swept and cars moved same hours.  With me so far?  Ok, so after much observing we realized that what people do is double park on the non-sweeping side, wait in the car or at least close by, for the sweeper and/or 11:00 to come and then it’s a free-for-all to get the available spots.  There’s a delicate art to it and when you succeed you feel you have won a minor skirmish with the Metro Transit Authority.  This day, we did.  However, note to self:
The MTA got us in the end.  This is what happens when you forget to fold your mirrors in when you do win the parking game and score the plum spot. Between this and a midday 30-minute struggle with the keys unlocking the three locks for Apt 3A, just a tad, just a tiny tad, of the bloom was off the rose. Alabama, and one optional lock on a front door, whistled a bar of “Sweet Home” in my ear.

So we decided to souvenir shop for the kids.  Success in Harlem which increasingly feels like home in our wide subway line wanderings.  We limped off the 6 train this eve at 110th street feeling like we were with our people.

Say what you want about the man, he knows how to turn on the AC when he punches in in the morning at his tower on 5th Ave.  A coffee in front of the pink marble fountain helped us tap the reserve tank for the last neighborhood we wanted to cover – Greenwich Village.  But the picture-taking slacked off because the reserve tank was low too.

Carbs for the final stretch.

ashington Square was packed with people and street performers including one who painted himself gold and stood absolutely still on a pillar like a greek statue.  I was too tired to take a pic.  Above Andrew rests his aching feet and we listen to the poor guy to our right pour out his heart while his girl paints her toenails black and looks far more interested in them than in him.  Muy mal.

Tito Puente at 2nd Ave is quiet this morning.  Ricardo Steak House across the avenue is rolled down and sleeping after a hopping Friday night.  All the dapper gents who eased in its doors for steak and the party are barely stirring. The street fair is still, its vendors drinking coffee and planning when to shuck the corn for corn-on-a-stick.

And Andrew and I straighten up our sweet digs and hum “Big wheels keep on turning, carry me home to see my kin, singing songs about the Southland . . .”

NYC – 4th Day, 4th Borough, 3 Surprises

Surprise #1 – K-town.  Korea-town is booming and we stumbled on it by accident.  Andrew declared this the best food of the trip.  But then we’ve said that after every meal, even street snacks.

DSCN5917      DSCN5915 DSCN5928      DSCN5920
Where’s Waldo?                                                This was not fair to snap it while his mouth was full.

*Operation Walk-the-feet-to-nubs has been textbook military success.  Only it isn’t the feet.  It is everything south of the hip sockets ordering full retreat and surrender to the opponent – the pavement of NY.
*We happened upon Ktown while antiquing in a midtown high-rise.  Talk about mixed metaphors.

Surprise #2 – The Highline.
See the park on the raised railroad line?  One and a half miles of this shaded walk with the Hudson River to the west and the city to the east.  Every place you wished there was a seat to take in the amazing view of an east/west city canyon, there was one. Once again, people are amazing – the people who thought of everything and the people who accomplished it.

What a great idea to keep the tracks but as an idyll in which to breathe and woolgather.

But New York will be New York.

And then it dawned on us – the city, the river, but no traffic.  Unobstructed walking.  Any horns are backdrops and inapplicable to the moment. No, not inapplicable, but transformed into music.  Passing the Penn Station train yards sounded like YoYo Ma giving an open-air recital.

Surprise #3 – Old friends and an amazing view.
Charlie and Leslie Baldini of Staten Island (the 4th borough we hit).  And I must concede that Leslie was right; that incred pizza from DeNino’s is called “Garbage Pie” not “Garbage Can” as we have been saying for 10 years since the last time we were there.  Can we not agree that Garbage Can has more zing to it? We love these people.  Charlie’s church, Immanuel Union, is growing and through his long and faithful ministry here people are loved, served, and introduced to Jesus.

Looking good, y’all.

The Baldini Clan.  BTW Charlie is Sicilian so we were basically dining with Ray Liotta and goodfellas.

Now here’s the Wow moment.  This is us in the wheelhouse of the Staten Island Ferry.  Little Bekah, who is now a beautiful little wife and mother, is married to Kenny Bossert, the captain of this boat.  So we rode across New York Harbor with a view like none other.  And here is where we unabashedly praised the Creator and said, “Help us give You back everything we are because You are so, so good to us!”








Getting off the ferry, a little dazed with it all.

And so ends Day 4, 4 Boroughs, and 3 Gifts.  I love this city.

Guess Who Premiered On The Apollo Stage? – NYC Day Three

athedral of St. John the Divine.  The colorful workers used GooGone to clean the rails and listened to mariachi. On a sombre note, a man told Andrew that the massive church, which seats 10,000, averages 300 worshippers.  That’s not the sombre part.  The fullest day of the year is not Easter or Christmas.  No, the man reported enthusiastically, it is early October.  Oh, what holiday would that be?  “Well, the feast of St. Francis!  The blessing of the animals.  It’s incredible, the place is packed to overflowing with people and their pets.  We had an elephant come for a while.  You could go out in the courtyard and the priests would bless individual pets.”  I thought of the moneychangers in the temple, such a misuse of a divine place. But then I was reminded that God is where His people are, and Andrew and I are His people.

Psalm 45:1, and my blog motto!

Will Hogue, I’ve found your journalism grad school – Columbia University

And this moment on the Columbia quad made my whole day.

Andrew looks over Columbia Teacher’s College at Union Seminary and Riverside Church.  Our day’s high point, literally, was intended to be the top of that tall tower, however when we got to the tower elevators and said happily, “We would like to go to the top of the tower,” the guy in the maroon vest, with zero remorse or sympathy, said, “Nope. Can’t go to da tower.  Closed to da public.”  I mean, no feeling whatsoever.  Clearly we were eager.  I love NY, but I will say that a southern man would have been gentler with this bad news.

We walked miles to find this closed up tight as a drum, naturally as it was about 11:45 am, and so much not what we expected that we decided (rightly, we discovered later) that this wasn’t THE Cotton Club of Harlem Renaissance fame.  But New York redeemed itself from the mean guy at the tower elevator when a pure angel walked by and told us that no bus will stop at the bus stop where we were waiting. We would have sat there in Harlem all day waiting for a bus that wasn’t coming, like one of those skeleton memes.

But we did get some great views from Riverside Park on the Hudson River of mid Manhattan.


In keeping with a day north of the park, today’s lunch was Puerto Rican.  Isn’t she wonderful? That blob on the left was delicious; called mofongo al pilon, it was a little like our turkey dressing only instead of turkey it was crispy pork cracklings and fried chicken chunks, and instead of cornbread it was mashed green plantains. You spooned a mild garlic sauce over it. Plantain chips, cuchifritos, and salad completed this third cultural food foray joining Middle Eastern and Chinese.  Yes, I could live here if we needed to plant Tito Puente Presbyterian Church.
More fun than Broadway!

Wait, khaki pants, white button down, is that . . .?  Yes, yes it is.  Andrew was selected from the audience to . . .
. . .bust a move.  He chose to do the chicken dance. And so I will leave you with that – Andrew doing the chicken dance on the Apollo stage before all Harlem.

Love from NYC!

NYC Day Two – People Are Amazing!

I like that New Yorkers don’t expect you to make over their dogs.  How refreshingly normal.

I like that they are amazingly polite considering how many people they rub against, until they are not and then they will scrap to the death over who is rushing who off the bus.  One woman admonished another for hurrying a disabled man, but then lost the moral high ground entirely when she refused to let it go. She got caught up in her own righteous indignation, forgot the disabled man, and attacked the character and worth of the rusher.  Alleged rusher – I don’t know that she was really rushing.

I like that they are not afraid to sweat. A third floor walk-up means sweat. Learn to love it.

I like that they know instinctively when to obey the orange hand forbidding you to cross a street and when you can ignore it; and it isn’t as simple as ‘are there any cars actually coming?’.  There’s more to it than that, I just don’t know what.

I love pondering the difficulty of “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted in the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.”  Psalm 46:10.  Drinking morning coffee to the sound of the rush and attempting to be still and pray must be the challenge of living here.

I love the crammed subway cars.  When despairing over the divisive nature of our country, one just needs to go ride the subway and be jammed up against a polite Sikh, two Romanians, a shy Asian student, Irving who just got off work at the garage, and sexy Sandra whose skin is dark but her hair is not.

ile mosaic at our 110th St. sub stop.  People are amazing.  Art with tile.  The chains on the hanging weight scale and the color variations in the avocado were cause for pause and admiration.

orld Trade Center One – look how it reflects the clouds and almost disappears.  The sculptured building beneath it by Santiago Calatrava evokes a bird’s wings taking flight.  It is designed so that on September 11 sunlight floods the interior.  Again, people are amazing.

emorial pool in the footprint of the tower.  Andrew and I had interesting conversation about the nature of memorials, what they intend, what they achieve.  The names were sobering.

Cracking the code.  How to find the uptown 6 train?? Well, let’s just walk to Chinatown.

nd on the way we saw a little city drama.  Mayor Bill de Blasio leaving City Hall after announcing the ‘resignation’ or ‘stepping down’ or something of the police commissioner. . . .

 . .to the heckling of a pitiful little group of protesters singing ‘nah, nah, nah, nah, goodbye’, exercising their first amendment rights and being protected by New York City’s finest.  I love America!

ychees.  Peeled they look like eyeballs, smell like perfume, and Andrew likes to eat them.

ueens! First time to be in that borough.

h my, the food.  Eliot, this is for you. Yes, we had one of those pork sandwiches.  I thought I understood barbecue being from Alabama and all.

axing eloquent.

his is Ben smiling. Wonderful evening doing Queens.

he hipster and the hillbilly.

Love from New York and blessings on your day!

NYC Cheers The Empty Nest Blues – Day One

ur third-floor walk up in Spanish Harlem.

ow to get bag and baggage to the third floor

l mercado en el barrio

aiting for the M15 South bus

n Brooklyn Bridge

Telling his Wall Street broker to sell! sell! sell!
(And getting a report from home about Will’s stitches)

imes Square contemplation

ypical cell phone-obsessed NY tourist